Keeper of the Lost Cities, Page 31Shannon Messenger
But it was their only option.
“Well, we can’t do it until sunrise.” She pointed to the angle of the crystal, which clearly needed dawn light to create a path. “Maybe we should find somewhere to sleep for the night.”
Dex nodded. “I can’t believe there’s a crystal to Eternalia hidden in the Forbidden Cities. Do you have any idea how illegal that is?”
She frowned. “I wonder why it’s here.”
“So we can come and go as we please,” a gruff voice said behind them. Sophie and Dex whipped around to find three figures cloaked in black pointing a silver weapon at their heads.
The kidnappers had found them.
I WOULDN’T SCREAM IF I WERE YOU,” THE FIGURE with the weapon warned them. “I’m not afraid to use a melder, and you will not enjoy it.” He pointed the metal gadget at Sophie’s forehead. “A few seconds will only stun you. Any more will cause permanent damage. Do you understand?”
“You wouldn’t do that with humans around,” Sophie said, hating her voice for shaking. The bridge wasn’t crowded, but there were a few people out for evening strolls. One of them would notice the three figures in black hooded cloaks threatening children and call the police.
All three figures laughed, and the one with the weapon—who appeared to be the leader—moved a step closer. “They have no idea we’re here.” He pulled a small black orb from his cloak. “This is an Obscurer. It bends light and sound around us like a force field. All anyone can see or hear right now is wind and a slight distortion in the air, like heat waves radiating off the ground.”
Sophie reached for Dex’s hand. They were on their own.
“I don’t know how you escaped,” the leader hissed as he handed a coil of silver rope to one of his goons. “But you can rest assured it won’t happen again.”
Sophie bit her lip so she wouldn’t cry out as the goon jerked her hands behind her back and tied them tight. “How did you find us?”
“The Black Swan must’ve thought we wouldn’t check our own pathways. Let that be a lesson to you. Never underestimate your opponent.”
“If you’re not the Black Swan, who are you?” Sophie demanded.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” the goon sneered as he tied her ankles. The cold metal wire cut into her skin, but she barely felt it as she focused all her concentration on calling for help.
Please, Fitz, she transmitted, imagining him in the halls of Everglen. Her brain buzzed with energy, and she pushed her mind further than she ever had before. We’re in Paris—Pont Alexandre III. We need help. Tell your dad and please hurry!
Maybe adrenaline enhanced her concentration—or maybe it was wishful thinking—but the message seemed stronger this time, like she could actually feel it swirl inside Fitz’s mind as he struggled to ignore it.
Please listen to me. I’m not dead—but I might be if you don’t come. Please send help.
Strong arms shook her shoulders so hard her brain rattled, severing her connection.
“She was transmitting again,” the goon yelled. “Never heard a call that loud either. We should get out of here in case anyone heard her.”
“Agreed—and don’t try that again unless you want to find out what the melder would do to your powerful little brain. Understood?” The leader pointed the weapon between her eyes.
She swallowed the bile filling her mouth. “What are you going to do with us?”
“That’s none of your business. Let’s go.”
Dex hadn’t said a word since the kidnappers appeared. Sophie figured he was in shock, but he must’ve been channeling, because in one rapid burst he ripped apart his bonds and jumped free. “Duck, Sophie,” he screamed.
She dropped to the ground as a beam of energy whizzed past her.
Another blast from the melder missed Dex as he slammed the leader to the ground and knocked the weapon from his hand.
The other goon grabbed the weapon and blasted Dex in the chest.
Dex flew backward and collapsed on the ground, his body jerking in a seizure.
“Maybe I didn’t make myself clear,” the leader growled as he dusted his cloak and snatched the melder from his goon. He pointed it at Dex’s chest and delivered another blast.
Dex thrashed and flailed, strange gurgling sounds coming from his throat.
“Stop,” Sophie begged. “We’ll cooperate. Just stop.”
“Of course you’ll cooperate. You have no choice.” He blasted Dex again, and this time Dex didn’t move. His blank, lifeless eyes stared into nothing, and Sophie squeezed her eyes shut to block the image.
He’ll be fine, she told herself. He’s just unconscious.
“Get your hands off me,” she screamed as a goon yanked her to her feet. A bony white hand squeezed her arm, and she memorized every detail of the pale scar between his thumb and forefinger so she could track him down and find him. The line was white and crescent shaped, with jagged points—almost like a bite.
The word triggered a flood of memories—vivid and clear—and this time they were her memories.
“You!” she gasped, jerking her head around to get a better look at him. The deep cowl of his cloak hid his face, but she knew who was hiding in the shadows. “I know you.”
“You know nothing,” he growled. But there was a dash of uncertainty to his voice. He shoved her forward, laughing when her bound ankles made her stumble.
“Stop playing around,” the leader yelled at his goon. “Get rid of the boy while I take the girl back to the keep.”
“You can’t do that!” Sophie shrieked.
“How are you going to stop us?” the leader asked as he pointed the melder at her forehead. He snorted when she didn’t say anything. “That’s what I thought.”
Something inside her snapped as she watched the scarred goon heft Dex’s limp body over his shoulder to take him away and kill him.
