Where foundlings hide, p.22
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       Where Foundlings Hide, p.22

           KL Mitchelson

  Chapter Twenty-Two


  A flicker of surprise registers briefly on the lieutenant’s face.

  “Do you two know each other?” Nicholas asks.

  “We met last night, at the fence.” I say.

  “We owe you our gratitude,” Roma says. “For your service at our Household.”

  He nods in Roma’s direction, then his eyes fall back on me and my cheeks flush under his stare.

  I’m forced to tear my eyes away from him, as Roma ushers me towards a tall woman with the same long, chestnut hair and golden tattoos as the woman from the market.

  “Acacia, this is Meghan, leader of the Dryad’s.”

  Meghan pulls me into a hug and I feel the heat of her body blazing through the thin, orange sheath she wears. “I have seen so much of you in the fire,” she says. “It’s like we are old friends.”

  My stomach twists as I imagine what Megan might’ve seen, but then she laughs good-naturedly, as if it was a joke.

  I look at Caleb for confirmation. He smirks, and I see him nod ever so slightly.

  “And this is Galen, Leader of the Haler Household.” Roma gestures towards a white-robed figure with kind, angular eyes and a shaven head. Galen takes my hand in his and I feel the same warmth that I felt from Aimee and Alistair tingling in his fingertips.

  “Princess Acacia,” he clutches my hand against his chest and places his palm on my forehead. He closes his eyes, his brow creasing with concern. “I sense a great deal of anxiety in you.”

  I hold my breath waiting for Galen to say more, the intrigue of the rest of the group saturating the air around us.

  “Being with your people will do you some good,” Galen smiles. “Sadly, not even the Halers can mend a broken heart. It will take time.”

  The Haler leader releases me and I take a deep breath, rattled by his assessment. He makes his way inside and the group follow, all except Haydn who stands fixed to the spot, his dark eyes burning into mine.

  Something stirs inside of me, like butterflies, but then Caleb takes me by the arm and steers me into the building. I glance back at Haydn. He follows with a moody expression, his eyes on Caleb’s hand now resting on the small of my back.

  Beyond the shaded veranda, a steep set of steps leads up into the grand palace. It is light and airy inside; the interior walls are smooth marble and there are more columns, ornately carved, standing stoically between the high vaulted ceiling and the black and white tiled floor. High, narrow windows filter in a delicate breeze and I bow my head to feel it on the back of my neck.

  We pass through a room with a tall ceiling and a fountain set in the marble floor, tiny shoots of water dancing across the surface.

  The next room is cast in shadows and lit only by tall braziers that stand in each corner.

  Meghan shifts in behind me and I inhale sharply as she plunges a hand into the nearest fire. She turns, holding a tiny flame in the palm of her hand, then she raises it to her lips and blows. Instead of going out, the fire leaps out of her hand and streaks through the air, lighting the candelabras hanging from the ceiling.

  I feel a rush of heat and I jump backwards, colliding with a solid figure behind me. Haydn. He looks down at me, his dark eyes shining in the candlelight, and I try to mumble an apology, but the words catch in my throat. He steps around me indifferently and takes a seat at the oval table in the middle of the room.

  There is a service trolley by the door, laden with jugs of water and beakers. I rush over to it and pour a glass, before chugging it down greedily. I pour another and hold it to my forehead, savouring the coolness against my skin.

  The trolley jolts suddenly, and I step back as it moves away from me. It drifts lazily towards the table and stops beside Caleb, who looks at me with an amused expression and then, with a wave of his hands, he makes a stack of glasses fly through the air and land softly on the surface in front of him. The jug follows and pours water for the group.

  “You should save your skills for our next tourney.” A voice booms behind me.

  I turn to find two men with long, black, straggly hair standing in the doorway; they have strange, neat gauges on their bare chests, pink and shiny. They too carry blades, curved ones shoved into the belts of their grey, ragged trousers and something else at their backs, held by a thin strap on their shoulders.

  “Morox,” Roma strides towards the men and shakes hands with the eldest. “Thank you for coming. May I present Princess Acacia?”

