Her stomach emptied the moment she came together. She fell to her knees, vaguely aware that she was somewhere new. The veil between her and this realm had shifted once again, and instead of seeing everything through a fog of their combined black and purple auras, she now saw everything clearly. Tenshu stood in the center of a strange circle burned into the ground and though he tried to get out of it, he was stuck inside.
As she looked him over, she knew they had to be in his mind because he was a much darker, almost uglier version of himself. His hair wasn’t so much dark auburn as it was brown, with dried blood changing the color. His black clothes were an extension of his aura, made more of shadows and roiling darkness than fabric or any solid shapes. His hands were covered in gloves, blindingly clean white gloves and there was a tiny M cut into his chest, leaving a hole in his body. His angular face was sharper, as if it could be used as a knife. His arms, as much as she could see through the aura jacket, were covered in angry, red marks. They went deeper than any self-inflicted wound she’d been able to see on him and were open, but they were also the only wounds he still had.
But Goddess, he was still beautiful. His olive eyes were brighter than in reality, and shined a light that reflected all across the strange dreamscape, illuminating where he was looking. His hair was down, rather than in his normal ponytail and despite the dried blood, it worked to soften his face the same way it always did, making his features more feminine. He was as slender and lean as ever, and as far as she could tell, he hadn’t gained any height. If anything, with his hair down, he seemed a bit shorter. His every move exuded power and intelligence as he tried every way he could to leave the circle. His olive skin glistened with sweat and that was when Amadhay was able to realize that she was hot. This place was blisteringly hot.
When she made it back to her feet, wiping her mouth against the back of her hand, his eyes had landed on her and the difference was immediate. His face contorted with absolute hatred and he lost his senses, instead choosing just to slam against the invisible barrier separating them and she was happy to have ended on the other side, rather than in there with him. While she hadn’t expected him to welcome her with open arms, she still hadn’t expected that kind of reaction. She should have.
He and Ribbon had been incredibly close. They had been siblings, if not by blood, by bond. He had warned her that if she broke Ribbon’s heart he was going to hurt her. She had done much worse than just break Ribbon’s heart. She had stopped it. He had every right to hate her and she would have hated him if he hadn’t, but that didn’t change the fact that the difference hit her hard. The last time they had seen each other, he had comforted her. Now he looked like he wanted to kill her.
She took a step forward purely to counter her immediate instinct to take one back. That step was followed by another and another until she was standing directly in front of Tenshu, only the barrier separating them. She swallowed the lump in her throat, ignoring the taste of vomit on her tongue. This close to him, she could see that her aura was sustaining his, a thin strand of purple heading from her navel to turn into, or maybe meet, a similarly thin strand of black midair and flow into his navel. It moved right through the barrier and she hoped that nothing would sever it because his aura looked very weak in comparison to hers.
“What are you waiting for, huh?” Tenshu snarled, making her eyes snap up to his. “It’ll be easy for you to kill me too. I can’t do anything.”
She frowned, choosing to stay silent rather than say anything in response. It was best, because he went on when she didn’t.
“Did you just come in here to gloat? Killed Ribbon, now you get to kill me. Bet it makes you feel powerful.”
“How do we get you out of that?” she asked, the words coming out of her mouth without her permission. That hadn’t been what she wanted to say. She’d wanted to apologize, to beg for the forgiveness she knew he’d never give her. She wanted to swear that she’d never wanted to hurt Ribbon, that she was saving him for Ribbon. That she’d never kill him. But that was what came out instead.
He eyed her warily. “Why? So you can kill me first?”
“Why would I kill you here?” she asked, still not saying what she wanted to. “Sounds like a waste of my time and energy. The danger is coming soon and you need to be out of there.”
Tenshu laughed aloud. “Of course. Of course you aren’t the second task. My mind made you my guide. Had to pick the one person I hate more than myself.”
“I don’t know how to remove the shield. If you do, tell me.”
Tenshu snorted. “You can’t, which I know, so I don’t know why you’re asking me about things I know. I have to have another’s aura get me out. I need my weapon. I’m stuck here until I die. So you can stop torturing me, mind. I don’t want to see her anymore.”
He thinks I’m a figment of his imagination, Amadhay realized. “I am your weapon. I have my own aura. Tell me.”
Tenshu glared at Amadhay before shrugging to himself. “If it works, I’ll get out and get rid of you. I don’t know why my brain would have made a person into a weapon. That’s stupid.”
“You need me.”
“I guess I do. Press yourself into the wall.”
