Chapter Eighteen: Bleeding
Talyn was practicing reading in Vansalese when Kaylo unexpectedly flung open his door. "Talyn," said the dragon, "tell me how well lifelinks work."
"Uh, really well?" Talyn asked. "Lifelinked-stuff-doesn't-die well? Why do you ask?"
"'Cause I'm working on something," Kaylo said, pacing. "Not fully formed yet, but..."
The dragon's thoughts were shielded, but Talyn didn't doubt he'd be bewildered by the shapes of them if he could hear them anyway. "What is it?" he asked.
"Well, there's this problem with it - I can't just safely experiment, pretty sure someone'd object if I accidentally killed one - Korulen would, definitely - have no idea how I'm going to handle her uncle, damn him - but the general case -"
"Kaylo," said Talyn. "What are you talking about?"
"Lifelinks!" Kaylo cried.
"A wild or death kamai working that tethers a subject's lifeforce to a kama's, until accumulated strain on the kama's lifeforce causes pain buildup to the point where it can no longer be held," Talyn parroted from his textbook memories.
"Yes. How long is that?" Kaylo asked. "How long could someone hold it - you for instance - Rhysel -?"
"Uh, it's really hard," Talyn said. "I practiced with it for a while because it was one of the first workings I learned that was actually hard for me, but I couldn't do more than a half-sub at my best. I think Rhysel held it longer once, but she actually cared about the person she was linking and was kind of desperate. I was just practicing with bugs and stuff." Talyn didn't think mentioning Eret would be a good idea around his dragon friend.
"Half a sub. That's a degree. Can I do it in a degree? Every time? Maybe. I'm not sure. If I compress the spell set - but then I'll make more mistakes, bigger mistakes, half the kinds of mistakes I could make would be fatal -"
"I can't do this repeatedly," Talyn said. "I can do it one time and then I need a break for like a week."
"Damn." Kaylo stopped in his tracks and scraped his fingernails through his hair. "That's not good enough."
"I mean, the working isn't hard. Involves a little blood, but I know how to replenish that - I can't do it on myself but Leekath knows it and I could teach you. It's just too much pain."
"Can't you, like, move it or something?" Kaylo said, making a shoving gesture. "Ugh, that would be so much more convenient -"
"Yeah, you can, but then whoever you move it to has to -"
"Of course!" Kaylo shouted at the top of his lungs. "It's perfect! This will work! Can you do it ten, fifteen times a day as long as you can push the pain onto somebody else every time?"
"This will work," Kaylo said with a feverish smile. "And then I can get rid of them all and they won't exist and I can stop fighting with Korulen and I'll be rich and oh man, there will be an entire new word about me -"
"Get rid of who all...?"
"Shrens!" shouted Kaylo triumphantly, and he teleported away.
Talyn didn't leave that lie; he took a transfer point to Binaaralav and marched up to Kaylo's room. When the dragon's roommate disclaimed knowledge of "that nutcase's" whereabouts, Talyn tried the library. Kaylo wasn't there, either.
Finally, casting out with mind kamai, Talyn pushed just hard enough past Kaylo's shields to find his mind, and then guessed at what to tell the lift until he got out onto the correct hall and found the abandoned classroom the dragon was using.
The place was wallpapered in sheets of notes, and the teacher's desk - the only table still in the room - was heaped with books and notebooks and had Kaylo hunched over it with a graphite stick clutched in his hand.
"What are you doing?" Talyn asked.
"Math, at the moment," Kaylo muttered. "This has to be exactly right - don't dare touch the language compartment - thank goodness it's down there instead of up where it'd be inconvenient -"
"If you aren't going to explain can you at least unshield?" Talyn asked, exasperated.
"No. Got lots of delicate secrets don't want you reading, thinking about them too often right now. Publication... has no obvious journal, but it's so huge, someone will want it. Worth the out, though...? Claim it later?"
"Kaylo," snapped Talyn.
"Oh. Right. I want your help and probably shouldn't alienate you. Right." Kaylo looked up from his math. "I'm going to cure shrens. Then they can stop existing and I can stop fighting with my girlfriend about them."
"How're you going to do it?" Talyn said, looking at the notes on the wall.
"Do you think you can actually understand the explanation? You're second tier, right? I mean, I would have understood about half of this in second tier, but I spent most of my time researching wizardry on my own then and also I was me."
"Maybe you can tell me how you're going to explain it to the shrens you try it out on," Talyn suggested blandly.
"I was thinking of saying 'hey, stand over there and do what I say and I can turn you into a dragon'," Kaylo said. "You don't think that'll do the trick?"
