“Are you a vampire?” The question had been burning in Levi’s mind for the past half hour, since he’d seen a man fall from a four storey building, land face-down with a sickening thump, and jump to his feet as if nothing had happened. He glanced at the porcelain coloured face of the woman who had dragged him into this grubby café after he had witnessed that incident, not daring to inspect it too closely. He did not want or need any further confirmation that there was something very unnatural about this lady.
“I think someone has been reading too many Twilight novels,” she said, smirking. “I’m not a vampire, no.”
“And the guys you were chasing? The ones who fell from the roof? They weren’t vampires either?”
“Who were they?”
“Just bad guys. You really don’t need to know the details. You won’t remember them, anyway.”
Daring to steal another glimpse of her face, Levi saw that she looked severely bored. He did not know whether that was good or bad.
“I don’t think I’m going to forget anything that you tell me, not after… what I’ve seen.” Levi paused in the sentence after realising that it might be a dangerous thing to say. Amusement seemed to play around the corners of her mouth.
“I didn’t say you were going to forget.”
The waitress came within earshot and Levi fumbled for the drinks menu, which stuck to his fingers as he picked it up. Staring hard at the printed letters, Levi tried to grab at some of the questions that were dancing around his brain. Which one would she be most likely to answer? He couldn’t trust himself to look at the teenage girl who had come to ask for their order. She gave a small cough to break the nervous silence which had settled over their table.
“Two black coffees, please,” Levi heard his companion say. He never drank coffee at this time, but he wasn’t about to disagree with her.
He guessed that it was between six and seven at night, but it felt later than that. Levi looked out of the grotty windows at the dark street outside and saw the orange glow of the street lamp illuminating the litter on the pavement. Inside the café, there was only one other customer, a woman with thick make up and peroxide blonde hair. She had been too absorbed by her phone to even notice them come in.
When the coffee arrived in grimy mugs, Levi ignored his and stared at the graffiti on their greasy table. Keats covered it with her elbow.
“What was I saying before?” She paused. “Ah, yes. I’m going to erase your memories. Tomorrow morning you’re going to wake up like this never happened.” She smiled as if this was something Levi had been waiting for.
“What if I don’t want my memories erased?” Levi eventually replied. Her expression changed to one of pity.
“Okay. So if I don’t erase your memories, you’d be perfectly okay with living the rest of your life knowing that people like me exist, that stuff like the things you just saw can happen, and you’d be fine with that? No. You’d go insane. Trust me on this one.”
Levi didn’t really know how to respond to that.
Over the next five years, that remark would gnaw on Levi’s mind with the jaws of irony. Despite her promise, neither his bizarre encounter with sinister men who fell from tall buildings, his time in the café, nor the conversation on the way home was ever erased from his brain. The only thing he couldn’t remember was what had happened when he had entered his home.
Before that magic step through his front door, where the memory cut into darkness as suddenly as the end of the film reel, the smallest details of that night would return to him. The way hot coffee had splashed on his hand when she had dropped her spoon in her full mug and declared that they were leaving. The way he almost felt like he was following her to his own house. Her replies when she finally gave in to Levi’s exasperating questions.
Her name was Keats. She was gifted. It was kind of hereditary.
When she wasn’t irritated by Levi’s pitiful attempt at an interrogation, her tone was infuriatingly blasé. It made him wonder how many times Keats had done this kind of thing before. Perhaps she wasn’t as practised as she seemed, and that was why her attempt to erase his memory had failed. That or he had actually imagined the whole thing. Levi would have liked to believe the latter, because Keats had been completely correct.
After finding out that someone like her existed, life just wasn’t the same.
A misty rain shrouded Minister Trewick’s house, pattering incessantly on the windows. The wet bricks reflected flashing blue lights. Terran Sultus paced outside the front door, his colleagues from the police force filling out paperwork and asking the neighbours some questions. He looked at his watch and made a disgruntled noise in his throat.
He turned to his partner, who gave him a knowing look.
“Pacing isn’t going to make her hurry up. And let’s be honest, she’s going to spend as little time here as she possibly has to,” he said in response to Terran’s scowl.
“Her superiority complex is intolerable,” Terran snarled. He saw his partner cringe and motion for him to turn around.
