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 It was easy enough to find Amaya again. He just had to follow the loud voices and laughter. The closer he came to the Arche Loralyn’s study, the more he could understand what was being said.

“And so I told her, ‘Look, I am really sorry that your twine ran off with my friend, but no, I’m not going to pay for you.’” Hynnkel was apparently in the middle of a story, and Croy-li assumed he’d come in on the punch line, because all of the others laughed.

Unsure whether he was welcome or not, Croy-li hovered at the door, listening as Amaya asked Hynnkel more questions. Deciding that she probably wanted time with her family, Croy-li turned on his heel to instead look for Blu and nearly ran right into Amaya’s sister. The girl, an inch or two shorter than Amaya but otherwise almost identical, aside from facial spoors, gave him a sarcastic smile.

“Smart Ass,” she acknowledged him.

“Milky,” he replied in kind, making her eyes flash at the cloaked insult of a nickname. For a moment, he was sure that there was something strange with the sky blue of her eyes because it looked darker than normal.

“Amaya, your pet princeling is out here,” Amadhay announced, stepping past him and into the room. “Maybe tell him what to do? He’s not so good figuring it out on his own.”

“Join us, Croy-li,” Amaya’s cousin, Kelly, invited, opening the door. She smiled widely at him, brushing her dark hair back over her shoulder and holding her hand out for him to take. Glancing past her, he saw Arche Loralyn quietly chiding Amadhay, with Amaya practically sitting on Hynnkel’s lap, Princess Anne and Nolando sitting side-by-side with their son sleeping peacefully, and empty space on a loveseat.

“I dunno,” Croy-li said, watching Amaya, who never so much as glanced at him, “I don’t want to invade on—”

“Don’t be a dummy,” Kelly stated, cutting him off and taking his hand. “Kel’s just telling us funny stories about his time away. You’re practically family anyway.” She led him to sit next to her on the loveseat, sitting a little closer than strictly necessary. She didn’t let go of his hand.

“Did anyone throw themselves at you?” Amaya asked pointedly, not looking at Kelly, but not having to for her cousin to get the point.

Flushing, the older teenager pulled away from Croy-li, her brown eyes glaring at Amaya, who was smiling sweetly at Hynnkel.

“Have you looked at me?” Hynnkel boasted. “Of course. I had people offering themselves every turn.”

To keep Kelly from taking his hand again, Croy-li pulled out his forceps and a small device that would work to scan for biological presences in a certain area from a single sample of air—once it was done anyway.  At this point, it was just a mess of exposed wires and fuses on his hand-sized circuit board. For a few clicks, Kelly watched him, but was quickly pulled into Hynnkel’s stories about all the people he’d met.

“None of them were really good enough for me though,” he said with a shrug, his smirk bothering Croy-li, though the boy wasn’t sure why. In fact, the entire conversation had bothered Croy-li for some reason he couldn’t put his finger on.

“Right, because Fallora’s the one you wanted, right?” Kelly asked with an enchanted smile. He glanced up at his cousin’s name, looking at Hynnkel who gave another shrug. Right, Croy-li remembered, Fallora and Hynnkel are promised.

“Not really.”

The general joyous attitude died down rather quickly. The adults looked to Hynnkel in silent surprise while Kelly and Amaya looked to Croy-li, who was staring at Hynnkel in disbelief.

“Does she know that?” Amadhay asked, the only one in the room who seemed to still be enjoying herself.

“I would assume that Khale told her.” There was very real contempt in the way the aelfe spoke Croy-li’s brother’s name that had all eyes turning to Croy-li, who immediately went back to tinkering, trying to pretend that he hadn’t been paying attention. He was neither his brother nor his cousin and had no part of whatever situation had gone down between the three of them. It was a sense of loyalty that, considering he didn’t owe it to his brother or cousin, was unwarranted that had him uncomfortable.

Still, Croy-li couldn’t help but to think, Hynnkel is an ass.

"What happened?" Kelly asked, exchanging intrigued looks with Amadhay, who covered her amused smirk with the back of her hand and tried for the same concerned look Kelly had. She didn't do it very well.

