The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'
Part II - Prince of Mondele Royale
Alternating between graceful turns, abrupt leaps, and lightning quick hand movements, the young corpus harpist moving inside of the glowing tube played with practiced skill. To his right, on a low-set stage, a group of Avionne boys prepared to move in time with the beat as the count began.
“...and five, six, seven, eight.”
The boys raised their arms, brought their hands together and clapped loudly, then jumped and began to dance.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.”
“One, two, three, four, turn, six, seven, eight.”
“Jump two, three, four, and again, six, seven, eight.”
Moving in near perfect synchronization their feet beat out a muffled rhythm in time with the music.
“One, two, three, four, spin right, six, seven, eight.”
“One, two, three, four, spin left, six, seven, eight.”
For a few seconds the dancers were a blur when, tucking back their wings, they rapidly spun first right and then left.
“One, two, three, four, and air six, seven, eight.”
And from first position plie, each boy executed a powerful leap as the dance took to the air.
“And, wing dip right. Wing dip, left.”
Resembling swooping birds of prey, the boys effortlessly dipped, rolled, and recovered
“Two steps up, one step back.”
And although they were airborne with nothing under their feet, the dancers were able to maintain such perfect three-dimensional precision in their movements that they gave the impression they were walking on an invisible staircase.
“Now spin... spin... spin... and stop!”
Each boy began to spin in the air like a top as the music grew to a crescendo. The volume decreased, and the music slowly faded away as they gracefully floated back to the stage. At the instant their feet touched the floorboards, the harpist went still and the music ceased. Except for a few labored breaths the dancers stood quietly, waiting for the critique they knew was coming.
“That last spin really needs to be more precise,” Jamie called out, turning to face the boys he’d just been leading. His eyes focused keenly on all of them and his tone grew serious, “And don’t forget you have to be completely synchronized at all times,” he continued. “It’s critical that you know exactly where you’re putting your feet with every step you take. Marcus, do you see where you’re standing on the stage?”
Marcus, along with the other boys who’d been dancing near him, looked down at the stage floor. Marcus began to blush when he saw that he was standing squarely on one of the bright red circles painted on the surface of the stage.
“Remember, it’s not going to be a normal stage; that’s why I had the technicians draw those marks on this practice stage: so that you can memorize where everything is located. You have to be aware at every moment exactly where you are – one misstep, and you’ll be drenched. Another, and you might be blown completely off the stage, and with wet wings the only flying you’ll do is straight to the ground like a sack of rocks. That stage over there? It’s almost fifty feet high. A fall from a height like that won’t be like tripping over a loose brick on a garden path. We won’t practice on the real thing until we can do it perfectly over here – every time! Do you understand?”
There were a few nods from the group of twenty-one boys lined up in three rows behind the spot where Jamie’d been dancing. All of them, and Jamie as well, were wearing their tights, racerbacks and dance slippers. That they’d been working hard for some time was evident from the rivulets of sweat that ran down their bodies and dripped on the stage.
As the date for the Emperor’s birthday celebration grew closer, preparations were well underway for the gala event. At the Hall of the Crystal Sphere, the stage Jamie’d designed was now finally complete. Rising high above the floor of the arena it was a marvel of engineering; privately, he was quite proud of it. After its completion, he had a simple mock-up constructed directly on the arena floor a few feet away from the actual stage which had yet to be hoisted high above the arena floor where they’d be performing. The practice stage had none of the special features of the real one, it simply defined the space that he and a few select members of the senior troupe he’d chosen would practice on until he was sure they were ready to dance on the real stage. He was just preparing to call out the boys for another run-through, when his main project engineer emerged from the tunnel that led onto the arena floor.
“Grab a rest,” he shouted to the troupe. Snatching a nearby towel, he mopped the sweat from his face, then looped it around his neck as he jumped down off the low-lying practice stage and walked toward the approaching man.
“It’s all ready,” the engineer said with a smile. “Do you want to give it a go?”
“Not yet,” Jamie said. “I’ll wait until we’re finished with today’s practice and they’re gone.” Then nodding toward the boys who, like Jamie, had grabbed towels and were wiping sweat from their faces, he added with a grin, “I don’t want to scare them.”
“Well, when you’re ready, it’s ready,” the engineer said. “I have to admit, I’m looking forward to seeing it in action.”
“Give us twenty more minutes and we’ll be done for today. I’ll stay behind and try it out. I was patient while we were building it, but now that it’s done I can hardly wait to play with it.”
“I heard you warn the boys,” the engineer said. “That same warning goes for you.”
“There’s one difference though,” Jamie replied. “ I designed it, so I know what to expect. They don’t.” Jamie gave the engineer a wink. “I can’t wait to see their eyes pop out of their head when they watch me give them a demonstration.”
“Nevertheless, Prince de Valèn, it’s not a toy. You, more than anyone, know how dangerous it can be.”
“I do,” Jamie said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, we’ll do one more run through and conclude practice for today, and then I’ll give our creation a go.”
Ever since Jamie’d mastered the flying arabesque, he’d been exploring its limits. After learning from Cristophe that the movement of air from the theater’s ventilation system across the stage was the key that made the move possible, he’d begun experimenting with airflows and wind streams, and their effects on his wings. Combining his natural genius with his love and talent for mathematics and physics, he’d tried a number of experiments. But it wasn’t until he was given the opportunity to perform for the Emperor’s birthday and the unique access to resources that it offered him that he was able to research the subject as he wished.
When the Emperor placed the nearly unlimited resources and personnel of the Empire at Jamie’s disposal, he’d given the boy a chance to test his theories and to push his understanding of Icarian aerodynamics to a higher level. With the Emperor’s acceptance of his proposal, Jamie had been able to reserve time in one of the wind tunnels at the aerodynamics laboratory of a hov manufacturer. Engineers, technicians, and designers were also placed at his disposal. Resources weren’t a problem. Whenever anyone checked Jamie’s authorization, it appeared he’d been given carte blanche – the backing of the Crown had a way of making all things possible.
The completed stage that would tower high in the air above the floor of the Hall of the Crystal Sphere was the result of Jamie’s own work and research. The stage floor was a micro-mesh grid formed from a special steel alloy that gave it unique properties. Although it could be classified as a metal, in some ways it acted like a semi permeable membrane. Strong as heavy steel plating, it was nonetheless light and easy malleable. Even more surprising was how it felt to the touch. Dancing on sheets of steel plating would be ruinous for the feet, ankles and knees of any dancer, yet this material had a slight rubbery bounce and feel to it, much like the Marley floors in the studios of Danse École.
With several large planetary databases and The Screen at his disposal, Jamie had come across the research of an obscure Altinestran metallurgist. It was an unexpected but lucky find. At first puzzled by what he’d discovered, Jamie quickly came to grasp its implications. Although quite a bit of research and testing had been done by the scientist, the project had been abruptly abandoned, and after a review of the man’s life, Jamie suspected the sudden death of the scientist in a freak hov accident was responsible for the demise of the project.
The amazing metal was an entirely new material – and so was the process for manufacturing it. It wasn’t long before the project engineer Jamie’d been working with began to fully grasp its many possible uses and he suggested that the boy look into applying for a patent. When Jamie showed no interest, the impresario’s office was quick to alert it’s legal experts to do so with all due haste. Impresario Bollini had shrewdly included a representative on Jamie’s team, and was delighted when he was presented with a detailed description of the unique metal. In fact, besides the steel alloy in the stage, a number of other minor inventions and technological advances were made as Jamie perfected his design – all of which were claimed by the school.
But it wasn’t commercial success Jamie desired. As an avionne, he knew well enough that since he was a property of the state, his work would be subject to the Empire’s control. The satisfaction he gained was that for the first time since he was a little boy, he was being allowed to do what he’d always dreamed of and he was happier than he’d been since being taken from his home. Under the guise of his preparations for the Imperial birthday celebration, his formidable intellect and curiosity had been let out to play – for that’s how he thought of it.
While his telepathic link and all too infrequent clandestine meetings in the underground world of Ghröum with Charlie were making him an expert in the terrible art of war, and his sessions with Stephen Perkinjius, Mobley, and Damian focused on the current Altinestran/Commonwealth political situation, it was the research that he was being allowed to participate in that filled an emptiness inside him that he’d concealed for so many years. It was like a large dam had suddenly collapsed, giving the immense lake it held back the freedom to flow forth in an unstoppable torrent. Presented with an incredible opportunity, he put his heart, soul, and intellect into the project to produce truly amazing results.
From the time he’d played in his father’s secret laboratory at Villa Mare Vista, he’d dreamed of becoming one of the great scientists of the Empire. More than once as a small child, he’d fantasized about standing in the Hall of Heroes at the Scientific Archives on Ajax. On nights when his head was full of thoughts and he couldn’t sleep, he’d sneak from his room and wander down to the beach. There, sitting quietly on the sand and listening to the crashing waves, he’d look up at the twin moons of Argon and Ajax and imagine standing in the great hall surrounded by the scientific community of Altinestra – maybe of the entire commonwealth – to accept his induction into the Legion of Scientists. He’d take his place next to the human he loved and admired most – Edmond Croal. For although the often aloof Croal seemed cold and unfeeling to most, Jamie knew that the man he called his father had a vision he kept hidden deep in his heart: that the sons he’d created and loved as much as any that have ever been born by natural means would walk their world and the whole galaxy as free men.
Just as many of the scientists of the home world millennia before had come to regret their involvement in atomic fission when it was used to build weapons that killed entire populations, so too did Edmond Croal harbor his own regrets for creating a race that had been born into slavery.
“I wish I’d never done it,” Croal said quietly under his breath one day during one of Jamie’s private sessions in his father’s office, “The example of the Kalorians was right in front of my eyes, and I couldn’t see it. I was young and simply thought that if one can do something, then of course one should do it.”
And although he said the words aloud, at that moment it seemed to Jamie that his father was reflecting more to himself than to his son. But then Edmond Croal paused, and for a few seconds he looked lovingly at Jamie. With his father’s hand lightly on his cheek, the boy was graced with one of the scientist’s rare, genuine and truly happy smiles. “But then I wouldn’t have my lovely boys, would I?” he’d said before the moment broke and he’d quickly turned away, urging Jamie to continue his exercises.
Looking up at the stage, Jamie smiled recalling his childish dreams, and the wild fantasies that grew up around them. Then, almost as fast as the pleasant thought had come, his smile vanished, much like the rain of a passing shower evaporates off a scorching pavement on a hot summer day, as he recalled what he’d learned shortly after he’d gained net access to the informatics stations in the school’s library.
One of the first things he’d accessed when he was finally able to use the library’s informatics stations was the main news database of the planet. Isolation at the school for months had deprived him of any news of the outside world, and he was hungry for information. After quickly scanning the many databases available, an item caught his eye and he expanded the feed. Sitting quietly at the informatics station while the data poured directly into his brain, he saw the public announcement of the death of Edmond Croal. Extolled as a hero of the empire, he was posthumously inducted into the Scientific Legion. Accompanying the story was a picture from a vid taken in the Hall of Heroes: an urn with Croal’s ashes sat on a draped pedestal. Around the urn hung the legion’s medallion, and gathered around the pedestal stood the Emperor, the Privy Council, and the Council of Imperial Scientific Advisors. They all had solemn looks on their face. The story quoted some of the Emperor’s remarks, and mention was made that the eminent scientist’s ashes would be placed in the hallowed Crypt of Honor.
The shocking image first caused Jamie to cry, but as he watched the vid and absorbed the story, his tears disappeared and were quickly replaced by a smoldering anger. The hypocrisy galled him, and it was then that a thought he’d harbored since being brought to the school – a thought he’d often pushed to the back of his mind – emerged. It was a sense – a feeling – that for the past few years had begun to influence him. Humans, he’d come to feel, were evil. First they’d killed his father, and then they’d deprived him of his freedom and his happy life. They’d enslaved the Kalorian race and made them do their bidding.
From his studies with Mobley, he’d learned that the story of an entire race was often one of war, violence, domination, and inhumanity. Humans killed other humans at a rate that no other species could match. They also killed, enslaved, or hurt those things that weren’t human or that they didn’t understand – the examples were more then he could count.
Over his years at the École Danse, his witness of the general repression of the Empire and his personal treatment, including Sprague’s merciless cruelty and the duke’s attack on him at the imperial palace, along with the slaughter he’d witnessed at Castle Rood – a display of blood sport simply for the entertainment of the crowd – only strengthened his feelings of anger and resentment against humans. At this very moment he was one of their little darlings – a dancer who could amuse them and help them to forget their problems in a time of crisis for the Empire. But how quickly would that change if he became uncooperative? Turning his back on the stage, his mind was filled with what he’d learned, with the help of his brother, about war – his sweet, and innocent brother who he was drawing into the stinking morass of cruelty and pain the humans of this planet had created.
