|Posted by Christie V Powell on May 11, 2019 at 5:05 PM||comments (0)|
This is the opening of "The Spectra United" from Brian's point of view.
Brian's aching back rested against a hard wooden floor. Griffin’s body was draped awkwardly across his chest, unnaturally still. Brian wasn’t sure if his brother was awake or not until he heard his mind-voice. Morning. He’ll be here soon.
‘He’ meant Captain Berk, their Lectran captor. Maybe he won’t talk today, Brian answered.
He always talks.
Brian couldn’t argue. The captain came every morning as their paralysis wore off. He’d let them eat and move around for a few minutes, controlling then with electric shocks, before shoving drugs down their throats. Then he’d sit and gloat. The boys were only alive because they were bait. Sooner or later, the princesses would come for them. The captain detailed the treatment the girls would get when they were caught: drugged, helpless, and immobile in the soldiers' power. No wonder Glen had escaped instead of trying to free the brothers. He had to warn the girls away.
Footsteps interrupted the stillness. They were too soft for Berk, who wore boots. Keita, no! Brian sent her. Who else would enter a splintery attic barefoot? The footsteps didn’t falter. Keita, I mean it! It’s a trap. Get out of here!
She can’t hear you, Griffin sent him, and you’re giving me a headache.
A small hand touched his forehead. His body tingled, and Brian tried to force his voice to work. He couldn’t move yet, but her touch was negating the drugs. Any minute now. Any minute...
A crash broke the stillness. The hand withdrew. “Nice try, Princess,” Captain Berk’s voice said.
Brian forced his eyes open but saw nothing but the dusty rafters—his neck wouldn’t move. The vibrations in the floor beneath him told him she was fighting back. What was she doing?
“Not much of a fighter, are you?” Captain Berk taunted.
Something popped. Keita cried out. Brian thrashed and finally, finally, his body responded. He climbed to his feet. Keita was lying against a broken wall, unmoving. Captain Berk moved toward her, unhurried, confident with every footfall. Brian lunged. Captain Berk was caught off guard. Instinctively he ducked Brian’s charge, but the motion drew him near the hole in the wall. Brian’s shoulder caught the man’s chest. He staggered backward, lost his footing, and fell. They were higher up than Brian realized, for the man’s scream took a long time to cut off.
Keita’s hands twitched. She wasn’t drugged—probably paralyzed by Berk’s lightning. Brian ran to her. Her bright green eyes fixed on his face. He read her emotions: awkward and embarrassed at the situation, but beneath that, quiet confidence. Whatever she was doing, coming alone into their prison, she had a plan and she knew what she was doing. Brian let himself relax. He could trust her plan too.
|Posted by Christie V Powell on June 9, 2017 at 9:30 PM||comments (0)|
Bonus story: Keita Sage is being forced into betrothal. After watching her friend Zuri talk her way out of trouble, Keita tries the tactics she observed on her father...
Keita sat silently beside her two friends, looking over the empty fields of the summit: a mass of monocultured grass, dull yellow and topped with weedy plumes. Every year Glen had told her stories of his adventures at the summit: exploring with the other boys, friendships, adventures, traps and nar-row escapes. And there they were, doing nothing.
He father materialized from among the simply thatched huts. A stern look sent her friends scampering. “What do you think of the other heirs?” the Sprite king asked.
“Carli and Zuri and I are friends,” she answered.
“And the boys?”
“I’m not sure. They don’t spend much time with us.”
King Drake nodded. They walked side by side until they reached a corner of the great walls that glowed despite an overcast morning. “The Lectrans and Nomes seem unusually close,” he said. “If they exclude the other clans, they could be plotting against us.” He glanced at her, then away quickly. “The other leaders think an alliance with another clan would help our cause.”
Normally she would have stayed silent, or presented a logical argument, or at least a snappy re-tort. But that’s not how Zuri had won him over. "I feel like a prisoner," she admitted.
His composure dropped. "I'm sorry."
That wasn't the answer she expected.
“This was so easy with Glen. He and Zuri just clicked. And so did your mother and I.”
