Worth the Candle, Ch 135: Holding

We had a debriefing in what Bethel called ‘the conference room’. Even before she had gained the ability to fold space, she liked to go big, making rooms with ceilings that stretched up dozens of feet and more space than was needed for the people and furniture. With the ability to make rooms as large as a small town, she’d opted to do away with any pretense of restraint. The conference room was a massive place of gray marble and thick timbers that looked like they’d been cut from thousand-year-old trees. It took a legitimately long walk to get to the center, where the timbers overhead were arranged so they formed a wide, fluted cylinder that went up a few hundred feet. My first thought was that this was probably what the inside of a nuclear cooling tower looked like, but it was too skinny for that, and too well-lit.

The whole thing was also just too fucking big for nine people to have a meeting, but I held my tongue.

“Why don’t you tell me what you did first?” I asked. “I’m going to go ahead and assume that you had a less exciting time than I did, no offense.”

“I spent the month trying to work out how I would recover from the setbacks that the Dungeon Master put in front of me,” said Amaryllis. I hadn’t been gone a month; Amaryllis was borrowing more time, but at least she was being forthright about it. “The tuung have hatched, and are being tended to by the helpers and teachers we hired, which I’m keeping a close eye on. Aside from that, the only thing that we have to report is that the water mage was unavoidably delayed due to a storm.”

“I thought they dealt with storms?” I asked.

“Yes,” nodded Amaryllis. “That was what I meant; she had to deal with a storm.”

Bethel leaned forward. “There are too many people in me,” she said with a frown. “I’m feeling less like a house and more like a facility.”

“It’s temporary,” said Amaryllis. Her voice was tight. “And I asked you before I made any plans.”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t grumble, now that your better half is back,” said Bethel.

Pallida and Heshnel were with us at the table. My eyes went to Pallida at the comment from Bethel, and I saw a slight frown cross her face. She had designs on Amaryllis, that much was clear, and in the doomed timeline, it had apparently worked, for a time. I wasn’t sure what Bethel was playing at, unless she was just trying to stir up shit. Or maybe I had misunderstood, and our murderous house had just been saying ‘better half’ in a strictly non-romantic way. I might have been reading too much into it.

“And you, Juniper?” asked Amaryllis. “How was your time in the Library?”

“I learned Library Magic,” I said. “I also learned Spirit. Unfortunately, that triggered quest completion, which, ah, turned me into my worst self.”

“A number of people died,” said Raven. “I think it would suffice to say that it’s better we don’t go back there unless we want a fight.”

“A fight you would win, surely?” asked Bethel.

“Maybe,” I said. “Some of their weapons are novel. I was hit with one.” I glanced at Raven. “I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ever return, but we came out with a large cache of books, and I accomplished everything that I meant to do there.” I looked over at Solace. True to what the books had said, she was back to her five-year-old crantek body, with small antlers coming from her forehead as embellishment. Druidic bullshit, I was pretty sure, but I was still happy about it, because her being in the body of some random guy hadn’t felt quite right. “I haven’t read through all the books yet, but we were able to get all of the Second Empire’s research into the nature of the loci. It’s knowledge that was paid for in blood, but I’m hopeful that I can find something in there that gives me a hint as to what I can do to help get the locus established in the outside world, some way to spread its power and let it take on new lands.”

“Hrm,” said Solace. She narrowed her eyes and cast a glance at Heshnel, who didn’t meet her gaze. “I’m doubtful that such materials would prove useful. The Second Empire never truly understood the loci. That was one of the reasons they killed so many of those I loved.”

“It’s as good as I’ve got right now,” I said. I cleared my throat. “I’d also like to sleep in the bottle from now on, if that’s okay with you.”

“Certainly,” said Solace. She seemed much more pleased with that. “Keep your soiled research outside though.”

I nodded, then turned to the others. “That aside, there are a few other things to report on. I guess the first is that Fel Seed is going to be more difficult to deal with than I thought he would be.” I took a breath. “I’d like to postpone going into his exclusion zone until after we’ve managed to concoct a good enough plan. I have a book that chronicles the closest anyone has ever gotten to killing him, along with some research and case studies done by the Second Empire, all of which might be helpful. It also looks like we’re going to bring Thargox into the mix.” I looked over at Pallida and Heshnel.

“That can be arranged,” said Heshnel. “We have the entad it used for communication, or failing that, we can meet it. I don’t know its specific stance on you, as yet. Lyda died swiftly, in that confrontation, before Thargox could weigh in.”

