In Which The Game Begins
In Which Amadhay is Rude
In Which Amadhay Meets Darach
In Which Atlas Slips Up
In Which Benjy is Hurt
In Which Amadhay is Compromised
In Which Amadhay Hurts Christein
In Which Riff Learns Something
In Which Alphonse is Angry
In Which Atlas Gets Punched
In Which Amadhay Fight Golems
In Which Johannes is Difficult
In Which Rea Trusts Amadhay
In Which Amadhay is Playing
In Which Amadhay Annoys Essies
In Which Amadhay Is Amaya
In Which Riff compliments Amadhay
In Which Amadhay Surprises Atlas
In Which Ben is Dumb
In Which Christein Deserves It
In Which Amadhay Doesn't Panic
In Which Amadhay Thinks Hard
In Which Dreams Are Reality
In Which Amadhay Isn't Saved
In WHich Amadhay Ignores Atlas
In Which Amadhay Is Bouncing
In Which Ribbon Tells Stories
In Which There's A Deal
In Which Amadhay's A Worm
In Which Ribbon Sleeps In
In Which Amadhay Is Fickle
In Which Amadhay Makes Decisions
In Which Amadhay Isn't Kissed
In Which Amadhay Eavesdrops Some
In Which Amadhay Gets Hurt
In Which Johannes' Not Rea
In Which They Go Swimming
In Which Amadhay Asks Questions
In Which There Is Sparring
In Which There Are Reconciliations
In Which Amadhay Saves Herself
In Which Atlas Is Pissed
In Which Everyone Is Mad
In Which Stefan Hugs Amadhay
In Which Kimiko Is Annoying
In Which Amadhay Races Sha'adahk
In Which Atlas Is Playing
In Which Mayday's A Busybody
In Which Lots Isn't Said
In Which Tenshu's A Brother
In Which There Are Pegasi
In Which Amadhay Is Confused
In Which Palnoki is Phoegani
In Which Amadhay's Heart Breaks
In Which Atlas Washes Hair
In Which Ribbon's A Possession
In Which Atlas Is Truthful
In Which Amadhay Is Sneaky
In Which Amadhay Tells Lies
In Which Amadhay Keeps Promises
In Which Hands Are Forced
In Which Amadhay Breaks Promises
In Which Amadhay Chooses Wings
In Which Amadhay Is Alive
In Which Nolando Calls Christein
In Which She Could've Asked
There were no roads or pathways and there seemed to be an unspoken rule that if one could walk in the trees, above everyone’s heads, they should. The only hint of technology was the docking port, and if she hadn’t already known better, she wouldn’t have believed that Resor had a good system of trade with this planet, specifically one where the transporters of the planet moved Roadesian goods to this planet, where they were subsequently shipped onward.
She smiled at Harpess, who was relaxed, walking beside her. Kit Rain, on her other side, was quite a bit more tense and he flinched every time someone leapt over their heads from tree to tree. It amused her to see him so uncomfortable.
“Don’t spend much time in the wilds?” she asked innocently, receiving a sharp look.
“These aren’t wilds. This is a city,” he corrected her as if someone might be insulted. She doubted it.
She snorted, but didn’t say anything more to the man, instead focusing on the trio who led them. All three stood on their hind legs and stood about Kit Rain’s height. Each wore a single length of cloth wrapped about them similarly to Amadhay’s, but it was their only clothing and was as sheer as hers, not that their fur left anything visible. The one closest to her, which looked like a puma, glanced back at the three of them and Amadhay’s bodyguards. She wasn’t sure that she liked the look in its eye, but it didn’t look long. It exchanged looks with the lion and tiger at its sides before shaking its head slightly.
They were led to a tall tree with a growth in the base that opened enough for them to walk into it. The puma entered, while the other two stood on either side of the entrance like guards. Prillo and Faeo looked to her for orders and she looked to Harpess.
“They stay outside,” the woman said softly. “But we are allowed to enter with you.”
“Goodie,” she muttered.
“You could have had the company of the lord and his knight. It would have been more appropriate. You were the one to turn them down.”
She had. Phellimore was still too close to Resor. If Benjy or Christein were to spot her, she was sure that they would make her go home. Or at least they’d try to. She didn’t want to fight with them just yet. “I know,” she said. “I’m not complaining about your presence. Simply a little stuffy in this get up,” she lied, using her obvious inexperience to cover up for her.
Both of the humans grunted in acknowledgement before gesturing for her to enter first. She made a face. She recognized that that was the custom, but given how utterly unsafe it was, she wasn’t particularly interested in following that one. She had no idea what was inside the tree. It could be an ambush for all she knew.
She smiled dumbly at Kit Rain, gesturing for him to go first, who she knew was impatient for everything to be over, and he went through first. She followed quickly after him before Harpess could follow his lead, wanting to be between them if anything happened. What she lacked in strength, they had in surplus and it made sense to be between the walls of muscle.
They walked a foot or so forward before finding the puma, who was pausing on a spiraling staircase, waiting for them to catch up to it. It led them up, all the way to the top and pulled a sheer curtain to the side to allow them to leave the tree and walk forward to a sort of balcony, high up, above many of the trees surrounding them. It would have been a horrible place to be during an air attack.
Sitting around a trunk that seemed to double as a table were three more large cats. One of them sat in a seat, sprawled out like a person, but the other two sat on the floor. The one laying more than sitting caught Amadhay’s eye because it was the only one clothed, in a bejeweled top that was definitely holding magic, but a kind that she’d never seen before. Thoughtfully, she fingered the amulet on her necklace, feeling her own magic swirling inside and letting out the smallest bit to touch the other magic. It moved, unseen aside from a faint glitter in the air that only she and—apparently—the cat-people noticed, because they all watched it approach the jewel and circle it.
The one whose jeweled gown was being touched by Amadhay’s magic gave a mouth twitch that, on a different face could have been a smirk. It sat up, slowly, before moving to them on all four. Once it was before them, it stood up, eyes on Amadhay, making Kit Rain and Harpess close in tighter on either side of the girl.
It caught her magic around one paw and held it forward, making a soft sound in its chest.
“He says, ‘I think this belongs to you,’” The puma stated, clarifying her presence as translator.
Amadhay flushed at being so blatantly caught and reached out to take the magic, but paused, making eye contact with the lynx who stood only a little taller than herself. “No offense meant,” she stated, soaking her magic without touching it to make it clear that she wasn’t weak. It was obvious they thought she was, since they were acting like predators. She wasn’t their prey, and she wanted that to be plain.
It didn’t seem like she impressed them, however, because the lynx turned his back on Amadhay and sprawled out on his side. He was telling Amadhay that none of them were frightened of her by exposing his sensitive bits.
“Magi Hei, Momma Zue and Poppa Ferv receive you, Consort of the Master of Resorian Magi.”
Amadhay was almost positive that the three in the room understood Roades and that the translator was only there as an excuse for them to speak in their native tongue without being rude. Though that was still speculation, she was certain that they didn’t think she could hear them talking, given that the humans certainly couldn’t. She smiled nicely as they conversed in strange noises.
“Momma Zue would like to remind that the Resorian contract has expired and been null for several cycles now,” the translator said. Amadhay was pretty sure that the black panther was the ‘Momma’ Zue, the Phellimorian equivalent of an empress. Her green eyes gave a long blink, locked on Amadhay. In fact, all four of the cats were staring at Amadhay, which made her uncomfortable. She didn’t like being the center of attention when she wasn’t putting herself there.
“Expired?” Kit Rain demanded in a tight voice. The translator nodded. “We apologize for the inconvenience, then and appreciate you allowing us to dock regardless. We will leave immediately.”
The other cat, a serval who had to be the Poppa, their emperor, looked lazily to the man. His unblinking stare stayed on Kit Rain and Amadhay knew the human was uncomfortable, but he didn’t move. Dealing with large cats was like dealing with vampires: no sudden movements, show no fear, don’t try to intimidate.
“Poppa Ferv wants to know if Resor no longer wants their agreement.”
“We do,” Kit Rain assured them. “We are unprepared, however, to do any negotiations and for that, I apologize. If we had known, we would have brought a kylit with us.”
The translator didn’t wait for the other three to respond, and by doing that, made Amadhay sure that it was more than a translator. “You have. The Consort of the Master of Resorian Magi is kylit.”
“What is your aelfe?” Harpess asked, looking skeptically to Amadhay.
“Leopard,” she answered uneasily, not taking her eyes off of the ‘translator.’
“You should have mentioned that before now,” Kit Rain said quietly, as though to keep the others from hearing, which was impossible given the space they were all in. He cleared his throat to get attention back to himself. “Our envoy here is still new. We don’t have the proper diplomat to—“
“Christein and Benjy are authorized to make diplomatic decisions and, as the emissary of this mission and consort to the Grand Mage, I am allowed to stand as him in the event that it is necessary to make any Roadesian Army decisions. So, unless there’s an actual reason for you not wanting to reinstate the deal, I will wait here while you retrieve them.”
Amadhay was glad that she’d read the books Lizumeizei had sent for her. She needed some time alone with these people to find out why they were looking at her as they were, and if alerting Christein and Benjy to her presence early was the price of learning that, she would deal with that.
Kit Rain tensed and looked at Harpess, “Christein and Benjy,” he muttered to the woman, who simply nodded in a knowing way. “Of course, Lady Consort,” he said stiffly before he left.
She looked pointedly at Harpess. “Two sets of eyes is better than one,” she said, dismissing the woman.
“Don’t insult them. Try not to talk until we come back,” Harpess whispered before leaving as well.
Once it was just her and the four cats, she squinted at the translator. “I’m taking a guess here, but are you the, uh, I don’t want to insult you by calling you the wrong one,” she sighed dramatically. “Are you the Sissy?” she asked.
The translator, or rather the Sissy, looked to the panther, who no longer looked so lazy. She tilted her head at the same time as the Poppa, and the Magi sat up slowly. “Why do you ask that?”
“Just curious,” Amadhay said with a shrug. “Making conversation. Just, one thing. If you’re going to pretend to be a translator, you should probably make sure you’re speaking when they speak or after, because it’s noticeable when you don’t.”
The Sissy hissed, but the Magi relaxed and, apparently taking cue from him, the Momma and Poppa calmed their tails. In a low, grumbling noise, the Poppa spoke to the little puma, whose tail was twitching angrily.
Amadhay watched closely. While the puma didn’t look much like the blank panther or serval, she acted like them. She walked as comfortably on her hind legs as Amadhay, and that was strange here, much less than she did it with so much grace. Only the “royalty” did that because it was hard to get respect from other planets when they already looked like animals rather than intelligent beings.
“I’m Amadhay,” she introduced herself. “What’s your name?”
“What does it matter?” the Sissy snapped.
“Because I think we could be friends,” she answered honestly, looking around them. She had only seen cats so far. Did the food-animals live somewhere else or were they just good at hiding?
“Not interested,” she growled.
“Alright.” Amadhay turned her attention to the Magi, who would either be the Sissy’s older brother or her uncle. The first born of all Phellimore natives became a magician and the royal magician was an important part of the ruling body. She had a feeling he was the brother, because he seemed younger than both the Momman and Poppa, but older than the Sissy. “How about you? Friends? I’d like to learn about that cool magic there.”
The magi rolled to his feet and crossed the room again. For a brief moment, Amadhay felt uncomfortable when she was all alone, with four large cats, but she brushed it off. They could try to intimidate her all they wanted, but they wouldn’t hurt her. They wanted something from her. She could tell.
“Are you nervous little kylit?” he purred into her ear. “Do you talk when nervous?”
Amadhay smiled. “No, I attack when nervous,” she answered, pushing his muzzle away from her face. Their brief staring contest was cut off by a low growl that had the magi move back from her and look at the Momma. Her teeth were bared and Amadhay mentally counted how many knives she had on her. She wasn’t sure if her gift would work this far from Resor, but she was willing to try if it came down to it.
“I like her,” the Magi said in response to whatever the Momma was growling at him. The Sissy hissed and spit at him, but the Poppa kept his eyes on Amadhay as she side stepped so that her back was to the entrance.
He growled at her when she started to take a backwards step down the stairs. Immediately, the cats turned their attention back to her.
“Oh, Mumu, look, you’re scaring her,” the Magi purred, looking and sounding strangely pleased. “Calm little kylit. We mean no harm.” He looked to the Sissy, who gave half of a growl before he interrupted her with his own.
She eyed Amadhay mistrustfully. “The Magi would like to offer you permanent asylum on Phellimore given that you do not leave.”
Slowly, Amadhay tilted her head in question, narrowing her eyes. “And why would I be interested in that offer?” she countered.
None of the cat people blinked, giving her a long look before exchanging glances. “Are you unaware of the price for you?”
Amadhay gave a long blink. Arne Riff put a price on my head? She thought incredulously. How did he know I was out here? She chose her words carefully. “Hmm. How much of a price?”
“Alive, 30 million Galactic Credits. Dead, 15 million.”
It definitely wasn’t Arne Riff in that case. While the Hakinato clan was wealthy, she wasn’t sure if even with the combined Phoegani treasury he could scrounge together 30 million Galactic Credits. That was equivalent to nearly three times as many Roadesian chips. Whoever it was, wanted her alive pretty badly to half the price for her dead, but not enough to even offer a prize for her dead.
“And who, may I ask is the bounty for, specifically?”
The Sissy spat in irritation. “For you. It is for you.”
“For the Consort of the Master of Resorian Magic.”
Ah. It was about Lizumeizei, not her. She would have breathed a sigh of relief if the price didn’t imply that whomever it was knew that she was a good bargaining chip. Moreso, she knew that a dead bounty implied that they had an idea of just how hard she would be to capture. That was…problematic at best, and she decided to think about it at another time.
Instead, she smiled sharply. “And should I decline the offer?”
“Then we cannot promise your safety in leaving the planet,” the Sissy hissed, only to be reprimanded with growls from the others.
“We will not threaten you,” the Poppa stated, his words slower and a bit stilted.
“Good to know,” Amadhay responded, keeping eye contact with the lesser threat, the Sissy. “Because I came here with people who would die to keep me alive.” And you’re about to meet two who would kill for me. She smiled with that knowledge, but chose not to disclose it. It was better to keep that knowledge close to the chest, otherwise it might get around.
“Are you threatening us?” the Sissy purred, giving Amadhay a much sharper smile than the aelfe could have possibly given.
“Never,” Amadhay assured over her head, looking to the three representatives of the world. “I am merely warning in such a case that action must be taken.”
The posturing and threatening could have gone on until someone attacked, but instead it was cut short by rushed footsteps. She tilted her head forward in respect at the entrance of her cousin and friend, and looked directly to the true power in the room, the Magi. He may have attempted to seem less powerful through titles and by giving respect to the Momma and Poppa, but Amadhay knew that he would have been capable of destroying Lizumeizei at his absolute best. And that meant that her team’s main strength was gone.
You could kill him easily enough, that same dark voice muttered in the back of her head and her arm twitched, something she covered by tucking her hair behind an ear. “Momma, Poppa, and Magi, I present to you Christein Hakinato, Lordling of the Hakinato clan and Sir Benjym Base, Knight Loyale of Empress Kellinara’s regime.” She had gone deep into her memory for the correct titles of her cousin and friend and still wasn’t sure she was completely correct.
She supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised that the rulers focused on Benjy. Empress Kellinara was well known, the primary figurehead of Resor’s Galaxy-wide known history and recognized by many planets in their system as the conqueror of earthlings, savior of worlds, and Herald Supreme. Her Knight Loyale and her Knight Royale were nearly as well known, though Benjy had put a lot of effort into disappearing the last century or so.
She glanced to her friends and recognized that she had done them a disfavor by having them first know of her presence in front of an audience. Still, it did well for her, because Christein’s entire posture screamed out that he wanted to murder someone, and he was focusing instead on the Momma and Poppa, who seemed to recognize his posture and were just as bothered, since they kept glancing to him.
Benjy, on the other hand, was much more composed. He stood tall, eyes on Amadhay and giving a protective aura that even someone as blind and dumb to magical and emotional auras as herself could recognize. She smiled sweetly.
“So, about those negotiations, hmm?”
“Consort? We haven’t heard from you for a few days. Are you still sick?”
Her head throbbed, she felt burned and blistered all over, not to mention she was fairly certain that at least three bones were broken. But no, she wasn’t sick. She cleared her throat to speak, but found nothing came out but a faint whisper. More knocks and basically the same words made her realize that she needed to answer the door before someone knocked her door down and came in out of some misguided idea of security.
Trying to get up, she found, from the unexpected excruciating pain, that her right leg was, indeed, broken and in several places if the pain was anything to go by. The longer she was awake, she found, the more pain came forward. She dropped to the floor onto her side and cursed softly, wishing she hadn’t been so dumb. She should have done a self-heal the moment she had awakened, and so she did one while lying there on the floor.
It only mildly relieved the pain, which she expected but had wished otherwise. Her self-healing needed a lot of work, though it did fix her ribs and inner organs. It also, though she didn’t check because she knew it would, healed her face and any surface bruises. Her leg, on the other hand, we beyond her ability, so she clenched her teeth to ignore the pain. Her left leg was fine, luckily, so she was able to stand so long as all of the pressure was on it. Moving was more difficult, so she didn’t. Instead, she used a quick spell to open the door and turn off the security spells.
Immediately, both Kit Rain and Harpess entered, her mute servants following behind and looking decidedly judgmental. Kit Rain and the humans looked over the room, but Harpess kept her attention on Amadhay.
“We’ve been calling to you for almost a zoot. We were almost to the point of breaking the door down. What happened?”
Amadhay shrugged. “I was sleeping,” she said. “Didn’t hear you.”
The look of disbelief on the two human’s faces made her smile innocently at them. She stretched her arms, but didn’t move from her spot. “Was there something you needed?” she asked.
Eyeing her suspiciously, Kit Rain nodded. “We are setting down on Phellimore soon. You need to be ready.”
She nodded. “Of course,” she answered with another smile, while inwardly wondering how she would be able to do anything without fixing her leg and the pounding in her head.
“And you read the book?” Harpess pushed, making Amadhay want to roll her eyes.
“Yes. I know what is appropriate,” she promised. “And I know my duties. So, if I may?” She prompted for them to leave the room and, after a moment, the two did, leaving her mute bodyguards.
