Fanny came running out of the cottage, stumbling to catch up. He was carrying various items, and had yet more stuffed into his pockets. He swapped things around to get a more balanced fit as he ran, repeatedly stopping to pick up whatever he dropped.
Dizzy led the way, the other two boys close behind her. It was dark, the night sky full of stars unhindered by clouds. There were lamps hanging along the path, lighting their way. Other than the four of them, no one was outside of their residence.
“What do we say if agents stop us?” asked Brill.
“They won’t,” said Dizzy. “They’re busy.”
“How do you know that?” asked Davo.
“I have my sources.”
Dizzy headed for the smaller of two adjacent red buildings. It was smaller, but it was still three storeys tall. Light flooded out of every window.
“I’m not sure this is a good idea,” said Davo.
“I don’t recall asking for your assessment,” said Dizzy.
“Is it really necessary to keep up this act?” said Davo, a little weary of the constant disparagement.
Dizzy stopped and turned to face him. “What act?”
“Can you not just drop it? Clearly you’re very fond of Nic, despite this—” his hands rose and fell in exasperated frustration “—whatever this behaviour is. He came here for you. I thought that was the sort of thing girls liked. A boy willing to sacrifice everything to save the girl he likes.”
It was already dark. Somehow the air around Dizzy seemed to get darker. “I don’t need saving.”
“I beg to differ,” said Davo in his most arch salesman tone. “At the moment, I’d say we all need saving.”
“Yes,” said Dizzy. “You all do. And if you stop distracting me, I’ll see what I can do.”
Thanks to their little spat, Fanny managed to catch up. Now he just had to stop them killing each other before an invading army of demons arrived. Davo was bigger and stronger, but Fanny had grown up with sisters. Size meant nothing.
“These girls,” said Fanny, panting from the exertion of running with pockets fully loaded, “they won’t be naked or anything, will they?”
Dizzy’s attention slid off Davo and took up residence on Fanny’s red and puffing face. “Yes, that’s exactly what they’ll be. Completely naked and swathed in oil. Will you be able to control yourself, Fanny?”
It was more of a shock to hear her use his name than the sarcastic retort regarding nude and oily girls. Usually, she only addressed them with barely restrained hostility and an icy glare. She had to be warming to them. He found himself smiling and quickly put a stop to it. He knew only too well how girls reacted to any sign of condescension, and Davo had already primed the pump.
“I hope so. This is like a dream come true.”
“She doesn’t want to hear about those sorts of dreams,” said Davo, wincing and shaking his head in a manoeuvre combining rebuff and incredulity in equal measure. “None of us do.”
“I don’t mean anything like that,” said Fanny, pretending to be offended. “I just mean, you know, socialising with the other students. No one’s invited us around for tea before.”
He noticed a slight twitch in Dizzy’s normally implacable features. A little light pity had pulled the sting from her tail, for now at least.
“There won’t be time for tea.” She turned and began walking again, twice as fast.
Fanny gave Davo a sharp look, hoping he would knock off the sniping. They all felt the pressure of the situation, additional stresses weren’t going to help.
Davo let out a sigh and followed her. Brill turned his head away, like he’d been caught watching something he shouldn’t have seen.
There wasn’t time to plan things out and take a careful, measured approach. Fanny trotted after them, moving his lower half as quickly as he dared without jostling his top half and dropping anything. He would have preferred to have time to test some of his newer ideas, try them out on the more Arcanum-dense occupants of the school, but that wasn’t going to be feasible. He didn’t know what he’d need or which of his instruments would be more effective, so he’d brought everything he could carry. Hopefully, one or two of them might actually work, assuming they didn’t fall out of his pockets.
Dizzy was already climbing the short set of stairs that led into the girls’ dormitory. The double doors were open on one side, splashing a corridor of yellow light down the steps. She didn’t stop to tell them where they’d be going or what to expect. She simply walked in.
The three boys paused on the steps, getting out of each other’s way so someone else could go first. Davo and Brill stepped to either side and Fanny, bustling up from behind, shot between them and entered before he had a chance to consider his actions.
Inside, there was a small vestibule with a side room. There was an open hatch, like half the door had been cut off, and the sound of snoring emanated from it.