His thoughts returned to the present as he emerged from his fugue, and he drew a sharp, angry breath. “That’s enough for today,” Jamie called out to the boys of the senior troupe who were sitting on the floor or leaning against the stage, awaiting his instructions. He tried to keep his voice calm, but his mood had turned black. He’d lost all interest and motivation to continue practice for the day. “Go back to the school, clean up and relax... and thank you,” he added almost as an afterthought. There were looks of surprise on some of the boys’ faces, but they quickly began to gather up their things, grateful for an unexpected break from their grueling practice. Jamie turned his back on the stage and the other dancers. Striding quickly across the arena floor he headed toward the open door that was the entrance to the underground tunnel. At the tunnel entrance, he passed the waiting engineer.
“I thought you were planning to test the stage, Prince de Valèn,” the man said, surprised to see Jamie brush past him.
“No, not today,” Jamie’s curt reply echoed through the tunnel and he marched on without pausing or turning back to address the man.
Almost running, he emerged from the tunnel, proceeded to the main entrance of the hall, and exited the building. Although he’d walked to the Hall of the Crystal Sphere with the boys of the senior troupe, he knew there would be a small private hov awaiting him when he was finished practice for the day. His sessions at Perkinjius’ shop had increased and he was scheduled for a meeting at the completion of his practice session. Today he wouldn’t even take the time to shower and change. If anyone didn’t like it, then that was their problem.
From the very beginning of his sessions with Perkinjius, the amazing wealth of information and knowledge he was learning made him hungry for more, and he rapidly absorbed everything presented to him like a thirsty sponge, creating files on the Screen to store away for later contemplation. He’d come to look forward to the sessions and even had grown more tolerant of Perkinjius often pompous and imperious personality.
Immediately after leaving the Hall of the Crystal Sphere he began to look around, but didn’t see a hov waiting for him. Scanning the sky, there was none in sight. Remembering that he’d ended practice early, he realized it wasn’t that the hov was late. He was early, and since he had no way of informing anyone of his altered schedule, he would simply have to wait.
Standing alone at one of the small hov pads near the hall he waited quietly, while cursing his temper. Every time he acted rashly, it always ended this way – he was the one who looked foolish or got into trouble. When would he ever learn? After a few moments of impatiently waiting while he scanned the light blue sky, he became aware of a presence, someone standing behind him. Executing the quick, precise turn of a practiced dancer he saw that the person who’d approached him was none other than Trajan. For a few seconds the boys stared at each other, each sizing the other up. Since it was the other boy who’d approached him, Jamie chose to remain silent, waiting for Trajan to first speak.
“I just wondered why,” Trajan finally said after a long and uncomfortable period of silence passed between them.
Jamie stood as still as a statue, his eyes locked on Trajan, and remained silent. In his mind it was impossible for him to forget his initial treatment at the hands of this boy and his friends. At a time when he was most vulnerable, he’d been mocked, attacked, and humiliated. In all his years at the school he’d never retaliated – had never even spoken of it.
Six months after Jamie entered Sprague’s class, Trajan had transferred to the senior troupe. Jamie saw him at mealtimes, but their interaction was nil. Immediately after his induction into the senior troupe, Trajan pranced around as if he owned the school, and more than once Jamie’d overheard him telling his friends and others that it was only a matter of time before he’d be a headline act.
Jamie’s friends from Trio Chrysalis would always smirk when they heard Trajan brag, telling Jamie there was no way the boy had the kind of talent that was needed to headline. Their predictions proved correct: while Trajan was a competent enough dancer, his bragging and bravado evaporated when he learned that there were others just as talented– and many more so – than he. Those facts were bluntly pointed out to him by many of the senior troupe dancers who not only spared no words to remind him, but also proved to him every day in practice and performance that they were superior – a fact Trajan eventually came to accept.
“I just wondered why,” Trajan repeated.
“Why what?” Jamie finally spoke.
“The senior troupe’s large and there are lots of talented dancers in it, and...” Trajan paused, and looked away from Jamie. “Well, I’m talented, but not the most talented,” he quickly blurted out. “You could have picked several others over me... so why pick me?”
A few moments before, Jamie had been angry, so angry his temper had gotten the better of him. Standing in front of Trajan, it was as if they were back at the École and it was his first day as a student. Now he was a headline act. Ever changing posters and banners all over the city trumpeted his latest performances. His vids were well viewed and always popular. His private schedule was filled with parties, and gala events. Some called Jamie de Valèn, Prince of La Mondele Royale, the greatest dancer the opera house had ever seen... maybe the greatest it would ever see. At this moment, it was as if he was back in the school’s refectory and he could almost feel the warm, sticky porridge dripping from his head and running down his back.
“I want good, solid dancers who are confident and know what they’re doing,” he began. But even as Jamie spoke the sound of his words seemed hollow to him. “I knew you would be good for the act,” Jamie continued, growing even more uncomfortable as the words he mouthed seemed more and more inaccurate.
“I just wondered,” Trajan said. “You know... ah... after...”
Trajan paused and looked at his feet. Jamie’s eyes swept up to over large crystal dome gleaming in the sun.
“Ok. I guess that’s all I wanted to know.” Trajan awkwardly finished, then turning from Jamie he headed back into the hall.
Jamie watched Trajan walk away while a host of complex and conflicting emotions boiled up inside him. He was at war, but it was with himself. He hadn’t told Trajan the truth and he knew it. He’d offered the boy a lame excuse, something that sounded plausible. Now he realized his sessions with Stephen Perkinjius had been having more of an effect on him than he’d realized. All their talk about Jacques de Valèn, the Founder’s character, his vision, and his strength flashed through his thoughts.
The growing growl of an approaching engine coming up behind him alerted Jamie to the arrival of the hov, his ride to the city. It was arriving early. The pilot, possibly not having been assigned another transport, had most likely opted to come to The Sphere ahead of schedule and take a break while waiting for Jamie. Looking up into the sky, he saw the craft making its final turn before landing. Turning back to Trajan, he watched the boy pass under the Romanesque arch of the hall.
“Trajan, wait,” Jamie called out over the increasing whine of the hov. Trajan stopped and turned, looking back at Jamie. Jamie hurried toward the other boy, quickly closing the gap between them.
“When I first came to the school it was hard, harder than anyone knows. You made it even harder,” his voice rose over the hov’s engine roar, and he began to feel the characteristic rhythmic pounding of the hov’s engines as they stirred up currents of air.
“I know,” Trajan answered softly. “I...”
Jamie raised his hand to silence the boy, and Trajan stopped.
“For a long time I hated you,” Jamie continued. “I hoped you would fail. I hoped you would disappear. I hoped you would stop. I hoped something might happen to you. But it didn’t. None of that happened, and I had to accept that sometimes things we don’t like just happen and there’s nothing we can do about them. I made you into something you weren’t. I came to realize that, and I had to let it go. That’s the one thing that I knew I could do, Trajan. Holding on to those feelings wouldn’t make me a better dancer. It wouldn’t make me a better person. Humans like to hurt each other. We’re different – or at least we should be. We’re Avionnes. We should learn from their bad example and treat each other like the brothers we are.” Jamie paused and while his words this time sounded far truer to him then what he’d told Trajan earlier, there still remained something lacking.
Jamie took a deep breath and looked Trajan squarely in the eye. “I chose you because I wanted you to know that I forgive you.” Jamie said. “And while that may not mean much to you, it means everything for me to be able to say that, and mean it... in my heart.”
“It does mean something to me,” Trajan replied. “It really does. Maybe more than you think.” He gave Jamie one of his trademark smirks. “Look at me: I’m lucky enough to be dancing with one of the greatest dancers to have ever performed... anywhere... maybe in the whole galaxy. I’ve done nothing to deserve it, but thanks for choosing me. And if it means anything to you... well... I’m sorry... really I am. When I see you dance and I see how much talent you have, I think about what I could have learned from you, and what I still can. I never gave you a chance because I couldn’t accept that someone might be better than me; I was a fool, and now I have to accept it every time I dance.”
“I don’t think anyone’s the best,” Jamie said, “there’s always someone somewhere who can do something better. I only want to be the best I can be for myself. I never came here to compete with anyone. I only wanted to be friends, nothing more.”
“I understand that now. You know, Prince de Valèn,” Trajan said almost respectfully, addressing Jamie formally without any hint or trace of sarcasm. “I think you only had three friends the whole time you were in the junior troupe, while I had a lot. But today you still have those same three friends, and I don’t really have any.”
“We’re all brothers,” Jamie said repeating the words he’d spoken earlier. Startled, he realized he suddenly felt compassion toward the boy he’d hated for so many years. Quickly he added “and if you’d like, I’ll be your friend.”
“That’s really nice of you to offer, but I think maybe I’ll have to earn some trust first,” Trajan said, surprising Jamie with his insight. Then, he leaned into Jamie and gave him a small kiss on the cheek. “See you tomorrow?”
“Yes,” Jamie replied. “See you tomorrow.”
Trajan gave Jamie a bow of the head as any dancer might give his instructor at the end of a lesson, and then turned to enter the hall just as the hov touched down. Jamie, putting one hand to his cheek where Trajan had kissed him, walked to the waiting vehicle.
The encounter with Trajan was still on his mind when Jamie entered Perkinjius’ shop, but it was quickly forgotten when they sat down and got to work. Perkinjius was using every means possible to educate Jamie and make him aware of the current political situation. In their last session the topic of the plague came up and Perkinjius, with the help of Mobley’s vast data base, began to offer information that Jamie hadn’t gleaned from his many far flung sources – even those Jamie’d been able to pull from the secret Imperial data base. They hadn’t gotten very far when time ran out and Jamie had to leave. Now, with a full session before them, they returned to the topic.
“It’s worse than you can imagine,” Perkinjius told him. “Even from the beginning it was quite serious, but it was slow to spread and grow. One of my ancient ancestors on the home world was a missionary in a remote part of the planet. The people he worked with had a disease called Hanson’s – also known as leprosy. Simple exposure was safe – one wouldn’t immediately come down with it. But given time and long-term exposure it was communicable.”
“I never learned that fact about the plague through my research,” Jamie said, eager to hear more.
“It’s quite true,” Perkinjius continued. “The first version of the plague was just as I’ve described it – similar to the leprosy my ancestor encountered. It took persistent exposure to contract it, and once infected it took a prolonged period of time – sometimes years – until it would kill the infected person, although in the end it was almost always deadly. That’s how it first got a foothold, because it went undiagnosed for some time.
“Keep in mind that it’s a persistent disease. It infects and destroys. Statistically, it’s over ninety percent lethal. A few have some type of limited immunity, but it’s more a curse than a blessing. It wipes the mind and it changes the survivor. They call it de-evolution. It makes learning, communication, and problem solving all much more difficult. Survivors have a diminished cognitive capacity. It does something to the frontal lobes of the brain. There’s speculation that over time the effects might diminish, or that future generations will either adapt, develop immunity, or climb back on the evolutionary ladder and rise according to the laws of natural selection, but none of that’s been proven yet.”
“But if it’s slow growing...” Jamie began.
“It was slow growing,” Perkinjius said. “But that’s changed, and by all accounts it started in Gold Glass. There are many different stories and versions about what happened, but in the end even the secret sources are unclear. Alfred Minoton was responsible, that much we know. From there it gets murky: how it escaped the lab and how it spread are mysteries. After the initial shock, the scientific community at Gold Glass eventually split. Minoton’s disciples began to work on a cure, but another group thought genetic engineering might be the key. Both groups waged internecine war on each other. Edmond Croal eventually became leader of the genetics group a few years after he created the first Icarian.
Long before Croal was born, the Kalorian race had been created. Because scientists, scholars, poets, philosophers and artists founded this world, after successfully colonizing it in the initial years of settlement, their idea of work centered more on mental effort than on manual labor. As the colonists first became settlers, and then citizens of the republic, and finally subjects of the Empire, their goal was to move further and further away from physical toil. The Kalorian race satisfied a need for cheap renewable labor, but their creation was controversial, and their enslavement led to the first Commonwealth interdiction and censure.”
“It was a tense time for the Empire,” Damian said. “The Commonwealth made threats. The Imperial government refused to back down. In the end, it was the Commonwealth that conceded, thus avoiding any conflict. It’s been argued that by then the vast scientific industrial complex of Altinestra had become critical to the technological development of the Commonwealth, and the Emperor could thumb his nose at any outside interference.”
“That’s correct,” Perkinjius replied, pausing momentarily to pluck a chocolate cream from a nearby plate. It seemed Jamie’s sessions were always accompanied by tea, sweets, snacks, and treats. To Jamie’s amusement, after their first session a plate of cut fresh fruit was always offered, in deference to Jamie’s training regimen.
