CHAPTER TEN (draft)

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CHAPTER 10

What happens next is a flurry of activity. While Aeson and I wait, the Imperator calls his staff and orders cars readied for a sudden trip downtown. He barks orders in a cutting tone at his wrist comm, then motions for us to follow him out of his Red Office.

Moments later we are surrounded by Imperial guards, and we rush after the Imperator through the hallways of the Imperial Quarters. In the central grand lobby at the elevators, Aeson's own guards join our group, hanging back somewhat to give the Imperator's personal guards precedence, and we continue moving into another doorway that leads in the opposite direction from the lobby and deeper again into the same level of the Palace.

Many hallways, servants scattering out of the way, and confusing turns later, a corridor opens into another, smaller marble-and-gold-trimmed lobby also equipped with elevators. We take the elevators there, but instead of descending we continue up to the Palace roof. I have not been to this specific portion of the roof—the Imperial Palace complex is sprawling and huge, not a single structure but a many-tiered grouping, with flat and angled rooftops topping various buildings—and this particular roof area appears to serve as a landing hover-pad. I notice it's located far away from the elegant open-air pavilion where I had my first eos bread and met my future in-laws on my first full day in Atlantis, because I can barely make out the colonnades of the pavilion in the distance, at least four rooftop tiers away, through the white haze of Hel's light.

Crisp wind washes over us, and bright morning sunlight strikes us with the fierce white glare. Aeson pauses momentarily to take my hand, pulling me toward him, then hands me a pair of wraparound sunglasses. Squinting, I put them on, feeling immediate relief, and continue moving, holding him by the hand, as we are loaded into hovercars.

At least six gleaming metal vehicles await us, levitating two feet above the surface. The Imperator commands us to his own large private car with an opulent, dimly lit interior, and unexpectedly takes the seat in the very front next to his own staff driver, who handles the task of flying our vehicle. Meanwhile I end up next to Aeson in the second row of seats, and the guards pile in behind us in the third and fourth rows in the very back.

All through this, the Imperator doesn't say a word to his son, or to me. He only addresses the driver with a curt command, "To the Stadion, quickly." And then he stares out the indigo-tinted, translucent, anti-glare window, ignoring all of us, his gaze straining forward, his fierce, handsome profile stilled in darkness.

We lift off, and the Palace rooftops fall away in a gilded radiance of mauve, red, and black-trimmed marble, as we rise into the blindingly incandescent sky, flying toward Poseidon city center.

All this time, Aeson's large, comforting hand continues to cover mine.

I find that I'm barely breathing, numb and frozen, while we fly over the now familiar city landmarks, with no one speaking. Soon I see the radiance of gold that is the Grail "monument," rising up in the distance.

Now that I know what it actually is, for the first time my mind perceives the blazing vision and properly interprets it, filling in the gestalt of the continuation of the Grail underneath the ground, so that I can almost visualize it, the giant ark-ship buried deep beneath the city.

The Imperator directs his driver to land us right inside the empty Stadion arena, at the foot of the Grail. As soon as the vehicle doors open, I hear the deep, bone-jarring hum, feel its low vibration sweep over my body. We get out of the hovercar in haste.

Aeson and I carefully step onto the arena floor and exchange glances, while the Imperator practically leaps out ahead of us and issues commands in a draconian voice. The Imperial guards are told to make sure no one else is in the area, and to clear out the premises of any grounds restoration staff or other employees.

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