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The digifile contains information that I’m pretty sure could get me killed. Maps. Tracking systems. But it’s Enora’s note that burns in my brain. I think I could stand to have them find everything in those folders but that. It’s too personal. But even though I’ve read it so many times I have it memorised, I can’t bring myself to erase it. It plays on repeat in my head, spoken in Enora’s soft voice. Her written words sound so much like her that reading them makes me hurt like I’ll break into pieces.
Dear Adelice,
If you found this by accident, close this file. Nothing in here will do you any good, and you know I won’t like it if you get into trouble!
But if you came looking for it that means you’re ready for answers. I assume you’d come to me in person. So first of all, I’m sorry for leaving you. I wish I could prove to you that I fought to stay. I suppose it doesn’t matter anyway, but now that I’m gone the only person you can trust is Loricel. Please believe that she will help you when you need it.
That said, there are answers you have been searching for, and you should find them on your own. I’ve given you everything I can to help you do this, but protect these files or I’m afraid they’ll come after you.
And finally, Adelice, don’t be sad for me. I’m free, and it is my sincerest wish that you will be as well. That’s why I’ve fought to protect you, and it’s why I’m giving this to you now. You’re a smart girl. Keep your wits and trust your instincts, and you’ll be fine. And don’t ever forget who you are.
With love,
Her words offer small comfort, but they do give me hope. I choose a lavender suit to wear to dinner, and I’m sliding on the clingy skirt when there’s a knock at the door. Shimmying into the jacket, I stash the digifile in my left pocket, right below my heart.
Cormac’s at the door. This can’t be good.
‘Come in,’ I say, trying to keep the tremble out of my voice and failing. I giggle a little, hoping I look like the nervous, awestruck girls that made up my cohort. Although it may be a little late to go fanatic on him.
He enters without a word and wanders around the perimeter of my room, stopping to finger the suits hung over my door. ‘Packing?’
‘No,’ I say, grabbing the clothing to shove back into my closet. ‘I like to plan my wardrobe for the week.’
‘On Wednesday?’ he asks, calling my bluff.
I stuff the suits in with my other dresses and slam the doors to the wardrobe closed. Taking a deep breath, I whirl around to face him. ‘Can I help you with something?’
‘No,’ he says with a shrug. ‘It occurred to me I’ve never seen your quarters.’
‘Here they are.’
‘Amazing what technology can do,’ he murmurs. ‘Did you know that each room in the high tower is woven to appeal to the Spinster assigned to it? It’s very time-consuming to do so, but we want you to be happy here.’
‘I love my room,’ I tell him, and it’s the truth. The cosy room with plush, oversized cushions is my home. It’s the first place that has ever belonged only to me. But I would trade it for the cramped bedroom I shared with Amie in a heartbeat.
‘It’s nice,’ he says, glancing around him. ‘Not my taste exactly. I tend towards a more modern look.’
He drifts over to sit on the edge of my bed, and I make a mental note to send for fresh linens as soon as he’s left.
‘Can I order something for you?’ I ask.
‘Martini. Neat.’
I repeat this to the companel – having no idea what a neat Martini is – and make sure the kitchen staff knows it’s for Cormac. Then I wait by the door for it to arrive. It comes with the customary speed of anything meant for an official, and I let the valet bring it to Cormac.
Taking a seat in a chair by the hearth, I start counting each breath I take and release. I get to twenty before he speaks.
‘No doubt Loricel warned you about the remap,’ Cormac says, but he doesn’t wait for me to confirm this. ‘I want you to know there are other options.’
‘And the price?’ I ask, keeping my eyes level with his.
‘See that’s what I like about you – all business.’
Something in the way he says ‘like’ sends me recoiling back into my chair, but I keep my mouth shut.
‘The Guild needs to know that you can be counted on to serve the people of Arras,’ he says, setting his drink on the tray. ‘Right now your loyalty is debatable.’
‘I haven’t done anything to make them question me,’ I say in a voice that dares him to deny it.
‘You ran,’ he reminds me.
‘My parents forced me to run, and I was scared enough to listen to them.’
‘So otherwise you would have come here and been a good girl?’ he asks with a smirk.
‘I guess we’ll never know.’ It’s true I didn’t immediately go to the door when they came, because I expected my father to. I thought they’d cry, and I’d look scared, but I was planning to leave with the retrieval squad. There was no other option in my head until I was pushed into that tunnel.
‘You were never meant to fall in line,’ Cormac says, standing and walking to the fireplace, which is steps from my seat. Leaning on the mantel, he hovers over me, and I shrink further into my chair.
‘So how do I prove myself?’ I ask. Or at least buy myself some time?