Standing outside the door, Lord Kimba worriedly examined Adan, his black eyes meticulously checking her entire body.
“Don’t worry, Duke, I’m all here,” Adan chuckled, motioning for the man to enter her room.
“Haha, of course you are.” Kimba laughed it off, but his gaze still seemed a bit nervous. He declined Adan’s invitation. “I just wanted to make sure you had settled in okay. I have talked to the King, and he has agreed to let me and my tribe help you with your awakening. We will start as soon as the Marquis Hayden of arrives.”
“A week from now?” Adan raised an eyebrow.
“The King assumed you wouldn’t agree to leave Lady Lynne unattended,” the Duke explained. He paused, hesitating to say more, but after glancing at the guards standing a few paces from Lynne’s door, he eventually decided against it. “Dinner is at seven,” he informed instead. “The King expects the Lady to attend.”
Adan smiled crookedly, guessing at what had been left unsaid. “I am aware, Duke Kimba. I will make sure the princess is on time.”
For a moment, Kimba said nothing, standing awkwardly outside of Adan’s room. Finally, he nodded. “Be careful not to move around too much,” the Duke warned before bidding farewell. Adan followed the dark-skinned man’s departing back with her eyes.
“Over-protective?” she murmured, amused.
“Sai thinks he sees you as an important asset. Protection is only to be expected.”
“Thinks?” Adan smiled as she stepped back into her room and sat down on the floor, opting against the rickety bed that seemed unlikely to be able to hold under her weight. “How unscientific of you, Sai.”
“It is merely an observation,” the A.I. refuted.
“If you say so.” Adan wasn’t convinced but she didn’t push the matter. She closed her eyes, but instead of darkness, a quickly growing three-dimensional map appeared before her. “Impressive place.”
The long walk needed to get from the main hall to Lynne’s chambers was clearly not an exception; the palace was huge. Nearly every room seemed to be meticulously designed with great attention to details, both when it came to carvings in the walls and the grand architecture in general.
“Indeed,” the A.I. agreed, not bothering with the earlier topic any further. “Given this planet’s level of development, this palace could possibly be at the height of what can be constructed.”
“Have the King and his bodyguard been located?”
“At this point in time, their location is unknown. So far, four hundred and twenty-one people have been found, but there is a risk that the two in question have left the main building.”
“Keep expanding the search.”
Adan continued to study the map, her attention eventually drawn to a dark area at the center of the palace. The space was perfectly cube-shaped – with every side being roughly four meters long – and it was surrounded by charted rooms on all sides.
“What is up with this space?”
“Sai is unable to answer that question at this point. There are no detectable entrances to that space and the walls are too solid for the BioArmor sentinels to pass through.”
“Really?” Adan raised her brow in surprise. The palace’s architecture was advanced for this planet, but it was far from the standards of the universe that her BioArmor sentinels had been designed to deal with. Although the sentinels couldn’t pass through too dense solids, if even a single water molecule could make its way through the material, so could they. In other words, given the technology she had seen since she arrived, there should be no such thing as a door that the BioArmor sentinels couldn’t find and move through. “How interesting.”
“Given the space’s location, there is only a negligible possibility that the cube has a structural purpose. Should Sai post sentinels around the area for further observation?”
“Please do,” Adan confirmed. She might have gone to take a look herself, but there were quite a few closed doors between her and the odd space, so even in camouflage mode, getting there without drawing some attention would be tricky.
There was also the matter of the King’s dinner. Adan used the map in front of her to zoom in on the room next to hers. Thanks to the nanobots currently in Lynne’s body, Adan could get a very accurate reconstruction of what the boy was doing. By the looks of it, he was preparing to take a bath.
“Have you no decency?” the A.I. muttered. Lynne’s reconstruction was accurate for his movements but not his appearance, so it couldn’t technically be counted as peeping, but the A.I. still considered it a bit inappropriate.
“Not really, no.” Adan smiled.
Soaking in the warm and sweet-smelling water that some palace maids had brought to his room, Lynne sighed. Looking down at his submerged body, it struck him how much faith he had placed in Adan’s abilities as his bodyguard – the boy wasn’t even in the room, and yet Lynne trusted that he would make sure none of the spies returned.
