Chapter 2: Devious Plans
When Mat saw that Damien was sleeping with Sabine the next morning, he knew that Adrian had tried something the night before. The odd thing was that Adrian’s attempts genuinely seemed to upset Damien, but the only reason they would upset him was if he actually felt something for the man. Mat had seen him surrounded by women when they were off planet and he would have guessed that he was straight, but then again, Adrian often took straight lovers. It was bizarre thinking of Damien, a man he now considered his friend, being interested in Adrian, the man who had raised him. And it could be dangerous, too. Adrian’s affairs with straight men rarely ended well and he had been attacked before, but he had never tried to seduce anyone as strong or skilled as Damien before.
He started cooking breakfast, then left to check their course. They were in an abandoned part of the galaxy and there wasn’t much danger, and they were headed for one of the gates only Damien and Sabine could use. He would have preferred the gate nearest Vega but it was too difficult to get to, and there weren’t any nearer gates. Krosil would be watching all of the public gates so they were out of the question. He had reluctantly shown Damien their destination planet on the outskirts of Kreutzer, one of his bases where he could safely take troops to win back Vega. It was along the edge of the galaxy, far from either of his borders and the Unclaimed Quadrant at the center of the galaxy, so it should be safe. Now he was not only going to have to move his base on Esser that Damien and Sabine had crashed on, he would also have to move Mika. Well, maybe he could keep it. Damien would never be attacking near there, so there wasn’t too much threat, and who knew if Sabine would ever fight again.
His heart clenched at the thought of everything Bertran had done to her. She wasn’t able to become Eve and that meant she was completely unable to fight. Her throne was gone, her army was gone, and she had nothing left. What would she do with her life? And how long would he and Damien stay with her? He needed to get back to his army soon, and so did Damien. He was shocked the man had stayed away this long, to be honest. He had already checked in with his people after getting to Vega and asked about the border with Lohen. King Alexander of Lohen had proposed a ceasefire with his king, Edmond, and Edmond had agreed. It was temporary, but it would protect Lohen until Damien returned, and it was protecting Kreutzer in his absence. The border with Calib was apparently up in the air and when he had gotten in touch with Chris, his second-in-command, she had requested that he meet with her on Mika. He wasn’t sure why, but he needed to stay focused for the time being. He would help Adrian retake Vega, then return to his military. Right? And Damien would return to his. When would that be, though? Not for the next few days at least.
The gate was still over a day out and he hoped Adrian wouldn’t try anything else, because tensions were already high on this ship after Bertran’s death and they didn’t need more drama. They would be here one more night and then arrive in the morning. Would Adrian restrain himself? He slowed as he came back to the kitchen. Adrian and Damien were talking.
“Get away from me,” Damien said as Adrian tried to sidle up to him.
“Sorry, love,” he said. “You can’t pretend you don’t like this. Not after you let me stay so long last night.”
He cocked his head. So something had happened last night, but what? He doubted they had had sex, or else Damien would be a lot angrier, but something significant had gone down.
“That will never happen again,” Damien warned. His hand was inching towards his blade.
Adrian refused to budge. “You know, Damien, I could have done anything to you. Anything at all. You couldn’t have stopped me. But I didn’t. I didn’t do anything to you at all.”
Damien slammed him into the wall, drawing his sword in one swift motion and pressing it against his throat.
“If you ever touch me again, I will kill you.”
He hurried forward into the room, pulling Damien’s arm back. Blood ran from the cut in Adrian’s throat, but it wasn’t serious. Damien stormed off to Sabine’s room, but had the sense to close the door quietly. She was still asleep, after all.
He dug through some supplies until he found a first aid kit and then bandaged up Adrian’s throat. The wound was very minor and would heal in hours, but it had left a streak of blood on his outfit.
“You’re lucky, you know,” he said. “A little deeper and you’d be dead.”
Adrian smiled weakly, his eyes fixed on the door to Sabine’s room.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to try again?” he asked in astonishment.
“Of course,” Adrian said.
“The only reason he hasn’t killed you is because he doesn’t want to explain it to Sabine. If you really push him, though, he won’t hesitate.”
