Sha’adahk made a horrifying face at Amadhay, momentarily making her freeze.
She looked behind her, even though she knew that no one was in the library except for her. She watched as his legs shifted awkwardly, some crawling right over the short table separating their parts of the room as he walked closer to her.
“Um,” she started, closing the magic book she had been reading. “Do you want something?” she asked.
His expression never wavered and for a moment, she wondered if he were giving her his version of a smile. It was hardly reassuring, but she was hoping, considering the alternative. The two fleshy parts that on a normal spider would have been the mandibles (but weren’t on him and she wasn’t sure if it was because he was an even more screwed up arachin than the normal ones) separated, and the fangs tilted upwards, making her unsure if he planned on eating her or if she were right and he was trying to smile at her. “I just wanted to talk,” he said, getting far too close to her for her comfort.
Amadhay shifted up from her seat, trying not to show that he was scaring her. Arachins were similar to vampires in that if they saw weak prey, it took a lot of effort for them not to attack. Considering she was already tiny compared to him, nearly half of his height and definitely less than half his weight, she knew she already let out all the signs for easy prey. She didn’t trust staying seated and vulnerable, especially not with his mouth open like that.
Also, she wasn’t too proud to admit that he intimidated her. He had ever since he had shown his true colors back when the Palnoki had tricked her into helping them kidnap Amaya. He was fast, possibly faster than she was, and definitely had a faster reaction time than she had. Factor that in with the fact that he could easily pick her up and carry her while climbing, and she put him right below Stefan and Atlas on the list of people she didn’t want to have to fight one on one. Ever. She wouldn’t win.
Though, of course, she tried to calm herself, giving him a strained smile, I’ll never have to fight any of them again. That did comfort her, a little. Enough to speak to him without a tremble in her voice. “What did you want to talk about?” she asked.
“What happened between the two of us.” There was a strange click as he spoke. Amadhay thought it might have been his fangs clicking.
“We really don’t need to,” she said, feeling better now that she had managed to subtly shift them so that she was no longer backed into a corner. If things got serious, she could run. But they won’t, she tried to remind herself, because we’re all on the same side now.
“But I’d like to,” he said, still not changing his expression.
“For Escort’s sake, Sha. Stop smiling at her. You’re going to give her a heart-attack,” Stefan said from behind her.
Amadhay jolted, not having heard him sneak up behind her. She looked shiftily from Sha’adahk, to him, and then back, shifting again, but far less subtly this time so that her back was to neither of them. She wasn’t liking her odds. They aren’t odds. They’re not going to hurt me.
Sha’adahk closed his mouth. “It didn’t seem to bother her,” he said to Stefan, who scoffed.
“She was about to run screaming,” he assured the arachin, “Weren’t you Little Warrior?”
Amadhay shrugged, not really sure what to say there. To admit fear to the predator was never a good idea. Besides, she wasn’t sure what Stefan’s angle was. Sha’adahk, she decided, probably wasn’t going to eat her. He’d had all sorts of chances since Atlas and Ribbon had been gone for two weeks now. Stefan, on the other hand, had been creeping around her both weeks, showing up when she least expected him with little comments and that same childish nickname.
“I apologize then,” Sha’adahk said. The click in his voice was recognizable now and quite a bit less frightening now that he wasn’t smiling at her. “I only meant to put you at ease. I want to start over with you.”
Amadhay made a face. “Why?” she asked warily. She wanted to keep her eyes on the arachin as she spoke to him, but Stefan kept moving closer to her in tiny increments. She was positive he thought he was being sly. He wasn’t. He was distracting.
“We didn’t leave each other on the most amicable of terms the last we interacted,” Sha’adahk said.
“Yeah, well kidnapping my sister and tying me to the top of a tree tends to leave things pretty hostile.”
Stefan snickered, now close enough to Amadhay that he began playing with her hair. “Are you really one to talk there?”
Amadhay turned to him and swatted his hands from her hair. “Yes, I am. I was being friendly. He tied me to a tree.”
Sha’adahk gave a slightly frightening throaty laugh, making Amadhay flinch into Stefan, which made her flinch again, away from him. “I’m not sure if friendly is what you can call conspiring to double-cross me and have me killed.”
Amadhay shrugged. “As friendly as I get when you try to kidnap my family.”
