Ever since his mother was killed, seventeen-year-old Cayder Broduck has had one goal—to see illegal users of magic brought to justice…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from League of Liars, a new YA fantasy thriller by Astrid Scholte, out February 22nd from G.B. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.
Ever since his mother was killed, seventeen-year-old Cayder Broduck has had one goal—to see illegal users of magic brought to justice. People who carelessly use extradimensional magic for their own self-interest, without a care to the damage it does to society or those around them, deserve to be punished as far as Cayder is concerned. Because magic always has a price. So when Cayder lands a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to apprentice under a premier public defender, he takes it. If he can learn all the tricks of public defense, the better he’ll be able to dismantle defense arguments when he’s a prosecutor. Then he’ll finally be able to make sure justice is served.
But when he meets the three criminals he’s supposed to defend, it no longer seems so black and white. They’re teenagers, like him, and their stories are… complicated, like his. Vardean, the prison where Cayder’s new clients are incarcerated, also happens to be at the very heart of the horrible tear in the veil between their world and another dimension—where all magic comes from.
Jey loped through the streets, a fowl tucked under one arm and a knife clasped in the other. The fowl fluttered against his side as he fled; members of the King’s Guard, who upheld the general peace of Telene, were close behind, shouting as they pursued.
“Stop now,” one yelled, “and we’ll only take your hands, not your head!”
“Tempting!” Jey yelled back over his shoulder.
He wound his way through the stalls of Penchant Place, which sat in the center of the overstuffed capital. The smell of coal and dust from the nearby industrial district of the Unbent River clung to the air. And not even the sweetest stolen pastry could mask the stink of too many people living in close quarters.
Jey sidled into a narrow alley away from the market and the hollers of the guards. He began questioning his choice of stolen goods as the fowl started nipping at his fingers. A bag of rice didn’t bite.
The guards chased Jey through the alleyways, their continued bellowing allowing him to stay a step ahead.
“Surrender now, you scoundrel!” one shouted.
Jey was well acquainted with that voice. He’d often been chased by this guard. He liked to think of their meetings as a special kind of dance, one that he had perfected over the past five weeks. The guard was spindly, all arms and legs, but he was fast. While Jey was fit, at six foot three, he was too tall and broad to be nimble and quick. He was used to the careful precision of climbing walls and trees, not darting between narrow gaps of market stalls.
Jey could hear the guard’s swift footsteps as he neared.
No matter which way Jey turned, he couldn’t seem to lose him. The guard lunged, reaching for the tail of Jey’s shirt.
Jey darted into another laneway, leaving the man’s fist empty.
In front of him stood a stack of crates, blocking his exit. Jey cursed and glanced behind him.
The guard sneered as he drew close. “Got you!”
“Don’t worry,” Jey muttered to the fowl. “I’ve been in worse scrapes than this.” He launched himself up the stone wall, the fowl’s feathers flapping in his face.
“Cut it out!” Jey said. “Can’t you see I’m trying to escape?”
“Stop!” the guard cried.
Once Jey landed on the ground, he kicked out behind him, toppling the crates into the guard’s path.
“Ha!” Jey rejoiced. The fowl clucked in disapproval. “Don’t be so persnickety,” he clucked back. His mother would’ve approved of his word choice. She’d worked hard to ensure Jey attended Kardelle’s most prestigious high school before she’d passed away.
Only when Jey reached the edge of the Unbent River did he allow himself to slow. Along the north side of the river sat an abandoned construction site, the perfect refuge. The developers had gone bankrupt before the luxury terraced houses had been completed. Now the only luxury was a tin roof and an unobstructed view of the murky brown river that looked more like sludge than water. Still, it suited Jey just fine.
“Here,” Jey said, plopping the fowl into a pen he’d built from abandoned materials at the construction site. He dropped a handful of grain next to the bird. “Don’t say I never gave you anything.”
He sucked on his fingertips; it felt as though the fowl had nibbled them to the bone. “This is the thanks I get for saving you from becoming someone’s roast dinner?”
The fowl cocked its head at Jey as though she were asking a question.
