Where foundlings hide, p.23
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       Where Foundlings Hide, p.23

           KL Mitchelson
 

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  I leave the laboratories alone, telling Parker that I need a walk to clear my head, but when I reach the street of tall, Tudor houses, a shadow falls across my path.

  “Are you mind-stalking me now?” I ask.

  Caleb grabs me by the hand and pulls me into a secluded side street. He leans in to me, pressing my back against the wall behind me. “Mind-stalking?” He laughs.

  “Listening in on my thoughts,” I say irritably. “Or were you just hanging around in the hope that I would walk by?”

  He raises an eyebrow. “I had no idea you were so vain.”

  “What do you want, Caleb?”

  “I just wanted to check how your appointment with Parker went.”

  “Why don’t you check your surveillance system, or just pluck the memory out of my mind, save me having to speak.” I try to step around him, but he plants his hands on the wall at either side of my head, trapping me in the middle.

  “What’s up with you?”

  “I never get a moment alone,” I say. “There’s always someone around, or someone watching me.”

  “Don’t be like that,” he says. “We want you to feel welcome, you’re not under surveillance while you’re here.”

  “Great,” I say sarcastically. “But what about when I return home? How do you think I’ll feel knowing that your eyes are on me all of the time?”

  “Will that be such a bad thing?” He grazes my jaw with his lips, but I plant my hands firmly against his chest and push him away. “Yes it will.”

  He looks confused. “I thought…I mean; why would you want to go home?”

  “Because my friends are there and I still need to finish school. Anyway, I have to go back at some point, I’m not Displacian, remember?”

  “Keep your voice down,” Caleb glances over his shoulder, but the street is quiet except for the whisper of the wind. “You could stay, Roma won’t make you go back and Ivy would love it if you lived here permanently. You could visit your friends whenever you like, once it’s safe.”

  I shake my head. “No, Displacia isn’t my home. There are too many secrets here.”

  Caleb’s brow furrows. “We’ve told you everything we know.”

  “Oh really,” I say disbelievingly. “What about the connection between Lana and me. Isn’t it a bit of a coincidence that I was taken from an orphanage to protect Lana, and I just happen to have these special abilities? And what about Lana’s parents, why doesn’t anyone talk about them?”

  Caleb sighs. “Her father was evil, the worst kind of Displacian. No one likes talking about him, especially not Roma and Ivy.”

  “And what about Lana? Surely someone with her powers wouldn’t just fall off a cliff like that.”

  “But she did,” Caleb says. “When the Foundling children were taken to Earth, their powers were suppressed, Ivy said Lana’s only resurfaced just before she died. She wouldn’t know how to use them.”

  “I just can’t help feeling like there’s more to it,” I say, shaking my head irritably. “Something that I’m missing.”

  Caleb’s stares at me, his expression conflicted. He casts a furtive glance up and down the street and then leans closer. “Look, if I knew something that I thought would help you, I’d tell you. You can’t go asking about Lana’s father, or the war, but if you’re up for some light, bedtime reading, you could try the library.”

  “The library?” I cast my mind back to the bright room where Roma first told me all about Displacia, where Ivy broke the news that Lana wasn’t my sister.

  “Yes, that’s generally where books are found.” Caleb says, rolling his eyes.

  I stick my tongue out at him before starting up the hill towards the main building.

  “Oh and if you can’t find what you’re looking for,” Caleb calls after me. “Just remember, in the library, the ground is above, the sky below.”

  I turn to look at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  “You’ll see.” He laughs.

  I continue towards the Atrium, half-irritated, half-curious.

  “What, no kiss?” He calls after me.

  “Depends on what I find in the library.”

  Sunlight floods in through the glass wall of the library, dust motes drifting lazily on the rays.

  There are hundreds of old, leather-bound books shelved from floor to ceiling, the titles relating to Science or studies of Earth. I pull a few from their places, but none of them appear to hold any information on Ezra or the Displacian war.

  I work my way from end to end, even climbing the tall spindly ladder to look at the books that are out of my reach, but I find nothing.

  Defeated, I lean back against the final shelf and stare down at my feet. That’s when I see it, the groove in the wooden floor. I follow the line and find that it makes a large circle. A trapdoor.

  I run my fingers along the groove, but it’s too narrow for me to prise it open. I look around for a lever, or some kind of mechanism on the bookshelves, I even pull at the books, but nothing happens.

  Then I remember Caleb’s words. I look up at the ceiling of the library and find it painted with yellow meadows and green fields, dotted with trees and mountains. I didn’t notice it before. It looks like an aerial image of Displacia, just as I had seen it from the hovercraft. I look down at the ground, but I see nothing except the wooden floorboards. I climb the spindly ladder again, climbing all the way to the top shelf of the nearest bookcase, then I look down again.

