Applying for a transfer hadn’t worked. Jaya hated Amber and yet didn’t want to let her go. It didn’t make any sense at all. For the last six months she’d just got easy jobs the newbies could have done, even if they didn’t have any experience. She’d thought far more seriously than she’d believed possible about retraining as a scout, but it didn’t have the same appeal. All she’d ever wanted to be was a thief. That was what her father had been. Her mother didn’t want her to follow in her father’s footsteps, because he had died during one raid. They’d last seen each other the day Amber started training to be a thief. Sighing, she left her room, knowing she couldn’t put it off any longer. When she got to the jobs board no one else was there. There was less embarrassment if she was alone, even though she knew everyone already knew what job she had. At first she avoided looking at her name. Instead she checked on what jobs the newbies had. She couldn’t help worrying about Kenner when she saw that the new girl had been assigned a job that only an experienced thief should have, a thief like Amber. Finally she looked at her name.
“You’ve got to be joking,” she muttered to herself.
“What’s up?” a voice she recognised asked from behind her.
“It’s nothing, Kenner. Have you seen your job yet?”
“No. I was kind of putting it off. After the mistake I made last time I thought Jaya would probably assign me something simple and I didn’t want to know what it was.”
“Would you prefer it if I left?”
“I’m actually kind of glad you’re here.” Kenner sighed. “Everyone else was so nasty about what happened but you were kind to me.”
“Everyone makes mistakes. They all seem to have forgotten what it’s like to be a newbie.” Especially Jaya, she thought, but kept her mouth shut for once. “Just ignore them and do your best with the job you’ve been assigned this time.”
“What’s your job?”
“I’m on back-up in the White House.”
Back-up had always, and would always be, Amber’s least favourite job. During training she had been one of the best at back-up, but she didn’t enjoy it. Most of the time there wasn’t actually anything to do. It was only if someone made a mistake or happened to be caught out by one of the inhabitants of whichever house they were in that back-up got involved. However back-up could also be one of the most dangerous jobs. She didn’t want to hurt her mother by dying the same way her father had, no matter how strained their relationship was.
There was a long silence before Kenner said, “I have to be reading that wrong.”
Amber shook her head. She had seen exactly what Kenner had and it wasn’t possible for them to both read it wrong.
“Jaya’s seriously sending me there after the mistake I made.”
“Looks like it.”
“Why isn’t she sending you in? You should be doing my job and I should be backing you up.”
“Jaya and I have… difficulties.”
“You’re a legend.”
She laughed. “If you say so.”
“I’m serious. They tell stories about you at training. My favourite was always the time you…”
“Why are you still here, girls?” Jaya asked, annoyance filling her voice. “You should both be in my study by now.”
Amber was seriously tempted to tell Jaya to go to hell. Fortunately she was getting better at biting her tongue when it came to her ‘leader’ so she just stalked off instead. It wasn’t as though she needed to be in the session. Her job was simple. Stay out of the way unless needed. The likelihood of her being needed in the White House was minimal, which was exactly why Jaya had given her that job. She didn’t think that it would get any worse after the in-and-out jobs she’d been given at the Blue House, but obviously she was wrong.
When she walked into the study she could see far too many people giving her a sympathetic look. Shaking her head, not wanting them to pity her, she went to stand in her favourite corner, next to the books of magic they’d stolen. No one else could stand close to them, because the power coming out of them was too strong, but she liked the feeling. It was one of the things she knew annoyed Jaya. Amber was the only person who could get those books off the bookcase, so even Jaya had to go to her whenever she wanted one. Most people said that Amber should have taken the role of leader when it was offered to her, but she wasn’t interested in being leader. Jaya had been the second choice.
“Right, everyone,” Jaya started, “the scouts have given us some definite times for the takes. Those going to the White House will be leaving first. You have an hour to get in and out. They will be followed straight away by anyone going to the Blue House. Again, you have an hour. Finally, those going to the Silver House will be leaving. Unfortunately you’re going to have to wait for a couple of hours before you can go and once you’re in you have about half an hour.”
