Island of Silence (Unwanteds) (22 page)

Missing

O
nce the meeting adjourned and Mr. Today went back inside to prepare his notes for the peace meeting, Alex set off to find his friends, at first methodical and measured in his motions. But then, when it became apparent that they were not in their rooms, the lounge, the dining hall, or the third floor of the library, he moved hurriedly, to no avail.

“Why arrre you rrrunning arrround like that?” asked Simber from his usual post inside the mansion, slightly annoyed by the boy’s constant slamming of the front door and whisking about through nearby tubes and flying up and down stairs. “I’m trrrying to catch up on my sleep now that the gate is up again.”

“Have you seen Samheed, Meg, and Lani?” He said it so quickly that it sounded like one word,
SammyMeghanLani.
“Did they go into Quill? Did we lock them out by mistake?” He was frantic and sweaty, his hair sticking to his forehead as he ran around.

“Calm down,” Simber said. “I’m sure Marrrcus made arrrangements forrr that. Did you check with the girrrinos?”

“Not yet . . . So, they might not be locked out for days?”

“I’m cerrrtain that Marrrcus has thought of that since many of ourrr rrresidents come and go now. Likely the ladies at the gate will hearrr them knock and someone’perrrhaps even you’will have to let them in. Did Marrrcus give you the spell forrr the gate?”

Alex hesitated. “Well, yes. I guess so. He did it with me standing there, anyway.”

“Therrre,” Simber said. “You see? Now you must think like the leaderrr, not wait for him to give you instrrructions.”

Alex stared at Simber.

Simber, suddenly patient, continued. “So, at this point, what you might be thinking about all on yourrr own would be to go down to the gate and tell the girrrinos to summon you if any of ourrr fine Arrrtiméans need to be let in.”

Alex blinked. “Oh. Right. Of course.” He stood a moment longer, then, with a slight nudge from the cheetah’s stone paw, he stumbled outside and ran to the gate to do what a leader might do.

» » « «

When Alex returned to Simber, he started chattering excitedly about how, when he got there, someone was already waiting to come back in, and so he let them in and it all worked perfectly. But then he noticed Ms. Morning walking up, her forehead wrinkled into a worried frown, looking up at Simber, and he stopped talking immediately and started listening.

“The boat is missing,” she said to Simber. “Have you seen it or heard of anyone’s plans to use it today? I’d like to load it up for Father’s trip.”

“No, I haven’t. You’rrre surrre it hasn’t been swept away?”

Ms. Morning shook her head. “Even the biggest storm couldn’t overpower the anchor spell. Someone must have borrowed it. What awful timing!”

Alex’s lips parted. And just as the wheels in his head started to turn, Simber looked straight at him.

“Have yourrr missing frrriends been found? Orrr arrre they playing hooky today, perrrhaps?”

Alex opened his mouth to deny it, but then he closed it again and slapped his hand to his forehead. “Ugh. I bet they did it. They said this morning that they were going to go have an adventure, but I had a meeting instead so I couldn’t . . .” He trailed off, thinking, remembering now just how much he’d wanted to be with them.

Simber looked pointedly at Alex and tapped a paw. “Well?”

Alex startled. “Well what?
I
didn’t do it.” It was nice not to be the one in trouble for once.

Simber sighed. “I know that. What arrre you, as leaderrr, going to do about it?”

“Oh!” Alex said.
Sheesh, this whole leadership thing isn’t coming very easily,
he thought. “Um . . . okay,” he said, stalling. “Okay, well, Claire’” He blushed furiously. “I mean, Ms. Morning, will you stay on the island and watch over things while Simber and I go find the boat? Because he can, like, fly and stuff, so we should be able to . . . find it. Pretty easily. Yeah.” He felt very proud to have thought of that so quickly.

Ms. Morning, who had raised an eyebrow at Alex’s familiarity, was secretly pleased that Simber was helping Alex in a way that her father hadn’t thought to do. “That sounds like a great plan. If Father and I are gone to the peace meeting before you get back, just have some of the students help you load things up. You can leave it anchored out front overnight. Sound good?”

