Where foundlings hide, p.18
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       Where Foundlings Hide, p.18

           KL Mitchelson
 

  Chapter Eighteen

  The bathroom is tiled from floor to ceiling in sandstone, with a huge, grand bathtub in the centre. The tap unit has a number of dials, but I eventually find the one that controls the hot water, and another that shoots out a stream of rainbow-coloured liquid that froths and foams, creating a mass of glittering bubbles that dance across the surface.

  Creamy towels hang from a golden rail, and a shelf above the sink holds all manner of toiletries, housed in glass jars with pretty labels. I choose a selection and line them up along the edge of the tub.

  When I slip into the hot water, I let my body sink so that even my face is submerged. I stay like that for a while, cocooned in heat, watching the tiled ceiling above sway with the motion of the water.

  When I finally surface, I rub a thick shampoo that smells like strawberries into my hair, and I scrub my skin with a rough, sand-like soap until it is smooth.

  I leave the bathroom reluctantly, swathed in a soft towel, and I jump when I see the group gathered in the living room.

  Roma and Ivy are joined by a young man and woman with the same platinum-blonde hair and matching white tunics.

  “Finally, we thought you were going to stay in there all evening, Acacia,” Roma smiles as she emphasises my new name. She wears another pale-blue dress, but this one has full sleeves and a split at the front that shows off her long, tanned legs. “This is Alistair and Aimee; they are here to help you get ready for your homecoming party.”

  Alistair and Aimee are brimming with excitement, it’s so strong that I can feel it without even touching them. It emanates in waves, filling every corner of the room and making the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

  “Alistair and Aimee are Halers,” Roma explains. “They heal people on Earth and in Displacia, but they also perform miracles when it comes to hair and makeup. They are under strict instructions not to speak to anyone about your homecoming until we address the council tomorrow morning,” Roma eyes the pair, and they both nod eagerly. “My niece has not been to Displacia since she was a baby,” Roma continues, “She’s not familiar with our Households, or our abilities. Maybe you could tell her a little about the Halers while you work?”

  “Of course.” Alistair fetches a chair from the corner of the room while Aimee starts rummaging through a large trunk that is big enough to fit them both inside. They produce a fold out table and an assortment of hairbrushes, makeup, and bottles and jars of unidentified liquid and gloop.

  Ivy rises from her seat and drapes a robe around my shoulders. Her fingers brush my neck ever so slightly, just enough for me to feel a tremor of caution. I look into her eyes. What is it? Her eyes flick to Aimee and Alistair, she briefly touches a finger to her lips, a covert warning to be careful what I say in front of them, and I nod ever so slightly to show that I understand.

  Aimee and Alistair are like twins, both the exact same height with the same shade of light-blonde hair cut into short, trendy styles, and the same sharp cheekbones. But they can’t be twins, because Ivy said that multiple births are impossible in Displacia, but they must be at least siblings, their resemblance to each other is so strong.

  I sit down and Alistair starts to rake his fingers through my hair. “We’ll need to take some of the length off, a good few inches,”

  “Maybe something more sophisticated,” Roma suggests.

  “Hmm, a few layers should give it a bit of shape,”

  “Her skin is dry too,” Aimee says, pressing a finger against my cheek. “But I can help with that.”

  While Alistair combs my hair, Aimee coats my face in a thick cream that smells strongly of menthol and makes my skin tingle. I rest my head against the back of the chair and I close my eyes, ignoring the tingling at the base of my skull.

  It feels strange to have their hands on my face, to have them press their fingertips against my skin without hesitation. I’ve spent so long trying to avoid the touch of others that it sets me on edge, and, maybe it’s just my imagination, but I think I can feel heat radiating from their fingertips as they work.

  “So, are you excited about your homecoming party?” Aimee asks, sweeping a soft make-up brush across the curve of my cheek.

  I open one eye, considering the most appropriate response “Yes, I’m…looking forward to meeting the rest of the Household.”

  “It must be wonderful to be reunited with your family after all these years.” She says.

  I smile tightly, because I can’t think of a safe response.

