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Final Free Chapter! 

Finally we make it into the Trevel Underlands, descending into Under Janeiro, located beneath the Bacht (human) city of Rio. But not everything is wonderful, as the girls come across some awkwardness that makes them truly question their own chronology and take on the heavy weight of what lies ahead…

 

Chapter 8

First Class Attention

It was delightful to watch the jealous faces of their Latoona companions when they drove off in a military escort to Tambeaux’s private cruiser. Even Andros and his father looked red with rage at the importance given to one of their guests, yet denied them.

There were trumpets and flags, flashing swords and shooting rifles as they boarded the boat. Even the Bacht around them joined in the cheering.

The overnight trip out to sea was cool and pleasing. They ate dinner in a shiny modern dining room fitted with platinum and ebony highlights.

“You need more color in here, Champion,” Holly advised Tambeaux when she arrived before anyone else.

“You’re aboard my private vessel, Lady Holly. Please, call me Marin.”

Holly was shocked. It was almost like the prince asking her to call him Hadigan. Such an intimate honor was beyond the village girl’s imagining.

Marin turned to look at her reflection in the mirror.

“And I have all the color I need while you’re here.”

He saluted her and turned to discuss something with the butler.

Holly sputtered a quick laugh, closed her eyes and shook her head.

What freaky world was she putting herself into? He is just being flirty to make me feel good about myself. She scolded her imaginings, the day a man as grand as that ever talks to me again, much less makes me fantasize about being with him, is the day I grow arrows out of my heart.

Dinner was delicious and the conversation delightful. It wasn’t all sophisticated like she and Tanya thought it would be. Even Mitchell relaxed and acted at home with everyone.

“Marin and Mitchell really get along well with each other,” said Holly as she and Tanya wandered up onto the deck afterwards. “They’re like brothers already.”

“He’s not the only one Marin apparently gets along with.” Tanya jabbed her sister’s ribs. “Since when do you start calling a Champion by his first name? Mema and Deda were shocked. They’re pretty angry with you.”

“He asked us to call him Marin. Don’t you remember?”

“I don’t remember any such request. And I know Mema and Deda don’t. Even Mitchell avoided calling him anything at all. Do you need to tell me something?”

“Tanya, don’t be ridiculous. That jealous tone doesn’t work with me.” Holly tried to throw off an uncomfortable feeling of foreboding.

“Marin seems to have found a tone that works with you.”

“You’re sick. He’s twice as old as me. He’s just being nice to a little girl.”

Tanya spied the champion lurking in the darkness, but pretended she didn’t see him.

“Since when have you ever called yourself a little girl? You told me that the dragon tears matured us early and that we were really young women. ‘Little girl?’ Not in your personal world.”

“I know who I am,” Holly defended herself, “but he doesn’t, so he’s just being nice to a little girl, in his understanding.”

“You know, I had a sister who once told me to never put words or thoughts into another person’s head. They will always be wrong.” Tanya displayed her best Holly impression.

“The word always is a blanket statement and shouldn’t be used.” Holly imitated back.

“Shut up.” Tanya turned to leave. “Be quiet when you come to bed, I’m going to sleep.”

“Remember, I have the bottom bunk.”

“Not if I’m there first you don’t.”

Holly watched Tanya flaunt off down stairs, desperate not to allow any inkling of what Tanya hinted at to be taken to heart.

But then there was that deep voice again.

“This sister of Tanya’s sounds pretty wise.”

Holly jumped and screamed. Marin had walked up so quietly behind her, and his voice was just so… so… close!

“That’s a reception I’ve not had before.” He offered Holly a soft drink. “Stars should be enjoyed with a cold drink. It makes you feel closer to them.”

“That’s the crappiest pickup line I’ve ever heard. What are you doing?”

Marin stepped back and laughed quietly.

“I am flirting with a girl who chronologically is half my age, but puts out more energy than most of my female peers.”

“I am a first-year Atlantis student.”

“Who is on a pretty hefty scholarship; someone is expecting a lot from you.”

“No I’m not.”

“Yes, you are. I’m to inform you parents tomorrow.”

“How do you know?”

“Because, I am Champion Tambeaux of the Tambeaux family line of Strategic Defense Officers.” He winked at her, “I know a lot of things.”

“Like what?”

“Like, I really want to ask Hal if I can court you.”

“I’m a first-year Atlantis student.”

“You already said that.”

“What are you thinking? I’m only… I’m only….”

“Twelve. Yes, and I’m twenty-four,” Marin admitted. “When you put it like that, it does sound sick.”

