Chapter 40: Lilllith II
“This house building has many rooms. Importantly, bedrooms. There are two penthouse-style rooms on the top floor. The third floor is mostly storage, but there are two more rooms there. The second floor has six, and the first floor has two.”
“So twelve rooms?” Astore said, “and all this land?”
“This is crown land actually. It is a park, though it’s usually quite empty.”
Lilllith pointed to the roof, visible through the light foliage. “I have one penthouse well-furnished for myself, and also a room on the ground floor which I tend to sleep in more often. I also gave your Prince a place on the top floor. Kent and Senica have a room on the third floor. All the way across the building on the same floor is Anselm. Col, Annissette, Shalla, and Rockk are on the second floor. You are on the first with me.”
“She is on the second.”
“So there’s one empty room on the second floor, after all that.”
“No, that is a storage room, although there is a bed and a small dresser in there just in case.”
Astore memorized the locations. He had developed his memory to the point where he rarely forgot information, even after hearing it the first time. He was thus a terrific student, but beyond that a truly exceptional spy, scout, and operative. He was an ideal Solune Agent. He would have to survey the building itself in order to slot the information into a mental map though.
“What do you think of my building? You know I designed it myself.”
“Really? It’s clearly centuries old.”
Lilllith nodded, smiling. Astore noticed that her teeth were a little longer, and perhaps even sharper than normal.
“What are you saying? You built this a few hundred years ago?”
“Yes, dear. We Condor people live very long.”
Astore stopped walking. “Condor.” It wasn’t a question. He knew what a Condor was. “Like the King’s wife.”
Lilllith nodded. “I was overjoyed when she showed me her wings. She knew right away when she saw me.”
“…and that’s why she didn’t trust you.” Astore shook his head. “She still doesn’t.”
Lilllith shrugged. “You do.”
Astore did, but he had thought he’d never shown it. Condor women…can they read minds? Gwenhime speaks to me like this too. Annoying.
“So you have wings?”
“When I want to have wings.”
“I am four centuries old. Very young compared to the noblewoman. This building was built three hundred years ago, but well maintained. Never renovated, only repaired.”
“Sounds like the castle.”
“But, my dear Solune—”
“—Riley, does Chloe Rhye have wings?”
“I—” Astore stopped walking again. They were in front of the Tower of Malakh now, at the rear entrance. “I actually don’t know. I’ve worked with her sisters, Natasha Rhye and Janna Rhye. Neither of them have used their wings.”
“How old are you?”
“Nearly too old. Twenty-two.”
Lilllith nodded. She knew that special agents lost their edge around twenty-four, and most were moved to different departments by the age of twenty-eight. Not in the Djeb, but the Lussa kept track of people at the top of their game. Royal guards always had to have an edge, and while she had had hers for a couple of centuries, it started to wear off decades ago.
Astore thought. “Chloe is eight-hundred. Her sisters are older, probably by a few decades.”
“I should have known she was the youngest. But you see now, you’ve lived one thirty-sixth their lifespan. It is very painful to have to grow new wings, and they are extremely inconvenient outside of Condor society. I doubt you could possibly know for sure whether that family has wings or not.”
“But they’re mixed. Do half-Condors have wings?”
“I…have never met a half-Condor.”
Astore made a mental note of this. Chloe may be the Solune Prince, but she was half Condor. He didn’t know what to make of that. The bloodline was thin.
After Shalla, Annissette, and Col set up the rooms, Rockk returned, and Astore and Lilllith finished their walk. It was well after dark by the time Chloe and Alexandre, escorted by Michelllise, and Elllis. Michelllise was at least wearing a coat over herself, and for that Chloe was relieved. She was quite a beautiful bodyguard. Her skin was dark, smooth, and kept oiled for health. Jocelllyn was paler, and Chloe had seen some Djeb features in her likeness, but otherwise she was another light-skinned Lussa.
“So you are his bodyguard?” Chloe asked.