“It’s not a superiority complex if you’re genuinely superior,” Keats said. She was standing behind Terran with a dangerously icy smirk. Terran gave her a stiff smile that was equally cold.
“Well, we’d all better stop and listen to the great wisdom you’re about to share with us about the crime scene.” The ugly sarcasm filtered through the air, and a couple of workers began to stare at Keats and Terran.
“No magic was used here tonight. Whoever broke in wasn’t a magician. Still, if they left behind the flag, Sonya will want a full report when you’ve finished,” Keats said.
“If magic wasn’t involved, Sonya shouldn’t be either.” Knowing that he didn’t have the authority to overrule her didn’t stop Terran from voicing his protest.
“Sonya wants to know absolutely everything linked to this Desert Freedom group. I would say having their flag left at an attempted murder scene is a link, wouldn’t you? Let’s not forget this group has been using magical terrorism, we need to work together to stamp them out.” Keats said, as if working with Terran was the last thing she could possibly want.
“If you’re done here, I have urgent family business I need to attend to.” Terran’s gaze fixed to the left of Keats’s face, making clear that the sight of her was enough to irritate him.
“Was there anything else, besides the flag?”
Terran ignored her, but his partner’s silence relented under Keats’ glare.
“There was a phone. Trewick and his family claim they don’t recognize it. It was probably left by the intruder in his rush to escape.”
“As soon as you find out anything, literally the moment you discover something, inform Sonya.” Keats took a long, hard look at Terran before she stepped backwards and vanished into the night air.
Levi still had dreams about Keats. Once conscious he had to rinse out his mind as you’d rinse out your mouth after vomiting. He used more soap in the shower on the mornings after those dreams than he did on others. At around the same time that Keats had her run in with Terran Sultus, Levi was aggressively straightening his bed sheets, hair still dripping from the shower, and contemplating distractions. Maybe he would call one of his old friends from university, or take on a lodger. The extra money might lead to more distractions, but something to fill the house other than silence would be payment enough.
In his car, Levi crawled amongst the city’s morning traffic, looking at the grey skyline and numbing himself up for what he predicted to be another unsatisfying day at work. When he finally arrived at the ugly office building, he took a small amount of satisfaction in being able to park slightly closer to the entrance than he usually would. If the last four years of his working life was anything to go by, this would be the highlight of his day.
Ignored by the secretary, he turned left when he entered the reception and approached the stairwell. When he saw which two females he would have to walk past to get to his office, he attempted to look unfazed.
“Good morning, Levi.” Chrissie Walker smiled politely. Her companion looked down into the mug of coffee she was holding, the sheet of dark hair not quite hiding the grimace on her face.
“Morning, Chrissie.” Levi paused and nodded. “Laura.”
Laura’s head jerked up. She looked almost startled, like she hadn’t noticed he was there. Or at least that she was pretending very hard that he wasn’t there.
“Hi,” she eventually replied. Her expression betrayed a kind of uncomfortable annoyance, as if Levi had broken a non-verbal agreement that he would never try to speak to her. To be fair to her, she hadn’t pulled the “we’ll still be friends” line when their relationship took its last breath.
Chrissie pressed herself against the metal bannister so that Levi could sidle past and continue up the stairs. He fought off the urge to take them two at a time, and even kept his composure when he heard Laura mutter something that caused Chrissie’s laugh to echo up the stairwell.
Sometime after the break-up, Levi realized that the worst thing about Laura’s cold shoulder was that he still wasn’t sure what he’d done to deserve it. Had he been the most attentive, thoughtful boyfriend? Probably not. Had he refused to go to the majority of the social engagements Laura had asked him to? Maybe. But was she really resorting to these tactics because he hadn’t been perfect? Well, screw her, he thought, as he walked to his desk.
When they were dating, things had been nice enough. He’d even considered telling her. About the Keats thing. He wouldn’t say that it had actually happened of course. Laura, like any other rational person, would have thought he was crazy. He’d describe it as if it was just a dream he’d had. A very vivid dream. The closest he had come was the night they’d just got back from a restaurant. They were sitting on his couch, drinking wine, and they were in the middle of a long silence. He was about to mention it, as if it had just come to his mind, when Laura stood up.
“Levi, this isn’t working.”
