The Erotic Mind-Control Story Archive

Title: The Pact

(mc / fd)

Chapter: IV

Description: Truth has tried for twenty years to live quietly, to tend her farm, to forget all about the Pact that she was born to obey and bound to enforce. But an urgent need will pull her back to the magic that she’s spent so long seeking to abandon.

This is a work of fantasy, which involves magic, mind control, and sexual situations. If there’s any legality preventing you from viewing pornography, or you think you would find such a story offensive or inappropriate, please don’t read it.

* * *

“An adventure?!” Callum blurted out, his eyes wide with unrestrained awe. “When can we start? Where are we going? What are we doing? And—why are we doing it?”

I let the groan in the throat slip from the lips as a sigh instead; I needed him to preserve some of this enthusiasm, and showing my lack of it too early would turn him off the whole venture. “We start right now, if you’re willing.” A calculated move. Callum nodded excitedly. “Good,” I said, “then the first place we’re going is the stables, and there we will sleep, because I have had too long a day to do anything else.“

“The stables?” Callum murmured, but I was already walking away. “Hey!” he shouted after me, “Why would you sleep with the animals?”

Because I’m dirt poor, was the honest answer, but I felt he needed a more inspiring one. “It builds character,” I decided, still walking down the lantern-lit alley. “We’ll be out in nature for days. Better to get immersed in it now than to be caught unawares when it counts.“

He made a thoughtful noise, and I thought I had him sold—then he spoke up, “You know the stables are this way though, yeah?”

I turned around to see his snickering smirk, which melted to a more determined expression when I strode past him. “Of course I know that,” I said, sparing him a glance.

Callum shrugged his shoulders and began to follow after me. “I didn’t mean to question your grand knowledge, Truth.” From the sound of his voice, he most definitely had meant to question it. “I only imagined that an adventurer, one such as yourself, would rather sleep on a bed than on a bale of hay.“

For the second time in as many minutes, I stopped on my heels and swung my neck to assess him critically. “You’re saying you can pay for an inn?”

“Pay for an inn?” Callum said incredulously, “Of course not. Master Rigorious only pays me in food, and in knowledge...” He let a grin flash white across his lips before continuing, “and, of course, in lodgings.” I raised one brow, and at this, he went on. “That’s why I was in the shop when you came. Rigorious has me take care of things, tidy this and that, do a few small tasks, that sort of thing, whenever he’s away. He lets me have one of the rooms upstairs for all that, even when he’s not around.”

A smile came up on me unbidden, but I did not try to smother it down. The pride that showed on Callum’s face, when I did smile, was worth far more than maintaining my own air of stoicity. “Lead the way then, kid.”

“Not a kid,” he snapped, forcing his expression into a stern mask before marching off ahead of me. But try as he might, he couldn’t disguise the tinge of pink that I’d marked on each of his cheeks.

* * *

“This is it?”

“This is it,” Callum repeated, then he saw the look on my face and frowned up at me. “Hey, it’s better than sleeping in a barn.”

I wasn’t so sure. The room that the apprentice had brought me to was in absolute disarray; his clothes were strewn across the floor, parchment grew like moss over almost every inch of wall—some even stretched as high as the ceiling—all of it covered in sketches and notes and diagrams whose arcane purposes I couldn’t begin to discern, and a boyish scent seemed to permeate everything, detectable even from the doorway where I stood.

I glanced down at Callum before looking back into the mess. “Couldn’t you have cleaned up before I got here?”

“I was with you the whole time,” he reminded me, “making sure you didn’t get yourself lost on the way back.“

“Then you should have cleaned it yesterday,” I replied.

“You didn’t exist yesterday!“

“Yes, and neither did you.” This seemed to strike him as strange enough to keep him from yapping while I assessed the room one more time. “And there aren’t any other bedrooms.”

“Rigorious has an apartment down the way,” Callum said, rubbing at his jaw as he took in the immensity of the room’s ugly status, “but it’s locked up tight and I haven’t got a key. And before you ask—” he continued at a breakneck pace, “—I do not know how to pick locks, and even if I did, this is Master Rigorious we’re talking about. He’ll have more magical traps in his foyer than you’d find in a king’s tomb.”

