Tellwyrn ignored them for a good half hour.
The office was dim, illuminated only by moonlight from the windows behind the Professor and a single fairy lamp under a shade which directed its light straight onto the desk, where she scratched busily away at an old-fashioned parchment with an equally old-fashioned feather quill. In addition to leaving the four students in relative gloom, it backlit the woman behind the desk while at the same time forcing them to squint against the lamplight if they chose to look directly at her.
For the most part, they didn’t.
Trissiny had refused the proffered chair, standing at parade rest with her gaze fixed on empty space at a point behind and to Professor Tellwyrn’s right. She had been kept in that pose for far longer than this and was fully content to stay there, stone-faced, as long as the elf chose to carry on what she considered an absurd charade.
Of the others, only Shaeine looked similarly at ease, standing behind Teal’s chair with her customary serenity unruffled. She kept one slender hand on the bard’s shoulder.
Teal slouched in her chair, staring emptily at the floor in front of the desk; ironically, of the four of them she seemed the most traumatized by the day’s events. Her suit was still grass-stained and rumpled from her earlier exertions with Trissiny, but appeared to have suffered no damage at all during Vadrieny’s brief rampage, though her rubber sandals had gone missing at some point, leaving her barefoot.
Gabriel sat to her right, not coincidentally putting the other girls between himself and Trissiny. He, too, slumped in his chair, but where Teal seemed exhausted and depressed, he mostly looked sullen, and perhaps somewhat embarrassed. Though the robe he wore was securely tied, he clutched it closed with both hands. He’d not been given time to put anything else on.
The minutes stretched on, marked only by the ticking of a wall clock and the scratching of Tellwyrn’s pen, and occasional sighs from Teal or Gabriel. The latter showed increasing signs of impatience as time passed, lifting his head briefly to glare up at Tellwyrn, but he didn’t go so far as to say anything. It wasn’t as if there was any ambiguity over why they were in trouble, nor any suggestion that it was undeserved.
“There we go,” Tellwyrn said quite suddenly, causing Teal to jump in her seat. She pushed the parchment to one side, neatly returning her quill to its holder on the desktop. “Sorry to keep you waiting; I had to draft a letter explaining all this rhubarb to the Empire, and it’s best to do such things sooner than later. Generally speaking I require that they keep their noses out of my University and its business, but matters become different when a couple of my students create exciting new craters on Imperial territory. Can’t deny the Imps have something of a legitimate interest. So, I’m left to explain matters in a way that doesn’t make it sound as if I’ve completely lost control over you lot. Fortunately, as a college professor, my life is full of examples of bullshit in essay form. Given Miss Avelea’s involvement, I’m putting it down to an act of the gods. I doubt Avei will bother to contradict me—she owes me a favor.”
Trissiny shifted her gaze to Tellwyrn’s at that, frowning, but the Professor merely folded her hands in front of her and put on a warm, friendly smile that made all four of them shift backward slightly. “Well then,” she said pleasantly, “what an interesting evening this has been. I have to say I’m curious that Gabriel was forcibly rendered unconscious and inert. Hethelaxi are notoriously resilient; even a halfblood shouldn’t have buckled under anything but divine magic.”
“We hit him with the planet,” Teal said listlessly. Shaeine squeezed her shoulder.
“I guess that would do it,” Tellwyrn said dryly after a moment’s pause. “Out of curiosity, did Vadrieny aim for that desert, or was she just aiming for down?”
Teal raised her eyes, tilting her head to the side for a moment as if listening to something. “…aiming for the desert. Nobody was there.”
“Good. That takes care of one of my concerns. However, matters are not so simple as that. Even a desert may have people in it, either passing through or in some cases living there. Quite apart from people, they are surprisingly rich in plant and animal life, a big swath of which you two just incinerated.” She tilted her head to stare at Teal over the rims of her spectacles. “Of much greater concern is the implications. Dropping indestructible objects from orbit would be a fantastic new way of waging war, which we are spared only because most of the people who’d be willing to do such a thing are not aware that ‘orbit’ is even a concept. The last thing the world needs is for them to get any ideas.” She drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, her expression growing grim. “Do not do that again. Ever. Am I clear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Teal whispered, dropping her gaze again.
Tellwyrn stared at her for a long moment. When she spoke again, her voice was startlingly gentle. “Are you all right, Teal?”
The young bard hunched her shoulders, not raising her head. She still spoke barely above a whisper. “I…hate violence.”
