The empty hallway outside rooms fifteen through nineteen echoed with Pam’s controlled breathing. Kylie made sure to let her sandals flap against the thin carpet and announce her presence before speaking. “Listen, mate, we all pay a price for this life.”
Pam laughed, the sound bleak. Her fingers fluttered to the scars on her shoulders in an unconscious gesture. The beds of her nails stood out white against the darker skin of her shoulders. “Really? I had no idea. It’s not like I burst into flame against my will, lost my job and home, became a hermit, and have now had my first new friend in five years get kidnapped.” She leaned back against the wall, but her shoulders still curled forward.
Kylie stood in what she calculated was minimum safe distance, should Pam lose control and ignite. “In the field–”
“The field?” Pam straightened away from the wall. At her full height, she actually stood over Kylie, plump and more imposing than Pam seemed to realize. “You haven’t gone out with us once in this past year. What do you know about the field?” She looked directly at Kylie, lifting her eyes from their permanent spot just to the right of everyone’s shoes. Kylie saw a glimpse of the steel inside Pam, the thing she could be one day. “What price did you pay?”
Kylie just rather wished that strength wasn’t standing in her way at the moment. She sighed. “Under pain of death,” Kylie said by way of warning, then she reached up and unfastened the wide band of cloth and wire from her upper arm. She looked away as the enchantment flickered and died. She found herself unable to watch the transition from the appearance of flesh to the reality of magical machinery.
When she looked back, Pam had her face close to the prosthetic arm. She did not touch without permission. She just angled her head to see the network of vines and yarn that wove between and around the wooden bones. “The work is astonishing. How much maintenance does it require?”
Kylie flexed her hand, wooden finger tips tapping audibly against her palm. She smiled to see Pam’s eyes jump to them, sharp and curious. “Not much. Yearly reinforcement. Little polish now and then.”
She refastened the charm band before Pam had looked her fill. Kylie did not care to let others see this part of her laid bare, but she knew the power of a well-timed show of vulnerability. “This life is riskier than most, the prices higher. Juliet knew that, too.”
Pam jerked away and curled her arms around herself. “Don’t. Don’t talk about her in the past tense.”
“She also knows,” Kylie said with careful emphasis, “that we’re coming for her.” She curled her prosthetic arm around Pam’s shoulders and gave her a squeeze. The evidence of their respective payments pressed close together. “So I need you to cool it and help us find her.”