"Okay... probably, yes, that will do the trick," Talyn admitted. "What can you tell me?"
"I'm gonna need you to lifelink the shrens, and push the pain onto them. If we do baby ones we can get a grownup shren to take it, right? It doesn't have to be who you're linking?"
"Doesn't have to be," Talyn confirmed.
"And can you move other pain around too? I remember you told me outright anesthetizing a dragon brain is better not to mess with, but can you put it on someone else safely? The procedure itself probably won't be particularly comfy."
"There's a working to do that, and it's much different from any of the regular anaesthetic workings," Talyn confirmed, dredging up the information from Revenn's memories. "I haven't tried it on a dragon or a shren before, but it may work. I can find someone less busy than you and make sure." He'd ask Eret and Theedy - they wouldn't mind accepting some minor injuries, to be healed immediately, in support of this project to see if he could relocate their pain without shutting down other key functions.
"Because dragon magic comes in these compartments," Kaylo chattered excitedly, "but it's like a measuring cup, not like a bunch of different cups. And life support is at the top. So if one doesn't have all the magic one needs one dies, instead of, like losing the ability to talk, or breathe fire." Kaylo shuddered delicately and seized a book and began to flip through it. "I thought of a way to use the magic that's already there more efficiently. But if I just section it out first without doing anything else, all the magic 'above' it sloshes down, no life support, dead shren. If I first prop up all the magic above it and then slosh it in on top, there's still the shren being a shren and having this sort of leak for extra magic - actually this part is really horrifying and I don't want to think about it again so no details on the leak thing - which is why their wings don't work - they're just constantly pulling energy out of their bodies to make up for defective magic, but they never actually fill their measuring cups. So doing that would just waste the magic. Are you with me so far?"
"Maybe?" said Talyn.
"See, it takes a lot of magic to be able to learn a new shapeshifting form, but not much to use one you've got - thudias and vampires have fixed alternate forms from birth and don't need hardly any magic to switch, but dragons have a lot of magic allocated to shapeshifting since we can choose what we become. But after we choose, the extra's just floating around loose. I can move that, if I do it in the right order. So I have to plug the hole first, stop them leeching from their wings, but then they can't top off life support the way they need to, and die. But if they can be lifelinked, I can prop up the magic, section off the extra, plug the hole, and then dump it on top. Poof."
"Poof," echoed Talyn. "Oookay. If you can do this, that's... that's great." He'd avoided thinking too much about the problems of shrens since the incident with the baby green one, Artha, but he knew Theedy and Eret would be beside themselves with joy if they were healed, and assumed others would be the same.
"I can do it," Kaylo said. "But you're not helping. I'll let you know when I'm ready to test it on an actual shren and you can lifelink 'em, okay?"
"Okay," Talyn agreed, and he left the room and went back to the lift.
Kaylo was ready to test on an actual shren a few days into the winter term. Rhysel wouldn't let him do it right away; Talyn overheard the argument. "Kaylo, any motive that gets you working on this is fine with me, but I know you aren't in it for shren welfare," she said. "I know you're very eager to have the project over with -"
"Yes, you see, the project being over with would mean I would no longer have to deal with self-righteousness about my motives and their relationship to shren welfare," said Kaylo acidly. "My spell set will work. I am not in the habit of producing spell sets that do not work. Get Aar Camlenn or that other person who got me all those data sets to check it if you don't believe me. They'll look at it and then they'll say 'Rhysel why did you make me look at this it will obviously cure shrens, Kaylo is a genius'."
"I will get them to," Rhysel said, "but they may miss something - if they were capable of inventing this in the first place they would have. You're the theoretician here, and I want you to double-check it all. And not just sarcastically scanning the pages in two degrees and then shoving them at me again. Take a few days, make sure it's all right, make sure you won't kill or cripple one of my friends when they trust me to give them safe advice and I ask them to be your test rat."
"Fine," snapped Kaylo. "Your friends can all enjoy another few days of being shrens, we'll see if any of them thank you." And he left the tower.
Kaylo was back half a week later, late in the evening. "I found two places I could make it more efficient," he said. "So now it's three forms I have to fix per shren, not four, but it would still have worked without the changes."
"All right," Rhysel said mildly. "Do you want another few days -"
"No!" Kaylo exclaimed. "I don't! I didn't even want these few days. Do you have a shren for me to test or not? Talyn, are you ready to lifelink?"
"I can do that, yeah," Talyn said, looking up from his theory assignment. It was about Voyan numbers, occasional unexplained places in the gesture progression with unique power-pull gestures instead of ones following the pattern of the others. It was designed for kids twelve-equivalent at the oldest, and bored him. "Now?"
