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 In which the game begins

 

 

Atlas Palnoki was snoring gently on his favorite couch for naps, his glasses perched crookedly on his nose.

When a presence flooded his mind, he opened his eyes to find a familiar girl from his past with a blade to his throat. Even with the highly charmed piece of black fabric pressed onto her face to attempt to hide her identity, he knew it was her. Pushing his glasses up, he arched one eyebrow at Amadhay Hakinato, still lying down. In the click it took him to recognize her, he noted that she looked just like she had when she was four, only a little taller, dressed quite differently, and with tell-tale red eyes.

When she smiled coolly down at him, he let his eyes linger a click too long on her scarlet painted lips. “Hello there,” she said lazily. “Plan on coming with me easily? Because I would love to rough you up.”

His eyebrows rose when her eyes turned the hauntingly familiar sky blue as she glanced away for a click when his kitten softly meowed. She didn’t look down at the kitten, but to the wall, before her gaze settled back on his face, seemingly without recognition. He wondered if she truly didn’t recognize him or if she was playing at something. The uncertainty was tantalizing.

He sat up, forcing her to pull the blade back so as not to draw blood, his red eyes not moving from hers as the blue instantly shifted back to red at his attention. He took a deep breath and then looked away, running a hand through his ruffled polar hair. “Can I bring my kitten?” he asked, knowing from her unneeded blink that she thought it strange how uncaring he was about the situation. He thought it was rather cute that she truly seemed to think that she had the upper hand.

He held back a grin when Amadhay’s face twitched in suppressed irritation. He could tell that she had probably been given express orders not to do any real damage to her target, so he had a feeling that she was being unusually careful, and it was obvious that she didn’t like it. She gave another unnecessarily long blink before she looked away, glaring at the floor for a moment before looking to the black kitten. Seeing it, tension eased in her face as she gave a small smile before looking back to Atlas as calmly as possible.

“You may bring the kitten,” she allowed imperiously, backing up enough for him to scoop it up.

Atlas cradled the kitten against his chest carefully. “His name is Mayday,” he told her slowly, “He’s only eight weeks old, so I need to take care of him still.” He paused, gauging her reaction.

Amadhay paused for a click, looking curiously at the kitten. He watched her face closely as her eyes widened for a full click. She even touched her face, as if to be sure that her mask was still in place. He could almost see something wriggling in the back of her mind, but she shut it down, or at least closed off the thoughts from her expression. That was a major difference from the little Amadhay, the ability to not show what she was thinking. Instead of allowing him to see what she thought about the cat having her nickname, she simply shook her head at him. He was a bit disappointed that she didn’t give him more.

He started to say something else, but didn’t get the chance, because  he didn’t even see her move, but by the time he was aware she was doing something, it had already been done. She reached out, quick as a flash and grasped his throat. With the flex of a surprising amount of power for a spell he didn’t recognize from her softly spoken cues, she teleported them to a new building.

The shift took Atlas by surprise, though he wouldn’t admit it. He hadn’t been aware of her pure, unfiltered abilities. He was going to have to have words with his information teams. Rumors had often claimed that she was a proficient magic user, but proficient was hardly the word he’d use now that he had felt the power she had just expended. She didn’t even show any signs of exhaustion, and he could still taste the amount of power it had taken to teleport them into this room of this obviously warded building. If he’d been able to see auras, he was sure that hers would be silver, the second most powerful.

“Ah. Okay,” was all he said before taking in his surroundings. It didn’t take much effort to discern that she had moved him to the Phoegani. She was an operative for them. Besides that, he knew it was the Phoegani building because it had to be.

The bland walls and sparse furniture, save for one table and two rather uncomfortable looking chairs, screamed of an interrogation room. Interesting, he thought, noting the fact that Amadhay was, by trade, a capturer, torturer and mostly a killer, not an interrogator. This was a bit different than he had planned, but he could work with it.

Keeping up with illusions, he turned bored eyes to Amadhay. “So. Why am I here?”

Drawing her hand back from his skin, where it had lingered longer than necessary, Amadhay stepped back from him and to the doorway before checking behind her, out of the room and into the hallway. Her somewhat blank look gave him the idea that she had been expecting someone else to be here when she got back with him.

She obviously wasn’t sure what to do now, but she attempted to cover up that lack of knowledge as she crossed her arms beneath her chest and gave him a haughty smirk. “Wouldn’t you like to know,” she taunted.

