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Sol spent the rest of the day exploring the Palace with Junba. He might even have enjoyed it if it wasn't for the guard who stalked them wherever they went.

Despite its size, there were not many rooms in the Palace. Half of them seemed to be ballrooms, each with high vaulted ceilings draped with reams of coloured fabric. The walls were all beautiful mosaics of tiled marble, mostly black and red and gold. They sparkled and came to life in the sunlight which poured in through the countless windows, drenching every inch of the place in light.

With every room they entered, Junba scaled the walls and explored the heights of each room, but she was always quick to come back down and return to Sol's side, apparently having found nothing of interest.

The more they explored, the more Sol was surprised to find there were no people. For such a large place, he had expected it to be much busier, but the only people he saw at all were the guards.

When all the rooms started looking the same, Sol decided to venture outside and explore the fields. It was a warm day, so Sol removed his coat and slung it over his shoulder. He half-expected Junba to run and leap about, but if anything she seemed quite timid in the open air and stayed close to Sol's side.

The guard stalking them kept a good distance, but it still bothered Sol to know someone was constantly watching him.

They came across a small stream and spent the better part of an hour following it until they came to a lake. There they saw a trio of white horses cooling themselves in the shallows. They each had a single long horn extruding from their foreheads.

"Are those Unicorns?" Sol asked.

Junba stroked her beard and shrugged.

By that time the sun was sitting low in the sky and the warmth of the day had cooled.

"I think we'd better start heading back," Sol said.

*   *   *

Sol's room was like a miniature version of one of the ballrooms, with the same richly patterned walls and coloured cloth, most of it blue. He had drawn all the curtains and closed the door, thankful at last for some privacy away from the guard.

By now the night was well underway, but Sol was not tired. He lay there on his king-sized bed, staring up at the ceiling where Junba had sprawled herself across a beam to sleep.

"Do you think I've made a mistake coming here?" he asked her.

Junba made a strange snorting sound.

"Yeah, I don't know, either. I just can't figure out who to believe. I thought Goone was my friend, but maybe he wasn't. I really hope he wasn't, or I am the worst friend ever. He's stuck on a ship and I'm just lying here... useless."

Junba snorted again.

"Thanks." Sol brought his hand in front of his face and looked at the ring. "To think someone out there would kill me to get this, and I can't even use it."

The ring glinted.

"Although it did work once. I just wish I knew how I did it..."

Sol sat up and curled his fingers into a fist. He stared intensely at the ring, and the purple stone glinted again as a subtle warmth spread through his fingers. As the warmth grew stronger, he found he could feel his pulse in his fingertips—almost as though the ring had a heartbeat of its own. He closed his eyes and tried to recall that night in Central Park when the stone had last revealed its power.

He pictured himself standing on the dark pathway and remembered at once that terrible deathly stench. It came back to him so potently that he could almost smell it.

The ring on his finger tightened slightly.

Sol opened his eyes and saw the stone was now glowing. Knowing he was on the right track, and with his heart beating faster, he closed his eyes again and stepped back into his memories.

In his head, he turned around and saw the tall, dark shape standing amongst the trees with antlers sprouting from its crown. While he had not seen it clearly before, he could vividly remember the sensation that it was looking back at him the way a predator looks at its prey.

The ring grew tighter.

Sol remembered a voice calling out and turning to see Goone running towards him. He remembered diving to the floor and seeing Goone being knocked sideways by a dark blur and the blood on his face...

Sol was startled by a thump next to him. He opened his eyes to see Junba crouched on the bed. She was staring at the door, her ears standing tall and alert.

"What is it?" Sol whispered. His heart was thumping in his chest like a sledgehammer. Suddenly, every light in the room went out, rendering it utterly black.

He heard Junba growl, and then he heard the door open.

*   *   *

Uh oh! Doesn't look good!

What do we think? Any thoughts on who or what it is? Or just any thoughts, generally?

The next chapter is a very important one. It not only marks the half-way point in the story, but also the beginning of more action orientated chapters. If you came to this book looking for action, thank you for your patience, I know it's been a bit of a slow burn so far, but that's all about to change.

Buckle your seatbelts because the ride is about to begin...

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