Chapter Five: Possessing
"I'm not supposed to do this," Talyn said. "Normally. But." He laid the flat of his palm on Leekath's head. "Grandfather'll lecture me for an afternoon once everything's calmed down but you need to be safe -"
"What are you doing?" Leekath asked, though she wasn't truly alarmed. "All I said was 'hi' -"
"Invisibility," Talyn said. "Flight, in case you can't take off as a bat for some reason - some stuff with fire - transfer point signatures - sensing animals -"
"Are you teaching me that stuff? Directly?" Leekath asked. "Is that what you're not supposed to do?" Why? he heard her wonder, but he refocused on sending her what she had to know.
Talyn nodded once, lips pursed. "There's some long, complicated justification - I wasn't really paying attention - but this is more important than whatever it is. You need to be safe."
Talyn dropped his hand from her forehead and pulled her into a hug. "Leekath, there's a demon loose."
"You said they were rare..."
"They are. We've got one anyway. Here." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of ward stones. "Take these. They'll tell you what to do; they're not yours but you can still use them. A demon can't get through a stones ward. And -" He let her go long enough to rummage around the cluttered shelves to the far side of the room, and seized a clear octahedron. "This crystal has Keo's dragonsong in it. If it comes to the worst and you need to be unsent early, sing it, I'm sure she'll scry you or something and get Aar Kithen -"
"I can't," Leekath said.
"Can't hear the stones, or the crystal?" He couldn't sort through the voices in her head fast enough to tell which streams of chatter belonged to which objects. "I can teach you the stones ward if the stones can't and you can play the crystal aloud -"
"Can't sing. My voice won't do that at the pitches of this song," Leekath said. "It's the flipside of why vampire music is how it is..."
"Okay," said Talyn, frowning at the crystal and trying to think faster. "Okay, I'll hang onto it, then, I can sing it. Maybe I should just do that now and get you home where you're safe, actually. Except then Keo might decide to summon me to find out what was going on, and what if the demon came here while you were alone..."
"Alone? Where is everyone? It's the middle of the day," Leekath said.
"They're looking for it so they can kill it," Talyn said. "Except Pyelle - Grandfather sent her to another image kama's tower for the day. When we woke up this morning, Nevyn had left a note saying a villager came with a deformed dog corpse -"
"What's a dog?"
Talyn pushed the knowledge at her impatiently and continued. "Which means the dog was possessed by a demon, and now it's somewhere else. Nevyn went with the villager to try to track it and kill it, but he didn't come back, and the note didn't even say which villager it was, just someone with a dog, and lots of people have dogs."
"Why didn't Nevyn wake anyone up?" Leekath asked.
"No time. A demon is an emergency. Anyone it possesses is going to die, and the demon will switch bodies as often as it can so it won't be easy to spot by the deformities. Nevyn... should have been able to handle it. But I think he's dead, and I can only hope he didn't get possessed first," Talyn shivered. "I'm supposed to stay in here, look after you, and not leave the tower, because if the demon manages to jump into me, we are in even worse trouble."
"Why?" Leekath asked. "I mean - that would be bad, but why especially bad, for people who aren't you and me?"
"Marokel - including demons - don't have language," Talyn said, pulling Leekath up the stairs to put her luggage in her room and curl up with her on the bed under her perch. "If they possess someone, they can get at their non-linguistic memories, but not anything that they understand through words. So if it possessed -" He considered the kyma out on the demon-hunt. "...Byron," he decided was the most tolerable thought, "then it could calm animals, since that's really basic and Byron can do it without thinking about it now, but at least it couldn't use shapeshifting kamai, because that's really hard and Byron barely even knows how to do it, let alone by instinct. Does that make sense?"
"I think so."
"And I'm an innate kama," Talyn said. "And I just don't learn kamai through language in the first place. I can't do as many things as Grandfather, but I do them much more instinctively. A demon that got into me wouldn't be actually unstoppable, but it would be so, so hard to fight."
"Will staying in the tower help?" Leekath asked.
"Demons aren't like regular marokel. They need hosts. They can't float around for long distances looking for new ones, they have to jump at close range. So unless the demon gets into the tower, we're safe here," Talyn promised. "It has to be a good-sized host, like the size of a cat, so it's not going to be a gnat or anything else we'd miss or that could get in through a crack in the window."
"Why don't we just go where Pyelle went?" Leekath asked. "I understand why you wouldn't have wanted me to just land without anyone to meet me, but -"
"The transfer point is outside. Pyelle had everyone escorting her out to it - we'd be on our own," Talyn said. "I could make one in here, but I'd need a lot more lifeforce. I'd be saving it up in a power box but you make those with ward stones, that's the only set in the tower, and I want you to have them in case you need to make a ward."
