She went ahead down the alley. Griaty is here. Three guards, they smell nervous.
Bolstered, we followed her. The alley opened into a courtyard of sorts, which had doors leading into the surrounding buildings.
She was huddled in the furthest corner. She had her knees pulled up to her chin and looked around with big fearful eyes. Seran made to run to her, but I grabbed him by the arm and whispered urgently to him, “Don’t act in haste. They don’t mean to kill her or they would have done so already.”
I could see him fighting the urge to go to her.
We held our weapons at the ready and walked slowly ahead. “Hand over the girl!” Seran demanded.
The three guards snickered at that and unsheathed their own long blades. My Navitas enhanced hearing, suddenly picked up a flurry of movement all around us. I spun round to see five more attackers coming up the alley behind us. Doors onto the alley sprang open and another six armed men came pouring out.
Automatically we formed a defensive ring by standing with our backs to each other. We were five against their fourteen. “We need to get to Griaty,” Seran whispered over his shoulder to me. “Slow movements then, we work our way over there.”
One of the first three men roughly jerked Griaty up by the arm. He wore a simple, but expensive looking suit. His brown curls were sleeked back against his head as was the fashion in the upper classes. He didn’t look a likely Dark follower. He laid his blade against her neck. “Any closer and the girl is dispatched.”
She started whimpering and fresh tears ran down her cheeks. We all froze in place and he smiled crookedly. “Good. And you,” he pointed to me with his sword, “tell your cat friend if she tries anything, anything at all, the girl will die.”
“She understands,” I responded.
“Tell her,” he continued, “to make herself seen. Can’t have her creeping up on us now.”
How they knew of her, I did not know. Of course, without me having to relay the message, Markai did as he ordered. Her frustration was pulsating through me like a wave. They all gave a satisfying gasp. So they knew of her, but still were not quite prepared for seeing her. Two of them looked at each other with alarm clear on their faces.
“Now drop all your weapons and empty your pockets,” he instructed.
He waited for us to comply before continuing. Pointing at Dhillion he said, “You, up against that wall.” He indicated to the wall opposite me. “Stand facing the wall and keep your hands behind your back.” Dhillion complied sullenly. One of the other men stood behind him and tied his wrists together.
“You,” he pointed at Riaph and my stomach clenched. “Against that wall.”
Riaph walked over to the indicated place. Another man began to tie his hands. This continued until we were all spread out facing the walls with our hands tied behind our backs. They put me against the wall furthest from Riaph.
“Tell your cat to stand next to you and face the wall,” the leader said.
Markai obliged. They moved quickly to clear a path for her as she stalked over to her place.
I could hear them rifling through our things. Not long though, and a door opened and shut. Everything went quiet. I looked over my shoulder. They were all gone. Seran noticed at the same time.
“Griaty… Griaty, you are safe now sweetheart, come to Popa!” Seran called.
She looked up and hesitantly stood before running over to him and clutching his leg in a tight hug. She started sobbing.
“Honey, you don’t need to cry anymore. The bad men are gone. Can you try to untie my hands?”
She nodded meekly, using her grimy dress to wipe at her eyes. She took quite a few minutes to get him loose. He rubbed at his wrists when they were finally free.
“Our weapons are still here,” he said as he picked up his whips and brought my sword to me. He cut the rest of our bonds quickly.
I looked around. “Where is Riaph?” My heart started racing. “Riaph!” I called.
There was no answer and we all started looking around, frantically throwing all the doors open and looking inside.
“Riaph! Riaph!” I shouted.
He could not be gone. He could not! It felt as though I had been punched in the stomach and my body was violently trying to expel its contents.
Markai walked around and picked up his scent quickly. She followed it to the door closest to where he had been made to stand, and went into the building.
The trail stops abruptly. Disappears into thin air. It makes no sense, she said.
“Unless they’ve gone to the other plane,” I said.
The thought was wrenching, but nothing else could explain the vanishing trail. We had walked right into their trap. We were too lax.
I should never have allowed him to go with us. What type of parent was I? I led my son into danger and I permitted his abduction!
A low growl came from Markai and her ears pitched up. I followed her gaze down the alley and was surprised when a moment later Brant emerged from the shadows.
“You must follow to their plane. Not yet, though. You must wait until told it is time and then cross over. A message will be sent to you. Disobey to the peril of your son,” he said in a monotone.
Stunned, I stood staring into his vacant eyes. Slowly, he blinked several times as if to clear his vision. He shook his head and staggered back a few steps, holding onto the wall to help regain his balance.
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