“Oi, Lazy Bird,” Ribbon called from the doorway, “Up and at ‘em.”
“Why?” Amadhay sighed, staring at the overhanging above her. It was week three. She was bored of the bouncing game, especially since Atlas had ordered the wards to be strengthened once she had hit 52 bounces. There was no way she was going to beat it any time soon. She hadn’t left the room in nineteen days. She had been with the Palnoki for twenty, twenty-one if she counted the day they had taken her.
The tiny bathroom was without a door since day ten, when she had removed the doorknobs and used them as a weapon, giving Ribbon a really bad headache and then tried to catch Stefan in the door when he’d come with some message from Atlas she hadn’t listened to. She had more clothes in the wardrobe, all folded, not hung. They had taken the hangers after day three, when she had gutted Stefan, not that it had really hurt him. She had even lost all of her heeled shoes the previous day, when Tanhakinshu had effortlessly disarmed her before she could stab him with the makeshift weapon.
She couldn’t see any way to get out. Ever since refusing to talk to Atlas again after day two, the only people she ever got to see were Ribbon, Tanhakinshu, and very rarely, Stefan. She was seriously missing Monkey, Benjy, and Rea. Honestly, she was even beginning to miss Alphonse, and Essie. There was nothing for her to do except talk to the Palnokians, and they were tight-lipped about missions, which was normal topic fodder for her. At this point, she just didn’t see any reason to get up if she couldn’t go anywhere.
“Because you’ve been wallowing around in pity all day and it’s really getting to be a downer. So, Lazy Bird,” Amadhay rolled her eyes, tuning Ribbon out after the nickname. Ribbon had taken to calling her some kind of bird since day seven, when she had been Red Bird as a nod to her code name.
“Did you hear me?” Ribbon asked, throwing the curtains open before pulling the blankets right off of Amadhay and tossing them away from the bed. Amadhay didn’t move until the chill of the air forced her to sit up, shivering. “Get dressed warm,” the older woman ordered. “We’re going for a walk.”
Amadhay stared at her, not sure that she had heard her right. “I’m allowed outside?”
Ribbon shrugged. “I’m making an executive decision. You need out of this room and, let’s be honest, there’s snow piled up taller than you outside. If you run, you won’t get far.”
“I might teleport,” Amadhay warned.
“Where?” the brown-skinned woman asked with a shrug. “We’re too far for you to teleport anywhere you know, and it’s the same snowy conditions for thousands of miles around us before you can get to Palnoki ruled civilization.” She laughed at a sudden thought. “So go ahead. We’ll play hide-and-seek.” The self-assured grin on Ribbon’s face made Amadhay determined.
“Guess we’ll see,” she countered.
Ribbon laughed again. “If we’re going to play, I should invite Kimmy, Nico, and Tenshu. They’re always up for a game of hide-and-seek.”
Amadhay scowled at her, hugging herself for warmth. “It’s not hide-and-seek if you’re all looking for me.”
Ribbon grinned. “I promise we’ll be fair as long as you swear not to be a sore loser.”
“I don’t lose, Ribbon.”
“But when you do, are you a good loser or a bad loser?”
“If I don’t get away,” Amadhay thought over a good trade-off, though she had no plans of honoring it since she planned to get away, “I’ll stop trying to kill you all.”
Ribbon laughed. “Whoa, kitten. Let’s not go that far. You’re fun when you’ve got fight in you and let’s be real. Ten told me about the last time you agreed to that. Just promise to play more. It’ll be fun. I swear. You’ll have as many chances to run through the snow and freeze to death in an attempt to leave as you want.”
Amadhay almost laughed at the woman’s word choice, but controlled herself well enough to keep a stoic face.
Ribbon, apparently, however knew that she was close to laughter, because she raised her eyebrows as imperiously as possible. “Shall I invite the Borg Queen for your enjoyment?”
