Chapter Twenty-Three: Colluding
Talyn contemplated assassination.
Unlike his home country of Restron, governed by elected councils with no single controller or figurehead, the Empire of Linnip had a corresponding Empress who wielded actual power. She had to be behind the attack on Ryganaav, which he'd grudgingly refrained from doing anything about. And she had to be behind the attack on Esmaar.
"Is that how wars are normally conducted on this planet?" he asked Leekath. "If this were Barashi every civilized country on the planet would be after Linnip's blood now. You can't just kill hundreds of civilians. That's a war crime. Why isn't anyone after Linnip for war crimes?"
"They didn't commit any war crimes. They'd declared war in advance, we didn't take the chance to parley because we thought they were bluffing, and we didn't present them a military target," Leekath said tiredly.
"So they can just slaughter most of a random town? Because Esmaar doesn't have a military?" Talyn exclaimed in outrage.
Leekath switched to propping her head up with her other hand. "It's more complicated than that, but basically, yeah. Otherwise anybody could disband their military and save a lot of money and expect everybody else to retaliate against any attackers so they'd still be protected, and meanwhile do anything nonmilitary they wanted. We did disband our army because we thought our wards would work - they did work, for hundreds of years. But when they didn't that's not a war crime on Linnip's part and nobody else is going to play police."
"This is the second country they've invaded in less than a year," Talyn said. "Isn't anyone else nervous?"
"Maybe. I don't know."
"What's to stop them going after Saraan next, or Mekand, or their ancestral enemy Ertydo -"
"All those countries do have armies," Leekath said. "Ryganaav was an easy target. So were we, once they invented that... thing they did to Aabalan. You saw how easy a target that made us. Nobody else is so easy. Maybe Erubia, since they don't have wizards. They've got a few mages though, not many since they can't tell who can be one but they have some accidental manifestations. And those could put up a fight."
"Esmaar's full of wizards! And mages and lights and sorcerers and witches! And kyma now, too!"
"We're not warriors -"
"Esmaar contains Keo," said Talyn.
Leekath coughed. She had this one memorized; she expected half the school to ask her when classes started up again. "Keopyga is a citizen of Esmaar, and Esmaar does not require military service of its citizens. She is not employed by the Esmaarlan government and is not beholden to it more than a typical resident. She is not a combat asset, a soldier, or a weapon. She is a resident."
Talyn stared at her.
"Someone did ask," Leekath said. "But we expected her to say no and she did say no. She lives here because she thought we'd never even want to ask."
"Is everyone from Esmaar this passive?" Talyn cried.
Leekath looked up at him from dark eyes. "It never bothered you before we were attacked."
"I'll take that as a yes," he said disgustedly.
Leekath looked away. "A regular war would've killed more people than the Aabalan attack, anyway -"
"Not civilians, not kids, maybe not as many innocent Esmaarlanik."
"You want to know how wars happen on Elcenia, take Recent History of Warfare for winter term, there's still time to sign up," Leekath said. "They can kill a lot of people. Including kids. And on all sides. Besides, if we threw together an army it'd be made of people who now are civilians. That wouldn't make it magically less sad if they died."
"At least I'm still allowed to go to school," Talyn snorted, "even though I've committed the deadly Aleist sin of keeping my genitals on the outside."
"I've been reading up on Linnip and I think it's only their public schools that don't take boys. Private schools are allowed if they want. Esmaar doesn't have public schools, so nothing should change about that. Except maybe teachers, later. And Keo and Aar Inular have to switch jobs on paper."
"Doesn't that bother you?"
"About Keo and Aar Inular in particular? No... it doesn't really matter, for them, does it?"
"Yes, of course it does -"
"Because you don't seem very bothered!" Talyn shouted.
"My aaihhhi was fired, he's in absolute hysterics, you think I don't care?" exclaimed Leekath.
"You're talking about how it doesn't matter that they're making Aar Inular step down as headmaster!"
"It doesn't, because he and Keo were already running everything jointly anyway and it doesn't matter whose name is down on the paperwork. But it'd matter in any other case!"
"It's the principle of it!"
"Sorry, I thought I was talking to the guy who gave a five-year-old back to her Ryganaavlan parents expecting her to grow up to be sold!"
"I had every intention of figuring out how to fix that country -"
"And instead you started a civil war and got way more than four hundred and forty-one people killed! And it took Linnip to stop it!"
Talyn turned away from her. "Just - why don't you understand? You should understand."
"What don't I understand?" she challenged.
"That Linnip is bad, that they're obviously trying to take over the world."
"You only like bad countries that want to take over the world when they're incompetent and favor your gender? If you went and lived undercover in Linnip for a week you don't think you'd come home saying they're not evil, Leekath, it's just that stupid religion?"
