Chapter Twenty-One: Patching
"Oh, I did it wrong," said Talyn's classmate.
The little boy was a vampire, maybe ten years old, and he'd just checked Talyn's channeling capacity. Talyn had already been through the rigmarole of explaining it in first-tier theory, where they all had their CCs checked and noted in their student files, but in second tier they learned the spell themselves and checked it again as a prelude to learning higher gestures and training away spell-flinch. And Talyn's current CC was absurdly higher than that of anyone else in the room.
"You didn't do it wrong," Talyn said tiredly, but the little boy stood up and stepped on his chair to get teacherly attention.
"Aaral Fenbin, Aaral Fenbin, I've done it wrong but don't know how," he called.
The teacher, a plump human woman, bustled over to where Talyn's desk and the vampire boy's sat. "Show me what you did, Eeine," she instructed the child.
Eeine repeated the spell, frowning in concentration at Talyn, who sighed and watched the string of digits glow in the air again. Aaral Fenbin frowned, and looked between Eeine's hands and the number, till it faded. "Well, that's very puzzling..."
"If you check my file, it'll explain," Talyn said. "That's really my CC. Eeine didn't make a mistake."
Aaral Fenbin blinked several times, but then bustled away to answer another student standing on his chair. Eeine cast the spell one more time, and frowned at the number.
"That's not fair," he said, sitting back down and looking disgruntled. "Mine is supposed to be big."
Talyn cast the same spell to read Eeine's CC. It was 502, strikingly above average for someone without a familiar yet. "Yours is big. Mine's sort of cheating," Talyn said.
"Cheating's not okay," Eeine said sternly.
"They tell you that in Wizarding Ethics?"
"I didn't take that yet," said Eeine. "It's just bad." The little vampire's thoughts were drifting in the direction of moral instruction inside a temple...
Talyn shied away from his classmate's thoughts, reciting a poem Mysha had memorized long ago in his head, but then stopped. He hadn't promised Leekath not to read other vampires' thoughts about their religion, had he? But Eeine was already thinking about something else - someone who'd stolen and copied a first-tier assignment he'd done. Finding out more about vampire religion from Eeine would involve more active digging around than Talyn usually preferred when given the choice.
Class ended with supervised practice of the gestures from three hundred through three hundred ninety-nine, which stung everyone there except Talyn. He supposed he'd never have to bother with training away spell-flinch, like a shren, although for different reasons.
Talyn was done for the day, and if he remembered Fenen's schedule correctly, Leekath was too. She might be at Rhysel's tower already, waiting for him. He waited in line for the lift, took it to the pond exit, and transferred. Next term I'm petitioning for early entry into the teleportation workshop, he promised himself.
Leekath was in the tower, and not sitting in his room, either; she was on the couch on the first floor sitting with Rhysel's cured-shren nanny. (Talyn didn't know when Kaylo was going to be ready to resume shren curing. He'd ask the next day.) Leekath and Theedy both had one of Rhysel's twin babies in their arms. Talyn couldn't tell the babies apart, yet; he'd learn the difference between their thoughts when they had any thoughts to speak of and have them down pat by the time they were sophisticated enough to care.
"She's not going to taste very good, if that's what you're thinking," Talyn remarked to Leekath, sitting down next to her.
"Who - the baby? I'm not going to bite a baby," Leekath said with an incredulous laugh. "That wouldn't be safe." <And you're right. She wouldn't taste nearly as good as you do.>
"Why're you holding her?" Talyn asked.
"Babies are nice to hold," Leekath said. "I guess you haven't been around when I've played with Rhysel's kids before? Here, see," she said, offering him whichever twin she had. "They're warm and cuddly."
Talyn took the baby more out of reflex than interest; she wasn't screaming at that exact moment, but that didn't render her fascinating. "I guess."
"Don't you like babies?" Leekath asked, as Theedy got up to put the other twin down for a nap and came back for the one Talyn had. Talyn yielded her gladly. "I thought everyone liked babies."
"Babies are just okay. I like little kids who can talk, like my little sister's age," Talyn said. "But I mean, we can't have any, right? So it doesn't matter."
Leekath looked away. "Well, half-vampires are hard to have and they get sick a lot if you do have them," she said quietly, nodding. She was thinking about her cousin, who, being on her aaihhhi's side of the family, was perfectly nice - but usually too ill to receive visitors or do much of anything.
