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Keeper of the Lost Cities, Page 30

Shannon Messenger

  But you’re dead, he thought, his face twisting with pain.

  I’m not dead—yet. Please, they’re going to kill us.

  “She’s transmitting again,” someone warned.

  The pain in her arms became so unbearable she lost her connection—if it had even been a connection.

  “Is that true?” the ghostly voice hissed as his hands squeezed tighter, twisting her raw skin.

  “Stop,” she screamed, contorting from the pain. “Stop, please.”

  “Knock her out again. And make the poison—I’m done with both of them.”

  “No, ple—” The sweet cloth blocked the rest of her plea, and she was jerked back to the dark.

  HER MIND SWAM THROUGH A pool of thick, inky black for an eternity. Sometimes she could find the clarity to picture Fitz’s face and send another desperate plea for help, but most of the time she just drifted, feeling the rise and fall of her chest and wondering which breath would be her last.

  At first she didn’t realize she was moving. A rush of air across her face brought her to her senses.

  “Don’t struggle, Sophie,” someone commanded as she tried to twist her body away. “I’m getting you out of here.”

  A rescue?

  She couldn’t feel the bonds anymore, and a strong pair of arms was moving her somewhere.

  Her overwhelming happiness only lasted a second. “Dex,” she grunted, her voice thick and raw.

  “I’ll come back for him.”

  “No.” She twisted to break free. They were both getting rescued.

  “I have to get you out of here, Sophie.”

  “No.” She kicked her legs and almost managed to slip out of his grasp.

  His sigh rocked through his body. “You kids are so difficult.”

  Something tugged at her memory, but she didn’t have time to process it. “Dex,” she insisted, thrashing harder.

  He made a sound that may have been a growl as he spun her around, jostling her more than he probably needed to as he ran. When they stopped, he shifted his weight and pulled a body over his other shoulder. Her heart leaped when she felt Dex’s warm breath against her cheek. He still seemed drugged, but he was alive—and they were being rescued.

  Everything would be okay.

  “Hang on to me,” their rescuer ordered. “If I have to carry two of you, you have to pull some of your own weight.”

  Her brain still felt foggy from the drugs and her body was weak, but there was no way she was going to risk having him put Dex down. She wrapped her arms around his neck and held on with everything she had.

  He moved quick and silent—occasionally stopping to catch his breath. Then they entered some sort of elevator, and her stomach lurched from the sudden jump in altitude.

  “Who are you?” she whispered.

  “It’s not important.” His voice sounded clipped, giving her nothing distinct she could recognize.

  “Why are you helping me?”

  “It’s my job.”

  His job?

  She’d been hoping it was someone who cared, but she wasn’t in a position to complain.

  “How long have we been gone?”

  “It took us ten days to find you.”

  Ten days in that drugged delirium? Her whole body started to shake.

  The doors opened and a burst of fresh air on her skin helped calm her panic. After a few minutes of running he lowered her to the hard ground, laying Dex beside her. Rough fingers parted her lips.

  “Swallow,” he ordered, pouring something bitter and salty down her throat. She gagged, but he clamped her mouth shut. “Swallow, Sophie.”

  She choked down the sludge. A minute later she heard Dex gag and knew he must be getting the same medicine.

  “Okay,” their rescuer grunted, placing something flimsy in her hands. “The medicine will take about an hour to work, and then you’ll be back on your feet. That’s the best I can do. You kids will have to take care of yourselves from here on out.”

  “What?” She couldn’t even open her eyes—how was she supposed to take care of herself? “Don’t go,” she begged, fumbling to find him.

  “I’ve been here too long as it is. If you don’t make it back in a few days, I’ll try to figure something else out, but I can’t make any promises.”

  Tears pricked her eyes. “Please don’t leave me,” she begged, reaching out for him and finding only air.

  He was gone.

  Too weak and scared to move, she curled closer to Dex and cried harder than she’d ever cried before.

  After a minute she felt a warm tingle in her mind—almost like a caress. Suddenly she was five years old again—before her telepathy manifested and her life changed forever. When she was just a happy, normal girl. She wrapped her mind around the feeling, clinging to the warmth and safety until her weary mind drifted off to sleep.


  SOPHIE HAD NO IDEA HOW MUCH TIME passed before she forced her eyes open, ignoring the searing light. The warm feeling she’d fallen asleep to was gone, replaced with a heightened awareness of everything around her.

  Maybe it was from being bound and gagged for so long, or the way the drugs had limited her abilities, but everything felt like sensory overload. It wasn’t quite as bad as waking up in the hospital the first time her telepathy started, but it was close. She grabbed her head and moaned, wishing she had the strength to shield the barrage of sound.

  They were in a city of some sort—a human one, based on the noise and the cigarette butts on the ground—in a deserted alley. The buildings looked like they belonged to a different century, and everything was stone, even the street. Dex stirred beside her and she squirmed closer, needing to feel his warmth. As long as he was alive everything would be okay.

  “Dex,” she whispered.

