By C. R. Grey
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 4, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Text copyright © 2016 by Paper Lantern Lit, LLC
Illustrations copyright © 2016 by Jim Madsen
Map illustration copyright © 2014 by Kayley LeFaiver
Cover design by Marci Senders and Maria Elias
Cover illustration © 2016 by James Madsen
All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney • Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
for Aaron, always
LITTLE VIVIANA STUMBLED BEHIND the other girls, shielding her eyes with the palm of her hand. The Dust Plains were exactly that—flat plains as far as the eye could see, air thick with dust, a heat so unbearable she swore the sun was just inches away from her skin. But she held her head high, despite the fine powder that lined her mouth and throat.
“I know you’re thirsty,” one of her captors said. The sound of his voice made her blood boil. When he held out a canteen Viviana’s anger overflowed. She swatted it away with the back of her hand and sent it flying. Drops of precious water beaded quickly before disappearing into the cracks of the dry ground. The man glared at her as he reached down to pick it up. When he rose he looked drunk and unsteady, and loomed over Viviana. He lifted his hand, as if to swat her like she did his canteen. Viviana was afraid. Her bones were shaking. But she stood up taller. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of cowering.
Another girl stepped between them. Her hair was a dark red, dust matted in her curls.
“She’s new,” the girl said with a seriousness that belied her years. “She doesn’t know how it works yet. But I’ll teach her.”
The man nodded, almost with respect—even though the girl was the same age as Viviana. “See to it, Annika. Or she’s not the only one in for a beating.” He walked ahead to oversee the other children. When he was out of earshot the redheaded girl spun around.
“Stupid,” she mumbled as she tore away a scrap of her long tunic. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
“I’m not a slave,” Viviana said. It was the first words she’d spoken since she’d been captured. “I won’t act like one.”
“I suppose you’re from the Gray,” Annika said, mimicking Viviana’s accent. “Well, guess what?” She pointed at the line of girls who walked ahead. The scrap of her tunic fluttered in the wind. “The rest of us are slaves. And if you think you’re better than us—”
“I don’t think that,” Viviana said quickly. “Not for a second.” A sense of shame bloomed in her chest. Her father, King Melore, always said they were not above the people they served.
“Then act like it. Walk with the rest of us, do as we do. The only way to survive is to work together.” Annika held out the scrap of fabric. “Tie this around your head to cover your mouth and nose. We’ll go see if any of the other girls have a sip of water to share.”
“Thank you,” Viviana said after she’d tied the muslin around her face.
“Thank me by staying alive,” Annika said gruffly, as if she were an old soul in a girl’s body.
Viviana followed Annika silently as they caught up with the rest of the camp. Viviana realized it was the first kindness anyone had shown her since leaving the Gray, and she wouldn’t soon forget it. But she didn’t agree that they were slaves. If she escaped—no, when she escaped—she’d remember that every person should be free.
VIVIANA STOOD TALL OVER Bailey; her violet eyes flashed as though lit from within by strikes of cold lightning.
“You die today, Child of War,” she said. Bailey felt her fingers grasp his throat. Her nails dug into his skin. “You cannot defeat me—I can control whatever I wish. Even life itself.”
Bailey tried to speak, to tell her that she was wrong, that the bond would always triumph over Dominance, but her hands were fast around his neck. He couldn’t breathe. He grabbed her wrists to pull them away, but suddenly she was gone, and in her place was the Jackal.
“We had a deal, boy,” he hissed. His hands were just as strong, just as angry, as Viviana’s.
“No…” Bailey said, just barely audible above the noise of bird screech and dog howl surrounding him. The Jackal grinned.
“Bailey, wake up!” The Jackal’s voiced had changed—he sounded almost like Hal. “Wake up, Bailey, you’re dreaming!”
Bailey opened his eyes. Hal’s face hovered above him. Bailey lay on his back on a cold dirt floor, cocooned in a wool blanket.
“It’s just a dream,” Hal said. “The Fair is over. You’re in the tunnels.”
Bailey blinked his eyes, and all of a sudden, his vision was overtaken by a mess of white fur and a giant, wet tongue. Taleth planted a long, loving lick on the side of Bailey’s face.
“Oof! Yuck!” Bailey laughed. “I’m awake, I’m awake!” The tiger purred and settled back onto her haunches.
