Traitor's Son: The Raven Duet Book #2

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9780547196213: Traitor's Son: The Raven Duet Book #2

In Trickster's Girl, when Kesla's journey comes to an end, she passes the pouch and the quest on to someone else. She picks Jason, a native boy she thinks will be able to finish the job. But in fact, a family feud has cut Jason off from his traditional roots, and he is even more doubtful and resistant than Kesla was. But Raven, now a beautiful girl, is quite persuasive and manages to convince Jason this is something not only that he can do, but that he must if he wants to heal his family and the earth.

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About the Author:

Hilari Bell is the author of many science fiction and fantasy novels for children and teens. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue

Raven felt the change in the catalyst the moment the pouch left the girl’s hand, so sharply that he feared she’d died. She’d put so much of herself into it, her sudden absence from the song/scent that drifted along the magical currents of this world was shocking . . . but it wasn’t death he sensed. She still existed, the medicine bag existed, but she was no longer part of it.

What was happening?

If he’d had enough energy to change, he’d have hurtled himself into the wind and raced to see what was going on. But fighting off that last attack had drained him completely. All he could do was to open himself, trying to feel every change in the catalyst’s signature.

If he hadn’t known the medicine pouch before it had bonded to her, he couldn’t have found it at all—so at least his enemies probably couldn’t find it either.

Because he was so focused, so rawly open to the contents of that small pouch, he felt the moment when another’s hand closed over it. A human, not one of his kind. That much he could tell even from this distance. But this human’s signature was different from the girl’s, dull and dense, with none of the bright connectedness that had drawn him to her.

This one might be difficult. This one might be impossible. Most humans were. But he had to try.

If he quit now, this world would not survive.

Chapter 1

Jase sat in the small park near the border station’s pedestrian gate, wondering if his father’s client would let him speed on the way back to Anchorage.

Driving the most ’treme car ever made, he’d found there were three kinds of clients. The sane ones, who were dying to see what a vintage Tesla could do. The stodgy ones, who wanted to creep along observing all the traffic laws. And the liars, who happily urged Jase to make good time and then ratted him out to his father afterward.

Jase could usually tell the sane from the stodgy, but liars were harder. He was contemplating his dismal record at spotting them when the first shots sounded. And until the screaming started, Jase didn’t even recognize the rattling bangs as gunfire.

He jumped to his feet, staring in astonishment as people ran from the line of cars parked on the Canadian side of the checkpoint. The people who’d been loitering in the park on that side of the steel-ribbed fence scrambled to shelter behind planters, or tried to cram themselves behind the big "Welcome to Alaska" sign.

The sign on Jase’s side said "Welcome to Canada." Should he get behind it? It looked pretty flim—

More shots decided that question, and Jase lunged for the nearest tree. Diving for cover wasn’t as easy as it looked on d-vid. The hard-packed ground was dotted with gravel, and his palms stung. His knees felt like they were bleeding, even through the fabric of the suit the firm made him wear to pick up clients. And the tree wasn’t very big.

Should he try to make a break for better shelter? None of the shots were coming his way, but it sounded like a war had broken out on the Canadian side. Jase hoped, with a sinking dread, that none of the screaming people had been hit. The thought of someone in pain, maybe even dying, made his stomach twist.

Something scuffed across the ground behind him, and Jase looked around. More people were hiding in the park on the Canadian side, but there wasn’t as much screaming now, even though the shots continued, accompanied by the breathy turbine sound of revved motors. It didn’t quite sound like cars, though, more like the bulky hum you got from a big electric bike. Hogs? A drug gang? But dealers, of all people, would have enough sense to dump their stuff before they tried to pass—

Something hit the tree above his head with a loud pop, and Jase flattened himself against the trunk—no doubt getting sap all over his suit, but better sap than bullet holes!

Something rattled through the branches and fell beside him. Not a live grenade, which had been his first panicked thought, but a fist-sized stone. There was a gunfight going on just a few hundred yards across the border, and someone was throwing rocks at him?

Jase lifted his head cautiously. He saw the girl on the other side of the fence even before she started waving, because she was the only one who wasn’t looking in the direction of the shots. Her dark hair was cut in ragged wedges—her frizzy curls didn’t work nearly as well with the current style as his straight black hair. She stared at Jase for a long moment, then turned her attention to something in her hands. Was she tying string?

She wore biker leathers but didn’t seem to be part of the battle, which sounded like it was trailing off. She looked up again, making sure she had his attention before she straightened and threw something small over the top of the twelve foot fence. It lit about five feet from Jase, with a soft thump. Not a stone this time.

