Chapter 30, Part 4 (End Chapter 30)

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Dixon stepped out of the alley. They'd followed the same pattern over the past couple hours, slowly making their way to sanctuary. Occasionally city residents passed them, all wearing faces of fear and defeat, like masks of sorrow. They went through the steps of living, but seemed to have lost their grasp on what transpired around them or were without the will to do anything about it.

No one smiled. No one chattered. Other than the soldiers who stopped to harass the people from time to time, the city was like a ghost town inhabited by breathing spooks.

Mara peeked around the corner, then gasped when Dixon nearly collided into her. "You frightened me!" she exclaimed quietly, a hand to her breast.

He put a finger to his lips, then motioned for her and Klynn to move back. They all stepped over odds and ends littering the ground: an old metal cup, now rusting and dented; a rug, weathered and threadbare; scraps of food waste, ground together and rotting; an old flower pot sporting a dead rosemary plant that someone might once have used to provide a quick addition to a recipe, or as a remedy for a headache; a tattered blanket; old boots with holes and sandals with missing ties; broken dishware; and an old rag doll that, if it could talk, would likely tell tales of great comfort and later, of painful neglect.

"More soldiers," he whispered. "We'll wait a minute. If they don't leave, we'll go the other way."

Nearby soldiers called out to one another and then, after some minutes, silence ensued.

"All right," Dixon said, "now remember, Klynn, if we get separated, get yourself to safety. Mara," he continued, a question in his eyes, "if that happens, I've got your word to return immediately to . . . you know . . . Right?"

She nodded.

He peeked around the building's edge, looked one way, then the other, then waved the women forward. "Remember, single file. Leave space between us. To the corner there," he said with a nod. "We're getting close now."

He stepped out. After some seconds passed, Mara, then Klynn, followed. The trio made their way to the end of the block without anyone molesting them. The women hid inside the framework of one deep doorway while Dixon hid within another. Again they repeated the pattern, and then again, as they neared sanctuary in fits and starts.

Once again stalling in an alleyway, they listened for sounds of trouble. Hearing nothing, Dixon pointed to the next stop, then stepped out.

Mara counted off the seconds. Just as she was about go, she heard someone cry out.

"Hey you! You there! Hey, I'm talkin' to you!"

She peeked out. A soldier shouted at Dixon, who kept his head down, behaving as though he assumed the man called out for someone else.

Mara looked toward Klynn, her eyes wide with fear.

Klynn ran out of the alley. She rushed toward the soldier.

What is she doing? She said she wanted to help. Had all of this just been a game on her part? Mara held her breath.

"Sir! Sir!" the woman cried as she approached the soldier, dragging one leg.

He pulled out his sword. The sound of steel rang in the air.

"Oh, sir, I've found one! You must rush there. Quickly! Quickly! Before they leave!"

His eyes narrowed. "What's that?"

She halted. "Sir, you must go quickly, before they find refuge elsewhere. Hurry, sir, hurry! I'll tell you where they are."

"What did you find?"

"A Select infant, sir! You missed her. Quickly!"

"Where? Take me."

"Oh, but look at me!" She stepped forward, pointing out her faux crippled leg. "I would detain you, sir. I'm sorry. But please, please don't let them get away."

"Where?"

She pointed away from where Mara waited. "There, sir. You'll find them that way. Go down a few blocks to a big red inn. I don't remember the name of it. Then turn east and go until you find a wide-open space on your left. Go down three more houses from there, and you'll find them. They're probably leaving even now, sir. You must hurry!"

Given that some city residents eagerly gave away the whereabouts of helpless infants that were, or at least were believed to be, Select, Klynn's behavior was not entirely unprecedented.

The soldier turned to Dixon. "It looks like today is your lucky day, but I wouldn't count on it to remain so. Get to where it is you intend to go and do it quickly. I don't want to find you wandering the streets when I return."

Dixon bobbed his head submissively.

The soldier repeated to Klynn the instructions she'd given him.

"That's right, sir. Hurry!"

He rushed away.

Mara looked out from her hiding place. Dixon, then Klynn, made their way to the next stopping place. Moments later, she joined them.

"Klynn!" she exclaimed. "How could you do that? Bring trouble to others?"

"She didn't," Dixon said.

"But—"

"There are no houses in the direction she sent the soldier."

Mara's mouth dropped open. "You mean you sent him on a wild goose chase?"

"I did. And I expect we haven't long before he figures it out and heads back this way."

"That was quick thinking, Klynn, thank you," Dixon said. He looked around the corner, then turned back. "Lucky for us, sanctuary is just ahead. Follow me."



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Oathtaker is an award-winner in the 2014 Readers' Favorite International Book Award contest. A completed work, it is currently available in print form at CreateSpace at createspace.com/4767727, in print and for your Kindle on Amazon (see the link) and from Barnes and Noble for your Nook.

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