Arcturo waited until there was barely enough light to see. The fledgling ignited whatever the Aeryons used for lights and the cave entrance blazed in the darkness. “There,” Arcturo said. “Aim the grapples for that opening.”
Four of the men took a few steps back, the metal hooks whirling above their heads. They released the hooks and the metal barbs sailed through the air. The first one hit on the first try, but it took another shot to get the other three connected. Arcturo slung one of the tangle nets over his shoulder and started climbing. The others followed his example. A faint tingle in his hands told Arcturo that the anti-slip spell was in place on the ropes.
Arcturo pulled himself into the aerie. There, reclining on a pile of curtains with a book open in front of her, was the fledgling he'd come to steal. Her hair was as black as her wings, and strands fell over the feathers. She was paler than most Aeryons, which gave testament to her imprisonment in this cave. She looked up from her book, eyes wide. “Who are you?” she demanded, pushing the book to the side.
Before she could move any further, Arcturo gave his net an expert flip and it tangled around her wings. The fledgling shrieked as she struggled against the net. Two more nets wrapped around her. The more she thrashed the harder it became for her to move until finally she was completely immobilized.
“Fastest I've ever seen those things work,” one of the men said as Arcturo pulled a long, thin needle out of his belt. He approached the fledgling, who stared up at him with wide, frightened eyes.
“I'm sorry, youngling,” he said in a quiet voice. “I can't let you stay here.” He inserted the needle into the side of her neck. A few seconds later, her eyes fluttered closed and she went limp. “Quickly now, get those ropes up here. We've got to work fast.”