“I’m not so sure that’s true,” Stefan pointed out. “Atlas kidnapped your sister twice.”
“Technically, he kidnapped both of us twice, so I cancel them out,” Amadhay said with a shrug. Both men laughed and she tried to suppress a smile.
“Sounds like a double standard,” Stefan said. Amadhay snorted at the horrible pun. “And a kidnapping fetish,” he added, making Amadhay shove at him.
“It is quite an unfair double standard, really. In fact, I feel that since we were both planning to betray each other and I was simply faster, that my past mistake should be cancelled out,” Sha’adahk tried.
“My double standards don’t have to be fair to anyone but me.” Amadhay said before giving him a look and adding, “You tied me to a tree. I’m not forgiving you.”
“Would you feel better if you tied him to a tree?” Stefan suggested.
Amadhay gave him a look to tell him how little she thought of that suggestion. “It’s not the tree that’s the problem. The problem is the wound to my pride.”
“How about we transfer the wounds then?” Stefan suggested. “You wounded my pride when you shot me.”
“How about when I gutted you?”
“No. That just pissed me off.” He twirled a curl around his finger as he gave her an admiring grin, “And actually impressed me. I wasn’t expecting that use of the hangers.”
The compliment threw her off enough that she didn’t smack him away from her again. Instead, the girl beamed, glad that someone saw the ingenuity in her past escape attempts. Using the hangers as a weapon had been a stroke of genius, evil genius, but genius nonetheless. “Glad to know that I could get you off guard,” she said.
“We’ve held a good number of people,” Stefan started. Sha’adahk knocked one of his long legs into the snake man. “What?” he snapped at the arachin.
“I’m sure that she’d prefer not to hear about prisoners that we’ve had,” he said pointedly.
“Why not?” Stefan demanded. “You want to hear what I was saying, don’t you?”
“Well…” Amadhay drawled, going back to her previous seat. It was pretty obvious to her at this point that neither man wished her any harm. If anything, they both seemed to be trying to get on her good side. Only once she was seated again, propping one of her elbows up on the book she’d been reading did she continue, “I dunno. Hearing about other prisoners when I used to be one could be so traumatizing,” she joked with a dramatically upset expression twisting her lips down and turning, with her eyes almost closed.
Neither man seemed to realize that she was joking, though, and Sha’adahk practically fell over himself, apologizing for Stefan, who stood there like a statue, staring at her. She kept a straight expression for a few clicks, staring at both men until Stefan opened his mouth to say something.
It was then that she cackled. “You guys. I’m kidding. I want to know what you were going to say. No trauma, I swear.”
Stefan narrowed his eyes at her as Sha’adahk opened and closed his mouth mutely a few times, as if unsure what to say to that. “Now I’m of a mind to just let the curiosity eat away at you,” Stefan said, turning away from her.
She didn’t have to see his mouth to know he was smiling. There was a strange way his entire body curved when he was enjoying himself. She had a feeling it was rare, but he seemed to always have that when he was around her, unless, of course he was furious or unsure.
“You know when I get a case of the Curiosities, it’s deadly if not tended to,” she said, making the man shake his head. He was still smiling and it made her smile. She put both elbows on the book and propped her head up on her interlaced fingers. “So, really, it’s your duty to tell me what you were going to say now that you’ve piqued the Curiosities.”
Sha’adahk let out a choking sound that she was pretty sure was him laughing. It had a grating quality to it, but at the same time, it was somewhat warm. “The child has a point,” he added, making Amadhay grimace. She hated when they referred to her as ‘the child’ or ‘the lady’.
“Fine, fine,” Stefan said, as if he had genuinely been considering leaving, which Amadhay greatly doubted. She didn’t know why, but the man seemed to go out of his way to be around her when he could. He finally turned back to her and Sha’adahk, who had apparently found comfort in his position with his back legs propped up on the bookshelves and front legs on the table, almost reaching to Amadhay. His middle two sets of legs just hung below him, barely bending.
“As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted,” Stefan began again, giving Sha’adahk a look. The arachin clicked his teeth in a clearly threatening way, making Amadhay sit back a little. “We’ve held a lot of people, most of them powerful, some of them less powerful, but no less tricky. In all that time, I have to say that you were definitely the most difficult one to keep.”
