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Elemental Power, Page 2

Rachel Morgan

  “Not my whole family,” Mrs. Lin corrected as she lowered herself to sit beside Grandpa. “The younger two don’t know yet. But Bo and I know, and we told Shen soon after the Cataclysm when the two of you became friends. My parents, my grandparents …” She settled on the couch. “I come from a long line of people who have always known about elementals and have committed themselves to protecting them. We know about the myths that are so old barely anyone remembers them. The myths that were never myths.”

  “What myths?”

  “The old stories that speak of a time when some people were born with magic in their blood. They didn’t have to pull it from the elements. They still learned to manipulate it with conjurations, but the elements—in their raw form—would respond to a person’s will without the need for any conjuration. According to the stories, these people lived more in harmony with nature. Those who had to work harder to pull magic from the world were jealous of those who had easier access to power, and so they tried to get rid of them. The stories say that none of these people survived, which we know, of course—” she gestured to Ridley “—isn’t true. Elementals did survive, and they’ve been living in hiding for centuries. Barely anyone knows about them. Even those who live in secret beneath our city, practicing magic illegally, have no idea of the existence of elementals.”

  “But how has it remained a secret?” Ridley asked. “If my parents hadn’t told me to keep it to myself, I’m sure I would have told people.”

  “Those who don’t know they should be hiding don’t last long, I’m afraid,” said Mrs. Lin. “Did your letter mention the Shadow Society?” Ridley nodded as she looked down at the page in her hand, then placed it on the crate. “Well, there you go,” Mrs. Lin continued. “That’s what happens. The Shadow Society gets rid of them, and any stories floating around become rumors that are forgotten.”

  Ridley looked at her father. “And how long have you known about all this? A few years? My whole life?”

  Dad’s eyes rose slowly to meet hers. “Longer than that.”

  “Why didn’t you ever tell me?” she cried. “I can understand you keeping this secret from the rest of the world, but from me?”

  Dad opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

  “We all keep secrets, Ridley,” Mrs. Lin said quietly. “Surely you have your own?”

  Ridley met the older woman’s gaze as the memory of every theft she’d ever committed slammed into her. Of course she’d never told Dad what she spent her free time doing. He wouldn’t approve. But sometimes it was the only way to make a difference, and Ridley refused to feel ashamed for what she’d done. “Yes,” she said, pulling herself a little straighter even as her cheeks flushed. “I do have secrets. But they’re nothing compared to this. They’re nothing compared to telling me my grandfather is dead when he isn’t. Or compared to keeping important information from me about how I’m … I don’t know, a different species!”

  “I don’t think that’s technically correct,” Mrs. Lin murmured.

  “Ridley.” Dad looked at her with pleading eyes. “You have to know that I’ve only ever wanted to protect you. Surely you understand that?”

  “Yes, I understand that, Dad. I do. But protection doesn’t have to equal lying to me.”

  “It would have made no difference to the way you lived your life if I’d told you the truth. You still would have had to keep your magic a secret.”

  “Of course it would have made a difference! I would have grown up knowing I wasn’t a complete freak. I would have known I wasn’t alone.” She swung away from him, her hands clenching into fists at her sides as she swallowed against the emotion tightening her throat. “I can’t believe you kept this from me. This is a fundamental part of who I am, and you decided I didn’t need to know about it.”

  “Riddles …”

  “No, seriously.” Her voice grew higher in pitch and took on a wobbly quality, but she fought the tears back. “Maybe it made sense when I was little, but now? Dad, I’ll be eighteen soon. I’m not a child anymore.” She faced him again. “Were you ever planning to tell me the truth?”

  Instead of answering, Dad stepped closer and wrapped his arms around Ridley. She stood there, her back rigid, her arms pinned to her sides, pressing her lips tightly together as she refused to cry. “I’m so sorry,” Dad said. “I didn’t really have a plan. I just wanted to keep you away from all of this for as long as possible. It’s dangerous. Extremely dangerous.”

