Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Chapter Six: Ice Demon(Part Two)

"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."

"Excuse me?"

"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 understand."

"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..."

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Chapter Six: Ice Demon(Part One)

Belthor exploded out of the diner into the snow, staff in hand, spinning in a circle. He ignored the biting chill of the winter air and snow-carrying wind eating at him from all sides, turning and turning in search of-

"Agnete!" he cried. She was gone. She was gone in the darkness and-

"Tracks." Belthor turned his gaze down. He eyed the indentations from her light footfalls in the foot of powder on the ground. "Tracks, Bel." He drove his black staff into the snow and pushed himself forward, forcing his way on-

"Roc!" That was Theron's voice, from behind him. He ignored his roommate. "Where are you going?"

"He's going after her," Hastel cried. "Belthor, are you mad?"

"It's like fifteen below!" Yvette shouted. "You don't have your-"

Belthor hissed and waved his staff. The impulse in his heart became a command to the tool, which became a spell in the air...which became his cloak, soaring from inside the diner like a living thing. It slipped smoothly over his arms and shoulders, wrapping him up tightly against the chill.

"Roc, are you daft?" Theron demanded. "This is suicide-"

"Come back!" Hastel shouted. 

"Hastel, get a Master," Theron ordered. Belthor gritted his teeth as he hurried into the darkness. But he heard what came next: "He's my responsibility. I'm going after him-"

Another impulse became a spell. Belthor slammed his staff into the snow, and with a great whooshing noise, all the tracks within thirty yards of him vanished as the snow shifted. Every time he lifted his staff or shoe from the snow, the hole filled up in seconds. So did Agnete's light prints, seeming more like those of a snow animal than a person. 

"Roc!" Theron shouted his name a few more times, fainter each one. Belthor forgot him, snarling and forging onward into the heart of the raging winter storm. 

The darkness only grew, and the cold only worsened, as streets of the village gave way to the plains and hills around the School, and then trees loomed in the dark. Belthor's mind filled with the childhood stories his older siblings had terrified him with of demons in the trees and ghosts in the dark, but fifteen years of South Sharan superstition wasn't enough to turn him back from the footprints laid out before him.

"Light," he ordered his staff. A faint yellow glow appeared from the top of it, illuminating the snow for perhaps fifty yards in all directions. Belthor forged on, listening to the faint howling of wolves and taking comfort in the lack of a full moon. At least that was all they would be.

It must have been an hour that he forged onward. Agnete had clearly been going at a full run the whole time, but Belthor could only manage a powerful stride. His staff landed in the snow with every other step, and more of it built up on his face. He wiped at it with the back of his hand constantly, wishing he had his gloves. Too late to summon them now.

Nothing else mattered but finding Agnete. He had to put this right somehow.

Then, it was like he crossed an invisible line. The wild storm seemed to die down, though the chill still ate at him. Belthor frowned as he was able to release his cloak and uncover his mouth.

He paced through the suddenly still cold air, breath misting before him, staff thumping against rocks beneath the snow. He released the spell that blocked out the tracks, slowing his stride as he began to wonder how far he truly was from Agnete.

His foot hit something, and he looked down.

It was an owl, lying in the snow, its feathers scattered. Belthor felt something in his heart wince as he saw the bite marks on its neck, like a predator had seized it...and then been driven off before it could feast. He saw only a little red in the snow, but there was no denying the owl was dead.

Belthor moved along, holding his staff a little tighter. He passed under trees devoid of leaves, looming in the dark like beasts with wild arms. He heard nothing but his own breathing and footfalls, and the faraway whistling of the wind overhead outside of the protective bubble he appeared to have entered.

And then he heard something else, penetrating the dark like a gunshot.

He heard sobbing from ahead.

He emerged into a little forest clearing dominated by a brook of frozen water, framed by branches that almost seemed to create a roof. Belthor's light wasn't the only one, and he glanced at the ice and how it glowed white and illuminated the clearing. The initiate willed away his own guide light, and he leaned on his staff for a moment, feeling very tired.

Agnete sat by the water, hugging her knees, head down, snow piled around her boots. She convulsed with faint sobs, and Belthor took a moment to be certain he was in fact seeing ice hanging from her auburn hair. She clutched herself tighter as he watched...though he didn't think she'd even noticed his presence.

A moment passed.

"Hello," Belthor said, quiet.

Agnete started. She flung herself backward, and Belthor clearly saw the tear tracks on her cheeks. She scrambled to her hands and knees, and the initiate paused as he took in how...animalistic her stance was, and how wild her eyes were. She curled her fingers like cats' claws, and she coiled up like a spring.

"Go away!" she ordered, her voice harsh instead of smooth and quiet like he was used to. "You should not be here."

"I followed you," Belthor said.

