Lodestar by Shannon Messenger
She sucked in a sharp breath, coughing as her chest tightened. “Why would the records not be found?” she whispered.
“It could mean lots of things,” Fitz promised. “Maybe their names were changed. You weren’t supposed to know them, right? So maybe the Councillors found out you did, and changed them. Or maybe my dad changed them after the Neverseen broke in to the registry, since it was hard to tell which files they’d accessed.”
Or maybe finding out where her family had been hidden was the reason the Neverseen broke in to the registry in the first place. . . .
“I’ll hail my dad to see what he knows. Hang on.” Fitz ducked into the hall, and Sophie could hear him whispering into his Imparter as she clung to Keefe, staring blankly at the Spyball.
“Okay—I was kinda right,” he said, stalking back into the room a couple of minutes later. “Their names weren’t changed—but their registry files were deleted after the break-in, just to be extra safe. And Spyballs pick up registry feeds, so that’s why it’s saying ‘not found.’ There’s no feed if there’s no record to match it to. Make sense?”
Sophie nodded, taking lots of slow, deep breaths and trying to convince herself that the crisis was over.
But it didn’t feel over. And it wouldn’t. Not until . . .
“I need to see them,” she said. “Can you get their address from your dad? I don’t care if he gets mad. I need to see them.”
“Yeah, one sec,” Fitz said, slipping back into the hall again for a longer conversation.
“It’s going to be okay, Foster,” Keefe promised, brushing a rebellious tear off her cheek. “Whatever this is, we’ll figure it out and fix it.”
“My dad can’t give me the address,” Fitz said as he returned, “but he has a leaping crystal that goes there. And he’ll take you right now for a quick check, if you’re ready.”
“I am,” Sophie told him, already untying her cape. Her tunic, pants, and gloves still looked a little elfy, but she wasn’t going to waste time changing.
“I’m coming with you,” Fitz said, throwing his cape on the bed next to hers.
“Ditto,” Keefe said, doing the same.
“As am I,” Sandor announced as he melted out of the shadows. Now that he and Grizel were spending more time together, she’d been teaching him to improve his stealth.
“I’m in as well,” Grizel said, appearing at Sandor’s side.
Sophie didn’t have the energy to argue. “Fine—just try not to look so gobliny.”
“Gobliny?” Sandor repeated as Sophie raced downstairs to answer the door.
“Really, Miss Foster, I’m positive you have no reason to worry,” Alden assured her as he pulled her in for a hug. “Ready to go?”
Sophie felt anything but ready—but she grabbed Alden’s hand as the rest of them linked into a circle, and they all stepped into the beam of bluish light and zipped away.
THE HOUSE WAS BIGGER THAN Sophie had expected. Small by elvin standards, but at least triple the size of her old house in San Diego. Tudor-style, so it looked like it belonged in a fairy tale—especially butted up against the thick evergreen forest. They weren’t in a neighborhood, so there were no other houses around. But there were two cars parked in the driveway and lights on in a bedroom upstairs.
“See?” Alden said. “All is calm and peaceful.”
“Maybe,” Sophie said. “But I need to see them.”
Alden grabbed her shoulder to stop her. “That would be very bad. You know how memory wipes work—the Washers can’t possibly get every memory. And all it takes is the right trigger and . . .”
He snapped his fingers.
“I didn’t say I’m going to let them see me,” she argued. “Some of the windows have the curtains open. I just need to take a quick peek. Make sure they’re really in there. I promise they’ll never know I was here.”
Alden sighed. “Be careful—and do not be seen.”
Sophie nodded and sprinted across the grass, with Fitz and Keefe keeping pace beside her, and Sandor and Grizel on alert a few steps back.
Everyone almost had a heart attack when a dog started barking from the backyard—a deep, husky howl that could probably be heard for miles around.
“Think that’ll make them come outside?” Fitz asked as they ducked under the front bay window and hid among the bushes.
“If they do, we’ll leap away as soon as I hear the front door,” Sophie promised, holding up her home crystal to prove it.
She hadn’t realized how hard she was shaking—though she shouldn’t have been surprised. She hadn’t been this close to her family in more than a year—closer to two years, actually.
And much as she understood why she couldn’t let them see her, she also had to admit she didn’t want to—not because she was afraid they’d remember her.
Because she knew how much it would hurt if they didn’t.
“Deep breaths,” Keefe said, hooking his arm through hers and pulling her closer to the window.