“Oh, this?” Jey glanced at the knife in his other hand. “That was all for show.” He slammed the blade into his palm, and it retracted into the handle. “It’s a stage prop.”
When the fowl clacked, Jey added, “I need eggs. A dead fowl feeds you for a day or two. A live fowl feeds you for months, if not years.” He spun the faux knife before sliding it into his belt. “Got to think bigger, mate.”
When the fowl didn’t stoop to eat the feed, Jey shrugged his shoulders. “Ungrateful bird.”
Jey placed his tattered deck chair by the river’s edge and crossed his long legs out in front of him. As the sun set, it ducked under the permacloud, turning the river amber, as though gold lined the banks. As much as he enjoyed the house now—if you could call it that—he hated to think what this place would be like in winter with no walls to protect him from the cold. But even if hunger scratched at his belly, frostbite tickled his toes and rats became his nightly bedfellows, he could never go back to his father’s house.
While the Unbent River looked dirty, it was only due to the color of the soil underneath. The water itself was clean, and it had been Jey’s bathing and drinking water for the four weeks he’d lived here—not in that order, of course.
Jey retrieved a bunch of torlu berries from his pocket and smiled. His favorite treat. At times like this, he would remind himself what was important. He was alive. And although he was currently alone, he was no longer lonely. And Jey knew the true meaning of loneliness.
After Jey’s mother passed away from a sudden illness two years ago, he’d been sent to live with his estranged father. He’d never wanted Jey in his life, and his opinion didn’t shift even when Jey was living under his roof.
Jey’s parents had met through their work at the Regency. Jey’s mother, Yooli, specialized in horology—the study and measurement of time. Van, Jey’s father, and Yooli worked together to develop the edemmeter—a piece of equipment that registered temporal glitches and provided precise coordinates of edem usage. Before that, the Regency did randomized sweeps of neighborhoods, checking citizens for echo marks. Everyone learned to fear the drumming of the Regency’s footsteps at night as they searched homes, often arresting people based on suspicion and gossip alone.
After the success of the edemmeter, Van was promoted to take over the position of the retiring Regency General, the head of edem research and the ruling monarch’s top advisor. He became obsessed with his job, edem and wealth. He had grown up in a poor household, and he saw the promotion as an opportunity to ensure he would never suffer the way his parents had, unable to pay the rent one week to the next. He rarely left the Regency headquarters, not even for Jey’s birth.
Yooli stayed with Van for two years before she gave up on trying to change him. Van dedicated every waking moment to “protecting Telene,” and no matter how much she tried to fight for his attention, Van would not bend. His work was more important than anything else. Including Jey.
Yooli decided it was better to live in a house full of love than a house of disappointment and regret. Van didn’t even bat an eyelid when Yooli announced she was leaving and taking Jey with her.
With the borders shut, Yooli could not move to be with her family in the neighboring nation of Meiyra. Instead, she applied for a teaching job at the prestigious Kardelle Academy. It wasn’t a well-paying job, but it allowed Jey to attend for free. Jey often thought she’d placed his happiness above her own.
While their new home had been tiny in comparison to the house his father lived in, their world never seemed small. Each night, they would explore a different part of the city. Jey’s mother would point out the constellations while they ate her homemade rolled rice bread with spiced dipping sauces, a traditional dish from Meiyra. Jey inherited her love of the outdoors and couldn’t bear the thought of being contained.
Now both his parents were dead.
While Jey missed his funny and kind mother, he wasn’t sure how to mourn a man he never really knew. And a man who had made no attempt to know him. It was easier to play the part of runaway.
Back when Jey was at school, he’d loved the performing arts, and he lost himself in the role of uncaring orphan. After four weeks, Jey wasn’t sure if he really didn’t feel anything about his father’s death, or if he’d adopted his role too well.
Jey had planned to take his time eating the torlu berries, but once the first berry exploded in his mouth, he devoured the rest. He would’ve liked to have stolen more food, but the fowl had made that difficult. He’d have to go back into the market tomorrow for more supplies.
He knew his time was almost up; additional guards were being posted at the market as the days wore on, and Jey didn’t believe in coincidences. He’d eventually have to move on to somewhere no one knew his face.
