Nadec ch 33: Urgent Release

Previously: After returning from leaving Blackie at the piece of the Originals’ statue, Nadec lets a bath drawn up, in de middle of the night. During her soak, she realises Patat hadn’t been in the room. Among the papers scattered on the desk—papers from the box Nadec’s parents had left for her—there is one different. It is written in a hurry. Nadec’s uncle, Jodec, might still be alive.

Read all the previous chapters here.

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Horns, bells, music, and shouting woke Nadec. The window still stood ajar. She yawned, blinking her eyes. That had been a perfect sleep, it had been too long since she’d slept in a bed. Kitty mimicked her movements. There was no sign of Patat having returned. She’d trusted in him finding the way. Worry painted her face. She looked through the window. Wherever the noise came from, it wasn’t on her street. She squinted towards the alleyway across from the inn.

When Melia threw open the door, Nadec jumped and cursed. 

‘Good morning mistress. Oh, did I startle you? I apologise. I brought your breakfeast up because I assumed you wouldn’t want to eat it in the common room.’

‘Breakfast, you mean. And yes, you were right.’

‘No, no , mistress, breakfeast. During the coronation festivities, it is named that. Mistress? I left a shift out for you to wear during the night?’

Nadec had forgotten that she was naked. ‘That’s the way I always sleep,’ she muttered, and put the shift on to help against the draft while eating. Kitty jumped on her lap as she sat down. She asked Melia to tell her about the festivities. The woman didn’t know much. While fetching the breakfeast, she’d overheard that the parade would go through the whole city during the morning. It would stop around noon on the Square Market, in front of the Triangle Gate.

‘How far is the market square?’

‘The Square Market, apologies mistress. Not far at all. We are already in the square section of the city, not f—’

‘Nadec, me hear?’ Blackie’s voice cut through what Melia was saying.

‘Yeh, I hear you. You alright?’

‘Hungry. Thirsty. Release need. Urgent.’

‘Balls. Hold on. Melia, how fa—’

‘Not can hold. Now need release. Now.’

Somehow, Blackie managed to send a string of feelings towards Nadec to emphasize her meaning. Nadec’s eyes opened wide with the urgency for a bathroom visit.

‘Got it, coming!’

‘HURRY.’

‘Mistress? What…’

‘No time to explain. We have to go to Blackie, as quick as possible. Can you choose the dress which takes the least amount of time to put on? And then help me put it on in even less time? It’s urgent, very urgent.’

A surprisingly short time afterwards, they walked down the stairs. Nadec was relieved there had been a simpler dress. Although it didn’t look simple, this design had less parts and instead of a skirt with many layers, it used a hoop made out of wood. While Melia had been tugging at Nadec’s corset and took care of the other parts of the dress, Nadec had fixed her hair. She couldn’t do her regular hairstyle with the three fench braids and knot because that signified royalty. Instead, she let the bottom half flow free while braiding the top in an intricate pattern of 2 braids crossing each other. That was the style accepted for the noblewoman she was portraying.

Crossing the common room was awkward, although she pretended not to feel so. Conversations stopped and, although many didn’t look her straight on, many stared at her. 

‘Lady White,’ the inn-keeper began, ‘I trust you enjoyed your night bath time and you had a wonderful sleep. Is there anything at all I can assist you with?’

‘Yes. If I can use a quin and your fastest strongman, I would appreciate it immensely.’

‘Of course my Lady, of course, Lazyhorse is our best. I will urge him to get ready. Please have a seat, he will be here in twenty minutes.’

‘Lazyhorse? He doesn’t sound very swift. In any case, twenty minutes is too long. I need it now.’ She twirled a coin in front of him.

‘Yes, my lady,’ he snatched the coin out of the air when she tossed it. ‘He claims his name is the name of an animal, yellow with black dots. It’s not the quickest of them all, but faster than us humans. That’s what he says, my lady.’

He ducked his head and walked off. Nadec watched him go while saying to Melia: ‘It’s a good thing he’s fat, or I wouldn’t have trusted him.’ When Melia looked confused, she added: ‘Never trust a skinny innkeeper. It’s a wisdom I learned from reading many books.’

Only a few minutes later, the quin stopped in front of the door. Nadec and Melia rushed in—dignified, of course. Nadec opened the front curtain.

‘The Circle, as quick as possible. Don’t worry about bumps.’ She tossed him a coin as well. Despite being strapped in to quin, he plucked it from the air with ease. 

‘Yes ma’am. Better tighten yourself in.’

He nodded towards the sides and middle of the seat. Before Nadec could knot the two ends of the ropes together, the quin moved. The acceleration threw her back. Melia reached to shut the curtains, but Nadec stopped her and opened up her side curtain as well. She wanted to see the city. She wanted to see her city.

Streets and buildings rushed by. They hadn’t been lying about the man’s speed. He shouted for people to get out his way. They did. Melia squealed more than once when it was a close call. Nadec couldn’t stop laughing. The people—her people—looked gorgeous in their variety. This was obviously a richer area. The women’s dresses shone luscious and the skirts were wide. The hairstyles had complicated braids but never with all their hair. There wasn’t a black piece of clothing in sight, everything had colour.

The men’s clothes were the best. They wore tightly fitting breeches which stopped at their knees. Below that, white, thin tights with thin, square-pointed shoes. The upper parts of their outfits was even better. Nadec suspected it was one of the many reasons why she couldn’t stop laughing. She couldn’t decide whether the large puffy sleeves were the funniest, or the pieces of fabric in front of their manhood, many of them shaped as if the men were happy to see the women.

Right at the time they drove through gates—one of the minor gates in the square wall—Blackie contacted Nadec again, in full blown panic. Nadec tried her best to distract her, assuring her they were almost there. She didn’t know if they were even close, but then Lazyhore stopped his quin. Nadec all but jumped out, thanking him for his haste and hurried away. She was several steps further when she realised she didn’t know where to go. 

The Circle was a round, open space, surrounded by larger buildings. Melia tugged at Nadec’s sleeve, directing her towards one of the streets radiating out from the open, circle-shaped space. A moment later she opened up a door from the large building. Nadec felt as if Blackie could almost cry from happiness. It was an utterly strange picture to imagine for a dragon. Blackie whimpered as they entered. Nadec didn’t waste any time and immediately started gathering the energy. They Skipped.

Before Nadec could take a breath, Blackie jumped out and spread her wings. She tilted to the side and tumbled in a head spin back to the ground. She used the momentum of getting out of the roll to run out towards the trees around the clearing. She wobbled, and misstepped, hitting the first tree she came across. It shook. Several branches tumbled down but Blackie was already disappearing from sight.

‘Me see?’ Blackie’s thought was riddled with panic.

‘No, you’re gone, can’t see you.’

There was no reply. Instead, a massive roar sounded from Blackie’s direction. The relief it exuded was palpable. Nadec looked around the clearing as she chuckled. The clearing made by the presence of the piece of statue dropped there, ages ago. She clicked her tongue in annoyance for not having read all the pages left by her parents. Perhaps they’d mentioned the statue. It would make sense since her bloodline came from the Originals, whom the full statue was supposed to be. 

She walked over to a bundle laying on the ground, and squatted down next to it. Wyny’s bundle. Of course he left it, what was he to do with some handed down scruffy clothes. He probably had tons of fancy garments in his castle. My castle, Nadec thought, with a possessiveness which surprised her. It was eerie how fast she’d accepted her role as a princess and saviour of Earth. Both were interconnected. If she’d take up her right as a Ruler, Earth should be safe.

Easy as that. She snorted. Easy, yeah, taking up the responsibility of a Queen and heir to some legendary couple. 

Blackie returned, landing in front of her. She said she found a good source of water and food—Nadec did not need to know the water was a popular drinking spot which meant there was plenty of poo around. She wanted to have more grass to avoid getting hungry until tonight. Nadec sighed. It would be better for Blackie to stay here. Nadec wouldn’t be able to hurry through the city every time Blackie needed a toilet break. Staying here would be better for the dragon. Nadec told her so.

Blackie resisted, of course. She didn’t want to be separated from Nadec, whose heart filled when Blackie said she wanted to be there in case Nadec needed protection. After some back and forth, Blackie gave in. She admitted it wasn’t fun to be locked up in a dark building, and being out here would be better. Neither of them knew if their connection would work from such a distance—neither of them knew how much of a distance it really was.

Before Skipping back to Hexago, Nadec picked up Wyny’s bundle. Perhaps she could fetch a few coins with the fancy fabric of some of the clothes. And if not, in the least she might be able to hand it to people who need it. As she picked it up, she felt something strange inside. Curiosity winning, she opened the bundle and gasped. There was wood inside. It was rectangular. Nadec understood straight away it could be folded open. It formed into an open box. 

A memory of the time they’d spend walking in between fleeing the cave and finding the statue, came back to her. They’d been talking about getting in to a town or city, and how awkward it might be for Kitty. She’d explained about litter boxes after he asked how it went when she lived in the tower—he’d meant her apartment. The conversation moved along from there. 

She turned the box around. Wyny had made a litter box for Kitty. She didn’t understand why he’d done that, knowing he was only springing a trap. Why had he pretended to care?

Back in the building, Melia didn’t give Nadec any time to settle from Skipping. 

‘Mistress, I went outside to listen to the street gossip because I knew I had time before you came back. And, it’s… Oh, perhaps it’s nothing, perhaps it’s another creature.’ Nadec’s heart skipped a beat. ‘Mistress, they say Lord Pagewyn has been gifted a magical creature who will help him predict his future. They will show it off at the coronation festivities’ official opening, the one at noon on the Square Market.’ 

‘Patat. It has to be Patat.’ 

The gorwak seemed to have gotten himself in some real good trouble. Nadec could only hope they didn’t mean ‘opening his guts’, when saying they’ll be showing him off.

