The goal was to blend in and go unnoticed. My scars would make that difficult, but thankfully, cooler temperatures meant donning a cloak with its hood up wouldn’t draw too much attention. I was wearing an old pair of breeches that Casteel had wrangled for me, ones worn at the knees. The clothing I’d acquired in Saion’s Cove would have been too fine for someone not Ascended or of a wealthy class.
And the wealthy in Solis did not walk the streets of any city. They rode in carriages, even if they were traveling a block. I donned a simple white shirt, one with loose sleeves fitted at the wrists. It was strangely…freeing that the white shirt didn’t affect me—that I’d barely even thought of it as I slipped the sleeveless bodice over the shirt, cinching it tightly at the waist and the breast with front-lace stays like many of the women of the working class in Solis were wont to do. I was securing the chest harness when I looked up to find Casteel staring at me.
He was dressed as he usually was, cutting a striking figure in black breeches and a long-sleeved tunic. Blending in was far easier for males. “What?”
His gaze swept over me, lingering on the curves of the bodice along my chest. “I like what you’re wearing,” he said. “A lot.”
Feeling my cheeks warm, I picked up a dagger and secured it to the chest harness, and then sheathed the wolven dagger at my thigh.
“Now I really like what you’re wearing.” He strode toward me.
“Only slightly.” He tossed my braid over my shoulder. Dipping his head, he kissed me and then straightened the bow on the stays of the bodice. “I cannot wait to untie these later.”
I smiled as a curling motion swept low in my stomach. The smile faded too quickly as my heart tripped over itself. Later isn’t guaranteed, whispered an annoying voice, and if that voice had a body that wasn’t mine, I’d punch it.
There would be a later.
We would make sure of that.
A knock sounded on the door just as Casteel finished strapping his swords to his sides.
Perry stepped inside, a cap in his hand. “We’re about to dock.”
“Perfect,” Casteel replied while tension crept into my muscles. “As soon as you offload the crates, I want you out of here and back to Atlantia.”
“I can stay nearby.” Perry offered. “You can send a signal, and I can come and take you all back to Atlantia.”
“That will be too much of a risk,” I told him. “And we’re already risking too many lives as it is.”
Casteel slid me a knowing half-grin. “That, and Poppy probably doesn’t want to spend four more days on a ship.”
I said nothing as I shot him a glare. He was also right.
Perry grinned at me. “It can take longer for some people to get used to travelling by sea.”
“I think some people are just not cut out for sailing,” I said. “And by some people, I mean me.”
He chuckled. A call came from above—a greeting. His gaze returned to us. “May I ask a favor of you two?”
“Anything,” Casteel said as he tossed the cloak to me.
Perry dragged his fingers around the rim of his cap. “Keep an eye on Delano for me,” he said, and I looked up at him as I started on the row of buttons across the chest of the cloak. “Sometimes, he’s a little too brave.”
“Delano will return to you,” Casteel said as he slipped on his cloak, and I nodded.
“Thank you.” He gave us a brief smile. “I will see you both up there.”
When he was gone, I turned to Casteel. “Are Perry and Delano together?”
“They have been.” He came over to me, tucking my braid under the back of my cloak before sliding a cap over my head. “On and off for the last couple of years, I think.”
I grinned, thinking of them at the helm, smiling and laughing at whatever the other said. “They’re cute together.”
“You’re cute.” Casteel tugged on the brim of my cap and then lifted the hood of the cloak so it draped over the hat. “Though I prefer to be able to see your face.” He tugged on his own cap, and somehow, the shadows it created along the lower half of his face made him appear all the more mysterious. Once his hood was in place, he said, “We got this.”
My heart lurched. “I know. We do.”
“You’re ready, then?”
I knew he wasn’t just talking about leaving the ship. “I am ready to do whatever needs to be done.”
He nodded, and then we left the cabin, leaving our belongings behind. Perry and his crew would take what we’d brought with us, including that damn journal, back to Atlantia. The group that had traveled with Hisa carried extra supplies.
We climbed the stairs and made our way over to where Kieran and Delano stood by the crates. They and the crew were dressed similar to us, cloaks and caps shielding their faces. I looked over my shoulder to where ramps had been placed on the deck of the ship, connecting it to the pier. With a cap pulled low over his face, Perry spoke with someone dressed in black. They were guards from the Rise. Beyond them, the pier was a mass of controlled chaos. Men hurried from ships to the brick warehouses and wagons. Street vendors hocked food and other goods. My gaze swept up to the deep gray walls of the Rise, constructed of limestone and iron. Guards patrolled the wall, stood on the battlements, and were perched in their nests like birds of prey. I saw no black mantles, but there were…a lot of guards. More than one would expect to see at Oak Ambler on a normal day.
But today was not any other day.
The Blood Crown was within those walls.
“Come on now, you lazy bastards,” Perry shouted, and I raised an eyebrow as he stalked across the deck, smacking his hands together. “Get a move on.”
“He’s really enjoying this far too much,” Delano muttered under his breath, and I stifled a giggle.
Casteel and I lifted a crate and started moving toward the pier. The wooden ramp wobbled under our feet, causing me to gasp as I glanced down at the churning dirty waters.
“Easy now,” Casteel murmured.
I nodded as Perry led us to a wagon. Kieran and Delano were right behind us. My heart pounded as we passed the guards, but the men weren’t paying us any mind, their attention drawn to the few women who were catcalling at the men still on ships, their faces heavily painted.
Thank the gods for some men’s inability to focus on anything else if a pretty face was nearby.
“What in the hell are you all doing?” a man demanded as he rounded the side of the wagon, a severe frown set in the heavy jowls of his face. “This isn’t—”
“Quiet.” Casteel spun toward the man, and the power, the slickness in that one word stole my breath.
The man went silent as he stared into Casteel’s eyes. His entire body had gone stiff as he was held there, suspended by invisible strings of compulsion. I was fixated myself as it was so rare to see Casteel use compulsion.
“You will not say a word—any word—while these crates are loaded into your wagon. You will not make a single sound,” Casteel said, his voice soft and fluid. “Once the crates are loaded, you will take them to wherever it is you’re going. Understand?”