I sat down on the floor, my back against the wall, the piece of paper still in my hand. From the corridor I could hear shouts and the sound of running feet, but whatever was going on out there no longer concerned me. I leaned back and closed my eyes. Remember, the note said, and I would, even if it killed me.
Children love to have secrets, and he had been mine. He had been there for as long as I could remember, laughing and dancing and juggling handfuls of flame. I had become afraid when I realised that nobody but me could see him, but he had just laughed and told me not to worry. He had laughed a lot, and so had I. I had laughed mainly to hide my fear, though I had been too young to know that at the time.
He had taught me to have visions. They had started as a game, of course, since everything had been a game with him. One day he had left a trail of little flames hanging in the air for me to follow, and as I ran from one little speck of fire to the other I had dashed right out into another world. I had been frightened at first, but he had laughed at my fears and taught me to explore and soon I was able to make the transition on my own. As I got older I saw less and less of him, and when Agromas took me on as his apprentice I thought he had disappeared from my life for good.
I sighed. Frightening as his presence in my young life had been, I knew those memories wouldn't bring me the answers that I was looking for. The fire, I thought. The fire had to be the key.
The roar of the flames. Air, hot enough to blister the skin and scorch the lungs. Sparks and bits of smouldering wood flying through the air, threatening to set everything that wasn't yet burning on fire as well. I could see myself beating at the flames with wet pieces of cloth, my movements slow and awkward, and I knew I never had a chance. I could hear myself cough and gasp for air, and I watched as I stumbled, fell and struggled to my feet again and again.
A soft knocking on the door jerked me back to the present, and I cursed under my breath. "Jorden, are you in there?" It was Moire.
I kept quiet, waiting for her to go away. And yet I wanted to talk to her, to open the door and to feel her in my arms again. I got up and walked across the room, making as little noise as I could.
"It's alright," she said. "I'm here to help you."
I wondered about that. Help me? What was she talking about?
I rested the side of my face against the door and closed my eyes, my arms aching with the need to slide the bolt out of the way and let her in. Before I could do anything I heard footsteps approach and I waited, my ear pressed against the wood. A whispered conversation followed, between Moire and two men whose voices I didn't recognise. I couldn't make out any words until I heard her say, "They're not in here. Try the sheriff's rooms instead, they're at the end of the corridor." I felt cold as I listened to two sets of footsteps moving away from the door.
"What?" I hadn't intended to speak out loud but I couldn't help myself. Who were these men? Had she just told them where to look for Merran and Jadri?
"Please listen," she said. I could hear she was standing very close to the door. "It is not what you think. There's a lot you don't know, and I'm only trying to do what's best." She sounded like she was on the verge of tears.
I moved away from the door, resting my back against the wall. The world has gone mad, I thought, and I don't know what's right or wrong anymore. I clenched my fists, and realised I still had the piece of paper in my hand.
I folded the piece of paper and put it in my pocket. Ignoring Moire's shouted questions I went over to the bed and started to drag it across the room, eventually lifting one end and setting it upright against the door. The couch was next, and after that I made sure that the bolts on the door were still securely in place. The window had steel bars on the outside, and the mountain side below went straight down. I wouldn't be interrupted for a while.
From behind the door I could hear Moire leave, her footsteps disappearing down the corridor. Be safe, I thought. Be true to yourself. Then I took out the note and sat down on the floor again, ready to face my past.
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