by Engor

Chapter 40

Aïn wasn't found until the beginning of the afternoon. He was found by Waën, a member of the High Council of the Guides, whom Tannder had alerted when he started to worry about Julien's prolonged absence. He'd explained where Julien and Aïn had been intending to go, and Waën promptly went to the nearest resource-klirk and discovered the unfortunate Guide, unconscious and barely breathing.

The Health Masters immediately started trying to draw him out of his coma, and at some point during the night he was able to utter a few coherent sentences. What he had to say sounded like a death-knell to the hopes of the small number of people who were aware that the Emperor had returned, and it was Tannder who had the difficult job of telling Niil and Ambar about it.

"But there is hope," he added. "Aïn is almost sure that Julien didn't die. He thinks Julien was probably thrown off into the Outside, but he's fairly sure that he himself took most of the shock of the trap."

"But if the Outside is anything like what I've heard about it, Julien's probably gone insane even if he wasn't hurt by the trap!" cried Niil, furiously.

Ambar didn't say anything: he was just trying not to collapse or burst into tears.

"We don't know about that," said Tannder, "and Aïn is too weak to tell us much more. But we're fairly sure that Julien isn't alone: Xarax is with him."

"Can't we do something?" demanded Niil. "It must be possible to look for him!"

"If anything can be done it'll have to be the Guides that do it," said Tannder. "And in any case I'm afraid the First Lord won't let you get involved. In fact, he's already said that you should be sent back to Dvârinn for your own protection."

"Tannder, we have to stay here! When Julien gets back he'll definitely need us! And in any case the First Lord can't just order us about like that. You and me, we're both part of the Emperor's House now – and I've been emancipated, remember? He can't treat me like a kid and send me off to bed any more!"

"Technically, that's true," said Tannder. "But I really don't think it would be a good idea to butt heads with the First Lord over this."

"Well, what do you suggest, then?"

"I think you should thank the First Lord for his hospitality, assure him that you remain at his disposal if he can think of any way in which you could help to find Julien, and then take yourself and Ambar back to Dvârinn. I'll stay here and keep you informed about what's going on."

"And how are you going to do that?"

"I've got more friends than you seem to imagine. I know several Guides who would be prepared to make discreet trips between here and Dvârinn to carry my messenger; and as for the messenger himself, I think Karik would be perfect, because hardly anyone knows who he is. Trust me, Noble Lord, the less conspicuous you are, the freer you'll be to help when the time comes. And as for Ambar, as the Emperor's Pupil he'll need you to look after him."

"Even so, do you think I could go and visit Master Aïn? If he's intending to go looking for Julien maybe he'll agree to take me with him. I could be useful. After all, I'm sure I know Julien better than anyone else around here."

"I could take you to see him, but I'm certain that he would refuse to take you with him. And it would be sure to attract the wrong sort of attention."

"Well, then at least go and see him and tell him that I hope he gets well soon. Tell him I don't hold him responsible for what has happened, and that, if he will accept it, I'd like to offer him the friendship of a Ksantiri."

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