I shot her a Look. “Riiight, mistress,” I replied. “If you say so.”
I had been Ildris’ servant for a number of years, and one thing I had learned in that colourful time was her penchant for exaggeration.
“Well... at any rate, this year’s batch of the Wizards’ secrets will be mine, Relny,” she conceded. “At least, they will be just as soon as I’ve infiltrated their Grand Conference.”
“Good luck with that,” I said. “Nobody’s ever succeeded before and survived, at least not in any condition to tell about it.”
The magnificent Temple of Sharrn, in which we stood, was one of the greatest edifices in the sprawling city of Selegna Sol, City of the Moon and Sun. For part of each year the Temple was open to paying visitors, and in that guise my Mistress and I spied out its marble hallways, gazing at its vast halls, its countless gilt and ivory decorations, its finely-woven tapestries, curtains and carpets, its shimmering crystal chandeliers, its priceless paintings, vases and statues... and doing our best not to puke. We’d never before witnessed such appallingly tasteless ostentation.
“Well, Mistress,” I said, “this place is certainly opulent enough for the Grand Conference, but what makes you so certain they’re going to hold it here this year? I mean, why not use their own Guildhall?”
“Too obvious, Relny. That’s what everybody will be expecting.”
“Um... well, I guess that kind of makes sense,” I muttered. “Still, why here? There must be a dozen palaces and temples in the state of Fornicalia whose owners would sell their souls to gain the Wizards’ patronage.”
“True enough,” said Ildris, “and I’m sure most of them have, for all the good it’ll do them. No, the Sharrnites are the only ones who support the Wizards out of genuine loyalty rather than fear. Also, I’ve had word that the Temple will be closed for ‘refurbishment’ in a couple of weeks. Perfect cover for a secret conference, wouldn’t you say?”
“I suppose so, Mistress. I’m not well-versed in political intrigue.”
“Well, I am, Relny,” she informed me, “and rest assured, I will discover what the Wizards are planning.”
“Mistress,” I muttered, “maybe we shouldn’t be talking about this right now. Anyone might be listening.”
“Not without my knowing, Relny,” Ildris assured me. “No, we’re quite safe discussing this here. After all, who’d suspect a pair of ordinary Fornicalian girls? Anyhow, I intend to infiltrate the Conference and learn the Wizards’ intentions.”
“For the benefit of the Sorceresses’ Guild, of course,” I said.
“Well... obviously that’s what we’ll tell the Guild, should they happen to ask.”
“Right,” I murmured. “Let’s just hope Grand Mistress Rinika believes you. So anyway, how exactly do you plan to spy on the world’s most heavily-guarded meeting? Will you sneak in under a veil of invisibility?”
“No, too obvious. It’s been tried and failed a thousand times. Wouldn’t fool the Wizards for a minute.”
“Well, then, suppose you conceal a listening talisman in the conference chamber so you can hear what’s being said from afar?”
“Better idea, but no use. The Wizards would detect the magical signal and trace it back to me.”
“Well then,” I suggested, “suppose you had a talisman that could kind of... remember speech. You could hide it in the chamber before the Conference, recover it later and retrieve the memory.”
“Now that’s very good thinking, Relny.”
“Why, thank you, Mistress. I do have my moments.”
“It just so happens that both the Wizards and Sorceresses have been developing something along those lines. Unfortunately, nobody’s yet succeeded in making one that’s small and inconspicuous enough.”
I thought about it for a while.
“Well, then,” I said at last, “it seems the only solution is to hide on the premises and pray that you don’t get caught. If invisibility won’t work, maybe you could disguise yourself as an animal or something.”
“They don’t allow pets or familiars in the conference chamber.”
“Well, then, a rat, maybe? Or a fly on the wall?”
“I’m not keen on the idea of being poisoned or swatted,” said Ildris. “Besides, by the time you’ve crammed your mind into something as small as a rat there’s not much room left for memory, and as for a fly - forget it.”
“Oh, well,” I sighed. “So much for my brilliant plans.”
“Still,” muttered Ildris, “there might be the germ of an idea there... Come on, the Conference is sure to be held in the Long Gallery. Let’s go take a look.”
