Maybel and Rosetta sat in the parlor, both invested into their own interests. The walls were a soft pink with gold trimming, and the rug was lavender with a floral design, like the opening of a flower. The loveseat and chairs were cream-colored, and the wooden table in the middle wore a white lace cover. Sunlight filtered through the large windows. Both girls kept herself occupied with her activities. Neither spoke to the other.
Sitting on the loveseat, Maybel indulged herself with one of the books from the manor library. It was to her utter pleasure when a quick browse showed her that the library contained Perutheon literature. If there was one thing the Perutheons were known for, it was their slow-burn romance novels.
Meanwhile, Rosetta sat on the floor, fabric on her lap, as her nimble fingers sowed on the buttons. It had taken Maybel longer than she was willing to admit to realize that Rosetta was interested in making her own clothes and cut up old dresses to get fabric. Rosetta used their mother's old dresses for fabric, something that sadden Maybel more than she wanted to admit. At least Rosetta had found a hobby. Last she saw her sister before their reunion, Maybel would have sworn that sowing was something Rosetta would never learn.
The serenity was interrupted when Dezi entered the room. Rosetta, who Maybel now knew never let go of her childhood crush on the prince, snapped her attention towards him. Her face lit up like a candle, and her eyes widened with what could be mistaken for childlike innocence. She was quick but formal to greet the prince, but he paid her no mind.
"Marionette," he said, eyes focused only on the elder de Camilla daughter, "I request your presence immediately."
Acting as if she couldn't be bothered, Maybel responded, "I am rather busy at the moment."
"Your friend would be sorry to hear that."
At the prince's mild threat, Maybel's color drained from her face. Gemma! Garrett! How?
Maintaining perfect poise, Maybel closed her novel after marking her page, set it on the arm rest, and stood. "This better be an important friend," she said, praying to the God she rarely spoke to that this friend Dezi spoke of was neither twin.
It was as Maybel followed Dezi out the door that she felt something hit her lower back. When she turned, Rosetta focused only on her dress. However, Maybel didn't fail to notice her plush ball for holding pins was no longer by her side but rolling away from Maybel. Since she wasn't stuck with a pin, Maybel decided to let it go.
"What," Dezi began when they had walked down the hall and started climbing the stairs, "no smart remarks for me today?"
"I didn't know you enjoyed my so-called smart remarks," Maybel replied, thinking it the only safe thing to say. Dezi didn't respond, so she said not another word.
Dezi stopped outside the door to his study. "I found him going through my things," he said, causing Maybel to panic inside herself.
He?! Garrett wouldn't be so foolish, would he? Not when he should be at the de Camilla manor!
Maybel's legs nearly buckled out from under her when Dezi added, "Said he's a friend of yours."
"I have no friends," Maybel said, surprised she had kept her tone so even as she fearfully tried to understand how Garrett could get into so much trouble like this. It was unlike Garrett to do such a thing.
When Dezi opened the door, revealing whom he had tied down in a chair, Maybel almost fainted with relief. Garrett was not the "friend" Dezi referred to. In fact, the man Dezi held prisoner didn't immediately register to her as the one she danced with in her welcome home ball. Maybel tried to see his soul, but again it was guarded. It took all of Maybel's effort to not frown at this. Too many people lately had guarded souls, and she couldn't understand how anyone would know to be trained against her ability.
"Why don't you tell Ms. Marionette why you were digging in my things." Dezi's suggestion, which dragged Maybel back to reality, sounded more like an order.
The man glared at the prince before looking at Maybel. "Tell him we're friends." If he was begging, he didn't sound sincere. "Tell him that as shifty as I can be, I'm the most trustworthy person you know."
"Why would I tell him such things?" Maybel challenged, eyes narrowed. "You think because we danced one time that we're suddenly friends and that makes you trustworthy?" To Dezi, "Have you told anyone about this?"
Dezi shook his head. "I thought I would bring this to your attention first. In case he was telling the truth."
"Well, he isn't."
It was as Maybel spun on her heel to walk away that the man said, in a mocking tone, "Because we never were really friends, were we, Saybel?"
