Amadhay narrowed her eyes at the text she was reading.
Once learned, any spell may be internalized. An internalized spell will always strengthen, whereas a verbalized spell is weak by nature.
“Ribbon?” she called, but received no response, which was strange in itself. She knew Ribbon was back from her last mission, and aside from when the woman had a mission, Ribbon was almost always at most a few feet from her. Their rooms were even next door to each other. It was then that she realized that the entire Sand Castle seemed to be silent. With so many people, that was even rarer.
She frowned, setting the tome of Obscure and Rare Secrets: Dark Magic Edition on the floor. Trying to think back, to determine when she had last heard someone making noise, she got to her feet.
She opened her mouth to call for Ribbon again, but instead she froze. Her ears twitched just slightly, catching fast footsteps that were too heavy to be Ribbon’s. Narrowing her eyes, she moved to her door, pausing there because she couldn’t decide whether she should go out or wait there. She wasn’t sure what was going on, or who was out there, but she did know that she was in a dangerous place. She backed further into her room when the sound of the footsteps became louder, meaning whoever it was, was coming her way. She considered going somewhere tactically better, but as she scanned the room for the best place to hide, she saw something.
Atlas had painstakingly painted her walls for her, even though he had told her that she was being paranoid, when she had asked for something harder for invisibility spells to blend into. Regardless of him telling her that no one using an invisibility spell would be able to make it into her room, he had made sure that every inch of the room, from her walls to her ceiling, was covered with the most impressive picture that he had told her reminded him of her. There was a bleeding sunshine falling, hitting and shining on the reds and yellows and browns and purples of autumn leaves, all framing one doe in the distance.
The doe, with her sky blue eyes and dark, speckled pelt, was missing. Amadhay stared at the place on her wall, where she knew the doe should be, but it didn’t appear. The footsteps were much louder, almost right outside of her room now.
Amadhay smiled, giving a shock of laughter before she moved. Moving fast enough to catch her intruder by surprise, but not using her Gift, she grabbed the air before where the missing doe was. She felt fabric and the warmth of a body so, grabbing a good hold on the invisible person, she slammed the body into her wall. For a click, just long enough for her to determine where to grab, the person’s grasp on invisibility slipped and she saw a male, not much taller than her and frail looking.
Her door was kicked open just as she grabbed the invisible man by the neck, slipping herself behind him. Kicking the back of his legs in, she forced them both onto the carpet. She barely had time to grab her ceremonial knife from the floor, where she had left it, before there was another man standing above her. He had a staff aimed at her and from the decorated orb at the top, she was going to guess that it was a magical one rather than a fighting staff.
“You do anything and I slit his throat,” she threatened before the magician could open his mouth.
His eyes went from her, to the invisible body she was grappling. While the man she was holding didn’t become visible, he did speak.
“She’s not bluffing. She has me. She’ll kill me. Please. Don’t do anything, please, please I don’t want to die,” he cried in a voice much younger than she was expecting, forcing her to change her approximation of him from man to inexperienced boy.
Not that the change did anything but give her the upper hand. “Shh,” she pretended to whisper, keeping her eyes on the staff rather than the magician. The problem with staffs was, though they added more power to normal spells, they also lit up before doing anything and that would give her enough time to get away. She hoped. “I don’t want to kill anyone. I’m not going to hurt you so long as your friend puts. His. Staff. Down,” she ordered the last few words of the magician, who had shifted the staff from one hand to another.
“Please Diable. Please just do what she says,” the invisible person said, making her look up at the magician instead of his staff. She gave a quick laugh. Standing there, looking strange with clothes on, was one of the twins that Atlas kept painting. He didn’t look concerned, in fact, he looked a little too concentrated for her liking.
She had the click of warning when his staff lit the pink of a lethal spell to activate her Gift. Then, even using her Gift she had to scramble and run as fast as she could to get away from the spell, to get behind the magician so she wouldn’t even get a little bit of the spell on her. She barely managed.
Even before she let go of her Gift, she felt more than saw the spell hit the invisible man. It lit up his body a bright gold before he became visible again, a small man with his limbs at awkward angles and his head turned backwards. She held her breath, losing control of her Gift as she stared at the body of the magician’s partner in horror. Who just killed their partner to get at someone else?
