Chapter Seventeen

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Rochelle left around dawn, and I made myself a cup of tea to take up to my bedroom. I cradled the steaming mug carefully as I padded up the stairs, but when I opened the door to my room, a gray ball of fur ran into me and I slopped scalding water all over myself.

"Damn it, Xerxes, what were you doing in there?" I set the cup down carefully and wiped off my hand. Turning on the light, I sucked in my breath to choke back a scream.

"That's no way to greet your patron, Darlena."

Aphrodite was lounging on my bed, eating one of my emergency chocolate bars. I narrowed my eyes at her, wondering why she was there.

"Why are you in my bed?"

"I'd expected to find you asleep and dreaming. I sent you home hours ago. Did you get lost?"

I shook my head. "My friend was here. She knew I was missing, and she wanted to find out where I was."

Aphrodite looked at me hard. "What did you tell her?"

I closed the door, willing my voice back down to a whisper. "I told her what happened. You didn't say I couldn't tell anyone, and now that Hecate knows, I figured, what the heck?"

The goddess was silent, so I tried another tack. "Did you already think of something you wnat me to do?"

Her face lit up as she smiled at me. "Yes." She patted the bed and rose. "You should sit down. You've had a long night."

I perched on the edge of my bed, clutching my half-empty cup. "Well?"

She clasped her hands and closed her eyes. "I want to help you, Darlena. I told you that already. And I decided that the best way to help you is to teach you. If you learn to control your magic, you'll feel much better about being a Red."

I nodded, relieved. I'd been afraid she was there to demand that I start making people fall in love.

She smirked. "That will come later. For now, I just need to show you some individual spells."

I gaped at her. My patron had just read my mind; clearly I was in far deeper than I had imagined. I'd have to watch what I thought around her.

"Can you cast a glamour?"

I blushed at her question. "No. I tried, once. It didn't exactly turn out the way I thought." The goddess looked hard at me for a moment, and I busied myself watching the steam waft out of my mug. I tried to focus on the shapes in the steam, willing my mind to stay blank. She squinted once, but didn't seem inclined to pursue my train of thought. I was relieved; I didn't want to talk about that disastrous night with Justin.

"It's an easy enough spell, once you know what you're doing." Aphrodite casually tossed the candy wrapper onto my floor and rose. Her red robes shimmered and looked almost translucent, and I blushed again, trying not to look too closely at her curvy frame. Even if she was wearing a glamour, my patron was by far the most beautiful woman on the planet!

She faced me, her head cocked to one side. I felt as if I were being examined under a microscope. I glanced down at the rumpled shirt I hadn't had a chance to change. Surreptitiously, I brushed at a stain on my jeans. I kept my eyes down, ashamed for the first time to have sworn my craft to the patron of love. There was no way she had ever been a patron to anyone as ordinary looking as me.

"Actually, Helen was quite plain before I taught her the art of glamour." She was reading my thoughts again, and I bit my tongue before I could snap at her. The goddess shot me a long look before she began to show me the spell.

She was right; it was simple. I hadn't done a spell that required so little planning in a long time, and I wondered why I'd screwed it up when I tried to glamour my voice with Justin. On my third try, I got it right.

Aphrodite clapped approvingly. "Oh, well done. Take a look!" She handed me a copper hand mirror, delicately covered with vines and buds. The face I saw in the glass was striking. I looked at least three years older, and my skin had flushed to a rich olive complexion. Instead of my usual dull hair color, the shiny hair that framed my face was so bright it looked like it had been expertly dyed. For the first time, I agreed with the people who said I looked like my mother, and I stared at myself in wonder.

"How long does it last?" My voice was eager, and Aphrodite smiled indulgently.

"Right now, without practice, it will only last as long as you are absolutely focused on being beautiful." The face in the mirror flickered, and I wavered somewhere between selves.

"Is there any way to make it last longer?"

She nodded. "The more you do it, the easier it gets. There are ways to tie off a spell and make it permanent, but I think we'll wait to go over those until you get the hang of the simpler things."

I felt my heart thrill at the possibility of forever altering my average appearance, but just as suddenly a shard of guilt pricked my fantasy. I set the mirror down quickly, not wanting to watch my features morph back into my normal face.

"I don't mean to be rude, but what good does it do?" Aphrodite stared at me blankly. I swallowed and tried to smile. "It's really cool, and I appreciate you teaching this to me, but it's just that I've got all this power now that I'm a Red. Isn't this spell sort of a waste?"

Instantly, I regretted my choice of words. Aphrodite's smiling face had turned stiff, and the temperature in the room dropped considerably. I shivered, facing the goddess.

"You came to me for protection. You swore an oath to serve me. Would you break that oath on your first day in my care?" She spoke softly, but with each word, the goddess seemed to grow in size, filling my room. I shrank back in fear. I wasn't sure if it was an illusion or not, but I really didn't want to piss her off. Aphrodite was famous for her temper, and the last thing I needed was another goddess out to get me.

"That's not what I meant at all! Of course I want to serve you." Her size didn't diminish; she continued to stare threateningly down at me. "It's just that I want to do something with Red magic. I don't want to cause chaos, but ... isn't there a way that I could work to harness chaos, to help people?"

The goddess laughed, and instantly she was the size of any average human. "Silly girl. Chaos cannot be controlled. Forget those thoughts and focus on learning the magic I will teach you."

She kissed my forehead in blessing, and I felt energy gently caress my arms. "Now. You've had quite enough learning for tonight. Sleep, Darlena. I will see you again soon." I started to hand the mirror back, but she shook her head. "Keep it. Mirrors carry the power of water, and they help us to know ourselves. You will need it, I think."

She glided into the hall and I crawled into bed, too tired to even strip off my travel-stained clothes. Carefully, I set the mirror down on my bedside table. I tumbled into bed, my limbs heavy and my mind clouded. Right before I drifted to sleep, I realized what had bothered me about Aphrodite's last statement: I had controlled chaos before. Perhaps my patron didn't know as much as she claimed. With that dangerous thought, I fell into a deep sleep.

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