The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'


Part II - Prince of Mondele Royale


Chapter 19



        The sun was brightly shining when Jamie landed his jump hov outside the Villa Mare Vista compound. A sparking light glinted off the blue waters of Dragon’s Cove Inlet, for although it was later in the afternoon, it would still be hours before the sun would slip below the horizon. As he landed his small craft, Jamie noticed that all but one of the smaller imperial hovs were gone. Cutting the engine, he sat in silence and peered out of the canopy of the small hov. Except for the one remaining hov parked outside the gate, the compound appeared as it always did. That seemed strange to him, and he sat in the pilot’s seat for a few minutes thinking about what he should do. There was no doubt that he would be captured; he and his father had planned for this, but he knew he had to be careful. He was well aware that the empire desperately wanted him. Well, maybe not exactly James de Valèn since they didn’t know him, but it wanted all of Edwin Croal’s experiments and property and as cold as it sounded, that’s exactly what he and his brother were, by imperial standards – his research from the net had been very clear about that.


        While he was sure the shock troops sent to the villa had been told to take prisoners, he also knew that an overly eager imperial shock trooper, looking to impress his commanding officer by presenting him with a winged trophy, could easily kill him accidentally. He needed to stay alive, if for no other reason than to protect Charlie. But as quickly as the thought entered his mind, he pushed it out. At the moment he couldn’t think of his little brother, Charlie de Valèn; it was far too painful, and he knew if he were to stay the course he’d set for himself, he’d have to be strong. Opening the hatch of the hov he waited for a few minutes, certain that someone had seen it land and would soon come out, ghoster in hand, to take its occupants prisoner. After fifteen minutes had passed and no one had come to arrest him, he slowly climbed out of the hov.


        Since he’d landed outside of the gate, he headed toward the front entrance of the villa. The small pebbles covering the ground in front of the main gate crunched under his feet and he tried to walk softly in order to avoid unwanted attention. Approaching the entrance, he noticed that one half of the large double gate was hanging from one hinge. That gave him pause: the gate had been unlocked – it always was. There would have been no need to blast it with a ghoster. Why wouldn’t they have just opened it and walked through? The villa was certainly unguarded, and from the number of hovs around the compound that he and Charlie had seen when they’d first approached, the imperial forces had come in numbers more than sufficient to take and secure the compound.


        The courtyard suddenly seemed much larger than he’d ever remembered when he realized he’d have to cross it – exposing himself to whoever was still in the villa. Slowly walking across the open space, he peered cautiously about, still not seeing anyone. Passing by small plots of flowers and the green island of sea grass planted in the center of the courtyard he paused, contemplating his next move. The only sound was the gentle splash of water from a nearby fountain, but its chuckling did nothing to ease his anxiety. Nonplussed, he thought for a moment, then went to the far end of the courtyard and took a small path that led to the kitchen. Passing by the neatly manicured kitchen garden, he smelled the aroma of herbs and heard the buzzing of the bees that frequented the many flowering bushes surrounding the garden. He found the kitchen door unlocked; pulling on the levered handle, he opened it and passed through. Once in the kitchen, he walked through the large open space and was amazed at how eerily quiet it was. With its many large windows, skylights and whitewashed walls, the kitchen was always bright and cheerful. The tall, vaulted room was usually a bustling place, filled with activity. He’d never entered the kitchen when the sounds of work weren’t mixed the shouting of orders, warm happy laughter, and the friendly banter that always passed between the staff – the silence that now greeted him was strange and disquieting.


        To his right a few pots were simmering on the stove untended – the lid of one rattled softly as a thin jet of steam escaped from it creating a small steamy cloud above the stove; almost without thinking, he stepped over and turned off the burners. His attention was then drawn to the pot sink across the room – a spot he knew only too well, since it was the site of one of Castor's favorite punishments. The tap had been left on and water was flowing into the large sink. Going over to it, he noted idly that it held a few dirty pots and pans. One large pot, sitting directly under the tap, had filled with water and was overflowing. Luckily the stopper hadn’t been used to plug the drain. Had it been, he was sure that by now it would have overflowed onto the kitchen floor. Turning off the tap, he continued to look around the kitchen. On a nearby worktable lay a pile of chopped onions with a knife lying next to it. An open pan filled with a large roast - trussed, seasoned, and ready for the oven - was sitting on a small table a few feet away. It was as if everyone had been at their tasks, working with their usual speed and efficiency, and then suddenly vanished.


        He could hear the double beat of his hearts pounding in his chest and there was a lump in his throat that wouldn’t go away. Hearing a crash from somewhere further inside the villa, he looked around, but still saw no one. Another crash, a bit closer, made him jump. It was then that he made up his mind: he couldn’t go through with it. No matter what he and his father had planned, he was just too frightened. He would go back to Vera Domann, to Charlie and to the Ghröum. Maybe they could help him sort it out, but he couldn’t stay here one second longer. Turning back into the kitchen he quickly headed for the door. Rushing past the worktables and stoves, he reached it and turned the handle, prepared to leave. But then a thought raced through his mind – Spinoza! When he and Charlie went to the cliffs, he always left Spinoza back at the villa. Although the garga lizard would protest when it saw Jamie leaving, once the door closed it would soon become resigned to the fact, curl up on its master's bed, and wait for Jamie to return. Pausing for a few seconds, Jamie pulled the door shut and turned back, determined to find Spinoza and then leave the compound as quickly as possible.


        Creeping out of the kitchen, he paused again, unsure which way to go. There was still a small battle hov parked outside the compound and he’d already heard two crashes coming from somewhere in the house. Deciding to use a nearby back stairway near the entrance to the kitchen that would take him to a hall leading to the skywalk closest to his bedroom he exited the kitchen, turned left, and began to climb the stairs. Hearing another crash he paused, trying to decide where the sound was coming from. After standing still for at least a minute, the only thing he heard breaking the silence around him was the sound of his own shallow breathing. Once more starting up the steps, he climbed them until he arrived in the hall and quietly inched his way over to the skywalk. At the entrance to the skywalk he paused and looked around, but saw no one. Although his room was nearby, he knew that as soon as he stepped out of the hall onto the skywalk he could be seen from various spots in the house.


        Still thinking about Spinoza, he swallowed hard and put a foot out onto the skywalk and then another, and soon found himself at the door to his bedroom. With a twist of the lever, he opened the door and entered his room. Closing the door behind him he looked about the bedroom, but there was no sign of Spinoza. Softly calling the little garga lizard, he received no response; he knew from experience that the second Spinoza got even a whiff of him it would immediately seek him out, so he knew that his pet wasn’t in the room. Turning to leave, he noticed a bare spot on the wall where the large silver and purple banner had hung – now gone. As he opened the door, his eyes went to the small table next to the door and he noticed another strange thing: the asp bracelet he’d received from Charlie, which he always kept there when he wasn’t wearing it, was also gone.


        Leaving his own room, he crept further down the hall to Charlie’s room on the chance that Spinoza was there. Once more exposed on the open skywalk, he moved as quickly and quietly as he could. The afternoon sun blazed through every window and skylight, but the warm friendly atmosphere of the house was somehow poisoned for him as he thought about the intruders who’d violated his home. Arriving at Charlie’s room, he opened the door and got the biggest shock of all: Charlie’s room wasn’t Charlie’s room – it was a cold, utilitarian office. Gone was his brother’s bed and furniture. The walls, previously covered with Charlie's own banner along with pictures his brother had drawn and a few reproductions of historical art Charlie had admired, were bare. It was as if his brother had never existed, and while the sight caught him off guard, he suddenly understood.


