Chapter Twenty Six: Roxy

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"I don't trust her. This is bad. We need to get rid of her now." Keeping Jasmine around was dangerous. I could tell she didn't like me and not in the general Helian-hating-Arcan way (not that she even looked like a proper Arcan - more like a mutant freak). It was like she really didn't trust me specifically. Every time I open my mouth to speak to him she started up, ready to jump in and take him off somewhere. It was odd. "I could always question her." Flames flared up at my fingertips as I surveyed my grandfather.

"Roxanne, you are over reacting. She's an insignificant little Arcan with a crush and couldn't bear to be away from the Prince for too long. So she hopped on a boat and came over. It's tragic really - not a cause for alarm - just another reason to ridicule her and Arcans in general. They're trapped by their emotions. Her waterworks will make for extra entertainment at the completion of our plan anyway." My grandfather remained unmoved behind his desk, not even lifting his eyes from the document he'd been reading when I came in.

"But-"

"Calm down." I looked down at my hands. Flames had flared up, engulfing them, without me even noticing. Oops. Way to keep a level head. I took a deep breath and the flames subsided. "Her and the boy she brought along with her are nothing - they're not even Protectors! They're meaningless members of the Arcan delegation. Forget that they even exist and focus on Brae."

Why was she getting to me so much? Like my grandfather said, she was insignificant, meaningless. I shouldn't be concerning myself with her. She was simply another aspect of Brae I was going to factor in when trying to dupe him. She was just a slightly different challenge that I had to deal with was all. And there wasn't a challenge that I couldn't overcome.

"No problem. I'll work round her then. I was overreacting - she won't cause an issue any more." I was completely and utterly resolved.

I sauntered towards the door, head held high, confident about going out to find Brae, whether he was alone or accompanied by his shadow.

However, as soon as I opened the door I realised that I wasn't going to have to go far to find the latter. The Arcan girl was hurrying round the corner ahead of me. Had she been listening? Maybe there was something going on after all.

"Hey, wait! What are you doing here? This area is private. Didn't you read the signs?" I hurried to catch up with her. I'd caught her red handed and there was no way I was going to let her scurry back to the rest of the Air-Heads to tell them who knows what.

"S-s-sorry," she stammered. She really was pathetic. "I got lost. I wandered past the cut off to have a look at a landscape of the Occupation. I didn't think anyone would mind. But then I got turned around and couldn't find my way back out again." Hmm, she was either a pretty slick liar or just incredibly dumb. Then again, she was an Arcan, so I couldn't blame her for her mental inadequacies. Plus, I could use this as a chance to learn a little more about her, to get a better idea of what I was up against.

I looked her over. She definitely didn't look like a threat, in fact, she looked pretty strange. The pasty colours of her dress looked less washed-out against her tanned skin than on the other Arcans. Her hair was dark too and pinned in a careful knot at the top of her head. It was her eyes that unnerved me though, with their shocking blue. Perhaps in the Arcan Realm she would have been considered pretty, but together her different features just looked odd. There was something not right about her and I was desperate to find out what it was. But she was in no state to talk now - I could see the panic in the bright blue of her eyes. If I wanted her to open up, I was going to have to tone down the scariness and make her a little more relaxed.

"Those barriers are there for a reason. You shouldn't cross them," I told her, trying not to sound too menacing.

"Seems a little counterproductive to the 'trust us, we're being completely open' policy you've been advertising to get everyone to come here, don't you think?"

The panic left her eyes and was replaced by something else: defiance, maybe? She didn't trust me, that was clear. I was slightly taken aback by how willing she was to admit it though. But her argument was flawed. "This is a home as well as a government building. Everyone's entitled to their privacy. I'm sure Brae's house must have some areas they don't let the general public or visiting diplomats wander around."

She seemed stumped by that - maybe I'd guessed right - and paused to think. I decided to continue before she had any sort of chance to respond. "I guess you must spend a lot of time there, being his... What exactly are you to Brae again?"

"His friend. We grew up together. I'm close to the family."

"Lucky you, getting to be best friends with the Prince. Your parents must be pretty important."

"Brae is my family." She glared at me hotly as she spoke, sending clear signals for me to leave him alone or else. But or else what? She'd cry? Stare at me some more?

"No parents?"

"No." Her answer was much briefer this time, perhaps she'd realised that she was giving too much about herself away. I decided to change tactics.

"Why the interest in the Occupation painting? I thought your lot were sensitive to that topic - it's why we moved it out of the main part of the palace in the first place."

She shrugged. "Something looked familiar."

"Familiar?"

"Yes, a couple of the people in it caught my eye. I guess I must have seen pictures of them in a history book or something. Why do you care anyway?"

"Just making conversation. This trip's supposed to be all about learning about each other isn't it." I tried, and failed, to keep the superficiality out of my voice. I knew she'd be able to tell, but she didn't bother to call me on it.

"It seems like a very odd move. If you don't mind me saying. After so long keeping to yourselves, to suddenly want to make friends... it doesn't make sense."

"We felt that we were being misunderstood by the other Realms and wanted the chance to set the record straight." I'd practiced that line so many times over the last few months that it was almost beginning to sound true to me.

She cocked an eyebrow and continued to watch me intently. It was clear that she didn't buy it. Well, I wasn't the only one keeping secrets, was I?

"So why did you come here again?"

"I had a message - from Brae's father. It was urgent and too... sensitive to send less personally."

"You didn't trust us to deliver it?"

"It's nothing against you. If Brae had been in the Brizan or Sephan Realms we would have proceeded in the same way." The line came out in the same, over-rehearsed tone as my own response, so I knew at once that she was lying.

That in itself was pretty interesting; Arcans didn't usually lie. Vincent had always said that they couldn't lie at all, that they were notoriously bad at it. Too honest for their own good. But maybe that was what they wanted everyone else to believe...

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