Chapter Six: Kamai
The leap from "Leraal is undifferentiated nonsense" to "Leraal is composed of words, most of which I don't know" was pretty fast. But after the very basics - the articles and numbers and the most generic nouns and verbs - Mallyn felt like his progress was slowed dramatically. There had to be a million kinds of plants and animals that native Leraal speakers knew how to talk about, and a dozen of those didn't get you as far as the first dozen words in the language did. There was a preposterous torrent of adjectives. There were too many words for colors, fabrics, musical genres, cities, foods, shapes, spells, and angles on elf ears. He could get farther and farther through casual conversation every week without having to stop and ask "what's that?", but he wasn't near native and might never be.
And on top of that, Rithka said that every time he had to ask about a word, his ears turned pink.
But when he was fluent and could read fast enough he'd be able to go to school, and learn to teleport and fly and heal and ward.
Ehail got more visibly pregnant over time, and had to start wearing different clothes. She was even pregnant when she went into her bluejay shape or dragon form, but she said that she could shift the baby too so he'd be safe any which way - and it wasn't as obvious in those shapes anyway, because her dragon one was so big and her bluejay one so covered in puffy feathers. (Rithka said that Ehail could also turn into a tiger, but Mallyn had still never seen her do it.)
Mallyn worked on his comfort in crowded places. Anyone in Esmaar who hit him on purpose would be swept into jail without delay. No one wanted to hurt him anyway, anymore. His birth parents were far away in another world with their personalities revised to boot. And he'd need to be able to sit still in several classes five days a week to get anywhere at Binaaralav.
Time seemed to accelerate. He learned, he played, he slept, he ate his mother's cooking, he met with massive numbers of relatives, and before he knew it Ehail was giving birth to his baby brother upstairs.
When Lyrrae and Renn (and Ryller) had been born there had been a lot more screaming. But Rithka had told Mallyn - after burning her hand on the stove and barely reacting except to remark on the bubbly blisters - that this was part of having been a shren. They'd hurt so badly that nothing else mattered. Like someone who lifted heavy things all day for years wouldn't notice the weight of a thick sweater.
"It's not worth it," she'd said hurriedly, reacting to something in his expression. "But now that part's over so this part's okay." And then she'd eaten the spoonful of pudding she'd been trying to fetch in the first place and let Ehail bustle her off to the light.
At any rate, Ehail didn't scream. The midwife-light was being louder about the whole business than she was. Gyre was up in the room with her. Mallyn, Rithka, and Cenem were all sitting downstairs and were to shout for their father if they needed anything.
They all got to see him right when he was born.
Mallyn watched Gyre wrap up little Nemaar in blankets, and looked at that chinless wide-eyed face, and frowned to himself while Ehail rolled over to go to sleep.
Mallyn learned how Elcenian diapers worked, and changed Nemaar's when asked. Otherwise he stayed away. Nemaar was tiny and bad-tempered and screamed -
"Sweetheart," Ehail said, once while Nemaar was napping, "is something bothering you about the baby? You know you're our son, no matter how many other children we have, don't you?"
Mallyn had been convinced enough of that. "I know."
"Can you tell me what's the matter?"
She must think Mallyn was horrible, not liking her real birth son much. Mallyn tried to think of a better way to put it. "It's just because he's a baby," he said finally.
"You don't like babies?" Ehail asked. "Did you like Lyrrae and Renn when they were babies?"
"Yes," Mallyn said.
Maybe she didn't know. Maybe she wouldn't know unless he told her. Maybe no one knew.
"Renn was a twin," Mallyn said.
"Oh," breathed Ehail. "Oh, sweetheart."
"Ryller wouldn't stop crying," Mallyn said. "He got sick. He picked him up and hit his head against the wall." Ehail threw her arms around him. "He died," Mallyn whispered, "and I had to bury him in the backyard. They told the neighbors he died of the sickness." He swallowed. "I did like them when they were babies."
Ehail was still hugging him. She wasn't saying anything.
"Lyrrae and Renn don't know," Mallyn said. "Lyrrae was only just born and Renn was only a year old. I think he might feel something's missing but he doesn't know."
"No one is going to hurt Nemaar," Ehail assured him. "He's safe. It's okay to love him. He's going to grow up here with us and no one is going to hurt him."
Mallyn nodded slowly, crying and hating that he was crying. "But he's little. And hurtable." He swallowed again, trying to get the lump in his throat to go down. "And I don't want to hurt him."
Ehail kissed Mallyn's hair. "You know that he's little and fragile and you'll be careful with him, won't you?" she murmured.
