Chapter Four: Visiting
Talyn didn't usually get up for night watch. Nevyn was the one who loved the dark and would happily awaken at one to take over for Emryl or Byron, and be ready to address the needs of any townsfolk who came beating on the door at night.
Talyn was up because Leekath was coming, early, and he didn't want the first person she saw to be a stranger who couldn't even speak to her.
Jenn had teased him. "You've barely met this girl," she said. "She went on one date with you, if that's even true -"
"And now you're getting up while the gods sleep to meet her, even though any of us could supposedly write her notes and she'd understand them with that power she has, and Mysha could mindspeak to her and she'd take a nightwatch turn if you asked her to..."
"I just want to, okay?" And Jenn had shrugged, thinking denial!, and gone to bed, and he'd gone to bed too. Byron had dutifully woken him up when it was time for the shift to change, and Talyn was pacing on the first floor of the tower.
The big sand glass apparatus that was turned at dawn each day said it was two-fourteen when there was finally a soft knock on the door. Talyn threw it aside to reveal Leekath, weakly illuminated by the fire-writing he'd been tracing around the walls from edginess. She had a bag over her shoulder, and she was smiling tentatively. "Hi," she said.
"Hi, Leekath!" he said, and he wove his way past the hhikiiias to figure out if she'd let him hug her. That wasn't even passive listening - he had to look - but he wanted to know, and finding out by just hugging her was too risky.
Finding her subconsciously amenable, he plucked her bag out of the way, set it on the floor, and pulled her past the threshold into a hug. "It's good to see you again," he murmured.
"Well, I can stay until Chenen afternoon," she said, hugging him back and leaning her head on his shoulder. "I'm not sure exactly what time that will be here, but it's about two Elcenian days, total - Fenen night, all Lunen, most of the daylight angles of Chenen." She leaned a little more. "I'm actually pretty tired. It's almost when I go to sleep."
"Why aren't you nocturnal?" Talyn asked, steering her towards a low couch that curved with the tower wall. She sat next to him agreeably enough. "I'd think any species that doesn't like the sun would be inside while it's shining."
"I'm not nocturnal 'cause Binaaralav doesn't have night classes," Leekath said. "Vampires who don't have to do things on a schedule with non-vampires do sleep days, but there's more of them than there are of us. There have to be or we'd have some trouble eating regularly," she added.
"Speaking of which," Talyn said. "It was a, um, 'week' ago that I gave you dinner. That's a normal amount of time between feedings for you, right?"
"Yes," she said, "give or take a couple of days."
"Do you want to bite me again?"
"It's not safe for you, so soon. I can go without while I'm here and eat when I go back to school, or maybe one of the others here will want to let me?" she said. She still had her arms wrapped around his middle and her head on his shoulder. The way they'd sat down had one of her knees over one of his.
"Oh," said Talyn, disgruntled. "Uh, sure. We're all halfbloods here except Pyelle, who's an elf." He ground his teeth once before continuing, out of a sense of obligatory honesty, "And Barashin elves live longer than halfbloods."
"Ooh," Leekath said.
"Will you kiss me?" he blurted, without even checking for the answer first.
She went a little stiff. "I - I don't know how. Um, and if I accidentally fang you, your face will go numb just like your neck did. And there aren't lights here, right?"
Finding, to his relief, that these were her only actual objections, he said rapidly, "We can figure it out. And I'm sure Grandfather, and probably also Byron and maybe Nevyn depending on how your fangs work, can fix the numbness if I ask them, when they wake up."
"Oh. Um, okay, if you're sure."
Talyn cupped her face in his hand and tipped it up. Her skin was as cool as ever, even though the night outside was warm for early spring. When he kissed her, her mouth was the same.
His entire lower lip went numb a fragment later, but he was still very pleased with himself when he'd pulled away. "Sankoo," he attempted, and then he prodded at the numb spot with his knuckle in amusement. <Thank you,> he sent.
"I'm sorry!" she exclaimed. "They don't have to be biting down with any force, they're just really sharp..."
