Right, I thought. Something else to complicate my life.
I looked up. The city was bathed in a dark-golden light, and when I looked back I was shocked to see that the sun had already begun to set. I shook my head. Unless my eyes were deceiving me, we had been standing there, on the main road among the fields and the vineyards, for most of the day. This can't be right, I told myself. We can't have been here that long.
Looking around, I realised for the first time how quiet it was. Apart from us, the road was empty and think as I might, I couldn't remember anyone passing us in either direction while we were there.
"That's impossible," I said aloud.
Rodan gave me a startled look. "What?"
"It's too quiet. We've been near the city for hours, and we haven't seen a soul. Even Stillwater was busier than that."
He frowned. "You're right." He looked around. "Nobody working in the fields, either. This can't be right."
The soldier, who had been standing aside without any apparent interest in what we had been talking about, turned toward us. "Well?" he asked. I realised that it was the first time I had heard him speak. "Are we going on?"
Rodan gave him an intent look. "You're still feeling it, aren't you?"
"The call. The… hunger."
The soldier looked uncomfortable. "Yes, of course."
Jared put his hand on the soldier's shoulder. "You'll have to lead the way, then."
"What do you mean?"
"It's alright," Jared told him. "As long as there's one of us to guide us, we can keep moving." For a moment he was quiet. "We need to keep moving," he added then, as if to himself. "We'll surely get lost if we don't." I wondered whether I had even heard him correctly.
"Here we go, then." For a moment the soldier seemed unsure of what to do. "We'll take the main gate." He turned and began to walk towards the city, and as lukewarm rain began to drizzle down we followed him.
"What's wrong with him?" I silently asked Jared.
"He's beginning to doubt."
"Our master. His calling. Where we're going."
"What do you mean?"
"Soon he'll be lost, like the rest of us."
"What do you mean, lost? Heartstone's right in front of us, and that's where the King is, right? That is where we're going, isn't it?"
For a moment he was silent. "Why do you think he bothered, then? You know, coming to us, calling us?"
"That did bother me, yes." Then I thought of something. "Maybe he didn't expect us to actually go to Heartstone."
"He knows us, Jorden. He knows when we eat, when we sleep, the secrets that even in our dreams we don't dare to touch… What we think, where we go - he knows." And, barely audibly, he added, "… and now I can no longer hear him."
No, I thought. This isn't what it's like for me. I'm not like that. This can't be true.
And then something dawned on me. It's not him, I thought. It's you. You're the ones keeping him alive in your minds and your hearts. It's you, wanting him to know your every move and your most innermost thoughts. Whatever your reasons, I'm not like that. That's why it's different for me.
"You're different in many ways," the boy's voice said in my head, "but, yes, that's one of them."
"He didn't answer my question, though."
The boy kept silent, though I could still feel his presence.
"It's me, isn't it?" I almost regretted it as soon as I said it, but once I had, I had no choice but to continue. "There's something he wants from me."
The boy still said nothing, and I didn't know how to go on.
"I don't understand," I eventually said. "He's taken everything away from me, and he's made me do everything he wanted. What more can there be?"
"That seems to be the question, doesn't it?" With that, his presence in my head was gone.
I took a deep breath. Think, I told myself.
I was roused from my thoughts as a hand touched my arm. "We're here," Rodan told me.
I looked up. We were in front of the city gates, and I could see the huge wooden doors, lit by torches on either side. It was raining harder now, and with little rivulets of water streaming down the city walls the stones themselves seemed to weep.
Night was falling, and in my soaked clothes I began to shiver in the chilly air. Suddenly I was back in the room in Jarvik's prison where I had lain dying, and where, in what I thought would be my last moments alive, I had had a vision of the fault-line running through the whole of creation. The world is breaking apart, I thought, and I can almost hear it weep and cry out.
My vision was blurring, and something warm and wet was running down my cheek. I shook my head. I can't, I thought. There's so much pain and so much suffering, and I don't even know where to begin.
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