Chapter Eleven: Sifting
Kaylo was shielding when Talyn found him. "Thinking secret thoughts?" Talyn asked in Ryganaavlan dialect, sitting down at the other side of the table and making way for his elbow in an array of books.
"Yup," Kaylo said in the same accent. "How are you?"
"I went to Ryganaav," Talyn said.
"The hell is wrong with you?"
"Nothing," Talyn lied. He hadn't told anybody about the aftereffects of the mind-blast. Leekath had heard the wand describe it. Master Corvan knew, because he'd pulled the information about the entire disaster directly from Talyn's mind. But people almost never did mind-blasts. They were taught, as a ranged defense for mind kyma, but virtually never used, only not forbidden outright because of an accident of history. No one knew what to do for him. Corvan might have tried something experimental on anyone but an innate; Talyn, though, was likely to involuntarily lash out with magic if someone poked around in his mind. Which now included three others.
He didn't want to talk about it, because that, like boredom and like thinking of the minds' prior owners, made them chatty.
"Something," Kaylo said, "is wrong with you if you went to Ryganaav."
"No - I started with talking to a refugee woman. She got her sorcerer kid out but had to leave two girls behind," Talyn said. "I went invisible and got them for her. I wasn't in any danger or anything."
"Okay..." Kaylo raised an eyebrow, but changed the subject. "So we've learned the lifespan reading working thing now. I said it was fine if people read mine, since, you know, I'm good for a couple thousand years yet and I'm sure I'll forget the exact number by the time it comes up, but anyway that wasn't what I wanted to ask you about. I was reading Leekath's lifespan, since she was the only other person who volunteered for it, and you know how you sort of sift along it a little at a time?"
"Like you're a funnel or something, yeah," Talyn said.
"Right. And I asked Rhysel whether it was strictly essential to the working to put it back after we were done with each bit."
Talyn smirked. "I bet she wasn't happy."
"Not even a little bit happy. I shut up about it. But is it? Strictly necessary? I'm not gonna go around stealing people's lifespans, but could I?"
"It's a forbidden working..." Talyn said slowly.
"Which means it's a working," Kaylo said.
"It was. People really don't do forbidden kamai. They learn it, sometimes, but don't do it."
Kaylo flung up one hand in exasperation. "Why are entire classes of workings banned? Of all the stupid ways to do things. Elcenians don't make spells illegal, just certain things you can do with them. Then if someone thinks of a good application for one they can use it without any fuss. We'd still be getting meat by slitting animals' throats if no one had figured out that you can use instant death spells on livestock just as well as you can use it on enemy troops, as a for instance."
"There's a process to unforbid stuff," Talyn said. "But I don't think stealing lifespan would be a good candidate. I don't think it even works on animals."
"It wouldn't have to be animals. Like, you were in Ryganaav, do you think they die of old age? Not likely - they're killing each other and getting into fights with leonines and getting diseases and dying of exposure or dehydration or malnutrition or childbirth. If you took ten years off of every person in Ryganaav you walked by maybe one in a hundred of them would miss it. I'm not going to do it, because as I mentioned going to Ryganaav means something is wrong with you and I'm awesome, but how would it be hurting anything?" Kaylo asked.
"I hadn't thought of that," admitted Talyn. "I still don't think it'd get past the unforbiddance process."
"Probably not. Enh. How did they pick things to put off-limits, anyway? It's not just everything you could use to kill somebody or that'd rule out a lot of, say, fire magic."
"The first forbidden kamai was stuff that people were using to make themselves immortal," Talyn said, leaning back in his chair far enough to look at the ceiling. There was a painting on it, of children opening books and thereby releasing stylised representations of knowledge. "You could do that by stealing enough lifespan from people, but not by setting them on fire. A few things have been forbidden since but not that many."
"How," Kaylo asked, "is the no-forbidden-kamai rule even enforced? Again, I do not ask because I plan to actually do any. I'm just morbidly fascinated by how the stupid system works."
"Well, it's mostly self-regulated. We get it pounded into our heads really thoroughly during apprenticeships. Isn't Rhysel making a big deal about it in class?"
"Some, yeah," Kaylo said. "She isn't actually teaching us any forbidden kamai unless you count the obvious leap I made from lifespan-reading. But she's making very sure that we are all informed it is Not To Be Tampered With."
"Yeah," Talyn said. "She had the same Master I did, he -"
Revenn's mind twitched.
"He what?" Kaylo asked.
"Never mind," said Talyn, forcing himself to smile. Gods, I can't even think about how he didn't want me to do forbidden kamai without waking him up? he thought before he ruthlessly shoved away all grandfather-related ideation and blinked expectantly at Kaylo. Kaylo would say something, certainly. Kaylo was smart and curious and would have something to say that Talyn could think about instead.