The Long Gallery was if anything even more ornate than the rest of the Temple. A dozen chandeliers depended from the hall’s lofty rafters. Its famous mosaic floor was said to be composed of over half a million pieces of coloured stone - not that I counted - arranged in intricate geometric patterns whose exact meaning, it was claimed, could only be interpreted by the High Priest of Sharrn and his Council.
The altar at the head of the Gallery held effigies of the seven major Sharrn deities. Niches along the side walls held stone images of the one hundred and twenty-one lesser deities, all nude and incredibly good-looking.
“Well,” I said, looking down the marble rows, “looks like all the best views of the Conference are already taken.”
You know how it is when you make some casual remark almost without thinking, and end up regretting it...
Ildris looked me up and down. I’d seen her expression before, and it seldom boded well for me.
“Riiight. The best views,” she said. “We’ve already established that I can’t use invisibility or animal transformation, and no inanimate device can record the Wizards’ speech. So their secrets will be shared with only the walls... and the statues.”
I was beginning to get that all-too familiar feeling that the floor was melting and I was about to fall through it.
“You know, Relny,” Ildris purred, “there’s a spell I’ve been working on for a while now...”
“Mistress,” I sighed, “your experimental spells don’t exactly have a perfect success rate, as I have learned to my cost.”
“Oh come on, Relny,” she said. “You know I would never subject you to anything dangerous.”
“Right,” I muttered. “That’s what you said when you tested that teleportation spell on me. I was supposed to materialise in the next room, but instead I ended up stranded on a remote tropical island.”
“Hey, anyone can make a mistake,” she said. “I got the coordinates reversed, that’s all, so you ended up on the opposite side of the globe. Look on the bright side: if I can ever perfect the technique for mass transportation we - I mean, the Guild - could make a fortune. Besides, it was only for three hours.”
I gave her a dark look. “You’re forgetting, mistress. You messed up the time coordinates as well. For me it was three weeks stuck in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to eat but bananas. And do I really need to remind you which fruit I happen to be allergic to? By the time you finally rescued me my face was puffed up like a balloon.”
“Yes, well... at least my anti-allergy spell cured you.”
“Oh, yes - with one rather noticeable cosmetic side effect. That’s when I discovered that green really isn’t my colour.”
“Sometimes, mistress, I wonder why I stay in your service at all,” I told her.
“Something to do with that gold you stole from the Guild, wasn’t it?” said Ildris wryly. “I’m sure ten years’ indentured servitude to me was preferable to ten years hanging upside down over a thousand-cubit drop.”
“That business with the gold was all a misunderstanding,” I insisted. “I tried to explain that to the Guild. I thought someone had lost it, so like a good citizen I decided I should keep it safe.”
“Right,” she chuckled. “So safe they’d never find it. Were you really that naive?”
I sighed again.
“Oh, don’t pout, Relny,” said Ildris, turning my head to look at her. “It hasn’t all been bad... has it?”
“Well,” I muttered, “I suppose you’re not such a bad cook.”
“And you can sing quite well,” I admitted.
“And you’re a good card player, even if you do...”
“I do not!” she said reflexively.
“...cheat all the time.”
“And what else, Relny? Come on, what else is it about me?”
“All right, all right,” I cried, flinging up my hands in exasperation. “You’re the best lay in all of Fornicalia! Satisfied?”
Several of the other visitors’ heads turned in our direction with eyebrows raised high.
“Now that’s what I like about the Temple,” Ildris grinned. “Great acoustics. Just give me a second while I activate my privacy spell so they won’t overhear any more of our conversation.”
“You just knew that was going to happen, didn’t you?” I said. “That’s another thing I forgot to mention. You’re great at embarrassing me.”
“Well, speaking of embarrassment,” she said, “how would you feel about being naked in public for a moon or two?”
“Naked? As in a nude statue?” I said. “That’s it, isn’t it? You can’t use a device to spy on the Wizards, so you need a person. You’re going to turn me into a statue so I can eavesdrop on the Conference without the Wizards knowing.”
“Exactly,” said Ildris.