“I know. Professor Ezzaniel has detailed opinions about that, which he seems to enjoy sharing with me.” Tellwyrn shook her head, expression rueful. “But if anything, this incident only goes to prove that you need to develop a middle ground. Right now your options for dealing with aggression are to stand there and take it, or unleash an unstoppable force of hellfire. If you can’t get away from an attacker or put him down, it will get to the point that Vadrieny forces her way out on her own to protect you. You do understand that, right? And why this is not an acceptable state of affairs?”
Teal nodded mutely.
“With that said…you did well. You separated those causing the disturbance and pacified the one whom you could pacify without doing him permanent harm. A number of points about the execution could have been refined, but all things considered, I am impressed. I’ll be giving a very favorable report to your parents and to the Church. I haven’t heard about it specifically, but knowing the priesthood as I do, I’m assuming you need every bit of help you can get keeping them off your back.”
“Thank you,” Teal said softly.
The Professor nodded and lifted her eyes to Shaeine. “As for you…same goes. I’d have been more impressed if you managed to put a stop to that without resorting to force, but I’m willing to grant that may not have been possible. Could have done better, in short, but your instincts and your strategy were both solid, Miss Awarrion. Would you like me to keep your House appraised?”
Shaeine bowed slightly. “Thank you, Professor, but if that is meant as a kindness, I would rather you did not. I concur with the first part of your assessment; my mother will not be impressed that I failed to end a confrontation through diplomacy.”
“As you like, then. For my part, neither of you are in any trouble here. Which leaves you two.”
In spite of themselves, Gabriel and Trissiny glanced at each other, then immediately averted their eyes, neither of them looking at Tellwyrn, either.
“I wish I could say this is the worst thing a group of freshmen has ever done in their first week on campus,” Tellwyrn went on in a pleasant tone. “Just for dramatic effect, of course. If I’m to be honest, though, it doesn’t even make the top ten. Our admission standards being what they are, I’ve had some inventively pernicious little bastards matriculating here. I will say, however, that tonight’s events may well be the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen happen at this University. And that, children, is a much greater offense in my eyes.”
Her voice had grown increasingly stern as she spoke, and finished on nearly a growl. Tellwyrn paused to draw breath and apparently collect herself. “I make allowances for exceptional circumstances. Hell, there’s not a student at this school whose circumstances aren’t exceptional; that’s why you’re all here. But the one thing I will absolutely not tolerate is mindless behavior. You will think before you act. This is not up for discussion. That goes for everyone on the campus, but honestly, out of all the students here you are the last two who can afford to behave this way.
“You,” she pointed at Gabriel, glaring, “are going to have people watching you for your entire life, just waiting for an excuse to decide you need to be put down like a rabid animal. How you’ve managed to live for eighteen years without wrapping your head around this concept is utterly mystifying to me, but it stops now. Walking up to one of the few people on the campus who both poses a serious physical threat to you and has a motivation to act on it and deliberately pushing her over the edge is…it’s just… Gods, I don’t have words in this language for the sheer stupidity. I’m almost regretful that I have a responsibility for your welfare, here. A creature with your survival instincts frankly deserves to die.”
“Yup,” he said bitterly, “so I’ve been told. Glad to know whose side you’re on, Professor.”
She stared at him for a long moment, blinked her eyes once, then smiled sweetly. “You just bought yourself an extra homework assignment on top of disciplinary action, chuckles. Hit the library, do the research on Imperial law governing demonbloods, and by this time tomorrow night be back in this office and present an oral report on the legal statutes which give me the prerogative to execute you on the spot.”
Tellwyrn shifted her gaze to the one person she had not yet addressed, and spoke very calmly. “Trissiny, one of us is going to wipe that smug look off your face.” Trissiny instantly schooled her features while the Professor went on. “I’ll be honest: I’m going to go a bit easier on you, because nothing I can do or say will be half as serious as what you get from Avei the next time you call on her. Best to do that as soon as possible, by the way, she gets cranky if you make her wait.”
“Goddesses do not get cranky!”
“It’s amazing to me that you can say that, having actually met the one most prone to it,” Tellwyrn said dryly. “Oh, calm down, you’re swelling up like a bullfrog. If Avei needs you to defend her honor, she’ll tell you so. In the meantime, consider the fact that you are responsible for carrying both her reputation and her plans in this world, and allowing yourself to be provoked to violence by a shrieking idiot who wanted nothing more than to get a rise out of you is a catastrophic failure. As someone who has met a few dozen Hands of Avei over the centuries, I can assure you that if that’s the limit of your self-control, you’re going to have a short, undistinguished career and a rather pitifully brief existence.”
