Do I have to avoid hurting him? Drepal asked Ann.
As much as possible, yes. Remember, he could be Ruzi’s dad so that makes him our dad. Thailyn said not to hurt family if we can help it.
Fine, Drepal sighed and settled into the portion of Ann’s mind that she called home.
They followed Jo to the door of the home. They were going to talk to Feena about her dad and see about helping her mother.
Sapphire met them at the door. “She’s a little nervous. Maybe only Jo and Ann should talk to her to start.”
Morina nodded. “Of course. Chapado’s here as part of her study on orphans to which she’s added foster kids. I’m supervising her.” They weren’t supposed to be getting involved with human affairs but neither was letting the man get away with this.
Morina reasoned that if they were caught, they’d been given orders to keep an eye out for him so they could say they were doing that.
Ann and Jo went to the sitting room while Morina, Chapado, and Remtani went to the kitchen. As they entered, Thailyn opened the door to his office and peeked out. Ann caught a glimpse of Cesni and Pisha sitting with him before he closed it again.
“Hello, Feena. How did you sleep last night?” Jo asked.
“Okay, I guess.” Feena shrugged. She glanced nervously at Ann.
“This is my friend, Ann,” Jo told her.
“She’s a princess,” Feena whispered, leaning close to Jo.
Jo nodded. “She’s going to help.”
“Because Ruzi’s my brother and if you have the same dad, you’d be his sister and that would make you my sister too,” Ann explained. “And I was a runaway once too. I know what it’s like.”
“Feena, have you decided if you want to stay here?” Jo asked.
“What if my dad comes looking for me? I don’t want anyone to be hurt.”
“The parents here will protect you. Dae and Ti can be quite fierce if anyone tries to hurt a child. Pt’this is a soldier for the dragon council. And Sapphire was taught to fight by an honor guard and someone rumored to be an elven assassin.”
“And Jo’s here most days,” Ann added. “At a home she used to work at, she was known for dislocating shoulders.”
“I only did it twice,” Jo insisted. “The point is, you’re protected here.”
“But if you help us, we want to arrest him,” Ann told her. “Then he won’t be able to hurt anyone.”
“What about my mom? You won’t hurt her?”
Ann shook her head. “We don’t want to hurt anyone.”
“Will you help us?” Jo asked.
Feena nodded tentatively. She told them where the house was and everything she could think of about it that might help.
The house was in one of the poorer neighborhoods. It wasn’t the worst, near the wall. There were plenty of abandoned houses where they could watch and do reconnaissance. Ann cast a spell to hide them from the neighbors as they entered.
“Ann, is your heat vision strong enough to see how many people are in there?” Remtani asked.
Ann shook her head. “Maybe on a cold day, if there was no heat.”
“What about that variation of the scrying spell?” Morina asked. “The one where you use multiple images.”
Ann nodded. “A panoramic? If there are enough reflective surfaces.” She cast the spell.
“One day, you’re going to have to teach me that spell,” Morina insisted.
Ann nodded and peered at the myriad of images. There were a few blank spots where there were no reflections but for the most part, it was complete.
“That must be Feena’s mom.” Remtani pointed to the only person in the room. She paced and wrung her hands.
“Where is he?” Chapado asked.
“He must have gone out,” Ann guessed.
“Maybe he’s looking for Feena,” Remtani suggested.
“Will Feena be safe at the home?” Chapado asked. “Pt’this and Ti are gone.”
“Sapphire, Dae, and Thailyn are there,” Ann pointed out.
“With Thailyn’s heart, he may be more of a liability,” Morina told her.
“He can call for help while Sapphire and Dae are protecting the kids,” Ann reasoned.
“How long can you hold this?” Remtani asked, indicating the spell.
“Not long. I’ll hold it for a bit, but I don’t want to get too drained.”
Her brother nodded. “We’ll watch while we can.”
Ann held the spell as long as she dared. She wanted to be able to cast if there was a confrontation. But there was no sign of Feena’s father. At one point Thailyn contacted them to say he was needed at the palace. Andy seemed agitated but Ann knew he was with Ti. Ti would contact her if it was something she needed to know.
It was getting late and no one had shown up.
Remtani sighed. “Maybe I shouldn’t have delayed.”
Chapado shook her head. “Feena’s too mistrustful. You’re lucky she helped you today.”
“But…” He started and then stopped. “I’ll assign soldiers to watch the place. If he comes back, we’ll get him. And we have a location. Rejenn’s contacts can focus on the area.”
“What about the mother?” Morina asked. “It would be safer if she wasn’t in the house.”
“Drepal says it looks like the mother hasn’t left the house in a while,” Ann relayed. ‘If he notices she’s not there, he might disappear.”
“We can’t leave her in harm’s way,” Remtani insisted.
“She thinks we should use a soldier as a decoy.”
“I can go get her while you get a stand-in,” Ann suggested. “A tiny thing like me is less threatening.”
Remtani nodded. “Go.”
Ann hurried to the house and knocked. The woman answered.
“Are you Imian?” Ann asked. “I’m supposed to take you to Feena.”
“Feena? She has to come home.” The woman wrung her hands.
