Chapter One: Cliffdiving
"Ready, and, let's, go," said Talyn, and he tipped off the edge of the cliff and plummeted.
The other three followed half a breath later. "First to fly will never be allowed to forget it!" shrieked Jenn as she fell.
<Never lost before, so I have no idea what that's like,> Talyn sent, letting Mysha and Emryl hear it along with Jenn. He didn't like to shout against the wind.
<You lost last tenday!> protested Mysha, the only other kama present with enough mind training to perform the feat. Emryl could mindspeak, but only at touch range; Jenn hadn't even learned that much.
<Forgot all about it,> returned Talyn, shooting Mysha a wink. The air sang around him, offering in music to buoy him up and carry him any which way he wanted, but what he wanted was down: that was the point. He wondered what it was like to jump without the promise of the air in the back of his mind. Jenn heard the tones, though they didn't sound as friendly to her as they did to him. Emryl was the same way. Mysha, not an elementalist except for the sole skill of flight, might not, but she was silent to Talyn's semivoluntary receivers.
Emryl caught herself first; Talyn knew from the hum of her thoughts that she wasn't playing to win. She and Mysha were always the first and second to stop falling and halt their descent with air kamai - Emryl because she was cautious, Mysha because she was really a mind kama and wasn't confident in her air kamai or earth protections. The real contest was between Talyn and Jenn.
Talyn sheered away from the water at the bottom of the cliff so late that he was soaked with spray, but he avoided impact. Jenn didn't.
"Ow," Jenn hissed, lifting her waterlogged self out of the river and gingerly propelling herself to where the others were floating. "Ow, I win." I need to stop doing stupid teenager things. Later, sometime, Talyn caught her thinking. He stepped up the volume of his mental recitation of "Deep in the Snowdrifts" to hedge her out. Why couldn't she learn to shield? Mysha's thoughts were always silent; Emryl he sometimes heard but only faintly.
"Your stoneskin got it," Talyn scoffed aloud, even though the pain in Jenn's broadcast belied it. He wasn't sure how her protection had failed.
"It got my leg, yeah," Jenn said, "but then my leg bent the wrong way, ow, my hip -"
"Here," Talyn said, holding out his hand. "If you didn't break a bone I can put you right."
"What if she did break a bone?" Mysha asked, watching Jenn and Talyn link hands.
"Don't know how to do that yet," Talyn said. "I mean, not safely, I could fix her but it'd mess me up fifteen times of sixteen from going too fast, I'd pinch a muscle in the sympathetic fracture or something." He made a face as his leg twisted to match Jenn's injury. It didn't hurt, but it felt like it should, and he wasn't accustomed to it. The twist righted itself in his own body and the healing crossed to Jenn. "Mysha, Emryl, you're both okay, right? Or should I heal you too?"
"I might've scraped my calf during the jump," Mysha said.
Talyn broke the magical conduit between him and Jenn and reached out to Mysha, who floated closer. He didn't feel anything, but he wouldn't feel a scrape which didn't contain any sensation other than pain. "All better?" he asked her after a few fragments.
"Yeah," she said, and let his hand go. "Thanks."
"I want to jump again," Jenn said. "One more and then we can head back and start fixing breakfast." Griddle cakes, Talyn heard her think, and he chewed the inside of his cheek and refocused on the song in his head, listened harder to the crooning air and the burbling river water and the sighing rock of the cliff.
"Are you sure?" Mysha asked.
"Come on," Talyn urged. "One more."
The apprentices raised themselves to the top of the cliff again. Talyn counted down, and they jumped.
"I said I don't want you to heal me!" Talyn said, backing away from Byron. The room was round, save the thick column in the center that contained the tightly spiraled stairs, and so Byron's attempt to back the boy into a corner was not succeeding.
"Look, Talyn, I said I wouldn't notify Master Revenn that you've been cliffdiving again this once, but if you don't let me heal you, how are you going to keep it from him?" asked the exasperated wild kamai student. "He'll wake any slice now." Stupid kid, came the older apprentice's thought. Talyn ignored it; people were allowed to think that about him occasionally. (Also, if he owned up to having heard it, he'd be in even more trouble.)
