The school looked better as it started to vanish from sight as he fled. He wondered how he managed to escape, evading the hounds that were hired to sniff out anyone trying to leave Hogwarts without permission. If he tried to use apparate, it would be less discreet, and it would be a matter of time before the magic used was detected and he would be detained. After another mile or two, he landed, knowing that traveling on foot would be a lot less conspicuous and a lot easier to hide in the bushes and trees if spotted. As his feet touched the earth, Fierro's stomach eased some. He recognized this area quite well, the roads leading to Alexandra’s old house, and if he was correct, it would be the location of Tutaminis not far from there.
A faint howl could be heard in the distance.
“Are you kidding me?” He uttered. In one quick movement, he turned in towards the forest, taking his chances in the shadows of the trees than with these lackies. It was likely they would attempt to stun or shoot him down on sight, asking questions later when he wouldn’t be able to do anything but submit. Fierro stumbled into the brush, feeling the crunch of twigs and dirt beneath his boots. It was far different than sneaking around the Halls of Hogwarts, in danger of being caught by the patrols. Fierro could have been sent to Azkaban again, this time as a prisoner. He could have been put through a gauntlet of torture like Kara, or he could have fought his way out. The latter would have been ideal but not realistic.
“Hello? HELLO?” A man’s voice came rushing up towards him, frightening him and he jumped back.
Fierro braced himself against a tree, taking cover, in case they followed him. He peeked around the trunk ahead of him and a quick glance over his shoulder before he breathed out. The voice came from the brush in the distance. Or maybe that was a figment of his imagination? Crumpling to the dirt floor, Fierro felt his legs give way. He propped himself up against the thick tree trunk, stretching his legs for a moment. They would be searching for him soon, and he needed to make camp somewhere else out of range.
His neck turned quickly to face the direction of the distress call.
"This way.” The voice came from someone else, Not from Fierro nor the one pleading for help. They were trailing not too far behind him. It was assumed these thugs had been hired by Fernsby and Co. to turn away any of the visitors or capture any of the escapees from the school. Careful to cover his steps, Fierro maneuvered through the forest rushing deeper into the darkness. It was dusk now, and the looming just beyond the stretch of amber rays peering through the clouds overhead made it easier to slip from cover to cover. He noticed a small mound of rocks beneath some twigs and brush, but it was in sight, between the two large trees kind enough to offer their backsides as a hiding spot.
“Find anything?” “Nope.” “Piece of cloth out here, I think…”
Fierro shuddered, a shiver rolling off of his shoulders and down his arms to his hands and fingertips. Fierro brought a trembling hand to his elbow as he crossed his arms over his chest and felt his skin beneath the open tear of the thick fabric. Along the way, a branch or stone must have betrayed him, slicing open the threads and leaving a piece of evidence in his wake.
“Alright it's clear out here. Let's trace back.” One of his stalkers said, and their footsteps faded far away.
Fierro debated with himself, over and over, trying to assess the situation, trying to understand all possible outcomes. He hadn't considered his options or consequence in the past, which he found to be one of his biggest regrets. The man calling for help could be luring him into a trap, one of Williams' elaborate setups to get him imprisoned, or worse, sent to Puxley, or wherever the hell else he was hiding. Not to mention, a killer, the actual killer or kidnapper responsible for Lenor and the girl's disappearance and more than likely their deaths could be behind this. Thinking of Lenor, he shuddered to think of any lasting trickle of hallucinogenic episodes that he may be having due to whatever concoction was sitting in the Professor's office. Taking a deep breath, Fierro stepped closer to the mound of rocks he realized was an old water well that was covered up. He carefully brushed off the dirt, and leaves, revealing a grating that led down into what looked like a very long fall. He gulped. “H-Hello?” He called out, careful to send his voice down into the well and not alert the men who just left after searching for him, albeit not too well.
“Please, we need your help!”
Fierro took a step back as the cry hurdled up through the stone shaft. He felt a twist of moral deliberation inside the pit of his stomach, dancing between the action of seeking out the voice or simply walking away. He heard the man call out at least two more times, and then a smaller, feminine plea that followed.
He froze. There was a girl, a fragile helpless girl with the stranger in the distance. “Merlin, Damn it all.”
To be morally challenged, once again...
“Hey! Can you help us please?!”
“SHHHH!” Fierro called back finally, hushing them to silence before their echoing cries called back the hired guns.
“Oh thank Merlin...” The man whispered. “Please, we've been down here for...for a very long time and we need to get out of here.”
The breeze blew a whiff of their dungeon's aroma to the top, and Fierro's neck jut back, cringing as he did. This was proof that they had been down there for so long, suffering in their own tears, pain, waste. He felt a chill.
“Alright.” Fierro nodded. “I'm going to throw down a line. Be ready.”
