She decided to wear the ivory dress to the war.
Aderyn Medani turned in the projector, seeing how the dress looked from the back. Her image moved and six copies of herself surrounded her, all wearing the dress. Yes, the ivory one is perfect. It would please her mother, as she would not be wearing the House colors, yet would not be far from it. It befit her station as a Null-Blooded.
“The ivory,” she said to the floating image behind her. The keep’s artificial intelligence Icon nodded its head and the holographic dresser blinked off. She stepped off the projector and covered her nakedness with a silk sheet while the AI’s robots came in to collect her clothing.
Her bed called to her, but Aderyn refused to lay back down. If she did, she would fall asleep and ruin the styling in her hair. She’d already set it, an Etherlock holding the intricate weaves of red strands together at the back of her head. Her hair formed the sigil of her House, a crescent moon shot through with a sword. The Etherlock would hold it in place, suspended by an Ether projection. If she was a full Blooded, she wouldn’t need the lock. She could power the device herself, like everyone else in her family could.
Instead, she went to the window and gazed out from her family’s Starkeep. Below, the vast green world of Meda glistened with morning sun rises. Lucky Groundlings, she thought. Sunrises are beautiful down there.
Her dresser changed and the dress was unloaded by the AI’s robotic arms. With their help, she slid into it. The silk and linen was stiff in the bust but open in the back. It would be shameful for her to leave her back open, since she was not a full Blooded and bore no Ether mark, so she chose a thin, translucent shawl to cover it. Better that then to go with a closed-back dress. That would suggest she hid her condition openly. The shawl would let everyone know she was a Null but was respectful enough to cover it.
“Maybe next year,” she muttered as the cold, metal fingers cinched the corset tight.
“Pardon, miss?” the AI’s voice said over the speakers.
“Nothing. Just musing.”
She liked to think of the AI’s voice as female. It made her more human. Sometimes she wished she had a human maid, perhaps a Groundling girl could do it? They wouldn’t waste a full Blooded woman on someone like her. Wouldn’t that be a scandal? Father would have me spaced! The thought reminded her that soon, she would be seventeen. Seventeen and a Null in a family rising in power. Null-blooded girls were known to have accidents if they did not Spark by seventeen, or eighteen. Father wouldn’t do that. He would exile me perhaps instead. Or send me to be a handmaid for a lesser family or… or…
“Best not to dwell on it,” she said aloud, as if her own voice gave her comfort. “Right?”
“Yes, miss,” the AI said.
Once in the dress, she gathered her shawl and slipped her feet into heeled shoes. She hated them, always pinching her toes, but they were the fashion for ladies to wear to wars, so she wiggled into them as best she could and set off down the corridor.
Her footfalls were muffled by thick carpeting. The walls of the Starkeep held holo images of family members, past and present. They also depicted great naval battles they had taken part in. Giant warships fought it out in the black of space, the moving images caught in the projectors. She saw one of her brother Caden in his armor, riding down a Groundling resistance force on his Steed. Her brother was fond of that machine, flying over the battlefield with his Etherblade slashing.
“Your mother will be expecting you first, Miss. In the sitting room.” The AI’s voice was monotone and metallic, another reason Aderyn wished for a human servant. At least they could have inflection in their voice. Then she could tell if her mother was angry, or lonely. Her brothers Caden and Redrik would be with father already and her older sister Emisia had married the year before.
She walked the short way to the sitting room and found her mother studying the projection of a map. She had her back to them, the map spinning slowly in the center of the room. Her mother wore a gown of rich white velvet and silk, faint yellow slashes appearing whenever she moved the folds. Her hair was even more ornate than Aderyn’s, the moon shape larger than her own head. Ether glowed brightly on her lock, a clear contrast to the low, dull pulsing of her imitation one. Her parents were powerful Blooded, their Sparks bright and full of power. Few could boast a White Spark, enough Ether to power an entire destroyer starship, and both her brothers inherited it.
Aderyn waited patiently, doing her best not to make a sound. If her mother was concentrating, she would not want to be disturbed. She noticed that there were colored lines moving through the map, thick arrows in white and green curving across an open field into lines of red and orange. Battle lines, she thought.
Several moments passed until Lyana Medani turned from the projection map to regard her. Aderyn stiffened her back, hands clasped neatly at her waist. She tried to keep her neck straight, chin tilted slightly up. Medani was a martial House, and discipline was valued almost as much as strength. “Weakness makes the foundation crumble,” her father preached.
“Daughter,” her mother said. “I trust you did not Spark this morning? No, I suppose not. We would have been alerted. Shame.” Aderyn felt her cheeks flush and she looked down. Then, once more remembering her father’s words, raised them again. Don’t feel ashamed, it’s not your fault. It isn’t… right? How could she know? What made a Spark occur? Good breeding, of course, but what made it happen? Both her brothers Sparked at fourteen.
“Look up straight girl, there you are. Is that what you are wearing to the war? No matter, no one will pay you much attention. Really, finding you a husband will be hard, perhaps impossible. You will likely have to marry down. No one wants a Null in the family.” Her mother fussed with the silk around Aderyn’s collar, tightening the laces and hoisting up her corset to give her bust some lift. “At least you’re not ugly,” her mother sighed. “Come.”