Chapter Thirty-One: Protecting

Leekath tried to wrap her head around the mass sending spell.

Specifying Barashi wasn't hard. Untrained foci could do that. Even specifying the location Aristan had prepared to receive the sendings wasn't hard, once she'd seen it in a scry.

Those things weren't what diagrams normally covered.

The diagram, if they'd had the leisure to draw one around each building harboring Linnipese soldiers, would have specified people and not the entire structure around them. It would have said that these people were to be sent along with the air in their lungs but not any extra, so they didn't suffocate nor make earsplitting pops at their destination. It would have included a clause about not placing its targets intersecting with solid objects, nor coextensive with air or liquid ones. In the case of this particular spell, a diagram would have been useful in landing everyone on the ground instead of at varying heights above it. A diagram would have gone into technical detail about what a sending was - that it required a continual push of someone native to Elcenia away, away, away, lest they snap back, but that they couldn't be pushed so hard that they couldn't move around within the target world.

Most of the parameters there sounded like, if the casting wizard made a mistake, they should kill the people - the occupying soldiers - whom they were sending. But it didn't work that way. The spell wasn't designed to be fatal; casting it without keeping in mind some protective feature was casting it wrong, and casting it wrong would be dangerous to the caster alone.

Leekath decided against suggesting aloud that they design the spell to be fatal just because that would be easier. The buildings would probably contain plenty of innocent people; inconveniencing them with an impromptu trip to Aristan was one thing, and killing them was another.

Ultimately, Leekath realized she didn't have the knack to cast the spell without a diagram. Even Kaylo barely thought he'd manage it, and he was muttering the entire time about being a theoretician, not a practical caster. He eventually decided that he wouldn't be able to handle the spell under stress safely and withdrew.

A clan of trolls which included a friend of Rhysel's, the Blackroots, would help the rebels cover Narax while he casted. Hopefully, they wouldn't be needed, but he'd be going around with a contingent of Blackroots (including two who were kyma) and other wizards and kyma.

The only person going with Narax who Leekath really cared about was Emryl, but Emryl was more competent than some of the others. Leekath couldn't evaluate the trolls, and suspected that the teachers were able to handle themselves, but a few students besides Emryl were in the contingent too. These ranged from Korulen (a dragon, a good wizard even if she hadn't graduated, and a talented mind kama) to Kaarilel (who'd dropped out of the kamai course after one term, but seemed desperate to help somehow, and claimed to have memorized useful combat spells). Rhysel didn't seem comfortable forbidding anyone to go. She actually encouraged Korulen, maybe hoping to provoke Keo into intervening if Narax's involvement didn't do the trick. So a variety of students formed up around him, along with faculty and Blackroots. Half the participants were kyma, and the entire group would travel by transfer point.

Leekath was staying behind. Since she couldn't manage the sending spell, her job was to wait for Parliament to be cleared, then teleport into it and call in the deposed Members of Parliament. The ones who'd retained their positions after the takeover would be sent to Aristan and sorted out from the Linnipese there. She had a calling diagram drawn on rolled-up paper designed to cling to the chalk, so she could begin the callings immediately on entering the building. She'd met every member of Parliament as it had stood in person, so she could call each one herself.

Rhysel was going to be there with her - pregnant, she was hanging back from the contingent that would follow Narax, but she was equipped to brief the reconstituted exiles of Parliament on what was going on while Leekath cast.

And each member of Parliament, barring a handful of lights and sorcerers and mages, was a wizard, and could adjust the wards on their building to keep out reinforcements from Linnip, should they appear.

When Narax had shooed soldiers out of all of their bases of operations, and they'd been sorted from the bystanders in Aristan, the rebellion would be supposedly over.

And maybe then Leekath could figure out how to get her boyfriend back.

The calling spell was starting to sound like nonsense syllables in Leekath's head, even though the particular spell she was using had a word as its spoken component. After her aaihhhi (who perked up instantly after Rhysel's first explanatory sentence), she'd called in the male half of the Defense Committee. After that, she let her aaihhhi dictate her priorities, since those callings had taken long enough for him to receive Rhysel's entire speech and reassert his leadership qualities.

"Bring in a'vi'Naav," he told Leekath, so she did, and "next let's have Linnipese Relations, there were only two men on that committee but we'll want them soon, we'll need to hash out a treaty - get us the Squarewide Agreements Committee next, there's three of those who aren't on any of these others - and I suppose we'll have to wait for everyone besides me and those fellows over there on the Press Committee to be sent back from Aristan, but goodness, we will need them - who's missing - ah, call in whoever's left from Tavan Relations!..."