Keita started. She knew her parents met here, at the Summit. She knew how everyone reacted. She knew about kingdoms and treaties, ceasefires and allegiances, but she did not know how her par-ents felt about it.
"Jasper and Brian are nice enough, but I don't know them, Dad!" She stopped. She hadn't called him that since he'd given her education to her unpleasant cousin Felix.
His eyes narrowed. "The rulers are concerned about recent events. These marriages aren't about limiting your choices. They're about keeping our kingdoms... and you!... safe. You heard of the Mers who were lost at sea? And Brian’s mother? If someone is picking off royals, we need to stand together more than ever."
Picking off royals? A chill travelled down her spine. For a long time she stared at the drifting clouds, planning. "What if..." she began. "What if I went on a trip—an internment, maybe—to the dif-ferent kingdoms? I'd have more time, get to make a better choice, and I'd still be bringing unity—maybe to more kingdoms than just one."
Drake frowned. "What if you ran away?"
"Spritelands means more to me than that."
He hesitated. "The others expect me to make an announcement tonight."
"Announce Glen and Zuri. You don't need both of us right now." She felt a twinge of unease, sacrificing her friend and brother, but neither seemed to mind.
For several minutes he thought. She hardly dared breathe. At last he nodded.
She forced back stinging tears. "Thank you."
If only it had worked that way.
|Posted by Christie V Powell on March 17, 2017 at 7:00 PM||comments (0)|
The great wall of the Summit, the last place for Spectra royals, filled Keita’s vision. Her feet were numb, worn raw too long for pain. Her legs shook, her lungs shook from the acrid smoke she had left behind, and streaks of green crossed her maple-brown skin. Some of her family and friends were inside those walls. Others, too many, were not. Inside was safety and companionship. Outside, the Stygians were hunting—yet her fear was as numb as her feet and only the fire inside still lived, the fire that said the Stygians must pay for what they had done.
Two hours ago, she had cringed behind a ridge above her valley home. Fire enveloped the trees so that the slopes glowed red. Black dots that were her people ran, their cries piercing the distance. Her siblings were fleeing. Her father could not. Her cousin, once her tutor, now a Stygian, stood silhouetted against the flames, the cause of it all. Maybe she should have challenged him then, but the fire roared toward her and she had forgotten everything, everything but the devouring flames.
Two days ago, she crouched among boulders with the Castalia princes. Two figures broke their conversation, peered into the rocks. “They’ve heard us.”
“I’ll get him.”
“Too late. The word is out. Tell the others to start now.”
They ran. She was in horse form then, better able to carry the boys. Two were communicators—as she ran, their thoughts flew faster, warning their people, their parents, their brothers stationed in the other kingdoms… but they could not contact her home. She left them at the Summit’s doorstep and took off, the two hundred miles separating her from home flying beneath her churning legs.
Two weeks ago, she discovered the princes in their mansion library. “I hope the Stygians aren’t as smart as you are,” she’d said. She’d meant it as a compliment, but none smiled. An open history book lay before them, and they had been debating how five determined, powerful people might take over the continent.
“What I’d do is find a Stygian for each kingdom and attack simultaneously. And I’d assassinate all the royals so no one could fight back.”
Two months ago, she heard the word ‘Stygian’ for the first time. She had sneaked out of a Summit council, determined to leave before her father could betroth her. In kestrel form she flew over the mountain crags, until she saw them. Five dark figures crouched in a ravine. They knew what she was. She barely made it inside the walls. The kings didn’t believe her. Only the princes told her what she ought to have known all along. Stygians were once Spectra, but sinister oaths gave them the abilities of all six Spectra clans. Only the united strengths of the kingdoms could defeat them: a near impossible task among such different people.
Now she stood before the summit walls, chest heaving. She would be the last to arrive. Her anger eased as she remembered she could not defeat the Stygians alone; she must hope that enough royals escaped and waited now behind the walls. She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and climbed the wall.
|Posted by Christie V Powell on February 6, 2017 at 10:00 PM||comments (0)|
Keita Sage stood alone among a crowd. Like the other maple-skinned, dark-haired Sprites, she faced the wide wooden stage below. Two men wrestled atop it, arms and legs glistening under the autumn sun as they ducked and dodged. The moves were unfamiliar to her, and her thoughts wandered: to other festivals lost to time, to her friends who must have discovered her absence, to wondering why she felt so out of place among people who looked so much like she did.
