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How broken do you have to be before you’re shattered?
Keefe Sencen has been taken. Snatched from what was meant to be a prank, he struggles to find his way home. The question is, where is home?
Tam Song is cracking. He’s the cause of this, or so he believes. He’s convinced he’s the reason Keefe is suffering, and it’s awakening feelings he’s so desperately shut in the depths of his mind.
Sophie Foster is panicking. One of her best friends is missing and his blood has been splattered. She wonders, what would happen if there is no blood left by the time she finds him?
Time is ticking. Hour by hour, there’s a chance Keefe will never come back, and the gang is scrambling to crack the clues and ominous hints left by the mysterious thieves.
Chapter 1: How it all Begins
Tam glanced over at his sister, who sat on the cozy armchair that overlooked their property. There was a thoughtful look on her face as she read a book with a silver cover. One that he didn’t recognize.
Her expression awakened the vivid memory of a different face in his mind, one with unruly blond hair, icy blue eyes that twinkled with mischief, and an annoying smirk that teased his lips.
Tam scowled at the thought of the prank that the boy had played earlier in the day. It made his face burn red in shame and brought fire to his cheeks. The prank was humiliating, and he vowed he’d take his revenge. Oh, how sweet this one would be.
A voice snapped Tam back to reality. “You okay?”
“You alright?” Linh said with a smile on her face.
He nodded. “Yeah. Just thinking.”
She sent a skeptical look his way but didn’t say anything else, continuing back to her book. On instinct, he rolled his eyes at her. It must be an interesting book if she’d drop the subject so quickly.
He looked around the room. Even after graduating from Foxfire, he and Linh chose to stay together.
It was hard to leave each other, not after the harsh adventures they had with their friends, and most certainly not after the cold lives they lived before Exillium, with their parents. They’ve been together since birth, they’ll stay together until they're married off and have their own children.
As Tam sat on his chair, a wisp of thought echoed in his mind.
Holding back the smirk that tugged at his lips, Tam silently stood up and crept to his room with a plan running through his mind.
He had to avoid Merla, Linh’s kind-of annoying murcat, who would quickly and willingly hiss as loud as possible to get Linh’s attention, therefore foiling any and all plans he had.
Safely in his room, he scribbled down a messy note with his pen, his thoughts racing all the while.
They would never believe him if it were something silly… It would be a joke that they would never fall for.
So he chose something different…
He smirked, this would surely tell them that this was a joke… if they used those thick skulls of theirs.
He rolled his eyes.
But he couldn’t count on that, because Ms. Sophie Foster always had a habit of panicking either way.
Maybe he shouldn’t do something possibly triggering for the girl that got kidnapped?...
He supposed her concern could be a good thing at sometimes… but at times like this, no.
Tam needed to find a way to distract her… which was easy enough.
Sophie’s attention could be quite easily diverted.
Just mention a few names from the past and he was all set... But that seemed too cruel.
Even for this rage-driven version of Tam.
Maybe he could ask Linh to talk to her?
A wicked smile spread across his face as he remembered Linh’s confession to him.
That could make for an interesting date.
Not only would this get back at Keefe, but he could also be the caring brother he always was for Linh.
Perfect. I’m truly the best twin she could ever ask for, Tam decided, his eyes twinkling. The last part of the note was finished, and he made sure it looked nothing like his writing, even using the pen Fitz had gifted him one year. Tam didn’t have to be a genius to know that Fitz was the worst at gift-giving of them all. But the fact that he was did help, for once.
Tam hopped back into the room where Linh had a glass tank on her lap and was dipping her fingers into the water as her little finger-biting-demon-fish chased after them.
The book lay forgotten on a cabinet.
“So uh, Linh,” he started, fiddling with the note in his hands.
She didn’t glance up. “No Tam, I will not go to Atlantis just for your hair products.”
He held back an eye roll, “That’s not what this is about. It’s about Sophie.”
Her head perked up, “What about her?”
He smirked again when he saw the blush creep up his sister’s neck, “Hold on.”
Tam pulled out his imparter, his smirk widening when he said, “Show me Sophie Foster.”
Linh’s eyes widened as much has his smile.
After a few moments of static—and of Linh crawling over—Sophie’s face appeared on the screen.
“Tam?” She asked, her strange brown eyes bright.
“Hey, Sophie,” Tam greeted her.
Linh’s face was flaming red, and Tam took enough pity on her to not show Sophie.
“H-hi.” Linh squeaked.
“I’d like to ask, Sophie,” Tam began, “are you available at noon to meet under Calla’s Tree?”
Sophie looked up for a moment, emerging herself into her thoughts before snapping back into reality, “Yeah, I think so! Wh—”
“Linh,” Tam cut Sophie off, rolling his eyes, “Are you also available at noon to meet under Calla’s Tree?”
Linh glanced away, her blush reddening even more—which Tam did not realize was possible… Or safe—and rasped, “Yes.”
Tam grinned, “Cool, ‘cause I’m not.”
Sophie’s mouth widened into an ‘o’ and Linh looked so hilariously squeamish. Before Sophie could speak, Tam clicked the imparter off and smiled at Linh.
“Guess you have a date with the one and only Sophie Elizabeth Foster!”
She scowled at him. “You are so dead.”
Chapter 2: The Calm Before
The wind tugged at Sophie’s blonde hair, whipping against her face, making her scrunch her eyes.
She sat criss-cross among Calla’s roots, waiting for Linh to show up. Sophie hadn’t expected to wait so long but was appreciative for the time she gained to sort out her maze of feelings.
It was slightly refreshing, to have a moment to just think, to just breathe… And especially, refreshing to just live.
“Miss Foster,” a familiar voice said from behind, “are you alright?”
Sophie smiled and adjusted her head to see the small gnome. “I’m fine, Flori. I’m just waiting for… a friend.” A friend. Yes. Of course. Only a friend.
“Would you like for me to sing to you? I recently composed a new song,” Flori questioned as she made her way to sit with the elf.
“I… sure, while I wait.” Maybe she should wait just a little longer?
The gnome opened her mouth for a melody to pour out, and almost instantly, the female Song twin appeared with a soft zap of light.
Sophie almost leaped off the root she sat on, startled by the sudden appearance.
Flori stopped singing and began to study the dark-haired girl.
The blonde’s hands shot down from her lap to the ground so she didn’t fall over.
Linh gazed at the other elf, a small smile flashing across her lips for only a moment. She then met eyes with Flori and beamed.
“That’s a beautiful song,” she whispered, her words flowing like soft waves on a summer day, and which made Sophie’s skin tickle.
Linh looked… Majestic, with her multi-layered white-and-blue dress that clung to her body, and little teal slip-ons that Sophie absolutely adored.
And what else did Sophie adore?
Well, of course—
“Sophie! I… Uh, hello…” Linh stuttered as her silvery blue eyes met Sophie’s.
Sophie looked away and blushed.
The blue-eyed girl smoothed a hand down her dress and slowly walked over to the elf.
“You, uh, look great today,” Sophie murmured awkwardly, glancing up at Linh’s face to see her reaction.
To her relief, Linh smiled and looked down. “Thanks,”
Sophie wanted to peel layers of skin off her face to try and hide her blush. She settled on nervously pulling out eyelashes. Linh sat down next to her, and Sophie felt a smile edge onto her face.
Flori laughed softly, “I’ll be going, have a good time, you two.”
The two girls smiled at the gnome and waved good-bye as she wandered away.