“I’m hopeful,” I said. I took another look at the seats around us as I realized something. “Gemma hasn’t come back?”

“She’s going through a warrior’s trial, last I heard,” said Pallida. “Her account was challenged. The Foxguard customs haven’t really kept up with the times. If she’s unlucky, she won’t return. She did bring the Egress back though.”

“Good,” I said. “I’m pretty sure that we’re going to be making heavy use of it in the coming weeks. I’d like to hit a few of Uther’s old caches, and we’re due for a return to Speculation and Scrutiny, or as close as we can get and still be outside the zone. Masters has a cache of entads that should, as close as I can figure, go to us.” I was the new Chosen One, like it or not, and on my side was not just the last of Uther’s Knights, but Masters’ daughter as well.

“Can I ask if you found any books I wrote?” asked Amaryllis, leaning forward some in her chair.

“Yes,” I said. “You managed to single-handedly revolutionize a number of fields on Aerb and kept things running for nearly a hundred years.” I hesitated. “There are limits on how much it’s good to show you.”

“Oh?” asked Amaryllis.

“For the safety of the Library,” I said. “We might have burnt some bridges on our way out, to put it mildly — no, sorry, I … I killed some people, and more died because of me, when I leveled. I don’t want to downplay that. That’s the primary reason that we won’t be going back, that and the fact that I have work to do in the real world. But even if we’re not going to be actively using the Library, it’s still a valuable resource, one that I don’t want to compromise.”

“So the books stay sealed?” asked Amaryllis.

“No,” I replied. “Not sealed, just … it’s important that you do the things you were going to do anyway. I brought back six different editions, and I’d like some time in the chamber to read through them, but I agree with Raven that it would probably be better that you don’t try to skip past all the hard work, not at the expense of the Library.”

“Fine,” said Amaryllis. “Read carefully and tell me what I need to know.”

“You left some messages to yourself,” I said. “Personal ones, I gather. I’ll write them down for you. They were encrypted.”

Amaryllis raised an eyebrow. “I promised myself I wouldn’t do that.”

“It seemed like something that you really wanted to say to yourself,” I said. “We can talk about it more later. For now, I’d prefer if you limited your chamber time, at least until I’ve gotten caught back up to speed on what you’re doing.”

“Do you actually care?” asked Amaryllis.

“I do,” I nodded. “I think I’ve been sitting on the sidelines for too long, and some of what you have planned is … well, I wouldn’t want to miss it.”

“Are we done here then?” asked Pallida, leaning forward in her seat.

“No,” I said. “There’s one more thing.” I turned to Grak. “Grak, if it’s alright with you, I’d like to make the trip to Darili Irid. It might take a day or two to get all the gold ready, but we promised you our assistance long ago, and I want to make good on that.”

Grak’s face showed no emotion. “You want to be with me,” he said.

“Yes,” I replied. “I do.”

“Fine,” he answered, and that was that.

“Can I verify the integrity of your soul?” asked Amaryllis.

We’d had a group dinner, with custom meals created on the spot by Bethel, where I’d given the longer version of my time in the Library, and I’d been filled in on the more mundane goings-on around the Isle of Poran. Grak had started in on the Harry Potter series at Valencia’s request, Solace had taken to designing some rituals and holidays for the tuung to take part in, and our two newest members had settled into life on the island. Amaryllis was working on a prototype television that wouldn’t kill or brainwash anyone, but it was going to take awhile; in the meantime, we had the film projector, along with all of the verified-safe films that we’d already watched once or twice, which helped serve as an introduction to Earth culture for the newbies.

After we were done eating, Amaryllis had taken me aside, into her room, and asked to look into my soul.

“No,” I said. “There’s an image in my memories that you might see that would make you catatonic. I could maybe fix you with Spirit, or it’s possible that with half my skill you could fix yourself, but … no, you probably can’t verify integrity, or at least not safely.”

“That’s a problem,” Amaryllis frowned.

“Do you have specific concerns about my soul being compromised?” I asked. “Uh, technically you have to worry about both soul and spirit, because I think that you can effectively replicate most effects using one or the other.”

“Lovely,” said Amaryllis with a sigh. “I’ll probably take some time in the chamber to get a handle on it.”

“Maybe we both should,” I said. “Things got kind of fucked at the Library, and I have two new points that my evil twin thankfully didn’t spend, which means that I can raise the caps on skills.” I stopped myself, unsure whether or not I should say what I was thinking. “When I was reading the books that you wrote … I missed you.”

