Authors: Bridget Zinn
Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult
Copyright © 2013 by Bridget Zinn
Cover photo © 2013 by Michael Heath
Cover design by Marci Senders
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
’ flat didn’t
impregnable. From the outside it just looked like an enormous ramshackle old house. One in bad need of a paint job.
But Kyra knew better.
The first-floor doors and windows bore elaborate magic wards that would alert the Potioners as soon as Kyra touched a windowsill or doorknob. And—unless the Potioners had disabled the bellows contraptions Kyra herself had set up—the wards would knock her out with a puff of sleep potion. Only charmed residents could pass when the wards were in place.
No, there was no getting in on the ground floor.
But Kyra also knew there was a window on the second story that had been stuck for years.
would be her way in.
Which is why she found herself scaling the side of the old house in broad daylight to clamber in through a half-open window. It wasn’t the best idea in the world, but it was Kyra’s only option.
Kyra had been watching the house for days.
Once upon a time the home belonged to a wealthy merchant, but there’d been a tragic fire years before that had killed Lloyd Newman and his family. These days it was split into four apartments. The downstairs was occupied by two noisy families, and in one of the upstairs units lived an old hermit named Ellie.
Then there was the fourth apartment.
The illustrious Master Trio Potioners’ lodgings. The one she was about to break into. These weren’t just any old potioners—if Kyra did say so herself—but rather the most highly esteemed in the kingdom, sought out by even the king himself. Their specialty was poisonous weaponry, and they not only manufactured the weapons, they knew how to use them. Better than anyone else around.
The rough, sun-warmed shingles that sided the house were perfect for climbing, and the nearest village was a good twenty-minute walk away. It wasn’t like anyone was going to
her. Almost no one was home.
The families were out to work and school in the village; the potioners, she assumed, were out hunting Kyra. And the hermit—well, he never went anywhere, anyway.
Kyra hoped he stayed put behind his papered-up windows and didn’t go tromping outside on one of his rare outings. Even a hermit would likely be bothered by the sight of a young woman dressed entirely in black clinging to the side of a house.
Kyra’s left hand cramped as she reached for the next shingle. What she wouldn’t give for a sturdy length of rope to climb. She cursed quietly. What was she doing wishing for rope? If she was going to wish for something, it should be something really important.
Warm from the oven, all crispy, crackly crust and oozing, juicy berries.
All of this hiding and skulking about was going to her head.
things on her wish list—some of them even more important than pie.
At last reaching the window, Kyra pulled herself onto the ledge, flattened her body, and slid through, rolling to the floor and springing to her feet.
It was eerily quiet. She half wished Ellie the hermit would make a sound. Move a piece of furniture or something.
Kyra automatically checked her weapons. Slim holsters on her legs contained several dozen of her signature six-inch-long throwing needles, each tipped with poison.
The outside of the holsters held weapons of a different kind—special pockets of poison that no one knew about but Kyra. People had seen the effects, of course; and a mystique had built up around Kyra’s ability to take out combatants with a mere breath. One tap of her palms against her holsters and she had a fistful of poison to blow into the face of anyone who tried to take her on.
It was extremely effective. Especially at close range.
Her weapons in order, Kyra scanned the apartment. Three bedrooms to her left in various states of lived-in-ness. In front of her, the potions lab, the vials and burners empty and cold. She had a wistful moment as she breathed in the familiar alkaline stink of the lab, but it gave way to irritation when she saw that whoever had last used the beakers and dishes and retorts hadn’t cleaned them. “Ned,” she muttered.
To the right was the kitchen, but…
Not a speck of food left out.
She ignored the pangs of hunger she felt. Directly in front of her was the treasure she’d come for: the potions cabinet. Inside the glass doors were shelves of bottles in every color in the rainbow, glittering in the sunlight.
Kyra opened the large cupboard door and rifled through the bottles. Each potion was part of a numbered system. Charm potions were in the 01 series, glamour potions 02, and so on. What she was looking for was in the 07 series.
Although she could certainly use that cloaking potion with the spray top.
Kyra dropped the bottle into the small bag tied at the side of her waist.
She had to focus and not get distracted by all of the potions she’d like to steal away. She was here to get a very special potion, one that had yet to be recreated by any other potions maker.
Kyra found the 07 series and picked her way through the smooth glass bottles.
It wasn’t there.
She stepped back and grasped the cupboard door. It
to be here.
Methodically, she examined every bottle on every shelf, starting with the 01 series. The light in the room shifted slowly as the sun moved across the sky.
A shiver of unease ran through her. Where was it?
She was going to have to check the rest of the rooms.
Hunting for the glimmer of a wayward potion bottle, Kyra carefully made her way through the apartment.
Hers was the first bedroom, and it was empty. The old feather-stuffed mattress was propped up against the wall, dust bunnies clumped along the baseboard. Her old partners had certainly wasted no time in getting rid of her things.
The next bedroom was a bit of a disaster. Actually, a complete disaster.
Clothes were strewn all over, draped over half-drunk bottles of home-brewed ale, a half-eaten pie in a state of decay, and who knew what else. Kyra eyed the mess, reluctant to take a step into the room for fear of putting her foot into a hidden pudding bowl or something worse, but there was nothing to be done. She kicked her way through the rubbish, hunting for a stray shimmer of glass.
In the dresser she found two bottles of extra-sharp ginger brew, lots of balled-up underwear she hoped were clean, a wedge of cheese, and a piece of paper with a clumsily drawn dancing bear announcing a show featuring animal tricks.