Legs, broken. Need help, she spelled out painstakingly to the men once the door was closed and locked.
Faeo immediately scooped her up, while Prillo picked up her handheld DS and handed it to her.
We don’t heal, Prillo signed with his free hand as he pressed the DS into her hands. She clenched her hands around the DS, knowing that he was suggesting that she contact someone who could tell her what to do.
She sighed softly, but turned the device on and quickly sorted through contacts. She didn’t have the time to be dragging her feet. Catching Rea’s name, she pressed on the woman’s name. Her call was answered on the first ping.
“Wherever you’re hiding, stay there,” Rea said in a rushed voice. “After that stunt at the Mall, you’ve been suspended indefinitely. There is a warrant out for Red Robin by order of the Roadesian Army, and Lord Phoeganis wants you held in one of our holding cell until everything dies down and you are fit for duty again. Stay away and don’t trust anyone.”
Amadhay took a deep breath. She hadn’t expected that. She supposed she should have. Her uncle had told her upfront, when restoring her status as an active agent, that if she did anything he didn’t like, no matter how small, he would lock her away until she had been retrained enough to be trusted. Well, attacking the du Kay princeling and water Herald in broad daylight, at a public venue, for no apparent reason was definitely not a small matter.
“Okay. That’s not a problem. I have no plans to come back any time soon. But, Rea, I need help.”
“I don’t know how or why you expect me to help you,” her voice was sharp, and Amadhay wished that she could turn on the holo-avatar and see her friend, but she didn’t. Amadhay didn’t need anyone to know that she was on the ship and while she trusted Rea, she didn’t trust that her DS or that wherever she was was unbugged. The dragon was notorious for not being observant about things like that.
“I just need a spell. I broke my leg.”
Rea’s voice was suspicious. “How? Where are you?”
“I’m sorry, but I’m not going to tell you that,” Amadhay stated, nodding at Prillo when he showed her the purple outfit Lizumeizei had chosen for her first diplomatic meeting. Of the ones she’d seen in the closet, she liked that one the most, with the thin material and golden embroidery of the outer wrap. The outfit beneath the wrap, a darker purple with similar golden embroidery in a thicker material and light beading, was perfectly modest enough to calm Kit Rain and Harpess’ nerves about her while still looking like her. They needed to know that she could do what was required of her as their envoy even though she was young and untried. She needed to know that she could do it, regardless of what Arne Riff repeatedly told her.
“How broken is it?”
Amadhay shrugged. “Very?”
Rea sighed. “How many times is it broken and which leg? Please tell me it isn’t your right leg again.”
“Alright, I won’t tell you,” Amadhay quipped as she tried to focus on how many separate points of pain there were. It was difficult, considering they all blended together, but after a moment, she nodded to herself. “Twice. Maybe three times?”
“And there’s no chance of you going to a proper healer-medic?”
“You just told me not to trust anyone,” Amadhay reminded her and was met with a long silence that, if she hadn’t been able to hear the tell-tale sounds of machines working on the dragon’s side, she might have thought they’d lost connection.
“You don’t have to trust someone to let them fix your breaks,” she finally responded, but it didn’t particularly sound like she was pushing for Amadhay to go to a medic. “And I suppose you don’t want anyone to know,”
This time, Amadhay was the silent one. She allowed the mute brothers to help her to the bath, but refused to undress with them there. I do it, me, she signed, shooing them away before sinking into the warm water Faeo had run for her. It was easier to get her clothes off when she was surrounded by water, despite the nightgown and shorts clinging a bit.
“Are you in a tub?” Rea asked. “Please tell me you’re in a tub and not trying to swim with a broken leg.”
“I’m in the tub,” Amadhay replied, having almost forgotten she was talking to her friend. Her DS was on the floor beside the tub and she considered picking it up, but didn’t want to chance dumping it in the tub. As waterproof as it claimed to be, soapy water was notoriously technology’s undoing.
“Good. That makes this easier. Get your leg out as straight as you can. If you have to move the broken parts into alignment, well, you have to. Once everything looks straight, the spell is ‘more minu ma.’ Say it.”
“Mor-ay mee-new-ma,” Amadhay repeated slowly.
“Minu and ma are two different phrases. Try again.”
“More minu ma,” she tried again.
“Good. And when you say that, imagine the pain gone and your leg whole while rubbing down from your thigh to ankle. Six times, no more, no less, and then you soak it for five more minutes. It will be healed when you step out of the water if you did it right.”
“Got it. Thanks.”
“But if you could perhaps have someone help you?”
“No time. I can do this on my own. Thanks Rea. I’ll call you again when I have time.”
Amadhay couldn’t blame her for that. Fraternizing with a known fugitive of the Phoegani was the same as being one for all the trouble it could cause her. Still, the response hurt. “Oh. Okay.”
“Be safe,” Rea added before disconnecting their call.
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.
Broken Mirror Glass
All That Glitters Isn’t Gold
Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble
Beauty is Only Skin Deep
Pushing All The Wrong Buttons
Mermaids and Mages and Shifters, Oh My!
That’s The Way We All Became the At-Risk Bunch
I Hope Your Life Leads You Back to My Door
Fairy Tale Era
8th grade Helliphages
9th grade Aura Trapper
10th grade Woogeyman
11th grade Shadows
12th grade Tainted Heart
Freshman Year Twisted Stars
Sophomore Year Deception
Junior Year Bibliovores
Senior Year Power Overhaul
Ant Farm Era
Seeing The Past
Sing Like No One is Listening
Love Like You’re Never Been Hurt
Dance Like No One Is Watching
Live Like Today is Your Last
Final 10 + 2
Passed the Past
Prisoner of War
Out of Time
It's Not The Dark 1
Year of the Invasion
Year of Distraction
Year of Secrets
Year of Carelessness
Year of Lies
Year of Tricks
Fae versus The Fae
Fae for The Fae
Rockstars and Fairies and Lycans Oh My!
Luke and Zev
Forgot to Tell You
I Might Have Lied
Going In and Down
Picard’s Rules of the Human-Galactic Treaty
Princess of Anything
Claude and the Oldies
Raining in Chelsea
Diary of a Teenaged Vampire
See, what had happened was…
Red Cloak Fables
Little Red and Her Dragon
Little Red and Her Magician
Little Red and Her Wolf
Little Red and Her Monkey
Little Red and Her Unicorn
Little Red and Her Solider
Little Red and Her Glider
Little Red and Her Hunter
The Dreamer’s Red Cloak
Black Peppermint Tea
Decaf With Sugar
Iced Coffee and Biscuits
Cookies and Cream
Green Tea with Honey
AB- With Cinnamon
Juice & Milk
Unknowingly In The Unruined Lands
Unknowingly Calling Skenendoa
Unknowingly Watching Mirror Maidens
Unknowingly Making Three Wishes
Unknowingly Drawing Friends
Unknowingly Making Deals
Unknowingly Dreaming of Pasts
Unknowingly Gaining an Army
Unknowingly Keeping a Promise
Unknowingly Losing a War
Why It Sucks Being Super
Fight or Flight
Truth or Dare
Why Being Super Sucks
Minu Ga Hana
Time Can't Be Rewritten
A Xylophonist and Vivid Colors
Red Cloak [Crimson Splashes 1]
Heraldic Whispers [Pressure Sequence 1]
Astral Protection [World Views 1]
Rose Garden [World Views 2]
Theft [Pressure Sequence 2]
Black Peppermint Tea [Coffee Shoppe 1]
Ribbons [World Views 3]
Democratic Blunders [World Views 4]
Little Red and Her Dragon [Crimson Splashes 2]
Marionette Garden [World Views 5]
Black Coffee [Coffee Shoppe 2]
Resistance of Steel [Pressure Sequence 4]
Hot Chocolate [Coffee Shoppe 3]
Negative Pressure [Pressure Sequence 5]
Decaf With Sugar [Coffee Shoppe 4]
Momentum of Radiation [Pressure Sequence 6]
Magic Business [World Views 6]
Iced Coffee & Biscuits [Coffee Shoppe 5]
Positive Pressure [Pressure Sequence 7]
Caramel Infusion [Coffee Shoppe 6]
Pressure Underwater [Pressure Sequence 8]
Little Red and Her Soldier [Crimson Splashes 7]
Sleepless Knights [World Views 7]Cookies & Cream [Coffee Shoppe 7]
Earthquake Weather [Pressure Sequence 9]
Green Tea with Honey [Coffee Shoppe 8]
Little Red and Her Glider [Crimson Splashes 8]
AB- with Cinnamon [Coffee Shoppe 9]
Rushing Ahead [World Views 8]
Juice & Milk [Coffee Shoppe 10]
Necromancy Pt 1 [World Views 9]
Little Red and Her Hunter [Crimson Splashes 9]
Necromancy Pt 2 [World Views 10]
Immortality [Pressure Sequence 10]
Dreamer's Red Cloak [Crimson Splashes 10]
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.
While it had only taken Amadhay a day and a half to become proficient in Hand, it took five more days for her to get a decent grip on the mute brothers’ version of the language.
Unlike with the tutorials, she couldn’t speed through it and get to the meat of it. She couldn’t rewind them if she missed something. They weren’t patient and neither was she, so quite a bit of the four days was the three of them taking breaks so that she could work on the hand signs they’d taught her already that she wasn’t doing correctly. The breaks were also so none of them got hurt, because she had refused a break the first day and it had nearly ended with her smashing a chair on Prillo’s head when he gave her an exasperated look for the fifth time in one clack.
It was during such a break that it happened.
One moment, she had been lounging on her bed, too frustrated to even consider working on Mute Hands—as she liked to call the new language—and the next, she felt her everything being pulled in Tenshu’s direction. She barely had time to look to him before she found herself moving to lay beside the necromancer. The moment their skin touched, she felt drained. There was a throbbing in the back of her head and she could only draw in shallow breaths. She pressed closer until there was no space between them and was gratified to feel that his body was already relaxing.
It was lucky, she mused, that this stage had come while she could still claim travel-sickness. Harpess had implied that they wouldn’t bother her for up to a week while she got used to the equilibrium difference of space. That gave her three days to deal with this before she had to answer to anyone or chance a clandestine meeting with Christein and Benjy. If the books were correct, it was likely this would only take a day or two, which would give her an extra one to be rid of any evidence of whatever happened to Tenshu in the dreamscape.
Turning her attention fully to the man beside her, she noted that he wasn’t much warmer than before, but his limbs weren’t like marble anymore. Somehow just knowing that he needed her closer, she maneuvered his arm until it was around her so that she was pressed against his side. She looked up at his face just in time to see a quick frown before his face smoothed back to the expressionless canvas it had been the past few days. Something in her, a foreign voice, told her not to touch his head, but she dismissed it and brushed her fingertips across his forehead, feeling for a fever.
She hadn’t expected for the world to disappear into a swirl of their auras.
She quickly pulled back, unsure what she should do. While that same voice in the back of her mind was being very vocal about her leaving the necromancer to fight his own battles, another voice, Ribbon’s voice told her to do all she could to help him. The last voice, the only one she really felt was her own, didn’t really agree with either of the voices, but she was curious about the swirling auras. None of the books had really described what she had to do, other than stay close, to help him in this stage.
Either way, she wanted to know what the swirling of their auras was doing, so she was more firm with her touch to his forehead this time, pressing her palm rather than her fingertips, to his forehead. The reaction was instantaneous. Once again, she was floating in a swirl of their auras. In the distance, she could see figures moving, but all of them were blurry and she found that she couldn’t move.
Closer, Ribbon’s voice whispered ad she could feel the voice in every fiber of her being. It made her jerk away, holding her hand to her chest as if she had been burned. It took all of her willpower to sit up and away from Tenshu’s body, especially when he seemed to become paler, less lively, the moment she did. The foreign voice made noises of appreciating her choice and for the first time, she wondered where that voice was coming from. It was new.
Help him, Ribbon’s voice insisted, making Amadhay look back at Tenshu’s body. He looked stiff again, as if her tiny bit of distance completely cut him off from her power. She scooted closer to him, but he didn’t look any better until she touched his hand.
But the moment she touched his hand, she lost all vision. She heard labored breathing, could feel it coming from her own lungs. Tenshu’s voice gave a vicious curse and in response some other creature gave a hungry cry. She felt something hit her head and hard, and in surprise, she dragged her hand away from Tenshu’s, though it felt like she was lifting a wolf feral rather than just her hand.
Once she was no longer touching him, her vision returned. Her breathing came easier. Her head no longer throbbed. Everything was fine with her, but a single glance at Tenshu told her that he was doing worse. There was a strange pallor to his paling skin. She could feel his aura thinning by the way it felt on her mind as it reached for her. He was becoming stiff again and she had a feeling that it she let him, he would go further than deadshock this time. He would die.
Ribbon would want me to save him, she thought before the voice could say anything. The darker one was strangely silent and she associated that with her making up her mind. She was going to save him even if it felt strange. She had decided to save him the moment she picked him up from the fountain. She couldn’t change her mind now that it was something that would affect her.
She took a deep, steadying breath, and slowly leaned back down. Heads together, palms together, Ribbon’s voice instructed. She closed her eyes and, forcing herself to move the last few inches, she pressed her forehead to his and her palms against his. It wasn’t as instantaneous this time, in fact, she had the time to take five breaths before she felt a pull start at her navel and pull her, it felt, inside of Tenshu.
A sharp knock on her door made Amadhay glance up from her DS. Once returning to her room, she had immediately gone to work. She had finished up checking over Tenshu and had even looked through one of the necromancer physiology books to determine whether she was doing anything wrong. After that, she had painstakingly found and destroyed each and every camera and audio recorder in the room. Knowing that it was the captain watching her had made her feel more comfortable about making it stop. Then she had delved into the hardest job.
For the past few zoots, she had been checking through every search engine that she could find for some hint of her. To her immense relief, the latest was from a year ago from a conspiracy theorist that no one put much stock in, claiming that she wasn’t dead, but was truly the Goddess in disguise and had ascended back to the other realm. She had, with a snicker, decided to send that article to Lizumeizei. The pictures that had been posted of “the Grand Mage’s consort” were shadowy at best and the only one that wasn’t a blurry mess had her looking taller and slimmer than she really was.
The consensus was, so far, that she was merely a common aelfe that had caught the Grand Mage’s attention. In fact, most of the blogstreams dedicated to gossip were spending more time comparing her, “the mysterious consort,” to Lizumeizei’s past lovers, all of whom had been much more public, none of whom had been given the title of his consort. She wouldn’t deny that that detail made her feel superior. No one had mentioned the names “Hakinato,” “Graceling,” “Amaya,” “Water Herald,” “Amadhay,” or “Red Robin” so she was feeling pretty secure.
Amadhay’s eyes flickered to Tenshu when the knock came again. He hadn’t changed in the past few zoots, still pale, barely breathing, and catatonic. She counted that as a success. If he were going to crash, she knew he would have done it by now. The book she had opened at the foot of the bed said so. She flicked her fingers at the bed sheet so that it was up under his neck, leaving the bed appearing made to another’s eyes. She kept him invisible to all but herself and looked to the door, squinting as she used the through-vision spell to see who was knocking.
It was Lizumeizei’s pet mutes. Rolling her eyes, she ended the spell and jumped off of the bed. “Yes?” she called, knowing that neither could answer her. There was a triple rap on her door. “Who is it?” she asked, smirking as she leaned against the door. The triple rap that answered her made her give a soft puff of an exhalation for a laugh before opening it.
Prillo gave her a knowing look before walking in.
“I don’t remember inviting you in,” she muttered under her breath as Faeo followed him in. Once both were in, she closed the door behind them and turned to see the two of them checking the room. Instead of telling them that she’d already done a search of her own between leaving the room and coming back, she allowed it, watching as they moved in sync, checking everywhere. She had been ready to stop them from checking the bed, but to her surprise, they left the bed alone completely, not even checking underneath it. Likewise, though both glanced at the chest, neither opened it to check inside.
When both were satisfied that no one had sneaked in or left new cameras, Prillo held out a small data chip, placing it on Amadhay’s upturned palm when she held her hand out to him.
“What is it?” she asked, eyeing the nondescript chip. There was no labeling on it other than the Base Inventions logo. When she received no answer, she looked to the men before mentally smacking her own forehead. They were mute. She needed to figure out a system to communicate with them.
Neither gave any attempt to answer her question, instead choosing to stare at her, so she sighed. Yes or no questions it is then. “Is this yours or did you find it?” she asked, before restating her question once again. “I mean, sorry. Is this something you saved to the chip?”
Faeo shook his head.
“So this is just something random that you found and thought I should look at?” she asked, making a face. She had expected Lizumeizei to send intelligent bodyguards, not just muscle. He knew she didn’t do well with stupidity.
Prillo shook his head. He gestured at the chip, and then at Amahay’s wrist DS. He didn’t need words for Amadhay to know he was telling her to check the chip. Amadhay shook her head. “I’m not putting some random chip that you found in my DS. That’s asking for a virus.”
Both men gave her an exasperated look. Faeo made a few gestures that meant nothing to her until it was obvious that she was understanding nothing he was trying to convey before dropping his hands in consternation.
“Are you a hundred percent certain that this chip isn’t going to shut down my DS or plant a tracking bug or something?” she asked, her curiosity getting the best of her as she played with the chip, turning it over again and again in her fingers.
Both men nodded ecstatically. So ecstatically that she eyed them mistrustfully for a few clicks before deciding that it really didn’t matter. Her wrist DS only had her personal information anyway. After she had lost her old DS sometime during the Palnoki incident, Nolando and Anne had foisted a wrist DS and a handheld DS on her, claiming that it was to be sure that she had no excuse not to talk to them on a regular basis. Her handheld DS held all of her sensitive information, like her mission data and all of her contacts. The most anyone would get from her wrist DS was that she knew Benjy, Christein, the Tierdom king and queen, Essie, and Lizumeizei. She wasn’t too worried.
Inserting the chip into her DS, she held a bated breath as she waited for the screen to show some virus or a hacker’s emblem. What she saw instead made her smile. The blueprints of the ship, both the official ones and the ones she assumed to be the developers copy were superimposed over each other, showing her at least three areas that weren’t supposed to be there. There was also data on each and every person on the ship, which she mentally made note to read over that night. All of the supplies were listed, as well as their intended traveling plans, such as where they were planning to stop and hesitant dates for each. Most importantly, this seemed to still be a part of the main system, granting her access to information as it was entered. She could see the last addition to a file was under “Grand Mage’s Consort.”
