Chapter Five: Caution
"Rhysel?" Korulen asked, hanging back after class. "I have a mind kamai question."
"I'd be more surprised if you had any other kind of kamai question," Rhysel remarked, and Korulen laughed softly. "Is it something you want to teach Finnah? She mentioned that she's been moving at a decent clip and I wouldn't be surprised if she wanted to learn more."
"No, nothing about that, I think I know enough to keep Finnah occupied until next term given how often I can even visit," Korulen said. The classroom had emptied; even Lutan wasn't waiting for Korulen anymore, and Aar Kithen hadn't lingered when it was clear that Rhysel was going to be in conversation for a while about a sort of kamai he didn't much practice. Korulen continued: "I was wondering if you think a mind kama could help Ilen, and the other inside shrens."
"That's a maybe," Rhysel said.
"I asked Talyn, but -"
"Not Talyn," Rhysel said at once.
"He's been acting weird, is that why?" Korulen asked.
"No - it's not that, of course he's still... grieving." Rhysel swallowed. "No, it's what happened the last time he tried to use mind kamai to help a shren. Dragon - and shren - minds appear to be put together very differently from other people's in at least some places. Mindspeak and other basic things are turning up normal results so far, or I wouldn't have asked you to help Finnah and I'd be treating Kaylo with more caution, but anything complicated needs a more practiced and more careful touch than Talyn has."
"I thought him being an innate kama would help," Korulen said slowly.
"It helps," Rhysel said, pausing a bit between words. "Talyn uses his magic like it's part of his body, not like it's a tool. But if I needed surgery, I'd rather someone carefully holding a scalpel do it than someone with natural claws and poor impulse control, even if in theory the scalpel's not as precise."
Korulen shivered. "Right," she said. "Do you know someone who could do it?"
"Yes," Rhysel said. "In fact, I was thinking of asking him if he'd like to teach here; I can add the question about inside shrens to the same visit. He doesn't have apprentices, but that's because apprentices generally live with their Masters and he wouldn't want his tower full of teenagers. I think he'd do better teaching a few classes every day and then going home to an empty home." She tapped her chin. "Do you want to come along? To give him an idea of who he'd be teaching, and to tell him something about Ilen?"
"Who is it?" Korulen asked.
"One of my old co-apprentices, Corvan Rellick. Does Lunen afternoon work for you? I'm going to treat babies at one of the houses in the morning and then go after lunch, but I can rearrange the schedule if that's not a good time."
"Lunen afternoon works as long as we're back by dinnertime," Korulen said, "since I have a date with Kaylo."
"We won't be long," Rhysel said.
Master Rellick's tower was on a flat ledge on a Restronian mountainside, accessible by transfer point (their method, after Aar Kithen sent them to Barashi) or by shallow stone steps that wound up the slope below.
<Corvan?> Rhysel broadcasted. She added to Korulen alone, <If you don't shield, he'll be able to understand you speaking Leraal or any other languages you know, but language-independent mindspeech is the best bet. And he'll be replying the same way; he can't speak.>
<A moment,> came a mental voice. The "sound" of it was masculine but otherwise oddly devoid of character. Korulen supposed that someone who couldn't speak wouldn't automatically base his silent voice on his real one, but he could have picked something with a little more personality.
Korulen and Rhysel waited patiently at the door. The place had a pretty good view of the town in the neighboring valley, but it was very windy and her hair kept whipping yellow streaks across her vision.
At length, the door opened. Master Rellick looked like a slightly pinkish vampire with a sour expression and one of those fashion senses that consisted entirely of "black goes with black, right?". <Rhysel,> he acknowledged. <And companion. What is it?>
<Hi, Corvan,> Rhysel said. <This is Korulen. She's one of the students at the school I'm teaching at now in Elcenia. We have a couple of questions ->
<I was occupied when you arrived and am not interested in spending overlong on this visit,> Corvan said, holding out his hand at Rhysel's forehead height and looking expectantly at her.
Rhysel leaned forward an inch so her head touched Corvan's outstretched fingers; after a moment he dropped his arm and she straightened up.
<What was that?> Korulen asked.
