CHAPTER ELEVEN: SLUMBER (4/4)

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Kito and Goone were on their feet before Harg had finished speaking. Kito had her wand drawn.

"Are you sure?" asked Kito.

"It was quiet," said Harg, still staring at the door, "but I heard it. Something's out there."

"Maybe it's just a tourist boat," Sol said, getting to his feet as well. He had little hope he was right, but Kito quickly extinguished what was left.

"Not at night," she said. "Harg, you—"

"I know what to do," said Harg, and he ran to the door and slipped silently out of the room.

"What's the plan?" asked Goone.

"We're going to hide in plain sight," said Kito. "Solomon, put your hand on my shoulder."

Sol didn't question her. He did as asked while Goone put his hand on Sol's shoulder, linking the three of them together with Sol in the middle.

Kito pointed her wand at their feet and a stream of black smoke poured from its tip and coiled about their legs like a snake. It wrapped its way up their bodies and over their eyes before evaporating. Once it had cleared, Sol was startled to find Kito was gone—as was his arm. He could still feel her shoulder in his grip, but there was no sign of her at all. He looked down at his body to find it, too, was missing.

"We're invisible," he whispered.

"Stay close," said the disembodied Kito. "And don't let go."

Kito pulled away, leaving Sol and Goone little choice but to follow behind her like blind men. It was a bizarre sensation, Sol thought, being present without a body. He was sure he would trip over his own feet, if not Kito's or Goone's, but they made it to the door without trouble and back outside.

The rain seemed quiet as they stepped out into the courtyard. The two men followed Kito to the railing overlooking the chateau's entrance where they stopped. While many of the cell doors were closed, a few hung ajar, their rusty hinges creaking in the wet wind. Sol looked about for a sign of Harg, but there were none to find.

"We wait here," whispered Kito. "Nobody speak."

Several long minutes passed. Sol's gaze remained locked on the entrance below, watching and wondering if somebody would come through it. The rain was streaming into his eyes, but he didn't dare move his free hand to wipe it away.

Just when he started to think that there'd been no boat at all and that Harg had been mistaken, the great door below swung slowly open. Sol tightened his grip on Kito's shoulder as a black figure crept like a shadow into the courtyard and stopped.

Sol's heartbeat quickened as the shadowed figure swept its gaze across the entire courtyard. For a terrible moment, Sol thought it seemed to look right at him, but if it had seen him, it gave no sign.

"Kito Sun," said the figure suddenly. It was a woman. "I know you are here. You are sheltering a wanted fugitive. Arthur Goone may be your friend, but his crimes are beyond defence. He has entered this world illegally and kidnapped a human. Do not allow yourself to be condemned for his crimes. You can still come out of this with respect—but you must do what is right. Reveal yourself. Hand Goone and the human over to me and assist me in upholding our laws as you have sworn to do. If not, I will have no choice but to assume you have turned against The Empire. If that is the case, I will detain you and escort you to the Citadel as Goone's accomplice. What is your decision?"

Sol didn't need to see Kito to sense her discomfort; her shoulder had become noticeably tenser in his grip. He looked at the hooded woman by the well and wondered what she would do if Kito never responded, but he didn't get to find out. He felt a pressure loosen from his shoulder and realised Goone had let go of him.

The detective reappeared as if from a cloud of black smoke. He tried his best to walk tall as he crossed the few steps to the balcony. He looked at the hooded woman like she'd just summoned him from his eternal rest.

"Kito's not here right now," he said. "Would you like me to take a message?"

"Arthur Goone," said the woman. "You are under arrest for the murder of Pan Magal, illegally entering the human world and taking a human hostage. Surrender your wand."

"And just who would I be surrendering it to?"

"I will not allow you to distract me while your friend escapes. Detective Sun; I know you are here. You have had more than enough time to make a decision. Show yourself at once or join your friend as a fugitive."

"I told you, she's not here," said Goone. "You can keep threatening her all you want, but she can't hear you."

"She has ten seconds to show herself. After that, I will tear this entire castle down if I have—"

Click.

The small sound had barely reached Sol's ears before the hooded woman went limp and collapsed on the ground. A dark figure promptly climbed out of the well.

It was Harg.

"Not my home, you won't," he said.

"Who is she?" asked Goone.

Harg crouched by the sleeping woman and pulled back her hood. "Well well... It's an Elder..."

"In the human world? Are you sure?"

"Come and see for yourself if you don't believe—"

Harg rose suddenly into the air as a bubble of light formed around him.

"No!" shouted Goone before he too was swept off his feet, trapped within his own bubble.

Sol looked from Harg to Goone, utterly baffled. He gripped Kito tighter, hoping she might know what was happening, but she felt like she'd turned to stone.

"Don't move," said a woman's voice right in front of him. The air around him filled with black smoke as Kito's spell around them faded. When the smoke cleared, the two of them were visible once again, only Kito was frozen in place like a statue.

But they were not the only ones to appear.

In front of Kito was another hooded figure, identical to the one sleeping in the courtyard. A wand was in their hand, its tip pressed into Kito's neck.

*   *   *

Ooooh, exciting. Who are the strange hooded women? Are Sol and his magic pals gonna get out of this sticky situatioyn unscathed? Will anyone get food poisoning from Harg's fish supper? Put your theories below and come back soon for more crazy Elderland adventures!

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