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It was a glorious morning in Titua. Up in the cloudless sky the sun bathed the city in warmth. It was too early in the day for the full heat of the summer to make the city lethargic and from her balcony the ageing Lady Katherine of Apollo relished in the sounds of a bustling city. The Green Palace may have been surrounded by extensive gardens, but cut off from the rest of the city it certainly was not. On a day such as this one, the light wind carried with it sounds all the way from the busy merchant district.

The elderly woman favoured this time of the day over any other and adored spending her mornings sat in the sunlight looking out over the gardens and the city. She took her breakfast out in the open air and was often joined by one of her grandchildren, who knew her far better under the guise of Nana Darling. Eunus had always been a regular guest at her table, but since his disappearance Gallus had been making a far greater effort to join his grandmother. Rarely they were joined by Thais, who usually woke with the sun, dined ridiculously early and was gone by the time Nana Darling leisurely took her breakfast.

On this occasion the elderly woman had started her meal alone, only to be joined halfway through by her grandson the king. He seemed distracted and the silence had been intermittently interrupted by polite conversation about the flowerbeds that littered this part of the royal gardens. It was a well-known fact that Nana Darling spent more of her time in the flowerbeds than within the walls of the palace. Yet however fascinating the old woman found the conversation about her gardening prowess, she was aware that Gallus was shying away from his true reason for coming to join her at this late hour when he would usually be behind his desk.

“Tell me my boy,” the old woman spoke gently once a comfortable silence had fallen between them. “What troubles you so? For I am certain you have not sought me out to discuss the shades of my hydrangeas.”

A wry smile adorned the king’s face for a moment while he continued to stare out across the city, before he turned to catch his grandmother’s gaze.

“Am I truly so transparent?” he chuckled. “Is it unlikely that I would wish to spend a morning with you with no ulterior motive?”

“No, it is not unlikely at all,” the elderly woman countered fondly. “There have been many occasions where you and I have wiled away a pleasant morning on this very balcony Gallus. You forget however, that I have known you longer than you have known yourself and I know when there is something troubling you.”

A colourful bird landed on the stone balcony attracting the gazes of the two diners. It was a bright green parakeet, rarely seen so far north and native to the more tropical southern climates. Yes, they had been known to frequent the south of Denari when the winds changed and the warmth of summer spread through the land, but to see one in Titua was a rare treat.

The sight of it sent a chilling reminder through the king and once more his brother’s face sped into his thoughts. Eunus would have come across many of these birds on his journey southward. He might even be surrounded by them now, wherever he was being held captive. For a moment Gallus clutched desperately at the childish thought that his little brother had sent this bird as a symbol of hope, that he was indeed still alive and well and that soon he would be returning from the southern lands.

Chirping loudly upon the balcony ledge the parakeet hopped to and fro, watching the two people watching it in turn. Its curiosity waned a few seconds later and the colourful bird took flight, rising into the cloudless sky and disappearing over the busy city.

As the bird fled, cold reality came crashing down upon Gallus’ optimism and he looked to his grandmother’s concerned face.

“A few days ago I received an invitation from Emperor Thayos,” he announced. A frown worked its way into the deeply lined forehead of Nana Darling, but Gallus was not yet done speaking. “He wrote to me requesting my presence at a ceremony to be held in Khorosa to honour the anniversary of the peace agreement that stands between us. What’s more, he also asked for my brother, my daughter and for you to join us. I understand that Arbarus has been sent a similar invitation and that he has already accepted.”

Gallus bristled slightly from side to side and he tightened his jaw at the mention of his prime minister. At his side the elderly woman leaned in closer, watching her grandson’s face for a sign that he was about to continue speaking. A few seconds passed.

“Thayos has never invited you inside Faro’s borders before,” she spoke cautiously.

“I know.”

“Nor did he ever invite your father or grandfather before you.”

“I know.”

“So why do so now?” There was a shrewd calculating tone to the old woman’s voice. Gallus paused for a moment, grinding his teeth together thoughtfully before he looked into his grandmother’s concerned face and sighed.

“Selmain thinks he is trying to lure me into a trap,” he stated darkly. “And I am inclined to believe him.”

“Yet I can see in your eyes that you mean to go Gallus and that you wish to take us with you,” Nana Darling spoke up passionately.

“I see no other way. If I refuse the emperor will take offense. What’s more if I refuse and Arbarus goes he will use this whole sorry affair to further turn the people against me. I see no choice nana. If I go I am in danger of playing into Thayos’ hands, but if I stay I do not know how far the ramifications will spread.”

