Chapter Twenty-Four: Planning
"Did you ask Rhysel how she went about inviting Korulen into this little rebellion?" Kaylo asked, when Talyn brought his friend to the citadel to show it off and ask Kaylo about what was going on in Korulen's head.
"Uh, no," Talyn said. He was still not in the habit of asking questions like that. When he wanted to know something from a shielded person, he'd ask, but he was too accustomed to taking utterances-plus-thoughts at face value to become much more curious when the thoughts were inaudible. "Why? Did she botch it terribly?"
"Yeah, kind of. She had no idea what she wanted Korulen to do. She was trying to get Korulen to commit sight unseen to some nonspecific rebel action. And when Korulen was like 'well, I can't say yes to something that I don't know what it is' Rhysel acted like a toddler whose little sister didn't want to be her friend anymore."
"Well, we don't know what we're going to do at all," Talyn said. "We're just sort of assembling. How could Rhysel answer Korulen's question when she didn't know the answer?"
"It's not that she didn't know the answer, it's that she wanted Korulen's commitment without it," Kaylo said. "You just wanted to know that I wasn't going to rat you out and was available to be asked stuff. Rhysel was all about how if she couldn't trust Korulen completely to do what the rebellion needed, whatever that was, then that was bad."
"That really doesn't sound like something Rhysel would say," Talyn said.
"I'm open to the possibility that it was just a misunderstanding," shrugged Kaylo, "but Korulen said she tried several times to clarify and Rhysel seemed to mean what Korulen thought she meant."
"Ooookay," said Talyn. "I'll talk to Rhysel. Can you see if you can get Korulen to believe that it was probably some miscommunication? Even if we don't know what kind yet?"
"I'll do what I can," Kaylo said. "Korulen's kind of freaked out now though. She thinks Rhysel hates her now because she won't dedicate her life to Rhysel's nebulous cause on Rhysel's say-so."
"I'm sure Rhysel doesn't hate her," Talyn said. "Rhysel pretty much divides the world into friends and enemies and people she hasn't met yet, and Korulen definitely hasn't done anything to move into the enemy category unless she, I don't know, tried to strangle one of the twins."
Kaylo looked like he was trying to picture Korulen strangling a baby, but then shook his head. "Well, we'll see."
Talyn went to the citadel transfer point and hopped back to Rhysel's tower. "Rhysel," he said, finding her alone in the kitchen chopping strawberries, "what exactly did you say to Korulen?"
"I don't remember my exact words," Rhysel said. <But she seemed to think that agreeing to be in the rebellion meant that I'd ask her to do awful things and she wouldn't be able to refuse. I can't understand how she'd think that of me.>
Talyn clonked his head on the table. <Did you tell her that you would not ask anything awful of her?>
<I told her she ought to know me well enough to trust me.>
<I don't know Korulen as well as you do - well, but maybe I do, come to think of it, even if half of it's from listening to Kaylo. She is skittish. I mean, when she gets her teeth into something and feels basically safe around the people she has to fight with to get what she wants, she's stubborn too, but rebellions aren't safe. So she'll argue with Kaylo about trolls because Kaylo's not going to do a thing to her. But she won't swear undying loyalty to a vague cause because a vague cause absolutely might do harm.>
<I wouldn't send Korulen into unnecessary danger!>
<Yeah, but apparently you didn't tell her that,> Talyn said, rolling his eyes.
Rhysel sighed and looked away. <If one of the people I was most sure of can't even trust me that far, maybe this won't work after all. Maybe the Esmaarlanik would rather I don't try to do anything. Maybe I should ask Tekaal, I mean Aar Camlenn, again if he's willing to move somewhere...>
<You know what, if Korulen misunderstanding you because you spooked her with unclear expectations is this discouraging maybe you shouldn't lead a rebellion,> Talyn snapped, forgetting for a moment that he was addressing his Master.
