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.
In other words, he focused on anything that wasn’t: What does he need to talk to Khale about? Did I do something wrong? What did I do wrong? Am I in trouble? What does he know? Does he know about the mission?
It wasn’t easy, because sitting beside him on the public zip train was Barthew Base. He knew that the man had to have had a personal teleport or at the very least, a private car on the zip train. Yet there he was, sitting beside him, watching him with interest. He hadn’t said anything since Croy-li had pulled out a few tools, except to the people around him to assure them that he wasn’t doing anything dangerous.
They still had ten clacks left before they were in Freeman’s Hold and then it was still another thirty clacks walk to Kay Castle. He could bypass that walk by telling Khale he was coming and his brother would send a car for them, but he liked the walk. Normally.
“You turned it wrong,” Base said softly.
Croy-li looked up at him. “Sorry?” he asked. He didn’t even know what he was doing, how could Base? Except that he was the greatest mind in the past centuries.
“You were making a water heater. But if you keep the way you’re going, it’s going to explode and take out half of the train,” he said softly, so only Croy-li could hear him. “Right now you have most of a pressurized water bomb in your hands. So please turn that valve the other way and remove the light strip.”
Croy-li stared at him for a few breaths before quickly pulling up the light strip. He had only put it in there to see what was inside of the conductor. He hadn’t considered that the addition of that bit of fusing wasn’t a good idea. It was, indeed the beginning of a bomb. All he had to do was add some water, finish the pressurizing and it would have been ready to go. He ducked his head.
“Sorry,” he muttered. He stared at his hands, wondering when he had taken off his right glove. That could have done it. If the conductor wanted to explode, he might have been influenced to do with it what it wanted. He’d built bombs before.
“Were you unaware?” Base asked softly, plucking the conductor from Croy-li’s hands before the boy could do anything worse.
“I wasn’t paying attention,” he admitted sheepishly.
That made the phantom laugh. “You almost made a water bomb from a conductor because you weren’t paying attention?”
Croy-li’s shoulders were up to his ears. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s alright. Do you often build bombs when you aren’t paying attention?”
“If it wants to be a bomb,” he said softly.
Base watched him for a long moment. “What sort of technopath are you?” he asked.
“I’m mostly a data-path,” Croy-li corrected. “I feel the network and data and become part of it. I can speak with technology on an electric basis so long as it’s connected in some way to a network.”
“So this?” Base held out the conductor. “It isn’t. It’s on its own.”
Croy-li shook his head and took it from him. He gently stuck his hand inside and plucked the heart out. It buzzed loudly in his veins for a moment and he remembered he hadn’t put his glove on, but as soon as it started, it stopped. He showed the data chip that had once connected it to a main computer to Base. “It’s not much, but it’s enough of an echo of the machine. This isn’t connected right now, but up until you took it out, it was. It has a memory of being a part of something and more than that, it has a sort of personality. This bit felt abandoned and wanted to feel one more time.”
Base was watching him with such undisguised intrigue that Croy-li didn’t stop like he normally would. Ever since leaving the Argents with the Thief Lord, he had no one to talk shop with. None of his team understood it and none of them really wanted to. But Base understood, in some manner, and more than that he cared.
“So while I was working on it, it put the impulse through me to give it something big, something that would feel like being a part of the network again. The only thing that feels like that is being blown up. It’s an intense, immediate feeling, only it ends as soon as it starts. It could feel itself losing the memory of the network, and with as little as there was to begin with, it couldn’t imagine being a part of something else. I was just fiddling, but I’m easily led in one direction or another when I don’t really have plans.”
“And so it used the echo of the hydraulics chamber to put you in mind of…?”
“It was more the conductor. Electricity is all it knows, but it felt a sort of pain from the water of the tank when it leaked. My brain is always a little connected to whatever electric field there is. So maybe someone’s talking about bombs? Maybe I just remember building water bombs for Thief Lord. Maybe someone recently did this and it stuck with me.”
Base smiled again, leaning back into his seat. “Interesting. And you think it could happen with anything?”
“Maybe. I don’t think most toys are going to want to become bombs, but Amadhay’s toy mouse was made from the same parts that the laser guns are made from. That’s why I made a laser mouse.”
“Why did it explode?”
Croy-li shrugged. “I was four? Maybe I was missing some parts, put something in the wrong place, maybe Amadhay snatched it from me too fast.”
“Do you often find your inventions blow up?”
Croy-li looked away. “Sometimes, yeah.”
“Do you know why?”
“No,” he sulked. “They just do.”
Base nodded after a few more clicks of Croy-li’s sulking. “Do you have any plans for University?” he asked.
Hoping he knew where this was going, but not wanting to jump to conclusions, he shrugged as casually as he could. “I think I’m supposed to become the Herald’s liaison.”
The phantom waved his hand. “You’re already that and you do a wonderful job of it. What would you like to do besides that? Are you thinking of doing the tinkering track at University?”
Croy-li swallowed and looked hopefully to Base. “Um, do you think I should?” he asked.
Without a pause, Base shook his head. “No. I don’t. If you getting distracted or just experimenting can turn into you building a bomb, or worse, simply exploding, you would be a danger to the other students,” he said bluntly. “The normal tinker track wouldn’t be a fit to you and you’d probably be thrown out.”
“Oh,” Croy-li whispered, dropping his gaze to his lap. He tried not to focus on the way that stung. His idol was telling him to give up something he loved because he wasn’t good enough. Maybe the Thief Lord was right…
“But considering I have no students, there wouldn’t be the same problem if you came immediately to an apprenticeship with me. I think I’d be able to catch just what has you blowing things up a lot faster than any of the other Tinkers, and to be honest, it would be safer for me to keep an eye on you. You might accidentally make the next war machine because you were imagining swimming with our water Herald.”
It took Croy-li a few clicks to realize that he had really just heard what he thought he had. He looked up at Base to see an expectant look on the inventor’s face. “Mind you, I can’t officially offer you the apprenticeship until you’re done with Schooling, but with your brother’s permission, I’m sure we’d be able to add a few new lessons to your schedule. It would be in my warehouse, and anything you saw in there would have to be kept a secret.”
“You want me as an apprentice?” Croy-li whispered in disbelief, holding his breath.
Base smiled. “Yes, Croy-li. I would like to have you as my apprentice.”
“You never have apprentices,” he whispered again.
Base shrugged. “I haven’t had the time.”
The rest of the ride, Croy-li was shell-shocked. The Barthew Base wanted him as an apprentice. Even after he’d almost accidentally made a bomb. Even after he admitted that his stuff kept blowing up. He had to have known plenty of other starstruck inventing hopefuls who’d wanted his tutelage before and he’d chosen Croy-li. He couldn’t wait to tell his team. He couldn’t wait to go to the warehouse. He couldn’t wait to…
“Prince Croy-li?” Base nudged him to attention. “This is our stop.”
“Oh, right, of course,” Croy-li exclaimed, jumping to his feet. As he led Base to the exit of the train, he pulled his DS out and called his brother.
Khale answered immediately. “Are you staying in Verseins tonight?”
“What?” Croy-li asked, perplexed for a moment before realizing that he hadn’t talked to his brother since he’d been in the medical room. “No. I’m actually in Freeman’s Hold right now. I just got off the train. With Barthew Base.”
Khale chuckled lightly. “Alright. I’d offer a car, but I know that you won’t take it and Bart prefers horses. Can you ride?”
“Of course I can,” Croy-li responded, eyeing the train hub. There were three exits. One would take them directly to the streets, another would take them to food and the third would take them to gain a form of transport. Base was already heading to that one.
“Good, because Bart loves horses. There’s a horse there that you can borrow. She’s my personal one, Sunny. I’m sure they’ll offer her to you. If not, I’d prefer you ask for her than take any other one.”
Croy-li rolled his eyes. “No one sabotaged a horse to get to me, Khale.”
“You never know,” his paranoid brother countered. “And I would prefer you be safe.”
