Keeper of the Lost Cities, Page 32Shannon Messenger
Sophie’s eyes darted to Alden.
“It’s okay. You won’t have to hide it anymore. In fact, everyone seems to know every detail that’s happened these past few months.” He shot a meaningful glance at Keefe.
Great. Everyone knew what a freak she was.
Though it was kind of a relief. No more hiding. No more lying. Her friends would stand by her—and the others? She wasn’t sure she cared.
“Things are changing,” Alden added. “But we’ll talk about that later. Right now you should rest.”
“Not without this,” Fitz said, handing her a bright blue elephant.
“Ella!” Sophie buried her face between the floppy ears, ignoring Keefe’s snickers. She’d been through too much to care about being teased. She met Fitz’s eyes, melting when he smiled at her. “Thank you guys for rescuing me.”
“Just get better, okay?” Keefe ordered. “School wasn’t the same without you. No explosions or emergencies. Boring.”
“I’ll try,” she promised.
And if you need anything, you know how to reach me, Fitz transmitted.
Sophie gasped. “How?”
Fitz grinned. I have no idea. I slipped in when you were fading, and now it’s easy.
Does that mean you can read my mind? she asked, preparing to die of embarrassment if he could.
He shook his head. I can only transmit. Pretty cool though, huh?
She nodded, trying not to worry about what might’ve happened to her brain to cause that kind of change.
“Hey—no secret telepathic conversations, you two—or I’ll have to assume you guys are flirting!” Keefe laughed as they both flushed and looked anywhere but at each other.
“I think Dex is going to explode if I don’t let him in,” Elwin interrupted.
Dex burst through the door, and Sophie’s breath caught in her throat. He looked perfect—not a scratch on him.
We’ll see you later, Fitz promised as he pulled Keefe and Biana out with him.
Dex stomped past them. “Next time you try to rescue me, concentrate a little more on yourself, okay? You almost died because of me.”
“Actually, you almost died because of me. Twice,” she reminded him, her voice shaking as she tried not to think about his blank eyes after the melder blasts.
He bit his lip. “Call it even?”
He leaned forward like he wanted to hug her, then noticed Alden and Elwin and backed off. He squeezed her hand, color streaking his cheeks. “You’re really okay?”
“Yeah. Just a little tired. How about you? Did the melder do any damage?” Her eyes searched for tiny injuries she might’ve missed from far away.
“Nothing Elwin couldn’t fix. And nothing like what happens when you leap with all your concentration wrapped around someone else. Do you have any idea how dumb that was?”
“What was I supposed to do? My concentration’s weak as it is, and you were injured.”
“Actually, your concentration isn’t weak at all,” Alden corrected.
“Dex didn’t lose a single cell in the leap,” Elwin agreed. “If you’d kept a little more of that concentration for yourself, you wouldn’t have faded, and I wouldn’t have had to spend two weeks trying to bring the color and life back to a half-drained body.”
“Sorry,” she mumbled, cringing at the words “half-drained.” “But . . . my nexus was barely at the half. Dex, you saw it. How could my concentration be strong?”
“We’ll talk later,” Alden said. “Right now you need to rest.”
He pulled the blankets around her shoulders, and she snuggled Ella, wondering why Fitz had her. She’d left Ella at Havenfield. “Did Grady and Edaline come to see me?” she whispered, hating herself for hoping they had.
“They haven’t left since Fitz found you. You have no idea what they’ve been going through these past three and a half weeks.”
“Three and a half weeks?”
“You’ve been gone a long time, Sophie. They’re waiting outside, but they understand if you don’t want to see them.”
Emotion caught in her throat and she cleared it away. As much as they’d hurt her, as angry as she’d been, she couldn’t shut them out—not after everything she’d been through. “You can send them in,” she whispered.
Alden squeezed her shoulder and led Dex toward the door. Dex waved as two gaunt figures crept into the room.
