“Ah, is that it?” Kemala asked excitedly.
We were standing on the deck of the airship. A foggy city appeared in the distance. The thing that stood out the most was the massive islands floating above it. Large chains tethered the islands to the city as if they were dogs on a leash ready to escape. In truth, those chains were mostly elevators which moved people and resources to and from the islands. As for the architecture, the city didn’t look quite modern. Although there were streets, lights, and vehicles, the buildings didn’t reach the heights of skyscrapers in my old world.
This was probably a good thing, because other than the flying islands, skyscrapers would have impeded the innumerable airships flying over the city. This world lacked the architectural engineering of my old world, but that didn’t make it any less awe-inspiring. Complex magical algorithms powered the city and allowed for things that were unimaginable in my old world.
This was completely different from the feeling of Matahari. In Matahari, I felt like it was another country, but if I didn’t look too closely at the population of mostly women, I could even think it was a country from earth. Mataharins didn’t practice magical engineering nearly at the scope of Amaryllis. When I asked Mother about it, her answer was that things like flying islands seemed wasteful. As for hover cars, the infrastructure was built to support walking where you needed to be. Hover cars were reservered for the ultra rich and did not fill the city streets. This was why we moved about the city in the floating palanquin.
I nodded. “This is Amaryllis.”
My eyes instinctively floated to an area outside of the city. I really hadn’t orientated myself, but based on where the floating islands sat, I believed I was looking at the area that contained my old mansion. Deep nostalgic feelings began to flood through me. I had finally returned home.
“It’s really muggy.” Mom sniffed, crossing her arms in front of her, “And look how drab this city is.”
Lyra’s lips tightened, but she didn’t say anything. It wasn’t unexpected that that woman would look down on anything that wasn’t her own. As for me, perhaps it was my forced association with that country as the current prince, but I at least understood what she meant. Amaryllis was a foggy place full of browns and greys. I often equated it to an industrial age in London. In comparison, the dress and nature of Matahari were brighter, more colorful, and much more tropical, perhaps a city that might compare would be Honolulu. Still, to me, this city looked beautiful.
I took in a deep breath, feeling the familiar damp air. Charlie appeared at my side. She had put her cat mask back on her face. She similarly looked out over the foggy city, took in a deep breath, and then smiled.
“You missed it?” I asked.
“Mmm…” She nodded. “But, this really isn’t home.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
She nodded. “Home is by your side.”
“Smooth, real smooth.”
I suddenly felt my other hand being grabbed. I glanced to my left to see Lyra standing there now. She looked away with a blush on her cheeks.
“Y-you’re my home too…” She said, but as she spoke her words drifted off quietly.
“What was that?” I asked.
“I-I’m just saying… that my heart is with you. So… home… that is… I mean, my home is you… ah…”
“Lyra, I have no clue what you’re talking about.”
Her blush grew. “She… ah… what she said…”
“What did I say?” Charlie touched her head, a confused look on her face. “Husband? Is this girl an idiot?”
“Y-you…” Lyra’s face turned angry. “Who’s an idiot!”
Charlie leaned closer to me and whispered loudly enough that Lyra could easily hear her and there was no point in leaning. “Husband should pick concubines with more than just boobs, or your kids will be dumb.”
I let out a cough. “Charlie… you shouldn’t say things like-“
“You wish you had boobs like these!” Lyra said, puffing out her chest. “You’re just a little girl! You probably don’t even know what a period is, let alone make a baby! I’ll have you know, I’m pregnant!”
Charlie lowered her head, her playful expression disappearing. “Y-you’re right…”
“I-I am?” Lyra straightened her back defiantly. “I mean, I am!”
“I’m just… a useless child!” Charlie shook. “I’m too young to even do such things. I’m useless.”
“Geh! That’s not what I’m saying!” Lyra began to desperately wave her hands.
Charlie clung desperately to me. “W-will… husband… throw me away?”
“Eh!” Lyra was in full panic now. “That’s not- I wasn’t-“
“Lyra…” I shook my head. “To think you’d bully a child like this.”
“B-b-bully?” Lyra’s eyes widened, “W-wait… it’s an act! She’s definitely acting!”
I picked up Charlie and patted her. “It’s okay, Charlie.”
“Husband!” She bawled into my shoulder. “Please… even though I can’t make babies, I’ll definitely be able to satisfy you.”
“Ah… not necessary for now. Let’s just go…”
“She’s faking it!” Lyra cried, following behind. “Ah! She just stuck her tongue out at me! Cl-Caleb… Caleb! I’m not like that! Please believe me!”
We left the main deck and headed down, and thankfully Lyra didn’t follow. After we were all alone, I gave Charlie’s behind a swat.
“You shouldn’t tease Lyra like that. She’s a girl who really cares about how she’s seen by others.”
“Ah?” Charlie scrunched up her face. “But hubby was also teasing her!”
