Chapter 33: Reunited I
Avvarice dropped Kent and Siren off at the stop nearest to the palace gates.
“I promised to take you this far,” she said. “The gate is just a short walk that way and across the street. Getting past the palace guard is for you to figure out.”
“Of course,” Kent said, “thank you for taking us this far. I hope your business with this rail car goes well.”
“Appreciated.” Avvarice smiled, baring her teeth. “I’ll see you on the tracks again, I’m sure.” Her two workers started winching the car up in preparation to leave.
The palace was large, larger than the castle even. This was a building large enough to have a courtyard, though Kent had a feeling it did not. And it wasn’t made of metal; it didn’t shine like nearly everything else in the city. Instead, light grey and blue-grey stones held onto light authoritatively, perhaps inspiringly. Surrounding it, there was a wall that was made of the city’s familiar materials. It was tall enough, presumably, to keep people out, but not so tall that it obstructed the opulence of the palace behind it. At the entrance, a section of the wall turned to fence, and there was a short path beyond that lead to the palace itself. The fence was open, but guarded, and beyond it down the path, the palace doors were also guarded.
Kent and Siren crossed over and followed the road along the metal wall.
“There’s something different about this place and my father’s castle,” Kent said.
“What do you mean?” Siren looked to his right at Kent, and then at up the wall and palace behind him. “Oh. It’s a little more secured here, is that what you mean?”
“Yes; not just that, but there is also this sense of nested security.” Siren gave him a look, and Kent continued. “Look, from here we can see those two guards in front of the fence. On the other side of the street, we could see that beyond them was even more guards at the palace entrance itself. And I bet that the throne room and King’s quarters are similarly guarded.”
Siren chuckled. “You think maybe the quarters are past the throne room?”
Kent frowned. “I know you’re joking, but you might actually be correct.”
“So, what’s the point? Why does it matter if they have nested security?”
“I—” Kent thought for a moment. “I suppose it reminds me when my father was younger. Look, there’s the wall around the capital, and then there’s also the wall around the entire city.”
“True, but the front doors of the castle make up part of that wall, it isn’t nested within.”
“Right,” Kent nodded, “and this is where we start to see differences. Do you remember trying to get into the castle when you were recruited?”
“Yeah, I walked past a guard and I was inside.”
“And the throne room?”
“Well, the building was full of people, but even then, I don’t know if the throne room was guarded…huh. Was the throne room guarded?”
“It was. If I remember right, we keep someone in the foyer and they keep an eye on it. But you didn’t notice, did you.”
“No, I just walked in.”
“Like I was saying,” Kent said, “this place is different.”
“Do you think it’s just because of the supposed turmoil?”
“It might be. We may find out later.”
“Do you think we’ll be able to get in?” Siren asked. They were getting close to the guards at the gate.
Kent thought. He doubted that his crown would mean anything to an official guard. “I’m not sure. I…I don’t think so to be honest.”
Kent was right. At the gates, the two guards stopped them, and they didn’t much care that he had a crown-necklace with a little blue pinwheel on the front. Kent did have the insight to ask if there had been any other visitors, or people who had tried to enter before them. Getting any information out of a guard can be a long shot, but this one didn’t seem too bothered by the questions and told them freely that no one out of the ordinary had come that day. Kent and Siren left them and leaned on the wall a short walk down the way they had come—far enough to have a conversation. Siren looked calm, but Kent had a feeling this detour would get to him.
“How are we going to get in Kent? Sneak in? Or what, get those papers the rails woman talked about?”
“No point,” Kent said. He realized this would likely make Siren worse, so he took a breath and added, “Why are we here?”
Kent leaned in the wall. The metal was cold, but he could probably lean comfortably for a few minutes. “Why did we come to the palace? Are we here to meet anyone? Think, talking to the prince is Chloe’s job; she’s head of the expedition. Lilllith will probably get her in no problem. So, serious now, why are we here?”
“We’re here to meet our friends. We asked if they had any visitors, and they said no, which means there’s no reason to go into the castle, not right now. Senica and the rest haven’t come yet, we got here before them.”
“Okay, fine. But then, what are we supposed to do?”
Kent shrugged. “Wait. We said we would meet at the palace.”
“Yes, but they’re not here,” Siren said.
“Not yet. We took the rails, they might be walking. Anyway, that Lussa kid is with them, he should know where the palace is. Once we reunite with him, Senica, and Astore, we can search for everyone else.”
“Do you think they’re coming?” Siren looked around. There weren’t many people on this street. Perhaps the palace was put on a side road for privacy or something.
Kent stood from the wall and turned to Siren. “Look, I have no idea, but if we leave here now and then they arrive, they’ll just be in our position. What can we do?”
Another rail car passed by across the street. Siren saw that it was mostly empty.
“What if they got into some sort of trouble? We’ve been attacked twice so far, maybe they were targeted again.” Siren paused, watching Kent’s face tighten. “There are two of us you know…”
Kent shook his head. “We would be splitting the group even further. I don’t want to have to do that unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
“I know, but if no one shows up, we might—”
A woman’s voice called out from behind them. “Hey! Kent!”
Kent turned around. “Senica! You’re here!”
Col and Astore weren’t far behind, walking tired towards them.
Senica hurried towards Kent, and they met and touched hands briefly, but didn’t do much else. Senica broke away and looked around, full of energy. “Oh, perfect, everyone is here! Are we going into that castle?”
“No,” said Kent, “We don’t have identification papers, so they won’t let us through. They seem rather important on this side. Siren and I talked to a guard who decided to chase us down for lacking them.”
“You don’t have papers?” Senica asked, “I have papers.”
“You—huh, I guess we never needed them in the south. That place isn’t formally a nation, is it. And then, I didn’t really need them to get into the Solune Kingdom, did I.”
“Well, we have such things in the Djeb.”
“Well,” Kent went on, looking at Col and Astore, “Siren and I talked to those two guards. I don’t think anyone from the rest of our party came here.”
“Well, they did not make any plans to meet here,” Astore said. “They could be anywhere.”
“That’s true,” Col said, “but they most likely went to Lilllith’s.”
“That would make sense,” Kent said, “We might as well go there next.”
Senica said, “So it is resolved!”
“Come on, I know how to get there.”
Col led the other four east towards Lilllith’s building. It was close enough, Col said, that they wouldn’t have to bother with the rails.