The next morning, as the sun was starting to reclaim the moonless night sky, Adan’s eyes popped open. Her gaze was clear and energetic as she glanced up and down the corridor she had slept in – or rather hibernated in.
“Night report,” she commanded, and several log entries flashed by in front of her eyes, giving a detailed description of what had happened during the night.
“As you can see, Sai has nothing significant to report. Duke Kimba’s visit is of most interest, but he left when he saw that you were sitting in the hallway. His vitals indicated that he felt relieved.”
“And our cross-dressing princess?”
“Still sleeping. Sai detects no lasting damage from yesterday’s incident.”
Adan got to her feet and quietly walked away from Lynne’s door. She headed down the stairs and was not the least bit surprised to find Colonel Dallas standing stiffly in the main dining area. Spread throughout the room were the rest of her men, who were even stiffer in their body language. It would seem that the night had been a dramatic one for the guards.
“Good morning, Colonel. Fellow bodyguards.” Adan greeted them with a smile.
“Why are you not guarding Her Highness?” the woman asked back, ignoring the cheerful greeting.
Unfazed, Adan didn’t even pause her steps as she continued towards the kitchen. “Are you telling me she isn’t safe at the moment? You’ve already emptied the inn of all other guests.”
Surprise flashed by in Dallas’ eyes. She had indeed cleared out the inn during the night, but she had also seen Adan sleeping deeply outside of Lynne’s room. At the time, Dallas had instructed some of her soldiers to casually bump into Adan, but the latter had not reacted at all. Since it was still so early, the lack of movement in the inn should not be enough for Adan to guess what had happened, so how had he realized the change?
Adan herself didn’t care about Dallas’ reaction and briskly walked into the kitchen. She made a show of scanning the interior with her eyes, but Adan’s sense of smell had already told her what she needed to know.
Dallas, who had followed Adan into the otherwise abandoned kitchen, frowned as she watched Adan pick out a couple of fruits and a white powder usually used for removing odor from garbage. Adan crushed the fruits and mixed the juices with the powder.
Before Dallas could say anything, the mix was poured into a wide pan and placed over the open fire.
“What are you doing!?” she eventually managed to ask.
“A variation on breakfast.”
When Lynne woke up later that morning, he did so to a sweet scent that he hadn’t smelled before. Although he was momentarily dazed by the smell, Lynne was quick to realize that he was no longer alone in his room.
Purely on instinct, Lynne tightened the grip on his sheets, pulling them over his face, and swung one of his pillows with full strength towards the unknown presence in the room.
“Scoundrel! How dare you enter a wo-mph. . . !” Lynne’s hysterical cry was cut short when the pillow he had just thrown away slammed into his face. The impact was strong enough to knock his head against the bed’s headboard.
“No need for the theatrics, Princess,” an annoyingly amused voice chided him, and instantly Lynne remembered what had transpired the day before. A slight, pulsating headache started to form at the back of his head.
“Brute,” Lynne grunted, unconsciously relaxing. “Did you have to be so forceful?”
“Oh, so you wanted the entire royal guard to come barging in here, seeing you like that?” Lynne looked up at Adan just in time to see the latter glancing pointedly at the foot of his bed.
Lynne followed the gaze and realized that while his earlier blanket maneuver and pillow toss might have successfully distracted attention from his face and chest, it had also uncovered his not-so-feminine legs. Lynne quickly rearranged his covers; make-up and mannerisms could hide his true gender while dressed, but his muscle tone would force the cat out of the bag, so to speak.
“Didn’t think so,” Adan laughed. “Come, have breakfast. Your personal guard dog is waiting downstairs, but I figured Your Highness’ stomach should take precedence.”
Lynne clicked his tongue disapprovingly, but that peculiar, sweet smell made him hold back the critique he had intended to give. He quickly got to his feet, not bothering to tighten the loose garment he had been sleeping in, and approached the table. It was barely two meters to the table, but the sweet scent got even more intense as he approached, causing his stomach to growl with hunger.
“This is . . .?” Lynne didn’t finish his question as he eyed the slightly green disks that lay covered in a pink sauce on a worn plate. His nursemaid had been a big lover of odd food, so Lynne was rather surprised that he didn’t recognize the dish.
“Pancakes with syrup.” Adan explained in her own tongue, as if the foreign word should mean something to Lynne. “Of sorts, anyway; the ingredients are different, but the taste should be the same. Try it.”
Lynne could feel his mouth watering. Yesterday, he had been too tired to care how hungry he was, but now that he had slept, Lynne’s stomach refused to be ignored. Without thinking, Lynne reached for the small knife and fork by the plate, and was just about to cut himself a piece of the so-called pancake when he hesitated.
“It’s not poisoned, is it?” he asked, giving Adan a suspicious glare. The young man blinked in surprise and Lynne instantly regretted asking.
‘As if anyone would answer yes to that question. . . .’
Suddenly Adan started laughing. It was a merry and heartfelt laugh that somehow made Lynne feel very embarrassed.
“Don’t you think I would have killed you by now if I wanted you dead?” Adan asked between laughs, and Lynne could feel his face heating up a bit.
“Do . . . do not misunderstand me!” Lynne snapped. “Who has ever heard of a mercenary who can cook? You might have poisoned it by mistake!”
“Since when am I a mercenary?” Adan asked, still having trouble containing his laughter.
“Y-you were hired to protect me, but you are not in the military, thus you are a mercenary.”
“Is that so. . . .” Adan paused and pointedly scanned Lynne’s body. “Well, I guess a future queen can never be too careful.”
