in which there is sparring
Amadhay went skidding back on her butt.
Before Ribbon could drop kick her, she spun, kicking Ribbon’s legs out from under her and rolling so that she was on top of the woman. Ribbon grinned fiercely at her and flipped them so that she was on top.
“I like you better below me,” Ribbon joked, holding Amadhay down by the girls wrists and sitting firmly on her waist. “Do you give?”
“Not hardly,” Amadhay muttered before crying out “Irem no Va!” Ribbon jolted up from her before the teenager could finish the spell by touching her skin.
“Nice try, but you’ll never get anywhere if I know what your spell is before you use it,” Ribbon told her before a silver ball of magic swirled into existence on her hand. She threw it to Amadhay, who used her Gift to get out of the way. The magic continued to follow her, expanding as it flew.
“See? You had no idea how to avoid that,” Ribbon stated once the ball hit Amadhay in the back, flipping her through the air several times before the girl landed flat on her back with a loud, painful thud.
“That’s enough,” Atlas said from his corner of the room. He had been pretending to read for the past zoot of their sparring session. Amadhay knew he was pretending because he had forgotten to turn a single page of the book. He hadn’t even glanced at it, instead, keeping his eyes focused on them. Amadhay was embarrassed that he was there to see her have her butt kicked by Ribbon. The woman hadn’t even had to cut and use blood magic to take her down repeatedly. It made Amadhay feel incredibly lacking.
The entire point of these sessions was to strengthen her combat magic. All she seemed to be doing was rolling on the floor to avoid Ribbon’s. With a quick glance to Atlas, Ribbon stood above Amadhay, holding her hand out to help the smaller girl up.
“Don’t worry,” Ribbon said reassuringly. She smiled at Amadhay as she pulled the aelfe to her feet. Neither of them let go of the other’s hand. “You’re getting better. Last time I took you out with a fraction of my power. This time I had to focus the ball.”
“What’s the point of this?” Atlas asked, moving between the two women now that Amadhay was standing. Ribbon let go of Amadhay first, moving back from Atlas, who was giving Amadhay an imploring look. “There’s no reason for you to be learning this. There’s no reason for you to be using this. We’ll keep you safe. You could be learning something else.”
“Like what?” Amadhay snapped, “Embroidery?” She rolled her eyes. “I’m learning magic because I like magic, not because I’m scared I’ll be attacked. Besides, sparring with Ribbon cements that. If she can take me out, she definitely isn’t going to be taken out by someone I could fight.”
Ribbon choked back a laugh, turning her back on the two. “I’ll go get some water,” she called over her shoulder as she left the room.
Atlas took Amadhay’s hands in between his own. “Please, just think on it, Amadhay. You could do something else, something more befitting a lady.”
“I’m not a lady,” she immediately retorted, pulling her hands back. “And I don’t want to do something more befitting of one. I want to learn magic that could come in handy one day.”
“But it won’t,” Atlas assured her. “You will never have need to fight while you are here. We will keep you safe.”
“I’m not going to sit around and hide behind you all,” she told him, frowning. “If someone comes at me, I’m going to fight and if you try to stop me, I will leave. You gave me the choice, Atlas. I choose to be ready and able to fight.” Not to mention, she thought, That I won’t be here with you forever.
Atlas muttered something under his breath that she didn’t hear. “I’m not going to let anything get to you,” he swore.
She sighed. “Sooner or later, something gets through even the best defense.”
Amadhay rolled her eyes and turned away from him, heading to the doorway.
“Where are you going?” he demanded.
“To get some water,” she snapped, moving faster once she heard his footsteps following her.
He didn’t try to catch up with her, but he also didn’t leave her alone. She made it to the kitchen in time to see Ribbon make a face at Kimiko, who was grinning at her with a knowing look.
“I don’t care,” Ribbon claimed as Amadhay stepped into the room. The brown-skinned woman glanced to Amadhay, past her, and then looked away. Amadhay didn’t have to look back to know that Atlas was behind her, even if she didn’t feel him. He was always following her, watching her, touching her, too close to her. She wished he would give her a breather.
