Where foundlings hide, p.24
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       Where Foundlings Hide, p.24

           KL Mitchelson
Chapter Twenty-Four

  There are three of them, all male. One of them – clearly the eldest – is tall and broad, the other two small and thin. They look a lot less refined than the other Displacian’s I have met so far. They are dressed in ragged clothing of Wanderer-brown and their boots are scuffed.

  “She’s pretty, got to be a Vedmak, or maybe even a Dryad,”

  “Course she’s not a Dryad, she’s got no markings,”

  “Well, what are you, girl?” It’s the tall man who speaks, the one I ran into. He has a black, scrubby, grey-flecked beard and a thick scar that traces the curve of his cheek.

  “I’m a Vedmak,” I try to keep my voice steady, but it waivers like that of a small, frightened child.”

  “I knew it,” One of the smaller men says, clapping his hands together.

  “Vedmak’s don’t tend to travel alone,” the tall man says, “Why are you out here by yourself?”

  “I…I just wanted to walk.”

  “You think she’s someone?” One of the smaller men shifts behind me and with a jolt, I realise they’ve got me surrounded.

  The tall man scratches his beard. “Hard to say, don’t recognise her so she can’t be a member of the royal family, and she’s not wearing a crown...”

  “I’m no one, really,”

  “See? They won’t fight to get her back if she’s no one, just take her,”

  “But she must belong to someone.”

  The smallest of the group, a ferrety-looking man with blonde hair, inhales sharply. “I know who she is,” he points a grubby finger at me. “She’s that Princess they brought back from Earth, the one they’ve been talking about, you know, Ezra’s kid.”

  I feel the heat rising in my face.

  The tall man sniffs. “Is it true? Are you her?”

  I shake my head, but I can feel my face blazing.

  He looks at me sharply. “If it’s true then she’s a Foundling. They’d fight for her alright.”

  “Not if they don’t know she’s missing,” the ferrety man says. “Just snatch her. There’s plenty who’d pay our weight in gold for a Foundling.”

  “The girl is with me.”

  At the sound of Haydn’s voice, I feel the tightness in my chest ease. He strides towards us with his hand on the hilt of his sword.

  “Haydn Smith,” The tall man says, eyeing him apprehensively. “What do you want with a Vedmak?”

  “My men are providing security around the Vedmak Household,” Haydn jerks his head towards me, but doesn’t meet my gaze. “This one is not supposed to be outside on her own. She’s dangerous.”

  The man with the scar laughs incredulously. “Dangerous? She’s so tiny.”

  “Yeah, that’s what the last guy thought. “You know who her father was?”

  The three men nod.

  “Then if I were you, I’d disappear. You thought Ezra was bad, this one has the power to melt your brain and sieve it out through your eyes.”

  The men look to Haydn and then me, their faces etched with doubt.

  Haydn holds up his hands and starts towards me. “Believe me, the girl has no control over her powers, she’s afflicted with a madness that not even the Halers can treat.”

  The men start to back away, then they disappear into thin air with a snap, leaving Haydn and me alone in the forest.

  “Where did they go?”

  They teleported.” Haydn’s whole body is still tense as he looks around the forest.

  I follow his gaze, but there is nothing but trees. “They’re Wanderers, right?”

  Haydn nods. “Most of them are good people, but some of them…well it’s the same with any Household, there’s the occasional bad apple.” His expression darkens.

  “You mean like me.” He is so close I could touch him.

  “You’re not a bad apple.” I think I see his expression soften a little and my stomach flips.

  “You told them I could melt their brains.” I laugh.

  He regards me with a thoughtful expression, staring at me for just a little too long, and the laughter catches in my throat.

  “Had to tell them something before they grabbed you and disappeared.”

  “What, you mean they could’ve taken me with them when they -?” I point at the space where the men had vanished.

  He nods gravely.

  “Then why didn’t they just take me when they found me?”

  “They were trying to figure out who you were.” He says, hooking his thumbs into his belt loops.

  “You were listening all that time? Why didn’t you stop them?”

  “I wanted you to see that there are dangers here,” he says, his eyes flickering over my face. “Your family probably gave you a glorified view of our world, but you need to keep yourself safe.”

  I don’t know if he’s saying it because he cares, or because he’s in charge of the security around the Household. “They haven’t given me a glorified view, they barely let me out” I say. “Now I know why.”

  “Like I said, not all Wanderers are bad, but some resent the way things are here, it makes them do bad things.”

  “The way things are?”

  “The Wanderers don’t have their own portal like the other Households.”

  “Can’t they just make a one?” I ask.