Lynne couldn’t help but chuckle. He could imagine the youth chasing away new spies by casually strolling in from the room next door, giving some offhand remark that only the King should be allowed to see his Queen’s body and live to tell about it. Naturally, he would completely ignore the fact the he himself would be seeing Lynne’s body at the same time. The notion caused Lynne’s heart rate to quicken and immediately he cursed.
“Dammit, have I been living as a woman for too long?”
No longer feeling so relaxed in the bathtub, Lynne abruptly stood up. For a moment, he paused, water dripping from his long hair and small droplets making their way down his well-toned body. He found himself glancing towards the pathway to Adan’s room, but there was no movement.
Clicking his tongue, Lynne pulled a soft towel from the rack placed next to the tub and dried his body as he stepped out of the water. Finally, he used the towel to wrap up his hair and headed over to the closet by the entrance to pick a dress to wear for dinner. However, as he opened the closet, his face paled.
Every single dress was a complex web of fabrics and lace, and on closer inspection practically every one of them was designed to emphasize a woman’s chest. “Horny lowlife!” Lynne swore. He wanted to use his own dress, but the one he had worn on the road was far from pristine by now and the rest of his wardrobe had been discarded even before his first faked abduction.
After much searching, Lynne found a dress that at least covered his non-existing cleavage, but it was also the most intricate of the dresses. Swearing once again, Lynne started the battle of getting into the dress.
Nearly an hour later, Lynne was still struggling with the dress. He had managed to get it on, but some of the lacing was in the back, and no matter how he bent his body, he couldn’t reach it.
“I see why Mistress Cain was so insistent on getting a maid to help you.”
Lynne jumped around, the sudden movement causing the towel that had still been wrapped around his hair to fall loose. His still slightly damp locks fell down and partially obscured Lynne’s view of Adan, but he could still imagine the mockery in the young man’s eyes.
“Pretty.” The comment sounded oddly sincere, but Lynne still felt like it had to be sarcastically meant.
“Oh, please, I look ridiculous.” Lynne flicked the hair out of his face and turned around to reveal his back to Adan. “Help me with the lacing.”
There was no answer, but just as Lynne was about to turn his head to see what Adan was doing, he felt warm fingers trailing down his spine. Lynne fought against a shudder, his heart skipping a beat.
“You’ve got the back of a dancer; strong and flexible. Plenty of endurance.”
The youth’s words sounded ambiguous but without saying anything further, Adan got to work with the dress’ lace. Lynne swallowed. Every now and then, Adan’s fingers brushed innocently against his spine and he could almost feel Adan’s warm breath at the back of his neck. As time went on, a sweet yet woody scent began enveloping Lynne and he could feel his heart rate increasing. He frowned, but just as he was about to give up and move away, Adan’s presence at his back was gone. Confused and slightly dazed, Lynne turned around only to find that Adan had moved over to the vanity table. The lacing was done.
Lynne frowned. “You want to do my hair?”
“Haha, do you even know how to?”
“I’ll manage. Besides, we are short on time. Unless you want to run through the entire palace, I need to fix your hair while you do your make-up. Otherwise, we will miss dinner.”
Lynne hesitated. Doing his make-up did indeed take a while since it had to hide his more masculine facial features, and the appointed dinner with the King wasn’t so far off anymore. He sighed.
“Well, even if you do it poorly, I guess that’s okay. I’m not intending to make a good impression on the man anyway…”
As Lynne expected, Adan smiled mischievously but said nothing. Lynne moved over to the vanity table and sat down, immediately focusing on his own face in the mirror. He figured that was the best way to ignore Adan’s close proximity and the odd effect the youth had on him. Twenty minutes later, Lynne was finished with his make-up, and only then did he lift his gaze to Adan and the fingers moving through his hair. Instantly, his jaw dropped in surprise; he had never seen such an intricate hairstyle before.
There were more types of braids in his hair than Lynne knew existed, and several pearls had been woven into them as well. The braids where coiled around his head, mimicking some of the patterns on the dress he was wearing and giving Lynne an elegant yet domineering look.
“Fit for a queen?” Adan asked, the amused tone in his voice unmistakable.
“Where the heck did you learn to make something like this?” Lynne picked up a handheld mirror and turned to look at the back of his head.
Adan shrugged. “I’ve got a sister.”