It was clearly intended for him, so Jase scrambled out to retrieve it, snatching it up and scrambling back a lot more quickly when another burst of shooting broke out. This time the shots sounded farther off; the nasal whine of the bikes was definitely moving away.

Jase looked down at the object in his hand. It was a medicine pouch, with half the beads falling off and leather that looked really old. Museum-piece old. Why would biker drug girl give him this?

Did he look like someone she was meeting? Or was this package so hot she was desperate to get rid of it?

She was now crouched behind a planter, ignoring him, which was probably wise. The cameras on top of the wall were in constant motion. They might have missed her throw, if she’d timed it right, but the more she ignored him the more likely it was the customs cops would do the same. And if that pouch held what he thought it did . . . he should turn it over to the customs officers, immediately.

He knew he should. But not all illegal drugs were harmful, and even the ones that didn’t nuke your brain were worth a lot of money. Maybe a year’s worth of car payments, despite the pouch being so . . .

Had any of those bullets hit his car?

˚˚˚

Jase ran his hands over the midnight blue carbon fiber curves. He didn’t see any bullet holes, but the showers he’d driven through earlier had left dust splatters that might conceal damage. He had just made certain that his car hadn’t been shot, when a voice behind him said, "Jason Mintok? I’m Lloyd Hillyard."

The client! Jase spun and saw a gray-haired man in a suit that looked a lot less rumpled and dirt-stained than his.

"I’m sorry! I was waiting by the gate, with my sign and everything, when . . . Hey, you were on that side! What happened over there?"

The older man’s smile looked tired. "I don’t know much. We were sitting in line when a lot of shooting started, and both my driver and I lay down on our seats. A few minutes later lots of bikes whizzed past us, and then it was over. I heard some speculation about drug gangs, but I don’t really know anything. The customs agent who checked me through seemed pretty upset, though."

"Did they get them? The bikers?" If they’d been arrested, would they talk about the girl and her medicine pouch? He really should have given it to the customs officers. A little late for that, now.

"I suppose they’ll catch them somewhere down the road, but they’re long gone at this point. The agents over there seemed more concerned with keeping everyone calm, and making sure no one needed medical attention."

The agents on Jase’s side of the border had done the same—though glancing around Jase saw one man, probably a plainclothes cop, who wasn’t reassuring people or managing the traffic that had begun to flow through the scanner tunnels again.

It was the man’s eyes that gave him away, a cold flat gaze that inspected everyone, and then dismissed the person when he didn’t find what he sought. He had the strong-boned features of a pureblood Native, and if that sleek leather jacket was as expensive as it looked, he made more money than Jase thought cops could make.

The intent gaze found Jase, who promptly looked away. This was definitely not the time to try to explain that some girl he’d never seen before—honest, officer—had thrown him a packet of contraband.

"Are you ready to leave, sir? We’re already running late, if you want to reach a town in time for dinner."

This man looked like a stodgy, nonspeeding client.

"So we won’t reach Anchorage tonight?"

"Not unless you want to get in at one in the morning." The cop was coming toward them. Jase punched the button that opened the roof, then darted around to open the passenger door. "We’ve got a ten-hour drive to the city. But you’ll make that Sunday afternoon meeting with no trouble, I promise."

The client got in, then fell the last six inches to the seat, unaccustomed to sports cars.

"It’s the low center of gravity that lets it handle so well," Jase told him apologetically. He was so accustomed to getting in and out of the Tesla that he forgot that other people weren’t.

He put the top back up and started the car, swinging out onto the road. The plainclothes cop stood gazing after him, but he didn’t shout or wave for Jase to stop. A clean getaway. Jase tried not to feel like a criminal. It wasn’t his fault that biker girl had chosen him as her accomplice. And if that cop hadn’t looked so scary, he might have come forward and explained that. Maybe.

Mr. Hillyard was looking at the thumbtack logo on the steering wheel.

"A Tesla? With tires?"

"The mark fourteen is the last Tesla Roadster made with tires," Jase told him, beginning to relax as they left the border behind. "All the later models are pure maglev. This one’s just maglev boosted. It takes a bigger charge, but that’s because it can use more power! It’s got 375-pound feet of torque, and . . ."

Mr. Hillyard’s eyes had glazed over.

"It’s already a classic," Jase said, changing direction. "My dad says by the time I’m ready to settle down and sell it, it will be worth twice what I paid."