Sophie blinked. “Grady? Edaline?” She barely recognized them. They looked like they hadn’t eaten or slept or changed clothes in weeks.
Edaline covered her trembling lips and raced to Sophie, crawling into the bed to hold her so tight it was almost hard to breathe. Grady dropped to his knees on the floor beside them, squeezing Sophie’s arm.
“I’ll just . . . give you guys a minute,” Elwin said, fleeing the scene as they all started crying.
Grady cleared his throat and wiped his eyes. “Sorry, we don’t want to wear you out. It’s just a little overwhelming to get you back. We went to your funeral. . . .”
Another sob shook Edaline’s shoulders before she released Sophie and pulled herself up, squeezing Sophie’s hands. “Losing you was one of the hardest things I’ve ever endured,” she whispered, “but the worst part was knowing that you had no idea how much you mean to us.”
Grady squeezed both of their hands.
“We never wanted to love anyone again after we lost Jolie,” Edaline whispered. “But we love you, Sophie. You’re just as much our daughter as she was. We need you to know that—not because we want you to forgive us, but because you deserve to know.”
“Canceling your adoption was the worst mistake we’ve ever made,” Grady added. “You’ll always have a home with us at Havenfield, but we understand if you want to stay with Alden and Della. We just hope you’ll come visit sometime. Let us be a tiny part of your life—even if we don’t deserve it.”
Sophie nodded, too overwhelmed to say anything other than, “Thanks.” But when Edaline kissed her cheek and Grady stroked her hair, she added, “I love you guys too.”
They both smiled, and even though they were still thin and tired, they looked more like themselves. Edaline kissed her cheek again.
“Oh, I almost forgot.” Grady pulled a tiny furball out of his pocket.
Iggy flitted to her shoulder, nuzzling her cheek. Sophie gagged. “Ugh, I forgot about Iggy breath.” She scratched his fuzzy head, and his crackly purr filled the room. “Thanks for your help in the cave, little man.”
Edaline sniffled. “He did come and find us. Took us a while to figure out what he wanted, and by the time we got down to the caves there’d been a huge wave and . . .” Her voice vanished.
Sophie squeezed her hand. “I’m safe.” She tried to believe the words were true.
Grady stood up as she yawned. “We’ll let you sleep.”
She didn’t want to sleep after losing so much time, but her body demanded it, and by the time Grady pulled the blankets around her and switched off the lights, she was already asleep, with Iggy snoring like a chain saw beside her.
SOPHIE’S DREAMS WERE A HORROR SHOW of ghostly voices and black figures and fire. She woke up tangled in covers, only to find an enormous gray beast towering over her. She screamed as black fear swirled through her mind and her whole body trembled.
“Stop, Sophie,” Alden warned, shaking her shoulders. “Stop, you’re hurting him.”
His voice washed the darkness away and her vision cleared. The gray beast twisted in pain on the floor.
“Sandor won’t hurt you,” Alden promised. “The Council assigned you a goblin bodyguard to keep you safe. It’s not a good idea to inflict pain on him.”
Her jaw dropped. “Inflict?”
Alden nodded. “It seems you’re an Inflictor. A
melder causes temporary paralysis, so Dex was semiconscious during your escape. He told me you made everyone collapse in pain. I wondered if that meant you could inflict. You just did it to Sandor, so it appears you can.”
Her eyes widened and she turned to the barely conscious goblin on the floor. “I’m sorry—I didn’t mean—”
“He’ll be okay in a minute,” Alden promised. “Goblins are tough.”
And yet she’d incapacitated him—without even trying. “But . . . I’m a Telepath. How can I have two special abilities?”
“It is possible to have more than one. Rare. But considering how special you are, I wouldn’t be surprised if you still have more abilities that you haven’t discovered.”
“What, I’ll just wake up and suddenly be able to walk through walls?”
