Ribbon sat in Atlas’ favorite lounging loveseat with both his kitten and Amadhay partially sprawled over her lap as she petted both of them.
The kitten and feline aelfe both purred in time, kneading their claws—or in Amadhay’s case, her nails—into the red velveteen upholstery. Atlas sat in a less comfortable, wooden seat, pretending to read a book on the inner workings of owning a food establishment while actually watching the three with a strange sort of jealous contentment. While he would have preferred to be in Ribbon’s seat, he was conversely happy to see three of his favorites happy together. It had been a while since anyone had been happy with one another in the Sand Castle, so he wouldn’t ruin their good moment with his pettiness. While he and Amadhay were still on less than perfect terms, she and Ribbon seemed to have patched up their own problems nearly a month ago.
“I’m tired of this place,” Amadhay said out of nowhere.
Atlas set his book down, abandoning all pretenses. “Are you wanting a new locale?” he asked, glad to have something that she wanted. He had missed being able to fulfill her wishes.
She nodded, slowly sitting up as though she didn’t want to let Ribbon stop petting her, but needing to so that she could engage him in conversation. “Don’t you have any other castles? I’ve done the Ice Castle, and this is the Sand Castle. Where else is there?”
Atlas almost laughed. “Of course we have other castles. Just about anything you can name, we have.”
Amadhay narrowed her eyes in challenge. “Wood Castle.”
“That one’s easy. Of course we have a Wood Castle,” Ribbon responded before he could.
“Cloud Castle,” Amadhay tried, sitting forward and curling her legs under herself.
“Up in the sky, yes,” Atlas answered with a grin. “I doubt you’d like that one.”
“If it is really up in the clouds, I can assure you that I won’t be visiting it anytime soon,” Amadhay said, tilting her head back and leaning against Ribbon as she thought more. “Fire Castle,” she suggested, grinning wickedly.
Ribbon snorted but Atlas was the one to answer her. “Snuggled right between a couple volcanoes.”
“I’m good,” Amadhay replied instantly. “Water Castle.”
“It’s undersea,” Ribbon said, giving a shudder. “The magic down there gives me the willies.”
“So that one’s out,” Amadhay said, giving Ribbon a friendly nudge. “Mountain Castle?”
“Of course,” Atlas and Ribbon said at the same time.
Amadhay giggled. “Okay, I give. What castle don’t you have?”
While Ribbon only shrugged, Atlas actually gave the question a deep thought. “Well, I suppose we don’t have a—” his DS rang an urgent tone, immediately taking his attention from the conversation. Grabbing up the device, he swiped the screen to answer Stefan’s call.
“What is it?” he demanded before the man could get a word out.
“You need to get here. Now. This is beyond me.”
Atlas narrowed his eyes before letting out a huff of irritated air and nodded. “I’ll be there within the zoot.” With that, he ended the conversation, setting his DS back onto the table and running both hands through his hair in frustration. It was only after he pushed his glasses up on his nose and looked up that he remembered the girls in the room with him.
Ribbon had a questioning look while Amadhay’s could only be described as curious. “What’s going on there?” the younger asked, her red eyes wide.
“Nothing for you to worry about,” he said, making eye contact with Ribbon, who seemed to get the gist.
She stood up and tried to grab Amadhay’s hand to lead her away, but the aelfe was already hooked and didn’t move. “Alright, well what am I not needing to worry about?”
“It’s just some unrest among the workers. Stefan needs my help calming them down,” he lied, giving her a reassuring smile. She nodded.
“Mud Castle,” he responded warily, “But now is probably not the best time for you to go there.”
Amadhay narrowed her eyes. “Why? If it’s just a little unrest, what’s the problem with me going there?”
“It would be boring for you,” Ribbon jumped in. “Trust me. It’s usually some little thing that gets the workers all huffy and it takes Atlas’ presence to get them working again.”
Amadhay shrugged. “I don’t have to worry about that, then. I could just check it out. I was just saying that I was bored here. What better distraction from my boredom than a new location?”
Atlas shook his head. “Then how about you and Ribbon go to the Flower Castle?” he suggested. “I could drop you off there on my way.”