She drummed her fingers on the desk, glaring at both of them in turn. “You two simply cannot act like this. There are too many forces arrayed against you, and too much riding on your shoulders. You don’t get to be wangsty, mad-at-the-world teenagers. It’s not an option. As such, since I perceive that the basic problem for both of you is facing individuals who make you uncomfortable without acting out like overstimulated ferrets, and because I believe that punishment should always carry a lesson, here’s what I’m going to do. Starting tomorrow night, you will both report to Mrs. Oak in the dining hall immediately after dinner. You’re on cleaning duty. I will inform her that there will be no splitting up of tasks, either. You will work side by side, and demonstrate a capacity to work together. Furthermore, you will damn well get along.” She grinned wolfishly. “Kitchen duty will end when Mrs. Oak and I are both satisfied that you’re either friends or have learned to act like grown-ups in the presence of someone you don’t like. If there are any further outbursts of any kind, any evidence that you are not only failing to learn this lesson but backsliding, your proximity will be gradually increased until the problem is solved, one way or another. I assure you, kids, I will not hesitate to chain you together at the wrist if you don’t get your act together under your own power. I’ve done it before.”
“Are you completely out of your damn—”
“That is totally unaccept—”
“SILENCE!” Tellwyrn thundered, jolting to her feet and slapping both her palms on the desk. All four of them jumped back, including Shaeine. The Professor glared at them with teeth bared, leaning her weight on the desktop. “You squandered your right to complain when you tore up my campus in a breathtaking act of mutual stupidity. I will not have this kind of idiotic behavior. Not from you, not from anyone! You’re here to learn how to be stable, effective people in a hostile world. So help me, you kids are going to get an education if it kills us all!”
They stared at her, wide-eyed, for an infinite moment. She looked almost wild, her teeth bared and eyes narrowed to furious slits. Then, quite suddenly, Tellwyrn sagged back into her chair, as though overcome with weariness, and waved a hand dismissively at them. “All right, I have spoken. Get out, all of you. Go to bed. Except you, Arquin. Stay a moment.”
Teal gave Gabriel a sympathetic grimace and a squeeze on the shoulder as she stood to go. In silence, the three of them filed out, Trissiny pausing to shoot one last, disdainful look at the Professor before pulling the door shut behind her with more force than it required.
Gabriel shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Tellwyrn had fallen back into an unnerving stillness, her elbows propped on the desk and hands folded in front of her face, obscuring her mouth. She stared expressionlessly at him over the rims of her glasses.
A minute ticked by, then another, without a word spoken.
“That is a predatory look,” he said finally. “I can’t decide if you want to eat me or screw me.”
Very, very slowly, she raised one eyebrow.
“I said it out loud, didn’t I,” he mumbled.
Tellwyrn shook her head. “The thing that gets me, Gabriel, is that you appear on paper to be so smart. Not necessarily of the bookish variety, though speaking as an educator that is one of the less important kinds of intelligence. You’re sort of witty, you think quickly, you exhibit good lateral thinking and decent social skills, your knack for offending women notwithstanding. Why is it, then, that you insist on being such a bonehead?”
Gabriel heaved a deep sigh. “I gotta be me.”
“Just for your edification, neither of the two options you mentioned is on the table so long as you’re my student.” She stood, stepping around the side of the desk, and walked over to a closet door. Opening this, she began rummaging around within, speaking loudly enough to be audible, if somewhat muffled. “I noticed your choice of attire…prior to your current situation, that is. The black trench coat. Shows good fashion instincts; it’s hard to go wrong with a good longcoat. Practical, attractive, and it goes with anything. The choice of a black one is maybe a tad cliché, but on the other hand it’s evocative. I grasp the image you were trying to project…though maybe it would be smarter for a half-demon not to try to be intimidating.”
“Yeah, I was pretty fond of it,” he said bitterly. “Saved up the whole summer doing odd jobs to buy that…but whatever. Dunno why I expected I’d be able to keep anything nice.”
“Ugh.” She turned back around, carrying a folded heap of fabric in both hands, and kicked the closet door shut with one heel. Her expression was disdainful. “You have got to drop that self-pitying griping, Arquin. If you won’t be moved by the fact that you sound like a dumbass, let me assure you that girls are not attracted to whiners. Confidence and a sense of humor will get you much farther than pity. Though a sense of style doesn’t hurt, either. Here.”
