Here is my noncopyrighted version of what I call Stellarlune!
Sophie's powers—and patience—are pushed to the limit in Stellarlune, the thrilling ninth book in the bestselling Keeper of the Lost Cities series. Sophie and her friends are unsure of who to trust. The Neverseen have proven themselves to be far more of a threat than anyone could have imagined. Team Valiant has been thrust into the public's eye, the Council desperate for the criticism towards them to abide. Lady Gisela has finally put into motion Keefe's legacy, and nobody knows what he can do. Meanwhile, even Sophie's friends are fighting. The Lost Cities seem to be unraveling—what happens when you're the only one who can fix them?
The world tilted, throwing Sophie off balance. Before she could react, a familiar pulling sensation swept her off of her clumsy feet and tossed her down, down, down.
Sophie balled her hands into fists, craving the end of the journey already. She should have suspected it would be nothing like the first time, but she hadn’t thought to wonder. The deep chaos around her bore pricks into her consciousness, making her want to scream but not letting her.
Everything was loud, colorful. Sophie could hear jumbles of her friends’ voices, but she couldn’t tell if they were real or memory.
“You should have listened,” a familiar female voice whispered, cutting all other sound out. Lady Gisela. “You failed us...”
That time, it was Biana’s voice. And although Sophie knew the sounds were two different shards of memory, her mind couldn’t help blurring them together. You failed us...Sophie Foster. You failed us...Sophie Foster.
You failed us, Sophie Foster.
That time, it was all Biana’s voice.
And then the chaos was back, poking and prodding, like before but so much worse. Sophie wanted desperately for it to stop. Sophie needed it to stop. Sophie wished she could make it stop. She couldn’t make it stop. It wouldn’t stop. She was whirling and spinning and falling down, down, down. She was small, she was nothing, she had failed.
And then another voice popped up. This time, it was Keefe's.
“You are Sophie Foster. You can fix this.”
Sophie clung desperately to the whisper as it drifted back into the swirling mess. She wanted that to be true. She needed it to be true.
And then it was silent. And all Sophie could do was fall.
She was barely aware of the fact that she was tumbling down, further, falling.
She couldn’t think. Couldn’t move. Cold. Could barely breathe, let alone regulate her temperature the way Keefe had taught her.
With a strangled cry, Sophie forced her eyes open, ignoring the suffocating chill around her. She couldn’t let herself get distracted. This was for Keefe. She could never live with herself, if...if…
Councilor Oralie’s soft, soothing voice broke through Sophie’s freezing frenzy. For a moment Sophie forgot that she hated Oralie now. Then it all came rushing back to her, in a lukewarm blur.
“Where are we?” she asked, reluctant to look past her anger at Oralie. Her voice echoed throughout the empty, dark space, where Sophie could feel her consciousness tumbling.
“I believe we are in a sort of passageway,” Oralie said softly. “I think—”
Sophie felt a steep drop, and she interrupted Oralie with a strangled yelp. “When will we get to the Forbidden Secret?”
She could hear Oralie swallowing. “I think...I think I have to say the password now. The one my subconscious mind knows. Again.”
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Sophie snapped. “Stellarlune,” she said, her voice sucked into the emptiness.
“I believe I have to say it,” Oralie’s voice whispered. She sounded like she was about to say one last thing, then changed her mind. “Stellarlune.”
At first, nothing happened. And then there was a rush of warm air, and Sophie felt herself land as the cold finally thawed.
Everything was soft. It was like marshmallows were layering the inside of Sophie’s brain. Soft. Calm.
And then a voice broke through the haze. A deep, rich, velvety voice Sophie had heard a million times before.
Sophie opened her eyes.
The changes in Councilor Emery were hardly discernible, but Sophie could still tell he was younger. His eyes seemed...softer, somehow, and he carried himself differently.
Sophie forced herself to focus on his words, even though every bit of herself felt drained. “We have reason to believe there is a new element,” Emery was saying.
Sophie straightened, opened her mouth. No, that wasn’t right. Sophie felt herself straighten and open her mouth, but it wasn’t her doing it.
