12 – In which a lot of nothing happens, but in a significant sort of way

"No, no, no, if you cross the trans-power lines right there, you're going to cause a blockage at this point." Trey gestured at a jumble of curves drawn in the dirt. It looked vaguely like an elephant to Effie's untrained eyes.

"What are you talking about? There's nothing going through there at all, until…" Indro started to protest.

"Exactly, there's not supposed to be anything going through there until then," Trey raised his voice over the other wizard's. "But if you re-route this pattern, it's going to bleed over into that one, and then when it is supposed to carry the weight, it'll be overburdened and…"

"Well, where else are we going to put it?" Indro snapped, pacing around the circle. "If we leave it here, it's going to unravel this whole string and then…"

Effie sighed and turned to Cynthrex."Title for the story of my week," she muttered. "Wizards Yelling at Each Other." The dragon snickered, but didn't take her eyes off the spell diagram.

The three wizards and the yellow-green dragon spent all of their time working on the spell. Apparently, they wanted to have a mostly-finished version for Effie to take to the king. Mainly this seemed to involve Trey, Indro and Cynthrex sitting outside and arguing over a bunch of complicated circles and lines. Effie generally sat with them, because the only other option would be to talk to Rathan, who was polite but uncommunicative, or Lintred, who she'd had quite enough of for a while.

"You can't do that!" Indro erupted forcefully into Effie's thoughts.

"I can so, see here, it runs through this loop and into the focus point here…"

"That's a little complicated for the purpose." Cynthrex commented.

"It's complicated, yes, but at least it would be stable. The way it is now…well I think it transferred a sort of weakness to the items we tested it on. The knight-egg and my staff, remember? I know it's not exactly the same spell, but I'd rather have it complicated and stable than simple and ready to break at a critical moment…." Trey shot an irritated glance at the other wizard. "Unlike some people, I think the more careful we are, the better."

Cynthrex glanced between him and Indro, who was practically seething. "Speaking of staffs," she interrupted quickly. "Trey, shouldn't you be working on yours? I think we could use a break here."

"Right." Trey stood up. "If only to have something to beat some sense into Indro's head with."

"It's a magic channeling device, not a bludgeoning weapon." Cynthrex sighed, sounding irritable herself.

"Oh? Seems to work just fine…a chunk of wood is a chunk of wood, no matter what you do to it."

"Maybe that's why yours keep breaking, yes? No need to blame it on the spell." Indro put in.

Trey glared at him, then turned and slammed the door on his way inside.

Effie pondered this. "How many has he broken?"

"Don't ask," Indro said with a sneer. "He really doesn't make a very good wizard."

"Then why is he here? This seems like a project for, ah…good wizards."

Indro looked at her carefully, like he just realized she was more than background decoration. "Oh, he has his points, occasionally," he shrugged, then gave sort of a half-bow and wandered back into the house.

Effie glanced at Cynthrex. "I thought Trey was pretty good. You said this was his specialty," she gestured at the diagrams. "Rewriting and spell theory or however you phrased it."

The dragon smiled at her. "It is. Indro's just angry because Trey's right about it. Everything's an argument, with wizards."

"They do seem to be at each other's throats all the time, don't they. Come to think of it, Trey and Rathan don't seem particularly fond of each other either, though they try harder to hide it."

"That's a basket of worms I don't want to open, to be honest. I just want to finish this spell and end the war. It's complicated enough without trying to figure out wizard rivalries in the bargain." Cynthrex stretched her wings and settled into a more comfortable position.

"But…" Effie glanced at the door both wizards had used. "I'm a little concerned about him making a new staff. What if a real fight breaks out?"

"Oh, don't worry about Trey. Somehow he's managed to get this far, I'm sure he can handle it himself."

Effie frowned at that. "What do you mean, somehow?"

