The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 9

“And how do I change that? Would you have me be less than I am?”

Imogen considered that. “Roden is not you. But you are not Roden either. Help him to see that.” Then her face lit up. “I have an idea, one I know you’ll like.”

“What is it?”

“I won’t tell you until I’ve made arrangements, but I will give you one clue. When is the last time you snuck out of a ship’s porthole?”

“When I was nearly eleven, on a trip to Bymar. But …” For the first time in days, my smile was genuine. I knew what her idea was and it was brilliant.

And now, three weeks later, while being held captive on the Shadow Tide, I suddenly sat up straight and shook Roden’s arm to wake him up. “I know where Imogen is!”

Roden rubbed his eyes and tried to focus on me. “Where?”

“She must have escaped out the porthole to get on that lifeboat herself!”

“She wouldn’t have exploded her own lifeboat.”

“Imogen has watched me experiment with gunpowder enough to have a far better understanding of it than I do. She knew exactly how much to use to make it appear that it was a failed attempt at a real explosion. She was probably hiding directly beneath the stuffed figure, out of sight, escaping right beneath the Prozarians’ noses.”

Roden shrugged. “All right, so maybe she did. And maybe Fink is with her. But Mott’s fist wouldn’t fit through the porthole. So where is he?”

That was only one of a thousand questions still churning in my mind. I could breathe easier now about Imogen and Fink, and I hoped I was right. But I was more concerned than ever about Mott. He could not have been on that lifeboat.

“What happened to him?” I mumbled.

The door to our small room was unlocked and began to open. Roden looked over at me, his brows pressed close together. “Maybe for the next few minutes, we should worry about what might happen to us.”

The man I had named Lump was the first to open our door again. When he did, I asked him about his strange name.

He squinted back at me. “My name isn’t Lump.”

“Are you certain?” I tilted my head and studied him. “Look at yourself. What other name could you possibly have?”

He opened his mouth to answer, then closed it. “Just call me Lump.”

With a broad smile, I crossed to him and clapped a hand over his shoulder. “Now I’m curious. If you are willing to let me call you Lump, then your actual name must be so much worse. What is it?”

He pushed me away from him. “I’m here on Captain Strick’s orders. She’s about to give a welcome speech to the new crew. Then she wants you brought up one at a time for a public questioning and confession. To make an example of you both.”

I let out a low whistle. “That sounds like torture.” I glanced over at Roden. “You’d better go first.”

“Seriously?” I nodded at him and he grunted. “Very well. But I can tell you right now, no torture is necessary. I am Jaron.”

Lump pulled Roden out of the cabin and shut and locked the door after him. Or at least, he thought he did. I had touched his shoulder with one hand. With the other, I had inserted a small amount of candle wax into the door frame, preventing it from latching shut, even when Lump turned the lock.

I waited well over a minute to be sure they were gone, then opened the door a crack. From the sounds I heard, all crew members were on deck, just as Lump had suggested. Still, I crept out with great caution. Across from me was a room marked sick bay. That was probably where Tobias would be assigned.

After passing his room, I reached the center area of the ship, which was loaded with bunks, stacked three high. It was a simple thing to swipe a Prozarian coat someone had hung from a rope to dry, and then to take the rope itself. From another bunk, I stole a hat and pressed it low on my head. I was digging through another bag in search of a weapon when I heard footsteps somewhere behind me.

With nowhere to go, I froze, then heard a soft “oh” as I was spotted.

A female voice said, “I thought all crewmen were supposed to be on deck.”

Without turning around, I replied, “I’ll get back up there soon.”

“Ah. Well, as a bit of advice, I wouldn’t steal from that crewman if I were you. He’s the meanest one.”

I huffed and turned around, surprised to see a girl near my own age with long scarlet hair in a tangled braid that draped over one shoulder. Her natural beauty was evident, despite her dirty face and torn dress, and her eyes glistened with intelligence, though she quickly blinked that away, leaving only fear in her expression.

Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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