“You won’t forget to be at the station at eight, right?” Benjy called after the two of them as they were leaving the store. He had taken a bit longer than either of them to gather up his purchases, and Christein had ushered her away, trying to leave the phantom behind. Now she thought she knew why. He hadn’t wanted him to accidentally tell her anything.
Christein shrugged uncomfortably. “Don’t worry, I won’t be late. We won’t miss the ship.”
“We being who, now?” Benjy asked, glancing casually at Amadhay, who gave him a brilliant smile.
“Amadhay’s just helping me pick out clothes. She’s not coming. It’s just you and me.”
Amadhay looked from Benjy to Christein and back, thinking over what the two had just told her. Their mission was at eight and they had to meet at a station to go on some ship. Meaning both of them were leaving her for this mission. Curious that Christein had forgotten to mention that to her. Curious that he had managed to keep putting off telling her anything about the mission, actually. Except that they were leaving tonight. At eight. For some reason, the time seemed important, that they were leaving at eight and not some other time. Why was eight so important? And what station had ships? Didn’t he meant the dock?
Benjy grinned down at Amadhay. “Maybe I should have you pick out my clothes too. How should I dress to pretend to be Christein’s best friend?”
“Like yourself,” she automatically answered, still trying to solve her puzzle. What happened at eight? Why was it important that they leave at eight?
“He’s not my best friend,” Christein snarled.
“It’s either me or Benjy. I’m pretty sure it’s him.”
“Aw, she bumped me up from rival. See how sweet our Mayday is?” Benjy joked, walking with the pair as they left the store. He took the bags Amadhay had been carrying, only to have them snatched from his hands by Christein, who was already overloaded with bags full of clothes.
“She’s not ours,” the aelfe muttered.
“Then whose is she?” the phantom countered.
“Her own,” Amadhay answered loudly to remind the two that she was, indeed, still with them.
“Well of course you’re your own,” Benjy said, not sounding the least bit put out by her statement. “But who else’s are you? You can’t be only your own. How selfish would that be?” he teased.
For some reason, that reminded Amadhay of a recurring fight she’d had with Ribbon, where the woman had claimed that she only cared about herself, that in the fifteen years she’d been alive, that she had never put someone else’s best interests before her own.
“Then I guess I’m yours,” she said before thinking the statement through. She looked at her cousin, who was glowering. “Both of yours.” Ben’s face dropped for a moment when she said that, but he kept grinning.
“So, how about food?” Christein suggested, giving Benjy a dark look to imply that he wasn’t invited.
“Eh,” Amadhay shrugged. “I’m not really hungry.”
“You haven’t eaten and you were feeling faint earlier,” her cousin reminded her, turning his attention back to her.
She tried to shrug it off again, being Benjy joined in. “You were feeling faint?”
“I was just feeling a little odd,” she corrected. “It could have been anything.”
“But you haven’t eaten, and I’m hungry, so let’s get food.”
“Yeah,” Benjy jumped in, “Let’s get food. The food court is pretty amazing. It should even have something for the picky eater,” he gave a glance Christein’s way. “And it’s close, so we can eat immediately.”
Amadhay sighed, but knowing that the decision had already been made, allowed her favorite males to lead her to the food court. It was weird, she thought, how both of them were being so attentive. Benjy hadn’t bothered with her in a few weeks. Christein had actively been ignoring her until the previous night. Now, when they were leaving at eight, they were being more attentive, more understanding and both of them kept touching her. Benjy had his hand at the small of her back while Christein had an arm swung over her shoulder, all the bags weighing both of them down. They had her walking slower than her normal gait and she found that she was incredibly suspicious.
They were hiding something from her, and she was pretty sure it had to do with the mission. They were lavishing her with attention, which was odd purely because the two of them weren’t fighting or trying to steal her away. They were being decent to each other, which was a rarity. It was as if they were being extra careful to make her happy.
If it had just been Christein, she would have understood it. He felt guilty about what had happened the previous night. She had assumed he was trying to make up for what he saw as a lapse in reason, a failure to her. In fact, if it had just been Ben, she wouldn’t have been suspicious. He had been avoiding her for some reason, and when he did that, even with good reason, he always paid her twice the amount of attention he normally gave her to make up for it. But both of them? On the same day?
It had to have something to do with the mission. The mission both of them were going on at eight, where they would meet at a station for a ship.
The realization smacked her just as they made it to the food court.
“What do you want?” Benjy asked her.
