Where foundlings hide, p.17
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       Where Foundlings Hide, p.17

           KL Mitchelson
 

  Chapter Seventeen

  My thoughts about my parents had become lost, somewhere between finding out that Lana wasn’t my sister and Roma’s request for me to take Lana’s – or Acacia’s - place. Now they’re jostling for space inside my head.

  After I had calmed down a little, Ivy explained that she had taken me from an orphanage. She had used mind control – another revelation I was trying to come to terms with – to speed up the adoption process.

  It turns out I was left at the door of the orphanage and the authorities hadn’t been able to trace my birth mother, so they had very little information on me, and that made me a perfect candidate for the decoy operation.

  All I could think of was the elaborate lie that Ivy told me – the one where my parents had died in a plane crash - and I had looked determinedly away from her when I told the room that I needed time to think.

  I was desperate to get away from Ivy and Roma, to have some time to myself, to let everything they had told me sink in.

  When Roma said she had prepared some quarters for me in the Household and would arrange for someone to show me to them, I asked for Caleb. While I was still mad at him, his betrayal didn’t run as deeply as Ivy’s and he hadn’t tried to counsel me on my grief like Parker had, knowing all this time that Lana wasn’t my sister. Most of all, I think I was just looking for someone to take my frustration out on.

  “You could’ve warned me about all of this.” I mutter, as Caleb leads me back through the labyrinth that I had learnt was called the Atrium - the main building of the Vedmak Household.

  He shakes his head. “I wanted to, but there wasn’t time. I had my instructions and I obeyed.”

  “Like a good Displacian.” I frown at how familiar the word already sounds.

  “I’m sorry if you think I deceived you,” Caleb says, as he leads me up a winding, marble staircase. The upper quarters of the Household are made mostly from glass, the light filtering in warm and bright. “It wasn’t my place to tell you your family secrets.”

  “They’re not my family secrets,” I say. “I was just a hostage, remember?”

  “You were a decoy.” He corrects.

  “Is that different?”

  Caleb smiles, but it doesn’t reach his eyes.

  We emerge in a corridor with another wall of glass, and I press my hands against the pane to look out onto the golden world of Displacia. It looks like the start of autumn, the trees are a mixture of green, orange and yellow, like the leaves are about to fall to the ground. I can feel the warmth on my skin as I gaze at the dazzling light reflecting off the tall, glass buildings in the distance.

  There are people outside sitting on a perfectly manicured lawn, enjoying the warm rays. From what I can see from here, there are no congested roads or industrial skylines beyond the grounds of the Vedmak Household, just expanses of yellow meadows and clusters of woodland.

  “It’s beautiful.” I whisper.

  “Yes, it is,” Caleb says. “We learnt our lessons from Earth’s mistakes, we tried to preserve our world as much as possible.”

  I feel myself bristle at his reproachful undertone and I reluctantly tear my eyes away from the view. “Is that why you want to keep the connection with Earth, so that you can feel superior?”

  He looks surprised. “We don’t feel superior. Displacia has had its share of problems, as you’ve heard, but our environment isn’t one of them. We’re lucky to live in a world free from pollution, but that’s only because we saw the impact of modern industry on Earth. We only manufacture what is absolutely essential.”

  I turn my back on the image of what our world could have been, folding my arms peevishly. “But you take our sunlight, you wouldn’t have any of this if it wasn’t for Earth.”

  Caleb smirks. “And we’re grateful for that.”

  “What was it like before?” I ask, turning back to the window. “When it was dark; was it cold?”

  Caleb leans back against the pane. “No, the core of our planet is very hot and the heat rises to the surface. Displacia is encased in a thick atmosphere of hydrogen that keeps the heat from escaping. If you were looking at it from space, you would just see a ball of gas. It creates the perfect backdrop for our artificial sky.”

  “It’s just impossible, how is it that you don’t have a sun?”

  Caleb’s brow furrows. “It’s what people on Earth call a rogue planet. Before we found Earth, we were on our own.” Caleb leans in a little closer. “I’d like to show you more of Displacia, if you decide to stay.” The blazing sky dilutes his eyes, turning them a pale green. I look at his chiselled features, the hint of maturity around his square jaw and I wonder if he is really the age he claims to be.