She’d heard of seeing red, but this wasn’t red. This was fierce, black hate. It clouded her mind until it consumed her.
All sound vanished and her whole body shook with a frenzy she didn’t understand. She pushed the anger and darkness out of her mind, needing to be free of it. When the last ounce of hatred was gone, her vision cleared and all three figures were slumped on the ground, holding their heads and writhing in pain.
Her bonds snapped like they were made of paper, her muscles strengthened by the strange energy still pumping through her. She ran to Dex.
His body was limp as she pulled him free, but she could feel a weak pulse. If she could get him to Elwin, he would be okay. He had to be okay. He couldn’t die because of her.
She fumbled through the heavyset figure’s cloak and grabbed his pathfinder. She spun the crystal and locked it into place on the facet it stopped on, hoping it wouldn’t take her to one of their secret hideouts. She didn’t have any other options, so she just had to take the chance. It didn’t matter where they went, just so long as there were elves there to help.
Then she flung Dex over her shoulder—barely noticing the extra weight—took a deep breath, and imagined her concentration wrapping around Dex’s body like an aura. When she had a hold on him, she held the pathfinder up and stepped into the light, letting it pull them away.
The pain was almost unbearable, but she held on, refusing to let the leap beat her. The light was a force, battering her—pulling and pushing in so many different directions she couldn’t tell if she was being ripped apart or crushed. When she was nearing her breaking point, the rushing slowed, the tug-of-war lessened, and the scenery glittered in around her.
She forced the last ounce of her concentration around Dex as the light whisked away, not allowing it to take any part of him with it.
The pain faded, and for one glorious second she thought they might actually be okay.
Then her legs collapsed.
sp; They hit the ground hard, and Dex groaned from the impact.
At least she knew he was still alive.
She tried to turn to see if he was awake, but she couldn’t move her head. She couldn’t feel her body. It was like her brain wasn’t connected anymore, and she had an overwhelming urge to let go, drift with the gentle breeze tugging at her skin and follow after the parts of her that the light had dragged away.
She was fading. She must’ve lost too much of herself in the leap.
For a moment she surrendered, closing her eyes as the warmth surrounded her. But she couldn’t leave Dex. She had to hold on until he was safe.
She summoned every last bit of concentration and transmitted as far as she could.
It’s Sophie, Fitz. Dex is hurt and I’m too weak to help him. Please come. I can’t hold on much longer. . . .
She could see him with her mind’s eye, in his room this time. It was a place she’d never seen—and she couldn’t be sure if she was really seeing it now or if it was all in her imagination, but when she called his name, he turned and looked at her.
Please, Fitz. I need your help.
He turned away and his hands grabbed something. A tiny purple Albertosaurus, and the note she’d given him with it. If she could’ve felt her chest, her heart would’ve skipped a beat.
I went to your funeral, he thought.
I’m not dead—not yet. I need your help.
Her mind grew weak from the effort, but she fought against the weariness overtaking her and clung to the connection.
Please, Fitz. You have to come. Before it’s too late.
Her hazy eyes scanned the scenery, searching for a landmark that might explain where she was. She was relieved they were out in the open, with no signs of the kidnappers. But that also meant they were on their own, and if Fitz didn’t come . . .
There’s a tree here, Fitz. Part of it has green leaves and part of it has flowers and part of it has snow. It’s huge. If you know where that is, please hurry.
She projected the image to him.
I’m so tired. Please help us. We don’t have much time.
She couldn’t see Dex, but she could hear his labored breathing. She wondered how much longer he could hold on. Would it be long enough for someone to find him?
The gentle breeze tugged at her and she couldn’t resist anymore.
I’m so sorry, Dex, she transmitted, not sure if he was conscious. I’m sorry I’m not strong enough to save you.
The warmth painted across her mind and she sank into it, to a world of blinding rainbow sparkle. No cares or worries. Just rushing air and freedom.
A faint sound yanked her back to reality.
Steady pounding, close by.
Someone was coming.
Somehow she managed to pull her eyes open. The world was blurry, but she could see feet approaching her. Three pairs of feet, in dark clothes.
She wouldn’t let the kidnappers take her again.
She wouldn’t go back to that dark, horrible place.
I’m sorry I couldn’t wait for you to get here, Fitz. I tried. Then she released her last tiny hold on reality and let the blinding light sweep her away.
SOPHIE DRIFTED WITH THE WARMTH. TIME, space, life—they held no meaning in the brightness. But she was peaceful, more peaceful than she’d ever been. If this was death, it wasn’t so bad.
A ghost of sound wove through the sparkle and color and heat. She tried to ignore it, but the noise persisted, and it sounded familiar. The same word over and over.
Awareness tugged her away from the light, and she fought against leaving the freedom. She didn’t want to go back to the darkness.
But she couldn’t tune out the voice.
Sophie. Sophie, can you hear me? Sophie.
The light turned teal and sparkled like a jewel all around her. The voice was soft, but still crisp, like it had an accent she couldn’t place. . . .