“Fine, fine,” Croy-li assured him, though he had absolutely no plans of riding Khale’s ‘safe’ horse. He’d seen Khale ride her before and he was nowhere near the equestrian his brother was. He needed a smaller horse that didn’t move like the wind.
Base was standing next to a brown mare with wild eyes when Croy-li caught up with him. “What do you think?” he asked Croy-li, who gave the horse a wide perimeter.
“I think that if she doesn’t try to murder you outright, you should count yourself lucky.”
Base laughed. “Not much for horses?” he asked.
Croy-li shrugged. “I’m fine with them. I prefer the mechanical ones I can control, but there are worse animals.” He focused on the stallion beside Khale’s favored horse. Sunny, a light colored monster of a horse that stood towering all the others was showing love to the honey colored stallion beside her, rubbing against him. That horse was about Croy-li’s height, but built stockier.
“That one’s Sandy,” the stable master told him before giving him a double take and giving him a deep bow. “My prince,” he added. “I assume you’ll be taking Sunny?”
“No,” Croy-li blurted out when the man went to make quick work of getting the mare ready. She trotted around the honey horse, who didn’t move. Croy-li made eye contact with the stallion. “I think I’d like Sandy.”
Base chuckled under his breath, but the stable master nodded. “Of course. Anything you’d like,” he responded, grabbing a different saddle.
While Base got his horse ready, Croy-li stood back and watched the stable master. He’d never really paid attention to this part, but if he was going to be around Barthew Base, he decided that he’d make sure he didn’t disappoint him. If Base readied his horse, so would he the next time they took horses.
“Sandy was a good choice,” the stable master said conversationally now that he was comfortable with Croy-li’s presence. “He’s Sunny’s little brother and a bit easier to control. Sunny is good and all for the king, but she’s a bit too large for you, no offense. I’m sure you’ll be the same as your brother once you’re done growing. You look just like he did at your age, all legs.”
Croy-li shrugged, unsure if he was being complimented, insulted or simply being compared to Khale. “Thanks?”
“Alright, there we go. Remember to feed him once you get to the castle to make sure he doesn’t associate you with hard work and no reward.”
“Will do,” Croy-li promised, mounting the horse. Base sat atop the wild eyed mare a bit off to the side, moving with barely controlled energy.
They could have been planning against the royalty and nobility and leaving them out because they were a princelet and lady. But Amaya was a Herald first and foremost and Croy-li was part of the team more than a prince, so they couldn’t justify it, and there was no real reason for their friends to be a part of anything political. They were setting up a surprise for them. But, considering that their birthdays were months away, that possibility was just as unlikely as the others.
They couldn’t figure it out, and the longer they were in the dark, the more frustrated they became. To make matters worse, Blu had just disappeared on them. She wasn’t in any of her normal places, she wasn’t answering her DS, and as far as the others would tell them, she wasn’t in Rattigattan with them.
Croy-li turned onto his side, to look at Amaya. “They could be on a secret mission for the Thief Lord. If he told them not to tell us, they wouldn’t.”
“But why would he choose them?” Amaya countered. “He knows we’re the better duo out of the team.”
“Maybe he wanted the team and they fought to keep us out of it?” he suggested.
“Why would they do that?” Amaya retorted. “That would be keeping us in the dark. They wouldn’t do that.”
“Unless it’s against us? He might be having them do something against us.”
“He can’t do that,” she reminded him. The Thief Lord’s ability to force them to obey him went pretty far, but couldn’t break their other allegiances, and there was no allegiance stronger on Resor than the one between the seven of them.
“Okay, but what if it’s about someone close? Like they have to murder Amadhay or Khale? He might think we have allegiance and not use us. So he would have to use them.”
“But he wouldn’t. It would be the best way to test our allegiance to our families, Cole. If he wanted one of them dead, he’d use us to see if he could. And he wouldn’t keep it secret because he’d want to see if we’d fight them.”
“Unless he doesn’t want it linked to him. Or he really thought we would fight him. If he ordered you to kill Hynnkel, could you? No. If he then ordered me to, I couldn’t because I couldn’t hurt you or even Kelly or Khale. But the others don’t have any links here except us. And so they would keep quiet to keep us from being hurt or trying to stop them. Because, Hynnkel’s life on the line? Who are you going to help?”
“If it came between one of us and him? Them,” Amaya said. Croy-li thought she believed that, but he didn’t. She might stop Hynnkel from insulting him, but if he had a knife to Hynnkel’s throat because the Thief Lord told him to, he wasn’t sure what she would do.
“Okay, next idea.”
“Well, you can’t keep a secret,” she started. “And I tell you everything. So whatever it is, it’s sensitive information, right?”
“Maybe,” Croy-li agreed.
“That’s all I’ve got,” she admitted. “I’m out of ideas. You?”
“All gone,” he seconded. “And I’m hungry. Sneak to the kitchen with me?”
She nodded. “Or maybe we could even go to dinner.”
He shrugged. He didn’t want to chance a meal with all of her family. Besides Hynnkel, he didn’t particularly care for her uncle, Arne Riff, who went out of his way to be proper and in charge. Then, there was Christein, who was between Nolando and Hynnkel and incredibly crass. Amadhay was always a joy to eat with, and then there was always a chance of running into Amaya’s other aunt or distant family.
“Actually,” he started, trying to determine how best to say what he meant without angering Amaya.
“You want to avoid my family and go home?” she suggested for him.
“Not exactly,” he denied. “But I should head back. Khale was getting antsy. You could come with me?”
He knew before the words left his mouth that there was no chance. In a choice between him and Hynnkel, it was going to be Hynnkel, even if the man had been a first rate hunk of feral ass. She liked him, looked up to him, and even though he seemed to be a different person now, that wasn’t going to stop her infatuation.
“Well, I would, but maybe we should do what Bart said? Rest up, not drink that crap. ‘sides, I bet your tutors are getting all worried you’re dropping them for mine.”
Croy-li shrugged, “Fine by me. I’ll enjoy not nearly dying for a few days.”
“Woah, woah, who said anything about a few days,” Amaya whined. “I was giving you the rest of today away from me.”
Croy-li smiled at her. “Then you’re going to have to come to Kayden,” he told her, pushing himself to his feet. “Because I’m missing the beach.”
As he expected, Amaya smiled goofily. “You’re right. We should go to Kayden, spend some time swimming. Then we’ll figure out what the others are doing. Plan?”
“Plan,” Croy-li agreed, checking his pockets to make sure he had everything. “See you tomorrow, Aimy,” he called, leaving her rooms.
In doing so, he nearly ran right into Barthew Base, who was once again trying to reach something in his bag. The boy nearly toppled over after smacking into the solid man, only catching himself when his flailing hand caught the wall.
Distractedly, Base smiled at him. “I was just looking for you,” he said, making Croy-li sputter.
“Me?” he asked in surprise.
Base nodded, pulling a hunk of metal out of his bag. Croy-li studied it for a few clicks when the man held it out to him. It wasn’t just a hunk of metal. It was some kind of conductor, for what, he wasn’t sure. It was dull and bent in a few places that didn’t look purposeful.
“Can you fix that?” Base asked, staring at Croy-li in a way that made the boy uncomfortable.
“Maybe,” he hedged out, turning the thing in his hands. “What is it?” he asked.
Base raised an eyebrow. “You tell me.”
Oh, Croy-li realized. This is a test. Nodding to himself, he turned the object a few more times before pulling a small strip of testing metal from his pocket. Both of the metals sparked on impact. “It’s some sort of conductor,” Croy-li muttered, walking as he thought. He turned it again and was certain that he had it right side up that time. He blew lightly on it and a small spark of electricity flew up, making him smile.
He pulled his handheld multitool from his pocket and poked and prodded at the conductor for a few clicks before it sparked again. “Thought so,” he muttered. “What did that mean phantom do to you, baby?” he muttered, stroking the metal gently. Through his gloves, he couldn’t feel the response from the miniscule computer deep inside of the hunk of metal. “Just tearing you out of your home,” he soothed.
