Chapter Fourteen: Dimming
Talyn told Rhysel all about the channeling capacity thing. It wasn't forbidden - couldn't be, it was too new - and he did think she'd appreciate the logic of taking it from Ryganaavlanik. The lifespan part (which he didn't plan on sharing) was arguable. But they didn't want their CCs, or at least, they wouldn't if they knew what they were.
He decided he'd probably better give Oris hers back, since she was going to grow up in Esmaar and might eventually blend in well enough to use a few spells. He could go visit her after a day or two, and see how she was doing.
"I see your point," Rhysel said when he'd explained and Aar Camlenn had checked his CC (currently six hundred and twelve thousand, four hundred and ninety-six units). "I'm not going to reprimand you about that. But I hope you aren't just justifying taking the CC after the fact. And you need to understand that you can't just steal arbitrary things from people just because you have the power to do it. I don't need to go over that, do I?"
"What, just because I stole a five-year-old and a few hundred thousand units of CC?" Talyn asked jokingly, smiling at her. Rhysel laughed softly and rolled her eyes. Talyn winked. "No, I don't think I can just take whatever I want, I picked things to take really carefully."
"All right. I never planned to have apprentices, you know. I appreciate that you're pretty much self-teaching. But as long as we're on the subject, is there anything I should be doing for you?" Rhysel asked. "I think I may have been neglecting you."
"I know you have lots to do," Talyn said. "Like you said, I can educate myself just fine - it's great that you're here if I do want something and let me stay at your place. That's all I need."
"All right," Rhysel said, smiling.
"Want some CC?" Talyn asked. "Or you, Aar Camlenn, want some extra? I don't think there even exists a use for all the units I picked up on my trip."
Rhysel's eyes lit. She didn't compulsively, desperately have to have something to do at all times lest a destroyed demon and two dead halfbloods nibble on her sanity, but she did keep busy, and he could tell even with her shields up that she was going to accept and get wizards to tutor her. She turned to her husband. "How much do you think, love?"
"To avoid sting on even the highest pull spells extant," Aar Camlenn said, "eleven hundred would do it handily, but perhaps Aaran Casten would not prefer to dispense it in such quantity?"
"Oh, I don't want to avoid it, I don't think," Rhysel said. "Then I'd have to learn it differently than everyone else does. Don't you have to spend a fair amount of time training away 'spell-flinch'...?"
"Yes, but that doesn't mean you ought," Aar Camlenn replied. "And not everyone who has ever learned wizardry has needed to endure that particular habituation - your silver friend would never have suffered spell-flinch, for instance."
"Let me know when you two are done arguing," said Talyn, amused. "I don't mind handing it out in big chunks. I don't know that many people I'll want to give it to. And I can always go back and get more. I only went through one Ryganaavlan town. There's lots."
"That reminds me, Talyn, do you want me to put your ears back?" Rhysel asked.
"Yes, please," he said. "I'm going to teach myself cosmetic shapeshifting, I think, so later I'll be able to do it myself. But it's probably a better idea to start from how I normally look."
Rhysel fixed his ears, and then she and Aar Camlenn went in to teach their first classes of the day.
Talyn reflected on Leekath's schedule and observed that it ate a lot of her time. Perhaps he ought to enroll at Binaaralav too.
"You're a little older, equivalently, than we'd usually take someone of your aging rate," Keo said, rummaging in Kanaat's desk. "You're even a little equivalently older than we take most Elcenian elves. But you're too young for a university. You want to start next term?"
"Yeah. It starts in Rohel, right?" That left him a little more than a month to kill. He could get Rhysel to "supervise" Leekath again and get a head start on the material, maybe, the way he'd been helping her on kamai. Not that she needed the help, with hearing and innate cleverness working for her. He could teach himself to turn into things. He could make (briefer) hops into Ryganaav and spend arbitrary numbers of angles puzzling out what ought to be done there. And then when school started up again he could take a courseload as dense or denser than Leekath's and fill his time with wizardliness.
"Right," said Keo. "Well, I'd give you an application form, but I think I can classify you as 'affiliated with the school' since you're a faculty member's apprentice and bypass that. We do have room in the entering class for the coming term. Want a class catalog?"
"Yes, please," Talyn said with his most winning smile.
Keo pulled one off of Kanaat's shelf and handed it over. "Minimum of two classes a term to remain an active student in good standing - and you have to pass them, too, if you want them to count. Maximum of ten, but we don't actually advise going over eight. The extra two would be things you're re-taking or have strong background in, or part-term classes like the teleportation workshop. And most people stick with four or five regardless."