“Which means I’ll be naked and helpless for weeks,” I said. “How exactly is that any better than being suspended in mid-air?”
“In lots of ways,” replied Ildris. “You won’t be suffering from vertigo, your blood won’t be rushing to your head, you’ll be warm and comfortable, and... um... well, you’ll be dusted regularly.”
“Wonderful,” I said.
Ildris placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “It won’t be so bad, Relny. Really it won’t. You’ll feel calm and euphoric and just a little bit horny, and whenever anyone looks at you - or rather, at the beautiful statue they’ll think you are - it’ll make you feel good. Really good, if you know what I mean.”
“So...” I muttered, “you really think I’m beautiful?”
“Don’t change the subject. Now, you won’t consciously remember every word the Wizards say - anyway, a lot of it will be too technical, or in code - but it’ll all get locked away in your deep memory, where I can access it once you’re restored to mobility. All you’ll have to do until then is relax and look beautiful.”
“You said it again.”
“Said what again?”
Ildris led me along the row of niches until we came to a smiling female figure.
“There,” she said. “That one’s perfect. She’s just your height and build. Once your body is disguised as marble nobody will notice the difference.”
“Just one thing, mistress,” I said. “If this spell is as harmless as you say, why don’t you volunteer to become a statue instead of me? Instead of having to rely on my memory you could spy on the Wizards directly.”
“It is harmless, Relny,” she insisted. “You should have a bit more faith. Anyway, there are a couple of reasons why I can’t be the statue myself. The first is that I have to apply and remove the spell myself - I don’t have time to teach it to you before the conference begins - and if I was a statue I’d be incapable of freeing myself. Remember the old story about the young Sorceress who tried to escape a Wizard’s wrath by turning herself into a statue? The legend says she’s frozen helpless to this day.”
“I never understood that story,” I said. “Why didn’t the other Sorceresses find and free her?”
“You’re not supposed to apply logic to stories,” said Ildris. “Anyway, the other reason I can’t be the statue is that I have the wrong figure for it. All the female statues here have narrow hips and rather small breasts - just like you, Relny.”
I gave her a sharp look.
“Hey, that wasn’t meant as a criticism,” she said. “Your body is just fine as far as I’m concerned, and obviously the sculptors had similar tastes. Rather than my undergoing a difficult reshaping spell to disguise myself as one of the statues, it makes much more sense to use somebody who looks like one of them in the first place.”
I sighed. “I suppose so, mistress. Looks like I have no choice but to be your test subject again.”
Ildris gently took my face in her hands. “You don’t need to look so worried, Relny,” she whispered. “It’ll be fine, really it will.”
Then she kissed me tenderly, drawing more wide-eyed stares from the tourists.
“Shocking,” some of them muttered, and “Shouldn’t be allowed.”
“Oh, get over it,” Ildris told them. “This is the Third Cycle of Rhesh-Malathandir, not the dark ages.”
Turning her attention back to me, she spoke quietly: “Trust me, Relny. However important this information is, I would never risk harming you to obtain it.”
“All right, then,” I sighed. “I trust you, I guess. Just one thing, though - how are you going to remove the original statue and substitute me without anybody noticing?”
“That’ll be a little tricky,” she admitted. “I have a couple of spells that ought to work, but we have to get the timing just right. We’ll only have a few minutes.”
So saying, she performed a series of surreptitious magical gestures. The light in the hall assumed on a strange quality, and all the other visitors looked as if they were moving through treacle.
“I’ve sped up time for us,” said Ildris. “In a moment we will be moving so fast that we’ll be virtually invisible to everyone else.”
“That’s impressive,” I said. By now we were moving so quickly that I didn’t hear my words until a moment or two after I had spoken them.
“Enjoy it while you can,” said Ildris, with the same odd time-lag. “I can’t keep it up for long. Just long enough, I hope. Now for the statue.”
Ildris made some more magical passes over the statue in the niche, and after a moment it began to shrink. It only took a few seconds for the figure to become a tiny statuette, small enough for Ildris to slip into her purse.
“Hey, wait a minute,” I said. “What happened to the weight? It got smaller, but shouldn’t it still be just as heavy?”
