The Rogue Knight Page 69

He had located Dalton. That meant there was hope. Cole shifted on the ground, trying to get comfortable. With the help of Mira and the Unseen, sooner or later, he would find Jenna—even if it meant multiple visits to all the kingdoms.

Where was she tonight? Was she scared? Suffering? Comfortable? Bored? What kind of shaping could she do? What if she had already freed herself? Could she be on the run?

Cole had promised he would find her. Did she still expect him to show up?

He pictured a scenario: He was far away, Creon maybe, or Necronum. Evil slave owners had trapped Jenna in a burning building. The Jumping Sword came to life in his hand, and he leaped to her rescue, springing away with her an instant before the fiery structure collapsed.

She would be so amazed! He would seem like a superhero!

The daydream made him cringe. Did he really still want to rescue her so she would like him more? Maybe a little. But those daydreams were more fun in a time without real danger. It would be such a relief to find her safe, to be reunited with another friend from home.

Did he still have a crush on her? Sure, but that wasn’t what really mattered. What mattered more was their friendship. Cole remembered something Jace had said about Mira: just because he was a kid, it didn’t mean his feelings weren’t real.

The next day began with an actual sunrise. Around midday, a dense grove of trees forced them well away from the Red Road. As they made their way around the trees, the Lost Palace came into view.

“Oh, no,” Dalton murmured.

The dilapidated structure looked like the charred skeleton of a castle, spindly and crooked, as if it had survived a prolonged artillery barrage. A tall fence of barbed iron spikes enclosed an area much wider than the palace itself. Sickly mist swirled low across the stony, uneven grounds, eddying in irregular depressions. In defiance of the bright day, a gray haze hovered over the whole area, lending a sickly gloom to the precarious towers.

“It looks abandoned,” Dalton said.

“No,” Jace said. “It looks like somebody massacred everyone and then torched the place.”

“Comforting thought,” Twitch mumbled.

“I don’t see the Red Guard,” Mira said.

“I don’t see anybody,” Cole added.

“Make no mistake,” Skye said. “Trillian is in there.”

The Red Road went right up to the black iron gate. A dark, broken road continued on the far side, the color of old scabs.

“What should we do?” Dalton asked.

“We take a closer look,” Cole said.

They rode down to where the Red Road ended at the outer gate of the Lost Palace and dismounted. Through the bars of the fence, Cole watched a cloud of vapor heaving in and out of a cavity in the rocks, as if a huge monster inside was breathing. Growing out of cracks and creases, sparse, malnourished weeds limply clung to life. Fuzzy scum added mottled brown patches to a few meager puddles.

“Hello?” Mira called loudly, hands cupped around her mouth.

Cole flinched at the sudden noise in this dead, quiet place. Her voice did not echo. The shouted word fell flat, as if swallowed by a vast nothingness. No reply came from the Lost Palace.

Empty minutes passed.

“I don’t think anyone is coming,” Cole finally said.

“Won’t be an easy climb,” Dalton observed, gazing up at the fence. “Those barbs look sharp.”

“I could probably jump it,” Twitch said without enthusiasm.

“I’ll try the road,” Jace said. “The rest of you get back.”

“Are you sure?” Skye asked.

“If we want to bargain with his guy, we need to let him know we’re here,” Jace replied. “But only one of us should risk it.”

Jace stepped onto the road and fell to his hands and knees, his body shaking. Turning slowly, he reached out a trembling hand. “Kill me,” he rasped.

Then he started laughing.

“You’re such a jerk,” Mira said angrily.

Jace stood up. “I couldn’t resist.”

“Um, guys,” Cole said.

“What?” Jace asked.

“The gate is open.”

Chapter 27

THE LOST PALACE

“Did you see the gate open?” Skye asked.

“No,” Cole said. “I was watching Jace. I didn’t hear it either.”

“The gate was definitely closed a minute ago,” Twitch said.

“Did anyone see it open?” Skye asked.

Nobody spoke up.

“Let’s wait and see who comes,” Jace said. “You guys might want to hide.”

“And leave you here alone?” Mira asked.

“The torivor knows I’m here,” Jace said. “He might not know about you guys.”

“Are we sure Trillian saw you?” Dalton asked. “Maybe someone is about to leave.”

“It opened right after I stepped onto the Red Road,” Jace said. He looked up and down the road. “I don’t see anybody else coming.”

“We’ll wait with you,” Skye said. “I’m not sure what good hiding will do. We came here to bargain. We don’t want to seem weak.”

“Don’t worry,” Minimus said, drawing his sword. “I won’t let you come to harm.”

Cole silently wished the Halfknight was a little taller.

They waited. Beyond the open gate, Cole watched tendrils of mist flow like lethargic snakes across the scabby road. Turning to look back down the Red Road, he could see nobody approaching.

“I’m going in,” Jace informed them with a nod toward the gate.

“No, you’re not,” Mira replied.

“What else are we supposed to do?” Jace asked. “The torivor isn’t sending anyone.”

“We don’t just go rushing onto his property,” Mira said.

“He opened the gate,” Jace said. “It’s an invitation.”

“According to the stories, Trillian is a powerful enchanter,” Skye said. “He was locked up for good reason. If we enter his prison, we’ll be subject to his power.”

“We won’t be going anywhere,” Jace said. “Just me. I’ll check it out. Trillian opened the door. He knows I’m here. We want to talk with him. This is our chance to find out about Honor. I’ll come back and let you know how it goes. If I don’t come back, you’ll know the bargaining will be tricky.”

“I should go,” Twitch blurted. “If they close the gate, I have a chance of jumping the fence.”

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