“I missed you too,” nodded Amaryllis, as though it were a statement of simple fact rather than anything emotional. “I’d prefer if you don’t go running off on your own again, but I recognize that the rule of three is in play.”

“Rule of three?” I asked. “Ah, Speculation and Scrutiny was the first, the Infinite Library was the second?”

“Yes,” replied Amaryllis. “Uther writes about the rule of three a lot, especially in Degenerate Cycles. Either two times establish a pattern so the third time deviates, or two encounters with a win and a loss set up a tiebreaker. He notes that infinite cycles have to find ways around that.”

“And that’s some of what you spent time in the chamber thinking about?” I asked.

“It’s one of the things, yes,” said Amaryllis. “Mostly it was in setting up experimental protocols for dealing with hostile, unknown memetic threats, eldritch entities, and/or hostile and contagious magic. I drew up some designs for labs that would self-seal and incinerate everyone inside, for example.” She raised an eyebrow. “I don’t suppose that you can tell me much? Or that you’re willing to? Obviously I had some success.”

“The world lasted an extra hundred years without me around,” I said. “A lot of that is on you. You figured out solutions and worked your ass off, all the while knowing that it was all for the sake of the books you were writing and little else.” I paused. “So whatever you came up with, it worked there. I don’t know how much knowing that will change what you do.”

“I’ll be interested in reading whatever you clear me for,” said Amaryllis with a shrug.

“You’re very nonchalant about it,” I said.

“Curiosity is something that I tamed long ago,” said Amaryllis. “Do I want to read my notes from decades in the future? Obviously. It’s like a burning itch. But part of being a rational, competent person is in understanding that there are some itches that you shouldn’t scratch, for your own good.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’ll give you the encrypted messages you left yourself though. I assume they were personal.” Amaryllis was sitting on her big, fluffy, four-poster bed, and I was sitting on a chair next to her fireplace. I shifted around some, not quite comfortable. There were things that I wanted to say to her, but not quite her, the person she was in the books, that doomed Amaryllis who had lived out her life in service of the world. Cypress. It was the fake name she’d given me when we’d first met.

“Just say it,” said Amaryllis.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“Whatever you’re thinking about or stopping yourself from saying, just say it, unless it’s one of those itches that you know you shouldn’t scratch,” said Amaryllis.

“I was thinking of putting my points into SOC first,” I said.

“Permanent points?” asked Amaryllis.

“Yeah,” I nodded. “I know they’re not the direction that your roadmap points to, but … it’s sort of a question of what’s important, you know? And that depends on what the Dungeon Master wants from me, which is guessable but unknowable, at this point.”

“SOC would help to solve personal problems, not hexal ones,” said Amaryllis.

“And I’m a lever to move the world, not a lever to help my friends?” I asked.

“That’s not –” Amaryllis began.

“Sorry,” I said. “That came out wrong, which I’m going to blame on my low SOC. I didn’t mean it to sound snarky, I meant … I can understand how it would seem, from your perspective, like I’m burning an extremely valuable resource in order to solve what are ultimately small problems. But when I look at everything that happened in the last month? Even if I’m thinking rationally, I have to look at all the stuff that got fucked because I didn’t have enough SOC. How are we going to get allies if even using half your considerable skill sees me completely screwing everything up? Narrative aside, Fenn was close to walking away. Solace and Grak have both expressed their reservations about staying, and I don’t think that’s entirely about goals and values. SOC leads to Loyalty, whether we like it or not, and Loyalty leads to power.”

“You’re saying that the personal is political,” said Amaryllis.

“Political?” I asked. “You mean global? Er, hexal?”

“It’s a second wave feminism slogan,” said Amaryllis. “I’ve been reading some of Tiff’s books in anticipation of her showing up. It’s not entirely apt. Sorry, I thought you would recognize it.” I shook my head. “Whatever. I understand your argument. I even think there’s some merit in it. The problem is that you have so few skills that are capped by SOC, or that use it at all, that you’re essentially wasting the level as far as combat and utility go.”

“And how much utility do we lose if people keep stepping away?” I asked. “What if I say the wrong thing to Pallida and she leaves? In purely mercenary terms, she represents more power than an extra three ranks in half my skills do.”

“Point taken,” said Amaryllis with a shrug. “You could take more time to think about it.”

“I know,” I said. “I will. I just … to get back to what we were talking about earlier, the thing that I wanted to tell you but was having trouble with, I just wanted to, I don’t know.”

“You don’t know, or you don’t want to say?” asked Amaryllis with a raised eyebrow.

