If you enjoyed our review of The Black Lotus by Kieran Fanning last week then you’re going to love this! Today, we’re the the second last stop on The Black Lotus blog tour and we’re pretty chuffed to be able to bring you an exclusive extract from the book as part of the tour.
In chapter three, we join Kate – a homeless teen on the streets in NYC – and begin to understand more about her powers and the power of President Goda. Enjoy!
New York City, America
Kate looked around to make sure no one was watching, then slipped into the trees surrounding the zoo. She opened her backpack and took out her good sneakers and the neatly folded jeans and sweater. One of the hardest things about being homeless was keeping clean clothes. But they were essential to blend in with the crowd. She removed her grubby clothes, the ones which always drew the attention of security guards, and dressed in the clean gear.
Next, she took out a piece of broken mirror, a hairbrush and a bottle of water. Positioning the mirror on her bag so that she could see herself, she brushed the knots from her blonde hair. Then she poured water into her cupped hand and splashed it on to her face.
Using both hands, she scrubbed her face and neck before checking the mirror again.
And if security weren’t convinced, that would change once they heard her speak. Kate didn’t have the accent of a girl living on the streets. Instead, she spoke in the refined tones of a middle-class, educated girl. Which is what she was. Her accent was her secret weapon, allowing her to go places other homeless people couldn’t.
As she began to repack her belongings, she frowned at a piece of paper at the bottom of her bag and pulled it out.
Elmsford Children’s Home,
Elmsford, New York …
Kate stuffed it back to the bottom, eyes stinging, annoyed she’d kept it so long. She’d got a fright when the flyers had started appearing around the Bronx. No way was she going back into care. She’d spent a whole week taking the flyers down. But she’d kept one – she wasn’t sure why. She looked at herself in the mirror. The girl in the mirror looked different from the one in the photo – older, smarter, tougher.
Memories of shooting hoops with her dad, and cuddling up in front of the TV with her mom and Jamie were like pieces of glass in the soles of her feet. Every time she moved, she was reminded of them.
People had said her mom and dad were crazy to volunteer as aid workers in war-torn Norway, but Kate had been proud of her humanitarian parents. Until they were captured and imprisoned by Empire forces for being revolutionaries. Then she was angry with them. Angry with them for having abandoned her and her little brother to America’s social services.
Jamie had been placed with a foster family who turned out to be really nice, so that was one weight off Kate’s mind. But she’d ended up in Elmsford Children’s Home, where rule number sixteen was ‘No animals’. She could live with the other fifteen rules, but animals were her life. She’d climbed out of the window on her first night, and had been on the run ever since. Living on the streets was no picnic, but at least it meant Kate could be herself. She gathered up the rest of her stuff and stepped out of the trees. Again, she checked that nobody had seen her, before continuing down the footpath.
She passed two billboards: ‘Be prepared – learn Japanese in three weeks’ and ‘20% off all Prefabricated Fallout Shelters’. At a news-stand, she glimpsed the headlines on The New York Times: ‘Empire Troops Gather in Guatemala’. Everyone was obsessed with this impending war. She wondered what it would be like to be occupied by the Empire. She’d heard they didn’t tolerate homeless people, that they were forced into workhouses. There was a word for them, but she couldn’t remember it.
She finally reached the perimeter fence. No matter how many times she saw the red-and-black sign, it never failed to make her smile.
WARNING! Dangerous animals live behind this fence. If
you climb it, they could eat you, and that might
make them sick. Thank you. The Bronx Zoo.
She followed the chain-link fence around a corner to where it was hidden from the street by trees. With the skill that came from practice, she scaled the fence. At the top, she threw her leg over a small section that didn’t have barbed wire, and climbed down to the other side.
‘I thought you’d never get here.’
She turned around. ‘Hey, Gol. What’s the matter?’
‘We have to do something about that bully, Eddie.’
‘But he’s tiny,’ said Kate. ‘And you’re enormous.’
‘He’s been calling me names.’
Kate suppressed a smile. ‘But you have big ears.’
‘And he’s been calling me Long Nose.’
‘Tell him it’s a trunk, not a nose,’ said Kate, glaring across at the chimpanzee enclosure where Eddie, the ‘bully’, watched from the top of a pole. She wagged her finger at him, and he immediately buried his head in his armpit.
She patted Goliath, the large African elephant, on the head. ‘If he says anything else to you, let me know.’
Goliath nuzzled her with his trunk. ‘Thank you, Kate.’
‘I’d better go,’ she said. ‘I’m not supposed to be in here.’
The elephant nodded his large wrinkled head.
