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.
It wasn’t until Amadhay wilted against him that Ben realized something serious was going on.
The two of them had been working as a team to attempt to interrogate Atlas in hopes to gain even the slightest bit of information from him. Even misinformation would have been better than what they got.
The man had spent the entire zoot staring blankly ahead. He had given no reaction to any of their questions. He’d ignored Ben when he’d gotten in his face. He hadn’t even batted an eyelash when he’d had one of Amadhay’s blades to his face. He was completely stoic.
Or rather, he had been until now. The moment Amadhay gave a low sigh and leaned against him, he had noticed Atlas sit up a little straighter and turn his gaze to her. Ben instinctively put her behind him in a protective manner after the man had looked her up and down, a slow grin appearing on his lips.
“Amadhay, you need to leave,” Ben said out of the corner of his mouth. The girl gave a soft sound of protest, which made him look away from the Lord Palnoki and to her. All of the strange glow she had been carrying with her and never explained was completely gone, and instead she just looked exhausted and weak. She was barely standing, so he sincerely doubted that she could use her Gift to get out. He doubted she could walk out at all, even without using her Gift, not without his help.
Atlas was standing, becoming more menacing by the click and Ben knew that he should leave and lock him up in there, but Ben refused to leave Amadhay. He scooped the girl up into his arms, ignoring her squeal of surprise and slurred protests. Inching toward the door with her, he kept his eyes steady on Atlas, who didn’t move, simply kept his eyes on Amadhay.
When he was almost to the door, Atlas grinned at him. “Go ahead. I’ll let you go on. Get her to safety.”
Ben narrowed his eyes. “What do you think you’re doing?” he demanded, shifting Amadhay’s weight in his arms. She purred softly, pressing her face into his shirt.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Atlas responded dismissively, moving from the table.
Ben made a rash decision when he realized that Atlas had no plans to hurt Amadhay. Moving from the door to set Amadhay down on the table, he jumped back between Atlas and the door when the shorter man made his way to leave the room. “You aren’t going anywhere,” he said, making Atlas sigh.
“Either you let me go and take her to safety or I kill you,” Atlas stated blandly.
“Don’t you dare kill my Benjy,” Amadhay slurred, trying to get off of the table and to her feet. Ben looked from Atlas, to her, and back, trying to keep his stand against Atlas, but not wanting her to fall. He had no idea what was wrong with her, but knew that it was probably Atlas’ fault. Atlas’ doing was actually probably a better phrasing, he suddenly realized, finally coming to the understanding that Atlas Palnoki had been in control from the moment the man had allowed Amadhay to bring him here.
“It’s your choice, Base,” Atlas said, giving him a look that told him that he couldn’t be bothered to care one way or the other.
“You can’t kill what’s already dead,” Ben told him with more bravado than he felt, reaching toward the gun on his belt.
“Wanna bet?” a voice came from the doorway.
Too late, Ben looked behind him to see the necromancer standing with his arms crossed over his chest. Before the phantom could move, Skeletal Smile stabbed him with a blade. He was sure it was a different one than when he had sealed him because this one hurt much more than the other had.
The last thing Ben saw before he fell to his knees, fighting for breath, was Atlas going back to the table and picking up Amadhay.