She wasn’t fickle.
That was what Amadhay had to keep reminding herself. She wasn’t fickle. Her allegiance couldn’t be replaced in twenty-one short (or twenty-one long, as they had been for her) days and those days couldn’t remove her allegiance to the Phoegani. The last twenty-one days with Ribbon couldn’t replace the past fifteen years with Monkey. Fifteen days spent in Tenshu’s company couldn’t replace five years working with, around, and under Benjy, they couldn’t replace those horrifying twenty-three clacks when she had thought the phantom was fully dead.
She wasn’t fickle.
Because twenty-one days with the Palnoki couldn’t replace the six years she’d had with the Phoegani, Amadhay was going home. She was happy about it, really, she was. She belonged with her friends, the ones who had helped form her into who she was, not these new ones who she could see helping her become the person she always dreamed of being. Dreams weren’t realities. Dreams were only fantasies made by a bored mind to torment her long waking zoots. Her reality was the assassin for the Phoegani; her reality was the mass slaughtering Red Robin, not Ribbon’s Red Bird. Red Bird was a girl with too much time on her hands and no real worries. She couldn’t afford to be that person.
But could she afford not to be Amadhay?
She tried to ignore the things Atlas had said, that to the Phoegani, she was just an asset. That Benjy had chosen the Phoegani over her. That Monkey had chosen the Phoegani over her. She knew that they wouldn’t do that, that neither man would ever dream of choosing the Phoegani over her, that they had to be looking for her.
She sat on her bed—no, on the bed in the room she had been staying. They weren’t hers because she didn’t belong here. They weren’t hers because she didn’t get to have things associated with the Palnoki. They weren’t hers. Her belongings were in her room in Roadesia, on the Phoegani base, where she was pretending to be dead.
She was tired of pretending to be dead just so that she could continue living. She wanted to openly be alive again. She could do that here. Here, she could walk around with Ribbon and Tenshu and no one would give her a second look. She could be unglamoured and not worry about being attacked. She could stop killing people for a cause she honestly didn’t understand. She could be done killing people for an uncle who would never see her as worthy of anything more than two words of praise. She could stop looking over her shoulder every five clicks, fearful that someone might recognize and attack her.
She could be free, and Goddess, how she wanted to be free.
But she wasn’t fickle.
She had signed an oath to do the work of the Phoegani so long as she lived. Which, now that she thought about it, was probably void since she was technically dead, legally speaking. Regardless, she had signed the oath and her life was dedicated to the Phoegani and all of its endeavors. It didn’t matter than she had only been nine when she had signed it, and had only been following Christein’s lead, had allowed Arne Riff to convince her that it was her only choice at the time. She couldn’t just decide that she no longer agreed to do the Phoegani’s work, especially not to, instead, be with the Palnoki. That was a betrayal of epic proportions. If she did that, there would be major repercussions in the future, repercussions that might even pit her against Christein and Benjy.
Except most of the Phoegani already thought she had betrayed them. She would bet all of her inheritance that no one was looking for her because they assumed she had been a part of the Palnoki’s plan. She had, after all, brought in four Palnokians in one day, and all four of those same Palnokians had wreaked havoc and left the same day. The fact that she had been abducted with them was probably glossed over, replaced with the idea that she had led the escape and gone with them. While she didn’t want to let those people be right about her, she also knew that going back was going to be incredibly difficult, especially if Atlas just dropped her off on their doorstep like a little gift. They would think that she was a ploy to get inside and destroy them from the ranks.
She was really better off staying. But she wasn’t fickle and she wasn’t a turncoat. Still, Atlas had said that he wasn’t recruiting her…
She stared at the bags at the foot of her bed. She had come back to the room after her conversation with Atlas and they had already been packed. All the clothes she had amassed since coming were packed right there. All of her belongings were there, including her weapons. On her lap lay her favorite blade, the one Monkey had given her on her thirteenth birthday. It was highly decorative, with a golden blade that had a wicked curve to it and an inlay of rubies that only seemed to become redder with every kill.
That was her life. She was a decorative knife for the Phoegani. Killing people was all she had been trained to do since she had been young; it was all she was good for. She didn’t know anything else. She had never had a choice. Arne Riff had taken her under his guidance almost as soon as her parents had died, when she was five. He had morphed whatever she had been then and turned her into a monster.
