The Erotic Mind-Control Story Archive

Spellthief Stolen

Chapter: Day 3 — A Chaotic Element

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.

* * *

The spellthief awoke with a start, some kind of weight pressing down on her stomach. She opened her eyes, only to exhale with relief. Just Missy, curled up and snoozing on top of her, flickering with a comforting light. She smiled, running the fingers of one hand through the magically tingling fur, raising the other to her eyes. They had been on her thighs, thankfully, and not anywhere else.

She tried to recall the events of the night, but found only blurry and foggy images. Meditating, though she had no idea how long for. Speaking with the arcanist, more meditation still, and her sense of time really went with this. And then, even foggier, some amount of half-asleep masturbation. She couldn’t even recall if she’d finished.

A shiver, as gooseflesh rose with the memories she dredged up. She dragged a finger gingerly up her side, enjoyed the sensation. She let it slip over her front, up her bare arm, around her shoulder... Then, the spellthief finally thought to look at the rest of the room. It was empty, to her surprise—by now she’d gotten used to waking to his smug face and smug words and... she shook her head. The room was just empty. Her brow creased, and she glanced at her hand. The burns had gotten better still, and there was a coolness mixed with the spiking pains as she flexed her fingers. He’d applied her lotion, again. “How thoughtful,” she muttered, gently pushing her sleeping familiar onto the sheets, and rolling with a grunt to a standing position.

Now, she saw, he had at least entered sometime that morning—the nightstand in the corner was covered with three layers of neatly stacked purple candles on its top, each of them brand new. The spellthief was livened a moment, warmth in her gut, then she chased it away. She shouldn’t feel sentimental over something with no sentiment—her mother had probably never even smelled lavender. It was a rich man’s scent. Though it didn’t hurt to feel a pang or two, in giving her own sob story some believability. A small note lay on the stack, and she picked it up with two fingers.

Alas,’ it began in fine cursive, ’my work demands my attention this morning. The guard will fetch your breakfast, when you awaken, and I will join you once I am able. — V

“V?” She flicked the card away, snickering. A false initial? Perhaps not. He would be pompous enough to leave a real hint of his name. The spellthief shook her head again, crossed the room, pounded her fist twice against the door. “Anybody out there?” she asked.

“Yes, miss?” came the voice in reply, the same bumbling one which had disturbed her yesterday.

“I need some food,” she said without embellishment, then sat down with her back to the door.

“Yes, miss, I expect you do. Give me just a moment.”

She heard boots thumping away, and sighed. Another day with more of the same. Struggling to meditate, making no progress at all. She’d felt close before, but it was becoming clear that it wasn’t having much of an effect, besides making her unbearably horny. She’d never tried to cast without a focus, since that was the sort of insane thought that people didn’t really talk about, but she knew it was possible, and she knew that she could. Or, at least, she thought that she might be on the right track.

Footsteps announced the guard’s return.

“Here you are, miss.” The flap opened, with a gloved hand shoving the platter through. Delicious smells met her senses, her mouth began to water.

The spellthief only grunted in acknowledgement, and raced through the plate quickly. The arcanist was right. She’d been hungry, strangely hungry, and still was. Only times she’d gotten this hungry were after a strong spell, or a lot of spells, or after not eating in a week. None of those were true now, and certainly not the last. Must be the stress, she decided, licking her lips and fingers clean, then shoved the plate onto the table. She took her seat and settled into her posture. Deep breath. Her hands lifted the candle, staring at it intently. This damned thing had to light. “No,” she said softly to herself, “it will light.“

The spellthief wished that she believed it half so strongly. Another deep breath, trembling in her throat, and she closed her eyes.

In her mind, through the dark, she saw the candle, imagined it held in her hand, its wick between her poised fingers. She didn’t need to see, feel, hear, or sense at all the room around her; the candle was everything. Not even her body mattered now, only her mind, her focus, and the end of the wick, ready for her spark and flame. She was reaching out again into nothing, not despairing when the cascading power refused to show itself to her. It would come. She started to picture the excitement it would bring, the rush to her senses, the quickness and slowness all at once to her thoughts, the centering weight in the back of her mind as the rest of reality would unfocus. She knew the feeling well, she’d felt it again and again. She hadn’t spent as much time with it as some, though. Many of the bellows-keepers, her old guardians, had spent whole days, weeks, even months in the state, in the flux between magic and material. Their minds untethered, adrift, unfocused. At one with the torrent, the realm of magic pouring through them, filling them like a vessel for the Great Flame. She hadn’t believed in it then, of course, but all her fellow acolytes had.

She’d been raised on Keld traditions, she knew Mattakoch and Poris and Firmir and all the other gods of fire by heart. The Great Flame was just a way of thinking about them all at once—but she knew better than to speak so heretically to her teachers. She wasn’t sure what she believed now. Whichever deity, whichever force beyond force would intercede for her. That’s who she wanted to appease.

With a grunt of annoyance, she brought her thoughts to the candle again, back to the flame that would bloom. The flush of magic, the heat that would bloom in her body, mind, between her fingers as it lit. The scent of smoke and lavender. The taste of them both on her tongue. The way it would crackle in her ears, the sight of it dancing and flickering and shining. Fire was the first magic she’d ever conjured. The most deep and primal expression of power, they’d taught her. Magic could take many forms in the world, and she knew most of them, but fire was above them all. Like the flow of water, and the same flow of magic, fire was necessary for heat, cooking, sustenance, human life as a whole. The gods’ greatest gift. The very first sorcerers had been pyromancers, the oldest words of the oldest spells evoked flames of wrath, flames of life. She knew she was a pyromancer, too. The flame has chosen you, they’d said to her, to work its will, to bring life, death, and resurrection to our world. Fire could accomplish anything. She could accomplish anything, mystical beliefs or not. The fire would blaze bright, warm her face, twinkle in her eyes, tickle her senses. The lines of mind and reality were blurred, it was burning in her mind, it was burning between her fingers. She pictured it dancing, saw it swaying. Felt the arcanist’s eyes on her, heard him urging her on. Felt the need to succeed, the need to please, the need to be rewarded. He would be, he was proud, admiring, bestowing pleasure after pleasure on her for her cleverness, for her skill. And she would taste the lavender in the air, and know she was free, and he would lift her to the bed, kiss her, touch her, hold her body so very close, all while the flame smoked and sizzled and flashed and danced and—


Everything shattered. She felt herself falling back into the room, out of her mind and out of her focus, groaning in her seat as one hand rubbed at the aching soreness in her forehead. “What now?” she moaned, not to the guard but to the gods and the world that thought her ripe for a cruel joke.

“So sorry to bother you,” the guard said in a genuinely apologetic tone, “but do you have a candle going in there? Thought I smelled smoke, something sweet.”

“What?” Her jaw dropped open, her eyes followed suit—the candle was lit.

The candle was lit.

The wick was burning, small but bright; bright with power and possibility, and hope. She sucked in another breath, not believing her eyes as it flickered, finally recognizing the sweet scent of lavender, the taste of smoke on her tongue. The spellthief started to tear up.

“Only figured I ought to ask, my mum had these candles when I was young, well I wasn’t that young, definitely younger, before I enlisted anyway, and...” The voice trailed off after hearing nothing. “Miss?”

She shook her head, and pinched her fingers down on the flame. It burned. It felt amazing. “S-sorry, no, no candles here. Haven’t lit any of them. Must be something else that’s smelling.“

“Ah,” the man behind the door said, “not a problem then, miss, just thought I should be checking.”

