Chapter Thirty-Six: Unfolding
"Talyn Dalenn Casten," said the priest. Talyn couldn't tell if it was the same one or not. This priest was an inch shorter, but that could be posture or shoes; the voices were much alike even to sensitive vampire ears and had the same solemn tone to them. Maybe they had to practice sounding the same to be priests. The priest's suncloak was different - this one had white stitching, rings around the sleeves and lines slanting across the body. Talyn didn't know if that meant anything.
"Yes, Ieeht," said Talyn.
"Come past the threshold, and no farther," instructed the priest. Talyn stepped forward, head bowed.
The room looked like it had before. And the priest began as he had before. "Why are you here?"
"I'm supposed to speak to you about dreams I had," Talyn said.
The priest waited silently, and Talyn went on after an awkward pause. "My dreams showed my fiancée in two locations I've never been to or seen before. Her workplace at Parliament in her father's office, and - another room in a temple, maybe this one. I'm not sure if they showed the past or the future or neither, she didn't tell me - but when I showed her the images of the second one, by magic, not by drawing them or anything, she had to ask me if I'd snuck further into the temple. I haven't," he added.
The priest regarded Talyn quietly. Talyn wasn't sure if he could see clear through the cloak, by magic or clever fabric - or if he just didn't need to actually look at people. The priest wasn't squeaking. Talyn would have heard that.
Talyn wasn't sure if he was supposed to say something else or wait for the priest to move on. Should he bring up the bite he'd given the downstairs neighbor? The endless prayers? More details about the dreams?
He decided to err on the side of silence.
It was a great challenge, and it got worse with each passing silent tick.
Finally, finally, the priest spoke. "What will you do, if I should recommend to the pontiff that you be admitted among us? Attend ceremonies for your children, when you have them?"
The tone was neutral. Talyn couldn't read a damn thing past the pendant.
"I don't know," Talyn said. "I don't know what there is to do. I guess I'll attend the ceremonies for my children. If that's even allowed; if you meant to imply it. At least I'll know what they are." He realized he wasn't even sure if that was the case. "Or maybe there are a dozen kinds, and I won't know which kind my kids get, but I'll be closer to knowing - I'll be as close as Leekath is - probably - I don't know how this works, but I want to know as much as I can. Even if I can't tell anyone else. Even if I can't know literally everything."
"Do you believe that God wants you?" the priest asked quietly.
"Didn't he send me dreams?" Talyn asked desperately. "About a vampire, in a vampire temple, singing -"
"You have been told," the priest said, "that dragons do not attempt to join our faith, though they can make largely the same claims you can towards membership. Do you know why that is?"
Talyn shook his head. "They don't talk about religion, do they? Beyond generalities."
"No. But it is generally assumed that they do not wish to join us because they do not think that our god exists, and therefore cannot imagine that he might be calling them into his service," said the priest. "Do you believe that God wants you?"
The dreams. Talyn had gotten dreams. They were a sign; the priest - or a different priest - had said so. They were about places he'd never set foot in.
Any reasonable deity would want Talyn, and the dreams had to clinch it.
"Yes," Talyn said firmly.
"Your fiancée will receive correspondence from the pontiff again in due time," the priest said. "Or perhaps you will."
Talyn hoped that meant good things.
Term resumed. Talyn got his tests back. He'd flunked the literature test, although not by very much. He passed wizarding theory by four points of five hundred, and the practicum by a more comfortable margin. At home, he went over his mistakes on the theory exam, noting what they were and getting Leekath's help when he still didn't understand why he'd been marked down. He made an appointment with the literature professor to ask about that grade.
"I keep getting the impression," said the professor, "that you think disliking things makes you sophisticated, Aar Casten."
So I rate an Aar now, Talyn thought. "I don't think it makes me sophisticated, I just don't actually like the things we're reading."
