“Careful, Sylvi!” shouted the older girl as the other hopped from rock to rock, giggling. They both fell silent when they noticed Eryk.
“Hello,” he offered, then tried, “Ajor” in Fjerdan.
“We speak Ravkan,” said the taller girl, though she had that Fjerdan lilt to her voice. She looked like she was Eryk’s age, maybe a little older. “Sylvi, stop that. Get back here.”
“No!” shrieked the younger girl happily, and launched herself into another hop over the rushing water. “Watch me, Annika!”
Eryk walked a little way upstream to where he could study the water playing in the rapids and sat down on a rock. He picked up a stick and let the tip drift in the water, feeling the tug of the current, waiting. They would approach him. They always did. But he felt more anxious than usual. He’d stopped trying to make friends in the places he and his mother visited—there was no point when they moved on so quickly. Now he wasn’t quite sure how to go about it.
A few minutes later, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sylvi hopping toward him.
“Are you Lena’s son?”
“You can do that thing? The same thing she can?”
“Can I see?” Sylvi asked.
They started curious, but they usually ended up afraid.
“Don’t be rude, Sylvi,” chastised Annika.
Sylvi kicked a chunk of earth into the stream. “I want to see.”
“It’s okay,” said Eryk. He might as well get it over with. He lifted his hand and drew a circle of darkness in the air. It twisted and curled, its tendrils tugging at the sunlight before they faded.
“Again,” said Sylvi.
He smiled a little and repeated the gesture. He let the circle roll toward Sylvi. She poked her fingers through it and watched as her fingertips vanished. She shrieked and pulled her hand back.
“Annika, come try!”
“Leave him alone, Sylvi.”
“What’s your name?” Sylvi asked.
“Arkady,” he said. When she frowned, he amended, “Eryk.”
“I don’t like that name.”
“Why don’t you change it?”
“Maybe I will.”
“Do the thing again.”
“Stop pestering him, Sylvi.”
He created another circle but this time made it spiral larger. Annika left off any pretense of mucking around in the stream and stared. He fashioned the darkness into a disk that floated beside the rapids like a black door that might lead anywhere. Sylvi stepped toward it.
“Sylvi, don’t!” Annika shouted.
The little girl vanished into the black.
“Sylvi!” cried Annika, running forward.
From the whirling black disk came Sylvi’s laughter. “I can’t see you!” she crowed. “Can you see me?”
“Bring her back,” snarled Annika. She lifted her hands, and the surface of the creek trembled slightly.
“She’s standing right there,” Eryk said, trying to ignore the way her words stung. He should be used to it by now. He gave a flick of his fingers. The black disk vanished, and there was Sylvi, arms held out in front of her.
She scowled. “Why’d you stop?”
Annika grabbed Sylvi in a tight hug. “Are you okay?”
“What’s the matter?” Sylvi asked, struggling to disentangle herself.
Annika’s cheeks reddened. “Nothing. I … Sorry,” she mumbled to Eryk.
“I’ve just never seen anything like that up close.”
He picked up his stick and dragged it back through the current of the stream.
“Listen,” Annika said, “I’m sorry. I—”
She was interrupted by the sounds of voices. Three boys crashed into the clearing, shoving at one another and laughing. Annika stepped away from Eryk, her shoulders tense.
“Come out to practice, Annika?” asked the tallest of the boys when he saw them. He had the same red-gold hair as the Ulle. “You certainly need it.”
Annika took Sylvi’s hand. “We were just leaving, Lev.”
The boy glanced at Eryk. “You’re the other shadow summoner, aren’t you? You came with the Black Witch.”
“Don’t use that word,” Annika snapped.
“What’s the big deal?”
“If you’d seen a drüskelle raid, you’d know. Come on, Sylvi, let’s go.”
“I don’t want to,” said Sylvi.
Lev grinned. “Don’t leave on our account.” He twisted his wrists, and two little gusts of air spiraled to life, lifting pine needles off the ground and forming tiny cyclones. They whirred over the creek, gathering water, then bounced free to spin over the forest floor like tops.
Sylvi clapped her hands and chased one down the bank. “You make one, Annika.”
“Yeah, you make one,” said Lev, exchanging a knowing glance with the other boys.
Annika flushed a deeper red. She took a breath and raised her hands. The water swelled from the creek’s surface in a shivering arc. Sylvi gave a triumphant whoop. As Annika twisted her wrists, the water spiraled slowly left, then collapsed in a splash.
The two boys burst out laughing, but Lev just shook his head.
“Weak,” he said, “just like your father. You should spend more time training and less time playing with that runt.”
Sylvi frowned. “What’s a runt?”
Lev bent to look Sylvi in the eye and smiled. His voice was friendly, warm as honey. “You’re a runt, lapushka. Small and stunted and useless. A little otkazat’sya mistake.”
Sylvi’s lip trembled. Eryk stood, unsure of what he meant to do. His mother wouldn’t want him to get involved, particularly in a conflict with the Ulle’s son.
But before he could say a word, Annika gave Lev a hard shove. “Leave her alone.”
Lev smirked. “She shouldn’t be here. This is a Grisha camp.”
“Some people don’t show their power until later.”
“She’s otkazat’sya, and you know it. One more weakling in a family full of weaklings. She should go. Hell, you should all go. You can’t carry your own weight.”
“That isn’t your decision.”
“No, it’s my father’s decision. Maybe we should just drown the runt now. Put her out of her misery.” He took a step toward Sylvi.
“I said leave her alone.”
Annika raised her arms and, maybe because of her anger, the water whipped from the creek surface in a slash of stinging spray. But she was no match for Lev. With the barest wave of his hand, the water dissipated into mist.
“This should be fun,” he said.
He lifted his arms and a gust of air slammed through the woods, knocking Sylvi and Annika to the ground. The wind roared between the trees, snapping branches, sending them hurtling toward the girls. Sylvi screamed.
“Stop!” Eryk shouted, and before he could think better of it, a skein of darkness shot from his hands and wrapped itself around Lev. It circled the boy’s body like a snake and closed over his face.
Lev howled and the wind vanished, branches dropping harmlessly to the ground. “I can’t see!” he cried out. “Help me!”
The other boys took a hesitant step toward Eryk.
Eryk gathered the darkness in his hands and launched it at them. They screamed and tried to claw at the shadows crawling over them. One lost his footing and fell forward. The other yelped, hands waving in the air, clutching blindly at nothing.
Eryk felt the dark curling around him in black waves. He walked up behind Lev and gave him a shove toward the path. The boy swung wildly, and Eryk barely dodged his fist.
“Go back to camp and leave us alone,” he said, wishing his voice sounded deeper, more intimidating.
“Give me back my eyes, you little bastard,” wailed Lev.
“Go!” Eryk said, giving each of the boys a nudge with his boot.
They stumbled forward, bumping into one anothe
r, grabbing at each other’s sleeves. Then they staggered down the path, arms held out before them as they careened from tree to tree.
Eryk kept the darkness swirling around their heads until they were a few hundred yards away, then he let it go. Lev released a sob. The boys stared at each other in shock, then bolted toward camp.
“I’m not done with you,” Lev yelled back at him.