Ninety-eight

"Jorden, please, wake up."

I found myself sitting upright in bed, my heart racing, and warm, bright sunlight streaming in through the open window.

"Alright, alright," I muttered under my breath as I padded over to the door. As I removed the chair that had been propped up under the handle I noticed with some surprise that I was fully dressed. Had I fallen asleep with my clothes on?

I opened the door and found Jared outside, his clothes dishevelled and with deep, black circles under his eyes. "Jared, are you alright?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. It's it's Rodan."

"What about him?"

He looked away down the corridor, and my gaze followed his. At both ends guards were standing watch, appearing not to notice us.

"Please."

We began to walk down the hallway, the sound of our footsteps echoing against the high ceiling. The quiet and the emptiness from my dream were gone - the building now seemed full of life, watching us, aware of our every move.

My heartbeat quickened as we approach the guards, but they let us pass. The next moment we were going down a flight of stairs, and then into another corridor, and after a while I lost all sense of direction. After a while a realised that we were in a part of the palace that I hadn't seen before. Busy-looking men in Royal Guards' uniforms passed us, carrying folders and appearing to pay us no attention. I contemplated asking Jared what this place was and what we were doing here, and decided against it. He seemed to have the advantage here, moving among his peers with confidence. I still didn't know what his intentions were or which side he was on - I didn't even know what the game was, and how many different players were in it - so I decided against doing anything that he might interpret as weakness on my part.

We passed through a door into a quieter part of the building, not unlike the corridor where my sleeping quarters were. Eventually Jared stopped in front of one of the polished, wooden doors. I could see him draw a deep breath, like he was gathering courage - and I wondered what for.

"Everything alright?"

He turned to me, his scarred face unreadable as always. "I don't know," he said. "I honestly don't know."

Right. I don't want to know, I caught myself thinking. Whatever it is, I don't care. I didn't ask to be here. this is not my problem. Why don't I just turn and walk away, find an exit and just keep walking?

The door opened before either of us could move. Facing us was a man dressed in black, the law-men's five-pointed star pinned onto his tunic.

He obviously noticed my surprise, which seemed to amuse him. "Good," he said, and moved aside to let us pass. As I followed Jared in the stranger took my elbow. "My name is Paulos", he whispered. "We need to talk."

I looked at him but he briefly shook his head, glancing at Jared. The scarred-faced man was standing at Rodan's bedside and didn't appear to have heard us. Paulos, I mused. There was something very, very familiar about that name, something important. A memory drifted past - a late-night conversation, voices quieting down, and a girl's head leaning on my shoulder - floating away before I could grasp it.



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