"I'd like to see more range, regardless. You have some potential, I think! And the comparisons you've made here and there to Barashin literature are truly interesting; I'm starting a bit of research in that direction myself. But you're getting too much mileage out of contempt, and I'd hate for you to coast your whole term that way. I chose our texts for a reason - because they have impact, because they represent prominent or profound themes, because they are good examples of the sorts of stories that move the Leraalophone world."
"I'm taking this course as a way to learn about the Leraalophone world," Talyn protested. "It doesn't make any sense if I have to already know about it to pass tests."
"You live here, don't you? You've even made yourself to resemble a local species - we'll be covering a short novel about a vampire protagonist soon, Kahi's Night. Have you seen any of these plots play out, in part, among the families you know? Do you hear people repeating stereotypes about Saraanlanik that you see echoed in the books? I'm sure you can think of more to say, but you need to apply to yourself, not just come up with reasons to hate everything."
Talyn nodded obediently.
It was too late in the term to drop the course.
Theory class moved into a unit on the wizarding reservoir. The two Sand Dusk Chanter students in Talyn's section became very talkative around this subject - apparently their religion worshipped the source of wizarding power as a deity. Talyn thought it would be very weird to believe that and go on to learn to be a wizard, using God to tell time and conjure water. Apparently they felt differently.
The practicum became more interesting over time, which for most of the students made it harder, but Talyn found himself better able to pay attention and keep pace.
Talyn started incorporating a little more variety in his literature assignments, although he hadn't met enough families to have a sense of the zeitgeist and didn't want to admit to copious mindreading. His grades rose, though not to particularly impressive levels.
The letter didn't come.
And didn't come.
"How long does it take for the pontiff to make decisions? He doesn't have to run them through a committee, does he?" Talyn asked Leekath, reminded of her complaints that committees dragged everything through months of review even in acknowledged emergencies.
"No, but there's God Himself to consider," said Leekath tartly.
"Does God take forever to make decisions?"
"He can take as long as he likes."
Talyn dropped the subject and concentrated on school.
And finally, after a month of delay, after he'd been through a second round of tests and passed them all, a black envelope appeared on his desk.
Not on Leekath's. His, with his name on it.
He frantically snatched it up and broke the seal.
It was written in vampire script, which wasn't nearly as facile for him as the spoken language. It was less used; the primary reason vampire continued to be its own language was that it could be spoken even in bat form, and bat forms could not write. He deciphered it anyway, word by word, looking up a few things in Leekath's vampire-to-Leraal dictionary that she kept for when she learned a new word in one language or the other.
Exclusively for the eyes of addressee Talyn Dalenn Casten. (Well, that explained why Leekath would let him listen to her letters but not see them, if that was how they tended to open. She had enough legal background to exploit that kind of loophole as a matter of course.)
This correspondence acknowledges that you have been admitted into the service of our God.
Talyn let out a loud, shameless whoop into the empty cottage, and picked his way on.
Your late arrival into the faith renders you delinquent in the Rituals and Observances.
You are obliged to set aside a series of days no less than one week in length during which you have no other pressing obligations, and arrive at the temple you have previously visited on the midnight at the beginning of that time to begin said Rituals and Observances.
Um. Talyn wasn't sure he could afford to miss a week of classes. The final exams were spread out over a week, so if his were all on the first day he could use the rest of the period... otherwise he'd have to wait until the intersession break. Either way, that was nearly a month and a half to be kept waiting for something he was so painfully eager to start.
...Why did he need a week free, anyway?
What was going to keep him in the temple for a week solid?
Several years's worth of Rituals and Observances, apparently, but... a week?
He'd talk to Leekath.
Delay will be interpreted.
That sounded ominously unclear. Maybe there was an idiomatic usage of the word that the dictionary didn't mention. It would be okay if she read his mind about the letter, presumably, even if she wasn't allowed to see it.
Via private mental magics, you are permitted to learn all those secrets that Aaeeihhyleekatheeei Hhirheek would share with any other new vampire.
Yes. Yes, no more dancing around iffy thoughts, no more watching her squirm uncomfortably midsentence. And "new vampire"! He liked the sound of that. Until he realized it put him in a class with infants. Oh well. He had to start somewhere.