"And I'm from another world," Talyn said. "On Barashi it's only elves and humans and halfbloods, or trolls and goblins and trogs, who can have kids between species..."
"That didn't stop Rhysel," Leekath pointed out.
"Well, no, but Aar Camlenn's an elf, even if he's not the same kind of elf, and - anyway, it doesn't matter, I'd rather have you than have kids," Talyn said, wrapping his arms around Leekath's neck and pulling her in.
"Shapeshifting doesn't work?" Leekath asked, after a prolonged silence.
"Well - hm." Talyn tilted his head. "Not the kind I know how to do. Maybe there's some advanced kind, that Master Bryn or somebody could teach me, where it would."
"And then we could have vampire babies," she sighed, tucking her head under his chin. "I mean, later. Not now."
"Maybe if I could shapeshift that well I'd be allowed into a vampire temple," he suggested.
"I don't think so," yawned Leekath. "I'm pretty sure you wouldn't count."
Talyn frowned. "If I could have pure vampire kids, I still wouldn't count?"
"I don't think so," she repeated. "I guess I'd have to ask a priest... Dragons can have kids who count as full vampires, if the kids are thudias, and dragons aren't allowed."
"Right." He started stroking her hair, out of habit. "I don't like that. The kids would be off doing... whatever it is... and I wouldn't even know about it."
"It's nothing bad or anything," Leekath said.
"I believe you," he said, although this wasn't completely true - gods who skulked around like that unnerved him - "but I still wouldn't get to be there."
She squirmed closer, pressing her face against his neck. "Well, I guess I could learn to shift halfblood, and we could have halfbloods?"
"You'd have to be one for a long time," Talyn said.
"I guess I might not like it. I don't know how you stand having a heartbeat all the time."
He laughed softly. She was starting to trance. "Heartbeats aren't that bad."
"Mm," she sighed.
"Hungry?" he asked.
He paused the motion of his hand, and she opened her mouth, and closed it over the familiar bitemark. She drank, and then let go, and tranced again as he ran his hands through her hair.
Kaylo was ready the next day with a more precise spell set, and a patch for the mistake he'd already made with the copper subject. Talyn went back to the bottom of the world with Kaylo and Rhysel and the copper's boyfriend, replaced the lifelink, and reversed the stone working to restore her usual composition.
The copper ranted at Kaylo, until she was successfully distracted by the possibility of flying; Kaylo then turned his attention to curing the jade, and then Rhysel went and fetched the next shrens on the list. They got through almost forty cures before school started back up on Inen.
Talyn threw more of himself into his classes than he needed to just to pass them. He wanted to advance another tier at the end of the term, and another one at the end of the term after that, and finally be among people remotely close to his equivalent age. He didn't expect to catch up with Leekath, who was diligent and brilliant and a hearer and on track to graduate in less than a year if she didn't slow down. But he wanted to be taught by instructors who weren't accustomed to prepubescent children and didn't start class sessions with sentences like "Good morning, children, now let's settle down and learn".
But when he wasn't studying, maintaining his relationship with Leekath, or bleeding patterns onto shrens to keep them alive through Kaylo's ministrations, he popped into Barashi via circle and looked for books on advanced shapeshifting. If Leekath liked babies, she could have babies; it wasn't like he never wanted to be a father. He didn't know how long it would take to find - or invent - the working they needed, so he thought he might as well get a jump on things.
Interspecies marriages between races that couldn't naturally have children were rare on Barashi. Talyn didn't know where to start - he didn't know any famous human/fairy or elf/goblin or whatever pairs who had gone to heroic efforts to find ways to bring children into the world. There were few couples like that to begin with, not all of them wanted children, and the ones who did were steered towards bursting orphanages.
Talyn did want to meet Master Bryn one day, but she was rumored to like her privacy outside of the routine magical support she provided to her town. Before barging in on the kama said to know every working there was, he wanted to be able to sincerely claim that he'd looked everywhere else and wasn't just wasting her time.
A week before the end of the winter term, though, Talyn's various pursuits were abruptly derailed.
"Linnip's taking over Ryganaav," Leekath told him, in lieu of greeting. "I thought you'd want to know."
"Linnip? Who's that?" Talyn asked, frowning. "They're taking it over? What?"