He turned around, heading back for the medical wing. “Don’t worry, I’ll put you back,” he muttered, only stopping when a hand landed on his shoulder.
“Where are you going?” Base asked him.
Croy-li blinked a few times, staring up at the man, having forgotten he was being tested. “Um. This is the pneumatic cylinder for the engine of the hydraulic chamber in the tank. The, uh,” he gestured to the outside of the device. “This is the conductor to allow for the electrical currents to work the cylinder inside. Underneath the cylinder is the data and compression chip. If I don’t put this back soon, won’t it stop working?”
Base smiled slightly. “It’s an old part,” he answered. “Did you speak to it?” he asked. Croy-li shook his head. “Then how did you know it was part of the hydraulic chamber?”
Croy-li fingered the metal for a moment. “Amaya used to be stuck in a tank a lot,” he answered softly. “Only hydraulic chambers require the piston to be that shape. And there’s a certain type of rust that comes from a leaking one. That’s why you took this out, right? Because it was leaking.”
Base stared at him critically for a few clicks, making Croy-li shift uncomfortably. “Yes,” he agreed. “Are you going to Kay Castle?” he asked.
Croy-li nodded, but didn’t ask why. He didn’t have to.
“Good, I’d like to speak with you brother about you.”
“And so I told her, ‘Look, I am really sorry that your twine ran off with my friend, but no, I’m not going to pay for you.’” Hynnkel was apparently in the middle of a story, and Croy-li assumed he’d come in on the punch line, because all of the others laughed.
Unsure whether he was welcome or not, Croy-li hovered at the door, listening as Amaya asked Hynnkel more questions. Deciding that she probably wanted time with her family, Croy-li turned on his heel to instead look for Blu and nearly ran right into Amaya’s sister. The girl, an inch or two shorter than Amaya but otherwise almost identical, aside from facial spoors, gave him a sarcastic smile.
“Smart Ass,” she acknowledged him.
“Milky,” he replied in kind, making her eyes flash at the cloaked insult of a nickname. For a moment, he was sure that there was something strange with the sky blue of her eyes because it looked darker than normal.
“Amaya, your pet princeling is out here,” Amadhay announced, stepping past him and into the room. “Maybe tell him what to do? He’s not so good figuring it out on his own.”
“Join us, Croy-li,” Amaya’s cousin, Kelly, invited, opening the door. She smiled widely at him, brushing her dark hair back over her shoulder and holding her hand out for him to take. Glancing past her, he saw Arche Loralyn quietly chiding Amadhay, with Amaya practically sitting on Hynnkel’s lap, Princess Anne and Nolando sitting side-by-side with their son sleeping peacefully, and empty space on a loveseat.
“I dunno,” Croy-li said, watching Amaya, who never so much as glanced at him, “I don’t want to invade on—”
“Don’t be a dummy,” Kelly stated, cutting him off and taking his hand. “Kel’s just telling us funny stories about his time away. You’re practically family anyway.” She led him to sit next to her on the loveseat, sitting a little closer than strictly necessary. She didn’t let go of his hand.
“Did anyone throw themselves at you?” Amaya asked pointedly, not looking at Kelly, but not having to for her cousin to get the point.
Flushing, the older teenager pulled away from Croy-li, her brown eyes glaring at Amaya, who was smiling sweetly at Hynnkel.
“Have you looked at me?” Hynnkel boasted. “Of course. I had people offering themselves every turn.”
To keep Kelly from taking his hand again, Croy-li pulled out his forceps and a small device that would work to scan for biological presences in a certain area from a single sample of air—once it was done anyway. At this point, it was just a mess of exposed wires and fuses on his hand-sized circuit board. For a few clicks, Kelly watched him, but was quickly pulled into Hynnkel’s stories about all the people he’d met.
“None of them were really good enough for me though,” he said with a shrug, his smirk bothering Croy-li, though the boy wasn’t sure why. In fact, the entire conversation had bothered Croy-li for some reason he couldn’t put his finger on.
“Right, because Fallora’s the one you wanted, right?” Kelly asked with an enchanted smile. He glanced up at his cousin’s name, looking at Hynnkel who gave another shrug. Right, Croy-li remembered, Fallora and Hynnkel are promised.
The general joyous attitude died down rather quickly. The adults looked to Hynnkel in silent surprise while Kelly and Amaya looked to Croy-li, who was staring at Hynnkel in disbelief.
“Does she know that?” Amadhay asked, the only one in the room who seemed to still be enjoying herself.
“I would assume that Khale told her.” There was very real contempt in the way the aelfe spoke Croy-li’s brother’s name that had all eyes turning to Croy-li, who immediately went back to tinkering, trying to pretend that he hadn’t been paying attention. He was neither his brother nor his cousin and had no part of whatever situation had gone down between the three of them. It was a sense of loyalty that, considering he didn’t owe it to his brother or cousin, was unwarranted that had him uncomfortable.
Still, Croy-li couldn’t help but to think, Hynnkel is an ass.
"What happened?" Kelly asked, exchanging intrigued looks with Amadhay, who covered her amused smirk with the back of her hand and tried for the same concerned look Kelly had. She didn't do it very well.
Hynnkel just shrugged as if he hadn’t just acknowledged he had, at some point, cut off his entanglement with a queen and not had the decency to tell her. Croy-li tried to keep a straight face, but he found himself exchanging a look with Princess Anne that said ‘He thinks an awful lot of himself.’ “We grew apart,” he finally said when no one else spoke.
“Sounds like you grew apart and kept it quiet,” Kelly said accusingly, glancing again to Croy-li, who tried to keep his attention on the objects in his hands, though most of his attention was on his peripheral, watching the others.
Hynnkel shrugged again. “I would figure she got the message a few months ago.”
Amaya and Amadhay both snorted, as if he’d said something funny, though Amadhay, at least, had the humility to pretend to be ashamed. Amaya only glanced at Croy-li before asking her cousin another question. “Did you decide before or after leaving that you were done with her?”
“Can we stop talking about Fallora? I was gone for a year. Don’t you want to hear more about what I did, where I went? Fallora can wait.”
“Can she?” Arche Loralyn asked softly, giving Hynnkel a disappointed look. “Does anyone but you know about your plans to detangle?”
Hynnkel gave another shrug. “All of you? Khale. And since both du Kays now know, I’m expecting it’ll get around to her pretty soon.”
Amaya sat up straighter, giving Hynnkel a look that wasn’t quite threatening, but wasn’t the same enraptured one she’d been giving him. She pushed herself onto the arm of the chair Hynnkel was seated in and glanced to Croy-li, who caught her eye. He gestured with his head toward the door, sliding his forceps into his pocket and making a face. Amaya made a face in return, flashing her eyes at Hynnkel before shaking her head slightly at Croy-li. The boy shrugged in response, ignoring her request, and stood, slipping his invention back into its appropriate pocket.
“—and see? He’s going to run off and tell her now.”
Croy-li frowned, looking to Hynnkel. He hadn’t paid any attention to what he was saying, considering his own, silent, conversation with his best friend, but he knew when he was being accused of something. And he didn’t like it. “I’m leaving because I don’t like your company,” he said bluntly, tossing an apologetic smile to the others.
“And my Cole doesn’t blabber,” Amaya spoke in a hard voice, sliding off of the arm of the chair to stand. “If you want your message to get to the Queen Ora, then you should take it yourself.” She smiled sweetly, before adding in an acidic tone, “That’s what a real aelfe would do.”
Hynnkel didn’t even seem bothered by the attack to his character. “Your Cole, huh?” he asked, eyeing Croy-li speculatively. “I’m thinking you could do better.”
