“Wake up, wake up, wake up,” a harried voice called, shaking Croy-li.
Groaning, he cracked open one eye to see slanted, golden eyes on a pale olive, oval face framed by straight, strawberry kissed auburn hair. The feline ears placed near the top of her head twitched in irritation. “Why won’t you lemme sleep, Blu?” he whined.
“Because you aren’t supposed to be in here!” the girl hissed in a hushed whisper. “You’re going to get Amaya into trouble.”
“Who’s gonna know?”
“Amaya’s aunts! They’re coming right now!”
“Arche Loralyn doesn’t care,” Croy-li muttered, turning onto his stomach so that he could try to ignore the cat girl.
“But Arne Riffle does and Lady Peru will tell him!”
“They’re not gonna come in.”
“You’re awake enough to argue, you’re awake enough to move to the next room,” Blu stated matter-of-factly, pulling him up.
Croy-li groaned, but allowed her to pull him to his feet, not that he had much choice considering she was more toned than he and far more stubborn. She steered him by his shoulders, practically using her thick legs to move his gangly ones.
They almost made it to the attached guest bedroom, but three quick knocks preceded the main door being pushed open before they could. In walked three women, two of which were of obvious relation to Amaya, with similar, dark complexions and dark hair. The third was blonde, with a lighter complexion and more athletic build than the other two as well as having a few inches on them. She wore a thin circlet on her head, and immediately grinned, raising an eyebrow at the two.
“What is happening here?” the less attractive of the two remaining women asked. She had a permanently pinched face and her scowl was unfortunate.
The remaining woman, who was beautiful despite her sickly thin, frail looking body, hid a smile and arched her brow questioningly.
“Um,” Croy-li started, glancing to Blu, whose lips were pursed to give an explanation, but no words came out.
“I asked Cole to wake me up. Blu was trying to keep him out,” Amaya said, not moving from under her covers. “He stayed the night again.”
The blonde smiled knowingly. “Your brother was looking for you, Croy-li,” she said, looking expectant. “You should perhaps contact him so that he doesn’t send his watchers out looking for you again?”
“Oh, right, of course,” Croy-li responded, stumbling back from the room. He paused before exiting, remembering his manners and nodded in acknowledgement to the older women and gave a short bow to the blonde. “Princess Anne.” The blonde rolled her eyes at him and waved him on.
Croy-li closed the door behind him, but stood at it, listening in on the conversation on the other side.
“Now’s as good a time to ask as any, Loralyn,” the pinched face woman, Lady Peru, said to the beautiful one.
Arche Loralyn sighed heavily. “Of course, but considering other news, perhaps it could wait?”
“I think Riff would agree that it is important to know now.”
Arche Loralyn sighed again, but it was Princess Anne who voiced the question. “Are you and Croy-li entwining or just blunderlusting together?”
Croy-li flushed, but noted that Amaya didn’t respond for a few clicks, undoubtedly staring at her cousin-by-binding. “What?” she asked incredulously, but her irritable aunt seemed to think she didn’t understand the question.
“Are you in a romantic engagement with the Prince du Kay, or is it just blunderlust rutting?”
Croy-li felt even more embarrassed, though he had no reason to. He knew, logically, that given their closeness and how often he had to sneak out of her bed to keep those kinds of rumors at bay, that it was a good question. Still, he wished that he didn’t have to be there when it was asked, especially when Blu and Amaya began giggling, as though there were no chance.
“Me and Cole? No, of course not,” Amaya said, humor still in her voice. “He’s my friend is all. No one’s asking if me and Blu are entwining. Or Jazz, even. I could be her thrall.”
She was finding the entire situation too amusing. And while it hurt Croy-li a bit to know that she didn’t consider him as any more of a romantic interest than Blu or Jazz, both of whom the duo regarded almost as sisters, the humor did take away from his embarrassment.
“Well, I would hope that you would have better sense to choose a princeling over your servant or a disowned valev.”
She could have pointed out that Heralds were legally not allowed to become involved with each other for fear of them banding together against the rest of the world in the best case or the horrifying children they were known to have with each other. Instead, she chose to make it about status, which was a bad idea, given Amaya was hardly going to start caring about their statuses now. Surprisingly, the girl didn’t explode. She didn’t say anything, though the tension was thick.
“That’s not what we came in here about. You went to sleep early last night, so you missed the news,” Arche Loralyn said, ignoring the tension. “Hynnkel is—”
“Is he okay?” Amaya asked immediately. “Does he need help? Is he lost?”
“He’s home. He got in this morning, and you missed him at breakfast.”
The sounds of her getting out of bed quickly, followed by her jumping to the floor were followed by shuffling. He could only assume that she was getting dressed. “Where is he? Is he in his rooms? With Arne Riff? Croy-li! Stop eavesdropping and get dressed, Hynnkel’s back!”
“What do I care about Hynnkel?” Croy-li joked, opening the door and leaning against the doorframe.
Amaya gave him a murderous look, her blue eyes narrowed, and he remembered just how strongly she felt for this cousin. He held his hands up and she turned to Blu, gesturing to her hair. “Anything?” she asked, undoubtedly wanting to look pretty for the cousin she all but hero worshipped.
Blu sighed. “Sit down. Let me brush it some and you can wear it down.”
Amaya made a face. “Just braid it,” she said instead. She hated brushing her hair, which was why it was always in a state of messy, wildly curling disarray.
The other women exchanged glances and when Lady Peru started to say something, likely a snide comment on the girl’s appearance, both Princess Anne and Arche Loralyn raised a hand to silence her. Fuming, the woman simply left.
“Hynnkel is resting right now,” Arche Loralyn said gently. “It was a long trip, so it wouldn’t hurt to take a little more time.”
Princess Anne was much more blunt. “You’ve been doing that weird grooming thing. I get it, aelfe, cat share, whatever. But your hair looks like you could have baby sparrows playing hide and seek in it and, honestly, you smell bad.”
Blu turned her face away to keep from laughing, while Croy-li had to keep a straight face when Amaya threw an affronted look his way.
“I don’t smell bad, do I?” she asked.
Croy-li glanced to the older women, who gave him expectant looks. Blu went so far as to kick him and he sighed. “You smell very...natural?” he suggested. He was used to her scent, and it didn’t bother him, though he had no doubt that it was getting to her family of cat-aelfe and their sensitive noses. “Maybe Feral is the word I’m looking for.”
Amaya stared at him aghast. “I do not smell Feral.”
“A bit,” he returned.
“So that settles it,” Princess Anne broke in. “Amaya will bathe and brush her hair. Croy-li will call Khale, before he thinks you’ve been kidnapped again.”
“And Blu, sweetheart,” Arche Loralyn added in while Princess Anne gave Croy-li a serious look and mouthed ‘Now.’ “Would you be willing to help Hynnkel for the time being? His servants were all sent away and can’t come back for another day at least. I think I remember that he liked you?”
Blu nodded quickly, always glad to be of help, though Croy-li noticed the flush at the mention that Hynnkel had liked her. He started to tease her, but after another look from Princess Anne, Croy-li crossed the room and reached under Amaya’s bed for his DS.
“I’m going, I’m going,” he said when she looked ready to say something. He glanced back at Amaya before leaving the room. Standing there, with her wild hair, half-dressed in baggy pants and her thin sleeping top, she looked beautiful.
“Come get me when you’re ready,” he told her before leaving the room. He waited to hear her agreement before closing the door. Crossing further into the guest room that, for all intents and purposes, was really just his room, he sat down on the bed. He still wore his working gloves, so those were the first things he changed. Dreading calling his brother, he then looked through the closet and drawer space for spare clothes. Unsurprisingly, there was quite a bit to choose from, so he chose to take a quick shower.
