An odd silence descended upon the great hall. At first, Lynne was too annoyed at his brother’s untimely teasing to notice the change, but once he did a shiver ran down his spine.
“Father . . .” Lynne started hesitantly, wanting to draw his father’s attention away from Adan, but Marquis Hayden raised his rough hand to silence him.
“Are you the whelp who has been accompanying my daughter, both in her carriage on the way here and and in her room the past week?”
Adan didn’t reply and just kept smiling back with that infuriatingly bewitching smile.
“Father, Adan saved . . .”
“Silence, child,” his father interrupted, firmly cutting Lynne off. “Let the boy speak for himself!” His steely gaze turned even harsher, never leaving Adan. “Speak, boy, what are your intentions with my daughter? She is engaged to the King and is not lacking in people capable of protecting her. My daughter does not need a tawny bodyguard like you!”
Adan tilted his head to the side, his eyebrows raised provocatively as if to say “you could have fooled me”, but surprisingly the youth remained silent.
“Very well,” Lynne’s father snorted. “I will teach you your insignificance, myself.”
Before Lynne managed to process the meaning behind those words, his father took action. Infernal flames burst into life and quickly covered the marquis’ bulging arms. He shot forward like a metal ball out of a cannon and arrived in front of Adan before the latter had even managed to raise his fists.
“Adan!” Lynne yelled and reached out in an attempt to stop his father, but it seemed that Branton had anticipated his reaction. His brother had grabbed Lynne’s hand and now refused to let go.
Lynne was nimble and strong so his brother wouldn’t be able to hold him for long but it would still be too late. Lynne looked up just as his father’s burning fist was about to make contact with Adan’s jaw. The movement was so fast that he could barely follow it with his eyes, but with only a hair’s breadth to spare, Adan seemingly disappeared!
Lynne froze in shock. Adan had actually managed to sidestep his father’s punch from such a close distance! That shouldn’t be possible without the use of fully awakened elements. Adan’s partial natural awakening wouldn’t help him at all against Lynne’s father.
Marquis Hayden seemed equally surprised but he only staggered slightly before readjusting his mindset and twisting his body to punch Adan again. Fist after fist was aimed at Adan’s body, leaving flaming strikes in the air, but remarkably enough the youth kept sidestepping them.
Lynne’s father was growing more and more annoyed with every failed hit and his fighting spirit as ignited.
“Stop running and take the hit like a man!” he growled in frustration as his flames spread to his legs and punches were replaced with kicks. His initial attack may have been intended to test Adan, but now the marquise was fighting for real.
Lynne was in a daze. He had stopped struggling against his brother’s grip and simply stared, wide-eyed at the fight taking place in front of him, which was growing increasingly wild. He was mesmerized by Adan’s fluid movements as he seemingly danced out of reach. The flickering flames made Adan’s golden brown shimmer as if it were itself on fire, his short hair swaying like golden flames.
Before he knew it, the one-sided exchange of blows had been going on for minutes and had moved from one end of the hall to the next. Noticing how Adan’s breathing was growing increasingly labored, Lynne started to worry. Just as he was about to make another attempt to appease his father, Adan faltered in his steps giving a sudden opening in his defense. Fear gripped Lynne; if he could see it, his father definitely would do the same. The marquis was serious now and wouldn’t hold back his attack. The result would be fatal.
“No father, don’t!”
Lynne pulled himself free and rushed forward but it was too late. He could only watch in horror as his own father’s flaming foot connected with Adan’s abdomen, sending the latter flying like a cannonball across the room. As luck would have it, Adan crashed into the king’s bodyguard who had moved to his king’s side at some during of the fight. The man groaned and fell backwards from the impact but managed to break their fall with an outstretched hand.
Lynne rushed forward, ignoring his somewhat stunned father, and crouched at the youth’s side. Adan’s face had paled significantly and blood was visible at the corner of his mouth. He grimaced in pain as he clutched his abdomen, where the fabric of his clothes had been burned beyond recognition.
Lynne’s fingers trembled slightly as he tried to move away Adan’s hands, but the youth resisted.
“Let . . . let me see,” Lynne almost pleaded. In his mind he kept seeing the scene of Adan flying across the room and felt his own stomach clench with pain.
“I’m fine,” Adan breathed but the blood in his mouth made it less than convincing.
“Let me see!” Lynne demanded again, his voice firm this time. He locked eyes with Adan, determined to get his way. After a moment, Adan sighed helplessly and removed her hand, revealing the perfectly fine skin underneath.
“But you . . .”
“I told you it’s not as bad as it looks, your father held back his flames in the last second.” Adan struggled to get up on his feet but rejected the hand Lynne held out to help him up. “I’ll just need a bit of rest.”
Lynne did not believe Adan but his father’s voice came from behind, halting his current line of thought.
“I really did hold back in the last second,” he said, sounding somewhat puzzled. “I . . .”
“You held back?” It was Lynne’s time to cut him off, anger flaring across his face. “Your kick sent him flying across the hall! Adan is my bodyguard, how dare you treat him like that!”
