A/N – Thank you Debbie-chan for beta-ing.

Part two

That night, as I lay in my small bed and surrounded by my new presents, I feigned sleep, waiting for Hannah's snoring to feather across the room. Hannah was my personal maid and slept in a small room at the end of mine. It was rare for me to sleep right through the night, and Hannah was there to make sure my needs were met at all times of the day. She was only a few years older than me. Her parents - being of a less able background and having numerous children - were more than pleased for my family to maintain her board, keep, and education, in exchange for her employment.

Instead of waking Hannah, as my mother instructed I should when I couldn't sleep, I sat up, hooked my legs over the side of the bed and grabbed my shawl.

There were no lights on when I padded out onto the first floor landing. The only way I could find my way was by the moonlight. It filtered in through the large arched window at the end of the east staircase and encompassed two floor levels of glass. This part of the house afforded the best view of the monastery. The ruins were at their most active at night. I didn't need to close my eyes to see the dark shadows - didn't even have to strain to hear them calling out into the night. It was a bleak sight, belied by the way the moon's silvery beams lit the sky. The forgotten walls stood proud and unashamed of their plight.

I gathered the ends of my shawl and drew them tightly around me for comfort and courage. Usually when I looked closely at the shadows, they were indecipherable; a big pulse of implied movement. Half images that - like dreams - were real and perfectly normal when I watched, but were incredibly difficult to describe accurately to anyone at a later date. That night, however, was the first night that I saw something definite in their structure.

I saw it first in the least derelict tower – where monastery abruptly ended and the lake began. At that point I thought it nothing more unusual than the assortment of shadows I was used to seeing, but as I looked longer, I saw two red lights within the darkness. They moved together, mirroring each other's ascent in a slow dance, spiralling up through the tower and out at the top. Some of the shadow followed as though being sucked by the light. Serpentine in form, this vision dived over the crumbling walls and as though suspended in water, swam in and out of the ruins. It had no real substance. I could see both building and forest through it, but the lights, which now appeared as though eyes of some demon snake, had no memory attached to them as the other shadows did. It wasn't an apparition of the past, but something in the same time as I was –something that lived and watched me back.

My heart racing, I turned away and vowed not to look at anything but the floor until I was the other side of the stairs. I admit that familiar as the shadows were, this new sight unnerved me. To me it was a monster, watching, waiting for me to be alone – something that would snap me up in the night, and eat me for its supper. I ran across the landing and wasn't truly comfortable even when I entered Ochre's room.

I panted as I closed his large doors and pushed my back flat against the panels as if they were the saviours of all things evil. Only once my heart stopped pounding did I dare look across the room. As late as it was, however, Ochre was awake. His small flat panel computer was on and he was typing by the light of the monitor alone. I was glad he did not observe my panic in entering, and even more so that I didn't have to wake him up. Questions were to be avoided on such a matter, and explanation completely out of the power of my infantile vocabulary and understanding. All I wanted was to temporarily forget the monastery apparition in his company and protection. I never felt scared when I was with Ochre. He was my big brother – I knew he would never let anything bad happen to me.

I think he was already expecting me. Ochre might have been nine years older than me but we were incredibly close. In the holidays we would often meet in his room or mine when the house was asleep. He would tell me all about his adventures in town - his school, his play, and his friends – and it was a treat for me to listen to him.

His voice was very good, rich and low for someone so young, and he spoke very well. His figure, though it was considered by some too thin for his height, was open and welcoming. My mother called him awkward in company, but I think it was more because of the high company she liked to keep, rather than because he was naturally shy or retiring. Amongst his own friends or people he thought himself equal to he was quite a different person. I often listened for hours at a time as he told me of his adventures in Robei which – considering my young age – shows something of his talent for narration I believe.

"I can't sleep," I whispered, standing just inside the room.

"You never can." He motioned to the bed, and I followed his direction. "I have a few things I need to finish here, but you can sit quietly there until I am done."

I nodded and climbed onto the end of the bed. "Molly?" I asked.