All the air was sucked from Maybel's lungs. Turning ever so slowly, she looked at the man again and really looked at him. His hair was darker and his face more angled, but those eyes were still mischievous and that smirk still challenging. Had she paid attention before, she would have recognized him when he asked her to dance. Instead she worried so deeply for her friends that she failed to see an older friend standing right in front of her.
Until now, when he addressed her by that stupid nickname.
"Kai?" she breathed, almost not believing he was right in front of her.
Brows raised, Kai stared disbelieving at her. "Saybel?" he whispered, sounded as uncertain as she that they really were together again in the same room.
"So you do know him?" Dezi questioned, looking back and forth between the two.
Maybel nodded. "Leave me with him for an hour. I . . . Please."
If Dezi had doubts, he didn't voice them. He merely shrugged, told Maybel he would be in the parlor if she needed him, and he would make sure nobody tried to find her while she spoke with this man. "You have only an hour," he warned before closing the door behind him.
Once he was out of sight, Dezi was far from Maybel's mind. She focused intently on the man, Kai. Again and again she opened her mouth, searching for the words to say. Kai, on the other hand, didn't let the shock on the sudden reunion cause him to lose his composure.
"Do you have any idea how strong the prince is for a skinny guy?" Kai laughed. "He caught me by surprise and didn't hesitate to take me out. When I woke up, I was tied to this chair with the best sailor's knot I have ever seen. I told him you and I are friends, but I didn't think he'd actually get you to confirm it."
"You were trying to get me into trouble, you scoundrel," Maybel spat, finding herself again. Kai's grin was confirmation enough. "Time changes a lot of things, but not how Kai Ezekial is always up to no good."
Kai shrugged. "When you didn't recognize me at the ball, I had every reason to believe you were a fraud. Is it not noble to reveal an imposter for who he really is?"
"Perhaps, but it isn't noble to be going through the Crown Prince's things," Maybel retorted. Then, "I'm sorry I didn't recognize you right away, Kai. I can't believe I didn't know my oldest friend when I saw him. Someone as annoying as you shouldn't fade from memory so easily."
"Odd, since a person with your particular talents shouldn't have had any trouble knowing who I am."
Frowning, Maybel remembered that she never found out how Kai knew not only that she was a Miglorita but also what her miglior gift was.
"My gift isn't as impressive as you think," she told Kai. "Souls are like faces: You see them every day but only process the important ones, and it is also possible to forget what one looks like when I haven't seen it in a long time."
"That's a lame excuse."
"You're a lame person."
"Fair enough. Now would you mind untying me?"
"Nah." Maybel crossed her arms and smiled at Kai. "I like this arrangement. Now you can't go anywhere while I question you."
At Kai's raised eyebrow, Maybel asked, "Do you really think my seeing you again is going to erase the fact you were caught doing something unlawful? If you don't want to lose your hands, Kai, you need to tell me what you're doing. I can convince Dezi to let you go, but you have to cooperate with me for that to work."
"Look at you, knowing important people," Kai retorted. He then exhaled and answered, "I was ordered to find leverage over the prince."
Maybel's spine stiffened. "By whom?"
"I can't say."
"I swore an oath, Saybel. After you disappeared . . . Let's just say I got involved with something I never should have gotten myself into."
Maybel couldn't help the small smile that grew on her face. "You always had a knack for getting yourself into trouble."
"Except this trouble will cost me my life if I'm discovered." Kai shook his head. "What I can say is I was sent to find something to use against the prince. I don't know what, just something bad. Why, I don't know. Honest! When the prince, who I believe was supposed to be out riding today-"
"If you paid attention to the weather," Maybel interrupted, "you might have come to the striking conclusion that Dezi doesn't want to be out in the rain."
"Shut up, Saybel. Anyway, when he caught me, I thought I wouldn't go down alone. I was going to give some lie that you hired me to do this, thus revealing you to be the fake you are. Except you're not a fake. You're really my Saybel."
A tear trailed down Maybel's cheek. She turned around to wipe it away before Kai could notice. "Time also has not changed your inability to think ahead," she said, hiding what she truly felt. "If I was imposter, claiming that I hired you would not reveal me but help keep anyone from suspecting me. It is no secret that Marionette de Camilla and Kai Ezekial were forced to spend a lot of time together as children. If Marionette was going to hire anyone to find dirt on the prince, why not her most loyal companion? Really, Kai? Think about it."
