For Nadia and Roland,
best niece and nephew an aunt could ask for
(and not *just* because you’re the only ones—
though that does help) ;)
SOPHIE STARED AT the gleaming trail that wound down. And down. And down.
Disappearing into the misty shadows far below.
The path of ancient silver and gold stones shouldn’t exist—and yet it had been there all along.
Hidden in plain sight.
Buried under lies.
Wiped from memory.
But never truly gone.
She glanced at her friends as they braced themselves for the dangerous journey ahead, and found their expressions mirroring her own.
Reluctant. Rattled. But also: Ready.
Whatever waited in those murky depths was far more than a secret.
It was an answer.
And it was time to uncover it.
Time to stop believing the pretty stories they’d been fed all their lives.
Time to see their world for what it really was.
Time to take something back.
So together—as one—they locked hands and started the long, slippery descent.
Into the past.
YOU REMEMBER ME?”
The question slipped from Sophie’s lips before she could stop it, and the weighted words seemed to hit the floor of the messy bedroom with a thud.
The wide-eyed, trembling girl standing in front of her slowly nodded, and Sophie’s heart swelled even as it plummeted into the sour pit of her stomach.
Her little sister shouldn’t remember her.
Technically, she wasn’t even her sister—at least not genetically. Sure, they’d grown up together in the same house in San Diego, California, both believing they had the same parents—despite the fact that Sophie’s blond hair and brown eyes didn’t match her family of light-eyed brunettes.
But that was before.
Now they were in the after.
A world where elves were real creatures—and nothing like the silly stories that humans had invented about them. They were beautiful. Powerful. Practically immortal. Living across the globe in hidden glittering cities. Ruling the earth from the shadows.
And Sophie was one of them.
Born from humans—but not human—as part of a rebel group’s secret genetic experiment called Project Moonlark. Her DNA had been tweaked. Her abilities enhanced and manipulated. All to mold her into something special.
Something she still didn’t fully understand.
And after years of feeling out of place—even among the family she loved—the elves finally showed Sophie the truth about her life and brought her to the Lost Cities. They’d planned to fake her death to cover her disappearance, but she’d begged to be erased instead, to spare her parents the grief of losing a child. So her family’s minds had been “washed” by specially trained Telepaths, to make them forget that Sophie had ever been born. And they’d been relocated to a new city and given new names, new jobs, even the fancy new Tudor-style house that Sophie now stood in, with its quaint windows and wood-paneled walls.
But erased memories were never truly gone. All it took was the right trigger and . . .
“I don’t understand,” her sister whispered, rubbing her eyes like it would change what she was seeing. “You . . . shouldn’t be here.”
Sophie wasn’t supposed to know her family’s new names or where they lived—and she definitely hadn’t been allowed to visit them—to ensure that something like this never happened. And yet, here she was, raising a mental shield to block her sister’s chaotic thoughts as they pounded through her consciousness like stampeding mastodons. Human minds were more open than elvin minds, and they broadcast everything like a radio station on full blast.
“That’s not my name!”
Sophie kicked herself for the slip. “Right, I meant—”
“Wait.” Her sister mouthed the name a few more times, as if her lips were remembering the feel of it. “It is, isn’t it? I’m . . . Amy Foster?”
“Then who’s Natalie Freeman?”
“That’s . . . also you.”
Amy—Natalie—whatever Sophie was supposed to call her—groaned and pressed her fingers against her temples.
“I know how confusing this must be,” Sophie told her. Triggered memories tended to flash back in scattered bits and pieces, leaving lots of holes. “I promise I’ll explain, but—”
“Not right now,” a crisply accented voice finished for her.
Sophie flinched. She’d almost forgotten they had an audience for the Most Stressful Family Reunion in the History of Family Reunions.
“Who are you?” her sister asked, backing away from the guys standing slightly behind Sophie.
“That’s Fitz,” Sophie said, pointing to a dark-haired boy whose teal eyes flashed as he offered a smile that would put any movie star to shame. “And that’s Keefe.”
Keefe gave her sister his famous smirk, reaching up to smooth his expertly tousled blond hair. “Don’t worry—we’re all in the Foster Fan Club.”
“They’re my friends,” Sophie clarified when her sister shrank back another step. “You can trust them.”
“I don’t even know if I can trust you.” Her eyes narrowed at Sophie’s outfit: a fitted purple tunic with black leggings, boots, and wrist-length black gloves. Fitz and Keefe also wore tunics and pants, and while none of the outfits were that elf-y, they definitely stood out next to her sister’s jeans and TARDIS T-shirt.
“You trusted us enough to stop hiding, right?” Keefe asked, pointing to the still-open closet door.
Sophie’s sister turned toward the dark nook she’d emerged from, where most of the clothes had been heaped into a pile on the floor. “I only came out because I heard you guys say you’d get my parents back.”