She quickly clicked on it, walking around the room in an even eight figure as she read over the concise information. Lady Consort: Has brought along two bodyguards, which could mean a chance of danger. Aelfen female of the name Amadhay. Fifteen years old and small by aelfe standards. Unidentified familial relations. Seemingly ignorant of noble duties, so possibly not originally of noble birth, however the choice not to give a family name implies importance. Similar in looks to Water Herald, possibly a Ha. Unidentified gift, and unusual face markings, so unidentified animal. Claims to have joined for refuge from press, however, as she had until now been unknown as the Lady Consort, the claim is unfounded. Possibly in connection to the Ha lordling, but the assumption is currently unproven. Magical ability and hyperawareness of being watched. Covered all cameras in her private rooms and has silenced all audio.
“Someone is seeing too much,” she muttered to herself before looking at the two humans once again. “Thank you,” she said earnestly, smiling at the men who nodded in response. “Now I feel somewhat bad about telling Kit Rain that you want to bunk with the crew.”
Prillo shrugged, while Faeo gave a suspiciously pointed look to her bed.
“Okay, next order of business. How do I talk to you two?” At their expectant looks, Amadhay continued. “You don’t have DS’s, so we can’t talk via those messages. Paper and pen is incredibly dangerous. I don’t know any spells to give you voices. How do you talk to Lizumeizei?”
Both of them gave her blank looks. She was beginning to feel like that was always going to be their answer when she didn’t ask a question they would be able to answer without frustrating her when she didn’t understand them.
“Did Lizu make some special way for you to talk to him?”
Prillo shook his head, but Faeo nodded.
“How can he have not, but also have?” she asked, before remembering that she had to use yes or no questions. “Did you talk to him? I mean verbally?”
Both shook their heads.
“Okay, but you did talk to him in some way?”
“Was his way a way that I could copy?”
For a moment, she considered using her DS for them to write out responses, but remembered how long it had taken Prillo to write down seven words and decided that this difficult communication was better than suffering through them slowly writing responses to her.
“Is there any writing involved?” she asked distastefully.
Both shook their heads before once again, one attempted making gestures with his hands.
That was when it hit her. They talked with their hands. She took a long, irritated, breath before focusing on Faeo, whose eyes told her he knew she’d finally caught on. “You taught him Hand language?”
When Prillo nodded and Faeo shook his head, she understood that opposite answers meant ‘somewhat.’ She rubbed her temples.
“How did you somewhat teach him Hand? Did he already know it?”
Once again, they both gave different answers. Trying to keep herself from getting too irritated, she glared out of the window and then immediately looked back to them. She still wasn’t ready to acknowledge that they were flying thousands of miles in the sky, past the sky, into space. Every time she thought about it, her stomach started to turn in somersaults. She was just lucky that the gravity center and air filters kept the ship feeling as though they were still on land, otherwise she would have lost everything she’d eaten so far. As it was, it was enough to keep her from wanting to eat anything and so she hadn’t gone to dinner when Harpess had come for her. She wasn’t sure how long she could sequester herself within her room, but had a feeling that the air-sick excuse would wear off long before she was ready to face Benjy and Christein.
“So he knew some hand language and you taught him more?”
Both hesitantly nodded and Amadhay had a feeling she knew what the problem was. These two were prized for their inability to communicate with anyone except their chosen few. If that were so, they couldn’t possibly have been using normal Hand language. While she didn’t know it, because none of her missions had ever involved needing to know it considering her targets tended to be wealthy and could afford the Mental Speech Implant if they were in fact mute, she doubted it was all that difficult to find a book on Hand language and decipher what they were saying. In fact, she knew the blogstream had to have at least ten different people teaching it.
“He knew official Hand and you taught him a new, personalized Hand language, right?”
This time their nod was ecstatic, as if the two were just as annoyed by her repetitious questioning as she was.
“Good,” she said, already scrolling through her DS for the datastream and searching for easy Hand tutorials. “I’ll learn Hand tonight and you can teach me yours tomorrow.”
She ignored the doubtful looks they gave her. They didn’t understand that she knew memory sponge spells, that with her Gift she could get through any tutorial in a few clacks flat, so long as she found a book version. She’d learn much more complex things in the same amount of time, and that was before learning the memory sponge spells. Learning was easy for her. The hard part was going to be actually using the hand gestures. Ribbon had always told her that her understanding of the spells and words were flawless, but her incantation cues were sloppy. With Hand, she was depending entirely on her hands to get her point across, so she couldn’t chance being sloppy and saying something completely different from what she meant.
Removing the chip from her DS once she found a few appropriate tutorials, she slipped the chip into a small jewelry box, in the false bottom. She completely ignored the humans presence as she began to run through the elementary bits, like learning the alphabet, larger numbers, easy phrases and such. When she was partially through learning how to say common words like races and places, she glanced up at the sound of her door closing, and saw that the two had left. She checked on Tenshu to see no change and then delved right back into learning the language.
It wasn’t long after that, or at least it seemed like a short time to Amadhay, that there was another knock on her door. She sighed and flicked at the door to unlock it. “Come in,” she called, expecting the two men to have come back in some misguided need to protect her from absolutely nothing.
It wasn’t them, however. It was Harpess.
Seeing the woman standing in her doorway, eyeing her a bit too closely for Amadhay’s liking, the girl closed the tutorial and smiled at the woman. “Did you want something?” she asked.
Harpess was silent for a moment, looking over Amadhay’s room as if she were looking for something. Amadhay made sure not to give a relieved breath when the woman looked right over the invisible shape of Tenshu. Her eyes snagged on the pictures on the mirror, but other than that, it could have been a cursory glance had Amadhay not known that the woman was looking for something. She just didn’t know what yet.
Harpess took a step into the room and that was when Amadhay noticed that she was holding a medium sized book. She couldn’t read the cover, given that Harpess’ arm was covering it, but Amadhay approached her nonetheless, holding her hand out for the book. There would have been no other reason for the woman to bring it than to give it to her.
Harpess gave Amadhay a short nod, handing her the book and Amadhay was able to recognize it as one of a series she’d skimmed through back when she had been tutored by a Ha educator. It was about the duties of a noble in different situations. The Duties and Customs of Nobility Aboard Interplanetary Vessels was exactly what she needed.
“Thank you,” Amadhay said earnestly. “I’m incredibly embarrassed that I came here without knowing this kind of stuff.” She smiled at Harpess, who gave her a smile in turn.
“The Qwuill sent it, along with a few more specific ones just in case you weren’t aware of customs,” the human explained.
Amadhay nodded. That sounded like something Lizumeizei would do, especially since he was worried about her making him look bad. She smirked slightly. “There’s a book about appropriately dressing, isn’t there?”
Harpess gave a slight chuckle. “That was the book he told me to give to you no matter what,” she said with an eye roll. “I can’t imagine why.”
Amadhay tried to keep a straight face. She had, for a moment, thought the woman was being sarcastic in the most deadpan way possible, but then it dawned on her that the human honestly thought this was how she dressed on a regular basis. She would be surprised soon enough.
When she laughed, Harpess stared at her in confusion, but didn’t say anything until after Amadhay shook her head and said, “You should probably give me that book as soon as possible so that I don’t offend anyone.”
“Of course. I can have all of them brought to you tonight. I simply thought you might not want to be bothered with work.” She glanced at the books piled on the windowsill. “But I could be wrong.”
Amadhay plastered on a smile. “I love learning new things. And if it’ll help out my Qwuill, then I’m ready to do all the work necessary.”
Harpess gave her a discerning look before shaking her head. “You’ll have plenty of time. You don’t have to rush, unless you’re an incredibly slow reader. We won’t be reaching any other planets for a week if everything is optimal, and I’m sure all that you need to know for that stop is in that book.” She tapped the book she had brought with the tip of her pointer finger.
Amadhay nodded. “I’m sure.” Her interest was piqued. “What’s in the other books then?”
“Culture of the known planets we will be approaching, specifics so you, as our envoy, won’t insult them.”
Amadhay nodded. “Like what?” she asked.
Harpess thought for a moment. “Well, on Phellimore, the first planet we’ll pause on to refuel and restock, the people are basically all cat-kins and refuse to deal with anyone without a feline aura. We wouldn’t have been able to get anything from them if not for our previous agreement with them.”
Amadhay thought that over for a moment. Feline aura? Would I have that? She wondered before she nodded to Harpess. “So what will I do there?”
“Very little,” Harpess answered. “Like I said, they are only willing to deal with us due to a previous agreement. We simply need you as an ambassador to sign the papers to get us through and to talk to any Resorians who need an ambassador. I’m not aware of any Resorians there, since their air isn’t compatible to ours.”
“So I just stand there and look pretty, sign a few papers, and otherwise keep my mouth shut?”
“Exactly. See? It’s not that hard.”
Amadhay snorted in a very unladylike manner, gaining an honest smile from Harpess. She had a feeling that she was going to have to go out of her way to make all of the humans understand that she wasn’t someone they had to be on their best behavior around. Tensions would run high otherwise.
“Have you been outside of Resor before?” Harpess asked after a moment of silence.
“No,” Amadhay responded, glancing to the window and instantly regretting it. There was a swirl of meteors and the remains of a few ships in the not too far distance. She clenched her fists and swallowed to keep herself from letting loose the food from earlier.
“Ever been out of Roadesia?” Harpess asked, apparently oblivious to Amadhay’s problem.
“I’ve gone Over the Water a few times.”
“Have you ever flown before?”
The mention of flying was the last thing Amadhay needed. Just hearing the word ‘flying’ usually made her nauseous. Considering she’d already been holding down her lunch, she lost the battle. She gave a sharp nod and quickly scanned the room for something to puke into. She couldn’t keep it down this time. Just as she spotted a wastebasket near the door, Harpess held out a strange bag. Holding her hand over her mouth, Amadhay looked at her questioningly.
“You look like you’re about to be sick. Do it in this bag instead of the basket so the smell doesn’t spread,” she responded calmly.
Amadhay didn’t even have the chance to respond before she felt the bile rising into her throat. She grabbed the bag and turned her back to the woman, emptying her stomach. Harpess stood behind her and didn’t say anything. Amadhay was glad that the woman hadn’t felt the need to try to comfort her by rubbing her back or pulling her hair back. She hated it when people touched her when she was sick, especially this type of sick.
Once she was done, she tried to determine what to do with the bag. When she turned back, Harpess had a small plastic bag open to her. “Close the seal at the top,” she said, miming pressing the top of the bag together with two of her fingers pressed together. Amadhay slid her fingers across the top, sealing the bag and looked expectantly to Harpess. “Please put that in here. We’re trying to contain all of that since we won’t have a waste station for a hundred more miles.”
Amadhay nodded, refusing to meet the woman’s eyes. This time, Harpess did touch her, though it was only a quick pat of her shoulder. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Most do it on their first time out. Space travel is different from flying in Resor’s air.”
Again, Amadhay nodded and kept her eyes firmly focused on the wall.
Harpess sounded amused. “You lasted longer than anyone expected. You must travel regularly.”
“I don’t like flying,” was all Amadhay could think to say.
Amadhay wasn’t sure how she felt as she led a pair of humans after her, to the oversized room she had been given as her quarters. As the Lady Consort she was allowed first boarding, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was a media circus around the ship, with flashing and recording DS’s everywhere. Everyone wanted to see the voyagers who would be going on this trip, though she had no doubt that a large percentage of the crowd was due to the leaked news that the Grand Mage’s consort would be joining the trip.
She planned on finding out who leaked that as soon as she was settled.
Either way, getting onboard the vessel a whole zoot before the crew would be able to had its other pluses. Besides being able to hide from the gossip hungry tabloids and news crews, she was also able to scope out the ship a bit. Or at least she would be able to once the helpful muscles set all of her luggage in her rooms. Not only were the two men holding three bags each, they held a long chest between the two of them.
They didn’t know that they were carrying an injured necromancer in it. While she hadn’t officially asked if she would be able to bring the man along with her, she assumed that they weren’t going to say no to her. She was, after all, an incredibly important person, according to the organizer, who had gone out of his way to meet her. She was to get the best room, which had previously been meant to home the other unwelcome guests, Christein and Benjy. She would be given the best of the food. There would be a cleaning service, free of charge. And apparently, she had first dibs on the escape chutes should anything go wrong.
So she didn’t see the point of bothering them with worries about Tenshu. She’d take care of him, he’d stay in her rooms, and he’d eat her food. No harm done, right?
Honestly, she just doubted that their interest in complying with all of her needs would extend to the man who, as far as anyone unaware about necromantic healing could tell, looked to be dead. If they had known about Tenshu, she feared that she’d then have to sneak him on and they’d be wary about it and it would all just be very complicated. She didn’t want complicated. She wanted easy and quiet. Sneaking Tenshu in without any questions about why the Grand Mage’s consort was bringing along another male, what she wanted with a dead necromancer, who she was, and who he was, would hopefully keep things quiet enough that she could get far enough into space. That way, by the time Christein or Benjy realized she was there, it would be too late to eject her right back.
For now, though, her worry wasn’t on her cousin or friend. All of her attention was focused on learning her way around the ship. So far, she knew her way to her room, the cafeteria, the medical bay, and the pool. She hadn’t asked about the engine room, because she didn’t want them nervous about her, but as soon as she ditched the muscle twins, she was going to check it out. She still had to find the green rooms, the food bay, the kitchens (which, for some reason weren’t connected to the cafeteria, which made her uneasy about the food), the dormitory for the crew, and most importantly, the cargo hold. She wasn’t going to go into space blind about her surroundings.
The doors to her room slid open after scanning her iris, her magically altered blue ones, and she led the men to her bed. “Set that down on the bed,” she ordered them when they looked ready to drop the chest right there in the middle of the floor. “And be gentle with it.”
She rolled her eyes at the quick look between the two, one that she was used to being the source of from her time as a precocious lady in the Hakinato homestead and her short tenure in the Tierdom kingdom. She knew she was a terror for servants, but it kept them on their toes. And it made them keep their distance from her whenever possible.
However, the two did as she ordered without a single grumble, lifting the chest up high and setting it gently down before dumping her other bags on the bed as well. Amadhay had to admire the bed for a moment. It was large enough to fit her, Christein, Benjy, Tenshu, Atlas, Ribbon, Rea, and Kimiko. She couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would need a bed that size.
She smiled at the men. “That’s all I needed, thank you.”
They didn’t leave.
“You can leave?”
They shook their heads and the one closest to her handed her a slip of paper. On it, read:
These two men were a gift from the Grand Mage. He wanted to be sure that you were safe. He told me to be sure that you know they are mute, but very observant. I tried to convince him that you needed no extra protection here, but he was quite persistent. Please tell me if you need extra rooms for them or if they will be making their quarters within your own.
After reading the letter, Amadhay closed her eyes and took eleven deep breaths before reopening them and focusing on the men. “I don’t need protection.”
The further one shrugged. They both held up their wrists, to show that they had been marked by Lizumeizei as her guardians. Narrowing her eyes, Amadhay held out her hand for the closer one to lay his hand on hers so that she could examine the mark closer. His hand was easily the size of her face, which she couldn’t help but to think was dangerous. Hammy hands meant strength, and strength was one way she was easily bested, considering she was so small. These men could pick her up, throw her over their shoulders, and she would be helpless. Or as helpless as she ever got.
Pushing those thoughts away, she traced the insignia of Lizumeizei’s Qwuill Master mark, a single crane with the mane of a lion. The purple and red of the runes burned on top of the mark told Amadhay that she had no hopes of breaking or changing the mark. Until Lizumeizei was satisfied, or they were dead, she had bodyguards. Pursing her lips, Amadhay pulled out her DS. She’d had no plans of using it for the next few days, knowing that her use could be tracked to the ship, which would lead to her being found out, but she needed to talk to Lizumeizei.
He answered on the first ring.
“I’m not taking them back,” he said, his hologram appearing in front of her. He was leaning against something she couldn’t see, but he was dressed quite impressively in the silver and purple of the Grand Mage, telling her that he was going somewhere for a public appearance.
“Lizumeizei Qwuilleran,” she hissed, turning her back on the men because their knowing looks were irritating her. “I neither want nor need them. You and I both know that I can take care of myself.”
“The last time you went on your own into completely new territory, you were taken advantage of, beaten, and sent back home with a bow around your neck,” he said, reminding her of Madra.
“I’m not here on my own,” she whispered, wishing that she had taken the time to check the room for bugs when she’d been given the tour earlier. “Benjy and Christein are here. And I have a bit of unexpected back up.”
“Their presence only reassures me that I did the right thing.” His image disappeared for a moment, as if they had lost contact, and then reappeared. “And what do you mean unexpected backup?”
One of the oversized men touched her shoulder and shook his head. Amadhay shrugged him off, not understanding what he wanted. “Doesn’t matter. The problem is you sicking your pet muscles on me.”
“I didn’t sick anything on you. I merely gave you protection. You will thank me later.”
“Will I?” she asked, turning away from the men who were trying to get her attention. “Because I think them being around me makes it difficult for me to,” she paused, watching the men in the mirror as they gestured as subtly as they could while still gaining her attention. They kept looking and gesturing to the same three places: the mirror, the reinforced window, and the main light hanging above her. Perfect places to put bugs, she realized. “Makes it difficult for me to get alone time, which is why I’m here, remember? Alone time?”
Lizumeizei didn’t even seem fazed by her change. “I remember. But you can get alone time and be safe. People are going to want to get to you to get to me. I’m not there and I want you safe.”
She pouted, playing the part of spoiled lady as well as she ever had. “Lizu,” she whined, trying her hardest not to look directly into what she assumed were cameras. The men were searching the adjoining bathroom and closet, each subtly holding up one finger to tell her that she was bugged everywhere. And she had nearly blown her own cover.
“You can ‘Lizu’ me all you want. They’re synced to you right now, and will be, either until I unsync them, or they die. So unless you plan on killing them, suck it up.”
She shook her head. “Fine, I’ll keep them. But they have to make themselves useful. Work with the crew when they need a hand. Give me time on my own to do what I want with worrying it’s going directly to you.”