Appropriate care will be taken to ensure that these secrets spread no farther.
Of course, he'd agreed to that...
Further information will be divulged upon your arrival at the temple. All blessings on you and yours.
All he had to do was find a week.
The University of Daasen had no schoolwide absence policy for absences shorter than "not completing term". (Except one that applied only to lights, the only class of people who might miss periods of time small enough not to ruin a semester due to illness or injury.)
Contemporary Literature took points off for every absence "because class discussion is an integral part of coming to understand the assigned works from multiple perspectives", but it wasn't such a huge point loss that he couldn't pick it up with an extra credit project on a book of his choice. He could get Rhysel to recommend something; she knew a little about his taste and liked Esmaarlan fiction.
The practicum had no attendance requirements. It also didn't make it easy to get the information needed to pass tests without showing up, though. He'd have to get a classmate to pass him the handouts, and then practice like mad.
Theory was the tricky one. Only about half of the material that showed up on tests and was required at the demonstrations appeared in the textbook. And just practicing wouldn't do even if he got someone's notes; he had to understand it.
But he didn't want to wait another month to show up at temple and catch up on his Rituals and Observances.
Ugh. He might have to find a tutor to help him with anything classmate notes couldn't fix in his brain properly. He thought of the vague contempt with which he regarded his occasional kamai tutees and made a small involuntary hiss.
He wrote polite letters for all of his teachers indicating that he'd be gone for no longer than a week, "for religious reasons", and that he'd appreciate it if they'd find a classmate with good notes for him to borrow but he'd do it himself afterward if necessary. He kept them back in case Leekath had a reason for him to wait until later. He skimmed ahead in literature, since that was the one he could best prepare for in advance. And then he studied in theory until Leekath got home.
He was holding the letter. "I don't understand the time period, or the 'interpreted' part," Talyn told her, assuming she'd hear the letter at once.
Leekath stood still in the doorway, listening. <It won't take a week. Probably. That's longer than it would take to do everything they could conceivably want you to do. You'll probably be faster than the time limit on at least some things. And if you fail something you do fewer things after that.>
<What are the things?>
<The first is the Outward Face. You get told what you are allowed to tell people besides vampires, and who counts as a vampire, and what you're allowed to tell even other vampires. That takes a few angles, longer if you have a lot of questions.
<The second thing is the Reading. You read through the holy book - well, the only one I know about; if there are more they're secret and they don't keep copies in any temples I've been to. And you have to pass a test on it. If you don't pass it you have to read the book again and try again, and if you still can't pass the test there are some rank penalties. It took me about a day all told, but that was before I could read two parts of a book at the same time by sending the hhikiiia ahead of where I was looking. And I was six. You'll probably be faster at it by the time you go in.>
<After that they might do something extra for you, because you don't have a line or a rank or any stars, and they might want to assign you some just so they know where to put you during services and what to do when we have kids and that sort of thing. After the Reading is where I'd expect them to put something like that. And then there's the Test of the Empty Room, which I don't know what it's for because I didn't pass it, but it involved a priest putting me in a room in the temple and seeing what I did for a few angles. I didn't know what to do so I just sat there and listened to my clothes talk.>
<Okay, so just sitting there isn't the correct answer,> sent Talyn lightly.