  “I’m eighteen.” He says, catching me off guard.

  My face warms. “Have you been reading my mind this whole time?”

  “I couldn’t always listen in, I had to be aware of everyone else’s thoughts in case someone was planning on hurting you.”

  I shiver a little, despite the warmth from the window. “Like Molly?”

  “Molly wasn’t herself, I don’t believe she would’ve tried to hurt you if she wasn’t being controlled.”

  “Well she didn’t have black eyes when she started that fight with me.” I frown.

  “Which one?” Caleb purses his lips like he’s trying to suppress a smile.

  I pull a face at him and he laughs. “We had to be sure that no one else was involved. The Shadows have been underground for some time now, we don’t know where they are, or how big their numbers are. They could be hiding out in Displacia, or on Earth, or both. That was no ordinary earthquake back at Malvern, that was them. They could’ve planted someone at the school and they’ll know that it’s the site of one of the portals.”

  “The earthquake? That was the Shadows?”

  “I think so,” Caleb nods. “And so does Roma. Only problem is, the Shadows usually claim responsibility when they’ve done something, and so far, they’ve kept quiet about this one.”

  “So what will happen if I choose to go home? Will you go back to Malvern too?”

  “That’s not my choice, Casey. Besides, we’re all hoping that you’ll stay.”

  I stifle a yawn with the back of my hand, feeling suddenly exhausted.

  “You’re tired,” Caleb observes. “It’s a side effect of the portal, you need to rest. Would you like me to carry you?”

  “No, thank you. I can walk.” I take a step forward but my legs almost buckle beneath me. Caleb scoops me into his arms as though I am weightless and continues along the corridor before I can protest. My eyelids feel heavy as my head lolls against his shoulder, and I can barely feel the anticipation radiating from him.

  “The portal can drain the energy out of you if you’re not wearing a compression suit, it’s like extreme jet lag.” He explains.

  I hear the creak of a door and Caleb carefully carries me over the threshold into an airy room. He navigates through a sitting area, past a cream and red sofa with clawed feet, and into a bedroom. He sets me down gently on a huge, four-poster bed and I shuffle under the soft, clean sheets.

  “The bathroom is on the other side of the sitting room,” he says. “And if you need anything, there’ll be someone right outside your door.”

  I yawn widely. “Am I a prisoner now?”

  Caleb smirks. “It’s just a precaution. Roma doesn’t want you wandering around the grounds until you’ve decided on whether or not to stay.”

  “Fine.”

  “I hope you make the right decision.”

  I make a non-committal noise. As my eyelids flutter shut, I feel the mattress dip a little, then Caleb’s lips brush against my forehead. He whispers something indecipherable as I sink into a dreamless sleep.

  I don’t know how long I sleep for, but when I wake the room is in semi-darkness.

  I had hoped that it was all a dream, or some delirium brought on by the earthquake back home, but as my eyes take i
n the snowy white canopy above and the vast bedroom, my stomach sinks.

  I hug my knees to my chest. Before Roma dangled the prospect of finding my family in front of me, my choice was simple - return to Malvern and forget that any of this ever happened, or stay here and pretend to be Lana, or Princess Acacia as she’s known in Displacia.

  But now it’s the decision between finding my parents or continuing without them, without knowing who I am.

  I could hide, like the Foundlings, or I could try to find my family myself, but I wouldn’t know where to start, at least without Ivy’s help, and if I did find them, how would I explain Ivy’s unorthodox methods for a quick adoption? And what if they don’t want me? After all, my mother left me on the doorstep of an orphanage.

  Then there’s Caleb’s ominous warning about the people around me being manipulated and controlled. If I go home now, I could put everyone at risk.

  With a feeling of defeat, I switch on the lamp at the side of the bed. It casts a soft glow that shows off the scale of the bedroom. It’s twice the size of my loft at home and four times the size of my room at Malvern.

