Chapter Three: Writing

Leekath was enrolled in six classes: Seventh Tier Theory, Intermediate Scrying, Introduction to Wards, World History 3, Survey of Natural Things 3, and Spell Diagrams 2. She had also been in a Teleportation Workshop, the first two weeks of the term, but it had ended almost a week before. Even people who were legally obligated to be very careful about who was and was not allowed to teleport couldn't justify making wizard students spend two months on one spell with only half a dozen practicable variants.

For this reason, and thankfully not often for the other, Leekath's roommate Hihhliir routinely announced that Leekath was insane.

"Do you ever do anything besides schoolwork?" Hihhliir asked.

She'd asked before. The answer was always the same. "I write letters to my family," Leekath repeated. Her pen echoed the lines she wrote on the history summation - Linnipese rebellion against Ertydo, 10986 - and she didn't have to look at the paper. It would tell her if the writing veered away from the lines. "I listen to music -"

"You buy music. You never put any on," Hihhliir said. "At least not when I'm in the room."

Leekath could hear the music perfectly well without actually activating the crystals. All the songs, all the time. "Oh," she said. It wasn't any use telling Hihhliir that. "Sometimes you are out."

"Usually you are too, though," Hihhliir said. "Anyway, tonight you're going to actually listen to some music! Aren't you excited?"

"Wait," said Leekath, "what?" Hihhliir wasn't a thing, and had to be coaxed to tell. The objects in the room gave no clues, this time.

"That boy," Hihhliir came. "A half-elf boy -"

"How do you know about him?" Leekath asked.

"He came here, while you were at Wards," Hihhliir said. "He wanted advice on where to take you out tonight, and I said, if I had a boyfriend, I'd make him take me to Rheeeikaaan's concert -"

"She's in town?" Leekath asked. Four of the singer's crystals warbled in the desk drawer dedicated to music.

"Mm-hm, and that boy said he'd take you there. He's very cute, Leekath. But what'll your dads think?"

Leekath put her pen down and sat on her hands. The chair spoke up when her skin touched it, but it was familiar; she could ignore it. "I didn't ask."

"My parents'd never let me date somebody who wasn't a vampire or at least a dragon," Hihhliir said. "Never ever. I would be in so much trouble..."

"I'm due in Theory," Leekath said, standing up quickly and scooping up the relevant stack of books and papers. "Later."

Leekath arrived four degrees early for her theory class, which was taught entirely from the textbook and had therefore lost all of its interest by the second week, when the book had read itself to her in full for the eighth time. She closed her eyes. Being a vampire had its privileges: she could not possibly be falling asleep in class, and in the unlikely event that the teacher was gesturing meaningfully, she could be echolocating and no one in the room would know any better. So there was no way to prove that she wasn't paying attention, even though she wasn't.

Shoes counted aloud the steps they'd taken. Sweaters described their knitting patterns. Every copy of the textbook chorused together in unison. A chair up front had a loose join. One of the boys had brought a stuffed toy, hidden away in his bookbag; Leekath couldn't guess at his motivations. A girl off to the left had pierced herself in places Leekath didn't want to contemplate, and the jewelry murmured its carat value and design. The chalk on the shelf under the slate behind the teacher's desk whistled out all the words it had traced in the past.

"Leekath," said the teacher, "please read aloud page 204, paragraph six."

The book would skip ahead in its monologue, if she asked it to, and then she could speak a beat behind - but she couldn't translate in her head that fast, and the book's hhikiiia spoke vampire like every other hhikiiia even though the book was in Leraal. Leekath flipped the text open and read it with her eyes instead. "Spell invention is a laborious process," she said. "In general, the simpler the desired spell, the more work must be invested initially to create it and add it to the canon: there is a tradeoff between invention complexity and spell complexity (e.g. it is easy to invent a circle spell, as much intentional work is offloaded onto the diagram). The essence of invention is akin to the intentional component, writ large. Apart from inventor's intention, there is no intrinsic reason why the sound tyo ought to correspond to the color-changing effect in particular..."

Theory ended, eventually, and Leekath hied her way to the Survey of Natural Things, a generalist academic course on plants and animals and rocks and stars and the like for people who didn't care to spend half their wizarding education in specialized botany and zoology and geology and astronomy courses to be able to pass general education tests. Leekath wasn't especially interested in live plants and animals, which didn't talk to her, or in stars, which might if only they weren't so far away, but she did like the rocks. The teacher often brought in fossils and taxidermy, which were all right.