Nadec ch 32: A Bath and a Reputation

Previously: Nadec and Kridec manage to get Blackie inside of the building, but it has consequences. Nadec almost drown and gets showered with dragon’s vomit. She has to remove her dress or stink up her room. That makes it very tight in time for Kridec to leave the city and Nadec to close the gate before the guard wake and return.

Read all the previous chapters here.

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Kitty jumped off Nadec’s shoulders as she stumbled from appearing halfway on and off the bed. She picked herself up from the floor at the same time Melia came though the side door—a door giving access to Nadec’s room from the tiny attached servant’s hole. Nadec felt disgusted at it. She’d suggested paying for a full room further down the hallway. Everyone who heard had regarded her with shock. 

‘Mistress? Are you all right?’

Mumbling that she was, she asked Melia to get a bath filled. When the tall woman said she wasn’t certain if it was possible in the middle of the night, Nadec implored her to take a deep breath. When Melia stopped gagging, Nadec told her to wake other servants if she must, and make sure to pay them sufficiently for their troubles. 

When Melia left, Nadec pace the small open space she had. Her legs yearned to sit, but she didn’t want her bed sheets to reek of vomit. The oddity of having a bath drawn in the middle of the night would give her a reputation of being odd and demanding. Fine, she thought, that’s the role I’ll play. She hadn’t been certain how to act as a noblewoman. They’d decided to forego the wealthy merchant ruse, and instead do a visiting noblewoman act. It required no merchanting skill, which was good because Nadec had none of that.

‘You lucky little thing,’ she mumbled towards Kitty, who’d curled up on the bed to sleep. Nadec resumed her pacing. At least one question had been answered now. If she’d Skip somewhere and misaimed—say, in the middle of a wall—she wouldn’t materialise inside of it. The knowledge made her feel more at ease with the magic. 

About half an hour later, Melia walked in to announce the bath was ready for her. Nadec walked to the door, but the tall woman stayed standing in the doorway.

‘Mistress? You’re naked. You can’t go out like that?’

Nadec snorted. 

‘Of course I can. I doubt there’s anyone awake to see me. Come on, move aside. Make sure to close the door. Where do I go?

‘Down the hallway. But mistress—’

Not completely insensitive to walking through a public hallway in the nude, Nadec picked up her pace. Ajar doors, with dancing flames and shadows behind them, peeking eyes and whispers, proved her wrong. Plenty of people were awake. Struggling inwardly, she kept a straight back. Merely adding to my weird reputation. The thought made it easier to maintain perfect composure. 

The sigh of relief upon entering the bathing chamber, was not only caused by the wonderfully hot steam rising from the tub. She eased into the water, sinking in chin deep. The tub was large enough to have her whole body submerged. It bespoke of the inn’s wealthiness. 

Her muscles relaxed one by one. She loved showers, but taking a bath was on a completely different level. Her eyes closed. Her mind drifted. This was the first time in more than two weeks she allowed herself to relax completely. Not counting the week she’d been in the Blackie-induced sleep. 

So much had happened. Almost, she’d spilled everything to Patat when they first met. 

Water splashed over the sides of the tub as she sat upright. Patat. Where was he? He hasn’t been in her room when she returned. 

‘Melia,’ she barked, ‘where is Patat?’

The tall servant woman cringed where she stood, a meter away from the tub. She fidgeted her fingers as she spoke with hesitation. 

‘I apologise mistress, I do, I tried, I really did, but I couldn’t keep him back. It. Her. Them.’ She choked on her words, trying to come up with a proper pronoun for the mythical creature. 

‘What happened, where did he go?’

‘I… I don’t know mistress. He said he’d been locked up long enough, he wasn’t going to stay locked up again. When I refused to open the door, his voice changed. It became so very sweet. He said he merely wanted to look around the city to see what had changed. He promised me he’d stay out of sight. No one would see him. And then I,’ she faltered and lowered her eyes. She continued in a whisper. ‘I moved away from the door and opened the window. He flew out. I don’t know where to. ‘

The news brought new tension in Nadec’s muscles, too much for the hot water to relieve. There wasn’t anything she could do about Patat at that point, she thought, so she tried to enjoy the rest of her bath time. She couldn’t. She left the water before it cooled down. Melia offered her a bathing gown to wear for the walk through the hallway. This time, Nadec accepted. It had been a little bit too uncomfortable before.

Back in the room, she unhooked the oil lamp from beside the door and used it to light the one sitting on the small desk in the corner. With that light on, she saw the spread out pages. Kitty jumped on Nadec’s lap the moment she sat down. Nadec glanced at Melia, who’d put the door lamp back. 

‘Extinguish it and then you can go to bed. I won’t need you anymore. You should get some rest. And, I’m sorry for barking at you earlier. It would’ve been better if you’d told me about Patat earlier but I understand. It’s probably my fault, with my demands for a bath.’ She wasn’t actually sorry for asking for a bath; she knew she’d needed it. But sometimes the reality doesn’t matter when apologising.

‘Mistress, it’s all right. You should never apologise to me, that is not how a noblewoman treats a servant. Besides, you truly were in need of a clean. At least there was no mud this time.’

Nadec snorted. ‘You should’ve seen my carpets. I also wasn’t kidding when I said it felt as if I had mud everywhere. Days later, mud would still appear in areas I was sure I’d washed thoroughly before.’

‘Yes, I know what you mean.’ Melia chuckled. ‘Madame Ichau wasn’t impressed when she found flakes of mud on her slice of bread.’

That made Nadec laugh out loud. She’d forgotten how well she’d gotten along with this woman, even though they hadn’t spend much time together. About a week perhaps, a longer time than Nadec had expected the rescue to take. 

She wanted to ask Melia—Fluetza—what had happened after that, why she’d stayed with Kridec and Stetem. And as a servant nonetheless. Nadec knew she hadn’t been a servant before, not at all. But she also knew this wasn’t the time nor the place for such a conversation. There were other matters to concern herself with. Patat, what trouble are you getting yourself into?

It didn’t feel as if Patat would take the risk of discovery for no reason. Not merely to go sightseeing. Nadec hesitated. What did she really know about him? He was an old and mythical creature, he should have common sense. Was he old? Nadec doubted herself. What had Kridec said? Fifty-something years since her brother had put Patat in the tree? So Patat was at least that age, but how old was he before that, and most importantly, what is considered old for a gorwak? For all Nadec knew, he could be nearing the end of his life, or he could still be a teenager.

Sometime during Nadec’s musings, Melia bid her goodnight. It prompted Nadec enough to snap out of it and have a look at what was spread out on the desk. The contents of her parents’ boxes. She had been so keen to open them when entering the city. But by the time they’d found the inn and had settled in their room, Nadec hadn’t wanted to deal with it. Once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator. 

That was something her mom had told her, half in jest, half serious. She’d said it wasn’t hopeless, there were ways to push through the apathy invoked by the task ahead. She’d even had invented a ten-step process to conquer the need to procrastinate. Oh mom, Nadec stroked Kitty, getting comfort out of the ritual, you always went above and beyond to help me, even if I was being a lazy piece of shit.

So Nadec pushed through the will to go to bed, and examined the sheets of paper on the desk. Patat seemed to have been busy ordering them. In what way, Nadec couldn’t say yet. From what she could see, most of them were written by her mom. She had a terrible handwriting. Nadec and she often joked about how it was a secret script only they could read. Nadec wondered whether it was intended as such. Occasionally, she could see her dad’s flowing, beautiful script. It befitted a king, Nadec could see that now. 

What was that? One of the sheets stood out. The type of paper differed from the others, the text on it short and obviously scribbled in a hurry. 

Dear Nady, this is a quick extra note. We do not know if it has any significance, but I insisted we put it in the box. Oh, how I hope you will never have to learn of these boxes. We have discovered something almost unbelievable. I shall not tell my sister yet, not until we are certain (I have already piled enough burden on poor Kridec, I do not want her to worry for no reason). Somewhere in these notes I talk about our brother and his death. We now have strong suspicions, incredible as it sounds, that he is still alive. Jodec is alive. Possibly. We will investigate more and when we are certain, we will update the box officially and notify my sister, your aunt. May you never see this note. We love you with all our hearts.

Stunned, Nadec sat back. Jodec, her uncle, could still be alive. That must’ve been the reason Patat flew out. But, where to? Oh no. Turning in her seat while cradling Kitty, she looked out of the window. There, in the far right corner, she could see the outline of the massive outside walls of the massive building on the hill. It made the most sense. The castle. That’s where Patat went.

Nadec ch 31: Dresses are Stupid

Previously: The plan to smuggle Blackie, and Kitty, in the city works. Somewhat. There is a small problem getting Blackie inside of the building. Skipping can solve it. Meanwhile, Nadec gets to hear more about how her job as a red knight worked technically. Or rather, magically.

Read all the previous chapters here.

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Water enveloped Nadec. The dress she wore entangled her, making it hard to swim. The need to breathe in became stronger. She swirled her arms around her, trying to gather the skirt. Her legs kicked harder as they were somewhat freed. Panic was about to engulf her when she broke the surface. She took a deep breath and sputtered as she sank again. The skirt opened up around her as she let it go, struggling to use her arms in an attempt to aid her already burning legs. 

When one of her hands hit a solid edge, she turned and clung to it. Before she could wipe her eyes, a hot liquid slammed over her, accompanied by a terrible roar. It stung her closed eyes and smelled vile, as putrid as… as the spit of an alpaca. Like bile made of grass. 

‘Apologies,’ the weak voice of Blackie in her head.

Nausea curled Nadec’s stomach in a knot. She swallowed repeatedly. Keeping on hand on the edge, she ducked under water. Her other hand pushed the water above her head away. She hoped that would give her a somewhat clean area to emerge from. She broke the surface again, wiped her face, and opened her eyes. Her vision was blurred. The sting was awful. The smell was worse.