Not that he intended to sell it, no matter how much its value appreciated. If Jase ever got that grown-up, he wouldn’t recognize himself.

The client settled into the passenger seat, which was already conforming to accommodate him, and pulled the safety web over his chest. The magnetic locks clicked into place.

"By the time you want to sell it. This is your car?"

"Well, it really belongs to my dad’s law firm. But I’m buying it from them as fast as I can. And before they agreed to hire me they made me take several driving-safety courses. I’m very safe. Really."

Jase set his teeth against the impulse to babble. If the client asked, Jase would have to admit he was sixteen and had only had his license for six months. But if he didn’t ask . . .

Mr. Hillyard stretched out his legs. "Roomier than it looks. So where will we stop for the night?"

Definitely not interested in making good time, which was probably for the best. Jase’s father had threatened to revoke his driving privileges for a year if he picked up one more ticket.

"We can stop at Tok if you want to quit around seven," Jase told him. "But if you’d like to run a little later, we could reach Glennallen by ten."

˚˚˚

Mr. Hillyard was a good pickup, not unfriendly, but once they’d started driving, he’d opened his com screen and gone to work, which meant Jase didn’t have to entertain him. And some of the curves that descended into the valley west of the border were a driver’s dream. Jase had dropped down to the recommended speed limit as he swept down the hillside, as he always did carrying stodgy clients, but he still had to pay attention to the road. He didn’t notice anything until Mr. Hillyard said, "What’s that?"

That was a brown cloud hovering over the road at the bottom of the hill. Jase slowed a bit more.

"Dust?" He didn’t see any roadwork.

The cloud swirled and surged toward them, resolving itself into thousands upon thousands of bees.

Nerves prickled up the back of Jase’s neck. He slowed to a crawl, not wanting to coat the Tesla in bug goo.

"I’m glad you put the top up," Mr. Hillyard said. "Is this the right time of year for bees to swarm?"

"I don’t know." Their small hard bodies pinged off the car’s metal skin and rapped against the windows. "I guess. I’ve never seen anything like it."

Jase was very glad he’d put the top up. The bees were outside and he and the client were safe inside, but his heart still beat faster. He could hear their mindless buzzing over the swish of tires on pavement, like a distant chain saw.

Quite a few of the bees had landed on the car and were crawling around the door and the edges of the windows. Between the black and yellow bodies traveling across the windshield and the swarm still in the air, Jase could hardly see the road. Mr. Hillyard reached forward abruptly and punched the button that closed the outside air vent.

"Just in case. Perhaps you’d like to drive a bit faster?"

Jase grimaced. "I’ll have to wash the car. Bug guts are pretty sticky." But he increased his speed a little as he spoke. "There’s a drive-through wash in Tok, but it’ll take a sonic scrub to get it really clean and the closest place for that is Anchorage."

Bees were bouncing off the windshield.

"Maybe you’ll be out of it soon," said Mr. Hillyard.

If anything, the cloud ahead of the car was thicker than the cloud behind.

"I think they’re following us."

Mr. Hillyard frowned at the spinning swarm. "That’s crazy. Why would they?"

"I don’t know. I used a different car wax last time, but that shouldn’t . . ."

The bees were following them. Jase could see patterns in the cloud, brown wisps surging forward to cling to his car. He’d thought bees were attracted to flowers, but there was nothing flowerlike about the Tesla.

This was too weird.

"I’m going to speed up," he warned the client, and took the Tesla from thirty to seventy in about two seconds.

The acceleration threw Jase back in the seat, but he’d been expecting it. The bees hadn’t expected it, and scores of small bodies burst against the windshield—emitting tiny flashes of light as they exploded.

"Whoa! Did you see that?"

Jase turned on the vibro sweep to remove the disgusting remains, and in moments the windshield was clear. Cleaning the headlights and grill wouldn’t be that easy.

"Some sort of phosphorescence?" Mr. Hillyard sounded as baffled as Jase felt. "I didn’t think bees did that."

"Me either." Jase watched the swarm in the rearview screen; the bees were still flying after him, though they were falling behind. Falling behind a lot more slowly than Jase had thought they would. Those bees must be going almost sixty, and he increased the Tesla’s speed a bit more.

The client, he noted, made no objection.

Maybe they caught the sunlight at just the right angle as they burst." Mr. Hillyard sounded a bit unnerved. "I’ve never heard of bees swarming a car, either. Do you have a different species of bees here?"

"I don’t know." On a list of things Jase cared about, different spec...

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