“What will that do?” she eyed the line forming the circle warily, not sure that she could trust Tenshu.
“It’ll make a hole I can escape through.”
She nodded, but didn’t move any further forward, though she meant to. “And when I do, will you attack me?”
“I’m going to reform you into a working weapon.”
“I’m not a creation of your energy. I am your guide and weapon, but I exist outside of your mind. I ask again. Will you attack me when I free you?” There was a strange formality to the way she was talking that confused her, but she assumed it had to do with being in his mind. He needed her to talk clearly.
“Yes,” he said venomously. “If you aren’t just a part of me, I am going to kill you, Atlas be damned.”
“It will kill you,” she replied, and she frowned, aware that her voice was emotionless. It was strange.
“If it kills you, I’ll be fine with dying.”
“Ribbon wouldn’t want that,” she responded instantly, and the way the words fell off of her tongue, she knew she was saying what she meant to. She bit her lip and stared him in the eyes, stepping forward even though his eyes were murderous. “She always said that you only win if you’re alive. Dying to kill me won’t help anyone. It won’t make you happy and she wouldn't have wanted it.”
She gave a soft hiss at the unexpected frostiness of the barrier. It froze her skin, a stark contrast to the blistering heat. She wasn’t sure when she’d closed her eyes, but when she opened them, the thin film of her aura was blinding her. She opened her mouth to say something, but instead felt magic entering there, closing up her throat and cutting off her air supply.
It was then that she realized she wasn’t seeing her own aura, but the magic of the dream realm. While it was the same glittering purple, it was pungent on her tongue and in her nostrils, thicker inside of her, heavier on her skin. She couldn’t breathe around it but it kept forcing itself inside of her. Close your mouth or you will drown, both voices yelled at her and with surprising ease, she snapped her mouth closed and fell backwards.
Before she could even gather her wits, something heavy landed on her. She shoved at it, still unable to see, but that didn’t help her. Her wrists were pinned above her head and a hand was around her throat.
Tenshu, she knew. Tenshu was trying to kill her, just as he said he would. She could feel his hair on her face, could smell the blood in his hair, the spicy tang of his aura, the scent of necromantic death. The choking sensation took her right back to Ribbon and she didn’t move. She didn’t fight it, just lay there, letting him squeeze her throat. After a few pulses of aura that she was sure indicated their hearts beating in sync, she could feel that his hands weren’t squeezing anymore, but were just touching her neck where the scar was.
When she opened her eyes this time, she could see, even if her eyes burned and felt wrong in a way she didn’t understand. Tenshu was kneeling on top of her, his eyes focused on hers as he gently fingered the mark Ribbon had left with her wire. There was something about the way he was looking into her eyes that made her not want to break the connection. He didn’t seem hostile, just broken. He was so sad, but in a strange way, almost accepting. Neither of them said anything, but she was sure that he was seeing the same thing she did on her bad days. He saw Ribbon in her eyes.
She blinked and the moment was gone.
Tenshu stared at her for a click before getting off of her. “Just remember how you did it so that when we come back here, you enter the barrier with that side outwards to allow you entrance and close it.”
She nodded mutely, looking away from him, over the empty flatlands. There was nothing there. She cut a look at Tenshu, who was looking wary. “Aren’t we supposed to be fighting something?” she asked.
Tenshu gave her a bitter laugh. “You missed the welcoming committee. Now you’re supposed to guide me through this place.”
She blinked. “I am?” she asked, looking around. There were no obvious paths. Nothing gave her any indication what she should do.
“Yup, you,” he said with obvious distaste. “Why are you even here if you don’t know what to do? Is Atlas just trying to punish me for something?”
She frowned, focusing on trying to find even the smallest sign of where to go. “I’m the only option right now.”
“Why not Atlas, then?”
She gave a huff of frustration. “Why do you keep assuming Atlas is here? He isn’t. It’s just you and me. If you’d prefer I just leave you to it, I sure as anything can do just that.”
“Why am I with you?” he asked suspiciously.
“Because you got hurt and I decided to help you out,” she said through clenched teeth.
“Where are Amaya and Cole? The last thing I remember is being with them and Semi.”
She gave a shrug. “I wouldn’t know.”
“You don’t know what you’re doing here. You don’t know where my friends are. Is there anything you do know?”
“Since I’ve kept you alive for the past six days, I’m going to say that yes, there are quite a few things I do know.”
Tenshu regarded her with an unimpressed look. “You should have just taken me to Mitch or Atlas.”
