CHAPTER TWELVE: WARD (2/4)

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"Drop your wand," said the hooded woman.

Kito was staring back at her with such intensity that, for a moment, Sol thought she was completely paralysed, but then he heard a small clatter and looked down to see her wand rolling to a stop in a puddle.

"Step back, human," said the woman.

Sol realised his hand was still clamped tight to Kito's shoulder. The invisibility spell had clearly worn off but he didn't want to let go.

"It's alright, Sol," muttered Kito, barely moving her lips. The stranger's wand was threatening to pierce her throat. "Do as she says."

It took Sol considerable effort to release Kito and back slowly away along the narrow balcony. Once he was safely away, the hooded woman gave a small flourish with her wand and another bubble formed around Kito and lifted her off the floor, just like Goone and Harg.

"You really should have given yourself up when you had the chance, detective," said the woman as she picked up Kito's wand. "I hear you were one of the Order's better Warlocks."

"Who are you?" said Kito. Her voice was muffled within the bubble. "You're not from the Order."

"Her name's Ofata," said another muffled voice. It was Goone, suspended in his bubble several feet away. "Or is it Ifrina? It's hard to tell from in here."

The woman finally pulled back her hood—and Sol recognised her at once. It was one of the Emperor's daughters he'd met at the Palace.

"It's Ofana," said the woman, "and if I hear one more word from you, Goone, you will spend the rest of the trip to the Citadel as a tadpole."

"The Citadel?" said Kito. "Then you're taking us back to the Order?"

Ofana frowned. "Of course. Where else would I take you?"

"Who cares?" said a third muffled voice. It was Harg, hovering in the courtyard below. "You may as well kill me now."

Ofana placed one hand on the iron railing and vaulted straight over it, landing with cat-like grace in the courtyard below. She went right up to Harg and met his eyes through the thin bubble.

"Don't tempt me, beast," spat Ofana.

Harg laughed. "A beast am I? Well, if that's what you want me to be..." He snapped his sharp teeth at Ofana's throat, but all he managed to bite was the bubble's membrane. Ofana didn't flinch.

"Take another look at this world while you still can. This will be the last time you see it."

"How about you let me go instead, and I will wake your sister."

Ofana turned to look at her sister lying fast asleep on the ground, despite the constant drumming of the rain on her cheeks.

"I cast a strong spell on her," continued Harg. "Only I can wake her now."

Ofana crouched by her sister's side and put her hand on her forehead. "Ifrita," she said. "It's Ofana. Repel the darkness, sister. Follow my voice."

"You're wasting your time," said Harg.

But Ofana showed no sign of having heard him. Her hand was pressed to her sister's forehead like a mother tending a sick child.

From his high vantage point, Sol could see Ifrita's eyes begin to flutter like she was having some kind of seizure. Harg frowned. After several seconds, the fluttering intensified and Ifrita suddenly opened her eyes wide.

"Ofana?!" she gasped, as though she'd just surfaced from a deep dive.

"It's alright," said Ofana. "You're safe."

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