“She never wakes up,” said Dizzy, appearing at the hatch with a large ledger balanced on one forearm while she scribbled in it with the pen in her other hand. “There, you’re officially my guests. If anyone asks, point them in my direction.” She vanished again and returned empty-handed.
She let herself out of the half-door. And headed through another set of doors. As soon as she pushed the doors apart, warmth and noise filled the vestibule. Dizzy passed through and let the doors swing free. The three boys hurried forward before they closed.
There was a hall with rooms on either side. There was also a set of broad stairs that curled up to the next floor. Dizzy was already halfway up.
“It smells like…” Fanny couldn’t quite place it.
“Women,” said Davo. “It smells like women.”
It did, it reminded him of his mother’s room. Perfume and powder and clean laundry. He’d never considered what that smell was before, it was so familiar, yet always in the background.
The stairs were carpeted so made no sound as they chased after Dizzy. She had a small build and long legs, although nowhere near as long as Davo’s, or even Brill’s. Yet she outpaced them both effortlessly.
Fanny struggled to keep up with any of them. Short legs were a family trait, on both sides.
There was more sound coming from above. High-pitched voices, laughter and exclamations. No worries or concerns, here.
Dizzy turned on the landing and reversed direction. There were four rooms that Fanny could see, all with doors opened. The temptation to peer in was overwhelming. He resisted in case he saw something improper, but he could hardly be blamed if he glimpsed something out of the corner of an eye.
Dizzy was already halfway up the next flight of stairs when a girl came out of one of the rooms.
“Hey, where have you been?” She had dusky skin and long, curly hair. And a nightshirt that didn’t quite reach her knees. Fanny recognised the girl from the class they used to be in, before Nic had them moved to their appropriate level. He had never learned her name.
The three boys froze and watched the two girls converse, Dizzy leaning over the banister, the dusky girl bouncing up and down on the balls of her bare feet.
“I’m busy. Don’t tell anyone you saw me,” said Dizzy. She was as curt as ever, but she didn’t have the sharp edge to her voice she used when talking to them.
“Ooh, secret missions, is it? I suppose—Ah!” She had spotted the three males standing behind her, and reacted as any half-clothed girl would, darting back a few paces, ready to scream or run, or both. Then she took in the three of them, making a judgement that probably wasn’t all that flattering, and her tensed shoulders relaxed. Then she placed one hand on her hip and cocked an eyebrow. “Something I can do for you, Mr Epsteem?”
“They’re with me,” said Dizzy.
“We’re with her,” said Davo, very calmly. Fanny was shaking so much he could barely keep his pockets from spilling their contents onto the floor. He just smiled and tried to look like he had no idea how he ended up here, which wasn’t too difficult.
Davo took a step forward, but the girl moved to block his path. “And what are you doing in the girls’ house? Isn’t that strictly against the rules?” She looked from Davo to Brill. “Mr Epsteem? Does your father know where you are?”
“Almost always. If you don’t mind, Miss Garroty, we’re on something of a schedule.” Brill was trying to sound blasé about the whole thing, like this was just another trip through a house full of girls’ bedrooms, but Fanny could tell he was forcing the evenness into his voice.
“Out of the way, please,” said Davo, taking the more direct route. “The quicker you let us pass, the quicker we can be out of here.”
The girl looked at each of them, suspicion and curiosity in equal measure, and then up at Dizzy.
“You don’t need to know,” said Dizzy.
“She’s making us do it,” said Fanny, leaning in between the two taller boys. “Don’t make her cross.”
If anything was going to convince the girl to show them some mercy, it was being persecuted by a greater power. Girls loved an underdog. It appealed to their sense of romance, according to the books he found lying around his house.
“Why?” asked the girl. “What does she want you to do?”
“Carry her luggage,” said Fanny.
“Really?” she stepped back. “We have porters to do that sort of thing.”
“The porters wouldn’t find it hugely embarrassing,” said Davo, picking up Fanny’s cue. “We are being punished. Feel free to gloat, if that’s what amuses you.”
Between them, they were doing a pretty good job of explaining their presence without giving any details. Which was just as well as they didn’t have any.
“Come on,” said Dizzy, continuing up the stairs. “They won’t carry themselves.” She also knew how to run with an idea, although Fanny strongly suspected she would always much rather it was one of her own.
The Garroty girl moved aside, arms still folded across her chest. The nightshirt was made of very thin material, Fanny tried to not notice.
