Chapter 98 - Sacrifice
Marcus was both smart and wise; they could not afford for him to return early and find them gone. Not before they erased all traces of their passing. They saddled the horses in silence, but neither could shake the feeling of impending fate.
They found it challenging to make plans for this invasion that would never happen and to concentrate on the details to keep Marcus convinced that they had only the long hours of the day to sleep on what was to come.
They rode until the moon sat high and they found the small valley that would hide their horses. They unsaddled the animals, took care of them, and let them graze. The beasts had grown used to them, and when they moved up the incline, Alena’s horse made a small enquiring whinny.
“Stay boy,” Alena bade, and as if the horse understood, it went back to grazing. Rowan turned to Alena as they climbed, they still had far to travel, and a few things to settle between them.
“You will take care of Striker for me?” She asked quietly, and Alena nodded, she had half-forgotten about Rowan’s creature.
“He never quite took a liking to me, he preferred Marcus,” Alena tried to joke, but it fell flat.
“He would like you now,” Rowan said as she moved swiftly ahead, and Alena paused, that was more than a comment on horse behavior.
They cut across the mountain and ran more swiftly than prudence allowed, but they were right where they intended to be as the night became inky in the dark hour before dawn.
They spotted the light of a fire behind some rocks, and with their hands briefly linked, they contemplated the hillside. Their eyes picked up on the small movements of hidden sentries, and they brazenly stepped into the firelight. After all, the Dark One expected them.
The ones near the fire moved to draw their weapons, but the dark clad one, that seemed to appear from the hillside, walked to where they could clearly see him in the light. The others waited as if for his orders.
They recognized the type, the cold dark eyes, the unnatural white of the face, the way the others seemed to listen when he didn’t speak.
His eyes fleetingly scanned the hill behind them before settling upon them with some consideration when he realized that they were alone. He bowed in their direction, and they glanced at each other.
"You’ve been expected,” he said, and chills ran down their spines as his sultry voice echoed their earlier thoughts.
They moved forward, and the guards fell in beside and behind them without a word. His eyes scanned the hillside again as if he expected some trickery on their part.
“We’d better hurry, I do not think you will much enjoy the early sun,” for a moment they wondered if he were mocking them, but no expression showed on his face.
The entrance was within walking distance, and yet they would not have found it easily. One moment there was just a rock in front of them, and then right behind it, an opening appeared that was tall enough for a man pass through walking upright.
They followed him until torches appeared at intervals, and still, they forged on. The air acquired a slight chill, and they entered a small cavern with a door set into the opposite wall. Outside, the rain they had been expecting all night, started to fall in sheets, erasing their tracks, their trail, and their scent.
The guards retraced their steps into the narrow tunnel at a single glance from their leader and left them alone with him. They did not go far, and there would be no way for women to escape the way they came. He watched them thoughtfully as if he still expected some trick.
“Undress,” he ordered, and they remained unmoving.
“You are armed, and you did not expect to pass thus?” He enquired almost courteously, and with a glance at each other, they did as he bade.
A soldier entered from the passage behind them and took the weapons from them as they discarded each. They were lightly armed, and the leader frowned at this inconsistency since he obviously expected them to be armed to the teeth. They puzzled him, and it gave them a small amount of satisfaction that this fact made him wary.
“You will not mind?” He said as a second soldier entered to search their clothes and their bodies for concealed weapons. They found it odd that he should be so worried about mere weapons. They could not fight their way out of this if they had an arsenal with them.
The girls minded the touch of those cold, harsh hands, but they allowed this indignity, and when it was over, they dressed in silence. Nothing had happened as they expected and trepidation settled into their souls.
“Come,” he ordered them, and the door slid almost soundlessly open behind him as if of its own accord. They followed, and so did the two soldiers. They left the weapons on a table with no pretext of hiding them.
Alena and Rowan suffered no further illusions. The Demvaren did not disarm them because they were a threat. He did it to humiliate them and to prove he considered them harmless, powerless, and defeated. He turned to glance at them, and it was all there in the slight smirk that edged his lips.
“Come along,” he ordered again and made his way through a second passage to a larger chamber. He indicated a short corridor, and they followed it until they reached a small empty chamber with a heavy door.
“You will stay here,” he informed them with a sibilant hiss, and they realized that this was their prison.
“Behave,” he mocked with a sneer before slamming the door shut and bolting it firmly from the outside.