Amadhay snorted. Ribbon had always made it abundantly obvious that there was no lost love between herself and Johannes, in fact, the cyborg seemed to hate Ribbon more than she hated Amadhay. And considering Ribbon had told her that between stabbing and tasering Johannes and simply being a Hakinato, she had managed to land herself in the cyborg’s top three disliked people, that was pretty bad. That meant Ribbon was either number one or two. “I bet she’d love that.”
“A chance to off both of us? Undoubtedly. The cold? Not so much. She was pretty pissed when we moved here from the Green Castle,” Ribbon muttered, going through Amadhay’s wardrobe. She tossed a pair of thick, light colored leggings, white jeans, a long-sleeved, skull patterned shirt, and a white sweater on the bed. “Get dressed,” she said before also tossing a white, fluffy coat and a matching hat and glove set over.
The look Amadhay gave her showed how much Amadhay didn’t understand the weather. “I was thinking just this,” she gestured to the black, long-sleeved shirt and tight black pants she was currently wearing, “With the fuzzy boots and cloak.”
Ribbon outright laughed at her. “Not hardly. I’m not seriously going to let you freeze to death. I’d never forgive myself. Besides, don’t you want to hide well? Red and black isn’t going to blend very well with all that snow.”
Amadhay frowned, but when Ribbon crossed her arms in a way she was beginning to recognize meant that she couldn’t change the other woman’s mind, she gave a characteristic sigh to imply that she thought Ribbon was being ridiculous. “Fine. I’ll just lose some of it when I get away,” she grumbled before changing into the lighter colored ensemble. Once she was warm enough to feel like she was in a desert, she glared at the brooch on Ribbon’s silver cloak.
“Trust me. You’ll be happy once we’re outside,” the green-eyed woman promised before she opened the door to the room, leading where Amadhay hadn’t been since her last venture out to talk to Atlas. She gestured for Amadhay to leave the room first.
“This isn’t a joke, is it? I’m not going to walk right into the wards, am I?” Amadhay asked nervously, playing with her hair. She wished that she had time to have Tanhakinshu braid it before she tried to escape. It would have been easier to tuck her hair away if it were in two braids than with it all out and curling more like Amaya’s than her normally carefully groomed curls. She hadn’t wanted to admit that she would be there long enough to actually need her specialized shampoos, and that was one of the few things the informant hadn’t told about her, so she would have to suck up and ask Ribbon to get it.
Of course, she was going to get out of there today, so it didn’t matter. She would be back on base, with her shampoo and preferred lotions and warm weather by dinnertime. She hoped.
Ribbon rolled her eyes. “Just go, Red Bird. We can only play while Atlas, Scarlet, Mitch, and Stefan are all out.”
“Ohh,” Amadhay drawled, immediately feeling less nervous now that she knew that Atlas was nowhere around. “I see. You’re being sneaky. Kids play while the parents are away,” she teased.
“Yep. I’m in charge of your stay right now, so I say we go outside and get some freezing fresh air.” Ribbon winked at her, who gestured for her to be the first through the door.
Amadhay walked to the doorway and, after giving Ribbon one more wary look, stepped over the doorway and into the hallway. “Well,” she said back to Ribbon, who was snickering. “That was anti-climatic.”
“I told you. No tricks. Just fun,” Ribbon said, closing the door behind her as she moved to stand next to Amadhay. She gestured with her head for Amadhay to follow her before heading down the hall.
For a moment, Amadhay considered splitting right then and there. However, she had found that Ribbon was nothing if not trustworthy. If she had said that she was taking her outside and giving her whatever chance she wanted to get away, she was going to do it. Besides, she had no idea where the exit was from here and even if she did get away from Ribbon, getting lost on the base would do her no good.
So she followed Ribbon. She doubted the other woman realized that she definitely saw her relieved smile. She didn’t say anything about it, wanting to allow her to believe that she was gaining her trust. She was just biding her time.
