Part one - Kieran
The train slows down and comes to a stop at its destination. I gently wake up Liz, who has fallen asleep on my shoulder, and motion for her to look through the window. To her, who has only known the countryside, the capital must surely seem... alive. The tallest buildings don't even allow their tops to be distinguished, and the temples, the grandest of them all, tower over the city. With Ethan's help, we grab our bags and disembark.
Dawn is slowly breaking, and the curfew has just been lifted, yet the main square is already bustling and teeming with people. Liz looks a bit anxious, and I place my hand over her shoulder to reassure her.
- Are you ready to see your new room? I ask, trying to change her thoughts. She nods and smiles politely, but I know her mind is elsewhere.
- Have you ever thought about what you want to do in the future?
- No, not yet.
- When you were little, you wanted to be a writer, I say.
- I've grown up since then, she retorts, ending the conversation.
- Are we going straight to the apartment? Ethan asks, out of breath.
- Yes. We'll drop off our things.
- Will Jade be there?
- Maybe. I turn my head towards him and see him grimace.
- I can't say we're getting along very well right now.
- That's completely false.
- Let me rephrase: she hates me.
- That's not true; she's your sister, she doesn't hate you.
- Yeah, right. He shrugs, and I smile.
- I'm sure you're overreacting.
- Not at all, he replies, resolute. We reach the building and climb up to the first floor. I open the door, and Jade is waiting for us, breakfast prepared on the table.
- Did you have a good journey? she asks, taking the bags off my back.
- Pretty good, yes. The train stopped for an hour due to an obstacle on the track, but we quickly got going again.
- I heard about explosions near the border, are you okay?
- We escaped the worst. Liz, let me introduce you to Jadelyne.
- Nice to meet you, Liz. You can call me Jade, she says in a soft voice. She extends her hand, and Liz shakes it timidly.
- Come with me, I'll show you your room, I tell her, guiding her down the hallway.
- Ethan, can you put the bags in the living room, please? Jade asks, following me. He nods and places them down, while I lead my little sister down the hallway, towards her new room. I guide her in and turn on the light. The room is spacious, bright, and furnished. A bed stands in the middle, and there's a wardrobe for her things.
- You can decorate it if you want, I say, inviting her in.
- Thank you, but it's not necessary, Liz replies, lowering her head. I don't want to bother you.
- You're not bothering me, Liz, I say, placing my hand on her shoulder. Put down your bag and come have a bite to eat. After that, you can unpack your things, and I'll help you, okay?
- Okay, Kieran, she murmurs, clutching her bag tightly.
We return to the kitchen, and Ethan hands me a steaming cup of coffee. I thank him and sit down next to him. Jade joins us, and Liz starts eating with enthusiasm. I take a sip of the hot coffee and turn my head toward the window.
- What's the news at the southern border? Ethan asks his older sister.
- A rebel group launched an attack from the south side of the wall. A little under a thousand casualties but about a hundred injured, she answers. Kieran, come, can I talk to you in private in the kitchen? I nod and follow her.
- Your mom didn't come, did she? Jade asks, closing the door behind her.
I look away and sigh.
- She's not coming. I tried to change her mind but it didn't work.
She runs her hand through her black hair and looks up at me.
- What are you going to do, Kieran?
- What do you mean?
- We're both guardians, and she's only thirteen. And by the way, Finch called. He wants to see both of us this morning, she says.
- He wants to know where we stand. That is...
- Absolutely nowhere.
- You haven't found anything? she asks hopefully, straightening up.
- Well, notebooks, notes. Ethan will take care of that, and I'm going to the grand temple this afternoon.
- And your sister?
- Could you stay with her, and I'll go see Finch with Ethan?
- Are you kidding me? You don't get to order me around, just so you know. You're not my superior. You could stay with her, by the way, unless you have a better idea.
- I don't know... Do you think Ethan could stay with her?
- Trust me, you don't want that. Ethan is really not good with kids. He may be fifteen, but he's as mature as a newborn.
- Excuse me, but do you have another idea?
She sighs, exasperated.
- She can always go to the library with Ethan this morning. She can help him decipher the notebooks. I'm trying to convince her.
- So, you're going to tell her everything? she asks, furrowing her brows.
- Only what she needs to know. I promised my mother I'd protect her, and that's exactly what I'm going to do. When she's with him, Ethan just has to tell her that- A clearing of the throat startles me, and I turn around to find Ethan at the doorway.
- Do I have a say in this?
- If that say is "great, good idea," then yes, but not anything else, his sister says, smiling while giving him a dark look.
- Seriously? Why don't I come with you guys? I'm not a babysitter, you know?
- I'm not asking you to babysit her. She's going to help you, I retort, emphasizing that word.
- But I don't need her help. And you can't give me orders, by the way.
- Oh yes, we can, you're a novice, Ethan. But it's not an order, Ethan, Jade says, getting up. It's just a way to move forward faster.
- And what if I don't agree? he says defiantly.
- Well, in that case, it is an order, his older sister responds, determined.
- Because you really think she won't slow us down? Look at her, she's only thirteen, and-
- Just so you know, the kitchen wall isn't perfectly soundproof, Liz says through the wall.
I smile, and Ethan becomes pale.
- Why me and not one of you two? he asks more softly.
- Ethan, don't be a baby, it's just for a few hours, Jade insists.
He sighs and puts his head in his hands.
- Anyway, you never listen to me !