The descent

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Tarn stood awkwardly on the steps, hands on the rough stone of the stairwell's spiralling central column. The staircase extended above to the tower and further below into darkness. Just below stood Fenris, while through the open door he could see a confused girl standing expectantly, hands on hips. He'd never seen anyone quite like her before; she was nothing like the girls he'd met at The Round. It struck him that he couldn't remember their names. It seemed that every time his life moved on to its next, ever-more confusing phase, his previous experience started to fade away, drifting away until he couldn't remember the specifics - like names, or faces, or the sound of people's voices.

The only face he could remember clearly was Fiffdee's. His name, too. He'd been his first friend, and there was no dislodging that memory.

"Fenris, won't you introduce me to your friend?" The girl's voice was gentle and stern all at once.

"This is my assistant," Fenris said, straightening. "His name is Tarn. He is newly in my service."

The girl cocked her head and looked up at him quizzically. "Very pleased to meet you, Tarn."

"I would introduce you properly," Fenris said, his tone a little abrupt, "but you appear to be on urgent business."

"That is correct," the girl said. "Quite urgent."

Fenris nodded. "Then do not let us keep you."

The girl paused, frowned, then stepped back and to the side, leaving the doorway clear.

Tarn looked between the two of them, attempting to read the situation. He felt as if there was meaning in their encounter which he did not understand - even more so than usual, he was aware that he did not quite grasp what was happening.

"In fact," Fenris said, slowly and cautiously, "we will let you be on your way first. I am certain your business is more pressing than ours."

Smiling thinly, the girl glanced nervously back at the corridor beyond the doorway, then at the steps. Then she let out a deep, exasperated sigh. "Are you going down to the gardens?"

Clearing his throat, Fenris cast a glance towards Tarn, then back to the girl. "I am surprised to see you venturing that way."

"Come on, Fenris," she said, "you know what I'm up to. You've stopped me enough times."

"Because a princess should not be sneaking out of the palace unprotected," Fenris protested, "especially in times such as these."

"And what about the royal protector? Why would he be sneaking about the place?"

The two of them stared at each other, leaving Tarn wondering if he would be best climbing the steps and returning to the top of the tower. He wondered what a princess was, thinking perhaps it was a different word for girl. He'd realised since escaping the machine rooms that some things had many different words, a bit like how he had two names.

Simultaneously, they both spoke. "You're leaving," they said, at once mirroring shame and surprise.

"There is no time to explain," Fenris said. "But you must trust me that I have the best interests of you and your father in mind. There is more at stake here than valley politics."

"I'm looking for Tranton."

"Now there is a vexing name," Fenris muttered. "Without his disappearance I might not have had to act so soon, despite last night's incident."

"Why are you leaving, though?" She peered up at Tarn, who recoiled back into the gloom of the stairwell. "And who is your companion? Really?"

"I suspect neither of us wish to linger here," Fenris said. "There will be a guard patrol down that very corridor in less than five minutes. It would be unwise for any of us to be here when that happens."

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