        Still worried about Spinoza, Jamie was considering his next move when the sound of footsteps coming down the hall leading onto the skywalk made up his mind for him. Dashing down the skywalk, he was faced with two choices - neither of which seemed very appealing. He could take a diverging skywalk and work his way down to one of the villa’s lower levels and possibly expose himself in the process, or take the lift at the end of the skyway he was on. The only problem with that was that he’d have to wait for the lift. That meant he’d be visible as soon as whoever was coming down the hall stepped out onto the skywalk. Deciding to take his chances with the lift instead of the skywalk, he dashed to it and pushed the pad that activated it. A low hum told him it was on its way, but so too was whoever was in the hallway. He heard a few doors opening and closing, and at least two separate voices. Hoping the lift didn’t have too far to come, he breathed a sigh of relief when the door opened; he quickly entered and pressed the pad that would take him two levels lower.


        As the lift descended he tried to think what he should do, but other than trying to escape back to the cliffs, he had no concrete plan. The lift stopped, the door opened, and he stepped out. A few feet ahead of him was the door to his father’s study. It was ajar. As stealthily as he knew how, he crept up to the door and tried to look in, but since it was only open a crack he couldn’t see anything. He pushed lightly against the door, and it swung open. His knees went weak and a shocked cry caught in his throat, for in the chair he always used for reading sat Edwin Croal, the front of his chest ripped open from the blast of a hand ghoster. Jamie simply stood at the entrance to the room and stared. He’d seen pictures of people who’d been killed from records on the net and in Mobley’s lessons, but seeing someone just a few feet from him, and his own father, was more he could comprehend. He wanted to run away from the sight and he wanted to go to his father, both at the same time; instead he simply stood where he was, his legs feeling like stone, his feet stuck to the spot where he stood.


        The ghoster bolt had melted away the front of Edwin Croal’s shirt, and the charred remains were burned into his chest. The sight was horribly shocking, but in some strange way Jamie found he couldn’t turn away. Looking closer, he could see that the burns from the ghoster weren’t the only wounds inflicted on his father. Croal’s face was a palette of bruises and cuts. A trail of blood – now dried – ran below his nose and his bottom lip was split.


        “Oh, Father,” Jamie said, feeling weak and slumping down onto the bench he’d so often occupied when he was being lectured, and lately, tutored by his father. And then, as spent from crying as he thought he was after all the tears he’d shed earlier in saying goodbye to Charlie, he found new ones coming to his eyes. The sob came from deep down inside of him as he stared numbly at his father’s body, and he began to shudder as tears ran down his face. 'What shall I… how can I tell Charlie?' The thought came to him just as he felt a hand from behind grip his shoulder. The sob that was about to come from his mouth caught in his throat, he jumped and turned to find himself looking up into the face of a man who was studying him intently.


        “This is such an unseemly sight for a boy,” the man said in a calm voice, and then he actually smiled at Jamie. “Come with me. You shouldn’t have to look at this,” he added, moving to stand in front of Jamie and blocking his view as he reached down and took the young Icarian’s hand.


        While he should have been worried or at least surprised by the appearance of the man, Jamie was too numb from the sight he’d just seen to feel anything. Leading Jamie out of his father’s office, the man took him down the hall and into the small room that had served as Castor’s office.


        “Please, sit down,” the man said, gesturing to the bench in front of Castor’s desk – a seat Jamie was quite familiar with, although he knew that today he wouldn’t be getting a lecture and sent to the kitchen to scrub pots. Castor’s office appeared undisturbed. The small desk where the head of the villa’s household sat was neat and organized as always. The man left Jamie at the bench and walked around the desk, pausing to look out the window that opened on a view of the inlet.


        Looking up at the man, Jamie noticed that he was of medium height, and neither thin nor heavy. His dark brown hair fell just a little below his collar and showed a few gray hairs concentrated around the temples. He was clean-shaven, and when he finally turned around and looked at Jamie, his light brown eyes actually appeared to sparkle as he carefully studied the boy with obvious interest. From the few other humans Jamie had known, mostly his father’s laboratory assistants, the man appeared to be around thirty-five AS and even under the circumstances Jamie still couldn’t help himself quickly calculating the man’s age to forty commonwealth standard. He thought how that probably would have pleased his father - that even now he could open his mind to mathematics.


        Jamie also noted that the man was dressed richly in a costume that obviously came from another historical era, but wasn’t quite sure what that era was. He knew that Charlie would have instantly recognized it and not only could have told him the particulars of the outfit but some pertinent facts from the era, and the thought caused a soft sigh to escape his lips.  Although he and his father had planned for many different scenarios, he hadn’t realized how difficult it would be as he rapidly became aware of the difference between the theory and actual practice of following a plan.


        “Keep your head,” his father had told him. Now those words echoed in his head, although they seemed to be coming from a place quite far away, muffled by the numbness he was feeling.


        Walking back around Castor’s desk to stand in front of the boy, the man leaned back against the desk and carefully examined Jamie. Finally he spoke again. “My name is Savaron Loka,” he said, and Jamie was shocked to see a warm and genuinely friendly smile come to the man’s face. After introducing himself, he held out his hand to Jamie. “And who would you be, my little imperial?” he asked, still smiling and extending his hand.


        “Jamie,” Jamie answered softly as he stared at the man’s hand and then gingerly extended his own. The moment he did, Savaron Loka took Jamie’s hand into his, isolated one of Jamie’s fingers, and quickly jammed it into a metal tub he’s been palming in his other hand. Jamie jumped when he felt a jab and recognized that it was like the one he’d received earlier in the day when his father took a sample of some of his blood. And when the man called Savaron Loka released his hand and Jamie snatched it back, rubbing the spot where his finger had been pricked, he could see Loka had a device similar to the one his father had used on him.


        While Savaron Loka was tricking Jamie into giving him a blood sample, another man entered the room. He was dressed in a formal uniform that Jamie recognized as that of an officer of the imperial army. “My lord,” the officer said, “Since there was no one other than…”


        Loka’s eyes widened and gave a quick nod of his head in Jamie’s direction, causing the officer to pause.


        “Since there was no one here,” the officer began again now speaking in a whisper, “I ordered the remaining troops back to Imperialas. I’ll leave a few here to secure the facility until the recovery teams arrive to do a through inspection.”


        “That will be fine, Captain,” Loka said. “You’ll be able to leave shortly. I’ve alerted both Gold Glass and Ajax Prime. They’ll have quite a few teams arriving before the sun sets. We’re lucky that the old fool had a gate here. It will speed things up.”


        “Yes, my Lord,” the captain said.


        “But I won’t be traveling with you,” Loka quickly added, then smiling at Jamie, continued, “we’ll be going by gate to Gold Glass within the half hour.”


        “Yes sir,” the officer said. “Do you have any further orders, my Lord?”


        “No,” Loka replied, but then paused and held up a hand as the officer turned to leave, “Wait… ah yes, captain, I do have something,” he said holding out the device he’d used to capture Jamie’s blood. "Take this to the hov, and give it to Merox, then contact Gerald Soler on Ajax Prime. He’ll be able to guide Merox through the set up to run a quick analysis of the sample. I’d like a preliminary report before we leave for Gold Glass."


        “Yes, my Lord,” the captain replied, walking back to Loka and taking the device from him. “Will there be any thing else, sir?”


        “Nothing for now. We’re going to talk a little now,” he said, smiling toward Jamie. “When you get the results from Ajax Prime make sure I get them immediately, then we’ll head to Gold Glass.”


        Giving a quick salute the captain left the room, and Savaron Loka turned his attention back to Jamie.


        “So Jamie,” Savaron Loka began, once again smiling. “I hope that didn’t hurt.”