"Right, so what happens when people don't self-regulate so well?" asked Kaylo. "How do the Good And Virtuous Kyma chase down and stop the Bad And Vicious Kyma?"
"Well, most people don't delve into forbidden kamai just because they find it intellectually fascinating," Talyn said. "They would be actually using it to extend their lives - or, you know, whatever. So you'd notice that people were dying unexpectedly early, or that they were going missing, or some other sign - or that someone was living too long - and you'd track down the kama that way."
"And then they tell the kama that forbidden kamai is very naughty and they don't get any iced planets for dessert?"
Talyn chuckled softly. "No - personality revision - and they'd try to reverse the damage as much as possible."
"Wouldn't that require more forbidden kamai?" Kaylo asked.
"Yeah - a committee of the people who forbid or unforbid stuff can let you do things if it's to undo something that someone who did it without permission caused."
"They don't grant dispensations for research?" Kaylo asked. He didn't sound very hopeful.
"Suppose Bad And Vicious Kama puts up a fight," Kaylo said.
"Then the Good And Virtuous Kyma - why are we calling them that?"
"Because it's funny."
"The Good And Virtuous Kyma fight to subdue, but they won't let someone go rather than kill them, if it comes to that. It hasn't happened in my lifetime, though. I think the last one was like a hundred years ago. I don't remember the guy's name." Revenn did, but Talyn wasn't going looking for it there.
"Okay. But if you were subtle about it? I reiterate, I'm not actually interested in this stuff on more than a theoretical level, in which respect it is like almost everything else," said Kaylo. "I'll unshield and say it if you want."
"No, that's fine," Talyn said, "I'm pretty sure you aren't going to do anything wrong. I guess kyma could be going around doing unobtrusive forbidden kamai without anyone noticing, and then nothing would happen to them, I suppose."
Kaylo nodded. "What sorts of things get forbidden these days?"
Talyn thought about it. "Things that get badly abused. Things that develop a sinister reputation - we really don't want another kyma purge - that was when non-kyma all decided that kyma all needed to die because some of them were doing, er, Bad And Vicious things. Things that nobody can think of a benign application for."
"Because of course no one cleverer than them will ever be born," said Kaylo dryly. "Or, you know. Hatch."
"Of course," echoed Talyn with a faint smile. "But... why is this all worth the mind of the great theoretician Kaylobesayn? Didn't you have a project already underway?"
"Project is entitled Channeling Capacity: What The Hell Is It," said Kaylo. "I'm trying to figure out if I could sift along someone's CC the same way I can sift along their lifespan."
Talyn boggled. "Er," he said. "If you could do that, then you could maybe move it around the same way you can with lifespan, is that right?"
"I know what you're thinking," said Kaylo smugly. "No, I won't sell you any of mine, but find some random person who will and you could learn to be a wizard, too."
That, Talyn decided at once, would be excellent. That would be very occupying. That would give him more in common with Leekath, and Kaylo too for that matter. That would give him lots of things to learn and practice and think about which would be very unlike anything his parasites had memories of. "How can I help?" Talyn wanted to know.
"Tell me more about why the working works that way. I know which textures - sorry, you prefer aural tones, right?"
"Yeah, but I know all three representations," Talyn said eagerly. "Whichever you want."
"Okay, so I know which textures go with lifespan. But why those? How were they discovered to go with lifespan and not hair color or something? Is there anything else you can sift along the same or a similar way so I could check out commonalities between the workings? Stuff like that. Tell me everything," Kaylo said, a fascinated glint in his garnet eyes.
Talyn smiled, and started talking.
Talyn had been seeing a lot of Kaylo anyway, but the CC-transferring project had both of them worked up to the point where Talyn was once almost late for a date with Leekath. Kaylo was late for dates with Korulen more often than that, and was sometimes hauled away scrabbling for his books when she came to see what the holdup was. After a few days Kaylo decided it was best all told to let her in on the project, although its connection to forbidden lifespan-stealing was not mentioned to her. ("She'd think that whole mess was depressing," Kaylo explained to Talyn. "She thinks a lot of things are depressing.")
Korulen was not Kaylo's theoretical equal, but she had him beat on literature review - which he did only grudgingly to begin with, spending half of his trawls through the stacks cursing ignorant authors and their "relentless adherence to wizarding orthodoxy". She promptly took over that part of the project and presented Kaylo with more palatable packets of collected data.
Her specialization in mind kamai and history of friendship with Rhysel had also netted her tutoring in things Kaylo hadn't covered yet, and while she didn't know any workings Talyn lacked, she did know her stuff from a non-innate's perspective and was better at getting some concepts across to her dragon boyfriend. For one thing, Talyn had never considered hunting through another person's memories as a variant on sifting, since he could pull on what he wanted more intuitively than the painstaking bit-by-bit search Korulen had learned.
