Kalden reclined on his bed, reading the local newspaper. Akari had called him an old man for this, but he didn’t care. They were in the outside world now. It might not be the part they’d expected, but they still had years of events to catch up on.
Relia paced back and forth like a caged animal, occasionally glancing out the window. The sun had just vanished below the ocean, and they still hadn’t heard from Elend. “He should’ve been here by now. He said ‘late afternoon’, right?”
“Yep.” Akari lay on the other bed, shooting Missiles into the air. She’d gotten better at controlling them, but he still worried she might punch a hole through the ceiling.
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Kalden said. “Who knows how long it takes to send a message?”
“Two minutes,” Akari muttered. She tried to sound nonchalant, but it came out forced. Clearly, she was as nervous as they were.
“And we don’t know if the dark web plan will work,” Kalden continued. “Maybe they’re trying something else?”
Relia rubbed her arms as she continued pacing. “Then why hasn’t he called? Marco has a phone downstairs.”
“Phones can be tapped.” Akari launched another Missile upward. This one actually grazed the ceiling before it came back down.
Relia opened her mouth as if to respond, but then something caught her eye. “Wait—that’s Hector’s truck!”
She yanked open the sliding glass door and stepped onto the balcony. Kalden and Akari each leapt off their beds to join her.
The old red truck pulled into the town square on the other side of the fountain. The driver-side door opened a second later, and Hector stepped out. Kalden and the others waited for several long heartbeats, but there was no sign of Elend.
Relia led the charge down the stairs, and they all met Hector in the first-floor corridor. He seemed relieved when he saw them, but Relia spoke first, “Where’s Elend?”
Hector shook his head, unable to meet her eyes. “I’m sorry … they took him.”
“The Dragonlord’s brother and sister.”
A cold sweat broke over Kalden’s skin. Going there had been a risk, but no one had expected the dragons to move so quickly. Elend had barely been in Creta for twenty-four hours. How did they know?
“Was there a fight?” Relia asked.
Kalden already knew the answer to that. He’d read about the Antano siblings—Dario and Valeria—in the paper that night. People called them the Dragonlord’s Wings, and they enforced his will all throughout the nation. They were also Masters, which meant Elend wouldn’t stand a chance with his cuffs.
“The car pulled up next to us,” Hector said. “Elend got in, then they drove off. That’s all I saw.”
“But you got away?” Kalden asked. He tried to keep his voice calm rather than suspicious.
“He told me to keep walking, so I did. The street was crowded. I don’t think they saw me.”
That made some sense. A Cadrian with a fake mark could vanish in an urban crowd. Then again, basic surveillance should have confirmed that he and Elend arrived together. It seemed too convenient that he’d gotten back here with no interruptions
“We need to leave,” Hector said. “Some Grevandi escaped the fight last night. They might know you’re here.”
No argument there. But Kalden wouldn’t blame a few fleeing Grevandi for this mess. They wouldn’t have fought Elend if they’d known his true identity. They also wouldn’t have known about his trip to San Talek.
More likely, the dragons had a spy right here in town. Someone with the time and resources to piece this together.
“Leave where?” Akari asked.
“I can get us to a safe house,” he said. “But we need to go now.”
Relia nodded along, but Akari looked as skeptical as Kalden felt.
“Give us ten minutes to pack,” he told Hector. “We’ll meet you downstairs when we’re ready.”
“Packing won’t take ten minutes,” Relia said once they were alone in their rooms. She grabbed the blade she’d stolen from the Artisan last night, fastening the holster around her waist. “I’m ready now.”
Akari glanced out at the town square, then closed the slider door and curtains.
“I know.” Kalden shouldered his own pack. “We need to talk first.”
“Talk about what?” Relia scrunched up her face in genuine confusion. “The dragons have my master. They know who he is, and—”
“They’ll want hostages,” he finished for her.
“Exactly! We should have left hours ago.”
“But think about it,” Kalden said. “If they know we’re here, then why haven’t they sent someone for us?”
“I don’t know.” She threw up her hands. “We killed the last Artisan they sent.”
“Or they’re trying to catch us with honey,” Akari said.
Kalden nodded in her direction, then he turned back to Relia. “Hector led your master away from this city, and he got captured. Now he wants to lead us somewhere.”
“Seriously?” Relia said. “You think Hector betrayed him?”
“I think it’s worth discussing.”
“Hector’s an Unmarked,” she said. “That makes him the dragon’s enemy.”
“Ever heard of spies?” Kalden gestured to the fake mark on his forehead. “You immediately trusted him because of these. If I were a spymaster, I couldn’t ask for better circumstances.”
“He fought with us yesterday. And my master trusted him.”
“Elend specifically told you to keep your distance,” Kalden retorted.