  Aside from the bed and the small cabinet on which the lamp stands, there is a single chair with a red cushion and a free-standing mirror in the corner. There’s a narrow door at the far side of the room, which I suspect is a closet and a set of glass doors to my right.

  I swing my legs out of bed, it’s so high that my feet hover inches above the cream carpet until I shuffle right off the mattress, then I step carefully across the thick pile, my legs still shaky from sleep. I turn the handles on the glass doors and step out onto a tiled balcony. The air is still warm, but the artificial sky is black with just a thin line of burnt orange, smouldering on the horizon like a burning ember.

  I hear the chatter of voices and I lean over the railings to look at the courtyard below. It’s lit by tall, burning torches and a crowd of people are making their way inside dressed in smart suits and glamorous gowns. I look down at the crumpled tunic that Parker gave me and run a hand through my tangled hair.

  “How did you sleep?”

  I jump at the sound of Ivy’s voice. She is seated at a small table at the far end of the balcony, cast in the shadows.

  “Good. Great actually, all things considered.”

  Ivy’s rises from her chair. She wears a dress of pale blue that crosses over her chest and wraps around her waist before graduating into a full skirt. Her hair is twisted in a loose knot at the nape of her neck, her lips coated with a soft pink gloss.

  “Is there a party?”

  “Yes, my sister loves parties,” she smiles. “She hopes tonight will be Acacia’s homecoming celebration.”

  I fold my arms across my chest. “And what if I say no?”

  “Then it will be just another party,” Ivy sighs. “Roma is known for throwing impromptu gatherings, so it won’t seem strange to anyone.”

  We consider each other for a moment, then Ivy looks down at her interlocked fingers. “Roma sent me to ask you for your answer.”

  I let out a sigh. “I don’t know. Don’t you feel bad, deceiving everyone like this?”

  “While I don’t agree with lying, I think it’s the only way. Displacia needs something to believe in, a reason to continue the Conservation Programme and keep Earth out of the hands of the Shadows.”

  “Conservation Programme?”

  “It’s what we call our work on Earth.”

  I frown at her. “What, like we’re animals? Too stupid to take care of ourselves?”

  Ivy looks pained. “We don’t see it like that. We call it the Conservation Programme because we’re preserving life.”

  Silence falls between us and I stare out at the shadows of the tall trees, solid black against the darkening sky.

  “What happens if I return home?”

  “We’ll continue to fund your education at Malvern and we’ll protect you until we find the Shadows, but it won’t be easy.”

  “What about you? Will you still be my adoptive Aunt, or whatever?”

  Ivy smiles sadly. “Of course.”

  “Then nothing needs to change, things can continue as they are.” As I say the words, I know it’s not possible.

  “Those creatures who attacked you, the Khuulsu, they must be in alliance with the Shadows,” Ivy says. “You could be attacked again, everyone around you will be in danger.”

  “I just don’t understand what they want with me.” I say.

  “We think they may have wrongly identified you as a Foundling.”

  My stomach flips. “How is that possible?”

  “I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense to me either,” Ivy says, leaning against the railings. “We thought the Shadows were responsible for Lana’s death, but they could’ve used her to lead them to the other Foundlings. Maybe they found her and there was a struggle, we just don’t know.”

  I think of dark figures lurking in the halls at school, hiding in the corners of my bedroom. It sends a shiver down my spine. “If I stay, what will people back home think? What about school?”

  “I’ll take care of it.”

  “What about Bria? I bet she’s already trying to contact me.”

  Ivy frowns. “Yes, you’re right. I’m sure I can speak to our communications department about getting a phone for you. We have a number of devices that can contact mobile phones on Earth.”

  “Would you do it? Would you text her for me?” I ask.

  Ivy nods and I feel a little lighter.

  “How long would I need to stay here for?”

  “Roma is going to speak to the council about strengthening our efforts in finding the Shadows. We need to assess the situation at your school, strengthen our security there so that you can return safely. It could take a few weeks; or it could be months.”

  “Months?”

  Ivy nods and I feel my heart drop into my stomach.

