The Reluctant Prince

By Eve Mak All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 9

Jet leaned against the low railing and gazed out across the sea of trees to the glowing lights of Darcy on the horizon. They had taken a perfectly ordinary route to get to the rooftop. Other than cloaking themselves in shadow so that no one would see them leave, they hadn’t had to use any other esoteric ability. They had climbed a ladder to a small access door somewhere near the roofline. It led to a small alcove on the roof, not the highest point, but high enough that the mountain separating Arden from Darcy didn’t block the view.

“Do you ever go there?” Jet asked.

Daniel gazed out at the twinkling lights. “Sometimes,” he said. “It’s a city like any other.”

Jet wouldn’t know about that. He knew Low City, that was it. “Do the kids from Arden ever get to go there?”

Daniel laughed. “Of course! Darcy is our home city, no matter where we were born. Oh, you wouldn’t know that, would you? Are you really such a mystery, Jet? The Enforcer thinks you’re one of us. What can you do that made him think that?” Daniel squinted at Jet in the gloom and called a sphere of light to his hand.

Jet shrugged. He doused Daniel’s light with a touch of shadow so he could better see the lights of Darcy. “The King is in Darcy. Are you the King’s son, Daniel?”

“One of them,” Daniel replied. “Are you?”

Startled, Jet shook his head. “I’m not.”

Daniel didn’t push the issue. “Seen enough? We’d better get down before someone notices you’re gone.”

“Why? Is someone watching me?”

“You’re the only one in a guest room on this level,” Daniel told him. “The rest of us have our own rooms in the main house while we’re at school. Don’t worry. It’s not like you’re a prisoner or anything. As long as you don’t leave your room for an unreasonable period of time, you have the run of the place. That’s not to say my Uncle’s men aren’t somewhere watching. We can get around them by using shadow, but the key card will give an alarm if you stay away too long.”

Ah, the key card. “Thanks,” Jet said, pulling shadow around him for the walk back to his room. He kept an eye out for any Family who might be lurking in shadows, but he didn’t see any.

“Tomorrow I’ll come pick you up,” Daniel said as he left.

That trick with the key card was clever. But Jet could be clever, too. He left the key card on his desk and took on the form of shadow, not merely its cloak. He oozed through the crack at the bottom of the door and followed the same path he and Daniel had taken up to the roof, squeezing through tiny openings without disturbing any doors at all. When he stood once more on the rooftop, he regained his physical body for an instant so that he could pinpoint Darcy in his mind. When he let his body go the second time, it was to become the wind which rushed across the sky and down the other side of the mountain towards Darcy. He had all night, until Daniel came for him in the morning.

Jet realized there were houses down there between Arden and Darcy. Their lights had been hidden by the angle of the trees but he saw them now as he flew over. Arden wasn’t as isolated as he had first thought. The lights became brighter and brighter the closer he got to Darcy. Jet could see ribbons of road converge upon the city. In one respect, Daniel had been right. From above, Darcy did resemble Low City somewhat. Tall buildings, congestion, bright lights. But where Low City was old, Darcy sparkled with newness. Its skyscrapers gleamed. Its streets shone wider and straighter than the ones in Low City. Jet zoomed down, reforming his body in the shadow of a building. He walked out into the bright night.

Here, even more so than in Low City, Jet was just one among many of the Family, tall, slim, with dark hair and pale skin. His hair looked a little odd compared to the carefully groomed Family all around him. The men wore theirs a little on the long side, though not so long as Jet’s before he had let Doll cut it for him. Despite the fact that it was close to ten o’clock, the streets still bustled with people, all Family from what Jet could see.

Darcy was a land-locked city. No river to separate the haves from the have-nots. There weren’t any have-nots. Jet walked into a café suddenly hungry for a sandwich. The place looked nothing like Ben’s, nor did the clientele. He walked back out again when he realized he didn’t have any money, very conscious of the stares he was receiving.

Where did the King live, then? This seemed to be the downtown section. Jet had seen some official-looking buildings on his initial pass over Darcy, but none of them looked like a dwelling or even like Arden which, for all its wings still mostly resembled a house. Unless the King didn’t live in Darcy any more than Merrell did. Maybe he lived in one of those houses Jet had passed on his way in.

It was useless speculating. Jet walked down the street, following the crowds until they eventually thinned out and he found himself in a quieter part of Darcy, one with lower buildings and more growing things. It reminded Jet a little bit of the area where Doll lived in Low City, but this was nicer. A man in a uniform, Family of course, watched him suspiciously as he walked by the darkened houses. When he realized the man was coming toward him, Jet quickly ducked behind a tree and let the wind take him. The last thing he wanted to do was get caught and have to explain to Merrell just how he had found his way to Darcy.

Darcy had an outer ring. As Jet continued exploring, the buildings got progressively smaller, progressively older and less planned. Here were the seedy bars, the hole in the wall eateries. Here, too, Jet found the occasional non-family person, although the majority of the people he saw still were Family.