“Who would still live in the forest!” Lynne retorted, not buying Adan’s bullshit for even a second. Unfortunately, Adan escaped further questioning, because at that moment there was a firm knock at the door.
“Your Highness,” Mistress Cain’s voice rang out from the other side. “The King has asked me to escort you to the dining hall for the evening meal.”
“Duty calls,” Adan teased, poking out his tongue playfully.
“Tche,” Lynne clicked his own tongue, secretly vowing to question Adan further at a later time, before he called out to the woman waiting outside that he would be ready shortly.
Picking a few random accessories off the vanity and putting them on, Lynne took a deep breath before heading out of his room with Adan three steps behind him.
“Please, have a seat, Sir Adan.” The King motioned to the empty chair on Lynne’s right.
Adan glanced around the table. Apart from the King and Lynne, only three other people sat at the nearly twenty-meter-long dining table. In addition to Duke Kimba, the other two had been just been introduced as the head priest and priestess of Solmane’s two Churches.
“I perform my duty better standing,” Adan refused the King’s invitation, her tone neither polite nor rude.
“Haha, this again?” the King smiled without the merriment quite reaching his eyes. “I think we can both agree that whether you stand or sit, it will make little difference for the Lady’s safety.”
Adan shrugged and moved to sit down. “No argument there.” She winked at Lynne, who had shot her a disapproving glare. Farther down the table, the head priest scoffed, clearly not impressed by Adan’s behavior.
With all guests in place, servants quickly appeared with various dishes while idle chatter broke out around the table. Adan didn’t need to pretend to be uninterested as she did her best to ignore the conversations – it was only empty pleasantries at this point anyway. Her lip did curl slightly as the head priestess complimented Lynne’s hair, though. Adan once again blamed her sister when she was asked where she had learned such exquisite braid work, but secretly laughed on the inside; Nadia wouldn’t agree to have her hair grow beyond five centimeters even if you threatened her life, let alone braid it. The braids were all thanks to the A.I.’s extensive database and Adan’s nimble fingers.
It wasn’t until the conversation moved towards Lynne’s impending awakening that Adan actually started to take a true interest in what was being said.
“I assure you, Your Highness, Princess Lynne’s awakening is in safe hands among the Priestesses of the Moons,” the head priestess – a surprisingly young woman who was simply referred to as Holy Mother – solemnly vowed. “The complication that arose at Prayer Village will not happen again.”
“It better not.” King Fenix’s voice was stern as he spoke. “Princess Lynne is not only our strongest trump card if a full-scale war breaks out, she is also my future wife. Nothing must happen to her.” As the man spoke the last sentence, he looked at Lynne with so much faked wanting that Adan was hard-pressed not to laugh.
“Naturally,” the Holy Mother agreed, seemingly oblivious to the King’s lustful behavior. “I will oversee the process myself.”
Lynne, too, did his best to ignore the King’s stare. “As I am sure the Holy Mother has already been informed, quite a few blessings had to be left out on the journey here. Can the awakening still be performed safely?”
The woman smiled, two cute dimples making her already young face seem even more youthful. “Fear not, my child, the Eve of Moons is but a fortnight away. On such an auspicious night, any awakening to the water elements is bound to be a success.”
Lynne and the others around the table nodded in acceptance, so even though Adan was curious about what the Eve of Moons was, she refrained from asking here. She didn’t mind being weird in front of Lynne – that ship had already sailed, so to speak – but if the Eve of Moons was something even Sun Tribe people should know about, then asking about it would be suspicious.
Adan instead considered the large map she had gained over the most of palace and church complexes. There were two reasons the map was incomplete. The first was that the BioArmor’s communication range with its sentinels was rather limited on a planet that lacked broadband communication, and due to the sheer size of the complex and its dense stone walls, the sentinels couldn’t reach all of it at once. The second reason was the blocked-off areas her sentinels couldn’t enter. Apart from the cube in the palace, each church building also had a cubed space that the sentinels couldn’t enter, and yet people seemed to be guarding them. Adan had wondered if they might have something to do with the religion practiced in this country and decided to start probing.
“How does an awakening of an ice bender work?” she asked the head priestess out of the blue.
Silence spread across the room as everyone looked at Adan with odd gazes, while she stared back innocently.