Lynne followed Adan’s gaze and found that the robe he was wearing had parted, showing much of his bare chest underneath. With a start, Lynne tugged at his clothes, quickly covering his exposed self. When he looked up again, he was met with Adan’s intense stare.
For a moment, he forgot who he was looking at. All he could think about was those golden eyes, which shone with unbridled mirth, yet had a profound depth to them that seemed to see all of his most hidden secrets. Eventually, it was Adan who broke eye contact first.
“Eat,” he said, his tone suddenly commanding. “I will wait outside.”
Lynne had barely snapped out of his daze when the door to his room clicked shut behind Adan’s departing figure. He shuddered, once more wrapping himself tighter in his robe. Glancing down on the slowly cooling greenish pancakes on his plate, Lynne’s lip twitched slightly before he finally let out a heavy sigh.
“To think I would have to rely on such an . . . odd country bumpkin! I might act feminine, but Adan he . . .” Lynne sighed again. “I wonder what father and mother will say when they hear how badly our initial plan failed.”
Feeling melancholic, Lynne absentmindedly poked around the strange-looking food on his plate.
“Is it really safe to eat this?”
Outside Lynne’s room, Adan was already long gone. The moment she had closed the door behind her, Adan had almost done a U-turn and swiftly entered the room next to Lynne’s. With soundless movements, which were difficult for the naked eye to follow, Adan slipped out through the window and swung herself up onto the inn’s roof.
The sun had yet to breach the tree tops of the forest surrounding the small town, but the hazy, light-blue sky still made it quite bright – especially by Adan’s standards.
“Current location?” she asked, calmly surveying the still scarcely populated streets below.
“Sai has the location for three of the persons-of-interest, but the other two have moved beyond your detection range.”
On the street below, three people gained a yellowish glow in Adan’s eyes; two males on the main street and a female in an alley. These three, and their two missing companions, had been detected and logged several times as they passed up and down the street during the night.
It had seemed as if they were either searching for something or aimlessly wandering, but by now their passes had become much more frequent, and they had even started to move more blatantly towards the inn where Adan and Lynne were staying. Looking at them more closely from above, it was clear that neither of them had friendly intentions. If anything, the three of them had an almost manic look in their eyes, as if they were prepared to fight to the death.
“It’s odd that none of Colonel Dallas’ soldiers have noticed them yet. . . ,” Adan mused as she nonchalantly flicked loose a worn tile from the roof she was sitting on. Using her nails, Adan started splitting up the tile into smaller, coin-sized pieces.
“Incompetence is abundant in many places,” the A.I. responded, cautioning Adan from drawing hasty conclusions. “Taking action before Lynne’s life is in direct danger will be a breach of your protocol.”
“Will be? Not would be?” Adan asked, a smile forming on her lips. “Have you no faith in me, Sai?”
“How harsh.” Adan made an effort to pout, but the humor in her eyes still shone through. “I’m just going to practice for a bit; if I happen to scare off a few mice in the process, is that really on me?”
“Sai knows that you are uninterested in a correct response to that question.”
Adan chuckled. “Now that is the correct response.”
She took aim and flicked away one of the small tile pieces with her thumb. Like a bullet, it flew through the air with blinding speed. The tile-projectile smacked into the ground right in front of the closest person of interest, which was a middle-aged man of mixed descent, who had a few gray streaks in his brown hair. There was a minor explosion of dust from the tile’s impact with the ground and, since the man had been too focused on reaching Adan’s inn to notice, the dust got caught in his throat and he stated to cough violently.
He was forced to stop and calm his breathing. Afterwards, he looked around, not entirely sure what had happened, but could see nothing out of the ordinary. Shrugging, the man’s gaze refocused on the inn, and he was just about to take a step forward when a second dust bomb exploded by his feet. He was more prepared this time, so the man dodged to the side, but was instantly met by another attack. It wasn’t until he took a step backwards that the odd assault ended.
Up on the roof, Adan suppressed a giggle as she watched the middle-aged man standing still and frowning, considering how to proceed. She had shifted her body slightly and used her BioArmor camouflage to hide her head from view; it would be nearly impossible to see her from the street. It only took a minute before the other two reached the same distance from the inn as the first man, and they naturally received the same treatment as their colleague.
Stumped, the three people looked at each other. There was little to no force behind the dust projectiles that barred their paths, but the lack of a source made them wary. If the person attacking them could keep himself hidden so well, who was to say that those attacks weren’t mere warning shots? The manic look in their eyes was quickly replaced with one of confusion; their momentum was gone and their fighting spirit with it.
“Look, Duke Kimba is approaching! Blessed be your morning, honored Duke!”
The sudden call caused the three would-be attackers to panic slightly, and they quickly decided to abandon whatever plans they originally had; they turned and fled.
With her head slowly materializing, Adan watched the quickly departing figures.
“Interesting,” she muttered; she had not expected her call to be quite so effective. Disrupting the pace of people with aggressive markers was a standard tactic for preventing destructive behavior, but she had mentioned Kimba’s name on a whim. “Does this mean that they want to avoid the duke himself or avoid implicating him?”
“Sai requires more data before Sai can give accurate probabilities.”
“Hmm,” Adan hummed and, after taking one last look down the surrounding streets, swung back into the room next to Lynne’s. She arrived at the latter’s door just as Lynne opened it from the other side.
Lynne gave Adan an odd look.
“What?” she asked, momentarily wondering if he had realized where she had just been.
“You are an unexpectedly good cook,” Lynne said after a moment’s pause. “Thank you for the . . . pankaxs.”
She chuckled softly. She wasn’t sure what would irritate Lynne more; if she corrected his pronunciation or if she pointed out that he had just complimented her “country bumpkin” cooking.