Previously: Thanks to the gorwak and the tidbit of information it had given Nadec, she makes enough connections to connect some dots. The day after drinking herself in oblivion—her way of processing emotions and moving on—she comes up with a plan. Her gamble works and she skips them all away—Nadec, Kitty, Blackie, and Patat. Right in time to avoid their pursuers.
Read all the previous chapters here.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Kitty meowed on Nadec’s shoulders as she and her odd company of cat, dragon and gorwak, appeared in the entrance hall of her employers. At least, this room was what she’d always thought of as the entrance hall because it’s where she entered the building every time she skipped there. She’d never been through the real main entrance. She’d only ever stayed on this level.
With another meow, Kitty hopped off her shoulders and strolled over to Blackie. He gave her two head buts against the claw, before flopping down to wash his belly.
‘Odd. Fine but.’ Blackie didn’t look as at ease as Kitty did. No wonder. Her long neck caused her head to be squashed up against the ceiling, though high as it was. The room was quite spacious, but Blackie wasn’t meant to be inside it. Fortunately, it was mostly undecorated.
Patat shook his head. The orange morning light—first light of the day—coming through the plain window made his wings looks like a mesmerising, iridescent sunrise. Wherever they had been before, it must have been a distance from here. Nadec cursed.
‘You might be stuck here, Blackie. I’m sorry, I should’ve thought of that.’
The window wasn’t large enough for the large beast, and the door definitely not. Blackie’s only reply was to wink at her. She could probably break through the wall if she wanted to.
‘Stay put, let me see if I can find anyone.’ She glanced toward Patat.
‘Skipping can be brutal the first times, you should feel fine again soon.’
‘Kid, this is not the grounding first time I burning skipped along. I’ll be dripping fine.’
She acknowledged him with a grunt and poked at Blackie’s ass, making her shuffle aside enough to be able to slip through the door. It wasn’t locked. A small flutter of butterflies stirred in her belly. Previous times, she’d always been invited. At this moment she felt more like a trespasser. How would they react? She knocked down the small pit of doubt, the sliver of mistrust. They couldn’t have been behind the attacks on her life.
A brush of Kitty against one of her ankles brought her back from the self-doubt. He must’ve slipped through the door with her.
‘Alright buddy, you can come,’ she grabbed his lead, ‘Don’t want to lose you.’
The plain plush carpet lining the small hallway’s floor dampened her footfall as she opened the door in front of her. The familiar room she stood in was even more empty than usual. There was only a plain table and a narrow, unmade bed, the walls bare. This was where she always been given food and a chance to rest, should she need it.
Back in the hallway, she went right. She knew there wasn’t anything to the left but some storage closets. After only a few steps, she stood on the landing, staring at the wall in front of her, the stairs to the right. A deep breath in. And out. She’d never been down those stairs. Her employers had asked her—not forbidden her—to respect their boundaries, and Nadec had never even thought of breaking her promise. Silly girl—she pushed through her trepidation and descended—too trusting towards people. She forcibly stopped from talking herself down. An old habit she still sometimes struggled with. This time, her employers were going to tell her all of their secrets. She had had enough happen to her lately. Besides, she had a dragon in the room above. Perhaps she could use that as a threat.
At the bottom of these stairs, another sharp turn to the right put her in a larger corridor, with another stairs underneath the stairs she’d just used. The door in the wall to her left stood ajar.
A quick look into the room revealed it to be a master bedroom. A large canopied bed served as the eyecatcher. It was gorgeous. She’d always had a weakness for furniture pieces like that, but stopped herself from lingering in the room after confirming it was empty.
The same was true for another room, which appeared to be a combination of washing room with a basin on a vanity, a tub in the middle, and a dressing room. There was a walk-in closet at the far end. A large stand-up mirror caught her eye. The design was beautiful.
She didn’t care much for her own image though. Pulling a face, she shook her head at the bad fit of her ugly clothes. The trousers did not flatter her wide hips at all. Frowning at herself again while she tried to wipe away smears of dirt, she embraced the thought of ugly clothes being better than walking around naked.