“Sister . . .” Branton tried to mediate but to no avail.
“No! Father has gone too far this time! I will tell mother of this!”
Marquis Hayden suddenly shivered and gave his son a pleading look. “Not that, Lynne. . . . Surely your mother doesn’t need to know about this?”
Lynne snorted and turned around, ignoring his father. He planned on berating the man further, but before he got the chance a sudden laughter filled the hall. Everyone turned to look at the molten lava throne where the king was laughing so hard his shoulders shook.
“And here I thought I would never see Princess Lynne show how caring she actually is!” the king managed between laughs. “Truly marvelous!”
Lynne felt a bit awkward, subconsciously straightening out his dress and correcting his posture.
“My apologies, Your Highness. You have been shown something unsightly.”
“It’s just Fenix for you and not at all,” the king waved his hand and smiled an almost lewd smile. “My future wife’s family can be considered my own. I’m glad to see your enthusiasm.”
King Fenix paused and glanced at his own bodyguard before turning his attention to Adan. “Besides, it’s not every day you get to see such high-level footwork. I understand why Duke Kimba is so keen to complete your awakening. Fortunately, Emberon was there to help soften the kick, or I would have a hard time explaining things tomorrow.”
Lynne looked over at Adan to see him wiping the blood from the corner of his mouth before giving the king a slight nod. Adan looked steady on his feet but Lynne noticed that the youth’s jaw was clenched, as if fighting back a pained moan. Lynne felt his heart clench.
“Fenix, my father and brother have traveled far. We have a lot to catch up on and my bodyguard could use some rest. I request for us to be dismissed.”
The look Lynne received from the king sent a shiver down his spine. The king was undoubtedly handsome, but Lynne couldn’t help but wonder if any woman would enjoy being looked at with such unhidden lust. Lynne could feel his father tensing up next to him.
“Very well,” the king agreed after an unbearably long stare. “You may retire to your chambers. If sir Adan is in need of care, just send for the healers. I have arranged the adjacent rooms for your family. Mistress Cain, if you please?”
The elderly attendant stepped forward and started giving orders to the servants Marquis Hayden had brought with him. She guided the dozen or so people skillfully, leaving no room for mistakes. Lynne breathed out in relief and urged Adan to start moving back. He barely remembered to turn around and give the king’s bodyguard a grateful smile, but was surprised by the intense anger in the man’s eyes. The look in Emberon’s eyes quickly softened, though, so Lynne almost doubted he had seen it at all.
Mistress Cain’s firm voice called Lynne back to his senses, and he was quick to follow behind the white-haired woman. He knew better than to offend her and seeing Adan’s still pale face, Lynne pushed the issue with Emberon’s attitude to the back of his mind.
“My apologies, Mistress Cain; we are coming.”
“Level 9 jurisdiction, Sai? Really?” Adan lamented as she followed Lynne back to his room. She was in quite a lot more pain than her face gave away; she was suffering internal bleeding in multiple organs and electrical currents traveled through her body every few seconds.
“Thwarting an assassination attempt on a local monarch leaves no room for discussion,” the A.I. replied matter-of-factly.
“It was the Marquis who kicked me in the way, not me.”
“Sai knows your tactics all too well. You may have covered it up well in front of the others, but Sai can only lower the level one step to the milder level nine.”
“‘Mild’ my ass,” Adan grunted.
“Did you say something?” Lynne asked, looking concerned.
Adan smiled bitterly and straightened her body even more. By now, no signs of her inner pain were visible on her face. “No, nothing.”
Lynne moved in closer and lowered his voice. “Are you sure you’re okay, Adan? You spit out blood.”
There was still some doubt in Lynne’s face, but he was starting to accept it. He snorted and glanced angrily at the Marquis, who was walking behind them. “Father really doesn’t know how to hold back. He could have killed you!”
Adan chuckled, not bothering to comment. The fighting power of Lynne’s father was indeed very impressive. Had Adan been a regular solider of the Federation and without her BioArmor, then Marquis Hayden’s fully powered kick would certainly have killed her. The man had held back at the last second, but Adan had worked so hard to get the right timing on her opening that she couldn’t let it go to waste.
Right before the kick had landed, Adan had kicked off the floor. She had added force to the man’s kick to allow herself to fly into the king’s bodyguard, who had just been ready to stab a knife into the former’s neck. Adan had taken no damage whatsoever from the kick or the subsequent crash into the treacherous Emberon; all of her injuries were caused by the programmed disciplinary responses of her A.I.’s nanobots. Breaking a level 9 jurisdiction was very severe, and while the nanobots would assure no lasting damage, having several organs ruptured at once was not a pleasant experience.
“They would have pinned it on Lynne and his family.”
“They had the place surrounded and were just waiting for a reason to attack. They would have been killed if I hadn’t intervened.”
“. . . .”
“. . . .”
“I think we might have a problem.”
“. . . Should Sai take further corrective action?”
Adan glanced over at Lynne by her side and sighed.
“Just . . . just keep him distracted from wondering who I am for now. I will be out of his life soon enough. As for myself . . . let it be for now.”