We crept down the hill, each crouching into the tall, choppy grass that looked one touch away from bending in half and turning into dust. None of it could be described as green anymore. The best description would be somewhere along the lines of grey with hints of life.
“Left,” Marlee hissed.
I went to move to the left and she grabbed my arm and yanked me the other way.
“No!” her eyes widened, “I meant there was someone there!”
I peeked through the swaying grass and true enough, there was a maid walking outside with a basket balanced on her hip. She walked down to a shed in the back and reached for something up near the edge of the roof. As I watched, she pulled on something and what looked like a clothesline was pulled off the ground. She set down the basket and held both hands up at the area of the hook, looking like she was tying something.
Was she hanging laundry?
I snickered softly to myself as I fantasized about telling Cole that I’d gotten in by sneaking in behind the maid. Serves him right after suggesting that I be the kind of person that goes shopping and does the family laundry.
“This way,” I whispered to the girls as I began creeping in that direction. I heard Marlee curse.
“Calypso!” she hissed.
I didn’t turn back.
“Get back here!”
I couldn’t say anything back like I wanted to, but I totally shook my head with a small smirk on my face. I was going to get in, and either the girls would find their own way, or I was leaving them behind.
…Which I couldn’t actually do in good conscience, so I would have to come back for them.
There were more muttered curses behind me, this time from Amaya, but I soon heard footsteps following me. Dried grass crunched under our feet and I made myself as small as possible, taking zigzagging steps in an attempt to make the path that was inevitably going to be left behind seem more animal made. It might not work, but it was at least an attempt.
I kept an eye on the maid as she hummed to herself and pinned up the laundry. Either the sound of the grass snapping beneath my feet wasn’t loud enough to draw her attention or she was used to odd sounds coming from things out here. As I looked closer at her face, though, I noticed that her smile was strained, as though it was there for show.
A particularly thick strand of grass snapped under my foot and the maid stiffened slightly. Her smile stayed on her face as she slowly turned. I didn’t dare make a sudden move, hoping that she’d glance over me, but her eyes paused on me for a moment, her face not moving and her smile not growing more or less strained.
She turned away, glancing towards the wall of the castle for a second too long. I followed her gaze and saw what I hadn’t before.
A guard was watching her quite closely, eyes narrowed on her as though waiting for her to make a wrong move. It was odd, because before everything had seemed so lax.
This couldn’t be all because of me, could it?
I heard the girls beginning to catch up to me and whistled softly, making it sound only barely not like wind whistling through a hole in a wall or another tight space.
Immediately, the sounds behind me slowed warily, but I could hear them ever-so-carefully still creeping up on me.
A hand alighted on my back and I forced myself not to stiffen.
“You’re going to have to listen to me,” I said in a whisper that I tried to match to the rustling grasses.
“We’ll listen,” Amaya promised, her voice mimicking mine. It sounded like she was further back, so I guessed that it was Marlee at my back.
I nodded and began creeping forward even slower. As soon as I had the guard in my sights, I paused and looked around. The grass only got so close to the castle, but it was close enough for me to do something to the guard.
I began creeping to the side and wove through the grass, slowly going forward. After a moment, I paused, readying my voice to speak again.
“From now on, when I move, you move, and when I stop, you stop. Got it?”
Marlee hummed in response, but it sounded like agreement, however reluctantly she obviously was to give it.
“And when I flick my hand like this,” I demonstrated, bringing my hand behind me and giving it a flick as though I was brushing something off of my back, “you are going to stop and not follow me anymore.”
This time, there was no reply.
I took my eyes off the guard for a moment and looked back, glaring at the girls. “You’d better listen to me when I give you that order.”
Marlee crossed her arms. “We aren’t letting you commit suicide.”
I huffed, “I’m not committing suicide. I’m going to incapacitate the guard. If you think that I’m going to die, by all means, come save me, but if not, I need you to stay here.”
Marlee looked like she still wanted to argue, but Amaya flicked her shoulder.
“We’ll listen,” she promised, glaring at Marlee with a look that dared her to say otherwise.
“She will,” Marlee replied, obviously much more daring than I’d thought, “but if I feel like I need to step in, there’s nothing stopping me.”
I tilted my head in acknowledgment. “Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that,” I said.
Marlee’s eyes darkened. “If it does, I’ll kill you,” she growled.
I snickered softly. “How kind of you.” I turned back to the guard and kept creeping forward until I reached the spot I was going to jump the guard from.
I slipped my hand behind me and flicked my hand as I’d told the girls I would. For a moment, I just kept studying the guard. His clothes looked like a standard guard uniform: black pants, boots, and shirt with a leather belt at the waist. I wasn’t sure what weapon he had on him because it wasn’t on this side of his body, but I was already planning to be quick and cautious. If he reached for a weapon, I’d only speed up and hit him harder over the head.
I had to admit, I loved knocking people unconscious for some reason.
‘Ready?’ I asked myself silently, still watching the guard. ‘Three, two, one, go!’
I heard the sound of metal, but it wasn’t mine. It was then that I knew something had gone wrong. My own daggers were flipped into my hands with practiced efficiency and I glanced around.
My eyes widened as I saw a different guard appearing over me, his sword raised to cut me clean in half. My blades were brought up and crossed into an X, catching the sword before it could cut me in half.
My teeth gritted as I kept resisting the guard’s pressure on the sword.
“Girls,” I growled, my feet sliding and my arms already tired of being so stiff in such a position.
I felt wind blow my cloak at my back and knew that they weren’t there anymore. The whole problem was: if they weren’t there, where were they?