Chapter Six: Grieving
When Leekath woke up, the sun was down, but low voices audible through the door suggested that there were people up and about. Talyn, asleep beneath her, wasn't one of them; she shifted out of bat form to a position with one hand clutching the perch and let herself down to the floor gently rather than waking him.
She heard Byron talking, and Jenn crying, and Nevyn explaining what had happened while Revenn and Mysha gave different parts of the story -
Leekath shook her head, hard, trying to chase out the last three voices. Dead. All three dead. They hadn't even spoken vampire; they couldn't have reached those pitches while they lived; those sounds were only the hhikiiias of bodies.
She forced herself down the stairs, step by step, but every one brought her closer to the bodies and made their voices louder - I am a corpse, keened Mysha; I have the following demonic malformations: began Nevyn, I fell from a height of 87 feet, screamed Revenn. Before anyone had noticed she was awake she'd turned and fled back up to the guest room, intending to grab her bag and move up to the now-vacated room at the very top of the tower.
She opened the door, and Talyn was sitting up in bed, knees drawn up to his chest. "You're awake?" she asked softly.
Talyn nodded slowly. "Yeah. I heard you open the door."
"I'm sorry. I was trying to be quiet," she murmured, sitting beside him.
"I don't mind," he said, sighing the words into her shoulder as he wrapped himself around her. She hugged him back; terrible as the voices of the dead sounded in her mind, she hadn't known any of them longer than a few weeks, and Revenn hadn't been her grandfather. She could stay put with him instead of running farther from the bodies.
"We can go upstairs if you want," Talyn said in response to unspoken thoughts. "I - Grandfather won't need his room."
"Will you be okay there?" Leekath asked, though she did ache to climb higher, away from the voices. She'd gotten so used to them. She'd stopped trying to push them away when she was five or six; but she started again, shoving uselessly at the familiar timbres twisted into unnaturally pitched, unnaturally emotionless descriptions of their own deaths. Go away, go away, shut up, shut up -
As they never had when she was small, they obeyed.
All of them.
The sudden silence of everything - everything - felt deadly cold.
Talyn breathed in her ear. His heart beat. People - live ones - spoke downstairs.
The wind shushed across the surface of the tower.
And that was all, and Leekath's eyes rolled back in her head and she slumped over.
"Leekath. Leekath!" <Leekath, Leekath ->
<Talyn?> she thought groggily. If it was him he'd hear her.
<You're awake,> he sent her in relief. <Gods above, what's wrong? Your mind went quiet and you collapsed - are you hungry or ->
<Say something,> she begged. <It's so quiet.>
"Uh - are you hungry?" he asked again. "I think it should be safe for you to bite me again or if you don't think it is Jenn and Emryl weren't injured, you could ask one of them, or I guess there's Master Corvan but he's a human. What happened to your hhikiiias?" he babbled. His hands were trying to find somewhere to touch her that would soothe, but he was too frantic, patting her shoulder and then her knee and then her forehead and then her cheek. Leekath opened her eyes slowly. They were up in Revenn's old bedroom, away from the bodies, but that hardly mattered, because she couldn't hear them. She couldn't even hear her clothes, right up against her skin, which should have been looping through familiar choruses about their stitching and wear and dye. "You were trying to make the - the bodies be quiet and then they all -"
"I don't know," Leekath croaked. "I couldn't do it when I was a little girl. I don't know why I was able to do it now. I don't know if I can bring them back."
Talyn gave up on trying to pat comfort into her and instead lay down next to her, wrapped his arms around her, and pressed his ear into her shoulder. "It's worth a try, isn't it? If you want them back?"
"I do want them back," she said, threading her fingers through his curls. "I don't know how to pull on them the way I pushed them, though, now they're gone."
"Are you otherwise okay? I didn't even know you could pass out in this shape," Talyn said.
"I can pass out. Just not fall asleep," she murmured. "I didn't know losing my powers would do it."
"I'm sure you didn't lose your powers," Talyn said. "They're just - turned off for a little bit until you find out how to turn them back on."
"Maybe," Leekath sighed. She hugged him tighter. "I am hungry. Do you think it's safe to bite you? You did get some cuts when you fell..."
"I might have lost a couple of drops of blood, but not much," he said. "Go ahead." He scooted up so she didn't have to move.
Leekath sighed and closed her eyes and pressed her teeth into Talyn, deeper than she'd bitten to anesthetize his wounds, and pulled warm blood from his throat. The silence didn't become less silent, but it wasn't as cold, at least.
When she was full, she kissed the bite mark, even though he wouldn't be able to feel it, and he re-settled himself beside her.
"I don't know how to ask the hhikiiias to come back," Leekath murmured after a silence.
"How did they show up in the first place?" Talyn asked.
