“Bring the rest with you, I will carry this much. I can’t take any more than this at once.” I say and lift all the files in my arms. “Follow me quickly, His Grace would be here anytime now.” I increase my pace to reach the entrance of the hallway as soon as possible.
“Hurry up, there is still another set of files,” I tell the assistant, who is trying to match my pace.
“Sir...slow down...I can’t keep up.” My assistant says while panting half the way.
“His Grace, would not let off any of us if we are any slower. He has entered the palace and is making his way to the meeting room. Do you want to be fired?” I push open the door of the meeting room with my shoulder and put the files on the table before adjusting my glasses.
“Quickly bring the next set. I am going to receive His Grace.” I leave him behind and jog towards His Grace’s room. He should be in his room by now. I slow down my pace on reaching the door and turn towards the guard, “Is he inside?”
The guard leans forward and whispers, “He just arrived and is not in good mood. Be careful.” He slaps my back and looks over my shoulder, at the hallway.
“He is never in a good mood after he enters the palace. I feel like my life will be drained whenever I see him during meetings.”
“I see, It must be exhausting for you to see me.”
The guard and I turn to our right, only to find the person I don’t want to face for the time being. He is wearing a simple white shirt and black jeans and his reading glasses are perched on top of his top, which gives me a hint of what he was doing before he came outside. But how did he come out without us noticing? I glance at the door puzzled. It is still closed, from where did he come out?
I quickly bow down and start speaking, “I didn’t mean that, Your Grace. I just-”
“There is no need to explain. I understand...Where are the files?” He asks while turning around to go to the meeting room. I straighten up and jog up to follow him and slow down once I am two steps behind him.
“They are in the meeting room. My assistant is bringing the last set.”
“And the Ministers and His Majesty?”
“The Ministers have arrived and...His Majesty said he will not attend the meeting. He said you are capable enough to handle such matters.” I keep my head low and try to watch his reaction. He stops in his tracks and stays in his position for a few seconds before turning to look out the archway at the rose garden.
“Capable? Since when did he start considering me capable? Juan, are you sure he did not hit his head recently?” I don’t respond because he doesn’t need an answer. He is not asking me, he is asking the question to himself judging by his sarcastic tone. It’s best not to provoke him when he is thinking of His Majesty, it’s a well-known fact that His Majesty and His Grace do not get along at all.
“He must be trying to test me.” He says before continuing on his way. I hurry after him as he starts firing questions after questions. Once we reach the meeting room, the guards at the front bow to His Grace and he dismisses them with a nod.
As soon as the guards push open the door, there is multiple scraping sound from inside. All the chairs had been pushed back as everyone stood up on either side of the meeting table. I take a step forward to stand beside His Grace. The sound of chirping from outside the french windows and the sunlight invades the otherwise silent room. The pin-drop silence continues for half a minute as His Grace takes a look at each and every one of them.
He is must be checking if everyone is present. I lean towards him, “Your Grace, I have checked, everyone is present.”
“Mmm.” He nods, “Sit down all of you.” He walks towards the head chair to take his seat. “His Majesty will not coming so we will be starting the meeting right away.”
Once he settles in his seat and reaches for the files, I take a seat on his right. I turn on my tab to take notes and look around till His Grace is going over the first issue written on the file.
I look around to make sure everything is at its place but while inspecting my gaze pauses on the Minister of Chege. Why does he keep looking over at His Grace? I look back and forth between both of them. He must be up to no good like always.
“Your Grace, ” Chege calls out not even a minute later. All the Ministers look at him, some with a knowing look while some wondering what is going. His Grace looks up from the file to glance at him before going back to his work, “Yes, Chege?”
“How have you been? It’s been a month since I last saw you in the palace. I would come to meet you once a week but every time you were away. Were you busy, Your Grace?”
He is clearly trying to provoke him, almost everyone at the table knows why he came here every week and it was clearly not because of His Grace. But I can’t understand where he is going by saying such a statement? What’s the use of asking him such a question?
I hear a humorless laugh from the head seat which makes me turn towards it. All the whispers die down at the next second and His Grace raises his head and leans back against his backseat while interlocking his fingers on the table. “Really? Then I must thank you for keeping my well being your mind.” The mocking tone doesn’t escape anyone’s ear. “But...why were you looking for me every week? Did you want to tell me something or.....you wanted something from me?”
“Oh, no, no, nothing like that. Why would I only find you when I want something? I just wanted to see how you are doing and congratulate you on finding your duo. The news of you getting your duo is everywhere. I just wanted to meet the lucky girl who was paired with you. After all, if she is related to you she is important for all of us.”
I turn my head slightly to observe His Grace’s mood to find the smile playing on his is nowhere to be found. I gulp and clear my throat. So he was fishing for information. Does he want to die? Why can’t he ask the question when he is alone with His Grace?
“Thank you for showing your interest in my life. But I don’t I find that useful so please keep the interest to yourself. You will meet her when it’s necessary but other than that I don’t see how this is related to you. And Chege, don’t worry, knowing how my duo is, she will be the one who will come to meet you first. But I have a feeling you will soon be hoping that meeting will never happen.”