“Still having those nightmares about the Fair?” Hal asked. He sat hugging his own blanket around his knees.
“Yeah,” said Bailey. “I know the Jackal’s dead, but…”
“I know,” said Hal. “I think about it a lot too. And it’s not as though we’re safe from the Dominae. Not even here.”
“Here” was a place that Bailey had never even known existed until after the Reckoning—and it was practically in his old backyard. Along with Tremelo and the allied RATS and Velyn, Bailey and his friends had spent the last two weeks hiding out in a series of crisscrossing underground tunnels that stretched all the way from the Fluvian River in the west, south through the Lowlands, and into the Dark Woods.
Tremelo had been the one to lead them there. After their escape from the Gray City, Tremelo had brought the tired band of fighters to a cave entrance, and stood back as, one by one, the fighters entered and gaped at the seemingly endless pathway before them. Bailey had stood close to Tremelo and had noticed a pain behind his teacher’s eyes as he watched the others enter the tunnel.
“What’s wrong?” he’d asked.
“The Jackal engineered these tunnels,” Tremelo said. “His soldiers used them to ambush the Velyn. I hate to bring Eneas and his people down here, to make them relive that terror, but these passageways are undeniably the easiest way into the Woods without being seen.”
Bailey had shuddered at the mention of the Jackal’s name. Before that spring, he’d already known that the Jackal had massacred the Velyn and murdered Tremelo’s mentor, the Loon. But his own recent ordeal at the Jackal’s hands had made Bailey eager never to think about him again. He would have killed me, he thought. He almost did.
Despite their sinister origins, the tunnels proved to be an excellent hiding place, although the threat of the Dominae still hung in the air. Everywhere Bailey went in the underground tunnels, he imagined Viviana and her soldiers standing directly above him, armed and ready for him to show his face in the sunlight. He hadn’t been sleeping much, and when he did, Viviana and the Jackal were always waiting for him in his dreams.
“Did I wake you up?” he asked Hal.
“Me? No,” Hal answered. “I’ve been awake for hours.”
Bailey heard the unmistakable sound of bats careening through the next tunnel. Someone shouted, undoubtedly someone who did not appreciate being woken by their squeaks. Hal smiled.
“It doesn’t help that this ground is hard as a rock,” Bailey said. “What I wouldn’t give for a real bed.” It had been many weeks since Bailey and Hal had fled Fairmount in pursuit of Taleth and her kidnappers. In that time, they’d slept on the rigimotive and a North River barge, in an abandoned warehouse, and on the cold stone floor of the Jackal’s prison. All Bailey wanted was some normal rest. But the world that he’d once considered normal now seemed like a place he hadn’t visited in years.
“I was just thinking of going to the workshop,” Hal said to Bailey. “Knowing our king’s irregular sleep patterns, I figured I’d find him there and see if I could help out with his project.”
Bailey pulled his blanket off and sat up.
“I don’t really want to go back to sleep,” he said, his nightmare still lingering in his mind. “I’ll come too.”
A burst of bats overhead greeted them as they left their small sleeping nook and entered the high-ceilinged tunnel that led to Tremelo’s makeshift workshop. Here, the tunnels were wide enough that Taleth padded behind them with room to move freely, though they narrowed toward the Lowlands, cramped and damp, and smelling strongly of moss. Light from dynamo lamps and small campfires reflected warmly on the tunnel walls, guiding Bailey and Hal past huddled groups of allied fighters, some of whom were snoring under their blankets, and some of whom were awake and whispering about what might be going on in the kingdom above them. A hush fell over the fighters as they passed, a look of awe and curiosity in their eyes. Taleth had that affect on people.
The tunnel curved; up ahead, a wash of bright torchlight illuminated the entrance to a wide cavern. Inside, Tremelo—the True King of Aldermere—crouched over a wobbly table.
His back was to the boys as they entered the cavern. Hearing their footsteps, he turned to look over his shoulder at them.
“It’s late; what are you two doing awake?” he asked.
“Couldn’t sleep,” said Bailey. “We thought maybe you’d want some help.”
“I’ll settle for company,” Tremelo said. Pushed to the side of the table were the remains of the Halcyon machine, which had helped them overcome Viviana’s Dominance that terrible day at the Fair. Its inner nest of wires had been exposed and pulled out, and the orb that had once sat in its center was in pieces, like silver bits of eggshell, on the table in front of Tremelo.
