After walking for a brief time, the inn that Duke Kimba had told Adan about came into view. Although not directly next to the convent, the inn was still situated along the main road so, by the town’s standards, it was a fairly high-quality establishment. This did, perhaps, say more about the town than the inn though. . . . Compared to the restaurant in the more run-down parts of the village, this building looked rather pristine – it was neatly painted and no obvious structural damages could be seen – but it was clear that it had been built with time and effort rather than an abundance of money.
Adan approached the front door and pushed it open, meeting the strong scent of cooked food and alcoholic beverages. She glanced around the room – which was filled mostly by soldiers and well-off mercenaries by the looks of things – and her eyes quickly landed on Duke Kimba, who sat at one of the tables by the inn’s bar. Their gazes met and Kimba quickly stood up. He was about to bow when Adan withdrew her gaze and stepped aside, letting Lynne walk in.
The moment he stepped through the doors, with the light-blue fabrics of his clothes flowing around him, silence descended on the inn, quickly followed by a bunch of scraping chairs. When the scuffling ended, almost every able-bodied man and woman in the inn had stood up. They looked at Lynne with either respect or indifference, but it was clear none of them dared to remain seated if he remained standing.
“Lady Lynne.” Kimba was quick to recover from his surprise and took the initiative to greet the future queen. “I thought you would be staying at the convent tonight?”
Lynne surveyed the first room of the inn; his gaze was regal as he took in the standing warriors and the warm food left on their tables. His elegant mouth twitched slightly, as if trying to hide his displeasure, but was all smiles when he finally greeted the duke.
“Duke Kimba, it is a pleasure to see you again so soon. There is no need for you to be so formal; please, resume your . . . meal.”
Adan secretly rolled her eyes. Lynne was a good actor, alright; judging by the content in his own stomach, the young man hadn’t eaten in hours and his mouth had already started salivating from the smell of food. Still he insisted on playing the pampered rich girl who was both rude and picky. However, considering his devotion to his families reputation, Adan couldn’t help but wonder if Lynne had considered that his current behavior would reflect more poorly on his parents.
“. . . Thank you,” Kimba replied after a moment’s hesitation, unsure if he should rephrase his unanswered question or just do as told.
“There was an attempt on Lady Lynne’s life,” Adan said, deciding to explain the situation without being prompted. “The culprit has been caught, but the honored Lady felt too frightened to stay at the convent for the night.”
As expected, Adan’s comment earned her a cold glare from Lynne and she suppressed a chuckle. She gave him a quick wink instead, thinking to herself: ‘You’re the one who wanted to act the spoiled brat – deal with it.’
“How audacious!” Duke Kimba erupted, ignorant of the silent exchange between the young man and woman. “Who could possibly dare to attempt such a thing!?”
Lynne waved a hand dismissively. “That is not my problem to figure out – I am tired.”
The duke frowned, but only for a millisecond before he smiled apologetically. “Forgive me, Lady Hayden, it must have been quite an eventful evening for you!” Kimba respectfully half-bowed before moving towards the inn’s counter. “Allow me to arrange a ro-. . .”
“I’m sleeping with him,” Lynne interrupted the duke, causing the latter to stumble slightly while the corner of Adan’s lips twitched. Was this payback or did people in this realm not find it odd for a man to share a room with another man’s woman? Adan could mention thousands of races where such a thing would be punishable by death! Judging by the expressions of the warriors in the room, it couldn’t be far off even here. . . .
“L-Lady Hayden, I don’t really think . . .”
“What is there to think about?” Lynne interrupted yet again. “Since I left home, all my guards have been killed and I’ve been both kidnapped and deep-frozen in an attempt on my life. All this has happened in the presence of the King’s trusted people. Adan, on the other hand, has saved me every time – I think it is clear who I should trust.”
“But . . .”
“No further objections. I’m sure my future husband will understand that dire situations call for drastic measures.” Lynne glided over to the main counter and held out his hand. “The key, please.”
The poor man behind the desk didn’t know what to do. His eyes darted from Lynne’s outstretched hand to Adan and then to the duke, hoping for some indication of what he should do.
“I’m waiting,” Lynne pushed before Duke Kimba could say anything. From his voice it was clear that he was growing annoyed.
“Y-yes, my Lady,” the man stuttered and handed over a set of keys. “It’s the finest room we’ve got.”
“. . . .” Lynne glanced down on the keys. “Well?” he asked, looking again at the man behind the counter.
“W-well what, my Lady?”
Lynne clicked his tongue. “Well, will you show the way? Or do you expect me to wander aimlessly until I find a door where this key fits?”
All color drained from the man’s face as he quickly scurried out from behind the counter. “Certainly, my Lady! My apologies, my Lady! This way, my Lady!”
“My Lady, my Lady, my Lady!” Adan mimicked in her mind. “You’d think there were three of them!”
“He is quite domineering,” the A.I. commented. “The males in this establishment seem to approve, though – Sai has noticed elevated pheromone levels in the air.”
“Masochists,” Adan snorted.
Unaware of Adan’s inner dialog, and utterly unfazed by the receptionist’s grovelling, Lynne motioned for Adan to follow him as he was led towards the stairs going to the second and third floor.
“Sir Adan. . . .” Duke Kimba protested, clearly not resigned to the whole ordeal.
“Don’t worry, Duke – I will manage.” Adan assured and headed for the stairs, snatching a couple of pieces of bread as she passed a food-filled table. It wasn’t until she was on the third floor that the talking in the establishment below started again. By then, the man from the counter had already reached the door in question.
“Right here, my Lady,” he said and indicated towards a large wooden door. “Should I-. . .”
“You may leave now,” Lynne interrupted, waving his hand dismissively. Startled, the man gave a quick bow before he did as he was told.