"Well, that is…" Cynthrex looked a bit embarrassed. "Don't tell him I was analyzing his personality to you, but…I'm sure you can see it on your own, now that you've met the others. Trey doesn't seem to have enough, how to put this…deceit and guile to get very far in the Society. Most wizards gain their positions by backstabbing, undermining and power playing their way to the top. Frankly, I don't know how he's lasted at all, unless that cheerful demeanor of his is a well crafted façade."

The dragon looked thoughtful. "That is a frightening thought," she said, then snorted. "Right. I don't believe it at all. He's probably just very, very lucky."

"Youngest son syndrome," said Effie, half to herself, but Cynthrex laughed.

"Yes, that sums it up nicely. A youngest son is always the best catch, too," she winked. "Plenty of adventure and probably priceless treasures to make up for the lack of inheritance."

There she goes again. "Poor Trey," Effie said, heading for the house abruptly. "Having his life dictated for him by a stereotype."

Behind her, the dragon sighed. "You're a cold fish, Effie. I never would have thought it. Poor Trey indeed."

Effie stopped, suddenly worried. "Have I…really been that bad?" she asked, hesitantly.

Cynthrex shook her head sadly. "I don't understand it at all. Dragons don't have this sort of problem. Oh, don't look at me like that, I'm done prying. You should talk to him though, I think he could use a little cheering up."

"I thought you just said he could handle it himself," Effie said sulkily.

"Indro and Rathan, yes." Cynthrex grinned. "You're a whole different league."

A couple hours later, Effie found herself scrubbing tables and washing dishes. Since flying away from Lintred's cave, she had been looking forward to not doing any such thing for a while, but after pacing around her room trying to fit her mind around the possibility of forcing Trey to carry on a serious conversation…dishes suddenly seemed very attractive.

After working her way through enough dirty, cluttered rooms to keep a whole castle staff busy for weeks, she finally stumbled into what looked like a small library. Trey was hunched over a table, intently turning pages in a heavy looking book. In front of him a long staff was surrounded by more magical diagrams and markings, drawn, so far as Effie could tell, onto the table itself.

Deep in cleaning mode, she glared at the writing in frustration "Does that wash off, or are you planning to put a tablecloth over it later?" she asked, stepping into the room.

Trey looked up, then blinked rapidly to get his eyes to focus. "Effie! What are you doing?" he asked, ignoring her question.

"Cleaning. This place is a mess, to use the nicest word possible. I got bored," she explained.

"I'm sorry there's not much for you to do around here...but you don't have to feel obligated clean up after us," he said, waving at her to put the bucket down.

"Eh." Effie circled the table to take a look at the book he was reading. "I just felt like doing something more energetic than listening to you and Indro argue, entertaining as that might be."

"Is it?" Trey grinned up at her. "I'll have to find something else to argue with him about, then."

"Just so long as it doesn't turn into more than arguing when you finish that thing," she waved at the staff. Trey followed the gesture with his eyes.

"No promises," he said, his grin broadening. Effie glared at him. "Don't look like that, I'm just kidding! We've got more sense than that. Well, I do anyway." He shrugged, giving his opinion of the other wizard's intelligence. "I will be glad when I've got it done though, I feel half-dressed without it."

Effie giggled. "You must spend half your time replacing your 'wardrobe' then. Indro says you break a lot of them."

Trey sighed. "Indro hates me," he said, drumming his fingers on the table. "That doesn't mean it's not true, of course."

"Why?" Effie asked.

"Oh, because I keep trying different things with them. You know, collapsible ones, extra storage spaces, magic amplifiers, auto-firing spells, triple casting options… cram enough stuff in there and it blows up." He sounded rather happy about it, really. "One day, I'll get the perfect combination down, and it will be the best staff ever to…"

"I meant, why does Indro hate you?"

Trey stopped. "Oh. You know, the staffs are much more interesting."

"I'm not interested in crafting wizard staffs."

"Are you sure? I think I have another theory book around here somewhere…"

"Not right now," Effie compromised.