She slumped in the seat, looking back and forth between the candle, still spewing faint wisps of smoke, and her other open hand with wonder. She’d done it. It wasn’t just that she had done it just the once, she could do it again.

But it didn’t feel right. The candle, flammable as it was, wasn’t magical. Holding it should have felt like something, raised the hairs on her neck, brought a weight to her thoughts, given the world a dreamlike quality—but there was nothing. Just wax and wick. It wasn’t a focus. It didn’t matter, though, the spellthief decided. She had magic anyway. She would be free. Her mind immediately began to race with possibilities, spells to cast, tactics to use, when she would need to move; and it was then that she began again to smell the lavender.

Sweet and smoky. Her brow furrowed, for the candle was defused. But she took in a deep breath, and there it was, just as strong and stronger still. And then she heard a crackling, like the pops of logs inside a hearth, and her stomach lurched. She jumped to her feet, the candle falling to the floor and rolling beneath the chair. Her head swung fearfully toward the sound.

The fucking nightstand was on fire. Every one of the little white wicks on each of the pretty purple candles was blazing away, the pile of them making merry noises as it ate its way into the wood.

Shit,” the spellthief swore aloud. Her feet started towards it, then away from it, then towards it again. Any more smoke and the guard would come, and then the arcanist, and there goes freedom. She looked around and grabbed the closest thing: the cover off of the bed. It felt warm beneath her fingers, and some part of her, barely noted, insisted that she ought to just go to bed and ignore this whole issue. She got the cover in her hands, moved forward, and thrust it down over the stand, aiming to smother the blaze. She watched a moment, holding her breath, then the fire began to eat through the cover. “Oh, shit!” She stumbled backwards, dropping the blanket as fire spread, racing down as fast as her thoughts until flames met carpet and they joined in a brilliant union. “Shit!”

She hurled herself across the room and pounded on the door, “Guard! Guard!”

“Yes, miss?” The voice answered, ever steady and slow despite her manic tone.

“There’s a fucking fire! It’s all, fucking, the shelf and, gods come on already!” She threw her fists against it again, and again, until the guard spoke up.

“Oh,” he seemed startled, “just a moment then, miss.” She heard the jingling of keys and dared to angle her head around at the sound of another crack—the fire had eaten through the bedcover, melting it with the wax into a flaming mess above the wood tabletop. The flames crawled downward through the drawers.

“Shit, shit, shit...” she whispered, pounding on the door again. “Hey, come on!”

“Goin’ as fast as I can, miss, just hold on...” More jingling, she heard metal pushed into the lock, then a click. The sound brought the spellthief’s mind back to her work. This was the perfect opportunity. Bumbling guard, chaotic mess, self-sealing door. She could escape now. She had her magic... but she wasn’t sure of it yet. Didn’t know if she could manage to cast anything more than embers.

“Miss,” the voice spoke, “would you step back a bit?”

The moment passed, and she jumped backwards as the door swung open. The guard pushed through and stepped inside, a large man in height and width, broad shoulders and strong arms, a kindly smile on his face and in his calm blue eyes. His beard and hair were white and gray, his armor bearing a weathered but cared-for look, and he gave her a nod as he took another step in. “How do you do, miss? Lovely to finally see one of the guests, some of the boys had been talkin’ and...” The heavy wood door swung shut behind him with a thud, and the spellthief whimpered with a hand, outstretched toward it helplessly. The guard turned his head back with some surprise, then fixed on her again. “Ah, well. Oh,” his eyebrows rose, looking to the corner where the fire was spreading, “glad you brought me in for this.”

“I...” she began, but he only lumbered past her at a shockingly slow pace for the situation, smiling as he strode close to the blaze. The corner of the carpet was all aflame, both the cover and candles melting down the wood cabinet.

He crouched down right next to the fire, pursed his lips and reached around his belt. His hand found the dagger there, unsheathed it, and set to work. She heard a tearing sound as she watched, perplexed, the old guard cutting through the unburning section of the rug, portioning it off from the flaming side. She thought she even heard him humming as he finished the cut, separated the two sides, and tossed the burning end back into the corner, where everything else was still happily smoking. He sheathed the knife, put both hands to the rug’s new edge and shoved it backwards, definitely humming now, rolling it in on itself until it reached the bed’s corner. He stood, bent over, and lifted the end of the bed with a grunt, using his other hand to roll the carpet past the foot, then dropped it back down with a sigh. “That ought to do it, you think?” He dusted off his hands, breathing a little harder from the exertion, smiling at her.

“Um... y-yeah, it looks good,” she nodded. The rug had been split from the fire, and now the fire had nowhere else to go. It had almost fully consumed the nightstand, and seemed to be slowing down. She wiped sweat from her forehead. The guard did the same. “Do you...?” she began, pointing behind her.

“Hm?” He looked up, following the line her finger made towards the now-shut door. “Ah, hm.” He frowned a bit, thumped past her again, and put his hands on his hips as he looked at the wood. “Mmm.” He turned around, and put a grin on his lips. “That’s not good, is it?”

The spellthief shook her head slightly.

The guard seemed to ponder it a moment, then shrugged, still smiling, and sat on the floor. “Good to get off my feet at least, hah!” He laughed, a merry noise to her confused ears.

“You’re... stuck in here, aren’t you?” she managed, tearing her eyes away from the flaming pile.

“Not for long,” he said, “only ’til the next shift, or ’til someone brings ’round your luncheon. A few hours, not so bad.”

She felt she should have shuddered, trapped in a cell with a fire and a strange guard, but she wasn’t so alarmed any more. Only somewhat curious. “Won’t he... y-your employer, the arcanist, won’t he be upset?”

“Nah,” the guard said, indicating a spot next to him with his hand, “might get a slap on the wrist for it, but that’s all. Come, sit, get your mind off that fire.”

She couldn’t see any reason not to, and sat herself against the wall next to the man. His gear smelled of leather and polish.

“Have a name?” he asked, grinning at her, then saw her turn her head away, shifting her hips on the floor away from him. “No, no, miss, I... I understand,” he said, watching her eyes look back again, “see, the others and I, we...” He shook his head, changing his mind. “Forget about it. I don’t really need to know your name, s’pect you wouldn’t tell me even if I wanted to. Not that I don’t want to, I mean, I like meetin’ plenty of people and...”

Amazing even herself, the spellthief giggled, covering her mouth with a hand as the guard beamed. “You’re...” she began.

“Not so bad for being one o’ the ones keeping you in here, eh?” He smiled, then paused, then spoke again. “Not that I take pleasure in it, but, it’s fine work and, well miss, you did...”

“What, break in?” she interjected.

“Well, yes,” he murmured, a little color rising in his cheeks, “y’see, that’s never happened before. The boss runs a tight ship, and the garden outside catches most everybody what tries to come through here. But you...” He trailed off, as his eyes finally stopped holding hers. She watched them trail down from her face, then suddenly widen, the smile on his lips vanishing and his flush growing as he stammered and looked away. “Y-you, miss, y-you’re the first one to make it all the way up here, is all, I mean.”

She found herself giggling again, and beginning to blush herself. Suddenly aware of her nakedness after two days of it being the norm, the spellthief moved to cover her chest with her arms. “I did, that’s true. Wasn’t sure if it was true, or just nonsense he was spewing.”

“Oh, no miss,” he looked back to her face, grinning again, “that’s all true. And we all heard the rumors, but we just weren’t sure, you know, it just seemed so unlikely but, well here you are!” He gestured towards her, and she smiled.