  “Ah, the worst kept secret in Displacia.” Morox shakes my hand. His face set with indifference, his fingers curiously cold and clammy.

  “I am the leader of the Morgana Household and this is my son, Marius,” Morox continues, gesturing over his shoulder to the young man behind him. “I suppose your Aunt told you that the Foundlings belong to all Households, not just the one you were born into?”

  I look between Morox and Roma, who is openly scowling at the Morgana leader.

  “Maybe a union between the Foundling child and my son would help us strengthen our alliance.” Morox smirks.

  “Acacia is far too young, Morox.” Roma says firmly.

  I hazard a glance at Marius, his sea-green eyes survey me almost hungrily, and his gaze lingers as I take a seat beside Ivy.

  I see Caleb’s jaw clench as he watches the two Morgana’s, his eyes flitting to Roma, who gives an almost indistinctive shake of her head. Another silent exchange.

  Everyone turns as two Vedmak guards stride into the room, ahead of a tall man wearing a silver crown on his strawberry-blonde head. The group stands and the tall man looks around at them with a serious expression, when his gaze falls on me, however, his face splits into a wide smile and he laughs, extending his arms towards me. “Ah, my Great-Niece.”

  “Acacia, may I introduce Cornelius Vedmak,” Roma says. “The Emperor of Displacia.”

  Ivy nudges me in the side and I get up from my seat unsteadily. I stumble towards him, and he wraps me in a bear-like hug, radiating kindness.

  “Welcome to Displacia, we owe you a great deal of gratitude,” he whispers, stepping back with a knowing smile. “I am told you will do great things.” He moves past me to greet Ivy, Roma and the rest of the Household leaders, before taking a seat at the head of the table.

  I slip back in to my seat and lean closer to Ivy. Does he know who I am?

  She nods in response to my silent question and I turn to find the Emperor beaming widely at me.

  “If I may begin.” Roma says suddenly.

  The Emperor nods.

  “Thank you all for coming,” Roma continues. “This morning I have-”

  “Sorry I’m late.” A man wearing a brown suit strides into the chamber, running his hands over his tousled, dark hair.

  “So nice of you to drop by, Niall,” the Emperor says. “Roma was just welcoming Princess Acacia back to Displacia.”

  Niall finds his seat at the table, his eyes wide as he finds me amongst the group. “The Princess Acacia, one of the last remaining Foundlings? Daughter of-” Niall hastily clears his throat. “Yes, um, welcome.”

  Roma rolls her eyes. “Well at least someone here is surprised. It seems the drums started the moment she stepped out of the fountain.”

  “You know Wanderers don’t listen to gossip, Roma.” Niall says with a wave of the hand.

  “Yes, well, as you pointed out, Niall, the Princess is one of the Foundling children sent to Earth sixteen years ago and I present her to you today in the hope of settling our ongoing dispute.” Roma says.

  Morox exhales audibly. “We have discussed this, Roma. I will not change my mind about bringing the Foundlings home.”

  “It’s not your decision, Morox,” Roma says evenly. “It’s all of ours. The Shadows appear to have stepped up their game in their search for the Foundlings. Acacia was attacked at her school on Earth.”

  “Attacked?” Niall says. “By the Shadows?”

  “Actually, she was attack
ed by the Khuulsu,” Roma says. “But we can only assume they were acting in alliance with the Shadows.”

  There are murmurs amongst the group, but then the Emperor holds up a hand for silence. “As you all know, in the interest of diplomacy, I am unable to offer my opinion on this matter. I rely upon the Household leaders to decide what is best for our planet, but I take the safety of my family seriously and mark my words, the Khuulsu will be held accountable for their involvement, as will anyone who threatens the safety of Acacia or any of the other Foundlings.”

  “With respect your majesty, that sounds like a threat.” Morox says, a dangerous smile playing around his lips.

  “Not a threat, Morox. That is my word, as the Emperor of Displacia.”

  An uncomfortable silence falls over the group.

