LUNA CARSON WAS sitting back, relaxing, and reading the seventh book in her favorite series: Keeper of the Lost Cities — which she hadn’t finished. She loved it.
Luna Carson had clear violet eyes — which zoomed faster than lightning bolts while reading the series. She held the book with her Asian complexion hands, which also had a sort of rose-gold flare to it. Her hair, on the other hand, was long and dark, but also kind of wavy.
“I’ll get it!” she called to her mom. The Carson family wasn't expecting anyone, so who could it be? Luna figured it was the mailman.
She opened her dark oak door and held her breath. An all too familiar face was there, even though she'd never actually seen it before.
“Why do you have a book with me and Wylie Endal on it?” Sophie asked. Luna couldn't believe the Sophie Foster of her dreams was standing in front of her. Brown eyes with golden flecks, and the blond hair flowing just past her shoulders. The obvious look of admiration for Sophie on Fitz's and Keefe's faces was clear, and Biana and Dex just standing around awkwardly happened too. “And who's that other guy?”
Better question: Why did you knock on my front door?!
Biana looked at the ground, then vanished. Did they not know Tam Song? Luna couldn't help but ask: “What are you all doing in the Forbidden Cities?”
They all stood back a step. Luna forgot they probably didn't know that she knew them.
“Who are you?” Dex asked, tousling his strawberry blond hair.
“I'm ... a reader. I read the books that Shannon Messenger made about you and I know everything.” Luna answered truthfully. What else was there to say?
“What books?!” Fitz asked incredulously. Luna told them the entire story. About how they're characters, not the book story.
“So I'm really just a character?” Biana squeaked.
“Not important,” Luna waved the questions away, “but what are you doing here?”
“Um, we're looking for the Black Swan's hideout, but someone,” Sophie looked annoyingly at Fitz, who looked at the ground and tore a hand through his hair. “Didn't tell us about the scroll. So we're really just winging it.”
Luna was confused. Shannon had wrote about that in Neverseen (Book 4)! Did ... did the books past that tell the future?
“Does the scroll say: Past the eyes that watch eternal? Or, blood turned precious?”
“How do you know all this stuff?” Biana asked, twirling her silky dark hair in shock. Luna decided to play with their awkward love shape.
“Luna! Who was at the door?” her mom called from upstairs.
“Uhh, the mailman! He brought me a letter from Amelia!!” Luna lied. Amelia and Luna were the greatest of friends in Chicago where she used to live. Luna hated using Amelia's name to lie.
“But the mailman only comes on Monday. It's Saturday!” her mom argued.
“The ... uh ... Amelia said that the letter was super important! So he delivered it now, on her orders.”
“Oh, that’s great honey!” she exclaimed, coming down the stairs. Luna quietly told the Keeper crew to hide behind a few bushes. “What does it say? Where is it?”
“Oh ... um ... Amelia wanted me to go to her house for the summer. Can I? I'll take a bus.” It was summertime, but Luna wasn’t sure if she’d be back by then. The crew had a ton of adventures and what-not.
“Where’s the letter?” she said. “You can,” she added, “but I want to read the letter.”
“Um, Amelia said that the second I read it I should burn it, so I threw it into the fireplace.” Luna lied again. Luna mentally facepalmed. Is that the best you have? she asked herself.
Luna’s mom reached for her head. “Are you feeling all right? Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“No, I’ve never been better,” Luna said truthfully for once.
“Okay,” her mom shrugged. “I’m going to pack your things.”
“Now?” Luna asked, surprised.
“When else should you leave? Besides, I get a full summer to relax. I mean, of course I’m going to miss you, but we always have our cell phones, right?”
Luna tackled her mom with a hug. “Thank you!”
Her mom giggled. “Someone’s eager to leave home.”
After her mom packed her things — including bus money she didn't need — Luna was all set. When she left her house, Keefe was waiting for her.
“Where have you been?!” he asked, with a new hairstyle. Luna figured he would find a way to style “the Hair” from inside a bush. “We have been waiting the whole time! Being in a bush doesn't exactly help my flawless features grow, y'know.”
Luna shoved him, and he jerked back only a few inches, due to the fact that he was taller than her, even though she was only a year younger — by elvin counting. They passed by a gelato shop, and Luna knew exactly what was going to happen even before it did.