“I wouldn’t say sick,” Holly was quick to object.

“The problem is that anyone who knows you, or knows about ‘Holly Dijex’ doesn’t think of you that way. I know a lot of guys, boys and men, who want to have a chance with you and Tanya.”

“So, this is a competition with you? You want to be the first to kiss me or something?”

“If that were the case, I’d have already done it.”

“You would not!”

“Would you have stopped me? No, I didn’t think so.”

“You are so sure of yourself.” Holly wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing.

“Sorry. It’s a habit. When you have thousands of people following your orders, you have to sound confident, even if you’re not.”

“Thousands? Really?”

“The crazy thing is,” Marin leaned against the rail, “I’ve been leading bands of men since I was a boy. For my ninth birthday, my father bought me a commission on a Royal Strategic Defense ship. I spent four years there learning how to be a Naval Officer with at least thirty men under my leadership and responsibility.”

“I drank dragon tears when I was seven.”

“And while you were learning to control your energies, I was learning to control my men.”

The black, silver-lit ocean waves caught their attention for a moment.

“You don’t know me.” Holly sighed, “why do you want to court me?”

“I like what I know.”

Holly challenged him,

“Where will you be for the next six years?”

“Around. I expect a promotion to Mentor soon. That’s more money and a more important social status.”

“Good for you, but, I’m not even discussing this. It’s too bizarre.”

“As a Mentor in the Defense Force, I am expected to have an excellent wife. I thought you could be just that.”

“You’re looking for an excellent wife? I want to be an excellent student. I want to be a teenager. I want to grow up!”

Marin stared at Holly for a moment. He looked nothing like a Defense Champion; he looked like a boy, deflated and rejected.

He took a deep breath and raised his glass to her and said,

Then, may the Powers see to it that my family will love and protect your family, for as long as the Tambeaux bloodline holds true.”

He stood tall, saluted, and abruptly walked back into the cabin.

 

The Morning After

“What a glorious sight.” Tanya gazed at the beautiful sunrise, then giggled as Holly staggered up to join them on the breakfast deck.

“Had a late one last night, sister dear? I didn’t hear you come in.”

“What were you doing up so late?” Salla tried to pick up on her daughter’s emotions. “You knew we were sinking just after sunrise.”

“So, why did I have to be awake for it?” Holly mumbled groggily.

Hal suspiciously reached out to steady Holly as she bumped her way to the table.

“Why so grumpy this morning?”

The champion and the boat’s captain appeared. Tanya was quick to her mischief.

“Does it have anything to do with your secret rendezvous last night?”

Holly sat next to Hal and held her head and her stomach to keep back the nausea.

Hal sniffed her,

“Are you drunk?”

“Not anymore.”

“Good waves, Holly, are you hung over?!” Salla reached over and touch her daughter’s forehead.

She tried to nod, but it hurt too much.

“What on earth! You know… Where did you get it?”

“This isn’t like you, Hol! What’s going on?” Hal drew his girl under his arm and Salla ran a cool napkin across her brow.

“YOU!” Tanya stood and pointed to the champion. “You got my sister drunk. What did you two do last night?”

“Tanya, what has gotten into you two?” Salla began apologizing to Tambeaux.

“No need to apologize, Mrs. Dijex. Tanya’s accusation is understandable. I was the secret rendezvous last night.”

“You got my daughter drunk?” Hal’s question was not as angry as it was confused.

“Absolutely not, I was serving soft drinks.”

Salla put her arm around Holly and said,

“Why were you serving my daughter anything privately? Did you tell her she could call you Marin?”

“If I may express myself, please, my intentions for Holly last night were only to ask her if I could court her. I then planned to approach you this morning. But things didn’t turn out as I hoped. Your daughter rejected me in favor of growing up.”

Hal jumped up from the table, crashing the glasses over, and dove at the champion. He grabbed the soldier by the coat and threw him against the railing.

Surprisingly, the Defense Champion, who could have killed Hal in a moment, took the attack and allowed the angry father to have his say.

“What kind of pervert are you? I trusted you with my family and you disrespect me by going behind my back and seducing my twelve-year-old daughter?”

“Forgive me, sir. I meant no disrespect. There are obviously still some major cultural differences between Uplanders and Underlanders. In Atlantis and definitely Lemuria, it is not uncommon for girls to be betroth at fourteen, or at forty.”

Still in his face, Hal yelled,

“Holly is only twelve!”

“Champion?” A call to attention echoed behind them. “We are ready to descend, sir.”

“Just a moment, Captain.”

