She walked down the halls and through the corridors flanked by her batmen -- Dmitri to the left, Sascha to the right, and Totenberg behind her. Always, always this arrangement when they walk together so Sascha could keep his blind side to Spike. She could see the melted flesh where it twisted around the silver, mostly hidden by the eyepatch. Hounds were notoriously difficult to kill, so much so that outsiders—those not of the family -- mistook them for werewolves or demons. Sascha had been captured once, years before she was born—before Great-Grandfather was born—and after taking his left eye, they had cauterized the wound with molten silver. It hadn’t worked. Sascha was still walking the earth, and the dagger in his boot had handles of yellowed bone, smooth and cool.
She didn't really see the corridors and the doorways as they walked past. Her mind was utterly consumed by thoughts of the upcoming meeting with her father. Would the headsman be waiting there in the audience chamber, to take her back up the stairs to Nyebaveeshka, the great tower set with the sky? Where she'd be interred in one of the open cells, with three walls and no ceiling, open to the elements on two sides, with a sheer drop across from a barred door. Where she'd have the choice of flying lessons or waiting on her father's pleasure.
When they reached the third floor, Spike glanced out over the balustrade into the small conservatory. The glass ceiling was misty with warmth and humidity from the hot springs. It would smell of roses and summer—it was always summer in there. The glass inner doors were closed to keep the heat in. She stopped for a moment near them, started to reach for the handle.
Sascha stopped her. “No,” was all he said.
“Just for a moment.”
“No. Your atyets, he expect us.”
Sascha cocked his head, looking down at her, the silver in his scars winking in the torchlight. "Need to be carried?" They'd done that before, when she was younger and had done something or another to make trouble. Trouble had a way of finding her, no matter how well she tried to hide from it.
"No, but--wait a minute!" Sascha was reaching for her, but he stopped and listened. "Please. Just one minute. Atyets can wait just one minute for us." Her eyes itched with tears, but she swallowed hard to keep them down. "I may never see the gardens again."
Sascha tilted his head towards his captain, standing behind their charge. One minute?
Totenberg frowned, then shrugged. "One minute." He'd take whatever fall came.
Sascha held the door for Spike. "Go--and breathe deep."
She did, head swimming with the perfumes. A hummingbird had found its way inside the gardens at some point that summer, and it flew about her head, scolding, an indignant jewel. She watched it flashing in emerald and ruby as it wheeled around, dive-bombing her. So little and fierce. She squared her shoulders. I can be fierce, too.