“That’s because when she thinks she’s done bad, she always tries to make it up to me with her body. Tonight, she’ll probably come slipping into my room and…” I looked to see Charlie looking at me interestedly and immediately changed the subject. “Cough… actually, I pulled you off the deck because I wanted to speak with you before we landed.”
“Ah? Hubby, what is it? You can always tell me anything… or do anything!”
I swatted her bottom again. She remained silent. I tightened my lips.
“Not that it’s any of my business, but when I slapped your bottom, you were silent. I mean, I’m not trying to hurt you, but saying nothing seems off to me.”
I was worried a bit when it came to Charlie. I knew that she must have a lot of pain, but she hides it very well. The kitty mask she wore may not be hiding a burn, but it was definitely hiding some kind of pain. I had spent the remainder of the trip trying to help her, but I feared it amounted anywhere. She had too many defensive mechanisms.
It was things like slapping her bottom that reminded me of this the most. It wasn’t like I was trying to hurt her, but she never complained nor showed her pain. Every response she gave was flirtatious or humorous. It was the only way she could deal with it. She was oddly adult, but also more fragile than most children.
Charlie looked at me for a moment and then shrugged. “Mom said that if you make encouraging noises when men strike your bottom, they’ll do it more.”
“Ah… that’s probably true… sorry.”
“It’s fine. I can take it.”
I finally put Charlie down and the kneeled to the ground. “Charlie, in the next day or two after we land, Lyra is going to go. I would like you to go with her.”
A sudden flash of fear appeared in her eyes and she grabbed my sleeve. “Y-you’re leaving?”
I smiled. “For a time. I can’t tell you why, but things might be a little dangerous, so I’m going to work things out, okay?”
Charlie shook her head. “No! You absolutely can’t leave!”
She suddenly grabbed on to me, holding me tightly. I frowned, patting her head.
“Lyra will keep you safe. I simply have to…”
“No! You can’t.”
“You’ll leave me!” She suddenly started crying again, and for the first time I believed it wasn’t an act. “You’ll leave me just like my parents did. You’ll leave me just like before.”
“I came back, didn’t I-“
She shook her head. “You didn’t… you didn’t come back… so please… don’t leave, don’t leave me again.”
It was at that moment that it truly dawned on me. I had suspected this was the case before, but I had convinced myself that it didn’t matter. For a time, I had thought she had actually recognized me as Clyburn, but I quickly began to realize that this wasn’t the case at all. For starters, she had never called me by that name, or Caleb for that matter. I was simply “hubby”.
As I began to realize the truth, I only grew sad. The truth was never clearer than it was right now. Any man she could cling to was “hubby”. She selected me because I gave her attention. If I left, and a new guy was to show up, he would become hubby and receive the same attention that she currently showered on me. Her husband was just a construct she built to cope with her loss. If anyone could be him, then she never had to face losing him.
I had misunderstood our conversation from before. It wasn’t that she recognized me. Rather, it was that she decided I would be her next husband. As soon as I decided to care for her, she moved all the affection she had on to me. It wasn’t the first time either. She had clung to me as Clyburn in just the same manner, pushing forward with her aggressive narrative.
I had known even before the airship crash that Charlie was emotionally fragile. It was why I often catered to her whims during the flight. Clyburn’s death and her being stuck in a strange place by herself hadn’t helped that at all. She said she wore the mask because it was cute. I think she wore the mask because it was her way of keeping herself aloof and distant from this world.
By trying to part with her, I had cracked these feelings wide open. She was now openly bawling as she held on to me tightly. In her mind, Clyburn had left and never returned. He had died, just like her parents had died. Of course, she had time to build her defenses back up after my death, but something about her new source of strength suddenly saying he had to leave and do something dangerous caused her to break.
I was clueless about what to say in this situation. I didn’t have enough history with this girl that I could convince her I was Clyburn. In fact, compared to the usually optimistic, naïve, and hopeful Lyra, this cynical and realistic child would be far more difficult to convince. In the end, I could only pat her head. Nevertheless, I was firm was my plans. I couldn’t keep her with me. Whether I managed to pull away from the delegation or ended up returning to Matahari, it’d be some time before I was back in my normal body.
I eventually left Charlie on my bed with a blanket over her. She must have been tired from crying, as she quickly fell asleep. By the time I returned to the deck, we were in the process of landing. There was a flying island with a massive man-made lake in the middle. That was our target. From what I understood, this entire island was an ambassador’s area. Much like the campus where I went to the Academy, this island was a small town isolated from the rest of the city.
There were at least twenty different fenced buildings each given to a different delegation. There was a small block full of buildings for casual shopping. Finally, there was the main building with a hall which could house a massive meeting of politicians. This island was where I would be staying during my visit to Amaryllis. Trips off the island would require day passes which involved transparent reporting. Simply put, if I tried to leave, I would be watched and guarded every step of the way.