“No.” Hal stepped back with power. “We are done here. The sooner we get off this boat, the better.”

But Hal suddenly stopped,

“That still doesn’t account for Holly being drunk.”

All eyes turned to the hung over-girl.

Holly shrugged her shoulders,

“I was in shock, and the aloe Vera makes a nice wine when it’s heated just right.”

“You made wine out of my houseplants?” The champion shook his head in disbelief. “You’re going to have to keep tight reins on your girls, Mr. Dijex. I know for a fact that I am not the only man that wants to meet and greet these two powerful Trevels, first years or not.”

The champion and his captain left the breakfast deck, but the captain returned immediately.

“These orders are for you, sir.” He handed over a black and gold leather-bound package. “Please enter the main cabin. We’ll be sinking momentarily.”

Hal took the package and gestured for his family to follow him inside.

To Holly, he said,

“And you, young lady—seeing as you feel so inclined to turn your hands to home remedies—you will spend every night for the rest of this trip working with your mother and me to concoct healing potions from as many plants as we come across. You will then go with your mother to work in the healing stations for the whole weekend in Janeiro, instead of shopping.”

Holly wailed in objection,

“But Deda!”

Hal was firm.

“No Holly. I will give you one afternoon with Tanya, but the rest of your time here will be spent working off your drunkenness. Now sit and be quiet.”

The family gathered inside. They recognized the Atlantis National Academy Symbol pressed in gold on the front cover of the package.

The black leather glistened silkily, and they immediately recognized it as dragon skin. Hal unloosed the latch and opened the folder. It was a planner that laid out everything they would need to know as they prepared for their trip to school.

The first section was sealed and titled,

-Scholarship Particulars-

Salla reached over, just as excited as the girls, and flicked the edge of the seal. It fell open perfectly, as if it had never been sealed.

“I hope none of the Lemurian Senators find out you can do that.” Hal winked at his wife and began reading.

 

Scholarship Particulars

From: Atlantis National Academy Board of Directors.

To: The Parents of First-Year attendees Tanya Dijex and Holly Dijex.

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Dijex,

The following information outlines what level of scholarship has been awarded to

Tanya and Holly Dijex

Our records show that you requested a Basic Scholarship, which was awarded immediately.

However, when your particular case was studied and the unique gifts and talents of your daughters were understood, we, the Academy Board, took the liberty of upgrading your scholarship level by two points to Regulated Scholarship.

This scholarship allows the recipient access to all higher-level products based solely on their expected excellence. An added plain uniform allowance is granted to allow the recipient to keep herself in casual attire appropriate for a higher-level student who is placed in the society of the Main Circle of the cities’ social Clusters.

However, there has been another change of plans as of last week. An anonymous sponsor has requested adoption privileges. With an Adoption Sponsor, your benefits have been upgraded again to the Sponsor’s requested level. In this case, your point level was raised another three times, based entirely on the excellence of your expected success.

You are now approved for a Prince’s Scholarship.

This scholarship has only ever been awarded to members of the royal family, or those with close connections to them. Never before has a first or second year student received such recognition.

There are duties to fulfill under this privilege:

  1. You are required to attend all major royal functions in both Atlantis and Lemuria. On such occasions when these interfere with regularly scheduled School duties, a private tutor will be assigned to you.
  2. You will be required to be present on the school senate’s dais at all ANA functions.
  3. You will be required to take defense arts every school afternoon for each year you attend ANA.
  4. Your presence will be required at all Powers seminars and ANA banquets.
  5. You have now entered into a public life and all who see you will monitor your behavior. Please adjust your lifestyles accordingly.
  6. Your Sponsor has granted this scholarship to you and has every right to cancel or continue this privilege at his/her own will.
  7. Your sponsor will remain anonymous at his/her own will.

Upon registration in Janeiro, you will be assigned two card keys, one for each student. They will give access to all the necessary products available to you, free of charge, at the stores outlined in your planner under the heading, Janeiro stores. These also apply to the stores on board your travel ship, the TSNS Atlantis.

On a more personal note, I look forward to welcoming Tanya and Holly myself upon their arrival. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me directly at Atlantis National Academy.

May the Powers prosper you,

Sincerely,

Principal Verity Zane

 

The mood of the Dijex family sank in accord with the Hera as they read the restrictive expectations placed on the girls. None of them noticed the champagne bubbles slither passed the window like rainbows. No one saw the fish in the depths bump curiously into the HDP barrier, wondering, who is this new creature of the ocean? There was no one to sit in the bay window and relax as the coral and rocky hills of the bottom of the sea saluted the passersby.

