It had ended up being a fairly early night by the time they all got back to the Guild. Between that and the previous night’s disruptions, she had slept early and well, and been awake at her habitually early hour. In fact, by the time she made it to the mess hall, they were only just beginning to serve breakfast, and so some minutes later, she was stepping into the pit, fed and ready to begin the day, at an hour when hardly anyone was about and most of the other apprentices were still sound asleep.
She stopped and turned. Pacing toward her was the older man who had been with Grip the day before, studying her through slightly narrowed eyes. Graying hair and the lines of his face alone betrayed his age; he was straight-backed and trim of build, with an incisive gaze set currently in a pensive expression.
In each hand, he carried a stick about a yard long; as soon as she turned to him, he tossed one in her direction, which she caught reflexively.
“Spar with me.”
Before she could squeeze out a second word, he surged forward, stick upraised, and instinct took over. She deflected his probing strike, then the next, and then directly blocked the third to test the strength of his blows.
It was considerable.
His sharp, contemplative expression never changed as he continued pressing her. The pattern he established was immediately familiar; he was testing her abilities, probing her defenses, gauging the speed of her reflexes and the precision of her movements. Jasmine, mindful of her place as an apprentice in the Guild, endured this patiently for a few rounds, allowing him to push her backward, before suddenly striking out more aggressively.
At that, even as he gave ground under her assault, the man permitted himself a slight smile.
Attempting to probe him in return was unsatisfying, to say the least; his every movement was precise as dwarven machinery, evading and deflecting each attack with exactly the force it demanded and no more. She sensed immediately that this was an opponent whose martial skill outstripped hers by far, even when he was refraining from demonstrating it. This kind of pure, unharried control in the face of her efforts reminded her of sparring with the Avenist blademasters who had trained her initially, and more recently with Professor Ezzaniel.
Then, he abruptly switched to attack again, pressing harder than before—so hard she was suddenly forced to seriously exert herself. His strikes remained eerily perfect in placement, but they came faster, and from unexpected angles, and hit harder to boot. She swiftly realized that meeting him head-on was a losing strategy, and switched to evasion. Still he came, forcing her to spin aside ever more rapidly.
Without warning, his entire body surged forward following what she had initially mistaken for an exploratory prod at her defenses, and her answering evasion allowed him to slip behind her. She spun, then spun again—it was as if he had disappeared.
No—he was behind her, and stayed there no matter how she twisted to face him again. Then, as she finally bounded forward to gain distance, he was suddenly there again; his stick came down on hers from above with numbing force, sending it clattering to the ground, and an instant later it halted an inch from her eyes, the strike that would have bowled her over backward reined in at the last possible instant.
Jasmine stared at the shaft of wood from far too close, only now becoming aware that she was breathing heavily and sweating. She took one careful step backward, and he lowered his weapon at the same moment.
“So,” she said cautiously, “you’ve done this before.”
At that, he favored her with a small smile, then lowered his fighting stick to his side and bowed from the waist. “I am Silence.”
She returned the gesture. “Jasmine. But you seem to know that.”
“One of my old pupils identified you to me. Suggested I should examine the level of your skill.”
He nodded once, again studying her consideringly. “What an interesting life you have led.”
“I beg your pardon?” She frowned, unable to keep the wariness out of her voice.
“You are very good for one your age,” he replied, still contemplating her in perfect calm. “The Eagle Style is distinctively recognizable; even Grip said you were clearly trained in it, though yesterday, what I saw you demonstrate against that boy was a classic Sun Style evasive pattern. That is the intriguing blend I see in you. Intensive training in the martial art of the Sisterhood, but with the most unlikely additions. Omnist fighting, but you also employ a Narisian saber form when evading, and those lunges are distinct to Punaji fencing—power and the illusion of wildness, remaining under perfect control.”
“Yes. Well.” She absentmindedly shifted backward half a step. “I suppose I had a rather privileged upbringing; I’ve only begun to really appreciate that since coming here. I had teachers from all over—”
“No.” He contradicted her flatly, but without ire or aggression. “You were trained in the Eagle Style alone, and trained to incredible competence. The rest are mere tidbits in comparison, things you have picked up here and there as you encountered them. It is most unusual to see someone so young who has so mastered the Eagle Style’s dueling form; almost all of what is taught to the Legions and the girls raised in Avei’s monasteries is phalanx fighting. There are plenty of blademasters among the Sisterhood, of course, but they are older women who have studied it in their own time. In this day and age, single combat is little more than a performance art, having scarce application in war.”
