Island of Silence (Unwanteds) (16 page)

BOOK: Island of Silence (Unwanteds)
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S
amheed and Meghan both came running and helped Alex pull the thing ashore. They’d never seen anything like it, but it didn’t take much to guess its purpose.

It was a makeshift raft of logs and vines. Several logs were missing, as if it had fallen apart along its tenuous journey. But that’s not what the people of Artimé were looking at as they gathered around, for lying on the raft were two young people.

At least they looked somewhat human, but if pressed, one might have to admit to being unsure. A boy of ten or eleven, perhaps, and a girl a few years older, both completely still, eyes closed. Their skin was badly sunburned, and they had very little more than that covering their bones.

But the most ominous feature was this: Each wore a most curious, sinister thing’a thick band made of metal thorns that weaved in and out of the skin around their necks.

Alex, who had cautiously stepped onto the raft and now kneeled between the two, stared at the girl with her parched lips and burned, peeling skin, the choker so embedded into her neck that it seemed part of her. Alex’s stomach twisted at the thought of someone threading it into her skin. He reached out to touch it. “Who are you?” he whispered. But there was no time to puzzle over things.

Lani, who had immediately run to get Mr. Today, now returned at full speed, the old mage in her wake, his robe flying behind him. They had to break through the crowd that had rushed over at Alex’s first frantic shout. Alex and Meghan kneeled around the two bodies as Samheed and a few others barked at everyone to back away and give them space to move.

Mr. Today dropped to his knees at the side of the girl and felt for a pulse.

Alex turned and put his head on the boy’s chest. He held his hand above the boy’s nose and mouth. “I think he’s alive,” he said.

Mr. Today looked up. “The girl is too. Let’s get them inside. Alex, remember the sick wing we created in the mansion where you spent so much time? I need you to re-create that for me immediately. I’m sending you the verbal component’check your pocket. Go!”

Florence ordered the crowd to go back to the lawn and continue with class. Alex had no idea how he was going to create a sick wing, but didn’t hesitate. He sped to the mansion.

“Meghan, please find Ms. Morning and tell her we have sick and injured. She’ll know what to do.”

“Got it,” Meghan said, and she took off.

“Samheed, can you pick up the boy, slowly and carefully please, and follow me?”

» » « «

In the mansion Alex, still dripping wet, wriggled his hand into his pocket and pulled out the sodden note from Mr. Today. He stood between the front entrance and the dining room, read over the words, concentrating, and then took a deep breath to calm himself. He didn’t want to mess this up. He held his shaking hand up to the wall and said, “Extend and heal, size small.”

Nothing happened.

Alex muttered under his breath. And then, louder and more forcefully, “Come on, Stowe.” He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and shook his arms out to loosen them. “You can do this. Believe it.” He let out the breath and opened his eyes. Concentrating, he allowed everything around him to fade to a blur and he stared hard at the wall. Then he held up his hand again, feeling the power it contained. He focused another second or two, and said it again, with great purpose and confidence. “Extend and heal, size small.”

He held his pose, frozen and determined, staring at the wall. When it began to waver in front of him, he wasn’t sure if he was about to faint or if it was really moving. It only took a second to find out.

The wall shimmered and then a piece the size of a doorway pushed back, first creating a space the size of a large closet, and then expanding in all directions until it neared the dimensions of Alex’s room. From one newly formed wall, beds, tables, and chairs dropped down. Countertops and cupboards pushed out of another wall, and medical tools and supplies on carts grew up from the floor. Just as the last piece settled into place, the mansion door pushed open and Mr. Today and Samheed walked in, each carrying one of the strangers.

They hurried into the room and laid them on the beds. Mr. Today uttered a few healing spells over them in a calm, soothing voice. Soon Ms. Morning rushed in with a woman and man whom Alex recognized as nurses from when he spent time in here.

Alex, still standing in a puddle of water near the opening to the hospital wing, shuffled forward a few steps and stared into the room at the strangers. Where did they come from? Who were they? The girl, despite her sunburn and her pinched, starved look, had such a perfect, exotic face. And the boy’s choker ornament must have been more recent’the skin around the thorns was swollen and scabbed over.

Alex imagined their story, their world. Had they been out rafting for fun and gotten swept away with the current? Were they out fishing and a storm came up? He pictured the exotic-looking girl trying to be strong as the two faced the huge sea alone, trying to act brave in front of the younger boy. Trying to stay awake. And alive. He found himself drawn to her, admiring her, and he didn’t even understand why.

A soft hand on his arm and a voice near his ear startled him back to reality. He turned and saw Lani. “Oh. Hey,” he said weakly. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

 

The World Gets Bigger

Y
ou should go change your clothes,” Lani said. “I’ll clean this up.”

Alex looked down at the puddle under his feet. “Oh, wow. Yeah. Thanks. I’ll be right back.” He bounded up the stairs two at a time, entered the boys’ hallway, and went into his room.

“What happened to you?” Clive said, his face pushing out from the blackboard.

Alex ran past Clive to his room. “Tell you in a second!” he said.

“One,” Clive said. “Liar.”

Alex changed his clothes and came back out, running a comb through his tangled mess of hair. “Two strangers on a raft landed on our beach,” he said, breathing hard.

Clive’s expression brightened. “Ooh,” he said. “Where are they from? One of the islands out there? Not that I know much about the islands. I don’t get to see anything but you.” He sniffed. “I just hear things.”

