Nadec ch 43 Opposition

Previously: Blackie has been set as the coloured void, the myth in the sky. She soared over the people at the Square market, filling everyone with the Awe Nadec had intented. It all went to plan, until a bunch of arrows flew towards her.

Read all the previous chapters here.

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The message Nadec sent to Blackie must’ve sounded panicked, because the dragon spoke with a soothing tone: ‘Worry not, fine is.’

The arrows flew closer to Blackie, but then any of them tumbled back down, not even reaching within 2 metres of their target. The rare ones who did come closer, never touched Blackie. Nadec let out a long breath in relief. Even if an arrow would cover the distance, it would probably have lost most of its strength. Blackie was safe. Nadec turned back to Ayba.

‘Hm?’

‘Oh, so you do remember I am still here.’ Ayba laughed. ‘Not to worry, I am only joking, I saw what happened with the dragon, but she seems to be safe on that tower.’ She lowered her voice. ‘That’s a good start for our prophecy. How do things look for the brown gold? And have you been able to speak to the you-know-who again, did he agree with the plan? Can he hold out for another few days?’

They moved aside to get out of the way of a pair of guards passing by.

‘Let’s walk away from here,’ Nadec said. 

As they walked over the Square towards one of the streets, they heard conversations of the people they crossed. Every single one talked about the dragon and the prophecy. One stall had so many people standing around it, Nadec couldn’t see the owner. She did hear a woman shouting: ‘Prophecy, get your prophecy here. Only one quarter-squarton. The full edition with our analysis of the days to come for a mere one squarton. Prophecy, get your prophecy here!’

Nadec and Ayba shared a look and a nod. Nadec moved to push through the people for a copy of her own prophecy. Ayba stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.

‘Wait here.’

Her eyes were locked on a young man coming out of the waiting people, holding a parchment. She stepped up to him. He frowned as he saw her and when he spoke he made elaborate gestures. His voice, from the start loud enough so Nadec could almost understand what he said, gained in volume as he almost yelled: ‘That’s her? You should not meet with her.’

He pointed towards Nadec, uttered a few more—unintelligible—words and stormed off. Ayba’s lips still pressed together as she re-joined Nadec.

‘My brother,’ she replied to Nadec’s silent question as they strode away from the crowd. ‘Come now, we should truly get away from here. What he said was right, I should not be seen with you. Not for me, but for your sake. The Order is looking for you, which is no surprise, and we are true fools to be moving in the open like this, especially you. No insult meant.’

‘None taken, I know I’m a fool.’

Ayba stopped, abrupt enough for Nadec to take a few steps before realising.

‘My queen,’ she said, emphasising the word but speaking it silently enough to not be overheard,’ I apologise for saying you are a fool. You are not, and you should never let anyone tell you so, especially yourself. It is not becoming of your future status. You have to be confident at all times’—they moved away from the Square again—‘with a straight back and a straight face. Even if you are not certain of something, you have to pretend. Use words to guide people away from your ignorance. Were you never taught these tricks? I know you said your parents never told you about Paralelo, which is why you did not know the rules, but surely they must have raised you to act like a noble?’

Nadec didn’t reply. She hailed a quin instead. 

‘They didn’t teach you… any specifics? They preferred you to be a fighter over a princess, did they not? It makes sense, in a way, I suppose.’

‘You meant to say my parents didn’t teach me any manners, didn’t you?’ At Ayba’s guilty face, Nadec wanted to chuckle. She couldn’t. Having her shortcomings flung at her did sting, even if it was all true and mostly her parents’ fault. ‘They let me be free in what I wanted to do, and when I showed interest in fight sports, they cheered me on. It eventually turned into my career. But I never knew about Paralelo or the Other Realm, as I call this world, until 3 years ago, after they died.’

During the rest of the quin ride, they both stayed silent, lost in their own thoughts. Ayba broke the silence.

‘I did not ask him for the parchment. My brother. The idiotic way he acted made me forget all about the prophecy analysis that vendor was selling.’

Nadec uttered an annoyed sound. She’d forgotten about it as well, with her self-criticism and Ayba’s reaction on that. Ayba added in a musing voice: ‘we merely call our world, World. Is that not what you call the world you grew up in? And should this not be The Other World then instead of The Other Realm. Or do you call your world Realm? If so, what a silly name.’

‘Earth is what it’s called,’ Nadec smiled. ‘I suppose I could’ve called this one The Other Earth, it would make more sense, you’ve got a point.’

They arrived at the Circle and walked the rest of the way to the stockhouse, mindful of possible followers. There wasn’t anyone stalking them, as far as they could see.

Safe in the stockhouse, they could finally speak freely—the odds of the quin strongman having overheard them were slim, with all the noise surrounding him.

‘Tell me more about your brother,’ Nadec asked Ayba.

‘Did I not tell you about him the other day[was this yesterday or day before?]?’ Ayba walked around the large space of the dimly lit stockhouse. Her voice sounded forced because of her looking up to the ceiling. ‘This is a large space, is it not. High ceiling indeed. You said they planned to make this into—’

‘Aybahberry.’ Nadec’s no-nonsense tone made the other woman [older woman, or other descrpition] snap her head towards her. ‘Your brother. I may be wrong, because my memory isn’t that trustworthy, but I’m pretty sure you haven’t told me about him.’ She sat down on a crate against the wall, urging Ayba to sit next to her. 

‘Your memory must be wrong.’ Ayba lowered herself on the crate, her face showing the uncertainty she felt at the unconvential seat. She sighed as she saw Nadec’s raised eyebrows. ‘Apologies, my Queen.’ 

Nadec softened her features, [being aware of] relaxing her forehead, banishing the strict face but not giving the inner feelings of uncomfort a chance to come to the surface. Once again, she stopped herself from telling Ayba not to address her as ‘my Queen’. She knew she’d have to get used to it.

‘I do not believe I told you about him.’ Ayba sighed. ‘He and I do not see along the same line. We hardly speak to each other. He is only my half brother, my father remarried after my mother died when I was thirteen. It only took him two years after her death to be married and get her pregnant too. My father is a good man, he truly is, but unfortunately he did also love her. She twisted his mind into joining the order of the end. I’ve already told you this part. He is a complete believer now, has been for years. My brother as well. He got even worse after his mother died.’

‘Died? Too? Oh no, so your father had two dead wives?’ Nadec flinched at her own question. It wasn’t very subtle. Ayba stroked Nadec’s cheeck.

‘Do not worry, you did not insult. I do not mourn my mother anymore, it has been a long time. As for Crilla, my father and her had stopped loving each other well before her death. They… it does not matter. This was about my brother. It is the classic story. I believe he may blaim my father for his mother’s death, even though he had nothing to do with it. Despite that, they still remained in the Order together. It appears their belief in The End supersedes their despise for each other. Well, I mean to say, I do not believe my father despises Therbro. It does not matter either. What does matter is that Therbro is not to be trusted, and I am quite certain he has already told someone about seeing us together. I do not know if I will be able to meet with you again. They may be keeping an extra eye on me from now on. So I will not be able to accompagyny you tonight. We may not see each other again, not until you receive the Crown.’

‘Tonight?’ Nadec blinked. Did she miss something? Had she fallen asleep while still being awake? Had Ayba said anything else but because of her babbling way of speaking, Nadec’s mind hadn’t grasped it? Ayba laughed.

‘Oh, you look cute when you are confused. But still queenly, of course.’ She touched Nadec’s knee, her smile wide. 

‘You did not think there was not an organisation opposing the Order, did you?’

Nadec ch 42 Coloured void

Previously: The prophecy has been set in motion. Nadec leaves Melia at a dressmaker, while she goes to Blackie to prepare for the coming

Read all the previous chapters here.

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The stock house’s small windows didn’t let all of the daylight through. The interior’s dim gloom revealed enough to show it was still empty, as expected of course. At least Nadec hadn’t Skipped into the pool this time, and Blackie didn’t look as if she was about to throw up. 

‘So far so good,’ Nadec said out loud, relieved at the successful first part of the plan. She’d Skipped Blackie along without touching her. The next part will be more difficult, she thought. But they’d practiced it enough. A small sense of exhaustion settled in her entire body. She hoped the morning of practice hadn’t drained her too much for what’s to come.

‘Alright, let’s do this. Get ready to begin flying. And then descend as slowly as you can.’

Blackie appeared to smirk at her while saying in Nadec’s mind: ‘know I. Not worry. Be tense less.’

‘I’m not… well, maybe I’m a little bit nervous. But it has to go well so much is at stake. If we bodge this up, the rest of the prophecy won’t matter because people won’t believe in it anymore. If they even do now. Probably too early for that. That’s why this has to work.’

‘Will it.’ Blackie’s voice managed to be soothing in Nadec’s head. 

Without another word, Nadec opened one of the double doors and stepped outside of the building. The street was empty. Good. She looked up, fixating on a point high in the sky. Her gaze returned to Blackie inside of the building. The dragon opened her wings as far as she could in the confines of the building, Nadec began the Skipping process; opening and closing her legs with her hands almost, but not quite, following. With her jaw tight, a line between her downwards brows, and lips pressed together, she kept the point in the sky firmly in mind as she didn’t break eye contact with Blackie. The build-up of Power inside of Nadec reached its peak. Blackie vanished.

Nadec looked up again, but couldn’t see anything. Blackie’s voice in her head reassured her that she hadn’t send Blackie too high—or somewhere else completely.

The street was still empty. Nadec went back into the building, closing the door behind her. She staggered as she bent through her knees again. She Skipped.

 

Nadec’s head banged the wooden door in front of her as she appeared. Through the heart-shaped opening, she could see the back of a woman facing several men and women.

‘Calm down, come now, my friend is in there. She shall be done soon.’

‘There isn’t anyone, I saw you shut it empty. And no feet were visible. What is your game, lady?’ The gruff male voice sounded as if this wasn’t the first time he’s said that and was about to lose his patience.

‘Then I think you might be going blind,’ Nadec said as she exited the privy. The chamber was nothing more than a plank with a round cutout above a hole in the ground. Gross as it was, Nadec still liked it much better than having merely a pit in the middle of a courtyard. 

‘Hold on a minute,’ a man with grey hair overcombed to the other side of his head and tight pants tucked into overturned boots. He was obviously not from here. No hat. Pants too long. Boots different to local fashion. 

‘No, I will not hold on. As if it’s not bad enough to get pestered by men while I’m doing all I can do hurry up. Do you have ANY idea what it takes for a woman, wearing a dress,’ she gestured towards her circle skirt, ‘like this, to do her business in a confined space like that? Do you have a clue of how many layers these clothes have, and how much effort it takes to avoid soiling them? Do you?’ She felt herself getting genuinely upset and decided to go with it. ‘You men have it easy, you don’t even have to take off your trousers. You only have to take your little sausage through the slit, aim, and go. And then you still often manage to misaim as well.’ She let her voice grow louder. ‘It is not right that women are expected to relieve themselves in the same tiny space that men do. We deserve more. We need more.’ She had gathered a crowd in the courtyard, people hearing the commotion in the inn and getting curious. Several women cheered. 