“That is…creepy,” she said frankly.
At this, he smiled again. “It’s little more than a parlor trick, in truth. It is said that fighting styles are as individual as faces; I happen to have devoted my life to them, and to their understanding. It is not boasting to say that few others would perceive in your attacks what I do. Hardly anyone has a need. There are many paths in Eserion’s service, and I have found mine chiefly as a teacher of the martial arts.”
“I see,” she said carefully. “Then I thank you for the lesson.”
Silence studied her mutely for a moment longer, then stepped forward, producing a small envelope from a pocket of his coat and extending it to her. “This is an invitation for you, from Glory. She wished me to offer it if I judged your level of skill commensurate with her needs.”
Jasmine frowned at the envelope, making no move to accept it. “Who is Glory?”
“A thief,” he replied, still holding it patiently out to her. “One who commands immense respect, both in the Guild and in the city at large. She does not have the power, explicitly, to give orders to me or even to you. But a request from Glory is one you would be well advised to take with the utmost seriousness.”
Finally, she reached out to take the envelope from him. “All…right. Thank you.”
“Her address is written within,” Silence said. “She will be available for you to visit any time before noon today.”
He bowed to her once more, then took two steps back before turning and climbing the stairs to the upper level, where he vanished from sight.
Jasmine frowned at the envelope in her hand, turning it over, and only after a close inspection opened it to study the scented sheet of parchment within. After a moment, she made her own way toward the steps, barely paying attention to her path as she read and re-read the missive.
Thus distracted, she paid no mind to the very few apprentices and senior thieves currently present in the pit, though all of them were now watching her closely. Including Tallie, who leaned in the doorway to the dormitory with her arms folded, studying Jasmine through narrowed eyes.
Glory’s address was in a row of large townhouses in a very expensive district, where Jasmine’s clearly secondhand coat drew contemptuous looks and a number of outright sneers, which she ignored. She did have to pause in front of the gate to peer upward at the house, and then double-check the address on the invitation. This place was bigger than Bishop Darling’s house, and its front garden was not only twice the size but looked like it would have been lavish if it were not midwinter; the desiccated state of the shrubbery and the lack of snow to obscure it were unfortunate.
She passed through the gate, crossed the path as quickly as possible, and rang the bell. No sense beating around the dried-up bush.
After a very short span of time, the door opened inward, revealing an expressionless blond man in his thirties, wearing a suit identical to that which she remembered seeing on Darling’s Butler, Price.
“Good day,” he said, the two words a masterpiece of pronunciation. Just the faintest upnote in the phrase, coupled with an infinitesimal movement of his left eyebrow, subtly challenged her prerogative to be here. The effect was unmistakeable, and yet went nowhere near crossing a line which would have justified any complaint on her part.
“Good morning,” she replied, proffering the violet-scented invitation. “My name is Jasmine; Glory asked me to come.”
“Of course,” the Butler said, smoothly stepping back and opening the door for her. “You are expected. Please, come in.”
She tried not to gawk, but couldn’t help peering around in fascination as the Butler led her across a marble-floored entrance hall, up a curved staircase with gilded bannisters, through a short hallway draped with crimson velvet hangings, and into a sunny little sitting room. The décor in this place was…striking. Expensive, yes, which was hardly surprising given the size and location of the house, but in terms of taste it ran heavily to reds and golds, dark woods, and golden marble. Cases of worn-looking books were interspersed with equally well-used weapons both hanging on walls and displayed behind glass. If she had to put a word to the overall aesthetic, it would be “masculine.” That is, until she reached the little sitting room on the second floor, which was done in shades of blue and mauve that really seemed they should have clashed but did not, accented by touches of lace and oil paintings depicting mostly pastoral scenes.
The Butler showed her to a seat in a dainty armchair and bowed out of the room, assuring her the mistress of the house would be with her presently. Upon his departure, she drummed her fingers on her knees, peering about with a sensation just short of nervousness. More than anything, she was curious about this Glory, but the house itself made her feel keenly out of place.
Luckily, she was not kept waiting long before the door opposite the one through which she had entered opened, and her hostess stepped in.
