“It was a knock on the door.”
“Yes, but I mean, who is that?”
“I don’t know.”
Another knock at the door. Ariana walked slowly towards the door.
“Hello there, may I please speak with Miss Liliyet Snorsgard?”
The voice was a standard Cascadian English accent with a slight hint of a lilting French Creole drawl.
Ariana looked at Liliyet as she stared blankly in disbelief.
The voice outside continued. “It’s Emma Hubert, and I have an urgent matter to discuss.”
Ariana moved slowly toward the front door and opened it. Outside stood a young woman, mid-twenties, with long brown hair, piercing hazel eyes, and a wide smile.
“You must be Ariana. May I come in?”
Ariana was speechless, which Emma took for assent and walked into the room. She caught sight of Liliyet in the next room.
“And you must be the infamous Liliyet. You are just as beautiful as all the reports say.”
Ariana closed the door.
“I have a matter of some urgency and importance to discuss with you. But first, I must apologise for the fear you must have been experiencing since this morning. I wanted to meet you this morning, but others had a different idea, and I let them overrule my better judgment. I know they meant well, and I assure you you are safe with me.”
“What do you want?”
“First of all, I want to tell you my terms. In exchange for hearing me out, I am prepared to offer you asylum in Louisiana. Your crimes here in Cascadia will be squared with the authorities, and you will receive, at a minimum, guaranteed safety to leave Cascadia under the protection of the flag of Louisiana.”
“Well, that would be in exchange for accompanying me now and hearing what I have to say in a secure location.”
“I want to hear it now.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
“Why is that?”
“What I have to share with you is a matter of the utmost importance and not something that can be talked about anyplace where listening ears might hear what I have to say.”
“This is a safe house,” interjected Ariana.
“It is a safe house that I knew of, my dear Ariana,” replied Emma, “and I have already taken a great risk by being inside it and speaking with you both. If I know where it is, I can guarantee you that others do as well.”
The two women were silent.
“I realise the circumstances may seem strange to you,” said Emma, “But I likewise can assure you that you have my word that the Cascadian authorities will not harm you if you come with me now.”
“Please, Liliyet, for your mother and sister’s sake, please do as I ask of you.”
Something about Emma’s demeanour and how she pleaded made Liliyet trust her.
“Okay. But Ariana comes with me,” said Liliyet.
“I am afraid I cannot extend the same terms to her.”
“I won’t leave her to the authorities. She helped me, and it’s a deal breaker.”
There was a pause, and then Emma Hubert smiled a broad smile.
“Very well. You shall both be under my protection.”