“It sounds quiet in there,” Fitz whispered. “Think it’s safe to peek?”
Sophie nodded, doing a silent countdown in her head.
Three . . . two . . . one.
She popped up on her knees, careful to only raise herself up high enough to peer through the spotted glass.
“Everything okay?” Fitz asked when she didn’t duck back down.
Sophie frowned. “The house is a mess. Way messier than my mom would ever allow it to be.”
“People change,” Keefe said, popping up to see for himself.
“I guess.” But Sophie was starting to learn that when dread pooled up inside her, it was because her instincts were a couple of steps ahead.
Two cars in the driveway.
Dog barking early in the morning with no one shushing it.
This wouldn’t end well.
“I have to get inside,” Sophie said, ignoring Sandor’s protests as she marched over to the door and tried the handle.
It was locked, but her parents still kept a spare key under the smallest flowerpot.
Before she could change her mind, she unlocked the door and slipped inside.
Her heart sank with every step, every new detail her eyes picked up. Dirty dishes in the sink that had to be at least a week old. Papers strewn all over the tables and floor.
“Seems pretty quiet,” Keefe said behind her.
“Too quiet,” she whispered. No human thoughts blaring into her brain—though human minds did quiet down while they were sleeping.
The stairs creaked as they climbed, but no one startled awake. And the master bedroom was empty. Bed unmade. Lights still on.
“Maybe they’re on vacation,” Fitz said, offering whatever weak hope he could.
It was Sandor who finally crushed it, calling from downstairs. “The yard smells like ash. As does the house.”
Sophie closed her eyes and nodded, letting the tears she’d been fighting slip down her cheeks.
The Neverseen used ash to disguise their scent.
“They were here,” she whispered. “They took them. Why would they take them?”
This couldn’t just be about controlling her. If that were all it was, they’d have let her know the second they had her family. Instead they’d kept quiet. Letting her discover it all on her own. Maybe even hoping she wouldn’t.
Keefe took her by the shoulders, his expression fierce, determined. “I don’t know what’s going on. But we’ll find them, okay? We’ll get them back. I promise.”
“But we don’t even know where they are—where to start,” Sophie reminded him. The sobs were coming fast and furious now, but she didn’t fight them back.
She was so tired of fighting.
Tired of losing.
“There has to be a clue,” Fitz said. “We’ll take this whole place apart if we have to. Then we’ll find them and we’ll bring them back and we’ll make sure they’re hap
No—it wasn’t okay.
It would never be okay.
The Neverseen had her family!
“Does ‘Nightfall’ mean anything?” a shaky female voice said behind them, eliciting quite a few gasps. “That’s what they said. They didn’t know I was hiding here—one of them had talked about listening for thoughts, so I let my mind go dark and silent. And I heard them say, ‘Take them to Nightfall.’ ”
“Nightfall?” Keefe repeated as Sophie spun around, following the trail of panicked human thoughts to the voice.
On the wall behind them, a door was open just a crack. Probably a closet or a bathroom.
“It’s okay to come out,” Fitz promised. “We’re here to help.”
Several seconds passed before the door swung open and a young girl stepped slowly out.
She was taller than Sophie remembered. Thinner. Her curly brown hair cut short. But even with all those changes, Sophie would’ve recognized her little sister anywhere.
Her sister’s eyebrows pressed together, like she was straining extra hard to figure out what to say.
When their eyes met, she whispered, “Sophie?”
Yay—you’re still here! That means you’re still speaking to me!
(Or perhaps you’re still clinging to the hope that I wouldn’t be cruel enough to pause the story there. But after what I did to you at the end of Neverseen, surely you know better. Mwahahahahaha.)
I know these game-changer endings are a severe test of your patience—and I promise I don’t do them to torture you! (Though the torture is a fun bonus.) Each book in a series is really more like a chapter in a much longer story—so the good news is, this means there are more books ahead!
And you guys are the reason this series keeps growing. If you weren’t reading Sophie’s story and doing all of the fantastic things you do to spread the word, I would’ve had to cut things short long ago. So thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
I also could not have gotten through the rather stressful process of writing this book if it weren’t for the support of an incredible group of people.
Miles, I don’t know how to thank you for putting up with my intense deadline schedule, and for bearing with my slight grumpiness (okay, it was more than slight) after all of the four a.m. drafting nights. You deserve a trophy for Most Understanding Husband.
