Chapter 2 – Wrapped in Gold
She was enveloped in darkness. The searing white light vanished, so did the ringing, and the terrible pressure she felt. She felt like she was shaking, and could feel hands on her.
I’m not shaking, I’m being shaken, she realized.
Juliette’s eyes failed to open, they were heavy like she was in a deep sleep, and her legs were lethargic, cemented to the floor. Faintly, she could hear sounds coming from far away, a muffled voice. Voices. Shouting something incoherent.
Her body throbbed, and her hands felt bruised.
What just happened? She thought.
She was able to turn her head a fraction and saw a flash of shadow cover the light shining through her eyelids. Something was moving over her, blocking the dim multi-colored light. The shouting was getting louder and she could almost make out the sound. Struggling, she finally managed to get one eye open long enough to see a person hovering over her before it closed again.
“Juliette.” The muffled voice called for her again. It sounded so different from before. Juliette tried to reach her hand up, but only her fingers would obey. Her breathing intensified, and her heart rate was increasing, as she struggled to gain control over her body.
“Juliette!” Once more the voice called, though this time it sounded feminine, like a woman was calling to her. Nothing like other voice. The shaking kept increasing until she was finally able to keep an eye open long enough. Looking up, she saw a recognizable face.
“Juliette! Oh Paragon, thank you! Juliette you’re awake, can you hear me?” her voice hitched.
Jane was looming into her vision while the shaking finally stopped. Juliette’s body still felt like stone, but at least she could wiggle her toes. She focused on her breathing, trying to steady it. Perspiration dripped down Jane’s cheek, the top of her tunic freshly stained dark where the tears fell.
“Wha—” An incoherent sound escaped Juliette’s lips as she tried to respond. Her mind was cloudy and it felt like her head was spinning. She tried to maintain her focus on Jane, but the room started to spin. A feeling of nausea began to rise, when a memory slammed into her mind.
“Juliette. Come to me. Find me.”
Her eyes shot open and her breath caught sharply. The paralysis she was burdened by lifted, and she was finally able to control the movements of her body. Slowly, she attempted to sit, but could feel Jane put soft pressure on her shoulders to keep her laying on the ground. Juliette reached up for Jane’s arms, but they were gently batted away. Jane reached her hand down and began to rub her hand along Juliette’s temple.
“Can you hear me? Are up OK? Please, stay still. I sent someone to get help. I don’t know if you are hurt.” A great sob escaped Jane, tears streaming from her eyes as her hands trembled on Juliette.
“Jane,” Juliette croaked.
She focused her eyes back on Jane’s. Jane was sitting beside her, tears were staining both cheeks, and her hair had lost most of its styling. She had her sleeves of her tunic rolled up and kept rubbing Juliette’s temple with one hand, while the other’s grip was tight on Juliette’s hand, causing the throbbing pain grow with a vengeance.
“I’m fine.” Juliette’s voice slurred and she tried to sit up again, but Jane resisted once more. Juliette brought her elbow back and pushed herself off the floor of the chamber with enough force that Jane relented. Finally, she helped Juliette sit up all the way and leaned back to get a full look at her.
“What happened to you?” Jane asked, worry painted across her face. She held onto Juliette’s shoulders tightly, as if she might tip over any moment.
“You were fine, and then…” she sniffed her nose.
“I have no idea,” Juliette interrupted and rubbed at her stinging eyes. “I went to catch the stone you threw and the next thing I know I was in this bright… place. It’s so difficult to describe. It was like a glowing, barren field, and I was trapped there for what felt like several hours.”
Jane watched her explain, as Juliette sat up straighter and tried to stand, but her head was swimming, so she leaned back along the nearby wall.
Jane stared at her for a moment before she wrapped Juliette firmly in her arms. The embrace was tight and made Juliette’s sore shoulders smart. She could feel Jane’s body shaking and hear how tight her voice was.
“I was so scared.” Jane said. She wiped her eyes and tried to regain her composure. “You were just laying there on the floor, not moving, just staring blankly at the ceiling. I tried to wake you, but you didn’t respond.”
She wiped her nose on her tunic and looked up at Juliette. Juliette swallowed a knot and pulled Jane back into her.