Leekath occasionally struggled to remember who was on which committees, as she was out of practice, but eventually a hundred and change members of Parliament were restored to the seat of Esmaarlan government, running around at high speed and chattering to each other at urgent pitches and earsplitting volumes.

Thiies seemed to find no reason why Leekath shouldn't resume her old job at once. He took her by the hand and led her on a brisk walk to his old office, which he rearranged by telekinesis from the state the occupation had left it in while muttering to himself. A book soared past Leekath's ear, and desks scooted to where they'd been when he'd left. Soon there was a stack of things in the inbox on Leekath's old desk.

"Aaihhhi," she said. "School is in session."

"Oh," he said. "Oh, of course it is, I'm sorry. I suppose I'll have you back here in... what month is it now?"

"Today is Marahel 22," she said.

"Oh. In Pehahel?" Thiies asked.

"Yeah. Even if I pass my last tier test at the end of this term I'll still have kamai," Leekath said.

"Of course, of course. But you don't have classes today?" inquired Thiies.

"No, we still have Chenenik off," Leekath said patiently.

"Can you perhaps help me get this place into shape, then...?"

"I would, but I need to help Rhysel with something," Leekath said. This was not the time to explain that the something involved being "crazy" at a statue of Narax to make sure he was as yet uncaptured.

"All right. I could use your help here, though, any time you have free from school," Thiies said with a wide, fanged grin.

Leekath nodded and slipped out of the office.

Narax himself remained unmolested through the entire process, according to his statuette and his subsequent verbal report. He sent away the contents of every Linnipese-occupied government building and new military base before reporting back to Parliament and acting self-congratulatory.

His entourage was not, however, unnecessary, and he was missing three of them on his return. He couldn't remember their names, and Leekath feared that Emryl had died until she learned who it had really been. One was a troll, whose death seemed to have particularly shaken Korulen. One was a wild kamai teacher Leekath had been planning to take a class with in the spring, sister to an image kamai teacher. One was Kaarilel, whose competence as a student wizard and barely even a beginner kama had been questioned, but who'd begged to go.

Leekath wasn't too close to any of them. Emryl, her friend - her sister - was safe, sitting in Parliament with the rest of the rebels and looking unsettled but whole. Leekath felt light and floaty, not so much numb as sensorily-deprived, and had no impulse to grieve for the dead. No one she was close to was particularly fond of the dead either; no one wept on her shoulder. (She knew Korulen reasonably well, but Korulen had other, closer friends who were her first port of call.)

Leekath dismissed the figurine, when Narax came back. She left the room, when the talk turned from spare summary to details that didn't concern her.

She went back to her office and leafed through her inbox, which was piled high with work her aaihhhi had sent zooming in the direction of her desk. He was still making merry with special Parliamentary issue communication crystals, talking animatedly about a Restoration Project to get the country back as it had been.

She picked up the first packet of papers. Write a synopsis of all significant legislative alterations by occupying Linnipese force, with pointers to full texts, it read.

Between writing synopses of what had gone on in her aaihhhi's absence regarding this and that, she brainstormed about how to get Talyn back.

Thiies was on the committee that drafted the treaty with Linnip, and he let Leekath help.

So she wrote in Talyn's release, while she was separating out the walls of text into clauses, marking key phrases in colored ink, and adding in all the requisite titles and honorifics for named persons.

32-Aan: Talyn Casten is to be Released [Details: free of obligation or entitlement, unharmed in psyche or body, memory untampered with, and devoid of geas] to an Esmaarlan escort [nominee Parliamentary Aide Aaeeihhyleekatheeei Hhirheek] as part of this Exchange of Custody. This clause is not to be considered voided if Details cannot be executed. This clause will be considered unfulfilled if Details executable are not executed.

No one called her on it or questioned her right to add items to an international treaty.

After revisions - all outside of Section 32, let alone her Clause Aan - the treaty was signed, and Leekath got a formal letter informing her that she'd been nominated to serve as an escort and should turn up at a certain field outside Aabalan that had been chosen as the prisoner exchange site.

This position, absurdly, required that she hold a sign indicating who she was and who she was there to escort. She felt ridiculous clutching a rectangle intended to identify herself to Talyn.

(But it was possible that the "memory untampered with" Detail had proven unexecutable...)

(She shook that thought away.)

Talyn didn't seem to need the sign, when he was brought in. He hurtled into her arms and squeezed her so hard she might have thought he was shapeshifted vampire for extra strength.

<Are you okay?> she asked. <How are you? I'm sorry I couldn't do anything sooner.>

<I'm fine. I'm fine,> he soothed. <What about you? Are you still under your geas? Did the thing with the ->

<It had me freaking out for a few angles and I wish you hadn't warned me, but Hihhliir managed to spring it on me and I haven't been under the spell since,> Leekath assured him. The two of them attempted to begin a kiss simultaneously, bumped noses, and tried again to better effect.

