The look that Talentless elves get when they register for matchmaking is one of the worst things ever. And I suppose you wouldn’t have to know how that felt unless you were Talentless, and I don’t think you are. If you were you might be hiding in shame, praying to manifest an ability.
You probably aren’t doing that.
I walked into the building, adjusting my black velvet gown. I noticed my black heels were the slightest bit big but ignored that.
“Are you Miss Reyna Lark?” the Matchmakers asked, frowning when I nodded.
“Unmanifested, it seems?” the taller elf asked. She was pretty, with long black hair in a braid, royal blue eyes, and a bright yellow dress the color of the sun at midday.
“Well, yes, but it’s rude to ask a Talentless person their ability, didn’t you know? Even if you had no idea they didn’t have an ability yet. So since you asked me that, what’s your ability?” I snapped, irritated that they assumed people from my family — I’d heard about it from my older sisters and brothers — didn’t have an ability. My great-great-great-times-a-dozen grandfather on my Mom’s side had an ability, even though it was just Polyglot. And great-grandpa Jensi had an ability, even though nobody would tell me what it was. But I had a chance, didn’t I? I could manifest. I actually could.
I hadn’t yet, though.
Yellow Dress smiled. “I’m a Guster. My name is Gail, and I’m from a mostly Talentless family. I know how you feel. Even though, technically, my mother Jenna’s the Empath.”
I offered her a hint of a grin.
The other Matchmaker, the shorter one, had gray-blue eyes flecked with ice blue, light brown hair, and was wearing a sky blue gown. She sighed and snapped her fingers. The ground was soon covered in bits of hail.
“You’re a Froster?” I asked her.
Hail Lady nodded. “My name’s Lili.”
“She’s not very chatty,” Gail told me.
Lili sighed again.
“Can we get on with it?” I said, glancing at one of the other elves walking into the building. She was looking at me like I was a verminion. Probably a Telepath, or Empath, or Polyglot, but most likely all three, since she looked like she came from the May family. Blond hair, sapphire blue eyes.
Lili tugged at her arm, the Guster frozen, staring at the May girl.
“Gail?” Lili whispered, her voice barely audible. “Are you there?”
Finally, the Matchmaker shook her head.
“Would you give us a minute? You can go talk to her,” Lili told me, gesturing to the May girl.
“Are you serious? I’d never talk to a May! They’re so ridiculously stuck-up just because they were descended from the Great Sophie Foster, the Brave Moonlark, the Elf Who Saved The World. Well, I don’t think so! Just because they have three abilities at least doesn’t make them automatically have personality. And I can’t believe The Great Moonlark didn’t marry either Lord Sencen or Lord Vacker, because now there are THREE families coming after me just because Great-Grandpa Jensi joined the Neverseen! It wasn’t even his choice! They made him! So they could get information on The Moonlark!” I glared at the May girl. Stupid Rel May had to go marry Miss Moonlark and “carry on the May family name”.
“Go talk. Now,” Lili hissed.
I rolled my eyes but went over to talk to the girl.
“Hi,” I said, my voice without emotion.
“Hi,” she whispered.
“What's your name?” I asked.
“Oh, Hazel. I don’t like it, but it’s fine, really. My parents keep reminding me I’m Hazel Amy May, the great-great-granddaughter of Sophie Foster.” She groaned. “I want to be normal. And normal means ONE ABILITY. Not four. I don’t WANT to be a Phaser, Psionipath, Vanisher, AND a Conjurer. I just want to be me. And that doesn’t mean I want to be Hazel Amy May. Just plain old Hazel would be fine. So, your name?” She asked.
“Reyna Lark. Jensi’s great-great-granddaughter.” This was about to get pretty interesting.
“Huh. Well, anyway, I think the Yellow Dress Lady is looking for you. So...bye for now?” Hazel tilted her head and smiled.
“Bye for now,” I confirmed.
Hazel grinned. “See you later,” she told me and went with her Matchmakers, two women with loose gowns and dark brown braided hair, into another room.
I walked back over to Gail and Lili. “She was actually nice,” I told them.
Gail nodded. “We should go. Let’s get you registered.”
We entered a silvery room with a dark brown desk in the middle of it. There were two brown chairs in the room, one in front and the other behind the desk.
Gail sat down in the chair behind the desk and turned on something that looked like an Imparter — if an Imparter was twice as big and a strange metallic black color. Lili motioned for me to sit in the chair in front of the desk, and I did. She stood by Gail.
“So, your parents are Willow and Rowan Lark?” Gail asked, waiting for my response.
“Yes?” I said — though it sounded more like a question.
Gail typed it in. “And you were born and raised in the Lost Cities?”
“Of course.” I raised my eyebrows. Did they ask everyone that?
“Now, have you ever been to the Forbidden Cities?” Gail asked.
“No!” I yelled.
Gail smiled. “Of course not. Anyways. . . any boy in mind?”
I thought for a minute. The only boy I knew, like really knew, was my best friend Jay Sencen, but I don’t think he liked me. Then again, he liked everyone.