“Sure,” I muttered, mostly to get him to be quiet for a moment. My brow furrowed. “Why would I ask if you knew how to pick a lock?”

He looked as though that was obvious. “You’re an adventurer,” he said with a hand gesturing up and down my body. “Adventurers break into things all the time.”

“Maybe this one doesn’t,” I said, a bit miffed at the insinuation.

Callum rolled his eyes. “Bear in mind that not an hour ago I caught you breaking into this very store?”

“Point taken,” I conceded. “I’m not actually that much of an adventurer. Or any of one.”

“Oh, I would have never guessed!”

“Really?” I asked.

“Of course not,” he laughed. “But I’m still interested in the adventure. Beats doing Master Rigorious’ chores every day.”

“Of course it does,” I smiled, and extended a hand into Callum’s bedroom. “So would you please get on with doing those chores so that I can get some rest?”

He groaned, frustrated—but then I caught a glint of a smirk, just before he clapped both his hands together. They took on a complicated dance, a set of gestures around each other that I couldn’t describe if I tried. It was less like a dance and more like pure confusion. Then he clapped them again, speaking some ancient syllable, and pointed my gaze back to the room.

It was spotless. My eyes grew wide with surprise as I stepped inside, looking from floor to ceiling—I could actually see the floor and the ceiling, and the walls between—with amazement. “How’d you manage that?” I asked him, looking over the bed that’d been made with perfect precision.

Callum shrugged, grinning with pride, I thought. “Just a talent of mine. Now you were saying about chores?”

I took in a breath so that I could speak... and then I paused. I sniffed the air with my nose.

The room still carried a thick scent. And the feeling of the room was... off, somehow. I stepped deeper inside, reaching for one of the walls to touch it for myself. “Truth?” Callum called, “What are you looking for? I don’t think you should—”

My foot snagged on something, and the rest of his warning was drowned out by my shout and the thud I made against the floor. But the thud was too soft. And the wooden floor was too soft, and too... lumpy. I rolled around the floor and reached for my foot, seeing nothing, but grabbing what was undeniably cloth. I lifted it into the air, freeing my boot from the fabric which shimmered in the light, then materialized into view as a pair of pants.

I stared at Callum, whose grin had turned swiftly to a grimace. “Are you alright?” he asked gently.

“Show me,” I growled.

With a sigh, he obliged. His hands came together a few more times in another complex gesture, then the whole room quivered around me—and I was back in the messy bedroom, not the clean one, half-lying in a pile of Callum’s discarded garments. I stood slowly, brushing off my bare skin with disgust, before I fixed him with raised eyebrow. “So that’s your gift, then?” I questioned him.

His face was flushed, and he shoved his hands into his pockets bashfully. “It’s not just turning things invisible,” he muttered.

“Can’t have helped your case with your parents,” I remarked, “I guess that they weren’t too thrilled with their baby boy vanishing from sight every few...”

I trailed off. Callum wasn’t looking at me any longer.

And there’s the nerve. Good work striking it. I sighed and walked over to him, but he flinched and turned away from me. “I’m sorry, Callum,” I said.

“It’s fine.” It wasn’t. I’d spoken in that sullen tone often enough to know.

I shook my head, and put a hand onto his shoulder. His breath hitched, but he didn’t try to shake it off. “It wasn’t sensitive of me. Or very kind at all.”

“Is this the part where you say that you know what it’s like?” he chuckled ruefully.

“Yes,” I answered, squeezing his shoulder with a gentle touch. He met my gaze, trying to see if I was telling the truth. “My parents gave me away, as well.”

“Have you been alone your whole life, then?”

I shook my head. “Not for all of it. But I have been for a while. I gather you know what that’s like, too.” Callum nodded. “Come on,” I said, “I’ll help you clean some of this up.”

We worked in tandem, and in silence. The change in mood left a palpable division between us, but it was the sort of barrier that kept us glancing at each other, smiling every now and then. Neither of us wanted to speak of those thoughts anymore. We were alike in that way, I found—when the most harmful thoughts grew in our minds, it was better for us to bury them after a little exhumation, instead of keeping them stinking and rotting in the sun for days on end.

When the floor was visible and the bed had been made, I was finally struck by how small everything was. The whole room could have fit twice, and comfortably so, in the space of my living room back home. The ceilings were lower, too, and the notes on the walls lent an even stronger sense of claustrophobia to the space.