And then Sophie began speaking, and Oralie’s voice came out.
“How would there be a new element?” Sophie/Oralie asked. “That’s impossible. We already know of all of them: air, water, earth, quintessence, fire, and….shadowflux.” There was a grimace in her voice on the word ‘shadowflux’. There was also the slightest tremor when she said ‘fire’, but not quite as much.
Sophie tried to turn her head, observe her surroundings, but her body wouldn’t obey any of her commands. She couldn’t even tilt her eyes downward to see if it was really her body. It was like she was Oralie, experiencing the moment, except that because she wasn’t really Oralie she couldn’t control what she was doing.
Not all memories were meant to be shared.
“You are correct, Oralie,” Emery said. He paused, cleared his throat, smoothed an already-in-place strand of his hair. “At least, you would have been correct. It’s true that there are six natural elements.”
“Natural?” a familiar voice beside Sophie/Oralie asked. Sophie’s mind felt like it had been frozen as her/Oralie’s head turned to face the elf who had spoken. “As opposed to what?”
Kenric looked exactly the way Sophie remembered him. For a moment he glanced away from Emery and seemed to make eye contact with her, and a fierce stab of guilt threatened to eat Sophie’s sanity away.
Then Kenric blushed, and Sophie remembered that he was looking at Oralie.
Emery cleared his throat again, and Sophie/Oralie turned back to face him. “Likely you have heard that humans are known to experiment and create unnatural things, which they call ‘manmade’?”
“Yes,” said Sophie/Oralie. She heard affirmative sounds all around her. Although she couldn’t look directly at them, Sophie could see other Councilors in her peripheral vision. If she tried to focus on them for long enough, though, she felt nauseous.
“Well,” Emery went on, “a group of elves has been inspired by those humans to create what they call elfmade elements. One, specifically.”
Emery continued speaking, but Sophie was already sure she knew what he was going to say.
An elfmade element.
She came to, startled, when she heard a familiar name.
“This project has been brought to our attention by its leader, Lady Gisela Arnelle.” Emery smiled. His teeth were so, so white. “According to Lady Gisela, she is in charge of a group called the Neverseen.”
Oralie’s body stood strong, but inside, Sophie was shaking. In charge of a group called the Neverseen.
Sophie’s head was spinning, and she craved a seat more than anything as she tried to process the revelation.
If the Council had known about the Neverseen that long ago? (Sophie wasn’t exactly sure quite how long ago the memory was from. She knew it was before Lady Gisela had married Lord Cassius, because Emery had used a surname other than Sencen when referring to her.) They hadn’t just been working against the Black Swan all that time.
They had been working with the Neverseen.
At the very least, they had been allowing them to continue with their work. Which was much, much more than they could say for the Black Swan.
A wave of horror overcame Sophie as she realized what that meant. When Oralie had volunteered to be her biological mother, for the Black Swan…
She had known about the Neverseen. She had known Lady Gisela was a traitor. She had allowed it to continue, allowed the hunt for the Black Swan to continue. Allowed the hunt for her daughter to continue.
A surge of hatred, pure and black, fueled Sophie’s thoughts. How could anyone be quite that evil? Sophie might have had a close second on Keefe’s Worst Mom Ever.
Which reminded her. Keefe.
She might never look Oralie in the eye again. She might never speak another word to her. But right now? She had to pay attention.
When Sophie tuned back into the memory, Emery was still speaking. “We need to make the decision to allow this Neverseen group to continue. As we have other projects going on, I’ll need to place one of you in charge of this.”
“I’ll do it.”
The soft, sweetly stated words slipped from Sophie/Oralie’s lips, and although she knew she was unable to stop them—and they weren’t even hers—that didn’t make Sophie any less regretful. This was a Forgotten Secret, Oralie’s only Forgotten Secret. Whatever came next wouldn’t be good.
“Are you sure, swee—Oralie?” Kenric asked from beside her. Oralie’s whole body turned to face him, and Sophie was caught off guard by how much it hurt to look at the kind Councilor. She had always thought that locking away dangerous memories was a foolish way to govern, but it had never made as much sense to her as it did in this moment.
