The moment Shalassah screeched to a halt at the palace gates, the four guards ran towards them. She immediately got out of the vehicle and slammed the door. None of them had spoken on the way there. Jyxxie and Lyxxie exchanged frequent glances at each other, once or twice looking at Kal, but saying nothing. Kal couldn't help but feel somewhat glad for the princess' daring act, one that saved her but explained nothing. All had happened so quickly in the span of a single day.
The three in the back seat peered out curiously as Shalassah began her frantic exchange with the guards. They were relieved to see her. One guard ran back to the gate to communicate with the other sentries.
Shalassah turned around and pointed at Jyxxie.
"She's the one."
One guard came to the left side of the vehicle, another guard to the right side. They opened the doors simultaneously and each of the girls exited accordingly. Kal exited behind Jyxxie, though he couldn't explain why he took that route. Perhaps because she seemed to be the one that would offer less resistance. The guards held fast onto each of the girls, though neither offered any struggle. Kal stood alone, and felt more alone and solitary than ever.
"I want them imprisoned indefinitely. They have much to offer."
"Right away, my lady."
"Where is Leucrota?"
Shalassah turned sharply to the guard who stood beside her. "He is dead. Killed by their ringleader, a man who calls himself Jacques. He is the one that kidnapped me and left me with these two thieves."
"We will look into it without delay. And who is the monk?"
She answered without a second thought. "An unfortunate man who saw too much, according to Jacques. He was nearby at the time and was kidnapped along with myself. He can," she faltered, not having considered his fate. "You may release him," she said after a moment.
Kal looked at her questioningly. That was the plan, after all. But how could she leave him suspended like this?
"Brother monk, we may need you for questioning," the guard who stood beside the princess exclaimed. "Where will you be going?"
His voice caught in his throat, he looked at the guard and then at Shalassah. She avoided his eyes. "I would wish to accompany the thieves, if it pleases you and the lady." He didn't dare forget his courtesies, especially in front of her men.
The guard squinted at him, and Kal knew that he thought him an accomplice of these two so-called thieves. "As you wish," he said slowly, turning back to the princess. "Amphrice has been tremendously concerned, and your father is beside himself. I urge you to come quickly."
Shalassah nodded and turned on her heel. She did not give any of them a second glance.
Roughly, the two girls were led towards the gate while Kal followed alongside. The guards were truly quite foolish to place so much trust in him, were he really an imposter in a habit. But this was not a time for frivolous contemplations. The third guard at the gate, who had now been joined by four more guards, took Kal to the side and without word, began to pat him down. He examined the scapula that hung around Kal's neck, and not recognizing the carven symbol on it, ignored it and handed Kal over to a guard. Jyxxie and Lyxxie's hands were tied behind their backs and the three crossed the threshold.
Morra's palace was located in the center of the city. It had its own three story walls, and it covered the size of ten oversized city blocks. Only one block was apportioned for the imperial family, while the rest were occupied by the Court and of other official housing. Inside the palace, only imperial vehicles were allowed transit. Of these imperial vehicles was one specially designed to hold enemies of the state and other despicable criminals. It was a long vehicle, the cab separated from the driver's box. The cab was of crude build, almost as if they had placed a steel cage into the rear of the vehicle for numerous onlookers to observe without obstruction the human filth that sat inside. This black vehicle hummed noisily at the end of the short driveway from the gate.
The three climbed into the cage wordlessly, the door clanged close, and three of the four guards climbed into the driver's box. No doubt these were the men that had been called the moment Shalassah told them that her kidnappers were now captured.
The palace was empty at this hour. The moon had passed its peak. The street lights were brighter in this section, Kal noticed. Security was minimal at this time, though he could see some sentries at the doors of some buildings. The prisoner's vehicle whirred noisily through the street, its engine echoing loudly off the thirty foot walls and splendid imperial buildings. As they rounded the corner, the Court Assembly building came into view, standing by itself a fair distance away from the other high-rising buildings. A short lawn from the road was lined with well-trimmed and perfectly shaped trees and bushes. Despite the cooler temperatures, flowers were still blooming along the road. The Court itself was a three-story building, columns stretching from ground to pitched roof. It was a flat and plain building otherwise, asides its immensity. Judging from the twins' silence and wide eyes, this was the first time they had been inside the palace walls.
They took the road that led alongside the Court, and soon they were looking at its backside, which was equally as blasé and uniform as the front. Another building, built of plain red stone and adorned with narrow but decorated windows faced them. The vehicle slowed then, and stopped nearly at the building's end. Kal saw a sub-level entrance beside him and watched with tired eyes as the three guards jumped out of the driver's box. The keys jangled in the leader's hands as he swung it carelessly, as if this were hardly an extraordinary matter. His eyebrows, almost as thick as his mustache, kept his eyes in shadow and Kal was unable to decipher any hint of anger or ill will.