"You should not have!" Agnete gathered her legs under her a bit closer, her entire posture surprisingly cat-like. "Come no closer! Or..." She gnashed her teeth for a moment. "Come no closer."

Belthor slowly raised his hands to show his palms. Agnete blinked as his staff thumped down in the snow. Deliberately, Belthor kicked it off to the side.

"I'm not here to hurt you," he said, slowly. "And that's what you're afraid of, isn't it?" He lowered himself to a crouch in the snow, still showing his hands. "Agnete. I'm your friend."

"Please. Leave." She swallowed. "You don't want to be my friend, Belthor. No one wants to be my friend. You won't...you can't..." She made a harsh noise in the back of her throat. "Leave!"

"No." Belthor didn't twitch as she hissed - hissed, almost exactly like a cat. "I won't come any closer without your permission, Agnete, but neither will I leave you to your suffering. I am your friend. That's not what friends do."

Agnete twitched back and forth for a moment. "You..." She warily lowered herself to a sitting position in the snow, eyes still fixed on Belthor, when they didn't dart to his staff. "You are a very unusual wizard, Belthor." She paused. "B-E-L-" she broke off and almost seemed to spit. "I should not do that. You will believe I am crazy."

"Actually, I think it's...endearing." Belthor waited as she spluttered and stammered for a moment. "Agnete, it's clear that you're as unusual of a wizard as I am, if not more so."

"Don't I know it!" Agnete's tone was anguished. "That's because I'm not a wizard, Belthor-son-of-Morse!"

"You are. You're at the School. Master Kulkas-"

"I don't have a staff. That's what makes a wizard-"

"The staff is a stick," Belthor quoted, which made Agnete pause.

"...what Master taught you that?" she asked. Belthor fidgeted.

"Well, she wasn't a Master, not really," he hedged. "But...but she knew what she was talking about. Being a wizard is something inside you. It has nothing to do with the stick you may or may not be holding."

Agnete regarded him. "Please leave. I can't hold it together much longer."

Belthor frowned. "Hold...what together?"

"...me." She swallowed. "Please. You don't want to know the truth, Belthor. You think you do, but it will only bring you as much pain as it has brought me. If you find out the truth-"

"I already know the truth about you," Belthor said. He jerked his head over his shoulder. "Hastel. The ice. The owl." Agnete regarded him with a pale, almost horrified look, and Belthor shrugged. "I just don't know the how and the why...but I know what you are."

"You..." Agnete seemed lost. "And still you laid down your staff?"

"You're not going to hurt me any more than I'm going to hurt you," Belthor said. He met her eyes. "Let me see you."

"You don't want to." She sounded very certain. "I am not made for your eyes to appreciate."

"You don't have to be." Belthor waited a moment before continuing. "You are you. And I want to know Agnete - if that is your name?"

"Yes." She hesitated. "Belthor-"

"Let me see you."

She was quiet. Finally, she let out a long, low breath, and Belthor noted that hers didn't fog in the cold air. Which didn't surprise him, not really.

"Ezraval," she whispered, closing her eyes. "No longer do I invoke the God of Love."

It started with her hair. The Glamour she'd held since Belthor had first seen her disappeared with a faint shimmering, and her auburn hair became white like snow. Her skin paled, and Belthor inhaled as he saw her veins clearly through it. Her fingers seemed to thin still further, and the initiate took note of what looked like claws where her nails ought to have been. She breathed out, and he watched as her teeth changed, shifting from their human camouflage to the pointed fangs of her race.

The last things to change were her irises: going from their soft, pretty brown to a winter-white to match her hair.

"You're an elf," Belthor said, as he met her eyes. "You're a drow."

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Chapter Five: The Best-laid Plans(Part Two)

"Hello, Belthor," said Yvette, as he entered the warmth of the diner. "Tori and Sam?"

"They, um...I thought they'd be here," he said. He glanced around. "Well, I didn't ask, but I figured..."

"They usually are," Yvette agreed. She looked around too. "But I don't see them now. Oh!" She seemed to light up. "There's your other friend."

"Other..." Belthor frowned. "Theron?"

"No. The girl." Yvette pointed, and Belthor swallowed when he saw Agnete in a corner booth in the otherwise almost-deserted diner. Night snow piled against the windows, reminding him to be grateful for the heat in the air around him. "What was her name again?"

"Agnete," Belthor said. "She's...I won't disturb her."

"No one likes eating alone," Yvette said, cheerful. She seemed almost amused. "Besides, Tori told me I had to take any opportunity to help you two out."

"What?" Belthor blinked. "Tori-"

"Go have a seat over there." Yvette waved. "I'll bring your drink right out."

"I didn't...I don't..." Belthor eyed Agnete, staring out the window with a morose expression. "She seems sad."

