Eve of Eternity
Chapter 1: Princess Sabine
Sabine thrilled at the sense of disobedience as she waited for the ship to dock and her best friend to return home for leave. She had promised her new fiancé that she wouldn’t have anything to do with the military. She had promised never to speak to her best friend again. She had promised so many things that she was violating just by being here today that adrenaline surged through her veins as she tried to imagine what would happen if her fiancé ever found out.
He would be bitterly upset. He expected so many things from her and try as she might, she could never seem to live up to his standards. Even though she wanted to marry him, there were times when she stepped back and wondered what she saw in him at all. Even if she didn’t love him, however, they would still be married. He was king of the neighboring nation and she was the only princess in the solar system. Her father had warned her when she was still a child that her marriage would likely be arranged.
When her father told her that in her youth, she and her best friend Dilan had immediately started making escape plans, and even as she grew older, she and Dilan kept the plans up to date. Now that she was engaged to Bertran, though, she found that an arranged marriage wasn’t such a bad thing. When Dilan disembarked, she would need to convince him that she wanted the marriage and she didn’t need the escape plan.
As she waited with everyone else for the battleship to make the final landing, she surreptitiously scanned the crowd. She couldn’t let anyone know she was here or else word would get back to Bertran. There were no familiar faces, and it was unlikely anyone would recognize her in a dress with makeup and her hair worn in a stylish updo. Before Bertran, she always wore pants, never wore makeup, and let her hair hang in a loose ponytail to her knees. Unmarried women weren’t allowed to cut their hair and often she couldn’t wait to get married and get rid of the black locks. It had taken over an hour for her maids to put her hair up this morning, but it was worth the disguise.
The only time her hair didn’t bother her was when she transformed into her alter ego, Eve. Sabine bit her lip as a fierce longing to become Eve swept over her. No. Bertran had strictly forbidden it. He seemed to understand her transition in a way no one else did, not even her.
It had started after she turned thirteen. One day she was in the kitchen learning how to cook, since princesses were expected to know basic housekeeping skills. She had been overcome by a feeling of peace and the world became black. In the blackness she saw three versions of herself. The one in the middle was her; she recognized herself instantly. Her skin was a warm hazelnut and her eyes a deep green. Her features were sharp and she often worried that her nose was too large for her face and her chin too pointed, but everyone always said she was beautiful. Of course, they might have been lying just to flatter her, but she was never disappointed when she looked in the mirror. Just a little uncertain. The figure to the right was also her, but her skin was far lighter and her green eyes sparkled brilliantly. Sabine sensed danger from this figure, yet she was drawn to it. The figure to the left had much darker skin, almost like Sabine’s mother, and chocolate eyes. Serenity and peace emanated from this figure.
The figure to the left was so similar to her mother that it frightened her and she reached for the pale figure, and as soon as her hand touched the figure, she was back in the kitchen. She had changed; she had become the different figure and as she looked down at herself she saw that she was dressed in a skin-tight leather outfit with a gun and a sword at her waist and a variety of weapons along her arms and legs. She had looked up to see everyone in the kitchen screaming: the flames from the ovens were flaring white-hot and the fire leapt from the ovens to converge on her, scouring anyone in its path. When the fire reached her, it extinguished immediately, without harming her. But the others in the kitchen suffered severe burns.
When Sabine moved to help them, the world grew silent for a moment and then she was back in her usual body. No one could explain it, certainly not her. But Bertran seemed to know all about it and warned her about entering her other body. He said it could harm her, although she didn’t see how. She had been entering her other body for four years now in order to sneak off the planet and fight in battles, and she was such a successful fighter and planner that she had risen in the ranks to become the unofficial commander of her nation’s army under the pseudonym Eve.
But Bertran had forbidden her from doing anything related to the military and she had been good about obeying him for the past few months since they became engaged. A shiver went down her spine as she again wondered how he would react if he knew she were at the spaceport waiting for the battleship to dock. It was a good thing he spent so much time in his own nation or else she would never have any freedom.
A voice announced the imminent disembarkment of the soldiers and Sabine stood on her tiptoes to get a better view. Soldiers began pouring through the airlock, some still staggering in the heavier gravity, to be greeted by families and loved ones. The entire crowd surged in a chaotic mass as people tried to find their soldiers and give them a proper greeting without getting in everyone else’s way. Sabine waited. Dilan, as the ship’s captain, would be one of the last to leave. And indeed much of the welcoming platform was empty by the time she recognized his broad shoulders and tousled brown hair.
She raced up to him and for a second, his features creased and he looked at her in confusion. Then realization dawned on his face and a smile broke out across his face. He put his hands on her waist and twirled her around like a child. She laughed in delight.
“I didn’t expect to see you here,” he said. “Not after the way we said goodbye.”
Sabine tried to remember their goodbye. It had been a difficult day. Originally, Dilan was second-in-command of the Wendigo army and he was regularly stationed on Hotaru as part of the royal family’s guard. Sabine’s guard, really. But Bertran had decided that Dilan would be better as a captain of a region far from the planet where Sabine lived and on the border with Lohen, their most antagonistic neighbor. It made sense for the second-in-command to be there and honestly it was already where he spent every minute he wasn’t here, but he was no longer allowed to return to Hotaru except rare occasions like this and she couldn’t see him except the few times he was on leave. Normally she would have protested losing such a close friend, but Bertran had used some very convincing arguments. She couldn’t remember any of them, but they were so convincing she had agreed. She hadn’t seen him since that day. She remembered the farewell being difficult, but he hadn’t seemed upset or angry; if anything, he seemed resigned.
