briar rose @deepnest
briar rose tw: emetophobia and blood/gore posted on ao3 also but I'm going to try to move over here so I'll be transferring things slowly

Hornet was not wanted here. 

The forest was thick and ancient, fully capable of protecting itself. Even before mere self-defense, it was capable of protesting. Every vine that snapped at her leg, every thorn she slipped under or knocked aside with her needle, all of it was no more than a reflex against vermin. Even the murky, humid air defied her.

She just needed to reach the other side. Every step was to this end; a matter of pushing on. The mechanics of it were simple. 

She just needed to reach the other side. Every step was to this end; a matter of pushing on. The mechanics of it were simple. 

Arm pulled back, needle thrown forward. Metal buried stable in soft moss as she reeled herself over a chasm. Legs bent, body up, into the high branches. Down again before a fanged flower could close around her. One movement after another, constant, nearly cyclical. 

She was not wanted here. She did not want to be here. She wished that she could urge patience from her surroundings, that she could call for any kind of cooperation, but she knew better than to waste her breath. She focused on moving. She had to. 

Even when she reached a clearing, she did not stop. Delicate lavender pods spangled the thin, brambly trees around the edge, and these cast dramatic shadows over a meadow of deep blue flowers. She moved onward through every shade of night, captured in the petals.

She darted to the structure in the center, the mark of someone who had once claimed even a fraction of this ancient, wild place. Here, perhaps, she would find-

A figure in white. She slipped around the dome atop the structure. She was too pristine, shining too softly, to have made it all this way through the forest unscathed. And yet. She leaned against the stone, a coy hand over her mouth, looking down on Hornet.

Lace laughed. "We meet again, little spider."

Now, Hornet stopped. She nodded. She exercised the self-discipline not to touch the pocket holding an object of Lace's interest. She leveled her needle, and sent it flying into the trunk of one of the trees, leaping after her weapon, winding her thread up to close the gap - only for the pods at the top to release a hail of thorns. 

She yanked the needle out and landed neatly, steadying herself with one hand. No time to stew. She caught Lace's pin, already above her, with her needle, and forced her opponent back.  

Lace laughed again, high and haughty. "Oh, you won't get away like that, not here. Now, face me! Or are you a coward after all?"

Hornet leveled her needle. "That I take no joy in this doesn't make me a coward." 

"Oh, I'm hurt!" Lace lashed out with her pin, a flurry of blows that sang against Hornet's needle. "Are you saying you don't enjoy our little rendezvouses?" 

Hornet jabbed. Lace danced aside. 

"You're so cruel, little spider. If you want to get rid of me so badly, just give me what I'm after."

Hornet sprang back and threw her needle forward with the same motion.

"You won't distract me." 

Lace caught the needle with her pin, and sent it into the ground.

"I would never try. I know better; that's what makes this so delightful!"  

Hornet spun her weapon back over Lace's head. Lace giggled, and beckoned for her opponent to close the gap. Hornet only paced a swift circle around her, searching for the opening she needed. 

It was one movement after another. Constant. Nearly cyclical. Blade on blade, flashing silver and gold. Hornet's sharp battlecry met Lace's fluttering laughter. Action, reaction, and action again. 

"You are skilled," Hornet said. An offering, not a concession.

"You are still alive," Lace said, meaning the same.

Hornet struck. Lace dodged backward. 

They had come to the edge of the clearing. Lace hit the tree behind her, and stumbled. Hornet stayed poised, her body extended, the tip of the needle hovering over Lace's chest and refusing her any way forward.

Hornet snapped, "Now, enough of-"

The thorns shot from their pods above Lace. 

Hornet saw a future about to end. She sprang. She slipped into place in front of Lace. There was just to raise her needle, guiding it with her wrist to knock away one, two, three-

There were four. 

The thorn pierced her shell. Without meaning to, she grunted softly. She pressed a hand over the wound, tracing the ragged end poking out of her body. It could have been a tumor in her, a nob of warped chitin. Only the slightest damp around the edge betrayed the break. 