“Shouldn't we try to figure out where we're going?” Dex asked.
“Probably,” Keefe agreed. “But first — what is that?” He pointed to a family eating ice cream — and obviously loving it too. Luna could barely contain herself, even though she was fourteen.
“I think that's gelato,” Sophie said, “and forget it.”
“Actually, I think it's a good idea.” Fitz nodded. Luna was just about to fling herself into Fitz's arms. She settled for jumping around.
“We have to get some!” she exclaimed.
Luna saw Keefe lean in and whisper something to Sophie. Thanks to Luna's magic book whatever-whatever she knew just what he said: “In case you were wondering — that is why he's my best friend.”
Sophie sighed deeply. “Even if we had time, how would you pay for it?” she asked, right out of the book.
Luna read the book, but she still half-expected Keefe to talk about his birth fund.
“Won't this stuff work?” Dex pulled out a wad of money. Luna took out a one hundred--from her mom--and smirked. “I had it left over from when we were in that other Forbidden City after we got kidnapped.”
“We don't have time for gelato!” Sophie's eyes practically bulged out of Sophie's head.
Keefe wrapped his arm around Sophie's shoulders. “Foster, Foster, Foster. Live a little.”
“C'mon Sophie!” Luna coaxed. “You know you want it to.”
“And he's just going to keep pushing until he gets what he wants.” Biana added.
“Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine!” Sophie mumbled, flustered. “Give me the money. I'll be right back.”
“We're — ” Dex started.
“Noo! Take me!” Luna said.
“Nope. I have to be seen to buy something, and we'd be too conspicuous.”
“But we're in costume!” Biana argued.
“Just look at you guys. You look like ... models.”
“Is Foster saying she thinks we're hot?” Keefe asked.
“I think she is,” Dex's grin was so huge it practically bounced off his face.
“I'm saying you'll draw a ton of attention. Especially because you guys don't speak Italian.”
Luna knew Fitz was about to say that he was going with her, but she couldn't let that happen.
“Wait!” she said before Fitz could say anything. “I'm not an elf, so I fit in here. And I know Italian. So I can come with you!” How could Luna not? She lived there.
“Guess that makes sense,” Fitz mumbled.
“Fine.” Sophie said. Luna grabbed the money from Dex and followed Sophie through the crowd.
“I cannot believe that we're wasting time on this.” Sophie said as they entered the shop and started waiting in line.
“Ah! You forgot why you brought me!” Luna smiled.
“Because!” Luna said. “I know all about you, and” — Luna voice dropped to a whisper — “I didn't tell anyone this because I didn't want to freak you out, but the books tell about your future too. And so far, everything's just how it was in the books.”
Sophie's eyes widened. “Soo, you know how far in my life?”
“About a year or two.” Luna shrugged.
“Wow.” Sophie breathed deeply. “Then what flavor?”
Luna thought a bit. “Melone, I think. You were going to take Fitz here, but I said to take me before he said anything. He said that he thought it was a good idea because they must be freaking out. And he said that in your mind, he understood why Keefe was always complaining about your emotions. It was your emotional center, and it was totally overwhelming.”
“You also asked the shopkeeper about the Path of the Privileged. She said that it was in Vasari Corridor.”
Sophie's looked up. Luna guessed the memory clicked, like it did in the book.
It was their turn. They ordered six cups of melone, and while Sophie paid for the ice cream, she asked, “Can you tell us how to get to Vasari Corridor?” in Italian. Luna understood.
“One of the entrances is across the Arno, near the grottos at the Palazzo Pitti. The other is at the Uffizi Gallery. But there's no point in walking to either.” Luna knew what was coming, and she braced for it. “All landmarks are closed today because of the fire.”
“What fire?” Sophie asked, clearly concerned. With that tone, Luna thought, the shopkeeper might think that you know who did it! Which you do ...
“Late last night, at the Palazzo Vecchio. It breaks my heart. All the precious history lost because of some selfish arsonist.”
Sophie's mouth dropped open. She silently thanked the shopkeeper for the information, and took Luna out. She handed everyone their ice cream, and while everyone spoke and laughed, Sophie was silent.
“Honestly, Sophie,” Biana began, concerned, “what's bothering you?”
