Chapter Thirteen

Caged

Deep within the Dark Castle were the dungeons where the prisoners were held. They were usually empty as it was uncommon for Yugito to take in any captives- mostly because that required more work than simply killing them. Glade happened to be one of those rare exceptions. She was not sure if she should be glad to be alive, or terrified of what they may do to her, though.

Despite being imprisoned in a cold and dark cell, she had been treated fairly well, much to her surprise. She was given food and water over the few days she had been there and had been left alone for the most part. Every time she heard someone approach the room she tensed up, afraid they would come in and try to torture her or something.

The last day or two or so had been unusually quiet. No Dark Warriors had come by for a good while from what the Nekomata could tell. It was not clear if there was anything going on that was keeping them busy, but Glade suspected that this was the case. Surely they were keeping her alive for a reason? She shuddered. Hopefully she would not find out why anytime soon.

She looked up at the ceiling over her head. How could I let this happen? She scraped at the ground with one paw, frustrated at her situation. She and Clear had been investigating some rumors about a ghost wandering not far from what used to be Kalm when Kura had found them. The ghost rumor was unbelievable, yes, but that is what made them go check it out. Surely there was more to it than a mere rumor? It might have been a trap, or just plain bad luck that led them to bump into Kura.

Glade had attempted to find an escape several times, but her abilities were useless inside the castle and the prison she was in had no holes or openings to be used as a means of escape. She looked around one more time. The same solid bars and dark stone walls met her eyes wherever they went. There has to be a way out… Glade's attention was captured by a shadow near the doorway to the dungeons.

Every muscle on Glade's body tensed as she saw two yellow eyes appear in front of her. Zera? "Cooperate, and I promise this won't be too painful." The shadow elemental walked through the bars. If only Glade could do that. "I'm running a bit late, so let's not waste any time, okay?"

"Why should I?" Glade hissed. Her fur was standing on end. She was afraid- terrified even- but there was no way she would cooperate with her enemy, especially if it meant betraying her friends.

"What were you doing so close to Kalm?" Zera growled lightly.

"What does it matter to you?" Glade

"Answer the question." She warned.

"No." Glade was shaking like a leaf. If only she was not stuck in such an enclosed space. A powerful paw slammed into the side of her face. Zera's claws had been sheathed, thankfully, but Glade knew that it was only a warning strike. Possibly her only warning strike at that.

"Was it because of the ghost rumors?"

"N-no! What ghost rumors?" What did Zera know about that- and why was she interested in it?"

"Don't lie to me." Zera hissed, "Did you see it? Was it a Dragon?"

"A Dragon?" Glade looked up, surprised. What she and Clear had been investigating was not quite any particular creature- just some rumors of a weird misty creature wandering the area.

"Dammit." Zera could see that Glade did not know anything more than she did.

"Unless you mean the one that attacked us?"

"No." Zera turned around. Was that it?

"You're done?"

"Yugito is waiting for me."

"What is she up to?" Glade took a step forward. If Zera was going to kill her, she probably would have done so already.

"You really think I'd tell you that? Anyway, you're in no position be asking me questions here." She paused. "You idiots should have never interfered. This was did not need to happen, but you 'rebels' insist on dying for a doomed cause."

"It's not a doomed cause." Glade argued.

"All of the light elementals are dead." Zera must know about the prophecy. "The last fell at Kurori."

"So?" Glade's fur bristled in both fear and anger. "We won't give up until we've won!"

"And how do you intend on doing that? We've killed everyone who has stood up against Yugito thus far- even the King couldn't defeat her." Glade cringed. She had heard stories of when Alnera was a magnificent city. The Dark Castle used to be known as the Great Castle and was the home to the area's King- King Zephyr. That was all before Yugito showed up, though. Zera glared at her coldly. "Give up." She turned her back on Glade again. "Once Yugito acquires the remaining orbs, it will be over."

"We won't let her get them."