<Gods. Oh, gods, I missed you,> Talyn sent. <Rhysel's bound to chew me out for the swap but I couldn't, couldn't leave you there, there was no faster way, but I missed you so much.>

<I missed you too, I was half out of my mind, you can ask Emryl ->

<I love you.>

<I love you too,> she sighed into his mind.

<Marry me.>


<Not soon. We're both sixteen, in our own years anyway. After we're out of school maybe. But later. I just want - I want you to be mine, forever, I want some kind of promise about it. I thought about it a lot while I was in jail. Well, I didn't have much chance to do anything except think... But anyway I don't mean soon. We don't need to start planning a wedding or naming our kids. But I want that to be a definite part of the future. Will you marry me?>

Leekath deepened their kiss. <I will.>

"Have you read this thing?" Talyn said, looking at Leekath's copy of what had been named the Aabalan Treaty.

"Yes," she said. "I wrote clause 32-Aan."

Talyn flipped to it. "That's how you got me out?"


"I think you're smarter than me," he remarked, and he went back to the part of the treaty he'd been reading. "But I'm talking about sections five through, um, sixteen. If I'm not very badly mistaken they add up to Esmaar being a protectorate of the Linnipese Empire."

"The word protectorate isn't actually used until paragraph 40," Leekath said.

"Gods. This is what I went to prison for?"

"I thought you went for me."

Talyn sighed. "Of course I went for you - I mean, this is what the whole rebellion got us? Protectorate status?"

"The actual details aren't that bad -"

"If you were rewriting parts of this damn thing why didn't you do something about this? Linnip shouldn't be anywhere within a hundred miles of Esmaar!" cried Talyn. "They killed all those people in Aabalan, you can't have forgotten that, this treaty is named after the town! They pulled all kinds of legal crap, they hurt you and me and your aaihhhi and Emryl and - who died again - Mysel and Kaarilel and Kreshk!"

"I wasn't supposed to mess with most of the treaty - the Linnipese Relations committee was -" excused Leekath.

"And they did such a great job with Linnipese affairs last time," growled Talyn.

"But except for the word 'protectorate' is it so terrible? We're self-governing again, we just pay them a tiny fraction of tax revenue and they're obliged to stick up for us if we get attacked."

"By whom? They're the only ones who've shown an interest in attacking us!" Talyn cried.

"And now they don't have an incentive to buy another weapon from Isatei, one we don't have shields against, to try again!" Leekath exclaimed. "Now they can save face and they'll stay out of our business except we give them a little money and their military works for us if something like this happens again from any quarter."

"And they can break a tie in Parliament, and their noble classes' special rights extend here, and Esmaar has to stop taxing Aleist churches!"

"There are virtually never ties, those rights are trivial ceremonial things, there are like twenty Aleist churches in the entire country so that's not much of a revenue hit," Leekath said.

Talyn swatted the paper. "This joke of a treaty is a doorway for them to creep in and take more control, make Esmaar more like them, and eventually get exactly what they wanted in the first place without having to tie up their forces here. This farce is going to make rebellion seem less worthwhile to other countries they gobble up. It doesn't even mention Tava!"

"On the last page," whispered Leekath, but she knew he wouldn't like it.

He turned pages violently and re-read. "The protectorate nation of Esmaar recognizes the conquest of the Imperial Territory known as Tava and will make due arrangments to route interactions therewith through Imperial Offices," he read aloud in disgust.

"We didn't write the whole treaty. Us and Linnip each wrote parts and then negotiated on them and this is what we could agree on," Leekath said. "They wouldn't take that part out, and they insisted on a 'continuing interest' in Esmaar, but we got you back, we got amnesty for all the rebels, we've stricken all the law changes they made. And they're funding half the Restoration Project to go through and undo all the changes they made like giving Rhysel's niece back to her dad and stepdad. And under the Imperial umbrella we can trade tariff-free with Linnip and Ryganaav and Tava."

"It's an insult," Talyn said. "They walked up to Esmaar and grabbed it by the throat and now it's saying that they can hold onto its sleeve if they really want, but that just means they can still haul it around."

"I'm sorry," Leekath said helplessly.

"Is there anything I can do about this? I'll take you up on that expedited citizenship thing if I have to, this is outrageous."

"I can get you citizenship but you're still just one person. I think most citizens don't want to provoke Linnip," Leekath said. "We did do quick polling before the final treaty went through. But it's a treaty, we needed Linnip to sign it. We don't have the resources to attack them on their turf, we couldn't bully them into anything besides staying out of our country, and even that would have been risky if they weren't willing to take the diplomatic solution because they could buy something different from the Isateians!"

