Worth the Candle, Ch 95: Time Enough

When I’d come into the time chamber, I’d have been hard-pressed to notice that Amaryllis was pregnant. Toward the end, she was definitely showing, her belly enlarged and breasts a bit bigger (look, that’s just the truth, I’m not going to apologize for noticing). If she hadn’t been so fit, I might have mistaken it for weight gain, but her arms were still as toned as ever.

She exercised as part of daily maintenance, usually with weights, though she’d also rigged up a climbing wall that she could put into place and anchor, with some help from me. The room was only ten feet tall and twenty feet wide, so her rock-climbing was mostly just back and forth across the same stretch using the handholds she’d put in place, with a mat beneath her to catch her if she fell (though she never did). She called it ‘bouldering’, and after she’d made the alteration to her soul, she had me try it with her. I was only about half as good as she was.

“Three days left,” said Amaryllis as she watched me move. “No offense, but I’m going to be happy to have some fresh blood in here.”

“No offense taken,” I said. It had been smooth sailing, for the most part, but there were still little places where we got on each other’s nerves, and the soul-meddling stuff was simmering in the background. I still thought she was wrong, but I was doing my best to respect her choice. She still thought that I should reciprocate and carve any non-platonic thoughts towards her from my very soul, but she refrained from actually saying it. Aside from that, there were little annoyances, the kinds of tiny things that I guess crop up if you live with someone for long enough. Amaryllis had some bad habits, like getting infected with the need to get something done, and then expecting me to be as gung ho about it as she was. I had a few bad habits of my own, like putting off my share of chores until the last minute (though I want to point out that I did still do them, as I’d promised I would).

Amaryllis ‘forgot’ to use the privacy curtain a few times when taking her sponge bath, or when changing clothes. I never said anything about it, but I did wonder whether she was trying to send me a message, like it was her way of saying ‘hey, this wouldn’t be a problem if you just did the thing that I want you to do’. Maybe I was being uncharitable in thinking that she did it on purpose, but I hadn’t known her as someone to make careless mistakes. It wasn’t really much of a problem though, aside from the distraction of it. She was still pretty, despite the pregnancy, but her newfound total indifference to me made her less viscerally compelling.

“We should talk about the house,” said Amaryllis. She lifted herself up onto the wall, carefully selecting her handholds and footholds. She was setting a route for me to follow, marking the specific holds I’d be allowed to use with colored tape. She’d taken a liking to Earth clothing of late, especially for physical activity. For bouldering, she wore a sports bra, a tank top, form-fitting shorts, and climbing shoes with rubber soles. The material for the shorts, in particular, was a spandex/polyester that wasn’t yet invented on Aerb.

“I’ve been assuming that we’re under surveillance, contrary to her assurances that we’re moving too fast to make sense of,” I said. We’d revealed some things, if that were the case, but nothing that we’d be totally sunk by if she found out.

Amaryllis was silent for a moment. “Grak had some misgivings about what happened with Fallatehr.”

“He liked being brainwashed,” I said.

“He liked having a purity of purpose and a sense of belonging, yes,” said Amaryllis. “But that wasn’t really what he had misgivings about. He thought that we jettisoned any chance of a successful working relationship with him through aggressive mistrust.” She grunted as she made a long reach, going to full extension of one slender leg for just a moment. The only way that I’d be able to follow her route was going to be with my superior reach.

“If we’d trusted him, he would have had us all for soul-slaves,” I said.

“Perhaps,” said Amaryllis. “The argument,” she grunted again, adding in a little bit of lunge that saw her without any handholds for a fraction of a second, “Is that whatever chance there was for a fruitful partnership between us, we acted in such a way that it could never happen.” She glanced at the handholds. “And at the end of it, we suffered some enormous expenses to kill one of the most proficient soul mages in the entire world. Given that he was in prison when we found him, it really wasn’t worth it.”

“And the thinking goes that perhaps we should exercise a little more faith this time?” I asked.

“There are differences,” said Amaryllis. “Many differences, in fact, enough that I’m not sure the comparison is worthwhile, but that’s Grak’s thinking, or it was when he left the chamber. I suppose for him, that was half an hour ago.”

