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The Linh Short Story is a short story from Linh's point of view that is part of the paperback edition of Unlocked. Linh, Maruca, Marella, and Stina are all present in the story. It contains them practicing their abilities and talking about various Black Swan related things.

Linh’s short story: Unlocked[]

Trust Issues

Linh

"Is it me, or is your hair extra silvery today?" Marella asked as she thrust her arms out and snapped her fingers to ignite long threads of searing red and blue flames, which she quickly wove into a floating purple fireball as big as her head.

She nodded smugly at her creation-until it turned white-hot and started to spin. And no matter what command Marella shouted, she couldn't stop the flames from untangling and lashing out toward her friends.

Maruca shielded herself behind a force field.

Stina dived behind a cluster of rocks.

But Linh didn't blink as the fire whipped closer. She just flicked her hand in a smaller arc, making a wave curl off the shore and drown the inferno in puffs of shimmering mist.

"My mother gave me a set of hair combs yesterday," she told Marella, trailing her fingers through the strands framing her face, which were now silver from root to end. "She claimed she saw them and thought of me. But I know she was hoping I'd use them to pull my hair back and look 'normal' from the front. So I melted down the combs and added some additional metal highlights."

Maruca whistled as her dome of glowing energy blinked away. "Wow. My mom gave me the side-eye for days after I added this." She pointed to the single blue dreadlock twisted among her other brown ones. "Did your parents freak out when they saw?"

"Oh, I'm sure they're seething right now. But they pretended not to notice. They're good at avoiding confrontation." Linh glanced over her shoulder at Choralmere's elaborate mansion, where her mother had surely locked herself in her studio and was now furiously painting another portrait of her children with plain black hair.

"Well, that's one thing you and your parents have in common," Stina called as she stood, dusting sand off her tunic. "Oh please, spare me the confused eyebrow scrunch. I'm an Empath, remember? I've been picking up on all that bitter fury you keep trying to bury behind half smiles and dodged questions. Plus, you're hiding out at your parents' house-which we all know you hate-instead of going back to Solreef and smacking some sense into your brother."

"She has a point," Marella admitted. "Come on, Linh-we spent weeks plotting ways to get Tam away from the Neverseen. And now that he's back, you're pretending he doesn't exist."

"You won't even answer his hails," Maruca added.

"Can we also talk about the doom and gloom following you around?" Stina asked, pointing at something above Linh's head.

Linh felt her cheeks burn when she spotted the dark gray clouds casting her in shadow.

She hadn't sensed the storm's presence, or realized she'd been the one gathering it.

Did that mean her control was slipping?

Or that her power had grown once again?

Maruca moved to Linh's side and hooked an arm around her elbow. "It's okay to not be okay. But I think you need to start talking about it."

"Not 'it'-her," Marella corrected, smoothing a few of the tiny braids scattered through her blond hair as she moved to Linh's other side. "And don't act like you don't know we're talking about your brother's new black-cloaked BFF."

The air shifted.

Cold moisture pressed against Linh's shoulders, covering her pale skin with goose bumps as the clouds pleaded for a downpour.

"If you need to make it rain, I can shield us," Maruca offered, stretching out her fingers and making sparks of white energy dance across her dark skin.

Linh shook her head and gritted her teeth, sending a silent command to the clouds to disappate-but the water fought back, coiling around her head as pleas pulsed in her ears like a drumbeat.

Storm.

Storm.

STORM.

"Brace yourselves," Stina warned, clearly assuming they were going to need Maruca's force field.

Linh refused to let the water take over.

She hadn't had Mentors to guide her until recently, so most of her methods came from hard-won instincts.

Be calm, she told the storm.

Steady.

Gentle.

The clouds softened with each word. But the mist lingered in the air-a cold, sticky veil against Linh's skin.

Time to scatter, she told the tiny droplets.

Be peaceful.

Quiet.

The last command was also for herself.

She'd choked back so many words over the past few days that her throat felt raw from the effort-but she wasn't about to acknowledge the traitor's existence.

She didn't even want to think her name.

Because it wasn't a name.

It was a persona.

The Neverseen's way of staying anonymous as they carried out their evil deeds.