She looked over at Kenner. The worry was obvious in her face. Only having half an hour for a job in the Silver House was normal, but it wasn’t easy. Everyone going to the Silver House needed at least an hour to go over their route, because it was very easy to get lost, and they’d lost thieves in there before. A lot of magic was used in there and it could be confusing, especially for those who had never been there before. Kenner had only done six jobs, most of them in less confusing houses, so it would be even more difficult for her. Amber didn’t know if Jaya was testing her after the last mistake she made or whether Jaya was making her decision based on Kenner’s wonderful test results. Test results meant nothing in the real world.
“Everyone but Amber may leave.” Jaya glared over at her. “Amber, I’d like to talk to you about your attitude.”
Amber rolled her eyes. They’d had the same conversation after every meeting for the last six months and it was beginning to get old. She was beginning to get an attitude problem, but that was because of the treatment she was getting. Their old leader had been much easier to get on with. Unfortunately she’d died during a job gone wrong.
“Amber, I know things haven’t been easy since I took over,” Jaya said, looking over at Amber, “but I really need you to start acting as though you want to be a part of this team. The jobs you have been given have been based on your test results and you must admit most of your test results weren’t great. Back-up was what you were best at so that is where I have placed you.”
“We both know that’s just an excuse. You don’t like me and you never have, so this is your way of giving me the jobs you think I deserve. I have proved myself in the last six years, to a woman who understood that test results mean very little once you reach the other world, but you give me jobs that a newbie could do or you put me in as back-up.”
“You’re not as good as you seem to think you are. Back-up is where you should be. There are people here who are much better than you.”
“I don’t doubt that, but I’m not the worst in the team either. You are the one who is making mistakes with giving girls jobs they can actually cope with. What were you thinking when you gave Kenner a job in the Silver House?”
“Kenner passed all of her exams with flying colours and I think she’s easily able to complete the job.”
“Think about it, Jaya. She’s done six jobs. One of those jobs went drastically wrong. Throwing her head first into the Silver House after her confidence has been knocked is not a good idea.”
Jaya laughed. “You’re jealous she’s been given a better job than you.”
“I’m worried about her. The poor kid has only just started this and she needs real support. Surely you learnt this from Rynne.”
“Rynne had her way of doing things and I have mine. You should focus on doing your job. Stop sticking your nose into things that have nothing to do with you.”
“When something goes wrong don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“You’ve got ten minutes to get ready.”
Amber left the room. She would have given anything to have Rynne back as leader of the group, but it would never happen, because she’d made a bad decision. Losing her had torn them all apart and Jaya wasn’t strong enough to hold them together. Unhappily, she pulled her hair into a ponytail before going to join her group. Thankfully she was backing up three people she actually liked, and one she disliked, rather then being stuck with four of Jaya’s friends.
“Hey, Amber,” Steph said, curling an arm around her shoulders. “I’m glad you’re our back-up, even if you do hate it.”
Steph had been in Amber’s final training group. They’d had fun together then and knew each other well. Over the time they’d been working together it had created a bond of trust. Amber trusted Steph to do her job in the same way that Steph trusted Amber as back-up. It had been in their final test that Amber had actually saved Steph’s life when she was back-up. Steph had actually tried to convince her to focus as back-up, but as that was the job that killed her father she had avoided it at all times.
“Morning, Steph. What are you going in for?”
“We need a couple of books, an artifact and a map.”
“So you’re splitting?”
“Who needs me the most?”
“I do. The artifact is going to be the hard part.”
“They always are in the White House.”
“Can I talk to you, Amber?” Kenner asked from behind her, sounding nervous.
Amber turned to look at Kenner, who was moving from one foot to the other, looking panicked. “Of course.”
The two of them stepped away from the group slightly. Kenner bit her lip, staring down at the floor with a slight blush on her cheeks. She was holding onto a map of the Silver House Amber knew well. A couple of her hardest jobs had been in the Silver House and she could understand Kenner’s worry.
“I need someone to help me create a route. Everyone else seems to know where all the traps are and the quickest way to get where they need to go, but I know nothing about the house at all. The last thing I want to do is ask my group, because they already think I’m incompetent, and it’s obvious they don’t want me with them.”
“You’re going to Christophe’s library, right?”
Kenner nodded, looking absolutely terrified.
“I know the best route. How good are you with magic?”