“Wow,” Amadhay and Kelly blurted, once again exchanging looks. Amadhay was far too amused by the entire situation,
Knowing that Amaya’s fuse was blown by the way she tensed, the way the muscles in her arm looked ready to grab her bow—which was thankfully nowhere near her at the moment—and the way her eyes widened, he quickly intervened, placing a warning hand on her hip. He had to reach all the way across the room and it was an awkward gesture, particularly given the way she was so close to her cousin, but that didn’t make him move his hand from her. It was the only thing keeping Hynnkel from getting a fist—at the very least—to his face.
Amaya turned her head to him when he moved across the room to stand beside her, keeping his hand on her hip in their ‘don’t do it’ gesture. He put his other hand on her shoulder, their ‘think about it’ gesture. “Let’s go find Blu,” he suggested, choosing not to waste any more breath on her cousin.
She looked up, at his eyes, and when she raised an eyebrow, he shook his head. She let out a sigh and relaxed. Croy-li knew from the silence in the room that her family was watching them, that they were silently judging, probably wondering what had happened, why it had happened. He had no plans of telling them that their team all had those little on and off switches taught into them by the Thief Lord. He definitely wasn’t going to mention that he had saved Hynnkel from some kind of pain, possibly even his life given the way Amaya had been on edge in regards to others’ lives the past few months.
Instead of wasting breath on explanations he didn’t really want to give or fighting with Hynnkel, he pulled Amaya to the door. As an afterthought, he turned back to acknowledge Anne and Nolando who, as the crown successors of the Tierdom throne, were the only ones higher than he in status. “See you at dinner,” he said, not sure what the correct way to excuse himself and Amaya from the situation would have been and honestly not caring. He hated nobility politics. They were stupid.
Anne and Nolando nodded at him and so with only a nod to Arche Loralyn and then Kelly, he and Amaya left the room. Once out of the room, Amaya walked beside him with barely contained amusement.
“So, you build things, huh?” she asked, as if everything between her leaving him with Barthew Base and them leaving the room hadn’t happened. That was her normal way of dealing with things she didn’t want to, she didn’t. And his way was to go along with her, so he did.
“Shut up,” he whined. “I was blindsided. You set me up for failure.”
“I did?” she countered. “I didn’t even know that he was someone you were going to go happy puppy over.”
“He’s Barthew Base,” he exclaimed, following her as she led him out to the gardens. He assumed she knew where she was going. “I can’t believe you’ve known Barthew Base for two years and never introduced me to him!”
“Well,” Amaya started, hopping onto the low gate separating one of the vegetable gardens from the walk path. “Maybe I didn’t want you to make a fool of yourself,” she teased.
Croy-li crossed his arms over his chest and followed her, spotting a familiar head of auburn hair inside the gate, tending to some of the plants. He hadn’t known Blu worked with the vegetables. “If I’d been ready I wouldn’t have embarrassed myself. Did you think, at any point to tell me that the Barthew freaking Base was your family physician?”
Amaya shrugged, crouching down low on the gate. “I didn’t know he was that big a deal, honestly,” she stated, dropping down to sit on the gate with her legs on either side. She glanced to Blu, who looked toward them before going back to her work.
“You didn’t—how could you—I have a poster of him in my room, Aimy!”
“Your room room or your building room? ‘cause if you’ll remember, we spend most of our time here ‘cept when we need to grab one of your toys. I dunno if I’ve ever been in your room.”
Croy-li thought about that for a moment. It was possible. “But I talk about him all the time,” he added.
She shrugged. “You talking about scientists and inventor people is boring and I don’t listen.”
Croy-li stared at her for a moment. That was blunt and mean, two things he wasn’t normally the recipient for, not from her. She poked him with her foot when he didn’t respond and her questioning smile made him smile back.
“Well, you’ve got to make up for this, you know.”
“Okay,” Amaya said before standing up again. “Bart!” she yelled, waving her arms around. Blu looked up in surprise and Croy-li caught her gathering something up before Amaya turned him around so that he could see Barthew Base approaching them, a glass jar full of something green in his hand.
“Ah, there you are,” the phantom stated, reaching into his pack for something. He stopped a few steps away from them to rummage through the overly full cloth bag, awkwardly holding the jar with one hand as he held the flap to his bag open with an elbow and searched through it with his free hand.
“My Cole is upset that I didn’t introduce you two, so to make up for it, will you sign something for him or something? He’s apparently in love with you and I forgot that.”
Croy-li ducked his head, once again shocked mute by the mere presence of Barthew Base. The phantom grimaced and some papers fell out of the bag. Noting that his idol seemed a bit flummoxed and that Amaya was hardly going to do anything to help him, Croy-li jolted forward.
“Here, let me,” he picked up the papers that the phantom hadn’t even seemed to notice he’d lost and then took the jar so that the man had both hands. He glanced to Croy-li thankfully before going through his sack to pull out a second jar, this one with a sack attached to it. After the scientist pushed the second jar in Croy-li’s direction, he traded the papers for it.
“That is a protein shake both of you need to be taking,” the resident physician said, smiling slightly when Amaya and Croy-li exchanged disgusted looks. Amaya hopped off of the gate and took the smaller jar from Croy-li, eyeing the mess inside.
“Um,” Croy-li said, glancing to Amaya. “What’s in it?” he asked.
“Just proteins needed to make up for your lack of appetite. It will help to keep your magic level. Your tutors mentioned that the two of you seem to be a bit unfocused and Arche Loralyn and King Khale both suggested that both of you have been missing meals.”
Amaya’s lip curled in disgust when she opened the jar and sniffed it. “Is the alternative death? I’ll take death,” she stated, trying to hand the jar back to Base, who wouldn’t take it. Croy-li took a tentative sniff of the green in the jar and quickly closed the top. Base shook his head at both of them.
“In the future, perhaps taking proper meals would help, but at the moment, you are both lacking in major nutrients. Also, your bodies are straining, so perhaps cutting down on the physical exertion would be a good idea, okay? I’m not going to ask what you’re doing, because I know you won’t tell me,” he was looking directly at Amaya, who looked at him blandly. “But I am also going to strongly suggest that whatever activities have been keeping you from resting adequately, keeping you from meals and eating away at your magic reserves, should stop for the foreseeable future.”
Amaya shrugged. “I will take that into consideration,” she stated, glancing to Croy-li, who was staring at the jar to keep from blurting anything.
“In the meantime, both of you have to drink the Green Sludge to make up for what you aren’t doing. And while I can’t force either of you to take this, I’m afraid I may have mentioned to a few people that I was giving you medicine to take daily for the next few months.”
“Months?” Croy-li cried out, looking at Amaya, whose face scrunched up.
“Months,” Base confirmed. “Perhaps less if you take my advice. Longer if you don’t.”
“How do you know I need them?” Amaya countered. “Cole was in there, and look at him, he probably needs something. But me?”
“I keep track of you,” Base stated calmly before turning his attention back to Croy-li, who was weighing the jar between his hands. It was full of the green muck. “And you left some things I thought you might want returned.” He gestured to the small sack attached to the lip of the jar.
Once he opened it, Croy-li patted at his pockets. Yes, he had left his miniature electric fuser and the mouse toy. Seeing it, Amaya grabbed it out of his hand.
“You still have this?” she exclaimed, apparently forgetting all about the green muck. She stuck the jar under her arm as she studied the tiny robot.
“Well, yeah,” Croy-li said, rubbing the back of his head. “It was—”
“The first thing you made for me,” she said softly, smiling up at him. She abruptly turned to Base. “Have you seen this?” she asked, showing him the toy.
He smiled kindly at her, making Croy-li flush when he saw how unimpressed he was. “Yes, Lady Herald. It is very cute.”
“Cute? This thing shot off lasers when we were four.” She glanced to Croy-li when Base did. “What does it do now? Fly and drop explosives?”
Croy-li shrugged. “I was just trying to put it back together the way it was originally,” he said.
“But?” Amaya prompted.
“I think it scans for weapons. I don’t know where I messed up,” he said in exasperation.
