“They caught me by surprise, so I had to slice a little,” Ribbon explained with a shrug.
Amadhay stared at the new, still healing scar on the woman’s arm that hadn’t been there the day before, when she had left for a mission. She knew the woman was a blood witch, but until that moment, she had never seen any scars to indicate that she used her innate magical ability.
“So what did you do?” she asked, incredibly curious as to how strong the blood magic was. She had never talked to a blood witch before, much less been able to gauge ones power.
Ribbon leaned back in her seat, eyeing Amadhay for a long moment before she shrugged. “It can’t hurt to tell you a bedtime story,” she teased, poking fun at the fact that Amadhay had been frozen on her bed, lying on her back with her head and upper body propped up by pillows. It was one of the few times she had been stuck in a comfortable position.
Amadhay rolled her eyes. “Are you going to free me?”
“Maybe,” Ribbon teased before jumping into her story. “Okay, so there I was, looking for the Rift Lair. I had been told that no one was there. I was told that it was supposed to be an easy mission, right? Well, I get there and it was an ambush.”
Amadhay scoffed. “I could have told you that.”
“You don’t know my sources,” Ribbon countered, sitting on the edge of the bed. She absentmindedly played with the sheer gold curtain of the canopy. “When they tell me there’s no one there, it normally means no one is there.”
“Sounds like you have a hole in your safety net,” Amadhay muttered.
Ribbon sighed and rolled her eyes. “Do you want to hear the rest of the story or not?” she demanded.
“I do. I’m just saying. You should plug that.”
“I know. I’m going to.”
“Good. I need you around to keep unfreezing me. You can continue now.”
“Well thank you so much,” Ribbon drawled sarcastically before rolling her eyes. “It was an ambush. Ten of them were on me, two relatively small arachins, a wolf feral who was the leader, and seven aelfen goons. The leader was, of course, telling me all the things they were going to do to me while the arachins held me down and the aelfe just stood around, feeling all proud of themselves, which, once I got over the shock, was hilarious.
“ ‘Do you know who I am?’ I asked them and the leader grinned down at me like I was dinner.
‘You’re the Palnoki’s fairy,’ is what he told me. Me. I mean honestly. I love everyone here, but I’m definitely not giving them love. How awkward would that get?” Ribbon gave a huff when Amadhay rolled her eyes, still apparently fuming about the insult. “What? I’m no one’s fairy.”
“Who cares?” Amadhay asked. “He’s dead.”
“True enough.” Ribbon nodded. “Anyway, I obviously took offense to that. The arachins holding me were holding me like this,” she stood up and stretched her arms and legs out so that she looked like a star. “But what they didn’t know was that my boots do this,” she hit the heel of her foot against the leg of the bed frame and a blade popped out of the bottom of the shoes, making Amadhay recognize the practicality of the platform styled boots. She couldn’t imagine that they would be very comfortable though.
“So I was able to kick the legs that were hooked around my ankles to push the blade out and then I just used them to cut the legs holding me. It wasn’t the best way, but it was the only way I had at that moment. They dropped me to reach for their fucked up legs, okay? And I just kicked one of them in the face. In case you couldn’t tell,” she held her foot up higher so that Amadhay could better appreciate the long, thin blade attached to the woman’s foot. It wasn’t serrated and really didn’t look like the type she would use to cut people up.
“These aren’t exactly made to fight with. It’s sharp enough but not super durable for much other than skating. So it didn’t hack, but it worked well enough to off the one I kicked in the face. The other one though, he stood up higher so that I couldn’t reach high enough to kick him in the face. I mean I’m tall, but I’m not seven feet tall. My leg doesn’t go that high unless I jump and with both blades out, I was probably going to hurt myself instead of them.
“Then the aelfe all started at me. They had been shocked when I had started to fight back, but now they were in the mood to try me. One pulled out a gun on me and I was just lucky enough to grab another one as my meat shield. He must have shot at me at least three times before I was hit from the other side by a fucking pole.”
Amadhay was feeling the story. She was so enraptured that she was fearing for Ribbon even though the woman had obviously triumphed, since she was sitting right there. “What’d you do?” she asked, sitting up.
Ribbon sat back down on the edge of the bed, leaning forward so that the urgent tone in her voice made Amadhay lean forward, to her. “Nothing. I couldn’t. There were eight of them and only one of me. Even if I could take one of them out, I would probably get shot. Even though the boss was in the back, cowering, they still had me down. And while the arachin was in too close range to be any danger, the aelfe were all close range fighters. So I let them beat me down while I figured out what I could do.”
Amadhay frowned, looking her over. “But you’re fine.”
Ribbon smiled at her. “Blood witch. I use my blood magic and I automatically heal everything but the cut. Duh.”
Amadhay nodded slowly, suddenly aware that she wasn’t still frozen to the bed. This was her chance to take Ribbon out and get away. It would be easy now that she knew there were blades in the woman’s shoes. If she got one shoe, she could take her out.
But she wanted to hear the rest of the story first. Damn her curiosity.
