Read Lives of Kings Online

Authors: Lucy Leiderman

Lives of Kings

BOOK: Lives of Kings
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Cover
Dedication

To all the giants whose shoulders I stand on.

Chapter One

M
y
legs itched and burned as I squirmed in my chair. I was sweating, and every breath I took warmed my throat. I didn't know how much longer I could survive here.

The laughter and pleasant conversation drifting all around didn't suit my dark mood. I swatted at something near my head for the hundredth time and gritted my teeth in annoyance.

“Relax,” Garrison told me.

He sat across from me, holding a glass of white wine up to the light. A mosquito had flown into it and was floating at the top. He pursed his lips and put down the glass.

“I'm not really cut out for this place either, but you look a little crazy,” he said.

Garrison's curly hair lay flat in the humidity, and sweat poured down his forehead. His height and thin frame made him look like a wet mop.

Since we lacked clothing for the weather, we had bought outfits at the nearby tourist shop. Garrison's white shirt and shorts made him look like he was getting ready to play tennis. All I could find were coloured and patterned sheets that I had to wrap around myself to make a dress. Being unskilled in such things, I expected it to come loose any minute.

Tonight's selection was a black wrap with purple and yellow flowers. Many of the men on the island wore the same wraps as skirts, and I wondered if I was making a cultural faux pas. I looked down at my lap to make sure it hadn't come undone and spotted a large mosquito on my leg. I jumped up, shaking the table and spilling Garrison's wine.

“I told you they were biting me!” I hissed.

Standing, I could see my legs were covered with red splotches. The rest of me was faring only slightly better.

“You spilled my drink!” he complained.

“You're underage,” I fired back.

“Here I'm not.”

It was almost three weeks since we had stood at London Heathrow airport. We had been completely lost. More than anything, each of us wanted to go home. In those dark days after waking up to find I had nearly killed all my friends and myself, I missed my parents more than ever. They were my life before Kian, and a part of me wanted to feel like the old Gwen again.

I wasn't the only one. Garrison had been inserting references to home into every conversation, as if trying to brainwash me to go there. When had I become the leader of this little group? We were all just doing what had to be done — no one wanted to be here in hiding.

In England, after we were found and attacked, we were too scared to do anything other than what Kian had told the others while I slept — recover, leave, and put distance between them and us. “Them” being the magicians who had tried to enslave us and steal our magic after sending Kian to collect us and make sure we had magic in the first place. That plan didn't work out for them, but as long as we were alive and had the potential to become powerful, we were a threat.

It was strange not to have Kian around. After a week of healing and moping at the cottage — mostly moping — I let the others talk me into leaving our little hideaway and getting on with our lives. In truth, I was hopeful Kian would change his mind and come back. I felt like a sad puppy, sitting and staring out the window every day, waiting for him. But he didn't return.

My face and body had only just recovered from the snowstorm I used to battle the magicians when we left the cottage, knowing we had to get away. It always felt like they were right behind us.

Since seeing them in the flesh, I walked a little faster and listened a little bit more carefully. I was always on alert. They were so elusive that I felt I could expect anything. Even if I had shown the most power, I still needed Kian's help. Everything I had done since learning of my past life was with his help, and to be without him felt like I was missing something.

In London, we showed up at the airport without a plan. The booth closest to us was a French airline. Seth, Moira, and I waited nearby while Garrison asked about the next flight we could catch.

“Flights within the next three hours with availability are …” The female attendant squinted at her screen as my stomach did cartwheels. Despite our need to get away and recover without the magicians on our trail, I was hoping for something close. Somewhere Kian could find us. Soon.

“We have four flights leaving to Paris,” the attendant read. “One to Berlin, two to New York, one to Abu Dhabi, and one to Papeete.”

We all looked at each other and my heart sank because I knew which one was going to win.

“Where's Papeete?” asked Seth.

“Tahiti,” answered the attendant.

“And where exactly is that?” asked Garrison.

“French Polynesia,” she replied.

She looked us all up and down. Our confused faces probably gave us away, because she decided to explain further.

“The islands are in the Pacific Ocean,” she said, turning her screen to show us a dot in the middle of nowhere.

I had heard of Tahiti before but couldn't place it on a map. On her screen, it didn't even look as if it was land at all.

“However,” she went on, turning her screen back, “each ticket is one thousand five hundred and thirty-four pounds.”

Garrison nudged me and I reluctantly took out the card that Kian had given them before leaving. He had set everything up for us, knowing using our magic might get us found all over again. I slid the gold card across the desk.

“Four tickets, please. One way.”

The attendant's eyebrows raised in surprise. Her pointed nose and dark features gave her the look of a bird of prey, assessing us.

“Passports, please,” she said in her prim British accent.

We had handed her our documents and soon were headed toward the farthest point we could find on Earth. Despite a sense of relief that we were putting distance between the magicians and us, I couldn't imagine how Kian would ever find us again.

The truth was that we had no idea how any of it worked. We didn't know if the magicians could find us or even if they were looking for us. I assumed they still needed our magic because they had been trying get it since before Kian found me in Oregon. But then where were they? Had we passed the threshold of weak-enough-to-capture into strong-enough-to-avoid? Without Kian, I felt blind. I had no idea what lay ahead of me, and that scared me.

I hated it here before we ever even landed. Now, weeks after first getting to the island that many considered paradise, my temper was on a short fuse. Everything bothered me.

A waiter dropped two dishes and the crash brought me back to the present. I sat down in my plastic chair and listened to a man play a song on a tiny guitar. The humidity was palpable. People chatted around us — carefree and on vacation. Our waitress brought me a glass of water that was mostly ice cubes.

“You know, in a hundred years this place might be gone,” Garrison said. “The water is rising. Same with New York.”