In light of the incident on the stairwell, Levi made a concerted effort to participate in the lunchtime gossip circle that convened in the break room. In the past few weeks, He’d had a distinct feeling that his title, “Levi, the quiet one who sits by the window,” had been converted to “Levi, the one who got dumped by Laura in HR.” It was a little too pathetic for his taste, and he needed to change the image somehow. Besides, people couldn’t talk about him if he was actually there.
The instant he was sat on one of the aluminium chairs, enveloped in the smell of stale coffee, he began to regret it. Whether it was the late intern, the new exercise regime of their body-conscious manager, the illnesses of their children, Levi felt trapped in a conversation where he had no place and nothing to contribute. He grinned and nodded in the right places, whilst his eyes darted to the clock on the right-hand wall. He internally cursed that sluggish minute hand, as it made its lazy journey from 12:30 to 1:00.
He was almost jealous of his colleagues. Their faces were so animated when they discussed this scandal and that titbit they’d heard from Fred in another department. Levi couldn’t remember the last time he enjoyed talking to someone as much they were relishing this gossip. He eventually ended up staring out of the window until it was finally time to go back to his computer, and the payroll numbers and emails which would keep him busy for the rest of the working day.
Levi supposed he only had himself to blame for the fact he was lonely. Perhaps it was fifty/fifty. His parents were dead and he had no family, which was not his fault. In fact, it was because of this that he’d grown up in an environment that had systematically prevented him from forming lasting friendships. Moved from pillar to post in an uncaring care system, he’d never been able to stay in touch with people he might have grown close to.
However, when he’d turned eighteen and finally inherited his parents’ money and house, Levi had no more excuses for his unsociability. For the first year of living in his own house, he felt like the silence was a greedy indulgence. Instead of getting to know other people on his university course, he rushed to his home and laid in the space that was his and his alone.
He explored the possessions of his deceased parents, and his resentment towards them for getting into that car accident slowly turned into curiosity. He’d felt no drive to discover anything about them before, but he noticed there were no old photos, no information about them before they’d moved here. He didn’t even know what they had done for a living, but the inheritance had been sizable and must have been built up somehow.
Levi’s encounter with Keats occurred within a year of him moving in to his parents’ house. It fragmented his life, and he would throw away the shards in an instant if he could know more about her. He would ditch the job he’d battled to get after his degree. He’d let go of the photos of his parents, and the questions about their past he was sure he’d never find answers to. He would take any excuse to run away from the acquaintances he’d failed to form friendships with.
Unfortunately, that trade wasn’t on offer. Levi had to make do with what he had.
Keats knew very little about the geography of the United States of America. She could recall one of her childhood tutors showing her a map, but Keats had never considered knowledge of Earth to be an important part of her education. It was, after all, in a world she’d rather avoid. It was one of those places where those performing magic were required to be subtle about it, and subtlety was not Keats’ strong point. She had her memory control powers, and in her opinion, that was all she needed.
Despite the fact that Keats would not be able to point to West Virginia on her tutor’s map, she’d managed to teleport there. Specifically, she’d teleported to a pizza parlour in Charleston. She made an educated guess that it was 8PM here. It wasn’t the pizza place that Keats was interested in but the apartment above it, whose address was linked to the mobile phone found in Minister Trewick’s house.
Keats used her magic to scan the apartment and check it was empty. There was a good chance the owner of the phone had used a random address rather than one he lived at, but Keats knew it sometimes paid not to underestimate people’s stupidity. She broke in without hesitating.
After searching the 2 room apartment, Keats was positive this was the hideout of Desert Freedom’s hired assassin. She found some wads of cash, some American dollars, some Litian querts. If this was his advance, then whoever paid him was probably regretting their generosity. There were a couple of identification documents. She could tell that the American passport had been forged with magic. She could feel it through her fingertips. As far as she could tell, the Litian ID was genuine.
“Rappel Calizo.” Keats read the name out loud. He’d definitely come back for the money. If he’d used this address to register the phone, he probably hadn’t realised the police could hack into the systems of foreign network companies. Even if he thought there was a risk coming back here, he wouldn’t want to lose so much money, not after everything he’d already done.
He’d be back, and Keats would be waiting for him.