Base plucked it up from Amaya’s hand, ignoring her indignation. She grinned and winked at Croy-li, making him think that had been her plan all along. The phantom studied the mouse for a few seconds before laughing softly. “I see,” he said before tilting his head at Croy-li. “You altered this to shoot lasers?” he asked in surprise.
Croy-li shrugged self-consciously. “It blew up after two,” he added.
“And you collected all the pieces and made them working again,” Amaya pointed out.
“But it still blew up,” Croy-li countered.
“Still impressive,” Base corrected. “Do you like computers?”
“He’s a technopath,” Amaya said, as if trying to sell Croy-li, because the boy was silent again, staring at Base in shock. “He loves computers. But mostly, he invents stuff. Cool stuff.”
“If you’d like, I could look at some of your inventions,” he offered, smiling at Croy-li’s dumbstruck expression. “I like to screen people before I let them into my lab,” he added, chuckling when Croy-li looked like he had shut down from shock.
Amaya looked from her friend to the white-haired phantom. “You have a lab?” she asked, genuinely curious. “What do you do?”
“For Thief’s sake, Aimy!” Croy-li exclaimed, looking at her exasperatedly. She looked at him expectantly, but Croy-li was suspicious. “You’ve been here for two years and never found out who he is?” She’d had enough time to figure out that he was a major inventor and the brain behind almost all the technology they had. In fact she should have known that given how many times the Thief Lord had wanted something from him.
Amaya shrugged. “He’s Bart,” she replied, looking to the phantom for backup, but he was leaving them.
“I hope to see you before you go home, Croy-li,” he threw over his shoulder to the boy who was categorically going through every invention Base had ever made, in order of importance. “And don’t forget to drink the Green Sludge.”
“So…he invents things,” Amaya interrupted him only a few clacks into his explanation.
“Yes,” Croy-li responded. “Like your DS? He made the technology.”
“Wow, so he must be super smart.”
Croy-li gave a dramatic sigh. “Yes, Aimy. He’s smart.”
Previous Chapter Next
“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.
“This was a bad plan, Aimy,” Croy-li whispered to his best friend, who glanced up at him from the ground to where he was hiding in the rafters of the building, nearly unseen in his black sneaksuit, with his dark skin and black hair hidden partially under his hood.
“It was your plan,” she hissed at him, getting a running start before she launched herself into the air. Aiming at the wall and kicking against it to get herself higher, Amaya made it into the rafters as well. Croy-li grunted when her weight slammed into him, but he kept them both from falling, holding tight to the support beams with his long limbs hooked around the beams until she was situated. At that point, he balanced on a single one, reaching into the pouch at the small of his back.
“That doesn’t make it a particularly good one,” he contested, pulling out his datapad as she hung onto him with her legs, her arms keeping them in place on the support beams while alarms went off in every direction. He was lucky she had grabbed him when she had, because he nearly tilted over in surprise even though he’d been expecting them. She helped him balance.
“Well, bad plan or not, it got us this far. Now will the escape part of it work?”
“I don’t know,” he responded. “That’s why it’s a bad one. I didn’t know they had override power on their alarm system! I can’t get in without, well,” he waved his hand at her and she grunted. “But I’m trying to see if—”
Below them, light spilled and a group of no less than ten armed soldiers entered the room, their guns and lights pointing all over. Croy-li silently put his datapad back into his pouch and pointed up. Amaya closed her eyes for a long moment, as though praying, before nodding. As the soldiers below searched through the room, its many containers and hiding places, the duo made their way higher up, trying to be as silent as possible. None of those below so much as glanced up, apparently not even considering up to be a possibility.
They were almost to the top when Croy-li slipped. Even though Amadhay caught his arm, bracing herself with the crisscrossed support beams to help hold his full weight and helped him steady himself, neither of them realized the amount of noise they made with their scrabbling until they were found. When lights shone up at them, they exchanged glances. The sound of wings and heavy feet and claws on metal approaching them forced the duo to make a rash decision.
“Throw me,” Amaya ordered, grabbing Croy-li’s hands. The boy started to argue, but a heavy body landing close to them changed his mind. She was the better bet at getting out and back in if he were to get caught. Besides, he had something he wanted to try out, and she would be an impediment to him if it did work.
“I’m right behind you,” he promised, throwing Amaya as hard as he could, through the glass dome. Light from outside shone in where the girl had gone through, and Croy-li was able to see that he was surrounded by guards, rather than soldiers, which made it easier on him. Adjusting his mask and hood with one hand, he rummaged through one of his suits’ many pockets, going by sense of touch to try to find the right tool.
“Hey guys,” he said nervously, taking a step up.
They all rushed at him, and without any time to find something else, Croy-li pulled out what he hoped was his blind bomb and dropped it. He jumped up and it hit a lower rafter, just as his legs were grabbed by several of the guards. Silently mouthing a prayer to the Escort that it would work, Croy-li squeezed his eyes closed just in time, holding onto a support beam to keep from being pulled down. The little metal sphere exploded with a soft fwoom and even through his eyelids and with his head facing away, he could see the bright light and felt its warmth through his sneaksuit and on his exposed skin.
Unlike him, the guards had not been ready for the heat or brightness of the light. Those holding onto him let go to catch themselves as they took wrongs steps and found themselves falling from the rafters. The other guards near him were crying in pain.
Light-blindness achieved, assumed temporary. Unexpected accompanied heat and probable severe burns, Croy-li thought, looking over the guards once the light died away. The ones that had remained on the ground seemed to have been hit by some debris, or perhaps the bomb had been harsher on them, because they were all unconscious, most looking injured. Will need to observe the focus subject’s accompanied effects and—
“Hey, dummy!” Amaya’s voice hissed from above him. Looking up, Croy-li remembered that they were still on a mission and still attempting to escape. He could get into the system from the safety of his room to look at the security footage at a later time to document the progress of his invention.
Amaya reached out for him and he climbed higher as quickly as he could, taking her arm to help lift him up. The broken glass cut through his top where it wasn’t reinforced with padded armor when he pressed against it, lifting himself up. Mentally noting to have Squirrel heal it before someone outside of their team noticed, he brushed glass off, making sure to use the reinforced back of his gloves. Stepping lightly, he followed Amaya’s mimed directions to avoid where the glass was thinner and breaking further.
“Have they found our sled?” Croy-li asked Amaya once they were off of the glass and headed for their escape mobile, which was hidden near the tree line. The girl grabbed his arm and leaned into him, using his movement to keep herself going before looking all around them with a distant look in her eyes that told him she had reached out and was seeing someone’s thoughts.
She snapped back. “No one’s thinking of the trees or the sled. But they know we took the chip, so maybe run faster.”
Croy-li groaned, but ran faster, getting ahead of her so that he could get to the sled to start it up. If he could get it going by the time she caught up, they would be out free. Otherwise, it was far too possible that they would have to fight their way out. He hated fighting the RA. The soldiers were too well trained and comfortable with what was necessary to take them down.
“Have I mentioned how horrible this plan was?” he asked.
She grunted and a thud made him look back just in time to see her jump over an unconscious body. “Well, it was your idea, genius.”
Assured that she was alright, Croy-li focused back on his own running when he stumbled. “I feel like you’re using that term as an insult and as a genius, I am insulted.”
“Good. It worked, then.” She left out a huff of breath that made him look back again. She had stopped running and was frowning, with that distant look in her eye. “They know where we are,” she stated, snapping back. “So get the sled up. I’ve got your back.”
“I’d feel better if Squirrel were here,” Croy-li muttered, hopping over a fallen tree branch to their sled. He pulled it up from its hiding place and brushed the snow off of it. “Or Jazz. Or Soda. Even Brave or Blu. Why are we here alone again?” he muttered, pulling a small spark stick from his pocket. “Oh, I remember. Because you wanted to do it without them. ‘cause the stinking Thief Lord told you to do it alone. And of course you do what he says.”
