The evertree, p.1
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       The Evertree, p.1
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           Marie Lu
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The Evertree

  To Taylor, who loves beasts great and small



  Evertree Emblem

  Greencloak Letter

  Quote Page

  Title Page













  11: ARMY



  14: KOVO


  16: DUEL

  17: TELLUN







  About the Author

  Online Game Code

  Sneak Peek

  Spirit Animals Game


  ENORMOUS BLACK SCALES SLITHERING ACROSS GRASS. A gorilla’s earthshaking roar. A piercing shriek from the sky. Grass, dirt, rock, brittle bark. A heartbeat deep in the earth, something as old as time itself. A silhouette of twisting antlers that appeared and then vanished.

  The dream always began this way. Conor blinked, blinded by the light overhead. He held his hand out over his eyes in an attempt to block it, but the light cut through, turning the edges of his skin red and translucent. Something gold flashed before his eyes. It vanished immediately, but for that instant, it had looked like leaves. He struggled to a sitting position. The dirt beneath him crumbled, hard and cracked, dying.

  A voice echoed in the air.

  Conor. It is the end of an era. We need you here.

  Tellun? Conor thought. Gradually, he realized that the blinding light came from fires. Fire was everywhere.


  Conor jerked his head to his side at the familiar scream. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he realized that he was lying near the edge of a cliff – and not far from him stood Meilin, weighed down with chains. She threw herself at an oncoming Greencloak and knocked him into the dirt. Jhi looked helplessly on. Rollan was locked in a tight battle with an enormous snake. The snake wrapped its coils around both of his arms, lifting him high in the air. A short distance away, Abeke and Uraza fought what seemed like hundreds of Conquerors.

  Briggan! Conor tried to shout the name as he finally managed to get to his feet. He wanted to run to his friends. Why was it so hard to move? Briggan, come on! We have to help them – where are you? He called and called for his wolf before he realized that Briggan was in his passive state. But something seemed wrong. The longer Conor stared at the tattoo, the fainter it turned, until he couldn’t tell whether or not it was there at all. His heart seized in terror.


  The gorilla’s roar sounded out again, shaking the earth beneath his feet. Conor looked off to a large rock behind where Rollan struggled with the snake. There stood the Great Ape. One of his fists pounded heavily against his chest, while the other fist clutched what looked like a twisted golden staff that gave off a strange, ethereal glow.

  The ape swiveled his head toward Conor in such an eerie move that it sent shivers down his spine. The shadow that the beast cast swallowed Conor whole, covering every bit of land as far as the eye could see. When the ape caught sight of Conor, he narrowed his eyes into dangerous slits. Then he threw his head back into another roar. He charged him.

  Run! Conor screamed at himself, but his limbs all felt like they were dragging through thick molasses. He tried to lunge forward with each step, only to feel like he was being pulled back. Behind him, the gorilla surged forward, his mighty limbs pounding against the earth. Conor ran toward the edge of the cliff, unsure what he expected to do once he got there. He skidded to a halt just over the edge, arms wheeling. His boots kicked up a shower of pebbles that rained over the cliff side. There was nowhere else to go.

  The gorilla roared behind him. He was so close now. Conor cowered near the cliff’s edge. All he could see around him were the images of his friends losing the war, struggling against enemies far too strong for them. Greencloaks fell before Conquerors and flames rose into the sky, all against the backdrop of a bleak, dying land.

  The gorilla reached him. Conor’s boot slipped. He tried to catch himself, but all he caught was a close glimpse of the gorilla’s terrifying eyes. He teetered on the edge.

  An enormous eagle appeared overhead. Its wings gleamed bronze and white as they blocked out the sun. Conor looked up at it, and to his amazement, he saw Tarik riding on its back, his cloak billowing out behind him. Tarik! You’re alive! An indescribable joy and relief washed over him at the sight of the familiar face. Tarik was here. Everything was going to be okay. The Greencloak reached out with one gloved hand toward Conor, and Conor reached up to take it.

