Chapter Eleven: Responsibility

When Rhysel landed on her front step, she could feel the divine presence inside her tower. She hesitated, but opened the door, bowing before she even saw the goddess.

"You may stand," Aziel said. "Child, I congratulate you. I am sure that when they have verified your success, your Master and his colleagues will as well. But I have a more significant matter to discuss with you."

"What is it, Aziel?" Rhysel asked, rising out of the bow. In addition to the goddess, Keo and Kanaat were still in the house - the latter was erasing the summoning circle while Keo's facial expression changed for no obvious reason, possibly a mental conversation with someone far away.

Aziel pursed her lips. Rhysel wondered briefly whether Keo might ignore the order not to say what she looked like, once Aziel had gone, but then quickly quashed the thought; even on Elcenia it probably wasn't clever to defy Barashin gods. Better not to encourage Keo to do it even if she would.

Finally, Aziel said, "You have introduced kamai to a new world, one which did not contain it. One where the gods did not choose to introduce it. I and my family would not have sought to stop you. Mortals are to be left free to do as they please, generally speaking. But you have done this here instead of in my family's realm. And so I believe it only appropriate to hold you responsible for how the man you have infused, and any that follow him, use kamai."

Rhysel trembled, just a little, but swallowed and nodded. "Yes, Aziel."

"Choose your subjects wisely. Choose what to teach them wisely." Aziel sighed. "I believe I will return home now. I am sure you can send an agent to one of my temples if you have something of immense importance to ask or report."

Rhysel nodded mutely, and the goddess closed her eyes. "I wish to return to Barashi now, wizard," she told Kanaat. He straightened up from his diligent erasure and reversed her spell. Aziel disappeared, and with her the oppressively powerful divine presence.

"Are they all like that?" asked Keo.

"Well, the gods have different personalities, obviously," Rhysel said. "Aziel's probably one of the nicest, going by a mortal definition of niceness... I suppose you could call Aiath friendly, but... Anyway, yes, that was a goddess, and she's the one they usually send as a herald or a messenger, so I suppose she's close to representative. The greater deities have much more powerful presences. And then there are the Maker and the Destroyer, who don't appear in person to things generally but they'd presumably be even stronger..."

Keo blinked. "Elcenia," she says, "doesn't usually have gods turn up to things. Not in bodies that have locations and weight and the like."

"They don't?" Rhysel asked. "Huh. Would people have been confused when I referred to gods and implied that they did that, then?"

"Maybe they didn't believe you, but it wouldn't have been polite to question your religious beliefs," Keo said.

Rhysel blinked. "I'm sorry? It wouldn't have been polite? On Barashi, it's not really safe to question the existence or the divinity of the gods, but if people thought I was claiming things that were false, shouldn't they have asked...?"

"There are a lot of religions in Elcenia," Keo said. "Contradictory ones; I don't just mean that everyone agrees that a certain set of gods exist but pay different amounts of attention to each. People take them extremely personally and become annoyed when overtly disagreed with. There are various regional solutions to this problem, ranging from 'institute a state religion and kill infidels who wander across your borders' to 'don't talk about it much except in extremely vague and general terms'. Esmaar's more of the latter sort. You might meet Kovin or Aleists or, um, Sand Dusk Chanters, but they're unlikely to make nuisances of themselves about it. The religions that do make nuisances have reputations for being unpleasant to live next door to... like Thanetans... anyway, apparently that is not the kind of god you have."

"Apparently," said Rhysel. "Ours don't really care if anyone worships them. They require that we behave respectfully towards them and acknowledge that they're gods, and if one actually tells you to do something, you do it... but usually they don't do much unless they're asked and the service is paid for."

"Huh," said Keo. "Well. That was certainly interesting. How is Aar Kithen?"

A trace of a blush crept back into Rhysel's cheeks. "He's sleeping. I put him to bed, and left a note, saying to come here when he wakes up."

