Chapter Thirty-Three: Enrolling
Talyn and Leekath signed up for a house tour - they wrote down their criteria, waited two weeks for the agency to match them with a few other people who had similar criteria (on location, if not on exact house composition), and then got into a scoot with representative members of four families and an agent. The scoot flew around over Daasen to houses that interested the people present and they stopped at particularly nice ones for interior tours; the agent went on about the features and tried to entice the passengers into bidding wars. A gray-haired elf man and a middle-aged human couple were shouting at each other over a fourteen-bedroom place with two kitchens and a kitchenette by the end of it.
Leekath and Talyn were the only ones who weren't there on behalf of at least six other people. They looked at the handful of roof cottages themselves, and had plenty of time to give everything a leisurely look while the rest of the tour trooped through places with six bathrooms, two parlors, and roll-out temporary walls to divide the bedrooms in half.
And they had plenty of time to determine that they still weren't on exactly the same page.
"I like this one, and I've been in the nearest temple once and it's nice too," she said. It wasn't designed for vampires in particular - there were no perches; the windows were not made of enchanted glass to screen out the awful parts of the sun. But it had a very nice bathtub that she was thinking she wouldn't mind sitting in twice a day, and it didn't spend much of its area on a kitchen. And she was imagining taking little vampires to that temple. He had to sheer away from her thoughts when the mental image passed the door, and that made him press his lips together, annoyed.
"I may not cook on a regular basis, but what about kids eventually?" Talyn asked in a low voice, gesturing at the miniature barely-a-kitchen. It had a freezer, a cooler, and a warmer, and a one-burner stove, but no proper oven or much counter space. He was thinking about adopted kids, the only fair solution to their dilemma really. "One of them might get sick of eating out or having convenience food, and then -"
"So you're expecting us to have children who need kitchens?" Leekath said testily.
"You're expecting us to have children who need temples that won't even let me through the door?"
"I didn't say that! I go to services sometimes -"
"You were thinking it."
"I didn't know I had to shield to express an opinion on a house."
"You don't!" he backpedaled. "But - look, you know it'd drive me up the wall to have our kids going off somewhere secret, even if it was only once in a while. It wouldn't be fair. I don't like it with you either but you're in charge of yourself - I ought to have some charge of our kids, when they're around."
"You don't trust me with it? You can have your own things with them - take them to puppet shows once a week or tutor them in kamai when they're old enough or read all the bedtime stories -" And she was imagining said bedtime stories being read to dangling bats. Great.
"It's got nothing to do with trust! If I took them somewhere once a week and you didn't know where -"
"You'll know where, it's visible from the street!" Leekath exclaimed.
"You know what I mean! Suppose I took them to a certain theater but wouldn't tell you what they were showing, maybe."
"Because a god told you to? I wouldn't complain to you about that," Leekath said, "not if a god told you to - get Aziel or someone to order you to take our kids to a secret puppet show every Chenen and I won't squeak one complaint - but a god didn't tell you to."
"You could go to a Barashin temple and take it up with Aziel if that happened!" Talyn cried. "How am I supposed to complain to your god about his ridiculous unfair rules?"
"You don't have to be in a temple to pray," Leekath said, snappishly, quickly, but Talyn was brought up short by the suggestion.
"Could I convert?" Talyn asked. Because that would be perfect, that would solve everything, the Barashin gods wouldn't care as long as the vampire's deity didn't claim jurisdiction there, and he didn't want to fight with Leekath.
"No, you're not a vampire. People don't convert to our religion. We're all born to it."
"I can shapeshift into one," Talyn said, although he didn't demonstrate that ability, because he didn't have a sunscreen spell on. "They couldn't tell."
"They could tell, you'd have to explain why you weren't already in the temple rolls and didn't already - other things, if nothing else. And it would be wrong. You don't lie to priests," Leekath said. "It'd be like lying to God."
