Chapter One ONE
ARE YOU OKAY?”
Grady had asked the question three times, and Sophie still didn’t have an answer. All she could do was stare at the crumpled note she’d found waiting for her in her bedroom, hoping she’d somehow misread it.
A sound bubbled up her throat, something between a laugh, a cry, and a groan.
This was Keefe.
He definitely would.
“How long ago did Keefe leave?” she asked, glancing between Grady and the tiny gnome standing near her canopied bed.
Flori shook her head, making her plaited hair rustle like windblown leaves. “I didn’t see him—but I was out in the pastures, waiting for the new patrols to arrive.”
Sandor was in the process of frantically amping up Havenfield’s security because she’d burned down one of the Neverseen’s storehouses a few hours earlier, and everyone seemed to think that meant she’d officially started the war they’d been teetering on the brink of for years—but she couldn’t worry about that at the moment.
“Is Sandor still outside?” she asked, hoping he’d gotten a report about Keefe from one of the other guards.
Grady blocked her. “Listen, kiddo. I know what you’re thinking—”
“I doubt that.” Even she wasn’t sure if she wanted to clobber Keefe, lock him up somewhere, or wrap him in a huge strangle-hug and tell him everything was going to be okay—though the last option seemed the least likely.
“Keefe will be fine,” Grady promised, carefully steering her away from her doorway. “He’s very resourceful.”
She locked her knees. “If you knew what he’s planning, you wouldn’t be saying that.”
Silence followed, and Grady wouldn’t meet her eyes.
“You talked to him while he was here, didn’t you?” Sophie guessed, tapping her temples when he stayed quiet. “You know I can find out what you’re hiding.”
“Not without violating the rules of telepathy,” Grady reminded her. “But to answer your question… yes, I did talk to him—and he didn’t say much. He was obviously still afraid to use his voice.”
Something sour coated Sophie’s tongue, and she tried not to think about the fear she’d seen in Keefe’s eyes after he’d accidentally given his first command. Or how empty and hopeless she’d felt when the command turned everyone numb.
“That’s why he’s running away,” she murmured.
Part of the reason, at least.
Keefe’s letter had also implied that he’d manifested other scarier abilities—but he didn’t tell her what they were. All he’d said was that it was too dangerous for him to be in the Lost Cities and he was planning to hide among humans—which was why Sophie had to find him.
“How long ago did he leave?” she asked in a tone that hopefully made it clear she wouldn’t let Grady shrug away the question again.
He glanced out her windows, where the clouds were slowly turning pink with the sunset. “At least an hour ago, so it’s too late to stop him—but it’ll be okay. I think he actually has a solid plan this time.”
“Oh really? So you think he’ll be able to survive on his own in the Forbidden Cities?”
She’d hoped Grady’s mouth would fall open when he heard Keefe’s destination.
Instead, his lips set into a grim line.
“Wow,” she mumbled. “You really did know what he was up to, and you still let him go. I know Keefe’s never been your favorite, but—”
“I never said that,” Grady interrupted.
“You didn’t have to. You call him ‘That Boy’ and glare at him all the time.”
“Not all the time.”
His smile was probably supposed to soften her mood.
“Okay, fine. Sometimes your friendship with Keefe… makes me a little nervous,” Grady admitted, dragging the toe of his boot through the flowers woven into her carpet. “He has a gift for getting in trouble—and you do that more than enough on your own. But he wasn’t his usual overconfident self today. He looked tired. And terrified—”
“And that didn’t seem like a sign that maybe you should stop him?” Sophie cut in.
“Hey, we both know there’s no stopping Keefe Sencen once he makes up his mind.”
“Um, last time I checked, you’re still a Mesmer,” Sophie felt the need to point out, even though she wouldn’t have wanted Grady to use his ability that way.
It was easier having someone to blame.
Then she wouldn’t have to wonder if she could’ve talked Keefe into staying if she’d been home when he came by, instead of spending so long at Solreef answering Mr. Forkle’s questions about her unexpected inferno.
Or if she’d checked on Keefe more often after he woke up from his trance-coma thing, instead of letting him push her away.
Or if she’d fought a little harder in Loamnore and stopped his mom before she triggered Keefe’s unnerving new abilities.
Or if she’d at least been able to learn more about Keefe’s “legacy,” so they had some idea of what they were dealing with.
Grady stepped closer, tucking a strand of Sophie’s hair behind her ear. “I know this is hard. And for what it’s worth, I actually did try to talk Keefe out of leaving. But I’ve never seen him so determined. Best I could do was…”
“Was?” Sophie prompted when he didn’t finish.
Grady closed his eyes, and his lips formed a few different words before he asked, “You trust me, don’t you?”
“Why do I need to?”
“Because… I promised Keefe something. And I’d like to keep that promise. But it’s hard to do that if you keep asking questions.”
Sophie studied him, wishing she were an Empath and could tell what he was feeling. But the Black Swan had left her without that particular talent.
“Fine,” she decided. “I’ll stop asking questions—if you stop trying to talk me out of going after him.”