  “I can’t imagine being separated from my family,” Aimee says, nodding towards Alistair. “We take trips to Earth of course, but we’re only gone for a few days at a time, and usually we go together.”

  “Roma said you heal people.”

  She nods. “We aren’t strong, like the Smith’s and we don’t have powers of the mind, like the Vedmak’s, so we’re not good in battle, but we can help heal the wounded after a war, or a natural disaster. We help restore the balance.”

  “The balance?”

  Aimee’s face is furrowed in concentration as she combs a mascara wand through my eyelashes. “After a catastrophe, we need to put things right straight away, otherwise there would be chaos.”

  “People can do terrible things when they are afraid,” Alistair adds dramatically. He starts to comb through my hair with some kind of tool that gives off a gentle heat, instantly drying the strands. “So we repair their homes, give them back their loved ones,” Alistair continues. “We restore order so that they can go on with their lives.”

  I think of the images I have seen on the news - war, floods, earthquakes - what comes afterwards always seems worse somehow - famine, looting, rioting, heinous crimes. “But things happen all of the time, awful things.”

  “We can’t always prevent things from happening and we can’t save everyone,” Aimee says. “There are some fights that we cannot win, some diseases that not even the Halers can cure, but we do what we can.” She looks saddened by this, and I instantly warm to her.

  When my hair and makeup are done, Aimee leads me back into the bedroom and helps me into a gown of midnight blue. It fastens behind my neck and around my waist, leaving my back exposed. It’s a little too long and I have to scoop up the hem to stop myself from tripping over it.

  Alistair appears in the doorway holding a pair of black heels. He helps me into them, fastening the delicate buckles at my ankles, then he fluffs out the dress so that it falls gracefully to the floor. “Are you ready?” He asks, beaming as he takes in my appearance.

  I take a deep breath. “I think so.”

  Alistair and Aimee each take a hand and lead me into the lounge as though I am a child taking its first steps, both radiating a sense of accomplishment.

  Roma gasps when she sees me. “You look so beautiful.” She looks so surprised that I wonder how hideous I looked when I crawled out of the fountain earlier. “Just one last finishing touch.” She holds out a thin band of silver that glints in the light – a crown - and rests it carefully on my head. “Perfect.”

  “Here.” Alistair, disappears back into the bedroom and returns with the full-length mirror under his arms. He props it up in the corner of the room and waves me over. Without the two siblings holding on to me, I wobble a little in the heels as I step across the thick-pile rug.

  When I see my reflection, my mouth falls open.

  The girl peering out from behind the glass is radiant, her skin flawless, with a pearlescent sheen and a hint of pink at her cheeks. Her pale-blonde hair is curled glamorously about her shoulders, her full lips are crimson and her eyelashes are long and thick.

  I touch the glass and inhale sharply as an image flashes through my mind. The girl that I saw in my dream, the one in the mirror, the one who wrapped her hand around my wrist and pulled me through the glass - it was me. I didn’t see the resemblance before, because I looked so unlike myself, unrecognisable after Aimee and Alistair worked their magic, after they erased the dark circles un
der my eyes and brightened my sallow skin.

  I hazard a glance at Ivy. I’ve seen this before. Her brow furrows ever so slightly, and I know she heard me. She quickly arranges her face back into a composed state, but her eyes flit to her sister.

  Roma clasps her hands together. “Thank you, Alistair, Aimee, you’ve done an amazing job. You may go.”

  The pair look disappointed at their dismissal, their faces a little downcast as they pack up their things. They both hug me before they leave, wrapping their arms around me like they’ve known me forever. I find myself returning the gesture, oddly drawn to the siblings who heal the sick and the dying on Earth.

  “We’ll see you again soon.” Aimee says as she heads out of the room.

  After the door closes, Roma turns to me with a serious expression. “You said you’ve seen this before.”

  I nod. “Back at school I had a dream about a girl in a mirror, she was wearing a dress just like this, and a crown.”

  “It could just be a coincidence.” Ivy offers.

  “Maybe, but it was me, I didn’t realise before, but… the girl looked just like I do now.”

  Roma looks thoughtful. “What happened in your dream?”