        At first Jamie wasn’t sure what he meant, but then realized Loka was referring to the blood sample he’d taken. Holding out his hand and looking down at his finger he shook his head no.


        “Jamie,” Savaron Loka said continuing to smile, “Do you know who I am?”


        Jamie once more shook his head no.


        “I’m an… well, I’m a bit of an expert on Avionnes. I know many things about them. For example, I know that you’re an imperial. That’s very rare, you know. I also know that although you look like you’re a young boy, you may be older than you appear. The blood sample I took will confirm your real age. I also know that you’re probably very intelligent, and that you understand everything I’m talking about. Is that correct?”


        Jamie simply nodded yes.


        “Very good. Then tell me, Jamie, do you know what a cortical analysis is?”


        Jamie swallowed. He knew what was coming. His father had tried to prepare him as best as he could. Once again, Jamie simply nodded his assent. He was beginning to hate it every time Loka spoke his name; it made his skin crawl.


        “Then I’ll tell you, Jamie, that you’ll be receiving a cortical analysis when we get to our destination and if you really do know what that entails, you also know that you won’t have any secrets from me when we’re finished."


        Jamie nodded and his shoulders sagged.


        “How old are you, Jamie?” Savaron Loka asked as his eyes carefully scanned Jamie’s face.


        “Twelve AS,” Jamie answered flatly without looking up at Loka.


        “Jamie, do you know who that was you saw in the other room?” Loka asked.


        There was a pause; Jamie could feel tears starting to come to his eyes. “My father,” Jamie said so softly he could barely be heard.


        “Your father?” Savaron Loka said. “But you’re an Avionne, and that man in the other room was a human. Jamie, surely you know the difference between a human and an Avionne?”


        “He was my father,” Jamie shouted as tears began to flow down my face.


        If he noticed the emotional trauma playing out before him, Savaron Loka didn’t acknowledge it and continued his questioning. “So you’re telling me you’re Jamie Croal, son of Edwin Croal?”


        “My name is James de Valèn, but my father was Edwin Croal,” he said, feeling such a heavy pain in his chest he wanted to scream.


        Upon hearing the name de Valèn, Savaron Loka’s eyebrows rose on his forehead, then knitted together as he frowned. “Jamie,” Loka continued, “did other people live here with you?”


        “Yes,” Jamie answered, fearful of the turn the questioning had taken.


        “Do you know where they might be?” Loka asked.


        “No,” Jamie said in a single word.


        His father had told him to offer as little information as possible. They’d even practiced a few times. “If you can answer in a simple yes or no, do so,” his father said. “They won’t press you for more. They have a great deal of faith in the cortical scanner, so much so that no matter what you tell them, they’ll be convinced they can easily extract the truth from you as soon as they begin the scan.”


        “No one was here when we arrived,” Loka said, interrupting Jamie’s thoughts, “except… ah… your father, and you, Jamie de Valèn,” giving the words father and de Valèn just enough emphasis to let Jamie know he knew Jamie was lying about his father, his name, and probably the fact that the boy claimed to know nothing regarding the rest of the household.


        Jamie remained silent, but the numbness he’d been feeling eased slightly. Loka had said no one was in the compound except for his father, which meant the others might have escaped, but he had no idea where or how. It was something the scanner would confirm, and Loka’s quickly drawn conclusion would be proven wrong. Filled with hope that no one else had been killed or captured, Jamie took a breath and waited for Savaron Loka to ask him more questions.


        At that moment, the captain to whom Loka had given the series of orders returned. In his hand he had a small card. Loka reached out, took the card, and then dismissed the man. Loka held up the card and read it. And since it didn’t look like it had much written on it, it appeared that he spent more time just staring at it than reading it. Nevertheless he took a long time, carefully studying it – his fingers tapping lightly against it as he stared it, frowned, then gave it further study. When he was finished, he put the card down and looked at Jamie, but the smile had vanished from his face.


        “I don’t know how this is possible,” Loka said suspiciously, “but it appears some of what you’re telling me is actually true, Your Royal Highness Prince James de Valèn,” and then Loka even managed a false grin and a slight bow, but did so in the same patronizing way adults often do when they make light amusement of the innocence and naiveté of a child who’s playing a pretend dress-up game. “And you are twelve years old AS,” Loka added, “so I’m sure you’ve just started your Avionne puberty cycle. But this will all be sorted out at Gold Glass, which is where we should be heading. It’s time for us to go, Prince James.”


        They left the room and went out into the hall. Savaron Loka directed Jamie toward the lift and once inside, they headed down to the lower floors. When the lift continued past the ground floor, Jamie knew they were heading to the lab. Once the lift reached its destination, they exited and Loka directed Jamie toward a room he knew well, since it held the gate. Entering the room, Loka took him by the shoulder and placed him before the large, framed mirror. Jamie stood looking at his reflection, but said nothing. Loka took something out of his pocket and slid it into a slot on the side of the mirror, and Jamie knew it was a card to activate the mirror.


        “When I tell you to do so,” Loka said, “I want you to walk through. We can’t go through together. It will probably seem a bit strange; your first trip is always the most unusual. It won’t hurt you, and who knows, you may even enjoy it. Once you’re through, someone will be there to meet you. I’ll be right behind you."


        Jamie remained silent. Savaron Loka had no idea Jamie had already traveled the gates many times, but he wasn’t going to volunteer that information. The mirror began its familiar glow; the surface quickly changed and in seconds was shimmering.


        “Now step through,” Loka said. “Don’t be afraid. You won’t be harmed.”


        Jamie moved closer to the mirror and stepped through. And although the trip was a familiar one for him, as he fell through space toward his destination he wondered and worried where he’d emerge. The answer came quickly enough when he arrived on the other side and stepped out into a small crowd of people who were looking at him with obvious interest.


        “Well, I’ll be boiled and pickled in my own juices,” someone said in a tone of obvious surprise, “it's an imperial, a real imperial. The old man created another imperial.”


        Jamie, used to traveling the mirrors, felt no ill effects and immediately began to look about, quickly realizing he was standing in an open space with at least fifteen to twenty people gathered around him, eyeing him with great interest and curiosity. The light in the room was bright. Looking through the gaps in the crowd he could see that the room he was in had a white tiled floor, walls and ceiling. There was an ozone smell in the air and a distant beeping sound that repeated every few seconds. Bodies bent down and faces met his – their eyes full of interest and curiosity. He could tell that they were excited – even giddy - to see him. Their thoughts projected scores of questions.


        “Do you see that?” the same voice continued. “It's an imperial. Croal made himself an imperial.”


        “You already said that, Eric,” a second voice said, sounding irritated. “We can see that it’s an imperial. By the emperor’s beard, we’re not blind. What I’m more interested in, is why?”


        There were murmurs through the crowd of people – a mixture of men and women of various ages. But although some seemed older and some younger, most of them appeared to be about thirty to forty AS. They kept pushing and jostling each other to get to the head of the pack for a better view of Jamie, who more and more felt like a specimen under a microscope. Feeling a push from behind and a hand on his shoulder, he looked up into the eyes of Savaron Loka, who’d come through the mirror behind him.


        “Well, don’t just stand there,” Loka said, “let's get him to cortical screening. Time is of the essence - if he knows anything about Croal’s plans or the whereabouts of his staff and assistants, the sooner we learn of it the sooner we’ll be able to hunt them down.”