"Oh." Trey stood up and put his book back on the shelf. "Hmm, how to say this. Well, let's just put it simply. I'm younger than him, but I'm a full fledged wizard, while he's still an apprentice. Does that sum it up enough?"

"He's still an apprentice?" Effie blinked. "He doesn't act like you're that much better than him."

"I'm not." Trey ran a finger along some bindings. "Much as it pains me to admit it. We have different skills and specialties, but in the end we're really about the same. We've gotten in enough fights to prove that, believe you me. I just got lucky in my master…" He pulled a book out randomly, then put it back. "Or maybe he got unlucky."

"So Rathan isn't the wizard who trained you?"

Trey grimaced. "Thank goodness no, but don't let him hear me say that. My master, Demethri, decided he was going on another long-term journey not long ago and left me at the Society. He decided I was good enough, so he shoved me through the rites and proclaimed me a wizard. Or so he says." Trey shook his head. "I suspect he didn't want me along, and didn't want to go through the trouble of finding a new teacher for me. Still, the end result is the same."

"And Indro's master is Rathan…" Effie said thoughtfully. "Who doesn't seem the type to promote someone before they're good and ready."

"By his standards of ready," Trey agreed. "…and they're high. Indro will be lucky to make third class before he's too old to lift a staff anymore."

"You don't sound very sorry for him."

Trey grinned again, not terribly nicely this time. "Should I be? I'm just explaining why he hates me, don't take it to mean I care."

Effie gripped the handle of her bucket. "You are going to get in a fight with him, aren't you."

The wizard looked at her in surprise. "I'm not! Not right now. I said that."

"I don't believe you! What with Indro shouting insults at you every third word, the only thing that's keeping you from blowing things up is the fact that you can't! I've seen it in your eyes. You'll finish that staff and then everything's going to go crazy around here, isn't it!"

"Grant me a little bit of self-control, Effie! I've been dealing with those two for ages, and I think I can manage it a little longer."

Effie tried to get a grip on herself. In the back of her head, she recalled Cynthrex's voice telling her not to do exactly what she was doing now, but it was overridden by the vision of three wizards burning the whole house down throwing fireballs at each other.

"I don't have a high opinion of your self control, not where your pride is concerned," she snapped. "And that's what they've been prodding at, haven't they? Always telling you how you messed up, how you ran away, it was the perfect situation…"

"Look, I know what they've been saying, I don't need to hear it from you as well!" Trey turned on her. "And why do you assume that I'm going to be the one to start anything? Either of them would be equally likely to…"

"All the more reason not to finish this!" Swinging the bucket around, Effie unloaded it's contents in the direction of the table, hoping to dissolve the diagrams, and, she had to admit, silence a most infuriating wizard as well.

Trey was a bit faster than that, though, and stepped easily to one side of the spray. So both of them were startled when a strangled, choking cry was heard.

Rathan was standing in the doorway, now drenched, and looking utterly panicked. Only then did Effie remember what Trey had said about wizards and cleaning solutions.

"It's just water!" she exclaimed, rushing forward and offering the older wizard a towel. "I'm sorry, there wasn't even any soap in the house, I just thought I'd help out a bit…"

Rathan took the towel and wiped his face, by the time he was done, the panic was gone, replaced by a murderous scowl. Effie backed away, but he looked past her, at Trey. "What are you trying to do to me? Every where you go, it's a disaster! Can't you just leave the girl alone?"

Calming slightly, he turned to Effie. "My dear, if he's bothering you, you only have to tell me. I know how irritating he can be, trust me. You needn't resort to unorthodox projectiles."

Effie bent to retrieve the bucket, trying to think of a response. "No…" she explained as she straightened. "It wasn't like that at all! I was just trying to clean the table, you see, when it slipped out of my hands. I'm really very sorry."

