tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Island Ch. 06

The Island Ch. 06

byGoodLittleRoses©

6.

The atmosphere was palpably different this evening, Lux noticed with interest. She was startled to realise that she must have been getting used to these dinners in the echoing cave; with course after course of rich foreign food and strange ruby red drinks that never seemed to run out. It had been... how long now, since she arrived in the city? It couldn't be more than a couple of weeks, but it seemed like an eternity. Lux was almost alarmed at the speed with which she had adjusted to this strange new world she inhabited. Now, though, she was reminded that there was plenty yet to come that may require adapting to.

The cause of unrest tonight, of course, was Prince Felis.

Lux suspected that she had not been the only one caught off-guard by his sudden entrance to the dining hall that evening, five minutes after the first course had been set down. The whole hall had fallen abruptly silent, and there was the rustle of hundreds of people getting to their feet. For some reason, the level of formality had taken her by surprise, but she had stood with every other person in the hall, and sat with them in unison when the Prince was seated.

Felis nodded absentmindedly in recognition of the crowd's gesture as he sat. Then the focus had returned to the meal; or largely. One individual, Lux noticed, didn't appear to care much about the food anymore.

Lana was sitting next to the Prince, pawing him intermittently and apparently hanging on his every word. That much was clear from the end of the table. Felis, on the other hand, looked distracted and indifferent for all her advances.

Lux wondered if he was just immune to it. She cast her eye idly around the room, and it was caught by Luca, watching from the table below. She flashed Lux a quick conspiratorial grin, and Lux returned it.

Luca turned to reply to something Ethan asked her, and Lux returned to her isolated thoughts. At these meals she felt separate from everyone around her; like a ghost watching over events which meant nothing to her. She stared into her wine.

'Am I lonely?' She mused.

So many years alone, content with her own company. Dreading meeting any others, since they only ever had bad intentions.

'I think...that I have too much damn time to think.' She concluded. Perhaps, it was only really possible to be lonely when you were surrounded by people, as she was these days. In a strange way, that made sense to her.

"More wine?" A curt but friendly voice broke her thoughts.

Atler was hovering the decanter over her glass, giving her his intense, lop-sided semi-smile.

"Oh..." It took a moment for Lux to shake herself into the present.

"Um, why not?" She decided. "Hell, this stuff is one of the best things about this place..."

Atler let out a short, sharp noise that Lux realised must be his version of a laugh. She smiled to herself, then realised with a start that someone was observing her. She turned her head just in time to meet Prince Felis' intense gaze, before he looked away to speak to someone.

For a moment, something in her stomach jumped.

'Down, girl...' She muttered to herself, quietly.

She had to admit -- he was handsome. Very handsome. It was a little easier to tell; now that he was in the light...and not pointing a loaded gun at her. It was something to do with the contrast between the wavy, soft mahogany of his hair and his remarkable eyes. They were golden, almost honey coloured -- he reminded her of a lion.

A lion. Yes, that was a good description -- because hidden behind the soft colours of his hair and eyes there was blatant strength. Not just muscle -- although last night's little tussle had proven that, but an intensity and resolve that radiated from him.

On one hand, Lux found him intriguing. On the other, she was concerned.

He was not an idiot. He was not weak.... certainly stronger and quicker than she was.

In short, she was not going to get the better of him without a serious advantage. She cursed herself for having slipped up last night in the gardens, for getting taken by surprise. Now her ability to fight - which he might not have guessed at - was no longer an advantage.

She shrugged to herself. It's not like she didn't have all the time in the world...she might as well enjoy the wine, settle in, get a feel for what she was dealing with. Oh, and one other little thing of course...meet the King. Word in the halls was, he was returning tomorrow.

***

"Felis, it's with the upmost respect that I say, please, for the love of Pantheon, sit the hell down. You're making me nervous."

Ethan sat in his friend and employer's study, feet un-booted and resting in the warmth of the fireplace. He swished a glass of good claret and eyed Felis.