Amber nodded. Going into Christophe’s library without being at least adequate at magic was dangerous to say the least, but they’d never had magic tests, so Jaya would have had no idea, if she really was working from the test results. Holding her hand out for the map she thought carefully about the safest route for Kenner. Once it was in her hand she held it up against the wall and used her other hand to trace the route.
“When you walk in the door turn right. Follow that corridor right to the end. It looks like a dead end but it isn’t. Touch the middle of that wall and it will open up into the next corridor. Continue along that corridor until you come to the first right turn. Take that right turn and run. The corridor there is known for having some interesting magic in you won’t be able to combat. Remind me when I get back and I’ll make you a shield. Once you’re at the end turn left and the next door on the right will be Christophe’s library. Don’t use the door. Use the wall next to the door. There should be a small crystal in the wall. Press that and the wall will open. Christophe always uses booby traps on the door. Make sure you follow that route all the way back too.” Kenner nodded. “While you’re waiting to leave, memorise it.”
“If you need more help then you know where I am.”
“It’s time for those girls going to the White House to leave,” Jaya called, drawing Amber’s attention to the portal.
Slowly she walked over, checking she had everything she needed in her pack, and stood next to Steph. She avoided looking at Jaya because she knew she would say or do something that she would later regret. Breathing deeply she tried to focus on what was happening to her but she couldn’t help still worrying about Kenner. Thankfully, the back-up on that trip was Amber’s closest friend Ruby and she knew Ruby could do the job better than anyone.
They walked through the portal together. Once they were through it Amber could feel that something was wrong. She put her hand out in a signal that the girls knew meant stop. Steph, Lucy and Chlo stopped automatically. Jaya’s friend Marie didn’t until Lucy grabbed hold of her arm. When none of the other girls were moving Amber took a couple of steps forward, taking her wand out of her pack. There had been a moment when she’d contemplated leaving it at the house, but she was glad she hadn’t. Someone knew they were coming. Amber could smell the magic that had been woven around the house, even though she couldn’t yet see it, and she was once again grateful for her weird skill.
“What is going on?” Marie asked loudly, breaking Amber’s concentration.
“It’s a trap,” she muttered, wishing Marie would keep her voice down.
“No wonder Jaya gives you the easy jobs. You’re a paranoid nut case. This is the White House. I’ve never heard of anyone trapping the White House.”
“Sometimes it happens. Usually when they’re switching the houses.”
“Switching the houses?”
“They switch the houses round about once every six years. The scouts should have picked this up. It’s dark and I want to get out of here.”
Marie laughed. “We have a job to do. If you’re too scared to play back-up then go home.”
“We’re all going home.”
“No we’re not, Amber. You can go home and…”
Finally, after much longer than it would normally have taken, Amber broke the invisibility spell that had been placed around the magic and everyone could see it. Her head was pounding but that didn’t matter. If she stopped them from going into that mass of power then she’d done her job well.
“Silver,” Steph whispered, looking at the magic that had been looped around the house. “They’re bringing Silver here.”
Amber nodded and went back through the portal without waiting for the others to follow her. She needed to stop the girls from going to Silver. It was too late to stop those going to Blue from leaving, but she hoped that they would be safe enough. Normall they only switches two houses at a time. However there was no one, apart from Jaya, in the room when she got back.
“Where are they?” she asked, rubbing her temple.
“They’ve already gone. We got a note through saying that Silver was safe early and they left.”
Without saying another word to Jaya she went back through the portal to Silver. Amber hated going through the portal so many times in a row, but she had to do something. Kenner was at Silver, as was Ruby, and she had to make sure they were safe. She set off at a run once she was through the portal because the whole house was dark. Seeing that… she tried not to think of how bad things could be. If she started thinking too much if would affect the choices she made. The only time a house had gone dark before was when it had been set up as a booby trap and people she cared about were in that trap, so she was going to do what back-up always did – protect them.
It wasn’t until she went to open the door she realised she was still holding onto her wand. Smiling, Amber focused on it, feeling her power flow through her. Being ready for what might come was more important than her headache. The door was safe so she opened it and stepped into Silver House, knowing without a doubt she wasn’t ready for whatever was coming. Knowing her friends had stepped into the trap with even less knowledge was the only thing that kept her going.