She tightened her grip, and tore the thorn out. Blood poured freely, eagerly, pushing itself out where it could from the cracks around the wound. She focused, and silk flowed. But it was hard to feel, hard to place. Wouldn't stick. The poison was quick, to the edges of her extremities. Numbness burned to replace every other sensation.

She still clutched the thorn, unable to loosen her shaking grip. Thorn in one hand, needle in the other. All of this sharpness, lethally useless to her. 

She had been slow. She laughed, hollow and breathless. 

Lace had picked herself up and stepped away from the tree. There was something in her eyes Hornet had not seen in fighting her. Pity, perhaps. Disappointment.

Hornet sighed, "Yes. You'll have… what you want…"

Her joints gave out. Her vision splotched into blackness. She thought that she hit something as she fell. Something that felt like shell under cloth. 

And then she felt nothing at all. 

 

*

 

The world was no whole thing. It was only fits and starts, snatches. 

 

*

 

Claws against her torso. Gentle, but the pain was like being split. She spasmed helplessly. 

She would remember this, later. She had rarely been helpless, and she would remember the absolute lack of power over her own limbs. 

"No-" She gasped. 

The claws tightened, held her. Held her still. She couldn't fight it. She spasmed, but this had nothing to do with her will. 

"Are you awake, little spider?" A lilting voice.

She couldn't answer. Only shake. The cracks in her shell were thin, but the sensation was everywhere. Lancing, burning. 

"Remember what will happen if you breathe a word." That lilting voice. 

"Lady Lace, is this really-" Reedy and soft.

"You heard me. Now. Shh, shh. Another word, and…"

There was more. It melted away into lilt and reed. Meaninglessness. 

She lay there as the claws brushed her again, this time slathered something thick and icy over the wound. She cringed, gasped. 

She did not change. The world gave out on her.

 

*

 

Spasming, thrashing. 

Awful heat. She felt, no, she was this awful heat. Sticky. Damp. The forest air lived in her shell now. She heard a whine, thin, muffled. Herself. She clamped her mouth shut.

"Are you awake, little spider?"

Her shell was still pulling apart, tearing around her midsection. She sought it with her hand, fingers scrabbling, she needed to treat and bind and move on or she would die here and she did not want that yet. She fought with the cloth over her body without understanding what it was.

Another hand caught hers, and forced it down.

"You'll ruin the dressings. I paid handsomely for your care; I won't have it."

Bandages, Hornet realized. She was pulling at bandages. But why-

She had been treated. Her body decided against her will that it was safe for her to rest. She blacked out.

 

*

 

Shivering, sick. Spasming again. Choking as something bitter and thick tried to force its way out of her mouth. Retching as it succeeded.

Shivering, sick. Spasming. Spasming. 

And when she was finally still, someone pressed a vessel to her mouth. What poured in was also bitter, but thin and cold. She spat. 

"I know, little spider, I know. Disgusting, isn't it? But it will make you strong again, so you can flash your pretty needle at me. Drink up."

Again, the liquid. Swallowing made her shudder. She was too tightly coiled, no one part could move without jerking another. But she did swallow, and relaxed utterly. The nothingness that washed over her this time was thin and cold.

 

*

 

The world was - what was it?

Where was she?

Hornet lay still and silent. She had no sense of her surroundings, and could do little about this. Her body needed the attention first. 

Her head hurt. Her limbs were stiff. Her gut was taut and throbbing. The force of it startled her, as she became truly, inescapably conscious of it. She said, "Nnngh!"

"Are you awake, little spider?"

"Yes." She was. This was real consciousness, the kind that flooded a body, overfull senses sloshing. So much to filter through, so much to sort out. Before any of it, she asked, "Where is my needle?"

"Could you even lift it?" A lofty sigh. "I was so worried that I would have to dispose of your corpse, and be left with only that rusted old thing."

"I would not… would never…" Hornet was still. She was lying down. She felt ready to collapse. She had only spoken a few words to account for this exhaustion. She grasped at the sheets over her body.

