“It’s all right,” Resh said. “They just want to ask you a few questions.”
It took all the calm she had left to step into the room and stand before them. Each of them looked as old as the Governess, if not older. They all regarded her like she had, with suspicion and distrust.
“Young lady,” said the one in the center, a woman with gray hair and a rasping voice. “Tell us who you are.”
Aderyn stood there, frozen in fear and uncertainty while they looked on, cold and impassive until Resh nudged her. She gave a short start and, not knowing what else to do, dropped into curtsy. It was a mistake but she realized it too late. The action was absurd in the jumpsuit and these people did not take kindly to being greeted like nobles.
“Oh get up,” the woman said with a snort. “We are no Revnari slavers, girl! Now tell us who you are!”
“Aderyn,” she said, knowing she’d given the same name to Resh already. That was a mistake, but one she couldn’t take back now. I should have made up a name then! Something they wouldn’t know!
“Do you have a family, a clan name perhaps?”
Groundlings often had a second name, much like a House name, only it was shared by members of direct lineage, not simply those given title and birthright. She thought quickly and shook her head. “No, they… they just called me Aderyn. My mother died,” she said, deciding the lie was easier if it was true. Her breath caught then, as if saying the words out loud made them so much more powerful. She was dead. Her brothers were dead. Kendrick, the only man aside from Ian to show her any kindness. Dead.
“It’s all right,” the woman said, her voice softer now. Aderyn realized she was crying, her hands held to her mouth as she struggled to breath through great, gasping sobs. She sank to her knees, all the exhaustion and anguish and shock from the past day hitting her all at once. “I’m sorry!” she said, shouting to her mother, her brother, the Queen, everyone, but only the groundlings heard.
“Don’t apologize,” one of the men said. “Resh, help her, be a good lad.”
He did and after a time she was felt something like control take hold. She stood on her own then and, carefully, told them a lie. Aderyn was fairly good at lies, it was how she escaped the worst of Caden’s attentions. Her oldest brother found her status as a Null disgusting, so she often wove stories that led him astray. She was never where he believed her to be. It saved her.
“My mother was brought in to serve the Lady Erisan on Hyperia but she was so pretty, red hair being so rare on Hyperia, that Lady Hyperion’s daughter took notice of her. She took her on as a personal maid and my father only saw her a few times a year. I wasn’t born on the planet, but on the Hyperion’s starkeep. Lord Ian, who was brother to my mother’s lady, always treated me well.”
Aderyn saw them shift uncomfortably in their seats and she added, perhaps too quickly, “But still, it was a gilded cage. Too pretty. I never got to go anywhere, just my little room and the cubbies for fetching wine.”
For a time, no one said anything and Aderyn began to sweat. The fear she’d held in check began again, starting in slow, anxious tremors in her stomach and grew until she felt bile in her throat. The five conversed quietly and she lowered her head, eyes shut.
“They always do this,” Resh said, whispering as he came to stand beside her. “It’s okay.”
She glanced at him and he offered one of those lopsided smiles again. To her horror, she found the look… endearing. She looked away quickly and concentrated on the toes of her boots. He killed your mother and the Queen. Only was that really true? Had he personally killed them or just been there? Now I’m justifying it. Stop.
They turned toward her slowly but as they did, they all rose. The woman who had shown her such compassion just minutes before looked left and then right before indicating Aderyn. “Take her.”
The two young men with weapons were on her in an instant. Giving a shout of protest, Aderyn struggled but they were too strong. They forced her to her knees with a blow to the back of her knees.
“Stop it!” Resh said. “I promised we’d help her!”
“There’s too much risk, I’m afraid,” the woman said and Aderyn heard no more as they dragged her from the room.
“Aderyn! It’ll be okay!” Resh said. She heard him fighting to come after her, then the sound of an argument and a door shutting with a loud clang. She was marched through a short hallway, then cycled through an airlock before being shoved into a small room. She turned as they released her, intending to bolt despite the futility of it. A door slammed in her face and she pounded on it, screaming to be let out. Only silence answered her.
As she bloodied her knuckles and screamed out one last lungful of fetid, planet-side air, Aderyn slumped to the hard, metal floor and pulled her knees to her chest. What happened? Did they see through her lie? Frustration replaced fear as she sat there, the small room illuminated only by a single light on the ceiling. She stood and paced before finally sitting on the cot, the only piece of furniture in the room besides a protrusion in the wall that Aderyn took for a toilet.
Well, she thought, calming herself with a deep, painful breath. As long as you don’t panic, you’ll find a way out of this. She covered her face with her hands, shutting her eyes and let all thought, all feeling drain from her like water down a drain. If living with her mother did nothing else, it taught her how to be calm in the middle of tense situations. Nearly every interaction with her mother was tense.
So she waited.