"We already know where a number of them are. The two traitors have one each, there is one that we're on our way to claim- oh, and let's not forget the ones we already have." Zera grinned. "It's only a matter of time before the traitors are dealt with. One of them is headed this way- perhaps I'll bump into her on my way out. Anyway, I better get going now. Yugito won't be too happy if I'm late." Glade watched as the shadow elemental walked away. "I'll be back."

"Now what." Glade muttered. There must be something she could do in order to escape. Examining her surroundings again only revealed the same information as all her previous scans. The same iron bars, the same stone walls. It would take a huge explosion to break through either. Glade looked at the door to the cell she was in. It was sturdy- Glade found that out after many attempts at knocking it down.

With a discouraged sigh she flopped down against the cold and blackened stone. It was silent in the dungeon. No one came for many hours which, compared to the last few days, was a little different. Am I going to die down here? Zera said she would be back, but when was unknown. If anything, the shadow Nekomata was probably going to try forcing more information out of her- and next time, she may not be as 'kind.'

The Nekomata looked at the door again. What harm would another try do? She slowly walked up to the door and made sure no one was nearby. Once she felt it was safe, Glade took several steps back. With a deep breath she surged forward. As she approached the door there was a click, and much to her surprise, the gate flung open and she crashed into the wall on the other side.

"Ow…" She rubbed one paw over her head. With a quick glance around she confirmed that no one had spotted or heard her. Not yet at least. Now that the problem of getting out of that cell was done with, she faced the even bigger issue of finding her way out of the castle. With her thoughts focused on escape, it never occurred to her how or why the door had become unlocked.

Glade went in the direction that Zera had come from in hopes that the exit would be easy to find. The halls were cold and hopelessly dark, but thankfully quite empty for whatever reason. Much to Glade's relief, there were not many forks to worry about either. That would at least make it easier to back track if she found a dead end.

"Hey!" Glade skidded to a halt at the corner of two hallways. Please don't let him see me!

"What is it?" It was the voice of her captor- the dark Dragon called Kura. If he saw her, she was as good as dead.

"Did you hear about Neko?"

"What about that pathetic excuse for a fire elemental?"

"She's with the rebels now. Apparently she's managed to get away from both Gale and Storm." Kura scoffed at this. "The troublesome ones always seem to come from your unit, don't they? First-"

"Shut it, Talon." Kura growled. Sore subject? Glade strained to hear more but the two were walking away without having noticed Glade hiding just around the corner. Despite nearly getting caught, Glade was excited to hear that Neko had swapped sides. Sure, things probably wouldn't work out smoothly at the start, but Glade was relieved to have the doubts she felt at Kalm wiped from her. It was too bad that Cera wasn't alive to hear the news herself. After all, it had been Cera's will that they try getting her sister to join them. On further though, Neko must be one of the two traitors Zera had mentioned before- if that was the case, then she may very well be on her way to the Dark Castle… but why?

Not having much of a choice, Glade left in the direction Kura and Talon had come from. Following them was too risky, even if she had no idea where she was headed. After some time of wandering aimlessly through the castle she caught a glimpse of light- it was dim, but it was definitely from the outside. Despite everything, this day might actually turn out to be a good one!

Quickening her pace, she ran towards what happened to be a window. She reached up on her hind legs to try looking outside, but her legs were too short to allow her to look outside. There was one thing though- she could feel a cold breeze coming in from the window- that was good, very good. It must be an open window! Glade had two choices- jump for it- or look for another way out. If she did jump and there was a Dark Warrior or some other minion, then she was in deep trouble.

After a brief moment of hesitation, Glade decided it was worth the risk. What if she got lost in the castle trying to find a way out? She leapt with all her might. Her forepaws just barely managed to grab onto the ledge. A surge of panic swept through her when voices echoed from down the hall. Hurry! Glade scrambled to pull herself up, urging her arms to climb up. With one last pull she managed to climb up. The window was embedded a few feet into the wall where no one could actually see the opening itself, only the light let in. It opening was small, but big enough for her to just barely squeeze through.

