“Take her downstairs!” Fasia demanded. Two large men, sporting black outfits, and mean looks moved towards Sarah. They grabbed her by the arms and dragged her deeper into the charred remains of the woods.
Axin! Oh God, please find me!
She was led to a dilapidated wooden home, no bigger than a single room. The man holding her left side went to open the door, and she was pulled in by the other brute gripping her arm in a bruising hold. Once inside, the space changed. It was nothing like what she expected. Instead of old wood paneling, she was met with high concrete walls, metal beams in the ceiling, and a damp stone floor at her feet. The vast, empty space held nothing but cold air and the stench of mold.
They dragged her to a side door. One of the men swung it open and she almost tumbled down the stairs leading deep into the ground.
“Where are you taking me?”
They didn’t say anything as they pushed her along, forcing her to hold the railing to not fall.
They descended at least three floors, as far as Sarah could tell, and left the stairwell through another door. This one led to a long passage, made of the same dull grey concrete as the top level.
The hallway stood lined with doors. Each one made of thick, solid steel, and only a tiny window at the top. It brought to mind an old mental institute she’d seen in a movie. A short way away from the door leading to the stairs, one of the men swung open a door, and she was shoved in hard. She stumbled forward, falling to her knees and the door slammed closed behind her.
Sarah stayed on the ground, her heart beating out of control at where she was, and what was about to happen to her.
“Axin, please hear me down here. Please.” Her whispers echoed lightly on the bare walls. A tiny stream of light came from the window above the door, but there was nothing else in the room. No bed, no toilet, nothing.
She moved to the wall, sitting with her back against it, and curled her knees up to her chest. Sobs came next. There was no way she could get out of there on her own. Not just getting past the muscle that escorted her down here, but Fasia would never let her go. Sarah had no idea just how much trouble she was in at this point, but one thing she was sure of was that if she tried to run, Fasia could make her life a whole new kind of hell.
Hours passed. Sarah paced the cell, sat on the floor, even fell asleep for a short time. All the while, she called for Axin. It was clear he couldn’t hear her or feel her. He’d told her that Fasia cloaked herself with a spell, and there was no doubt that magic had to be involved in a place like this. Distant screams drifted to her from under the door when other residents of this nightmare prison were dragged past her cell.
The lock turned and her door was swung open. Fasia stood in the entrance with the same two assholes that shoved her into the room. Sarah stood, brushing off her pants.
“Are you going to behave?” Fasia asked, her arms crossed over her chest.
Sarah eyed the two men at her side before she nodded.
Fasia stepped out of the doorway, waiting for her.
Sarah moved on uneasy legs, keeping a close eye on the two men. Fasia spun on her heel and marched towards the doors leading to the stairs. They went up to the massive open space she saw first and was led out into the burnt forest.
Fasia finally turned to face her. “Where is my son?”
Sarah swallowed. “I don’t know-”
A hard hand slapped her through the face, almost knocking Sarah to the ground. Fasia stepped closer and glared at her. “Where is he? Don’t play games with me. I know you were the last one with him. Tell me.”
Sarah licked her lip, the sting of the cut making her wince.
“He’s in the Shadow world. With Nilu.”
“Stupid boy!” Fasia spat. Another hard slap hit Sarah, and this time she fell to the ground, crying out as her lip burned with pain. The heavy taste of copper in her mouth.
“Is everything ready?” Fasia asked, speaking to the men at her side.
“Yes. All we need is her.”
“Take her to the clearing. Get her ready. I will be there soon. I need to punish my son for his stupidity first. It won’t take long.”
Fear shot through Sarah. Lexi!
She tried to stand, her legs weak from the pain in her face. Large hands grabbed her by the arms once more, and she was dragged away from Fasia.
Shit! I need to warn Axin! But how? He needs to protect Lexi!
As the two men all but carried Sarah deep into the scorched forest, she kept calling for Axin in her mind. She even tried Jake, using the logic that he might be able to see behind the cloaking spell.
