The Rogue Knight Page 3

The armored rider Mira had unseated was now on his feet clutching a double-bit battle-ax. He clomped toward Cole, weapon raised high. Curling his legs, Cole prepared to lunge away from the downswing of the heavy weapon.

Before he could move, a golden rope lashed the rider’s ankles together, jerked him upward, and flung him against a boulder across the ravine. The gigantic jungle cat went still as arrows accumulated.

Jace whipped the ragbeast a couple of times, but the golden rope passed through it without grabbing hold of anything. The attack seemed to spur the tattered mass of fabric into action. After whirling in place for a moment, the ragbeast swished by Cole, doing no more damage than a thrown pile of laundry.

Cole went and retrieved his sword from the big cat, jiggling it to wrench it free. He wiped the blade against the animal’s fur.

At the top of the ravine, near the bridge, a horse gave a loud whinny. Cole glanced up in time to see the steed rearing. A rider slid off before both silhouettes moved out of sight.

Wings fluttering, Twitch landed beside Mira. He crouched and helped her to her feet. The ragbeast glided swiftly upstream alongside the trickle of water.

Joe ran over to them, holding an arrow ready against the bowstring. “Mira, get that rider.” His bow pointed toward the top of the ravine.

“Flail, attack,” Mira ordered. The tangle of balls and chains disengaged from the fallen cat and zoomed up the slope of the ravine. At the top, it paused.

“Flail, attack,” Mira repeated, gesturing in the direction the stranger had gone.

The flail hovered benignly.

“I’m trying to picture the rider,” Mira said. “He moved out of sight before I really saw him. I think I have to see the target. Should I go up the slope?”

“No,” Joe said quietly. “It isn’t worth the risk. Can’t you command the flail to strike whatever is within range up there?”

“It isn’t an attack dog,” Mira said. “I have to direct it.”

Joe nodded. “I hit the rider’s horse with an arrow. I’m not sure how much damage it did. We can’t let him escape. He could round up reinforcements. I should go after him.”

“How’d they make the autocoach run wild?” Twitch asked.

“They must have reshaped it somehow,” Jace said.

“But Declan made the coach,” Mira murmured. “It would take quite a shaper to hijack a Grand Shaper’s work.”

“Might have been shapecraft,” Cole said. “If shapecrafters can mess with the shaping power itself, who knows what else they can do?”

“They organized Mira’s power into Carnag,” Twitch said. “Why couldn’t they tamper with a semblance?”

“Whatever their skills, those were no ordinary soldiers,” Joe said. “You just met some Enforcers. And one of them is getting away. I can’t let that happen. He probably won’t go to the legion or any regular authorities, but there may be others of his kind in the area.”

“We’re splitting up?” Jace asked.

“For now, yes,” Joe said.

“We follow the road?” Twitch checked.

“It will take you to Carthage, on the border between Sambria and Elloweer,” Joe confirmed. “Honor’s star has held steady in that direction. If danger forces you to abandon the road, Mira knows how to follow the star.”

Cole glanced at Mira, who had turned her gaze to the sky. To help guard the precious secret that Mira’s mother could mark the location of her five daughters, only Mira and Joe knew what Honor’s star looked like. If that information ever leaked to the High Shaper, the girls would be doomed.

“Am I just flustered?” Mira asked. “I don’t see it.”

Joe looked skyward in the same direction she was peering. “Oh, no,” he muttered after a tense pause. “You’re right. The star is gone.”

Chapter 2

STARLESS

“What does that mean?” Mira cried.

Cole felt horrible for her. That star was her one connection to her endangered sister. Mira’s panicked eyes studied the section of sky where the star should be.

“Could mean lots of things,” Joe said, his voice deliberately calm. “Might mean your mom was worried about enemies using the star. Might mean your sister has been rescued.”

“What if it means she’s . . . ?” Mira whispered, covering her mouth.

“I’m sure that isn’t it,” Joe said. “We can’t let this sink us. I have to track down whoever is slipping away. You go to Carthage. There’s a fountain with seven spouts on the Elloweer side. If I don’t catch up to you on the road, look for me there every day at noon. Lay low. If I’m more than three days behind you, I’ll be either dead or captured.” Joe glanced at Cole, Jace, and Twitch. “Watch over her.”

Joe turned and dashed up the hill.

Mira continued to stare at the patch of sky. Following her gaze, Cole saw many stars. But he knew the one she yearned to see was not among them.

“Don’t linger,” Joe called down to them as he charged up the slope. “There’s no telling who else might be headed this way.”

“He’s right,” Twitch said.

“What about our stuff?” Jace asked, dipping his head toward the crippled autocoach. “At least the money!”

“Good thought,” Cole said.

“You two grab what you need,” Twitch said. “I’ll get Mira out of sight. We’ll wait for you up the road.”

“Fine, shoo,” Jace said, waving a hand. “You too, Cole, if you want.”

“I’ll stay with you,” Cole told Jace, then glanced at Mira. “See you in a minute.”

Twitch took flight, and Mira used her Jumping Sword to leap halfway up the slope opposite the one Joe had climbed. “Flail, follow,” Mira called, and the weapon obeyed.

His shoulder smarting and his scraped legs sore, Cole crossed to the autocoach. No longer harnessed to the coach, the walking brick lay motionless on its side, two of its legs broken off at the thigh.

Cole and Jace reached the opening where the door had been and climbed inside. Bertram lay facedown, his body limp.

“Is he dead?” Jace asked.

Worried that Jace might be right, Cole crouched and shook the elderly coachman’s shoulder. “Are you okay, Bertram?”

The old man stirred and raised his head. “I’m on holiday with my grandniece and my grandnephews.” He gave a small smile. “Nothing to worry about here.”

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