  “The Dryad’s stand with the Vedmak’s,” Meghan says softly. “We have seen the battle that is to come, the Foundlings will join us when the time is right. I see no reason to bring them back any sooner.”

  “The Smiths are also in agreement with the Vedmak’s,” Nicholas adds. “The Foundlings were our greatest soldiers; we went to great lengths to defeat them during the war, when their minds no longer belonged to them. They were a danger to our planet, but their deaths were our greatest tragedy. I won’t endanger the remaining Foundlings by bringing them back home before the Shadows are captured.”

  “We agreed to hide the Foundlings on Earth because we were assured that they would be safest there,” Galen says. “But if Acacia was attacked, then I’m sorry, Roma, but we have no choice but to consider that this may no longer be best option.”

  “The other Foundlings are hidden much better than Acacia was,” Roma says. “We kept her close because she is royalty; she is the highest ranking of the remaining Foundlings and she is their Gatekeeper. She’s the only person who knows the whereabouts of the others.”

  “Then she can help us bring them home.” Morox says.

  “Please,” Roma says. “Leave them where they are and instead, help us increase our efforts in finding the Shadows, once they have been captured, the Foundlings can come home.”

  “Surely the Foundlings are our best chance of defeating the Shadows?” Niall says.

  “The Foundlings were children when they were sent to Earth,” Roma sighs. “Their powers were suppressed, they are untrained, and many will have forgotten their true identities. We can’t bring them back to a battle that they don’t know they’re fighting.”

  Niall presses the tips of his fingers together, considering Roma’s words. “I still have to agree with Morox, the Foundlings should come home. They’re safer with their people and we are stronger with them.”

  “You know, there are rumours that the Foundling children are lost,” Morox says. “That they are hidden so deeply that not even you know where to find them.”

  “You are correct, Morox. I don’t know where they are.”

  Morox leans back in his chair with a satisfied smile.

  “As I have already said, only Acacia knows the whereabouts of the remaining Foundlings and they are not lost. I brought Acacia here to prove to you that the Foundlings are very much alive and well.”

  Morox gives a snort of derision.

  “Maybe we should make a record of our discussions since you’re struggling to keep up.” Roma adds, with a sickly-sweet smile.

  “Then bring back another Foundling,” Morox challenges, flushing a violent shade of red. “One that is not a Vedmak. We each have at least one Foundling child on Earth.”

  The faces of the other Household members flick to Morox and then back to Roma, as though they’re at a tennis match and this is the final serve.

  “Which is why I ask your permission to leave them where they are. I cannot risk bringing back the others, not even for a visit,” Roma says. “The Shadows’ hold stretches farther than we anticipated.”

  “Then bring back the Morgana Foundling child,” Morox says peevishly. “The child belongs to my Household; I want him back here with his people.”

  Roma sighs. “As you have already pointed out, Morox, the Foundling children belong to all Households. You cannot demand the return of one simply because his bloodline is Morgana. I implore you to consider the implications of bringing the Foundlings back to Displacia, it is not safe.”

  “Roma’s right,” Meghan adds. “We see the Shadows in the flames, stretching across the land of Displacia, devouring everything in their paths. We have two Dryad-born Foundlings on Earth. We know that they are leading happy lives with their guardians, and as much we anticipate their return, we do not wish to remove them from their hiding places until the Shadows have been defeated.”

  The group falls silent, pondering what Meghan said with a kind of reverence. Even Morox observes her with a calm, if somewhat fractious, curiosity.

  “May I enquire as to why you think the Shadows are amongst us?” Galen asks, his tone politely inquisitive.

  “Acacia was attacked on Earth by the Khuulsu,” Roma says. “We know the creatures are unable to survive outside of Displacia for so long, which means they arrived there shortly before the attack. They don’t have access to their own portal, which means that they must have gone to Earth through one of the Household’s fountains.”

  “Are you suggesting that we would simply let those filthy demons through our gates?” Morox spits.

  “That’s not what Roma is saying.” Nicholas says evenly.

  “She is able to speak for herself.” Morox says through gritted teeth.