"I was reading a book, and I pretended it was reading itself to me," she murmured. "In my aaihhhi's voice. And it did, and then when it was done, it started talking about itself instead of just reading its story. And then everything else started talking too."
"You can ask things questions, right? Maybe if you ask something to tell you something...?"
"Maybe." She glanced around Revenn's room, and eventually decided to start with a book again. She sat up, dislodging Talyn in the process, and ran her fingertips along his arm as she got to her feet and went with steady steps towards the bookshelf. The titles were illegible, in Eashiri and Martisen and a handful in Trollspeak. Leekath pulled one from the shelf at random. "What do you say?" she asked it.
The book was unresponsive.
"Please?" she whispered against the leather cover. "What do you say? I can't read you if you won't tell me."
Talyn got up and padded across the room to loop his arms around her waist and press his face into her hair.
"What do you say?" Leekath asked the book again desperately, switching from Leraal to vampire even though usually they'd respond to questions in any language.
For a moment there was no sound, and then the book shrilled, Shapeshifting Kamai and Supporting Workings, third edition, by generalist Master Bryn Rhylenn, 24702, editor Lauryl Aylell -
Leekath exhaled deeply and ran her hand over every book still on the shelves until her mind was abuzz with all of their recitations, too. Her clothes chimed in, and Talyn's did, and the sheets on the bed and the shoes under it and everything else.
She leaned back into Talyn, sagging with relief.
After Talyn explained the situation to Master Corvan, the mind Master moved the bodies in their makeshift shrouds out and away from the tower; the weather was fine, and they wouldn't become waterlogged or decay quickly. Leekath came down accordingly to watch everyone deal with the aftermath and take notes to bring back to Rhysel.
Corvan had gotten ahold of Pyelle and the Image master she'd been visiting; the master was newly promoted and didn't yet have any apprentices but agreed to start with Pyelle, under the circumstances. Byron, who had been nearly at his Journeyman promotion anyway, was summarily awarded it and assigned the tower to give the townsfolk - who had lost four of their own number to the demon, and several more animals - some continuity of kyma. Jenn and Emryl wanted to apprentice together, to some elementalist, they didn't have any notion who - Corvan recommended a man Leekath had never heard of and they accepted his suggestion without further inquiry.
"What about me?" Talyn asked quietly.
<You may have a challenge finding a generalist Master,> Corvan said. <Master Bryn no longer takes apprentices; there are precious few other generalists capable of the level of instruction an innate such as yourself requires. You could complete your apprenticeship in several steps - perhaps you would like to follow Emryl and Jenn, learn elementalism with them, and then move on to another aspect?>
He swallowed. "I think I should be with my family for a while before I start anywhere else," he said.
<Of course. And I believe there are other kyma in your family you could consider apprenticing with. Although normally Master Ranel does not take apprentices she might make an exception...>
<No, I don't want to go to my sister's,> Talyn sent. <Or to Grandmother's. I - let me think.>
Corvan nodded and turned towards the image Master who'd brought Pyelle back, discussing what he knew about Revenn's educational style and how to help the little apprentice through the transition.
<How am I going to have an excuse to visit you now?> Leekath asked. She imagined she could get sent to Barashi occasionally by asking favors from teachers and advanced classmates, but not on a weekly basis, and some strange Master might not take her in.
<I'm thinking. Who has research interests in common with Rhysel so she might want to correspond with them some - even if not weekly? Bryn doesn't take apprentices anymore or I'd try her...>
Jenn and Emryl took their suggested Master's transfer point signature from Corvan, and left to petition for apprenticeship. Pyelle's new Master took the girl to her new home, to return only for the funeral.
<Rhysel's a Master,> Leekath pointed out on impulse. She felt selfish, suggesting that he move to another world just so she could see more of him, but she was already dreading the unsending that would leave him alone save for the newly promoted Byron and businesslike Corvan.
Talyn was silent, blinking, and Leekath began to regret the proposal - he'd know perfectly well why she'd suggested it - but then he sent, <That's a good idea.>
<I can mostly teach myself, with books, and I think Rhysel would mostly let me,> Talyn said. <To whatever extent I can't she and Aar Kithen are going to know all the aspects between them. And I could help with her teaching stuff at the school.>
<Does Corvan actually have to approve of you going to her? What if he doesn't like the idea?> Leekath asked.
<He doesn't actually have to. It's between me and Rhysel - and my parents, a little, but I'm going to spend some time home with them anyway. He's taking charge of the others because they need him to. But I can take your idea instead. Will you ask her for me?>
<Of course,> Leekath sent back, squeezing his hand.