That wasn’t even mentioning the bed. With its threadbare blanket and meager pillows, it was suited for one, and a smaller one than I at that. I looked to Callum—but he had already unfurled a blanket on the floor and was settling in without question. Taking my place on the bed, I cleared my throat noisily. “So, invisibility.”

He made a grumbling sound from below, his head past the foot of the small bed and out of sight. I leaned my neck far enough to the side to catch his glare. “It’s not just invisibility. Everybody thinks that’s all it is, but it isn’t.“

I smiled. “I know it’s not just that. You wrapped my arms with light before, and I don’t think simple invisibility could render this room as sparkling as you made it seem.”

Callum seemed impressed. And a bit taken aback. “Well, er, that’s right. It’s a trick I like to use for when Master Rigorious comes to check on me—I think he can still sense it, but he never makes a fuss if he can’t see anything wrong.”

“And you keep him from seeing the mess.”

“Right—with light.” I couldn’t see how his hands twitched beneath his head, but the single candle that hung from the wall suddenly billowed with green flames instead of yellow, covering the room in an eerie light. “And shadow, too.”

I heard him exhale, and then I couldn’t see a thing. Not even shadows. I was surrounded by blackness, of a comfortable sort. The candle wasn’t snuffed, though: I could still smell its smoke. “Very clever,” I remarked.

“Thanks,” he murmured, before the room became the same once more. “That’s my gift, anyway. Do you have one?”

Even if I was willing to admit it, could it really be called a gift? “No,” I answered quickly.

Perhaps too quickly. “But you are a mage,” he pressed. “You showed me your focus, and the way you attacked me was—”

I snorted. “What?” Callum inquired. “What’s so funny?”

“I bested you in a fight because you’re small and lean,” I said simply. “I’ve no gift for combat. But I didn’t need any, with how poorly you held your concentration.”

Callum sighed. “I know. Rigorious is always on me about just that. Saying that control is paramount and excessive power cannot justify unsteady usage.

“Sounds familiar,” I mused under my breath.



“Ah.” Things were silent for a few breaths, then Callum was the one to break it. “If you’re not a prodigy, you must still have some kind of spells that you use the most.”

“And what makes you think I’m not a prodigy?”

“Because you haven’t shown me a gift, you aren’t always wearing a focus, and you need a prodigy. If you were one, you wouldn’t have come here for Master Rigorious, then settled for me instead,” he concluded.

“You’re sharp, I’ll give you that. Suppose I should probably tell you what we’re doing?”

“I do suppose it, yes, thank you.“

I leaned my head into the pillows and grinned up at the ceiling. “Then you’ll be glad to find out, come the morning.”

“The morning?!” Callum cried, “Why won’t you tell me now?”

One of my hands grasped the mounted candle, brought it low to my face. I snuffed it with a breath before setting it aside, plunging the room into darkness. “Patience is the sibling of control, Callum Grislom. Master one, and the other will surely follow.”

That wisdom seemed enough to confound him into silence, and from there, it wasn’t long until I heard the steady sighs of his breath. My own was soon to join it.

Patience, I thought, as my mind began to slip into the dark. Maybe that’s what I need.

* * *

It was not until Callum had gathered his things that the questions began flying.

“When are you going to tell me about the magic you use?” he asked, while we dined on morsels of bread and preserves in the front of Rigorious’ shop.

“When are you going to tell me what the adventure is for?” he asked, while we waded through busy streets and packed morning crowds.

“When are you going to tell me where we’re actually going?” he asked, while I paid the stableman his dues for handling the horse.

The answer was always the same. “Patience, Callum.”

I think that it made him irritated with me.

On the lift that we took to the first terrace, he was petting the mane of my horse before he shouted to be heard over the noisy din, same as all the other passengers crowding the platform. “And what’s the horse’s name?!”

“Doesn’t have one!” I yelled back.

He looked confused, then thoughtful. Then mischievous. “What about Patience?!”

I just sighed, covered my ears from the cacophony, and let him have his little victory.

Callum spent the remainder of our journey to the city gates fawning over the horse—now frustratingly named Patience. It did suit him well: he moved ponderously at times, hadn’t once run away from me, and carried even the heaviest farm tools without complaint.

