Page 15


My room sits at the end of the hall behind a plum-lacquered door on the fifteenth floor. It’s a beautiful apartment trimmed with carved woodwork painted in rich cream and subtle gold. At the far end, a fire blazes in a brick-and-wrought-iron hearth. Above it hangs a portrait of a woman who looks strangely like the new me. Intricate patterns decorate the woven rugs that stretch across the large room, and silk pillows in emerald and garnet and champagne lie scattered around small mahogany tables.
‘I’ll see that they deliver some supper to you. You missed the evening meal,’ my guide informs me. He watches as I wander around the room, and when I turn back, he’s grinning.
‘Th-th-thank you,’ I stammer.
‘It’s a bit of an upgrade from the cell, I imagine,’ he says, and I turn to look at him more carefully: it’s the same boy who gave the order to sedate me in the rebound chamber. He’s taller than I am, and his suit hugs his broad shoulders and rigid arms enough to show he has the strength necessary to be a bodyguard. But despite his powerful body, his face is fair and framed by delicate hair. It’s the hair that perks my fuzzy memory of my retrieval night.
‘You—’ I stop short of accusing him.
‘I’m sorry about that,’ he says, the cocky grin fading from his face. ‘Orders are orders. If it makes you feel better, you got off easy. Name’s Erik.’
I stare coldly at the hand he stretches out in greeting. Sure, let’s be friends. You only left me in the cold with no food.
The thought twists my stomach with hunger, reminding me that I’ve still not eaten since the few bites at the café in Nilus. ‘It doesn’t actually.’
Erik laughs and shakes his head, proving he’s a first-class jerk. ‘I’ll make sure they send you up plenty of food. You’ll begin training in the morning.’
I want to refuse the food and the fancy room with its luxurious furnishings. I want to crawl into a hole and starve slowly, but if I do I won’t be in a position to protect Amie or find out where my mother is, so I turn away from him instead. The door locks behind him, and I’m alone in this strange, new world.
As dawn arrives I rest on soft satin and cotton. My bed is a long cushion that runs the entire length of one wall, butting against floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the Endless Sea. I imagine slipping my toes into the water, wondering if it is cold and if the salt would sting my feet as the sun creeps up and paints the water dusty pink and orange.
I’ve never been so comfortable in my whole life. A tray of half-eaten delicacies sits at my feet. My mom was an adequate cook, and she did the best she could with the rationed food available in our metro. But last night I ate duck in butter sauce. Rice with saffron and apricots. Torta di cioccolato. I only know the names of the foods because they’re written on the small menu card tucked under the etched silver plate they came piled on.
Outside, a storm lingers on the periphery of my view, tainting the rose-coloured morning. It’s woven in for entertainment or local crops. The clouds build and swell with the coming rain. As I watch, the texture of the weave comes into focus, and I can see the additions of rain and lightning slowly snaking across the sky. I reach out to open the window and am surprised when my fingers make direct contact with the fibres, drawing the darkness towards me. There’s no glass between me and the weave outside. But how can that be? I struggle to understand how I’m able to expand the thunderstorm from the confines of my quarters. Unless it’s not a window I’m looking through. Looking closer I see that the weave of the window and the scene outside it are artificial, layered on top of the real weave of the room, like a painting done on top of a masterpiece. The original weave of the room is still visible when I strain to see it, but the artificial top layer only mimics that of the genuine article. I know because the golden bands that should be present are stagnant. Time isn’t moving forward in this window, because it’s not a real piece of Arras. It must be some type of programme created to look like a real window with real scenery. As I consider that possibility, I lose track of my work. The storm swells in the clouds until they are ripe with moisture. It looks so real that I almost believe the rain strands leave my fingers wet. My hands become heavy with the material knitted through my fingers, and I drop the weave, shocked to discover how much is pooled across my lap. It dissipates as thunder crescendos and cracks along the false windowpanes. The rain pours down, a dam bursting the skyline. I wish I could weave tears into my eyes, loosing the constant ache from my chest. But they won’t come, so I stare at the rain, which I’ve freed to fall from the bloated clouds.
I don’t even notice she’s watching me, wide-eyed and curious, until she clears her throat. I spin around awkwardly. She isn’t much older than I am, but in typical Spinster fashion her honey-gold hair is piled in curls on top of her head and her black suit hugs her willowy figure, precisely tailored to fit her. She looks softer than most of the women I’ve met here so far and her cosmetics are applied to highlight her graceful features rather than to draw unnecessary attention to her. Everything about her feels approachable and welcoming. And here I am lying around with last night’s cosmetics smeared across my face, and a pile of half-eaten food at my feet.
She raises her hand as if to stop me from getting up. ‘I didn’t mean to startle you. I thought you might be sleeping. I’m here to serve as your mentor. Call me Enora.’
‘Am I expected to be somewhere?’ The words tumble out in a rush of speech that even I barely comprehend. ‘I can get dressed!’