“They beat me down until I stopped fighting back and the arachin held me up again, only this time a knife was to my throat. Now that all the danger was gone, the leader came back over to me, the coward.
“ ‘You’re at my mercy,’ he told me, gripping my face and squeezing my cheeks to purse my lips. ‘So I’d think real hard on whether you’re going to behave. I don’t need you. I might just kill you unless you make yourself useful.’ I tried to ask him what he wanted, but he didn’t let go of my face. ‘You’re gonna be a good girl, aren’t you?’ he asked me and I felt sick. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what he wanted from me.”
Amadhay clenched her fists in anger for Ribbon. She had been in similar situations before, but she had always had an out or Tairyn, Benjy or Monkey in the background, ready to get her out. The only time she had been in that situation and genuinely worried had been when she and Maria had been partners. She had been captured by a handful of the Huron clan’s vigilantes and if it hadn’t been for her own quick thinking and a crazy amount of luck, they would have raped and killed her. Maria hadn’t even tried to save her. So she could understand how Ribbon must have been feeling at that moment and that made her angry, angry that she was feeling for the enemy.
But she wouldn’t deny it, she was angrier with the people who had tried to hurt Ribbon even if they were dead.
There could be honor in killing that was preferable to the ruin that came with rape. Even torture was a better thing, couldn’t compare to the incredible brutality of rape. Rape took that act, that interaction between lovers, an intimate action meant to supply the strength of love, of good emotions, and perverted it. Even just using sex to get something wasn’t as brutal as rape. While being just as emotionally scarring, it didn’t ruin a person like rape did. She was happy, even though she still planned on killing the other woman, that Ribbon hadn’t been hurt like that.
“How did you get away?” Amadhay whispered.
Ribbon grinned. “I struggled. He decided to cut my arm as a warning.”
Amadhay stared at her in disbelief. “He didn’t know?”
“Why would he?” Ribbon countered. “It’s not like I broadcast it. He just thought I was an average killer. That was his mistake.”
“I can imagine,” Amadhay replied, staring at the long cut on Ribbon’s arm. She couldn’t though. She knew that blood witch’s power came from the shed of their blood and that a cut created more power than a nosebleed. She had heard that cuts hurt blood witches more than others, but she’d also heard that cuts gave blood witches ecstasy. She wasn’t sure which was true. She wanted to ask.
“When they cut me,” Ribbon continued after a click of silence, “It hurt. It hurt more than it had the last time, and that was my fault because I haven’t cut to let it out. All the power beneath my skin came tumbling out at once, and it was simultaneously the best feeling I’d ever had and the worst pain I’d ever endured.
“Even without a focus word, or a spell, the unfocused power slammed into all of them, shoving them away from me. The wound kept bleeding, even though it shouldn’t, but I didn’t mind. I coated my fingers in my blood and,” she paused, glancing at Amadhay, who was staring at her in rapt attention. “Said a few spells and boom, they all died.” She smiled and Amadhay was incredibly aware that something had been left out of that story.
“Now I’m gonna get out of here before you decide to try and kill me with my own skates,” she joked in a tone that made Amadhay stay still. She knew that she should still try, but she couldn’t. Ribbon gave her another smile before leaving the room.
She came back, though, after only a few clacks, her boots gone and dressed in loose pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a green cloak similar to the ones Stefan wore. She unceremoniously dropped onto the foot of Amadhay’s bed, making the girl look at her questioningly.
“I’m not frozen?” Amadhay said questioningly. She glanced to the open door and then back to Ribbon, unsure what the woman was playing at. Ribbon had never come in without Amadhay needing her first. They didn’t just sit together in companionable silence. They weren’t companions.
“I know. But I figured that it gets boring in here on your own, plotting your escape and all of our deaths. ‘sides, I’m bored.” Ribbon stayed there on her bed, eyes closed and her normal smile on her face. This was so strange.
Amadhay looked to the curtain of the canopy, trying to determine how difficult it would be to strangle the woman. She looked to the door, recognizing that it wouldn’t be too difficult for her to use her Gift and run out—if the doorway itself wasn’t warded to keep her in. She glanced at the overhang, knowing that she could kill the blood witch by knocking her head against it.
She didn’t do any of that. “Why do you look so familiar to me?” she asked instead.
Ribbon looked up at her in surprise before rolling to her side. She was still far too relaxed in Amadhay’s opinion. She hadn’t made up her mind just yet if she was going to kill her. She just wasn’t going to kill her until she answered some questions. They’d been banging around in her head for a while.
“You recognize me?” Ribbon asked, her green eyes lighting up happily.
Amadhay frowned. “No,” she responded, making the excited glint in Ribbon’s eyes dim a bit. “I said you look familiar. I just don’t know why.”
“We’ve met a few times,” Ribbon answered with a slight shrug. “Nothing really memorable, I guess.”
“Have I fought you before?” Amadhay guessed.
