It came suddenly, actually, and while
They were in a small town following Al’bert’s failure in the monolith at the hands of Sangwine and his friends, and as it had steadily grown apparent that Al’bert very likely did not plan to finish Sangwine quickly, and as Al’bert stalled and hemmed and hawed proverbially, some of the group that he had gathered lost interest and moved on to greener pastures. For one, Steev grew bored.
The thief left, too, but
On this day there was a courier who appeared, and he looked rather flustered, as if he’d been forced into rapid delivery, nearly beyond his physical capabilities.
I have need of your healer as expediently as possible. Let me repeat: as expediently as possible. Send her immediately and all inconveniences will be sorted out later, and generously. Use only the fastest horses.
Al’bert read this letter with
“What is this?” Al’bert asked the letter, as if it had any more answers.
“Well, it seems I’m off to meet the overlord,” replied
“Yes, but-,” began Al’bert.
“As expediently as possible,” said the Wiz, and then he grew extremely, and even uncharacteristically, helpful. “I’ll find the fastest horse in town,” he said, and then left with a breeze. Al’bert only spared one brief look of irritation after the Wiz before continuing his sentence.
“Why would he need you?” he wondered. “Aren’t there healers in the south too?”
“Perhaps this is my chance for a promotion,”
Al’bert didn’t say anything quite yet, but took her arm with his hand to stay her while he began to fold the letter to its former unread state with the other. It was only something he busied himself with in order to allow himself time to think before responding to her, and they both knew it, but he folded it neatly and sheathed it silently into the inner pocket of his coat while his other hand held her with a firm, unyielding grip. At last he finished, and his eyes finally rose. As they met hers, his grip relaxed on her arm, and then fell away, and then he altogether receded from her, although he didn’t move more than a half step away. His breath was short, and so she became very curious.
“You’re acting silly,” she told him blatantly.
“It’s because I don’t know what to say,” he replied.
“Then don’t say anything.”
“I don’t think I can do that.”
“All the more reason to leave right away,” she told him with a half-grin.
The humor relaxed him somewhat; it always did. So he began to speak to her.
“I know Fang, Alice, and … I am probably being useless, but I am…” he stopped, then thought, then meandered: “Concerned…”
“You’re saying you’re worried about me?” she offered.
Al’bert was obviously very uncomfortable with this concept, but his sigh at long last voiced his consent. She grinned as he glanced away, and moved very near to him.
“That’s rather adorable,” she told him closely, almost condescendingly, then gave his silver lock a playful tug. He looked faintly annoyed by the gesture, but it only furthered her enjoyment of the moment as she moved to whisper against his ear, “Good-bye, Al’bert.”
His eyes were closed, she saw, as she pulled away from him. He always smelled like leather and warmth, and as she drew back, she inhaled, savoring it for what it was. As his eyes opened, she gave him her most jaunty smile and left him behind, all the while looking forward to a wild, harried ride towards the south to meet the overlord.
 The scene on page #334 is intermittent between this chapter and the next.