Chapter Fifteen: Healing
Leekath stayed the night when Talyn asked, hanging from a perch pulled out of the stone wall by his bed. The hhikiiias did help. He filled gaps in his vocabulary by context, as her sleeping mind attended to none of the voices and couldn't translate for him. Eventually the shrieks blurred and he fell asleep.
He went back to Lorin's the next morning after kissing his girlfriend goodbye and seeing her off to school. It had occurred to him that it might not be legal to put Oris back in Ryganaav after getting her out, no matter how much she wanted it, even if Kaylo could teach him to de-light her, even if she could go back to her family and be happy there. Lorin would have a better idea.
Lorin didn't. "It doesn't come up!" she exclaimed in exasperation, standing in the courtyard with the back door to her office open and trying to haul Oris out of doors. "People don't go back! And she's currently a ward of the Esmaarlan government until we can get her stable enough to be adoptable. It's not like if Sarid wanted to go back with her kids."
"What would happen if Sarid did want to?" Talyn asked.
"We'd keep Sinhar and test the girls for magic potential of their own first, but we'd have to let her take them if they're not magical," Lorin said. "There's a proposal in Parliament now to tighten that - to consider Ryganaav unlivable by anyone female, not just anyone magical or non-human, so minor girls couldn't go there - but it hasn't gone through yet."
That introduced time pressure if Oris's favored solution was to have any hope of going through. "Er, how fast is that likely to pass? How likely is it to pass?"
"I don't know. I only found out about it because I've been reading up on rules relevant to this situation." Lorin got Oris two steps past the door, exposing part of the light's hand to the sun and inspiring a helpless thin whine. "I don't know the usual lifespan or approval rate of proposals-in-progress. I don't even know when this one was drafted."
"What if Oris wasn't a light anymore," Talyn said, "and I got her mother into the country and her mother wanted to take her home? Before the law passes?"
Lorin looked at him quizzically and let Oris's hand go in surprise. Oris scurried back into the office and hid under Lorin's desk, clutching her blanket around herself. "I suppose that'd make it equivalent to Sarid trying to take nonmagical girls home," Lorin said, bustling in and resuming her attempts to get Oris into the sun. "Legally speaking." Internally, she didn't like the idea much, but she was at her limit in dealing with Oris herself.
"Well, what happens if I don't do that?" asked Talyn.
"I've been in communication with the nearest hospital about Oris but they don't take kids. They're trying to refer me to a place out in the middle of nowhere. Aabalan Pediatric Facility if I'm remembering the name right. But they're full right now and haven't gotten back to me about whether there's any other comparable institution... The next option is hiring a freelance therapist and full-time childcare for her and having her looked after and treated here, which is expensive, so I'm supposed to work harder on exhausting other options first to look after the Esmaarlan taxpayer's money, never mind that I'm abusing wakeflower essence already to keep up with her and letting all of my other work slide."
"But what will the hospital do for her?" Talyn asked.
"I flipped through the brochure... They're equipped to make sure she doesn't hurt herself," said Lorin tiredly. "They haven't dealt with a case exactly like her before so they'd be making some of the therapy up, but they have the staff and the equipment to make sure she doesn't hurt herself and make sure she gets sun or food whether she likes it or not. That's more than I have. Except they're full."
"That's all they can do? Keep her alive?" Talyn knew from Lorin's thoughts what she thought Oris's life in Ryganaav would be like, but life in a hospital in some remote part of Esmaar, kept alive but likely miserable and cooped up and far from everyone who loved her, didn't sound like an improvement. Not compared to being freed from her hated powers and sent home to her family, which would only even be awful until Talyn figured out how to reform the entire country.
"All they can guarantee, anyway. They mostly deal with patients who have serious light-resistant mental illnesses and some young trauma victims. They'd be classing Oris like one of the latter, but she's not an Esmaarlan kid whose parents hit her or a distressed young mage who had a difficult activation or even an unstable orphan. They have a green-group dragon on staff but don't use him without a patient's own consent because of a municipal ordinance." She sighed heavily, finally managed to scoop up a kicking Oris, and walked outside again.
