K.C. Berg/Book 1:In the Light of the Passing
Darkness was already settling as Nadeena hurried through the large, stone gate in front of her home. The massive building at the end of the walk stood silent as she rushed toward it—as though muted by the semi-darkness. Its shadow, barely discernable in the twilight, reached out to engulf her, but Nadeena didn’t notice. The fear that caused her hands to now tremble had nothing to do with the building—only what waited inside.
She swallowed hard and started up the steps, then stopped halfway to the top. She had missed dinner, of that she was certain. Her parents expected . . . no, they demanded that she be on time for meals. It was just one of the many rules they insisted she follow. Stand straight, be polite, smile when approached, don’t speak too freely to the commoners—the list went on and on. She hated being the commander’s daughter—and she hated it even more when she was late. She retreated down the steps and quickly circled to the back of the house. Perhaps if no one saw her come in . . .
"Commander Vallance wishes a word with you, your Highness."
A sentry had been placed at the rear entrance as well. Dressed in dark clothing and positioned in the shadows, Nadeena had not seen him. She startled when he spoke and her heart skipped a beat, then slowly sank. Her father was already asking for her. This wasn’t going to be good.
Nadeena stepped past the sentry and hurried inside. She rushed down the corridor, the rapid echo of her footsteps traveling before her like an unseen companion leading the way. Overhead rows of incandescent lights brightened the narrow hallway, robbing the commander’s daughter of her shadow. The white walls of the corridor stretched on and on, their monotony broken at intervals by control panels trimmed with pulsating, multicolored lights. The panels reported the climate and security status of both the commander’s home and his city. On any other night Nadeena would have noted the information, either to satisfy her curiosity or simply out of habit. But tonight her mind was somewhere else.
She knew she was in trouble—and it wasn’t just because she’d missed dinner. Going against her father’s wishes, Nadeena had spent the afternoon wandering in the dells—an unspoiled, wooded area that surrounded their city. The commander had made it known that he was not amused by her lengthy hikes. "Foolish wanderings" he called them, "and a waste of time." In fact, he had stopped just short of confining her to the city. Knowing this, she’d had every intention of staying close to home . . . but her good intentions weren’t good enough.
Nadeena had not intentionally set out to disobey her father, but the dells were her escape. No matter where she went in the city, she was always the ‘commander’s daughter’. People would bow to her, then hurry past. No one stopped to visit or even dared look her in the eye. In the city, she stood in the midst of many, yet found herself isolated and very much alone. In the dells it was different. In the dells, she was alone. There was simply her and an amazing sense of calm, yet that was enough.
So today, in spite of her best intentions, Nadeena had once again found herself wandering the wooded trails. She reasoned that her feet had carried her there out of simple habit. And then, to make matters worse, she’d lost track of time. With his network of guards and loyal subjects, the commander had eyes everywhere—he knew how she’d spent her afternoon, Nadeena was certain of that. Her only question now was, ‘what was he going to do about it?’
With that thought held at bay, Nadeena continued on to the royal chamber, gathering her courage as she went. Arriving at the first security checkpoint, she paused long enough to place her palm over the door’s identification scanner. A muted, humming sound commenced, followed by several beeps of varied tones. As the door slid open, Nadeena took another deep breath. She was already planning her defense as she stepped inside.
One more narrow passage stretched before her, the one that led to the door of the master chamber. Nadeena was nervous and uncertain—her hope of avoiding a confrontation all but crushed. She pushed on, her stern expression and measured steps more those of a felon than Vallance’s own daughter. Here, as in the previous corridor, she had no shadow to accompany her. To Nadeena, its absence seemed fitting. Facing her father was something she had to do alone. She paused a final time at the end of the passage, bracing herself before stepping onto the sensor panel. The door slid open quietly, allowing her to enter.
The hour was not overly late, yet the commander and his wife were already dressed to retire. They were seated on a bench at the far side of the room, conversing quietly, wearing stark white robes with the city’s insignia emblazoned on the upper right chest. At Nadeena’s entrance, they fell silent and exchanged a look. As though acknowledging that it couldn't’ be put off any longer, they got up and came to meet her. Despite their apparent seriousness, Nadeena had to struggle to keep a grin from spreading across her face. For reasons she could not explain, Nadeena thought her parents looked ridiculous. Perhaps it was because she was accustomed to seeing them dressed as royalty, all prim and proper. The terry robes were adding a touch of surrealism to the meeting. Nadeena cleared her throat and swallowed hard.
Her parents continued to approach--Nadeena’s mother faithfully holding on to the commander, her arm slipped casually through his. Halfway to where her daughter stood waiting, the older woman let go and crossed to a small mirrored table at the edge of the room. Once there, she sat and picked up a brush, then methodically began to draw it through her graying strands. The woman locked eyes with the reflection in the mirror, assuring the stony face that what took place between her husband and daughter was none of their concern.
As his wife attended to her ritualistic primping, Commander Vallance continued toward Nadeena, advancing until he towered over her. He was a large man, broad in the shoulder. When angered, as he now was, his thinning, gray hair did little to hide the pulsing veins that burrowed under his temples. There were lines etched on his face, by time and temper. His current expression was one of distaste and his stare hardened more with each passing second.