"Well, now I know a new tidbit about the religion, don't lie to God," said Talyn mirthlessly.
"Don't do that," said Leekath, soft and hurt-sounding. "Don't try to learn things you shouldn't know when I'm careless -"
"I don't have any secrets from you, you know," Talyn said. "You don't read minds as directly as I do, but anytime you want, you can make a proxy of me and ask it anything. And I'd let you."
"It's not up to me," Leekath said. "I don't have any other secrets. The religion isn't mine. I'm not the pontiff."
"If they'd let me convert - I mean, how is there even a rule about that? I'm unprecedented! Barashi hasn't been in contact with Elcenia for long. I'm probably the only Barashin who's learned to shapeshift into vampire forms and learned the language and gotten engaged to a vampire and willing to convert even without knowing what I'd be getting into," Talyn said.
"It's a very general rule, that only vampires can..."
"By what logic don't I count as a vampire? I'd go around white in the face and fanged all the time except when one of us was eating if that would do it. You turned into a halfblood for a tick one time and you haven't been excommunicated, have you?"
"Suppose I write a letter to the pontiff," Leekath said desperately. "And ask. And if he says no, there's really nothing I can do about it and you have to stop taking it out on me, but if he says yes, then you can convert and everything will be fine."
"If he says no, we're adopting, or asking Coryl to carry halfblood kids for us," Talyn said, "or we're not having kids. Those are the only choices I can live with if they won't let me be involved in vampire kids' whole lives and you won't keep vampire kids out of temple either."
"I'll write to the pontiff and see what he says," Leekath said uncomfortably. "And the other thing... I can stop showing up to temple if I want, but I have to put my kids through all the - stuff, until they're grown up, if they're vampire enough to count. If I tried to keep kids out of the temple, my family would bid for custody and they'd win."
"There's legal enforcement about this?" Talyn exclaimed.
"Not in so many words. There's not a law that says vampire religious participation is compulsory for minors, or anything... But 'unusual deprivation of culture' gives families a basis to make the bid, and the fact that it'd be all about vampires gives them basis to demand a vampire adjudicator. And the vampire adjudicator would listen to their priest, even if they didn't think it was wrong to keep a kid away from temple themselves."
"Let's move to Barashi," said Talyn.
"Wizardry?" Leekath said. "Your school? My job? The suns?"
"Let's move to an unihabited island in Maiiv, then, or make one if there aren't any, we can commute -"
"That won't work," said Leekath. "Even if we find - or make - an island, I still have to be legally an Esmaarlan resident to keep my job. I'm an office worker, not a foreign diplomat."
"I hate this," Talyn said, rubbing his temple. "I hate fighting with you. I love you."
"We don't have to figure it out now," Leekath said.
"Write the pontiff," Talyn said. "Sell it."
"I will," promised Leekath.
Talyn wasn't allowed to read the letter, or read Leekath's mind about the letter. They picked a house. It didn't have room for kids anyway, because they were going to wait on having kids until they were both out of school, and that would take years, and they could move again then - and in the meantime the little one-and-a-half-bedroom cottage on the rooftop was inexpensive and cute and there was a swimming pool for the building occupants six steps from the front door.
He vacated his room in Rhysel's tower and briefly met the gold-haired ex-shren, Evlain, who moved in to replace him. Evlain seemed to like fire, and talking about fire, and taking fire apart with kamai, and setting things on fire. Talyn was pretty glad he didn't have to cohabit with her after all.
Leekath worked long days. Talyn explored the Daasen campus, got books out of their library, skulked around the kamai department meeting all the professors there, and read recruitment literature from clubs about everything from Flag Team to the Bimonthly Avehali Poetry Slam. He registered for courses (spending two angles in line) after the final exams of the term ended, on Nidhel 26. He'd find out if he got into them and whether last-minute swaps needed to be made after the new year began and he met with an advisor.
Thiies didn't come over to their new, convenient-to-his-workplace home at any point, but Talyn didn't bring that up to Leekath.
