The Rogue Knight by Brandon Mull, now you can read online.
It took some time before Cole noticed that the autocoach was going faster than usual. Mira, Jace, Twitch, and Joe had fallen asleep shortly after nightfall. Despite the darkness and the rhythmic trotting of the huge four-legged brick pulling the coach, Cole had failed to relax enough to sleep.
They had been progressing toward Elloweer for many days now. Mira was so excited to see her sister that Cole sometimes wondered if she remembered that Honor was in peril. Twitch remained quiet and content, not speaking much unless asked direct questions. Joe spent most of his time focused on the possible dangers of the road. Jace grew more cranky and restless with each passing day. Cole couldn’t blame him.
The travel conditions helped explain Cole’s current insomnia—too many hours confined within the autocoach, getting little exercise and napping whenever he wanted. The days and nights blurred together, making it tricky to keep a regular schedule.
As he sat in the dark while the others slept, the reality of his circumstances confronted him. Until a few weeks ago, Cole had lived a normal life as a sixth grader in Mesa, Arizona. Then one trip to a neighborhood haunted house on Halloween had landed Cole and his friends in the Outskirts, a mysterious realm made up of five kingdoms that each contained distinct forms of magic. As if getting stuck in another world wasn’t terrible enough, all the kids who had traveled with Cole to the Outskirts had been branded as slaves the second they arrived.
After a failed attempt to rescue his friends, Cole became separated from the others when he was sold to the Sky Raiders, a group of scavengers who salvaged valuable items from dangerous castles in the sky. He had no clue where any of his friends from Arizona had ended up, including his best friend, Dalton, and Jenna, the girl he’d had a crush on for years. He knew they were somewhere in the five kingdoms, and he was determined to rescue them. But sometimes the task of finding them felt impossible.
The only bright spot for Cole was the new friends he’d made in the Outskirts—including Jace, Twitch, and Mira, fellow Sky Raiders who had escaped with him. Joe had come to warn Mira of danger, and later had joined them. Cole felt that sticking with Mira was important. She had connections across Elloweer that made travel easier and that might help him find leads about his friends. Of course that meant facing a lot of danger in the meantime, since Mira was on the run from an incredibly powerful evil ruler who just happened to be her father, the High Shaper who had proclaimed himself High King. Having stolen Mira’s power once, he wanted her abilities back, and after seeing firsthand what that power could do, Cole understood why.
Since arriving in the Outskirts, Cole had flirted with death several times—while scouting sky castles, escaping Skyport, and battling his way through a dreamlike land created by some magical kid. And there was no foreseeable end to the danger. How many near misses could he expect to survive?
Home felt a million miles away. The actual distance was probably even worse. From all appearances, the Outskirts existed in a whole separate universe.
But Cole was here in Sambria, one of the five kingdoms, and that wasn’t changing anytime soon, so all he could do was focus on their next goal.
Mira’s mother had used her shaping talent to place a star in the sky above Honor, which meant Mira’s sister was in trouble, but they had no other details. Not long ago, Mira’s power had taken tangible form, and defeating it had nearly cost them their lives. Were they now heading toward a similar battle? They had no idea what threat Honor could be facing, but Mira was determined to rescue her.
Bertram, the coachman, slouched forward on his bench, eyes on the floor, elderly features blank. As a semblance created by shaping, he didn’t need sleep, but he wasn’t designed to provide much company. He sometimes shared useful information about their route. According to Bertram, they would reach the border of Elloweer tomorrow morning.
The autocoach usually provided a smooth ride, so when it jostled over two rough patches in succession, Cole began to pay attention. The clip-clop of the trotting brick sounded faster than he had ever heard it. Then the rhythm of the trot changed to one of a loping stride, and the speed of the autocoach increased even more.
Neither animal nor machine, the autocoach had been created by shapers. It never tired, but it never went fast, either. Cole tapped Bertram. “Why are we speeding up?”
The old man looked at him, lips quivering, one eye twitching. Bertram only spoke to share information about the roads ahead or to assure anyone who cared to listen that he was on holiday with his grandniece and grandnephews. Though his replies weren’t always relevant, he had never failed to respond to a question.
“Guys!” Cole yelled. “Something’s wrong!”
Joe’s soft snoring sputtered to a halt. He squinted at Cole. “Is the coach running?”
“Yes,” Cole said. “And Bertram won’t talk.”
The old semblance wore a pained expression. One hand clenched sporadically.
Joe hastily shook Mira and Jace. “Wake up!”
Twitch sat up with a start. “What’s happening?” he asked.
The brick’s pace increased to a pounding gallop. The autocoach rattled and creaked, then jolted over a sharp bump, jarring Cole’s spine.
Jace produced his golden rope, the magical item he obtained when he worked for the Sky Raiders. Mira reached for the Jumping Sword that their friend Liam had made for her before returning to the Grand Shaper of Sambria.
Joe slapped Bertram briskly across the cheek. “Bertram! Slow us down! Stop the coach!”
“Halt the coach, Bertram,” Mira demanded.
Face contorted, Bertram’s lips peeled back as he ground his teeth. Drool leaked down his chin.
“Stop us, Bertram,” Joe insisted. “Stop us now!”
Rocking from side to side, Bertram screamed. The wretched, desperate cry filled Cole with panic. What could make the calm old semblance behave like this?
If anything, the autocoach gained speed.