CHAPTER 1 PRISONERS
Cole could not see anything.
He lay stretched across the rough wooden planks of a wagon bed, the hood over his head somewhat dampening the impact as the boards rapped against his skull. Judging from the sound of the hoofbeats and the rattling of the vehicle, they were moving briskly along a dirt road. His hands were bound together behind his back with strong, slender cords. Iron manacles encircled his ankles, biting into his skin when he tried to pull free. The coarse material against his face threatened to induce a claustrophobic panic, though he could breathe reasonably well.
Unpleasant sensations assailed him—hunger, thirst, soreness, exhaustion.
Having just returned from the echolands, he found ownership of a physical body startlingly unfamiliar. He had not felt hungry in a long while. Or sore.
Cole had been warned before returning to his body. He knew he had been captured, along with Destiny, Honor, and
Desmond. Their bodies had been left behind at the Temple of the Robust Sky when they had departed for the echolands, and their defenseless physical forms had fallen into the power of Enforcers.
The prelate Elana had placed their bodies in a secret room for safekeeping. Clearly something had gone wrong. Wherever Elana was now, Cole hoped she was all right.
“Hello?” Cole called, not at full volume but hopefully loud enough for any other prisoners sharing the wagon to hear.
“Cole?” a voice answered, slightly muffled.
It was Destiny. Tessa. Mira’s youngest sister, who he had just rescued in the echolands.
“I’m here too,” Honor said, her voice clearer and louder, though somewhat dampened as well. Strong and independent, Honor was Mira’s second-oldest sister and had helped in the search for Tessa. “Desmond?”
There came no reply.
“Anybody else?” Honor tried.
“It may just be the three of us,” Cole said. “Are you tied up too?”
“Manacles on my hands and feet,” Honor replied over the creak and rattle of the wagon. “Hood over my head.”
Cole wondered if he should be insulted that only his feet had actual manacles.
“I can’t see either,” Destiny said. “My hands are tied. My legs are chained.”
“Me too,” Cole said, deciding that he was considered a lesser threat than Honor.
“Can you spring us, Cole?” Honor asked.
It was a fair question. In the echolands, Cole had finally unlocked his power. His shaping ability had become inaccessible after being mangled when he fought Morgassa in Elloweer. Once his power had become active, Cole found he could awaken the shaping power in others, and he had learned to transform objects in the echolands with his will, as if he were a gifted shaper in Sambria.
Cole could still feel his power smoldering inside. It had been absent for so long, the presence was unmistakable.
In the echolands, he had recently used his power to throw down castle walls. The manacles should not stand a chance. Let alone the fabric of the hood covering his face.
Mustering his focus, Cole willed the unseen manacles cuffing his ankles to dissolve.
Cole tugged with his legs against the restraints. The unforgiving iron dug into his skin just as before.
Cole willed the fabric of the hood to split apart. He drew on his power with all of his effort.
Not a single thread popped.
“I don’t know,” Cole replied. “I can feel my power. But it doesn’t seem to be working. I can’t make it connect.”
“I worried it might be different back in a physical body,” Honor said.
“Why should it be different?” Cole asked.
“The echolands are made of a whole different kind of matter,” Honor said. “You didn’t have a physical body there, and you weren’t affecting physical material. I’ve never heard
of anyone developing their power as quickly as you did in the echolands. You have the same abilities here, but using those skills in the physical world may take more time to develop.”
Cole relaxed his mind. Without straining, he tried to push his power at the iron cuffs gripping his ankles. Again he got no result. He refocused on the hood, to no avail.
“I’m sorry,” Cole said. “I can’t even tear the hood. But my power is with me.”
“They’re probably taking us to Owandell,” Honor said. “Once we reach Junction, I should be able to access my power. I’ll set us free.”
“No,” Destiny said, her voice calm and certain. “Going before Owandell will lead us to the paths we must walk.”
For a long moment Cole listened to hoofs clopping and scuffing against the dirt. The wagon jerked, swayed, and creaked.
“That settles it,” Honor said, resignation in her tone. “No escape attempt. We wait.”
“What paths?” Cole asked. “Where are we going?”
“I don’t know,” Destiny said, sounding like herself once more.
“No hints?” Cole asked.
“I’m sorry,” Destiny said. “It just comes. I never know more than what comes.”
“No apology needed,” Honor said. “Any guidance helps.”
In the echolands, Cole had seen Destiny’s power in action. Separate from her, in the form of a horse, her power had played a key role in helping him find Destiny, save his friends, and prevent the return of Nazeem, who
was really a torivor named Ramarro. Before leaving the afterlife, Destiny’s power had been restored to her. And now it was speaking through her.
“We let the Enforcers take us to Owandell?” Cole checked.
“Yes, if we have any sense,” Honor said. “No good comes from trying to avoid Tessa’s prophecies.”
“We don’t resist at all?” Cole asked.
“We can try whatever we want after we meet with Owandell,” Honor said. “Until then we use patience.”
“It’s hard to be patient with a bag over your head,” Cole observed.
The wagon slowed to a stop.
“Are we there?” Cole asked.