“We just gotta get the others and then we’ll go outside,” Ribbon explained unnecessarily. Amadhay wouldn’t have known that they weren’t going outside until they had ended up wherever she was currently being led either way.
“Okay,” was all she responded, sticking close to Ribbon as she was led down several hallways.
One thing she had to give to the Palnoki was that their decorating was wonderful. Her red room aside, every room she had seen had warm, golden wallpaper with black and silver accents. The hallways all had smooth, dark mahogany wood floors, something she only recognized because it was the same wood that her wardrobe and vanity table were made from. The lighting throughout was in the form of electric torches lined an even four feet apart, varying from right to left. A few times, they even walked under chandeliers.
There was no art hanging from the walls, but even without family pictures, it all had the feeling of a home, albeit a rich one, rather than a base. That was what got her the most about what she’d seen of the Palnoki. Most of them were like a family. Even Ribbon and Johannes were like family, if very estranged ones, which she completely understood given her relationship with her own family. The Palnoki were more of a cohesive family than her own was.
Ribbon paused at a door, a purple door. That caught Amadhay’s eye immediately, given that all the other doors had been the same color as her own, with a scent of apple wood. Ribbon grinned at her before quickly knocking four times.
“What do you want, you butt-monkey?” was called from inside the room. Amadhay raised her eyebrows at Ribbon, who rolled her eyes.
“It’s me, not butt-monkey, whoever that is. Come out Kimmy, we’re gonna play hide-and-seek.”
“Aren’t you on babysitting detail?” the same voice called from inside the room, though it was obvious the woman inside the room was coming closer to the door.
“Yup. She is part of the we who are playing.”
The door was immediately thrown open and Amadhay was given her first glance of Kimiko. Her first thought was confusion, because Tanhakinshu had called her his sister and this snowy-skinned girl who couldn’t be any older than she was, certainly couldn’t be the olive complexioned man’s sister. Her pitch-black hair had blazing purple streaks and was pulled into two precise ponytails with skull ponytail clips keeping them in place. Her lips were painted a solid purple, nearly black and her mismatched gray and gold eyes were heavily outlined by black makeup. The plaid miniskirt, ripped t-shirt and bare feet told Amadhay that the girl was faring much better in the cold than she was.
“Wow. You really broke her out,” Kimiko said, staring at Amadhay just as openly as Amadhay was staring at her. Without the door between them, Amadhay was able to appreciate the other girl’s husky voice. “Does Ten know?”
“I’m inviting him to play too,” Ribbon responded with a careless shrug.
Kimiko grinned, “Let me get dressed. I gotta see this,” she said before dashing back into her room. Almost immediately, she came back. “By the way, I’m Kimiko. Hi.” She gave Amadhay a wave before she dashed back into her room again.
“That’s Tanhakinshu’s sister?” she asked Ribbon once she thought Kimiko was far enough away not to hear.
Ribbon shrugged. “As much as I’m their sister,” she explained.
“So they’re not really?” Amadhay asked, though she was pretty sure she knew the answer.
Ribbon glanced at her and back at Kimiko’s door before she looked at Amadhay for a long moment. “They’re more related than most siblings who share blood,” was all she said. It didn’t matter though, because by then, Kimiko came back out of her room, decked in all white and looking strangely like a white rabbit with her dark hair tucked into a white hat featuring long rabbit-like ears that were wrapped loosely around her neck as a scarf.
“Let’s get Ten!” she exclaimed, closing her door. She began leading them this time, moving much faster than Ribbon had. Amadhay hadn’t noticed that Ribbon had been walking slowly enough for her to take in all the details of the base, which she now wondered at. What was Ribbon’s endgame? What did she have to gain by letting Amadhay get a feel of the base?
She shook the thoughts away because they genuinely didn’t matter and Kimiko was asking her questions.
“So you aren’t going to try and kill any of us, are you? Because that is a sure way to ruin a good game.”
