The next morning Emanuel made fish for breakfast. He roasted them in his hands so that there was no sign we’d been here at all.
“So, what is the plan?” I asked while eating.
They both stared at me.
“We do have a plan, right?”
“Yes.” Blake smiled. “We do, and I told Emanual you were not going to like it.” He gave Emanuel a playful, raised eyebrow. “He’s just scared to tell you.”
Just then, a raw fish came sailing through the air, right at Blake’s face. “I’m not scared. You need to stay put, Elena, let us do our job, and…”
“No, I’m not going to sit here and wait for everyone to come back.”
“You won’t be alone, Raymond –”
“I said no, Emanuel.”
“See?” Blake interrupted.
“So what is the plan?” I looked at Blake this time.
“We are going to the parade in disguise. We won’t go near the reaping. I promise. We need to let all of them know that help is coming so that when it happens, they will be prepared.”
“Okay,” I said, but horrible things started jumping through my mind. There was one in particular where Blake vanished to who knew where again.
“So, where is the disguise?” I asked as none of them had come in with bags.
“We are going to use a transformation spell, one that will help us to blend in, and we are going to a complete differently city, not Eikenborough like last time.”
“We are going to Sovereign. It’s a couple of miles to the north,” Dicky said.
“Sovereign it is.”
“From what we gathered the last time,” Jerry spoke, “Sovereign is where all of it is starting, so the minute they bring the prisoners out…”
All eyes were on Jerry.
“I didn’t mean it like that.” He quickly retraced his words. “I…you guys know what I mean. One of us will get word to them.”
“I will,” Blake said as he took a bite of his fish.
“You are?” I asked.
“Elena, I know how to do this. I have a plan, got it all figured out, and you will be right there with me. I won’t leave you,” he said quietly. “We are going to be unrecognizable.”
“Okay. How are you going to get word to them?”
His lips widened.
“Oh please, do tell her Blake,” Emanuel teased.
“I’m scared she won’t kiss me again.”
All of them laughed while I frowned, wondering why on earth I wouldn’t kiss him again.
“Dung balls, okay. My father said that they used to leave secret messages inside the dung balls of deer and smaller animals and packed it in a certain shape so that they know it’s a message. I won’t be able to leave it somewhere, so I have to spit it at them.”
“You’re going to put dung balls in your mouth?”
All of them laughed.
“For the greater good, one needs to be prepared to do the worst.”
“It’s not the worst thing he’s had in his mouth,” Emanuel said.
“Oh shut up,” Blake said and everyone laughed.
After the fish, the transformation spells started. Emanuel changed all the dragons to older men, but he turned Jerry into a woman. It was a great joke.
Blake turned himself into a fifty-year-old dude with a scruffy, red beard and hair. I became his ten-year-old mute daughter.
All of them seemed so huge standing around me.
“Just don’t kiss your daughter, Blake.”
“I’m sure in a place as evil as this…forgive me. I shouldn’t have said that.” He sounded serious.
I knew it was a huge possibility.
“Remember, you are mute, so not a word, okay? And don’t pay attention to what I will be saying. I know dark, I know evil, and we need to fit in.”
“It’s okay. I’ll cringe from the inside.”
He smiled and looked at Dicky, who had a bag full of dung balls.
“All the messages inside?” he asked and Dicky nodded.
“Raymond and Emanuel helped me.”
“Seriously, a girl?” Jerry tried to pull his dress over his knees.
“Woman have plenty of power, my friend. Don’t underestimate that disguise,” Emanuel said.
We all started to walk in the direction of Sovereign then half a mile from our destination, we parted ways.
“Meet again at the tree. Be safe, Blake.”
“Good luck, Elena.”
I ran over to him and give him a hug around his waist. “Just don’t get yourself killed, please.”
“Be careful what you say. It might not be from the evil this side but from your father next to you, young lady.” He sounded so wise, just like his disguise. It made me laugh. “And you’re mute.”
I made some signs with my hands and all of them laughed as I reached for Blake again.
We walked in silence to Sovereign’s market where they sold whatever they could.
I saw a girl around my height with shackles around her neck and feet.
She stayed close to a tent that sold some sort of drinks.
Blake grasped my hand tighter, and I looked up at him as he stared at the little girl too.
He walked faster, past the tent toward the front.
The parade hadn’t started yet, and I flinched as one of the men standing in the crowd, very drunk, bumped into Blake.