Mom and Dad, I definitely owe you a trophy for Best Promoters Ever for championing my book to basically everyone you talk to for longer than five seconds, and for baking hundreds of cupcakes for my launch parties.
Laura Rennert, you deserve the SuperAgent trophy—as does everyone at Andrea Brown Literary and the Taryn Fagerness Agency—for all of the tireless ways you keep my career on track.
Liesa Abrams Mignogna, your trophy is shaped like a Batmobile because you really are the Batgirl of all editors. Thank you for not strangling me for falling so behind schedule, and for continuing to believe in Sophie and crew. I also want to give the Most Awesome Publisher trophy to everyone at Simon & Schuster, especially Mara Anastas, Mary Marotta, Jon Anderson, Katherine Devendorf, Julie Doebler, Emma Sector, Carolyn Swerdloff, Catherine Hayden, Tara Grieco, Jennifer Romanello, Jodie Hockensmith, Faye Bi, Lucille Rettino, Michelle Fadlalla, Anthony Parisi, Candace McManus, Matt Pantoliano, Amy Bartram, Mike Rosamilia, Christina Pecorale, Gary Urda, and the entire sales team. And the Most Gorgeous Cover trophy goes to Karin Paprocki and Jason Chan. I don’t know how you guys keep upping your game, but I adore you for it.
Cécile Pournin and everyone else at Lumen Editions deserve the Undeniably Awesome French Publisher trophy for their unfailing enthusiasm and care for this series. And Mathilde Tamae-bouhon earns the Translator of the Year trophy for bravely tackling my insanely long books. I also want to give the Outstanding International Fans trophy to my French readers, who wait so patiently for the translated editions.
Kari Olson, I owe you the Ultimate Brainstormer trophy for helping me puzzle out this plot and constantly talking me off the “I’ll never not be writing this book” ledge. And Victoria Morris, I give you the Fabulous Beta Reader prize for reading so quickly and chiming in with encouragement right when I need it most.
And the Best Support Group trophy goes to Erin Bowman, Lisa Cannon, Christa Desir, Debra Driza, Nikki Katz, Lisa Mantchev, Sara McClung, Ellen Oh, Andrea Ortega, Cindy Pon, CJ Redwine, James Riley, J. Scott Savage, Amy Tintera, Kasie West, Natalie Whipple, and Sarah Wylie. (And to anyone I’ve forgotten, here’s the Most Forgiving Friend trophy for understanding how deadline brain constantly fails me.)
I also have to give the Ultimate Champions trophy to all of the teachers, librarians, bloggers, and booksellers who’ve done so many tremendous things to keep this series growing, especially Mel Barnes, Alyson Beecher, Katie Bartow, Lynette Dodds, Maryelizabeth Hart, Faith Hochhalter, Heather Laird, Katie Laird, Kim Laird, Barbara Mena, Brandi Stewart, Kristin Trevino, Andrea Vuleta, and so many others. If I listed you all, this book would double in thickness, which might cause serious back injury to my poor readers. So I’ll just give every single one of you a round of applause.
And now, I’ll stop rambling and get back to writing. On to book six!
COPYRIGHT © 2012 BY DEVENDE PHOTOGRAPHY
SHANNON MESSENGER graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she learned—among other things—that she liked watching movies much better than making them. She’s studied art, screenwriting, and film production, but realized her real passion was writing stories for children. She’s the bestselling author of the middle-grade series Keeper of the Lost Cities, and the Sky Fall series for young adults. Her books have been published in numerous countries and translated into ten different languages. She lives in Southern California with her husband and an embarrassing number of cats. Find her online at shannonmessenger.com.
SIMON & SCHUSTER, NEW YORK
Visit us at simonandschuster.com/kids
Also by Shannon Messenger
The KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES Series
Keeper of the Lost Cities
The SKY FALL Series
Let the Sky Fall
Let the Storm Break
Let the Wind Rise
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
First Aladdin hardcover edition November 2016
Text copyright © 2016 by Shannon Messenger
Jacket illustration copyright © 2016 by Jason Chan
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
ALADDIN is a trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc., and related logo is a registered trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
For information about special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-866-506-1949 or [email protected]
The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more information or to book an event contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at www.simonspeakers.com.
Jacket designed by Karin Paprocki
Interior designed by Mike Rosamilia
The text of this book was set in Scala.
This book has been cataloged with the Library of Congress.
ISBN 978-1-4814-7497-9 (eBook)
Shannon Messenger, Lodestar