“It’s alright, if she is busy we can meet later and I will be waiting to meet her-”
“Chege, I hope you focus more of your attention on your own work rather than my work and you know,” He leans forward putting his chin on his interlocked fingers and lowering his tone, ” I have been hearing something interesting about you lately as well. And I have a piece of advice for you. Chege, be careful with whom you make enemies with because you never know who might be listening to those secrets of yours when you are making plans with your allies.” His lips form into a smirk, “Even walls have ears.”
He swipes his gaze around each and every one of us while saying the last sentence. There is no doubt that the warning was for every one of us. Some exchange meaningful glances, some keep their composer and the rest keep throwing glances at His Grace. A dreadful silence follows for the next few minutes with the only occasional sound of turning of a page.
“Let’s start, Chege, present the report.” His Grace snaps close the file he was reading till now and turn towards Chege.
The meeting lasts for 6 hours with only one hour break in between.
After the meeting, I start packing up the files when His Grace calls me, “Juan since we are done for the next two weeks, you can take two days off and take care of the rest of the work when you come back. I will be only visiting for the next two weeks, call me only when there is an emergency.”
I almost drop the files in my excitement, I put the files back on the table and turn to the more serious matter. “Your Grace, why two weeks?”
“There is a case I have to take care of. And I know your wife has been threatening you since I have been hoarding you up. I don’t want to be the reason for your divorce.” He finishes with a hint of a smile. I push my glasses with my index finger in embarrassment. How did he know?
“Uhm...Your Grace, please don’t mind but can I say something?”
“You have been smiling a lot lately. Has something good happened?” I have been wondering about it for the last few days. He still remains stiff and emotionless most of the time in the palace but lately, he has not been as moody as before. He even jokes sometimes, just like now, which happened rarely before.
He brings his fingers to his lips and question in confusion, “Do I? I didn’t notice.” He thinks for a moment before flicking his hand to dismiss me, “Anyway, you are dismissed. Take an early rest, I will be leaving then.” He grabs his phone and starts walking out of the room.
“Your Grace, is Finlay alright?”
I ask from behind before he could exit the meeting room. “He is fine. He will be back in two weeks.” He says over his shoulder and walks out the room, closing the door behind him.
NADYA SHARMA’S POV
The next day, on reaching the EXH, Ryou goes alone to meet Ada and I decide to take a walk around the building. After enjoying the view of greens under an ample amount of sunlight, I feel myself sweating so I immediately decide to change the plan of tour. Since I still haven’t explored the east building so I can take this chance to do it.
Ryou will be back in 15-30 minutes and I still have time left, though I am sure that 15 minutes is enough for me to explore the whole building but I can explore at least one or two floors. On the way to the stairs that leads to the third floor, I notice a desolate corridor in the corner. I pause in my track and turn to enter it.
As soon as I enter the corridor, I come to a halt and look behind. Why is no one around? The lights on this corridor are off and there is only one window at the end of the corridor, which is the only source of the light in the darkness. Did I mistakenly enter a corridor I was not supposed to enter? I wait a minute to see if someone passes through this corridor but no one comes.
I think I should go back. Somehow it feels strange and I have a bad feeling about it.
Turning around, I give a last glance to the other end of the corridor before turning back to walk out of the corridor. But just after two steps, I am forced to stop once again. Wait....what was that sound? I turn my head slightly to catch the sound again. But there is no sound after waiting for a minute. Maybe I misheard?
No, it’s not my imagination. It’s the same sound again. What’s that? It sounds like something is hitting the floor. Thud, thud
My heartbeat spikes up, I turn around abruptly. Where is the sound coming from? I let my eyes cautiously scan through the darkness. What is that sound? I am sure it came from behind me but no one is here. I try to stop my shiver and let my eye scan the area once again. Just where did the sound come from?
My eyes stop at the dark figure at the end of the corridor, emerging out of the darkroom. Due to darkness, all I can see is there is someone in the dark. Who is there? A man? A woman? Thud.
I take a hesitant step forward while trying to figure out who is standing near the door. I take another step forward and narrow my eyes. I jerk back when I realize who is there, as soon as the sunlight falls on the person’s face once she takes a step out of the room.
It’s a girl.
A little girl who should be not more than 7 years. But that is not scared me, what scared me was how haunting she looked. For a second, I mistakingly took her as a ghost. Her eyes are blank, almost like she is dead. Dead...somehow the word gives a strange feeling as soon as I sound it in my head.
But why is a girl in an empty corridor? EXH doesn’t allow children in the building as far as I know. How did she get in? Maybe someone brought her along. Although, the main question is, why is she here alone? Where is her guardian? And what is a little girl doing here?
All of a sudden, she stops and looks in my direction. She stares at me for a few seconds and I try to call her out but surprisingly she starts running towards the stairs. I stare at her dumbfounded...Why did she run suddenly? I don’t think I am that scary.
The stairs which she took will lead her to the terrace and it would have scared me of I was not aware that the door to the terrace is always closed. As far as I remember there is no railing surrounding the terrace. So for the safety of Extanders, the terrace is not open to anybody so the gate should not be open. But I still can’t leave her here alone, what if her parents are searching for her?