“I screamed when you hit the floor,” Jane said. “A Tailor was walking down the street and heard me, he came in to see what happened and saw you lying still on the floor. I told him you fainted, and so sent him running to find a Doctor or a Healer.” She paused, “I’m so glad you’re okay.”.
Juliette squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her fist
“I’m fine.” She said as the vision payed fresh in her mind. “But… I’ve never felt something like this before. It wasn’t a dream, it was much to real to have been a dream. I was in this blinding place, I had no idea where I was. I tried to move, but my limbs fought me the entire time until I saw this… person.”
Juliette moved the hair from her face, and Jane sat up next to her along the wall, leaning her head on Juliette’s shoulder.
“The moment the thing locked eyes with me, my body felt like it was crumbling. I was staring down a hurricane of power, and then it spoke. It spoke my name Jane. It knew who I was, and I… somehow knew it. It… asked for my help.”
Juliette’s lips knit into a thin line as she turned to Jane. She clenched her fist hard enough that her nails dug into her palm.
“Help with what?” Jane asked.
“That’s just it. I have no idea. The thing said my name and told me to come find it. I could tell it was distressed in some way, like it was in trouble. The moment after it spoke to me, the dream ended, and I woke up on the floor here.” She pointed to the place on the floor where she fell.
Jane forced her eyebrows together as she stared back at Juliette. Jane had stopped spilling tears but the trembling in her hands continued.
A loud slam on the wooded doors made both of them jump. A thin man in brightly colored clothes stood at the threshold of the chamber, sweating, “She’s awake!” He shouted and waved to someone outside.
Jane recognized the Tailor and said, “Yes, she just woke up. It seems she had only fainted. Is the Healer out—”
“Jane! Are you alright?” An imposing man pushed past the Tailor and strode straight toward Jane. The Tailor thinned against the door, then turned to step back out of the threshold toward the street.
The new man was wearing fine clothes with dozens of different colored threads finely woven into his tunic. His beard was trimmed with precision and cut tight to his chin. A bead of sweat was caught mid drip as he dabbed his hairless head with a handkerchief. He reached Jane and gently held the back of her neck, his brows furrowed together with worry.
“I’m alright father. It was Juliette, she had fainted.” Jane said. “We’re not sure why.”
She looked down at her legs and started to fidget with the wrinkles of her tunic, while he let his hand go.
He turned to Juliette, “Juliette, are you alright? What brought you here? I was heading this way to check on Jane since she hadn’t returned, when I heard shouting. A man recognized me and came running up saying something happened in my chamber, that you needed a Healer.” He looked between the two of them as if to check if either had any visible injuries.
Juliette glanced over to Jane. This might not end well.
Jane swallowed, “I saw Juliette on the way here, she wasn’t working on a delivery at the moment, so I invited her to help me prepare your chambers.” Her eyes flicked back to Juliette.
Juliette stared down at her hands and let out a silent sign of relief, thankful that at least her Passion business wouldn’t be brought up this time.
“She became lightheaded and fainted right there.” She pointed to the floor underneath Roland, “She’s not sure why, and woke up only moments ago. She seems to be feeling better now and we were about to head off to get her to a Healer when you walked in. We should still go, come on,” She motioned to Juliette, “let’s not wait any longer.” Jane pushed off the floor and stood to help Juliette up. Juliette accepted her hand and straightened her tunic.
Roland stood back with a look of mild relief and moderate skepticism.
“I apologize for the disturbance Mr. Doyen.” Juliette bowed her head toward him, “I know you have important business this morning, please excuse me.” She grabbed the side of her tunic and took a step toward the exit. Jane gripped her arm and followed along. Roland lifted his hands in surrender to stop them before they could get far.
“Juliette, please.” Roland let out a small laugh and lowered his hands. “No need to apologize to me. I’m sorry that I don’t have a Healer with me already, one is on the way though. I should have been more prepared rather than just barging in here after I heard shouting. I am pleased to hear you are feeling better, but you really should rest until you can get checked on. If you were to faint again on the way to a Healer it could compound any issues.” His eyes left Juliette and lingered on Jane as if to look for support. He offered his arm and pointed toward a side room near the Paragon statues. “Come this way you two, I have a small room set aside for visitors after traveling long distances.