Alex nodded. “Whew,” he said under his breath. “I mean, okay Simber, are you ready? That is, is that okay with you? I know you wanted a nap.”

“Nap schmap,” grumbled the giant cat. He leaped from his pedestal, causing the entire mansion to shake when he landed. “Nobody takes that boat out forrr months, and now all of a sudden everrrybody needs it.”

Alex smiled, knowing that sometimes Simber just needed to get his crankies out, and it was better simply to listen than try to argue.

» » « «

A few minutes later, on the shore, Alex hoisted himself onto Simber’s back. “Any idea wherrre they may have gone?” Simber asked.

Alex had been trying desperately to set his brain to “leader” mode, thinking ahead to what Simber might be asking, and this time he’d succeeded. “They’re probably either going around our island to see what things look like on the other side, or they’ve struck out to the west.”

Immediately Simber took a powerful running leap and flew nearly straight up into the sky and over the center of Quill, leaving Alex dangling by his arms from Simber’s neck. “Whoa! Whoa!” Alex shouted.

“Sorrry,” Simber muttered as he straightened out again, but Alex thought he could hear the big cat chuckling. “Therrre, we can see all the way arrround. Do you see them?”

Alex scanned all the way around. “No,” he said.

“Neitherrr do I. All rrright. To the west, then.”

Alex nodded and shifted on the cat’s slippery back. “To the west!”

 

Paradise . . . Lost

L
ani awoke to the sound of someone screaming. It was Meghan. And that made Lani almost start screaming too.

Her first thought was to jump to her feet and stop whatever it was that was making her friend scream. But instinctively Lani knew that would be foolish despite the enormous rush of panic inside her, so she remained deathly still. She squinted through mostly closed eyelids, remembering the beach but nothing else since then, trying to get an idea of where she was and what was happening. Her brain felt too groggy to make sense of everything.

Through slitted eyes she could see Samheed on a table next to her, still out cold. She was relieved to see him, and he appeared to be alive’his chest moved up and down. Lani turned her head to the other side, very slowly, toward the screaming, hoping she wasn’t drawing attention her way. But a second later something caught her eye and she stopped moving. Lying in still-damp clothes, she broke into a cold sweat and tried to contain a clammy shiver, for a man and a woman in gauzy white shirts stood next to her, their backs to her, blocking her view of her friend’s head.

They were bent over, focusing very hard on whatever horrible thing they were doing to Meghan. Lani swallowed hard, trying not to freak out and wondering what on earth she could possibly do to save Meghan and not make things worse.

There was no other sound except for Meghan’s sobs and cries. It was hard for Lani to concentrate. She looked over at Samheed again, his face so calm and serene, willing him to wake up. She begged and pleaded silently with anyone who might be able to hear the thoughts in her head, and prayed desperately for Samheed’s eyes to open so they could plan their imminent escape together. She wasn’t sure she could do this alone.

Lani’s heart raced. She’d have to startle them, then attack and disable them. And then somehow she and Meghan would have to drag Samheed out of here. Not impossible, she found herself thinking, and that thought calmed her. Unless, of course, Meghan was unable to move . . . but Lani couldn’t let herself consider that option.

Slowly she slid her hand up her thigh to the opening of her pants pocket. Meghan’s screams were growing hoarse now, and Lani turned her inner pleading toward Meghan to stay conscious, keep the white-shirted people occupied . . . and not die.

Lani wriggled her fingers into her wet pants pocket. There was nothing there. She tried the other pocket, but the only thing in there was the picture Alex had drawn and given to her. She bit her lip to keep the angry tears back. Someone had taken her spell components. Her heart pounded in her chest so loudly she was sure the people could hear it.