‘Women need larger facilities. If I was a ruler, I would make this a requirement. Separate privies for women. With hooks and accessories to help us keep the garments out of the way. Women privies, women privies, …’ All the women in the courtyard chanted those two words along with her.

‘Come on, they’re distracted. We have the arrival of a myth to look for.’ She glanced towards Ayba, who looked out at the crowd with wide-open eyes. 

Nadec made her way towards the inn’s open back door. Ayba followed. Right before entering, Nadec yelled out: ‘Don’t forget to look up, for a myth shall appear there soon. So the Prophecy of The Real Heir goes.’

She hurried through the inn, onto the Square, hoping that there had been enough people and confusion to avoid being followed by strangers with bad intentions. Ayba caught up and stepped in line next to her.

‘That was…’ Ayba began, but Nadec cut in.

‘Foolish, rash, idiotic? I should stay hidden and don’t draw attention to me, not go and start a female revolution for large shit houses.’

‘Extraordinary. When we talked, in the very inn I just saw you inspire many people, you said you were not a leader. You admitted you were scared for being a Queen, because you thought you are not. I can tell you now, you are. That was incredible.’

Feeling uncomfortable with the compliment, Nadec made a non-committal sound and looked up. Blackie should be visible soon. If Nadec hadn’t send her somewhere else completely.

‘All good?’ She sent mentally.

‘Coming down,’ Blackie replied cheerfully.

‘There!’ Ayba pointed up.

Other people saw it and their gazes swept upwards as well. 

‘What is it?’ People whispered to each other, questioning their companions about what the myth might be. They were baffled by what the coloured void might possibly mean. A smile blossomed on Nadec’s face as she saw Blackie descending closer, her shape gradually growing from a speck, to a bird, to a bat, and finally, to the unmistakable dragon. Gasps filled the Square Market.

As Blackie came closer, the iridescent colours of her scales became more obvious. The dragon dazzled in the sunlight. Nadec felt a weird moment of pride.

‘It’s coming closer, run!’ Someone yelled. Nobody moved. Everyone was transfixed on the unbelievable appearance of a myth. Blackie circled above the Square for a while, making sure to keep some distance to avoid people getting scared. She then settled on the highest tower of the castle. 

‘Such magnificence,’ Ayba shouted. ‘We are unworthy.’ And with elaborate gestures, she went down in an exaggerated bow, holding the posture in the lowest position. 

‘Yes, this is true, perhaps the prophecies are real,’ Nadec yelled, also bowing.

People around them looked flabbergasted for a second, before also bowing. It didn’t take long before the whole Square was filled with bowed-down people. 

‘Succes, all bow.’ Blackie sounded smug in Nadec’s head. 

‘Now roar,’ Nadec sent to her.

An overwhelming roar sounded, startling everyone in upright positions. Blackie looked down upon them from the tower. She did an expert job at appearing to judge each and everyone of them.

A disturbance at the castle gates disturbed the awestruck people. Guards rushed out, urging everyone to get on with their business. The normal Square buzz picked up again, although many quick glances were shot towards Blackie. Entertainers started entertaining again, food vendors yelled out their specialties once more. The coronation festivities continued, now with an extra layer of expectation.

‘That was perfect,’ Ayba said.

Nadec grunted in agreement.

‘Oh, I see. That’s the queenly version of saying, yes, the plan went well, that was a great idea, the prophecies were a brilliant idea.’ She quirked an eyebrow. Nadec hardly saw. 

What she did see were arrows striking up towards Blackie.

Nadec ch 41 Loyal to the future Queen

Previously: After meeting Ayba again, Nadec decides to trust her, despite what had happened with the skinny innkeeper. Together, they come up with a more elaborate plan for the days until the Coronation. An invented prophecy is supposed to inform the people of the coming return of the true heir of the Originals. Patat is still imprisoned.

Read all the previous chapters here.

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‘It appears that Ayba-woman has done a proper job of spreading rumours about the prophecy,’ Melia said while handing Nadec the bowl of breakfast. Slow-roasted—dark purple—tomatoes and mushrooms, mashed potatoes, beans in a yellow tomato sauce, steamed greens, sausages, probably made from a mixture of beans and flour-wash. It looked delicious. Nadec dug in while Melia continued talking.

‘I heard whispers of it being talked about at every table. People wonder what will happen today. They are perplexed about what the coloured void is. Are you certain the dragon can display colour? When I saw him—her, I mean—she was black as night. No, blacker. As if she sucked in the night, so black she was.’

‘I confirmed with her yesterday, she is able to control her iridescence. But if she isn’t actively trying, and she’s in distress, then the shininess disappears. That’s what you’ve seen so far, only her pure black form.’

Nadec stuffed a potato in her mouth, thinking about how many gambles they’d taken while writing the prophecy. She hadn’t known for sure if Blackie could control her iridescence. Nadec struggled to avoid giving in to her inner voice saying what a silly idea it was and how everything was going to fail. Things would work out. Worst case scenario she’d be crowned without the people’s support. The main thing she had to do was stay alive. Which probably would’ve been easier while hiding, instead of throwing up all this fuss. 

‘You’re certain Farenk will be able to produce all the chocolate we need?’ Nadec knew it was the third time she’d asked this since yesterday, but it was difficult to trust people she’d never met before. While she’d been away talking to Blackie, Melia had gone to the chocolate production building to talk to Farenk. 

‘He said he will, so he will. He is to be trusted, mistress.’ Melia’s voice changed in that last sentence, as if a deeper meaning hid in her words. ‘Even if they are unable to make all new chocolates, there are enough chocolates from previous days. The normal shape of them is close enough to resemble coins. Enough for our purpose.’

‘I hope so. It’s a short time, and I wasn’t sure how much time it takes to make the chocolates.’ Another thing she had to guess. ‘Good thing I—we—left tomorrow open, in the prophecy; nothing has been planned. Except for Blackie making her appearance again, like she will today. I’ll give the chocolate production a visit tomorrow, in the late afternoon when I’m back from the statue.’

‘Oh mistress, you shouldn’t waste your time for that, everything will be fine.’

Nadec looked up from her almost empty plate to frown at Melia.

‘Why are you getting all weird suddenly? Is there a reason why I shouldn’t go to the production? I’ll have to go there in two days anyway, to Skip the chocolate to the statue. Or wait, how are we going to do it? Balls, I didn’t think about the practical side of things. If we let her carry bags of the chocolate to spread the coins that way, it wouldn’t look very magical, would it?’

It was supposed to be a rhetorical question, but Melia’s face and posture clearly indicated her struggle to come up with a reply. Nadec ignored her, her mind spinning with solutions. 

‘You can stop thinking, I think I found a way to do it. It’s elaborate though. I’ll need to practice Skipping, a lot.’ But she needed to do that anyway, for the other parts of the plan. She was still unsure of what the final miracle on the Square would be. She had an idea, dismissed it as impossible, but it kept lingering in her mind. The more she thought about it, the more she liked it. And the more it terrified her. 

‘Right, let’s go out. You wanted to go past a dressmaker first? We’ll do that first. I don’t know a thing about dresses, and definitely not what the current fashion is, so I’ll leave it to you to make all the decisions.’

‘I was going to do that anyway, mistress.’

Melia had a smirk on her face from the moment Nadec had mentioned the dressmaker.

**

It turned out Melia hadn’t been lying about taking control at the dressmaker. After letting the dressmaker take her measurements and allowing Nadec to point towards fabrics she liked, Melia all but shooed her out. Nadec looked back indignantly towards the closed door. She thought about going back in, if only to annoy Melia. Instead, she turned her back to the shop and looked for the closest alleyway without people. 

When she was satisfied no one on the street could see her, she began the process of Skipping. Voices stopped her. They came from the corner behind her, where another alleyway crossed hers. 

‘I’m telling you, the prophecy is real. I’ve seen her, I have seen her. It was dark and somehow she was naked—a fine piece of ass that was, I’m telling you—but she disappeared right in front from my eyes. I swear to the Squares and Triangles, it happened.’

‘Aah, come on, you expect us to believe you saw a naked woman and didn’t try to jump her?’

An odd harmony of laughter broke out. Nadec clenched her fist and gritted her teeth, barely containing herself to go and give them all a piece of her mind. 

‘I did.’ The man sounded embarrassed. ‘I shouldn’t have, but I did try to jump her. Gorwak guts, I tried to jump our future queen.’ A desperate pleading entered his voice. ‘I’m telling you, it was her, who else could disappear if not someone who can use the Lines?’ He scraped his throat. ‘She managed to fight back before I had a chance to touch her. She threatened I should be gone from that alleyway by the next day. I didn’t of course.’ More laughter, this time probably aimed more at the man getting overpowered by a woman. ‘And I thought she wouldn’t come back at all, until she stood in front of me, late in the evening, yesterday. She said she hadn’t forgotten about me, and she’d really wanted to knock me up real good. She didn’t. I’m glad she didn’t. I’m telling you, she probably could’ve hurt me a lot. She told me of the prophecy and I should spread it around. She even gave it to me on a piece of paper, see?’

‘Give that here, let me see.’ A scuffling sound with grunting men almost turned Nadec back to Skipping. 

‘No, I’m never letting go of this. It’s mine, she gave it to me. I’m telling you, it is her. This prophecy, it’s real. We should go to the Square to await the Myth. It will happen, I’m telling you, it will. None of you have seen her. I have. She looks like Queen Madec. I don’t know how it…’

Nadec stopped listening, again preparing to Skip. She’d heard enough. What were the odds of coming across that same beggar? Her plan with him seemed to have worked, although she really would have preferred to kick his arse. At least that’s one person loyal to me as a future queen, she thought wryly, well aware of how little the loyalty of that creep meant. Who knew what atrocities he’d committed before? The fact that he’d tried to jump her without regret—and that it was what his fellow beggars expected him to do—said enough. Shaking her head in an attempt to get her thoughts away from them, she Skipped.

The statue looked the same as the last time she saw it, the day before. Blackie wasn’t around, so Nadec called for her in her mind. She circled the statue as she waited for the dragon, hand touching the rough stone, fingers following the blue and pink striata. Patches of moss occasionally replaced the hard surface with soft velvet. When she returned to her starting spot, she stepped back and looked up. Tufts of grass peeked over the edge at the top, and higher up tree branches were visible.

Blackie had sat on top of the statue before, so Nadec was certain the surface was accessible. She squeezed her eyes shut, keeping her destination firmly in mind. Her heart beat intensified. This could go wrong, very wrong. She bent her knees and slapped them together, overlapping her hands in the familiar way. The expected build-up of energy came, sliding over her skin like hot water. She opened her eyes at the same moment the energy reached its peak. 

