Chapter Ten: Fetching

"What does it mean to 'taint' them with my powers?" Talyn asked tentatively.

Sarid bit her lip. "I would rather you didn't use any. But if you need them, then, don't... Try not to let the girls see, and don't use the powers on them. Can you do that? I don't want them to have Sinhar's flaw."

Talyn nodded. "I don't think I'll need to use magic on them directly. And I can make most of it invisible. Although I'm not clear on how that would make them able to do any magic they can't already do..." Sarid flinched and he fell silent.

"How are you planning on accomplishing this?" Lorin asked him, frowning. "I hope you're not going to get yourself killed..."

"Step one, ask my Master for money," said Talyn. "Step two, ask a spell from my wizard girlfriend. I'll be fine."

Rhysel was easy.

Leekath wasn't.

"You want me to push you to Ryganaav," she said incredulously.

"Is that what it's called when you send within Elcenia?"

"The other direction is calling. You want to just go there all by yourself?" Leekath exclaimed. "What happened to going with a charity?"

"Nothing happened to it, exactly, but I don't think a charity would help me do this particular thing. I could fly there instead, but I'm going to have to walk back and should probably show up with all my lifeforce."

"Are you serious?"

"It's not that far or Sarid couldn't have made it with a four-year-old. It's not going to be the most fun hike ever, but I can do it. I'll take a hover platform if that would make you feel better."

"I thought you were also going to do it without showing them any magic."

"They'll sleep some, right? Kids wake up, platform folds up. I'll take a knapsack."

Leekath cocked her head, brow furrowed. "Is this the kind of thing you do a lot and I just haven't known you long enough? Because I knew you were the sort of person who went flying with wild rocs and that's fine, but going to Ryganaav like this is... Will you let me ward you?"

"If you want. But they can't hurt me," he said.

"I'm not that worried about the humans, but there are leonines in Ryganaav too, and they don't hate magic. Their lights and sorcerers can't hurt you, I guess, and they don't have wizards, just a handful of random spells, but their mages can give you trouble." She was thinking about the ways mages could get around and through otherwise impenetrable wards, trying to remember if there was a mageproof protection that would keep Talyn's breath from being stolen or his skin burnt to a crisp or his blood frozen in his veins or his stoneskin cracked open.

"Are there a lot of mages?"

"At least some leonines do have the spell to tell if someone's a potential mage," Leekath said. "So yes."

"Why would they attack me?" Talyn asked. "I'm not going to go around attacking leonines."

"They'll figure that that's because you haven't spotted them yet. You'll look like a Ryganaavlan human from a distance. And a Ryganaavlan human would be hostile to leonines. Even if you convince them you're peaceful that doesn't mean they are. Ryganaavlan humans are pretty awful but the leonines aren't that great either. They might eat you, or try to keep you as a slave - same for the girls you're trying to bring here."

Talyn chewed on his lip. "A two year old is probably not talkative enough to tell her mommy if she sees magic, is she. Let alone the baby."

"Probably," said Leekath. "I'll call them, if you want, and push the gems you picked out of Rhysel's bag to pay for the girls."

"No, I mean, if my plan goes south and we get attacked by leonines I can turn us invisible or something. I still want to keep my word to Sarid if that doesn't mean getting... eaten? Really?"

"Really," said Leekath.

"You're the only person allowed to feed on me," Talyn said loyally, and he got a small laugh.

"Hover platform?" Leekath asked, graphite stick in one hand and checklist in the other.

"Yep. Rhysel says it's not mine, though, it's going to be a household thing so her kids can play on it when they're born and stuff."

"Gems? Water? Food? Milkpotion for the baby? Warm clothes for nightfall?"

"Yes, but - is the milkpotion you got made by witches?"

"Well, you could take some kind of animal milk instead," said Leekath, sighing. "But that's not really good for babies."

"It's only until I get them across the border," Talyn said. "How do you know what's good for non-vampire babies to eat, anyway?"

"I stood near a parenting magazine that wasn't especially for vampires one time," she said. "And I was bored. Communication crystal?"

"I have it, but don't call it, okay? I'll call you in an emergency, if there is one."

Leekath nodded. "But I'm at least going to scry you if you aren't back in two days."

"Of course." He looked into his backpack. "Kiss goodbye?" he asked rhetorically, pretending to hunt for it.

