Chapter Twenty-Seven: Capturing
Leekath peered at the writing on the IOU ticket. "Why do you need one of these for the shields, if they're so perfectly unable to tolerate debt?"
"So the one who sold us the shields can find us in his records. Usually it's all on the machines but obviously we didn't have any, so it wrote it down," Talyn said. "We'd have just brought home the shields but they don't keep them in stock. We'll go back in a week for them; Rhysel got permission to make another trip and told the circle guard people that she bought 'sculptures'. We got enough to cover all the population centers in Esmaar. And I got Kaylo some textbooks on Isateian physics so maybe he can figure out regular magic wards that do the same thing and we can cover more ground that way, but he's more confused than I've ever seen him, even though he can read the darn things without help."
"How did you buy them? That dragon girl can't have had that much money to trade Rhysel," said Leekath.
Talyn yawned. "We made the guy a bunch of stuff. They can make things really cheap there with their machines, but not to the point where gems and so on are worthless, and not to the point of duplicating magic things. Most magic things. We couldn't figure out how to make some mind kamai items work with the Isateians but Rhysel made a couple of golems, I think it's going to sell them, and I made some illusion crystals, probably also going to be sold."
"This all seems really traceable," Leekath said nervously.
"Yeah," Talyn admitted. "The Isateians won't volunteer the information, because we paid them not to, but there's always scrying and so on. From Isatei's end they seem to have a purely economic trading relationship with Linnip, and Linnip just happens to control the access to the world. I bet some Linnipese people just went in and paid for their bomb the same way we went in and paid for our shields. Isatei isn't really Linnip's friend and won't volunteer the information even if someone we couldn't pay knows what happened. So Linnip needs a reason to be suspicious first. But Zinc could tip them off even if the tour guide and the shield person can't, or they could just want to know about Rhysel way more than we think they do and follow up on everything we did while we were there, or something. It is risky."
"Maybe you should've made a separate trip. I don't know all that much about summoning spells, but there's probably some obscure one that you could've cast after you'd looked at one of the Isateians, or gone to the world and done perfectly non-suspicious things," Leekath said.
"We weren't sure if there was such a thing when we went," Talyn said, "and our visit was scheduled suddenly so we couldn't wait for someone to look it up, and if there hadn't been we might not have had a chance to go back. I asked Kaylo after, and he said that I couldn't do it because Barashi is technically my homeworld and that'd foul the spells that work that way, but maybe Rhysel could because she's got hers reset to Elcenia, but she's not that good a wizard and there are complex intentional components so maybe she couldn't, and then he started signing angrily at his physics textbook and I left before asking him whether it made sense to reset my homeworld."
"Besides, the Linnipese specifically said that unauthorized contact with Isatei would get us in trouble with them, and we don't know what kind of monitoring they have set up to look into that," Talyn said. "Kaylo's never even heard of a spell to look out for transworld traffic, but I don't think they'd be this casual about it if they didn't have anything of the kind."
"What's the world like?" Leekath asked.
"You'd hate it," Talyn said. "It'd be too windy for you to fly without kamai, and you couldn't echolocate over the noise, and it's bright and sunny and your sunscreen spell wouldn't work and I think if you walked outside with your suncloak on the hood wouldn't stay over your face and the whole thing might catch enough wind to blow you away."
"Lovely," remarked Leekath. "So we'll have shields in a week?"
"Yeah, and we need places to put them. We got them so they work by being in the sun and will still work at night - that cost us two extra golems and and a crystal - and the person who sold them thinks Elcenia's sun will work just fine, but it means they need to be aboveground and not in shadow. Ideally invisible and placed by someone under personal anti-scry and covered in wards so they're hard to find or disable. Narax is going to handle the wards, and we'll all help out with placement. Rhysel's taking a bunch of students on a between-semesters transfer point making field trip once we know where the things need to go."
"Put them on roofs?" Leekath asked. "How big are they?"