“The excess mass gets transferred into an adjacent dimension,” said Ildris. “Or something like that. All I know is, it works. Now come on, Relny. It’s time.”
I stared at the empty niche and took a deep breath. Then without further hesitation I stripped naked and stepped into the statue’s place.
Ildris shrank my clothes and placed them in her purse as well. Then she turned to me, gave me a quick hug and kiss, and began to perform the spell that would transform me into a work of art.
An unseen force took hold of my body, shifting my limbs into an exact copy of the statue’s pose and firmly locking them into place. I didn’t feel stiff, but movement had become impossible, along with speech. I wasn’t breathing. I couldn’t feel my heartbeat.
It seemed as if Ildris had finally got it right. The spell had worked exactly as she said it would. I was now a statue, solid and inanimate - and, to all outward appearances, mindless.
I didn’t feel the least bit uncomfortable. Quite the opposite, in fact. The feel of air on my marble skin was quite pleasant... even a little stimulating.
Ildris stepped forward to kiss my hardened lips. That was even more stimulating, and I felt a warm glow spreading to the rest of my body.
“All right, Relny, I’ll admit it,” said Ildris. “You do make a beautiful statue. Now all you have to do is relax and enjoy all the attention, and I’ll come and get you once the conference is over.”
The time lag between her mouth and her voice was lessening. The acceleration was wearing off. Ildris stepped back from the niche just as time resumed its normal flow.
Turning away, she muttered something that might have been, “I love you, Relny.”
I would have started if I could. Had she really said that, or were my ensorcelled ears playing tricks?
Just as Ildris was about to walk away she was accosted by one of the other visitors, a rather stern-looking middle-aged woman in unfashionable attire.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” the woman said.
“I beg your pardon?” replied Ildris.
“Don’t play the bewildered innocent with me, young lady. I saw the way you and your floozy were carrying on. Where did she get to anyway? I could have sworn she was just here.”
Floozy indeed! Normally I would have taken umbrage at that, but as a statue I could do nothing but observe in my state of calm euphoria.
“Two girls practically making love in public, in the Temple, of all places! This may be the Third Cycle of Rhesh-Malathandir, young lady but that is no excuse for such moral indecency. This town is becoming a haven of sexual depravity, and I won’t have it!.”
Through my euphoric haze I did feel a small pang of anxiety. If the woman’s ranting attracted the guards’ attention our plan might be discovered, and then there was no telling what might happen to us.
”My name is Madam Hausweite,” the woman went on, poking at Ildris with the handle of her parasol, “and I represent an organisation of concerned citizens who are determined to stamp out this kind of immorality at all costs!”
“Yes, that’s all very interesting, I’m sure,” said Ildris, making subtle hand gestures in her direction, “but I really think you should calm down now... don’t you?”
“I... now, look here...”
“In fact, I think you should forget you ever saw me or my friend and go somewhere else right now. Don’t you think that would be a good idea?”
Madam Hausweite blinked in confusion, and then looked at Ildris as if she was surprised to find her there.
“Oh... um... do excuse me,” she said, and walked quickly away.
Ildris breathed a visible sigh of relief, then blew me a kiss and strolled away casually in the opposite direction.
So began my life as a statue. Just as Ildris had predicted, I felt calm and comfortable and more than a little horny. To passers-by I was just a piece of stone that happened to have been carved into an interesting shape.
I was the only person in the Long Gallery that knew I was alive, and that gave me a certain perverse satisfaction.
Even though my eyes couldn’t physically move, I found that I was able to look around the hall. Don’t ask me how. Ildris was the sorceress, not me. How could I see at all if my eyes were made of stone? How could I hear, or feel, or think, if the rest of me was? It was magic. Just accept it.
Anyway, being able to look around meant that I could ogle all the good-looking guys and girls in their summer outfits (some of which were certainly revealing enough to have outraged Madam Hausweite) and eavesdrop on their conversations without their ever knowing. And after all, eavesdropping was the whole point of my being a statue in the first place.