“I’ll bet you would too,” he said casually. At her quick look of irritation, he gave her a small smile, his eyes laughing. Glancing up from her, he watched as another, less interesting masked member of the Hakinato clan approached from the hall. The male’s eyes never left Atlas as he moved as quickly as he could with a bum leg, his reptilian tail lashing dangerously back and forth to indicate some dark emotion Atlas didn’t know, but could guess at.

He came up from behind Amadhay before she could turn to see where Atlas’ eyes were trained, tapping her shoulder as he glared at Atlas. “Did you find any trouble?” he asked from outside of the room, only half-teasing, and not looking at his younger cousin in favor of watching Atlas as if the man were going to try to make a run for it.

“I wish,” Amadhay responded, relaxing with his presence.

Atlas looked curiously from the male to the rather younger girl. It gets more interesting by the moment, he thought, noting how close the cousins allowed themselves to be, how possessively Christein laid his hand upon Amadhay’s shoulder, how she all but worshipped him with her eyes. She pointedly looked from Atlas to Christein, her eyes pleading. “Please tell me you have a real mission for me now. Please, Baron.”

The uneasy look she gave his way told Atlas that he made her uncomfortable and that she wanted to be away from him as soon as possible, which he found vaguely irritating, though it would only be temporarily problematic. Besides that, he assumed that her eagerness had more to do with a want to get back to her normal fare of work instead of continuing on with this hoax of a mission. Who in their right mind had sent Amadhay to gather him? He wanted to thank them. Whomever it was had made everything much more fun for him.

“Interrogation,” Christein apologized, finally looking down at her. “Ask him the questions from the card right there.” He pointed to the single white card on the table.

Atlas and Amadhay both looked at the table and then back to Christein with unimpressed looks. He gave an apologetic shrug to Amadhay, not even glancing at Atlas this time. Amadhay gave an aggrieved sigh, making Atlas raise his eyebrows at her, look at the table and then back to her questioningly.

“Come on,” she snapped angrily, swinging and missing, barely keeping herself from punching a wall. She was very hands on in ushering Atlas to the table, after giving an angry glare just past Christein and slamming the door shut between them.

While Atlas sat down and placed the curled up Mayday on the table, Amadhay looked around. He wondered why she took such a long time looking over the room, before deciding that she had probably never been in an interrogation room before and was just trying to get her bearings. She walked around for a moment, which Atlas watched with his chin propped up on one hand and a purposefully bored expression on his face that he knew would annoy her. Finally, Amadhay seated herself on the edge of the table, picking up the card and placing it in her lap.

When she looked the card over and rolled her eyes, he knew that he was in for a treat. If he knew anything about the girl (and he dare say he did), he knew that a roll of her eyes meant she was about to mix things up. “What’s your favorite color?” she asked, staring up at the ceiling, mimicking his purposely bored manner so perfectly that he knew she was trying to get into his head.

“Sky blue,” Atlas said with a small smile. Mayday uncoiled himself and stretched before walking over to Amadhay. He sat down in front of her, blinking his large eyes. She smiled at the kitten, lifting him onto her lap.

He purred when she pet him, and she focused on Mayday, rather than Atlas, when asking her next question. “Fondest memory?” she asked, her tone implying that she couldn’t be bothered to care, though he had to wonder what her endgame was.

Ever one to play along, however, Atlas tilted his head up to the ceiling, blinking three times before answering. “Wow. That’s a lot of memories. Hm. I think right now it would be when Tenshu Tanhakinshu joined my family.”

Amadhay smiled when Mayday rubbed his head against her hand, both of them making adorable feline sounds. “And what is your sexual orientation?” she asked, not looking up from her namesake.

That question surprised him. He smirked, waiting for her to look at him to answer, but she didn’t, drawing out the silence instead.

“I go both ways sometimes,” Atlas said loudly.

Amadhay’s eyes flickered up at him, but then focused back on Mayday as the kitten hopped off of her lap and peeked over the edge of the table, meowing. Interesting, he thought, watching her as she watched his kitten. He wondered if she even noticed how hard he was studying her.

“And who is your current intimate partner?”

Mayday inched forward on the table and pounced on Atlas’ hand as he answered. “Which one? I have several.” He bopped the kitten’s chin lightly, waiting for Amadhay’s full attention.

Her eyes slowly moved from Mayday to Atlas’ hand and then up to the man’s face, making eye contact before asking, “How many are there?”

“Not many right now. One’s a witch, one’s a human girl, one’s just died…would you like to join their ranks?” he asked conversationally, holding her gaze.

Amadhay smirked slowly, giving him a long, appraising look. “I don’t see why not,” she replied, not looking away from him.

“I wasn’t being facetious,” he stated calmly, still keeping eye contact even as he stroked his kitten’s ears gently.