  “I know,” Ridley murmured against his shoulder. “It’s life-and-death kind of dangerous. But knowing there are others like me wouldn’t have changed that.”

  “True, but you might have wanted to go looking for them, and I couldn’t allow that. It isn’t safe to be anywhere near them. That’s why we left.”

  “We left?” Ridley pulled away and looked at Dad. “Left where? Who? The elementals?”

  Dad inhaled deeply, exchanged a glance with both Mrs. Lin and Grandpa, then returned his gaze to Ridley. “There are groups of elementals living in hiding all over the world. You and your mother and I lived with some of them. Further north. But our community was discovered. Many were killed, the group scattered, and the three of us were fortunate to get away. But we decided then to keep our distance.”

  “We—what? We used to live with—” Ridley shut her eyes and pressed her fingers to her temples. How many more secrets did she have to unearth before she could finally get a clear picture of her own past? “How old was I?” she asked, opening her eyes. “Because I don’t remember any of that.”

  Dad shook his head. “You wouldn’t. You were less than a year old. We came to Lumina City after that and lived here with Grandpa for a little while.”

  “And he also knew about the elementals back then?”

  “Yes,” Grandpa answered. “I’ve known for a long time. I unearthed enough secrets in the early days of my research—before I was married or had your dad—that I decided to go in search of the truth.”

  “And the Lins …” Ridley looked across as Mrs. Lin. “You’ve also always known.”

  “Yes,” she answered. “We’re in contact with some of the elemental communities living out in the wastelands. We pass information to them in secret and keep tabs on any elementals we know of living in our area.”

  “Like me.”


  “Okaaaaay.” Ridley exhaled, pushing her hands through her hair and turning away from Dad. “This is … just … my brain doesn’t even know what to do with all this. Grandpa’s alive. I’m an elemental. I’m not alone. And there’s this … this Shadow Society. Shadow? Really? They couldn’t come up with anything better than that?”

  “We can’t be certain how the name came about,” Mrs. Lin said, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees, “but we think it’s because they were trying to extinguish magic, and magic has always manifested in a glowing form, illuminated by its own light. Light can’t exist where there is darkness, hence—”

  “Hence the word ‘shadow.’ Right. It’s just … you know.” Ridley threw her hands up. “It’s a stupid name. Like some conspiracy theory no one would ever believe. I mean … there’s actually something called the Shadow Society that hunts people and kills them? How is that real?”

  “It’s very real,” Dad said.

  “I know,” Ridley answered with a sigh. “I’m not questioning that.” She folded her arms again and slumped against the wall. “I’m questioning their lack of creativity in choosing a name for themselves.”

  “Unfortunately, creativity is something they have plenty of when it comes to concocting ways in which to kill elementals so it looks like an accident.”

  “Like Serena Adams,” Ridley said quietly. Thinking of the elemental girl her letter had mentioned reminded her of everything Shen had revealed earlier that evening. Her gaze rose slowly from the floor and landed on Mrs. Lin. “Do you know about Shen?” she asked—and there was that infuriating wobble in her voice again. “Do you know about everythi
ng he’s done?”

  Mrs. Lin’s eyes slipped away from Ridley’s. “I didn’t until yesterday. He only told us about it after he was released from jail. Not for one moment did I believe he could have killed a man until he told us himself.”

  “What?” Grandpa asked. “Shen was responsible after all?” Deep furrows formed across his brow. “That’s … goodness. I wouldn’t have believed it either.”

  “I know.” Mrs. Lin shook her head. “He was almost consumed with guilt over killing an elemental.”

  “Wait,” Ridley said. “That man—the guy who died in our alley—was an elemental?”

  “Yes. Shen never would have killed him intentionally. He was trying to get rid of a Shadow Society member instead. Archer Davenport.”

  “Archer Davenport?” Dad repeated. “That can’t be right.”

  “It isn’t,” Ridley said. “Shen was wrong about Archer. Archer’s been trying to keep the elementals’ secret since the moment he returned to Lumina City.”

