IPTSF Text 15
Stacking with her uncroaked, she considered ascending the staircase to another floor to continue her methodical assault on enemy property. But it had begun to feel like a chore, as hollow and pointless an act as she knew it was. Her arm was tired. Her rapidly sobering head throbbed. It was time to find a bed.
Sighing, Wanda set off in the direction of her original foray. She was fairly certain she'd passed a master suite of some kind that way. The boots of her fighters clumped along behind her own, and she felt a bit less alone for it. Debris from things she had broken earlier crunched to smaller shards beneath their feet.
The stack rounded a corner and abruptly halted, as Wanda's heart looked frantically for a way out of her ribcage.
Olive stood in the center of the corridor, holding a plant in her hands.
She looked up from it sadly. "That was the mellowest rampage I've ever seen," she said in a soft, distant voice. "It was wonderful. But Wanda...you might've spared the living."
Mouth still agape, Wanda looked down at the plant and saw that it was unpotted. Olive was cradling it by the bare roots. Much of its upper portion was bashed in. From way that the enemy Florist held it, it was clear she saw it as something precious, though the reason was not immediately apparent. Wanda wondered if it had some special function or was rare in some way.
"I'm sorry," she said, out of reflexive politeness. Then she added, "I don't understand."
Olive wore a sheer black nightgown with a pink shawl, a pair of soft gray moccasins, and nothing else. Her body was beautiful. Wanda wanted to touch her. Tommy had touched her... Her hair was badly mussed, but still seemed like sunshine in the dim light of the hallway.
She twitched her lips into a sad smile, and glanced behind Wanda at the Fellows. "No. You wouldn't, would you?"
Wanda could think of nothing to say that wouldn't sound foolish. Her heart was still pounding against the walls of its cage.
"Do you think," asked Olive, almost shyly, "that in the interests of peace, you might return to me the helm of one of our fallen?"
Wanda blinked. It was an odd, but ultimately reasonable request, and she couldn't see a reason not to honor it. She motioned with her hand, and one of her lower units stepped forward, removed his helmet, dropped to one knee and presented it to Olive.
It was a gesture Wanda intended to be charming, a way to break the ice a bit. Having the Fellows act with formal courtly manners never failed to get grin or a laugh among Goodminton's men. But Olive took the offered equipment with a grimace of dread, as if she couldn't stand to be so near to the uncroaked soldier.
With a perfunctory "Thanks," she upended the helmet and placed the plant's roots inside. She stepped a few feet away from the uncroaked and turned around to do something to the plant. Wanda could tell she was casting, but not what. Anyway, her eyes were more occupied admiring the ghostly shadows that defined Olive's backside... Stop it.
When Olive turned around, she held a perfectly healthy green plant in a steel planter. She was smiling proudly. "There," she said, holding it up for Wanda to admire. The hem of her nightgown rose a couple of inches as she lifted her arms.
Wanda nodded. "I see. Nicely done."
"I saved it, Wanda," she insisted. "You understand?" She walked past the uncroaked soldier to show her the plant more closely. "I think you don't," she pouted. "I think you don't, and you know why?"
Wanda shook her head. Olive's perfume encircled her as she got closer, meeting her eyes with an earnestness that made her want to understand.
"Because it's alive," Olive almost whispered, "and that doesn't mean anything to you." Her eyes searched Wanda's for any sign that she was going to deny the accusation, but Wanda could only stare at her. The experience of being this close to Olive's delicate face was almost too much. "Life magic, Wanda. Croakamancers don't use it."
"You think this is just an object, don't you?" She touched the plant's leaves to Wanda's chest. "It's not. It's a living thing. Like you and me. But you think we're all objects, too. Right?" Olive stepped back and made a disapproving face at the uncroaked stabber, who stood there impassively. Her cute nose wrinkled in revulsion. "Look what you do with a person, when the Life is gone. That is an object, Wanda. Not this," she said, indicating the plant.
"Not true," said Wanda, who was finally realizing the point of what Olive had to say and not liking it. "That plant is scenery, inventory, provisions."
"No, you don't know what you're talking about. Yes sure, there is Motion. But it's less important than Life. That ought to be perfectly obvious to any living being," said Olive, but she looked uncertain.
"Says the Florist. The three Elements were created equal. Are you a Titan, to say otherwise?"
"I'm alive, to say otherwise," said Olive. "Life is the most important thing in the world. Would you want to lose your Life?"
Wanda was beginning to regain her composure with this argument. Olive was not some beautiful, unapproachable star in the sky, but a fellow caster, a fellow Chief Caster, that she could spar with over the differences between their disciplines. It felt good. "No, but I wouldn't want to lose my Motion, either. I wouldn't want to be that plant. I'm no tree," she said. "Speaking of which, where is my brother?"
Olive shook her head at the apparent non sequitur. "Upstairs, in my suite."
"Did you two...?"
"Ohhhh, yes." Olive's smile was telling, and deeply satisfied. Wanda felt her stomach tighten. "Afterwards, he asked me to turn. Isn't that sweet? I said I'd think about it."
Wanda's regained composure was relost. She stood mute. Olive looked at her for a moment, then bent down at set the plant on the tile floor.
That didn't sound good. Wanda cleared her throat. "What did Delphie tell you?"
Olive laughed. "Oh, just that you are very, very special. That you're worth what we offered. You should really get your brother to accept the treaty; it'd be better for everybody."
"You look tired," said Olive, with sudden sympathy in her eyes. "You want to find a bed?"
Wanda was instantly entangled in the vagueness of the question. Or was it an offer? She was not even sure of herself enough to nod.
Olive watched her struggle and raised an eyebrow. "Mmm, or you want my bed? We could kick Tommy out." Her mischievous grin was more dizzying than anything she had served tonight. "Or not. You know."
There are moments of decision in each person's life when there is so much at stake that the mind stands paralyzed at the thought of the consequences, and some part of Wanda understood this to be happening to her now.
There was something terribly upsetting about the offer, something about Olive's sensibilities as a Hippiemancer that struck her as weird. Really? After she'd just been with Tommy, she...
Not spending the rest of the night in Olive's bed certainly seemed very much like something she would live to regret. (And she would have no trouble kicking Tommy out into the cold at this point.) But going through with it now also seemed like something she would regret. Perhaps she was facing two regrettable choices.
Ideas and possibilities swam in her head, concepts and fragments of words. Delphie's Predictions, Clay's 4-sided soldiers, Tommy the Tree Man... Was Fate suggesting this night was for her and Olive? It didn't feel right.
No, it did not feel right at all.
"I think...just a room with a bed," she said, trying to disguise the disappointment she already felt with herself. "For me alone, please."
"Aww," said Olive, with a little pout. But she perked up promptly. "Okay, follow me then. Bye little guy." She patted the plant's uppermost leaves, and headed down the hall in the direction of Wanda's Trail of Destruction.
Wanda followed behind her, regretting her decision, and piling on a little more regret with each sway of Olive's hypnotic hips.