"You can pick 'em up and carry 'em around. Roofs, yeah, is what we were thinking," Talyn said. "Each'll cover a big radius, but in circles - spheres really - so we need to overlap some to cover the whole country. We bought forty, we think we only need thirty."
Leekath called up an illusion map of Esmaar, and Talyn started poking spots on it, overlaying illusions of circles. "Wait," he said. "What's the scale?"
She added a scale line and he adjusted the circles and rearranged them. "Thirty-two," he said. "If we leave this chunk here undefended."
"Empty desert," said Leekath. "Cactuses and maybe three crazy campers. It's the sort of place you'd clear out to safely test a weapon."
"That's all right then," Talyn said. "They won't even know it's uncovered, anyway."
"Let me get a better map and figure out what towns these spots are in, and then we can tell Rhysel," Leekath said.
The revolution was not well-organized. People fell into roles - Lutan whipped up disguises, Kaylo (with Korulen's assistance) did the magical innovation, Narax did the heavy spellcasting. Leekath had found herself the local legal expert, and while she knew something about Esmaarlan law, Linnipese was another matter. So she studied, relying on hhikiiias to translate books from Ertydon into vampire for her. People asked her questions about the Resolutions and the privileged status of Aleism relative to other religions and about how noble families were supposed to work. Half the time this was only for their own curiosity: the rebellion was proceeding in fits and starts and there wasn't much for some of the recruits to do when they showed up at the citadel.
Leekath helped put down the "radiation shields", which chattered about themselves to her in bewildering fifteen-word strings of attempts to render their features into her language. They talked about particles and charge and dampening fields and how they were powered by sunshine. They promised, when asked, that no one would die of what they were supposed to protect against. That was good enough for her. Hhikiiias never lied.
The day after the shields were placed, Emryl didn't come back from her impersonation of Liria Meialek.
She didn't call to warn everyone that Liria's family had demanded her presence or her commanding officer had called an emergency meeting. She just didn't come back at at all.
Kaarilel was home, so if her cover had been compromised too, at least they didn't have her in their possession.
"Can they trace her communication crystal to our end?" Soraak asked everyone who had turned up to the meeting. At the other end of the room, Corvan paced.
"They could," Kaylo said, at the same time as Leekath said, "No."
"What?" Kaylo asked her. "As long as we're under the anti-scries, sure, but -"
"The other end of our crystal to her is dead," Leekath said. "This one doesn't have a mate anymore. She had enough warning to crush it, maybe, or they did."
Everyone was staring at her, but she wasn't going to let idiot notions about her being mentally ill endanger Emryl. "It said so, and if anyone's going to give me a hard time about having heard it say so, why don't we wait two degrees for Kaylo to come up with a good test you'll all agree to believe and then move on? Emryl's in trouble. Corvan, I need a hair or something of hers - something from her hairbrush will be fine."
<Very well,> said Emryl's uncle, and he stalked briskly towards the transfer point and disappeared.
"What exactly are you claiming?" Kaylo asked. "I need a precise hypothesis to exhaustively test -"
"Oh for the love of God," Leekath said, looking at the ceiling, "look, I'll turn around, somebody can hold my hands so I can't cast anything and most of you could tell if I were doing any kamai, and then you can write something down on a sheet of paper and I'll tell you what it is. Write it in vampire, Kaylo, so no one can nitpick about translation."
Leekath turned around and held her hands out until Kutran tentatively walked up and held onto each wrist for her. There was a scratching sound as Kaylo wrote a sequence of vampire numerals.
Leekath recited them a beat behind as he wrote, and he switched to words, random non-sentences she couldn't have reasonably predicted he'd write.
Finally he stopped writing. Leekath pulled her hands free of Kutran's and turned around, crossing her arms. "Is anyone going to waste our time defending us against a dead communication crystal trace?" There was silence. Kutran was hiding her face behind Soraak, maybe thinking about embarrassing stories her skirt could recite. Korulen was looking over Kaylo's shoulder at the piece of paper, and then at Leekath, and then Narax seized it to have a look too, making an incredulous face. "Okay then," said Leekath, ignoring all of that. "I'll make a proxy with Emryl's hair, and it'll tell me what it can, and we'll go from there."
