If it were anyone else, I would have felt pretty safe in assuming that Amaryllis was flirting with me.
She was touching me more than normal, being closer, more familiar. She had said that she was trying her hardest to have our day on the beach be a happy day, and I didn’t know if she was doing all that consciously, in an effort to please me, or consciously, in an effort to please herself, or whether it was just something that she was doing because that’s how she thought she would act if she were more carefree. She wasn’t acting, not really, but she was making an effort, trying to be chipper, and it wasn’t poisoning the well in the way that it might have.
We played a game of chicken fight in the water, with Amaryllis on my shoulders and Valencia on Pallida’s. If you’ve never played, the goal of the game is to separate or knock over the other team, which is done with a combination of shoving and wrestling by the attackers, while the vehicles below attempt to maneuver and hold their attackers steady. Amaryllis had apparently found the game when doing her research, and thought that it would be fun, so after we’d done some swimming, and she explained the rules, we were ready to go.
So she climbed up onto my shoulders, and I held onto her legs, and I kept second guessing myself about whether this meant something or not. My brain was still struggling with seeing Amaryllis in a bikini, and added on top of that, she was on top of me. Carrying someone on my shoulders wasn’t exactly the most intimate of positions, but Amaryllis had deliberately put us on a team, and she wasn’t naive, she had to have known that such a thing, back in Kansas, would have been at least a little flirty.
Maybe I was worried about it, or overthinking it, because multi-threading allowed me to follow these trains of thought while some other part of my consciousness was fully invested in maneuvering Amaryllis. Or maybe it was because of all the crap with Bethel, and how I was feeling about it, the way that any hint of sex was drawing my mind in that direction so that I could relive and reanalyze it all over again.
After the third round of chicken fights, we had to stop, mostly because it was getting far too aggressive, more like a sparring match than a game. We hadn’t made a rule that Valencia couldn’t use her powers, but I was pretty sure that was what decided the third match, because she caught Amaryllis by the wrist and twisted so hard that Amaryllis yelped, which led to escalation with still magic, which likewise had been held back by unwritten rules. From there, we went on to other games.
When Amaryllis had said that she had activities planned, she hadn’t been kidding. She had pool noodles, super soakers, beachballs, snorkels, and toys, along with a few games for the beach, including corn hole. It was, frankly, more than I thought anyone would ever take to a day at the lake back in Kansas, but other than that, it was surprisingly authentic.
“I used the backpack to look through a Walmart catalog,” said Amaryllis. We had gone for another swim, which ended in a race, and left both of us sitting on the beach, catching our breath.
“I … wasn’t even aware they had a physical catalog,” I said.
“Well, not as such,” replied Amaryllis. “But they do have binders filled with PLUs and brief descriptions, and that was enough for me to comb through and find what I wanted. Plus I was able to get a lot of adverts that depicted what a typical summer was like, and that let me know what to bring. How’d I do?”
“Not all this stuff is from Walmart,” I said.
“Well, Walmart, Target, I looked at a few places,” Amaryllis replied. “All as close to your hometown as I could get. The brats are from Ash Creek Meats. I got a phonebook and looked up the businesses, which was enough to let me specify something that close.”
“Wow,” I said. “Stalker.”
Amaryllis smiled and gave me a playful swat. “I think that I’ve done a lot of very general research on America, but little that was specific to the American Midwest, and almost none that was hyperlocal, at least not in terms of microculture, which was a real oversight on my part. I got to kill two birds with one stone, which was nice.”
“Yeah,” I said. I looked out at the others playing in the sea.
“Well,” said Amaryllis. She was looking out at the water, same as me. “Either you’re not having fun because there were certain aspects I couldn’t change, like the grains of sand being too large, or the water being seawater instead of fresh water, or there’s something that’s been weighing you down. Usually you’re good at shrugging off the big picture things, no offense, and if there’s something personal, I don’t think I know what it is.”
“Eh,” I said. I didn’t want to talk about it, but if I was going to, now was the perfect opportunity. We were outside of Bethel, away from her constant surveillance. The longer I waited, the worse it would be, and it was pretty typical of how I worked that I would put hard things off for another time, but I had really been trying to be better about it. “Bethel kind of … got handsy with me.”
I hadn’t meant to use a euphemism, and I didn’t realize where I had picked up the expression from, not until it was out of my mouth. It was an expression that Fenn had struck through in her letter to me.