“Are you done complaining?” Amaya asked hurriedly, “Because we have two Arachins coming at us and I definitely forgot my bug spray.”
Croy-li glanced up and at seeing the scorpion Arachins, looked back to what he was doing. “You could take them,” he said with a shrug, wishing suddenly that he hadn’t unplugged everything. He had only needed to switch the spark plug out and no one would’ve been able to take it anywhere. But no, he had to be thorough.
“Can I borrow your gun?” Amaya asked and Croy-li scoffed.
“You asking tells me you want me to shoot them. Wouldn’t work. Scorpions’ exo’s too thick for bullets except for point blank. And I’m not getting that close. You?”
“Only if you don’t get the sled working in the next few clicks.”
A loud whir came from the sled and both teenagers sighed in relief.
“Thank Goddess,” Amaya muttered, keeping her eyes on the Arachins even as she jogged over to Croy-li and wrapped herself around him. Once she was tucked behind him, Croy-li glanced back to see the Arachins still hadn’t closed the distance between them. They didn’t move through the snow very fast and he assumed that they simply couldn’t. He vaguely remembered that scorpions hibernated in winter, so for there to be any out was atypical.
“Wait a click,” Croy-li muttered, trying to take a quick picture of them with his vid-pod.
“No clicks,” Amaya stated, reaching around him to put the sled into motion. The runners beneath them moved jerkily to get them moving on the even ground. She was wise, because the Arachins started moving more swiftly, closing the distance between them almost in time to catch the duo, but the sled hit a hill and sped down, dropping them right out of the stinger’s reach.
Amaya gave a relieved huff, wrapping her arms around Croy-li’s waist once he took the controls. She pressed her face into his back and Croy-li smiled, almost forgetting that they were still in danger.
“For the record,” she muttered and he strained to hear her over the wind. “Thief Lord told me to pick a partner. He suggested Jazz or Soda. I chose you.”
“He was probably right,” Croy-li said loudly to combat the wind, smiling when she pinched him in the side.
“Mutt,” she teased, and Croy-li relaxed as they got out of the RA’s territory.
They were only a few yards out when the vrrm of snow cars and the crunch of snow under running feet indicated that they were still being chased. They both glanced back and cursed at the sight of wolves. The snow cars weren’t as much of a worry, considering they were obviously standard peacekeeper mobiles and wouldn’t last much longer at their current speed—especially not given that Croy-li had made sure to pour a drop of Sludge Freeze on all the wheels he’d seen while they were back at the compound.
“Drive for me,” Croy-li ordered Amaya, not giving her a chance to argue before he opened the main panel for the engine of their sled.
“What are you doing?” she demanded, grabbing the joystick with both hands so that she could evade a large rock. “Other than trying to get us killed.”
“Trying to not get us killed?” Croy-li suggested, focusing on rearranging the wires. “I put this in just in case of wolf ferals, so here’s hoping it works.”
“Hoping?!” Amaya screeched. A loud howl came from behind them, echoed by several others. Both of them glanced up and back to see that the snow cars were, in fact, stuck in the snow. Unfortunately, they had been replaced by several wolf ferals, two large cat shifters, and an enormous bear that neither was sure if it were a feral or shifter.
They exchanged glances and Croy-li went back to switching out wires and gears. He wasn’t sure that Amaya noticed when the motor in their sled stopped, since she was focused on trying to steer them, and he hoped she wouldn’t need to. Taking a deep breath and shooting a quick prayer to Escort, he molded his sticky tack into a ball, stuck three wires into it, and then pressed all of that to an otherwise untouched, shiny metal box the size of his thumbnail. At first nothing happened, and Croy-li chewed on his lip, ignoring when Amaya again asked him what he was doing.
He pressed the sticky tack more closely against the box, taking care to keep the wires from directly touching the box with a thin layer of the tack insulating them. Unsure what he had done wrong, he flicked the box, noting that it moved when he did.
Is it not in right? He wondered, moving the box until it was firmly in place.
“Take the wheel and I’ll shoot,” Amaya said right before the speed adapter started working. The motor woke up and worked double time, making the runners move with the momentum of the sled instead of just allowing the momentum to take them.
“No shooting,” Croy-li muttered, checking his hip to make sure his friend hadn’t taken his gun while he hadn’t been paying attention. It was still there.
“What do you want us to do, then?” she asked, glancing back again. The animals had stopped chasing now that they were moving too fast and were watching them, but had not stopped howling. “Because they’re still tracking us.”
“Trust me, okay?” Croy-li closed the engine and covered her hands with his. “We don’t need to shoot anyone.”
Amaya huffed, leaning her forehead on his spine. “I wasn’t going to kill anyone,” she said softly, and Croy-li forced a laugh.
“I know,” he said, trying not to look back at her. We’re moving too fast, he told himself. If I look back, we could crash into something. The truth, though, was the he didn’t want her to see that he didn’t believe her. “I just don’t want any more evidence left than necessary.”
“You’re using a standard Local Force 2802 Hemlok,” she stated matter-of-factly. “We chose that gun because it’s standard fare and evidence left by it would be useless.”
“And you’re a crap shot,” Croy-li added defensively. “I mean, I don’t think you’d kill them if you weren’t meaning to, but…” You might not hit at all was where he meant to continue with it, but they both knew he was lying.
“I wasn’t going to kill anyone,” Amaya repeated, lightly hitting her head against his spine several times. “I don’t do that for him, not anymore.”
He wanted to believe her and knew that she needed to believe that, so he didn’t point out that her continued requests for his gun really pointed the other direction. Instead, he shrugged. “Point is, we didn’t kill anyone. Still got the chip?” he asked.
She bit his shoulder. “Of course I still got the chip.”
“Still got that can I gave you?”
“Yeah…” she said slowly.
He lifted his hands from hers. “Grab it,” he ordered, taking the joystick again once she took her hands back to rummage through the pouch attached to the small of her back. “Got it?” he asked after a moment.
“Spray it all over yourself and as much of me as you can.”
“Why?” she asked even as she did it, spraying a cloud over herself. “Woah.”
Croy-li glanced back to see that the cloud hadn’t moved from her, staying tight to her skin and the sled. It was white and glittered like the snow, but when he looked close enough, he could see the nanites that he’d set into the can. Amaya stood, her arm linked loosely around his neck, to spray his front and the rest of the sled.
“Are we invisible?” she asked, sitting down again as the cloud settled.
“Close enough,” Croy-li responded, squinting to see. It hadn’t come out at transparent as he’d wanted. It was supposed to be undiscernible from the outside, but easily seen through inside of it. Instead, he managed a sort of translucent cloud, more like a thin sheet or curtain than glass, like he’d expected.
“Can you see?” Amaya asked after a moment.
“Yes,” he responded instantly, even though he was having trouble. Considering the cat of her aelfe and the low light of the early morning, he had no doubt that she would be able to see better than him. Still, he didn’t want to admit that he hadn’t planned the cloud to be so thick.
She laughed softly and wrapped her hands around his, looking over his shoulder and through the nanites. “Stop being like that. You know my sight is better than yours.”
He mimicked her under his breath before making a face at her. “Anyway, wanna know the best part?” he asked, seemingly just in time when the sounds of large wings and clicking reached their ears. Amaya reached one hand up to cover his mouth, but Croy-li shook it off. “They can’t hear us. Or locate us by sound.” That part he was sure about, considering it was the nanites main function.
“I could kiss you,” Amaya flattered, making Croy-li flush. “How long before they give up?”
Croy-li shrugged. “How should I know?”
“How long before the cloud goes?” she asked instead.
“Uh, that I don’t know either.”
She pinched his side as hard as she could. “I take back the kissing,” she snapped. “So what do you know?”
“I know the boiling point for every element off the top of my head,” he quipped, wincing when she pinched him again. “And that you need to cut your nails,” he muttered under his breath to receive another pinch. “And that we’re twenty clacks from Ainran and since Thief Lord didn’t sign the new RA accords, they don’t have jurisdiction and can’t search his land or air.”