"Oh, you." She touched his cheek, turned his head, and kissed him. <Be safe. Okay?>

<Thanks for putting up with me,> he sent. <I'll do my best to come home in one piece.>

Just like teleporting, being pushed felt like nothing on its own. However, landing in Nam's limestone house was noticeable - the structure was built to admit cooling drafts, but it was still dramatically warmer than any part of Paraasilan.

Talyn had appeared invisibly in a circular room with a fireplace in the middle and sleeping pallets arranged around it. The fire wasn't burning, but would presumably be called for during the colder night. Three of the four pallets were empty. In the third slept Naarin, the baby girl, wearing what looked like a sack with sleeves; it had some kind of strap sewn to it which Talyn imagined would let someone sling her over their shoulder.

He was invisible, though, and if he picked up the baby before finding Path, Path would see her sister floating. He noted where Naarin was and stalked quietly through the house in search of the toddler.

Path was strapped to her aunt's back, chewing on a wooden toy shoved too far into her mouth for Talyn to identify its shape. Nam's sister looked like she might be sixteen or seventeen, and she was pounding lentils into flour in a big stone bowl. Talyn wasn't sure how to get Path away from her, nor when she'd put the girl down. He chewed on his lip and wondered if using mind kamai on Sarid's sister-in-law would bother her, then decided she didn't need to know. He let the looping music in his mind fall silent.

- finish the flour, then bring Naarin to Tetal tis Usanek for wetnursing, but is there enough in the petty cash to pay her husband? Then I need to go out to the well and bring in enough for supper. I think we're out of pepper. What is Nam going to do without me? I don't think he knew I could hear them talking, but I know Senakaal Kegar is thinking of buying me, and then Nam will be here with two little girls to look after and no woman. Will I fetch enough to let him buy Tetal us Kazyl, or will he have to wait and save more for her, or settle for Tetal us Etaan? What force took Sarid, to leave Nam like that? And Sinhar! Bad enough for her to go, to abandon her responsibilities, but his firstborn son! What is she going to do with him, sacrifice him to the Corrupter...?

Talyn was unpleasantly struck by how normal all these thoughts felt to the woman - he searched for her name - Asdaar. She didn't have any particular emotional reaction to the idea of being sold to Senakaal Kegar except for concern about her brother's ability to keep up with his work and remaining children. And Asdaar was livid at Sarid, rather than harboring a hope that her sister-in-law had escaped to a more hospitable destination. She didn't know Sinhar had manifested sorcerer powers, but Talyn had the unpleasant idea that she wouldn't be more sympathetic if she did.

This place, Talyn thought, is messed up.

Although he did wonder if Nam's head was full of normal-sounding thoughts, too.

At any rate, Asdaar planned to wear Path - and Naarin too, when she was awake or when Asdaar was out of the house - all day. Talyn wouldn't get a chance to unobtrusively steal the girls away until the family bedded down for the night. He had some waiting around to do.

Maybe Sarid didn't go voluntarily, but if lion-devils came to steal her and Sinhar out of our home wouldn't they have done me and Nam harm? Or taken the babies or the neighbors? Asdaar was thinking.

Rapidly losing interest in Asdaar's speculations, Talyn decided to spend his wait exploring.

The town was built around an oasis. Virtually every man Talyn passed was involved in some kind of farming; a handful lent money or practiced crafts or worked at the temple or were passing through on caravans to sell things. All the women did domestic work, except that the wives of men who had more than one sometimes helped their husbands with whatever his job was and let her co-wife manage the household. And the place was overrun with children.

The adults walked sedately, moving from shadow to shadow to avoid the sun and often weighed down with heavy burdens. The children were harder to avoid. One little boy did bump into Talyn, and looked confused, but eventually decided he'd just tripped strangely and continued. After that, Talyn flew above the crowds instead.

It was a homogenous place. Talyn had grown up in Restron, almost entirely populated by halfbloods, but at least they came in different colors. All the Ryganavlanik were within a narrow band of shades of brown. Their hair was all black, all straight. They all wore pale colors to ward off the sun, and they could have been wearing gender-segregated uniforms, there was so little variance in styles.

