I spit out the first thing that came to my mind. “You want the shower first?”
Scrubbing her hands through her hair she nodded. “Yes. Come help me out of this dress.” There was really no need to help her, but we still had to discuss our plan and see if we could find a way to survive the Deep.
My eyes were dry and crusted over with dirt, salt, and flecks of gore still. I stood and stretched my arms over my head, limbs protesting the long night unmoving. I glanced at Ash.
He still slept. His head leaned against the door, eyes closed.
I headed to the bathroom attached to our room.
Belladonna was already naked and scrubbing herself under the flow of water.
Half the room was set up as a shower, the walls tiled in pale blue marble flecked with black streaks, but the base of the shower was a pure white sand. I slid a hand over the marble to the dangling handle next to the shower. Guessing, I pulled on it.
Water poured out like a miniature waterfall. I stepped under the flow, gasping at the temperature. Not hot by any means, the water was clean, fresh, and smelling of rain. It beckoned. I couldn’t help opening my mouth and gulping down a few gallons, finally quenching my thirst. I scooped up handfuls of sand from the bottom of the shower and scrubbed it over my skin and hair while the water pounded around me.
Finally feeling refreshed, I stepped out of the shower, but let it run. I grabbed a towel for myself and handed one to my sister. She wrapped it around her body and we tucked our heads close together, the rushing water drowning out our words.
“I’m going to find Ambassador Barkley, or whatever is left of him. You make friends with Requiem. Take Ash.”
She nodded. “Be careful, Lark. We only have each other.”
I flicked the pull handle of the showers, shutting the water off and turned. Ash stood there, watching.
“Ambassador. Your presence is requested.” He stepped to the side. Behind him was a human slave. The first we’d seen.
Belladonna sucked in a sharp breath and I struggled not to do the same. Skeletally thin, I wasn’t even sure if I looked at a man or a woman, an adult or a child. Draped in a thin white cloth, the material only accentuated the jutting bones and jagged hollows where flesh should have been.
The slave held out a silver platter, arms shaking with the effort. He spoke, carefully. “Requiem would like to eat you. Eat with you, I mean.” I darted forward and grabbed the platter. On it was a single note with Bella’s name written across it in bold script. I handed it to her. She cracked it open.
“Requested to dine with him. Again.” She threw the letter down, strode into the other room, and grabbed two pieces of fruit. “Here, eat this. Your body offends me.”
She shoved the fruit at the slave who stared up at her, then fell to his knees as he jammed the fruit into his mouth. Crying, he ate, and I couldn’t look at him. This was the ugly truth of the Undines. Even without Requiem at the head, they thought nothing of having slaves. Even that old man I’d met the night before, he’d seemed kind. And yet, he likely had his own set of slaves to tend to him.
I dropped my towel and went to grab my clothes. Which were no longer on the floor where I’d left them. Scooping my towel back up I wrapped it around my body, tying it off along my chest. The flash of white cloth slipping through the door caught my eye.
The human slaves were quick with their chores it seemed.
“They’ll bring them back,” Ash said. “The slaves are very good at what they do.”
My jaw dropped and Belladonna elbowed me hard. “Of course they are. See, Lark, they even brought us clothes to wear.”
On the bed were two outfits. Or what passed in the Deep as outfits. A swath of black silk lay stretched across the bed next to a pure white swath of silk. White was what the slaves wore.
I picked up the white silk, knowing what it meant to put it on, to admit I had no value. Requiem knew I was a bastard. “Want to guess which one of us this is for?”
Belladonna sucked in a sharp breath. “He wouldn’t go so far.”
I shrugged. “We don’t really know him other than the fact he tried to kill us at least twice and me three times.” I hated to admit I didn’t understand the games and politics, but Belladonna knew this world better than I did. My jaw tightened, but I managed to speak. “Do you think I should wear it?”
She fingered it. “No, I think I will wear it. It’s a better color on me, black is too harsh.”
Ash grunted softly. “What are you up to, Belladonna?”
She batted her eyes at him. “Whatever do you mean, Ender? I wish only for Requiem to see I serve him while I am here. Do you not think the white is fitting?”
Clever, clever girl. Lips twitching, I fought back the smile as I helped her wind her body into the white silk. She was right; the white did look fantastic against her dark hair and smoky eyes. Her hand went to the griffin tooth still around her neck. “This is too crass with this silk. You wear it, Lark.” She all but flicked the necklace across to me. I caught it and slid it over my head. Why had she given it back? Perhaps she really didn’t like it, maybe she really did think it clashed with the white silk.
Of course, she didn’t know that it was magical either.
Dressed as much as she was going to be, Belladonna held out a hand to Ash. “Come, take me. Let us explore this place.”
Ash hesitated, glanced at me still in my towel then took her hand. “Of course.”
So well trained as an Ender, he didn’t think of breaking the rules. Of turning down a command from someone superior to him.