"I want to see it done," Talyn insisted. "You'll finish the whole thing in a fragment and I won't know any more about healing broken bones than I did yesterday. Grandfather'll scold me about cliffdiving and maybe I won't get any griddle cakes or he'll swat me, but he'll take a good sub or two to fix the bone and then I'll know how to do it."
"But... gods, Talyn, doesn't it hurt?" asked Mysha, looking over her shoulder from where she was mixing batter. Red tendrils of hair brushed across her face and she shoved them aside with a floury hand.
He shrugged the shoulder attached to the unbroken arm. "Some." More than some, but he didn't want to say that in front of the girls.
"Oh, if it's that mild, you can help us, then," said Jenn. "No kamai. What if you visit someone who's especially sensitive about kamai?" she simpered, mocking Byron's usual tone. "Then you'll wish you learned to do simple chores without floating everything... What if you get married and your spouse doesn't like kamai in the house, what then..."
"Are you mad?" Talyn asked the blonde in mock bewilderment. "Me, make griddle cakes, without kamai? I'll have you know I have a broken arm."
"If you would let me heal you," Byron began.
"Why," asked Revenn's booming voice, "does Talyn have a broken arm?"
"To get out of breakfast duty," Emryl suggested from where she was pouring fuel pellets into the stove.
"Talyn," said Revenn.
"Cliffdiving," admitted Talyn. "I was cliffdiving." The girls might be able to escape punishment.
"And you haven't let Byron heal your broken arm because?"
"He's punishing himself," proposed Jenn. "He's oh so crippled by remorse. He thinks it's only appropriate if it show in a physical infirmity, and he wants you to let his arm knit naturally so he can bear the sign of his irresponsible behavior for the rest of his natural life."
"That's the one," said Talyn sarcastically. "Yeah, nobody heal me. Or if you have to heal me," he added more earnestly, finally meeting Revenn's eyes, "can you do it slowly -"
"Talyn, did you break your arm deliberately to learn to set bones?" asked Revenn incredulously.
"No! It was an accident. But as long as it's already broken..."
Revenn dug the heel of his hand into one of his eyes, groaning in exasperation. "My boy, you are a trial," he muttered. "But yes, very well. Come he-"
Mid-word, Revenn disappeared.
"Master?" said Emryl.
"I can't find his mind," said Mysha.
"Or his lifeforce," Byron murmured.
"He's not disturbing the air -" Jenn put in.
"He's not there," said Talyn authoritatively.
"There's not a transfer point in the middle of the kitchen," said Emryl.
Jenn flipped griddle cakes on autopilot. "We'd have felt a god if one were near again..."
"Gods could work from a distance, though," Mysha pointed out.
"Speaking of gods," said Talyn casually, "doesn't anybody remember the weirder visitor we got a few tendays back? Or where Grandfather went the last time he was away?" He remembered Keo's thoughts, twinned with a softer, male voice echoing each one, screaming greenly in his head until she shielded. The goddess's thoughts hadn't screamed; her charisma had done that.
"He went to a Master working... Wait, I thought you made that up," Jenn said. "Green haired lady from another world, actually a dragon? Honestly."
"I didn't! If you'd asked Grandfather like I told you to, he'd've told you - and Nevyn was there and Pyelle -"
"Convenient that Master's gone now," muttered Jenn. "And Pyelle can't tell between truth and fiction and Nevyn's still at his grandmother's."
"Shush, you could have asked them any time," Mysha said to the older girl.
"What were you saying about the supposedly-a-dragon-from-another-existence visitor, Talyn?" Emryl asked.
"Right, so, people from there can bring people here over to their existence, she said," Talyn reported. "That's what happened to Rhysel Camlenn and she got stuck but that's not normal. Usually I think they'd ask politely, like when they asked Grandfather to go to Rhysel's Master's working, but there must've been some emergency, and they needed Grandfather. They'll give him back when it's over."
"Oh," said Mysha, and that was all Talyn heard before he was pulled from his world.
The summoning itself felt like nothing, but Talyn took a startled step when his surroundings blinked from tan rock, painted with practice fire-writing and illusory paint, into a lavender-walled workings room. Revenn was there, holding a tiny dragon - she couldn't have been even a hatchling, if she'd been Barashin; those came out of their eggs ten and fifteen and twenty feet long - and there was a human-looking man with color-flecked red eyes, and Rhysel was kneeling on the floor, and an elf standing with his hand raised at the border of the circle in which Talyn stood.