“No,” Adrian said with far more confidence than he felt was warranted. “He’s not going to kill me. He’s starting to figure out that he does like me. You’ll see, Mat. He’s never cared before, because he never considered me that way. But now, he’s trying to fight the fact that he is attracted to me. The fact that he attacked me just shows how much he’s worrying about that.”
“So if he kills you, it’ll mean he’s madly in love with you?” he asked sarcastically. “Just leave him alone.”
Adrian huffed. “Why do you care so much?”
He blushed. He thought of Sabine and his hope that they would be able to spend time together during these days trapped on the ship. He thought of the ring hanging around his neck, the ring that he would like to see on her finger. When he and Damien had gone off planet two days ago, he had taken a woman to a back room with the intent of sleeping with her. And he couldn’t. It had never happened before. When she started to undress, his stomach had dropped and all of the desire had left his body. She wasn’t Sabine. All he could think about was Sabine’s sparkling emerald eyes, always crinkled slightly with playful teasing, her luscious lips, naturally tinted a rosy red that warmed the hazelnut of her skin, her sharp cheekbones and pointed chin, and her curved nose that gave her a predatory look. Her strong face hadn’t seemed to fit her all at when she had long hair, though she had still been beyond beautiful, but now, with her chin-length hair angled to frame her face, she was perfect. Her body was perfect as well, though not the type he usually went for. Normally he was drawn to curves, but she was slender, her petite breasts high and firm on her body. She was a little too thin, but part of that was the stress she had been under; she wasn’t eating enough. She wasn’t his type, but she was exactly what he wanted.
He had stopped the woman and apologized. She had been confused and at first she thought it was because he had drunk too much and wasn’t feeling well, but he had stumbled to explain that waiting a while wouldn’t help and he just wasn’t interested. She was beyond offended and accused him of leading her on. He paid her what he would have paid for the night, apologized again, and asked her to leave. Alone, he had lain on the bed for several hours, dizzy from the drink and trying to figure out what had just happened, unable to get Sabine out of his mind. She was the only woman he wanted and he had never felt anything like it. He had collected Damien a few hours later, after the man finished his more successful conquest, and together they had staggered back to their ship.
He only wanted Sabine, and he wanted her to want him. He wanted the silver ring around his neck to be on her finger, for her to belong to him in some way, to show the world that he belonged to her. And if Adrian and Damien were fighting the whole time, then there wouldn’t be a chance to be alone. He would have to babysit the two men and keep them from killing each other.
A knowing smile lit Adrian’s face. “Ah, I see. You have feelings for the princess. Frankly, I’m surprised you’re still at that stage. Normally you would have already taken her. She’s pretty vulnerable in that regard.”
“Oh, I’ve had plenty of chances,” he said, thinking of the times Sabine had been in his arms, of the night when he had gone to her room with exactly that intention but left after only a few minutes, confused by the emotions surging in his heart when he looked at her. “I’m waiting until she’s older.”
In truth, he wasn’t waiting for that, he was just waiting for the perfect moment to approach her. He already had a plan, and a ring. He reached to his neck and fingered the ring that he wore next to his command medallion. It was his mother’s, and no one else deserved it as Sabine did. No one else had captured his heart before, and he longed to give Sabine the ring so that she was in some way his as well. He longed to be joined with her forever, instead of constantly fearing that she would turn from him to someone else.
“Wait too long, and she might go back to being an enemy,” Adrian warned. “She’s not much younger than you. You’ve been with women her age before.”
“Sabine’s different,” he pointed out, glaring as Adrian’s eyes twinkled in amusement. “I respect her; I’m not just going to take her at the first opportunity.”
“Well, I’ll sit back and watch while you and Damien are finally forced to acknowledge your true feelings,” Adrian said. “But if it makes you feel better, I really can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t respect her, except for Bertran.”
He snorted. “He’s an idiot. It wouldn’t have been that hard to earn her trust.”