For a minute, silence. Then Kai broke into laughter. "You're right, as always," he said. "This is why I needed you in my life; you always thought of everything. If I had a crazy idea, you would find all the ways it could go wrong and come up with a plan that made all the difference. I was never capable of doing that on my own, and if I haven't changed now, maybe I never will."
"Because now you're involved in something dangerous?" Maybel's voice cracked at the last word.
"More or less," Kai replied, not sounding at all confident.
Determined, Maybel asked, "What can I do to help?"
"Quick to come to my rescue, as always. However, there's nothing you can do," Kai answered. "I don't want to get you involved."
"Then why tell me so much?" Maybel challenged. "You haven't seen me in years. Kai, you shouldn't even trust me regardless that I'm really me."
"I know," Kai admitted, "but I used to tell you everything. After not seeing you for so long because of your mysterious disappearance, I guess I was just ready to get back into that old habit. Life has been hard, Saybel. I need something that makes me feel safe. Although I know I should be suspicious of you, somehow you still have that reassuring quality about you." When Maybel didn't respond, he added, "I guess time didn't really change me after all."
Arms crossed, Maybel paced the study. She didn't want to doubt Kai, but she had no reason to trust him either. Even if he was still the Kai she grew up with, the Kai who was the only real family she ever had, time still changed a lot. She was no longer the Marionette he knew, nor was he the same Kai she remembered. That Kai, as impulsive as he was, would never get involved in something if he really believed if it was this dangerous. Not without good reason, that is.
"What are you going to do with me?" Kai asked, sounding like a small child.
Gritting her teeth, Maybel answered his question with her own. "It would be unwise to let you go, correct?"
"Correct," Kai confirmed, "but you can't keep me here either. At least I don't think you can."
Groaning, Maybel set on the chair across from Kai. "You're not even back in my life for ten minutes, and you already dare cause me trouble?"
"Sorry, but I can't help how fun it is." Kai's grin vanished. "What are you thinking, Saybel?"
"I'm thinking," Maybel mused, "well, I'm thinking there's a lot going on around me, and I'm just now beginning to see how pressing matters might be. Think you can try your best to answer a few questions?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"No, not really."
Kai smiled at Maybel, and she returned the smile. "I'll try my best," he promised.
Gemma was never one to bolt upright after a nightmare. Her wakings were always gentle, no matter how horrid the dream. So even though her vivid nightmares reminded her in great detail the ugliness in her parents' deaths, Gemma didn't scream. She didn't cry out. Not even a soft moan passed her lips as she slept.
Instead Gemma woke to tears covering her face and soaking her pillow. She reached out, seeking the warm body she knew wasn't there. If Gemma had it her way, she'd never sleep alone again. Maybel never grew to like the idea of her and Gemma sharing a bed, but she learned to tolerate it for Gemma's sake. Now Maybel wasn't there, and Gemma had to deal with the nightmares on her own.
Sitting upright, Gemma stared at the candlelight on her bedside. She may have had to sleep alone, but she would not do so in the dark. Gemma rose and picked up the candle before walking towards the window. The removed curtain revealed a sleeping world. If dawn was close, it was still too far away to see.
Since she knew sleep would not be visiting her again for the rest of the night, Gemma left her room and approached Ricardo's office. It would still be a little while before he received her note, and that was assuming his men knew where to send it in the first place. Ricardo had very few men he trusted, and even fewer who knew where to find him when he wished to remain hidden. Gemma had another note written to send where she assumed Ricardo was, but she would be holding onto that one for another day or two before sending it off.
For now, Gemma lit the candles in Ricardo's office, made herself comfortable on his desk, and flattened out a parchment of paper. Taking a chunk of graphite, Gemma did something she had never done before: She attempted to draw her parent's faces.
"But I don't want to go alone!" cried the thirteen-year-old, clinging to her mother and refusing to let go. "I don't want to go by myself! Where's Garrett? Can I go with Garrett?"