The dress was too heavy. She couldn’t lift herself out of the water. Her arms protested, her leg muscles seized up. Darkness. A tightness around her chest. She left the water. The tightness disappeared and the faint light of the lantern was back. A dark looming figure towered above her. 

‘Clean I. Hold.’

The feel of Blackie’s tongue licking her was something Nadec hoped she’d never have to experience again. At least she wasn’t naked this time. For a moment she didn’t have the strength to do anything but let it happen. When Blackie jostled her enough to turn her around, she got to her hand and knees.

‘Alright, enough already, enough.’ 

Blackie stopped licking her. She didn’t stop licking in general though; she continued to clean up the ground. Nadec purposely didn’t look at it. Her stomach was still unsure about the smell surrounding her. She crawled a little out of the way, and sat down with a sigh. Kitty nuzzled her. 

‘You mis-aimed by a meter. You had the area for Blackie right, but forgot to count yourself in. Don’t worry, you’ll get better. The dragon will get better at handling it too. Here, this one wanted to jump in after you.’

Was that everything Kridec had to say? Nadec almost drowned and got vomited on by a dragon, and she commented on the Skipping? Weird, weird woman. Definitely family. She was holding Kitty’s leash.

‘Do you think this stupid dress is salvageable? If I hadn’t been wearing it there wouldn’t have been an issue for me in the water, but still, it would be a shame to see it go to waste. It must’ve been expensive.’

‘Oh, don’t worry about that. This was an old one, it doesn’t matter. I’ve put enough coins in your purses to commission several new ones. Melia knows to take you to my tailor tomorrow. What? What’s wrong?’

Nadec’s eyes widened. She jumped up, failed, fell over, but straight away tried again, slower this time. She frantically searched for the skirt’s pocket hole on the right side. Balls, I hope I didn’t lose it. When she found the slit, she shoved her hand in, opening and closing her fingers wide to get through the wet fabric. There it was. She brought her hand back out, holding the piece of the statue. The blue and pink strata were more vibrant because of the wetness. 

‘That—where did you find that?’ Kridec’s hand shook as she outstretched it towards the piece. 

‘We found a statue, a part of it. I’m not sure why I didn’t leave it in my room for the night, it just felt right to take it along.’

‘You found a part? Which part of the statue did you find? Which part?’

‘The asses. I mean, the middle. You know, hips and male and female body parts and all.’

‘The Bottoms. You’ve found the Bottoms.’ Kridec sounded on the verge of laughter or hysterical tears. Perhaps both. ‘ Did you have your halberd? Did it react?’

‘It did. It got hot. What did it mean? It’s made by the Statue, isn’t it? Wyny told me it was called the Statue of the Originals. But because it was too powerful, they somehow divided it in parts and dispersed those.’

Nadec’s aunt blinked. She absently wiped away the tears which had jumped on her cheeks.

‘It’s close to the truth, but not complete. I was always certain the halberd was a PPW. I knew I was right. Can you bring me there? You’ve been there, so you could skip back.’

‘Now?’ Nadec barked a laugh at the incredulity of the request.

Her aunt snorted. Nadec snorted in reply, surprised at the unexpected sound.

‘Of course not. I’ll come back tomorrow around noon. I’d suggest you take Blackie along too. You could probably leave her there, it should be safe, if it’s far enough.’ The dancing light of the lantern cast a dramatic shadow on her questioning face. ‘There truly is no reason to keep her locked up in this building. I’m embarrassed I hadn’t thought about the solution your Skipping could bring.’

Blackie sniffed. Both Nadec and kridec jumped. 

‘She doesn’t want to stay away from me, she wants to stay here.’ Nadec was astonished at Blackie’s attachment. It was a pleasant sort of amazement. She was glad the large beast wanted to stick around. ‘She doesn’t like the thought of Skipping several times a day to eat and everything else, but she likes it better than being stuck in here with her own waste. I’m sure the sickness after Skipping will improve after a while.’ She said that last mostly for Blackie. ‘You should probably get going, before the guard wakes up. Can you help me undress?’ 

Turning her back towards Kridec, she began unlacing the strings of her skirt she could reach.

‘Undress? What?’

‘You don’t think I’m going to walk through the city with this wet dress, and take it into my room to stink out the whole place, do you? No, get this thing off me. You’ll just have to place a temporary Need on me like you did with Blackie. I have to go with you to the gates to close them again, remember?’

Silence was the only answer she received, and a tugging at the back of her dress. Undressing fortunately didn’t take as long as dressing. It still took a decent amount of time, enough for Nadec and Kridec to feel the pressure of time. When Nadec prepared to also remove her undergarment, Kridec stopped her and announced she wouldn’t be able to use her Need on Nadec. She had used her limit today, if she used more, she would fall in a spontaneous and unwakeable sleep.

She almost took it all off anyway, but then decided to leave it on; for now. She made sure Blackie was going to be alright. The black beast had already curled herself up in a donut—it looked empty without Kitty in the middle. They would be able to maintain their mental connection from a distance, which was a comfort. She walked Kitty toward Blackie for a last head butt, and out they went.

They ran. Kridec’s breathing grew heavy after only a few streets, but she persevered. She didn’t stop at the gates. A quick goodbye yell at Nadec who didn’t pause before slamming the gates shut. Heaving the beams back in place was more difficult than removing them—it was a two-man job for sure. She managed it at the same time she heard clanging from above. She stayed against the wall, sneaking the opposite side from where the other two guards where coming from. 

She got lost several times before finding her inn. To be certain, she checked the sign. The original dragon. That was it. Kridec claimed it was one of the inns most loyal to the Ichau family. Nadec wasn’t certain what to think of the name. It certainly felt fitting. 

She retreated across the street, to an alleyway. The location of her room was in front of her, on the second level. She removed her under garments; she did not want to bring them in her room, the acid smell would be impossible to remove. Only then did she remember to have a look around for other people. 

Kitty hissed at the same time, emphasising Nadec’s idiocy. A scruff-looking man straightened from where he’d been lying, too close. The light of the single lantern on the front door of the inn didn’t reach far enough to see the fellow’s face. It was obvious he was up to no good. 

‘Very kind of you to undress, girl,’ he cackled in a high-pitched voice. 

‘I am no girl.’ Nadec kicked out with her left foot, hitting him right in the stomach. He doubled over, bringing his face in perfect placement for her knee. He fell backwards.

‘Come Kitty.’ She scooped him up, putting him on her shoulders. ‘You better be gone from this alleyway by tomorrow, creep.’ She turned around, bent through her knees, going through the motions of Skipping, focusing her destination in her mind and view. A shuffling behind her warned of the man attempting to jump her again. ‘Gross.’ The last letters of the word sounded like a hiss coming from empty air.

Nadec ch 30: Skipping is easy

Previously: Separated from Kitty and Blackie, Nadec enters Hexago, the main city of Paralelo. She recognises Melia, the servant who came along with her, as someone Nadec had saved recently. As they enter through the gates, the guard announces the coronation festivities would start the day after, a day earlier than tradition.

Read all the previous chapters here.

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‘Coming!’

Blackie’s voice in Nadec’s head loosened up a knot between Nadec’s shoulder blades. She glanced around the corner of the alleyway she was in, towards the city’s main gate. The lanterns around it gave enough light to see the two guards standing around the guard post at the bottom. A third and fourth one sat atop the tower on each side of the gate. 

‘Says Kridec, ready get!’

The two guards on the ground turned their heads the same direction, almost as synchronised as if it was rehearsed. They walked away from their post, oblivious of anything else but the Need to investigate. Before the top guards noticed the absence of their fellows, both of them slumped down.

Nadec ran towards the gate. She turned the wheel connected to the chain to lift the two heavy beams. Once they were released from their supports and floating in front of the gate, she tugged the tow chain—a short length of chain attached to the bottom beam. The beams moved out of the way. She unbolted the five heavy locks.

When she could finally swing open the gates, a welcome meow was the first thing she heard, followed by Kitty jumping on her shoulder. A serious-looking Kridec nodded at her.

‘Well done. Come, let’s get this done. My Need can only do so much. I’m stretching it thin already. Blackie, make them wake up in an hour. That should be enough to get into the building and sneak back out.’

A vague outline of a shadow moved in the lantern light. A thin squeak of escaping air filled the otherwise silent night. 

‘How did you know she could change her wake-up farts?’ Nadec mumbled, partly to herself, partly to Kridec.

‘I didn’t. It was a good guess.’

‘How did you cloak her? Are we hidden too?’

‘No, only her. If anyone were to look out and see us walking about, it wouldn’t raise that much suspicion. A dragon is a completely different thing. I enveloped her in a cloud of Need. It makes anyone looking in her direction feel the Need to see a shadow instead of a dragon. It’s one of the more complex uses of this Line. This way.’

‘Mind manipulation. Huh.’ Nadec followed her aunt into the city, baffled by the options of the Line. She could only assume all the Lines had such a broad array of uses. If everything would go to plan, she’d have access to all of those different Lines soon. She’d really be all powerful. Once she managed to learn about them all. And if she were to fail… The people who were controlling Wyny were up to no good. She remembered what the zlurp had said. They want to conquer Earth. With all that power, there’s a good chance they’d be able to destroy it completely.

‘This is one of our stock houses.’ 

Kridec’s voice flustered Nadec. She didn’t know how long they’d been walking, so caught up in her thoughts she’d been. She stopped next to her aunt, in front of a large building. There was a double door, which Kridec was opening up.

‘Blackie might have to squeeze a little bit, but once through the doors, she should have plenty of space to stretch out. The stock house is empty right now because we’ve been wanting to rebuild the interior. We have a big plan, providing indoor rooms for several different shops. People would be able to come here on bad weather days and do all their shopping in a controlled environment, without getting wet or cold.’

It was pitch dark inside. The streets didn’t have lanterns or any other lighting. The two moons—the smallest one full, the other half full—gave enough light to see by on the streets, but didn’t reach inside of the building. The sound of flint and steel was followed by a small bright flash, and the steady flame of an oil lamp. Kridec must have dropped her Need around Blackie because she appeared like a black dragon-shaped void. The void filled the doorway, trying to push in. 

