Chapter 28

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            “…and once the demon had your scent, it was pretty easy to follow you here. We were able to sneak in through the guards, but it’ll be a lot harder getting out. The tree we used to get over the wall only worked the one way. That’s why we’re waiting for the guard to change before we take out the sentries,” Damek finished.

            Rika shook her head, leaving back against a shelf that held napkins. Every wall in the tiny room they were in was covered with wooden shelves, all holding different kinds of linens, from the napkins near her, to the blankets beside Ahisu. “I can’t believe you came all this way after me. I appreciate it more than I can say, but it was awfully dangerous. You could have been caught or killed!”

            Damek waved a hand while Elthia smiled. “You helped us. It’s only fair that we return the favour,” the healer said. Despite her words, Rika was most worried about her. She had the feeling that Elthia wasn’t used to doing anything that was even slightly illegal. Not that she was about to try and get rid of her. Not after she’d told Rika how bad Damek’s wounds had been before she’d been able to heal them.

            “How are we going to get out of here? I’d think they’d find us pretty quickly, even if we did take to the woods,” Rika said.

            “We saw a stable on the way in. We’ll steal some horses and ride out of here. If we’re quiet about it, they won’t know we’re gone until the next guard change, so we’ll have a decent lead. Provided the guards on you aren’t changed at the same time. But you did say that they’d all been replaced and new ones added recently, so I’m guessing they’d wait a bit to switch them.”

            Biting her lip, Rika winced. “I…I can’t ride.”

            “Neither can I,” Elthia said in a voice barely louder than a whisper.

            For a moment, Damek only stared at them. Then he sighed. “Alright, we’ll double up then. I assume you can ride?” he said, flicking his eyes towards Ahisu.

            The mage met his gaze and snorted before turning his attention to the door Shetton had left by. The demon was keeping an eye on the guards and standing watch to make sure they weren’t disturbed. The longer Rika knew Ahisu and Shetton, the more she didn’t understand why demon summoners had such a bad reputation. Certainly, Shetton was…quite violent, but it had only been in defense of them. She wondered Ahisu would explain it to her…

            A flash of red out of the corner of her eye had Rika turning. Shetton was back, a wide smile on his face. “The old guards have gotten back to their quarters and the new ones have settled in. I also took the liberty of…clearing the stable out. No one will see you now. It’ll just be you mortals and the horses.”

            Rika smiled at him. “Thanks.”

            He stared at her for a moment then chuckled. “Oh, it was my pleasure.” Damek and Elthia started, the latter shivering when his words properly registered with her.

            Ahisu have his demon one of his inscrutable looks before leading the way out of the storeroom. Rika hurried after him, followed closely by the other two. The hall was as dark as the room had been, not a lantern lit, and with only the faint moon and star light filtering in through the windows working as any kind of illumination. They crept down the hallway, every one of them straining their ears for the sounds of people.

            They continued deeper into the servants’ area, staying far away from the still lit main entry. Rika had already seen that every place with lanterns also had guards. White it was hard to see, she much preferred the idea of her running into furniture rather than guards.

            By the time they reached the laundry, Rika had gotten herself keyed up. It was almost worse, not having run into anyone. She kept looking for people, knowing there was no way they could just walk out. That’d be far too easy. Something was going to happen, and waiting for it was straining her nerves.

            The back door to the lawn where the laundresses worked was locked. Before panic could set in for Rika, Damek flicked the lock open, shaking his head over the lock that was so easy to open from the inside.

            Outside, the lawn looked like it was edged in silver, the nearly full moon pouring its light over the grass. Damek took the lead now, moving quickly from bit of cover to bit of cover, the others following suit. Not once did they see a guard, or even hear an animal. It was almost like the castle was inhabited only by them. Like it was really a ghost castle, filled with people who just hadn’t realized they were dead-

            Rika shook her head, breaking the thought off. Thinking of stupid stuff wasn’t helping anyone. And it was the middle of the night. Of course no one was out. She refocused her attention on following Damek’s movements, doing her best to emulate his silence.

            When they reached the stables and had shut the door behind them, Rika could feel sweat on her back, forehead, and the insides of her knees. And it wasn’t that warm of a night. None of the others seemed to notice, with Damek motioning for them to stay where they were.

            It wasn’t all that long before he came back, his footsteps overwhelmed by the clopping of the horse who’s lead he was holding. He handed the line to Ahisu, then turned around and headed back the way he’d come. Rika found herself staring at the horse.

            It was much bigger than she’d pictured, its head well above hers. The back seemed so wide and high, she couldn’t imagine how she was going to get up there. Soon Damek returned with another horse. In a matter of minutes, the two men had the animals saddled, and turned towards the girls.

           Rika hesitated for a moment, but Elthia didn’t. She moved towards Damek, shooting Rika a pleading gesture. The girl shrugged and walked towards Ahisu. “How do I get up?”

            He snorted faintly, then before she could move, he put both hands around her waist and hoisted her up to the horse’s back. For a second, Rika couldn’t think, shocked that he’d been strong enough to lift her. She knew very well she wasn’t any kind of light. Then she remembered herself and scrabbled onto the saddle. It took a few tries, but eventually, she got into a sitting position. Moments later, Ahisu was sitting behind her, hand on the reins, his staff in her arms.

            Shetton, who Rika hadn’t even realized had gone, said “I took care of the sentries on the gate and road”, before licking one finger. A finger that looked to be shiny before he popped it into his mouth.

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