Amadhay was actually slightly intimidated by the other girl’s bluntness. She expected it from Ribbon, who was powerful and a known threat. She even expected that kind of bluntness from Tanhakinshu, who was a similar powerful and known threat. Something about Kimiko unsettled her. Maybe it was the way she seemed so eager and bouncy, because Amadhay knew that to be part of the Palnoki, she had to have some sort of major power. She was an unknown, and Amadhay hated unknowns.
“I dunno,” she responded after a moment. “If someone gets in my way, maybe.”
Kimiko glanced back at Ribbon. “I thought you said we were playing hide-and-seek.”
“We are,” Ribbon assured her. “Red Bird here just has a different goal than the rest of us. So we’re not gonna get in her way except as much as the game needs.”
“What does that even mean?” Kimiko asked, stopping in front of a black door. She knocked four times. “Ten! Nico! Stop making out, we’re playing hide-and-seek!”
“Is that a real thing now?” Ribbon asked Kimiko, making Amadhay look at her in confusion.
“Oh yeah. They started hooking up last week. Something about Nico getting blue balls from his vampire linsh,” Kimiko answered, giving four more knocks.
“Kind of gross,” Ribbon commented, wrinkling her nose slightly.
“Tell me about it. Sloppy make outs galore,” Kimiko agreed as the door swung open to show Tanhakinshu and a blond man, looking rather disheveled. Tanhakinshu’s hair was out of its normal ponytail and his shirt was on backwards.
“I really don’t feel like playing right now, Kim,” Tanhakinshu said before his gaze locked on Amadhay. He looked accusingly at Ribbon. “What the deep Water pit is she doing out of her room?”
“I made an executive decision,” Ribbon responded with a wave of her hand. “We’re going out to play hide-and-seek. She’s playing with us. Are you coming? If so, get dressed quickly.”
Tanhakinshu looked from Ribbon to Amadhay, and then at Kimiko, who shrugged. “She says she has a different goal than the rest of us.”
Tanhakinshu sighed. “I’ll be out in a clack,” he said before ducking back into the room.
“Nico?” Ribbon asked the blond, who was studying Amadhay. She was pointedly not making eye contact with him because he was decidedly not wearing anything except for tiny black, briefs.
“Sure,” was all he said before following Tanhakinshu back into the room.
“We’re gonna go on out,” Ribbon called to the men, taking Amadhay’s arm and leading her away.
“Last one out is It!” Kimiko called over her shoulder, following them. “So, what is her goal?” she asked once they were a few hallways away from Tanhakinshu and Nico.
“Ask her,” Ribbon said before Amadhay could launch a complaint about them talking about her as if she weren’t right there with them.
“Kay,” Kimiko turned her attention to Amadhay. “What’s your goal for the game?”
“I’m getting out of here,” Amadhay stated calmly.
Kimiko scoffed. “You are aware that you are completely surrounded by snowdrifts taller than you, right?”
Ribbon snickered and Amadhay shrugged. “That’s not going to stop me.”
Kimiko laughed. “Typical. Have you ever even been in this much snow?”
Amadhay shrugged, but they all knew that meant she hadn’t.
“Ribbon,” Kimiko whined, “This isn’t going to be any fun for her. She’s gonna sink into the snow and be stuck and get caught first and be It and hate it all.”
Ribbon shrugged. “Then help her?”
“You’re not going to?”
“No, why would I? I’m giving her the chance to get away. I don’t think that me helping her would make it fair.”
Kimiko gave a disapproving sigh and patted Amadhay on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. I’m going to help you out as much as I can,” she assured her.
Amadhay gave her a wary look. “Why?”
“Why not?” Kimiko asked, sounding genuinely perplexed.
“Aren’t you worried I’ll get away and you’ll all be in deep with Atlas?”
Kimiko laughed. “If you are able to actually get away, even with my help, you deserve it. But let’s be real. You’d probably freeze to death even if you got far enough away to be in danger of getting out of here.”