  His eyes fluttered and he moaned as the light hit him. Then he bolted upright, his face wild. “Sophie?”

  Their eyes locked and she held her breath, hoping he didn’t hate her for getting him into this.

  He threw his arms around her, hugging so tight it knocked the breath out of her. “I thought I’d never see you again.”

  She buried her face in his shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Dex. This is all my fault.”

  They clung to each other for a moment before Dex pulled away, wiping his eyes. “I’m just glad you’re okay. And I’m so sorry for the way I’ve been acting—”

  “Please. It doesn’t matter. Let’s focus on more important things, like staying alive.”

  He nodded, surveying their surroundings. “Where are we?”

  “Somewhere human—but I don’t know where.”

  “Why would we be in the Forbidden Cities?”

  “Their hideout must be here. The guy who rescued us didn’t leap, so it can’t be far.”

  She checked her arms and wrists for wounds, but the skin was smooth and fresh. No sign of the burns she’d felt during the interrogation. Her nexus was gone too. She wasn’t surprised the kidnappers took it, but why didn’t the rescuer give her one? How were they supposed to get home? Unless that was what he slipped into her hand before he left. . . .

  “What are you doing?” Dex asked as she scoured the ground, searching for anything that looked remotely elvin.

  “He gave me something to help us, and I can’t find it.”

  Dex helped her look, but all they found was a scroll of paper with the words “Alexandre, Lantern, Concentrate.” Followed by the word “Hurry.”

  “Well, that’s helpful!” She crumpled the page, ready to scream. Four vague, disconnected words? That’s all they were giving her?

  She felt her neck, desperately hoping her home crystal would still be there. But the kidnappers stole that too. Even her bottle of allergy medicine was gone. She had nothing left but the clothes on her back—and her stupid blue Fo
xfire uniform was only going to make it harder for them to hide among humans.

  “I don’t understand,” Dex said, interrupting her venomous thoughts. “Why wouldn’t he take us home? Why would he dump us here?”

  “Because this was his job, and he didn’t want anyone to know he was involved.” She rose on shaky legs, the buildings spinning as the blood rushed to her head. “That’s how the Black Swan operates.”

  “The Black Swan?”

  “I’ll explain as we walk. We should get moving—in case anyone’s looking for us.”

  They wound through narrow, deserted streets, and Sophie finally confessed everything she’d hidden from him: her telepathy, Prentice, the notes, the Black Swan, Fintan, Everblaze, her upcoming tribunal. Dex seemed too stunned to process any of it—and she couldn’t blame him.

  The more she thought about it, the more she was sure the Black Swan had nothing to do with her kidnapping. Their little puppet, he’d called her. Who else could he be talking about besides the Black Swan? Plus, the kidnappers didn’t seem to know what was hidden in her mind, and the Black Swan would know that. They put it there.

  But if it wasn’t the Black Swan, who was it?

  And why?

  Pounding noise interrupted her thoughts. Sophie stumbled back, clutching her temples.

  “What’s wrong?” Dex asked, steadying her.

  “Human thoughts.” She closed her eyes, taking deep breaths. “They’re getting louder. Tiergan taught me how to shield, but I don’t have the energy right now.”

  “I can’t believe you’re a Telepath,” he mumbled.

  “Does it matter?”

  “No.” He chewed his lip. “But . . . have you ever listened to my thoughts?”

  “Of course not. I don’t want to know anyone’s secrets. Plus, it’s against the rules. The one time I did it I got detention.”

  “That’s what you got detention for?”

  “I stole the midterm from Lady Galvin’s mind.”

  Dex laughed and she couldn’t help joining him. It felt wrong—given their current situation. But neither of them could seem to stop. They were still laughing as they rounded a corner, and Dex plowed into an old man sweeping the sidewalk in front of his store.

  “Watch where you’re going!” the man shouted as he struggled to regain his balance.

  “We’re so sorry,” Sophie apologized.

  He waved his broom at them. “You should be more careful. Someone could get hurt.”

  “We will.” She pulled Dex away before the man drew more attention to them.

  “What language were you speaking?” Dex asked when they were out of earshot. “It sounded like you were trying to clear your throat.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “What do you mean, what do I mean?”

  “I mean—wait—what?”

  “Sophie, you do realize you were speaking a different language back there, don’t you?”

  “No, I wasn’t.”

  “Yes. You were.”

  “Oh! I was speaking English. Humans don’t speak the Enlightened Language.”

  “I know they don’t speak the Enlightened Language. But I know English, and I couldn’t understand a word you said.”

  She only half heard him, because her eyes had spotted part of a tower peeking over the roofs. “No way . . .”

  She took off down a side street. Dex chased after her.

  The street ended in a wide park, and Sophie froze. A hundred yards in front of her was a landmark so recognizable she had to blink her eyes a few times to make sure she was really seeing clearly.

  “What is that thing?” Dex asked.

  “The Eiffel Tower.” She gaped at the graceful structure she’d seen in hundreds of pictures. “We’re in Paris. Wait”—she turned to Dex—“we’re in France.”

  “And that means?”