“Finally, something useful. So if the cloud fizzes and they follow, they can’t go in after us?”
Even as they talked, the wing beats seemed to get farther away. Bird cries were still loud, but didn’t seem to be following them. In fact, the loudest sound was their motor as they lapsed into comfortable silence.
“I am going to sleep for six years when we get back to Verseins,” Amaya whined, rubbing her cheek affectionately against his back.
“I thought we were going to Whitestaff tonight,” Croy-li whined.
“If we finished last night, we were. But it’s easier to sneak into Verseins in the morning. Amadhay gave me a fool-proof way.”
At the mention of Amaya’s sister, Croy-li tensed. “Oh, and if Amadhay says it’s good, I’m sure it’ll be all clear,” Croy-li drawled.
Amaya sighed, rubbing her cheek against his back in relaxing circles. “I know she’s, well, Amadhay, but can we just not right now? If she says it’s fool-proof, it’s fool-proof.”
Croy-li sighed. “Fine,” he said after a few clicks. “Verseins. We stop by the kitchens though.”
“Get in, change, kitchens,” Amaya assured him. “Gotta feed my growing princeling,” she teased, hugging him and pointedly squeezing his stomach.
“I’m a growing boy,” he whined. “I need constant sustenance.”
“I think you’re getting fatty,” she stated. “The aelfe’s kicking in.”
He snorted. “Alright then,” he said, knowing that the only way he’d get fatty would be if his dominant, elfin genes completely shut down and let his metabolism slow down to a crawl. And he stopped getting so much exercise running for his life.
A green light scanned over them dispersing their nanite cloud and surprising the duo out of their chattering.
“What was that?” Amaya demanded, while Croy-li’s hands jerked and very nearly ran them into a tree.
“Ainran’s borders?” he suggested doubtfully, as confused as she, though he tried to hide it.
“But we didn’t leave Repunsil!” she exclaimed nervously, clutching his sides as she looked around. “And it’s barely been ten minutes. We weren’t ten minutes away from the border!”
“Maybe,” Croy-li brainstormed for explanations and only came up with one plausible one. “I miscalculated our speed?”
“And what? The cloud worked leaving Repunsil and failed into Ainran?”
That wasn’t likely, no. The two border scans were simultaneous: red showing exit of one territory and green showing entry of another. So, for the cloud to have malfunctioned only on the other side was highly suspicious, if not utterly impossible. Croy-li kept trying to find an answer even as he changed course to head to the Thief Lord’s mansion.
“Worst case scenario, we’ve been made and have to fight out of RA custody. Game plan?” Croy-li asked, shifting the control back to Amaya, who took it easily.
“Lay low,” Amaya said, eyeing the change in scenery from coniferous tree to bare ones. “Only fight back if they try to unmask. I have Blu and Soda on retrieval mode if no contact by full sun.”
Croy-li nodded, glad that she had thought of all this beforehand. He wouldn’t have, considering he was more of a sneaking plan than fighting one. That’s what made them such a good team.
“But considering we just passed our tree,” Croy-li started, watching as they sped past their old treehouse, “I think we’re safe.” He was smacked on the back of his neck by Amaya’s thick braid when her head snapped back to find the colorful, peeling paint on the orb in an old, misplaced willow tree amid the snow. She relaxed for a moment before tensing again once the mansion was in sight.
Taking one hand off of the joystick to squeeze one of hers, Croy-li leaned back into his friend. “Quick in and out. We step in, throw the chip at him, and leave without a chance to get new orders. Kay? Kay.”
He thought she might have kissed his back, but he wasn’t sure because it was quick and followed by a quick, “Kay.”
In no more than two clacks, they were sliding to a stop before an imposing building surrounded by three gates. The first of the gates was made of a thick, smooth material and raised twenty feet off of the ground. The second was even higher and glass plated, sparking with something. The third was the tallest, a curling patterned iron, deceptively pretty yet every inch had poisonous needles to keep intruders from climbing it.
The first gate was already open. “Yay,” Croy-li drawled sarcastically, “We were expected.”
He followed Amaya’s suit in hopping off of the sled and to the gates. Once inside the sleek gate, less than a full foot away from the clear one buzzing with the promise of a good, life-ending jolt of electricity, the duo slapped their dominant hands on the smooth gate and it closed tightly and silently behind them. A quick, blue light scanned over Amaya upon recognition of her biological signature, but there was a red one that slowly filtered over Croy-li. When the red lights touched his gun, an alarm went off, screeching high pitched threats of violence to an assessment of perceived danger. Both teenagers looked around in alarm, stepping back when the second gate inched closer to them.
Amaya turned to Croy-li and studied him as he tried pressing his hand against the gate again, receiving the same dissatisfied beep at each attempt.
“Let me in! You know me!” he yelled, to the gates, attempting to use his technopathy to force them to do his will. However, as the gates had been made specifically with his abilities in mind, and with his help, to keep those Gifted like him out, they didn’t have nearly enough passably sentient technology or data in them for him to override the code red—at least not with his gloves on.
“Why am I red listed?” Croy-li whined. “Jazz I could see. You, Squirrel? Definitely. Immortals, I could even understand Soda or Blu. But me?”
Amaya suddenly made a sound of disgust, smacking herself on the forehead. “Your gloves, genius. It doesn’t recognize you through the new gloves!”
Oh, Croy-li opined, glancing to the new additions to his otherwise unchanged uniform. That makes sense. His old gloves--identical to those that Amaya wore--had been thinner and clung to his palms specifically for the purpose of allowing biological scans. They had also, too often, allowed for him to be sucked into the data-sphere, any network, and the motherboard of most complex machines he touched. His new ones didn’t allow any of that, limiting the distance he was allowed to be pulled while also not completely cutting him off, as his everyday gloves did. He hadn’t remembered to have them made with scanning frequencies embedded.
“Oh, for all the water in the world,” Amaya cursed, grabbing Croy-li’s hand as he thought about the major flaw he had overlooked. She took his left glove off, slammed it against the wall, and waited until the second gate stopped moving. By that point, his pale blue eyes had been covered by a staticky, sick blue film and his skin felt electrified. There was barely a pause between the blue light scanning over Croy-li and the door opening, but in that time, Croy-li had gone fully into the computer controlling the gates and back out.
He snatched his hand away from Amaya, who was breathing a sigh of relief. “Damn it Aimy! That hurts. You know that,” he hissed, shakily forcing the glove back onto his hand. Using only his fingertips, he pushed Amaya away when she tried to brace him with her body.
“Let me even out,” he gritted out through clenched teeth, his hands balled into fists at his sides. The girl took a step back, tilting her head to watch him unblinkingly. The data on his tongue and electricity in his veins was boiling, making his head throb. He took a deep breath. Synchronize the TAU channels. He let the breath out, only seeing 0’s and 1’s to dictate his brain waves. He breathed again. Increase circuit efficiency. Even in this state, Amaya was a comforting familiarity. He breathed again. Lower variable control. And again. Faulty microfilament pathways. And again.
Then, finally, the world was in colors and shapes, rather than computer code. He could breathe without tasting the flow of data all around him. Croy-li rubbed the palm of his hand against his leg, feeling slightly better when the scaled palm of his glove slid easily against the smooth fabric of his sneaksuit.
Amaya rubbed apologetically against him, but didn’t say anything. Instead, she walked past him, apparently recognizing that he was leveled out. He followed her through the second gate and stopped short before the guard in front of the third gate. Amaya smiled sarcastically at her old Rageing instructor, Dawles, who nodded in response, though the woman’s eyes were set on Croy-li, who ran a hand through his short, dark hair.
“Hi?” he asked, unsure why she was so focused on him.
“Your gun, Cole. We aren’t trusted enough to have weapons when meeting with him anymore. Right?” the last word was aimed at the woman, who merely nodded.