“Nobody knows. They’re not conscious.” He tossed the comb onto the bed and headed for the door. “I’ve got to go. Bye!”

Clive mumbled something incoherent as the door slammed and Alex bounded back down the stairs.

“Thanks,” Alex said to Lani, who had cleaned up the water with a dry spell she made up on the fly.

“No problem,” she said. “I tried to go in to see what’s going on but Ms. Morning said we should just give them some space right now.” She looked disappointed.

“Did you see the things around their necks?” Alex asked.

“Yeah, that’s so strange.”

“I wonder where they’re from.”

Lani shrugged. “Who knows?”

They walked out of the mansion and spied Meghan and Samheed at the shore by the raft. They headed toward them. Advanced Magical Warrior Training was still going on, but none of them felt like doing it right now. There was too much to talk about.

They examined the raft, but found no clues to its origin. “It’s just a bunch of big sticks tied together,” Lani said. “Anything on the other side?”

“No, just some slime,” Samheed said. “I flipped it over already.”

Alex looked out to sea. It was almost impossible to see the islands during the day unless you knew exactly where they were. They were most visible when the sun set behind them, highlighting the fact that they were stationary and the sea moved in swells all around. “I wonder . . . ,” he said.

His friends followed his gaze. “I don’t know where else they could have come from,” Meghan said. “It’s the only logical guess.”

“Are there any other islands on the other side of ours?” Samheed asked. “Has anybody been all the way around Quill on the outside of the wall?”

“No,” said Alex, who’d only been about a quarter of the way around Quill via boat when he’d gone to the palace with Mr. Today. “But I bet I know who has.” He grinned. “Come on.”

They walked quickly around the practicing students to the gate where Simber stood, stoic.

“I have a strrrange feeling you fourrr arrre up to no good,” Simber remarked when they approached.

“We’re totally innocent,” Meghan said. “We were just wondering about the kids on the raft and where they might have come from.”

“Harrrd to say,” Simber said, sampling the air as he spoke.

“Are there islands on the other side of Quill? None of us has been all the way around,” Alex said. “But you’ve flown up above the barbed-wire ceiling, haven’t you? Have you been to the other side?”

“I have,” Simber said. He raised an eyebrow, tempted to make them beg for his attention as cats are wont to do with humans, but gave in to their eager faces and continued. “Therrre arrre thrrree islands to the west’you can see two of them frrrom ourrr shorrre.”

Alex and Samheed exchanged a glance.
Three?

“And thrrree islands to the east.” The giant cheetah brought his left front paw to his mouth and gnawed at a toenail for a moment. When he was finished, he said, “We’rrre exactly in the middle of a chain.”

“Wow,” Lani said, awed. When she wasn’t riding on his back, she generally stayed several steps away from the statue, as they’d had their altercations in the past. One couldn’t be too cautious, and she was never sure of Simber’s mood.

“Seven islands,” Alex said. “So the strangers could be from any one of them.”

“But if you factor in the ocean’s current,” Lani said, “which is really strong right here, by the way, that would make it more likely for some and less likely for others.” She’d just learned about currents from an old book up on the archives floor of the library, called
Bodies of Water
.

Samheed raised an eyebrow. “Okay, Smart Stuff, so which way does the current flow? Wait’don’t answer that. I think I know from swimming out there.”

Lani grinned at him. “Go for it.”

“It flows . . . west.” He hesitated. “No, I mean east.”

“Which is it?” Alex said.

“East,” Samheed said, sure this time. “I’m sure. The current flows east, which means it starts in the west and goes east. Because west is the direction the raft came from.”

“That’s the direction of the islands we can see. Right? Because that’s where the sun sets.”

“Right.”

“So it’s most likely one of those three out that way. Right, Lani?”

“That’s my guess.”

Simber coughed lightly and they all turned to look at him.

“Arrren’t you supposed to be in class?” he said pointedly.

“We’re skipping,” Alex said proudly, feeling sneaky and brave at the same time.

“I can see that,” Simber said. “Howeverrr, it doesn’t feel quite rrright to congrrratulate you.” The big cat stifled a smile.

Alex shrugged. “To understand the rules, one must first break the rules,” he said wisely.

Lani gave him a quizzical look. “Who said that?” she asked.

“Me. Der,” Alex said. “I made it up.”

Samheed snorted. “Come on, guys. Before Simber decides to mutilate us.”

Simber growled lightly as if in warning, but the four grinned.

“See you at the meeting,” Simber said. “Maybe you should prrreparrre.”

Alex’s eyes widened. “Oh, crudbucket! I forgot all about it.”

“Wait. You have
another
meeting?” Lani said, trying to contain her disgust. She’d made amends with Alex, but that still didn’t make her like the fact that Mr. Today hadn’t asked her to lead.

“We all do,” Alex said. “You guys are coming too. I totally forgot to tell you’that’s what Florence was talking to me about when the raft showed up.”

Simber cleared his throat loudly, which startled the four into moving quickly away.

“Florence wants us four to come to the meeting about magical weapons today, right after class. I can’t believe I forgot!” Alex began to trot toward the mansion. “Come on, we’ve got an hour’we need to bring our best spells and any other ideas we have.”

The other three traded curious looks and pleased smiles as they broke into a run after Alex. They entered the mansion, headed straight past the new sick wing to the tubes, all shouting, “Library? Yes! Go!” at once. A moment later they disappeared.

BOOK: Island of Silence (Unwanteds)
11.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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