“I see,” said Amaryllis. “How so?” She had always been good at hiding how she felt, when she really wanted to. If I was just listening to the tone of her voice, I would have thought we were having a pleasant conversation about inconsequentialities.
“She propositioned me,” I said. “Back in Li’o, around when I first started classes. She said she wanted to help me with some sexual frustration, and I declined.” I was being overly clinical, I could feel that, but it made it easier to talk about. “Then she came back with that entad of Oberlin’s, and it gave her a physical body, which — I’d said part of the reason I wasn’t interested was that she wouldn’t really be able to feel anything, or get anything from it, so I guess she thought — well, anyway, she propositioned me a second time, and I said no, and she kissed me anyway, and I tried to push her off, but,” I really didn’t like talking about it, “I don’t know. I didn’t escalate to violence. She’s stronger than me, and I don’t think she would have hurt me, not in a permanent way,” or maybe I’m just saying that, “but I also thought she would have taken the second or third no as my answer, so.”
So, we had sex, and I pretended that I was fine with it, and I’ve been stepping on eggshells and edited my spirit, and I’ve been feeling like shit about it, and that’s why I’m not as happy as I should be about you trying to make this themed beach outing a success, and it’s why seeing you in a bikini is making me a little bit anxious instead of just horny, not that you would want that, unless for some reason you do.
“Alright,” said Amaryllis. She still sounded completely normal, but I heard a sound and looked down to see her hands, which were gripping the sand. Her knuckles were white.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I just, I don’t want this to change things between us, I know that’s dumb to say, but I really care about you, and if you think less of me, then I –”
“When was this?” asked Amaryllis.
“Three days ago,” I replied.
“How do you feel about her now?” asked Amaryllis.
“Afraid, mostly,” I said. “Hurt, confused, sick. Ashamed. I’m worried she’ll … I don’t know.”
Amaryllis was staring out at the sea. “When I’m finished with her there won’t be a piece bigger than a splinter.”
“Thank you,” I said. It was strange how much I found warmth in the cold violence. “I was worried that you would think …” I didn’t have a way to finish the sentence. None of my worst thoughts had seemed all that realistic, even as I was thinking them. “We can’t actually destroy her.”
“Like hell we can’t,” said Amaryllis. Her hands were still clutching the small rocks. “I’ve had plans in place for killing her since we first met her.”
“I,” the word caught, “I don’t think she understands. I don’t think that she even knows how I feel about it.” I hadn’t really been prepared for this. I felt relieved that she didn’t blame me, but —
“And if you tell her, so what?” asked Amaryllis. “You think that’s going to solve anything? You think that she’s going to agree, to understand that she hurt you? You think that this is going to help her grow and change as a person? Even if it did, Christ Juniper, she broke trust, and you’ve been miserable for the last three days, I can only imagine, are you — do you think that you can keep living inside of her, knowing how much she can see, knowing that she might break trust again just because she likes to pull our strings?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Shit,” said Amaryllis. She pulled back slightly and allowed her furrowed brow to relax. “I’m doing this wrong, I’m not — Juniper, I love you and care about you, and I want to support you in whatever way helps you get through this. Let’s get that clear, before anything else. I’m in your corner.”
“I know,” I said, but it still felt good to hear.
“Good,” she replied. “I don’t want you to forget that.” She let out a breath. “You feel responsible, I understand that. But it’s on her, not on you.”
“It’s a little bit on me,” I said. I could see the places where I was soft when I should have been firm, where I might have led her on, the way my no had been a weak one, the fact that there were pros and cons, not just cons. I should have been stronger.
“You said no,” replied Amaryllis. “She didn’t listen. So far as I’m concerned, that’s where the conversation on culpability ends.”
“That’s a hard line,” I said.
Amaryllis nodded. “I don’t think that we should be talking about criminal justice right now. How are you doing?”
“I’ve always hated that question,” I replied. “I got asked that a lot, after Arthur died.”
“Sorry,” said Amaryllis. “I just … I care about you. You’re my best friend. I thought that today was going to lift your spirits, and I didn’t realize that it wasn’t just malaise.”
“Sorry,” I said.
“Don’t be sorry,” said Amaryllis. “It’s not your fault.” She paused. “Do you also hate when people ask you if there’s anything they can do?”