They weren’t just going Over the Water. They were going into space. Christein was the spoiled aelfen lord and Benjy was the accompanying friend. Christein needed clothes more befitting of his title because he was supposed to be pretending that he was some empty headed aelfen lord. Benjy had asked about dressing as his friend because that was his role. They were leaving her for an interplanetary mission. They would be gone far longer than a few days or weeks. If she was lucky, they’d be back in 10 months.
And they hadn’t planned on telling her.
“Amadhay?” Christein interrupted her thoughts. “What do you want to eat?”
She gave him a false smile. “I dunno. Surprise me,” she said before tugging at her curls. She had yet to put the needles back in her hair, having chosen to just stick them into the knife sheath in her sleeves.”I should go fix my hair,” she added, veering away from the men, who were heading towards food.
“Okay,” Benjy smiled at her. “We’ll be at that table,” he gestured to one in the center of the food court, partially hidden by an oversized plant. She nodded at the two, who headed to the table to set their bags down. Before she could head off, however, she saw something in Ben’s bag that caught her attention. There was a sword hanging out of his bag. A sword that was calling out to her. She paused, checking to see that both Christein and Benjy were watching her, before smiling and heading to the bathroom.
Once in the room, she pressed gently against the door, thinking the enchanted words to lock it from the inside and keep others out. She needed to get her thoughts together and there was no better place to do that than in the solitude of the bathroom.
Christein and Benjy were both going on a mission of interplanetary colonization. She didn’t know why they were going, how long they would be gone, or even for a fact that they would be back. Going off-planet wasn’t like going offshore. A ship in the water could sink and drown them or be hit by pirates, but it was highly unlikely if it were a mass passenger ship. A ship in space had many more problems. It was like a submarine. It had to keep oxygen flowing through the giant hunk of metal, not crash into anything else in space, try not to crash land, then on top of that, if they were to land on a planet, there was a high likeliness that the natives would be hostile and a low likeliness that they would be breathing the correct air. Even before getting into space, they had to get out of Resor’s atmosphere and, even with all the innovations towards space craft in the past century or so, over half of the space ships deployed burned to a crisp before even leaving the planet’s atmosphere. Those were all possibilities for her friends.
Then, on top of that, there were no friendly faces. On a ship full of humans and animal-kind, tension would run high quickly and almost immediately, the tables would turn from Roadesian society to a new, space society, where humans were the top of the social ladder. If that happened, they might just choose to kill off Christein and toss Benjy into space. She couldn’t stand that. They needed her with them. The mass hive mind tended to bend a bit more, be more willing to take direction from a woman, especially one in power.
She called Lizumeizei.
“What’s up, luv?” he answered immediately, a tiny image of him appearing above her wrist DS.
“I need you to get me in somewhere.”
He tilted his pretty head. “Where?” he asked.
“I need you not to ask questions, just do it. You have pull where I don’t.” She shoved herself up to sit on the countertop of the sink. His worried face turned to the blank slate he used for business.
“Are you asking me to use my sway to get you somewhere you don’t belong?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered honestly. “It will be dangerous and I need it done immediately.”
“Is it for Lord Phoeganis?” he asked, a certain bite in his voice telling her that he wouldn’t help her if it were.
“No,” she said, trying to keep eye contact with his image so that he knew she was being honest. “It’s personal.”
He sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Since you seem to want to keep me in the dark, you’ll have to do it on your own. Just tell whomever is in charge that you’re either the Grand Mage or Qwuill Master’s consort and need immediate accommodations. They’ll see to it that you are treated as I would be, which will probably be more extravagantly than you would like. Suck it up and make sure to present yourself with grace. If I’m tying you to my public name, I’m going to need you to behave with decorum and not sully it.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m not going to tell people that I’m your whore, Lizumeizei.”
“You aren’t,” he said seriously. “You’re telling them that you are my second, and my intended knot. That’s what consort means here.”
“That’s not what it means here,” she argued. “I’d prefer to use the term promised.”
“Since you aren’t that just yet, you shouldn’t. I can assure you that they will understand what you mean. If that’s all?”
She paused for a moment, surprised that he was not only giving in as easily as he had, but that he was now dismissing her. They had barely talked since she’d dealt with the white witch and stone mage for him. In fact, she was feeling like she needed to say more to him, to assure him that she wasn’t just using him. He needed to know that.
“Lizumeizei,” she said before he could disconnect. He paused, looking to her exasperatedly. She changed from apologetic and assuring to worried in a click. “What’s wrong?” she asked softly, frowning at his image.