"What do you want me to do, dictate a new Eialei to the whoever's-in-charge-of-Aleism?" snapped Talyn.
"No! I want you to calm down!" Leekath shrilled.
"It's not my country that got conquered, why do I need to calm down instead of you needing to freak out?"
"Because there's nothing we can do," she said, breathing as though she'd been running for a long time. "There's nothing we can do about it at all."
"That's not true," said Talyn.
"This isn't like Ryganaav where you could run around doing whatever you wanted as long as you didn't run into a leonine who happened to be a mage," Leekath said. "Linnip is a developed country full of soldiers and all kinds of magic-users. Rhysel even helped them set up a kamai program in Peiza, I don't know if you were around then, you might have been in Ryganaav..."
Talyn spun around to stare at Leekath. "Rhysel let kyma teach in Linnip?"
"There and in Tava and Reverni and Rannde and Nirlan and Ertydo and Corenta and Petar, yes."
"But there's a general order out to all the Barashin kyma that they can't teach Elcenians without Rhysel's say-so. She could shut down Linnip's kamai program."
"I guess, but I don't think she has," Leekath said.
"She should." Talyn spun around and marched down the stairs.
"I'm not planning to shut down the University of Peiza's kamai program," Rhysel said.
Talyn opened his mouth.
"Yet," Rhysel said.
He closed it.
"That's the best way I have to get the attention of people in power in Linnip, and I can only use it once, maybe twice," said Rhysel. "It would also mostly affect students, not people who had anything to do with the invasion; I'm sure the Linnipese army is interested in kyma but they don't have any trained up to the point of usefulness yet. It's better to hold in reserve."
"Hold in reserve while you do what?" Talyn asked.
"Can you keep a secret?" Rhysel asked, smiling.
"Want to join my little rebellion?"
"Yes," Talyn said.
"Great. Is Leekath around? I'd like her in on it too," Rhysel said.
Talyn made a face. "I'll ask, but I'm not sure she'll go for it."
"Why not?" Rhysel asked.
"She seems to think I'm overreacting to her country being taken over," he said, rolling his eyes.
"That doesn't mean she wouldn't like a chance to do something about it," Rhysel said. "Anyway, I think we can trust her not to report us to the authorities even if she doesn't want to help."
Talyn supposed he'd trust her that far; Leekath didn't seem to be pro-Empire so much as vaguely defeated. "I'll ask," he said, and he went back up the stairs.
"What's she going to do, exactly?" Leekath wanted to know first.
"Don't know, she was shielding. You are too, why? She does it all the time but not you..."
"I don't like it when you read me when you're angry," she said. "I'll go down and ask, I guess."
Talyn wanted to ask her what she meant by that - what did he do when he was angry that made her want him out of her mind? - but he put it aside for later and followed Leekath downstairs to speak to Rhysel.
"I don't know yet," Rhysel said frankly, when Leekath asked her what the plan was. "It'll depend on whose talents I can draw on and what Linnip does. Aar Camlenn doesn't want me to do anything in person besides planning sorts of things, because I'm pregnant -"
"Again?" Talyn asked.
"The twins were born a year ago," Rhysel said. "I don't think it's terribly soon. I'm also a little concerned about how to keep a rebellion quiet. I trust you both, and everyone else I hope to ask, and of course Aar Camlenn, but if Linnipese authorities can just walk around with lie-detection spells on at all times..."
"They can have the spells on," Leekath said, "but Linnip has really strong personal privacy laws, and they apply to subjects, not just citizens. They need a lot of evidence to scry inside a private residence, or oblige you to answer even a basic question. If we all just say 'I claim my Sixteenth Resolution rights' whenever a Linnipese officer asks us anything they'll think we're annoying but they won't be able to find out anything else."
"That's excellent," said Rhysel, "assuming they obey the Sixteenth Resolution."
"They have a good record," Leekath said. "I think there were two violations all last year and both cops who created them were fired."
"Are me and Rhysel subjects?" Talyn asked. "Since we're not Esmaarlan?"
"Rhysel got her citizenship, so she is," Leekath said. "I'm not sure about you. You might be a guest of the empire or something instead."
"Can you find that out for us, Leekath?" Rhysel asked.
"I'll see if my brother-in-law who works for a newspaper can make it public knowledge that the Sixteenth Resolution is in operation," Rhysel said. "Don't want to stick out for using it. And I need to ask Korulen, and Keo -"
"I don't think Keo will help," Leekath said softly.
"I'm going to ask her anyway," Rhysel said. "And some other folks. Talyn, would you ask Kaylo for me? I think you get along with him better than I do."
"All right," Talyn said.
"And if either of you think of anyone else who might like to be involved, let me know," said Rhysel.
"Okay," Leekath said. "What are you going to name your baby?"
Rhysel glanced at Talyn. "Reven," she said.