What was more, being admired as a statue wasn’t just flattering. It actually gave me physical pleasure. I wasn’t sure why it was, though I suspected that Ildris had designed the spell that way for my benefit. The more that visitors ogled me the hornier I became, until by mid-afternoon the sensation was almost orgasmic. It felt wonderful, and it helped take my mind off the fact that I couldn’t do anything at all.
As the afternoon gave way to evening the guards began hustling the visitors out, and my arousal slowly faded to a quiet euphoria. Soon the hall was dark and silent, inhabited only by me and my fellow statues.
For a while I amused myself by examining the statues in the niches opposite. I wondered if any of them were looking back at me. It would have been an incredible coincidence if any of them were also alive and frozen like me, but where magic was concerned you never could tell.
I imagined coming to life with the other naked statues and joining them in an orgy to celebrate their freedom, right there in the middle of the hall. We weren’t worried about getting caught in the act. If the guards came to investigate they’d find nothing but a group of statues standing silently in their usual places.
As I imagined myself being kissed and caressed by all of the warm, yielding male and female bodies that had formerly been lifeless stone, I once again began to feel physically aroused, until finally it felt as if I was really having an orgasm. Oh, my gods, it was amazing. Even Ildris’ sexual enhancement spells hadn’t made it feel so good. And it went on for what felt like hours, until it finally faded and I fell into a blissful haze.
The next morning I was roused from my trance by the sound of footsteps and chatter. My second day as a statue pretty much followed the pattern of the first, and established what became a routine, though never a boring one. By day I would take a voyeuristic pleasure in observing the visitors, and by night and at weekends when the hall was deserted I would fantasise about the other statues.
I found that I was able to bring myself to orgasmic ecstasy two or three times a day, which made the prospect of standing motionless for weeks on end a lot more tolerable. I was even becoming aroused by my own helplessness. If somebody were to fondle and caress my stone body there would be nothing I could do to resist. Not that the guards would ever allow such a thing, of course, but it was another arousing fantasy for me to indulge in while I waited for the Conference.
Oh, yes, the Conference. That was, after all, the reason Ildris had turned me into a statue. After about two weeks had passed I began to wonder if Ildris had been wrong about the Conference being held here in the Temple. A few days later, though, I began hearing people say the Temple would soon be closing for repairs, and at the end of the third week the last visitors were hustled out.
Of course, I reflected, it was possible that Ildris had still been mistaken and the Temple really was just closing for repairs. If so, my conversion to a statue would have been a complete waste of time, though a highly pleasurable one, at least for me.
After a couple of days, however, the Sharrnite acolytes brought a heavy wooden table into the Long Gallery in sections, assembling it with great care to avoid scratching its pristine, darkly-polished surface. So, I thought, you were right after all, Mistress. I’m sorry I doubted you.
They laid the table with an ornate cloth, then brought in matching wooden chairs with equally-ornate upholstery. Silver candelabras followed, then small wooden blocks with brass nameplates, and finally each place was set with a silver wine goblet.
I was becoming surprisingly excited at the prospect of finally getting to spy on the Wizards. My heart would have been racing if I were still flesh and blood.
The candles were lit, the wine was poured, and the acolytes gravely filed out of the Gallery. Then the great doors at the other end swung open as if of their own accord, and the bearded Wizards in their golden robes glided into the hall - literally in the case of the Great Wizard, who levitated across the length of the table before descending into his seat at the head, which slid out to receive his ample backside.
What a show-off, I thought.
The other Wizards stood beside their chairs while the Great Wizard gestured and intoned like an overacting stage player:
“Gentlemen, I bid you welcome to this, the twelve thousand, three hundred and sixty-seventh biennial Grand Conference of Wizards. I need hardly remind you that not one word spoken at this table may be repeated outside the confines of the Wizards’ Order, on pain of the most severe curses that the Order can bestow. I’m sure we are all aware of how determined the Sorceresses’ Guild is to steal our secrets. In particular, young Mistress Ildris has shown great persistence in this matter, and we should all keep a lookout for her... and for her servant Relny.”
I would have cried out in surprise at hearing my name, if I could. It was just as well that I couldn’t.