Never before had she felt so glad to breathe in the outdoor air again- even if it was the tainted air that surrounded the Dark Castle and Alnera. There was just one more problem. Glade had been so relieved to be so close to freedom that she was almost too late in realizing that the window she was about to jump out from was not on the first floor of the castle. From the looks of it, she was maybe on the sixth or seventh floor. "Great. Just great." She muttered out loud. So close, yet so far.

"Who's there?"Glade froze. Jump out a window from an impossibly high altitude, or get caught as a result of her own recklessness? Actually, it was a pretty easy decision. She slipped through the opening and jumped. She grabbed the wall with her claws in an attempt to slow her descent and yelped in pain as one of her claws was torn. I'm still falling to fast! She looked down and spotted something green- a very dry green- but it was a wonderful sight! Vines!

Within moments the vines were crawling up the wall reaching out to entangle her in their green limns. Once her fall had been halted, they lowered her gently to the ground. Being a nature elemental, or sometimes called a plant or forest elemental, she had some control over many different types of plants. Unfortunately, nearly all of her abilities relied on the presence of plant-life of some form. She usually carried around a bag of seeds, but Kura had burnt them before taking her, unconscious, to the castle. Had she been conscious, she would have attempted to attack Kura with every plant they passed by on the trip.

Getting out of the castle was thankfully the most difficult part of her escape. All there was left to do was to find one of the labyrinth entrances she knew were around Alnera before it was realized that she had escaped. Fortunately she had gone down in an area that had no barriers preventing her from reaching areas.

She began to make a run for it when the figure of a dragon stepped in her path. Where did he come from? Her heart pounded in her chest. Surely she had not come this far only to fail?

"Come." Glade blinked in surprise. So he was not affiliated with the Dark Castle? The Dragon was a western type with dull light grey scales and black horns and spines. He looked rather thin and held his wings to his side. He looked a lot like Kura under closer inspection with many similarities in subtle details- and the addition of many scars- just thinner and different color. The biggest difference was this strange Dragon's expression- it seemed weary, but gentle and trustworthy. Was this the Dragon Zera was looking for?

"W-who are you?"

"Are you sure about this?" Clear asked Neko. She had opened up a little more since they all managed to get away from Zera alive. Why Zera chose not to kill any of them was still a mystery, but no one was complaining.

"You want to help Glade, don't you?"

"Of course I do, but-"

"She's at the Dark Castle right now. We don't have many options on this." Neko had been thinking about how the nature elemental who had saved her life when they were on opposite sides of the way. At the time, she had not known that Glade had been a supposed friend of hers when they all lived in Marua.

"Wouldn't it be a better idea to get some more help first? I mean, it's not like they're just going to let us waltz in and take her." Their plan so far had been simple- go to Alnera, sneak into the castle, and free Glade. However, Clear was getting increasingly nervous as they got closer to Alnera.

"That would only make things more difficult. Any more than just the three of us and we're almost guaranteed to be noticed. Our best shot is to go in and out unnoticed. If we were to get in a fight backup would be quick to come." Thankfully, getting to and from where Glade was being kept would likely be a pretty straightforward task. The halls in the part of the castle where Neko figured Glade was being kept were usually pretty quiet- even in the busiest of times. "Anyway, we've already crossed the boundary. I doubt it would be easy to get help this close to Alnera."

Clear sighed. She was obviously worried about multiple things. "Do you think she's alright?"

"Zera said she was unharmed."

"Do you really believe that? She could be lying."

Neko did not say anything, but odd as it seemed, she did believe the shadow elemental. Zera may be one of the most dangerous of their enemies, but Neko believed just about everything that was said the other day. Zera had no reason to lie- except maybe to lay a trap for them. That was a possibility, but something about this all just felt wrong.

"There it is!" Rayne yelped. He was just a few paces ahead of Neko and Clear. "I see the castle!" Sure enough the home of Yugito could be seen in the distance. The silhouette of the massive structure shadowed over Alnera.

