Chapter 44

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            It was Damek who stood and walked over to the door, holding a finger to his lips over his shoulder at the others for a moment. Rika could feel Elthia tense up, her eyes wide in a face that had had very little colour in it all day. She imagined that the healer saw an identical expression on her face.

            Squaring his shoulders, Damek opened the door a crack, eyes immediately going to the four men in blue uniforms standing in their yard. “What brings soldiers to our home?” he asked, his voice filled with false surprise.

            Elthia reached out and grabbed Rika’s hand on the word soldiers. Rika squeezed it reassuringly, admiring the way Damek had let them know what was going on, while still feeling panic and fear begin clawing at her stomach.

            “We have been sent here by Lord Zobah. He asks that you beg his forgiveness, but Lord Atelic has turned this into a war. He says he has no choice but to have you accompany us to see him. He further apologizes for forcing you into this situation, but wishes to remind you that you were already involved despite your wishes. We are your escort.”

            “I think you have the wrong place,” Damek said, trying for a look of confusion.

            “We do not, Damek Genrazy. We are here to escort you, Elthia Reseda, Ahisu Malajit, and Rika to the presence of our lord.”

            All four of them went still. Rika felt ice flood her veins as she realized that Zobah had known where they were the whole time, even with everything they’d done to hide. A small part of her was surprised, because she hadn’t even known that Ahisu had a last name, let alone what it was. But that brief thought was lost in the wave of panic that swept through her, wondering what they should do.

            Damek glanced at them, then back to the soldiers. “If we refuse?”

            “Lord Zobah was very insistent.”

            He sighed, remembering the last time the lord had ‘insisted’ they see him. He looked to the others and said “I don’t think we have a choice.”

            Rika winced, knowing he was right and wishing that he weren’t. “We should pack our stuff up. I get the feeling we won’t be coming back here, whatever happens.”

            Damek nodded at her, then said to the soldiers “Give us a few minutes to get ourselves organized.”

            “Of course. I am also to tell you that this house and also this block have been surrounded, so if you were thinking of slipping past us, I must ask you to reconsider.”

            A low growl came from Damek’s throat. “We’ve already agreed to come with you.”

            The soldier nodded and Damek had to resist the urge to slam the door in his face. He turned to the others and said “Just grab your things, don’t worry about food. I’m sure they’ll feed us.”

            “Oh, they’ll do more than that,” Shetton’s voice said, amusement audible.

            Damek turned to look in the demon’s direction while Rika stared right at him. She was unable to stop the little twitch of her fingers as she remembered what had happened the day before, but shoved the memories away in favour of the situation at hand. “What do you mean by that?”

            He laughed, ignoring the look Ahisu was giving him. “The blue man’s not the only one who’s been gathering information. Most mortals don’t guard their tongues when they think they’re alone. And this delightful little situation has become an actual war. I’m all a-shiver at the thoughts of what wondrous sights await me.”

            Elthia blanched and Damek glared. Rika frowned, about to ask what he meant by that when Ahisu said “Shetton.”

            The demon turned to look at the mage and chuckled. “Yes, my master,” he said, voice mocking.

            For several long moments, no one said anything. Finally Damek broke the silence. “Alright, so it’s war. That doesn’t change much for us. Lord Zobah wants us to meet with him and he’s not taking no for an answer. We pack up our stuff and go see what he wants. If he’s reasonable, we might consider sticking around, since getting out now looks like it’s going to be near impossible. If he’s not, we try for the impossible.”

            “If this is a civil war, won’t the other lords or the king’s troops interfere?” Rika asked.

            “They would if the king was in a state fit to order his soldiers into action. And the other nobles are too frightened of joining the wrong side and ending up with a king they’ve openly opposed on the throne. No, I’m fairly certain this is going to be what decides who the next king is, Balance save us all.”

            Rika looked from Damek, who was glaring, to Elthia, who looked like she’d been drained of blood, to Ahisu, who was staring at Shetton. For better or for worse, her and her friends were in this war together. Wishing she’d never opened the damned book in the first place, she sighed. “We’d better hurry up and get packed before those soldiers decide to come in here and help us. I can only imagine what kind of orders they have.”

            Damek nodded. “We really don’t have a choice. We might as well get it over with.”

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