Amadhay scowled and Ribbon bopped her on the forehead. “Remember your promise. You’ll have fun and keep playing even when you realize it’s impossible,” she reminded her as they finally reached the front doors. They were large glass and wood doors as wide as she was tall, with a single lock that had no key.
“Ripples,” Ribbon said to the door and it swung open, allowing them out. At the perplexed look Amadhay gave the door, she grinned. “All of us have a code for the door. It only works for us, so don’t think you can use it to get out,” she teased.
“Mine is Butterball,” Kimiko supplied for no reason other than to be part of the conversation.
With that, the three of them stepped out into the cold. Almost immediately, Amadhay turned to go right back inside. Laughing, both Kimiko and Ribbon linked arms with her and pulled her further out into the cold. The door closed behind them, effectively locking Amadhay out in the frozen wasteland.
“I’m not dressed warm enough for this,” Amadhay whined, trying to dig her heels into the cobblestone of the porch.
“You get used to it after a bit,” Kimiko promised, though Ribbon shook her head to tell Amadhay that she was lying.
“Just let me go back and get two more layers on. Then I’ll be all up for this,” she pleaded, but they just laughed at her.
“C’mon. We have a head start while Ten and Nico catch up,” Kimiko said, veering away from the base and toward the endlessly white landscape. Amadhay glanced back at the base to see that its exterior was a mundane looking cabin. She could tell that most of it must be underground, considering there wasn’t much to it. She could see her room from here, though. In fact, she could look right into it from the wall of window behind her bed, and that bothered her a bit. How often had someone stood on this porch and watched her without her realizing? How often had someone watched her sleeping?
And then that thought completely left her mind when she stepped into the snow because she was sinking into the whiteness. She squeaked, gripping tightly onto Ribbon and Kimiko, who had only sunk down to their ankles. She was down to her hips.
Pulling her back up to the top of the snow, both women laughed softly. “What kind of snow is this?” she demanded, giving up all pretense of standing and choosing to hang onto the shoulders of the taller women, keeping her legs up so that she didn’t slow down their progress.
“The deep kind,” Kimiko quipped. “You all don’t see this back on Roadesia.”
That gave Amadhay a pause. Back on Roadesia? Did that mean she was Over the Water or did they just not consider Palnoki part of Roadesia? She stopped thinking about it, however, when Kimiko and Ribbon dropped her into the snow again. She sank down to her hips again before scrambling back to the top. “Wait! Don’t leave me!” she called, trying to catch up with them and failing miserably. She kept sinking deeper and deeper into the snow. She was up to her chest by the time Kimiko came back for her, tugging her back up to the top.
“You can’t stand in one place too long,” Kimiko advised her. “You sink when you stop.”
“I sink when I move,” Amadhay complained, looking around for Ribbon. “Where’d Ribbon go?”
“She’s going to try to distract Nico while I get you somewhere you have a chance of hiding well.”
“Why?” she asked, having honestly given up any thoughts of getting away. She could barely stay on top of the snow with help, what chance did she have on her own? If she did somehow manage to get away, what was she going to do then? They were right. She’d freeze if she got away. She would get lost in the never-ending whiteness and freeze to death. Becoming an Amadhay-sicle had never been one of her goals in life. “I just want to go back inside. It’s too cold.”
“Nope,” Kimiko said, pulling Amadhay after her. “Come on, haven’t you ever walked on something fragile before? Walk lightly. Walk up,” she ordered, making Amadhay stare at her blankly. “When you’re trying to walk silently, how do you walk?” she asked.
“Quietly?” Amadhay suggested.
Kimiko rolled her eyes. “Walk like you’re trying to be silent.”
Amadhay wasn’t sure that it was going to help, but she recognized the look in Kimiko’s eye. That was the same look Christein had gotten right before he had forced her to learn to swim by swimming away and letting her flounder until she figured it out on her own. “Don’t you dare leave me here,” she hissed, but Kimiko grinned and let go of her, backing away quickly so that she couldn’t grab onto her.