“Ah, the famous Jasmine!” Glory said with a broad yet sly smile, and Jasmine began to have a sinking feeling about this. Glory was a strikingly beautiful woman who could have been anywhere between twenty-five and forty, and at first glance appeared just to have awakened. At any rate, her dark hair hung unstyled down her back, and she wore a brocaded robe over…apparently nothing. Upon closer inspection, however, Jasmine noted that the hair in question was freshly washed and had been brushed to a luminous sheen, the robe was artfully opened at the neck to display a generous hint of cleavage that couldn’t possibly be so pert without hidden support, and her lovely features showed subtle but clear cosmetics. Also, upon Glory’s arrival, the same scent of violets which suffused Jasmine’s invitation wafted into the room.
“I don’t know about that,” Jasmine said diplomatically, rising politely to greet her hostess. “It’s a mystery to me why anybody seems to know who I am.”
“And is that not intriguing?” Glory replied in a tone which could have been accurately characterized as a purr. She stepped forward, offering her hand in a position that left Jasmine no clear option except to take it gently and lay a kiss on her wrist, like a courtier in a chapbook.
She let a beat of confusion pass before sliding her own hand under Glory’s, gently wrapping her fingers around the woman’s wrist in a warrior’s handshake, and delicately yet firmly turning their grasped hands to a more normal orientation. Rude, possibly. She was aware that she lacked understanding of the etiquette at play here, and equally aware that she was being baited. Better to make it plain up front that she wasn’t going to play along. If that resulted in a quick expulsion from the house, well, she didn’t really know why she was here in the first place.
Glory, if anything, seemed mightily amused by Jasmine’s little display, and made a point of dragging her fingertips flirtatiously along her wrist when disengaging from the handshake.
“Please, sit down, be comfortable,” she said pleasantly, suiting the words by lowering herself smoothly into a similar chair opposite the small serving table from Jasmine’s.
“Thank you for inviting me over,” Jasmine said carefully, seating herself again. “I apologize if I seem…blunt…but I am really not educated for, ah…high society. I mean no disrespect. And I’m puzzled as to why you wished to speak to me at all.”
“Well, my dear, etiquette is what it is,” Glory said idly, lounging back in her armchair and daintily crossing her legs, the pose subtly suggestive without being too bold. “A long list of little customs which must be memorized to be observed. Overrated, I think. Blunt or no, you show respect and consideration in your manner, and that counts for far more in my estimation.” She paused, smiling with that same bare hint of mischief, before continuing. “As for why you are here… Tell me, what have you heard about me?”
“Nothing,” Jasmine said honestly. “Only your name, and that only this morning. From Silence, who I had also never heard of before.”
“I see.” For some reason, this answer seemed to amuse and delight her hostess. “Well! I am Tamisin Dinara Sharvineh, also known in Eserion’s service as Glory, and if I might be forgiven for flattering myself, a somewhat unusual creature. You are doubtless acquainted with some of the more common paths we Eserites tend to tread as we rise through the Guild. The con artists, the enforcers, the sneak-thieves, the purse-cutters. There are as many variations on these themes as there are people to practice them; ours is a faith which firmly discourages blind adherence to custom. Beyond that, though, many choose to find more unique ways of living Eserion’s faith. Silence is one; Lore, who I shall presume you have met by this point, is another. Such as they are a vital part of the Guild’s structure. Others dwell more on the outskirts of the Eserite sphere, no less esteemed or important for being unique. I am one of those.”
“Is that so?” Jasmine said politely.
Glory’s smile widened almost imperceptibly. “I am… Well, as a concept the profession has largely disappeared from civilized society, thanks chiefly to the influence of Izara and her priests. The most applicable word would be ‘courtesan.’”
Jasmine opened her mouth, then shut it after a moment, failing to find a single safe thing to say in response. She was keenly aware of the flush rising in her cheeks, especially under Glory’s knowing smile.
“From what I understand,” she murmured, “you must have been raised by Avenists, to have drilled in their combat styles as much as Grip and Silence believe you have. Tell me… Would that be Jasmine Avelea, or are you simply the daughter of devout parents with means?”
“Excuse me,” Jasmine said, finding somewhat safer footing in rejection, “but with all due respect, I am not interested in discussing my personal history.”
“Oh, but of course,” Glory said languidly, waving a hand—whose fingers, Jasmine noted for the first time, had their nails immaculately painted. For heaven’s sake, it wasn’t even midmorning. “You must pardon me—I am inquisitive by nature, but you will find I do not in the least lack respect for privacy. It is a vital trait in my profession, after all. But I have brought you here to explore possible answers to intriguing questions. And I can only imagine you must have several of your own.”