"Maximum of ten," said Talyn, nodding and scanning the catalog. "Can I write in this?"
"Yours to keep," said Keo. "There'll be a new one for the winter term, though, so don't expect it to still be valid then."
"Okay." He started circling likely-looking classes that included first tier as one of the groups of students welcome to take them. "Thanks, Keo."
"You're welcome," she said, shaking green hair out of her face and smiling.
That evening, Talyn gave Rhysel a round 500 units of CC ("I might like more later, when I've gotten past spell-flinch the normal way") and added 650 to Aar Camlenn's total so he'd never have to suffer sting again casting a normal spell. ("I do expect," the elf commented, "that spells requiring previously unheard-of capacities will appear soon enough.")
He took Leekath to a play, and brought her home with him, and kissed her goodbye when she was ready to leave, and went to bed.
The time when he was trying to sleep was the worst, because he had to balance between keeping his mind calm enough to let him drift off and active enough that he wouldn't drown in dead thoughts. He usually passed the time by waking up his kamai-senses and listening to tones, but he was becoming dangerously accustomed to the sounds that walls and wind murmured to him when they weren't doing anything. He already knew Rhysel's tower. Spending weeks in Ryganaav had postponed the issue but not made the place more interesting.
He resolved to ask Leekath to stay over the next night. The hhikiiias, he decided, would be interesting enough background noise for at least a little while.
Then what? he wondered. What do I do after I've heard them all ten times, run out of stuff to keep in my room for her to listen to...? What do I do if her fheeil makes her go home for break...?
Talyn fell asleep before he thought of an answer.
The next day, Talyn taught himself enough cosmetic shapeshifting to turn his ears round and pointed again without help, although not before accidentally removing all the stiffness in the cartilage and causing them to flop down embarrassingly. No one saw him, and he fixed it in half an angle, but he was glad that mistake had occurred when he was only fussing with his ears and not when he'd learned to turn into a bat. He made a mental note to read his book on shapeshifting the entire way through before learning any other transitions, but he was able to make the one alteration without further mishap. Human-guised, he went to Lorin's.
He went into the elf's office, only to find Oris there, sitting in a chair and huddled under a blanket. "Uh," he said, "hi."
"Hello, Talyn," said Lorin tiredly.
"I thought Oris was going to stay with that family," he said.
"That family has an indelicate twelve-year-old who gave Oris too much information, too fast, and that family apparently cannot watch her closely enough to keep her out of the knife drawer," said Lorin tightly. "So she's here until the department officials get me some kind of support here."
Talyn blinked and listened harder. Lorin was exhausted - she had been up with Oris all night, unwilling to trust the night attendant with keeping the girl safe. Oris herself was a little ball of pain. She was hiding from the sun, having been told that it would fuel her magic, and her wrists hurt from where she'd scraped at the yellow circles that signified to bystanders that she was a light. Talyn wondered how she'd been convinced to get them put on in the first place. If he recalled correctly the marks were usually placed magically. Maybe the magic was easily concealed, or hers were painted on as a temporary measure.
"I can heal her, even though she's a light," he volunteered.
"No," Oris said in a high, strident voice before Lorin could speak. "No don't that's not how it's s'posed to be if I get better it'll be natural but I shouldn't because I should be dead because I'm bad but she won't let me -"
Talyn flinched. "You're - you're not -"
"I've been trying to talk to her," Lorin said miserably. "She doesn't listen. I'm not a psychologist... Go ahead and heal her. I don't think it will make things any worse. Although what do I know? Go ahead, a complete unknown with her wrists bleeding is worse than a complete unknown without..."
Talyn touched Oris's forehead where she was cringing under the blanket. She didn't even flinch. She seemed to be simultaneously supposing herself both already too far gone under the influence of devil-powers to be hurt, and deserving of any such hurt by virtue of having the powers. Either way, she didn't stop him from transferring mirrors of her cuts and abrasions to his own wrists and repairing them on hers. She didn't move at all.
"What did the kid tell her?" Talyn asked.
"I don't know exactly. He freaked out and got very closemouthed when Oris reacted to it, and she won't say. I assume it included the fact that her green light falls into the same category as other magic and that sunshine was feeding her by magic. If she doesn't take off her blanket or eat some normal food soon I might have to put her in a hospital. I'm not qualified to force-feed her. I am not qualified for this at all. I don't even know if sun is optional for her. Do I have to tie her up her outside if she won't sun herself willingly? The supervisory office is supposedly working on figuring out something but they don't seem to appreciate that this is in fact an emergency."
"I can sit with her for a few angles if you need, like, a nap," Talyn said. "I don't know how to safely forcefeed her either but I can make sure she doesn't get injured."