The elf smudged the chalk of the circle. "Grandfather," said Talyn. "What's going on?"
"This baby dragon is dying; Rhysel thought I could help her," Revenn said. "Look at her and let me see what you see. I need to know more to heal her."
Talyn looked at the squirming, mewling baby. She had glittery scales, like blade-shaped fire opals - but that wasn't what Revenn wanted. Talyn let the song looping in his head fall silent. He let the coiled, ready magic, begging to paint the world, show him more. Dropped his shields, let Revenn through to watch the magic.
A brilliant, blood-colored chain hooked through the baby's throat and stretched taut through the air towards Rhysel, laid across the back of her hand, ready for her to shrug it off with the least twitch if she couldn't bear it. Lifelink - but Rhysel wasn't shouting; someone had moved the pain - no one was shouting - there was a twist of white between Rhysel's temple and the glitter-eyed man's, but he looked anxious, not agonized...?
"She's lifelinked," Talyn said. "Uh, but none of you is twitching on the ground right now...?"
"I don't understand it either, my boy, but let's focus on the task," Revenn said. I gave the child's father Rhysel's lifelink pain; he's inured, somehow came the thought.
Talyn squinted harder. The baby's lifeforce was a desperate panting rhythm of energy, forced to beat on by the relentless tug of the link. The lifelink was the only thing keeping her alive. But her body was whole - she wasn't wounded - no parasite, no disease, no poison, her own blood wasn't even attacking her -
She wasn't starving, she wasn't so desiccated as to die that way, she was suffocating but that wasn't what was killing her.
Her lifeforce itself was broken. It didn't recognize the baby's skin as a container; it was draining away, disappearing into humming dust in the air, and all that sustained the little dragon was the chain Rhysel held and the dragon's father suffered.
"Look, Grandfather," murmured Talyn. "Her lifeforce is draining away to nowhere - there -" <see, it's like she's not a living thing at all> - "the lifelink isn't plugging the hole, it's just regenerating more. Can we patch it?" <Not so much a patch as a replacement - she's made of holes - didn't want to scare her father -> Talyn added to Revenn.
<Yes, I understand, I see. Patching it...> "Perhaps," Revenn said aloud. "Everyone, sit down, I'm going to need a lot of energy. Aar Kithen, I'll try to leave you awake enough to send me home, but perhaps you should keep Talyn overnight. Rhysel can heal his arm as slowly as he likes when both come to, and I'm going to be explaining to some half dozen apprentices where I went and why."
Rhysel wasn't a wild kama. If she healed him, it'd be by her esoteric specialty, vastly more interesting than the plain wild kamai he could watch Revenn perform. Talyn whirled around, smiling. "With proxic elemental kamai?" he asked, sitting on the floor with everyone else and angling himself so he'd fall on his good arm when drained near-dry into sleep.
"Yes," Rhysel said. She touched Talyn's shoulder, and the baby's father took Talyn's uninjured hand, and when the circle was completed, Talyn watched silver-rainbow energy swirl around to Revenn until he fell into unconsciousness.
Talyn woke later; he didn't know how much later. The glitter-eyed man and the baby dragon were gone. Talyn was laid out on Rhysel's sofa, good arm down, broken one still in the makeshift sling and unhealed. The elf fellow was fixing a plate of sandwiches in Rhysel's kitchen.
"You're awake," remarked the elf. "Aaral Camlenn" (Rhysel, came a thought, and Talyn steeled himself to attend to the song in his head) "is, to the best of my knowledge, still asleep. I can see to your arm provided you do not object to it taking as much as an angle; I lack her sculptural talents and must substitute extreme care." Talyn quieted the music to listen for information; an angle was a good, long time.
"That's fine," Talyn said at once. "I've never seen proxic elemental healings done before." He paused. "What's your name, anyway? Who are you?"
(Tekaal) "Aar Kithen. I will take these up to Rhysel's room," he said, indicating one plateful of sandwiches, "and return to mend your arm. I have made excess sandwiches and you may have the others. Feel free to finish them."
"Right, I'm hungry," Talyn noticed. "Thanks."
Aar Kithen nodded and went up the stairs. Talyn, one-handed, ate the rest of the sandwiches that were laid out on the cutting board; Aar Kithen hadn't felt hungry and must have eaten already. They weren't interesting - shaved turkey and lettuce leaves on irregularly thick bread - but drain made everything taste good.