“You were lonely,” I said. “She was. Cypress, I guess we’ll call her. In that doomed timeline, you had your work and almost nothing else. I know that you don’t need people to function, but it was still sad, and I don’t have the SOC to say it properly, but I want you to know that if you need a person, if you want a person, I’m there for you.”

“I see,” said Amaryllis. She was watching me. “I stopped interfering with the natural processes of the soul, in the doomed timeline?”

“You did,” I said.

“So I loved you,” she said with a sigh. “How many years in the future?”

“Until you died,” I said. “596 FE, but with extra subjective decades in the chamber.” It ran contrary to what the Dungeon Master had told me, but I didn’t know whether that was because the rules were different in the other timeline, because he’d lied, or because I hadn’t ‘let’ her get over me.

“Fuck,” said Amaryllis. She closed her eyes and made a melodramatic flop backward onto the bed. “And I suppose I was forthright with you about this in the books, and that’s part of the reason you’re feeling whatever you’re feeling?”

“I — yeah,” I said. “A bit.”

“I have no idea why I would choose that,” said Amaryllis. “To love someone who was gone?”

“I think maybe it made it easier for you,” I said. “You were in this doomed timeline, knowing that you were going through all this work to become Queen of Aerb so that –”

“Queen of Aerb?” asked Amaryllis, sitting up and looking at me.

“I don’t think that’s something I need to hold back on,” I said. “That wasn’t actually your title. You were Secretary General of the Empire of Common Cause, Queen of Anglecynn, and Commander of the Imperial Defense Force.”

“Anglecynn doesn’t have a queen,” said Amaryllis. She was looking me over. “Hasn’t had a queen since Zona, nor a king since Uther.”

“Things can change. Constitutions can be rewritten,” I said. “I’m pretty sure that the Imperial Defense Force isn’t a thing either.”

“It’s been floated for the better part of a decade,” replied Amaryllis. She sat back on the bed slightly. “I was actually able to accomplish all that?”

“You blew up Celestar,” I said with a smile.

Amaryllis stared at me. “You’re piquing my curiosity after having told me that you won’t sate it,” she said.

“I’m not trying to,” I lied. “I’m just in awe of what you managed to accomplish over there, how far you were able to advance the state of the art, even as you were pushing through this loneliness and solitude. I wanted to give you a hug. That was all, really, all I wanted to say, just that I value you and I want you to be happy.”

Loyalty increased: Amaryllis lvl 23!

“I would accept a hug,” said Amaryllis. She opened her arms wide.

I came over to her and wrapped her in a hug. She was small, compared to me, but with hard muscles. I held her for a moment, thinking of the old woman sitting at the end of the world with a figurative army of personnel working beneath her and a literal army of magus-soldiers at her command, the woman who had done all that she could just to send a message to an audience of one. A Cypress Waits.

“This doesn’t mean anything,” Amaryllis murmured into my ear.

“No?” I asked. I tried to pull back, to see her face, but she held tight, keeping me where I was.

“I like hugs,” she said. Her voice was low. She rested her head against mine. “I’m not in love with you. I just missed you, and I like being hugged. Don’t take it the wrong way.”

“I won’t,” I replied. I stayed silent for a bit, as the hug went on. I felt myself wanting to cry, because I missed Fenn, because it was obvious that Amaryllis had wanted someone to hold her, and because some other Amaryllis that never was had waited until the end of the world.

“Would you be upset,” Amaryllis began, then stopped. “Would you be upset if I did this with Pallida?”

“No,” I said, even as I felt my heart sink a bit. ‘Upset’ wouldn’t be quite the right word, but I wasn’t sure what word would fit.

“We did,” said Amaryllis. Her voice was near a whisper. She was still holding me tight. “I asked Valencia what you would think and she refused to say.” She paused. “I shouldn’t have asked her, obviously, but how you would feel about it didn’t enter my mind until after Pallida was touching me.”

“Ah,” I said. “Pallida likes you.”

“Yes,” said Amaryllis. She had gone tense.

“You can relax,” I said. I waited until she did. “If you don’t want to hug, then –”

“I do,” replied Amaryllis, squeezing me once. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” I asked.

She shook her head, which I felt rather than saw. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’m sorry if my other self complicated things. I’m sorry if it was me who made the mistake, not her.” She finally pulled back and disentangled herself from me. “I don’t want to lead you on. You’re not the person who should be giving me physical affection.” She was staring at me with her pale blue eyes.

I shrugged. “Maybe,” I said. “Do you think it should be Pallida?”