Nana Darling exhaled slowly and she calmly reached out to lift her teacup from the table. While she sipped the fragrant herbal blend she watched as her grandson hung his head. The past eighteen months has been a difficult time for the usually strong man. Eunus’ disappearance had injured him more than the old woman had expected. There was no doubt that they all mourned the young prince’s absence in equal vigour, but it had affected Gallus the most. He no longer seemed himself and it was clear for all to see. Nana Darling hated to see him this way. With each day Gallus’ despondency grew while in equal measure his grandmother’s anger swelled.

The elderly woman placed her teacup gently back on its saucer.

“I can see you have no choice. You must go,” she spoke loudly, forcing Gallus to look up and catch her gaze. For a moment a sad smile pulled onto his face, before he nodded firmly. He had already made up his mind, Nana Darling knew this much, but her approval still meant a lot to the powerful king.

“But are you sure you wish to take your daughter? She can be quite wild Gallus. It might not be the safest place for a girl like Thais to visit.”

A broad smile instantly sprung onto Gallus’ face.

“Oh I agree, ‘tis an awful place to take a girl like Thais. That is why I require your assistance grandmamma. With you watching over her, she will find few chances to misbehave.”

Nana Darling smiled too and remembered many years ago when she had been similarly employed by her dear son and daughter-in-law to watch over their reckless and impetuous little boy when they were called on diplomatic voyages. Now here he sat, very much a grown man, asking her to do the same for his child.

“I understand,” Nana Darling spoke gently. “I understand why you cannot leave her. I will of course do my best to steer her away from trouble and danger.”

Gallus nodded brusquely, the smile gradually fading from his tired face.

“Thank you,” he uttered quietly. “I was hoping we would be able to depart tomorrow. The emperor has arranged for a barge to take us from Port Fai-Al across the sea in a week’s time. I know ‘tis only a few days ride from here, but I see no point in waiting now I have made up my mind. I do not wish to allow any opportunities for my men to talk me out of it.”

“I agree. Have you spoken with Arbarus? Will he be joining us on our journey to Fai-Al?” A muscle twitched in the king’s jaw eliciting a chuckle from the elderly woman at his side. “Come now my dear, you are going to have to learn to work with this man. Your people have chosen him as their representative and you cannot ignore that.”

“I know,” Gallus grumbled darkly. “But he makes everything so damned hard! I do not trust him. Do you know he is yet to publically condemn the attacks on the Farojian settlements outside Farlight? He is the most infuriating man I have ever met and I am sure he will not be truly content until he has deposed me and dragged Denari kicking and screaming back to an age where…”

The king stopped in his tirade and rubbed at the back of his neck. He could easily have continued his rant had his grandmother not burst into reams of joyous laughter at his side. Containing her laughter, the old woman reached out and took hold of her grandson’s hand.

“You would never let that happen. Now you must go and tell him you have accepted the invitation.”

“He knows.”

“Then you must tell him we mean to depart in the morning. I will tell Thais…”

“No,” Gallus quickly interrupted, before his expression softened and he smiled at his grandmother. “Thank you, but no. I wish to discuss this matter with her myself.”

After brushing his shirt free of crumbs the king climbed to his feet, leaned over to kiss Nana Darling’s cheek before he strode from the balcony. He had almost reached the door when a frail voice called him back. The elderly woman had risen to her feet and was standing by the doors, her expression suddenly sombre.

“Gallus, a very small part of me is daring to hope that we can use this visit as a means to find Eunus.”

A deep sigh escaped the king and he walked back to his grandmother, took her hands in his own and looked into her sad grey eyes.

“I have not abandoned him yet nana.” With these words Gallus leaned down and kissed his elderly grandmother’s forehead. As he strode from her side he didn’t look back.

Thais was easy to find. Indeed, all the king needed to do was follow the trail of destruction she had so helpfully left in her wake on this morning. Whatever she had done, the kitchen staff had been worked up into a frenzy as a result. Using the ether as his guide, Gallus let his mind find his wild daughter in the palace. As soon as he had located her, moving at some speed he noticed, he allowed the rest of him to follow. Translocation within the palace required little more than a second thought for Gallus. He too could pretend to me a master mage like his friend Selmain when he was home and he knew the place so well.

