Etherno

Chapter 30: Married, In a Hurry?

Kasai cracked an eye open. The floor was sideways. Wait. She was lying on her side. Her head throbbed. Amaryllis knelt on the floor a few yards away. Cerina was sprawled out beside her.

“The Natas…” Kasai struggled to sit up. It felt like her head was full of bricks.

“Gone.” Amaryllis shook her head. “Tannin defeated you and Onin. I knocked out Cerina and Aiden. Arjuketa escaped through a portal just before Tannin could get to her.”

Kasai sighed. The Natas seemed to have a gift for running away at the last minute.

“Ugh.”

Kasai whipped around at the sound of Onin’s voice—and imminently wished she hadn’t. Pain radiated from her neck. She gingerly rubbed her neck while she studied Onin. He was still out, and had a darkening bruise on the side of his neck.

“Sorry about that.” Tannin scratched the back of his neck. “That Natas was controlling you and I had to knock you out.”

“That’s okay.” Kasai crawled over and gently lifted Onin’s head onto her lap. “At least everyone’s okay. Do we know where the Natas went?”

Tannin shrugged. “Disappeared into a portal.”

Amaryllis shook Cerina, Saija, and Aiden by the shoulder. They moaned and blinked.

“Did we win?” Cerina rubbed her eyes. “Or did Tannin get distracted and let her run off?”

“Hey!” Tannin leaned forward. “I was winning, and she ran away!”

“Oh, my head!” Saija stood, stumbled, and fell—straight into Tannin’s arms.

Kasai narrowed her eyes. That was a rather obvious ploy, and this wasn’t the time for it. She blushed and looked down where she still cradled Onin’s head in her lap. Well, maybe she shouldn’t be the first to cast stones.

Onin moaned. Kasai leaned over and brushed hair out of his eyes. “Are you okay?”

“I think so.” Onin shifted his shoulders and winced. “Ow. Killer headache, though. I’m assuming the Natas got away?”

“See, it’s not just me!” Cerina shouted.

“Pipe down!” Saija snuggled further into Tannin’s shoulder. “You’re making my head hurt.”

“Well, maybe if you’d quit flirting and—”

“Hey!” Onin sat up. “Not the time, guys. The Natas always run away at the last minute. It’s their thing. We’ve got to regroup and go after them.”

“Right.” Tannin saluted. “Any idea what they want?”

“They’re probably still after the supplies on the station.” Aiden stood glanced around the room. “I think.”

Kasai looked around. The giant cargo bay they were in was still empty. It didn’t look like it had been emptied in a hurry, though with a modern grav lift…

“Could be.” Onin stood, and offered Kasai a hand up.

Kasai felt her face flush when Onin didn’t let go of her hand.

“Let’s check the rest of the station.” Onin held out his hands.

Four small pinpricks of light appeared on his palms and rapidly grew to the size of basketballs. They blinked twice, then zipped out of the cargo bay.

Onin looked around. “All right. While they’re checking the depot, is anyone injured?”

Saija raised her hand. “I’ve got one killer of a headache.”

“Me, too.” Cerina frowned at Tannin, then sighed. “Grr. Better than being that witch’s puppet, I guess.”

dragon

Two hours later, the servitors had finished searching the station. Kasai leaned against the rear wall of the depot’s control center. Amaryllis sat at the main control console, and the others were scattered across the room. They’d only found a handful of Kagoshi scattered around the station. The Natas had all gotten away.

Kasai frowned at the systems display board at the front of the control center. The thing was lit up with red lights. The Natas had stolen all the supplies, crippled the depot, and taken a bunch of Kagoshi slaves—or worse. She shuddered. No one deserved that fate. It was another reminder of why they were out here instead of back home on Gesara.

“Hey.”

Kasai jumped at the sound of Onin’s voice. “Oh, hi.”

“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.” Onin grinned and stretched his hand out to her.

Kasai felt her face flush, and she glanced at the ground as she took his hand.

“Anyway, I wanted to apologize to you.”

Kasai looked up. “Why?”

Onin scratched the back of his neck. “Well, I’ve been preoccupied with worrying about fighting the Natas for a while.” He sighed. “Then we get here, and still aren’t able to prevent them from taking more hosts, and that reminded me why we’re here in the first place.”

“That’s not your fault.” Kasai squeezed his hand and smiled at him.

“True.” Onin looked into her eyes and Kasai’s breath caught into her throat. “But I’ve been kinda self-absorbed about it, and I’ve been ignoring you… and everyone else.”

Kasai closed her eyes and leaned against his shoulder. She’d been silly to think a great guy like Onin would forget about her.