Rathan glanced at the table. "Clean it?" He seemed perplexed, though Effie couldn't tell if it was the idea of cleaning, or the now-smudged writing itself that confused him.

"Yes," Trey stepped up and snatched the rather damp staff from the puddle on the table. "I was just finishing."

The older wizard looked over at him again. "Not going to do anything strange to it this time?"

"No, I thought I'd keep it simple for once."

"Is that so." Rathan's eyes were narrow now, as if he was trying to divine some extra meaning from the word 'simple'. "Well, I was coming to check on your progress, I suppose my question has been answered." Turning on his heel, he stalked out the door and disappeared down the hall.

Effie sighed explosively; she hadn't even realized she'd been holding her breath. Looking over at Trey, she saw him unobtrusively loosening his grip on the staff.

"Great," he said. "Just when I thought he was going to start being decent to me again, you had to do that."

"I wasn't aiming for him," Effie countered, setting the bucket down again. "You should have stayed put. Besides, so he'll have to change his robes or something. What's the big deal? He's not going to kill you."

Trey just looked at her with the strangest expression on his face. Slightly anxious, strained. The look someone gets when they really want to say something, but common sense holds it back by the barest measure. Suddenly he shook his head. "You're right, I'm an idiot," he laughed, almost normally. Almost.

Effie frowned. "What is it with you and Rathan anyway? He seems like a nice enough person to me, when he's not irritated at being covered in dirty water. A little arrogant, but I'm beginning to think that's just part of being a wizard. He's sincere about this whole project…I mean, he's the one who started it, isn't he? With Cynthrex?"

"Yes." Trey shook water off his new staff, and peered critically at it for a moment before meeting her gaze. She glared at him. "Effie, don't worry about it. I exaggerate, you know that. Rathan and I just have our differences, that's all."

"Like you and Indro?"

"No, not really." Trey's eyes unfocused for a minute, staring somewhere else. "Actually," he said, coming back to reality. "I don't think any two wizards in the Society get along with each other."

"Don't try to distract me. I'm not stupid, Trey! You keep tossing compliments at me, telling me how smart I am, but the minute I figure something out that wasn't in your personal plan to tell me anyway, you just shut me off like I couldn't possibly understand. It's infuriating! And Rathan's the same way…condescending. You both act like I'm some kind of amazing find, you want me to waltz in and talk to the king of the dragons and solve all your problems for you, but really I'm just like a trained puppy. I don't needed to understand why I'm shaking hands, I just need to do it because it makes other people happy, is that it?"

Trey rocked backwards as if she'd struck him. "It's not like…I mean….I never meant to…." he stammered incoherently. "Is that why you've been mad at me this whole time?"

Effie sighed. "I'm not mad at you! I'm worried about you, and the fact that you keep brushing it off makes me mad at you! Everything I've heard or read has lead me to believe that wizards are nasty, vindictive, revenge-driven people. After all that, do you expect me to believe that all this arguing isn't going to lead up to a raging war with you at the center sometime soon?"

Trey threw his hands up and paced across the floor. Then he leaned his forehead against the wall for a moment, breathing heavily, before looking over his shoulder at her. "Nasty and vindictive? Really?"

"Not you. Just wizards in general."

"Well, that's a relief. I'm not going to argue about wizards in general, but I've been trying to work on nasty and vindictive." He turned away from the wall and gave half a smile.

"Yes, yes," Effie relented. "I said I wasn't talking about you."

Trey wandered back to the table and rubbed at some of the marks. They came off easily, turning the water a cloudy grey. He picked up the towel Rathan had tossed aside and began scrubbing at the rest of the diagram. Effie watched him silently. He seemed to be thinking, and she decided to give him a chance to work out what to say for once.

"So," she said after a while. "Was it really finished?"

"Yep." Trey tossed the towel into the bucket and looked at the table appreciatively. "I was just messing around with possibilities. You probably saved me from adding something complicated and unnecessary, really." He walked over to the door and peered out, then shut it quietly.

