"If you walk steadily, you will spend the night beside Temptation Lake," Weiryn informed them, drawing that body of water close to the trail. "Do not drink from it – unless you desire to be tempted, of course."
A vision of Numair, reclining among three naked, lovely women who fed him grapes, or rubbed his feet, or finger-combed his hair, filled the air over the counter. From Numair's deep blush, she could tell that he saw it, too.
"Not funny, Da," she told her father, her voice very dry.
"Neither of us is in the mood for temptation, Lord Weiryn," the mage added quietly.
"Hmph," snorted the god. "Well, just don't drink the water there. It's a good place to stop – no dweller of the Divine Realms may harm another within a league of Temptation Lake." He re-wet his brush, and continued to draw.
I had finished packing up camp but had decided not to wake up Daine just yet. The sun was only just above the horizon in the Realm of the Gods and despite the grounds around us being lit, there was no warmth to the Earth.
Earth, if that's even what this is, I mused. We were travelling through the Divine Realms but it was fast-paced, with no time for sight-seeing. A shame, too. We must've been the first mortals to be here in goodness knows how many millennia.
But there were other things at stake. Tortall, our friends, against Orzone and the war.
I folded my legs beneath me and attempted to meditate, but I kept getting distracted. Once by the duck-mole, the god of the strange creatures who lived on the other world. He informed me that he was going hunting and to remind me once again not to drink from the lake. With a sigh I tried to clear my mind and empty the thoughts from my head. I listened to my own breathing and heart-rate.
An image of Orzone and myself, as children, as humans, infiltrated my mind.
We were laughing, playing with smaller versions of the army's bows, trying to see who could pull them back the furthest. My little arms shook at the effort to pull the arrow back and finally I dropped it. Orzone laughed.
"You try it then," I grumbled. Orzone grinned a cheeky grin and took the bow from the ground. Confidently he nocked the arrow, pulled it back, and let it fly. It hit the outer rim of the red-and-white target a few metres away. He turned and flexed his 'muscles' triumphantly at me.
I stuck my tongue out at him. "You have to win everything!" I told him teasingly. He stuck out his tongue back. "Suck it up, Arram." I jumped for him and we wrestled in the dirt, both laughing.
I fell to the ground, my chest heaving, seething at the memory. I had tried to empty all of those thoughts out. I wasn't Arram anymore, I was Numair. Numair Salmalín, mage of Tortall, teacher of Veralidaine Sarrasri.
I glanced at Daine now. She was so peaceful when she was sleeping. I found myself edging slowly towards her, and ended up holding myself above her as I watched her face. I couldn't help it – my hand stretched forward, and I let my fingers trace the bones of her face – along the cheekbones and down her jawline, my fingertips brushing over her lips. From under my sleeve a flash of gold slipped out, gently bumping her forehead. Daine murmured something, then settled and slept on.
I pulled my hand back guiltily, eying the gold locket at my wrist before tucking it back in. It was more than a sorcerer's focus to Daine – it was my heart. Literally. It also served as a constant reminder that I was her teacher, and I could never be more than that – for her safety and wellbeing and honour and… just everything.
But I didn't even have time to mull those thoughts over now. For now, keeping Daine alive seemed to be an increasingly difficult task. And Gods strike me down if I wouldn't give my everything to keep her that way, I thought grimly.
In her sleep, Daine gave a sigh and rolled over to face away from me, the blanket falling part-way off. Her shirt had ridden up slightly, showing tan skin at the small of her back. I felt my mouth go dry.
She was tempting me already, and she was only asleep. I backed away quickly and turned instead to the lake.
I was never going to be able to meditate now.
I sat at the water's shore, occasionally seeing Broad Foot come up for air every five minutes. He'd told me earlier that his people in the Mortal Realms could stay underwater only for one or two minutes. It seems being a god had skill benefits. I'd made a promise to myself that I would travel one day, to find the duck-mole species at least. Some years after the war was over, and at time when I could take leave from King Johnathon.
I felt my gut wrench. Some years later. Some years later, I wouldn't be travelling with the magelet, I'd be alone. She would stay in Tortall, perhaps on a farm on the edge of Corus, with all her animals and children and a husband—
I growled, closing my eyes and taking a few deep breaths. When that time came, I had to make sure I would not end up setting fire to her nameless, faceless suitor. No matter how much I wanted to. It was bad enough watching her flirting with the boys at the palace, especially that Perin one. None of them deserved her.