<Corvan's Master working was to develop a way to hold conversations mentally much faster than you can with ordinary speech or mindspeech,> Rhysel explained. <Because it's so fast you can't do a lot of creative brainstorming during one of those exchanges, but you can ask questions you're already planning to ask, and get answers to anything that's not too off the wall.>
<The questions are not "off the wall", but I do require more information before answering,> Corvan sent. <I surmise I will need to pass muster with the authorities at the school in question, and develop a means of commuting, and additionally I require more information about the scheduling and about the commitments I would be making. Regarding your friend with the phobia, if the minds of his kind are as different as you suggest, I will not know if I can be of help without a closer examination.>
<My dad is the headmaster at the school,> Korulen sent. <I think if Rhysel recommends you he'll probably wave you through, although he does have to interview you, or have my mom do it. And apprise you of Esmaarlan teaching ordinances and stuff.>
<Are there a great many ordinances?> Master Rellick inquired with a raised eyebrow.
<I don't think it's that many. Things like anti-harrassment policies and fairness to students of all backgrounds and traits.>
<We can correspond with letters sent back and forth if you're very busy right now, Corvan,> Rhysel sent. <And arrange a time for you to come in for an interview and visit Ilen.>
<Very well,> sent Corvan. <Thank you for the offer. You are likely correct in your estimate of how I will tolerate teaching in this setting as opposed to the traditional one.> Without futher farewell, he stepped backwards into his tower and shut the door.
"Friendly," muttered Korulen.
"He's a good person, just not a very sociable one," Rhysel said. "And he's a skilled mind kama and highly professional."
"Do we go back now?" Korulen asked.
"Aar Kithen won't unsend us for another half an angle or so. Want to come with me to ask my blood-sister Eryn if she wants to teach, too? She's an image kama - a Journeyman, so she can't have apprentices, but she can teach in Elcenia."
"Sure," Korulen said.
"Hello, Rhysel," Ilen said, when Rhysel let herself into the babies' room during blocks time. A little gold knocked over her block tower in her haste to scamper over and wrap all four legs affectionately around Rhysel's leg. "It's a Sinen - usually you aren't here on Sinenik."
"I'm not here about the babies today; they have to wait till I have a whole day off from teaching," Rhysel said. "Sorry, little ones." She scratched the gold behind the ears. "I've brought a friend, Ilen. We think he might be able to help with your panic attacks. Will you let him try?"
"I - this is sudden," Ilen said, blinking rapidly. At least she hadn't said help you be able to go outside. If he didn't have panic attacks that didn't necessarily mean he'd have to actually go outside. He could stay inside, and not panic, and be safe and feel safe. Maybe.
A pale, thinly built human man followed Rhysel into the room and shut the door behind him. He stoically ignored the small blue who began to poke at his shoes. <It is possible that your mind will prove to be arranged sufficiently unusually that I will be unable to make any changes, but I am willing to investigate,> he announced, silently in a hollow not-a-voice like Finnah used when she was practicing magic.
"I - I don't know," said Ilen. "Is it... safe?"
<I will not proceed with anything other than an investigation until I am certain I can make adjustments without harming you,> sent the human.
"Corvan is a very good mind kama, Ilen," Rhysel said.
"I," began Ilen, but then Hallai pushed the door open and stalked in.
"What are you doing here on a Sinen?" Hallai asked Rhysel sharply. "Who are you?" she added to Corvan.
"It's nothing bad, Hallai," Rhysel said in a placating tone.
<I am Master Corvan Rellick. I am not here to interact with you,> Corvan sent.
"I don't care if you're here to interact with me; I care if you're here to interact with Ilen. What are you doing to him now? Is this guy related to him too? Maybe this is his long-lost-great-grand-half-nephew who just had to pick up and saunter in and -"
"Hallai, they want to help my attacks," Ilen said.
Hallai stopped short and peered at Ilen. "Can they do that?"
"They don't know, they're here to find out," Ilen said.
Hallai sat down on a couch, nearly catching the tail of a little copper whose scales matched her hair. "Oh," she said.
"I don't have to actually... go anywhere," Ilen said, looking up at Corvan, "to... test it or anything?"