She moved past the two to the sink, filling Ribbon’s favorite cup with water. She put it to her lips to take a drink, but it was lifted right out of her hands and poured down the sink.
“Filtered water is in the fridge,” Atlas stated, handing her a new cup. She gave him a bland look.
Kimiko groaned. “Atlas. Go away. Please.”
While Atlas looked to Kimiko, Amadhay picked up Ribbon’s cup and filled it up with water from the faucet once again.
“You’re stressing her out and when you stress her out, it annoys Ribbon and when they’re unhappy, I’m unhappy. If you want three pissed off girls, stay. Otherwise, go away.”
Atlas glanced to Amadhay, who pointedly drank from the cup, staring him in the eyes. He looked to Ribbon, who had her back turned to them, running a cloth over the seemingly clean table. Finally, he looked back to Kimiko, whose hands were clutching her chair, her face set in annoyance.
“Perhaps I should give the three of you time alone,” he suggested. None of them spoke, but there was an obvious ‘Ya think?’ response in the air. He nodded before turning on his heel and leaving the room. No one spoke until they could no longer hear his footsteps. By that point, Kimiko’s death grip on the chair had loosened, Ribbon’s shoulders had relaxed, and Amadhay had finished her water.
“Is it just me, or is he up your butt more than usual?” Kimiko asked, irritation still heavy on her husky voice.
“He’s so far up my ass that I’ve considered having him surgically removed,” Amadhay snapped, making Ribbon giggle.
“I know a great wart remover,” Kimiko joked, heading out of the kitchen. “I’ll keep him busy for today. Just know you owe me.”
“You have my undying love,” Amadhay called after her, moving to Ribbon’s side.
“I’d rather have your help with my hair tomorrow!”
Ribbon was still cleaning an imaginary mess on the table when it was just her and Amadhay left in the kitchen.
“I’m pretty sure that whatever you were cleaning has moved to another state of existence by now,” Amadhay quipped, bumping Ribbon’s hip with her own.
Ribbon gave a soft laugh. “You’re probably right,” she said, dropping the cloth and looking at Amadhay. Neither spoke for a while, and then Ribbon spoke again. “He’s only hovering because he—”
“No. I don’t want to talk about Atlas. No Atlas for the next, like, ten zoots, okay?” Ribbon laughed, but Amadhay pressed it. “Okay?”
“Okay,” Ribbon agreed. “No Atlas for the next ten zoots.”
Amadhay nodded and relaxed, smiling up at her friend. She noted that the tiny silver ball in her left nostril had been replaced by a tiny snowflake. She realized then that the day was a holiday.
“It’s Atwea today, isn’t it?” she asked, merely mentioning it as a conversational topic.
Ribbon perked up at the mention. “Oh please, please, please let me take you to the Atwea festival. Please?” she pleaded.
Amadhay had every intention of going if it excited Ribbon that much. The best part, in her opinion, was that they would be somewhere warm, so the outdoors festival for the first day of winter wouldn’t be horrible. “I dunno,” she said instead, pretending to think about it. “Festivals aren’t really my thing.”
Ribbon deflated for all of a click. “Yes they are! You love festivals, you ass. C’mon. Please? Please? Please?”
Amadhay giggled. “Okay, okay. I love festivals. Are Ten and Kimmy coming?”
Ribbon shrugged. “Probably not. Crowds give Kimmy a stomach ache and I think Ten and Nico are out. So…just me and you.”
There was a shy look from Ribbon that turned coy after a click as Amadhay considered what the woman had said. She knew for a fact that Kimiko loved crowds because it was like a smorgasbord for her. Nico and Tenshu had only just come back for a few days from their “missions” with Wonder Girls and Co. But she wasn’t going to say anything. She liked just being with Ribbon. It was always nice when they were able to go out just the two of them.
“Is there a specific dress code?” Amadhay asked. She had never gone to an Atwea festival other than the one the Hakinato First Family threw back at Hartin, and she had always been dressed by her servants in attire that her aunt, Arche Loralyn, had chosen and Arne Riff had approved beforehand.