"You would never die so easily, would you? No. You're the kind to suffer. But I must-"

"I'm too tired for your prattle… Where… Where is my needle?"

"Safe. If you're too tired to listen to me, then you're too tired to be awake yet. Is it time for more medicine, little spider?"

"No." As the haze of illness and long sleep parted, she rolled over, facing away from what she understood to be the interior of the room. This meant facing a window too high and small to see from. And there was Lace, perched on the sill.

Hornet sat up. Tried to. She instructed her body to sit up. Her limbs refused her weight. Pain flared in her midsection. She understood what an intense mechanical process she had asked of herself. As she hit the pillow, twice, all she could see were those bright eyes looking down on her.

"Say nothing."

Lace laughed. "Oh, I wasn't going to. But now that you say that-"

Hornet turned over again, but Lace hopped down from the window. She landed next to the cot, and leaned close over Hornet. 

Lace said, "I do need to thank you."

"What?"

Lace laughed again, louder. Hornet pressed a hand to her head, and Lace actually said, "Oh, forgive me, little spider. But you see, if you weren't such a fool, I would be lying there now -  I would have been the one to spend a week writhing in agony, fighting to see who would burn out first - her, or the silverleaf's poison."

"Silverleaf… So that's what those were." Hornet wished for her journal, absently. She was missing things. She was missing many things. She asked, "What does the poison do?"

"Most victims don't escape the forest to have their corpses examined. But it seems to cause - fever, exhaustion, pain. Nausea, too. Oh, every terrible thing…" Lace set her face daintily in her hand. "But what is every terrible thing to you, little spider?"

Hornet closed her eyes. More than I'd like it to be.

She did not answer. She felt every terrible thing, but less than she had before. There was no comfortable way to lie, even on these fine sheets. But Lace was silent now, and sleep came eventually.

 

*

 

Hornet woke panting, shivering again. 

The room was dark. She could have been alone. She tried again to sit up, but something was wrong at the core of her - something electric and numbing, spreading out. 

Time for more medicine.

She didn't want to die. She couldn't die here, not in this unknown place, not yet. But if anyone at all wanted Hornet dead right now, then she would die, needleless and alone. Never mind Lace, even the smallest gruzzer could do it. She needed that medicine, if there was any to be had. 

She locked her limbs under her, and swung her legs out of the cot. Her nerves rejected her command immediately, and she hit the floor. "Gh-!"

"Hornet! What are you doing?"

A light came on. So she wasn't alone. Her name shocked her. "Medicine. You said there was medicine before."

"Yes… You can ask for it. You don't have to throw yourself at my feet. Silly spider."

Hornet snapped, although it came out more of a rasp. "I'd let the poison take me first."

"Hmph. Consider yourself lucky that I owe you, or perhaps I'd let it, too."

"Do you have the medicine... or... do you not?" 

Lace huffed, "You're no fun at all. It's dreadful."

"I am," Hornet said, with one hand clenched in the sheets, "in no position to be fun." 

"What a shame." 

The room was sparsely furnished, and most of what there was, was draped in sheets. There was a stack of cots like Hornet's against one wall, although none of them had any bedding. And there was a bureau against the opposite wall. Lace opened a drawer. Her hand hovered there considerately for a moment, and then she made a selection. She waltzed over to offer a bottle to Hornet. 

"Drink four beats," Lace instructed.

Hornet examined the bottle, but it was opaque, with no label. Finely crafted, she supposed. She undid the top, and sniffed. 

"Oh, no." Lace giggled. "Do you think I'm trying to poison you?"

Hornet did not dignify that with a response. She counted out four careful sips, stopped up the bottle again, and set it on a crate that would allow her to reach it alone in the future. She let her head drop back against the mattress, and sighed.

Her hand found the wound. She tested the edges, hissed. Lace made a sharp, disapproving noise, but Hornet said, "Quiet."