When Roland glanced away, Juliette saw Jane’s eyes flash to underneath his desk where the rock had rolled, and Juliette followed her gaze. It looked nothing like the plain unassuming stone from earlier. There was a cloud of golden mist emanating from the rock and lighting up the underside of his desk. It almost seemed to be throbbing or pulsing slowly, like a heartbeat. She was surprised she didn’t notice the change in the stone until now, but waking up had been quite eventful.
Jane’s shoulders tensed, and she turned toward her father, slightly blocking him and stopping them from being escorted to his resting room.
“Really, it’s alright. Juliette told me she is feeling much better and that walking back would help to clear her head.” Roland glanced to Juliette and she gave a small nod in return. “I know you have important business to attend to, and we’ve already caused enough of a scene as it is.”
“Nonsense! I can’t let my friend’s daughter go off without at least being seen by a Healer. They are already on the way as it is. I have plenty of room and my guests haven’t even checked in with the Guards near the gate. It’s really no burden, I insist.” He offered his arm again to Juliette and she glanced back to Jane. They seemed to shared an entire conversation in that single look.
“Thank you, Mr. Doyen, but—”
“Oh please.” He waved a hand at her. “Call me Roland for Paragon’s sake! Just a few minutes rest, I’ll clean up this mess and the Healer can see you. He’ll be here any moment. Come, see here.” He reached out for her arm. She finally gave in and let him lead her to the resting room.
“There we go. When the Healer stops in, I’ll be sure to send them back.”
She and Roland continued toward the resting room. Through the gap in the door, she could see two large padded benches that were big enough to fit two grown men each. They did look comfortable…. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Jane lingering behind and heading toward the small empty pouch on the ground.
Roland turned his head back, “Jane!” he yelled back toward his daughter.
Jane froze in place. Her hands were lifting each side of her tunic as if she was in a half-curtsy position. Quickly, she lowered her tunic so the end of the cloth covered where the pouch lay on the floor. She turned her body toward them and stood straight. Something… heavy was compelling Juliette to look away. And at the same moment, Roland whipped his head back toward the resting room they were headed to.
A moment passed. “Yes?” She said. The urge to look away was gone now, so both Roland and Juliette looked back at her.
“Bring me cool water in one of my metal jugs, please. We must make sure Juliette is not suffering from lack of water.” He turned his head back to the room and gently tugged Juliette along. She could see Jane relax visibly and when she moved from her position, the pouch was no longer on the floor. Jane headed toward the desk as Juliette crossed the entrance to the resting room.
Three small glass windows let morning light into the room. The light hit one of the large padded benches along the wall which had a pillow propped on each end.
“Please, make yourself comfortable, sit anywhere you’d like.”
He gestured toward the furniture and went to busy himself in the corner of the room. Through the sound of clanking metal, and a few muttered curses from Roland, she made her way to the end of one of the benches and grabbed a pillow. She plopped down on the bench and sat with her back to the wall, pillow placed in her lap giving her something to fidget with. She wanted to lay down and rest her sore feet on the soft padding, but the fabric probably cost more than her family made in a month.
“You can lie down dear, don’t worry about staining the fabric. It’s been enchanted by a high-tier Tailor to prevent any marks. You would not believe what some visitors track in with them.”
He chuckled, his head still buried in the cupboard. A loud thump came from the corner and he stood rubbing the back of his head. Roland spun around with a three metal cups on a small platter, “Jane? Is the water ready?” his voice loud.
“One moment!” Jane shouted back.
Roland placed the platter on a small wooden table next to Juliette and he took a seat across the room from her on the second bench. He placed his arms on his knees and leaned forward, looking intently at Juliette.
“Is everything alright? Truly?” He asked gently.
She was caught slightly off guard. “Yes, Jane was correct before. I had fainted and then awoken just before you arrived. I’m feeling much better now with a soft seat to sit on.” She tapped the bench next to her and gave him a weak smile.
“Good, that’s good.” He smiled back at her, eyes not leaving hers. “But I’m more interested in why you’re here. I know your family has been busy with deliveries. I can’t imagine this morning being any different. Did something happen where you needed to see me for some reason? Are you here because of Alton?” He asked, eyebrows knitting together.