  “The girl, my reflection, she grabbed my wrist and she pulled me into the mirror. Almost like she was…”

  “Pulling you into this world.” Ivy finishes. She exchanges a nervous look with Roma.

  “We need to run some tests,” Roma says. “I’ve been putting it off, but… we need to know how it is that you have these abilities.”

  “Roma, no,” Ivy looks suddenly angry, her flawless complexion now spotted with red. “We agreed. I don’t want her to be prodded and poked at, not like them. She’s not an experiment.”

  “It won’t be like that,” Roma says, reassuringly. “I just want Parker to run some initial blood tests, she conducted a brain scan when Casey arrived, but it would make sense to run a series to compare the results.”

  I try to stay calm, but the thought of blood tests and brain scans makes my palms sweat.

  “No, Roma. She’s afraid.” Ivy says.

  “I’m not afraid,” I swallow reflexively. “Ivy, you said like them. Like who?”

  “The Foundlings. Ezra didn’t just brainwash them to fight, he experimented on them, subjected them to despicable tests to find out more about their abilities. I won’t do the same to you.”

  Curiosity gnaws at my insides. When I realised I could feel other people’s emotions, I had barely let myself believe it was real, but now I’m self-healing and that dream of my reflection was a vision of the future, it had to be. “I’ll do the tests.”

  “Casey, you don’t have to,” Ivy says. “We don’t need to know-”

  “Yes we do.” Roma interrupts.

  “It’s OK, Ivy. It’s just some blood tests and brain scans, right?”

  Roma nods. “To begin with, but anything after that will be much less invasive.”

  “Ivy, I want to take the tests, but only if you’re OK with it.”

  She chews anxiously on her lip. “Fine.”

  “Then that’s settled,” Roma claps her hands together. “Now, we have a party to go to.”

  Panic spikes through me as something occurs to me. “You said that Vedmak’s can read minds, won’t they know who I am?”

  “Not necessarily,” Roma considers me with a serious expression. “There is a way to cloak your thoughts, it’s a little tedious, but it should prevent the rest of my Household from hearing what you’re thinking.”

  I can’t imagine how I could possibly stop the Household from hearing my thoughts, when the Vedmak’s that I’ve met so far are able to pluck them so easily from my head.

  I look between the two Vedmak sisters, both so different. Ivy chews her lip anxiously, while Roma’s expression is so firm, it’s almost defiant. I take another deep breath. “OK, let me try.”

  Roma smiles approvingly. “You just need to think of a colour, let it cloak everything around you, and everything in your mind.”

  “I find that purple works best,” Ivy adds. “We Vedmak’s try to respect each other’s privacy, but sometimes we find ourselves listening in without realising. Visualising colours somehow shields our thoughts, we call it cloaking.”

  “You want to give it a try?” Roma asks.

  “OK.” I visualise purple; I pretend that everything around me is bathed in it. It covers the carpet, the sofa, the walls, the small chair that I sat in while Alistair and Aimee did my hair and makeup. “Is it working?”

  Roma and Ivy stare at me, their faces impassive. After a few seconds they both blink rapidly. “Yes, well done,” Ivy beams. “I couldn’t hear anything.”

  “But won’t the others know that I’m hiding something?”

  “We can’t see images in the minds of others,” Roma explains. “We just hear thoughts. When you’re cloaking, all they’ll hear is silence. Even if they suspect, they’ll probably just assume that you’re hiding information about the Foundlings and they won’t dare ask about it.”

  I wish that I could absorb some of Roma’s confidence. She smiles as she reads this in my thoughts and holds up her hand.

  I place my palm against hers, her self-assurance radiates between us and aside from the tingling in my skull, it helps. “Thank you.”

  “It’s my pleasure,” Roma drops her hand to her side. “You’re going to need it, the Foundlings are known for exuding confidence, they are poised, elegant and gracious. Stand up straight, shoulders back and try not to fall over. Oh, and don’t mention that you can feel emotion from other people, it’s not a common Foundling trait.”

  Like I go around bragging about it.

  Ivy places both her hands on my shoulders, her anxiety snapping at my skin like electricity. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

  I take a deep, shaky breath. “Yes.”

 
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