The Rogue Knight Page 85

“We need information,” Honor said. “Callista was odd but always friendly to our family.”

“Callista is the greatest enchanter in the whole wide world,” Spark said. “I’m sure she’ll help you.”

“Lead on, Spark,” Honor said. “We’ll follow single file. Keep in mind we don’t float, and neither do our horses.”

“I’ll get you through,” Spark said. “Dress warmly. People get cold down in the deep places.”

Honor had a cloak, but most of them didn’t, so they wrapped up in their blankets. Spark skirted the shore for some distance before turning across a beach of firm mud and heading down into the fog.

Cole watched as Honor and her horse waded into the mist, disturbing it ever so slightly. Mira went next, followed by Jace, then Skye, and then Twitch. Soon Honor was just a head. When she vanished below the surface of the fog, it became still, as if it had never stirred.

“This looks wrong,” Cole said over his shoulder to Dalton as their horses followed the others. “It can’t be natural.”

“I wouldn’t go in alone for a million bucks,” Dalton replied.

“I’ll be right behind you, boys,” encouraged Minimus from his position at the rear.

As Cole’s horse walked forward, he sank into the mist. Once below the surface, he could barely see his hands, let alone Twitch’s horse in front of him.

“Stay close together,” Honor called, her voice sounding much too distant.

“Are you there, Twitch?” Cole asked.

“Yeah,” Twitch answered, his voice not as far away as Honor’s, but farther than it should have sounded. “Keep up.”

“You back there, Dalton?” Cole called.

“I’m coming,” his friend answered.

Cole started focusing on the sound of Twitch’s horse. Hopefully, as long as he heard those hooves, he wouldn’t wander off an unseen cliff.

The farther they progressed, the grayer the fog became. The still, clammy air was cool and damp. Cole bundled his blanket tighter. Rather than part for him, the mist seemed to cling. Every time he inhaled was like taking a tiny drink. He felt the humidity in his lungs. As they went farther and deeper, the temperature dropped.

The sounds of Twitch’s horse grew fainter. “Twitch?” Cole called.

No answer.

“Twitch!” he shouted. His horse jerked beneath him, evidently startled by the yell.

“Cole?” Twitch answered from a great distance up ahead.

“Cole?” Dalton called from far behind, his voice small and worried.

“I think I’m getting lost!” Cole shouted, patting his horse in an effort not to startle it again. He could think of few fates worse than roaming this wet grayness alone. The lake was enormous! Even if his horse didn’t walk off an edge, they could get lost permanently. There was no way to get oriented. And what were mist grifters?

“Stay where you are!” Twitch called back, his voice still remote.

“Stay where you are, Dalton!” Cole shouted over his shoulder. He heard Dalton relay the message back to Minimus.

Cole reined in his horse and waited. What if nobody came? Could his horse find its way out by instinct? Could it outrun mist grifters without going over a precipice?

A little ball of light drifted into view.

“Spark?” Cole asked.

“You’re closer together than it sounds,” Spark said.

A hand touched Cole’s thigh, startling him.

“Hold this rope,” Honor said, her voice a little muffled even though Cole could feel her touch. “It’ll keep us together.”

Cole grabbed the rope, clinging harder than was probably necessary. The little ball of light moved back toward Dalton. Before long it returned, drifting forward toward Twitch.

After some time, a tug on the rope informed Cole that they were advancing again. He nudged his horse with his heels, and the animal started walking.

On they plodded, through a hundred darkening shades of gray, drawing ever closer to pitch darkness. Sometimes the way angled down sharply. Sometimes they wound back and forth. Even with the blanket wrapped tight, Cole felt drippy and chilled. The air seemed so moist that he began to wonder if it was possible to drown in vapor. He put a hand over his mouth and breathed through his fingers. Had anyone ever humidified themselves to death?

Finally, the darkness became complete. Cole longed for the white mist up top that at least permitted some vision. As the unseen mist grew denser and colder, Cole questioned how thick mist could become before it turned into a liquid. Water condensed on his face and blanket. Still, Cole supposed that a soaked blanket was better than none.

And then the mist abruptly ended. Still holding the rope, Cole found he was less than a horse length behind Twitch. Dalton came out of the mist right behind him.

Up ahead stood a large cottage made of rounded stones packed together with mud. It had windows and a thatched roof. Glowing globes surrounded it at a distance. Light also shone from the windows.

As Honor and Spark led the group toward the front door, it opened, and a woman emerged. She was of medium height, and kind of bony, with wild blue hair and large earrings that might have been made from turtle shells. She looked to be around sixty, though her hands appeared older than her face.

“Spark, you little rascal, who have you brought to my doorstep?” the woman asked.

“Honor Pemberton and her sister Miracle,” Spark replied. “Along with their companions. They were excellent followers.”

“Now, there’s a surprise!” the woman hooted. “My first houseguests in ages, and they’re royalty. My home is in quite a state. I wasn’t expecting company!”

“Are you the Grand Shaper Callista?” Honor asked.

“That old hag keeled over years ago,” the woman said. “I’m a figment she left behind to mind the house.”

“Oh, no,” Honor said. “I’m sorry to hear it!”

“And I’m sorry to tease you,” the woman said. “I’m Callista all right. It gets lonely when there’s nobody to joke with but the figments you invent. People need people, or they start to lose touch, wander down strange paths in their minds. Climb off those horses and come inside. You must be cold and wet.”

“Thank you,” Honor said.

“Don’t thank me yet,” Callista cackled. “You haven’t seen the place!”

Chapter 34

CALLISTA

Cole felt much better once he was seated by a wide fireplace sipping soup from a mug. The soup didn’t have much substance, but the warm broth tasted vaguely like fish. He and the others sat on crates and casks, while Callista swayed in a rocking chair. Little balls of light like Spark hovered around the room. A big, shaggy dog walked up to Cole. He had always wanted a dog, and leaned forward to stroke it, but his hand passed through its intangible body.

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