She dashed across the elephant enclosure, glanced around to check the coast was clear and then climbed over the fence to the path on the other side. It was early, so the zoo was quiet, but already visitors were starting to arrive. First stop was the penguin pond, and luckily there were no people gathered around it. As soon as Percy, the eldest male, saw her, he dived off the rocks and swam across the pool. Kate leant over the fence and waited for him to emerge. He torpedoed out of the water and shook himself dry on the concrete bank.
‘Hi, Percy,’ said Kate.
‘Hi, Kate!’ he brayed in his funny honking voice. Kate always thought he sounded more like a donkey than a penguin.
She scanned the floor of the pool. ‘Much down there today?’
‘A few bits,’ said the penguin, diving back into the water.
Kate watched him scrabble about on the tiled floor of the pool, where coins had been thrown by visitors. People were funny. They obeyed the ‘Do not feed the animals’ sign but couldn’t resist throwing money into pools of water to make a wish. Still, she wasn’t complaining. Percy’s head broke the water with two quarters in his mouth. He stretched upwards, offering them to Kate. She looked around before plucking the coins from his bill. He immediately dived in again to fetch more.
As she waited for Percy to return, she looked across at Zula, the lioness, who was standing up on her hind legs against the bars of her compound. Something was wrong. Zula only ever got excited at feeding time.
Percy slid from the pond and Kate took more coins. ‘Thanks, Percy,’ she said. ‘I’ll be back in a moment.’
He nodded and dived back in.
Kate made her way over to Zula. ‘What do you need?’
The lioness dropped down on to all fours and snarled. ‘That’s a nice waaaay to greet your frieeeend.’
‘Sorry,’ said Kate, ‘but you normally only move if you want something.’
‘Chaaaarming,’ replied the lioness. ‘And I was just about to give yoooou something.’
Zula licked her paw and looked away.
Kate crouched down to the cat’s eye-level. ‘I’m sorry.’
Zula peered out at her, the sun glinting in her amber eyes. ‘Apology aaaaccepted.’
Kate smiled. ‘So what were you going to give me?’
She frowned. ‘What sort of information?’
‘Somebody has been following yoooou.’
Kate glanced around. ‘What did you say?’
‘A maaaan with a patch over his eye has been following yoooou.’
‘Are you kidding?’
Zula was about to reply when the wailing sound of a siren filled the air. Kate stood up and looked around. A group of tourists raced by, towards the exit. At the far side of the pond, more visitors ran with strollers and screaming toddlers towards the gate.
‘What’s going oooon?’
‘I don’t know,’ replied Kate. ‘I’d better go and find out.’
She joined the stream of people rushing towards the exit. At the gift shop, a crowd gathered around a large TV screen mounted on the wall. Kate pushed closer to get a better look.
The words ‘Emergency Alert’ flashed on the screen. Text scrolled across the bottom on a red ribbon.
A CIVIL EMERGENCY HAS BEEN DECLARED FOR
MAINLAND UNITED STATES, EFFECTIVE UNTIL
FURTHER NOTICE. TODAY AT 08:00, FORCES OF
THE SAMURAI EMPIRE INVADED MEXICO.
PRESIDENT GODA HAS THREATENED TO ADVANCE
THE INVASION ON TO AMERICAN SOIL UNLESS THIS
MESSAGE IS PLAYED.
A collective gasp rippled around the crowd before the instantly recognizable face of President Goda appeared on screen. He wore a white suit, and his long black hair was tied into the traditional Empire topknot. His broad shoulders and strong, handsome jawline gave him the look of a Marvel superhero. Behind him, mounted on the wall, two ornate swords crossed each other in the shape of an X – one engraved with a butterfly, the other the eye of a snake.
The camera zoomed in on his face to eyes full of strength and power. The corners of his mouth twitched ever so slightly upwards as if he was about to smile. He wore the look of a chess master who had just checkmated his opponent.
Boiling anger hissed through Kate’s veins. You murdering dictator! My parents are rotting in one of your jails!
When he began to speak, the crowd fell silent, though most probably couldn’t understand his Japanese. The scrolling ribbon of text, however, translated his address.
GREETINGS, PEOPLE OF AMERICA. BY THE TIME
YOU SEE THIS, YOUR ALLY, MEXICO, WILL HAVE
FALLEN UNDER EMPIRE RULE. I HAVE INVITED
YOUR LEADERS TO TALK, BUT THEY HAVE
REFUSED. SO NOW, I EXTEND MY INVITATION
DIRECTLY TO YOU, THE PEOPLE. YOUR COUNTRY
HAS LOST ITS WAY, BUT IF YOU JOIN THE SAMURAI
EMPIRE, I PROMISE A RETURN TO TRADITIONAL
VALUES. JOIN PEACEFULLY, AND YOU WILL FIND
THERE IS A PLACE THERE FOR EVERYBODY.