<Don't be sorry! I'm not,> he sent firmly.
"Okay," she sighed, and she covered a yawn.
<I should show you where you're sleeping. Grandfather assigned you a guest bedroom that will be yours whenever you're here. I put a perch in it that's about the size and height of the one in your room,> he said, ushering her to her feet. She followed him up the stairs; he floated her bag after them. <It has an opaque window shade. It's got a bed that you won't need, but that's not a problem, it just isn't a plus either, right?>
The room was on the fourth floor, with Pyelle's and Emryl's. The stone perch Talyn had pulled out of the wall stretched its span, and Leekath reached up to touch it and transformed into a bat with her feet clinging to the part of the perch her hand had rested on. <Good night,> she sent.
<I actually signed up to stay awake all night,> Talyn sent ruefully. <But I'll see you in the morning, whenever you're up.>
Leekath nodded her pointed, large-eared head, and closed her eyes. Talyn let himself out, smiling as well as he could with a drooping lower lip, and closed the door behind him.
Nevyn was up first, unsurprisingly. He was able to wake the deadened nerves in Talyn's lip when asked, though he did want to know how the mishap had occurred and chuckled a little too long when told, thinking that Talyn would soon move on to someone who didn't trail insensation wherever she put her mouth. Talyn quickly distracted himself from the older boy's thoughts after getting the gist, and reassured himself that he and Leekath would figure it out.
After turning the sand glass, Talyn woke up the girls and Byron too so everyone could get started on breakfast. "Where's Leekath?" Emryl asked him, curious to meet a person from another existence.
"Still asleep," Talyn said. "She's from a different time zone. But I expect we'll wake her up soon clattering around."
"Won't she want to be woken for breakfast?" Pyelle asked, wondering whether to scoop out nine people's worth of berries instead of eight from the giant preserves jar.
You're breakfast, Talyn didn't say. "Vampires don't eat the same things we do," he said instead, stirring the offered berries into the bubbling oatmeal. "So no, don't wake her, just wake Grandfather as usual when we're done fixing the food."
"What do they eat?" Jenn asked, grating cheese to sprinkle on the eggs that Mysha was scrambling. Her mental image was along the lines of a person - who looked nothing like Leekath - chowing down on woodchips and shards of china.
Talyn hadn't told anyone about the meal he'd provided Leekath; he knew she bit a variety of people, all the time, and that it wasn't supposed to be an intimate matter, but it felt like it to him. His hair covered the bite marks; no one had asked. "Blood," he said tersely.
"Ew!" exclaimed Pyelle, and Talyn winced inwardly at the distinctly triumphant feeling that Leekath might have to rule out the elf. It wasn't that much of a triumph anyway; there were plenty of halfbloods, none of whom were reacting with the same disgust.
"Blood? And that's it?" Nevyn asked.
"Yeah," Talyn said. "They bite people for it. With permission," he added hastily, because he didn't want Leekath to wake up to a towerful of misconceptions.
"I don't see how that could sustain a person," Jenn said, although at least she didn't think Talyn was lying - she thought he'd misunderstood something.
"It makes sense to me," Nevyn said seriously. "Blood is a powerful substance - all of the food you eat gets processed and put into your blood anyway. You're not sustained by anything that's not in your blood at some point."
Mysha poured the beaten eggs into the pan that Byron had buttered and spiced. Byron started slicing bread. "Pyelle, even if you think it's gross, Leekath is our guest and you'll treat her with respect," he said to the image apprentice.
"I understand," Pyelle said meekly. "I won't be mean to her."
"You're quiet this morning, Mysha," Emryl commented.
"I just don't have anything to say," Mysha demurred. She was shielded as ever, so Talyn didn't know if that was true or if something was bothering her.
"Is that oatmeal done?" Jenn asked Talyn, dumping her cheese into the egg pan. "I'm starving."