Keo seemed to notice the blush, or maybe the flurry of confused emotions that accompanied it, but apart from a small smirk, she didn't react to it overtly. "Well then. Kanaat and I should probably go home and relieve Korulen of babysitting duty, and you should entertain your guests if they're still awake despite it being late in Barashi."

"It's only late in part of Barashi. Corvan lives one time zone to the west, and Stythyss is four divs earlier than that," Rhysel said.

"That," said Keo, "sounds very confusing."

"We're used to it, and anyway, it wouldn't make sense to call it noon in eastern Restron at the same time as in Aristan. It could be dark in one place and broad daylight in the other."

Keo shrugged. "Anyway, we'll be on our way. Call us when Aar Kithen wakes up, will you? Corvan said he was here partly to help make sure there weren't any odd mental effects from the infusion, but I'd like to make my own check on our employee."

"I will," Rhysel promised.

Keo smiled, and she and Kanaat teleported away in perfect unison.

"I probably should have been more formal about how I conducted myself," Rhysel said sheepishly, speaking to her yawning Master. "I was going to try to translate the poetry on the scroll, so it would rhyme in Eashiri, but -"

"It's all right, Rhysel," said Revenn, smiling tiredly. "It's irregular, but everything about this was irregular, and having a goddess show up to my Master working certainly would have thrown me off."

Rhysel nodded fervently. "I didn't expect that at all. And... did you hear what she said before she left?" Revenn shook his head, and she went on. "She says that I'm responsible for how kamai is used in this entire world, now that I've introduced it. I think Aar Kithen is trustworthy -" she felt a heat in her cheeks, and wondered how her Master would interpret the blush - "but I've agreed to take students, children, from the ones enrolled at Kanaat's wizard school too, and... well, I guess I'll just have to evaluate them all personally, there's nothing else for it."

Revenn nodded gravely. "I don't believe you'll have to do that indefinitely, but if you're going to start a wider tradition of kamai here, giving it a solid foundation - scrupulously avoiding the forbidden workings, in particular - will be important."

Rhysel ducked her head and blushed deeper when he mentioned forbidden workings. "Yes, Master."

"Rhysel?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I," she began. "Er, I didn't actually do it. I don't think I would have gone through with it, really, and it didn't come to that anyway..."

"What did you do?" he asked, sighing.

"I mistakenly did something that deeply hurt another person," Rhysel said, squirming like she was sixteen again and being reprimanded for cliff-diving, "and she was very angry at me, and it seemed like it would be a convenient solution to... offer to give her some of my lifespan. But I didn't know how, and I didn't even start trying to learn before it became a moot point, and... I'm sorry, Master."

Revenn groaned. "That's not the reason it was forbidden, so kyma couldn't go around giving their years away... but you know what they say about the whirlpool, Rhysel."

"You're safer at the edge than in the middle, but it's only safe to be somewhere else," she recited. "I'm sorry. It won't happen again."

He nodded sharply. Then he sighed, and held out his arms for a hug, which she gladly accepted. "I sent your eldest sister a letter," he said after releasing her from the embrace. "I got a reply a tenday ago - Ryll's translated the situation in a sufficiently vague way that your parents and other siblings will tolerate it, she says."

"She's good at that," said Rhysel, relieved. "I hope they're not too worried. I hope they don't want to ask me too many questions, when I do manage to get back."

"And," said Revenn, "your town is being occupied by a Wandering elemental kama, who wants to go right back to wandering when he's not needed, and so he'll yield the place whenever you return."

"If I return," said Rhysel wryly. "I seem to be putting down roots, here."

"By the time the Wanderer wants out, one of my current apprentices will be ready for a posting. Emryl, maybe - you remember Corvan's niece?" Rhysel nodded. "She's studying elemental. Might like the town."

They talked a bit more - he agreed to loan her books on the forms of kamai she hadn't studied, so she and Aar Kithen could learn enough to teach introductory students, and she answered his questions about Elcenia. Revenn then shooed her out of the guest room she'd divided up for him, so he could sleep, and she went to catch up with Corvan. He chose to do this via the intensely rapid mental transfer that had been his own Master working, so three ticks later, she walked out of his section of the guest floor and into Stythyss's, aware of the broad sketches of everything Corvan had been up to for the past several months. "Hi, Stythyss," she said to the trog, who was considerably less tired than his companions.