Two hours later and Keats’ energy had faded. She stared at the door, willing it to open so that she could finally take Rappel Calizo down, give him to the police, then go to bed. Opposite the apartment’s entrance was a stained table, barely large enough for two people to dine at. Keats sat on it, ready to spring into action when the moment came. She was idly playing with a ball of azura in her left hand, feeling its warmth and connection to the magic in her own blood.
Azura was a kind of concentrated magic that could be summoned by most magicians. It was slightly more solid than light and had very few uses other than as a weapon. Skilled magicians could control how concentrated and physical the azura was, but nobody could make it as strong as Keats’ family did. Your common, garden-variety magician could hope to stun somebody with it. Keats had used azura to kill more times than she cared to remember.
Of course, killing was not the objective today. Sonya, possibly the most formidable Queen Litia had ever had, was breathing down everyone’s necks as they tried to pin members of the Desert Freedom group. Minister Trewick was only the second politician to have been targeted. The first victim, Katheu Matri, had been decapitated using magic. Her blood had been used to paint the red sun on the Desert Freedom flag. Before this incident, a large proportion of Litia’s government had been strongly opposed to lifting restrictions on the deserts to the East. Those voices suddenly became quieter.
If Keats did not deliver this man to an interrogation room, Sonya would most definitely not be pleased. In fact, she might even get angry. Few things ever caused Sonya to openly display anger in a form other than a very unnerving glare, but her true wrath was something most people would be wise to miss. It was nothing to worry about, Keats thought. Taking this amateur down would be child’s play.
When Keats finally heard a key being placed in the door’s lock, she narrowed her eyes and charged some azura. Rappel’s face came into view and Keats leapt off the table with the intention of grabbing and restraining him. His unexpectedly fast reflexes caught her off guard, and she found herself barrelling into the door as he dodged past her, with the azura leaving a scorch mark on the flaking paint. Keats spun around and saw that Rappel now had a dagger in his hand, probably one that he kept on his person. She snorted and charged at him again, this time with more focus on aim. There was a short tussle before Keats managed to thrust a ball of azura into the side of his head. Rappel crumpled.
Keats felt a sharp pain just below her right shoulder. The bastard had managed to inflict a deep wound while she’d been focussed on bringing him down. When she looked at Rappel’s body on the floor, she knew that something was wrong. Keats kneeled and checked his pulse.
He was dead. Sonya was going to be so pissed.
In Helena, Litia’s capital city, there was a morgue reserved for those whose deaths were unusual. Ordinary murder victims did not qualify. Police workers who had their suspicions consulted Dr. Kine, who was the sole person to work in this section of the police department. He was paid very well for this job, mainly because there were not many people who were capable of doing what he did while being willing to complete so much paperwork.
It takes a magician to recognize a magical death, and Dr. Kine had been very persuasive when negotiating his salary. Trained as a healer, he’d hated hospital work from the moment he began, and considered dropping out on numerous occasions. Graduating with passable exam results had been a struggle, but now he had no regrets.
There was only one part of this job he considered unsavoury.
When Keats teleported into the morgue, corpse in tow, Dr. Kine didn’t even look up from the notes on his desk.
“So, which poor soul inspired your wrath today?”
“I missed your sense of humour, this was just an excuse.” Keats replied, deadpan.
He finally glanced at her, only to convey his expression of non-amusement. He noticed that she was bleeding from a wound on her upper arm. He could help her, but he didn’t quite feel like doing so. Besides, she didn’t look especially bothered by it.
“Sonya promised me that I would be seeing less of you from now on. Have you any idea how difficult it is to put the bodies you bring here through the system? Especially when you never fill out the paperwork?”
“Hey, it’s not my fault there isn’t a box you can check which says ‘Got what they deserved.’”
“And remind me why this guy deserved to be killed? Actually, don’t. Write it down on the correct forms instead.”
“Sorry, no can do. I need to find Sonya and inform her about what’s happened,” Keats lied. What she really needed was some rest before Sonya found her. Keats teleported out of the morgue, leaving Rappel’s body on the floor behind her.
Dr. Kine regarded the corpse from behind his desk with exasperation before he continued with his notes. It could wait there a few more minutes while he finished this report.