"If you're only going to-"

Hornet ignored her. She focused, keeping her hand on the spot for clarity. She focused, and silk trickled. It wasn't enough. It left the edges of the gap tingling, numbed, a medicinal sensation. But the wound remained. 

It would have to be enough. She gripped the metal edge of the cot, and trusted her weight to it. 

It wasn't enough. The exertion drew a noise from her not unlike a battlecry. She doubled over, trembling. Her legs locked again, the only way she could remain upright.

"Oh, little… Hornet."

Hornet lifted her head, panting, glaring. Lace offered a gloved hand. 

An unassuming gesture. An offer. 

Hornet considered her position. Her immediate, physical imbalance, and the wider picture. All that she didn't know, and what she did. She had been well-cared for. If Lace wanted her dead like this, she would have been. Even if it was all a game to Lace, here was a chance for Hornet to fulfill her true mission. A future, after everything should have ended.

Hornet took Lace's hand to steady herself. 

Lace moved closer, and rested a hand on the small of Hornet's back. Hornet froze. The liquid in her limbs, already weak, seemed to give out on her. 

Lace said lightly, "Sit down.

Hornet eased back, and all Lace did was help her shift onto the cot. 

Hornet adjusted the sheets, then looked up at Lace, and said, "Little Hornet?"

Lace made an offended noise. Properly speaking, it was a squeak, but Hornet privately held some mercy. 

"You should have known better than to try to stand, just as I should have known better than to rescue a silly little spider." 

"Yes," Hornet agreed. "So why have you brought me here?"

She thought distantly that it was becoming a habit of hers. Being brought to strange places Against her will. She ought to break it. She had to.

Lace answered, "I told you that I owed you, didn't I? As you might owe me. Your life belongs to either you - you cling to it so tightly - or to me, but until I've claimed it, I'm certainly not letting a tree have it."

Hornet pressed, "Where is this place?"

"The Woven Palace."

"The royal palace of Pharloom." 

"That's right. My, you've come so far…" 

"Return my needle."

Lace hummed impatiently. "It won't help you, but… If you insist." 

She knelt down, and reached beneath the bed. She withdrew the needle, and set it on top. 

Hornet didn't pick it up, only took hold of it and dragged it over the sheets to her side. She tested the edge with a fingertip, and nodded. Acceptable condition. She would tend to it as soon as she had the chance.

Lace sniffed. "Hmm. No gratitude? None at all?"

Hornet laid her hand over the flat of it. "It is mine."

"My, my. What a prickly little thing you are," Lace said, but her hand found the pin's hilt at her hip, and settled there. "Are you going to sleep with it?"

"If I must. I may need to leave quickly."

"We won't. I've seen to it that there won't be any trouble."

"Why are we here?" Hornet repeated. This time, it was a demand.

"It's the one place they won't look." Lace drew her pin, and flourished it, sticking an invisible foe. "Right between their eyes."

She slid her weapon away immediately, with a laugh like a flawless bell. 

"No," insisted Hornet. "Why are we here? You may be right, but few outlaws would risk something like this. If you run - when you run, you run into your enemies' garden."

"Hmm. Dear little spider. Nosy little spider. Some things are secret." Lace raised a finger to her face. "We are here because I like you. That's all you need to know."

"A secret in a palace... I know the nature of such things, and their folly."

Lace giggled, "And a wise little spider, too!"

Hornet gave Lace a flat look, and said, "You know my name."

"Such a pretty one," Lace agreed. "Hornet."

And there flashed an instant where Hornet, hearing her own name from her foe's lips, almost changed her mind. How long had it been since anyone had called out to her with anything but violence? 

There was a tightness in her chest, and a looseness which overcame the rest of her again. 

In defiance of this, and for practical reasons, she said, "Use it."

"Fine. Since you're so gracious as to give permission." Lace perched on the foot of the cot, and cupped her face in her hand. "How are you feeling, Hornet of Hallownest?"

Hornet ran a hand partway down her needle, and moved it to the edge of the bed.