“No,” said Amaryllis. “She wants … well, she wants Dahlia. It’s an awkward and confusing mess for different reasons. I shouldn’t have led her on either.”

“How far did it go?” I asked, not really wanting to know the answer. It wasn’t a betrayal, obviously, I’d told Pallida that I wasn’t standing in her way. I still didn’t really want to hear it.

“She kissed me,” said Amaryllis. “On the neck. I pushed her away, and that was that, but she had this hunger in her eyes. Like you sometimes get.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “If it weren’t against my principles, I would edit that right out. We’re platonic friends, I get that, you don’t want me to complicate things, I understand it, that’s — I mean, you’re right, probably no more hugs.”

“It was nice,” said Amaryllis. “It’s nice to be touched. To cuddle.”

“You miss Fenn,” I said.

Amaryllis nodded.

“I do too,” I said. “With what I know about Spirit, I’m more convinced than ever that she’s gone, unless there’s some analog to the anima exa that sticks to the soul. If there’s not, then we only have a fraction of the real thing, and there’s no way to get her back, not even in principle, besides maybe letting her show up in the hells.”

“I never thought we’d be able to get her back,” said Amaryllis.

“No,” I said with a long sigh. “Me neither, not really.”

Amaryllis moved away from me and stood up, leaving me alone on her bed. She walked to one of her windows and took out the ribbon that was tying her hair back, then redid it. “I should get going. There’s work to do, as there always is.”

“You okay?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “I’m good. I was just thinking about you.” She was facing away from me, hiding her face. “Can I be blunt?”

“Of course,” I said. My mind went racing back to when we’d been in the bottle, and she had said that if I had wanted to have sex with her, she would have endured it. That still stung.

“I don’t love you,” she said, still looking out the window. “You’re my best friend, you’re physically pleasant to look at, and you’re usually the most powerful person in a given room, but I don’t love you. Every morning, I go into my soul and dial things down specifically so that I don’t love you. It made sense, when you were with Fenn, when I didn’t want to live with the distracting emotional pain of wanting you and not being able to have you. And now that she’s gone, and she’s been gone, a month for you, a month and a half for me, there’s the question of whether it would be a good thing or a bad thing, on balance, for me to let myself love you.”

I watched her. She was still standing facing the window, and still toying with her hair, but it was clear to me that it was just an excuse not to look at me. Maybe it was easier for her to be clinical that way.

“You made a pros and cons list?” I asked. I was feeling melancholy at the moment, but that didn’t stop me from being faintly amused by the idea.

“I’m making one, right now,” said Amaryllis as she looked out the window. “I don’t really want to share with you and Bethel until I have something worth presenting.”

“You said we’d make a horrible couple, when we talked about it back in the chamber,” I said. “Though I guess you also said that you were wrong, and that was horseshit.”

“I did say both those things,” said Amaryllis, “Is it too soon?” she asked.

“As far as Fenn goes?” I asked. I hesitated and tried to break that question down. Would it be a betrayal of Fenn’s memory, and the relationship I had shared with her? It would certainly feel like it, but that feeling seemed like it would belong in the class of stupid feelings that don’t really have a reason to exist. Would it be too soon for me though? Would Fenn pollute every thought I had and hang over me like a ghost? Would I wake up in the middle of the night and touch Amaryllis, thinking that it was Fenn until my waking mind caught up with my sleeping one, would I have intrusive thoughts about Fenn that clouded any new relationship, whether it was with Amaryllis or not? Probably. “I think I need more time,” I said. “Or I would need more time, if you thought it was more pro than con.”

“Okay,” said Amaryllis. She finally turned back to face me, and looked at me with piercing blue eyes. “Thank you for the hug. I’m sure my other self would have appreciated it.”

That felt like a dismissal to me, so I stood up and awkwardly walked out the door, muttering something about how I would see her later. When I left, Bethel was leaned up against the wall, waiting for me and smiling.

“Well that was interesting,” she said.

“Do you ever think about how one of the functions of a house is to provide privacy for its occupants?” I asked. “In your grand theory of houseness, is that at all a consideration?”

Bethel pressed a finger to her lips and pretended to think about that. “Not one bit,” she finally said. She was in her usual form, the tall woman with cedar-colored skin and an impossibly gauzy dress (in its current form, it looked like each of the thousand layers was as thin and translucent as a soap bubble). Her hair was somewhat different though: while it had always been braided and coiled like rope, now it was much explicitly closer to looking like Ropey. We hadn’t talked about the wedding, but it was going to happen soon.