Natural Things was short. There was a ten-degree break afterwards, which Leekath spent flying around outside rather than returning to her and Hihhliir's room, and then Scrying.

Leekath learned the scry of the day - a past-watch defined by person and event. The rest of the class was spent testing the limits of the spell. She could not, it turned out, view events in the lives of people she'd only heard of and never met (so she couldn't witness God speaking to the Most Holy Founder, or the Linnipese rebels ousting the Ertydoan occupation); she couldn't watch her aaihhhi and fheeil meet (because they'd met at temple under anti-scrying protections); and she couldn't confirm her sister's story about seeing the Ruth Samihaan at the boutique last month, because that event apparently hadn't happened (but at least she knew Iilha had been lying).

When Leekath went back to her room, Talyn was waiting for her.

The tickets would have eagerly told her everything printed on them anyway, from where they were tucked in his pocket, so Leekath hoped he hadn't wanted the concert to be a surprise. "Hi," she said.

"Hi, Leekath," he said, grinning brightly. His clothes were brand new, though the shoes were the same ones he'd walked off the cliff with. "Did you have a good day?"

"It was fine. Hihhliir said we're going to a Rheeeikaaan concert?" she said, instead of remarking on the tickets' report of the same.

Talyn pulled the tickets out. "I know you can hear them," he said. "It's okay."

She shuffled her feet. "People don't like it."

He shrugged, still smiling, and pressed a ticket into her hand. "I'm not them. I won't pretend I can't hear thoughts, you don't pretend you can't hear things, okay?"

"Okay," Leekath said. He was still holding her hand. He was quite hot; she wondered if he felt it, or if it was only normal for him. "How do you want to go into town? I could teleport us most of the way - I'm allowed now - or we could fly, or we might be able to get there in time if we walk, too..."

"I'd love to fly with you," he said warmly.

"You don't turn into anything - I guess a window isn't the best way out -"

"Depends on the window, but yeah, we should probably go out by a door," Talyn said.

"I don't think you'll like vampire music," confessed Leekath, heading for the lift. "Most people who aren't vampires don't. You won't even be able to hear some of the notes."

"Will you enjoy it?" Talyn asked her.

She nodded. "Hihhliir knows what I like. How did you find our room to ask her, though? Front entrance," she added, for the lift's benefit.

"I wandered around until I heard where the vampire dorm is," he said. "They put all of you in this one wing, apparently?"

"The rooms are laid out differently. We need perches, not beds, and don't want mirrors, and need enchanted glass to keep out the burning parts of sunlight, and different plumbing. And we don't care if we're a three-degree lift ride away from the cafeteria. So it makes sense to put us together. Halflings get their own wing too because they want smaller furniture. But they put leonines in with the humans and the elves."

"And dragons?" asked Talyn.

"There's only a couple enrolled. I'm not sure where they live," she said. "They don't have sign-up sheets to bite them like Keo does."

There was a silence. The lift opened to the front hall and the pair stepped out. "Speaking of which," Talyn asked with deliberate casualness, "are you hungry?"

"Just a little. I ate six days ago," Leekath said. "Why?"

"Well," said Talyn, "I was thinking, after the concert, if you wanted dinner, I could give you dinner." They stepped outside, and Leekath tried to think of a graceful way to explain that she was used to elves at the least, and a half-elf wouldn't taste very good by comparison. Talyn saved her the trouble. "Halfbloods live for more than eight hundred Elcenian years," he said. "I did the conversion. I'm not going to be as tasty as a dragon, but I should beat an Elcenian elf, right?" He blinked suddenly and looked at the setting sun. "Are you okay outside before sunset...?"

"I have a sunscreening spell on," she said. "It's mostly the lower tier students who need the special windows. And there are legal regulations about it, that Binaaralav has to follow even though it's a wizard school and sunscreening is easy. And you're right. You will be tastier than an Elcenian elf."

Talyn grinned at her. "Great. Let's fly!"

He flew without any discernible change in demeanor, let alone shape. Leekath blinked into her bat form at the height of where her head had been, hearing abrupt silence in place of the voices of her clothes, and beat her wings to propel herself towards town. Her eyes as a bat were even worse than otherwise, and she gave her navigation over to echolocation, letting the bounced echoes of high squeaks paint a picture of the landscape and her date.