"We could just make a ward now," Leekath said. Her hands were clenched in his shirt and her voice was tending towards the strident as she appreciated the gravity of the threat.
Talyn chewed his lip. "If we make a ward, and I sing for Keo, then we can sit under it until she summons me or sends us a letter or whatever... if you make it, it'll stay up even if I'm summoned away... I can tell her to get you unsent, and we can stay in Elcenia till the demon is taken care of. That's probably best."
"We should write Keo a note, in case she tries looking for that before summoning you," Leekath said. She sat up, slid to the ground, and arranging the stones on the floor. "Do you have paper?"
"We should do this on the ground floor," Talyn said, standing up. "Not up here. I don't think the demon will knock down the tower, but if it does and we're under it, the ward will protect us - if we're in the part that gets knocked down the stones could dislodge and the ward would break and we'd be in trouble."
They went down the stairs, ward stones and image crystal in hand, and Leekath started setting up the ward while Talyn activated the crystal to brush up on the tune to the dragonsong, which he'd altogether forgotten. Keo's voice sang from the octahedron while he hunted for paper. "Under the box," Leekath told him softly as she placed the last stone.
Talyn pulled out a sheet of paper, humming along with the second rendition of the dragonsong, when he heard a mental shout. <Help! Help!>
"You heard that too," Talyn said softly. And it wasn't language-dependent, either, she'd understood it, he didn't have to pause and translate...
"Mysha," murmured Leekath.
<Help! It got him, I can't fight it ->
"Talyn, you can't go outside," Leekath exclaimed.
"Put your ward up," Talyn said.
"You can't go out! If it gets you -" She was imagining vague disaster scenarios. They were probably about right, if it got him. But.
"If it's in someone and Mysha's coming here for help, you and me and her are the last kyma for miles around." He deliberately didn't process the implications of that. "Non-kyma don't have much of a chance - and if it gets to the transfer point it could go anywhere, hurt anyone - I can fight it -" There were dozens of ways to kill demons. Anything at a distance that hit it hard enough would work. This demon was clever, but Mysha'd given him warning, and she could help.
"Talyn!" shrieked Leekath.
"Put up your ward," he barked. "If it's in a person - in a kama - it can get into the tower! Staying inside won't help anymore!"
"Get under here with me!" Leekath cried. "Song Keo -"
"I can fight it," he repeated, and he activated the ward stones himself, encasing Leekath in protections that blocked even her thoughts from him, and opened the door.
He couldn't see Mysha immediately; she had to have been straining her range. <Mysha, where are you?> he sent back. Behind him, he felt the ward drop away from him; Leekath had convinced the stones to give her control of it. Good. He'd ask her how she'd done that later. There was going to be a later. <Mysha! Who did the demon get?>
She replied with a picture of Revenn.
Talyn drew breath through his teeth. <Did you try a mind-blast...?> He spun around and sank the transfer point into a deep pit and filled the pit with illusion sand - not impossible to get at, but it'd stall the demon, give him a better chance if the monster made a break for the point.
<I can't bear it, I just can't,> came Mysha's wail. <Not him.>
<He's my grandfather! How do you think I'm going to bear it?> Talyn shouted back at her. <Are you out of its jumping range? Mind-blast him - he's - he's gone already - he'd want you to ->
<I can't, I can't remember the steps ->
<When you're closer I can remind you. Can you do it if I send you the knowledge? Don't make me, Mysha, please don't ->
<Maybe,> came her mental sob.
<I know you brought your gold wand. You'll need that to channel the blast if you're at all drained. Do you have it?> Talyn forced himself to focus on Mysha, on Mysha's distress, on Mysha's need to learn something over again and Mysha's task at hand. <It's not catching up to you, is it? How far away are you?>
<I have it. It's chasing me, but not catching up. I'm on my way to you.>
<I can send you how to mindblast as soon as I can see you, and then you can do it, and then it'll be over,> Talyn promised. <All over.>
<I'm almost there.>
Mysha flew over the horizon a moment later, red hair streaming behind her. <Teach me,> she begged.
Talyn didn't have a gold wand on him to boost mind kamai - his was upstairs - but he had a lot of lifeforce, and he could arc the knowledge over to her at range. <Here. Please.>
Mysha spun in mid-air, flying backwards to the tower to face her opponent, and aimed her wand at the figure chasing after her.
Revenn's body fell from the sky like a stone.
"He was already gone," Talyn murmured as Mysha skidded in for an awkward landing and started walking towards the tower. Her face was covered in tears. "Who else was killed?" he called.
<I can't hear you,> she sent.