“But after it was discovered that the Kalorians were also susceptible to the plague,” Perkinjius continued pausing momentarily to savor his sweet treat, “two key factors emerged as research continued. First, the survival rate for Kalorians was almost thirty percent – far higher than the ten percent among humans. Second, while a few of the Kalorian survivors had some frontal cortical disruption, it was minimal and most survivors had none at all. The frustration was that no one could discover why. It was in this atmosphere that Edmond Croal emerged. Although fresh out of university, and still more a boy than a man, his early research and work led to Icarians – a race one hundred percent immune to the disease. But even Croal, his colleagues and assistants never understood completely why.”
“But he didn’t create us to be enslaved. Father hated slavery,” Jamie said.
“I know that,” Perkinjius nodded in agreement. “Although it was almost inevitable. Because Croal was young, he committed one of the sins of youth: excited about the possibilities of what he could do, he acted, using his great intellect simply because he could. He didn’t consider the consequences. He was a genius, and like many of his ilk, the hunt was just as thrilling as the catch. From his first days at the university, great things were expected of him. His initial success got him into Gold Glass. It was unheard of for someone that young to be admitted – let alone to be given their own personal lab. Croal was aware of the expectations of the Empire, the anticipation of the scientific community, and the jealousy of more than a few older colleagues. From his first days at Gold Glass, he felt that he had something to prove and his youthful inexperience and naiveté caused him to act without forethought, sweeping aside any consideration of the future consequences his actions might bring. It was only later that he realized exactly what he’d done – created a second new species, also born into slavery.”
Perkinjius paused to refill his teacup. Jamie watched as the hot tea splashed into the cup and pondered Perkinjius words. After adding a lump of sugar and a generous portion of cream to his tea, the large man carefully picked up the delicate china cup. Lightly blowing the steamy clouds rising from the surface of the tea, he took a sip, replaced the cup on its saucer, and continued.
“The instant Icarian immunity was discovered, everything changed. At first it was assumed that resistance to the plague might somehow be transferable to humans, but it wasn’t. Every research path taken ended in a failure or a dead end. Then, as the first Icarians developed and grew, something completely unforeseen came to light – in some areas, the Icarian race was superior to humans.”
“Like in strength and intelligence?” Jamie asked.
“Yes, to mention just two areas,” Perkinjius answered. “The development of a race superior to humans initiated deep concern at both Gold Glass and within the Imperial Council. For a brief period, there was a possibility that the project might be abandoned, but then a trump card was placed on the table: Icarian longevity. When the Emperor and his council got wind of that information, more research was funded and encouraged.”
“The human race has tried for millennia to increase its lifespan,” Damian interjected when Perkinjius paused to take another sip of tea. “Cryosleep and space travel have allowed some humans to span decades and even centuries, but it’s artificial. You can jump a few centuries under cryo, but aging still occurs when the normal course of life resumes. Through advances in medicine, surgery and drugs, humans have added years to their lives, but it hasn’t been a substantial increase. Today, humans can expect to live an average lifespan of one hundred twenty years, with somewhere around one hundred and thirty being the uppermost limit. In the end, they still die. But what if the Altinestrans could increase the span of their lives? What if the Emperor and those who have sworn fealty to the House of Blackwell control the means and the process? What would it be worth to others in the Commonwealth? Suddenly Avionne research became even more important.”
“But at the same time, something else occurred.” Perkinjius said.
“The plague mutated,” Mobley’s hollow metallic voice joined the others.
“Yes, my little friend, the plague mutated,” Perkinjius said, nodding towards the comp. “And through that mutation, it gained the ability to spread in aerosolized form. Long-term exposure was no longer a requirement, and its vector of entry into the human body changed. A brief, one-time exposure could now trigger the disease. And at this moment it’s rapidly making its way through the Empire, akin to a plague that once swept the home world – a plague called the Black Death.
“Up to now, the government has managed to conceal and deceive, but in less than a year that will no longer be possible. This curse from Gold Glass is poised like a gargantuan tsunami that will wipe out most of the humankind on this continent. Those left will be unable to continue the life they once knew. That leaves the Kalorians and the Icarians.”
“Who stand to inherit this world if no other action is taken or continued research remains unfruitful,” Damian said.
Jamie’s eyes grew wide. “Of course, I understand,” he said. “Icarians are completely immune, and at least twenty-five to thirty percent of Kalorians will survive, mostly intact. But why don’t the healthy humans simply leave the planet?”
“They can’t,” Perkinjius replied. “The Commonwealth has effectively isolated us. We’re in a remote part of the galaxy, they’ve disabled the nearest exogate transmitters, and our ability to evacuate and travel by ship would have to be a mass exodus on a scale that would require immense effort, recourses, and most critically, time. It’s the time factor that isn’t on our side, so flight from this planet isn’t an option.” Perkinjius took another sip of his tea and frowned.
“After centuries of gate travel, Altinestra abandoned the technology of long-term space flight,” Perkinjius finally continued. “It simply wasn’t needed, and unlike some of the other trading planets in the commonwealth, even the small fleet the Empire had was eventually abandoned. At this point, even if a plan of rebuilding were begun today, the plague will overtake the planet long before even one ship could be successfully constructed and launched. But even if such a thing were possible, the instant the commonwealth got wind of such activity you can be assured that a battle fleet the size of an armada would encircle this planet with the sole mission of destroying all such facilities. After a few centuries of swallowing whatever the current Altinestran Emperor decided to feed them, the leaders of the Commonwealth have acquired a bit more backbone and have spit back in the Emperor’s face. At the moment they have us right where they want us, and you may be sure they’ll be offering no help.”
“So what’s the plan? You told me about some grand scheme by the Empire to rule the commonwealth. That seems a bit far-fetched at the moment, no?” Jamie asked.
“It still exists,” Perkinjius said. “Don’t underestimate the desire for self-preservation by the leaders of the Empire. While The House of Blackwell has its share of internal strife, turmoil, Byzantine scheming, murderous plots, counter plots, and treachery, it’s survived as the sole and principle power on this world for hundreds of years without so much as a single coup or successful outside assassination – a tradition it plans on continuing. While cold sleep was developed millennia ago, the maturation tank technology that was perfected for Icarian growth and stabilization is revolutionary and has proved quite adaptable to long-term human suspension. The present political rulers of this planet and their carefully chosen supporters will have access to this technology. Even now, manufacturing facilities on Argon are turning out as many units as they can. Those chosen to fill them will safely ride out the current crisis.”
“And Icarians?” Jamie asked.
“The plan remains the same – it’s one reason your race has been so well treated. You will survive the plague no matter what, but what kind of a world will you inherit?”
“One without humans,” Jamie replied, suddenly shocking himself to hear how good those words sounded to his ears.
“But therein lies the rub,” Perkinjius said. “You are an artificially created race and while that term may sound harsh, it’s true. In order for you to reproduce – for your race to continue – you need a means to do so. That means was created at Gold Glass and remains there. The process is the best-kept secret of the Empire – in the whole of the galaxy to be specific. Only a select group of scientists within the Imperial scientific community understand it, and none of them individually has the whole picture, or a sufficient knowledge of the process to carry it out from start to finish. When the truth of Icarian superiority was learned, it was decided to separate and compartmentalize the process so that no one person or group could duplicate it on their own. It wasn’t a difficult directive to enforce, given that those involved knew they faced their own extinction if they simply allowed another superior race unlimited reproduction on a closed and isolated world.
“Father knew,” Jamie interjected.
“Of course,” Perkinjius replied, “but he’s no longer with us.”
Jamie’s eyes dropped and he began to stare at a small scratch on the tabletop, surprised at how strong his feelings of sadness and loss still remained.
A soft hum filled the air, as some of the lights on the small comp standing next to Jamie began to blink. “The number of Icarians has been fixed.” Mobley added, churning out another fact.
“Yes,” Perkinjius said. “It was first decided there would be no more than ten thousand, but when the amazing and unthinkable fact of Icarian longevity came to light that number was cut dramatically. It was decreed that for now there would be no more than one thousand at any time. At this moment, as best as we can determine, there are less than eight hundred in the entire empire – in the entire universe, for that matter. The fascination with your race turned Icarians into a dancing cobra for the Empire. Even now it would be easy to kill all of you, but they’re fascinated with what they’ve created. They know there’s so much they can learn by studying you, so they take the risk. They pamper most of you, keep you mentally and physically stimulated in the arts and the guilds, and they study you. Icarians are like a powerful weapon they’ve so far managed to keep contained.”
“Is that the motivation behind all the many experiments they’ve conducted in the past twenty to thirty years?” Jamie asked.
“I see that secret data base you told me you’ve been able to tap into has given you some information on the subject.”
“I know that there have been all manner of experiments on Icarian embryos.” Jamie said. “Most were unsuccessful and aborted, but there have been numerous trials run over the years in many areas. I’ve learned they’ve worked on improving the senses like sight and hearing. They did experiments on musculoskeletal systems. There have been experiments on altering brain waves and electrical activity.”
“Because we are a new race with a different genetic mix even simple experiments and alterations have sometimes produced surprising results,” Damian said.
“Exactly,” Perkinjius continued. “In the process of creating further Icarians, experiments were performed. Remember: from the beginning, the Empire’s goal was an army of bureaucrats, rulers and most importantly troops who would help them run an empire they would create from a conquered commonwealth. Your friends from Trio Chrysalis are the result of one such experiment. Even for Icarians, it’s almost unnatural the way they can move, and their strength and stamina is truly unbelievable. They say the Emperor’s personal body guard is the result of another such experiment – one on vision.”
“The Angel of Death,” Jamie said in a hushed tone as he remembered the Imperial Ball and the young man who was able to easily see him hiding that dark night in the palace gardens when he’d saved Jamie from the Duke of Turbonet and his bodyguard.
“Exactly,” Perkinjius said. “Can you imagine thousands of beings like this Icarian – this boy named Renaud? Or thousands like your friends from Trio Chrysalis? Can you imagine the consequences? You see Jamie, there is both a fascination with, and a fear of, Icarians. They are two sides of the same coin for the Empire. They hold on to you like a terrified man holding on to the tail of a tiger, unwilling and unable to let go.”
“And so our numbers are restricted, because they have no other power to control us,” Jamie spat out in anger. “And we have no say or participation in our own means of reproduction.”
“That’s mostly true,” Damian began, “except...” but he stopped when Perkinjius gave him a icy cold stare.
“What?” Jamie said keenly aware of the chill that had suddenly descended on the conversation. “What is it?” Jamie repeated. “You said I was here to learn. Somehow, I don’t think now’s a good time to withhold information from me.”
“I suppose,” Perkinjius replied clearing his throat. “As Damian was about to tell you, there is an exception.”
“What is it?” Jamie asked his curiosity piqued.
“Thrones,” Perkinjius said. “I know you’ve been to Castle Rood and you’ve seen the Thrones.”
“Of course,” Jamie replied, quickly adding, “although one can’t help but wonder if they’re really Icarian, with their diminished intelligence and lack of creativity.”
“If you would listen more carefully to what you’ve just said my prince,” Perkinjius slowly replied, “You’d have the answer.”
“You see,” Damian said. “Thrones aren’t completely Icarian. There are differences. They are to us as apes are to humans.”
“You mean we’re related, but not completely?” Jamie asked.
“Correct,” Damian said and for a few seconds he paused. The look on Damian’s face gave Jamie the appearance that the singer may have thought he was telling Jamie too much. Shooting Perkinjius a look of anticipation, and receiving a nod to continue, Damian resumed. “In order to fully achieve his plan on a scale the emperor dreams of, he needs an army – a vast, strong, brutal army who will obey any and all orders. That is the nature of the experiments first conducted on us. They have already been able to make some remarkable genetic alterations. From what we’ve learned the empire would even have liked to create Thrones who could manipulate electrical fields, but that was under the purview of Edwin Croal and after he left Gold Glass, no one could successfully follow his experiments and the work was discontinued.”
“Although I think someone in this room may already know about such things,” Perkinjius added.
Jamie sat silently and stared at the large man.
“As far as we know only two Icarians were created who possess some of these abilities – one at Gold Glass, and the other in the secret laboratory of Edmond Croal at Isewier. Experiments performed by all others in this area have failed.”
“There’s a third,” a voice screamed inside Jamie’s head as he attempted unsuccessfully to repress a shiver, understanding even more clearly why, if necessary, he must risk everything to keep Charlie safe.
“While there has been a restriction on Icarian creation,” Damian added, “We’ve learned of no such prohibitions for the creation of Thrones.”
“Even now, on Argon, close to the facilities producing the means to store the core of the leadership of this planet, are other facilities for creating, growing and nurturing a vast army that will someday sweep across the commonwealth.”