"Okay listen. I'm only going to tell you this because apparently you're scary when you're worried, and I'd rather you weren't. Rathan doesn't like me any more than Indro does, as I suppose you've gathered. He's hated me since the day I came to the Society, and I don't think it actually has anything to do with me, personally, at all. It's something between him and my old master…they weren't on good terms.

"Since Demethri left, Rathan's been downright nasty…and he's the epitome of the vindictive, revenge-driven sort you mentioned before…right until he decided he wanted me to help with this project. Now he's…well I wouldn't say he's nice, or even polite about it, but at least he's not making my life actively miserable. Much." Trey shook his head. "Off topic. Anyway. I never would have thought he'd be the type to do something like this…peacemaking, bargaining, compromising. It's just not him, that's part of the reason I was so anxious to help. I just had to see it."

Effie looked at her hands. "Then…you're saying you don't trust him?"

"About as far as I can throw him," Trey said, spreading his hands in front of him. "Which isn't very far. I don't trust him, I don't like him, my master didn't like him, his own apprentice doesn't like him! However, I do believe him, as far as this project goes. I've been working on it very closely, and watching him as well. He's sincere about this, he has to be.

"You see, Rathan's the type who will do anything to get what he wants, and he wants that magic stashed in the Mountains of Morning. If he told me he wanted to do it to end the suffering of the war-torn masses or whatever lines he's been feeding Cynthrex, I'd never have believed him for an instant. No, he wants that power."

"And right now….it just happens that what he wants is easier to obtain by making peace with the dragons than trying to force it out of them." Effie concluded for him, quietly.

"Exactly. As long as he wants it to happen this way, he'll work his hardest to make it happen. So even though he's everything people have come to despise about wizards….he's still on our side. So you don't have to worry."

"Trey…that didn't help. I'm still worried about you, and now I'm worried about what Rathan wants all that power for, too."

Trey sighed. "This is becoming a longer explanation than I was expecting."

"Doesn't it always?"

"Of course," he smiled. "All right. You don't have to worry about me because one, even though I may have had a moment of self-doubt in front of the dragon-king, I can take care of myself around other wizards. Two, Rathan needs me, as he's made perfectly clear by such lovely phrases as 'I swear if you weren't so useful, Trenavar, I'd throw you into another dimension right now' and such. Really, I'm used to it."

When Effie didn't say anything, Trey continued, "As for what Rathan wants all that power for, I couldn't care less. The only thing that keeps dragons from wiping the Society off the face of the earth is that it's hard to aim while having an allergy attack. Remove that, and it won't matter what Rathan does with the magic. If he tries to attack the dragons, it'll be over. You see?"

"He could do something else nasty with it."

"Of course he could, but that's not the point right now. The point is stopping this war before there aren't any wizards or dragons left to fight it, yes? That's what I want to do, and what Cynthrex wants to do, and what other wizards want to do. And Rathan's going to help do it."

Effie nodded slowly, then sat down, thinking. "I think I understand but…." She stood up again, suddenly. "No…I don't understand…how am I supposed to explain this ridiculous situation to King Kazul?"

"That…I don't know." Trey sat down himself. "It's why you're here. You're much better at talking to people than I'll ever be. I just annoy them." He turned a forced sort of smile up at her, but it faded quickly. "Effie, I'm sorry, I've just made things worse, haven't I?"

Effie shook her head, but it was true, in a way. She didn't know what to think now. She wanted to run, run away from this strange house and wizards with ulterior motives who may or may not try to kill each other at any given moment. Go back home to her quiet, boring, stupid little village and never see a dragon or a staff again.

Trey looked down at the floor. "I always do. Like the whole business of getting you involved in the first place. Rathan's right, really, I should have minded my own business and stuck with Cynthrex but…" he glanced briefly up at her, then back down. "You looked like a friendly face in enemy territory, so to speak. I just wanted someone to talk to…but that was probably a mistake. I kind of made you my lifeline, but instead of you pulling me out…I just dragged you in as well. I'm sorry."