“Yes,” Oralie said. Her voice was soft yet strong. “I need to do this.”
Emery cleared his throat, breaking up the moment. “Great! Now that that’s done with, we’ll move on to our next order of business…”
And with that, the memory distorted, blurred, until Sophie was back in her own time, back in her own body, sitting under the Panakes tree next to Oralie.
For a moment, Sophie was dazed. And then she jumped up, determined to get as far away from Oralie as possible.
“Sophie, wait,” Oralie said. She stood up as well, looking too small to have as much power over Sophie as she did. “I—”
Sophie shook her head vigorously, backing away. “No. No! Nope! You don’t get to say that. You don’t get to try and explain yourself. You don’t get to be my mom. Too little, too late.”
Oralie opened her mouth to respond, but then her eyes settled on someone behind Sophie.
With a sense of foreboding in her gut, Sophie turned around to see Edaline, holding a plate of custard bursts. Her eyes were switching from Sophie to Oralie to Sophie to Oralie, and Sophie could just see her connecting all the pieces. Blond...she always supported the Black Swan...she—
“You?” Edaline uttered the word quietly. She snapped her hand, and the plate of custard bursts was gone.
Oralie’s face blushed pink. “I should go.”
Edaline’s eyes settled on Oralie, and they stayed there for too long. Try as she could, Sophie could not read the expression on her adoptive mother’s face. Finally, she said, “You should.”
Oralie’s eyes seemed to overflow with emotion—remorse, maybe? She deserved it. Finally, she nodded and walked away, disappearing into the distance. '''(Yeah, I know elves don’t walk, they light leap, but I forget exactly how that works (don’t they need a Leapmaster or something?) and my books are downstairs and I’m lazy so I’m just keeping it as this for now. I might change it at some point but idk.)
For what seemed like forever, Edaline was silent. Then she said, “We should go inside.”
“Yeah,” said Sophie, voice weak. She felt as if she had to say something else, but didn’t know what. Finally, she managed, “You’ll always be my mom. No matter what. Okay?”
The corners of Edaline’s mouth tugged upward. “Okay.”
Sophie had thought Edaline would be angry. And maybe she was, in part, but Sophie doubted she’d be able to read her adoptive mother’s feelings even if she were an Empath.
When they entered Havenfield, the custard bursts were sitting on the table. Edaline gave a soft, audible sigh, and said, “Will you talk to me, Sophie?”
Sophie didn’t know what she should be thinking. Too much had happened too fast. First Keefe, then the cache, now Edaline knowing about Oralie. But she was herself, not Oralie, and nothing would come out of her mouth if she didn’t will it to. So she opened her mouth and said, “Okay.”
The two of them sat down at the table, but somehow, Sophie didn’t feel like touching the custard bursts. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” she said carefully, and then words seemed to spill out of her of their own accord. “I didn’t think I could, because you know if word got out, it would ruin everything. And no, I don’t know who my biological dad is, and no, I don’t want to find out either. And this means I’m always going to be Unmatchable, but it’s not like I’m even dating Fitz anymore so it doesn’t matter yet. And I shouldn’t even be worrying about things like this now because Keefe…” She choked back a sob. “And I’m really scared, Mom. What if he never wakes up and it’s my fault? And are you mad at me? Because I’m really, really sorry, and this shouldn’t change anything.”
Edaline shook her head, and a ferocity ignited in her eyes. “How could I be angry at you, Sophie? How could you even think I would be? This makes sense. It...explains a lot, actually.” She reached over the table and grabbed Sophie’s hand. “I’m sorry if I haven’t been there for you recently.”
Sophie smiled a little. “It’s...it’s okay, Mom. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Sophie would have been content to stay in the moment for a little bit longer, but then a thought occurred to her. “Are you...are you going to tell Grady?”
Edaline hesitated for a moment. “That’s your choice, Sophie. I support you either way.”
Sophie closed her eyes, trying to fight through the pounding voices in her head. A part of her was insistent that she had to tell Grady because this was a parent moment and it wouldn’t be fair and then it would seem like she liked Edaline better and what if he found out, but another part of her didn’t want to. And it was hard to admit, but she thought that maybe it was because she was scared. Scared of his reaction. Grady had never done well with things, or people, that hurt his daughter.