"Can you talk in this shape? Aloud, I mean?" Talyn asked her.

<No,> she thought at him, like she had at the demo. He nodded; he'd heard. <Not in Leraal. I can speak vampire like this, but not while I'm trying to find my way around by sound too.>

<Thank goodness for mindspeech, right?>

<It seems pretty handy,> she agreed. She hadn't felt the inconvenience of quietude in bat form, but she'd generally had few people to talk to.

<Don't you have lots of friends? Your roommate seems to like you,> Talyn said.

<She's all right. She's a lot younger than me, though. And she's the only roommate I've had who didn't request a swap.> At his incredulous look - she could observe his face freely without losing track of where she was going - she went on. <I've never met another vampire who could hear things the way I can, but there are more of us. And most people think it's a disease. I think the things I hear are true - I know things I couldn't know any other way - but I don't try to convince people, anymore. It makes them uncomfortable.>

<They're wrong.>

<Thank you,> Leekath sent.

The concert venue had both chairs and perches, the latter at various heights throughout the broad space of the hall. Leekath chose a seat; she didn't expect Talyn would want to hover near the ceiling for the duration of the show. Vampires - only vampires - were quickly filling every space in both forms; Talyn stood out clearly, with curls and colors that couldn't belong to an actual Rheeeikaaan fan, and they got looks.

<Hopefully no one will actually bother you,> Leekath sent. She didn't have overmuch experience with the treatment of non-vampires by monospecific groups of vampires. No one in her household had ever brought a "bleeder" home, and of course they were never at temple, and everywhere else vampires were a minority. <They shouldn't, this is just a concert, but...>

<I pretended I didn't understand what the ticket seller was saying, when he wanted to know if I had a clue what I was buying tickets for,> Talyn sent.

Odd looks were still all the couple had received by the time the hall went black. Leekath, along with everyone else save Talyn, sent a pealing eep to confirm the shape of the room in the sudden darkness, and she heard the shape of the singer who'd appeared onstage. A spotlight came up, illuminating a willow-narrow vampire woman in a long red dress with a red crystal held to her lips.

"Hello, Paraasilan," she murmured into the crystal, which filled the hall with her voice, and before the audience's shrieking cheers died down, she launched into her first song. It was a note-perfect copy of the same number on Leekath's crystal, but it had more fire and verve in person, and more depth of dynamic transition. She almost completely forgot she was with someone, until the last high reprise of the theme died away.

<You don't like it, do you?> Leekath asked Talyn, when the song concluded and her cheeks hurt from grinning and her feet from stamping on the floor.

<It's not bad, it just doesn't sound very... musical, to me,> he apologized. <I can enjoy it vicariously, though! I'm glad you're having fun.>

Rheeeikaaan waited for the stomping (from the seated audience) and the squeaking (from the bat-shaped listeners) to die down, and sang again.

"That was wonderful," sighed Leekath, twirling out of the concert hall. Hhikiiias popped into existence as vampires transformed into clothed humanoid shapes en masse to depart. "Thank you for taking me."

"The day's not over yet," Talyn said, grinning at her and taking her hand to lead her away from the throng exiting the building after them. "I think I promised you a meal."

Leekath peered at his neck. "I do have to say," she said, "since you're not from here and might not know, that it's against vampire religion to bite anyone without their permission, it's a really bad sin, and permission doesn't count if you feel obligated, or like you should be feeding me, or anything like that. We're not even allowed to pay people - I mean, I know I didn't pay you, but - I just mean that you don't have to let me, if you don't really want to."

"I really want to," he murmured, tilting his head.

"I just have to make really, really sure, because -"

"Please," he said.

Leekath studied his face, which was open and hopeful. "It won't hurt," she promised. "You might be a little dizzy, and you should eat soon, and drink plenty of water or juice or something, but I won't take enough to hurt you and my fangs are anaesthetic -"

Talyn held his arms out, wrapped them around her, and pulled her in.

He smelled like blood. She could hear his pulse beating, thud-thud-thud-thud-thud, and wondered, not for the first time, how people with heartbeats didn't go mad listening to that day and night.

She opened her mouth and closed her teeth in his throat.

