CHAPTER TWENTY: EXILE (2/4)

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The girl watched from behind the gated door as the Minotaurs pulled Sol, Goone, Harg and Anyel from the cell. They carried them to the exit and dumped them by four nets which had been laid open on the floor, similar to the one Sol had only recently escaped from.

"Get in," said one of the Minotaurs.

"Is this really necessary?" said Goone. "We can walk, you know."

"I can't," said Anyel, lying awkwardly on the floor.

"The nets are for your protection," said the girl. "Yours especially, detective."

"What do you mean?" said Goone.

"Many of the beings who reside in Teruntila have been captured by Warlocks—some of them by you personally. If they see you, I cannot guarantee they won't try to harm you."

"And being trapped in a net helps him how?" Sol said.

"These nets are enchanted. A Giant could stand on top of you and you would not feel a thing. They will also keep you warm."

"So get in," said one of the Minotaurs, giving Goone a shove.

Sol and Goone exchanged a look before the four of them climbed inside the nets. The Minotaurs sealed them up—all except Sol's.

The girl approached him holding a black glove and held it out to him. "Put this on."

"Why, what is it?" Sol asked.

"Just do it, please."

Sol took the glove. He didn't need to ask which hand she meant; he pulled it on over his right hand and the ring was stolen from his sight. Once the glove was on, the girl touched her wand to it and it started to shrink and harden into a gauntlet. Soon, it was as solid as metal. Sol tried to move his fingers but they were locked into place.

"What is this?!" he said, somewhat panicked.

"Just a precaution," said the girl, "in case you try to give the ring to someone else."

"We don't want that," said Goone, trapped within his net.

"No, we don't."

*   *   *

The cold draught blowing through the guts of the ship grew more intense as the group made their way to the top deck. Sol, Goone, Harg and Anyel had been slung over the Minotaurs' shoulders like they'd just returned from a bizarre fishing trip—and they were today's catch.

The black-haired girl led the way up the leaning steps and over the bodies of the sleeping Demigiants whose skin was already taking on a frosty glaze.

"Don't bother trying to wake them," said the girl, presumably to Harg. "I have reinforced their slumber ten-fold. They will die where they are if The Master wishes it."

"If you've got a wand, why didn't you just put them to sleep yourself?" said Harg.

"The Kharkalis is protected from outside spells," said Goone. "They couldn't board the ship until the crew was disabled. They were just waiting for us to lower the ship's defences so they could come aboard. Am I right?"

The girl did not reply, but her silence was answer enough.

"Thought so," said Goone.

They soon reached the top deck where an icy wind quickly covered the Minotaurs with frost. Sol squinted up at the sky and saw that it was night, yet the sky was alight with swirls of vibrant colour. Flames of green, blue and purple danced in the heavens, colouring them anything but black.

Several dozen Minotaurs were waiting for them on the deck, amassed in a tidy formation which looked almost soldierly. This was no rabble of savage beasts, Sol realised, but an organised unit.

Though his view was largely obscured by the Minotaur carrying him, Sol caught a glimpse of the unit's leader. He was clearly not of their kin, for he had none of their brown fur nor their horns nor their black cloaks. His fur was white like a polar bear's, with orange eyes set within an ape-like face. He was a foot taller than any of the Minotaurs, too, and his hands were like claws, broad and black. It was this creature the girl approached, still dressed in nothing more than her thin slip of cloth, apparently as immune to the cold as the white beast.

"Is the ship secured?" asked the girl.

"The Kharkalis is ours," said the creature. "But more importantly, have you retrieved what you came for?"

The girl left only a brief pause, but it was heavy with tension. "Of course."

The white beast's eyes widened with desire. "Show me. I want to see it."

"You know I cannot do that, Commander. The Master gave me very specific instructions. The Stone goes directly to Him."

The beast sneered. He eyed the Minotaurs holding the nets and settled on Sol. Sol moved his head aside to break their eye-contact, but the beast's fiery stare was imprinted in his mind's eye.

"I only want to look at it," said the beast. "Just a look. The Master would not mind if I—"

"Are you questioning The Master's command?" said the girl. The wind roared through the ship's sails as if to remind the beast of its presence.

"No," he said.

"Good. Check the hull for damage and put the crew somewhere they won't freeze to death."

"The crew? They're not to be killed?"

"Not yet. The Master may still have use for them."

"Letting them live is dangerous. If they wake up—"

"They won't. Take them below and check for damage. If you find any, repair it. Do you understand?"

The Commander grunted something that might have been 'yes'.

The girl left him there and crossed to the side of the ship. The four Minotaurs in her wake followed, and as they turned, Sol saw the white beast staring at him. The gaze lasted only half a second before he was blocked from his sight, but those orange eyes chilled him more than the icy wind, dulled by the enchanted net.

"What was that?" Sol whispered to Goone, dangling in the net beside him.

"A Yeti," said Goone. "Big one, too. I've never seen one over eight feet."

"Size isn't everything," said Harg from the other side of Goone.

The Minotaurs dumped the four of them beside a tangle of thick ropes before walking off the way they'd come, presumably to rejoin their unit.

The girl produced her wand and pointed it at the ropes. They came to life, rising like cobras to a snake charmer's song as they threaded themselves through the tops of the nets and secured themselves with tight knots.

"What's happening now?" asked Anyel.

"I think we're going for a ride," said Goone.

The ropes' bodies slithered upwards and went taut as they took the weight of the nets, and suddenly the four prisoners were hoisted into the air. The same contraption which had not so long ago fished Sol and Anyel from the water and hauled them aboard was apparently about to cast them back out.

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