The ‘kiss’ between Adan and Lynne dragged on. Lying in her arms, she could feel the man’s body gradually warming up.
“Sai has deployed a sufficient amount of nanobots,” the A.I. eventually informed, and Adan pulled back, feeling slightly disappointed that Lynne hadn’t been awake; with lips like his, he had the potential to be a great kisser. . . .
“Though I doubt he has had many opportunities to practice,” Adan chuckled, thinking of Lynne’s odd living conditions.
“Hmm, practice what?”
Adan blinked and looked down on Lynne; his eyes were drowsy, but he was conscious. It didn’t seem like he had realized what was going on.
“So the sleeping beauty wakes with a true loves kiss? How magical,” Adan joked in her own language, smiling mischievously.
Lynne frowned, not understanding a word Adan had said and was unsure if it was because she had spoken in a language he didn’t know or if it was because he was still feeling rather dizzy. His confusion caused Adan to laugh.
“See, it’s not so fun to not understand what people are saying, is it?”
She raised a hand to touch Lynne’s forehead and for a moment the latter seemed to freeze in place all over again.
“Hmm, you are warmer now,” Adan confirmed. “How are you feeling?”
As if the question had caused Lynne to finally realize the situation he was in, the young man abruptly shot to his feet, backing away from Adan as quickly as his still stiff muscles would allow.
“Wha-what did you do that for!?”
“To check your temperature, of course,” Adan answered matter-of-factually, but a hidden trace of amusement flashed by in her eyes. “You know, you should say thank you – I might not have helped you the first time around but, at least this time, I did truly save your life.”
“I-. . .” Lynne faltered. Clearly, he knew how much trouble he had been in, but, judging by his racing heartbeat, Adan’s intimate gesture had caused quite a stir within him.
Perhaps subconsciously, Lynne touched his lips; he found them warm and moist. Lynne’s eyes instantly widened, only to quickly narrow again. Watching the young man’s swaying emotions, Adan suppressed a laugh.
“Not only do you have your excellent thermal vision to rely on, you also have Sai’s nanobots; that touch was entirely unnecessary,” the A.I. commented.
“Oh, quiet, you spoil sport!”
Adan had indeed been redundant with her touch, but she found that she really enjoyed teasing this man. Lynne’s reactions were so . . . normal; a far stretch from the reverent fear the operatives of the Federation’s most elite fighting force would normally get. Being an operative of the Amazon Platoon was not a job requiring social skills. . . .
“Y-you. . .”
In the room, Lynne was still trying to decide what to make of the warm sensation on his lips. His instincts painted a picture his intellect didn’t want to accept.
“I what?” Adan asked, looking perfectly innocent.
“Did you k-ki-. . .” Lynne broke off the sentence, a weird look on his face. He shook his head, apparently coming to some sort of conclusion that he could deal with. “I mean, did your mark react after all?” he asked instead, pushing his inner misgivings aside.
Adan smirked in her mind but nodded truthfully.
“Hmm,” Lynne gave her a long look. “I can’t understand why it took so long though. . . . It should have activated the moment you felt too cold, but . . .” He paused, glancing around the thawing room. “You sat in here for hours without anything happening.”
“Hours?” Adan blinked. “I think you lost the concept of time there; it was only a couple of minutes. Besides, I don’t freeze easily.”
“So, will this, freeze-the-world thing happen every time you visit a convent to get a blessing or just this once?” Adan asked, opting for a change of subject. “If it’s a recurring thing, then I want to make some investments before we continue. . . .”
At the mention of his blessing ceremony, Lynne’s thoughtful look was quickly replaced by one of anger.
“It most certainly is not!”
With big strides, Lynne closed the distance to the room’s door and swung it open with a bang. The noise reverberated through the hallway outside and, in the distance, Adan could hear the sound of shattering ice – most likely from the frozen water fountain collapsing in the main hall.
Only two women still remained outside the door, namely Mother Amaris and Colonel Dallas, but Adan’s thawing hadn’t reached that far so both of them still seemed a bit worse for wear. Lynne ignored their precarious states though.