A smell invaded all her other thoughts, leaving nothing but a rumbling stomach. Hot food!
As she stalked down, she froze midway. Voices floated up. Balls. She barely registered the paintings hanging from the wall. Still, they tickled something in the back of her mind. She ignored it—the entrance hallway was visible from where she stood. The butterflies in her stomach were out of control now. She walked on.
A double door next to the stairs would presumably lead outside. She put her back towards it. That caused her to look straight into another room. She could see them sitting at a table, eating. The fancy carpet felt more plush than the ones at the upper levels. She didn’t have much knowledge about carpets, but this one looked as if it belonged in a castle instead of this medium sized house. It wasn’t what she expected. She’d always assumed the area she was confined to was only a small part of a much larger building. It was much smaller than her imagination made it to be. She’d assumed this was an organisation, with many people calling the shots, and many others like herself. However, from what she’d seen so far today, it didn’t appear to be like that.
Nadec pushed through her hesitation and continued toward them. They weren’t wearing the rich, hooded robes they normally wore. Instead, their clothes looked more as if they belong somewhere in the seventeenth century. Or perhaps earlier or later—Nadec didn’t know enough of old fashion styles to pinpoint the correct era. It could’ve been a combination of several different styles, this wasn’t Earth after all.
This was the first time seeing their faces. The woman looked familiar enough for her brain to hurt trying to figure out why. They were talking to each other, but Nadec hadn’t been listening. The conversation stopped. Nadec focused back on them, she’d been zoomed out, her thoughts dwelling on what was so familiar about the woman’s face. She was looking straight at her now, jaw slack, eyes wide. Nadec imitated the expression. Her mom! The woman’s face looked eerily like her mom’s!
The woman jumped up, almost running around the table, her chair hitting the ground as she closed the distance. Nadec’s reaction was slow. Before she could step back, the woman embraced her in a tight hug.
‘You’re alive, praise the Squares, you’re alive.’
She was sobbing! Nadec moved her arms to push her away. They hugged the woman back instead. It had been too long since she’d had a hug like this. She violently repressed the memory of Wyny in the cave. That embrace didn’t count, not anymore.
The man appeared next to them and gently took the woman by the shoulders, pulling her away. Something stirred in Nadec’s chest.
‘Come Kridec, let’s give her some room. She might be hungry. Nadec, sit, please.’
He motioned toward the table. As Nadec sat down, she noticed a servant standing at the side, who walked away after the man whispered something. She sat across from where the woman sat before, and was sitting now again. Kitty jumped on Nadec’s lap. She stroked him with intent, glad to have him to hold her steady.
‘Kridec?’ Nadec’s voice croaked. ‘That sounds a lot like my name. Is that coincidence?’ She sipped the water they’d put in front of her. At least, she’d intended to sip it, but downed the whole cup in one go instead. And the next two refills. She let Kitty have a drink too.
The servant came back with a bowl of something hot. Nadec’s stomach growled again with the smell of the lentil soup. Soup as breakfast was one of the best meals.
Kridec glanced at the man. She took a deep breath as he nodded.
‘It is time we tell her.’ There was a soothing quality to his deep voice.
‘You’ve only ever known us as your employers, from the Order of the Red Knight.’ Her eyes rested on Nadec’s, searching for something. They were still dripping soft tears. She didn’t seem to notice.
‘That was a lie. There is no such thing as Red Knights. There is no Order. We,’ she hesitated, glancing at the man. He grabbed her hand and gave it a little squeeze, ‘made that up, to protect you.’
Nadec resumed spooning soup to her mouth, using it as a distraction. Doing everything she could to keep the anger at bay. It was difficult.
‘We are your family.’ The man jumped in, as the woman had choked on her next words. ‘Kridec is your aunt, she’s your mother’s older sister.’
The spoon stopped right in front of nadec’s mouth. Her hand trembled hard enough to spill most of the soup over the sides. She dropped it back in the bowl.
‘Keep on talking.’