“You won’t be leaving this town alive.”
Finishing her next step, Jennika came to a slow stop, and made an even slower turn back to look down at the man. As far as threats went, it wasn’t very articulate. It wasn’t at all clever, cutting, or funny. And it sounded especially unreliable. It was difficult to be impressed.
There were worse places to be stuck. Off the top of her head, Agata could list five other prisons, a few run-down homes where she had spent a night or two, and at least six of the circles of hell…
As prisons went, it was clean. Either they had few enough prisoners that any old dirt had faded to dust a long time ago, or they actually bothered to scrub them out. The walls were stone, not wood, and the cell was divided from the hall by a series of sturdy iron bars that bit into both floor and ceiling. Windows spilled yellow-white light across everything but a few corners. The stones gleamed gray-blue in contrast, worn to a shine in twisting pathways where too many people had walked over the years. The bars kept the air sweeping in and out, and the whole thing smelled hollow as an open field, instead of wet and close as a sewer.
It was a little too cold – and Agata couldn’t help feeling the restriction of the locks and steel – but it was actually quite nice. She was moving up in the world.
If it wasn’t haunted, she might actually enjoy her two weeks off in the quiet little room.
“The first rule,” Zackery had said, without any more emphasis than the other instructions he’d given that long afternoon. “Is never go invisible on the second floor.” He must have said why, and like half the tumbling sentences he ran through, Kessa must have forgotten.
It was easy to forget when she couldn’t put anything but the first bit to use until she escaped the island. She could spread her hands, spill heat and spark and energy into the air, then gather it close to her skin in a blanket that felt like turning her outsides into a smouldering coal while her insides hardened to ice. It was never too hot, never too cold, but balanced between the two, pressed always to the edge of both.
Anything more than that, and she had to wait until a ship could carry her away somewhere else, anywhere else, where the air wasn’t broken.
Kessa fell in the water once, when she was small. She was walking the coast on the east side of the city, half the size of the rocks she was climbing, and she slipped. The water was deep, catching her with kindness and slowing her before she could strike anything. She never touched bottom, spread her hands to either side and couldn’t feel the boulder she thought she’d seen from above. Her hands slipped in cool water that hugged her like air, pulled on her arms and legs like gravity. She kicked out, spun in slow motion, and touched nothing.
The water was muddy, too muddy to show the daylight above her. She thrashed, the air in her lungs seeming to shrink. She turned, twisted, spun, and for long, long seconds there was no up, there was no down, there was no left or right or in or out. She kicked and moved and did not move, lost somewhere in the dull nothing of water creeping in against her skin.
Panic snaked into her lungs, crowding out the air and tightening her chest, while her head stayed somewhere above it, calmly swearing that there had to be a way to know which way to go. And she spun.
Kessa spun the same way inside Zackery’s instructions.
Invisibility was a neat trick.
Curled into the corner of her hiding hole, Kessa kept dreaming about it. Sometimes, she snapped her fingers, and the air echoed the crack, breaking around her and the rushing back together with a hiss and she walked down the street without a single glance her way. Sometimes she swirled a cloak around her shoulders, and someone stared at her as she pulled the hood over her head, then stared at empty air while she stepped away. Sometimes she just sat down and faded out of sight.
When she woke, she couldn’t shake the feeling. She didn’t mean to move quietly, but her feet barely made a sound on the dirty floor of her hollowed out basement. The building above her was old and crumbling, and didn’t make much noise either. One of the rats might skitter on the floorboards. The wind might hum a little in the slats of the walls. In her corner, the wind couldn’t bend its long arm to reach her, and everything else stood dumbly still. Nothing saw her as she climbed out onto the abandoned street.
Nothing saw her as she crept down into the city. The cobblestones grew smoother under her feet where traffic had worm it down to the rolling feel of a riverbed. The buildings sat straighter, brighter, looking down on the colored canopies of the market and swirl of the crowd between them. People talked, pushing the silence away, and covering it over in a different quietness. Kessa stayed near the walls, tucked herself behind corners and took empty back alleys to skirt around to growing mob of people. No one looked her way.
Kessa always looked impossibly clean, her jacket and breeches all in their natural browns, but looking like they’d been blown fresh off the drying line. Her ash-blonde hair always hung straight down her back, like newly-woven cloth. Her skin stayed pale, even in the summer sun, and her blue eyes always looked like they’d just been painted on in sharp strokes, still shining wet.
Kynbessne figured it was because Kessa spent most of her hours invisible. Even dirt couldn’t find her.
That seemed to be the way Kessa liked it. Kynbessne had gotten used to the weird conversations with no eyes to meet, startling beginnings, and abrupt endings. She had almost managed to keep her heart from turning her veins into a race track whenever the other woman spoke. She could tell that it took some energy to keep hidden, but there was always a smile in Kessa’s tone when she surprised her with a statement from open air. She seemed to enjoy keeping Kynbessne on her heels, loved even more listening to her search when she needed her, and Kynbessne resigned herself to the fact that Kessa just liked playing these games.
Except when it came time to argue with Jennika.