"I will heal." Hornet dropped onto her back. "And I suppose I have you to thank for it. So: thank you, Lace of Pharloom."

Lace's eyes were bright, in a brittle sort of way. She nodded, without speaking, without laughter.

Hornet closed her eyes. Herself of Hallownest. Home was so far away, and the things she missed about it had been dead for so long, and she was so tired. Perhaps a little sleep would hurt, perhaps not, but she had no choice.

 

*

 

Lace stayed. Hornet slept, and drank medicine, and waited for Lace to leave. 

She never did. She prodded Hornet about her condition, or the state of her pillows, or if she really wouldn't let Lace move the needle. Hornet would not. 

So Lace perched in the window, looking out. 

Hornet's blood cleared slowly, scoured by time and bitter-brought sleep. Her limbs steadied, and her shell knit itself closed, with some help from the silk she could spare. Soon she would be well, and when she was well, she would leave. But not yet.  

And Lace was there still, one knee tucked against her face, sitting in the sill. She hummed. Her voice was high and lilting, like always, but thinned somehow. A flawless bell, bound so it wouldn't ring far.

Hornet understood that she was not caged alone this time.  

"I need my tools back."

"Whatever for?"

"I must clean my needle, at least. The edge will fade." 

Lace hopped down with a sigh. "Of course, you must. My goodness…" 

She dug around in the bureau again. Hornet watched her. When it was time to go, Hornet would remember - both the bureau, and that Lace made no secret of its contents. Before leaving, Hornet would have to conduct a thorough search of the room. Although, there was one thing she was sure to have lost, when she had lost their battle.

Lace returned with a whetstone, a cloth, and a small bottle. She placed them on the cot carefully, one at a time, and said, "I should be careful not to spoil you."

Hornet shot her a look. "The one who keeps going on about fluffed pillows is you."

"You," Lace replied, "simply have no appreciation for the finer things."

"I have what I need."

"Oh, yes, all within this room…" Lace tilted her head. "Yourself, your needle, and me." 

Hornet's hand slipped, and spilled too much polish onto the cloth. She adjusted her grip without looking up. "I will leave as soon as I'm able. You don't need to worry about that."

"Did I sound worried?"

"I understand… that you have taken on quite a burden in this. I saved your life, but you have my thanks nonetheless."  

Lace laughed, and Hornet was left achingly aware of her blood under her shell. 

"It was not a joke." 

"I know." Lace placed one hand against her cheek. The other hovered, for a moment, in the space between them, before curling loosely against her chest. "You take your debts seriously… You take everything so seriously."

Hornet scoffed, "You could try it, too - even a little solemnity might do you good. Or else, what do you suggest for me?"

"Nothing. It's one of the most delicious things about you."

Hornet glared at her, and turned her attention on her needle, where it belonged. 

 

*

 

When Lace stopped fussing, she would practice, and Hornet would watch. Lace fixed little puffs of colored silk to a covered chair, and skewered them. Sometimes one by one, sometimes so fast it seemed she hit three at once. She hopped, back and forth, nimble, precise movements. 

There were no secrets here, only interest. Hornet sat with her hands folded in her lap, and followed the lines of Lace's body as she moved alone. 

Soon enough, Hornet could pick out the blows she had parried, the slashes she had dodged, the stinging jabs she had felt.

"Impressive," she remarked. "You must have trained since you could hold it." 

Lace bowed, flourishing her blade and then twirling back into its scabbard. "I have."

"How does it feel?"

Lace considered this, her eyes narrowed and gleaming. "It sings. It sings like nothing else."

Hornet nodded. She pressed her hand to the flat of her needle, and allowed herself a moment to miss it. 

"Does your needle sing, Hornet?" Lace asked airily. 

Again, her naming, and the jolt of it. 

"It can. Not always in the sense you mean."

"Hmm… I know. I know. I can't wait to hear it again." Lace leaned in, with one hand resting on the cot. "You'll let me, won't you?" 

Hornet didn't move away. "I've no doubt I will." 