  The round trapdoor is the centrepiece in a pattern of lines and circles carved into the wooden floor. When standing on the ground, the shapes are lost amongst the grain of the wood, but up here I can see them clearly. Aside from the trapdoor, there are nine other circles of various sizes, each connected to a line that loops around the trapdoor, each placed further and further away, until the ninth, and smallest of the circles is near the large oak table in the centre of the vast room. A poster in Dr Campbell’s classroom springs to mind, a poster of the solar system. It’s the solar system – the one that Earth belongs to – carved into the floor, the trapdoor in the centre representing the sun and the nine smaller circles the planets. I climb back down the ladder and, ignoring the two ‘planets’ closest to the trapdoor, I head straight to the third – Earth. I find the groove in the floor and press my fingers into it. The wooden circle lifts easily, and underneath there is a small lever. I turn it.

  At first nothing happens, and then the floor shudders beneath my feet.

  I step back just in time as the boards between the ‘sun’ and the ‘Earth’ fall away, creating a set of curved steps that descend down into darkness.

  I look around the library, holding my breath to listen for any approaching footsteps and then I step cautiously onto the first step; it creaks under my weight, but it stands firm. The narrow shaft of light filtering down from the library barely illuminates the dark space, but as I descend the stairs the lights below flicker to life, blinking and spluttering as though they have not been activated in a long time.

  There is a desk against the far wall, along with a high-back, cushioned chair; both thick with dust and cobwebs. The air is stale and musty, the stone floor gritty, as though no one has been down here in years.

  The floor is littered with boxes. I kick the lid of the nearest one to find a collection of books stacked neatly inside: ‘A Complete History of Displacia’, ‘Displacia before the War’, ‘Displacia before the Discovery of Earth’, ‘The Displacian War’, ‘Ezra Vedmak: The Last Tyrant’.

  I grab ‘Ezra Vedmak: The Last Tyrant’ and I settle down on the bottom step of the wooden stairs.

  Ezra Vedmak (born in the second millennia, after Earth)

  The first child of Arthur and Kathleen Vedmak and second in line to the throne, the bells of Displacia tolled for seven days in celebration of Ezra’s much-anticipated birth.

  In his infancy, Ezra was a sickly child and spent much of his early years at the Haler
Centre of Healing, where he was nursed to full health. His health set-backs were thought to be the reason why his abilities took so long to reveal themselves and it is believed that the time he spent with the Halers fuelled his interest in the anatomy of the Displacian body.

  Despite his lack of Vedmak powers, Ezra was highly intelligent and studied at university for many years, graduating with honours in Biology, Chemistry and Earth Studies.

  After graduation, Ezra set up his own laboratories in Displacia and on Earth, in a secret location believed to be somewhere in Antarctica.

  The Displacian council were led to believe that he was conducting experiments on magnetic fields and had funded much of his research, but authorities later discovered that Ezra was in fact conducting experiments on humans and Displacian’s.

  Ezra also found a way to increase his powers, mastering the art of mind-control to a dangerous level, a level that allowed him to control the minds of the Foundlings simultaneously and to call them to him from great distances. They became his fearsome Foundling Army.

  Other Displacian’s joined him, mostly Wanderers and Morgana’s, but all of the Households were represented amongst his followers.

  The most troubling of all was Ezra’s experiments on humans, a defenceless species who Displacian’s have spent almost two hundred years trying to protect.

  In his quest for power, Ezra experimented with stem cell transplantation to see if humans could be infused with the abilities of Displacian’s, an action condemned by the Displacian Council as highly dangerous, due to the uncertainties around combining human and Displacian DNA.

  Eventually, the Foundling army was defeated, the worst tragedy Displacia has ever experienced, and Ezra was captured after initially fleeing to Earth.

  He was brought to trial, along with the followers who failed to evade capture, but many had already escaped. Ezra was found guilty and sentenced to death. The council unanimously agreed that Displacia and Earth would never be safe while Ezra was alive, and they ordered for him to be chained and thrown into the first portal without a transportation device. It is thought that the increased dark matter caused by the instability of the portal will have killed him quickly.

  Ezra was succeeded by his daughter Acacia Vedmak, now second in line to the throne, and the youngest Foundling child sent to Earth.

  I shiver involuntarily as I close the book, imagining being trapped inside the portal, spinning aimlessly around before eventually succumbing to death.

  My mind flits to Lana. How much did she know about her father? I try to remember if there was any indication that the world she knew had come crashing down around her, but Lana was always so happy. Surely learning of her father’s crimes and his death would’ve been traumatic for her. And what of Lana’s mother? She isn’t mentioned at all.

