Chapter Two: Hearing
"What did you do?" roared Jensal, reaching for Artha, but he didn't know if she'd make things worse and smacked her hand aside. Artha was still moaning.
Talyn was still trying to figure that out. "I don't know! I'll undo it!" he cried. "I'll - here - just undo it - it'll be fine." He took back the magic, threading backwards through what he'd done exactly to prevent other side effects.
Artha silenced with a gurgling sound and jumped off of Talyn's lap, leaving tears in his shirt in her haste. She landed on Jensal and scrambled up to the elder shren's blue hair.
"What. Did. You. Do. To. Her?" Jensal demanded.
"I tried to cut off the pain," Talyn said, cringing against her fury. "But it must have been connected to something else. I don't know what it was but she's all hooked up as normal now! I'm sorry!"
"It was baaaaad! Make him go awaaaaaay!" howled Artha. Talyn had to read her thoughts as much as listen to her speech to make out what she meant.
"Artha, sweetie," said Jensal, pulling Artha out of her hair, "what happened? Did it hurt?"
"No," sobbed Artha. Of course it hadn't hurt - he'd turned off the pain - "It didn't do anything," she said, bewilderingly. "I wasn't a thing that could hurt."
That seemed to be the extent of Artha's understanding of what had happened, despite Jensal's further queries. Finally, Jensal stared down both Talyn and Rhysel, thinking loudly that if they moved an inch while she was putting Artha to bed, she'd turn into something that could eat them.
"I'm sorry," Talyn whispered as Jensal stormed out, infant green in tow.
"You didn't mean to," Rhysel reassured him. "I just hope Jensal will let me or Master Revenn try other solutions."
It hadn't occurred to Talyn that he could have ruined the possibility of other kyma trying to make progress on the shren problem. Especially outside of Barashi, where kyma weren't already tarred with the brush left by the old prejudices.
Jensal was back presently, still fuming. "Both of you, out."
"Jensal," started Rhysel. Intending to apologize for Talyn again. He winced.
"Rhysel, I don't know what this kid did to convince you that he was safe to have mucking about with the babies, but I don't want him on the premises again. You can come back, after you mail me a complete description of what you want to try next and get written permission and not before. No more unannounced visits, and I don't care if you have to spend a year giving me a crash course in magic before I can understand what's going on, I will understand it before you do it to anyone under my care. Is that understood?" Talyn felt/saw white-orange anger pouring off the shren, but under that was a kicked, twisted stump of hope, shriveling even smaller than it had been, and it was his fault...
"Yes," muttered Rhysel, gripping Talyn's shoulders and pushing him out of the office and towards the exit. "I understand. I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry too," tried Talyn. "I didn't mean to hurt her. I didn't think it would -"
"Out," insisted Jensal, before he could beg her not to give up, tell her that kamai could do anything. "Just - out."
There was a day of downtime before the kamai demonstration at the school was scheduled. Rhysel left Talyn to his own devices, apart from a stern warning about going anywhere near the shren house. Then, she went to read up on mind shielding - Talyn offered to help her, but she muttered that it would defeat the purpose and she could work from the book just fine.
Talyn soon grew bored with the confines of the tower. Rhysel gave him a pocketful of spending money, and he went out and flew aimlessly, eventually landing in a random Paraasilan street and listening to the meanings behind strangers' conversations. He'd learned several dozen words by the time he grew hungry and chose a restaurant with pleased-seeming customers to have lunch in.
He was able to order food - he pointed at something innocuous-looking on the illustrated menu and said, "This, please,". He was intrigued to note that the waiter was surprised by his accent. The humans in the country were dark and the elves were light, and Talyn looked well within the range of how locals expected Esmaarlan "half-elves" to look. He'd fit right in if he developed fluency and trained away the accent, not that he was particularly expecting to spend a lot of time in Esmaar.
The food was foreignly spiced, but there was plenty of it and it was hot. Talyn paid - with a little exasperated help from the waiter in counting from his coins - and then went and bought a change of clothes so he wouldn't have to carry on wearing the same things. Cleaning them wasn't hard, but he was tired of the outfit.
That expedition left him with one small-denomination disk of copper, and he flew back to Rhysel's tower to collect wood for use in the demonstration, and then turn in early. She was right - the days were longer - and he'd be glad of a long sleep at the demo.