And there was a certain lovable irony about it. Patience, the steed of Truth. It sounded like a line straight from the Pact itself.

We rode in the cart until we reached the southern gate; the line to exit Jiralesh had at least fifteen more wagons, carts, and caravans ahead of us, and it was much easier to guide Patience by hand than to crack him along with stops and starts. Callum spent his time asking questions, I spent mine not answering them, instead tending to our supplies, securing the cart for inspection, wondering how the two of us could be enough to bring Dess and her family some peace of mind.

“Papers, please,” the border guard grunted from his booth, once we’d finally arrived.

“Ah!” I hurriedly produced the ticket I’d been given on entry and handed it over. “Here you are, sir.”

He spent a few moments assessing me, then turned his attention to the writ of exit that I’d provided him. Then he turned his gaze up again, and I thought he’d simply wave us through—but his eyes weren’t fixed on me. They were on Callum, leaning against the cart. The guard’s thick moustaches twitched before he spoke. “I’ll need to see his papers too, Madam...” He glanced down, then up. “Truth.”

I swallowed hard, throat gone dry. The last thing I needed was a city official looking into my background—and one for the capitol, at that. One of the capitols, anyway. Jiralesh and Qanatar did double duties, handling the apparatuses of state with synchronicity. Technically, both should have been aware of my existence: I was an immigrant, and a high-profile one at that. There was even meant to be an agent monitoring me, making certain that I never acted out of line or caused any trouble—but I hadn’t heard from them since the death of my parents.

“One moment,” I said quickly, then hurried back to where Callum stood, just as he was getting up and having a stretch. He still wore the blue cloak I’d found him in the night before, but the rest of his attire had improved significantly. At least, his trousers no longer had holes at the knees. And I’d traded my city-dress for a pair of breeches and a rugged traveling coat.

We looked like we were leaving, and that was good. But we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere without the forms. I put a hand on his shoulder and muttered into his ear, “Do you happen to have an exit writ on hand?”

“Er. No, should I?” he asked aloud.

“Keep your voice down!” I hushed him, looking back at the guard to smile before turning to face Callum severely. “Do you have any papers that will get you out of this city?“

The apprentice only shrugged. “Master Rigorious usually handles that for me. He hates doing it though—says it takes weeks to file for the forms, and even longer to get them approved. I almost never leave town, and...” His face fell, pulled by the gravity of his words as they finally dawned on his own ears. “Oh. Oh no.”

“Stay calm,” I whispered.

“I’m trying to be calm,” he insisted, his voice hoarse and low, “but if I don’t have any forms, it’s going to look like I’m being kidnapped!” He paused. “Am I being kidnapped?“

I didn’t do him the service of an answer to that inane question. Of course he was being kidnapped, and of course I was doing the kidnapping. Technically. Two of the greatest areas for innovation following the Division had been the subjects of law and order. Without the Pact, and with only scant aid from the Dameans, the new governors of a new country had to write a code of rules as quickly as possible that other civilized nations had been slowly accumulating for centuries. They’d had to do in the span of a month what had taken the Damean kingdom years.

The result was fine. But that result also included strict punishments for kidnapping. And technically, very technically, this was a kidnapping.

All of these thoughts crashed together in my head as soon as I’d gotten the restraining band off my arm. “Hold this,” I said, passing it covertly to Callum while my hands rooted through our bags for the box I’d left at the bottom.

“What is it?” he said, totally perplexed and somewhat unnerved by the wide black ring in his hands.

“Doesn’t matter. Don’t ask questions.” I flipped open the lid, grabbed up the silver band, and shoved it up my left arm as high as it would go.

The world spun beneath my feet. Too fast. Too fast. My mind protested, my senses all screamed—

“Hey, hey, I got you,” Callum rasped into my ear, his arms holding me about the waist and shoulders. Stronger than I’d expected. Warmer than I’d expected. “Fucking hells are you hea—”

“Shut it, now,” I hissed him into silence, “it’s rude to curse and you’re loud as a choir of angels.” I didn’t tell him to stop holding me. Because I didn’t belive I could stand straight until my vision was much less blurred. “Alright,” I said, twisting out of his grip and fixing my jacket, “now stay in the cart.“

“But—” Callum began.