“I don’t think so,” Honor said in a tone so hushed, Cole could barely hear her. “I’d have some access to my power if we were in Junction. They’re probably changing horses.”
Cole heard the clink and jangle of chains at the rear of the wagon.
“Play possum,” Honor suggested quietly.
Cole went limp as he heard doors open. The unsteady glow of torchlight flickered up through the bottom of his hood. Somebody was checking on the prisoners. Breathing softly, Cole stayed limp.
“Still there,” a gruff voice affirmed.
The door closed.
Harnesses jingled and hoofs clopped. A horse whickered. Shortly the wagon lurched forward.
“They’re in a hurry,” Honor said.
“I don’t want to see Owandell,” Tessa said in a voice nearly too small to hear.
Cole almost replied that her own power was to blame for their decision to go submissively before the head of the High King’s secret police. But since Owandell had used shapecraft—the ability to tamper with the shaping power itself—to take Destiny’s power when she was only nine and give it to her father, Cole decided sensitivity was required.
“You must hate him,” he said.
“Owandell scares me,” Tessa replied.
“He’ll hurt you again over my dead body,” Honor promised.
“That doesn’t comfort me,” Tessa said. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“Trust your power,” Cole said. “It helped save us in the echolands.”
“Knowing we should talk to Owandell doesn’t necessarily spare us from harm,” Honor said. “Terrible consequences could follow. Destiny’s prophecy could simply mean that any efforts to escape would fail. Or it could mean the encounter with Owandell will produce outcomes that need to happen for some higher purpose. But serving a higher purpose is no guarantee of safety.”
“You’re not very comforting,” Cole said.
“Does our situation seem comfortable?” Honor challenged. “We all need to face reality.”
“What do you think they did with Desmond?” Tessa asked.
“He wasn’t a high enough priority to transfer him to Junction,” Honor said. “Hopefully, he’s just imprisoned back near the Temple of the Robust Sky.”
“What is our reality?” Cole asked. “Does Owandell want your powers again?”
“Perhaps,” Honor said. “Or else he wants us as hostages.”
“Can he take your powers?” Cole asked.
“He proved he has the ability,” Honor said. “We didn’t surrender them willingly the first time.”
“Is your father behind this?” Cole wondered. Assisted by Owandell, the High King had used shapecraft to steal the powers of his five daughters several decades ago. The absence of their shaping abilities had stopped the princesses from aging. Miracle, Honor, Constance, and Destiny all had their powers back now. Only their eldest sister, Elegance, still lacked her stolen abilities.
“Hard to say,” Honor said. “Though Owandell still works for Father, he doesn’t collaborate closely with him anymore, and is clearly carrying out his own schemes with Ramarro. We won’t know how much Father is involved until this unfolds.”
Cole frowned at the mention of Ramarro. Under the name Nazeem, the torivor had introduced shapecraft into the five kingdoms. Ramarro had just escaped his prison in the echolands, but with help from Cole, the torivor had been diverted to a prison in Creon when he reentered mortality.
“Owandell stole our powers for Father in the first place,” Honor said. “I expect Owandell will want to take them again. But I’m not going to resist Destiny’s foresight. When she speaks under the influence of her gift, I have never known her to be wrong.”
“How many of the Enforcers are loyal to your father?” Cole asked. “Could they be taking us to him?”
“Owandell has recently proven that he controls the majority of the Enforcers,” Honor said. “I’m sure there are some exceptions.”
“Where do we go if we escape him?” Cole asked.
“In the capital?” Honor asked. “We try to find Mother.”
Cole had met Harmony. She had helped him escape Junction the last time he visited. “Do you think she can help us find Mira?” Cole wondered.
“Probably,” Honor said. “I hope Mother can also direct us to Elegance. Our highest priority is to stop Ramarro, and we’ll need help from Wayminders. Mother has contacts in that community.”
Cole felt smothered by more than the hood covering his face. There was so much to be done! The prison where he had helped deposit Ramarro would not hold the torivor forever. It might only restrain him for weeks. Or even days. And if the torivor got free, the Outskirts would fall under his complete control. Not to mention that the torivor wanted revenge against Cole and his friends. The ancient shapers who had created the Outskirts had barely managed to contain Ramarro, and nobody was left who could defeat him. Cole had to find a way to prevent his escape.
And he needed to find his friends, especially Mira, Jace, and Dalton. And his brother, Hunter.
And he needed to rescue Jenna and the other kids who had been kidnapped into the Outskirts from his neighborhood in Arizona.
And he needed to restore Elegance’s power and defeat the High King.
And he was currently tied up in a prison wagon.
And his power didn’t work right anymore.
“Let’s survive Owandell first,” Cole said.
“He’s a powerful shapecrafter,” Honor warned. “He can block the shaping of others. And we know with enough time he can strip away their powers and give them to another.”
Cole temporarily wished he could return to the echolands, where he had gained so much power. Nobody in the echolands could chain him up and cart him around. Of course, it was also the last stop before moving on to the next phase of existence. Most people in the echolands were dead.
Cole was back in the living world, and he had to solve his problems here. Or at least try.
“I guess we just have to be patient for now,” Cole concluded.
“Save your strength,” Honor suggested. “We’ll need it before long.”