She Skipped, reappearing about two metres above the surface of the statue top. Because she’d opened her eyes, she could prepare for the fall. She landed on her feet, but the unevenness of the terrain caused her to lose her balance. She stumbled sideways. The soft underground and high grasses cushioned her fall. She lay there, laughing at herself for a while. 

The laughter threatened to turn into tears. She swallowed and sat upright, pondering why those two opposite emotions often attract each other. She shook of the sudden heavy feeling coming from the responsibility of all she was facing. 

‘I don’t do stress,’ she muttered while standing up. She allowed satisfaction to flood her as she looked around. She’d Skipped to a spot she hadn’t been before, without almost killing herself. Now, she only needed to progress about a 50x faster. 

She looked around. If she didn’t know better, she could think she was standing on top of a hill. She walked towards the edge. It was high. The treetops around her came to about the same level. Such a massive block of stone. Will she be able to do it? Part of her wanted to try it straight away, but the more rational part of her acknowledged that it was probably better to practice small first. She had seven more days until the prophesied miracle on the square anyway.

‘Here,’ Blackie sing-songed in her mind.

‘On top,’ Nadec replied. 

Blackie landed next to her, asking about the night before. Had Nadec found the hidden chamber of secrets? Nadec grinned at what Blackie called the hidden room, but her grin turned into a grimace as she began talking.

‘No. When I got to Patat, Jodec had been gone for a while, but Patat was still upset about something. It had upset him enough to forget about anything else. So he didn’t even try to get information about it from Jodec. I don’t know what had happened. Patat wouldn’t say. I told him about the new plan and the prophecy, but he just shrugged and nodded. Hopefully he’s in better spirit tonight. If not, I may rethink our prophecy for the fifth day until Coronation. As far as I know, they’re still going to open up his guts that day, and it would be a brilliant performance to rescue him in the nick of time. But I don’t want him feeling miserable, so if that means rescuing him earlier, then that’s what I’ll do. Shouldn’t be too hard, for some reason there weren’t any guards guarding him anymore.

‘Anyway, that’s for later. Let’s practice for today and the next days. I need to work on my aim. We have a few more hours until the myth is supposed to appear in the sky.’

Blackie perked up. Her scaled skin was already iridescent—being out here must be good for her—but as Nadec watched, the colours deepened. Rich blues, purples, reds, pinks, greens, yellows, and more, formed a magnificent display, moving with and emphasising the dragon’s every movement.

Blackie’s expression looked satisfied as she spoke in Nadec’s mind: ‘Coloured void’.

Nadec ch 40 Prophecy

Previously: Nadec kept herself imprisoned so she could go to the induction of the paralelian laws in the morning. It is given by Ayba, the woman who’d introduced her to the skinny housekeeper who then tried to poisson her. Despite Nadec’s male disguise, she recognises her, and offers to get lunch. After a fruitful meeting which lasts several hours, Nadec knows more about the Order and a new plan is made.

Read all the previous chapters here.

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A hopeless, tense ball of stress. That would have been the proper way of describing Melia when Nadec returned to her room. Upon seeing her, Melia slumped down on the floor from where she was pacing. 

‘I probably should’ve let you know what was going on,’ Nadec said while helping her up. ‘Sorry for that.’

‘Mistress, please, don’t apologise to me. I am glad to see you unharmed. Are you unharmed?’ She narrowed her eyes while inspecting Nadec’s whole body.

‘I am more than alright. I met Ayba again—’

‘That treacherous little wench, what did she do now, try to stab you in the back? Again?’

‘That’s a bit uncalled for, isn’t it?’

Melia’s face contorted into a blend of unbelief and anger. ‘Uncalled for? She lured us into a trap and got us poisoned. That’s enough for me to mistrust anyone.’

‘She had nothing to do with that, she didn’t know that housekeeper would do it.’ 

Nadec tried to calm Melia down by making her sit, but the tall woman didn’t want any of that. She pushed Nadec’s hands away and began pacing the room again.

‘I can not believe you have faith in her. How can you believe her? I can not look kindly upon anyone who tries to harm me, nor should you.’

‘I believe her because she explained things to me about the Order of the End, things which helped me understand it all better. And she improved our plan. Which, if you remember, didn’t go much beyond saving Patat. No, he’s not free yet. Let me speak.’ Melia shut her mouth, pouted her lips and drew down her eyebrows. ‘And in Frank’s name, sit, do you know how annoying it is to follow your nervous back and forth? That’s better. Now, shut up and listen. When I found Patat, my uncle Jodec was talking to him. I listened in and waited. When he was gone, I went up to Patat, but had to decide in a hurry to leave him in captivity for another night.’

Melia shifted, but didn’t say anything. 

‘It was his suggestion. I mentioned wanting to find the hidden chamber of information to him. He thinks he might get Jodec to tell him tonight, so I’ll go back tonight. But I won’t be freeing him just yet. If he is fine with it. If he wants to be released, then I will obviously help him.’

‘Why?’ Melia slapped both of her hands over her mouth, eyes wide. ‘Apologies,’ she mumbled through her fingers.

‘Well, if he wants to be free, I can’t possibly leave him stuck in there, can I?’ Melia shot her a nasty look. ‘It’s a joke, I know what you meant. I met Ayba in the morning at the induction course, she was the one teaching it. We went to lunch afterwards, because she’d recognised me. That’s when she told me about the Order, and when we decided to invent a prophecy about me. If all goes well, rumours should already be spreading. So by the end of these Coronation festivities, people will be looking forward to the prophecy coming true. They’ll be looking forward to the return of a true Ichau.’ 

Nadec gloated, lifting her arms up, making elaborate bows, pretending to respond to cheers by doing small queenly waves. She dropped her arms and shook her head. ‘Even though I wish it didn’t have to be me. You can speak now.’

‘What does that have to do with the gorwak’s imprisonment?’

‘Oh, right. We made him part of the prophecy, together with Blackie.’ Kitty, resting on the bed, lifted his head at the mention of the dragon’s name. ‘Listen to this.’ Nadec scraped her throat and spoke in a clear voice.

And it shall come to pass, the Ichau-line shall not be broken. When all hope seems lost, and a betrayer seeks the throne, the Crown will find the true heir. Do not despair, as these signs shall announce their presence.

On the first day of the CorFest, one too soon, the last legend of the truth shall be humiliated for ye all to see. 

The third day, this prophecy shall find the way to ye hearts.

On the fourth day of CorFest, a myth shall appear in the sky above, and ye shall all bow in awe for their magnificence. The coloured void shall judge ye all from the highest tower.

On the double sixth day, six days of CorFest and Six days till Coronation, the coloured black myth will drop brown gold, gold which can not be spent.

Five days before Coronation, the myth shall prevent a fake prophecy. The legend shall appear on the myth.

The tenth day of Corfest, two days before the Crown finds their Queen, she shall appear amongst ye, as one of ye, carrying a PowerPooped Weapon as proof.

The eleventh and final day of the Coronation festivities, ye shall all remain away from the centre of the Square, whence a miracle shall reveal.

In the morning after the Corfest ends, the day the Wooden Water Crown returns to the rightful heir, all shall be right, and all shall rejoyce.’

Melia had nothing but a blank stare for Nadec, who dipped her head with a little shake, urging the blonde woman to speak.

‘It’s… uhm… Elaborate? It feels like a lot of work. What does it all mean? The coloured void?’

Nadec smiled, even though she had flutters in her chest from acknowledging the idiocy of all this. She should just lay low. Go to the statue and wait there until the day comes. There was no point in risking it all by staying here. The chances of getting found—and killed because of that—would only get higher by the day.

But, she thought about how it would be. Hide like a coward. Wait until it all falls into place. What then? Come into the city and expect people to accept her. They didn’t know her. They didn’t even know of her. The people liked Wyny, she’d heard that from many sources. They wouldn’t accept someone swooping in and taking the throne, not even if it was the rightful heir. Wyny had somehow crawled into their hearts. Nadec had to convince people she deserved a place there as well. If not in place of Wyny, then at least next to him, on the same level. The idea of making people like her—love her—strengthened the flutters. 

‘All I want to do is hide and wait until it’s all over.’ The tremor in Nadec’s voice annoyed her, but there was nothing she could do. ‘But I need to take responsibility. I need to act like the queen I’m apparently destined to be.’ She blew out a long breath, looking up and flapping her hands to her face. ‘I can’t do this alone. I’ve got Ayba, and I want to trust her, but I’m still wary. You on the other hand, you I trust completely. I remember what happened in the muddy marshes, even if we’ve always danced around and ignored it. I know you’ve saved my life, even though you had a chance to get away and set things right in your home. You gave it all up for me. And now you’re here still, and a servant, which makes my debt to you even greater. I’m sorry I’ve got you into this life, Fluetza.’

Melia’s mouth hung half open. It opened more when Nadec went down on one knee and took Melia’s hands in hers. 

‘You have proven your fierceness and loyalty. I humbly ask you to extend the loyalty as a true heir to the Wooden Water Crown. When I am Queen, it would be my honour to have you in my… what do they call it? Retinue. My main servant who is also secretly my closest defender. Or, I mean, we can discuss it of course, perhaps you’d prefer something else. Maybe I can help get you back home.’

‘My lady, my Queen, the honour would be all mine.’ She laughed, wiping her eyes on her shoulder. ‘I couldn’t imagine a better position to be in. My home is here now, it has been years since I felt I had a true home. I knew there was more to you when we first met.’

‘Great!’ Nadec released Melia’s hands, who used them to wipe her eyes some more. Nadec dabbed at hers as well. She slapped her hands on her thighs and stood up. ‘Let’s make sure I’ll actually become the Queen then, and not only in name and position, but also in reverence from the people. Here’s what the prophecy means and what we have to do.’

Nadec ch 39 The real heir

Previously: Nadec listens in on Patat’s and Jodec’s conversation. She talks to the gorwak after her uncle left. They decide to not free Patat yet, although Nadec isn’t happy with that. Patat believes he can get Jodec to tell him about the secret room, the one which supposedly has all the information about the Squares, Triangles and Lines.

Read all the previous chapters here.

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Nadec’s heart jumped in her throat at the ratcheting sound made by the guards rattling the butts of their swords against the bars of the cells. A moment of dazed confusion fogged her brain as she stiffened under the sheets. When her mind caught up to the current events, she inhaled sharply, touching her face and head. Her wig was still in place, somewhat, and her fake beard and moustache felt straight enough. She thanked her past self for getting back in her male character outfit before going to bed.

‘Time to wake, the induction starts in ten minutes,’ one of the guards shouted. 