“Hey, you two lovebirds done?”

Kasai cracked an eye open.

Cerina stuck her tongue out and waved at her. “Amaryllis finished looking through the depot’s logs, and we’re ready to go.”

Onin sighed, squeezed Kasai’s hip, and let go of her. “What’d you find?”

Amaryllis turned around and winked at Kasai. “Not much. Most of the computer core was wiped. After the wipe, the logs show another ship at the other end of the depot leaving a few minutes before we started searching the station. Outbound vector analysis shows it’s headed for Nekotia.”

Kasai covered her mouth with her hand. Amaryllis was half Nekotian. She wasn’t reacting outwardly, but she had to want to learn more about that part of her heritage. Well, Kasai wanted to learn more about the dragons anyway, so she assumed that the only other half-breed she knew would also want to know more about where she came from.

Kasai touched Onin on the shoulder. “Are we going after them?”

“Hmm.” Onin took in a deep breath and frowned. “I’d like to, but—”

“Why?” Cerina put her hands on her hips. “We came out here to track down the Natas that attacked us. We found out there’s a lot more of them than we thought, and we don’t have any authority out here.”

“Hey!” Tannin stepped in front of Cerina. “They’ve still got a lot of Gesaran hosts, and in case you haven’t noticed, the other races we’ve met don’t seem to have any of the abilities that we do. If we have this power and don’t use it, that makes us just as bad as the Natas!”

“Oh, come on!” Cerina leaned in close to Tannin’s face. “You can’t—”

“That’s enough!” Onin raised his voice to shout over Cerina and Tannin. “You’ve both got valid points, but we don’t have time to argue about ethics. Besides—” He turned and gestured to Aiden. “We’ve got a representative of one of the governments involved right here. Aiden, I agree with Tannin, but we don’t have any authority out here. Would you like our continued help to track down the Natas?”

Aiden let out a sigh. “Actually, I was hoping you’d ask. I can’t stop them alone, and the Nekotians are… well, let’s just say they could use the help.”

That was a vague statement. Kasai turned to Onin and raised an eyebrow. He shrugged.

“Also—” Aiden bit her lip. “—the Kagoshi are a bit paranoid. We didn’t even know your race existed until the Natas found you, and most of the Kagoshi are still convinced that all of you are working with the Natas. They trust the Matari to a point, but your cooperation with fighting the Natas, especially when you’re under no legal obligation to do so, would go a long way into smoothing relations between your planet and the rest of the Union of Free Allied Planets.”

“What?” Cerina took a step toward Aiden. “The rest of our planet doesn’t even know you exist. It might be better if we just went home and stayed there.”

Saija cleared her throat. “So, you’re just going to abandon the Gesarans that Natas have already taken as hosts?”

Cerina narrowed her eyes. “This coming from the one who said it’d be better to kill them?”

“It would.” Saija picked at a fingernail. “Living with one of those things inside you is worse than death. And I agree with Tannin. The Natas have Gesaran hosts now. That’s not our fault, but it is our fault if we abandon our own people to a fate worse than death. It’s also our fault if we let those Natas that have stolen Gesaran bodies ravage the rest of the universe.”

“Well, we have an official invite.” Onin looked around at the group. “How many think we should go to Nekotia?”

Tannin’s hand shot into the air. Amaryllis looked over at him, a bemused smile on her face. She raised her hand as well.

“I’m assuming that means an affirmative.” Saija lifted her hand above her head.

Kasai looked up at Onin. “It’s the right thing to do.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Cerina crossed her arms and looked away. “Me, too.”

“To the Potato!” Tannin pointed to the door, then sprinted through it.

dragon

Kasai yawned as she made her way up to the bridge of the Iridescent Potato. So far, the hyperspace journey to Nekotia had been an uneventful twelve hours. Chibi-chan had said the journey would take about two days, so there wasn’t a hurry to do anything, but Kasai figured she might as well read up on what information the computer had on Nekotia.

Onin, Tannin, and Saija were already on the bridge when Kasai got there. A moment or two later Aiden and Cerina joined them. Kasai pulled up the article on Nekotia on one of the bridge terminals and started to read it.

“Hello, everyone!”

Kasai sighed. She’d only gotten a few words into her article. She looked up. Amaryllis stood at the front of the bridge. She wore her usual flowing gown, and had a ginormous smile plastered across her face. What really got Kasai’s attention though, was the orange and purple striped party hat on her head between her ears. Kasai did a double-take. Sure, Amaryllis was a tad eccentric, but it was usually Tannin who would wear something crazy.