After a quick glance over his shoulder, Fierro started to search the area for anything to throw down into the well for them to grab onto. No vines in sight, no rope, only a dark hose attached to the faucet on the corner of the nearby cottage. There were no lights on at this home, not even the lights on the outside, as the sun had already fallen below the horizon. The hose would have to do, he told himself. Fierro started to unwind it from its spool and unraveled enough slack to run it to the very bottom, or so he hoped. “Climb up.”
And quickly, he wanted to say, but for the sake of easing the panic under pressure, Fierro kept his mouth shut and once he felt a tug on the hose he started to pull. It was a lot lighter than he'd expected, possibly a child or the woman he'd been talking to was loaded on first. He pulled and pulled and when a pale white hand came into view with knuckles as white as the freshest snow, he gave one last yank on the hose and heaved the woman out of the well and into his arms. She was a fragile young thing, shivering and wet. By the looks of it, the narrow space had not done well for their bones either, which could only mean they had been here longer than just a few days. Fierro brushed the damp curl of hair from her temple behind her ear and had his coat off and around her as soon as he was able to regain his composure. She was so young, looked like she was younger than his own daughter. The pretty little thing looked as if she hadn't eaten in days.
The hose moved and shifted, and Fierro gently set the girl onto the grass, as she was curled up in his jacket. He wanted to be on his feet in case this male prisoner was going to attack him. It was a terrible thought to have, after witnessing the condition of the frail girl, but he couldn't be too careful. Not in these woods. It was only a few moments of listening to the panting and grunting until he saw the man struggling to make his way over the stone and Fierro instinctively started to help the man up and over the mound of stones, and onto the soil. The man looked like he maintained his frame, though still looked sickly. It was only left to the imagination what sort of horror would greet Fierro if he was adventurous or foolish enough to make a trip down below, but he decided it would not be in his best interest to leave these two alone. He dusted off his hands by slapping them together, wiping the excess dirt off onto his already soiled pants and he started to pull the hose from the well. Coiling it perfectly and tying it around itself, Fierro made sure to cover his tracks just before hoisting the man's shoulder over his own. He picked up the girl, the light weight over his arms, and led them both to the trees just a few feet away, as it would provide a safer area to speak, without worrying too much about their captor, should he or she make their return.
The man coughed and fell to his knees, kissing the dirt on purpose it seemed. It was apparent he was overwhelmed by the relief of freedom, that he was overjoyed to be touching something other than stone slab or cobblestone.
Fierro narrowed his eyes and watched as the man pushed himself up off of the ground with a struggle, and he rushed over to his side to help him up. It was the strangest feeling of warm familiarity that overcame him, however. His hair must have grown out some since he'd seen him last, but surely that pallid complexion, blue eyes were still the same.
Well I’ll be damned…
It was the man of the hour; the man he'd been investigating all along, the professor he'd been searching for and rifling through his belongings, was now kneeling before him after narrowly escaping his rather excruciatingly painful and slow death. The men shared a moment where time froze and no words were necessary to further their surprise and disbelief to see each other once again. Years had long passed since Fierro set eyes upon Jaleth Lenor, with his physical being actually in his presence. Lenor dated his daughter through school, and it was only through communication with the “eyes inside” that he was able to see Kara progress and grow, developing many friendships including the one with his sister Elana.
Jaleth became another shade of white and he looked like he'd seen a ghost, but Fierro figured it was not the first time tonight his face frightened someone. “Minister Da—”
“Don’t…” Fierro held his hand up, closing his eyes as if that title shut him down completely. There was going to be a long period of time before he would be able to shift himself away from that wretched persona. “Don’t call me that. Please.”
Lenor looked confused, just as anyone would be approaching the realm's most wanted criminal. He did nod, in compliance with Fierro's request. The professor cleared his throat. “What are you going to do to us, are you—”
“Don't talk, just listen.” Placing his hand on the boy's shoulder, Fierro dipped his head low and looked him square in the face. It was unfortunate, how much fear he saw in his eyes. It made him feel terrible to know that the mere look of him instilled so much terror in a person. First Berenice, now Jaleth. “My name is Fierro Darque. The man you knew, the horrible one who worked with Williams, is no longer. I need you to know that I am not here to harm you. Do you understand?”
Jaleth's breathing slowed down from panicked to worried to a staggered calm as he slowly nodded. The amount of disbelief in his eyes was greater now than when the interaction began, yet he felt compelled to heed the old man’s words. Compelled in natural sense, not a magical one.
“I just left Hogwarts, oddly enough, searching for you."
"For me? Why?"
Fierro was going to snap at him for breaking his silence but given the circumstance, he figured it would be fair to at least answer that one question. "I for one, have known you were alive this whole time. I needed to prove it somehow, and went to the school for some answers." What sort of answers, he left unsaid. Opening the can of worms that was his daughter's legal status and her husband's incarceration were far too much to explain for now, so he needed to keep it simple. "I needed evidence that could help me save my daughter.”