Two streets down from Levi’s house was the kind of takeaway that did everything. Fried chicken, pizza, burgers, chips, kebab, anything you could possibly be craving when you were alone and lacking the motivation to cook. Despite its proximity, Levi ordered online rather than face the cold November air. He settled down onto his sofa downstairs, determined to forget about work.
The only thing he forgot was what happened after that.
Levi was acutely aware of the hours he had lost when he opened his eyes and found himself lying on an unfamiliar four poster bed. Bright light escaped from a gap between some intricately embroidered and expansive curtains to his left. Pain bit through his temples as he pulled himself up. When he blinked and the memories of how he got here weren’t flooding back, his gut started churning. He was still fully dressed, and his stale clothes felt very constraining as he moved towards the curtains and viciously pulled them back. The light stabbed his pupils, and he squinted at the view from the large window.
The building he was in seemed to be situated on a hill, and looked down on a city that he didn’t recognize. He stood and stared, disbelieving. How could he have gotten here? His only thought was that he’d started drinking for some reason last night, got smashed, and broke into someone’s house. This place looked far too swanky for him to be here legitimately.
There was a gothic style desk opposite the bed, carved out of wood that was almost black. On top of it was a photo frame which faced away from him. Levi walked towards it, hoping he’d see a picture of someone he knew, and that it would help him remember how he’d ended up here. His hands were numb with panic when he turned the frame around.
The room around him disappeared. It was just him and the photo, his brain short-circuiting as he tried to comprehend what he was seeing. There were four unfamiliar people in the photograph, but two others that he did recognize. The bride and groom. His parents.
The fact there was a photograph of them here at all was confusing, but of their wedding day? In the house, Levi hadn’t found any photographs of a time before he was born. His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Levi? Are you awake?”
It was a woman’s voice, not one that he recognized. The accent was odd, but he couldn’t place it. Levi’s throat constricted and he wasn’t sure he wanted to answer the door. He squeezed the photograph in his sweaty hands. He didn’t know if he was ready for this, the possibility had always seemed remote and now the circumstances were so strange…
Did this person know his parents? Could she even be family?
In the end, Levi was not given the option of opening the door. The stranger opened it for him.
She wasn’t one of the people in the photograph. She looked like she could be in her late forties, but was possibly older under the subtle make-up. Her blonde hair was streaked with grey and pulled back into a tight bun. Levi noticed that her clothes were somewhat formal and unusual. Her grey, asymmetrical dress was made of a stiff material and had long sleeves. She was carrying some clothes with her.
“Good morning, Levi! How are you feeling?” Her smile was very unthreatening, but Levi stepped back. He was almost tempted to just go along with what was happening, but he knew he wouldn’t be convincing.
“I’m sorry, do I… do I know you?” he asked, nervously. Her smile disappeared so quickly Levi wondered whether he’d insulted her. “I’m really sorry, I don’t seem to remember how I got here,” he added, hastily.
“You don’t remember?” The lady blinked. Levi could practically see thoughts running around in her mind. “That’s… that’s unfortunate.”
“Unfortunate?” There was a pause.
“You hit your head,” she said, suddenly. “You fell. When you got here. So we took you upstairs, to rest. That’s probably why you can’t remember. Oh dear.” She took a step forward. Then a step back. Then she sighed. “We’re going to have to explain everything again. I should tell Lekivan. You… You try on some of these clothes. You’ll need to change after sleeping. I’ll talk to Lekivan and then you can meet us in the dining room.”
She dropped the clothes on the desk and rushed out before Levi could ask her where the dining room was.
Levi had been deliberately unhurried as he dressed in the clothes that were brought to him. It wasn’t that he didn’t want an explanation as to how he got here and who these people were, but he dreaded not being able to make the correct response to whatever he was told. He didn’t feel ready for some beautiful journey of discovery about his family, and there seemed to be a good possibility that something more complicated was going on here.
He looked out of the window again. The area seemed quite hilly, almost mountainous. How far away from home was he? How many hours could he have travelled last night? And why would he have been willing to come out at such short notice? He rubbed his head. It ached, but not in the way he would expect if he’d sustained an injury. He was sure this lady, whoever she was, was lying.
Hesitantly, he opened the door which she’d hurried out of and peered at the corridor outside. He felt like he was a tourist in a stately home who’d stumbled into the “No Admittance” area. To his left was a dead end, but it looked like there was a staircase to the right. He slowly walked along the corridor, giving nervous glances to the statuettes and paintings that lined the walls.