“I…” Jasmine had to pause to clear her throat, which seemed to amuse Glory. Her annoyance at that helped to ground her. “Frankly, I don’t understand what that has to do with stealing.”
“Stealing is a means to an end, Jasmine,” Glory said. “Nobody steals just to steal; those who claim they do are in it for the rush, for the thrill. Eserion is the patron of thieves in much the way Avei is looked to by lawyers, judges, and police. Not because the deity is of those things, but because their defining concept encompasses them. Eserion, young lady, can be best understood as the god of defiance.”
“I see,” Jasmine mused, frowning. “That’s…hm. I appreciate the insight; I haven’t had the chance to learn much actual Eserite theology yet. But, um…my question stands.”
“Oh?” Glory raised one immaculate eyebrow, sculpted as much by brush and pencil as by genetics. “I suspect you have made some erroneous assumptions. I am certainly not a whore; I do not rent my body, or my attention. It is through less direct and more powerful means that I accumulated all this.” She gestured idly around the tastefully expensive sitting room. “Try to understand the mindset of the very rich, and very powerful. Almost anything they want, they can buy, or take. It diminishes the value of having; human beings are meant to work, to earn. We take sadly little pleasure in pleasures that cost us nothing, and so much of the misery of acquisition is rooted in everyone’s failure to understand this. Were I for sale, well…what would be the point of me? Anyone wanting sex can simply walk into a temple of Izara—or, if they have somehow offended even the Izarites, go to a brothel. A few such do manage to exist.”
She straightened up slowly, leaning toward Jasmine in a way that displayed more of her cleavage, though her now-serious expression was arresting enough to hold her guest’s gaze. The same might not have been true of someone interested in ogling another woman’s bosom, but Jasmine was, in spite of herself, now too interested in Glory’s explanation to think on such things.
“Men and women do not come here looking to buy my affection. Oh, they bring me gifts, this is true. Lavish gifts, generally, though even that does not fund the lion’s share of my lifestyle. I operate a kind of…salon, here. It is a lively establishment, most evenings, where I hold court among the rich, the bored, the powerful…the lonely. We discuss all manner of things. Art, history, enchantment, politics, war… I am fully conversant in all the topics that are bandied about in the halls of the Palace itself.” She smiled coyly, somehow not losing the intensity of her gaze to it. “It is a rather less restrictive environment, of course. All of my guests are free to let their hair down—not enough that my home embraces bawdiness, but enough to grant them a tantalizing liberty they are denied in more acceptable settings. And I, of course, rule my tiny kingdom with just the right touch of flirtation, the merest hint of sensuality, to keep them intrigued, and always coming back. Each relationship is a thing I cultivate carefully, and with sincere appreciation for the individual which whom I share it.”
She shrugged disarmingly, now shifting to lean against the arm of her chair in a way that dramatically emphasized the long curve of her waist and hip. “And many do manage to spend a night, here and there, in my arms. Not all—perhaps not even most. The promise, the possibility, is always there, however. That is what keeps them intrigued by me. Anything else in this world they can reach out and take at a whim. They cannot buy me, however. To have me, they must earn me. And so they spend countless hours and fortunes in my company. That which must be sought, charmed, quested for, is so much more valuable than that which can be merely bought. No one feels cheated, or is cheated, by dancing in my circle, even if they never attain the ultimate prize.”
“I…see,” Jasmine murmured, well aware that her posture was visibly stiff and uncomfortable.
“Perhaps you are beginning to,” Glory said, again with that sly smile. “You are still overburdened by the hang-ups disguised as morals your upbringing inflicted upon you.”
“Is it worth it?” Jasmine asked quietly.
Glory’s expression immediately sobered. “For me? More than worth it. I would not suggest this life to anyone who did not have the inclination. I love it all, though. The conversation, the politics. The games, the emotions, the people. And yes, the love, both physical and otherwise. It is for each person to discover how they are best served by their sexuality; I am immensely gratified by sharing myself with a variety of Tiraas’s most fascinating people. I rather suspect that you would not be. Many wouldn’t.”
“I’m still not sure I understand, though. How is this stealing or defiance?”
