CHAPTER SIX (draft)

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CHAPTER SIX

I stare in stunned silence, forgetting to breathe for a moment, unable to form words, while my mind clamors with the implications—all possible implications—of what this could mean.

"Kass! What's going on? What did you just say? The Grail, the Ra Disk . . . are parts of an ancient ark-ship?" Xelio asks meanwhile. "You mean—"

But Aeson again raises his hand, silencing him the same way he did a few minutes ago, while continuing to look at me with his focused gaze. "Gwen . . . I'm so intensely sorry this is happening."

"Wait, what? What's happening? What ark-ship?" Erita steps up and whispers to Oalla, who only shakes her head and continues to stare at us with very wide eyes and her full attention. Keruvat is right next to her, listening seriously.

"Truth is, my Father wanted you to come immediately. Right now, not tomorrow—now," Aeson continues. "But I refused him with a hard no. I told him you were too tired and drained from the Games and would be useless tonight, unable to summon the energy needed to focus your Voice on such a major task. It's logical, and it's the truth, so it convinced him. . . . But you need to know that my Father is in a severe state of upset—he is panicking, Gwen. The only reason he didn't send his enforcers here to bring you to him regardless is because I made sure he understands your condition."

"Oh my God . . ." I whisper, finding my voice at last. I'm trembling in a combination of fury and terror. "He would do that? No, what am I saying, of course he would! So—he wants to force me to do this—whatever it is?"

"When he's in a rage, my Father becomes even more unpredictable and rarely thinks clearly. Instead he lashes out. But this is such a uniquely terrible circumstance, and he needs you to be well recovered—" Aeson stops, taking in a shuddering breath and releasing. "As of now, you have time to rest until morning, but not longer. It's a reprieve. We're expected in the Palace at seventh hour, after which I believe we will likely head back to the Stadium so that you can be in closest proximity to the Grail—"

"This is unbelievable . . ." I mutter, as my anger battles with exhaustion. "What am I supposed to do? I don't know anything! I don't—"

"Whatever things you will be asked to try tomorrow, you need to rest, right now," Aeson replies softly, then looks around at the people in the room. "This gathering is over. The things you heard—I will explain to you in good time . . . very soon, I promise. But I ask you to keep this among ourselves for now, tell nothing to anyone else. Understood?"

Oalla speaks up at once. "Of course, Kass. Understood perfectly, even if we don't actually understand or have the details."

"Discretion and silence," Keruvat adds, putting his hand lightly on Aeson's shoulder. "You have my promise."

"Honor of the daimon." Xelio nods. "No questions for now. We'll speak—later."

"I'm confused and scared enough to crap my pants," Erita says loudly. "But—honor of the daimon."

Aeson nods to his fellow astra daimon then turns to the Earthies in the room, my siblings and friends. "And all of you, I understand you're probably even more confused, but please be discreet with what little you've heard here. And now—Gwen urgently needs her rest."

"Okay . . ." Laronda replies in an unusually meek voice. She glances back and forth from Aeson to me. "We should go. . . ."

"Yes, of course," Gracie echoes her nervously from a few feet away, standing near Gordie and the seated Blayne, whose chair is next to a serving table. Looks like Gracie's filling another plate with food, possibly intended for me, and has only paused her task because of the intense nature of our discussion.

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