And there it was. The reason Sophie had broken all the rules and raced to the Forbidden Cities to check on her family. She’d spent months protecting her adoptive elvin parents, believing they were the ones that Keefe had warned her were in danger. But they’d both forgotten she had another family to worry about—a family without powerful abilities and bodyguards to keep them safe.
“Can you really find Mom and Dad?” her sister whispered, giving Sophie the cue to tell her, “Of course we will! Everything is going to be okay!”
Sophie wanted to. But . . . the Neverseen were behind this.
The same villains who’d kidnapped Sophie, tortured her, and killed people she dearly loved. And no matter how hard Sophie fought to stop them, they always seemed to be ten steps ahead.
Keefe reached for Sophie’s shaky hand. “We’ll get them back safe. I promise.”
His tone was pure determination. But Sophie could see a shadow darkening his ice-blue eyes.
A few months earlier, Keefe had run away to join the Neverseen, planning to be a double agent and destroy the wicked organization from the inside out—but they’d played him the whole time, tricking him into leading Sophie and her friends down the wrong paths.
Part of Sophie wanted to shove Keefe away, let him shoulder the blame for every terrible thing that had happened. But deep down she knew he wasn’t the only one who’d missed the warning signs. He’d also been working every day to make up for his mistakes. Plus, it was dangerous to let him feel guilty. The elvin conscience was too fragile for that kind of burden.
So Sophie squeezed his hand, twining their fingers together as she turned back to her sister. “It’ll help if you tell us everythin
Her sister wrapped her arms around her stomach, which wasn’t as plump as Sophie remembered. She looked taller now too. And her curly brown hair was cut shorter. In fact, everything about her seemed so much older than the hyper nine-year-old she’d been when Sophie had left—and it hadn’t even been two full years.
“I don’t remember much,” her sister mumbled. “Dad was helping me with my homework when we heard strange voices downstairs. He told me to stay quiet while he went to see what was going on, but I snuck out to the landing and . . .” She swallowed hard. “I saw four people in the living room wearing long black cloaks with these creepy white eyes on their sleeves. Mom was passed out over one of their shoulders, and another had a cloth pressed over Dad’s mouth. I wanted to run down and help—but there were so many of them. And Dad stopped moving a couple of seconds later. I tried to crawl to a phone to call the police, but then I heard them say something about searching the rest of the house, so I ducked into the nearest closet and buried myself in clothes.”
Sophie shuddered as she imagined it, and her nose burned with a sweet scent, remembering the smell of the cloying drugs the Neverseen favored during their abductions. “Did you see any of their faces?”
“They had their hoods up the whole time. But one of them . . .”
“One of them what?” Sophie pressed.
“You’re not going to believe me.”
“Try us,” Keefe said. “You’d be surprised what we can believe after hanging around this one.”
He elbowed Sophie gently in the ribs, and Sophie knew he was trying to break the tension. Humor was Keefe’s favorite coping mechanism.
But she didn’t have the energy to joke around. Especially when her sister whispered, “One of the guys kept disappearing somehow. Like with quick flashes, fading in and out of sight.”
Fitz muttered something under his breath. “That was Alvar.”
“You know him?”
“He’s done a lot of awful things,” Sophie jumped in, shooting Fitz a please-don’t-say-he’s-your-brother look. She doubted it would help her sister trust them.
“How did he disappear like that?” her sister whispered. “It almost looked like . . .”
“Magic?” Sophie guessed with a sad smile. “I remember thinking that too, the first time I saw it. But he’s what we call a Vanisher. All he’s doing is manipulating light.”
“What about the mind reading thing?” her sister asked. “One of them said he was listening for nearby thoughts as he searched the house, so I thought about darkness and silence just in case.”
“That was really smart,” Sophie told her, stunned she had managed to pull that off.
Her sister shrugged. “I’ve seen a lot of movies. But . . . could he really do that?”
“If he was a Telepath,” Fitz said. “Which means it was probably Gethen.”
The name sent Sophie spiraling into nightmares of crumbling castle walls and jagged mazes of rubble. Screams echoed in her ears as the world turned red—partially with her rage, but mostly with the memory of a wound that cut too deep for her to stop the bleeding.
A slow breath cleared her head, and Sophie concentrated on her churning emotions, imagining her anger, fear, and grief as thick threads before tying them into a knot under her ribs. She’d learned the technique from her inflicting mentor, a way of storing the power as a reserve. Embracing the darkness to let it fuel her later.
“Are you okay?” Keefe asked, tightening his hold on her hand.
It took Sophie a second to realize he was also talking to her sister, who’d turned so pale her skin had a greenish sheen.
“None of this should be real,” her sister whispered. “These things you’re telling me. These weird names you keep saying. Mom and Dad being taken. And then you show up out of nowhere and it feels like . . . like you should’ve been here this whole time. And now my name feels wrong. And this house feels wrong. Everything feels wrong.”
Sophie hesitated before moving to her sister’s side and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. They hadn’t been touchy-feely sisters back when they’d lived together. In fact, they’d spent most of their time bickering.