The Hera turned about in the sea depths and headed back to the under-sea shelf of Rio de Janeiro. By nightfall, she would pull into the Underland docks of the Trevel city Cluster.

For the remaining undersea trip, Tanya and Holly stayed in their family suite. Champion Marin Tambeaux sulked in his. Mitchell, on L1 house arrest, could care less about his restriction. The porthole in his room was all the freedom he cared to have.

 

Apology Arranged

Tanya and Holly were dressed in loose white pants and T-shirts, practicing the basic moves in the Beginning Defense Strategy textbook they found their room.

They arrived around suppertime last night, at the grand townhouse assigned to them, on behalf of the Academy and their Prince’s Scholarship (which the girls quickly dubbed the P.S.).

It was a large, four-story home nestled among other townhomes in the circle. It reminded Holly of a Bacht book she had read that took place in the 1800s of Upland London, England.

The first floor was for receiving with parlors, formal and family, as well as dining rooms and a games room for billiards and Trevel darts.

The second floor held a private writing room, library, and the master suite. The back of the third floor hid smaller rooms for the Kobold servants (two came with the place) and other staff, but the front contained grand guest rooms.

Holly and Tanya were originally settled in these front rooms until they explored and found the nursery on the fourth floor.

This attic space was divided into two rooms by an ornate wooden archway and swinging doors. The front room was a sitting area, looking over the walk and roadway. The middle was a bedroom with separate bath and dressing rooms.

However, what really intrigued the girls was the back balcony. It was once closed in, but now stood open to the air, with long, ornate stone posts reaching for the sky-lit cavern ceiling.

The Skyling, as it was called, held a thick layer of water, HDP, and manipulated electrolyte minerals. Somehow, these Skyling minerals were able to imitate almost perfectly the sky above the Upland open air.

“This is the perfect place to practice defense.” Tanya surveyed the rooftop.

“Let’s do everything we can to get ahead in defense.” Holly urged. “I also want to work on the Mind Powers for Beginning Optimists text. I will not go into school with a limited village understanding.”

Holly sat on one of the stone benches and ran her hands over the carvings.

“No way will I let some Cluster boy or girl get the better of me just because they live where they see this stuff all the time.”

There was a telescope on a raised circular gazebo, so Tanya studied the view.

“Oh my… waves and muscles. AHHHH!”

“What?”

“It’s Mitchell! He’s doing some self-defense art that the Bacht do. Wow, it looks like he’s really good, too.”

“Let me see.”

“Um? No.” Tanya refused to shift herself or her gaze.

“Fine. Do you need a hanky to wipe the drool?”

“Probably. Uh oh, Holly-baby, your fiancé just entered the scene.”

Tanya stepped back and nodded Holly toward the telescope.

Holly tried to ignore the comment but decided to look anyway.

“That’s a pretty grand house they have.” Holly shrugged the guilt away.

“The house is grand? How about the owner? Although you could have been the lady of that house, so I guess I understand your interest.”

Holly backed off and sat on the balcony railing.

“I have to apologize. I can’t leave it as it is.”

“Well, now we know where he is, we can visit while Mema and Deda are otherwise occupied.”

“Yes, but what of my slave labor with the healing potions?” Holly was glum.

“We’ll figure it out together.” Tanya winked at her sister, already scheming.

The next morning, Salla burst in,

“Today is a tight one, girls. At second call, we need to go and register your shopping cards. We’ll meet Deda at the third call, eleven in the morning, okay? Then we’ll shop for your clothes. I see you found your library books and have been working through them already.”

The bustling mema quickly glanced at the bracelet communicator chiming at her.

“Never mind, Deda will join us all morning.”

Salla noticed that the girl’s attentions were focused on their books and not attending to her schedule,

“Maybe I should try to stop you from studying?”

“Wouldn’t work if you tried.” Holly kissed her mema’s cheek.

“Besides, you know we only study what’s fun.” Tanya teased.

“What isn’t fun for you?” Salla lightly smacked her daughter’s rear in jest. “Go on, dress, breakfast, and off to registration in two hours.”

“Mema, can we take a walk around the circle before we go?”

“Okay. Just be back by seven-thirty. It’ll take twenty minutes to get there.” She bustled off.

“Voila! Apology to Marin arranged.” Tanya bowed.

“Practical,” Holly pointed to herself, “and resourceful,” she pointed and bowed back to Tanya. “Together, we are unbeatable.”

“Look out, Atlantis.” Tanya grabbed her sister around the waist, “Here We COME.”

 

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