"I'm supposed to be dead," wailed Oris. "I'm in the way of the blessings and the gods all hate me and I'm bad and I shouldn't get any sunshine because it makes me worse and it only feels good because I'm bad and I should just be in the dark and die and then good people like my papa can take over the whole world and then there won't be any more bad girls like me."
"Are you sure?" Lorin asked Talyn wearily, vividly imagining one of the empty beds in the building and how nice it would be to crash into it for part of the afternoon.
"Yeah," Talyn said. "Should I just keep her here, or...?"
"No... better to put her in an empty apartment... people expect me to be here or for it to be empty. I'll make a sign..." Lorin rummaged for paper, wrote back at twelfth-and-naught, and tacked it to her door. "I'll show you to a spare place."
Talyn picked up Oris, who only fidgeted enough to keep herself shadowed under the blanket, and followed Lorin. "Here," she said at the first landing. "Come upstairs and wake me up if anyone from the supervisory office comes in looking for me, will you?"
"Right, of course."
"Thank you," said Lorin fervently, and she stole away to take her nap.
Talyn put Oris down in a chair. The public housing units had very simple furniture, but they weren't cheerless places, and Oris had to do some maneuvering to make sure that her blanket kept the sun from the wide window off of her skin. That finished, she sat and marinated in her own misery.
"It's not bad to have powers," Talyn attempted.
"Nobody should have them," said Oris, "they're not supposed to exist and they only do because people were bad and I'm bad so they got into me and I should be dead because I'm bad."
"Well, maybe you could sit in the sun anyway," Talyn said.
"No, sunshine is for good girls."
"Do you understand why I brought you here?" Talyn asked.
"You took me from my family because I'm bad and don't deserve to have a family," Oris said. "Mama let you because she knew Papa would be sad to have such a bad daughter. Does he think I'm dead? I should be dead."
"Your mama wanted you to live, and she knew that the other people in Egalon would hurt you if they knew that you could make a pretty green light," Talyn said. "But your mama didn't want you hurt. Shouldn't you do what she wants?"
"I should die," Oris said. "I'm supposed to die because I'm bad and I let devil powers get into me but I tried really hard not to, I didn't know there were sunshine powers, but I'm bad and so they got in anyway."
"Look," Talyn said, cupping his hands and making bright, white handfire. "Does it look bad?"
"It's bad." She was only looking out of the corner of her eye, but Talyn felt an awful lurch in her heart. She wanted to be out of the dark so badly and was fighting the temptation to fling the blanket away and make her own green sparkling light with everything she had. "Don't make it. It's bad."
"Why not? I can already do it," Talyn said.
"It's bad it's bad it's bad it's bad it's bad it's bad -" She had to stop to catch her breath and then wouldn't speak again.
"Magic isn't evil," Talyn said coaxingly. "It's just something some people can do. You can heal with your light. You can use less food if you sit in the sun. Aren't those good things?"
"I shouldn't have any food. It's not for bad girls. I should die."
He sighed. "What about the healing? I fixed your scrapes and now you're not hurt anymore. You could do that."
"I did the scrapes. I wanted them. The circles tell people I have devil powers and then they can tell me to use them but I won't because they're bad so I shouldn't have circles."
"They're also there so that people know not to bring you to anyone with the same powers as you," Talyn said. "Since you're immune to them."
Oris had no reply to that. She scrunched up smaller under the blanket.
"I can't believe I came back here thinking that you would need more magic and that I should give it back," Talyn muttered. "Now I wish I could take this away too and put you back where I found you."
Oris looked up. This let a little sunlight hit her on the nose, but she ignored it, and stared at him, eyes wide. "Can you do that?"
"I have a weird challenge for you," Talyn said to Kaylo.
"Hit me," said the dragon.
"De-powering a light."
"Yep, that's weird. Why would I want to do that?" Kaylo asked.
"I just came from the public housing place. I was sitting with a suicidal Ryganaavlan five-year-old so the lady who runs the place could have a nap. If she weren't a light, she could go home."
"Or, she could go to a hospital and the nice people in green smocks could look after until she adjusted and then the lady could have all the naps she wants," said Kaylo.
"Maybe I can't convince you, but she came from a nice family. Her parents loved her. Her brothers and sisters loved her. She misses them terribly and all she wants is to get the 'devil-powers' out of herself so she can go home."
"And then she can live there for about ten years and get sold to some guy," said Kaylo. "If she doesn't get sick and die first. Although I grant that if she's a light she's not overwhelmingly less likely to get sick and die here. Just lots less."