Then she remembered the previous day, and the kind guard’s voice behind the door while she was trying to meditate. Her spirit drooped. “A-about yesterday, I...”

The guard shook his head adamantly before she could say any more. “Nothing to trouble yourself with, miss. S’only natural bein’ in a spot like yours, I know it’s got to be tough. Back when I was in the war, me and some o’ the others got taken for a few nights, I didn’t know if I’d ever...” He trailed off again, the lines in his face and eyes looking hardened, distant, then they returned to their usual vibrance. “But that was a while ago. And there’s been worse than you in here, believe me. I mean, there was one that just kept cryin’ and cryin’, don’t think she even stopped to sleep, it was...” Again, he shook his head out of the reverie. “S’all in the past, anyway.”

She nodded meekly. “Thank you,” she said, and meant it, “you’re very kind.”

“Shucks, miss,” the old guard said, blushing brighter and rubbing the back of his head with a gloved hand, “it’s really nothing much.”

“No, no, you are,” her upturned expression morphed into a frown, “much better than that arcanist.”

“Who, the boss?” he murmured, eyeing her, then shaking his head. “Nah, miss, he’s good people, believe me. I mean, I haven’t known a lot of these big magical types, but he’s much nicer than the ones that were in my unit...”

She shook her head. “Not all mages are like him,” she said, “arcanists are, and they’re all awful.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Are they? I don’t know much about ’em, really.”

“Yes,” she said, “they...” How to word it? She wasn’t quite sure. “They hoard all this knowledge, all of the spells and research and everything they study.”

“Well,” the guard began, interrupting her with a smaller voice, “I mean, miss, that’s their study, isn’t it?”

The spellthief paused. “They’re the ones to study it, but they’re... they try to claim something as their own, just because they discovered it first, or something about it first.”

“Well,” he interjected again, “magic’s a whole confusion to me, but it sounds a bit like somebody discovering an island—”

“Exactly!” She fired back, startling the man into silence, “They only find something, they don’t build it themselves or invent it or anything like that. They try to make ownership over the whole damned thing.”

He hesitated, then spoke again, still in the calm but tentative tone. “But, I mean, say somebody found a new island, or somesuch, wouldn’t they deserve somethin’ for it? Now I’m not saying they deserve the whole chunk of rock, I mean, I don’t know that they don’t deserve it either, but,” he paused for a moment, his brow working as he thought carefully, “it does seem to me to be, miss, that you’re askin’ ’em to work for free.”

Her lips twisted. “That’s not it at all.”

“Well,” he said again in his way, “I’m havin’ a bit of trouble understanding it then, miss.”

Air came out of her nose, hot and full of frustration. “Well if you’d listen to me, then...” She knew she’d mistepped immediately, and his eyes slipped away from her. “I mean,” she started, then bit her lip, body deflating against the wall. “I’m sorry,” she offered, putting her hand on the side of his arm, “I...”

When he turned back to her, his face was brightened again. “Don’t fret it, miss, you ain’t done nothin’ wrong to me. I understand, or, I mean, I think I do, anyway. You’ve got a lot on your plate. There’s no harm in bein’ a touch bristly, none at all.”

She smiled, warmed by his words, the pit in her stomach easing. “Thank you, sir,” she said, squeezing his arm again.

At this, the old guard’s cheeks lit positively pink, his eyebrows rising, then his eyes moving to view the squeeze. And then, moving his gaze back to the spellthief, grazing again over her very exposed, very naked body. “Ah, you’re, v-very welcome, miss.”

She giggled, and went pink herself, removing her hand and angling it back towards her lap. “I can’t help it, sometimes.”

“C-can’t help what, miss?”

“Snapping like that,” she murmured, “this place drives me... I don’t want to say crazy,” she admitted, “because I could very well be going crazy.”

The guard smiled. “You hardly seem crazy to me, miss. Just a bit...”

She leaned forwards. “A bit?”

“A-a bit frustrated,” he stammered out, “I mean, what with the situation, and all that, miss.”

That’s one way to put it, she thought, and shook her head. “It’s all his fault.“

The guard swallowed, smoothed his expression. “Well, miss, and I do mean no offense in it, but, you did break in.”

“I know that,” she muttered, “I was there.”

He nodded his head. “You do, er, you were, that is. And, ah, I don’t want to say that he’s doing you a favor, but, you aren’t in a jail, and... that’s something, isn’t it?”

She sighed. “It is, but I shouldn’t be held at all.”

“But, miss, you are a thief, aren’t you?“

“A spellthief,” she corrected, the words sounding devoid of the power and identity they had filled her with just days before.

He squinted. “It doesn’t sound legal, however you dress it up.”

“It’s not,” she put a hand to her forehead, feeling the frustration growing there again, “but, it’s the laws that are wrong, not me.”

“Ah,” he said, knowing not to tread there any further.

“It’s all in their favor,” she started, talking more to herself than to the guard, “this whole country puts them above everybody else. They’ve got all the best, and the rest of us have to scrounge for scraps. They’re fat, and they keep getting fatter and they keep everything for themselves.”

He was silent until she finished, then, “Well,” the word almost made her cringe, “I mean, it makes a bit of sense that the laws aren’t about to favor thieves, doesn’t it?” He paused. “Spellthieves, sorry.”

The correction eased a little of the frustration, and she smiled some. “It does make sense. I just wish that... that I didn’t have to do what I do. That we wouldn’t have to make things right ourselves, that everything was just... better. And that was just the way things were.”

He shrugged. “Everyone feels that way, I think. ’S’why men fight wars. I mean, the good men, or... maybe they don’t fight wars.” He brushed the back of his hair with a hand, thinking, then shrugging again. “I’m really no philosopher, miss. But you don’t seem to me like a plain thief. And I don’t know much about your magic, I mean, my mum had a bit o’ it, used a touch around the house, but I don’t think I’ve got a drop.”

She watched him smiling, and wondered what it would be like. Living with her family, growing up safely, comfortably. Never needing to climb any towers or steal any books. Probably marrying some tradesman with a bit of money to his name. She spoke quietly. “Sometimes I wish I didn’t. But I’m glad for it, and, glad for... doing what I believe in, I guess. Even if I have to put myself in danger.”

He nodded, then, “If you didn’t want to be in danger, miss, you could always... well, not do any of this?”

She paused, but then shook her head. “No, it’s something I think I have to do.”

The old guard grinned back at her and patted her shoulder gently. “I know that feeling. You’ve got a good heart in there, miss.”

“Thank you,” the spellthief said, her cheeks warming, “you do, too.”

It was his turn to blush. “Aw, it’s nothing.”

“It’s not nothing, it’s something grand,” she giggled. And then a thought struck her. She turned her eyes, noting that the fire had almost died now. “You’re... he’s told you that you’re to bring me what I ask for, right?”

“Ah,” the guard said, “that’s about right. But miss, I couldn’t bring you anything—”

“I know, I know,” she said, “that’s not what I mean. As you can see,” she indicated with an arm, towards the bedspread, “I’m lacking a blanket.”

“Oh!” He looked, and nodded in agreement. “You are. I’ll see to it myself, miss, and have it brought by before the night’s through.”

“Thank you,” she smiled, and opened her mouth to continue—but it was left gaping, as her vision was filled with the arcanist, stood tall in the middle of the room.

“Sir!” The guard was already up by the time she blinked, standing at attention. “Didn’t see you there, sir.”