Hynnkel just shrugged as if he hadn’t just acknowledged he had, at some point, cut off his entanglement with a queen and not had the decency to tell her. Croy-li tried to keep a straight face, but he found himself exchanging a look with Princess Anne that said ‘He thinks an awful lot of himself.’ “We grew apart,” he finally said when no one else spoke.

“Sounds like you grew apart and kept it quiet,” Kelly said accusingly, glancing again to Croy-li, who tried to keep his attention on the objects in his hands, though most of his attention was on his peripheral, watching the others.

Hynnkel shrugged again. “I would figure she got the message a few months ago.”

Amaya and Amadhay both snorted, as if he’d said something funny, though Amadhay, at least, had the humility to pretend to be ashamed. Amaya only glanced at Croy-li before asking her cousin another question. “Did you decide before or after leaving that you were done with her?”

“Can we stop talking about Fallora? I was gone for a year. Don’t you want to hear more about what I did, where I went? Fallora can wait.”

“Can she?” Arche Loralyn asked softly, giving Hynnkel a disappointed look. “Does anyone but you know about your plans to detangle?”

Hynnkel gave another shrug. “All of you? Khale. And since both du Kays now know, I’m expecting it’ll get around to her pretty soon.”

Amaya sat up straighter, giving Hynnkel a look that wasn’t quite threatening, but wasn’t the same enraptured one she’d been giving him. She pushed herself onto the arm of the chair Hynnkel was seated in and glanced to Croy-li, who caught her eye. He gestured with his head toward the door, sliding his forceps into his pocket and making a face. Amaya made a face in return, flashing her eyes at Hynnkel before shaking her head slightly at Croy-li. The boy shrugged in response, ignoring her request, and stood, slipping his invention back into its appropriate pocket.

“—and see? He’s going to run off and tell her now.”

Croy-li frowned, looking to Hynnkel. He hadn’t paid any attention to what he was saying, considering his own, silent, conversation with his best friend, but he knew when he was being accused of something. And he didn’t like it. “I’m leaving because I don’t like your company,” he said bluntly, tossing an apologetic smile to the others.

“And my Cole doesn’t blabber,” Amaya spoke in a hard voice, sliding off of the arm of the chair to stand. “If you want your message to get to the Queen Ora, then you should take it yourself.” She smiled sweetly, before adding in an acidic tone, “That’s what a real aelfe would do.”

Hynnkel didn’t even seem bothered by the attack to his character. “Your Cole, huh?” he asked, eyeing Croy-li speculatively. “I’m thinking you could do better.”

“Wow,” Amadhay and Kelly blurted, once again exchanging looks. Amadhay was far too amused by the entire situation,

Knowing that Amaya’s fuse was blown by the way she tensed, the way the muscles in her arm looked ready to grab her bow—which was thankfully nowhere near her at the moment—and the way her eyes widened, he quickly intervened, placing a warning hand on her hip. He had to reach all the way across the room and it was an awkward gesture, particularly given the way she was so close to her cousin, but that didn’t make him move his hand from her. It was the only thing keeping Hynnkel from getting a fist—at the very least—to his face.

Amaya turned her head to him when he moved across the room to stand beside her, keeping his hand on her hip in their ‘don’t do it’ gesture. He put his other hand on her shoulder, their ‘think about it’ gesture. “Let’s go find Blu,” he suggested, choosing not to waste any more breath on her cousin.

She looked up, at his eyes, and when she raised an eyebrow, he shook his head. She let out a sigh and relaxed. Croy-li knew from the silence in the room that her family was watching them, that they were silently judging, probably wondering what had happened, why it had happened. He had no plans of telling them that their team all had those little on and off switches taught into them by the Thief Lord. He definitely wasn’t going to mention that he had saved Hynnkel from some kind of pain, possibly even his life given the way Amaya had been on edge in regards to others’ lives the past few months.

Instead of wasting breath on explanations he didn’t really want to give or fighting with Hynnkel, he pulled Amaya to the door. As an afterthought, he turned back to acknowledge Anne and Nolando who, as the crown successors of the Tierdom throne, were the only ones higher than he in status. “See you at dinner,” he said, not sure what the correct way to excuse himself and Amaya from the situation would have been and honestly not caring. He hated nobility politics. They were stupid.

