Tiane squinted as she tried to make out the tiny indigo writing on the dining house wall.
Now you have to start all over again.
A cloud of purple ink exploded around her before she could utter the profanities that came to mind. It dispersed quickly, but left a twenty-foot-wide stain along the wall, floor, and tables in the area…not to mention her own face and clothes.
Behind her, somebody failed to stifle their laughter. She whirled around in a rage and saw nothing. Furiously, she grabbed her brush and hurled it toward the noise. It clattered against the floor, and she heard the sound of footsteps hastily retreating toward the main door.
“That’s right, run!” she shouted. “Because if I ever catch you, I’ll—”
Experimentally, she tried to harness the anger inside her and breathe fire. As usually, her attempt only left her making a raspy hissing noise, like an irate kitten. Her face turned crimson in embarrassment—or would have, had the magical ink not covered every inch from her neck up. Thankfully, she heard no more laughter, which meant that her tormentors had fled before witnessing yet another futile attempt on her part to do something magical. With a grumble, she trudged over to where her brush had landed on the floor and picked it up, ready to resume her cleaning.
“Not a very good night, I assume?” came a voice behind her.
She spun to see a face that had not shown itself in almost a year. Garyl had apparently just walked into the room, mud still on his travel-worn boots. She ground her teeth as she realized that he was tracking that mud all over freshly scrubbed floors.
“You!” she shouted. Dropping the brush, she charged toward the dark-clade figure. She leapt over a chair that had tumbled off one of the tables and came down only a few feet away from Garyl. In another step she closed the distance between them. Then she started throwing punches.
“Whoa!” shouted Garyl as he tilted his body to one side and avoided a haymaker. “Are you going to try to kill me every time we get a chance to talk?”
Tiane kicked sharply and caught Garyl in the right shin, drawing a satisfying yelp from him as he hopped backward.
“How many chances are we going to have to talk?” she asked. “And if we do talk, how many times are you going to abandon me for a year in a place that I absolutely hate?”
She tried to throw some more punches, but Garyl quick-stepped away from her and used his advantage of speed to keep her from closing to within arm’s reach again. Breathing heavily, Tiane turned to look at the mess in the dining hall and groaned when she realized that she had just spread purple ink through most of space that she had spent the last hour cleaning.
“A place you hate?” Garyl asked, surprise evident in his voice and his face. “You wanted to be here, remember? Lytha offered you private lessons—”
“Yeah,” Tiane said bitterly. “Private lessons to harness the ‘potential within,’” she said, badly mimicking Lytha’s aged and self-important tone. “Only it turns out I don’t have any potential at all! I can’t light kindling without somebody else providing the spark. By the pimples on every god’s arse, I can’t even turn ice into water!”
“Of course you can,” Garyl replied. “You just leave it out in a warm place and—”
“Why are you mocking me?!” Tiane shouted.
Garyl’s face fell. “Oh…you were talking about with magic. And that explains this mess, because you don’t know the basic cleaning spells. Why does Lytha have you scrubbing the dining hall, anyway?”
Tiane glanced toward her shoes. “I might have thrown a book at her head.”
“Okay, well, she’ll get over that.”
“And punched a student,” Tiane added. “And threatened to light the dormitories on fire.”
Garyl shook his head. “Don’t worry about that.” With a wave of his hand and a word that Tiane didn’t understand, the discarded brush on the floor began to move of its own accord, scrubbing at the stains left by the malicious prank and the ensuing scuffle. “Lytha just needs to lay down the law so things don’t get too out of hand. But the dormitories have actually been on fire…well, fifteen or twenty times since she’s been the headmistress. When you give students the freedom to cast certain spells, things go awry very quickly. But come along…I’ve got some things to show you.”
Tiane crossed her arms and glared at Garyl. “Not a chance.”
Garyl tilted his head quizzically. “Excuse me?”
“Why would I go anywhere with you? The first time we met, you left me with a slaver.”
“Correction,” Garyl rebutted. “I tried to free you from a slaver, and you chose to go back to him.”
“Because I wanted him to suffer!” Tiane growled.
“Which is exactly the wrong reason to kill a person.”
“And you’re telling me there’s a right reason?”
“I—no, killing is never a good thing. But it can be a necessary thing, when you’ve got somebody who poses a threat to the freedom and safety of others, or when you need to defend yourself from cultists that have summoned up demon-hounds with paralytic stingers.”
“Not important,” Garyl said emphatically. “What matters is that I came back a few days later and rescued you.”
“I was in the middle of rescuing myself!” Tiane objected.
“Which is even better,” Garyl insisted.
“Well, then you brought me here, dumped me on Lytha’s doorstep, and then abandoned me for a year.”
“Not a year,” Garyl said. “Eleven months at the most. But I had to perform an investigation.”
“And you couldn’t spare a moment to say goodbye?” Tiane’s voice wavered in a way that surprised both of them.
“Is that why you’re mad at me?” Garyl asked. “Because I didn’t say goodbye before I left?”
“Well, it would have been nice.” Tiane felt a prickle in her cheeks, which only served to remind her that her face was still dyed purple.
For a moment, Garyl seemed at a loss for words. After an awkward moment of silence, he managed to squeak out, “I’m sorry.”
Tiane rubbed a hand across her face, smearing the indigo ink away from her eyes. “So where did you want to take me?”
“Clean yourself up first,” Garyl said. “I’ll take care of the scrubbing down here.”
“Lytha won’t be happy that you’re undermining her authority.”
“Lytha doesn’t need to know I’m here right now.”
“You know my room is right across the hall from hers, don’t you?” Tiane asked. “If I go upstairs to change my clothes, she’s going to ask me why I’m not down here cleaning.”
Garyl pointed toward the brush, and it flew to his hands. Getting down on his hands and knees, he started scrubbing—apparently not noticing that his own boots were still leaving muck on the floor. “You’re clever, and you’re quick,” he said. “Slip in without her noticing.”
“Couldn’t you help me a little? Don’t you have some sort of invisibility spell or something?”
“I do,” Garyl said. “But let’s save that for when we try to sneak off campus, shall we?”