“Calm yourself.” The arcanist put a hand on the guard’s shoulder as his eyes scanned the room, passing over the crouched spellthief for only a moment. The two stepped together, whispering just below her hearing, and then stood apart. “Later. Go,” the arcanist gestured to the door, which was holding itself open, “same posts tomorrow.”

The guard nodded and started for the door. Then he stopped, looking towards the spellthief as she straightened, eyeing both men carefully. The old man smiled wide. “It was a pleasure to meet you, miss.”

She found herself smiling back. “You too,” she said, then, acting on impulse alone, rushed forwards and threw her arms around his middle, squeezing him tightly and murmuring, “thank you.”

He was stammering by the time she pulled away. “O-of course, miss, I-I mean it’s all in the job, it’s a pleasure...” The eyes in his bright red face flicked down for half a thought, then he moved quickly out the door. “Do have a good evening!” he shouted, with a strangled lilt, then the door shut behind him.

The spellthief sighed, smiling for just a moment. It was gone as soon as the arcanist cleared his throat.

* * *

He let his eyes meander about the room, taking in the state of it. A bed missing its cover. A rolled up carpet. A mess in the corner where a table used to be: a collection of wood-ash, scorched blanket pieces, and blackened carpet fibres, all held together by a fine layer of lavender-scented wax. And to the side of it all, a thief, with her lip forming a sneer. “I didn’t leave a source of fire in here with you,” he said, simply stating the fact.

The thief lifted her shoulders. “Sure there wasn’t anything in that cabinet? Your lamps?” she asked. He couldn’t do much to hide his expression of skepticism and distaste, and she turned her back to him, looking over one side.

He lifted up a hand to the ceiling, grasping one of the lit globes. “Simple glowing spell on a reinforced glass orb. No heat. The lantern is for show.”

She repeated the same shrug. “Maybe some of your machinery gone wrong. Or all that work you do’s going sour.”

“Hm.” His eyebrow rose, but he gave her no other response, as he stepped toward the wreck. “Fortunately, you have no need of a cabinet, as it is quite obviously beyond service. The carpet will have to go, as well. Now, what, if anything, might occupy your time for the next hour or so such that you might not cause any more fires?”

“I did not cause a fire.” Her tone was petulant, indignant. “You’ve taken my gear, my materials, my focus, even my clothes for gods’ sakes. Haven’t given me any replacements, either. Your guard was quite embarrassed.“

He let himself smile with amusement. “The guard was embarrassed?“

She crossed her arms at that. “I had little time for embarrassment with my life being in danger.”

“I think, little thief, that he blushed harder at your embrace than at any moment prior, at least that I have witnessed.” He watched her color rise, and her arms tighten together.

“He was kind to me,” she said.

“He is kind to everyone,” the arcanist nodded. “A gentle soul, that one. The sort of guard I prefer, one who will not leap to cause harm.” He sighed. “Such a lapse, getting locked in here with you, though.”

The thief shifted on her feet. “Please, don’t... don’t take anything out on him,” she implored, sounding genuine in the entreat, “for the fire. He was doing what he was supposed to.”

“What he was supposed to do is guard the door and attend your needs,” he pointed out to her, “neither of which he can do from the inside of a locked chamber.“

“That’s your fault,” she muttered, “making the doors lock themselves from the outside. What was he supposed to do, just stand in the doorway with a fire devouring half the room?”

He counted on his fingers, for her benefit. “Sound the alarm. Get a second guard. Escort you safely from the room. Deal with the fire. In that order.” He shook his head. “We have a procedure, and for that matter, we have drills.

“Cut him some slack, would you?” She scoffed at him, “I’d like to see you do all that if it was your room up in flames.”

“I am an experimental sorcerer, little thief. My room is frequently on fire. That’s why we have the drills.”

“Maybe you should be a little more careful then, and a little less of an ass.” She glared, and he could only sighed and shook his head in response.

“I hardly think you need to lecture me on care, little thief.” The arcanist pointed to his side, toward the scorched corner of the room.

She held out her hands, the things still blistered raw. “Tell me how. No focus, no magic, no kindlestones, not even a fucking rock. And why would I start a blaze with myself sealed in?!“

“You tell me, girl,” he said severely. “You tell me why, when I brought your things this morning, there was that candle here, showing signs of melting at the crown. You tell me what started it.”

He saw her blush deepen. Not an admission of guilt, but she was at the least thinking hard. “Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be?” She jabbed a finger towards him. It almost made him startle. “The seditious, thieving prisoner has to be behind every unexpected thing that happens here. Is that it?” She paced away, and he watched her move, seeing the anger in her posture, the slight tremor in her step.

She’s afraid, he thought, lashing out like a dog. “No,” he replied aloud, “I think the thief that broke into my tower, using magic, has brought a chaotic element into what has otherwise been a functional situation.” He was careful to keep his tone level, knowing it would only upset her balance even further.

“A chaotic element,” the thief repeated to herself, “a chaotic element. Gods, is that what you believe? Are you that fragile that you can’t even account for your own mistakes?” Her face was red, and suddenly, she pushed a hand and gave the nearby armchair a shove. “I did that. But that?” She lifted her other arm past him, towards the smoldering ruin, “This is your tower, that’s your responsibility.”

“Save the righteous indignation for your politics, princess,” he scoffed. “It’s unbecoming of you to defend yourself so. You were alone in a secure space, and you blame it on my tower, a place where you’re not even supposed to be.“

“Well I wouldn’t be here if you and your politics hadn’t drawn me here. Hadn’t kept me here. Maybe if you’d done something useful with your career, you wouldn’t be out a cabinet and rug. But no,” she rolled her eyes, “you spend your days as the royal lackey, playing and profiting off spells that help no one.“

“My politics keep you alive, little thief,” he said. “Yours made you a burglar. My experiments feed people. What has your petty thuggery done to help anyone?”

“I stole a blight spell,” she said severely, “one that the king himself commissioned, able to do far, far worse than the droughts and the famines that you refuse to help. Instead you play with clouds and hold everything that could help out of reach, while I do work that has benefit.“

The arcanist laughed bitterly. “Who, I must ask, who is blighting crops for good, little thief?” He raised an open hand towards her. “Who paid you money to bring them a weapon capable of bringing down a kingdom? Are you such a rube, so naïve as to think your employers are any more pure of thought than the employers of mine which you detest? The problem,” he continued, forgetting the need for politeness, tact, hiding his derision and contempt, anything besides the endlessly annoying argument being shoved towards him, “is not that such spells exist but that they might be used, and they are much less likely to be so when the user is clear and obvious. Observed. Accredited. Known and watched. The development of magics like that—for there are many usages, outside of rotting the earth, for killing and blighting—is a natural and unfortunate offshoot of the development of magics such as mine.“

The thief shook her head and laughed, a choked sound as it was. “My employers aren’t unknown. I’ve met them, I’ve met their families, I’ve played with their children. Real people, while you sell yourself out to tyrants. The spells of death and destruction and decay that you seek out aren’t claimed by one purpose—they can be learned from, deconstructed, reversed. What,” she chuckled again, glaring into his eyes, “do you think arcanists are the only ones capable of spellcraft? The rest of us have to rely on more than just bottomless coffers. We have to take the spells we know and break them down to the foundations, then reshape them from the ground up. Change destruction to construction, death to life, blight to growth. Because we live in a land that values swords more than scholarship. I cannot wait,” a devilish grin flicked across her lips, “to take as many of your texts as I can, and twist them into the goodness you despise.“

“You do not research or craft magic,” he growled. “You know nothing of theory. A spell of blight reshaped into growth would be, to be generous, inferior. Magic of the sort of which you speak is much more finely tuned than simply waving your arms about and summoning an effect.” He allowed power to seep into his words, deliberately aimed to overwhelm. “There are soil conditions to manage, there is weather to consider, there is the ecology of an area, biome, season, crop... one does not simply point at a patch of land and tell it to grow and be fertile. All you’ve done is given an axe to someone who isn’t a forester, who thinks they can use it to till the soil.“

She came closer, shaking her head at the noise of his voice until she was within arms’ reach. “I don’t give a shit about what you do, get that into your fucking head! At least my work has fed hungry mouths, while you sit up here all day with theory and research and you contribute nothing. You’ll only help people when it suits you. You’ll only grow crops when there’s coin in it for you, ecology and season and soil conditions and all of that useless shit.“

He opened his mouth to speak, but she shoved his chest with both her hands, pushing him back. “You’re nothing but a hypocrite,” she growled, “and to think I thought you might be different. You’re a disgrace of a mage.”