Khi did visit once. He stayed for two angles, let his sister coax him into playing a board game, and then left. He was dating a Barashin elf and wasn't in touch with any family members but Leekath and was still dancing like his life depended on it.
Talyn went on a New Student Resource Tour on the first of Shuraahel. The point of it appeared to be to awe him with all the many privileges and tools he had at his fingertips so long as he was a student of the University of Daasen, lucky him.
It was particularly amusing to listen to the tour guide talk about the kamai department as though it was the most exotic thing of all time, like no one in her audience would have even heard of it before. It seemed like no one else in his tour group had heard of it before except for one person who'd come to Daasen to enroll in that department. The others were all thinking about courses in Mrynish folktales, the development of pidgin slang in mixed-language communities, something called "Kemeform dynamic geometry", the history of Giad toe-dancing, mycology, merfolk color magic, tropical climates, and fey/nonfey social integrative styles.
"When is he going to answer the letter?" Talyn asked Leekath, after he'd finished tromping around campus being told how grateful he should be for the opportunity to earn a greenhouse access stamp if he took enough credits of botany, and for access to the ceramics studio, and for Peer Arbitration if he had a dispute with a classmate. "The pontiff, I mean."
"He might not answer it at all," Leekath said. "It's not like he has to."
"What, seriously? He might just ignore you?"
"I don't know. I've never written to him before. But I'm sure he gets a lot of correspondence, and has priests helping him with sorting it out. He might not have even seen it yet."
"It's been a month."
"There are almost two hundred million vampires in the world. He has to be the pontiff for all of them," Leekath said.
"I guess," said Talyn dubiously. "Will you at least get some kind of 'sorry, you don't rate a real answer' form letter if he's not going to get back to you?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
Talyn snorted. "It's a good thing that my wanting to convert has nothing to do with admiration for how stuff is handled in the religion."
Leekath didn't comment. She just glanced at his neck.
"Drink up," he offered, and she did.
"Tell me, Talyn," said Aar Sosrik, Talyn's advisor. "What makes you think you can handle a six-course term?"
"That's how many classes I was carrying at Binaaralav," said Talyn.
"Mm, yes, but this is a university, in particular it is the University of Daasen. You'll need the theory course and at least one practicum to have a reasonable chance of passing your tier test, but with these others... are you aware that all of your reading and most of your assignments and practice will need to be conducted outside of class? In-class time is for things that can only be accomplished with an instructor's help. And you have here government, political geography -"
"I'm not from Elcenia, Aar Sosrik. I want to learn more about the stuff everyone here already knows."
"...and contemporary literature and a very high paced math survey," Aar Sosrik continued as if Talyn hadn't spoken.
"I know some math, I just don't know how it's studied here," Talyn said. "That seemed like the best way to -"
"I've looked at your marks for Binaaralav, and frankly, I don't think they have anything to do with how you got in here," said Aar Sosrik. "You're what I call an independent potential. For some reason, the admissions committee thinks you're going to do something attention-getting, and that this is more likely to involve inventing a cure for poverty than sinking the Taavlas Isles or something. So they'd like to be able to claim credit for you. This doesn't mean they think you're smart. It doesn't mean they think you can handle the workload. It means you're going to go out and make waves and Daasen wants our name attached to you."
"That's kind of what I figured about why they took me. I wondered if anyone was going to admit it," Talyn said frankly.
Aar Sosrik snorted. "At any rate, my job is to get you through at least one term without producing such abominable results that we're forced to suspend you, and I don't think you can take six courses and still be here at the end of Rohel. Our terms are longer than Binaaralav's. You have to remember more material to pass the final exams. Our standards are more rigorous, most of the students are past your equivalency, and, as you say, you do not have background general knowledge to help you with Elcenian topics. My strong recommendation is that you drop two, perhaps even three, of your non-wizarding courses. Most particularly if you plan to remain signed on for tutoring in the kamai department."
