Liam glanced warily around him before knocking on the door.
When no one answered for a long time he gave up on waiting. Either nobody was home or they were fast asleep. It was the middle of the night.
He was walking away when the door suddenly opened, and Liam breathed a sigh of relief. Having anyone else other than Rethik opening the door would have been a disaster, so this was a big risk he had taken. “
It’s the middle of the night, Liam.” The sleepy red-headed man said.
“I know that, Rethik, but this is important.”
Rethik yawned. “I’m sure this can wait.”
“Sorry, but it can’t. I’m leaving Brightcrest.”
Rethik was now wide-awake. “Why?”
Liam ignored the question.
“Are you coming with or what?”
Rethik shrugged. “Nothing exiting ever happens here. Sure I’ll come. Just wait a sec.”
Liam waited impatiently, waiting for his friend to come back. He and Rethik weren’t close friends, but Liam trusted him more than any other person, even more than Blayze.
Soon Rethik reappeared, and they headed to the stables.
The quiet sleeping sounds of animals greeted them as they slipped in unnoticed by the soldiers patrolling outside. Liam kept a lookout while Rethik awoke and saddled one of the hippogriffs there. Experience of hippogriffs was something Liam didn't have, but luckily Rethik did, as he was a Rider.
“Come on, Syth.” The Rider coaxed the hippogriff, carefully leading her out.
Suddenly, Syth jerked her head up, but before she could give them away by neighing, Rethik had his arms clamped firmly around her beak. Liam helped calm her, but it was too late.
“Whose there?” came the distant voice of a guard, and Liam cursed silently. The scuffle with the hippogriff had alerted the guards.
Rethik mouthed “Go” to Liam, and silently they moved towards the back door of the stable. Syth was now obedient, as if she knew to keep quiet so they could go unnoticed.
Footsteps were approaching, and quickly. Eyes wide with panic, Liam and Rethik urged the hippogriff though the door, just as a soldier stepped into the stables.
Slowly, Liam closed the door, praying it wouldn’t creak. Unfortunately it did, making the small escape party freeze.
The footsteps were getting louder, and the chilling sound of swords being drawn could be heard. The guards paused at the door for a moment, the first guard signalling to the other two, who nodded. With a bang the second guard kicked it open.
Not a sound could be heard. Mystified, the soldiers stared out into the dark backyard of the stable.
There was no one there.
“So where are we going?” Rethik’s voice was nearly lost in the wind rushing past them. Appearing on the horizon were the first rays of dawn, and Syth was tiring.
“Sorry, but I don’t know. Yet.”
The last word was drowned out by the following.
“WHAT? You drag me with on some hare-brained escapade where we nearly get caught, but you don’t know where we’re going?!”
Rethik shook his head in amazement. “You really amaze me sometimes, Liam.”
Liam grinned on his seat behind his red-headed friend.
This was what he liked about Rethik. He was very easy-going, even though he did sometimes explode like this.
They flew on in silence for a while. It was Rethik who broke the silence.
“We’re going to land now. Syth needs to rest.” He patted the hippogriff affectionately. Looking down at the rapidly approaching landscape, Liam could see seemingly endless forest, and found himself hoping that they wouldn’t crash into a tree.
The landing was bumpy and uncomfortable. A groan escaped Liam’s lips.
His rear end was very sore after the long flight. This painful problem did not seem to affect Rethik, who looked sympatically at him.
“How did you ever get used to this…” Liam muttered to himself, flexing his stiff muscles while Rethik took the double saddle of the hippogriff. Taking the opportunity to look around, Liam explored the surrounding trees.
It was pleasant to hear the early morning calls of the birds. Mist obscured Liam’s vision, muffling the daily noises that belonged to a newly awoken forest.
Breathing in the damp fresh air, Liam suddenly felt awake, and his scalp prickled as the hairs stood up. Out of the corner of his eye he could see a shadow of an animal passing by.
Something was wrong.
Why was everything so silent?
Suddenly, a bird cried out an alarm call, taking Liam by surprise.
Voices…voices were drifting through the air; carried by the cool breeze...They were saying something. Liam listened harder, and was almost overwhelmed by a torrent of voices.
They all seemed to scream one thing; Danger! Move away! Danger!
Then they fell silent.
Liam realized that the drifting voices were growing louder, coming closer…
Liam whirled around, and ran back to Rethik, taking care keep silent. Urgently he gestured to Rethik to follow him, who looked surprised.
“What-?” Liam franticly put a finger to his lips, wishing Rethik to be silent.
Rethik froze, now also hearing the voices. Slowly, the trio backed away from where the voices were coming from, into the shelter of some tightly clumped together trees. Liam could hear what the voices were saying now.
“Be careful. There could be bandits lurking about.”
Liam’s breathing quickened as he recognized with a horrible feeling the voice. Now footsteps could be heard as well, drawing ever closer. Liam leaned against the tree trunk, trying to suppress the panic, and sure that his pounding heart would give them away.
Glancing at Rethik, he saw that his friend was practically pinning his distressed hippogriff down, his face going red with strain.
He turned his gaze away, and listened again, and realized that everything was silent once again.
Minute after nerve-racking minute passed, but Liam could not hear anything except the relentless pounding in his chest. Cautiously, he stepped out of his hiding place, followed closely by Rethik and Syth.
The mist lay as thickly as ever, which didn’t help at all, and Liam knew that if they stayed in one place for too long the risk that they’d run back into the questing group of knights. And if he was not mistaken, then the voice that had spoken earlier belonged to a very familiar person, and he was the last person that Liam wanted to meet right now.
These hopes were dashed as a man's voice said "Show yourselves!"
That same morning at the castle…
“There have been intruders in the stables, Sire.” The soldier said. “And a hippogriff is missing.”
King Rowan narrowed his eyes, deep in thought. “Which one?” he asked.
“The one called Syth. Rethik’s hippogriff.”