"I don't want to hurt him." He pulled out of the hug and sat on the floor. "...My birth father's parents came to the farm, once. They were awful to me and Lyrrae and Renn. But they were like that to him, too." It had been terrifying to realize that there were not only his birth parents, but also people so dreadful that they terrified them. And Mallyn had been sickened to realize that even someone who'd been brutalized in childhood could do the same thing. He didn't know what alchemy would do it, and so he couldn't know if it would happen to him.
"You aren't going to grow up to be like your birth parents, Mallyn," Ehail said. "You can decide what to do. You don't want to hurt Nemaar, or anyone else, or why would you be nervous?"
"I don't want to hurt him," Mallyn whispered. "He's so little."
"He'll grow. In a few years, he'll be able to shift, and he'll be about Cenem's dragon size and covered in silver scales, and even less breakable. But even now I think you could hold him without hurting him. You've held Kaarel and Aaris."
"I know." He swallowed. "They're girls. I didn't think about it. Ryller was a boy."
"You don't have to hold Nemaar or play with him if you really don't want to, sweetheart," Ehail said. "But I know you don't want to hurt him. If there's some kind of accident, that's terrible, but we can take him to a light, and I know you won't do anything bad to him on purpose."
"Maybe," Mallyn said. Unless something happened, something out of his control -
"You can wait, if you want," Ehail said. "I wouldn't start asking you to watch the smaller children for us even if you were completely comfortable with Nemaar, not yet. But I hope you'll be able to hold your new little brother soon."
"Maybe," Mallyn repeated. He'd certainly never been awful to Lyrrae and Renn. Maybe Nemaar would be safe too. He laughed a little, inhaled dust, sneezed, laughed a little more.
"Did you feel that?" Ehail asked abruptly.
"No. Feel what?"
"A wind. Hm."
"I didn't feel it," he reported, and he started to get up off the floor. He was still getting used to his new sandals and tripped on the toe. Partway through his fall to the floor, he paused, hovering, and then dropped the remaining inches. "Oof. Did you do that?"
"I didn't have time to react with a spell - I don't even know one off the top of my head that would do that..."
Mallyn sneezed again, from the dust in the carpet.
The ceiling started raining.
"Why don't we visit your aunt Rhysel," Ehail suggested.
It was rare. He'd never met anyone who had it besides Aunt Rhysel. But it was known about, talked about, there were all sorts of other words for it, and it was always bad. "She couldn't be more trouble if she came down with kamai-of-a-sudden." "He's as destructive as a firestarter." "You'd better watch out in case he gets the weather."
And now Mallyn had the weather, as evidenced by making it rain in the house.
It would have been funny, almost, if he'd still been with his birth parents. Maybe he could have hailed on them.
But surrounded by people he loved it wasn't funny. He didn't want to be a firestarter, to ruin their pretty house and burn his sisters and his new little brother and scare his parents.
He was barely listening to Ehail and Rhysel's conversation. "I don't want to hurt anyone," he said over and over.
Something about wards and more kamai and not getting sick. How was he supposed to not get sick? If he got that way, wouldn't he just endanger any light who tried to help him?
Rhysel had had to learn to control it even in her sleep.
"I'm going to do magic in my sleep?" Mallyn exclaimed.
He was going to have to work very, very hard. Harder than he already was. He could not hurt anyone.
They wanted to give him a student tutor. Fine. "Okay."
Ehail teleported home to ward everyone. So he couldn't hurt them.
Mallyn sat with Aunt Rhysel in horrified silence.
Ehail came to take him home, and he went with her, breathing carefully to avoid sneezing again, stepping carefully to avoid tripping.
He didn't want to hurt anyone.
He didn't want to learn kamai like this.
Korulen was a jade dragon with a strange name.
"My name's a long story," she said, waving a hand. "Let's talk about you. I've done tutoring before, but never for spontaneous kamai. I know what Rhysel told me, but I hope you'll feel free to tell me anything you want me to know about how you learn best, or if something I'm trying isn't working."
"Okay," said Mallyn, looking at her hair. He loved girl dragon hair; it was always so pretty. And she was elf-shaped, not human like most dragons. "What do we do?"
"Well," Korulen said, all business, "you'll emit spontaneous reactions when you're physically disturbed in some way, or under stress. But we don't want to trip you or have you inhaling pepper just so you can learn to control yourself. Instead, you're going to try to do kamai - simple kamai - and we'll see what you get instead. I'll poke around gently in your mind to find where it's leaking out, and help you find those spots and pay attention to them. When you can focus on all of them at the same time, all the time, you'll be just like other kyma. Like Rhysel. Does that make sense?"
"I - I think so - but how do I do kamai? I don't know how to do any," Mallyn said.
"That's okay," soothed Korulen. "Actually, you're going to have a failsafe most students don't get - it's pretty important that you start making progress soon, so if you don't manage to do any magic at will by the end of the day, Rhysel says I can just push you the knowledge. That's almost never done ordinarily. And it is better to learn it properly, lest you think this means you can be lazy today. It will make more sense learned the normal way."