“Reverend Mother Amaris,” he spoke before either had the opportunity to react. “You were sent here by the King to ensure my safety during the several blessings I must undertake on my way to the capital, were you not?”
“I-it is so,” Amaris pressed out through slightly chattering teeth. Judging by her voice, the reverend mother had been started by Lynne’s sudden appearance and attitude.
Still in the room, Adan had to admit that she too was a bit impressed by Lynne’s presence and his ability to distort his voice. When he had been speaking with her, his voice sounded very much like a man’s – deep and powerful. When he spoke now, the same strong, musky tone was present, but there was also a smoothness to it that made it sound a lot more feminine. Domineering, but feminine.
“Then, is the King trying to kill me?”
“Princess!” Dallas retorted while the Reverend Mother paled. “You shouldn’t throw such accusations around so lightly!”
“Oh, I’m wrong? I would have thought that our King has the knowledge to pick a representative who knows that no flames may be present during an ice bender’s blessing ceremonies.”
“Naturally I know such things,” the woman responded, sounding a bit confused. “I don’t . . .”
Lynne raised his sleeve-covered hand, stopping Amaris’ defense. “I noticed your assistant coming in with a candle half-way through the ceremony, right before my mark ran amok. If this action wasn’t by the king’s order, was it by your incompetence or by your malice that I nearly lost my life?”
Lynne’s words caused the Reverend Mother to pale even further, but this time Dallas didn’t step forward to defend the holy woman.
“Which assistant?” the soldier woman asked solemnly, her voice no longer disapproving of Lynne. Dallas was after all a colonel of the royal army, as well as the captain in charge of escorting the nation’s future queen to the capital; she could not tolerate any mistakes.
“The red-head,” Lynne answered before the Reverend Mother could explain that she didn’t know who Lynne was referring to.
Adan reviewed the images from her first and second arrival at the convent and there had indeed been a small, sun-tanned and red-haired girl among the otherwise blonde and brunette lady priestesses. The girl had been too timid and withdrawn for Adan to give her any special attention, but perhaps it had been nerves. . . .
“Location?” Adan asked her A.I. and instantly a 3D estimate of the convent and the direct vicinity around it appeared in her field of view. A few priestesses had returned inside – marked by small hovering dots – but the majority of them remained just outside.
“According to the recorded data, this is the girl in question’s current position.” the A.I. said as one of the hovering dots turned red.
Adan got to her feet and moved to Lynne’s side. “I’ll collect her,” she said and continued past both the young man and the two females – the latter being too busy discussing where the mystery girl was, and who was to blame for her being there, to even notice Adan’s arrival and subsequent departure. By the time they reacted, Adan was already in the grand hall.
With swift steps, Adan exited the convent and, even though the sun had thoroughly set by now and no moon was in the sky to provide any additional light, Adan’s eyes still easily picked out the small red-headed girl who stood in the crowd outside. Their gazes met and the little girl tensed up at once.
“She is going to run,” the A.I. warned and, as expected, the girl bolted the moment Adan took a step forward.
“Why do they always do that?” Adan asked with a sigh, not bothering to run after the girl. Instead, she picked up two stones from the ground and weighed them in her hands. A few graphs with information flashed by in front of Adan’s eyes as she moved to have a clear view of the fleeing girl. She paused for a moment before flicking off both rocks in quick succession.
Her movements where so quick that no one noticed exactly what she had done, but, fifty meters further down the road, the running girl yelped in pain as she stepped down on the first rock, which had ended up smack underneath her descending foot. She stumbled forward, trying to regain her balance, but as her other foot was about to brace off against the ground, the second stone arrived with just as much precision as the first.
The girl’s fate was sealed; she tumbled to the ground in a sorry heap.
[Elevated adrenaline levels detected]
The warning message glared red among the list of data that was hovering over the downed girl as Adan approached her. It was no surprise when the girl suddenly rolled over on her back and a spear of water was launched towards Adan’s heart. The latter just took a step to the side, letting the water shoot past her. Before the girl had the chance to attack again, Adan moved forward, her strong hand gripping the girl’s throat and hoisting her to her feet.