The rainbow world lost its appeal. With a surge of newfound strength, she pooled every remaining ounce of her concentration and wrapped it around the sound of his voice, letting it pull her back to reality. She gasped as pain rocked her head so hard it felt like her mind cracked, and a thousand different aches splintered through her body.
She tried to move but only managed a slight shiver. Something strong and warm wrapped around her.
“Sophie,” Fitz said again, clearer now, right next to her. “Sophie, can you hear me? Squeeze my hand if you can hear me.”
She didn’t have the strength to squeeze, but her mind was stronger than her body.
He laughed—a beautiful sound—and the warmth enveloped her again, tighter this time. “Everything is going to be okay,” he whispered. “You’re safe now. Just stay with me, okay?”
There was something she needed to remember. Something bad had happened. Someone was hurt. An image of a strawberry-blond-haired boy crumpled on the ground flashed into her mind.
“Dex is fine,” Fitz promised. “Keefe leaped him to Everglen, and Biana left to get Elwin. We weren’t sure if it was safe to move you.” His voice hitched at the end.
So many questions raced to her mind, but she was afraid to ask any of them. Thank you for coming.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner. I didn’t want to believe you could still be . . . get my hopes up if . . .” He choked on the words. “I finally told Keefe and Biana about it, and they convinced me to come. If I’d come sooner, maybe . . .”
You’re here now.
“I just hope I’m not too late,” he whispered.
“Where is she?” Elwin barked, as running footsteps moved closer. He gasped. “Fitz, open her mouth.”
Soft fingers parted her lips, and then a cool liquid slid across her tongue.
“Try to swallow, Sophie,” Elwin ordered.
It took every bit of strength she had to push the sweet syrup down. The medicine rushed through her body, numbing as it went.
She didn’t want to be sedated again. She didn’t want to go back to the darkness.
“It’s okay, Sophie,” Fitz whispered, his voice farther away.
“Don’t fight the medicine,” Elwin added. “Your body isn’t ready to be awake. I promise it will be okay.”
She was scared to sink into the blackness again. She wasn’t sure she’d have the strength to come back.
Her panic eased as Fitz’s voice filled her mind.
You’re going to be okay, he promised. Just sleep.
She clung to his words as the darkness dragged her under.
COOL TINGLES ACROSS HER forehead pulled her back to reality, and Sophie took deep breaths, luxuriating in the rise and fall of her chest. She’d forgotten how wonderful it was to breathe.
“That’s my girl,” someone whispered. She knew the voice, but her foggy mind couldn’t place it.
Something touched her lips and she parted them, gulping the cool wetness that poured into her mouth. She wanted to drink forever, but the liquid stopped. Her face twisted in protest.
“I know,” the voice said, “but you have to give your stomach a chance to adjust. It’s been empty for a long time now.”
She wanted to argue, but her stomach cramped as the cold liquid hit it. Her body contorted.
“Can’t you give her anything for the pain?” another voice asked from somewhere nearby.
“I need her to feel right now, so I can check her progress. Then I can numb her again.”
“No,” she begged, horrified at her strangled voice. She’d had enough sedative to last a lifetime. “No medicine.”
“Shhh,” he whisp
ered, rubbing balm into her dry lips. “I won’t give you any medicine, I promise. Now please, lay still before you wear yourself out.”
“Okay.” She forced her eyes open, squinting in the light. A round face with dark messy hair hovered over her. The iridescent spectacles gave him away.
“Elwin,” she whispered.
Tears pooled in his eyes. “I can’t tell you how good it is to hear you say that. Bullhorn’s been sleeping next to you for two weeks. We were starting to lose hope. But yesterday he moved, and now here you are.”
Someone sniffled behind her.
“Alden?” she asked, recognizing the other voice she’d heard.
“I’m here,” he whispered, stepping into her line of sight and taking her hand.
“You up for a few visitors?” Elwin asked.
“Sure,” she whispered. Alden propped her up with a pillow, and she realized she was at Everglen, in the room she’d stayed in her first night as an elf. Outside she could hear some murmured debate over who should see her first, and then Fitz rushed to her side.
She swallowed back tears as she met his eyes. “Thanks for bringing me back.”
Before he could reply, Biana raced into the room, threw her arms around her, and burst into tears. “I’m so sorry, Sophie. My dad wanted you around more so he could keep an eye on you, so he told me to reach out to you—but I really am your friend and then you were gone and . . .” Her voice trailed into sobs.
“It’s okay,” Sophie whispered, and she meant it. If Biana cared enough to rescue her—cared enough to cry—that was enough. “Forget about it, okay? We’re still friends.”
Biana sniffled and pulled back to meet her eyes. “Really?”
“All right, enough girly drama,” Keefe said, shoving his way in. “I was part of the rescue too, remember? I’m the one who knew the tree you told Fitz about was the Four Seasons Tree, so if it weren’t for me . . .” He faltered as he seemed to realize he was talking about her dying.
“Thank you, Keefe.” She smiled to show him she didn’t mind.
He shrugged. “Anytime. And by the way, you’re a Telepath? I think that proves once and for all that you’re definitely the Most. Mysterious. Girl. Ever.” His face darkened. “My dad was very smug when he heard you’d been training with Tiergan. He always has to be right. And this time he was.”