On the day of the assembly, Rhysel brought Talyn to the transfer point she'd built at Binaaralav Academy, and then to the assembly room via a contraption called a "lift". Talyn sat at the table facing the chairs intended for the audience, and proceeded to valiantly ignore the conversation between Rhysel and her boyfriend. Rhysel's shield was only about half-done, and Aar Kithen had none at all, and Talyn was not comfortable picking up on all the subtext. Going home to visit his parents was bad enough; they'd been married for decades and decades and mellowed out some. At least the apprentices weren't allowed to date each other. He'd hate having to listen to, say, Jenn and Nevyn make goo-thoughts at each other sixteen divs a day.
The first attendee entered. "Hi!" said Talyn automatically. She was intensely striking - paper-pale with hair and eyes so black they could have been inked onto her. Even more black-and-white than a Malterian like Emryl's uncle Corvan; if it weren't for the splash of lavender at the throat of her white dress and around the waist she could have been a charcoal drawing. And... he could not hear her thoughts. Not even if - would Rhysel catch him at it? He risked it anyway - not even if he dropped all of his attempts at avoiding it.
"Aaralan Hhirheek," said Aar Kithen.
"Hi, Aar Kithen," said the girl. What was her first name? Aar Kithen wasn't even thinking it; if Rhysel knew it she wasn't leaking enough for Talyn to tell - and the girl herself was - Talyn pushed. She couldn't be shielded. Rhysel hadn't infused any Elcenians besides Aar Kithen, yet. So he couldn't hear her by accident, but if he tried... (he couldn't remember ever having to try before for surface thoughts...)
He pushed just hard enough, and then his mind was flooded with a storm of voices caterwauling in pitches he wouldn't have been able to hear with his ears, all howling over each other -
"Why did you jump off a cliff?" the girl asked him. He snapped back out of her mind, away from the voices.
"What?" Rhysel said.
"How did you know I jumped off a cliff?" Talyn asked - Aar Kithen's thoughts translated the girl's Leraal for him, and he could manage the grammatical transformation well enough to ask the question.
"Your shoes," she said. "The way they moved - they hit the corner of the cliff, then fell, but they stepped, you weren't pushed - I mean, that's if you were wearing them. If someone else had them on when that happened, then I was wrong."
He hadn't replaced his shoes on the prior day's shopping trip; they were the same ones he'd worn cliffdiving. They were old and had stains from saltwater and mud and dropped bits of food, but weren't especially worn, as Talyn tended to fly whenever he could.
"You were right!" Talyn assured her. "What's your name?" He had to know her name. "Why is your head full of voices that aren't yours?" Would she even know? "I can't even tell what you're thinking if I try. That's amazing."
"You can hear them? I'm Leekath," she said. It was a pretty name. He could even pronounce it without image kamai - he'd been afraid she'd have some horrid screeching name.
Aar Kithen interrupted Talyn from his attempt at figuring her out. "You jumped off a cliff?"
Rhysel's half-formed shield didn't stop Talyn from hearing a certain familiarity with the phenomenon. "It was cliffdiving! Rhysel used to do it, too," he deflected.
Not very effectively. "Is that how you broke your arm?" Rhysel asked. "You shouldn't be cliffdiving at all, but if you do, you should at least gather the energy to fly before you jump to begin with. If you wait you'll mistime and hurt yourself. You could have been killed."
"I wouldn't have been killed," Talyn denied. "My stoneskin is automatic now."
"And your arm broke because?" Rhysel inquired archly.
Talyn flinched, but he did have an answer. "Because it was just my arm. It's not automatic for little things - I have to be able to draw blood for some things and I don't know how to make a hole in a total defense yet - but I wouldn't have died." Rhysel wasn't planning to push it any farther, and he re-focused on Leekath. <Can you hear me?> he sent to her.
Leekath nodded, looking at him with round, calm eyes.
<Can you try replying to me? I know you don't have kamai, but since I do, it should be possible to have a two-way conversation unless your voices get in the way of that too...>
<They're hhikiiias,> Leekath sent back clearly.
Talyn grinned. <What're hhikiiias?>
<The voices of objects,> sent Leekath. <They speak to me. I'm a hearer.>
<What do they say? I don't know the language they're speaking, and they don't have their own minds for me to read.>
<They're speaking vampire,> Leekath sent. <They talk about themselves. True things about themselves. I can ask them questions, if I want, and they skip to the parts I ask for, but otherwise they just talk about everything in a loop.>
<That's amazing. How'd you get to be able to do that?>
Leekath rolled her shoulders a little - not quite a shrug. <It happened when I was four,> she said. <It only ever happens to vampires. Most of us can't do it.>
<I hear things too,> Talyn volunteered. Leekath looked up to meet his eyes instead of gazing vaguely into the middle distance. <People's minds. I'm an innate kama - I don't so much have to learn to do kamai as learn to not do it. And I can hear people's minds without trying, unless I distract myself all the time.>
<But you can't hear me?>
<No. I want to, though. Is it okay with you if I try? I'm sure I can figure it out. Then we can talk without me having to ask you so many questions about basic stuff,> he sent.