For all that she usually acted like a permissive elder sister willing to let him crash at her place rent-free in exchange for intermittent chores, she didn't have to be that way. He was obliged to obey and respect her until the apprenticeship ended, and she really had enough to justify declaring him a Journeyman and kicking him out at any time.
Rhysel didn't react angrily, though. <Maybe I'm not cut out for this,> she agreed.
<Look, no,> Talyn said. <Mishap with Korulen aside - and I'm sure you can smooth it out - who else could do it? The natives wouldn't know where to start, I'm a kid and no one listens to me, you've got better contacts than just about anyone I can think of, you can shut down Peiza's kamai program whenever you want, and you're probably not going to go mad with power.>
Rhysel sighed. <We'll see what Korulen says.>
Great. The rebellion depended on a freaked-out adolescent deciding to make up with her teacher.
Kaylo got Korulen to come around, and Korulen came for dinner to have a quiet and awkward conversation about how Korulen didn't have to take on any assignments she wasn't comfortable with. Talyn did a double-take at her green hair; he still wasn't used to it even after five months, and was not sure he bought the story that Arimal had transformed Korulen and her father into dragons just because Keo was her "friend". Gods didn't have friends. But he'd never been able to learn a different explanation.
Korulen-the-dragon wanted to know what assignments there were to be had.
<I think our first priority has to be figuring out what they did to Aabalan,> Talyn piped up.
<Well, somebody past-scried the thing, but it was invisible,> Korulen said. <If there was even a thing. It could have been some long-range spell and then we have no idea where we'd need to look.>
<The Linnipese know, at least some of them,> sent Rhysel.
<What are we going to do,> Korulen asked, <shapeshift into soldiers and wander into their headquarters and ask to be reminded of things?>
<Maybe shapeshifting,> Rhysel sent. <But probably not asking. Mind kamai.>
<That makes more sense,> Korulen admitted.
<I want a little longer to collect recruits, and then we'll call a big meeting in the citadel and solicit volunteers,> Rhysel said. <It'll be dangerous, and I can't go.>
<I'll go,> Talyn said cheerfully.
<You'll have to disguise yourself as a woman,> Korulen pointed out.
<Enh. It's for a good cause,> said Talyn, but he made a face. <I can always change back after I'm done.>
Rhysel collected her rebels. A lot of them were students; Talyn wondered how much luck she'd have had if Binaaralav wasn't on a break. Others included about two-thirds of the Binaaralav kamai teaching staff, Narax, and a guy whose thoughts identified him as Aar Camlenn's brother Ahin.
"What brings you here?" Talyn asked the last of those. If Rhysel had gone recruiting among Aar Camlenn's relatives in general he'd have expected a lot more of them.
"They took my daughter," said Ahin in a soft and dangerous voice.
"Oh." Talyn sat back, trying to block out the poisonous levels of anger emanating from the elf.
"And I'm a witch, so I may be able to help," Ahin added.
"Right," said Talyn. Those two facts explained his presence, and Talyn didn't really want to look at more replayed memories of soldiers leading a girl to a waiting woman Ahin apparently hated with a passion. Talyn scooted away.
He wound up next to Leekath after a little more maneuvering. Leekath had Emryl on her other side. Emryl had just completed her elementalism apprenticeship and reapprenticed as a mind kama under her uncle Corvan, which, since he spent a lot of his time teaching in Binaaralav, meant that she too had some familiarity with the place.
Corvan maintained his tower in Barashi during vacations - such as the current month - but had been living as roommates with another kamai teacher Talyn didn't know well during school terms. That meant that he and Emryl both lived in Esmaar more time than they didn't, and counted as Linnipese subjects. Corvan was sour about this, but it was essential to his ability to safely participate, and Emryl's. He sat on Emryl's other side.
Kaylo, across the table from Talyn, waved.
Korulen, beside her boyfriend, was chatting quietly to her friends Lutan and Kaarilel. Talyn only knew Kaarilel from the girl's own thoughts; she was a wizarding student, having dropped kamai soon after picking it up, so she couldn't shield.