Then there was Alvar Kenric Vacker, named after Councillor Kenric and Alvar Vacker, commonly known among the Great Original Vacker Family (Alden, Della, Biana, and Fitz) as The Great Big Traitor Who Joined the Neverseen and Died Because Of It, or just The Traitor. He (Alvar Kenric, not The Traitor) had a minor crush on me but eventually asked me out. Alvar Kenric (nicknamed AK) actually broke up with me when he manifested as a Telepath and I stayed Talentless.
I was actually good at guessing people’s emotions sometimes, but I wasn’t an Empath. Not even close.
“No,” I told her.
The screen of the Imparter-like object flashed green, proclaiming I was “Matchable”.
Gail handed me the matchmaking survey packet, and gestured to the door.
“This is a rather uneventful end to the day,” I grumbled.
I left, still holding the packet.
When I returned to my house, a quartz mansion with a topaz roof and flooring, I was greeted by the sound of my older sister Adda yelling, “DON’T YOU DARE PUT THAT IN FRONT OF MY FACE! COIL I SWEAR TO — what was that? OH MY — OLY, GET YOUR BUTT OVER HERE NOW! DID YOU KNOCK OVER THAT VASE? You DID? MOOOOM! OLY KNOCKED OVER IRA’S SPECIAL VASE! Is it — oh, okay, it’s not broken, we can fix it, it’s just got a crack.”
I open the door and find two elves with bronze masks on over their faces fiddling with some welding tools while, in the background, my sister Adda chases my four-year-old brother Oly, because a bright blue vase belonging to my oldest sister Ira has a crack running up the left side of it. The said vase is on the floor, and off of its ivory pedestal.
The first one is taller and is wearing a dull blue vest over a dull red blouse, a pair of dull green pants, and has on dull silver lace-up boots with a slight heel. The shorter one is wearing short black boots, charcoal gray pants, and a silver tunic.
The shorter one turns around and yells to my parents, “Rowan,
Willow, Spark and I are done!”
My mom’s voice comes from the kitchen — “Great! We’ll have you over tomorrow, right? I know you’re up to your ears in Technopath stuff today, but I really think you’d like our family dinner routine!”
Who are these people?
Dad walks into the room and immediately everything is quiet.
“Coil, Spark, take off your masks so you can actually breathe. I know you can’t breathe through your mouth long.”
“It is killing me,” the taller one (Spark?) agreed and took off his (her?) mask.
The shorter one (Coil?) follows, taking off her (his?) mask too.
Coil is male and Spark is female, I think. Their hairstyles are both similar — short and spiky — and their eyes are both the same dull blue shade. So is their hair — dirty blond. But I can tell Spark is very thin, even with the heaping plate of mallowmelt, custard bursts, and ripplefluffs on the table where they’re working.
“I’m Spark, and I use she/her or they/them pronouns, please,” said the taller elf, who I now know is Spark.
“I’m Coil, a transgender male elf who can comfortably say I am male and use he/him pronouns,” the shorter elf smiled.
I think I know who these people are now!
And, apparently, so do all my siblings, all of which are in the room now. The room exploded in chatter. The two younger siblings talked about their funny masks, and my five older siblings talked about whether or not to let them see our fancy pool, which barely anyone but us has. I have no idea where my sister Lotus is. She’s technically my twin, but we get enough stares wherever we go. My parents (Mom has walked in now, having finished making dinner) are sighing and apologizing for Oly trying to grab their ability and put it in a jar. He ends up yanking down Spark’s rolled-up sleeves and taking the light-up bracelet she displays on her right wrist and wire bracelet on her right. Mom kept telling Spark how sorry she was for Oly doing that, but Spark told her it was fine. Dad and Coil talked about the Council and whether the Neverseen were really defeated or not.
“Are you the people who fixed Ira’s Imparter when AK’s brother stepped on it?” I asked.
“Coil,” Spark warned, “this is a very sensitive topic for them to — ”
“It’s . . . I . . . I . . . I’m going to my room,” I announced.
“Why?” Oly whined.
“Shush, Oly,” Adda demanded.
I walked up the stairs to my room. Well, it was actually half-mine because Lotus and I share one. It was our choice, actually. We’d originally had separate rooms but since most of our house was just displaying fancy vases or boxes of tools to actually make the vases, I had forfeited my room. Mom had eventually turned it into a mini Healing Center.
“Lotus! LOTUS! LOTUS!” I yelled. It was so noisy downstairs I had barely heard myself speak.
“Shh! Get in here now,” a voice hissed, and an arm grabbed me by the wrist and yanked me into the Mini-Healing Center, or the HC for short.
I almost screamed. “What — ”
The room was dark, and there was a quiet humming sound.
“Reyna, it’s me, Lotus,” she repeated, “and — oh, you look awful.” I could now see Lotus and the outline of someone else.
The “someone else” definitely had curly hair, so it wasn’t a relative, since everyone in our family has long, straight black hair, except for the boys, who have short, dark brown hair. And the person’s hair was long, so it couldn’t be a boy.