“Not quite. Most abilities stay dormant until they’re activated—that’s why we have ability detecting. It seems like the trauma of the kidnapping activated some of your latent talents. That’s why you can inflict, why your concentration is stronger now—and Dex said you’re a Polyglot.”
“You speak languages instinctively, just by hearing them. It’s a very rare skill. You’ll be glad you have it as you advance in multispeciesial studies.”
“I guess.” She wasn’t sure she would ever be excited about having more weird talents.
“We’ll run some tests when you’re stronger. See if we can find out what else you can do.”
She shivered. She could still hear the ghostly voice of the kidnapper saying something similar while he interrogated her.
What if she didn’t want to find out anything else?
Sandor heaved himself to his feet and moved back to his post in the shadows. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
“It’s all right.” Sandor’s soft voice would’ve made more sense coming from a bunny than a seven-foot-tall, buffed-out goblin. He turned to Sophie and bowed. “It’s nice to know my charge can defend herself if I fail her.”
She shivered. “I take it this means you haven’t caught the kidnappers.”
Alden squeezed her hands. “We won’t let them get anywhere near you ever again. The nobility is working overtime following the leads we have.” He handed her a memory log and flipped to a blank page. “Do you remember anything that might help?”
“I was blindfolded the whole time, and I was too drugged to probe their minds. Plus, I was saving my concentration for transmitting. But the leader was a Pyrokinetic, so it had to be Fintan.”
“You’re sure he was a Pyrokinetic?”
She rubbed where his hands had seared her skin. “Positive.”
A deep pucker formed between his brows. “Then we have an unregistered Pyrokinetic. We’re still monitoring every move of the other Pyrokinetics, and it couldn’t be Fintan.”
“The sample you collected proved the fires were Everblaze. Fintan was arrested the day you and Dex disappeared, and he’s been held in custody ever since, awaiting tribunal.”
“That actually makes sense. He asked me if I knew who he was, and when I guessed Fintan, he laughed. Then he burned me again.” She shuddered.
“I’m so sorry, Sophie,” Alden whispered, choking up. “When I think about what—”
“Don’t think about it,” she interrupted, hating to see him upset. “It’s over. I’m fine. And it’s not your fault.”
“In a way it is. I’m the one who declared your deaths and called off the search. If I hadn’t done that, we might’ve found you sooner.” He shook his head. “When they found your pendants in the ocean—and there had clearly been a tidal wave at the cave—I couldn’t see how it could be anything other than a tragic accident. I never considered kidnapping. I never thought the Black Swan would sink so low.”
“They didn’t. I don’t know who the kidnappers were, but they weren’t the Black Swan. In fact, I think the Black Swan rescued us.”
“That’s what Dex said. Are you sure?”
She nodded, trying to organize her memories—they were a muddled mess from the drugs. “I think the Black Swan are working against the kidnappers, and I think they sent me the notes and clues because they wanted me to stop the Everblaze.” She paused, not sure if she wanted to know the answer to the next question. “Do you think the kidnappers are the ones who started the Everblaze?”
Alden fiddled with his cloak. “It’s possible. Fintan claims innocence. But he also won’t submit to a probe—so he’s hiding something. And if we have an unregistered Pyrokinetic out there, I have no doubt Fintan knows something about it.”
“Why doesn’t the Council just order a memory break?”
“They want to give their friend a chance to see the error of his ways—and perhaps this new information will motivate him to confess. If not, they’ll order one. They’re just trying to avoid condemning him to a life of madness.”
“That’s his choice, if he won’t confess.”
“It is. But if you’d ever seen a memory break, you would understand their reluctance.” His shoulders trembled. “It’s haunting.”
Her thoughts flashed to Prentice. She didn’t know what he looked like—or even who he was—but he let his mind be broken to protect her, maybe from the same people who’d taken her and Dex. She wasn’t sure she deserved that sacrifice. Especially since it had also destroyed the lives of his family.
