It took a surprisingly long time for Mistress Cain to lead Lynne and Adan to Lynne’s new chambers. The castle was huge and almost half an hour had passed by the time the two of them had been showed the way to a very lavish room. Lynne might have been from a noble family line, but he had grown up at the nation’s border. There, extravagance was almost a deadly sin – money wasted on something that could do nothing to protect lives – so the bedchamber of polished black stone and golden engravings that had been provided to him now was way more elegant than anything he’d ever used before.
Everything in the room was either black, white or golden. Bay windows took up most of the wall opposite to the entrance, and while the heavy velvet curtains were currently drawn, Lynne could imagine that the view had to be quite spectacular beyond them. An enticingly fluffy bed – that was large enough to fill most people’s entire houses – stood to one side, with sheer, white draperies encasing it mystically. Next to it stood an elegantly decorated vanity table, covered to the brim with jewels, perfumes and powders that were clearly meant for his personal use. At the opposite side of the room was an enormous fireplace, flanked by a pair of very inviting armchairs and a not-so-small sofa. Two large mirrors that reached all the way to the ceiling were hung on the wall on either side of the fireplace, giving the illusion that the room continued on even further.
Once Lynne had stopped being awestruck by his environment, Mistress Cain gave thorough instructions on what was expected of them at the castle during the next couple of days, starting with eating dinner with the King later that day. Somehow, Lynne managed to convince her that he would be able to get ready for dinner on his own and that he would make do without personal maids until the Marquis of Gakkvisa brought new ones. The woman was not pleased, but Lynne had been adamant and eventually won the argument.
The discussion had then moved on to Adan and where he was going to be living – a small room next door that could be accessed through a hidden pathway behind a panel – before Mistress Cain finally considered her duties done. As soon as she had left, Lynne sank down on the golden chair in front of the vanity table.
“Alone at last,” he sighed and started fiddling with the hairpins that kept his midnight-blue hair up in elegant locks around his face.
Adan’s comment caused Lynne to pause his actions and look up at the youth. At first, Lynne had thought that he was referring to himself, but Adan’s averted eyes made him realize that this was not the case. Lynne followed Adan’s gaze to the two overdecorated floor-to-ceiling mirrors at the other end of the room. Lynne’s upper lip twitched.
‘Spying on the future queen, are we?’ Lynne mused, feeling beyond annoyed.
Looking around the room, he caught sight of a majestic bird statue made seemingly of solid gold. For a moment, Lynne considered picking it up and throwing it through one of the mirrors; he could imagine the impressive sight of the glass shattering into a million pieces as it scattered across the floor. But in the end, Lynne only sighed. As satisfying as the destruction would be, it would also lead to a lot of even more annoying cleanup and he didn’t feel up for it.
Deciding on a more peaceful approach, Lynne reached for the extravagant hairbrush on the table next to him and calmly started brushing his now freed hair.
After a moment’s silence, he said calmly: “I will give all of you 30 seconds to clear out of my walls, ceiling and floor.” His voice was as sweet as honey as he poke. “If anyone remains after that, I will personally make your lives miserable beyond belief once my awakening is completed and I am queen over this place. My bodyguard here is a tracker, so don’t doubt for a second that he’ll be able to find you if you stay.” Lynne was about to start counting down when he stopped himself and quickly added: “Oh, and please tell King Fenix that trust is to be earned, not sneakily stolen. One… Two…”
With that, Lynne really did start counting. Right away there were a few ruffles behind the walls, but it quickly quieted down again and Lynne considered stopping his countdown. Looking over at Adan, he saw the youth shake his head and indicate towards several other areas around the room. Lynne couldn’t help but feel impressed by Adan’s sharp senses, and the hiding people seemed to agree because after that it took less than fifteen seconds before Adan finally informed Lynne that he could stop counting. “They’re gone.”
“Are you sure?” Lynne asked. It wasn’t so much that he did trust Adan’s abilities, but his and his entire family’s lives depended on it.
“I’m sure. Even the two guards outside have stepped back far enough to not hear what is being said in here anymore; unless you to start to shout, no one will hear you.”
Lynne breathed a heavy sigh and angrily tossed the hairbrush onto the bed. He pulled a napkin out from within his sleeve and started adamantly wiping the palm that the king had kissed earlier. His action seemed to amuse Adan, because the latter chuckled; “Homophobic, are we?”
“Homo-what?” Lynne had never heard the word, but Adan didn’t seem inclined to explain it in detail, he just nodded towards the napkin in Lynne’s hands.
“You are working very hard to clean that palm of yours.”
“Wouldn’t you? That lowlife practically licked it!” Lynne shuddered. “We must find a way to get out of here soon or he’ll eat me whole!”
Lynne was too distracted by cleaning his hand to notice the deep amusement that shone in Adan’s eyes. “I don’t think you have to worry about that.”
“Not worry?” Lynne snapped, finally looking up. “Did you not see how he looked at me? It’s only a matter of time before he gropes me, and when he doesn’t find what he’s looking for, I’m done! My family is done!”
Adan rolled his eyes. “He isn’t as into you as you think. He was only being … well, let’s call it polite.”