Immediately, Amadhay started to sink. Instead of trying to walk, she attempted to jump. While it helped her get out of the hole a little, she didn’t get anywhere. She considered using her Gift, but decided against it. She couldn’t walk on water yet, so she doubted she would run fast enough to not sink in, and besides, she heated up when she used her Gift. Melting the snow would only sink her even farther. Without someone to pull her up, she couldn’t get up without making more room, so she started digging herself out. After a few clacks of trying to dig herself out, she found that she had less dug herself out than she had begun to make a tunnel of sorts through the snow.
“Well…that could work too, I guess,” she muttered to herself, teeth chattering. She continued digging, finding that she was no longer aboveground. She was underneath the snow, burrowing through it like a worm in dirt. Scrunching her nose at the thought of comparing herself to a worm, she went through a mental list of burrowing animals and changed that to a snake. While she acknowledged the part of her brain that reminded her that snakes didn’t actually burrow, she refused to compare herself to rodents, which actually did.
She wasn’t sure how far she had gone or even how deep she was until she popped up back on the surface. As it was, she still wasn’t sure of how far she had gone, but she was aware that she had been out for a while because the sky was darkening. Either way, she was cold as ice and was glad to be aboveground again. In fact, it wasn’t until she had settled there for a few clacks that she realized that she had actually figured out a way to stay on top of the snow. But the moment she thought about it, she began sinking again, which actually saved her from being caught. As she sunk back down, she saw feet approaching, so she froze as still as possible.
“Have you found her yet?” Ribbon called, sounding worried.
“No. You haven’t?” Tanhakinshu replied, equally as anxious.
“What about Kimmy?”
“Nico’s with her right now. She’s freaking out. She thinks Atlas is going to kill her.”
“Well…” Ribbon’s tone told Amadhay that the woman thought that Kimiko had a valid reason to think that Atlas would kill her.
“If anyone should be worried, it should be you, Ribbon. You brought her out here,” Tanhakinshu snapped, and made Amadhay aware that she was definitely the elusive “her.”
“Can we not make this about Atlas for one fucking click,” Ribbon snapped.
“Fine. Let’s make this about you. And how worried you should be that you lost her.”
“See I would be worried about me if I thought she had gotten away. But you didn’t see her. There was no way she got very far. She kept sinking. That’s the only reason I didn’t keep an eye on her. She’s probably in some hole closer to the Ice Castle.”
“And if she is, she’s dead,” Tanhakinshu stated as fact. “Have you thought about that?”
“Yes!” Ribbon yelled at him, “And that is why we’re looking for her, asshat. If she’s awake somewhere, she’s alive. And I know that she’s alive because she’s so stubborn that she wouldn’t let some snow kill her.”
“I don’t think she let some snow kill her,” Tanhakinshu snapped back. “I think you tricked her into a stupid fucking game she had no way of surviving and you let some snow kill her because you were impatient with waiting for her to come around, because you were bored maintaining her.”
“She’s not a fucking plant, Tenshu. I wasn’t maintaining her. I brought her out here so that she could have some fun, not die.”
“Well fat lot of good that did. I doubt she’s having fun wherever she is.”
Amadhay wanted to listen more to their conversation, but her body wasn’t a willing participant. Her teeth were chattering and no amount of gritting them made her able to keep them still anymore.
“What’s that sound?” Ribbon suddenly asked.
“I don’t know,” Tanhakinshu responded drily, “Is it the sound of your conscience?” he asked.
“No, asshole, it’s…it’s like…” she trailed off, but Amadhay heard the crunch of footsteps coming closer, then felt one of the tunnels collapse. Ribbon gave a loud curse, falling into her hole. When the snow settled and she could see again, Ribbon was staring at her in mute surprise.
“I found her!” she yelled up, reaching out for Amadhay.
“Did I win?” Amadhay asked.