Home > Legacy (Keeper of the Lost Cities #8)

Legacy (Keeper of the Lost Cities #8)
Author: Shannon Messenger

ONE


YOU LOOK CONFUSED,” MR. FORKLE said, and the lilt of his tone made Sophie wonder if his lips were twitching with a smile—but she couldn’t pull her eyes away from the round, gilded door he’d brought her to, tucked into the side of a rolling, grassy hill.

The place reminded her of a hobbit hole. But Sophie had been living in the Lost Cities long enough to know better than to voice that observation. All it would earn her was laughter. Or perhaps some impossible-to-believe story about how Mr. Forkle had once brought J. R. R. Tolkien there and provided him with the inspiration.

“I thought you were taking me to your office,” she told him, shifting her gaze toward the windblown meadow and searching the swaying wildflowers for clues as to where they were.

“I did.”

Sophie opened her mouth to argue—then realized what he meant.

He’d brought her to his office. Not Magnate Leto’s office at Foxfire, like she’d been expecting. Which was an easy mistake to make, considering the fact that Mr. Forkle and Magnate Leto were actually the same person—and “Mr. Forkle” was his much more enigmatic side.

“So, this is your secret office,” she clarified, feeling goose bumps prickle her skin at the thought.

“One of them,” Mr. Forkle confirmed, winking as he shuffled his ruckleberry-bloated body closer to the door. He leaned in and licked a spot on the left side of the door, which must’ve been a camouflaged DNA sensor because a rectangular panel slid open in the center, revealing five spinning, fist-size cogs lined up in a neat row: one silver, one copper, one iron, one bronze, and one steel.

“Did Tinker design this place?” Sophie asked, remembering the abundance of gleaming gears she’d seen decorating the walls of Widgetmoor, as well as the Technopath’s clear fondness for the number five. But that wasn’t the question she should’ve been focusing on, so she quickly added, “And why are we here?”

Mr. Forkle twisted the cogs one by one, entering some sort of complicated combination. “You said we needed to talk. Isn’t that why you requested this meeting?”

“It is, but…” Sophie’s words trailed off as the last cog clicked into place, making the ground rumble and the golden door sink into a slit that appeared in the damp earth. Cold air blasted her face from the dark room beyond, blowing strands of her blond hair into her eyes as she took an eager step forward and—

“Stop!” a familiar squeaky voice shouted behind her.

Sophie froze.

She’d learned that it was much easier to let the seven-foot-tall, heavily armed gray goblin lead the way—along with a hulking ogre warrior and a tiny green-toothed gnome. Sandor, Bo, and Flori were three of her five multispeciesial bodyguards, and they took their jobs very seriously.

So did her other bodyguards, of course. But Nubiti kept watch from a position deep underground, since dwarves’ eyes were highly sensitive to light. And Tarina still hadn’t been allowed to return to duty after what everyone was calling the “Scandal at Everglen”—though “scandal” really wasn’t a strong enough word. It didn’t capture the shock that came with discovering an illegal troll hive hidden at the estate of one of their world’s most prominent families. And it definitely didn’t evoke the horror of the genetically altered, bloodthirsty trolls who went on a murderous rampage once the door to the hive was opened.

Both the elvin and trollish worlds were still reeling from the disaster, since the Neverseen had managed to broadcast the nightmarish battle to everyone gathered for the Celestial Festival. And no one could agree on how to punish those who’d been involved. A Tribunal had already been held for Luzia Vacker, but her sentence had yet to be finalized. And numerous additional investigations seemed to be endlessly “ongoing.” Foxfire, the elves’ most prestigious academy, had even been put on an extended hiatus because parents were worried the school might be targeted. Plus, treaty renegotiations still needed to be arranged between the elvin Council and the trolls’ supreme leader, but everyone was wary of another Peace Summit after what happened at the last one.

“This office is perfectly safe,” Mr. Forkle assured Sophie’s bodyguards. “Watchward Heath is protected by five different kinds of security. And only six people in the world know how to find it. Well, seven now, given Miss Foster’s knack for teleporting.”

“Then the office should have no problem passing my inspection,” Sandor called over his shoulder as he drew his massive curved sword and marched through the doorway, followed by Bo and Flori. He’d always been overprotective, but his paranoia had reached new levels of exhausting after the Neverseen’s recent brutal attack—and Sophie couldn’t blame him, since she and Fitz had ended up bedridden in the Healing Center for weeks. Her right hand still ached whenever she pushed herself too hard, and Fitz occasionally walked with a slight limp. But Elwin kept assuring them that they’d make a full recovery. Certain wounds were just trickier than others—and theirs had been some of the worst, thanks to the creepy echoes caused by their exposure to shadowflux.

The rare sixth element was darkness in its purest form. Only the strongest Shades could control it. And shadowflux changed everything it touched.

Shadowflux was also somehow so vital to whatever the Neverseen were planning that when their Shade was killed at Everglen, Lady Gisela threatened Tam until he agreed to serve as Umber’s replacement. Sophie and Keefe had begged Tam not to go, but he swore he could handle himself. And Lady Gisela had warned them that any attempt at rescue would only put Tam and his twin sister, Linh, in greater danger. So Tam was on his own with the Neverseen—and it killed Sophie every time she thought about it.

Each passing week made her heart heavier. Her nightmares more vivid. Her brain more convinced that she’d never see her friend again.

Or worse: that Tam would join the enemy for real.

If you hear us out, I guarantee you’ll realize that we are the only ones with an actual solution to the problems in this world, and that you’ve been wasting your talent serving the wrong side, Lady Gisela had told him. And she’d proven time and again that she was a master of mind games and manipulation.

“All clear!” Sandor called, and Sophie squared her shoulders and took a long, steadying breath.

She could go back to worrying about Tam later. Right now, she needed to focus on the conversation ahead—a conversation she’d been rehearsing for the last nine days. Ever since she’d gone to Atlantis and…

Well.

Things had not gone according to plan.

She could still see the pitying looks on the matchmakers’ faces as they’d shown her the ugly red words on the screen.

Words that would define her—destroy her—if people found out about them.

That was why she’d begged for this meeting. If she could convince Mr. Forkle to give her one tiny piece of information—something she deserved to know anyway—everything would get back on track.

She’d been gearing up for a fight, since getting information from the Black Swan was a lot like prying open the jaws of a thrashing verminion. But if he trusted her enough to bring her to his secret office…

“Shall we?” Mr. Forkle asked, gesturing to the entrance.

Sophie nodded and crossed the threshold, shivering as a blast of cold, metallic-tinged air seeped through the thin fabric of her lavender tunic. The room was too dark to see, but it felt like stepping into a refrigerator, and she pulled her dove gray cape tighter around her shoulders, wishing she’d worn thicker gloves, instead of the silk ones she’d chosen.

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