Authors: Viola Grace
Tags: #Science Fiction., #erotic romance
Sacred Flame winked one bronze eye and lifted off, her funnel cloud of fire and wind clinging to her faithfully. One by one, the intruders were picked up and hauled away in that spinning creation.
Facing her host, she said, “I can take the ship if you would care to give me a landing site. I can walk back after I disable it or…”
“I will retrieve you. Can you drop it in the canyon behind my home? There is a path up the side, but the mineral content should keep the shuttle from being seen by sensors if the noble did not come alone.”
She nodded and headed for the shuttle. Finally, something she knew how to do. First, she verified that she was alone in the shuttle, and then, she sealed it, did a pre-flight check and lifted off as smoothly as she could. The shuttle was elegant, but Akutan was right, there was little likelihood that the earl had come alone. The ship she was in was not designed for long flights nor did it have a jump engine. Something bigger had brought it here.
The crevice behind the palace was deep and quite wide. She descended slowly, carefully and with an eye toward parking the shuttle where it could not be detected.
She moved half a kilometre down from the palace and found the perfect spot. She held the ship six feet above the ground and moved sideways, tucking it under a rock shelf that would conceal it entirely.
Once the landing gear was down, she shoved her hand into the com and disabled it, ripping out the wiring. All beacons, tracers and homing signals were pulled one by one before she left the shuttle and headed for the power cell.
This part was straight mechanics. She uncoupled the cell and jerked it out of the shuttle. With a three-foot canister in her arms, she looked for a place to hide it. An evil grin crept across her features. She faded it and shoved it into the rock face. She left just the hint of the exterior curve showing so she would know where to grip if she ever needed it again.
With the shuttle disabled, she started to walk back toward the palace. Now, the problem was climbing the hundreds of feet to the palace and she would be able to take a nap.
She had better get started.
It took some looking to find the path that would lead her up, but by the time she found it, Akutan was waiting for her on Vedu. He didn’t say a word. He lifted her to the back of the beast and turned Vedu toward the path.
She sat corralled by his arms and the rocking motion of the animal relaxed her. She leaned back against him and let herself doze on the long, swaying climb.
Despite her fatigue, she felt the light kiss on the side of her neck and a shiver worked its way through her system. “Is this really an appropriate time for that, my lord?”
He chuckled against her skin. His tongue flicked out, and he licked her neck. “I thought you were asleep.”
“No, just relaxing.” She shivered again. “Well, I was.”
“Is the shuttle disabled?”
Amy grinned. “Unless you want to use it as a planter. The power supply is out and hidden so well no one would find it. All backup power is disconnected, and the com units have been gutted.”
“You were fast.”
They were halfway up the path now.
“I enjoy my work. I can even whittle a clock out of bits of wood if I get my hands on some. I was going to draw up some designs, but Teriki informed me that ladies don’t do that sort of thing here.” She enjoyed the feeling of his chest supporting her entire back in a warm wall. It made the ride a lot more pleasant to have him acting as a seat.
“I am sure that an exception could be made. I am curious to see what you are capable of.”
Amy laughed softly and sighed as he continued his exploration of her neck. He had swept the tendrils of her hair to one side and was exploring the right side of her neck in detail. In a peculiar conflict, it made the rest of the ride both the longest and shortest moment of her life. All she knew when they reached the summit and he helped keep her on her feet when she dismounted was that her legs didn’t want to hold her due to either fatigue or arousal. She wasn’t too picky at this point.
To her mortification, he carried her inside where the staff had returned and the maids immediately attended her, preparing a bath and getting fresh clothing ready.
She was stripped, scrubbed and dumped in her tub before she could blink.
She sulked for a moment before realising that the heat was doing wonderful things to her butt and thighs. Amy slid down into the water and let it ease her aches and pains.
Porali brought her a cup of tea. “It is medicated to help you with the pain of your first ride.”
“Do I look that bad?”
