"You are a very confusing person, Belthor." Agnete paused. "B-E-L-T-H-O-R." She caught her mouth a moment later. "I'm sorry. I keep doing that-"
"Do it all you want," Belthor said. He held his staff as the snow fell lightly around them, where they stood at the edge of Greenhaven. "It's fine."
"Is it?" Agnete bit her lip, and Belthor idly wondered what it felt like. She looked human enough, but her un-Glamoured teeth were so pointy...
"Yes." Belthor clutched his books under his arm, glancing ahead into the snow. "Bit of a hike left for you."
"You did not have to accompany me to the edge of the village. I do not understand why you did." The girl frowned thoughtfully. "Are you attempting to instill a feeling of safety and comfort in me through your presence as we exit this human dwelling-place?"
"Um." Belthor parsed that over for a minute. "I...guess you could put it that way, sure."
"Oh." Agnete mused. "Is this part of your peoples' mating customs?"
"What?" Belthor jumped. Agnete didn't seem to notice.
"I recall my uncle telling me that human mating involved long walks," she said. "And nights spent camping in forests, possibly singing songs and playing music. It was always the stud human upon whom the impetus was placed to impress, while the mares were simply to look impressive. Do I look impressive?" She tilted her head.
Belthor tried to locate his thoughts. "I...um."
"I do not look impressive?" She seemed impassive.
"No, it's not that-"
"So I do?"
"No!" Belthor froze. "Wait! I mean..." He dropped his books. "Shoot!" He then dropped his staff when he bent to pick them up. "Come on!"
"Did I do this?" Agnete asked, blinking as Belthor felt around for his possessions in the cold and dark. He relocated his tomes and his staff with some difficulty.
"I, um." He leaned on his staff, shivering. "This isn't a mating ritual. I have no interest in...mating...with you. None whatsoever, rest assured. That's just...no." He waved his hand and dropped his books again. "Oh, corn lizards!" He knelt to pick them up again.
"I have flustered you," Agnete observed. "You are easy to fluster." She paused for a moment, and Belthor, looking up, saw all the color in her rosy cheeks abruptly vanish. "Oh, no. I'm so, so sorry! What I said was offensive, wasn't it? I called you a stud and..." she twitched. "I'm sorry!"
"It's fine!" Belthor rose. "You're fine, you're very fine. I mean!" He ground his teeth. "Forget that. You know what I meant."
"I do?" Agnete blinked. "I mean, yes, I suppose I do." She bit her lip again. "I am very confused, Belthor."
"Okay. Well, so am I." He shifted his weight. "Girls confuse me on general principles."
"I am not a girl. That implies I am human."
"You being a human and you being not doesn't change that you're a girl and girls are scary," Belthor said. Agnete mused.
"Oh. Physical and sexual attractiveness-"
"Gods, no!" Belthor wanted to hit himself. "It's not that! I don't..." he sighed. "I'm overreacting."
"Yes. You are." Agnete eyed him. "It is amusing and somewhat enticing to watch you sputter."
"Well, I guess you're in luck," Belthor muttered. "I do a lot of that."
"I bet I can make you do it again," Agnete said, and Belthor blinked when he saw an actual gleam of joy in her eyes.
"I...I'm not going to bet against it," he finally said. Agnete's face lit up.
"I am cold," she said, which was probably the most shocking statement she'd made so far. Belthor cried out when she plastered herself right up next to him and hooked his arm around her shoulders. "Embrace me and supply me with your excess warmth!"
"Um-" Belthor watched his staff fall from the arm that apparently was no longer his. "Well, I don't know that-"
"Sometimes when I sleep, I get cold," Agnete confessed, snickering as she almost certainly lied. "I would very much enjoy it if you spent the night with me to help keep the cold away."
"Wait!" Belthor cried out as Agnete hauled him two paces through the snow. "Agnete, that's a horrible idea-"
"Are you saying you do not wish to sleep with me?" she asked.
"No! I mean, no!" Belthor winced. "It would be fine and fun and you're...you're gorgeous but, I mean, I don't...I'm not...that's not..." he swallowed. "Okay, you win. You got me."
"I like this game," she said, voice light. "I must remember to play it with you again."
"Do you have to?" Belthor paused to reclaim his staff. He glanced back at the village. "Why did I turn down Tori and Sam's offer to come with us?"
"You turned it down?" Agnete asked. "I am returning to my dwelling-place. I am the one who refused them."
"You didn't refuse me-"
"No." She eyed Belthor, and that gave him pause. "No, I did not."
He hesitated. "...no. No you didn't."
"No. I did not." She tilted her head.
"You...did not." He stood up a little straighter.
"I didn't." She appeared to muse as she approached two steps through the snow. Somehow, Belthor didn't feel cold anymore. His heart thundered.
"You...didn't..." he muttered. He glanced left and right, suddenly paranoid that Tori and Sam had followed them and were laughing from a distance.
He didn't see Tori and Sam. But he did see-
"Agnete." He didn't realize how much like a gunshot that one word was until after the fact. "Agnete, is that..."
"What?" She jumped about two feet backward like a hare, face going white, then red. Belthor only barely noticed.
"That's...Yvette," he muttered, staring into the darkness at the figure watching them.
"Yvette?" Agnete asked. She turned, shouldering her bookbag. She frowned into the dark along with Belthor for a moment. "Yes. Yes, that is Yvette."
"Thank the gods." Belthor started forward. "Hey!" He waved his staff. "Yvette! It's us. Belthor and Agnete!"
She remained silent, her head bent downward like she was studying the snow. Belthor swallowed.
"Are you all right?" he asked, picking up the pace. Agnete fell into step behind him, and thoughtlessly Belthor passed her his books. She took them in silence, and with his free hand the initiate reached out for the waitress. "Yvette, it's freezing out here!"
Still she said nothing. Belthor stuck his staff in the snow less than three feet from her boots, and he leaned forward to examine her. "Yvette. You've been missing all day...are you hurt, or-"
She looked up, very sharply. Belthor jumped backward.
Her eyes were a solid olive green, with neither pupils nor irises to them.
"Gods!" Belthor clutched his staff. "Yvette, what happened to you?"
She let out a long, low breath, and even the mist from it seemed green. She twitched her arms, and Belthor gasped as he watched her produce a long, wicked knife from her belt.
"Give us your friend," Yvette ordered, her voice slow and slurred. She took a lumbering step forward.
"No!" Belthor planted himself between Agnete and Yvette, staff held in both hands. He pointed one end at the waitress. "What happened to you? What's going on with your eyes?"
"Wait." Agnete caught Belthor's shoulder. "Us?"
"Us," several more voices echoed. Belthor spun, and from the darkness he saw four more sets of glowing green eyes, on all sides. His heart thundered in an altogether different way as all four of them emerged into the faint light at the edge of town: women with weapons in hand, moving stiffly like undead.
"Who are you?" Belthor asked. "One step closer and I'll use this." He held his staff up in plain sight. "You hear me? I'll...I'll tear you all apart! Back off!"
"Give us the Gifted one," Yvette ordered again. "Give her to us. The Owner wishes her brought before him."
"Over my dead body."
"Belthor-" Agnete dropped her bookbag in the snow. "Belthor, you can't-"
"Who are you?" he demanded. "You're not Yvette."
Yvette tilted her head. "My name was Yvette. I work at a diner in Greenhaven." She sucked in breath. "Now, I am Number Five. I am Owned." She raised her knife, and the other women ringing Belthor and Agnete did the same with their weapons. "The warning has been delivered. Run, son of Morse, or we will slay you where you stand."