  Except it wasn’t Tarik.

  The face transformed. The kind, knowing eyes were replaced with ones cold and cunning. Conor found himself staring up into the face of Shane instead. The boy smiled at him in a way that showed all his teeth at once. In the distance, the gorilla’s roar mixed with Tellun’s deep voice. Shane withdrew his hand, and Conor saw the abyss yawn beneath him, swallowing him whole.

  IT WAS A COLD, DRIZZLY MORNING AT GREENHAVEN CASTLE. Rollan wrapped his cloak – Tarik’s old green cloak, rather – more tightly around his shoulders and wandered out to the main entrance, where he’d seen Abeke surveying the overcast landscape with Uraza at her side. The Coral Octopus hung heavily around his neck, bumping against his chest with every step he took. He found himself reaching up frequently to touch it. After all that had happened – Shane’s betrayal, Meilin’s turning, Tarik’s death – he couldn’t afford to lose one of their two remaining talismans.

  How long had it been since Shane escaped with the talismans? A few weeks? Somehow, the whole thing felt like it’d happened yesterday. And here they were, still gathering Greencloaks from around the world, building up their forces to face the Conquerors. Rollan’s mouth tightened in frustration. If Tarik were here, he would tell Rollan not to worry, to calm down and think clearly, to let himself grieve and then move forward with a clear, patient head. But all Rollan could do these days was pace restlessly in the castle, waiting for the word that they could head out to retrieve the talismans, stop Kovo the Ape, and rescue Meilin.

  And rescue Meilin.

  His fingers stopped fiddling with the Coral Octopus for a moment, suspended by the weight of the thought. Rescuing her felt impossible. Sometimes, when he chatted with the others, he found himself looking for Meilin so that he could tell her the newest joke in his head. He would yearn to make her laugh, only to realize that she wasn’t there. She was far away.

  Rollan sighed. He couldn’t afford to keep thinking about all that had gone wrong. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to pretend that Tarik was still wandering around somewhere in the castle, that Meilin was asleep in her chambers upstairs. He knew neither was true, but right now, he could force himself to believe, and it kept his darker thoughts at bay.

  The weather. That was a much safer thought. I’ll think about the weather.

  For the fifteenth time that morning, Rollan considered how odd the weather had been. This was supposed to be the dry season, but for the past week, as Olvan organized their forces in preparation to leave, they’d gotten nothing but gray skies and steady rain. Even the animals were behaving oddly all of a sudden. The birds were migrating early, for one, and when Rollan looked overhead, he could see another flock heading south in two giant V formations.

  “Go ahead, Essix
,” he murmured to his gyrfalcon, who sat perched on his shoulder. If she kept putting her full weight on him like this, he was going to get a sore back for sure. “I know you want to hunt.”

  But even Essix seemed out of sorts. She chirped a little, fluffed her neck feathers to shake out water droplets, and settled in even more. She seemed completely content to stay put, instead of heading out for a good hunt. Rollan watched her for a while. When she just went back to preening her tail feathers, he tried to ignore his aching shoulder and decided he’d better leave her be. Far be it from him to judge her sullen mood.

  Maybe she loathed waiting around just as much as Rollan did.

  By the time he reached the castle entrance, the drizzle had turned into a steady rain. The water beaded on the fabric of his cloak before soaking through. Uraza watched them approach. Her tail swished back and forth. Even though she wasn’t his spirit animal, Rollan guessed she probably felt a little impatient with all the waiting too.

  Abeke stood beside her, leaning against the archway and absently stroking the leopard’s velvety head. She didn’t bother turning when Rollan came to join her. The Granite Ram, their only other talisman, dangled from her neck, the pale gray pendant prominent against the dark of her skin.

  “Hey,” Rollan said. “I know you were supposed to be your village’s Rain Dancer and all, but can you lighten up on all the dancing?” He looked up at the sky for emphasis.

  Abeke’s eyes flickered to Rollan’s cloak, then went back to surveying the bleak landscape. She didn’t seem amused by his joke, and in embarrassment, he let it fade away. “Hey,” she just said.

