This is a little tidbit from the point of view of Sophie’s family.
– THREE WEEKS AGO –
Lily Conifer was petrified.
More than petrified—deathly afraid. Cold to the bone. Beyond tears: Wondering, pale, bound.
Her family had been kidnapped. They were on the road to oblivion. Lily was so exhausted she could not comprehend what was happening—all she knew was that the back of the van was dark and foreboding, just like a coffin.
The drivers were silent. Lily was silent. Charlotte was still asleep. Mom and Dad weresilent. Sophie…
Lily looked to her father, who had lost his calm demeanor and now stared with wild eyes at his surroundings. He seemed reluctant to speak, lest the kidnappers inflict harm…But what could they do from the front seats of the van? Lily could not even see their faces.
The back of the van was spacious, but not with four people crammed in the same row of seating. The windows were blacked out, and a sheet had been spread between the two seats in front of them so that the Conifers could not see past the back seat.
About a minute passed. Lily’s mind began to shut down as she rejected the present: This could not be happening…Not on her birthday…
Lily’s father murmured something to Mother, who gave a breathless response. Henry Conifer was about to raise his voice and speak to the drivers–
All of a sudden, the van slammed to a halt. Lily’s face smashed into the seat in front of her, and stars sparked in her eyes. A hideous, metallic screech pierced the silence, followed by a thunderous boom, which caused the van to jolt and collapse, its wheels having been destroyed.
The drivers began to panic, but before any action could be taken, Lily heard two windows shatter, and glass pelted the sheet-curtain. “You’re being rescued!” came a man’s voice as doors flew open and the kidnappers were yanked outside, yelping. Bright lights glared into the van, and Lily saw shadows moving swiftly beyond the curtain. Presently, the obstructive sheet was pulled away by a man with a flashlight.
“You are the Conifers?”
“Yes!” Lily’s mother gasped.
“Everything’s under control. You’re safe now.”
The man produced wire clippers from a pouch on his belt. He cut Henry Conifer’s handcuffs and handed him the clippers, with which Henry freed his family. In moments, the Conifers found themselves outside that wretched van, huddled on a cold, moonlit road in the woods. Two agents conferred with the family, one of whom was the man who had lifted the curtain. The other agent was a teenage girl with short black hair and sunglasses—at night.
“I’m Agent Hightower,” the man said, “and I’m sorry you’ve all been dragged into this. I know you’re wondering what’s going on, but we’ll have to explain on the way to safety. Daisy and I will escort you to our headquarters while my other two agents take care of your kidnappers.”
Lily’s eyes widened. She was speechless. Her mother grabbed her arm, equally breathless, and steered her two daughters towards Hightower’s silver SUV, which was parked just around the road’s bend.
The Conifers had been freed. The scare was over—or was it just beginning? Lily sat in a daze in the back of the SUV, listening to everything Hightower had to say.
He spoke of unimaginable things. He spoke of powers, of shadow-wars, of an enemy that ruined lives…
“Had we not intercepted the van, you would have been used by them. They want to take innocent people and…well, it’s awful. It’s wrong. What they’ve done…it’s unnatural. These powers most easily manifest themselves in children, and we believe your daughters might have been–”
Henry interrupted Hightower. “Cut the crazy talk. What kind of code are you speaking in?”
“Invocans, Mr. Conifer,” Hightower replied. “They call it Invocans.”
“No one in my family has powers. This is ridiculous. If you’re suggesting my daughters…”
“I know it’s hard to believe, sir, but it’s the only reality in our lives at the moment. As I said before, it is a quiet fight, but many lives hang in the balance.”
Lily knew she couldn’t believe it until she saw it.
“Listen up.” Daisy spoke for the first time, motionless in the passenger seat. “Everything he’s telling you is true, and if you want to stay safe, then listen. I’ll show you what we mean when we get to safety.”
“Where is that?” Henry demanded.
“We have a headquarters that the enemy doesn’t know about. We’ll be safe there.”
“You haven’t called the police?”
“And what makes you think the police would have a reaction any different from yours? The idea of Invocans is ludicrous. That is why—and how—no one knows about it.”
“What about Sophie?” Henry prompted. “Where is she? Our daughter—where is she?”
Hightower’s face was impassive from what Lily could see of it in the rearview mirror. “Sophie.” He glanced at Daisy.
“She wasn’t in the van,” Daisy said.
Hightower’s brow creased uneasily. “If she wasn’t in the van, they left herbehind.”
Panic stabbed Lily’s insides.
“We’ll send a group back to search for her—she could be hiding somewhere safe. I’m sure she’s fine.”
After almost an hour in the car, Daisy passed blindfolds to the Conifer family.
“For your safety, you cannot know the directions to headquarters.”
Lily could feel her father’s worry from his seat right next to her. He was obviously anxious to sort things out upon their arrival at headquarters. But when he asked when they’d be able to return home, the answer was unexpected:
“You know too much; you are targets.” There would be no going home for quite some time.
When the car pulled up to a warehouse in the middle of nowhere, Lily heard Daisy collecting blindfolds, so she took hers off and handed it up. Everyone exited the vehicle except Hightower, who drove it around back to park.
Daisy stood before the family in the gravel lot. “Conifers, I’m about to show you what we mean by powers. I don’t want you to be afraid. I’m in as much control of mine as I can be. But I want you to know that this is reality, however scary it may be…”
In the empty gravel parking lot, under the gray light of the rising sun, Lily beheld a miraculous sight. Before Lily’s eyes, Daisy’s form blurred, her sunglasses fell to the ground, and suddenly, as Lily blinked, there stood before the Conifers a regal black panther with golden eyes. Daisy’s sleek, stretchy clothing had expanded and now cloaked the panther like a smooth black skin.
That was a moment Lily would never forget.
Don’t lie to yourself any longer. People like me are in a lot of danger—so are people like you—innocent people who are taken and forced into these powers. It’s likely thatyou’repowerless. If so, good. In that case, you’resafe;the enemy can’t control you. But if either of your daughters do possess Invocans, we have to know. As Agent Hightower said, lives hang in the balance.
As Daisy returned to human form, Lily’s jaw hung limp. She suddenly felt very, very afraid. Oh, how things had changed! How wrong everything felt!
Daisy stooped hurriedly for her sunglasses, and Lily briefly wondered what Daisy was trying to hide behind them. Perhaps her face must remain anonymous. Lily shuddered again—fearfully—wondering if she, too, must soon become a face behind a mask, never to be with her friends again.
“Let’s head inside,” Daisy said, stopping Lily’s father before he could say anything else. “Miss Pansy will explain everything. We’ll send a team looking for Sophie. Most importantly, we have a place for you all to sleep for the night.”
Daisy led the bedraggled family across the gravel lot and into the front door of the warehouse, where warm office lights welcomed them to shelter.
For all that had happened, Lily could only feel as though she had just entered the lions’ den—and was about to begin the game of survival.