Juliette felt her hand tighten and forced herself to relax. Roland was a friend of Alton’s. Possibly the last real friend he had. Roland wasn’t here to gossip, he must be genuinely worried for his friend. She took a breath.
“No, this isn’t about him or anything else. He was on a delivery this morning and I needed to get out of our house. Jane saw me a few blocks away and invited me to help her open your chambers. It seemed like a nice distraction at the time, so I joined her.” She said, looking down at the pillow on her lap.
“Ah.” He said.
“Ah.” She said.
They sat in silence for a few moments. His eyes lingering on hers. He obviously knew why she had needed a distraction, it was no secret to Jane’s family that Juliette’s lack of Passion was a sensitive topic around their home. Though, Roland had always been very respectful and never gave her unwanted advice, unlike other people. It turns out she was wrong about her Passion not being brought up here.
Her saving grace was a flutter of green and silver as Jane walked in with a pitcher of cool water, condensation already forming on the container.
“Here you are, father.” She said.
She handed the pitcher to him, looked to Juliette, her frame much calmer and less tense than before, and gave her the barest of nods.
“Thank you dear.” He took the pitcher and began to fill up three cups. He finished filling them, set the pitcher down, and took two cups in his hand. He turned and handed one to Jane before he continued. “We should let Juliette rest alone, I’ll have someone knock on the door when the Healer arrives.” He looked to Juliette and she nodded in consent.
“I should stay with her in the event something happens again.” Jane said. The look she gave to Juliette showing she had much to say to her.
“She will be fine, and we’re only a few steps away. Besides, you and I have matters to discuss.” He steeled his gaze on Jane and she relented. They stepped through the door and Jane gave one last unhappy look to Juliette before the door clicked shut.
Juliette let out a long breath. She felt like she had been holding it the entire time, ever since she woke up. Her head was still lightly spinning, so she readjusted herself on the bench and laid down. The cushions were marvelous, again, and the soft pillow was the cherry on the cake. Her body relaxed, grip loosened, and her eyes closed. She took another breath and thought back to the vision she had just moments ago, how abruptly it started, and how abruptly it ended, how real it felt. She thought of the rock that had triggered the vision. It definitely wasn’t just a simple rock, it was glowing now while it clearly wasn’t glowing before, or both she and Jane would have noticed for certain. She now understood why a simple-seeming rock might be kept secret, if it wasn’t a simple rock at all. Coming from a far-off place no one has heard of, Roland being there at the exact moment the transaction was happening, then somehow, this stone being the key to his promotion into a City Leader.
Being the Leader of Exden, with close to one million people, was nothing to bat an eye at. Especially since the leadership of Exden was highly competitive. With over 20 districts, each Leader was managing an already impressive amount of territory and people, and every single one of them was pining for the exclusive title of City Leader. It was all too much of a coincidence.
She though back to the vision; something, somewhere, needed Juliette to find it and presumably help it. What it would need with a 17-year-old girl without a Passion was anyone’s guess. She could deliver letters and her rough hands could scratch leather, but somehow, she didn’t think that was what a seemingly powerful golden entity might need. She let her arms flop down on the bench and slowed her breathing. Think Juliette. The vision was real, she knew that for certain. The entity was also real, at least in a sense that her mind hadn’t invented it out of thin air. If something could make her feel how she did during the vision… it could be powerful enough to make the vision in the first place. She’d heard of Doctors specializing in the mind, equipped with high level proficiencies allowing for out-of-body experiences, but there were none present at the time to perform such a task. What confused Juliette most, was why a stone had anything to do with it. And why had simply touching the rock triggered the vision? It didn’t seem to effect Jane when she held it. It couldn’t have been meant for anyone else but Juliette, since it quite literally said her name. Something needed her, and her alone.
She tried to listen to the conversation happening outside of her room, but only heard faint muffled sounds. This room must have been insulated well. It made sense, as most people who visited Mr. Doyen were those of prominence, and all of them greatly valued their privacy. The last thing a Leader would want is a leak of information from some foreign affair to start a conflict, or worse, a war.