  Mrs. Lin frowned. “Shen was certain Archer was also part of it. After Serena’s death, he started following Lawrence Madson around, trying to get as close as he could, and he saw a video call between Lawrence and Archer that convinced him Archer was also involved.”

  “Hang on,” Dad said. “Lawrence Madson killed Serena Adams? I remember you telling me it wasn’t accidental, but you didn’t say any more than that.”

  “Yes. Shen saw Serena’s death. From a distance, at least. He saw Lawrence Madson and two other people with her on top of that building. He was too far away to do anything. During the weeks that followed, he got as close to Lawrence as he could. He listened in on conversations. Discovered for sure that he was a member of the Shadow Society. He and Archer are the only ones we know for sure are part of the society. It seems Shen took it upon himself to get rid of them both.”

  “He must have been pretty determined,” Ridley said, “considering the number of attempts he made.”

  “Number of attempts?” Mrs. Lin frowned. “What else don’t I know about?”

  “Did you hear about the shooting at Wallace Academy? That was Shen. He was trying to kill Archer. He also blew up a car, but Archer wasn’t in it. And tonight, he showed up at Sapphire 84 and tried again. He—” Ridley broke off, finding it difficult to say these particular words about the guy who’d been one of her best friends for years. “He shot Lawrence Madson,” she finished quietly.

  Mrs. Lin swallowed. “Yes. Your father told me that last part in his message to me earlier tonight. Shen was … was determined to avenge Serena’s death. And while he seemed certain Archer was involved with the Shadow Society as well, I suppose it’s possible he was wrong. The elementals we’re in contact with outside Lumina City generally inform us who can be trusted within the city, and they haven’t mentioned Archer Davenport. But I’m sure there are trusted people we don’t know about.”

  “Right. Exactly,” Ridley said, but doubt had begun to grow at the back of her mind. Had Archer somehow been fooling her this entire time? She shook her head and cleared her throat. “Do you know where Shen is now? He escaped from one of the Brex Tower balconies earlier this evening. On a scanner drone he seemed to know would be flying by at the exact moment he jumped.”

  “No, I have no idea what Shen was planning. We haven’t seen or heard from him since about lunch time today. I suspect he’s …” Mrs. Lin sighed. “I think he’s left the city. I think he’s trying to outrun his guilt. He doesn’t know how to live with himself having killed an elemental, one of the people we’ve spent our lives trying to protect. Bo is busy contacting everyone we know who might have helped him to see if we can find out where he is.”

  “I might know a few people you can try reaching out to,” Grandpa said.

  “Oh, yes, we should compare names,” Mrs. Lin replied. “If you don’t mind coming across to our place for a little bit.” She looked at Dad. “I know the two of you have a complicated history, and you probably have a lot of things to talk through. And Ridley will want to spend some time with her grandfather before he leaves, so we’ll be quick.”

  “Wait, when are you leaving?” Ridley asked. “You only just got back.”

  “I’ll be here tonight and tomorrow night,” Grandpa said. “Then I need to get far away from here. Those people who threatened us years ago are all still alive. I can’t afford for anyone to find out I didn’t actually die.”

  “But how will anyone find out as long as you stay hidden inside this apartment?”

  “It isn’t that simple, Ridley. I require assistance to get safely out of the city. I’ve already made plans with certain people.”

  “Oh, well if you’ve made plans, then I guess that settles it,” Ridley said. “No one ever heard of plans being changed.”

  Grandpa chuckled as he pushed himself to the edge of the couch and stood. “Sarcasm. I seem to remember your father being full of sarcastic comments when he was your age.”

  Dad let out a quiet groan and rubbed his hands over his face.

  “Well, let’s do this quickly,” Mrs. Lin said as she stood. “Maverick, I won’t keep your father long.”

  “Not a problem,” Dad said with a sigh.

  “See you a little later,” Grandpa said to Ridley as he crossed the room with Mrs. Lin. “Or tomorrow, if you’re asleep when I get back.” He looked at his watch. “It’s rather late for a school night.”