“As long as you’re safe, I’m sure they’ll find ways to entertain themselves.” Through the DS, she could hear someone calling for the Grand Mage. Giving her a knowing smile, Lizumeizei blew her a kiss. “I’ll hear from you tomorrow?”
“Of course,” Amadhay replied, trying for a besotted tone, but given that she still wasn’t completely used to her new voice, it just sounded seductive. The scratchy voice that accompanied the scar from her fight with Ribbon made it nearly impossible for her to sound sweet anymore. “I love you, Lizumeizei,” she added, blowing him a kiss back.
He paused for a moment before giving her a full smile. “I love you too.”
Once they both hung up, Amadhay took the moment to determine what she was going to do with the bugs. She could easily take them down. That would be no problem for her, especially now that she knew where they were. But that would not only alert whoever was trying to watch her that she knew, but it wouldn’t tell her who was watching her, or why. On the other hand, she could hardly leave the cameras up. Doing that would make her room unsafe for her. She needed this area to plot her next move, to talk to Lizumeizei, to…
To work on Tenshu. She stared at the chest. She needed to get Tenshu out of there, and she couldn’t do that so long as she was being watched by some unknown entity. She barely wanted to do it while being watched by Lizumeizei’s goons. So, she needed to obscure the vision of the cameras without making it obvious that was what she was doing. Once she did that, she had a feeling that the men would leave her alone.
She looked pointedly at the men, who were still just standing there, watching her. “Since I’m stuck with you two, you might as well make yourselves useful and help me unpack. Just the bags, okay?”
Their questioning looks made it obvious that they didn’t understand why she wasn’t dealing with the cameras, so she gave them a slight shake of her head before opening the smallest of the bags. It contained all of her undergarments. It dawned on her, after she began packing away clothes, that she really should have looked through the bags before just bringing them along. Anything could be in them, a curse, a phantom, sensitive information, and the first time she was going to open it was while she was being watched.
Brilliant, she thought, emptying the last of her underwear into one of the drawers of the dresser beside the window. Underneath the underwear was a bundle that she didn’t recognize, and even though she was worried about a curse, her curiosity got the better of her, convincing her to open it. Inside, were pictures, pictures that she hadn’t known existed. She scanned through them, seeing the story of her time with the Palnoki unfold in a series of pictures.
The worst was when she looked at the last picture, one with her and Ribbon. Ribbon looked beautiful, her mouth open in a wide smile and her eyes squinting as she laughed. She was wearing a green dress that matched her eyes and her hair was soaking wet. She was leaning over Amadhay, hugging the girl to her chest and soaking the otherwise dry girl, who was also laughing. Amadhay had her arms around Ribbon’s waist, her eyes open and staring adoringly at Ribbon. It was a picture taken the day before everything had fallen apart, before they had gone to the Mud Castle. She and Ribbon had been walking along the beach when a sudden rainstorm had caught them unawares. She had rushed inside, but Ribbon hadn’t been nearly as fast and had been soaked by rain when she made it into the Sand Castle.
“I see how you are, Red Bird. Just leave me out there.” Ribbon had come in, dripping wet with her normally thick curls were plastered to her skull, rather than in a halo around her head.
“Not my fault you’re slow,” she’d said, laughing at Ribbon’s state. She had, though, reached out and used a spell to instantly dry the dress.
“I’ll show you slow,” Ribbon had mock-growled and launched herself at Amadhay, who could have easily avoided her. Instead, she squealed and stayed in place, letting Ribbon grab at her. “Who’s slow now, huh?” Ribbon exclaimed, laughing as she hugged Amadhay to her chest, her still wet skin chilling Amadhay’s and wetting both of their clothes. She rubbed her head against Amadhay’s and that was when she squawked indignantly.
“Hey! You know what my hair does when it gets wet!” she complained, but she was laughing too hard to be taken seriously.
She wasn’t sure how long she stood there, staring at the picture when one of the men nudged her. When she looked up at him, she was aware that her eyes were wet. She quickly brushed the moisture away from her face and looked to him questioningly. He showed her the contents of one of the bags. It was all weapons.
Glancing back at the mirror, the closest camera, Amadhay forced a shrug. “Just put it under the bed. I’ll sort it out later.”
She started to set the pictures down, but then looked at the mirror again and grinned to herself. Decorating could easily take care of the cameras, and it wouldn’t be obvious so long as she did it right.
“Punni,” she said the sticking spell aloud, touching the mirror. For a moment, she remembered Ribbon using the spell to stick her to the wall, back when she was her guard, before they’d become friends, before they…
She shook away the thoughts, wishing that she hadn’t started to think about Ribbon. Once she started, she had a hard time stopping. Crawling onto the desk, she stood on it and began pressing pictures to the glass, starting at the top of the mirror. Her overwhelming vanity wouldn’t allow her to completely cover the mirror, but she didn’t need to. The camera, she knew because she’d been able to see a strange reflection of glass, was in the center of the wooden frame, right at the top, which was where she put the picture of her and Ribbon.
Satisfied, she hopped down from the table and turned back to the bed. She was surprised to see that most of the bags were empty. The closet was partially open, to let her see that the men had neatly hung and folded her clothes. The same hanging that had hung above her bed at Palnoki was now hanging off of the ceiling light, obscuring the camera, and the canopy that hung off of it had been finagled into a sort of swing for her. And though the men didn’t know it, she was actually quite happy to have it up like that because it brought the comfort of old surroundings without the memories of her last few weeks with the Palnoki, when she had to imagine that overhanging to fall asleep.
Seeing that, she had no doubt that the men had taken care of the cameras in the closet and bathroom. That left one camera, the one in the window. She looked through the remaining bags on her bed. One was full of miscellaneous junk, things that she would have to go through at a later time. The other one was full of books she had been reading, and not just the magic books. The ones on succubi, vampires, necromancers, and blood witches were there as well, as if her touching them had tainted the books. There were even two that she didn’t recognize in the bunch, but she didn’t think too hard about them. They were probably just ones Ribbon had tossed into her room that she had never really looked at.
But the books could work.
There were just enough of them that, if she were to stack them on the windowsill, they would cover up the camera, which had been fixed in the center of the window, made to look like a star. It was only noticeable now, honestly, because the view from her window was that of a sea of people trying to catch a glimpse of the crew as they filed in. Seeing that, Amadhay tapped her wrist DS to see that she had lost most of a zoot, looking at the pictures and “decorating.” She shoved the last of the books onto the windowpane and rushed to the door.
And then she paused, looking back at the chest. She needed to get Tenshu out of it, but she also needed to scope out the rest of the ship before everyone was on it and would notice her wandering around. She looked to her two bodyguards, who appeared ready to follow her, and knew that she had to get rid of them before dealing with Tenshu. And despite what she wanted to do, she needed to deal with Tenshu now, because in his state, being unmonitored, in a chest, despite the spells she had dumped in there to keep him stable, wasn’t going to help his condition.
So she made the only decision she really could. She allocated the work.
Unsure whether there were also sound bugs hidden around the room, Amadhay typed out orders on her wrist DS and lifted them into a small hologram screen. Both men moved forward to read her instructions. It took them nearly five clacks to read seven sentences, which told her this wouldn’t be a good way to continue talking to them.
I need the two of you to scope out the ship. I need to know where everything is. If you can find and steal a map of the ship, that would help, otherwise, you need to create one. I’ll stay here. With the cameras down, I’m safe. Lizumeizei said you were synced to my safety, yes? Well knowing the schematics and possible hiding places all over this ship will increase my safety.
The larger one, who she had begun to mentally refer to as Prillo (in reference to the strongest Watcher that guarded The Lake), brushed his hand over the message to erase it. Painstakingly, as if he had only barely learned how to write, he took three clacks to write a response to her in large letters.
Both of us don’t have to go.
She pursed her lips, irritated that he was making this difficult on her. Before she could respond, however, the smaller one, who she was mentally calling Faeo (in reference to the most vigilant of the Watchers guarding The Lake), touched “Prillo” on his arm and shook his head. He nodded to Amadhay before both men left the room, closing the door behind them with a solid thump.
She took a moment to ponder about that, but finally decided to push it to the back of her mind and she rushed to the chest. When she unlatched the physical latches on the chest, the magical locks reared their defensive attacks toward her until she quickly and easily disarmed them and unlocked the invisible lock as well. When she opened the chest, the scent of healing magic hit her hard. Tenshu still didn’t look any better, but from the scent of the magic, how heavy it was, she could tell that something was healing.
Clicking her tongue softly, she gave the only necessary invocation for the levitation spell she’d mastered a month ago. With her right hand, she leveled her focus on the necromancer and he began to float up in the chest. Gently, she lifted Tenshu from the chest and set him down in the center of the bed before waving her left hand and using the same spell to toss the chest off of her bed. Before it could clatter to the ground, she held her hand steady and lowered it, gently, below the window, where it would take the least amount of space and wouldn’t impede her movement around the room.
Now that Tenshu was settled in the bed, Amadhay glanced nervously to the door. She didn’t want anyone to walk in on her and see him. That could certainly prove to be disastrous. So, with a silent incantation, she locked the door to give herself a bit of privacy. She would need to put wards on the door sooner rather than later to keep out unwanted visitors, but that could wait until she had worked on Tenshu a little bit.
Crawling onto the bed, Amadhay was careful not to jolt Tenshu too much. While what she’d read didn’t say movement had much of an adverse affect on a necromancer in this stage of dead shock, she figured that it was probably safe to assume that someone in a rigid full-body state would not be helped by being moved around all the time. She didn’t think that moving him would be kind on his body, and she’d once read somewhere that a necromancer in dead shock had brittle bones, which was a stark change from normal, when their bones were thicker than an aelfe’s.
She felt his skin and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was no colder than when she had last touched him. It seemed that he might come out of this relatively soon. She hoped he would. Most of the books said it took close to a week or two for dead shock to fully end. Nowhere did it say how long this stage was. After this first stage, of catatonic stiffness, he would go into a dreamscape in the Astral Realm. His body would relax as he went through it, but what she was worried about was the fact that during that time, she couldn’t leave his side. He needed her energy to fight off whatever would attack him in there, and whatever attacked him was also attacking her. If she emerged from that stage, looking worse for wear, it would be difficult to explain why she was harmed when she hadn’t left her room.
But once they got through that stage, everything else would be simple. He would sleep calmly for a while, then wake up, though he would be delusional until he hit stage five. Stage four was when she would be able to heal any of the physical injuries that she hadn’t already been able to for whatever reason. At stage five, he would begin to calm down, and the delusions would die away. At stage six rational thought came back, but he would think that he was still in the situation that put him into deadshock. After that, the panic would go away, and then he would be fully healed.
She just had to get him that far.
She took a moment to remember the particulars of the spell Rea had taught her to check a body’s stats. There were no words to be spoken aloud, only a chant to mentally repeat as she softly blew on his body. So, taking a deep breath, she began the chant. Ore oru ira. Ore oru ira. Ore oru ira. She began to blow starting at his head and went down first his left arm, back up to go down his right arm, and then she went down his torso. As she lost air, she sped up, because the spell had to be done in one breath or it didn’t work. She made it down his right leg before she couldn’t blow any more air out.
So she tried again. It took her five attempts to finally finish the spell, and once she did, she sat back on her heels and looked over his body. There were red and black smudges over him, showing where he had been hurt. His entire head was a black smudge, telling her that he had received a pretty hard blow to the head, which she had already known, but it was the red leaking into it that worried her. It was very small, but there was still apparently a bit of bleeding. She had no doubt that deadshock would contain it for now, but that was going to be the first thing she fixed once stage three came around.
Other than his head, he had black littering most of his body, but mostly concentrated around his throat. There was a light red all over him, which she hoped were scratches and not internal bleeding. There was only one incredibly red spot, which she thought might be on his back, not that she could tell, considering the magic only showed her the basic spot where the injury was. She needed to see the skin for herself, she realized. The spell was good for seeing what was under his skin, like the broken arm, sprained wrist, and multiple cracks in his bones on his torso and hips, but topical injuries were ones that she had to see for herself, especially if there was an open, bleeding wound somewhere.
Reaching under her dress to the holsters she wore, she fingered the distinctive handles of four of her knives before finding the sharpest one. After carefully removing it from the sheath strapped to her skin so as not to cut her thigh, she leaned over Tenshu again, this time pulling at his black shirt. She put her knife to the seams and neatly cut first his shirt open, taking the top off of his body while leaving the back of it under him. She then moved down to his pants. Pausing only to touch the tip of the knife to be sure that it would be sharp enough to cut through the thicker material, she nodded when it easily cut her finger. Doing the same as she had with his shirt, she set the front of his black pants beside the black shirt. She set her knife down and quickly removed his black boots and socks, leaving him in only his black underwear.
When she looked over his body, she winced. Tenshu’s body was a myriad of bruises, ranging from a pale yellow, to a dark purple, almost black. He had scratches all over, which made her feel a little better because it meant that the red on the scan wasn’t internal bleeding. Clicking her tongue to use the levitation spell, she lifted him up only enough for her to crawl under him and, snapping her fingers, she made a small orb of purple light to look at his other side. His back was similar to his front, with scratches and bruises, but with one major difference. There was a piece of the fountain sticking out of his back.
It was enough to the side that she didn’t worry that it had severed any of his spine and didn’t seem deep enough to have damaged any organs, but it was slowly bleeding around the chunk of marble. Realizing that she needed both of her hands, she closed her right hand around the orb to extinguish it and slowly rotated her left hand to turn Tenshu onto his side. She gently laid him back down on the bed before getting a better look at the wound with natural light. It wasn’t a horrible wound, but given that the rock had been inside of him for zoots, she had a bad feeling that it was probably going to be infected soon. Either way, she needed to remove it.
There was a knock at the door. “Lady Consort?” A woman asked.
She flinched. Between her automatic reaction to the title and her alarm at being interrupted in the middle of dealing with Tenshu, she was uncomfortable and wanted the woman gone. “I’m busy!” she called.
“Of course,” the same voice came again. “We only meant to introduce you to the other passengers of prestige and have you wave off.”
“We’re going to be in space for a while. I have no doubt that I’ll meet them by the end of this week,” she stated, wrapping her hands around the chunk of the fountain.
“Of course. It’s just that, as the highest ranking—”
“Give my duties to the next highest ranking,” she said, tugging it out of his back. Tenshu didn’t make a sound, which she expected, but she knew it had to have been painful.
“That’s not how—”
“It’s how it works now. I’m sure he’ll do it better anyway.” She didn’t even know what the duties were. She hadn’t even known that there were duties. She realized that she should have talked to Lizumeizei about that before jumping in here.
A more familiar voice, that of Rain Kit spoke next. “Lady Consort, it is tradition for the highest ranking person on the ship to be the final wave off as we set off. I only agreed for your presence on this trip because the Grand Mage assured us that you would be willing to do any public appearances, and we were in desperate need of someone of rank. While we are more than willing to hand off your other duties to the next highest, given that he has the experience in administration, it is your duty to do this, as he is under strict orders not to make any public appearances. I don’t mean to be so forceful, but you need to come out here and do just that.”
While Rain spoke, Amadhay had bandaged up Tenshu’s wound, not that it was bleeding much more than before. She was listening closely, filing away everything the man said for future reference. It was a given that being kept a secret made Christein a pretty cruddy ranking member of nobility to be their face. But why didn’t they already have one? She remembered a little bit of information regarding this from her long ago discontinued schooling on nobility and court importance in government. All exploration teams were supposed to have someone of rank with them, usually a Major or Colonel from the RA or a noble who was funding it.
So why didn’t this one have any? Was it because it was a colonization mission and that those on it weren’t expected back for at least a year? That would be an extraordinarily long time for any Colonel, or even a Major, to be gone. And considering most of those on this trip were humans, it was easier to guess why there wasn’t any nobility. This had nothing to do with nobility, which also somewhat surprised her. Something wasn’t adding up very well.
She was turning Tenshu onto his back when the man made the demand of her. She would need to have a talk with Lizumeizei about just what he had been thinking. Her going out in public was a bad idea. It was a horrible idea, really. She had been claimed dead for over two years. She wasn’t supposed to be on this voyage. She didn’t want to be linked back to Lizumeizei. It was especially bad since she had no idea what she was doing. Her rudimentary nobility training hadn’t gone this far and what she did remember was questionable at best. She’d make the Hakinato First Family and the Grand Mage look bad at the same time.
But to stay on the ship, it appeared she had to try. She could do a glamour, but given that she was going to be with these same humans for an undetermined amount of time, putting on a glamour for the public would only make them wary of her. Wary humans led to suspicion and attempts to discover whatever she was hiding and then, inevitably, fighting. She didn’t really fancy having to kill the crew or anyone else on the ship. She especially didn’t want to have to kill any of the crew, since they were going to be keeping the ship flying. She had no piloting or engineering skills, not to mention just thinking too long about the fact she was about to go out into space on a giant space submarine made her queasy.
So she was going to have to go out there with her real face and hope that she was far enough that the cameras weren’t able to see her properly. Though, once she thought about it, or rather once she thought about it rationally, it wasn’t that big of a deal. As long as her hair covered her spoors, it was fine. She and Amaya looked almost identical from any sort of distance. In fact, most of their distant female Graceling and Hakinato cousins looked very similar to them. And they didn’t have a monopoly on olive skin, black hair, and blue eyes. Plenty of female aelfes looked just like her.
She rubbed the blood on her hands off onto Tenshu’s shirt.
“Lady Consort?” Rain’s voice held tension in it this time and it made Amadhay wonder about him. How much of Christein and Benjy’s mission did he know? How deep into this was he? Or was he just stressed by the RA to do something worthwhile? She couldn’t help but to feel like there was something more to this, something other than just her being stubborn that was bothering him.
Once her hands were no longer bloody, she waved her hand and thought a silent spell to make Tenshu invisible to everyone but herself. If she was going to leave him in an unwarded room, she was certainly going to put some sort of protection in place. She closed her hands into fists and then snapped them open, flicking her wrists up and apart. A quick purple glaze went over the room, leaving an alarm system for her so that she would know if anyone came in while she was gone, and she would know who they were and what they did.
One of the people at the door began knocking as Amadhay slid her knife back into its sheath. Patting her thighs to be sure that all four knives and her miniature gun were still in place, she went to the door and opened it, nearly getting a fist to her face for her trouble.