Soon enough Aar Kithen came back down to the kitchen. Talyn offered one of his hairs without needing to be asked; he knew the general idea behind proxic elemental kamai, at least, even if he didn't know how the energies rippled and whined when pushed that way.
The little statuette of Talyn, made laboriously to exactly mimic the boy's pose and features inside and out, took half the allotted angle. The other half was spent with Aar Kithen painstakingly changing the interior of the model's arm, once its connection to Talyn was forged. He nudged stone muscle delicately aside to make way for knitting bone, shrank swollen flesh piece by tiny piece. Talyn couldn't decide whether to watch his own arm or the statue. He flicked his eyes between them, watching tiny knives of blue light manipulate the rock and larger copies of the same painlessly pierce and smooth under his olive skin.
"This is so cool," Talyn told Aar Kithen. "Practically nobody does this - proxic workings that don't handle themselves automatically like sympathetic healing are fiddly - but the kamai is amazing -"
"It is gratifying that you find it so entertaining," murmured Aar Kithen.
Rhysel came down the stairs, still chewing a bite of sandwich. "Good night," Aar Kithen greeted her, and Talyn twitched with embarrassment, hearing the elf's thoughts as he spied his girlfriend. Deep in the snowdrifts, Talyn sang to himself insistently, deep under the snow...
"The child survived," Aar Kithen continued, and he went on summarizing things for Rhysel.
Talyn listened to their conversation, since they were courteously holding it in Martisen (or, they thought it was courteous; he'd have rather listened to the meanings in their minds and learned the local language, as long as he was there). He picked up the context he needed that way. But primarily his attention was fixed on the slow, careful kamai.
"Having fun?" Rhysel eventually asked Talyn.
"Yes, Master Camlenn," Talyn replied, still looking at the kamai as her boyfriend worked it.
"Call me Rhysel."
He did, in his head, but it was generally smart to start with the most formal address. "Okay, Rhysel. Hey, can I stay here for a couple of days and learn more proxic kamai? Grandfather doesn't do it at all. He was just going to fix my arm with wild kamai." It wasn't only a healing magic. It could reshape in arbitrary ways.
"I don't mind," Rhysel said. "You're generalizing, aren't you?"
Talyn had no idea what led people to not generalize. How could Mysha confine herself to mind kamai, Jenn and Emryl stick to the elements alone, Nevyn refuse anything outside the realm of death and Byron study only life, little Pyelle find only illusions fascinating? "Yep," he said. Aar Kithen completed the healing. He withdrew the plucked hair from the statuette, destroying the sympathy between statue and boy. "Cooooool... Yeah, all five aspects, why?"
"We're going to be teaching kamai at the local school for wizardry - the kind of magic that, er, Aar Kithen used to summon you and Master Revenn. We want to put on a bit of a show for interested students, but I only know a little bit of mind and wild kamai and Aar Kithen only knows a bit of death and image. We could do our assembly much sooner if you wanted to help."
"I'll help," Talyn said. The world was interesting, and he'd have such stories to tell the others when he got back. The thoughts he caught around wizardry were fascinating. He wouldn't have the natural edge there that he did with kamai, but still - more magic - "Can I learn some wizardry, too, while I'm here?"
"No," Aar Kithen said. "Presuming Aaral Camlenn" (Rhysel, said his mind) "is representative, people from your world do not have channeling capacities; you could learn spells, but attempting to cast them would accomplish nothing."
"Okay," sighed Talyn.
"I'll write a letter to send to Master Revenn about you," Rhysel said. "The sending circle for letters is still there, right?"
The question was addressed to Aar Kithen. "Undisturbed," replied the wizard.
"Talyn, I should warn you," Rhysel said, standing. "The days are longer here, and now you've been up most of the night. You're going to have some trouble getting your sleep cycle back to normal."
Talyn lost interest in the conversation after that, and instead flooded the tower with his senses. Rhysel had brought it up with ward stones, and it listened for her orders; Aar Kithen or Talyn could shape the stone, as indeed Aar Kithen had to perform the healing, but it would be no more responsive than ordinary rocks from the ground. If Rhysel called on her walls, her furniture, the floor under her feet, it would rise up to meet her demands with little thought and less drain.
