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Authors: Jodi Meadows

The Orphan Queen

BOOK: The Orphan Queen
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DEDICATION

If you wear smiles like armor—

If you put on personalities like clothes—

If you can't show the world all that you are—

This book is for you.

MAP

CONTENTS

Dedication

Map

Part One: The Ospreys

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Part Two: The Wraithland

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-One

Twenty-Two

Twenty-Three

Part Three: The Knife

Twenty-Four

Twenty-Five

Twenty-Six

Twenty-Seven

Twenty-Eight

Twenty-Nine

Thirty

Thirty-One

Thirty-Two

Thirty-Three

Thirty-Four

Acknowledgments

Back Ad

About the Author

Books by Jodi Meadows

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

PART ONE
THE OSPREYS

ONE

THE MIRRORS WERE
an expensive superstition.

Not that it mattered to Melanie. Every time we came to the western side of the city, she insisted we stop and look, and I couldn't find it in myself to deny her that pleasure.

“It's beautiful, isn't it?” Wind plucked at a wayward strand of her sleek, black hair. She gathered it all back and tied it with a torn bit of fabric.

“Sure.” The city spread below us, shimmering with knots of streetlights in the wealthy districts. Those people were important enough to warrant gas lamps at night, as though light protected like locks or swords or shields. But wealth wasn't the only thing that shone: glass panes hung on the west face of every house and tower and mansion in Skyvale, the mirrored city.

Beyond the houses, factories, shops, and refugee hovels, mountains were silhouetted against the night sky. A heavy, full moon lifted.

“When the wraith reaches the Indigo Kingdom,” I said, “all of this will be destroyed. Mirrors won't do anything to stop it.”

Melanie shot me a frown as I crept toward the edge of the roof and let out a short whistle.

A sharp trill answered from below. The other Ospreys were in position by the warehouse doors and the nearby intersections, watching for passersby, police, or worse: the vigilante. Black Knife.

For two of the youngest Ospreys, this was their first mission. Though we had been preparing them all their lives, a Black Knife appearance was the last thing Connor and Ezra needed.

Just the thought of Black Knife dragging away Connor—

“You don't have to worry about them, Wil.” Melanie touched my elbow. “They're well trained.”

I straightened and shook off the anxiety. Everyone, including Melanie, needed me to be strong. “Why should I worry about them? They're only standing watch. We're the ones about to do all the work.”

She rolled her eyes. “You've been checking their progress every five minutes.”

“I'm being observant.”

“You're being paranoid and it makes you look suspicious.”

“Well, you didn't see Black Knife drag that old man from his house because he'd used magic to hide his family while the Nightmare gang tore through the neighborhood.” Magic was forbidden in the Indigo Kingdom, and Black Knife didn't care how it was used. Self-defense, healing, greed, murder: it was all the same to him when magic was involved.

“You're awfully sensitive about him.”

Melanie didn't have magic. To her, he was no more a threat than the police. But to others . . .

I scanned the flat warehouse rooftops again to be sure we were still alone up here, and then jumped down to the lower section of the roof. I landed in a crouch, my fingertips on the cool slate tiles for balance. A moment later, Melanie landed beside me with a quiet
thump
that was masked by the rush of the swollen river nearby.

The clock tower in Hawksbill chimed midnight.

Kneeling before the warehouse's roof-access door, I drew a lockpick and tension wrench from my pocket. In a few seconds, I had the door open. Melanie and I slipped inside, silent as shadows. The warehouse was cool and still, with the dusty scent of neglect.

Moonlight fell through smeary windows, barely illuminating the stairs as we descended. Toe, ball, heel—careful so we wouldn't make a sound. There were no guards here, but one couldn't be too cautious.

We followed the spiral stairs down two flights. Mel went left and I headed right, to the southwest corner where crates from the Indigo Kingdom's famed paper mill hunched in the dark.

There were fifty or more crates, their labels mere outlines in the shadows. I slipped a match from my pocket and struck it against the floor. After I scuffed out any traces, I leaned toward the crate labels, searching for the one I wanted.

My match sputtered out, and I lit another, still edging down the rows of sealed crates.

