CHAPTER TWELVE: WARD (2/4)

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"What happened?!"

"A Goblin put you to sleep. I caught it. The others, too."

"A Goblin?" Ifrita lifted her head and saw Harg staring back at her with his wide yellow eyes, disbelieving.

"Impossible..." said Harg. "Nobody can break my spell!"

"Your magic might be strong, beast," said Ofana, "but the bond between Elder twins is much stronger."

Ifrita got back to her feet, though she still seemed a little drowsy. She produced her wand and wandered over to Harg to get a closer look at him.

"So you put me to sleep, did you?" she said.

"You wouldn't blame a bee for stinging you," said Harg. "I was only trying to protect my friends."

"Friends?! Surely you don't mean the detectives? The ones whose job it is to hunt creatures like you?"

"I think it would be best if we all kept our mouths shut for the time being," said Goone from the balcony.

"How fascinating," said Ofana. "I can't wait to see what the Order makes of this. Two of their own Warlocks, allies with a Goblin. Your trial will be studied for centuries."

Goone yawned. "That's assuming we ever get out of this place. Any chance we can hurry this along?"

Ofana gave a low bow. "As you wish." She raised her wand high, pointing it straight up in the air, and the three bubbles containing Goone, Kito and Harg all floated towards her and began orbiting her. As they did, they turned as black as ink and started to shrink rapidly—and not just the bubbles, but their captives, too. After only a few seconds, they'd shrunk to the size of large marbles. Ofana scooped them out of the air and dropped them into a pouch tethered to her belt.

"I really hate that man," she said.

"Not as much as I hate this world," said Ifrita. "The smell here is foul."

"Then let's go home. Are you strong enough to travel?"

"I will be... though I do feel quite strange. That Goblin planted its spell deep."

"When we get back, I'll pour you a cup of my mirkflower wine. That will set you right."

The two women went to the door and, for a brief moment, it looked as though they were about to leave... but then they stopped and turned back to gaze up at the balcony.

"Are you coming, Solomon?" asked Ofana.

Sol stared back at them, rooted to the same spot he'd been standing in for the last few minutes.

"With you?" was all he could think to say.

"I think that would be best. I don't think our father would be too happy if we left you stranded here alone."

"Does that mean I have a choice?"

"Of course. You can come willingly, or you can join the other three on my belt. Whichever you prefer."

Sol took the first option.

*   *   *

The sisters' boat made Kito's small vessel look like a luxury yacht. There was no cabin to shelter them from the rain or even a motor to propel them through the water. It was just a simple rowing boat with a plank seat and pair of wooden oars, all of which looked thoroughly rotten. Sol grimaced as he followed Ifrita on board. The little boat rocked and bobbed and the wooden deck seemed to crunch and compress under his weight. He half expected to drop right through it. He knew it would be useless to complain, however, so he quickly sat down opposite Ifrita and gripped his seat tight.

Ofana stepped on last and went to the boat's prow where she stood like the figurehead of some grand ship. She stamped her foot once and the boat set sail, cutting an effortless path through the water—which was at least not as choppy as before. The oars on the deck remained untouched.

"So," said Ifrita once they were away, "what happened?"

Sol knew she was talking to him but he didn't answer. It was a big question, and not one he particularly wanted to discuss with the two Elders who had just captured his friends. He had been wondering if he should say something about the Wendigo ever since they left the chateau, but if Goone was right about the Emperor being involved, then he certainly couldn't trust his daughters.

"You can talk to us," added Ifrita as though she'd been reading his thoughts. "We're here to protect you."

"I don't know what to say," Sol said.

"How about why Goone kidnapped you?"

"I don't know."

"What about detective Sun? What's her involvement?"

"I don't know. Why don't you ask your sister to take them out of her pocket and ask them yourself?"

Ifrita looked sceptical. "They must have told you something."

"You're wasting your time, If," said Ofana. She didn't turn back but remained staring across the water at the mainland. "They will have put a memory spell on him. Any information you do get out of him will only be a lie meant to distract us from whatever Goone's true objective is. Better to leave him be until the spell can be removed."

Sol didn't care to correct her; he was happy for the silence which lasted all the way to the mainland.

It did not take long for them to reach Marseille's docks. Once its three passengers had disembarked and were safely on the boardwalk, the little boat sank below the water with a gargle and disappeared.

The sisters led Sol in silence through Marseille's streets, passing no people at all on their way to the victory arch through which Sol and Goone had not so long ago arrived. Sol did see several animals following them, however. Stray cats and rats watched them from dark doorways while seagulls and blackbirds perched together atop buildings overlooking the streets.

"Well, If," said Ofana as they arrived in front of the arch, "I would say our first venture into the human world has been an undeniable success." She took out a silver coin and tossed it beneath the arch.

"I doubt the Order will feel the same way," said Ifrita.

"Since when do you care what the Order thinks?"

"I don't."

Ofana cast her sister a curious look as a shimmering light filled the space beneath the arch.

"You do not sound like yourself, If," she said. "The sooner we get you home, the better."

With Sol between them, the sisters led him under the arch to be absorbed by the warm light.

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