When Ribbon got a calculating look, Amadhay knew that the answer was ‘No,’ but that her friend was planning on dressing her a specific way anyway. “Well,” Ribbon began.
“Alright, you just go and pick it out. I’ll wear what you want. But I get to choose what you wear,” Amadhay interrupted her before she could come up with some excuse.
Ribbon stared at her for a few breaths before grinning. “Just remember that these festivals are family friendly and I have an image to maintain.”
Amadhay snorted. “Really? As the unknown princess?” She wasn’t exaggerating. In the past few weeks, they had gone out onto the streets quite regularly. Tenshu, Nico, and Kimiko were all recognized and treated appropriately at least once per outing. Ribbon, on the other hand, had yet to be recognized by a single Palnokian. Amadhay was beginning to think that she was invisible.
“You never know,” Ribbon replied, heading out of the kitchen, towards their rooms. Amadhay followed her. “One of these days, I might get unlucky.”
“Yeah, you’re going to be recognized the same time I am,” Amadhay countered, though she was sure that it was more likely she would be recognized than Ribbon. That always made her a bit wary about going out for something as big as a festival. The more people gathered together, the more likely someone knew of her. Even though Ribbon had tried to convince her that Palnokians didn’t care much about Roadesian nobility, it was still a possibility that a Phoegani member or a wandering noble might be there and spot her.
However, that wasn’t a worry for Atwea. Everyone wore snowflake masks for the festivities. Five year ago, she and her sisters had gotten separated and despite the fact that not only was it before any of them had hit puberty and they were all nearly identical aside from the eyes and spoors, but they had been wearing identical teal dresses, and still they hadn’t been able to find each other for zoots, and only then because they’d all managed to have to go to the bathroom at the same time. That’s how hard it was to identify someone during Atwea festivities.
“Do you have a snowflake?” Ribbon asked as they turned the hallway to their rooms.
Amadhay gave her a droll look. “Why would I have gotten one?”
Ribbon rolled her eyes. “I dunno. Usually Stefan and Nico go ape shit and decorate the place in them and me and Kimmy grab up a few to make our masks.”
Amadhay smiled at the thought. “I never got to make my own. It was always made for me by the winner of the Autumn Lovers contest.”
Ribbon gave her questioning look. “Autumn Lovers contest?”
Amadhay raised her eyebrows. “It’s a big deal in Ha’s Region, really in all of Roadesia. Artists come from all over with some sort of art of autumn and a panel of master artists judge them for the best.”
“Huh,” Ribbon said thoughtfully. “And the winner gets to make your masks?”
“And the winner makes masks for the First Family for a year until the next Atwea festival, when they’re released from the contract. It gets them a lot of novelty and whatever else artists want.”
“Does it pay?” Ribbon asked, pausing at Amadhay’s door.
“Of course. Plus they’re boarded at the Hakinato homestead, fed, and get everything they need for their work,” she said as she walked towards Ribbon’s room.
“Hey, maybe I’ll do that when you go back. That way I’d be able to see you on the regular,” Ribbon tossed back at her before entering Amadhay’s room.
Frowning after her friend, she lightly pushed on Ribbon’s door to be sure none of her nasty privacy spells were in place. They weren’t. “Go back?” Amadhay asked herself before entering her friend’s room. Did Ribbon think she had plans to go back to Hartin? Besides the fact that she had no interest going back to the Phoegani, she was presumed dead. Going back there was pretty much number one on her list of things not to do.
She shook her head to get the thought out of her mind. She’d talk to Ribbon about it later, but for the time being, she was going to focus on the festival and how much fun they would have. And the first matter of business was going through Ribbon’s closet
She scanned the room, more just by habit than for any real reason. The closet was slightly ajar, bathroom door wide open, and all of the windows were open. The faint ocean scented breeze made the gauzy curtains similar to the ones on Amadhay’s canopy flow inward. As much of the bathroom as she could see was empty, but Amadhay still moved far enough in that direction to be sure that no one was in there. The furniture in Ribbon’s room was close enough together to make it difficult for any average sized person—if Amadhay’s size counted as average—to hide behind, under, or between. Leaving the closet for last, she glanced to Ribbon’s bed.