The crowd's cheering made her whip around. One of the men had fallen. The other jumped on top of him and wrapped his well-muscled arm around the other's neck. Keita flinched. Before she knew what she was doing, she was pressing through the crowd. The man underneath was squirming, frantic at first but with less and less life, and still the crowd watched and cheered. Keita was a few feet away when the man fell limp against the wood, the sound of his fall hidden in a roar from the crowd. A green cast spread up his skin, and Keita stopped.
Of course. He had gone dormant. He would wake up in less than an hour, embarrassed but unharmed. Keita had been living away from home too long. If the man had not been a Sprite, born into one of the other five clans, he would be dead.
The crowd dispersed and Keita caught only one more glimpse of the hurt man, his skin now bright green, being dragged from the stage. The other Sprites, wearing the pale, yellowish green of the grasslander tribe, strode away in twos and threes, weaving among the huge cottonwoods that lined the bottom of a wide, gentle valley. Keita had seen only the tops of those trees from the prairies, until she came to the edge of the hollow and found the celebrating group. Piping music drifted from the clearing where couples danced, their bare feet thumping the hard earth in enticing patterns. In their speech and movement and in more undefinable ways, the Sprite band showed their allegiance to each other. From babies and childlings, children, adlings like Keita, to full adults, they formed a tight-knit community that she was too obviously not a part of. They couldn't reject her on Equinumn, the autumn equinox, but her strangeness fit her like a garment she could not remove.
This was not what she had expected when she had left the others. They were her friends, but the group was too large, too noisy, too busy to make friends with Keita's home. They weren't interested in celebrating Equinumn, and even her twin brother had ignored her attempts to organize an event or two among their own group. Finding a local village had been her only option.
"Had anything to eat yet?"
Keita jumped. A round, friendly-faced man stood beneath the closest cottonwoods, holding out a turtle-shell bowl of thick brown stew. A refusal was halfway out Keita's mouth when she remembered to bite it back. Not today.
"Thank you," she said. Her hands shook as she took the bowl.
"Name's Bract. I do the cooking for the childlings... and everything else, for my three." He pointed to a trio of youngsters in the branches of the nearest tree. Bract waited, perhaps for Keita to introduce herself, but she said nothing. At last he asked, "This your first meal in a season?"
"Thereabouts," Keita said without looking up. Her last meal had been just like this. The day was cold but crystal clear, and the stew sat warm in her stomach. Trees towered over their valley home, unscathed by the future fire that would roar through weeks later. Her father, strong, busy, alive, threaded through the crowds, while dancers proved that though winter came and Earth slept, life would come again. Now the whole valley slept, and Keita had been gone from it three seasons. Nine months. No food.
The man was still watching. Keita attempted to smile as she scooped a square of root vegetable into her mouth.
Warmth. Crunch. Salt. Savory flavor of summer richness, of festivals gone by, of happy days that would never come back. The bowl slipped from her fingers and thudded to the ground.
Warm gravy spattered her toes. The children gasped, and Bract's eyes widened. Waste of food was sin. Keita ducked to rescue what she could, lost her balance, and found herself on hands and knees in leaf litter. Her head spun, and her stomach contracted with pain. She heaved, heaved again, Someone's hands had her shoulders, raised her to a sitting position, let her back rest on rough bark. She took a deep breath, and as the pain ebbed a fraction, looked up into Bract's face.
"We eat at each festival for a reason, adling," he said. "We can't hold off eating more than a season or so."
Had she known that? Eating a meal was an important part of the season transitions. It showed that they could not escape their connection to the world, that even Earth's people depended on the web that connected all life. Apparently the meal was more than symbolic. She ought to have known, but she ought to have known a lot of things. Knowledge was scarce when your childhood tutor worked for the enemy.
|Posted by Christie V Powell on December 8, 2016 at 3:20 PM||comments (0)|
Two seasons before 'The Spectra Unearthed' opens, Keita Sage went with her father to meet the other rulers to prepare for an arranged marriage. On the journey she decided to slip away...