"Yeah, I do," Talyn said, because while he could wrap his mind around Leekath paying rent and his former Master paying tuition, he didn't think it would make any sense for either to pay for his food, or his clothes, or anything else he happened to want to grab. Tutoring paid, and except for the professors, there were not yet any students qualified to tutor the higher levels available, because the department was still so new.
"Of the four non-wizarding courses, if we assume you can do arithmetic and basic algebra -"
"I can," said Talyn, insulted.
"- you will get almost nothing of value towards your goal of becoming a wizard by taking the mathematics survey. Are you planning to work for the government, Talyn?"
"No, my fiancée already does, and -"
"The first word of that sentence was all I asked for, thank you. There is little point in you taking a government course unless you plan to work for the government, with the government, against the government, or around the government."
"The course description recommended it for anyone, because the law applies to everyone -"
"Don't go around believing course descriptions; they're designed to be appealing so the professors can cut the applicant list down to the course size and have only the most desirable students. Omit government. You could stop there, but political geography - really?"
"Just as a way to learn more about the world. It's very introductory, if I'm allowed to believe the course description and the fact that it didn't have any prerequisites."
Aar Sosrik snorted. "Well. You can drop more courses as late as three weeks into the term. Contemporary literature is a fluff course. I believe the class doesn't even require written assignments, depending on who teaches it. I imagine you can complete that one without trouble, since you do seem to speak the language."
"Fine," said Talyn snappishly. "I'll drop the math and government. I'm keeping the others."
"It is of course completely up to you," Aar Sosrik said smoothly. "I am your advisor."
"Is this all you do? Tell people they aren't smart enough to handle six courses, twice annually?"
Aar Sosrik smiled thinly. "No. This is an additional duty that junior faculty take on at the beginning of certain terms. I'm also your theory professor."
The classes were brutal. Talyn had contemporary literature first, and it turned out that he was already supposed to have looked in his student mailbox as shown to him during the Resource Tour to find the syllabus so he could purchase the required novels and anthologies. He had to ask six people before he found one who'd let him sit next to her and read over her shoulder. Everyone else was desperately poring over the text, trying to catch up or refresh their memories, and skipped around too often for him to even read their minds coherently; one wouldn't even acknowledge that Talyn had said anything, and another decided that the request was a good opportunity to call him an irresponsible child for not having his own book already.
There was no chance to correct this mistake and get the Theory syllabus and text from the mailbox and bookstore before that class began. It started right after Literature ended (and Literature took up its full time, talking about how halflings had been represented in Esmaarlan fiction since the immigration boom). Talyn could only teleport so close to the theory building based on his Resource Tour and was almost late from having to fly the rest of the way and climb four flights of stairs.
Perhaps fortunately, Aar Sosrik turned out not to be present. The first class was conducted by a graduate student of his who seemed like she would overwhelmingly prefer to be working on her thesis suite of dynamic spells. It was a hundred-person seminar. Seats were assigned, so he just read neighbors' minds for peeks at the syllabus. The teaching assistant was running through the syllabus, getting everyone's "stupid questions" out of the way before their real professor had to deal with them:
"To what extent is this a pure theory course?" (It wasn't. They'd have to demonstrate understanding of new principles on the Chenen sessions.)
"Is there extra credit available?" (Yes, for assisting with any of a list of projects on the last page of the syllabus.)
"How strongly recommended is the supplementary reading?" (There was a strict University-wide limit on wordcount for assigned readings a given class could officially require. The supplementary readings were supplementary in name only.)
"Will we be covering anything about large gestures?" (No. They were expected to have memorized all of the gestures in their last term. If they didn't know them, they needed to get a tutor or practice on their own.)
"Are there recommended lectures?" (They could attend any extracurricular lectures they wanted, but at their tier level they would be in over their heads on any subject worth lecturing about.)