He caught himself, and reached, putting a hand on her chest in return. But he didn’t shove. The spell on his lips poured into her body, and he watched it seize her from head to toe, as the magic flowed out from the points of his fingers and into every inch of her. Locking around limbs, wrapping around muscle, binding her in place. “My work involves fixing the problems that amateurs like your hedge wizards keep causing,” his voice was low, face close to hers, staring into her confused, enraged, fearful expression. “A custom-built solution for every fucking half-wit out there who thinks they can fumble through an incantation and call it a day. It would be better if the blight you intercepted had been cast, because then at least these idiots would know there was a problem, rather than thinking themselves smarter than those of us with decades of study and devotion to the subject.” The arcanist turned away, fuming, leaving the thief frozen in place. “I will return in an hour with dinner.” He strode to the door, opened it, and let it swing shut behind him.

“Such a fool,” he muttered under his breath as he tramped down the hall. He wasn’t certain if he had meant the thief, for her idiocy and flawed idealism, or himself, for being caught up in her game. It was very likely both.

* * *

She didn’t move. She couldn’t move. This spell was a different one, a more torturous one than the freezing and draining trap that was enchanted into the bedchamber’s door. There was no slipping away of time, no confused blurring between moments. She felt every second, as slow as they came. She couldn’t move. And eventually, she stopped trying to. Soon after, she felt the tears rolling down her cheeks. She didn’t, couldn’t look away from the ruined cabinet, covered still in hot lavender and ash. No matter how long she stared, how much her insides churned, the cabinet remained.

She wanted to shout, to insult him and his tower and the walls and the cabinet and the stupid fucking spell. She wanted to scream, to let out all the fear and hate and pain inside her. But she couldn’t. She wanted to go home, but she couldn’t, and not because of the spell, or the cell, or the arcanist or the tower or the garden or even the job. For the first time in a long time, homesickness, of all things, wracked her mind with pangs of guilt and aches of sorrow.

She didn’t know how long she stared, wept, aching both inwardly and outwardly. But then Missy was there, striding out through the bed’s pillows with a curious, “Mrow?”

Observing no response, the cat came closer, then leapt onto the spellthief’s frozen shoulder, stretching, scratching at her neck with claws. With still no response, the familiar was curious, and began to explore. The spellthief sighed inwardly, and as the reassuring, ghostly light in her peripheral moved to play in her hair, she felt like she could have cracked a smile, under different circumstances. Then the cat was batting at a bit of hair, tickling her scalp with faint and gentle paws, and she almost felt as if she could laugh. If she could move at all, of course.

Then, feeling her tears drying, with a suddenness equal to its inception, the spell ended. The momentum she had been trapped within thrust her backwards, stumbling into the bed and throwing Missy off, into, through the mattress and down to the floor, scampering away.

“Shit...” the spellthief murmured, using her limbs for the first time in what felt like years. The numb tingle across her body had gone, and there was barely a specter of it remaining. She looked around and clicked her tongue, then heard a growl in response. She smirked, and with effort, flopped off the bed and down to her hands and knees, trying to ignore the smell of burning. “Where could Missy be,” the spellthief murmured playfully, “maybe under here!” She stuck her head beneath the frame, spying the blue glow and grinning into it.

There was an anticipation, then a movement, and her familiar leapt upwards—vanishing through the bed and thumping onto the sheets above.

“Why you little piece of—” She scrambled back to her feet and dove overtop after the cat, squealing and laughing as she hit the floor on the other side, with Missy just barely dodging out of reach. She licked her lips, stared the feline down, readied herself—

A reluctant knock. “Miss?” The older guard’s voice rang in from the corridor.

The spellthief gulped and rushed to her feet, approaching the doorway before answering. “Um... yes?”

“I have your blanket here, if you like. Er. Would you?”

“Oh!” She blinked, having forgotten about it. “Um, yes, please, that’d be wonderful, sir.”

And then the thoughts started ringing in her head. He’s going to come straight through that door, you could sweep his leg, take the keys before the door closes and get in the hall, get to the library, then— She exhaled. No. She was going to escape, but not with a plan like that. And not with a needless jump to violence against the guard, at least, not this one. “You can come in?” she said tentatively.

“Shouldn’t have to, I mean, if this works, of course.” The food slot at the base of the door opened, and the blanket started to come through. She sank to her knees, tugging at the fabric, trying to work it this way and that way, and running into difficulty.

“Maybe this will...” the guard murmured, straightening it from his end.

“No, no, could you...?” She tried to turn it around, but it only jammed up more in the small hole. “Ugh, this isn’t working.”

“No, no it isn’t,” he agreed.

“I think it’s too big...”

“Right. Okay. I mean, sure. I’ll pull it back now, okay? Can you let go?”

She giggled. “Okay. Yes, I’ve let go now.” The blanket receded through the slot, and she heard the sound of a key shoved in a lock.

“Just a moment, miss, can you stand back?”

The noise of the tumblers was tantalizing, her years of training demanding to be put to use, but she shut them out. The spellthief moved, and nodded to herself. “I’m ready.”

The locks turned, and the door opened with the guard behind it, holding out the blanket. “Here, miss. I should just throw it, but...” He shrugged.

She smiled at him through the crack in the doorway, taking the cover into her arms in a large heap. Her mind began to fill with thoughts of warmth, softness, and sweet sleep while she hugged the bundle to her front. “Thank you, I’ll be very careful with this one. Promise.”

He smiled back to her. “I mean, we have more, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem, miss.”

“Then I’ll try not to... if there’s a fire, I mean, I won’t throw any bedding into it.” She grinned, blushing slightly.

“No doubt, miss, no doubt.” The guard grinned back at her. “I should probably close the door, I mean, I’m in enough trouble as is.”

She frowned, and her thoughts turned back to the exchange with the arcanist. “I’m sorry, if something happens because of me. I tried to tell him that you didn’t do anything wrong, but he... he isn’t much of an understanding type.”

“No, miss, I was wrong. I let you pull me in here, and that was my mistake. I should’ve gotten you to safety.” He shrugged again. “It’s not that much trouble. I’ll just get a little talking to, and promises will be made, and I won’t do it again, that’s all.”

The spellthief nodded at him a few times. “I hope so. But... I’m still glad that I pulled you inside. You’re nicer than you’ve any right to be. Nicer than him.”