After a moment, Linh turned to Sophie.
“So… Want to meet Merla?” There was a hint of glee in the hydrokinetic’s pale blue eyes.
Sophie tilted her head to the side, her brow furrowed, “Merla…?”
“Oh!” Sophie’s eyes popped open, “Oh… Of course!”
A huge, adorable grin appeared on Linh’s face as she whirled a large, blue-stained glass tank that had large, graceful images of waves crashing down from what seemed to be thin air.
Inside, a purple-blue scaly cat swirled around, it’s wide yellow eyes sparkling. Sophie couldn’t help but smile back at Linh.
The fish-like feline blew a few bubbles and rubbed its scaly head against the glass. Linh beamed and turned her gaze back to the blonde elf.
“Would you like to hold her?”
Sophie smiled, “Sure.”
A blonde empath stared wide-eyed down at the piece of paper he held in his hands.
It was written messily, scrawled down like it was a last moment thing, with quick, non-rhyming words.
But right now, Keefe could ignore that sad fact. This note might not even be by the Black Swan… It could be by whoever… Maybe even Sophie? Writing in the third person?
He…doubted she would do that.
Keefe ran a hand down the side of his face, fear coursing through him as his heart thrummed against his chest.
He read the note again, and again and again and again, just to make sure what he saw was correct.
The moonlark needs your help
Where the forest shines brightest,
Follow the Path of Petals,
That most try to avoid,
To where she shall be.
Keefe had to breathe.
The Moonlark was obviously Sophie. The few years spent with her had given him that bit of knowledge. Where does the forest shine the brightest? What does that even mean?
And why did she need his help?
Was she hurt?
Keefe put his hand against his chest and sat down on the nearest chair, sinking into its cushiony haven. He racked his brain for any possible source of information, and absolutely nothing came up.
He ran his hand through his hair, letting the oh-so-familiar motion calm him and let his mind relax.
A hint of a memory, a spark, ignited in his brain, exploding into a vivid image of a book that he remembered reading not so long ago.
Heller Kern, a majestic forest with a mysterious bright glowing light in the center. Multiple paths lead to the core, many dangerous and often a perilous trek. However, if you know where to look, there are a few that are safe, breathtaking, even. Many say that if you get close enough to the luminescence, you will hear the voices of those you love, those who make your heart sing in happiness.
However, should you venture into the trees when you don’t love anyone, the light shall drag you in and your soul shall be at war with itself for all eternity, condemning it to never find peace.
Heller Kern, a forest that was known only in whispers and the most ancient of texts.
Keefe stopped reading after that short passage. He wasn’t supposed to have those books, and the English was especially hard to read.
From what he understood, it was a shady place, and the images that decorated the pages where haunting, yet so… inviting. He’d never willingly set foot in that place, but if it means it’ll help Sophie, then he’ll fall into the darkest pits that only humans could conjure with their imaginations.
He shook his head, shoving the off-topic thoughts to the side. Hopefully, the ‘path of petals’ wasn’t one of the ‘perilous treks’ and more of an easy one.
But maybe the information was so old that the forest has changed and adapted since then?
Keefe took a breath and walked through the familiar halls of the Shores of Solace, the place he still lived per his annoying father’s wishes, even after he graduated. He’ll stay here until he finds the perfect place for him to live out his life with whomever he ends up with.
Even if it meant dealing with his arrogant, cold father. Keefe wrinkled his nose.
Heller Kern was a human name, as the book was a human one. He wasn’t sure where the name stemmed from, but he vaguely remembered the name of it in the Enlightened Language.
He stopped once he found the Leapmaster 5000. The glittering crystals began to spin around, and he called out, “Claralux!”
The crystal lowered, and a beam of light shone next to him. He didn’t hesitate to allow the light to whisk him away, brushing him across the globe, dropping him right at the line of trees.
The forest was just as creepy as he expected. The trees started small, but from where he could see, they grew thicker, taller, bigger, as the woods got deeper.
There seemed to be a gentle light pulsing from the distance, calling for him, wishing to wrap him in its soft embrace.
A familiar voice whispered to him; “Follow.”
A voice he was supposed to hate.
A voice that made his heart flutter and made a ghost of a smile appear on his lips. A voice that resurfaced some of the dumbest, yet happiest memories he could think of. A voice full of hidden anger and hurt, yet so much love and caring.
“Follow,” it repeated, more insistently this time.
So Keefe took a breath.
And he followed.
Chapter 3: The Storm
Sophie had never felt more panicked.
She shared a fearful look with Linh before asking, “Fitz, what’s wrong with Biana?”
The handsome face on the imparter’s screen twisted with terror, “I don’t know! She just stopped responding and began to cry when she read it!”
Fitz had called a few moments ago, talking about Biana receiving a letter that left her in shock.
“Have you read it yet?” Linh questioned worriedly.
“No. I can’t get it out of her hands.”
“We’re coming over,” Sophie said, sitting up so fast her head started spinning.
She grabbed Linh’s hand and barely noticed how the hydrokinetic’s face flushed adorably with red.
“C’mon!” Sophie called, pulling her toward the cliff.
Linh flailed for a moment, startled, but got her footing and the two girls ran and jumped. The fall was always terrifying, even after literal years of doing this.
A crack split the air, and the duo fell in a heap. They scrambled up—blushing, obviously—dusting themselves off. A sudden noise caught their attention.
Loud, shrill wailing.
Without uttering a word, the elves took off and shoved open the doors, running into the house.
“What’s going on?!” Sophie asked as Fitz came running down the stairs.
“I already told you!”
“Well where is she?” Linh said, glancing around the room.
“In the kitchen,” Fitz said as he darted away with Sophie and Linh on his heels.
They entered the kitchen area, where Biana kneeled on the floor, her shoulders shaking. She kept vanishing, her abilities reacting to her emotions.
“Biana? What’s wrong?” Sophie asked.
She looked up, tear stains racing down her face.
They stood quietly, waiting.
Biana stood, wiping her face roughly with her sleeve. Sophie had never seen her do such an inelegant thing.
She looked at it briefly, only spying messy handwriting. Her main concern was Biana, whose eyes were red and puffy.
“It’s okay.” Linh murmured, pulling the girl into a hug.
Biana smiled sadly, but sniffed as she glanced back down at the note, “Read it.”
She said the words so softly, Sophie had to strain to hear them, but she obliged.
The boy of sadness has wandered away.
To a place that only him and I could find.
I’ve sent him there on a fake quest,
To a place where he can make no calls of distress.
If you want him back, give me what I desire.
Respond quickly or he shall be gone forever.
Fear not, for my request is simply human currency.
The boy of sadness…
Realization struck Sophie harder than a bullet train. Her heart thudded against her chest as thousands of vivid scenarios raced through her brain.
“Keefe?” Linh gasped before Sophie could open her mouth.
Biana averted her eyes, another tear rolling down her cheek, “I-it has to be.”
“Who sent him on a fake quest?!” Fitz asked, the disbelief strong in his tone.
“Fitz, stop asking stupid questions and start asking why they want human money!” Biana shouted, her mood suddenly turning angry.
Nobody knew how to react.
Sophie curved her mouth to form words at the spark of realization. “Wait… there are lots of different types of human money! They don’t all use the same currency…”
And then it dawned on her. “Is this a prank?”
Linh’s eyes widened.
Fitz wheeled on her. “A prank? Sophie, no! Keefe is missing!”
