The interior of the mansion was nearly as empty and abandoned as the exterior. Except for a single silver statue that stood at the foot of white marble stairs, there weren't many other objects around.
Maria ran, throwing open her arms so he would pick her up. He set the sword on the floor so he could take her with both hands. "How are you, Maria?" he asked with a smile as she squeezed him.
"I'm good, 'cept this," she answered, putting her small finger in front of him. "I got an ouchie," she claimed, but he didn't see any mark.
"Poor thing," the woman gushed. Her hair was silver and black, tied into a braid. "Oh, I almost forgot to introduce myself. I'm Lady Clirain," she said to Dylan with a smile. "Maria has been asking for you day and night. I told her, 'we'll have to see if he comes to us’."
How much had Maria told her? Maria was little and innocent; she wouldn't know the difference between a trustworthy person and a suspicious one if they were both nice to her.
"Kristy!!!" Lady Cliralin bellowed up the stairs, startling Dylan.
Looking irritated, as if she had been interrupted from something, Kristy appeared at the top of the stairs. Dylan recognized her as the girl from the window. "What?" she asked sullenly.
A sword was strapped to her side. Engraved onto the hilt—and Dylan was sure he didn't imagine it—was the symbol of a flame. The make of the sword was almost like Dylan's, including a place to insert a disc.
"Take these guests to their room," Lady Cliralin said in a suddenly sweet voice. The exaggerated tone annoyed Dylan, and Kristy didn't seem impressed either. With that, Lady Cliralin said no more and continued down a hall into another part of the mansion, her gray cloak flowing behind her.
"Guests," Kristy muttered as if despising the word. She probably thought Dylan couldn't hear her.
"Kristy, hold me!" Maria commanded, wriggling out of Dylan's grasp. He picked up his sword from the floor, then spotted a fat and fluffy gray cat staring at him from an open doorway. It wore green eyes and a bored expression. He and the cat locked gazes for a moment, then it yawned and walked lazily away.
Dylan followed in Maria's footsteps as she went to meet Kristy. He couldn't help feeling a little jealous as Kristy picked up his little sister. The older girl then gestured for him to come and continued upstairs.
Except for the echo of their footsteps, the mansion was nearly as silent as the forest had been before the serpent appeared. Dylan heard a clock chime a worn, classic tune.
Every hall they passed through on the next floor was covered with carvings: maps of cities, oceans, animals, and clusters of islands long forgotten. The longer Dylan stared at a picture, the more it seemed to come alive. One carving of a lion suddenly glowed with living color and gave a tremendous roar, startling him. In a map of an exotic, jungle-like place, a flock of colorful birds fluttered by as a tiger stalked through the undergrowth.
"Bears," Maria said, squirming out of Kristy's arms and pointing to a carving on another map. As Dylan watched it for a few seconds, he saw two bears lazily trudging through a forest.?
"Every day she asks if she can come see the bears," Kristy said in a considerably more cheerful tone.
"Have you lived here for a while?" Dylan asked, trying to keep a conversation going. The silence was too awkward for him.
The serious expression he had seen before returned, and she said in a less enthusiastic voice, "Too long," before continuing down the hall.
Dylan got the hint and decided not to ask anything more. He convinced Maria to take his hand and walk with him down the hall with Kristy, away from the bears. Kristy stopped in front of a door with a carving of a sword on the front, a snowflake engraved on the hilt.
It was on the tip of Dylan's tongue to ask, "That's the Ice Sword, isn't it?" Then he remembered that he was still in unfamiliar territory and refrained. Who knew what these people's true intentions were? It was wise not to drop any hints.
Kristy opened the door. "I'm sure you won't mind sharing with your sister." Her tone didn't invite any arguing, even if he hadn't wanted to.
He stepped inside the room as Kristy quietly began to walk away.?
“Bye, bye Kristy!" Maria called after her with a wave of her small hand.
Kristy stopped, looked back and smiled a little. She silently returned Maria's wave and kept walking.
"More chocolate!" Maria added. "Chocolate next time.”
"Next time," Kristy echoed, and from the way she said it, Dylan imagined she was smiling.
As soon as he closed the door Dylan spotted a stack of drawers to his left and, on top of that, a bow and quiver of arrows. He picked up a note tucked beneath it:
You're a terrible swordsman, but I can fix that. For now, use the bow, it was made for Elemental Discs. Do what the guards say. I'll take care of your sister.
"Thanks for the encouragement," Dylan muttered sarcastically. He put his sword on top of the drawers and searched for a place to insert the disc into the bow.
In the center of the bow, near the spot where the arrow would rest as he drew back the string, Dylan saw a hollow circular spot and slid the disc inside.
The bow was much easier to control mentally, and the arrows were small enough that they wouldn't be as hard for him to hold back the power of the ice. Just the same, he took the Elemental Disc and put it in his pocket.
Why would Jonas leave the bow and not show up himself? Dylan wondered. Had he intended for no one else to see the note? But why leave it out in the open?
There was a knock on the door.