Never see Trey again, Effie thought. He'd been trying so hard, being so nice to her, and all she could do was brush him off, and he never said a word about it, and now… he looked really distraught. It was unsettling, she was so used to the impenetrable calm. Effie felt tears welling up in her eyes.

"Ahh! Don't cry," Trey exclaimed, looking panicked. "It's really unfair…"

"U-unfair!" Effie choked out. "You, you sit there with your magic and your staff and your stupid ego between you and the world and you have the audacity to tell me a little…salt water… is unfair!" Seeing him looking around for something to offer her, she pulled her own handkerchief out of her pocket.

Wiping her eyes, she looked at the wizard again. He still looked frantic. She had to say something. "You didn't drag me in. I jumped," she explained, trying to smile. "And, I guess…I wanted someone to talk to as well. Someone who wasn't part of the whole convoluted lie I'd set up for myself. Someone I didn't have to worry about saying something wrong in front of."

"But instead, you ended up part of an even bigger, more complicated problem."


That didn't seem to help him out any. "Effie, I'm sorry. Look, I'll tell Rathan you don't want any part of this anymore. We can rig up some kind of spell to send you home, and you can just forget…"

"Oh, give me a break, Trey! I'm not leaving now!" Effie carefully stepped over the fact that that was exactly what she'd wanted to do a minute before. "So I'm having a little moment of self-questioning regret. It'll pass. I mean…" she stumbled to a halt, then sighed. "That is, I think, somewhere deep down inside, I've always wanted to do something like this. Otherwise…I would've had Lintred take me home the minute he found out I wasn't really a princess. Heck, I could've asked you to take me home the minute you found out. But no, I stayed and played with knights and dragons and wizards, and really, now that I think about it, it's kind of been fun. A strange sort of fun, I admit, but…. I'm not ready to stop now. It'd be like stopping in the middle of a book. I'd always be wondering how it ends."

"But…" Trey stopped. "But…" he tried again, and Effie burst out laughing. He just looked so confused.

"Don't worry, girls are always in two minds about everything," she said soothingly. "You get used to it."

Trey blinked rapidly, then managed half a smile. "I, uh, wouldn't know. We don't see too many girls at the Society."

Effie grinned at him. "Somehow, I could tell."

"Then…so you're saying you still want to go through with this?" Effie nodded. Trey continued to examine the floor for a while, then he looked up and smiled, a real smile for the first time that afternoon. "You're incredible. I don't think I could do it, if I were you."

She found herself blushing again. "I'm not really. I think I'm just running in front of the wind most of the time, one step ahead of disaster. I have very little control over it."

"That's what makes it incredible," Trey said stubbornly, then shook his head. "Well fine, apparently compliments irritate you, so I'll retract it. Come on, let's clean up the rest of this mess." He wrung the towel out in the bucket and started to move the rest of the water around the floor with it.

Effie sat on the edge of the table. She'd done enough cleaning for the day. Besides, she wanted to think. "Trey," she said after a minute, then realized she didn't actually know what she wanted to say. Most of what she'd thought about seemed kind of embarrassing when you came down to it.

"Hmm?" he looked up.

"Well, um," she fished around a bit. "If this works out, what do you want to do with all the power from the Mountains?"

Trey tilted his head to one side. "Make a collapsible, magic-amplifying staff with unlimited spell capacity and an automatic shielding option, of course."

"Of course," Effie echoed faintly.

"I never really thought about it in any specific terms, but that seems as good a plan as any."

The next week passed uneventfully. Effie continued to clean the house from top to bottom, which caused Rathan to avoid her like the plague. Trey seemed a lot more cheerful since he was armed again, and managed to work out the last few kinks in the spell without yelling at Indro once, or anything blowing up. Cynthrex and Lintred hung around the backyard like overgrown lizards in the sun and winked at her every time she passed, like they were sharing some kind of joke. She ignored them both.

