"Now you see me," Agnete whispered past pointed teeth. She wiped at her tears. "Tell me how you-"
"I didn't know until I got here," Belthor said. "The ice was a hint. You're a Winter drow, with power over ice and snow." He glanced around. "Where you feel most at home. You don't feel the cold like I do."
"I told Master Kulkas I couldn't do it," Agnete moaned. She lowered her head. "I told him I wasn't strong enough-"
"I thought it was just a Gift," Belthor continued quickly. "Until I got here. The owl. Drow drink blood. No one ever said it had to be human blood."
Agnete let out a sigh. "Hastel and Theron will figure it out."
"No. They'll think you're a Gifted who lost control of her power, because that's what I'll tell them, and that's what Tori and Sam will tell them, and that's what Master Kulkas will tell them." Belthor shifted his weight until he sat in the cold snow. "Your secret is safe with me."
"Is it?" Agnete demanded. "How do you know I won't jump you in the dark for your blood?" Her pale face was full of fear rather than anger. "I could do it, you know. I could take you here and now and feast like I haven't in years. Animals can sustain me, but they are as simple fare to my sensibilities as potatoes and rice are to yours."
"You won't. You're different."
"Am I?" Agnete almost lunged when that came out, and Belthor jumped. "Am I different, Belthor? I'm your tame drow friend, am I? Unlike the rest of my people, the ones I grew up with, I'm not a savage?" She spat in the snow. "You'll civilize me and show me off to all your friends-"
"No!" Belthor raised his hands. "That isn't what I meant. I'm sorry. I'm very sorry, I didn't mean to..."
Agnete seemed to deflate. "It...does not seem like the kind of person you are to mean that. I am sorry. I am very, very flustered."
"May I ask how you got here?" Belthor swallowed. "I'm curious."
Agnete sighed. "I never told a lie."
"You just creatively selected which truths to tell at which points," Belthor agreed. "You're from a village near the border with the Clans. You were chosen by Master Kulkas. And you like gardening."
"I love gardening," she whispered. "There's something lovely about raising plants. I like growing things instead of freezing and ending them. I just..." she gestured to the snow and ice around her. "I can't control it."
Belthor waited for a moment. She sniffed. "Master Kulkas came through, fifteen years ago. I was very young. My mother attempted to kill him, and brought me along...as a rite of passage. Killing my first wizard, or something of the sort." She shuddered. "A piece of work, my mother. My uncle and aunt oft spoke of her and her lust for slaughtering wizards."
"So she went after Master Kulkas," Belthor said. "I take it that ended badly for her?"
"He killed her." Agnete's tone was level.
"...oh." Belthor fidgeted.
"But he wouldn't kill me, and he left me in my uncle's care. He told my uncle..." Agnete took a breath. "I don’t know whether it was true or not, but my uncle said Master Kulkas told him he'd had a vision that I would be a bridge between elves and wizards. So he told my uncle that if ever I wished to leave the village and become a wizard, he would move whatever mountains needed moving to ensure it happened, and all I would have to do is let him know I was coming."
"And your uncle-"
"Tried very hard to ensure I never discovered this," Agnete said. "He is wise, my uncle, but very distrustful of humans, especially wizards. He was not trying to keep me home for his own ends, but simply to ensure I did not wind up dead." She looked around. "He told me this would happen."
"But you came anyway."
"I did. I felt called." Agnete paused. "You look cold."
"I'm fine." Belthor glanced to the staff as he said it, though, and he thought of the possibility of a fire.
"May I..." he hesitated as Agnete's eyes widened. "...may I come a little closer?"
"...yes." Agnete waited as Belthor scooted across the snow until they were within comfortable conversation distance. "Master Kulkas said he spoke on my behalf to all the other Masters. None agreed with his decision. They had harsh words for him. But they could not deny him his right to select who may or may not accompany him to the School for training."
"Was the Glamour their idea, or-"
"His." Agnete shook her head. "If the people there knew what I was...I would be killed. At the least."
Belthor sighed. "Most likely."
"So I traveled from the Highlands. I came across the Lament Mountains instead of taking passage on a ship across the Iron Sea. I worried about contact with humans." Agnete stared into the glowing ice.