They walked for a while, moving over steep hills, and through a pitch-black shallow stream. Once they came to a stop, Sarah took note of her surroundings. A clearing in the dense trees, with a large black rock lying in the center with a flat surface on top. A fire burned on either side of it, and she spotted the blue streaks inside the flame. Dragon fire. No… Axin’s fire.
One of the men let her go, moving towards the rock. She watched him tossed the thick rope over it, securing them to something on the floor.
Sarah closed her eyes, begging anyone that could hear her for help.
From above her, a loud, high pitched squawk sounded, scaring not just Sarah but the men as well. The one gripping her arm panicked, pulling her closer to the rock with a hard, forceful tug. She cried out, sure she would have bruises.
The other man stared up, his eyes wide and moving fast over the sky they could see in the clearing. He shot his gaze to his friend, “What do we do?”
“We kill it. Fasia will do far worse if we fail.”
They both looked up, scanning for where the sound came from.
She was shoved against the rock. “Tie her down, then we deal with that bird.”
The other man grabbed her arms, lifting her with ease, and placed her on the flat surface of the rock. Sarah began to struggle, kicking and punching any part of him she could.
The guy grabbed her shoulders, slamming her back against the rock, and Sarah stilled, pain shooting throughout her body, and her breaths knocked out.
Another loud squawk came from right above them. The man shot his head to the sky, giving Sarah a chance to do something incredibly stupid, disgusting, yet in her mind, brave. She sat up, grabbed the guy by his shirt, and sank her teeth into his throat. Biting down as hard as she could, she felt flesh break and the warmth of blood pooling in her mouth. She gagged, her body unhappy with what she just did. But she kept her hold, despite how the man struggled, before she jerked her head, tearing out a large chunk of his skin.
He stumbled back, his hand going to the bloody wound on his neck.
Sarah rolled off the rock on the other side, spitting out the blood and piece of flesh, then bolted into the forest as fast as her legs would take her. She didn’t dare look back, for fear of seeing the men chasing her. Or worse, something else.
She kept running, darting between trees, and around rocks, until she came to the edge of the forest. A vast open plain stretched out before her. She stopped, heaving in breaths, and spun to look behind her. There was no sign of the men, but she doubted Fasia would struggle to find her. She needed to find a place to hide.
The sound in the sky called again, and Sarah whipped her head up to look. A large bird, with dark brown feathers, soared overhead. Its body covered in fur, and its back legs and tail reminding her of a large cat.
Oh, come on!
She couldn’t run back into the forest. Not with Fasia and the two goons looking for her by now. She would rather take her chances with the bird.
Sarah moved. She ran into the open field, her legs weak and burning from the pain in her muscles, but she didn’t stop.
A hard hit to her back made her stumble, but instead of hitting the ground, she lifted into the air, tight talons holding her by the shoulders. The claws dug into her skin, leaving bloodstains in her hoodie. The ground grew further away, but so did the Forrest. She was taken high into the clouds, moving fast.
After a few minutes, the clouds below her feet vanished, replaced by sharp peaks of mountain tops. The bird lowered, getting too close for comfort to the jagged edges of the rocks. When it was so close that Sarah lifted her feet from fear of hitting them, the claws released, and she fell onto the hard surface of one of the rocks.
She rolled, her arms and legs getting more battered until she stopped.
She cried out, pain in every inch of her body. Tears stung her eyes, blood ran down her chest and back from her shoulders, and she suspected she had a broken arm.
A heavy thud from next to her, made Sarah sit up to see the massive bird-like creature perched on a rock, its head tilted, watching her.
The face of the bird looked like an eagle. Yet its hind end was the soft tan color of a lion.
She shuffled back, trying to put as much distance between her and the bird as she could.
“Careful.” A voice said, drawing her attention back to it.
Where the bird had stood, now sat a young teenager, maybe seventeen years old, with dark brown hair and brown eyes.
“Who are you?”
“Zach. And you?”
She scanned her eyes around the area, looking for a way to escape.
“You’re safe here. No one comes up here.”
“Where am I?”
“This is my den. I live up here. It’s the safest place in Purgatory.”
“What are you?”
Zach jumped off the rock, extending a hand out to her. “I’m a Griffin. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up. Then you can tell me what you did to piss off the wicked witch of the west.”