Lynne stared at Adan’s guilt-free face in shock.
“You . . .” he found himself stuttering, unsure of what he actually wanted to say.
“What?” Adan repeated. “It was only kiss.”
“Only a kiss!? The girl is barely breathing!”
“Jealous?” One of Adan’s golden eyes winked at Lynne.
“Certainly not!” Lynne barked back, feeling truly annoyed now; Adan was well aware of his real gender so that comment was clearly just to tease him!
“Is that so?” Adan smiled mischievously. “I’m not convinced.” The youth took a few steps forward, his hand slowly reaching for Lynne’s face.
Startled, the latter found himself staring at that outstretched hand, his mind blanking; what a surprisingly beautiful hand! Adan’s fingers were long and slender with perfectly formed nails, a faint golden tint made the dark brown skin look unbelievably smooth and, as it stretched towards him, every muscle-movement seemed deliberate and controlled.
Lynne was so wrapped up in watching the hand itself that he didn’t notice when it stopped moving. Coming to his senses, Lynne looked up only to find a sword’s tip pressing against Adan’s throat.
“One step further and I will run you through,” Dallas warned, her authority as a veteran soldier undeniable in her voice. Adan, however, only met the woman’s threat with a crooked smile.
Lynne frowned. Was it ridicule he saw in that smile? Dallas might be a woman, but she had a reputation of being one of the strongest water benders in the King’s army; she was not someone an unawakened like Adan could handle.
“Lower your sword, Colonel,” Lynne ordered, but Dallas didn’t move. “Colonel, I gave you an order!”
“Back away,” Dallas commanded of Adan, ignoring him completely.
For a moment, Lynne thought that his new bodyguard would refuse, but in the end, Adan’s smile widened and he took a step back with a shrug.
“Don’t worry, C.D., I have no interest in claimed women.”
The female warrior blanked – muttering “Ceede?” with a bewildered look – but Lynne reacted more to the look he had received from Adan when the latter mentioned “women”.
‘Claimed men would be okay then?’ he found himself thinking before he could stop the thought. Lynne then glanced at the still dazed girl on the floor and shook his head; surely, that was not something that could be pulled off without some degree of mutual interest.
Lynne frowned again, not entirely sure why this time.
Meanwhile, Colonel Dallas had recovered from her blank stare and was once again pointing her sword at Adan, although the blade didn’t reach the neck this time.
“Listen, boy, I don’t care what your preferences are; you will, under no circumstances, touch the future queen again! Do, and I shall run you through. Understand?”
Adan tiled his head to the side. “Even if there is fabric in between? It might be a bit tricky to be the lady’s bodyguard if I can’t pick her up during an emergency. . . .”
“Not even then!”
“How unreasonable,” Adan chuckled and then smiled mischievously again. “Or . . . are you perhaps the jealous one?”
In an instant, Dallas face turned beat red, but it was hard to say if it was out of rage or embarrassment. Somehow, Lynne could only imagine it being the first.
Before Dallas had a chance to erupt in screaming however, Lynne stepped forward, ending up between the female warrior and the source of her anger, Adan.
“That’s enough, Colonel Dallas. Adan is my bodyguard; of course there will be occasions when he needs to touch me. Don’t make such a big deal out of it. As for what happened here, just treat it as a joke. There is no need to get into a fight just because he kissed a girl who refuses to answer such simple questions as: what is your name?”
Lynne wasn’t alone as he turned towards the bound girl pinned to the floor. Her eyes were still glazed over after her encounter with Adan, and Lynne almost thought he had imagined her speaking.
“Did you say something?” he asked.
The reply was short and to the point.
“You said waterlily, didn’t you? Why?”
“Yes; you asked for my name.”
Lynne blinked. From the report he had received from Dallas, he knew that one of the questions the girl had stubbornly refused to answer was her name, yet now she gave it up just like that? Subconsciously, Lynne looked over at Adan. The latter was already looking at him with smiling eyes; clearly not surprised by the girl’s sudden confession.
Adan shrugged. “The power of love?”
Lynne snorted and decided to ignore the boastful bastard. He turned to the girl on the ground instead, not forgetting to glare at Dallas to put away her sword; there really were more important things to deal with now.
Begrudgingly Dallas agreed, but Lynne’s attention was now too focused on the girl to notice that the colonel wasn’t the only one to tuck away a weapon. Standing silently behind Adan, Duke Kimba also sheathed a nasty looking dagger, the red glow in his mark slowly fading.