“I think you mighta misjudged the boss,” he said, “I mean, no one else ever thinks he’s not understanding. I dunno. Things have always been civil, you understand?”

She managed to keep a frown off her face. “It’s different being in here than being out there. And with what I do, well, he already doesn’t like a thing about me. I can’t really not expect him to be angry with me, especially when I’m the same to him.”

“Well, I mean, miss, if I can be so bold, maybe... maybe try not being so angry with him?”

She let out a breath and shook her head. “It’s... I wish it were that simple. It’s like sitting across a table from my worst enemy. Doesn’t help that he’s so damned smug, and he’s always trying to be right, and it really doesn’t help that he’s keeping me locked in a cell, and...” She exhaled again. “I’m sorry.“

“I mean,” the guard began, “it’s not the best situation, but... you did break in, miss.” Another shrug. “Maybe things would be a lot more pleasant if you tried not being mad at him for things you did, at least?“

The spellthief was quiet for a few moments. She did break in. She wasn’t forced to take up the job, or take up her life. But it was what she believed in. And he may be a self-servicing smug asshole of a man, but he didn’t force her to come here. “Maybe... maybe I can try.” She mirrored his shrug. “It’d certainly be better than having to fight with him more.”

“Being angry, I mean, it doesn’t really help anything, usually. And besides, you’re wrong if you think he doesn’t like anything about you, miss.”

She glanced to him. “What’s that mean?”

The old guard had a bit of a smirk. “Well, miss, the women the boss tends to have as guests, some ones he might go about with in town, they, ah... they tend to share certain qualities, if you follow my meaning.”

Her cheeks went redder at this, and she hugged the blanket closer to her naked body. “Do they?” She asked, a small tremble in her voice.

“Oh, yes,” he nodded emphatically, “swear that it’s the truth miss. All of ’em tend to be a bit...” His eyes began to drift, moving lower, soaking up the hints of her curves behind the blanket, and bulging as he realized they’d stared longer than they should’ve. “A-a, a bit, you know,” he stammered, turning his head into the hallway and clearing his throat, going red.

The spellthief’s face was heating just the same, and she giggled in spite of herself. “I think I follow you, yes,” she said.

“Ah,” the old guard met her eyes, “yes, good. I-I really should close the door, miss,” he smiled through the blush.

She squeezed the soft blanket closer. “Thank you for this. And for talking to me. And...” Her cheeks began to brighten. “... actually,” she began again in a lower tone, “would it be possible for me to... get some clothes?”

“Ah,” he swallowed, struggling to fix his eyes and brow in place, “I can... I’ll look into it, miss.” Apparently, he didn’t trust himself not to look into her, as he stared at the floor.

“Thank you,” she whispered, with another shy giggle. “I’ll... let you get back to your guarding, then.”

He paused a moment. “Thank you, I will, b-but...” He paused again. “I mean, I’ll look into... but miss, are you...” He gulped again. “I’ll get back to my guarding,” he said, flushing furiously.

“What? No, no what is it?” She laughed, stepping one foot forward to block him from shutting the door. “Am I...?”

“Miss, please,” he whispered, “I mean, I could be in deep trouble if we’re caught like this...” He startled as he heard what he’d said, then blushed even deeper still.

More giggling from the spellthief, growing redder, clutching the blankets closer still. “He did take my clothes away from me... I don’t have much of a choice, do I? That is, unless you could bring me some.“

That definitely didn’t help his composure. “See what I can do,” he said quietly, turning away.

“Thank you, sir,” she whispered again, taking her foot back and stepping into her cell.

He paused, briefly looking in after her. “Henry,” he said, pulling the door closed.

She smiled to herself. Henry. Such a nice man. She took a deep breath and walked towards the bed. The blanket felt even heavier, and even softer in her hands. I should get this made. She dropped the bundle and set to work. The calming words of the guard ringing in her ears, the calming act of work, the calming spell of the bed, all of them worked together as she tucked the sheets in. When it was all done and finished, she lay down on top of it, head on the pillows, and the tolls of the earlier freezing, the fighting, the casting, and all her anger became palpable. She was tired.

And then, she was awakened by a gentle hand rubbing her shoulder. “Little thief?” The voice was kind and comfortable. “Dinner is served.”

Her limbs sprawled with pleasure until her eyes winked open. “Oh,” she said quietly, blinking and sitting up straight, “it’s you.” She wiped the dopey look from her lips as soon as she noticed it.

“I would like to apologize for losing my temper,” the arcanist said. “While I obviously believe what I have to say, it’s not like me to be so easily upset.”

The spellthief swung her legs over the side of the bed toward him. “It’s alright. I was... provoking you,” she admitted, “and I was upset myself.” She looked up at his face, hands folding in her lap. “I...” She exhaled, paused, then tried again. “I’m, ugh, sorry, for treating you... well, for treating you like shit.” The weight already felt like it had been lifted from her shoulders, but it continued to rise as she went on. “You’re better than most arcanists, since you’re at least a little decent. You’re not hoarding gold. You treat your people well, and, I’m not dead yet,” she chuckled, “that’s a plus.”

“I assure you,” he said, “whatever happens these next few days, you will leave here very much alive, little thief.” He offered her a hand. “I think that if you give the profession a chance, you will find very few of us are the devils you thought us.”

She didn’t take his hand, and stood on her own, feeling a wave of wooziness pass through her at leaving the blanket behind. “I’ve robbed enough of you to know that’s just false. I mean, you should see some of the...” She let herself trail off, and brushed by him, rounding towards the small table and taking her seat quickly, drawn forward by her nose.

It looked like a simple meal, meat and vegetables. Two plates. One bottle of wine, and two filled glasses. “If you’re to be my guest,” he smiled as he sat across from her, “I should treat you as one, and dine with you.”

The spellthief blinked at him a few times, after taking in the scene. “... thank you,” she murmured, and started on the food. She left the glass on the table, ever wary of drink provided by anyone. She was silent on the outside, but inwardly, her head spun from one thought to the next. Being angry, it doesn’t really help anything. Hedge wizards. Better if the blight had been cast. Very few of us are the devils you thought us.

“... from?” He asked, as his hand offered her a piece from the bread loaf.

She glanced up immediately, taking the bread without thinking. “I’m sorry?”

“I was just asking where it is you come from,” he said, and sipped at his wine.

“Oh.” She bit into the bread, swallowed it down, then lifted her left hand to cup her ear, angling it forwards. “What, you couldn’t tell?”

He chuckled for a moment, shook his head. “One’s ancestry does not always determine their place of birth, and where they choose to live their life.”

“Born in Tolfdor,” she said, “tiny little village. Not in Damea, you probably guessed that. In Keldia. Parents brought me over the border as soon as the war ended.”

The arcanist nodded at her. “The war was devastating. I was involved in the reconstruction in Keldia and, well, your parents probably did the right thing by you.”

“I’m too young to remember the war.” The spellthief shrugged. “We left before the reconstruction even started. Settled down in Feilenwood...” She trailed off, quieting herself with her meal, unsure how much to reveal.

“I was one of the many voices to push for it, the reconstruction, I mean. War is bad for business, and Keldia was a good trade route, but the devastation there created so many refugees and bandits...” He sighed. “People who don’t have enough to eat aren’t particularly interested in buying rope. Still, I know a lot of Kelds aren’t happy with the idea of Damean soldiers patrolling the highways, even if it does keep some semblance of order.”

The spellthief just offered him another shrug. “It’s not my home. But the soldiers, they’re as bad as the brigands. Just a different name, and they fly a red flag instead of none. Stronger weapons, too. Keldia hasn’t known peace in decades.”