He opened his eyes to find he had translocated himself to a small corridor near the stables. From around the corner he could hear the shouts of furious cooks and the barking of a large dog. He did not have long to wonder where Thais had got to, as within seconds of his appearing in the corridor the girl had flown round the corner. The sight of her would have shocked even a liberal minded person, as dressed in raggedy old britches, an old shirt, barefooted and with a wild mane of hair flowing freely behind her the girl looked truly as though she belonged in the wilderness. Her wild raucous laughter would have done little to counteract this claim.

Gallus though, was used to seeing his daughter in this manner and he didn’t so much as raise an eyebrow. What did provoke a confused frown upon his face however, was the large slab of red meat the girl was clutching in her hand. He had only a moment to question it, as upon seeing him Thais skidded to a halt, her eyes wide at the situation she had been caught in. Before her quick wit could formulate a suitable excuse she was taken to the ground by an enormous dog.

“Cruso get off me!” the girl grumbled as the large excitable hound slobbered over the meat in her hand. To save the wellbeing of her fingers Thais let go of her prize and pushed the dog away so that she might stand up and face her father. His expression had neutralised in time for three angry cooks to appear round the corner Thais had emerged from. Their faces, which had been spitting furious, quickly arranged themselves into respectful polite smiles at the sight of their lord and king.

Gallus looked from his daughter’s sheepish expression, to the dog on the floor before finally letting his eyes rest on the three cooks.

“I apologise gentlemen,” he told them regretfully. “It would seem that once more my daughter has found her way into the kitchens, which she knows are strictly off limits.” This last part he spoke rather firmly. At his side Thais hung her head and looked down at her bare toes. “I will see to it that she finds time in her busy schedule to make amends for her behaviour.”

The three cooks nodded quickly and turned to leave, whistling for the large dog to follow them. Gallus waited for their grumbling voices to die away before he looked down at his daughter, who was very slowly inching away from him. Quickly he collared her by dropping his hand on the back of her neck.

“Might I ask where you were going with that?” he asked. Thais, having been expecting disappointment rather than the amusement in her father’s voice looked up sharply to see a small smile had wormed its way onto his face. Inwardly she sighed with relief.

“I hadn’t decided yet,” she replied with a shrug. Gallus’ smile broadened and after briefly stroking the wild hair from his daughter’s face he released her.

“You are going to be late for your lessons.”

“I am not. ‘Tis only eight o’ clock papa.”

Briefly, the king looked Thais up and down. She seemed a far cry from the high standards of presentation that the prestigious college demanded of its students. And if he wasn’t mistaken, she had only half an hour to make herself so and arrive on time in her form room. Steering clear of an argument he did not wish to have Gallus cleared his throat.

“Well I am glad I have caught you. I need you to explain to your housemaster that you will be missing the rest of the week,” he told the girl. Thais’ jaw dropped and she pulled back slightly.

“You’re keeping me home? Just for that trick with the dog?” she demanded. Gallus laughed and shook his head.

“No not for the trick with the dog you silly girl. No, ‘tis another matter entirely.”

Thais’ expression quickly turned from indignity into curiosity.

“What then papa? Why can’t I go to school?”

“I am taking you on a diplomatic mission with your grandmother and Prime Minister Arbarus,” Gallus explained and he smiled briefly at the grimace that had suddenly materialised upon his daughter’s face. “You need not fear Thais, this journey will meet even your high expectations I am sure. You see, we have all been invited as guests of honour in Faro for a celebration to mark the anniversary of the peace treaty that exists between us.”

Thais’ eyebrows lifted high onto her forehead and she stepped back from her father, her expression one of disbelief.

“You’re taking me to Khorosa?” she exclaimed breathily. Gallus sighed heavily and nodded.

“Yes, it would seem I am.”

“Papa do you mean it? Are we really going to Khorosa?” The girl had started excitedly hopping from one foot to the other as instant overwhelming exhilaration coursed through her. Gallus quickly reached out and held her down with a firm arm around her shoulders.

“Thais you have to remain calm and level headed. This is not going to be a rescue mission do you understand?” he warned her firmly. “Your grandmother will be there to make sure you do not find yourself in any mishaps. There is to be strictly no spying, no secrets and especially no fighting. I need to be able to trust you Thais. I know you will find Khorosa to be a terribly exciting and exotic place, but you must never forget the very real danger we will be in at all times. Do not forget what happened to your uncle in that city.”

The smile on Thais’ face fell and she frowned.

“Are you scared papa?” she asked worriedly. Gallus quickly shook his head and pulled the girl into the crook of his arm.

