Adan casually strolled down the narrow and now also dark streets in the outskirt of Prayer Village. As she walked, her eyes scanned the people and places she passed.
After listening to Duke Kimba and Keeper Ena’s tales, Adan had excused herself, claiming that she needed time to think. Initially, the Duke had insisted on going with her, but Adan had refused him. Kimba was clearly still worried, because he asked Sera to follow her in secret. Naturally, the young woman had no chance at tailing Adan unnoticed, but Adan didn’t really mind. If she wanted to be alone, losing Sera would be as easy as breathing.
“The segregation is blatantly obvious,” Adan commented to her A.I. as she reached what seemed to be an invisible barrier between where the Solmani and the Sun Tribes lived.
Behind her, the houses were placed closely together, the buildings well-kept but worn. In front of her, they were more lavish, clearly made with a keener regard for style than practicality. On the streets themselves, barely any darker skinned people could be seen on the Solmane side, the opposite being true for the Sun Tribe side.
“Indeed. Judging by the collected observations, the living standards for the Sun Tribe people in this village are not bad. Focus has been put on mending what they have, and few seem to be sick or lacking in food.” As the A.I. spoke, several data plots flashed by in Adan’s field of view, summarizing everything from estimated age ranges to tallies on how many bedridden people they had passed in the houses. “However, Sai doubts this will last if the Solmani King stops honoring the treaty. Segregation like this rarely ends well.”
Adan nodded and continued her walk towards the village center. While she could sympathize with the people of the Sun Tribes, Adan had seen far worse on her missions throughout the universe. The Federation’s view on the matter was to let nature run its course, at least when it regarded only Type O and Type I civilizations – those incapable of wielding powers beyond the strength of their own sun. They would keep an eye on these civilizations and only intervene if some very peculiar race or natural resource was in risk of extinction.
“Should I stay clear of it all?” Adan asked, absentmindedly fiddling with the wooden talisman that now hung around her neck. The warm sensation it brought her was quite soothing.
“. . . So far, the only lead for a way to leave this place are those so-called Ancient Ones. If the folklore is reliable, then they seem to have been capable of at least interplanetary travel,” the A.I. replied after an uncharacteristically long pause. “Finding a way to contact the Federation is your top priority, closely followed by finding out more about the effects of the Materia X in your chest. Either way, the answer seems to lie with the current chief of the Sun Tribes.”
Adan sighed. Keeper Ena had stressed the importance of not relying on the Sun Priests of the Solmani for her awakening – they would not know how to deal with the infernal flames Adan had within her mark. Instead, Adan had to turn to the Sun Tribe Chief. Only he knew the most important tales of the Ancient Ones and how they tamed their wild flames.
“Very well,” Adan said with a shrug. “But I doubt Kimba will get the result he hopes for.”
[Abnormal temperature drop detected]
Just as Adan was about to turn around the final corner before reaching the huge convent at the center of the village, a rare warning flashed by on her status screen.
Switching her concentration to her tactile senses, Adan quickly confirmed that the temperature in the air had indeed dropped. It wasn’t by much – less than 2 degrees Celsius – but Adan could find no source that explained the change. From what her eyes could see, it was even colder further ahead.
“Could something have gone wrong with Lynne’s blessing?” Adan wondered and picked up her pace.
As she turned the corner, Adan was shocked to find the convent covered in frost, the previously flowing water frozen in place. Several women were pacing back and forth outside of the building, all of them dressed in similar priestess gowns as Reverend Mother Amaris had been wearing. From the looks of things, the women were fighting symptoms of frostbite.
“What happened?” Adan asked as she walked over.
The moment the words left her mouth, all of the girls raised their heads, staring straight at Adan with complicated looks of annoyed relief.
“Reverend Mother! He is here!” one of the girls called towards the convent doors while another rushed to Adan’s side, ushering her forward.
[Hazardous environment detected]
[Activating temperature regulation – first level]
The closer Adan got to the convent, the colder it became, but the BioArmor made it so she wasn’t affected at all. When Adan was one meter from the convent, its doors swung open, releasing even colder air from within. In the next moment, the Reverend Mother Amaris stormed out, mini icicles dangling from her already pale hair.
“You fool, where have you been!?” the tall woman yelled at Adan, hurrying forward to grab the latter’s hand. Adan, however, sidestepped the advance, even using the slick ground to her advantage.
“I made myself scarce,” Adan replied, “as commanded.”
For a brief moment, the woman looked truly offended at the fact that Adan had dodged her, but she quickly pushed it down. “No matter,” she snorted. “Follow me!”