The three of them stomped up the stairs, glad to have overcome their first obstacle. Worse than the guardian of a storybook castle, and she was only the one at the lowest level. What scantily clad sentinels lurked above?
There were no more challengers, scantily clad or otherwise. There were more doors on the next landing. Dizzy paid them no attention and followed the banister around and back to the next flight going up. She was moving quickly and the three of them hurried to match her pace. They cleared the landing without any encounters.
The top floor had two rooms, one opposite the other. Dizzy opened the door of one and went in. The boys followed, relieved to have made it to their destination without further opportunities for humiliation.
The room was large, with an enormous bed at one end, and a fire burning at the other. There was an expensive-looking desk piled high with books.
“Lovely,” said Davo, stroking the side of the desk. “Been in your family a long time, I would guess.”
Dizzy gave him a tilted look, like she was considering saying something unnecessarily mean. “Yes. A long time.” She tapped the chest at the foot of the bed with the toe of her boot. “This.”
It wasn’t particularly big, not like some of the trunks students brought with them, but it would require two of them to carry. The three boys exchanged looks.
“You two are nearer the same height. Makes it easier to navigate the stairs,” said Fanny.
“If the stairs were level instead of at a slope, yes,” said Davo. “These stairs… very slopey.”
Dizzy tapped her foot against the chest impatiently. “Look, I don’t care—”
“What is going on?”
The boys all turned around to find a tall girl standing in the doorway. She had her hair tied into a bun on top of her head, creating a sharp frame around her face. She was wearing a very skimpy vest and tights. It was a very unusual outfit, not suitable for going out or going to bed. Perhaps it might allow extensive range of motion during exercising.
“What are you staring at?” said the girl. Fanny shook himself out his reverie and realised his gaze was pointed directly at her chest.
“Nothing. I mean, how do you do?”
“We’re with her,” Davo said, pointing at Dizzy in the hope of moving the conversation to some other part of the room, preferably as far away from him as possible.
“I didn’t ask you for your permission slip, I asked what was going on. I suggest you tell me before I inform one of the staff. Not only are boys not allowed in this building, we’re supposed to be under curfew. Explain yourself.”
She spoke in a manner that was brusque and confident. She looked older; a second year, probably. She certainly didn’t seem intimidated by Dizzy like the rest of their year.
“It’s alright,” said Brill. “We’ll be gone momentarily. We’re just fetching something for my father.”
Fanny could see that was a mistake. Using his father was bound to lead to complications, even if it were true. Too many questions that had no good answers.
“The curfew’s over,” said Fanny. “The cafeteria’s open for supper, if you’re hungry.” He smiled at her in the most gormless way possible.
“No, I’m not. Thank you.” Her gratitude was spiked all kinds of ungrateful. “Why are there boys here, Delzina?” Her voice had gradually risen to a shout. It was nicely done, so you didn’t notice how angry she was until it was too late, and you were caught in a mixture of polite conversation and intense interrogation. Her parents had to be very important people to produce such a vehemently confident offspring. She had very piercing blue eyes, too.
“It’s got nothing to do with you,” said Dizzy. “Please go back to your own room. You two.” She indicated Davo and Brill without moving but somehow making her choice completely clear. “Pick it up. We have to go.”
“Nobody’s going anywhere until I get some answers. Don’t think you can ignore me just because you have a scary father. Mine is no walk in the park, either.” She had her hands on her hips now, not the least bit shy about exposing herself in her revealing clothes. Fanny had no idea women were this brazen in their natural habitat. His own sisters were, but that was at home. Apparently it was a common trait to have no fear of male examination. Although, it may have had something to do with the males in attendance.
There was some noise from outside the door. Footsteps and voices. Very soon there were a multitude of faces peering into the room.
“What are you waiting for?” said Dizzy, acting like they weren’t being hotly observed.
Davo and Brill stepped forward and grabbed one side of the chest each. There was no indication of how Dizzy intended to get past the blockaded doorway, but she didn’t seem unduly concerned.
The two boys nodded to each other, and then tried to lift the chest. They managed to get in less than a centimetre off the ground before having to put it down again.
“What have you got in there?” said Brill, his face bright red from the exertion.
“Is it nailed to the ground?” said Davo, annoyed. “Your idea of a joke?”