She tossed the fabric to him; he caught it somewhat clumsily, unfolding it and then having to stand up to shake it out completely. It was a trench coat, made of corduroy in a shade of green so dark that it verged on black in the dim office. Heavy bronze buttons inscribed with dwarven runes were its only decoration.
“Black, while timeless, is a bit trite, as I said. It’s also not as stealthy as people like to think; truly black objects are rare in nature, and it tends to stand out in darkness. You’re much better off with very dark shades of primary colors. Blues and reds, but that’ll work too.” She nodded at the coat in his hands.
He stared down at it, rubbing his thumbs over the coarse fabric, then looked back up at her. “I…you’re loaning this to me? I dunno when I can get another one…”
“I don’t loan people things, Arquin, and if you want my advice you shouldn’t either. That’s a good way to lose possessions and friends in one fell swoop. No, that’s yours to keep. I have a habit of collecting trophies from beaten enemies, which sounds impressive until you realize that it’s little more than a recipe for clutter. That one belonged to a pirate lord from a century or so ago. It’s weatherproof, has a light armor enchantment that’ll protect against some physical and a lot of magical damage. Also the standard bag-of-holding spells on the pockets.” She tilted her head thoughtfully. “Now that I think on it, the guy I took that from was one of Zaruda’s ancestors. It probably would be wise not to mention that to her.”
“I…” he swallowed, keeping his eyes on the coat. “I don’t know what to say.”
“That’s a big part of your whole problem, Gabriel. For starters, you could try putting it on.”
Nodding, he did so, rather awkwardly as he tried to keep one hand on the front of his robe. Soon enough, though, the dark green coat was settled over his shoulders; he was surprised to find it a nearly perfect fit. Even his old coat had been somewhat loose on him in comparison.
“There,” Tellwyrn said with satisfaction. “I thought that looked about your size.”
“Do you know what the buttons say?” he asked, fingering one.
“Yes. From top to bottom: Beer, Honor, Family, Ham, Intelligence, and that last one is a kind of meat pastry they used to make in Svenheim that I don’t think I’ve seen in a few decades. Dwarven runes were trendy a while back; humans often tacked them onto things without getting them translated. There is some truly embarrassing centennial architecture in Tiraas.”
Finally, he lifted his eyes to hers almost shyly. “Thank you.”
Tellwyrn waved him off. “All other things being equal, a sense of style is a very important thing to have. Losing your coat, at least, was one part of tonight’s doings that I can’t entirely blame on you.” Taking him by the elbow, she steered him gently toward the door. “Off to bed with you, now, and don’t forget your assignments.”
Gabriel paused right before opening the door, looking back at her. He’d never stood this close to the Professor before; it felt a little incongruous to note that he was a couple of inches taller than she. Tellwyrn had a presence that seemed to fill whatever space she was in.
He managed a hint of a grin. “So, uh…what about after I’m not your student anymore?”
Again, she raised an eyebrow. “Remember what I was saying about you being a bonehead?”
“…right. I’ll…show myself out.”
Silence reigned until they were well out of Helion Hall, where Tellwyrn’s office was. Once the three had put a few yards between themselves and the building, Teal came to a stop, with the others following suit. She took a deep breath, wiggling her bare toes in the grass, and tilted her head back to look up at the stars. Fairy lamps ringed the nexus of lawn bordered by the Hall, the cafeteria and the admin building, but they weren’t powerful, leaving the girls with a clear view of the night sky. At the moment, there was no sign of anyone else in the vicinity.
“Well,” Teal said after a moment’s quiet, “this sure has been an evening.”
“I retrieved these for you,” said Shaeine, and pulled a pair of blue rubber sandals from within a fold of her voluminous robes. They were completely destroyed; the thongs had been snapped, one had an enormous puncture from Vadrieny’s talon in the middle of the sole, and the other was torn nearly in half.
“Ah…yeah.” Teal grimaced. “And now you know why I wear those dumb things. Actually, something about Vadrieny’s aura protects my clothes from damage when she comes out. Even the wings don’t burn holes in my shirt or anything. But, yeah, those claws don’t fit in any kind of shoes, so whatever’s on my feet gets pretty well obliterated. I actually really like a nice pair of shoes…it got downright heartbreaking to see them get shredded every time. I’ll just throw those away…”
She reached for the sandals, but Shaeine smoothly tucked them away again, giving her a bow and one of her polite little smiles. “Not at all, I believe you have had enough to deal with tonight. I’ll deposit them when we return to the tower.”
