Crouched low, Gray listened. Had anyone heard the guard's fall?
Off to the left, surprisingly near, a woman shouted in accented English. "Stop kicking the bars! Or we'll drop you now!"
Gray recognized the voice. Ischke. Isaak's twin sister.
A more familiar voice responded to the woman. "Sod off, you bony-assed prat!"
She was alive.
Despite the danger, Gray grinned—both in relief and respect.
Staying low, he snuck down to the end of the walkway. It dead-ended at a circular path that edged an open glade. The one from the video. The cage was suspended from the elevated walkway.
Fiona kicked the cage's bars. Three fast, three slow, three fast. Her face was a mask of determination. Gray felt the vibration under his feet now, transmitted along the cage's support cables.
She must have heard the alarms from the manor house. Perhaps guessed it might be Gray and sought to signal him. Either that…or she was just damned pissed. And the pattern was just an annoying coincidence.
Gray spotted three guards at the two-, three-, and nine-o'clock positions. Ischke, still dazzling in her black and white outfit, stood on the far side—at twelve o'clock—both hands on the inside rail, staring down at Fiona.
"A bullet through your knee might quiet you down," she called to the girl, placing a palm on a bolstered pistol.
Fiona paused in midkick, mumbled something under her breath, then lowered her foot.
Gray calculated the odds. He had one rifle against three guards, all armed, and Ischke with her pistol. Not good.
A spat of static sounded from across the glade. Garbled words followed.
Ischke unhooked her radio and lifted it to her lips. "Ja?"
She listened for half a minute, asked another question that Gray couldn't make out, then signed off. Lowering the radio, she spoke to the guards.
"New orders!" she barked to the others in Dutch. "We kill the girl now."
The ukufa let out a trebling series of yips, ready to leap at the dangling boy. Khamisi sensed the approach of the woman at his back. Hands on the rope, he couldn't go for any of his weapons.
"Who are you?" the woman asked again, knife threatening.
Khamisi did the only thing he could.
Bending his knees, he threw himself over the cabled railing. He clenched hard to the rope as he tumbled. Overhead, the line whistled around the steel support post. As Khamisi fell earthward, he caught a glimpse of the boy being dragged skyward, flailing with a long scream of surprise.
The ukufa leaped at its fleeing prey, but Khamisi's falling weight zipped the boy straight up to the walkway, banging him hard against it.
The sudden stop ripped the rope from Khamisi's grip.
He fell, landing on his back in the grass. Overhead, the boy clung to the underside of the walkway. The woman stared down at Khamisi, eyes wide.
Something large crashed to the ground a few meters from him.
Khamisi sat up.
The ukufa bounded to its feet, throwing ropes of saliva, furious, growling.
Its red gaze fell heavily upon the only prey in sight.
His hands were empty. His rifle still rested on the planks above.
The creature yowled in bloodlust and anger. It leaped at him, intending to tear out his throat.
Khamisi fell to his back, lifting his only weapon. The Zulu assegai. The short spear was still strapped to his thigh. As the ukufa dropped onto him, Khamisi shoved the blade up. His father had once taught him how to use the weapon. Like all Zulu boys. Before they left for Australia. With an instinct that crossed deep into the past of his ancestors, Khamisi slipped the blade under the creature's ribs—one of flesh, not myth—and drove it deep as the hyena's weight fell atop him.
The ukufa screamed. Pain and momentum carried it over Khamisi and yanked the spear's handle from his fingers. Khamisi rolled clear, weaponless now. The ukufa thrashed in the grass, corkscrewing the impaled blade inside it. It screamed one last time, jerking hard, then went limp.
An angry cry above drew his eye.
The woman on the bridge had found Khamisi's rifle and had it pointed at him. The blast sounded like a grenade. A bush exploded at his heels, gouting up soil. Khamisi shoved back. Overhead, the woman shifted the rifle, fixing him more surely in its sights.
The second blast sounded oddly sharper.
Khamisi twisted away—but found himself unscathed.
He glanced up in time to see the woman topple over the cable, her chest a bloody ruin.
A new figure stepped into view on the walkway.
A muscular man with a shaved head. He had a pistol held out, steadied on the stump of a wrist. He leaned over the cable and spotted the boy, still dangling by his hands.
The boy sobbed with relief. "Get me out of here."
"That's the plan…" His gaze found Khamisi. "That is, if that guy down there knows the way out of here. I'm so friggin' lost."
The pair of gunshots echoed through the forest.
A small flock of green parrots took wing from canopy roosts, squawking in protest, flapping across the glade.
Had Monk been found?
Ischke must have thought the same, her head craned in the direction of the gunfire. She waved to the guards. "Check it out!"
She raised her radio again.
The guards, rifles in hand, pounded around the circular elevated walk, all coming in Gray's direction. Caught off guard, Gray dropped and rolled, hugging his rifle to his chest. He flung himself off the planks. The closest guard would be in view in mere seconds. Like before, he snatched the planks' support cable, but in his haste, off balance, he barely caught a purchase with one hand. His body swung. The rifle slipped from his shoulder, dropping away.
Twisting and reaching, he snagged the leather strap with one finger. He silently sighed in relief.
Guards suddenly battered past overhead, boots hammering, jigging and bouncing his perch.
The rifle's leather strap popped off Gray's finger. Gravity disarmed him. The weapon fell, spearing into the underbrush. Gray grabbed another handhold and hung there. At least the rifle hadn't gone off when it hit the ground.
The guards' footfalls echoed away.
He heard Ischke talking on her radio.
He had a knife against her pistol. He didn't question her compunction to use it or her marksmanship.
The only real advantage he had was surprise.
And that was severely overrated.
Hand over hand, Gray traversed the underside of the walkway and reached the circular concourse. He continued along the underside, keeping to the outer edge, out of direct view of the Waalenberg woman. He had to move slowly or his swaying weight would alert Ischke. He timed his movements to the occasional breeze that ruffled the canopy.