Leekath didn't like being unable to properly tell time. She could tell Barashin time - Talyn had taught her how to read the sand glass apparatus and see how many "divs" and "subs" it had been since midnight - but she couldn't wave her hand through the air and mutter the magic word and get a readout of the Elcenian time. She'd tried it once - just in case all the theoreticians in the world were wrong about wizardry working on other worlds - and nothing had happened.
So after approximately the amount of time she normally spent in Barashi, she had to hold all of her possessions on her person so they would come with her, and couldn't become involved in any conversations that she wouldn't want interrupted, waiting for Aar Kithen to undo the spell that kept her pushed out of her world. She could wear her bag slung over her shoulder, but it was problematic that Talyn was taking such a long time to perfect his letter about what had happened.
"Rhysel might not even want to read the letter," Leekath said. "Since I'm going to tell her what happened in person." She bit her lip carefully. "The way I hear her talking about him I think they were really close. I don't think I'd want to hear much detail if someone that close to me died."
"I'll hurry," Talyn said, scrubbing a tear out of his eye with his wrist. "It's okay if she doesn't read it. But I should write it."
Leekath sat next to him, put her arm around his shoulders, closed her eyes, and listened to the letter.
"I really think he's going to unsend me any tick, now," Leekath said. "And - and he'll probably have more on his mind than summoning the letter separately once I tell Rhysel about Master Revenn."
Talyn finally set down his pen. He pushed the letter into Leekath's hands and kissed her in the same motion. <Leekath,> he began. <I ->
The room around her was replaced, and Leekath was sitting on nothing in the summoning circle, the letter crushed in her hands.
She'd been planning to break the news to Rhysel gently - starting with "I have bad news" and going from there - but with Rhysel's eager face staring at her and the warmth of Talyn's lips still on hers, she lost track of that plan.
Leekath stood up from her precarious "sitting" position and looked sadly at Rhysel.
"Leekath? What is it?" Rhysel asked, drawing her eyebrows together.
"M-M-Master Revenn... died," whispered Leekath. "It was -"
Rhysel burst into a moan of misery so loud that Leekath flinched and covered her ears.
Aar Kithen looked between Leekath and Rhysel, and let the vampire out of the circle. "Do you have further information? She may want it later."
"A demon did it," Leekath said. "And it killed a couple of other apprentices too, but it's dead now, Talyn killed it -" It was hard to listen to Rhysel's shouting; Leekath let the letter flutter forgotten to the floor so she could clap her hands over her ears. "I'm so sorry, but -"
"You may go," Aar Kithen said, and Leekath dove for the open window, changing shape midair.
Leekath turned back into her humanoid form at the base of the tower. It was past sunset, but she re-cast her sunscreening spell anyway, rather than be surprised in the morning; then she teleported to her room. Hihhliir was there, napping; she didn't stir when Leekath popped into place. Leekath sighed and started catching up on the assignments that she'd neglected over her visit.
A few degrees later, there was a soft knock at the door; trying not to wake her sleeping roommate, Leekath opened it a crack and peered through to see Aar Kithen. She stepped into the hall. "What is it?"
"Do I remember correctly that you have a parent who is a member of Parliament?" he asked her.
"Aaihhhi is," she said. "He has been for ten years. Why?"
"Can he grant a dispensation to allow Aaralan Inular to obtain a familiar prior to graduation?" he inquired.
"I think he could. I don't think he will, though," she said. "He doesn't like to give dispensations for things..."
"It would mean a great deal to me and to Aaral Camlenn," said Aar Kithen, "if you would ask regardless."
"I can call him," Leekath said. "He's probably still up. But he might be too busy to answer..."
"I understand," said Aar Kithen.
Leekath slipped back into her room, fetched the communication crystal that linked to a twin in her aaihhhi's possession, and went back out into the hall to strike it while Aar Kithen looked on.
The crystal rang and rang, and Leekath worried that he wasn't going to pick up - he might have left it in his office while he attended a meeting, he might have it tucked while he flew somewhere - but at great length, the ringing stopped. "Aaeeihhyleekatheeei!" he said cheerfully. "We haven't talked in weeks! What's going on?"
"I called you last week," she reminded him. "Your secretary said she'd make a note -"
"Must have been lost in the paperwork shuffle. But what's on your mind?" asked her aaihhhi.
Leekath took a breath. "I called to ask a favor," she said. "You might have heard about the offworlder who got stuck here."
"Terrible business, my condolences, of course," aaihhhi said.
"One of the girls who summoned her could reverse the summon just fine, if she had a familiar, but she won't graduate for years," Leekath said. "A teacher asked me to ask you if she could have a dispensation to get her familiar early. I've had a couple of classes with her - I don't think she'd mess up the familiar tying spell," she added.