“You are quite the dominatrix, aren’t you?” Adan commented as they entered the room that they had been given for the night.
“Domi-what?” Lynne asked, clearly not understanding the foreign word Adan had used.
Lynne shrugged and slumped down in the small couch by the room’s only window. The room was perhaps the inn’s finest but it wasn’t very large; it had room for a sizable bed, a cupboard, a small couch and a table, no more. On the table stood a bowl of water and a vase of partially wilted flowers.
Not wanting to squeeze into the couch, Adan took a seat on the bed and watched as Lynne gathered up his hair and, using a large needle he had drawn from within his sleeve, fastened all of it in a knot. He pulled over the bowl of water and used it to wash his face. When he looked up again, Adan raised an eyebrow in surprise. With his blackish-blue locks out of the way and whatever make-up he employed gone, Lynne’s face had lost its last traces of femininity, rendering him absolutely stunning, and undoubtedly male.
“You are staring again,” the A.I. commented, sounding rather dismal.
“So?” Adan retorted and kept looking. It didn’t take long before Lynne finished his grooming and realized he was being stared at.
“Wh-what?” he asked, subconsciously tugging at the silky fabric of his top.
“You,” Adan answered truthfully, reveling in the flinch it caused in Lynne. She suppressed a laugh and sighed instead. “I feel bad for the women of this world. . . . To miss out on such a great specimen. . . .”
Lynne swallowed, but while Adan did her best not to laugh out loud, her A.I. was less amused.
“Must Sai remind you that you are supposed to pretend to be male? This behavior of yours could cause suspicion.”
“And I can’t be a gay male?” Adan pushed but Lynne gave her an answer before the A.I. did.
“Look,” he said with apparent discomfort; “I know there are those who . . . prefer members of their own sex, but I am not one of them. I dress as a female out of need, not preference. If you . . .”
Lynne faltered and Adan couldn’t help but chuckle. “Oh, mister Lynne, I can assure you that I am all about the opposite sex.”
“You are hopeless,” the A.I. sighed but Lynne instantly relaxed.
“Good. I need a bodyguard and an accomplice, nothing else.”
Adan smiled lopsidedly, but didn’t comment any further on the subject. “Speaking of bodyguards,” she said instead; “who do you think wants you dead?”
Lynne shrugged and leaned back in his couch. “Who knows? It could be anyone from a jealous princess to a group of protesting citizens. Even the Valdmani could be behind it, I suppose.”
“Valdmani?” Adan hadn’t heard of them.
Momentary surprise flashed by Lynne’s eyes before realization set in. “Oh, right, the eternal country bumpkin.”
Adan rolled her eyes but let the comment pass.
“Valdmane is our largest neighboring country.” Lynne explained. “Over the past 500 years we have fought nearly 60 separate wars. . . My father is the Marquise in charge of protecting the border between our two nations and my younger brother is helping him on the front line. It has been a while now since the latest war, but it is only a matter of time until it begins again.”
“Hmm. . . .” Adan considered his words; even on a galactic scale, it was quite an impressive amount of wars in such a short period, but it still said little about the origin of the girl. “So what will you do with her? The would-be assassin, I mean.”
“. . . I guess that depends on why she did it.”
“Oh? Even though she tried to kill you?”
“Everyone has their reasons.” Lynne’s gaze traveled towards the dark window. “Attempted murder – especially of royalty – is punishable by death, but so is being a male ice bender. . . . I’d rather give her the benefit of the doubt.”
Silence descended on the room for a while until Adan suddenly got to her feet. She walked over to Lynne and stood between him and the window he was gazing out of.
“Hmm?” Lynne raised his head, only to find Adan’s face merely centimeters from his. He instinctively pulled back, but Adan followed him until the back of the couch stopped Lynne from escaping further. “Wh-what?”
“You know, you’re a rather good guy, Lynne,” Adan said after a moment’s pause – a pause that felt like an eternity to Lynne. She then smiled and smacked him wholeheartedly on his shoulder. “You should eat,” she said and tossed Lynne a loaf of bread before heading towards the door. It wasn’t until Adan was halfway to the door that the young man finally snapped out of his daze.
“Where are you going?” he asked, his voice breaking slightly.
“The corridor,” Adan replied without looking back. “It’s getting late and no matter what you say, I ain’t risking sleeping in the same room as a queen-to-be.” She paused just before stepping out of the room. “Don’t worry, my Lady; shriek and I’ll come to save the damsel in distress.”
With a wink, Adan disappeared out the door – leaving a blankly staring Lynne behind. As she settled down with her back towards the door, Adan could hear a soft chuckle from within the room.
“You are smiling,” the A.I. pointed out.
“Am not,” Adan rebutted jokingly, an even wider smile spreading on her lips. “The man is amusing – why shouldn’t I smile?”
“Because you have a mission – to get back the Amazon Platoon – and flirting with the locals won’t help.”
“What about instance MS:042 on Neptune-O? It helped then.”
“That was different and you know it.”
Adan scooted to the side, just in time to avoid falling back as the door swung open. Lynne barely made eye-contact with Adan before tossing out a pillow and a blanket from within the room.
“Use these,” he said before closing the door behind him.
Still smiling, Adan propped up her head against the wall, with the pillow as support, and draped the blanket over her cross-legged knees. She closed her eyes and, with but a thought, several messages flashed by in the darkness.
[Initializing deep sleep]
[All sensory data bypassed to S.A.I.]
[Alert conditions S:0, G:1 and M:08 activated.]
As Adan’s consciousness faded into sleep, her already closed eyes flickered open. They blinked and looked around in the corridor before turning to gaze upwards, as if looking through the roof at the stars above. The eyes were soulless, but they shimmered with a faint light as rows upon rows of odd symbols flashed by. It took over an hour before the light faded and the eyes were closed yet again.