The Gift
asks Wisty. “I think so. But let’s not experiment if we
     don’t have to, especially with me on your back. Yah, tiger,

    And then she digs her heels into my flanks. I yelp, and I take off up the hill—
as a tiger
. Ain’t magic great?
    The dogs howl in rage behind us, and then there’s another noise—another sort of roar? I look back over my striped shoulder
     and see that our pursuers are now turning themselves into bears, grizzlies actually, as they continue after us.
    Who are these guys? And where are they getting their magic?
    The answer, unfortunately, reveals itself all too quickly.
    We reach the clearing at the crest of the hill and are greeted by a tall bald man in an impeccable dark blue suit. He’s standing
     there as if he’s been waiting for us all his life.

Chapter 40

    I WHEEL around immediately. I’d rather face a troop of charging bears than The One Who Is The One. Heck, I’d rather face a lake filled
     with piranha, a full stampede of tyrannosaurs, a mechanized infantry division… I could go on and on.
    But even as we turn away, the trees of the forest weave their yellow-leaved branches and trunks together and seal up the path
     as if it had never been there. There’s no way through, no way out.
    The ground buckles and sends us sprawling backward toward the middle of the clearing. Wisty topples off my back and lands
     with a whimper on the ground.
    She’s still too messed up by the drugs to stand, but The One doesn’t cut her any slack—tree roots shoot out of the ground
     and quickly smother her in a dirty wickerwork of wooden tendrils.
she screams. “I’m trapped! I can’t move!”
    There’s nothing worse than hearing someone you love scream your name in desperation. Rage boils up inside me. I spin and charge.
     Five hundred pounds of furious Siberian tiger ready to snap his bald-headed neck like a toothpick, ready to send my sharp
     teeth into whatever part of him I can reach first.
    Unfortunately, The One Who Is The One has other ideas. Suddenly the wind kicks up so fiercely I have to close my eyes. And
     it’s as if I’m a stuffed tiger, flimsy as a carnival prize—and somebody has turned on a giant leaf blower. I’m flipped into
     the air, and I can’t tell up from down. Leaves and dirt are pelting me, stinging me, cutting through even my dense fur, and
     then—wait!—the wind has stopped already.
    For a split second I can see the sky.
    And then, oh no—I can see the earth! I make out Wisty’s form
so far, far below,
pinned on the hilltop way down there like some human sacrifice. I must be a thousand feet above her.
    I hear laughter.
laughter… echoing up as if the entire forest is mocking us.
    And then I’m no longer a tiger.
    I’m just
in my torn clothing.
    He’s taken away my mojo, my magic, probably my life.

Chapter 41

    “HAVE A SEAT,” says the solemn, tight-lipped man behind the heavy metal desk.
    Byron Swain nods nervously and sits on the threadbare couch as the man finishes some official-looking paperwork.
    “You took your time getting here,” says the stern adult, putting down his overchewed pencil.
    “I had to observe all the protocols —”
    “No excuses!”
yells the man, spraying spittle across the metal desk at Byron. “Children of Ones don’t make excuses!”
    He again snatches up his battered pencil as if he is going to either break it in two or throw it at Byron’s face.
    Byron meekly recedes back into the couch, wishing he could somehow slide between the cushions like some accidental pocket
    “And you will stand up in my presence! Who do you think you are, Byron?”
    “I’m sorry, Dad.”
calling me that! I am
The One Who Tallies The Internal Revenues
    “Yes, sir, I’m sorry, sir,” says Byron, remembering how the Freelanders call his father “The One Who Counts The Beans” and
     making a mental note not to mention that. “I just

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