The next morning, Adan opened her eyes just as the first rays of sunlight filtered in through her small window. She stood up and flexed her body, feeling a slight stiffness in her movements. Her punishment for breaching a level 9 restriction had passed just after midnight, and by now the nanobots in her body had already repaired the damage they had caused, but the stiff feeling wouldn’t pass for another day.
Adan sighed and looked towards the secret passage that led to Lynne’s room. On the other side of it, Lynne was sleeping soundly in his oversized bed. The nanobots Adan had left in his body showed his haphazard sleeping posture as he hugged his duvet like a human-sized pillow. This posture was way more relaxed than it had been the previous mornings; usually he would not move around much, carefully protecting his body’s secrets even in his sleep. Clearly his family’s arrival had relaxed him.
Adan sighed again.
“There are too many dangers. . . .” she muttered.
“Sai would like to point out that Federation history has recorded far more complicated schemes,” Adan’s A.I. pointed out matter-of-factly as several historical events were listed out on her retina. “Lynne’s situation can still be considered fairly straightforward compared to these.”
“You can’t really compare the dealings of a fully developed, millennia-old Federation with the place we are now,” Adan countered, chuckling without real mirth. “Besides, it’s complicated enough to put Lynne in serious danger.”
There really were too many intrigues within the castle. On the one hand, hidden forces moved to kill off Lynne and blame it on the Sun Tribe. On the other hand, the King’s life was in danger, too, and his death was bound to be pinned on either the Sun Tribe or Lynne and his family, depending on what opportunities came. Emberon was very much at the center of all of this, and while Adan had yet to figure out why the man would choose to betray his King and his nation, it was clear that he was working together with the Valdmani to create chaos and internal strife within the borders of Solmani.
From listening in on conversations between Emberon and the King, it was clear that they already knew that Lynne was a male. While the King didn’t seem to have any malicious intentions towards the man, and oddly enough even seemed set to help Lynne keep his secret, Emberon was clearly not of the same mind.
For Lynne, this was catastrophic. An enemy he wasn’t even aware of already knew his biggest weakness and was no doubt plotting to use it against him.
A third sigh.
“I really hope that I can learn something about these element benders that would warrant me to keep the only ice bender I’ve found alive.”
By the time Lynne woke up, the sun was already high in the sky. Bright light fought its way through the gaps in his heavy curtains, painting thin strips of light throughout the otherwise dark room.
Lynne looked around the room, momentarily confused, but his thoughts were interrupted by a firm knock on the door.
“Daughter, are you decent?” his father’s voice called from outside the room.
“I-I am reading in bed,” Lynne lied and arranged his duvet to better cover his body just as Marquis Hayden opened the door and walked in. Behind him followed his brother Branton and a sturdy-looking woman with fair skin. Lynne recognized her at once as Imma, his mother’s bodyguard.
They closed the door behind them to block any prying eyes and Branton happily walked up to the windows, pulling back the curtains. “Still sleeping at this hour?” he teased. “If I didn’t know better, I would think that you have actually turned into a spoiled princess.”
Lynne shielded his eyes from the sudden light and answered without thinking, “Adan usually comes to wake me up. . . .”
“Oh, the Sun Tribe boy? The two of you really have gotten close! Normally you would wake up the moment someone so much as walks past your room, let alone comes inside.”
Lynne couldn’t refute his brother. Because of his situation, Lynne was a notoriously light sleeper and would wake up at the first sign of movement in his vicinity. Even today was no exception, as he had woken up because there was movement outside the door. However, the same rule did not seem to apply to Adan, who would always already be at his side when he was woken.
“Is it because he is unbelievably quiet or . . .” Lynne’s thoughts trailed off as his gaze fell on a piece of paper that was lying on his nightstand, although it had not been there when he went to bed.
Lynne reached out to read it.
‘I’m heading out to speak to Kimba about my awakening. Your family’s guards have replaced the King’s people, so you will be fine without me, Princess. /Adan’
There was even something scribbled in the corner that looked a little bit like a smiling face, but Lynne didn’t feel like smiling. He felt conflicted. Ever since they first met, Lynne had been growing increasingly close to his impromptu bodyguard, but every now and then he could feel Adan deliberately distancing himself.