“He’s good with people,” she said. “It’s part of his aspect. He can read emotions like words on a page."
Kalden rubbed his temple. “Look, no offense to your master, but he’s been captured twice. Let’s not pretend he’s perfect.”
In hindsight, it wasn’t fair to compare this situation to the Martials. Elend had known the Martials were hostile from the beginning. He’d just assumed that Golds and Silvers couldn’t capture a Grandmaster. Still, Kalden didn’t concede his point. Elend was a human who made mistakes.
“The spy could be anyone,” Relia said. “Dozens of people saw the fight in the square.”
Akari rolled her eyes. “You guys are going in circles now.”
“I want to help Elend,” Relia said. “Maybe the Unmarked can help us.”
“Not this again,” Kalden muttered. For Talek’s sake, was she really this naïve? Fighting the Martials had been one thing—they were only Golds. But Relia couldn’t stand against anyone in the Dragonlord’s inner-circle. Both his Wings were Masters, and most of his Fangs were Artisans.
Relia narrowed her eyes. “You’re saying you’d rather save yourself and leave him behind?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. I think Elend would agree if he were here.”
“Wow.” She crossed her arms. “You really think you know everything, don’t you?”
“Elend told you not to rescue him back on Arkala. He said your plan was too reckless.”
Her expression darkened further. “You’d still be trapped there without my plan.”
“Yeah,” Kalden replied. “So would Jared and Viv.”
Relia winced as if he’d slapped her, and Kalden immediately regretted his words.
“Fine,” she said. “I’m going with Hector. You guys do what you want.”
She started for the door, then her legs buckled beneath her. She fell right into Kalden, slamming face-first into his chest.
Kalden caught her, but her body felt like dead weight in his arms. He adjusted his grip on her waist and lowered her back on the nearest bed.
“You okay?” he asked.
Relia lay there in for several heartbeats, gritting her teeth, raking in several deep breaths. Then she forced herself to her feet and flared her life Cloak. Her body shone with green-gold light, and she tested her weight on both legs, almost reassuring herself that they still worked. She moved her arms next, clenching each hand into a shaking fist.
Akari stepped closer, eyes narrowed in confusion. “What’s up?”
“I just tripped” Relia reached inside her purse and clutched something like a lifeline. “But I’m okay.”
Her face told a different story, especially a second ago when he’d set her on the bed. Her anger had faded in a heartbeat, replaced with a look of pure terror. What did she have in that bag? Relia didn’t seem like the type to abuse drugs or enhancement pills. And Elend didn’t seem like he’d allow it.
Regardless, now wasn’t the time to pry. They had bigger problems.
“Look,” he said after a short pause. “I’m sorry for what I said.”
She shook head her head. “It wasn’t about you.”
“I still shouldn’t have said that. What happened on the island wasn’t your fault.” Kalden normally kept his cool during debates, but another part of him became obsessed with winning. Even with his friends, when victory wasn’t the goal.
“He’s kind of an asshole when he’s stressed,” Akari muttered.
Kalden wouldn’t have phrased it that way, but she might be right. Who wouldn’t be stressed with so many unknown variables?
He took a deep breath, meeting both of their eyes. “Whatever happens, I think we should stick together. We’ll talk things out, even if we don’t agree.” He’d assumed that went without saying. Whether they went with Hector or not, he couldn’t imagine them splitting up. Not in this country. Not after everything they’d been through.
“Yeah.” Relia scrubbed a hand across her eyes. “I’m sorry too.”
“What do you think?” Kalden asked Akari. “You’ve been quiet this whole time.”
“No way Hector tricked Elend,” she replied. “He’s too smart for that.”
Kalden still wasn’t convinced about that part, but Elend was probably a good judge of character. So was Relia, now that he thought about it. Despite having no connections on Arkala, she’d put together a solid team for the prison break.
“And we’re short on friends here,” Akari went on. “Not to mention money. Seems like we’re screwed either way.”
Yeah. It was sad how many choices came down to that. He’d spent years studying strategy and battle tactics, hoping they'd result in brilliant solutions to impossible problems. Then again, you couldn’t think your way out of everything. Sometimes, you had to trust your friends’ survival instincts.
Of course, Kalden still had no intention of trying to rescue Elend from the Dragonlord. That would be a suicide mission. One step at a time, though.
“Alright,” he said. “Lets—”
Someone burst through the door before Kalden could finish. Relia reacted first, putting herself between them and the intruder. Glowing blue Missiles sprang to life in each of her palms.
It was only Hector.
“Sorry to interrupt,” he panted. “But we’ve got trouble.”
“Grevandi?” Relia asked.
“Worse,” he said. “Three Fangs just showed up outside.”
Damnit. He’d had been so focused on Hector these past few minutes, he’d ignored an even worse possibility.
The dragons had followed him back here.