She was so busy staring that she almost allowed herself to be hit. Diable swung the butt of the staff back at her. With ease, she dodged it, knowing better than to touch the staff no matter how easy it would be to pluck it from his hands without him expecting it. Magicians tended to have nasty safety spells on their possessions to prevent theft.
“Why are you even here?” she asked, using her Gift to move in front of him. She watched in mild amusement as he turned to attack her, only to turn back around just in time to get her foot to his chest. She had been aiming for his head, which irritated her. She was out of shape. Not getting into real fights for two months and then only lightly sparring with Ribbon had definitely taken a toll on her.
Diable fell back into the wall. He sent a surprise spell out at her before hitting, though. Fortunately, the orb had glowed silver, meaning it was only a capture spell.
“Dore,” she muttered immediately, batting her hand through the air to swat the spell right back at him. She scoffed when his body seized before invisible bonds caught him completely still. “Well, that was anti-climatic,” she said, walking over to him.
“Oh wait,” she walked back to the other man’s body, picking up her knife. Taking care to pointedly carry the blade so that Diable could admire its sharp tip, she smiled warmly. “So, Diable. I asked you a question.” She put her foot on his chest before crouching partially atop him.
“I’m not telling you anything,” he snarled, fighting against the bonds, but his spell was strong, so strong that he barely moved.
She smiled wider. “Oh, see I had been hoping you were going to say that,” she told him, tracing the tip of her blade lightly over his cheek. It didn’t break his skin because it wasn’t as sharp as she normally kept it, yet another way she had allowed herself to get too comfortable. “Now, before I start cutting into you, I’ll give you one last chance to help yourself. Tell me why you’re here and maybe you’ll be able to recognize yourself in the mirror one day,” she promised.
He spit at her.
“Remember that I gave you a choice,” she told him calmly, wiping the spit off of her cheek. With precision due to her training, she cut off his ear, noting that the rounded tip told her that he was a human, which she supposed she had never noticed before because his ears hadn’t been the most interesting part of him the last few times she had come in on Atlas painting him or his brother.
His brother. Amadhay stood up. “I doubt you’d be here without Riacaro, now would you?” she asked, ignoring his screaming. “Maybe he’ll be more willing to tell me what I want to know, hmm?” He was still screaming in pain, which made her sigh. “Oh shush. It’s just an ear. I can think of other things I can cut off that would give you a reason to scream like that.”
“He’s not screaming in pain. He’s calling for help,” Ribbon said from the doorway. When Amadhay jolted, turning to her in shock, she smiled. The dark-skinned woman was leaning against the doorway, looking worn down. Her clothes were torn, bloody, and she had a very noticeable cut on her left cheek as well as what looked like a burn covering most of her right arm, which she held away from her body.
“Where in the Water have you been?” Amadhay demanded, stepping over Diable and up to Ribbon. She looked her friend over and could tell that she had been in a pretty serious fight, one that she had definitely won despite her wounds.
“Sorry, got a little distracted,” the woman responded, shrugging. She pushed off of the doorway and walked into the room, allowing Amadhay to see behind her, where Riacaro was lying, probably dead, though she couldn’t tell from that distance.
“What happened?” Amadhay asked, turning away from the door, to face Ribbon and Diable.
“These darling twins are working for the Skouras clan. They brought in a horde and attacked. We won,” Ribbon explained with a casual shrug. “He’s the last one.” The whimper from Diable told Amadhay that he knew what that meant.
“Ugh. If you’re going to dismember him, could you not do it in here? He’s already bleeding all over my carpet.”
Ribbon snickered. “That’s on you,” she said, kneeling before the man. “Do you know what I’m going to do to you?” when he gave no response other than closing his eyes and mouthing what Amadhay was guessing was a prayer, Ribbon grasped his head and forced it up, squeezing his cheeks until he opened his eyes. “I am going to cut you apart, drain your blood, and separate your flesh from your bones. Whoever sent you here is going to find you, bone by bone. I’ll even be nice and leave a little note with each one so that they know it’s you.”
“Don’t forget the part where you have Tenshu tie his ghost to the last bone so he’ll be the one to kill his boss,” Amadhay added, sitting at her vanity table, far enough away from both the dead body and Ribbon and Diable to feel as if she were just a casual observer.
“I was getting to that,” Ribbon replied, irritated. She turned her head to look at Amadhay. “Do you want to do this?” Amadhay shook her head. “Then shuttup.”
