Somehow she made her way through the sleeping petitioners in the courtyard, but once past the gateway she hesitated, unsure where to go, trembling with weariness.
“Come with us.” A hand grasped Ariadne’s arm from behind.
She spun around, alarm flaring through her exhaustion, legs tensing to run.
No Med League soldier, but a woman in a dark dress and scarf, her surprisingly strong grip pinioning Ariadne’s arm. Another woman stepped up close, smiling in the dimness of the cobbled lane as she raised her hands to push her scarf back. She was young, with a pretty but stern face. A black sash held back her short-cropped hair, the strip embroidered with a white spiral enclosing a staring eye.
Corybant. The women warrior cult.
Ariadne jerked back, too weakened to break free of the woman holding her arm. “Tell them no. I won’t join you.”
The young woman studied her, ignoring her protest. “We hoped the power would draw you here. Those pigs of priests haven’t stolen it all.” The spiral eye flickered in the shadows. “We must stop them. Join us now, freely, before you have no choice.”
Ariadne shook her head. “No. I have important work to do—”
“Now you’ll work with us. Why do you think you were called here? We must destroy the machines of the patriarchy polluting the earth, restore the true power of Gaea.” She jerked her head at the other woman and started to lead the way down the street. Ariadne didn’t dare call out. Who would respond, but worse captors?
The silent woman warrior prodded Ariadne with a knife as she stumbled along, trying to delay, trying to think.
“Here, now, old mother.” The Corybant in the lead had paused as a hunched old woman, limping with a cane, tottered out of an alley in front of them, stumbled, and dropped her mesh string bag. A cabbage rolled out. “Let me help.”
As the Corybant leaned over to assist her, the old woman suddenly straightened in a swirl of ragged skirts, bringing the cane up in a sharp crack against the warrior’s head. She dropped to the cobbles as the woman holding Ariadne cried out in surprise, loosening her grip.
Ariadne ripped free, pulling away from the knife as the stranger, now oddly tall, jostled her aside to confront the Corybant.
“Peter?” Ariadne gasped as a scarf slipped off his head. “Careful, she has a knife!”
“Sit on the other gal!” He dodged a sweep from the glinting dagger, knocked it aside with the cane, then the woman was pulling out another knife and was on him. They struggled, stumbling over the cobbles as Ariadne dropped onto the downed leader, making sure she was still unconscious. A grunt, a muffled oath from Peter, and then a snapping crackle. The Corybant went stiff, then limp, and fell beside her comrade.
“Peter?” Ariadne was still staring in disbelief at this apparition in a peasant skirt and shawl, holding a small black device with metal prongs.
He grinned in the dimness and stuck it in a pocket of the skirt, picked up the fallen scarf, and tied it back around his head. “Better keep the disguise ’til we’re out of town. Come on, let’s get a move on.”
“But. . . .” She caught her breath as he pulled her to her feet, urging her along. “But you promised to leave.”
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