“But it’s a fake quest. And whoever wrote this probably doesn’t know much about humans because they didn’t specify what kind of money they want.”
Everyone was looking at her now, which made Sophie reach up and tug and eyelash out.
“It’s just… a maybe,” she mumbled, looking down.
Fitz took back the note. “Let’s call someone from the Black Swan, run for Keefe’s pendent. For all we know Keefe could be messing with us,”
Biana looked at her brother in horror. “Fitz! He could be kidnapped and you think this is a joke?!”
Fitz turned to look his sister in the eyes. “Biana, it’s Keefe. What would anyone want with him?”
Biana’s eyes blazed, “Fitz,” she said lowly.
“Not like that! I mean, who would take him? We took out the Neverseen ages ago. We demolished the rebellion. There is no more enemies, and there hasn’t been for well over two years.”
Sophie’s stomach rolled. She remembered the horror of being with Brant and the others. She remembered it quite clearly.
“We should take this seriously until we’ve confirmed it’s a joke.” Dex said, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. “Sorry, Linh called. I uh... she thought I should come.” He fiddled with a gadget on his wrist.
Sophie looked at Linh questioningly.
“Fine. I’ll call Magnate Leto and tell him that we need to track Keefe,” Fitz said, snapping her back to attention.
“No need! That’s kind of why Linh called. I uh, developed a way to track our pendants? I know, random, but I just… I started the project after we first got kidnapped and I found it recently and thought it’d be funny to use it to mess with you guys. But now I should probably use it to track our missing friend,” Dex said quickly.
“Do it!” Biana jumped in, “Find him, please,”
Sophie found herself smiling, and when she glanced over, she saw Linh smiling as well.
It was obvious that Biana cared for Keefe, and Sophie had to admit she was a little jealous.
But that wasn’t important at the moment.
“Hey, where’s your parents?” Dex asked as he pulled a small device from his pocket.
“Away on business,” Fitz answered automatically, watching him switch on the tech.
Dex placed his thumb on the black panel. “Keefe Sencen,” he whispered.
The device pinged for a moment, before zooming in on a globe, then to a country, and then to a giant forest.
Located, Heller Kern forest, 48-18-8-9.
“Why is he in Claralux?” Fitz said, looking at the map.
“What?” Sophie glanced at him, confused.
“It’s the proper name of the forest,” Dex explained, “Claralux is a forest with bioluminescence in the core of it. The trees also sing a powerful, ancient song that even we can hear. It allows us to hear the voice of the one we truly desire, but it can be a lot of things based on the book,”
“Oh.” Sophie said. “How do we get there?”
“With this!” Linh said, fumbling to hold up a crystal, “I’ve kept it since we lived there. It’s true, though you can ask the trees to stop if they trust you,”
The crystal was a pale green, one that Sophie had never seen before. “How did you get that?”
Linh blushed. “I made it,”
Wow. That… Sophie didn’t know what to say to that.
Dex eyed it, the amazement clear in his periwinkle eyes.
But thankfully, Biana saved her from having to respond.
“C’mon!” She cried, racing over to Linh.
The small smile that cracked across the hydrokinetic’s face caused a series of emotions to spring through Sophie’s heart, but she shoved them away.
Linh held the crystal up to the light, motioning to follow, “Let’s go!”
The forest was unlike anything that Sophie expected. In all honesty, she didn’t know what’d she was expecting.
But a strangely warm, glowing forest was not it.
The trees were tall and welcoming, and even though they loomed over Sophie and her friends, she didn’t feel threatened. They went on for miles, never seeming to end.
“Woah…” Fitz said, gazing at the forest with his mouth hanging open.
Dex and Biana stared at it with the same awe, but Linh was hurriedly shoving the crystal back into her pocket, then glanced at them, “You all ready?”
They snapped out of their trance and nodded.
Linh turned to look at the forest as well, and she heaved a deep sigh, “Okay… Follow me.”
She took one step towards the woods, which encouraged Sophie to do the same.
Their walk went slowly at first, as they all were distracted by the pure, natural beauty of the place. They quickened their pace, with Linh and Dex in the lead.
Sophie admired the forest from behind them, but ahead of her she watched as the two elves shivered as they set foot into the woods.
“What is it?” Biana asked worriedly.
Linh turned to look at them, her pale blue eyes glazed over.
Worry sprang through Sophie, seeping through her bones. “Linh?” she whispered.
“It’s… just the trees. They’re louder this time. Urgent. Can’t you hear it?”
Her voice was soft, distant, even. How she sounded when Sophie enhanced her for the first time.
Sophie shook her head. “I don’t hear anything.”
Sophie was confused. How does she listen to something she couldn’t hear?
But she closed her eyes anyway, and focused on the forest.
Sophie looked at Linh. “Did you say something?”
Linh shook her head, focused on something else.
How could Linh have said something, but not actually say it?
“Help him,” it repeated.
Sophie looked up. It wasn’t Linh. Was this the forest? Was this was she was talking about?
“How?” Sophie whispered, earning some bewildered looks.
“Sophie?” Fitz said, stepping forward.
And suddenly, light shimmered into the air, and it then elongated into a long line, stretching and winding into the forest, to places they couldn’t see. They all gasped, staring at the glow. But then they took deep breaths, and listened to their hearts.
And so they followed the light.
It was easy to say that Sophie wasn’t scared. But she was. The deeper she got, she swore the shadows grew longer and seemed to move unnaturally.
Something about the way they moved felt so… familiar.
Step by step they walked through the forest. Fitz stayed near the back, while Dex and Linh led them. Biana stayed close to Sophie.
The trees suddenly ended, the thick trucks seeming to curve around a single clearing, an area that bright light emanated from.
It took her breath away.
Linh started forward, walking in powerful, confident strides, before a shadow appeared and disappeared, forming the familiar face of Tam. He was grinning maniacally.
“Ha! Got you!”
Linh stepped back in surprise, while the others jumped at the sudden noise.
“What?” Biana said, confused.
Tam looked at them apologetically. “Sorry, I had to make it believable. I made Keefe come out here in search of Sophie, but I haven’t seen him yet... I was gonna fake kidnap him, but I guess that’s failed.”
Dex paled. “The tracker says he’s within one hundred feet of us,”
“Not possible, I’ve covered every inch of this forest looking for him.” Tam said. “But to be sure…” He spread his arms out, and shadows went racing over and around all of them, and Sophie shuddered.
It was hard to remember exactly how powerful the Shade had gotten in the last few years.
“He’s not here,” Tam said.
“That.. no. This device is tracking his registry pendent.” Dex said, holding up the device.
“Maybe it’s wrong?” Fitz suggested.
“It’s getting the feed from the Council. I see what they see. So if it’s wrong, then it’s not my tools.”
Sophie looked sideways at him, remembering how The Black Swan would mess up their registry pendants every so often so they could slip to a place unknown or prohibited. Maybe Dex forgot that?
“Guys?” Linh said, suddenly standing a few feet away from them, holding up a piece of paper in one hand and an empty, uncapped bottle in another.
She read it, and handed it to Fitz.
Sophie’s heart dropped as she saw the look on his face.
Fitz slowly handed the note to Dex, with the others watching carefully.
They looked at Dex, watching his skin pale and his hands fidget as he processed the words.
And then Sophie took her turn. The words were harsh, like it was written by one very, very, very angry person.
Revenge is best served on a silver platter.
The shiny pendent fell with a clatter.
In order for you to pay for your misbehavior,
He will have to SHATTER.