"Who grades our assignments?" (Aar Sosrik, or the graduate student, or a different graduate student, or a third graduate student.)
"Will any attention whatever be paid to the perfectly respectable academic theory that the Generous Lord is -" (No, it was not a religion course. Talyn wasn't sitting near enough the questioner or the grad student to figure out what that was supposed to mean.)
"How much flexibility is there on our demonstration projects?" (Arbitrary amounts, as long as they demonstrated the principles and had good notes.)
"Is there a minimum CC to be able to complete the course without accommodations?" (Three hundred forty; anyone needing accommodations had to contact Aar Sosrik.)
"Or me," Talyn called out when the teaching assistant said that.
"Was that a question?" she asked.
"No. It was an answer. If anybody's got less than three hundred forty CC I can help them," Talyn said.
"Aaran... Casten," said the grad student, looking at the seating chart. "I don't know what you're talking about, but it's not on the syllabus."
"Nevermind," said Talyn, feeling the minds around him annoyed at the disruption, rather than intrigued by the offer.
"If we already have our teleportation licenses, can we replace the project in unit nine?" someone wanted to know, and the answer was "partially".
Talyn teleported to the mailbox and emptied it. He had a quick break for lunch, which he bought at an on-campus sandwich shop: open-faced jam and goat cheese with a side of fried-egg-over-greens. He bolted it down and teleported as close as he could get to his practicum. That one didn't meet every day, unlike his other classes, but it did meet on day one. The class size was smaller, and there was a teaching assistant in addition to the professor, so they could divide into two groups of fourteen and make sure everyone knew some basic spells they were going to build on in the future.
Talyn thought this class was going to be much better until the grad student he was working under started correcting his gestures. "Stop! Sloppy! What are you, a transfer student?"
"Yes," snapped Talyn.
"Well, these are going to get spells out, or you'd have cleaned them up yourself, but really! Everyone slurs their gestures as they continue their studies. You need to start nice and crisp, so they don't smooth to the point of no longer working. Go on, try the color change again."
Talyn turned his boots blue. It was a practicum, his boots were blue, what else did she want?
"No, tuck your thumb in," she said. "Fingers snug together. Move from the elbow, not just the wrist! Watch him over there, he's got it." The other student was performing gestures like he had a crossbow bolt held to the back of his neck, he was so stiff. "Keep trying." And finally she moved on.
Talyn turned his boots back to their original color - crisply - and went - crisply - through all of the other spells on the list except the five he hadn't learned at Binaaralav. He frowned at the notation for them before finally just reading the grad student's thoughts about it; it was on her mind anyway. Then he levitated one of the provided apples, turned the pages in his syllabi (since he still didn't have any textbooks), made an illusion mirror that floated in front of his face, bisected one of the supplied apples (and then ate half), and called the other half of his apple to his hand from where it sat on his desk. (And then ate it.)
By the time he'd shown that he could do all the spells, class was running two degrees overtime and he had to bolt to make it to physical geography. The class periods were very closely spaced; it was good that after going to each class once he'd be able to teleport to them all. He was also grateful for the apple. He should have had more lunch.
Political geography looked to be a lot of rote memorization. Countries, mountain ranges, cities and landmarks and borders, rivers and seas and lakes. Plus theorizing about it - why was Paraasilan there, not five miles east? Did the Erthyo Empire fall because of mountains? (Hint: yes, at least according to the professor, who actually taught the smallish seminar alone.) How did Pleia's seaboard affect its (the professor coughed politely) culture?
Talyn dragged himself to the bookstore at the end of that class, bought all the textbooks he needed, and teleported home to collapse onto the sofa.
It was another two angles before Leekath was due home.
He picked up his syllabi, prioritized his readings, and started hurtling as fast as he could through the first fifteen chapters of "Makaaral and the Sorcerer's Guild".
He'd just made up his mind to drop the blasted geography course by the time Leekath came home, holding a black envelope marked From the Office of the Pontiff.