Blackie spoke to Nadec, making her gasp. 

‘What about food and water? And, even more important, poo and pee? I can’t believe I didn’t think of that before.’ She rubbed her forehead in annoyance. 

‘Don’t worry, I did. One of the best features of this building, is that it’s built around a well. See?’ She walked towards the middle of the open space. There was indeed a pool of water. ‘We want to make this into a key feature in the middle of the shop house. Integrate it with sculptures and the like… But that’s not important now. The well is neverending, so there’s your dragon’s water. I’ll have one of my city servants bring food daily. And carry off the poo.’

Nadec gaped at her. This plan felt foolish. She felt foolish She didn’t want Blackie to be locked up like this, even if it was only for a long week. She turned to face Blackie. She hadn’t noticed the creaking of wood before. Turned towards it, the sound reverberated in the otherwise silent night.

‘Shhhhh, Blackie, hush.’

Blackie stopped wriggling.

‘Fit not.’ Her voice was petulant and slightly panicked in Nadec’s head. Kitty yawned, jumped off Nadec’s shoulder, and head butted Blackie’s chin. He swooned down and rolled on his back, playfully touching the chin with all his toe beans. 

‘Balls. Kridec, the doorway’s too small. We’ll have to hide her outside after all. I don’t believe it would’ve worked to keep her in here anyway.’ She imagined someone bringing a load of food—and removing massives piles of dung every day—would be too conspicuous.

Kridec shook her head before Nadec finished the sentence. 

‘I told you before, not an option. Our home will get invaded soon, and once word gets out—which it probably already has—every area of the forest will be searched.’ She frowned at Nadec. ‘Just skip her inside. What a fool I am, we could’ve done this all along.’

‘I can do that?’

‘How else did you skip to our home? Of course you can do that.’ She grabbed Nadec by the shoulders, but released immediately ‘I don’t have time to explain everything so I’ll try to make it quick. Whenever I had someone slap you, I reached beyond Realms to grab the closest person near you. It’s complicated, but let’s say it’s all to do with fine tuning my Need. I transferred the Need of the task I had for you, to you, right at the time I made the person slap you. That’s how you could feel where to go and what to do.’

‘You injected me with the Need of the task?’ Nadec was incredulous. It all sounded too complicated, there should’ve been an easier way.

‘Something like that, yes. It doesn’t matter. Point of it all is, with the task ahead of you, you knew where to skip. We made you believe that’s the only way you could skip, from Earth to here and back. But your options are endless. I won’t get into it now. I’m sure the box your parents left has more answers than I could ever give you. Have you opened it yet?’

‘No. Patat is having a look at it right now. He asked and I said it was alright. He might be able to order everything in rank of what’s most important to know.’ Nadec’s mind spun. She could skip everywhere? The image of Patat being released from the chest which brought him into the city and inn as part of her baggage, softened the overwhelming feeling. That had been funny.

‘How did I skip to your home? I had Patat slap me because I thought that’s how I’d know where to skip to, and it worked. But it doesn’t feel like that should have worked, with what you just told me.’

‘I can’t be certain. Perhaps you knew all along and it gave you the confidence you needed. You’d skipped many times to that same place, so it is ingrained in you. Now, enough talking, let’s get this beast inside. Let her touch you—you’re able to transport others without touching and even without skipping yourself, but it’s not a good idea to try it now—activate you Skip, and keep the middle of the building form in your mind.’

Blackie looked miserable. Her head, neck and shoulders were inside. The rest seemed really stuck. Nadec lifted Kitty up, pecked him on the head, and moved him away. There was no need for him to skip along. No need to take the risk. Kitty sauntered over to a pile off sand in a corner and started digging. Nadec chuckled and got in position. She touched her foot against Blackie’s snout, and almost jumped away when something wet touched her leg. 

‘Really?’ She sent to the dragon.

‘Sure be. Want not you lose me.’ Blackie held her tongue firmly in place.

Hands on knees, Nadec began the process. Slamming her bent knees together while crossing her hands, she felt the energy build up. She focused on the spot in front of her, the center of the building, next to the pool.

They Skipped.

Nadec Ch 29: Hexago

Previously: Nadec’s aunt Kridec explains more about how the Red Knight ploy started. She and her husband, Stetem, make it clear it would be better for Nadec to get into the city and lay low until Nadec’s birthday. They city happens to be Hexago, the capital city of Paralelo.

Read all the previous chapters here.

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‘Burning grounds,’ Patat said when Kridec left the room. She was going to help Stetem to calm their servants down—more like bribe them, probably—and discuss whichever idea she had to get Blackie and Patat in the city.

‘I could’ve grounding told you much of that. I’m burning sorry, kid.’

Surprise lit up Nadec’s face. He apologised for saying things?

‘Don’t burning look at me like that. Gorwaks were supposed to burning be the ones who told humans everything. Multiplying doesn’t seem to be the only thing I’m burning bad at.’

If anyone would say such a thing, it would sound self-deprivation and a poor attempt at vying for compassion. Coming from Patat, it merely sounded like a statement of truth. 

‘I grounding forgot a lot of it either way, hearing it being said revived my burning memories. Going into the city feels like the best burning idea, I’ve got to agree with burning Kridec on that. Yes, I can burning curse her name, we go back a long dripping time. I’ll need to dripping tell you the complete, fuller version of my story some day.’

‘You better be holding Kitty when telling that story,’ she muttered, not knowing what else to say. There were too many questions, but this wasn’t the time to look for answers, not from Kridec nor Patat. 

A servant came in. The tall woman lifted the hem of her dark, wide skirts in a slight curtsy. The movement emphasised her slim figure. Although her face was covered partially by the blonde hair, Nadec thought she saw an expression on her face which didn’t quite match the subservient look Nadec hated. She’d always felt uncomfortable when people lowered their own value compared to her. Her confident form never quite matched up with what she felt on the inside. Still, she kept pretending. Nadec squinted at the woman. She looked familiar.

‘Mistress Ichau, my name is Melia. Madame Ichau has told me I’m to get you ready to go into the city. She said I would be going with you. She said it was preferable to leave as soon as possible, so we should get ready. It is still late sunrise so we should be able to get there and find an inn before late noon.’ She kept her eyes down the entire time. Her hands rubbed her skirts in a constant movement. ‘Madame Ichai also said to tell you they’d certainly have a solution for the dragon,’ her voice faltered a bit at that, ‘and the gorwak.’ She sounded as if she didn’t belief she just said those words herself.

That accent, Nadec thought. Nadec wasn’t sure about anything concerning languages anymore—she wanted to believe Kridec had been pulling her leg when she said Ichaus know all of them. That’s why she didn’t know if Melia was speaking her own language, while Nadec naturally understood it, or if she spoke Nadec’s language, but with an accent. Whichever it was, it sounded too familiar. Nadec almost had it, it was on the tip of her tongue, when Patat flew up, startling the servant.

‘Aah, I might as well burning see if I can help them with something. Blackie, you grounding coming too? You dripping broke it, so makes sense to give them a burning paw. Not literally though, no need to also light a burning fire.’

Blackie looked abashed before lifting her head and falling into a deep yawn, tongue rolling out. She laid her head back on the table to wait until Kitty climbed of it. He chose the long route, along the snout and taking his precious time, with stretches in between. 

‘Come on Kitty, let’s see which clothes they have.’

Several hours later, Nadec tugged at her corset. Again. She was already getting annoyed with it. The deep maroon fabric of the dress shimmered in the late afternoon sun. She was the first to admit that the dress was gorgeous, but preferably on someone else. Seeing the few stray cat hairs on it already made her regret the decision to leave Kitty behind. Hopefully tonight everything would go well.

A bump on the road jolted the ricksha, and she cursed. Melia flushed. She was walking along beside her. The cart was pulled by one of Kridec’s strongmen. Although Nadec called it a rickshaw in her head, the local people did not. They had named these type of carts quins. It had two large wheels and two handles at the front, in between which the person who pulled it, preferably a strongman, would position themself to tug the cart along. There was also a wide strap of sturdy fabric which made for some kind of halter fitting around the chest. 

Nadec had insisted she could walk as well and let the strongman merely pull her chest. But Kridec and Stetem insisted she’d not. Something to do with rank and standing. 

‘Mistress, we should see the city walls soon. If you would want to see the city, perhaps you would like to lean out a little?’ Melia glanced at her and said more quietly: ‘it would be proper enough to do so. For many first-times visitors the first view of the city is a spectacle. It has become some sort of ritual. So in fact, it would be more proper to lean out and watch.’

‘It would be proper.’ Nadec’s voice was as flat as it could go. Her natural instinct wanted her to stay seated as she was and don’t go along with what’s proper. But, she had a new reputation to make and it wouldn’t do to mess it up from the first minute of being out in public. She sighed, scooted closer to the edge of the seat, and stuck her head out. 

‘That’s different,’ she muttered. 

Massive towers formed the corners of the hexagon-shaped wall surrounding the city. She was close enough to see brass bells in the tops of all six round towers. She assumed the wall’s shape because the other side was hidden. The ground wasn’t flat. The terrain inside of the walls sloped up to end in a large triangular shape. At least, that’s what she thought it was. From her vantage, it appeared as if there were multiple walls inside the outer walls, dividing the city in several sections. She couldn’t call them rings, because they had definite corners, but it seemed random at first glance. Each corner had a tower, which got smaller closer to the centre.

‘Mistress, your face. I apologize, but people are watching. You don’t look properly impressed.’

Nadec scowled at Melia, who ducked her head but made sure Nadec could still see her roll her eyes. It wasn’t an annoyed eye-roll, but served as a way of pointing around without pointing.