Kaylo researched "Channeling Capacity: What The Hell Is It" in parallel with the progress on sifting workings. His descriptions of what the hell it was didn't make a lot of sense to Talyn. "It's a hole," Kaylo kept explaining excitedly, scribbling notes on new analysis spells he was developing to get a better look at it. "But it's not a hole in anything. The hole is the only thing there. Like - like - okay, the summoning circle isn't actually the least bit like it, but imagine if it was, it's a place you can go and go through from one world to another, but there's not a barrier between them, so that would be a hole in nothing if that were how it worked and it isn't and that's a terrible analogy, don't actually think of it like that. But it's a hole!"
"Okay, so it's a hole," Talyn said. "And?"
"And so if you were to move it, you'd be closing it up in one place - and opening or expanding it in another - but there isn't anything around it to close in. You're just shrinking the hole, is what you're doing," Kaylo said.
"Maybe," said Korulen, "we should figure out how to count CC with kamai before we start thinking about moving it?"
"Right," said Kaylo, and he re-focused on that. Talyn wistfully thought that Leekath might be useful to have on board the project, too, but she had too many classes, and they used up all of the energy she had for seriously thinking about magic. Occasionally she'd sit with them while they worked, but only in a trance induced by Talyn petting her hair, not in a state where she might be tempted to participate and lose her ability to concentrate on assignments.
Kaylo was able to accurately count Korulen's CC with kamai alone after a solid week of research. She immediately hauled him away for some manner of celebration that both of them conspicuously shielded their minds about. They were back half an angle later - half an angle that Talyn spent trying to read Korulen's stack of books, rather than sitting through alone with nothing to do and no one to talk to. They looked smug. Talyn demanded an immediate resumption of research so he wouldn't have to think about how much he wished Leekath had put off the next installment in Survey of Natural Things to spend more time with him.
Talyn learned to sift along CC. He had the oddest feeling that it didn't like him - Kaylo and Korulen reported nothing similar. It didn't feel slippery or sound afraid or taste prickly when they interacted with it. Still, none of that interfered with his ability to go bit by bit until he'd counted all the discrete bits it came in. (How a hole came in bits, he didn't know. He still didn't see what caused Kaylo to identify channeling capacity that way.)
"Try to keep one," Kaylo said, staring through an analysis while Talyn counted Korulen's channeling capacity for the umpteenth time.
"Wait, what? You give him one," Korulen said indignantly. She snatched her hand out of Talyn's and he lost count. "You didn't, did you, Talyn?" Talyn shook his head. He hadn't been trying, and interrupting a mere count wasn't dangerous; he only "held" each chunk of CC for an infinitesmal fragment of time.
"Uh," said Kaylo. "I'm observing under analysis. Come on, just one. If it works, he can give it right back."
"Teach me the analyses," Korulen huffed. "I'll send you the memory of what it looks like."
"Maybe Leekath will give him a unit of CC," Kaylo suggested.
"She gets out of class in ten degrees," Talyn said. "But maybe we should try to find someone who isn't a wizard to experiment on, here?"
"Got an idea?" Kaylo asked.
"Not off the top of my head," Talyn lied. There were Eret and Theedy, who probably didn't need their whole CCs, but it would be better if Kaylo didn't know about them. Talyn had more than once caught the shrens fretting about the certitude that their children would be confiscated if any dragon (or anyone in general, but especially a dragon) found that they were shrens raising dragon hatchlings. Since as far as Talyn could tell, their fears were well-founded and they were fit parents, he didn't plan to lead Kaylo to them.
He'd have considered Sarid, who likely didn't want her CC, but taking it would be performing magic on her and she'd probably like that less.
That, or she'd ask him to take the children's CCs too, and he couldn't countenance taking the ability to cast spells away from children - even Ryganaavlan children - who were going to grow up in Esmaar.
"Maybe some of my dad's family," Korulen said. "They live in town. I bet Gran wouldn't mind letting me try. She might not like you or Talyn doing it though."
"Long as I get to see it happen," Kaylo said.
Korulen's grandmother let Korulen try to take one point of CC. Kaylo stared in fascination through his analyses, and Talyn watched the raw kamai at work.
Kaylo confirmed with the usual capacity testing spell. Korulen was up a point. Her grandmother was down one.
Korulen returned the capacity. Kaylo checked again. Both were back to normal.
"We did it," Korulen said, grinning.
"Awesome," said Talyn.
Talyn and Kaylo hung out in the library again the following day, without Korulen, who was doing lunch with her friends Lutan and Kaarilel. "You could use it as a Master working," Talyn said. "It was mostly your work - me and Korulen were both basically research assistants, even if she performed the working first."