  “Of course she is,” Nicholas says lightly. “But she’s too polite to tell you when you’re out of order. From what I understand, the Khuulsu infiltrated Acacia’s school undetected. They could easily do the same here.”

  “And what proof do we have that the Khuulsu attacked the girl?” Morox asks, his eyes falling on me. “How was she able to recognise the creatures? I want to hear the story directly from her.”

  “You have my word,” Roma says. “I can recount the story, as can Caleb, he intercepted the attack.”

  Morox lip curls as he looks from Roma to Caleb. “I need proof; I want to see your surveillance tapes. The word of a Vedmak holds no value with me.”

  The look of scorn is suddenly wiped from Morox’s face as he proceeds to choke, his face turning red and his eyes bulging, as though an invisible hand is wrapped around his throat.

  Marius jumps to his feet, his face twisted in rage. He reaches over his shoulder and extracts a crossbow from his back, just as Nicholas and Haydn draw their swords and hold them at his throat.

  With a sickening lurch, I watch as the gouges in Morox’s chest suddenly part like the gills of a fish. His ribcage rises and falls, the sickly-pale pallor returns to his face, but his neck still appears to be pinioned to the back of his chair.

  Roma’s eyes are narrowed in concentration, her arm raised as she holds Morox by the throat using the power of her mind. Her face is startlingly red and contorted with rage – both beautiful and absolutely terrifying at the same time.

  “Enough,” The Emperor’s voice resonates around the room. “You forget, Morox, the Vedmak’s hold the throne of Displacia, you will mind your tongue. Marius, you will stop pointing that crossbow at my niece, or I will have you thrown in the cells.”

  Marius lowers his weapon.

  The Emperor nods to Roma. She drops her hand to her side and the Morgana leader slumps forward, drawing in mouthfuls of air as the gouges on his chest seal shut.

  “This is an insult,” Morox croaks, massaging his throat. “You need my Household; we support all of your interventions on Earth. My people won’t stand for an attack on their leader.”

  “And I won’t stand for insults against my family’s name,” the Emperor booms. “We respect you, Morox, your support is of great importance to us, but you treat our interventions on Earth with indifference. You scorn and you sneer at our meetings when we discuss the Conservation Programme, and the only time you show any interest in Dis
placian matters is when they have a direct impact on the Morgana Household.”

  “The Morgana’s are a proud Household,” Morox says. “We care about Displacia just as much as the rest of you.”

  “And what of Earth?” The Emperor asks.

  Morox’s mouth snaps shut.

  “That’s what I thought.” The Emperor says, with an air of finality. “You will think on what was said today and you will decide if the Morgana’s will to continue to be represented on the council.” The Emperor dismisses Morox with a wave of his hand.

  Morox’s mouth twists like he has just swallowed something sour. He gestures to Marius, who throws his crossbow back over his shoulder and the pair of them storm from the chambers, leaving a stunned silence in their wake.

  “We will reconvene in three days,” the Emperor says. “Give Morox time to re-evaluate his position. And Galen, I expect a decision from your Household the next time we meet.”

  Galen bows his head respectfully.

  The Emperor rises from his seat and leaves the chamber followed by his bodyguards.

  Caleb snorts suddenly, and everyone turn in his direction. “Well that went well.”

  Just take a breath,” Parker says. “This will only take a second.” I feel a pinch as Parker slides the needle into the crook of my arm and extracts a vial of blood. “Just one more.” She extracts a second vial and then removes the needle before placing a pad of gauze over the tiny incision. She holds it there for a few seconds and when she takes the pad away, my skin is smooth, unblemished.

  I see Parker’s brow furrow as she runs a finger over the spot where the needle pierced my skin. She wears thick, medical gloves, so I can’t feel what she’s feeling, but when she sees me looking, she offers a tight smile before turning away to arrange the vials in a small rack on the counter behind her.

  When we returned to the Vedmak Household, Parker had brought me directly to a small, clinical room inside the laboratories to begin her tests. She said she wanted to conduct her tests in private – she even made Caleb stay away.