But Jey had his reasons to stay near Downtown Kardelle.
He heard a crunching noise and turned to see the fowl was eating her feed.
“See?” Jey said. “I look after you, you look after me.”
He wasn’t really sure what else it took for a fowl to lay eggs, but he hoped to wake to a fortuitous gift. He deserved some good fortune after everything that had happened.
Later that night, Jey huddled under the blankets he’d stolen. At nighttime, he thought about his girlfriend, Nettie. He thought about everything he’d lost when his father died. Including a future with her.
The following week, he was arrested for his father’s murder.
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Name: Jey Bueter
Arrest location: Penchant Place
Edem crimes: Suspected of killing Dr. Bueter—his father—by aging him hundreds of years
Other crimes: Petty theft
Recommended sentence: 50 years in prison
I followed Graymond to a cell located on the eightieth floor. Graymond gestured to a prison guard to unlock the cell. Inside, the inmate sat at a table, his legs placed on the tabletop, crossed at the ankles, as though he was lounging in front of a fire. His dark hair flopped over his forehead. He’d rolled back the gray sleeves of his prison uniform and undone the buttons at the front to further display numerous dark gray echo marks that wound up from his fingers and across his chest. Underneath the marks, his skin was the color of Kardelle’s sandy beaches.
I rocked back on my feet. He didn’t look much older than me. And he looked familiar, although I couldn’t quite place him.
“Mr. Toyer,” the inmate said, but he didn’t shift from his position at the table. “A pleasure to see you again. And welcome, new visitor, to my humble abode.” He stretched his echo-marked arms wide.
The cell was completely unadorned aside from the table, a narrow metal bunk against the far wall, and a showerhead above a hole in the floor to act as a toilet and for drainage. It made my old dorm room look palatial in comparison. Both the table and the bunk were rectangular wooden structures that seemed to rise out of the stone floor, with no room for anything to hide underneath, including shadows.
“Cayder,” Graymond said, taking his seat opposite the inmate. “This is my new client, Jey Bueter.”
Of course! I remembered reading about the Regency General’s strange death in the newspaper five weeks ago. This must be his son, although they didn’t look alike; Dr. Bueter was fair with blond hair. “Aren’t you my neighbor?” I asked.
“Oh?” Jey cocked his head like a bird. “You an inmate too?”
I scoffed. “No.”
“That’s right…” Graymond pulled out a file from his briefcase and placed it on the table. “Jey and his father lived a few houses from Broduck Manor. You attended the same school, although a year apart.”
“Broduck?” Jey looked taken aback. “As in Judge Broduck?” He jerked his thumb at me. “We’re letting in spies now, Mr. Toyer?”
“I’m not a spy,” I said.
“Sure you are, mate,” he said with a wink. “But I won’t hold that against you.”
“Cayder is my apprentice. He’s on your side,” Graymond said. “We’re on your side. We’re here to help. If you would only let me.” He muttered the last part mostly to himself.
Jey leaned back and placed his hands behind his head with a sure nod. “He’s a spy.”
“I’m here to learn the truth,” I said firmly.
“Oh yeah?” Jey said. “Well, as I told your boss when I was arrested two days ago, I did it. Case closed.”
“You’re guilty?” I asked.
“Of course.” Jey flashed a wide grin. “I’m a thief, a liar and a killer. What do they call that?” He didn’t wait for our response. “A triple threat.”
I pressed my lips together. Jey wanted a reaction, but I refused to bite. I was well practiced with not taking my sister’s bait over the years.
The left side of Jey’s prison uniform gaped open, revealing the image of a skull over his heart, the edges blurring into fragments of bone.
“Something got your attention?” He noticed my stare. “This one appeared the night I killed my father. Looks a lot like him. Without hair, muscle and skin, that is.” He winked at me. “Or eyeballs.”
A death echo. Clearly, Jey had killed his father. Why was Graymond questioning Jey’s confession?
“Jey,” Graymond said, shuffling some papers on the desk. “Can you please tell Cayder what happened the night your father died? I’d like him to hear the details from you so we can best put together your plea for the preliminary trial at the end of the week.”