"Sure, now," Kaylo said, thwapping the packet of papers in his hand energetically in Rhysel's direction. "I'm not tired."
Rhysel regarded Kaylo steadily. "I'm going to have my husband and my friend you've been swapping notes with look it over first. May I have copies?"
Kaylo cast a copying spell, twice, and handed her the new packets. "All right. See you later, then."
Talyn stood on the bottom of the world, with Kaylo, Eret, and Rhysel.
"I've seen it done," Eret said to Talyn, when Talyn tried to explain how the lifelink was prepared.
"But that was a while ago," Talyn said.
"I'm not likely to forget," Eret muttered darkly.
Talyn ignored him. "So, I have to be able to get at your forehead and your neck and all four feet - we should do this in your natural form because I don't know how being shapeshifted while I place the link will affect it, but even if shifting afterwards messes with something, I'll be able to tell and abort before you're in any danger."
Eret transformed into his natural form without further prompting. The overall color was red, but he was flecked with so many other colors - which changed so much in different lights - that he was almost hard to look at. Talyn took the little knife Rhysel had given him, sliced his hand, and went to place dots and stripes of blood where they needed to be.
He activated the magic, pushing the cost of the lifelink onto Eret in the same motion even though it didn't begin under any strain. He didn't want it to surprise him later.
"All set?" Kaylo asked, but he didn't wait for a reply before turning to the shren and rattling off instructions. He didn't look directly at Eret - he had his face pointed off slightly to one side, and his shoulders held a lot of tension - but once his subject confirmed that he understood what he needed to understand about the procedure, Kaylo cast fluently.
The garnet wizard wasn't bothering with mind-kamai shields - Talyn hadn't figured out the pattern for when he did and didn't - so Talyn, who didn't have to actually do anything to maintain the lifelink except refrain from flinging it away, could watch Kaylo's mind as he peformed the spells.
Kaylo's first spell was an analysis, one of those spells that let him sense magic - but unlike the usual wizarding analysis that Leekath might use before casting a break, or like Talyn's native kamai-sense, this spell gave Kaylo the ability to see dragon magic. He'd engineered it so he didn't get distracted by his own, but Eret's flared into view. Kaylo ran through some perfunctory checks to make sure that everything was as expected for a shren. Finding the result unsurprising, he cast the second spell, which would let him insert barriers into Eret's supply of magic to prevent it from dropping down when part of it was moved.
"Shift," he ordered, and Eret was a duck. His magic wobbled - a section of it in particular. Kaylo took mental aim at the top edge of the moving magic and cross-sectioned it with one of the barriers. "Shift." Eret was human. A new section got a new block. "Shift." Eret was an elf, and that form too was separated from its neighbors. "Shift." Red-opal reptile.
Kaylo abandoned the barrier-insertion spell and moved his attention to the "hole" at the top of Eret's magic. Through the dragon's eyes, Talyn could see it - the magic rippled, like a puddle in wind, and a separate sheen of something constantly poured in the top, glided over the magic, and leaked out on the other side. Talyn gleaned from Kaylo's identification that that was what Eret's magic stole from his wings.
"This is going to hurt, if you care," Kaylo muttered, and he cast a new spell.
The spell blocked the inflow of energy from Eret's wings towards the container of magic; the last of it dribbled out, the shren's wings twitched, and Talyn noted building pressure on the lifelink.
After the last stolen faux wing-magic drained away, Kaylo cast another spell that altered the container itself; it appeared through his analysis as a lid, but it began propped open.
One more spell, and Kaylo gritted his teeth to mentally move dragon magic with no more precision than he could conjure up by sheer concentration.
He reached into the three sectioned compartments, and sucked out the excess shapeshifting magic in such a way as to let what remained turn from "liquid" to "mist" and fully occupy their sections at a lower "density". (Talyn wasn't sure if the analysis gave an accurate representation, or just a usefully manipulable metaphor.) Kaylo then moved the magic up, poured it in through the lid, and slammed that lid closed before any of it could slosh out.
"There," said Kaylo, sagging, and finally looking Eret in the eye. "I'm a miracle-worker. Go on, fly around, make history."
Eret's wings rustled as he spread them out.
Up he went, lighting his way with triumphant fire.
Theedy was the next healed, confirming the viability of the basic cure. It was next time to try the more time-consuming spell set designed for shifting-incapable infants. "I don't have to try it for the first time on an actual baby," Kaylo said. "But I want to try it on someone with fewer than three forms picked out, so I can make sure I know how to siphon out the right amount of magic from the right place without the cues."