"I don't like this." Clear whispered as if she thought they might be heard by a nearby enemy. "I'm getting a bad vibe from that place."

"To be honest, so am I." Neko admitted. She had never felt so uneasy about going to the castle before. Maybe it was because she knew it was enemy territory now and that going there could lead to her death? "Anyway- just keep close together. Whatever happens-"

"Clear!" Everyone looked up and saw a familiar eagle heading their way.

"Riza?" How in the world did she find them? There was no way she could have known that they would be on the south side of the boundary- let alone heading directly to Alnera. The eagle, having been way above the ground came down in a steep dive.

"What in the world are you three thinking?" With no objects around to perch on, Riza landed on the grass in front on Clear.

"Glade is in there. I do believe I was told to bring her back." Riza glared at Neko for a moment before turning to face Clear.

"Don't worry about Glade- she's safe."

"Wait, what?" Clear exclaimed.

"She managed to escape." Riza seemed relieved, and perhaps a little surprised herself. "Someone from Alnera had caught word of her capture and gave her a hand getting away from the city."

Clear smiled. "That's great!" Great for Glade- not for whoever helped her should he or she get discovered by Yugito or one of the Dark Warriors. "Where is she now?"

"She should be at the new meeting point by now."

"New meeting point?" Clear tilted her head.

"Due to some unexpected circumstances, Saia has decided we should meet in Greyvine. I was sent to give you three a heads up." The name sounded familiar to Neko.

"How did you know we were headed this way?"

"Oh, right. Glade heard that you three might be heading this way, so I've been scanning the area for you. I was starting to think I may have missed you."

"Wait- " Neko realized where she had heard of Greyvine. "Isn't Greyvine south of the boundary?" To be meeting on the south side of the border was not exactly the safest place for anyone not affiliated with Yugito. "What exactly did we miss?"

"We've located another orb, well- Yugito has, actually. We're hoping to beat them to it. Greyvine is as close to the spot where we can safely meet since watch over that area has been pretty lax lately. With any luck we won't run into trouble there."

"Sounds like fun." Neko muttered. It was just one bit of chaos after another these days.

"If we get moving now, we should be able to arrive before Ifrin leads the search."

"Oh dear." Clear said when she Riza mentioned Ifrin. "I guess we better hurry then." Riza had already taken off to the air. "She won't be happy if Ifrin leaves before we get there."

"Ifrin?" Rayne tilted his head as Riza pretty much left them behind. Hopefully Clear knew the way to Greyvine. There was no way they would be able to keep up on foot.

"I guess you can say they don't get along too terribly well." She grinned. "It's usually best to stay out of their way." Clear sighed. "But… I'm getting the feeling she won't wait for us."

Neko looked up the sky. All they had to do was follow Riza, right? "I've got an idea- if this works, I don't think we'll lose sight of her."

"I think I'm going to be sick." Clear muttered as they arrived in Greyvine only minutes behind Riza.

"That was fun! We should do that again!" Rayne wagged his tail energetically.

"I'd rather not. At least for a while." Neko had used the orb to summon the Phoenix to give them a ride. It was probably a waste of the orb's power, but they managed to get to their destination in record time. If anything, the entity seemed to be pretty relaxed while flying. However, using the orb's power had drained Neko's energy leaving her tired and sleepy.

"Saia won't be pleased to hear about this." Clear scolded. "The orbs are meant to be used in emergencies, not as a mean of transportation."

"Saia doesn't need to hear about this. Isn't that right, Rayne?"

"Yup!" He barked.

"Anyway, if it's another orb we're after, wouldn't that count as an emergency?"

Clear sighed. "True enough. Anyway, I'm going to look for Glade. You should probably find Saia and tell him what happened."

"Wait-" Clear did not hear her and left. "Great." Neko muttered. "This'll be fun."

Rayne looked up at Neko and tilted his head to one side. "What's wrong?"