Amadhay sighed, staring past Ribbon, at her wall, where the doe was back in its proper place now that no invisible body was blocking it out. “It’s just difficult when you’re in my room and he’s bleeding all over my carpet.”
“If you didn’t want him to bleed, you shouldn’t have cut him,” Ribbon stated simply, picking up Amadhay’s knife. “Oh Goddess, tell me you didn’t waste your good blade on him.” She gave Amadhay a long look. “Now we’re going to have to get you a new pretty knife. Do you have any idea how picky you are?”
“I think I might have an idea,” Amadhay replied drily, tapping her toe against the desk. “So about getting him out of my room…?”
Ribbon sighed dramatically, standing up and pulling Diable up with her. “Fine. I might as well take it outside. Mitch made me clean, by hand, the mess from the last time I did it inside anyway.”
Amadhay gave her a lovely smile, cutting her eyes at the dead body. “Don’t forget the dead one, please,” she called sweetly.
Ribbon rolled her eyes. “None of us were killed, by the way, since I know you were dying to know.” She dragged Diable to the doorway, shoving him toward his brother’s body further down the hall.
Amadhay snorted. “I figured that out on my own. You’d have been a lot meaner if someone had been hurt.” She watched Ribbon as the woman reentered her room and went to the dead body.
“I didn’t say no one was hurt,” Ribbon responded, giving her a meaningful look before picking up the body easily and carrying it over her shoulder to the doorway. “Just that we took no casualties. There’s a difference, you know.”
Amadhay frowned and got up, following Ribbon. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked, watching as the woman narrowed her eyes in thought, looking at the twins. Diable was crying, whether in fear or sorrow for his brother, she couldn’t tell. She didn’t care, either.
“Do you think we should send both twin’s bones?” Ribbon asked instead of answering her.
“Yes, I mean, no. I—I don’t care what you do with the bodies. Do you think I don’t care if anyone is hurt?”
Ribbon looked down at her in exasperation. “I didn’t say that.”
“No, you decided to pretend to be Atlas and be all cryptic instead. What did you mean?”
Ribbon sighed, dropping the body in a heap right next to Diable, who was lain out so that he was staring right into his partner’s dead eyes. “Look, I’m sorry, Red Bird, if I hurt your feelings but you do realize that you didn’t even ask if anyone was hurt? You’ve been with us for over three months now and sometimes I get the feeling that despite how you act, you’re only here for Atlas.”
“What?” Amadhay demanded. Ribbon shook her head and held one finger up, telling Amadhay that she wasn’t finished.
“Which I understand because the two of you are strangely perfect for each other and I love the thought of the two of you loving each other. But you know, I like to think that the two of us are friends. But you just don’t seem to, and that’s a bummer, but it doesn’t matter because I have a job to do.”
Amadhay grabbed Ribbon’s uninjured wrist before the girl could lean down to pick up one of the three men in the hallway. “We are friends,” she paused, frowning as she gathered her thoughts. “I mean I only noticed something was wrong because I couldn’t find you. What does that say? You are such a crucial part of my life here, that I noticed you weren’t with me and immediately knew something was wrong. You and Kim and Ten mean so much more to me than you think you do. I swear. I’m just on mission mode right now.”
“I’m not a mission,” Diable cried.
“No, you’re a soon-to-be-dead message,” Ribbon shot back at him, turning to Amadhay and taking her hands in hers. Amadhay had thought she’d understand without her having to go into any detail. They did have the same job, after all. Ribbon probably had a mission mode of her own. “I’m sorry, Red Bird. We’re just very…close here and you’re a little off-putting in ‘mission mode,’ I guess.”
“I’m less off-putting when I’m killing something,” Amadhay muttered, looking away and making Ribbon laugh.
“I don’t think you understand the definition of off-putting, lovely.”
“I’m going to kill both of you as soon as I get free,” Diable threatened, making Amadhay and Ribbon both roll their eyes.
“Okay, we’re going to have to kill him before we can have more of a moment,” Ribbon decided. She tilted her head. “Do you want to help?”
“I call dibs on cutting him up. You get Riacaro. He’s been dead long enough that he probably stinks.”
“Riacaro’s not dead yet,” Ribbon whispered sweetly into her ear.