“Stay in the cart, Callum.” It took effort, so very much effort to keep my gift from bleeding into the words, through those words and into his ears, through those ears and into his mind, through that mind and into his actions to make him mount the cart, sit still, stare forward, and say no words at all.

I was rewarded for my restraint with a petulant look before he hopped up into the wagon. I steadied myself with a few calming breaths—difficult, given the crowd milling behind us, the chatter that was slowly rising and would eventually become shouts for us to move—and returned to the guard’s booth.

He seemed almost bored when I arrived, as though he knew for certain what was coming next. “Have you the boy’s papers?” he asked me in a dull tone.

I glanced back at Callum, who stared my way with clear interest. As I turned, I attempted to cover with my body as much as I could manage. I didn’t want him to see what came next. “He isn’t a boy,” I said firmly. “He is a Jir-Qanni citizen, fully grown, fully adult in his means and responsibilities.”

The guard nodded, amused, and amended his remark. “Well, then, have you the Jir-Qanni citizen’s papers?“

I could already tell—this one had little care for his duty. He only enjoyed the power it brought him. It wasn’t like the barmaid, where there was a simple hole I could fill with a simple set of words. Rather, the farther I tried to probe into his bonds, his duties, his ideals... the less I managed to find. I was grasping at sand that ran from my fingers. And he was staring me in the eye with growing suspicion. “I haven’t got them,” I admitted, figuring to appeal to his kinder sensibilities. “Maybe there could be an exception? It’s quite urgent, sir.”

The guard laughed out loud, his large body shaking the booth on the hinges it was bolted to. “An exception?! This fine city of Jiralesh is a place of order, good madam. I don’t know if they have laws in whatever backwater you’ve come here from, but you will be subject to ours.“

I swallowed. Had to think. Had to feel something, had to find something, had to grasp onto anything. There was no hidden devotion in his head, no simple tie I could tug on. Everything about him was just... plain. He was ordinary. He was rude and crass and far from charitable. Just like those behind us whose voices were growing louder, just like...

... just like everyone else. “You’re just like everyone else,” I murmured. It was a guess. It was a chance. But saints help me if I didn’t think, for a sliver of a second, that it might work.

Excuse me?” he started indignantly—then I silenced him with a wave of my hand, a current of magic through his thoughts that left him dazed. He had little to draw on. Maybe the most minor sense of obligation. And I could only impart so much power without a connection.

But all around us? Dozens, hundreds stood in line. Waiting their turn. Having patience. Acting virtuously, even when their own minds lacked the powerful tethers of a Pact or a law or a rule to make them wait. Why? Why would ordinary folk with ordinary morals put aside their best interests and not shove their way through the line? What compelled them to allow another to stand before them, or even allow hundreds to stand before them?

Were this still Doloc, I would have said the Pact. The code of virtues bound minds and bodies to obey certain niceties, certain rules of social interaction. But there was no Pact. And there didn’t need to be. In Jir-Qan, you waited patiently in line: that was simply the way things were. Everyone understood it. Everyone knew it. Everyone had inherited it one way or another—through lessons, through observation, through experience, through laws, or even through the old Pact.

I could feel all of these sources, dimly, influencing the wills of those around me. I could feel how alone they were weak and unfocused, but together they could move nations. Why would a soldier go to war? Because his king tells him so. Why would he obey his king? Because his king rules the land. Why does the king rule the land? Because the people had always had a king, and always would have a king. And kings were to be obeyed.

The same strands that could be pulled by those in power could be harnessed by my own abilities. There was enough of it in the air, enough of it in the ground, enough of it in the world to highlight a few thoughts in his head, however small, however unimportant to him. “Everyone is waiting for the line to move,” I whispered, feeling the focus on my arm thrum as I leaned closer. “Everyone has places to be. We’re what’s stopping them. You’re what’s stopping them.“

“I...” His lips tried to form another sound, but I pressed a finger forward, through his little paddock and against his mouth to silence him. That single point of contact buzzed beneath the pad of my fingertip, as the words wound their way into his consciousness from below.