She heard a soft knock on the door to her room and opened her eyes.
“Hello?” Juliette said.
“Hello Ms. Hastings, my name is Rene and I am a local Healer. Mr Doyen asked if I could pay you a visit and provide any healing you might need. He’s offered to cover all costs for my time. May I enter?” His speech was polite and concise. Juliette approved.
“Yes, you may come in,” She said, sitting up and sliding the pillow off her lap.
A stocky gentleman delicately opened the door and peeked his round face in the crack, apparently to see if she was decent. He seemed satisfied and opened the door fully to enter. He looked like a walking tree trunk with his brown tunic, brown hair, and brown leather shoulder bag. The though made her smirk, but she stopped before it became a full smile, and watched him cross the room, looking for a good place to set his bag down. Eventually he relented and set it on the bench next to her. He paused, stood straight to look at Juliette, and she stared back at him.
“Um.. It’s best if I first understand what happened. Can you please tell me what caused you to fall ill?”
No, she thought.
He gave her a crooked smile and tilted his head like a puppy. He turned and took out a few metal tools and vials and sat them along the bench. Not ominous whatsoever, that. Juliette did not approve.
She took a deep breath, “I was feeling fine, and then next thing I know I was on the ground being shaken awake by my friend. I must have fainted, though I feel fine now. We were about to head back home when Mr. Doyer insisted I wait to be checked on by a Healer first.” None of that was technically a lie… though the emission of the full encounter could be considered deceitful.
“Smart man that Mr. Doyer!” he said, far too loudly to be only meant for the two of them. “It’s best to be certain there are not any underlying issues when something like this happens. It sounds like it could be a fluke event, but do you permit me to perform a few tests to help me verify that is the case?” His eyebrows raised while he waited for her to respond.
“What sort of tests would that take? As I said, I feel fine and I don’t want to place a cost burden on Mr. Doyer for his goodwill.”
“Simple ones really. My Noninvasive Examination Proficiency allows me to perform numerous tests without any pain and only mild discomfort. You would feel a small tingling sensation go through your body, and once finished, I’d have an understanding of any problems you might need to be aware of.” He said with no small hint of pride for his Proficiency, which was actually impressive. Somehow, Juliette didn’t think this happened to be the ‘local’ Healer, but someone Roland was familiar with instead…
“That will be fine, you may perform your tests.” She said as she gripped the pillow on her lap tighter. She did not like Doctors with their poking and prodding, and cutting off of limbs. She much preferred the age old tradition of working through any sickness by… well, physically working until it magically went away.
“Thank you.” He said and reached his hand toward Juliette. She lent her hand to him and felt his clammy grip tighten slightly. He closed his eyes, and for a moment, nothing was happening, but then she began to feel a slight vibrating sensation in her toes. It became more defined and it did begin to ‘tingle’ like Rene had said. Slowly it crawled up her legs. It felt like her legs had fallen asleep after sitting in one position too long, millions of little pins and pokes, but instead of her whole leg feeling the sensation, it was thin slice, traveling slowly up her body.
She sat there, trying to keep her breathing steady and decided to close her eyes to help her remain calm while Rene worked. The sensation moved up her legs further and it was getting… higher. She wasn’t sure if it was supposed to stop and skip a section of her body. Her heart rate quickened, the wall of prickling went higher until Juliette’s eyes shot open and she stared daggers at the Healer, who still had his closed. She opened her mouth to say something, when the sensation jumped and skipped that part of her body, then started rising again from below her belly button. She let out a breath. This continued for several minutes, and the feeling was not pleasant while it passed over her eyes. Much more than mild discomfort that, Mr. Healer.
The sensation stopped once it passed the tip of her head, followed by the Healer blinking his eyes open. His forehead was glistening with sweat, so he took a small cloth from his tunic and wiped his brow. He stood up to stretch his back with a groan and glanced down to Juliette.
“You look right as rain Ms. Hastings.” He said, making his way toward his worn leather bag. Juliette released her fists, which she hadn’t remembered closing so tightly, and started massaging the nail marks in her palms.
“Aside from a few bumps and bruises, you are one of the healthiest people I have ever seen. Not even a trace of lingering sickness or cough that most around this district have.” He said sounding impressed.