Exiting the shower in just a towel, he was in no way surprised to see Amaya sitting on his bed with Blu behind her, brushing her hair out. By the faces Amaya made every time her hair got caught, he’d have thought Blu was killing her if he hadn’t known how whiny she was about her hair. Neither girl watched him as he put on underwear, but once it was on, Amaya looked to his side, where there was a pretty ugly cut he had forgotten to take care of the previous night.
“Is Squirrel around?” Amaya asked Blu, watching as Croy-li gently patted the wound dry and wrapped it up.
“She’s back in Rattigattan for the week. What about your family healer?” she suggested, giving Croy-li a disappointed look.
“What did I do? She wanted me to go with her. She would’ve gone alone. Tell Blu you would’ve gone alone without me.”
“I would’ve taken Soda,” Amaya said instead. “But I dunno. Bart asks a lot of questions when I have to go to him. And you know Cole’s a nervous blabber mouth.”
“Hi, accused blabber mouth right here.”
“Then we’ll go with him and keep him distracted from the blabbering,” Blu suggested. “But that needs to be looked at sooner than later.”
Amaya and Croy-li both sighed at their friend’s mother henning. She had only taken to doing it once they’d been freed of Thief Lord, and only for them. Brave was barely a year older than them and she didn’t get nearly the same treatment.
“Yeah, yeah,” Croy-li said, pulling on a light, long-sleeved shirt, followed by a sweater. While it wasn’t snowing, like up north, it was still an unusually cold spring and Hartin’s temperature charms were set for someone with far warmer blood than he. Donning his normal cargo pants, he checked his pockets to be sure what he wanted was in there.
“I have to call Khale first though,” he weakly protested, wanting an excuse not to.
“Call him while you’re getting fixed up. That way your stories will be the same,” Blu suggested and Amaya agreed.
“Remember the time you told Nolando we were going to the beach, told Arche Loralyn we were checking out some witch shops and told Khale we were going to eat?”
“Can’t forget. Soda keeps reminding me of sand-witches.”
Blu was so good at ushering the duo that Croy-li didn’t even notice they were moving until they were out of the rooms.
“I really think I can wait until Squirrel comes back,” Croy-li complained, remembering his last and only visit to his own family’s healers. The trio was so old that he had to yell for them to hear and they had steadfastly ignored his suggestions for newer equipment, saying that if what they had worked for his brother, parents, and grandparents before him, that they would work for him too. And he hadn’t honestly been doubting them—though, to be fair, with only him, his brother, his uncle, and his cousins Fallora and Chun-ti still alive of their families out of the twelve that had been there only a decade before, he had a right to—he was only suggesting that it would be faster and more efficient than using old blood elf traditional healing magic, especially for simple check-ups.
“That’s three days from now. That looks like it might be infected. Squirrel would murder you if she came back and you had a four-day-old, infected wound waiting for her.”
He had to concede to that point. Squirrel would heal him, hurt him, heal him, and hurt him again just to heal him one last time. Then she wouldn’t talk to him for weeks on end and then, when she did, make him explain to her all the reasons he shouldn’t have waited. Missing out on one uncomfortable encounter with an official healer wasn’t worth the trouble.
“I know,” he whined, giving Blu his saddest eyes. “I just—”
“Hate dealing with healers who aren’t Squirrel, I know,” Blu reassured him, “But Bart isn’t like the others.”
Amaya nodded. “Yeah, he’s nosier,” she said with a grin. “But also,” she added once Blu gave her a warning look, “He’s got all the machines you like and doubles as a doctor and healer.”
Croy-li raised his eyebrows hopefully. “You promise?” he asked.
“Yup. He’s not even old. Nolando’s age, I think. You’ll like him. He talks genius-ese.”
Blu snorted at the term, guiding her friends through the Hakinato estate until they reached the medical wing. She stopped outside of the doors and allowed them to continue forward. “Bart doesn’t like it when we stomp in together,” she stated when Croy-li and Amaya looked at her questioningly.
Amaya rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t like it when we’re loud and distracting and only in here to steal his stuff,” she corrected. “He doesn’t care if we’re quiet.”
“Either way,” Blu said, the downturn of her mouth saying that she disagreed, “I have other work to do. Find me when you’re done here.”
“What other work?” Amaya called after her. “You’re my servant! What’ve you got to do? Clean my room? Please don’t clean my room. I’ll feel bad forever.”
“Duties that don’t involve you!”
“But she’s my servant,” Amaya said again, this time in confusion as she turned to Croy-li, who was apprehensively eyeing the open doors. “What duties could she have that don’t involve me?”
“Arche Loralyn did just ask her to take care of Hynnkel.”
Amaya made a disbelieving face. “I think she’s hiding something,” she stated flatly, walking forward.
He followed her after a click. “Why?” he asked.
“Have you noticed that she’s been gone a lot lately? She’s here when I wake up and when I go to sleep. But between that? Anyone’s guess. We have Lessons together and she’s been absent, but when I ask, Pride says that she’s making up for them at other times.”
“What times?” Croy-li asked. “Because Brave has been running off too. I thought she was with Jazz and Squirrel down in Rattigattan, but they say she isn’t.”
“Then again, they could be lying and they’re all doing something together.”
Croy-li frowned. “Think Soda would trail them for us?”
“If she isn’t in on it with them,” Amaya replied sullenly. At a bark of male laughter, the duo paused.
“I thought you said he liked it quiet?” Croy-li asked uneasily. There was more loud laughter and this time they could hear the rumblings of a deep, male voice talking.
“He does,” Amaya replied uncertainly, and the two found themselves holding hands as they approached where the sound had come from. Before Croy-li could discern anything other than an examination room full of state of the art machines and simple yet nice furnishing, Amaya had launched herself across the room.
“Hynnkel!” she exclaimed, hugging a tall man with black hair and a similar, sandy complexion. He laughed and hugged her back. “I just heard you were back, but Arche Loralyn told me that you were sleeping and to wait to come see you. Where have you been? Where did you go? What happened?”
Hynnkel patted the top of her head, effectively mussing up her hair when entire tufts of it clung to his rings. “Nice to see you too, Amaya,” he said, before nodding to Croy-li. “Prince du Kay.”
Croy-li wasn’t sure, because he’d never really spent much time one-on-one with Amaya’s cousin before, but he thought he detected a frosty tone when the man said his name. He took a step back and avoided his mahogany eyes.
“Hold on now,” another voice spoke up. Croy-li turned his head to see another man, even taller than Hynnkel, and much, much paler. “I sincerely doubt these two came here to see you. What is it you need?”
Amaya seemed to either not hear the man or not care, because she kept chattering on to Hynnkel, demanding to know where he’d been, what he’d seen, why he left, what had made him decide to come home. Croy-li, on the other hand, stared at the man in absolute awe. Obviously an elf by his height and elongated ears, the man wore a white lab coat over his clothes, which held almost no contrast to his snowy complexion, silver hair, and pale grey eyes.
It was a face Croy-li recognized better than his own brother’s. Standing there, looking at him expectantly, was Sir Barthew Base, the main inventor and owner of Base Inventions. He was Croy-li’s hero, an elf killed in the 2300’s and raised as a phantom to fight at Empress Kellinara’s side against the Earthlings. He was to thank for almost all of their current electronics, was the main brain behind the intergalactic network and the Roadesian/Resorian datastream.
In the face of his greatest idol, Croy-li was struck dumb. Unfortunately, he was not struck mute. “I build stuff.”
Those three words stopped Amaya’s flow of words. She looked from Croy-li, to Barthew Base, and back again. “Did you break him?” she asked accusingly, moving from her cousin. Touching his shoulder and receiving no response, she poked her best friend, who was hiding his face in his hands, feeling absolutely embarrassed for the second time that day. “Hey, what does that mean?”
