Bee’s final memory of her parents was of them silhouetted in the cracked doorframe, Dad standing, Mom kneeling and holding Bee’s hands. In the dim room behind her waited the family Bee was going to live with: Aunt Val, Uncle Greg, and Grandma Margaret. None of them had greeted her – Uncle Greg was watching news and Aunt Val was knitting. At least Grandma Margaret smiled a little, though she didn’t seem to be smiling at anything in particular.
Mom whispered her last words to Bee: “Don’t trust them. We’ll come for you.”
Then Bee was alone, staring at the people who Mom had said were family but who stared back at her with haughtiness that didn’t feel like family. Besides, who could you trust if not family?
But she still trusted Mom, so Bee waited for the day her parents would come back for her, like they promised. Mom and Dad were treasure hunters, and no matter what Aunt Val and Uncle Greg said, Bee never doubted her parents’ love: she’d seen the kinds of dangerous artifacts they recovered. They refused to take her on their expeditions, though. “Not ’til you’re 16,” Mom always said, usually over the top of a sealed and warded crate she and Dad were hauling.
Her aunt and uncle didn’t believe Bee’s stories – they supposed Bee’s parents just wanted to travel the world without their child. This attitude did not result in them showing Bee anything resembling love, though.
So Bee turned 16 uneventfully. Her only card was from Grandma Margaret, who wrote “Happy Birthday Beatrice” in shaky cursive. Her parents didn’t send anything, not even a message in Mom’s mirror-journal. Her notations of their finds – “Tier-4 cryptid remains, CD ~250/260” – appeared in Bee’s copy of the journal. It told Bee they were still alive, and Bee could tell from the frequency of notes that they were not only alive, but they’d found something huge.
Huge enough to make them forget her birthday, apparently.
She stayed up late reading the journal, hoping for a last-minute birthday message. They’d found three more high-level cryptids and encountered a Remnant, which fled when it saw them. Bee hoped they’d find another, maybe speak to it.
Finally, more lines appeared. Her heart leapt, but the words were boring – just cataloging relics. Still, Bee watched, just to know Mom was there. Then:
“2nd Con relic, steel-?? alloy, Abyssal? CD ~18 ”
Bee waited for the rest to appear. The Second Conjunction had been over a thousand years ago and its artifacts were incredibly rare, usually grouped where the Conjunction had flared strongest: France’s northern coast. The magic in the artifacts soured and strengthened over time – was that why Mom stopped writing? Had the artifact hurt her somehow?
She waited: three breaths, four. The date remained incomplete. Something had definitely happened to them.
Bee didn’t hesitate. She stuffed her backpack with water bottles, her dig tools, and food from the kitchen. Only when turned to leave did she realize Grandma Margaret was sitting at the table, alone in the dark kitchen.
“Where you headin’, kiddo?”
Bee stood straighter. “I’m going to find my parents.”
“They’re in trouble! They didn’t wish me a happy birthday, which – fine, whatever – but Mom’s been writing about cryptids, big ones, and then her sentence ended half-finished and I have to go!”
Margaret flicked on the lights. She was squinting up at Bee. “What tier cryptids?”
How did she know about the tiers? “Four and five. And they found some…old artifacts.”
“Hmm. All this is in that journal of hers?”
Bee nodded, stupefied.
“Let me see.”
Bee hesitantly handed over the journal. Margaret flipped through the pages, frowning, occasionally muttering “reckless” and “fool girl.”
“Well,” she said finally, handing the journal back, “that’s a Wholenuther problem.”
Something about the inflection confused Bee. Margaret smirked at her expression. “I don’t recommend him often,” she said. “He’s craftier than the other Remnants your folks deal with. But he’s good at what he does – when you’ve got a real complicated problem, well, that’s a whole ‘nother thing.”
“He calls himself Wholenuther?”
“And his price is puzzles. Get him something to wear his brain out on, he’ll help find your parents.”
“How do you know – ”
“Who do you think gave your mom that journal?” Grandma tossed her her sweatshirt. “Now get movin’ – Wholenuther likes flowing water, so start at the creek.”
“And Bee,” she called as Bee reached for the doorknob, “happy birthday.”