Into the Woods (4)

In a blur, Olly was whisked away, down narrow alleyways, over slippery cobalt stone pavements. Tiny windows with yellow glows whooshed past them, with occasional tea shops and bakeries shutting shop for the day around one corner or the other. Grams’ hand never left hers in all that time, and behind them, Grandda was forever checking their backs, making sure no one had caught sight of them. In a rush, they were, a rush to reach wherever they were headed.

‘Grams? Where are we?’ Olly managed, trying to catch any detail in the dim alley, or to spy a figure in the houses, but it seemed all the walls of the houses that faced the alley were their backs. Barely any windows here, and the ones that were there seemed to belong to a storeroom, maybe.

A wooden window flew open in front of them, and out came a slush of liquid. It hit the wall opposite and splattered right as they reached it. Some of it hit Olly’s face and she tasted sourness. ‘Ew, ew! Grams? Is that what I think it is?’

‘Best not to dwell on it dear!’ Grams hopped gingerly over the glistening puddle of what was no doubt urine. The stench of it wafted up at Olly as she got pulled along and she almost gagged.

Grams stopped briefly as Grandda jumped over the puddle. That’s when Olly saw the person, shocked at the luck of the wanderers. ‘Me apologies, kind folks!’

‘Just, look out before you empty your buckets next time.’ Grandda slapped the window back into the pane.

‘Master Phoenix?’ the person swung the window back open and stared at them, catching glimpses of all three.

Grandda immediately turned to Olly and swung her around so that the stranger couldn’t see her face. ‘You’re obviously mistaken, madam. Goodnight.’

It was Grandda who took the lead this time, taking Olly by the shoulder and starting out with her while telling Grams, ‘Take care of that, will you?’

Grams nodded and held back, and when Olly tried to see what he meant, his grip got a lot stronger than she thought him possible. ‘Best we keep walking, dear. Nights here are too long and too dangerous.’

Olly stole a glance back just in time to see Grams give the woman something, smile and leave. ‘And where are we, Da?’

‘Our home,’ he paused, a glisten of tear briefly dazzled his eyes, ‘or at least, it was, once upon a time.’ He pulled her along again as Grams joined them. ‘Come, we must keep moving.’

‘And where are we going?’

‘A safe house dear.’

Olly turned to see Grams. ‘What do you mean a safe house? A safe house like the ones on tv, where they take witness into protection? That kind of safe house?’

Grandda managed a small laugh, ‘Let’s go with that, shall we?’

‘Are we in danger?’ Panic boiled up in Olly. ‘And why did she call you Master Phoenix?’

‘Not just us, they are all in danger,’ Grandad muttered, suddenly taking a left turn into a shorter alleyway, which ended. Here, there were no windows and no lights. ‘Any more of your questions will have to wait, Olly. It’s not safe to talk about that openly.’

Olly went to ask another question but he ignored her and turned to Grams. ‘I think you better call Bounty here. We won’t be alone much longer.’

Grams looked unsure. ‘Is it a good idea, Roger? We could easily make it on foot. I’d rather not risk it.’

‘We’ve been made, Bea.’

Grams narrowed her eyes. ‘How? I gave her the tea. She’ll soon forget seeing us at all.’

‘It’s not her. When we left, I could here another.’

‘Another? You sure, Roger?’

‘Positive. Five windows up, two houses down. Ever since this one started talking.’

‘Hey!’ Olly attempted a defense but they seemed to ignore her.

‘We need you to be quiet, Olly!’ Grams threw her a look. ‘Walls have ears.’

‘Make the call, Bea.’

Grams nodded and from her pocket pulled an antique pocket watch and opened it. Olly was shocked to see it was some sort of a mobile phone of some sort, except this one had many button and most Olly didn’t recognize. ‘That is,’ Olly began but the look she got shut her up. Grams stepped away and placed a call.

That’s when Grandda leaned over and grinned wide. ‘One of my best inventions really. Human technology to begin with, but a few modifications here and there, and it’s a wonderful communicator for us. No more sending smoke signals and pigeons like the old days. But of course it’s a tech we can only share with few trusted.’

‘You made a mobile phone?’ Olly was dubious.

‘It’s more than a phone. I call it The Communicator.’

‘You gotta come up with something better than that, Da.’

Grams rejoined that in that moment, and a sense of dread fell over Olly. ‘He says he can’t make it, not tonight. He is being watched.’

‘Then we go with plan B.’

‘Roger, we can’t,’ she passed The Communicator to Olly’s grandfather. ‘Have a listen.’

He put the phone to his ear and Olly leaned in too. The message was clear. They will have to get to wherever they wanted tonight, and all by themselves, and they cannot use any ‘aid’ to do so since sensors all over the city were now rigged to detect unapproved usage by the residing government, punishable by death. Phoenix out.

A chill went up Olly’s spine as the message ended. ‘What kind of aid are they talking about?’ She asked barely in a whisper.

The two elders exchanged looks of grave concern before turning to Olly. ‘Magic.’

‘Magic?’

The sky was getting lighter as they stood there in the dead end.

‘Wasn’t there a safe house around here somewhere back in the days before the inquisition?’ Grandda asked. ‘Somewhere in the slums?’

‘That’s only 4 blocks from here,’ Grams nodded. ‘Hopefully it’s still there.’

Grandda grabbed Olly’s hand, ready to make a move. ‘We better try it before the sun comes up. We can’t be outside when it does. Lead the way, Bea.’

And once again, in a whiff, Olly was being whisked down a maze of alleyways, headed for a safe house they weren’t sure still existed.

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