Jet popped into a run-down bar only to be chased back out by the Family bartender. That, at least, was familiar. It hadn’t stopped Jet back in Low City and it didn’t stop him now. Jet found a bus station which reminded him a little bit of his old subway haunts. He ignored the sleepy attendant behind a counter and made his way out towards the back where several buses were parked. A couple of drivers smoked cigarettes as they stood by one of the buses which had its door open. Both were Family, but not like any Jet had seen before. “When’s the next bus?” he asked, casually crafting a globe of light to see how they would react.

One of the drivers snapped, “Put that out!” He ground his cigarette and gave Jet a sour look. “You’re not supposed to be out here. Go ask the clerk. I’m on break.”

So he hadn’t panicked at Jet’s use of light. Did that mean some Family routinely used their abilities, just not in public? Jet held onto his light globe. “Didn’t mean to bother you, mister. I’m new here. Any buses go to Low City?”

“Are you stupid? Get rid of that light—now!” The bus driver glanced nervously around the end of the building. “You’re going to get us all in trouble, kid. As I said before, you wanna know about the bus schedule, you go see the clerk.” He turned his back on Jet and started talking to the other bus driver again. The other driver hadn’t said anything but he watched Jet warily.

“Sorry,” Jet said with an apologetic grin. He had an idea. “Be right back.”

“You’re not allowed back here!” the first driver yelled after him.

Jet let his body dissolve into a gentle breeze and entered the same little bar he had been kicked out of earlier. No one noticed as he helped himself to some bar snacks and a few bottles of beer. Since he couldn’t carry them while he was incorporeal, he used shadow to mask his physical body on the way out.

“Here you go.” Jet handed a beer to each startled driver and cracked a third one open for himself. “You’re on break, right?” He took a long chug of his beer and watched his new friends out of the corner of his eye. After a moment’s hesitation, they opened their beers and drank. Jet brought out the bowl of pretzels he had swiped and set it on the bottom step of the nearest bus.

The first driver chuckled. “You’re all right, kid,” he said, reaching for the pretzels. “But I don’t want to know how you managed to get this stuff.” He might have been talking about Jet’s age, or about his elemental abilities.

Jet grinned. “All right, I won’t tell you then.”

It turned out neither driver was from Darcy. Their next run wasn’t until early morning but they usually didn’t bother with a hotel room and just slept on their buses. Using elemental abilities was strictly forbidden except in private, Jet found out. Most bus drivers who came into Darcy were Family because Darcy was mostly Family and had little trust in anybody who wasn’t. But the rest of the country wasn’t all Family, so it was important not to scare the non-family population with constant reminders of what Family could do. That was for the Enforcers, not regular people.

There was a bus to Low City. In fact, Marty, the quieter of the two drivers, would be taking that one out in the morning. Ed, the more garrulous one, offered, “Any time you want to go home, kid, you know where to find us.”

Jet raised an eyebrow. “Not the clerk out front?”

They all laughed.

“Keep out of trouble, kid. Darcy’s not like Low City. Don’t show ‘em what you can do.”

“I won’t,” Jet promised. He liked Ed and Marty. For Family, they were really down to earth. “I’d better get going,” he told them. It was late, and Marty had to get up early for his run.

Jet walked out of the bus station, waiting until he was alone before he let his body go, becoming a stiff wind that would take him swiftly across the mountain to Arden. There were less lights in between this time, probably due to the late hour.

He yawned widely as his body reformed after oozing through the tiny space at the bottom of his door. His key card lay where he had left it, unused, on his desk. The glowing clock told him it was 3 a.m. He didn’t bother changing—what was the point? It would be morning soon. All in all, it had been an interesting night. Jet fell into bed and fell asleep before he had a chance to pull the covers over himself.

Jet woke to insistent knocking. He squinted. Yes, that was the sun peeking outside his window. “Hang on!” He dragged himself to the door, prepared to scowl at Daniel for waking him up so early. He would gladly skip breakfast if it meant a few more minutes sleep.

Instead of Daniel, two gray-suited Family men stood at attention. Jet thought he recognized one of them from Low City. That one slid his foot inside Jet’s door, using wind to push the door wide. The other one held a rope of shadow loosely in his hand. It coiled around his wrist and up his forearm, but Jet knew that at a thought from the man it could be launched across the room to bind him. Not that it would hold him, but the man didn’t know that.

“Come with us.”

They escorted Jet to Merrell’s office. The Enforcer sat, grim-faced, behind his desk and stared hard at Jet. “I know what you did last night.”

Jet’s stomach sank. They knew. Somehow they knew he had left Arden last night. “What gave me away?” he asked softly. He wondered if he would be able to escape before Merrell bound him with a net of shadow. Merrell might be strong enough to hold him. Jet edged towards the door.

“What?” Merrell asked.

The office door opened, giving Jet his opportunity to bolt. But then Daniel came through, escorted by another two gray-suited guards.

“Well?” Merrell said. “What do you two have to say for yourselves?”

Jet glanced at Daniel, who smiled ruefully back at him. “Aw, Uncle,” Daniel said. “We didn’t mean any harm.”

Jet sagged in relief as he realized Merrell was talking about the roof. His secret was still safe.


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