When the corridor opened out above the staircase, Levi found himself looking down on an entrance hall that rivalled his house for size. He found himself becoming more and more suspicious as he considered what he knew so far. There was nobody around to ask for directions, and Levi found himself feeling somewhat relieved this was the case. At least he knew where the front door was if he needed to leave.
Once downstairs, he heard voices coming from behind a set of double doors to his left. One of the doors was propped open. Levi quietly approached and peered through. The lady he’d seen earlier was furiously murmuring at a man in a suit, presumably Lekivan. She spotted Levi and stopped talking.
Lekivan turned. He stood as straight as the lines on his suit, and looked down on Levi with all the force of an irate schoolmaster. His gravity softened as soon as Levi made eye contact with him, his frown dissolving and his shoulders slackening into an unthreatening pose. The transition was as quick as it was eerie.
Levi instantly recognized him as one of the men in the photograph upstairs.
“Levi, Soriah told me about your memory loss. Is it true you can’t remember anything from last night, nothing at all?” Lekivan asked. He had a slight accent which Levi couldn’t place, but it was definitely foreign.
“No. I can’t remember anything. Can you tell me where I am?” Levi was trying to be polite, but some of his frustration came out in his voice. He walked through the doorway. They appeared to be a large dining room with windows lining both sides of the room. Levi could see an orchard to the left and an ornamental garden to the right. Soriah looked uncomfortable and moved around to the other side of the table, as if she was frightened of what Levi might do.
“What was the last thing you remember?” Lekivan replied. Levi’s nostrils flared. He didn’t like the fact his questions weren’t being answered.
“I was at home, by myself. It was about 7PM. So how did I get here?”
“Levi, please, there’s no need to be hostile,” Lekivan said, haughtily. “You have to understand that the conversation we’re about to have is going to be difficult for us both, and myself and Soriah will have to go through it now for a second time. Let’s all just relax, sit down, and talk this through.”
Levi bit back the urge to say that was all he’d been asking for, and did as Lekivan asked.
“Levi, I came to your home quite late last night. You see, we’re your mother’s family. Lekivan is your grandfather, I’m your aunt.” Soriah paused, waiting for Levi’s reaction. He remained impassive. After the photograph, this was hardly a shocker. Besides, something still didn’t feel quite right.
“There’s some other family members that we’d really like you to meet, but only when you’re ready, of course.” Soriah continued.
“How did you find me? After all this time?”
“Essentially, your parents moved away a few years before you were born. They just disappeared. Obviously this was very distressing for us, as we had no idea what had happened to them. We asked all their friends, hired investigators, and we had no luck. A few days ago, we bumped into one of their friends who went missing at around the same time.”
Soriah looked at Lekivan, who nodded at her to continue.
“The news we received was… heartbreaking. We’re still in shock.” Soriah seemed to be struggling, and the look of Lekivan’s face was of genuine grief. Levi’s suspicions were lowered. “The fact that you’ve been in London on your own this whole time just adds insult to injury. Me, Lekivan, the rest of the family, we’re all very angry that people just stood by and didn’t intervene after your parents died and you were taken in by the government.”
“Oh.” It was all Levi could think to say. His brain felt strangely empty of thought, like it was preparing itself for another information dump.
“When I explained this to you last night, you were very eager to come with us, even though it was quite a long journey. We’re currently in Helena. It’s a city in Wales.”
Levi raised his eyebrows.
“We’re in Wales?”
“Yes. Anyway, when you go here, you were very tired. You tripped as you were walking up the stairway and hit your head on the banister. You scared us both! Thankfully, one of our next door neighbours is a doctor and we had him see you. He said you were going to be fine, and to just let you rest.”
Levi sat back in his chair and let his eyes rove across the room. Part of him wanted to call Lekivan and Soriah out, another part thought he should just go along with it until he was in a better position. If he really was in Wales, how would he get home?
“Surely I brought bags with me? My phone and wallet at least?”
“No, you were in a rush, it was so late. I think your phone was in your pocket. I found it on the floor last night after we’d moved you into the bedroom. I can fetch it for you right now. Just going to warn you, there’s very little phone signal in these parts.” Soriah looked him in the eyes with all the sincerity of someone who thought they were good at lying.
