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hold my hand, it's a long way down

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Kalina smirks as she glides into the room, black furs gleaming around her shoulders and long train hissing across the floor. Riz, reflexively, takes a step back, as his eyes clock the false crown atop her head, the feline smile curving her mouth, and the knife in her hand, flickering in the candlelight.

 

“I trust you’re doing well,” she says, and keeps approaching until she’s standing right before him, staring him down.

 

Riz’s heart jumps a beat and his eyes dart around, trying to see where he can go, what he can grab, if it is even likely to move at all before that knife is sliding into his neck and tearing an ugly gash in his throat. “Not with any thanks to you.”

 

Kalina huffs, mouth quirking to the side, before she slumps down to sit on his bed, shoulders falling and head tilting to look at him. The black gem in the center of her diadem seems to dance like cold fire, drawing Riz’s eyes to it even as he tries to focus on a million and one other things. Unnatural, Riz thinks, with a sickening shock directly to his heart. And then he remembers the things people have always whispered about Kalina, words like witch and sorceress and Shadow Cat. Remembers those words and sees the way her eyes flash yellow in the candle’s flame.

 

“I’m disappointed in you, kiddo. I thought you’d figure out by now that this is all for you.”

 

“Where’s my mom?” Riz spits out, as he has done every time Kalina visits him in these much too fancy rooms, this much too fancy prison.

 

Kalina rolls her eyes, leans back on one arm, flips the dagger in her other hand, “Thought we got past that already.”

 

“I know you did something to her.”

 

“I didn’t do anything. Besides, she’s safe. She’s comfortable. What more could you ask of me?”

 

“I want you to give her back.”

 

“And I thought it was you, kiddo, who told me not too long ago that people weren’t toys. That they couldn’t be given and taken. Hm. Must be wrong about that.” Kalina flicks the tip of the dagger at him, holding it just a few inches away from Riz’s ribs, where she could slide it straight up and into his heart. “That’s not what I came here for, though. How’s the prince doing?”

 

“Aren’t you at court with him?” Riz spits out, and refuses to yield yet another step.

 

“Yes, yes. And he’s doing so well today, too. I’ve never seen a more attentive courter, practically glued to the Lady Aelwyn’s side. Which is funny, seeing as how we had to drag him from his rooms less than a week ago.”

 

“Fabian’s not planning anything,” Riz says, leaving out the because I am.

 

Kalina huffs, and taps the dagger against her own cheek, “I don’t know when you’ll learn. Everything you know, I know. I’m in your head, kiddo.”

 

Riz’s spine snaps straight as a scream he knows doesn’t exist sounds from his left, and then his right, screams that sounds like Fig and Fabian. Screams he only knows because of that day, weeks ago, when the Abernants and their holy warriors in gleaming sun-forged metal took the castle and forced the prince, Riz’s friend, the person Riz was supposed to protect above all else, to stab his father in the heart. Fig had screamed then, in rage, and tried to take the nearest knight out with a swing of her lute, and Fabian had screamed later, when the three of them were back in these rooms, in that soft, silent way of tears and grief and heartache and complete and total betrayal.

 

“See? That’s what you don’t understand,” Kalina says, standing once again. “That’s what I’m saving you from. I’m protecting your little friends because you’re useful to me. You don’t want to stop being useful to me, do you?”

 

Riz remains where he is, fighting back the nausea as the screams grow. Now, he couldn’t move even if he wanted to, rooted to the spot by a clawed hand holding tightly onto his mind.

 

“Do you?” Kalina asks again, and this time she brings the knife up to Riz’s jaw, just under his ear. The cold pricks against his skin and Riz is so afraid.

 

“No,” he rasps out, and she smiles again, eyes crinkling. The screams immediately stop.

 

“Good.” The heavy handle of the knife drops into Riz’s hand, and his fingers close over it reflexively. It’s dangerous, to give your enemy a weapon. Dangerous, still, to give them a weapon they have no hope to use in any way that counts. “You can’t get away from me, bud. Just remember that.”