Lyra was a citizen though, and it might be possible for her to leave the island and remain off of it. It’d be more difficult, but I hoped she could smuggle Charlie past this barrier too. By all accounts, Charlie was a citizen too. They had the pale skin of someone from Amaryllis, and could probably pass by security without being scrutinized.
The airship landed with a splash. It wasn’t bad, as the pilot was skilled and took precautions. The spray didn’t even make it to the deck. Many of the girls on board were out on the deck still watching the landing. Terah was there with her arms crossed. Only about ten feet away was the man who was Caleb’s grandfather. Despite being political enemies, he showed a unified front, standing next Davont.
I tensed slightly, but I realized whatever plans that Terah had formed, she probably wouldn’t launch them while we were landing at the moment. As I was looking at Terah, I noticed a pair of eyes on me. I turned to see Veronika watching me with a smile on her face and a hand on her belly. I smiled back.
“Veronika, so, how was the ride?”
She giggled. “Daddy, it was truly exhilarating.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed the journey, I was a little worried about bringing you, but it seems like it is fi-“
“Is there some reason you should no have brought this woman?” A voice came from behind Veronika.
Grandfather put his hand down on her shoulder. Veronika stiffened at the touch, and honestly, so did I a little bit. I supposed I had no reason to have a problem with anything he was doing, but I still didn’t like that he was touching her. He had threatened to impregnate every woman in my harem if I didn’t do it myself, and that left me with a very bad impression of the man.
“Ah… nothing, it’s just, we found out she was pregnant.” I said.
“Oh?’ Only then did Grandfather look down at her as if she mattered. “So, you will be having one of my grandchildren? Since she is pregnant, why did you bring her?”
The second question was directed at me. While Veronika tried to give him a tight-lipped smile, I was receiving his glare.
“Ah… Grandfather, we only found out the other day. You told me to bring everyone, so she was already packed to go. I didn’t want to break her heart after getting her excited by this trip.”
This was the excuse I had created to alleviate Grandpa’s questions. However, this excuse would only work so well, especially as he learned that more and more of the women were actually pregnant. Hopefully by then, his excitement would be great enough that he wouldn’t mind I had brought everyone. Of course, I had my own reasons for bringing everyone. If I didn’t bring every girl, how else could I excuse bringing Lyra?
“Hmm…” Was the only sound that he made indicating he cared, immediately changing the conversation to something more immediate. “The talks will begin tomorrow. You will come with me in the morning and sit through them. There will be various banquets throughout the week. You will also be required to go to those. You may bring one female attendant to each. Otherwise, do as you will. As long as you do not embarrass Matahari, I don’t care. However, be mindful of our previous discussion, a single pregnant child is barely a start.”
He squeezed Veronika’s shoulder until her forehead creased and then turned around and walked back to the advisors he had brought with him. At that point, the ship had finished docking and a landing platform was raised up to the deck. Various greeters flooded on to the boat. They seemed to ignore me and my women but specifically flocked towards the two committee members that represented our presence during this talk.
It looked like grandfather had nothing else planned for me other than to go to the actual meetings. Well, this was all meant for the experience anyway. I wasn’t actually going to be involved in the talks. I let out a long sigh. This was going to be a long, stressful week.
“Well, we made it back home.” Brooke approached my side, standing at the ready.
“That we did. Yet, I’ve never felt farther.” I shivered, looking out over the floating island. “Brooke, we need to start coming up with plans.”
“Plans?” Brooke raised an eyebrow. “You mean, like escape plans?”
“If I can get you, Lyra, and Charlie off this island and to the mansion, I’d feel infinitely better.”
“At the very least, I’ll look on getting a note over to the Bonholdt household,” Brooke spoke uncertainly.
“Don’t tell them I’m here, or alive. In fact, don’t mention me at all…”
Brooke coughed. “You’re making it very difficult to receive help without even mentioning your existence.”
“I know…” I lowered my head. “I just can’t put anyone else at risk. I could already imagine Hannah sneaking up to the island. Oh, gods… then there is Mako and Rose. Damn, I miss them all.”
“As much as you want to know they are alright, I’m sure they want to know about you as well.”
“And how do you want to tell them? Hey, I know you guys might have heard I’m dead, but actually, I’m in the body of a poisoned prince? Shall we reveal I’m the chosen one too?”
“I don’t know…” Brooke shook her head. “Let’s focus on what is important for now. I’ll find a way to establish contact with them, and see if there is a way, I can get off the island. As for you, just try to stay safe.”
“We’re in one of the highest security locations of the city during an extremely important world changing event. How dangerous could it be?”
I found that I wasn’t really saying those words for her. I was saying those words for myself. Something about this trip left me worried. Even if there wasn’t an assassination being planned, something about the atmosphere just left me uneasy. Let’s just hope I was wrong.