<Who else did it get? Is there anyone else left?>
<No... no, they're all gone...> Mysha was hugging herself. Talyn wanted to go to her and comfort her, but he was drained enough from dipping the transfer point and arcing the mind-blast knowledge that walking to anywhere but a chair didn't appeal.
<Come inside and - and we should eat something, and then call on other Masters about what to do.> Talyn was numb. Eating felt like a preposterous thing to do in the situation, but that was what one did when drained - one had food - one recovered one's strength -
<Talyn,> came Leekath's mindspeech from inside.
<What? Oh, I should have told you, you can drop your ward now, the demon is ->
<Talyn, the things don't like her.>
<The rocks and the sticks and her clothes - those are Mysha's clothes, but they don't like who they're on - usually nothing cares about her ->
Talyn froze mid-turn towards the tower. "Hey," he said to Mysha, who was still trudging forward. "Uh, can you hear me yet?"
Mysha cupped her hand around her ear and looked puzzled.
Deliberately dropping to elementary, language-based mindspeech, he sent, <So what Masters do you think we should call?>
<Sorry, I'm - I'm so frazzled ->
Just meanings. No words.
She hadn't called him by name once.
Talyn seized the golden wand in her hand with air magic and pulled it towards him; he caught it and aimed it at her.
"Say something," he said. "Anything. A word."
Mysha blinked at him, and looked at the wand, and then surged forward, lunging for him.
The mind-blast caught her when she was three feet away, and Talyn threw himself backwards with his last energy, collapsing on the doorstep of the tower.
Talyn came to in his own bed, with a splitting headache, numb spots on the back of his neck and parts of his arms, and the stolen minds of Mysha, Revenn, and the demon murmuring in his mind.
He was too drained to do even the passive kamai of mindreading that he'd been fighting to control since he manifested. He didn't notice Leekath was beside him until she squeezed his hand and asked him a question.
Lacking enough Leraal to understand her without the help of mind kamai, he mumbled, "Food?" He knew Leekath knew that word in Martisen. He hoped she remembered it. She asked something else - "can you" something - maybe could he tap her? He couldn't do that, not until he recovered more. "Food," he said again.
Leekath frowned at him, but got up and came back with a bowl of cherries. He wished she'd picked something a little easier to eat, but couldn't fault a vampire for not having learned much about fruit and how it was eaten. Hoping she'd pick up on the fact that he didn't have the motor control to feed himself, he opened his mouth.
She popped a cherry, stem and all, into his mouth. He bit the stem off and let it fall onto his chest, but swallowed the pit after weakly chewing the cherry into a pulp, then opened his mouth for another. She took the stem off of the second and subsequent cherries.
When he'd finished them all, he reached out for her hand; she laced their fingers, and he gently pulled to tap her for the rest of what he needed. "Can I take more?" he croaked when he was able to translate for her.
"Take what you need," she murmured.
He tapped more, sighing with relief as his senses returned to him and some life came back to his extremities. "Parts of me seem to be numb," he said quizzically. Voices of the dead roiled under the anxious hum of Leekath's mind, but he viciously forced them down. He had lots of practice ignoring thoughts. He was going to get a lot more.
"You hurt yourself when you fell," she murmured. "You had bruises. I can't heal you but I can anesthetize you. I didn't take any blood. That wouldn't be good for you right now."
"Oh." He inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly. "How'd I get up here?"
"I carried you," she said. "Was that a bad idea? I knew you weren't possessed because the things all calmed down..."
"I'll be fine," he said.
"The gold wand told me what you did," Leekath said. "Are you really fine?"
He winced. "Okay. Not very fine. That's the only fatal mind kamai working that functions at a distance, though, and I only had a metal wand and not enough lifeforce to do without a tool - I didn't have a choice -"
"It's okay," she said, plucking the cherry stem off his chest and smoothing his shirt. "I didn't think you picked it for no reason. But it has side effects."
"I can ignore them. Mostly." He flinched as he failed at it. "Oh, gods, Mysha was in love with me - she loved me and I killed her - and I helped the demon kill my grandfather - he'd have been able to get it otherwise - he was never possessed - gods."
Leekath ran her fingers through Talyn's hair carefully. "We should get help."
"Yeah," he breathed. "That would be good. Help. Can you go down to the transfer point -"
"No," she shuddered, and he caught a memory of her creeping out to pick up his unconscious form and hearing Mysha's voice, keening in vampire, emanating from the blasted girl's body. "No, I don't want to go down there while she's..."
"Okay," he said at once. "I'll tap you a little more and you can stay up here." He took another deep breath, pulled Leekath down to a third of her normal lifeforce, and sat up. She turned into a bat; he heard her thoughts slowing with sleepiness. "I'll hang you up. You can go ahead and nap," he said, scooping her up and bringing her to her guest room. Her little feet clung to the perch and she closed her eyes.