"Linnip is this country over on Anaist," Leekath said, helpfully imagining a map. "Mostly humans in it. They're a developed country and everything... kind of sexist but not in the same direction as Ryganaav, so the motivation's obvious, I guess. We think - well, aaihhhi thinks - the civil war gave them an in or an excuse or something. We don't have very good news coming in out of Ryganaav and the Linnipese ambassador can't tell us anything about military operations except for really vague press releases..."
"So they just waltzed in and invaded Ryganaav?" Talyn exclaimed. "They can do that? Aren't there laws against it?"
"Nothing Ryganaav signed," Leekath pointed out. "Linnip didn't even have to declare war first for it to be legal. They could just show up."
"You're saying Ryganaav has been sitting there absolutely at the mercy of any country that wanted to snap it up and the only reason it lasted this long is because no one wanted the hassle or the desert it's sitting on?" Talyn said, but it was a rhetorical question. "I've been trying to singlehandedly do something any government that cared could have done with fewer people dying?"
"I don't think Linnip is trying to modify the Ryganaavlan religion, I think they're hoping to convert the natives to Aleism," Leekath said.
"So they're not killing them all, at least," he muttered.
"I don't think they're killing anyone. They have plenty of magic and except for the leonines Ryganaav doesn't have any. They can afford to be gentle. You know, for an invasion," said Leekath.
"For an invasion," Talyn laughed hollowly.
"I'm pretty sure they'll be able to stop the civil war," she said.
"Are they going to preserve any of the culture? It's not all awful," Talyn said, turning away and combing through his curls with his fingers. "They have stories and songs and food and their own dialect and customs that aren't all awful, and from what you're saying, what you're thinking, I don't expect Linnip will be very careful about preserving anything from this country they hate so much. Colony. Whatever it is now."
"Contested territory until they declare the invasion finished, and then colony, until they grant it empire status," Leekath said helpfully. "I don't know about their cultural assimilation plans... Aaihhhi had me talk to the Linnipese ambassador for him once, since she doesn't like to talk to male parliamentarians, but she wouldn't tell me much."
"Well." Talyn sighed. "I guess they'll make life safe for Oris. And people like Oris."
"Yes," Leekath agreed. "Maybe if the cultural assimilation goes well, you could even give Oris her light powers back, and she'd like them. In a few years."
"Maybe," said Talyn skeptically. He sat down abruptly, sinking deep into his chair. "Ugh. I don't like this at all. Maybe I'd like it more if I saw it, up close, but.. I guess the border isn't as porous anymore, is it? My transfer points should still work, but are the Linnipese going to be pissed off at me if I show up in their 'contested territory'?"
"I don't know," Leekath said.
"How're they treating the leonines? The ones with a taste for human flesh and prides composed of dominant males and their subordinate wives?" Talyn asked, rolling his eyes skyward. "Are they big fans of that culture's little intricacies?"
"I think there are some leonines who live in Linnip. They have precedents for handling the social structures. Maybe not the taste for human flesh part, I'm not sure."
"I don't mean are they going to ration out humans they don't like that much to feed the leonines, I mean are they going to punish them retroactively - they feed it to their kids, even, and they're starving half the time, it's not - but you don't know. Right." He sighed heavily; Leekath came up to him and sat on his lap.
"Do you want me to find out Linnip's policy on foreigners in their contested territory?" she asked. "They have to have one. Ryganaav never had a lot of tourists, but it had reporters and anthropologists and charity workers who need to know if they're in or out."
"If you can, that'd be good," Talyn said gratefully. "I won't be able to go too long anyway - with school and shrens and research."
"The preserved blood tasted okay, but I do miss you when you're gone," Leekath murmured against his neck. "Mm?"
"Do you want to learn to shapeshift the usual way," Talyn asked Leekath, "or do you want me to just send it to you?"
"The second one," she said. "If I had to never have kids, to have you, I would - but I want to know - and if I can't stand being a halfblood I need to know that now."
Talyn touched her forehead and pushed along the knowledge. "Shapeshifting is tricky," he warned. "You might want to try something like going from this form to your bat form and back via kamai, before you try anything unfamiliar - since you have a familiar other shape."
"That's a good idea," agreed Leekath. She closed her eyes, and blurred, slowly, carefully, into her bat shape, and then back. "I didn't make any mistakes, did I?"
"I didn't see any," Talyn said.
"Okay. Here goes." She shut her eyes again.
The only visible change was a dramatic pink blush flooding over her skin. But she opened her eyes and gasped and clutched at her chest. "I can feel it," she murmured.