Talyn swallowed. "That's a good name," he said.
"I think so too," Rhysel said.
"Do you happen to know if you and I count as subjects or as guests?" Talyn asked Kaylo.
"No idea about you. I got Esmaarlan citizenship," said Kaylo.
"Why?" Talyn asked.
"Because it made me ineligible for the foreign student scholarship my aunt made me apply for," Kaylo said.
"Have I mentioned I don't like my aunt?"
"I'm sure this library has some book on Linnipese law. I don't know why, but I'm not going to complain about their policies on obscure books when I was able to find a copy of Tenth Millennium Superstitions in Eastern Anaist on my first try."
"Why did you need that?" Talyn asked.
"It's a long story."
Talyn got up and hunted through the stacks for a book on Linnipese law. When he'd laid hands on a plausible one he plunked it down near Kaylo. <Need a word about something private,> he said. Talyn flipped to the table of contents and found an item marked Nobility, Citizens, Subjects, Guests, Opponents, Outsiders, Convicts, and Other Statuses.
<What?> Kaylo asked, looking every bit as absorbed in his book of superstitions as before.
Talyn turned pages slowly. <What do you think of Linnip?>
<They did some good in Ryganaav, massacred some folks in Aabalan, and are pretty sexist so I'll probably move when I'm out of school. They'd be more inconvenient to deal with if my legal guardian weren't female. Why?>
<So you don't approve of them taking over Esmaar?>
<Nah, but the odds of me getting to age two millennia and change without ever living in a country while it's conquered were always negligible, and this one wasn't that bad. My dad used to live in Egeria, before the collapse, and he had so many stories about the revolution. It's something that he got out alive. Most wars have been way messier than this.>
<That's kind of... trivializing.>
<You're going to live for centuries, were you expecting they'd all be peaceful ones?>
<I hadn't actually thought about it,> Talyn confessed. <But even if they're not that doesn't mean I should treat it as routine.>
<Fair enough. Why is this private? I don't think we're defaming the royal family.>
<I may start at any moment.>
Kaylo sent the mental equivalent of a shrug. <Can't scare me.>
<So are you planning to make it to two millennia and change without ever participating in a rebellion?>
<I was sort of hoping to spend most of my time on research. Are you going to do something stupid? Linnip isn't like ->
<Like Ryganaav, they're a developed country, I know,> Talyn said.
<Are you going to do something stupid?> Kaylo asked. <Or do you just want me to do something weird like figure out how to de-power a light?>
<I don't know yet what I want you to do. I want to know if you're available for me to want things from.>
<I don't plan on moving now. And I'm not going to inform on you to the Linnipese.>
<So if I want something it's safe and possible to ask, is that the idea?>
<Yep. Provided it's interesting enough to be worth my time.>
<Good to know.>
Rhysel wanted to build a citadel.
"We should have a strongly protected base of operations that isn't someone's personal residence," she said. "Narax is willing to cast wards of all sorts on it - but we still don't know what happened to Aabalan or how to stop it, so we'll also have to hide the place."
"Hide it where?" Talyn asked.
"Did you find out if you count as a subject?" Rhysel asked. "Or if the Sixteenth Resolution applies to 'guests'? My brother-in-law is going to run an article on all twenty-two Resolutions, by the way, so we shouldn't stand out overmuch by claiming the Sixteenth regularly."
"I count as a subject as long as I live here," Talyn said, disgruntled. The Resolutions didn't apply to mere guests who fell under any suspicion, unless they had diplomatic immunity, which Talyn did not. So it was technically good that the Empire counted him as being one of theirs. That didn't mean it didn't rankle.
"That's good," Rhysel said, ignoring his discomfort either politely or obliviously. "So it'll be safe for you to help me build the citadel."
"Where will you put it?"
"Deep under wolfrider territory. A random spot, miles down," Rhysel said. "I think that should be obscure and inaccessible enough. If you don't mind, I'm not going to tell anyone except Aar Camlenn where it is. We're going to fill up a power box and make a transfer point in a bubble underground, and you and everyone else can come in that way to finish the citadel without knowing more about the location."
"Makes sense to me," said Talyn. "How are we designing it?"
"I'm getting Eryn's help on that," said Rhysel. "She's better at designing things in general, even though she doesn't have the skills to help us with the actual building. You can talk to her if you want input on it."
Talyn didn't, really, he'd only been curious. "Do you want me to help build it?"
"If you don't mind. It's going to be a little bigger than my tower."
"I don't mind," said Talyn.
After Eryn's vision of the tower had been carved out of the ground - three wide floors of dormitories and storerooms and conference chambers and pointless halls better suited for revolutions ten times more formal - Narax came in to cast spells.
Talyn watched the dragon wizard at work, interested in the advanced magic. He wasn't near being as good a wizard as he was a kama, and probably never would be - there was no innate-equivalent for wizards, and if there had been, he wouldn't be one. But he liked it anyway.