Glory shook her head, smiling again. “Child, the most powerful people in the Empire circulate through my home, my life, and my bed. They do it by talking, and by competing for my affection. My true trade is in secrets, and in favors. Nothing happens in this city that I cannot learn just by asking; there is very little that I cannot cause to happen by whispering the right words in the right ears. It’s an influence that must be wielded with the utmost subtlety; nothing would destroy all I have built faster than overreaching. But provided I don’t get greedy—which I do not—I am positioned to provide that which the Guild needs most of all.”
She shifted again, back to her original pose, leaning back in the armchair and smiling knowingly.
“I see,” Jasmine said again. “I…actually begin to think that I do.”
“Yes, you would not be here if my friends thought you too dense to grasp it,” Glory said pleasantly.
“Why am I here, though? You said it yourself; this kind of thing is not for me. And I’m definitely not the sort of person who can contribute to your…enterprise.”
“Ah, so now we come to it,” Glory said solemnly. “The truth is, Jasmine, I am looking for an apprentice.”
Jasmine shot to her feet before realizing she was going to. “I will never—”
She obeyed instantly, reflexively. Glory had neither raised her voice nor roughened her tone, but there was in it the absolute conviction that she would obeyed which Jasmine had been taught from the cradle to respect.
“Dear girl,” Glory said, shaking her head, “of course you’re not the type to pursue my path in life. I told you as much; I really don’t see it in you. Besides, the nature of a Guild apprenticeship isn’t just in following a sponsor’s footsteps; it matters how you fit into your sponsor’s life and career while you are there. It would utterly wreck my methods to have someone around who served as competition. No… I need very specific things in an apprentice, and I have had my friends in the Guild keeping their eyes open for a likely prospect. You are the first such who has been brought to my attention. I am, you see, exceedingly particular.”
“Why me?” Jasmine asked warily.
“What I require,” Glory explained, “is a counterpoint. Someone calm and decorous where I am vivacious and flirtatious. Someone martial and dangerous where I am soft and pleasing—and as able and willing to demonstrate his or her skills as I am my own. Someone who can contribute, converse intelligently and be a positive presence in my salon. And finally—and this is most important—someone who will benefit from my teaching.”
She straightened, for the first time assuming a simple, upright posture, regarding Jasmine with a serious expression.
“Someone who needs to learn what I can teach them about subtlety, careful influence, and the uses of a light touch. I am, here, making my most presumptuous guess yet, but… That is the thing you came to the Guild to learn, no?”
Slowly, Jasmine nodded.
Glory nodded in return. “What made you break with the faith of Avei?”
“I…” She glanced away. “It’s a little difficult to… The truth is, I am something of a brute. I’ve realized it fairly recently. I still value Avei’s principles, but it’s becoming more and more clear to me that you just can’t get anywhere in the modern world with the attitude that every problem is an evil to vanquish. The Sisterhood are right about a lot of things…but they aren’t right about everything. I came to the Guild to learn other ways of… Of acting, but also of understanding.”
Glory’s answering smile was simple and honest in a way that none of her previous expressions had been. “It may be that you are exactly what I seek. And that I am what you seek.”
Jasmine shrugged, slumping back into her own chair. “I, um… Maybe. The thought is so weird to me I’m having a hard time looking at it objectively.”
Her hostess smiled in pure, friendly amusement. “Well, let me pose a question to you, Jasmine. What is your greatest passion in life?”
“Justice,” she said immediately.
Glory nodded. “And why is that?”
Jasmine gaped at her. “I—that—well. I mean, it’s justice?”
“That is your upbringing talking.” Glory pointed a manicured finger at her. “In fact, I have known a good many people in my time who were driven by a passion for justice. Interestingly, most were either Avenists or Eserites. And every one of them, without exception, could tell me exactly the thing which ignited that passion within them. In every case, it was a painful encounter with injustice which left them compelled to seek out and destroy that monster wherever it lurked. You, though? You are following a path laid out for you by those who came before. And that will lead you nowhere.”
“Just because I haven’t suffered the way others have doesn’t mean I’m not sincere,” Jasmine said irritably.
“Sincerity isn’t passion,” Glory retorted. “Oh, don’t mistake me, you need a lot more than passion to get ahead in life. There’s a great deal of skill and technique that goes into building a meaningful existence. But without passion? Without something that drives you? You have no place to begin. Unless you are driven from within, you will be driven from without—either by the randomness of the world, or by clever people who would exploit you for their own gain. What drives you, Jasmine? Forget Avei, forget Eserion, discard all systems and ideologies. What is the thing inside you that burns, that pushes you forward to make a better world, and a better you?”
