Keita Sage jogged through the strange city, following the gashes in the hard-packed road made by the runaway carriage. Here and there she came across a clothing trunk, burst open and half-empty, its load of gaudy clothing strewn across the dusty street. A young man clambered down from a nearby roof, eyes wide with shock, but he was alive and well enough to move.
She almost passed her guide. Teague Pensier huddled in a gap between two weedy buildings, eyes peering out of his hiding hole as though another carriage was going to squeeze through to hunt him down. Though they were the same age, tears streaked his dirty face and dripped onto a formal embroidered jacket.
“I hate carriages,” Teague mumbled.
“I was thrown off almost right away,” Keita said. “Did you see anyone hurt?”
“I couldn’t see Reid.” This thought seemed to galvanize him. “Have you seen Reid? We have to find him.”
He charged out of the murky shadows, his torn slacks flapping a bit at the knee. Keita trailed behind, trying to watch for Teague’s little brother and oncoming traffic at the same time. Half-high brick walls lined the street, leaving little room for escape if another carriage bolted by. Her own kingdom had its share of walls—not of brick and concrete, but sheer cliffs piercing the sky to emphasize their words: “You stay here!” This kingdom, on the other hand, had nothing but walls. Little walls to cage in these tall, cramped houses, bigger ones in the richer neighborhoods, and a huge one of concrete around the largest home of all, the Muse mansion where Teague and his brothers lived.
And speaking of Teague’s brothers…
Teague yelped. He spun around, jacket edges flapping, and nearly fell over. Reid burst into laughter, leaning against a wall to support himself. His bright clothes, shining face, and the hint of red in his blond hair stood out like a beacon against the gray city street.
“Man, I got you that time!”
Teague brushed the dust off of his coat and stood tall. “That is not funny.”
Reid was still laughing. Keita loved teasing her brother and cousins like that. But they weren’t here. The urge to laugh died, and she turned her back on the boys to examine her surroundings. They’d started out travelling west—that was all she knew, and only because they’d been able to glimpse the Great Mountains behind them, peeking out between the cluttered houses. She couldn’t see them now.
Teague’s smile died. Now he peered down the dusty lane as though he could see the carriage ahead. “Anyone hurt?” he asked Reid.
“Nah. It stopped not long after I got thrown.”
“We can find another,” Teague said, though he turned green at the thought. “Then we can finish our tour and get back home.”
Home, Keita thought, with an irritated glance in his direction. This was not home. She studied the crowded street. Half-high brick walls separated the houses. Tall windows gawped at the wide street while hiding their insides behind rough woven cloth. Gaudy flowers of some unknown species lived in pots on the front steps, the only sign of life in sight. How much better the foreign city would look with even a single tree!
An explosion of noise rushed up behind her. She turned to look, but another force tugged her backward. She fell sideways, hit the nearest wall, and tumbled headfirst into a patch of gravel on the other side.
For a second she lay there, stunned. Then she felt a pair of hands on each of hers. “Oh no. Oh, no. Keita? Keita, you’re okay, right?”
If she were injured, Reid’s poking wouldn’t help.
“Of course I’m okay.” She clambered to her feet. Nothing seemed broken, though a piercing pain warned that she’d cut her face, and her hands stung where they’d scraped against the gravel.
“It wasn’t crashing too, was it?” Keita peered up the street, but the carriage was long past.
“Nah,” Reid said. “They took the corner a bit fast, though, considering somebody might be standing here… which we were.” He smirked in an ‘I think I’m funny’ sort of way, and drooped down again as no one laughed.
“I don’t like this,” Teague said. “I vote we get back to the mansion before anything else happens.”
Keita forced her voice to keep casual. “Are people often run over in Castalia?”
Teague and Reid exchanged glances she couldn’t read. “Being royal can be dangerous,” Reid said finally. “Even for spares.”
The two younger boys were spares. Keita, betrothed to their older brother and heir to the throne, wasn’t sure if she counted. No one seemed to give her much notice—though, as she’d been avoiding everyone except these two boys, that didn’t mean much.
“We should’ve requested an escort,” Teague said.
“You have one,” Keita said. “Me. Now come on.” She turned off of the main road and began striding down it.
“One problem there,” Reid called after her. “The mansion’s the other way.”