Inside the house the dark was obviously spelled. It was a sticky dark that clung to everything. There was no noise anywhere and she only knew what job Kenner had been given. Without stopping to think she aimed straight for Christophe’s library. Every step she took felt harder than the one before but she wasn’t going to stop. Kenner’s screaming made her run the final two corridors, hoping she’d be there in time to help her.
“Kenner,” she yelled, “what’s happening in there?”
“Something’s attacking me.”
She pulled a shield over herself before stepping into the room, even though it wouldn’t help if the thing that was attacking wasn’t magical. Breathing deeply she passed yet more power into her wand. In an attempt to get something from the dark she tried to channel the power from that into her wand too, but it just caused her a sensation akin to an electric shock, which, thankfully, faded away quickly. Once she was in the room she held her hand out, hoping that she would touch Kenner rather than whatever it was that was attacking her, and soon felt teeth in her hand.
“Ow,” she muttered pulling her hand back and hitting out at whatever it was. “Have you got any idea what it is?”
“No. All I know is that it has teeth and fur.”
“I know it has teeth.”
“What can we do?”
“Let me try something. Can you keep its attention on you?”
Amber focused on her wand again and tried to get at least one of the jewels to light up. If she could see something, anything, then that would be an achievement. The electric shock sensation hit her again, but she ignored it as much as possible. When she couldn’t get any one of them to light up she turned to plan B, hoping that the creature had been conjured by magic rather than bought in. Dismissals were always harder to do when it wasn’t possible to find out what the animal was. She hoped that it was something normal, but knowing Christophe it would probably be something that had been extinct for hundreds of years just to annoy her.
What she really needed was someone else who could do magic. Her headache was just going to get worse if she kept pushing herself. That did mean she had to get rid of the creature first and then find out from Kenner where everyone else had gone. Luckily, Amber had pushed to learn how to dismiss creatures without saying a word because some could be clever enough to understand what was being said. A few thieves, and their back-up, had died because of that. After finishing the spell she waited a few seconds. Kenner had gone quiet which could mean one of two things. Carefully, not wanting to be bitten again, she put her hand out to find which of the two is was. Eventually she touched something that was breathing heavily that didn’t seem furry. She turned in that direction even though she still couldn’t see anything.
“I’m doing okay, Amber,” Kenner’s voice said quietly. “The screams were to attract attention. I managed to pick up the book that Jaya wanted before it went dark so I was hitting it with that.”
“You really shouldn’t do that with a book of magic. It might explode.” Amber laughed at herself. “At least it would have been dead then.”
A growl shook the room. “Is that another one?”
“Probably.” She grabbed hold of Kenner’s hand and literally pulled her out of the room, closing the door behind her with a swish of her wand. “Christophe believes in being prepared. I bet he was a scout.”
The next thing they heard was a yelp, but that didn’t mean they were safe. Some conjured creatures had magic of their own and the last thing Amber wanted was to be stuck in a corridor with whatever it was. Focusing once more on her wand she pushed some more power into it. She did, unfortunately, have a limit on the amount of power she could use which was coming up faster than she needed it to. A part of her wondered if that was the reason for the invisibility spell on the magic at the White House, until she quashed that thought. That would only be possible if Jaya had betrayed them.
“Where’s everyone else?”
“Ruby went with Simone to the top floor, Pia headed for the house library and Val went to the Dennis’ study.”
Amber didn’t stop to think. She just ran. Kenner’s hand was still in hers, so Kenner had little choice but to run with her. Not everyone could keep up with her when she was running and she was glad Kenner wasn’t one of them. If anything Kenner actually made her run faster. Their first stop would have to be Dennis’ study, then the house library, before going up to the top floor, even though she wanted to go straight up to make sure that Ruby was safe. Val and Pia were going to be in more danger than Ruby and Simone because they were alone. Thankfully all the other girls had some magic. Ruby had the most, which was why she made good back-up.
Dennis’ study was silent. That didn’t necessarily mean that something had happened to Val. Slowly, Amber moved forward, her wand still in her free hand. Kenner stayed with her. It was tempting to call out but that would just draw attention to them. When she got to the door she found that it was open which was unusual. Val would have gone through the wall because Dennis booby trapped the door the same way Christophe did. Then she tripped over something. If it wasn’t for Kenner she would have gone over and she would have landed on Val’s body. She couldn’t leave her unless she knew for sure so she knelt down to check for a pulse. When she was sure that Val was dead she stood again.