"I'm working on the general Ryganaav problem," Talyn said. "I haven't figured it out yet but I bet I have something in ten years."
"It weirds me out when you say things like that. I'm supposed to be the most arrogant person in the building. Hmm. De-powering lights... I'm consumed by the theory, you understand, I officially have no opinion on the practical use you're thinking of here."
"Right, that's what I was hoping you'd say," said Talyn.
"You know, if you don't like how impersonal the people in green smocks are, you could try a person in green hair. I doubt she can fix the country but I bet she can fix up one person just fine," Kaylo said.
"If I wanted to mess with Oris's head by magic I could do it myself," Talyn said. "That just seems - ugh. I know this little girl, I met her before she manifested any powers at all. I don't want to revise her personality. I had to do that once and I could only go through with it because the person I had to revise was a serial killer. Oris didn't do anything wrong, she was just raised in an awful religion."
"So your solution is to give her back to the people who raised her that way," Kaylo observed, raising an eyebrow.
"They're good people."
"You say this because...?"
"Because I met them! I made friends with her brothers and I worked for her dad and I listened to all of them thinking, for weeks, and they're not evil!"
"If you'd shown up on their doorstep with pointy ears they would have tried to kill you. If you'd brought a couple of friends with funny colored eyes or with fangs, they'd be serial killers," Kaylo said lazily.
Talyn folded his arms on the table and dropped his head down onto them. "Oris wants to go home. She wants to not be a light."
"She's five. Do you even remember being five?"
"Yes! I do! I remember going to school and learning to read and stealing Coryl's cageful of pet hamsters and I remember when Erryl was born and I was allowed to hold him and I remember Ranel checking me for a tellyn conduit and telling me that I could learn kamai when I got older and I -"
"Okay, so you remember being five," said Kaylo, putting his hands up. "But she's a kid. She's only been here for a little while, right? Maybe she'd like the next ten years better if she were back where you got her, but what about when she's thirty? Or, you know, not thirty because people die of childbirth all the time in Ryganaav even if nothing else gets her?"
"I'm working on it," said Talyn stubbornly. "She's not the only Ryganaavlan who needs help. I'm working on it."
Kaylo tilted his head. "Does this little light you want to obey so badly even know your ears aren't supposed to look like that?"
"No," Talyn said, raising a hand to touch a rounded ear. He pointed it and its twin. "She doesn't have a problem with the elf housing lady, though - hasn't made the connection."
"What are you arguing for, exactly?" asked Talyn. "The fact that eventually Oris will figure out that elves are devils the same way she figured out that lightcraft is a devil-power argues for sending her home."
"I'm not arguing for anything. I am full of theoretical interest in how to de-power a light," Kaylo said. "I bet I could do it."
"Great," Talyn said. "Will you tell me when you figure it out?"
Kaylo shrugged. "I guess. But don't feel obliged to actually do it on my account or anything. I do not live solely to see my creations realized in the material world. It is gratification enough to know that I am the most brilliant devil alive, at least until I am slain for having hatched out of an egg and manipulating reality by wiggling my fingers. By the armies of the righteous. Who will reattain the blessings of the gods after winning the great war against the corrupted."
Talyn snickered helplessly. "If I think of something better, your de-powering-a-light spell or working can be framed unused as a monument to your genius."
"Right then. I can always use more of those," Kaylo said. "Now go away, I need to read like fifteen books on lights."
Talyn made an exaggerated bow and left his friend to his research.
Leekath got out of her last class after Talyn had his early dinner (timed so he wouldn't have to give up time with her or awkwardly eat while she didn't). He caught her up on the situation.
"I wonder if you could get her family to convince her that she should live here and be a light," Leekath said. "Her mom, at least. Wouldn't that be better than either sending her back or keeping her here and unhappy?"
"How would I get them in touch with each other?" Talyn asked. "Does the postal system actually go there?"
"I don't think so. I could call anybody you could serve as focus for, though, and there could be an inverse ward in the circle if you think they'll be violent."
"I think Cheris would like the idea of making Oris not be a light, though," Talyn said.
"So don't tell her. I know you don't want to mind-control Oris, but do you have to tell everybody the absolute truth, too? Tell Cheris the choices are sending Oris back or Oris staying here and that's it, and Cheris can tell Oris that her dad said so, or whatever Oris has to hear."
"You think that's a good idea?"
Leekath was quiet, but Talyn could hear her thinking:
If I'd been stolen away from home to someplace full of hearers when I was four, and my aaihhhi visited me and lied and said Fheeil thought it was very important for me to stay where I was and be happy there...
"Then things would be different," Talyn said. "Would they be better?"
"Maybe," said Leekath.