“HOW COULD WE HAVE A stowaway?” Fitz asked at the same time Mr. Forkle shouted, “Show yourself!”
Nothing happened for a few seconds. Then Della appeared behind Biana.
“Mom?” Fitz asked, rushing towards her before he shouted at his sisters. “HOW COULD YOU KEEP THIS A SECRET FROM US?”
“I made Biana swear not to tell, but I only told her because I needed someone to hold on to when Sophie teleported us. And when Luna and Biana were whispering, that’s when Luna guessed that I was hiding behind her.”
“Why, though?” Mr. Forkle asked. “You don't doubt our ability to protect your children, do you?”
“No, of course not,” she straightened up. “I want to join the Black Swan.”
“Does Dad know?” Fitz asked after a while.
“Of course. He wanted to join to, but he’d be more useful if he stayed working with the Council. My talents are also better suited for covert activities.”
“Ms. Vacker — ” Mr. Forkle began.
“Della,” she interrupted.
“Your offer is very generous, Ms. Della,” he emphasized with a small smile. “But we already have a Vanisher. And now three, thanks to your daughters.”
“No one can vanish like me. Not even Alvar” — Luna tensed at the name — “and I’m sure you’ve heard how valuable he’s been to the Council.”
Luna realized then that Alvar was also her brother. She shuddered at the thought of it. Biana’s eyes narrowed at her, but she put a hand on Luna’s shoulder.
Della — argh, she needed to try and think of her as Mom — vanished, and reappeared a second later knee deep in the river.
“Impressive,” Mr. Forkled admitted when Della reappeared next to Luna and showed how her gown was still dry. “But would letting you join be wise?” he studied her. “I see your registry pendant is missing.”
“I would never put you at risk. As you can see, I’m committed.”
“You make commitment to lightly.”
“Do I?” Mom’s voice hardened. “I’ve trusted my three out of four children — and three others who might as well be my family — to your care.”
“Your kids’ situation are different,” he argued, “we can’t leave them to the Council’s mercy.”
“I could protect them on my own,” Mom vanished again, reappearing with a melder to his head.
“You’re not the only one with tricks up your sleeve.” Mr. Forkle warned, and when he tapped his right temple Mom’s arm dropped to her side.
“Are you a Mesmer?” Sophie asked.
“My tricks are more limited,” he admitted. “But mind of matter — never forget that.”
“I know I won’t,” Mom said, vanishing the same time Mr. Forkle collapsed.
She reappeared, balanced on huge, swollen belly with one of her heels against his throat. No matter what he did, he couldn't shake her off.
“You’ve proved your point, Ms. Vacker,” Mr. Forkle wheezed.
Her shoe pressed harder. “I said call me Della.”
“Whoa, never get on your mom’s bad side, got it.” Keefe noted.
“A valuable lesson for everyone,” She jumped off, giving a hand for Mr. Forkle to get up. “Everyone thinks I’m the fragile beauty hiding in Alden’s shadow. But I’m more powerful than anyone would ever imagine.”
“I can see,” Mr. Forkle nodded. “But I alone can’t approve your admittance. All I can promise is to bring the matter to the Collective.”
“Collective?” Luna asked when Sophie was quiet.
“Our ruling order,” he explained. “Five overseers, with equally weighted votes.”
“So there are four other leaders we haven’t met?” Keefe asked, and Luna glanced at her brother, who was noticeably staying silent.
“There are many members you haven’t met. But, in a way, that is a very comforting thing. The more members, the more chance of making a difference.”
“All the more reason to let me join,” Mom jumped in.
“Perhaps,” Mr. Forkle agreed. “I’ll bring it to the Collective. But we have a problem now. We are one short of a lufterator.”
Luna sucked in a breath. She would only share it with her twin, no one else. Biana actually had seemed like her best friend when she was back to dark hair and violet eyes, reading the books as if they were fantasy.
“I can tweak mine. Two would be able to share.” Dex did a few things to the lufterator, and proudly held it up. “Now it works on each end,”
“They’ll have to keep their faces very close together,” Mr. Forkle noted.