He rubbed his face. “I’m just dealing with a lot right now. It’s probably best if you don’t come around for a bit.”
“Is it the Huron clan?” she demanded, clenching her fists. She may not have much time, considering she had to ditch Christein and Ben, make arrangements to become part of the colonization, pack up her bags, and get there all before eight that night, when it was already two in the afternoon. But she could make time to strike some fear into their little hearts. She was already deciding where she’d hide Mother Sari’s baby boy to remind them once and for all that she could hit them where it hurt. No one was allowed to bother her Lizumeizei. No one.
“I can deal with it on my own,” he snapped. “The last thing I need is for you to mess things up any more than you already have.”
She stared at him for a long moment. He didn’t apologize. “Uh. Okay,” she said, reining in her temper.
Lizumeizei was dealing with pressure that she didn’t understand. She knew that. As the Qwuill Master, he was possibly the most powerful Qwuill for hire in all of Roadesia. His information system was astounding and he was wanted for hire as an informant or mercenary mage by all manner of powerful, important people. As the Grand Mage, he dealt with a whole different set of duties, being recognized as the most skilled mage in all of Roadesia. He was under scrutiny as the Qwuill Master, under threats as the head of the Silver Guild, the second most powerful wizarding guild in the world, regularly under threat of a coup as the Grand Mage on the Roadesian Army’s panel, and as her paramour, under a different type of stress. He needed some time to himself to figure everything out, to balance it out, and she had been taking up a lot of his free time, she realized.
Her going away would be good for him as well.
She nodded. “Alright then. That’s all I needed.”
“Good.” When she started to reach to disconnect, Lizumeizei stopped her by saying her name.
“Hmm?” she asked, trying for an air of calm and reserve she wasn’t feeling.
“Stay safe.” She smiled at him, ready to tell him to do the same, but then he added, “I love you.”
He hung up before she could respond. And then, before she could call him back, there was a soft knocking on the door.
“Amadhay, are you alright in there?” came Ben’s soft voice.
“Yeah, I’m coming right out,” she assured him, using her Gift to put the needles back into her hair. It hurt, it hurt much more than it ever had for her before. Even with exhaustion and being around Arne Riff, it had never seared at her skin to use her Gift before. She swallowed it down and patted gently at her hair. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do since she didn’t have time to do any more without either man becoming suspicious. It was then that she realized she hadn’t put her ever-present mirror spell on herself that morning.
He’s controlling it. She suddenly decided, trying to remember if she’d used her Gift or teleported at all that day. She hadn’t until just now, she was positive of it. That meant she could have been under Atlas’ influence all day. She had known there were too many coincidences. Stalia on the train, Christein needing clothes, meeting up with Ben, the outfit being perfectly Christein’s size. What was he planning? He had to be planning something, something to do with her and the mission. If she hadn’t already been decided, then that realization would have made her completely certain that she was going with them.
The two of them needed protection from Atlas Palnoki.
As it turned out, sneaking in had actually been the easier part of the plan, Amadhay begrudgingly acknowledged, ducking out of sight, and behind a dresser.
Atlas hadn’t been joking when he had said that Borg Queen would be difficult to take in. The sound of a laser warming up was the only warning she got that her hiding place was not secure.
She jumped from behind the dresser, to the other side of the room, tucking her legs under and rolling over the dirty carpet to get behind an overturned table just in time before a ray of destruction slammed into the dresser, turning it into splinters. Listening carefully, she waited for the cyborg to enter the room. Once she entered, Amadhay would have the advantage. It took twelve precise clicks for the cyborg’s laser to reboot and four for it to warm up. In sixteen clicks, Amadhay could take her.
A heavy step told her that it was her move. She used her Gift to speed up her jump over the table and run to the cyborg, and was almost to her when she stumbled back. Borg Queen’s eyes were tracking her as if she were moving at an average speed. Amadhay braced her body to fall back, but before she could, Borg Queen’s arm flashed forward and grabbed her by the front of her shirt, pulling her to her. Amadhay already knew that she was in a bad position, considering she couldn’t get out of the cyborg’s grip as she had before. She had already lost her favorite jacket to the cyborg when the woman had grabbed her the first time. Her gun had been lost already, dropped around the same time Amadhay lost her jacket. Sloppy, but considering how things had been going so far, she wasn’t going to beat herself up too much about it.