Barthew Base, on the other hand, laughed. “I take it you’re the technopath Amaya talks about?”
“Have you not met?” Amaya asked, looking from Croy-li and Barthew Base again.
Hynnkel coughed into his hand. “That’s when you introduce them,” he suggested.
“Oh. Right. Bart, Prince Croy-li du Kay. I really can’t believe you’ve never met him before.”
“I tend to stay to my warehouse when I’m not needed,” Barthew Base said, still smiling at Croy-li, who was looking at him between his fingers.
“Croy-li, Sir Barthew Base.”
“I know,” Croy-li blurted before he could stop himself. “I mean, not that I stalk you or anything. I don’t. I just, I’m a fan of your work. And I like to tinker. And sometimes I invent, but mostly I tinker, no way in league with what you do, but I do build things. Like I was recently working on a nanite cloaking cloud, but for some reason it doesn’t work as well as I thought it would. The vision is barely passable and it goes down when scanned, I think, but I don’t know because I haven’t checked it out. I mean we used it last night but—”
Amaya covered Croy-li’s mouth with her hand and he silently thanked her. Once he got started nervously talking, he couldn’t stop himself.
“Croy-li got cut. We went out last night, to a, uh, place to do something and he got cut. We forgot about it and now it looks gross. Fix him.”
“Sorry Hynnkel,” Barthew Base said, gesturing for Croy-li to come over to him and the examination table he had been sitting on. “Duty calls. I’ll catch up with you later.”
Hynnkel nodded. “I need to go talk with my mother anyway.”
“I’ll come with!” Amaya invited herself after pushing Croy-li all the way over to Barthew Base.
Hynnkel smirked. “Don’t you want to stick with your princeling and make sure he doesn’t implode from Bart excitement?”
Amaya waved it off. “He doesn’t need me.” She glanced to Croy-li, who was shyly lifting his shirt for Barthew Base to see the wound. “Do you?”
Yes, he thought, but shook his head because he didn’t trust what would come out of his mouth. And even though he knew she had to know better, Amaya linked arms with Hynnkel and walked with him.
“I can’t actually see anything through the wrapping,” Barthew Base said gently, and Croy-li forced himself to stop watching after Amaya and to instead focus on the phantom. “So I’m going to cut them off. Anything I should know?”
Croy-li shook his head, unsure what the man meant by that. It wasn’t like his wound was going to gush blood or let loose an angry astral. It was just a little, well alright, a big cut. It barely bled, just hurt and oozed a little.
“Is your brother aware that I am treating you?” Barthew Base asked, and Croy-li was glad that he wasn’t trying to make small talk. He shook his head. “I am required to call him and ask permission before I do anything other than look at it. Do you understand that?”
Croy-li nodded. There was no more talking as Barthew Base cut the bandages off of Croy-li, though the boy recognized his ‘wrong-hypothesis’ perplexed look. He wanted to ask what had perplexed Barthew Base, what he had hypothesized, but didn’t, unsure what else would come out of his mouth if he did. It could be anything from ‘You look different from the poster in my room,’ which would be embarrassing, to ‘I got cut by glass jumping out of a window at an RA archive to steal some chip for the Thief Lord last night,’ which would just be stupid to say aloud.
“This is a surprisingly bad cut, Prince Croy-li,” Barthew Base stated, moving away from him, to a moveable screen. “How did you get it?” he asked before tapping a few times on the screen. “King Khale du Kay,” the phantom spoke into the screen before Croy-li could think up a good excuse.
He really should have come up with an excuse before coming. What had Amaya said? Oh, right. I got cut when we were somewhere, doing something. She usually lied better than that.
“For the last time, Bart, I didn’t bother your warehouse,” Croy-li’s brother snarled, his face appearing on the screen. “And I am busy, so I would appreciate if you would continue blaming me some other time.”
Croy-li’s eyes widened at the tone Khale took with the inventor and he looked to the phantom, whose mouth turned down in irritation. “And while I maintain that, as they are technically on your and Fallora’s lands, one of you had to have had them moved without my consultation and the damage done is on you, that is not what I called for. I have your princeling here and need to know if I have your permission to heal him. He has a rather bad cut received last night.”
“What? Croy-li? Are you alright?” Khale’s tone went immediately from angry and defensive to worried and he seemed to be trying to see his brother over Barthew Base, which was nearly impossible, given the gangly teenager wasn’t as wide as the elf and at an awkward angle from the screen.
Barthew Base turned it so that Khale could see Croy-li before speaking. “I was just asking him where he could have received such a cut.”
With both men looking at him expectantly, Croy-li avoided looking at either of them until he could come up with a good excuse. “Um. Well. Uh. Could we maybe talk after?” He met Barthew Base’s eyes and held them unblinkingly, “It really hurts a lot,” he lied.
Barthew Base looked to the screen for Khale’ permission.
“Of course you can heal him. Why wouldn’t I let you heal him?”
Barthew Base shrugged, turning his back to the screen in order to get a suction tool, which made Croy-li grimace. While he tended to prefer scientific healing, especially with infection, he absolutely hated the tools used to get the gross bits of the liquid proof of infection out. They felt horrible, and as someone who regularly hurt himself and forgot to get the wounds looked at until there was an infection, he was on the receiving end of one at least once a month.
“Your family has had a history of not wanting any of the direct royal line healed by anyone other than your healers,” Barthew Base pointed out. “I had no reason to believe that tradition had changed.”
That comment made Croy-li mildly suspicious about the strange drop in living members of his family. His generation only held four children, only two being direct du Kay First Family. The previous one had been also been four but all First Family, each had bound and all but one had died so far. His grandparent’s generation had been with sixteen members and before that, sixteen. It had continued in that vein six generations further. And all only healed by their personal healers, elves who had lived through eight generations.
It was suspicious, but he wouldn’t say anything yet, until he had decided what to do about that, if there was something that needed to be done.
“How long have you been at the Verseins Fortress?” Khale asked, forcing Croy-li away from his thoughts.
“Uh, all week,” he lied, keeping eye contact with his brother through the screen. Barthew Base was finished sucking the infection out and was now coating it in a salve that would expedite the healing process on the inside. If he had wanted, he could have watched the muscle and skin stitch itself together, but he had lost interest in that a few years back.
“But I’ve asked—”
“I told them not to tell you,” Croy-li lied, not blinking. “You’ve been smothering me and I needed some air, so I got some with Amaya and Blu.” It could have been a good lie if not for the fact that Khale had been ridiculously lenient. He only checked up on Croy-li once a day, he didn’t sit in on his Lessons any longer, he didn’t force him to spend any time with him or to learn about his duties as prince of Kayden any more than he learned in Lessons, though Croy-li knew there was much more to it.
Either way, the lie hit home with Khale, who looked away, as if ashamed. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, and Croy-li had to look away to keep from feeling guilty. “I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. What can I do?”
“Nothing. It’s fine. It’s not too bad,” Croy-li recanted, rolling his miniature electric fuser between his fingers. He wasn’t sure when he’d taken it out, but was glad he had something in his hands. “You’re fine.”
Barthew Base patted the regrown skin lightly. “Feel better?” he asked. Croy-li nodded, watching his tool to keep from making eye contact, being forced to acknowledge that he was in the same room as Sir Barthew Base and getting nervous.
“I should probably go find Amaya and--”
“Hold on,” Barthew Base said, holding his hand to Croy-li’s chest to keep the boy from jumping off the table. “How did you get that? It’s important for me to know that I couldn’t have missed anything.”
