The Captive Kingdom (Ascendance 4) - Page 41


After a heavy silence, Wilta asked, “How long did you have this escape planned out?”

I shrugged. “This was a fairly new plan.”

“Fairly new? How many escape plans were there?”

“Eleven … and a half, although some would have been difficult, and some required unlikely events, such as the Eranbole Sea drying up overnight. But this was the escape that best fit the situation.”

She gestured to my leg. “Getting stabbed? Was that one of your planned possibilities too?”

“Well, yes. But I thought it’d be the captain to do it, and a lot sooner than it happened. At least most of my plan worked.”

Tobias grunted, reminding me that the failed part of my plan was an enormous problem. But he finished working on my leg and said, “I can only wrap this wound here, but I’ll need to sew it when we get off the boat, or cauterize the wound.”

While Tobias tied the final knot, Fink asked, “Should we cut the rope?”

I shook my head. “Let everything settle and wait until it’s dark. Do you have my bag, and the items from that closet?”

Tobias glanced over at Wilta. “Is she —”

“I already know what you stole,” Wilta said. “I was the one who had to report to the captain that they were missing.”

Tobias frowned, then nodded at Fink, who tugged on a blanket in the center of the lifeboat, revealing everything we had removed from the locked closet.

“How did they get your brother’s crown?” Tobias asked.

“And his sword.” I wished I hadn’t had to leave that behind. “I don’t know where they got them, but they have no right to them.”

We all looked to Wilta, who only shrugged. “I knew the captain had the items, but she never told me how she got them.”

“Unless what they said is true.” Fink tilted his head, deep in thought. “If Darius is alive, is he my adopted brother too?”

“I buried him, Fink!” Or, I thought I had. Doubts swept over me with every memory of my brother, every detail I tried to recall as I struggled to think whether it truly had been him in that coffin. It had to be — no other explanation made sense. For Darius to be alive, there would have to be answers for how he had not only survived, but escaped Carthya when my parents had fallen victim to Conner’s plot.

As the activities on the ship gradually settled, I relaxed too and began to take a closer look at the items we’d stolen from the captain. I began with the scope, running my finger over the engravings. “What do we know about this?” I asked.

One glance at Wilta’s widened eyes told me that she knew exactly what this was. Before I could ask, she shook her head. “Please don’t ask me anything. If she finds out I’ve told you —”

“She’ll assume you’ve told me, whether you have or not.” Wilta still would not speak, so I held the scope out over the water, raising all but two fingers. “Maybe it’s not that important.”

With a cry of alarm, Wilta darted forward, nearly throwing the boat off balance until Fink and Tobias pulled her away. Then she said, “All right, I’ll tell you, if you promise to keep it safe.”

I brought the scope back into the boat. Wilta’s eyes fixed on it, as if looking anywhere else would put the scope at risk.

She said, “This scope is believed to be an ancient map to the greatest treasure in all the lands. At the height of the Prozarians’ power, they captured it in one of their conquests. Their finest minds attempted to decipher the markings, but no one succeeded. Gradually, it was forgotten. Then, a few years ago, the plague swept through the people, killing so many Prozarians that it threatened their very existence. One day, a strange man named Levitimas came to the Prozarians with the promise of a cure, but it would not be given freely. He claimed the scope belonged to him. If the Prozarians returned it, he would heal them.”

“Was that true — did it belong to him?” Tobias asked.

Wilta shrugged. “If it did, then he should have known better than to trust the Prozarians. The agreement was made, and once the people began to heal, the Monarch, full of cruelty and ambition, cast Levitimas into a prison from which he will never return. In a search of his possessions, they found the first lens for the scope.” She pointed. “Is it still in that bag?”

I nodded.

She looked up at me with the most serious possible expression. “Jaron, if you were in a bad position before, I warn you, taking this scope was the most dangerous choice you possibly could have made.”

“So far.” She looked confused, so I added, “That’s the most dangerous choice I could have made so far. It’ll get worse before this is over.”

Wilta shook her head, perhaps trying to understand me the way that everyone else tried to understand me, and eventually failed. Everyone but Imogen, I supposed.

A lump formed in my throat when I thought of her again. I was desperate for any news of what had happened to her. She was alive — she had to be alive.


Tags: Jennifer A. Nielsen Ascendance Fantasy
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