Amadhay crossed her arms over her chest, looking from Atlas to Ribbon and then back. “Is there a particular reason you two don’t want me to go to the Mud Castle?” she asked.
“No! Of course not, I just don’t want you to go hoping that it’ll be interesting when it won’t,” Ribbon attempted.
Amadhay only had eyes for Atlas though. “Because I thought we were all on the same side, so it makes no sense for you to be keeping things secret from me, right?”
“I just think you would enjoy the Flower Castle more,” he attempted lamely before giving in to her. “But since now you’ve become suspicious I suppose there’s no way to keep you from the Mud Castle, is there?” Amadhay shook her head. He sighed. “Then I suppose I might as well just bring you along. I warn you though, Ribbon is right. This will be boring. The Mud Castle is really just where we set up all of our business affairs. Nothing too interesting there.”
Amadhay gave a beautiful smile before hopping up. “Awesome. Is it hot there or should I change?” she asked.
“It’s always raining there,” Ribbon stated, “So you should probably change. I know I’m going to.”
Amadhay nodded. “Do I have rain clothes?”
“Sure. Somewhere. Go look for them. If you can’t find them, then you can borrow mine,” Ribbon suggested. As if she couldn’t tell that she was being gotten rid of, the teenager rushed off to do just that, followed by Mayday. Once they were both sure that she was gone, Ribbon turned back to Atlas. “What are we going to do?” she asked, absolutely fretting over the unforeseen difficult spot they were in.
Atlas waved it off, though he was equally worried. “Just keep her busy and away from the Containment Room. If I can’t get him under control, which it doesn’t sound like I will, we’ll just get rid of him. Once that’s done, there won’t be any more problem. So long as you stick to her like glue and keep her oblivious, everything will be fine.”
Ribbon gave a bit of a delayed nod. “What if she—”
“Found it!” Amadhay exclaimed, walking into the room with an adorable raincoat covering her torso and down to her knees. It was red with pockets on either side in the form of black cats. She was even wearing matching rain boots. “I feel about ten, but as long as it keeps me dry, right?” she suggested, shrugging before she focused on Ribbon, who was still dressed as she had left her. “I thought you were going to change too.”
Ribbon sighed dramatically. “Not everyone moves at your speed, Quick Bird,” she joked, tugging on the teenager’s braided pigtail as she passed by her, leaving Amadhay and Atlas in the room alone.
Amadhay turned her attention to Atlas, who wasn’t sure that he was ready for the full brunt of her curiosity. Luckily, she seemed not to be in her most inquisitive state. “Did you and Stefan just buy a bunch of things you would’ve liked to see little Amadhay in?” she joked.
“Pretty much,” Atlas admitted. “We actually have everything we got little you somewhere around if you ever want to try them on for us,” he teased, making her roll her eyes.
“Alright, I grant that I haven’t gained much in height, but I’m pretty sure these,” she gestured first to her chest, then to her hips and butt, “Have grown quite a bit since I was four.”
Atlas laughed. “That they have. A shame. I would have loved to see you in the dresses Scarlet and Medica got for you again. Pictures just don’t do you justice.”
Amadhay flushed. “You have pictures?” she demanded. “Why haven’t I seen them yet?”
“Other than the fact that I don’t trust you not to destroy them?” he asked sarcastically, “Nothing at all.”
“So I have to promise not to destroy pictures of me so that I can see them?” she asked incredulously.
“Looks like,” he said with a shrug. “Stefan would be heartbroken if you destroyed them.”
Amadhay scoffed. “If any of them involve him being dressed up as a dragon, I doubt it.”
“Those are his favorite,” Atlas told her earnestly. “The ones where you’re wearing his red cape, riding on his back with your sword high up in the air.”
Amadhay flushed again. “I have no memory of that, therefore these pictures have been doctored,” she claimed, looking away from him.
Atlas chuckled, watching her nostalgically for a moment when her eyes flashed sky blue. She raised her eyebrows when she saw the way he was looking at her. “What?” she asked, “Do I have something on my face?”
He smiled as her eyes slowly shifted back to red, “No, nothing. Just remembering when we had to bathe you and your sister after the two of you decided to play pirates in the mud,” he said, purposely trying to embarrass her enough to see the blue again. It might have worked if Ribbon hadn’t chosen that moment to return.