“The Path of the Privileged is closed off. Because of a fire.”
Everyone was silent.
“So we can't go?” Dex asked, breaking the oh-so-long silence.
“Of course we can go!” Luna exclaimed. “We'll just use the obscurer.”
They went, listening to the crying of the crowds.
“It has to be Brant,” Sophie whispered.
“But we just needed the Uffizi.” Luna said.
“Let's not stay here,” Fitz suggested. “The Neverseen could be watching.”
“How do you know it's them?” Dex asked. “Don't humans have fires all the time?” Luna glared at him. He winced apologetically.
“Can't you smell it?”
“It smells like burnt sugar,” Keefe answered after sniffing the air.
“Right, and that's how the San Diego fires smelled. Brant set those ones, remember?” Sophie glanced over her shoulder.
“But how?” Luna asked before Dex could. “He had like, a burned hand. And he lost his whole face.”
“How do you know?” Fitz asked accusingly.
Luna shrugged. “You forget. I read it. I know it.”
“I don't suppose your books are magically writing everything we say now, are they?”
“Fitz,” Sophie said, “she knows our future too.”
“What?!” he exclaimed. “Impossible! Why didn't you tell us?” he whirled around to look at Luna.
“I didn't want to freak you out,”
“Mission fail,” Keefe said, “ 'cause I'm definitely freaking out.” he leaned in and whispered to her, “Do I end up with Foster?”
Luna didn't have the heart to tell him no.
“Luna. Then tell us what we need to do.” Biana said determinedly.
Luna, glad for the excuse not to tell Keefe, said, “There,” She pointed to the corridor. “But you knew that already.”
The group of six carefully wove around everyone.
“What now?” Dex asked. “The security is crazy, so how do I do it?”
“Destroy the obscurer.”
“What now?!” Fitz said.
“She's right.” Dex grabbed the obscurer from Keefe and pulled out cogs and springs. “Here, Wonderboy. Catch.”
Fitz caught it with his mind. Luna couldn't help but stare in awe at the floating, spinning obscurer.
“Okay, as soon as I open the door,” Dex told Fitz, “roll that in. Then we run. Ready?” Dex pressed some buttons on a lock and said, “Now!”
Fitz rolled it in and the door opened. It blinded everyone and screamed a white noise.
“How are we supposed to see?” Sophie asked.
“We're not,” Luna answered for Dex, remembering the book. “But no one can see us either.”
“Ow, I hit my shoulder.” Biana cried.
“Maybe it was a naked statue like back in that fired down place.” Keefe suggested.
“EWWW, WHAT IF IT WAS?!”
“Will you two be quiet?” Fitz yelled. “Everyone follow my voice. I found the stairs.”
Luna wondered what the humans might've thought of babbling kids. Then she remembered …
“Um, guys?” she asked before anyone went upstairs.
“Yeah?” Dex replied.
“Is there a reason I understand you? Or … do you know English?”
Sophie shrugged. “I can't even really tell what language I'm speaking,”
Biana paled. So did Keefe. “I don't know English,” Biana said slowly.
“Or Italian,” Keefe added, so not helping Luna's anxiety.
“So … I understand you two … so I understand all of you … so I understand … the Enlightened Language?” she guessed, very slowly. Her mind needed the extra seconds to process. Hey, she wasn't smart like the elves.
Or was she?
She took the time to remember things. Her second grade teacher asking, “Do you want to skip a grade?” she’d shook her head. Her friends telling her, “How come you know all this stuff? You could be in college.” Her family constantly asking her questions about geometry and algebra and all that jazz.
Maybe she was an elf.
“We'll ask Mr. Forkle to look into it,” Dex promised.
“Now let's get moving.” Fitz said impatiently.
They climbed to the second floor, and there light was less blinding.
“Look for a green room and a wooden door with nothing on it.”
They passed by it, but Biana doubled back and called them over.
“Fitz, don't touch the locks. And don't complain either, the locks don't make sense.” Luna said. “Dex, go on.”
Dex touched the locks. “You're right, these locks don't make sense.”
A few seconds passed.
“Got it!” they all raced into the corridor.
“Keep your head down,” Dex said. “What's the next clue?”