“I, well, Amaya and I. We, not I, really. We, uh, went out last night because we, um. We needed to do something because we were bored and needed to do something. So we went out. Last night. To go, uh, sledding?” Finally grasping at a truth, he felt comfortable rambling about his own brilliance. “We tried out my new sled and it works well. It works really well, better than I expected. We tried out a new speed alteration and we made a thirty minute trip in ten. On a sled!”
Remembering who he was talking to, his eyes widened and he looked to Barthew Base, whose eyebrow was raised. “I mean, it’s not like your hoverboards, because I’m nowhere nearly as talented as you and couldn’t come up with the technology to get it to hover, much less move as fast as it does or with the network. I mean my sled is pretty simple in comparison, so I shouldn’t really talk like it’s special. Because it isn’t. It’s just a sled.”
“Croy-li,” Khale cut in. “I get that you’re excited to meet Bart and all, but you never really answered the question.”
“Oh. Right.” He pulled out a small toy he’d been working on and tinkered with it nervously.
“Right,” Barthew Base added with a knowing grin. “So while sledding with Amaya, how did you get a cut that deep and nothing else?”
Clearing his throat, Croy-li set the toy down and tried to channel Soda. She could make the most ridiculous thing sound true. “We ran into a tree.”
“A tree? That left no splinters and didn’t impale you.”
“I mean a house. We ran into an old cottage and I got cut by the broken window?”
“Where was this cottage?” Barthew Base asked, looking like he was enjoying himself. A glance at Khale showed the king to have a similarly amused look to the phantom.
“Uh, I don’t know. We weren’t really paying attention.”
“And when did you try the nanite cloud you mentioned?”
Croy-li choked on air, completely having forgotten he brought it up. “Um. Just. We were testing the cloaking cloud and sled at the same time,” he said, looking away, but still not blinking. His eyes were dry, but he couldn’t blink until he was done. He didn’t want to be like Brave, who blinked a million times when she lied.
“So, to get this completely straight, you and Amaya went somewhere north with enough snow to go sledding in a cloaked joyride and ran into a tree or cottage, where you were cut deeply.” Croy-li nodded. Barthew Base’s mouth twitched and he looked ready to laugh, but he didn’t. He did, however look to Khale, who was smiling widely. “Alright then.”
“Sounds plausible,” Khale stated.
“I’d like to go find Amaya now,” Croy-li said, staring at the floor.
“Of course,” Barthew Base said, waving for him to go.
“Please tell me if you plan to stay at Verseins for longer,” Khale called after him before he could rush off.
“Okay,” Croy-li squeaked out before rushing away.
“I think I understand why you enjoyed when we tried lying to you,” Croy-li heard Khale say to Barthew Base before he was out of hearing range.
“Ya know, Monkey,” Amadhay started seriously, “If you grew your beard out, you would look dead on a monkey.” She smiled up at her cousin, staring fixatedly on the short, but very present hair growing on his face.
Christein sneered at her, leaning back against a wall and crossing his arms. “Aren’t monkeys supposed to be fast, physically?”
“Okay,” she conceded, “You don’t move like a monkey, but everything else is right.” She dropped onto the ground to sit near his feet with a soft huff, glancing up at his face in time to see him roll his eyes.
“Just be glad that you don’t have two different legs,” he told her, referring to the fact that one of his legs had been cut off when he was small and regenerated an inch longer than the other.
“I am,” Amadhay replied simply, staring at his feet as she decided what her next move would be. The two of them had been waiting for their target for twenty clacks so far and she was doing her best to keep them entertained, despite his best efforts not to engage with her.
He flicked her off. “Shut it.”
She gave him a sweet smile, “I’ll bite it off if you don’t put it down,” she warned him, now looking up at him as he loomed over her.
“Good thing I regenerate then, huh?” he spit on the ground only a little away from her knee, giving only the barest of smirks at her look of utter disgust. “How long are we going to have to wait for this guy?”
“Ah dunno,” Amadhay replied, scooting away from the spit with a single quick motion. She pinched his leg. “Spitting near me is unacceptable, Monkey,” she told him, trying for an imperious tone. Instead, she simply sounded whiny. To make up for it, she let out a glob of spit between his feet.
In retaliation, he gave her thigh a quick, hard kick. “Shut it!” he repeated, then, muttering more to himself this time, added, “Damn, talk about stupid people.”
Amadhay rubbed her leg, watching him thoughtfully. Ever since she had come back from Palnoki, especially after she had gone to Arne Riff to override his and Nolando’s decisions for her, Christein had been much colder to her. She was just trying to amuse them as they waited for their mark. He didn’t have to be so angry and uncooperative. He never had been before.
“For shears?” she responded, trying to annoy him this time. “Don’ be so mean tah me, monkey-breath.” She quickly stood as she spoke, not wanting to give him an easy kicking target when she recognized the irritated glint in his eye.
“You’re acting like an idiot,” he snapped. “Smart people have a right to criticize the stupid.”
He wasn’t even looking at her. Amadhay was ready to counter with ‘And how would you know, idiot?’ when he held his hand up into her face. “Here he is…”
Amadhay followed his gaze to a middle-aged human that Amadhay had been positive she had killed earlier that evening. Immediately, she knelt in the shadows, trying to blend into her dark silhouette as a smirk eased onto her red lips. This is what they had been waiting for. She watched Christein shift into the shape of their target’s knot, the one he had killed a zoot ago while Amadhay had taken care of the kids.
Watching him, she sighed, wanting to do the deed herself. It had been a while since she could really enjoy her job. If she was being honest, she really meant that it had been a while since she had been allowed to work with Christein or Benjy, which was the only time this felt right. Since coming back with such good intel on the Palnoki, all worries about her loyalty had been wiped clean and she had been able to go back to bloody and violent missions. It was the only thing keeping her sane, the knowledge that she still liked killing, and she did like killing, no matter what she might sometimes think when she was alone and thinking about Ribbon.
Regardless, knowing that it was Christein’s mission, she stayed out of the way. “Do your magic, monkey boy,” she whispered.
“Not a monkey,” he hissed at her before running up to the man. Still guised as the man’s late knot, he spoke to him as her for a few clacks, gathering information that she wasn’t privy to. She wasn’t entirely positive why she had been brought on this mission, considering it had gone so smoothly. Christein had told her that there would be difficulties because the man had bought a guard, but so far she had yet to see hide nor tail of anyone who might attempt to intervene.
Once Christein was apparently satisfied, he gave a sharp, derisive laugh that she could hear all the way back to the building, before shifting back to his own form. The man took a step back, looking around as if searching for something, before focusing back on Christein. Her cousin seemed to enjoy the man’s horror of realizing that he had been terribly misled, just before he slit the man’s throat. There was something strange about the man’s expression though. She just wasn’t sure what it was.
“What else were we supposed to do?” Christein called over to Amadhay, who relaxed from her crouch and slunk forward, brushing possibly imaginary dust from her crimson coat, black tank top and shorts. The heat of this area had caught her by surprise earlier, so she was indecently underdressed for the job, having had to ditch her normal sneaksuit to keep from overheating. The full body black outfit was now tucked away safely at a Phoegani safe house a few blocks away.
She gave a one-shouldered shrug, eyeing the body, slumped beside her cousin. Yes, that was definitely the same person she’d thought she had killed. “Make sure he’s dead. He plays really well.”
Christein scowled and knelt by the body. Taking the seemingly dead man by his hair, he slashed the head completely off at the neck with his knife. He then tossed the head to Amadhay before standing at his full height. “There, he’s dead. Let’s go.” He was already walking away from the body.
Amadhay blew her hair from her face, irritated that the wind was fighting against her symmetry, but mostly appeased by the head she held in her hands. It felt somewhat like their old lessons, when Christein would show her best ways to kill a person or toss her body parts to help her past her original squeamishness. This was her comfort zone with him.