Amadhay clutched to the blood witch. “Ribbon, save me. Atlas is being a creepy old man,” she accused, making Ribbon laugh as she hid Amadhay behind her.
“Don’t worry, I’ll save you from the lecher,” she joked.
Atlas rolled his eyes, trying not to be bothered by their joking because he knew that was what it all was, just joking. “Yeah, well this old man will leave you two behind if you don’t get a move on it,” he said, standing up.
“Sir, yes sir,” both girls teased, following him as he led them to the front door.
As always since gaining her own access code, Amadhay was the first to speak to the door. “Green sleeves!” she exclaimed, making the door open. Atlas and Ribbon exchanged amused glances at her expense, but she didn’t seem to notice because she was instead focused on the horses waiting for them.
“Um. Aren’t we going to take the car?” she asked, gesturing toward the automobile that she had become rather fond of since staying with them. He had enjoyed introducing her to the joys of an individual automobile, since she was so used to the trains and the other, more archaic, modes of transportation that the Ha’s region was fond of.
“It’s faster by pegasus,” Ribbon answered her, petting the head of one of the horses. Amadhay only seemed less excited the closer she got to the three horses, something Atlas knew he could use to convince her to stay.
He didn’t though. “Mara, you go back,” he ordered the smallest of the horses, the one he had intended for Amadhay.
Immediately, Amadhay protested, though it was a weak one. “Hey, I didn’t say I wasn’t going,” she said, still eyeing the pegasi as if they were fire-breathing dragons rather than gentle, winged horses. In fact, she looked as if she would prefer fire-breathing dragons to the horses.
“You don’t ride, do you?” Atlas asked, making Ribbon look up from her steed, Grits.
“Really?” the woman asked Amadhay, who shifted.
“Not if I can help it,” she muttered.
Atlas was suddenly reminded of an Amadhay story from Tairyn. When the girl had been trained as a lady, in hand with her secret assassin training, horse riding had been an important skill that Amadhay had never mastered, no matter how hard Arne Riff was on her. The horses were always skittish around Amadhay, who was in turn always too wary around them. The lessons had ended when an otherwise gentle mare had bucked Amadhay off and left the girl, then only ten, with a broken arm.
With that in mind, he realized that he was going to be asking a lot of her to even get her on the pegasus. It was literally two of her least favorite things combined: a flying creature and a horse. Either way, he was determined to try.
“Ride with me then,” he offered, leading his steed, Ludo to her. She backed up when the pegasus shoved his face into hers.
“No, I think I’ll pass, actually. Maybe I’ll, um, not go to the Mud Castle.”
Even though that was what Atlas wanted, he couldn’t bring himself to take the victory. He had a bigger one in mind. “Come on,” he coaxed. “You know I won’t let anything happen to you.” Ribbon was looking at him with confusion, but he couldn’t be bothered to care. He almost had her; he could see it in her eyes. “You know you’re safe with me,” he promised the raven-haired girl.
With a wary look at him, she reached out to pet the pegasus, closing her eyes as her hand came close to contact. She winced and held her hand an inch away from the horse’s flank, afraid to touch it, so Atlas helped her. He put his hand over hers and pressed her smaller hand against Ludo’s flank, rubbing in a gentle circle.
“You see? Ludo won’t do anything to hurt you. Even if he wanted to, I wouldn’t let him. I won’t let any harm come to you,” he swore.
Amadhay looked up at him, fear still in her eyes, but she nodded. She smiled at him, allowing him to help her onto the pegasus’ back. She was on a pegasus because she trusted him. The feeling was heady. She trusted him. She was scared out of her mind, but she trusted him to keep her safe.
He seated himself behind her, pressing her forward, into Ludo’s mane so that she could feel the strength of him behind her and the pegasus below her. “I won’t let you fall,” he whispered into her ear as the pegasus began to lift off of the ground.
The disapproving look on Ribbon’s face didn’t affect him because he was the one in charge. If he wanted to take Amadhay to the Mud Castle, then he would. It was all worth it for the trust he saw in those sky blue eyes when they were flying through the clouds and she was able to let go of Ludo just for a moment because she knew he wouldn’t let her fall.