There. A faded page inked with a lion and Liadia's coat of arms. The crate was stashed in the corner, where other homeless
stock had been shoved. Thankfully, the one I needed was still in the front—Liadia hadn't fallen very long ago—but it was too high for me to open and reach inside.

I checked over my shoulder. No Melanie.

What I needed to do was so small that it was insignificant, but still I hesitated. Magic was completely illegal. Unpardonable. Unforgivable. Not many people had magic anymore, as far as I knew, but those caught using it were never seen again.

With a deep, shuddering breath, I touched the crate.
“Wake up.”
It was an old command, from when I was little and I used magic without fear. From when I'd believed I brought things to life.
“Do this silently: slide forward and float down to the floor. I will guide you.”

The crate shifted, loosening with a gasp of dust. With my fingertips resting on the wood, I stepped back to give it room. Slowly, as though it were as light as a leaf, the crate floated down and touched the floor without a sound.

“Unseal the lid,”
I murmured. A faint, fleeting wave of dizziness clouded my head.

The lid popped up, loose now. I bade the crate sleep again before I opened it. I needed only a handful of pages.

“Find what we're looking for?” Melanie's whisper came from behind me, and I stiffened. She was
quiet
.

“It's right here.” I pulled several pages from the top and handed them to my friend. “Hold this while I put the lid on. You got the ink?”

“Easily.” She lifted the jar so the glass gleamed in the weak light, then shoved it into her bag. The papers followed. “Let's fetch the others and get back.”

I lowered the lid, but didn't dare seal it and move the crate up again. Not with Melanie here.

Together, we found a door and headed outside.

Quinn, who was supposed to be the lookout, wasn't at the door. Brittle leaves skittered down the cobblestones; the autumn wind blew from the west, and a sharp, acrid stench rode the air.

Melanie and I looked at each other, our noses wrinkled from the smell. Wraith. It was strong tonight.

A small, guilty part of me twisted. If I hadn't used magic on that crate . . .

No, magic that simple wouldn't bring a gust of wraith. The stink and creatures that blew into the valley, like the heavy winds before a storm, were normal these days.

I whistled for the Ospreys and waited for the reply.

Nothing.

I whistled again. There should have been four lookouts: two at the street-level warehouse doors and two at the nearby intersections. Someone should have answered.

Still nothing.

I rested my hands on my daggers as wariness prickled over my skin.

What if the police had caught them? Or worse, Black Knife? He liked capturing all kinds of criminals, not only flashers: magic users. We'd run across him during three of our last five jobs, and once he'd come close to capturing Melanie.

The acrid stink grew stronger.

“Help!” A shout came from down the street.

I drew my daggers, sprinting toward the shout and terrified
screams, and then the
thud
of a body slamming into a wooden fence.

Ezra, one of our youngest boys, dropped to the ground. His sister, Quinn, shrieked and ran for him. Connor and Theresa stood in the street, blades drawn as they backed away from looming shadows.

I skidded to a halt. Five huge men bore down on the Ospreys.

Connor's round-eyed gaze darted from the attackers to me. “Wil! Mel!”

“Oh, saints.”

The strangers turned toward me. They were grotesque, with bulging shoulders and arms, the muscles bursting through the fabric of their clothing. Two were enormously tall, practically giants, while the others were as wide as doorways. All of them were revolting with red-veined eyes, cheekbones like shelves, and fat lips. They stank of wraith and shine.

They were glowmen: men turned into monsters.

I rushed at them. They swung at me with heavy fists, but I kicked and slashed with my daggers, my limbs but blurs of movement. I went for their knees and groins; their throats were out of my reach.

Melanie and Theresa fought with fiery quickness, making their way toward Quinn, who guarded Connor and Ezra near a crumbling wall.

A length of chain whipped through the air and caught my shoulder. Pain cracked through me. I tried to pull away, but the glowmen had me surrounded. Three on one didn't seem very fair. Thankfully, they were stupid.

The first glowman, wrapping the chain around his fist again,
didn't notice as I stomped on the bottom links, jerking his whole body forward and into the giant closing in on the other side of me. I ducked beneath them, away from the third.

BOOK: The Orphan Queen
8.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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