  “It’s not as easy as that,” he says. “The Vedmak’s have to grant permission for a new portal to be created. They won’t let the Wanderers have one because they don’t have a permanent residence like the other Households.”

  “Then why don’t they just build a Household?”

  “The Wanderers are travellers at heart,” he says. “They prefer not to stay in one place for too long.”

  “But if it means having their own portal-”

  A Household is more than just bricks and glass,” Haydn snaps. “Wanderers are still a community. That’s something the Vedmak’s don’t understand, and many of the Wanderers despise them for it.”

  “OK, sorry.” I say peevishly.

  “The Wanderers use the Smith portal to travel to and from Earth,” he says. “I’ve gotten to know some of them.”

  Silence falls between us; the only sound is the rustling of the leaves and the trill of birdsong. “You need to go back.” He says, jerking his head in the direction of the Vedmak Household.

  “No, they opened the gates for me, I’m allowed to be out here.”

  “Did you not hear what I said?” He starts towards me. “Go back.”

  I narrow my eyes at him. “You can’t tell me what to do.”

  He moves quickly and before I can stop him, he grabs me by the arms and hoists me over his shoulder. My skin tingles uncomfortably where he grabbed me, and when he clamps his bare arms across the backs of my knees to stop me from wriggling, the back of my skull starts to fizz uncontrollably.

  My head spins, the pain from Haydn’s touch shooting up my arms and into my brain, a searing pain coursing through my body. His emotions are too strong and I grit my teeth so hard my jaw hurts. Haydn Smith is burning inside.

  “Let me go.” I wriggle furiously in his grasp, but he continues to stomp in direction of the fence, his emotions rolling over me in waves – loneliness, anger and grief combined. I pound my fists against his muscular shoulders as the forest starts to spin around me.

  There’s nothing else for it. I throw back my head and scream at the top of my lungs, sending a flock of birds scattering from a nearby tree.

  He hastily sets me on the ground. “What’s the matter with you?” His voice is indignant, but he scans me up and down looking for any sign of injury.

  I take a deep breath and swallow the sob that’s rising in my throat, wrapping my arms around myself to stop my body from shaking. “I don’t like being touched.”

  It’s the first time I’ve said it to anyone. I usually just tolerate it, but I’ve never known anyone feel so much pain. Except me. “Is that how you treat women here? If they don’t do what you want, you just thro
w them over your shoulder and carry them back to the cave?”

  He looks confused by the reference. “I just wanted to get you back inside.”

  “Fine,” I say, taking another deep, shaky breath. “I’ll walk.” I set off at an uneven stomp, keeping two steps ahead of him as I make my way back to the gates of the Vedmak Household.


  I turn to find Haydn holding out my crown and the book on Ezra.

  “I think these are yours.” His eyes scan the book cover as he hands it over, but he makes no comment.

  I take the items from him, careful that our fingers don’t meet. “Thank you.” There are tears in my eyes and I hastily wipe them away.

  At the gates, I see Caleb sprinting towards us. When he reaches me, he too scans me for any sign of injury. “What’s going on? I heard you scream.” He searches my face and his eyes narrow as he reads my mind. He rounds on Haydn. “Keep your hands off her, Smith.”

  “Then keep her under control. She went running off into the forest and refused to return. She was nearly taken by Wanderers.”

  Caleb looks at me sharply and then he turns back to Haydn, his hands clenching into fists at his sides. “That doesn’t give you the right to touch her.”

  “It’s fine, Caleb, it was just a misunderstanding. Haydn was just-”

  But Haydn turns on his heel and stomps back towards the gate before I can say anything else in his defence. I feel suddenly heavy and my head aches.

  Caleb waits until Haydn has returned to his post before turning to me. “What were you thinking? You can’t just leave like that.”

  “They opened the gates for me.” I say, gesturing towards the tower.

  “Of course they did,” Caleb says. “They think you’re royalty and no one told them not to let you out. If we knew you were going to bolt…”

  “I wasn’t running away,” I say quickly. “I was just bored.”

  Caleb gives a sigh of exasperation. “I can take you places, but we need bodyguards with us. Any trips beyond the fence need to be planned carefully so we can keep you safe. Wanderers can be dangerous people.”

  “I know, I’m sorry.”

  His face softens. “If they had taken you, we would’ve started a war to get you back. Roma will have to speak to Niall about this, those men belonged to his Household.”

  I stare down at my feet. “I just wanted to see what else was out there.”

  “And you will. Roma is confident that we’ll find the Shadows; their attack on you brought us closer than ever to finding them.”

  “It did? Why?”

  “The Shadows have been avoiding our surveillance systems for some time now, but now we know they were watching you, we’re examining all of the footage of you from the last year. They have to slip up at some point.”