She released the scowl when she saw the truth of Melia’s words. There were more people around them than Nadec had expected, and everyone who wasn’t staring at the city were shooting glances her way. 

‘I got caught up in trying to figure out the layout of the city,’ Nadec mumbled. ‘Perhaps you can tell me some of it. Maybe that way I can express proper amazement.’

She flinched at the tone of her voice. She should keep her frustration to herself, not work them out on this poor servant. Melia didn’t give any sign of being bothered by it. She nodded and her eyes lighted up.

‘Yes, I can do that. It’s utterly marvelous, a true mathematical wonder. Everything is man-made, it is said nothing about the shape is natural. Of course, there are always the linists, who insist that it is all natural, and early Hexagoers—citizens of Hexago—only built the walls and buildings following the natural shapes and slopes. Nonsense of course. Nature can be smart, but when it comes down to mathematics, nothing beats humans, right? Right.

‘Yes, that’s a proper bewildered face, keep that up. The outer wall is a hexagon shape, all sides have the same length. The moat surrounding it is a perfect circle. It has a same width all around, and only touches the corner towers with its water. Against the sides of the wall, areas of ground make sure of the equal moat width. They form a circle, so the city from above looks like a hexagon in a circle, corners touching the walls. Not that anyone ahas ever seen the city from above except for birds. But how wonderful must it be, to be able to see it from above, see the perfectly aligned shapes and—’

‘The city, Melia, how is the city divided? I still can’t wrap my head around it. Would you prefer I call you by your real name though? Fluetza? Or was that also a fake name? Don’t look so shocked, of course I remember you. Do you really think I wouldn’t remember someone whom I’ve rescued only a few months ago? My carpets were a mess when I came home from that one.’

Nadec hadn’t remembered her at all, not until she began the passionate talk about maths.

‘It’s fine, we’ll talk about how you got here later if you want. Keep talking about the city, we’re getting closer really quickly now’.

And they were, the downward road in between the bend they’d come from and the city gates, was only a small stretch. At this pace, it was only a matter of minutes to join the line-up into the city. 

‘I was covered in mud so, no, I didn’t think you’d recognize me.’ Nadec almost snorted at the truth of that. ‘But you are right, we’ll discuss it later. In brief, the first inner wall is a pentagon, the second one is square-shaped, and the third is triangle-shaped. The ground slopes up, following the outer shape. So in between the hexagon and pentagon, the ground slopes up following the sides of the hexagon. In between the square and the triangle, the ground slopes up following the square. It sounds like that should make for some awkward angles and streets, but you’ll see once inside, it’s hardly noticeable. The triangle wall surrounds the castle’s gardens and the castle.’

‘Yeah, I thought I saw some green at the top, but wasn’t sure, it was too far away.’

‘You were right. The gardens are on an extra steep slope. In fact, the castle itself has many levels completely and half buried underground. The castle itself is a circular, tiered tower in the centre—in the precise centre of the moat circle actually—and has three extensions pointing towards the triangle wall’s corners. The three points also have towers, and the tops of those—’

They halted, having reached the line into the city. Nadec was relieved. Without any map or ground plan in front of her, the description of it all spun her head. What an info dump again. 

Nadec leaned back in her seat and closed the curtain. It went all around the front and sides of the riksha—the quin—to enable the passengers complete privacy if they wished it. She’d had it open at the side so she could talk to Melia. Apparently the front section was seldom left open. Perhaps they didn’t think it proper to have to look at the strongman’s backside. From what Nadec had seen before, that wouldn’t have been such a bad thing to look at. 

The line moved swiftly. Soon she heard a male voice ask to ‘state your purpose’. Nadec’s skirt rustled as she shifted, annoyed at not being allowed to face the guard himself. Letting the servants do much of the talking was another strange custom here.  

Before Melia could answer, the guard spoke again, this time to apologize while he listened to someone mumbling to him. ‘All right,’ he said, ‘everyone can go in freely. Let it be known! The gates are open to everyone. Festivities for the coronation are to start tomorrow! The royal highness Pagewyn has decided to add an extra day to the traditional ten days. Come on, move along!

Coronation festivities? Her aunt hadn’t said anything about those. She didn’t think it was possible, but she was even more looking forward to opening the box her parents left her. What secrets would it reveal?

 

Notes: as you know, the weekly chapters are to be considered the first draft of Nadec. I’ve been on holidays overseas for several weeks. Because the story is evolving and growing more complicated, I haven’t been able to write while away. However, my main goal for this month is to finish the story, the frist draft anyway! Yaay! I might even decide to release more than & chapter a week.

If you’re a regular reader, you might be able to help me. I’m thirsty for feedback. Now that things are getting a bit more complex, if you happen to see a mistake, a wrong reference to earlier happenings, a massively unclearly written part, it would be awesome if you’d let me know your thoughts.

Below there’s a very simple map of Hexago (bird view and front view). Like the story, the sketches are first draft too. But since I see Nadec as a potential (small) novel now, I’m treating it the way a fantasy story should be treated, so that means these kinds of illustrations, hah!

 

 

 

Nadec ch 28: Lines

Previously: Nadec’s employers are really her aunt and uncle. The Order of the Red Knight doens’t exist. Blackie destroys part of their mansion and barges her head through the kitchen window. She’d felt Nadec’s emotions and thought she was in trouble. 
Read all the previous chapters here.

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The room stayed silent, except for a servant—the same one who’d brought Nadec the soup—opening the door. He peeped in, the white around his eyes growing more stark at the sight of Blackie’s head poking through the destroyed window. There was a shouting in the background. The back of Nadec’s mind registered it while faintly wondering how many people had seen Blackie.

Guts, if this is a closely populated area, they might have attracted an audience. She forced down the tingle of panic at that thought. Many other things to think about. The connection with Blackie was growing stronger. The things Kridec had said, the Lines. She wanted to hear more, but her furiousness didn’t allow to ask about that. For now.

‘Oh Nady,’ Kridec finally said. She cringed back at the look Nadec gave her.

‘Never call me that again. You have no right to call me that.’

‘I… don’t understand why, but I’ll try to. Forgive me if I misspeak, I’m so used to hearing your mother say it.’

Nadec snorted. It somehow conveyed a multitude of emotions. Sadness for the mention of her mother, anger for this conversation, hopelessness for this whole situation, unbelief for her aunt’s lack of understanding while mentioning the reason, ridicule for asking forgiveness for this small feat and not all the rest.

Kridec glanced at Stetem, who’d been staring at Blackie and Patat, his head swiveling from dragon to gorwak. Blackie ignored him, seemingly content with her head on the table. Patat though… He pulled a different face each time Stetem’s eyes fell on him.

‘Stem, perhaps you should go outside and put everyone at ease.’ Kridec nodded towards the servant, who was still peeking in the room through the half open door. ‘You look as if your head is about to fall off.’ She nodded as he went outside. He looked a bit unsteady on his legs.

‘Don’t worry, we live outside of the city and we have walls, there are no neighbours who could’ve seen this. There are only our servants.’

Nadec started. The words were obviously aimed at her, but how had she known it was something Nadec had been thinking off? Logical deduction? Or something else? She felt as if she couldn’t trust herself anymore. Her thoughts were certainly a mess. There had been too much information at once.

An unexpected hug pulled Nadec back out of her thoughts. Shonk swallop! She knew she was supposed to lift her arms and return the embrace, but her arms stayed plastered in her lap. She was still mad at them, a hug wasn’t going to fix it.

‘We never wanted to do it,’ Kridec said silently in Nadec’s ears. Was she crying? ‘We never wanted to, we always thought it would’ve been better to tell you the truth, instead of this elaborate plan. It wasn’t only you who was being put at risk but us too.’

She let go and sat back down, wiping her eyes.

‘I’ve always wanted to remain in anonymity. The royal life wasn’t for me. I was happy enough to stay in the background when Jodec was still the heir, but when he suddenly disappeared and it was all going to fall on my head, literally so, I knew I had to get out. I’d rather say goodbye to everything I knew, than having to bear the responsibility. And it worked! When I came back, with Stetem, people on the street never mentioned me anymore.

‘Madec came to me one day, about half a year before her Crown receival. I told you we’d always stayed in touch. She’d been telling me they were having trouble conceiving. The day Madec came here, I knew she had something important to say. She confided in me that she’d found a way to Skip to Earth, which was how she finally became pregnant.  At first I didn’t believe her. Earth was a myth! She gave me the gift of chocolate. It was incredible, I still remember the first time I tried it.’ A twinkle in her shiny eyes proved her remembrance.

‘She said she’d give me all the knowledge to make this and build a blooming business out of it. On one condition. I had to promise to take care of you if something happened to them. She said she’d change the instructions yearly. And so she did. I thought it was all a bit silly and paranoid.

‘It had been so long, I never thought it was actually going to happen. But every year she brought me two boxes, one with instructions for us, the other to give to you after a designated amount of time, together with our box. We gave away our safety and anonymity to protect you.’

‘To protect me? You mean, to have a chocolate business, to make money. Not to protect me!’

Kridec flinched. ‘That’s not how I meant it. Well, we did it anyway, so that’s that. It’s probably already too late for us, I believe they’ll come for us soon, searching for you. That’s why you need to go. Stetem explained it in an unfortunate way, he didn’t mean it so harshly. We care. We do! But we know this isn’t safe for you. They’ll find you. Especially now. We only have a handful of servants here, and our chocolate production is elsewhere, but they are gossips. They’ll talk about the dragon, perhaps even the gorwak. We’ll do everything we can do buy their silence, but it might not be enough.

‘Oh, there is so much I wish I could tell you, but we should get ready. I’m afraid a bath won’t be possible at this moment. I’ll give you dresses, and my most trusted servant, Melia. I’d suggest you make your way to the city, and lay low there, until the day of the Crown. With a few full purses and the dresses, you can pass for a wealthy merchant. Wealthy enough to afford a good room in a decent inn. I’m really sorry I can’t do more. We’ll have our own mess to clean up here.’