“Well, I didn’t,” she yelled, turning to face him fully. “I didn’t have time to look for anyone else and since I’m pretty certain that Cowboy would kill me on sight, I didn’t try too hard either way. So you have me, and you’re going to stop fucking complaining about it, or I will let you die, I swear to Goddess, I will.”
Tenshu opened his mouth to respond, but then his eyes went past her. “Well, at least you know how to bring the monsters out.”
She glared at him before looking behind her and flinched. The evil looking pegasus looked a little too much like Grits for her not to feel like this was catered just for her.
“I fucking hate pegasi,” Tenshu muttered under his breath, reaching for Amadhay and pulling her with him away from the barrier. “Whatever you do, don’t hit the barrier or else we won’t be able to get back in.”
She nodded, keeping her eyes on the black-eyed beast with large, flat teeth and enormous wings. Its hooves were as large as her head and the way it flicked its tail made it clear that even the creature’s hair was a weapon.
“What weapons did you bring?” Tenshu asked.
Amadhay stared at him blankly. “I was supposed to bring weapons?” she asked, flinching when the pegasus gave a loud, angry whinny.
“What the fuck did you think you were supposed to do? Stand around and look pretty? Of course you were supposed to fucking bring weapons, you mutt brained clear. We can’t use magic here!”
“How was I supposed to know that?” she demanded, shoving Tenshu to the side just in time to miss getting a hoof to the head. The pegasus gave her a long, calculating look before turning its attention back to Tenshu.
“You are the most useless—” Tenshu was cut off from what Amadhay knew was going to be a curse laden series of insults by the pegasus spreading its wings and effectively separating the two of them. And then it kicked back at Amadhay.
Only her natural mistrustfulness around horses kept her from having a hoof shaped dent in her head. She dropped down and rolled to the side. The pegasus snorted and she watched as the link between her and Tenshu pulled taut, going right through the creature. Think. Think. She watched Tenshu dodge the horses’ attacks with an easy grace that only came with practice, the same kind of practice she had with avoiding horse kicks, stomps and headbutts. He even had the foresight on how the pegasus would use its wings to attack him.
She was angry with herself for having come without any weapons. She knew better than to go anywhere without weapons, even if it was to a dreamscape. Even if she hadn’t been sure that she would be able to use them, she should have at least brought a knife. But no, she had been lounging in her room, in reaching distance of a gun. She could go back to reality and grab one, but Ribbon’s voice was telling her not to. She didn’t really think it was a good choice anyway. Tenshu seemed to get less alive every time she separated from him. She was pretty sure that it might actually kill him this time.
Don’t think, just do, a new voice whispered into her ear. She wondered, for a moment, just how many voices were going to occupy her mind in this dreamscape before doing as the voice instructed. She ran as fast as she could without using her Gift and once the link between her and Tenshu had some slack, she launched herself at the pegasus. Without it even looking, it tried to shove her away with its rump, but she grabbed hold of its snowy white tail hair and hung on.
When she slammed against its rump, with her full weight on the strong hairs, it let out an enraged whinny and turned in a circle, stomping its feet and attempting to use its hind legs to kick her off. While a few kicks managed to hit her pretty hard, she kept holding on until she saw an opportunity to climb higher. It trotted in place, making her bounce up and down in time. On one such upward movement, she grabbed its back mane and let the pull of gravity back down help her. It only took a few attempts of that before she was on its back. Once there, she looked down, to Tenshu who was distracting the pegasus by making it run into the barrier.
That barrier was the only thing they had working for them. With its attention split by trying to shake Amadhay off and trying to stomp Tenshu to death, it wasn’t exactly a threat to either of them.
“Now what?” she asked aloud.
“Did you manage to bring anything of worth with you?” Tenshu yelled to her, dancing to the side when the pegasus tried for his head again.
“I wasn’t really expecting to be doing any fighting!” she yelled, gripping tightly to the mane when it took to the air and flew in circles. She felt nauseous.
“Nothing? A hair pin? A fake boob? Anything?”
She wanted to hit him, but was too busy trying not to be sick on the pegasus’ back. “Don’t you think I would have stabbed this thing or bludgeoned it to death if I had something?” she demanded.
“Then I guess we’re dead.”
Wings are fragile one of the voices muttered in a tone that told Amadhay that the speaker was irritated with her. The pegasus landed heavily, its breathing heavy.
“Sounds like we’re wearing it out!” Tenshu called.
Amadhay lifted her leg. She only had one chance. If she messed this up, she was going to fall off and it would stomp her to death. When the pegasus reared up again, with its wings poised, ready to take flight, Amadhay kicked the center of one wing as hard as she could.