Her hands shook as it dawned on her what was happening.
Biana took the note from Sophie’s gloved hands, falling to her knees at the possible loss of her… friend.
“Guys?” Fitz said, his voice coming out choked. “You need to see this,”
Sophie’s eyes followed the disruption in the grass, a pathway made by a sled or something large.
Or someone being dragged through it.
And then she saw what he was looking at. She froze as her heartbeat thundered in her ears.
Keefe’s silver registry pendent.
Covered in blood.
Chapter 4: And Yet, Here We Are
Darkness. That’s all he could see.
The aching pain coming from his arms that were strung above his head was all that he could feel. Stinging, burning pain raced down his arm from where he got cut when he tried to fight the assailant. He never thought this would happen again, and he never thought it’d happen to him.
And yet, here he was, tied up, and was probably going to die.
A cold wind brushed against his skin as air rushed out of the still room. The thick, heavy metal door was swung open by a person. A person whose power he could sense as they walked toward him. He could also feel how angry they were. Swirling deep within this person was a pure, utter rage.
“Shall we start?” the person asked.
And the screaming began.
“What did you do with Keefe?!” Biana screamed, lunging for Tam. No one tried to stop her as she tackled him to the ground.
Tam struggled against her. “Nothing! I swear!” His mind raced as he tried to figure out what happened. “It was a prank, but I didn’t do this!”
“It was a prank?! Here we are, standing in the middle of an empty field, with no civilization for MILES and Keefe is GONE!” She screamed. Angry tears welled in her teal blue eyes and they slid down her cheeks.
Tam’s mind swirled with possible answers and fear. Not just of Biana, but of what was going on.
Did Keefe get kidnapped?
Or is he pranking him again?
“Biana, get off,” Fitz said.
When she didn’t comply, he pulled her up. “Biana, enough. Tam didn’t do anything. At least, not that we can prove,”
A pang of hurt echoed in his chest at those words. How could his friends not believe him?
Another pang echoed through him as he realized something far deeper.
There was another rebellion.
Dex offered him his hand, pulling him up. “Thanks,” he whispered. Dex nodded once, as though he understood Tam didn’t do this.
“Keefe’s gone,” Linh said, running her hands through her hair. “We have to call Magnate Leto or the Council.”
Tam saw Sophie pull out her imparter, calling Magnate Leto. She stepped away, but he made out words like “missing, note, please come.”
And just a few moments later, bright flashes of light brought all twelve Councillors and the five members of the collective.
No one was in disguise, as there was no point. Not anymore, not now that the Council and Black Swan worked together.
Juline Diznee raced toward her son, pulling him into a tight hug that he seemed to melt into.
Fitz and Sophie had taken to explain things to the Council and Collective.
Councillor Emery looked at the registry pendent on the ground, and his face turned grim. He looked concentrated for a moment, as though he was carrying out a telepathic conversation. The more Tam thought about it, the more he realized that probably what was happening.
And suddenly the gravity of the situation dawned on him.
Keefe Sencen was not just missing.
Someone took him, someone caused him harm.
Tam suddenly couldn’t breathe as he fell to his knees. He did this. He caused this. The guilt was so heavy, it was like it was crushing him. Keefe wasn’t someone he was fond of, but at the end of the day, they were still friends. No matter the number of times he wanted to clobber the boy to death, he was still someone he cared about.
Now, he was suffocating in his friend’s doom.
Strong hands pulled him up. They were saying something, something Tam didn’t hear.
“W-what?” He said, hating the shakiness in his tone. Tiergan. It makes sense that it was Tiergan.
“This is not your fault,” he said, his voice stern and hard. Unwavering. “You are not to blame.”
“I brought him out here, I sent him here, I was going to make him think he was kidnapped, how is it not my fault?” Tam whispered, feeling tears burn in his eyes.
“You did not mean to cause him harm,” Tiergan murmured, pulling Tam into a hug.
And yet, here we are, with Keefe’s blood splattered on the ground.
Tam was never one for hugs, not after never receiving one from his parents. But at this moment, he didn’t care. Because he had never felt so guilty. Because he’s never felt so horrible.
So Tam melted into the hug, struggling to hold himself together. Struggling to not fall into the cracks that his mind was forming as he held himself accountable.
“It’s not your fault,” Tiergan repeated as Tam sobbed into his chest.
And yet, here we are.
Chapter 5: 48 Hours
Two days since Keefe had gone missing.
48 hours of tugging out eyelashes, 48 hours of pulling at hair, 48 hours of sobbing and not sleeping. 48 hours of Tam repeatedly apologizing. 48 hours of searching for anything that could bring him back.
Sophie absently stared at the clock, watching the minute shift up one.
Sophie didn't have a word to describe how she felt. She couldn't explain the feeling. But it was like…
Like being numb.
Numb like crying for hours and then stopping and staring at the wall with no thoughts in her brain.
It's the kind of numb that eats at your soul and threatens to devour it whole. The kind that damages a person. A little too much sometimes. The kind that leaves a soul broken, with millions of cracks fracturing it, waiting to shatter. It felt like the weight of the world falling on her shoulders, pushing on her and threatening to bury her in the dirt.
She gathered up the strength she had left and willed herself to stand. An ache in her body became apparent, and all she wanted to do was trudge up the stairs to her giant bedroom and flop onto and not wake up until it was all over. But she'd awaken. And when she did, she'd unleash her power and find her friend.
Keefe probably doesn't have a cloud bed right now, was the last that echoed in her brain before darkness claimed her.
It was so, so, so heavy, that guilt was.
Pulling him down.
His fault. His fault. His fault. All. His. Fault.
No matter how many times Dex told Tam it wasn't his fault, no matter how many times Sophie hugged him, no matter how many times Linh told him to stop feeling guilty, he knew that they all blamed him. Easy enough. He's the reason Keefe was taken. He might as well handed Keefe over to this messed up person who took him on a platter.
All he had wanted to do was… Tam couldn't quite figure out what he wanted.
Did he want to impress Keefe?
Keefe? The one and only boy who despised of him? Who hated Tam from the depths of his heart? Who would never love him?
He saw in their eyes that his "friends" blamed him. He saw it in the way Fitz glared at him. In the way Linh avoided him. He saw the way that Biana wouldn't speak to him.
The cracks were forming in his mind and he fought to stop them. No matter how long it took, no matter what he had to sacrifice, he'd find Keefe.
Tam would make this right again.
Linh was angry. Angry at the people who took Keefe, angry at the Council for not helping more, angry at whatever messed up person controlling fate allowed this to happen. And deep down, a tiny part of her that she resented, was angry at Tam for putting him in the position to be taken. And she was angry at herself. For being so angry.
She shut herself in her room, searching through maps and pendant feed trying to find anything.
Keefe was out there somewhere.
And she'd find him.
She'd save him.
Anxiety coursed through Dex. This happened to him and Sophie. And now it'd happen to Keefe. But… what if it was worse for him? What was going to happen?
Some nights, he'd wake up in cold sweat, not completely sure if he was safe to move. Not completely sure that he was home, safe and sound. He would lay there, terrified and frozen until finally, finally, the sun slowly, slowly but surely rose. But he still wouldn't move until someone came.
He wrung his hands together, drumming them on the desk he sat at, covered in technopathy books and half-built gadgets that he'd likely never finish. His hands shook and his stomach rolled, but he'd never tell anyone. Never tell Sophie. Never tell his parents.
Because as far as everybody else knew, or thought, he was okay.
