A sharp rapping came at my door, jolting me awake in an instant and almost causing me to roll out of bed.
“Hey, you dressed in there?" Dex's voice asked from the other side.
“What?" I asked, head reeling as I tried to come to my senses. “Y-yeah."
“Okay," came his reply, and the lock clicked open. He came in, and I immediately noticed the urgency in his step.
“You should ask permission before you come barging into a girl's room," I said, trying to goad him into a joke. He shook his head.
“No time for that, Amber," he said, his voice lacking his usual sarcastic tone. I knew the situation must be serious because he'd actually used my real name. “The board of directors is here, and they want to see you. Now."
“The board of directors?" I echoed, and looked back at the clock. I hadn't even been asleep three hours. “I thought you said it would take a long time for them to get here!"
“I was wrong," he said, and took me by the shoulder, leading me out of the room. I was half surprised to see that Lewis wasn't waiting in the hallway with his dolly, and I shot Dex an inquisitive look.
“Can't present you to the board like that," he said, reading my expression. “We need to make them think you're tame enough to be on your own."
A sudden thought occurred to me as Dex pressed the elevator button, tapping his foot impatiently.
“Is Victor going to be there?" I asked.
“He might be," Dex admitted, “but I hope not. It would be better if Dr. Lacken himself were there," he flashed me a look, “for obvious reasons."
The elevator dinged, and the doors slid open. As Dex guided me inside, the full weight of the situation began to settle inside me. I was being brought in front of a bunch of people I'd never met so they could decide whether or not I should spend the rest of my life being tortured in a cage. I subconsciously hugged myself, my breathing becoming frantic.
“Hey," Dex said from the other side of the elevator. I turned to look at him, and he put a comforting hand on my shoulder. “You need to relax."
“Do you think they're going to let me go?" I asked, my voice sounding meeker than I liked.
Dex shook his shaggy blonde head. “I can't say for sure. It could go either way. But it's definitely not going to help if you start changing right in front of them."
“I can't help it," I said, staring fixedly at the floor. “If it wants to come out, it does."
“I know," he agreed sympathetically. “But we need to convince the board that you can help it."
We stood in silence for a few seconds as the elevator whisked us upwards, and I groaned quietly as my stomach tied itself in knots. I had no idea what floor we were on when it finally slowed to a stop, and the doors opened again. Dex steered me onto a floor that, like every other one I'd been on, looked like a completely different building. Instead of opening into a straight hallway, this floor was wide and open in all directions. The ceiling stood one hundred feet above me, and windows that reached all the way up to it bathed the white marble floor in bright yellow sunlight.
“This is the executive floor," Dex told me as he steered me through it. Several men and women wearing business suits were there, some standing, some sitting, and they all turned to look at me curiously as I was herded through the large room.
“They look like they know me," I said absently.
“They do," he confirmed. “Or they've heard of you, at least. Word gets around fast in a place like this."
As we walked, I began to spot a few people out there that weren't exactly… people. A lady with butterfly wings fluttered past us, her skin sparkling in the sunlight. On the other side of the room, I saw what looked like a giant pile of purple spaghetti slithering its way across the floor, fumbling with a cell phone as it went. I briefly considering asking Dex about it, but decided I had enough to worry about at the moment.
As he half led me, half pushed me all the way through the room, I glanced up again in time to see a fountain positioned directly in the center of the large room- or, at least I thought it was a fountain. A big ball of water levitated about ten feet in the air, and it continuously poured itself into a bowl beneath it. No matter how much water it spilled, the ball never got smaller, and the bowl never overflowed. Circled along the outer rim of the bowl were three statues of people holding up scepters towards the water ball. Something about those scepters looked familiar...
"Wait a minute," I said, forcing Dex to stop for a moment. “Are those…"
“Me, Victor, and Edgar?" Dex finished for me. He shook his head. “No, no they're not. Now come on, we have to get there as soon as possible."
As we continued walking, I found Dex leading me towards one of the walls at the opposite side of the room, stopping at an impressive looking door. It was made of dark, polished wood, like any other door you might see, but it stood nine feet tall and five feet wide. It was also covered in no less than twenty locks, spread out all over the door, which Dex released me to begin working on with a key ring he'd pulled from his pocket.
“Always forget which ones go where," he mumbled as he tried fitting different keys into each lock.
While he was occupied with that, I took the opportunity to look out one of the nearby windows. The sky above was bright and clear, not a single cloud to cover the blue sky. I expected there to be a city below us, but to my surprise there were only trees as far as the eye could see. When I looked straight down, I couldn't even see a parking lot below us.
“Hey, Dex?" I said. He grunted in reply. “Where exactly is this place?"
“I told you not to ask me that," he answered. “I can't tell you. Aha, there we go!"
I looked over just as the big door swung open. He took a deep breath, putting his hands on his hips, looking as if he were bracing himself to dive into a frozen pond, and then sighed and came to join me.
“I will tell you this, though," he said. “Those windows aren't real. What's really outside isn't anything like what you're looking at now."
I looked at him, confused. “Then what am I looking at?"
“It's like a magical TV screen," he said. “They guys who cast the spells can make them look like whatever they want. We've been seeing that forest for a few weeks now. Before that, it was a beach overlooking the ocean. They'll probably change it again within the next few days."
For a moment, just one moment, the tension inside me melted away as I thought about what Dex was had said. Magic windows? Pretty cool stuff, if you ask me. But then Dex put his hand back on my shoulder, and spun me around toward the door again, and all my fear returned.
The door led into a hallway that was much plainer than the big fancy room outside. The floors were made of hard wood, and intricately sewn rugs covered them every few feet. Ornate tables had been placed on each of the rugs, topped by vases full of beautiful wildflowers.
“You don't have to push," I said as Dex quickly led me through, the massive door closing on its own behind us.
“Yes, I do," was all he said before he came to another door at the end of the hall. It said “Board Meeting" on a silver plaque that was a stark contrast to the ebony black wood it was attached to.
“Are you ready?" he asked me in a quiet voice.
I looked at the door and swallowed. It wasn't nearly as big as the last door, but it seemed infinitely scarier. Whatever happened to me on the other side of this door would decide my fate.
“I don't think I'll ever be ready for this," I admitted.
Dex managed a weak smile, and patted me on the shoulder. “Just…" he said. “Just try to stay calm for them, okay?"
With that, he knocked three times on the door, and then went inside…
NEXT WEEK: Amber meets the board of directors. Will they let her go, or force her to stay at Majestic for more experiments?