CHAPTER NINE: HEX (3/3)

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The bombardment of rain had eased off, to Sol's relief, though it had not stopped entirely.

The trio moved quickly back down the hill, following the flow of water along a series of roads and paths until they came to an open area with a distinct salty smell. It was the sea, Sol realised; they had come to a harbour.

Hundreds of ships of every size were rocking back and forth and side to side in the churning water, thrashing against their moorings. Sol's stomach churned with them as Kito led them into the port.

"Tell me we're not getting on a ship," Sol said.

"We're not getting on a ship," replied Kito as they walked onto the boardwalk. They passed a dozen piers lined with large fishing boats before coming to a stop beside the smallest one of all—a pathetic little thing that looked like it would break if someone so much as jumped in it. To Sol's dismay, that was exactly what Kito did, followed promptly by Goone.

"I thought you said we weren't getting on a ship," Sol said.

"This is a boat," said Kito. "Get on."

"I-I can't swim!"

"Get on the boat and you won't have to."

The boat's motor started by itself while Kito untied the rope tether from the pier. Sol's legs felt like jelly as he tried to summon the strength to step onboard.

"It's just a boat," he told himself. "You've been on boats before. You can do this..."

He placed one foot on the deck, trying to counter the violent writhing of the boat. As he brought his second foot in, however, he slipped and toppled backwards. He would have fallen in the water for certain if Kito hadn't grabbed his collar and yanked him in. He fell to the floor with a wet thump and a racing heart.

"Get inside!" shouted Kito over the motor. Sol saw the small cabin and crawled towards it, not daring to stand as he opened the door and fell inside. Goone was already there, standing in front of the controls and gazing drowsily through the rain-lashed window. He was keeping his balance perfectly despite the intense rocking and swaying.

Sol had just pulled himself into a bolted-down seat when Kito burst in and shut the door. She fell into the seat opposite Sol and swept a dripping strand of hair from her eyes.

"All good," she said.

"Aren't you going to steer it?" Sol asked.

"Betty can steer herself, can't you girl?"

The boat's motor groaned as it accelerated into the storm, cutting a drunken path through the black water. Sol took several long, deep breathes to ease his impending sickness.

"Don't worry," said Kito. "We'll be there soon."

"Where?" Sol asked.

"The island."

*   *   *

Sol didn't dare speak or move for the entire journey. He'd pressed his fists into his stomach in an effort to stop it from churning his last meal into bile.

"There it is," said Kito after a gruelling ten minutes. She was standing beside Goone, staring out of the window. Sol peered at the view between them and spied a small island centred in the boat's path. It jutted out of the water on a bed of white rock, made taller by a great wall which had been erected around the island's perimeter. Sol thought there was a tug of familiarity about it, though how that could be, he wasn't quite sure; he had never been to Marseille.

"Where is that?" he asked.

"The island of If," said Kito. "That wall surrounds the entire island. It used to be a prison, many years ago. It's called the Chateau d'If."

Sol suddenly realised why the place seemed so familiar; he'd read all about it years before in an adventure book called The Count of Monte Cristo. The story followed a sailor called Edmond Dantès who, after being arrested for a crime he didn't commit, was imprisoned in a fortress on the tiny island of If. While the story and its characters were fictional, the prison where much of the book had taken place was quite real.

Sol forgot all about his sickness and stood to join Kito and Goone in gazing out of the window.

"Why are we going there?" he asked.

"To see a friend of mine," said Kito. "He's a much better healer than me."

"And he lives there?"

"Yes."

The boat eased itself into a small crevice in the rocks and came to a stop. The three visitors ventured back outside and clambered onto land before following a long, stepped path inland. It zig-zagged its way to a large stone building Sol knew to be the prison. Kito produced her wand and tapped on the huge wooden door which was the chateau's entrance, and it swung open.

It was eerily dark within, but not for long; a brilliant white light erupted from the tip of Kito's wand, stripping the shadows from the stone walls and laying bare the emptiness between them. Their respite from the rain was short-lived for Kito soon led them into a small, square courtyard entirely unprotected from the elements. In the centre of the courtyard was a well, beyond which a set of stairs led up to a narrow ledge that skirted the courtyard's perimeter and granted access to the overlooking cells.

"Harg!" shouted Kito. "It's me! I need your help!" She waited for a reply but none came. "I'm coming up!"

Kito led Sol and Goone into the base of a tower and up a spiral staircase, all the way to the top where they were stopped by a closed door.

"Harg?" she said.

Silence.

"It's Kito. I need your help."

More silence.

"I know you're in there, Harg. Please, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't—"

The door creaked open. Something yellow flashed in the darkness behind it.

An eye.

"You've brought visitors..." said a deep, raspy voice in a French accent.

"My friend's badly hurt," said Kito. "I can't heal him. I need you to look at him."

"Take him to the Citadel."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"I'm not in the mood for this, Harg. I came for your help. I trust you, now please trust me."

The thing beyond the door sucked in a long, loud breath, then opened the door wide.

*   *   *

Thanks for reading!

Who/what do you think Harg is? Let me know if there are any creatures or mythical beings you want to see in the rest of the story and I'll try my best to squeeze them in. Hope you're enjoying it so far!

Best,

Mike

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