Neverseen (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #4)(5)

A diamond-encrusted silver cloak.

The style worn by the Councillors.


IT’S OKAY,” A fragile voice promised as the figure threw back her shimmering hood. Blond ringlets cascaded around the beautiful, familiar face of a weary-looking Councillor Oralie.

Her pink-jeweled circlet was noticeably absent as she told them, “I came here on my own.”

Alden lowered his hand, which was holding a melder—a small silver gadget that caused instant, painful paralysis. “How long before the others arrive?”

“Not long. Bronte and Terik are still arguing, but they will gain nothing. There is too much fear and fury clouding the others’ reason.” Oralie trailed her graceful fingers across her arms, shivering in the moonlight. She was an Empath, like Keefe and his father, and Sophie had never seen her look so pained.

“What will their punishments be?” Alden asked.

Oralie lowered her eyes. “Dex and Keefe will be suspended until midterm and placed under constant chaperone. Fitz and Biana will be suspended for a week and given a month of Sanctuary service—”

“Wait a minute,” Dex interrupted. “How come they get off easier?”

“Their family holds a tremendous legacy in our world,” Oralie reminded him.

The Vackers were practically elvin royalty. They had more relatives in the nobility than any other family. Meanwhile, Dex’s father had never manifested a special ability, and talent was all that mattered in the Lost Cities, not wealth or skin color or age. The elves considered it a fair way of separating people. But Sophie wasn’t sure there was any fair way to separate people. Those without abilities couldn’t join the nobility, and if they married anyone except another Talentless, it was ruled a “bad match.” Dex’s mother had married Dex’s father anyway, but the scorn had haunted Dex his whole life.

“So that’s how it is?” Keefe asked. “Now that we know the truth about my mom, my family’s garbage?”

“Not garbage,” Oralie corrected. “But your father has been removed as an Emissary. The Councillors do not trust that an Empath could be completely blind to his wife’s betrayal.”

Keefe blinked several times, then barked a loud, cold laugh. “Well, I guess I can’t say my mom never did anything for me. I almost wish I could be there when you break the news.”

Title and stature meant everything to Keefe’s father, often at the expense of kindness and love toward his son. So Sophie could understand Keefe’s rejoicing—but she was surprised to feel a sliver of sympathy for Lord Cassius. In one night he’d lost his wife and his beloved title. And in the morning he’d discover his only son had run away.

“What about me?” Sophie asked. “What did they decide for my punishment?”

“That is still the subject of much debate,” Oralie said quietly, “but most likely they will banish you to Exillium.”

Sophie couldn’t decide which part of that sentence was more terrifying. She knew nothing about the mysterious school called Exillium, but she’d been told many times that she did not want to go there. And to be banished?

Sure, she was running away—but banishment sounded so permanent.

“Exillium is relegated to the Neutral Territories,” Oralie whispered, “a part of our world far too dangerous for you to visit. Especially now.”

“Why especially now?” Alden asked.

“The ogres are stirring—at least, that is what I fear. Which is why I came to give you this.” Oralie snapped her fingers and a small glass sphere appeared in her palm. Sophie hadn’t realized Oralie was a Conjurer.

“Your cache?” Alden said, taking a step back.

“Actually, this is Kenric’s,” Oralie corrected. “He gave it to me, before he . . .”

She didn’t say the final word, but it cut deep all the same. Councillor Kenric had been one of the first Councillors Sophie had met, and he’d quickly become one of her favorites. He’d been warm and kind and quick to smile, and had always taken her side. But he’d been murdered a few weeks ago, during Fintan’s disastrous healing.

Fintan was the Pyrokinetic who’d trained Brant for the Neverseen. He’d suffered a memory break for his treason, but had managed to protect his secrets. When Sophie discovered she could heal minds, the Council ordered her to heal Fintan, and during the healing, Fintan had found the strength to spark an inferno of Everblaze.

Sophie had managed to grab Fitz and Oralie and teleport to safety—but Kenric had been lost to the flames. Sophie’s only consolation was that Fintan died in his own blaze.

Oralie took Sophie’s hand, placing the cache carefully in her palm. Seven glittering stones were set inside, each a different color.

“Kenric made me promise to give this to you if anything happened to him,” she whispered, “to make sure you’d be protected.”

“Does that mean he suspected his life was in danger?” Alden asked.

“We both did. Though I should’ve done more to help.” Tears slipped down Oralie’s cheeks. “I should’ve done so many things.”

Councillors weren’t allowed to marry or have children, in order to remain impartial in their decisions. But Sophie had seen a connection between Kenric and Oralie and suspected they’d been in love. They could’ve resigned from the Council and chosen to be together, but for some reason they’d kept their lives separate.

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