<I love you,> Talyn sent.
<I love you too.>
Corvan reappeared with the hair, and made no fuss about the questionable nature of Leekath's abilities.
"What are you going to do?" asked Ngen.
"Just a proxic working, same as Rhysel does when she wants to do some kinds of healing," Leekath said. "Once it's connected to Emryl by the hair it's 'about' her, and it'll tell me about her instead of about the rock it's made from. Then I can ask it questions."
Kutran was clutching her ponytail with both hands.
"I don't go around doing this all the time," Leekath said testily.
Leekath made a statuette out of part of the table, and sank the hair into it.
"Tell me," she whispered.
"Emryl is alive but unconscious," Leekath said. "She's not injured, but she is a little hungrier and more dehydrated than she should be, and she's still in Liria's form. Her hands are restrained - not too tight, but enough to prevent spellcasting."
"How did they catch her?" Rhysel asked.
"I'm not sure," Leekath said. "Too much of that is about other people and spells and not about just her. I can't tell if she has her token of Liria's mind with her or not, either, because that's about the token, not about Emryl. But if she lost it, that could be how."
"Do you know where she is?" asked Talyn.
Leekath asked the figurine in a whisper, then looked up and shook her head. "I can play nearer-farther if I bring the figurine with me, but I can't sustain it for all that long and we don't know where to start."
"The Shield, right? Wouldn't we store someone here in our headquarters, if we went around taking prisoners?" asked Ngen. "Hypothetically, wouldn't the both of our prisoners be in adjacent dorm rooms -"
"They have more options than we do," said Rhysel.
"And the laina of internal affairs, who'd be handling something like this, is paranoid, from what Liria and Annei know of her," Talyn added. "She's smart and she works like she expects every security measure she has to fail; we shouldn't expect her to put someone in the middle of the public and obvious Shield when she could just as easily put them in a secret prison or a base in the middle of the ocean or something."
"Do we know the locations of secret prisons and ocean bases and the like?" Rhysel asked tiredly.
"Liria used to work at a base in Tenebirokalamikikek, but it doesn't exist anymore, and neither knows about any others, and ones our prisoners know about would be the last ones Teiat-laina would pick," said Talyn.
"Can you tell if Emryl has coughed up any information about us, this rebellion here?" Narax asked.
"Hm?" Leekath murmured to the figurine. "She hasn't - yet. I'm not sure exactly how they're questioning her because that's about them, but she hasn't said anything yet."
"We have to get her out," said Kutran.
"We have to disable the transfer point," Ngen said. "Replace it with a new one with a different signature she doesn't know. Can you make it impossible for her to talk with that thing?"
"Not at this range -" Leekath began.
"We have to get her out," Kaarilel interrupted stridently, echoing Kutran. Leekath wondered if Kaarilel was so shrill about it because she could easily have been caught too. Did she want to be reassured that she'd never run a risk of being captured and then also abandoned?
"We also need to change the transfer point," Talyn said, walking towards it. "Good idea, Ngen. Rhysel, a little help?"
Master and apprentice worked kamai that Leekath couldn't hear happening, because neither transfer point nor floor was an "object". They called for volunteer sources of lifeforce for a replacement; the dragons present sufficed.
All of the kyma in the room learned the new signature.
<Can we now formulate a plan for retrieving my niece?> Corvan asked testily as he stepped away from the new point.
"Can I?" Leekath whispered under her breath to the figurine. This would be such a good time for hearing to turn up a previously unknown working, one that would let her pull Emryl from wherever she was. If she could just make Emryl appear by doing something to the figure, or swap their places -
"No," said the little statuette of her friend.
"From any distance?" tried Leekath, while Kaylo watched her with a curious light in his eyes. It would be so much easier to get within five miles, even one mile, than to get Emryl back any other way.