“The blood one,” Luna answered, “and it's not these.” Luna pulled out her Neverseen book out of her bag. Right out of Sophie's lines, she read, “'Those paintings were destroyed during a terrorist attack back in the 1990s. I can't — I mean — the Black Swan wouldn't ever call that ‘blood turned precious.’”
Biana shuddered. “Humans are so awful. And to their own race?”
“Um,” Keefe butted in, “didn't a Pyrokinetic elf just burn another building earlier today?”
“Are you saying we're as bad as humans?” Biana asked.
Luna glared at Biana. “I didn't mean it like that!” Biana defended herself. Luna shrugged.
Keefe ignored both of them. “I'm saying we're not as different as we should be. Certain elves, especially.” His voice was so bitter, Luna put a hand on his shoulder. Keefe touched her hand and squeezed it, clearly needing the comfort. He turned around and smiled at Luna.
Biana glared murderously at Luna, no doubt thinking that it should be her hand that Keefe was squeezing.
“Come on, let's keep moving.” Sophie suggested.
“Wait!” Luna remembered. Or, at least she read it and remembered.“We need 'eyes that watch eternal' before the 'blood turned precious.'”
“Aren't those Cosimo's eyes?” Sophie asked.
“Right! Straight out of the book.” Luna nodded.
Sophie stood for a second. Luna — being the Book Warrior — knew what she was thinking. What she was feeling.
She walked over to Sophie, and put a hand on her shoulder. “I know what you're thinking.”
Sophie — not even bothering to look — said, “Fitz, I didn't give you permission.”
Luna turned her shoulders to face her. “I'm not a Telepath.”
Sophie sighed. “Then you know about Hitler and all that jazz,”
“Yeah. Let's get away from this evilness floating around.” Luna suggested.
Sophie nodded. “Let's go,” she told the group.
They moved on, taking sharp turns which angled harder arch time.
“Which clue was next?” Biana asked. Luna was a little surprised. Those words weren't in the book. Luna checked the book to be sure. But, just like it happened, those words were just like how Biana said it. Luna was a little suspicious though ...
Luna looked back into the book, making sure Sophie got a good glance at her. The books were in her perspective.
The black words on the page swirled around, and changing into something new:
“Sophie got a good look at her friend Luna. She was a little suspicious though, how would she have a book on them, and not tell them for so long? And the new guy on the cover ...
Something didn't add up for Sophie. She was confused. But, she shrugged it off” — Luna looked at Sophie, who indeed looked like she was shrugging — “and focused on more important things. She would deal with that later.”
Was Luna now in the book?? Luna couldn't take it anymore. Throwing Neverseen in her satchel, she pulled out KotLC No. 1, Keeper.
She flipped through the pages, and gawked hard at who the book said she was: a Charger and Vanisher; Biana's twin!!
Biana scooched up to her “twin” and smiled. “Are you keeping up okay?”
“Yeah,” Luna answered, still flustered by the revelation.
Luna tugged on what she thought was her red hair, but when she saw it, she almost gasped to see it was brown.
Twins. Identical. Luna was getting scared.
Sophie put her foot down. “We're here. Vasari — ”
“ — tore down everything to get here,” Luna finished. “But a family — the Mannellis — refused to let their house get bulldozed. So Vasari just went around it.”
Sophie glanced at Luna. Keefe laughed. “Since when do you pay such good attention to multi-speciesial class? I never knew you liked Lady Evera so much.”
Luna's eyebrows narrowed, but she quickly pulled them back up and shrugged. “I know these things, Keefe. I'm just smarter than you.”
Was Luna an elf now? Was that how the book worked? Was it, enchanted or something?
Luna was legitimately confused.
“Look for the sign of the swan,” Fitz said. “We’re supposed to find the next steps of our quest.”
Luna looked back at Neverseen. Those weren't Fitz's exact words. She looked up at her “brother” and turned back to the book.
Now they were.
Luna shook her head, trying to clear her mind. She stuffed the book back in the satchel. No more worrying. Just going with the flow.
“Here!” Sophie said. Dex pressed his palm on the same spot of the floor.
“There's a latch,” he said. The doorknob twisted and the area around it dropped, revealing a rusty dusty ladder.