“Some view it as occupation, and I can’t really blame them,” he said, “but the point is to get your people back on their feet. When I say that there’s enough work to be done in managing Damea, I do mean it.” He smiled and sipped at his wine. “Feilenwood’s in a lovely part of the kingdom.”

She still hadn’t touched her glass. “... thanks. My mother was a seamstress there. Father was a laborer. And I was left alone.” She paused. “Not that that’s bad. I liked it.”

“Of course,” he replied, “and let me guess. Left alone, you didn’t just sit and play. You explored, you learned, you absorbed every piece of information you could get your mind around.”

A smirk grew on her lips. “I wish,” the spellthief said. “I had a carefree life. They made sure of that, but, it wasn’t like we were well off. My parents... didn’t educate me. Didn’t want me to learn from Dameans. Said they’d teach me what I needed to know, which was... helkta.” She took a sip of her wine, finally, and washed the language’s taste out of her mouth. “Nothing, if you don’t speak Keld.“

“I do. Ar pragaea knei soml’a’ar, dis helkta. Between growing up as an exporter, working in the Reconstruction, and studying texts from dis Akkadem, it was a requirement.“

She took another drink, and swallowed. “It’s so ugly. But it was all I knew how to speak, until I was past seven years old.”

“I can’t say I’m fond of its sound,” he agreed, “but your people have a way with metaphor, a strong way of life that shows in their language. Is that when you received tutelage?”

“Well, that’s when I was...” She began, and stopped, going quiet again as she ate. “Sure, that’s when I started to learn.”

The arcanist snorted, stabbing his fork to his plate. “No doubt against the wishes of your parents.”

She had to chuckle this time. “Wrong again. They were the ones responsible.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Must admit, I wouldn’t have expected it. That’s about the age when I started to study magic, and had to keep my books and experiments hidden. I was supposed to be a good boy and take up the mantle...”

“I have to say,” she interrupted, “I wish you’d have stayed a merchant. Would’ve been more beneficial to my career that way. My health too, I wager.” More wine. Surprisingly, she didn’t taste poison. But most poisons wouldn’t taste like poison. Good poisons wouldn’t, anyway.

“I have little money for you to take, thief, it’s true,” he gave her a wry smile. “After my parents died, I had nothing tying me to it any more. So I threw myself into study, and worked to keep the business profitable until I could sell it.”

Privileged, as she expected. “Congratulations,” she said sarcastically, and cleaned half her plate.

His smile remained, accompanied by the half-raised brows. “I can hardly take credit for a fire on board a ship.”

The spellthief blushed and immediately began stammering. “I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean...”

He laughed. “It’s nothing, little thief,” he said as he stood. “A good meal, I think.”

She blinked up at him, setting her plate aside and folding hands over one leg. “Leaving so soon?”

“I don’t want you to tire of my company, do I?”

“I haven’t even finished my drink. Hardly becoming of a good host.” What are you saying? The words had spun out from her lips with no thought. An hour ago, you would’ve flung his face into a forge bucket.

The arcanist looked pleased. “That’s true, where are my manners? And there is still more wine,” he lifted the bottle, pouring himself another glass and refilling hers.

She swallowed. She was trying to be not mad. She wasn’t trying to be friendly. He lifted his glass, but didn’t sit. Instead he turned aside, clearly pensive. “What changed your parents’ minds? About your education, I mean.“

She swallowed harder, feeling heat on her cheek. “I... couldn’t say,” she made herself answer, “just happened one day, I guess.”

“And you’re obviously schooled in magic, little thief. Was that their idea too?”

“Not entirely,” the spellthief said quickly. Not entirely a lie, either. It did just happen one day.

She looked, and the arcanist was petting Missy, who was sitting on the corner of the bed and purring noisily. “Maybe someday I can hear these stories.”

A sip, again, instead of answering. “Didn’t meet her until I started doing this.” She gestured to the cat.

“A very appropriate familiar for a thief. I never had the pleasure of a cat.”

“She helps with the work. Keeps me company. But you shouldn’t even be able to see her,” she pointed out, “let alone touch her. Especially without having a familiar of your own... you don’t have a familiar, right?“

A momentary shadow of something crossed his face, then his smile was reaffixed, though it was absent from his eyes. “I do not, no.” His voice was hard, but at a soft volume.

The spellthief’s eyebrow rose. “You’re not telling me something,” she observed.

“I am not,” he replied, still wearing the smile like a mask. “And I would rather continue in that.” Before she could comment any further, though, he was talking again, and scratching behind Missy’s ears. “As for Missy, she likes me, so she lets me touch her.”

She sat back. The spellthief knew when not to press an issue, and spellcasters tended to get odd when speaking of their familiars. She figured that she wasn’t an exception. “Missy doesn’t like anyone. Barely likes me.“

“She helped out in the kitchens, so we gave her some meat.” He patted her haunches, and was rewarded with a pleased ’mrow.’ “I think she’s fond of me.”

“Sure.” The spellthief rolled her eyes. “Nothing to do with the catnip in your garden.”

“You are a thief,” he said simply, without heat or malice, “you solve problems by stealing. I am a botanist. I grow plants.”

“I’m a spellthief,” she corrected, “and you’re an arcanist. You make the problems I solve. Botanists don’t live in towers.”

He shrugged at her, as Missy leapt to the floor. “This one does. My plants help my work, and help my safety, same as your Missy.”

“Safety, sure,” she muttered, taking a drink, eyeing him warily as he set his glass down.

“I trust you enjoyed the meal?” he asked her, stepping closer.

She glanced to the near-empty plate. “I think the plate’d be more full, if I hadn’t.”

He nodded, making a little gesture with his fingers, one that shortly slipped from her memory. “I trust you enjoyed the meal?”

The spellthief blinked, then shook her head. “I’ve had better.”

He smiled, casting the spell again. “I trust you enjoyed the meal?”

Another blink, longer, slower as her thoughts reordered themselves. “Why do you ask?”

“Because I would hope you found my food, and my company, pleasing,” he replied.

“Oh. Well, I have, much as that may be a shock to you.”

“Because,” his hand moved, “I would hope you found my food, and my company, pleasing.”

A longer blink, a hint of a sigh in her breath. “You make it yourself?” Her voice was slow, along with her wit. “Or... do you pay servants for that?”

“Because I would hope you found my food, and my company, pleasing.” He repeated, again forcing the words into her mind.

Her eyes closed for a few seconds, then opened again. They stared straight ahead, unfocused, until they moved to his. “I do... d-did. It was... nice.”

“It was,” he looked at her. “I should probably take my leave,” he said, trailing off.

“But...” She bit her lip a few moments. “I haven’t finished my glass...”

He smiled. “You want me to stay,” he said.

She shook her head sluggishly. “N-no,” she stammered, “of course I don’t.”

A small gesture. “You want me to stay,” he said.

Long. Slow. Her eyes were heavy. “It’s not befitting of a host. That’s all...”

Long-practiced, easy, the movement was on his fingers again, the spell inside her mind again. “You want me to stay.”

It looked to him as though she were fast asleep, until her eyes opened. “... maybe,” she whispered.

He extended a hand to her. “Convince me.” She couldn’t tell if he’d spoken it, or if she had heard it inside her mind, or if it had rose up from inside her.

Whichever way, she was quickly becoming aware of the heat of the room, and the nakedness of her body. Her thighs pressed against each other. “I don’t... understand what you mean,” she murmured, staring at his hand.