Yawning, Nadec hauled herself off the padded wooden plank. She reassessed her previous thought about the bed, stretching sore muscles. Although it wasn’t as bad as others she’d had before, it certainly wasn’t as good as she’d thought. She groaned as she realised she could’ve Skipped to her room, spent the night in a proper bed, and Skipped back before dawn. Too late for that now. Her stomach growled at the same time she saw the tray sitting on the outside of her cell. By the time she finished her small breakfast and other morning necessities, two guards came to escort her away.

There were only 5 other people in the room with her, of whom only one woman. A triple row of benches looked towards a smooth, dark wall. Nadec sat at in the middle of the left side bench on the second row, far enough from the others to avoid speaking to them. Two men on the first row in the middle were having an animated discussion, with one gesturing wildly with his hands, switching between putting them in his lap and pointing towards the other man. Nadec couldn’t see what he did when they were in hs lap—the other man blocked her view.

‘Good morning lady and gentlemen, I am the lady O’Dinazs, welcome to your induction on the Paralelian laws.’ Nadec twitched as the woman she met two days ago—the woman who’d let an innkeeper, or housekeeper, drug Nadec and Melia—walked into the room. Nadec slumped down, keeping her hat low. ‘This is a courtesy towards you, as you have been caught doing something against those laws. As an outsider, the Paralelian court prefers you to be educated instead of locked up, so here you all are. If you get caught with an infringement again after this, you shall be properly punished. But we all know that will not happen right? Right.’ 

She smiled as she looked around the room, lingering on each of them. Did she squint her eyes slightly when looking at Nadec? 

‘You are all too spread out, come closer, come now, I shall not bite. Especially the men have nothing to fear. I’ve heard yesterday’s induction was full to the brim, due to the first day of the Coronation festivities. Today is better.’ Nadec reluctantly moved closer to the center front of the benches, while Ayba addressed the two men who’d been squabbling. ‘What occupies you two gentlemen? Now, now, do not deny it. I saw when I entered. Best to get it out of the way before commencing.’

‘My brother, my lady,’ said the man who’d done all the gesturing, ‘doesn’t believe me when I say I saw someone disappear last night, right in front of my eyes. I swear I saw it. A black figure followed the guards, but then did something with their hands and knees, just like this, and disappeared.’ 

Nadec froze halfway to the bench, hovering above it. Ayba’s eyes flickered towards her. That was all the confirmation Nadec needed. The other woman had recognised her. She continued her descent on the bench. There was nothing she could do. If Ayba wanted to, she could put Nadec in the hands of the people who’d been hunting her. Ayba merely gazed at the man in a thoughtful manner, making him squirm and mumble he was telling the truth.

‘I believe you, she said with a nod. ‘The coronation festivities lead in a joyous and magical event. Myths and legends have a way of finding their place during these days. Do not distrust your own eyes when you see something you would before have thought impossible. Magic is all around us. It is called the Squares, Triangles and Lines. Only the royalty knows much about it, so I am afraid I can not tell you about that. What I can tell you, is to avoid shaking hands with certain people, like guards, innkeepers, …’

And so the induction had started. Nadec lifted her eyebrows on some occasions—not only red food is forbidden, but also anything square, yellow-speckled, burnt, or shiny. At the end, she was glad she’d chosen to stay for this, if not for the extra information, then for the entertaining way Ayba explained things. 

‘Now, go forth and enjoy yourselves in Hexago. Remember, many of these laws count for everywhere in Paralelo, although some towns have their own little peculiar rules added onto it. If you want to stay safe, go to the mayor of the town and ask about it. They should be more than happy to tell you their special rules. It is also a good way to get in their good graces.’

Everyone got up and moved to the door. Nadec attempted to quickly scuttle away, keeping her head down, but Ayba grabbed her by the arm. ‘A word with you, please?’

Nadec frowned at her. ‘What, you’re going to betray my trust again? Let go off me.’ She yanked her arm out of the other woman’s grip. The reaction surprised herself. A twinge of guilt surged up as she saw the hurt look on Ayba’s face. ‘I had too much betrayal lately,’ Nadec muttered, trying to justify her action to Ayba, and herself.

‘I am extremely sorry for what happened, Cedan, I did not know he would do that. Please believe me. After you disappeared, I questioned Erioch why he did what he did. He only knew the Order had sent out an urgent message to all supporters to keep an eye out for me, and specifically anyone who was with me. They’d even added a description of you, based on what you looked like when we fled the Square. Please, sit. Let’s talk.’

‘They worked fast. Stop trying to get me to sit, I’m not staying here any longer than I must. I’m keen to get out of the castle. And this disguise, you have no idea how itchy this wig is. The beard and moustache are beginning to annoy me as well.’ She looked at Ayba sideways. ‘I still don’t know if I can trust you, but—’

‘You can, I swear. You can.’ Ayba looked almost too eager. Nadec held up a hand.

‘But you may be able to tell me about that Order. The Order of the End, is it?’ Ayba nodded. ‘Is there any way we can meet somewhere? Or… ugh, I suppose I could stay in this disguise for a while longer. Would it be suspicious if you and I have an early lunch somewhere?’

‘No, it would not be. I have done so before, giving private lessons about the Paralelian laws to people who weren’t satisfied after an induction. For a price, of course. Not that you have to pay, not at all. Whatever trouble you are in, I am on your side. And if that goes against the Order, then I am doubly on your side, if there is such a thing.’ She stroked Nadec’s cheek with a finger. ‘Hmm, I have to say I do prefer you without all that fake hair, it makes it hard to see your lovely face. Come now, there is an inn across the Square where I always give these private lessons. With luck, it is not too busy yet. After yesterday’s heavy celebration evening, many people only get active by the afternoon.’

‘Let’s go then. Wait, one more question.’ It was something which nadec had wondered about ever since she saw Ayba enter the room. ‘Didn’t you say you hadn’t been allowed in the castle anymore after Wyny’s ascend to the throne? Why are you here? How?’

‘Wyny?’ Ayba doubled up from laughing. She wiped her eyes as she straightened, an occasional giggle interjecting her speech. ‘That’s the best thing I’ve heard in a while. Oh, now I truly hope I get to talk to him again some day, if only to tease him with that.’

The laughter was infectious enough for Nadec to fail at keeping her lips neutral. She crossed her ams to try and convey at least a modicum of seriousness. This was not the time to get into a hopeless fit of laughter. 

‘This part of the castle is almost separate to the rest of it, as a measure of security. I volunteered for these inductions before lord Pagewyn became the ruler. And because I am good at them and not many nobles like to do it, they allowed me to continue. I expected him to come and see me here. That was silly of me. He most likely does not know I am still allowed to do these, or they do not allow him to come. He is the king, but I do not believe he is the one controlling the kingdom. Come now, what are you waiting for? We should not linger here.’ She winked at Nadec and led them out of the castle proper, across the Square, and into an inn.

‘Ah, lady Aybahberry, another private lesson today? The small dining room is available and ready for use, if you wish.’ The innkeeper led the way. Nadec had a better feeling about this one. For one, she wasn’t skinny. For another, she wasn’t pompous enough to declare her inn as a house. A normal innkeeper in a normal inn. Hopefully without connections to the Order.

Three hours later, after a decent meal and several drinks, Nadec knew more about the Order, and Ayba knew more about Nadec. Upon hearing who Nadec really was, she went down on one knee and, as formal as can be, swore fealty to Nadec, who thought she’d burst from embarrassment. Ayba proved to be resourceful, so Nadec’s masterplan—which hadn’t looked further than rescuing Patat and hiding until C-day—turned more elaborate. Before the end of the next nine days, the common people would be looking forward to the return of a real Ichau on the throne.

 

Nadec ch 38 The End

Previously: The masterplan set in motion, Nadec had herself arrested so she could sneak around at night in an attempt to find Patat and free him. The dungeons are large and she can’t find him. So she sneaks out, into the castle proper, where she eventually finds him by following voices, Patat’s and someone elses. The other voice confirms her supicion about her uncle Jodec’s whereabouts.

Read all the previous chapters here.

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‘I grounding wanted to smack your head, that’s why I burning flew over here to find you.’ 

‘Hah. You should not have done that.’ Jodec’s voice sounded calm and uncaring, but Nadec could still hear a tension in it. ‘I didn’t give you that safe zone and went through what I went through just so you could eventually fly into your own death. Squares, ‘Tat! What were you thinking? You couldn’t even have been certain I was here, hah. Tell me how you got here in the first place. Who released you? I believe I have a suspicion, hah.’

‘I’m not burning telling you anything. What has grounding happened? First I grounding hear you’re dead, only to discover suspicions of you still being burning alive.’

A sound at the end of the hallway from where Nadec listened in startled her. It wouldn’t do for some guards to discover her. She eased the door open a bit more, enough to slip through, into the throne room. Neither Patat or Jodec saw her sneak towards the closest column. While telling herself she was being stupid, she slipped from column to column until she was as close to the cage as she could go without being seen. 

By then, Jodec had also heard the sounds coming from the hallway. He cursed, uttering surprise at the time. He did something with his feet. Nadec blinked. Was he dancing? He stretched out his right foot to the side twice, repeating it with the left, followed by his right foot stretching forward, also twice. This was again repeated by the left. His face looked pained and shone with sweat. He kept repeating those same movements, as if dancing to an unheard melody. At the same time the doors opened, he changed. Taller, with dark, curly hair to his shoulders, a royal bearing, ridiculous outfit. Nadec’s uncle had transformed into Wyny.

The four guards entering the hall stopped beyond the doorway, confusion littering their faces. 

‘Sire.’ One of them ultimately found his tongue. They all bowed. ‘This is unexpected. It is the change of the guards. Where are the others?’

Wyny’s face lifted his eyebrows, looking as arrogant as ever.

‘I apologise for questioning you sire.’ A small bow again. ‘You sent them away to be alone with the creature?’

The imposter gave a slight nod while keeping his chin up high, managing an annoyed and haughty expression. 

‘And you want us to leave you alone as well. We will return in a half hour, sire.’

The fake Wyny turned his backs to the guards, claiming satisfaction at their words.  Nadec was impressed at the way the guard had been able to guess his supposed king’s wishes. She thought Jodec’s reluctance to speak odd. Why didn’t he say anything? How had he known the guards would pick up on his intentions? Or had it been a gamble? The guards left. 

‘I dripping expected you to be an expert at your Lines by now. You were already a burning master when I saw you last, despite your grounding young age. What has burning happened to you?’

Jodec, still wearing Wyny’s body, began pacing in front of the cage again. When he spoke, his voice was still his own.

‘Let’s just be glad the guards guessed what their ruler wanted, hah. It is not easy to properly work the lines with body parts missing and others not working as they should.’ He slapped his left leg. ‘I learned to walk without a limp, but the lack of a full set of toes makes certain things more difficult. Hah.’

‘What grounding happened to you? Third time’s a burning charm. Can you burning answer me?’

Jodec stopped pacing. His appearance turned back to himself.