Looking around the Gallery, the Great Wizard declared: “There is no telling where they may show up next, so we must remain eternally vigilant.”
Dear gods, when he said “where”, it almost seemed as if he was looking straight at me. But of course he couldn’t possibly suspect... could he?
“But now, gentlemen, to business. The Grand Conference is hereby convened.”
The assembled company finally sat down and began discussing sorcerous matters.
Just as Ildris had warned me, most of the Conference consisted of incomprehensible wizobabble, much of it in what sounded like ancient languages, and so I drifted off into reverie once more, leaving it to my subconscious to record the Wizards’ droning.
I suppose some of the Wizards might have been young and handsome, but their robes completely hid their bodies, and I’ve never been much into two-cubit-long beards, so my thoughts went back to the statues again, and we held our imaginary orgy in the adjoining hall where the Wizards couldn’t hear us.
The Conference, and my imaginary orgies, went on for something like ten days - it was hard to keep track of time. It seemed the Wizards needed very little sleep, although they would shuffle out of the hall for meals two or three times a day.
Finally it was over. The Great Wizard gave an interminable closing speech, most of which went over my head, though I couldn’t help hearing him say:
“... and we may take some satisfaction in knowing that our security has remained airtight throughout the duration of this Conference. This time, gentlemen, we can be certain that our secrets are quite safe from the Sorceresses’ Guild!”
You dim-witted old goat, I thought. Oh, you are in for such a surprise!
The speech eventually ended. The Great Wizard rose from his chair and floated away, followed on foot by the other Wizards. The acolytes cleared away the chairs and table, leaving the Long Gallery once more silent, and empty apart from its stone inhabitants.
I felt like laughing and singing and dancing, but that of course would have to wait. We did it, I thought. We actually beat the Wizards! As soon as Mistress Rinika hears about this she’s bound to elevate Ildris to Sorceress First Class, and for my part in our success she’ll finally drop the charges against me.
Of course, if... when Rinika dropped the charges against me, I’d no longer be indentured to Ildris. That gave me pause for thought. Still... it didn’t mean I’d have to leave her, did it?
Once the Wizards were gone the acolytes began cleaning and painting the hall, presumably to justify their claim to be refurbishing the Temple. I received a pleasant wash down with a moist cloth, from a handsome young acolyte who appeared to enjoy the job.
After another couple of weeks the Temple was reopened to the public, and I was able to resume my pastime of ogling passers-by. It wouldn’t be long now before Ildris would show up and restore me to flesh and blood. The all she’d have to do would be to extract my memories, and all of the Wizards’ latest spells and strategies would be in Ildris’ grasp.
And, more importantly, so would I.
But Ildris didn’t show up the first day, and I began to worry. Suppose she’d been captured or... no, don’t think it. How could I ever get free then?
To my enormous relief, Ildris arrived the next morning, but the news she had for me was disappointing, to say the least.
Facing away from me so as not to arouse suspicion, she whispered as if to herself: “I’m sorry, Relny. I think I’m being watched. I can’t use the time-distortion spell right now in case it’s detected. I’m going to have to lie low for a while. I’m really sorry about this, but you’re much safer where you are. I’ll try and get you out in a moon or so when things have died down a bit. Just try to be patient until then. I love you, Relny.”
That time I wasn’t hearing things! I thought. She finally came out with it! Fine time to do it, though.
With mixed emotions I watched her walk away. I was frustrated that I couldn’t sigh in frustration.
Still... no pun intended... it was only another moon. I’d already been a statue for at least that long, and the experience hadn’t been nearly as unpleasant as I’d imagined.
As I watched Ildris depart I thought I saw somebody looking at her. I could have sworn there was something familiar about the old-fashioned conservative dress her observer was wearing...
Madam Hausweite? I thought. Oh, no, don’t tell me she’s spying for the Wizards!
Madam Hausweite strode primly away in the opposite direction, leaving me alone again with my thoughts and fantasies.
I should have known Ildris would manage to mess things up again. This time her spell had worked perfectly, but her brilliant plan hadn’t allowed for the possibility that she might not be able to extract me straight away. I hoped and prayed that she really would be able to come and get me in another moon, but if my experience with the teleportation spell was anything to go by I was once again going to be stranded for a lot longer than expected.
