Luca grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the door. “I thank you greatly for all your efforts. Now if you’ll excuse us, we have a city gate to save.”
“I’m coming, too!” Dapper shouted as he scurried after us.
We hurried out of the room and soon exited the front of the museum. The area was crowded with dozens of disappointed people who looked forlornly at the shuttered museum. At our exit, however, squeals went up from the crowd and Luca was mobbed. I was trampled.
“What an honor!”
“Can you sign my shirt?”
I would have snorted if I hadn’t been in the middle of a push fest created by the over-eager fans of the dragon king. Our joined hands were ripped apart in the surprise attack and I found myself floating adrift in a sea of admiration. A small, firm grip grabbed my hand and tugged me out of the crowd. When we broke free I was glad to see it was Dapper who had guided me.
Mia appeared on the steps of the museum and clapped her hands. “Ladies and gentlemen! Ladies!”
Nothing worked. Dapper shoved two fingers into his mouth and let loose a whistle that ripped through the twittering of Luca’s admirers. I myself, standing so close to him, had to clap my hands over my ears. The people paused in their fawning and peppering of questions, and turned to see who had blasted their eardrums.
Mia slightly bowed her head and smiled at him. “Much obliged.”
Dapper folded his arms over his broad chest and shrugged. “Don’t mention it.”
Mia returned her attention to the curious visitors. “The museum is once again open, and the first ten people may enter the private wing at no charge.”
The crowd stampeded toward the museum entrance, and Mia slipped inside to avoid being crushed as I had been. The lobby was large enough to accommodate all of the stragglers, and in a few moments the all-clear was given by Luca who beckoned to us.
We hurried over and he snatched my hand, though he took enough time to smile at Dapper. “You have the impressive voice of your halls.”
Dapper grinned. “You should hear me deep in the halls of His Highness. Nothing like it.”
I glanced at Luca and lifted an eyebrow. “What was that about a private wing, anyway?”
“The rear of the museum holds some of my family’s precious jewels,” he explained as we hurried along the street toward the gate. “Visitors must meet certain ‘trust requirements’ in order to view the collection.”
We wove our way through the streets and soon neared the gates to the Ponds. A low murmur indicated the crowd had increased in size, and as we took a shortcut through an alley I could see the throngs of people that congregated before the entrance. The great crowd in front of the gate stretched down the street and past the mouth of our alley. Just a few short steps and everything would be set right.
And then a wall was thrown up in front of those steps. That wall was made up of three of our black-clad foes who floated down from above via their hovering black discs. The other half appeared behind us, trapping our group in the narrow alley. Luca pulled me behind him and against the wall.
The leader stepped out from the others and held out their hand to me. My eyes flickered from their palm to their face, and I glared at them. “Hell no.”
Luca swept his narrowed eyes over the dark figures. “You will not have her to kill.”
The leader dropped their hand and chuckled. The dark mirth echoed over the quiet of the alley and sent chills down my spine. The leader lifted one hand and pressed their fingers together in the
I didn’t have the voice of Dapper’s halls, but I cupped my hands around my mouth and took a deep breath. “Hey, everyone! His Highness is over here!”
A dozen heads whipped around in our direction, and the familiar wide eyes of surprise and glee appeared. The standing crowd turned into a wave of curiosity as they spilled into the alley. They were slow, like a mammoth uncertain that the call had been from friend or foe, but at catching sight of Luca their pace quickened.
Our three adversaries closest to the mouth of the alley flew up and out of sight. The leader grabbed me from behind and dragged me backward toward the remaining half of the group. Dapper snatched up a thick leg of a discarded table and swung it like a bat at the same time the crowd descended upon us.
The black-clad person closest to him flew up, but he spun in a circle and launched the leg at them. The thick wood hit them square in the gut and felled them from their strange vehicle where they crashed to the ground.
I wasn’t so lucky. My captor avoided the throngs of curiosity seekers, and the five of us with my unwilling self flew up to the rooftops. A sharp pain in my chest made me look down. Luca stood in the midst of his admirers with a look of death in his eyes. His hands had morphed into long claws, and I knew the next moment he would, against the horrific pain, force his wings out.
I grabbed one of the arms of my captor and clamped every one of my teeth down on their flesh. Even their thick black garb couldn’t stop the sharp bite of justice as my fangs sank deep into their skin.
When they spoke I realized they were a woman, and their voice was like the gravely hiss of a snake. “You little bitch!” My response was to swing my leg upward between theirs and connect my ankle with their feminine crotch.
They jerked us backward in pain and surprise, and we crashed into another of the disc riders. The discs vanished beneath our feet and we plummeted toward the ground. Two of the other riders picked up their fallen foe, and the fifth tried to grab me, but Dapper threw broken pieces of the rest of the table at them.
Luca pushed his way through the crowd and caught me in his arms. The people cleared the area around us and one of them started clapping. The rest joined in, including a few exuberant individuals who took to whistling.
“Do it again!” someone shouted.
That’s when I realized they thought my kidnapping had been a spectator sport. I grinned up at Luca. “Let’s not do it again.”
He lifted his eyes to the sky and shook his head. “I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that.”
I followed his gaze and realized the air space above us was empty. Our foes had fled, at least for now.
Luca set my feet on the ground and lifted his hands above his head. The people quieted. “Thank you so much for joining my queen and I on the eve of our joyous day. We would like to invite you to the official opening of the gates, if you would all be so kind as to make a path for us.”
Visitors and citizens alike pressed themselves against the narrow walls of the alley and created a path for us. Luca offered me his hand and a smile. I accepted, though not before Dapper squeezed out from the legs of the packed peoples. “Yer not getting rid of me that easily!”
Dapper followed behind us as Luca and I led the crowd to the main road. We soon arrived at the majestic gates where the wizened old man I’d seen earlier was still hunched over the lock. At our jubilant coming they looked up, and never had I seen such a wrinkled old face. Their whole countenance appeared to be an ocean of folds, and a bulbous nose stuck out from the wavy mess. Deep-set, sharp dark eyes stared back at us with annoyance, and bushy eyebrows only made them appear more sunken. Their leather tool bag still sat at their feet, and in one hand was a strange wand-looking stick and in the other he clutched a skeleton key.
At the sight of us, those bushy eyebrows crashed down like an ancient oak in a windstorm. “What’s all this hubbub about? I’m trying to work here!”
Luca drew the key from his pocket and held it up for the old man to see. “Your work is over, though it doesn’t go unappreciated, Sir Seilu.”
Seilu wrinkled his nose, but eagerly picked up his bag and stepped out of the way. “Just get the key in there before that oaf ruins a perfectly good lock spell.”
I was about to ask what he was talking about, but a hard slam of a fist from the other side of the entrance rattled the whole door. The quake was followed by thunder.
“Let me out!”