Keita Sage crept through the underbrush of the forest, ears alert for any sign of followers. The sunlight sneaked passed the pine branches overhead and set a dappled web of shadow across her path. She placed each step with care. Her father could command someone with a tracking talent to find her, and she needed to avoid leaving a single clue. Going back was not an option.
The trail led to the bank of the raging Silver River and continued up a steep trail crossed by rocky ledges. A shiver, half of anticipation, half of excitement, traveled down her spine. She'd been here once before, when she'd sneaked out of the Inner Vale to explore, but she wasn't allowed so far from home without an escort--someone who was sure to be dull and unpleasant, like her useless cousin Felix. Her father's camp was out of her sensing range, at least a mile behind. Home was a three-day journey south--although she could have made it in one if she tried.
Home. They couldn't exile her from her own kingdom, and she wasn't about to stick around and find out which horrible foreign kingdom she'd be sent to.
The trail smoothed and widened as she climbed, but she hardly noticed until she heard voices ahead. She swore under her breath. She could climb either cliff, but not without notice, especially when Sprites could sense as well as she. She reached out with her mind to sense them and then blanched. No Sprites, but humans, a pair of the unnaturally large creatures, astride even bigger horses. She glanced at the river below--could she climb down the cliff before they noticed?
They rounded the corner in an instant, a forest of knobbly legs and boots. Both were male, maybe a foot or two taller than she, but on the horses they seemed gigantic. Long frizzled hair hung past their shoulders, and bundles of all shapes and sizes dangled from their saddles, giving off such a disgusting mix of stenches that Keita stumbled as they drew near.
"Hullo!" one boomed. "What have we got here?" The voice might have been kind, but it was so rough and thick with accent that she couldn’t be sure.
Her mind went blank. She was so fast at thinking up excuses for her father and tutor--why didn't the thoughts come now? "I...I got lost," she choked out.
"You must have wandered a ways."
Before she could think of the answer, the second man leaned forward to study the trail behind her. “You came up through there? That valley looks like a good place for trapping but we’ve yet to find a way down.”
“There’s nothing you’d want down there,” Keita said quickly. Her father and his escort were still camped in the valley below.
The second man’s grin grew. “Humans,” he repeated. “You’re not human?”
She gulped as everything she’d ever heard about humans flashed through her brain. Dangerous, especially in mobs. No abilities, but fearsome weapons to make up for it. Her kind had hidden from them after their first bloody encounters 200 years ago, and few still believed in them.
She had to escape. “I don’t know what you mean. I’ve got to go.” She edged toward the cliff.
A hand gripped her wrist. Keita forced herself not to panic. She couldn't show them what she was--but how could she escape? And the humans were heading toward her father's camp. She couldn't go back and warn them. Her father, King of Spritelands, had ignored her plenty but until now she'd never known how little he cared. In front of everyone, without the slightest warning, he announced that she, not her twin brother Glen, would attend this year's summit council. Not because she might enjoy the journey or want to meet people from other clans, but because he wanted the other kings to look her over and decide which of their sons she would marry. Quite beside the fact that she knew no one outside of her own kingdom, Spritelands, the marriage would mean she would leave home forever. She would leave the mountains, the trees, the great river below. Even the sky, if she moved to a kingdom where the people lived underground. How could she live without seeing the sky?
She couldn't let them find out about Sprites. Images flashed through her mind: gathering at the Autumn Festival, all united, a hundred strong. Training with her favorite cousin Hunter under the great trees. No, she couldn't let these humans discover them. Spritelands was worth saving.
The group was passing a pine growing just uphill. One of the pine branches grew across the path, high enough to block horses but easy for the humans to duck under. Keita focused, sending her energy into the tree. The branch expanded, reaching downward, pointy needles sticking into the path. She smiled. Wood bending and plant growth were talents of hers—though undeveloped, of course.
“Hey! What's that?”
The two men were standing on the other side of it, staring with open mouths at the tree branch that had been growing before their eyes. Keita let go of the tree, but the damage had been done.
“Natives, I've heard of,” one muttered. “Talking bears, giant cats, people with wolf heads... but never, in any legend, have I heard of living trees.”