  “Roma wants you to attend the council meeting with her tomorrow, she wants you to tell the Household Leaders that the Foundlings are fine and they have to stay where they are.”

  “I can’t do that,” I say, shaking my head. “I’m a terrible liar, you know that.”

  Ivy holds up her hands. “You’re just going to have to do your best. Before the war, if the Household Leaders couldn’t reach an agreement on a certain matter, it was referred to the Foundling Council who would make the final decision. It’s called the Foundling Rule; Roma hopes to invoke it.”

  “But I’m not a Foundling.” My words come out breathless.

  “You won’t have to say much,” Ivy says. “Roma will do most of the talking. You’ll just have to nod when she asks for your agreement.”

  “They’ll know that I’m lying, everyone knows when I’m lying.”

  “Don’t think of it as lying,” Ivy says. “Just pretending.”

  “It’s the same thing.” I say, throwing up my hands.

  “No, it’s not,” Ivy says firmly. “I don’t like putting you in this position, but you’re pretending to be Princess Acacia, not Lana. Lana was the girl that I raised, the girl that I cared for. She didn’t grow up to be Princess Acacia, she was just Lana, our Lana. You’re not taking her place; you’re pretending to be the person that she was supposed to be.”

  I take in a deep shuddering breath and exhale slowly. “And if I do this, you’ll help me find my family?”

  Ivy looks wounded, a tiny line appearing between her eyebrows. “I will personally help you find your family.”

  My stomach twists with anxiety, but I know what I have to do. “Fine. I’ll go along with what Roma wants, I’ll be Princess Acacia.”

  Ivy straightens up, her face set in delighted surprise.

  “But I do have one condition.” I say.

  “OK, let’s hear it.”

  “If, this doesn’t work out, if I can’t do what you need me to do, you let me go home.”

  Ivy deliberates for a moment. “I’m sure we can agree to that.”

&
nbsp; “At any time, I say the words and you let me leave.”

  “I’ll speak to Roma,” Ivy says. “But you have to promise not to try to leave by yourself. The portals can be dangerous; a human can’t travel from one world to the other unassisted,” her expression is unwavering. “Promise me, Casey.”

  “I promise.”

  She seems to relax a little. “Good. Roma will be pleased.”

  I pull at the hem of the crumpled tunic. “So, do I have to wear this to the party?”

  Ivy laughs, a soft, musical sound that stirs up old memories of Evergreen. It makes me think of Lana and my heart sinks. I push her away to the back of my mind, shrouding her in darkness.

  “I’m sure we can find you something more suitable to wear, Roma stocked the closet in your room in anticipation of your arrival.” Ivy steps carefully towards me. She looks like she is about to hug me, but she seems to think better of it, and instead takes both of my hands in hers. The base of my skull tingles and I feel her remorse, her sadness, but I’m not ready to forgive her, not just yet.

  I see the moment that she reads this in my mind and I watch as her smile falters. This mindreading thing is going to take some getting used to.

  She brushes a hand over my hair. “Why don’t you have a nice, hot bath and I’ll let Roma know that you’ve decided to stay.”

  She heads inside, pausing in the doorway. “I am truly sorry, Casey, for lying to you and… well, let’s just say if it was my choice, I would have called you my daughter, you would have called me Mother. I had to keep up the pretence of being your aunt, because Lana was my niece. Eventually I would’ve had to tell her the truth about her family.” Her lower lip starts to quiver.

  “I know.” I believe her, because she cared for me as a mother would, always protecting me, always defending me. Tears prick the backs of my eyes, but I blink them away.

  She gives a small smile before disappearing inside and I hear her fading footsteps as she crosses the lounge.

  I look up at the darkening sky, cupping my hands around my face so that all I can see is the emerging stars. The Displacian night sky is the same velvety-black as the one that I see every night at home, and for just a moment, I pretend that I’m back on Earth. I imagine that I can hear the crash of the waves against the shore of Cormorant’s Bay, and the whistle of the wind around the old Malvern Academy. I take a deep breath, imagining that I am inhaling the sweet, earthy scent of the dewy grass in the garden of Evergreen and I feel instantly calmer.

 
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