<That should not be practically necessary. You will not, however, find the prospect aversive if I am successful.>
Ilen shuddered; Hallai reached out, grabbed his arm, and pulled him onto her lap, which was sufficiently distracting that he stopped thinking about not finding the outside terrifying, and how terrifying that was.
"Sh-sh-sh," she soothed. "You don't have to go anywhere. You can stay right here with me as long as you want."
Ilen nodded slowly, and curled up to tuck his head under her chin. "What do you need to do?" he asked Corvan.
<It would be advisable for you to lie down. I will need to touch your head, as working at range is not sustainable for extended periods. I may determine that it would be ideal for you to be unconscious during the examination for delicate detail work, which can be accomplished via drain and subsequent ordinary sleep if I doubt my ability to render you unconscious via mind kamai.> He looked assessingly at Hallai, and said, <I will conduct this procedure in her or any other supervisory presence if, and only if, she can be relied upon not to interfere, distract, or otherwise disrupt any part of it. For that matter, we should not be in a room full of small children for the purpose.>
"I'm his girlfriend, you can't kick me out while you mess with his brain," said Hallai. "That is literally illegal in this country for lights to demand that patients receive treatment without social support, you're not a light but even so -"
<I am a volunteer. I will volunteer under some conditions and not others. It is not a matter of discussion. If I open myself to legal liability by working in this location, then my services are not available,> snapped Corvan. <I am not here to interact with you. Rhysel, collect your friend, move him to an appropriate environment, and retrieve me from the front garden when my services are deemed acceptable as they are offered - or inform me that I may return to your tower and ask your fiancé's conveyance home.> With that he pivoted and marched out the door.
"You have such a lovely social circle, Rhysel," Hallai drawled.
"Corvan volunteered to help Ilen," Rhysel said. "His requests are just as much about Ilen's safety as his own comfort, anyway. Ilen, can you call in a substitute to watch the babies and we can move to your room or somewhere else appropriate?"
"I can," Ilen said, before Hallai could answer. Hallai meant well, and maybe most strangers offering to do things to Ilen's mind weren't trustworthy, but Rhysel was Rhysel and Corvan was someone she trusted. Ilen was willing to assume that this meant Corvan was safe to let help, or let try.
The moonstone substitute baby-minder took up her post and began helping the gold rebuild the destroyed tower. Ilen went out, followed by Rhysel and a faintly fuming Hallai, to his room.
"Are you staying - quietly without disturbing Corvan - or going, Hallai?" Rhysel asked softly, while Ilen arranged pillows and tried to get comfortable. He wasn't sure how to be comfortable while having his mind looked at; he only knew how to be comfortable to fall asleep or to cuddle with Hallai. Eventually he settled on propping his head up on a pillow and staring at the ceiling with his hands folded on his chest.
Hallai snorted. "I'm not going anywhere. I'll be quiet if talking will hurt Ilen, but if that creep sets off a panic attack while he's trying to cure them, or something, I need to be here."
"If you interrupt Corvan I need to go have a talk with Ludei about this," Rhysel said. "This is serious."
"I am not even slightly finding any part of it amusing," said Hallai, glaring at Rhysel.
"All right," said Rhysel with a sigh, and she left to find Corvan and bring him upstairs.
"Are you okay with this, sweetie? Did you think about it?" Hallai asked Ilen.
"I - well - not too hard," Ilen admitted. "I can't. He's only going to look. He might not be able to do anything."
"Maybe you should think about it, a little at a time to be safe, to make sure you're ready, that you want this kind of solution," Hallai said.
Ilen crossed his ankles, uncrossed them, burrowed his head a little deeper into the pillow. "I don't want you to have to calm me down all the time. You work really hard," he murmured.
"I only even have the job because I'm the one who can do that for you, Ilen," Hallai said. "There are other green-groups who could do the rest of it. I'm not overworked."
"You don't like it when my family visits..."
Hallai flinched; Ilen just saw it out of the corner of his eye. "I don't think they're good for you. I'm not sure this mind kamai business is good for you - how much do we really know about it?"
"It helps the babies."
"That's some other kind of kamai, and that's Rhysel doing it, not her friend," Hallai said scornfully.
"Finnah's learning it."