"Why will it make more sense?"
"Well, 'how to do handfire' isn't just a thing - I can't hand it over like I could hand you a book or an apple," Korulen said. "Everybody does kamai a little differently. You could do handfire - or try, anyway, and get a spontaneous reaction - if I just pushed it at you. But then you might try to do other kamai the same way I do instead of how you should, and that'd slow you down and make it feel frustrating and off. Like if you were trying to scratch your head with gloves on. Or you'd never be quite able to connect up how you did handfire with how you did anything else, and so you'd need more pushed on top of it, or you'd have to re-learn handfire, or it wouldn't count as practice for other workings."
"Oh." He decided Korulen was probably right and he'd better learn handfire how she said. "So - so what do I do?"
Korulen reached into the box that Rhysel had furnished the tower's workroom with and pulled out - a stick.
Mallyn blinked at it, but then Korulen focused on the tip of the stick and set it on fire, and said, "Concentrate on the flame..."
Sensing tones didn't come easily at all to Mallyn. "I guess that makes sense," Korulen said. "If you could hear them as easily as a regular kama - let alone an innate - then that would be your first clue, not an actual manifestation. But you've got a tellyn conduit, and that means your lifeforce can tell your brain what's going on in the stuff around you. Maybe move your hand a little closer - not too close - feel the warmth, watch the light. If you can't hear the music, see if you can get a sensation of textures, or of flavors..."
Mallyn thought he tasted something, but this was determined to be his imagination when he reported it as cheese and Korulen said they were looking for something sweet.
"I wish there was a tone you could see," he complained. "Then I'd be good at this."
"Sorry," said Korulen. "There's just the three, as far as I know, but maybe it's possible to develop more. You can work on that when you've gone through school," she added encouragingly. "I would just hum the notes for you but they might be different for you than they are for me. Only the relations are the same each time - this one will be higher, that one lower, and so on."
At great length, Mallyn managed to pick out the notes, which he couldn't really hear at all (because they weren't sound). He could understand why they were called that, though.
Korulen was at first disposed to tell him to do things like "separate out" one note from another, but this seemed ridiculous - they weren't emanating from musical instruments under his control. Ultimately she sat back and thought and then leaned forward again and told him that just as the notes weren't really sound, he wasn't really supposed to touch the fire - not with his hands. "It's a metaphor. But you want to metaphorically take hold of the part of the fire that makes the note about light, and take it somewhere else, wherever you like. The rest of the fire will go on just like this but we won't be able to see it anymore since you'll have moved the light."
Mallyn wound up imagining a sort of shadow of himself, whose ears heard tones and whose hands could disentangle the parts of fire, and five degrees straight of concentration on directing this self to do as Korulen said resulted in the appearance of fire floating a foot above the end of the stick. The stick went on smoldering under invisible flames.
Also, the entire room was utterly saturated with the smell of cut grass.
Korulen sniffed. "Well, that's harmless, at least," she said. "I'm afraid I can't keep focused on your mind all the time, so I wasn't looking just then, but now you'll be able to make handfire any time, and I can always see where the magic is getting out. You can dismiss it - snuff it out directly, or silence the tone, whichever you like."
Mallyn sent an imaginary shadow-hand to clench around the appearance of the fire, and away it went.
"Now make another one," Korulen said, extinguishing the lightless flame on her stick. "And we'll see what happens."
"Are you warded?" it suddenly occurred to Mallyn to ask.
"Yes, don't worry," she assured him. "I warded myself before coming."
Mallyn nodded and pursed his lips and tried to call back the handfire. In its place came blinding yellow light.
"Well, at least this won't be repetitive," Korulen remarked cheerfully, when Mallyn had dismissed both handfire and antecedent.
At the end of their long, long first session, Korulen had a list of forty-three places in his mind that magic could leak through. "It's not impossible that there's a few more, but it's been only these enough times that I think this is probably it," she explained when she finally called it a day.
"I'll have to close all these holes to stop things from happening?" Mallyn said, looking at the long list. Korulen had written the effects that had come out of each gap next to the numbers - glass beads, floor into mud, snow, illusion fish, swarm of birds, conjured rock, mental broadcast, droopy ears, wind, lifeforce transfer, sudden vivid memory of yesterday's breakfast and a dozen more. Rhysel had needed to be called in to reverse a few of the effects, though a mercifully large proportion was harmless. He was going to give the beads to his sisters.
"Yes," Korulen said. "Eventually. But you can make progress before that too, you see - the beads only came out of holes two, nineteen, and twenty. If you had been blocking those three holes on that occasion then nothing would have happened."