Talyn wondered if Leekath had narrowly avoided landing in a facility like that.
Leekath wasn't crazy. Oris wasn't crazy, either.
He listened to Oris thinking, and then looked deeper. If he convinced Cheris to tell her daughter that she had to behave herself, be a light, grow up in Esmaar, try to be happy - would Oris listen to her?
Probably not, he concluded. Cheris was authorized to give her children instructions about minor things - "stop kicking your sister", "eat your mutton", "get ready for bed", "patch the hole in your sleeve". She wasn't authorized to make directives about how Oris conducted her life in such broad terms. Only Azef could do that, or Akar after Azef died. Oris wouldn't listen to her mother unless she said things Oris wanted to hear. Leekath's idea was a bust.
But if Kaylo did what he thought he could, sending Oris home was still possible.
"If taking her powers is possible," Talyn said, "and getting her mother here to claim her is possible, what would you think of that idea?"
"Could you return them? No, I don't even - Talyn, I'm operating on way too little sleep to have opinions," Lorin said. Her thoughts were sluggish and blurry, come to think of it.
"Do you want me to babysit again?" he asked.
"No, at this point I think you might make off with Oris and smuggle her over the border. But thank you."
"Oh." He wouldn't have done that - her town would kill her if she were brought back while still a light, advertising to anyone who'd listen that she was bad and needed to die. He needed to get ahold of Cheris first.
And see if Kaylo was making any progress.
"This was annoyingly easy," Kaylo said, rolling his eyes, when Talyn asked. "The fact that no one has ever wanted to de-power a light before is the only explanation for why someone hadn't already figured it out. My personal attention was not required."
"So it's doable," Talyn said.
"Yeah. The interesting part is whether you can make lights out of non-lights, and whether you can de-light a light thoroughly enough to let another light heal them," Kaylo said. "Which is why there was so much research to draw on about lights in the first place, people have been trying to figure out those actually practically valuable problems. If you do this - here - notes - look - if you do that to a light they'll still be immune to lightcraft. But you can get them to quit soaking up sun and making sparks. The actually useful light-related projects look a lot harder and I'm de-prioritizing them; I have other wizarding orthodoxy to overthrow."
"Have you tested this spell?" Talyn asked.
"No. It's been years since I invented a spell that didn't work on the first try, Talyn, don't start doubting me now. Also, I don't want to extinguish any lights," said Kaylo. "They're useful. Do I have to start inventing a counterspell, so you can fix whoever you're going to go enchant, later, after you regret it?"
"Uh." Well, that would make it a lot less complicated, if he could re-light Oris in the future if she ever wanted it. "That would be good."
"Come back tomorrow and I'll give you a counterspell in exchange for two angles discussing why in the name of all that is sane these kamai textbook authors think that logical paradox is okay."
Leekath surprised him by teleporting into his room while he was reading through his shapeshifting book. "One of my teachers canceled class to go to his grandson's wedding," she said, hugging him and resting her head on his shoulder. "I have two angles free."
"Great!" Talyn said, wrapping his arms around her and turning away from his book. "Hey, take a look at this spell -" He pulled out Kaylo's notes with the final spell written neatly under incomprehensible formulae and scribbled arithmetic. "Could you cast that?"
"Yeah," she said. "It's within my CC -"
"Oh, that reminds me," he said. "I should give you some extra. How much do you want?"
Leekath blinked. "How much do you have?"
"Lots. How about a thousand to start? And you can have more if you want it, later."
"There aren't even gestures to cast at six hundred or above," Leekath asked, as Talyn sent along the CC. "I mean, we can extrapolate up to five hundred and ninety-nine, unless there turns out to be a Voyan number in there, but we don't know the gesture tag for six hundred."
"I'm sure someone'll figure it out," Talyn said brightly. "I should give Kaylo some more CC too..."
Leekath kissed him. <What's the spell do?> she asked.