Talyn sighed. "I shouldn't be yelling at you, I know it's not your fault. I'm sorry."

Leekath hugged him tight. "You're upset. You've got a right to be upset."

He laced his fingers in her hair and held tight. "I still shouldn't've yelled." Talyn sighed. "It's just so - I can't stand those - ugh." He paused, breathing progressively more slowly, and finally kissed her forehead. "Are you hungry?"

"A little," said Leekath, because she'd been holding herself down to once every two days but she'd last eaten the prior evening. "Please..."

"You don't have to say please," Talyn told her, and she tilted her head and bit into his neck.

The flavor was just the same as the expanded droplets from her stash, but for some reason - maybe the temperature, maybe the fact that this was magically untampered-with blood, maybe just the fact that she was taking it directly from Talyn instead of a bag - it was better.

<I love you,> she sent.

<I love you too. Let's get married,> he sent back, and she could see the corner of his mouth slide up out of one half-closed eye.

<Okay,> she replied dreamily. When she was satiated, she pulled her head up. <Oh, I forgot to say. Emryl and I are blood-sisters now. She helped me keep my head on straight, when you were gone and I was frantic and fighting with Rhysel all the time about Annei escaping.>

<How did Annei escape, anyway? Not that they'd have traded me for her, or even her and Liria; while there was an ongoing rebellion I was way too valuable to it.>

<I guess they wouldn't have. She didn't exactly escape...> Leekath relayed the entire story as Rhysel had told it to her, kissing Talyn all the while.

<Rhysel is really rigid about her principles,> groused Talyn.

<I know. She still hasn't told me who cast the sending spell. I wonder what Aristan will do with Annei now? They weren't letting her leave before. Maybe she'll get lumped in with the other soldiers Narax sent and returned per paragraph twenty-one.>

<I want to think about anything other than Linnipese soldiers right now,> Talyn sent grumpily. <I'm out of prison, Esmaar is sort-of-free, and I have my beautiful fiancée in my arms.>

<Your beautiful fiancée, huh?>

<Yup, and I missed her very, very, much,> he said, trailing kisses down Leekath's neck. She smiled against his hair.

Keo kept the job of headmistress. There was no reason to switch back, even once they could; it had been a formality. So it was she who regretfully informed Talyn that between the term he'd failed to show up for and the fact that he'd enrolled older than was usual anyway, he was now significantly too old to be a student at Binaaralav in second tier. If he wanted to study like mad until the spring term and take several tier tests over the course of a week to get placed in fourth or above, they would keep him, but she recommended applying to universities.

Talyn started doing that, rather than cram for exams he wasn't ready for. Leekath was studying for her tenth and final tier test, after which she'd be a graduated wizard and entitled to a more than minor functionary position in her aaihhhi's office (when she had breaks from kamai classes).

Leekath visited her brother, and told him she was engaged expecting it to filter through him to the rest of the family, only to be told that he wasn't in touch with anyone in the family except her and didn't want to be ("except if Aaihhhi ever troubles himself to write me a letter I guess I'd answer it," he clarified).

So she told her aaihhhi, enjoyed a congratulatory hug, and let him make the announcement. She didn't have to be at the family house if she didn't want to be, anymore. Though she didn't anticipate ever going as far as Khi had, she found she liked the idea of never interacting with her sister again. It would be too much to hope if she wanted to never disappoint her fheeil again, but maybe cutting off contact would be one big disappointment and he'd never need to know about the many little ones she committed just by hearing voices.

She and Talyn started having brief arguments about their future children, in spite of the distant nature of their expected wedding. These arguments were not about said children's names. It was about their species. While Talyn was confident that sufficient applications of magic could yield entirely vampire children who wouldn't have her cousin's health problems, he was uncomfortable with the fact that the details of vampire religion were hidden from him. It bothered him plenty in Leekath's own case, but he was profoundly annoyed by the idea of being fenced out of his own children's upbringing.

The arguments usually ended with Talyn suggesting that Leekath might be hungry. Sometimes they instead ended with Talyn suggesting adoption, so he wouldn't have to be kept out of the kid's religious life and Leekath wouldn't have to shift halfblood again, but Leekath didn't like that idea. She wanted their babies to look like her, and Talyn. She didn't want to have to constantly worry about making sure they felt like they were really theirs. She didn't want to forever precariously balance her culture and Talyn's and also that of the child's origin.

Apart from that problem, which they had years to solve, Leekath was busy and well-fed and happy.