While her reconciliation with Atlas hadn’t gone as planned, Amadhay was still determined to make amends with Ribbon.
Sure, she still wasn’t sure why the woman was avoiding her when at all possible, especially since they hadn’t yelled at each other. But she was sure that she could figure it out quickly enough to either apologize or gracefully take Ribbon’s apology. After all, their problem stemmed with Atlas, and if she could get the problem away from Atlas, then she was sure it would all be fine.
The problem was finding Ribbon. As she had told Kimiko, Ribbon hadn’t left the Sand Castle, except for missions, in weeks. The problem was that the Sand Castle was enormous. If Amadhay were to compare it to the Phoegani base, it would be lacking, but if she compared it to the Hakinato First Family domicile, it was large. Considering that only the main Palnokians, the ones she knew by name, lived there, it was still rather large. There were only twelve of them, not counting her, so the hundreds of rooms were a bit excessive. And they made it rather hard to find someone who didn’t want to be found.
Amadhay had, of course, tried the obvious places first. Ribbon’s room, Kimiko’s room, Tenshu’s room, the three libraries, and the main common areas were all devoid of the blood witch. That forced Amadhay to try a little harder. She checked rooms that she normally would have avoided, like Cowboy’s, Stefan’s, Nico’s, even Vlad’s and Johannes’. She checked with Accelerated and Medica, both of whom were suspiciously in hurries to get somewhere decidedly not there. She even checked her sand castle and all around the beach just in case Ribbon had decided to ignore Atlas’ suggestion that she stay inside until he said otherwise.
All to no avail. Now she was checking rooms individually. Most of the rooms were empty, save cobwebs and dust. Some of them were made up as if for guests, which made Amadhay wonder at the fact that, aside from the twins, she had never seen non-Palnokians inside the Sand Castle. She wondered if it was normal for them, or if they still didn’t trust her enough to have allies around her. She didn’t want to think it, but she would bet on the latter, which made her more upset than she would admit. There were a few rooms that seemed to be in use, but she couldn’t figure out by whom or for what, which made her all the more curious.
There was one room she lingered in longer than strictly necessary, considering it was obvious Ribbon wasn’t in there. In that room was a strange little lab, full of bubbling vials and beakers full of odd concoctions. She sniffed one and immediately started coughing, turning her back on the gases and liquids so that she wouldn’t get anything in those from her coughing fit. Once she was able to breathe well again, she focused on a box of some strange solids on the table across from the beakers and vials. Glancing back at the door to make sure no one was watching, she went over to them. The box was full of some small, brightly colored pill. She wasn’t sure what it was, but her curiosity got the better of her and she slipped a handful into the back pocket of her shorts. One last look around the room made her determined to come back at another time to figure out what was going on in there.
It wasn’t too many more rooms after that one before she finally found Ribbon in, what she could only describe as, a ceremonial altar room. It surprised her because as much as she knew about Ribbon, she had never imagined that the woman was religious in any real form. But sure as anything, there was Ribbon, kneeling in the center of the archaic twelve-pointed star that represented Goddess, Escort, and the ten supposed original Splinters. It was odd to see, considering Amadhay was so used to the ten-pointed star used in the Roadesian flag for Goddess, Escort, and the Splinters of water, fire, earth, air, light, dark, spirit, and metal. The mythical time and space splinters had been taken off of most religious paraphernalia for centuries.
When Amadhay took a step to enter the room, Mayday appeared from nowhere and head butted her ankle, making her step back. He hissed at her and then yowled loudly enough to make Amadhay take a few steps back from him in alarm. Once she was far enough back for the kitten’s liking, Mayday lifted his tail up high and entered the room. He moved quickly but Amadhay noted that he had walked the lines of the star, rather than over the different sections. Once far enough in to catch Ribbon’s attention, the kitten meowed plaintively.
Ribbon, who hadn’t been bothered by Mayday’s earlier noise, looked up from her trance. She smiled at the kitten, lifting him off of the lines and onto her lap. “What are you doing here?” she asked as she petted the kitten.
She seemed to get some kind of answer from his purring because she nodded. “Thank you then. I didn’t really want her to break the circle.” She kissed the top of his furry head before standing. Ignoring the yowling complaints he gave anytime someone carried him without his leave, she cradled him to her chest and blew out the twelve candles she had lit at each point. After blowing out the candles, she reached into a small pouch at her waist and scattered a mixture of glitter, dirt, and metal carvings into each section of the star. Finally, she opened the water pouch on her hip and sprinkled water at each point. She gave a shallow bow and then left the room, closing the door tightly behind her until there was a click.
Now out of the room, Ribbon first set Mayday down, and then turned her attention to Amadhay. “Mayday said you seemed like you wanted me?”
There was a strange politeness to the question that told Amadhay that whatever was wrong between her and Ribbon was still a problem. Instead of going headfirst into that, she tried for a little pointless chatter. “Am I the only one who doesn’t talk to the cat like he speaks a common tongue?” she joked.
Ribbon raised an eyebrow. “I suppose so,” she answered, crossing her arms over her chest.
