" You know, Wille, I should say, before we go aboard, that Diurn is the most conservative of our lot," Nova said. " So it follows that his ideas about women are perhaps not up to DASS standards."

" Wille? When did you start calling me that? It's a cute nickname."

" It's not a cute nickname, it's just easier for me to say than your full bastard human name. And I'm telling you to steel yourself if anything has happened to the Lyeha."

" What's her name again? Lisa?"

" It's Lesa."

" That's barely a difference."

" Be more respectful. I may not think much of her, but she's still royalty, something which you're not."

" Imperialist."

Their argument was cut short by the notification that Diurn's ship had docked with theirs again.

Nova turned on his heel and strode out to meet him.

" W-wait, wait, I'm still dragging this a bit, modern medicine can't fix everything...."

" My stride's longer than yours anyway. I'm not going to walk slower because you happen to be temporarily invalid."

They stood in front of Diurn's ship; the man himself walked out shortly, two attendants at his side. His mouth had mostly healed, but the scars on either side of it were deep and evident.

" Nova. Commodore General. I've brought Lyeha. You may go in and fetch her," he said coldly.

William could feel the man's eyes burning into him with a mixture of hatred, revulsion, and caution.

Well, at least he'd been tempered by how quickly he'd been incapacitated. William felt admittedly very smug about that.

" We'll be boarding for a moment, then," Nova said.

William could feel Diurn's eyes on his limp. He was probably scheming something.

Which was of no real consequence, anyway. The fleet would be swinging back to deep DASS aerospace away from the border, if his next star course was approved. He wanted to set his feet on a planet, or at least colony outpost... Solid ground somewhere. Siluria would be a good spot. Had a lot of cities.

The Starka ships were sleek on the inside, tall and narrow, unlike the boxy wide open spaces of the DASS's own vessels. Everything was in dark colors.

An attendant bowed to them.

" Lyena-Nova. Lyeha's room is this way," he said, taking the lead.

" Is she ready to come with us?" William asked.

" As ready as something like that could ever be," the man answered indifferently.

" Speak more respectfully in front of DASS's Commodore General," Nova said, annoyance evident. William was a bit glad to see him talking down to someone else the way he did.

" Of course, Lyena."

They stopped in front of a door.

Nova opened it.

The room was dark, and empty, and there was a girl laying on the floor, on blankets, curled up in a ball. Nova made a disgusted face. Her hair was dark and thick the way Nova's was, but unkept and much longer.

" He's treated her worse than I had heard," he said, and then raised his voice. " Lesa. We've arrived to escort you off the ship. You've been remanded to my custody for now."

She stirred, shaky, and sat up.

William found it hard to believe that royalty would be treated in such a way, though he reminded himself that Nova's obvious hatred of his older brother must've come from somewhere.

" Ah, here," William stepped forward, undoing his cape, when he realized she was nude. He dropped his voice to be softer and reassuring. " We'll get you something nicer to wear in a moment."

" Ah... Lyena..." Her eyes drifted over to Nova as William pulled it around her shoulders; her voice was soft and crackly. She seemed to be seeking an affirmation from him.

" Wille, hurry up," Nova said. " I'd prefer not to dawdle on this ship."

The girl, standing, was barely as tall as William. He knew that from the Starka perspective, then, she was small. The cape wrapped tightly around her body was nearly touching the floor.

" Don't be so harsh, Nova," William fired back at him.

" Would it kill you to be more formal just once? Let's get the Lyeha out of this place and send Brother on his way."

" Of course, of course."


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