After deciding to take her back to the office, I begin walking over to the staircase to bring her back. But as soon as I reach the bottom of the staircase, I hear the sound of the door opening. I freeze for a second as the natural light envelope the staircase before running up the stairs. Who left the door open?
“Hey, stop,” I shout while running up the stairs.
Her footsteps are getting further away and I realize she is not listening. I run after her as fast as I can. How is a little girl like her so fast?
By the time I go through the door, she is already climbing the ladder which is made on the side. The ladder leads us to a small open terrace with no railing. Oh my god, what is she doing? Why is she climbing the ladder?
I run towards the ladder and shout from below, “Get down, it’s not safe there. Get down. Child, stop.” I know she is a little girl but she is old enough to understand what I am saying. She is not realizing how dangerous it can be for a child to climb up there without a guardian. Where are her parents anyway? How can they leave their child unattended? I really want to have a talk with her parents.
I grab the sides of the ladder and start climbing after her. Is she running because she is scared of me or what? She did start running after seeing me, maybe she was scared of me. Should I stop and see if she stops as well? But what if she does not stop? That might be a huge problem.
“Why don’t you come down, I will not do anything?” I try again as panting. She is not listening. Once she climbs the last of the stairs, I can’t see her anymore. I climb the rest of the stairs as fast as possible.
When I climb the last ladder and look up and see her standing near the corner edge, I almost get a heart attack. Why is she standing near the edge? I carefully take some steps forward and try to call her out again. I am afraid if I move suddenly she might get startled and trip over the edge.
She looks at me in question and tilts her to one side in confusion. Somehow her gaze is haunting, she is a child but that gaze is sure of not a child. She looks at me up and down before turning around and taking steps towards the edge. I discard the previous approach and start running towards her. Only two steps and she would fall. I don’t think it's time to care about her feelings.
“Nadya” I immediately recognize the owner of the voice.
I cast a quick glance behind me to find Ryou coming towards the ladder with hurried steps, before turning back to face the girl. But I am forced to freeze at my spot when I don’t find anyone in front of me. I look left and right to find the whole area empty. What the hell? Where is the girl?
Don’t tell me. Did she.....did....she fall down?
My hands start shaking at the thought. Did she fall down? But...but I just took my eyes away from her for even less than a second. I cup my mouth with my hand. How did she...... Oh my god. Did she fall? I run the rest of the distance and fall down on my knees before looking over the edge, down at the road.
I take in a shaky breath when I find the road without anybody like I was expecting. I look around the road before looking over my shoulder at the open terrace. She did not fall and she is not at the terrace as well, then where did she go?
I shiver at the thought that comes to my mind. No, no, ghosts are not real, let’s not think about that. But how would I explain what happened to myself? I can think that it was all illusion but the proof that I am standing on the terrace makes that useless. What is happening to me lately? Am I really imagining things?
I still remember the ‘eye’ incident and now this. Is there...ghost around me?
Suddenly, there is a grip on my arm which makes me stand up and pulls me back. I blink and down at the grip on my hand before looking back up at its owner. Ryou looks at me while panting lightly before looking behind me and turning his gaze back to me. He looks at me up and down, not letting go of my arm. “What..what were you doing?”
“...I saw a girl of around age of 7 coming up here and I came up to bring her back. Did you run?” I ask while observing her disheveled appearance. I can still detect slight panic on his face.
Slowly, he lets go of my arm and lets out a sigh. “No...Uhm..I...I just came after you...Ah, yes, what about the girl?” He asks when he remembers what I just said. He searches the area, “Where...where is the girl? Did she go down?”
“She is not here, I mean she was just here but as soon as I looked away, no one was around. By the way, are you alright?”
“What? Did she fall down?” He questions back horrified, completely ignoring my last question. He walks past me and looks down from the building. “Where did she go? She didn’t fall down.”
“Well, I am not sure myself,” I say while scratching my nose.
He stares at me like he can’t believe what I am saying, “What?”
“I mean, I am sure I saw her but now I am not so sure, maybe I didn’t see her but I think I saw her but if I saw her, where did she go? But if I didn’t then why would I come here, see if she was here then there should be someone who saw her coming up to the third floor but how could I only see her, but, wait did-” Before I could explain say further, Ryou covers my mouth with his hand, instantly shutting me up. I squit my eyes due to the sun which is shining behind him as I look at him in question which he answers with a small smile.
“That’s enough. I will look into it, there is a CCTV camera near the staircase. We can ask for the footage, forget about it. I never knew you were so talkative.” I remove his hand from my face. “I never said I was not...You went to talk to Ada so...what did she say?”
“...Actually...I agreed that we will fully participate in the case and look over Luella's matter.”
“What? Why did you say that? Didn’t you say that you will not participate anymore?”
He shrugs while putting his hands in his pockets, “I changed my mind. I will tell you the reason when I find one myself.” Now, I am sure there is something he is not telling. What did Ada and he talk about that changed his mind?
What is he hiding?