“Um—” Cerina pointed to Amaryllis’ head. “You know you’re wearing a weird hat, right?”

“Mm-hmm!” Amaryllis beamed. “It’s my eighteenth birthday, and shortly about to be the happiest day of my life.”

Saija raised an eyebrow and looked over at Tannin.

Tannin shrugged. “Well, it won’t be that happy if I make the cake.”

Amaryllis giggled and sat down next to Kasai, happily humming to herself.

Kasai decided to ignore the hat for now. She turned to face Amaryllis. “Happy birthday.”

“Thanks!”

“So, uh, what’s so special about this particular birthday?”

Amaryllis smiled. “You’ll see.”

Kasai shrugged and turned back to her terminal. Amaryllis hummed happily to herself for the next several minutes. A few minutes later Ryogin entered the bridge.

“Amaryllis, there you are!” Ryogin crossed the bridge and took her hand. “I’ve been looking all over the ship for you.”

“Ooo!” Chibi-chan popped up on the closest monitor. “I could have helped you find her, nyan!”

Amaryllis stood and faced him. She smiled and didn’t say anything.

Ryogin sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “You’re gonna make me do this in front of everyone, aren’t you?”

Amaryllis nodded.

“Okay.” Ryogin took a deep breath. “I wanted to take you out to a fancy restaurant, just the two of us, but the closest one is several light-years away.” He dropped to one knee.

“No way!” Cerina shot up out of her chair and leaned over the back of Saija’s chair to get a better view.

Ryogin pulled something out of his pocket, and took Amaryllis’ left hand in both of his own. “Amaryllis, I’ve known you for a long time, and the more I work with you and get to know you, the more I love you. Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”

Amaryllis beamed. “I’ve been waiting patiently for years. Nothing other than the actual wedding would make me happier.”

Ryogin slipped a ring onto her finger and stood up. Amaryllis wrapped her arms around him, closed her eyes, leaned in, and pressed her lips to his. Kasai felt her face blush, then the rest of her overheat as she imagined Onin proposing to her and then… She took a deep breath and shook her head. Amaryllis and Ryogin had known each other for years. She and Onin had only known each other for, what, a little over six months?

Amaryllis eventually pulled away from Ryogin. She sighed, turned around, and leaned back against his chest.

“Oh, before we forget—” Amaryllis tilted her head up to look at Ryogin.

Ryogin smiled and kissed her forehead. “We’ve both been waiting a while for this, and neither of us wants to delay the wedding any further. Onin, as the captain of the ship, would you be willing to marry us?”

Onin blinked. “I can do that? Um, I mean, sure, if that’s what you both want.”

Amaryllis nodded and pulled Ryogin’s arms around her waist. “Yes, please. We’d just like a simple ceremony with all of you as our witnesses.” Her ears drooped slightly. She turned around in Ryogin’s arms and melted into him. “As soon as possible.”

“Um, yeah.” Ryogin blushed as Amaryllis nibbled gently on his neck. “I promised her we’d get married once she turned eighteen.”

“Dang.” Saija looked Amaryllis up and down. “She seems, uh, eager.”

Cerina wrinkled her nose. “I think she’s in heat.”

“I’m standing right here.” Amaryllis’ head was still snuggled up to Ryogin’s neck. “Can we have everything ready to still have it today? I’m thinking just something simple in the common room.”

Kasai looked around. Onin had a thoughtful look on his face. He was probably thinking about what he needed to do to perform a wedding. Tannin was busy reviewing the ship’s flight controls, but a large grin stretched across his face. Aiden looked like she wasn’t quite sure what was going on.

Cerina was staring at Amaryllis and Ryogin. She had a small sneer on her face, but her eyes were open wide, and her body language was relaxed and open. Kasai smiled. Cerina was probably a little jealous. Well, if she’d act a little nicer she’d be a lot more likely to find a guy.

Saija was openly gaping at Amaryllis and Ryogin. Saija clamped her legs closed, and her hands clasped together in front of her. Kasai wasn’t quite sure what Saija was thinking. As a Natas, she’d probably been a lot more… intimate… than everyone else here, but then none of that had been her choice either.

Well, none of the others were moving. Kasai stood and touched Amaryllis on the shoulder. “Um, I’ll go decorate the common room. Cerina, Saija, Aiden?”

“Huh?” Cerina blinked a few times. “Oh, yeah, sure.”

Aiden gasped from behind Kasai. “Holy flerk, that’s an onicranium band!”

dragon

Two hours later, Kasai and the others had been able to scrape together enough decorations to make the common room look almost festive. Streamers hung from the ceiling. Saija had made arrangements of paper flowers to decorate the tables, and even an elaborate bouquet for the bride.