"What was that one?" Talyn asked between spells.
"Another anti-scrying ward. There's six on my list," Narax said. "They won't interfere with each other, so it can't hurt to be redundant."
"What's that?" Talyn asked, a few spells later.
"Anti-teleportation, one-way. We can teleport out of the citadel, but no one can teleport in, except into a little alcove outside all of the barrier-to-entry spells. And that alcove is warded against teleporting away. If you teleport in there and you aren't keyed to all the entry barriers, you're stuck till someone keyed to the wards lets you out. When I get to spell number thirty-one you won't even be able to dig in or out. Not even if you're an earth mage - one of those can move around the rock and earth no matter what I do, but can't move him or herself past a ward more than anyone else can."
"What if a smart earth mage goes after us," Talyn said, "and moves the entire citadel by cutting out the rock around it so it falls?"
"If the citadel is destroyed, the wards break, but it's still retroactively covered by the anti-scries against investigations into the past," said Narax. "If it's just moved, most of them will move with it as long as it's intact. I'd have to recast a couple of things, including the anti-teleportation part."
"Is there a precaution like the teleportation one about using the transfer point?" asked Talyn.
"No anti-transferring wards exist," Narax said. "At least so far. I wouldn't know where to start on one; I'm not a kama."
"Maybe I'll ask Kaylo," Talyn said.
"Sure," Narax said. "And before you ask, this..." He cast another spell. "Is an anti-gap defense."
"I've never heard of that," Talyn said.
"If someone were ridiculously determined to find this place, they could just scry at every piece of the world one by one, maybe with a large team dividing up the work, and eventually find all the places they couldn't see, and then go in and check them out in person. But since this particular part of the underground was basically featureless before you and Rhysel did your architecture, I can just make it look like the next bit of rock to the left."
"Doesn't that not make sense with the anti-scries?"
"It supersedes two of them. Anti-gaps are easy to get around if you know that's what you're dealing with, and then we'll depend on the basic anti-scries to keep the details invisible. The others are against things like event scrying and person scrying which don't interact with the kind of manual search the anti-gap is for."
"This is really complicated," objected Talyn.
"Yep," said Narax, cheerful, and Talyn didn't ask what the next spell was for.
After Narax left, Talyn made his own circuit through the citadel, alone, adding things that his ostensible Master didn't know he knew. And wouldn't be able to find, so he wouldn't have to deal with any awkward questions.
Layered curses on doors, which would strike anyone who wandered the citadel with ill intent. A trap in the transfer point, which would attack anyone who didn't know where they were going when they went, if they'd just pulled the signature from a rebel's mind. Little decorative flourishes here and there, not superseding Eryn's aesthetic judgments but adding his own touch. He didn't live in the citadel, yet, but it was set up to allow habitation.
And in a solid piece of rock, next to the stairwell and not used in the design but contained within all of Narax's wards, Talyn made a little compartment. He sealed it back up, with no seam or door or anything to suggest that it was there. It would have to be opened by kamai if he wanted it open again.
He had nothing to put in it, yet, but he might want it later.
When Talyn transferred back to Rhysel's tower, Rhysel was sitting dejectedly at the kitchen table, with her husband beside her holding onto her hand.
"What's wrong?" Talyn asked.
"I'm wondering if this was a good idea," Rhysel said.
<If what was?> Talyn asked, though he thought he knew the answer and that was why he switched to mindspeech.
<The rebellion. So far, the only native Esmaarlanik who'll help are Leekath and Aar Camlenn.> She squeezed her husband's hand. <Korulen turned me down. Korulen.>
<Does she take after her mom?> Talyn asked.
<I didn't think so.> Rhysel sighed. <I understand Keo's position. She's reasonably well-known, so the Linnipese could easily suspect her of being involved and I know she'd like to be able to deny it under lie-detection. And she has ethical conflicts about doing anything significant with her powers. But I don't understand about Korulen.>
<Do you want me to talk to her?> Talyn asked. Rhysel looked at him, and he amended, <Get Kaylo to talk to her, I mean?> He wasn't really close enough to Korulen to have a better shot than Rhysel.
<I don't know,> sighed Rhysel.
<Well, then I'll decide,> retorted Talyn. <I'll talk to Kaylo about her tomorrow.>
<All right.> But Rhysel looked defeated. Korulen must have done more than turn her down. Or Rhysel was addled in the brain from being pregnant, maybe, Talyn didn't know.
He went upstairs to find Leekath holding a silent music crystal and sitting on his bed. "Hey," he said. "Hungry?"
Leekath nodded, and at his wide-armed invitation, clung to him and bit.
Her shields dropped away and he listened to the welcome storm of shrieks in her mind while she fed.