"What," said Amarelle, which seemed reasonable, under the circumstances.
"An experiment only," soothed Ivovandas. "The effects will wear off quickly, I promise you. A few weeks at most, and you will be able to look at anyone you please and find them desirable or not, as you choose. Until then, may I suggest seclusion? It really is most vexing - anyone else, I would have accepted in the spirit that they offered themselves and contented myself with wiping their memories once we were done, but in your case, well, I feel things might get awkward between us, after."
Amarelle considered several replies, each one both ruder and less likely to do her any good whatsoever than the one previously considered.
"Not to worry, I'm quite used to people throwing themselves at me," she said at last. "You wouldn't be the first one. It's an inconvenience, but hardly more than that."
The butterflies rustled. Ivovandas might be laughing, or she might not. Such was the way of wizards.
"One of these days, you must permit me to buy you dinner," said Ivovandas. "Until then, however, to my regret - "
The lawn again. Well, Amarelle told herself, it might have been worse.
She might have experienced a sudden irresistible attraction to toads instead.
"I have come," said Amarelle, voice steady and heartbeat as regular as Sophiara's brew had been able to make it, which was very, "to return a book."
The librarian accepted her offering without comment. Amarelle bent her head once and left.
("Do you not feel much better now? They do say that virtue is its own reward, after all," said Ivovandas, her hands eagerly outstretched to receive the fruits of Amarelle's pilgrimage. "Of course, I have no personal experience in the matter, but it seems to me there may be something to it.")
("You are, then, satisfied?")
("Hardly," said Ivovandas. "Given that you have brought me a cookbook.")
"Experience isn't everything, really," Sophara said.
"Indeed, it's practice that makes perfect," agreed Brandwin. "A subtle distinction, I'll grant you, but a substantial one."
"And from what I hear, there's not a lot of practicing going on."
Amarelle shrugged. "I don't see how a natural discretion in these matters would be to our disadvantage. So she doesn't advertise her social life, so what? That doesn't mean she's uninterested in having one."
"I believe the interest may be coming from an altogether different direction," Sophara murmured, eyebrows raised. "Really, Amarelle. Have you learned nothing at all from that affair with the Dread Queen of Derfalia? She tried to kill you. She probably would try again, if you gave her the chance."
Amarelle shrugged. "It's not as if she's the only one. Besides, we still don't know if she's the one who sent those hell-pups after us."
Shraplin moaned. He had not appreciated the pups' penchant for licking things. Brandwin had managed to save a favorite pair of legs only through luck and a well-calculated application of chewtoys.
"Anyway," Amarelle went on, "that only happened after I broke the thing off. I see no problem here, and many opportunities that may work to our advantage. People get careless, even wizards."
"Even thieves," said Sophara, but her tone was resigned.
"Still, we trust you, boss," said Shraplin. "If anyone can do this, it's you."
"Damn right it is."
/It is a most curious thing,/ said the shark. /The difference between melancholia and sadness./
"Well," said Amarelle.
"Boss? Is that shark that shark?" Shraplin was making a valiant if ultimately doomed effort to stay afloat, clinging to a piece of what might have been a mast.
/I did not mind the first so much. The stories. The little flint-stick girl. The young boy with the bright blue hood. Such memories. Tell me, are there more? I hunger./
For as yet living flesh and blood, possibly. Amarelle chose to be optimistic. "You want stories? I - we've got stories. Lots and lots of stories. Sad stories, sadder stories, stories that will break your heart."
/Well,/ said the shark whose tears she had once stolen. Unlike hers, this one sounded ominous.
Jade was grimly loading a crossbow that was probably too wet to have retained its functionality.
/If it helps, I believe I will remember this conversation with great melancholia./
"I wouldn't say that helps me, no," Amarelle replied.
The shark opened its mouth, displaying an impressive collection of sharp, well-maintained teeth, and Amarelle woke, an unvoiced scream on her lips and the image of Brandwin's pale face burnt into her memory.
Besides her, either faking or truly sleeping the sleep of those with excellent magical protection and a high opinion of her own powers, lay the wizard Ivovandas.
Had Amarelle been the superstitious type, she might have worried. As it was, she merely shrugged and slipped out of bed to quietly search for what she might claim to be the kitchen, that particular room apparently being in the habit of popping up and down again at its mistress's pleasure.
The rain was colorless that day, perfectly see-through with the faint smell of water and long-ago shed tears. It was the kind of rain that drove parasol-vendors to despair and dreams of past glory days as people dusted off little-used umbrellas made from materials both cheap and mundane.
Amarelle considered the weather and decided it was good. Cheerless, uninspired and unsurprising in view of the season, but good.
"Still the same faithless bitch as always," whispered the ghost at her shoulder. "You think this makes us even? You think this makes up for what you did to me, you and the others? It doesn't."
"Shut up, Scavius," she said - or might have said, had there really been a ghost.
Theradane had been freed of them, nearly overnight, the plaques vanished, cleared. Wiped clean.
All but thirteen of them, lining up along Tanglewing Canal Bridge. Once, Amarelle had known the names on these plaques by mind, if not by heart. Once, she would not have hesitated even for a second to address them as they addressed her in turn, to remind her of their ill-fated crimes and the mistakes that had led to their imprisonment.
NOW I SERVE THERADANE ALWAYS
"Let's face it," said Amarelle, "you had it coming."
She stood waiting for a moment, letting the rain trail down her face and soak her clothes, before she walked on, telling herself to be satisfied with quiet agreement rather than frustrated at stubborn silence.