Talyn was loath to be alone, but he needed help, and the embedded shards of stolen minds weren't much. Some calmer moment, he could pick at them, and see what, if anything, he could salvage - his grandfather's kamai knowledge might be intact, if nothing else. Some other time.
He avoided looking at Mysha's body, and edged his way around the outside tower wall to the transfer point. There were a few options for who to go to for help. Eventually, he settled on Emryl's uncle Master Corvan. He didn't know any relatives for any of the others, and Corvan was a mind kama and would understand the mind blast.
It occurred to Talyn that he wasn't really sure if the others were dead. The demon could have been lying. Emryl and Jenn and Byron - maybe even Nevyn - could be alive somewhere, having gotten split up or injured. He debated whether to go looking for them first, then finally decided to get Corvan and enlist his help in hunting for the others.
Talyn stepped onto the transfer point and jumped to Corvan's tower. It was raining, there, but the transfer point was only a few steps from the door. <Master Corvan!>
<A moment,> sent Corvan, and the door soon opened. Talyn was used to thinking of Corvan as pale, but he wasn't compared to Leekath; stern eyes glowered down at him, annoyed as ever to be disturbed. Well, that would last until he knew his niece was involved. <Talyn. What brings you here?>
Talyn didn't have the words. He bowed his head in silent offer. The Master touched his scalp and pulled the knowledge.
<We must not waste time. Come,> Corvan sent firmly, and he strode towards the transfer point. Talyn followed meekly.
<I helped it...> he sent guiltily, when they'd arrived back at Revenn's tower. What had been Revenn's tower.
<You were deceived. Was it uncharacteristic for her to use language-independent mindspeech?> Corvan asked.
<No, it was usual...>
<You acted rashly but should not hold yourself responsible for Master Revenn's death,> Corvan said. <There is someone else here - or something. A mind full of shrieking.>
<That's Leekath. She hears things even asleep,> Talyn sent.
<Are you in a condition sufficient to carry me aloft as well as yourself?> Corvan asked. <For what may be an extended search?>
<I can do that,> returned Talyn dully.
Talyn picked up the two of them and flew them as Corvan directed in search of the others. It was almost half a div before Corvan, casting out for the feel of their minds, located any of them.
Byron was alive, barely, unconscious and bleeding from the base of his skull, half in and half out of the river. Talyn didn't want to consult the demon's memories, but they came unbidden; Byron had trusted the demon wearing Mysha's face, too, and she'd simply bashed his head with a rock when Revenn was distracted, then claimed to see a demonic bear, which they'd "chased" into the woods. Revenn hadn't noticed that they'd lost Byron until later. The demon hadn't wanted Byron for a host; it had wanted Talyn. Talyn stabilized the wild kama, but didn't have the energy to heal him completely before flying back.
Nevyn was dead by the riverside, a strange twisting to his face and hands where he'd begun to deform from possession. He was otherwise unmarked. Mysha had killed him when he'd been found, but she hadn't been far enough away to escape possession herself. No one had seen the demon leap out of him and into her.
Jenn and Emryl were both alive and still searching. They'd considered it likely that the demon had gotten into a swimming form of some kind and taken the river to make better time away from the place where it had been discovered; Revenn and Mysha and Byron had gone the other way.
"It was in Mysha the whole time?" Emryl mouthed, letting her uncle hug her. "I thought she was too far away."
"She didn't mind-blast it when it was in Nevyn," Talyn murmured. "She shut down his autonomics. That wouldn't have worked from far enough away, not even with her wand. And everyone was in too much of a hurry to check, to suspect, when she seemed to be acting normal."
"What happened then?" Jenn asked in a small voice. Talyn turned away. He wanted to go back to Leekath, wake her up selfishly just so he could have someone to hold. She wouldn't laugh at him if he cried.
Corvan explained what he'd pulled from Talyn, and then they collected Nevyn's body and Byron's inert form and floated back to the tower. <I will contact the relevant parties and make funerary arrangements,> Corvan said, as Talyn tapped Emryl for the spare lifeforce he needed to restore Byron.
He did the healing carefully, with sympathetic wild magic instead of laborious proxic elemental, and didn't end with an unhealing hole in his head or any other ill effect. Byron sat up slowly, rubbing the intact skin where he'd been struck; he too received the rundown of the day's tragedies.
Talyn went up the stairs to Leekath's room. She was asleep, but the whir of hhikiiias in her mind was comforting anyway. He opened up his senses to them, until he could think about the overlapping sounds and not guilt or grief or demon-thoughts hissing under his own.
He lay down on the bed under her perch and let himself sleep.