Anne and Nolando nodded at him and so with only a nod to Arche Loralyn and then Kelly, he and Amaya left the room. Once out of the room, Amaya walked beside him with barely contained amusement.

“So, you build things, huh?” she asked, as if everything between her leaving him with Barthew Base and them leaving the room hadn’t happened. That was her normal way of dealing with things she didn’t want to, she didn’t. And his way was to go along with her, so he did.

“Shut up,” he whined. “I was blindsided. You set me up for failure.”

I did?” she countered. “I didn’t even know that he was someone you were going to go happy puppy over.”

“He’s Barthew Base,” he exclaimed, following her as she led him out to the gardens. He assumed she knew where she was going. “I can’t believe you’ve known Barthew Base for two years and never introduced me to him!”

“Well,” Amaya started, hopping onto the low gate separating one of the vegetable gardens from the walk path. “Maybe I didn’t want you to make a fool of yourself,” she teased.

Croy-li crossed his arms over his chest and followed her, spotting a familiar head of auburn hair inside the gate, tending to some of the plants. He hadn’t known Blu worked with the vegetables. “If I’d been ready I wouldn’t have embarrassed myself. Did you think, at any point to tell me that the Barthew freaking Base was your family physician?”

Amaya shrugged, crouching down low on the gate. “I didn’t know he was that big a deal, honestly,” she stated, dropping down to sit on the gate with her legs on either side. She glanced to Blu, who looked toward them before going back to her work.

“You didn’t—how could you—I have a poster of him in my room, Aimy!”

“Your room room or your building room? ‘cause if you’ll remember, we spend most of our time here ‘cept when we need to grab one of your toys. I dunno if I’ve ever been in your room.”

Croy-li thought about that for a moment. It was possible. “But I talk about him all the time,” he added.

She shrugged. “You talking about scientists and inventor people is boring and I don’t listen.”

Croy-li stared at her for a moment. That was blunt and mean, two things he wasn’t normally the recipient for, not from her. She poked him with her foot when he didn’t respond and her questioning smile made him smile back.

“Well, you’ve got to make up for this, you know.”

“Okay,” Amaya said before standing up again. “Bart!” she yelled, waving her arms around. Blu looked up in surprise and Croy-li caught her gathering something up before Amaya turned him around so that he could see Barthew Base approaching them, a glass jar full of something green in his hand.

“Ah, there you are,” the phantom stated, reaching into his pack for something. He stopped a few steps away from them to rummage through the overly full cloth bag, awkwardly holding the jar with one hand as he held the flap to his bag open with an elbow and searched through it with his free hand.

“My Cole is upset that I didn’t introduce you two, so to make up for it, will you sign something for him or something? He’s apparently in love with you and I forgot that.”

Croy-li ducked his head, once again shocked mute by the mere presence of Barthew Base. The phantom grimaced and some papers fell out of the bag. Noting that his idol seemed a bit flummoxed and that Amaya was hardly going to do anything to help him, Croy-li jolted forward.

“Here, let me,” he picked up the papers that the phantom hadn’t even seemed to notice he’d lost and then took the jar so that the man had both hands. He glanced to Croy-li thankfully before going through his sack to pull out a second jar, this one with a sack attached to it. After the scientist pushed the second jar in Croy-li’s direction, he traded the papers for it.

“That is a protein shake both of you need to be taking,” the resident physician said, smiling slightly when Amaya and Croy-li exchanged disgusted looks. Amaya hopped off of the gate and took the smaller jar from Croy-li, eyeing the mess inside.

“Um,” Croy-li said, glancing to Amaya. “What’s in it?” he asked.

“Just proteins needed to make up for your lack of appetite. It will help to keep your magic level. Your tutors mentioned that the two of you seem to be a bit unfocused and Arche Loralyn and King Khale both suggested that both of you have been missing meals.”

Amaya’s lip curled in disgust when she opened the jar and sniffed it. “Is the alternative death? I’ll take death,” she stated, trying to hand the jar back to Base, who wouldn’t take it. Croy-li took a tentative sniff of the green in the jar and quickly closed the top. Base shook his head at both of them.

