In the rafters above the bells, a flame glimmered and Arlo shook his head before peering down at Erin, Kota, and Miles. The phoenix gave a short, low call before shaking out its wings with a rustle of embers and gliding down to the floor below. All three backed up, but the phoenix simply landed on the box that contained the clock’s mechanisms and stared at them with first one eye and then another.
“Arlo?” Miles asked out of the corner of his mouth, not taking his eyes off of the bird.
“That’s what Lani called him,” Erin said. “I guess she really did lose control of him.”
Arlo gave a chirruping sound and tilted his head at an angle that hurt Erin’s neck to look at, and beside her Kota tilted his head and stared back.
“Good place for him,” Kota said after a moment or so. “High place, mostly stone, and apparently no one comes around very often. It’s not like phoenixes are normally aggressive.”
“Just when someone’s playing the ‘make you go mad’ song,” Erin said, remembering Arlo swooping down at the wolf.
At the words, Arlo shifted his weight and took off again, flying around the bells just as the hour hand moved and they began to ring out, peal after peal that had the people down below clapping their hands over their ears. Miles made some kind of gesture and tried to shout over the noise, but he might as well have not bothered. Amid the ringing, Erin thought she could just make out another sound: the phoenix, singing along, but by the time the bells stopped the bird had fallen silent.
She could see Miles’s mouth moving, but Erin just shook her head and hoped the ringing in her ears would also stop. The vampire looked up at the phoenix, but Arlo settled back onto his perch in the sure knowledge that they could not reach him even if they wanted to do so.
“Well, I doubt the last innkeeper was looking for a phoenix,” Miles said once he figured they could hear him again. He walked around the room, careful to avoid the hole in the floor that allowed the pendulum and weights to pass through, and stopped by the clock face to look out at the town below.
“There’s nothing else here,” Erin murmured, but she was looking at Kota and wondering how he would take this disappointment. Sollis’s journal was all that they had to go on, and so far everything had been one dead end after another.
If he was disappointed, Kota was doing a good of hiding it. His eyes narrowed and he went to the box that hid the mechanism for the clock. At least, that’s what Erin thought should have been inside, but when he opened it there was nothing of the sort.
All of the cables and wires ran in a loop around a spool that slowly turned at the top of the box. Erin had no idea how the spool itself turned, but there were scrawling symbols drawn all over it. Beneath the spool there was another image of the sun and the moon carved into the wood and the rest of the box was bare.
“Huh,” Miles said as he leaned over Erin’s shoulder to look. “So I’m guessing your dad, Mr. ‘Magic follows magic’ doesn’t know about this.”
Erin edged away from him. “What is that?”
“Some sort of spell,” Miles said as he used the now vacant space beside Kota to lean in for a closer look at the symbols. He sniffed and looked down at the bottom of the box. “Oh.”
“Yeah, looks like something else used to be here,” Kota said, bending down.
“How can you tell?”
Kota pointed at a dark spot on the bottom of the case, near the front. “See this spot? It’s cut off, where it splashed against something. Blood?”
“Yes,” Miles said. “Human, if you’re curious.”
“So someone took…something out of here, and they were bleeding,” Erin said, and wished she hadn’t. “I guess you can’t tell whose it is?”
Miles glanced at her and she shrugged.
“No, I can’t. It’s old blood, been here for around a year if I had to guess. So we can’t blame the bird.” Miles looked up when Arlo made an irritated noise and shuffled his feathers, causing embers to come swirling down. “Oh, it was a joke, get over it.”
“Do you think it was the key?” Erin asked, looking at Kota, but he was staring at the carving of the sun and moon as if trying to figure it out.
Miles put a hand over his mouth and thought for a moment, his eyes shifting from the box to the other two occasionally. Finally, he reached a decision and said, “Maybe. I think I can justify using the combox on this. The wizards back at the capital might be able to tell me something about this spell here, maybe even who made it.”
“They can do that?” Kota asked, snapping out of whatever thought was currently occupying him.
“If I can keep them from being distracted by anything shiny, then it’s possible,” Miles said as he pulled the box off of his wrist and began fiddling with the dials. He looked up after a minute or so and saw that Kota and Erin were watching him, fascinated. “Yeah, this could take a while, and that’s just to calibrate the blasted thing. You two should probably go on back to the inn.”
“I kind of want to watch,” Erin protested, but Miles spared a hand to shoo them away.
Kota stopped at the top of the stairs to ask, “Think you and Arlo can get along?”
“As long as the fire chicken doesn’t start something,” Miles said, before a squawk came from up in the rafters. “Oh, like you weren’t thinking about it.”
Arlo turned around and put a wing over his head, but a low, grumbling noise continued to come from his corner of the rafters.
Miles waved as they went down the stairs and turned his attention back to the combox, which started beeping and giving a low whine. Kota and Erin had barely reached the ground floor when they heard the vampire shout, “Busy? How can you possibly be too busy to answer?!”
“Now I don’t feel so bad about leaving,” Erin admitted as Kota put out the torch. He grinned and they stepped out of the clock tower and blinked.
Even though the sky was still overcast, their eyes still had to readjust after the gloom. As such, they did not notice the couple walking nearby on the green until they stopped and Eli Smith said, “What on earth were you two doing in there?”