She lifted her head slightly to look around the room, knowing she shouldn’t be moving so much, but unable to control herself now’she was starting to panic. And there, on a table across the room, she saw them. A pile of scatterclips and other assorted components, well out of reach. Lani let her head rest back on the table and squeezed her eyes shut, telling herself to calm down, to just stay cool and think. But Meghan’s cries were totally unnerving her. Lani wasn’t sure how much longer she could stand it. She needed a plan now.

An instant later Meghan’s screams stopped; only the echo of them hung in the air for a second before fading. Lani tensed, her stomach clenching and churning. Had they killed her friend? With no more time to think, Lani pulled her knees up to her chin and kicked out at the man, striking him in the center of his back and knocking him off balance and to the floor. She leaped off the table and lunged for the components, managing only to knock them to the ground as the man grabbed her by the ankle and pulled her down.

Meghan, silent, struggled to her elbow. She kicked out weakly at the woman who had been holding her down on the table. Lani’s eyes widened’Meghan was alive! Lani grabbed a handful of scatterclips and sent them soaring through the air at the woman, who was now wrestling with Meghan. The scatterclips caught the woman’s clothing and dragged her several feet away from Meghan to the wall, pinning her there. A look of shock and frustration crossed over her face as she struggled and failed to release herself from their grasp.

And then the man was getting up and grabbing for Lani’s ankles again, trying to keep her from rising to her feet.

“Run, Meg! Get help!” she screamed, reaching blindly for components. “I’m coming!”

Meghan, dazed and no doubt in shock, staggered to the door obediently as Lani clawed at the dirt floor, trying to reach another scatterclip. “Go!” she yelled again, and Meghan, without looking back, disappeared from view.

The man yanked Lani by the ankles as Lani tried desperately to twist over to her stomach so she could see where the components were. “Sam, wake up!” Lani screamed. “Sam!” She wriggled one leg free from the man’s grasp and kicked him hard in the jaw, sending him reeling once again. He hit his head on the corner of a table and fell to the ground, conscious but dazed, on top of the components.

Lani jumped to her feet and made a quick assessment. She looked at the door, which stood open now. Meghan was gone. She looked at Samheed, who hadn’t moved. The woman was still stuck fast to the wall, she was sure of it.

The man was starting to struggle to his feet. There was no way Lani could risk going anywhere near him to grab another scatterclip. She scrambled to Samheed’s side and slapped his face, tugging at his arm and screaming his name. “Sam! Wake up!” she sobbed. “Please . . .”

She looked at the man, who was standing now, grabbing a rope from a drawer and coming toward her. And then she looked at Samheed, lying helpless. Nothing barred her way to the door. She could still run.

But she couldn’t leave him there.

She shoved her hands into her pockets once more in a desperate move to see if perhaps the strange captors had accidently missed one scatterclip or a bit of rubber in the fold of her pocket, but it was not to be. For the second time since they’d been captured, her fingers touched the picture Alex had drawn. But this time she drew in a sharp breath, and her eyes opened wide with the realization that there might indeed be one last hope. She gripped the drawing, her lips moving slightly as she mouthed the necessary word.
Seek.
With a fire-like blast, a ball of light burst from her pocket, not harming her in the least. It zigzagged to the doorway and disappeared.

A second later, dozens more silent people appeared as if from nowhere and flooded into the room, trapping Lani between the wall and the head of Samheed’s table. She stood bravely facing them, gripping and pulling hard on Sam’s hair, hoping the pain would wake him. But it didn’t.
Go, Meghan!
she pleaded silently.
Come on, Alex!

The man she’d fought now weaved his way through the crowd, most of whom were using a strange sort of sign language to communicate. Some stood on tiptoes trying to see what was happening. All of them wore scarves around their necks with symbols printed on them. Lani shrank back as the man with the rope approached. He signaled to another man, who roughly grabbed Lani by the shoulders and turned her around to face the wall, her cheek pressed up against the clammy coolness of it. The man took her wrists, pinning them at her sides. “Samheed!” she yelled once more, kicking backward and startling everyone, but not enough to allow her to escape.

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