"If Finnah was doing this I'd be way less concerned, but she doesn't know enough so Silent Dark Creep is doing it, and why is Silent Dark Creep doing it? What does he want out of this?"
The door swung open and Rhysel and Corvan came in. Ilen adjusted all of his limbs again and swallowed. "Hello."
<Hello,> Corvan said, shooting a look at Hallai. She remained silent.
"Why do you want to help me?" Ilen asked, because Hallai sort of had a point. Rhysel was just a nice person, and the babies would be in awful pain if she didn't treat them. Corvan might be competent but he didn't seem nice, especially to Hallai, and if Ilen didn't get repaired all that would happen would be that he'd have to stay inside. Which he fully intended to do anyway, but maybe he could stay inside and scream less.
<It is something that kyma do. Typically only within our jurisdictions, but there are no adequate mind kyma closer to your... home,> said Corvan. Ilen restrained a shiver and forced down thoughts about more distant locales. <If you do not want my assistance I will not force it on you; I will go home and stop wasting my time.>
"No - no, it's fine for you to at least look, um, I'd like to know what you do before you do it if you... do anything, but you can look. Um, but, not at everything -"
<I will not invade the privacy of any personal thoughts or memories you may have,> Corvan said, <without your express permission. It may or may not be necessary for treatment but should not be necessary to determine whether treatment is possible. Are you ready?>
"Okay," whispered Ilen, and he scrunched his eyes tightly shut.
Corvan's fingers came to rest lightly on his forehead. <This will feel like nothing. Relax.>
It didn't feel like anything, except for the kama's hand resting on his head, so Ilen tried to obey. He thought about lunch and about the book of number puzzles he was working through (first copying each puzzle onto scratch paper so he didn't have to write in the book and ruin it for everyone else) and about whether it was worth calling in a light just for the little platinum's sniffles or if it would be fine to wait for the biweekly visit.
He thought about what it would be like not to be so burdensome on everyone.
He thought about what it might be like not to be so afraid, of the outside and of his own fear.
The examination seemed to be going on for a very long time, and Ilen eventually cracked open one eye, then the other, to squint up at Corvan. Corvan was frowning in deep concentration. Hallai was frowning at Corvan, and Rhysel was - not exactly frowning, but looking sort of disapprovingly, at Hallai.
There was a silence, and then Corvan convulsed backwards, jerking his hand away from Ilen's head and clutching at himself as he collapsed to the floor.
"Corvan!" exclaimed Rhysel, falling to her knees to clutch at her friend's shoulders; Ilen propped himself up on his elbows to see what was going on, eyes wide with alarm, and Hallai burst upward from her chair.
"What is going on?" Hallai demanded. "Is Ilen all right? What did you do?"
"Corvan, are you okay?" Rhysel asked.
"Did I do something wrong...?" Ilen asked, watching Corvan where he lay curled up in a ball.
"Corvan. Say something, send something," Rhysel said.
"Ilen, are you okay?" Hallai asked, smoothing Ilen's hair and urging him back down onto his pillow with a gesture.
"I think I'm fine - I didn't feel anything -"
<He is unharmed. I looked into something which... alarmed me,> Corvan sent. There was no indication in his "voice", but he looked shaken and drained and close to shock, like he'd abruptly been dropped from a height.
"What was it?" Rhysel asked.
<I correctly estimated that the section of the mind in question would contain... trauma. I was anticipating something emotional in nature to explain the panic attacks. I did not adequately defend myself against traumatic physical sensations.>
"So you found esu, is that the problem?" said Hallai snidely. "Get over it. Little babies the length of your arm used to do it every day."
<I believe I agreed to involve myself in this on the condition that you remained unobtrusive,> Corvan sent to her, sitting up and accepting Rhysel's help to get up to his feet. <Ilen, with your permission, I will resume; I can block the problematic traumas, having learned what they are.>
"I should have warned you," Rhysel said, white-faced.
<Yes. You should have. However ->
"What were you doing, poking around in Ilen's traumas without asking him, pray tell?" Hallai hissed.
<Rhysel, will you kindly do whatever is necessary to remove this woman?> Corvan asked.
"Excuse me! You can't remove me, I'm entitled to be here as long as Ilen wants me, there is a law -"
"Hallai," Ilen murmured, "he won't help me at all if you stay."