“I don’t think I will. At least for now.” Sophie’s voice came out a hesitant whisper, not sure if she was saying the right thing.
“That’s okay,” said Edaline, holding Sophie’s gaze. “Just do what feels right for you.”
Sophie smiled a little. Then she sighed. “I should go see Keefe, see if anything has changed.”
“No, sweetheart,” said Edaline firmly. “You need to sleep. You look exhausted.”
Sophie tried to object, but she knew it was no use. Once a mom had her mind set on it, it was not voluntary. So she sighed, made her way upstairs, and tried to sleep.
Sophie was woken up from a surprisingly restful (thanks to Silveny) sleep at the sound of her Imparter, furiously ringing. When she yawned sluggishly and checked who it was, the screen said, ‘Magnate Leto’.
Immediately, Sophie felt invigorated. If Mr. Forkle was in Magnate Leto form, he was probably at Foxfire or had just been there. Maybe...maybe Keefe…
Sophie closed her eyes, trying to get the wishful thoughts to leave her mind. She couldn’t afford to get her hopes dashed right now. Sophie didn’t do well when multiple things were demanding her mental energy.
“Hello?” she said, pulling the Imparter towards her.
Magnate Leto’s face filled the screen. “Sophie? I didn’t wake you, did I?”
She sighed, clapping her hands twice. The windows opened, and midday sunlight flooded the room. “It’s fine. I probably would have woken up soon anyway.”
“Well, I apologize regardless,” Leto said. “I would suggest you get ready, however. Glimmer has finally agreed to a meeting with you.”
Sophie sat up, a combinition of suspicion and intrigue fueling her movements. “A...meeting? Is she finally going to take off her hood?”
Leto frowned, a silence broadening the distance between them until he spoke again. “Glimmer has made no promises, but she said she needed to see you.”
Sophie frowned. “That sounds… really sketchy. You’re taking precautions, right?”
“You will be accompanied by all of Team Valiant, as well as Maruca Lestin, who will provide force fields to protect you.”
Sophie knew she should feel relieved, but instead all she felt was peckish. “Why are you using Maruca? She’s, like, fifteen. Aren’t there any adult Psionipaths not in the Neverseen?”
Magnate Leto’s voice was perfectly patient. “Miss Lestin volunteered to help you. She was very adament about it, even when Mr. Endal protested.”
Sophie felt an urge to pull out an eyelash. Instead, she blinked out the itch and shoved her hands in her nightgown’s pockets. They were soft and comforting. She returned to the matter at hand. “All of Team Valiant is going? Where are we meeting her?”
Leto cleared his throat. “The Black Swan has secured a protected space in Atlantis. As leader of Team Valiant, it’s your job to tell the other members when and where to meet.”
“Oh yeah,” Sophie said, pulling one hand out of her pocket and brushing her hair behind her ear. “When and where are we meeting?”
“At Foxfire. In less than an hour.” The Imparter disconnected, and Sophie groaned, mentally debating whether she should get ready or call her teammates first. After a minute, she brushed her hair and called them.
Sophie was pretty sure Mr. Forkle could have told them himself. He just wanted to see what happened when she bothered Stina.
When the time was ready, all of Team Valiant was gathered in front of Foxfire, wearing their moon circlets. This had to with a complex and intellectual theory of Sophie’s that in order to make Glimmer off-kilter so that she would tell them things they should greet her with moon and not something giving off light, because she was a Flasher. It wasn’t complex or intellectual. Sophie was just trying to decide a reason to use the moon circlets, since they hadn’t been used yet.
Mr. Forkle was there, too, as Mr. Forkle this time and not Magnate Leto. They all light leaped to the whirlpool Atlantis and Dex cracked a joke about Lady FosBoss and everyone except Stina laughed at it because it was funny and Stina laughed at it because she liked laughing at Sophie and then they were there and they all got quiet and nobody knew what to say because now it was time to meet someone who had been (and might still be) in the Neverseen.
