As soon as Lynne and his family had entered Lynne’s room, the former looked questioningly at Adan. Seeing the youth nod his head before sitting down cross-legged in a corner, Lynne sighed a breath of relief. The room was clear. Lynne walked over to his younger brother and smacked him over the head before Branton had a chance to react.
“Father will feel sad if you greet him distantly? Give him a hug like you used to?” Lynne growled. “What nonsense were you spouting!”
Branton ducked away and rubbed the back of his head, looking aggrieved. “I only wanted to help you relax!”
“I’m pretending to be a woman, not a little girl!”
“Lynne!” Hayden snapped, looking horrified. “Watch your words, we could be . . .”
“It’s fine, father,” Lynne interrupted and waved a hand towards the youth in the corner. “Adan is a Tracker, and a really good one at that; we haven’t had any spies around my room since the day we arrived. He already assured me that today is no exception.”
“A Tracker?” Both his father and brother looked surprised. “But even then . . .”
“And before you go questioning whether an unawakened Tracker can be relied on, don’t; Adan is a natural and has already initiated his awakening.”
Lynne clenched his fists and rested them on his hips, glaring angrily at his father. Initially, he had been nervous about how his father would react to Lynne’s newfound friend, but now he was only mad. He couldn’t help but feel annoyed that his own father had ended up wounding Adan, and while he had just been standing by, no less!
“Son, I . . .”
“I don’t want to hear it!” Lynne stepped forward, pointing his finger at his father’s nose. “You always just rush into things, never bothering to stop and listen. I see why mother gets so mad at you sometimes!”
“Pfft…!” A sudden snort of laughter stopped Lynne from continuing his lecture. He turned around, only to see Adan doing his best not to burst out laughing. Unfortunately, he failed.
“Haha, so funny!” Adan covered his stomach as he laughed uncontrollably. “Lynne! You’re acting just like a spoiled little princess! Haha! Please . . . stop . . . laughing hurts!”
There was a moment of silence from the rest in the room while they stared at Adan, but it didn’t take long before Branton joined in the laughing. Lynne’s lip twitched in annoyance, but even he couldn’t help but see the humor in it all. Soon, all four of them were laughing together and the tense feeling in the room instantly disappeared.
Still laughing, Lynne’s father walked over to Adan and stretched out his hand. “Haha, I can tell you are a good kid, both from your laughter and from your fighting skill! Here, give me your hand.” Adan didn’t hesitate to take it and was pulled to his feet. “I thank you for watching out for my son.”
Lynne observed the interaction from the side and couldn’t help but notice a brief flash of emotion – was it sadness? – in Adan’s eyes as he replied, but it was gone so quickly that Lynne almost thought he had imagined it all.
“You really are a very impressive fighter,” Hayden continued, “I didn’t mean to get that worked up during our fight, but you ignited my fighting spirit! Have you had any military training?”
“No, father, he grew up in the forest,” Lynne replied without really thinking. “I think years of hunting in the wilds has honed him.” Even as he said the words, Lynne couldn’t help but frown. Was that really what I wanted to say? I feel like I’m forgetting something. . . .
“In the wilds, you say? Impressive!” Hayden gave Adan a heavy pat on the back, causing the latter to take a few steps forward and grimace in pain.
“Yes, yes, Lynne, relax! The boy will be fine.” Hayden walked over to the sofas in front of the grand fireplace and sat down, motioning for the others to do the same. “Enough prattle, let us discuss what is important: What is the current situation, how did we get here and how do we change it around?”
The discussions by the fireside continued long into the night, and Adan constantly found herself forced to feign ignorance, often repeating that it was better to let the others decide on the action plan while she would just do her best to execute it.
“It’s been a while since I found the Federation’s restrictions so annoying,” Adan complained to her A.I. as Lynne and his family once again went back to discussing who might be after Lynne’s life and why.
“Sai can only agree.”
“We can’t keep on like this. If I don’t find out something more about the effects of the shrapnel in my chest soon, it will be impossible for me to spin it into a story that would allow me to help these people.”
“Sai must point out that what you learn might still not allow you to assist in the coming conflict.”
“I know,” Adan sighed, “but a girl can hope, can’t she?”
“Hope is irrelevant in the face of facts.”
Adan smiled. “Not always, Sai. Not always,” she retorted without going in to details. She didn’t mention how all facts told her that her A.I. should be an unfeeling machine that only did what her program allowed her to. Meanwhile reality was slowly proving otherwise.
“All these discussions are irrelevant if we don’t solve the issue of brother’s awakening!” Branton argued, suddenly slamming his hand in the table. “Why won’t you talk about it? Now that brother has arrived in the capital, there is no choice but to send him to the High Priestess for his awakening, but we already know how disastrous that will be.”
“Disastrous?” Adan cut in, finally hearing a subject she could engage in without risk of self-harm.
“During the awakening there are many rituals that one is not allowed to discuss outside of the ceremony itself, but one thing is certain: no matter what type of mark you are awakening, closeness to the element in question is a must,” Lynne explained patiently. “Absolute closeness.”
Adan’s eyebrows were raised in surprise. “You mean naked?” Lynne nodded yes. “For fire benders, too?”
Lynne looked to his father, who gave another nod. “Yes, although we don’t actually submerge ourselves in the flames before we are fully awakened.”
“I see. How problematic.”
“Indeed,” Adan’s A.I. muttered in her head. “The BioArmor could create an illusion for you, but Sai fears the armor itself would block out the ritual, as it did in the convent at Prayer Village.”