“No one likes to wait too long,” I reminded him, drawing my hand back while touching that smallest thread of impatience. He wasn’t a patient man—he didn’t like to wait either. “No one likes a laggard.” A phrase that he could’ve said himself, to anyone else on any other day. “The bureaucracy moves too slowly, no one can—”

“Wait!” A shout rang from behind me, shattering the nascent silence, and feet stumbled forward in the dust, crushing the calm I’d just barely gotten a grip of. My heart raced; every muscle stiffened. The guard was eyeing me. He wasn’t relaxed. The spell was broken. And if I didn’t do something, he’d start remembering, and he’d…

“Here. Right here.” A hand slapped a crumpled slip of paper onto the guard’s table, and my eyes turned down to follow the outstretched arm to Callum’s red, panting face. “Sorry,” he said breathlessly, sparing me only a glance before fixing his look on the watchman. “I forgot it in one of my bags, good sir.”

The man’s eyes flicked between us. I covered the glowing silver band on my arm with one hand, a motion that I saw him follow. “Ma’am, all of this is highly irregular; I think it might be best if I fetch one of my superiors to—”

“Would you just look at it?!” Callum groaned, then composed himself as the watchman’s sneer leveled on him instead. “Ah. Um. Sorry, I only mean… everything’s in order there, sir, and I think everybody’s in a bit of a rush today, so…?”

For two spans of breath, I thought the man was about to clamp irons down on us both and toss us into a cell. Then he grumbled and snatched up the dirty scrap of parchment, smoothing it out and holding it up before his eyes in the light. Through the back of the browned, thready paper, I could see the deep lines of black ink that spelled out Callum’s name, his Jir-Qanni writ of citizenry, the other indecipherably complex smatterings of law and order…

“Well?” Callum asked, after a minute spent with bated breath.

“Hrmph.” The guard lowered the paper and shoved it across the desk, back toward the young prodigy. “His papers are fine,” he said to me. “Your papers are fine. Now take your ruddy horse and get out of this city, before I have someone throw you out.”

His words were sounding like they’d traveled through water, warping and warbling. Callum was saying something at my left, thanking him profusely; I only stood there, staring, my hand falling away from the focus on my arm. I hadn’t finished the spell. I hadn’t tapped his mind. I stared through his forehead, thinking of all the ways that unmuddled, unaffected brain could lead me to ruin. One word of what had happened, even the mention of a woman called Truth, and everything would be upended. No helping Dess. No retreating to my farm. No new life.

There were rules about my exile from Doloc. And far from that: the practice of any pactmagic in Jir-Qan was a crime of the highest order. It didn’t matter who I was, who I’d been, who I was trying to be, for this man, this upstart, this insulting and sniveling bastard could have me killed with a single word.

If he could only remember the word to say. If he could only remember anything at all. That, I could do. There had been a chance, earlier, scattered fragments of minds and laws and obligations that I could assemble into a fine enough tool for him.

It was within my grasp, I knew. I could already feel the humming of power gathering within me, thickening in the air. I could merely destroy his memory, annihilate his thought, crush speech and shatter action beneath my heel. It was so hard to act precisely. But it would be so, so easy to smother it all indiscriminately. A fitting punishment for his transgressions against me.

Against the order of the world.

Against the Pact.

I took a deep breath, preparing to reach and twist and tear into shreds, even as the guard receded in my vision. My legs were moving backward beneath me, a force was pushing against my front, but all I could see was him. The thing that needed punishing. The object that so truly deserved destruction.

Callum came into view. An annoyance. He waved his hands before my face, snapping his fingers, saying something too far away for me to hear. I moved to look past him.

And then he shoved me into the cart so hard that the world came back into focus. The crowd was milling noisily behind us, Patience stamped impatiently from foot to foot, the watchman was standing up from his booth. Callum scrambled into the cart after me and whipped the reins hard, sending Patience running out of the gates.

I spent a long time, too long, staring at the clouds of dust left in the wake of our cart, trying to glimpse the guard that was now so far behind. The aching need persisted, even as the unstoppable desire let go of its grip on my mind. I turned around and sagged on the driver’s bench, breathing heavily, staring at my twitching fingers and saying nothing.

“Truth.” Callum’s voice came to me clearly, his concerned eyes hovering in my periphery. “Are you alright now?”

I nodded. My head felt too heavy for the thoughts inside it, and I feared what even heavier words would fall out, should I have let my lips open.