"Hi, firebrand," he said.

"I think I grew out of that nickname," she said. "Some twenty years ago."

Stythyss laughed. "Maybe. But it's stuck anyway."

She smiled. "Are you comfortable in here? Do you want to borrow a book, or anything?"

"I have one," he said, pulling a much-abused volume from the back pocket of his pants. "But thank you for asking. You don't need to entertain me."

"Okay. Let me know if you get hungry; they have approximately normal food here," she said, smiling, and then she went downstairs to reconstitute her kitchen table.

Rhysel didn't plan to attend Sixth Tier Theory while a substitute taught it, but the arrival of class time did have her thinking about putting a transfer point in at the school rather than flying all the time. Considering possible sources of volunteers, she eventually wrote on her link paper to Kolaan: Could you convince 5‒10 of your friends/relatives to help me with a kamai working? I would tap them for energy; they would get tired and hungry but not be otherwise affected. I can pay them (and you, if you want to help).

She checked an angle later, having fixed herself lunch and brought some up to Stythyss, and the paper said in Kolaan's handwriting, Sure. When and where?

Binaaralav campus (I'll meet you at the front entrance), Saanen, eighth-and-twenty, she wrote back. I'll trust you to pick a fair price for your and your friends' time. That would give a ten degree gap between the end of the next theory class and the arrival of the students, and she could check to see if the spot by the campus pond she had in mind would be suitable and roll back the sod. She liked the idea of seeing the magically-colored ducks whenever she popped over to campus; they were pretty.

And then she realized that she had no project to occupy her time. The infusion ritual had either worked or it hadn't, but until she knew, she couldn't do anything with it.

She picked up her Leraal exercises, looked them over, and then pinged Keo, asking her to ask Narax to remove the literacy spell.

To see if it was working, she went to her workroom, where the old scroll was still unrolled on the table; it appeared to be in Martisen at first, but a few moments later, the text abruptly snapped back into its tricky dead language. Rhysel rolled it up and put it away in the library, smiling. Then she picked up the children's books in Leraal that Maeris had given her to read when she got her spell removed, and picked her way through two of them.

Rhysel went to bed early, in case Aar Kithen came to early in the morning and took her request that he arrive once he woke up literally. In the morning, she found all of the visiting Masters sitting in her kitchen, talking (or, in Corvan's case, mindspeaking) about the theoretical underpinnings of her reconstructed infusion working. "Rhysel!" said Revenn heartily when she came down the stairs. "Tell us, do you think there are other applications for the individual purified elements you use in this working?"

"Probably, Master," she said. "I'd be surprised if there weren't. But I think I'm going to have my hands full preparing to teach at least two unfamiliar aspects of kamai, assuming the infusion ritual itself worked. Otherwise I'd dive into experimenting with that."

"Do you want me to take the scroll back to Barashi, then, and see if someone else wants to look into it?" Revenn said. "If nothing else, I'm sure there's half a dozen Researchers down at the Repository who would barely restrain themselves from tearing the thing out of my hands."

Rhysel laughed at the mental image. "Please don't let anyone damage it, but yes, someone else should take on that particular project. You can bring back the books I was using to help translate it, too."

He nodded, and then, the doorbell rang.

Rhysel spun and went to the door. As expected, there stood Aar Kithen. He did not appear to have taken her note literally; he'd changed clothes, at least, and given the time might have eaten breakfast too. "Good morning, Aaral Camlenn," he said, and he briefly inclined his head to the three men in the room as well. "I appear to have suffered no ill effects, but I confess I am unaware of how to go about performing feats of kamai."

Rhysel smiled. "Then it's a good thing there are three Masters here, isn't it?"