“And you?” I asked.

“She hasn’t killed us,” said Amaryllis. “She offered us aid. She has a number of incentives to kill us and take everything that we own, and apparently, the power to do so. She dislikes me personally, but I can live with that. So long as she likes the rest of you well enough, I think that we should treat her as a companion.”

“Still scenario zero,” I said.

“Disappointing, but not definitive either way,” said Amaryllis. “It would be nice to have some confirmation.” She glanced back toward me.

“I’ll try working on her once we get out,” I said. “Sorry, when I get out.” I cringed at that. At most, Amaryllis would spend an hour or two outside the chamber before going back in, but probably less.

“I don’t think she’ll respond well to insincere attempts at friendship,” said Amaryllis.

“So they have to be sincere,” I said. “Which … might be a problem.”

“You like damaged girls. This house is close enough,” Amaryllis replied.

“I don’t think that I would characterize myself as being into damaged girls,” I said.

“Sorry, damaged women,” said Amaryllis.

“That’s not the correction I was going to make,” I replied with a roll of my eyes.

“There’s a reason it’s a running theme in your companions,” said Amaryllis. “Do you need me to go down the list of tragic backstories? My father, dead when I was two, my mother, killed when I was ten, Fenn, born to a severely broken home and detested by most of the common folk, not to mention the elves, Grak an exile from his home, fleeing an arranged marriage — and I agree fully with Fenn’s word for Valencia. ‘Joonbait’. It’s very appropriate. I won’t judge you for having an instinct to protect those who have been hurt — in some sense it’s noble — but you shouldn’t deny it when it’s plain for anyone to see.”

“But it’s not like, ‘oh, she’s damaged, how hot,’ it’s a white knight thing,” I replied. “And the house … suffered some traumas of its own, sure, but I don’t think that’s the path toward a sincere friendship.” I paused slightly, watching her judge her next foothold. “If I can connect with her at all, it’s not on a healthy level.”

Amaryllis stopped where she was. “What was it you said about wanting to hurt people?”

“Just,” I said, then stopped. “It didn’t resonate with her anyway. She read sincerity as insincere. And I’d really rather not dredge up my emo side.” I wasn’t sure that ‘emo’ would parse for Amaryllis, but she had a lot more Earth knowledge than she’d had before getting into the time chamber.

“I regret that I didn’t get it on tape,” said Amaryllis. She began moving again, and finally reached the edge of the wall, where she hung for a brief moment before dropping to her feet. When she turned to me, I could see a thin sheen of sweat on her face. “If you don’t think it’s a good way to relate, I trust your instincts.”

“That’s generous of you,” I said. “I’m not sure that I would go so far, in your place. I’ll do my best though.” I paused slightly. “You really want to stay here? Long-term, I mean.”

“I have my own misgivings about how it went with Fallatehr,” said Amaryllis. “He would have been a valuable ally, if we could have worked our issues out with him somehow, and I think the paranoia soured proceedings early on. That was partly my fault. He didn’t help himself, and maybe there was no solution, but … it would be nice to resolve things without having to murder someone.” She let out a long breath. “I don’t think we should betray her, whatever it is you might be planning.”

“I have no concrete plans,” I replied. The only minor betrayal was in pretending that Ropey was something that it wasn’t. “Did Grak talk to you about the house? Or about anything that I might find to be of interest?”

“There’s a secure channel,” said Amaryllis with a nod. “According to him, the interior space of the glove should be beyond the sight of Kuum Doona, even beyond the simple problem of how fast we might be moving in contrast to her. We can use it, though I have to caution that by itself it could be construed as betrayal, if she can see us use it. Grak and I used it very sparingly.”

“Okay,” I said slowly. “But the problem there is that I can’t go join something inside the glove, they’re all held in their own places, it would have to transition into the real world for a moment.” I thought about that for a second while Amaryllis looked at me expectantly. She already knew the answer, naturally. “Either he’d encrypt using a key known to both of us but not Zona, or write it down and then hide it using some method that wouldn’t allow her to look at it, but that would be hard given her unknown surveillance abilities. I don’t know him well enough to know which he’d use. Maybe the name of the place we first met? That’s what I would use.” I resisted saying it out loud. As a code phrase, ‘The Impish Inn’ had a few problems, notably the fact that you could do it with or without spaces, with varying capitals, and either leaving out or keeping in the initial article. Some of that could be assumed from the message itself though.

