The Rogue Knight Page 92

Cole examined the simple mask in his hand, feeling a slight temptation to put it back on and feel that strength again. He knew he would wear it again when they faced Morgassa, and the thought was thrilling.

Back in her human form, Callista spoke to an enormous eagle perched nearby. “Twitch, remove the mask. Taking it off is good practice, especially if you feel reluctant. You will get to replace it after we confer with the Rogue Knight.”

Cole noted that the others, besides Honor, had removed their masks and stood watching the exchange. The huge eagle spread its wings. “I’d rather fly,” it said in Twitch’s voice.

“Fly later,” Cole encouraged. “Lose the mask for now.”

“While you speak with the Rogue Knight, I can stay in the sky,” Twitch replied. “Keep an eye on things.”

“Don’t forget who you are, Twitch,” Cole said. “I felt the pull too. Your village needs you.”

The eagle lowered its head and raised a claw to the beak. A moment later, Twitch stood on the ground, mask in hand.

“Sorry,” Twitch said. “I don’t know what came over me. Flying like an eagle just felt so . . . perfect. I didn’t want to give it up. I’m better now.”

“To some extent, we were all tempted to remain in our altered states,” Callista said. “Remember how you felt when it came time to remove the mask. You must fight to remain in control, or your alternate persona will claim you.”

The advice left Cole a little shaken. He had definitely felt the urge to leave the mask on. Just like Twitch, he would have to keep his guard up.

“You’re all doing well,” Honor encouraged. “I’m grateful to have you with me. Keep your masks handy as we confront the Rogue Knight.”

“I don’t get something,” Dalton said. “If enchanting can only change living things, how come Honor’s mask gave her armor?”

“An astute question,” Callista said. “As with the Rogue Knight and Minimus, the armor is connected to her new identity. In her changed state, without removing the mask, Honor could no sooner take off her armor than she could take off her skin. It is part of her.”

“What about our clothes?” Cole asked. “You know, when we turn into animals.”

“I’ve designed the masks to incorporate your clothing into your altered forms,” Callista said. “Your gear too. Hiding your possessions in your new anatomy makes the changing more complicated, but it’s useful to change back dressed and equipped.”

“You have my thanks,” Mira said earnestly.

“Are we ready?” Honor asked.

Everyone responded with nods and shrugs.

“This way,” Minimus said, nudging his powerful horse forward. While Minimus and Honor took the lead on horseback, the rest of them fell into step behind them on foot. The two armored knights held their horses to a slow pace, but Cole still had to step quickly to keep up.

Cole ended up walking beside Dalton. “What did you think?” Cole asked.

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“Awesome,” Dalton said. “Almost too awesome.”

“You wanted to leave the mask on too?”

“I was so strong,” Dalton said. “It was intense.”

“The running was great,” Cole said. “I felt so . . . alive. And alert. I wanted to hunt something.” He didn’t mention what prey had caught his eye toward the end.

“I wanted to fight,” Dalton said. “I wanted something to get in my way so I could ram it. Funny. I remember how I felt, but it’s kind of blurry now.”

“We get to do it again,” Cole said. “I think you’ll get that fight you wanted.”

After traveling a couple of hundred yards through a grove of trees, they reached a clearing with three large tents and several small ones. The fully armored knights moving around the camp paused to regard the newcomers.

The Rogue Knight emerged from his sizable tent. The last time Cole had seen him, his armor had been scored and dented, but now it was polished and flawless, with both antlers intact on the helm.

“Minimus,” the Rogue Knight greeted in his booming voice. “You brought Miracle back to me. Well done. I did not sense your approach.”

“The Grand Shaper has divided me from your power,” Minimus said. “But I remain your loyal servant.”

“I see,” the Rogue Knight said, clearly displeased. “Who are your new companions?”

“Allow me to introduce Honor Pemberton,” Minimus said, his little voice especially tinny by comparison. “She is under the influence of a changing.”

“So I see,” the Rogue Knight said. He inclined his head, antlers dipping toward her. “Honor, I am pleased to find you well.”

“I understand we have much in common,” Honor said.

“What has Minimus told you?” the Rogue Knight asked.

“He revealed nothing,” Callista clarified. “I am Callista, Grand Shaper of Elloweer, and your relationship to Honor was plain to me, as are the altered states of your knights.”

“Then you possess keen awareness,” the Rogue Knight said. “No others have made these observations. You place me in an awkward position, madam. My secrets must be kept.”

“Make no threats, sir knight,” Honor said. “Before we snap at each other, we have a common foe to fight.”

“Morgassa came into being much as you did,” Callista said. “But her energy derived from a shaper of even greater power. Only those gathered here have a chance to topple her. Any ordinary mortal who dares approach her will be assimilated into her horde. Your changings will protect you and your knights, as will the changings I have provided for this band of heroes.”

“I see mostly children among you,” the Rogue Knight said.

Cole fingered his cougar mask. It wouldn’t take much for him to appear a lot more intimidating.

“Do not underestimate the young,” Callista said gravely. “The power behind you and your knights was stolen from a child, as was the power behind Morgassa.”

“I cannot refute that,” the Rogue Knight said, hand on Verity’s hilt. “I received Honor’s power, though I had no part in stealing it. The power that once belonged to her is not only mine to wield—it has become who I am.”

“That power still belongs to her,” Callista said. “It wants to return. Should Honor perish, you’ll be as naked of power as you were before the thievery.”

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