Oblivious to this, Lynne resumed his questioning the girl, who they now knew was called Waterlily.
“Where are you from, Waterlily?”
Waterlily frowned, as if she didn’t understand the question. Lynne repeated the question but when the result was the same he gave up and switched question.
“Who sent you, Waterlily?”
“The Spirit of the Sun.”
Lynne sighed and the Reverend Mother laughed mockingly.
“You really thought a little kiss would change her answers?”
Lynne wasn’t sure what to say. Naturally, he hadn’t expected a kiss to make a difference but the girl had suddenly given them her name. Lynne prepared to stand up but Adan appeared by his side, sitting down on his heels.
“Your asking the wrong questions,” he pointed out and, before Lynne or anyone else could berate him, Adan started talking to the girl. “Waterlily, you were sent by the Spirit of the Sun through a dream, right?”
“Where were you when you had this dream?”
“. . . the forest.”
“The same forest that you live in?”
“Does that place have a name?”
“Home, huh? Are there any others living in this Home?”
“Many families live there.”
“What nationalities are these families?”
“Solmani, Valdmani, Sun Tribe.”
“And you live in peace with each other.”
“. . . Okay, how did you get from your forest home to Prayer Village?”
“Do you remember in which direction you started walking in?”
“. . . straight north.”
“How long did it take?”
Lynne stared at Adan, not believing what he was hearing.
“Good, good. Now, Waterlily, let’s go back to the dream. What do you remember about the Spirit of the Sun?”
“She was beautiful . . . hair like wheat that reached her feet . . . a white dress . . . kind voice . . . warmth.”
“How nice. And before that? Was there anyone with you when you fell asleep?”
Waterlily frowned again, but the expression was more pained this time.
“Take it easy, darling,” Adan cooed. “If you can’t remember, you can’t. It’s okay either way.”
“There . . . there was someone there, but . . . I don’t know hi-. . . no, who . . .” Waterlily’s voice dropped off and she started clutching her head.
Adan paused for a moment and then sighed. Carefully, he tilted the girl’s head back, revealing a lone strand of tears, running down her cheek.
“That’s enough, darling; you did good.”
With his mouth agape, Lynne watched Adan lean in and give Waterlily yet another kiss! It wasn’t on the mouth this time, rather on her cheek, but it was still a kiss!
‘Is . . . is he actually kissing away her tears!?’
When Adan backed away from the kiss, the small girl’s eyes rolled back and she slumped over in her restrains; she had fainted.”
“I admit we didn’t get much,” Adan said as he stood up, brushing the moist dirt from the front of his pants. “Her memories appear to have been tampered with, but at least we know she was living in a forest community with mixed nationalities – located roughly a twenty-two days’ walk south of here. It’s unlikely that she had a deep hatred for Solmane to begin with, so it must have come with this ‘divine intervention’ of hers. However, she was with a stranger when it happened, so whoever that was is the most likely suspect.”
Lynne wanted to ask all sorts of questions about what had just happened, but when Adan repeated the girl’s origin, those questions lost their importance.
Adan too seemed to notice the change; “Something wrong?” he asked and Duke Kimba answered before Lynne could.
“Twenty-two days’ walk south puts her home forest in Valdmane.”
Some understanding flashed by in Adan’s eyes, but Lynne couldn’t help but wonder if the youth actually understood the gravity of the situation. If the Valdmani ruler had ordered this attack on Lynne, the proposed future queen of Solmane, it would mean nothing less than full-on war between the two nations.
Lynne grew pensive. Although minor skirmishes were quite regular, Valdmane had previously not dared to escalate the conflict further, the fact that this girl performed her assassination attempt under the banner of the so-called ‘Spirit of the Sun’ indicated that the goal wasn’t simply to get rid of Lynne but also instigate a civil war between the Solmani and the Sun Tribes. If that happened, it would be a lot easier for the Valdmani to swoop in claim the land for themselves.
“Tie up the girl and write down today’s testimony,” Lynne ordered. “We must get this information to the King as soon as possible.”
“Yes, Princess!” Dallas agreed at once and summoned her female guards to take over the prisoner from Reverend Mother Amaris. Amaris herself didn’t object to handing over the girl but quickly rushed to Lynne’s side.
“Princess Hayden, you can’t be intending to head directly for the capital?”
“I am,” Lynne replied.
“But the Blessings . . .”