        Jamie shuddered when he heard Loka talk about hunting down people as if they were animals. He’d disliked Loka from the moment he’d first seen him, and those feelings only grew every time the man opened his mouth and said something. But before Jamie had time to analyze what was happening, he was led out the room and down a brightly lit corridor with plain, white, sterile walls. With no clue to where he was going, Jamie was quickly jostled along the way. Making a series of twists and turns, he arrived at the entrance to a large laboratory. During his journey he’d been surrounded by the same pack of people who’d met him at the gate, but now even more joined them, pushing each other as they tried to get a closer look at him. After he was rushed through the door of the laboratory, he was hustled past rows of workstations and a collection of strange looking equipment, the likes of which he’d never seen in his father’s lab.


        “Sit here,” Loka commanded curtly, and Jamie noticed he was standing before a low metal stool. Taking a seat, he tried to look around, but the large crowd surrounding him blocked his view. “Is the scanner ready?” Loka asked impatiently.


        “We’re just finishing the final calibration, my Lord,” replied a young man standing behind a large, brightly lit console.


        Although still scared and worried about what was to become of him, he knew what was coming next. He and his father had not only discussed it, but had practiced it countless times – it was the chief reason for his daily headaches. But as he waited, he kept thinking about his father sitting in his chair with a ghoster blast to the chest. His thoughts then turned to the others in the house. Where were they? Did they escape? Loka’s conversation with the caption and the man’s questions to Jamie seemed to indicate that they hadn’t found anyone in the villa when they’d arrived.  Finally, thoughts of Spinoza and Charlie – especially Charlie - surfaced in his head. It was the one thing he knew he couldn’t think about, but he couldn’t help it. And then he realized in horror that when they began the scan he’d be thinking about Charlie and all his promises would be broken.


        “We’re almost ready, my lord,” the young man said, “If you’d like, we can get him ready.”


        Someone took Jamie’s arm and told him to stand. As soon as he did, he was led across the room to another stool and told to sit. His head now was full of nothing but thoughts of Charlie, and he knew he would ruin everything. He had to do something to drive Charlie from his head. As he lowered himself on to the stool it came to him, and before he thought too long about it, he jumped up from the stool and dashed across the lab toward the door. Of course, he didn’t get far before two large men grabbed him, and dragged him back. The hard slap he received from Savaron Loka set his head spinning and lit a fuse that exploded into pure hatred for the man. But his simple plan had worked, and the only thing he could now think of was how much he hated Savaron Loka, and every thought of Charlie left his head. Forcefully pushed back onto the stool, he looked into the face of Savaron Loka, who’d long ago lost the sickening smile he’d presented to Jamie back at Villa Mare Vista.


        “Do that again, Prince James,” Loka said angrily, “and you may be feeling a lot more than my hand across that pretty face of yours.”


        Still feeling the pain Savaron Loka’s hand had inflicted on his face, Jamie moved his jaw and put a hand to his cheek, looked up, and glared at Loka.


        “We’re ready, my lord,” a voice said, and someone approached Jamie and fitted something that looked like a headband around his head. He knew it was part of the scanner. His father had also placed one on his head, and he knew that once it was on, it would begin to perform a brain scan – a most thorough and comprehensive one. Suddenly he remembered the trick the Ghröum  had taught he and Charlie. “Think of a wall,” Charlie had said. And so Jamie did, and as he did, he felt the headband go cold against his scalp as the scanner began examining his brain.


        “What is your name?” Savaron Loka said, giving him a cold, hard stare.


        “James de Valèn,” Jamie said, and in his mind the wall began to form: thick, diamond hard and slick, offering no chink or toehold for the invading scan.


        “Do you know Edwin Croal?” Loka asked


        “Yes,” Jamie replied, his breath catching as he felt a short, stabbing pain in his chest. “He’s my father.”


        “Were there others with your father?”


        “Yes,” Jamie said as the wall he was building continued to grow higher, wider and thicker.


        “Do you know where they are?”


        “No,” he replied.


        “Did they escape?” Loka asked bending over, looking Jamie directly in the eye, and giving him a flat and level stare as if to intimidate the young Icarian.


        “I don’t know,” Jamie replied.


        “If they did escape, where would they hide?”


        “I don’t know,” Jamie said, and still the wall grew in his mind.


        “And why did Edmond Croal create you?” Loka asked. “Do you know?”


        “Yes,” Jamie said.


        “Well, tell us,” Loka said, smiling smugly and suddenly unable to mask his interest, curiosity and growing excitement. “Tell us, Jamie: why did Edmond Croal create you?”


        “So I could dance for him,” Jamie said, and by now the wall in his mind was a thousand feet high, a hundred feet thick and a mile wide. His thoughts sheltered in the shadow of this massive, adamant redoubt, safe from the prying fingers of the cortical analyzer.


        At his reply, there was the twittering of light laughter throughout the lab from those standing around him, listening to the interrogation.


        “He’s telling the truth,” a voice said, and the laughter abruptly stopped.


        “Edwin Croal created you so you could dance for him?” Loka said in a tone of complete shock and disbelief. It seemed he barely got the words out.


        “Yes,” Jamie said calmly.


        “He’s telling the truth,” the voice said, now louder. “Everything he’s told us so far has been true. The scanner’s working properly; we’re getting accurate readings.”


        Jamie sat quietly looking up at Savaron Loka, but deep down inside his anger had turned into a cold rage. In his mind he – the real Jamie – sat protected behind an immense wall of pure thought. “The scanner doesn’t lie, you murderous pig,” he thought, as the anger continued to build inside him. “You’re so sure of your technology, you can’t believe it could ever be wrong.”


        “Wait… there’s… no, it’s just artifact,” the voice said, as Jamie quickly buttressed the wall he'd created, having momentarily lost focus when his anger turned to Loka.


        Bending down and moving to within inches of Jamie’s face, Loka give the Icarian boy a cold and piercing stare. “Tell me again why Edwin Croal created you,” he said in the most menacing tone Jamie thought the man could muster.


        “He created me to entertain him. To dance for him.” Jamie repeated the words slowly and carefully, as if Loka were a small child, or an idiot who couldn’t comprehend.


        The smug, almost arrogant manner of the boy’s response wasn’t lost on Loka who glared at the Icarian as the urge to hit the winged boy once more welled up inside him.


        “I see,” Loka said angrily and turned away looking toward a group of people standing around the scanner’s control panel. “You mean that old fool created a toy to amuse him?”


        “Apparently,” a man said, moving to stand beside Loka. “I can show you the results of the scan.”


        “And other potential?” Loka asked skeptically. “There has to be something else. Languages? Science? Mathematics? High intelligence? Something? Anything?”


        “No, your highness,” The man said, “Our direct scan shows a proclivity to movement and dance – actually, it’s quite high. His intelligence is within normal ranges – maybe on the lower side of normal. It looks like he really was created to be a dancer, and nothing more.”


        “Incredible,” Loka said. “This proves Croal was going senile and getting crazier, the older he got. Wasting a genetic profile like that to create a thing that would amuse him like some… toy,” he spat out in anger. Shaking his head, he walked to the far side of the lab.


        “What are your orders, Your Highness?” the man said.


        For a few moments Loka didn’t speak, and Jamie could tell he was thinking. “Run the standard tests and when you’re done, send him to the Mondele Royale,” Loka ordered. “He’s a little old to start formal training, but since he supposedly has a talent for dance we’ll start there. See what they can do with him. Besides, the Mondele will be a perfect place to hold him for the moment. If it doesn’t work out, he can be sent to the House of Service and Expedition. He can pour wine, set a table, and scrub backs if it comes to it.” Loka said then shaking his head grumbled to himself, “An imperial! All that work to create an imperial and you design it to be a dancer… You bloody stupid, senile fool.” And with that, Loka stormed out of the lab.


        “Yes, my lord,” the man who’d seemed to be in charge said as Loka exited the lab.