"I crossed the Waste Without Water. I braved the Swamps of the Living Dead. I..." She actually chuckled in the back of her throat. "I...couldn't pay the toll on the road."
Belthor snorted. "It's a rather steep toll."
"It's an impossibly steep toll, that's what it is," Agnete snapped. "Four copper per head...and mine are the uncivilized people!"
"That's why you don't have a staff, isn't it?" Belthor asked. "They're afraid."
"They think if I had a staff, I would use it," Agnete agreed. "They don't want to teach me how to do so. Handing their enemies a weapon...Master Kulkas promised he'd get me one eventually, but no Master has been willing to listen to him. He's getting more and more frustrated..." She sighed.
"It's not right." Belthor shook his head. "You have as much right to learn as anyone else. And not giving you a staff defeats the point of your being here."
Agnete blinked. Belthor found her white irises mesmerizing. "You sound like him."
"That's exactly what Master Kulkas said," Agnete told him. "You sound just like him."
"I...thank you, I guess." Belthor tried to conceal how much pride that made him feel.
"I can cast Glamours because I have a tattoo," Agnete said, baring her shoulder. Belthor studied the beehive-shape of Ezraval's rune. "Master Kulkas put it there, after I demonstrated my worth. This was before he went to pick up his regular crop of acolytes and you joined his company. I practiced my Glamours for the entire time you trained and competed, and then we both wound up here."
"And you just...lost control tonight?" Belthor asked. Agnete nodded again.
"I've been struggling for a few days," she said. "I come here after classes every night, and I sleep in the snow where I'm most comfortable. I'm protected from the weather that can affect even me - this bubble is Master Kulkas' doing, not mine - and I hunt animals in the trees. I drink my fill morning and night." She crossed her legs. "That's why I don't eat."
"I figured." Belthor eased himself a little closer. He hesitantly reached out, and this time, Agnete didn't retreat when he touched her icy fingers. "You've been struggling to keep your disguises up for the last few days, and you were trying to take a moment to yourself in the diner, waiting for me and that other man to leave so you could head back here without worrying about being tracked."
"Yes." Agnete sighed. "When I get emotional, I start to create ice without meaning to. I tripped you, I think. I wasn't trying to, but...it's the only explanation. And then Hastel and Theron kept pushing..."
"I'm finished." Agnete didn't pull her hand back, but she again curled up around her head. "I can't keep doing this. It's going to happen again and again and I just..."
"Hey." Belthor clutched her freezing hand tightly enough she paused. "It's going to work out. No one knows."
"You know." She sounded very dour.
"I'm not telling anyone," Belthor said. "You're my friend. And I'm yours. I want to help you in any way I can. And Tori and Sam are good people too. They'll help you if you trust them."
"I don't know." Agnete moaned. "Master Kulkas said I couldn't tell anyone-"
"I'll talk to him," Belthor promised. "Agnete, we'll do this together. We'll get you a staff, and we'll make you the first drow wizard to graduate from the Grand School."
She regarded him through those pale eyes. "You sound very certain."
"I am very certain." Belthor held her hand tightly. "We're friends."
"I...have never had a human friend before," Agnete admitted.
"And I've never known a drow," Belthor said. "But you're just as much a person as I am. We can work a way through this together."
Agnete sat quietly. Finally, she sighed, and Belthor felt her clawed fingers tighten around his.
"A friend," she muttered under her breath. "Belthor. B-E-L-T-H-O-R." She turned her gaze to him, eyes very big. "Do you really think I'll get a staff?"
"Well." Belthor raised his hand, and his own snapped into it, flying from across the clearing with an audible whoosh and a slap as it hit his palm. "Here."
"What?" Agnete blinked as he pressed the long rod into her hands.
"Come on." Belthor pulled her up. She blinked.
"I do not understand what is happening."
"Master Vignette said levitating items with the staff..." Belthor grabbed the first branch of reasonable length he saw. "It was this motion, remember?" He mimed it. "That rock, there. Just..." he repeated the motion. "And will the rock to rise. It's not a thought, just an impulse."
Agnete blinked. Then she leveled the staff, teeth set. The rod moved.
Up went the rock. Belthor smiled as Agnete gasped.
"I did it!" She sounded elated. "What were the other drills? I remember the one with the lightning-"
"Oh, that one. See, you start like this..."