Talyn started to get hungry after he'd been flying around eavesdropping on people for two angles. He'd witnessed a drunkard haggling with a caravanser about the price of liquor, a man accept a sum of goats in exchange for his fifteen-year-old daughter, and a little girl teaching her cousin how to play some dizzyingly complicated game with bits of glass and string. He'd watched a priest's acolyte assure a man that, one day, the faithful would overtake the world, eradicate the devils and the wielders of their powers, and be reassumed into the blessings of the gods. The same acolyte then met with a different parishoner and counseled him away from suicide in the wake of financial ruin with bewildering gentleness and a gift of coins. Then he'd spoken with a different man and suggested that if the fellow's wife wasn't obeying him when he issued verbal orders, he could try hitting her.

Talyn didn't know if he wanted to throw up or set the town on fire. Or fly home and leave them be.

He flew into the desert, found and killed a hare, and cooked it with fire magic and ate it, rather than stealing from any of the food sellers.

And then he went back, because the desert was quiet, and he could hear his grandfather and Mysha and the demon. They weren't alive, their minds weren't learning things or reacting to what Talyn saw and heard, but their memories bubbled up according to what he thought about, and he roared songs in his thoughts to shout down the demon's remembrance of possessing desert animals, Mysha's yearning to travel through troll lands and learn more about their misunderstood culture, his grandfather's anxiety about what purpose Talyn would turn his innate power towards.

Shut up, shut up, I'm busy, Talyn insisted, and he busied himself. Night was falling. He went back to Nam's house and caught the tail end of the family dinner. He forced himself to be fascinated when Nam told Asdaar about the status of the vineyard (good) and the fate of "that cheat, Oligar" (bad) and the asking price for Tetal us Kazyl (high).

They went to bed by the fire over which Asdaar had cooked dinner. A chill stole through the air. Naarin fussed, and Nam sat up and scooped his daughter into his arms and soothed her and put her back down.

Finally, they all slept.

Talyn picked up Naarin by the strap on her sack-garment and managed to get her secured to his chest without waking her up.

She's Sarid's little girl, he thought fiercely. She should be with her mother and brother. Not here. Nam would sell her eventually anyway for goats or something. I'll leave gems and it won't make a difference to him.

He didn't really believe that, but he didn't believe Sarid ought to have to do without her girls either, so he picked up Path, too, got her onto his back behind his knapsack, dropped one the jewels Rhysel had given him on each of the girls' pallets, and stole out of the house.

The town wasn't well-lit at night, but it wasn't impossible that someone would see him, if they looked; there was moonlight and a few slow-burning torches. He got out of the city on foot, wishing the Barashin gods would be able to hear him from Elcenia so he could pray that Path and Naarin would stay asleep.

They slept without divine assistance. Path was having a dream about a pretty bug she'd seen becoming giant and letting her ride it.

Beyond the light of any of the torches, and too far to be easily observed in the moon's glow by a townsperson, Talyn pulled out the hover platform, unfolded it, and climbed on to direct it north.

The girls slept soundly, and he dared step up the speed to make better time. Talyn was nearly at the border when dawn broke, they opened their eyes (he hastily became visible), and he was obliged to go on foot.

"Papa? Auntie?" asked Path, who, on his back facing outward, couldn't see who was holding her. Naarin yawned and didn't seem to care.

"Shhh," Talyn said to Path.

She didn't recognize his voice. "Who? Who is?"

"It's okay, Path, I'm... a friend of your mama's," Talyn tried.

"No," Path said. Evidently she'd been chided for discussing her mama; Talyn caught a distorted memory of Nam frowning at her for bringing Sarid up, then looking away with a hurt expression.

"It's okay," he repeated. "I'm nice."

The border was attended, if not exactly guarded. Esmaarlan government workers staffed outposts every couple of miles. A fence that would probably have been mildly challenging for a magically unequipped human to get past stretched between them. Talyn headed for one of the little buildings.

Someone came out to meet him and Talyn tucked his hair behind one of his ears to show off the point; he didn't want to listen to the spiel they gave to ordinary refugees. "Er," said the human man who'd been about to launch exactly such a spiel. "...Okay, what's the story?"

Talyn told him.