Living trees? What a stupid thing to disbelieve. But Keita thought she knew what he meant, and it gave her an idea. Keita pressed her energy into the tree. Its branches began to wave. Then she stepped out, where they could see her, and screamed.
Both of them whirled around. "Miss?" one called uncertainly.
Keita backed toward the tree while its limbs flailed around her. "Help! It's going to eat me!"
A human took a tentative step forward. She took another step back and felt rough bark against her back. She leaned into it and the wood swelled, growing outward around her. The men screamed. From her hiding place, Keita heard them thundering away. She felt them reach their horses and stampede eastward.
The men faded from her senses. She grinned and pushed her way out of the bark that shrank back to make room for her.
She wasn't going to run away.
She knew it was true before she knew where the thought came from. The humans had known she wasn't one of them in a second. She couldn't hide among them without risking her entire kingdom. The risk wasn't worth it. Too many Sprites knew her by feel for her to hide among the other tribes or live alone. They would find her, they would send her home. And strange though home had become recently, she suddenly knew that home meant too much for her to risk, even if she had to leave to protect it. She sighed and turned back the way she had come.
|Posted by Christie V Powell on August 31, 2016 at 11:20 PM||comments (2)|
This is a deleted scene from the prequel-- Keita has been summoned by her mother, queen of the Sprites, to learn more about a queen's job. --CVP
Keita always paused when she entered the courtyard. Rows of silver flowers grew against the dark green hedges, and mosses of all shades covering the ground. Keita’s eye was drawn to her mother, who sat in an ornate wooden throne at the front of the room. With long blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and a sparkling silver dress, she stood out like a beacon in the dark green room.
Rushing footsteps interrupted. Keita looked up as a bony Lectran woman ran into the courtyard. “Amber! How good to see you!” she gushed.
Keita rolled her eyes at the woman’s exuberance, but her mother didn’t seem to mind. “Hello, Poppy. How are you today?”
As the woman and her mother gabbed on, Keita forced her face into an interested expression and stopped listening. She hardly noticed as the woman left and another took her place. From that moment on, the courtyard was never empty. As soon as one person left, another took their place. Some just wanted to talk, some asked questions, and a few brought disagreements for the queen to solve. Keita’s mother talked and joked with them, and none seemed to leave unhappy.
Finally a group of Mer girls left, and the courtyard was quiet again. Keita looked at her mother. “So queens talk to people all day?”
Her mother grinned. “It’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it.”
|Posted by Christie V Powell on August 8, 2016 at 12:25 PM||comments (0)|
The smell hit her first, rank with decay and death. A man with no foot sprawled across the ground in front of them, changing his own bandages. Two children were lying a few feet away, wrapped in blankets, their faces covered in red marks. Keita scanned the camp for a sign of a well person—surely someone was taking care of these people. She saw no one.
She hadn’t realized she’d moved until she heard Brian’s warning. She bit her lip. He was right—if she healed these people, they’d join the other camp, and stories about inhuman healers would spread like wildfire. Humans couldn't know about Spectra, she knew that, but how could she just stand here when she had the power to heal them?
Amala charged into the crowd, searching for her father. Across the camp, a boy staggered in, pulling a cart. He stopped, dropped the crosspiece, and helped a frail old man out of the cart. Next he lifted out a small child, and another… how many people fit in there?
The older boy looked up. “Did you come back to help?”
Keita couldn’t speak.
“Some people come help. But they get sick too. I’ve lasted longer than most. That’s my dad. My mom caught the fever, and then my brothers, and my sister’s got it…”
The little girl in his arms was listless, her face red under the dirt. Her eyes were open, though, and when her brother stopped talking she focused on Keita, as though the girl knew she could make a difference. How could Keita not help?
Suddenly Brian whipped the pack off of his back and began digging through it. He pulled out the ragged toy Lucy had given to Keita. “You see this?” he asked.
The girl and her brother nodded.
“Well, this ball is magic. If you touch it, the magic can make you better.”
Keita stared. “What are you talking about?”
Better to have them believing in magic toys than people, right? he asked silently.