The high bed had a redwood frame, with at least three feet below the bottom of three mattresses. Her bed was made, with silver sheets neatly covering all three mattresses, a pair of body pillows in the shape of Ribbon’s favorite actors on top of the sheets, and the intricately made, glittery comforter she never used but had for show folded neatly at the foot of the bed. No one under or in the bed, but there was a beautifully hand-carved mask.
Amadhay picked it up before she could stop herself, smiling slightly when she saw that the eyeholes were in the shape of gingerbread girls. Ribbon loved gingerbread cookies, so it was a pretty good guess that the mask had been made specifically with the blood witch in mind. The snowflake mask branched from the eyeholes, rather than the mouth-hole, which was irregular, and glittered as Amadhay turned it in her hands. It looked delicate, with only thin spindles of material tying into thin knots to cover most of the face and curved where Ribbon’s face would.
Smiling to herself, Amadhay moved to Ribbon’s closet, too distracted by the mask to finish her check of the room. She walked into the room-sized closet and looked around. Ribbon had a system to her clothes, separating them first into situations, and then into colors. The section with her jeans and sundresses was normally where the woman chose, but for this festival, Amadhay was looking at the less casual clothing. There were long gowns, pantsuits, and full body outfits that looked like costumes, but that, again, wasn’t what Amadhay was looking for.
For Atwea, only commoners and performers wore costumes. As the princess, Ribbon needed to be dressed formally, but not so much that she would stick out Ribbon seemed to pride herself on being able to blend in with the crowds. Amadhay could respect that, but the part of her brain that had been trained and had the proper etiquette drilled into her head told her that she couldn’t just go wandering around looking like a commoner.
She was looking through green dresses, short enough to not be formal, but dressy enough to not be casual, when she hit a dress that was entirely out of place. In the mass of green, which was unsurprising given that Ribbon’s favorite color was green, was a pale, silvery-lilac dress. Amadhay’s breath caught for the slightest click before she pulled the dress out.
No, it wasn’t the dress Ribbon had worn to the Emvia party four years ago, but it was strikingly similar. It was the same color, had only one strap, and would undoubtedly hang on her in the same way. Amadhay smiled to herself, touching it lightly. For a moment, she considered looking for the original dress, but stopped herself. It was another time, and they had been different people.
She quickly plucked its hanger from the rack, grabbed the shoebox on the shelf above it, and left the closet, pushing the door closed with her butt. With the mask in one hand, the dress in the other, and the shoebox under her arm, she left Ribbon’s room and entered her own.
The first thing she noticed was that there was a snowflake mask for her as well. Just as Ribbon’s had, her mask sat on her bed, its white a stark contrast to the black of her sheets.
The second thing she noticed was that her room was a wreck. Shoes, tops, pants were all over the floor, with dresses flung even further. Ribbon sat in her closet, looking from one gold dress to the other. One, that looked suspiciously similar to the one she had worn that Emvia party, was decidedly less covered than the second. It had no straps to hold it up, depending entirely on its tightness to her chest to do the job, and would cling to her like a second skin. It was as if someone had taken the old dress and cut it off at the thighs so that the redeeming part of it, the tulle skirt, was gone. The second dress was probably more appropriate for a family festival, especially if Ribbon expected Amadhay to run around with her. It had simple cap sleeves, a sweetheart neckline, and a loose skirt starting at the hips that made it to her knees.
Amadhay sat down next to Ribbon and dropped the shoebox on her lap before handing over the silver dress and snowflake mask. “Having some difficulties?” she joked.
Ribbon gave an exasperated huff. “Yes,” she said before looking at the dress Amadhay had chosen. She gave a small smile. “But I think you just made it easier.”