“I would never place you in harms way Thais. You will be safe as long as you do not go looking for trouble. You must not look for your uncle. He will not be so easy to find.”

“I promise papa,” Thais spoke up boldly, before she dropped her voice to a whisper. “But do you mean to find him?”

Gallus remained quiet for a few moments, before he kissed the top of his daughter’s head and released her from his grip.

“I hope you have an enjoyable day at school my dearest. Do not forget to tell your housemaster about your absence for the rest of the week.”

With this the king started striding away, pausing only briefly to look over his shoulder to see his daughter sprinting the other way with a definite spring in her step. For a moment he allowed the fond smile to spread across his face, before he set off once more towards his study.

Kaio and Rachel had become a familiar sight outside the gates of Eden College in the mid afternoon. Indeed, over the last four years rarely had a day gone by without the pair of cousins taking up residence on the stone wall that surrounded the prestigious educational institution. When they had first started doing so many of the stuffy masters who lived solely for the purpose of keeping up the famous college’s reputation had tried to shoo the children away. The sight of them lounging on the wall, wiling away the afternoon in front of the school, certainly did not suit the grandeur and pomposity of the place. They made it look bad these masters would say. Eden College was a pinnacle of learning and ought not be sullied by these two ruffians.

But the years had crept by and still Kaio and Rachel would sit on the wall and wait. The masters who loathed them so had not got their way. As after the first day, when they had shooed the children from their perch, it was soon brought to their attention that they were there at the request of the Crown Princess of Denari and any further attempts to remove them would become a very serious matter indeed.

From within the imposing old building an ancient bell was being struck and at the sound of it Rachel and Kaio looked up to see a footman open the impossibly large wooden doors. They could keep an army out, Kaio always mused and wondered why a school needed defences such as these. At the sight of a young girl rushing out into the grounds the boy smiled to himself. Those doors weren’t to keep people out; they were in fact to keep people in. Thais was always the first to escape when the bell rung. Kaio and Rachel often wondered how she achieved this, but every time they had asked they received a conspiratorial wink in response.

The princess caught up with her friends quickly, pulling uncomfortably at the collar of her dress. The uniform at Eden College was a ridiculous old-fashioned affair and one that Thais objected to rather passionately on a regular basis. She had appealed to her father’s sympathy on many an occasion, begging him to force the college to change their dress code, only to be shot down by hearty laughter. Gallus, far from feeling sorry for the girl, felt that as he had endured the awful starched shirts and cravats then Thais ought to as well.

Luckily for Thais, Kaio and Rachel were always happy to lead her home with them where she maintained a plentiful supply of old britches, tatty shirts and worn old boots. Within no time the girl had changed and the three friends ambled out into the sunshine to enjoy the rest of the day. The fearsome dress would spend the rest of the day stuffed into Thais’ satchel, to be resurrected late in the evening by her team of chamber maids who would try their hardest to make the damned thing look presentable once more.

As tradition dictated, the first port of call for the trio of friends was Coscona Market where they would find a bite to eat and something entertaining to amuse them while they ate. It lay a short walk from the Greenwood home and soon the three friends were on their way.

“You seem remarkably happy,” Kaio spoke up, when he noticed Thais beaming from ear to ear as they ambled along. The princess turned on him and nodded.

“I am happy. Incredibly happy.”

Rachel and Kaio exchanged a curious expression. Usually it would take at least half an hour for Thais to return to her normal cheerful self after a day’s schooling had stifled her.

“Did you have a good day at school?” Rachel asked curiously.

“No no, it was terrible in fact. I had to sit through two hours of arithmetic this afternoon. I find it so incredibly dull! One day I’m going to have advisors and the government to look at figures and do calculations so why do I have to…”

“Then why are you so happy?” Kaio interrupted before Thais truly got started. When she started complaining about her lessons she could usually keep going for an hour at least.

“Because for me dear Kaio, school is now well and truly over for the summer!” Thais beamed.

“Oh dear,” Rachel sighed. “Have you been suspended again? I wouldn’t look so happy if I were you, your father won’t be very pleased.”

“No I have not been suspended,” Thais laughed. “Far from it.”

“Are we going to have to guess? Because I hate it when you do this,” Kaio grumbled.

“No no, I am far too excited not to tell you…”

“Well tell us then!” Kaio exclaimed petulantly.

“A little patience never hurt anyone you know Kaio.” Easily the princess darted away from the weak punch her friend threw in her direction. “Fine! There is no need to get hostile. My father is taking Nana Darling and I on a diplomatic mission to Khorosa to meet Emperor Thayos so I will be missing the rest of the week.”

