The Rogue Knight Page 64

As they raced down halls and around corners, walls kept appearing behind them, blending with the actual walls of the castle to obscure their trail. Cole was out of breath, but he kept running hard.

“They shot you,” Brady said from his position draped over Sultan’s shoulder.

Cole noticed Brady staring at a quarrel buried under Sultan’s unburdened shoulder.

“I’ve had worse,” Sultan replied.

Brady reached a tentative hand toward the protruding projectile.

“No,” Cole warned. “You’ll make it worse.”

They came around another corner, and another fake wall arose behind them. “We need disguises,” Skye panted. “I didn’t realize how many soldiers we would encounter.”

“Legionnaires?” Sultan asked.

“Anything so we’re not instant targets,” Skye replied.

“I’ll have to let some of the walls drop,” Sultan said.

“Just leave the last one up,” Skye suggested. “If they don’t have the castle memorized, that should be enough to shake them.”

Cole watched as everyone in their group became legionnaires. The kids and Minimus appeared much taller. Instead of making Brady a legionnaire, the young boy merged with Sultan’s false persona.

“I thought we’d try the dungeon exit,” Oster said from the front. “That way is cut off now. We’ll have to use the champion’s quarters. There will be guards out front.”

“We don’t have to run from every enemy,” Minimus said, his high voice incongruent with his full-size seeming. “Let me handle the guards.”

“Some of our best guardsmen get posted at the champion’s quarters,” Oster explained. “Keeping all but the champion out is their duty. I’d hate to harm them.”

“Nonlethal force,” Minimus replied. “Got it.”

“How can I help?” asked the legionnaire with Dalton’s voice.

“If we run into more trouble,” Skye said, “I may have to drop some of our disguises to raise defensive seemings. You can help cover for me.”

“Why did you all turn into soldiers?” Brady asked. It was strange hearing his voice without seeing him.

“It’s pretend,” Cole said. “Like rainbows.”

“Rainbows aren’t pretend,” Brady argued.

“I mean like how rainbows aren’t solid,” Cole said, short of breath from all the running. “We’re using magic costumes.”

“Are we still in Dreamland?” Brady asked.

“Kind of,” Cole said. “But not like before. No dinosaurs.”

While passing through a doorway, their disguises dropped. “Scrubber,” Skye called.

“I’m on it,” Sultan said. Their legionnaire seemings promptly returned.

They rushed up some stairs into an anteroom with a large pair of double doors on the far side. Two guards protected the doors, armed with polearms.

“The old champion is dead,” Oster declared. “The new one has fled. We’re under orders to secure these quarters.”

“Hold it,” one of the guards said, pointing the blade at the end of his pole at Oster. “These quarters are secure. The doors only open under direct orders from the champion.”

“We currently have no champion,” Oster said.

“Until that is resolved, nobody enters,” the guard insisted.

“Drop my disguise,” Oster said.

Instantly the seeming vanished.

“Oster?” the guard asked. “What’s going on?”

“I’m here under orders,” Oster said. “With the Dread­knight gone and the Rogue Knight on the run, Desmond is now master of Edgemont. He wants me here to protect our sensitive documents from Merriston intruders.”

“Who are these other folk?” the guard asked.

“We’re using seemings.” Oster turned and gave a nod. Some of the seemings disappeared. Three of them changed. Minimus now looked like a sickly child. Joe appeared to be a teenage girl. Sultan became an elderly humpbacked woman. Cole supposed that Brady was the hump.

“These people are in my care,” Oster said. “Women and children. Desmond wants them safe.”

The guards glanced at each other. “All right, Oster. Just confirm your identity with today’s password.”

“Downstream,” Oster said.

“And your identity slogan?”

“Ignore nothing.”

The guards moved aside. Oster waved for the others to go ahead. “Don’t admit anyone else besides Desmond,” he admonished the guards. “And don’t mention seeing me to anyone but him.”

“Understood,” the guard said.

Oster came inside and pulled the doors closed, locking them. Unlike every other part of Blackmont Castle that Cole had seen, the champion’s quarters were spacious and beautifully furnished. The bearskins on the ground and mounted trophy heads on the wall suggested that the Dreadknight had been a hunter.

Oster led them through a few handsome rooms to a bedchamber. He went to the large bed made of varnished logs, and started pushing. “A little help?” he asked.

Minimus hustled over to the bed, and together they slid it sideways. Minimus’s and Sultan’s seemings dissipated. Joe no longer appeared to be a teenage girl.

“The floor beneath the bed is a seeming,” Oster said. “Stairs lead down.”

“You all go,” Minimus said. “I’ll pull the bed back into place to make it harder for anyone to chase us. I’ll crawl under it and follow you.”

“The bed is heavy,” Oster warned.

“I felt its weight,” Minimus said. “I’m small but mighty. I can handle it.”

“Would you like me to take the boy?” Oster asked Sultan.

“I have him,” Sultan said, his face shiny with perspiration. “We may need your sword up ahead.”

“You know I can walk, right?” Brady said.

“I want to make sure we’re quick,” Sultan explained.

“You’re wounded,” Joe said. “Give me the boy.” Sultan handed Brady to Joe, who slung the boy over his shoulder.

Cole followed Jace and Twitch through the fake floor. With each step, the insubstantial floor came higher on his body until his head sank below it. Dim globes on the wall provided light. At the bottom of the long flight of stairs, Cole found himself beside Dalton.

“Having fun?” Cole asked.

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