But after a second, her sister hugged her back.
“Where have you been, Sophie? And how do you know these scary people?”
Sophie sighed. “There’s a really long, really complicated story I need to tell you. But right now, we need to stay focused on finding Mom and Dad, okay? Did you hear anything else that might be useful?”
“Just the part I already told you, about taking them to Nightfall. Do you know what that means?”
Sophie glanced at Fitz and Keefe.
They’d only seen the word once, in one of Keefe’s recently recovered memories—an inscription carved in elvin runes across a mysterious silver door set into a mountain:
The star only rises at Nightfall.
They didn’t know what the phrase meant, or where the door led, or even precisely where the door was. But they knew it unlocked with Keefe’s blood, and that his mom—who’d been one of the leaders of the Neverseen before getting trapped in an ogre prison—had declared it to be his “legacy.”
If that door leads to Nightfall, Sophie transmitted to Keefe, sending her thoughts directly into his head, wouldn’t the Neverseen need to have you with them in order to get inside?
Keefe focused on the floor. They would, if they didn’t already have some of my blood.
Yeah . . . not-so-funny story: I traded some for part of the secret I needed to steal the caches.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
Caches were marble-size gadgets the Councillors used to store Forgotten Secrets—information deemed too dangerous for anyone to keep in their memory. Councillor Kenric had given Sophie his when he died—and Keefe had stolen it from her to buy his way into the Neverseen. But he got it back before he fled—and he also took the cache that belonged to Fintan, their leader. Dex was now trying to use his ability as a Technopath to hack into the gadgets. But even if they learned something important, Sophie never would’ve told Keefe to trade his blood for the caches.
I know, Keefe told her. It wasn’t my most brilliant idea. I thought I was so close to taking the Neverseen down that it wasn’t going to matter. So, when Fintan asked for my blood, I told him he needed to prove that I could trust him by answering one question. And once he did, I had to hold up my end of the deal.
But I thought you were going to trade Tam’s leaping crystal for that information, Sophie reminded him. Wasn’t that why you left me stranded in one of the Neverseen’s hideouts?
Of all the mistakes he’d made during his time with the Neverseen, that one had been the hardest for Sophie to forgive.
That was my plan, Keefe admitted. But Fintan interrogated me when I got back, and I had to use the crystal to convince him not to burn off my arm.
Ice rippled through Sophie’s veins. You never told me that part.
His shadowed eyes made her wonder what other nightmares he’d secretly endured. But she’d have to save those worries for another time. At the moment, they had much more complicated problems.
Do you really think Fintan would help you steal the caches if they’re actually important?
Yeah, Foster. I do. Because he had no idea that he gave me the other piece of the code phrase weeks earlier, after he had too much fizzleberry wine. Trading my blood was a bad call. But I SWEAR the caches are still a score. And I should’ve told you—I was planning on it, and then everything happened in Lumenaria and I forgot.
Sophie closed her eyes, wishing she could stop her mind from flashing to crumbling walls. But the memories refused to be ignored.
In one night, the Neverseen had destroyed the elves’ magnificent glowing castle while Sophie, the Council, and the leaders of all the intelligent species were inside for the ogre Peace Summit. Most of the leaders made it
I’ll fix this, okay? Keefe promised. I’m going to fix everything.
You mean “we,” Sophie corrected. WE are going to fix this.
If they’d learned one thing from all the disasters over the last few months, it was that none of them should be working alone. It was going to take all of their abilities, all of their ideas—and a scary amount of luck—to get through whatever this was.
Does that mean you don’t hate me? Keefe asked. His mental tone sounded softer—almost timid.
I told you, I’m never going to hate you, Keefe.
But I keep giving you new reasons to change your mind.
Yeah, you really need to stop that. She offered him half a smile, and he gave her the same when she added, But we’re in this together.
Team Foster-Keefe IS pretty awesome.
And Team Vacker-Foster-Keefe is even better, Fitz transmitted, making Sophie wonder how long he’d been eavesdropping.
Fitz was one of the only Telepaths who knew how to slip past Sophie’s impenetrable mental blocking. Actually, he was the only one, now that Mr. Forkle was . . .
Sophie shut down the devastating thought, not ready to tear open the still-too-fresh wound.
Don’t worry, she told Fitz. We’re going to need all the help we can get.
Though we need a WAY cooler name, Keefe jumped in. How about Team Foster-Keefe and the Wonderboy?
Fitz rolled his eyes.
“Why are you guys staring at each other like that?” her sister asked, reminding them they had someone watching their rather lengthy mental exchange.
“We’re just trying to figure out where Nightfall could be,” Sophie told her.
She’d have to reveal her telepathy eventually—as well as her other special abilities—but she wanted to give her sister more time to adjust before she dropped the I can read minds and teleport and inflict pain and speak any language and enhance other people’s powers bombshells. “Can you think of anything else that might be important?”