‘They caught me ‘Tat. They said they knew where you were. They threatened to kill you if I didn’t abandon everything and worke alongside them. They made me do the renounce ritual. Hah.’ His voice turned silent. ‘They broke me. They utterly and completely broke me. I needed to keep you safe. I did everything I could to keep you safe. It’s been so long,’ he trailed off, massaging his forehead. ‘I actively helped the Order to try and kill my own niece. She outsmarted us all, hah, for which I’m grateful. 

‘But they know she is in the city. She should’ve kept hidden. What was she thinking, going out in public like that? At least I managed to keep my sister safe, hah. She won’t be bothered while on vacation, I made certain of that.’ His head perked up, and he stared at Patat.

‘Hah! I should have seen it before. It was my niece who’d released the Deception on your safe zone and brought you here, wasn’t it? Of course it was. I cannot let her have the throne, ‘Tat. She will never do what we want. She could ruin everything we’ve worked for the past decades.’ Nadec frowned at the sudden change of demeanor and tone of voice. He sounded harder, more determined, less emotional.

‘They will gut you in four days, on the midpoint of the coronation festivities. They will read your guts and they will confirm what the Order of the End has known for more than 50 years. This Realm will come to an end soon. The apocalypse is near. It has been predicted.’ His wide, open eyes added a craziness to his face, fitting with the insane words.

‘Burning, grounding drips. You of all grounding people should know it isn’t burning true, the gorwak’s guts can’t burning tell the future. Someone couldn’t handle the burning truth we threw at them and grounding started that rumour. You burning know that. You grounding, dripping know that, which is why you dripping kept me safe.’

‘Hah, is it, is it truly? Is it truly merely a rumour? I am not as certain anymore. But do not worry, my friend,’ the crazy light in his eyes dimmed, ‘I will not let them kill you. I do not need confirmation of the prediction. I will free you before it happens, even though I can not do it now. It will not matter much, you will perish when this world comes to an end. Perhaps I can find a way to take you with me to Earth.’

‘Burning Earth?’ Patat interrupted him. ‘Isn’t that where Nadec comes from?’

‘Yes, indeed, that is where she was raised. It was I who guided my sister to find her way there. She never knew, of course.’ He laughed, sudden and barking. ‘In a way, my niece owes her life to me. Hah. Either way, burning Earth is an appropriate way of saying it. Because when the time comes for us to Skip there to establish ourselves, it will burn.’ He laughed again. 

‘I will return tomorrow. Stay strong my friend.’

Jodec wobbly Skipped, and disappeared. Nadec waited a moment longer to make sure he didn’t come back. She walked up to the cage. Patat had slumped down into a miserable pile of slimy looking, rainbow reflecting, capuchin long-limbed heap, his five-ways split tail curled around himself. His four wings appeared less iridescent.

‘He’s mentally not all there, is he?’ Her voice startled Patat enough to jump. ‘He’s probably as confused as some of his words are.’

‘What are you grounding doing here?’

‘Oh? I thought you’d be happy to see me, after the predicament you put yourself in. What were you thinking, coming here? But if you don’t want me, I’ll just leave you then.’ She bent through her knees. Patat stretched out his arms.

‘No, don’t burning leave. I am grounding glad to see you. But it’s burning too dangerous.’ He furrowed his forehead. ‘How much did you just hear?’ When Nadec told him she heard about everything, he burst out in a wide grin. It looked scary. ‘Good, I won’t have to burning repeat it all. Jodec certainly changed since the last time I grounding saw him. They dripping messed up his head. He doesn’t grounding know which side to be on. I can’t burning accept he is stupid enough to believe a prediction made from gorwak guts, after all he’s done to grounding protect me. Even more than I grounding knew before.’

Patat stared ahead of him, no doubt thinking about Jodec’s missing eye, fingers, and apparently toes as well. Nadec didn’t know what to say. It has been more than fifty years since the gorwak and Nadec’s uncle saw each other last, of course people change during such a time. Although Jodec’s change may not have been for the best.

‘Ready to go? I’ll Skip you to my room. I should be back there tomorrow around noon.’

‘What? You’re not dripping coming along with me? I doubt there is anything else you can burning do here.’

‘There is,’ Nadec said slowly. She hasn’t thought of it before, but now an idea popped in her head. ‘I already planned to stay the night here so I could go to the law induction tomorrow, bu—’

‘Law induction? What in the burning grounds is that? It doesn’t sound very burning safe to expose yourself like that either.’

‘I let myself be arrested to get here—under disguise of course—and the guards who arrested me told me I had to go to an induction about the laws and rules of Paralelo. I think it would be a good introduction to what’s soon to be my kingdom, wouldn’t you think?’ She grinned at Patat, who carried a look of utter perplexity.

‘You had yourself arrested on burning purpose? That’s burning brilliant.’

Nadec blinked. That was not what she’d expected him to say. 

‘While I’m here, perhaps there is something else I can do. My parents’ notes said there is a room in the palace, full of books and notes on the full power of the Squares, Triangles and Lines. Only accessible by someone who can Skip, as a precaution to safeguard all the information in there. I’ll try and find it.’

‘Don’t be burning stupid, it’s too risky. Aah, I recognise that grounding stubborn look. Fine, listen, dripping Jodec returns here tomorrow, I can dripping try to tease the location out of him. If he hasn’t dripping emptied it already and given all the books to his burning Order.’

 A familiar sound came from the hallway.

‘Guts, the guards are back. What’s that look for?’ She trailed off. ‘Sorry, wrong choice of curse word. I can’t leave you here, Patat.’

‘Kid, I’ll be burning fine. Come back for me tomorrow, now that you’ve grounding been in this hall, you should be able to Skip back here. Go, go!’

Nadec hesitated, but the gorwak looked determined. She growled softly and Skipped, back to her cell.

Nadec ch 37 Laws and rules

Previously: Frustration rules after spending most of the morning searching through the notes Nadec’s parents had left her. There wasn’t much about how the Lines work. They go to Blackie, where Nadec lets her repeat the voices from the cave. It confirmed something to Nadec. She now suspects where her uncle Jodec is.

Read all the previous chapters here.

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It made sense. No one else could have any of the Lines but members of the Ichau family. Nadec didn’t have siblings. Kridec and Stetem didn’t have children. Theoretically, Jodec could have had children after his disappearance, but that was a detail Nadec ignored for now. The male voice from the cave spoke about not taking the effort of transporting the zlurp, better to preserve the power and said hold on. There had been no other way to enter or exit the cave. He must have been talking about Skipping. The man’s voice—the one the woman had referred to as Klapper—had to be Jodec. 

‘Your uncle tried to kill you?’ Melia looked sad when she asked her question.

‘I… yes, I suppose he did.’ The day before, Nadec had given Melia a brief summary of the events which led up to her appearance in the mansion. ‘It doesn’t make sense though, does it? If he works now for the same Order who wants to kill me because they want the power, why didn’t he remain on the throne? He could’ve had all of the Squares, Triangles and Lines years ago.  And if he had kids then, the first one would’ve inherited it all when turning twenty-eight. Even if he hadn’t had the throne, wouldn’t it happen anyway? Or would that depend on when I was born? This whole inheritance system is too complicated.’

‘It most certainly is. But I do not believe it matters right now, what matters is that you are the current heir, and they—whomever they are—do not want it. Are we still doing the plan as we have decided last night? It was very late and we did not know all the details.’

Nadec smiled. She liked this woman—Fluetza, her real name was Fluetza— much better as an active part of the team than servant. It somewhat relieved the pressure Nadec felt on her shoulders. 

‘Yes, still the same. It’s crazy but I like it. It will work. Knowing that one of my enemies is my uncle doesn’t change anything. It’s even better to be aware of it. You are sure about breaking the laws here?’

‘It was one of the first things I studied. From the moment I knew this was to be my new home, I asked Madame Ichau to teach me all of the laws and rules. I didn’t want to be locked up for something easily avoided.’ 

‘Smart move. Good for me, glad you did. Let’s do this.’

 

It felt good to wear trousers again. The breeches Nadec wore, stopped midway her shin, not on her knees like any other men’s. The puffiness around the hips was perfect to hide her wide ones. Instead of white stockings, hers were red, like a little wink to what she was about to do. She liked the jacket, shirts, and undershirts, they were loose enough not to feel trapped, unlike dresses. Her complete outfit differed enough from the local males to exclaim her as a foreigner. The large floppy hat on her head obscured enough of the white curly wig she wore to hide her long hair. Wigs weren’t as much in fashion here, but people didn’t give her the side-eye for it either. 

She would’ve liked it even better if she had her halberd on her. But there had been no point in carrying it along, as the guards might be taking it of her when they caught her. She did have two small knives hidden in her sleeves. If Melia was right, the guards wouldn’t pat her down to remove any hidden weapons she might be carrying. Not for the offense she was about to do. 

The Square Market was buzzing with activity. All of Paralelo’s performers had gathered there, which filled the Square with colourful balls being tossed about, swirling capes, and sparkling outfits. All of that drew a large crowd, most of whom stared wide-eyed around them. For many of them it was one of the rare times they were able to see these acts, since they weren’t usually free. Guards roamed around, heads swiveling to catch possible pickpockets and other law-breakers. 

A pair of the blue-liveried guards strolled in Nadec’s direction. The perfect moment. Time to get arrested. She lifted the red apple out of her pocket and took a bite, nearly eating her fake moustache and dripping juice on her short beard. Chewing slowly, she made sure to keep the apple up high. The shocked faces of passerby reminded her of Wyny’s reaction in the cave, when she’d explained strawberries to him. She chuckled at the same time one of the guards held her wrist, while the second one grabbed her other arm. 

‘Sir, red food is forbidden in Paralelo. Under the law, we have to take you into custody. You are not from around here, we assume?’

‘Of course I am not.’ She tried to modify her voice, to make it sound more like a man. It made her sound slow-witted. So be it, she thought, annoyed at herself. Perhaps she should’ve stayed female instead of turning male. But they might’ve treated her differently. As a man, there’s a better chance of being thrown closer to where Patat was kept. 

‘Can you not squeeze quite so hard? Thank you. What is this nonsense about red food? Let me just dispose of it—I’ll quickly eat it—and pretend it never happened? You go on with your day, and I go on with mine, and that is it. No need to keep me captive.’ She managed to give a little shake to her voice. 

‘We cannot do that, sir. Do not worry, I will personally make sure they treat you right. Though you will have to spend the night in the dungeon. In the morning, you will be given an induction on the Paralelian laws.’ The guard plucked the apple from her hand, with the help of a handkerchief. Nadec almost snorted at his unwillingness to touch the apple. Ridiculous.

‘This is preposterous,’ Nadec exclaimed. ‘You are locking me up for eating an apple? How was I to know of such a rule? Can I not be left free with the promise of going to that induction in the morning?’