The older girl tossed the first dress into the closet and handed Amadhay the sleeved one. “Did you see your mask? It’s pretty epic.”
Amadhay looked around her room before looking back at Ribbon. “You’re cleaning this, right?”
Ribbon rolled her eyes before giving three distinct popping noises and snapping her fingers. The clothes jumped from the floor and flew back into the closet. Amadhay caught sight of them hanging themselves before the panel of the closet slid back into place, leaving Amadhay looking at the doe painted on the panel.
“Done,” Ribbon said smugly before standing up. “So, mask?”
Amadhay turned her back on Ribbon as the woman stripped out of her workout clothes. Listening as Ribbon said her normal cleaning spell, knowing that the woman only said it aloud for her benefit, Amadhay moved to her bed and picked up the mask, looking it over. The mouth-hole caught her eye immediately because it was in the shape of a key. The eyeholes were in the shape of cat eyes and, when she looked closely, she saw writing etched into the plaster. She couldn’t quite make it out, but it was the same writing on both sides. Other than those differences, the delicate knotting and branching was very similar to Ribbon’s, the only difference being how the mask stayed to her face. Ribbon’s knotted round her ears. Amadhay’s had a thin band that went around her head and could be slightly adjusted to keep it in place
“Where did these come from?” she asked, looking back at Ribbon, who was hopping on one foot, trying to get a heeled shoe onto the other.
“I think Nico. Stefan would’ve made them full head masks.”
Amadhay nodded, thinking it over. She had never really thought of Nico and Stefan as the artistic types. Nico was quiet and withdrawn around her, so she supposed she really didn’t have any reason to have made any assumptions about him either way. But Stefan, with his hands-on attitude and boisterous stories was a stark contrast to the studious, serious and dignified attitudes of every artist she’d ever met in Hartin.
She shrugged the thought away, pulling her tank top off.
“Need me to rebutton the bra?” Ribbon asked, suddenly right behind Amadhay.
For a moment, the younger girl considered moving away, not comfortable with anyone but her servants touching her back. But then, she nodded, knowing that it would be simpler for her friend to change the setting from workout to casual than for her to spend the next three clicks awkwardly moving the straps so that they were supporting her chest instead of inhibiting movement. With three smooth moves Ribbon did just that, unbuttoning all the straps, untwisting them, and then rebuttoning them.
“Good?” Ribbon asked, still standing behind Amadhay, her hands on her shoulders. With every breath, Amadhay felt her hair press against Ribbon’s chest. Instead of speaking, she nodded. “Good,” Ribbon said, moving back. “Then get dressed, ya hermit.”
“Your mother is a hermit,” Amadhay muttered jokingly, dropping out of the shorts she’d been wearing.
“Scarlet would be greatly insulted,” Ribbon quipped before repeating the spell she had used on herself.
“Got it the first time,” Amadhay assured her. “Irem rin,” she said, brushing down from her chin to her breast. She felt a tingle on her skin before turning to Ribbon. “Should I have felt a tingle?” she asked.
Ribbon nodded. “That’s how you know it worked,” she answered, looking into the mirror to put on her mask.
Amadhay nodded, finally pulling the dress onto herself. As she turned to Ribbon, her quick reflexes caught the shoes the taller girl had thrown to her before she even realized that the shoes were headed for her. The gold and black of the heels matched the dress, but Amadhay still paused.
“Are we sure we want heels?” she asked warily. “What if we have to run?”
“You can’t run in heels?” Ribbon asked, distractedly as she played with her hair, pinning the curls down to make the hair fluff to one side of her head.
“I can but I’d prefer not to?” Amadhay suggested, playing with the mask. Ribbon looked at her for a moment before shrugging.
“The wear something else,” she suggested. “Because there will be running. Running with the crowds, running games, running for food. Running is what Atwea is about.”
“I thought it was about winter,” Amadhay joked, setting her heels down at the edge of her bed. She kicked off her workout sneakshoes and slid into a pair of black shoes that slipped onto her feet and stayed with no straps.