I sighed. Garrison wanted to go home. So did I. So did Seth and Moira. I knew what was coming next.

“When the wave hit New York last year,” Garrison began, “I was just walking out of class.”

He loved to tell the story, and I had heard it enough to memorize it. Though Garrison came from a wealthy suburb, he told it as if he were right there on the pier with Kian and me. I tuned out until he asked me a question.

“Did you ever see what happened to Brooklyn or New Jersey?” he said. “Houses were just out in the ocean. Just like that.” He snapped his fingers.

At the time I had been too focused on myself to think too much about the faces of strangers who had been waiting in line to see the Statue of Liberty with us. The terrified looks and screams as the water rose in an instant still haunted me, and so much was just gone in the blink of an eye.

I had seen the true extent of the damage later on the news. They said it was an impromptu hurricane, but I knew better. I knew the magicians had a hand in a disaster that killed so many people. And they hadn't stopped since then.

The rising water levels we had heard so much about were affecting the way of life on the island. Just the other day we had tried going hiking, only to find a large portion of a preserved forest taped off. Apparently it was turning into a bog from underneath.

Any time I turned on the TV, a politician somewhere in the world was yelling about global warming. New York was still cleaning up. Big earthquakes happened daily everywhere from China to Indonesia and the Philippines. Everyone was on edge. The world was a disaster zone.

On the beaches in Tahiti, we watched workers fixing warning sirens to hold disaster drills for the first time since the war about seventy years ago. I knew a large portion of Australia had been under water for months, while another area was experiencing a drought.

Every day I tried to guess what the magicians were up to — what they were causing. What was their plan and what was just opportune timing?

“Hey!”

I snapped back to reality as Garrison waved a hand close to my face.

“What?”

“I was asking you what you missed most about home,” he said.

I thought about it. I had only been in Oregon a few brief weeks when I ran away with Kian. I still considered San Francisco home.

“The noise,” I said.

“I was going to say noise!” Garrison replied. “Not enough people curse here at total strangers.”

I smiled and remembered walking home from school in San Francisco.

“No matter where you'd go, you could hear something else. A tram, a car, people talking on a patio,” I said. “Here, on the beach, you can feel like you're the last person on Earth.”

Or maybe that's just how I felt when I looked out into the nothingness and couldn't connect with my other half. I was torn between wanting to return to my old life and missing the presence of the old me. Since I had woken up in England, I just couldn't hear her anymore. I knew the others were having trouble too, but we didn't talk about it. It seemed like a personal battle.

“Where's Moira?” I asked.

Moira still looked shell-shocked when I sometimes caught her staring off blankly. She had joined our little group right when things were getting dangerous, and I worried she wasn't adapting to our life on the road. Since we got here she had retreated more into herself, and I kind of worried she'd just walk into the ocean one day.

“No idea,” Garrison replied. “I invited her to come to dinner with us, but she didn't want to.”

The dinners here began after dark, which happened much later in the evening, so we would end up having two or three pre-dinners. I felt like all I did was eat.

“And Seth?” I asked.

“Calling home.”

Seth and Garrison had been in touch with their families regularly since leaving England. I hadn't called home yet. With Kian gone, I had no idea what my parents knew of me or where I was. Had the charm he put on them to let me go worn off? I was too scared to find out.

It might have been a coincidence that none of us had brothers or sisters, or that all our parents were older. I wondered if that somehow was intended so we could leave them. The thought made me sad.

As if having heard her name, Moira came into the little awning-covered area where we were sitting outside a restaurant. Torches lit the platform and the man with the little guitar was still playing. While the rest of us had gotten tanned in the island sun, Moira's skin was pale as ever.

“There you are,” Garrison said, smiling. “What have you been up to?”

“Trying to rest,” she replied, placing her elbows on the table and briefly sinking her face into her hands. She resurfaced, yawning.

Moira, unlike me, had refused to go islander and adapt to the wraps. She had tied her long, dark hair into a knot at the top of her head and wore a T-shirt proclaiming something wonderful about the island.

“Tired?” I asked.

We shared a room and I knew she slept deeply from night until morning, often staying in bed until the early afternoon. Since I couldn't sleep, I became very familiar with her habits. However, she had bags under her eyes and always seemed exhausted.

Moira nodded as Garrison and I shared a concerned look.

“Are you …” Garrison took a deep breath. “Dreaming?”

Our magic and past lives often resurfaced in dreams. If Moira had gotten an inkling of her magic back, we could finally figure out what to do next. But she shook her head.

“No,” she replied. “At least I can't remember anything in the morning.”

I think everyone was a little traumatized. Our magic was suddenly stilted. The magicians had done their damage. Digging through our minds with sharp claws, searching for magic — I shuddered every time I remembered how close I had been to becoming enslaved by them.

I didn't want to close my eyes at night, despite how tired I was. Every time I did, I would see Kian there. My dreams would turn into nightmares in which he needed my help, but I was too far away.

I reached into my bag.

“Not more bug spray. Come on, Gwen, I can smell you from across the table.”

I looked at Moira.

“I think you smell lovely,” she said. “Like a lemon.”

I sighed and slung my beaded canvas bag, another local purchase, over my shoulder.

“I'm going for a walk,” I declared.

Before Garrison could argue, I was making my way out of the patio, where we had had a very fruity dinner.

We were staying in the biggest city on the island, which was still relatively small. The airport had a thatched roof and most of the low buildings looked exactly the same. Evenings and nights were becoming monotonous.

The patios, restaurants doubling as bars, and all other forms of communal meeting places were lit with torches that seemed to attract every insect around. We were all covered with bites and four times I had found various types of lizards in my luggage and clothing. Every time, I shrieked embarrassingly and couldn't seem to make my legs take me back into my room until someone went in and declared it reptile-free.

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