A pair of guards led Quinn and Tara away from Kit and the conference room. They were confined together in a small cell in the Griffinscape’s brig under the watchful eyes of their guards. The man in the red trimmed helmet bound Kit’s hands behind her back and prodded her into the elevator with the remainder of his guards and Rex accompanying them.
Kit led the way on the dirt road leading to the castle seen in the distance. They kept a quick pace. The air hung heavy with humidity and dark clouds closed in overhead. On the horizon above the treetops of surrounding forest, lightning scorched across the sky followed by rolling thunder that shook the dirt beneath Kit’s feet. She kept moving forward, annoyed by the bonds keeping her arms from moving freely at her sides.
At the castle gates, Kit stopped. The man in the red trimmed helmet conferred quietly with a man in a blue trimmed helmet. When their conversation ended, the gate was raised and Kit was prodded forward. They passed through the interior courtyard and entered a building on the west side through a large wooden door. Inside, a wide staircase led them down into the underground depths, lit by torches flickering on the walls. The putrid aroma of wet hay and human sweat wafted its way up and tickled Kit’s nose.
A pair of wooden doors, double the thickness and weight of those above, awaited them at the bottom. Kit stepped through the doors and stopped near the center of the large open room. At its center was a wooden contraption with conspicuously placed leather restraints. She didn’t fancy the idea, but there existed little doubt to its purpose; Punishment, torture, or both.
From a concealed passage on the far side of the room, a man entered and stopped on the opposite side of the wooden contraption. He wore wealthier clothing than his guards. His trousers were black silk and his shirt was a scarlet variation of the same. Jewelry adorned his fingers and a medallion hung around his neck. The black of his hair seemed almost blue in the torchlight.
He stared into Kit’s eyes. “We had a deal.”
“I don’t even know you,” Kit said, meeting his gaze.
“I’m Count Wudwerth,” he said.
“I still don’t know you,” Kit said.
Wudwerth nodded. “And yet you came all this way to deliver me you.”
Kit twisted to look back at Rex. He appeared just as confused. Kit turned back to Wudwerth and said, “What are you talking about?”
Wudwerth took a step closer to her, smiling. “Yes, I was hoping to get my medical shipment as well, but Captain Rex will be correcting that situation for us,” Wudwerth said and looked past Kit to Rex, “won’t you?”
Rex cleared his throat and said, “It’ll just take three days and you’ll have double what you ordered.”
Wudwerth kept smiling at Rex. “You have two.”
Turning his attention back to Kit, Wudwerth reached inside Kit’s jacket. His fingers probed against her body giving no heed to her private space. He found what he was looking for in her jacket pocket and pulled it out. The remote for the Griffinscape passed from Wudwerth to man with red trimmed helmet and he in turned pressed the panel against Kit’s still bound thumb before handing it over to Rex.
“You’ve got your ship back as promised,” Wudwerth said. “Now I suggest you get going because if you aren’t back with my shipment in two days, you’ll lose a lot more than your ship.”
“No worries,” Rex said and left the room with an escort of guards.
Kit stared into the black of Wudwerth’s eyes. Jade’s voice echoed in her head, cautioning her, Don’t be reckless.
“You’re feisty,” Wudwerth said, “but I was expecting that.”
“What do you want from me?” Kit asked.
Wudwerth reached out toward her again. This time his fingers snatched the thin chain around her neck and pulled the jade stone from its hiding place beneath her top. He studies the green jewel in his open palm and then closed his fist around it, yanking the necklace free from Kit.
Rage boiled behind Kit’s eyes. “Give it back!”
He ticked his index finger in the space between them. “I own you and that means everything that was yours is now mine. Get used to it.”
“The stone is mine,” Kit said. Her defiant stare said even more; She belonged to no one.
Wudwerth merely smiled wider before turning his gaze to the man in the red trimmed helmet. “Commander Zeller,” he said, “strip her and teach the Jade Princess what it means to be a slave.”
“With pleasure,” Zeller said.
Wudwerth turned and left the room the way he had entered, taking with him Kit’s necklace.