“Can’t a girl see her best friend?” she asked cheerfully, trying to break the sour mood that was forming around them.
“Of course,” he said.
“Let’s talk in private,” she said, taking his hand and leading him to her chambers. They spoke on the way: Sabine asking questions about how the military was doing, and Dilan filling her in on the news of the galaxy that Bertran tried to shield her from. Now that she was with Dilan, Bertran’s anger at her disobedience seemed a minor thing. After all, it wasn’t like she was changing into Eve or fighting in any battles. She was just talking.
When they reached her room, Dilan let out a whistle. She looked around to see what had caused it, but her room looked the same way it had looked since her engagement: dresses scattered about, makeup piled on her vanity, and dozens of curlers and hair products piled in front of the bathroom mirror just visible from the door.
“I thought this was a disguise,” Dilan said, gesturing to her outfit. “But I see you really have changed. I didn’t want to believe it,” he added in an undertone.
“I’m still the same,” she said, heading straight to a bouquet of white roses from Bertran and inhaling deeply. He gave her a fresh rose each time he visited her and their scent was intoxicating. She loved the feel of the petals on her lips as she breathed in the sweet but slightly acidic scent. When Bertran gave her each flower, he ran the petals over her lips and a feeling of warmth filled her body. Even this bouquet still had some of the same relaxing power.
“The Sabine I know would never wear a dress,” Dilan said.
Sabine scowled, recognizing the truth of his statement. She had always scorned the girls who were obsessed with being ladies and winning the hearts of men. She had never expected that one day she would want to capture the interest of a man herself. When she tried to ask the other girls for advice, they just laughed at her. The bridges had been burned; she was on her own to woo Bertran. Luckily, he didn’t need much wooing.
“Look, Dilan, there’s a reason I wanted to talk to you,” she said. “I’m marrying Bertran. It hasn’t been formally announced and we won’t actually be married until I’m at least twenty, but I want you to know that I want this marriage.”
“He’s bad for you, Sabine.”
Sabine glared. Dilan didn’t like Bertran, but it felt like he was attacking her decision-making skills when he insulted the man. She had her own reservations about Bertran, but overall he would be a good husband and she did have feelings for him. Sometimes when they kissed, she felt a spark of electricity and knew it was love, or something like it. She didn’t always feel it, just after he ran the flower petals over her lips. Frequently when he kissed her, she started giggling. He always looked so intent and focused that it ruined the moment for her, but something about the rose petals made everything all right in the world.
“It’s my decision, and I’ve made it. I want to marry him. I – care for him.”
She hesitated at the last line, almost saying she loved him. But something in her stopped herself from saying the words. She wasn’t ready for that yet, and she sensed that once she confessed her love for Bertran, something momentous would happen. Whether good or evil, she didn’t know, but she sensed it and knew it had something to do with her other body.
Maybe, she thought with a shiver of fear, maybe if she admitted her love she would no longer be able to change into Eve. That would be truly terrible. She would do anything to avoid that. Until she learned more about what the implications of loving Bertran were, she would keep her language neutral and her love hidden.
“I don’t know how good your judgment is right now, Sabine,” Dilan said. “I didn’t want to believe it about you, but now that I’ve seen how you’ve changed, there’s no way to ignore it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Treaties, signed in Eve’s name, giving up control of the Diosis system to Mammon. Allowing Mammon’s ships to pass freely through Wendigo’s systems in the Unclaimed Quadrant. All sorts of personnel changes, not just mine, that take power away from your most skilled people. I thought someone was forging your name, but now I wonder.”
“I would never do that. I would never give away control of our systems or let armed enemy ships into our territory.”
She spoke emphatically but she remembered Bertran coming to see her, giving her the flower and running the petals across her lips. The world grew warm and he gave her a piece of paper and asked her to sign it. She would do anything for him, anything, so she signed it without reading it or even checking to see what it was about. And that memory wasn’t a one-time occurrence, either. She remembered several times when Bertran had done this, but he had always assured her that the paper held nothing of value and she had believed him.
Still believed him, she thought firmly. Whatever Dilan was talking about had to be a lie. She knew Bertran, and he wouldn’t manipulate her like that. He was honest and fair, and besides, he had forbidden her from being Eve, so why would he encourage her to sign in Eve’s name? It did trouble her, though, that her memories of signing were so hazy and hard to pin down. She vaguely remembered the outlines but couldn’t remember the specifics. She had felt that way a lot lately; her memory was not what it used to be. She didn’t understand why.
“Sabine, are you absolutely sure you want to marry him?”
“Yes,” she snapped. “And you have no right to question me like this. You’re supposed to be my friend and support my decisions, not question every decision I make. You’re supposed to be happy for me. You’re my friend, aren’t you?”
Dilan grew very quiet and stared at the ground for a time before meeting her eyes.
“I am your friend, and more. You’ve been like a sister to me. And I want you to know that everything I do, I do because I love you.”
Sabine softened. “I love you, too, Dilan. You’ve always been a brother to me. That’s why I need your support now.”
He nodded once, then excused himself. She watched him go sadly, sensing that a line had been crossed and their relationship would never be the same.