Fitz went first, then Sophie. Then Keefe, Dex, Biana, and then Luna.
“Ew, ew, ewww,” Biana mumbled to herself as she lowered herself on the rungs.
“What?” Luna asked.
“It's so gross!”
Luna didn't see anything gross about it. Just a ladder. With a bit of dust. “Are you scared of a little dust?” she teased.
“These are my designer shoes!” Biana cried. “Dust is not good!”
Luna shrugged, heading down the ladder after her.
Then, after the ladder, she saw the shriveled, swollen, puffy Mr. Forkle of the books. He was … not at all what she’d expected.
“You need to pick better hideouts,” Keefe stated, stepping into the sludge. “This is seriously gross.”
“My shoes!” Biana complained, testing the sludge before putting her foot into it. “Awwwwww,” she said.
“Stop being such a baby,” Luna rolled her eyes, still trying to keep up with the I'm actually an elf like you guys with weird memories of me act.
“This isn't the hideout,” Mr. Forkle handed them each a pendant.
Luna felt her neck, and wrapped the necklace around it. Everyone breathed on theirs, and Luna was a little late. Fire burned on it, and she almost squealed. But it was balefire, she remembered.
“Doesn’t that look awesome!” Keefe said, pushing Fitz. “Lead the way, oh mighty king!”
“That goes to our demolished hideout,” Mr. Forkle told him, and he licked a slime covered brick.
In unison, Luna and her “twin” Biana cried, “Ewwwwwwwwww!!”
“Gross!” Keefe said.
“Let that be a lesson. The best places to hide are the places nobody wants to go.”
The air was about the stinkiest thing Luna ever smelled. And she had an older brother!!
“How'd the Neverseen find your decoy?”
“It wasn't me!” Keefe cried. “I threw my crest in the sea, and Elwin melted about all my skin, so I've got no aromark. Though, I must say, I never thanked my mom for that. She's the best, isn't she? I mean, she let me lead my friends into ambushes! Awesome, right?” he said it with an edge that made Luna feel like showering him in rainbows and flowers. Biana looked the same.
Sophie reached for Keefe's hand. He told her he was fine, but his grip on her palm looked a little tight.
“We don't blame you. We think they used Gethen, actually,” Mr. Forkle assured. “We relocated him somewhere harder to reach, so they don't find us again.”
“Have you learned anything from him?” surprisingly, the question came from Fitz, not Keefe.
“Nope. We'll discuss it later. Right now, you need to get to your homes.”
“Are we living together?” Biana asked.
Luna shrugged. Sophie asked, “Will you be living with us?” The question felt so awkward for her. She couldn't imagine seeing that bloated figure everyday.
“No,” he said to Luna's relief, “I live in the Lost Cities. I can't disappear for too long without anyone noticing my absence.”
Luna was about to point out his identical twin — like her and Biana — but realized that they didn't know, and felt like keeping the secret for later.
“But you lived with humans for twelve years,” Sophie reminded him.
“Someday I'll tell you how I managed that.”
“Does that mean we could've met other members of the Black Swan before?” Dex asked.
“You probably have,” he answered, “since most of us are fans of your father's store.”
“So,” Biana started, and looked to Luna to finish.
Somehow she knew to say, “You're all basically two different people?” Even without checking the books. Was that a twin thing? Was that proof she really was twins with Biana? Was she really a Vacker?
“Or three. Or four. Or five. Yes, it could be very challenging,” Mr. Forkle countered. He showed them his registry pendant, and they all gasped. “A smart Technopath rigged it to make the Council think I'm where I want them to think I am. But it's only for a limited amount of time.”
“Should I have done that?” Dex asked.
“No,” he said, “that would've drawn too much attention from the Council. Better to just run away.” He shrugged.
“Can we leap now? I'm getting tired — AHHHH!!!” Keefe cried as a blob of slime dropped on his hair. “My beautiful hair!!”
“Lucky it didn't touch my beautiful hair,” Biana smirked.
“No, ogres have gadgets than can follow the trail of a leap to its source. Now that the Neverseen is working with the ogres — we can't risk it.” Mr. Forkle explained. “Sympathy towards your, erm, 'beautiful hair.'”
Keefe sneezed and nodded.
“So we can't leap anymore?” Fitz asked.