At least this time I wasn’t being forced to live on bananas.
As the weeks crept by the only visible change was that the visitors exchanged their summerwear for raincoats. Was it really that late in the year already? Oh, well. Less bare flesh to ogle meant I just had to use my imagination, that was all.
I’m not sure if a complete moon had passed by the time I saw Ildris again. When I did, she was wearing a full-length coat and dark eyeshades that practically screamed “Don’t look at me”. Oh, yeah, I thought, that’s my genius of a sorceress all right.
Facing half-away from me Ildris muttered, “I’m pretty sure they’re on to me, Relny. I suspect Madam Hausweite may be a spy for the Wizards. I’m so sorry, my love, but I can’t risk changing you back yet. I promise I’ll come for you as soon as it’s safe. I’d ask you to wait for me, but I guess that’s redundant.”
Oh, you idiot, I thought. For the gods’ sakes, don’t get yourself killed. Who’d bring me back to life then?
And as she walked away, I thought: What kind of life would it be without you?
It was probably just as well that marble eyes couldn’t weep.
So there it was. I was to remain trapped in this rigid body for moons, maybe even years, incapable of protecting Ildris. Even if the Wizards didn’t catch her, there was no telling what our own Guild might do if they found that she had been scheming behind their backs. So much for her promotion.
More time passed, split between my worrying about Ildris and losing myself in erotic fantasies. Another three moons must have gone by without any sign of Ildris, and I began to fear the worst. I would never see her again... and I would never move again.
Oh, Ildris. My wise, beautiful, idiot sorceress. I would never forget her. And if I really was going to live forever as a statue, then her memory would also live forever. It was not the kind of immortality either of us would have chosen, but it seemed to be all we could hope for.
Then one night, after the Temple had closed to visitors, I was surprised to receive two visitors of my own. They were none other than Madam Hausweite, and the High Priest of Sharrn himself. I suppose I should have been honoured, though under the circumstances I could be forgiven for not bowing.
“This is the one, Your Grace,” said Madam Hausweite. “It seems we’ve found out what became of Ildris’ little floozy after all.”
My heart would have sunk, if it had still been beating.
Facing me, she tapped me on the shoulder with the handle of her ridiculous little parasol.
“Hello, Relny,” she crooned. “I know you can hear me, and since there’s not much else you can do you may as well listen. You see, my dear, your mistress wasn’t quite as clever as she liked to think. The acolytes always make a careful count of the number of visitors entering and leaving the Temple, and on the evening after you and Ildris came visiting they noticed a discrepancy, to the tune of one.
“We knew that Ildris was going to try to spy on the Wizards’ Conference somehow, so we’d had her watched for some time. I must admit, though, I wasn’t expecting anything like this. Volunteering to become petrified - I must admit, that was brave of you, though also foolhardy. And I’ll allow, you do make a rather fetching statue, if a little more erotic than I would have preferred.”
“So,” intoned the High Priest, “am I to understand that this ensorcelled damsel overheard the Wizards’ conference while she stood in her niche unsuspected?”
“Exactly, Your Grace,” said Madam Hausweite. “That was their entire plan in a nutshell - or perhaps one ought to say, a marble shell. Every single word the Wizards spoke is retained in Relny’s deep memory, with the intention that Ildris would retrieve it once Relny was restored to flesh and blood.”
“But the sorceress Ildris was captured?”
“She is currently in our custody awaiting sentencing, Your Grace.”
I felt like dancing. Ildris was still alive! She was alive!
Madam Hausweite continued: “Incidentally, we found where she had hidden the real statue, and it will be returned to its rightful place before the Temple reopens tomorrow. All that remains is to remove the impostor in order to make room for it.”
So saying, she gestured with her hands, and I found myself rising from my pedestal and floating out of my wall niche. So, you’re not just a moral campaigner, Madam Hausweite, I thought. You must rank very high in the Wizards’ estimation for them to have granted you this type of power. I’d call you a traitor to your sex, but you’re such a prude you probably don’t have one.