"No," said the statuette, and then it began counting Emryl's teeth aloud.
Leekath hung her head.
She dismissed the figurine; there was no use letting it go on draining her when she couldn't think of anything else to ask.
"Be careful," Leekath said, again.
"I know, I know, this isn't Ryganaav, attacking a laina in her house to get information is way more dangerous than a dude with a sword," parroted Talyn.
Leekath clenched her teeth; maybe she was repeating herself, but he kept smiling that cocky smile that made her want to kiss him and smack him at the same time. "I mean it," she said. "Most of your Resolution rights evaporate if they catch you red-handed doing something like that! The officer you're going after is paranoid and smart and she'll have protections you know nothing about, she's not foolish enough to have overlooked kamai, she's -"
"She's bad news, if I get caught," Talyn said, "so I won't get caught, I'll just get what I need and come home to you." He kissed Leekath's mouth and she sighed, half in exasperation, but she kissed back. <I'm not leaving you here alone. But I've got the best shot out of anyone. Even if all the kamai teachers at Peiza are working for Teiat-laina I'm stronger than them all.>
<I'm going to watch a figurine of you the whole time,> Leekath sent. <If you're in trouble ->
<If I'm in trouble you'll tell the others and plan a hostage exchange, or something, because it'll mean the direct approach doesn't work. Don't you come in after me if I get in over my head. I'm taller than you,> he teased.
<This isn't funny.>
<I'll be fine, Leekath, seriously,> Talyn assured her. <I'll pick through whatever's between me and the laina, I'll knock out her shields, I'll get what I need about the place they've got Emryl stashed, and then I'll fix her memory and even put her shields back. Then I'll get out and check in here and then we get to form a rescue team. You won't even need to dip into your blood stash.>
<It's not just about the blood,> protested Leekath. <I love you, I did even before you tasted better than dragons do.>
<Relax, I wasn't suggesting that,> Talyn sent, starting to stroke her hair. She let him, stiffness in her muscles falling away as the trance started to take effect. <I love you too. I'm not going to get caught.>
<I'm still going to make that figurine.>
<If you want. I don't need any secrets from you,> Talyn sent. <There's no way for us to communicate that way, is there?>
<I could ask it what you want to say to me, but only if I don't want it to also tell me anything else at the same time,> Leekath sent. <And I can't talk to you at all.>
<Don't bring a communication crystal just so you can talk to me in the middle of the mission. They could trace it. You being actually safe is more important than me being able to reassure myself by talking to you.>
<Okay,> he agreed.
He broke the kiss and the trance in one motion, pressed a hair from his head into her palm, and left to visit Teiat-laina, director of internal affairs.
Leekath hung from the bar in her dorm room and listened anxiously to her figurine, but she couldn't keep it up the entire time, and gave up in exhaustion after the second angle of him waiting impatiently for the laina to be alone. She wished she'd eaten before he'd left. That would have given her another angle's worth of figurine maintenance at least.
She forced herself to take a nap. An angle later she woke up, having gotten just a few degrees of actual sleep, and made the figurine again. Her roommate was asleep for the night on the other end of the bar; Leekath didn't make a sound.
He was still just waiting. The laina was apparently having company over. If she hadn't had a moment alone for him to make his move after four angles, five, six, surely he'd give up and try another day...? Maybe not. He'd been co-prenticed with Emryl; he liked and cared about her; he'd try to sit and wait. And maybe he'd get impatient, and do something idiotic.
Leekath wished she'd given him a communication crystal after all. He was in a disguise, a generic teenage girl Lutan had invented for him to be; generic Linnipese teenage girls could talk on crystals without attracting much attention, surely? But he didn't have a crystal with him. He was just waiting.
She had to let the figurine go again, but she was too fretful to sleep any more, even though she hung with her eyes closed against the ceiling's faint light that was best for vampire sleep.