Much like the black hoods that covered their faces-which the traitor was still hiding behind, even though it'd been almost  week since she switched sides in Loamnore. Yet she'd also made zero effort to hide the creepy white eye symbol stitched across her sleeve.

"Whatever you're thinking right now, just say it," Maruca whispered as the clouds gathered again, darker and heavier then they'd been before.

"And maybe try calming that," Stina added, pointing to a white-capped wave surging toward them.

Linh's eyes widened-then squeezed tight as Maruca shielded all four of them under a glaringly bright force field.

"STOP!" Linh shouted at the ocean. "RETREAT!"

The words sent the wave curling backward-but it was too late to stop the frothy water from surging up to their stomachs.

"Sorry guys," Maruca mumbled as everyone gasped and tugged on their soaked tunics. "Water's a lot harder to block than I thought it would be."

"I'm the one who should be apologizing," Linh assured her, turning her face toward the sun. Her ears rang and her head throbbed as the warmth tingled against her skin-but she used that energy to gather the water from everyone's hair and clothes and send it scattering.

"We're fine," Maruca promised, lowering the force field.

"But if you want to make it up to us, you can start by talking about Little Miss Neverseen!" Marella added. "I'll even go first! Raise your hand if you think it's super weird that we still don't know Glimmer's real name!"

Linh cringed at the title, and the ocean churned and frothed.

"Maybe we shouldn't pressure her," Maruca suggested as Stina scrambled to higher ground. "Or at least we should wait until we're somewhere a little... drier."

"Linh wrapped her arms around herself, trying to match her breaths to the calmer, steadier currents hiding beneath the waves.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Ebb and flow.

Just keep breathing.

Slowly her pulse calmed, and the tide receded.

"I'm fine," she promised her friends. "And talking about this isn't going to change anything. My brother has decided to trust her-"

"Even though Glimmer's the one who made the bonds that turned him into-what did Lady Gisela call him?" Stina interrupted. "Her little Shade pet?"

Just keep breathing, Linh reminded herself again as her gaze shifted to the horizon, where the water seemed to stretch and stretch.

It helped her to remember her place-a single drop in a vast sea of other voices.

"I'll admit... I don't understand my brother's decision," she murmured. "But Tam's not the only one who's decided to trust her. Tiergan's letting her stay at Solreef-and the Black Swan and the Council are clearly cooperating with her. Otherwise we'd know who she is and what she looks like."

"That's why I'm bringing this up," Stina told her. "I'm sure it's only a matter of time before Glimmer pretends to know something important about the Neverseen and makes a deal for her freedom and-"

"Actually, that already happened," Marella cut in. "Thankfully, she didn't get her freedom. But somethin big went on yesterday. I'm still trying to get more details."

Linh chewed her lip, wishing she could insist that she would've heard about something like that if it were true, but...

Sometimes her friends weren't the best at keeping her in the loop. Or including her in their plans.

Usually she didn't mind. But with the way things were with Tam, she was starting to feel a divide.

"So what I'm hearing," Stina said, resting her hands on her hips, "is that it's up to us to prove that Glimmer's evil, before she can follow through on whatever she's planning."

"And how are we supposed to do that?" Linh asked, trying not to imagine what chaos the traitor could be preparing for.

"Easy! By proving that Glimmer's the one who helped Lady Gisela escape from Loamnore," Marella told her. "Someone had to help, since Tam had bound her hands with shadows-and I'm pretty sure a Flasher could take care of that."

Linh sighed. "I already though of that. Sophie told me she'd look into it, so it must be a dead end."

"Right, because Foster the Wonder Girl never misses anything," Stina countered, rolling her eyes. "You can all save the yay-Sophie speeches by the way. I know you're all on Team Moonlark, so-"

"You're not?" Marella interrupted.

"I'm on Team Let's-Be-Real, okay? Sure, Foster's done some fancy stuff-and she has lots of abilities and whatever. But she fails just as much as she wins. Probably more, actually. I mean, how many times has she almost died now? And how many times have all of us almost died because of her plans? Plus, she's also not always the hero. You saved Atlantis that time"-she poked Linh in the arm-"not Sophie."