“It was harder than you think,” Adrian said. “I was helping him, after all. It just seems like it would be easy because he’s already spent a year weakening her defenses. Of course, if he’d mentioned she was also Eve, I would have known to just give up,” he added. “But has it escaped your attention that he almost completely controls her thoughts and actions, he’s addicted her to a powerful drug supposed to create complete obedience, he’s done everything to cut her off from everything and everyone else in her life, but she’s still here? Out of his control by her own choice?”
“It’s hardly her choice,” he said. “She tried to get back plenty of times.”
“You didn’t see them together, Mat,” Adrian said slowly. “She was completely under his sway, she nearly didn’t kill him and gave in to his demands. But even with all that, she still did it.”
“I know,” he said. “I’m not sure I believe it, but I guess I never even met Bertran. I’ve just heard wonderful things about him from Sabine, and horrible things from Damien.”
“The only reason she did kill him,” Adrian said. “Well, she asked him if he loved her. He didn’t answer, so she killed him.”
He looked up, astonished. “Why the galaxy didn’t he just lie? She would have believed it.”
“He didn’t think she was worth the effort,” Adrian said. “But I might warn you that if you’re ever in that situation, make sure you answer correctly.”
He gulped and looked at the closed door cautiously. He hadn’t really thought through everything that would be involved in a relationship with Sabine. He just knew that he needed her in his life. She’d only transformed in front of him a couple of times, and she claimed to have no military abilities in her current body. However, she was still Eve, an extremely powerful warrior. He needed to accept all of her, the girl and the woman, the healer and the fighter. No matter how dangerous she was, though, it only made her more enticing to him. She was a deadly catch, but if he actually caught her, spirit and mind as well as body, he would have something truly wonderful.
Damien emerged from Sabine’s room just then and warily returned to the table. Breakfast was just about ready and Mat got three bowls out.
“Get four,” Damien said. “Sabine will be out shortly, unfortunately.”
Adrian raised an eyebrow in question, and Damien let out a humorless laugh.
“Despite your pathetic attempts to seduce me,” Damien said, “this is actually pretty quiet compared to how it’s going to be when she wakes up.”
Mat laughed as well. It was true, sadly. Adrian might excel at creating chaos and drama, especially when he chose to pursue someone like Damien, but he could never compare to Sabine’s unpredictability. At least Adrian was consistent in his goals. Sabine was like the shooting stars on his home planet – it was impossible to tell where they would appear or how long they would remain, but they sparkled with dazzling light while they shone. It was part of her personality that enchanted him and kept him on his toes, and while he loved her for it, it was also exhausting sometimes.
She emerged from the room a few minutes later, still too pale and thin to be healthy, but she walked over to the table and sat down without any problems. He wondered if he should suggest changing the gravity. All Kreutzer ships had fairly low gravity settings and Adrian was comfortable, but both Lohen and Wendigo used higher settings on their ships. Short-term changes in gravity were easy to adapt to but they had been in Kreutzer’s gravity for weeks now and he had never thought to change it. They were probably feeling it quite strongly by now. Gravity shifts required different muscles and while all three of them had been working out – with him and Damien competing – it was a strain to be in unfamiliar gravity for this long. He would suggest it later, he decided, and smiled at Sabine cautiously. Their destination, Mika, had standard G and that would help. She looked infinitely better than she had the previous day after he and Damien had rescued her, when she could barely remember anything and didn’t even know that she had killed Bertran. He silently cursed Bertran. Even in death, he was controlling her and it pained him to see her like this. He scooped most of the breakfast onto her plate before giving himself and the other men far smaller portions. She needed the food.
At first she looked dismayed by the amount of food piled in front of her, but she dug through all of it and began looking at Damien’s plate longingly.
“When did you last eat?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “But I’m still hungry.”
He reached out to ruffle her hair and she winced at the touch. Mat’s hands clenched into fists at the evidence of Bertran’s control. Not only had Bertran messed with her memories, he had made it impossible for her to be touched without experiencing pain. It was supremely cruel and the lack of touch would build slowly for her until her life became a lonely nightmare. He longed to break through and touch her, and he dreamed that his touch would be immune to whatever spell she was under, but the chances of that happening were slim to none. Bertran was thorough, and wouldn’t let anyone touch the woman he had marked as his.