“Take my hand, little thief, for a start.”

“Oh,” she said, lifting hers slowly into his. A brief brush against the burns stirred her thoughts as she watched them meet. Her hand felt tiny, even though it was only just a size smaller. The colors of their skin looked like the difference of night and day, even though, for a Damean, his complexion was fairly light. Hers was shockingly brighter.

He held her hand gently, held her gaze gently, and held her mind gently, beginning to touch against thoughts and ideas that were already growing. “Convince me to stay.”

Pictures flicking through her mind like pages from a book, vivid in detail, embossed with feeling. Held from behind by strong arms, kisses on her shoulders. Pushed down, held to the bed, hands gripping her tight. Eyes, lips, tongues, fingers exploring every inch of her. She blinked, and saw that she had been staring into his eyes. Something in their depth told her what she already knew.

He would.

She could see herself pulling him forward by the wrist, his hand on her chest, her lips lunging for his mouth, burning all over with heat. She could hear the glass fall to the ground as she threw him down after it, the heat of his breath, smelling his scent and her own, tasting his tongue, seeing that same look in his eyes—she blinked.

“If you want me here, of course,” he said with some mirth, “I do have other things to attend to.”

Another blink, half of her mind watching the flutter of images replay over and over, the other half staring deep into his eyes. Convince him to stay. You could seduce him, the thought said to her, You’re his type. You’ve seen his eyes, the way they look at you. He would be so easy... The flutter in her stomach turned to a lurch, as she pulled her hand away from his. She was too emotionally involved. All the more believable. She couldn’t leverage while she was a sopping mess. But it’s been so long... It’d be exactly what he wanted. And what do you want?

The spellthief declined to answer that last thought. She sat back in the seat, arms moving, clutching the tingling hand close to her chest. “I think, that if you have much to attend to, I shouldn’t keep you,” she said, with a tremor in her voice.

If he was disappointed, he hid it well, as he smiled kindly at her. “I have days yet to be in your company, little thief. There is no rush.” He stepped back. “Is there anything more you might need for your comfort?”

She gave it honest thought. He would know if she asked for anything that could be used for escaping. It needed to seem like she was going to stay, and going to grow more comfortable. “Could I be trusted with a kindlestone?”

“What else would you use to light the candles with?” he said.

“And do you keep incense?”

“Of course. Is there a scent to your preference? I have some of the more exotic flavors about, but I keep sandalwood well in stock.”

“Clovenleaf, if you have it. But sandalwood would do fine. The stronger the better, really.” It would help to relax, but it would help more to focus and prepare. “And, if I may be bold, could I have tea brought with a meal?”

“You need only ask. I cannot keep the kitchen operating at all hours, but for tea, you can certainly have a pot any time you like.”

“Wonderful,” she made herself smile at him. “Thank you. For that, and for the company. I’ll ask the guard if there is anything more that I can think of.”

“There will always be one, should you have need. I will return to my work,” he said, “shall I see you in the morning?”

She gestured around the space, wearing only a smile and the remainder of a blush. “I don’t have a choice, do I?”

“None, little thief,” he answered with a friendly chuckle, and then was gone. “Good evening,” his voice rumbled, lingering in the air around her.

A shiver ran through her at the sound, both up and down her spine at once, unsettled and excited both. Then she was quiet, listening to the empty space. She stood, and nothing changed. Satisfied that she was alone, she knelt in front of her seat, reached beneath it, and grasped her hand around the discarded lavender candle.

And then, as if no time had passed at all, she was sitting slumped against the door, breathing hard. Her stomach was growling, her throat and mouth dry and aching; her heart wouldn’t stop thumping, her head wouldn’t stop spinning. She looked down at her shaking hands on the ends of her numb arms, and saw: they were glowing, brightly glowing with red and orange from beneath her skin, the color swelling and making traces of light in her vision. She gasped, clenched her fists, and the flow of magic stopped. Her arms dropped to her sides, her head thudded back into the door as she went dizzy, seeing stars, stars that threatened to drag her into unconsciousness the longer she sat, the longer she stared and gave them heed. She tried to stand up, but her body revolted at the idea, and her stomach lurched angrily. Food. “Guard?” She croaked in a small voice, then called again, “Guard?“

The spellthief heard a shuffling on stone somewhere behind her. “Did you call for me?” A voice, not Henry’s. She couldn’t be sure if it was a man or woman.

“Yes,” she exhaled, “get me something to eat, something to drink, anything.”

The guard paused. “I don’t know what’s to be found, miss, it’s quite—”

“Please, just go,” the spellthief implored. She heard the answer of footsteps moving through the corridor, and she let her head roll back again. Letting the muscles in her body sag, giving up the fight to hold her eyes open, only for a moment.

She woke with a start at the sound of the food slot next to her, turned her eyes to watch the plate be shoved in. A small pile of fruits, a mug of... something. Steam rose from it. Her nostrils told her it was tea.

The spellthief smiled weakly. “Thanks,” she muttered, taking the plate and eating as fast as she could will herself to.

“You’re welcome,” the voice told her, and she now felt certain that it was a woman, “if you need anything else, don’t hesitate to ask.”

The spellthief shook her head, as if the figure behind the door could see her, and drank from the cup. It invigorated her senses, dragged her aching mind into focus at the scalding on her tongue. “What happened...” She whispered to herself, rubbing her temples with a hand as she drank. She looked to the seat where she’d just been, what felt like moments ago. Everything was in order, except for the candle which was rolled onto the floor again. If there was melting on its wax crown before, this was another, much larger step—it looked almost half burnt.

She tried to recall any of it, but felt, saw, and heard only a blur. Finding the candle beneath her seat, calling up the memory of flame, the feeling of it, bringing it to her thoughts with the condensing of her focus. Finding the well of energy beyond herself, the infinite cascade of magic around her. Reaching for it. Grasping it. Feeling it settle into place around her mind. Watching the candle burn, feeling her fingers burning. They had been on fire. She’d experimented with it, she recalled. Pulled the flame in different ways, twisted it, spoke to it with her mind, made it dance with her thoughts. Rolled it around in her palm like a ball. Made her hands blaze and glow. And then, the aches of it.

She ate faster. She could cast without a focus, the spellthief now knew, but there was a toll to pay for it. It was exhausting to keep the connection open, even for these small spells. And they were barely even spells; no incantations, no motions, just thoughts, pulling at the currents of magic, trying to funnel them through her and into the shapes she desired.

She cleaned the plate, downed the cup, and stood, swayed, then caught her balance on the door. A look, and the bed called to her. As she made her way across the room, she tried focusing her thoughts again. The magic was just beyond her reach now, just a step away from crowding around her body and mind, filling her with power and the strain of control. She remembered, mentally and physically, the feeling as it rushed into her, and again, it did. She grabbed the bedpost as she shook, shuddering as tingling, electric energy flooded her senses, and raised her free hand. With a thought that took more effort than she’d hoped to spend, a flame flicked into being. Beautiful. Dangerous. Fragile. She smiled into it, dazzled as it danced, and then called it inside her, felt it rushing through her finger and up her arm, into her shoulders, settling like a weight inside her chest. She sighed, and half moaned, falling into the bed. Bothered only for a moment to drag herself to the pillow. She put a hand to her chest, felt the warmth and comfort blooming outwards, and smiled, as the bed worked its spell faster than it ever had, drawing on her open power and plunging her mind into sleep.

* * *