Alice ran through the woods. She glanced behind her every three steps or so to make sure that the men were not following. She could see that the men were not about to do a thorough job of looking for her but she could also see that someone else -- someone with a plan -- was telling these men what to do.
The men obviously did not want to go looking through the forest but whoever was in charge could convince them to do the unpleasant task. These men were greedy and offering them money would make them do a much more thorough job. She had to get out of the area fast, hide for a short time and them circle back to where the men had taken Dan.
She could not abbandon her friend but getting caught herself would not help either of them. Alice knew that the first thing she needed to do was be careful. Recklessness would get her nowhere and hope was a string in a maze (it only works if it is anchored on reality). She needed to use these woods to get away from her enemies so that she could go back and help her friend.
Her mind wondered to her parents. She was convinced that her mother was truely gone but she still hade to look after her brother. He was being brainwashed and mis-treated but there was nothing she could do to help him on her own. She was back to the first problem: Where to get help?
There was no shortage of friends to choose from. Her brother had started a revolution in Kingston and her mother knew members of the royal family in the World of Beasts. She herself had once worked with the Warrior. She was sure that any of these people would be willing to help her and her family but the question was who could help her?
Her friends were literally worlds away. How could any of them help her here? Could the Warrior send his army across worlds? Could Kingston’s wizards bring her brother through the bridges? There had to be a way out of this... If there was a way in, there was a way out. Alice just needed time to find that way.
She slowed her run and moved into a thickly forested area. There were dense clusters where a small person could squeeze into the middle of the cluster and hide. Alice wiggled into the center of the cluster and hunkered down into a balled crouch. She spent the night and was glad to see neither hide nor heir of her previous pursuers. She stretched and started back the way she had come with new purpose.
Alice had made a plan during the night and the clarity seemed to make even the small choices seem easier. She knew that she had to get back to the bridge behind her house and use it to contact her brother’s friends in Kingston. She would ask them to send help and to send a message to the Great Warrior.
The warlocks and wizards should have no problem sending the message across worlds. They could probably send a message back to her. Inter-world travel was a common thing to them and she was sure that they had ways of communicating with the other worlds. They had to relay messages to other warlocks quickly.
Alice focused on getting to the bridge. She held onto the hope that all her troubles would be over as soon as she got to the bridge. She figured thst she could deliver a message and the others would take over from there. Alice knew that her life would never be what it had been. Her mother was gone but she had gained new friends and learned more than she could have in any book or classroom. Still, she was ready for all of it to be over.
Alice tried to meld into the trees around her and move like the wind without a rustle the entire time. Alice was both quiet and quick but she could not move with as much speed as she wished. She wanted to run all the way to the house; crashing through the woods and not caring if anyone heard her movements. Stealth was what she needed but she wanted speed. The teo did not exactly mix well. So Alice squelched down her impatience and moved through the trees and brush without making a sound.
She slunk towards the place where she knew her subdivision was. She had gone down this path every day of her life. She knew that this was where Rosa’s house...
There was no house there. Alice’s subdivision was normally surrounded by thick trees. Alice’s parents chose the house because of the charm of living in the middle of the woodland. Usually, Alice strolled in the forest of trees to come out in a forest of houses. All the houses were gone now. Her forest was no longer protecting families. The only thing that could be found in it’s center was this completely flat valley.
Alice tried to puzzle out where she was and where her home was... But screams and cries come from all around her.
She turned to flee but strong arms clamped around her arms and a familiar voice said, “He said that the boy was not enough. Now that I have ya I’ll have to keep ya -- ah!”
Alice sank her teeth into the man’s arm and wiggled free. She ran straight ahead and did not bother to look around. She did not know where she was or how to get home but she knew she had to get away from this man.
She sprinted ahead and dove through the trees. She used the skills she learned as a messenger and made her tracks hard to follow but made speed her top priority. She turned behind her and saw nothing.
She breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank heavens I lost him.”
“Not gone yet, Sweetheart.”
Alice whipped around but she was too slow. He was on top of her before she could blink. A stinging sensation filled her side and was plunged into unconsciousness.
Alice’s eye lids fluttered open to complete darkness. She heard a door click open and echo through the room. She knew that the room had to be huge to have an echo like that.
Hamish walked through the open door. He held a glowing green lamp. The lamp was bright but it hardly broke the darkness from wall to wall. The brightness could not penetrate the darkness in such a large room.
“Where are we?” Alice was still waking up and her words were slurred.
Hamish smiled at her to reveal crooked teeth. Alice wanted nothing more than to get away. She backed away and scooted across the floor. Ropes stopped her movement. She forced down her panic and took a deep breath. She gave her tired mind a second to think.
“Where is my brother? What did you do with Dan?”
“There is no need to worry. You’re here to help the boy. He’s going over to the other dimension to stop a sorcerer. You just do what Raven tells you.”
