The Severed Thread
"Both the action and the romance are heart-pounding, but perhaps the most touching aspects are the friendships among the characters: Their world is full of magic, mysteries, and danger, and they support each other through it all with love and compassion." — Kirkus Reviews
- Pages: 416 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: Razorbill
- ISBN: 9780593325858
An Excerpt From
The Severed Thread
fi slipped through a narrow gap in the rock, sucking in a breath to squeeze between the towering russet slabs. High sandstone walls rose around her on both sides of the thin gully, which cut a tight, zigzagging path between sheer canyon walls.
She cursed as her sleeve snagged in a spiny cactus. It wasn't even really her sleeve-the creamy silk blouse had originally been Briar's. A hundred-year-old blouse wasn't Fi's idea of good traveling gear, but her own shirt was in shreds after the fight in the Forest of Thorns, so borrowing Briar's had been her only option. He'd kept his velvet coat and his short-sleeved undershirt, while she took the impractical antique. It fit her more like a tunic, belted at the waist.
Her companions weren't looking much better. Shane's dusky-red coat was infested with burs, and there was a long black smudge up the center of Briar's shirt like he'd been dragged on his stomach. Even the Paper Witch looked a little worse for wear after a week of hard traveling through the wilds of Andar.
Fi glanced at the quickly rising sun, already too warm on her tan skin. Her short brown ponytail clung to her neck. If it wasn't so hot, she could have at least kept her coat on instead of tying it awkwardly around her hips. Without it, the bell-shaped sleeves were a menace.
Fi eyed the cactus. It didn't look like it was going to budge. With a horrible ripping sound, she tore the sleeve free.
A few rocks slid out from beneath her, skittering and popping down the sloping path and almost clobbering Shane in the head.
Shane shot her a glare. "That time, it was definitely on purpose." The huntsman's ash-brown hair was looking more than a little unkempt in its braided bun, and her fair cheeks were definitely sunburned.
Fi winced. "Still just an accident." Just like the last time, and the time before that.
"Well, why don't we switch places, and we'll see how many rocks I accidentally kick down on you," Shane grumbled. She lost interest in Fi as her wedge heel stuck in a fissure between the stones, almost bowling her over when she yanked it free.
Fi rolled her eyes. "Even you would not be able to squeeze past me right now."
Three days ago, when they had finally left the wastes behind for the high bluffs rising out of the desert, Fi had felt nothing but relief. The Paper Witch had called this place the Sunset Narrows. She thought she could see why. Battered sandstone slabs rose around them like a labyrinth, some of them spear-point sharp, others smeared with black dust like scorch marks. By day, they were a dull rust color, but the sinking sun set them on fire, the scarlet light blazing in every craggy rock face until they glowed.
She had underestimated the narrows part, though. The maze of stone passages didn't make for easy traveling-even Shane could barely wriggle through the tightest gaps, and Fi's knees and elbows were purple with bruises. It was a good thing the Witches of Aurora's line were tall and willowy, or she had a feeling they would have lost Briar and the Paper Witch a few forks back.
"Need a hand?"
Fi looked up. Briar was just beyond the next bulging rock, reaching down to help her up. His pale skin had a slight rosy color, and his golden hair was messy from the climb.
"It's better to go over, trust me." He jerked his chin at the gap along the wall, which barely looked wide enough to stick a leg through.
Fi hesitated, then kicked herself for hesitating. "Thanks."
His hand was warm around hers, the once-smooth skin rough with new blisters already turning into calluses. Briar shot her one of his dazzling smiles, holding on tight as she scrambled up the rock.
"I'm just glad you didn't see the part where I tried to squeeze through and almost got stuck for good. Luckily, we've been eating light."
"Don't let Shane hear you say that," Fi warned. Her partner had spent all morning ranting after she nearly broke a tooth on the thin rye loaves from the Paper Witch's pack. It was called traveler's bread because it kept forever, but it was also hard as a rock and tasted about the same. Unfortunately, they didn't have much choice. The Paper Witch was a vegetarian, and even if he wasn't, the only signs of life in the canyon were a few cockeyed lizards and the nesting swallows darting in and out of holes in the bluff. Neither looked very appetizing to Fi.