The reverend mother’s words were not a suggestion and she was just about to return into the frozen convent when it was Adan’s turn to snort.
“Follow you? In there? I thought I wasn’t welcome. . . .”
Amaris paused, glaring back at Adan with a look of disdain. “Trust me, Ancient, you certainly are not! If it were not for Princess Hayden’s dire situation, your kind would never set foot in this building! As it is, the Princess needs your help and will see no one else; will you let your mistress die, or will you stop arguing and follow me?”
Clearly, the woman felt that waiting for a reply was beneath her; she immediately turned on her heels and re-entered the building.
“My mistress?” Adan chuckled. “Tell me, Sai, do you think she hates me because I’m supposedly from the Sun Tribes or because I’m supposedly a boy?”
“. . . Sai believes it’s a combination of both.”
“I believe you are right.”
With a slight smile on her lips, Adan entered the frozen over convent. The first thing that met her was an enormous hall, with elegantly decorated pillars stretching towards the high ceiling. At the center of the hall stood an impressive fountain, made even more impressive by the fact that its serpentine streams had frozen in mid-air.
“Priestesses must be in charge of keeping this fountain active normally,” Adan commented, more to her A.I. than Mother Amaris, but the latter answered anyway.
“Of course they are,” the woman snorted, shaking her head. “Even the brightest jade will look dull in the eyes of a blind man. . . .”
Amaris pushed open a smaller door in the back of the hall, causing Adan’s BioArmor to upgrade its guard against the cold by another step.
“Either this woman doesn’t know what it means to be blind or that is one idiotic saying. . . ,” Adan mused privately, but she chose to make no remarks about it as she obediently followed behind the Reverend Mother.
After walking down a narrow corridor for a while, they reached another door, covered in even more frost. Outside the door stood Colonel Dallas and Lynne’s other female guards, worry apparent on their faces.
“You can’t be serious?” Dallas exclaimed when she saw Adan approaching. “He isn’t even awakened yet!”
“I am aware of this, but you heard the princess; she will be touched by no one else. Besides, with a mark like his, it won’t matter that he isn’t awakened.”
The Colonel didn’t look pleased, but she didn’t protest any more. Reverend Mother Amaris turned to Adan.
“Go in there and sit with the princess. Your mark should react to the extreme temperature and help absorb the cold.”
“Absorb the cold?” Adan felt like laughing; one can’t absorb cold, only counter it. “And if I can’t?”
Amaris straightened her back, crossing arms in front of her. “Every cloud has its silver lining.”
“You will freeze to death and we can find someone else to help the Princess,” Dallas clarified. “Go, and don’t you dare do anything inappropriate to Princess Hayden!”
“You’re not coming?” Adan asked, amusement in her voice. Dallas didn’t find the situation very amusing, though.
“We can’t – our marks can’t bear the cold.” she retorted, sounding very frustrated.
“Good to know,” Adan mused, but said nothing out loud. Instead, she pushed open the door in front of her. The sight that greeted her was truly astounding; every inch of the room’s walls, floor and ceiling was covered in a thick layer of frost. At the very center sat Lynne, cross-legged with his eyes closed. His skin was covered in frost like the rest of the room and dozens of frozen dust particles were swirling around him slowly. The crystal in his chest was glowing faintly and whatever thermal radiation that came in contact with it seemed to disappear.
“You came.” Lynne’s raspy voice surprised Adan – she had assumed him to be unconscious. “Close the door behind you.”
Adan could hear the strain in his voice and guessed that he was perhaps not so far from losing his consciousness after all. She hurried to close the door and moved over to sit in front of Lynne. Thanks to the BioArmor, Adan felt no discomfort from the cold at all, but from the data on her status screen she knew that things where not so simple for Lynne; it was thirty degrees below the freezing point of water in the room!
“What should I do?” she asked, curious about what the Moon Priestesses were expecting to happen through her presence.
Adan smiled a lopsided smile, feeling a bit helpless. She had ways to truly help Lynne – though she doubted that he would like her methods – but he wanted her to wait?
“How long can he last?” she asked her A.I.
“His heartbeat is slow but steady and no mayor blood vessels have been clogged, but Sai estimates he will lose consciousness within 5 minutes and enter Frozen Death within 20 minutes. You can wait at most 10 minutes before Sai will be unable to help without further equipment.”
Adan shrugged. “Fine, I’ll wait.”
And they did. For a few minutes, the two of them sat in silence while the temperature in the room continued to drop. As more time passed, Lynne slowly opened his eyes, his dozy gaze landing on Adan. He glanced down at her chest.