        Jamie noticed the headband had gotten warmer and he knew the scan was over. His guess was confirmed when the headband was removed and he was helped up off the stool and escorted from the lab. As he was led away, he could still hear Savaron Loka’s voice echoing down the corridor. “Unbelievable! An imperial, and Croal designs him to be a dancer.”


        By now, the wall Jamie had built in his mind was gone. He was led down another corridor and into a different room, another lab. Over the course of the next hour, he was subjected to a number of tests. More blood was taken, he was ordered to strip out of his jumpsuit and small cloths and was given a physical examination including tests for vision, hearing and coordination among other things. When all the tests were finished, he was given a simple white tunic and pair of sandals and escorted from the room. As he was led further into the facility, he was taken to a third room, shown a stool, and told to sit until someone came for him. The women who’d escorted him there turned and left the room, closing the door behind her. The sharp click confirmed for Jamie that she’d locked the door behind her. Sitting quietly, he began to look around. The room he was in was also some kind of a lab or examination room. Although n ot as large as the other labs he’d been in, it was still fairly expansive, with high ceilings and a few large pieces of equipment lying about.


        As he sat quietly thinking about what was going to happen to him, he heard some muffled voices behind him. Getting up from his stool, he turned in the direction of the voices and walked to the far end of the room where a large window was set into the wall. The window opened onto another brightly lit corridor, but on the opposite wall of the corridor a second window was set into the wall, providing a view into another room that also looked like a small lab. As Jamie peered out the window of his room, through the window across the hall and into the room opposite his, he was surprised to see another winged boy sitting on a stool with a band around his head. The boy appeared to be about fifteen AS. Blond haired and blue eyed, he was definitely handsome although his good looks were slightly marred by an expression of either anger or frustration; it was hard to tell which. Next to the boy sat a strange looking machine with an older man at its control panel.  The machine didn’t look at all like a cortical scanner. It was small and compact, and its control array was completely different from a scanner.


        Watching unobserved, Jamie startled when the boy jumped from the stool causing it to topple over, reached up, tore the headband from his head, and threw it on the ground.


        “It’s impossible, Nol,” he shouted, storming away from the man. “I can’t do it. Its too hard… I’ve tried and tried, but it is impossible,” he said angrily.


        “It’s not impossible, Loran,” the man said. “There’s no reason to lose your patience. If you do, you’ll never succeed. Just open you mind to it.”


        “Open my mind?” the boy shouted, “I’ve been opening my mind for the last two years. You said when I completed my puberty cycle I’d be able to do it. Well, I’ve just completed it and I still can’t do it.”


        “We’ll take a break,” the older man said. “We’ve practiced enough today. And you might as well rest. Remember, you’re meeting Prince Alexander for the first time tonight. You need to be ready for that.”


        The boy frowned and appeared ready to say something when he looked up and out the window and caught sight of Jamie. Quickly making his way to the window, the boy stared out and made eye contact with Jamie. Jamie, caught off guard at being discovered, stood frozen to the spot and stared back. His mind was racing. The man had called the boy Loran - was this his brother? The boy certainly had some of the same physical characteristics that he did. Of course, the boy was older; he was also taller and slightly more muscular, although as with most Icarians, his lean frame was no indication of his true strength.


        As soon as Loran stepped over to the window, the other man’s eyes went first to him and then followed his gaze out the window, to Jamie. Obviously shocked at what he was seeing, he scurried across the room and stabbed his finger at the side of the window frame. Instantly the glass went opaque, and the boy and man disappeared from view. Even after they did, Jamie continued to stand looking out the window, his mind whirling as he stared at what appeared to be a solid wall. Hearing a noise behind him, he turned in time to see the door of the room open. The same woman who’d brought him to the room called out to him, telling him to follow her. She led him down a series of corridors, past rooms, labs and offices. He noticed that whenever he encountered other people, they always stared intently at him, giving him an uneasy feeling. Finally, they walked though a series of doors, and arrived in a bright and airy foyer. Still following the woman, he was led through another door and was surprised to find himself outside of the building.


        Looking around, he could see he was in a vast complex. All around him stood buildings – both large and small. All the buildings within his view were sleekly designed to show as much glass and steel as possible. Some were low lying, others tall; still others bent and twisted into unusual shapes. In their own way, each was beautiful – a singular work or art. Interspersed between the buildings were park-like greenswards of grass and trees. Walkways and skyways ran through the green medians and connected to other buildings and structures. Motioning for him to follow her, his escort started walking down a wide walkway that intersected and divided a large rectangular, carefully manicured lawn into two equal parts. As they approached yet another building complex, he noticed a mid-sized hov parked on a nearby pad. Its polished aluminum hull reflected the sunlight, yellow and orange markings forming the symbol for Gold Glass Flats were emblazoned on it side. The woman turned and headed toward it, and Jamie realized it was their destination. Once they arrived at the hov, the woman approached a young man who was standing near the hov’s passenger hatch. She spoke to him quietly for a few minutes and then walked away, leaving Jamie with the young man. He turned and smiled at Jamie.


        “Come on over and climb up,” he said, pointing up the steps toward the hov’s hatch. "Looks like you're going to Mondele Royale.”


        At first Jamie wondered why they simply didn’t take a gate and almost asked the man, but then he decided to remain quiet. His father had told him to say as little as possible and he’d committed to that approach, so without speaking or even acknowledging the man he walked to the hov, climbed its steep stairs and stepped through the open hatch. Once inside, another man directed him to a seat that’s design was similar to the ones he and Charlie sat in when riding the large hov with their father. After strapping Jamie into his seat, the man took a seat in front of him, strapped himself in, and called out to the pilot of the craft, “Strapped in and ready for take off.”


        The only acknowledgement the man received from the pilot was a nod of the head as the engine of the hov came to life. Without further comment or reaction from the crew, the hov lifted off in a straight vertical assent. The pilot – obviously quite skilled – maneuvered the craft with such precision that Jamie hardly felt any movement; had he closed his eyes, he thought to himself, he could have easily imagined he was lying on his bed back at the villa. The thought caused a sudden pain in his chest, and he tried to suppress an all too vivid memory of that very morning when Castor, bringing breakfast into his bedroom, had awakened him.


        In an attempt to distract himself, he looked out the nearby window. Since the craft was still in its vertical ascent, Jamie could see the Gold Glass complex below. He’s seen pictures of it and his father had often talked about it, but in person it was far larger than he’d ever imagined. Looking down at the sprawling complex, he remembered that – just like his home of Villa Mare Vista – the bulk of the complex was hidden deep underground, and was at least three to four times larger than what could be seen on the surface. As the craft switched from vertical to standard flight, Jamie looked beyond the complex toward the horizon and caught a glimpse of the geological formation that gave Gold Glass its name.


        The sun shone brightly on a large, open plain stretching out from Gold Glass that looked like it was covered with shimmering, liquid gold. Long ago, in some ancient geological event, the mostly silica-based soil to the north of the Plain of Zarkistan had been subjected to an intense temperature that melted and then fused the silica into a glass-like substance. In the presence of the tremendous heat, a unique mixture of minerals in the silica caused this vitreous layer to turn a bright, golden color. In time, the sheet of golden silica cooled and as the centuries turned to millennia, the thick glassy material fractured and shattered creating large boulders, every size and shape of rock, trillions of pebbles, and countless grains of sand – all gold tinted. When the sun shone on the plain, it was as if it was illuminating a great field of pure gold. Sometimes the glare from the plain was so bright that it could temporarily blind anyone not wearing shaded eyeglasses. The sight of the golden plain was beautiful, and Jamie couldn’t take his eyes from it. Finally it slid out of view as the hov flew further south across the Plain of Zarkistan, and away from the Gold Glass facility.