“Behave,” she warned, her chilling tone in her voice.
The girl’s eyes widened in fear when she realized that no matter how much she struggled against the hand around her throat, Adan’s grip didn’t budge. Instead it tightened whenever she tried to use her water attacks, to the point where the girl saw dark spots forming in her vision. She gave in to her fate and stopped squirming.
Unconcerned by both the girl’s now pleading eyes and the gathered crowd’s stunned stares, Adan started walking back towards the convent. Halfway there, she was met by the Reverend Mother Amaris and Colonel Dallas, who were both rushing out from the main hall as Adan approached.
“Is this the one?” Adan asked, holding up the girl towards the entrance of the main hall where Lynne walked out in a more collected manner than the two ladies before him. There was a flash of surprise in his ice-blue eyes, but he hid it quickly.
“It is,” he replied, sounding very pleased. “Reliable as always, Adan.”
Adan’s brow twitched slightly at Lynne’s choice of words. They had only known each other for a less than a day and yet she had been deemed ‘reliable as always’? This from the same man who had blamed her for ruining all his plans just hours earlier too. . . .
“So two-faced. . . .” Adan commented to her A.I. just as Lynne resumed his icy glare at the Amaris.
“I-I don’t know her!” the woman hurried to explain. “She was already here when I arrived from the capital.”
“Her presence here was your responsibility nonetheless,” Dallas countered, her tone unforgiving. “What is your name?” she asked the girl in Adan’s grip.
Since her throat was locked in place by Adan, the girl was a bit slow at replying, but before she had the chance to say anything the Reverend Mother stepped forward and slapped the girl across her face.
“Who cares what her name is!? Look at her! She is clearly of mixed blood! Do we even need to ask who sent her?” Amaris raised her hand to strike the girl once more but this time Adan didn’t let her. She pulled back the red-haired girl and blocked the descending hand with her arm.
Instantly the woman’s eyes widened in rage, but Adan met her glare with narrowed eyes. She had intended to give the woman a piece of her mind when Lynne suddenly gave her a pleasant surprise.
The crisp sound of Lynne’s palm slapping across the Reverend Mother’s cheek rang out in the night air, followed by a collective gasp from the crowed gathered on the square.
“I find your ignorance increasingly annoying,” Lynne chided, with both his voice and eyes frosted with disgust. “I, your future Queen, would have died if not for Adan saving me – twice, I might add – you will treat his people with more respect.”
Amaris just cradled her swelling cheek as she stared at Lynne with wide eyes, clearly in as much shook as the stunned audience. Lynne on the other hand ignored all of it completely and instead motioned for Dallas to come over and claim the girl in Adan’s grip.
“Take care of her and find out who hired her. Few people would know about the peculiarities about an ice bender’s blessing ceremonies, so I doubt she did all this on her own.”
“Yes, Princess Hayden.” The Colonel didn’t hesitate to move on Lynne’s command this time around and Adan could now see a hint of approval in the woman’s eyes.
“I will take a room in the same inn as Adan until the morning. Don’t let me be disappointed again when I wake up, Colonel Dallas.”
“Of course, Princess!”
Nodding with approval at the colonel’s changed attitude, Lynne turned towards Adan. “Lead the way,” he commanded and Adan smiled lopsidedly for a moment before motioning down the main road from the convent. Duke Kimba had already told her where they would be staying for the night, so she knew where to go.
As Lynne and Adan walked down the lamp-lit road, the pair spent a long time in silence before Lynne eventually spoke.
“I’m sorry about that,” he said with regret. “Some people are . . .”
Lynne didn’t seem to know how to end the sentence and Adan laughed softly.
“Don’t worry about it – I don’t take it personally,” she assured him, not actually lying. Adan chuckled. “But I think your plan to gain the Colonel’s disapproval has backfired. She seemed quite pleased by how you handled the situation.”
“Tell me about it. . . .” he grunted.
“On the bright side,” Adan continued, mischief in her eyes; “now that we know that someone is trying to kill you, we can always fake your death to run away.”