<It'll de-power Oris so she can go home. Kaylo invented it. He's going to make a counterspell too,> he added, to forestall the question forming in Leekath's mind. <If I fix Ryganaav and in ten years I look up Oris and she wants to be a light again, I'll be able to do that - I'll be a wizard too by then - I'm going to start next term.>
<There's a sort of hissing sound in your mindspeech.>
She broke off from the kiss. "I've noticed it before but it's been getting louder. What is it?"
"It's nothing," he said, and he pulled her in again.
She leaned away; he was always mildly surprised by how strong she was when she exhibited it, as she looked so delicate. "I listened to the gold wand," she said. "But it doesn't know about things like side effects. Are you okay? Really, Talyn."
"There's nothing to do about it," he mumbled. "Or Corvan would've tried."
"You could ask Keo," she said.
"The problem isn't that Corvan couldn't have done anything, it's that innate kyma don't react well to people messing with our minds," Talyn mumbled. He didn't like the topic. It was waking up the parasites. "I'd hurt someone. Maybe even Keo - I wouldn't necessarily react with mind magic. She couldn't stop me, it's not a mental reaction."
"She could work from a distance, any distance -"
"I could cause an earthquake even from the bottom of the world and kill a hundred people."
"We could put you on the moon."
"I could run out of lifeforce spraying kamai around everywhere and die myself."
"Oh." She frowned and brushed his hair out of his face. "What if I try?"
"I don't want to hurt you!"
"I mean -" She reached out and pulled a hair from his head. "If there's a way to do it without you hurting anyone, even you, won't your hhikiiia tell me? It didn't say anything about this last time I listened, it was talking about other stuff, but it's got to know, if I ask it. Hhikiiias know everything."
He looked at the black hair curling from between her fingers. "I - I - oh."
Leekath kissed him gently on the forehead. "Will you let me try that?" she asked. "Just to see? I won't do anything if it says it'll be dangerous."
"Now?" he asked.
"This evening," she said. "When I have more time, since it might be complicated. I have another class soon. You'll be okay that long, right?"
Talyn nodded mutely, staring at her.
"I love you," she said, leaning forward again to snuggle up to him.
"I love you too," he murmured.
Talyn did not have a very good afternoon, waiting for Leekath to get out of class. The imminent hope stirred up the dead; imagining them gone counted as thinking about them. He tried to read his shapeshifting book, but his eyes slid over the words and he thought about Mysha and Revenn and the demon, the demon and Mysha and Revenn, Revenn and the demon and Mysha, their memories of possession and suffering and childhood and study and taking hosts and subterfuge and Mysha writing, endlessly, in her diary, about Talyn and how she loved him and how it would be only a few years before they were done with their apprenticeships and she could finally ask him to be with her -
He started towards town, intending to buy a sleeping potion and wait out the angles until Leekath could help him in unconsciousness. He flew, but remembered Revenn teaching dozens of apprentices to fly - he walked, but remembered Mysha walking with her father to school when she'd been small - he wiped away a humiliated tear and crawled towards town, but the demon had taken a hundred four-legged hosts -
He dragged himself back to the tower and huddled on the couch on the first floor, rather than try the stairs.
<Keo. I need to sleep. Please. Just that, nothing else, just sleep.>
<I'll tell you later. I need to sleep. Please.> He didn't think he was transmitting any of the dredged-up memories there, from the demon's envy of long sleep (it couldn't keep a host alive long enough to get more than a quick nap safely) to Revenn's memories of lying down beside his wife before she'd died (before Talyn had been born) to Mysha's appreciation of sleep-inducing magic when she'd first learned it and put Emryl into a long snooze by way of practice -
<Okay,> sent Keo, and he fell asleep.
"Talyn," said Leekath.
He opened his eyes and willed himself to focus on Leekath. "Leekath."
"I brought you up to your room. Are you ready?"
"Can you do it with me asleep?" he asked desperately. He didn't like the way his voice sounded. He'd been managing, keeping busy and accomplishing things, and then she dangled a solution in front of his nose and he'd gotten worse and he was dependent and unhappy and could barely stand to be awake.
"Yes," she said. "I don't know how to do that, though."
"Like this." He pushed the kamai working at her. So what if it wasn't how she was supposed to learn things; that was an outdated notion anyway, that it mattered to learn them the hard way, and this way she could keep him under.