He kept himself upright with his one arm.
“A bi’ to’ mu’ to drink, hey,” Blake spoke in the most awful accent.
The other guy spoke so fast, using the same accent. A few of his teeth were missing, and he smelled horrible.
He then took out money and handed it to Blake.
I could see from his demeanor that he didn’t like it one bit, but when he opened his mouth, he sounded the opposite.
He roared with laughter and just shook his head. Said something about a mute, which must be me, and I got it. That guy wanted to buy me. Disgusting.
I squeezed Blake’s hand tighter.
The guy then said something about the Reaping, and I knew he was asking us if we were going to go. More men came and Blake made disgusting jokes again about my “so-called mother” who’d died not making enough money lying on her back, and how I was going to take her place in a few years.
I didn’t want to hear their conversation anymore; I knew he had to play the part, and that these men were beyond evil based on what they made their women do.
We eventually moved on, and Blake squeezed my hand again, but I didn’t look at him.
We stayed in the front until the hooves of horses echoed on the other side of the wall. The gate opened and the horses appeared, pulling steel carriages. My heart cringed now that I knew for whom those carriages were.
Another steel door opened and men who were hardly human walked out, shackled on a long chain.
All of them were so skinny, and their clothes were torn. Their hair had been cut short, making them look like slaves. They had thick metal bracelets on their neck, feet and wrists as they were pushed and shoved into the carriages.
They were my father’s devoted men, those who had refused to break. They were barely alive, had bruises, cuts and sores all over their bodies.
I tried to see if my father was among them, but they were so dirty. I wouldn’t even recognize him if he was right in front of me.
They were all divided into the carriages as people started to pelt them with rotten fruit and whatever they could find. Yelling curse words, blaming them for whatever it was they were going through.
I felt like crying, but knew I couldn’t. It would give everything away.
Blake squeezed my hand tighter. “Just stay here,” he whispered softly then let go of my hand as he rushed up to the carriages.
The movement was so fast as he spat the dung balls into the first carriage, and whispered a command in Latin.
My heart pounded as the one guard started to push Blake back, but he spoke again in his broken-English accent, and the guard laughed and gave him free access again to the second carriage.
He told the other guards what Blake was doing, and they all just roared as he spat more dung balls into the second carriage. He still found a way to say the command without the guards hearing them. From what I could tell, the men in the carriages all heard. They even looked back at Blake.
I hoped it was going to work.
Blake carried on making jokes with the men. He was really good at blending in.
The third carriage came and the same thing happened. Finally, the fourth.
Just then the guards lost their cool as Blake pressured them for money for their entertainment, and they pushed him off the stairs back to me.
When he reached me, we made our way out of the crowds, with the intention of returning to the forest.
“You there,” one of the soldiers in the crowd yelled as we reached the shops. My heart pounded again as he was pointing at Blake.
“Walk faster, Elena.”
“Blake, they are going to use force, draw more attention to us.”
I did as he said with my hand clutched so tightly in his.
He found an empty store, opened it with his telekinesis and we entered.
We sat against the door as one of the guards walked past.
Another few followed him and they spoke about the red-bearded man. He looked familiar to the other one, said he owed him money.
The door knob turned but it didn’t open. My heart was hammering.
We waited for half an hour as the guards didn’t want to leave. They walked past all the empty stores.
Just then, Blake’s watch beeped as a guard walked past, and he tried to muffle it.
The guard heard it and pounded on the door.
“Trust me,” Blake whispered and he crawled into a corner and held me tight.
The door smashed open and Blake covered my face. I closed my eyes too, as I didn’t want any attention drawn toward us.
“You are hearing things. Now you have to explain to Lord Hopper why we need a new door on this store. You idiot!” the man slapped him hard on the head.
“Beeped, like what?”
“I don’t know. The noise came from in here.”
“Well, you see anybody?” he asked and the guy said nothing.
“Let’s go,” he said. “A beep.” The guy sounded irritated.
I knew Blake had blended in. Why they didn’t see the shimmer was beyond me.
“Let’s go, Elena.”
“They are still outside.”
“We will move past them. They won’t even know.”
“I’m not as quiet as you,” I said as we got up.
He then picked me up as I was still in disguise and carried me on his arm, like a father would his small daughter, and walked out. He slipped past the two men, not making a sound, and went in the opposite direction back toward the forest.
He blended in until we found the group.