Fanny looked over at the crowd of girls watching. Many smirks were in evidence. Had Dizzy intentionally set out to embarrass them? No, it would have been a waste of time. They had far more important matters to deal with. Matters that were just as important to her as to them.
“Can’t we just take what we need?” asked Fanny. “We don’t have to take the chest itself, do we? That’s probably what’s weighing it down so much.”
Dizzy frowned but nodded. She bent down and opened the clasp. When she pushed the lid back, the air in the room seemed to get heavier.
“Have you got a source of Arcanum in there?” said Fanny, making his way to the open chest, no longer interested in maintaining a harmonious atmosphere.
He could feel the girls push in behind him to see what treasures had been revealed. There were no jewels or trinkets. No silky gowns stored for special occasions. It was all mechanical gear one might need for climbing trees or digging through tunnels.
Fanny pulled things out with no consideration for decorum. He didn’t ask, he just rummaged, tossing aside anything that looked too primitive. They were heavy and awkward to move, but he was too eager to worry and let them slam onto the floor. At the bottom of the chest were stacks of small boxes.
“What are these?” said Fanny, more to himself. “Devices your father uses to keep track of you? You found them all and kept them in here? Perfect stacking to make them cancel out the signal. Nice, nice.”
“Can you use them to get a better idea of where Nic is?” asked Dizzy.
“Oh, yes, I think so.” Fanny was sure he could, his biggest problem was what to try first.
“Is he right?” said the second year. “Have you been keeping Arcanum in here?” She didn’t sound pleased.
Fanny pulled boxes and wires out of his pockets. He began connecting them to the ones in the chest, rapidly switching the connections from one to the next.
“Have you any idea how dangerous that is?” said the disgruntled girl. There were murmurs of sympathetic discontent around her, like tuning forks picking up a sour note.
“I’m only going to tell you once, Myanda.” There was a tone in Dizzy’s voice that was cold to the point of chillburn. “Go away. The same goes for the rest of you. I don’t have time for you, and it won’t be pleasant if I have to assist with your compliance. I’ve been very tolerant of you, but my father always says you should be wary of being lenient towards those who offer you no threat. Circumstances change and by then it may be too late to instill terror in a friend. But we aren’t friends, and I can instill a lot of terror very quickly.”
She began picking up the items Fanny had tossed aside and handing them to Brill and Davo.
“Why are they so damn heavy,” said Davo, struggling to hold them.
“The better question to ask yourself is, why are you so weak?” said Dizzy.
“She’s been proximity-loading them,” said Brill. He pointed at the chest. “Keeping them in the same box as those to concentrate the residual Arcanum.”
“What the hell for?” said Davo. “When were you planning to use this stuff?”
“Today. I was planning for today. I just didn’t realise today was going to be so soon, or I’d have a lot more.”
“You’re crazy,” said Mayanda. “I’m going to get someone.”
“Good,” said Dizzy. “You better hurry.” She turned her back on her.
“Out of the way,” said Fanny, pushing the others aside, even Dizzy. “I need some room.”
He quickly set up the boxes in a formation he thought he’d never have the materials to attempt. Everything else faded into the background as he measured out the distances with the tape he’d stuffed into his breast pocket as an afterthought. He had to be as precise as he could get it, and then hope for the best.
Everyone else paused their disputes to watch him. He moved around the room, waving people out of the way. Once he got the outer perimeter as close to correct as possible, he began connecting them with a lattice of wiring. Within a few minutes the floor was covered in a web that sparked with blue light.
“This is so dangerous,” said Mayanda.
“Then leave,” said Dizzy.
No one left. They were all in the upperclass. All bright students who understood the magnitude of what Fanny was attempting. They had read the theory, now they were seeing something that only members of the Royal College had seen in person. An Arcanum array.
“What’s he going to do with it?” asked one of the girls. She was shushed by the others.
“You better hurry up,” said Davo.
“I have to get this right,” said Fanny, on his knees, head bent trying to eyeball the right angles.
“No, you have to hurry up.”
Fanny looked up. “Why?”
Davo was by the window, staring out. “Someone just turned off the stars.”
There was a confused silence, followed by a mad rush across the room. Fanny sprang to his feet and formed a wedge to force them to go around the array, words bursting forth to save his hard work. “Careful. Stop! Don’t step there. No, go round the sides, the sides.”