"It'll get less noticeable -"
"It's in me, beating and beating -"
"Okay," he said, hearing rising panic in her thoughts and hoping she wouldn't do something regrettable, "okay, just shift back, you remember how, just shift back."
The pink bled away. She was chalky-pale again, and took a deep breath. "I don't like that," she whispered.
"Okay," Talyn said again. "You don't have to do it."
She nodded, lip trembling, and then tipped forward to hug him. "I'm sorry," she said.
"It's okay. I don't mind not having it when I'm a vampire-bat, so I shouldn't care if I turn into a vampire-humanoid, right?" said Talyn.
"I thought you didn't want vampire kids...?"
"I don't know. I keep going back and forth on it." He closed his eyes and squeezed her. "I don't suppose we could have vampire kids and just raise them outside the temple."
"Half-vampires aren't supposed to be in the religion, though? Maybe kamai could help one be healthy," Talyn said.
She sat back to meet his eyes. "Do you want to meet my cousin?" she asked.
"And see if I can do something for her? Sure," Talyn said.
"It'd be harder for us than for my uncle and aunt," Leekath warned. "It's harder when the mother's the vampire."
"Kamai can do anything," Talyn said. "I might take a while to find a way, but it can do anything. And we're not going anywhere. If I can help your cousin, that's a good sign."
"I'm sorry I wasn't up to seeing you the last two times you came by," Thiris apologized in a high, scratchy voice. "I get terrible insomnia and my parents won't let anyone near me when I finally do sleep, even if it's in the middle of the day and I promised..."
"It's okay, Thiris," Leekath assured her cousin. Thiris was a weak tan color, with thin black hair and unshining black eyes. She was thin, not in the graceful, angular sense that full vampires were but in the starved bony way a human might be if they ate twice a week. Her ears came to little points. "I'm just glad you're okay today."
<She doesn't taste blood the way we do,> Leekath sent to Talyn. <And her fangs don't work so she has to swallow it. If she asks, you can let her have some if you want. She won't find out anything by the flavor.>
<That won't bother you?> Talyn asked.
"Today is a really good day," Thiris said earnestly. "I slept through the whole morning, and I ate lunch."
"Do you not usually eat lunch?" Talyn asked.
"Sometimes I just don't have any appetite, especially for solid foods," Thiris said. "I try anyway, or my parents get so worried, but..." She shrugged. "I don't suppose you have any blood I could drink? It seems best if I get at least a little every week or two, but..."
"Sure," Talyn said. He conjured a rock, shaped it into a cup and a little blade, and nicked his elbow. "No problem." While the line of red rose in the cup, he said, "So, one of the reasons we wanted to visit you was to see if kamai - do you know about kamai?"
"A little. Leekath writes," Thiris said.
"It might be able to help you out with some of your problems," Talyn said. The cup was full; Leekath healed his wound for him and he handed the cup over to Thiris.
Thiris bolted the blood down gratefully, clutching at the cup with shaking hands, and licked her lips when she'd finished. "Thank you," she said fervently. "And - if you think you can do something - you can sure try, but... Well, lights can't. I see one every week just in case, since the last thing I need is an infection -"
"Kamai's different from lightcraft," Talyn assured her.
"What do you do?" Thiris asked, cocking her head. "Put your feet together and conjure a ball of darkness?"
"No," laughed Leekath.
"I just need to touch you," Talyn said, holding out his hand.
Thiris touched his offered arm. She was chilly even though the room was kept hot.
Wild kamai was confused by Thiris. She was a haphazard blend of vampire and human systems - random parts of her lacked useful features such as veins, and were fed by a cross between blood and Leekath's interstitial fluid. She had a shrunken stomach that seemed like it was inclined to give up halfway through digesting anything she swallowed, though it was processing the blood she'd just drunk. Her heart beat, but sluggishly and irregularly. There was a low-level sunburn in the part of her hair and on her eyelids, where she'd neglected to spread sunscreening potion. Her lifeforce was weak, and there was a pervasive tiredness to it, like she could only half-sleep without the ability to turn into a bat.
Talyn healed the sunburn, and Thiris made a soft "oh" sound, but he wasn't sure how to address the rest of it. He couldn't shapeshift someone else. And if a lifeforce this weak were hit with the drain associated with infusion it might just outright kill her.
