“Be mindful,” she replies. “The king is in Delphie again, only an hour’s flight away.”
The thought prickles my scars. One hour separating me from Maven’s torturous manipulations. From his terror machine that turned my own power against me.
Cal walks to us from the mouth of the Notch house, his hair mussed by sleep. But his eyes have never looked so awake. “Why again?”
“I saw a bulletin in Corvium that stated he was visiting with Governor Lerolan,” Ada says, confused by Cal’s sudden focus. “To share his condolences in person.”
“For Belicos and his sons.” I met Belicos only once, minutes before his death, but he was kind. He did not deserve the ending I helped give him. Neither did his kin.
But Cal narrows his eyes against the rising sun. He sees something we don’t, something even Ada’s lists and facts cannot understand. “Maven wouldn’t waste time on such a thing, even to keep up appearances. The Lerolans are nothing to him, and he’s already killed the newbloods of Delphie—he wouldn’t go back without a good reason.”
“And that is?” I ask.
His mouth opens, as if he expects the right answer to fall out. Nothing happens, and finally he shakes his head. “I’m not sure.”
Because this is not a military maneuver. This is something else, something Cal doesn’t understand. He has a talent for war, not intrigue. That is Maven and his mother’s domain, and we’re hopelessly outgunned on their playing field. The best we can do is challenge them on our own terms, with might, not minds. But we need more might. And fast.
“Pitarus,” I say aloud, sounding final. “And tell Nanny she’s coming.”
The old woman has been requesting to help since she came here, and Cal thinks she’s ready to do it. Harrick, on the other hand, has not joined us on another recruitment. Not since Templyn. I don’t blame him.
I don’t need Cal to point out where the Rift region starts. As we pass from the King State, entering into the Prince State, the divide is shockingly clear from our high altitude. The airjet soars over a series of rift valleys, each one bordered by a marching line of mountains. They look almost man-made, forming long gashes like the scrape of fingernails across earth. But these are too big, even for Silvers. This land was made by something more powerful and destructive, thousands of years ago. Autumn bleeds over the land, painting the forest below in varying shades of fire. We’re much farther south than the Notch, but I see pockets of snow on the peaks, hiding from the rising sun. Like Greatwoods, the Rift is another wilderness, though its wealth lies in steel and iron, not lumber. Its capital, Pitarus, is the only city in the region, and an industrial nerve center. It sits on a river fork, connecting the steel refineries to the war front, as well as the southern coal towns to the rest of the kingdom. Though the Rift is officially governed by the windweavers of House Laris, it is the ancestral home of House Samos. As the owners of the iron mines and steel factories, they truly control Pitarus and the Rift. If we’re lucky, Evangeline might be skulking around, and I’ll get to repay her for all her evils.
The nearest rift valley to Pitarus is more than fifteen miles away, but offers good cover to land. This is the bumpiest of all the ruined runways, and I wonder if we’ve overstepped. But Cal keeps the Blackrun in hand, getting us down safely, if shaken.
Nanny claps her hands, delighted by the flight, her wrinkled face lit by a wide smile. “Is it always this much fun?” she asks, peering at us.
Across from her, Shade pulls a grimace. He still hasn’t gotten used to flying, and does his best not to lose his breakfast in her lap.
“We’re looking for four newbloods.” My voice echoes down the craft, silencing the snapping of buckles and restraints. Shade’s feeling better, so he’s here again, sitting next to Farley. Then there’s Nanny and the newblood Gareth Baument. This will be his third recruitment in four days, since Cal decided the former horse master would be a welcome addition to our daily missions. Once he worked for Lady Ara Iral herself, maintaining her vast stable of horses at the family estate on the Capital River. At court, everyone called her the Panther for her gleaming black hair and catlike agility. Gareth is less complimentary. He’s more likely to call her the Silk Bitch. Luckily, his work for House Iral kept him fit and limber, and his abilities are nothing to scoff at either. When I first questioned him, asking if he could do anything special, I ended up on the ceiling. Gareth manipulated the forces of gravity holding me to the earth. If we had been standing in the open, I probably would have ended up in the clouds. But I leave that to Gareth. Besides jettisoning people into the air, he can use his ability to fly.
“Gareth will drop Nanny into the city, and she’ll enter the Security Center disguised as Lord General Laris.” I glance to her, only to find myself staring at a slight older man rather than the woman I’ve come to know. He nods back at me and flexes his fingers, as if he’s never used them before. But I know better. It’s Nanny beneath that skin, pretending to be the Silver commander of the Air Fleet. “She’ll get us a printout of the four newbloods living in Pitarus and the rest in the Rift region. We’ll follow on foot, and Shade will pull us all out.”
As usual, Farley is the first out of her seat. “Good luck with that one, Nan,” she says, jabbing a finger at Gareth. “If you liked this, you’re going to love what he does.”
“I don’t like that smile, little miss,” Nanny says in Laris’s voice. Though I’ve seen her transform before, I’m still not used to the strange sight.
Gareth laughs next to Nanny, helping her from her seat. “Farley flew with me last. Made a real mess of my boots when we touched down.”
“I did no such thing,” Farley replies, but she stalks down the length of the jet quickly. Probably to hide her flushing face. Shade follows her as he always does, trying to smother his laughter with his hand. She’s been ill lately and has done her best to hide it, to everyone’s amusement.
Cal and I are the last left on the plane, though I have no cause to wait for him. He goes through the usual motions, twisting knobs and flipping switches that turn off different parts of the jet in rapid succession. I feel each one sink into electrical death, until the low hum of full batteries is all that remains. The silence pounds in time with my beating heart, and suddenly I can’t get off the jet fast enough. Something frightens me about being alone with Cal, at least in daylight. But when night falls, there’s no one I’d rather see.
“You should talk to Kilorn.”
His voice stops me midstep, frozen halfway down the back ramp.
“I don’t want to talk to him.”
Heat rises with every moment, as he gets closer and closer to me. “Funny, you’re usually such a good liar.”
I spin to find myself staring at his chest. The flight suit, pristine when he put it on more than a month ago, now shows distinct signs of wear. Even though he does his best to steer clear of our battles, battle has touched him still.
“I know Kilorn better than you, and nothing I say will snap him out of his little tantrum.”
“Do you know he asks to come with us?” His eyes are dark, heavy-lidded. He looks like he does in the moments before he falls asleep. “He asks me every night.”
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