Lodestar Page 2

He pulled a small box from the pocket of his waist-length cape and handed it to Sophie. The opalescent wrapping paper had flecks of teal glitter dusted across it, and he’d tied it with a silky teal bow, making her wonder if he’d guessed her favorite color.

She really hoped he couldn’t guess why. . . .

“Hopefully I did better this year,” Fitz said. “Biana claimed the riddler was a total fail.”

The riddle-writing pen he’d given her last time had been a disappointment, but . . .

“I’m sure I’ll love it,” Sophie promised. “Besides. My gift is boring.”

Sandor had declared an Atlantis shopping trip to be far too risky, so Sophie had spent the previous day baking her friends’ presents.

She handed Fitz a round silver tin and he popped the lid off immediately.

“Ripplefluffs?” he asked, smiling his first real smile in days.

The silver-wrapped treats were what might happen if a brownie and a cupcake had a fudgey, buttery baby, with a candy surprise sunken into the center. Sophie’s adoptive mother, Edaline, had taught her the recipe and helped her invent two flavor combinations.

“How did you know that chocolate and mint is my favorite?” Fitz asked, peeling off the silver wrapper and devouring the whole fluff in one bite.

“I didn’t,” Sophie admitted. “If I had, I wouldn’t have given you any of the butter toffee ones.”

“Those look amazing too,” he said, then frowned at his present. “Aren’t you going to open it?”

“Shouldn’t I wait until we’re with the others?”

“Nah. It’ll be better if it’s just the two of us.”

Something about the way he said it made her heart switch to flutter mode, even though she knew Fitz didn’t think of her that way. Her mind raced through a dozen theories as she carefully tore the shimmering paper. But she still wasn’t prepared to find . . .

“Rings?”

“They go on your thumbs,” Fitz explained. “It’s a Cognate thing.”

She wasn’t sure what thumb jewelry had to do with their rare telepathic connection. But she noticed Fitz was wearing an identical set. Each ring had initials stamped into the verdigris metal. SEF on the right—Sophie Elizabeth Foster—and FAV on the left.

“Fitzroy Avery Vacker.”

“Your full name is Fitzroy?” she asked.

“Yeah. No idea what my parents were thinking with that one. But watch this. Try opening your thoughts to mine, and then do this.”

He held his hands palm-out, waiting for her to do the same.

As soon as she did, the rings turned warm against her skin and snapped their hands together like magnets.

“They’re made from ruminel,” Fitz said, “which reacts to mental energy. It doesn’t change anything, but it’ll show us when our minds are connected, and I thought it would help us concentrate and . . .” His voice trailed off. “You hate them, don’t you?”

“Of course not!”

She liked them a little too much, actually.

She was just trying not to show it.

There were a lot of kids staring at them.

And whispering.

And giggling.

Fitz twisted his palms, breaking the rings’ connection. “I guess I should’ve gone with the necklace Biana showed me. You just have so many necklaces—and the last one you got . . .”

He didn’t finish the sentence.

It would’ve meant mentioning Keefe.

“I’m glad you got me these. Seriously. They’re my fave.” She pointed to the “FAV.”

That earned her another smile, and Fitz brushed his dark hair off his forehead. “Come on, I’m sure Dex and Biana are getting sick of waiting for us.”

“Where did Grizel go?” Sandor asked as they turned to leave. “She’s supposed to stay by your side.”

“I’m right here,” a husky female voice said as a lithe gray goblin in a fitted black jumpsuit seemed to melt out of the shadows. Fitz’s bodyguard was just as tall as Sandor, but far leaner—and what she lacked in bulk she made up for in stealth and grace.

“I swear,” she said, tapping Sandor on the nose. “It’s almost too easy to evade you.”

“Anyone can hide in this chaos,” Sandor huffed. “And now is not the time for games!”

“There’s always time for games.” Grizel tossed her long ponytail in a way that almost seemed . . . Was it flirty?

Sandor must’ve noticed too, because his gray skin tinted pink. He cleared his throat and turned to Sophie. “Weren’t we heading to the cafeteria?”

She nodded and followed Fitz into the mazelike halls, where the colorful crystal walls shimmered in the afternoon sunlight. The cafeteria was on the second floor of the campus’s five-story glass pyramid, which sat in the center of the courtyard framed by the U-shaped main building.

Sophie spent most of the walk wondering how long it would take Dex to notice her new accessories. The answer was three seconds—and another after that to notice the matching rings on Fitz’s thumbs.

His periwinkle eyes narrowed, but he kept his voice cheerful as he said, “I guess we’re all giving rings this year.”

Biana held out her hand to show Sophie a ring that looked familiar—probably because Sophie had a less sparkly, slightly more crooked, definitely less pink version on her own finger.

“I also made one for you,” Dex told Fitz. “It’s in your thinking cap. And I have some for Tam and Linh, whenever we see them again. That way we’ll all have panic switches—and I added stronger trackers, so I can home in on the signal even if you don’t press your stone. Just in case anything weird happens.”

“Your Technopath tricks aren’t necessary,” Sandor told him, pointing to their group of bodyguards—four goblins in all.

“But it’s still good to have a backup plan, right?” Biana asked, admiring her ring from another angle. The pink stone matched the glittery shadow she’d brushed around her teal eyes, as well as the gloss on her heart-shaped lips. Biana reminded Sophie of the dolls her human parents had tried to get her to play with as a kid—too beautiful and stylish to be real.

“Thank you again,” Biana told Dex. “I’m never taking it off!”

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