         Settling back in his seat, he sighed. He was being transported to the capital city of Küronas, the very center of the imperial empire, and once there he was being taken to the Mondele Royale. While his father had speculated as to his fate if he were captured, Jamie was surprised to hear that he was being transported to Küronas and specifically Mondele Royale. Although the plan had been to present himself to the agents of the empire as a simple diversion – a dancer – for the eminent Edmond Croal, he hadn’t expected them to act on that fact. His own knowledge of the Mondele was limited. He’d encountered references in his studies and Mobley had shown he and Charlie vids of performers on the stage of the imperial opera house, but his talents and abilities weren’t anything he thought that might be acceptable entertainment at the Mondele. He knew that the empire had a network of secret prisons and detention facilities at a number of unlikely locations, and wondered if that was the case as far as the campus where the Mondale was located. Maybe there was such a facility there – one where he would be locked up. In any event, it was not a turn of events he’d ever considered – until now.


        “Would you like something to drink?” asked the young man who seemed to be in charge of getting him to Küronas.


        Jamie shook his head no, fighting the urge to ask the man where they were going.


        “Have you ever been to Küronas?” the man asked, as if he’d just read Jamie’s mind and was answering the young Icarian’s question.


        Jamie remained quiet and simply shook his head no.


        “Then you’re in for a surprise,” he said, smiling. “I’m sure you’ll like it.”


        “Not as much as Isewier,” Jamie thought to himself glumly, as he sunk deeper into his seat.


        “And we’ll be landing on Canon Mon Art - The Hill of the Arts,” the man continued, his voice rising with obvious excitement. “After Canon Piazza Imperius, it’s the most beautiful area of the city. You’re so lucky to be going there.”


        Not feeling very lucky and not speaking, Jamie sat looking at the smiling man, pondering why they were headed to a place called The Hill of the Arts. He was, after all, a prisoner. He refused to think of himself as property of the empire.


        “The Mondele is so beautiful,” the man continued, seemingly unaware of Jamie’s worry and anxiety. “I attended an opera there a year ago. It was spectacular! The stage was… well, it was just incredible. The set was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, and the performance... well… ah… well… I can’t even describe it,” he continued, the words gushing from his mouth in excitement. “It was just so elaborate and… and… well, it was just incredible,” he continued breathlessly, oblivious to the fact that Jamie wasn’t really paying attention. “The emperor and empress weren’t in attendance the night I was there, but I got to see the imperial box… unbelievable! After I saw it, I couldn’t stop daydreaming about what it would be like to sit on the throne in the imperial box and watch a performance. Of course, it’s the best seat in the house,” he added, giggling at his own little joke.


        Jamie remained silent and sad. Once more feeling a wave of fear well up inside of him, he turned from the man and looked out the window. It was getting late, and the sun was working its way toward the horizon. In less than an hour, it would be dark. And try as he might to clear his head, it remained filled with so many thoughts that he couldn’t banish them to some dark corner of his mind and forget they existed.


        A few more minutes passed and he felt the hov change course. Looking toward the horizon, he could see that they were approaching a large city. As they’d progressed on their journey, the plain below them had turned to lush fields studded with farms and the occasional processing plant. Now the fields were giving way to buildings,  – first a few, then more – their size and height growing the closer they got to the city. For all his worry and fear, Jamie’s curiosity had him pressed to the window, taking in everything he could see.


        Küronas was a grand city – he already knew that from his studies – but as they drew closer, he realized the paucity of that description. At first the buildings were simply interesting and some even what he’d call beautiful, but as they continued on their appearance grew grander, and further on he was sure he'd never imagined anything this spectacular. Küronas was the capital of the empire, the seat of power, and the place where the Emperor himself sat upon the iron throne in the Imperial Palace. The city was designed to display the power and beauty of a thriving empire, and it succeeded beyond all measure.


        Great towers of glass were interspersed with large buildings of older, more classical construction. Each one was unique – each a singular work of art, but built to harmonize with it's neighbors. Buildings with spires, towers, and domes dotted the landscape. As they flew closer and lower, the rapidly setting sun glinted off the glass, stone, brass, and bronze of the great buildings. Peering out the window, Jamie saw long, straight, tree-lined boulevards stretching out across the city. Green parks, some small and others large, were scattered about the landscape. The architecture was varied, and impressive. There were official looking buildings with exteriors of granite and marble lined with statues, columns and friezes, and topped with red tile roofs. Tall buildings – some built in unusual and amazing shapes, and covered with glass – reached to the sky. There were avenues of shops, streets lined with dwellings that clustered to form neighborhoods and everywhere, there was water. The city had been constructed in the early days of the Second Republic at the juncture of three great rivers whose headwaters began in the distant Poniçessian Mountains, and although it was in inland city, Küronas had been designed to take advantage of its three rivers.


        With the abundance of water, a network of canals had been planned in selected areas of the city. Bordered by grass, trees, plants and flowers, they created a green- bordered, aquatic highway throughout Küronas. Crossing the canals were beautiful bridges – some lined with shops – connecting key streets, broad avenues, and grand boulevards. The pattern of the streets and canals had been planned carefully to divide the city into sectors, known as Canons – each centering on one of the nine hills that had been created to elevate parts of the city and break the monotony of the flat plain of Zarkistan. As they continued to descend, the hov passed over Canon Nord, the northern sector of the city, low enough to allow Jamie to see what had given the city it nickname: the city of fountains.


        In green parks and grand squares, in front of buildings and palaces, in the middle of the circles where large boulevards met, there were fountains. During his studies with Mobley, Jamie’d learned that after the construction of the first major fountain in the city, Emperor Alexis the First was so pleased with the result that he directed architects to consider fountains whenever they built a structure. While not an order or decree, a suggestion from the Emperor was something one never ignored. Soon, a new profession combining engineering, architecture, hydrology, landscaping and art emerged, and the fountain architects of Küronas grew in stature and fame. Competitions were often held to choose a design for the water feature when a new and important structure was built, and over time the city became alive with the bubbling flow, bright sparkle and pleasant sound of hundreds of fountains – each different and unique.


        As they descended ever lower Jamie could see a variety of beautiful fountains – each different – spouting, bubbling, spraying or shooting water in clever ways in order to catch the viewer's eye. Distracted for a few minutes by the beauty of the city, Jamie’s heart sank and his fear returned when he felt the hov slow down and then come to a stop until it hovered in one spot.


        “We’re here,” the young man said, once again smiling at Jamie as he slid over to one of the hov's other windows and glanced out. “Canon Mon Art – isn’t it beautiful?” he added as the hov began a vertical descent.


        It was beautiful, Jamie realized. And even though his previous knowledge was limited to pictures and vids, Jamie’s first impression was that - after Isewier - The Mountain of the Arts was probably one of the most beautiful places in the world. Although he’d had visions of being thrown in some dark cell and locked away, nothing on the hill remotely resembled a prison; instead, the grand buildings dotting the hill were quite beautiful. Great expanses of greensward separated many of the structures. Expansive lawns, tall trees, plants of every kind, an amazing variety of flowers and, of course, statues and fountains were everywhere. The campus of the The Mountain of the Arts looked like something out of one of the storybooks Jamie’d read as a child. Most of the structures on the Mountain of the Arts were classical in design. Many were made of marble, and every one of them was quite beautiful.


        There was the slightest of jolts as the hov set down; the engine cut off, and there was silence. The young man approached Jamie, bent down, and released his straps. The action annoyed Jamie. He’d flown in hovs for most of his life, and having someone fasten and unfasten his hov seat straps was something he

immediately resented. He wasn’t a child. ‘But you are a prisoner,’ his thoughts reminded him, and he sighed deeply, trying to push away his growing fear and anxiety.