The apprentices served out food onto plates and into bowls, and Pyelle ran up the stairs to fetch Revenn. When she and the Master descended the stairs, Leekath - wearing a black cloak with attached gloves and a hood, to protect herself from the suns' light streaming in through the windows - was with them.
"Morning, Master!" said Jenn. "And you must be Leekath!"
Talyn abruptly realized that he'd have to do the translating until and unless Revenn or Mysha took over, and projected a language-independent sending at the vampire. <Just reply in whatever language. I'll see that everyone understands.>
She blinked and then said, "Yes, I am." Talyn broadcast more of the same to everyone else in the room.
"Oh, wow," Emryl said, peering at what of Leekath's face was visible under her hood; she wasn't facing the east side of the tower, so the hem of the fabric was just above her eyebrows. "You look just like my older sister did when she was thirteen or fourteen, except she's not quite that pale - but close!"
"I do?" Leekath said. "Uh, thank you. You don't look very much like anyone in my family," she said apologetically.
"Talyn says you drink blood," Nevyn said.
"That's true," Leekath said.
"Just out of a glass," Nevyn asked, "or what?"
Leekath opened her mouth a bit and touched one of her fangs. "These are like straws," she said. "I actually can't swallow."
"Oh, interesting," said Byron, peering at her. "...You have an odd biorhythm..." Talyn almost snickered.
"What's that?" Leekath asked. She sat next to Talyn, at the empty place setting he'd left.
"A combination of your lifeforce, heartbeat, and breath, at its most basic," Byron said.
"Well, I don't have a heart to beat," Leekath said.
Byron's incredulous question about that was cut off by Revenn's, "Let's not interrogate our guest all at once, please. Leekath, I understand you have letters for me?"
Leekath nodded, and pulled the envelopes out of the pocket of her cloak. "I heard them," she apologized. "But Rhysel knew to write around anything she didn't want me to hear, and I didn't try to listen."
"That's all right," Revenn assured her, taking the letters. He pocketed them, and took a spoonful of oatmeal. "As long as you're here, I would like to learn more about Elcenia than Rhysel's been able to put in her letters; would you be willing to set aside some of your time in Barashi to talk to me about your home?"
"Okay," Leekath said. Talyn suppressed a flare of resentment - he'd expected to have her to himself. But of course Revenn wanted to talk to her. He probably wouldn't keep her that long.
"Excellent." Revenn spooned some eggs onto his bread and reviewed the lesson schedule for the day, and who was supposed to be practicing what workings during their downtime. Talyn was getting a lesson in wild kamai from Byron after lunch and teaching Pyelle image kamai after that. Revenn suggested that he and Leekath discuss Elcenia during that time, so Talyn wouldn't lose divs he could have spent with her. She probably wouldn't have been interested in watching him make shrews move game pawns.
"So I don't have any commitments until eight-zero?" Talyn confirmed.
"Yeah, you can scamper off with your girlfriend till then," Jenn put in.
Talyn froze. He hadn't even thought about trying to apply labels to him and Leekath. If Jenn scared Leekath away he was going to have to think of some very fitting revenge - possibly something involving that boy from the village she saw on occasion, though he knew she wasn't really serious about him -
<I did not go around telling people that you're my girlfriend. I wouldn't do that without asking you,> he sent to Leekath as damage control. It occurred to him belatedly that he could have just refrained from translating Jenn's remark for her, but that didn't seem right. <Um, but since it's been brought up now... do you want to be my girlfriend?>
<Okay,> Leekath sent back shyly.
Talyn grinned at her. "What's got you so happy all of a sudden?" Emryl asked him.
"I have a girlfriend," he chirped.
The breakfasting kyma eventually finished eating and dispersed. Mysha borrowed the uncommitted Jenn to practice memory-retrieval on; Nevyn and Revenn went by transfer point to some far-flung locale where they would be allowed to work with a corpse; Emryl practiced the elements of fireform so she'd be able to attempt turning completely into flame when Revenn returned to supervise her; Pyelle made herself a big bowl of illusion vanilla pudding as her practice on multisensory illusions and stayed right where she was to "test" it with a spoon; and Byron went to keep an appointment with a medic in town.