<Okay,> Leekath replied.
Talyn followed her voice - a hollower, smoother version of the one she spoke with aloud. Its path through her mind led him between the screeching hhikiiias, although he could hear them growing louder as he peered deeper. And there was the surface of her own mind, with her own thoughts. <So you want to learn kamai?> he asked her. Other students were starting to fill the auditorium, all with typically transparent thoughts, but Talyn's attention was on Leekath.
<Maybe,> she said. <It sounds like it might be interesting. I want to know more about it, at least.>
<It's great!> Talyn encouraged. <Kamai can do anything.>
<I don't think it can do anything,> Leekath sent. <But it can do different things from wizardry, or at least do them differently.> She was thinking of wizardry's limitations - gestures and words for every spell, channeling sting, the inability to resurrect the dead or travel back in time.
<Okay, not literally anything,> Talyn admitted. <We can't bring back the dead either - though we can talk to them - and we can't do time travel - and there's some workings that are forbidden to do, but kamai can do a lot. And without any gestures or words for most of it, and no channeling sting, just drain.>
<You can talk to dead people?> Talyn checked, anxiously, and sighed with relief on finding that her interest was academic; she hadn't lost anyone close to her.
<Actually that set of workings doesn't work here, or it didn't when Aar Kithen tried it,> Talyn said. <We aren't going to do any death kamai today, because there's nothing else really suited to a demo. I mean, I could read someone's lifespan, but nobody wants that done.>
<You could read mine.>
<You'd want to know your lifespan? That's when you'll die of old age,> Talyn clarified. <If a disease or an accident or something doesn't get you first, you'd know when you were going to die, down to the slice.>
<I already know it. Or, I don't know how much a slice is ->
<A little over four splits,> he said, scanning for her concepts of time to attach words to. <But how do you know your lifespan?>
<Well, it's not going to stay the same,> she said. <But I know what it ought to be now. I've been keeping track of who I bite.>
<Who you...> But he didn't finish the question; he just poked around for the answer. Interesting... vampires weren't just prettily monochromatic, they drank blood, and adopted the lifespan of whoever they bit, but when they bit different people, each meal was averaged. Leekath fed mostly on elves, with occasional treats of dragon's blood, spaced out as each dragon she knew was acquainted with several vampires. <Oh. So you wouldn't mind?>
<No, I wouldn't mind.>
<If I'm going to show it to everybody I'm going to have to convert the years. It doesn't have to be exact - it'll tell me down to the slice, but there's no good reason to do that much math. How long are your days? How many days in a year?>
They worked out a conversion formula, while Rhysel made a stone golem of an aurum-dove for a girl in the audience. "We have a guest here today," Rhysel announced, indicating Talyn. Talyn looked away from Leekath, to watch Rhysel for signals about when she wanted him to get started. "While Aar Kithen and I will be competent to teach introductory kamai in all five disciplines by the time next term starts, Talyn's been generalizing for a few years now and can show off some more interesting, advanced workings outside elemental kamai, which will make for a better show. Talyn?"
Talyn didn't have enough Leraal to address the audience in their language, so language-free mindspeech it was. <Hello, everybody,> he conveyed, stepping up the "volume" to include the whole room. <This is called mindspeech. It's almost the most basic mind kamai there is. Really advanced stuff is just about like what Keo can do - maybe not as powerful, but the same sort of thing. Who wants to see a memory I have of flying over the Baltryss Mountains with a flock of wild rocs ->
<What's a roc?> Leekath asked.
<Oh, you don't have rocs here. Really, really big birds - while I was turned invisible so they wouldn't try to eat me? It was great! Raise your hand if you want to opt out though.>
Some people put their hands in the air, but Leekath wasn't one of them. Talyn noted the attendees who wanted to be excluded, and sent along the memory to everyone else. He'd been ten, he'd just mastered invisibility hot on the heels of learning to fly, and when he saw the rocs he hadn't been able to resist chasing them. The heavy disturbances their wings made in the air nearly clobbered him when he flew close, magical mastery of the air notwithstanding; he'd almost tried to ride one, but he'd certainly have been noticed then. Domestic rocs were dangerous enough. Wild ones weren't going to tolerate an invisible burden settling on their backs.