“A bit,” I admitted. “Only because there’s so rarely anything that they can do.”
“You’ll let me know?” asked Amaryllis.
“Can you … just lay with me for a bit?” I asked. I felt embarrassed asking. “I don’t want to talk, I just want to feel, I don’t know, like someone is there for me.”
“Okay,” nodded Amaryllis, answering with no hesitation.
I laid down on the hard sand, moving slowly, and realized only after that this was how it had happened with Bethel. I’d been on my back, pushed there by her, and the memory of it came flooding back. But then Amaryllis lay next to me, and I was able to push the feeling away. Her skin was still slightly wet from the sea, as was mine, and I tasted salt in the air. Amaryllis felt soft and warm, and I did my best to relax into her being there.
“Like this?” asked Amaryllis. She wrapped her arm around me, so that she was holding me close, and I had my arm around her.
“Yeah,” I said.
The brain was a connection machine, linking memories, sensations, and thoughts together, and when something big and important happened, or something that it thought was big and important, it made a bunch of links, strong ones, all at once. It was something that I was struggling with, the way that certain small things brought vivid memories back to me, little incidental things, minor notes that had been threaded into this big tangled mass of what being with Bethel had been like. When Amaryllis laid with me, there was some of that, a sympathy between events that shouldn’t have existed, not if the brain had been doing its proper job, but I had some experience with coping by this point, with trying to teach my brain that no, not everything was about Arthur, not everything was about Fenn, and now, here, not everything was about a single, unwanted night with Bethel.
So after a minute or two, I was able to relax a little more than I had been, and I let the warmth of the sun dry me out while the warmth of Amaryllis soothed me.
“We’re going to have to tell the others,” said Amaryllis, after a long time had passed.
I let out a long, slow breath. “Yeah.”
“I mean, they can see us laying together on the beach,” said Amaryllis. “That alone will probably raise some questions.”
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s … embarrassing.”
“Well,” she said. “If any of them give you less than their full, unadulterated support, I’ll deal with them, okay?” Her head was resting against my chest, and I could feel the movement of her mouth when she spoke.
“I was most worried about you,” I said. “I thought … Bethel is important. Without her, without the time chamber … I never thought we should destroy her, but I did think things might get dicey, and it might jeopardize, you know.” Your dreams. The Republic of Miunun. The future that Cypress had built.
“Those are problems we’ll have to deal with,” said Amaryllis. “They’re not inconsequential.” She was still for a little bit, trying to find words. “Sometimes what’s dictated by strict utility and what you want in your heart of hearts aren’t always in alignment. It’s a relief when you don’t have to make that trade-off. I want to keep you as far away from Bethel as possible, to keep you safe, to help you work things out, and I’m very thankful that we live in a world where that’s possible, where you wouldn’t be forced to –” she stopped, as her brain caught up with her mouth.
“Endure it?” I asked.
“That was what I was going to say, yes,” said Amaryllis. “But you don’t. There’s nothing that requires it, nothing that even suggests to me that it would be a good idea.”
“I don’t want to kill her,” I said.
“I know,” replied Amaryllis. “Is it okay if I get up?”
“Sure,” I replied. When she moved, it felt cold where she had been.
“Are you ready to talk about next steps?” asked Amaryllis. “Because I know you don’t want to, but if we’re taking action, which I think we are, now is the best time. The tuung are cleared out and in their secondary school, so she can’t use them as leverage. There aren’t people inside her to hurt. Even the bottle is outside her now.”
“I need to tell the others,” I said with a sigh. “I can’t just unilaterally decide.”
“You can,” said Amaryllis. “That’s in your power now.”
“Okay,” I said. “But I would rather get some perspective.” I took a breath and tried to clear my mind, then sat up. The others were still in the water, but I could tell from the way they kept looking over that they were wondering what was going on. I really didn’t want to do this, and I could feel myself shirking back from it.
Amaryllis stood up and waved them over.
“What’s up?” asked Pallida. She had come bounding through the water, splashing noisily to reach us. “I kept asking Valencia, but she refused to tell us.”
“Because I didn’t know,” said Valencia, still making her way forward. She sounded irritated. “I promised that I wouldn’t look at Juniper with a devil’s insight.” She was looking me over though, as though she might still be able to figure it out with her unenhanced mind.
“Is something wrong?” asked Raven. “Should we get battle-ready?”