Talyn had tutored most of the kids there. He could remember the halfling kid, Ngen, struggling with wood-shaping. The wolfrider pair, Mata and Tama, were talented but exhibited shocking naivete about some things. Kutran, despite the arm of her best-friend-why-the-hell-weren't-they-dating Soraak around her shoulders, was shaking like a leaf.
What a rebellion they had assembled.
At least it had Talyn himself.
Rhysel was flipping through a sheaf of papers.
"Is that an agenda?" asked Lil, Lutan's girlfriend, who was sitting next to Lutan. Half in Lutan's lap, actually. "We have an agenda?"
"It's sort of an agenda," said Rhysel. "It's more like a list, of priorities and ideas. We can add to it as we go. First on the list, we need to figure out how to get information about what the Linnipese did to Aabalan."
Talyn listened with half an ear to the subsequent discussion, but no one had any better ideas than going to Linnip in disguise and trying mind kamai on soldiers.
"The Linnipese do know that kamai exists, and that they were invading a country that had some kyma," said Korulen. "What if they have everyone shielded against mindreading somehow? A spell we don't know, or kamai tools on everyone, or...?"
"I can break through a shield if I try," said Talyn. "But it's pretty easy to tell I've done it."
"So if they have defenses against mindreading, we can't subtly get through them," Rhysel said.
"Kidnap someone, bring them here, bust through shields unsubtly?" asked Lutan.
"They'll be noticed missing. I think it's to our advantage to be unnoticed as long as possible," said Rhysel.
"Impersonate the soldier, send the impersonator in for long-term undercover work, and then either fake their death or let them disappear depending on whether we still need to be undercover when the impersonation's lost its value," said Talyn.
There was some quibbling over the details, but after five degrees of talking it over, no one had a crippling flaw or a better competing idea.
"We should send a pair, so they can watch each other's backs and help each other out," Rhysel said.
"I'll go," Talyn said.
"Does the disguise have to be shapeshifting," asked Leekath, "or can it be image kamai?"
"I think the military headquarters are more likely to have illusion-busting wizardry than shapeshifting countermeasures," said Lutan. "And a lot of anti-illusion spells work on image kamai just fine."
Leekath shivered. "I don't like being turned into anything with a heartbeat," she said.
"Who wants to come with me, then?" Talyn asked.
"Anyone who volunteers can get shapeshifting knowledge directly taught via kamai," Rhysel added when there was a silence. "This is important enough to break the usual rule about learning things oneself."
"I'll go," said Emryl, raising her hand.
"Cool," said Talyn, and he reached around Leekath to touch Emryl's forehead.
Emryl got up, smiled, and spun around, turning freckled and redheaded as she did. "How do I look?" she asked.
"You have the colors right," said Korulen, "but the clothes are off. And you might want to change your face - have you seen many Linnipese people up close?"
"Here," said Lutan, conjuring up an illusion of a soldier she'd seen around somewhere. "Take her nose, and the shape of her eyes, but make them green instead, and her bottom lip but keep your top one, and point your chin a little. And you forgot your eyelashes - they're still black. That's not unheard of but it'd make you striking and you don't wanna be striking. Lighten 'em to reddish brown."
Emryl made the requested changes, and soon resembled a rather generic young Linnipese woman. "Anything else?"
"Costume, obviously," said Ngen. "You need either a soldier's uniform, or one of those ridiculous outfits civilians wear."
"The latter, I think," said Korulen. "You don't want to have to be able to identify yourself as a particular soldier until you're, well, trying to identify yourself as a particular soldier."
"Lutan, whip up a face for me?" Talyn asked.
Lutan produced another illusion, and instead of making verbal alterations, changed the image itself until it suited her. "Be that," she said.
Talyn frowned at the woman's image, but shapeshifted into the curly-haired, blue-eyed Linnipese woman with the excessively pink cheeks that Lutan provided for him. It felt weird, although admittedly not as weird as being a bat. His clothes didn't fit the shape either. "Like so?" he asked in a higher, smoother voice.