She slid down the far side of the rock, and Briar reached up to steady her, catching her by the arms. Fi's stomach lurched. She had landed too close to him, almost toe-to-toe, with nowhere to look except up into those twinkling blue eyes. She could feel her face heating up, and not from the sun.
Briar brushed something off her cheek-red dust, she realized, as his fingers came away stained with it. Then he stepped back, letting go abruptly and leaving Fi off-balance. She pretended to retie her bootlace just to keep her head down until the blush faded.
Things with Briar had been different. Fi wasn't sure where they stood now, barely a week since she'd rejected him in the tower. When she'd woken him with a kiss from his hundred-year sleep, she'd meant it to be goodbye. A clean break so that they could both walk away.
In the end, nothing in the castle had gone the way it was supposed to.
Now they were just partners, with a promise to save Andar together. But together was harder than she'd expected. There was a distance between them-a certain look Briar got staring into the fire at night, like he was a thousand miles away, where Fi couldn't hope to reach him. She wasn't sure she should even try. She was the one who'd rejected him, after all. And none of her reasons had changed.
Her gloved hand curled over the Butterfly Curse seared into her palm. She was no closer to removing the mark and ending the devastation it could bring. As long as they kept moving like this, she was safe, but if they ever stopped for longer than three days . . .
Misfortune. Destruction. Calamity. Fi felt cold grip her heart, like a cage of icy fingers. Briar had enough on his shoulders without bearing her burdens as well.
Fi finished fiddling with her boot and straightened, squashing those pesky feelings down. For good this time, she promised herself. They had much bigger problems, starting with the Spindle Witch who still held Andar's castle in a stranglehold and extending to the Witch Hunters who were after their heads. The lawless wilds of Andar were Witch Hunter territory, and they roamed freely in the red hills and canyonlands. One of the many reasons they were squeezing through this impossible path.
Besides, from the way Briar acted, Fi doubted he was even thinking about what had happened between them anymore. She was probably flattering herself, assuming his feelings for her were even a drop in the ocean compared to how badly he wanted to save his kingdom.
"Haste, Filore." The Paper Witch stood in the mouth of the gully ahead. He pushed a strand of blond hair from his pale face, motioning them forward. "The longer it takes to reach the Ironworks, the more danger we are in."
So far they'd avoided any run-ins with Witch Hunter patrols, but they'd had more than a few close calls. It felt like Witch Hunters lay in wait down every passageway, treacherous as the dust-colored vipers that lurked in the dry sagebrush, invisible until they struck. The night before, they'd almost stumbled right into a Witch Hunter camp, and only Shane's quick application of her fist to the sentry's nose had stopped him from raising the alarm. After that, the Paper Witch had turned them toward a different path-an ancient forge, made by the Witches of Aurora's time, which he said ran right through the heart of the hills. But his face had been tight with worry ever since, and Fi had serious doubts about a shortcut the Paper Witch was reluctant to take.
With a great cursing and clatter of rocks, Shane burst through the narrow gap, looking positively livid. "I put my hand in a hole crawling with centipedes!" she growled, flicking one of the wriggling insects at the Paper Witch before it could crawl up her sleeve. It fell miserably short. "There's no way this is the best route to your legendary Witch city!"
The Paper Witch looked annoyed, though it was hard to tell under all the dust. "It is not the best route to the hidden city of Everlynd," he said, emphasizing every word. "But with the Witch Hunters out in force, it is the only route that remains open to us."
Everlynd. Even just the name sent a thrill down Fi's spine.
When the Paper Witch had met them at the edge of the Forest of Thorns, he hadn't just come to light their path. He'd come to fulfill one final duty passed down from his great-grandmother, the Rose Witch: to lead Briar to the hidden city of Everlynd, the last bastion of old Andar. Concealed in the fallen kingdom, powerful Witches had kept the magic of Andar alive in secret for a hundred years, waiting for their prince to rejoin them and lead them to victory over the Spindle Witch. Ideally, it wouldn't have just been Briar, but King Sage and all the Witches from the castle, too, but . . .
Fi shook herself. Just a place like Everlynd existing was more than she'd ever dreamed possible. A place of magic and learning, where the most precious of spell books and relics had been secreted away after the kingdom's fall. A tiny piece of the old Andar preserved like a ship in a bottle all these years. Fi couldn't wait to see it.