“Monkey, you’re so cruel,” she told him with a slightly endeared smile.
She had drowned the man and then watched as his body tangled with anchors, yet he had somehow, still been alive. She wanted to look into that, because that was something she might expect of a magic-use or vampire, possibly even an elf, but not a human. Not a human who was, as far as she knew, unconnected to all of the major names and associations. Still, the brusque execution was so purely Christein that she couldn’t help but be amused and ignore her curiosity about the man. She dropped the head when Christein turned back to her.
He gave her a disarming smile and handed her his blades. “Here, have a present.”
She frowned, staring at him in confusion, taking the blades so that they didn’t fall. He was fastidious about care for weapons, especially his own, and the last thing she wanted with him in this strange mood, was to somehow damage his favorite blades by dropping them. “What?”
“She did it,” he stated as he turned away from her, thrusting his thumb over his shoulder at her and holding his hands up as two Arachin Local Force officers stormed up.
Another day, Amadhay would have loved the present. But today she was incredibly irritated with her cousin, given the way he had just played with her emotions, how he kept messing with her head so much that she wasn’t sure if she was his favorite person or someone he wanted to be rid of. She was tired and just wanted to go see Lizumeizei. Mostly thought, she didn’t want to fight two full-grown Arachins on her own, especially not the half-scorpion-man that reminded her all too much of Sha’adahk.
“Jackass,” she muttered at him before launching herself at the scorpion guard faster than any of them could react. Wrapping her arm around one of the scorpion’s legs, she hid the weapons behind the bend of its knee. Sliding the blades into her empty sleeve-sheaths, she pressed her forehead against the reinforced leg armor and then started sobbing.
“Help me!” she cried to the Local Force, who eyed her skeptically, but had yet to attack, holding his stinger up in the air but not yet poised to do harm to either aelfe. “He just killed my uncle!” The wolf-spider started toward Christein, looking from the decapitated body to the head next to Christein’s steel-toed boots. “I told him I didn’t want him and…and he assaulted me!” It only took the briefest of thoughts to add a glamour and a deep purple bruise appeared on her neck, with the bruise Christein had actually left on her thigh deepening to a black against her sandy olive skin. “And my uncle tried to stop him and he…” she burst into harder sobs, her large, now brown eyes overflowing with fake tears. “He-he killed him!”
“Banshee!” Christein swore at her when the wolf-spider attacked. He was almost impaled by one leg, but managed to get a knife right into his soft abdomen and tore down to his spinneret, cutting the spider-man open and killing him almost instantly.
The scorpion shook Amadhay off of his leg just in time for Christein to slit his throat. Amadhay brushed herself off, looking to the three bodies and mentally calculating how much time they had to leave before the Local Force sent more officer to check on the fallen arcachins. Christein grabbed Amadhay before she could say anything, slamming her back into the shadow of the building and pinning her against the wall.
“You little banshee,” he cursed at her again, his teal eyes glimmering with anger.
She pursed her lips at him. “I loves you,” she told him sweetly. “We can go now,” she added calmly. He didn’t move, so she raised both eyebrows. “Well?”
He slapped her hard enough to make her cheek hit the wall. When she looked back at him, her eyes wider than she had intended, he let go of her. There wasn’t even his normal flash of guilt or shame to accompany his loss of temper. Otherwise not moving, Amadhay carefully yawned, stretching her mouth out to try to make some of the pain go away. Besides that seemingly bored reaction, the same she had learned to respond to his father’s slaps, she took the pain stoically. Even if she wasn’t used to that kind of abuse from Christein, she was, indeed, used to it.
He gave her no acknowledgment, turning from her to glance up to the rooftops. The clicks following were silent as he walked a few paces but when she had yet to follow, he looked over his shoulder and just as calmly as she had, said, “Well? Are you coming or not?”
She shrugged. “I dunno. I was thinking about just walking around, seeing the sights while I’m here. Not every day we get to come to this little rats nest,” she told him, walking backwards. “So seeya next time,” she told him. She didn’t want him to see how much he had hurt her.
“Amadhay!” Christein’s yell of her actual name made her jerk and jolt backward. He only used it when he was surprised. “Duck, you fucking idiot!”
She turned back to him and jolted to the side just in time to avoid being hit by a micro-arrow. “Geeze, Baron, no need to be so loud,” she blustered, turning to try to determine where the arrow had come from.
He didn’t verbally warn her this time. Instead, Christein just tackled her to the ground, just in time as another one sped into the wall right where she had just been. When she let out a soft oomph from the force of his body hitting hers, he clamped a hand over her mouth. “Shut up and stay down,” he ordered. He pulled her closer to him so that they were side-by-side on the dirty concrete of the alleyway, hidden by shadow. She tried to pull away from him, her eyes scanning for any sign of their attackers, but he clamped on tighter, pressing her lips against her teeth and making it hard for her to breath when he accidentally covered her nostrils as well.
She bit his hand, making him curse lightly, and he removed it. In her ear, he whispered the things he was going to do to her if she bit him again. She completely ignored him, glaring at the arrow lodged in the wall just past her. She had better things to imagine than his threats, such as gutting whomever was shooting her with their own arrow. Had everyone completely forgotten who she was? In the past four months, she had found more people trying their luck with her than ever before. She was Red Robin. There was no way she was taking being shot at lying down. Looking at the three arrows, it wasn’t too difficult for her to see where they had come from.
“Someone’s gonna die tonight,” she sang.
When Amadhay tried to get up, Christein kept her pinned. “Idiot!” he hissed, clamping his hand back over her mouth. “Now they know we’re still here.” When she gave him a look that told him she was going to remove fingers with her next bite, he removed his hand but added, “And I hate to break it to you, but people die all the time, even without our help,” in a hiss.
Another micro-arrow shot into the shadows, as if the archer knew they were there but not quite sure where. It missed them by a foot.
“Do you want to die as well?” she snarled at him, her red eyes glinting.
Christein glanced up, as if seeing something. “No, not so much,” he answered her before standing up. He melted into the darkness of the bricks, using his second Gift to blend in with the wall quickly. “Stay down.”
Amadhay rolled her eyes as well as her body from where Christein had left her. Her hand reached out and snagged the micro-arrow sticking up from the pavement and rolled it between her fingers, waiting. She crawled almost out of the shadows, only enough for Christein to see her and become distracted. She grinned where she knew he was from the slight shift of the smooth wall when he moved.
“Get back,” he ordered. She ignored him, waiting for her chance when another micro-arrow hit the pavement only a hair away where she lay.
“Gotcha,” she whispered, jumping up. Christein reached for her, but a long, silver arrow just barely missed Christein’s head, forcing him to pay attention to his surroundings and take his eyes from her, allowing her to dart up the emergency fireway.
She kept an eye on him as he ducked back down into the shadows, visible once again, and knew when he found that she was no longer where he left her when he hissed her code name. “Red Robin!” She knew he used her full code name to remind her that they were on a mission, his mission. “I’m in charge here! You listen to me.”
She snorted, “Sometimes,” she muttered. “But not this time,” she whispered, shifting in her Gift to give herself an extra push for the running jump she’d need to make it from the smooth ramp of the fireway, onto the rooftop. It was an easy feat, through she had to tuck into a roll to soften the blow of the metal rooftop. She hated this city. The rooftops were made for people to walk across them, which meant that there was no cover when she made it there, especially with the bright light shining into her eyes.
It took her a moment to adapt to the difference in light, and when she did, she stood face to point with a micro-arrow, this one more dangerous than the last with a tranq-shaft and needle head rather than the normal magically imbued steel. Now they were trying to sedate her? She stood slowly, hands up in the air on either side.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” a mature voice told her, making her raise an eyebrow as she took in the sight of a man, most likely human if she had to guess. He had tracking goggles on, which made her grin.
