“Uh, sorry about that,” Hallia’s next voicemail began, as Poppy now firmly gripped her phone. “I got kind of sidetracked onto some personal stuff for a bit there. Let me get back to my point.”

[Image 1]

Wait, no! Go back to that other part, I’m invested now!

“When I was working for Chicadino, I noticed some weird inconsistencies with the budget for Chicadino’s estate during my work. My boss asked me to dispose of some ‘outdated’ papers suggesting we spent far more on the building’s material and construction costs than was reflected on our legal records. What’s more, I quickly noticed there was an abnormal amount of empty space on my mental map, all localized within the center of the structure’s five floors. I walked through those hallways hundreds of times and never saw any kind of doors or windows leading into those areas, nor was there any sort of central courtyard visible from above.

“I mean, really think about it, the whole thing is basically balanced on a set of anchor points attached to the Ovis tree by these big metal cables. It’s way too strange for there to be completely unused real estate right above the most secure point on the platform. After all, it was designed by the late, great Roger Istzor, who was the best of the best when it came to these sorts of ‘nest’ estates. That man could get a brick to balance on a pinhead, so I find it hard to believe he would make such a strange design decision unless there was some hidden reason. What’s more, I couldn’t even ask him about it, since he died in a freak accident during construction.” There was a short pause. “IF it was an accident, that is.”


Poppy’s eyes rolled as she clicked through to the next message. She could practically see the pegboard on Hallia’s room covered in notes for a conspiracy theory, not that she didn’t think this train of thought was right on the money.

“But then, I considered the inconsistent construction records. The material budget required to fill a space that size would have easily accounted for the discrepancies. But why all the secrecy? Why keep it off the blueprints and records? What kind of facility was he hiding that needed so much space and support? Why go so far as to murder the architect who created it? I mean, not… that I’m saying that’s necessarily what happened, but- It’s all extremely suspect, is all.”

Poppy thought back to what Harley’s letter had said, the large room full of people gathering information and secret prison cells. Things were beginning to fit together. A grim thought passed through her mind as she considered that someone in the Little Birdy room had probably transcribed those very words.

“The truth is, I spent a lot of time convincing myself it was all just coincidences. I grew up on the streets, you know? Seeing a successful songbird like Chicadino? The idea of getting to work for him? It meant a lot to me growing up, I so dearly wanted to believe he was a good person. But… I’ve been deluding myself, and part of me knew it. That’s why I never destroyed those documents. That’s why I hid them all these years. Maybe they don’t directly link him to murder or trafficking, but I mean, you could at least start by nailing him with fraud, right?

“Annnyway, I’ve been rambling for a while, I should wrap this up. Sounds like Miss Quibble’s arguing with some idiots downstairs, I’m probably gonna go see what that’s about. Hey, call me back as soon as you get these, I’ll keep my phone close by, so if I don’t answer, I probably got whacked!” A sharp chill ran up Poppy’s spine.


“Uh, that last bit was a joke, obviously. Maybe not the best time, sorry.”


Poppy immediately dialed Hallia’s number and held her breath listening to the ringing on the other end.

“Hi, you’ve reached Hallia’s phone, sorry I cou-

Poppy hung up and dialed again.

“Hi, you’ve reached Halli-

“Hi, you’ve reached-

“Hi, y-


[Image 2]

The last of Hallia’s voicemails had come in almost forty minutes ago. There were a lot of things that could happen in forty minutes. A drunk bird could’ve passed out, or dropped her phone, or completely have forgotten what she was doing, for instance. Or she could be dead, a small part of Poppy’s mind chimed in. And if there was even the slightest chance of that, she’d never forgive herself for not checking.

Eggton was on the opposite side of the Ovis Tree from the Shiboutique, and an entire layer down, outside of Canopy proper. There wasn’t much time to waste taking the city’s transit, and even if there had been, Poppy knew Eggton’s gondola would be offline until dawn. She peered over the guardrail. There were safety nets and a magical barrier running around the perimeter, and for good reason. Even on the bottom layer of Canopy, it was nearly a mile up from the floor of the colossal pit. For the average person, the fall would break several bones at best, though the smaller folk like the rodents usually got away with only a shock and a story to tell. Poppy was an unusual case. Her high density meant the ground would meet her like a freight train, but her sheer hardiness was too much for gravity to overcome. She’d endure it just fine, as she always did.

[Images 3+4]

But her joints sure were going to hurt a lot in about ten seconds.