There were eight of them, all too concerned with what Davo had said to pay him much attention. Luckily, they managed not to step on anything. It wasn’t until they were pressed up against the two windows on the other side of the room that Fanny realised how few clothes they were wearing. He blushed hard.
“I don’t think they’ve gone out,” said Dizzy. “They’re hidden.”
“By what?” said Brill. “There aren’t any clouds.”
“Didn’t the Gweur chap use something like this to hide himself from the agents?” said Davo.
“What does Gweur have to do with this?” said Mayanda. She was ignored.
“The whole sky?” said Brill.
“Not the whole sky,” said Dizzy. “The whole school.”
“Like a tea cosy,” said Fanny. “Yes, that’s possible. They don’t want anyone seeing in or out.”
“What about the Secret Service?” said Dizzy. “They must be aware of it.”
“They weren’t when the Gweur guy did it,” said Fanny. “Or Denkne.”
“Same ability?” asked Davo.
“Similar,” said Fanny. “Might be a coincidence. Or completely unrelated.”
“What are you talking about?” said Mayanda, her voice rising again. “Is this some kind of attack by Gweur?”
The girls around her looked scared. The last thing they needed was a bunch of panicked girls.
“It’s fine,” said Davo, his voice full of calm reassurance. “It’s not what—”
The lanterns in the room flickered, plunging the room into darkness for a few seconds. There was a sharp intake of breath behind them. It came from the middle of the room. Everyone turned towards the glittering web on the floor. It was trembling.
“Nic?” said Fanny, falling to his knees. “It’s Fanny. Can you hear me? Focus on my voice.” He moved the boxes in slight increments, adjusting the perimeter to intensify the glittering strands.
There was a long exhalation that filled the room. “Fanny?” It was weak and distant, but it was unmistakably Nic’s voice.
“Yes! Yes, it’s me. Where are you?”
“It doesn’t matter. She’s coming. They’re all coming. I don’t know how long I can—” His voice faded out.
Fanny moved wires and boxes, trying to recapture the signal.
“—away from here. Evacuate the school. Tell the Headmaster, try to contact the Secret Service if you can. I think they might have been neutralised. Send Brill. Tell his… careful… safe.”
His voice faded away again. Davo turned to Brill who nodded and then rushed out of the door.
There was a scream from inside the array. It was faint and crackly, but filled with anguish.
“Nic!” called out Dizzy.
“—target the Pagoda. Destroy it. The demons can’t get through. And if they do, they can’t have so many hosts. They don’t have time to make new bodies, but they can take ours. Children are easier to control. Get everyone—”
He was gone again. The girls were starting to come out of their shock and were getting scared, clinging to one another.
“Nic?” said Fanny. “We can’t get out. There’s some kind of dome over the school. Blocking out the stars.
“—yes. Wait for me to… then run. Be careful, there’s another…”
“Another what?” said Fanny.
“—Pagoda. Dragons should do it.”
“Are you in the Pagoda?” said Davo.
“Davo? Yes. It doesn’t matter. I can’t escape, but I can close the door. I think.” There was another scream. “Did you hear that?”
“That isn’t you?” said Fanny.
“No. That’s the demon. Thought it could feed me its power without losing control. I’m going to close… get messy.”
“You’ll die,” said Davo.
There was no response. Fanny shivered in the awful silence, looking around at the faces watching and listening closely.
“What about Simole?” said Davo. “Is she lost?”
“She’ll have to find her own way back. If anyone can—nnngh!” Nic made a pained noise.
“What is it?” said Fanny. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, just getting a bit full. You better go find the Headmaster.”
“We sent Brill. What about Dizzy’s father?” said Davo. “We could get Dizzy to—”
“Do NOT tell Dizzy.” He groaned again, this time for longer. “Ha. That wasn’t good. She kissed me once, you know. We were only ten, said she needed to do research. Probably doesn’t even remember. My best day. I guess that means I’ve had a pretty dull life.” He was panting hard now, getting quieter. Then he was gone.
“You aren’t going to die,” said Dizzy.
“I think I can get him back,” said Fanny scrambling across the floor.
“Don’t,” said Dizzy. “We’re leaving. Now.”
“What about us?” said Mayanda. “You can’t leave us here.”
“Someone will be here to help you soon,” said Dizzy.