“Need help with your mask?” Ribbon asked, approaching Amadhay again.
She didn’t. “Yes,” Amadhay said, holding it up for Ribbon. The dark-skinned woman grinned and took it, pressing it gently to Amadhay’s face. Where the face contours had been on the mask fit perfectly to the shape of her face and, for a moment, Amadhay wondered how Nico had been able to get her face perfectly molded for the mask. Ribbon pulled Amadhay’s hair down from its ponytail and worked the backing through the curls, weaving hair into the sides of the mask.
“Just making sure that it won’t fall off,” Ribbon explained unnecessarily.
Once the mask was fitted perfectly, Ribbon stepped back and Amadhay smiled at her.
“You look like beautiful,” Ribbon told her.
Amadhay gave her a small smile. “So do you.”
As if flustered, Ribbon looked away, to the clock beside the doorway. “We should get going. It’s been going for a few zoots now. Any later and we’ll miss all the good stuff.”
Amadhay nodded, headed toward the door. Ribbon beat her to it and took her hand. Amadhay didn’t say anything about it, simply smiling to herself as Ribbon led them from her room and out of the building.
It wasn’t until they were walking along the beach that Amadhay thought to ask about the festival. Aside from a few major points—such as the snowflake masks for Atwea—different places celebrated the holidays differently and considering Palnoki was a separate entity from the rest of Roadesia, she wouldn’t have been surprised if they had completely different traditions.
“What type of festival is this?” she asked.
“A winter one,” Ribbon said with a grin.
Amadhay rolled her eyes. “Back in Hartin, we celebrate Atwea with a big, public gathering with artists and performers and lots of dancing, sampling of trades and a free full course meal for everyone there.”
Ribbon grinned. “You’ll see,” she sang.
Amadhay could see, not too far in the distance, large groups of people. Where the tan sand turned white seemed to be where the festivities began. People were swathed in colors ranging from pastel to eye-blisteringly bright, with the only commonality being white masks on all of their faces. Clothing ranged from casual swimwear and jeans to exquisite costumes and expensive formal wear. There were even a few people wandering around, looking suspicious, in sneakwear.
As they got closer to the festivities, the music hit hard. It went from quiet and calm to loud and energetic in a click, making Amadhay aware that there must have been a spell over the festival to keep the sounds from going too far. That made sense. Besides the castle being only a mile or two away, the Qwuill headquarters were even closer, and nothing was worse than interrupting a Qwuill with loud, repetitive sounds. And she had no doubt that at least one Qwuill had chosen to keep working instead of joining in here, because Quills tended to be rather single minded when they started on a task.
The drums and feet pounding got into Amadhay’s body, making her move to the beat. Ribbon grinned at her, swaying to the sound of the strings. When the vocals began to the song, the two of them were on the white sand and pressed in close to the crowds.
No moon, no sun. Tonight we’ll come undone.
Ribbon’s lips were to Amadhay’s ear. “Dance with me?” she suggested.
“Let’s look around first,” Amadhay yelled over the music, sizzling, chattering, waves crashing, and sounds of people enjoying themselves.
Ribbon nodded, pulling Amadhay into her right before a group of inebriated teenagers rushed through the crowd, shrieking and giggling into the night. They sounded drunk off of the mood, rather than alcohol, and Amadhay was positive that they were succubi.
“Stay close,” Ribbon suggested and Amadhay nodded, keeping hold to the woman’s hand. They shied to the sides of the crowd, away from the performers and the dancing crowds.
When we’re alone, oh when we’re alone. When we’re alone…
Once they were away from the stage, there was much more room to move and Amadhay was able to walk at Ribbon’s side, rather than pressed behind her. The aelfe looked around, at the booths and stalls of all sizes. There was food everywhere, interspersed with aura readings, future-scrying, costume rentals, different clothing tents, specialized healers, weapon tents, animal tents, and games everywhere. A smile broke onto Amadhay’s face when she recognized one of the tents as that of a painter Arne Riff had banned from Hartin after the shifter had painted a humorous image of her uncle riding a dragon and fighting a phoenix.