Taking the body wasn’t an option. She wanted to, but it wasn’t the safest plan. Moving something the weight of a body would use up her remaining power and she would need it. Again she ran. Running took her mind off what was happening. Focusing on the pounding of her feet meant that she didn’t see Val in her mind’s eye as she had been the last time they’d spoken. Val was one of Jaya’s girls, but she hadn’t deserved to die. Especially not alone.
It wasn’t far to the house library. Amber was relieved to hear Pia’s voice, even though she was in the middle of a spell. The only really worrying thing was the male voice she heard that was also in the middle of a spell. From what she could tell Pia was further through hers, but his was one of the darker spells. She had no idea where he was so there really wasn’t that much she could do. Silently she took a couple of steps forward, trying to think of something that would help. One something did cross her mind. Unfortunately it was something that had never worked before.
Kenner squeezed her hand and she knew that she had to try. She had about two minutes before he finished his spell. Reaching down to what she hoped wasn’t the very last of her power she filled her wand. Whispering, she sped through the spell, even though the spell was even harder to do at speed. Once it was finished there was nothing she could do. He, whoever he was, went silent before he started laughing. Amber couldn’t help feeling that wasn’t a good sign.
“I was hoping you’d be here,” he said when he finally stopped laughing. “I’ve been watching you.”
“Now I wonder why it is that your words don’t fill me with happiness?” Amber replied, before remembering she was meant to stop speaking without thinking.
“You should know by now that your little group has our attention. Everyone else thinks that we should just wipe you out, but I think that some of you could be an asset to our organisation.”
“It’s not going to happen.”
Amber only realised that Pia had used the time they’d been speaking to move when a hand grabbed hold of her wrist. She jumped slightly. The continuous dark was really beginning to get to her and all she wanted to do was get to Ruby and then get out of Silver House. It looked like that wasn’t going to happen any time soon.
“If you agree to stay here with me then I’ll let all your friends go.”
“Don’t do it,” Pia whispered. “We can get out of here.”
“You can’t actually. The door has been spelled so it can only be opened from the outside.”
“Have you ever heard of a window?” Amber asked, sarcasm filling her voice.
“How exactly do you plan to open a window?”
For a moment Amber stood still. She pretty much knew where she was stood so the nearest window would be to her right. Turning her head she tried to focus her power into the wand, but she was working on empty. Plan B involved turning her whole body, which neither Pia or Kenner seemed to want her to do, before kicking the window. It took a few kicks before it shattered. When it did, the darkness that was in the house dissipated.
Smiling she turned to look at him. The smile quickly faded when she realised that she’d been arguing with Christophe. When they’d last seen each other Amber had been climbing out of his bedroom window. Christophe’s smile didn’t fade. He ran his eyes over her, making it very obvious that he was doing so, before taking a couple of steps towards them. She raised her wand even though she had no power left. Pia also raised hers and Amber hoped that Pia still had some power left.
“I know you’re both running on empty.”
Amber turned to see Ruby blast him in the side.
“I’ve still got plenty left.”
The relief she felt at seeing Ruby almost made Amber forget they were still stuck in the Silver House. Ruby smiled at her, keeping her wand on Christophe as she and Simone made their way over. Christophe glared at Ruby from his new position on the floor. He could focus his power without a wand, so Amber didn’t take her eyes off him, just in case he tried something. Being able to see magic was a skill she was glad she was born with.
“Where’s Val?” Ruby asked.
She nodded. “Who has some rope?”
“I do.” Amber took her rope out of her pack.
“Good. Kenner you’re going out first, then Pia, then Simone and then Amber. Once you’re down, run. Do not wait for anyone.”
Amber just looked at Ruby.
“Especially you, Amber.”