"Like so," agreed Lutan. "You'll look very nondescript in the streets of Peiza."
"Except you need costumes," Ngen said.
"I have an excuse to visit Peiza, to check in on the kamai program," Rhysel said. "I'll load up on clothes while I'm there, pretend I just think they're pretty or that I don't want to stand out. And you can both shapeshift into sizes that will match me so I can get things that fit instead of having to invent a niece old enough."
Talyn and Emryl, shifting back to their normal shapes simultaneously, nodded.
"In case something happens -"
"Don't let anything happen," Leekath hissed in Talyn's ear.
They were in the stairwell, alone, and he touched her face and kissed her. <I won't. But if not this time, maybe later, this is going to be dangerous. I can do a whole lot but maybe not fast. So before me and Emryl leave tomorrow, I'm going to leave some blood here.> He touched the wall of the secret compartment. <Preserved. You can unpreserve it and take a drop at a time and expand it and represerve the rest. Even though you can't expand a given drop more than once it should still last a long time.>
<It won't need to last a long time,> Leekath sent.
<Right, I'll be careful. I promise. But I might have to go on an extended mission sometime, and we don't want to let on to anyone, do we?>
<I guess,> Leekath agreed. <In here?> She opened a little tunnel into the compartment and squeaked into it, echolocating its shape, then closed it again.
<I'll put it in after you eat tonight and do the replenishment working, and I'll be fine by morning,> Talyn said.
"I wonder if anyone will notice that we're in the clothes Rhysel just bought yesterday," Emryl said, shimmying her foot into a stocking. "It's the sort of thing that would be important in a mystery novel."
"Only if we were the bad guys," Talyn said. He wasn't that modest to begin with, and in his borrowed pink-cheeked girl's form he didn't care at all that he and Emryl were sharing a changing room. "We aren't going to be there long, and we aren't going to do anything suspicious in these outfits. Do you speak Ertydon?"
"Of course. I wouldn't've volunteered if I didn't," Emryl said. "I picked it up as practice when I got to workings that help with learning languages. I didn't learn it in Linnip, though, I went to Ertydo for a little while to give Uncle Corvan a break from me while he was teaching classes."
"You'll have an accent, then," Talyn said.
Emryl coughed and said in Ertydon, "Do I sound at all Linnipese?"
"Maybe," Talyn said dubiously. "Try not to talk too much."
"Sure. Have we got names, if we need names?"
"Call me Sah, it's a nickname for like ten different things," Talyn said. "You can be Lai, same reason. Mindspeak improvisations if we need last names or full forenames but we probably won't even need the nicknames."
"Sure," Emryl said agreeably.
They finished getting into their excessive outfits. Linnipese clothes were complicated and everything clashed with everything else; Talyn felt like a clown in leggings and drapey pants and three layers of shirt and vest and a floppy hat and dozens upon dozens of bracelets. They were every color and every one bore the stamp or woven texture of a different obscure symbol.
Emryl was shapeshifting holes into her ears to add ear jewelry. "They really go overboard, don't they," she commented.
"After this trip we shouldn't need to wear anything more embarrassing than soldier uniforms," Talyn said. "And those don't, not so much."
Emryl finished adding earrings - not a single pair of them matched - and then stuck a comb into her hair and sat on a chair she drew up from the citadel floor. "Are you almost done?"
"Do I need to do something with my hair too?" Talyn asked with trepidation, touching red curls.
"It looks fine down," Emryl said. "Don't make such a face."
Talyn looked down at himself, made a face, and sighed. "Shall we?"
"You'll turn us invisible, we transfer to Peiza, we find someplace to hide and turn visible," recited Emryl, going out of the dressing room with him, "we make our way to the Shield, and we spiral outward till we find a rimei or a laina out in civilian territory and kidnap her." The Shield was the informal name of the military headquarters in Peiza, a big round campus dotted with round buildings and absolutely smothered in wards.