“You shouldn’t eat a lot after eating nothing,” Damien said. “Just wait a few hours. And before you complain about being bored, I have something for you to do.”
“Too late,” she said. “I’m already bored.”
He glared at her and she backed down. “Fine. What do you want?”
He led her into the control room and Mat followed. There was a version of Alliances on the main monitor, but the map was different. He squinted. It couldn’t be. But it was. A map of Mammon and Wendigo had been altered just enough to make them unrecognizable unless one knew what to look for. A few key systems were blurred, the borders were changed slightly, but it was unquestionably Mammon and Wendigo. Sabine showed no recognition of the nations, but she did recognize the game.
“I can’t do this, Damien,” she said. “Not in this body.”
“Maybe you can’t do it instinctively, honey, but you’re been fighting for years. Some of that has to have rubbed off. Just try.”
She glanced at the board and shook her head, but she sat down in the command chair and pulled the console in front of her.
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Gold victory, assuming actual troops and not the game. I’ve been told it’s impossible, but I wanted to see if you could come up with something.”
She leaned forward and her eyes narrowed. She traced her hand along the monitor, and tapped one of the sections without many troops.
“I’d need one troop here, twenty scouts and a warship. Otherwise it is impossible.”
Damien entered the information in the computer and the troop appeared on the screen. She resumed her scan of the map, and glanced up at him.
“It isn’t impossible, but it depends a lot on who’s controlling that army,” and she waved at the massive red armies.
“What do you need to know?”
Mat glanced between Sabine and Damien. He was clearly trying to get her to plan her recovery of Wendigo without her knowledge, but would she be able to plan it if she knew who she was fighting against?
“Offensive or defensive,” she said, propping her chin in her hands. “Primarily, at least.”
He and Damien exchanged a look, trying to remember if she had said anything about Krosil or Mammon’s army.
“Defensive,” he suggested, and Damien nodded in agreement. Neither of them fought Krosil enough to have a good idea of his typical strategies, but he kept a close eye on him because there was always a chance they would meet in the Unclaimed Quadrant. Damien wasn’t in the Unclaimed Quadrant and probably never faced him.
A wicked smile crossed Damien’s face. “Just pretend it’s Mat.”
“Hey,” he protested. “I don’t need to see how easily she can beat me.”
“That’s a lot easier,” Sabine said, and he glowered. “Sorry, it is. When I attack here, you’ll respond by strengthening the troops in this area, which’ll get them out of here,” she pointed to an area with high troop concentrations. “Very easy. If it were Damien, he wouldn’t move troops at the attack, he would have them attack back, and probably follow. Which would spread them out here, accomplishing the same thing, but with more casualties.”
She shrugged. “And then it’s easy. And boring. I wouldn’t bother.”
He stared at the board. It still looked impossible to him, but she was dismissing it not only as easy but as boring. What kind of mind was able to plan like that? She was incredible, but if she didn’t share her plan, then she would never be able to retake her nation of Wendigo.
“How is it easy? Why don’t you show me,” Adrian said, and he and Damien both let out sighs. They couldn’t ask, because it would make them look like less competent commanders, but Adrian had no prestige to lose.
She began entering commands with a shrug, and soon the entire plan lay out before them. It was brilliant. Unlike anything he had ever seen. He copied the moves to his computer so they wouldn’t be lost and so that he could study them in private, because he had a lot to learn from them. She leaned back and studied the nations.
“Where is this?” she asked.
Mat and Damien flinched.
“This is Wendigo, isn’t it?” There was a soft thunder in her voice. “It won’t work,” she said. “He knows me too well.”
“Sabine,” Damien said. “I’ve known you for years now, I’ve seen you plan battles and do all sorts of random, insane things that always work, and I never would have guessed that. No matter how well he knows you, all he’ll be able to figure out is that your attack will be unpredictable. Besides, you’re not dealing with Bertran. You’re dealing with Krosil.”
She sighed and pushed the console away. After taking a deep breath, she fixed a smile on her face. “If that’s all you have for me to do, can I start complaining that I’m bored now?”