<It wasn't for me. But for all I know that's because I'm a White Line rank zero female with a Vampiric Inanimate Audition diagnosis and a specific array of stars. Anyway, I don't know if there are things I've skipped because I failed that, but regardless when I turn eighteen I'll do the Dance of White and the Song of Glass, which are a coming-of-age thing with Witnesses instead of priests, and if I were Red Line like Aaihhhi I'd be doing the Dance of Red and the Song of Blood instead but I'm not, and so on for other lines. There's White and Red and Black and Silver and Blue.>
<That explains the color scheme. You're going to need to tell me what this all means, you know.>
<I know!> she sent happily. <And now I can. When my parents got married, the First Witness - priests don't do weddings, Witnesses do weddings and a couple of other things, and Witnesses can be men or women and you can know who they are too - decided that my fheeil would pass on his line, so me and my brother and sister are all White Line like him, but my aaihhhi is Red Line. If there's only one dad his line gets passed on and if there's two moms it depends on which one carries the baby.>
<What's the rank, then?>
<People start with different ranks depending on their stars, and then get added or subtracted ranks depending on their portents and tests. I started with two, and dropped to zero when I started hearing hhikiiias ->
<That is the most unfair ->
<I know, I know. Khi has nine ranks, I think - dancing so well got him an extra and he started with eight because he had better stars than me. Iilha has eight ->
<You've got to be kidding me.>
<I'm not. She passed her Test of the Empty Room - I don't know what she did, or what anyone else who passed did; they're not allowed to say. She started with three.>
<Okay. And the stars?>
<Literal stars. They look up which and how many stars showed in a certain part of the sky the second midnight after you're born. They might figure out exactly when it was here when you were born and check the records from then, or figure out a way to translate it for Barashin stars. Or they might just make you Cloudy.>
<Is that what it sounds like?>
<Exactly what it sounds like! I'm so, so glad that I can finally, finally tell you all this -> She leapt into his lap and kissed him fiercely.
He held her tightly as he returned the kiss. <What's after the Song and Dance?>
<Then there's the First Veil, when you turn twenty. I don't know what happens in it, just some of the results - the Veil is about secrets - and I don't know anything about Second or further veils either. For all I know the 'first' thing is just an outright lie.>
<What do you know about the First Veil?>
<I do know that after the First Veil you're required to go off and be by yourself and not tell anyone what you do, a certain amount every month that I think varies from person to person, if you're a guy. That's to throw off suspicion from priests if someone's trying to figure out who they are and to give you an excuse if you ever become one. And I know that you add something to a Book of Secrets instead, if you're a girl. I can hear the Book of Secrets, in the basement. I don't know if I'm strictly supposed to know about it yet, but I can. I don't think it counts as a holy book.>
<What age do I count as?> Talyn asked.
<I'm not sure. They'll either convert it to Elcenian years or use your Barashin age since that's closer to the right equivalency, I guess.>
<I suppose I'll find out.>
<Oh, and, you should learn temple dialect before you go.>
<It's a lot like regular vampire. It shouldn't take you more than a month or so,> she sent.
Well, that solved his timing problem. <I didn't know there was another dialect.>
<It's never spoken or written outside of temples. We learn it growing up, but I think the idea is that I can teach you in mindspeech to make up for you not having been raised in the temple. Without it you'd have a hard time with your book test - you're not even up on regular vampire script, I hear the dictionary saying it was moved.>
<How hard is the dialect?> Talyn asked.
<The alphabet is the same but things are pronounced and spelled differently. And they'll adminster all the other Rituals and Observances in temple dialect too. It was pretty irregular for you to get an interview with a priest in anything else, though not unheard of.>
<Okay. Well, let's start working on that, then,> Talyn sent.
She replied, in distinctly altered words, <Yes, let's.>
Talyn finished the term, scraping a pass in all three classes and then sitting the tier test to enter third. He passed that, too - it was actually easier than his theory final. And then he had a few weeks of intersession, and he'd picked up enough temple dialect to get along okay even without being able to read priestly minds.
He turned up at the temple at midnight on Rohel twenty-sixth, wearing his formal suncloak.
Outward Face. Reading. Stars and rank and line, or some facsimile. Test of the Empty Room. If they assign me a line and decide I'm 'old enough', maybe I have to learn a song and a dance, but Leekath is sure they'll give me prep time. If I pass the Test then there might be stuff she doesn't know about. If they count me as twenty-three instead of seventeen I might have to do the First Veil... Outward Face. Reading. Stars and rank and line? Empty Room. Song and Dance. Veil...
This time he didn't have a specific appointment. No one was waiting for him.
But he could just open the door, and go in.
So he did.