“Yes. And his…courtesan.”
They were near Lilllith’s building now. Michelllise smiled, “Oh yes. I have status, and he has…me.”
“But you are not married.”
“No, yet I am bound.”
Elllis said, “It is a noble thing for a woman.”
“Do female rulers take men in such a way?” Chloe bit back.
“No. Not usually. I have read of it, but it is rare.” Elllis said coolly. “I do not know how things are where you come from, but a concubine is perfectly acceptable for a wealthy man here. King, or no.”
Chloe frowned. She had never encountered polygamy, but she knew the word and the definition from ancient texts. It was frowned upon in Solune society, and it was banned in N’Tariel lands, but she knew that the Djeb emperors used to have consorts and concubines. In fact, polygamy was fairly normal among the gentry of the East Metch as well. She would have to—however awkwardly—ask her father for counsel.
“Here you are, princess.” Chloe watched as Michelllise took a key from somewhere on her person, and unlocked the Tower of Malakh, then held the door open for their party.
“It’s Prince,” Chloe corrected her.
“Is it?” the woman tilted her head in a practiced, seductive manner. Chloe blushed. For whatever reason, he charms were having an effect.
Uncomfortably, Chloe said, “Yes. Our dialect of the Sollussa language did not develop a feminine counterpart to Prince, thus I am a Prince.”
They all stepped inside, to avoid leaving the door open so late.
“Then what is your mother? Not Queen?”
“No, she is…a consort ruler. No…she is not a ruler any more. She is a consort.”
Michelllise frowned. “Very well. I shall be off.” Then, she left.
Alexandre Dirge stumbled into the apartment. Annissette supported Alexandre, who finally stopped hiding her poor state of health. Rockk was not far behind, and he waited on Chloe. Annissette tried to lead Alexandre to her room, but the Riley would not budge no matter how hard the maiden pushed. She wanted to see what Chloe would do to Elllis.
“I do not much like this business with the prince,” Chloe said to Elllis, the only other person in the foyer besides Rockk.
Elllis glanced past her at Rockk for a moment, and then returned to looking in her eyes. “Are you saying you wish to withdraw your support? It is, and will always be, voluntary, of course.”
“No!” Chloe caught herself, “heavens no. I mean with his women. I am not always talking about politics, young man.”
Elllis smiled. “Fair, and good to hear. Yet, who do you call young? Are you not a maiden younger than I? Look!” He proudly pointed to a grey hair hidden in his black mop. “I am going grey young, a great honour. Surely you are not older than me, older than twenty-six anna?”
“Oh. I am eight-hundred-and-sixty-eight years old,” Chloe said, her face cool as his had been on the street.
“Yes?” He impolitely took her chin in his forefinger and thumb and moved her face around. “Oh, yes you are, aren’t you. Are you a Condor? Perhaps a Shriken? Those winged folk seem to have a monopoly on years, don’t they.”
Chloe firmly and unhappily moved his arm from her face.
“I am half Condor. The rest of me is exactly half Solune and half Riley.”
“You should not be living so long.”
“Aye,” Alexandre said from across the foyer.
Rockk took the seat which Lilllith used to help with putting on shoes. Annissette placed Alexandre on it, and removed the woman’s footwear.
“I—I do not have—”
“You said you would tell me, tell, me,” Alexandre said. She was feeling quite regal with Lilllith’s girl doting on her. She figured she would act out the pride of a noblewoman and force Chloe’s hand.
Chloe Rhye, rubbed her eyes, then walked to a carpeted wall and leaned on it.
“The Solune age normally. We fill up with forces and die.”
“Animal spirits,” Elllis nodded.
“Fine.” Chloe scoffed. “The Riley do not age like this. They are born full of energy, and lose vital forces—or animal spirits—from sleeping. Thus, as they age, they run out and die like this.”
Alexandre nodded. “I am doing chemistry on this subject. It is fascinating.”