She held the ball out to the girl. “Try it.” Weak fingers stretched out, and as they brushed the worn fabric they bumped Keita’s hand.
The suppressed power burst from her. The boy cried out and leapt back. His sister dropped from his arms. She yelped, but it was a strong cry. Then, her eyes full of wonder, she climbed to her feet. Her face was not so red, and her gaunt cheeks had filled in. Her brother stood. “It works,” he breathed.
Before Keita could blink twice she was surrounded. The people pushed and shoved and clung to each other, and her energy jumped from contact to contact. The camp was no longer silent. It rang with shouts and cries and laughter.
The sun was sinking. Keita had not realized how long she had been working. The last drop of sunlight disappeared and she sank to her knees. “Thank you,” she told Brian. “I think… I will be happy later. Right now a rest might be nice.” And she dropped.
|Posted by Christie V Powell on July 13, 2016 at 10:25 PM||comments (1)|
This is a legend told in Spritelands to warn young Sprites of the dangers of humans.
Once upon a time, a young Sprite girl called Aiyana lived with her family on the coast of what is now Lectranis. She was a natural healer, and her parents did everything to get her the very best trainers. However, her training was halted when her parents died in a winter storm. A neighboring Lectran family took her in, and though they were not cruel they did not love her. Though Sprites do not usually eat, she was required to find food for her new family.
One day Aiyana spied a dark shape out at sea. She had not heard of the humans, who had arrived on a similar vessel years earlier and built a small settlement further north. This ship had blown off course and landed far from the others. Aiyana watched the strange, Spectra-like creatures land, but because her village insisted that the humans be left alone, she did not approach. Still, she often stopped on her daily forages by the sea to look at them.
Aiyana soon discovered that the humans were doing poorly. Ill equipped for surviving alone, many caught diseases and perished. When winter approached, Aiyana knew they would not survive. She abandoned the laws of her village and offered her assistance to the humans. The humans were amazed as she healed them, one by one. She taught them to feed themselves by gathering food from the sea, as she had done for her Lectran family. The human colony survived, and in gratitude gave their settlement their version of her name, Hanan. Eventually Aiyana moved in with them, using a small abandoned cabin as her own.
The news of Hanan's magical healer spread. Many sick people visited, and she healed them all. Even today, the poor and ill are treated well in Hanan, now a bustling human city. But one group of men saw opportunity while others saw healing. They laid in wait, deciding to catch the young Sprite and take her overseas, perhaps collecting money for her healing in the land over the water. They tangled her in immense nets and threw her into a cage with mesh bars so tiny that she could not escape. She called for help, but her human friends, those neighbors she trusted and healed, served and protected, would not hear. Her captors took her aboard a ship and she was never seen again.
After her abduction, and many other attacks, the Sprites abandoned humans completely, disappearing into their forests with strict rules to avoid all human contact. The other clans followed, until today when few humans know that Spectra exist. But take caution, for their cages and their ships are still ready.
|Posted by Christie V Powell on April 9, 2016 at 5:20 PM||comments (0)|
8 August 209
Queen Taima arose from her bed and greeted the public this morning for the first time in several months. Tears streaked her scarred cheeks as she expressed her appreciation for the concern and well-wishes of her people. Earlier that day, the first healers from Spritelands had arrived, but they came too late for many of us.
Amber Sage, niece of our good king Antony, married the Sprite prince and heir Drake Sage three years ago. When Prince Leon and his wife, Valerie, caught the dreaded pox, they sent messengers to her, begging for help.
“We came as soon as we heard the news,” said Sprite healer Merle Arden. “I brought my entire family and we intend to stay as long as we are needed.”
But Arden and the twenty other Sprite healers came too late. Leon, his wife Valerie, and his twin sister Luna join the list of those killed by the disease. King Quentin appeared in his second official ceremony as king for their funeral. His wife and baby daughter Viviana survived, though scarred. Hundreds of others did not.
|Posted by Christie V Powell on February 10, 2016 at 1:15 PM||comments (0)|
Keita Sage, main character of The Spectra books, is reunited with her little sister Savanna (Avie for short) who has found a new home in the urban kingdom of Lectranis.