"Yep," said Talyn, dropping illusion over himself and Emryl. The University of Peiza, where their transfer point was, certainly wouldn't have anti-illusion spells around; that would annoy their wizardry students, as well as kyma-in-training. "Let me do all the work and all the talking unless something unexpected happens."
"Not going to argue with you there," Emryl said.
They stepped onto the transfer point and went.
Linnipese architecture was not unlike Linnipese fashion. The University looked like ornaments and filigree and colored glass were some sort of swarming insect, temporarily pausing in their path as they crawled over the swooping buildings. It was blinding, but no one could see through the invisibility to watch Talyn reel.
<Over there,> Emryl said, mentally indicating a spot between two carved columns painted with the Ertydon word for knowledge and book respectively. Empty stairs on one side and a corkboard with flyers about concerts and club meetings would cover their appearance; it was a good spot.
<Yeah.> They got there, only stepping on each other's feet a few times, by a path that didn't take them over the lawns that would mark their passage. Talyn un-invisibled them.
<You know the way?> Emryl asked. <I looked at a map, but...>
<Just follow me,> Talyn replied. He'd only looked at a map, too, but the thoughts around them were good for course-checking, and the streets were only labeled at about a third of the intersections.
They didn't have a prayer of getting into the Shield itself, but the soldiers left, all the time. As they got closer the pedestrians were more thickly composed of uniformed women, occasionally men.
Talyn didn't have to listen to thoughts for ranks; he could count stripes and dots on sleeves just fine. He wanted someone with at least three stripes. Four would be better, but he was pretty sure there were only six or seven of those.
Emryl followed at his heels, looking around, gawking like she was from rural Omiria and had never seen a city like Peiza; it was a reasonable cover and he tried to copy her.
After an angle of wandering, Talyn decided to abandon the strategy of strolling around on the streets. <In here,> he said, pushing into a bar that catered to soldiers, but not exclusively.
<Tell me we're not getting drunk undercover in enemy territory,> Emryl said.
<Order us both, uh,> Talyn pulled the most popular nonalcoholic drink order from the surrounding minds, so as not to stand out. <Grape juice with cloves. Talk slow like you haven't totally decided what you want, it'll hide your accent. There's a rimei and her assistant in that corner. I'll get us seats. We'll sit here a bit drinking our juice and after we're about done I'll suggest that they need the bathroom and we can go in after them and grab them.>
<Then you teleport us all to the citadel?>
<Yep.> Talyn was glad he was licensed for an arbitrary number of passengers - not that he'd really care about the license per se, but at least he knew for a fact he had body memory to go with knowledge he'd lifted from his girlfriend.
<And nobody notices we never come out?> Emryl asked.
<In here? Not likely. The rimei and her aide have a long-term tab, the bartender's not going to charge out into the street yelling for 'em. You pay for our juice up front, though.>
There were coins in their pockets, so Emryl went ahead and bought them two grape juices with cloves while Talyn got them a couple of chairs near the target. Liria Meialek-rimei and her aide Annei Nepailah-eian. Desk jobs, he read, but Meialek-rimei had been deployed before, if you could call it that when she'd guarded the Embreyaean embassy.
The juice was pretty tasty.
Talyn drank slowly, reading the rimei and eian until his juice and Emryl's were nearly gone.
You might need to duck into the restroom, he whispered to the soldiers' unconscious minds.
"I'll be right back," said Nepailah-eian, hopping to her feet.
"Here I was about to ask you to watch our drinks," said Meialek-rimei, also getting up.
"They're nearly gone anyway," said the aide.
And in they went.
Talyn caught Emryl's eye, and they waited a beat, two, and got up to follow.
His heart was pounding in his chest, but it wasn't like anyone could hear it.
He pretended to wash his hands; Emryl followed his lead.
And when the rimei and eian came toward the sinks, Talyn double-checked for witnesses, sent the both of them into standing-sleep, and then collected three hands and teleported.