I woke up, groggy and disoriented. Daylight was streaming in through the open curtains, and once I realised what had happened I began to curse under my breath.
Agromas laughed. "Congratulations," he said. "You've learned a valuable lesson."
"You're not going explain, are you?"
"No. Why spoil all your fun?"
I suppressed the urge to start cursing again, since I knew that nothing would please my old teacher more than seeing my anger getting the better of me. "I hate it when you do that."
"I know." With that he was gone.
A valuable lesson, I mused. I suspected that he had actually been serious with me and, in his twisted way, he had wanted to help me. What was I missing?
I decided that lying in bed wouldn't help me to solve the conundrum so I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and got up. The air that came in through the open window felt warm, and as I padded over to the wash basin I caught myself whistling a tune. Yeah, that's right, I told myself. Cheer up. I chuckled in spite of myself.
After I had shaved and dressed I padded down to the door that led into the corridor, briefly wondering how I had come to be so cheerful all of a sudden. I decided I didn't care. Maybe I ought to learn to seize the day without worrying about things that didn't matter.
I opened the door and found Rodan facing me, his back pressed against the opposing wall and his face without expression.
"Hey there," I said, stepping outside and closing the door behind me. There was something about his staring eyes and his blank expression that worried me, and I decided I'd prefer not having him in my room with me. He paid me no attention, continuing to stare straight ahead. He was fully dressed, and for a moment I wondered what time it was, and how long I had slept.
"Are you alright?" Again, no reply. Feeling uneasy I looked down the corridor, hoping to see either Jared or one of the Palace Guards. The place was empty, and for the first time I realised how quiet the building had become. Far off I could still hear the sound of running water coming in from the Palace gardens but inside it was quiet. All the little sounds of people walking from one room to another, talking and going about their business, had gone. Suddenly I felt cold. Where the hell was everybody?
"This isn't real," Rodan said. I looked at him, wondering for a moment whether I had really heard him, and his eyes met mine.
"What do you mean?" His behaviour reminded me of what he'd been like when we were following the King's trail, and that worried me.
Maybe I ought to take him to his bedroom, I thought. Get him to a safe and quiet place where he can sleep it off - whatever it was. I glanced down the corridor, realising that I had no idea where his or Jared's bedrooms were. Was that significant in some way? Did the others have their quarters among their comrades, and was I the odd man out? I took another look at my surroundings, and noted nothing unusual. Marble floors, white-plastered walls and ceiling, heavy wooden doors at regular intervals, probably leading to guest rooms similar to mine. Nothing to worry about, I decided. There were no bolts on the doors and no keys sticking out on the outside, though earlier there had always been soldiers guarding my door. The place was still eerily quiet, and again I wondered where everyone was.
"Don't you see?" I felt his hand on my arm, and found him looking me in the eyes. "None of this is real. Don't you see?"
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