"Maybe," Kaylo said. "I'll think about it."
"I could qualify for Mastery now, probably," Talyn said, "with something simple, but I want to wait for something that really represents what I can do. Is that what you're thinking?"
"I've just barely started to learn kamai," Kaylo said. "I'm sure I can do cooler things with it eventually. I bet there's a lot of good, obvious stuff in wizardry/kamai interaction just because that's a completely new field and the easy work hasn't been done yet, but I'd find it more aesthetically interesting to actually surprise someone - dig up a way to do some kamai everyone thought was impossible, instead of some kamai that no one thought of before because its subject was a world away - does that make sense?"
"Yeah, of course," replied Talyn.
"I have a list of projects a mile long and a list of questions that could turn into projects ten times longer," Kaylo yawned. "The odds that this one was the best of the lot aren't great."
It was then that Leekath got out of class. She teleported into the library, having come to expect to find them there. Talyn looked up at her and smiled, but she didn't sit down with him right away.
"Hi, Talyn," she said. "Kaylo, remember in kamai class earlier I asked -"
"Right, sure," Kaylo said, tilting his head to one side and tipping his book over so he wouldn't have to stop scanning it for the statistics he was looking for.
And without further ado, Leekath sank her teeth into Kaylo's neck and pulled blood.
Talyn knew perfectly well that Leekath bit people who weren't him. He only had so much blood. She needed more than he could make. He also knew that some of the not-him people she bit were dragons. Keo and Narax had little sign-up sheets so that all the vampire students got a fair crack at them. Kaylo had no sign-up sheet, but people he knew could ask. Like Leekath, his classmate.
Talyn had never watched Leekath bite a dragon before.
He had never watched her smile like that, standing wobbly from her bent posture. He'd never heard her thoughts sigh like that or seen her eyelashes flutter like that.
It occurred to him that he could punch Kaylo in the face.
But Kaylo wasn't even paying attention to Leekath; he registered that she was all done and un-tilted his head and found his statistic. "It's up four points in Linnip from the turn of the century," he said. "I think that corresponds pretty closely with the consolidated modernization they've experienced in the region..."
Talyn had completely lost track of why that would be a useful thing to say, and he was still thinking about punching Kaylo in the face, but Leekath had made her drifty way around the table and to the chair on Talyn's right. He put out his arm to settle around her shoulders automatically. This made it unavailable for punching Kaylo in the face.
"Want to go back to my room?" Talyn asked Leekath abruptly.
"Okay," she said, blinking. "Thanks, Kaylo."
"No problem," Kaylo replied distractedly.
He was still shielded. Talyn couldn't even tell what he was thinking.
Leekath teleported him to his room in Rhysel's tower.
<You know what I bet exists,> Talyn sent, fastening his mouth onto Leekath's. He couldn't taste any blood. It was all sucked up through her fangs; if any got into the rest of her mouth she wouldn't be able to swallow it.
<What?> She was perfectly happy to kiss him. She liked curling up close to him. She liked that he was warm.
The fact that he knew all of that didn't help much.
<I bet there's a working somewhere that replenishes blood and doesn't do anything else. I've seen it as part of healing workings, but those don't work if you're not hurt - and I like your bitemarks - but if I could just refresh my blood supply, you could bite me whenever.>
<Instead of elves?> Leekath asked pleasedly. <So whenever there wasn't a dragon ->
<I was thinking all the time,> Talyn interrupted.
There was a pause. She didn't stop kissing him, but took her time to reply: <But dragons are the tastiest. And if I bite them whenever I can, I'll live longer. Actually if you find a blood-replenishment working, everybody could bite dragons all the time.>
<Right.> There was that. He didn't want Leekath to actually die just so he wouldn't have to think about her smiling that loopy, tired smile after getting blood from Kaylo and Kaylo didn't even care -
<But it'd be a great working to have, definitely,> she assured him. She'd been practicing a maneuver where she could just barely scrape the inside of his lower lip with a fang, not enough to prick and numb, just enough to remind him that he was kissing something sharp. She had it down. Talyn shivered and held her tighter.
<I love you,> he told her.
<I love you too,> she replied cheerily.
<I'm thinking of going back to Ryganaav. Maybe for a while,> he sent.
<Did you meet somebody else who needs some kids rescued or something?> she asked, puzzled.
<No. I'm... I'm curious about the culture. Under all the awful stuff. They have other characteristics. And I'm getting the impression that everybody except them only pays attention to the awful stuff.>
This was all technically true.
<And they don't want their channeling capacities,> Talyn continued. <I could go surreptitiously take them away. I'd be doing them a favor in their own estimation and I'd get something useful for it.>
This was also the case.
He'd wait to see what Leekath thought of forbidden kamai until after she'd tasted the results.