“Who is that?” I asked. “And, Lotus? You — wait. What. Are. You. Wearing?” I could faintly see her outfit through the dim light.
I stared at her Panakes-petal-pink knee-length dress and matching. . . okay, I don’t know what those shoes were called. They were sparkly and if I touched them I was afraid the shoes would feel gooey.
“Those are jelly sandals, idiot,” the figure told me.
“Someone just turn on the lights already!” I shouted.
Lotus snapped her fingers and the pastel lights turned on.
The figure’s hair was not naturally curled, I could tell. Other than that, it was definitely a surprise to see what she looked like. I had expected someone like Hazel or one of Mom’s customers’ kids, but she was definitely not anyone we knew. And not a possible match, because only males were on a female’s match list, and vice versa.
She was still super pretty, what with her shoulder-length curled black hair, navy blue eyes, and dark brown skin.
Her outfit was definitely a surprise. I thought she was wearing something like Lotus’s outfit, but she was actually wearing a black skirt, black boots, black-and-white striped leggings, an indigo denim jacket, and a black shirt with a logo for. . . “the Rolling Stones,” apparently.
“Um, that’s an interesting outfit,” I said.
“Don’t be stupid, I know you really hate it,” the girl snapped.
“Okay, jeez, Miss Grumpy,” I rolled my eyes. “What’s your name?”
“Finley Wilson,” she said.
“Okay, well, I’m — ” I started, but got cut off by Finley.
“I know who you are,” she hissed.
“You — WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I screeched as I banged my head against a vase, the glass a milky white color.
“Exactly what I want you to, Lark,” Finley growled.
“What do you want from me?” I cried. Shards of glass were in my straight black hair, velvety clothes, embedded in my tanned skin. I even had to close my eyes (deep ocean blue, for your information) so shards wouldn’t get in there.
“I want — ” I interrupted Finley by shrieking “She’s a Mesmer, Lotus!”
“I know, I know, just please, I — ” Lotus didn’t even bat an eyelash when a gash on my cheek started bleeding, dripping blood onto the floor.
“I’m on your side,” I begged.
“You’re on the side of the Black Swan,” Finley snapped. “You need to turn to — ” I couldn’t hear what she said, because I banged my head against the vase harder than I could stand and blacked out.
I woke up to darkness. Yup, darkness. Complete and total darkness.
The sound of laughter was actually what woke me. It echoed, but I could tell it was getting nearer by the second. “It” being the person who the voice belonged to.
The laugh sounded light and airy, like it was just about to drift off through the sky or dissolve into thin air.
“Who are you?” I asked whoever was laughing.
“You can call me Anyone, and I’m like my name. Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime. Anyday. Anyway. Anything. Any, any, any. Any for short, if you don’t wanna waste time calling me Anyone. Anyone can do it, and can’t you do it? You’re Anyone and you’re me and I’m Anyone and I’m you,” the voice whispered.
I knew I was blindfolded. Otherwise, I’d be trying to break free from these chains, these chains that bound me to where I was, probably in a chair. Wood, likely.
“Pleased to meet you, Any,” I told her. “Where am I?”
“You’re — ” And then suddenly it was like she had been turned off like someone had pulled the plug that gave her the Anyness that she had, her rambling and her randomness and her strangeness that she had so boldly displayed for the minute I had known her. Now she didn’t have her Anyness anymore.
It was pure silence. I could hear a pin drop. So of course I heard the footsteps of somebody walking up to me.
“Been playing around with R, Any? Maybe you’d like to be. . . hmm, I’d say you’re fit for guarding A tonight,” the voice, who belonged to the same person who the footsteps had, said.
“I have, I have, I have, I am, I am, I am,” Any repeated.
“Brook, sedate R. I’ll check on L and F. Any, keep A under control. She attempted to. . . escape, correct?” the voice asked.
“Yes, yes, Lake,” Any said.
“Any!” Lake hissed. She ripped the blindfold off of me and I could see, though barely, three figures — one with red hair, pale skin, freckles, one white-blue eye, and a midnight blue eye; another with frizzy dark brown hair, caramel brown skin and dull blue eyes; and finally someone with strawberry blond hair in a braided ponytail, slightly tanned skin, and periwinkle eyes.
“Lake, she can see you now,” the person with dull blue eyes said, looking at the periwinkle-eyed girl.
“I know, Brooklyn! Just sedate her already!” Lake snapped.
The red-haired girl, probably Any, left the room.
Brooklyn fidgeted with her solid black tunic. “Okay, jeez.”
I tried to cut the rope that wrapped around my wrists and ankles but ended up almost falling to the ground, chair and all. I did manage to trip Lake, though, and she fell to the ground.
She dusted her hands off on her black pants and glared at me.
I smiled innocently.
Darkness enveloped me as Brooklyn tied the blindfold around my head, obscuring my vision.
A sickly sweet smell filled my nostrils, and I dozed off into sedative-induced sleep.