“This can’t be that easy. We tried to leave. There’s always a punishment.”
“No harm, no fowl. We just had to move the plan forward earlier than we were expecting.”
“Dan wouldn’t just leave me here!” Alice felt her cheeks get hot with anger. Hamish held up a placating hand.
“He wanted to wait to see you, of course but Raven can be quite persuasive.”
“I’ll never help you if you hurt him. I’ll never forgive either of you for such a thing!”
“Calm down, girl. We’d never hurt the boy. We need his help too you know.”
Alice heared the truth and the logic behind his words and began to feel her heart beat settle. Her pulse was racing just a second ago but a wave of calmness washed over Alice. She remembered Dan telling her about these men burning inscents to make him sleep...
“What is burning in that lamp?”
Hamish gave a sinister grin but n answer. His smiling face was the last thing Alice saw before blackness surrounded her.
Dan continued to shift this way and that. Hamish had tied the ropes in a way that forced Dan to sit but Dan refused to be still. He knew that he could get free of the ropes if he just loosened them a bit.
He practically twisted his fingers into knots to reach the ropes and pick at the knots. After hours of working, he knew that it was hopeless. He could not loosen the knot and rubbing the ropes seemed to only chafe his skin.
It appeared that getting free from the ropes would not -- or could not -- be the first step in his escape plan. The first step would have to happen when Hamish came back into the small room.
Despite Hamish’s earlier words, Dan could not imagine the men finding Alice. He had begged her to run and she trusted him. She could tell when he was serious. If she thought that he needed help she would be able to stay hidden in the forest. She had learned wood-craft well in the messengers. She could hide in the woods with ease. Hamish could never catch her.
Dan tried to calm his racing heart as he continued to work at the knots. He had to get out! This was no time to panic! He had to believe that Alice was as safe as she could be -- at least until they show him proof against it.
Dan’s thoughts came to an abrupt halt when the door slammed open. Hamish walked in but he was not alone. Dan held his breath, praying that the smaller figure behind Hamish was not Alice. The two of them stepped in and the light that filled the tiny room revealed the smaller figure to be Raven!
“Come to gloat?” Dan asked them with a glare.
“You wound me, Dan and unjustly so! I have done you no harm. What have I done to make you think ill of me?”
“Kidnapping me seems like a good place to start the long list,” Dan reminded the man.
“Show some respect, you ingrate! Raven invited you to help save a world. I would think you would jump at the chance to help people.”
“You lied to Timothy to get him to help you, lied to Alice to get her to come and lied to Amy to get her to leave. Why should I believe what you are saying now?”
“You were once a happy lad who believed every story that the traders told him. What has happened to make you so cenacle?” Raven asked the question with a straight face but Dan could see in Raven’s eyes that the man was secretly laughing at him.
“Don’t pretend like you know me now,” Dan boldly declared with a scaul. “You didn’t know me then and I’ll be gone before you can know me now.”
Hamish took an angry, stomping step towards Dan. His every movement spoke of his rage. Raven stepped between the two before anything more could happen.
“Gentlemen! There is no need for this arguing. We are all working towards the same goal.”
Dan looked at Raven with disbelief. “You really expect me to believe anything you tell me? That you want to save lives?”
“I expect you to believe that people you care about will suffer if you don’t cooperate.”
“You wouldn’t!” Dan spoke the challenge with more confidence than he felt.
“There is more at risk than you can imagine, Dan. The whole world is in danger. I cannot allow you to hesitate... even if I have to harm your friends.” Raven’s eyes went from a burning fire to an icy glare and back again. Dan’s eyes met his with an equal intesnity.
“If this is really about saving the world, why do you need to threaten me into helping? There’s no need to threaten if it is as important as you say.”
“All the more reason, Dan. I can’t take any chances with so important a task.”
“Then tell me the specifics of what I have to do so I can agree!”
“I can’t give out any details until I know that you are on my side. You must agree to help before you hear the rest.”
“This sounds like a trick,” Dan said wearilly.
“You could argue in circles for a year, Dan but the truth is that you don’t have much of a choice. You know that we have the girl. I don’t want to hurt her. All of this will go much quicker with both of you helping willingly. But I will hurt the girl if I have to. The girl’s brother and all your friends in the forest can be brought here quickly as well if the girl is not enough to convence you.”
“You think I’ll help you after you threaten my friends? You must be mad!”
“Hamish, bring the girl. Itg looks like the boy will need some convencing.” Raven turned an unfeeling stare to Dan in an almost challanginf manner.
“There’s no need for that. I understand what is at stake and I’ll go. I just want you to understand that I’m not doing this to help you. I’m just helping Alice and the others.”
“It will be noted, I assure you,” Raven said with one of those sickening smiles.