“The glove can fit two people at once, if they hug tightly and don’t let go,” said Amaryllis. “Good ideas though.”

“Huh,” I said. “That’s a little disappointing.” I paused slightly. “Is there a reason that you waited until now to bring this up?” We’d talked some about the house, but it was more along the lines of the story it had told and the things it could do.

“I wanted it fresh in your mind when you left,” said Amaryllis. “You’ll be coming out after a month away, and I thought the most salient conversations should take place toward the end of your time here, so you’d be prepared for the world outside.”

“Ah,” I said.

“Let me sponge down and get some of this sweat off, then we can get into the glove to have some privacy,” said Amaryllis.

I’d never really liked being in the black void of Sable, which wasn’t too surprising, given that it was a black void with absolutely nothing of interest in it that I didn’t carry in. Being in the void with Amaryllis wrapped in a tight hug was a bit better, but the breathing tanks that we wore weren’t the most comfortable thing in the world, and as a workaround for the fact that there was no air, we were sharing an inflatable bag around our heads. If they ever made a movie about us (and why wouldn’t they, when we had a monopoly on movie-making?) I was pretty sure that there were going to have to be sacrifices for the sake of having a good visual. The bag leaked, but it didn’t need to be airtight.

“What are you planning with the rope?” asked Amaryllis.

“It’s loyal to us, hard-working, and doesn’t complain,” I said. “If she eats it, some of its good attributes might transfer over. I don’t want her to eat it, because Ropey is an honorary member of the party and has saved my life a few times now.” I paused as I thought about that. “I don’t know how she would react to knowing that he’s a sentient entad, but the only scenario I really like is that they have a bond and become friends. If she wants to eat him, I worry it will override her desire for answers and amenability as a host. If she doesn’t, then there’s a good chance that she’s worried about taking on his attributes, which means that we should feed him to her.” I paused again. “You know that he would, right, if it was to save us?”

“You’re closer to the rope than I am,” said Amaryllis.

“We don’t talk much,” I said. “I’m not sure that he’s much smarter than a toddler, honestly, though I guess I haven’t tested his intelligence. But he’s had my back, without complaints or commentary.”

“Grak wanted me to speak to you here,” said Amaryllis. “He was against any plan that involved betrayal, unless there’s some concrete cause for it, some overt hostility beyond anything the house has done thus far. He said that if she looks at the Eternal Golden Braid with warder’s sight, she’ll be able to tell that it’s animate, but little beyond that. As a cover, you can demonstrate that it is effectively prehensile when held, which should comport with how she’s seen it behave. The lie will appear on paper when we catalog the entads for her, if we choose to lie, so hopefully it doesn’t come to outright demonstration.”

“Alright,” I said. “Grak’s leaving it at my discretion?”

“So long as he’s not pressed too hard,” said Amaryllis.

“What the fuck does that mean?” I asked.

“He believes that being honest and forthright with the house is the path we should pursue,” said Amaryllis. “I mostly agree with him, it’s just a matter of degree. I’m not sure how we would fight the house, and manipulating it seems difficult. We can lie, but lying is difficult, especially since all the lies would need to be coordinated, and this is the only way to coordinate them.”

“Okay,” I said. “But if we don’t lie, I still want to protect the rope.”

“Understood,” said Amaryllis. She released me from the hug and pulled away from me, which brought us both out into the time chamber again.

I’m glossing over some things. A lot of my month in the time chamber was spent training, though not terribly much came of it. By judiciously shifting my ‘floating’ points around, I was able to temporarily raise the caps on a few of my social skills, which allowed me to at least see their virtues.

Silver Tongue: Reduces the penalty for insincere flattery by twenty-five percent. When flattering in a language you are not fluent in, your penalty is halved. When flattering a group, the Forer effect is doubled.