They had turned to face one another directly as they spoke. Teal opened her mouth again, looking like she wanted to protest, when she caught sight of Trissiny from the corner of her eye.
The paladin had stopped along with them, and was staring at the ground, her posture rigid. She had one hand on the hilt of her sword in a white-knuckled grip; her other was clenched so tightly that her entire arm trembled.
“Triss?” Teal said hesitantly. “You okay?”
“What do you think of me?” she asked quietly, not raising her eyes. The other two girls exchanged a glance.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” Teal said slowly.
“It’s a simple question.”
“Without context, it is anything but,” Shaeine replied. “In the broadest terms, Trissiny, I have enjoyed getting to know you.”
“I heard you talking. The first night in the tower.”
Teal cringed. “Oh. I…uh. That…that wasn’t…”
“Wasn’t you. You’ve both been perfectly nice. I appreciate that.” She lifted her face, finally, and Teal leaned reflexively backward before she could stop herself. Trissiny didn’t seem hurt or frustrated; her expression was one of pure rage, kept barely under control. “In fact, it hasn’t been most people, if I’m being fair. I wouldn’t worry myself about people who seem determined to provoke me, in general. But when the biggest offenders are the woman I room with and the one running this University…that’s a problem.”
“Triss…” Teal trailed off, not certain what to say.
“Well?” Her voice rose slightly. “Triss, what? Am I wrong? Have you actually not noticed Tellwyrn jumping on my case every chance she gets without any provocation? Or Ruda doing the same?” Her sword whispered faintly as she pulled a few inches of it from the sheath. “Zaruda Punaji is nothing more than a swaggering fool. I can ignore her. I can’t exactly brush off Tellwyrn, since she’s in charge, but I can live under a vindictive lunatic if I must. But I draw the line at being attacked by a demonblood in public and shrugging it off with a smile!”
“No one here contests that Gabriel was the instigator, or that he was unjustified,” Shaeine said gently. “I for one am curious as to his motivations; that struck me as the act of a person in a great deal of inner pain. But remember, Trissiny, that it was you who first used force.”
“Do not lecture me about force,” Trissiny snapped. She pulled more of the sword free, glaring. “I’ve studied the art of war since before I could read. War is in the mind—it’s in any contest of wills. A half-demon who screams obscenities in my face out of nowhere is someone who won’t hesitate to draw blood, and doesn’t need a reason. Well, I do, and I promise you this: the next time Gabriel Arquin gives me one, I am going to finish him off.”
“Put away the weapon,” Teal said quietly.
Trissiny glanced down at her sword and blinked, apparently surprised to see her hand in the process of slowly pulling it free. She shoved it fully back in the scabbard and removed her hand from the hilt.
“And don’t be so eager to forswear the prospect of mercy,” said Shaeine quietly. “If it helps, I concur that you have not been treated fairly by some. Since you spoke of the art of war, however, remember to consider the motivations of your opponents. Zaruda is fairly obviously acting out of insecurity, and I think most of what Tellwryn does is calculated to pressure us into adapting. Gabriel could benefit from a great deal of discipline, it’s true, but not at the expense of your compassion.”
“My compassion?” Trissiny bared her teeth. “I am the Hand of a goddess of war. Some peop—some creatures do not deserve mercy.”
“Compassion isn’t about what anybody deserves,” Teal said sadly. “Triss, you’re angry right now. Please think before you commit to any—”
“Of course I’m angry!” Trissiny snarled, throwing her arms wide. “I don’t even know what I’m doing here, and I am through taking abuse from wretched people who don’t deserve a minute of my time! And now you’re talking to me about compassion as if that has anything to do with anything. Have you ever heard of anyone beating an enemy through kindness?”
“All right, that’s enough.” Teal turned to face her full-on, meeting the paladin’s furious stare. “Have I heard of anyone prevailing through kindness? I’m a bard, Trissiny, the stories are full of people doing just that.”
“Stories! Of all the—”
“No!” Teal snapped, thrusting a finger into Trissiny’s face; the paladin reared back in surprise. “It’s my turn to talk, now! You want to know about winning through kindness? Three years ago, I was taking a walk in the woods, minding my own business, when someone opened a hellgate inside my brain. Can you even imagine what that would feel like? I can’t, and I remember it. I think you’d need a whole set of senses that humans don’t have just to appreciate the amount of pain that caused. And then, something came through it.”