It occurred to her that as long as she was up at this hour anyway, she could go to a temple service. The district that covered the school should have one that night, unless she had the calendar turned around in her head. It had been a while since she'd gone.
But the vampire god wouldn't listen to anything she asked about Talyn, who wasn't a vampire, and she didn't think she could focus on anything else.
Leekath let herself down from the bar and teleported to the citadel for a swallow of blood from the stash. Even when one drop was expanded to fill her drinking bag, it tasted the overwhelming, delectable same. She missed the way Talyn held her when she drank from him directly, though, the warmth and the smug look on his face when she pulled away and looked at him deliriously.
There wasn't anyone around. She put the blood and bag back where he'd hidden them for her.
She made a new figurine right there, rather than teleporting back to her room.
He was in the middle of doing kamai; the hhikiiia could barely speak quickly enough to tell her everything he was doing, but he was attacking the laina's shields. And then he was done, and he wasn't invisible anymore, and he was using a different disguise than the one he'd left with. What was going on? He was doing more mind kamai, sifting around; probably that meant he'd broken through and stunned her (probably); Leekath couldn't hear what he was looking at, because that was about Teiat-laina, not Talyn.
Talyn was performing a memory erasure -
And then he was terrified, he'd turned to vapor, he'd solidified and he was teleporting -
Where had he gone? The figurine wouldn't tell her.
She dismissed it, clutching the hair between her fingers in case she needed to remake it, and ran to the teleportation alcove in the citadel. It was either there or Rhysel's tower, and the alcove was better-protected, if he was worried about someone or something.
There he stood, still in disguise, hands on his knees, panting.
"Talyn," she said. "Are you okay?"
"She managed to trip some kind of alarm before I broke through her mind shields, and I didn't notice her doing it, because she was still mostly shielded then." He swallowed a lungful of air and switched to mindspeech. <I pretended to be her granddaughter running from something unspecific to get her to let me through the wards on the house, because I needed close range, she has this huge garden, and she changes her wards often enough it was plausible she'd have forgotten the granddaughter on the most recent casting - and I was doing what I needed close range for, looking for stuff about Emryl, and I wiped her memory, but then there were these soldiers surrounding the house, I had to turn into air to get out of the ward they threw up to keep me in.>
<But you're okay?" she asked, reaching out and pulling him into a hug.
<I'm not hurt. But I didn't get a chance to put her shields back. I erased the memory, but she and all those soldiers that she called in know something happened and it involved a kama who was strong enough to break the shields! That's me and like half a dozen other people, it's not going to be hard to narrow it down ->
<So you stay here,> Leekath sent firmly, squeezing him hard.
<Yeah, but they're onto us now ->
<Do they know anything other than that there's an innate kama - admittedly, probably you - who has something against them? Do they know what you were looking for, or who you're working with?> Leekath asked, maintaining a firm grip on her boyfriend. It seemed to calm the tremors that were shivering their way up his body.
<I don't think so. Not that I know of. Narax put an anti-scry on me before I left, even if I missed a memory to wipe because I got interrupted I looked like her granddaughter the whole time...>
<Then you just stay here, until this is over,> Leekath sent. <And you'll be fine.>
<Okay,> sent Talyn wearily.
<You should get some sleep. So should I, really, but I had a little nap earlier and you didn't, do you want me to help you fix up one of the dorms, or get you anything?>
<No, I'm fine,> Talyn sent, hugging her and then releasing. He pecked her on the lips. <I love you. I love you so much.>
<I love you too. You'll be okay,> Leekath sent.
He went to the dorms, and she went to the transfer point. It took her to the one in front of Binaaralav, and she decided to take the lifts to her room rather than teleport while tired.
She wasn't paying enough attention to hear the voices of the uniforms that stood outside her door until she was almost on top of them.
"Aaeeihhyleekatheeei Hhirheek," approximated one of the redheaded women standing outside her dorm room. She sounded like the name tasted bad. "You are under arrest on suspicion of criminal collusion."