The sensation of drinking was called "flavor", because that was the only word available for sensations accompanying food, but Leekath didn't think non-vampires could be having the same experience when they ate their... sandwiches, or soup, or casseroles, or whatever else they ate. They were too casual about it. And tastes varied too much. And after finishing meals they were up and about as normal.

Feeding was a sacrament, and everyone would agree on how to rank all possible gifts of blood, and it always left Leekath tired and content and full of well-being.

"Are you okay?" Talyn prompted when she lifted her head from his shoulder and wobbled back.

"Mm-hm," she said with a sigh.

"Am I tasty?" he asked, half-grinning.

She nodded. He wasn't as staggeringly delectable as dragons were. But those were occasional treats, and his blood was a far sight better than the elf blood she was accustomed to. "You're really tasty."

"You were right, it didn't hurt," he said, prodding at the puncture wounds in his neck. They weren't dripping any more blood - the fangs took care of that too - but they wouldn't heal on their own for a couple of weeks. "I actually can't feel those spots on my neck at all anymore."

"If you go to a light, the numbness will go away along with the bite mark," Leekath said. "I don't know what will happen if you get Rhysel to heal you, though. Can kyma heal themselves? Lights can't, but they also can't heal other lights, so I don't think kyma can work quite the same..."

"Kyma can heal each other," he said. "But not ourselves. I think I'll leave the mark, anyway," he added, smiling perkily at her. "To remember you by when I have to go home."

Leekath ground the toe of her sandal into a gap between cobbles in the street, glancing away shyly. "I guess you're probably not going to come back, are you."

"I... don't know," he admitted. "My grandfather won't let me stay here indefinitely. I have to go back and study more. Once I'm a Journeyman I'll be assigned a town to look after, and I'll have to talk to the town's council for leave if I want to go anywhere. Once I'm a Master I can take apprentices and they can look after the town, but somebody has to look after them, and you don't take older apprentices right away so I'd have to wait for my first ones to get old enough, and becoming a Master might take me a couple of years by itself. But I might get another break soon and I don't have to spend all of them home with my parents," he added hopefully. "And if somebody would be willing to summon me here..."

"I can do it, I can get a teacher's supervision and do it," Leekath said. "My Diagrams teacher would probably even count it for credit."

"...Uh, I'm sure you're the best wizard ever and would never trap me in -"

"That won't happen," Leekath said with certainty. "I can cast a summon by myself just fine. It's actually really hard to do what happened to Rhysel."

"We should write letters," Talyn said suddenly. "Then I can tell you when I have time -"

"I don't have a place to keep the circles drawn long term, but maybe Aar Kithen would be willing to -"

"Rhysel'd ask him for me if I asked her -"

"Letters," said Leekath. It was only half-satisfying. People's writing didn't read itself to her in their own voice; she'd hear his words in some other, a translated keen, not necessarily even a male voice. "And tell me when you can come back."

"You could come to Barashi," Talyn said.

"And stay where?" Leekath asked. "I'd have to be in a building. My sunscreening spell would break in another world. Rhysel will put you up when you're here, but if I go there..."

"I'll ask Grandfather," Talyn said. "I'm sure he'll let you, but - yeah, I do have to ask."

"Letters," Leekath said again.

"Letters," Talyn echoed.

"Do you want to fly back to school with me?" Leekath asked.


Dear Leekath,

I'm back at Barashi now, and thank goodness now everybody believes me about Elcenia. (Keo came here a while ago. I met her, and told Jenn and Mysha and Emryl about her, but none of them believed me.)

Jenn's looking over my shoulder. She thinks I should tell you that I hang out with girls because those are the apprentices closer to my age and not for any other reason and she thinks I should tell you that I'm not allowed to date them anyway, and she doesn't seem to have bad intentions telling me so, so I am. There's three boys and four girls (the other girl is Pyelle, and the boys are Nevyn and Byron, but both of the other boys are years older than me.) I started kamai younger than most people because I'm an innate kama, so I actually was here before Jenn and Mysha were (but after Emryl). Pyelle showed up really recently.