He'd flown with the rocs for almost a div, but the students didn't want to see the whole thing; when some of them became bored he cut off and moved on. <There's no animals in here. So that kind of limits what I can do with wild kamai - I don't know how to shapeshift yet, and no one here is injured so I can't show a healing. But wild kyma can do with wood what Rhysel just did with rock, except for the conjuration part - the wood does have to grow from a plant. So I brought this.> He pulled out the mottled block of wood, harvested and smushed together from several shrubs on Rhysel's property, from where it had been stashed in her satchel. He started teasing it in his hands, showing off a bit. <Anyone else want a critter?>
A boy three seats down from Leekath wanted a blue chinchilla. Talyn made it, covering for his inexpert shaping of the animal with the dense, fine fur. It would hop around awkwardly, but it would be soft and cuddly (and blue), which was what the boy really wanted. Golem given away, Talyn moved on. <Death kamai's hard to demonstrate, in a setting like this. Actually, when we planned this I wasn't going to do any death kamai at all because it all involves things like summoning dead people - and I don't know anyone who died on this world -> (Talyn wasn't about to give up on the working in Elcenia altogether; it might just be Aar Kithen) <or animating corpses - not pretty - or killing things - which, again, there's no animals here. But there's one thing I can do that Leekath just volunteered for!>
"Talyn, what are you doing?" muttered Rhysel.
<It's okay,> Talyn assured her, only her, and he carried on. <Leekath, can you come up here and sit on the desk or something?> he asked the vampire. As she complied, he broadcasted, <Death kyma can tell how long someone's lifespan is, assuming they die of old age, not accident or illness or something else. Most people don't want to know that, but Leekath already has a pretty good idea, because she's a vampire.>
Aar Kithen explained the situation to Rhysel; Talyn took Leekath's hand. Her skin was soft and smooth and cool, and as he read her lifespan, sifting along it year by year and counting them up in his mind, he tried to think if there was any other excuse to touch her that he could pass off as part of the demo. Probably not. <It's not part of the working to show the number visibly,> he announced. <I'm going to do that separately with image kamai so you can all see. But I'm getting the information with death kamai. And I'm converting it from Barashin years to Elcenian ones with ordinary math, which is not supposed to be part of this demo but what are you going to do.>
Several people in the audience thought he was funny, but mostly he wanted to know if Leekath thought he was funny. She thought he was a little funny. That was... okay. He finished counting up her years. He did the arithmetic. It didn't seem like many - Elcenian elves didn't live as long as Barashin halfbloods, even, let alone Barashin elves. He pulled the symbols out of Leekath's mind and projected them into the air for everyone to see.
<Is that about what you were expecting, Leekath?>
"I was two years off," she said aloud. She was very quiet, pursing her lips at the displayed value. Talyn boosted her volume with an image working, which was next on the program anyway, so everyone would be able to hear. "I had to estimate for the first couple hundred..."
There was a pause, and finally Talyn let Leekath's hand go and she sat back down. <Thanks!> he sent. <And now, image kamai!> He brought up some music, and set off some illusory fireworks - he had enough practice entertaining young relatives with this sort of thing that he could do it in his sleep - and he also conjured everyone cookies. He wondered if Leekath could eat cookies. Illusion ones wouldn't hurt her, but she might not be a cookie-liking person. <Pass them around. They have no nutritional content at all. No content, period, they're imaginary - but they've got texture and taste like the real thing, just like Mom makes,> he said of the imaginary baked goods. Leekath passed on the plate when it got to her without taking any.
Rhysel steered Talyn back into his seat, when the cookies were on their way around the room. "Thank you!" she said, not sounding particularly grateful - he surmised because of his stunt with the death working, but her shield was in the way of telling. "Now, none of you in the audience currently have the ability to perform any kamai at all. However, I've reconstructed a previously lost working that will let me infuse people with the capacity. Aar Kithen was infused in this way, and he's now as capable of kamai as I am." Aar Kithen floated a few feet off the ground, made a globe of handfire, and then descended back to his chair. "The process hasn't done him any harm, but - I'll let him describe it."
"It involves drinking an unpleasant-tasting, effervescent liquid," Aar Kithen said, "and falling unconscious for an extended sleep."
"I'll take questions now," concluded Rhysel.