Hornet had yet to ask Lace about what she really needed, after all. Perhaps it was here, or perhaps Lace had hidden it elsewhere, or given it to a companion before spiriting them into the palace. 

When she could make her blade sing again, in the same sense that Lace meant, then she would ask. 

 

*

 

The world was one whole thing. The world was a forgotten storage room in the Woven Palace. 

Hornet stood at its center. She felt - the flow of her blood, the stability of her body. The floor, steady and even underneath her. It had always been, but now she had her sense of balance, recovered such that she could feel it. 

She pushed. She worked through the forms. A joint twinged out of place, a touch too far. She fell, but righted herself quickly. Again. Again. It had to be constant, nearly cyclical. Her shell remembered, and all the liquid inside of it. She pushed, and her body pulled back. She held power over her own limbs, and it was like breathing for the first time in weeks.  

Lace watched her. 

"Be careful," Lace admonished. "You'll reopen your wound."

"I will not. I have no desire to undo the progress I've made." Hornet raised her arms and grabbed an elbow behind her mask. "I've suffered enough atrophy."

Lace giggled, "Have you? I know your kind. You so love to suffer." 

"So you keep saying. But no." Hornet bent at the waist, but slowly, tenderly. She spoke at the ground, "I do what I must."

"Why did you do it, Hornet? All I've done is try to spare you. You only needed to stay still for just a moment, and you could have gone on suffering as much as you wished… I certainly couldn't have stopped you."

Hornet counted silently to the end of her stretch. She straightened, just as slowly, and finally stilled. "Have you really nothing better to do than torment me?"

Lace fussed, "I'm only curious. This involves my life as much as yours, doesn't it? But it must serve you somehow. And I can't figure it out!" 

Hornet laughed, and then, seeing Lace's shock, laughed harder.

"Everyone thinks I'm so cold. All because… Why? Because I do what I must? Perhaps that does make me cold, but consider that I wouldn't do what I must if I didn't care. If I didn't value… life. The future." Hornet reclaimed her cloak from the bed, and fastened it back around her neck. "So take that as your answer. It involves your life."

"Oh, but I'm working so hard to stop you from 'doing what you must.'"

"And you haven't yet succeeded, have you? Be sure to let me know when I should worry."

"Oh! You are cold. Absolutely frigid. Hmph."

Hornet considered this. "We all have our faults. If I am cold, then you are plainly hot-headed. Bringing me here… Bringing me anywhere. You should have left me, to do what you need."

Lace hummed, a sequence of fluttering notes. "So you'd have wanted death, after all?"

"No. But I would not have had a choice." Hornet met Lace's eyes. "Now, I have answered you."

"I told you, I liked you from the moment I met you. Your life, flickering so brightly… I wanted it."  

"It's not yours to take."

"And maybe that's why. You're right, of course." Lace rested her face in her hand, and looked Hornet over. "Will you keep on climbing, Hornet?"

"As high as I can go." 

Lace clapped. "Then go. See how high you get!"

In their small world, Lace's delighted laughter echoed.  

 

*

 

Finally, Hornet picked up her own weapon again. The heft was familiar. Right. It belonged in her hand the way the moon fit in the sky. She spun it, letting it sing in the air. She spun with it, ending with her arm out to its full length, bearing the full weight of the needle as an extension of herself.

She could have balanced a book on the blade, so still it was. Her power over herself, her whole self, was absolute. 

She launched it into a chair across the room. The needle pierced through quickly and cleanly, leaving a neat circle through cloth and wood, and buried itself in an unused dresser on the other side.

She drew it back to herself on a strand of silk. Lace applauded politely behind her.

"What a pretty trick." 

Hornet turned, and Lace held out her pin. 

"Here. Try it."

Any objection, any thought Hornet had that Lace was belittling her, vanished. Hornet instinctively drew her needle close. "What?" 

"Try it. I want to see what you do." Lace gestured at her little targets with her free hand. She tossed her sword lightly, spinning it to catch the blade and present the hilt. 