<I don't think I can safely bite Pyelle,> Leekath sent to him as he got up and offered her his hand. <She's too little.> Pyelle was almost thirteen, but she was short, and slim, and indeed might not have enough blood in her to offer up to a vampire even if she were amenable to the idea. <Who do you think I should ask instead?>
<Uh. Emryl seems to like you,> he said reluctantly. Leekath got up, her hand in his, and followed him up the stairs to her blacked-out room; he suspected she'd be more comfortable if she didn't have to be wrapped up in her cloak. <And Grandfather might want to see for himself how it works, so you could try him, too.>
<I'll wait until this afternoon when Master Revenn talks to me about Elcenia, then, and ask him, and if he says no I'll try Emryl,> Leekath sent.
In the guest room, Leekath peeled off the sun cloak; she had on an ordinary skirt and blouse under it. "I'm not used to wearing that around," she said. "I think it's too small for me now - I haven't put it on since I learned the sunscreening spell."
"Why wouldn't everyone learn that spell?" Talyn asked, sitting on the bed.
"It's kind of a complicated spell... Will this perch hold me in both forms?"
"Yeah, it'll support you like this just fine," he said, although he didn't see how that could be comfortable.
Leekath pulled a spare sash out of her luggage, tied her skirt in place around her knees, and hoisted herself up to hang upside-down from the perch without turning into a bat at any point during the process. Her hair wasn't quite long enough to sweep the ground. "The spell requires a pretty high channeling capacity - I mean, not huge, but more than some people have, and if you botch it you'll hurt yourself. It's complicated to keep out the parts of light that can hurt us without blocking all of it so we look like white blots wandering around and can't see, or making it bounce off and give people who stand near us extra sunburn, or anything like that, so it takes a lot of power. Some people who don't learn the spell for themselves get a wizard who isn't a vampire to cast it on them. My aaihhhi does that, since he knows a lot of wizards from his work. But other people just stay out of the sun or wear cloaks."
"Aaihhhi," said Talyn, supplementing with image kamai. "That's..." He looked. "One of your dads, but how do you have two, exactly? What about your mom?"
"I don't have a mom," she said. "I have an aunt who carried me and my brother and sister, but she's only my aunt, even biologically."
"I was conceived by spell," Leekath explained. "I guess kamai can't do that?"
"I don't know if it's ever occurred to anyone to try," Talyn said, leaning against the wall thoughtfully. "I bet it could, though."
"Why wouldn't anyone try it?" Leekath asked, swinging back and forth idly and letting her arms dangle to brush the floor with her fingertips.
Talyn shrugged. "There aren't that many men who want to marry other men," he said. "At least here. Are there lots in Elcenia?"
"I don't remember the percentage exactly. They're not unusual, though," Leekath said. "Same with women, but then the spell lets one of them carry the baby instead of getting help from someone else. And they can only have girls."
"Oh. It's not like it never happens here, just not much. And people don't go to kamai to solve their problems as much as they do with wizardry, it seems like."
"Huh. Well, that's how I am," Leekath said. "Hey, you were going to tell me what demons are, and how you get to stop being an apprentice when you're ready, and stuff."
"Oh! Right. Let me go get your last letter, and I can make sure I cover everything you wanted to know," Talyn laughed, hopping to his feet. "I have it in my room."
"Can I see your room?" Leekath asked, grabbing the perch with one hand to flip off of it and let herself down onto the ground. She undid the spare sash keeping her skirt in place and looped it over the bar, and picked up her sun cloak.
"Sure," Talyn said. "It's not that interesting, though. It just has my bed and books and clothes."