Purchased in town when he first left home for boarding school, Molly was a fake fur throw, made to imitate the softest and warmest pelt, but more comfortable than any real animal hide. Much to my mother's disgust Ochre took it everywhere with him. He often joked that it was his security blanket. I believe he only went so far as to name it to get a rise out of Mother. Indeed, he seemed to enjoy teasing her. The name Molly stuck, however, and my brother and I always referred to it as though it were a living object. It was a treasure to me, a treat to handle – and that night, seemed to offer the comfort my shocked senses needed.

"Sure, Em, so long as you put her back properly when you leave."

Promptly I folded my shawl, put it to the side, and picked up the throw at each end, wrapping it snugly around my shoulders.

There I stayed for over an hour, cocooned in the fake fur, and listening to the rhythmical clicking of Ochre's keyboard, punctuated as it was now and then with the creaking of his leather chair. Eventually, however, the typing stopped and laying his glasses to the side, he shut the laptop and turned to fix his attention on me. His eyes, though hazel in the day, shone gold as they reflected the small amount of light in the room.

"Father tells me you are going to start school next week."


"I am happy for you." He smiled.

"You are?"

"Of course! My little sister is finally making her grand entrance into the world and it couldn't have happened soon enough. It is not healthy being hidden away here." His eyes examined me, and I felt unsure under their penetration. "But you don't look happy about it. Aren't you pleased to be starting school?"

"Yes… well… I think I am."

"You think?" he said. "Why so unsure? Are you scared to leave home?"

"No!" I felt my face burn with anger. I thought he was making fun of me.

"It's okay to be scared, Em," he reassured with a smile. "All new adventures are scary to begin with, that's what makes them so exciting." His voice was playful. "You never know what's going to happen next. Sometimes it is good to be scared, just a little bit. Sometimes it can be fun."

"Well, I'm not scared!" I said, holding my chin high in the air. "I'm just not sure what to expect, that is all."

"Of course," he conceded.

"I… do you know anything about the school?" I asked.

He was so good at describing the world. His narratives so clear and concise that I was hopeful he could give the visual stimulation my imagination craved for.

"I know the area," he admitted. "It is close to my new dorms, but I'm afraid I don't know what the buildings look like. It is supposed to be very exclusive though. St Mary's is rumoured to be one of the biggest plots of land in the capital - after the Emperor's palace of course - and has some of the finest gardens in the country." He walked to the window and put a hand to it. "I almost envy you the opportunity. I think I would have enjoyed being a soldier, like Father once was. It is a great honour to be taught Fayora, especially under a master's tutorage. Master Jai has studied Fayora for over half a century. He grew up in the temples of Ljandi as a boy, and was a pupil of the Grand Master himself. When he was old enough he did the grand tour both on planet and off, training constantly and learning every conceivable style and incorporating it into the form of Fayora taught today. Far be it from me to disrespect Grand Master Ori, but rumour has it that the pupil has long since surpassed his Master."

"I'm not so sure about the fighting," I said honestly.


"It sounds like fun to learn. I like exercise and I want to make Mother and Father happy, but I'm not very strong, and I don't think I will ever grow big enough to be a soldier."

"Who knows," he said with a shrug. "You're only eleven. You still have a lot of growing to do. Anything is possible if you train hard enough."

"I am looking forward to making new friends," I said, not wanting to sound ungrateful or make it appear that I was unhappy about the idea of going to school when I wasn't. " I want a friend just like your friend, Shal. Someone I can tell all my deepest darkest secrets to, someone I can have fun with."

"A good plan, indeed – though perhaps not quite like Shal! He is the greatest companion and best friend a man could ever need, but sometimes he can be the biggest idiot as well" He laughed. "But I'm sure there can't be two of him in the world. That truly is a frightening thought! Yes… a friend your own age might be just what you need!"

"But I won't let it get in the way of my school work. I want to be successful as well. I have to do my bit for the family. It is healthy and right to have ambition beyond my status, isn't it?"

