Oboe’s legs shook as she pushed herself to climb the stairs to the big dome. She leaned against the rail, out of breath.
“Wait,” she said. “Theo!”
Theo looked back, already at the entrance. He hurried back down with a worried look.
“You look terrible,” He said. She wished he would shut up. “I knew I should’ve carried the sword.”
“I’m fine!” Oboe said, wincing. “Just give me a couple minutes, okay?”
Theo took the sword from her hands. She didn’t have the strength to resist. Relief washed over her the moment it left her grasp.
“You should rest,” he said. It made her mad how nice he was being. “I’ll report what we found. You just wait out here until you feel better, okay?”
She made a grab for the sword but he pulled away. “No!” She slumped across the steps. “I want to help!”
“I’ll be right back!” He called from the top, and disappeared inside.
Oboe rested her cheek on the cold concrete and contemplated how she hated this particular set of stairs more than anything else in the universe. Humans stepped around her until she mustered the energy to roll off to the side and sit up.
She was bad at this. Theo was going to give the sword away to some big important human and then grandmother was going to be furious. What was she supposed to do? She tried telling Theo the sword was boring, but Theo was too bent out of shape about his dad to listen.
Oboe’s felt a chill. She looked up. A raven was watching, perched high on a lamp post across the street with eyes fixed square on her. It pointed its beak towards an alleyway.
Legs aching, Oboe raced down the stairs like a drum roll and stepped into the dark, empty alley.
“You let him take the sword,” grandmother said, looming from a windowsill.
A second Whisper joined them, lighting on a high wall, identical to the first. “You are wasting time.”
Another landed behind Oboe, blocking the way out. “I have been so generous with you, child. Do you mean to insult me by playing games?”
They were all around. It scared Oboe how they all spoke with the same voice. How many were there? How was it even possible for there to be more than one?
“I’m sorry!” Oboe said. “I’m trying! I don’t know what to do!”
The Whispers shook their wings. “You are a fairy! You are cunning. You are deceit. Unless you are worthless, you are born with all you need.”
“Okay, but—“ Oboe wrinkled her forehead. “…That sword is important to Theo. Taking it away would be mean! We should wait until he’s done with it. That way everyone can be happy.”
The three Whispers exchanged baffled glances before snapping their attention back to Oboe.
“Was it a mistake to trust you with a task so important?” said the first.
“Did I err to see some mote of worth in you?” said the second.
“Mistakes can be fixed,” said the third. “I gave you this chance thinking you could serve a use. If that is not so, then you have no use of your name.”
“No!” Oboe wheeled around. “You can’t! I just got it back! I don’t want to be nameless again!”
“Then show me you are worth keeping,” Grandmother said. “Prove to me you are worth something. Bring me the sword! Or else I will send someone who can.”
“I can do it!” Oboe said. “Just give me more time!”
“Yes.” A shiver ran down Oboe’s spine as a beak brushed past her cheek. One of Whispers had crept up behind her ear without her noticing. “He trusts you. I can see it. You need only act the part.”
The other two took to the air, leaving only one Whisper digging talons into her shoulder.
“You cannot afford to disappoint me.”