“Good.” He chuckled, but it was tinged with unease. “That’s twice in five minutes that I had to save our hides. I don’t know what you were doing, but—”

“I had it under control,” I rumbled. It was more a reflex than anything else, but it still sent the apprentice into a stunned silence. “... sorry,” I began, after a minute of clopping hooves and rolling wheels. “I was going to get us out. I didn’t know you had your exit papers.” Callum snickered. “What?” He continued, getting louder. “What, what is it?”

Finally I turned my head to look at him; between the fingers of the hand in his lap, a smudgy scrap of parchment fluttered in the wind. “You mean this paper?” the prodigy grinned, raising it up to the light between us with both hands. It was blank. Then, a moment passed, a wave of subtle magic rolling through me, and ink began to spill and reshape itself over the surface. It read: ‘Adventurers make their fantastic getaway after the young apprentice’s cunning deception.’

“You used your gift,” I realized. Not manipulating light this time, but shadows, dancing across the page however he willed them. A forgery to fool anyone.

He lowered the parchment, and I was surprised to see that he did not share my smile. “I only had to use mine because you tried to use yours, Truth.”

Saints alive. He’s found you out. I went to cover my arm, but Callum caught my wrist with his hand. I froze there, staring into his eyes, while I was certain my own possessed a magical gleam. “What were you doing to him, Truth?” he asked me softly. Curious, and afraid. He wouldn’t have asked if he already knew—he would have ran, instead. It wasn’t himself that he was afraid for.

It was me. How must I have looked, staring into the watchman’s eyes and putting a finger on his lips? How must it have sounded for the guard’s words to dissolve into nothing? How must Callum have felt to guide me back to our chariot while I lost myself in fantasies of power, the echoes of a duty I was born to obey?

The apprentice brought forward his other hand, showing me the black band I had handed him before. “I looked at it,” he said, a little abashedly. “Master Rigorious’ mark is on the inside… he’s only ever talked about these before. Says they’re dangerous, for dangerous people. Says they can drive you mad.”

“Do you think I’m mad?” I whispered, not knowing if he would hear.

“No.” Relief welled up inside of me; not enough to stir a smile, but enough to lower my hands and make breathing a little easier. Callum looked me up and down, smiling at my calmness, but still treating me with a careful distance. “What makes you dangerous enough to warrant one of these, Truth? I look at you, and I… I don’t know what could be so frightening about you, that you’d want to… no, that you’d have to wear one of these, and do that to your mind.”

I shook my head. “You don’t want to know that, Callum.”

“Am I in danger?” he pressed. “Is your danger limited to yourself? Or to those who anger you? Or to anyone who’s even near you?”

“I would never willingly hurt you, Callum.”

“And what about unwillingly?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I don’t know if I’m safe. I don’t know how to be safe. And yes, it has happened. I’ve hurt the people I grow close to. I live alone, and I wear that,” I said, indicating the restraint he held, “so that it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

“You’re being honest with me,” he murmured.

“Yes,” I agreed, with a deep sigh. I took the reins in my hands and guided Patience off the road, bringing him to a stop and staring out ahead of us. “It wasn’t right to bring you along without warning you. The task isn’t dangerous—it’s only I that may be. You know where your bags are. The road will lead you straight back.”

Callum didn’t move. I kept waiting, waiting for him to turn around, find his satchels, dismount and wander back the way we’d came.

But he didn’t. He asked me, “Are you trying?”


“To be safe,” he said.

“Yes.” And harder than I’ve ever tried before.

“Then that’s all I need to know.” The apprentice smiled and kicked his feet up, handing me the restraint before folding his hands behind his head contentedly.

I could only stare at him ponderously. “Why?” I finally asked.

Callum glanced over, still smiling. “Why what?”

“Why would you still travel with me? You… you don’t know a thing about me, or what I can do, except that I’m a danger, and you don’t know what we’re doing, or why, or…”

He silenced me with a lazily waved hand. “I’ve never been on an adventure. I think it’s going to be fun. I could use a little danger. And,” he added, turning his eyes furtively away from me, “I think you’re fascinating.”

I kept my eyes on the road ahead, until and after I decided to snap the reins and put Patience in motion. Fascinating, I thought, with a warm feeling in my gut. What could fascinating mean?

* * *