“Juniper, do you want me to say?” asked Amaryllis. “If you’re uncomfortable –”
“I’d like that, yeah,” I said. It felt like a weight was lifted off my chest. Amaryllis would find the words, and all I would have to do was sit there.
Grak and Solace were the last to arrive, with him carrying her on his shoulders, and he set her down gently on the sand. Rather than standing next to him, she went to go look at the bottle while the rest of us gathered, close enough to hear, but not really a part of the conversation.
“Alright,” said Amaryllis. “Three days ago, Bethel –” she glanced at me, “Forced sex on Juniper. He’s been having some trouble dealing with it, and so far as I’m concerned, she’s crossed a line that demands an immediate and overwhelming response on our part.”
“You’re talking about a war against the house,” said Raven. If she had any personal reaction, she was choosing to focus on the practical instead. Most likely that was a habit she’d learned with Uther.
“Can she hear us right now?” asked Pallida.
“The question is probabilistic,” said Grak. He was looking at me and giving a concerned frown. His words came out like it was a distraction he was trying to deal with, rather than the meat of it. “I ran a test when we got here and found no entad effects save those that were expected. That does not mean she couldn’t have means I wouldn’t be able to detect. Pinhole portals could be anywhere. Long distance viewing would also be undetectable, though the shimmer ward would stop her unless the apparatus were within the ward. There are also more exotic detection methods that might let her discern wards. She would have to have captured an entad for it, then kept it secret from us. How likely is that?”
“Unknown,” said Amaryllis. “She’s definitely hidden capabilities from us before. She had a lot of entads in her during the evacuation, and she might have taken any of them, though I don’t believe we had any entad thefts reported.”
“So she could be listening in on this conversation,” said Pallida. “She could essentially be standing in the room with us.” She looked up at the sky. “I’m not a part of this!” she called. “I agreed to nothing!”
“If you’re not going to be with us, stand to the side,” said Amaryllis.
“I want to hear what you’re planning,” said Pallida. “I’m just saying that I’m not making commitments, not when we’re talking about the house that’s killed a few hundred people for fun and once told me that I had a nice tasting pancreas. She’s monstrously strong.” She gave me a belated guilty look. “Sorry.”
“We’re not planning on going head to head,” said Amaryllis. “Grak, you can ward against her?”
“It’s complicated,” said Grak. “I have said as much in the past.”
“She’ll see any ward against her as an act of aggression,” said Valencia. “She escalates, by her nature.” I’d seen a reaction from her to the news of what happened, and uneasiness, but Valencia had routinely had her body taken over by infernals for the vast majority of her life, and I didn’t know how much sympathy she would have for me.
“Can I request a devil?” asked Amaryllis.
“It’s going to be hard for me, knowing what I know, to doublethink around Juniper,” said Valencia. “I would rather not have to try. It was already hard not to pick up anything, before. I knew that something was wrong, really wrong, I just …” she squeezed her fists. “I didn’t want to betray trust.”
Amaryllis bit her lip. “I understand,” she said.
“It’s okay,” I said. “Maybe you could, I don’t know. Hit me with the full blast, just this once. No therapy though, not yet. Understanding, not alteration.”
Valencia’s eyes widened slightly, then she gave me a quick little nod. There was no visible change in her expression or demeanor when she ate the devil, not that I thought there would be, not unless she wanted there to be.
“Okay,” said Valencia, letting out a breath. “Juniper, I could get a little bit more if we talked privately about what, exactly, happened, because I can’t fully reconstruct the circumstances just from what’s been said and from your body language alone, especially because — I’m sorry, I have to tell the others.”
“I made some minor alterations to my spirit,” I said, before Valencia could. “Mostly so that I wouldn’t have such a strong reaction around Bethel, so she would keep thinking that … that it wasn’t as bad as I found it to be.”
“Juniper,” said Amaryllis, communicating through tone alone that she wished that I had been more forthright, that I had leaned on her more right from the start, that she felt betrayed by it, and saddened.
“He just toned things down,” said Valencia. “He didn’t remove any feelings. I doubt that he would have told you what had happened if he had done a full alteration. Most likely he wouldn’t have said anything if he hadn’t done any alteration at all.”
“I was worried about her reaction,” I said. “Valencia, we can talk now?”