That surprised Juliette because, just this morning, she had felt like complete rubbish from the late night before.
“Good,” she said, “Did your… test happen to check for any issues with the brain?”
He started to return his items back into his bag. “It checks for any physical issues mostly but can catch a few glaring metal disorders. Nothing stood out on you though. Why? Is there something the matter?” He stood up from his bag and turned to face Juliette, hands in his pockets.
She rubbed at her eyes “Nothing in particular, but I have had very… vivid dreams before, and wasn’t sure if that was something you had noticed might be a problem.”
She didn’t want to explain the detail of the vision to Rene. He seemed innocent enough, but something in the back of her mind prickled when she thought of sharing the information with him.
“Nothing as cause for concern Ms. Hastings.” He turned back to his bag, seemingly indifferent to her comment. “Vivid dreams can be explained away by the twilight of sleep, or a busy mind. If you’ve been getting less sleep, or broken sleep, it might contribute to the lucidity of your dreaming. I suggest a consistent sleep cycle and to drink more water through the day. I happen to have an Elixir of Peace in my bag if you’re interested?” He raised his eyebrows toward Juliette. “Mr. Doyen insisted that you receive anything you might need to feel well. It’s a simple drink that will calm you nerves and will help with a more sound sleep.”
“Thank you, but I’ll pass.”
She was ready to be done with this ordeal and be on her way. She did have a delivery scheduled to pick up still this morning and hoped she hadn’t already missed her window of time to retrieve it.
“Fair enough,” he huffed a breath, retying his bag and hoisting it over his shoulder. “You were lucky I was so close. If this were a real emergency, it could have ended much worse. Here, take this.” He handed her a small white square with his name and business address on it. “Keep it on your person, if you fall ill, you can give this to someone and they can go and fetch me.”
She took the card and filed it away in her pocket next to the twig and string that were destined for the next trash bin she passed.
“Thank you.” She curtly said.
He nodded and reached for the handle of the door, twisted the knob, and opened the door into the chamber’s open space. She followed him through the threshold and stopped when she saw Jane and Roland were still exchanging hushed words at the far end of the room. She glanced at the desk, and the golden mist from before was gone, the rock had been moved or picked up by someone. Juliette hoped it was Jane that did so. Jane and Roland saw the two exiting the resting room and paused their conversation to intercede. Jane looked concerned for the news the Healer would give. Roland, curious.
“Ms. Hastings is in top form I might say. No immediate issues, and no elixirs or tonics needed.” He said, Roland nodded his head, not showing any hint of relief at the saved expense. “She’s been prescribed a good night sleep and lots of water. Thank you for thinking of me Mr. Doyen,” he reached out a hand and Roland gripped it firmly, “call on me anytime.” He nodded toward Roland, Jane, and then finally Juliette.
“Thank you for taking time out of your day Rene, it’s lucky you were so close. Tell your wife I said hello. You’ll send the invoice to my attendant?” Roland asked.
“Yes sir.” Rene nodded. “Good day to you all, thank you.” He walked out into the sunlight and for a few moments, the room was silent.
“That was very generous of you Mr. Doyen. I’ll talk to my parents about the cost and find a way to repay you.” Juliette said to Roland, already shaking his head.
“Nonsense. You’re healthy and that is all I can ask for. I’m glad it was nothing more severe and I owe your father a favor anyhow.” He waved a hand at her.
She bowed her head in thanks and turned to Jane, “I really do need to be getting back, not that I don’t appreciate the help,” she gave Roland another thankful look, which he returned with a nod, “but I did have a delivery scheduled this morning which I would hate to miss.”
“Yes, let’s go. I’ll walk you out.” Jane said, stepping toward Juliette and standing next to her. She turned to look at her father. “I will see you at the Council chambers later today?” They regarded one another for a moment.
“That you will. Goodbye Juliette, say hello to Alton and Katherine for me please.” Roland said.
“I will. Thank you again.” Juliette gave him a rare, genuine smile and stepped alongside Jane and headed toward the wooden door.
With that, the two walked onto the busy street, while Roland went to his desk to organize whichever papers were needed for his foreign visitor still today.