At her door stood Rain Kit, an impressive looking man, if a bit short. His brown hair was in neat waves around his face, the length of it pulled back into a low bun. He wore the uniform of a captain, which had surprised her, since she knew it was rare for coordinators to actually be a part of the crew. His dark, almost-black eyes took in her appearance, from her neatly curled hair, framing her face and hiding her cheeks, down to her coiling necklace, a magical pendant from Lizu, down her sleeve-less, navy blue dress, to her four-inch heeled shoes that matched the dress. He focused on her eyes for longer than he should have, making her uncomfortable for a moment, before smiling at her.
The smile was strained. Even then, it did nothing to make him look less commanding. His honey-colored skin was scarred, a mark going down his cheek and to his lips keeping him from being very attractive to her. She wondered how he got it. Standing maybe six inches taller than her own five feet, he was probably around three inches shorter than the woman who stood by his side. Her uniform was similar to his, telling Amadhay that she was his co-pilot and the second-in-command. What he didn’t have in height, he made up for in width. He was much pudgier than she had imagined, with a round belly and barrel chest, making the muscular woman beside him look like a wisp of a thing.
“Alright,” Amadhay smiled, closing the door behind her. A subtle twist of her fingers locked it behind her. “What was it you needed me to do?”
The woman nodded. “Thank you for working with us,” she started, already turning to lead Amadhay off. Amadhay followed her, very much aware of Rain Kit following behind her after a long moment of staring at her door. “I understand from Captain Kit that you’re here to get some time away from the media involved being the Qwuill Master’s consort.”
“The Grand Mage,” Amadhay corrected. “I’m the Grand Mage’s consort.”
“Same difference,” the woman muttered only loud enough for her to hear, and Amadhay was positive right then and there that she didn’t trust her. Few people knew that Lizumeizei was both the Qwuill Master and the Grand Mage, and ever fewer talked about it with such nonchalance. “Either way, considering that after today, we’ll be in space, and only stopping to either refuel or gather up some resources, for the most part, you will have no worries about the media.” She smiled a large smile that made Amadhay uncomfortable. “We only need you to wave us off and be our face when we stop on other planets, but that will be rare. Otherwise, you’re free to do as your heart desires.”
Somehow I doubt that, Amadhay thought, but just nodded along. She glanced back at Rain Kit, who was watching her closely enough to make her wary. “As for the two men the Grand Mage sent with me? They’d like to sleep in the Crew dormitories. They want to be as much help as they can, considering there won’t be much here to threaten me.”
Something flashed in his eyes, making Amadhay sure that he knew more than she had first assumed. The second-in-command, however, was an open book. “Oh, that’s good. We were hoping they would. We needed the extra muscle and those two definitely have some to spare.”
Amadhay forced herself to laugh with the woman. “How soon are we setting off?” she asked.
“Well, most of the crew is settled in. The lord and his knight have already found their places. So, really, if everything is optimal, which I think it is, we can begin lift off as you wave off.”
Amadhay supposed that letting the two know of her ignorance wouldn’t be such a big deal, especially not if she quickly fixed her lack of knowledge once she had time. “And why is this important?” she asked, making two steps for every one of the woman’s.
The human glanced down at Amadhay with surprise before giving her a longer look. “Aren’t you a bit young—”
Rain Kit jumped in before the woman could insult Amadhay fully. “Good luck,” he answered, walking beside her. Amadhay felt like she had to walk close to the wall to give him space, though he wasn’t truly that large. “Having the highest ranking person on board wave us off tells the Goddess that our voyage is wanted by the nobility so that we will be able to leave the atmosphere.”
The woman huffed. “Superstitious nonsense to remind everyone who is in charge,” she corrected, making Amadhay look her over appraisingly. “Benjym Base himself developed the new technology in our ship to give us less than a 1% chance of atmospheric combustion. He even developed new technology to help recycle the air.”
Amadhay nodded slowly. She was obviously knowledgeable about the ship. “I didn’t catch your name,” she said, recognizing that she needed to stay close to this woman in the future to get more information.
The woman gave her a distracted smile. “I’m Gilia Harpess, Co-Captain and Second in Command of this ship.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Amadhay,” she responded, knowing that her not using her last name was noticed. Only elves and Ferals had no last names and for aelfe, last names were incredibly important for connections.
They were both watching her closely as they continued to walk to the opening that led to the main window panel that they had been using as a sort of balcony. She had a feeling that they were comparing her face to Amaya’s, but she didn’t give them anything more to go on.
“How long have you been with the Grand Mage?” Harpess asked.
“Since my blunderlust began,” she answered. To them, that would mean since she’d been ten. To her, it meant since she’d been fifteen, which wasn’t a lie. She had been with him, in a way, during the Madra mission, and since she’d considered herself to have been in love with him, she decided blunderlust started there. Especially since restarting her relationship with him had been lust, but now was starting to look like love. She wasn’t sure what she was with Lizumeizei. Whether it was love or lust was a question she’d been asking herself since he’d told her he loved her earlier. It was all part of blunderlust.
“And how old are you now?” Harpess asked before Rain Kit could stop her.
Amadhay grinned. “Nearly sixteen,” she answered, enjoying the look of relief on Harpess’ face. She wondered how young the woman had thought she was. She knew that she looked older, by human standards, but by aelfe standards she did look younger and even a human would catch that—especially if said human had regular contact with aelfe, which Amadhay had suspicions that Harpess did.
All of those thoughts stopped the moment they stood a few inches from the door. Pausing in the shadows as they reached the doorway, she began to overthink her situation again. This was it. She took a deep breath. This was the first time in over two years that she’d gone somewhere with a media circus. If she stepped out as she was now, she would be chancing her picture getting out. She could see without getting into their sight, that there were enough people that it was impossible to even hope that none of them would get a picture of her. The best that she could reasonably hope would be that it would be blurry.
Her biggest worry was about Mother Sari’s gang realizing that Lizumeizei’s protection was gone. Or at least that’s what the rational part of her brain said it should be. Her biggest worry, no matter how irrational it was, was that someone would recognize her as Amadhay Hakinato. They would make a big scene about her not being dead, would question what was happening in the Hakinato house that all three of the triplets had taken relatively drastic means to get away from the homestead. Hlala had taken refuge with Guy, who had used his Gift to get her away. Amaya had actually demanded emancipation, and when she’d been denied, had run away, only agreeing to the clan’s demands when she was appointed Hynnkel as her guardian. And now there would be her, pretending to be dead to get away.
Goddess. She took a deep breath and tried to force herself to take another step. She couldn’t. Her legs honestly wouldn’t move. She looked at Rain Kit, who had a bit of an annoyed expression, to Harpess, who had an understanding look, which the woman quickly covered when she turned her attention to the captain.
“Captain Kit?” Harpess took his attention off of Amadhay. “I’m sure that Lady Consort would feel more comfortable if we started to take off?” she suggested.
Amadhay immediately nodded. “You said that we could take off as I waved, so I’d like to do that.”
The man looked uncertain for a moment. “I could—”
Harpess cut him off. “You should go and start flying. The sooner you do, the sooner we’ll be off the ground. And when we’re off ground, Jaxley can take the navigation and you can take a well-deserved nap.”
Amadhay felt like she had missed some joke, because Rain Kit gave an obnoxious burst of laughter and patted Harpess on the back hard enough to make the woman make a face, though she didn’t move. The man turned on his heel and made quick work of disappearing down the halls. Harpess put her hand on Amadhay’s shoulder, but when the girl started to speak, she put a finger to her lips to silence her.
After almost three clacks, Harpess gave a slight nod. “Alright, he’s almost to the cockpit.” She smiled at Amadhay and turned to face the girl head on. “I apologize. Rain has bugged your room because he doesn’t trust Qwuill Master. I’ve made plans to fix that, but for now, please be aware of that and what you do and say in there.”
Amadhay nodded. “I noticed. You keep saying Qwuill Master.”
Harpess made a face. “I mean to say Grand Mage.”
“You work for Qwuill, don’t you?”
She pursed her lips. “I worked for the Roadesian Army. Yes, your Qwuill Master has shown interest, but I do not work for him.”
Her eyes and the tone told Amadhay that she was trying to say something more than that, but the teenager wasn’t sure what. There was a loud noise and the ground beneath her feet began to shake. Amadhay felt her stomach quiver.
Harpess gestured for her to begin the wave off. Amadhay started to walk out to the panel, but only got as far as the doorway. They’re going to recognize me and kill Lizumeizei and Arne Riff will kill me when I come back. I can’t do this. I have to go back. She started back, but Harpess was like a wall, keeping her in the doorway.
“You will be fine,” the woman promised in a low tone. “An impromptu sighting of a certain songstress and her siren posse caught the attention of all but the most desperate. Most of those out there are family and friends of the crew. Any picture they take will be distant.”
Amadhay was wary that the older woman knew all of this. At first, she feared the coincidence, her mind immediately going to Atlas, but when she took in Harpess’ cool, she knew this was all part of Lizumeizei’s plan. Lizumeizei had gone out of his way to make things easier on her.
So instead, she smiled and nodded, turning on her heel and going to the railing to wave, a smile plastered on her face even as she began to pick at her feelings for Lizumeizei once again. Did she love him or was it lust? Did she trust him? Did she deserve him?
Amadhay appeared back in Adrian's room loaded down by all six bags. “Did anything change while I was home?” she demanded, dropping them and moving immediately to the bedside.
The aelfe gave her a look. “He hasn't moved. I think you put a dead body in my bed.”
“He's not dead,” Amadhay snapped. She hoped he wasn't, anyway. She had done everything in her power to save him. All the necromancer books she read while at Palnoki had really come in handy, because if she had done her normal healing spells, he would have died on the spot.
“Wait. What's with the bags?” Adrian demanded. “Are you moving in here?”
“Don't get your hopes up,” she scoffed, “I'm going on a mission with Monkey and Benjy. I need you to—”
“No,” he said before she could even finish her request. So that's where Essie's been getting it, Amadhay thought sardonically. “I'm not nursing him back to health. I don't even think it can be done. You better take him with you.”
“On a mission?” she asked exasperatedly.
He glared at her. “It's bad enough that you put a dead body in my bed. I'm not going to let him stay there until he's a rotten corpse.”
“Adrian,” she pleaded, “Christein will kill me if he sees him.”
“Wait, why?” Adrian asked, his eyes turning sharp. He looked closer at Tenshu. “Who is this?”
She blinked quickly. “Just someone he doesn't like,” she lied. “You know how he is. He expects me to hate everyone he hates.”
Adrian looked suspicious. “Is he your secret twine? Did Christein walk in on you two and try to kill him in a jealous rage?”
“Yes,” she said in a flat tone, rolling her eyes. “That is exactly what happened.”
Adrian hesitated for a moment, as if he wanted to ask something, but instead, after a moment of consideration, he shrugged. “Either way, you've got to get him out of my bed. Why didn't you take him to Rea?”
Because Rea would recognize him in a click and alert Arne Riff, Amadhay thought before answering as calmly as she could. “He's not Phoegani. She's a stickler about that.”
“She does favors for you all the time,” he argued, eyeing her suspiciously again.
“We just had a falling out,” she lied. “So I'm not taking him to her. She'd probably kill him.”
“He's dead already.”
“No he's not!” Amadhay exclaimed, needing him to stop saying that. She had put too much effort in saving Tenshu for him to be dead. She refused for him to be dead.
“He's not breathing, I couldn't find a pulse, and he's icy.”
“He's in dead shock,” she bit out, not really wanting to explain, but not wanting Adrian to think she planned on leaving a dead body in his bed.
“He's in what?” the older teenager asked, crossing his arms over his chest. She could tell that he thought she made it up off the top of her head. She hadn't.
“He's a necromancer. They go into dead shock when they're hurt badly. The necromantic abilities put them closer to dead all the time, so it's harder to bring them back. You have to be careful and heal them just so. He's in the first stage, near death. He's breathing, but barely. His pulse is incredibly slow and faint. He's lost almost all of his body heat. But he's alive.”
“I'm definitely not dealing with him then,” he stated.
“Adrian,” she pleaded. “You owe me.”
“I don't owe you nearly this much.” He shook his head. “He's got to get out of my bed. Either take him with you or take him to a healer.”
“I can't,” she bit out.
“Why not?” he demanded. “He's definitely not more likely to heal up here than there.”
He was though. She had read enough on necromancers in an incredibly credible library to keep him alive long enough that his body's natural healing would kick in and take him out of dead shock. Healers would keep trying to wake him up, would keep poking and prodding at him. Necromancers were such a secretive, private race. They normally lived in large communes, far away from large cities or in large communities when in big cities. They so rarely allowed non-necromancers to work on them, that most healers would have no idea what dead shock was. Most healers had no idea what to do with a necromancer when they did get one. Nine times out of ten, necromancers died on the healers table.
Her conscience couldn't take him being one of them.
No, he had to stay with her so that she could nurse him back to the living. She owed it to him. She owed it to Ribbon.
What do I need, what do I need? Amadhay thought to herself, rummaging through her closet for bags. She needed to pack. She was going on the mission with Benjy and Christein whether they wanted her to or not. They couldn’t stop her. No one could stop her. She was going. She couldn’t imagine spending Goddess only knew how long without either of them. Without them to ground her, she couldn’t imagine that she would stay sane.
Amadhay paused as she pushed clothes to either side, staring into her closet. Sitting there, on the floor, were the five bags she had refused to open. They were still fully packed and she had no illusions that they were missing anything she would need. The note had said that it was everything she had left with the Palnoki, down to her last hair pin. It would undoubtedly be everything she’d need for this extended mission. Maybe a bit more shampoo and other toiletries, she thought, but besides those, she would be good.
It would have clothes, weapons, books, even jewelry. She doubted they would have kept anything of hers, even if Atlas was still bothering her. She was willing to bet that it had been Atlas who had packed it all up and sent it to her, considering the others probably wanted to destroy every last memory of her after what she’d done to Ribbon.
If she took those bags, she wouldn’t have to waste time packing. There was no question in her mind that if she had to pack for herself, she would be there until nearly 8. These bags were packed, though. She could just grab them and get back to Adrian’s room. She could tend to Tenshu until she had to go.
That decided it for her. And with that decided, she was able to focus on the next most important thing, actually calling in and getting her spot on the ship. It took her a moment, given all the excitement that she’d had in the past few zoots or so to remember the website that the human on the train had shown her. It was easy enough from there to find the DS number for the contact about joining the mission. It was still listed, even though the site made it obvious that they weren’t interested in any more applicants.
So she called the number and, on the third ring, got the messaging system of “Rain Kit, coordinating director of the human led colonizing mission beyond Corindra.”
She had no doubt that she had purposely been sent to messaging, but that didn’t stop her from leaving a message. She had no doubt that he, just like everyone else, had a flagger in his messaging system to locate messages with important names. “Hello. I’m the Grand Mage’s,” she stumbled on the next word, but quickly regained her calm, “consort. I was told to contact you for immediate accommodations. I have an interest in this exploration and would like to join. I’d hate not to be allowed to come, after my love put so much interest into this project.” She wasn’t sure that Lizumeizei had put any credits forth on the mission, but she would bet that he had. He had his fingers in everything. “So if you have any room for me, please respond to this message.”
After a few clacks, she was worried that her request was going to be ignored. They had every right, given it was so last click and she had no real skills, or at least had spoken of no real skills, to put to service. At six clacks, however, she received a text message from Lizumeizei.
You’re in. Rain Kit will call within a clack to give you the basics of what you will need. They’re giving you a ‘friend’ for the duration of the trip to keep you out of their way. I chose a female for you, given you hardly need any more men to preoccupy you. I won’t ask why you’re going on this trip, but I will assume it has to do with the two ghost passengers. Be safe and call me daily. It’s your duty as my consort now. Don’t make me look bad.
Amadhay grinned. That was one less thing to worry about.
She had to stabilize him. That was all that she knew. His bleeding seemed to have stopped, but he was also becoming stiff enough that she was having trouble carrying him upright. That was the first sign of death shock. If she could stabilize him before it fully hit, she could save him. She had to save him.
Amadhay had Tenshu partially propped up by her body, using all of her strength to keep him on his feet and moving. The necromancer was no longer conscious. She wasn’t even sure that he was alive. She had saved him from Christein, but she had no idea how close he was to death. She wasn’t a healer. She needed a healer.
But she couldn’t take him to Rea. After the Palnoki had invaded the Phoegani, Rea had memorized the faces and known abilities of every Palnoki member. If Amadhay took him to the dragon, the woman would immediately recognize him and give him up to Arne Riff. Besides, Amadhay wasn’t even sure that Rea knew what to do with a dying necromancer.
So no, she had to figure this out on her own. Looking around, she recognized that in her fearful state, she had gone to the Phoegani base. She was in Prisoner Securer dormitory area. In fact, she was right outside Adrian Thyme’s room. The falcon aelfe had been one of the few Phoegani members who felt only mildly threatened by her, and then only on her bad days, and one of the even fewer who still trusted her completely. She had only been friends with him since returning to the Phoegani, but the friendship was worthwhile for her. For him too, considering she had been the one to introduce him to Essebelle and the two were now promised.
He also owed her a major favor for covering for him with Christein when he had lost an oversized Arachin her cousin had brought in. She thought it over for a moment. She needed to lay Tenshu down so that she could figure out what to do with him. All Phoegani beds came equipped with the technology to calm the person lying in them as well as restraints in case he wasn’t quite into death shock and suddenly woke up. Restraints would keep him from hurting her, her from having to hurt him, and help keep him in place as she checked him over.
But Adrian’s bed? She wasn’t sure she knew the man well enough to trust him not to rat her out. But then again, what choice did she have? Rea would report him immediately, Essie’s room was completely on the other side of the building, both Christein and Benjy would probably try to finish the job if they saw him in this vulnerable of a position. She didn’t have a room here anymore. And taking him to her place was completely off the table. It had been long enough for Benjy to get back to his place, and once the two realized that she wasn’t showing up there, they’d look for her. That would be the first place Christein was going to look for her. She didn’t want him to know that she had saved someone he had tried very hard to kill.
So she knocked on Adrian’s door.
Once Christein was gone, Amadhay glanced behind her, where her sister, Croy-li, and the little girl were. They were busy focusing on each other and hadn’t so much as glanced her way, which was precisely how she wanted it to stay.