Class Clown: You may increase the speed of your wit at the expense of its comedic efficiency, up to double your base wit and half your base comedic efficiency. Take half as much damage from physical humor, so long as it’s actually funny.

Lesser Deceiver: You will no longer forget the details of a lie, unless you wish to. Take half the usual self-consistency penalty when telling improvised lies.

Shifting Sands: Removes the penalty for reframing facts and figures in the middle of a debate, so long as all raw information was memorized beforehand.

Balanced Armor: Your medium armor counts as heavy armor for obtaining the benefits of Heavy Armor virtues or bonuses, and light armor for obtaining the benefits of Light Armor virtues or bonuses. Afflictions and maluses are unaffected. It may count as light armor, medium armor, and heavy armor at the same time.

Flow State: Allows you to enter into an analytical flow state, which temporarily doubles working memory with respect to the subject of analysis, halves the penalties for thirst, hunger, and exhaustion, and increases the chance of a Brilliant Insight by five percent per hour (compounding).

Flow State came from Analysis 20. It was a purely MEN skill, which meant that I was going to be able to keep it; the others were from moving points into social abilities, which I wasn’t planning to do in the long term, especially given how weak most of the level 10 virtues were (and the way the abilities and numbers worked out, I could either keep Lying or Flattery at 10, but not both). I’d seen a total of seventeen level 10 virtues so far, and that was something of a running theme with them, things that were nice enough, but not so spectacular that I’d find them worth mentioning.

We didn’t have any heavy armor for me to level up Heavy Armor, and the backpack didn’t seem up to producing any, even if we tried to get it piecemeal, since some of the pieces were too big. I leveled the skills I’d lost in the Sacrifice back up, and then Medium Armor as well, until I’d hit the caps with everything and regained all my lost virtues. So that was fun, if your idea of fun is a series of rather mind-numbing exercises as you attempt to make numbers go higher (and without much in the way of feedback to tell you that you’re actually doing the right exercises).

We watched movies, a strange mix of my favorites, the AFI’s Top 100, historically well-performing movies, and the occasional bit of ‘cultural research’ selected by Amaryllis, which included a highly suspect number of romantic comedies (more for the emotional simplicity of them than girliness, I thought). I read books, mostly from Aerb, but a few from Earth, including a number of technical books that Amaryllis wanted me to read so I could offer her a second opinion or help to brainstorm. We listened to a wide range of music, mostly on a record player, and mostly from before I was born. Amaryllis held a particular love for a group called The Mamas and the Papas, for no clearly identifiable reason.

I missed Fenn. I found myself talking to her in my head sometimes, when I was trying to work through something. When we watched movies, I wished that she were on the couch between us, watching along and making jokes. I ended up writing her about twenty letters, most of them pretty long, if not really filled with much of consequence. I put a number on each of the letters, corresponding to the day that I’d written them, so that she could open them through her month in the chamber and get some semblance of me keeping her company. Toward the end of the month, when there was less for me to do in the way of training, I embellished the letters with little sketches.

I was hoping that she would reciprocate and send me letters back, since the provisional schedule that Amaryllis had worked out meant that we’d both get two four-week periods. We called them months, but there were going to be ten of them, ten periods of four weeks each, rather than nine months. With all my skills as high as they would go, I was sort of dreading my second month, since I’d have even less to do. In theory, I’d be coming back in right at the beginning of her third trimester, which would mean that Amaryllis would be needing more help, but not so much that it would fully occupy my time.

I was tempted to request a run into town while the others were taking their turn, just to get some more books and other entertainment, but that wasn’t really the issue, since the backpack could provide whatever we wanted. The real issue was that it was a small room with lots to do but not a lot of space to do it in, and for company, the same person every single day. I knew all her habits by now, all of the ways she moved, her walk, her voice, her laughs, smiles, pensive frowns, aggrieved sighs … and I was bored.

I could tell she felt the same way.

The time chamber was controlled by a simple lever near the doors, which Amaryllis kept everything clear of at all times. I eyed the lever occasionally, thinking about how easy it would be to opt out if I really couldn’t take it. Toward the end, I looked at it with a sense of longing. When the final day came, it was more a sense of trepidation. I hadn’t seen Fenn or Grak in a month, and I wasn’t sure whether I would simply be able to slot back into the group dynamic. I was also thinking about how I would explain things to Fenn, if I would have time to, or whether I should just assure her that nothing had happened between Amaryllis and I. Since Fenn was up next, maybe I’d just leave it to Amaryllis to explain things.

