Without making a sound, Adan slipped down from her tree and followed alongside the running kidnappers and their victim. She smelled the air and, even though the bandits seemed predisposed against bathing, the tell-tail scent of adrenaline that surrounded the group still over shadowed the ruffian’s grime.
The air was ripe with anxiety and fear, too thick to come from one person alone.
“The pursuers are off course,” the A.I. informed, and a quick glance on the 3D-map showed Adan the magnitude of their error.
“They won’t catch up now,” she concluded and smiled mischievously.
“Do as you wish. . . .” muttered the A.I.; Adan had made an agreement with it to only intervene if the second group was unable to catch up – something that was now a fact.
It wasn’t so much that Adan was particularly inclined towards saving strangers, especially not the ungrateful ones, but she was curious about this blue-clad youth. Was it only his good looks that put him repeatedly in harm’s way or was there something more to his background? Then there was the question as to why he referred to himself as a woman. Granted, neither of these tidbits of information were of any greater importance to Adan, but it wasn’t like she was in a hurry.
Adan sped up a bit, bypassing the running group. Once she had roughly a hundred meter lead, Adan leaped up into a tree and waited. Moments later, as the group of kidnappers rushed by right underneath her, Adan dropped down from above. She landed smack on top of the largest brute, knocking him unconscious in one blow, but, even before his listless body hit the ground, Adan used him like a spring-board – propelling herself into the back of the man carrying the handsome captive.
Unprepared, the struck hoodlum flew forward like a cannon-shell and the youth he’d been carrying was tossed into the air. Adan stretched out her arms and easily caught the falling beauty, princess-style.
“We meet again,” she said with an wide smile, enjoying the look of utter surprise on the young man’s face. It really was a pretty face; pale and with eyes like icy glaciers.
“You. . . !” the man breathed in shock, but if he had intended to say more he didn’t get the chance.
“Give us the girl!” shouted one of the men who were still standing. Without waiting for a reply, he and his comrades rushed towards Adan with their long, curved swords drawn.
Adan chuckled and, with one arm still holding on to the rescued youth, simply side-stepped two of the attacks. She then used her bare hand to pinch the blade of the third person from above and yanked. As expected, the ruffian refused to let go of his sword and Adan used his forward momentum to effortlessly fling him into one of his comrades – it was by the width of a hair that neither of the two got impaled by each other’s swords as they tumbled to the ground.
Currently, only one ruffian remained standing, but he didn’t hesitate to rush forward yet again, this time sweeping his sword low as if hoping to cut Adan by her ankles.
Adan solution was to kick off from the ground and, with the aid of her free hand, actually leapfroged over the attacker. As soon as her feet touched the ground again, she twisted her body and kicked backwards, hitting the man squarely in the back. Adan didn’t use all her strength, but it was still enough to send him flying into a nearby tree; he was out cold.
“Saved you again,” she said, not quite finding the words she wanted from the still uncompleted translations.
“Not quite yet,” answered the man in her arms, an odd look of frustration in his eyes.
Adan frowned, but behind her she could hear the two nearly shish-kebab’d ruffians getting to their feet. A heartbeat later, a myriad of warning signs flashed by in front of Adan’s eyes.
[Warning! Infrared radiation detected!]
[Heat threat level 2 confirmed]
[Engaging active heat-resistance]
Although slightly confused, Adan didn’t hesitate to turn around on the spot, shielding the youth behind her back instead. Her eyes saw the two ruffians standing on either side of a still growing ball of fire which was forming between their hands. It took less than a second for the burning orb to reach the size of a mid-sized melon, at which point the two men yelled and threw the flaming projectile at Adan.
Stupefied, Adan only stood there, watching the orb flying towards her with incredible speed.
“Move, you oaf!” shouted the young man behind her, trying to force Adan to move out of the way, but the latter didn’t budge.
The fireball was fast, but Adan’s communication with her A.I. was even faster. “How did they do that?” she asked as she stared intently at the approaching fire.
“Judging by the infrared radiation that was picked up, Sai can only conclude that the heat originated from the red marks on their chests,” the A.I. replied.
