The Rogue Knight Page 23

“Jenna Hunt? I’m not sure where she went. She came to Junction City with us. Once they split us up based on our abilities, we never saw the kids in the other groups. She isn’t in Elloweer.”

“Do you know the name of the confidence lounge where Dalton went?”

Jill scrunched her brow. “I did. I’ve never been there. It’s been a while since I heard it. The Silver something. Deer, maybe? No. It was Silver something, though.”

“That’s great,” Cole said. For the first time, he had a solid lead about Dalton!

“Are you really free to go visit him?” Jill asked.

“Yeah,” Cole said.

She bit her lip. “You’re so lucky, being free. Dalton belongs to the High King now, just like I do. And the king is basically the emperor of this whole world. You should see his castle! He has zillions of soldiers, and some of them have shaping powers. You don’t want to get on his bad side. If you’d met him, you’d understand.”

“I know how bad he is,” Cole said, thinking of Mira. “But there’s got to be a way to get you and Dalton free, like I got free.”

Jill’s eyes filled with hope. “All I’ve thought about is someone getting me out of here.” Her expression wilted. “But, Cole, I don’t know if anyone’s told you . . . They say we can’t get back home, no matter what. That even if we find a way there, we won’t be able to stay—we’ll always get drawn back here. If I snuck off, I’d be a runaway slave with no place to go.”

Resting his elbows on the table, Cole bowed his face into his hands. He knew the High King was powerful. And he’d also known there was no way for them to get home permanently. Even if that was true, did it mean they shouldn’t try to find each other? Did they have to accept slavery as a way of life? Who could say for sure there was no way of escaping the Outskirts?

“I’m not trying to get you down,” Jill said. “You were really brave trying to help us back at the wagons. I wanted Tracy to die after what she did to you. But we’re stuck here, Cole. Dalton and I are marked slaves. If we rebel, it’ll just get worse. I saw someone try once, and . . . it was bad.” She shivered, clearly disturbed by the memory.

Cole leaned toward Jill across the table and lowered his voice. “You don’t want me to bust you out of here?”

Jill regarded him anxiously. “Are you kidding? Of course I do! You’re the first person from our world I’ve seen since coming here. But how can we do it without getting caught?”

“Let me talk to my friends,” Cole said. “We can figure it out.”

Jill’s wrinkled features contorted with worry. “Who are your friends? Are they powerful enough to keep us safe from the High King?”

“We’ve made it this far,” Cole said, unsure how much he should share. He didn’t want to put Mira in danger, but he needed to give Jill some confidence. “They’re members of the resistance. Working in a place like this, you must have heard of them.”

“I have,” she said, her face paling. “Cole, you’re in tons of danger! The High King does awful things to anyone he catches who’s a part of that.”

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Cole tried to hold his frustration in check. He had finally found someone from home, and she was clearly scared to leave. What if she was too scared to come with him? Was he supposed to just leave her here?

He tried to recall everything he knew about Jill. His sparse memories of her mostly involved her chatting with friends. Since she was a grade higher, he’d never known her well. He seemed to remember her brother, Jeff, making fun of her because she never learned to swim. Jeff had claimed she was scared to put her head under the water. Cole guessed if she’d been a nervous person back home, she’d only be more anxious here. Still, he had to try to convince her.

“So you’re just going to stay in this place?” Cole asked. “Seriously? With all these people you don’t even really know? Haven’t you thought about running away before?”

“Of course I’ve thought about escaping,” Jill said, lowering her voice. She looked torn. “I don’t know, Cole. Sooner or later, runaways get caught, and then things get really ugly. I told you, I’ve seen it.”

“Bad?” Cole asked.

“The punishments are harsh,” Jill said. “Probably to scare the rest of us from trying the same thing. It kind of works.”

“I can’t promise everything will be easy if you come with us,” Cole admitted, thinking of what he and his friends had already been through and the risks of traveling with Mira. “But it has to be better than staying here.”

“Slaves who can shape don’t live so badly,” she argued. “Don’t get me wrong—all I want is to be back home. But if I’m stuck here, do I have to make it even harder? At least making seemings is kind of fun.”

“Doesn’t being a slave kind of wreck the fun?”

Jill flushed. “I guess I try not to think about it all the time.” She narrowed her gaze. “Tell the truth. Are you actually a runaway?”

“No,” Cole assured her. “I really got free.”

“Then wouldn’t having me around make everything more dangerous for you?”

“What if we bought you?” Cole suggested. “We could do that with Dalton too. My friends have money.”

Jill looked excited for a second, then her face dropped. “I don’t think I’m for sale—the High King seemed super interested in keeping the slaves he bought for himself.” She hesitated. “I can’t believe you’re free. That never happens.”

“I had help,” Cole said. “Why did the High Shaper send you here? Does he run this place?”

“The High King has people controlling all the legal confidence lounges,” she said. “It’s where a lot of the top enchanters find work. But if you’re mixed up with rebels, Shady Lane probably isn’t safe for you.”

“Did the High King hurt any of you?” Cole asked. “Did he mess with your powers?”

“Mess with our powers?”

Cole looked around the room, then took another chance. “Have you heard of shapecraft?”

“You mean shaping?”

“No. Shapecraft is when people shape the shaping ability. The High King may just be training you so he can steal your shaping powers and do weird experiments on you.”

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