“So when a person is born of mixed race…”
“It’s one or the other. The alleles cancel each other out. They have to! You can’t have both, it’s biologically impossible,” Alexandre finished.
“Don’t ‘well me,’ your Serenity.”
Chloe shook her head with frustration. She was distilling a course-worth of material into a few sentences. And cutting out most of the natural philosophy. “Well my family have a mutation. Our deoxyribonucleic acid has a blank, and where we should have a canceling, the allele moves over one spot. I have both!” She was shouting now, and footsteps could be heard upstairs. “What that means is that my Solune half creates spirits and my Riley half consumes them. Instead of aging, I simply don’t.”
There was silence for a few minutes as Alexandre and Elllis absorbed this.
“It’s like a cistern.” Kent entered the foyer, followed by a very tired looking Senica. He continued, “My Solune adds water. This is usually through eating and sleeping. My Riley saps it up. This is done by sleep, mostly.”
“That’s why I hate sleeping, is it?” Alexandre said.
“Sleep shortens a Riley’s life.” Chloe nodded.
“Sure. We were born half full. The only way the royal family ages is by evaporation.”
“So you were infants for years?” Elllis asked.
“No,” Kent laughed, “no, this cycle starts at puberty.”
Alexandre nodded. “Of course. You don’t die while you grow up. Further, this use or gain of spirits is connected to sex hormones, so it literally cannot occur until after one begins adulthood. Wild shit.” And then she passed out. The walk had been too much for her.
“The Condor blood, and the dilution of the Solune-Riley cycle don’t seem to affect each other,” Kent said.
“But none of us are old enough to know for sure,” Chloe added, glancing at her brother.
Annissette held Alexandre. “I will take her to her room.”
“Elllis, will you walk home alone?” Kent said.
Chloe nodded. “Stay safe. As you said, you have enemies now.”
“Yes. One more thing…” Chloe got up off the wall and looked at the dark Lussa. “You have already been assaulted. We don’t know by who, but you must be careful yourself.”
Chloe nodded. All parties exeunted.
Riley naturally wake up a few hours after midnight. This is so that they can kill their prey, which is usually in its deepest sleep in the hours before sunrise. For centuries, this prey was Metch and Elken, but later a new, prey appeared from the depths of the planet. The Solune.
Their skin tastes like sugar, Alexandre dreamt. A distinction must be made. There are many kinds of Riley, but they have developed along three lines. There is the purebloods, who live in the north. They have a thick, calloused outer layer, a hide, covering their pale skin. This exoskin is as black as Riley hair, and so this group is called the Obsidian. The second is the one-hundred-percent. Millennia ago, the Obsidian began to ostracise and exile any of their ilk which were not perfect enough. These folk went south east and settled north of the N’Tariel lands.
The gene pool was tainted, and children were born deformed either physically or in the mind for many years until a defensive allele developed and plugged the leaks. The DNA would work with what it had, this sub-optimal dreck. It was long assumed that some were born incurable, and others born well enough for society. The healthy stayed and built a kingdom, under the rule of The Prince. The rest were rejected a second time, and went further south, into the hunting grounds and spiritual marshes of the N’Tariel people.
And it was this double-rejected group that fed on and interbred with the Solune. According to studies from the Solune Academy, Solune blood has remained fairly pure, and Riley rare, their strain thin. A Riley in The Solune Kingdom is a heavily diluted hundred-percent Riley, not a Riley of the Prince’s Kingdom.
The Solune. A new, more delicious prey. And larger too. But difficult to hunt. Light sleepers. The Riley habit of sleeping heavy at the beginning of dusk and waking after midnight proved a disadvantage. So the Solune were hunted in broad daylight.
“Sollussa flesh tastes like sugar,” Alexandre mumbled, her body heating up in the wee hours before morning.
“What? Mf!” The intruder covered her own mouth, but it was too late.
The Riley was already awake.