He looked at me strangely for a moment – a slight frown clouding his features. "Mother's words from your lips!" he scorned. It was no secret to me that he disagreed with a lot of Mother's opinions. "Ambition is fine in moderation," he said after a pause. "But it should never cloud good sense." He moved away from his corner to sit next to me. "What is your biggest worry about going away?" he asked.

"I…" I stopped to think for a moment. "I am worried that I will be on my own. That people will not accept me because I am different. I really do want to make friends."

"Because you're different? You mean because you see things other people don't?"

I was truly shocked. Ochre wasn't home often enough to know, was he? I had guessed that Mother knew something of that matter, but I also knew that she would be the last person in the world to reveal the truth to anyone else – even her son.

"I don't know what you mean," I said, in the hopes he had merely taken a wild guess, and would leave the subject well alone.

"Oh, Em! I may act like one, but I'm not a fool. I saw you today. I saw both you and Shampha. You were both watching things that I, or Mother and Father could never hope to see. I've seen you do it before. You were scared to be in the monastery, weren't you?"

"Yes," I said, backed into a corner. "I'm completely nuts, thanks for pointing it out! And if you've noticed then I'm sure everyone else will, and then I'll be laughed at wherever I go!"

"It will be okay," he assured me. "People in town are a lot more accepting than they are here. In fact there are people who have managed to make a nice living for themselves by seeing the spirit world, which is along the lines of what you can do I believe. Of course you don't need to worry about adapting it well enough for monetary gain, but I could, while you are away from Mother, make some enquiries in Robei for your benefit. You could learn how to interpret your visions accurately, or at the very least, you could learn to control them. For the present just be yourself. There's no surer way of making friends." He hugged me and in return I unwrapped Molly to lay her over both our laps. Ochre gratefully took his share. "Make me one promise though, Em."

"I will try."

"Keep an open mind about everyone you meet and everything you see. There is a dreamlike quality to this house that is a veil to the rest of the world. If you want acceptance then you have to give it. You are sensible, but at times a little too easily swayed by the whims of others. Use your time away from here to open your eyes. Look closely at every situation, and when you have done looking, open your eyes once more and look again. Your intuition is shrewd, even if your inclination is bent towards pliancy. I really do think that time in Robei will do you the world of good."

"Tell me more about Robei," I prompted, yawning and snuggling against his arm.

"Oh come now, Em! You ask so many questions about it, you could better describe it yourself!"

"Please," I asked in a way I knew he would never refuse.

He relented with a sigh. His narrative was as I had heard it many times. He told me of the great city of Robei, so large and busy that it was nothing more than a labyrinth of buildings, clambering in, around, and over one another. He told me how the cars soared over the buildings on great light highways that crisscrossed the entire city in a dome of colour. He spoke of the people - busy, fashionable creatures of great information and brilliance, co-existing with those who made the city work in a way that he had never seen anywhere else. A muddle of functioning chaos as far as the eye could see, and beautiful in a way that only those fortunate enough to have lived there could properly appreciate. Then there was the spaceport to the east, a structure so vast that is disappeared into the sky. On a dull day, clouds obscured its enormity, and even on a clear day you would do well to see the top.

It was with these romanticized visions of Robei that I eventually succumbed to sleep.

The next thing I remember was waking up to great shards of light rudely scorching through the curtains and filling my room with their molten glow. I was disorientated at first. I must have been moved after I had fallen asleep in Ochre's room. Perhaps it was my brother who had carried me back to my room, or even one of the maids, but in my room I was, tucked into my covers and still holding Molly tightly in my arms.

"Miss?" asked a small voice at my side. "Miss Ember, are you awake? Oh dear! I overslept again. What will Mrs De Laney say? And I wanted to make a good impression!" Here she noticed me blinking the sleep from my eyes. "Ah good! You are awake. It's not lost yet. You see, Miss, now you are going away I am out of a job. Your mother says I am only needed to accompany you and Master Ochre to Robei and then I am to return home to my mother and father. Mrs Drian says, however, there is an under-maids position going vacant for your mother and I had hoped… but that is of no matter… all this chitchat is just making you later. You have to get up Miss. You're wanted at breakfast. Sit up, please, so I can take off your nightdress."