In point of fact though, this was only a temporary reprieve. I was going back in the time chamber in a matter of hours, meaning that the time outside was effectively just a short break from the confined space. When I got back, Amaryllis would be two months further along, her plans further developed, and while that might provide some points of interest, I had to imagine that the tedium I’d experienced in the final week would set in a lot sooner, especially since I was capped on virtually all my skills.

“Ready?” asked Amaryllis as she stood beside the lever. She was wearing a long blue dress with small white flowers that came halfway down her calf, loose enough that it effectively disguised her baby bump, and some simple sandals from Earth. Her hair had grown back out a bit, long enough that she had plastic hair clips in place to hold it back.

“I’m ready,” I said. “You should take some time outside the chamber, an hour or so just to stretch your legs and get some walking in.” It wasn’t the first time I’d suggested that.

“No thanks,” said Amaryllis. “The house isn’t really that great of a place to stroll around in, not unless you’re a fan of stumbling across decayed bodies.” It also wasn’t the first time she’d rebuffed me. “I’m eager for some time with Fenn.” She flipped the lever, bringing us back down into normal time, though the spin-down would still take another few minutes.

“Don’t talk about me too much,” I said.

“Well, I can hardly think of anything else two women would have to talk about,” said Amaryllis. She delivered the line so deadpan that if I didn’t know her, I might not have been able to pick up on the sarcasm.

“And be kind to her,” I said. “Put up with her, as best you can.”

Amaryllis only rolled her eyes.

I’d put my armor back on and wrapped Ropey back around me, more for the sake of prudence than for any actual fear of what might be waiting for us out there. The armor was practically no defense at all against the house, but it still seemed better to have than not to have. The only downside to wearing it was that it might be a hindrance if I was still in it when some kind of emergency happened with Amaryllis. If there was some kind of complication, I might be called upon to play doctor, either by giving her a blood transfusion (on Aerb, compatibility between two people of the same species was virtually guaranteed), or by using bone magic to heal her. The armor might interfere. She’d run me through plenty of worst case scenarios, all of which made me a bit queasy. The earliest that the baby could come and still potentially survive was somewhere around twenty-six weeks, and Amaryllis figured that our best bet at that point was a full-body swap, given that we didn’t have (and couldn’t train up) the necessary skill to operate a NICU, even though we had already pulled all of the relevant equipment we could from the backpack.

That was what I was thinking about when Amaryllis opened the doors, and I was so lost in thought that it took me a moment to make sense of what I was seeing.

Zona was gone, and there were two of Fenn, one standing on either side of Grak. They were all facing us, and as I opened my mouth to ask what the hell was going on, Grak lifted up a piece of paper and began to read from it.

“Before you lies a test,” he said. I’d forgotten how low and grumbling his voice could be. I’d also sort of forgotten that he was missing a hand. “Two fair half-elves, but one is false. You may ask what questions you like, though they will not answer specifics. Choose correctly for a kiss as your prize.” He licked his lips with his thick tongue before reading the last line. “Don’t be a spoilsport.”

I stared at the two Fenns, who were both grinning.

“Is this seriously how you spent your time?” asked Amaryllis.

“Didn’t the dwarf just say not to be a spoilsport?” asked Left Fenn.

“Some people have trouble listening, I suppose,” said Right Fenn. They sounded exactly the same.

I walked forward to look at them. They were dressed the same, like Fenn had been dressed when I went into the chamber. If I accepted the premise at face value, which I wasn’t sure was wise, then one was the real Fenn, and the other was Zona, using her illusion to disguise herself as Fenn.

“No touching,” said Right Fenn as I drew closer.

“Not until we get some time alone,” said Left Fenn with a grin.

“Lewd,” replied Right Fenn with a click of the tongue.

