Nexus

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"Welcome to Everglen," Fitz said, leading her toward the doors. "What do you think?"

"It's very bright."

He laughed. "Yeah. The gate absorbs all the light, so no one can leap directly inside. My dad works for the Council, so he likes his privacy at home."

Everglen made Sophie feel safe again. She was so glad to have something familiar. She couldn't wait to see Grady and Edaline and all her friends. Then Sophie remembered.

None of them knew her yet.

That just made her feel more alone.

She was surrounded with elves she knew, but none of them had even met her yet, besides Fitz.

A faint click sounded, and the gate swung inward. A striking figure stood in a small, grassy clearing surrounded by the same enormous trees she'd seen growing along the river in the capital. A floor-length, midnight blue cape was fastened across his shoulders with a clasp that looked like a pair of yellow, diamond-encrusted wings. He was tall and lean, with vibrant teal eyes and dark wavy hair.

Alden! Her head felt dizzy. It was so hard for her to treat him as if she didn't completely trust him already. She managed a clumsy curtsy.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Sophie," Alden said with an accent more prominent than Fitz's. "I see Fitz wasn't kidding about the brown eyes. Most unusual."

She could feel her cheeks flush. "Oh. Uh. Yeah. They should be blue, shouldn't they?"

Alden smiled. "There's nothing to be embarrassed about. I think the color is quite pretty. Don't you, Fitz?"

She couldn't look at Fitz as he agreed. Her face felt like it might actually be on fire. Inside she was completely screaming. Fitz thought her eyes were pretty.

"Did you tell anyone else where Sophie was?" Fitz asked.

"Only the Council. Why?"

"Sophie said someone tried to take her this morning."

Alden's eyes widened. "Are you okay?" he asked, scanning Sophie like he was checking for injury.

"Oh! Yes, I am." Sophie gestured to herself. "I'm pretty sure it was another elf." She was more than "pretty sure", but she couldn't tell them that.

Father and son shared a look. Then Alden shook his head. "Kidnapping is a human crime. I've never heard of an elf even considering such a thing—much less trying it. What made you think it was one of us?"

"I couldn't hear his thoughts." Sophie began, "That only happens with elves, just like how I can't hear Fitz and your thoughts."

"Yes, Fitz told me about your telepathy." He reached out to touch her forehead. "Do you mind?"

Sophie didn't hesitate to shake her head. Alden placed two fingers gently against her temples and closed his eyes. She tried to hold still—and avoid thinking about how good Fitz looked in his dark jacket.

"Well," Alden said as he pulled his hands away. "You are indeed a fascinating girl."

"Couldn't hear her either, could you?" Fitz asked him, sounding triumphant.

"No." Alden took both of her hands. "Well, I'll look into what happened this morning, but I'm sure there's no reason to worry. You're here now, and it's perfectly safe in our world—"

"No! You don't understand." Sophie frantically explained. "I couldn't hear his thoughts, until I forced myself to listen. His name was Gethen! He knew who I was."

Alden's face paled. "Well, that's peculiar..." He trailed off clearly not sure how to respond. "I'm going to have to look into that." He took out a notebook and jotted down a few notes.

Sophie hoped that was enough. She definitely couldn't tell them how she really knew.

He frowned and his head jerked toward Fitz. "I specifically told you not to let her leap again without a nexus." He was clearly changing the subject.

"Sorry, I forgot. Sophie thought she saw the guy who tried to grab her, so we had to get out of there quick. But we're fine. I had us covered."

"That's not the point." Alden held out his hand, and Fitz dug a small black cuff out of his coat pocket and handed it to him. Alden clamped the bracelet around Sophie's right wrist, twisting until it fit snug. "Is that comfortable?"

Sophie nodded, she hadn't worn a nexus in forever. She had taken hers off when she joined the Black Swan. It was a weird feeling to have to wear it one again.

They all watched as the nexus calibrated to show everyone what Sophie's concentration was. After a few minutes, her nexus made a small clicking sound. It popped off her wrist, displaying that her concentration was at 100% already.

Fitz and Alden's mouths dropped open.

"How is that possible?" Fitz gaped at her empty wrist. "I got mine off early! How could she possibly not even need one?"

Alden pulled out a different nexus and placed it on her wrist, "Perhaps it malfunctioned."

After a few moments, this nexus did the same thing and fell to the floor, opened. Sophie gritted her teeth. This meant a lot of things. She definitely had traveled back in time. This was proof enough.

Alden gave her a perplexing look. "We're going to have to figure out what that means later. We can't leave our guests waiting."

Fitz hadn't closed his mouth since the first nexus fell off. His state was practically boring into her.

Sophie tug out an eyelash. She was going to have a fun time explaining this one.

———

"This way," Alden said, taking her hand and bringing her down the widest hallway, lined with fountains that spouted streams of colored water over their heads. The hall dead-ended at a pair of doors encrusted with a jeweled mosaic—two diamond unicorns racing across a field of amethyst flowers.

Alden squeezed her hand. "You have nothing to be afraid of."

"No reason to worry, right?" Sophie said nervously. Alden gave her a look, he was the one who usually said that. He pushed open the door for her.

"Councillors, this is Sophie Foster," Alden introduced with a quick bow. "Sophie, this is Kenric, Oralie, and Bronte."

Kenric was alive!

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