“C’mon.” She pulled Ribbon after her, headed for the tent.
The blood-aelfe took one look at the pair of them and grinned widely, showing off sharp canines. “Couple portrait?” ge asked, already pulling out ges brown, black, gold, and green paints.
Amadhay looked hopefully to Ribbon, who rolled her eyes playfully. “Sure, why not?” she agreed, walking into the tent behind Amadhay when the painter gestured them in.
“Free picture is what I want to draw you. Paid picture is nice picture that you want.”
“Free,” Amadhay said before Ribbon could reach for her purse. She wanted to know what he would make of them.
As if ge had been hoping she would say that, ge rubbed ges hands together eagerly. “Sit, sit.” Ge gestured to the small loveseat that just barely fit the two of them.
They were close together, but neither complained. Amadhay was watching the painter closely as ge easily moved ges brush over the blank canvas. Ge never dipped into the paint, but paint did disappear from the palate, and combined with the speed ge used, Amadhay was positive that ges Gift had to do with painting. Ge was a speed painter, working even faster than Atlas did, but it didn’t seem to translate to a less than beautiful painting.
Amadhay glanced to Ribbon, who was looking around the tent, at the paintings that were hanging. When the woman laughed, Amadhay followed her gaze to a painting of Stefan with a wide, crazy smile and holding an oversized stuffed animal on his back. Snorting, she looked around the tent as well to find an image with Cowboy and Scarlet, Scarlet with her normal scowl and holding onto a rope around Cowboy’s waist as the vampire rode a toy horse.
“How much for that one?” Ribbon asked, pointing to the one with Scarlet and Cowboy.
The painter didn’t even look up. “Free if I keep this one.”
Amadhay made a face.
“How much if we keep this one and take that one?” Ribbon asked, lightly bumping Amadhay with her shoulder to let her know she knew how much she wanted the painting.
The painter made a face, pausing to think up a price. “100 credits,” ge said, dabbing at the painting.
Ribbon rolled her eyes, but reached for her purse. Except it wasn’t there. Amadhay took a moment to try to remember if Ribbon had brought a purse, and came to the decision that no, she hadn’t. So they had no money.
“Sorry, Red Bird,” Ribbon muttered, looking disappointed. “I can run back and get credits.”
“No, it’s fine,” Amadhay assured her, even though she was disappointed.
The painter turned the picture to them. In the picture, Amadhay and Ribbon were holding hands, riding what looked like a carousel. Both were seated on a cartoonish wolf with green eyes, tongue hanging out in a humorous smile. Amadhay’s eyes were enormous, nearly taking up her entire face and sky blue, like they used to be. Ribbon was looking down at her with an adoring smile, her smile taking up most of her face. Their legs, while probably proportional, looked comical, with Ribbon’s nearly doubling Amadhay’s. They both wore white dresses and the scene around them was covered in snow, but they were untouched.
Somewhere between the need to laugh and admiring ges work, Amadhay felt an abrupt fear. Ge had painted them without masks. Ribbon obviously noticed it as well, because she tensed, staring at their faces.
Ge handed them the painting of Cowboy and Scarlet rolled into a tube and when both girls gave gem a hard look, ge put a finger to ges lips. “I understand secrets.”
“We’ll be back for that,” Ribbon warned gem, pointing at the picture of them.
Ge shrugged. “I doubt it.”
With that, Ribbon and Amadhay left the tent. They wandered about for a bit, but there was a slight tension between the two of them and everyone around, as if they were worried others might know who they were.
“Ignoring that weirdness, food?” Ribbon asked after nearly thirty clacks, obviously trying to get her mind off of the painter and the painting.
“Sure,” Amadhay replied, letting the music distract her. She wanted to have fun, not think about being outed. While she didn’t think the painter had any plans to tell anyone she was alive or where she was, she still wasn’t comfortable with him having been able to see right through their masks like that.
“Meat, plant, or unhealthy?” Ribbon asked.
“Unhealthy,” Amadhay decided.
