The Rogue Knight Page 99

“Cole?” Jace asked again.

Cole realized he hadn’t answered. “I think so.”

“You saved the day,” Dalton said, coming up from behind to put an arm around Cole.

“Thanks for the help,” Cole said. “I noticed the illusions you made.”

“I had to do something,” Dalton replied. “I wish I could have helped more.”

“Maybe next time we’ll lend you a Jumping Sword,” Jace said, slapping Dalton on the shoulder.

Cole walked over and picked up his Jumping Sword. Spectral flames no longer flickered along the blade. Searching inside himself, Cole once again couldn’t sense his power. That couldn’t be right! He knew what to look for now. Concentrating, Cole dug deep and reached for his power, but still felt nothing. Was he just tired?

Honor and Mira stood near Callista’s fallen form. “Cole!” Honor called. “Callista wants to speak with you! Hurry!”

Despite his exhaustion, Cole rushed over to them. He heard Twitch, Dalton, and Jace following.

Still enormous, Callista lay on her back, her sword lodged in her torso. Her helmet had been removed, showing that her head was in scale with her enlarged body. Her intent eyes found Cole.

“She did it to you too,” Callista rasped.

“What?” Cole asked, but he knew.

Callista closed her eyes, swallowed, then opened them. “Morgassa worked some sort of changing on me. After she stabbed me. She disconnected me from my power. She didn’t steal it. Somehow she put me out of sync. She did the same to you.”

Cole nodded. “I felt it. Everything went black.”

“I thought so,” Callista said. “You touched her corrupted power—an endless hunger forever devouring itself. It was bad enough to glimpse. Imagine being her. The power had full control. We freed that woman from a terrible fate.”

“Can’t you reconnect to your power?” Mira asked. “Can’t you heal yourself with a changing?”

“Perhaps given more time,” Callista said, gasping. “It wouldn’t be easy. Morgassa did something unnatural to me. Something that surpasses my current knowledge of enchanting. The injuries I received are personal. Unlike the masks. I designed them to take away all that was part of the animal when removed. Including wounds. The dangers of the masks are never removing them, or dying before you do. I chose to cast aside my mask. It was blocking full access to my power. That meant facing Morgassa with less protection—as many of you risked at the end.”

“Search for it,” Mira encouraged her. “Find your power!”

“My power remains with me,” Callista said. “I can perceive it, if not access it. If only . . . No . . . I lack the time. These shapecrafters must be stopped! The woman who became Morgassa was one of them. She merged her art with Brady’s power. Honor, try to revive Skye. Like the other former changelings, she is sleeping, not dead.”

Honor hurried off.

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Callista reached out a hand. “Cole.”

He put his hand in her large one. It made him feel tiny.

“I wish I could undo what Morgassa did to you,” Callista said. “You have a unique gift. You must find your way back to your power. Morgassa has made it difficult. But your power remains. And the five kingdoms need you.”

Supported by Honor, Skye shuffled over. She looked pale, her eyelids and lips a pasty gray.

Letting go of Cole, Callista reached out to Skye, who accepted her hand. For a moment, they regarded each other.

“I name you my successor,” Callista said solemnly. “After I pass, you will be Grand Shaper of Elloweer. I cannot seal the decision with my power. My abilities are currently beyond my reach, and my moments grow few. Go to Trillian. You should not fully trust him, but you need him. Learn from him. Elloweer needs you to become what only he can make you. Once he sees that I have named you my heir, he will teach you. Promise me you will go to him.”

Skye hesitated. Then she squared her shoulders and stood taller. “I promise.”

Callista dropped her hand and slumped back, flat. “All I have is yours,” Callista murmured. “Take care of them.” Her eyes closed, and her ragged breathing stopped.

Honor and Skye knelt close to Callista. Honor probed her neck. “She’s gone,” Honor said, bowing her head.

Skye looked weary and confused, like a young child awakened in the night. Sitting down, she stared dully at Callista’s oversize form.

Cole swallowed back a lump in his throat. He hadn’t even known Callista that long, but she had been nice to him, had helped him. She had been on their side and had fought bravely to protect them. Until coming to the Outskirts, the only person he’d ever known who had died had been a great-uncle who he could barely remember. Now there was Sultan, Callista—plus some kids he had known casually as a Sky Raider. Cole knew he would never get used to living in a place where people regularly got killed.

Turning, Cole saw that the remaining knights had gathered around their fallen captain. Minimus was with them, but three of the knights and several of the horses would not rise again. Their armor had seen better days. It looked like they had tumbled together down a rocky mountainside.

Minimus noticed Cole looking and waved a hand. “Honor, all of you, the Rogue Knight wants to speak with you.”

Cole glanced at Honor. She appeared uncertain.

“As he wishes,” Honor replied.

They walked over to where the Rogue Knight lay supine, armor scuffed and dented, legs gone just below the knees. He did not appear to be bleeding.

“You put Verity to good use,” the Rogue Knight said, his voice a bit tired but still hearty.

“It’s an extension of me,” Honor said. “I felt a strong connection. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” the Rogue Knight replied. “Though I would not be alive without you and your friends. You saved me and you saved Elloweer. No one else could have stopped her.”

Cole wondered whether the Rogue Knight realized his legs were missing. He considered pointing it out.

“It was a group effort,” Honor said. “Callista perished.”

“I feared so,” the Rogue Knight replied. “I lost three of my men. They are beyond all aid. I could repair the damage to myself and the others, but I do not intend to do so, except for Minimus.” The Rogue Knight waved a hand, and Minimus was once again in flawless armor.

“Why just him?” Honor asked.

The Rogue Knight sighed. “Where to begin? It was easy to imagine you spoiled, immature, undeserving. It was easy to tell myself that I wielded your power in the name of the greater good. But now I have witnessed your courage and nobility up close. Of course you are as extraordinary as your power—it originated within you. I should have known. The power that I wield rightfully belongs to you. Who can argue otherwise? I had no honor before your power came to me. I worked for the shapecrafters who created Morgassa. I accepted the power they offered. They wanted me to be their weapon. But the presence of your power opened my eyes and changed my nature. I am proud of who I have become. But if I attempt to withhold your power any longer, the man I have become will be lost.”

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