Lodestar Page 1


THIS IS A security nightmare!” Sandor grumbled, keeping his huge gray hand poised over his enormous black sword.

His squeaky voice reminded Sophie more of a talking mouse than a deadly bodyguard.

Several prodigies raced past, and Sandor pulled Sophie closer as the giggling group jumped to pop the candy-filled bubbles floating near the shimmering crystal trees. All around them, kids were running through the confetti-covered atrium in their amber-gold Level Three uniforms, capes flying as they caught snacks and bottles of lushberry juice and stuffed tinsel-wrapped gifts into the long white thinking caps dangling from everyone’s lockers.

The Midterms Celebration was a Foxfire Academy tradition—hardly the impending doom Sandor was imagining. And yet, Sophie understood his concern.

Every parent roaming the streamer-lined halls.

Every face she didn’t recognize.

Any of them could be a rebel.

A villain.

The enemy.

Sandor watched Sophie tug on her eyelashes—her nervous habit, back in full force. “Nothing is going to happen,” he promised, tucking her blond hair behind her ear with a surprisingly gentle touch for a seven-foot-tall goblin warrior.

It definitely helped having Sandor back at her side—especially after almost losing him during the battle on Mount Everest. And Sandor wasn’t the only goblin at Foxfire anymore. Each of the six wings in the main campus building had been assigned its own patrol, with two additional squadrons keeping watch over the sprawling grounds.

The Council had also added security throughout the Lost Cities.

They had to.

The ogres were still threatening war.

And in the three weeks since Sophie and her friends had returned from hiding with the Black Swan, the Neverseen had scorched the main gate of the Sanctuary and broken into the registry in Atlantis.

Sophie could guess what the rebels had hoped to gain from the elves’ secret animal preserve—they obviously didn’t know that she’d convinced the Council to set the precious alicorns free. But the registry attack remained a mystery. The Councillors kept careful records on every elf ever born, and no one would tell her if any files had been altered or stolen.

A bubble popped on Sophie’s head, and Sandor caught the box of Prattles that had been hovering inside.

“If you’re going to eat these, I should check them first,” he told her.

Sandor’s wide, flat nose scented no toxins in the nutty candy, but he insisted on examining the pin before handing them over. Every box of Prattles came with a special collectible inside, and in the past, the Black Swan had used them to send Sophie messages.

He fished out the tiny velvet pouch and Sophie caught herself clutching her allergy remedy necklace. She still kept the silver moonlark pin that Calla had given her attached to the cord—a reminder of the friend she’d lost, and a symbol of the role she needed to figure out how to play.

“Looks like we’re good,” Sandor said, handing her the small boobrie pin—a strange black bird with bright yellow tail feathers. “Can’t imagine that means anything important.”

Sophie couldn’t either. Especially since the Black Swan had been annoyingly silent.

No notes. No clues. No answers during their brief meetings.

Apparently they were “regrouping.” And it was taking forever.

At least the Council was doing something—setting up goblin patrols and trying to arrange an ogre Peace Summit. The Black Swan should at least be . . .

Actually, Sophie didn’t know what they should be doing.

That was the problem with having her friend join the enemy.

“There you are!” a familiar voice said behind her. “I was starting to think you’d ditched us.”

The deep, crisp accent was instantly recognizable. And yet, the teasing words made Sophie wish she’d turn and find a different boy.

Fitz looked as cute as ever in his red Level Five uniform, but his perfect smile didn’t reach his trademark teal eyes. The recent revelations had been a huge blow for all of her friends, but Fitz had taken it the hardest.

Both his brother and his best friend had run off with the Neverseen.

Alvar’s betrayal had made Fitz wary—made him doubt every memory.

But Keefe’s?

He wouldn’t talk about it—at all.

Not that Sophie had many chances to bring up the subject. Only a handful of people knew the truth. The rest believed the Black Swan’s carefully crafted lie, and thought Keefe was taking time away to mourn his mother’s disappearance. Even the Council had no inkling, and Sophie hoped it would stay that way. The less everyone knew, the easier it would be for Keefe to come home.

If he came home.

“You okay?” Fitz asked, making her realize she’d forgotten to say hello. “I hope you’re not worrying about your tests. There’s no way you didn’t pass.”

“I don’t know . . .”

Her photographic memory helped—but lately she’d struggled to concentrate during her school sessions. Honestly, though, she’d barely given her midterms a second thought. She wasn’t the same girl she’d been the year before, who thought failing out of Foxfire would be the end of the world. Now she’d been kidnapped, presumed dead, banished from the Lost Cities, and helped stop a plague from killing off the entire gnomish species. She’d even snuck into the ogres’ capital and helped destroy half the city—which happened to be why the Council was struggling to negotiate a new elvin-ogre treaty.

“Relax,” Fitz said as her mind spun to nightmares of lumpy-faced ogres tearing through the elves’ glittering streets. “We’re supposed to be celebrating.”

His cheer sounded forced. But she knew Fitz was trying.

That’s what they did now.




“Just let me grab my thinking cap,” she told him, heading for her locker. The long floppy hat was required during midterms, designed to restrict Telepaths and preserve the integrity of the tests—not that anything could block Sophie’s enhanced abilities. But after the exams, the hats became present sacks, and everyone filled them with treats and trinkets and treasures.

“I’ll need to inspect your presents before you open them,” Sandor warned as he helped Sophie lift her overstuffed hat.

“That’s perfect,” Fitz said. “While he does that, you can open mine.”