She could hear the fragile bones breaking under the sound of the pegasus crying out in pain. Its wing fell limp at its side and just by pure luck, she landed heavily against its other wing, falling off. She caught onto the wing and that one, too, seemed to break under her fingers. She fell hard on her back on the ground, but quickly rolled away from the injured pegasus. Once again, luck prevailed, because she rolled into Tenshu, not the barrier, and both watched the injured pegasus.
When it didn’t automatically heal, Amadhay took a deep breath in relief. It was going to be difficult enough to take it down, even with it injured, without it healing itself like real pegasi did. She wasn’t sure whether she should thank the dreamscape or Tenshu’s mind, so she mentally thanked both before focusing on how she could manage to take down the creature before them.
“How strong was its neck” Tenshu asked her, breaking into her impossible thoughts.
“Strong enough that I wouldn’t be able to break it,” she immediately responded. “Otherwise it would be dead already.”
“Strong enough that I couldn’t either?” he asked, getting to his feet and pulling her up with him.
Amadhay nodded. “Even if we both tried to snap his neck at the same time we would probably fail.”
“But not definitely,” he countered. “If we do nothing, it will definitely kill us. So get back up there.”
Amadhay started to argue, but didn’t, finding her mouth strangely shut despite the many things she wanted to say. Instead, she took a deep breath and focused on the pegasus. It appeared to be getting past the pain, because its eyes were set on her, a deep intense hatred shining through.
“I think we should run,” she stated, turning to Tenshu and pushing his shoulders to get him moving. Tenshu kept his eyes on the pegasus behind her.
“Running won’t kill it.”
“And not running will kill us,” she snapped, shoving him. There was a hard whinny from behind them, and Tenshu turned his eyes to her. This time, he frowned and looked at her neck. Automatically, she put her hand to her neck to cover up the scar from Ribbon.
“How many times is that wrapped around your throat?”
“What?” Amadhay asked before her fingers moved down from the scar, to Lizumeizei’s necklace. A pulse came from the pendant, and she looked to Tenshu with surprise. “I wasn’t wearing this,” she said.
“Well, you are now, so how many times is it wrapped around your neck?”
“I don’t—” The pegasus was galloping at them now, shaking the ground with every step. Tenshu’s fingers were on the clasp of the necklace, opening it, and then he was working quickly, unwinding the necklace from around her neck. The chain uncoiled again and again until he was holding a length of the chain and more was still wrapped around her neck.
“Give me a boost,” Amadhay said. The pegasus had stopped its gallop, eyeing them with intelligence. It gave a huff, ready to charge them, but still didn’t close the distance between them.
“How many times is this wrapped around your neck?” Tenshu asked in disbelief, not paying attention to what he was saying.
“Listen to me. I’m going to need your help.” Amadhay looked away from the pegasus, to Tenshu, to see that he was string at her necklace. She had no doubt that it still looked the same, despite the coils of chain he held. Now she understood what Lizumeizei had meant when he said it would come in handy one day.
The pegasus charged, taking advantage of neither of them paying it any attention to close the distance between them. Just by luck, Amadhay was able to push Tenshu to the ground and miss having both of their heads crushed in by its hooves.
“You need to get on its back,” Tenshu commanded, leaving his haze of confusion. He gripped her waist, pulling them both to their feet. Together they wove through the pegasus’ hooves, managing not to be stomped on.
“We both need to get on its back. If we can use this as reins, we can get it back to the bubble and it can do the work for us.”
Tenshu glanced at her for a moment before nodding, kicking the pegasus’ hind leg when it stomped on the chain. Amadhay didn’t even feel a tug and more chain fell from her necklace. The pegasus gave an angry whinny and lifted its hind legs to attempt to stomp them into the dirt. Tenshu pulled the chain up, wrapping it loosely around his waist a few times, before grabbing Amadhay’s arm and tugging her from underneath the horse. They nodded at each other and Amadhay used Tenshu’s cupped hands as a catapult for her foot, jumping up and landing on the pegasus’ rump. Once again, it tried to force her off, but she grabbed hold of its hind, digging her nails into the flesh to keep herself there, and then crawled up the small distance left to its back.
Once there, she gripped the chain and crawled forward until she was at the center of its back. She couldn’t see what Tenshu was doing, but she could tell that he was keeping it distracted from the fact that it had yet to attempt to buck her off.