"Garrett is already gone," Mrs. Albarn said as she peeled her daughter from her waist. "He took the other emergency tunnel and will meet you at the rendezvous by midnight tonight. Dad and I will find you before the sun sets on the third day."
Scared and uncertain, Gemma looked around the bakery. Her home with her parents, her twin, and the Migloritas her parents took in before sending them with a knack of bread to a friend who could hide the gifted children. As much as Gemma wanted to believe that everything was going to be okay just as her mom insisted it would be, there was no denying the dreaded feeling that this was the last memory she would ever have of her childhood home.
"Gemma. Gemma, sweetie, I need you to listen." Mrs. Albarn firmly grasped Gemma's shoulders and gave the girl a sudden, firm shake. "We have gone over this a thousand times. You know what to do and where to go, and you preformed the task flawlessly each and every time you practiced. Why can't you do it now?"
"Because this is real!" Gemma hiccupped and scrubbed at the tears falling down her face.
"You knew this day was coming," her mother tried to soothe. "Now is the time to go through with what we have planned. Crawl to the tunnel, find your bother, and wait for me and Dad. Once we reunite, the four of us will find our friend who will take us to Onyx. We'll be safe there, but until then, I need you to be a brave girl in this scary situation. You can do that. Now do as I say and go. We'll see each other again soon."
"But why can't you and Daddy come now? Mommy, I don't want to be alone!" Gemma hadn't called her parents 'mommy' and 'daddy' since she was seven. She wasn't embarrassed to call them that now as she wept like a small child.
"We have some things to take care of, and it isn't safe for you children to be with us as we do those things." Mrs. Albarn hugged Gemma, not knowing it would be the last time she ever held her daughter. "Now no more stalling. If Dad comes back to find you still here after Garrett has left, he'll be angry. You don't want to make Dad angry, do you?" Gemma shook her head, rubbing her face into her mother's chest. "Then go now. The sooner you leave, the sooner we can see each other again."
Everything from there existed as either a blur or in bits and pieces. Gemma didn't remember crawling to the tunnel or why she crawled out prematurely. Maybe she wanted to see the bakery from the outside one last time, or perhaps the sound of a gathering crowd drew her out to attempt satisfying her insatiable curiosity. Either way, she made a mistake.
It hadn't been ten minutes since she kissed her mother goodbye that Gemma realized the kiss really was goodbye. Horror-stricken, she watched as her parents met their end. They wore brave faces as they stared death down, but Gemma knew them well enough to tell in their eyes that this was not end they had anticipated. No lie passed their lips when they promised the twins the family would flee to Onyx, but Fate made liars out of them.
Gemma, in fear, returned to the tunnels and crawled and crawled and crawled away from the nightmare from which she would never wake. She crawled until her leg got caught on a hook, and in her already panicked state and in desperation to free herself, she yanked and pulled hard enough to cut deeply into her calf, tearing muscle and fracturing bone. Whimpering, Gemma kept going but soon gave up. The physical pain alone wasn't enough to hold her down, but united with her turmoil and anguish, it was enough to immobilize her.
Garrett found her in the dark four days later. When neither she nor their parents arrived at the rendezvous, he returned to the bakery only to find its ashes. He didn't hesitate to take Gemma's escape path in hopes of finding her, and he used his strength to carry her out. She told him what had become of their parents, and that was the last they ever spoke of them.
It was also the last Gemma willingly allowed herself to be alone in the dark for more than a moment at a time.
In so many ways, drawing her parents' features was almost like a crime. Gemma wasn't sure why she did it, but somehow, she needed to. Part of her gift was also a great curse: Gemma could remember almost every detail of any event. It was why she never told Maybel about her parents. It was why she never thought of that day till now.
Then, a memory.
A boy shouting the same name over and over, shaking the girl to whom he shouted.
It was a silly thing to notice, like how some of the guards had raided the bakery before setting it aflame or how even the pigeons watched in horror that day, but still Gemma, in all her observation skills, noticed.
A boy and a girl a little older than she.
The boy shaking the girl and calling the same name over and over, a name Gemma now knew she heard one other time after.
Their faces came last, and Gemma went still.
