The Rogue Knight Page 5

“Can you shape it more?” Cole asked. “Improve it?”

Mira shook her head. “I’m wiped out.”

“Can you unshape it?” Jace inquired. “People might find it.”

“Probably, but it would drain me too much. I’m already going to have a hard time keeping up with you guys. I was stupid to try to make a semblance all at once. Carnag did it, so I thought maybe I could too. Projects like this are normally done step-by-step, a little at a time.”

The semblance stood up and waddled toward Cole. He backed away. It was kind of creepy.

“What’s it made of?” Jace asked.

“Looks like dirt, but feels more like cork,” Mira said. “It’s tougher than it feels, but again, not quite what I was after.”

Jace pushed the semblance over. Crouching, he ran his palms over it, rocking it gently. “You guys go on ahead. I’ll catch up after I ditch this thing.”

“What are you going to do?” Cole asked.

“Stash it in the woods far from the road,” Jace said. “It isn’t light, but with my rope I can handle it.”

“Isn’t that kind of mean?” Cole asked.

Jace gave a frustrated sigh. “It’s a walking hunk of cork, Cole! Mira made it out of rubble. It doesn’t have feelings. But it might try to walk toward us, which would be a big favor to anybody who wants to track us down.”

“Okay,” Cole said. “Makes sense.”

“Get going,” Jace said. “People might be after us. We don’t want to waste our head start.”

“Are you okay to travel?” Cole asked Mira.

She wiped a hand across her forehead. “I have to be. No other choice.” She glanced at the sky. “I just wish the star was still there.”

“It’ll be all right,” Cole said, unsure about whether he believed his words but trying to help her feel better.

“You go first, Mira,” Twitch suggested. “We’ll keep an eye on you from behind.”

Mira drew her Jumping Sword, aimed it down the road, and called, “Away.” The Shaper’s Flail followed. Cole heard her repeat the command when she landed, leaping forward again. Wings fluttering, Twitch sprang after her. Cole held out his sword and jumped.

Chapter 3

CARTHAGE

Breezing through the night, leap after leap, Cole waited for Mira to tire out and stop, but instead she kept going. He hung back, keeping her in view. Cool air rushed by with every jump.

One of the moons glowed fairly bright tonight. Another, a slender crescent, was just rising. The night sky in the Outskirts changed without pattern. The inconstancy allowed Mira and her sisters to be marked by stars without anyone catching on. Ten or eleven different moons could show up on any given night, although Cole had never seen more than three at once. Many of the moons were similar to Earth’s, though tonight’s struck him as a bit more yellow.

Cole scanned the shadows beneath the trees at either side of the road. Anything could be lurking under the cover of that darkness. He glanced behind as well, braced to see a platoon of legionnaires or mysterious riders on ragbeasts.

One luxury of the autocoach was that it shut out the rest of the world, producing the comforting illusion that they were hidden and safe. Cole supposed that was wonderful until you ended up at the bottom of a ravine after an ambush. Without the coach, Cole felt more exposed, but that kept him more alert.

Mira’s concerns about her sister caused Cole’s thoughts to turn to his lost friends. He remembered when he last saw Jenna, caged in a wagon, still in her Cleopatra costume from Halloween. His last glimpse of his best friend, Dalton, had been of a sad, dusty clown, also in a cage. They had been on their way to be sold as slaves when Cole was selected to join the Sky Raiders.

The thought of Jenna behind bars enraged Cole. But she probably wasn’t in a cage anymore. She was a slave somewhere. Was she working in a kitchen? Was she bringing meals to some lazy friend of the High King? Those thoughts didn’t make him any less angry.

Jenna was smart and funny. She was pretty and nice. She didn’t deserve this fate. Going into the wrong basement on Halloween had ripped her life away—and visiting the spook alley had been Cole’s idea. Dalton was a great guy, too—the bestest friend Cole had ever had, and his life was destroyed as well.

Where were they tonight? Where were the dozens of other kids who were smuggled from Mesa to the Outskirts? Were they comfortable? Were they suffering? They could be in any of the five kingdoms. And they were in danger. The shapecrafter Quima had warned that the High Shaper intended to perform experiments on them involving their shaping powers. Kids from outside the five kingdoms tended to have shaping powers. The slaver Ansel had sold all the kids with the most potential to the High King.

Bounding along the moonlit road, Cole had to believe his friends were all right. He had to believe they were occupied with safer tasks than raiding sky castles. Cole had considered setting off on his own, with the sole purpose of finding his friends. But the trail was cold. He had no idea where to start. Jenna, Dalton, and the others could be anywhere.

Searching for them alone would put him at a serious disadvantage. Cole knew little about the Outskirts, and he would have no help. If he stuck with Mira, not only could he lean on her knowledge of the five kingdoms, he could also count on finding rebels like Joe who were willing to assist a princess in exile. Cole tried to renew his faith that, as he helped Mira and kept his eyes and ears open, eventually he would find his friends.

How many others did he need to find? Right now his main concern was saving Dalton and Jenna. But what about Jenna’s friends Chelsea and Sarah? Or Blake? What about the rest of the victims? Cole knew most of them by face if not by name.

If he found Dalton and Jenna and learned of a way home, would he ditch the others? It was hard to say. If he was ever fortunate enough to be in that position, he’d decide then.

What about Mira? If he found a way home, would he abandon her? She had already become a real friend. Without her, he would probably still be stuck with the Sky Raiders, which meant his job as a scout would probably have gotten him killed by now.

Mira was always trying to excuse him from making her problems his own. But that only made Cole want to help her more. Without his aid, she probably wouldn’t have made it this far. He had saved her bacon more than once.

Others would aid her if he left. Jace could be a jerk, but he was totally devoted to her. Twitch would help too. And as a member of the resistance, Joe seemed fully committed as well.

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