“Fascinating. . . .” muttered Adan as the flaming ball finally reached her, slamming into her chest with a loud bang. The weight behind the orb surprised Adan somewhat and she was even pushed back a few centimeters, her seemingly bare feet digging into the moss-covered ground.
The flames seared at Adan’s clothes for a while before dying down with a pop.
[Heat threat terminated]
[Disengaging active heat resistance]
Adan didn’t even bother to inspect what damages had been done to her clothes and instead took a few steps forward, quickly appearing in front of the two fire-producing ruffians. She stretched out a hand and grabbed one of the men by their wrist, closely examining his palm, but found nothing out of ordinary by sight alone.
Not satisfied, Adan used her other hand to part the man’s wrapped shirt, revealing the red mark over his sternum. There was an almost crystalline shimmer to it that hadn’t been present in the other men’s marks, but it was still closer to a tattoo than an actual stone. Intrigued, Adan let the man go and turned to his companion, inspecting his chest as well. The findings were the same there.
“Truly fascinating. . . .” Adan muttered, mostly to herself but still loud enough to be heard by the others – not that any of the guys around her understood what she was saying. “Hey, how did you do that?” she asked, in their own tongue this time. When no reply came, Adan looked up, only to be faced by two full-grown men, staring at her chest like they’d seen a ghost.
“Well aren’t these a lewd pair,” Adan thought smugly, assuming that the fire had burned away quite a lot of her clothes.
“Unfortunately, Sai must inform you that your breasts are still too small to warrant such attention; based on the trajectory of their gazes, they are looking at the shrapnel that is embedded in your sternum.”
Adan glanced down and realized that her A.I. was right. The flames had barely cindered her clothes, but it had charred and pushed back her shirt just enough to reveal her red crystal. Disappointed, Adan snorted and the sound was apparently all the two men needed to snap out of their trance.
“Forgive us!” they shouted and bolted into the forest like madmen, completely abandoning their unconscious comrades.
“Hey!” Adan called after them, too surprised by their actions to stop them. “It’s not like it’s contagious. . . .” she muttered, again in her own language.
Suddenly, Adan heard movement behind her and she quickly ducked. In the same instant, a pale hand cut trough the air where Adan’s head had been. The attacker seemed somewhat prepared for this though, because a surprisingly swift leg swept towards Adan’s legs, effectively hitting the backside of her knee. Adan lost her balance and felt herself falling towards the ground, quickly being pinned down by none other than the young man she had just rescued.
Shocked by the whole situation, Adan lay on her back without struggling as her A.I. actually started laughing; it was a mechanical, half-felt laughter, but it was a rare enough occurrence as it was.
“Haha, an Amazonian pinned down by a civilian! Sai believes this is a fitting time to express glee at the irony.”
Adan wasn’t really listening, she was too focused on the two pale-blue eyes that stared down at her with angered frustration. ‘Such pretty eyes. . . .’
“You ruined it again!” their owner shouted as he pressed a small dagger against Adan’s neck. He was pushing hard enough that, under normal circumstances, he should already have pierced her skin. He seemed too frustrated to notice it though.
“Why can’t you just . . .”
The boy stopped his reprimands halfway, his eyes widened in shock; something his anger hadn’t stopped him from noticing was the thumb-sized red crystal just bellow Adan’s collarbone. He stared at it, stunned, while quite a varied mix of emotions flashed by his face; anger, astonishment, jealousy.
“Sir?” Adan asked when the young man had remain quiet for a while, but her mouth was quickly covered by a pale hand.
“Shhh! Would you stop it with insisting that I’m male!?”
“Aren’t you?” Adan asked, once her mouth was freed.
Adan raised her brows, giving the young man an ‘oh really’-look. He sighed and used a free hand to slightly pull apart his robes. To Adan’s surprise, she saw that an almost white crystal was embedded where her red one was. The crystal was unique both in its color and in that it was more than a mere tattoo-like mark.
“Do you understand?” the man asked, clearly feeling that his revelation had said it all.
“Understand what? You’re mark is different, what does that have to do with the fact that you’re male?”
At this point, the youth’s expression went from shocked to utterly bewildered. “What kind of rock have you lived under, ywno’blk?”
He would probably have said more, but by now the ten pursuers had come close enough for even the youth to hear them. He clicked his tongue in frustration before grabbing hold of the collar of Adan’s shirt, pulling her partially off the ground.