She ran her fingers over her parents' illustrated faces before kissing the sheet and pushing it aside. Working fast but efficiently, Gemma sketched the faces which have not surfaced in her memory since that day. When she finished, she wrote another note. She didn't bother with code or disguising her penmanship. This message had to be written sooner rather than later, and it needed to be sent out the minute the sun rose.
"What's wrong?" Garrett asked the moment he stepped into Ricardo's office. He breathed heavily, and sweat shone on his face. Gripping the knob harder than he realized, Garrett left a dent in the brass.
"I'm out of rubber to erase my mistakes," Gemma answered, frowning at the parchment in front of her. She lifted it up and showed it to her brother. "Now my flower looks lumpy."
Teeth gritted, Garrett said, "Gemma, do you have any idea how long it took me to convince the head of the household to let me run the errands? Your message read as urgent, so I thought something was wrong. Please tell me you're just messing with me and that there really is something important to discuss."
"There is," Gemma promised, setting down the paper. "It's just . . . How do I say it? I spent all morning planning what to say, and I still have no clue how to begin."
Garrett watched as his sister sighed in frustration. She shuffled through her stack of paper and pulled out a single sheet. Wordlessly, she handed it to him. Garrett accepted it and turned his gaze to the drawing. Two faces were sketched with graphite, both looking vaguely familiar.
"Marionette Saybel de Camilla was present the day our parents were executed," Gemma spat out, and she didn't know if she or Garrett flinched harder at her words.
"Are you sure this is Marionette?" Garrett asked, not taking his eyes off the drawing.
"I don't forget easily, and there's no reason I would start imaging her into that day now," Gemma answered with a frown. "I don't know what she was doing there, but I do know this was before her disappearance."
"Why bother worrying about this?" Garrett tossed the drawing onto the desk. "It doesn't help us steal the other two artifacts."
"But it does help us figure out what happened to Marionette." Gemma pointed at the other face. "See that boy? He was with her that day. Either they know each other, or both were morbidly interested in the execution and happened to stand too close to each other."
Garrett raised an eyebrow. "Why does it matter we figure out what happened to Marionette?"
"Something just doesn't make sense here. Isn't that reason enough?"
"Not if it distracts us from attaining our true goal."
"Yes, but there's no harm in looking when you're days away from planning the next heist." Gemma ran her hands over the parchment, a sad look coming across in her eyes. "To think, we were so close that day and never realized who the other was, let alone we were even there."
Sitting across from Gemma, Garrett said, "You really care about this missing girl, don't you?"
"And also who Ricardo is," Gemma replied, making eye contact with her twin.
Garrett ran his fingers through his hair. "Why do I get the impression everyone's keeping secrets from us."
"Everyone has secrets," Gemma said, quoting Maybel. "Neither of us ever told Maybel what happened to our parents, or at least not in detail."
"That's hard to talk about," Garrett argued. "How do you expect me to have serious conversations when I struggle with what should be easy ones?"
"I blame your lack of people skills on your preference to always lock yourself away and read."
"Gemma, may we please be serious?"
"I'm sorry. Yes, we may." Gemma pushed the drawing back towards Garrett. "Any idea who that boy may be?"
When Garrett studied the face harder, he realized aloud, "I can't say for sure, but he could be the guy who danced with Maybel during her welcoming ball."
"Maybel danced with somebody?"
"I wanted to rip her away from the awkward encounter, but there was no way to do that without putting a target on my back."
"Any idea who he is?"
"No, but I can ask around."
"Ask Clyde while you're at it and see if he's learned anything about Ricardo." Gemma handed Garrett a smaller piece of parchment. "This is a sketch of the boy with Marionette by himself. You can use this if you need to. Should make it so much easier to find someone who knows which guy you're talking about."
Garrett took the parchment, rolled it up, and shoved it into his bag. "Anything else while you're favorite brother is here?" he teased.
"A couple of things, actually." Gemma handed Garrett another parchment. "Give this to Clyde when you ask about Ricardo."
"What's on the sheet?"
"A note and a face."
"You think you might know who Ricardo is?"
Gemma shrugged. "It's a crazy, wild theory at this point. I might be wrong, but a guess is still a guess."
"Oh, let me show you what I've been working on while you're here! I just remembered I need your opinion as well."
