The steady noise of the car combined with the slight rocking motion lulled Jet to sleep despite his anticipation. His head bobbed sideways until it came to rest on Merrell’s shoulder. Once, twice it happened, and each time Jet jerked back upright, his eyes popping open before drifting closed again. The third time, his head stayed there, using Merrell’s unmoving shoulder as a pillow. Odd dreams flitted through Jet’s mind, dreams of the school he was on his way to attend mixed with Doll and long, strange ribbons of shadow. The school suddenly turned into Ben’s subway shop which quickly became engulfed in shadow which burst into flame. Jet shot upright, breathing heavily.
Merrell eyed Jet coolly. Jet realized how close he had been sitting and immediately moved closer to the window. He couldn’t see anything outside. “Where are we?” Jet asked.
“Still a few hours away,” Merrell replied. “We’ll be there by morning. Go back to sleep.”
“I wasn’t sleeping,” Jet mumbled, but he closed his eyes and leaned his head against the cold window. This time he didn’t wake up again until the motion of the car stopped. Merrell got out and held the door open for Jet. The faint light of dawn was just brightening the tree tops in the distance. This was Darcy?
The other black sedans were pulled up in back of theirs along a wide, curved driveway in front of a massive brick house. Beyond the house were open expanses of green grass, and beyond that, trees. Too many trees to be Darcy. Where were the tall buildings? The government center? Where was the school he was promised?
“What is this place?” he asked, suspicious.
“Arden.” Merrell threw his suitcase at him and Jet caught it with a gust of wind to help him. He followed Merrell as he walked up the broad steps into an open foyer. It looked like some sort of fancy hotel. Jet had been in hotels before, lots of times.
“This is your room.” Merrell opened a door and handed Jet the small card that did it. Jet was right. It was a hotel. He flopped down on the bed and gazed suspiciously at Merrell, who hadn’t moved from the doorway. “Get cleaned up. I’ll send someone for you in one hour.”
“I thought we were going to that school you told me about,” Jet said, but Merrell closed the door and walked away. Jet thought about following after him as wind, but discarded that idea. He would find out soon enough. One hour. Yawning, he stretched out on the bed. Cars were uncomfortable compared to beds, and an hour was an hour. Jet slept.
A knock at his door told Jet time was up. He stood and brushed off the suit of clothes he’d been wearing for the last few days. A younger looking version of Merrell waited in the hallway, smartly dressed in a gray, close-fitting uniform and looking very annoyed. His black hair was combed precisely away from his face, bringing his cheekbones into sharp severity. Jet could see why Doll was attracted to him. This must be the other Family who had permission to access the locked room at Low City’s library—Merrell’s son. “Yeah?” Jet said, scratching his head.
Jet could almost hear the disgusted hiss in the younger Merrell’s voice. He definitely caught the eye roll. “My father sent me home because of you? Obviously he made a mistake. Are you even Family?” He pushed his way into Jet’s room, glancing around dismissively. “I’m to take you to the dining room. Do you want to get changed?”
What was it with these people and their obsession with clothes? “I am dressed,” Jet said. “Let’s go.” He grabbed his key card off the dresser and followed the other man down the long hallway to an elevator.
The dining room was the size of two of Ben’s shops put together. Merrell sat at a round table with a few of the men Jet remembered from Low City. They now wore gray uniforms instead of suits, even Merrell.
“Not there.” Merrell’s son roughly grabbed Jet’s arm. Jet almost let his arm go to smoke, his instinctive response to flee. With an effort, he made himself stand still. Merrell’s son led him to another table, this one filled with children. “Here.”
“Macek?” A short girl with shoulder-length black hair and bangs that almost hid her eyes looked up in surprise and Jet revised his first impression. This girl was no child. She might be small but she was filled out in all the right places. Grinning appreciatively, Jet slid into the chair next to her. Conversation around the table sputtered out as everyone stared.
“This is the one my father went to fetch from Low City,” Macek said. “I don’t even know your name. What’s your name, kid?”
“Jet. This is Jet.”
The short girl ran her eyes up and down Jet. “What’s wrong with your hair?” she sneered. “And you smell. Macek, he smells! I don’t want him sitting near me!”
“Well, he has to sit near you, at least until my father decides he’s a lying bastard and kicks him out on his ass.” Macek changed his mind and moved Jet down a chair so he could sit next to the girl. “In the meantime, Lorra, we are to treat him like Family.”
Jet sniffed his sleeve. He didn’t smell. Hadn’t he had a bubble bath at Doll’s not that long ago? He looked around the table curiously. The other kids went back to eating their breakfast while listening to what Macek was saying and stealing occasional glances at Jet. He wondered where they got the food from and if he would be able to get any.