Porali sat and started to brush out Amy’s hair. “You seem very tired. I am guessing that it is a side effect of all your activity. Lord Akutan is arranging a pickup for the invaders and doing some work in his office. You are ordered to drink your tea and rest. He will see you for dinner.”
Cool mint and a heady herbal undertone made up the tea. She swallowed it in three gulps, grimacing as she set it aside. No matter what world she was on, medicine tasted like medicine.
A few minutes later, she started to doze, and Porali and another servant helped her out of the tub, into a light robe and tucked her into her bed. Her mind went blank as the pain faded.
* * * *
Akutan looked at his niece and scowled. “What do you mean I have to do paperwork?”
She grinned at him. “She was removed from Janial under our custody. For a permanent transfer, you have to fill out the forms, Uncle. You remember how much fun it was to deal with the bureaucracy?”
He wrinkled his nose. “That is why I retired, niece.”
“I am sending you the forms, simply sign them and I will forward them on. They will be ratified in a few days. I will send you the confirmation that you can keep her.”
He took in her expression behind her mask and sudden understanding struck. “You knew.”
“I did. Charm’s wife is an artist, and she has been matching her people in this area for the purpose of safety and survival. Amethyst is one of them, and there is now a very intimate portrait of you two on Yacaro. It was enough to point me in the right direction.” She grinned.
“You are both fully dressed, but your posture indicates that you are protective of her as well as having an attachment to her that goes beyond protocol.”
He narrowed his eyes at his niece. “Send me a copy of it. I need to see this.”
“It will be sent with the confirmation of custody transfer. Enjoy the day, Uncle.” Blade inclined her head with a smile, and he grinned.
“Go and save another world, Blade. You need the exercise.” Her shocked face was worth it when he disconnected the call.
He opened the documents she had sent to him, and he signed, authorized and agreed to every caveat and registry of responsibility for Amethyst’s actions. He thumb printed the final document and sent the entire packet back to Blade.
A return file came through to him, and he blinked and rubbed his eyes. Hundreds of tiny pixels were on his screen. A message scrolled across the bottom.
You need exercise as well, Uncle.
He groaned. It was the image he had asked for, in several hundred pieces.
The best thing about having servants wake her was that she didn’t have to actually wake up to do anything.
She was back in her formal daywear within minutes as Porali put her hair up in a top knot and cascade of hair to knees. The maids had a bit of a slap fight when they wrapped bits of her hair in the wide sash, but a few sharp tugs later and everything was fine.
Amy missed the freedom of movement that the riding clothes had afforded, but she settled into the small steps and minute motions required to keep from tripping and falling on her face.
Teriki led her to the garden where a table had been set and Akutan was busy working on a data pad.
Amy blinked. “I thought that tech was restricted here.”
He grinned and set the pad aside. “It is. I am an authorized user. You look well rested.”
She looked down and smiled. “Being drugged and medicated will do that to a person. How long have I been asleep?”
The evening was firmly entrenched outside the open doors that led to the porch, which faced the green canyon behind the palace.
“Seven hours or so.”
She hesitated. This time, there was no place set across from him, only the seat next to him.
Akutan grinned. “To avoid confusion. I have spoken to Teriki, and she is accepting of the place I have selected for you.”
Amy swept her outer robe back, and she knelt as gracefully as she could. There was a bit of wobble, but she was getting better.
The data pad was right next to her, and he had been doing some sort of puzzle. Her fingers itched to solve it, but it wasn’t her toy to play with.
“Did you enjoy the ride today?” His words were some kind of trigger. The servants put the food on the table and walked quietly out of the gardens.
“I did, though it took a weird turn in the middle.” She twisted her lips.
“Lord Darfuli is trying to gain your assistance in more than just simple criminal activities. He wants you for another reason, and Sacred Flame has not been able to determine the exact nature of his plan.”
She moved her sleeve aside and poured the tea for him before her own. “I am guessing he wants an assassin that can go anywhere.”
Akutan paused with the cup halfway up. “Assassin? How could your talent be used to kill?”