“No they won’t. We aren’t deaf. Demons are coming and they’re going to take over our bodies.” She was getting hysterical and the other girls weren’t too far off, either.
“No one wants your body,” said Dizzy. “He was just guessing. He’s delirious. There aren’t any demons. He has Arcanum poisoning and we’re trying to save him without anyone finding out. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you anything, understand?”
It was a decent attempt, but Fanny could tell they weren’t buying it. There were no stars in the sky.
They were on the verge of panic, he could sense it. He grew up with a house full of women. When they went, they went together. They laughed together and cried together, and when they got mad, they turned into something fearsome.
That wouldn’t work here, though. They needed to stay calm until help came, assuming it ever did.
“Enough of this crap,” said Mayanda. “We’re all going to stay here. I’m the oldest, and I decide—”
Dizzy seemed to hop onto the taller girl’s back. Her arm went around Mayanda’s throat, her elbow sticking out under the chin. Mayanda went limp immediately. Dizzy held on and lowered her onto the bed. She kept her arm in place until Mayanda’s eyes rolled up into her head, then she released her.
She lay still, like she was taking a nap.
The other girls were stunned and backed away in a huddle.
“Stay here,” said Dizzy. “Help is coming, but it won’t do any good if you’re all over the school. Stay together. The demon will come after us. They further we are from you, the safer you’ll be.”
What she said was possibly true, possibly not, but she said it so convincingly, the other girls just nodded and sat on the bed around Mayanda’s body.
She turned to the three boys. “Grab everything and let’s go.” They certainly weren’t going to argue with her.
Fanny hesitated and then went to the girl who had accosted them downstairs. She looked meek now, on the edge of the bed.
“Here.” He handed her a small box. “If you get in real trouble, activate it. I’ll come back for you, if I can.”
She took it from him and held it close to her chest, eyes no longer mocking him, closer to adoration. She grabbed his arm and pulled him closer and kissed him on the cheek.
He rushed out of the room, grinning like an idiot, not really knowing where he was going, Davo behind him, shaking his head and muttering, “Unbelievable. I’ll come back for you? I’ll feed you to the damn demon myself—I’d like to see you come back from that.”
Master Denkne, Mage of the Royal College, stood on the roof of the library, his eyes on the Pagoda. There was no movement, no light. The Secret Service agents had come and gone. They had found nothing, he had made sure of that.
“It seems to be going well, does it not?” he said quietly.
“Yes, it seems that way,” said a soft voice from behind him.
“What would you have done if he hadn’t taken the sacrifice?”
“There are other sacrifices. He would have taken one, eventually.”
“One as powerful as your brethren?”
“The sacrifice need not be of the highest order of power. Better to be something more easily digested and not so potent. A mage, perhaps, such as yourself. Perhaps that’s why you were sent here.”
“Gladly would I have offered myself.” He turned and looked at the librarian with a resolute smile on his lips. “If that was your wish, I would not hesitate to obey. But I would serve you better in other ways.”
“Would you? Better than the citizens of Gweur, ready to lay down their lives?”
“They are mercenary. Their loyalty is bought with gifts of power and promises of revenge. They do not value what they cannot trade, such is their belief. A thing must cost to have value in their world, otherwise they do not recognise its worth.”
“But even so, there are times when a mercenary is needed. A cruel cunning and cold wisdom. So vicious when facing your own kind. And what of you, little mage? What does your loyalty cost?”
“Mine is given freely, for it is not loyalty but love.”
“And what value has your love to me? The human heart is a diseased organ that expires well before its host. Loyalty has at least some practical applications.”
“I have faith in my worth,” said Denkne, full of confidence. “It will not be long now.”
The librarian smiled. It was her least practised facial expression over the years. She had spent so much time among these people, she almost felt sorry for them.
“It will take longer than you think. They are coming to free him.”
“Who? The Archmage?”
“No. His friends.”
Denkne let out a sigh. “Oh. You wish me to stop them?”
“I wish you to try. Do not become complacent. All of you, so fat and contented in your undisputed mastery of the elements. The war will not be so close this time, I think. Go stop them, if you can.”
Denkne smiled wryly, but left without argument. The librarian looked up at the blank canvas above, and thought of home, where every star was a fragment of her soul. She would welcome them back to this world so they could once again fill the sky.