        “Time to go,” the man said. “Be careful when you descend the steps - you wouldn't want to trip.”


        Once more feeling like a child who didn’t know how to exit a hov, Jamie went to the hatch, which was now open, carefully folded his wings back, and began to walk down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, another man stood waiting for him. The light was rapidly fading from the sky since the sun was now setting, but Jamie immediately recognized the man as a Kalorian. A small wave of relief washed over him. He’d actually expected a 'toon of imperial shock troops, their ghosters drawn and pointing at him, but seeing the tall Kalorian gave him hope that here might be a friend.


        “Silana va desta,” Jamie said softly, giving the man a guarded smile.


        The Kalorian looked down at him first in shock and then anger, as if the Icarian boy had deliberately insulted him. Surprised at this reaction, the smile rapidly disappeared from Jamie’s face.


        “Come along,” the Kalorian said, using human speech and taking Jamie by the shoulder. With no attempt at gentleness, he pushed the boy in front of him while pointing to a large building sitting across the lawn from where the hov had landed.


        “We’re going there,” the Kalorian said.


        “Sayh ya,” Jamie answered, using the Kalorian equivalent of OK in a second attempt to reach out to a familiar face.


        The Kalorian openly bristled at Jamie’s words, and Jamie blinked in surprise. “Go,” the Kalorian said harshly, giving Jamie a slight push between his shoulder blades where his wings met. Not saying another word, Jamie began walking toward the building, with the Kalorian following on his heels.


        The building – by now fading into the dusk of the late summer evening – looked like one of the smaller structures in the immediate area, but appeared no less grand. Crossing the lawn, they reached a cobbled walk and Jamie looked down to see that its stones were set in an artful, wavelike pattern. Finally

approaching the building, he saw a small bubbling pool nearby; it sounded calm and gentle, as if it were inviting everyone who heard it to come over, stand for a few minutes, and be soothed by its quiet sounds. Passing it, he arrived in front of the building he’d been directed to and and began climbing the steps with the Kalorian still at his heels. Passing though a large bronze door, Jamie found himself in a grand foyer. White marble with distinctive black veins sheathed its walls; the floor was also composed of marble, and had been laid in a pleasing geometric pattern. Lining the foyer were planters filled with beautiful plants and flowers. Incredibly huge pots held fully matured trees that were interspersed with the planters. In the center of the foyer, large columns held up a domed ceiling on which a grand fresco had been painted - a beautifully rendered scene of angels dancing. On the floor directly under the dome stood a beautiful fountain.


        “Wait here,” the Kalorian, his voice still tinged with anger, “and do not move.”


        “Yes,” Jamie answered quietly, abandoning Kalorian and speaking in the standard universal tongue of the empire.


        He watched the man walk toward, and then disappear into, a nearby hallway. After the Kalorian was gone Jamie stood silently, looking about the grand space where he’d been left standing. Although the man had told him not to move, the fountain wasn’t that far from where he was standing, so he passed between two of the large marble columns and walked over to it. The fountain was large. Most of it consisted of a shallow, round pool. In the center of the pool stood a tall pile of marble rocks roughly hewn and carefully placed in an artfully pleasing way. The mechanism for pumping and directing the water of the fountain must have been inside the pile for although it was hidden, water spilled out from the rocks, cascaded over them, and flowed into the pool. The effect was lovely: the water flowed so gently down the rocks as it made it’s way into the pool that it hardly made a sound. The highest rock, sitting at the apex of the pile, had a flat surface and on it stood the bronze figure of a winged boy, rendered in a scale at least two times larger than life.


        As he got closer, Jamie realized the boy was in fact not standing, but balanced on the toes of his right foot; his left leg was extended up and back in perfect develope`, his foot pointed and arched gracefully. Bent forward slightly, the boy had his arms extended out from his sides and his wings spread – giving the impression that he’d just landed from a mighty leap and was beginning his recovery. It was clear from the posture and stance of the boy that he was dancing, and the statue had captured a key moment in the dance, preserving both the moment in time, and the boy, forever. The effect was captivating, and Jamie couldn’t help being drawn ever closer to it. The statue was a nude, and although the figure was quite slim and without obvious musculature, the sculptor had accurately conveyed the strength and power of the dancer in the taut muscles of his calves, the posture of his back, and the firmness of the boy’s abdomen. Moving around to the front of the statue, he saw the boy’s face: a confident smile played on the dancer’s lips and his eyes seemed to sparkle with glee, giving an appearance of confidence and satisfaction at the success of his move and his delight in being able to execute it. And even though he didn’t feel very happy, as Jamie stared up at the frozen boy’s face he couldn’t help but smile, since he knew exactly what that feeling was like.


        Lost in the moment, he startled when he heard the sound of footsteps clicking on the marble floor and echoing from the same corridor the Kalorian had entered. As they grew louder, Jamie  abandoned his study of the fountain and rushed back to the spot where the Kalorian had ordered him to stand. And as the sounds grew louder, Jamie turned in their direction and saw the Kalorian emerging from the hallway, accompanied by another man – a human. Both men quickly crossed the open expanse of floor to get to him, and within seconds were looking down at him.


        The second man had a paper in his hand. Pausing in front of Jamie, he looked at the paper and scanned it carefully, then he looked at Jamie and perused him for a long moment. Jamie, in turn, looked up into the man’s eyes, feeling uncomfortable as he shifted his weight from one foot to another. The man broke his gaze and began to circle the boy.


        “So what am I supposed to do with him?” the man said, sounding exasperated and irritated.  “What kind of order is this?” he added, once more glancing at the paper in his hand. “He’s too old. The archduke knows that we start them off at five, exactly one week after they’ve been decanted,” he added, clearly irritated. “And this one…,” he paused and studied the paper yet again. Slapping it angrily with his hand, he looked back to Jamie. “This says you’re twelve. Twelve! By the Emperor’s beard! Where do I put you? Clearly not with the senior dancers, and I can’t see…” Pausing in his tirade, he once again began to circle Jamie. Once more facing the boy, he stopped and stared silently at the young Icarian for a few seconds. “Well, I can’t get out of it. An order is an order, and from the Prince of Imperialas, no less. What makes you so special that Loka had to have you hand delivered to my doorstep?” he said, eying Jamie with suspicion.


        Recognizing that even though the man was addressing him he really wasn’t looking for an answer, Jamie remained silent, but as he looked into the man’s angry eyes, he could feel his wings shudder slightly.


        “Uhm… well… you’re small for twelve,” the man added, suddenly trying to sound optimistic. “I guess maybe we can stick you in with the younger ones and it won’t look too obvious. As usual, I’m given sausage and somehow have to turn it into a grand roast. Well, we’ll start you off, then maybe after going along with this little whim of His Imperial Highness’s for a while, we can ship you off to Expedition and Service,” he added wearily.


        Turning to the Kalorian, he frowned. “Take him to the École. Get him a room and prepare him for bed. After he’s taken care of, alert Sprague that he has a new student before he turns in for the night, and tell him I’ll have more information for him in the morning.” Pointing to Jamie, he added “Make sure someone gets him up in the morning and has him ready by the time first class begins. Now, off with him,” he said making a dismissive gesture with his hand while grumbling something incoherent under his breath.


        The Kalorian took Jamie by the shoulder and began to lead him out of the building, but before reaching the door, a shout from the man stopped them.


        “Put him next to Cristophe,” the man called out from across the foyer. “I think that will be the best, and don’t forget to lock him in. The archduke was very clear about that.”