“Pull open your clothes.”
“Pull open your clothes. I need to see your mark.”
Not really knowing what Lynne wanted to confirm, Adan parted the fabric of her top slightly, revealing the red crystal beneath. Nothing had changed.
Seeing the unaffected crystal in Adan’s chest, faint surprise surfaced on Lynne’s face. He looked over the rest of Adan’s body, noting her lack of discomfort and all-around normal complexion. He laughed weakly.
“Amazing. . .” he breathed. “You’re actually too strong to help. . . how ironic. . . .”
Finally, the cold was too much for Lynne, and his consciousness faded. His body slumped, and would have fallen forward, over his knees, if not for Adan reaching out her hand to steady him. Instantly, her skin temperature dropped drastically; even her BioArmor didn’t manage to keep up with the change and Adan could feel the blood in her hand starting to freeze.
[BioArmor temperature breach]
[Adjusting core temperature]
Several warning messages flashed by in front of Adan’s eyes as her A.I. worked to counter the sudden freezing in her hand. Just as the countermeasures were starting to have an effect, Adan felt a strange sensation of heat emerging from her chest area, followed by a subtle flash of ruby-golden light. All of it was so short-lived that Adan would have assumed that she had imagined it, if not for her impeccable memory records.
“What was that?”
“Sai is uncertain. Sai detected slight vibrations in the unidentified membranes around your blood cells. Especially close to the crystallized materia in your sternum. It caused the temperature in that area to increase significantly.”
“Fascinating. . . .” Adan breathed. “Was it brought on by the freezing in my blood?”
“Sai finds this conclusion reasonable. Should Sai turn down the BioArmor’s cold resistance and let your core temperature drop to investigate?”
Adan glanced at the rapidly forming ice on Lynne’s body.
“Sure, let us try and see if this is what those women were hoping for.”
[Manual deactivation of BioArmor temperature regulation]
[Allowed core-temperature drop: 1 Kelvin]
As soon as the BioArmor stopped protecting Adan from the freezing temperature in the room, Adan could feel a biting sensation stabbing at her skin. The sudden rush of cold caused Adan to hiss involuntarily, and it didn’t take long before the blood vessels in her hands and feet started freezing again. This time, the A.I. made no attempts at countering the phenomenon, and only made sure to protect Adan’s more vital organs.
For a moment, nothing happened, but suddenly that same warm sensation returned to Adan’s chest. The sensation was even more extreme this time, and so was the glow that accompanied it, but, within seconds, the pain in Adan’s fingers lessened.
“No frozen blood vessels remain, but there is some bleeding due to the expanded cells. Sai will initiate the repairs immediately.”
Adan didn’t really listen to her A.I.’s report, she was more focused on the crystal in her chest. It was still glowing, like a hot iron, and Adan could clearly feel the temperature in the room increasing. Much like a piece of iron submerged in flames, the temperature of the crystal kept increasing, but Adan felt no discomfort from it at all. Quite the opposite, actually.
“Perhaps it is time to tend to the boy?” the A.I. reminded her, and Adan chuckled.
“Sorry . . . I forgot.”
Adan decisively pulled Lynne into her arms, hugging his almost deep-frozen body to hers. For a brief moment, the cold stabbed at her once again, but, as if spurred on by the extreme cold, the heat from Adan’s mark increased. Quickly the warmth gained the upper hand and started to melt the ice that encased Lynne.
“It is quite an effective heater,” Adan remarked as she watched the ice recede at an impressive rate. There were even signs of Lynne regaining his consciousness.
“Indeed,” the A.I. agreed. “However, Sai fears that the damage done to the boy’s circulatory system will still be quite severe. . . .”
There was an unasked question in the A.I.’s tone and Adan clicked her tongue disapprovingly. “Well, at least he’s handsome. . . .” she sighed.
“And unconscious,” the A.I. added sarcastically, but Adan ignored its tone.
She tilted Lynne’s head backwards, taking in his breathtaking face.
“His loss,” Adan joked and leaned forward, her lips meting Lynn’s.
Just like the rest of him, Lynne’s lips were freezing cold, but still surprisingly soft. Adan used her tongue to skillfully pry open his lips and was finally met with a bit of heat as she touched Lynne’s own tongue. She massaged the tongue with her own, allowing her saliva to mix with Lynne’s.
What no eye could see were the hundreds of nanoscopic biomechanical creatures that travelled with Adan’s saliva, quickly finding their way into Lynne’s still sluggish bloodstream.