“I’m sure the memory break will be ordered,” Alden said, breaking the silence that had settled over them. “The Council is simply giving their friend every chance to help himself. Plus, they don’t want to believe he tried to single-handedly wipe out the human race. In the meantime, if there’s anything else you can remember that might help us find the kidnappers, now’s the time to tell me.”
There was something else—something big. But the memory was out of reach, repressed by the trauma. She stared at Alden’s hands as he fiddled with his cape. His pale, white hands.
She lunged for the memory log. “I’ve seen one of them.”
“The man who tried to grab me in the human world the day Fitz brought me here. He had a dog bite on his hand. The kidnapper had a crescent-shaped scar in the same place.”
She projected the wound and the scar on a page and handed the memory log to Alden. One was fresh and bleeding and the other was a faded scar, but they were the same size and shape, and were even jagged in the same places. “See? He really was an elf—and he had been there to get me.”
“Yet another way I’ve failed to protect you.” Alden shook his head. “Do you remember what he looks like?”
She closed her eyes and concentrated on the memory, waiting until she’d recalled every detail before she sent it to the paper.
Her hands shook as she stared at the person who’d tied her up and drugged her—who’d been ready to kill Dex. He had short blond hair, piercing blue eyes, chiseled features—it seemed wrong for someone so handsome to be so evil.
Alden’s eyes pored over the image. “I don’t know him. It’s amazing he let you go the first time, with only a human to threaten him.”
“Well, Mr. Forkle could be . . .”
“Could be what?” Alden asked, when she didn’t continue.
Her mind was racing in too many directions to answer. She rubbed her temples, trying to think through the chaos of memories. She needed to be really sure of what she was about to say.
“Should I call Elwin?” Alden asked, rushing to his feet.
She grabbed his cape. “It was him.”
“Mr. Forkle.” She shook her head as she met Alden’s eyes. “Mr. Forkle rescued us.” The sentence was so bizarre it made her want to laugh. But she knew it was true.
“Mr. Forkle,” Alden repeated.
She nodded. “He started almost every sent
ence with ‘you kids.’ The man who rescued us said it too.”
“That could be a coincidence.”
“It was him.” She scooted back, like she needed room to fit her huge epiphany. “Mr. Forkle is an elf.”
Alden sank down beside her. “You’re sure?”
She wanted to say yes, but . . .
She grabbed the memory log and projected Mr. Forkle the way she remembered him. Wrinkled. Overweight. There had to be a mistake.
Alden gasped as he looked over her shoulder. “He is an elf.”
“But he’s old.”
“That’s exactly what someone looks like when they’ve eaten ruckleberries. See the way the skin looks stretched? The body swells and wrinkles as the berries digest.”
“He did smell like feet,” Sophie remembered. “That could’ve been from the berries.”
Alden swept his hair back and stared into space. “That explains why the kidnapper backed down. He could tell your neighbor was more powerful than him. I’m sure the Black Swan had their most skilled operative guarding you.” He shook his head. “I should’ve guessed they wouldn’t leave you alone. They’d want someone nearby in case anything went wrong.”
He was right. Mr. Forkle had always looked out for her. He’d called 911 when she hit her head. And he was always asking about her headaches. He must have known she was a Telepath. “But . . . why could I hear his thoughts? Shouldn’t his mind have been silent?”
“Another part of his disguise. A highly skilled Telepath can broadcast thoughts the way humans do. He gave you what you needed to hear to not suspect him. I bet that’s how they planted some of the memories in your brain. He certainly had enough access to you to broadcast subliminal messages when he needed to.”
Mr. Forkle? A Telepath?
She sucked in a breath. “He was there when I fell and hit my head—the accident that started my telepathy when I was five. Do you think he did something to me?”
“It’s possible. I’m not sure why they’d want to trigger an ability in you at that age. But he might have decided to take advantage of you being unconscious. Telepathy can be easier to activate that way—not that I’ve ever tried it. In fact, I wonder . . .”