“Yes,” she nodded. “I think that would be best for everyone. Mary, you can talk with the others about next steps? A plan for how we would remove her as a threat, if we decide it’s come to that?”
Amaryllis gave a nod, and Valencia walked over to me, slipping her arm into mine and then guiding me across the beach with her, away from the others.
“I don’t really want to talk about it,” I said. “It’s embarrassing.”
“I know,” said Valencia. “But if you want my help in resolving this in the way that’s best for you, I need to know more. I can operate on body language and implication, but it makes everything more difficult. I understand that you don’t completely trust me, and that I haven’t done enough to regain your full faith, but if I talk to Amaryllis about what you said, I have to filter through too many people. I don’t want room for error, and I know you don’t want that either.”
I was fully aware that she was using a devil to argue against me, and that applied even if she was attempting to ignore the full breadth of what her enhanced social abilities were telling her to say. I imagined that it was like having a solver open while you were playing Scrabble, one telling you all the best words you could make. Even if you resolved to ignore it, it would still show you things that couldn’t be unseen, lines of play you couldn’t be sure you wouldn’t have chosen on your own.
I tried not to care.
I explained everything, reliving it again. It took a surprising amount of time, because I had to go back and explain everything leading up to it, all the minor consent violations that had preceded it, my complicated feelings toward Bethel, the ways I imagined us to be aligned and misaligned. Valencia was patient and asked simple questions with easy answers, having me clarify things for her where it was necessary. She had a pleasant demeanor, understanding and without any judgment.
“I’m pretty sure I’m overreacting,” I said. “She wasn’t … I’m pretty sure that for her, it wasn’t actually, you know.”
“Rape,” said Valencia.
“Yeah,” I said, letting out a breath. “I’m not even sure that’s what I would call it.” I hadn’t, thus far. I’d kept the word out of my own head.
“You would call it that, if it were someone else,” said Valencia. “The word has baggage that makes it harder for you to deal with it, not easier, so we can refrain from that word if you’d like. It’s my belief that applying a particular word isn’t all that helpful, because we’re not trying to place this incident in a class of other incidents, we’re trying to deal with it in isolation. The semantic arguments that I know you’re tempted to make aren’t actually important or helpful. But if you were looking at a situation that had happened to someone else, especially a woman, you would call it rape. I think we need to be clear on that, just so that you won’t be in such a mindset of denial.”
“Okay,” I said. I didn’t like that little bit she’d thrown in there, about how I would have looked on the situation differently if the genders were flipped, but she was probably right that this was how I saw the world, even if that was just baked-in Midwestern values, not what I would say if I had a moment of deliberation. “Was that enough?”
“Yes,” said Valencia. “More than enough. It was easier to talk about it the second time, wasn’t it?”
“It was,” I said. “Was that … aversion therapy?”
“I don’t know the term,” said Valencia. “But generally it helps people to talk about things in a safe, secure environment with someone who loves them and who won’t judge them in any way. I hope you don’t see that as manipulation.”
“No,” I said. “I think it was helpful.” If the brain was a bundle of connections, then thinking about what happened could either build those connections up or tear them down. Maybe I was a bit muddled on what therapy was and wasn’t, but what I’d really been fearing was that Valencia would say the perfect words to manipulate me into a different state without me knowing it. Maybe it was therapeutic to talk to her, to hear her soft, gentle, understanding voice, but if that was therapy, then I couldn’t fault her for it.
“When I explain things to the others, it will only be about Bethel, not about you,” said Valencia. “But I might say some things that won’t make it easier for you. Would you prefer to stay here while I talk to them?”
“No,” I said. That was barely even a question. “I think I’m doing well.”
“More denial,” said Valencia with a sad sigh. “But I would accept that you’re doing better than you were a few hours ago.”
We walked back to rejoin the others, and once again, Valencia slipped her arm into mine as we walked. I found it far more comforting than I thought I would, but if it was manipulation, or a calculated action with infernal help, I found that I didn’t care too much. Valencia was there for me too. There wasn’t even a whiff of comparison from her, about how she had been literally possessed for most of her life, deprived of any autonomy for even the smallest thing.
“We’ve been talking,” said Amaryllis. She was looking me over, but not asking questions. “Grak thinks that he can accomplish the ward, but there are risks involved in trapping her, and it’s more complicated than it would seem.”