Well, I guess Ildris and I are in pretty deep trouble now, but at least we’re in it together, and with any luck they’ll let us see each other again.
Such were my thoughts as Madam Hausweite levitated me out of the Temple into a courtyard, then onto a small cart. The acolytes threw a canvas sheet over me, and in darkness I contemplated my fate while the cart rattled along the interminable streets and boulevards of Selegna Sol.
Eventually the cart stopped. With the canvas still in place I felt myself being floated along and up, and up and along, until finally the cover was floated off of me and I found myself standing in the midst of a large, ornate chamber. Madam Hausweite was standing before me with a self-satisfied smile on her fat little face.
My first and most obvious assumption was that Madam Hausweite had brought me to the Wizards’ Guildhall to meet her paymasters. Yet there was something oddly familiar about this place. The decor and colour scheme didn’t strike me as being the type the Wizards would use. In fact I was beginning to feel sure we weren’t in the Wizards’ headquarters at all. It looked more like...
Oh, no, I thought.
“Oh, but yes, Relny,” crooned Madam Hausweite. “As you have rightly guessed, we are not in the Wizards’ Guildhall at all, but in your own Sorceress’ Guildhall.”
Holy crap! You can read my mind?
She chuckled quietly. “Indeed I can, Relny, and that is how I’m going to extract the Wizards’ secrets from your memory. Oh, if I could only see the High Priest’s expression when he discovers how I’ve deceived him! If only you could emote, so that I could see yours! Still, no matter. I can feel your bewilderment, and that’s the next best thing. You see, Relny, Ildris’ plan was a very good one, except for one small flaw.”
What flaw? I demanded.
“She wanted to use the Wizards’ knowledge for her own benefit... instead of mine.”
You’re no frumpy housewife, I thought. Who are you really?
Madam Hausweite laughed at the question, and laughed, and laughed until the huge chamber rang with her fanatical guffaws... and as she did so her face and body shed twenty years and a good deal of weight. Her hair became long and dark, her body slender, shapely and elegant, while her drab clothing was replaced by the shimmering black and gold robes of... the Grand Mistress of Sorcery herself!
Rinika! I thought. So you had this planned all along! You’re going to steal the Wizards’ secrets from Ildris so you can claim all the glory for yourself!
“Oh, come now, Relny,” she chuckled, slowly recovering from her laughing fit. “How can I steal what she never had? Technically I’m just receiving the goods that you stole. Anyway, you can hardly complain about theft, can you, little miss gold-thief?
“Now then, just hold still a moment.”
Oh, very funny, I thought.
“Sorry, Relny. Couldn’t resist. Now relax. This won’t hurt a bit... though it might hurt a lot.”
Grand Mistress Rinika placed her forehead against mine and began chanting quietly. As she did so a vast torrent of words and images began to pour out of my mind and into hers. In spite of what she had said, the experience wasn’t actually painful, but it was certainly overwhelming. When it was finally over I felt dizzy and somehow drained.
Rinika sighed orgasmically. “At last,” she breathed. “At last it’s done. I have finally defeated both the Wizards and your upstart mistress. Now all that remains is to decide what to do with you, and her.”
So Ildris is still alive, then? I thought.
“Oh, yes, Relny. She’s very much alive and well. I wasn’t lying about that.”
Then please, Grand Mistress, let me see her again. I’m begging you.
“Hmm. Well, I suppose I do owe the pair of you some small amount of gratitude for having done most of my work for me.”
Rinika smiled wickedly, and I felt a chill run down my marble spine.
“Very well, Relny,” she purred. “Since you begged me so nicely, I shall allow you and your beloved mistress to see each other again. Who knows, from time to time I may even allow you to touch one another. We’ll see.”
Rinika made a small gesture and my body rotated to face a tall curtain.
I had already guessed what I would see when the curtain slid open.
There, in a narrow wall niche, stood Ildris, my mistress, friend and lover.
Naked. Marble. Inanimate.
Just like me.
Grand Mistress Rinika laughed uproariously, and I knew that Ildris and I were both going to remain statues for a very, very, very long time.