“And while the process for creating Icarians is classified the one for Thrones isn’t,” Perkinjius added. “It’s become a mechanized system similar to any other factory based process.”
“It’s one reason they’re so expendable at Rood,” Damian said.
“Wait,” Jamie said, suddenly realizing something that had never occurred to him. “Rood is just one grand experiment, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Perkinjius nodded in agreement. “How astute of you to grasp the concept. Engineered Icarians – the Gahdar – fight armies of Thrones. While the crowd approaches it as a contest – some terrible game where death is the ultimate defeat – each match is carefully monitored. The results are used to improve the Throne stock.”
“Stop... please stop...” Jamie cried out. His head was throbbing, for as Perkinjius and Damian had been talking he’d also been accessing the Screen, pulling up pieces of information he’d discovered over the past two years – information that had seemed unrelated, but now made complete sense.
“Let me get this fixed in my brain,” Jamie continued. “The plague is going to overtake the Empire, but it’s leaders will be saved and protected along with the small group of Icarians the Empire has created for its own purposes. After some period of time, both the human rulers and Icarians will emerge. Following this resurrection of sorts, a great army of Thrones that is now being created will, under human directive and Icarian leadership, begin a conquest of the Commonwealth.”
“I’d say you have it about right,” Perkinjius said, flashing a forlorn gaze that pierced Jamie’s soul. “Of course, there will be even more armies created post-suspension and those humans emerging from their suspension will have to repopulate the world, but there will be a pool of human survivors they can utilize for that.”
Jamie gave Stephen and Damian a puzzled look. “What of the commonwealth? Why haven’t they stepped in to intervene?”
“With the plague poised to wipe-out most of the planet the commonwealth has abandoned us. They feel the plague will solve their problems for good. From what I’ve learned,” Perkinjius took another sip of tea, “they can keep this isolated portion of the commonwealth territory closed for millennia... forever if necessary. They had to swallow every bitter pill the Emperor fed them, but those days are over. My indication is that they’re relieved.”
“But that’s just as horrible,” Jamie was surprised at Stephen’s revelation. An instant later his eyes flashed as a question came to him. “And what of the Kalorians? Surely the Commonwealth has some obligation to them?”
Instead of an immediate response from Damian or Stephen, there followed a long and painful silence to Jamie’s question. As he waited, Jamie’s eyes went first to Perkinjius who looked at the floor; when he glanced at Damian, the singer also looked away and Jamie could see tears forming in Damian’s eyes. It was then that Jamie’s own eyes grew wide. Years of accessing the Imperial web and gathering scraps of seemingly unrelated information, suddenly began to make sense when placed in the framework Perkinjius and Damian had created for him and a new insight rapidly congealed in Jamie’s mind until it formed into one terrible thought.
“THEY’RE GOING TO KILL THEM!!!” he shouted, bolting up from his chair. For a few seconds he felt disoriented, but he knew he was right: somehow the Empire was going to kill the Kalorians. His mind flashed to his Kalorian friends, to Castor and the household staff of the villa. He thought of the Kalorian slaves at the school and those who ran the opera house, of Larrus and the children he’d played with at the settlements. Images of the wonderful Kalorian feasts where he’d danced flashed through his mind, along with the faces of all the Kalorians who’d ever loved and cared for him from the time he was first decanted – his friends, his family... all swept away like a child’s sand castle erased by the incoming tide. He put his hand to his head; hot tears filled his eyes and began to run down his face.
“It’s true,” Perkinjius said, speaking the words with great difficulty. His strong, forceful voice had lost its confident tone. His face was pale and he looked as if he was the one suddenly being attacked by some all-consuming disease. “Humans created the Kalorians – they spliced together the Kalorian genome. They know its weaknesses and vulnerabilities.”
“A virus has been created,” Damian said softly, reaching out and placing one of his hands over Jamie’s. “It’s perfectly harmless to humans and Icarians, but it’s as close to one hundred percent lethal as possible for Kalorians. When the time comes, it will be deployed.”
“And they’ll all die, all be murdered,” Jamie choked.
It was more than Jamie could take. Standing up, he turned his back on Damian and Perkinjius and made a dash for the door.
“Wait,” Perkinjius called out as he watched Jamie striding quickly away. But Jamie didn’t stop. Reaching the door, Jamie opened it and stepped out onto the street, and then almost ran toward the hov that waited to go to the Mount of the Arts. Approaching the hov, he heard Damian calling after him. He did not turn, he just kept walking until he arrived at the entrance hatch of the hov. Tucking back his wings and climbing into the vehicle, he took his seat and stared blankly ahead as the craft ascended. After the hov landed he alighted from the vehicle and quickly walked to the school. A few people – humans, Kalorians, and Avionnes – called out greetings as he walked by, but were surprised when he didn’t acknowledge them.
Arriving at his room he slumped on his bed. Spinoza gave a loud akkk and landed in his lap. Jamie began to pet the little garga lizard, which was startled when its master began to cry. Then, clutching his pet, Jamie began to sob. Spinoza, unused to such behavior, squirmed to get free from Jamie’s firm grasp. When it was finally able to extricate itself, it trumpeted a few more akkk’s and flew across the room. Perching high on a nearby bookcase, it watched in puzzlement as Jamie put his hands to his face and sobbed.
The morning of the next day arrived, and Jamie felt weak and tired, as if he was recovering from a long and difficult illness. His friends of Trio Chrysalis asked what was wrong when Jamie picked at his breakfast and remained unusually quiet at the table. Sending word to the boys of his troupe and the stage crew at the Hall of the Crystal Sphere, he cancelled rehearsal for the day. After returning to his room he changed into his tights and racerback and then walked to one of the private practice studios in the school; on the way, he stopped at the music library and chose a music chip.
Once in the studio he placed the chip into the scanner and immediately a harsh cacophony of sound filled the room. Letting the sound envelop him, Jamie began to dance wildly, as if possessed. After two hours he was so exhausted he felt as if every drop of energy had been drained from his body. He staggered back to his room where he stripped, limped down the hall to the baths, and showered. Returning to his room he finished toweling down and changed. The shower revived him and he felt stronger. Deciding to walk instead of taking a hov, Jamie left the dorm and headed across the campus. His head was filled with so many thoughts he could scarcely keep track of them, but he walked on with steady determination. After two hours of walking and thinking, he arrived at Stephen Perkinjius’ shop. Without pausing, he entered. Perkinjius, who was examining a small piece of porcelain, looked up when the bell of his shop rang and looked startled to see Jamie.
“I wasn’t sure...”
Jamie raised a hand, tilted his head upward, and looked Perkinjius in the eye. “I’m ready to do whatever you ask,” he said flatly. “Whatever you ask... as long as it saves them.”
Perkinjius looked down at the boy for a few seconds in silence. “Very well,” he said, “then come with me.”
Seven days later Jamie was standing in one of the large underground storage bays of La Mondele Royale, surrounded by all of the members of the Council of Resistance. As his eyes tracked across the room, he was surprised to see that additional Icarians, humans and Kalorians were in attendance. At his side stood Giovanni – a true coup de grace for Jamie, who had to fight for the boy’s inclusion.
A great deal had happened in the seven days since his declaration to Stephen Perkinjius. After returning to Perkinjius shop, the erstwhile dealer in the rarities and trinkets of the Commonwealth took him to a concealed room below his shop and showed Jamie some things that truly amazed the young Icarian. After that, events moved quickly.
The day after his encounter with Stephen, Jamie immediately resumed his practice schedule, and appeared to be working harder than ever on his special dance for the Emperor’s birthday celebration. One afternoon after ending practice early, he visited Prince Hippolito once more, returning to the Archduke of Imperialas’s palace with one goal in mind – to find out as much as he could about the Icarian government that Savaron Loka was proposing. Hippolito had been surprised by Jamie’s proposal to meet, but since it stroked his vanity and convinced him that he’d charmed the dancer, Hippolito readily agreed. The meeting was cordial and Jamie charming, so without even giving Jamie’s gently probing questions a second thought, Hippolito boldly overemphasized his importance in the affair, and in an attempt to impress Jamie told him almost everything he knew. Not content to simply accept Hippolito’s word, Jamie did a thorough scan of the boy’s mind to learn some of the things Hippolito had chosen to omit.
Over the same period of time, Jamie found a way, through Stephen Perkinjius, to get Giovanni’s blood sample tested, and just one day after handing the sample to Perkinjius, Jamie was back in Stephen’s shop and Perkinjius was handing him a printed assay of the boy’s blood.
“Nothing special,” Perkinjius said. “It simply confirms he’s a Royal Throne, but that’s obvious just by looking at him.”
“Yes, nothing special,” Jamie repeated softly as his eyes danced over the genetic markers revealed in the boy’s DNA profile. Quickly matching up the results on the paper with information from the Screen in his brain, he smiled. If his father hadn’t planned for him to have a sense of premonition, then either by luck or accident he had nonetheless been born with one. “You’re right, Stephen,” he said, “he’s nothing special.” Then as nonchalantly as he could manage, Jamie added, “I want him with me when we perform the ceremony.”
“That’s impossible,” Perkinjius said, openly shocked at Jamie’s request. “This isn’t some game, Jamie. You can’t have a young boy from Expedition and Service attending a secret council meeting.”
“It’s not a request,” Jamie replied in his most imperious tone. “You want me there, and I want him there.”
“Do you want us to get caught?” Perkinjius barked.
“Do you want us to succeed?” Jamie barked back, quickly adding, “It’s not a request, Stephen. He accompanies me. I’m going to need him. You, yourself, have pounded into my head the importance of ceremony and tradition, the need for ritual. I’m eventually going to need a master of ceremonies, and he’s my choice. I’m going to need him to help me play my part. He can be of assistance. I repeat, it’s not a request!”
Perkinjius took a deep breath then slowly let it out. “Very well. You have me on this, but so help me, little prince...”
“He’ll be no danger to the cause,” Jamie shot back. “If anything, over time he’ll be an asset. I’ve had to trust all of you for months with little more than your word and promises. Once I take my oath and make my promises, is my neck any less on the block than all of yours?”
“I suppose not,” Perkinjius replied, secretly delighted to see the brief emergence of Jamie’s noble pedigree in the tone and tenor of the boy’s request. “I’ll prepare the council. They won’t like it, but I think I can convince them. After all, it is the only request you’ve ever made of us.”
“I’ll hold you to your word,” Jamie countered.
Now that the moment had finally arrived, Jamie stood silently in the center of the room. He was dressed in a richly decorated silk tunic – the garb of a true prince. A sparkling golden chain hung from his neck. His fingers were adorned with some of the rings he’d received as gifts, and on his arm he wore the asp bracelet Charlie had given to him on his birthday. He touched it and thought lovingly of his brother so far away, and prayed silently that Charlie would remain safe. As a final touch, the sun cloak that had become one of the signature trademarks of his act was wrapped around his shoulders.
Although Jamie initially protested, Perkinjius had suggested he wear something special. “You’re a performer,” Perkinjius said, “I’d expect you to understand this better than anyone: Kings, princes, politicians and generals are just as much performers as they are leaders. They inspire in word, action, dress and deportment,” he added. “If you haven’t learned that by now, you’ll never be effective.”
And while he hated to admit it, he knew Perkinjius was right. Cristophe and Castor had suggested the cloak as the perfect totem. It was magnificent and Jamie looked truly regal every time he wore it, as anyone witnessing his use of it at the conclusion of each one of his performances would undoubtedly attest.
Turning to his right, he looked down at Giovanni. The boy was dressed in a beautifully embroidered silk tunic courtesy of La Mondele’s costume department. Giovanni looked up at Jamie in adoration. From the very beginning of their association, Jamie had been his hero – someone willing to protect him when no one else would. A few days before the convocation of the council, Jamie had called Giovanni into his room. When he waved for the boy to take a seat, Giovanni took a place on one of the corners of Jamie’s bed.
Standing before the young boy, Jamie examined him with eyes now critically focused in light of the genetic information he possessed and smiled. Then Jamie began to tell Giovanni a story he’d rehearsed with every bit as much care as any of the intricate dance routines he constantly practiced. As Jamie spoke, Giovanni’s eyes grew wide with surprise, but rather than displaying fear, a solemn look appeared on the boy’s face and with the seriousness of one four times his age, he put a hand to his chest and replied, “I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I’ll try.” It was then that Jamie saw hints of the amazing strength of character rumored to be the strongest of all traits common to Royal Thrones and he knew it was borne out in the young man looking up at him so solemnly.
A sharp rap on the tabletop where Perkinjius was sitting began the proceedings. Without any introductions or preamble Prince Alexander stood, and looking directly at Jamie, addressed the young dancer.