Then a word, half-heard and half-read out of Aar Kithen's mind, penetrated Talyn's consciousness - imprisonment - for the little dragon's parents.
"Wait," Talyn interrupted. "Term of imprisonment? That's a normal thing here?" He tried not to shudder at the idea of being shut up in one place, for tendays, months, years, like they used to do before the Kyne Reform.
"Yes," said Aar Kithen. "Imprisonment, fines, occasionally community service; certain crimes carry the death penalty."
"You don't do personality revisions?" Talyn asked. Not that that wasn't a haunting enough idea, but it was as little of an intrusion as would be safe - make one change, kill the urge to violence or strengthen the voice representing the rule of law in their minds or set up outright blocks to stop them before they raised a hand to do wrong. Then they could do their jobs, look after their families. See the sky.
"No," said Aar Kithen. Nonplussed. He didn't know what they were, though he could guess from the words. "Is this a kamai working?"
"Yeah," said Talyn. "Especially for violent crimes, but sometimes for stuff like stealing or whatever, they have a mind kama edit the criminal's personality so they won't do it or anything like it again. I had to work one once," Talyn said. He shivered. It was gentler than jail, but the woman he'd revised had thought, when she saw how young he was, that he might help her escape instead if she pleaded - and she had - and he'd done what he was supposed to do, because he could see her crimes in her mind. "They called in Grandfather but then there was an emergency - demon on the loose - and he was needed and I went to do the revision in his place." Mysha had offered to go. But she'd shaken when she offered. And Talyn had wanted to try the working, until he'd actually done it.
"I see. No. We have nothing of the kind," Aar Kithen said. "Aaral Pyga would be competent to do it, but there is only one of her, and she would be unlikely to have any interest in the profession. What is a 'demon'?"
Rhysel explained those to him, and Talyn lost interest again; he rummaged through the cupboards for more food and made occasional comments about the planned kamai demonstration that he had volunteered to help with. Rhysel sent him into a guest bedroom, when he was visibly drooping, and he curled up there and slept.
In the morning, Talyn cleaned himself and his clothes by magic, quietly grinning over the fact that no one was admonishing him for using kamai where it wasn't strictly called for, and started hunting for breakfast.
"I forgot to ask Master Revenn about shrens," Rhysel said abruptly from her seat at the kitchen table. "Did he tell you about them?"
"No," said Talyn. Technically. "But I heard him thinking about them a couple of times, when he unshielded for lessons with Mysha and the other mind students. They're kind of sad." He didn't fully understand the problem, but that much was clear. "Why?"
The extent of the issue came clear in Rhysel's thoughts. Poor things... "I don't expect you to be able to cure them," she said, "but do you know how to do the anesthetic working? The younger shrens are in so much pain." Her tone was full of urgency.
"Yeah, I can do that," Talyn said. "Do you want to go right now?"
Rhysel tossed him a bag from a cupboard he hadn't looked into yet. "Here. You should have a snack if you're going to do a lot of kamai. But yes, right now."
She was still buzzing with concern about the pain of the small shrens. "If it's that bad - they can't shield, right?" Usually he didn't adopt others' feelings and sensations as his own - but if they were too overwhelming he couldn't hedge them out and they drowned out his own thoughts - Nevyn had been practicing holding a lifelink against intense pain, in case he ever needed it, and Talyn had had to flee the tower -
"They're babies, and not kyma either," said Rhysel. So no. They couldn't shield. Talyn shuddered.
"Is there a way I can do this one at a time? If it's that bad..." Not that doing it one at a time was a perfect solution. Nevyn was only one person himself. But it would be less incapacitating than a crowd of tortured shrens.
"We'll ask Jensal," Rhysel said. "I imagine you could be in a room far away from most of the babies and she could bring them in one at a time. She did that when I met Artha." Artha's name came with an image. Very cute, very small, green-scaled. Looked just like a dragon. Why couldn't she fly...?
The shren house was familiar-looking to Rhysel, and Talyn wasn't being particularly diligent about drowning her leaked thoughts in repetitive songs and nursery rhymes, so by the time they got there it was familiar-looking to him too. Rhysel knocked; the leader of the shren house answered the door. Jensal, Rhysel recognized her. "This isn't a tourist attraction," said Jensal.