Grinning, Garrett asked, "So what is this thing the oh-so intelligent Gemma needs help with?"
The device Gemma pulled from her pocket looked like a box, only big enough to fit perfectly in her small hand. "It's project Clyde started working on but asked me to help with," Gemma explained. "You remember that alarm on the train?"
Garrett shuddered. "How can I forget? What, is Clyde trying to recreate it?"
"Yes and no," Gemma answered. "Something similar, but not as obnoxious. Anyway, I ask for your help because I want it to be timed. What do you know about clockwork?"
"Do you really need to ask?" Garrett stood close to Gemma and looked over her shoulder. It was a simple looking device, but if Clyde and Gemma both have been developing it, there was no reason to believe it was harmless.
Garrett wondered what Gemma planned to do with it.
Garrett immediately rushed to take care of the errands he was sent on to make up for lost time. As long as he got everything, it didn't matter how he went about collecting the items. And if he made it back by his assigned time too.
When his basket was filled with the requested groceries, Garrett allowed himself time to breathe when he saw he had an hour left before he needed to return to the manor. If he was quick, he would have the opportunity to speak with Clyde and make it back with time to spare. Garrett knew all the short cuts, and he could run incredibly fast if need be.
However, his journey to Clyde's was interrupted the moment he made up his mind to take it. Some small voice called his name. Turning towards the speaker, Garrett saw a young girl standing a few feet from him.
"Violet," he greeted, recalling her name after a second of searching.
"You remember me," she greeted, smiling widely. "What are you doing?"
Garrett indicated his overflowing basket. "Errands. For my job."
"You're an errand boy?"
"No, but I wanted to get out of the place enough I would've considered selling my soul."
Arms behind her back, Violet slowly approached Garrett and said, "Mind if I walk with you a ways? I've been getting weird looks from some of the men out today, and I would feel much safer with a kind, strong guy such as yourself nearby."
How am I supposed to refuse when she puts it that way? "Where are you heading?" Garrett asked as he began to walk. Violet followed.
"Here and there," Violet answered. "Today is more of a roaming day. I like to take them every once in a while, to keep the day interesting and available to surprises. It's just today happens to feel off for some reason."
Looking around, Garrett muttered, "Does that have to do with all the Great Continent merchants arriving at the marketplace?"
Violet shivered. "We should have cut ties with them immediately after we won the war. Or maybe after they threatened to overthrow us years ago. It's not wise to associate with such shifty people."
"By 'we' you mean out entire continent?"
"Yes," Violet hummed, "but Inonvouslee is easily far more superior than Perutheon and Onyx combined."
"A patriot, I see."
"I'm proud of my heritage."
"When about your Perutheon heritage?"
Violet stopped when she heard Garrett's words. The boy walked a little ways before he realized she no longer followed him. He, too, stopped where he was and turned to look at the younger girl. "What is it?"
"What makes you say I'm part Perutheon?"
Shrugging, Garrett pointed out, "Although you lack the mix of colors in your hair that the Perutheons are known for, you still have purple hair. Purple is not a native Inonvouslean hair color. Ironic how you're named Violet and your hair is violet."
"It was black when I was born." Seemingly without realizing, Violet ran a hand through her locks. "Heritage aside, I am a born and raised Inonvouslean, and I will honor my country."
"As you should," Garrett agreed even though he didn't mean it. Perhaps it was just him, but he failed to see why he should honor a country that hated him for being born a certain way.
Violet must have been done with the conversation, for she suggested, "May we continue?" and began walking again without waiting for Garrett to lead the way.
While he followed feebly behind, Garrett tried to figure out what else he could say to Violet. The girl wore the same tattered, too-small dress she had on when she met Garrett and Gemma, implying she lived in poverty. Yet an able girl like her would have no problems finding a decent job to support herself with. Factories hired children all the time, yet Violet wasn't working in one. It made Garrett wonder how she earned a living, and he didn't like the things that crossed his mind.
Then he realized something unrelated. How does Violet know where she's going? She should have no idea where Clyde lives, let alone that I planned to see him, yet she's heading in the right direction. . . .
"Violet," Garrett began, but before said girl could turn around to acknowledge him, an explosion went off in the building across the street.