"Now, Leekath," said her aaihhhi, and she winced apologetically at Aar Kithen; Korulen wasn't going to get to bend the law. "The rules about when wizards-in-training are permitted to attempt various spells are there for their own safety. Even graduated wizards sometimes make errors with that spell. Can I be certain that the trapped offworlder isn't pressuring your friend? After all, whether the girl gets a familiar successfully or dies, the offworlder gets what she wants. And we certainly can't incentivize inappropriate spellcasting. If all you have to do to get a familiar as early as you like is co-cast a summoning spell that no one can undo at the expense of some poor offworlder's freedom, who knows how many unbreakable summonings will accidentally happen with that ulterior motive?"
"Oh. I see," Leekath murmured. "I'll tell the teacher no, then." She glanced up at Aar Kithen, who dipped his head in silent acknowledgment, mouthed his thanks, and teleported away. "Um - the thing I wanted to talk to you about last week is -"
"Is it important, Leekath?" he asked. "I've only got another degree before the subcommittee on weather-control spell regulation meets."
"It won't take long," she said quickly. "I have - a boyfriend."
"Oh, that's nice," Aaihhhi said. "What's his name?"
"Talyn," she said.
"Not a vampire name. Is he a dragon?"
She winced. "No."
There was a silence. "Well, Leekath," Aaihhhi said at length, "God knows you can do what you like, but I don't think your fheeil will like it."
"I was wondering if you could tell him when you go home -"
"Oh, Leekath, dear, that would hardly be fair to him - he'll have questions and you're the one who knows the answers, not me - and now I must be going. I love you!"
"I love you," she managed before he deactivated his crystal.
She leaned against the hallway wall and slid down to the floor, taking deep breaths.
There was a communication crystal in her room that connected to one in her family's home. If she rang that one, Fheeil would pick it up and she could tell him.
Leekath let herself back into her room, put away the crystal that matched Aaihhhi's, and went back to work on her assignments.
On Inen, Leekath decided to check if Rhysel had read Talyn's letter and considered his request. She rang the bell, and went in when Rhysel let her through; the letter was in the trash, never having been smoothed. Someone had mistaken it for scrap. "I'm sorry," Leekath said.
"Thank you," Rhysel said, not making eye contact.
"If - if you want - I could tell you more about what happened," Leekath offered. She twisted her hands together behind her back and decided not to bring up the discarded letter. "I wasn't there for - that part. By the time I got there he was already gone and the demon was in one of the apprentices - that's where it was when Talyn killed it - it was awful - but - I do know what happened." She hesitated, and said, "Corpses... turn out to count as objects. I can hear them talking about themselves."
Rhysel winced, and Leekath wished she'd written a script for herself ahead of time instead of adlibbing. "Do I want more details than 'killed by a demon'?" Rhysel asked.
"I don't know," Leekath said apologetically. "But if you do, I can tell you."
"No," said Rhysel with a grimace, "I don't think so. Er - before it happened - did you give him my letter?"
"He didn't have time to read it," Leekath euphemized.
"Right," said Rhysel. "Well. Thank you, Leekath."
It was a clear dismissal, but at least Rhysel was capable of holding a conversation without screaming, so Leekath thought she'd try her question. "Er," she said, tracing her foot in a semicircle.
"Most of the apprentices are going to other Masters, now, except the one that the other Masters declared Journeyman instead because he was almost done." She took a breath. "Um, Talyn, wanted me to ask for him, if - not right away, but later, when you're ready - if you'd let him apprentice with you. He says he can mostly self-teach, and he could help you and Aar Kithen with your extra disciplines. Um, I think he mostly just wants to... live... here."
Rhysel was silent, and Leekath worried she'd misstepped in asking, but eventually Rhysel said, "Check again in a week, but - tell him 'probably'."
"Okay," Leekath whispered, and she left to attend classes.
Leekath stayed after Spell Diagrams 2 to talk to the teacher and ask about sending a note to Barashi; the teacher let her work in his office and checked her diagram over for her, and she cast the spell to send the missive to the tower that had belonged to Revenn. She wasn't sure if Talyn was still there or if he'd already gone home with his family, but she assumed Byron would get it to him if need be.
A week later, Rhysel agreed to take Talyn as her apprentice. Aar Kithen confirmed that it was daytime in his part of Barashi, Leekath wrote him a letter which Aar Kithen sent to give him a few angles' warning, and loitered around Rhysel's tower while she made him a bedroom and Aar Kithen prepared a summoning circle.
At the time specified, Aar Kithen cast the spell, and Talyn appeared in the circle laden with bags of possessions. Leekath smudged the chalk on the circle to let him free and hugged him.
Talyn shook some bags off of his shoulders so he could return the embrace and plant a kiss on her mouth. <I missed you,> he sent.
<I missed you too,> she replied. <Right before Aar Kithen unsent me you were saying something - it seemed like it might be important - what was it?>
<I love you,> Talyn sent.