When Sophie saw the Neverseen cloak Glimmer donned, she felt sick. Actually, physically ill. A moment later, however, she was embarrassed about her self-pity, when Dex literally stumbled backwards, nearly into the force field surrounding them, and then blushed and kept apologizing, averting his eyes from the girl in front of them.
She glanced at him. “You okay?” she mouthed.
He nodded, although his eyes remained focused on his feet.
“Hello Sophie Foster, Wylie Endal, Dex Dizznee, Stina Heks. And Maruca Lestin, wherever you are.” It was the first time Sophie had heard Glimmer speak since that day forever ago. Her voice was soft and carefree. Sophie didn’t trust her in the slightest. “I hope I haven’t startled you.”
“Um,” Sophie said. She could feel her teammates’ eyes on her back. It was clearly her time to speak, but she had no idea what to say. “Who are you?”
/Wow, Sophie. This is a (former?) Neverseen member who has refused to show her identity to anyone. Why should now be different?/
“That’s a good question.” Glimmer fingered her hood. “Should I show you? I’ll warn you: I’m no one you know.”
Sophie glanced at her teammates, desperate to read their expressions. When Stina caught her gaze, she rolled her eyes exageratedly.
“Enough of the mystery,” the elf said, shifting her beanpole body slightly. “Yes, we clearly want to know.”
“Okay,” said Glimmer, and she sounded oddly uncertain--and frightfully young--for a moment. Then, in one fluid movement, she peeled off her hood.
Sophie drew back, ready for a shock. But it seemed Glimmer had been true to her word.
This was nobody that Sophie recognized.
The girl in front of Team Valiant looked to be around Sophie’s age, with pale skin, long black hair and light turquoise eyes. She looked vaguely familiar, but Sophie was fairly certain she had never seen her before.
“My name is Risa,” she said. Glimmer--Risa smiled a little, a childlike innocence in her look that made Sophie unbearably sad for a moment. “I’m fourteen. Almost fifteen. I promise I’m not a part of the Neverseen anymore. It’s...it’s a long story why I ever was, honestly.” Risa looked away.
This time, the words slipped easily off of Sophie’s tongue. “How do we believe you?”
Risa looked at Team Valiant, eyes full of what Sophie thought was remorse. Behind her, the walls were grey, and so it seemed her turquoise eyes were truly the only bright thing in front of them. “You don’t.”
Immediately, Sophie stiffened, smelling a trap. She looked around, but the force field Maruca had conjured still stood strong around them.
“At least, you don’t have to.” Risa said, her voice small. “But I wish you would.”
Sophie tried to calm down, take a breath. She had just interpreted it wrong, she tried to tell herself. Still, the way Risa had responded was very… Neverseen-y. Maybe she truly was their spy. Much crazier things were possible. But maybe that was just what being a member did to a person. Their entire persona became based around mystery. For a moment, she almost felt bad for the girl.
“Oh, by the way,” Risa said, and now she looked genuinely concerned. “Is Keefe okay?”
Never mind. Feeling bad time was over. Now it was sad-ragey time.
Sophie didn’t know what it was about the fact that Risa called Keefe by only his first name, but it made her illogically angry. Which she knew was dumb, because it was just his name. But it was like Risa was pretending she knew him, and she didn’t. And Tam had done it to Keefe, and it wasn’t his fault because he had literally been mind-controlled by the ethertine, and that was Glimmer’s fault. Risa’s fault. Which meant that Keefe being in a coma was Risa’s fault. And here she was, with the nerve to call him Keefe.
Sophie knew she would be angry no matter what Risa said. The girl could have said “that blonde kid with the epic hair” and she would have still have been furious (although maybe slightly less). But something about Risa rubbed her the wrong way.
Maybe it was the fact that she was only fourteen. How had a fourteen-year old even joined the Neverseen?
How had Sophie recruited so many innocent kids like Risa might have been if she hadn’t joined the Neverseen to fight for the Black Swan?
Sophie needed to get home, maybe tell this to Edaline. For some reason, she couldn’t get Edaline off of her mind. Maybe it was because of their conversation the day before.