It also turned out that Cerina was a pretty good baker, and she had made a three-tiered wedding cake. Kasai stood behind Cerina while she put the finishing touches on the cake.

“Wow.” Kasai bent down for a closer look. “That looks great. I love all the frosting flowers.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Cerina waved her back, but Kasai caught a hint of a smile.

The door opened and Onin entered. He was staring down at his phone and absently took a seat at the table closest to the door. Kasai watched him scroll through his phone for a few moments.

“Decided what to say?” she asked.

“Huh?” Onin looked up, did a double-take, and looked around the room. “Wow, looks great in here. Yeah, I think I’m gonna go with a fairly generic ceremony. Most of the examples I could find were for ministers, but there’s a few templates for ship captains.” Onin shifted in his chair. “Can I ask you something in confidence?”

“Sure.” Kasai pulled out a chair, turned it around and sat down, resting her arms over the back of the chair.

It was still difficult to sit in a regular chair with wings and a tail. How was Onin supposed to overlook those when even she wasn’t used to them yet. She fluttered her wings and folded them to her back. Worry about that later.

“So, uh, this is none of my business, but—” Onin looked around and leaned in closer to Kasai. “They want to get married today. I know they’ve known each other a while, but usually people wait a bit after the proposal to get married. I’d keep my nose out of it, but since they asked me to perform the ceremony, I’m feeling a little responsible, I don’t know. What do you think?”

Kasai bit her lower lip. What she wanted to do was throw her arms around Onin and tell him she was happy he’d come to her for advice, but that wouldn’t actually help the situation at hand.

“Hmm.” Kasai drummed her fingers on the back of the chair. “It’s a little un-traditional, but she has been pining after him for a long time. The monks say it’s better to either forgo romance altogether, or to commit to it fully.”

Onin grinned. “Okay, but what’s your opinion?”

“I don’t know.” Kasai looked down at the floor. “I’d rather wait, but then I haven’t known the guy I, uh—” Kasai felt her face flush, and she twirled her hair around her finger. “I mean, maybe it’d be different if I’d known someone for as long as Amaryllis and Ryogin have known each other.”

“Yeah.” Onin leaned back in his chair. “My mom and dad only knew each other for a few months before he proposed, then they got married six months after that. Amaryllis and Ryogin have known each other a lot longer than that. Thanks, Kasai, you’ve been a big help.”

Kasai grinned at him. “No problem, I—” Her phone beeped. She pulled it out of her pocket and glanced at the screen. “Shoot, I’ve got to go help Amaryllis get dressed!”

“Have fun.” He stood and offered her a hand up. “Tannin is helping Ryogin with his tie right now.”

dragon

Half an hour later, Kasai was back in the common room. Onin stood at the front of the room, still in his Union of Free Allied Planets space suit. Kasai raised any eyebrow. That was an interesting choice. Oh, wait, the captain of a ship was supposed to conduct a wedding in his uniform, right? Kasai shrugged. The space suite was as close as they had to any sort of official uniform.

Aiden, Cerina, Saija, and Tannin were seated in front of the table next to Kasai. Ryogin stood between them and Onin, resplendent in his tuxedo.

“Well, I think we’re ready, right?” Onin looked around.

“Well, a bride would be nice for a wedding,” Tannin said.

Cerina stuck her tongue out at him. It was probably a good thing they weren’t sitting next to each other.

Onin rolled his eyes. “Chibi-chan, tell Amaryllis to come in, please.”

“Sure, I’m letting her know now, nyan!”

The door to the common room slid open. Kasai and the others turned in their chairs. Amaryllis stepped in, eyes only for Ryogin. She wore a white sleeveless, floor-length dress. She walked up the aisle and stood to Ryogin’s left. Onin reached out and took Amaryllis left hand, and Ryogin’s right.

“If you’re ready?” Onin glanced at each of them.

“One moment.” Amaryllis craned her head over her shoulder. “Kasai, could you please come up here? We’ve only known each other a short time, but I’ve felt a special bond with you. I’d be honored if you’d be my special witness.”

Kasai blinked. True, she’d felt close to Amaryllis due to her being the only other half-Gesaran she knew, but this was still Amaryllis’ day, not hers.

“Oh, get up there, it’s just us.” Tannin pushed Kasai’s shoulder.

Kasai grabbed the bouquet, took a shaky step to stand next to Amaryllis, and handed her the paper flowers. Kasai took a deep breath and awkwardly clasped her hands in front of her. Would she be this nervous at her own wedding? Would Onin—she blushed—or anyone else, want to marry her with these wings? She took a deep breath and tried to concentrate on the ceremony.

