fb

Tempted by the Traitor Prince: Chapter Three

Vokal

 “Are you out of your mind?” Tirus spat at Vokal.

The brothers had drifted into a corner of the room, away from both the Enforcers and their mates.

“Probably,” Vokal answered. His eyes drifted back to where Nettie sat, calmly stroking an agitated looking black and white cat.

For all the smoothing of its fluffy fur, it didn’t seem to be enjoying it.

“It’s not like I stole the lady away,” Vokal added, only mildly amused to see Tirus’s flinch as the bolt struck home. “Instead, she came and fetched me. What was I supposed to do? Leave her in the forest? Let her pilot herself back?”

“We are grateful that you have returned Nettie unharmed,” Nic said.

The massive black hulk of the commander of the Enforcers moved far more quietly than any being of that size should be able to.

Vokal fought to keep his face still, to keep his lip from curling.

He missed his mask.

It had seemed stupid at the time to keep his face covered whenever around outsiders, but now he was beginning to see his grandfather’s wisdom.

“She seems perfectly capable of taking care of herself,” was his only remark.

This was getting ridiculous.

The rest of the Enforcers joined what had been a family discussion, even if not a particularly pleasant one.

Vokal leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

“So, you have no information other than a possible attack, at some point in the unknown future, on a world that is defenseless. And would provide a flashpoint for the outbreak of hostilities.”

He shaped his lips into the lazy smile he knew irritated his brother the most.

“And besides that, someone I like lives there.”

He glanced around the semicircle of faces arrayed against him.

“Does that sum it up?”

“We’ll crack that file,” Tirus insisted. “Even if we do have to work together, we will find out Nyseth’s plans and stop them.”

“But what are you going to do in the meantime?” Vokal pressed. “You may not like it, but the lady is correct. We need to get eyes on the ground, see the situation.”

The tallest of the Enforcers, dark gold hair forming a mane around his face, snorted. “She doesn’t know anything about it,” he argued. “There’s no way any of us could get there without attracting just the sort of attention we don’t want.”

“I could take one of the smaller craft, find an inconspicuous place to land and see what I can find,” another one of them offered.

Jormoi, that was his name, Vokal remembered from overheard conversations the last time he’d been at the tower.

He didn’t seem like a bad sort.

He glanced at the giant, Gavin, again. Unlike some.

“And who’s going to tell you what’s normal and what’s not once you’re on the ground?” Vokal said. “Should I send a note with you, ask Getta to fill you in on everything? Or were you planning to pose as one of her kin?”

The scout stuck his chin out stubbornly. “You might not believe it, but I am actually fairly good at my job. Even without a letter of introduction.”

“Maybe I’ll go with you  keep you company,” Vokal said, the sudden resolution surprising no one in the group more than himself.

Dammit, he’d sworn to stay out of Imperial affairs. Let the whole damn Empire burn for all he cared.

A thin edge of guilt wormed its way through the pit of his stomach.

If something did happen, did set the war alight again in all its fury and left an opening for this shadowy third-party to exploit, could he forgive himself for standing by?

And more importantly, if the colonists, if Getta were injured or even killed in the process, could he live with himself?

“Don’t look so surprised,” he snapped at Tirus’s slack-jawed expression.

“I’m only doing it because I’m concerned about Getta. War, or peace, doesn’t mean a thing to me, not anymore.”

His brother’s eyebrows rose even as the Enforcers’ brows settled into a uniform scowl.

“It’s not like you’re going to pass unnoticed, either,” said the one who Vokal mostly recognized from lying twitching in his stasis pod.

“Your soldiers have been seen often enough by the Alliance, but every Kuseonian there will know that one of the princes has come for a visit if you show your black-scaled face anywhere.”

Oh. That was a problem.

However, not an insoluble one.

“There is a solution,”

He shot a bitter smile at the group. “Not a particularly pleasant one, so some of you should be happy, at least.”

***

Vokal stood at the edge of the medical pod.

There was still time to say the hell with this. To go back to his clearing, his pile of stripped logs.

There were months before fall came again. He’d be able to build a house. Probably.

Even if he didn’t, there was no reason in the entire universe for him to climb into that pod.

But even though she was no longer near, he could still feel the touch of Nettie’s small hand on the scales of his arm, the pull of her gaze that drew him like iron to a magnet.

Vokal sighed. After a lifetime of doing whatever the hell he wanted, trying to do the right thing was a pain in the ass.

“We don’t know if it’s reversible,” Tirus argued, hands held carefully over the controls. Vokal looked at his brother, wondering.

That couldn’t be concern, could it?

“Matilde is going to be angry if something goes wrong,”

Ah. That made more sense.

“Tell my sister I’ll be fine,” Vokal said as he pulled off his vest, stripped out of his boots and pants, and climbed into the pod.

“Honestly, this is a much nicer regeneration chamber than the one you stuck me in before.”

“I think I liked you better when you were an asshole all the time,” Tirus said as his hands flew over the controls.

The lid slid over him, sealing him inside. “Sometimes I think I did too,” Vokal admitted.