“Foster and I volunteer!” Keefe shouted.
“Um, if anyone’s sharing it with Sophie it should be me,” Dex argued.
“Wait, why do I have to share?” Sophie asked.
“I can share one with Luna,” Biana offered.
Luna nodded. “Okay.”
“I suppose that’s the smart thing to do,” Fitz sighed, glancing at Keefe and Dex, who were fuming and stealing looks at Sophie.
“Miss Luna, give your lufterator to Ms — ” One glance at Mom told him to stop. “ — er, Della.”
Luna obeyed, and she and her twin tested the lufterator.
“Is it fine?” Mr. Forkle asked.
They nodded. Or at least Biana did, dragging Luna’s head with her. Mr. Forkle ordered everyone into the water. They gasped at the cold — except Mom, who strode through dry.
“Did you know your mom could do that?” Sophie asked Fitz.
“I did!” Biana said.
“And I will figure out how to do it,” Luna and Biana said simultaneously. They both blinked out of sight. Luna imagined herself in the water, and she was soaked. When she reappeared, her hair was dripping and stuck to her face.
“It’ll take some time,” Biana mumbled, studying her twin.
“I still can’t believe you didn't tell me Mom was with us.” Fitz turned to Luna. “You too,” he fumed.
“Now you know how I felt when you and Dad were busy planning all your secret visits to the Forbidden Cities.” Luna shot back, not knowing what she was saying. Biana nodded.
The river grew deeper, and instead of wading they were swimming. Luna swam effortlessly, and she noticed Fitz helping Sophie with her satchel.
Luna zoomed towards the purple eckodon, dragging Biana with her.
“Eckodons are friendly, right?” Sophie asked Biana.
“Or course.” Biana turned Luna over and stroked the base of the purple eckodon’s neck. “See? Harmless.”
Sophie swam up to a blue eckodon and it made the gurgly “hi” sound. Fitz assured her that it was fine, but Sophie still looked a little scared.
Luna and Biana were having a hard time figuring out how to sit. They settled for Biana facing backwards with his arms wrapped around Luna, and Luna reaching around Biana to hug the eckodon’s neck.
Fitz sighed. “I still wish Dex and Keefe had shared a lufterator. That would’ve been adorable.”
Keefe rolled his eyes as his green eckodon swam up to them.
“Lufterators in!” Mr. Forkle ordered, but Luna and Biana were already wearing them. “Dive!”
They plunged down. Fitz stayed beside Sophie, and Biana and Luna right behind them. The eckodons screamed, shouting higher pitched with each second, powerful enough to part the tide. The water swirled into a funnel blasting the eckodon faster than the speed of sound.
After a few minutes, they were up at the surface of the water, swimming steadily. Biana yanked the lufterator off. “No offense,” she whispered to Luna, “but I definitely hated that.”
Luna had to agree.
The cave they were in widened until the twins could only see paradise in every direction. It smelled sweet, so much better than the icky sludge in what Luna thought was a sewer.
Keefe leaped from his eckodon to Sophie’s, and their eckodon swam away from everyone else, Keefe wrapping his arms around Sophie’s waist.
Biana’s grip on Luna tensed, and when they switched to a much more comfortable position, Luna whispered to her: “Sorry,”
“For … them.” she said finally. “I know you like Keefe. Everyone does. Everyone also knows he likes Sophie. So … sorry.”
Biana turned to look at Luna. She thought Biana might be mad, but she just said, “Thanks.” She didn't deny it, or confirm it. Just sat there.
Luna couldn't blame her.
“ — he’s trying to get you punched in the face,” Luna heard Keefe mumble as he, Biana and Fitz swam up to them.
“Isn't that what everyone wants to do to you when they meet you?”
“Try vice versa,” Keefe smirked.
“You guys are ridiculous,” Biana rolled her eyes. “Where are we?” she asked, looking up at the glinting rocks of the cave ahead of them.
“Yes,” Mr. Forkle called from up ahead. “Your new home.”