The Rogue Knight Page 47

“They won’t disappoint,” Skye promised.

“Make no mistake,” Gustus said, looking from Cole to Jace and back. “Skye is your ticket in here. Whether you stay is up to you. Follow orders, work hard, be courteous, and you’ll do fine.”

“Thank you,” Cole said, silently hoping they were almost done. It felt ridiculous to jump through all these hoops when he knew they didn’t actually plan on staying any longer than it took to find Dalton. Cole had waited a long time to see his friend again, and now that they were so close, every second of delay was torture.

Gustus returned to his desk and sat down. “Skye, have your look around, then return and speak with me. Leave the boys outside next time.” He waved one hand.

The woman with golden skin entered the room. “Yes, Gustus,” she said.

“Leona, escort these three around the grounds,” he said. “Show them where they would stay if they join us here. Introduce them as seems prudent. Then bring them back here.”

“As you will,” Leona said. She touched Skye’s elbow. “Come.”

They walked out of the mirror and back into the hall. Leona led the way.

“How did you know Gustus wanted you?” Cole asked Leona.

“A light flashed in the hall,” she said. “A simple seeming.”

They walked out through the fireplace, and Leona began a tour. They passed fountains of molten lava, tapestries that moved like television screens, and a pair of stone statues grunting and maneuvering in an endless wrestling match. Cole couldn’t really appreciate the impressive seemings or the beautiful grounds. He was watching for his friend.

The servants’ quarters were set up like dormitories. Senior servants had their own rooms. Younger servants were two or even four to a room.

Cole saw lots of people, young and old. None had slavemarks. None were Dalton.

They strolled through a cafeteria, then crossed a recreation area where clusters of people bowled wooden balls across a carefully manicured lawn. Cole couldn’t figure out the rules to the game. He didn’t spot his friend among them.

The quarters for enchanters were much nicer than the servants’ dormitories. Each enchanter had multiple rooms, elegantly furnished. The enchanters all wore gray robes and slippers. Leona introduced Skye to a few people. Everyone was generally cordial.

“You’ve now seen most of the areas where you would live,” Leona said as they exited the enchanters’ quarters to a verdant area filled with lush bushes and trees. “I can’t show you around the lounge itself—those secrets are only for those already employed here.”

“I’ve been to this confidence lounge many times,” Skye said.

“Not behind the walls,” Leona corrected. “Shall we return to Gustus?”

“What about slaves who enchant?” Skye said. “I understand the Silver Lining has some of the best.”

“True,” Leona said. “They have their own quarters that way.” She pointed toward a low stone building partly obscured by shrubs and trees. “There’s no reason for us to bother with them.”

“I’d enjoy a demonstration from some of them,” Skye said.

Leona eyed her warily. “We’ve seen enough. There will be plenty of time to meet everyone if you go under contract.”

Skye sighed. “All right. Lead on.”

As soon as Leona turned to lead the way, Skye grabbed her in a tight choke hold, one hand tight over her mouth. In a blink, they stood apart, conversing quietly.

“What is going—” Cole began.

“Illusion,” Jace said. “Just stand here and look normal.”

After a long moment conversing, Skye and Leona wandered over to a bush. They both crouched down behind the bush, out of sight. Then Leona came out, golden skin shimmering.

“All right,” Leona said in Skye’s voice. “I’ll soon be a wanted criminal in Merriston as well. Mother will be so proud. We find Dalton now or never.”

“You knocked her out?” Jace asked.

“I can’t guarantee for how long,” Skye said, starting toward the low building.

“I thought this place was full of scrubbers,” Cole said, knots of worry tightening in his stomach.

“It is,” Skye said. “I’ll have to rebuild the illusion every time it washes away. I’m pretty fast with temporary stuff like this, but nobody is perfect. We don’t want people to catch sight of us when my disguise flickers.”

They reached a doorway into the low stone building. “Doorways are the most likely places to put scrubbers,” Skye said. “Make sure nobody is looking.”

Cole opened the door and saw a clear hallway. “We’re good.”

Skye stepped inside. For an instant her golden skin and orange eyes completely vanished. She was herself. After less than a second, the disguise was back in place.

They followed the hall to a common room. A couple of teenage guys in gray robes were playing billiards. A woman in gray robes sat reading. Cole still didn’t see Dalton.

The teens stopped playing when they noticed Skye. “Can we help you, Leona?” one of them asked, clearly uncomfortable to see her.

“I’m looking for Dalton,” Skye said in Leona’s voice.

“I think he’s in his room,” the other teen said.

“I don’t recall which is his,” Skye told them.

“Number twenty-three,” the first teen said, pointing down one of the halls that branched from the common area.

“Thank you,” Skye said, leading Cole and Jace in the suggested direction.

Cole’s insides fluttered with nervous anticipation as he watched the numbers on the doors. Was he really about to finally find his friend? He had always meant to succeed, but he now realized how much he had also doubted.

They reached number twenty-three. Skye motioned for Cole to knock. He did. They waited. He knocked again, louder. They heard a lock disengage, and the door opened to reveal Dalton standing there with bleary eyes and messy hair.

The last time Cole had seen Dalton, his friend had looked like a dusty, sad clown. Now his friend wore gray robes, but otherwise looked normal.

Dalton’s gaze first went up to Skye. Then his stare dropped to Cole. His eyes widened, and his hands covered his mouth. “No way,” he whispered. “Is that really you?”

Cole relished the stunned expression on that familiar face. For a moment, he couldn’t speak. What was there to say? How could he possibly sum up all he felt?

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