CHAPTER FIFTEEN: BREAK (3/4)

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"Going somewhere, Commander?" said Ofana as she straightened up. Her wand was already in her hand and aimed at Tiruk.

"That is none of your concern," said Tiruk, sounding deceptively calm.

"I disagree," said another voice. Sol turned to see Ifrita standing directly behind them, her wand pointed at Tiruk's back. "I think it concerns us greatly."

"I knew you and Goone were friends," said Ofana, "but I never thought you would risk your freedom to help him."

Tiruk nodded slowly. "Do you two really want to do this?"

"Do you?" said Ifrita. "There are two of us, Commander, and you haven't even drawn your wand."

"Are you part of his conspiracy?"

"Are we part of whose conspiracy?" asked Ofana.

"The Emperor—or don't you know? He is a murderer."

Ofana's voice softened. "And who is it he has supposedly murdered?"

"Don't be naive. He killed Pan Magal—or at least he arranged to have him killed. And now he plots to kill Solomon."

"Don't listen to him," said Ifrita. "He is just trying to distract us."

Tiruk shook his head. "I heard him admit it with my own ears. He's the one who released the Wendigo into the human world. If you two are plotting with him, then go ahead and attack me. If you are not, however, then lower your wands. You both know me; I am not your enemy."

Neither Ifrita or Ofana said anything for a long time.

"Let Solomon go and we will talk," said Ofana at last.

"If I let him go, you will attack me."

"We can take you down either way, Commander," said Ifrita, "but we would rather not risk hurting Solomon. Let him go and I will not attack, I give you my word."

Tiruk considered this for a long moment. "I wish I could believe you, but I have no intention of risking imprisonment. You may think I am bluffing, but I am giving you both three seconds to lower your wands."

"Or what?" asked Ofana.

"Or I will show you what a Warlock can really do."

If the sisters felt threatened, they did not show it. They stood their ground and kept their wands high as Tiruk started his count.

"One..."

Ofana's hand twisted slightly, preparing for whatever attack Tiruk was about to unleash.

"Two..."

Sol tightened his grip on Tiruk's waist. He had no idea what was about to happen, but he had a feeling he was in for a rough ride.

But Tiruk never finished his count.

He was interrupted by a deep, guttural growl. Sol thought it had come from Tiruk at first, but then he realised it was coming from Junba. She was still sitting on Tiruk's shoulders, only now her teeth were bared, her lips quivering. A thin strand of saliva was stretching down from her mouth onto Tiruk's head. She was staring at Ofana almost hungrily.

"Solomon," said Ofana, her voice disturbingly quiet, "please instruct your pet to relax."

Sol looked at Junba whose whole body was trembling as if she was having a seizure.

"What's happening to her?" he said.

"What is that thing?" asked Tiruk.

"A Merisian Augar Hound," said Ifrita, sounding similarly disquieted.

Sol saw that Junba's collar had become very tight. It looked like it was strangling her. "Her collar's too tight; I think she's choking. I'm gonna take it off."

"Do not take it off!" said Ofana.

Junba started to make a strange gurgling sound. She looked like she was really suffering. Sol reached for the collar.

"NO!" shouted Ifrita and Ofana and Tiruk together, but it was too late. Sol had grabbed Junba's collar and ripped it free. What happened next occurred too quickly for Sol to understand.

Tiruk dropped like to the floor like a rock, taking Sol down with him. He tumbled off Tiruk's back with such force that he rolled for several feet, and when he gathered his bearings and looked back, what he saw made his eyes widen.

Tiruk was lying dazed on the floor, suddenly dwarfed by the ten-foot beast of ripped muscle towering over him. The thing looked like a monstrous version of Junba, with tall pointed ears and a long white beard, but that was where any similarities ended. After the Wendigo, it was the most frightening creature Sol had ever seen.

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