Nadec had let her talk, wanting to interrupt several times, but always decided against it. She saw the sincerity in her aunt’s face. Despite her earlier feelings, and an ever-lingering smoulder of anger, she trusted her. She couldn’t help the sarcasm in her voice though.

‘Good speech. I can’t go into the city though, there’s no way to take Blackie and Patat with me. Besides, it doesn’t make sense to get into a city, better to hide away in a forest until the Crown appears on my little head.’ She moved her hands around her head.

‘You’ve got that snarkiness from your mother. Yes, I’d advice against taking them, and even your cat—whatever you do, don’t walk him outside where people can see him. It would be too much of a novelty. As for the other two… I might have a solution, but I need to talk to Stetem first. The only issue would be sneaking them in. If only we had Jodec’s Line of Deception. But, no matter. We’ll find a way. Little help though it may be, I will give you that.’

She leaned forward and grabbed Nadec’s hand, who pulled hers back. Even though Nadec had calmed down, she was still upset. But there was too much information to focus on instead of the anger. The Lines of deception, she mused. Something tickled in the back of her mind. She breathed in sharply.

‘Wyny! I mean, Pagewyn. He can do the Squares and Triangles thing. What’s up with that? You said he’s not related, how could he have power?’

Kridec tsk-ed. Her face showed disapproval.

‘Your parents really should’ve taught you all of this, it was the wrong decision to wait. But they wanted to uphold tradition and keep you safe. Traditionally, the heir who’s bound to receive the Crown, would be prepped, starting three years earlier. No, let me speak, I know it sounds odd. Royalty should get prepared from the moment they’re born, right? That’s how they do it in other kingdoms. In Paralelo, all siblings get a basic preparation. The Crown receiver gets an extra education, and that is mostly to teach them about the powers they’re bound to receive. Your parents were going to start teaching you about three years ago, but then they passed away. I always thought they should’ve introduced you to this world from childhood, but anyway, they had their own silly reasons. No one can sit on the Throne without a proper ritual, handing over the intent for them to become the Crown receiver. It’s very complicated and I don’t know the details. I assume that ritual grants the usurper—I mean, that person— one of the Lines. I think he should lose it once you get the Crown.’

That was again a much larger explanation han she’d thought he’d get. Nadec’s aunt certainly liked to talk. Even in situations like this. Kridec continued.

‘To come back to what you said previously, there are no forests in which you’d be able to hide in this area. Too many people walk here, too much chance of discovery. Besides, I don’t want you to live in discomfort, you’ve had a hard enough time as it was. And I am certain it is the best idea to be in the city when the day comes, nice and clean. That way you can have the people validate you straight away, and you can make that fool look like a genuine fool.’

Nadec had only been listening with a half ear, her thoughts still on what Kridec had said earlier. However, she perked up at the last sentences.

‘What? The city. Pagewyn is in the city you mentioned before?’ Her skin crawled. ‘I should’ve asked this before. Where exactly are we?’

‘Oh, well, I thought you’d have guessed by now. We’re only half an hour walk from the walls of Hexago, Paralelo’s capital city. I told you I came back here after my travels. I couldn’t live in the city of course, but I found a nice secluded mansion not too far away, and…’

Kridec kept babbling on, oblivious of Nadec’s shock. She really should have figured it out earlier. But her brain was too overloaded, it obviously had trouble keeping up. The capital city of Paralellogram. So close to Wyny.

Staying hidden in the forest first did seem like a bad idea now. She should go into the city and go check things out. After all—momentarily ignoring the mystery of the others who’d tried to kill her—it was going to be her new home, right? And perhaps she could figure out more of them there. Rumours were always in abundance, if you knew where to look for them.

Nadec ch 27: Emotional Connection

Previously: After Nadec managed to skip them away from their pursuers, they end up in the house of her employers, the order of the red knight. Except, it was all a lie. The order doesn’t exist. They are Nadec’s aunt and uncle. They explain that the Wooden Water Crown would appear on the one it belongs to when they turn twenty eight. The one who gets the Crown, also gets acces to the full powers of the Squares, Triangles and Lines.
Read all the previous chapters here.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The solution seemed easy. Although Nadec doubted things would not be more complicated. She uttered her thoughts anyway.

‘So, correct me if I’m wrong, but I suppose I’m the most rightful heir at this moment? So all I have to do is stay hidden until my birthday, make sure I stay here, in The Other Realm, and in twelve days the Crown will be mine. It would just appear on my head?’

That concept sounded strange, but nothing here was ever the way she expected. A sinking feeling settled inside of her, and she almost faltered when she mentioned the Crown being hers. She definitely hadn’t had enough time to come to terms with all of this.

Despite her internal turmoil—and the other smouldering emotion in the background—she didn’t miss the look between her aunt and uncle.

‘What?’

Kridec nodded towards her husband, letting him do the talking. Stetem still shot awkward glances at Patat, his eyes blinking and swallowing roughly whenever he did. Patat was aware of it but didn’t let on. For once he didn’t utter any rude words, but pretended to be absorbed in petting Kitty. Nadec was certain he’d been following the whole conversation closely, she’d seen his shock at hearing of her uncle passing away, the one who’d locked him up.

‘We’re very happy to see you alive, Nadec, and you can clean up and stay the night.’

He paused, looking over at Patat again before glancing towards Kridec. His wide eyes eventually rested on the table. ‘But it wouldn’t be a good idea to stay here. This is not a good shelter. They—we don’t know how—obviously have figured out something about you and the Red Knight rouse. They might know of us, and, I mean, this is our house. You understand? We’ve been living here in relative peace for a long time. We’ve always promised your parents to take care of you and followed their instructions meticulously. But we can’t put more at stake. We’ll give you the box they left us to give to you, and much of what you need to know is in there.’

‘Surely you understand, Nady?’

Oh, that nickname. It slapped her right in the face. It’s what her mom always used to call her. How dared her aunt do that to her? How dared they do this to her? They’d just abandon her?

‘Coming, Nadec. You helping will I.’

Blackie’s voice boomed in her head. Before she knew what it meant, a thunderous sound came from above and outside. The grumble and clatter of bricks on the ground was overwhelming. People screamed. A whoosh of wind preceded the head of Blackie barging through the open kitchen window, splintering the frame and managing to break the glass. A few bricks came loose, tumbling along the kitchen bench to the floor, almost in slow motion. Dust pelted the air. Pots clanked as they fell down.

Stetem fell back and clattered to the ground, chair included. Kridec ducked down, moving to take shelter beneath the table before Blackie’s head was through the window. Kitty dug in his claws, and Patat yelped. Nadec blinked and waved her hand in front of her face, trying to dispel the dust.

She quirked an eyebrow at Blackie, who managed to look sheepish now that she saw Nadec wasn’t in any trouble. How did she do it, conveying so much emotion in her reptilian face? She plonked her head down on the table. It creaked in distress, but managed to hold on. Stetem knelt behind his toppled chair, peeking out from behind.

‘What happened, Blackie?’

Nadec asked it out loud, to make it clear to the others that she could talk to the dragon, and that—despite destroying part of their house—the dragon was friendly.

‘Heat felt I. From you. Pulsed did it. Never felt before, you in trouble I thought.’ The sending hesitated. ‘Not real heat, was it?’ She slightly cocked her head—still on the table. Kitty detached herself from Patat’s lap, gave Blackie’s snout a couple of head buts, climbed on top and formed into a fluffy cat ball between the horns. The whole display—short though it was—gave Nadec time to think.

Anger. Blackie had been feeling Nadec’s rising anger. That was another new development. She wondered if Blackie would be able to feel emotions from everyone if she wanted to, or if they had a special bond. Would that—

‘Burning grounds! What did she do that grounding for?’

Patat jumped in the air, and vibrated his whole body while flying to rid himself of the dust. He lowered back down on the chair. Stetem was still hiding behind his toppled chair, much good that would do, and Kridec slowly crawled from under the table. She appeared to have managed a modicum of control again. Nadec could see it was merely a facade, though.

‘You,’ she swallowed, purposely keeping her eyes on Nadec, ‘you can communicate with the dragon?’ Nadec nodded. ‘Unbelievable,’ the other woman whispered. ‘The Ichau blood must be very strong in you.’

Stetem’s voice came from behind the chair. ‘What does that mean? Surely this is nothing but a dream we’re all in? None of this can be real. Truly. First a gorwak, then a dragon? Nice try trying to pretend to talk to that gorwak too, I don’t believe at all that those harsh sounds mean anything.’ He sounded overwhelmed and on the brink of hysteria.

‘Not a dream,’ Nadec mumbled, at the same time that Patat said: ‘burning right they can understand me when I speak gorish.’ He then rolled his eyes. When he spoke next, Nadec could hear something was different, but couldn’t place a finger on what exactly.

‘I forgot most humans don’t burning speak our dripping language. That’s what bloody happens when you get isolated for so grounding long. I should’ve burning realised that’s what’s burning different about you.’ He glanced at Nadec. ‘Perhaps that’s how I guessed you were from the same dripping blood as Jodec.’

Jodec. She assumed that was her uncle’s name. Or had been.

‘So, languages are easy for us?’ She addressed Kridec again, who’d carefully righted her chair and sat down, a good distance from the table.

‘Yes. Yes, Ichaus naturally have the ability to understand and speak all, or many, of the languages. But that’s not important right now. Why is there a live dragon’s head on my table?’

With that, her calm mask broke a little. Her voice almost sounded more hysterical than Stetem’s. She uttered a nervous giggle. ‘Seeing Patat was a surprise, a big surprise, but I could still accept that. I knew he was real before. But this. Dragon’s aren’t supposed to be real! Certainly, it’s always been said that one our family’s Lines was talking to dragons, just like you have the Skipping Line, and I have the Need Line.’ She was talking really fast now, as if that could make up for the situation she was in.