Ribbon grinned. “Good. I was eyeing those deep fried chips for a bit now.”
Amadhay followed her gaze to the chip vendor. “Which ones?” she asked. There were chips of almost anything that could be cut. The fish chips looked especially appetizing to her.
Amadhay made a face. “I said unhealthy, not suicide.”
Ribbon stuck her tongue out. “You don’t have to eat it if you don’t want it.”
They stood in line at for the deep fried chips behind a person, whose mask hid their gender, wearing a beautiful, translucent cloak. Amadhay wanted to reach out and touch it, but every time she did, she caught herself. After the sixth time of this, Ribbon tapped the person on their shoulder.
“Hey, hi. This might be strange, but she wants to touch your cloak. Can she? She’s going crazy here.”
Amadhay flushed when the person looked down at her, a knowing smirk on their face. “Of course,” they said with a voice like warm honey. “It’s spidersilk from the arachin weavers down there,” they pointed down the aisle that they had not explored yet.
They held their cloak out and Amadhay felt the fabric, rubbing it between her fingers. The pale blue translucent silk felt smoother than any fabric she’d ever touched before. She gave a quick sniff, and while it gave off a hint of magic, the only real scent coming from the fabric was frost.
“It’s beautiful,” Amadhay muttered, letting go of the cloak.
The person smiled and turned back to the vendor in time to order a pocket of deep fried tomato slices.
Once the person wasn’t paying attention to them, Amadhay looked to Ribbon. “We have to go back to the castle. I really want one of those cloaks.”
Ribbon grinned. “I can be really quick if you want to stick around here.”
Amadhay nodded to the person as they turned and smiled at them, giving a small wave before walking away. “I can go with you.”
Ribbon rolled her eyes. “We don’t both have to go,” he said before looking to the vendor. “One pocket of pizza, one of…?”
“Fish,” Amadhay supplied, making Ribbon roll her eyes.
“Just because your share is a cat, doesn’t mean you have to act like one all the time.”
Amadhay stuck her tongue out. “I like fish, you butt.”
The vendor turned back, shoving the sleeves of deep fried food at them. They almost had grease covered dresses, but pale hands caught the food before it could drop onto them.
“Watch what you’re doing!” Amadhay snapped.
“Hurry up,” the vendor stated, waving them off without another glance, already asking the people behind them what they’d like.
“Thanks,” Ribbon told the person who was holding their food. The man was dressed from head to toe in white, with a full wrap-around snowflake mask, a white suit, white shoes, white skin, even white hair. It was the red eyes that gave him away.
“Careful. It’s hot,” Atlas said, handing them their food.
Ribbon glanced at Amadhay, who rolled her eyes. “Thanks,” she said, taking her fried pizza.
Amadhay turned on her heel to walk away from Atlas, but when Ribbon didn’t move with her, she paused, looking back at her friend as she looked questioningly to Atlas, who was saying something too softly for her to hear, though Ribbon seemed to. Ribbon nodded and gestured with her free hand to her side, where her purse should have been.
Atlas shook his head, and though she couldn’t see his mouth because of his mask, she knew he was giving the brown-skinned woman an indulging smile. He glanced to Amadhay before looking back to Ribbon and handing her a pouch of what were probably credits. The man tilted Ribbon’s head down and the taller woman leaned forward so that he could press his mouth to her forehead in what would have been a kiss is his mouth hadn’t been covered and he had been able to press his mouth to the gap where the interlocking pronds of the snowflakes showed her skin.
“Have fun,” Atlas told both of them loudly enough for Amadhay to hear. He turned before either of them could say anything more, a tube strapped to his back similar to the one Ribbon carried.
Ribbon grabbed Amadhay’s hand. “C’mon,” she said, jingling the credit pouch. “Let’s buy the painting then get you a cloak, okay?”
“Absolutely,” Amadhay said excitedly, letting Ribbon lead her away. As they moved through the crowds, back to the painter, she couldn’t help but to look over her shoulder to see if Atlas was following them.
Of course he was.