But he wasn't okay.
Because he was taken too and when Keefe comes back maybe he'd tell him. Maybe he'd be able to help him through the inevitable, weighing trauma that he was still suffering.
So he took some pens and started to draw out a possible map of where they could have gone. No light signature to trace, no DNA to match, nothing.
He scribbled out calculations, drawing circles around the possible area.
Whoever took Keefe was going to be very, very, very sorry.
It echoed in her brain. Over and over again. Gone. He was gone. Missing. Kidnapped. Taken. Stolen. Grabbed. Using different words wouldn't change anything because Keefe was not here. Biana wiped off the smeared makeup, leaving her skin bare.
She looked at herself in the reflection.
Sure, her eyes were red and puffy, her face was stained from crying, and her nose looked gross. Sure, her brown hair was tangled and going every direction. Sure, there was a purple so deep under her eyes that it could have been bruises. Sure, she'd not spoken a word to anyone, not even her best friends for what felt like so, so, long, but in her eyes, her bright, teal blue eyes, was anger. Determination.
A determination to fight for Keefe. To hunt down the culprit and make them pay. She'd been hurt by what was possibly these very same people who took him, him, away from her. She would make them pay so much that they would be covered in the same scars that still covered her pale skin.
So she scrubbed her skin clean. So she painted red upon her lips. The color of blood. The color of war. She was going to fight for her friend for as long as it took.
And she would not lose.
Fitz punched the wall again, hard. Very hard.
Keefe. Keefe Sencen. Keefe Sencen his best friend. Keefe Sencen, the boy who sacrificed every fiber in his body to help their friends. Keefe Sencen, the boy who broke all the rules, told all the lies, made all of the big, reckless moves for a better future. Keefe Sencen, the idiot.
But this made him mad. Mad that someone would take his best friend. Mad that someone could harm the one person who was better than everyone else in every way. It made his mad that someone could dare to touch even a single lock of his hair and think they could get away with it.
So he punched the wall. He punched it hard. He shattered his bones, only to take a tissue regenerator and punch the wall again. He screamed and screamed and screamed. He screamed until he had no more breath left. Should he just punch himself while he was at it? Should he stop taking the tissue regenerator? Nothing mattered anymore anyway, now that everyone was being taken. Yes, they usually had somehow made it back, but what if Keefe didn't?
The name brought him back to reality. If he left the world, Keefe wouldn't even have a chance at getting back.
So he punched the wall again. Took tissue regenerator. Screamed until he had no breath left. Punched the wall. Tissue regenerator. Screamed. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Until he had no energy left. So he practically inhaled the plate of mashed Carnissa root that Edaline had evidently conjured up for him. No one wanted to disturb him. Then, back at it. He couldn't stop He couldn't.
He couldn't punch those who had taken him, but he could harm the one who landed Keefe in this situation in the first place.
He could punch Tam Song.
He could punch him until there was more of his blood on the ground than in his body. He could punch him until the raging storm his body contained escaped and unleashed its freezing storms on Tam.
It swirled in his chest. It was an angry beast under his skin. It was what made his vision red.
And he punched the wall again. Harder.
Chapter 6: Darkness
“Sophie! Sophie!” Keefe cried as a flash of blonde hair wavered in the breezy meadow. “You’re here!”
The blonde opened her perfect, smiling mouth to say something, but absolutely nothing came out. The smile fell to a frown, and she began screaming silent pleas to the sky.
“Sophie, you came!”
She looked down, her brown eyes blown wide, giving a message to the world.
All of a sudden, a boy with black hair and long, jagged, silver bangs became visible. He looked at Keefe and there was something so familiar about the pale blue eyes.
Another person appeared. A female this time. Pale skin, dark brown hair. An elegant purple dress fell on her frail body. She looked like a princess.
She’s coming to save her. Save Sophie from this murderer.
The princess withdrew a knife of her own, and the blonde collapsed into a heap of terrified tears.
He tried. Keefe tried so, so, so very hard to run to her, to help her. He tried to move, but his feet were glued to the ground. He tried to plead, but his voice wouldn’t make a sound.
The assassin, all in black, the one with silver, jagged bangs, lunged. He put his blade right before her face. The princess made a move to save her.
How did Keefe recognize them both?
The princess let her knife drop and Sophie’s thin, flowy, white dress was pierced, but no blood flowed. She picked up the knife again and a scowl appeared on her face. She sunk the blade into Sophie’s back, and scarlet flew everywhere. The assassin attempted to stop Sophie from dying… but it was too late. The princess wiped her bloody hands on her dress and retreated, smiling.
The assassin’s eyes watered when looking at the beautiful, dead, girl.
But the assassin wasn’t an assassin.
And the princess wasn’t a princess.
The princess had brutally murdered his best friend.
Then, realization struck Keefe harder than possible.
The assassin’s name was Tam. An ally.
The princess’ name was Vespera. The enemy.
And then cold washed over him as the world tilted sideways, and inky darkness engulfed him.
Keefe awoke, his eyes sticky and refusing to open. His mind was fuzzy and clouded and every part of him wanted to fall back under the sleep spell and never wake up.
“Is it working?” One voice asked. It was cruel, empty and void of all emotion.
A second voice, raspy and deep responded. “I don’t know,” a moment later it continued. “I’m checking his dreams…”
Keefe panicked and recalled every moment of the dream to the front of his brain. “What do you see?”
“What… am I doing?”
“Brutally murdering Sophie Foster.”
The first voice cackled softly. “Sounds like me. Her? The love of his life?”
“Doesn’t seem like that anymore.”
“They always dreams about people that he loves, though. I don’t understand.”
“There was another in the dream, but there were no other females. Strange.”
“Does this mean he loves me?”
Cackling, evil laughter echoed.
A hand brushed against Keefe’s skin, and the icy feel of it made him want to cut off his arm. The surge of sheer emptiness that he felt dragged him down.
“I think he’s waking up,” the first voice said. He could feel the sinister smile on the face of this stranger.
It was as cold as the shadows that pulled him under once again.
He woke up.
And every time he did he desperately wished it was all a nightmare, that he’d wake up and be in his bed at his father's house.
“Welcome back to the land of the living,” a voice said. He still couldn’t figure out who it was, but it haunted his nightmares and chased him no matter where we went. Even in the face of death, he had hope. Maybe it was someone he could trust. If only.
Again, those cold hands found way to his skin, pushing his hair back. He could have opened his eyes, but he thought better of himself. He already knew that voice. God, he would never forget it. Not until his last breath, which he feared was coming soon. The scuffle of feet was loud in his ears. Strange what a desperate situation could do to a person. The hand moved off of his forehead, and down to his cheek. “Wake up, I know you can hear me.” The voice was still musical, but that was what scared him. How could someone with no room for love in their heart still sound like every other being? How could someone like that sound so… Elvin? That voice repeated itself again, forcefully enough that Keefe had to resist flinching.
He opened his eyes and blinked at the blinding light. He wasn’t in the dark room where he first woke up, and for the first time in a while he realized how thirsty he was.
And then he saw her. All traces of thirst vanished because who stood in front of him posed a much bigger threat.
He knew who she was from the cold, unforgiving eyes. He jerked from her touch, trying to get away from her.
She grabbed his chin, forcing him to look at her.
He could taste the blood before it even leaked. He could see the knife before it came out of its sheath. He could sense his death before it happened.