Lynne enjoyed the feeling of having someone around him that he could be completely relaxed with. Adan knew all of his secrets by now and still accepted him as a friend. Contrary to his family, Lynne didn’t feel the pressure of needing to shoulder his secret when he was around Adan. He felt no guilt at being born as a male ice bender. Lynne could just be himself.
Adan, on the other hand, had many secrets left. There were too many wondrous things about his new bodyguard, and every time it felt like Lynne was closer to understanding him, something would happen that distracted him or Adan would pull away, adding to that distance again. Even now, Lynne could feel himself growing muddle-headed as he tried to sort out his thoughts about Adan.
It annoyed him. He wanted to know more about Adan, to be closer to him. Lynne had exposed himself entirely to Adan; didn’t he deserve the same?
A sudden touch on Lynne’s shoulder snapped him out of his daze. He looked up to find that his father had at some point moved to his side and was looking at him with concerned eyes.
“Are you all right?”
Lynne shook his head to clear his thoughts. “I’m fine, father.” He got out of bed and sat down in front of his mirror, picking up a brush to start detangling his hair.
Marquis Hayden observed him pensively for a moment before indicating to Imma to take over the brush in Lynne’s hand. The woman complied.
“I’ve been in discussions with the King and Holy Mother while you were sleeping,” his father stated. “They have agreed to take a more traditional approach to the awakening and allow you to have privacy during the soaking ritual. Only Imma will be present to keep you safe.”
Lynne glanced at the woman behind him. She was in her late thirties, and despite her sturdiness brought on by constant battles, she was still to be considered pretty. The only blemish to her face was a fairly long scar that ran along her left jaw. Imma was a bit clumsy with the brush, sometimes pulling painfully at Lynne’s hair, but he didn’t reprimand her. Instead, Lynne’s thoughts drifted to his first night at the palace, when Adan had so skillfully arranged his hair without Lynne even noticing.
“That is good news,” Lynne cleared his throat and looked away.
“Very much so!” Branton said with a laugh. “I don’t know if King Fenix is foolish or lovesick, but he was very willing to stop people from seeing you naked. I guess he wants to keep you to himself.”
The boy’s comment earned him another slap across the back of his head, this time from his father.
“This is no joking matter, son!” Hayden reprimanded, but he too was clearly relieved. “At least this sorts out the awakening. Once that is done, I will propose to the King that we should arrange a hunt in the Hollow Forest. Arranging an accident where you are able to slip away should be doable there.”
Lynne nodded as his eyes turned serious. The King had expressed that he wanted the wedding to take place once the awakening was complete. Lynne must escape before then. The Hollow Forest was a large woodland area not too far from Fire Isle. It got its name from the fact that it grew on top of a myriad of caverns and the forest ground itself had several gaping holes that one could risk falling into if careless. It was not a safe place, but the game that roamed there was unmatched and they could use the excuse of wanting to train his new powers to convince the King to agree to a hunt.
This was the plan they had agreed on yesterday. It was their best bet, but Lynne would have to spend the rest of his life in hiding afterwards.
Lynne’s father sighed and patted his son’s shoulder. “It will be tough on you. . . .”
“I’ll be fine, father; I look forward to a bit of freedom,” Lynne replied with a reassuring smile, but it was unclear if anyone in the room believed him.
Meanwhile, Adan had gone to visit Kimba to learn more about the awakening, but when she arrived, the man had been surprisingly tight-lipped. She had thought that he would introduce her to the Sun Tribes’ chief, who would assist with her awakening, but all Kimba did was interrogate her about the fight she’d had with Marquis Hayden the night before. After a long interrogation, he had finally talked a bit about the awakening, but all he had told her was that she would need to rise with the sun on the Eve of Moons and present herself at his room. Then they would together go to greet the Chief of the Sun Tribes for her ritual.
Adan couldn’t wait to learn more about the so-called Ancient Ones who had lived among the Sun Tribes hundreds of years earlier, but Kimba refused her request and told her that only the chief was allowed to say more. Adan had no choice but to be patient.
The following days went by quickly.