Talyn wound up taking Leekath on a haphazard tour of the entire tower after picking up the letter, while explaining that Revenn saw all of the students on a daily basis and it was up to him when to declare any of them Journeymen. When Talyn learned that Leekath's fur protected her from the sun when she was in bat form, he took her outside as well, with her balanced furrily on his shoulder and her wing-claws hooked through his shirt. He explained demons as malevolent possessing marokel ("they're rare, you don't have to worry about them") while he showed her the cliff. (She declined to cliffdive, on the grounds that the wind associated with the fall would blow her sun cloak away from her face, and falling the entire way in bat form would have her descending uninterestingly slowly). He brought her on a stroll through the woods that encroached on the west side of the tower, and she chatted about her aaihhhi's work in Parliament.
Eventually the greater sun peaked in the sky, and Talyn had to help with lunch and then study with Byron and then tutor Pyelle, while Revenn monopolized Leekath. But Talyn had her mostly to himself for the rest of the day (minus his occasional runs to Byron for de-numbing), and the next day too until she was abruptly unsent, and most of each visit each seven days after that.
Leekath's sixth visit was shorter than the others, because she wasn't sent until the day after she was infused with all of the other future Elcenian kamai students. Talyn couldn't decide if he was more annoyed about the reduced time with her or more thrilled that they would finally be able to share kamai; in any event, when she finally appeared, the first thing he said was, "Have you learned any workings yet?"
"Not exactly," Leekath said. "Lessons don't start for almost a month. And I practically just woke up, so I wouldn't have had much chance to figure things out myself, except..."
"Except?" prompted Talyn when she trailed off.
"A lot of things are louder, now, because they have more to say," she said. "They're telling me what I can do with them, and more about themselves, now that I could be doing kamai to them. When I went to Rhysel's tower to be sent here today I listened to her ward stones a bit... they were just rocks before, but now they tell me all about what they could do."
"What kinds of things?" Talyn asked.
"Not everything," she said. "Like, there's no kamai that would work directly with the fabric in my outfit - I mean, I could set it on fire, presumably, but that's not really about the dress. But, like..." She squeaked into the night, and reached down and picked up a fist-sized rock off the ground. "This will tell me all about how I can change it."
"Does vampire even have words for kamai stuff?" Talyn asked.
"No," she said. "So I'm kind of confused. It talks to me, and I understand what it says, and I could do it -" She pushed lifeforce through the rock; it softened and she squeezed it in her hand. She added more - Talyn watched the magic turn the rock to a crystal. "But I don't know how the words it said told me how to do that. I wonder if maybe I've been understanding things by more than just words all along, and now it's just obvious."
"Maybe," he murmured. "That - was - amazing. You've been a kama for less than a day..."
"I don't think it'll help me with everything," she hastened to add. "Just stuff that uses tools like Rhysel's ward stones, and with rocks. I can't hear illusions, remember, or substances, or live things including people's minds."
"It's still amazing. The tools know what they can do? Not just what's been done with them?"
"I heard Rhysel's ward stones explicitly say they hadn't done one of the things they could do," Leekath said.
"But - Leekath, we're still discovering new things that can be done with ward stones. You could just hear them all at once," marveled Talyn. "That'll get you your Mastery, whenever you want it, just like that, if you come up with even one more."
Leekath turned her rock into a crystal chain, looped it around her wrist, and linked it to itself. "I don't think we're doing the same system of credentials," she pointed out.
"You could get your Mastery anyway," he said. "I still don't know what I'm going to do for mine. I mean, I could probably do something worth the qualification now, but I want it to be really spectacular, not just the first thing I think of."
"Wouldn't it be cheating, a little, to use hearing to get a kamai Mastery?" asked Leekath.
Talyn shook his head. "No more than if I do something earlier or better or different because I'm an innate kama. Hearing's part of who you are, and you're the one who'll be a Master one day. They aren't awarding the Mastery to kamai itself."
"Well, anyway, it will only help me with a few things," Leekath said, clinking the crystal chain on her wrist. "Want to teach me something else?"
"Yeah!" Talyn exclaimed, perhaps too loud - someone's quiescent thoughts upstairs stirred in annoyance - and he pulled her into the tower to run through all the introductory kamai he could think of.