She stepped backward from Trissiny, clenching her own fists at her sides, but holding the other girl’s stare. “I have tried, over and over, to describe what it was like. To my parents, to all those Priests and Imperial agents who wanted every detail. There just aren’t any words. To have something inside you, something that’s so much unfathomably bigger than you are. Your body burning up and being shredded at the same time because it can’t hold all that power, your whole identity being crushed within your own mind by the pressure of some colossal, alien intelligence trying to take root in your brain. I was burning alive, and I could barely even feel that anything was wrong with me, because her mind was all I could sense.
“And she was in worse agony than me. I could feel her pain at being crushed into something that couldn’t hold her more clearly than I could feel mine at being crushed by her. She was…screaming. It wasn’t a sound, it was like the concept of a scream, as a pure thought, filling my consciousness. Confusion, betrayal, agony…I could barely feel myself at all. I could only feel her, and all she could feel was anger and pain. So I… I gave her a hug.”
Teal shrugged, a gesture of helplessness, and actually laughed softly, though tears were sparkling in the corners of her eyes. Shaeine, off to the side, stared at her fixedly. Trissiny seemed frozen in place.
“Not a physical hug, obviously, since it wasn’t a physical thing. There was barely enough of my mind functioning for any kind of action at all, certainly not enough I could have hoped to understand what was going on. I just… I felt how she was suffering, and I opened up. Tried to embrace her, offer what little comfort I could. I did that, and only that, for… I don’t know, it must have been several hours. It took a long time for us to sort ourselves out.”
Slowly, and without fanfare, she shifted.
A spark ignited deep in Teal’s eyes, expanding until they were filled entirely with fire. The blazing wings unfolded from behind her, as her hair blossomed into flame, and her posture shifted subtly with the transitioning of her feet into birdlike talons. Six-inch claws of black bone extended from each of her graceful fingers. In the end, Vadrieny simply looked like Teal with extra features, touches of fire and wicked claws. Standing still, it was apparent that her hair and the feathers of her wings weren’t actually flames, but glowed orange from within as though formed of fire, an effect emphasized by the way her long mane gently waved about her head as though moved by an underwater current.
“I couldn’t tell you which of us was in more pain,” she said softly, and even just speaking, her voice was like a choir, like a dozen women speaking in perfect harmony. “I couldn’t feel anything except how much it hurt, just being on this plane, within this body that couldn’t hold me. The only thing I could feel outside my own agony was that…that thread of compassion. It was a lifeline, and I grabbed it and hung on. I clung to her even as pieces of me broke away and dissolved. I could feel myself fracturing, and…I was terrified.” She shivered, closing her eyes momentarily, those wings twitching behind her. “My whole identity vanished. Who I was, everything I’d done, my memories…gone. All the power that should have been mine slipped away. All I managed to hold on to was my name. I could have tried to fight it, tried to grasp it all, but that would have killed us both, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I didn’t realize anything. All I knew was that the world was nothing but agony, but I was trapped in it with one tiny little presence that offered me love. I accepted it. She gave me enough courage to let it all go…and that saved us.”
For a long moment, the demon and the paladin stared at each other, then Vadrieny shook her head. “I don’t understand love. It makes little sense to me. But I don’t argue with results. You know we weren’t the only ones? Whatever sent me to this realm sent others, into other girls, and every one of them died. Demons and girls both, burned to nothing. Teal saved us, because when her whole identity was being burned away, the only instinct she had left was to love. So yes, Hand of Avei, I follow her lead when she wants to use compassion. I don’t need to understand it to know it works. Love is stronger. It’s not as quick as force, not as immediately satisfying, but it succeeds absolutely in the long run when other methods turn against themselves.”
As gradually as she had come, the demon retreated back within. Flames died away and claws withdrew, till only Teal stood there, blinking in the lamplight. She reached up to brush away tears, but still managed a smile at Trissiny. “So yeah… I pretty much do believe in the power of compassion. You can think of it as another kind of strategy. All it takes, really, is a little patience.”
There was absolute stillness for a moment that seemed to stretch forever. Trissiny clenched her jaw once, opened her mouth as if to speak, then closed it, and glanced to the side.
Teal stepped forward, slowly, raising one hand. “Trissiny…”
“I need to pray,” the paladin said curtly, then turned on her heel and stalked off in the direction of the campus chapel.
Teal was left staring after, still with the hand reaching out to her. After a moment, she let it fall, and sighed. “Well…I tried.”
Shaeine stepped up and placed a hand gently against her back, smiling. “Let her cope, for now. This isn’t over. It is as you said: it takes a little patience.”