She had no idea what had happened. All she remembered was being angry that Amaya could just be out and about, could obviously be herself and not have to hide, and then she had attacked her sister. Not only had she attacked her sister, but then she’d attempted to hurt her more, despite her personal vow never to harm Amaya again. And then she had almost really hurt that little girl, who had nothing to do with any of this. If it hadn’t been for Croy-li and her horrific doll, she honestly could have killed that child. And all because she had called her mean and kicked her.
She had a temper, but her temper wasn’t that bad.
If it hadn’t been for Amaya, or whatever had taken over Amaya, tackling her, she would have killed Croy-li. That she wouldn’t have felt as bad about, given their history, but it would definitely have caused real trouble. She didn’t even remember what not-Amaya had said to her, but she knew that it had calmed her down enough that the red film had disappeared from her vision and the dark whispers in the back of her head had silenced. And then she was sitting there, forehead to forehead with her sister, staring into her ocean blue eyes, confused and hurting. The last words not-Amaya had said before crumbling had been, “Save him.”
Save him? Save who? It hadn’t been that hard to figure out who, though. She had scanned the area for Christein and Benjy. While Benjy was absent, she could make an easy assumption that he was trying to cleanse the security footage of their presence. Christein was standing in the water of the ruined fountain, staring at her in a strange mixture of fear and confusion. But beyond that, beyond his emotions towards her, she could see exuberance, accomplishment, and a kind of malicious glee. It was that that made her stomach fall. He had hurt someone. He had hurt someone that she needed to save. She knew it had to be the person that not-Amaya wanted her to save. It had to be.
And when her eyes went from Christein, to follow a groan she couldn’t possibly have heard across the fountain but she had, she saw Tenshu.
She knew it was Tenshu, even if his face was planted on the seat of the fountain, keeping him above the water. His auburn hair was only his. She had never seen hair that color, that long and that silken smooth except on him. And once she had been able to discern that it was him, that he was alive, she knew that she had to get Christein away from him before she could help him. She knew that Christein’s hatred of Tenshu ran hot and that he would kill him as soon as look at him, and with Tenshu in that state, it was incredibly likely that the necromancer would die.
So she had shooed Christein away. He had to have been confused if he had gone along with her story, considering she had absolutely no computer abilities. She would be about as much help to Benjy as Christein, less, in fact. The only thing she had going for her was her size. And given her strange actions previous, it was protocol to remove her from the situation, yet here she was.
And there he was.
She rushed to Tenshu’s side almost as soon as Christein had left. She had waited a few clicks, just in case he was doing his normal disappear, reappear invisible thing. When she didn’t smell him, she went to Tenshu. Tenshu groaned softly, his skin paling further by the click and he was bleeding from his head. Don’t heal a head wound, she reminded herself, pulling him further out of the water. He helped her as much as he could, which was very little. She could tell he was weak by the way he only barely opened his eyes to look at her. His pupils were pinpricks and his breathing was shallow and getting slower.
“C’mon Ten. Don’t you dare die on me,” she whispered, using the stability of the seat and Tenshu’s own weight to help her lift him up. Once she had him upright, he wrapped his own arms around her shoulders. She thought he was trying to say something, but she couldn’t understand it, so she ignored his murmurings.
“What are you doing to him!” she heard someone cry out as she tried to walk with him away from the fountain.
“One of them is over here!” another voice cried out, alerting Amadhay to the arrival of the Local Force. For the briefest click, she considered leaving Tenshu, but she didn’t.
“Don’t let go of me,” she warned Tenshu. Then she teleported the two of them away.
Christein was scoping out the crowds again. He knew it wasn't necessary. Those that knew his face wouldn't be interested in what he was doing—unless they saw Amadhay, of course, which he was pretty good at avoiding. And then those that would be interested in what he was doing wouldn't know his face. That was the great thing about invisibility.
When he got back to the table, both Amadhay and Ben were absent. It didn't take too much thought to recognize that they were probably together. Even though it irritated him that the girl would ditch him, even for a short while (which he knew it had to be considering she hadn't said anything to him and she wouldn't leave without saying something to him), with Ben, he recognized that it only made sense to let her have her time with the phantom as well. He knew that she had a strange kind of relationship with the man, even if she refused to admit it beyond that short time when Ben had been truly dead, that verged on a possibly romantic relationship. It was only fair that she spend time with him before the two of them went off for Goddess only knew how long. Especially since, even if he died on the mission, it would take a necromancer out in space to keep Ben from coming back to her, which pissed him off.
He wasn't the only one she would miss and he needed to come to terms with that. Especially since he was denying himself any untoward feelings for his little cousin.
So with the two of them out of the picture, Christein didn't much feel like sitting around and eating by himself. He had only wanted to get food to be sure that Amadhay ate something. So instead, he crowd-gazed, checking out the different people milling around the shopping center. There were groups of blunderlusters in abundance, especially ones wearing brightly colored clothes and talking louder than anyone had any right to do in such a crowded, public place. They were joking around, playing with each other, running back and forth and disturbing the peace, but in such a way that most of the older patrons simply smiled benignly after them.
He'd never been able to have that sort of freedom. He'd only had a few friends when he had been their age, and the sorts of friends he'd had wouldn't have been going out in public and playing around. They had, almost expressly stayed in caves, learning of the Old Ways and making plans against his father. Those had been his blunderlust years. He hadn't been like Hynnkel, who'd had a friend almost from the moment he had been born to wander around with and make idiotic mistakes that would just be excused as blunderlust. He'd been held to a different standard from birth.
Just thinking about that made him angry. Angry with his brother, his father, the happy teenagers, even Amadhay, whose freedom was always so distracting to him at the worst of times.
His eyes caught sight of a familiar pair of teenagers. There was Amaya, Amadhay's nearly identical sister, and her closest friend, the Prince Croy-li du Kay. The two were on either side of a young, dark-skinned girl with thick hair in matted coils. Neither of them had noticed him yet, which he counted as a blessing. The last thing he wanted was to gain the attention of the girl who could make this relatively relaxed and enjoyable trip into a horrible nightmare. The last time he had seen his younger cousin, she had shot him. He didn't really want to see what she would do this time.
Casually, he stood up from the table, leaving his bags. He sneaked easily to the corner of a food stand, slouching so that he would blend in with the shorter people of the crowd around him. He kept a close eye on Amaya, determined to get far enough way that she wouldn't spot him.
“So, the bathroom's over there,” his cousin told the little girl in a much too loud voice, pointing to the same bathrooms Amadhay had gone to. He should warn her. “Do you need me to go with you?”
The little girl gave Amaya a look to tell her that the suggestion had been unwarranted. “No, Lady May. I can go to the bathroom alone. I promise.” She hugged a small, rather ugly doll to her chest before smiling a wide smile at the teenagers and dashing off to the bathroom.
Amaya rolled her eyes and glanced at Croy-li. “Don't give me that look. I know Ten told me to go with her, but I didn't feel it was necessary, okay?”
Croy-li rolled his eyes right back at the girl. “Just know it's your funeral.”
“Oh come off it, what could happen to her in a bathroom?”
“She could fall in?” the dark-skinned teenager jokingly suggested before rolling his neck and running a hand through his dyed-teal hair. “How long do you think it'll take Tenshu to get her a present?”
“Forever and a day,” Amaya replied. “You know he's probably going through every toy store here to find something perfect for her. Or a bunch of things perfect for her.”
Tenshu. Tenshu Tanhakinshu was here, in this mall. Christein smirked and, with a certain feeling of predestined inevitability, he pulled the slip of dark fabric, his mask, from his back pocket and pressed it to his face, feeling the familiar magic form to his face and conceal his identity. This would be an excellent time to get a little revenge on the necromancer. He and his partner had been a giant pain in his butt for the past year. Between killing Ben, kidnapping Amadhay, beating him unconscious, threatening the three of them, and just being nuisances in general, he wanted to give Tanhakinshu a taste of his own medicine. A time when he wasn't with his partner seemed like the best chance he was going to get. And he knew that the necromancer's vampire partner wasn't around, because Melani had just reported last spotting him Over the Water yesterday, during his debrief on her mission there.
He looked up to the second level of the mall, where the toy stores were all located. If the necromancer was attempting to buy a toy for the little girl, then he was sure to be up there. With ease, Christein fell into his invisibility Gift, knowing that even with his mask, that his irregular height and tell-tale limp would give him away long before he could find the other man otherwise. He walked right past his little cousin, who continued talking to the prince as though she had no worries in the world. Deftly avoiding running into other people, Christein limped up the stairs to the second level and searched for a head covered in auburn hair. Auburn wasn't a common natural hair color for Roadesian natives, and considering the hair trends seemed to be bright, unnatural colors, he felt pretty sure that he'd be able to find the necromancers by his hair.
The first three toy stores were a bust. There was no trace of the man, not even a hint of his necromantic abilities to indicate he'd been there in the past ten clacks. Christein had almost resigned himself to using a tracing spell when he caught a glimpse of long, straight, auburn hair turning a corner. Forcing himself through a group of aelfe around Amadhay's age and making them look around, spooked and yet excited, he quickly followed the hair around the corner.
And there he was. Tenshu Tanhakinshu stood at the window of a toy store, eyeing the display with a strange intensity. He had his arms crossed over his narrow chest and his hip cocked the way Amadhay did when she was in thought. His narrowed eyes were focused on a set of porcelain dolls, a variety set of different ethnicities. One, Christein noted as he sneaked closer to the man, taking care not to let him know he was there, looked surprisingly like the necromancer, with long auburn hair in a ponytail, green eyes, and olive skin. It even wore a necromancer's seal on its black dress. Tenshu nodded to himself just as Christein made it close enough to touch him.
“Definitely that one,” the man muttered to himself just as his DS went off. He answered it. “If you're calling to tell me you lost Semi, I will kick your ass,” were his first words to the other person, but they were drowned out by screams. Tenshu jerked to a straight-backed position, listening carefully. “Cole, slow down. I can't hear you. Where are you?” he called loudly into the DS, turning from the shop and straight into Christein.
Christein turned visible as Tenshu was knocked back to the floor by his own force. The smaller man looked up at him in horror as Christein smirked cruelly. “You have something of your own to worry about,” he taunted.
Tenshu looked around, assessing the situation for a moment, before moving forward into a crouch. “Really, Christein? You honestly think you can take me on your own?” he scoffed, making Christein angrier.
The taller man clenched his fists, ready to attack him, but the necromancer was faster. With an incredible ease, Tenshu swept his hand up, as if swatting at Christein and though the gesture didn't touch Christein, the blast of black magic did. It slapped Christein away and into the railing of the banister separating the second level from the air above the first level. Christein hit with a sickening sound, telling him that something had probably broken. He gave a soft groan, pushing himself up on his elbows and watched as
the necromancer got to his feet.
“I'm here, I'm coming. I'll be down in a click,” the necromancer assured the person on his DS. “What? She what? Shit.” Tenshu didn't notice Christein standing and following him as he picked his way through the crowds. People were moving in masses in the same direction as him, pushing against him. “Don't let her move or the spell will increase, do you hear me, Cole? If you let her move, it will get worse.”
Christein was gaining on Tenshu, his appearance making it easier for him to intimidate those around him into moving and less likely to push back against him when he shoved them out of his way. His ribs hurt, and that was a major motivator to getting him after the other man. He wanted reparations for all the pain the necromancer had put not only him, but Ben and Amadhay through in the past year. He hadn't been able to do anything for her while she was with the Palnoki, especially since every time he'd come close, the damned necromancer had shown up and nearly killed him. But now? Now he could certainly get some sort of payback when someone needed him and he wouldn't be able to help because he was too weak.
He caught up with Tenshu at the bottom of the stairs. The necromancer seemed to know he was there, because the man turned at the last click, but it was still too late, because Christein grasped him by the throat and slammed him down, onto the stairs. He put too much force into it, and it knocked the breath right out of the necromancer, slamming his head against the corner of a step. Tenshu winced, the reality of the attack hitting him slowly. He clawed at Christein's hand, trying to get enough breath into his lungs to speak.
The aelfe clenched his hand even tighter, a sneer taking to his face as the necromancer began to turn a shade of blue to tell him that the asphyxiation was taking a very real toll in his body.
“Le...t go,” Tenshu managed in a whistling whisper, weakly snapping his fingers.
At the snap of his fingers, Christein felt a jolt, almost like lightning running through his veins and jumped back, letting go of Tenshu. The younger man gulped in air, gently touching his throat as the aftereffects of his curse rushed through Christein's body. The aelfe trembled for a few clicks, giving the necromancer time to refocus, grabbing for his DS.
“Cole, is she still alright? Croy-li?” Tenshu made it to his feet just as Christein recovered from the curse. Both of them heard a harsh, angry cry that sounded alarmingly similar to Amadhay’s voice. Tenshu wavered on his feet as he tried to run in that direction, pushing himself against the stair’s railing and stumbling awkwardly. All Christein could assume was that the necromancer was having a hard time getting himself back to normal after nearly being strangled.
Although he kept his ears attuned to Amadhay’s voice, Christein kept his focus on the necromancer. He refused to let the man go, even if it meant not helping Amadhay. Making sure that he could never touch her again was far more important than checking on her when she had Ben to keep her safe if she needed it. He doubted she needed any help. Truth be told, he had very little doubt that the necromancer was in fact, trying to save someone from her.
With that in mind, the aelfe focused inwardly, keeping his eyes tracking Tenshu, who was closing the distance between the stairs and the oversized fountain that separated the shopping area from the food court. He only had one chance to do this, one chance to catch the necromancer with enough magic to incapacitate him long enough for Christein to catch up and dole out the last, painful, blows. The necromancer was far superior with magic, but Christein had quite a bit more brute force and that roughness to his power was what was going to help take him down.
Christein could feel his magic gathering in his hands, could see the darkening of his skin from dark olive to brown as he lifted them and aimed at Tenshu, muttering the incantation as quickly as he could. The necromancer made it to the fountain just in time for Christein to easily plant a target right on his back. “Boom,” the chameleon aelfe said, using his trigger word to shoot dark brown from his hands and into the other man’s back, hitting him hard enough to knock the younger man into the fountain headfirst. It immobilized him as Christein limped as quickly as he could to get to him. Mentally, he counted the clicks as they passed, knowing that he had thirteen before the spell faded away. 4…5…6…7…8
One brave little man tried to stand between him and his prey. Christein didn’t even give him more than a quick look, his eyes flashing red to tell the man that he had no chance. It didn’t stop the man from attempting to tackle Christein away. His tail lashed forward and smacked the man away faster than he could take another step, making Christein smirk. 11…12…13.
He wasn’t quite to the necromancer when his curse ended, but he was close enough that Tenshu was only able to push out of the water and hack out several coughs, trying to get the water out of his lungs, before Christein landed a blow to the back of his head in time with a loud explosion from the other side of the fountain. Tenshu drooped forward in the water, barely keeping his nose and mouth above the water while Christein paused, considering leaving him here and checking on the other side, but a loud, strange laugh that was definitely Amadhay’s confirmed that all was fine. Instead, he focused him attention back on Tenshu, who had managed to lift his upper body and turn so he wasn’t lying face-first in the water.
His auburn hair floated in the water beneath him as he took in labored breaths, trying to focus his eyes on Christein. The lazy focus of Tenshu’s eyes told Christein that the necromancer was only barely holding on to consciousness. He punched him again, and was unpleasantly surprised when the necromancer tried to shock him again. Luckily, the power behind the attack was waning and it only felt like a minor shock, not the full intravenous lightning he had dealt with before. Unluckily for Tenshu, it only served to make Christein angrier. Grabbing the front of the necromancer’s shirt, he lifted him into the air and slammed him into the statue of an ancient Ora ruler, hard enough to put cracks into the rock. Now, instead of just spewing from the statue’s palms, water was dribbling from the cracks and there was red staining the light color. Red that had to be Tenshu’s blood.
Christein grinned savagely. “Looks like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place,” he taunted the necromancer, who seemed to be having a hard time keeping his eyes open. “Here, let me help you with that.” He tossed Tenshu back into the water and watched with a strange glee as the man struggled to sit up above the water. He was failing. His head kept falling under the water and the abject terror in his green eyes only served to make Christein more excited. He limped through the water, toward him, only to be stopped by a body flying into his path, through the statue.
The contained pandemonium broke out all around him and now that his focus was off of Tenshu, he could see that everything was quite a bit more problematic than he had thought. People were running around, screaming and hiding. A few bystanders even seemed to be injured, though he was almost positive it wasn’t from his battle with Tenshu. The statue was completely destroyed, there were abandoned bags and food everywhere.
The body that had been thrown through the statue was Ben. And on the other side of the water spout that had once been a statue, were both of his little cousins, the Prince du Kay, and the little girl. The little girl lay at the edge of the fountain, obviously unconscious, with Amaya next to her, struggling to stand in front of her. Amadhay was standing with her back to him, facing off against du Kay, a strange red and black speckled aura coating her and thankfully hiding her physical attributes from any onlookers that had yet to already flee. He could hear the sirens of the Local Force coming closer.
He glanced at Tenshu one last time, before realizing that getting a few more hits in to an already dead man wasn’t worth the chance of being caught by the Local Force. “Ghost Sparrow,” he snapped at Ben, who was slowly getting to his feet. Ben snapped his attention to him. “Erase evidence of us,” he ordered the phantom, who immediately looked ready to argue, his eyes on Amadhay.
“I will get Red Robin,” he said through gritted teeth, already making his way around the spout and toward her. He didn’t look back to Ben, simply expecting him to do as he ordered. While he didn’t have any higher ranking than Ben, he was supposed to be the leader of their upcoming mission, which he used to give him leverage this once.
“Red Robin,” he called, trying to get her attention away from the Prince, who looked as if he wanted nothing more than to get to Amaya and the little girl, not fight Amadhay more.
Her code name did nothing to get her attention. She cackled as she tossed a ball of strangely colored power at du Kay, who held up a small, opaque, shield, which bounced the ball right back at her. She absorbed it without a flinch. “Red Robin!” he tried again, louder this time.
She still didn’t look at him, though du Kay did. That click of inattention to her was apparently all she needed, because before either of them could blink, she was smashing du Kay’s shield against his own face, bloodying his nose. When he let go of the shield to grab his face, she dropped the shield to the ground and pulled her arm back, letting her power cover her fist.