Rhysel talked to Jensal, and the third shren cured was one of the Paraasilan shren houses's childminders. The platinum woman could turn into a human and a tiny puffball of a bat, but nothing else. Kaylo directed her to choose one more species, which he'd fix in place for her. At the end of the process, she could fly in dragon shape, and could also turn into a delicate little tamarin without having learned the form as normal.
"So it'll work on babies the same way. Someone else manage getting them to pick out forms - I don't want to have six dozen conversations with tiny shrens about what they want to be when they grow up," Kaylo said when the platinum was flying around and singing to herself.
"We'll work something out," Rhysel said.
An actual shren baby was the next subject - just to make certain that everything would work as advertised for all ages, prior to publicizing the good news too widely. Artha, the green who Talyn had traumatized, wanted to grow up to be a kingfisher, an elf, and a pygmy goat, which suggestions Kaylo accepted only after more precision about the exact species of kingfisher and goat.
Artha's chosen forms were imprinted on her magic. The part of it no longer needed was incorporated into her life-support component. She fluttered about, tried a fancy trick she wasn't equipped to handle, and needed to be caught out of the air by the platinum woman who was chaperoning her at the bottom of the world.
Rhysel and Kaylo hammered out a schedule between them, and a way to pay the dragon for his time. Talyn wasn't getting paid; the lifelinks were an apprenticeship chore.
They tucked "miracles" in between classes and spent most of every Lunen and Chenen with large blocks of them; they worked in breaks so Kaylo could recover from mental fatigue and both boys could eat, but within weeks Talyn felt like his entire life was a blur of shrens and ex-shrens punctuated by occasional time with Leekath or his wizarding teachers.
Every evening, Leekath bit him, then replenished the blood he'd lost from lifelinking and from feeding her. It wasn't safe to restore his supply more than once a day, but her increased interest in biting him seemed to have stabilized there; even superstimulus flavor didn't give her room to hold an infinite amount of blood.
Insofar as he could tell, the more frequent feeding was good for her. She seemed to sleep better after it, judging by the nights she stayed in his room overnight. That was sensible, when it sent her halfway into a trance all by itself. She'd also rounded out a little, which left her sleek and soft-looking for a vampire but slight compared to a human or even an elf of the same height. Her hair was shiny (so was her fur, when she became a bat) and, when she wasn't half-asleep, her eyes were bright. And of course, her lifespan went up every time.
"Why doesn't everyone eat this often?" Talyn asked. "Even apart from the lifespan thing that's specific to us, you look healthier."
"Most vampires don't know enough people," Leekath said. "And most don't know the blood-replenishment working either. When there are more kyma around I guess plenty of vampires will change how they drink. But some people don't like the tiredness. My brother usually waits two and a half or three weeks, between feedings, because he can dance better when he's not full."
"But you don't have to dance," Talyn murmured against her cheek.
She kissed him. <No. I don't.>
Her thoughts sounded nervous, though - and come to think of it they'd done the same, just a little, every time he explicitly mentioned how often she'd started feeding.
<You like it when I bite you, right?> she asked. <You wouldn't want me to stop, or anything.>
<Of course not. I'm glad I can feed you without any help now. The blood replenishment working is practically my favorite one. What's wrong, Leekath?>
<One time - I don't know if you remember - you were talking to Hihhliir, my roommate, while I was looking for my other stocking, and she was talking about how dragons taste, and you asked her ->
<How you don't get addicted to it if it's that good, I remember.>
<Well,> Leekath sent. <We don't get addicted to dragons.>
There was a pause. <But I taste better than a dragon. Or anything else with blood that you'd encounter in Elcenia.>
<By a lot.>
<But it's okay!> he sent, hugging her tightly. <Most things like potions or whatever that can addict people have bad side effects like making your hair fall out or something. Blood is your food, though, and there's none better for you than mine. It's health food. And I'm not going anywhere, so it's okay, you can just go on biting me every day. You're not having withdrawal problems in the middle of the day or anything, are you? If you are I bet there's kamai to fix that directly, anyway ->
<No, nothing like that,> Leekath assured him at once. <I'm doing fine in school and everything. I could probably even miss a night and be fine. But - really - don't go anywhere for a long time. Okay?>
<If I do need to I can leave you some blood,> Talyn sent cheerfully. <You can put it under a preservation spell. I can even teach you to expand it with kamai and then you'd probably have enough for months on what I could leave you all at once.>
<And don't die or anything.>
<If I were planning to die any time soon,> he sent cheerfully, <I wouldn't be so tasty in the first place.>
<I love you,> she silently sighed.
<I love you too. I'm not going to let you go hungry. No matter what.>
<I love you,> Leekath repeated.