“If my mate Loran agreed with our goals, we wouldn’t have to ask this of you,” Alexander began. “Even now I, more than anyone else, know how much we demand of you but, Prince James de Valèn, we need an Imperial – we need you. Are you willing to help us?”
“I am,” Jamie replied solemnly. As he spoke, he looked all around the room. Before the ceremony began, Stephen Perkinjius had approached him and attempted to point out some of those present that Jamie didn’t know. Those in attendance who were most interesting to Jamie were those Icarians who were to be named princes and scribes of the royal and imperial houses that Savaron Loka had proposed. Since there were to be twelve of each rank, a quick count brought up a few less than the twenty-four Jamie’d expected.
“Remember, not every Icarian is in agreement with this,” Perkinjius reminded Jamie. “We’re lucky to have this many. Do I need remind you of your little friend Hippolito, for one, along with a number of others who are to take their places as leaders within the Icarian community? Then, of course, there’s Loran, and don’t forget the Sh’ônfenn, in addition to...”
“I understand the picture,” Jamie replied sharply. “But it does look like we at least have the majority, no?”
“That’s correct,” Perkinjius agreed. “Not everyone has been fooled by the Empire.”
“Do you swear your allegiance to this council and to its goals and ideals?” Alexander continued.
“I do so swear,” Jamie simply replied.
“Then it’s finished,” Alexander said.
“Except for one thing,” Jakobus interjected. The room became silent as all eyes fell upon the usually quiet Kalorian.
“It’s true that Jamie de Valèn is a prince, and if our mission succeeds may even become the scribe to his brother in the Imperial House of the High Seraphim, as Loka calls it, but I propose a title for our prince – one that my people can understand and rally to.”
“What do you propose?” Stephen Perkinjius asked.
“The title Karkal Foss took up when he began the first Kalorian rebellion,” Jakobus said. “That of Lord Protector.” His words fell into a sudden stillness in the room, and every Kalorian showed surprise at the least – and some shock – at the proposal.
“But I’m not Foss,” Jamie said, taking a few steps back from the head table, surprised at the comparison. “I may have preformed The Redak, but I’m no equal to Foss.”
“That will be for us to decide,” Jakobus said. “But the fact is that the people will need a leader – someone they can rally around.”
“Then why not use the term he is referred to by all the Kalorians of La Mondele Royale – Garon a’ Kalasia – boy of the wind?” interjected the Kalorian who was one of the set designers at the opera house. It was a term he’d been given years before when, as a little boy, he’d danced like the wind for his Kalorian friends in the settlement communities.
“Is this necessary?” Jamie said, frowning at not seeing the significance. “I think...”
Stephen Perkinjius motioned for Jamie to remain silent. “Yes, it is necessary and important.”
“I think maybe a compromise,” Castor said quietly, and with a wave of his hand he motioned toward two Kalorians who were standing to one side. At Castor’s signal they walked to the center of the room and stood directly in front of Jamie. One of them had a folded cloth under his arm. Taking it in his hands he handed an end to the second Kalorian standing next him. With each of them holding a corner, they let the cloth drop. As the two men stepped away from each other the cloth unfurled and as it did, Jamie was surprised to see that it was the purple and golden stylized banner of the dragon that once hung on the wall above his bed at the villa – the battle flag of a warrior-prince.
“I took it with me when we fled,” Castor whispered softly into Jamie’s ear.
“I agree with Jakobus, and his suggestion of the title of Lord Protector,” Castor said, once more addressing the assembly. “It should impress upon our prince the seriousness of his mission, but instead of simply using the Kalorian term, I suggest we adopt the Icarian translation of sa’Crêsmané as a sign of unity between our races.”
“It’s agreed, then?” Perkinjius asked the room, quickly adding, “A simple assent will do.”
Those in the room nodded or voiced their agreement.
“Prince de Valèn, Lord Protector, sa’Crêsmané, our own Garon a’ Kalasia. Do you accept this mantle?” Prince Alexander asked.
For a second Jamie hesitated suddenly feeling slightly uncomfortable and quite unworthy of picking up such trappings and titles of power as he was being asked to assume, but then he recalled his sessions with his father – a man now killed by the treachery of the Empire – and he remembered his first, rather naive and childlike promises to Edmond Croal when he was no more than a little boy. He also considered the very real possibility of the extinction of the Kalorian race, and he thought of Charlie. More than anything he wanted his brother to be safe, secure and happy, able to live his life freely, and – most of all – peacefully. For a long time after he’d been captured, he’d hidden who he really was. He’d even started to think of himself as only a dancer. Of course he was much more, and when he looked into his heart he knew it better than anyone.
“I do,” Jamie replied, bowing slightly to Prince Alexander.
“Very well,” Alexander continued. “We accept your oaths and we bind you to them. I’m quite sure, as I’ve always been, that you are ready to assist us in our struggle, but before you do I must ask you to do the one thing you probably don’t expect me to demand of you.”
“What’s that?” Jamie asked, thinking Alexander was about to describe some impossible task he’d have to undertake.
“We ask you to do nothing.” Alexander said flatly. “We are devising a plan that will include you, but it is not ready. We know our time is limited – less than a year, possibly no more than six months. We ask you to return to the École, and to your dancing. You must act as if none of this has happened. While we ask you to lead, we also ask you to blend into the background for the moment. You have the tools, the ability, and the information you need to lead, and now you must demonstrate patience and cooperation.”
Jamie was surprised at Alexander’s request. Thinking that he would immediately be asked to perform some great task, it was far from what Jamie expected, but he had promised obedience to the council and although part of his hot spirited nature wanted to rebel against the command, Jamie recognized that this was not the time for childish obstinacy.
“I’ll do as you ask,” Jamie replied, still a bit surprised by the order.
“Then you have passed the first test,” Stephen Perkinjius replied, “and this meeting is adjourned.”
As quickly as the meeting had begun it dispersed, as those in attendance began to filter out of the room by various routes, staggering the time of their exits so as not to arouse undue suspicion. With the meeting adjourned Jamie reached for the clasp of his cape and began to unfasten it.
“You’re very brave, Your Grace” someone said, and Jamie turned to see who was speaking and came face to face with an attractive Icarian boy with a warm smile. The boy offered a slight bow.
“Oh, I’m not so brave. I’m just as worried as everyone else as to how it will turn out, but I know we have to do something,” Jamie replied. Caught off guard by the boy’s formality and his desire to give Jamie a title, he continued, “and it’s certainly not necessary to be so formal. I’m just Jamie.”
“No, Your Grace,” the boy continued, “you are special, and even if you weren’t you’re now a symbol – the physical embodiment of a cause, and the face of a movement.”
The beam of the boy’s smile increased as he extended his hand. “I’m Cody Delecoux, Your Grace,” he said. “I’ve been named Scribe of the Imperial House of Diplomacy.”
“More an historian with a calm personality,” Cody smiled.
“I’m Jamie,” Jamie replied, quickly adding, “but I guess you know that already.”
“I supposed so,” Cody grinned. “The reason I wanted to talk to you...” Cody paused and scanned the room. Seeing no one paying attention to the two of them he leaned closer in what Jamie took to be an exercise in diplomatic discretion and continued, “...is... well, Your Grace, it’s rumored you have some abilities to control electrical fields.”
Jamie became silent as he reflected on Cody’s words, unsure of how much he could or should tell the boy.
“I’m sorry,” Cody added, “that’s not really what I’m asking, I guess. You see, I have a small ability to do something like that myself. I’ve never met anyone else who could, and I just wondered...” Cody paused, and his smile returned. “Wait, let me show you. I think that might be best.”
Glancing about the room, Cody’s eyes came to rest on a pen sitting on top of the table Stephen Perkinjius had been sitting at, several feet to one side. “Watch this,” he said.
Cody stared intently at the table, but nothing happened. Puzzled Jamie looked at the table, then back to Cody and once again to the table. When he looked at the pen again, he observed that it was beginning to move. Slowly, it rolled around the table as if someone were pushing it, then it lifted up slightly but quickly dropped back onto the table top.
“That’s about all I can do,” Cody said. “More an interesting parlor trick than anything practical.”
“Have you ever practiced?” Jamie asked.
“A little, but I’ve never improved.”
“Can I suggest something?” Jamie said, pulling Cody to one of the corners. “Its an exercise my father taught me.”
For five minutes the boys talked. As they were finishing, Giovanni, who’d been standing alone, approached.
“We’ll be leaving soon.” Jamie said, smiling at his young friend.
Thanking Jamie and bidding him goodbye, Cody gave Jamie another handshake along with a light kiss on the cheek. “Thank you, Your Grace,” he said. “I’ll give the exercise a try. Who knows, it might work. I have nothing to lose, in any case. Good luck, and I hope to see you again.”
After bidding Cody goodbye, Jamie surrendered the cloak to the Kalorian set designer who’d brought it to the ceremony and then, with Cristophe and Giovanni by his side, he exited the room and walked back to the senior dorm of the École Danse. It all seemed a bit anticlimactic.
“That was incredible, Your Grace,” Giovanni said as they walked back to the school.
Jamie stopped and looked at Giovanni. “What did you call me?”
“That boy you were talking to called you Your Grace,” Giovanni said. “He’s right, you know. It is your honorific title. When I was taken into Expedition and Service, I was told to always address nobility by their title or honorific.”
Giovanni was a warm and loving boy, but he also had an intensely serious side to his personality – something Jamie attributed to the boy’s Royal Throne pedigree. Jamie rolled his eyes. Glancing over at Cristophe, he could see a smile growing on the master prefect’s face.
“You know that’s not necessary, Giovanni,” Jamie said. “I’ve been your friend since you came here.”
“But the ceremony,” Giovanni said, “I understand now.”
Already late for supper, Jamie sighed. “Just don’t call me that in public or in front of Jeremy, Lucas and Yves. They don’t need to know what happened today. And besides, they’d never stop laughing.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” Giovanni responded as if he hadn’t heard a single word Jamie’s uttered. Cristophe chuckled, then increased the speed of his chair leading the small procession of three back to the school for the evening meal.
In the days that followed his investiture Jamie felt enveloped in a surrealistic haze – accepting his role and knowing what was expected of him, yet acting the opposite.
Ceasing all activities associated with the Council of Resistance, he continued to practice for the Emperor’s birthday celebration as if that was his only immediate goal. He enjoyed the company of his friends as they engaged in their usual activities. And even though he was supposed to have been elevated to leadership status within the resistance, one late afternoon when he’d been caught committing an infraction of the school’s rules, he received a reprimand with a punishment attached to it from Jakobus that had obligated him to spend an hour in the kitchen scrubbing pots. In many ways it was as if none of what had happened at the ceremony had really occurred. When he mentioned it to Castor, the Kalorian reminded Jamie that it was now more important than ever to maintain an appearance of normalcy.
“When the time comes, you will be asked to play your part,” Castor reminded Jamie. “I know patience is not one of your virtues, young master,” he added, “but now, more than ever, it is required of you.”
Although eager to act, Jamie had to reluctantly agree. And while under normal circumstances his impatience would have consumed him, his work preparing for the imperial birthday fete kept him busy enough to serve as an outlet for some of his pent-up energy.
For three weeks everything remained calm and peaceful and to anyone living on the Canon Mon Arts outside of the secret circle of rebels, Jamie’s life would have appeared as it always had. Even Lucas, Jeremy and Yves didn’t suspect anything – a fact that occasionally made Jamie feel guilty, although he’d convinced himself that the exclusion of his friends from the dangerous game he was playing was the best protection he could offer them. He’d already placed them at risk by teaching them Kalorian and Icarian and by taking them, via the gates, to the Kingdom of the Ghröum where they’d learned things that surely would have put their lives in danger if it was known they knew or were aware of them. That fact, all too soon and swift, came crashing into Jamie’s world in one event so horrible and monstrous, everything that followed forever changed.
Twenty-three days after Jamie swore his oath to the council, he was in the Hall of the Crystal Sphere concluding dance practice for the day. It had been a long and strenuous session. The boys comprising the small troupe who were performing with him had finally become proficient enough that Jamie moved them to the stage they’d be using for the performance and the corps had begun practicing with some of the special features Jamie designed into the structure. The final choreography required a lot more effort than even Jamie had first realized, but the boys he’d chosen were working hard and he was sure their performance would be a success.
He no longer took a hov to the center of the city after his practice sessions. His meetings with Stephen Perkinjius had ended, a directive that had come from the council. The goal was to keep him free from any trace of suspicion. So for three weeks, at the end of each practice, Jamie walked back to the dormitory with the boys of his troupe.
The day’s practice had gone exceptionally well and Jamie, quite pleased with the boys’ improvements, offered generous measures of praise. After weeks of work, they finally seemed close to getting their routine perfected. Traveling as a group across the campus the small troupe of dancers was in quite good spirits, laughing and joking among themselves. The sun was bright and the afternoon warm, and they were in no hurry as they strolled back to the school.