She’s going to kill him, Christein realized just before she let her fist fly.
Before it could hit, however, Amaya, who no one had been paying attention to, knocked into Amadhay from the side and both sisters fell to the ground. Amadhay reared to attack her, but almost as if an off switch had been flipped, she lost the red glow. Something was whispered between the two sisters, and Amadhay’s eyes went searching, moving away from Amaya, who fell back in a crumpled heap. For a moment, he thought that Amadhay was looking for him, especially when she relaxed at spotting him. But then her eyes moved past him, into the fountain.
Before he could follow her eyes, she was standing in front of him, panting and holding her side as if she were injured. “You should take these and leave. I’ll help Benjy.” She pressed their forgotten bags into his arms. He started to argue that they should both leave, but she interrupted him. “You’re noticeable. You need to leave. I’m fast. Benjy is a phantom. They can’t catch us and we need to not leave a trace, especially not in videos. I wasn’t wearing a mask. So go. I’ll catch up with you.”
There was something in her words that didn’t sit right with him, but he did take the bags from her, noting that she had given him Ben’s bags as well. She was right, in a way. He was noticeable even when invisible. If they caught sight of him, they were in trouble. She, on the other hand, was small and could get in and out easily where he couldn’t. Ben could go completely incorporeal if he needed to, he could even go partially corporeal and still get the information out that they needed.
He nodded. “I’ll wait for you at Ben’s,” he told her, and she nodded. “If anything goes wrong, you call me.”
“I know. Go.”
“You won’t forget to be at the station at eight, right?” Benjy called after the two of them as they were leaving the store. He had taken a bit longer than either of them to gather up his purchases, and Christein had ushered her away, trying to leave the phantom behind. Now she thought she knew why. He hadn’t wanted him to accidentally tell her anything.
Christein shrugged uncomfortably. “Don’t worry, I won’t be late. We won’t miss the ship.”
“We being who, now?” Benjy asked, glancing casually at Amadhay, who gave him a brilliant smile.
“Amadhay’s just helping me pick out clothes. She’s not coming. It’s just you and me.”
Amadhay looked from Benjy to Christein and back, thinking over what the two had just told her. Their mission was at eight and they had to meet at a station to go on some ship. Meaning both of them were leaving her for this mission. Curious that Christein had forgotten to mention that to her. Curious that he had managed to keep putting off telling her anything about the mission, actually. Except that they were leaving tonight. At eight. For some reason, the time seemed important, that they were leaving at eight and not some other time. Why was eight so important? And what station had ships? Didn’t he meant the dock?
Benjy grinned down at Amadhay. “Maybe I should have you pick out my clothes too. How should I dress to pretend to be Christein’s best friend?”
“Like yourself,” she automatically answered, still trying to solve her puzzle. What happened at eight? Why was it important that they leave at eight?
“He’s not my best friend,” Christein snarled.
“It’s either me or Benjy. I’m pretty sure it’s him.”
“Aw, she bumped me up from rival. See how sweet our Mayday is?” Benjy joked, walking with the pair as they left the store. He took the bags Amadhay had been carrying, only to have them snatched from his hands by Christein, who was already overloaded with bags full of clothes.
“She’s not ours,” the aelfe muttered.
“Then whose is she?” the phantom countered.
“Her own,” Amadhay answered loudly to remind the two that she was, indeed, still with them.
“Well of course you’re your own,” Benjy said, not sounding the least bit put out by her statement. “But who else’s are you? You can’t be only your own. How selfish would that be?” he teased.
For some reason, that reminded Amadhay of a recurring fight she’d had with Ribbon, where the woman had claimed that she only cared about herself, that in the fifteen years she’d been alive, that she had never put someone else’s best interests before her own.
“Then I guess I’m yours,” she said before thinking the statement through. She looked at her cousin, who was glowering. “Both of yours.” Ben’s face dropped for a moment when she said that, but he kept grinning.
“So, how about food?” Christein suggested, giving Benjy a dark look to imply that he wasn’t invited.
“Eh,” Amadhay shrugged. “I’m not really hungry.”
“You haven’t eaten and you were feeling faint earlier,” her cousin reminded her, turning his attention back to her.
She tried to shrug it off again, being Benjy joined in. “You were feeling faint?”
“I was just feeling a little odd,” she corrected. “It could have been anything.”
“But you haven’t eaten, and I’m hungry, so let’s get food.”
“Yeah,” Benjy jumped in, “Let’s get food. The food court is pretty amazing. It should even have something for the picky eater,” he gave a glance Christein’s way. “And it’s close, so we can eat immediately.”
Amadhay sighed, but knowing that the decision had already been made, allowed her favorite males to lead her to the food court. It was weird, she thought, how both of them were being so attentive. Benjy hadn’t bothered with her in a few weeks. Christein had actively been ignoring her until the previous night. Now, when they were leaving at eight, they were being more attentive, more understanding and both of them kept touching her. Benjy had his hand at the small of her back while Christein had an arm swung over her shoulder, all the bags weighing both of them down. They had her walking slower than her normal gait and she found that she was incredibly suspicious.
They were hiding something from her, and she was pretty sure it had to do with the mission. They were lavishing her with attention, which was odd purely because the two of them weren’t fighting or trying to steal her away. They were being decent to each other, which was a rarity. It was as if they were being extra careful to make her happy.
If it had just been Christein, she would have understood it. He felt guilty about what had happened the previous night. She had assumed he was trying to make up for what he saw as a lapse in reason, a failure to her. In fact, if it had just been Ben, she wouldn’t have been suspicious. He had been avoiding her for some reason, and when he did that, even with good reason, he always paid her twice the amount of attention he normally gave her to make up for it. But both of them? On the same day?
It had to have something to do with the mission. The mission both of them were going on at eight, where they would meet at a station for a ship.
The realization smacked her just as they made it to the food court.
“What do you want?” Benjy asked her.
They weren’t just going Over the Water. They were going into space. Christein was the spoiled aelfen lord and Benjy was the accompanying friend. Christein needed clothes more befitting of his title because he was supposed to be pretending that he was some empty headed aelfen lord. Benjy had asked about dressing as his friend because that was his role. They were leaving her for an interplanetary mission. They would be gone far longer than a few days or weeks. If she was lucky, they’d be back in 10 months.
And they hadn’t planned on telling her.
“Amadhay?” Christein interrupted her thoughts. “What do you want to eat?”
She gave him a false smile. “I dunno. Surprise me,” she said before tugging at her curls. She had yet to put the needles back in her hair, having chosen to just stick them into the knife sheath in her sleeves.”I should go fix my hair,” she added, veering away from the men, who were heading towards food.
“Okay,” Benjy smiled at her. “We’ll be at that table,” he gestured to one in the center of the food court, partially hidden by an oversized plant. She nodded at the two, who headed to the table to set their bags down. Before she could head off, however, she saw something in Ben’s bag that caught her attention. There was a sword hanging out of his bag. A sword that was calling out to her. She paused, checking to see that both Christein and Benjy were watching her, before smiling and heading to the bathroom.
Once in the room, she pressed gently against the door, thinking the enchanted words to lock it from the inside and keep others out. She needed to get her thoughts together and there was no better place to do that than in the solitude of the bathroom.
Christein and Benjy were both going on a mission of interplanetary colonization. She didn’t know why they were going, how long they would be gone, or even for a fact that they would be back. Going off-planet wasn’t like going offshore. A ship in the water could sink and drown them or be hit by pirates, but it was highly unlikely if it were a mass passenger ship. A ship in space had many more problems. It was like a submarine. It had to keep oxygen flowing through the giant hunk of metal, not crash into anything else in space, try not to crash land, then on top of that, if they were to land on a planet, there was a high likeliness that the natives would be hostile and a low likeliness that they would be breathing the correct air. Even before getting into space, they had to get out of Resor’s atmosphere and, even with all the innovations towards space craft in the past century or so, over half of the space ships deployed burned to a crisp before even leaving the planet’s atmosphere. Those were all possibilities for her friends.
Then, on top of that, there were no friendly faces. On a ship full of humans and animal-kind, tension would run high quickly and almost immediately, the tables would turn from Roadesian society to a new, space society, where humans were the top of the social ladder. If that happened, they might just choose to kill off Christein and toss Benjy into space. She couldn’t stand that. They needed her with them. The mass hive mind tended to bend a bit more, be more willing to take direction from a woman, especially one in power.
She called Lizumeizei.
“What’s up, luv?” he answered immediately, a tiny image of him appearing above her wrist DS.
“I need you to get me in somewhere.”
He tilted his pretty head. “Where?” he asked.
“I need you not to ask questions, just do it. You have pull where I don’t.” She shoved herself up to sit on the countertop of the sink. His worried face turned to the blank slate he used for business.
“Are you asking me to use my sway to get you somewhere you don’t belong?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered honestly. “It will be dangerous and I need it done immediately.”
“Is it for Lord Phoeganis?” he asked, a certain bite in his voice telling her that he wouldn’t help her if it were.
“No,” she said, trying to keep eye contact with his image so that he knew she was being honest. “It’s personal.”
He sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Since you seem to want to keep me in the dark, you’ll have to do it on your own. Just tell whomever is in charge that you’re either the Grand Mage or Qwuill Master’s consort and need immediate accommodations. They’ll see to it that you are treated as I would be, which will probably be more extravagantly than you would like. Suck it up and make sure to present yourself with grace. If I’m tying you to my public name, I’m going to need you to behave with decorum and not sully it.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m not going to tell people that I’m your whore, Lizumeizei.”
“You aren’t,” he said seriously. “You’re telling them that you are my second, and my intended knot. That’s what consort means here.”
“That’s not what it means here,” she argued. “I’d prefer to use the term promised.”
“Since you aren’t that just yet, you shouldn’t. I can assure you that they will understand what you mean. If that’s all?”
She paused for a moment, surprised that he was not only giving in as easily as he had, but that he was now dismissing her. They had barely talked since she’d dealt with the white witch and stone mage for him. In fact, she was feeling like she needed to say more to him, to assure him that she wasn’t just using him. He needed to know that.
“Lizumeizei,” she said before he could disconnect. He paused, looking to her exasperatedly. She changed from apologetic and assuring to worried in a click. “What’s wrong?” she asked softly, frowning at his image.
He rubbed his face. “I’m just dealing with a lot right now. It’s probably best if you don’t come around for a bit.”
“Is it the Huron clan?” she demanded, clenching her fists. She may not have much time, considering she had to ditch Christein and Ben, make arrangements to become part of the colonization, pack up her bags, and get there all before eight that night, when it was already two in the afternoon. But she could make time to strike some fear into their little hearts. She was already deciding where she’d hide Mother Sari’s baby boy to remind them once and for all that she could hit them where it hurt. No one was allowed to bother her Lizumeizei. No one.
“I can deal with it on my own,” he snapped. “The last thing I need is for you to mess things up any more than you already have.”
She stared at him for a long moment. He didn’t apologize. “Uh. Okay,” she said, reining in her temper.
Lizumeizei was dealing with pressure that she didn’t understand. She knew that. As the Qwuill Master, he was possibly the most powerful Qwuill for hire in all of Roadesia. His information system was astounding and he was wanted for hire as an informant or mercenary mage by all manner of powerful, important people. As the Grand Mage, he dealt with a whole different set of duties, being recognized as the most skilled mage in all of Roadesia. He was under scrutiny as the Qwuill Master, under threats as the head of the Silver Guild, the second most powerful wizarding guild in the world, regularly under threat of a coup as the Grand Mage on the Roadesian Army’s panel, and as her paramour, under a different type of stress. He needed some time to himself to figure everything out, to balance it out, and she had been taking up a lot of his free time, she realized.
Her going away would be good for him as well.
She nodded. “Alright then. That’s all I needed.”
“Good.” When she started to reach to disconnect, Lizumeizei stopped her by saying her name.
“Hmm?” she asked, trying for an air of calm and reserve she wasn’t feeling.
“Stay safe.” She smiled at him, ready to tell him to do the same, but then he added, “I love you.”
He hung up before she could respond. And then, before she could call him back, there was a soft knocking on the door.
“Amadhay, are you alright in there?” came Ben’s soft voice.
“Yeah, I’m coming right out,” she assured him, using her Gift to put the needles back into her hair. It hurt, it hurt much more than it ever had for her before. Even with exhaustion and being around Arne Riff, it had never seared at her skin to use her Gift before. She swallowed it down and patted gently at her hair. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do since she didn’t have time to do any more without either man becoming suspicious. It was then that she realized she hadn’t put her ever-present mirror spell on herself that morning.
He’s controlling it. She suddenly decided, trying to remember if she’d used her Gift or teleported at all that day. She hadn’t until just now, she was positive of it. That meant she could have been under Atlas’ influence all day. She had known there were too many coincidences. Stalia on the train, Christein needing clothes, meeting up with Ben, the outfit being perfectly Christein’s size. What was he planning? He had to be planning something, something to do with her and the mission. If she hadn’t already been decided, then that realization would have made her completely certain that she was going with them.
The two of them needed protection from Atlas Palnoki.
Amadhay wasn’t sure if Christein knew that she’d noticed him paying for the clothes with a black credit card. She had, and considering she knew his resources were limited, (being only what Arne Riff deigned to give him for successful missions, which was far, far less than he deserved and less than even a quarter of what other Phoegani agents received for much smaller jobs than he regularly did,) it wasn’t his. That meant that it was a Phoegani credit card, which meant that he was spending Phoegani money. And that told her that he had been given a clothes budget.
She knew exactly how many shirts and pants he had in his closet. She had counted several times when she was bored and waiting on him. He had sixteen white button up shirts, thirteen black ones, two formal shirts of the Hakinato teal, four black pants, two dark jeans, and one pair of pinstriped pants that were shades of gold and silver for court. Putting his court clothes aside, that left twenty-nine shirts and six pairs of pants. She had personally ruined one white shirt, two if she counted her lipstick on the one he was wearing. The last few missions had taken out one of his worn black pants, and at most five other shirts had been torn from missions. He wasn’t nearly out of clothes, so she had known from the moment he said he was, that he had been lying to her. She just hadn’t cared, assuming that he was trying to butter her up for some reason by allowing her to pick out clothes.
She hadn’t expected him to buy all of them. She had honestly only expected to be able to get him two outfits and then buy the one at the other store herself and force him to take the gift. Unlike him, she had an inheritance from her dead parents, as well as the basic living sum Arne Riff gave her (because she was his ward but living outside of the homestead), the nice amount Anne and Nolando sent her bi-weekly (which was the real reason Arne Riff was giving her money to live outside the homestead, so not to be shown up by them even though no one would have known but the four of them), plus her Phoegani pay (which, while also not as much as other agents received, was still nothing to stick up her nose at). So she was hardly hurting for money. But then, he’d bought all of it. It had come to nearly 2,300 credits, but he had bought it. He hadn’t even flinched or seemed like it was physically hurting him to spend money like he normally did.
And that told her that his character for this mission was important. He was being ‘modern’ for the mission, not because he wanted to. What was bothering her, however, was how many clothes he was buying. He had said that he needed ten outfits, which meant that he was buying enough for months, not just a week or so. How long was this mission going to take? Surely if it was going to be long, he would have told her…right?
He flashed her a grin as they waited for the sales clerks to neatly fold and bag all of his clothes. “Thanks, Mayday. I wasn’t sure what to get,” he told her.
She smiled back up at him. “We aren’t nearly done, you realize that right?”
He gave her an amused look of surprise. “Oh really, and where else do you want to go?”
“It’ll be a surprise,” she told him, knowing that his retainer for this mission must have been ridiculously large if he wasn’t reminding her that credits didn’t just appear out of nowhere. She couldn’t imagine why Arne Riff would have approved a budget as large as Christein’s seemed to be. Why would it be so important that Christein look like an average twenty-something aelfe?
“I’m not sure I trust your surprises,” he told her warily. “I’m not wearing anything tight or glittery.”
She giggled. “Oh drat, you found me out,” she teased. “I was going to dress you in a skin tight, glittery one piece.”
“Glad I caught you before we got there,” he replied, grabbing up the bags on the counter. There were five of them, all very full.
“Silly Monkey,” she said, rolling her eyes. “C’mon now. You’ll like this one.”
“Oh, I will, will I?” he asked, following her as she led him out of the store.
“You will,” she grinned back up at him. “It is entirely up your alley. I saw something when I came here with Lando and Anne,” she noticed the way he became slightly tense at the mention of his brother and sister-by-Binding and wondered what the two had said to him. “And it just screamed out your name. I wanted to get it for you then, but…”
“You didn’t want to deal with the two of them,” he muttered bitterly.
“Nah, I just didn’t know your measurement,” she countered, even though it was a lie. She’d memorized his measurements shortly after she had started being able to buy him presents with her own money. She could recite them in her sleep, but he didn’t have to know that.
“Right,” he said, sounding unconvinced.
She smiled up at him. “C’mon,” she said, choosing not to continue with the conversation, in favor of leading him to one last store. She couldn’t grab his hand and pull him along, since he was loaded down with bags he’d refused to allow her to carry for him. She had a niggling suspicion that he had done that purposely.
He gave her a half smile and trailed behind her. When she glanced back at him again, she noticed that he was having trouble keeping up with her. He did on his best of days, considering her speed and the fact that he had a limp, but his limp seemed more noticeable today, which might have been because he was carrying so many clothes, and thus was weighed down quite a bit. Whatever the reason, she slowed her pace. She tried to do it subtly, but knew that he knew when she slowed down because his half smile turned a bit sharper, the same way it did anytime she tried to do something he thought was pitying.
He walked faster.
She sighed, but didn’t walk any faster, pretending to like the strolling walk she had taken to keep closer to him. “So what else do you need for this mission?” she asked casually.
His step faltered for a moment. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that you’re getting clothes for your missions and got a large clothes budget, so is there anything I missed that you need? Undies? Socks? Ties? Formal wear? Please tell me I can buy you new formal court wear, because those pants are hideous.”
“Those were a gift from my mother,” he argued.
“They’re still uglier than a rabid rat Feral,” she quipped with a shrug.
He rolled his eyes. “I suppose I probably need court wear.”
“Anything else? What’s the temperature going to be on this mission? Should I be getting you some warmer clothes so you don’t freeze your tail off?”
“What you’ve chosen so far is fine,” he answered without answering her question.