Amadhay gasped and, on instinct, kicked at Borg Queen, even though the woman had been proving pretty impervious to her physical attacks since she had sneaked into the fortress five clacks previous. Five clacks and Amadhay had spent a majority of them running and hiding. That was not her normal game plan, but the cyborg had almost been ready for her when she’d managed to get in.
Amadhay had sneaked in as silently as possible, her sneak boots silent against the tile floor of the building, and almost immediately, had run directly into the cyborg. The woman hadn’t said anything, merely focused on the red phoenix emblazoned on Amadhay’s mask before her arm had changed from arm and hand to the open barrel of a laser.
Amadhay had kicked at her, but barely had any response, as if the cyborg were a pile of bricks and she was only a small rock trying to move it. It had been that way every time she did that. The one time the aelfe had tried to punch the cyborg, she had been positive that she’d broken her hand and run away as fast as she could.
But something was different this time. This time, when Amadhay’s feet landed the kick on Borg Queen’s stomach, there was real, soft, flesh. Borg Queen cried out, dropping Amadhay in favor of holding her stomach and Amadhay landed on her bottom on the floor before the cyborg. For a moment, the teenager stared in mute surprise, having definitely not expected that reaction. Then, though, she smirked, realizing that she finally found Borg Queen’s real weakness.
Yes, Borg Queen was faster than the average person. Yes, Borg Queen had cybernetic parts that were magic resistant and quite a bit stronger than Amadhay. Yes, Borg Queen was able to track her movements. But now Amadhay had a foothold in the situation. She knew that Borg Queen’s laser was incredibly dangerous and could destroy her as easily close-up as far away, but she also knew that the cyborgs aim was shaky on a moving target, that it took four clicks to warm up, and took twelve clicks to reboot. Not to mention, it made a horrendous sound. She knew that Borg Queen was incredibly magic-resistant and had skin grafts so hard that it was like punching metal, but she now knew that there were some spots that were vulnerable, a few spots that were still sensitive, almost-human, skin.
Borg Queen was watching her warily now, the laser attached to her arm aimed at Amadhay’s head. Amadhay smiled, standing up straight and raising her hands up in surrender. When the cyborg faltered, her laser going out of focus, Amadhay launched herself at the woman. Grabbing her arm, she turned it away from herself, aiming at the wall and squeezing the arm to force Borg Queen to accidentally shoot her laser, which she did. Once that was done and she knew she had sixteen clicks, Amadhay landed the first punch before she could be hit. She knew at this close of a distance, that any hit was likely to do her serious damage with only the least amount of effort on the cyborg’s part.
She tried to kick Borg Queen stomach again, but the woman saw it coming, grabbing Amadhay’s ankle and twisting. To avoid having her ankle broken, the girl twisted with it, ending with her leg high up in the air. Borg Queen started to say something for the first time their entire encounter, but Amadhay recognized that the woman was distracted by her flexibility and took advantage of that, slipping one of the blades out of her wrist binding to stab the cyborg in the stomach.
Immediately, Borg Queen dropped Amadhay’s ankle, which the girl didn’t take gracefully. She nearly fell, but caught herself just as she was going down, landing instead in a kneel before the injured woman. Borg Queen was breathing hard as she removed the knife from what Amadhay assumed must have been her real flesh. The blade was stained with the same red blood that also seeped from the wound, drenching the cyborg’s white top. Borg Queen groaned softly, dropping the knife. She aimed her laser at Amadhay again, but this time, without any help from Amadhay, the aim went wide, blasting another hole in the wall to the left of Amadhay. Recognizing this as her chance, Amadhay grabbed the cyborg taser from the holster on her thigh and slammed it into the woman’s side.
For a moment, Borg Queen kept eye contact with her and put both hands on Amadhay’s shoulders, squeezing them hard enough that the girl was sure they were going to dislocate. For that brief moment, Amadhay feared that she wouldn’t be able to stun the woman into unconsciousness, but then Borg Queen’s grip loosened. When the cyborg fell back, Amadhay slipped the taser back into its holster and took a deep breath to steady herself. She pressed the woman’s side with the toe of her boot and when she didn’t move, Amadhay relaxed the slightest bit.
“One down,” she muttered, pulling the woman up enough for her to teleport with her. She was thankful that she wasn’t as heavy as expected, given her robotic parts, because it would be crazy to leave her, even for a click, to go get someone strong enough to actually carry her to teleport. With the luck she’d had today, Johannes would be gone by the time she got back and then she’d be in even larger trouble. “One more to go.”