"Don't worry. It's nothing." Neko yawned. The last several days had been very tiresome. Rayne was smart to have slept through the day they read that ancient book. The Wolf never seemed to tire out. "Anyway, I guess we should explore and look for Saia or someone we know." That won't try to kill us.

"This is the first time I've been in a town before!" Rayne looked around, his eyes wide with wonder and excitement. That's right! Rayne had rarely left the castle while he was there. Hail never took him along anywhere, more for the pup's safety than anything.

"Well, let's go." Greyvine was not huge, but it was easily one of the larger towns Neko had seen. From the looks of things, it was primarily made up of civilians. No guards or Dark Warriors in sight- or any rebels that Neko could recognize. The day might have actually been pleasant except for the fact that Neko knew she was being watched. She had felt it from the moment they arrived.

Rayne's excitement exploded when they reached a small and crowded market. "What's that over there?" His focus was locked onto something farther down the road.

"How about you look around yourself?" Neko suggested. "I've got something to take care of." It would be difficult for anyone to mistrust the young Wolf. The worst that could happen was him annoying the sanity out of some poor unsuspecting target. Anyway, Rayne deserved a little freedom. For most of his life he had been under near-constant supervision by Hail, the other Dark Warriors, and now Neko. Greyvine seemed pretty safe, so there should not be much to worry about.

"Really?" His blue-eyes lit up.

"As long as you behave and don't give anyone trouble- and don't go to any areas that are quiet, okay?"

"Alright!" He bounced away into the market. Neko watched him for a while until his fluffy shape got lost in the crowd. Riza must be right about the lack of surveillance in Greyvine. There was no way this big of a crowd would be out if there were Dark Warriors out and about.

I guess I should have given him a time and place to meet. The fire elemental thought as she walked away from the market. She shrugged. Rayne had a knack for tracking down Neko without fail. The fire elemental continued until there was no one else in sight then sat down to wait.

"What are you doing here?" A voice hissed from behind her. Whoever it was knew her and was certainly not happy.

Neko remained still, not turning around. "Before you try killing me, can you listen for just a few moments?" She sighed. Of course she would run into someone with a grudge against her here.

"Why should I?" someone slammed into her, knocking her to the ground and pinning her down so that she was face to face with her attacker. She forced herself to go limp and not fight back. Her attacker was someone she recognized- a Nekomata she had assumed dead after the events at Thunara. "You're the Dark Warrior who attacked Thunara. Don't think I've forgotten what you did."

"I was a Dark Warrior." Neko growled lightly. "Not anymore." She fought back the urge to burn this Nekomata's paws. He was right though- she was responsible for what happened in Thunara. At least he had a good reason to want her dead.

"Liar." Neko stared him in the eye. She could tell that he would not be able to kill her even if he wanted to. That was the problem with many rebels- they were too soft to finish off their opponents before they could recover and strike again.

"Just let me explain. Please?"

"No-"

"Ray!"

"Great. Just who I wanted to see." Neko muttered as the sound of heavier paw steps approached. She had no doubt in her mind that is was Scart. Now she had two people who wanted her dead alone with her.

"Let her go."

"What? Are you crazy? She's-"

"I know who she is. Just do it." Scart snapped. Ray stepped back after a moment of hesitation.

Neko got back to her paws and shook the dust out of her fur. "Thanks."

"What is going on?" Ray glared at the Griffon. Someone really needed to get word out that Neko was no longer their enemy.

"Had she come to fight, you would have never been able to pin her down like that." Scart kept an eye on her. "Anyway, she wasn't lying about not being a Dark Warrior anymore. She's on our side now. If you've got any complaints, take them to Saia."

Ray had an expression of shock and confusion. "He's okay with this?"

"Well, if you must know- it was Cera's idea to begin with." Ray seemed to relax a little at the mention of Cera. "Long story short, Neko is Cera's sister. I'll explain more later, but we've got to go- Saia is expecting us soon." Ray cast a doubtful glace at Neko. "Trust me, I don't like this anymore than you do." Scart muttered.