Seeing that she was going to get nowhere with her first approach, Amadhay tried again. “Why are you mad at me?”
“I’m not,” Ribbon said with no visible change in her expression. If the still polite tone she used to answer hadn’t told Amadhay that she was lying, that would have.
“Except you are. And I can’t figure out what I did wrong to you. Atlas is mad because I’m not his ideal Amadhay, but why are you mad?”
A look of disbelief crossed Ribbon’s face before she covered it with the polite farce again. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Obviously, I am not angry with you,” she shrugged. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get myself something to eat.” She moved past Amadhay without touching her and Mayday followed after giving Amadhay a look that was positively mean.
“Oh, look at the coincidence,” Amadhay said, moving quickly to keep up with Ribbon, “I’m hungry too. Since you’re not mad at me, we can eat together.” She smiled widely when Ribbon looked down at her with a quick, irritated look.
Ribbon once again covered it with a polite smile. “Of course.”
They walked side by side in silence for a while until Mayday began to circle Ribbon’s legs. The kitten meowed a few times before Ribbon finally stopped. “This really has nothing to do with you, Mayday,” she said to him. The kitten gave a snuffle and Ribbon glanced at Amadhay before looking back at him. “No.”
“Wait. Can you seriously tell what he’s saying?” Amadhay asked in surprise, looking from the kitten to Ribbon and then back at the kitten.
“Yes,” Ribbon said before stepping over the kitten and continuing to the kitchen.
Mayday followed after her immediately. Amadhay, however, paused for a moment before following again. “Seriously?” she asked. “As in he makes weird kitten sounds and you can understand him?” she asked.
Ribbon gave a short, “Yes,” before she entered the kitchen.
“How?” Amadhay wanted to know, nearly tripping over the kitten in her haste not to lose Ribbon. Mayday bit her ankle lightly enough for her to know that he wasn’t angry, but hard enough to let her know that he didn’t appreciate her feet being so close.
“Atlas,” was the only response she got from the woman as she went through the cupboards for food.
“That doesn’t mean anything to me,” Amadhay stated, watching Ribbon pull peanut butter and orange jam from the cabinet. She made a face, knowing that the other woman was about to make a sandwich with the two condiments.
“Then you probably aren’t on a need to know basis,” Ribbon snapped, making Amadhay survey her face for a moment. She was definitely showing cracks in her mask.
“I still want to know. Shoot me, I’m curious,” she pushed, knowing Ribbon was only a few comments away from being open enough that they could argue out whatever was bothering her.
“Then ask someone else,” she snapped, popping open the top to the jam. Amadhay watched silently for a few moments as Ribbon pulled the rye bread from the breadbox. She angrily slathered a piece of bread in orange jam before doing the same with peanut butter on another piece. She tossed the bread back into its box and pulled a banana from the hook beside the knives. She was unnecessarily rough with the banana as she unpeeled and then chopped it up into, Amadhay had to feel, purposely asymmetrical pieces. She set the hacked up pieces of banana onto her sandwich and slammed the pieces of bread together.
Amadhay waited until she took a big bite of gross sandwich to say anything, knowing it was a big pet peeve of Ribbon’s, to be asked questions while eating. “Well what was Mayday saying to you?”
Ribbon’s eyes narrowed as she chewed. She swallowed. “Ask him yourself.”
“I would, you see, but I don’t understand him. He just makes cat noises to me.”
“Then I guess you weren’t meant to know what he’s saying,” Ribbon said before taking another bite of her sandwich. Her eyes dared Amadhay to ask her another question.
She did. “So is Mayday a real kitten or is he something turned into a kitten?”
Ribbon gulped down her bite of sandwich without even chewing this time. “Why do you keep asking me?” she demanded.
Amadhay gave her an innocent smile. “Because we’re friends. And since you’re not mad at me, I don’t see any reason not to ask you, do you?”
Ribbon glared at her. “Fine. I’m mad at you. I am ballistically pissed with you. Now let me eat my fucking sandwich in peace.” Ribbon took an angry bite of her sandwich. Amadhay let her chew it before speaking again.
“Good. Now that we have that out in the open, you can tell me why.”
Ribbon’s glare intensified, but Amadhay didn’t look away, not even when Mayday butted his head against her ankle. She was wise to his tricks. If she looked down at him, Ribbon would have time to get herself back under control and that was the last thing Amadhay wanted.
Ribbon swallowed. “Fine. You wanna do this? Fine. Let’s do this.” She set the sandwich down on the counter, and Amadhay had to physically stop herself from wincing at the thought of how dirty the counter probably was, and how disgusting Ribbon’s sandwich was already, and how bad it was going to be with all of the leftover bits and ends of everything everyone had made and not cleaned up off the counter.
“I’m pissed at you because you don’t think about anyone but yourself. You don’t!” she exclaimed when Amadhay looked ready to argue. “You come here and make us all like you, but really you’re only thinking about yourself. How have you lived like that? How have you lived your entire life and never put the whole of someone else before yourself?”