"All right," the attendant said when the explanation was through - as simply factual as Talyn could make it and filtered through a sleepless night. The attendant didn't want to hear about the acolyte giving a week's worth of his own pay to a ruined man. The attendant didn't want to know that Nam had woken up to put Naarin back to sleep when she woke. "What're the girls' names? I guess they can do the processing at the house you're taking them to, but I could use something to do."

"Path and Naarin. Us Nam," Talyn said wearily.

"Okay." The attendant wrote this down on a pad of paper. "And Nam's not going to be joining them?"

"Don't think so. I'm just taking them to their mother and brother."

"You affiliated with an institution?" asked the attendant. "World Relief Union, United Aleists of Espaal, the Sand -"

"No. Just me," Talyn.

"You're a brave young man," the attendant said.

Talyn didn't feel brave. He felt exhausted. "Thank you."

"How are you getting to Paraasilan? I assume if you could teleport you'd have done that from farther in, not walked here..."

"Was thinking a public scoot," Talyn said. "The girls' mother doesn't want them to have to look at any magic but the inside of a scoot doesn't look very magic, right?"

"Looks like seats and windows," said the attendant. "Do you need help getting to a scoot station?"

"Directions, maybe," Talyn said.

"Just follow that street," the attendant said, pointing through the windows in his building at a little dirt track. "It's about a mile away. Will you be all right? You look really run down. I could come with you, carry one of the kids. Someone else'll pop into this depot if the detector shows anyone coming."

"If you aren't going to use any magic that she can see, sure," Talyn said gratefully, handing over a squirming Path.

"She looks like one of mine," the man said. Talyn was having a harder time blocking out thoughts with the sleep deprivation; the attendant was picturing his family, including a three-year-old who vaguely resembled the toddler in his arms.

"Great," Talyn said. "Tell me about your family."

As he'd hoped, this kept the attendant rambling until they got to the scoot station and Talyn didn't have to contribute further to the conversation. He was left sitting in the station, holding three tickets to a Paraasilan scoot that left in twenty degrees.

"Eat?" said Path.

Talyn dug out some crackers for her, which she munched, and gave Naarin a bottle of goat milk. It had been kept preserved by magic, but nothing she could see. Naarin took a while to figure out the bottle, but sucked down the milk contently enough once she'd managed.

Sarid was going to be so happy to see them.

He focused on that, and on songs, and on passing Path more food when she repeated "Eat?", and on the thoughts of the other people in the station, and on anything but the seething minds folded into his.

"Mama?" asked Path skeptically, when Talyn finally staggered into Sarid's apartment with the children in tow. Sarid was cutting up an apple for Sinhar.

She dropped the knife. "Path," she breathed. "Naarin. You got them."

Talyn nodded and handed over first one, then the other, and wobbled.

"Were you up all night?" Sarid asked. "Can you get home?"

"Yeah," he yawned. "I think so. Maybe I should call my girlfriend. What day is it? Chenen, right? I made good time. They sleep through the night really well."

"Chenen, yes," Sarid said. She pressed a kiss to each daughter's forehead.

"Then she's not in class, I can call her," Talyn said. He shrugged off the knapsack and rummaged around for the communication crystal. Sarid had been thinking of pointing out that there were empty rooms in the apartment, but nodded when he said he was going to call Leekath.

"Thank you," she murmured.

"You're welcome," Talyn said. He found the crystal, and wandered out of the apartment to shield Sarid's children from the sight of its use.

He thwacked it against a banister. It rang. Leekath picked up.

"I'm back," he said. "I am so tired. Can you get me?"

"Where are you?"

"The public housing... thing."

"I can't teleport there. I'll be a few degrees walking. Is that okay?"

"Yeah," he said. "I'll sit here." He plopped down onto the stairs and leaned against the wall.

"I'll see you soon," she said. The crystal went silent. He put it down.

When he woke up, he was in his bed in Rhysel's tower, tucked in.

He rolled over and went back to sleep.

The next day was an Inen, and Talyn sorely regretted having conducted his mission during Leekath's break in classes. The girls would have been fine for another two days. Not that he knew that when he set out. He'd been envisioning something like the mental picture Lorin or Leekath composed when they thought about Ryganaav.

It wasn't like the stereotypes were untrue. He'd personally watched a man sell his daughter, seen a woman limping because her husband had hit her, listened to a priest-in-training speak fondly of eventual genocide. He didn't doubt that Sinhar would have been brutally murdered if he'd floated a piece of bread to his mouth in front of anyone but Sarid. And maybe there wasn't supposed to be a "but" after any of that; maybe it was inexcusable; but it was eating at him.