Lynne snorted. “Forgive me for not trusting the forest hermit in matters of love.”
“Forest hermit?” A golden eyebrow perked on Adan’s forehead. “What an honor – I’ve moved up from being a simple country bumpkin.”
Now it was Lynne’s turn to roll his eyes, but Adan ignored it. The young man pushed off from the wall he had been leaning against and slowly walked towards Lynne.
“I might not have seen much of this world, but I do know that there are certain things that change when you are close to someone you’re attracted to. Your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes heavier, and when you see that person…”
Adan’s voice trailed off momentarily as he stopped only a step away. Lynne stared at him, oddly transfixed. Adan smiled.
“…you find yourself unable to look away.”
Stunned, Lynne managed to do nothing as Adan bent down and grabbed hold of the hand that had turned slightly red from Lynne’s scrubbing. Against Lynne’s pearly skin, Adan’s hand seemed even darker than usual. The slight golden shimmer made it seem almost divine, instantly taking Lynne’s breath away.
“Wha-…” Lynne’s heart skipped several beats, but before he had the chance to retract his hand, Adan had turned it over and pulled it to his lips, softly kissing Lynne’s palm. Instantly, warmth spread from the touch and a peculiar tingling sensation rushed through Lynne’s stomach like thunder in a storm.
He barely noticed when Adan released his hand and completely missed the youth’s pleased chuckle. It wasn’t until the panel door to the adjacent room clicked shut that Lynne registered what Adan had said before leaving.
“Trust my senses, princess; the king felt nothing like that for you.”
Instantly, Lynne’s face flushed red. Without thinking, he grabbed a pillow off the bed and heaved it at the already closed passage. He wanted to barge in after Adan and have a go at him, but as he raised his hand to push at the door’s switch, Lynne faltered. With his face quickly paling, Lynne sank back onto the chair. He pulled out his handkerchief again, but somehow he couldn’t find the will to use it this time.
On the other side of the hidden pathway, Adan clutched her stomach as she fought not to burst out in uncontrolled laughter.
“Very funny, Adan,” the A.I. muttered, unimpressed. “Have you no compassion for the boy?”
“No compassion?” Adan wiped a tear off her face. “I’d say I have plenty of compassion. I even told him about what that Fenix guy – haha jwo’jor was it? – I even retold what he said!”
“Fine, I more like hinted at it. But telling Lynne that the king knows he isn’t female right off the bat would spoil the fun.” Adan quickly looked around the room she had entered; it wasn’t much more than a bed and a water basin on a bench.
“Sai’s records of human interactions show that others of your species would call your behavior insufferable.”
“Lucky for me, I’m the only one around.” Adan stuck out her tongue playfully, but her demeanor quickly turned more serious. “Besides, there is much we still don’t know.”
With a thought, the voices Adan had heard earlier echoed through her ears again.
“Your Highness, I thought you said an ice bender couldn’t possibly be a woman.”
“Don’t call me that when we’re just the two of us,” the king corrected. “But I have to agree with you; had my father not left me the ancient scripts, I would never have guessed that Lynne is male. He has worked quite hard at his female persona.”
“It is fortunate, though; it will make the next step easier.”
At this point, the words started to trail off. Adan had finally been too far off and with too much porous rock in the way to make out such softly spoken words.
Visual recordings from the first meeting with the king were replayed next. Adan shifted her attention from the different people in the hall as the conversation dragged on and even before overhearing that last bit, it had already been clear that the king’s lust for Lynne was fake.
He might be able to alter his breathing and gaze, but he clearly had no training in controlling his heart rate and blood pressure – or he couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it. Not to mention the total lack of the pheromones present during male arousal. No amount of training would change that.
What was more interesting though was Emberon. The man had hidden his emotions very well once he stepped out from his hiding place, but thanks to Adan’s excellent senses, standing in the darkness wasn’t enough to hide him from her. She had not missed that his gaze had been vicious – almost hungry – as he stared at Lynne, and not in a lewd way. Also, once the king called him forward, Emberon actually sneered at the man before hiding his disdain and stepping out into the light.
“Observations indicate that this planet is not exempt from intrigues at court,” the A.I. commented as it reported the vitals it had recorded on Emberon at the time. “There was a clear peak in the King’s bodyguard’s heart rate when the Valdmane involvement was being discussed.”
Adan nodded and glanced towards her small room’s main entrance. “Reduce the BioArmor protection to 50% and get a full scan of the castle and the two churches. Set a sentinel on Emberon and the King.”
Three firm and steadily paced knocks came from the door.
As Adan moved towards the door, small black pearls rolled out from the wide legs of her pants. There were thousands of them, and for a moment they remained motionless on the floor, only to, in the next heartbeat, shiver and start moving on their own. They fanned out across the floor and up the walls, sneaking into hidden crevasses here and there. As they passed through the cracks, their little black bodies shimmered and disappeared entirely.
The message [Perimeter scan in progress] appeared in front of Adan’s eyes just as she opened her door and flashed a smile to the man waiting anxiously on the other side.
“Duke Kimba, you got here quickly.”