"But there's so many," Mallyn said bleakly.
"There are," she admitted. "But you can work on them one at a time. We'll go on keeping track of which effects come out of which holes, and then you can start working on blocking the most dangerous ones. It doesn't hurt anyone if you make glass beads or illusion fish, though, so it's pretty okay if you leave those holes alone until the very end. Does that make sense?"
"I guess," said Mallyn.
"Now, I'm not going to have time to do another long session like this," Korulen said. "I can meet you for about an angle most days, two or three on Lunenik and Chenenik, but you should practice at home too. The sooner all you do is fish and beads and the like, the sooner people won't need wards around you, and the sooner you get all forty-three gaps stopped up the sooner you can start school."
Korulen cast the time spell. "Your mom is going to pick you up in a few degrees, but you look exhausted, and food can only do so much to replenish lifeforce," she said. "Do you want to go see what Rhysel's doing, or hang out with me for a bit?"
"I don't want to interrupt Aunt Rhysel again," Mallyn yawned. "And I think I hear a twin crying, so she's probably occupied. Say, what's Draconic for 'kamai'?"
"Just 'kamai'," said Korulen. "Loanwords like that happen, especially when a concept has just been introduced."
"Do you want to tell me the long story about your name? Why is it three syllables long when you're a dragon?" Mallyn asked.
"Are you sure? It really is kind of complicated," Korulen said.
"You could start with the short version," Mallyn said, crossing his arms on the table and resting his head there. "And see if I get bored."
"Well," Korulen said, "as far as my name goes, the first two syllables are 'Korul', but I don't think that's a very pretty name. So I go by the first three instead."
"So the -en part is from your line name?" Mallyn guessed.
"No - I actually haven't got one - my mother could give me one, and maybe eventually I'll take her up on it, but that'd go right between the 'Korul' and the 'en', and I'm really used to going by Korulen. And it'd feel weird if I were Korulpygaen and so on instead."
"She didn't give you one when you were a baby?" asked Mallyn.
"No. I actually didn't hatch, and I'm not a hundred and forty-six, either. I'm forty-four and I was born a thudia."
Mallyn lifted his head, jaw slack. "Really?"
"Yes," Korulen said. "Me and my dad, who was an elf, got changed into dragons -"
"Well - oh, now I wish I hadn't told you, you look much too - Mallyn, I don't think it'll work for anyone else," said Korulen, looking away awkwardly.
"But it worked for you, and for your dad..."
"My mom is friends with Arimal," Korulen said. "She did it. And she couldn't even do it entirely by herself! We had to have so many people help us by giving us little bits of their magic. My boyfriend Kaylo had to call in favors from the miracle dragons he helped."
"Miracle dragons - like -"
"People who used to be shrens," said Korulen. "My boyfriend is the one who came up with the cure. It works by moving dragon magic around inside a person. You can get extra by pinching off what's left from a form someone learns. A lot of people learned forms because Kaylo asked them to - and some relatives. But I don't think there would be a very good chance of getting that many donors together again, Mallyn."
"How - how many did you have to -"
"We got the entire extant Pyga line, and a lot of the Alar line too, and friends of the family, and so terribly many miracles. I didn't count them. I suppose you could do with slightly fewer dragons, since the miracles already had three forms fixed apiece, but it would still have to be lots. And you'd have to get a god to help, too, and my mom is literally the first mortal ever to make friends with one. She's a unique green-group. The only one at the moment."
"Is that why they're called uniques?" Mallyn asked, wondering if Korulen was teasing him.
"Sort of. They're born at random really, but it works out to there usually being about one at a time of each color group. I think there might be two of one group and none of another now. Mom only overlapped with the last green-group one by a few years. Anyway. My name." She sighed. "I didn't ask Arimal to do anything about it at the time, and I'm not even sure if she could have. It's not like she could make the dragon magic from scratch; perhaps she couldn't have done anything fancier than moving it either. So it just took off the last syllable from my name, which would have been aesthetically fine if it left me with 'Koru'. But it was a Leraal name and that's not how Leraal works, so - 'Korul'."
"Did you get added syllables?" Mallyn asked, trying to suppress cries of envy. He couldn't imagine managing to get a god to be his friend and a hundred dragons to help him just so he could be fantastic like his mother, his sisters, and Korulen.
"Yes. The 'en' from my uncle Ilen, and then my old last name pieced together from my dad's relatives. And then others from people I just wanted syllables from - friends and my dad and so on. I didn't get one from my mom because I might want the line name later. We don't know that it would interfere done in that direction, but she's quite young for a dragon so there's no need to chance it while I make up my mind." Korulen laughed weakly. "Are you bored, yet?"
"No," said Mallyn emphatically, before spotting his mother out the window and waving goodbye to Korulen.