Which left only the final room. Hal’s.
Like him, it had an air of well-groomed arrogance. Gentlemanly cloaks worth more than a local blacksmith would make in an entire year hung neatly on hooks along the wall. The bedding was sumptuous dark velvet. Matching nightstands framed the bed.
Kyra snorted. To think she’d once been impressed by this empty gaudiness.
She went to the carved cherry dresser and yanked on the decorative iron pulls. The drawers slid out smoothly with a soft
. Inside were neatly folded clothes arranged by color.
Between folds of socks, something caught the light from the window. Something that glittered. A bit like glass.
Kyra’s heart sped up.
Gingerly, she reached in and closed her fingers around the object.
It wasn’t a bottle. Kyra pulled it out. A simple glass pendant dangled at the end of a chain. A woman’s necklace. Had it been a gift for her before she’d broken Hal’s heart?
Kyra held it up to the light coming in from the window. As she did, she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and turned.
She almost dropped the necklace in shock when she realized what she was seeing.
Her own reflection in Hal’s giant looking glass.
Kyra’s heart froze in her chest.
It was the first time she’d gazed into a mirror in three months.
And she looked awful.
Her long hair was a black tangle around her face, her skin so pale it was as though the sun had turned its back on the person Kyra had become. Her collarbones jutted out the top of her black clothing. And below that…
She hadn’t thought her chest could get any smaller, but lo and behold, her onetime skintight clothing was actually baggy across the front.
That’s what going hungry did to a body.
But that wasn’t even the most appalling thing.
Her eyes. They were the same olive-colored eyes she’d seen in the mirror her entire life, but different, somehow. They’d been changed by those horrible things she wished she’d never seen. They looked…
Kyra needed to get a grip. The first sixteen years of her life she’d managed not to worry about how she looked. There was no reason to start now.
She turned away from the mirror.
Then she heard the worst possible sound in the world: the downstairs door being thrown open. Followed by a loud, booming laugh.
She knew that laugh. Ned.
Kyra dashed out of the bedroom, panic rippling across her skin. She couldn’t hide in the potioners’ apartment; it was too risky. She could go out the window, but what if Hal was waiting outside? He’d be right there to catch her.
She opened the apartment door and stood silent on the landing, still clutching the necklace in her hand.
The booming laugh grew closer, was coming up the stairs.
Ellie’s flat. Maybe she could sneak in there and hide without his seeing.
She gently closed the door behind her, threw the pendant chain around her neck, and crossed to the hermit’s apartment.
Grabbing a fistful of a Release potion from her belt, she quickly blew the powder into the lock. Then the mechanisms gave way and she was in. She shut the door behind her and stood in the quiet dark, letting her eyes adjust. The covered windows let in small slits of light where cracks had formed in the paper. She could see the entire apartment from where she stood. The place was mostly empty. Some moldy-looking furniture Kyra would rather burn than sit in. And dust. Everywhere.
There was no sign of Ellie the hermit.
She hadn’t seen him leave the whole week she’d staked out the place. Where could he be?
Loud footsteps tramped up the stairs and into the potioners’ lodgings, accompanied by hooting laughs. Damn Ned and Hal. They weren’t supposed to be home. They were supposed to be out looking for her. Why could they never be where they were supposed to be? And what was so funny, anyway?
Ellie’s windows were nailed shut. Of course. And it was impossible to sneak out the front door—the wards would catch Kyra going out as well as in.
Back at Ellie’s front door, Kyra got down on her hands and knees to peer through the crack at the bottom, the pendant on the necklace coming to rest on the floor beneath her. The Master Potioners’ door across the hall was shut.
Kyra closed her eyes. This wasn’t going very well. She hadn’t gotten the potion, and she was trapped in a hermitless hermit home.
Plus, she’d just discovered that she looked old.
She turned away and laid her cheek to the floor. Through the floorboards she felt the buzzing of a steady stream of talk from across the landing.
Kyra opened her eyes, her face pointed toward the saggy couch. Under the couch was the glint of something.
She scootched over, curious to see what it was, and reached under, sweeping her hand around until at last she could grab it.
It was a small potion bottle, the blue phosphorescent liquid inside glowing in the dim room. On the label, printed neatly in her own tiny, cramped handwriting, was
. A red skull signifying the solution’s potency was in one corner, and the Master Trio’s
was stamped in the other.
The potion she’d been looking for.
What was it doing here?
Ellie the hermit had lived at Newman House far longer than Kyra or the other potioners, longer even than the tenants below. In all that time, he’d never done anything to even slightly draw their attention. Old Ellie the hermit kept himself to himself.
And yet he’d disappeared and left behind one of the trio’s poisons.
The door across the hall creaked opened. Stashing the potion in the small bag above her hip, Kyra jumped up and listened carefully at the hermit’s door. Footsteps went down, the front door shut, and the house was silent again.
She waited ten long beats before charging across the hall into the potioners’ flat.
Only to find One of Them. Ned.
He was coming out of the messy bedroom, shoving a piece of pie into his mouth while attempting to tie the drawstring on a bag. Of course
had pie. It was probably warm and fresh too. His chin wobbled as he turned at the sound of the opening door.
Kyra’s throwing needles struck him—one in the shoulder and one in his overly large belly.
He fell without a sound. She lunged forward and caught him, and gently lowered him to the floor.