Gleefully the princess watched while her friends’ faces assumed an identically shocked expression. It took them several minutes to come to terms with this surprising turn of events. It was Rachel who spoke first.

“You’re going to Faro?” she asked in shock. “You? In Khorosa? Thais is that wise?”

“What do you mean by wise?” Thais countered amusedly.

“You know what she means. Is it safe?” Kaio now added and his face betrayed his deep concern for his friend.

“Look at the pair of you,” the princess laughed. “I don’t think the three of us are going to be wandering around without an escort. I’m sure my father will be bringing Selmain and Thalius as well as several members of the King’s Guard I’d expect. There will be plenty of people to protect us. Besides, we’re going because we have been invited to celebrate the anniversary of the peace treaty. That’s hardly a time to start killing people is it?”

Kaio and Rachel looked to each other, concern and worry mirrored in one another’s green eyes. Both felt the same apprehension. That King Gallus would willingly take his daughter into Faro seemed absurd to the cousins.

“You needn’t worry so much,” Thais interrupted their silent communication. “I don’t think the emperor would get away with inviting us to his palace and then butchering us. You might think something like that would start a war and papa says a war would be in no one’s best interests now, not even for the Southern Powers.”

“I hope you’re right Thais,” Rachel sighed and she sidled a little closer to her shorter friend. Inwardly, doubt crept across her mind. She didn’t think it was a good idea for the king to take Thais into Faro. What was he thinking?

The sound of commotion overtook the children and they turned around curiously to see a large crowd of people surging up the road. In their midst a tall silvery head and shoulders rose above them, shadowed by a pair of glorious white wings. The sight of the angel stopped Thais and her friends in their tracks and they stared open mouthed as the creature walked past them up the street. As he had done the day before, the angel turned to stare at the princess as he passed. Thais met his gaze this time with angry defiance.

“Is he following us or are we following him?” Rachel whispered once the angel and his crowd of followers had bustled up the street towards the market.

“I wish he’d leave,” Thais uttered hoarsely before she shook her head and turned around. “Come on, I’ve lost my appetite all of a sudden. Let’s go back to the docks.”

The sliver of complaint that had wisped onto Kaio’s tongue never had a chance to escape. A profound silence swelled over the youngsters for a brief second causing them to turn to each other in alarm before quite suddenly the world burst into a cacophony of sound and debris. The three youngsters were thrown across the street onto the rubble-strewn ground by the force of the explosion, where they were left, ears ringing, hands covering their heads while all around them people started screaming. As they lay there, the world spinning, another blast thundered up the street scattering more debris onto the helpless teenagers.

Barely a few seconds went by before Thais and Rachel found themselves dragged to their feet. They both screamed, but froze when they saw that it was Avery who had lifted them from the ground. Within seconds he had helped Kaio to his feet as well. As though from nowhere the man conjured two horses and helped Kaio and Rachel onto one before lifting Thais onto the other. He mounted the saddle behind her and urged the frightened steeds through the panic and chaos. Thais dared not look back and she kept her eyes firmly sealed as Avery whisked the three youngsters back to the palace.

On arriving at the grand gates Thais opened her eyes to see a stream of soldiers marching out of the grounds of the palace. She turned around to see them heading towards a cloud of smoke that was rising from the merchants’ quarter. A thin trickle of blood streamed into her eye and she wiped angrily at it. Avery had dismounted and was helping Rachel to the ground. Kaio was already standing, his impossibly wide eyes staring in terror at the destruction in the distance. His face was sooty and bruised.

Thais quickly joined her friends and allowed Avery to herd them up to through the busy palace and into Gallus’ study. Judging by the three half-drunk tumblers of firewater standing on the desk Thais guessed that the room had been abandoned in a hurry. Upon delivering the youngsters safely to the study Avery caught Thais’ eye as he headed for the door once more.

“You are to stay here Thais!” he called to the girl firmly. She nodded quickly to show she had no desire to leave the safety to these strong walls and with this the master spy was gone leaving the three friends scrambling to reach the enormous window behind the king’s desk. They stared out at the rising smoke in a tortured silence that was not broken for several minutes.

“They’ve never bombed Acrabar before,” Rachel uttered shakily. At her side Thais heard the pain in her friend’s voice and quickly reached out to drag her arm around the taller girl’s shoulders.

