by Renee Scattergood
“How brave are you feeling at the moment?”
I narrowed my eyes even though she couldn’t see me. She was scheming, which meant I would, no doubt, end up in trouble. “Why?”
“Can Kado hear you?”
“Okay, well that explains your short answers. What if we were to come and get you tonight? Do you think you could sneak out?”
I took a moment before answering and focused on keeping the excitement out of my voice. “It’s possible.”
“Sure.” Kado was almost always asleep by then, so that might work.
“Okay, see ya then.”
“Have fun on the camping trip,” I said, sounding as forlorn as possible just in case Kado was listening.
Jade giggled as she disconnected on her end. All I had to do now was to come up with a way to sneak out. He would hear me if I tried to go through the house. I could move like a ghost under ideal conditions, but nothing would stop the creaking and groaning of the old floorboards. Although, thanks to Kado’s training, leaving through the second story window in my bedroom shouldn’t be too difficult. Finally, all his lessons were proving useful for something.
That night I lay awake in bed waiting for Kado to go to sleep. I left the window open, even though it was a chilly night, so I wouldn’t have to risk having it squeak and wake Kado. The clock ticking in the hallway was a constant reminder of the passing of time. I was afraid he might stay up the entire night, until I heard his light padding as he came up the stairs. I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep in case he checked on me. His footsteps stopped outside my door. At first, he did nothing, so I thought he would head to bed, but then the door opened. The light that spilled into my room gleamed through my eyelids, tempting me to open them to see what he was doing. Then a floorboard creaked near my bed, reminding me I was supposed to be fooling him into believing I was asleep.
I struggled to keep my breathing even. The shadow hovering over me and blocking the light coming in from the hallway made me suspect Kado stood right next to me. The musky scent of his aftershave confirmed that fact. I flinched when his hand rested on my shoulder. I wasn’t expecting the touch.
“Nice try, Auren.”
I opened my eyes and tried to respond, but my voice wouldn’t work. I expected Kado to be angry, but he looked amused. After a moment, his face faded and everything went dark. It seemed like seconds had passed when I heard something hitting my window. I forced my eyes open, but I was so groggy it took me a moment to be able to keep them from closing again. Where was Kado? My room was dark, and the house was quiet. He must have gone to bed, but I didn’t remember him leaving.
I heard another clink from the window. I sat up, ignoring the chill as I walked over to see what was making the noise. Kado must have closed it, but he was already aware I was up to something, so I would need to be extremely quiet. I inched the window open as slowly as possible, and miraculously succeeded in not making a sound. Sighing in relief, I poked my head outside just in time to have something hard hit my forehead.
“Ow, damn it. Watch it!” I cursed wordlessly at my slip up, and listened to make sure I didn’t wake Kado. The house remained silent, so I tossed my backpack out the window into Deakan’s waiting arms. I grabbed a hair band off my dresser, so I could tie it back and keep it out of my face. The wind rocked the branch of the tree outside my window, but I watched the pattern of its movement. When I was sure I could make the jump without missing the limb, I climbed onto the window ledge and leaped. My feet landed on the branch, and I managed to keep my balance despite the bouncing. Jade let out a squeak. I would have rolled my eyes if I wasn’t trying to focus on getting to the ground in one piece. When it stopped shaking, I checked to see if anyone was below me and began my final swing toward the ground.
Deakan held up a hand in warning. “Wait, there’s a—”
It was too late. I had already let go of the branch. I braced for impact against the hard ground, but instead the ground gave way and my feet sank as though I had landed in quicksand.
“Mud puddle,” Deakan said.
My shoes sloshed as I stepped out of the slick and onto the hard cement. I sniffed. “Are you sure that’s mud?”
Deakan snickered. “It’s a good thing you’re not a girly-girl.”
I punched him in the gut. I didn’t think I hit him that hard, but he wrapped his arms around his middle and hunched over, taking a couple of deep breaths.
“Oops, sorry.” I covered my mouth with a hand to hide the smirk.
“So violent!” Deakan swung my backpack toward my head, but I caught it before it made contact. Regrettably, I didn’t anticipate the momentum of the strap and it smacked my face.
“Shh,” I said as I pointed toward Kado’s window.
I followed Deakan and Jade as they led the way to his father’s hydrocar. Deakan was tall, but nowhere near as tall as Kado. Still, he quite often used my head for an armrest. Jade looked like a midget next to him, but they had matching blond hair and pale skin. They looked like typical Appolians. He had parked his vehicle down the road in the shadow between the street lamps. It was a good thing, too, because he demanded I change out of my muddy clothing first, and I didn’t need a spotlight for that show.