“Listen, idiot, because of you, I’ve failed to escape – again. Either you play along, or I’ll make sure you’re blamed for kidnapping me. You’re dormant fire-bending might have been enough to save you in the previous fight, but the Royal Guard is on an entirely different level.”
Not bothering about Adan’s reply, the handsome young man broke out in tears, sobbing loudly as he pushed himself into Adan’s embrace. Moments later, ten well armored people came bursting through the trees. Just looking at them, Adan could tell that these ten were, indeed, on another level from the five kidnappers. These ten – five women, five men – practically smelled of war. Even when desperately hunting their target through the woods their breathing had remained controlled, their pulses stable. Abundant adrenaline filled the air around them, but it wasn’t as erratic as it had been with the others and their gazes were calm. They had been trained well.
“Princess!” one of the females yelled when she saw the young man, sobbing in Adan’s arms.
With impressive speed and coordination, three out of the ten-man team rushed forward and quickly separated Adan from the ‘princess’; one woman to lift away the now slightly shaking youth and two men to haul Adan to her feet aggressively. They even gave her a friendly greeting in form of a punch to the gut and, to Adan’s surprise, there was actually quite a lot of force behind that punch; not enough to actually harm her, but it would have hurt without the BioArmor softening the blow.
Nonetheless, Adan played along, feigning pain as she toppled forwards in her captors’ arms.
“No!” shrieked the still weeping man, suddenly sounding rather feminine. “Please don’t! He . . . he saved me!”
A second punch had been about to land – on Adan’s face this time – but the fist stopped, mere centimeters from impact.
“He did?” The woman holding the young man looked surprised, but as she gazed over at Adan the look quickly turned to shock and then understanding. “You can let him go,” she instructed the two men holding Adan and once the latter was freed, the female warrior gave a respectful bow towards her.
“Raxjaw ca’wsbar, ywno’blk,” she said solemnly. “To whom do we owe this debt of gratitude?”
Adan blinked, not understanding the words but still getting the general gist of it. “I am called Adan,” she replied, straightening out her clothes.
The woman nodded to one of the men who had held on to Adan and, understanding her meaning, the man quickly loosened a little pouch from his belt.
“Take this as your reward and be on your way,” he grunted and handed Adan the pouch.
Adan was about to receive it when the handsome man wrestled himself from the woman who was holding him and practically threw himself into Adan’s arms. “Don’t go!” he pleaded, fear coloring his already shaky voice. “I’m scared!”
“Princess Hayden!” the woman scoffed, clearly not pleased by the youth’s behavior. She was even about to step forward and pry him away when one of the older males topped her.
“Commander, the girl is far from her family and is clearly scared. All her original escorts are . . .” the man paused, unwilling to finish the sentence. “Why not let her have a companion for the rest of the journey?”
The woman grimaced, unconvinced.
“Besides,” added the man, looking over at Adan – in particular at the area below her collar-bone; “he must be on his way to get awakened. With a core like that. . . .” He left the rest of the sentence unsaid, but the woman sighed, clearly understanding his meaning.
Taking a reproving look at the ‘princess’ in Adan’s arms, she finally gave in. “Fine, Princess Hayden; he may join us.”
“Thank you,” the young man said while wiping away his fake tears. He then smiled beautifully at Adan and hooked his hand around her arm. “Well, sir Adan, since you’re my savior, let’s not be so formal; you may call me miss Lynn,” he said happily, loud enough for all to hear.
Leaning in closer to Adan, he lowered his voice; “one word of me being male and I’ll have you killed faster than you can count to one,” he whispered with cold ruthlessness – a stark contrast to his earlier feminine demeanor.
Without waiting for confirmation, Lynn pulled Adan with him as he walked forward, falling in between the already departing soldiers.
“Sai?” Adan called out as she was being led away by Lynn.
“Did he just call me ‘sir Adan’?”
“Yes. The others have likewise referred to you as male.”
Adan’s free hand instantly went to her chest. “Oh come on! I know I’m small, but he was lying right on top of me! How could he not tell!?”
“Should Sai make a size-upgrade appointment when you return to the Federation?”
“. . . Funny.”