“Good for you,” she stated, glancing away from him, across the rooftop. There was no one else around, but she knew that he hadn’t shot the full arrow. That wasn’t a standard Local Force weapon. It was a specialized one, and since the man in front of her was definitely Local Force, given his full black ensemble with the appropriate golden studs on his belt to indicate he’d been an officer for seventeen years, she doubted he had a pundit weapon on him. Only a recently demoted pundit member would be using the advanced micro-arrows, mostly because BI Weapons Division had only come out with that, particular, one a few months ago.
“Tell your friend to surrender and no one will get hurt.”
“Besides the two arachins and that human, right?” she reminded him with a grin, glancing down to the shadows where her cousin was being suspiciously quiet. Had he left?
“You’re still an innocent in this,” the man started, making Amadhay laugh aloud.
“Oh, that’s good. I needed that,” she joked, smiling at him. No, there was Christein. He had apparently heard her laughing and was now cursing at her. She thought she heard something about obeying order, but she couldn’t be too certain.
“Look, I’m going to make this quick for you, okay?” she smiled sweetly, and just as she was reaching for the arrow she’d stuck in her waistband, another of the long, silver arrows landed between her feet. She raised her eyebrows, looking at the officer before her.
He gave her a fake smile. “My partner isn’t as willing to just take you in as I am.”
She nodded slowly, scanning the rooftop again. “And you, you’re just trying to be a good guy, shooting an unarmed girl right between the eyes.”
As expected, that made the man lower his arrow to her chest. It wouldn’t hurt any less if he shot her there, and considering it was only a sedative, it didn’t matter either way, but it gave her a slightly better time to react. She just needed to find his partner, because even at her speed, one of those micro-arrows shot in such a short distance, and with such little room for her to avoid it, would probably hit. She saw something shift out of the corner of her eye, but it wasn’t a Local Force given there was color, so she ignored it and instead focused ahead of her. The other had to be somewhere ahead of her to have made that shot.
“Well, my partner seems to think that you’re more dangerous than you look.”
She raised her eyebrows, looking to around. “Me? I’m just having a little fun.”
He nodded down to the bodies and Christein, who was leaning against a wall, in plain sight. “That fun for you?” he asked before holding up another micro-arrow, this one with a nasty looking mixture in the shaft, dead-vampire venom. Dead-vampire venom would probably drop her in less than a second if even a drop got into her system. Apparently, he wasn’t falling for her innocent girl tricks. “Would this be fun for you?”
There, she thought, spotting something behind the closest lightbeam. That was why she couldn’t see them, because they were hiding in her blindspot. She wasn’t sure if it was luck or if they had recognized her sensitive sight to be her weakness. Either way, it didn’t really matter now that she’d found them.
Again, she smiled sweetly. “Well, I can’t say this has been fun. And it’ll probably really suck for you, but thanks for playing.”
Two micro-arrows were loosed at the same time, hitting right where she’d been standing. She teleported away, to the partner, and easily slit the woman’s throat with the sharpest edge of the micro-arrow, pausing after to stare at the blood on her neck before closing her eyes and stamping her magical three-fingered claw mark on her face to claim the kill. It was all very quick, quick enough that the man hadn’t even turned yet. She closed the distance between them in a click with her Gift and paused for a moment, the arrow lifted to his throat.
“No, please,” he started to beg, but Amadhay didn’t feel like listening. She kicked his legs from under him, making him fall backwards, not wanting to stab him in the throat. One was enough for the night. He dropped his bow and she picked it up, using the quick shoot setting to shoot him with his own micro-arrows until he stopped moving. At that point, she kicked him a few times to make sure he was truly dead before stepping back, bow still in hand.
She checked the macro holder to see that there were still a few micro-arrows in the system. With a grin, she lazily aimed and shot them in Christein’s general vicinity. None of them came close to him, but that didn’t make him less irritated.
“Red!” he yelled, and she could her how irritated he was, which made her decide to just leave the weapon and rejoin him. “If you’re the one fucking shooting me, you’re dead.”
Amadhay reappeared just out of his reach, purposely looking as sweet as possible, attempting to coax a laugh from him. “Me?” she asked innocently, hopping back when he made to grab her.
“We’re leaving now,” he ordered, glancing nervously back at the silver tipped arrow that had barely missed him.
“Okay,” she responded, not sure why he seemed so nervous. She had taken out the first responders. They had time before any more Local Force showed up and nothing to connect them to the crime given how no blood had stained their clothes. All they had to do was walk away.
“I’m not playing. Don’t make me have to carry you,” Christein warned.
She held up her hands in defense. “I won’t. I’m right behind you,” she promised. But when he disappeared, most likely teleporting back to base to report his findings, she stayed where she was. His mission was over and she didn’t have to listen to him anymore.
“What is his problem?” she asked no one, walking away from the scene. When there was only silence in response, she rolled her eyes, pushing her hair back against the wind as she made it down the abandoned block, heading for the safe house to pick up her clothes. This part of Ratigattan was always so deserted and she couldn’t help but feel like it was made for a good murder drop off, especially considering almost every job she’d had in this city had led her here. Pushing murder from her mind, she looked at her wrist DS to call Lizumeizei. It was weving night the following night and she wanted to know if she could come over sooner, like that evening, and just spend the night and day with him. She smiled when she got to the image of her cat-kin and she clicked on his icon to call him.
Suddenly, a full sized arrow zoomed past her, slicing a lock of her hair in half. She watched as it dropped down to the ground. She stared at it, feeling a stabbing pain in her chest, a tell-tale sign that something had gone terribly wrong and she was asymmetrical. She ended the call before it connected to Lizumeizei’s DS.
“I’m about to give someone a slow and painful death,” she said, glaring now at the arrow that had made her imperfect. She noted that the tip of the arrowhead was silver while the rest was a normal wood. It was definitely different from the tiny micro-arrows that had been zooming at them previously, but it also wasn’t the same silver one that had been shot at Christein either. This was made to kill, not tranquilize and capture.
Christein snickered from the shadows, becoming visible where he was leaning. He looked casual, but there was a tension in his body that made her think he was ready to run. “Bet you wish you had followed orders, huh? Little Miss Perfect ain’t so perfect now.”
“YOU ARE DEAD!” Amadhay roared, fighting both the urge to kill her most beloved cousin and the urge to find the broken hairs and tear them all out. She could fix her hair later.
Christein held both of his hands in the air so that she could see he had no arrows. “Hey, I didn’t do it,” he immediately replied, knowing how serious Amadhay might be about honestly killing him. “I know how you are about symmetry, remember?”
She did. Christein had once had the most perfectly symmetrical face Amadhay had ever seen. He had been verging on pretty. He had been the one to indulge her need for symmetry as a child because he understood it where the rest of their family didn’t. She still wasn’t completely sure what had happened, but she knew the basics of the story. Christein had propositioned one of Amaya’s servants—or friend as she truly was—because she was so cute. Blu, the girl, had decided the best way to say no was to cut his face. He was now left with several different jagged claw marks on his face, going from almost the center of his forehand and diagonally down to his ear, straight across his cheek and to the bridge of his nose, and a single one cutting right through his lip. The cat-kin had almost blinded him in his right eye. All of his symmetrical beauty was gone, instead replaced with rough skin where the scar had healed with thicker skin, making him look dangerous instead of pretty, a fact he tended to hide by brushing his hair over that side of his face.