“Kara?” Jaleth's eyes lit up slightly, a tinge of longing and regret behind them when he said her name. “She's alive. Your daughter is Kara, isn't it?”
“Yes...” Fierro arched a brow, curious to know how he put that all together. He knew a great deal about the young man and that he dated Kara, but he never met him at the time. “As far as I know, she is still alive.”
"Good." Jaleth gave a shallow nod, his head continuing to bob slowly as he stared somewhere beyond Fierro. He was trying to process it all now, but Fierro couldn't blame him for taking his time to understand. Time without contact with other people would drive anyone mad, and it was very clear they were down there for a great while.
“Do you remember the night you were taken? Did you ever get a good look of their face or faces…the person who brought you two here?”
There was maybe a split second before Jaleth started to shake his head. His lip started to tremble and his hands came together in a nervous fit; he was still so torn up by their capture. “No.”
“Do you remember what you were doing when it happened?”
Jaleth shook his head.
“I'm sorry, alright? I'm sorry...” Jaleth was furious; shaky, angry, frustrated and concerned all at once. "This whole experience has just been..."
They both looked in the direction of the girl, who was sleeping soundly tucked into the warmth of Fierro's suede jacket. Both he and the professor breathed out in quiet relief as they did not disturb her any further. It wasn't his intention to question him until he broke, that may have been his training, but this wasn't his objective here. All he wanted to do was get answers for his family and also to get these two to some safety.
“The girl?” Fierro tipped his head in the direction of the sleeping woman.
“Her name is Diana Blaine.”
“Blaine?” Fierro repeated.
Jaleth nodded. “Yes, of that family, if the name strikes you as familiar.”
Blaine…Fierro repeated. He knew the name quite well. The only response he gave beyond that was a soft grunt. “Yes, big family…”
Adonis, the patriarch, was hard to miss. He worked in the same field and the two shared a bottle from time to time, at gatherings, though Fierro never knew which side he was on. In this realm, it was a hard game to play when you question the allegiance of those around you. Adonis’ wife was even more fierce than Alexandra, he dared to admit. The eight children were all very different though affluent nonetheless, and he was sure there was a hunt in the city for this girl, and perhaps a reward.
There was a roar in the distance. It was unlike anything they'd heard before, as they were only told of the shrill tri-tone of their howl in their bestiary studies at the school. There was a compromise of two deep breaths between them as they knew that whatever lie ahead would be dangerous.
“They’ll be here soon.”
That noise was all that was necessary to speed up their re-introductions. It was the quickest they were able to get onto the same page, as they realized they needed to get off of the main road. The trio moved out of the way, getting huddled out of sight behind the bushes.
Lowering his voice into a whisper, Fierro looked at the boy and instructed him: “Take the road to the South. Stay off of the main road, out of sight but follow the trail until the crossroads and turn east. There should be a safehouse a few miles up. There is medical help there, and if Merlin can line up some stars for us here I hope Kara is there to help you. Tell them I sent you, and tell Kara I will find her soon."
The look on Jaleth’s face was hard to avoid or misinterpret. They had no time to discuss the integrity or quality of his relationship with his daughter. It was entirely public knowledge that Jaleth ran off with a woman who was working for the Death Eaters, but Fierro minded his tongue. What was in the past was far out of reach now, and the biggest concern he had was to get the poor girl out of the danger that was coming closer. The professor's head was swimming with questions but their urgent circumstance rendered a simple nod.
“Wait, sir—what about you?”
Fierro sighed, regretting the words as he spoke: “You both need medical attention and food. I'll provide a distraction. You know how this goes, right? Do not wait for me. I'll stay here, it's probably the only way to make sure you get away safely.”
They couldn’t argue. Jaleth didn’t seem to have the energy to insist he stay and try to help. Fierro would have told him he would be no use to him anyway, as he looked ill and would only become a liability if he stuck around. They both knew they had much to say to one another but this was not the place for idle banter.
Scooping the girl into his arms, Jaleth quietly agreed to make his escape to safety as Fierro advised. Their peace was interrupted by a cry so loud, it startled all parties. Diana stirred in Jaleth’s arms, both fearful of the outcome of their new encounter.
The roar felt so intense it rumbled through his body, making Fierro’s sore muscles tremble and his heart leap almost out of his chest. Fierro braced himself against the damp stump of an old fallen tree as he closed his eyes, cringing at the thought of turning to face the beasts. He peeked out and back over his shoulder to see the white of Diana’s nightgown still visible in his line of sight.
“GO!” Fierro shouted.
He heard the crunching of twigs beneath the professor’s fleeting steps, treading along the southbound path as he was instructed. Fierro wasn’t much of a praying man, but he took a moment to wish them safe passage to find the Order. He shifted his stance, pivoting to face the horrors that awaited him.