“You know,” I said. “One of the things that I really liked about Aerb was that there wasn’t much in the way of illusion magic, and mind magic was mercifully rare. Even the soul mages don’t have a full command of memories, so at least you’re not constantly questioning whether everything is real or fake, at least not on that level.”

A master illusionist had been the primary antagonist of an arc of one of my campaigns, to the endless frustration of the players, and I had been happy to find that he didn’t seem to exist in Aerb’s history books. Illusion Magic was among the excluded magics on Aerb, at least according to my soul.

“Too bad,” said Right Fenn.

“So sad,” added Left Fenn.

“Did you spend the entire forty-five minutes planning this?” asked Amaryllis. She stayed back near the time chamber with her arms folded across her chest.

“In my defense, you left me to my own devices,” said Left Fenn.

“You should have expected something like this,” said Right Fenn.

“Grak?” asked Amaryllis. “What’s your excuse?”

“You left her to her own devices,” said Grak. He gave a wide-toothed smile as Amaryllis gave a weary sigh.

“Okay,” I said. “So I assume that you would elect not to answer questions that only Fenn knows?”

“Correct,” said Right Fenn.

“We didn’t want the game to be so easy,” said Left Fenn. She looked from me to Amaryllis. “You’re allowed to put your heads together, it’s a team game.”

Amaryllis sighed again. “I’m immediately reconsidering spending a month with you.”

“Oh, but I’m so much more entertaining than Juniper,” said Right Fenn.

“No offense, my love,” said Left Fenn.

“Are you just trying to obfuscate, or intentionally deceive?” I asked.

“I don’t know what obfuscate means,” said Right Fenn.

“Really?” asked Left Fenn with a raised eyebrow, as she looked at her counterpart. She turned to me, smiling. “I mean no, of course I don’t know what it means.”

“Okay,” I said. “Do you love me?”

“Always,” said Left Fenn, suddenly solemn.

“And forever,” replied Right Fenn, with equal sincerity.

“But?” I asked.

“But you’re terrible at this game,” said Left Fenn, smiling.

“Left is the real one,” I said.

“Are you sure?” asked Right Fenn.

“Yes,” I replied. “Left was leading too often, and only on the points where not leading might have been revealing. You had forty-five minutes, which wasn’t enough time to learn everything, so it’s understandable that you’d have a system in place. Assuming I’m right, I could probably pull out another half dozen things that weren’t quite accurate, but that’s my answer, Left Fenn is the real one.”

Right Fenn dissolved back into Tiff’s form, smiling at me. “Well, that was fun.” She turned to Fenn. “He was faster than you thought.”

“I made the fatal mistake of underestimating him,” said Fenn. She stepped forward and wrapped me in a hug with her arms around my neck, then gave me a quick kiss on the lips. When she pulled back, she was looking at me with a forced nonchalance. “How’d it go?”

I shrugged her arms off me, then leaned down and picked her up, putting her over my shoulder and carrying her away, off down the hallway.

“She’s due in the chamber soon!” Amaryllis called after me.

When we were away from the others, I set Fenn down and gave her a proper kiss, long, slow, and deep.

“So I take it you missed me?” asked Fenn, looking at me with real warmth.

“More than I thought I would,” I said. “And I thought that I would miss you a lot.”

“I should stick you in a time chamber more often, if this is the sort of greeting I get,” said Fenn. There was a twinkle in her eyes as she looked at me. “And my two favorite humans got along well?” She paused slightly. “But … not too well?”

“She got up to 20 loyalty, which gave her the ability to alter her soul, then she removed her attraction to me,” I said. “You’re going to have a month with her, that’s more than enough time for her to tell you everything you’d want to know.”

“Wait, she can do that with Symbiosis?” asked Fenn. “I’m going to have to step up my game. How’d you get her loyalty up?”

“Offered to do some chores,” I replied.

Fenn laughed. “That’s hilarious.”

“I didn’t really find it funny at the time,” I said. “But I’m glad you’re amused.” I hesitated a moment. “You don’t think there’s a pretty big problem with her altering her own soul like that?”

“Would you think that I was a total bitch for saying that I was relieved?” asked Fenn, biting her lip as she looked at me. “I mean, it sounds like one of the horror stories out of the Second Empire, sure, but it also neatly solves one of the most pressing problems in my life without me having to lift a finger, and … I can see you’re not quite so happy about it.”