"I can do it myself."

"I know you can, Miss, but this is my job. Let me do it this once, it will probably be one of the last times. You're so independent that I think I might need the practice if I am ever to get another job."

I did as she asked and let her bustle around me getting me washed and dressed ready for my appearance downstairs, but I was distracted by what she had said. Hannah was to leave me? It was more than my young mind could digest. Hannah had been with me for so long, and yet she was to leave me just like that. I felt compelled to make sure I was not mistaken. "You are not coming with me?" I asked.

"No, Miss."

"Then I am to have a new maid when I get to St. Mary's?"

"No, Miss. There are no maids allowed at St. Mary's – at least that is what Mrs De Laney says. Now lift your head, Miss, so I can put your necklace on."

I lifted my chin for her, but only a fraction. "Am I leaving today?"

"Yes, Ma'am. Unfortunately Mr De Laney was called back to the Emperor last night, so you and Master Ochre are to go with your father on the first part of your journey so that Mistress doesn't have to do without the car for more than two days. You father will meet up with the Emperor in the city of Tinchester, and you, me, Master Ochre and Miss Marchant will carry on to Robei alone."

"Why is the housekeeper coming?"

"To see Miss Mari of course."

"Mari!" I said suddenly excited. "Is she in Robei?"

"So I understand it, but I don't know where. Your mother would not say, for fear… and of course Miss Marchant will not tell. That is Miss," she spoke in a lower voice, "although I'm not able to tell you where to find her, I should not have told you about her being there at all. I'm sure you will find someway to discover her whereabouts while you are away." She winked and carried on with dressing me as though nothing had passed between us.

"Hannah?" I asked after a few minutes deliberation.

"If you will not be there then how will I do my buttons, I will not be able to reach them at my back, and my sash will have to be tied?"

"Don't worry, Miss," she said, fully aware of my dislike of depending on others. "You will not wear the fine dresses you are used to here at St. Mary's. They have a strict dress code. Everyone has to dress the same." She motioned me over to the where my suitcase lay open on the floor. "I started packing for you last night before you came up from dinner. This is the uniform you will have to wear. You see the shirt is quite thick, but the buttons are small and easy enough for you to use, and it buttons down the front so you should have no problems doing them yourself. And here," she said, showing me a dark blue dress laying across the bottom, "this is the pinafore you will have to wear. You see the buckles?" I nodded. "They will hold it in place, so you don't need a sash. There is a neck tie, and I will make sure you know how to tie it properly by the time we get to Robei tomorrow morning."

"Thank you, Hannah." The room fell into silence. My heart felt heavier than I had ever expected at the prospect of leaving. "Hannah?"

"Yes, Miss?"

"I think… that is I know… I will miss you."

She smiled, and her face crimsoned with emotion. "Aye, Miss. I think I will miss you too."

Knowing it was not proper for a maid to take liberties, I was the one who walked over to her and put my arms around her waist. She smiled down at me and affectionately ran her fingers through my dark red hair. "Don't worry, Miss," she comforted. "When I get the under-maids position, I will see you every school holiday." It was a comforting thought. "Now… you better run along or your mother will be angry at me for making you late."

Making a quick stop at my bed to pick up Molly, I did as Hannah asked. I only stopped on my way to bravely look out of the great arched window at the monastery – even though I was in silent dread of what I might see there. Bathed in rich, golden summer morning sunshine, there were no visions. I could not even see the shadows that so habitually resided there, let alone the apparition I had witnessed the previous night. I smiled and shook my head. Perhaps I had stared at the shadows too long and dreamed it.

Whatever had happened though, I knew it would be a long time before I would see the monastery at night again, and I silently rejoiced at my escape as I carried on walking to the breakfast room.