Shortly after they’d started their trek back to the senior dorm, Marcus had let it slip that he thought one of the new seniors, fresh from the junior troupe, was quite attractive. That was enough for Jamie and the other boys to begin some good-natured teasing, asking Marcus if they’d kissed yet, or when they could expect to be invited to the mating ceremony. Red faced, Marcus nonetheless took it in good humor. At a time when most of the senior boys were well into or just ending their Avionne puberty cycle, it wasn’t uncommon for students at the school to speculate who might be interested in whom. This was especially true of the boys in the senior troupe, where crushes and infatuations bloomed and faded on a regular basis.
As they approached the perimeter of the school, Jamie began to notice that the surrounding grounds, normally filled with the comings and goings of large numbers of students, staff, and teachers were unusually quiet. In fact, the closer they got to the school, the more the lack of activity struck him as strange. Eventually, It was something the other boys noticed, and their idle chatter trailed off and disappeared.
“Where is everyone?” Fabio scanned the campus. “It’s too late in the day for them to be in class or at practice.”
“Maybe something’s happened,” Trajan replied, sounding worried.
Skirting one of the large classroom buildings just beyond the quadrangle of the school, they turned a corner and immediately Jamie noticed a number of large hovs bearing the insignia of the Imperial army parked in the open grass between buildings. A chill ran through him and his mind instantly flashed back to the day when he and Charlie had returned from Ghröum, and were surprised to find the same sight at Villa Mare Vista. Knowing that where one found Imperial military hovs one also found imperial shock troops, he froze in his tracks. The other boys, seeing Jamie’s reaction and suddenly realizing why he’d stopped, also halted their advance. For a few seconds they just stood and stared.
“What’s happening?” one of the boys asked, sounding worried and a bit frightened.
“Something serious,” Jamie replied, his voice hushed.
No sooner had he spoken than a band of imperial shock troops, ghosters drawn, appeared from between two buildings across the quadrangle.
“Do you see that?” Marcus said, pointing at the soldiers.
“They’re carrying ghosters,” Fabio said, “big ones.”
“Let’s move back. I don’t think we should draw any attention to ourselves,” Jamie began to say, “they might...”
But no sooner had Jamie started to express his thoughts than a stern sounding voice from behind the group shouted out, “Are you part of this school?”
They all turned and immediately discovered they were face to face with a shock trooper wearing a captain’s insignia.
“We’re students at the École Danse,” Trajan answered warily. “What’s wrong?”
“Come with me,” the captain said, walking to the head of the small group, but offering no explanation.
“What’s happened?” Marcus asked.
Ignoring Marcus’ question, the captain made a slashing hand gesture signaling them to begin moving, followed by the staccato command: “Follow me, and no talking.”
While the other boys didn’t have any clues as to what might be afoot, given the events of the past few weeks, Jamie found his hearts racing as they approached the school. Everywhere he looked he saw Imperial shock troops patrolling the campus. Although he tried to remain outwardly calm, his mind continued to return to that day two and a half years ago when he’d arrived at his home to discover many of the same sights.
The captain, chin out and back straight, walked briskly beside them, from time to time barking at them to hurry along. But instead of taking the boys to the dorms as they expected, the captain led them toward the central complex of the school. Arriving at the main entrance, he ordered them into the building. Proceeding down the hallway Jamie noticed they were heading toward the largest room in the school – a beautifully appointed studio sometimes used for impromptu events. Well lit and fully equipped, it was often chosen as a performance setting when visiting guests or dignitaries came for a private tour of the school. Because of its mirrored walls, it had come to be known as the Hall of Mirrors. Approaching the hall, Jamie noticed a small squad of imperial troops standing guard at the door. As soon as they arrived at the hall’s entrance two of the troopers yanked open the doors and the captain ordered the boys into the room.
The large space was packed with people. Glancing around the room Jamie realized that almost everyone involved with the École – students, teachers, Kalorians, and staff – were jammed into the hall. After a few moments of searching, Jamie spotted Castor in a far corner. Tucking back his wings Jamie began to push through the crowd, inching toward the Kalorian. Squeezing through the mass of tightly packed bodies, he closed in on Castor’s position until finally, with one last push and wriggle, he was standing next to his oldest friend; he was perplexed when Castor completely ignored him. It took a moment for him to understand Castor’s reaction, but then he nodded to himself and allowed curiosity over the strange situation to focus him intently on what was happening in the room.
Jamie silently cursed his shorter stature when he couldn’t see over the heads of those in front of him. Abandoning his first effort, he soon discovered that trying to peer around the large crush of bodies, most of whom also sported wings, was equally difficult. A few moments passed until Jamie discovered that by pushing himself up en pointe, and shifting from one foot to another, his view improved. Scanning around the room for familiar faces, his eyes came to rest on Lucas, Jeremy and Yves. Seeing their shocked and frightened expressions sent a strong shiver of fear through him and even though he hadn’t actively scanned anyone, the almost palpable tension and stress within the room was impossible to ignore.
Everyone seemed to be staring in one direction. Following their gaze, he saw why. Standing near the center of the room was none other than Savaron Loka. Absent from the archduke’s countenance was the practiced, aristocratic smile Loka typically wore. Instead the Archduke of Imperialas, his eyes flashing a cold steely anger, and his lips curled up into a ugly sneer, left no doubt as to his mood. It was clear the gloves were off.
Standing where he was, it was hard for Jamie to get an unobstructed view of Loka, until a sudden shifting of wings and bodies finally allowed him a better look into the center of the room. What Jamie saw instantly caused his heart to drop to his feet like a heavy stone and sent a powerful frisson of shock up his spine, for sitting in his wheelchair next to Savaron Loka was Cristophe. As if pierced by a sword, a sharp pain sliced through Jamie’s chest and his fingers began to feel numb. The sight was brutal and shocking. Cristophe’s face was bruised black and grotesquely swollen. Blood that had once flowed from both nostrils was now congealed on his face. It mixed with another stream that was still oozing from a corner of his mouth to drip on his torn and stained tunic. One of his eyes was so badly swollen Jamie was sure the boy couldn’t see from it. Cristophe’s other eye had a dark bruise forming beneath it. Slumped in his chair with his head down, he looked more like a lifeless doll than someone alive.
“I’m certain we have everyone, my lord,” the captain of the storm troopers crisply reported as he saluted Loka.
“Somehow they found out about one of our meetings,” Castor said softly into Jamie’s ear. Although still looking ahead and appearing to ignore Jamie, he’d moved close enough so that he could speak to Jamie in a soft whisper. “Garus is dead, along with many others, but they were able to capture Jakobus and Cristophe.”
Jamie was speechless. Shock and horror gripped his throat, and his pulse pounded like thunder in his ears, and he felt helpless to tear his eyes away from the tableau of horror before him, Loka’s deliberate slow measured paces about the room reminding him of a lion in a cage. Every few steps the Archduke would pause, look up, scowl, and stare into the eyes of whoever was unlucky enough to be directly in front of him.
“We have uncovered here a grievous plot against the Empire,” he began, forcefully spitting out his words. “The conspirators thought they were clever, but their subterfuge was discovered. Some have been captured and others killed. I’m personally taking charge of the matter on behalf of the Emperor, and I am here to impress upon all of you that if any of you know anything about these vile activities, now is the time to come forward. I tell you bluntly that if we discover that anyone has withheld even the slightest information we will return for you, at which time we won’t be so kind – as you can see,” he said, as he pointed toward Cristophe. Turning completely to face the boy Loka strode toward the master prefect. When he was in front of Cristophe, Loka looked down at him in disgust, reached out a hand and grabbed Cristophe’s hair. Then lifting up the boy’s head as if it were decapitated from his body, he continued. “This is only a mild example of what awaits you.” With that he released his grip and the master prefect’s head dropped back onto his chest.
For a few seconds Jamie closed his eyes, fighting back a surge of nausea and lightheadedness. His skin felt clammy, his stomach churned, and he thought he was going to be sick, or faint. Fighting to remain calm, he began to take a number of deep breaths. Finally opening his eyes he caught sight of Lucas, Yves and Jeremy. Ashen-faced, they were all staring at Cristophe.
“Does anyone have anything to tell me?” Loka’s voice broke the absolute silence in the room.
Lucas’, Yves’ and Jeremy’s eyes met Jamie’s, and the boys silently stared at each other with looks of fear and desperation painted on their faces, but as frightened as Jamie was, he forced himself to shake his head no as surreptitiously as he hoped possible, desperately trying to warn his friends about giving any sign that they knew anything.
Jamie’s gaze broke contact with that of his friends and refocused on Cristophe as Yves, Jeremy and Lucas did the same. Then, as if he knew his friends were watching him, the master prefect tried to raise his head. The effort, while largely unsuccessful was just enough so that his undamaged eye connected one by one with each of the four boys’. Then, just as Jamie had done, Cristophe also shook his head. The move, more blatant than Jamie’s, registered in Loka’s peripheral vision and immediately the archduke’s head snapped around to catch Cristophe in the act. Taking three quick steps toward the master prefect, he brought his open palm crashing down hard across the left side of the boy’s face and Cristophe’s head flew to the right, blood and saliva flying from his already injured lips. Many of the boys in the room gasped at this cold display of brutality. But then, as if not content with his attack and to drive home his point, Loka stopped the momentum of his arm and sent his hand traveling back the same way it came, backhanding the right side of the boy’s face and pitching Cristophe’s head in the opposite direction.
“That is a mild example of how we deal with traitors,” Loka shouted, then looking around the room coldly added, “We have only begun with him; in the end, he’ll tell us what he knows. In fact, he’ll beg us to allow him to tell us his story.”
Tears began to roll down Lucas’ face, and his eyes caught Jamie’s own. Jamie once more shook his head no, now even more terrified that he’d be discovered.
“I put you on notice,” Loka spat out, his voice growing ever louder. “You have but one chance. If any of you know anything, you have the next four hours to come forward. After that, no mercy will be shown you.” Pausing, Loka took one final, long, measured look around the room, as with heads bowed and eyes averted everyone remained silent. When no one replied, Loka spat out a curse and strode out of the room. One of the imperial troopers in the room, a large hulking man, moved up behind Cristophe. Grabbing the handles of the heavy motorized chair, he effortlessly wheeled the master prefect through the door while another trooper stood guard with his ghoster at the ready, preventing anyone else from exiting.
Unsure of what to do, no one moved. Standing still and silent as statues, five minutes passed at what felt like a crawl. Some boys silently cried while others looked as if they were in shock. As well cared for, pampered artists and performers, most had never been exposed to such raw violence.
While everyone stood silently, Jamie’s eyes darted about the room, desperately searching for Giovanni. He hadn’t caught sight of the boy when he’d first entered the room and was growing increasingly worried at not seeing him. Finally, one of the taller boys in the senior troupe moved a bit and Jamie caught a glimpse of the younger boy standing stiffly and looking straight ahead, appearing every bit as terrified as Jamie thought he must be.
The door of the hall opened and the captain of the imperial troopers stepped across the threshold and, wasting no time, barked out a series of orders: “All Kalorians must return to their sections, where they will remain. Failure to obey will result in serious punishment. All students will go to the floor where their rooms are located. Failure to obey will also result in your punishment. Students are ordered to stay on their floors or in their rooms until told otherwise. Teachers and staff of the school must come with me now, the Archduke wishes a word in private with you. Now, go to your assigned area immediately.”
Everyone exited the room as quickly as they could. Jamie pushed his way through the crowd to reach his friends. On the way he caught up with Giovanni and put an arm around him. Together they joined up with Jeremy, Lucas and Yves and went back to their floor without so much as a word passing between them. Since Castor’s section was officially the same floor as the boys, he accompanied Jamie and his friends to their rooms. No sooner did they reach their floor when Lucas broke down sobbing.
“Did... did... you see what... they did to him?” he cried.
Jeremy and Yves, both pale and shaken, themselves on the verge of tears, tried in vain to comfort him.
“What happened, Castor?” Jamie asked, fearful of what still might come to light. His mouth was so dry it felt as if he’d swallowed a wad of cotton.
“We were scheduled to have a meeting. I was going to join them, but just before leaving I remembered I had to prepare the linen list for the week; it’s the only thing that saved me from getting caught. A squad of imperial troops just appeared where the meeting was being held. Some tried to escape, but they were shot as they ran. A few were captured, one of them was Jakobus, and another, as you saw, was Cristophe.”
“Damian?” Jamie asked anxiously, finding that the lump in his throat was making it quite difficult to speak
“He couldn’t come. He’d scheduled some practice time for the Emperor’s birthday celebration and the council thought it best for him to follow through with his plans so as to avoid undue suspicion.”