Avie’s smile was sad, but her eyes were blazing with the same zealous light that had shown when she’d first brought Keita to Lectranis. Keita and the other royal remnants had lived like frightened mice, huddled behind stone walls, ignorant of the fates of their families, drowning in their loss. Avie’s appearance had been a lifeline. Though the innocence in her face had died, her eyes shone with the enthusiasm and energy of someone who had found their life’s work. She begged Keita and her friends to help her restore Lectranis, and Keita had jumped at the chance to escape. The only hard part had been leaving their brother Glen behind.
Keita sighed. “I don’t want to leave you again.”
For a moment her sister only looked at her. Then, softly, she said, “Maybe you don’t have to.”
Keita blinked. “But the letters, and the true heir…”
“The others are going. You don’t have to go with them. You could stay here with me.”
For a moment Keita could only stare as thoughts swiveled around her mind. Could she leave Carli, Zuri, and Sienna? She’d been friends with Carli and Zuri since before the takeover, and looked on Sienna almost as another sister. Back in Nomelands, she’d chosen to help Sienna instead of hurrying back to her sister. Did that mean she owed Avie now, or did it prove that her sister could manage without her? And the Pensier boys—would leaving them be a good thing or a bad one?
“You don’t have to decide right now,” Avie said. “Your friends will be talking strategy for hours.”
Keita chuckled. “True enough.”
“Well, come on then.” Without another word, Avie turned around and began weaving through the sharp metal shards. Before Keita could ask where they were going Avie stopped again, this time in front of a storage building that was mostly still intact. She tugged the door open and gestured for Keita to enter.
The room inside was dark and dusty. Avie’s feet echoed through a large space. A lightning box flared into life in her hands, revealing a lane of shelves stretching as far as she could see, burdened with bundles and boxes of all sizes. “What on earth is this?” Keita whispered. It seemed the sort of place for whispering.
Avie chose a shelf and began sorting through packs. “The other kingdoms keep supplies at the summit, in case of danger. The Tesla family—well, probably their councilors—kept this place instead. There’s all kinds of gear, food… whatever they might have needed to stay alive.”
But they failed, Keita thought, trying to peer through specks of dust in the beam of Avie’s light. Quentin and Taima Tesla were dead, and the rulers they’d snubbed with them. What would they think of Avie’s rummaging?
“Is this how you’ve been feeding everyone?” Keita asked.
“Yup.” Avie lined her chosen packs across the floor and began rummaging through the the other shelves, occasionally tossing a bundle into one of them. “This stuff’s not helping the last rulers, but it’s sure being useful for their subjects. Can you look through these for me?”
Keita reached without looking, and then yelped and jumped back. She had grabbed an open box of shiny knives. As she watched, a bead of blood arose from a cut on her finger, and faded away again.
“Sorry! I’m sorry!” Avie cried. “I should have warned you.”
“No problem.” Keita looked into the box again. “What on earth do you want knives for?”
Avie’s voice quivered. “Camping. They make a good camping tool.”
Keita wanted to argue, but her sister’s eyes were big and frightened, so she bent over the box without a word. How was she supposed to judge? By size? Sharpness? Handle color? In the end she grabbed five at random and dropped one into each sack. Her sister was already there, dropping an innocent-looking black stone into each pack. “Fire starter,” she explained.
Flinching, Keita looked away. “What are these for anyway?”
“Your friends, on their journey. They’ll be in the cities for a lot of it, of course, but there’s also the farmlands and the prairie, and I don’t know how much money they’ve got for inns…”
Your friends, Keita noticed. Not you. That explained why Avie had grabbed only five packs, and why she was now stuffing a little first-aid kit into each one. “Avie…” she began.
Her sister whirled around. “What? Don’t you want to stay with me?” She stood there among the dust and the old supplies, and somehow she looked more at home than she ever did in Spritelands. No longer would she linger in Keita’s shadow, peering into the trees and hills of the Spriteland mountains as though something would swoop down and carry her away.
“I don’t think you need me anymore,” Keita said.
Avie scowled and threw a tight-folded blanket toward the packs. She missed by several feet. “I like Lectranis,” she said, “but I don’t want to forget home… or you. You’re like a piece of home.”