"Yeah, but I wouldn't have been able to if Sophie hadn't been enhancing me," Linh reminded her.

Stina shrugged. "Like I said, she's done some fancy stuff. That doesn't change the fact that she's also made some pretty huge mistakes-many include trusting the wrong people. And she tends to lose focus when her little boyfriends are in danger."

"Truth," Marella agreed. "Which is definitely happening right now. Sophie's main focus is on figuring out what Keefe's mom did to him-which is fine. That's also important. But, your brother's spending way too much time with one of the Neverseen right now, and someone needs to fix that-and I know you'd rather hide out here because you're mad at him. But you're the only person he's going to listen to about this."

"Maybe not." Linh watched the waves crash, steady and strong.

The water was always so sure of its next move.

Oh, how she envied it.

"Tam seems... different," she murmured, needing a breath before she could add the truth she'd been trying to hide from. "His time with the Neverseen... changed him."

She understood why.

But that didn't make it any less terrifying.

Plus, she missed her twin.

Tam was the one person she'd always been able to count on.

Her voice of reason.

Her source of strength and comfort and calm.

And now... he'd chosen Glimmer over her.

What other ways had his loyalties shifted?

And what would happen the next time he had to choose a side?

"Can we at least talk to your bodyguards?" Marella asked, dragging Linh out of her drifting thoughts.

Linh frowned. "Why would we-"

"Because they were in Loamnore with us," Marella reminded her. "And because they're dwarves."

"The only other way Lady Gisela could've gotten out of the city is if some dwarves helped her," Stina clarified. "So maybe your bodyguards saw something or heard something from their friends."

"If they did, they would've told me," Linh argued.

"Would they?" Maruca asked. "I mean, it doesn't seem like you talk to them much."

"I bet you don't even know their names," Marella added-and Linh's face burned when she realized Marella was right.

She'd only spoken with her bodyguards a couple of times-despite how long they'd been protecting her.

"Well... they would've told someone," Linh corrected.

But as the words left her lips, she realized she wasn't sure.

And this was the kind of detail they should definitely check.

They should've checked days ago-but she could deal with that regret later.

For now, Linh raised her foot, trying to remember the precise stomping sequence she was supposed to use to call for them.

Her bodyguards must've been listening because three thuds in, two furry, molelike bodies popped out of the sand.

"I'm Urre," the shorter dwarf said as Linh, Stina, Marella, and Maruca scrambled backward. "And this is Timur-but there's no need to apologize for not knowing that," Urre added quickly. "We keep to ourselves. It's easier to be objective about your protection that way."

"Plus, your world is far too bright." Timur rubbed his squinted eyes.

"I'm still sorry," Linh felt the need to tell them. "And I hope you know how grateful I am to have your protection."

Both dwarves dipped a tiny bow.

"To answer your question," Urre said, resting her paws on her forehead to shield her eyes from the sunlight, "I wish we could confirm or deny your suspicions. But neither of us saw your enemy escape. And all the lingering deserters have been arrested and interrogated by our new queen. None of them had any new information."

"Couldn't they be lying or hiding something?" Maruca wondered.

"Perhaps," Timur admitted. "But their reports match our evidence. Your enemy left alone. We traced her escape path through an old corridor with soft, unsteady ground. And there was only one set of footprints, and one set of handprints from times when she must've stumbled."

"There were handprints?" Marella verified, glancing at Linh before she held up her arms with her wrists pressed together, as though they'd been bound. "Were those handprints close to each other, like this?"

The dwarves slowly shook their heads.

"I cannot say for certain," Timur said quietly, "since we were more concerned with her footprints. But I feel like I remember the palm prints side by side, like this."

He dropped to his hands and feet, keeping both shoulder-width apart.

"See?" Stina said as Linh, Marella, and Maruca each sucked in a breath. "Someone must have cut her shadow bonds before she fled-and there's only one person who could've done that."

Linh's mouth went dry.

Her pulse thrummed as she glanced at the sky, where dark clouds were gathering over her head again. But this time she embraced them.

A storm was coming.

She wasn't sure how big or brutal it would be.

But if they were going to weather it, she needed to talk to Tam.

Immediately.

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