“They should’ve been here.” Raymond sounded worried.
“Give them time. Blake isn’t stupid,” Emanuel said.
Blake let down his shield and we appeared. “Good to know you have faith in me, Emanuel.”
All of them jumped.
“How did you do that?” Jerry asked.
“I’m a dragon of many talents, my friend.” He raised his eyes once.
“What happened, Blake?”
“Guards followed us, said I look like a guy who owed them money. We need to get out of here.”
“Did you do as planned?”
“Yes.” Blake sounded irritated. “I saw all of them.”
I looked at him. My father too? I wanted to say it out loud but remembered no one here knew about that.
“Who are they?”
“The other side,” Blake ordered.
We reached the Creepers again.
“Take everyone out first. It’s daylight. If guards come, I can shield the others.”
I nodded and took Jerry out first. He changed back into his old self once he was safely in Tith then went to King Helmut, who was waiting for us.
I took out Emanuel next then went back for all of them.
Blake was last.
We both shifted back as we reached the core of the Creepers.
“I’ve never been so scared my entire life. When your watch beeped…”
“I know, calm down. It’s okay, it’s over, we are safe.”
He hugged me tightly and I wished this heavy feeling in my gut would disappear.
“I know who those men are, all of them.”
“Did you see…”
He shook his head.
“You think he’s dead?”
“No. I don’t.”
“Okay, who are they?”
“You need to keep this from my sister and Becky, okay? Tell them you don’t know, I didn’t tell you a thing.”
“Becky’s father is one of them.”
“What?” I looked at him.
“Her father is one of the men. I barely recognized him, but it’s Etienne Johnson.”
We stayed at the palace for a few hours longer so Blake could tell King Helmut about everyone he’d seen.
I sat with Cat and Queen Marguerite on the patio. How on earth was I going to keep this news from Becky? From Lucille? They had all the right in the world to know he was alive. Still, Blake had asked me, and I was sure he had his reasons for me to not tell my friends.
“Elena,” Queen Marguerite said. “You haven’t taken one sip of your drink. You okay?”
I nodded. “Just a bit shaken up. It almost went horribly wrong. If Blake didn’t have that blending in thing…” I shook my head.
She smiled. “He sure is a spectacular dragon.” She stroked my knee. “He will never let anything harm you.”
“I learned that the hard way.”
A horrible scream came from inside the castle, and Queen Marguerite pulled me up with her to investigate.
We found one of the ladies screaming in one of the hallways. Jeeves came and comforted her just as we reached the commotion.
Blake, Emanuel, King Helmut, and Jerry came running out of King Helmut’s office, and then I saw what the screaming was about.
A cold shudder ran up my spine and I froze as déjà vu washed over me. A pool of blood and a dead body.
Blake grabbed me immediately as I stared at a figure lying in the hallway. I couldn’t see who he was, except that that he was one of King Helmut’s men.
Blood was spattered on the wall. A message had been written.
No one is safe.
That was all it said, but it wasn’t the blood that scared the living daylights out of me.
It was the fact that the message was written in Wyvic.
King Helmut barked off orders to Raymond.
Emanuel grabbed Queen Marguerite and tore me out of Blake’s grasp as he started dragging us toward the entrance from which we’d from a few minutes ago.
Blake stayed behind.
“Blake, please!” I cried.
“Just go, Elena. You will be safe. I’ll meet you soon,” he yelled back and ran after King Helmut.
“The castle is not safe,” he said, and once outside he morphed into his dragon and flew with Queen Marguerite and me in his paws.
It was an uncomfortable flight as he wasn’t nearly as big as Blake, and I didn’t feel that secure in his paw the way I felt in Blake’s.
When we finally stopped, I found myself right in front of the Academy.
Master Longwei was waiting for us, and without a word, Emanuel left.
“Someone was killed right under our noses in the castle,” Queen Marguerite started to tell Master Longwei.
“Shhh, Maggie. I already know. Dickerson right?”
“What?” both of us yelled. This was news to both of us.
“Dicky is…dead?” My voice was barely audible. “How can that be, he was just with us in Elm?” I started to panic, speaking extremely fast with strands of hair tangled in between my fingers.
“Elena, calm down. It’s going to be all right. You are safe.” Queen Marguerite wrapped her arms around me.
“I’ll never be safe,” I spoke into her shoulder. “That message said no one is safe. It was written in Wyvic. Paul is back.”