The moonlit silver was divine. A fine blade, built to slice through enemies with no hesitation. It was long, graceful, heavenly. But the touch was like poison He could feel the flesh of his back ripping. Inch by inch, until there was nothing left untouched. He knew it would come.
It burned. It burned like a fire that could never be put out, it burned hotter than the everblaze. His skin was sticky and he could feel fog in his brain with every slice. But he would not scream.
The cold, calculated eyes of his eternal enemy stared down at his torn body. Barely a whisper, barely anything, but still something, something still to come out of her mouth, a bargain maybe, a treasure. A step to her neverending torture. “Do you still want more, child? Or are those pretty lips of yours ready to speak?”
Keefe’s lips parted into a blood covered smirk. “Do your worst, witch. But I will never, ever tell you anything.”
The knives resumed, seemingly never stopping. Gash after gash was torn on his skin. His life would end here, but at least the others would survive. At least give them time to find a way to stop them.
He endured it, he endured it all with not even a sign of pain. He bit his cheek and forced himself to not scream. Not even the fire that danced along his spine would bring his lips to part. Not once did with the curve of a dagger did he cry out. Everything was broken. Everything. But not his soul. No, they would never break his soul. Never.
Chapter 7: Apologies
Fitz placed his hand on the door handle. The cool metal helped calm the raging fire that burned in his chest. It reminded him of reality. That he was only angry because he lost his best friend. That it was no one’s fault. Except it was someone’s fault. A dark thought surfaced in his brain. He didn’t bother to block it out.
Deep breaths. In, out, in out, he repeated to himself over, and over and over. He turned the knob and pushed. Bracing for an incoming wave of questions, but as soon as he got his bearings from the blinding light, the only person he saw outside his door was the one and only, Biana.
“I was wondering when you would come out,” she said through blood red lips. He’d never seen the color on her before. He wasn’t even aware she’d willingly wear such a gruesome shade. Then again, maybe it was how she coped--he gets furious and she makes herself look like a warrior queen.
“I… I’m sorry,” he replied, prying his eyes from her lips and looking at the rest of the people in the room. Sophie and Dex sat on the couch, the latter of the two fidgeting and restless.
And suddenly the anger was replaced by guilt. How did he not consider what it’d be like for Sophie and Dex to know that someone else was going through exactly what they did, how he could not consider that was a terrible fault, so he absolutely needed to make it up.
It’s me. He told her mind softly and braced himself as a wave of fear, rage and millions upon millions of panicked thoughts crashed down onto his mind.
He pushed them back, and reached out, Sophie?
His friend straightened, and she looked directly at him, but her brown eyes were cold, We can talk out loud, too.
It felt as though a knife had been plunged into his heart, and for a moment regret poured over her face. She looked away, but when she looked back moments later, there was no trace of the guilt. Stern, heavy, ice bored into him.
Sophie stood. “I’ll go get you some more tissue regenerator,” she said as she eyed his bruised fists. Everyone watched Sophie leave, anxious.
Dex was the first to speak after a few minutes of silence. “Fitz… it’s okay. It’s just… really hard for all of us.” He rushed over to pull the older boy into a tight embrace.
Next, Linh. “We all missed you,” she smiled. “I just… wish that you had come out sooner. We were all waiting.”
“You missed a lot of things. Do you want me to catch you up?” asked Tam. Fitz nodded slightly, so Tam began the story. Resentment burned through him. His fault. “Most of us stayed in our various rooms in solitude for forty-eight hours. A few of us stayed for a bit longer, but we had all come by the third day. Since then, we’ve been waiting for you, but we’ve found some pretty good stuff. But before I tell you about that, I’d have to tell you about Sophie and—”
“Tam! They might tell her!” Linh cut Tam off before he could say anything else.
Biana gasped. She squealed cries of opposition, as per usual of the drama-hungry Biana. Linh blushed and shoved Biana away as she began approaching. And, of course, that was when Della decided to walk into the room.
“What. Is. Happening? I leave you children alone for thirty minutes and—” Della’s face completely shifted from stern to worried. She gasped. “Fitz! You’re out…” she dashed over and dropped the bags that she was carrying. An embarrassingly tight cuddle completed the moment.
Fitz sighed and pushed her away. “I’m fine, Mom.”
“Oh my mallowmelt! Your hands…” she held them to the light. “Let me get you some tissue regenerator! And food! And fresh clothes! You’re covered in your own blood.” Fitz sighed and rolled his eyes as Della darted away.
Sophie stomped into the medical room of Everglen. She gazed at the various bottles of regenerators.
Blood regenerator, fur regenerator, muscle regenerator, cartilage regenerator, do they seriously not have any tissue regenerator? Sophie asked herself. She plopped down onto one of the many cots, utterly flustered. Stupid Fitz. Only cares about himself. Probably thinks I still like him back… she remembered the time when they had confessed their love for each other. But that was so long ago. It’s different now. She smiled, thinking of the jet-black hair… the silver eyes…
She then roared in anger as she reminded herself what she was here for. The tissue regenerator was nowhere to be found, and Linh probably hated her now. She obviously liked Fitz, and now that Sophie had been rude to him… there was no telling what she would do next. What if she stopped hanging out with her… and…
Another reminder set her mind back on track.
As she rummaged around through the drawers, she pondered possible outcomes. What if Fitz and Linh got together? What would happen? Would they both just ignore her for the rest of her life?
The door creaked open and Sophie turned her gaze. “Hi, Della,” she greeted.
“Ah, I see that you’re also here to get tissue regenerator for Fitz,” she noted, eyeballing Sophie’s rummaging through the drawer marked “regenerator” for the sixth time. She made her way over and opened a drawer above the “regenerator” one, not labeled. Sophie peered in. A drawer full of Tissue Regenerator. It was all there.
“Oh, thanks. Could you bring it to Fitz? I’m going to go… take a walk.”
Della nodded, and Sophie said her thanks. She wanted a moment for her to leave the room before she followed.
She turned through the now familiar halls, her feet on a path she knew by heart. She took the longest way because she wanted to avoid finding her friends, because she wanted to avoid being around people right now.
She paused at the door. Emotions were swelling up in her chest again, and the knot under her ribs ached quietly. Choking back a sob, she laid her hands on the giant double doors.
And she pushed them open.
Chapter 8: Unstoppable
It hurt. It hurt so bad. The ache of grief and anxiety in her chest, the pain that weighed her down. Her fault. She brought Keefe into this six years ago, she brought this upon him.
Someone took him because of her. Because he was close to her. That could be the only explanation. She was so, so, so heavy.
It was like a rock tied to her ankle, making her sink down, down, down, down, down into a freezing lake with no hope of getting free.
She choked out a sob as she stumbled down the steps. Away. She wanted to get away.
Away from Fitz, who bears scars on his chest from being stabbed in the final battles with the Neverseen.
Away from Dex, who followed her so loyally and yet was kidnapped alongside her.
Away from Biana, who wears her scars proudly yet they were there because of her.
From Tam, who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders because of her.
Away from Linh, whom she loved so much that admitting it hurt. She couldn’t bring this pain upon her, but she did.
It was her fault.
All of it.
I just make it worse.
Her feet instinctively took her to the nearest cliff. She felt the wind gently brushing against her skin, reminding her to breathe.
Breathe. She could barely breathe.