Lynne held up his hand, his long sleeves covering his pale yet not-so-slender fingers. “Reverend Mother, although my Blessings are important, the safety of the nation comes first. If we, while on a direct route to the capital, pass any further convents then I can agree to stop for a Blessing, but no detours.”
“But your Highness’ awakening. . . ”
“I will not budge on this point.” Lynne turned to Colonel Dallas. “Prepare the carriages; we leave at once.”
“Yes, Princess!” Dallas bowed and, after giving Adan a pointed glare, left the room with the still unconscious Waterlily being dragged behind her by two other guards.
The group had barely left when Duke Kimba walked up to Lynne. “You have much of your father in you,” he said with a smile, startling Lynne quite badly. Had he been too firm?
Unaware of the emotions his comment had stirred, the Duke bowed respectfully towards Lynne. “I too shall prepare for our departure.”
Before leaving, he too looked at Adan. For a moment, he seemed to hesitate about something, but in the end he left without further ado.
Before Lynne had a chance to react, Adan took the last few steps that had separated them before and whispered in his ear. “As father, as son, huh? So much for not gaining anyone’s respect, Princess”
Lynne wanted to swat away the boy with force, but Mother Amaris had yet to leave the room. The latter was glaring angrily at Adan and Lynne figured it would only be a matter of time before she would berate Adan for improper behavior.
“The country comes first,” Lynne replied, his eyes giving a warning glance towards the priestess, but when he looked back at Adan, he was met by an intense stare. The latter didn’t say anything, but somehow Lynne could understand what Adan was asking; “Even before your family?”
He wanted to explain, but before he could, Lynne found himself forcefully grabbed and pulled back by the angry holy woman. From the way she held Lynne, Mother Amaris seemed to be shielding him from Adan. “This really won’t do, Lady Hayden!” she protested. “It is bad enough that we have let, not one, but two Sun Tribe males into this convent; I will not sit idly by and watch one of them flirt with you! Come, we shall prepare for our departure.”
As he was being pulled away, Lynne couldn’t help but feel a bit wronged. If Adan was to blame for the flirting, how come the Reverend Mother suddenly pulled him back? He was supposed to be the future queen for crying out loud!
Still in the room, Adan chuckled slightly as she watched Lynne’s depressed face while he was being pulled away; it would seem like the ‘serene priestess’ was losing her composure.
“How do you intend to explain what just happened just now?” Adan’s artificial intelligence suddenly asked.
“Have I not already?”
Adan still smiled as she started to leave the basement.
“The power of love? Allow Sai to join Lynne in his snorting. You are well aware that the initial phases of physical attraction inhibit the brain’s risk center, not its capability to resist in telling a secret.”
“Are you saying that there is no risk involved when telling the truth?” Adan countered playfully and the A.I. didn’t give an answer to the remark. “Besides, it’s not like I can say that – through kissing the girl – I sent an army of nanobots into her brain, blocking the ability to lie.”
“That was why Sai wanted to know what lie you would use. Sai expected something more plausible.”
“Oh?” Adan’s smile widened as she stepped out in the main hall of the convent. Yesterday’s chanting had resumed and there were plenty of young girls moving around within the hall. Adan’s appearance caused almost all of them to turn their heads, some with simple curiosity, others with deeper longing. “I don’t think it’s that unreasonable.”
This time the A.I. actually snorted. “You altered your pheromone levels. That hardly counts as playing fair.”
“And why, by Tellus, would I ever play fair?” Adan winked at some of the more interested girls and they instantly blushed, quickly lowering their faces bashfully. “Especially since it seems to irk him so much.”
Walking out from a door further down the hall, Lynne had not missed the interaction between Adan and the swooning young priestesses. He was glaring at Adan with apparent annoyance.
Adan almost laughed out loud. She could sense that her A.I. was pouting, an emotion it shouldn’t be able to have, and Adan couldn’t help but secretly rejoice in her heart. It had only been two days since they came here, yet ‘Sai’ was starting to show more of the personality ‘she’ usually kept hidden. It made her happy that the explosion had brought ‘them’ here.
Keeping her musings to herself Adan chose to tease her A.I. further; “Well, if you feel that way, I can always turn off the pheromone control entirely. . . .”
Silence, and then; “On second thought, Sai feels that it is only reasonable to leave your pheromone levels as they are. It makes your identity as male more believable.”
Adan suppressed a smile. “If you insist . . .”
“Sai insists, Sai insists.”
“Okay!” Adan beamed.
Within her, the A.I. sighed. How could it not know what would happen if Adan let her pheromones run wild? Seeing it once had been more than enough.