  Rollan turned serious. “Olvan says we should be able to set out soon, in the next few days.”

  “Any new messages?”

  He shook his head. They’d sent out dozens of stormy petrels and pigeons to their Greencloak allies and friends in other nations, hoping that some of them would receive the call for help in time to come to their aid. Abeke had sent several doves to Nilo, to deliver the news to her father and sister.

  Friends – we make for Stetriol in a week. We need your help.

  As far as Rollan knew, Abeke’s father hadn’t responded.

  “Sorry,” he replied.

  Abeke nodded her thanks, lowered her eyes, and turned away again.

  Rollan pursed his lips, for once lacking a witty quip. Where was a good joke when you needed one? Abeke had been like this often lately, staring off at the horizon while lost in thought. He knew she was probably dwelling on Shane’s betrayal, and how Meilin had been forced to turn on all of them. And by the way she lowered her eyes in shame, he knew she still blamed herself for all of it.

  Meilin. Again, Rollan scolded himself for returning to the thoughts that kept him tossing at night and pushing away his meals. Where is she now? he wondered. What was she thinking?

  What must it feel like, to have no power over yourself?

  The pain of losing Meilin irritated him for an instant. He’d done so well, for so long, on his own. But now there were people at stake, whose absences hurt him, and he didn’t like it one bit.

  As if she could tell what he was thinking, Abeke tilted her head toward him and cleared her throat. “It looks good on you,” she said, offering him a weak smile.

  Tarik’s cloak. Memories flashed back to him of the elder Greencloak’s last stand, of the hopeful look in Tarik’s eyes when he saw his own cloak draped in Rollan’s arms, just before he sacrificed himself. A pain spread in Rollan’s chest, until he felt like he could barely breathe.

  Still, there was something comforting about Abeke’s words. As if Tarik wasn’t completely gone. Even now, the cloak protected him, shielding him from the rain. Essix ruffled her feathers again, and flecks of water went flying.

  “Thanks,” he muttered. “Who knew I’d have to wrap myself up to keep warm at this time of year?”

  “Olvan says the Greencloaks in Nilo are reporting weird weather there too.”

  “Like what?”

  “Like layers of ice over the watering holes. He said some of the animals don’t know what to make of it, and they can’t get to the water.”

  Ice. In Nilo? Rollan tried to imagine the oasis where they’d found Cabaro, encased in a thick layer of ice. “Well. That sounds like a nice, normal summer.”

  Abeke couldn’t help smiling a little at his sarcasm. “I can’t remember seeing that – or even hearing about it – when I lived in Nilo. The tribes must be in chaos.”

  “Or skating around and playing games. I mean, I would.”

  That coaxed a genuine laugh out of her. “I can see it. Planks of wood and antelope bone strapped to our feet.”

  Rollan leaned in with a conspiratorial grin. “I bet Uraza would love that. Wouldn’t you?” He nodded at Uraza, who regarded him with a rather withering look.

  The two chuckled a little, and then their moment of humor faded.

  Rollan realized that Abeke must be wondering how her father and sister were doing. He shifted his boots against the damp stone floor. “Do you think they’re okay?” he asked.

  Abeke shrugged. For a moment, she threw her shoulders back in an illusion of confidence. “I haven’t thought much about it,” she said, almost too careful about her carelessness.

  The lie in her words and posture was so obvious that Rollan could have sensed it even without his gifts from Essix. Still, he just nodded along. He had lost his mentor, the only man he’d ever thought of as a father … but Abeke’s true father had turned his back on her. And the person Abeke had always considered a good friend – Shane – had used her friendship too.

  “Abeke,” Rollan suddenly said, touching her arm with his hand. She and Uraza both turned to look at him in unison. “Look. I know what you must be going through. You don’t have to pretend around me.” He hesitated. He’d never been all that good at gestures of serious emotion. “It’s not your fault,” he finally said. “Shane’s betrayal … He’s the one who should feel guilty, not you. You couldn’t have known. You love and you trust. And I just wanted to say … well, that I’m sorry people keep taking advantage of that trust.”