Hornet set her needle tenderly on the cot first. Then, she took the offered weapon. She held it out, angled up. It was mere mimicry. She stood still, to see how it rested with her.

It was heavier than she would have thought, perhaps from the gilding, and no doubt from the impression Lace's agility gave. And that heaviness settled mainly on her wrist, unlike her own blade, which balanced its weight further down. This made Hornet wonder if she was holding it wrong, but Lace didn't move to correct her. 

She let her own weight fall onto her back foot, and tipped the blade forward. Again, mere mimicry, and her body lacked the context for the motion. She missed the target twice before getting the feel of it, and stabbing it just on the edge. She flicked it to the ground with a sigh. 

Lace's laughter rang. "I never thought I'd see you so clumsy… How charming."

She was sitting on the bed, with her hands pressed neatly flat on either side of her. Hornet's needle rested just past Lace's fingertips. When Hornet met her eye, Lace lifted that hand, and asked, "May I?"

Hornet held the pin close to her chest. Her needle rested before the two of them, and perhaps she didn't feel the same way about it as Lace did about her pin. 

It was Hornet's choice.

She was curious. She said, "Yes."

Lace picked up the needle, and waved it aloft in a single, luxurious motion. She held it at first like her own weapon, which brought it to a ridiculous height. The tip swayed. She giggled. 

"No, that won't do… Let's see…"

She adjusted her grip, and swung it. She maintained her stance easily, but the needle thrummed, a thick, uneven sound. 

"It won't sing for me." 

Hornet laughed, softly. "It would help if you held it correctly."

"I could say the same for you."

"I've no doubt you could." Hornet angled the pin forward again, taking up the best stance she could. 

Lace did the same, and rested the edge of the needle against the pin. "We'd get nowhere like this."

"No. And I don't wish to see either weapon damaged by poor use." 

"How thoughtful of you." 

Lace set the needle back on the bed. Hornet crossed to her side, and set the pin parallel to it. They each reclaimed their weapon at once. 

Hornet said, "We'll need them soon enough." 

She was well. The longer she stayed, the more likely it was that their safety would fail her, or perhaps Lace would just decide to resume her game alone. Hornet would not leave it to chance any longer; it would be irresponsible of her.

There was one question she had yet to ask: Where is it? And she would brook no protests, no simpering: I know you must have taken it.

She did not say any of this. She did not waste her breath, knowing well Lace's attitude toward the things she wanted. If Hornet wanted back what she had lost, then she would have to recover it herself as she climbed. 

 

*

 

So Hornet waited, into the night. She saw Lace above her, still, leaning against the window. She could have been sleeping, or not. Hornet waited, until there was no point in waiting longer. If Lace was pretending, or Hornet disturbed her, then she would reckon with the consequences. 

She pulled down sheets, crawled and scrabbled silently under furniture. She checked the walls for cracks that might conceal what she sought, and watched always for movement, a blur of shining white from the window. But Lace was resting deeply, and had every right to do so - she had hidden her prize well. Hornet's loss, once again.

She crossed finally to the bureau. The second drawer had held her tools. Sure enough, she found a bag inside, and opened it just long enough to see her supplies - pins gleaming, moss and cloth dull underneath. She plucked it out, and slid it into her cloak.

A thorough inspection would wait until after she had escaped. Then she could see what else needed replacing. She bowed on her way out the door. 

 

*

 

Half an hour, some dead guards, and a drop from the full height of a tower saw Hornet successfully away into the night. She found shelter in an abandoned barn, brushing aside half-rotted moss to make a seat, and space for her equipment.

She laid each piece out in the thin moonlight. Her map, due for an update. A small collection of strung rosaries. Pins and moss and cloth. A gilded crest, wrought with six eyes.

She did not set the last item down. She held it carefully, in both hands, weighed it in her grip. It was, as far as she could tell, authentic. It was what she needed, the one thing she would not have been able to replace. 

Hornet nodded to herself, and began to pack her supplies back into her cloak. She knew now. She would see Lace again soon enough. 

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