 

Riz snarls at her, “We’re going to stop you.”

 

Kalina clucks her tongue and begins to walk away, “The only way you’ll escape is if I want you to.”

 

The door swings shut behind her right as her hold over Riz’s body drops, and he sags a little, before startling upright again. She must know, there’s no way she doesn’t. Her knowing had not been a factor of the plan, despite everything pointing towards its likelihood. Really, how could Riz have been so stupid? He’ll need a few minutes to change things, modify them so that they can actually escape, can actually get out of here.

 

Fabian is trapped in this castle. Fig is trapped. Their new ally, the oracle Adaine Abernant, their friend, is trapped as well. He can’t risk their freedom for himself, can’t risk Fabian and Fig’s sacrifices and the dangerous line between family and safety Adaine is flirting with. He just… he’ll figure out another way. He just needs time.

 

The heavy sound of a wooden lute being swung against a head thunks from outside Riz’s door, and then it’s opening to reveal his friends standing on the threshold. No, no, no, this is happening too fast. He hasn’t had time to plan.

 

Fig lowers her lute from where it’s raised in the air, hovering around where the now unconscious guard’s head probably was less than a second ago.

 

“Shit, Riz, we need to go,” Adaine says, hoisting her skirts and sprinting for his window, the same window Riz had been preparing before Kalina waltzed in.

 

Fabian twirls his red, embroidered, very much not stealthy court cloak from his shoulders, slinging on the black one he’d stashed on Riz’s chair earlier. The cloak that Kalina had most certainly seen because Riz hadn’t bothered to hide it. “We have five minutes.”

 

Adaine throws the window open and immediately heaves one of her legs out of it, hair whipping slightly in the breeze. She reaches behind her and grabs Fig’s hand, pulling her up and onto the windowsill beside her.

 

They’ve discussed this plan ad nauseum for weeks. So it’s almost too easy for Adaine and Fig to leap from the window with nothing but a nod, not even noticing how Riz has yet to move from his spot.

 

“Alright, we’re next, The Ball,” Fabian says, and hoists himself up onto the windowsill, cracking his knuckles and rolling his shoulders in preparation for the leap.

 

Riz moves, then, takes a step back, hands outstretched in a pleading way that doesn’t connect with the usual brave, cunning parts of himself, the parts that plan a castle escape and wind up as companion to the prince. “You can’t take me with you. Kalina, she’s— She’s in my head. She knows, Fabian. I can’t risk it.”

 

Fabian’s mouth tugs and he leans back into the room, grabbing one of Riz’s outstretched hands and tugging him forward, to the open window, to their one chance at escape. “I didn’t leave you behind before, I’m not about to start now.”

 

And Riz remembers, remembers the way he and Fig had fought tooth and nail during those first moments of the coup, before the King had fallen at his son’s hand. They’d bought Fabian a second of time, a moment to run, but he’d frozen, frozen as the knights grappled Fig and Riz, frozen with his sword hanging in the air, the wound on his face a bleeding mess.

 

“Go, Fabian,” Riz had screamed, Fig shouting as well.

 

Fabian’s sword clattered out of his hand, and he allowed himself to be grabbed by the knight who cut out his eye, to be dragged alongside Riz and Fig to that throne room, to where Kalina and the Abernants waited with King Bill Seacaster slowly bleeding out on his own steps.

 

“I couldn’t leave you, The Ball. I couldn’t lose you.” Fabian had said that night, once the tears were dry and Fig snored beside them.

 

“You won’t. We’re going to get through this together,” Riz had said and curled up tightly into Fabian’s side.

 

The memory flashes in Riz’s head, and then it’s gone, and Riz is back in his night dark room, wind from the open window brushing against his cheeks, and Fabian’s warm hand wrapped around his, pleading, in his own way, for him to follow.

 

Riz holds tight to the dagger Kalina had given him, the dagger he plans to hurl straight into her heart someday, and allows himself to be pulled out of the window.