"Okay. I'll wake you up when I've listened to everything that might help." She touched his forehead and pushed him back under.
"Talyn," said Leekath, nudging his arm.
"They're still there," he observed miserably. "You couldn't do anything."
"I can't get rid of them," she said. "Safely. But I can move them - I can put them nearer your normal memories, under your normal memories. I think that will be better but I wanted to ask before I do it."
"Okay," she said, and she sent him back to sleep with another kiss.
"Are they gone?" he asked when he woke again, groggy from excess sleep. "I mean - moved."
"I moved them," she said. "How do you feel?"
"Loopy," he murmured. "I wasn't actually tired, just - needed to be unconscious."
"But Mysha and Revenn and the demon?" she asked. "I put the demon on the bottom and Revenn on the top. I don't think you'll want its memories but you might want your grandfather's. He knew lots of kamai."
He had. And Talyn, able to think about his grandfather without activating an extra voice in his mind, knew it too.
"I remember it," Talyn murmured. "Like it happened to - well - not like it happened to me, but like I just copied all of his memories by some... other kind of kamai."
Leekath nodded solemnly. "It's the best I could do. It's the middle of the night, now, I asked and asked the proxy for better ideas, but this was the best thing."
"It's enough," he said, sitting up and squeezing her; she squeaked and hugged him back.
"I just wish I'd thought of it sooner," she murmured against his neck. She was thinking about biting him, already, though the last time had been just three days ago. The lack of a blood replenishment working was the only thing stopping her from asking. He resolved to work on that next, before finishing the shapeshifting book. His girlfriend was amazing and deserved all the blood he could manufacture for her if she wanted it.
"Thank you," he said.
They held each other, silent, and then Talyn noticed another side effect of being able to think of the dead.
"He's dead, Leekath," he murmured. "He died because of me. And she did too. I killed her."
She hugged him closer, and he cried into her hair.
"Are you sure you want me to call Cheris?" Leekath asked, the evening of the next Lunen.
He nodded. "I was doing everything weirdly before you helped me - too fast, too impulsive, trying to make things interesting instead of sensible - but I thought about it for a few days, and I checked on Oris yesterday afternoon and she's no better and they haven't found a place to put her yet, and I think I should at least try to put her back with her family. Cheris is the only one who ever knew she had magic. If she'll keep quiet about it, and you de-light Oris, they can go home."
"Okay, but this is going to really freak Cheris out, you realize. You didn't even round your ears," Leekath pointed out, starting to sketch a calling circle with an embedded ward. "I definitely don't look human."
"I could illusion you," he said.
"I'd rather just turn invisible. When I'm done with the circle," she said. "I think I'd look strange brown."
"You could still be pale. Like Corvan - he's a human but he's pale and has black hair."
Leekath shook her head. "I'd look strange pink, too. And calling her will freak her out whatever we look like."
"I think she'll live if it means she can have her daughter back. She was willing to overlook a little harmless magic once."
"Okay," said Leekath. "You met her and I didn't."
She finished the circle, waited for Talyn to place his hand in the focus lobe, and cast the scrying spell. "This is a really well-designed spell," she remarked. "Scry and call and ward all in one diagram with two spells. It's neat."
Cheris was asleep, and so was the rest of her family.
"Go?" Leekath asked.
Cheris woke up when her surroundings changed; her first thought was that one of the babies was fussing, as that was usually what woke her, but she quickly realized something else had changed. Leekath was invisible before the human woman's eyes landed on her, but she did see Talyn.
"You," she whispered. "What are - what have you done?"
"If Oris didn't have her devil-powers anymore," Talyn said, slowly, making sure Cheris understood, "could she go home?"
"But that's impossible - devil-powers are permanent," Cheris said. "Where am I - what -"
"Not anymore," Talyn said. "A way has been discovered to remove some kinds of powers. Including hers. You can bring your daughter home - all you have to do is claim her at the place she's staying now, and I -" <Sorry for not giving you the credit here, Leekath> "- can remove the powers from her. But I will only do that if she can safely go home without them."