Finally, when she thought she might actually run out of rooms to clean, the three wizards presented her with a large scroll, bound tightly shut with leather cords. "This is the best we can manage without other dragons' input," Trey explained. "Cynthrex offered to let us test it on her and Lintred, but really, it's not the sort of thing that can be tested realistically outside the Mountains themselves, so…"

"I wouldn't give that to the king straight off, if I were you," Rathan added. "She might dismiss it out of hand. It would be best to gain her trust first…"

"I think I'll figure it out as I go along," Effie interjected, taking the scroll. "It's worked for me so far."

The old wizard looked concerned. "A little planning…"

"You've had two weeks to finish this spell up," Effie rolled over him again. "And I've had two weeks to think about how to sell it, so to speak. If you want me to do this for you, you're going to have to exert a little trust." She tossed her head and turned to where Lintred was waiting, almost able to feel the wizard glaring at her back.

I'm not a trained puppy, she thought at them. I know why I want to do this, and I can do it myself.

The dragon was looking down at her as she put a hand against his side. "You want to ride this time?"

"Yes, I think I will. It can't be any worse than the other way."

Before she could climb up, however, someone tugged on her sleeve, and she almost smacked into Trey as she turned around. "Hi!" he said, grinning at her.

"Did I forget something?"

"No…I just wanted to tell you to be careful, that's all."

"Of course I'll be careful," Effie giggled at him. "Besides, I think Rathan was right in the first place. I can't promise this'll work out, but King Kazul's not going to eat me or anything. I'm not a wizard. If you walked back in there right now, I don't think it would go well at all."

"I'm not planning on walking back in there until you wave a green flag at me and say it's okay," the wizard snickered. "But I might send Indro."

"Trey!" Effie shook her head, then glanced over his shoulder at the other wizards. "You be careful too."

"Bah, I told you not to worry about them. Nothing's happened yet, has it?"

"Only because I've been running around armed with a bucket," Effie said slyly.

Trey laughed. "Yes, yes, you're terrifying." He looked down for a second. "Hey, if something doesn't go right…and the dragons send you back to your hometown…um, I'll come find you, okay? So…you don't have to…well that is…if you want."

Effie glanced up at Lintred, who was watching them intently and suspiciously silently. "Well, that is…er…" she felt as incoherent as Trey sounded. "That would be great," she rushed on. "You'll probably have to rescue me from my parents when they find out what I've been doing all this time."

Trey beamed at her. "Not that it'll come to that, I'm sure." He stepped back. "Good luck." Effie clambered up Lintred's back while the dragon directed her where to sit. By the time she'd gotten settled, Trey had rejoined the others.

He turned to Rathan and spoke in the same conversational tone he'd been using to Effie. "You know, if you're wrong about this, if the king of the dragons turns out to be anything less than the level-headed being you portray her to be…if anything happens to her at all, I'm going to kill you."

Rathan's eyes widened ever so slightly. "You'll what?" His voice was very low.

"You heard me."

"Don't be ridiculous, there's no danger at all." Rathan smiled up at Effie. "Not that I'm saying you shouldn't exert a normal amount of caution."

"Of course." Effie couldn't think of anything else to say. She looked between the two wizards and tightened her grip on Lintred's neck, her heart pounding rapidly, and not from fear of flying this time. The young dragon backed away quickly, giving himself room to take off.

"She's got you wrapped around her fingers, doesn't she," she heard Rathan whisper behind her. "That's almost pathetic, Trenavar."

Effie was sure she wasn't supposed to hear that, and she almost wished she hadn't. Perched on the dragon's back, she looked down. Trey waved at her. She took a deep breath.

"I'll see you soon!" she called, waving back. Anything else she wanted to say was driven from her mind as Lintred sprang into the air.