The Prince was pacing the room, wine threatening to spill every time he turned suddenly about in a different direction. At Ethan's demand, he broke out of deep thought and sat abruptly down in the leather armchair opposite, with a sigh.

"Sorry...not that I need to be. Fuck off, in fact. But sorry." He grumbled, resting his chin on his hand.

Ethan laughed. He was trying to diffuse the tension that had been building in Felis -- hell, in the whole city -- since the news that Leon was returning tomorrow. The girls of the higher circle were buzzing in anticipation. Lana had suddenly become less concerned with the lack of attention the Prince was displaying, and was strutting around the halls with the air of a wronged queen about to be reinstated to her throne.

Felis just looked grim.

"You've done well in his absence, he'll be pleased..." Ethan stated, although he knew that wasn't really the issue. That, and the unspoken reality that the King was rarely pleased.

Felis simply cast him a weary glance.

"Yeah, I know. Bring on the mayhem." Ethan murmured.

Things always got more...exciting ......with the King around. He was an expert game player amongst other things.

The Prince stretched his arms up in the air, and with a sigh, returned to his default mode of impenetrable commander.

"So, let's check we have it all in order one last time. We both know what he'll want to see first. The books are all done... City wise, we have the latest deals, the crop status, birth & death records. Then the guard reports and log of activity on nearby islands...."

Ethan considered each item and nodded.

"... so then that just leaves all the details closer to home -- the reports from the heads of each tier, each circle, and the latest from up here."

"Including...the newbie. I don't need to ask if you've managed to keep away from her, do I..Oh restrained and chivalrous one...." Ethan grinned mockingly.

Felis looked less amused. Ethan's grin faltered.

"O.k, please tell me you haven't got all cosy with Lux before the King has even approved..." He began, worried, when Felis cut him off with an impatient noise.

"Of course I haven't", he snapped. "I'm not an idiot. That doesn't mean that she isn't going to make things more complicated though. She's interesting. He'll be interested." Felis gave Ethan a hard, rather accusatory look that seemed to imply it was all Ethan's fault. Ethan grimaced in response.

"Yeah...I know. I have a feeling that things are going to get a little ugly...."

"You think?" Felis radiated sarcasm.

"Well, beats dull!" Ethan grinned, springing out of his chair and avoiding Felis' death glare. "I can't wait!"

***

The King was standing rigidly on the balcony leading from his office, staring out over the city below. Felis, standing behind him, waited for his response.

He had just finished reporting the status of all aspects of the cities progress since the King left on his trip; crop yield, military training, activity on the surrounding islands.

The King nodded slightly.

"Fine. The trip was a success. Area nine has seen some minor rebellions against the commander, so they remain of little threat and still in need of us for trade. We made record profits."

Area nine, previously one of the biggest military Final War bases, was now one of the largest 'cities' that Pantheon traded with. Felis had visited just once in the past, when he had just been promoted to his Father's second in command. He shuddered slightly. Whatever he had expected, it had been a far cry from the civilisation of Pantheon.

It was essential, as ruler of Pantheon, that King Leon regularly visited the city in order not only to trade, but to ensure that there was no risk of invasion. A city like Pantheon was worth invading -- rich in resources and women. Luckily, the King had yet to come across any organised group powerful enough to try. For security, however, other tribes and commanders of mainland groups were never invited to Pantheon -- they may know of the city's wealth, but all other knowledge was speculation.

"Congratulations, Sir", Felis replied to his father with the rigid formality expected of him when it came to city business.

"I shall of course inspect the city tomorrow. I trust you have all records completed and ready for review."

"Yes, Sir." Felis nodded again, as the King turned.

Leon walked back into the study, moving to pour two glasses of amber liquid from a decanter. He passed one to his son as he continued -- a silent indication that the 'official' business talk was over.

"... now, to one aspect of your report that has certainly caught my attention..."

Felis tensed imperceptibly. Ah, here it was.