“Not when they're so close.”
“Why aren't we going after them, then? If they're so close.” Keefe added.
“The Neverseen have too many advantages here. We wouldn't win. That's why our transport is waiting downriver, where they'd never look.”
“Why not just have us meet you there first?” Dex asked. “I'm getting tired of this gross slime.”
“We have reasons that we work in riddles. Convenience is just a bonus if you get it, not considered at all. The trail you followed was very secure.”
“If you ignore all the human tech. And you're lucky Sophie remembered those weird facts.”
“Luck?” he gaped. “You think it was luck?”
Sophie sighed. “How many memories have you given me?”
“As many as you'll need.”
“How can you know that?” Luna beat Fitz to the question she knew he was going to ask.
“For what?” Sophie stopped.
“Please move, Miss Foster. We don't have a lot of time for this talk.”
“You’re not going to tell her?” Keefe asked angrily. “She deserves it!”
“She deserves a lot. But most important, she deserves a choice. And to give her that choice, she needs to find her purpose on her own. Now we must hurry, the rides won’t wait forever.” Mr. Forkle quickened his pace.
Luna knew her friends were hoping for a more cooperative Black Swan. But this was better than the Council, Luna thought.
The tunnel opened to just a river. No people, no buildings, no boats. No sign of a ride. Mr. Forkle blew into a copper-colored whistle. Luna couldn't hear anything, but the water rippled. A strange head popped out, and it stuck its tongue out at Luna. Meany! she thought, sounding rather childish.
“Plesiosaurs?” Keefe guessed as more heads burst, all sticking their tongues out except for one, whose head was a light purple. Luna silently called dibs on it.
“Eckodons, actually,” Mr. Forkle corrected. “But in the Forbidden Cities, they are called Nessie.”
“The dinosaurs that use sound vortexes?” Fitz guessed,
“Exactly. I chose them because of it. They’re slower than light leaping, but faster than most other methods. The Neverseen also can’t track us underwater.”
“Water?” Luna repeated. “I can’t breathe underwater!” Mr. Forkle handed everyone a clear membrane and told them to wrap it around their bags to keep them dry.
“I can only hold my breath for fifteen minutes,” Dex added.
“Fifteen minutes?” Sophie repeated. “How is that possible?”
“Mind over matter,” Mr. Forkle said. “Few take the time to learn.”
“My dad said the stuffy nobles underestimate it, and made us practice all the time.
“Kesler Dizznee is very wise.” Mr. Forkle nodded, amused. “Nevertheless, you don't have to hold your breath today. I have lufterators.”
He explained what the lufterators were. Everyone took one.
“Do you have any more lufterators?” Biana asked. Luna knew what was happening.
Luna leaned closer to Biana, and whispered in her ear, “I know Della — Mom — is with you. Just tell everyone.”
Biana’s eyes widened and she nodded at Luna. She whispered back, “You’re right. But Mom said she needed to stay secret.”
“They’ll find out,” Luna warned.
“Care to clue us in?” Fitz said. “We’d like to know what you’re whispering about, too.”
“You only need one,” Mr. Forkle said when Biana shook her head and Luna shrugged.
“I’d feel better with a spare,” she insisted.
“I can check yours,” Dex offered.
“No!” she said a bit too quickly. “I’ll wait here and you can send Luna back with another.”
“Miss Biana, don't be absurd.” Mr. Forkle said. “We’re all leaving now.”
Biana shot Luna a desperate Help me! look, but Luna didn't know how.
Keefe grabbed at Biana’s wrist, but Luna intercepted.
“Hey, give her privacy,” Luna tried helping.
Keefe scowled, and reached past her with his other hand to get to Biana. “You’re hiding something.”
“I agree,” Mr. Forkle said, eyeing both Luna and Biana. “So let’s figure out what it is,”
“You don't have permission to read my thoughts!” she shouted.
“I don't need it if you are endangering us.” Mr. Forkle closed his eyes.
Biana turned to Fitz and Luna. “Don't let him do this.”
“It’s done,” Mr. Forkle stared at the empty space behind Biana, which is where Luna thought Della — Mom — was hiding.
“It appears we have a stowaway.”
It's so long, I know. And it's basically a copy. But I SWEAR it gets different.