“Neither was I,” she responded seriously before her crimson eyes moved up and studied the asymmetrical hairs on his head, straightening her own ponytail so that it stood center on the back of her head.

Mayday meowed a question at Atlas, whose eyes stayed fixated on Amadhay’s face as he said, “No, I doubt it.” His hand, though, ran self-consciously through his shock of white hair. He knew she was mentally counting all the different points of asymmetry, but aside from the hand in his hair, he didn’t let it show that it bothered him.

Amadhay glanced away, and then looked at Atlas from under her eyelashes. She bit her bottom lip, drawing his eyes to her scarlet painted mouth. It was only once he was fully drawn in that she asked her next question. “What is Project Apocalypse?” she asked softly.

“None of your damn business,” he responded in a polite conversational tone, looking away from her. Inwardly, he laughed. She wasn’t subtle, but then she didn’t need to be. She was a minx, knowledgeable about her assets and observant enough to know how to use them best to her advantage. Mayday meowed loudly at him, making him aware that he had stopped petting the kitten, a sure sign that Amadhay had affected him.

Amadhay shrugged, giving him a perfectly uninterested look that told him more than she meant it to. “Okay. I don’t really care, you know. Just following the script,” she explained, again giving him a sly look. Her eyes were sky blue again, making Atlas wonder if she controlled that even though he knew that she couldn’t.

“I doubt asking me about my favorite color and how many lovers I have is on that card,” he answered, suddenly needing to look anywhere but her. Her eyes, while drawing him in were also bothering him. Those were the eyes of an innocent and had no place on her otherwise purposely seductive form. He focused instead on Mayday, who hopped off of the table, skidding on his bottom for a moment across the tiled floor. The kitten padded back to the table and sniffed around the chair Amadhay had chosen not to sit in.

“True enough,” she replied with a laugh, though Atlas noticed her, thankfully red, eyes narrowing as she watched him pointedly try not to look at her. “I guess I spiced it up a little bit.”

“Well, why would you care?” he demanded bitterly, focusing solely on Mayday, who sniffed under the seat. She said nothing as he did that, simply stayed where she was. He finally looked back at her. “Can I go back to sleep now?”

Atlas watched Amadhay’s nose twitch before she scrunched up her face, looking down at Mayday and his little puddle. The kitten had relieved himself beside the leg of the table. Both of them eyed the puddle for a moment before looking to each other again. Atlas wondered if she would clean it, but instead, a positively vindictive look flew across her face before she focused on him again.

Instead of saying anything to explain that, or even comment on the kitten’s mess, she tried an apologetic face on Atlas, which merely made him suspicious though he, of course, didn’t show it. “I can’t let you go back to sleep until you give me something, just one little bit of information that I can report to Arne Riffly so he won’t chew me up.”

If anything, it was the fact that she called the Lord Phoeganis ‘Riffly’ that convinced him to give her something to go with, something that sounded important enough to whet the appetites of her superiors. “Fine. Tell him Project Apocalypse can’t even be completed yet until a member of the Palnoki, Tenshu Tanhakinshu, becomes a father. Now let me go.”

Amadhay nodded, a slow smile making her beautiful. Obviously, she thought he had given her more than he had, but he couldn’t regret it when looking at that smile. It was just for him. She pulled her legs up, onto the table and crawled to his side. “Whoops, I lied,” she whispered to him. “You know you can’t go anywhere. Lord Phoeganis’ll still want more. Torture, interrogation, the whole mile.”

Atlas knew that better than she did. In fact, from the beginning he expected much worse than to continue to be stuck in a little room with her flirting little bits of information out of him. Her manner in telling him that, however, was what irritated him. It made all of her flirtations ring hollow and made her seem so much more false than he knew her to be. Allowing his disdain to show, he gave her an exasperated sigh, no longer even attempting to look at her as he pulled his feet up onto the table, placing them just to the side of her. He rested his head on the back of the chair, closing his eyes, and said, “Fine. I. Will. No longer. Speak. With you.”

Amadhay knelt before him, but when he didn’t look, she moved her lips to his ear “Hope you change your mind about that,” she whispered coyly. With nothing left to say, she stood and walked to the other edge of the table before hopping quickly to the floor.

As she was leaving, he peered after her, watching curiously as she sashayed from the room as if she had an audience to see her perform for him. She closed the door tightly behind her, but he knew she caught his yelp following Mayday’s pounce on his socked foot with two clawed paws when he heard a soft giggle strongly reminiscent of an adorable four-year-old with symmetrical pigtails.

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amadhay

November 2016

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