  Ridley rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that’s my biggest concern right now. Going to bed late on a school night.”

  Grandpa’s eyes twinkled as he smiled at her. “More sarcasm. I love it.”

  Ridley crossed her arms and glared, which, she realized in retrospect, Grandpa probably loved even more than the sarcasm. “I’ll let you out,” Dad muttered, following Mrs. Lin and Grandpa.

  As the three of them headed down the stairs, Ridley crossed the room and sank onto the couch in the spot her grandfather had just vacated. “Grandpa is alive,” she murmured, staring across the room at nothing in particular. “I’m an elemental. And Grandpa is alive.” She pressed her fingers against her temples and squeezed her eyes shut. “I’m an elemental, and Grandpa is alive,” she repeated, as if she were trying to rewire her brain, her memories, to incorporate this information that should have been there all along.

  “You okay?” Dad asked. Ridley opened her eyes and saw him standing at the top of the stairs.

  She shrugged. “I guess.”

  “But you’re still mad at me.”

  “I …” She shook her head. “I don’t know. Maybe a little. Does it make sense to say that I understand why you didn’t tell me any of this, but I still wish that you had?”

  “Yes.” He walked around the crate and sat beside her. “Do you mind if I read the letter?”

  She shook her head, and Dad leaned forward to pick it up. “I had no idea about Shen and Serena,” she said, tucking the tangles of her hair that had fallen forward behind her ears. “He must have been devastated after her death, but I don’t remember noticing anything different. He never said a word.”

  Dad lowered the letter and looked at her. “It was a busy time for you at school. You didn’t see much of Shen during the weeks following Serena’s death. I think he’d managed to pull himself together by the time you were hanging out again.”

  “Okay. I still feel bad though. I should have been there for him, but I didn’t even know what he was going through.” Ridley tilted her head back, then jerked it upright again as another thought occurred to her. “Wait, what about Meera?” she asked, referring to her other best friend. “Does she know any of this?”

  “No,” Dad murmured, his attention still on the letter. “Meera knows nothing.”

  Ridley nodded. This one thing, at least, made sense. Unless Meera was the world’s best actress, there was no way she could possibly be involved in anything secretive and magical. “So …” She said eventually, when she figured enough time had passed for Dad to have read the letter at least three times. “Apparen
tly we need to leave the city and go into the wastelands.”

  “Not anymore,” Dad said. “This letter was written before we managed to get the flash drive back and destroy it. You’re safe, Ridley. We don’t have to go anywhere.”

  Ridley shifted to face her father. “Are you sure? Whoever wrote this said the society will eventually find out who I am.”

  Dad sighed and rubbed one hand over his thinning hair. “It says the society knows how many elementals are in Lumina City, but I don’t see how that puts you in any more danger than you were in before. Whoever wrote this wants you to know that the society won’t stop looking, but they’ve never stopped looking. You just weren’t aware of it before.”

  “But, Dad—”

  “Trust me, Ridley. The best way to fly under the radar is to continue with life as normal. You can go back to school tomorrow and—”

  “There were other letters, Dad,” she interrupted. “Mine wasn’t the only one. There are other elementals in Lumina City who need to know the truth.”

  Dad paused, his eyes searching Ridley’s face as he frowned. “There are other letters just like yours?”

  “Yes. They were all inside the envelope that man—the one who died in the alley—was carrying.”

  Dad pressed his lips together, then said, “You don’t need to do anything with those letters. Just forget about them. If you’re not in danger, then neither are those other elementals. We don’t have to get involved with any of them.”

  Ridley pulled her head back. “Are you kidding? Even if they’re not in immediate danger, they still need to know what’s in the letters. What if they’re like me and they don’t even know there are others like them? Don’t you think they deserve to know?

  “Ridley, this is not our responsibility,” Dad said firmly. “We can’t go looking for these people. It’ll only put you in more danger.”

  “Dad, I put myself in danger all the time. I’ve been putting myself in danger for years, and I’m still fine.”