“I can sink someone halfway or all the way into a solid surface and let go.” The data pad next to her was a taunt. She really loved puzzles.
He jerked his head toward the puzzle. “If you think you can solve it, go ahead, just do not forget to eat.”
“Teriki would be horrified.”
“She is not here.”
Looking around to confirm it, Amy swiftly assembled the pixels into an identifiable image. When the picture was complete, she slid it back to him. “Here you go.”
The food was still hot, and she picked out morsels of fish, noodles and a fluffy grain to sate her appetite.
He was amused. “Did you look at the image?”
“It was a man embracing a woman. The faces were too small for me to make out.”
He expanded the image and turned it toward her.
Amy opened her mouth in shock. “That’s me…and you.”
“It is. Apparently, there is an artistic precog with an eye toward matchmaking on Yacaro. One of your people. She is married to a Guardian, and currently, her projects involve finding matches for the few members of her race that are in the Nyal Imperium. There is something dangerous happening, and your kind is in danger.”
“So, she is finding us protectors?”
“Mates. She is finding you the one man who is your destiny. It sounds trite, but her accuracy is one hundred percent to date.”
Her mind reeled, and she looked at the image of Akutan’s hand gripping her hip and his mouth slanted over hers with their hair snapping in the breeze.
They were both wearing flowing black robes, which Amy thought was rather peculiar as there wasn’t an all-black set of clothing in the offerings that Teriki had shown her.
“That is…I mean, it could happen, but what are we wearing?”
“Rai Guardian uniforms. With Sacred Flame, myself and one other, we would put Rai on Guardian status and have access to immediate backup when incidents like today’s occur.” He moved the screen and pointed at the shoulder of the black robe her image was wearing. “Do you see that? It says
She blinked and smiled as she met his gaze. “Technically, it says
the one who is not there
, according to my studies.”
“Fade is a loose translation.” He set the data pad aside. “So, this explains why Blade brought you here. She recognized me.”
“Well, you do have a distinctive profile.” She chuckled at his startled look.
He smiled, and they finished their meal in silence.
The servants removed the dishes, and Akutan stood and offered her his hand. “Care to go for a walk?”
She scooted one foot forward and used his hand to balance as she rose to her feet. “How extensive are the gardens?”
Her soft slippers made no noise as they walked the path that led deeper into the green expanse. The hem of her robe and his dragged the ground behind them.
“The gardens extend five kilometres down into the rock. We grow medicines for the locals, experimental plants that need a safe place to thrive are delivered by the Guardians and kept in isolation until they are developed. It is a quiet thing to live on Rai. Do you think you would be interested in making your stay here permanent?”
Amy weighed her answer. “I don’t know enough about Rai to say yes or no, but if I could find a purpose, a duty to occupy my time, I would stay.”
He inclined his head with a smile. “Why did you never join the Sector Guard, the Citadel or volunteer for the Guardians?”
He had her there. She tried to keep her answer clear. “Because I want more than simply purpose. I want to enjoy my life on a day-to-day basis. Work is work and duty is duty, but there should be fun, enjoyment and time for one’s self. That is why I chose mechanics. I am good at it, but it leaves me time for me.”
“You are correct.” He reached out and caressed the petals of a nearby flowering bush. With a short, sharp move, he snapped the flower at the base and handed it to her.
Amy took the flower and lifted it to her face. The scent was a cross between roses and berries. “It’s lovely.”
He smiled and resumed their walk.
She finally noticed that she could see perfectly well but there were no lights visible. “How can we see where we are going?”
“The moss that lines the walls and walkways gives off light. It is a natural species to Rai, and it has the bonus of scrubbing the atmosphere. Too much of it in one place can be dangerous, so we do not allow it to be sent off world…anymore.”
“That sounds like there is a story behind it.” She smiled and twirled the flower between her fingers.
“There is.” He didn’t offer any more information, but their path led them to the centre of a carefully cultivated flower garden. He stopped and pulled her against him.