I pulled out a clean set of track pants before throwing my backpack in the trunk. My shirt was free of mud, so at least I’d be spared having to expose my top half. I didn’t have another pair of shoes with me, so I’d have to go barefoot for a while. Deakan stood on the opposite side of the hydrocar facing away from us, while I stood between the opened front and rear doors. Jade held her sleeping bag over the gap, but even with the cover, dressing on the side of the road would be awkward. My only other option was to risk going back into the house, but I didn’t want to press my luck. It was a miracle I had made it out of the house without Kado knowing.
Before I took off my pants, I looked up and down the road. The houses were dark, so I hoped it was safe to assume the neighbors were all sleeping. I could imagine the look on Kado’s face if he heard from one of them I had exposed myself in public. I sat on the back seat of the hydrocar and removed the muddy shoes, socks and pants, placing them in the laundry bag I brought with me. Goosebumps formed on my legs before I had the chance to cover them with my clean ones, and I was already shivering.
It may have been early summer, but the nights were still cold this far north. In fact, there was still patches of snow on the ground where the larger mounds hadn’t quite melted, yet. We were lucky to even have summers. North of us, in the higher elevations, the snow covered the ground all year. That was one of the reasons my friends and I had decided to go to Luten Isle. It was as far south as we could go without crossing the border into the Galvadi Empire, the enemy of the Coalition for all intents and purposes. Luten Isle might still be a bit cool this time of year in the evenings, but at least it was warmer than Appolia, and during the day it might even be warm enough to swim.
I threw my laundry bag into the trunk with my backpack, and then climbed into the back seat of the hydrocar. Deakan and Jade sat up front, which didn’t bother me. I’d have plenty of room for stretching out. It was the most comfortable vehicle I had ever been in. A soft leather, with cushions so supple it was like floating on a cloud, covered the seats. I leaned toward the front to ogle the controls on the dashboard, which lit up more brightly than a star filled sky. The outside of the hydrocar was typical, with its boat meets car look, except it had no wheels. The newer models didn’t need them because they employed a new technology that used the planets magnetic field to make the vehicles seem to just float in the air. It was like trying to push two magnets with the same polarization toward each other.
“How did you talk your dad into letting you take this?” I asked in wonder. His dad coveted his possessions, and I never imagined he’d let Deakan drive his hydrocar, much less leave Appolia with it.
“I promised to go to the Appolian Institute of Science and Technology. He wants me to go to officer school like my older brother instead of enlisting in the army. Something about there being more prestige as an officer.”
“Wow, you? An officer? What happened to being a big time killing machine?”
“I can still be a killing machine.”
“Science and technology,” Jade pointed out.
“Yeah, you’ll probably end up in a lab somewhere.”
Deakan tapped a few buttons on a control panel on the steering column and the hydrocar started gliding down the road. It even had auto drive. I was instantly jealous. Why couldn’t Kado buy something like this? His hydrocar was ancient, although in this case it might work in our favor. It had wheels, and he had to switch from land to water mode manually, which made the process of entering and leaving the water much slower. Even if he did follow us, he’d have a hard time keeping up once we left the island.
Deakan turned in his seat so he was facing both Jade and me. “Whatever. Officers have combat training too. So, what took you so long, Auren?”
“How long were you waiting for me?”
“About two hours,” Jade said.
“Damn, I’m sorry. Kado came into the room, and he knew I was up to something. I must have fallen asleep while waiting for him to leave.”
“When’s he gonna give you a break? Even my dad thinks he’s overbearing, and that’s saying something,” Deakan said.
“Why don’t you just run away from home and start a new life somewhere else?” Jade suggested.
I shrugged. “It’s complicated.”
“What’s so complicated?” Deakan asked.
I pulled a lock of my dark hair into my mouth and started chewing. Part of me longed for that kind of freedom, but it felt wrong. Despite Kado’s emotional distance and lack of affection, I knew he cared about me. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have heeded my father’s dying wish to raise me, and he wouldn’t be taking the time to teach me all he knows. Kado never told me how my father died, but I was aware that he had given his life so I could live. If I ran away I would be tarnishing my father’s memory, and betraying the man who has dedicated himself to raising another man’s child. I couldn’t bring myself to do that, but I didn’t know how to explain my feelings to my friends.