She didn’t say anything. There was no reason to. Ruby knew her better than anyone and knew she wouldn’t leave anyone behind unless she had to. Instead she looked around for something to tie the end of the rope to. Normally the last thing anyone would use was a bookcase, but in the end that was the only thing that was available. She tied the rope around the thinnest bookcase she could find using one of her special knots. Once it was secure she tossed the other end out of the window, making sure that it wouldn’t rub against any sharp bits of glass. When she looked over at Kenner she looked absolutely terrified, which was normal considering she’d only ever used a rope to escape in training.
“You’ll be fine, Kenner. I promise.”
Kenner managed to smile at her before dropping the stolen book to the ground. At least they’d got out of the mess with one item. Then she carefully slipped out of the window, avoiding the glass. Amber watched her go down to make sure she managed it safely. When Kenner reached the ground she ran for the portal as she’d been told to do. Pia followed her. Amber didn’t feel the need to watch Pia or Simone because they’d both escaped a house before. There were months when they’d escaped more often than they’d manage to complete jobs.
“I could teach you how to do that spell properly,” Christophe said conversationally as he stood up.
“No, thank you.”
“Come on, Amber. You’ve got more power in your pinky than any of those idiot girls. I could teach you how to harness it.”
“Leave her alone,” Ruby growled.
“Why should I? It’s not every day you find a girl who actually has the strength to be a magician.” He smiled. “If I’d known that you were going to be here I would have set a better trap in my study. Something that you wouldn’t have been able to get out of.”
For the first time Amber remembered her hand was probably bleeding. The adrenaline had stopped the pain so she hadn’t felt anything since it happened. When she tentatively raised it up she wasn’t happy to see the blood that was dripping off her hand. Sighing she grabbed some bandages out of her pack and wrapped them around it as tightly as she could. It was unlikely that there would be any lasting damage, unless the bite went septic.
“If you knew how to reach all of your power you’d be able to heal that cut now.” He looked at the wand that Ruby still had trained on him. “You wouldn’t need to use one of those stupid things either. They’re so clumsy. Putting the power into them wastes half of it.”
Amber looked at Ruby, who just raised an eyebrow. They knew that using wands wasn’t the best way of channelling power, but they hadn’t found a better way yet. Most of the books they stole were pretty useless really and they were sure that the real books on magic were kept somewhere they hadn’t found yet. Occasionally they got lucky. Amber had been when she’d sneaked into Christophe’s bedroom. However, she was the only one who had ever got into and out of a bedroom without being killed.
Thinking had diverted her attention away from Christophe so she only just managed to yell, “Ruby, duck!” before a blast of power hit the wall behind where Ruby had been standing.
Christophe looked at Amber with interest. “You can see magic.” He smiled. “Can you see it when I do this?” The next thing she knew he was behind her. “Obviously not,” he whispered into her ear.
She felt him try to wrap his magic around her so she elbowed him in the stomach. The magic faded and she pivoted on the balls of her feet. Looking at him made her feel slightly safer, because she would be able to see what he was doing. She felt even better when Ruby stepped forwards, so that were stood together, because Ruby still had power.
“Go now, Amber.”
Amber stared at her.
“There’s nothing you can do to help me.”
“Ruby, I can’t leave you here.”
“You have to. Christophe won’t be able to get you if you’re at home.”
“Yes I will.” They both turned their attention to him. “The book had a tracker in it.”
All Amber could do for a moment was blink. She didn’t know how she could have missed a tracker. Trackers had always been a magic that had stood out to her. When she turned her gaze to Ruby she could see the same confusion in her face.
“You need to go back, Ruby. They’re going to need you there.”
“I can’t leave you here.”
“Right now you have no choice.”
Ruby looked at her. “He wants to keep you.”
“Promise me you’ll do everything you can to get free.”
“I shouldn’t leave you here but…”
“There will be more people in danger if you don’t get back soon. If they get hold of the registers then they’ll have the address of every house in the country.”
Biting her lip, Ruby nodded. Slowly, she backed towards the window, keeping her wand on Christophe so he wouldn’t attack her. Once she was out of the window Amber had no protection but she was glad that Ruby would be where she was needed. An arm wrapped around her waist as she stared at the window.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered into her ear, “I’ll take good care of you.”
It took all of her will power not to elbow him in the stomach again.<<< The Fae World: Kalinia (post-apoc): Marie: The Chosen Twin***The Fae World: Kalinia (post-apoc): Kenner: The Magicians Attack >>>