Suffocating, the weight of the burdens she carried was crushing her. She gasped for breath, trembling in all her limbs. It hurt- it hurt so much. Crushing- it was crushing her-- weighing down on her, she couldn’t breathe she couldn’t breathe, breathe, she had to breathe, she had to breathe, she had to breathe she had to breathe she had to breathe shehadtobreathebreathebreathe---
She clutched at nothing, grasping for something that wasn’t there, and fell to her knees. She sobbed, right there, on feet away from the edge of the cliff. She cried. She fell apart. Something cracked, and it awoke another being. A beast that prowled in the depths of her mind. It hadn’t awakened from its slumber for so long…
She finally drew in a breath.
And another, until she moved her legs out from under her and swung them over the edge. Her body was trembling, shaking so hard it was nearly impossible to not fall.
Maybe I should just…
The beast roared in her mind, shutting down the thought before she ever could form it.
And then she broke down again.
She cried until her tears ran dry until her chest ached and breathing felt like inhaling through a straw until nothing was left.
She let it out because keeping it in would form cracks in her minds that could into expand chasms and would end in a shattered mind. She was the only elf in the entire universe capable of healing a broken mind, and if any one of her friends let themselves break she would be the one to fix them. The void grew bigger.
Responsibility, this was her responsibility. She was the Moonlark. She was supposed to have taken out the Neverseen.
But she failed.
The empty void in her chest was filled with anger.
And she screamed.
She screamed at the world.
She screamed so, so, so loud.
She screamed until her voice was raw and her throat burned. She screamed until all she heard was the echoes of her cries bouncing around. She screamed until it was a question as to why no one came to find her.
And then she fell back.
And she cried some more.
When her tears stopped falling and she remembered she was alive, she ran her hands through the soft grass. She hiccuped occasionally, and her breaths were uneven. But she was breathing.
Breathing such sweet air…
And the cool wind brushed over her. The beast in her mind was no longer angry…. But rather singing a song…
She didn’t know what it said. But it was a tune of hope. Of joy. Of prosperity and the promise that in the end, the light would shine again.
She felt the melody in her bones, lulling her to peace. Slowly, the cracks that were forming were filled with strength.
The rasp that had become her breath was easing. The ache was letting up, healing. She took in the sweet air like pieces of a sentence formed in her mind.
My name is Sophie Foster….
She took a bigger breath, deeper.
My name is Sophie Foster and I’m--
She struggled. It suddenly occurred to her that she was saying these words aloud.
With a deep breath that cooled the fire in her veins, she said, “My name is Sophie Foster.”
She paused, drinking in more of the sweet air that reminded her that she was alive. “My name is Sophie Foster and I am…” she struggled for a word.
The beast whispered something. Unstoppable.
The word echoed in her brain as she took a breath. Because for a moment, there were no missing friends, there were no strained relationships, there was no hatred, there was no fear.
Because for a moment, she pictured a happy family. Her family. With Linh and Keefe and Fitz and Dex and Biana and Tam and Wylie and Marella. A family of light. Of hope. Of peace. Of happiness.
And then reality slammed into her and suddenly the wind was gone. Suddenly, the air was very, very, very still.
And a plan swirled in her mind, connecting pieces of a broken puzzle.
She was dying, fading away, and yet she reached Fitz halfway across the world.
She was powerful.
She healed Alden.
She could not be broken.
She healed Prentice.
She would not crack.
She could find Keefe.
She was unstoppable.
My name is Sophie Foster and I am unstoppable.
She could reach her friends from anywhere. She loved Fitz, she could find him anywhere. She loved Keefe, she could reach him from across the globe. She stood tall.
She’d move mountains to help her friends, and as much as she wanted to do this alone, she knew she was stronger with Fitz, her cognate. She knew that alone, she was a force to be reckoned with. But with Fitz, there was no beating them. They were the most powerful telepaths in the world. They could break minds and heal them with half a thought.
She wiped her face and took a moment to regain herself. The words bounced around in her head, unstoppable.
She turned and took a shaky step. And then another. And another. And another, until she was racing through the woods and through the yards, racing back to the doors, slamming them open.
I have to try.
The lady was back again.
Keefe was never sure who would be with him that day. Most days it was Vespera. Some days it was Gethen messing with his mind. A few times it was some other random members of the scattered organization that would take the task of trying to get him to say anything. At this point, he’s sure that they’re going to use him as leverage instead of their own personal information book. Every now and then, though, a lady would come in. He didn’t know her name, but she was more terrifying than the Neverseen collectively.
She was lean and tall, with tanned skin and ice blue eyes. Her hair was darker than midnight itself, with streaks of gold that shimmered too brightly. She was dressed in blood red. Always blood red. They all were, and the color was beginning to haunt his dreams.
Speaking of dreams, Gethen was always messing them up.
He was always giving him terrifying nightmares, showing him visions of Tam being murdered, of him being in his place... Now that he thought about it, he wasn’t sure how they weren’t able to just use telepathy to get what they needed from his mind. Maybe he protected it too well. Maybe they just wanted to hear the words from his lips. Maybe they already knew. Maybe it was all a ruse and what they wanted to know is not what he knows.
The lady ran her long nails down the side of his face. He tried to pull away but the bonds that wrapped around wrists and biceps chained him to the wall held tight, restricting him being able to do so. His skin crawled at her light touch and he wanted to scrub everywhere she touched with acid. He felt her emotions, the joy she took in scaring him, the hatred she felt for him, and the utter rage that swirled within her.
She grabbed his face and forced him still. “Here’s my deal. You are pretty much worthless to us, and soon your friends will realize how useless you are. We’ve been watching them, and so far they’ve found nothing. You tell us what we want, and we won’t murder your friends ruthlessly in front of each other.” Her hands roughly pulled away and Keefe glared at her. He didn’t even know her name.
“That’s not a deal, lady. Not sure if you kn-” he was cut off by her hands closing around his throat. The force she used caused him to slam into the wall, sending a rattle through him.
“Do not ever talk to me like that.” The tone she used took him back. She sounded like an angry mother who would use that tone on a misbehaving child, yet it lacked the caring and love, leaving only malice and fury.
He fought against his restraints, desperately trying to get her to let go. Breathe, he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t bre-
Just as the darkness was edging into his vision the lady let go of him and he sucked in the sweet oxygen.
Sternly, she shouted, “Do you understand?”
No, he didn’t. Her words were fuzzy in his brain and his vision was blurry.
Her hand was gripping his face. “Do you understand?”
Through the fog in his mind, Keefe smirked. “Understand what?”
Her words were like poison. “We are unstoppable. We are not just one step ahead. We are not two. We are hundreds of steps above you and there is no catching up.”
She straightened up.
“Oh, sweet boy, I didn’t want this to happen. I guess we’ll go the other route, today then. I’ll push my fun plans for today for next time.”
Keefe looked at her warily. “Wha….” he trailed off as the door opened.
Vespera walked in. She looked as elegant as ever, and that’s what scared him. How elegant she could be, how graceful when she was about to bring pain upon him.
And then behind her walked in an ogre carrying a small ornate box.
The huge, terrifying ogre’s eyes gleamed in delight.
Vespera hummed softly. “Before we begin, Keefe, I want you to know your friends have been trying to find you. Gethen hears the little blonde one’s call. What was her name? Safiya? Sofia? Sophie? Yes, Sophie. She’s looking for you, and she’s getting oh-so-close. Too close.”
She snapped her fingers and a table rolled out from the corner. The ogre placed the box on it with a quiet thump. Vespera ran her hands over it before leaning in and whispering something to the lock. It unlatched, and she opened it slowly, pulling out what looked like the metal circlet Sophie had to wear a long time ago.