“Who’s his mother?” One of the younger boys asked curiously. Jet thought it a strange question.
“He’s not staying here, is he?” Lorra asked. Jet began to suspect that Arden might be the school he was promised after all, and not just some fancy hotel.
Macek said, “For now, he is.”
“Enough.” Thomas Merrell loomed above the table. “Macek, I asked you to handle this. Jet, come with me. The rest of you, finish your breakfast and get to class. I’ll speak to you later. Macek, you come too.” Merrell strode off while Macek glowered at Jet, who reluctantly pushed his chair back. Looked like neither one of them was going to get breakfast after all. Jet snagged a roll off Lorra’s plate and followed both Merrells out of the dining room.
Jet glanced back at their table. They all had their heads together, whispering. Lorra caught him looking and scowled. A few of the other tables had already finished their meals and were headed towards a different exit. “Uh, are all these kids royals?” he asked Macek, as Thomas Merrell was already far ahead of them. Jet wanted to know if they all had multiple abilities like he did. None of them had used any elemental skills in the short time he had sat with them. Neither had Macek. Neither had Merrell, except for that trick with the light in the car.
Macek snorted. “What do you think? My father would allow just anyone into his home?”
His home? “This isn’t a school? You live here? They all live here?”
Macek sighed impatiently. “We’re Family. I don’t know what you are.”
Meaning he didn’t like it that his father had invited Jet to their “school.” If Jet had realized it wasn’t a school at all but a group of Merrell’s own relatives, he might not have come. Some of those kids must belong to the King, if Ben’s story was right. They couldn’t all be Merrell’s, could they? “How many of you are there?” he asked, as Macek pointed to an office where Merrell now sat behind a big wood desk.
Merrell answered. “There are seventeen cousins at present at Arden. Sit down. Macek, close the door. I wanted you to get acclimated without interference from me, but I see that’s not going to happen. Welcome to Arden.”
Jet sat. Macek leaned sullenly against the door. “All cousins?” Jet asked, not liking where this was going. He was not that kid.
Merrell nodded curtly. “Children of the King and his three siblings.”
“Then what am I doing here?” Jet leaned forward, practically daring Merrell to say he was this long lost Princeling.
“Yes, father. What is he doing here?” Macek came away from the door to stand in front of his father’s desk. “You told me he broke into the Family’s study room in Low City and got his hands on some of the forbidden texts. So he learned a few tricks. That doesn’t make him one of us. You should have let me handle it like I wanted to when I was in Low City. Instead, you bring the thief here.”
Jet bristled at being called a thief, although when he thought of what the alternative might be, he decided thief wasn’t that bad of a description.
“You’re right. You should have taken care of it in Low City,” Merrell was saying. “But you didn’t, and so I did. Until we figure out just who he really is and what he can do, he stays here. Until we know otherwise, you will consider him a cousin and treat him as such. Understood?”
“I’m not a cousin!” Jet protested, coming to his feet to stand next to Macek. In this they were in agreement. “I came because you said I could learn more about my abilities at your school. If there’s no school, I’m leaving!”
“You’ll stay.” Merrell’s tone brooked no argument. “Macek, you wanted to handle it in Low City. You’ll handle it now instead. Take Jet to the beginner’s practice room. He’ll be in your group for now.”
Jet was confused. Was this or wasn’t this a school? “Practice what?” he asked. He still hadn’t seen anybody use elemental powers at all.
For answer, Merrell shot a spear of light at Jet. Jet wasn’t as startled as he had been the last time Merrell pulled that particular trick. He calmly grabbed the spear out of the air inches from his face and dissolved it with a touch of shadow. Okay then. Practice elemental stuff. He could do that.
Macek looked a little surprised, but he recovered quickly. “So he can utilize shadow. So what?” He fashioned another spear out of shadow and tossed it to Jet, who realized this was a test and met it with a shield of light. Macek’s eyebrows rose. “Well, come on then, cousin,” he said cuttingly. “Let’s see what else you can do.”
“I came here to learn what I can’t do,” Jet said as he followed Macek out of the office. Finally he was going to be able to see what other Family were capable of, even if they were just beginners.
The practice room buzzed with energy. Four little boys ran around in circles. None of them were older than ten. Macek whistled sharply and they all fell into a single line facing him. “Get in line,” Macek told Jet, who stared at him in astonishment. Macek was the teacher? They’d stuck him in a class of little kids!
“Oh, I’m out of here,” Jet muttered, turning towards the door.
It slammed shut. “Get in line,” Macek repeated. “Say hello to cousin Jet.”
“Hello, cousin Jet!” the boys sing-songed. One of them was the kid from breakfast who had asked about his mother.
At least they didn’t say ‘Roderick.’ Jet got in line.