As the Eve of Moons came closer, the large city of Fire Isle got increasingly busy. Stalls were put up along the streets, filled with goods from all over the country. Several envoys arrived at the palace too and, as the future queen, Lynne had to make several appearances in court. The idea was for her to show the graciousness of the nation’s future queen, but of course Lynne wouldn’t take it lying down. His father’s presence made him a bit more restrained, but he still managed to stir up quite a lot of trouble for the poor King.
Knowing that King Fenix knew Lynne’s secret and still patiently put up with his fooling around, even adding to the drama by acting like a lovesick fool, Adan often had to bite herself to stop herself from laughing. She even felt a bit of pity for the king.
Of course, not everything was a laughing matter. Adan had noticed that more and more people with ulterior motives could be found around both Lynne and the King. Guards were added because of the festival, but Emberon was clearly in charge of them. Lynne was still fairly safe due to his father’s arrangement, but Adan feared that it wouldn’t be long before the King’s bodyguard ran out of patience and put his plan into action. Adan couldn’t help but feel frustrated as she thought of the situation Lynne was about to face while her hands were tied, unable to help.
On the evening before the big festival, Lynne and Adan sat in the young man’s room, looking out the big windows in silence. They had opened them up and could hear the liveliness of the city below from a distance. Far away in the horizon, the large sun was setting and the clouds and sky shifted in fantastic hues of red and blue.
Adan looked at it for a while, reminiscing about other sunsets she had seen throughout her life. On the surface there wasn’t much mystery to the one in front of her, and she had definitely seen more fantastic sunsets, but this one filled her with a lot of warmth. She could feel an odd excitement in her body that drowned out the frustration she had been feeling for days.
“Tomorrow is the day,” Lynne whispered beside her. “It feels a bit unreal.”
Adan looked over at Lynne and could see the same excitement she was feeling in his eyes, making his already pale blue irises shine like jewels. As he shifted his body slightly, the sunlight was reflected in the pale blue crystal on Lynne’s chest, pulling her gaze from the man’s face to his partially revealed chest.
A sly smile spread on Adan’s lips and she couldn’t help but breathe the word “. . . beautiful.”
“Mmm,” Lynne hummed, at first not looking away from the sunset, but when Adan said nothing more, he turned his head towards her, only to find her golden eyes staring at him rather than the sunset.
Adan didn’t miss the shudder that ran through his body and her smile deepened. She reached out to brush aside a strand of midnight-blue hair that had escaped Lynne’s hair pin and tucked it behind his ear. Lynne seemed shocked silly as he stared at her with wide-open eyes. Intrigued at his reaction, Adan ignored her A.I.s remarks about protocol and propriety and moved a little closer to the man.
She let her hand drop and lightly traced the collar of his loose robes until she reached the faintly shining crystal in his chest. Adan paused for a moment before letting her fingers brush against it. As soon as she made contact with the crystal, Adan felt a cool current running through her body, like a cool breeze on a hot summer’s day, causing her to shudder, too.
It was a refreshing feeling and instinctively, Adan wanted more. She pushed her palm firmly to Lynne’s chest and stepped even closer. They were now so close that Adan could feeling Lynne’s ragged breath on her ears. The cool sensation in her palm mixed with the heat blowing on her ears, making her blood boil with excitement.
Adan might be an elite soldier but she was not one to hold back on her impulses. She occasionally indulged in the company of both men and women, and while traditional relationships were out of the question, Amazonians were not prohibited from physical relationships. At times it was even encouraged. This was of course on the condition that it didn’t interfere with any mission.
So what about now? Adan was attracted to Lynne. There was no doubt about that. On face value alone, she wouldn’t say no to getting more intimate with the man. At the same time, she found herself liking Lynne the person more and more. Despite the pressure he was under, he continuously put others first, especially his family, but even the citizens of the nation got this courtesy and, increasingly so, Adan as well.
He pretended to be cold and aloof, but Adan had seen warmth underneath and suspected that Lynne would actually be quite open and playful if circumstances allowed it. His type fit her perfectly. Although it wasn’t more than idle curiosity right now, Adan could feel herself growing more attached to this man. If she took it further now . . . Adan feared stepping away would become difficult.