Jasmine stared at her, not even aware that her mouth was slightly open.
Glory studied her thoughtfully for a few long seconds before speaking again.
“I will have to think on this, Jasmine. I suggest you do as well. You…intrigue me. I see possibility here. But…whether it is the possibility we both need, I am not yet sure. Are you?”
Jasmine swallowed heavily. “I’m…less sure of everything than I was when I walked in here.”
Glory’s answering smile was sympathetic. “I don’t say this to many people, but… Whether or not we decide to proceed together, my door is open to you, whenever you need it. Best that you visit me in the mornings; something tells me that without specific coaching, you would mix poorly with the guests who are usually to be found in my home in the evenings. But when you have a need, you may come to me. I think that, whatever else befalls, you and I can help one another.
“For now, though, I thank you for this extremely enlightening visit, and must bid you good day. The preparations for my night’s work are more involved than you would perhaps believe.”
Outside the opulent townhouse, she came to a stop just past the gate, staring at the rich houses across the street and not seeing them.
Passion? Nothing in her early upbringing had covered that. If anything, Avei’s faith encouraged comprehension, restraint, discipline. Avenist fanatics existed—she had recently shared a campus with one—but there weren’t many and they tended not to get far in the cult. Most Avenists found them rather uncomfortable to be around.
Passion was no part of her University education either. Tellwyrn’s program emphasized rationality even more heavily than the Sisterhood did, and with even less patience for foolishness.
Something was tickling at the back of her mind. Something which seemed connected to her increasing frustration with this whole enterprise, but also to her hope for what she wanted to achieve. This was another piece of the puzzle… But it suggested more pieces which were still out of her reach.
How to connect all this? She couldn’t figure a way to make the disparate fragments of her understanding fit together. If anything, her slow education in the ways of the Eserites was only pulling it all apart.
She had an idea, of course, how to proceed, but…
“Miss? Are you lost?”
Jasmine snapped back out of her inner world, finding herself confronted by an Army patrolman. He stood directly in front of her, his face and posture neither aggressive nor sympathetic. All at once, she remembered that in her casual clothing and slightly scruffy longcoat, she did not in any way look like the sort of person who had any business standing around in a neighborhood like this.
“Actually, yes,” she said, suddenly seizing on an idea. “Can you direct me to the Imperial botanical gardens? The sheltered one, in the glass dome. I was sent in this direction but I can’t even see a building like that over the houses…”
“I’m afraid you’re extremely turned around, miss,” the officer said, lifting his eyebrows. His tone didn’t quite express suspicion, but hinted that he wasn’t buying this story. “That’s in the northeast quadrant of the city, very near the center. You’re in the southwest and about four blocks too far toward the walls.”
She sighed heavily and rubbed at her forehead. “That’s just…fantastic. Really. Ugh… I’m sorry to be a bother, but if it’s not too much trouble… What’s the best way to get there you can suggest for someone with the Empire’s worst sense of direction? I started out from the old spice market and…”
At that, he smiled, if only very faintly. “Well, it’s actually fairly simple; if you’re new to the city, I wouldn’t try getting directly from one point to another. The trick is always to start at Imperial Square, which is right in the center. You can find it from anywhere, and you can get anywhere from it. In this case, you’d just take the northeast street out of the square, and the gardens will be barely a block along on your right.”
“Thank you,” she said feelingly. “Really, that’s good advice. Always from the Square, right. And from here, that is, uh…” She stood on tiptoe, craning her neck.
“That way, miss,” he said, pointing up the street to her right. “This avenue is leveled out, but if you look around you can usually manage to see the general slope of the city. Imperial Square is always uphill. When you run out of uphill to go, you’re there.”
“Thanks so much, officer, you’re a lifesaver,” she said, bowing to him.
“Ma’am,” he replied politely, nodding in return. At least he seemed less suspicious now.
She set off in the direction he had indicated. All that had mostly been to avoid a confrontation, and she was sort of proud of herself for coming up with it on the spur of the moment. She was already thinking more like a thief. The idea itself, though…
Well, it was probably a bad idea. But it was the only one she had at the moment, and it certainly wouldn’t be the worst one she’d ever had.