Shane was less impressed. "If these Witches are so powerful, I don't see why they can't at least come out and meet us halfway."
The Paper Witch shook his head, either in fondness or defeat. "The city is almost impossible to enter, and only a select few ever leave. It's how the Witches have remained hidden all this time. I am one of a handful of people who knows the way, and even then, the path is-"
"Full of danger, and traps, and killer tests. I remember," Shane groused, waving him off. "Fine. But I want it known that when we get to Everlynd, I expect a royal welcome. You have to be good for something." The last part she aimed at Briar, who laughed.
"I keep telling myself the same thing," he said as they set off again, catching Fi's eye and throwing her a wink. Fi tried very hard not to smile.
It took another hour of climbing and sliding before the Paper Witch led them down a crooked gully that dead-ended at a towering slab of rugged stone. Fi craned her head, shading her eyes and staring up and up and up. A glittering vein of smoky quartz wound through the granite, the uncut crystals glittering like dark stars against the rock. It was beautiful, in a way, but . . .
"I don't see anything that looks like a door," Fi said, wiping her sleeve across her sweaty brow.
"The entrance to the forge is hidden in the rock, and it will remain sealed until we find the keyhole and unlock it." The Paper Witch pressed his lips into a thin line. "Unfortunately, I don't know how to do that."
Shane gaped at him from where she'd leaned back against the rock. "Wait-you dragged us all the way up here to a door you can't even open?"
The Paper Witch chuckled. "Contrary to your frequent accusations, Shane, I don't actually know everything. Certainly not everything about ancient Andar. I've never traversed the Ironworks myself. But Witches who have passed through the forge describe the silver vein of quartz near the entrance, so it must be close." He offered them a smile. "Fortunately, I travel with two enterprising young treasure hunters whom I'm sure can figure out the rest."
"Treasure hunters usually get some treasure for their trouble," Shane muttered, but she pushed to her feet, banging her knuckles against Briar's shoulder. "Come on. We'll start by looking for the basics-pressure panels, trick rocks. There ought to be some of those magic squiggles Fi likes so much. Just don't stick your hand down a hole without checking it first or something will probably bite it off."
Briar looked a little pale. Fi rolled her eyes. "She's exaggerating. Between the vipers and the centipedes, you're much more likely to end up poisoned."
"That's not as reassuring as you think," Briar told her. Still, he followed Shane over to the rock wall, scouring the crags and fissures.
Fi hung back, staring at the glittering quartz and trying to remember everything the Paper Witch had told her about this place. As much as Shane liked to complain about it, context and history was everything when it came to ruins.
The Ironworks had been built in Andar's earliest age by fire Witches and earth Witches-Witches who could manipulate metal and rock and feel the veins of crystal deep beneath the ground. Together, they carved out a great forge and bellows under the hills that burned all through the night. Early storytellers of Darfell had imagined the mountain to be the lair of a Witch who could transform into a great fire-beast, so massive that when it raged the entire northern sky turned red with the smoke of its fetid breath.
But those were just old stories. Fi tugged on her earlobe, thinking. Real people had worked here-Witches who would have been coming and going all the time to gather raw materials for their creations, everything from the iron gates of Andar's fortresses to the spears of its soldiers. So what had they done?
Her eyes followed Shane, picking her way along the slope while Briar cautiously peered into the rainwater divots. A spark of light magic glowed in his palm.
Could it be a magic lock? Fi wondered. For Witches powerful enough to build the forge, using earth magic to reveal a keyhole would be effortless. But immediately she dismissed the idea. Fire Witches had worked here, too, and iron Witches. A door that required a specific magic affinity would be too inconvenient.
The Paper Witch had moved away from her, crouching beside a boulder slick with lichen and filling their precious waterskins from a small stream dribbling through the rocks. Wildflowers bloomed out of the crevices around his feet, bright purple scorpionweed and white snowberries following the dark stream of water until it vanished at the base of the wall. Fi bent and pressed her ear against the rock. She could hear the water trickling inside, loud like it was moving through a vast hollow space-like a hidden passage.
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