A warm hand suddenly gripped Adan’s wrist, bringing her out of her thoughts. She looked up from Lynne’s chest and locked eyes with his intense gaze. They were only centimeters apart at this point, and she could clearly see how Lynne’s glacier-blue eyes had turned a shade darker, surging emotions behind them.
He wanted her too.
Adan opened her mouth to speak, but before she could get a word out, she found her eyes covered by Lynne’s warm hand.
“Don’t . . . don’t look at me like that,” he breathed, his voice deeper than Adan had ever heard it before. “We- I can’t . . .”
The grip on Adan’s wrist tightened, and while she couldn’t feel any pain from it, the pressure helped clear her mind.
“Adan! Snap out of it!” Sai’s worried voice finally rang out in her head, pushing past the mental block she had subconsciously put up. “Think of your situation!”
Hidden behind Lynne’s palm, Adan blinked a few times as she pushed down the heat in her body. With her mind now more clear, she could tell that Lynne was currently struggling, both wanting and not wanting to move closer. Adan reflected on the predicament he was in, as well as her own disguise, and it was indeed inappropriate for them go further. Additionally, Lynne came across as quite the devoted type. Adan was bound to leave this place soon, one way or another, and she feared it would hurt the young man if he got more attached to her.
With a light chuckle, Adan took a large step back, slipping out of Lynne’s grip and raising both hands in surrender.
“Sorry, Princess,” she said with a joking tone. “You mesmerized me for a bit and I couldn’t help touching. It won’t happen again.” Adan turned and reached for the carafe on the nearby table and poured two glasses of cool water, handing one over to Lynne. She emptied hers in one gulp.
“Tomorrow morning I’ll have to head out early with Duke Kimba again for my Awakening. I don’t know how long it will take, so if I don’t make it back before you start your own Awakening, good luck.”
“Adan. . . .” Lynne’s voice was still a bit hoarse, but Adan pretended not to notice. She laughed instead.
“Don’t worry, Princess; your family will keep you safe. Afterwards, we can get started with your big getaway plan.” Adan winked and headed towards the passage leading to her own room.
“Adan!” Lynne’s firm voice caused her to pause in her step, but she didn’t turn around. “Adan . . . I’m sorry.”
Adan finally turned around and smiled honestly. “Don’t worry about it, Lynne; there is no need to apologize between friends.”
She waved her hand in a small salute and left, leaving a frowning Lynne behind.
“Should Sai take corrective measures?” the A.I. asked as Adan closed the passage behind her.
Adan thought on it for a moment then shook her head. “I’m fine. I must admit that the feeling from touching Lynne was quite memorable; it would be a pity to forget it. Do you think it has something to do with the marks?”
She might fancy the boy but her body’s reaction to touching him had been too large. Adan wasn’t foolish; there must be more to it.
“Sai’s analysis is still inconclusive. Sai noted a slight resonance between the membranes surrounding your cells and those within the native Lynne’s body. Perhaps this spurred on you reaction, but Sai in unable to prove this hypothesis.”
Adan nodded and gave a sly smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “It’s a pity the current situation is so complicated. I think I would enjoy having him as a sexual partner.”
“Copulation would be highly ill-advised under given conditions.”
“Yes, yes,” Adan rolled her eyes and sat down with her legs crossed on the floor. After thinking for a moment, she added: “You don’t have to alter anything for me, but it would be good if Lynne only sees this interaction as a dream.”
With only a few nanobots in his body, Sai couldn’t directly erase memories without risking damaging the man’s mind, but it could alter his perception of said memories. Make them seem less real or important. Adan didn’t want their interactions to turn awkward due to a momentary lapse of control on her part.
Adan closed her eyes, entering her sleeping state. In the room next to her, Lynne, who had yet to leave his spot by the window, suddenly felt really tired. Just moments earlier, he had been unable to stop his mind from replaying what had just happened over and over, fearing that he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep for days to come, but now he felt his eyes drooping. Lynne dragged himself to the bed, leaving the untouched glass of water on the window sill, and fell asleep before his head hit the pillow.