“Look at this,” Tremelo said. “I think I’ve finally solved it.”
Fennel the fox entered; Tremelo lifted her from the floor to the table and gave her an affectionate scratch behind her ear. Her leg, which had been injured in the Reckoning, had not healed perfectly, and she could not move as spryly as she had before.
“I’ve been thinking of the next phase of the Halcyon all wrong,” Tremelo said. Bailey heard a familiar lilt in Tremelo’s voice—no matter how regal Tremelo’s new title made him, he was a true tinkerer at heart, always the most excited when surrounded by scraps of metal. “Since the Fair, I’ve agonized over how to make the Halcyon bigger, in order to magnify the healing effects of the bond even more. Big enough to protect an entire army against Dominance! But bigger isn’t the answer at all!”
He held up two identical objects for Bailey and Hal to see. They were the size and shape of robins’ eggs, patchworked together from bits of the original metal orb, each dangling from a piece of twine long enough to hang around a person’s neck.
“Here, take them,” Tremelo said, pushing the objects at Bailey and Hal. The metal was cool in Bailey’s palm.
“These amulets are the perfect answer to Viviana’s technology,” Tremelo said. “Instead of projecting the bond’s energy from one central orb, we could create enough of these to supply our fighters with their own strengthening power. And it doesn’t just protect them alone—no, just watch!”
Grinning, Tremelo reached for a third amulet and then faced Hal and Bailey.
“Concentrate on your kin,” he instructed them. “Tap into the bond.”
Bailey glanced at Taleth, who’d laid down on her stomach, her paws extended and her head alert. Her tail batted against the dusty ground. He’d never felt so much a part of the world than he had since his Awakening. He knew that as long as he had Taleth, he’d never feel alone.
The metal amulet grew warmer; Bailey felt himself falling into Taleth’s mind. He watched himself and Hal and Tremelo standing by the work table. He felt his tail—Taleth’s tail—beating lazily on the floor. His whiskers twitched in amusement. Then his view shifted again: he was no longer Taleth, but he wasn’t Bailey, either. For a split second, he felt himself flying, fluttering, darting just below the dirt ceiling of the tunnels. It was exhilarating! He heard his companions squeaking, beckoning him to follow. And finally, he saw himself, Hal, and Tremelo again—but this time, from the worktable. Looking down, he saw reddish-black paws and a fluffy, swishing tail. One of those paws still throbbed with pain; a bone had not set correctly.
“Isn’t it marvelous?” said Tremelo. Bailey stepped back, almost tripping over his own feet.
“How did we do that?” he asked. “I was inside Fennel’s mind—and a bat’s, too!”
“That was impossible,” said Hal. “Wasn’t it?”
“We triangulated!” said Tremelo, beaming with excitement. “I suspect the more people you were to try it with, the less intense it would be. But just think of the possibilities! Just as Viviana used her orb to strengthen her Dominance, we strengthened each other’s bonds! Even if we never achieved that level of intensity on the battlefield—to give each fighter their own tool to counter Dominance—it could be the key to defeating Viviana!”
“How can we make enough, though?” Hal asked. “This metal is precious, isn’t it?”
Tremelo’s energy deflated like a ripped rigimotive dirigible.
“I haven’t quite figured that part out yet,” he said. “Though at the rate we’re gathering fighters, it may not matter. We barely have enough Allies to take on a fraction of Viviana’s army.”
Just then, a long howl echoed through the tunnels, followed by several shrieks. Bailey thought he heard Eneas Fourclaw, the leader of the Velyn, shouting commands.
“Are we being attacked?” Bailey whispered. His heart began to pound. Taleth leapt up onto all fours and faced the entrance to the workspace.
“Stay close,” said Tremelo. He took up a crossbow that leaned against the wall and stepped cautiously out into the tunnel.
The tunnel had become crowded with RATS and Velyn anxious to know what had happened. Tremelo and the boys were met by Eneas Fourclaw, who walked toward them with his hands raised.
“It’s all right,” Eneas said. “No need to panic. One of our wolves attacked a RAT ally’s deer kin. People are a little upset, but it’s nothing to get up in arms about.”