“Is Grak in his room?” I asked.

“Why?” asked Bethel.

“I was going to pay him a visit,” I said. I began walking without waiting for a response.

“Yes, he’s in his room,” said Bethel.

I glanced over at her. “Can I ask a favor from you?” I asked.

“Can we talk about you and Amaryllis?” asked Bethel with a pleased smile. “That’s my price.”

“Sure,” I said. “My favor is that you redecorate Grak’s room. No more explicitly dwarf stuff, it’s too much of a reminder of his old home, which he’s got some bad feelings about.”

“Did you talk to him about it?” asked Bethel.

“No,” I said. “For all I know, he picked it out himself as a form of self-flagellation, but that would be all the more reason to change it. I’d rather he not know I asked, but it doesn’t need to be a big secret. I just think he’d be happier if he was living in a place that didn’t remind him of Darili Irid.”

“Done,” said Bethel. “And no, he didn’t ask for it to be like that. It offends his sensibilities?”

“It’s complicated,” I said. I kept walking. “Now go on, you can make whatever snide remarks you want to me.”

“You think so little of me?” asked Bethel with a little laugh that echoed through the enormous halls.

“I know you like getting your digs in,” I said. “I choose to take it as good-natured ribbing, and you should choose to take my complaining as being equally good-natured.”

Loyalty increased: Bethel lvl 11!

“Hrm, where to start then?” asked Bethel. She was floating along beside me, not bothering to animate her legs moving, though she did have her toes pointed down, as was traditional for ghosts. “You had quite the erection, for someone who was hugging a platonic friend who has about as much interest in your penis as she does in a jar of pickled onions.”

I laughed. “You know, I had forgotten how creepy you are? You’re also a pervert, but you knew that.”

“I’m a house,” replied Bethel with a sniff. “I can’t possibly be perverted, the concept simply doesn’t apply. I only mention these things because I enjoy your reaction.”

“That’s the perversion,” I said. “Next thing you’ll be telling me something like, I don’t know –”

“The taste of Raven’s cervix?” asked Bethel with a smile.

I stopped in my tracks and looked over at her. “Ew,” I finally said, before I started walking again.

“Was that a step too far?” asked Bethel.

“Yes,” I replied. “I really don’t like thinking of Raven like that.”

“Even though you had sex with her doppelganger?” asked Bethel.

“How did you know about that?” I asked. “My letters to Fenn?”

“I snooped, yes,” said Bethel. “I have access to everything inside the glove, so long as the glove is inside me.” She paused for a moment. “You wrote those letters with the understanding that I might read them, around when we first met.”

“I didn’t count on them staying private,” I said. “But I was still hoping they would. Just like I was hoping that Amaryllis and I could speak our thoughts without an audience, but I knew that it was possible, maybe even probable, that you were listening in.”

“Hrm,” said Bethel. “You think I should apologize for being invasive, where a Penndraig is concerned?”

“I didn’t say that,” I replied as I continued down the hallway. “I’m just talking about what I want. And really, I’m pretty simple. The thing I want most in the world is for my house to not keep track of the time, location, and presumed cause of all my erections.”

Bethel laughed at that. “If you’d give me a moment, I could probably construct a chart for you.”

“Please don’t,” I said. I kept putting one foot in front of the other. “This hallway is getting suspiciously long.”

“Ah, but I’ve so missed our chats,” said Bethel with a sigh.

I gave up on walking any further and looked at her. “Look, if you really want to talk about Amaryllis and me, we can. I don’t think I owe you that, necessarily, but you are, sadly, one of the few people that I can talk to without worrying about … well, all the stuff that I would have to worry about with the others.”

“I can’t say that I would care for a crop of little Penndraigs running around,” said Bethel. “But if someone is going to fuck her, better you than Pallida. Would you like to see how that interaction went?”

“Ah,” I said. “No. If Amaryllis was downplaying it, or even if she was lying, or massaging the truth, then I have to trust her to have her reasons.”

Loyalty increased: Bethel lvl 12!

“You restrain yourself so,” said Bethel with a moue. “It’s unbecoming.”

“And yet,” I replied.

“And yet what?” she asked, tilting her head.

“Nothing,” I said. “I really did want to see Grak though, so if this hallway could be a little less endless, I would appreciate it. If you’d like to needle me more later, I’ll be available.”

“You didn’t answer my question about the dwarf,” said Bethel. “You’re going to see him. Why?”

“I wanted to give him a hug,” I replied.

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Worth the Candle, Ch 135: Holding

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