Leekath asked hers first. "How am I supposed to fall unconscious after drinking a liquid," she asked, "when I can't sleep in this shape or drink in the other one?" She had another shape - he looked - she could turn into a bat - Talyn resolved to learn shapechanging kamai as soon as Revenn would let him touch it.
"You'll probably want to shift and fall asleep right away after you drink the infusion," Rhysel guessed. Leekath nodded and closed her eyes.
<You can turn into a bat? That's fantastic,> Talyn told Leekath. <What kind of bat?>
<All vampires can turn into bats,> she said, puzzled over his fascination. <It's not a kind of bat that exists other than in the form of vampires being it.>
<Ooh. What do you look like when you turn into a bat?>
<I don't really know. I guess probably something like my family does.>
Rhysel sent Talyn outside to find a tree branch and make another golem out of it; this ate several subs he could have been spending talking to Leekath, but he didn't kick up a fuss about it, just made the requested pygmy elephant (as cartoonishly as he thought he'd get away with, to avoid the fine detail called for in a realistic sculpture) and animated it. <Why don't you know?>
<Vampires don't show up in mirrors. I've seen photographs of myself from when I was little, but only in this shape, not the bat shape.>
<Do you know what you look like now?> he asked her.
<Probably like a fourteen-year-old version of myself as a kid,> she said. <I'm growing my hair out a little because my sister told me to, so I guess it's longer now except the bangs...>
<You're beautiful,> he said insistently, and showed her herself in a visual sending. <Look.>
There was a long silence. Leekath opened her eyes to look at him. <You think I'm pretty?>
<Yeah! You're really pretty!>
She didn't seem to have a response to that, and Talyn's attention was pulled away again when he heard his name. He caught up on the conversation with Aar Kithen's thoughts. "Theory," said a dragon boy who'd lingered after nearly everyone else had dispersed. "When you conjured that rock, where did it come from? What features of Leekath did Talyn's spell -"
"Working," Rhysel corrected.
"Working - look at to tell how long her lifespan is now? What was the fire you conjured fueled by? Do you have to actually know anything about the behavior of animals you make golems of, and if so, how much? Is mindspeech language-dependent? Are the -" The boy's mind was enflamed with curiosity; Talyn frowned with vicarious frustration when Rhysel cut him off.
"Whoa, whoa," Rhysel interrupted. "I'm not a teacher yet. Maybe you should enroll."
"Plan to," the dragon boy said. "But I have these questions now and I'll only have more after I see more kamai, so -"
Rhysel interrupted him again. Hadn't she ever wanted to learn things? "So," she said, "it'll require a lot more background to answer some of those. I can see why you waited for a thinner crowd before you asked your questions, but I'm not sure I'm even equipped to give the theoretical understanding you seem to want."
"Mindspeech is language-dependent the most basic way but not in more advanced forms," Talyn cut in, hoping to help assuage at least some of the poor dragon's searing need to know. He spoke Martisen; the dragon understood it just fine. Useful property. Could kamai do that, without intermediate mindreading...? "I don't know Leraal very well - just what I've been able to pick up listening to people think - so I used a kind that isn't. And we don't need to know much about how the animals work - the forms take care of that. I don't know the answers to the rest of it though."
"What's your name?" Rhysel asked the dragon boy.
"Kaylo," he replied. Talyn committed the name to memory. "Will you be doing any theory in the classes proper?"
"Some. Probably less than you'd like, but I can't please everyone," Rhysel said. "I'll be able to get you books, if you're interested enough to study on your own time."
"Will definitely take you up on that. But I'll leave you be for now," Kaylo said. "Thanks," he added to Talyn. Talyn smiled, then looked at Leekath again.
<Will you go out with me?> blurted Talyn to the thoughtful vampire.
<How can I do that if you're going back to Barashi?> she asked. But she wanted to. She wanted to.
"Rhysel," Talyn said at once, "how long am I welcome to stay?"
"As far as I'm concerned, however long you want," she said. "But won't your grandfather want you back soon?"
<There, I can stay long enough to take you out,> he sent Leekath. "Aar Kithen, can you send him a letter for me?" <Grandfather'll let me stay a bit, Leekath. He'll want to hear all about Elcenia anyway, I know it.>
"I can," said Aar Kithen.
"I want to stay a couple more days," Talyn said. <Tomorrow?> he asked Leekath, as she smoothed the skirt of her dress.
<All right,> she said. <Tomorrow, evening, after classes.> And she got up and left the auditorium, eyes closed but amazingly not bumping into anything.
<I'll see you then!> he sent after her.
All he had to do was think of somewhere to take her.