"Then you should cheer her up. That'll win you points."

"I'm not trying to-"

"Tell that to Tori!" And then Yvette was gone. Belthor swallowed, watching her sweep away.

She really is nice, he tried to tell himself. Maybe she has a point too.

"You're standing in the way, boy."

"What?" Belthor jumped. "Oh. I'm so sorry-"

"Bet you are." The enormous, broad-shouldered man he'd blocked eyed him darkly as he pushed off toward his table. "Keep an eye on your surroundings, why don't you? Might save your life someday, if you want to be a wizard."

"Are...are you a wizard? Do I know you?" Belthor asked.

"No." He took a seat in a corner booth at the other end of the building from Agnete's. "And no."

"I'm...Belthor." He offered his hand. "Son of Morse."

The big man glared at his hand like it personally offended him. "Good for you."

"May...may I have your acquaintance?" Belthor asked.

"Ain't got a name." He clutched a drink in his big meaty fist and turned away. "And who I'm son of ain't your business." He raised one eyebrow. "You're that roc in with Theron Greenhaven, ain't you?"

"Um...yes," Belthor said.

"Well, in that case, I got one thing to say to you." He rose, and Belthor took a half-step back as he loomed almost to the ceiling. "I ain't got a name, but I ain't got no patience for that womanizing crap Theron's so fond of. Do what you want on your own time, but the girls that work in this place? They ain't yours, boy." Glaring seemed to be his area of expertise, and Belthor almost quailed under his next example of that skillset. "Yvette's off-limits."

"I'm...I'm not..." Belthor coughed. "Okay. Understood."

"Don't frighten him, tough guy." Yvette swept by, and she replaced the big man's drink with one hand while depositing food before him with the other. "Ignore him, Belthor. He's a fixture around here. We can't get him to leave." Something about her grin made it clear to him that she wanted no such accomplishment.

"Only way would be to kill me. And I'd be back sooner or later. Killing me ain't killed me yet." The man shifted his weight away from Belthor. "Off you go, boy."

"I...okay." Belthor eased backward. "I'm going. I'm just going to find a table and-"

He tripped. On what, he didn't know. It felt like a patch of ice on the floor, but with the air so warm, that was impossible. Privately, he was sure his own clumsiness had just betrayed him at the wrong moment.

Thud! The good news was he landed in a chair.

"Belthor!" A pause. "B-E-L-T-H-O-R."

And that was the bad news.

"Agnete!" He scrambled to sit up straight. "Oh, hello. Fancy seeing you here."

She blinked. "Did you intend to fall across the table from me rear-first in dramatic fashion?"

"I, uh. Um." Belthor scratched the back of his neck. "Well, you know. I tripped, but I just sort of...rolled with it." He sucked in breath. "Where's my staff-" he leaned down and scooped it off the floor. "I...I was on my way over here anyway, though." He forced a smile. "I saw you and I just...yeah."

"You...were on your way over here?" Agnete asked, frowning. She fidgeted for a moment. "To speak to me? As a friend?"

"I...yes. Something like that." Belthor sucked in breath as he set his staff in its cubbyhole. "I couldn't let you sit by yourself. No one likes to eat alone." He glanced at the floor.

"Why did you trip? That does not sound like a pleasant way to enter a chair."

"I didn't try to," Belthor swore. "It was like...it was ice, on the floor. That's what did it."

Agnete blinked, eyes very serious. "Ice?"

"Ice." Belthor insisted. Agnete seemed very shocked, so he decided to elaborate. "It was just...there, you know. No rhyme or reason. I wonder how it froze with the temperature like this. It's warm in here."

"Yes, it is warm," Agnete said. "The warmth is very...pleasant." Her lip curled as she said that. "Ice, you said?" She almost winced. "That is not good."

"Oh, it's nothing," Belthor said. "I mean, I protected Midnight from those bullies, so some ice...it's not a bother. I've dealt with much worse."

"Are you certain you did not simply trip over yourself?" Agnete asked. "There cannot be ice here. It is very warm. Ice only appears in the cold, and there is none of that in this room."

"No, none at all," Belthor agreed. "Uh..." he glanced at Agnete's mug. "What're you drinking?"

"Water." Agnete eyed him. "Water is good. It does not matter where you come from. I very much like cold water."

"Oh." Belthor spotted Yvette approaching. "Want something to eat?"

"I am not hungry." Agnete shook her head.

"Oh, no, it's fine," Belthor said. "I dropped in and...we could...have dinner together?"

"No, I am not hungry," Agnete said. "Um, I think I should-"

"I knew you two would find each other!" Yvette loomed over their table. "What would you like?"

"Um." Belthor glanced at Agnete.

"I am not hungry," she said, very insistently. "I do not eat much."

