Lynon told me their names from the tallest to shortest and I tried hard to keep all the information in my head. It’s a lot harder to remember things when your brain is constantly being crammed.
“Adrienne, Cecelia, Amaya, Zoe, Marlee, and May.” He said, pointing to the girls in a line. I nodded as I studied each of their faces for a second.
“Nick, Devin, Leo, Edmond, and Don.” He continued, pointing to the boys. I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by the time I got to the last one.
Lynon studied my face. “I’ll introduce you to everyone else later.” He said, gesturing to the rest of the group.
I looked at them, feeling a little embarrassed. “Thanks.”
“Okay, group. You’re dismissed if you’d like.” Lynon said, smiling at them. As they slowly moved out of their group, he looked back at me. “What do you want to know?”
I sorted through my questions for a second. “What do you guys do?”
Lynon smiled wryly. “Well, our main focus is surviving. Some of us have jobs and we try to support each other. Others find odd jobs. We’re never in one spot long enough to grow our own food, so we’ve had to find our own ways to survive.” He looked over the group. “Some of us have worked for royals at one point, so we know how to get things and get people to hire us. Others just scrounge around for resources like blankets.” He gestured around. “We’ve been here for around a week now, so the dust is all still here. We try not to move a lot of it so that no one knows we’ve been here when we go.”
I nodded, looking around. “Why me? I mean, if you guys are struggling to keep yourselves up, why did you take me in?”
Lynon shrugged. “We try to help anyone we can. If someone has to go with a little less food to keep someone from starving, they will. That’s just how we work.”
Tears came unbidden to my eyes and I struggled against them. It just felt so much like something my family would do. I tried to wipe away one that had escaped before Lynon saw, but he didn’t miss it.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” For having just met me, he seemed pretty concerned.
“I miss home.” I managed to whisper, still trying to get a hold on myself. I grit my teeth. “I’ve got to go.” I looked away.
I didn’t have to see him to know that Lynon would let me go instead of coming after me. “If you aren’t back before nightfall, we’ll have to move.”
I looked back at him. “I’ll be back.” Without another word, I sprinted out of the building.
After racing down multiple streets, I heard footsteps behind me. I kept going as if I hadn’t heard them, but I was listening. After another turn, I jumped and pulled myself up onto a ledge on an old house. The person behind me turned the corner and jogged in, slowing to a stop as they looked around. For a second, I debated turning around and running again, but letting myself go would be so much more therapeutic.
I dropped back down to the ground behind the figure. “Why did you follow me?” I didn’t resist any of my anger, letting it make me tense. My lip curled up as soon as I stopped trying to stop it.
The figure turned quickly, revealing one of the boy’s faces. Devin, I think it was. “You...” He trailed off. “Oh.”
I huffed. “Was that an answer? I don’t think so.” I crept closer, my hand conspicuously reaching for my dagger.
He took a step back. “Okay, geez. Either Lyn didn’t realize you were fierce, or he didn’t care. I followed you to make sure you don’t rat us out. I’m supposed to shadow all the new recruits.”
I sneered at him. “You could use some practice on being a shadow. Get some new boots, maybe not follow exactly where I’d walked.” I cocked a hip. “And I don’t spend my life unleashing myself on everyone.”
He nodded. “Thanks for the advice, I guess. And uh, good?”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “You’re just going to follow me if I try to run off again, aren’t you, Devin.”
He nodded, only slightly surprised I’d called him by his name. “I have to at least try.”
I growled in frustration before glancing away to think. “How’s this, you answer my questions, or I run again and actually lose you this time.”
Devin’s shoulders fell. “Wow, thanks.” He sighed. “Fine.”
I smiled, my chin rising so I could look him in the eyes. “What happens to royals who conspire against their kingdom?”
Devin blanched. “This is your warm-up question?”
I pretended to examine my nails for a second. “I don’t believe in warm-up questions.” I looked up, my eyes narrowing again. “Now answer.”
“They...” He winced. “Can I just say that they get executed in the worst way imaginable?”
I narrowed my eyes at him. ”Tell me."
Devin looked sick. “They starve them and then before they die, their cell gets flooded with water and hungry animals get unleashed on them. Once they’re mostly dead, they get pulled out and hung to death.”
My stomach flipped, but I forced myself to stay the same. Queasiness was an indulgence I didn’t allow myself often. “Well, that’s overkill.”
Devin shuddered before looking back at me. “Anything else?” His generous attitude had disappeared.
I looked him over. “Yeah. I’ll be back before midnight.” I jumped back onto the ledge and disappeared around the corner, heading back to the castle. After two houses, I jumped back down to the street. As I ran, I cursed myself for wasting two whole days for such useless information. Then again, it was the exact information I’d been instructed to get. What I was really frustrated by was the fact that I hadn’t gained any new information and what I’d learned had been found out in the most unconventional way possible.
Not that I was complaining at this point.
I slowed as the large stone building loomed in front of me. As I scanned the structure, I realized that I didn’t know how I would get back in. I looked around to see almost no one around. The only people walking around were a gardener clipping what few shrubs there were and a man walking out the door. As I crept closer, I saw that it was Kallen. Almost immediately, a plan formed.
“Kallen!” I called, walking confidently towards him.
He turned and his eyes widened as he saw me. “Uhh, Miss?”
I looked at him, my eyelashes fluttering slightly but not enough to be obnoxious. “Would you be a dear and get the guard to let me in? I tried, but he didn’t know who I was.” I pouted. “Cole said he was going to tell them because we had a meeting.”
Kallen flushed. “I, uh...” He glanced at the door. “I don’t know if I should...”
I frowned. “Why not? I told you why I have to go in. I’ll be right back as soon as we’re done.”
Still, Kallen hesitated. “Miss, I could get in real trouble if I-”
“So, don’t tell anyone.” I winked as I knocked on the door. “Just me, you, and the guard. I’ll make sure he doesn’t tell.”
Slowly, Kallen nodded. “Okay.”
The guard opened the door and glanced at me, his eyes narrowing. “Who are you?”
Kallen moved to stand next to me. “Let her in, Grant.”
The guard opened his mouth, but I hissed at him. “I’m late for a meeting with Cole and I don’t think you want to be listed as my reason why.”
The guard paled, which was a more dramatic response than I’d been ready for, but I went with it. The door opened immediately and I slid in with a discreet wink at Kallen before the door closed again. I turned towards the guard. “If you say anything about Kallen helping me, I’ll make sure that you won’t have anything left to report again.” I met his eyes sternly, acting as if I would. I didn’t have the power to do it without some conniving, but I could.
The guard nodded quickly.
A satisfied smirk crossing my face, I walked back through the hall and disappeared into the shadows as I made my way back to the room. All that was left to do was report my success to the group and you know what? I wasn’t even nervous about it.
Not one bit.