  I consider this, imagining a figure cloaked in darkness lurking in the garden of Evergreen. “Do you think they were watching Lana before she died?”

  Caleb nods gravely. “They could’ve planted someone close to you both.”

  Goosebumps prick my skin, despite the warm air. “It has to be Molly. You said she was being controlled but-”

  “Forget Molly.” Caleb says, irritably.

  “No, you said she was being controlled. She tried to kill me.”

  “Yes, she was being controlled, most probably by the Shadows, but she wasn’t one of them. She’s human. You’re jumping to Molly, because it’s easy, but she’s a victim too.”

  I feel a stab of annoyance. “You always defend her.”

  “And I always will,” he says. “I read her mind, I heard the darkness in there, the hate. It made me think of the stories I’ve heard about Ezra’s mind control. He could make people do whatever he wanted by planting the darkest thoughts in their minds.”

  Before I can respond, Caleb grabs me roughly around the arm and yanks me towards him, his eyes wide.

  “Hey, wh-”

  Something whistles past my ear and I turn to find an arrow trembling on the ground, the tip buried deep into the neatly-cut lawn, in the exact spot where I was stood just moments before.

  Caleb pushes me behind him. “Morgana’s.” He says, scanning the perimeter.


  The members of the Vedmak Household are no longer lazing around the grounds, they are on their feet, watching the fence with narrowed eyes.

  My heart starts to beat furiously. “We need to get inside.” I say, scanning the sky for any sign of an impending attack.

  Caleb is quiet for a moment and then he shakes his head. “No. Whatever they’ve got for us, we’re ready.”

  I peer around him at the Smith soldiers gathering at the gates, their swords raised as they form a barrier in front of the Vedmak Household. Haydn is there too, leading the defence.

  Then I hear it. A thousand arrows whistling through the air, casting tiny shadows on the ground as they approach. I am fixed to the spot as they breach the fence, sailing speedily towards us. But before they can reach their targets, the arrows pause in mid-air and then fall to the ground. They land at the feet of the Vedmak’s gathered on the lawn, as though they hit an invisible wall.

  Everything is still for a moment, the Vedmak’s are like statues, their bodies rigid as though anticipating another attack, then there is a rush of activity. Some of the Vedmak’s run towards the fence while others head to the Atrium. Caleb shifts out of his protective stance. “It’s done,” he says. “The Morgana’s are retreating; this was just a warning.”

  The doors to the main building burst open and Vedmak bodyguards dressed in navy suits file out, followed closely by Roma and Ivy.

  The Vedmak’s press towards their leader, gesturing angrily at the fence, but I can’t make out what they’re saying.

  “They want retribution.” Caleb says, in answer to my unspoken question.

  “Like a fight?”

  Caleb nods gravely.

  I watch as Roma appeases her Household and then she motions towards Caleb and me.

  “Come on.” He says.

  Ivy pulls me into a hug, bristling with trepidation. “We need to talk inside,” she says. “Parker has some news for you.”

  We find Parker in the fountain room, standing close to the spray.

  The fountain looks like it’s crafted from the same rock as the one back at Malvern, but it is much bigger, and instead of a statuette, the centrepiece is a huge chalice inlaid with gems.

  Caleb closes the door behind us. “The Morgana’s clearly aren’t willing to forget what happened at the council meeting.”

  Roma shakes her head impatiently. “Morox is just puffing out his chest. The Emperor will deal with the Morgana’s, right now, we’ve got bigger concerns.” She waves Parker over and then turns to me. “Parker found something interesting in your blood.”

  Ivy squeezes my shoulder and her anxiety spikes through me.

  “That was fast.” Is all I manage to say. I can hear my heartbeat pounding as I wipe my sweating palms on my dress.

  “The results showed me what I needed to know within minutes of you leaving the laboratories,” Parker explains. “I had to wait a little while to be sure, but the test was conclusive.”

  I see Caleb’s brow furrow as he hears what’s on Parker’s mind.

  “What is it? What’s wrong with me?” I ask.

  Parker exchanges a glance with Roma before she speaks. “Casey, have you experienced any unusual symptoms since the night Lana died? Maybe something you thought was connected to your head injury, like white noise or ringing in your ears, maybe some sensitivity to light?”

  I try to think back; the pain of Lana’s death was the worst symptom of that night. Besides that, there was the nightmares, insomnia, a total lack of interest in anything and... “Yes. The sun hurt my eyes back home, it didn’t happen very often, but most of the time the weather was dull.”

  Ivy and Roma exchange a look. I see Roma give an almost indistinct shake of her head before she turns
to me. “The test showed that you’re half-Displacian.”


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