She didn’t look at him, trying to stay casual. If she looked curious, he would clam up and she’d never get anything out of him. “So no extremes? I mean seriously, Monkey, if you’re going to need a coat, you should tell me. What about a swimsuit? Or what about sneakwear? Do you have any good sneakwear? I know that Cowboy ripped your old sneaksuit.”
Christein gave a long sigh and she chanced a glance at him out of the corner of her eye. He wasn’t looking at her, instead looking away from her, at the crowds around them as if he were looking for someone. She followed his eyes and surveyed the crowd as well, but didn’t see anything suspicious, so assumed that he was just avoiding eye contact.
“C’mon, gimme something to go on,” she pleaded.
He sighed again. “I suppose I probably need an insulated jacket. It can’t be bulky, but it has to regulate my body temperate no matter how cold it is.”
She paused for a moment, “Why?” she asked.
“No questions. It’s classified.”
Classified against her? She was liking this mission less and less. First he wouldn’t tell her where he was going, then he wouldn’t tell her how long he would be gone, now he wouldn’t even tell her the type of weather he’d be experiencing. She needed to figure it out or else she’d be worried the entire he was gone.
“Okay,” she said, shrugging. Christein looked at her suspiciously and she looked away from him again, but then glanced back as she said, “As long as you come home, it doesn’t matter.”
He might not come home to her.
She took a deep, settling breath and tried to push the tension out. I’m just reading too much into it. He’s probably just been told specifically not to tell me about it. Me pushing him is making it hard on him.
She didn’t believe herself for a moment, but she did stop questioning him. “Here we are!” she said after a few clicks of silence, smiling back at him. The store in question was a specialty store. It specialized in one of a kind leather, formalwear, sneakwear, magic objects, and weapons. It was basically an all-purpose store for assassins, mercenaries, peacekeepers, and hero-complexed do-gooders alike. And right in the front window was the outfit she’d known was meant for Christein three months ago. Good, she thought, no one bought it yet.
She heard Christein’s sigh of relief as they entered Rose’s Toybox. This store apparently had his instant seal of approval, unlike the other one, where he had only grudgingly admitted it was a good store after she’d created a third outfit for him. She had known he would like this place. It smelled of leather and gunpowder, and it oozed danger, suspense, and competence.
So much competence that once they were inside the rust painted doors, they were stopped by the store’s equivalent of a bouncer. “I need you to check your weapons up here,” she said, flashing her fangs. Amadhay just stared at her for a moment, until she recognized her as a blood elf, one that she had seen before. She opened her mouth to say something, but the elf put a single finger to her lips to tell her not to. Glancing at Christein, who was reluctantly handing over his knives, she nodded at the woman and handed her a single knife. It was always better to do as blood elves wanted. Their tempers were legendarily short, especially when they weren’t obeyed.
The elf raised an eyebrow. “All of your weapons,” she told them.
Christein cursed under his breath before reaching under his shirt and removing his twin pistols.
Amadhay eyed her challengingly. “Why?”
“Everyone gives us all weapons,” the elf stated. “We don’t want any bloodshed in here.”
“But doesn’t that only put the magic users in a superior position?” she countered.
“Magic dampeners,” the elf replied, gesturing to the glowing crystals evenly spaced throughout the store. “Any fights in here would have to be hand to claws and we keep those to a minimum.” She gave a sharp smile that told Amadhay she was merely prey to the elf and could be happy that she was meeting her in the store, rather than out on the field. It was a smile meant to intimidate her and it did its job perfectly. “No one fights in here. We don’t care about grudges you bring in. You leave your weapons at the door.”
Amadhay paused for another long moment before removing the second knife from her right arm sheath hidden under her jacket and the pair from her left. She reached into her boot and pulled out the knives from her calf straps and, only after the woman looked pointedly at her hair, removed the needles she had chosen to use as hair pins. Her hair tumbled into her face and the elf offered her a black lace ribbon.
Christein shifted behind her as Amadhay eyed the ribbon for a long moment. “No thanks,” she finally said, giving the elf the kind of smile that showed exactly how much she trusted her and her ribbon. The elf shrugged before gesturing that they could go on.
Once the two of them stepped into the actual store, Amadhay felt her magic go stagnant. The dampeners were good. She glanced up at Christein and took his scowl to mean that he felt it too. It was an impressed scowl, so she knew that mean that the longer he was in the store, the more he found himself liking it. She counted that as a success for her.
“Just about everything in here is awesome, so you can pick out whatever you’d like,” Amadhay told Christein, who laughed at her.
“Why thank you for your permission to pick out my own clothes,” he teased her. His eyes weren’t on her, though. They were trained on a gorgeous red leather, belted jacket. She wanted to see him in it. She wanted to see him in it with the other outfit beneath it.
So first, she had to go and get that gorgeous outfit. She smiled at him, gesturing for him to go on ahead of her. “I have to check on something,” she said in a tone that, if Christein hadn’t been completely enraptured with the jacket, he would have found suspicious. Instead, he just went forward to get a better look at the jacket. She grinned and rushed to an attendant.
“Hey! Yeah, hi,” she exclaimed, getting his attention. He was a relatively short man, maybe about five inches taller than her, which put him at five foot five, and gave her the idea that he was most likely a born-vampire before he even turned to her. When he did turn and she saw the familiar blood cult symbol on his collar, she knew she was right. “I need the outfit in the front window. Can you get that for me?”
The long look he gave her made her incredibly uncomfortable, before he pointedly turned his eyes away from her. It was dominance play and she hated it. She hated vampires.
“I doubt it would fit you even if we rolled it up,” he taunted her, choosing not to even look at her as he spoke, his attention instead going back to polishing a set of blades. “Try the baby vamp store, unless you want to try something…” he licked his lips as he slid his finger over the sharpened edge of one of the blades, leaving a line of blood. His wound closed almost immediately and the blood bubbled on the blade before disappearing, “Specially done for you.”
She narrowed her eyes, knowing exactly what he was doing and hating that she had to deal with this any time she had to bother with vampires. Not only was it incredibly inappropriate for a worker to proposition a customer, but it was an insult to be seen as a lesser being purely because of her appearance. She recognized her height made her seem like an easy target, but she wasn’t. She wouldn’t be in this store if she wasn’t a real deal. She’d seen the blood elf turn away people who were poseurs. Yet here was this dim, bland vampire propositioning her and expecting to get away with it just because she was small and he was a vampire. She regularly dealt with vampires—both dead and alive—that could have eaten him for breakfast.
He had moved on to polishing a sword when she smiled sweetly at him. “I’m not getting it for me,” she said, trying to rein her temper in. If he worked here, she was sure he had some sort of strength. Otherwise, he would be a liability and they didn’t seem the type to hire liabilities. She didn’t really want to have to get violent and chance being thrown out, or worse, get into a fight and broadcast that Red Robin was there. She had a pretty distinctive fighting style when she got into it.
He pointedly looked right over her head. “Unless there’s something you wanted to say to me, I have work to do.” When he set the sword down and made a less than subtle gesture toward his crotch to leave no question about his intentions, she lost her temper.
She gripped his wrist. He gripped her wrist on top of his, flashing a fangy smile. Great, she thought, noting the elongated fangs, not only was he a blood practitioner, but a blood gorger. That explained his cockiness. She rolled her eyes and pushed in closer to him. “I want that outfit from the window in my arms in one clack. Otherwise, I’ll break your ribs too.”
“Too?” he asked right before she kicked his knee backwards, gripped his wrist tighter, and pulled him right over her shoulder, stomping on his shoulder once he was down. She heard the pop of it dislocating and let go.
“Don’t underestimate me just because I’m small. I can kill you faster than you can breathe.”
The born-vampire hissed at her, but got to his feet, holding his arm. “All you had to say was that you weren’t interested,” he snapped.
She narrowed her eyes and didn’t cringe when he popped his shoulder back into place, even though she knew how much it must have hurt. Blood gorgers always put her on edge. They didn’t seem to feel pain like normal born-vampires, not to mention they were possibly more depraved in their sexual interests than dead-vampires, which made him dangerous if he had his sights set on her.
“Right,” she drawled sarcastically. She waved her hands for him to get her the outfit. She had to make herself seem more predator than prey, not submissive in the least or he would keep her as a target, and with the bruise on his pride from her dislocating his shoulder, he wouldn’t be too gentle.
“There are strict no fighting policies in here.”
She smiled sweetly again. “I’m sure there are strict policies against threatening and propositioning customers, too. So I won’t tell if you don’t.”
For a long moment, she was positive that he was going to try something, but after a few more clicks, he nodded at her and, skirting past her carefully so that he didn’t touch her, he went to gather the outfit from the window. Only once he was out of visual, she gave a silent, full bodied sigh before looking over the sword he had been polishing. Blood Thirst was the unoriginal name engraved into the blade of the sword and, when she eyed it carefully, she saw a film of red smoke on it. She took a step back, but the sword kept the dark tint, beckoning to her.
She glanced over her shoulder to see that Christein was nowhere to be seen. It was only her and this sword. She reached out hesitantly, knowing that it was never a good idea to touch an enchanted blade, but unable to hold back her curiosity. There was something about the sword that called out to her, something that made her need to touch it, to hold it, to use it. Her fingers were almost on the blade when the vampire returned with the leathers.
“Don’t touch that,” he warned her sharply. She turned her eyes back to him, not pulling her hand back. “Or touch it. I don’t care. Our insurance covers death of stupidity.”
She frowned, pulling her arm back reluctantly. She glanced back at the sword before shaking her head and turning back to the vampire. “I’m good,” she said as casually as she could.
He gave her a sarcastic smile. “I’m sure,” he said before pushing the leathers into her chest and dropping them. Only because she was fast, did she catch them before they could fall to the ground.
“What are the measurements?” she asked before he could leave her.
He turned an irritated glare back to her. “Didn’t think to ask that before getting them?”
“I just need to be sure.”
“I’m sure they’ll fit you just fine,” he said with as much sarcasm as he could before leaving her in the darkened corner of the room.
She frowned after him before sighing. “Fine,” she muttered. “I think they’re right anyway,” she said to herself before going to find her cousin, who was, unsurprisingly, looking at magic blades. She didn’t have to look at them very hard to know that they were true aim blades, which she knew Christein had been wanting for a few years. She’d been planning on getting him some for his birthday this year, or possibly Binding Day. It was strange to her that he now had money, probably enough that he could get himself a handful and still be able to afford the outfit she was holding if his nonchalance about it was anything to go by. She wasn’t even sure if she had that much to burn.
“Monkey,” she said quietly, getting his attention immediately. He gave her a lazy smile before taking the leathers from her arms on top of the red jacket. Up close, she could see the glimmer of magic on the jacket, telling her that it was both magic resistant and heat regulating. The spells had been fixed on there by unique magic, an adept skill she still lacked. He weighed them in his arms for a moment.
“A bit heavy, don’t you think?” he suggested. She gave him a dark look.
“It’s armor, Monkey. If it isn’t a little heavy, then what’s its point?” He nodded slightly, looking over the black leathers in his arms. “And don’t tell me that you don’t want to take armor. It’s specially made to not look like armor, but still keep you safe. You need it.”
“Well, don’t be disappointed if they don’t fit me,” he told her gently after a moment of deliberation. “You know these were probably made for someone shorter than me.”
She didn’t say anything. He hadn’t looked at the mannequin in the window. It had been nearly his perfect measurements, long in the legs, narrow in the hips, thick in the arms and chest. It even had a hole where his tail would go. If these hadn’t been made with him in mind, then there was apparently some unreasonably tall, rich animal-kind walking around.
Strange coincidence, now that she thought about it. A flash of suspicion hit her so hard that Christein gave her a questioning look. “What?” he asked her when she wavered on her feet for a click.
Coincidences do exist, not everything goes back to him. Atlas would have no reason to have put in an order for Christein to get armor. He was trying to kill him. She tried to convince herself, shaking her head at her cousin. “Nothing. I’m fine, just haven’t eaten yet.” When Christein gave her a worried look, she waved him off with a smile and a laugh. “C’mon, go try it on! I wanna see you in it!”
“I think you’d rather see me out of it,” he muttered, allowing her to usher him to one of the private dressing rooms.
“Not this time. This time I want to see you more clothed,” she teased him as she got him into the dark curtained back rooms. There were three stalls, gendered by the dolls hanging on the doors. The one in the center, holding a My Curious Immortal doll was for the non-gendered creatures, the one with the fully dressed My Secret Goddess doll was for women, and the one with the shirtless My Mystery Escort doll on the door was for men.
Christein knocked brusquely at the door and, upon receiving no response, pushed the door open. “Stay out here,” he ordered Amadhay when she moved to follow him.
She pouted. “But Monkey, I can help you. You probably won’t be able to figure out how to put it all on on your own.”
“If I can’t, then I shouldn’t get it, now should I? You won’t be there to lace me up on the ship.”
The ship? As soon as the word slipped from Christein’s mouth, he cussed under his breath. Before she could say anything, though, he closed the door tightly. She moved to the door and pressed her palm against the smooth wood. “What ship?”
“Amadhay?” the voice came from the other side of the room, meaning that it wasn’t from Christein. She turned in surprise, genuinely happy to see Benjym Base in the curtained doorway, a long cloak in his arms.
“Benjy!” she gasped, running to him. He grinned at her as she launched herself into his arms. He hugged her for a moment, lifting her off of her feet before setting her back down. “Where on Resor have you been? I haven’t seen you in ages!”
Benjy chuckled at her. “Just out and about on missions,” he told her in such a casual voice that she knew he was hiding something from her. Whenever she asked about his whereabouts, he would tease her, rile up her curiosity, maybe even joke about it. For him to give her a straight answer told her that there was more to it.
“What are you doing here?” he asked her before she could try to push him into answering more questions. “I’ve never seen you here before. I doubt they have anything your size unless you custom ordered.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m here with Christein,” she said. The light in his eyes dimmed for a moment at her cousin’s name. “He’s in the dressing room.”
“Hullo then, Christein,” Benjy said loudly enough for the aelfe to hear him. He received a grunt in response. “I didn’t realize that the two of you were together.”
Amadhay blinked in question a few times before Christein burst out of the changing room. “We’re not,” the man said defensively, stomping to a stop behind Amadhay. “We’re First Family of the same damned clan,” he stressed as if to emphasize why they weren’t a couple rather than that they weren’t. It made her smile. “Come on and help me get this on,” he added as an order to Amadhay before returning to the dressing room, his shirt only partially on, bracers untied, and pants awkwardly twisted.
“He’d be lost without me,” she whispered to Benjy before dashing after Christein.
She closed the door between her and the phantom before drinking in the sight of her scowling cousin. He was looking at himself in the mirror, twisted back to attempt to right the leather pieces on his back. His chest was partially bare, where the leather pieces for his chest were falling apart and giving her a full view of his muscled chest. His sandy olive skin, darker than her own by a few shades was dusted with a light spattering of hair on his lower belly, which was strange for a reptilian aelfe and even stranger for him, since she knew he kept himself smooth to avoid friction problems from the few energy or fire based spells he used. His pants were twisted to rights, but partially open, giving her the view of his black underwear. His bracers had been abandoned.
She started with the bracers, taking first his left hand down and retying the black laces tightly enough that they wouldn’t move, but not tight enough to cut off circulation, and then she let go. Making direct eye contact with her, he gave her his right arm, allowing her to tie those as well.
“I need you to bend down so that I can get to your back,” she said softly, batting her eyelashes lightly. He leaned forward into her, taking his time until his face was almost to hers.
“Lace my front first,” he ordered.
She blinked rapidly a few times, her fingers fumbling, before she looked away from his face and down to her goal. She shifted the breastplates so that the faux vest partially covered them to hide the obvious defensive armor behind it. Tying the front of the vest together, she gently pressed his chest so that he would turn for her. He did.
It wasn’t until she was lacing together his back vest that she realized he could have done all of this on his own. The leathers had been loosely laced together when she had given them to him, so he had unlaced them purely for the purpose of having her lace him back up. This was so incredibly intimate that she paused, looking past him, into the mirror. His eyes caught her gaze and they both stared at each other for a long moment.
“For just two cousins, you sure are taking a long time in there. Are you sure there isn’t something you wanna tell me?” Benjy called from the door, making Christein jerk forward. Amadhay rolled her eyes, but didn’t try to catch his gaze again, instead finishing lacing his back.
“I can take it from here,” Christein muttered, nodding at the door. “Better get out there before Ben starts making incestuous First Family jokes.”
She touched the loose lacing holding his pants together, but he flinched. “Seriously, Amadhay. I’ve got this, get out,” he said again, his voice firm.
“But Monkey,” she whined.
“No. Out.” He turned and pushed her to the door. She dug her heels in for a moment before giving in and going out of the room, running right into Ben, who had been directly outside of the door. Christein slammed the door closed behind her.
“How long’s he gonna take in there?” he complained in a winningly joking tone, holding up a pair of aquamarine pants that were far too short for him. “I wanted to try these on.”
She giggled. “Benjy, I hate to break it to you,” she paused, looking up at him with a smile, “But I just don’t think that’s your shade of blue.”
He barked out a laugh. “Well you may just be right,” he said, making a show of looking at the pants again before setting them on the returns rack. He was now wearing the hunter green cloak he had been carrying and, just looking at it, she knew it had been custom made for him. It was long enough to hit his calves, thick enough that she was almost positive it was insulated and probably regulated temperature, and had a hood that easily covered the black hair that wasn’t tucked into the cloak, and threw his angular face into dark shadows. It made him look mysterious, nothing like the joking man she was used to.
“I like that on you,” she told him softly, smiling up at him when he winked at her.
“Good. I do like to set the mood right for you,” he teased.
She rolled her eyes. “You’re such a tease.”
“I think that’s you, actually.”
She grinned at him again, ready to throw more flirtations in, when the door to the dressing room opened to reveal Christein. The black leather of the outfit settled nicely against his skin, somehow managing to look comfortable and threatening at the same time. While it didn’t look like armor, it certainly wasn’t something the man should wear when he was trying to come across as unassuming. The red jacket only emphasized the casualness of the outfit. While it, too, gave him a dangerous vibe with the belt buckles closing the jacket not only at his torso, but also at either wrist and at his neck, the dark red also softened the black to look more fashionable. His normal steel-toed boots were the only things breaking his image.
“New shoes,” she decided.