He already knew much of the Outward Face: he was allowed to say those things that Leekath had said to him. He was not allowed to say those things that she'd had to keep from him. Anyone with more than half vampire ancestry counted as a vampire, apart from some surprisingly complicated rules about dragons (who might have any number of vampire ancestors, as long as there was a long enough run of parunias) and thudias (who were simple enough in the first generation, but occasionally had throwback children).
Still, he listened carefully to the priest, who paced while Talyn hung from a perch in the main temple chamber. He repeated back his summaries when prompted, in accented but clear temple dialect.
"And lastly," the priest said, "you may reveal nothing about your stars or rank to an outsider at any time. Stars may be spoken of with other vampires, as may the rank of young people; you will be informed if you must begin falsifying your rank. Lines are not kept secret, but much about their significance is."
"Ieeht," Talyn said, "what age am I meant to count as? I'm the equivalent of a seventeen-year-old vampire, and that is also my age in Barashin years, but I have lived for an amount of time equal to twenty-three Elcenian years."
"It is the order of the pontiff that you be treated as a seventeen-year-old, at this time; decisions about how to adjust when you reach the point when a vampire would have ceased to age, or the point where you will in fact pause in aging, will be issued later," the priest replied. "The question of your line, stars, and rank cannot be so easily postponed."
Talyn nodded, though it felt weird to nod, hanging upside-down. "What are those going to be?"
"What do you think?" inquired the priest.
Talyn blinked. "Uh. Leekath thought I might be Cloudy, since I was born on another world where the stars don't match. That seems simplest. I have no idea about line - do I have to find some vampires to adopt me? Can I just pick a color, or do you do that? And I think rank depends on stars and signs, right...?"
"Do you know why we investigate the stars the second night following a vampire's birth?" the priest asked.
"No, Ieeht," said Talyn. He had guesses, but he didn't know, and it sounded like he was about to be told.
"Before that time," the priest said, "there was always, before magic became so commonplace, the possibility that a child's mother has betrayed her husband, and that the child might not be a vampire. This is often visible, but not always - again, this was established before magic became so common. The coming of dawn will, in a newborn vampire, provoke a shift to our sleeping shape. And so the second night is the night on which we can always know if a new vampire has entered the world."
"You want to know... when I first learned to shapeshift? When I first turned into a bat in particular? When I started sleeping that way?" Talyn asked.
"No," the priest said. "We will count your stars as those that appeared the night after it became clear that you were a vampire. The first of Pehahel."
"Oh," Talyn said.
"You, and children born on that day, as seen from this temple, showed five stars in the viewed region of the sky," the priest said.
"What rank does that start me with?"
"Well, this will depend on your line," the priest said. "The auspices differ. Supposing I were to invite you to choose your own line. What would you choose?"
"Um. Leekath is... White Line," Talyn said. "I might just... I haven't learned anything much about what's different between them. She makes it sound like all the things that lines affect go on behind the scenes. But I know about how the descent works, and it sounds like our kids are going to be whatever I am even though it's supposed to be about biological connection to the original founders of these lines. So that will make the most sense if I'm White Line, because our kids will in fact be descended from a White Line ancestor. That's what I'd pick."
"Do you know why Leekath is White Line?" asked the priest.
"The Witness at her parents' wedding picked her fheeil instead of her aaihhhi to pass on his line," Talyn said.
"In this country, families live together in large groups. Whose family did your fiancée grow up with?"
"And the Witness would have known that this was their plan, to bring up the children among a family of the White Line. Ancestry is powerful, and we do not change lines when a child is adopted - but it is not the only factor. We do not change lines in cases where it is discovered that someone has betrayed her spouse, either. I believe you and your fiancée live alone."
"We will not assign you a line until the Test of the Empty Room. You can perform the Reading without a line. Come with me," said the priest, and he led Talyn through a door from the main temple chamber. "Another priest will conduct the service, which will begin presently. We will conduct your Reading here, out of the way."
Talyn looked at the new room that had been revealed, and at the thick book that lay open on the platform in the center of the room.
Time to study for his test.