“Really?” Amadhay asked, feeling proud of herself.
Sha’adahk seemed to disagree. “What about the White Soldier?”
Stefan rolled his eyes. “He broke after less than five clacks with me.”
“And you never used your ability on her.”
Stefan was silent for a few beats, before focusing on Amadhay. She began to feel a nauseous movement in her stomach return from earlier that day, when she’d nearly eaten some fruit salad concoction with bananas in it. After a click or so of the nausea, her stomach became sore. The soreness slowly turned into a dull, throbbing pain. That pain escalated to a sharp one, and Amadhay was suddenly reminded of when she was small, when the Palnoki had kidnapped her and Amaya. When she had fought him the first day, Stefan had merely glared at her and made pain appear.
She narrowed her eyes for less than a click and then raised an eyebrow. She didn’t know what Stefan was playing at, but she wasn’t going to give him anything to go by. She had dealt with far worse pain than this before.
“Why are you staring at me?” she asked when it felt like her ribs were broken. She’d dealt with worse. And most of all, beyond that, she knew it wasn’t real. He might be making her feel as though she were in pain, obviously taking Control and expanding the slight upset in her stomach, but the pain wasn’t actually there. All that was there was the aftermath of a taste of banana, a very, very weak allergic reaction.
And then the pain stopped. Stefan looked to Sha’adahk, who looked unsure. “And there was the five clacks under my ability,” he stated to the arachin, who jolted upright.
“What is the matter with you?” the man demanded, looking over Amadhay. Aside from a slight rub of her ribcage, she gave no indication that she had been in pain. She shrugged.
“Just proving a point. There is a reason Atlas didn’t pit me against her.”
“Other than your psychotic tendencies?” Sha’adahk spat, making Amadhay even more curious.
“Psychotic tendencies?” she questioned. Sha’adahk refocused on her, as if he had forgotten that she was still there.
“None of your concern,” the arachin assured her.
Amadhay rolled her eyes. “I’m not worried,” she stated, making Stefan grin a wide, almost disturbing grin at her. “I’m sure I could take him if he started having psychotic thoughts for me.”
Sha’adahk shook his head. “You don’t understand.”
“And I won’t unless you tell me,” she pointed out.
He shook his head again. “It’s not my place to say.” She looked to Stefan for an explanation, but Sha’adahk cut in before the man could say anything. “It’s not his place to tell either.”
“It’s not his place to tell me about his psychotic tendencies?” Amadhay asked in disbelief. “I think it’s probably only his.”
Sha’adahk shook his head, and after a moment, Stefan shrugged. “It’s nothing to think too hard on,” he said, reaching over Sha’adahk’s legs to pat her head. She pouted at him, making sure to make her eyes as wide and pitiful as possible while jutting out her lips into a perfectly saccharine pout.
“But now I want to know,” she whined, allowing Stefan to play with her hair even though she knew he was messing it up.
“How about I tell you about some of the people we’ve held captive?”
She continued pouting for a clack before remembering something she’d once heard. “Did you really have the Thief Lord after Ainran was destroyed?” she asked in a whisper, as if it were a secret.
“Until the day he died,” Stefan said, a cruel smirk spreading onto his face. It was then that she thought she might understand his particular brand of psychotic tendencies. They looked a lot like they were the same as her own.
“Did you kill him?” she asked, glancing at Sha’adahk, whose face was a mask of disapproval, though even she could recognize an arachin smirk.
“I didn’t mean to,” Stefan bluffed. She knew it was a bluff because he did the most hilarious fluttering of eyes she’d ever seen in her life. And she was counting the one time that Alphonse had come in on her fluttering her eyelashes to get what she wanted from Benjy and Rea and then mockingly mimicked her. “It was just too much to keep myself from torturing the worm, and to make it good, I needed him to be hurt to exploit the wounds with my Gift and then…” he trailed off for a moment and then gave an apologetic shrug. “He just couldn’t take it.”
There was a smirk on his lips that Amadhay recognized as her own when she was remembering a particularly satisfying kill. A glance at Sha’adahk told her that the arachin had probably had some part in the kill, since his smirk had completely overtaken his other expression. She grinned. It was nice being around people who understood the thrill.