The mustachioed man unlocked the cage door and pulled the girls out one by one, then lastly took Kal by the arm and pulled him out, too. He didn't let go, but took the lead and strode at a quick pace to the steps that led down to barred double-doors. Light streamed out from behind the door, and they walked into the in processing room. A single guard sat behind the desk and he perked up the moment they entered.
"These the kidnappers? Captain!"
Before he had finished calling, an older man whose hair was just beginning to show the lighter hues of age, walked briskly into the room, adjusting his belt and tugging at his collar.
"So!" He began, his hand wandering upwards to rub his cleanly shaven chin still glistening from a wash. His dark eyes passed over the three of them, taking only a second to take each one in. "Kidnapping princesses, are we? You, too, brother monk?"
"I was kidnapped along with the princess, sir," Kal offered. The requirements Shalassah had set for him began to make him sweat. He dare not lie, but he dare not say more of the princess, either.
"A pity." He strode over to stand face to face with Kal.
Kal swallowed and looked at him. The man was peering at the scapula.
Too late, he'd forgotten to tuck it back into his habit. His jaw tightened.
"Mono Luthor? What is the meaning of this? Belavi, you saw this?" He held the scapula up in his hands, gesturing it towards the mustachioed guard.
The guard stuttered. "I confess I did not recognize it."
"Hm." The man let the scapula drop and wrinkled his brow. "What sort of herald are you?"
"None," Kal shook his head.
"Well it's not every day a brother from Mono Luthor enters the city. Not every year or decade, for that matter," the captain rumbled. "Hm." He turned his eyes to the twins. "Thieves? Quite clever, naturally gifted for it, it seems." He looked over Kal one more time, then walked to the desk at the far side of the room. "Place them in separate rooms. Except the monk."
The guards nodded, taking the twins towards the hallway behind the desk.
Neither of them said a word, and their steps disappeared when a door closed behind them.
The captain, who had been writing in some paperwork at the desk, then looked up. "Belavi, I want you to interrogate one of them."
"Which one, sir?"
He scowled. "Does it matter? Take that rookie with you, and both of you take notes."
"Right away, sir," the man with the mustache hastily let go of Kal's arm and began for the same hall.
His footsteps faded and disappeared with the same banging door.
Not once did the boss take his eyes off Kal since sending Belavi away. Kal avoided his gaze. Dreading the threat of an interrogation. Dreading the telling of a lie he wasn't even sure of anymore. The twins had the right idea: say nothing, do nothing. But Kal, a monk, a man of faith, was bound to honesty. Saying nothing was the equivalent to lying. Silence meant yes, silence meant no. It was lying from the heart and mind without giving it voice.
"Now, let's begin with something simple."
The guard at the desk went on with his work as if there were no one else in the room, let alone an interrogation taking place from above his head.
"I have none, sir."
"None, you say?"
"For as long as I can remember, I was an orphan abandoned at the gates of Mono Luthor. I have no knowledge of my mother or father. I have no patronymic." The void of physical parents he had filled with the love from Horafah, but it still gave him a small, ever so small amount of confused pain that tugged at the strings to his heart. His words hardly fazed the man.
"Interesting. Well you've answered my second question, so we will proceed to my third question."
The ground shuddered.
The man stood up straight, a scowl of uncertainty washing over his face.
The guard at the desk raised his head slowly, looking up to peer at the captain in confused wonder. "...Sir?"
"Quiet," the man put his hand up. The whirring fan above their heads was all that could be heard.
The ground rumbled again. This time, a pencil fell off the desk.
"It sounds..." The guard at the desk knit his eyebrows in thought.
"Like a demolition. Wait for--"
The door at the end of the hallway burst open.
The captain turned around quickly as Belavi dashed into view. He was breathless, sweating profusely and wild-eyed.
"The girl," he panted, trying to catch his breath.
The floor shook. Frames rattled against the walls, the suspended lights tittered.
"What is that?" The desk guard exclaimed, standing up and looking around warily.
Kal began backing up to the chairs lined up against the wall. An inexplicable fear washed over him. He kept looking at the door leading to the stairs outside. The air was stuffy down here, the lights yellowed and dusty.
This time, the entire building shook. Frames fell and shattered on the floor. Kal collapsed into one of the flimsy chairs, gripping it with whitened knuckles. He looked once more at the door.
"The girl what!" The captain yelled. "Out with it, you flabby excuse of an officer!"
"Sir, I'm going outside!" The guard at the desk, without waiting for assent, ran to the door and flung it open, dashing up the stairs.
Belavi picked himself together, leaning up against the wall. "The girl says that there is--"
An explosion seemed to go off in his ears. The lights flashed bright as the sun as they exploded. The walls imploded, rock and wood and metal hurled in every direction. His body flew up and slammed into the wall behind him. Even through the numbness in his ears, he could hear someone screaming. Pain shot through his chest.
His world went black.
END OF BOOK ONE.
BEGIN BOOK TWO.