“A kill?” asked Tremelo. “Inside the tunnel?”
“People are getting restless, and their kin along with them,” the warrior said. “We’ve been trying to send the animals outside to hunt, but what more can we do? I can’t curb every predator’s instincts. We’re all cooped up in here. Things get out of hand.”
Bailey saw a flash of bright-red hair belonging to Gwen. Beside her were Phi and Tori; Phi waved at them. Bailey grabbed Hal’s sleeve and together they crept along the wall, away from Tremelo’s and Eneas’s raised voices, to join the girls.
“Everyone having a pleasant morning so far?” asked Tori, with a knife’s sharpened edge to her voice. “I know I could have used more sleep….What’s that?” She pointed at Bailey’s hand, and he realized that he still held Tremelo’s amulet in his closed fist.
“Tremelo was showing them to us,” he explained. When he reached the part about seeing not only through Taleth’s eyes, but through the eyes of Tremelo’s and Hal’s kin as well, he noticed that Gwen looked away sharply.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing,” said Gwen. “I’m glad it worked for you, that’s all.”
Phi moved closer to Gwen so that their shoulders were touching, her brown eyes full of sympathy.
“What do you mean?” Hal asked. “Why wouldn’t it?”
“Hal…” said Phi in a way that urged him to let it drop.
“No, it’s all right,” Gwen said. “There’s no point in being coy about it. I was in the workshop yesterday evening, when Tremelo had finished building the first two. He let me try it…and I didn’t feel anything. Not like I expected to, I guess.”
“What do you mean?” Bailey asked. He found it difficult to believe that Gwen had lost faith in Tremelo’s tinkering. “You don’t think he can get it to work?”
Gwen looked down at the floor for a moment, and then took a deep breath before speaking again. “I don’t know if he can get it to work for me. I haven’t felt the bond at all since we left the Gray City. Ever since I nearly…” She paused. “I almost killed one of my own kin, and I think that it…I don’t know, that it severed something. My kin haven’t come near me since.”
“Dominance did this,” said Phi, placing her hand on Gwen’s shoulder. “Probably lots of people at the Fair that day are having the same trouble. But I’m sure it’ll get better. That your bond will—”
“I know that it’s not just me.” Gwen gave Phi a sad smile and shrugged. “It doesn’t make it any easier, though.” She looked like she might cry in front of all of them.
Just then a small group of adults entered at the far end of the tunnels. It looked like a small procession, all of them huddled around a RAT woman and offering her comfort. She had her hands up to her face, her shoulders shaking, as she was being led back to her camp. Bailey could tell it was her deer kin that had been killed.
Bailey turned his attention back to Gwen. “Your bond will come back,” he said, wanting to make it all right. “It lives inside us. Viviana can’t change that.”
“I want to believe that,” Gwen said. “But right now I feel like there’s a hole in my chest that used to be full of feeling. You’ve only just Awakened—can’t you imagine how you would feel if suddenly your bond with Taleth was taken away?”
Bailey could, and the thought made him shudder.
All day, Bailey carried the worry of what Gwen had told him. He watched his fellow Allies carefully during a communal dinner of thistle-and-root stew, looking for the same sadness in their eyes that he’d seen in Gwen’s. But he couldn’t tell whether the fighters in the tunnel were suffering from a weakened bond, or simply from their cramped and anxious habitat. He knew that if Gwen was right, defeating Viviana and the Dominae would be even harder. Without their bonds, the Allies would need more than just Tremelo’s tinkered amulets.
He left the hushed whispers and flickering firelight of the tunnels and walked out into the twilight for some air. He wasn’t alone: Eneas Fourclaw sat on the wide, flat rock that the Allies used to keep watch over the tunnel entrance. Eneas pointed over Bailey’s shoulder.
“Your shadow’s looking well,” he said.
Bailey turned. Taleth stood behind him. Her whiskers shook as she sniffed the night air.
“She’s happy to be outside,” said Bailey.
“I believe that,” Eneas said. “She’s handling the tunnels well, though.” Bailey heard the unspoken thought behind Eneas’s words: Taleth was remaining calm, unlike some others.
“That woman whose kin was killed today—will she be all right?” Bailey asked.
Eneas swept a crawling beetling off of his thigh.
“Kin die all the time,” he said. “You’re not used to how it works yet, are you?”