Jenn is still reading over my shoulder and she should really stop that but she says I should explain innate kyma. We're even rarer than spontaneous kyma (like Rhysel). I'm the youngest one and there's only nine more in the world. We manifest early (usually people with kamai ability can't use it until they're twelve or thirteen - older for fairies, I don't know about dragons or trolls) (I mean Barashin dragons) and we accidentally do kamai, but not dangerous stuff like spontaneous kyma do, more like my mindreading. (I'm really glad that didn't bother you.)

Have to go help Pyelle with a working she's stuck on. I'll seal this up but I'll write another letter soon. I don't know when Aar Kithen's going to summon them.

Sincerely, Talyn


I had to look up an old old spell to let me write this letter in Martisen (I know you can speak some Leraal now but I don't think you can read it, am I wrong?). Putting a translation spell on the letter wouldn't work since it'd break as soon as the letter got to you, and the spell is old since for most purposes it's better to just put a spell that will let you understand everything in your native language and sound like everybody else's native language to them. But anyway, this one works, and I cast it with Rhysel as a focus so now I can write in Martisen. If any of the grammar is weird please blame the spell.

(I can understand your letters whatever you write them in, since the hhikiiia will translate.)

Hihhliir was so jealous that I got to go to the concert, even though it was her idea that you take me! She's not really old enough to be dating, but I told her there was no reason she shouldn't buy a ticket for herself. She said it was too expensive, but she buys a lot of clothes. I told her to skip the next shopping trip and she can borrow some of mine; she'll fit a couple of my old things. I'm the youngest girl in my family (I have younger cousins, but they're boys) so I don't have anyone else to hand things down to. Do you have brothers and sisters?

I'm going to take this to Rhysel's tower to send now. I'll write more tomorrow.

- Leekath

Dear Leekath,

The grammar looks fine. (But I didn't actually do all that well in Language and Literature in primary school so maybe I'm just not noticing mistakes.) Is that handwriting anything like your actual handwriting? It's so neat. I can write a tiny little bit of Leraal that I memorized from signs around town but definitely not enough for a letter, so it's good you're a hearer! Kamai can do some translation but nothing that would stick to the letter. It's all mind kamai.

I wonder if I could stick a working to a crystal. But that's not even a little related to what I'm doing now so Master would probably be annoyed with me if I started working on it too much. (I'm not supposed to do kamai all the time; when I'm not studying I'm apparently going to stunt my growth if I don't "have fun" outside of kamai, which doesn't mean flying and doesn't mean messing with image magic and definitely doesn't mean cliffdiving. It usually winds up meaning card games, which I don't think are all that fun. Whatever.)

I have a lot of brothers and sisters! Three of them are younger than me. The other fifteen are older. My parents had kids in batches - I'm second in my batch. I don't see older siblings that often except for Coryl who's just a little older than me. You didn't say if you have brothers or sisters?

Grandfather's been concentrating on Byron more than the rest of us lately. Byron's almost ready to be a Journeyman; he's a really accomplished wild kama. (I don't know why people specialize, but most people do.) I think he'll probably be out of here by the end of the year, and then Grandfather will start looking for another apprentice or two. But he might wait until he's tracked down the rumors about a demon in our province. Usually there aren't any demons and people just start rumors for attention or to cover up crimes or something.

Sincerely, Talyn


I'm glad me being a hearer doesn't bother you. One of my dads sometimes says I'm going to have a hard time finding friends and people to go out with my whole life because of it.

I don't understand how playing with kamai doesn't count as having fun. Especially flying! Are card games really the most interesting thing you can do that your grandfather thinks counts? Couldn't you read books or listen to music?

I have an older sister and my brother is the middle child. He studies dance and she's taking classes to be a hairdresser. We live in a house with just twelve people in it (us three, my dads, fheeil's parents and sister, my aunt's husband, and their three kids). Most people in Esmaar have more people than that living with them. I don't know how many is usual where you live.

How is it decided when you're done with an apprenticeship? For wizards we pass a test to graduate each tier, and when we pass the tenth, we're wizards.

The other letter in this sending is for your grandfather. Did you ask him if I could stay over? (It's okay if you didn't. The letter asks the same thing.) Because Rhysel and Aar Kithen want someone to pass messages in person, and I said I'd do it. If your grandfather says yes I'm going to come over every weekend. That's two Elcenian days from when Aar Kithen is sending this letter. He says I'll show up really early in the morning (before your suns are up) so I'll have time to get inside. I'd ask you what a demon is but you can tell me then in person!

- Leekath