With a hiss, gas seeped into the chamber, the freezing cold something he’d never gotten used to.

And now the pain. Somehow, he hadn’t expected this to hurt quite so much. He lay there, his eyes closed, imagining five more ways he could try to build his little house.

Maybe build the walls flat on the ground, then raise them? No, he’d need someone else to hold it still.

Perhaps…

His mind kept slipping to her face. The tiny smile that had broken through the mask as she glanced over her shoulder at him, waiting for him to catch up, to join her on the airsled.

Finally, the gas ebbed away, and the lid opened to show Tirus looming over him, eyebrows raised.

“It worked,” he said flatly. “I have no idea if I’ll be able to undo it, though.”

Vokal sat up, reached for the edge of the chamber, and froze.

No reason to be surprised.

He should’ve been expecting it, this was exactly what he’d asked for.

But his scales were now charcoal gray instead of midnight black.

He rotated his arm, wondering at the change.

Such a small thing, something he’d never stopped to think about.

The color of his scales and skin.

Such a simple thing to have marked him as part of the royal blood, set apart, different.

And with one simple procedure, he’d cut himself off from all of that and changed into a faceless warrior, like millions of others.

“Good. I’m not sure if I’d want to change back anyway,” he answered, shoving the small doubts into the back of his mind, then climbed out and redressed.

When they exited the medical bay, only the slight widening of Lorrik’s eyes betrayed his shock.

“We’ve readied the craft, Your Highness.”

“Not anymore,” Vokal said, waving his newly grayed skin before the lieutenant.

The man’s eyes narrowed. “I was not speaking to you.”

Apparently Vokal’s previous disastrous visit to Tirus’s tower hadn’t been forgiven or forgotten by everyone.

Fair enough.

He had nearly killed the man.

“Somehow, no one ever is,” he shrugged, then headed toward the elevator.

The long dining table had been set up as something of a war room, every map and scrap of information that either the Enforcers or Tirus had on Cigni gathered together.

“Cigni III was a mining colony of partithium originally,” Kennet began, flicking overlays across the globe that slowly spun before them. “Its resources had been exhausted a century ago, leaving it of comparatively little value to either side.”

“It’s not like anyone was going to pick a useful planet for this experiment, was it,” Vokal added.

With another flick of his fingers, the planet enlarged and zoomed in to show just one continent.

“From what I have been able to determine, the majority of the colonists are all in this region.” Kennet tapped the air, the image resolving to display broad swaths of green and tan, wiggles of blue marking the rivers that crossed the continent. Mountains curved around one side of a vast plain, thick forests cutting through the land in thick swathes.

“I am not familiar with any details of where your friend is residing, however,” he finished.

Vokal thought back and tried to remember the details Getta had mentioned in her letters.

“She must be near the main center of the colony,” he decided. “She’s mentioned going to a small town for midday meetings, but back again by evening. If the powers that be are having the colony work from the basics up, it’s unlikely that everyone would have their own air transport. Safer to assume she’s on foot, or possibly with the basic flitter.”

Tirus nodded and moved the area to a smaller region. “That narrows it down. What else?”

“Her nearest neighbor raises something, some sort of creature that he shaves for wool.”

“Something like our chatha?” one of the garrison women asked as she moved next to Kennet.

The analyst nodded. “It seems likely, Zuri.” He gestured to the map. “If you could choose anywhere, where would you put a small chatha farm?” She laughed and, to Vokal’s shock, reached up to tap the stonefaced warrior’s nose lightly.

“It’s not a farm. Unless this is some sort of creature the likes of which I’ve never heard of, chances are good they’re not growing them out of the ground.”

She turned her attention back to the map.

“Either of these areas looks good,” she said thoughtfully. “Easy access to water, not too dry, and the trees aren’t too thick around them. Of course,” she shrugged. “That’s assuming they need the same sort of terrain as our chatha.”

Nic nodded. “We can only go with the information we have, and attempt to draw reasonable conclusions.” He glanced at Vokal. “Anything else? Anything useful?”

Vokal decided that he really did not like that man.

But considering from what he understood, that the Rakian commander’s mate had been the one leading the efforts to heal Nettie’s eye, he would try to make an effort.

“She likes to watch the sunrise from her porch, she can see it coming up over the mountains, watch it spread over the town,” Vokal realized with a jolt.

“And you’d have to be far enough away from the mountains to appreciate it,” Nettie said softly from his side. She tapped the second of the areas that Zuri had indicated. “There. I think she’s there.”

“There’s supposed to be a communications blackout,” Nic grumbled. “Apparently it’s not as secure as we’d been told, if you’re getting regular correspondence from one of the colonists.”

Vokal shrugged. “When we were growing up, it was pretty hard to get anything past Getta. I can imagine that whoever was trying to keep her from sending a letter whenever she wanted to would have an equally difficult time.”

“Once you’re there, keep those letters flowing,” Tirus directed. “I’ll keep working on that encryption.”

“Good,” Vokal said. “We’re going to need every weapon we  can get.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to my Update List!