"But she won't have any powers?" Cheris asked slowly.
"None at all. Better than that, she will be protected from the same kind of power I will take from her," Talyn intoned. "Anyone trying to use them on her will be thwarted."
"How can I believe you?" Cheris asked. She wanted to believe him - missed her little girl like Oris had been carved out of her body, out of her soul - but he'd demonstrated some abilities that put him in an untrustworthy category.
"You can believe me when you bring her home and she is just like every other little girl," Talyn said. "I trust she won't be harmed unless she does demonstrate power."
Cheris nodded slowly. "No one even asked me why she was taken. But if you're lying," she said, "then she'll die. She's alive now."
"She's unhappy," Talyn said. "She was happy at home. She could be happy there again, without her powers and with her family."
"Oris is unhappy?" Cheris asked.
"She wants to come home - she's sorry for letting the powers in?" Cheris said. "They won't get into her again, if they're taken out...?"
"She's sorrier than you can know," Talyn said. He was going to puke after this was over with, he knew. "Her powers will not return through her own doing. They can't unless they're forced back on her by others with powers."
Cheris sat up and hugged her knees. "My little girl," she murmured.
<Leekath, would you run and get Lorin to bring Oris here? She'll still be at the housing place and awake. And can you illusion Lorin's ears?>
<Yes.> He heard the faint swishing of wings. Cheris wasn't paying attention.
"She was such a good girl," Cheris said to her knees. "I never would have thought it of her. I don't know what she did."
Talyn coughed. "These things are, uh, mysterious."
Leekath was back in just a couple of degrees, which Cheris spent silently dwelling on the absence of her child and Talyn spent standing there awkwardly.
Lorin's long ears were clumsily hidden by image kamai, and she led a sullen Oris by the hand up the stairs. Leekath had cleverly thought not to teleport away, where she could be heard, or back, where her passengers could be seen to appear, in Cheris's presence. The invisible vampire came up the stairs after the elf and girl.
"Talyn," said Lorin, looking at the human woman where she sat on the floor. "What did you do?"
"Mama!" Oris exclaimed, trying to fling herself forward. "Mama!" Lorin kept hold of her hand, if only barely. "Mama, I'm sorry, I don't like it here, everything is horrible, I'm sorry, can I be sorry enough to make it go away?"
Tears sprang to Cheris's eyes and she scrubbed at them. "I - I - what do I have to -"
"Talyn," said Lorin sharply.
"Lorin, this is Oris's mother," Talyn said. "She wants her daughter back."
"I can't bring her back if you can't take her powers," Cheris moaned.
<I did it right after teleporting them here. I saw there was a finished counterspell on your desk.>
"They're already gone," Talyn said.
Lorin cast about for some way to object. But she was weary of taking care of Oris and neglecting her own children, too sleep-deprived to sort through what she knew about the law, and not immune to the heartbroken look on Cheris's face. She rubbed at one of her eyes. "If Cheris wants to take her I can't stop her," she mumbled.
"My devil-powers are gone?" Oris asked, staring up at Talyn.
"You'll see for yourself when the sun comes up. It won't feel like anything special," he said. "You can see now, if you want to try to make your light - it won't come."
Oris swallowed deeply, shot a guilty look at her mother, and brought her hands together in a cup.
"I can go home?" she asked in a whisper. "I don't have to be in this place any more?"
Lorin let go of her hand and sagged against the wall.
Oris ran into the circle - the ward didn't impede entry, just exit - and fell into her mother's arms. "Mama. Mama."
Cheris clutched at her daughter tightly.
"Do you have some way to explain to Azef and everyone?" Talyn asked.
"You took her into the desert and kept her there. She got loose and came back on her own after a few days," Cheris murmured. "Can you remember that, Oris?"
"Yes. I can. I'm going to be very very good, Mama, I promise," keened Oris.
Leekath cast the push spell, and mother and daughter disappeared.
Talyn inhaled. He was queasy, but could postpone actually throwing up until Lorin had gone home. "I need to fix that entire country," he said. "Before she gets much older."