"Unnngh..."

This remarkably literate utterance was followed almost at once with a soft, almost worried squeak.

"It's okay, kid. She's coming around."

"Mmnnph..."?

Tahlea Grande blinked once. Yes! she thought. I remember my name. I am, indeed, Tahlea. Something told her that possibly she should not be quite so exultant about that, but hey, minor victories. Particularly when the light streaming in whenever her eyelids twitched seemed to stab into her eyeballs like it was an angel's flaming sword. Is my sister visiting? No, and I don't think I've done something to make her want to stab my eyes out...

It may be inferred that Tahlea's thought processes were not exactly at their best.

"C'mon, Tahlea, enough with the groaning, already."

Actually, groaning sounded perfectly reasonable to Tahlea, but she forced her eyes to open, wincing as she did.

"Ow..."

"Welcome back to the living."

The homunculus's vision cleared enough for her to note the two-foot-tall fairy hovering in the air above her, wings fluttering. The fairy had a black mouse cradled in her arms.

"Hibi? What are you doing with Petey?"

Tahlea's pet mouse had been part of an alchemy experiment in heredity conducted by Mage Consul Lillet Blan. Tahlea had been visiting at the time and thought she (despite the name, Petey was indeed female) was cute.

"The furball's been worried about you. Or maybe just about herself, since you nearly landed on her when you fell over. And she's not the only one! I nearly lost a year off my life when you went down like that. Dr. Chartreuse ran some tests at once to make sure you were all right."

"I don't feel all right." Her head felt like a drum was playing inside it, her tongue was dry and swollen, her stomach felt like a horse had stepped on it, and someone seemed to have turned the sun up a few extra notches because things seemed painfully bright. "What happened to me?"

Hibiscus and Petey blinked simultaneously, making Tahlea giggle. That was a mistake.

"Ow..." She pressed her fingertips against her temple. "Don't act all cute and make me laugh."

"You don't remember anything?"

"No, nothing. Did I have some kind of accident in the alchemy lab?"

"Well, sort of. I think it counts as alchemy. Do you remember what yesterday was?"

"Um...Harvestide?" The mental fog was lifting a little, enough at least that Tahlea's heart did not swell with pride at remembering basic calendar information.

"Right. And do you remember the Magic Academy Harvest Party? Which is silly, because you people don't actually have farms here except for Professor Gammel's gardens and those are for experiments in Glamour magic more than fruits and flowers. But anyway, do you remember it?"

"No..." Then, a wisp of something, a memory's ghost, brushed across her mind. "Wait...I remember...singing?" Tahlea didn't have as perfect a voice as her sister Amoretta, but it was a good one and she liked the fun of singing with other people. It made her feel closer to them, something important for her artificial existence.

"Yeah, there was singing. And I was amazed to learn that that devil can carry a tune!" Petey was just an ordinary mouse, not a magically intelligent animal, but she gave a squeak as if agreeing right on cue. "But as a better question, do you remember the wassail-bowl?"

Tahlea blinked.

"Um...no?"

"Well, you may not, but your body does. After the first round of songs, we all dipped our cups and toasted the harvest. Then you drained yours and went over like you'd been hit over the head."

"It...it was an experiment," Tahlea said archly. "To...to test the effects of alcohol on a homunculus's biology."

"Yeah. You know how you once told me that your sister has a real thing about lying, Tahlea?"

"Yes..."

"You might want to try that, because you're really bad at it. Besides, you should already know that you're a real lightweight from when you were a fairy."

"Hibi, you know that I don't remember anything from my previous lifetime."

"So? What happened to all that scholarly analysis? I mean, you do know that you agreed to let Dr. Chartreuse take your soul out of your body and use it as the core for a new homunculus, right? Does that sound like someone who can hold their liquor?"