She knew she was a monster. Only monsters could kill for no reason other than orders and not feel remorse. She hated that she couldn’t see a life where she didn’t have to kill others for a living. She was at the point where she liked killing. She liked seeing the look of terror in a person’s eyes as they realized she was there to kill them. She liked the knowledge that she was seeing a person at their last moments. She collected those moments, those looks, their last words.
The door opened and Amadhay turned herself from her thoughts, looking up at Atlas as he walked in. He looked tired even if he still had that smile on his face. She knew he was faking it, that the smile was as false as his words to her. He wasn’t going to take her back. He was playing another game with her.
He looked around the room before focusing on the two bags at the foot of her bed. “Is that all you have?” he asked, leaning down to pick both up. He slipped the long strap for the larger one over his shoulder, choosing to simply hold the other by its short straps.
Amadhay nodded mutely, playing with the hem of her red cloak. Atlas nodded at her, gesturing with his head to the door. “Then I guess we should be going.”
She nodded again, getting to her feet. Taking care to tuck the beautiful knife into its sheath on her thigh, she watched Atlas to see if he had any reaction to her weapons. He didn’t. He simply waited for her. She took a new, deep breath, gently tugging at the ends of her twin braids. Tenshu had braided her hair for her before he had left her alone in the room to think everything over. He had said he thought it might make her feel a little bit more put together. She thought that maybe he had thought doing that for her would change her mind about leaving. It didn’t.
She paused for a moment as she made it to Atlas’ side, staring at him for a long moment before walking past him and out of the door. Once she was out, he used his free hand to pull the door closed behind him. The click of the door as it shut sounded foreboding to Amadhay, as if the door was closing in on her. She glanced back and up at Atlas again, but he wasn’t looking at her. Instead, he had a strangely focused expression as he steered her down the halls. This time, she was led directly to the front door, which was much closer to her room than she had thought after the long, winding route Ribbon had taken the other day.
“Amadhay,” Atlas muttered, making her look back at him as the door swung open.
“Yes?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Nothing. Go on,” he said, gesturing with his head for her to go out of the door.
She gave him a long look before turning her attention back to the open door. Taking a deep breath, she braced herself for the cold and stepped outside. The moment Atlas stepped out as well and closed the door behind them, once the leftover warmth from all of the heating spells interlaced with the walls of the building left, the chill slapped Amadhay in the face. Pulling her hood up onto her head and holding her cloak closed, she felt warmer, but the chill still sliced through even the latent heating spell on the cloak, gloves, and boots. Atlas stood close behind her, warming her a bit more where his body was pressed against hers.
“We’re going to have to go on the sled until we get far enough in that Medica can get to us in her flyer.”
“Flyer?” Amadhay asked, though ‘sled’ was just as foreign a word to her. She assumed the large wooden thing sitting atop snow and strapped to several wolf Ferals was the sled since Atlas was leading her to it.
“Have you ever been in a submarine?” he asked her, tossing her bags into the sled before he helped her into the center of it, settling behind her. He put his legs on either side of her, pressing her back to his front and grabbed the reins.
“Once,” she admitted, remembering the claustrophobic feeling of being stuck inside a small hunk of metal that could somehow swim both underneath and on the water and not sink.
“It is similar to that, only in the air,” he explained, snapping the reins to force the Ferals to start running. At first, the large lupines moved slowly on top of the snow until they gained momentum and they, and with them the sled, moved quickly over snow, practically gliding right on top of it and not sinking in.
“That sounds like a horrible idea,” Amadhay muttered. She had flown once, in an air carriage led by two overly large bird Ferals. It had not been an experience she had ever wanted to duplicate.
“You slept right through it the last time,” he reminded her.
“You had me forced into sleep,” she reminded him.
“You won’t even notice that you are moving,” he promised her, talking almost directly into her ear now that it was becoming hard to hear over the wind moving harshly against them. His close contact was the only thing keeping her hood up. They were now officially farther than she had tunneled the previous day, making her realize that while she had gone a decent distance, she hadn’t even put a dent in the distance between the base and the village she had been able to see in the distance from her room.
“That’s not the part I don’t want,” she said, the words slipping from her mouth before she even knew what she was saying.
He snapped the reins again. “Then what is?” he asked.
She tried to look back at him, but the cloak was in the way. Better that way, she thought before turning her eyes back to the Ferals. She didn’t want to be the type of girl to take one look at a guy and fall so hard that she forgot everything else. Above all else, she refused to betray Christein and Benjy, which meant that she had to go back. She had to.