Amadhay scoffed and laughed at the same time, creating a strange choking sound. “Me? You are seriously saying that I don’t care about anyone but myself? For Escort’s baby phoenix, wake up! If I didn’t care about anyone but myself, would I be here?”
“Yes,” Ribbon stressed. “You being here is the epitome of you not caring about anyone else. If you had cared about someone in the Phoegani more than yourself, you wouldn’t be here. You would have gone back when Atlas offered. But you didn’t. Because you only think about yourself.”
“That’s not true,” Amadhay started to argue, but Ribbon cut her off again.
“And then I thought ‘Hey, that’s fine. They’re just assholes. We’ll give her someone to care about,’ but lo and behold, you can’t bring yourself to give a shit about any of us, either! Open your eyes, Red Bird. We’re all worried about you and that’s why we’re so fucking angry. You don’t even realize how screwed up everything is! Atlas was right when he yelled at me,” she was shaking her head, “Because you don’t think, Red Bird. You just act. And when you act, you don’t act in the interest of all of us, you act only in your own best interests, and then, you know, I’m not even sure you know what your fucking best interest is. That might have worked out for you in the Phoegani, but that’s not how we work here. We look out for each other here and you can’t do that.
“So excuse me if I’m a little, no, a lot pissed that you put us in trouble and don’t even seem to give a shit.”
“How did I put you into trouble?” Amadhay demanded, crossing her arms over her chest.
“The fact that you don’t even know is what makes this even worse. Think, think Red Bird. What did you do that could possibly have us all in a big fucking conundrum?”
Amadhay shook her head to let Ribbon know that she had no idea what the other woman was talking about. Mayday scratched her ankle hard enough to draw blood and Amadhay hissed at the kitten, dropping into a crouch to clutch her ankle. Looking at the claw marks on her ankle, Amadhay gasped and jolted back up to stare at Ribbon.
“I marked Diable,” she whispered. She had put her calling card on the bones and not even noticed it. She was so used to marking her kills so that others would know not to mess with the Phoegani that it hadn’t even crossed her mind that she shouldn’t put her three, vertical magic marks on the bones.
“You marked Diable,” Ribbon agreed sardonically. “You marked Diable and we sent the marked bones back to the Skouras clan. If it weren’t for the fact that those that had seen the bones died anyway, we could have been in serious trouble. Mitch didn’t even notice it until he handed the last bone over and they said ‘Oh my, isn’t that the Red Robin scratch?’ And he freaked out. He freaked out. Mitch was ready to kill everyone there if Tenshu’s phantom didn’t get them. He was ready to kill them for you.”
“He was going to kill them either way,” Amadhay pointed out, staring at her hands. Blood from the cuts Mayday left stained her fingertips.
“Not if they were able to survive one of Tenshu’s phantoms. We aren’t in the habit of killing those that can be assets to us at a later time. You would know that,” Ribbon stated, crossing her arms over her chest. “But we would do that to keep you safe.”
“Is it really to keep me safe or is it to keep my habitation with you quiet?” Amadhay countered, crossing her arms over her chest so that she couldn’t see her fingers anymore.
“Can’t it be both?” Ribbon asked exasperatedly. “Why can’t you see that the good of you, for us, comes first? We put you first. Has there ever been anyone in your entire life that you could say that about?”
Amadhay was immediately going to counter with ‘Monkey,’ but the longer she thought on it, the more she thought that maybe Ribbon was right, maybe she couldn’t say that. She had, after all, just abandoned him for them. He couldn’t protect her, so she had traded up. Wasn’t that what she had done?
She shook her head to remove those thoughts and Ribbon took it as an admission to her point. “Exactly. We would put our lives down, definitely the goal aside, to keep you safe. All of us, because you’re part of us. But there isn’t a single fucking person here or in the entire world that you could say the same for. That is why I’m so pissed with you.”
With that, Ribbon tossed the rest of her sandwich into the trash. She started to leave the kitchen, but paused, looking at the counter. With a muted curse, she wet a cloth and began to clean down the countertop.
Unsure of just what she was thinking, but positive that she needed to say something to discredit Ribbon, she looked away. The kitten caught her eye as he pawed at the air as if to get her attention. Once he had it, Amadhay watched Mayday skitter from the counter, to where her stepladder—hers not because she was selfish, but because as the shortest person there, she was the only one who had need of the stepladder to reach the cupboards above the counter—stood in the corner. It took her a split click to realize that standing on the top step would put her right where she wanted to be. It took her another few clicks to grab the stepladder, place it before Ribbon, climb atop it, turn Ribbon toward her, and to press her lips against the woman’s.
“There,” she gasped, pulling back from the kiss albeit a bit reluctantly. “That’s my promise to you. You are more important than me in my mind. You come first to me.” She hopped down from the stepladder and looked back up at her friend, who still stood with her lips pursed forward and her eyes wide with shock. “And just for the record? You have been since you dug me out of the snow.”
With that, Amadhay was the one to storm off with Mayday on her trail, leaving Ribbon staring slack-jawed after her.