  “You must have heard me speaking . . . French.” She wrestled with the idea, but it wouldn’t make sense. How could she speak a language she’d never learned?

  “Okay,” Dex said, interrupting her thoughts. “We know where we are. Now what?”

  “I have no idea. I guess we keep moving.”

  They followed a crowd of Indian tourists, because their capes looked less out of place surrounded by saris. “We’re going to need money,” Sophie said as they passed a currency exchange. “But unless you feel like robbing a bank, we’ll have to figure out a way around it.”

  “Doesn’t money come out of that machine?” Dex asked, pointing to the ATM. “That’s how they show it in the movies my mom watches.”

  “Yeah, but you have to have an account and a code.”

  “Can we fake that?”

  “No. They have all kinds of security measures.”

  He frowned. “Well, I’m going to check it out. Maybe I can make it work.”

  “How could you ‘make it work’?”

  “I’m good with gadgets.”

  She bit her lip. “Fine, but—be careful. They have cameras and stuff.”

  He waved her worries away as he got in line. Sophie fidgeted in the background, covering her eyes when he started pressing random buttons like it was a game. She kept waiting for police sirens and alarm bells, but a couple minutes later he was at her side.

  “Is a thousand enough?” He held out a thick stack of rainbow-colored bills. “It’s just paper, so I wasn’t sure.”

  She gasped, glancing over her shoulder. “What did you do?”

  “I told it we needed money and it gave me this.”

  “You told it? How?”

  “I don’t know. I just knew what buttons I needed to press. Why?”

  “Because that’s not normal, Dex. You just robbed an ATM.”

  “I did?”

  “Yeah.” She shoved the money under her cape so no one could see it. “How come you’re so good with machines? Is that a special ability or something?”

  He thought for a second before his shoulders fell. “It is. I bet I’m a Technopath.”

  “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

  “It’s about as good as being a Froster. But I guess it’s better than nothing. I’ll have to look into it when we get home. If we get home.” His voice trembled.

  She squeezed his hand. “We’ll find a way. I got us into this and I will get us out.”

  “How?” he whispered.

  “I don’t know.” She glared at the spot where her nexus should be. “Why wouldn’t he give us a nexus?”

  “They can track a nexus through the field that holds you together.”

  Sophie tried not to worry about how easily they could be found. “Okay. Then the answer must be in this note. We need to do some research.”


  “Yeah.” She scanned the street and pulled him toward an Internet café she spotted a few blocks down.

  Since neither of them had eaten in days, she bought sandwiches—chicken for her, cheese for Dex, who was horrified at the idea of eating a once-living creature—and bought an hour of Internet time.

  Dex giggled as he stared at the boxy black computers and at the way she navigated the web browser. “Technology,” he mumbled, while Sophie Googled “Paris, Alexandre, lantern.”

  “That’s it!” she gasped.

  The number-one result was Pont Alexandre III, a famous bridge across the Seine. Ornate lanterns lined both sides. It had to be their way home.

  The shopkeeper gave them directions, and after fifteen minutes of walking the famous golden statues at the top of the columns came into view. They sped up their pace, but their excitement faded when they saw how many lanterns there were.

  “Maybe we should split up,” Sophie suggested.

  “What are we even looking for?”

  “No idea. Just look for anything
that looks elvin and we’ll go from there.”

  “Easier said than done,” Dex grumbled.

  He was right. The lanterns were covered in elaborate carvings and decorations—some even with statues. They’d barely covered half the bridge when the sun sank below the horizon. They would need to find somewhere to sleep soon.

  She was about to call it a day when she spotted a small, curved line at the base of a lantern toward the center of the bridge. An elvin rune—one she could actually read.

  “Dex, get over here,” she called. She pressed on it, searching for the edges of a secret compartment, but found nothing.

  “Did you find it?”

  “I found something.” She pointed to the rune. “That means Eternalia. This has to be what the note wanted us to find.”

  “How does it help us get home?”

  “I have no idea.” Her eyes examined the lantern inch by inch, finally focusing on the tip of the highest lamp. “Look, Dex—there’s a crystal. None of the other lanterns has that.”

  “You’re sure?”

  “Yeah. I know these lanterns by heart now, and this is the only one that has it.” She squinted, smiling when she saw the crystal only had a single facet. “It’s a leaping crystal—and I bet it leaps straight to Eternalia.”

  “You did it! We can go home.” He threw his arms around her and spun her around. A second later he jumped back, blushing from head to toe. “Sorry. I’m just happy.”

  She shrugged, hoping her face wasn’t as red as it felt. “No problem.” Her smile faded. “But we still don’t have nexuses. How are we supposed to get home?”

  “People leap without them all the time.”

  “Yeah, people who don’t need them anymore.”

  “We’re close enough—and we’ll concentrate extra hard when we do it. We might come back a little faded, but that only lasts a few days.”

  Easy for him to say. His meter had been three quarters full. She wasn’t even to the half. If simple mathematics applied, that would mean she’d lose more than half of herself, which might make her fade away.