  In the small, quiet room, I can hear the thrum of the first portal that Caleb showed me last night. Everything around me seems to vibrate - the walls, the floor, the metal legs of the gurney that I’m sitting on - it’s like the portal is speaking to me, that hypnotic pull that Caleb spoke of, calling me home.

  Parker labels the small vials and then starts to extract other bottles of fluid from underneath the counter.

  “What will you look for?” I ask.

  Parker’s face is arranged in a neutral expression when she glances over her shoulder at me. “We suspect that you have these abilities because the structure of your DNA has been altered.”

  My mouth falls open; I wasn’t expecting that. “Someone has altered my DNA?”

  “Maybe,” Parker says. “The human body can experience changes to its DNA, mutations even, but what we are looking for is a little more extreme. The changes appear to have had a beneficial effect, so we’re not concerned about your health in the short term, but we need to work out how and why this occurred. I expect to have the results later today.” She leans back casually against the counter.

  “What do you mean ‘in the short term’?”

  “We’ve never encountered a human being with powers like yours,” Parker says. “We’ve conducted searches for humans displaying any kind of special ability, but we’ve never found anyone with the capabilities of a Displacian. If your DNA is altered, we don’t know what the long term effects will be.”

  “So what happens if my DNA is altered? Is there anything you can do?”

  Parker considers me for a moment. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Wait for the results of the blood tests and then we can decide on a course of action.”

  “OK.” I nod, trying to maintain composure while my stomach twists uncomfortably. I don’t want to have another meltdown like yesterday in the library.

  “You know; you’re handling this much better than you think you are.” Parker says, reading my mind.

  I shrug. “I said I didn’t mind letting you take some blood, and there has to be some explanation for why I am the way that I am.”

  Parker smiles a little. “That’s not what I was referring to. We brought you to a new world; we turned your life upside down. You could’ve refused to help us, but you didn’t. It’s very admirable.”

  “I think I’m still waiting for someone to tell me that it’s not real.”

  Parker raises an eyebrow. “That’s not going to happen.” She studies my face for a moment, like she’s trying to choose the right words. “Your thoughts about Lana, they’ve changed. I see her in the back of your mind, but it’s like you’ve pushed her into a dark corner.”

  “You’re not my therapist anymore,” I say, suddenly irritated. “Why do you care about what’s going on inside my head?”

  She smiles. “It’s just interesting…from a psychological perspective.”

  “Are you even qualified?”

  “Yes, actually,” Parker laughs. “I have an honours degree in human psychology. I’m not registered to practice on Earth, but I didn’t do any harm to you or your friends.”

  “So is it wrong to not let myself think about Lana anymore?” I’m not sure if I even want to hear Parker’s response, but the question is out in the open before I can stop it.

  Parker stares at me over her glasses. “You really want to know what I think?”


  She studies me for a few seconds before pushing her glasses back up her nose. “I think that before Lana died, you lived through her. She was your security blanket and without her you felt lost, exposed, and unable to face the world on your own. Then you learn that she wasn’t your sister at all, and you were in fact, her security blanket, her decoy to help hide her from the Shadows. That doesn’t just change your perception of her, but your perception of yourself, or at least your perception of who you were before she died.”

  I feel my cheeks warm. I remember the task that Parker set me when she was just my therapist and I was just a girl mourning the loss of her sister. I am now even less sure of my identity.

  “You never cried, not once.”

  I look at Parker in surprise. “Crying wouldn’t bring her back,” I say, somewhat peevishly. “Just because I didn’t have tears constantly streaming down my face, doesn’t mean that I wasn’t upset.”

  “I’m not saying you weren’t grieving,” Parker says kindly. “To me it was like you were living in hope that she would come back, like you hadn’t quite accepted she was gone.”

  “Yeah well, it doesn’t matter anymore, because she was never my sister.”

  “Lana may not be your flesh and blood, but she was still your family. You needed her as much as she needed you. If you had always known who she was, would you have cared for her any less?”

  I blink away the tears that prick the backs of my eyes. “I guess I’ll never know.”

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