Read Radiant: Towers Trilogy Book One Online

Authors: Karina Sumner-Smith

Radiant: Towers Trilogy Book One (45 page)

BOOK: Radiant: Towers Trilogy Book One
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“Xhea,” Shai said. “You’re in shock.”

It seemed, Xhea decided with a brain gone slow and clumsy, that Shai had said that before. Hadn’t she? Was she remembering Shai speaking or only hearing those words echo, again and again, through the reaches of her mind?

“Okay,” she murmured. For a moment there was blessed silence, broken only by the soft rustle of the wind.

“Listen to me, you can’t fall asleep.”

Xhea tried to force her eyes open again; she caught a glimpse of gray sky, of Shai’s worried face, then her eyelids fluttered and fell closed.

“Okay,” she said again, and lay still.

She could tell that Shai was close; she felt stronger with the ghost beside her, as if the tether were strengthening her. Strange—but she would think about that later.

“Later,” she whispered. “Later, later, later.”

There was a noise from somewhere that seemed far away. Too far away, surely, to matter. Yet her instincts plucked at her with tiny, worried fingers: she was unprotected, unhidden, lying exposed on a stretch of crumbling roadway. As if such worries were a spell in themselves, when Shai next spoke her voice had changed.

“Xhea,” she said, tense, wary. “There’s someone coming.”

Okay
, Xhea thought.
Time to get up
. And still she lay there.

“There are three of them,” Shai added, and Xhea felt the ghost try ineffectively to tug at her hand. More urgently: “They’ve spotted us. . . . You. Whatever. Xhea, seriously—
wake up!

“Tell them . . .” Xhea took a long, slow breath, as if air could give her the strength that she seemed so suddenly to lack. “Tell them . . . that I want a sandwich.” This struck her as terribly funny and she laughed, even though it hurt, the sound no more than a weak chuckle.

She heard the not-so-distant sound of a voice calling, and a moment later the crunch of gravel beneath a heavy heel grew closer and closer to her prone body.

“Oh Xhea,” a low, rough voice said. Lorn’s voice, heavy with a weight of sadness.

Though it took all her strength, Xhea opened her eyes; saw Lorn’s shock—and yes, joy—that she was alive. The cut above his eye had been neatly stitched, though the flesh surrounding the wound was swollen and darkly mottled with bruises.

“Lorn,” she whispered. Then softer, infinitely so, so that only the two of them could hear: “Addis.” Naming the true spirit that lived within his brother’s body.

“Yes,” he said, coming to kneel at her side. “Xhea, how are you—I mean, I saw you fall.”

She nodded—or tried to. “I don’t like heights,” she said sagely.

Lorn frowned. “You’re in shock.”

“So she keeps telling me.” Xhea gestured limply at Shai, who hovered worriedly nearby, then let her hand fall back to the cold ground.

At that Lorn stilled, then glanced in the direction Xhea had pointed. “You actually found her, didn’t you?” he murmured with a slow shake of his head. “Your friend, the Radiant. You saved her.”

He searched for Shai; Xhea could just see the skin around his eyes crease as he squinted, attempting to see the ghost.

“I’m sorry,” he said at last, speaking to what must have seemed like empty air. “I can’t see you, or hear you but . . . I can almost feel you there. I’m Lorn.”

“Hello,” Shai replied. Her expression was strange; Xhea could not read it.

Lorn turned back to Xhea. He reached out a slow and hesitant hand, and brushed his fingers feather-light against her cheek. There was no shock, no feeling of twisting wrongness; just . . . an oddity. The touch of a living hand against her skin.

Perhaps it’s gone
, she thought. Her magic. Perhaps she had used it up in that final surge of dark—or perhaps there had been so much bright magic in the Towers’ merging that her own had been burned away. She was surprised how much the thought saddened her.

Lorn glanced at his fingers and back to her face, then touched her again, letting his palm rest against her cheek, then her forehead.

“And you have a fever,” he murmured.

Xhea laughed—or tried to. “Add it to the list.” Her voice was so quiet that he had to lean forward to hear the words. She swallowed, struggling to wet her tongue, and spoke again: “I’m sorry about your car.”

He smiled a little at that. “I am too.” He turned and called over his shoulder: “She’s alive! I need some water and blankets—and send Corrin to get the stretcher.”

Xhea blinked at that, then struggled to rise.

“I don’t need—” she started.

“Don’t,” Lorn said, and if his tone was kind the word was no less unyielding for it. “You are hurt and in shock, unable to walk, and clearly getting a monster of a fever. I’m taking you home, Xhea—and no, I don’t mean to those cold and horrid tunnels.”

She grimaced. “But—”

“No. No discussion. Do you actually think I would just leave you here?” A pause, and then he glared. “You did, didn’t you? Foolish girl.”

“I—but—” Xhea had no possible idea what to say.

A shadow fell across her face, and then Lorn was tucking a blanket around her—tattered and faded and nonetheless warm. A moment later and the stretcher had arrived; she whimpered and bit her lip to keep from crying out as they shifted her body onto the fabric between the stretcher’s long metal poles. Still she tried to protest.

“This is about more than you, Xhea. You don’t understand what you’ve done, do you?” Lorn glanced up at the merging Towers directly above them, then to the Central Spire and back down at her face. “You’ve brought a Radiant—a true Radiant—to the Lower City.” He laughed incredulously, fear and hope threaded through the words, his voice deep and rich like old velvet. “Everything is about to change.”

“But . . . what am I supposed to do?”

“For now?” Lorn said. “Rest. There will be time enough to talk tomorrow.”

“Rest, Xhea,” Shai whispered in echo, her voice by Xhea’s ear. Shai’s ghostly fingers reached out to curl around Xhea’s own once more. “It’s okay. I’m here.”

Xhea let out a long, slow breath. She tightened her grip and held to Shai’s hand as if she’d never let her go.

“Okay,” she whispered. And it was.

Her stretcher was lifted and they began the slow walk back to the Lower City.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I stared writing
Radiant
in 2008, and the journey from there to here has been a long one, with many unexpected turns. I never could have done it alone. I’d like to say thank you:

To my writing partner, Jana Paniccia, for countless hours of support, laughter, and advice. You read the rough and ragged first draft with its notes, missteps, and placeholders—“And then something interesting happens!”—and helped me turn it into a real story. I owe you so much more than a coffee.

To Greg Smyth, my surprise second reader, my husband, and my person, for . . . everything. For listening to my countless ideas and worries and rants, for your calm in the midst of unexpected storms, for the myriad cups of tea. For being awesome.

To Susan Mosser, my most perfect reader, for seeing the story I wanted to tell through all the chaos and misplaced words, and cheering me on until I brought it to life.

To my beta readers, Leah Bobet, Michelle Sagara, Terry Pearson, and Julie Czerneda, for all your helpful thoughts and feedback.

To Julie and Roger for opening your home and your family to me, and for providing such a perfect place to finish my first novel.

To my awesome agent, Sara Megibow, for your support and advice and unwavering enthusiasm.

To my family and friends for your love and mockery, your enthusiasm and sarcasm, your shared frustration and joy, and for the kind provision of baked goods. I’d list you all here if I could.

To the Canada Council for the Arts and the Toronto Arts Council for their generous support and funding, without which this novel might still not be finished.

And to you, the reader, for giving a new author a try. I know how many books vie for your time and attention, and am grateful beyond words that you took a chance on mine.

BOOK: Radiant: Towers Trilogy Book One
12.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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