“How what works?” Bailey asked.
“Being a predator,” Eneas answered. He nodded to his kin, the mountain lion Elspeth, who lay on her side next to him on the rock. “Lions, bears, wolves—they have to hunt and kill to survive. Can be hard to wrap your mind around it, once you become one.”
“I’m not a predator,” said Bailey.
Eneas smiled. His blue eyes were kind, even though his skin was rough from many years living in the elements of the Peaks.
“But she is,” he said, gesturing to Taleth. “And that means you’ve got something of that in you too. Only natural.”
Bailey felt a little ill. He remembered the Jackal’s cry as his own dog had attacked him at the Progress Fair, and the limp body of Joan Sucrette. But Bailey hadn’t been the one to kill them.
“Don’t look so frightened at the thought,” Eneas said. “As Velyn, we know that our kin will do one another harm—we acknowledge it as best we can. Doesn’t make you any less human. More, maybe.”
Eneas rose from the rock; Elspeth stretched and stood as well.
“My watch is over,” he said. “You wouldn’t mind going in to find my replacement, would you?”
“I’ll take the watch,” Bailey said. He wasn’t quite ready to trade the peacefulness of the dusky forest for the stifling air in the tunnels. “If that’s all right with you.”
Eneas tugged at his blond beard. He looked from Bailey to Taleth, who flicked her whiskers eagerly.
“I suppose you’re ready,” he said. “Besides, your beast Taleth is the best protection any watchman could hope for. I’ll let Tremelo know.”
Eneas ducked into the tunnel, but Bailey was aware of the large green eyes of Elspeth the mountain lion, watching over him from the entrance.
“Not quite ready to do it alone, I guess.” Bailey sighed. He pushed himself up onto the rock and took a deep, invigorating breath of the fresh night air. From here, he could see the bank of the pine-covered hillside, dipping down toward the edge of a cliff that overlooked the river. If anyone were to try and enter the tunnels from here, they’d be spotted nearly half a mile away.
As he always did when he looked north toward the Lowlands, he thought of his mom and dad. They were down there somewhere, past the dark ribbon of the river, on the other side of the wide stretch of trees whose shadowy branches could hide any number of threats. He wished he could make the journey to see them, but Tremelo had forbidden it. Ever since they’d arrived at the tunnels, and Bailey realized how close they were to the Lowlands, he’d found himself missing his mom and dad more than ever. He wanted to sit at the dinner table over thick, crusty bread and a bowl of corn porridge and tell them everything—about his Awakening, about the prophecy that had entangled him with the fate of the kingdom, about his friends.
Somewhere in the silent pines, a twig snapped.
Taleth jumped to her feet, her whiskers and tail twitching. The skin on Bailey’s arms prickled under his sweater and coat. He was sure that someone was watching them.
A crackle; a rustle—something moved in the trees just downhill from them. Bailey peered into the dark and saw a figure moving away from them quickly. His heart pounded. He leapt up. For a frenzied moment, he was unsure what to do. He looked back at Elspeth, but she was gone. He knew he couldn’t let the stranger get away. Together, he and Taleth left their post and rushed down the hill. Just ahead, he saw the silhouette of the running spy. They darted between trees and into deeper shadows until it was nearly impossible for Bailey to see what it was he was following. Taleth rushed ahead, and Bailey relied on her vision and smell to lead him.
They sped around trees and over rocks. Ahead, Bailey could barely make out the running figure. Then the person—a man, Bailey guessed—made a sharp turn, nearly slipping on some moss. He skidded down a small hill. Just ahead, a beam of light shone from behind an outcrop of rocks, and Bailey froze. The man was not alone. Bailey’s heart had already been beating loudly from the pursuit, but now it pulsed in his chest like the tightly drawn skin of a drum.
Taleth lunged ahead, growling, and disappeared behind the rocks.
“Quindley! Quindley!” shouted a voice quavering with fear. Taleth reappeared, dragging a man by his coat. “Oh, dear merciful Nature!” the man cried.
“Coming!” called a second voice, and the light beam shifted. A portly figure followed Taleth out from behind the rocks, holding a dynamo lamp. The lamplight hit Bailey right in the eyes, and he put up his hands to shield them from the glow.
- On Sale
- Oct 4, 2016
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers