The dreamscape formed the familiar shape of the Sand Castle Palnokian base and Amadhay held her breath. She didn’t want to go in, didn’t want to see Ribbon or Stefan or any of the others. It was an automatic response and she had to swallow it down, pulling Tenshu to his feet from where he was still sitting, staring at tombstones. She tried not to notice the name on the one he sat before, but it was branded on her mind as she led him away.
Tairyn du Regen. She shouldn’t have felt anything, given that the man had betrayed her. He had sold her out to the Palnoki, told them everything about her. He had led them to her Indy. He had chosen Kimiko over her. He was nothing but a traitor to the end of his days. Still, she remembered the days when he was her only friend, when he had comforted her and been there for her.
She pushed him out of her mind completely as soon as they stood in front of the Sand Castle. This time, she was the one stalling and Tenshu impatiently pushed the doors open.
“What? Scared of what you might find?” he taunted. “Not excited to have a chance at killing Ribbon again?”
No. She wasn’t. In fact, she was anxious, afraid that that would be what she had to do. Because if it was, Tenshu would die. She couldn’t do it again, not when she dreamed about it, thought about it, tried to imagine all the ways that she could have changed the outcome. If it came down to killing Ribbon again, even a fake Ribbon, she would rather die.
So, honestly, when they roamed the building and found room after room empty, it was a relief. They went to all of the common areas, and Amadhay was positive that she smelled gingerbread cookies in the kitchen. She heard laughter in the sitting rooms. Thought she saw flashes of black, flowing skirts and cloudy puffs of hair at every corner. By the time they reached the rooms, Amadhay completely refused to go in.
She wasn’t sure if it was her own guilt lending to hallucinations, if part of Tenshu’s fear included Ribbon, or if his dreamscape was genuinely trying to mess with her. She didn’t care. She just wanted to go. She needed to get away from all the memories, but when she started to leave, the pulsing of the link reminded her that she couldn’t leave Tenshu, no matter what she was feeling. So instead, she focused on keeping her breathing even, standing just behind Tenshu so that he could check the rooms and she wouldn’t see anything, but also wouldn’t be shut outside if the door were to slam closed.
They had gone through most of the rooms and even Tenshu was becoming antsy. “We should have found something by now,” he said, slamming Kimiko’s door shut.
“Maybe this is all about the expectations?” she suggested hopefully, noting that he couldn’t stand to be touched by her. Where before, they’d been holding hands to keep close and to strengthen his energy, the longer they were in this place, the further he stood from her.
He barely spared her a glance, as full of scorn as it was, before stalking toward Nico’s room. It too was empty. That only left three, the three that they honestly should have check the moment his own was empty.
“Atlas or Ribbon?” Amadhay asked, her voice wavering. They could either go to her room, Atlas’ or Ribbon’s.
“I dunno, which one would you prefer killing?” he snapped.
Atlas, she wanted to say, but instead shook her head. “Which one are you afraid of?” she asked, not particularly sure why he’d have been frightened of either. From what she remembered the familial bond between Tenshu and those two had been incredibly strong, as if they were truly related.
He didn’t answer, and when he led them to the hallway she and Ribbon had shared, she tensed, not ready to go into Ribbon’s room. They didn’t. Instead, they entered her room. As the others, no one was in there. Unlike the others, all of her belongings were there, torn down and thrown around in someone’s anger. The canopy above her bed was pulled close.
They were leaving when Amadhay felt every hair on her body stand up. It was only her instincts that had her dropping and rolling out of the way, barely missing a spell so harsh that it made the stone floor bubble. She hopped to her feet, glancing to Tenshu, who was staring back into the room in horror, rather than shock, that told her he, at least had expected this. Knowing that there was only one place left in the room for the attacker to be, she turned back to her bed.
Sitting there was Atlas, with Ribbon’s dead body on his lap. She held back a cry, dropping down to her knees. A sob got caught in the back of her throat as she stared, unable to look away from the limp body of the woman, cradled to Atlas’ chest. His red eyes only focused on her and he couldn’t miss her when he threw another spell, this one slamming her against the wall hard enough that had she been in reality, it would have knocked her unconscious or, at the very least, dizzy.
She slumped against the wall, her eyes still focused on Ribbon. Her eyes were still open, a pale unseeing green. Her mouth was partially open and the ugly gash on her throat was so red, as if she had just killed her.
“You betray us,” Atlas whispered, sounding broken. She was ready to take another hit, she deserved it, but the magic that left him hit Tenshu. With a pained cry, Tenshu dropped to his knees as well, his body convulsing. “You betray Ribbon.”
“No,” Tenshu swore. “Never. I would never—” Atlas cut him off with another ball of magic that Amadhay felt keenly, now that her purple aura was nearly covering Tenshu.
“You would give up all that I’ve done for you for her. Turn your back on your family for her. Forget this,” Atlas’ hands went to Ribbon’s hair and for a moment, Amadhay feared that he would pull her head back to show her neck. He didn’t, instead petting her brokenly. All three of them were silent for a few clicks as Amadhay and Tenshu recovered from their hits.
Once Amadhay was able to stand, she avoided looking at Atlas and Ribbon, instead focusing on crossing to Tenshu. She didn’t make it, because the spell that came at her smelled of death and she threw herself back. She turned her attention to Atlas, who was gently lying Ribbon on the bed as if she were only sleeping and he didn’t want to wake her. His attention was on Tenshu and she was reminded that though he had attacked her, this was about Tenshu. Atlas wasn’t really there. She had to remember that.
“You know what happens when you betray the family,” he said menacingly, “You are removed from the family.”
Tenshu just nodded in reluctant agreement.
“Get off your ass,” Amadhay growled. “And fight him!”
Tenshu shook his head. “I can’t,” he whispered. Atlas paid no attention to Amadhay when she slowly approached, following behind him.
“You agreed to this from the beginning,” Atlas said sadly. “Though I never thought I’d have to do it.” Tenshu bowed his head when Atlas pulled his hand back for some kind of attack. Amadhay wasn’t sure if it was magic or if he planned to beat Tenshu to death, either way, she couldn’t allow it. She hadn’t come this far just to let Atlas kill Tenshu.
So she latched herself onto his back, doing her best to distract Atlas enough to get him away. When Atlas stopped and focused on detaching her, she barked at Tenshu. “Move out of the way!”
He barely moved in time before Amadhay and Atlas went tumbling down, into the wall. Atlas’ head hit, but she knew better than to hope that that would stop him. Taking a deep breath she readied herself for the kidney punch she saw coming even before he moved. She didn’t let that move her. Atlas was stronger than her, though, and it was only a matter of time before he got the upper hand and slammed her into the wall. She breathed rattily, feeling as if something had been broken, but didn’t let that stop her. She had to keep him down.
The red covering his hand made her jerk away to avoid a fireball to the gut. “How come he can use magic if I can’t?” she demanded softly, using her wit to keep her on her toes. She always had when sparring with Ribbon.
At the thought of Ribbon, she faltered, looking over to her lover. It was enough of a distraction for Atlas to grip her throat and squeeze even as his attention went to Tenshu, who was just standing there, though his fists clenched and his arm muscles flexed.
“Come here,” Atlas ordered and Tenshu did it.
And of course he did, because all of them just did whatever Atlas wanted. Everyone, everywhere did what Atlas wanted them to, whether they knew it or not, and the thought just made Amadhay so angry. Tenshu, Kimiko and Ribbon had befriended her because Atlas wanted it. She, herself, had stayed with the Palnoki because Atlas wanted it. Benjy and Christein had been hurt, so badly, so many times because Atlas wanted it. Ribbon had lied to her, attacked her, hurt her, tried to stop her, tried to kill her because Atlas had wanted it.
The violence in her permeated every muscle of her body and she vibrated with it. She could hardly feel his grasp on her throat. Her hands, her claws, because that was what they were, covered in some white energy she didn’t recognize, cut into Atlas. The first cut wasn’t hers, wasn’t her action because despite everything, she couldn’t imagine really hurting Atlas. She didn’t think she was strong enough, she didn’t think it would have made Ribbon happy.
But when she stabbed him again, it was all her. She kept stabbing until the white energy disappeared and she was just sticking her fingers, broken nails and all into him. Tenshu made a sick noise, and that was the only thing that made her stop, the reminder that someone was seeing the part of her that she tried to keep hidden. There was a line between someone who killed for a living and someone who enjoyed the suffering they could cause with a sadistic glee. There was an even bigger line between someone who killed and someone who ripped another person apart. One was a murderer, the other, a Feral. She wasn’t a Feral.
She jolted away from Atlas’ corpse, feeling worse by the click. Ribbon’s body on the bed, Atlas’ body on the floor, her covered in blood, reeking of it. She looked helplessly to Tenshu, who flinched away from her eyes.
“I did what I had to,” she whispered, her voice raspy in a way she remembered far too well.
Tenshu didn’t agree with her, but neither did he disagree with her. Instead, he took one last look at both his father in all but blood and his sister in the same, before leaving the room and leaving Amadhay there. It took her a bit longer to get up and follow him. Even though she knew it wasn’t real and was only a figment of Tenshu’s mind, she couldn’t stop herself from getting on the bed and lying beside Ribbon, breathing in her scent.
It was sick and she knew it, but she didn’t want to leave her, not again. The link throbbed and pulled taut, reminding her of what she was really doing there, but she didn’t want to go. She wanted to stay with Ribbon forever and she didn’t care if she were alive or not. She just wanted to be with her.
You are, Ribbon’s voice said in her mind. I’m always with you.
She shook her head. “Not really,” she whispered, wanting to cry but not capable of doing it on this plane of reality. “You’re gone.”
Only in body. A warmth came from nowhere, enveloping Amadhay for a moment before disappearing. And even if she were hallucinating, which she was used to because she hallucinated about Ribbon at least once a week, it felt better. She felt stronger. She felt closer to the dead woman. Taking a deep breath, she let go and immediately, the setting around her disappeared, leaving her floating above the ground, outside of the same bubble Tenshu had been stuck in to begin with.
He was inside again and she was outside, watching him as he paced there. Breathing deep, she turned her back to the bubble and entered, letting the remnants of it from before rejoin so that it was a solid barrier once more. She avoided eye contact with Tenshu, who watched her with a strange look in his eye.
“I thought you had left me,” he said.
“I didn’t,” she responded unnecessarily.
A whimper from the corner of the barrier made her turn her attention to see Tenshu again, this one in a ball, trying not to look at the other. That one was the one she was attached to via the link.
The other crept up behind her and spoke in her ear, one hand on her hip and the other on the side of her face, tilting her head away from his mouth. “You should have just left us,” he breathed into her ear.
She turned into him, vaguely aware that he hadn’t moved his hand and that now his arm was curled around her head, in the perfect position to twist her head and snap her neck. That was a careless mistake. “Isn’t a bit egoistical to be afraid of yourself?”
He gave her a sharp smile. “You would know.”
She tried to move from his grip, but instead of dropping to get away, she only gave him her hair to roll around his fist and he pulled her face up toward his own. Still, she continued their rapport. “I wouldn’t, actually. I don’t do the whole fear thing.”
He laughed in a mocking way that made her eye his torso. His muscles wouldn’t be the best to punch, but his stomach or throat would be. “You fear more than I do,” he taunted her. “Only I’m capable of fighting my fears.” He pulled her in close. “How about my desires? I don’t think I want to fight them.”
She tried to push away, but he had too good of a hold on her, because while she’d been thinking up a plan, he’d been implementing one. Christein always said that planning to the point of inaction was her largest flaw. “If you’re about to tell me that rutting with me is your biggest fear, I can assure you it’s unwarranted.”
“Shame,” he responded, running a finger up her spine in a way that made her shiver. “I think we’d have fun.”
“We’re not already?” she asked just before she kicked up her legs and dropped her weight, throwing him off-kilter when he suddenly had to hold all of her weight. He stumbled and falling on her backside gave Amadhay the upper hand. She kicked his legs from under him and flipped on top of him.
“Now we are,” he said with a smirk, easily flipping them when she wasn’t able to perfect her hold. She didn’t give him time to either, slithering out from under him and landing a quick, desperate kick at his spine. It hit, but it barely even effected the necromancer, because before she was standing again, he’d pulled her feet down and had a knee to her chest.
“I think I like you beneath me.”
She had a vague memory of Ribbon saying that before and that was what gave her the strength to roll to the side, taking him with her until she was on top with her knees at his throat. She glanced to the other Tenshu. “What do I do? Do I kill him? Try to combine you? What?”
That Tenshu didn’t get a chance to respond, before the one beneath her gripped her hair and used it to pull her down. She wished she’d listened to her instructors when they’d told her to either cut it or always wear it up and out of the way, even when she wasn’t expecting a fight. He head butted her, making her fall back on her back. A swift punch to her face was followed by a kick and she curled into a ball, knowing that he wouldn’t give her the chance to stand and that she couldn’t use her Gift in this plane.
Then again, she’d been able to somehow use a spell that she didn’t even known, so she figured trying wouldn’t hurt. Her attempt at teleportation was hit by a wall so hard that she was breathless. Tenshu took advantage of that to pull her to her feet.
“Oh, what should I do with her?” he asked the other Tenshu, mocking her previous question. “Fuck her? Kill her? What would you hate more?”
“Let her go,” the real Tenshu demanded, standing up. She wasn’t sure what had made him intervene, but she appreciated it, because the fear-Tenshu dropped her as if she were inconsequential.
“Finally,” he said, moving to the other Tenshu. The fight that ensued was rather, impressively short. She doubted that if she’d been pitted against herself it would have been nearly as short, but apparently knowing his own weaknesses was all Tenshu needed. Or perhaps the game was rigged for him to win. She wasn’t sure and she didn’t care. All she knew was that she was grateful when real Tenshu had used her hands to twist the neck of fear Tenshu. Because it was finally over.