"I'll come get you when it's over with," Rhysel offered Hallai weakly.
Hallai looked daggers at Corvan, and spun to meet Ilen's eyes. "Do you want me to go?" she asked him.
"No, I want you here, but I want him to help me, and he won't if you don't," Ilen said, squirming. "When he's done you can come back."
Hallai ground her teeth. Finally, she said, "Sweetie, I will be right outside, I will be paying attention, I'll come in if you need me, but okay." She inhaled very deeply, looked at Corvan like she was imagining eviscerating him, and drew backwards out of the room without taking her glare off the mind kama.
When the door closed, Ilen said, "I want to know the answer to her question, too."
<It is possible to identify patterns in memories without accessing their specific content. If the etiology of your problem were related to a traumatic event, I could request access to the memory in more detail. However, I do not think that your panic attacks are related to your history of "esu", and there were no other significant items in that region of your mind apart from the memories of the attacks themselves. I will continue with the examination, if you are willing.>
"Okay," said Ilen. He resettled himself on his bed and closed his eyes.
Corvan touched his forehead again.
The rest of the process didn't take very long. <I believe I can repair your problem without significant side effects,> Corvan announced. <It is a straightforward case, exacerbated by your prolonged childhood but not difficult to reverse. Do you object to my doing so now?>
"You can just fix him, just like that?" Rhysel asked. "There's no issue with his brain being put together differently?"
<Some items are unexpectedly attached to other items, but not the relevant ones. I do not believe that I could accomplish what Talyn attempted without the same side effect, but this is unrelated to anaesthesia.>
"Just like that?" echoed Ilen.
<Unless many kyma have previously examined you and declared you incurable this should not come as a dramatic surprise,> Corvan sent dryly.
"I... I guess not," said Ilen. "Um... are there insignificant side effects?"
<You may suffer a slight reduction in attention span for cognitive tasks, a delay not in excess of one or two fragments ->
"Splits," said Rhysel.
<A delay not in excess of one or two splits between experiencing events or thoughts and producing emotional reactions to them relative to how quickly you have hitherto done so, and a general decrease in fear responses even where they are unrelated to your panic attacks per se. Is this acceptable? It is possible that I can, with some thought, produce another approach to treatment, which would have greater but different side effects, if one of those results is prohibitively intrusive.>
"You don't have to decide right now; we can find time to come back later," Rhysel said, when Ilen paused a little too long.
"I... just a few degrees to think, okay? I don't want to make you make a separate trip, I just - I might think of more questions," said Ilen. He started to feel awkward about lying down, and sat up again. "The attention span thing is for 'cognitive' tasks - what does that include?"
<It will only affect how long you can tolerate doing things such as working on puzzles, reading books, doing complex problem-solving, studying academic topics, or similar. It will not affect the amount of time you can spend on activities that are primarily social or physical. For example, unless the children you look after are bewilderingly gifted and enjoy quizzing you, it should not impede your willingness or ability to look after them,> Corvan sent. <And the effect is slight, on the order of a percentage point or two - it will be spillover from an intervention in your tendency to dwell unbrokenly on single thoughts.>
"Oh." Ilen chewed his lip. "The delay in reacting to things... can you say more about that...?"
<Your mind will less automatically interpret events and ideas as having emotional significance. There will be more of an element of decisionmaking involved - you will not acquire total control over your emotions, or anything similar to it, but you will have the time and opportunity to do limited steering. This makes the emotional reactions less than immediate, but they should still be reasonably brisk,> said Corvan. He looked bored. Ilen checked - Corvan was bored, and Ilen winced inwardly.
The decrease in fear responses sounded harmless. Ilen didn't think there was anything he wasn't afraid enough of. He allowed himself one more question. "If something about the side effects is terrible can you fix them...?"
<I can mitigate them, at the cost of other side effects. Minds are complex and heavily interconnected. The process will not exactly be reversible, however; I cannot simply restore your mind to its previous state.>
Ilen closed his eyes again. "Should I lie down again?" he asked.
Ilen dropped his head back onto the pillow, eyes still closed. "Okay," he whispered.
Corvan touched his head again.
Ilen wished Hallai were there.