Amadhay had a vague acquaintanceship with Blu, vague in that she worked as Amaya’s servant and thus, had been under Amadhay’s scope of interest, regardless of her being the light Herald. Honestly, the two of them had never really gotten along though there had never been any real animosity between them. There had been no real feelings either way until she had come back from the Madra job and first seen Christein with those scars marring his face. She hated anyone who could willingly ruin something of such symmetrical beauty as Christein’s face had once been. Honestly, she just hated anyone who would dare hurt her cousin in general.
Amadhay was brought back to the present danger and hatred when another silver tipped arrow sliced through the skin on her left arm. Christein was luckier, having jumped as soon as one of the arrows shot into the wall an inch from his face.
“Shit,” he muttered, glaring at it as if willing it to change.
“Whoever is shooting at me had better stop!” Amadhay warned. She hated arrows. They were always harder to avoid than bullets because they made so little sound until it was too late to move.
“Red, we need to leave. Now,” Christein ordered softly, reaching for her.
She moved away from him, squinting in an attempt to see the rooftops. It was too late for her to just leave. Someone had to pay. “I’m going to kill you either way for ruining my hair, but I may show some leniency.”
A scoff came from high up, probably where the shooting was coming from. “Ooh, so scared,” another girl’s voice rang out, tauntingly. “Scared of a hair-drama faie. Come at me then.”
Amadhay started, looking in surprise to Christein. That voice had sounded alarmingly like one she knew very well. His pained expression told her that he already knew. Before he could respond to her, two figures dropped down, with one in front of Amadhay and the other in front of Christein, separating the two.
A familiar feline-kin girl looked down sharply, her eyes glowing strangely behind a pair of goggles. She tried to fan-kick Amadhay, who easily dodged, but still knocked the aelfe down with a bright clap of light right in front of her face. There were few people who could use light in its pure form.
“Christein. I should’ve known,” a male voice hissed. There was yet another voice Amadhay recognized. She groped at the ground, trying to get back up, but someone, who she was sure was the cat-kin, kicked her back down.
“Cur,” she hissed, but waited until she could see without blotches in her vision before trying anything again.
The first thing she saw was Christein throw a punch and get blocked by a man whose back was to her, his dark hair pulled into a loose braid. “What are you doing here, Hynnkel?” he demanded, obviously pointedly trying to keep the man’s back to Amadhay. She tried to get to her hands and knees, but the cat-kin knocked her back down, this time to her back.
“Just trying to clean the streets of filth,” Hynnkel’s voice shot back, sounding disgusted
Amadhay froze, her muscles tensing. If that really was Hynnkel, and it was, then the still hidden archer most definitely was Amaya, her sister. The same sister who she had utterly betrayed nearly a year ago, before faking her own death. The same sister who had sworn that the next time she saw her without Nolando around would be her last breath. Amadhay kicked the cat-kin away from her and another silver-tipped arrow hit the ground alarmingly close to her head.
“Don’t you hurt my Blu-belle!” Amaya called out.
She caught Christein looking past Hynnkel, to Blu, who stiffened when she glanced up and caught him. Amadhay’s eyes narrowed as she managed to kick off of the ground and up to her feet, never taking her eyes off of the auburn haired girl. In that instant, the thought of just teleporting away completely disappeared from her mind. She now had the chance to deal with Blu, the “cute cat-girl” who kept catching both Benjy and Christein’s attentions. She recognized her in a recognition of scent and coloring way, since puberty had definitely hit her hard, carving an attractive, pale, round face with pink lips, long, muscular legs, a chest larger than her own, and generous curves that never for a moment made her look anything close to cute. She wondered if Benjy would still call the catgirl cute when she was dead. She shot up and at Blu faster than anyone else could move.
Anyone other than Hynnkel, that is. She always forgot his ability to stop time. Suddenly Hynnkel was between them, his reaction time faster than anyone she had ever met, with his lips pulled back in a vicious snarl. “Leave her alone!” he growled.
Amadhay stopped short, her hair going forward into his face. “Woah,” she said softly, wondering how aware he had to have been of the entire situation to know what she had been about to attempt. No one had ever been able to stop her when she used her gift to full capacity, not since she had found the ultimate speed Sha’adahk had been trying to train into her. The wind suddenly stopped, making her hair fall.
“Kitty’s got bite,” she joked with a smirk before punching Hynnkel in the chest with a glowing red hand. He went falling back into Blu even though she was sure that she had only been able to graze him. The shape of her fist was scorched into his shirt, but it hadn’t burned through the fabric, meaning it hadn’t touched his skin. She faltered when his eyes widened, studying her face and she became aware that she wasn’t wearing her mask. It, like all the rest of her sneaksuit, was at the safe house. This wasn’t the first time in the past few months that she’d made this kind of mistake. It was the first time that it could really hurt her.
“Mayday?” Hynnkel spoke, staring up at Amadhay in stunned disbelief. Amadhay quickly looked away from him, hoping he would convince himself that she wasn’t herself, just as another arrow sliced through her hair.
At the sound of a thud, Amadhay glanced back in time to see Amaya hopping from the roof, onto a fireway across the street from her. Her sister chose another one hiding place in the shadows, closer this time, but Amadhay kept her eye on her, easily seeing her in her bright colors through the darkness of the poorly lit street.
“Step away from them, or the next arrow will be in your forehead,” Amaya ordered. She turned her bow at a slant and added another arrow. “And Christein. So nice to see you. Move and you’ll get one in your shoulder. ‘cause you’re family.”
Amadhay rolled her eyes, glancing back to Hynnkel, who still hadn’t taken his eyes off of her. “I can move faster than your arrows, idiot,” she snapped, glancing back to Amaya just as Blu pounced from behind Hynnkel, pinning her to the ground. She mentally cursed at herself for her inattention as her head hit the pavement.
“Good luck with that,” Amaya retorted sarcastically, and Amadhay watched her feet come forward, out of the shadows so that she was completely visible. “Hynnky. You okay?” she asked, making Amadhay glance at him again. He was still on the ground, his back to Christein, whose eyes were on Amaya and her bow. He had an easy target, but Amaya never missed, so she hoped he wouldn’t attempt anything.
“Fine,” Hynnkel spat to Amaya, standing up. He clenched his jaw as he gently pressed his fingers where Amadhay had punched him and bits of fabric fell away under his fingers, revealing his unmarked chest. He didn’t move any closer, but he looked down at Amadhay with a constrained anger. “We thought you were dead,” he accused her. She squirmed under Blu, the superior weight of the cat-kin keeping her effectively pinned, and considered putting a last click glamour up, but recognized that it was already too late. “Where have you be—”
Christein interrupted him by plunging a knife into Hynnkel’s side. “Shut up, you piece of shit.”
Amadhay and Blu both moved at the same time. Blu sat up, forgetting to hold onto Amadhay and instead turning to help Hynnkel. She didn’t get anywhere however, because Amadhay pulled one of the blades Christein had given her from the sheath in her sleeve and stabbed Blu in the back, aiming for the spine but just missing when an arrow came at her and she had to move. She shoved Blu off of her and rolled away to miss being shot. She felt a second arrow just barely miss her face as she rolled to the wall.
Blu cried out and dropped down, falling onto her side. Amaya didn’t say anything, but another arrow flew at Amadhay, nearly hitting her as she forced herself to her feet. Hynnkel tilted his head back, gritting his teeth as he fought Christein to get the serrated blade out of his side. He could have easily used any of his Gifts to beat Christein back, but his focus was on getting to Blu, not fighting his brother anymore and that gave Christein the upper hand. Amaya wouldn’t shoot at him, not with Hynnkel that close. She might have been able to shoot him, but it was far more likely that Christein would use his brother as a shield if she did.