  I tuck the book under my arm and start up the wooden steps. Back in the library, I turn the lever again and slot ‘Earth’ back in place as the floor reforms.

  I flick back through the book with a hundred questions racing through my mind, but each time I see a word relating to death, my stomach twists, acidic and uncomfortable.

  I don’t know why I’m so fixated on Ezra Vedmak, maybe it’s because he was Lana’s father, or maybe it’s because he’s the reason she was sent to Earth and why I became her decoy.

  I make my way outside in search of Caleb, figuring with the right amount of coaxing, he might tell me more.

  The sky is starting to darken a deep, burnt orange.

  There are people everywhere, out on the lawn enjoying the last of the artificial rays, laying on the stone beds in the stargazing area, sitting on the terrace half hidden in the cabana’s, but for once, Caleb is nowhere to be seen.

  Great. When I want you, I can’t find you.

  A familiar figure catches my eye and I watch as Haydn approaches the fence in the distance. He shakes hands with one of the other Smith soldiers and then takes his place.

  Haydn turns his back to the Household, and I think of his expression at the council meeting when he learnt of my faux identity. It’s hard to believe that he hadn’t heard about Princess Acacia’s return, especially when everyone else seemed to know, but the look on his face told me it was true.

  I feel a sudden urge to talk to him, to see those eyes again. I take a couple of steps in the direction of the fence and then I hesitate. What am I thinking?

  So far, Haydn hasn’t exactly been friendly, but something still draws me towards the fence, an invisible rope tugging me in the direction of the young, handsome lieutenant.

  I deliberate for a moment, then I take a breath and propel myself forward before I can change my mind.

  I am still holding the book on Ezra Vedmak, and I clutch it tightly to my chest with the title facing inwards so that no one can see. I walk purposefully towards the gates to see if they will in fact open for me, and I’m more than a little surprised when they do. I wave my thanks in the general direction of the tower.

  Haydn watches me approach, his dark eyebrows drawing together. I see a flicker of interest, or maybe it’s contempt, then he looks resolutely away from me.

  He’s wearing a khaki, sleeveless top, showing off bronze, brawny arms. I try not to stare.

  “You shouldn’t be out here alone. It’s not safe.” He says, gazing at the line of trees.

  “I’m not alone,” I brush the hair away from my face. “I’m with you.”

  His eyes meet mine; in the evening sun, they are golden brown.

  “I wanted to talk to you,” I say. “I thought I should explain why I didn’t tell you who I was when we met.” It’s the first thing that pops into my mind.

  “I know why you didn’t tell me,” he says. “Your arrival was supposed to be a secret until the council met.”

  “Well it didn’t quite work out like that. Most people seemed to know already.”

  “Not me.” Haydn shrugs, his mouth set in a tight line as he returns to watching the trees.

  I follow his gaze, the forest cool and inviting, and then I look back at the Vedmak Household with its perfect lawns and all of its inhabitants. So many people, so many minds to avoid. Now that I’m on this side of the fence, I find that I don’t want to go back inside.

  “Well, you’re obviously not in the mood for talking, so...” I start towards the forest.

  “Where are you going?” He takes a hesitant step towards me.

  “I don’t know, thought I’d just find somewhere to sit and read for a while.” I say, tapping the book still cradled in my arms.

  “I told you, it’s not safe,” he says. “There are plenty of places for you to sit and read within the grounds.”

  “Come with me if you’re so worried, you can show me around.” I bite the inside of my mouth, surprised at my own directness.

  “I have a job to do.”

  “Isn’t your job guarding the perimeter, because I’m inside?”

  Haydn’s lips snap shut, but he continues to frown at me.

  “Well, I’m not inside anymore.” Before he can stop me, I turn and run into the trees. I think I hear pounding footsteps, but when I glance over my shoulder, I am more than a little disappointed to find that Haydn is not following me.

  I race across the mossy floor of the forest, feeling suddenly elated, because this is what it should be like when you discover a new world, you should have the freedom to explore it. I take off my crown and I toss it aside along with the book.

  The fake sunlight darts in and out of the gaps in the thick canopy of branches above, flashing on my face like a spotlight. I dodge thickets and knotted roots as the breeze lifts my hair from my neck. I run until my lungs burn, deeper and deeper into the forest.

  I see movement ahead, then a figure appears in front of me, so suddenly that I don’t have time to stop before I collide with him. I land heavily on the floor, the air knocked out of me.

  Rough hands grab me and set me on my feet. “Well, well. What do we have here?”

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