The thought of losing his empathy made him want to fight. It made him want to escape.
“This will block all mental powers. Telepathy, mesmerizing, inflicting, it all will bounce off.”
Relief flooded through him and it must have been visible because Vespera smirked. “Unless we don’t want that to happen. You see, we’re in control here. Sophie won’t--she can’t--find you until we want her too. And when we let her, we’ll have the pretty little Moonlark and she can watch you die.”
His chest constricted at the thought of what they'd do to Sophie. “No- you can’t- the-they’re not-”
“And maybe we’ll get our hands on the handsome Shade.”
Anxiety crashed through him, and he felt his hands shake. Don’t show them you’re afraid… he kept that repeating in his head, but Vespera ran a cold hand down his skin.
“Afraid. And now we know who you care about.”
She snapped her fingers again, and the ogre in the room looked at him. A loud, shrill noise pierced his mind, and he struggled to not scream. It felt like his body was being ripped apart and shoved back together again. The agony that filled Keefe made him gasp for breath.
And just as quickly as it started, it stopped.
He panted hard, slumping against his bonds. Vespera walked toward him and he involuntarily flinched back, making the female grin in pleasure.
The cool metal touched his head, easing the fire that burned in his veins.
“We’ve designed it to block everyone but a select few. Gethen. Ogres. And some absolutely delightful others that we’re keeping a surprise.”
He heard the words but he didn’t hear the words. His head hurt. His arms hurt, his legs hurt.
“Here, sweet boy, drink this.”
A liquid smelling like sugar was pulled to his lips. He knew what it was, and he refused it. He kept his lips close, turning his head. Vespera growled and forced the liquid into his mouth, making sure he swallowed it all.
Keefe struggled against her, trying to fight against the sedative, but fog in his brain was winning. Darkness crept into his vision, eating away at it slowly until he was engulfed whole.
“See you in your dreams.”
Fitz and Sophie joined hands as they stood back on the cliff. The sun had set, but she was going to try.
Dex looked at her. “You’ve got this,” he said, giving her a thumbs up. She could see the hope that radiated in all of them. Hope to find Keefe.
Sophie stole a glance at Linh, and when their eyes met they quickly averted their gazes.
Sophie’s eyes landed on Tam, who looked much more exhausted than he had earlier. The dark bags under his eyes had darkened more than what she thought was possible, and he looked like he wanted to roll into a bed and never move again.
She felt slightly pathetic, crying over her missing friend when her friends that stood in front of her were cracking.
The determination inside of her only strengthened.
She looked back at Fitz and nodded.
Warm trickled into her mind as she threw her consciousness out like a frisbee. On her own, she’d strain to make it halfway across the world. But with her cognitive abilities that are being enhanced by her own abilities fueling her…
Her mind raced through the streets of Eternalia, through the cities of California, around the Atlantic ocean.
She was wearing down, but a boost of energy surged through her.
Something tugged on her, pulling her mind north. So north she followed, hunting down her friend.
Sophie could sense Keefe.
She could feel his mind, right there.
And then a jolt of pain slammed into her as if she had run into a mental wall. Her consciousness bounced back into her body. For a moment, she was confused. For a moment, she didn’t know what happened.
And she let out a blood-curdling scream.
Chapter 9: We Will Find A Way
A/N OMG this is sooooo late... last week, we forgot to post on the FFK wiki!
Sophie sank to her knees as she screamed. She tugged at the blonde strands.
“What’s wrong?” Fitz asked frantically. Dex and Linh came up behind her, followed by Biana and Tam.
“I was so close!” she gritted out. “So close and then BAM I came back, like—like when we fought Vespera for the last time. Something blocked my powers.”
“Vespera cannot be alive!” Biana said, trying to rationalize. “I pushed her off the cliff, I watched her body break!”
“Hold on, maybe I can find the signal again,” Sophie growled, sadness melting away. She shoved her mind back out in the direction, finding nothing. Not even a glimmer. It felt hopeless.
“I sensed it out in the area of Finland and Russia, way up north.” She told them, standing up. Her sadness and refusal to accept what had happened vanished. All that was left was anger.
“Sophie it’s oka-” Dex began.
She whipped around to face him. “Do you know what I felt right before I was pushed out?” She screamed. She saw Dex flinch at her tone as he watched her with wide, terror-filled eyes, and she almost felt guilty. Almost. But that was soon devoured by the rage.
“Pain. I felt his pain! I’m supposed to be able to find him and I can’t even do that! My friend is out there somewhere, being held captive because he’s my friend! So no, it is not okay! It won’t be okay until he’s safe and home!” She yelled.
He looked down, red tinting his cheeks. “If you had let me finish, I was going to say it’s okay to fail and that we would find another way.”
Sophie narrowed her eyes and turned. She’d apologize later. Right now, she needed a map and some tacks. She was going to find him, even if it meant breaking the bond that took so many years for her to form.
Fitz didn’t fail to notice the trembling of Dex’s hands. He also didn’t fail to notice how he wouldn’t look Sophie in the eyes as she yelled at him. He laid a hand on his shoulder. “She’s just mad right now. Not at you, but at a lot of things. Herself. Whoever took Keefe. We’ll find a way out,”
“I don’t want to imagine what is being done to Keefe,” Dex whispered, his voice breaking a tiny bit. “I was with Brant, who was barely able to keep himself together. But if he’s really with Vespera…,”
Fitz pulled him into a hug. There was a time where Dex was almost as tall as him, but now Fitz was a solid head taller than him. There was also a time where their friendship was rocky, but they had worked past that. There was no prejudice or grudge between the two. Right now, there was a friend who needed support, and a friend who was willing to help.
“We will find a way, don’t worry.”
Tam shut the door to his room and leaned against it. He had never felt so guilty in his life. He had never felt a weight so heavy on his shoulders.
Random humans taking Keefe had been his first thought.
Elves with a taste for vengeance was his second.
Vespera didn’t even make the list.
The forgotten prisoner had been so horrible, that they built a castle above her prison. She’d given up her emotion, her feeling, so she could… Experiment on humans. She felt no guilt. She felt no fear.
She had no limits.
He sank to his knees, gasping for breath. The shadows curled in on him, reacting to his emotion.
Keefe was his friend.
And from the depths of his mind, a feeling he so rarely felt crawled out.
“It’s my fault!” He cried, shaking. MY FAULT!
Vespera could rip him to pieces and not blink. She could damage him, damage someone he loved.
It broke him. Knowing he caused this to someone who meant so much to him.
If only he hadn’t tried a prank that was so horrible.
Karma was cruel, and now Keefe was paying the price.
A cold brush rushed through him, and the shadows retracted quickly.
Confused, Tam stood and picked it up. It was light and had no lid. He turned it around in his palm, slightly annoyed at the dark coloring of the glass.
His shaky hands fumbled with the bottle, and it slipped from his fingers.
It clattered to the ground and shattered, and Tam gasped.
“No, no, no..” he dropped to his knees and picked up the shards. In the middle of it all was a paper. He scrambled to brush away the shards, cutting his hand on the glass in the process.
The paper was small, but the words were readable.
He who blends in is Neverseen.
One of you lies.
One among you cries
Another shakes in fear,
Of the blood that will smear.
We have what you want.
Give us what we desire,
and you will not have to light his pyre.
Hey guys! We wanted you to know that due to unfortunate circumstances we can't post for two more weeks. Rest assured we will be back in full force with more angst and The Gay soon 😄