“In the future, perhaps taking proper meals would help, but at the moment, you are both lacking in major nutrients. Also, your bodies are straining, so perhaps cutting down on the physical exertion would be a good idea, okay? I’m not going to ask what you’re doing, because I know you won’t tell me,” he was looking directly at Amaya, who looked at him blandly. “But I am also going to strongly suggest that whatever activities have been keeping you from resting adequately, keeping you from meals and eating away at your magic reserves, should stop for the foreseeable future.”

Amaya shrugged. “I will take that into consideration,” she stated, glancing to Croy-li, who was staring at the jar to keep from blurting anything.

“In the meantime, both of you have to drink the Green Sludge to make up for what you aren’t doing. And while I can’t force either of you to take this, I’m afraid I may have mentioned to a few people that I was giving you medicine to take daily for the next few months.”

Months?” Croy-li cried out, looking at Amaya, whose face scrunched up.

“Months,” Base confirmed. “Perhaps less if you take my advice. Longer if you don’t.”

“How do you know I need them?” Amaya countered. “Cole was in there, and look at him, he probably needs something. But me?”

“I keep track of you,” Base stated calmly before turning his attention back to Croy-li, who was weighing the jar between his hands. It was full of the green muck. “And you left some things I thought you might want returned.” He gestured to the small sack attached to the lip of the jar.

Once he opened it, Croy-li patted at his pockets. Yes, he had left his miniature electric fuser and the mouse toy. Seeing it, Amaya grabbed it out of his hand.

“You still have this?” she exclaimed, apparently forgetting all about the green muck. She stuck the jar under her arm as she studied the tiny robot.

“Well, yeah,” Croy-li said, rubbing the back of his head. “It was—”

“The first thing you made for me,” she said softly, smiling up at him. She abruptly turned to Base. “Have you seen this?” she asked, showing him the toy.

He smiled kindly at her, making Croy-li flush when he saw how unimpressed he was. “Yes, Lady Herald. It is very cute.”

“Cute? This thing shot off lasers when we were four.” She glanced to Croy-li when Base did. “What does it do now? Fly and drop explosives?”

Croy-li shrugged. “I was just trying to put it back together the way it was originally,” he said.

“But?” Amaya prompted.

“I think it scans for weapons. I don’t know where I messed up,” he said in exasperation.

Base plucked it up from Amaya’s hand, ignoring her indignation. She grinned and winked at Croy-li, making him think that had been her plan all along. The phantom studied the mouse for a few seconds before laughing softly. “I see,” he said before tilting his head at Croy-li. “You altered this to shoot lasers?” he asked in surprise.

Croy-li shrugged self-consciously. “It blew up after two,” he added.

“And you collected all the pieces and made them working again,” Amaya pointed out.

“But it still blew up,” Croy-li countered.

“Still impressive,” Base corrected. “Do you like computers?”

“He’s a technopath,” Amaya said, as if trying to sell Croy-li, because the boy was silent again, staring at Base in shock. “He loves computers. But mostly, he invents stuff. Cool stuff.”

“If you’d like, I could look at some of your inventions,” he offered, smiling at Croy-li’s dumbstruck expression. “I like to screen people before I let them into my lab,” he added, chuckling when Croy-li looked like he had shut down from shock.

Amaya looked from her friend to the white-haired phantom. “You have a lab?” she asked, genuinely curious. “What do you do?”

“For Thief’s sake, Aimy!” Croy-li exclaimed, looking at her exasperatedly. She looked at him expectantly, but Croy-li was suspicious. “You’ve been here for two years and never found out who he is?” She’d had enough time to figure out that he was a major inventor and the brain behind almost all the technology they had. In fact she should have known that given how many times the Thief Lord had wanted something from him.

Amaya shrugged. “He’s Bart,” she replied, looking to the phantom for backup, but he was leaving them.

“I hope to see you before you go home, Croy-li,” he threw over his shoulder to the boy who was categorically going through every invention Base had ever made, in order of importance. “And don’t forget to drink the Green Sludge.”

“So…he invents things,” Amaya interrupted him only a few clacks into his explanation.

Yes,” Croy-li responded. “Like your DS? He made the technology.”

“Wow, so he must be super smart.”

Croy-li gave a dramatic sigh. “Yes, Aimy. He’s smart.”

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