‘Please sir, let us not make this difficult.’ Both of the guards each grabbed one of her arms and moved forward. ‘If you do not cooperate, we shall have to manacle you. The law is the same for everyone else. Do not worry, you will get one of the better dungeon rooms. Do you have any relatives here with you who may need to be notified for your absence?’

Nadec pulled her arms out of the guards’ grips, putting on the most gruffest face she could. She slid a hand over her face, momentarily shocked as she felt the moustache and beard. She’d already forgotten about those. She held up her palms toward them.

‘I will work along, there is no need for manacles, please. To answer your question, no, there is no one who would be looking for me.’

The main guard nodded. They didn’t take her arms again, but Nadec could see there were vigilant and prepared to hold her if she’d try to run. She wasn’t. So far, her plan was going perfect.

 

Sitting in a dungeon room was pretty boring. It had happened to Nadec before. Even though she’d wanted it this time, the boredness didn’t change. The guard hadn’t been lying when he said they’d put her in one of the better rooms. Nadec had never heard of a dungeon with a variety of rooms, but Paralelo has proven to be different in many ways.

Her prison had a large, barred window. It looked out on a round hole, across which she could see other windows. There weren’t many. Nadec suspected they must have a mirror system kept in place to provide these cells with light. The sun had gone down a while ago, but the dungeon hadn’t grown dark. A different type of light had replaced the natural sun. It wasn’t bright, but enough to prevent prisoners from sitting in the complete dark. 

Nadec had tried to look up and down the circular hole. It hadn’t worked. Extensions above and below her window prevented her from seeing much. It didn’t matter. She sat down on her bed. It wasn’t merely a hard wooden plank like her previous dungeon experiences. This one had a soft stuffing on top, almost like a proper mattress, and sufficient blankets to keep her warm. There was a small chest-high wall, hiding the chamber pot from the prison bars. It was the only place for privacy, since the side onto the hallway was all bars, no wooden doors or anything.

Footsteps echoed, the sound getting stronger each step. Nadec flipped the sheets open and got herself busy fluffing the pillows. She kept her facial expression indignant and frustrated. Two guards passed by, shining their lantern light briefly in her cell before continuing on. She heard them laugh about silly foreigner nobles who don’t know the local laws. Before their voices faded away, one of them dropped the word gorwak. Nadec strained her ears but couldn’t hear more. Perhaps she should’ve been paying more attention to what they’d been saying instead of giving all her focus to undressing and stuffing her clothes underneath the bed sheets. 

The men’s outfit—including the hat and wig—-she’d been wearing hadn’t only been chosen because it proclaimed her as an obvious outsider and hid her as a man. It had also been chosen because of its bulkiness, perfect to use as a pretend sleeping form. Not to mention the ability to wear other clothes underneath. 

When she was satisfied with the outline of a supposed figure under the sheets, she remembered the fake beard and moustache. Snorting quietly, she pulled those off, hiding them under the sheets as well. She checked the hallway. No one there. 

She skipped, and appeared outside of her cell. Keeping to the shadows, she moved through the hallways. They seemed to go in a circle, following the central open shaft around which the cells were built. Most of the them were empty. She recognised one. Oh. She’d returned to her own cell. Patat wasn’t on this level. Time to look further then. She was glad to have been able to find the sleek black clothes she wore, it made her feel less noticeable. 

An hour later, frustration overwhelmed every other emotion when she hadn’t found even a clue of where Patat was kept. By then, she was pretty sure she’d been in about every corner of the dungeons. She’d tried following the guards for a while, hoping for a hint. But the only thing that accomplished had been near discovery, when they’d unexpectedly turned and she had to Skip away in a hurry. She suspected there were some deeper parts of the dungeons, but she doubted Patat would be there. Sighing, she decided to leave them and head into the castle. Perhaps they’d put him up as a display somewhere.

She’d lost track of where she was a long ago. The castle’s halls were like a labyrinth to her. She froze. Voices. Familiar voices. She sneaked closer. The sounds were coming from behind double doors, one ajar. She popped her head through and almost choked on her breath. There was Patat. In a cage, in the middle of what Nadec could only imagine as being the throne rome, seeing as there was a dais with a large throne at the end of it. In front of him, pacing up and down a short distance, was an old man of average size. Except for an eyepatch, he didn’t have many special features. 

The large hall reverberated enough sound for Nadec to clearly hear both of their words. When the man spoke next, he gestured wildly with his hands, giving Nadec another featured of recognition: he missed several fingers. But that wasn’t what made her gasp. She recognised his voice and manner of speech.

Her uncle.

Nadec ch 36 Uncle Jodec

Previously: After running from the coronation festivities with Ayba, Nadec and Melia get poisoned by the housekeeper of the fancy inn . Ayba had been wrong about it being a safe spot. They escape, barely. It’s evening when most of the poison wears out and they can think about the day’s events.

Read all the previous chapters here.

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The box didn’t teach Nadec much about the Lines. The pages didn’t explain how all the powers worked, nor how many there were and what they did. Her parents merely referenced to several book titles and where to find the books. They were in the castle of course, in some sort of secret room. They did disclose that the room could only be entered by someone having access to the full powers. This was a safeguard which had been built in by their ancestors, to prevent anyone else from learning about it. They mentioned it was also the reason why they couldn’t speak too much about it in these pages. 

It was a big disappointment for Nadec. She’d thought she’d learn about what was to come, but no, she would have to wait until the Wooden Water Crown dropped on her head to know more about it all. They didn’t even give her anything about Skipping, even though they said they suspected it was one of her basic Lines. 

The more Nadec leafed through the pages, the more frustrated she got. There were too many strange little rules and customers here in parallelogram. Paralelo, she reminded herself. She forced herself to remember the correct name of her kingdom.

Some of her questions got answered. Why she’d never heard of this are before, for instance. Her parents had left Kridwc and Stetem with precise instructions on what to tell Nadec. That included a fake map and incomplete knowledge of creatures and cities. The map had been mostly true, but they’d erased her kingdom and had drawn a massive lake instead. Nadec shook her head, comparing the fake map with the real one they’d included. The differences were obvious now. The strange geography of the fake map didn’t make much sense. She should’ve seen it before. But then, this had been a complete new world, she couldn’t have known what was possible. 

Despite the lack of the magic explanation, Nadec and Melia still spent late into the evening reading many of the pages, sorting them into order of importance, and trying to come up with a plan to rescue Patat and stay safe but inside of the city. They went to bed with a rough outline of what they’d do. Despite thinking she wouldn’t be able to sleep, with the earlier poison induced sleep and her mind whirling, it came soon after laying herself down in bed.

‘Ten more days.’ Nadec sat at the desk again. She tapped the pencil against the sheet. ‘It doesn’t mention when it happens. Is it at midnight. Is it at noon? Is it random? Or is it at the time of my birth?’ 

‘I would expect it to be the last, mistress.’ Nadec glanced at Melia. ‘Oh, apologies, I mean, uh, Cedan. It is all so very complicated, the way the Crown drops and the rules which go with it. So if everything would be normal, and your parents were still ruling, the crown would automatically fall on your head. Your parents wouldn’t be able to stop it, not unless you agree. In which case a ritual has to be performed to stop you from being the heir. It is what Kridec did. She didn’t want to be the heir after Jodec disappeared, so they performed a ritual, effectively making your mother the heir. 

‘However, according to that hastily scribbled note, he is still alive. Death would automatically transfer the heirdom. He should’ve been the one to receive the crown, unless…’ Melia looked up from the note. Nadec was content to let her talk for now, it felt good to give her own brain a little rest. ‘Unless he wasn’t here at the time of his supposed coronation.’

‘What had Kridec said about his Lines?’ So much for not thinking for a moment. What had her aunt said about him? Not enough. Not enough by far. 

‘Here, these are the pages your parents wrote about your family.’ Nadec frowned at Melia. Pages about her family? She didn’t remember reading those last night. Melia continued, seeing the confused expression on Nadec’s face. ‘You merely placed them in a separate pile yesterday, you didn’t read them. I believe your words were: I’m too buggered to get into family drama right now. I do not know what bugs have to do with this, but we went to bed not long after that. Remember?’

‘It’s an expression, it means being exhausted. Don’t ask me where it came from, I wouldn’t know.’ Nadec grabbed the pages, leafed through them and speedread the one about Jodec. Lines of Deception and Skipping. 

‘That’s right, that’s what she mentioned about him, the Line Of Deception. I can imagine what that ones does. But I might be completely wrong too. He can Skip as well, that’s interesting, he should be able to teach me a lot, having done it for all those years. If we ever find him. Which is not something we’ll add to our to-do list, that one is challenging enough as it is. It feels as if there is something more to it, some connection I should see. Frankdamn, my brain isn’t working properly.’

She took a sip of her tea and almost spat it out. It had grown cold.

‘What’s the time? We’ve been working on this for longer than we were meant to, haven’t we?’

‘The castle’s bells have struck ten a while ago. Oh, you were supposed to meet with Madam Ichau at eleven. She’ll be surprised to see the dragon is no longer in the building.’

‘Okay, I’m leaving.’ She stroked Kitty, bent towards him, and whispered: ‘sorry buddy, I have to go. Aw don’t give me that look. You’re so cute, but I need to get up. Oh no, don’t purr, that’s not fair. Come, off the lap. Ugh, fine, I’ll take you along.’ 

Melia’s eyes grew wide. ‘But, mistress, …’

‘No mistress-anything while we’re in private, remember? Anyway, I’ll make it work. I can make a bag out of this sheet or something…’ She looked around the room for a solution. The best solution was to leave him behind, and Nadec knew that. But it didn’t feel right at this time. He’d be happy to visit Blackie too. She put his harness on.

‘I’m an idiot.’ She slapped her hand against her forehead. ‘I can just Skip to the stock house, there is no need for us to go outside. This Skipping thing really hasn’t become second nature yet, has it. You coming along? Of course you are. Hold on.’ Nadec froze at her own words. They brought back a memory. A memory which could give her an awful conclusion if her suspicions were right. She had another reason to visit Blackie now. 

‘Wait, I need to practice. I Skipped you once without touching each other. I have to try doing that again.’ She lifted Kitty on her shoulders, and began gathering the power in the usual way. ‘In case I don’t manage to take you along, you could take a quin and meet me there. Or buy me some dre—’ She Skipped.

She avoided ending up in the well this time. Skipping did appear easier without having to transport a few tons’ worth of dragon. She cursed as she noticed Melia wasn’t with her. She checked inside the well, just to be sure. No, there was no tall servant-like woman drowning in there.

Kridec wasn’t there yet, so Nadec settled in to wait. She waited until the bells of eleventh hour sounded. She waited until she had to change her position. She waited until the gong of the half hour sounded. She waited until the doors opened, and Melia entered. They waited until twelfth hour rang. They waited until Nadec’s stomach growled loudly enough for Kitty to jump up, his tail thick, the hair on his back up, pupils dilated. 