"...this new girl. She was tested by Ethan, I assume?"

"Sir."

"You understand that my approval is required before she may stay. I must say, I'm intrigued."

"She is an intriguing girl. I am interested to see what you think." Felis replied neutrally. There was no use in feigning indifference; the king was not stupid. Equally, Felis was aware that Lux's fate was entirely out of his hands at this point. She was unlike any girl in the tier -- who could predict what the King would think?

"Well then, let us go and have a look at her."

With that, the King turned and strode purposely out of his room. For a moment, Felis thought they were going straight to the Lux's room, but the King turned towards the security suite that lay between the King and Prince's quarters, into the surveillance room where Felis had first set eyes on Lux after her arrival in Pantheon. The room was a smooth extension of the royal quarters -- not the harsh clinical computer lab one might expect. It was richly carpeted, with flat screens set into mahogany panels lining the walls.

As they entered, a guard in his uniform black attire was typing data into a screen in the corner. He rose quickly at their entrance, striding from the room at the King's nod.

"Which room?" The King enquired curtly. Seating himself in a large leather armchair, he began to type out codes to gain access to the system.

"H-Six".

The King typed, the screen blinked black for a second, and then filled with warm light bouncing off polished white surfaces....and there she was.

She was sitting at the end of the long white bed, legs crossed. The claret shift pooled in her lap, her knees bare on either side through the slits in the fabric. She looked serene, thoughtful, glossy black curls tumbling around her shoulders.

Felis' eyes glanced surreptitiously to the King. He was analysing her thoughtfully, sipping his whiskey. Suddenly his eyes narrowed slightly and he leaned forwards.

On screen, Lux's head had suddenly snapped around in the direction of the door. Had someone entered the room?

Gracefully, she unfolded first one leg, then the other and rose smoothly to standing. She appeared casual, arms crossed, leaning against the bed post slightly. Felis, however, was a trained fighter. With the camera above and slightly behind her, he could see the tension in her shoulders. She was not as calm as she appeared.

When Lana slid into the camera frame, both men drew in a quick breath.

Lana was talking. She was slinking towards Lux. Felis wished the surveillance cameras recorded sound. He knew Lana well enough, though, that her body language was unmistakable. This was a blatant show of female dominance. It made sense -- he thought, with the King's return, that Lana should attempt to put Lux in her place; mark her territory as it were.

So far, as Lana slowly advanced, talking, Lux simply stood and watched. But now he saw her straighten up, and her head moved slightly as she gave some response.

It was hard to make out Lana's face in detail, but her reaction was immediate. He watched all her muscles tense in anger, saw her raise her hand and step forward to slap Lux's face.

Almost too fast for the camera to follow, Lux had grasped Lana's wrist, blocking her strike. She smoothly stepped around the girl, twisting her arm and forcing her to the floor in one fluid movement. It was a skilled move perfectly executed, and both men watched as she leaned down to mutter something in Lana's ear. She let go abruptly, and Lana sprang up, her body language radiating anger, but also fear.

Lana stalked from the room with as much dignity as she could muster, spitting a parting shot over her shoulder as she left. As Felis watched Lux raised one hand in a sardonic wave.

The King laughed grimly, startling Felis, who realised with a start that he was sitting hunched tensely towards the screen, holding his breath. He let it out slowly and eased back, turning to his father.

Leon's cold face had lit up, almost gleefully. He was watching Lux's back as she retreated to her balcony with avid fascination. Finally, he pressed a key, and the screen died with an electronic bleep.

"Well now..." He murmured, almost contentedly.

"This is quite the welcome back."

Ethan felt his heart sink. As satisfying and, frankly, arousing as it had been to watch Lux cut Lana down to size, he had the distinct feeling that she had just signed up for far more than she bargained for. The King was thoughtfully swirling his drink, a cold half-smile on his lips. An old pre-War saying from a historic linguistics book in the library came suddenly to Felis' mind.

Out of the frying pan...

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