Ribbon laughed. She seriously laughed, and hard, her eyes squinting shut as she held her sides and turned her face into Amadhay’s blankets. For a moment, the girl considered pressing her head down and suffocating her, but she didn’t. Instead, she waited out the laughter.
“Sorry,” Ribbon panted, glancing up at Amadhay once her laughter subsided. She gave a peal of giggles before clearing her throat and sitting up. “No,” she said. “I can assure you that we have never fought.”
“What’s so funny about that?” Amadhay asked, not sure whether she should have been offended.
“I can assure you that you would remember fighting me, Red Bird.”
Amadhay narrowed her eyes, more at the sudden nickname than at what she assumed to be a slight. “I fight a lot of people. I don’t remember them all,” she responded, disliking how certain Ribbon was on this. Was she implying that Amadhay wasn’t a good fighter? She was. She wasn’t the best, but she was nothing to scoff at.
“I’m the Executioner.”
It took Amadhay a moment to process that. “Oh,” she said after a few clicks of Ribbon looking at her with immense amusement.
She understood now. She knew she hadn’t been pitted against the Palnoki’s Executioner. If she had, she wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. Because she’d be dead. No one who Palnoki’s Executioner had gone after was still living to tell the tale, and if they were, they were being completely silent about it.
Ribbon grinned at her, the same reassuring grin the woman had given her when she had seemed a little too concerned about the new scar. “So no, we never met Executioner to Red Robin. It was Princess to ladyling.”
Princess? Amadhay thought for a moment, confused, before remembering that Atlas was indeed the king of Palnoki and had a ragtag family of orphans as his royal line. Ribbon was Princess Ribbon Palnoki, which, had she thought about it for more than a few clicks, she should have been able to realize on her own. Ribbon was a popular name, but there was only one Ribbon close to Atlas Palnoki. His oldest adopted daughter.
She couldn’t believe she hadn’t realized this already.
“But I guess it wouldn’t hurt to be completely upfront with you.” Ribbon said, giving Amadhay a knowing grin as she leaned back against the footboard of the bed. “We also met when I was undercover.”
Amadhay raised her eyebrows, looking at her curiously. “When?” she asked. “Where?”
“It was less than a year ago. I was working for your cousin.”
Amadhay frowned, thinking through her four cousins. She knew everyone who worked with Christein a year ago. Hynnkel had been focused on helping new-Amaya. She doubted Nolando or Kelly had any interactions that would involve the blood witch. That sent her back to Christein or Hynnkel.
“I was his servant.”
That confused Amadhay. All servants were the same gender as their masters to keep illicit pregnancies at a minimum. So, for her to have been one of her male cousins servants, she had to have been undercover as a male, which made no sense to her. Ribbon was undeniably female, with her elfin features, full mouth, slender frame. Putting her in male clothes and binding her chest down wouldn’t have done much to change it. And considering all servants went through serious testing for magical or any other alterations, she couldn’t really imagine the woman getting through. Unless blood magic was that strong.
“I was his personal servant, his shadow.”
Now that she thought about it, she did distinctly remember a servant Christein kept much closer to him than his others. He had been Christein’s Indigo, an oddity that he kept close for curiosity’s sake. His name had been…something familiar. Something important to her.
“Robin, remember? I was gathering information. I left right before the entire Sha debacle with you and your sister.”
Amadhay honestly wasn’t sure what she was talking about with the ‘Sha debacle,’ but assumed it had to do with them, the Palnoki, tricking her into handing Amaya over and embarrassing her when she had tried to double cross them.
But that wasn’t what she was thinking about. She was looking at Ribbon, trying to find ‘Robin’ in her face, when a completely different—or rather the first of the same—Robin came to her mind. Robin. Princess Robin. It was definitely her. She had the same chocolate skin color, the same light green eyes, the same smile, even the same tiny, silver, nose ring.
Ribbon, Princess Ribbon Palnoki had been her first crush, though she hadn’t realized it until right then. When she was eleven, right after she’d hit her first puberty, she had been forced to attend a holiday party. It had been the absolute worst. Monkey had opted out of it, Amaya had been no help, and she had been incredibly uncomfortable in her new body under the eyes of all the older, horny lordlings and ladylings.
And then she’d met Ribbon, or who she’d then been told was Robin. Robin had made the entire evening worthwhile. Amadhay had been excited to go to parties after that, just hoping for a glimpse of Robin, and never received one. By that time, she had been pressured into making a name for herself in the Palnoki because she was a new field agent, pushed out between Monkey and Benjy for training. Everyone had expected her to become something reminiscent of her two guides, and she had. But she’d chosen something as personal to her as she could.
She’d used Robin’s name to become Red Robin.
It was an uncomfortable feeling, looking at Ribbon and realizing that the teenager she’d been pining over for four years was now right there with her, in touching distance, and instead of wanting to play out her old daydreams of making a life with her, she was making plans to kill her. That was just how Amadhay’s life went, she guessed.
“What, not curious? Not going to ask me what information I was looking for?” Ribbon teased, breaking Amadhay from her thoughts.
Amadhay shrugged. “It doesn’t matter.”