Adan silently concurred. Meanwhile her gaze shifted towards the door, but the conversation in the room continued with her changed focus unnoticed.
“Initially, we had never intended to get as far as the capital but . . .” Lynne paused, “Never mind. It is what it is now and Branton is right; we need to figure out a way for me to complete the awakening without me being naked with a bunch of gir- . . .”
Adan could feel Lynne’s warm breath on the palm of her hand as she quickly blocked Lynne from speaking any further. “We’ve got company,” she explained, and just seconds later muffled arguments could be heard from outside, quickly followed by the main doors to Lynne’s room bursting open. Duke Kimba stormed into the room, his already pitch-black face looking even darker than usual. Several guards were trying to hold him back, but it was as if he didn’t even notice.
“You can’t just enter the future Queen’s chambers!” the guards protested. “Duke Kimba, this is treason!”
“Sir Adan!” Duke Kimba shrugged off the guards and rushed to Adan’s side, completely ignoring everyone else in the room. “Are you hurt? How are your ribs? Can you breathe okay? How many fingers am I holding up?”
“I am perfectly fine, Duke,” Adan started, but it was as if the man had suddenly remembered that there were other people in the room. He spun around on his heels and pointed an angry finger at Marquis Hayden.
“And you! How dare you lay a hand on our sav- . . . I mean, your daughter’s savior? Have you no manners?”
Having a finger waved in his face for the second time that evening, Lynne’s father seemed to be at a loss of words. Silence descended at last, and for a moment, no one did anything. Lynne was the first to react. He ushered the guards out the door and offered the Duke a chair by the fireplace.
“Duke Kimba, I know you care dearly for your fellow tribesmen, and for Sir Adan in particular – he must be of great importance to you, considering all his talents.” Lynne poured the man a cup of hot tea, which Kimba accepted in a daze, purely out of habit. “I am terribly sorry for my father’s behavior earlier today, but I can assure you that no permanent harm has come to the boy, and a similar incident will not happen again.”
Adan looked on with an amused smile as Lynne skillfully calmed down the agitated duke using sweet words and subtle touches. If she didn’t know better, Adan would have taken Lynne for a hypnotist.
“In fact, we were just discussing the coming awakening rituals,” Lynne continued. “I understand Sir Adan will be undergoing his ritual at the same time as I do mine?”
“Um, yes well, that is the idea,” Kimba coughed to clear his throat and sipped some of the tea. “Most people outside of the Tribes are not aware of this, but the Day of the Moons is actually quite beneficial for the awakening of our Tribesmen, too.”
There was a shimmer of light in Lynne’s eyes. “Really? What a coincidence! Does the Sun Tribe also have the tradition of undressing with the elements?”
“We do, we do,” the Duke nodded but then laughed a little. “But we don’t do it in groups like your people do, Lady Lynne. We respect that the moment of awakening is a moment of solitude with the elements. No distractions should be allowed.”
“You don’t say,” Adan said as she smiled at Lynne, fully understanding his sneaky ways. “How interesting.”
The conversation about the upcoming awakening ceremonies continued for roughly another hour before both Duke Kimba and Lynne’s relatives had to leave or risk being shunned for poor manners. Naturally, the conversation had been more reserved with the duke in the room – both sides had things they wanted to keep to themselves, after all – but Kimba was very adamant that Adan had to come and see him first thing in the morning so that they could start going over her awakening in more detail. Adan happily approved before finally closed the door behind the trio.
“At last,” Lynne sighed and threw himself on his bed. “I thought they would never leave!”
“They would never leave?” Adan raised a quizzical eyebrow. “I get your feelings towards the duke, but you wanted your brother and father gone too? I thought you enjoyed seeing them.”
“I do, of course I do, but they always look so . . . worried around me. As if I could get myself exposed and executed any minute.” Lynne laughed self-deprecatingly. “Well, I guess that’s actually a possibility, but still. It would be nice to see them more relaxed around me.”
Adan walked over to the large bed and sat down at the edge of the mattress. “They care about you.”
“I know. I am very lucky to have such parents – many would not have chosen to even raise a male ice-bender, much less treat him so well. But, the danger I put them in . . .” – Lynne clenched his fists and punched a pillow – “all because some stupid prophecy!”
“A man was born with icy heart, and by his hand the world was torn apart?” Adan repeated the words Lynne had told her weeks earlier.
Lynne nodded. “Silly, isn’t it? One sentence in a thousand year old book and I was doomed to death even before I was born.”
Adan looked down at the young man next to her on the bed. He had loosened his gown, revealing his lean muscles underneath, and his midnight blue hair only made his pale skin look all the more striking. “The labs could not have created a more beautiful man. . . .” Adan mused to herself, ignoring the sudden flood of handsome men that her A.I. started flashing in front of her eyes, as if trying to undermine her thoughts. The A.I. grumbled “pervert” in Adan’s mind as she reached out to give Lynne a reassuring pat on his shoulder, shamelessly making sure to touch his bare skin in the process.
“Doomed since birth?” Adan smiled and gave him a mischievous wink. ” Perhaps, but you are not the only one with a fate, Lynne – and believe me, there are way worse fates than death.”
Lynne laughed lightly, clearly not fully believing her. However, they both smiled at each other before Adan said good night and headed for the hidden door leading to her own room. With her back turned to Lynne, her smile faded and her eyes grew cold. Only Adan knew how much she really meant what she had said: there really are worse fates in the world.