I didn't question her odd statement. We walked along in silence, until we got into Slake about half an hour later. We headed down the road past the side street where the kitsch shop was, but of course we didn't turn down it. They kept walking, so I followed along with them. Finally they turned into a space between two buildings, more like a wide alley than anything else. There was a door to the building on the right, which looked as nondescript as any business building. But I remembered this alley from somewhere else. In the bright morning light it looked different. I remembered it being dark, and the moon was out. Then I gasped. They both turned to me.
"A man was killed here," I gasped. I could see it now, the man in the suit and the blood. To my surprise, Meena looked at me guiltily.
"Sorry, Ruby. With everything that's happened, I completely forgot to say..."
"What really happened when I fell?" I asked, remembering waking up in my bed and not being able to remember how I'd got there. "Somebody tampered with ym memory."
I saw a flash of the gold eyes again.
"Yes," Meena admitted. "I was there with Mercury. The man knew something of Tenebrus's plans and was supposed to meet us to tell us. The assassin got to him first. You saw him, and he couldn't let you tell us anything."
My head was pounding as if it was my heart in there and not my brain, swirling as the pictures came together. I was breaking through the mind block.
"I saw him," I said, having to elaborate when I saw the expression on Meena's face that clearly said, I just told you that. "On the train. My first night in Slake, he got off at the station."
"Really?" Meena said doubtfully. "One of Tenebrus's allies wouldn't be likely to get the train."
"Unless," Willow said suddenly,"he wanted to appear normal. There are Immortal businessmen who do exactly what human businessmen do but only for the Immortals. He could have been paid off by Tenebrus to get rid of the informer while he was in town. He couldn't travel by Mirror, the Eternals would have known. You'd be surprised how volatile some of the Immortal traders are."
"Anyway," Meena declared loudly. "We're not here about that."
She crossed to the door, which was painted an unattractive grey-lavender, and opened it. I was surprised that it was so easy to get in - I had expected a lock or something like at the Downworld.
Then she came up against a barrier. Just inside the large doors was a black simmering surface like a pan of boiling ink. It bubbled in the air repulsively. I wasn’t going anywhere near that.
“What the hell is it?” I asked with distaste.
“Shield,” Meena muttered, and to my horror she reached out and began to run her hands over it. The writhing, bubbling surface went smooth under her hands then began to broil again as soon as her hand moved away. “It’s got a hole in it somewhere about here - you can only get in if you reach through the hole and disable it on the other side.”
“But doesn’t that kind of defeat the point of the shield being there?” I pointed out.
“No,” she muttered distractedly, her tongue poking out as she concentrated on feeling along the shield as if it were just a wall. “It can detect your intentions. If you want to get in there for any bad reason, it’ll scald you, or possibly suck you in and trap you inside it.”
I closed my mouth which had opened. “Great.”
“Yup and…. Here it is.”
I watched open-mouthed again as her hands seemed to sink through the bubbling wall. Around them, a blurred, fizzling gap appeared, and through it I could just see some kind of red box cavity. Meena pushed her hand into it and the bottom seemed to be as malleable as clay, because she left a handprint in it. The clay-like material smoothed itself over, and as it did so the wall began to disappear from the left side to the right.
In a moment we were standing in a corridor with a carpet of the same lavender-grey as the doors outside, with cream-coloured walls that were bare of any decoration.
“Um, yeah, this looks like a back corridor of a dental health clinic,” I voiced my thoughts as we started to follow the corridor around to a flight of metal stairs with the steps carpeted in the generic lavender grey that this place seemed to favour.
“It’s all about the façade,” Meena said smugly as she led the way up the stairs. Our rubber-soled Converse slapped on the stairs until we reached another generically decorated corridor with two doors on either side.
“First floor,” Meena said, heading towards a lift at the other end of the corridor. “There are three floors in here, four apartments on each, but the whole of the top floor belongs to… something else.”
We stepped into the little silver box and Willow took care of the buttons. I felt my stomach squeeze a little as we swooped up two floors - I hated elevators. I hadn’t realised I had been holding my breath until I let it out as we stepped out of the claustrophobic box into the third-floor hallway. It wasn’t really a hallway, more like a little room, because it had been cut off to make the most of space on this floor. To the left was a large plain wooden door, to the right was the door leading to the fire stairs.
This was the same as downstairs - except for the fact that the space in front of the opposite wall was occupied by a desk with a corkboard behind it, to which were pinned several leaflets, and behind the desk was a dozing security guard. He was leaning on the desk with his head on his arms, so his chin-length dark hair flopped down over his face. His uniform was black with silver details and buttons like a military uniform instead of your average guard.
I had a certain feeling that the guard wasn’t really asleep. There was a gap between his arms, and if he looked through it he could watch us approach.
I averted my eyes from him as we strolled in casually, eyeing the doors. We needed to get in the one on the left.
I wasn’t stupid enough to just go right to the door and try to go through it, and in any case Meena and Willow had stopped.
What were they waiting for?
“C’mon, Arlis,” Meena muttered. “We haven’t got all day.”
The guard sat up. It was so fast it was like I had blinked and missed the movement. Then I saw his face and I gasped. The strong jaw, chiselled features, violet eyes, the way his spiky hair flicked around his face, even though it was a bit shorter…
“Yeah, this is Warrior Will’s brother,” Willow said.