Onin cleared his throat. “We’re together today to witness the joining of Amaryllis and Ryogin.

“Do you, Amaryllis—” Onin turned to face her. “—take Ryogin as your husband?”

Amaryllis beamed. “I do.”

Onin placed Amaryllis’ right hand in Ryogin’s left. “Do you, Ryogin, take Amaryllis as your wife?”

“I do.” All of Ryogin’s attention was on Amaryllis.

Kasai’s insides quivered at the thought of Onin looking at her like that. She sighed and stared into Onin’s eyes.

Onin took Ryogin’s right hand and placed it in Amaryllis’ left. “We all know of your devotion to one another, and none of us doubts your love and loyalty.” He lowered his eyebrows in Cerina’s direction.

Saija kicked Cerina’s heel. Cerina glared at her, but didn’t say anything.

Onin glanced back to Ryogin. “But I still wanted to be sure I could do the best job I could for both of you. I checked with both Chibi-chan and Aiden, and they both assure me that weddings conducted by a ship’s captain in interstellar space are binding and legal as long as they’re part of the official ship’s log. Chibi-chan is recording the ceremony, and I’m going to place a copy of the recording in the log, and I’ll send a copy to you as well.” Onin blushed and glanced down. “That wasn’t terribly romantic. Sorry. Anyway. By the power given to me by a very dubious A.I. cat, but more importantly, by the two of you declaring your love and devotion to each other in front of us, and before Ard, I pronounce you husband and wife. You may—”

The rest of Onin’s sentence was drowned by a happy squee from Amaryllis. She practically pounced on Ryogin and gave him a long kiss.

“Hey, what about cake?” Tannin asked.

Kasai sighed at the sound of Tannin’s voice. He would think of cake. Kasai sighed.

“Yeah, and aren’t you supposed to chuck the flowers at someone?” Saija scratched her head. “Or something like that, anyway.”

“Oh!” Amaryllis’ ears shot straight up. She let go of one of Ryogin’s hands and handed the bouquet to Kasai with a wink. “I think we all know who’s next.”

Kasai felt her face heat. She ducked her head and twirled her hair around her finger. She felt an urge to look over at Onin, but didn’t dare.

“Uh, cake!” Kasai dashed to the cupboard to retrieve a knife, which she set next to the cake. “You should cut the cake before Tannin just dives into it!”

“Hey!” Tannin edged closer to the cake. “I’m not quite that uncouth.”

“Hmph.” Cerina tossed her hair out of her eyes. “I’m surprised you even know that word. “And you’re barely housebroken.”

Amaryllis giggled. She and Ryogin cut the cake, each with one hand on the knife. They served each other, then Amaryllis brought Ryogin’s finger to her mouth and licked off a bit of frosting, Ryogin’s eyes never leaving hers.

Kasai sighed again. Oh, to have someone look at her that way. Kasai’s mind drifted back to Onin holding her in the forest. He’d come after her when she’d run away after growing dragon wings. He’d been the first to ever come after her. Heat pooled between Kasai’s legs at the memory of their first kiss.

An arm rested across her shoulders. Kasai jumped.

Onin smiled down at her. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you.”

“S’okay.” Kasai twirled her hair around her finger and leaned into Onin’s chest.

Tannin smacked the table in between bites of cake. “Kiss the bride!”

Ryogin blushed, but Amaryllis leaned in close and pressed her lips to his. She slid her hands up and around the back of his neck, and her breasts pressed up against him. Kasai’s breath grew rapid watching them, and the rest of the room seemed to fade away. Amaryllis opened her mouth and she leaned further into Ryogin. Kasai felt that she really should give them some privacy, but was unable to tear her gaze away.

A clear tone tore through the room and disrupted Kasai’s vision. She blinked and looked around.

Cerina stood at the table, the edge of her spoon against her water glass. “Okay, show’s over. You two go get a room.”

“Uh, yeah.” Ryogin swept Amaryllis off her feet and practically ran out of the common room carrying his bride.

“Sheesh.” Cerina flopped down into her chair. “I think the cat’s in heat.”

Saija jumped to her feet and dashed over to Kasai. She leaned in close. Her face was flush, and her breathing rapid. “I’m headed back to our room. Uh, give me about fifteen minutes.” She bolted for the door.

“Yeah.” Tannin stood and shook his head back and forth. “Well, I’m gonna take a cold shower and head to the bridge. We should be arriving at Nekotia in about six hours.”

Kasai glanced around the room. “Um, help me clean up?”

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