“We don’t know it was a bomb,” the princess countered, sounding stronger than she felt.

“Oh come on Thais, of course it was,” Kaio complained. “It was just like all those times they’ve bombed Varanasi. They strike at the busiest time of the day in a crowded area…”

The boy fell silent under Thais’ penetrating gaze, but the words raged on in his mind. Anger and fear were melting together as he thought of the terror that had been instilled into the hearts of those living within Varanasi. That his own neighbourhood could be the next target made his blood boil.

The door to the study flew open and the youngsters spun around to see the Apollo family physician Proctor striding in. He made short work of the cuts and bruises that littered the three friends and within no time he had bustled out once more leaving the trio staring out at the dark cloud of smoke. It seemed to be getting larger. Thais knew what this meant. Sadly, over the last year or so black smoke had become a familiar sight over her beloved city. The bombs were always followed by the fires. The last blaze had raged on for nearly two days before the mages and the fire carts had managed to extinguish it fully.

Rachel had started shaking beneath Thais’ arm. The princess pulled her friend closer, but this only furthered the taller girl’s shudders. Glancing around Thais’ eyes fell on the tumblers of amber liquid resting unfinished on her father’s desk. Within seconds she had lifted two of them up and reached out to hand them to her friends.

“Here,” she urged. “Knowing my father, this is the best firewater money can buy. It won’t burn your throats like that stuff we stole from the Thistle. It will make you feel better. I promise.”

Kaio instantly took the glass proffered in his direction and with eyes tightly sealed, expecting a similar experience to the last time they had sampled firewater, he took an experimental sip. His face contorted into a grimace, before a small smile took its place.

“Take it Rach,” he urged his cousin. “It tastes awful, but it doesn’t burn. It’ll help with the shock.”

And so the three teenagers stood by the window watching the smoke, periodically turning away from the dark flume to take a sip from their pilfered firewater before grimacing and turning back to the miserable scene unfolding in the city.

It wasn’t long before the hairs on the back of Thais’ neck stood on end and she turned to face the study. The field of ether was in motion and as she watched the haze of orange particles started to gather in the centre of the room. The girl squinted in order to see the field better and soon she started to make out the figure of a man gathering in the centre of that bright orange light. The particles had become so dense that they were nearly blinding. Quickly, the girl thrust the tumbler in her hand back onto the table before quite suddenly the bright light vanished and in its place stood a sooty bloodstained man.

“Papa!” Thais cried out and she ran to her father’s side. He quickly embraced the girl before he pushed her aside and led her over to where Kaio and Rachel were staring at him in an appalled fashion. There were definite outlines of bloody handprints all over the king’s shirt. Blood that was not his own.

“Has Proctor seen to you?” Gallus asked his daughter, taking note of every mark on her face that ought not be there. Thais quickly nodded.

“Papa it was awful! The explosions went off in the market. Are there many dead?” Thais asked desperately, but her father was shaking his head. He could not speak of this now. There was no time.

“Kaio, Rachel, I have been to your house and have informed your family that you are safe at the palace,” he told the cousins quickly. Rachel sank back in relief while Kaio’s face grew more concerned.

“Are they alright sir?” the boy asked urgently. “Has anyone been hurt?”

“They are all safe and accounted for I believe,” Gallus replied and he smiled slightly when Kaio shut his eyes and let his head drop back against the window. “But the fire is spreading, so I have asked my men to evacuate them to a safer location. Now I must return.”

“Papa before you go please tell me” Thais cried out urgently and she grabbed hold of her father’s arm. “Those explosions went off right in the market. Are there lots of people hurt?”

Gallus’ eyes creased in pain and Thais knew her answer. Feeling hurt and despondent she dropped her hands to her sides and hung her head. Coscona Market was one of the busiest markets in the city. This needless vast loss of life struck the girl painfully.

Gallus sighed heavily and for the briefest of moments he pulled his daughter into a firm embrace.

“I must go. I must do all I can to help,” he told her gently. Thais nodded quickly and she pulled away from her father, her eyes glassy with the makings of tears. “You are not to leave the palace until I return. Any of you. Is that understood?”

The three youngsters nodded solemnly. Gallus nodded in response and with this he strode back to the centre of the room. Briefly he glanced to the tumblers that Kaio and Rachel still held in their hands. He said nothing, but instead cast Thais an amused smile before he shut his eyes. Within seconds he was gone leaving Thais, Kaio and Rachel to stare out the window once more, watching as the thick black smoke consumed their home.

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