“No,” I said. “I was sort of hoping to get some backup. I thought … well, that we could at least commiserate, if not actually change her mind.”

“Sure,” said Fenn with a shrug. “I wouldn’t want her to do more, and I can talk with her about that, since it seems like the kind of thing that someone — her, specifically — would go way overboard on. But, I mean … her having zero interest in you is making my heart soar. I feel bad for being so happy.”

“Don’t feel bad,” I said. I wrapped her in a hug. “It did make things easier, for the rest of the month, I’m just worried about the long term, unforeseen consequences or further alterations, and I’m really worried that if I press too hard, she’s just not going to tell me.”

“Okay,” said Fenn. “I’ll talk to her, help keep her safe, even if she hates it.”

“And things went fine outside?” I asked. “Anything that I should know?”

“We had a diversion,” said Fenn with a shrug. “As you saw, though you got through it too fast.”

“Making friends?” I asked.

“Something like that,” said Fenn, smiling. “The house isn’t so bad, once you get her in the right mood.” She poked a finger at my chest. “I’m hoping she’s still in that mood when I come back out, but I know you’ve had some time to think about what she said.”

“A bit,” I replied. In truth, I’d had enough time that it had begun to fade into the background, as a simple thing that I accepted as probably being true. I looked down the hallway we’d come from. I could just barely hear the sound of conversation. “We should get back, Amaryllis doesn’t seem to place much value on time out of the chamber.”

“Joon, if we end up staying in this place, can we have a weekend in the chamber to ourselves?” asked Fenn. “Just you and me, without pressing engagements or other people getting in the way?”

“Frankly, I’m not looking forward to going back in,” I said. “I got kind of bored.” I saw her look of disappointment and quickly amended it. “But with you, I don’t think that I could be bored.”

“Good save,” said Fenn. “I’m going to hold you to that.”

“I wrote you some letters,” I said. “They’re numbered according to the day, so you can hear from me. It seemed like the best I could do, since we’re going to temporarily be in a long-distance relationship type thing. Oh, and I recorded some audio commentary for two movies, which, uh, might be totally worthless to you, but we’ll see. And I made a special supply of cookies, which are worse than Mary’s, but I’m the one who made them, so I thought maybe they’d be good if you’re feeling especially sentimental.”

Fenn reached up and kissed me on the cheek. “You’re too sweet to me.” She looked me up and down. “I can hardly believe I was worried for nothing.”

I nodded at that, but I wasn’t so sure that I would have said it was nothing. I also didn’t know how to say that without making it a whole big thing though, so I let it lie.

When we went back to the chamber, Amaryllis was waiting beside it. Her hair was long, down beneath her shoulder blades, and she was eating a marzipan fairy to heal the cuts on her arm that I assumed she’d taken from Grak’s axe. I raised an eyebrow at that, but the fairies weren’t really our primary source of healing anymore. Like the clonal kit, we’d largely outgrown the fairy jar. Furthermore, the slowly-refilling jar we pulled the fairies from was in the time chamber, which meant that our fairy supply had substantially increased; one of the chores was reaching in and gathering up the docile fairies to break their necks and put them in zip-lock bags.

“Ready?” Amaryllis asked Fenn.

“No,” said Fenn. “But I’m going to do it anyway, because that’s what a team player I am. I might pop back out after a few days though. No one hold it against me if I can’t hack it.”

Amaryllis stepped into the chamber, and Fenn followed her, saluting me briefly before the doors closed up again.

Zona turned to me and looked me over. “Have you had time to think?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said with a nod. It wasn’t really time to think that I’d needed though, it was time to process and adjust to the new map of reality, one where what she’d said was probably the truth, or close to it, or at least seeded in the truth. “I have some questions about your history, how you got from there to here, but I’ll understand if you don’t want to repeat yourself, or if you want to hear more from me.” I swallowed. “Arthur as he was on Earth was something I thought about a lot when I was in there.”

“Speak, then,” said Zona.

I spoke.

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Worth the Candle, Ch 95: Time Enough

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