Christein tugged the knife out and glanced at Amadhay, who was pulling a second blade out as she used her Gift to avoid another of Amaya’s arrows, “Finish her off now, Red,” he ordered, stabbing Hynnkel again, but not able to get it as deep this time, now that Hynnkel was expecting it. “While Hynnkel’s down!”
The brothers struggled and then Christein’s back was to Amadhay. She moved from the wall and then had Blu by the hair, holding her just so that she could use her as a shield against any of Amaya’s arrows. Immediately, the arrows stopped coming, which allowed Amadhay to focus on the cat-kin. Before that, though, she made eye contact with Amaya, pulling her friend’s head back so that she could see the fear in both of the girl’s eyes. Looking down to Blu’s pained face, Amadhay felt a warmth that always came with this. Blu was panicking and forgetting everything she could be doing, which made Amadhay smirk. She loved that look, the moment of absolute fear right before she killed someone, when their entire body was giving the acknowledgement that it was the end for them.
Amadhay had the knife to Blu’s throat hard enough to draw a line of blood on the girl’s porcelain skin. She gripped the knife harder, staring at the line, feeling her breath quicken. She tensed her muscles to slit her throat, but paused again, just long enough to miss her chance.
“Now, Amaya!” Hynnkel barked, making Amaya loose arrow after arrow, the first one embedding itself into Christein’s shoulder.
At Christein’s cry, Amadhay dropped Blu, turning to see what had happened to him. She stood staring at the arrow in his shoulder long enough that she just barely missed getting an arrow shot through her hand. She dropped the knife and moved away from Blu, as the barrage of arrow was forcing. Amaya was trying to force her back against the wall, but Amadhay didn’t let her, instead using her Gift to speed through the arrow and to Christein’s side.
“Sorry, Baron,” she whispered, keeping Hynnkel, Amaya, and Blu all in her vision. Amaya notched another arrow and Amadhay knew that this one was aimed at her eye. If she allowed herself to, she could take out Amaya easily, but she wasn’t going to, and that made the entire situation incredibly dangerous for her and Christein because her sister didn’t have the same hold back. She ignored Hynnkel as he tried to tug Christein’s knife from his side, deciding that he was no longer a threat. Her only worry was getting Christein safe from the arrows. Hynnkel and Blu were distracted with their own hurts, but Amaya wasn’t. “But our lives come before ending hers, and that archer is dangerous.”
Christein gestured angrily towards Amaya, who was slowly but surely coming closer to them.“It’s just Amaya. You know sh—”
Suddenly Hynnkel’s short sword was all the way through Christein. Amadhay hadn’t even seen him pull it, much less get close enough to them to cut Christein down. Christein dropped when Hynnkel let go of the sword, falling to the pavement with his face making a horrible crack against it.
Hynnkel pinned Amadhay against the wall before she could so much as breathe, his hand around her throat. He didn’t squeeze, but there was something in his eyes that she’d only seen once before, when he’d been cursed. He didn’t say anything, only stared at her with a strange shadow in his eyes.
“What is it with men pinning me against walls today?” She tried to sound brave, but all she could think was Oh Goddess, Monkey. Is he alright? He’s regenerating, right? It will heal, right? He’ll be fine, right?
He slapped her hard enough to make her cheek hit the wall. It was the opposite cheek that Christein had slapped earlier and this slap made her eyes tear. Before he could react, her grabbed her face and turned it so that she was looking at him again. “She had better not be dead, Amadhay. And don’t pretend you’re not Amadhay, because I know you are.”
“Hynnky!” Amaya called from where Blu had fallen. Amadhay and Hynnkel didn’t look away from each other, though Amaya’s voice did seem to make the shadow back away and his mahogany eyes were a little softer, but still angry, still dangerous. “The stab was off. She’s bleeding pretty bad, but it’s not fatal if we get her to Squirrel.”
She tried to punch him in the side where Christein had stabbed him but he caught her hand with ease. “If Red Baron is dead,” she hissed when he slammed her hand against the wall. “I will start with Goggles, go to Archer, and then save your death for last.” Even as frightened as she had to admit she was, she was serious with the threat. She didn’t care that she had promised herself that she would never hurt Amaya again. She couldn’t see Christein over Hynnkel, but she thought she could just hear his wet breaths. He wasn’t crying out anymore, and she didn’t know what that meant.
“If you kill those two, I will take your fucking soul,” he threatened her, the shadow coming back full force and a strange red began to take over his eyes.
Amadhay watched the red with no fear. “I don’t have one left to take,” she stated simply, remembering the last thing Hlala had said to her. You are so covered in bad that your astral is almost gone. You’re barely even alive anymore. What happened to you?
Hynnkel leaning into Amaya until the red coated his entire eyeball, unlike her own simply over her irises, was all she could see. Images began playing through her mind.
There was a baby, a beautiful little girl with olive skin and a head covered by curly, black hair. She was suddenly aware it was her. There was a smoky fog reaching for the baby, crooning for her to help it. The baby reached out and a dark shadow smothered her hand, tried to follow the little hand up to her tiny face until she opened sky blue eyes. It dropped away from her.
The image disappeared and she stared at Hynnkel for less than a click that seemed like an eternity before another image hit her.
It was Amadhay again, a little girl dressed in all pink, the color of the soul Splinter, for a funeral. She had been to so many funerals, but this one was the funeral of her parents, she was suddenly sure. She stared at the ashes as they were thrown into the air. She wasn’t crying, but staring. Christein stood beside her, holding her hand. “It’s alright if you wanna cry,” he told her, but wouldn’t look at her.
She had simply stared at the ashes. “Why would I cry? Everyone dies.”
She took a deep breath and tried to fight away from Hynnkel, but she didn’t get anywhere.
Little Amadhay stared at a bird whose wing was broken. Hynnkel’s voice came out. “We can take it to the healers.”
She frowned and looked at him. “But then the snake won’t get food.” She pointed at the large snake slithering toward the frightened creature. She smiled. “That wouldn’t be fair.”
“Stop it,” she started to cry.
An older Amadhay lay in her bed, her head on top of a book of spells. She was muttering learned words in her sleep, summoning words. “Darelevan,” the dark voice whispered to her sleeping form. She kept muttering and a red fog started toward her. It was on her lips when her eyes snapped open. The sky blue was beginning to get a hint of red. She looked around, but the red fog was leaving her.
She focused all of her power on the words she needed. She couldn’t say it, because he had a feeling that speaking the curse aloud wouldn’t do her any good, she needed it at its full strength. The red eyes regarded her with amusement.
“You are mine.” The words echoed.
“Hynnky, she’s doing something weird…” Amaya warned.
A purple mist was beginning to form around Amadhay. She was determined to get out of this. The red eyes regarded her for a moment before Hynnkel’s lips slammed against hers. Amadhay gasped and Hynnkel opened his mouth. Amadhay felt herself choking on something, something shoving its way inside of her but she couldn’t stop it.
“What are you doing!” Amaya yelled, tugging on Hynnkel.
The last dregs of whatever Hynnkel had given her caught in her throat, but went down as Hynnkel was pulled back by Amaya, who was suddenly given the task of holding up the man who was a foot taller and close to twice her weight.
Amadhay stumbled away, falling to her knees. She could see Christein. Someone, she supposed that it had probably been Amaya, had removed the sword from his body. There was so much blood.
“A…Amadhay?” he whispered, opening his eyes only a bit. He coughed up blood.
Amadhay crawled to him as Amaya got Hynnkel to lean against the wall. Amadhay wrapped her arms around Christein gently, nuzzling her head into the crook of his neck. She held in a scream when a new arrow pierced her back.
Christein moaned. “Amadhay, I, I can’t hold on.”
“It’ll be okay, Monkey,” she promised softly as she teleported them away.