“Sure.” Jey cracked his knuckles. “My father had been ordering me around all day, and I was tired of hearing his voice. So I smashed the light in his office and reached out to the edem in the dark. I ordered edem to silence him. And then”—Jey snapped his echo-marked fingers—“he aged a couple hundred years in front of my eyes. Turns out, it’s hard to talk after your jaw falls off your face and turns to dust.” I winced, but Jey didn’t pause. “I’ve been living on the streets for the past five weeks, stealing whatever I needed—or wanted. My life was going along swimmingly until I was caught trying to pinch a loaf of bread. I was sent here to await my preliminary hearing. Then, enter you.”
Graymond let out a deep and exhausted sigh. “Your admission matches the report from the arresting guards.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” I asked. The case appeared pretty straightforward to me.
“Not when it matches exactly,” Graymond replied, switching his attention to the inmate. “Jey, I’ve represented hundreds of criminals across my twenty-five years of being an edem public defender—”
“You want a medal?” Jey interrupted.
Graymond shook his head. “I’ve learned across the years to notice patterns and trends. Liars”—he gestured at Jey—“recount their stories perfectly. As though they’ve memorized the story from start to finish. However, the truth is organic. Details are remembered in bits and pieces. That’s the way the mind works. One detail leads to another.”
“Photographic memory.” Jey tapped his temple. “I take after my father. That’s why he was so good at his job.”
“You’re hiding something,” Graymond disagreed. “And I need to know what that is so we’re not surprised in court. I need to know what I’m dealing with.”
Jey snorted. “You’re dealing with a kid whose father couldn’t have cared less about him. The man barely featured in my life, even when I slept in the room next door.” He shrugged. “My world doesn’t feel much different now that he’s gone. And that’s the truth.”
I could somewhat relate to Jey’s situation. Since my mother died, my father had retreated into his work. He was stubborn, unforgiving and hard to live with. And yet I would never want any harm to come to him. He was still my father.
“If you don’t show any signs of remorse,” Graymond said, “I can’t ask for a reduced sentence.”
Jey shrugged. “I don’t care.”
“Why?” Graymond asked, leaning his elbows onto the table. “You’re a smart kid. Why would you want to spend the rest of your life in here?”
“Because the food’s free,” he said with a grin. “I don’t need a trial—I did it. That’s all there is to it.”
“You have nothing further to say…” Graymond prompted, a question in the lift of his brow.
“As much as I appreciate the visit,” Jey said, “I’ve told you everything that happened. You may leave now.” He waved us away with a flourish of his hand.
Graymond begrudgingly pushed to his feet and knocked on the door to be released by the guard. I scrambled after him, not wanting to be left behind.
“What do you think Jey’s hiding?” I asked once we were back in the elevator. “He has a death echo—he killed someone.”
“Yes,” Graymond agreed, “but why run from a crime for five weeks only to openly admit your guilt once you’re arrested for petty theft?”
“Perhaps he wants to atone for his father’s murder?”
“Does Jey strike you as someone who wants to atone for anything he’s done in his life?”
I couldn’t help but smile. “Not really, no.”
Graymond scratched at his graying beard with agitated fingers. “I wish I had the whole picture. Something about Jey’s insistence on his guilt doesn’t ring true. The punishment is going to be severe, considering who his father was.”
I nodded. “Who’s in charge of the Regency now?”
“Dr. Bueter’s second-in-command.”
I doubted anything would change with new leadership. The Regency had had a stronghold over Telene since the veil first appeared.
“Why don’t you enter a guilty plea?” I asked. “If that’s what Jey wants?”
Graymond sighed as though I didn’t understand, and I didn’t. “Because my job as a public defender is to ensure my clients don’t end up spending their lives in here. I need something, anything, to show Jey isn’t a cold-blooded killer.”
“And you’re sure he’s not?”
Graymond was quiet for a moment.
“I’m positive that whatever happened that night, we don’t know the half of it.”
Excerpted from League of Liars, copyright © 2022 by Astrid Scholte, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House.