‘Sorry buddy, it’s okay, come.’ She comforted Kitty while talking to Melia. ‘I suppose she’s not coming. Perhaps she changed her mind about seeing the statue.’ Or perhaps something bad happened, she added in her mind. ‘I can’t wait any longer. Do you mind staying here while I go to Blackie? Or no, it is probably better that you go back to the room, since they saw you leave. They should see you come back as well.’

‘Do you believe Madame Ichau is all right?’ Worry painted Melia’s face. ‘She is not the kind of person to not uphold an agreement.’

‘Yeah. Yeah, she’s proven that. She’s a woman of her word. And Stetem, him as well, I suppose. Don’t worry, I’m sure they’re fine. Go back to the inn. I’ll see you there.’

Nadec Skipped with Kitty to the location of the statue. Blackie welcomed them with a wagging tail and tongue out. Kitty meowed towards the dragon, giving her all the headbuts and purrs. Nadec gave them their time together. She asked the dragon if she could replay the voices she’d heard in the cave. It confirmed Nadec’s earlier suspicions. 

They Skipped back to Hexago, straight to their inn’s room, leaving Blackie behind once again. Melia jumped up from the desk seat as soon as they arrived.

‘I have news from Madame Ichau. She’s sent Farenk here with a note.’ Melia’s voice trembled. ‘I’ve read it, mistress, I could not hold myself, I needed to know. They have left the mansion as a precaution, under the guise of going on vacation. Farenk is being kept in charge of the main chocolate production, as he’s been doing for the past year. So that is still the same.’ She smiled. ‘They are all right. It is all good.’

Nadec took the note from Melia, giving it a swift read. She nodded. 

‘That is all aunts and uncles accounted for then.’

Melia’s face said it all, she didn’t understand. Nadec grimaced, something between a smile and a pout.

‘I know where my uncle Jodec is.’

Nadec ch 35 The skinny housekeeper

Previously: Nadec goes to the opening ritual of the coronation festivities, making the mistake of sitting in a prime spot. When she wants to leave, she meets Ayba, a forward woman claiming to have been best friends with Wyny, before he became ruler. Because of talking to her, Nadec can’t leave quick enough and gets eye in eye—from a distance—with Wyny. He tells her to run. Ayba flees along with her.  

Read all the previous chapters here.

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‘We are safe here, Erioc, the housekeeper, is a friend of the family. This private dining room gets used often by father.’

As if on cue, the housekeeper came in, bringing them all a cup of dark brown liquid. Nadec sniffed it. Chocolate? Melia sat down next to them, shifting in her seat, uncomfortable with being told she didn’t have to be the servant at this moment.

‘Food will come soon, miss O’Dinasz.’

‘Thank you. Is Deneria not working today? I was hoping to see her, I love getting served by her.’ Ayba turned to Nadec. ‘She is lovely, and pretty. You might have liked her too.’ She winked.

‘Oh no, miss, I allowed her to go watch the parade and opening ritual for the coronation festivities. Everyone is there now, I don’t need any help, but I did tell her to come back before it finished because I expect a rush of people then. Everyone will want to celebrate.’

‘Oh, good, we might see her before the day has ended.’ The housekeeper left. ‘Do you enjoy you caca? It is this house its specialty. Molten chocolate mixed with nut milk and a hit of liquor. There are more ingredients but Erioc keeps them secret. I always ask for a double hit. It is delicious, is it not? The food is delectable here as well, you will see. Now tell me, how did you fall in love with lord Pagewyn?’

Nadec nearly choked on her next swallow of caca. Ayba did have a way to sneak questions on to people, didn’t she? 

‘I am not in love with him,’ she said slowly. ‘I mean, maybe I like him, but that’s hardly love. Don’t look at me like that. We don’t even know each other that well. We just had a little adventure together, that’s all.

‘That is all?’ Ayba laughed and took Nadec’s hand. ‘Dear Cedan, that is certainly not all there is to that story. Come now, you can trust me. A friend of lord Pagewyn is a friend of me.’

‘Why do you keep calling him lord? If he really is such a good friend of yours, you should be able to just call him by his name alone.’ Nadec withdrew her hand from underneath the other woman’s. She re-assessed her earlier thought about her age. Ayba might’ve been slightly older than Nadec instead of younger.

‘Why, it is proper to do so. They had made that clear enough when I saw him last. If I sound a tad bitter, I will not apologise for it. I truly do miss my friend. But—’

Erioc entered, carrying a large plate of roasted potatoes and a basket of sliced bread. He put it down in the middle of the table while saying the rest of the meal was on its way. His eyes lingered long enough on Nadec for her to notice the oddity. 

‘Ladies, please, do not stop your conversation because I enter. I will return with your plates swiftly.’ Before he left, he gave Nadec another side-eyed glance.

‘Does he always look at people like that?’ Nadec asked Ayba, frowning at the door. 

‘Like what? I have not noticed anything strange. Perhaps he is taken away by your beauty, as I am.’

That was too much. Nadec burst out laughing. She was relieved when the other woman laughed along with her, indicating she had been joking. If she had meant it as a way to distract from the possible tension, she’d succeeded. Nadec appreciated people who could use humour to relieve serious situations. 

They hadn’t finished laughing when the housekeeper came back in, this time carrying three plates. He said to Ayba it was her favourite, balls with tomato sauce. The sauce was yellow, reminding Nadec of how Wyny had reacted to merely mentioning red food. Poor guy will never know the delight of eating a strawberry. The housekeeper went on to explain Nadec how the balls were made. He bragged about how the special process they use on the mixture of nuts, flour-wash, and herbs, makes the balls taste as good as they are. He mentioned this level of food—and the service he provided, of course—was the difference between a common inn, and a house, like his. The sneer when he said inn made his thin face look particularly evil. 

He scooped each of them a spoonful of potatoes on their plates, even Melia’s. Ayba told him she’d like to have privacy now and would ring the bell if she needed his service. It was only then Nadec noticed the small rope hanging next to the door. 

They dug in their food. With all the excitement of the morning, Nadec had gotten hungry. She hadn’t realised it until she put the first bite in her mouth. It was delicious. The balls were soft with the right amount of chewiness and crispness on the outside. The tomato sauce was possibly the best she’d ever eaten, never mind the odd colour. And the potatoes. She loved potatoes in all their forms and sizes, prepared in every way possible. These were amazing. Everyone was quiet while eating, focused on their meal.

She was cleaning off her plate, using pieces of bread to soak up the last of the sauce, when Melia surprised them all by speaking. ‘I do not feel so well, mistress.’ Before she’d finished the sentence, Nadec’s head spun, as if she’d dropped 20 metres down. 

‘You tricked us.’ She wanted to sound accusing and in control, but her tongue was doing funny things. Her hand reached out towards Ayba, aiming to grab her by the throat. It fell in her lap instead. Ayba looked at it, wide-eyed.

‘If you did not sound unexplainably drunk, I’d encourage this, but what is wrong? Tricked you how? Cedan?’ 

Nadec stood up. She could barely keep upright, her legs wobbled enough for to need the support of the table. Melia had fallen to the ground, still open eyes trickling tears. Nadec attempted to walk towards her but realised after one failed step it wasn’t possible. The door slammed open. 

‘Erioc. What is going on here, what did you do?’ The genuine question and shock in Ayba’s voice made Nadec reconsider her part in this. Perhaps she was innocent. Perhaps she wasn’t. Nadec had trouble keeping her thoughts from straying. She bent through her knees. They almost buckled completely. Putting her hands on them only worked by leaning her head on the table. It supported her enough to keep from toppling over. 

‘The Order is searching for her, miss. They got word of you running away from the opening ritual with her, although they only had a vague description. They’ve been searching for this one for a long time, miss. You’ll be thanked for bringing her here.’

‘I… brought her here because I thought it was supposed to be safe here. No, do not go near her. What is wrong with the Order, chasing innocent women?’

‘If the Order wants her, she is not innocent, miss, you should realise that. What is she doing with her knees?’

The energy took longer than usual to build up. Nadec suspected her legs were moving slow, too slow. She wanted to go over to Melia, to touch her and take her along. She swore she’d come back for her. That would be two people she needed to rescue from imprisonment. Surely they wouldn’t have any need for Melia? Surely they’d let her go? From the moment there was enough energy, she focused on her room. She Skipped.

Someone touched her shoulder. Nadec flinched from the sharp pain in her head as she moved it. She opened one eye to a slit, followed by the next. Kitty was there, licking her face, the purrs a comforting sound. A little while later she managed to open both eyes fully. Her left leg was up on the bed, her right one dangled on top of the bedside table. The rest of her lay on the floor in an awkward angle. Melia’s head leaned over her, arms hanging down, the rest of her body on the bed. 

Several careful movements later, both of them were sitting. Nadec leaning against the bedside table, Melia leaning against the bed. She’d been able to slip of it first. Attempts to talk were made, but unsuccessful. Finally, they succeeded to walk around and drink water, which improved their lethargic state a lot. 

The sunlight outside had diminished and disappeared completely by then. They’d lost the whole afternoon and a big portion of the evening by the drug-induced sleep. Blackie’s broken thoughts sounded panicked when they got through to Nadec. The thoughts were like a long-distance radio transmission. But they were still enough to communicate. Blackie appeared to have felt Nadec’s distress at getting drugged and had tried to get in touch with her ever since. Poor dragon must have been a ball of stress, not even being able to get to her. At that thought, Blackie interrupted and said it was not true. She could feel the direction Nadec was in, and would be able to come to her. The disappointment was obvious when she followed that up by saying it would take her weeks to fly that distance. 

When Blackie was set at ease, Nadec began to think through the events. The first thing invading her thoughts was the wonder of having Skipped Melia along without touching her. Her Line was getting stronger. At least that was one positive point to come out of what happened. 

The Order. It was the largest mystery. Which Order? Who are they? Where they the same ones as the couple from the voices from the cave? If so, they were also the same ones who’d returned Wyny to his castle. Which means they were the ones to control it. Was Wyny used as a pawn. Remembering what the voices had said, they didn’t think highly of him, calling him a fool. But, a fool to whom the people did listen and look up to. Nadec wanted to conclude Wyny really had nothing to do with this all, which meant he hadn’t betrayed her. But she refrained herself from making that assumption.

She did believe Ayba didn’t have bad intentions. Her reaction to the poisoning by the housekeeper had been genuine. Nadec kept playing the scene over and over in her head. The more she did so, the more she was convinced of Ayba’s innocence. She decided to trust her gut feeling in this. She could have an allie in the woman. It might be good, but risky, to attempt to meet her again. 

‘Melia, I’ll need your brains to help me figure things out. I need you to stop being the servant when we’re in private, I don’t like that submissive shit anyway, and be my assistant. I know you’re smart enough. I need your brains. Can you do that?’

Melia nodded, eagerness obvious. 