“Come, I’ll take you to her and we can tell her,” Ann offered.
Imian shook her head. “Torom won’t like it if I leave.”
“We can get her and surprise him,” Ann suggested. She felt a little dismayed hearing the name, but this may be another lie. He’d told Pisha his name was Klilom and Cesni it was Vishom. “When’s he due back?”
“He didn’t say.”
“How long has he been gone?”
“I don’t know, three or four days.”
“Did he go to find Feena?”
“I don’t know. I hope not. He’s going to kill her. She shouldn’t have run away. She needs to come home. He wouldn’t hit her if she’d behave.”
“How about we go talk to her and convince her to do what’s right?”
“But he told me to stay here,” Imian protested.
“He wants Feena home,” Drepal argued, doing her best to imitate Ann. “He blames you for her leaving, doesn’t he?”
“He punishes you for it, doesn’t he? Maybe he won’t punish you if she’s home. Maybe he’ll treat you well like he used to,” Drepal suggested. Imian was starting to get to her. Ann wondered how she knew what to say.
Drepal chuckled in her head. I used to be like Torom, remember?
“Maybe I could get her,” Imian reasoned. “The longer she stays away, the angrier he gets. He’s going to kill her.
Ann hoped she didn’t mean literally.
She’s confused, Drepal explained. He’s escalated the beatings and she wants it to stop.
Why doesn’t she leave or report him? Ann asked.
Talk to Jo later. This isn’t the time.
“Come, let’s go see Feena,” Drepal said.
Imian hesitated, looking past her as if making sure it was safe.
“Come,” Drepal repeated and reached out her hand.
Cautiously Imian took it. The moment Imian touched her, she transported to the home.
The woman frowned. “What did you…?”
“Mom?” Feena interrupted, throwing her arms around the woman.
“Feena?” Imian hugged her daughter. “What are you doing here? We need to get you home.”
Feena pulled away. “No. I’m not going back.”
Imian frowned. “Feena, your father is very upset that you left. You need to come home.”
“I am not going home until that man is in prison. He’s not going to hurt me anymore.”
“He won’t hurt you. You just need to learn to behave,” Imian insisted.
“I do behave.”
“It won’t matter what she does,” Cesni told the woman.
“He’ll find a reason to hurt her,” Pisha added. “He’s hurt you for her actions, hasn’t he?”
“Has he ever not had a reason? Has he ever said you’ve done well?” Pisha pressed. “When was the last time you’ve been free of pain? Before one mark has healed, you have two more. How many has he given you? He gave me forty-seven. Cesni was lucky. She got away with only thirty-two. But her parents were able to help her. Mine didn’t and Feena said yours weren’t around.”
Imian frowned. “Why would he hit you?”
“We were lovers.”
“But you’re an elf. There are laws about that.”
“Laws? Do you think he cares about laws? There are laws about hitting people too. Look.” She pulled up her sleeve and showed Imian the marks. Imian glanced at Cesni who showed her the last of her marks.
“But he loves me,” Imian insisted.
“Loves you?” Pisha snorted. “He told me the same thing. Then he hurt me and within a year, he had another woman pregnant.”
Imian frowned. “Another woman?”
“You. Your daughter is only a year younger than my son.”
Remtani and the immortals walked in. “You could have warned us you were planning on transporting her away,” he said to Ann.
“Sorry. It was a last-minute decision. My sister felt it would be best if no one saw us leave or knew where we went.” She glanced at Imian, indicating she didn’t know where they were either.
Imian eyed Remtani nervously. He wasn’t in his uniform, but with as tall as he was, he could be intimidating.
“I’m Remtani,” he introduced himself. “We’re here to help you.”
“You’re the prince,” Imian said.
Remtani nodded. “I am and like I said, we’re trying to help you.”
“You can help me by bringing my daughter home. She’s a runaway.”
“I’m afraid I can’t in good conscience do that and put her back into a dangerous situation.”
“Rem?” Ann spoke up. “I’m going up to check on the kids.”
Ann hurried through the kitchen and up the back stairs. She stopped at the top of the steps and let out a sigh.
Jo followed her up. “Are you okay?”
Ann shook her head. “She’s as bad as Sapphire’s mom.”
Jo frowned. “Come, let’s not talk in the hall.” She led Ann to Lamdi’s room, knowing the girl wouldn’t mind. “Am I talking to Ann or Drepal?”
“Why do you think she’s as bad?”
“Before we executed Sapphire’s mom, Sapphire and Ann talked to her. She thought nothing about what they had done and didn’t see anything wrong with it. Imian wants to take Feena back to get beat again.”
“I know you’re aware of what people can be like. But it’s harder for you to grasp because of your dragon half. You want to protect children. Imian is scared and wants the pain to stop. She doesn’t understand that if she stays, it won’t get better. It’s going to take a lot of work to help her.”
Ann nodded. “What about Sapphire’s mom?”
“We’ve seen how Yarbs treat people. They see nothing wrong with doing things we’d consider abominations.”
There was a knock on the door. “Ann?” Dae called. “Andy would like you back at the palace.”
“Go,” Jo told her. “We can talk more later.”
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