“Can you get up here on your own?” she called down to Tenshu and received a grunt in response. Carefully, she stood, using the broken wings for stability. The pegasus screamed its pain and tied to shake her off, but she kept a tight hold to the wings and the pegasus didn’t move them, so she stayed where she was. She followed the chain with her eyes, seeing it go under and around the pegasus’ legs several times until it was to Tenshu, in front of the pegasus.
“Are you coming?” she demanded when Tenshu was focusing on its legs.
“New plan,” he called. “We need to get it down.”
“No new plan,” Amadhay countered. “The old plan is a good plan. It works.”
“The old plan was your plan and won’t work. The new plan will.”
Amadhay let out an annoyed noise, tugging on the chain. The pegasus didn’t even seem to notice. “We don’t have enough strength for this!”
“And we have enough to force steer it to its death?” he countered, moving under the pegasus where she couldn’t see him. The pegasus turned in circles, trying to get to him, but to no avail.
“I’m coming up.”
“Oh, now you want to,” Amadhay muttered under her breath, holding tight to the pegasus’ wing. It let out a pained noise when its movement forced her to move the broken bones. She jerked back in surprise when the beast let out an angry whinny when the other end of the chain came up to her. She almost let it fall back down, but caught it at the last moment, hooking it precariously around the edge of the wing to allow the pegasus to lever Tenshu up rather than her. Its pain was obvious, and for a moment, she wished that she were giving it the quick death it deserved instead of this prolonged pain.
Finally, Tenshu was up far enough that she could give him her hand. He allowed her to help him up and then immediately let go of her, moving forward on the pegasus as though he walked on an oversized horse every day. She supposed that he could do it because it was his dreamscape. Either way, still holding the chain, he got a running jump off of the pegasus.
Before Amadhay could yell at him and demand to know the point, he had swung back, on the other side of the pegasus’ neck. “Got it,” he said, holding out the chain to her.
She frowned for a moment before realizing that he had effectively wrapped the pegasus with the chain. And now he was handing the reins to her. She looked from the chain to him and then to the pegasus. “What are you giving it to me for?”
“You’re my weapon,” he said as though it should be obvious. It wasn’t.
“And you have to kill it,” he explained irritatedly. “If I kill it without using my weapon, it will come back.”
She frowned, but took the end of the chain. “Do me a favor,” she ordered, gesturing to the back of her necklace. “Reclasp it. I think that’ll cut this off.”
“What?” Tenshu asked, eyeing her warily.
“Just fucking do it.”
The pegasus was tired. Amadhay wasn’t sure how a figment of Tenshu’s imagination could be tired, but it obviously was. It wasn’t even attempting to get them off anymore, just swaying from side to side, panting. Once the chain fell when Tenshu reclasped her necklace, Amadhay took hold of the reins and pulled. It moved back and forth, seeming to regain some of its fight, and Amadhay looked back to Tenshu.
“You need to help me,” she said, struggling to keep the chain tight against the pegasus’ throat. Without a word, Tenshu moved in behind her, putting his hands on hers and adding his strength behind the pulling of the chain. The pegasus was panicking and Amadhay tried not to care. It ran in circles until Tenshu helped her lead it to the barrier. It hit, hard. Harder than Amadhay had been expecting, and if Tenshu hadn’t been keeping them grounded, she would have flown off. Unfortunately, the pegasus was still alive.
“Again,” Tenshu whispered into Amadhay’s ear. “Once it hits, we can deal with it.”
She nodded and led the pegasus away, making it run around until Tenshu once again helped her lead it back to the barrier. It hit even harder this time, and Tenshu pulled Amadhay and the chains back. When they went falling off of the pegasus’ back, the chains tightened, using their weight as a focus. It was easy, surprisingly easy to Amadhay, for the chains to tighten so much that the pegasus’ legs fell from under it and it slammed headfirst into the barrier again.
That time did it. The pegasus dissolved into the silvery purple that everything on the dreamscape was made of and then disappeared. The chain dropped to the ground and then instantly coiled into a bracelet. Both Amadhay and Tenshu stared at it for a few clicks before Amadhay pushed off of Tenshu and stood up, picking up the bracelet and putting it onto her wrist.
“Now what?” she asked.
Tenshu rolled his eyes, standing up and brushing nothing off of him. “Now we walk. Which way?”
“How would I know?” she asked, eyeing the blank scenery. There was nothing but the semi-transparent barrier and a landscape of sand.
“You’re my guide. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
The sarcasm in his tone wasn’t appreciated and she turned to him to tell him just that, but the words caught in her throat when a path appeared behind Tenshu. “How about that way?” she suggested instead, pointing.