"I don't think I'm going to try to organize an army to take over Ryganaav," he told Rhysel over breakfast.

"Good to hear," she said, raising an eyebrow.

"But something has to change there," he said. "It's just - it shouldn't - is there a way to make it change without anybody having to die?"

"I don't know, Talyn," Rhysel sighed. "From what I've heard, it's a very deeply embedded culture. Maybe Keo could do it, but... well, she would have done it already, if she were going to."

"I'm going to ask her," Talyn said, and a sad look crossed her face, but she was always shielded nowadays unless actually practicing mind kamai, and he couldn't tell what that was about.

"Good luck," Rhysel said.

Talyn could have pinged Keo from the breakfast table, but he was going to be on campus later anyway, to meet Leekath for the one-angle gap in her classes and give her lunch. So he took the transfer point to the pond, went into the building, and told the lift to take him to the headmaster's office.

Kanaat, not Keo, was sitting at Kanaat's desk. His mind was as opaque as hers, behind shields Talyn couldn't even see like he'd be able to inspect a kamai shield. "Can I talk to Keo?" Talyn asked.

"Keo is substitute teaching," Kanaat said. "If you'd like to wait a half angle, you can talk to her then."

Talyn knew perfectly well that talking to Kanaat was an awful lot like talking to Keo, but he decided to wait instead of bringing up the topic with the elf. This was mostly because he'd have to ask things in terms of "why doesn't she just" rather than "why don't you just", and the former felt like he was talking behind Keo's back even under the circumstances.

Waiting patiently wasn't good for the calm of the minds in his head. He seized a book at random from Kanaat's shelf and read about the history of analysis spells until Keo teleported into the room.

"Hi, Talyn," she said. "What's on your mind?"

"Ryganaav," he said shortly. "Ryganaav is on my mind."

"You're not the first person to come to me wanting to talk about it," Keo said. "Will the usual answer help, or do you think you have something unusual to say?"

"It's probably the same thing," he admitted, looking away.

"I am very powerful. My powers work instantly, when I deploy them," Keo said. "But I don't think instantly, and I'm not a special kind of wizard who can do mental spells without gestures and words - I can't just apply a standard adjustment to one brain and the next brain and the one after that, over and over. Major intervention requires detail work."

"So it'd take too long," Talyn said.

Keo shook her head. "It'd take a long time, but that's not the problem - I could do a few towns a year until I was done, timewise. The problem is it takes too long and the people I hadn't touched yet would still be the way they are. I mess with the first person, and his brothers and sisters and wives and sons and daughters, his priest and the people he works with and the people he buys food from, his neighbors and his friends and the guy he's considering selling his eldest to - they notice he's gone a bit off, he's saying weird things, he goes quiet at weird times, he doen't sound sincere when repeating after the sermon in temple anymore. And since I haven't messed with anyone else in town, guess what happens to that guy?"

"Sword through the chest?" Talyn asked dejectedly.

"Or rock to the head or he's driven out into the desert and eaten by leonines or he dies of thirst - one way or another, it is not actually doable to survive in Ryganaav without being a very good actor, backed by plenty of friends or magic, or an honest believer," Keo said. "They are aware that something like me could exist. That's usually what they assume happened when someone doesn't fit in quite right, so they're quick to break out the armaments rather than having long reasonable arguments."

"But you could do some things," Talyn said. "You could - nudge them a little bit."

"Nudge them a bit to do what? It can't be anything extreme like letting magical children live or trying to free their women," Keo said. "I could get a few guys to hit their wives less, but not all of them actually do that, and there are wife-beaters in plenty of countries. I could get them to be a little less hostile to the leonines, but the leonines won't return the favor unless I go after them too."

"Get them to..." Talyn made a vague gesture. "Ugh. I don't know."

"If you think of something, let me know," Keo said gently.

"Right," said Talyn. "Thank you. I'm sorry to make you, um, repeat yourself."

"It's all right," Keo said.

Talyn got up and went into the lift. "Library," he said. He could probably keep his passengers down for an angle or two by finding Kaylo and talking magic.