So, the option of leaving suddenly looked much more precarious. The uncomfortable truth was that Levi had no means of getting home. If, god forbid, Lekivan and Soriah did have shady intentions, he was utterly at their mercy. Avoiding any kind of confrontation might be his best bet, even if he felt that he was slowly sliding closer and closer to a situation that could be more uncomfortable.
“You know, I’m actually feeling really woozy. Perhaps it would be best for me to go to the hospital and get checked out.” Levi suggested. He might be able to take a nurse to one side and explain the situation, make a phone call. Who would he call?
“The hospital is quite a journey away. I’m sure it’s better for you to rest here,” Lekivan replied.
“Not as much of a journey as I made last night.” Levi instantly regretted his words as Lekivan’s expression turned darker. “What about the doctor who examined me last night?”
“He’ll be working.” Lekivan was now curt. “Levi, staying put is the best option. If you’ll excuse us, Soriah and I need to talk in private. We’ll send the housekeeper in to get breakfast for you. You must be hungry.”
Lekivan walked out of the other side of the dining hall. Soriah paused to give Levi a nervous smile.
“I know you’re ill, and the situation isn’t as we would want it, but we’re so happy you’re here.”
Levi watched as she followed Lekivan into what he presumed was the kitchen. For all the times he’d been sure Soriah had lied this morning, he was equally convinced she was being honest during that last sentence. It made him all the more nervous.
Incredibly conflicted, Levi hesitantly stood up. He walked back towards the entrance hall and peered through the dining room door. His way out looked to be unimpeded. He’d already decided leaving was a bad idea, but he found himself walking towards the door anyway. Maybe it was the thought that he might not get another opportunity, or the thought that if Soriah and Lekivan were genuine they’d understand why he’d done it. He unlatched the heavy doors and walked though.
Levi didn’t look back as he travelled down the gravel pathway to the street. Mansions lined the road, but he barely glanced at them. He couldn’t process what they meant, and they didn’t matter as much as getting away from the house he’d just come from. He walked in a random direction, feeling the moisture on his back gathering into beads of sweat. This was probably a bad decision, but he was walking now and found himself without the will to turn around.
Without a watch or phone, Levi had no way of knowing how he walked for. The mansions disappeared and turned into a steep cliff-side road. He could see the city below him to his left. The view was magnificent, but Levi was not in the mood to appreciate it. He tried to gauge how far away the city was. An hour? Two hours? Perhaps he would find something before that, but he didn’t know what he was looking for. There were shrubs to his right which he stayed close to and tumbled behind when he heard cars approaching.
Levi’s guestimates turned out to be somewhat conservative. For about an hour after the road began to level out, Levi followed it through a section of rocky moor. Without a view from above, Levi was petrified he would end up off course. He reached a junction and his heart sank. By the road, on a blue painted road sign, there were directions. They weren’t in English. And he was actually pretty sure they weren’t in Welsh. In fact, the characters looked Asian. He stared for as long as he dared to stay still.
If he saw Lekivan and Soriah again, they owed him an honest explanation.
There was no way for Levi to decipher the sign, so he took the right turn and hoped for the best. After another hour, Levi was desperate. He saw a black car approach from the distance. His first instinct was to hide, but by then he was so sick of walking he didn’t even care if it was Lekivan behind the wheel. He flagged the car down and, mercifully, it stopped.
The car’s left window rolled down, and a dark skinned man appeared. He wore sunglasses and had close cropped hair.
“Hi, thanks for stopping,” Levi croaked. He hadn’t realised how dry his throat had been getting. He coughed before starting again. “Could you give me directions into the city?”
“You’re Levi, right?” The stranger smiled. His accent was strong.
Levi’s stomach dropped. He knew he should have hid.
“Hey! No need to look so worried!” He pulled a leather wallet out of his pocket and opened it up to reveal some sort of police badge. “I know the situation, right? Just gonna take you down to the police station, we’ll talk everything through, get you something to eat and drink.”
Levi didn’t reply. He trusted this man even less than he trusted Soriah and Lekivan.
“Or you can just keep walking down this road until you collapse of exhaustion. Whatever.”