I don't deserve her.
There's no point thinking about what cannot be, I tried to tell myself.
The gentle chink of metal loops on metal at my left wrist reminded me that I was doing otherwise.
I tentatively reached out a hand to the surface of the water in front of me, like glass. I leaned forward to peer into its depths, and on the mirror, I could see Kit resting and Tkaa standing guard in one of the rooms of Corus. The vision was brief and soundless though, and soon all I was seeing was my own face, frowning back at me.
Weiryn had told me not to drink the water, but the badger had said that touching it was ok. What about magic? There was something strange about this water – a monster, perhaps? I wanted to find out what it was. I hesitated, then seated myself on the sand of the shore, raising my palms in front of me and taking a few deep breaths. I had half a mind to go back and fetch my staff, but that would mean walking past Daine again…
I muttered the spell to test the properties of the water. It was a more powerful spell used than that to test food for poison – after all, I wasn't exactly sure what I was looking for. Black flames covered the surface of the water, then burned out. For one moment the lake glowed a myriad of colours – emerald, gold, cerulean and magenta lights – then the colours dimmed and all I could see was the water again. I frowned slightly. The lights were similar to those that flashed around the sky that Uusoae seemed to be making. That had to mean that the lake was touched with Chaos…
Then I heard a voice.
I turned my head to the left, to see Daine on the shores, walking towards me. I realised that her voice was different – light and sort of echoing, but I didn't think about it. She was wearing the same red dress that she'd worn at Weiryn's hut, but with a difference – the top was tighter, hugging her every curve, and the skirt of the dress was artfully ripped and torn, showing the pale skin off her thighs.
"Daine," I managed to choke out, my breathing shallow. "Weren't you asleep?"
"I was," she murmured back, coming towards me. For an agonising moment she brushed up against me – then she kept walking, walking straight into the water.
"Where are you going?" I asked, not moving an inch. "Daine, what in Mithros' name are you doing?"
She turned and laughed, her voice echoing in my head. The curls of her head weren't held back by any band, flowing down her bare shoulders. She bent down to scoop up water, flicking it into the air, then tipping her head back and opening her mouth to catch it.
"Daine, the water—it's—"
Her tongue slowly traced over pink lips to sweep up the rest of the water. I realised then that I was licking my own lips. "So tempting," said Daine, her eyes wide as she watched me. "I wonder what you are tempted by, Master Salmalín."
Then she walked back towards me, her hand holding a copper fireball. She walked around me, and I twisted my head to try and watch her, but didn't move my feet. As she walked around me the fire extended, making a kind of rope made out of copper flames, and looped it around my neck. Where the rope came in contact with my skin, there was no burn, only the slight feeling of heat radiating off of it.
"Shhh," she murmured, pressing a finger to her lips. I found myself staring at her plump, raw lips. She tugged gently on the rope and I automatically took a step forward. She walked confidently in front of me, hips swaying, and she paused to rearrange her skirts, watching me as she coyly lifted them a little higher. When she began walking again, I followed her.
The next thing I knew, I was deep underwater. In front of me was some sort of lake deity, a naked woman with blue skin and silver hair. I tried to yell—what had happened?—but instead ended up filling my lungs with water. My ears rung from a shrill noise and suddenly some force was beneath me, pushing me towards the surface of the water. I didn't fight it, and as soon as we broke the surface I coughed and hacked, the water coming from my throat. Next to me was the magelet, and with an arm around me she swam towards the lake's shore. Again and again my lungs hacked and coughed water and when I could feel mud beneath my feet, she was gone. I crawled onto the shore before I finally let my arms collapse beneath me, getting away from the water as far as my exhausted body would let me.
I felt my throat convulse, then I retched, water pooling on the ground in front of me. When the vomiting finally stopped I rolled over, huffing and breathing in the sweet oxygen.
What had happened? My testing the water with magic… it must have triggered something. Triggered the lake goddess or whoever was down there, to carry on the same results as if I had drunk the water myself. I shuddered, realising how close I had been to…
Well. If that was death, maybe it wasn't such a bad thing after all…
The realisation of what I had done hit me. I let the self-loathing fill myself. Not for being fooled by a goddess, but by being tempted by Daine. I felt the guilt burn within me – I was furious. I felt like some sick, perverted teenager. I had never hated myself more than I did now.