After a few ticks of thought, he just reverse-tapped her, pushing lifeforce at her and letting her own body figure out what to do with the spare energy. It wasn't very efficient, but she couldn't tap him the correct way around.
"I feel better," Thiris murmured. "I feel like I got a lot more sleep than I did."
"It won't last," Talyn said. "But until I learn more that's what I can do that I'm sure is safe."
"Thank you," Thiris said.
"You're welcome." He dropped his hand. "Do you want more actual sleep? Kamai can do that. It'd mess with your regular sleep cycle, if -"
"If I had one?" Thiris asked with a small smile. "Yeah. If you don't mind cutting the visit short... yeah. I always want sleep."
She sat down on her bed. Talyn touched her forehead. She slid down and her head hit the pillow.
<You don't know how to fix her,> Leekath sent. <I don't think you could have fixed the ones who died, either.>
<We'll figure something out.>
"Did you find out what Linnip's policy is on foreigners in their contested territory?" Talyn asked. She was thinking about it already, so he knew she had.
<Yes,> Leekath said, planting a kiss on his mouth. <You can go in as long as you don't make any hostile moves or annoy any soldiers - they can eject you at their discretion.>
<I'll do that, then,> he said. <Real quick. I'll go to Egalon, and see how Oris and her family are doing.>
<Okay. Can I have a nibble first?>
<You always can.>
<I still have to ask.>
<Why?> he asked as she brushed her lips across his face, to his ear, down past his jaw to the twin spots on his neck.
<Religious reasons,> she sent reluctantly. Vaguely.
<That's really starting to bother me,> he sent, as numbness spread under her teeth.
<I'm sorry too. I love you,> Talyn sent.
<I love you,> Leekath's mental voice sighed.
Oris was alive. She'd lost a brother - and another was missing a leg - in the war, but she was alive, she was not being persecuted for being an ex-light, and she was getting along as well as could be expected under the martial law imposed by the Linnipese occupiers. They were obliging her to go to a hastily set up school where a redheaded teacher instructed all the children from Egalon in the Ertydon language and basic Linnipese civics. Oris didn't like being told that magic wasn't evil, and didn't believe it for a second - after all, the gods had delivered her from her sin, so anyone who still had magic really did have to be irredeemably evil. But she went to school and conjugated verbs and went home to her family.
Talyn didn't try to talk to Oris, or anyone else in Egalon. He stayed invisible.
He jumped to the transfer point he'd made at the leonine camp to check on them. Nyahis was letting his senior wives talk to the Linnipese, and they were pretending to be in charge of the pride.
He jumped to Pridetaal. It had been transformed. Some team of wizards had gone through rebuilding things, cleaning things. It was sparsely populated, compared to what it had been, but it didn't look so dead.
He flew along the river and found the town Mekath and Senthel had been heading for. Talyn found their uncle, but not the girls. At this he did turn visible and talk to the soldiers occupying the town. Mekath and Senthel had arrived safely, but as orphans, they'd been made wards of the Linnipese Empire, and placed in a school across the sea - their uncle hadn't been judged a fit guardian.
"If he were married, it might have been allowed, but it's just not right for two girls to grow up in a house without an adult female presence," the soldier Talyn talked to explained. He didn't understand the ranks; she was something called an "imap" and that was apparently the lowest ranking a female soldier could have. "It's a very good school. It's sweet of you to be concerned, really. If you like, I can get you donation information for the school - they're a parochial public interest group..."
"No, thanks," Talyn said. "Did they want to go?"
"Oh, they were young girls. They'll get to decide where they want to go when they're sixteen," said the soldier. "If they'd like to live with their uncle for a bit after they reach majority, well, we won't stop them! But the schools we're setting up here don't have the capacity - it's good there are places back home that can take them."
"Right," said Talyn skeptically.
"Do you want that donation information?" she asked.
"I don't suppose I could go visit them?"
"I don't think so... it's a girls' school... They might have visitation days or something, but I don't know."
"No, I don't really want to give them money," Talyn said, turning around. He wondered how long Mekath's personality would last in a Linnipese school. Let alone Senthel's milder one. "Thanks for letting me know."
"No problem," the soldier said cheerfully. "We're trying to conduct this whole thing as gently as possible, and the international community's goodwill is really important to us. I'm glad you have friends here in Ryganaav. Maybe you can come back in a few years and watch the place bloom."
"Maybe," he echoed.
He flew back to Pridetaal as the sun set, and transferred home.