"He's better at some kinds of kamai than I am," Rhysel said. "He probably can't cure the babies, but he can anesthetize them."
"For how long? They just got their dose of sootheweed for the day." (Not that this helps much, especially not the oldest, don't dare up the dose, don't dare step up the frequency, came the meanings of the turquoise's thoughts, though the words they came in were like nothing Talyn had ever heard.)
"Indefinitely," Talyn said confidently. Her eyes went wide, and he started explaining. "It's not a good idea to go around doing that to everybody all the time - they start biting their tongues off, and stuff - but I think this is a special case. And sootheweed doesn't even do a very thorough job, sounds like, let alone last for more than a few -"
"Talyn," said Rhysel. "She can't shield, but you can mind your own business. I'm sorry, Jensal - he reads minds - automatically."
Talyn wished people would stop apologizing for him. It primed people to think of him as intruding, and he tried, he tried harder than anyone understood, to not let them intrude on him. When he let up on the singing in his mind, it was usually to make things easier for other people, save them time explaining.
"Does he," said Jensal. "And you want to put him with baby shrens?" Talyn's estimation of her intelligence went up a notch. "Well, maybe he can knock the esu out of one or two before he collapses screaming. Come in."
"I should probably see them one at a time," Talyn said. "Exactly that reason."
"Right." Jensal ushered them into her office. "Wait here. I'll start you with Artha. She shouldn't be too overwhelming. If you can do it with her, I'll have you through all of ours and get a wizard to teleport you to the other three houses before you can recite my entire name."
Rhysel asked, "What's your entire name?"
"Jensal," said Jensal.
Talyn puzzled over the strange language she thought in. He could understand what she was thinking, but it wasn't just foreign, it was weird. "I really hope their minds work about like a halfblood's or a human's or an elf's. I haven't really practiced on anyone else, but Mysha's got this book that says even Barashin dragons are pretty different in some ways. Dragons here might be more different."
"You could hear Jensal, couldn't you?" Rhysel asked anxiously.
"Yeah," Talyn said. "I mean, I'm sure I can do it. I'm good at kamai." Understatement. With kamai he'd learned, there were nine other people as good at it as him - that being the number of other innate kyma in the world. As soon as he learned all the workings that there were, like Master Bryn had, he'd be the best kama of all time.
Jensal came back, with Artha on her arm. The baby shren looked drugged or drunk - or high on sootheweed, he supposed. And she was talkative, for a baby, the way the little red opal hadn't been. "Did you know," Artha said, "that sootheweed is not a weed because a weed means a bad plant that people don't want?"
"I didn't know that," said Rhysel.
Talyn accepted Artha out of Jensal's hands. Her scales were soft, and the hum of pain from her mind was faint, ignorable. But it didn't come from any sector he was used to hearing pain from. He didn't think he had any idea what that part of the mind was - he could only tell that it hurt her.
She giggled at him anyway. "You're a scared," announced Artha.
"I'm a what?" She was referring to her empathy, he heard. "No, I'm not," he denied.
"Are so, I can tell, see," she said. Her tail waggled. "I'm greeeeeen. You're not green. Not even a little bit green. Paint won't help."
Talyn thought she was exaggerating his apprehension about working on an unfamiliar mind, but Jensal inserted, "Sootheweed is not renowned for its lack of side effects. Is that going to interfere?"
"Shouldn't," Talyn said. Being drunk or high wouldn't change anything, but sootheweed wasn't a Barashin plant. It could be different. "Okay, Artha, I'm going to try to make the hurting stop."
"You're not a weed!" cried Artha, contorting herself amusingly. "Because you don't grow from the ground."
Jensal and Rhysel spoke, but Talyn ignored them, sounding out the twists and turns of the little green's mind, holding her face in his hands. She was limp in his lap except for occasional giggles snuffling through her nostrils.
"It's weird in her head," Talyn murmured. It was a maze. "The pain's ignorable, but... everything's connected up strangely."
"Be careful with her," said Jensal. "I don't think her parents would care, based on the note they sent with her egg, but I value her life."
"I will," said Talyn, and he reached toward the pain and turned it off.
Artha made a sound. Talyn didn't know what to call it - something like a wail of pain, but not so coherent or sane. A sound that ought to have had a person behind it and didn't.