        Night had fallen by the time Jamie and the Kalorian left the building. The beautiful, park-like campus atop Canon Mon Arts was well lit, and Jamie took in as much as he could as he and the Kalorian walked up a long, gently winding path that led around the building he’d just emerged from. For a few minutes Jamie walked beside the man in silence – the only sound that of the soft crunch of the gravel walk under their feet.


        “My name is Jamie,” he said softly, unable to contain the fear and tension building up inside of him and knowing if he didn’t say something, he’d explode. He’d been raised to trust Kalorians as friends, but this man was anything but friendly. Proceeding up the walk he hung his head, utterly discouraged as he continued to be met by silence.


        “Jakobus,” the Kalorian finally said, continuing to walk up the path while staring straight head and not looking to Jamie. “My name is Jakobus.”


        “I am pleased to meet you,” Jamie replied, trying as hard as he could to suppress his fear and not cry, but the quiver in his voice betrayed his true emotions.


        Jakobus, appearing not to notice, continued onward. Walking a little further, Jamie began to see they were approaching a wall with a large double gate; after passing through it, he found they were in a large plaza bordered on three of its sides by large buildings. The building in front of him was three stories tall; the ones to the right and left were two stories. Since it was dark Jamie couldn’t make out too much detail but they appeared to be well constructed but somewhat plain – possibly the plainest structures on the whole mountain. The man had told Jakobus to take Jamie to the school, and now he realized he was probably looking at it, along and its adjacent dormitories. Turning left, they had begun walking toward one of the two story buildings, when Jakobus stopped.


        “This is the residence for the junior students,” he said. “You’ll be staying here. You’re slightly older than many of the students – in fact, some are quite young, but you’ll discover that for yourself in the morning.” When the Kalorian paused for a few seconds, Jamie looked up at Jakobus. It seemed the Kalorian was struggling with conflicting emotions inside of him – although Jamie didn’t attempt to read the man’s thoughts, he could sense the man’s inner conflict quite strongly. Finally Jakobus took in and let out a long, deep breath. “Something I think you need to know,” he said, finally turning and acknowledging the boy standing to his right. “Students do not speak to Kalorian slaves as friends or equals. Students are inferior to instructors and humans, but are superior to Kalorians and only address them as a superior addresses an inferior. Students do not say hello, or good morning to Kalorians. They do not ask a Kalorian how they are, if they are happy, or how they feel. Do you understand?”


        Jamie just stood looking at Jakobus


        “Do you understand?” Jakobus asked a second time.


        “Yes,” Jamie said quietly.


        “And…” Jakobus continued, now looking away from the Icarian boy, “Never speak that language again, for you will be punished if you are overheard. No one speaks it. It is proscribed. You are the first Avionne I’ve every heard who could speak the forbidden tongue. But it would do you well not to speak it and to remember what I’ve just told you.”


        “Do you understand?” Jakobus repeated once more.


        “Yes,” Jamie said, both surprised and crestfallen. “Thank you for telling me,” he said, and then looking at Jakobus, added softly, “Even so, sir, I hope that we can be friends.”


        If the Kalorian heard Jamie, he ignored the boy’s remark. Motioning for Jamie to follow him, Jakobus opened the door leading into the building and ushered Jamie through it. The door opened into a long, wide hall that stretched out in both directions. Lining either side of the hall were doors, spaced every so many feet at equal intervals. The wooden floor that stretch out before them was made of dark wooden planking - smooth, polished, plain and serviceable.


        “This way,” Jakobus said, turning to the right. After walking briskly down the hall, the Kalorian stopped in front of the only pair of double doors Jamie could see in the hallway. Passing through them, they walked into a stairwell. Taking the stairs, they ascended to the second floor and passed through a second set of doors. The upstairs hallway looked quite similar to the one on the first floor. Walking down the long corridor, they turned left and Jamie saw yet another hallway stretching out before him. But Jakobus stopped after walking down it just a few feet. In front of a door that looked like any of the others, he withdrew a key from his pocket, placed it in the lock, and unlocked the bolt. Pushing it open, he turned on a light and nodded for Jamie to enter.


        The room was small. There was a bed against one wall and a desk, stool and dresser against another. A tiny sink was on the wall next to the bed. The desk was bare. The bed was outfitted with sheets, a blanket and one pillow. Next to the sink was a hook, on which hung a small, white towel. A small bar of soap sat in a dish on the sink ledge, alongside a small glass tumbler. Looking up toward the high ceiling, Jamie noted a narrow window above his head. Too high to permit view, the window appeared to be large enough to shed some light in the room during the day; although it was dark outside, he thought he could see the shadows of bars falling across it.


        “That is the closet,” Jakobus said, pointing to tall narrow door set into one of the walls. “Since you’ve brought nothing with you, clothing will be provided for you. The common baths and toilets are down the hall. You’ll be able to use them tomorrow, although if you must relieve yourself, I will accompany you now. Once I close the door it will be locked, and you won’t be able to get out until morning.”


        “Yes,” Jamie said his voice sounding soft and far away even to himself. “I need to go.”


        Not only did he have to go, he also wanted to see what the common baths were like, since he’d have to be sharing them. Walking down the hall ahead of Jakobus, he stopped when the Kalorian told him to and passed through the door his guide pointed at, indicating that it was the correct one.


        “I’ll wait here,” Jakobus said.


        Entering the bath, Jamie noted that although it was quite large, it was nothing like the luxurious bath he and Charlie had shared. Covered with simple white tiles from floor to ceiling, it was completely utilitarian. The pool in the middle of the room was bigger than any he’d ever seen and looked as if it could hold twenty or more bathers. No fluffy towels, sweet smelling soaps or oils could be seen. The room was very plain, and certainly didn’t have the feeling of warmth or comfort his own bath had. After using the toilet, he left the bath and followed Jakobus back to the room – his room.


        “There is a pair of sleep shorts in the drawer,” Jakobus said, pointing to the scuffed, scratched, and well-worn dresser. “But I believe that’s all there is. If you require a top or shirt I can try to find one, but I can’t promise anything this late at night.”


        “No,” Jamie said, looking around the room and feeling numb. “I don’t need a top; I only use sleep shorts at home,” but as soon he said the word home, the word caught in his throat and hot tears quickly came to his eyes.


        “Very well,” Jakobus said. “You will be awakened in the morning by Garus. Remember what I told you about speaking to Kalorians."


         Jamie just stood, overwhelmed, as the tears leaked from his eyes and trickled down his cheeks. Thoughts of his father, Charlie, Castor, his family, friends and home filled his mind and he quickly wiped away his tears so that Kalorian wouldn’t see them, but Jakobus had already walked out of the room, flicking the light off as he exited. Jamie heard the click of the lock when the Kalorian locked the door. Standing in the middle of the darkened room, he looked about but couldn’t see much in the darkened room. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, since his vision had become blurred by tears. Going over to the bed he lay prone on it, crossed his arms on the pillow, and laying his head on them, he began to sob. After almost a half hour of crying, exhaustion won out over fear, and he fell asleep.


        In the room next to Jamie’s, a winged figure lay quietly in his bed and listened to Jamie’s sobs until they became quieter, and finally stopped. But even after Jamie had fallen asleep the boy tossed about restlessly, staring into the inky blackness surrounding him, and wondered who was now occupying the room next to his. Every Avionne who’d ever come to the École had been overjoyed, considering the great honor it was to live and study on the Mon Arts, yet it seemed clear to the boy that whoever had just arrived was most unhappy. But although his thoughts speculated on many possibilities he, too, finally surrendered as the arms of sleep embraced him, and the silence of the night once more reigned supreme.