“A ward against a single entad is easy,” said Grak. “But she’s not just a single entad. She takes on the signatures of the entads that she ingests or uses. I would need to ward against all entads, but I do not have all signatures. She may also be holding entads in reserve. Further, size is an issue. And she is a warder.”
“It’s a bad idea anyway,” said Valencia. “I only said that you should think about it so that you would have something to discuss that wouldn’t lead to a conflict.”
“A conflict?” asked Amaryllis with a frown.
“There are differing views on the personal matter which might have led down a bad path,” said Valencia. “If we’re going to have to have that discussion, then I want myself and Juniper to be a part of it, but I don’t think that we want that discussion.”
“What discussion?” I asked. Even the veiled way she was talking was leaving me on edge.
“I think I get what she’s talking about,” said Pallida. “I’m thirty thousand years old, I’ve got my own opinions on things, but I’m fine deferring to the morals and ideas of the moment. And frankly, the house scares the shit out of me anyway.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Hey, look, I’ve got sympathy,” said Pallida. “But –”
“You making your case isn’t going to have good results,” said Valencia.
“Fine,” said Pallida. She shrugged. “Not really a hill that I would want to die on anyway, just had some personal experiences, that was all.”
Pallida had been alive for roughly thirty thousand years, across thousands of lifetimes. She had pretty clearly seen and done some shit, in all kinds of different cultures, among all kinds of species. What, exactly, she thought on the matter of what had happened between Bethel and myself was left up to my imagination, but we continued on before I could imagine the worst.
“So if you don’t suggest that we trap her, or kill her, what do you suggest?” asked Amaryllis.
“We talk to her,” said Valencia. “We engineer a situation in which someone, preferably not Juniper, can communicate clearly and fully with her, to explain to her what she’s done, and to get her to change. It needs to be done in such a way that she can’t simply lash out, but I also think that it needs to be approached in such a way that she doesn’t feel ambushed, conspired against, threatened, or attacked.”
“And how do you suggest that happens?” I asked. “How am I going to go up to her and tell her that she did something wrong in a way that doesn’t make her flip out?”
“Let me handle it,” said Valencia.
“Val, she could kill you,” I said. “And we know that you’re not as good against her, she’s not mortal, and she only shows what she wants to show.”
“I’m aware,” said Valencia. “But so far as I can see, I’m the best candidate. She can’t heal me if she hurts me, and I won’t wind up in the hells.”
“Is that a realistic possibility for someone else?” asked Raven.
“Yes,” said Valencia. Her answer was simple and to the point. “Again, it’s vitally important that we manage how we approach this, unless you really do plan to kill her outright.”
“I don’t,” I said, before anyone else could say anything.
“And I don’t think that it’s good or fair for Juniper to be in a position where he has to defend his assaulter, so that will be the last word on that,” said Valencia. “He’s emotionally compromised right now, but even if he weren’t, that would be what he would decide on. Trust me on that.”
“Fine,” said Amaryllis, crossing her arms. “Then what’s the plan you would pick, if it were entirely up to you?”
“I would approach her alone,” said Valencia. “I would explain how things had happened, from Juniper’s perspective, and in such a way that she would be most likely to understand the implications, with a goal of getting her to acknowledge wrongdoing and culpability, both of which are probably sticking points at the moment.”
“And then what?” asked Amaryllis. She still had her arms folded.
“Juniper and Bethel need to be separated,” said Valencia. “I don’t think there’s any way around that. I’m fairly confident that if she doesn’t kill me, I’ll be able to convince her to relocate. From there, we can keep a line of communication open through a number of means, the easiest being Finch’s half of the sending slate.”
“You think that she’ll handle being put into exile?” asked Amaryllis.
“She will if I frame it right,” said Valencia. “It’s going to be complicated, but I think I’m the only one who would be capable of doing it.” She was firm and resolute, undercut only slightly by the fact that she was a short girl in a red bikini.
“You shouldn’t have to risk your life for me,” I replied. “I should be the one to handle it.”
“I don’t have to risk my life for you,” said Valencia. “I choose to risk my life because it’s my life to do with as I please. If it could be me or someone else, I would still volunteer. That there’s no other option only simplifies things.”
“I’m worried about you,” said Grak.
“Worry won’t help,” said Amaryllis. “We’re going to erect a ward against Bethel, as firm and secure as we can, and then be ready to teleport out of here at the first sign of things going south.”