“And Perkinjius?” Jamie asked.
“I don’t think he was there. We’re not sure, but I haven’t heard anything about him being either killed or captured.”
“And what about Prince Alexander?” Jamie continued.
“It was a subgroup meeting,” Castor replied. “Neither Alexander nor any of the princes or scribes were in attendance.”
“What do we do now?” Jeremy pleaded, interrupting Castor and Jamie’s conversation.
“We do what we’re told, and we wait,” Jamie replied grimly. “There’s nothing else we can do.” Then looking at his friends, he softly added, “This is the danger I’ve always worried about, and the reason I was reluctant to involve all of you. This was never some game or grand adventure, and now Cristophe...” He stopped, and turned his back. And although he’d never been ashamed or embarrassed to cry in front of his friends, somehow it felt as if this time he needed to be strong. Slowly he walked to his room, feeling his shoulders slump beneath what felt like the weight of a planet.
For twenty-four hours all of the students remained confined to their floors and their rooms. Kalorian members of the kitchen staff brought their meals to them, and imperial troops guarded the halls. Occasionally Jamie and his friends huddled together, sharing fearful speculations regarding Cristophe’s fate. Sometimes Castor would join them, but all they could do was think about Cristophe.
The evening of the first day Jamie noticed the door of Cristophe’s room was ajar. Entering the master prefect’s room he found Lucas, curled up on Cristophe’s bed. And although it was obvious he’d been crying, for the moment he was quietly staring at the wall.
Jamie tucked back his own wings and slowly eased down onto the edge of the bed. Reaching out he stroked Lucas’ soft red hair.
“They’re going to kill him, aren’t they?” Lucas asked in a tone so flat it conveyed the bitter sound of utter hopelessness.
“I don’t know, Lucas,” Jamie quietly replied. “I really don’t know. But I can’t lie and pretend everything will be alright. I know it’s very bad.”
“I love him,” Lucas whispered.
“I know, Lucas. We all do,” Jamie replied, looking down at Lucas’ tear stained face.
“No,” Lucas said, “I really love him. I’ve loved him from the first time I came to the school and saw him perform. I wanted us to form a mating pair. But because I was younger, he said we should wait; then he became ill, and after he went into the chair he refused. He said it wasn’t fair to me, and that I wouldn’t have a good future with him. He told me I should find someone else. He was forceful, and eventually I had to accept his decision, but I’ve never stopped loving him and I can’t imagine pairing with anyone else. There’s never been anyone else I was even mildly interested in. After he went into the chair, if only he had agreed I’d have formed a pair with him. Even now, I’d do it before he could blink twice.”
Jamie, surprised at Lucas' revelation, stopped stroking the boy’s hair, stood up, and looked down at Lucas. “I had no... do the others... oh Lucas, I’m so sorry... I...”
“Yves and Jeremy know. We share everything, but I told them a long time ago not to talk about it. I didn’t hide it from you as a deception, I...”
“I know, Lucas,” Jamie said sadly. “Please don’t stay here alone; everyone else is in Jeremy’s room. Join us there... please?”
“I will,” Lucas replied, “Give me a few minutes. I’d just like a little more time here, alone.”
Leaving Cristophe’s room, Jamie’s heart felt even heavier after Lucas’ revelation. Cristophe had refused to mate, but who knew? Perhaps over time, given Icarian longevity, and possibly freedom for their race... maybe... just maybe he and Lucas.... He tried to block out the thought. He tried to block out everything. It was all too painful. Once outside Cristophe’s room Jamie slumped against the wall in the empty hallway. This was all his fault. He knew it. He’d brought his friends into this – and most of all, Cristophe. If anyone should be arrested, beaten or tortured, it should be him, the so-called Protector. Now he felt like he couldn’t protect so much as a gnat.
Cristophe was a dancer – a kind and beautiful boy who’d already been dealt a cruel blow when his career was prematurely cut short. Jamie’d had no business dragging him into this mess. The worst part of it all was that Cristophe was the one whose head was on the block. The tune had cost dearly and the price was being paid in Cristophe’s, not Jamie’s, blood.
Without realizing it his fists had formed into two tight balls. Fear, pain, anger, and grief welled up inside of him and he felt as if he would explode. Almost running down the hall, he passed the open door of Jeremy’s room. Looking up, Yves saw him go by in a blur.
“Come back, Jamie,” Yves called out. But Jamie kept running until he reached his room, where he bolted inside and slammed the door behind him.
On the second day of the occupation, most of the troops left the school, leaving only a small contingent on guard. A few restrictions were lifted and the students were allowed to eat in the refectory. By the third day, the remaining troops were gone and the restrictions placed on the students were lifted on the provision that no one was to leave the Canon Mon Arts without permission. By the fifth day, life at the school almost appeared to be normal. But for Jamie and his friends as they awaited word on Cristophe, things were far from normal.
During the time of their confinement, Castor’s ability to gain information surprised and amazed Jamie. The old Kalorian took a few risks, but he was brave and strong, and Jamie was grateful for whatever he could learn. While badly disrupted, the Kalorian network of information was still active and Castor was able to glean some vital facts.
Other than Cristophe, no Icarians had been discovered. Frighteningly, this meant that the young master prefect would be made a terrible example of in order to dissuade further Icarian involvement. Alexander and the rebel princes and scribes remained safe and free of suspicion. More than a few Kalorians had been killed and some, including Jakobus, had been captured. Some factions of the resistance were still alive, but the movement was splintered, and the spine of the Council of Resistance had been broken. For the moment no action was expected as everyone laid low, waiting to see what would happen.
Six days after they’d last set eyes on Cristophe, the boys awoke to find Castor standing guard in front of master prefect’s room.
“He was brought here late last night,” Castor said, and the tone of his voice gave every indication that the situation was grave.
“They didn’t imprison him?” Yves asked sounding surprised.
“He’s been in the chair for quite a few years,” Castor replied, “Where would he flee to?”
“How is he?” a worried looking Lucas asked.
“His condition is very tenuous,” Castor continued. “After they... well, an infection’s set in, and things don’t look good.”
Jamie, Lucas, Yves, Jeremy and Giovanni stood quietly staring up at Castor, trying to interpret the meaning of the gaunt look of the Kalorian’s face.
The silence that followed was long and oppressive and although Jamie tried to resist, his urge to learn the truth was too great. It felt wrong to invade Castor’s thoughts so his foray was swift and light-handed, but it was enough to discover what he’d rather not have known.
“He.... he’s dying,” Jamie stated in a raspy voice, shocked at what he’d learned. “He’s dying, isn’t he Castor?”
No sooner had he spoken than his friends turned to him with shocked and stunned looks and he instantly regretted his lack of wisdom and tact. He closed his eyes, dropped his head and made a fist, but the only person he felt like hitting was himself. Silently castigating himself for his impulsive actions, he angrily shook his head, wondering why he simply never seemed to gather his thoughts before opening his mouth.
Castor’s eyes surveyed the five boys standing before him. Jamie’s words had placed him in a difficult position. He took a deep breath and his face took on a look of sadness. “Yes,” he said softly, “I’m afraid he’s dying.”
Jamie’s four friends turned pale at Castor’s words. Lucas began to cry and ran down the hall. Jeremy and Yves ran after him.
Feeling terrible, Jamie moved closer to Castor.
“Then I... I want to see him,” Jamie pleaded softly. “I want to see him now.”
“Young master... I wouldn’t recommend...”
Jamie took another step closer to Castor and motioned for the Kalorian to bend down. Whispering in Castor’s ear Jamie continued, “He’s dying because of me, Castor. I want to see him. Please.”
“It’s not because of you, Jamie,” Castor said. “You can’t blame yourself for every bad thing that happens.”
“I want to see him,” Jamie repeated.
Castor paused, rose to his full height, and stared intently at Jamie for a full minute. “Very well,” he finally said. Bending down and in a whisper he added, “But only you, Jamie. I don’t want the others to remember him like this.”
A chill ran up Jamie’s spine when he heard Castor’s words. The old Kalorian stepped back from the door allowing Jamie access.
“What about us? Giovanni asked, when Jamie approached the door.
“I’ll go in first,” Jamie said. “I’ll tell him you’re here. If he wants to see you, I’ll respect his wishes; if he doesn’t, you also have to agree with that.” And although unhappy with Jamie’s response, Giovanni nodded his assent.
Jamie opened the door and slipped into Cristophe’s room, quickly shutting it behind him. Inside the room, the first thing that drew Jamie’s attention was a harsh, antiseptic smell that stung his nose. The second, was the figure of Cristophe lying in his bed. The boy was still and, with his eyes closed, he appeared to be sleeping. Since Jamie had already seen his friend bruised, battered, and bloody in the Hall of Mirrors he was prepared for the worst, but was surprised to see that the master prefect had been cleaned and well tended. He knew that Castor was responsible for ministering to Cristophe upon his return, and was grateful to the competent and caring Kalorian for his efforts. As Jamie approached the bed he could see that Cristophe’s face was still badly bruised. The boy’s swollen left eye that Jamie’d observed days before remained large and puffy and his right eye was blackened, but the blood had been washed away and all of the cuts had scabs formed over them. Still, the sight was disturbing. He was so pale and still!
For a few moments Jamie simply stood silently taking in the scene, but then he began to notice something odd. The more he studied Cristophe, the more Jamie noticed that his friend appeared different. With the covers pulled up to his chin Cristophe somehow looked smaller in his bed than Jamie remembered. Taking a few steps closer Jamie stopped, paused, and took a closer look. It was then that the first flickering of horrified understanding washed over him. His stomach churned, but instead of turning and leaving, he advanced two more steps. Not eager to look any closer, he nevertheless knew he must, to confirm what he strongly suspected. Remaining quiet with his eyes closed, Cristophe did not acknowledge Jamie’s presence.
Looking down at the master prefect, Jamie carefully picked up the ends of the sheets and folded them back, providing him an unobstructed look at the boy. As he stared at Cristophe’s body a chill raced through him and he felt the blood plummet to his feet. Quickly dropping the sheet so it would once more cover the master prefect, Jamie stepped back and put a hand to his mouth, not sure if it was to stop the scream rising in his throat or the contents of his stomach from spewing on the floor. Stumbling back from the bed, he took a number of deep gasping breaths, sucking air into his lungs as deeply as possible while trying not to retch.
Cristophe had been tortured in the course of his captivity. His already lame body had been lacerated, beaten, and burned but then, not content with these lesser cruelties, his captors had carried out the most horrific act possible – they’d cut off the boy’s wings. Covering the spot between Cristophe’s shoulder blades where his wings would normally have been attached was a large dressing that was tightly wound around his back and chest. The dressing oozed blood that stained the bottom sheet the boy was lying on, and Jamie realized that this was the source of the septicemia Castor said was now raging through Cristophe’s body.
Although his mind refused to relinquish the monstrous image seared into his memory, a feeling of numbness began to wash over him – perhaps his brain trying to protect itself from the overload. Struggling not to think of the sight he’d viewed, he reached under the sheets until he found Cristophe’s hand and held it. Surprised at how cool and clammy it felt, an exquisite sadness stabbed Jamie’s heart when he remembered how often he’d felt Cristophe’s soft, warm, and loving touch brushing against his cheek or arm as the master prefect offered encouragement, advice, and sometimes consolation during their many practice sessions.
It was only then that Jamie registered the boy’s shallow and labored breathing. Jamie stood silently and listened to the cadence while the dancer in him counted the beats and took note of their rhythm. Over a period of a few short minutes, Cristophe’s breaths appeared to be coming at longer and longer intervals while growing ever more shallow. He attempted to scan the master prefect’s mind and was shocked to find so little activity; mercifully, his friend was deeply unconscious. A few more minutes passed and he continued to look down at Cristophe while tightly clutching the master prefect’s hand. But as much as he wished it weren’t true, Jamie couldn’t deny that with each passing minute the pauses between Cristophe’s breaths continued to stretch out longer and longer.
“Please don’t die,” Jamie whispered hoarsely. “Please Cristophe, don’t die. I need you so much.”
But if Cristophe heard Jamie’s voice, he offered no response. Closing his eyes tightly, Jamie counted the soft shallow breaths falling farther and further apart and as much as he willed them to go faster it did no good. Finally Cristophe’s breathing stopped and Jamie realized his friend, the boy he’d come to think of as a true brother, was dead. Silence filled the room. Light from the morning sun cast a warm ray across the bed where the master prefect lay. Looking down at Cristophe’s hand, Jamie’s eye came to rest on the ring that remained on his friend’s finger.