Croy-li sighed. “If I was gonna shoot him, don’t they think I’d have done it back when we lived here?” he suggested, unstrapping his gun. Not particularly trusting the woman before them, he opened the gun to show that it only held stun pellets and emptied them into one of his pockets. She watched him, but made no move to stop him from doing it.
Only once all of the pellets were out of the gun and Croy-li showed it to be empty did Dawles hold her hand out. Rolling his eyes to Amaya, who rolled hers in agreement, Croy-li tossed the gun to the woman, who caught it without taking her eyes off of the pair.
“If we split up, who do you think she’d watch?” Amaya whispered to Croy-li out of the corner of her mouth.
“You,” a man’s voice stated, passing through the last gate as though it were merely an illusion. Both teenagers tensed, instinctively moving closer to each other while simultaneously taking a step forward.
“We have what you wanted,” Amaya stated, reaching back into her pouch for the canister holding the chip.
“Because without his gun, Croy-li is rather unintimidating. He is lacking in any real physical skills, defenseless against most attacks. Even his Gift is rather lackluster and more of a handicap than an advantage,” the man continued his explanation as though Amaya hadn’t spoken.
The girl faltered for a moment, looking up at Croy-li, whose expression was a simple smile, covering his absolute hatred for the man standing in front of them. Not only was this man—not that he could prove it—responsible for not only his parents deaths, Amaya’s parent’s deaths, and the eradication of Squirrel’s entire tribe, but he had kidnapped all but two of them, attempted to brainwash them, and blackmailed them into doing his dirty work. And beyond all that, he never let up on an opportunity to remind Croy-li that, as the only non-Herald of their team, he was dispensable, the weakest link, one only kept around to keep the girls, primarily Amaya and Jazz, compliant. He hated him. There were only three people in the world that Croy-li could say he hated. Amadhay was number three. Amaya’s power-hungry uncle, Arne Riffle Hakinato was number two. Thief Lord was number one.
“So it confounds me to attempt to understand why, time after time, I hand you a difficult mission and you choose him.” He turned his attention to the canister. “And surprises me time and again how talented you are.”
Croy-li knew Amaya’s temper was about to flare up and he tried to stop it, grabbing her hand. She looked up at him again and smiled, but it was a dangerous smile, with the same look in her eye a cat gives its fellow before downing prey. He didn’t try any of the switches, not with the Thief Lord watching. He didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing something that he’d taught him was still being used.
The girl tossed the canister at the Thief Lord’s feet. “I’m talented because I have Croy-li to pick up my slack,” she snapped. “This is my last job. You can tell the world what you want to, but this is it. I will snap your neck before I do another thing for you, so find someone new to blackmail.”
“And the others?” his asked archly. “Will you leave them to do your dirty work? You and your little princeling might be shielded from repercussions by your families, but what of the rest of my Twisted Dragons. How about the banished Lazaili? My little orphaned Bravery? Our pirate refuge Adosoda or freed slave Bluregarda? Can’t forget Kruremuangra. She doesn’t even speak Roades. How do you think any of them would be to fare if information became loose about their escapades?”
“Escapades?” Amaya and Croy-li asked in incredulous disgust.
“You call forcing us to steal and kill for you escapades?”
“No one forced anything,” he responded with a smile, looking to Dawes. “Do you ever remember me holding a knife to their throats?”
“No sir,” Dawles responded with a fake smile. “You were nothing but encouraging of their interests and games, as any foster father would be. They were excited to learn. How were you to know what they planned to do with it?”
“Kill the Jasta master vampire?” Thief Lord gave a false gasp. “I wasn’t expecting our little Lazaili to do that when she was twelve. Steal important Roadesian Army plans? What can I say? They were always so eager to impress me. Do you know what the Roadesian Army does to Heralds they can’t control?”
It was too late to use a switch, so this time Croy-li kept Amaya from doing something she would regret by grabbing her wrist and twisting until she backed down. She even allowed him to push her to stand behind him. “Of course, my lord. We will be waiting patiently for your next summons. Until then, we both need sleep and to get back before we are missed.”
Amaya hissed at Croy-li and he easily ignored it and her spitting while Thief Lord and Dawles watched them with vague interest.
“Hand me the chip,” the man ordered, making Croy-li flinch.
“It is right there. It won’t hurt you to pick it up.”
“But it might hurt you if I have to,” he threatened blatantly, making Croy-li tense when Amaya gave a low, angry hiss. He kicked her.
“Of course,” Croy-li gritted out, keeping Amaya behind him, but knowing better—from experience—not to let her go when she was that riled up. She would only make the predicament worse. So instead, Croy-li closed the distance between them and the Thief Lord. Not lowering his eyes as he had been taught, he kept eye contact with the man to make it clear just how little respect he had for him. He bent at his knees, picked up the canister, and when he started to stand, the man touched the crown of his head to keep him down.
“Remember where your alliance lies and who your true king is,” he reminded Croy-li before turning his attention to Amaya. Without looking, Croy-li knew that she wouldn’t kneel without being forced, so he twisted her wrist again, only letting up on the force when she knelt beside him, in the same subservient position before the Thief Lord.
“Say it,” Thief Lord ordered.
Croy-li blinked, choosing to stay silent. He kept his eyes even with the Thief Lord, who looked from him, to Amaya, and then back with a decisive gleam. Even though he expected, Croy-li flinched at the white-hot surge inside him and tried to fight the need to properly kneel before the man. He lost the fight, as always, and moved from his crouch to kneel, lowering his eyes subserviently.
The pain left Croy-li’s body for the few clicks it took for the man to get the same reaction from Amaya, and returned, this time primarily to his mind. Croy-li tried to fight it, mentally listing the elements and their corresponding weights, but the pain seared until he couldn’t stop it and, as always, he and Amaya spoke at the same time, their voices monotone.
“You have my allegiance, my king.” Once the words were out, they were meant. Both teenagers hated it, hated the brand of the Thief Lord on their minds, but there was nothing they could do about it. It was better to have the brand than to have him push further and make them his like he used to.
“Canister,” he ordered, holding his hand out and Croy-li lifted it to him, placing it in the man’s hand as hard as he could. With that, the man walked back through the gate.
A few clicks later, Amaya and Croy-li were able to move from their knees. Amaya started toward the gate, as though to follow the man and the violence in her shaking body made it clear what she intended.
Dawles moved in front of her. “You have been dismissed,” she said, her fingers twitching in a tell-tale manner that had Croy-li grabbing Amaya again. Unlike before, the girl didn’t allow him to handle her, instead needing to get some of the violence out. She shoved him away and jumped at the Rager, who immediately swept her hands into the air, snatching water from the snow around them and making it circle the duo.
Amaya pushed at the water, easily making a path for herself and throwing that water back at Dawles, hitting her face. The woman didn’t so much as flinch, shifting to get a better stance. She pulled more water from around them and took her attention fully from Croy-li to focus on the Herald. Amaya pulled water of her own and swirled it into a mini whirlpool, aiming it at Dawles, who had to dodge it. The force of it hitting the third gate made the tiny needles thicken in threat to a nonexistent trespasser.
“Aimy, come on,” Croy-li tried as the girl dodged a water ball. Dawles was playing with her. While Amaya undoubtedly had more ability and power as the Water Herald, Dawles had spent her life mastering the element and the past thirty or so years as a Rager, the highest class of learned elementalist. She had always held back, blatantly so, when teaching Amaya because she didn’t trust her. Amaya was only proving her right, and Croy-li wished she wouldn’t. “We need to get home before Soda and Blu come looking,” he reminded her.
That made her pause long enough to be hit in the side by an icicle, though luckily not the sharp point. He hadn’t realized that water included control of ice, and the surprised look on Amaya’s face told him that she hadn’t either.
“You have a lot to learn before you can take me, much less our king,” Dawles stated. The second gate reopened to let them out. “Now leave.”
They did just that.
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.