Grady blew out a breath. “I think you’re forgetting that now’s really not a smart time for you to leave Havenfield. We have no idea how the Neverseen are going to respond when they discover what you’ve done to their storehouse. And you have your own army here—”
“And the Neverseen know exactly where to find me,” Sophie argued. “Besides, I’m not going to sit around, waiting for some attack that may never happen. I’m not afraid of them!”
“You should be.” Grady lowered himself onto the edge of her bed and rested his head in his hands—which made it hard to hear him when he said, “I am.”
Sophie wished she could sink down next to him—lean on each other as they tried to prepare for whatever came next. But she forced herself to stay standing. “I’m done making decisions based on fear. It gives the Neverseen more power.”
“Isn’t fear the reason you’re so desperate to track Keefe down?” Grady countered.
Sophie glanced at Keefe’s note again. “Yeah, but… this is something I can fix.”
And there it was.
The question Sophie had been trying so hard not to let herself ask.
Could she fix Keefe?
“Only one way to find out,” she said, mostly to herself.
Grady grabbed her hand as she turned for the door, and as his fingers pressed against her skin, she realized she wasn’t wearing her gloves.
She technically didn’t need them anymore, now that she’d learned how to switch off her enhancing. But she still tended to wear them as backup.
Maybe it was time to start believing that abilities truly could be controlled.
“I can help him,” she told Grady, pulling her hand free and continuing forward without going back for her gloves.
“I hope you’re right. But finding him is going to be harder than you think. I watched him spin to a random facet on his pathfinder and leap wherever it led.”
“Was it a blue crystal?” Sophie asked, feeling her stomach go thud when Grady confirmed it.
Keefe really was in a human city.
And the city could be anywhere.
Grady gently pulled her closer. “I know you hate letting your friends take risks. But Keefe can handle himself—”
“No, he can’t! Keefe doesn’t know how the human world works. He doesn’t have any money, or any kind of ID, and he doesn’t speak their languages.”
Well… he was a Polyglot now, so he might be okay with the last one—but that wouldn’t get him very far.
“Humans have tons of laws about loitering and trespassing,” she added, “so you can’t just show up and expect to find shelter—or food and water. They have a million other rules too, like when you’re allowed to cross the street, and how late you’re allowed to be out at night. A lot of times it can be hard just finding a bathroom! And every country is different, so if he moves around, that’s only going to make it worse—especially since Keefe’s terrible at keeping a low profile. Even if he tries to keep his head down, people are going to notice how good-looking he is—by human standards,” she quickly clarified, feeling her cheeks burn. “I lived with humans for twelve years, and I doubt I’d be able to hide there without ending up with Child Protective Services or something. He could get himself arrested. Or hit by a bus. Or—”
“I’m not saying you’re wrong,” Grady jumped in. “But… I think you’re also forgetting that Keefe’s not exactly safe around here.”
But neither was she, as everyone loved to keep reminding her.
And they never would be, until they stopped the Neverseen—which they’d have a much better chance of doing if they worked together. Yes, Keefe’s new abilities were probably scary—and his mom was absolutely going to try to exploit them. But there had to be a way to use his powers against her.
“I have to try,” she said, stepping away from Grady. “If I can’t find him…”
She didn’t know how to finish that sentence.
Hopefully she wouldn’t have to.
Grady dragged a hand down his face. “Just… promise me you’ll stay in the Lost Cities.”
“She will,” a high, squeaky voice announced from the hallway. “I’ll make sure of it.”
Sophie fought the urge to roll her eyes.
She’d had enough experience with her overprotective goblin bodyguard to know that Sandor would be coming with her. She’d honestly been surprised he was willing to let her out of his sight after he brought her home from Solreef. And she was grateful to have his protection. She needed it now more than ever.
But she was also done being cautious—and Sandor was going to have to get used to that.
If Keefe was in the Forbidden Cities, she would be going after him.
Still, she’d learned to fight Sandor one battle at a time—and at the moment, she needed more information before she could figure out the smartest plan. So all she told him was “Let’s go” as she headed upstairs to the Leapmaster.
“Go where?” Sandor, Flori, and Grady asked as they trailed behind her.
Sophie studied the giant orb made up of small, glittering crystals dangling from the roof of Havenfield’s cupola. “Ro wasn’t with Keefe, right?”
“He was alone,” Grady confirmed.
Sophie had no idea what lengths Keefe must’ve gone to in order to sneak away from his ogre bodyguard. But she was sure Ro would do everything in her power to find him—mostly so she could torture Keefe with humiliating punishments.
“Splendor Plains,” Sophie called, turning to Flori as the Leapmaster shifted into motion. “Are you coming with us?”
“I’d prefer to have Flori stay here and continue organizing the new security,” Sandor cut in.
“As you wish.” Flori closed her eyes, swaying like a tree in a storm. “I hope our moonlark doesn’t worry too much. I hear songs of change in the air. But they’re not unhappy melodies. They sing of freedom. And new opportunities.”
Sophie wished she could hear the same tunes.
The only sound in her ears was her heartbeat, hammering like a war drum as she took Sandor’s hand and stepped into the light, letting the rushing warmth carry them away.