  Abeke studied him for a long moment. She still looked sad, but Rollan thought he could see some of the guilt lift from her eyes. After a while, she nodded. “Thank you,” she murmured. “I’m sorry that you’ve had to wait so long to trust others,” she replied.

  The two fell into a comfortable silence. After a while, Rollan shook his head and nudged her gently. “The ice will pass, I know it. All I can say is that I’d be mad if Nilo was hogging all the blue sky and sunshine.”

  Abeke cracked a wry smile. Uraza let out a comforting rumble deep in her throat, then nudged the girl’s hand with her head.

  Suddenly Rollan felt Essix’s weight shift on his shoulder. An instant later, she pushed off from him and launched herself into the air with an earsplitting shriek. The movement nearly sent him tumbling backward. He flinched, his ears ringing, and looked on as she soared up into the sky. “Hey!” he shouted up at her, annoyed. “I know you’re loud – you don’t have to show off!”

  “What is she doing?” asked Abeke.

  “I don’t know. Probably decided she was hungry after all.” But the migrating birds were too far off in the distance now. Something else must have caught her attention. Rollan looked at Essix as she flew farther away –

  – and then, abruptly, the world rushed forward around him, and he could see through her eyes.

  He soared up, up, above the castle and into the open air, and then he looked down at where their small figures stood at the entrance. Essix’s gaze turned sharply to focus on one of the castle’s battlements. She shrieked again. This time, it was the distinct cry of something going very, very wrong.

  Rollan looked closer. There, along the slippery, wet edge of the battlement’s stone barrier, walked Conor.

  Conor didn’t walk in a concentrated way. He swayed and teetered dangerously along the ledge, as if he wasn’t quite awake. The hairs rose on the
back of Rollan’s neck. What on Erdas is he doing up there? Rollan blinked, feeling his vision rush back to the ground and return to him. He pointed up in horror.

  “Is that Conor?” he said incredulously.

  “What?” Abeke exclaimed. She looked too. Immediately she straightened, then squinted as if she couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing either. She cupped her hands around her mouth. “Conor!” she shouted up at the battlement. “Hey, Conor!”

  But Conor didn’t seem to hear her. He didn’t seem to notice anything, actually, not even the fact that he was now inching his way along the edge of the battlement. Where was Briggan? Rollan glanced frantically around the top of the tower, but the enormous gray wolf was nowhere to be seen. Briggan must have been in his passive state.

  A chill ran down Rollan’s spine as he thought back to Meilin’s strange, Bile-addled behavior. What if Conor was somehow affected by the Bile too? Rollan felt a sudden urge to call out for Tarik – until he remembered, with a pang, that Tarik was no longer there to help them.

  “Come on!” he hissed at Abeke, grabbing her hand. He dashed through the entrance, back into the castle, and toward the stairs leading up to the battlement. They ran up the steps two at a time. Rollan almost tripped on one step, but caught himself and hurried on. Uraza bounded beside them, each of her strides equal to three of theirs.

  By the time they emerged at the top of the wet battlement, Uraza was already there. Rollan wiped rain out of his eyes, and his gaze settled on Conor’s teetering figure.


  Essix shrieked again and dove for the boy. Rollan lunged forward as fast as he could.

  He reached Conor – right as Conor slipped off the edge.

  ESSIX DOVE AT THE SAME TIME ROLLAN CRIED OUT. HER talon hooked into the sleeve of Conor’s shirt. The fabric ripped – but not all the way. For an instant, Conor dangled precariously in midair.

  “Grab him!” Rollan shouted.

  Abeke was the closest. She skidded to a crouch on the ledge, using one hand to securely grasp the stone battlement. Then she stretched her free arm out to grab Conor’s sleeve. Essix flapped as close as she could – but with each movement, the fabric tore more, until nothing but a few dozen threads kept Conor from plummeting to the ground.

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