My head throbs as I open my eyes, feeling as if I'm slowly rising from water, dizzily deprived of air. There are still white spots at the corners of my eyes, and I gain consciousness in an unfamiliar place. I lie prostrate in a springed wooden bed that my feet hang over. There are thin whitewashed walls either side of me that do not connect to the ceiling, an empty doorway in front, and I realise that the cubicle is no bigger than our garden shed. Am I in an infirmary? I turn my head, the muscles in my neck clicking, and see there's a glass and a jug of water on a bedside table with one drawer.
That's all I have.
I sit up slowly, listening for any signs of movement. I hear somebody on the other side moving, and I move slowly from the creaky bed so that they don't hear. I lean my head around the doorway and notice that the room as a whole is made up of five other cubicles like mine, all occupied by sleeping lumps except for two that have sheets bunched up and abandoned. In the middle of the room is a straight bench, where the dark-skinned man that I remember from the garden is. He no longer wears a suit, no, now he wears a dark red trenchcoat and steel-capped boots, making him look even bigger than the suit did, which is a task. He has a bag open on the bench, repacking the contents: double-bladed knives, strange vials of orange liquid and even a string of throwing stars made to look like a pair of angel wings, each feather sharp and shimmering.
Who the hell is this Romulus guy?
Suddenly, with that thought, the dark-skinned man looks over his shoulder, and I know he's seen me. I gasp, falling back onto the bed as I hear quick footsteps towards me. Just as I see the edge of his coat in the doorway, I reach out for something, anything. My hand connects with the jug handle, and at the sight of the man's tattooed face, I launch it at him. His arm goes up effortlessly, letting it smash against him, water soaking his sleeve and dripping on his face. Some of it catches me as I scurry past him, barely making it as he fills up most of the doorway.
He's too fast though.
I feel him grab my arm and wrench it back until I feel my joint dislocate, and with the adrenalin the pain gives me, I turn and punch him square in the jaw. It does sod-all, and all he has to do is grab my shoulder and push it down, and I'm on the ground. He releases my arm and I cradle it, looking at the metal caps of his boots and praying that he doesn't kick me in the face. He doesn't, instead he speaks to me, some amusement in his voice.
"You're no fighter, Alex," he says, and I look up at his towering form. He would have looked macho and terrifying if it wasn't for that necklace, which I know see has the pendant of a praying angel on it.
"You clearly are, big guy," I answer, rising to my feet as quickly as I can. "Now, where the hell am I?"
"A place far safer than you have been. You're under the protection and fealty of Romulus now, consider yourself lucky -,"
"I never swore fealty to anybody, especially not a deranged psycho like Romulus!"
The guy's brow furrows, "be careful, Alex. Words like that do not go down well here -,"
"And you think I care?" I snap, still pissed that I've been drugged, kidnapped, beat up, and now lectured by somebody who looks like he's out of a video game. "You're acting as if I plan on cooperating with you,"
"I hoped that, but the water jug proved me wrong,"
"So go on then. Tell me, why the hell am I here and what's so important that you had to interrupt my dinner with my darling parents?"
He sighs, probably disappointed that I'm not so accepting of all this. "You have become part of something very dangerous and very important, Alex. It isn't my place to explain this all to you, it is Romulus', but until the others are chosen and brought here and he chooses to meet you all, you're going to have to believe me,"
"How am I supposed to do that? Our history isn't that great, it started when you tried to poison me,"
"We didn't try, because we knew it wouldn't work. Romulus counted on you being able to resist, and you passing makes you worthy. You have a strong willpower, Alex. Stronger than most, and it's clear to me that you have a natural instinct to be...difficult."
"My mum told me that Romulus is a terrorist. Is that true?"
"No," he says sharply. "Romulus is no such thing. Your mother is a member of the Council, she is as delusional as everybody else,"
"And let me guess, you're trying to break this mystical illusion?" I wave my hands around theatrically, it seems to annoy him and that makes me smile.
"Correct," he nods with a clipped tone. He reaches out his hand, and I look more closely at the tattoos, mostly concentric rings of odd symbols that seem to shimmer, the lines moving around and rearranging until they almost look like letters... "I am Kamau, and I am your mentor,"
"Mentor for what exactly?" I hesitate, but take his hand and shake it, though I swear he's tempted to break my hand as payback for the jug.
"The revolution. We all have our part to play." He gestures for me to head out of the door that I see at the end of the room, leading into a hallway where noise hums from ahead. He walks ahead of me, swinging the bag of equipment over his rock-hard shoulder with ease. "And you, Alex, you're our little rat."
I follow Kamau through the door, both because I want him to explain more, and because I have a feeling that I'll end up with another dislocated arm to match if I don't.