The morning sun washed over them both as they made their way further from the chamber doors. The air was much warner than when Juliette first stepped outside, and she noticed the traffic had only increased since they went into Roland’s chamber. They paused near a small wooden railing on the opposite side of the road.
“I’m sorry you had to go through all that, I hope the Healer wasn’t too uncomfortable. My father has had me endure that unsettling feeling too many times. Rene is a friend of his, and I think he likes having my father call on him so often. I tried to get us out of there before he showed but my father was quite insistent today.” Jane said.
“It was fine. Not pleasant, but fine.” Juliette took a deep breath, “Your father was just looking out for my best interest. Mine would have done the same to you, I’m sure.”
There was a brief pause, then Jane looked sideways at her and asked, “Did you… tell him anything?” Her shoulders stiffened, and she held her breath.
“No. ” Juliette shook her head. “I only told him that I fainted, not what caused me to in the first place.”
Jane let out her breath and her shoulders relaxed.
“Good. I’m sorry, really, I am. I had no idea that would happen. It looked like a normal rock and at first, I thought my father put it there to entice me. Force my curiosity to ask him about it, but then, you fainted and had some… dream, it must be enchanted or something.” She said this while looking back toward her father’s shut wooden door. “Are you really okay?” Turning her head back toward Juliette.
Juliette leaned against the railing and looked across the busy street. So many people going about their daily tasks. It made her think about the pressure she felt during her dream, the urgency put into her mind. People were out just walking around, herself included just a few hours ago, but now she couldn’t even consider doing that. Wasting time by making a delivery seemed like a sin.
“I’m fine. At least I feel fine. The healer didn’t find anything wrong with me and I actually feel better than I did this morning. What’s throwing me off though, is this feeling of doing. Like I’m on some sort of a time limit to do something, and I don’t know what for.” She turned to face Jane, “Something’s wrong. I don’t know what it is, but someone, or something, needs me and I can’t just ignore it. I don’t know what to do but I have to figure it out fast.” Her eyebrows knit together as she stared at Jane. Her hair was back in place and the green string was snugly tied around her braid. Jane looked at Juliette, expression that of interest and confusion. She paused.
“Well. Maybe this will help.”
She reached into her tunic’s pocket and pulled out a small hemp pouch wrapped tightly in string. Juliette’s eyes widened in surprise as she realized what Jane was holding.
“How did you get it? What if your father finds out?” Juliette asked.
“He won’t. He’s busy preparing for his meeting, which he is already late to start on. His visitors will take up much of his day until he is needed at the Council meeting this afternoon. I took it because…” she looked down at the pouch then back up to Juliette, “Because there is something important about this rock, and you seem to be a part of it.”
Juliette’s eyes were locked on the pouch. She could barely see the wisps of gold seeping through the bag, harder to see now that they were in the sunlight.
“I thought we could find a secluded area and study it more?” Jane asked, voice raising into a question.
Juliette wanted nothing more than to say yes and find somewhere private this moment, but then she groaned internally. She still had the delivery to fulfil. It was one thing to skip something for herself, but her parents were counting on her to finish this, and she knew the stress they were under right now.
“I do want to, but I need to finish my delivery first.” Her shoulders sagged, and she clenched her fist.
“Ah. I thought you were making that up to get out of there. That’s fine,” Jane smiled, “let’s plan to meet after your finished. I’ll find us a spot where we’ll have some privacy and not be rushed. Can I meet you at your home around noon? Will that be enough time?”
Juliette nodded. “That will work. But Jane,” Juliette stared at Jane pleadingly, “please don’t tell anyone else what happened to me. I don’t want people thinking this has something to do with my Passion business or my parents.”
“I promise.” She said with a smile. “See you at noon.” She tucked the pouch back into her pocket and headed off toward the center of the district, turning back to glance at Juliette.
Juliette took a deep breath and leaned back against the wooden railing. She looked up at the morning sky and closed her eyes, feeling the warming sun calm her. The last thing she wanted to do was carry some letters to a Shoemaker, but she would do what she said she would, and complete the job.
First, she would make a delivery, then she would stare at a rock. The thrilling life of Juliette Hastings.