‘Everyone of us has one, two or three Lines, like a little trinket of the Squares, Triangles and Lines, all but the one who gets the Wooden Water Crown, we already said they get it all. So I suppose you have the Skipping and the—what was it called again—I don’t remember the name of the Line, but it means you can talk to Dragons. Although they were supposed to be a myth. Not real. Not able to break my house!’ Her tone of voice gradually rose at the last sentences, with the last word sounding more like a shriek.

‘Dragons and gorwaks.’ Stetem stood up. He was no longer hysterical, awe had replaced it. ‘It’s real, all real. Can I touch him?’ He reached out a shaking hand, but pulled it back when Blackie’s eyes focused on him.

‘She’s a her, not him.’ Nadec checked with Blackie. ‘She says she never had this request before, and she’s amused, but she accepts. Don’t overdo it though.’

She couldn’t keep some venom out of her voice. These people were going to kick her out. Family she’d never known, the only family she still had, were going to abandon her, just like that. Blackie sniffed, stirring up a cloud of dust, causing Stetem to cough and step back in fear.

‘Again feel it, heat. Why?’

‘I’m angry,’ Nadec said in her mind. She continued out loud.

‘They’re the ones who put me through everything I’ve been through these past years. Couldn’t they have just told me the truth? Why make me—‘ she gasped as realisation for the core of her anger dawned on her. A guilt she’d been carrying slumping her shoulders, like a weight pressing down. She whispered.

‘Why make me kill all those people and creatures for a false cause?’

Nadec ch 26: Family and Foe

Previously: After Nadec managed to skip them away from their pursuers, they end up in the house of her employers, the order of the red knight. Except, it was all a lie. The order doesn’t exist. They are Nadec’s aunt and uncle.
Read all the previous chapters here.

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Nadec listened in stunned unbelief. No. That wasn’t right. She believed everything they were telling her. Stunned. She was merely stunned. Her parents had never told her about any aunts. They’d always claimed all relatives either lived too far away or were dead. In a way, they hadn’t lied. The anger she felt before kept simmering, but on a low fire.

By the time she reached the bottom of the bowl of soup, she knew the summarised history of her aunt and why she’d never heard of her. Kridec had decided to give her heirdom to her younger sister, Nadec’s mother. When she was seventeen, they performed a ritual to officially transfer the coming succession. She’d moved out of the castle, with sufficient funds to start a new life. Nadec wondered why she could stay, but couldn’t ask because she was in the middle of swallowing the last of her soup. Kridec talked right over her.

‘I travelled around and saw the world. Years later, I came back here, with Stetem,’ she pointed her head towards her husband and gave him a slight grin. ‘We managed to buy this house. By then, most of Paralelo’s population had almost forgotten about me, which was what we wanted. Everyone was doting over your mother as the next heir. She and I always stayed in touch, secretly. Do you want more soup?’

Nadec nodded. Before the servant could grab Nadec’s bowl, Kitty jumped off Nadec’s lap and began crying a loud and panicky meow. He stalked around, sniffing at places, his howls getting louder.

‘Guts, he needs a toilet. Do you have any loose sand area outside?’

She stood up halfway but Stetem gently pushed her back down by the shoulder.

‘I’m on it, you should listen to the rest of the story.’

He grabbed Kitty’s lead. Kitty hissed at him! Nadec told Kitty everything was alright. She didn’t know if he understood her, but at least he followed Stetem’s lead. Sort of.

‘Your mother and father got married while I was still away. They had trouble getting pregnant. So much so that they turned towards old myths and legends.’

She stood up and took something from a drawer. The servant came back with the bowl re-filled with soup.

‘Here is something you can eat after finishing your soup.’

Her face held a mysterious —and mischievous?—smile. She held out her hand, palm down, and dropped something on the table. A small box, rectangle-shaped. Frowning at Kridec, Nadec slowly slid it closer. It had a simple mechanism for opening the lid.

The gorgeous aroma of chocolate wafted toward her, overwhelming every other smell. Sweet, earthy, nutty. The chocolate was shaped like small triangles, stamped with a lighter square in the middle. Nadec couldn’t resist the pull and popped one in her mouth. The rich and deep taste of the cacao was too much. She rolled her eyes back before closing them. The initial bitterness kept lingering while a sweetness overtook it, perfectly paired. By far one of the best chocolates she’d ever eaten.

When it was all melted away, she let the bliss take her a bit longer before opening her eyes.

‘Chocolate helped them get pregnant with me? Perhaps I shouldn’t be eating chocolate then.’ She muttered that last, aware of all the measures she took to not get pregnant.

Her aunt laughed. It sounded so much like her mother’s laugh, goosebumps spread over Nadec’s arms and her eyes welled up. She blinked it away before Kridec saw it.

‘Now that would be something!’ Kridec’s glee was still obvious when she resumed her talk. ‘No, if you’re in the right—or wrong, depending on how you look at it—circles, you would hear about the myth of Earth. It had always been a legend talked about in the Ichau family. Madec somehow found the way to skip there. She brought me the secret to making chocolate. That’s how—’

‘You! I grounding recognise you. You’re Nadec’s burning employer? That either explains a grounding lot or makes it even more burning strange.’

Kridec’s eyes opened wide. So did her mouth.

‘Close your dripping mouth, you look like a burning fish.’

Nadec couldn’t help but snort at that, despite her surprise at both Patat’s appearance and his words. He recognised her?

‘You, you… you…’

‘Yes, yes, dripping me.’

Stetem came in with Kitty. Kridec slowly turned her head toward him. He looked at her, frowned, and dropped the lead when he saw Patat hovering in the air behind Nadec.

‘Gorwak. That’s a gorwak! They’re real? They were my favourite mythical creature as a child, them and dragons.’

Nadec felt a combination of guilt for not having told them yet about Blackie, and anticipation for their reaction when she’d tell them about the dragon in their room. She exchanged a few quick telepathic sentences with Blackie to make sure she was alright. Kitty sauntered toward Patat, who landed on the floor to receive headbuts.

‘I told you about our childhood friend gorwak.’ Kridec narrowed her eyes. ‘You never believed me, did you.’ She huffed. The indignation was muffled by the way she looked back at Patat. She rubbed her eyes.

‘You had a childhood friend gorwak, and it was this gorwak?’

Kridec answered Nadec’s question with a nod. She wasn’t sure what to think of this coincidence. Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence. She sighed. Stetem walked in a daze toward the nearest chair.

‘Burning right it was this gorwak.’ Patat sat next to Nadec. His head barely came above the edge of the table. He furrowed his forehead and gave Kridec a meaningful look. She jumped up from her seat, strode into another room, and came back with big blocks of firewood. They lifted the seat up enough for Patat to be at a better height.

He reached out and pulled the bowl of soup toward him. Kitty jumped up, lying down on his lap. It made eating more difficult, and it couldn’t have been comfortable—Patat being only a bit larger than Kitty. He allowed it anyway, and stroked him while eating the soup in between talking. Nadec grabbed the little box of chocolate, content to eat those instead of the soup.

‘This is good. It’s been too long since I ate hot food. Human food.’

‘Fifty-two years since my brother ran away with you.’ Nadec’s aunt had a faint smile on her lips, remembering childhood memories. ‘He only told us what he did afterwards. We never—’

‘Wait.’ Nadec had to interrupt. She had to!

‘Brother? I’ve got an uncle too? What else? Do I have a lost sibling somewhere? Is the uncle still in the castle? Is he the king now?’ Before she finished her sentence, she already knew it was a stupid question. She knew well enough who ruled Paralelo right now.

‘Oh no, he has passed away. Don’t be sad, it was years ago. He was supposed to be the heir, so when he died, it came to me. You already know what I did then.’

‘When you were seventeen,’ Nadec mumbled, trying to piece things together. It was all a bit confusing. Kridec nodded.

‘Your mother was fifteen at the time. She still had thirteen years until the Wooden Water Crown would appear on her head, but she was already ready for it. She actually got the Crown while she was far into her pregnancy from you.’

The Wooden Water Crown! That had been part of Wyny’s ridiculous tiles.

‘Pagewyn,’ Nadec paused when Stetem uttered a small growl. Kridec’s face fell into a careful neutrality, which screamed disapprovement in its suddenness. ‘Yeah, so, Pagewyn, he rules now, right, so is he a cousin? How is he related.’

The fake neutrality on her aunt’s face got replaced by a smoldering heat in her eyes, emphasised by reddening cheeks.

‘He is a fool, a puppet, put on the throne by usurpers. He is not related to us, at all.’

Nadec’s sigh of relief felt like a betrayal to the anger her aunt and uncle felt. This was going to be complicated, and her head already spun.

‘He doesn’t have the Wooden Water Crown yet.’ Stetem said right on top of Kridec. She continued.

‘The Wooden Water Crown only appears on the head of the person most suited to wear it. That means descendants of the Ichau bloodline, when they turn twenty eight. Or, if they’re not here at that time, or there aren’t anymore heirs, then it goes to the person sitting on the throne.’

It all clicked for Nadec. Partly. Her birthday was in a few days. If she was in The Other Realm then, the Crown would fall on her head. If she wasn’t, or dead, the Crown would got to Wyny. But why would that mean the end of the world, like the zlurp had said? She had a suspicion.

‘What else happens when someone gets the Crown?’

‘They get full potential of the Squares, Triangles and Lines.’

Nadec bit back a curse. The full power of the magic. With the wrong intentions, that might well become the end of world.

Wails of death

Mist swirled around the wrought iron gate, the intricate design inviting it to play. The movement was almost mischievous, disappearing and re-forming like magic.

Pauline stared at it, hypnotised. A shiver startled her awake.

‘Staring at fences while you’re freezing. Well done, Pauline.’

With a grunt, she opened the lock, wondering why they’d bothered to put in a new fence. Probably to keep out trespassers. Did it have to be so fancy?