‘Good.’ Nadec hesitated. ‘Eh, could you just maybe, eh, first get us dinner from downstairs, I’m starving. Proper, unpoisoned food might be good to flush away the last of the toxins. And a jug of wine. Good toxins to replace the bad.’

Melia grinned and gave a mock curtsy. 

Nadec settled herself at the desk. She was finally ready to push through all the pages her parents left. It was clear she couldn’t keep in hiding for another ten days, with Patat captured and her face known. It was time to dig deep and come up with a master plan.

Nadec ch 34: Caged

Previously: Blackie urges Nadec to release her from the building, urgently. Nadec and Melia make a mad dash through the city to get to Blackie. Once there, Nadec wastes no time and skips them away immediately. After Blackie has relieved herself, they make the sad decision it’s better for Blackie to stay here instead of being locked up in a building. At returning to the city, Nadec hears from Melia that it’s been said the parade for coronation festivities, has a rare creature they want to show off. Nadec fears it is Patat and they want to open his gut.  

Read all the previous chapters here.

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Nadec and Melia returned to the inn, using a regular quin from the street, to drop off the litterbox for Kitty and feed him. Nadec had filled it up with sand from around the statue. The grey tabby immediately took use of it. Nadec wanted to stay longer and cuddle—especially since she couldn’t take him anywhere with her in this city—but they had to go to the Square Market. The place would be crowded already.

They could only use a quin for a limited distance before the streets became too cramped up. They walked the rest of the way, pushing in as they went. Nadec managed to barge her way in to the very front of the line. Guards made sure no one went any further than they were supposed to go, leaving a large open space in the middle of the Square. 

One of the guards came up to her to offer a seated place. Apparently, she looked wealthy enough to be considered important enough. Or perhaps to be able to afford it. Nadec glanced at Melia, who gave a slight shrug. She then nodded towards her, prompting the servant to speak for Nadec and accept the offer. Such a weird custom to let the servants speak, if one ranked high enough. 

After payment, the guard led them to an area with seats on a four-tiered stand. It was nearly full. Nadec sat down on the third tier near the middle, while Melia kept standing in an area designated for the servants, next to the seats. Nadec would have preferred Melia to be next to her, to have someone to talk to. She didn’t feel at ease, sitting in the open like this. It was a bad idea, but she tried to justify it by thinking she looked different now. Did the people who’d been looking for her know what she looked like?

Not long later, the sound of horns, bells, music and cheering grew stronger. Nadec grew too uncomfortable, sitting in such a prominent spot. She had to leave. She stood up. The older woman next to her gave her a dirty look, and rearranged herself so Nadec couldn’t pass by her. She turned the other way. There was another woman. This one looked younger than Nadec and was chatting excitedly to the man next to her. She didn’t notice Nadec standing up next to her until the man nudged her. 

‘Do not push me, what… Oh hello, how are you? What are you doing? You want to pass by? I suppose that works but are you certain you want to do that? The parade is about to come, and Lord Pagewyn looks exceptionally dapper today. Indeed, he always has looked good, especially after being offered the throne those years ago and accepting it, his handsomeness has certainly improved. I always knew he would do well in life, makes me wonder why I did not accept the marriage proposal. Of course, I do not literally wonder that, we all know why I did not accept.’ The woman stopped for a longer breath. Someone behind Nadec yelled in a friendly way for her to sit down. Nadec sank back down on her seat, captivated by the thought of Wyny wanting to marry this woman, who leaned towards Nadec and lowered her voice. Not enough to be silent, but enough to make it clear she was pretending to tell a secret which wasn’t a secret. 

‘I do not like men that way, you see, and lord Pagewyn knew that. He merely thought our bond would be perfect to strengthen both of our families and he said he preferred to marry his best friend than some unknown chit. But as we all are aware, no chit has come along just yet, although rumour has spread that the advisor’s court has presented him with several options to choose from. They will want him to make a choice soon after the coronation, I’d fathom, because Paralelo has never been ruled by only one person, it has always been a woman and a man. Or a woman and woman, and man and man on occasion. 

‘Such a shame the old Ichau line has been ended so abruptly, where you here when the announcement was made? Oh it was a shock to everyone, we all mourned for months, what an unbelievable event, no one ever thought the Originals’ bloodline would ever be broken. But it was good for lord Pagewyn, certainly, and his coronation will lead in a new start for the kingdom. Poor man has a mountain of responsibility on his shoulder, I wish they’d still allow me to see him, I miss my friend, and I am certain he could use a friend like me, but there is not much I can do about that, I tried. I hope his future wife will be the friend he needs. I am sorry, what was your name?

Nadec blinked at the onslaught of words, floored by the unexpected question. It took her a while to collect her thoughts. She must be thinking I’m slow-witted.

‘Cedan White, nice to meet you.’ Before she could offer her hand, the woman wrapped her in a hug.

‘A pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Cedan. May I call you Cedan?’ Nadec nodded. ‘Good, good, good. I am Aybahbery O’Dinazs, and this is my father: Zimal O’Dinasz. You may call me Ayba. Do you like men or women?’

Zimal harumphed. Nadec wasn’t sure whether that was for the shortened name, or the question. 

‘Oh father, you know I favour the shorter version of my name, it is much easier.’ She turned back to Nadec. ‘When I meet a new woman friend, I prefer to know straight up what I can expect. It is a rather awkward situation when I try to flirt and the other’s squirming looks like she is flirting back.’ She threw her head back and laughed loudly. Not very ladylike. Nadec was starting to like this woman. When she was done laughing at her own memories, she repeated the question. ‘Well, what is it? Come now, do not be shy.’

Indignation coloured Nadec’s cheeks. Of course that would seem as if she was embarrassment. She wasn’t shy. She merely wasn’t certain if she should be truthful or not.

‘I like both.’ She cringed inside, annoyed at her honesty. She knew this could open up a whole lot of complications. So she added: ‘But I may have the fancies for someone else, so I’m not sure if you and me would be a possibility.’ She tripped over her words. Not good. Not good at all.

‘Oh, but we shall see about that.’ Zimal was hidden behind Ayba for the most part, but Nadec could still see him roll his eyes. He must be used to his daughter acting this way. Nadec admitted the temptation of the situation to herself. Ayba reached up to put a hand on Nadec’s cheek, and slowly traced a finger down towards her lips. Balls, this woman just does what she wants, doesn’t she? 

‘Aybahbery.’ Her father’s voice was quiet but intent. Both women turned towards him before looking towards the Square. The parade had come while they were talking. Wyny’s quin—a fancy one, large, and with five strongmen to pull it, dressed up with large hats—had stopped only about five metres from the tiered seats. He stared at them while a woman prepared a platform next to it. Nadec’s breath stopped. A longing entered her chest. She wanted to reach out, run to him, hug him, ask him why he’d betrayed her. She wanted to be enveloped in his strong arms and forget everything else. She forced all those emotions back and focused on the betrayal. He had betrayed her. With that, she was able to see him.

He looked… ridiculous. She’d seen the way the richer men dressed here. His clothes were similar, but even more exaggerated. The tightly fitting, maroon breeches were so tight they looked like embroidered stockings, the embroidery the only thing distinguishing it at the knee up from his actual pantyhose. His shoes were bright blue rectangles. The puffy sleeves of the rich golden fabric were embroidered with shiny red thread. Each sleeve was larger than his head. The codpiece—on their way to the Square, Melia had told Nadec that’s what the pieces in front of their manhood were called—was immense. It had the length and girth of his forearm and pointed up. How he managed to not bump against everything, Nadec didn’t know. It had a bright yellow colour—as if the size wasn’t enough to draw the attention—and embroidery in a dark thread. It mimicked veins.

Nadec snorted and lifted an eyebrow, indicating towards it with her eyes. Wyny shrugged and lifted an eyebrow as well, his eyes flickering towards Ayba. Nadec shrugged too. They shared a smile.

The woman had apparently finished her preparations and spoke into a cone, strengthening the sound of her voice. The placement was perfect. Nadec could hear what was being said crisp and clear, even though she sat behind them. Wyny started and shook his head. He moved to look around him. For a moment, his face showed a panicked expression before returning to neutral. A king’s face. He mouthed something to her. She’d never been trained in reading lips, but this she understood silent and clear. ‘Go, run, it’s not safe. Leave. Hide.’ He gave her one last look, and turned to take his place on the platform.

Patat was there, caged. Oh no. An arm pulled her to the side. She complied, leaving the tiered seats. Blinking didn’t help absorb the wetness in her eyes. It spread around them, like unwanted tears, not enough to drop down her face. She’d expected Melia to have been the one to pull her away. It was Ayba. She kept pulling her arm, taking her behind the seats and towards the crowds of other people. Nadec resisted. Melia, she had to get Melia. As if on cue, the tall servant appeared from the crowds. ‘Thank fuck,’ Nadec murmured. 

Ayba frowned at her from where she’d been setting herself up between Nadec and Melia. Had she been preparing to defend Nadec? The idea both amused and amazed her. 

‘My servant,’ Nadec said. ‘What are you doing?’

Ayba grabbed Nadec’s arm again, but she shook it off this time. Despite her gut feeling claiming it was alright, she wasn’t certain if she could trust her. She might be pretending to be friendly, but in reality be one of them.

‘Do you think we have time to squabble? I saw the anxiety in lord Pagewyn’s face when he told you to run and hide. Come.’ She moved towards the crowd again. Nadec followed. What else could she do? She had to trust someone. Somewhat. 

‘I have never seen him look at anyone in the way he looked at you. The connection you share with him is unique. Special enough for me to know I should help you. You can tell me all about how it happened later.’ Nadec wanted to say nothing happened, but Ayba talked right over her. ‘Is he the one you fancy? He must be, both of you had seemed to forget everything else around you. That might be interesting, once this mess you are running from is cleared. Surely you will invite me along some day, hmm.’ She managed to caress Nadec’s cheek again, even while pushing through the people. ‘I assume you are not one of the brides to be they have lined up. Is that why we are running, did you have a secret relationship and they discovered it but you are not good enough? I would not know why they would not think you are good enough, you look mighty fine to me. Cedan? Come now.’

Nadec had stopped. There was an opening in the people, giving a clear view of the platform with Wyny and Patat. They’d uncaged Patat, forcing him to fly up by whipping him while chains around both of his ankles kept him from leaving. 

‘He’s my friend, I can’t leave him like that. I can’t just let them kill him.’

‘Kill him, what in the Originals’ name are you talking about? No one is killing lord Pagewyn.’

‘I know that,’ Nadec snapped. ‘It’s not him I’m talking about. The gorwak. I can’t let them open his guts.’

‘The gorwak is your friend? Woman, you have many stories to tell me. Do not worry, it will not happen now. Come now, you cannott help him if they catch you. Come.’

Nadec followed. The brief comforting hand of Melia on her shoulders brought back the tears in her eyes. She felt like a coward as she followed Ayba towards presumed safety.