Red sat in the tree and watched as the pack of shifters passed under her once more. Her heart jumped into her throat and she choked back a sob. He was alive! He must be. That was the only reason why they were dragging him along with them. They’d have left the body had he been dead. He had a man on either side holding him by the arms, his head lolling and feet dragging as they not so carefully moved along. There was blood staining the back of his tunic and his hair looked dark with it. In a pack this big there had to be a healer and yet it was obvious they had no intentions of stopping to heal him. Then why keep him alive?
She waited until they were out of sight before scrambling down as quickly as she could. Trailing shifters was a tricky and usually deadly thing to do, but she was damned if she was going to leave Greg in their hands. And how, exactly, did she think she was going to manage to rescue him? There were thirty of them and one of her. If Greg was to hurt to move on his own, she’d never be able to get him out.
She ran scenario after scenario through her head as she moved along, trying to come up with a plan. She grunted. This would have been so much easier had the idiots still been with them. All it would have taken would have been to send a few of them stumbling drunk into the camp and the commotion it would have caused would have given her plenty of cover to sneak in and free Greg.
She stopped short. Why couldn’t she hear them anymore? She frowned and listened. She’s been so busy thinking she’d lost them. She turned slowly in a circle, trying to get any sort of indication of which way they had gone. There! She kept listening to make sure she’d heard right. She took a deep breath and let it out. Thank the moons, she hadn’t lost them. She made her way slowly toward where she was sure they were making camp for the night. Now, how was she going to see if Greg was alright? She got as close as she dared then surveyed her surroundings before making up her mind. If she could get up one of those tall trees without being detected, she should be able to see into the camp. She back tracked before circling around to the tree she had in mind.
All of the shifters seemed busy with the chores for the night. Red crawled quietly, careful not to make a sound. She leaned back against the tree, counted to ten, then climbed up as far as she could.
“Bastards.” Red took a few deep breaths to keep from crying. Greg lay in a heap among everybody’s packs. Even from this distance she could tell he was shaking, whether from cold or shock she didn’t care. He needed a blanket. As if she had read Red’s mind, one of the women glanced around before going to him and covering him. Greg jerked but remained oblivious to what was happening.
“Alright, let’s wake him up. The sooner he answers our questions, the faster we can get rid of him.”
The woman nodded to the blond man who had given the order. She knelt beside him and shook him gently. The man grunted, stalked over to the pair and kicked Greg in the stomach.
Greg groaned and doubled over, trying to catch his breath. His eyes fluttered open.
Greg seemed to finally focus on his surroundings and scrambled to his feet, tripping over the packs, trying to get away. A dark haired man tackled him and managed to straddle him. The shifter pulled his arm back and brought his fist down to connect with Greg’s face.
Red could have sworn she heard his nose break. She fought the urge to scramble down and try and stop them. The thought of what he must be feeling, thinking, had her feeling sick to her stomach.
“Getting yourself killed isn’t going to help him,” she tried to convince herself. She cringed as Greg was punched again. The man on top of him got off and another grabbed Greg’s light brown hair to haul him to his feet. Greg stiffened as a dagger pressed against his throat.
“Stop fighting. By the moons, Greg, please stop fighting.” Red closed her eyes and felt the tears slip down her cheeks.
“I have a few questions for you.” The blond man stood with his arms crossed. Greg simply stared past him. “You’ll answer them or you’ll die.”
“I’m dead either way; don’t try to tell me otherwise.” Greg’s eyes met the man’s. The latter shrugged.
“Tell me about the orb.”
“Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.”
“I know what you’re talking about. I’m just trying to figure out why you’re so interested in a drawing of a rock that you found in my pack.” Greg doubled over as the man punched him again.
“You’d best stop wondering and start answering.”
Greg straightened with the help of the hand that still held his hair. He coughed and tried to pull air into his lungs.
“I don’t have one. I just saw one.” He took a few deep breaths. “I don’t know what they are.”
“Where did you see it?”
“In Braw’s offices. I was hauled in there to be disciplined and he had it on one of his shelves.”
“You didn’t ask about it?”
Greg gave a hard laugh. “I was going in there to be beaten. I could have cared less at that moment.”
“Why was Braw going to beat you?”
“That’s none of your business.” Greg fell to the ground as he was kicked in the stomach. The blond man wound up and kicked him again.
“It’s my business if I say it is. Why were you going to be beaten?”
Greg coughed and wheezed. “Because…I worked as a guard in the prison…I got caught… giving the shifters… extra rations with their… meals.”
The only sound to be heard was Greg’s laboured breathing. Red would have given anything to see the look on the blond man’s face. Every other face that she could see was covered with shock and guilt. No one moved for a good five minutes. The shifter took a step toward Greg and the latter flinched.