She grumbled while walking toward the building’s entrance. No one else had wanted to come along. Her employer had given her full responsibility of quoting the demolition of this abattoir. Damned vegans were really taking over the world. Even the owner of this slaughterhouse! He didn’t want to set foot in this place anymore, giving Pauline’s boss all the keys and instructions.

Once inside, she tried the light switch. Nothing happened, as expected. She turned on her flashlight. She swung the strong beam to the left as she saw movement. Nothing but a sad concrete wall. She snorted and took notes, taking photos as she progressed deeper in the building.

She kept her breath shallow. This was where the animals had been kept to await their fate. Their fate to be on my plate, she thought. The joke didn’t amuse her.

She looked back at the last photo she’d taken of the pens.

‘Huh.’

There was a shadow in one of them. When she looked at the real pen, she couldn’t find the cause. Must’ve been a camera error.

In the next room, the beam of light emphasised the discolouration on the floor. Various large spots in shades of rusty brown overlapped each other. She swallowed, and almost choked at a sound behind her.

She shook her head, determined to finish this and get the hell out. All of the equipment still stood where it had been left. One device looked like a large tube with a smaller opening. Her heart stopped. The light beam trembled. There was a cow in the device. The body in the tube, the head poking through the smaller opening. Those eyes. She had never seen eyes more frightened. Wide with terror, tears dripping down. The tube moved until the cow was upside down, neck outstretched. A cut appeared on the neck, opening wide, a gush of blood flooding out. The cow thrashed but was held by the device.

Pauline stumbled back. The sound had multiplied. She pointed her light back to the device. The cow was back in the starting position. The spilled blood went from red to rusty brown in a second. Something nudged her leg. A chicken. Headless, blood pumping out in spurts. Pauline cried out.

Everywhere she looked, there were animals. There, a pig screaming in a corner as it died from suffocation, over and over again. Beside it, a calf crumbling by an unseen bullet to the head.

Her own screams as she ran to the exit competed with the cacophony of the ghosts’ wails of death.

Nadec ch 25: The Order of the Red Knights

Previously: Thanks to the gorwak and the tidbit of information it had given Nadec, she makes enough connections to connect some dots. The day after drinking herself in oblivion—her way of processing emotions and moving on—she comes up with a plan. Her gamble works and she skips them all away—Nadec, Kitty, Blackie, and Patat. Right in time to avoid their pursuers.
Read all the previous chapters here.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Kitty meowed on Nadec’s shoulders as she and her odd company of cat, dragon and gorwak, appeared in the entrance hall of her employers. At least, this room was what she’d always thought of as the entrance hall because it’s where she entered the building every time she skipped there. She’d never been through the real main entrance. She’d only ever stayed on this level.

‘Everyone alright?’

With another meow, Kitty hopped off her shoulders and strolled over to Blackie. He gave her two head buts against the claw, before flopping down to wash his belly.

‘Odd. Fine but.’ Blackie didn’t look as at ease as Kitty did. No wonder. Her long neck caused her head to be squashed up against the ceiling, though high as it was. The room was quite spacious, but Blackie wasn’t meant to be inside it. Fortunately, it was mostly undecorated.

Patat shook his head. The orange morning light—first light of the day—coming through the plain window made his wings looks like a mesmerising, iridescent sunrise. Wherever they had been before, it must have been a distance from here. Nadec cursed.

‘You might be stuck here, Blackie. I’m sorry, I should’ve thought of that.’

The window wasn’t large enough for the large beast, and the door definitely not. Blackie’s only reply was to wink at her. She could probably break through the wall if she wanted to.

‘Stay put, let me see if I can find anyone.’ She glanced toward Patat.

‘Skipping can be brutal the first times, you should feel fine again soon.’

‘Kid, this is not the grounding first time I burning skipped along. I’ll be dripping fine.’

She acknowledged him with a grunt and poked at Blackie’s ass, making her shuffle aside enough to be able to slip through the door. It wasn’t locked. A small flutter of butterflies stirred in her belly. Previous times, she’d always been invited. At this moment she felt more like a trespasser. How would they react? She knocked down the small pit of doubt, the sliver of mistrust. They couldn’t have been behind the attacks on her life.

A brush of Kitty against one of her ankles brought her back from the self-doubt. He must’ve slipped through the door with her.

‘Alright buddy, you can come,’ she grabbed his lead, ‘Don’t want to lose you.’

The plain plush carpet lining the small hallway’s floor dampened her footfall as she opened the door in front of her. The familiar room she stood in was even more empty than usual. There was only a plain table and a narrow, unmade bed, the walls bare. This was where she always been given food and a chance to rest, should she need it.

Back in the hallway, she went right. She knew there wasn’t anything to the left but some storage closets. After only a few steps, she stood on the landing, staring at the wall in front of her, the stairs to the right. A deep breath in. And out. She’d never been down those stairs. Her employers had asked her—not forbidden her—to respect their boundaries, and Nadec had never even thought of breaking her promise. Silly girl—she pushed through her trepidation and descended—too trusting towards people. She forcibly stopped from talking herself down. An old habit she still sometimes struggled with. This time, her employers were going to tell her all of their secrets. She had had enough happen to her lately. Besides, she had a dragon in the room above. Perhaps she could use that as a threat.

At the bottom of these stairs, another sharp turn to the right put her in a larger corridor, with another stairs underneath the stairs she’d just used. The door in the wall to her left stood ajar.

A quick look into the room revealed it to be a master bedroom. A large canopied bed served as the eyecatcher. It was gorgeous. She’d always had a weakness for furniture pieces like that, but stopped herself from lingering in the room after confirming it was empty.

The same was true for another room, which appeared to be a combination of washing room with a basin on a vanity, a tub in the middle, and a dressing room. There was a walk-in closet at the far end. A large stand-up mirror caught her eye. The design was beautiful.

She didn’t care much for her own image though. Pulling a face, she shook her head at the bad fit of her ugly clothes. The trousers did not flatter her wide hips at all. Frowning at herself again while she tried to wipe away smears of dirt, she embraced the thought of ugly clothes being better than walking around naked.

A smell invaded all her other thoughts, leaving nothing but a rumbling stomach. Hot food!  

As she stalked down, she froze midway. Voices floated up. Balls. She barely registered the paintings hanging from the wall. Still, they tickled something in the back of her mind. She ignored it—the entrance hallway was visible from where she stood. The butterflies in her stomach were out of control now. She walked on.

A double door next to the stairs would presumably lead outside. She put her back towards it. That caused her to look straight into another room. She could see them sitting at a table, eating. The fancy carpet felt more plush than the ones at the upper levels. She didn’t have much knowledge about carpets, but this one looked as if it belonged in a castle instead of this medium sized house. It wasn’t what she expected. She’d always assumed the area she was confined to was only a small part of a much larger building. It was much smaller than her imagination made it to be. She’d assumed this was an organisation, with many people calling the shots, and many others like herself. However, from what she’d seen so far today, it didn’t appear to be like that.

Nadec pushed through her hesitation and continued toward them. They weren’t wearing the rich, hooded robes they normally wore. Instead, their clothes looked more as if they belong somewhere in the seventeenth century. Or perhaps earlier or later—Nadec didn’t know enough of old fashion styles to pinpoint the correct era. It could’ve been a combination of several different styles, this wasn’t Earth after all.

This was the first time seeing their faces. The woman looked familiar enough for her brain to hurt trying to figure out why. They were talking to each other, but Nadec hadn’t been listening. The conversation stopped. Nadec focused back on them, she’d been zoomed out, her thoughts dwelling on what was so familiar about the woman’s face. She was looking straight at her now, jaw slack, eyes wide. Nadec imitated the expression. Her mom! The woman’s face looked eerily like her mom’s!

The woman jumped up, almost running around the table, her chair hitting the ground as she closed the distance. Nadec’s reaction was slow. Before she could step back, the woman embraced her in a tight hug.

‘You’re alive, praise the Squares, you’re alive.’

She was sobbing! Nadec moved her arms to push her away. They hugged the woman back instead. It had been too long since she’d had a hug like this. She violently repressed the memory of Wyny in the cave. That embrace didn’t count, not anymore.

The man appeared next to them and gently took the woman by the shoulders, pulling her away. Something stirred in Nadec’s chest.

‘Come Kridec, let’s give her some room. She might be hungry. Nadec, sit, please.’

He motioned toward the table. As Nadec sat down, she noticed a servant standing at the side, who walked away after the man whispered something. She sat across from where the woman sat before, and was sitting now again. Kitty jumped on Nadec’s lap. She stroked him with intent, glad to have him to hold her steady.

‘Kridec?’ Nadec’s voice croaked. ‘That sounds a lot like my name. Is that coincidence?’ She sipped the water they’d put in front of her. At least, she’d intended to sip it, but downed the whole cup in one go instead. And the next two refills. She let Kitty have a drink too.

The servant came back with a bowl of something hot. Nadec’s stomach growled again with the smell of the lentil soup. Soup as breakfast was one of the best meals.

Kridec glanced at the man. She took a deep breath as he nodded.

‘It is time we tell her.’ There was a soothing quality to his deep voice.

‘You’ve only ever known us as your employers, from the Order of the Red Knight.’ Her eyes rested on Nadec’s, searching for something. They were still dripping soft tears. She didn’t seem to notice.

‘That was a lie. There is no such thing as Red Knights. There is no Order. We,’ she hesitated, glancing at the man. He grabbed her hand and gave it a little squeeze, ‘made that up, to protect you.’

Nadec resumed spooning soup to her mouth, using it as a distraction. Doing everything she could to keep the anger at bay. It was difficult.

‘We are your family.’ The man jumped in, as the woman had choked on her next words. ‘Kridec is your aunt, she’s your mother’s older sister.’

The spoon stopped right in front of nadec’s mouth. Her hand trembled hard enough to spill most of the soup over the sides. She dropped it back in the bowl.

‘Keep on talking.’