Maybe it was his mind still struggling to cushion itself from the raw truth of the moment, but suddenly he seemed more focused on the ring than the boy wearing it, and he began to think it odd that it hadn’t been removed from Cristophe’s hand after his arrest. It had been a gift from Jamie shortly after his success at La Mondele Royale, a sign of friendship and thanks; just as he and his blood brother Charlie each had an asp bracelet, he’d decided to have identical rings made for the brother he’d adopted from his early days at the École. Fashioned in the style of a golden snake wrapped around itself twice, it was made of gold with large, bright, bejeweled eyes. The only difference between the rings was in their stone eyes: Cristophe’s snake looked out at the world through two perfect, red rubies while the snake on Jamie’s finger featured a set of sparkling green emeralds. Gently tugging at the ring, he slipped it from Cristophe’s hand and placed it on one of his own fingers.
Carefully setting Cristophe’s cooling hand back on to the bed, he turned away, walked to the door and placed his hand upon the handle; just before turning the lever, he looked back at the bed where Cristophe’s body lay peacefully, as if asleep.
“You can finally do the flying arabesque again, Cristophe. Fly swiftly, brother,” Jamie said softly in lilting Icarian.
Turning back to the door Jamie turned the handle and opened it. He stepped into the corridor and closed the door behind him so that anyone who might be standing in the hallway couldn’t get a good look into the room. His friends huddled around him in anticipation and for a few seconds he stood silently avoiding their eyes. While he’d experienced death before, the emptiness that clutched its icy fingers around his hearts was the worst he’d ever felt.
“He’s gone.” The words finally broke Jamie’s silence. Bowing his head, he turned away and walked down the hallway. Once he reached his room, he entered it and closed the door behind him.
Lucas, Yves and Jeremy all began to cry. Giovanni looked from Castor to the boys of Trio Chrysalis.
“What will happen to me?” Giovanni said softly. “I was responsible for helping Cristophe, but now...” his voice trailed off.
Castor put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Giovanni. You’ll remain here, with the other boys. We still need and want you.”
Castor spent a few minutes with the boys trying his best to comfort them, but he knew their grief lay heavily on them and mere words served as cold comfort. The experience had been an emotional overload for everyone, and he could see that by now a numbness had set in to protect them from the pain.
Since it was still early morning Castor sent them off to the refectory for breakfast, telling them that even if they didn’t feel like it they should eat something. Reluctantly Lucas, Yves, Jeremy and Giovanni left the floor. As Castor watched them walk away, heads bowed and silent he knew it would be some time before the pain they felt would lessen. But although it would be hard for all of them, Castor knew from experience that even when things were far from normal, sometimes the process of going through the well-known everyday tasks of life could serve as an emotional balm.
Standing alone in the deserted hallway, Castor glanced at the door to Cristophe’s room and sighed. He, too, felt a stabbing pain of grief, but pushed it away – he would have to deal with his own feelings later. First, he needed to report Cristophe’s death and supervise the unpleasant task of removing the boy’s body from the dormitory – hopefully when the other boys were off the floor.
As he turned back to the work ahead of him, Castor remembered that Jamie was still alone in his room. Well aware of Jamie’s close attachment to Cristophe, Castor had expected the worst after the master prefect’s death, but when Jamie emerged from Cristophe’s room Castor hadn’t seen so much as a tear in the boy’s eyes. Giving a soft knock on the door, he stepped into Jamie’s room. He expected to see a tearful Jamie lying on the bed experiencing his own private emotional release away from the eyes of his friends. After comforting him, Castor decided, he would attempt to get Jamie to join his friends in the refectory. But what he found instead was totally unexpected.
Wearing just his undershorts, Jamie had undressed and appeared to be preparing to take a bath. Glancing about, Castor noted that lying on the bed, alongside the clothes the boy had been wearing and his bath towel, were strewn some of the finest articles of clothing the prince possessed. Seeing that it was Castor who’d entered, Jamie walked to the small closet in his room.
“Castor, can you help me?” Jamie asked, sounding impatient and annoyed. “I’ve been looking for my embroidered linen and silk tunic, and I can’t find it. It’s the one with the red and gold stitching, remember? I wore it when I went to the Empress’s private dinner party a few weeks ago.”
Castor stood quietly, watching Jamie rummage through his closet as the occasional article of clothing went flying through the air.
“I also can’t find the new sandals I got last week. I think you have all my really good things in the large closets down the hall, no?”
Still surprised and more than a bit shocked at the sight, Castor approached Jamie. Jamie turned and looked at Castor while leveling a piercing stare at the Kalorian that stopped Castor in his tracks. Carefully studying the boy, Castor unconsciously took a step back much in the same way a person encountering something fearful instinctively retreats. Jamie’s face was an unreadable mask, and it was clear that the boy had not been crying. His eyes were clear and bright, and no evidence of tear streaks could be seen on his face. His nose wasn’t red and his voice was clear and steady, but there was something different here, and the old Kalorian studied the boy warily.
“I need you to help me find my things,” Jamie continued, the impatient tone in his voice returning. “But before you do, could you try to contact that gahdar who fights for the emperor? I know that he and his brother live in the imperial palace – if I remember correctly, his name’s Miro... Miro Gillot. Contact him and tell him that I’d like him to take me to Piropolis. There’s someone there I want to visit; I’ll tell him who after he arrives. And make sure to let him know that I want to leave as soon as possible.”
Castor remained still, trying hard to comprehend what he was seeing. Neither angry nor sad, fearful nor happy, Jamie continued his preparations with cold, unemotional proficiency, and Castor was suddenly reminded of Edmond Croal when the scientist was concentrating intently on one of his experiments.
“Please, Castor,” Jamie said, looking up and frowning at the Kalorian. “It would be nice if a hov was waiting for me after I bathed and dressed. I’d like to make the most of the day.”
“Jamie, I don’t think this is a good idea,” Castor began. “After... well... it’s just not a good time. And if anyone saw a hov landing here and you flying away in it...”
“That’s exactly what I want them to see.” Jamie said calmly. “In fact, please tell the Gahdar that I want him to land in the quadrangle. It’s midmorning, so almost everyone will see or at least find out about it by mid-day meal. And if anyone inquires as to where I’ve gone, I’d prefer that you tell them the prince is bored with the oppressive mood this place has taken on over the past few days, and is looking for a little amusement. What better place than Piropolis, the city of the gladiators?”
“Please Castor, just do it for me,” Jamie said in a self-assured, yet slightly exasperated tone while quickly pulling off his shorts, and grabbing his towel, “Oh, and I’d really like to wear that cloak the Imperial Council presented to me as a gift when I preformed at their annual fete for the Emperor a few weeks ago. It looks like it cost a prince’s ransom,” he added as he pulled open the door and bounded down the hall to the bath.
Any other time, Castor would have refused. Any other time, Castor would have waited for the boy to return from his bath, sat him down and lectured him. Any other time he’d have used his considerable influence over Jamie to rein him in, but for some reason even he couldn’t explain to himself, Castor left the room to begin making the arrangements Jamie had requested.
After Jamie returned from his bath, he began to dress. With Castor’s help he found the clothing he desired to wear. Standing in front of the mirror he played with his hair for a few seconds, then gave up when, as usual, the offending shock of blond hair that fell in his eyes refused to cooperate.
“Is the hov here yet?” Jamie asked calmly.
“It will be shortly.” Castor said. “Apparently the Gahdar Miro and his brother fly to Piropolis almost every day. I caught them just before they were ready to leave for their daily practice. They’re diverting to land here; after they pick you up, they’ll fly on to Piropolis.”
Jamie didn’t reply. Instead he went to his dresser and began to pull out some of the jewelry with which he’d been gifted. While much if it went to fund the resistance, Castor had suggested he keep certain pieces. Picking up a heavy gold chain, he held it in his hand and examined the large links that alternated between the Empress’s personal crest and a stylized rendering of a flower called the Talon Rose – the Empress’s favorite flower. Placed around Jamie’s neck by the empress herself after one of his private performances for her, it showed his personal links and favored status with the House of Blackwell. So, too, did the Emperor’s ring and a small pin modeled after the imperial baton that Jamie usually wore on his cloak. Sparing no effort in making a display, he began putting rings on a number of his fingers. For a second he paused and stared at the ring of the snake resting on the ring finger of his right hand. Sliding it off he replaced it with the ruby one that he’d taken off the lifeless body of Cristophe less than an hour before. For a few seconds he paused and stared at it. The snake’s red eyes seemed to be looking at him. When he was finished, he spun around to face Castor.
“And so?” Jamie said executing his signature bow for the Kalorian, but his movement was stiff and no smile came to his face.
Castor gave Jamie an appraising look.
Wearing his best hand-tooled sandals with the gold-plated silver fittings, his finest clothing and the most expensive jewelry in his collection, Jamie looked like the Emperor himself. As he turned back to Castor, the Kalorian lifted up the cloak he’d earlier folded over his arm. Jamie took it and immediately felt its weight where it rested on his shoulders. Heavy with gold and silver embroidery, large and small seed pearls and more than a few precious and semi-precious stones, it was worth the price of one of the small chateau the nobility often built on the edges of lakes or forests as places for retreat and recreation. Hooking the clasp, Jamie stood back and looked at himself in the mirror.
“The little prince,” Jamie said coldly as he eyed his image, “a proper dandy.”
“Jamie,” Castor began softly, “I don’t know what you’re planning to do, but I think possibly it should wait until...”
“...until more people get killed?” Jamie said flatly.
“No, Jamie,” Castor replied, “Until we have time to sort all of this out. I know how you feel...”
“Do you, Castor?” Jamie said, turning away from the Kalorian and walking toward the wall of his room that his bed rested against. “I’m not sure that you do. I don’t think anyone does. Do you want to know how I feel?” Jamie repeated his voice sounding even colder than before.
Castor remained silent, unsure of what to say.
Jamie took a few more steps until he was directly in front of the common wall he and Cristophe had shared. Long ago, Castor had asked about the knocking sounds he heard every night coming from both the boys’ rooms. Later, when Jamie explained, the old Kalorian had understood. Now, without pausing, Jamie raised his right hand, made a fist, and gave three hard, loud raps on the wall. When he was finished, he paused and waited. In reply to his knocks, there was only silence. Once more he raised a fist to the wall and rapped, this time much harder than before, and was again greeted with silence. One final time he rapped, even harder but with the same result. Spinning around, Jamie came face to face with Castor and their eyes locked. Castor felt as if he were staring into the boy’s soul, and although Jamie appeared calm and cool – even somewhat passive – the Kalorian could see a depth of pain in the boy that sent repeated chills up his spine.
“That’s how I feel,” Jamie said with stony calm.
Castor’s eyes went from Jamie to the wall he’d just pounded on. Although Icarian strength was well known, it wasn’t always apparent to the naked eye. Jamie’s small, thin frame, in particular, concealed the true strength of the boy – something easily forgotten. But Castor was forcefully reminded when he saw the large crazing of broad, visible cracks in the plaster and a series of small holes where Jamie’s hand had made contact with the wall. More shocking still were the streaks of blood that now stained the plaster where the boy’s knuckles had met with the rough surface of the wall. Shocked, Castor stepped back.
Without looking at his bloodied hand and with no change of expression, Jamie strode toward the door of his room. Turning back to Castor he asked, “Has the hov arrived?”
“It should be waiting for you,” Castor answered hoarsely.
Jamie turned from Castor, passed through the doorway and into the hall. Anyone catching a glimpse of Jamie walking down the hall would see the image of a most handsome and regal looking boy poised and confident of his status. A closer look might have revealed the boy’s two fists – one clean, the other bloodied – balled up as tightly as he could manage, his knuckles white.
Exiting the main entrance of the dormitories Jamie noticed that Castor was correct; a hov was waiting inside the quadrangle, its hatch open and ready to accept passengers.
A number of students and a few teachers who were in the courtyard, walking on paths or striding down the esplanade of the school, turned to watch Jamie moving at a pace close to a quick march as he approached the vehicle – his richly decorated cloak billowing behind him as the sunlight reflected off the jewels sewn onto the magnificent garment. Pausing in front of the hov’s hatch, Jamie folded back his wings, lifted his cape and climbed in.
At the hov’s controls sat the Gahdar Miro, and next to him in the co-pilot’s seat was his brother, David. Both boys turned toward Jamie as he entered.
“Hello,” Miro said, grinning. “This is certainly a surprise.”
Jamie didn’t return the greeting; instead, as he took his seat he asked, “You’re going to Piropolis, no?”
“Yes,” Miro said, still smiling but a bit surprised at the boy’s coolness.
“Then let’s go,” Jamie said curtly, settling into his seat while clicking shut the latches on his harness.
“Are you interested in going anywhere in particular when we arrive?” David asked, and he too offered Jamie a smile.
“Yes,” Jamie replied flatly. “I want to see the Gahdar Niklas.”