But…no-one knew. I was the only one who had been affected by the water, I was the only one who had seen that illusion – the illusion of Daine. I felt my palms burn with raw energy, and flung all the power into the ground. When I moved my hands back, the ground was scorched.
"Being fooled by a monster is nothing to get angry over," called a voice. I froze, first thinking it was Daine, but then realised that the voice was male and the badger's. He came over now and sat down next to me, watching me with perceptive eyes.
"Assuming that is what you are angry about, mage," he added casually. Stupid, mind-reading god…
"I'm supposed to be above temptation," I muttered. "Wait, a monster?" Even in its real form, it had not exactly seemed to have the appearance of a monster.
The badger nodded gravely. "You could not see, but the gods can – the lake is inhabited by a monster, and a particularly ugly one at that, from Broad Foot's memories. Let me show you."
I reached forward, my fingers lit with black, and gently pressed them to the badger's temples. I saw his memories, which he had taken from Broad Foot – they showed an ugly, pulsating blob of purple and orange. I winced and pulled my hands back – I had seen enough.
"It's magic, however, is particularly potent. It is able to detect and appear to be what you desire most, and tempt you with that." The badger gave me an analytical look. "And all of us, even – especially – the gods – are tempted by something."
I flushed at the thought of what I had been tempted by.
When the badger spoke again, it was the words I had least expected.
"She loves you, you know. And these are hard times. You might want to tell her later but it's unsure if there will be a later."
I was shocked, and opened my mouth to reply – but the badger cut me off.
"But if you hurt my kitt, you can expect to get hurt by a lot of angry gods."
"And animals," I added, then shut my mouth. To my surprise, the badger chuckled.
"Yes, I believe you will at least have a wolf pack after you."
"I—I would never hurt her." I don't know why I was telling him this. But I just felt like he needed to know. The badger just nodded solemnly.
I heard branches cracking behind us. "I think I hear—"
I turned around to greet Daine— and immediately shut my eyes, but not before the image was burned into my skull. Daine had forgotten to clothe herself after her transformation. I felt the hot burn of the cheeks and knew I was blushing, and worse than that, in the pit of my stomach I felt the familiar burn of desire, intensified like I had never felt before.
"Oh, for—!" I heard her say, then rustling as she left. I opened one eye to see the badger surveying us with what I swear was amusement. "Is she gone yet?" I asked tentatively. He nodded and I opened my other eye.
All I knew was that the real Daine was better than any illusion.
I heard Daine's voice and realised she was shouting to me and I started to focus on her words, although hearing just her voice reminded me of what I had seen only a second ago. I flushed even more as I realised that when she had pulled me out of the lake, she had been in human form and naked then too.
An active Chaos vent, seeping into the lake? That explained the effect of the scanning spell I had cast. I went back to fetch Daine's boots just as she came out of cover, fully-dressed. I thought the moment would be awkward, but Daine took her boots from me and cast me a stern look as we sat down near the badger and Broad Foot.
"Are you sure you didn't drink from the lake? That creature looked like a blue, naked female with a big chest to me, until Broad Foot changed my vision. She looked like just the kind of female you might want to be tempted by, Master Salmalín." I flushed. Firstly, I was not tempted by blue women, not in the least. And secondly, the kind of female I wanted to be tempted by was sitting only a few feet in front of me…
"I give you my solemn word that I did not drink the lake-water and request temptation," I promised Daine. I combed my wet hair back out of my eyes and tried to ignore the fact that I was blushing.
I did not request temptation, it requested me. I watched the girl—no, the young woman—in front of me. For if temptation were to come again, in that form, I would always be powerless to resist.
AN: Hello, strangers! If you ask me, Tamora Pierce always ends the series MUCH to early and definitely without enough couple-y moments. And I read somewhere in a critical review that her books were too explicit. Those books are barely PG rated! Then again, maybe fanfiction has ruined my innocence. The rating for this is T and its no more explicit than the books themselves, but if you think that the rating is too low just let me know and I'll be glad to change it :)
I just finished re-reading The Immortals Quartet and I had to put this in here. Out of the Tortall universe, Numair is definitely my favourite of the guys. Although Dom and Nealan both come close. Reeeallly close, especially Dom, who I liked best from the start.
Drop me a line to let me know what you think! I'm not sure how many out there read Tamora Pierce's stuff. And I stuck to Numair's personality as well as I could. The wording might come off as a little formal but I did that because that's kinda how Numair speaks, at least in comparison to Daine.