"I don't think I've ever seen her order anything," Yvette agreed. "Except water."

"I'll...um." Belthor picked something almost at random. Yvette seemed very amused as she withdrew, and Belthor made sure to make a mental note to give Tori a piece of his mind. She and Estelle would get along fabulously, since they were both working so hard to hook him up with Agnete. The fact that she was interesting didn't mean he was crushing on her!

"I should go," Agnete said. Belthor blinked.

"Wait!" He reached out and took her hand, almost before he'd had time to think. She jumped like he'd stabbed her, and he flinched as well. "Wow. Your fingers are cold."

"They...I have cold hands." Agnete seemed pale. "I am late for...I need to study."

"We can study together," Belthor offered. "Over dinner-"

"I do not think that would be very wise," Agnete said. Belthor shivered as she spoke. Her eyes looked very strange in the light.

"Why not?" Belthor asked. The door opened off to the side, and he glanced to see Hastel entering, wrapped up in his cloak with Theron by his side. The brothers were bickering about something or the other, in that special friendly way only siblings or very good friends could bicker and have a good time of it.

"I...Master Kulkas said I should not spend time with humans when I am emotional," Agnete said, very quickly. "I do not handle emotion very well. It interferes."

"With what?" Belthor asked. "I'm sorry. Am I making you emotional? I don't mean to-"

"It is not you," Agnete said. Her eyes flicked toward the door. "It is many things but you are not one of them-"

"Hey!" That was Theron's voice. "What's going on, roc?" He appeared over the table, and Belthor had to shake his hand.

"Hey, Theron," he said. "I was just-"

"On a date?" Hastel asked. "He is learning from you, isn't he, brother?"

"No, it's not a date," Belthor insisted, as Agnete made a wordless sound of discomfort. He exhaled, and a great cloud of his breath filled the cold air. "We just ran into each other here-"

"Oh, so it's one of those...make-it-up-as-you-go things?" Theron winked. "You got game, roc!" He punched Belthor lightly. "Get her good!"

"I do not wish to be gotten, good or otherwise," Agnete replied. "Please, may I pass you two-"

"Where are you going?" Hastel asked. Agnete managed a smile while Belthor rubbed his hands together for warmth.

"I would like to leave," she said, her voice wavering. "I am highly overemotional and I should not be around...other humans while I am."

"Oh, you're going to leave him hanging mid-dinner?" Hastel seemed amused. "Come on, Agnete. At least sit through the meal."

"I need to leave," she said, her voice low. "Please, step aside."

"Please don't go," Belthor said, heedless of the snickering siblings stationed by the table. "I would like to spend some time with you-"

"Not now!" Agnete pushed out of the booth.

"Why is it so cold?" Theron asked, frowning as he stuck his hands back in his cloak pockets. "It shouldn't be this cold-"

"I'm sure it's a problem with the heating and it'll be fixed in a moment as soon as I am gone," Agnete said, voice picking up. "I'll see you-"

"Wait," Belthor pleaded. He rose. "Agnete-"

"Is it us?" Hastel asked. "Sorry we're ruining things-"

"It is not you-" Agnete paused as Hastel interposed himself between her and the exit.

"Can I apologize?" he asked. "I'm sorry we-"

"Please move!" She sounded almost desperate.

"I just want to apologize-"

"Here's your food," Yvette said, pushing up on the table. "Oh, hey, Theron."

"Yvette." He winked at her and she blushed as he took her free hand.

Belthor saw the big man across the room glowering. He swallowed.

"Just let her by," he told Hastel. "She can talk to me later-"

"I'm trying to say I'm sorry to the weird duck," Hastel said. "I didn't mean to mess up her rune-"

"What?" Belthor frowned.

"It's slang-"

"Move!" Agnete shoved Hastel, very hard. Her eyes flashed when she did, and-

"What the hell!" Hastel cried out as ice exploded over his chest from Agnete's touch, encasing his torso. It coursed down his legs and onto the floor, and snow burst into the air from the next best thing to nowhere.

Hastel fell backward, and Theron and Yvette jumped. When their feet hit the ground, they landed on solid ice, and both of them tumbled with wild cries, crashing into tables and chairs as they went down.

Agnete screamed - outright screamed, flinging herself backward with her hands almost over her mouth. Ice covered her forearms and fingertips, and hung from her hair like jewels.

"...Agnete..." Belthor whispered.

"What the actual-" Hastel snarled something. "What was that?"


She turned and bolted for the door with a wild cry. Belthor lunged out in her wake, struggling to keep his footing on the ice.

Agnete escaped the diner, sprinting into the falling snow with her arms wrapped around herself. Belthor paused to grab his staff, and then he raced off for the door after her, heart pounding while Hastel swore and Theron and Yvette tried to find their feet again.