"Four, if he manages so much as handfire," said Revenn, getting up. "We agreed overnight that there's no question this qualifies as a suitable Master working. Aar Kithen, I'd like to do a simple check to see if you have a tellyn conduit - that's a connection between your will and your lifeforce that will let you use your energy in kamai workings. I need to touch you briefly to do it."

"Very well," said Aar Kithen. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back; Revenn placed his fingertips on the elf's forehead and concentrated.

"It's there," said the Master, dropping his hand and breaking into a broad grin. "Rhysel, you've done it!"

"He hasn't done any magic yet," said Rhysel, though her Master's smile was infectious.

"To be strictly accurate," Aar Kithen said, "I did teleport here."

Rhysel laughed aloud at that, and Revenn and Stythyss followed suit; Corvan rolled his eyes. Stythyss got to his feet. "I'd like to verify the tellyn conduit," he said.

Aar Kithen nodded once, and didn't so much as flinch when the trog placed red-scaled fingers between his eyebrows. "What is a 'tellyn'?" he inquired.

"A unit of lifeforce," Stythyss answered. "Amazing. It's like you were born with it; it's not even full of extra runnels like Rhysel's or another spontaneous kama. Corvan, do you want to check it?"

The human got to his feet and raised an eyebrow at Aar Kithen, who looked him in the eye calmly. Corvan shrugged, touched Aar Kithen on the forehead, and then nodded abruptly.

"Oh," Rhysel said, "I should call Keo. No offense, Corvan, but her husband employs Aar Kithen and she wanted to check him out herself..."

<Why would I be offended?> asked Corvan sarcastically, broadcasting his reply to the room rather than keeping it private as was default for mindspeak. <I'm only a Master mind kama. Certainly no one should just take my word for it if I declare a person sane. Which he is.>

"Aaral Pyga is a unique jade dragon," Aar Kithen said quietly, "a distinction which I am sure means as much to you as your own means to her. I would be more comfortable with more well-wishers investigating me for side effects rather than fewer. I would also be more comfortable if you, like your colleagues, solicited express permission per working attempted rather than taking my willingness to be checked for a tellyn conduit as willingness to be checked for general sanity."

"She's a dragon?" said Stythyss blankly. "She looked like a human with peculiar aesthetic preferences."

"She is, Stythyss," said Rhysel. "I haven't seen Keo personally transform, but I've seen her elder daughter Korulen shapeshift and her younger one Runa is in dragon form all the time, and I've watched her cousin Maeris shift too, and I've ridden her brother Narax." Rhysel couldn't help but sound smug.

"I should've mentioned that," said Revenn, snapping his fingers. "I did see Keo turn into a dragon. It was astounding."

<This is a distraction from the topic,> complained Corvan. <Aar Kithen, you have my apologies for a fragment's worth of kamai that you didn't even detect; I must have suspected based on your willingness to swallow whatever untested bubbling mix Rhysel handed you that you were more cavalier about these things. How absurd of me.>

"Your apology is accepted, of course," said Aar Kithen, regarding Corvan implacably.

"I'll just ping Keo," said Rhysel awkwardly, and she mentally called for the dragon woman.

Keo pronounced Aar Kithen mentally intact from a distance, and then Stythyss announced that he wanted to have a look at how Aar Kithen was holding up physically. The test subject tolerated the wild kama's further magical investigations, and was determined to be whole and in fine health. "What working is generally considered best to begin with?" Aar Kithen inquired when Stythyss released his hand.

"Depends on the discipline," Revenn said. "I teach all five. Death kyma learn to kin bones - that is, tell if two of them are from the same creature or not. Wild kyma learn to soothe animals, usually start with domestic ones. Image kyma do superficial, visual-only illusions. Elementalists do handfire. And mind kyma learn to find other minds to speak with, starting with touch range. What do you fancy?"

"I believe it would be most sensible for me to learn whichever non-elemental disciplines Aaral Camlenn finds least to her liking," said Aar Kithen, glancing in Rhysel's direction.

"I don't have a strong preference," she said. "Maybe I'd like mind, but help yourself to whichever two of the others you'd prefer. But, I think you should start with handfire - you're going to learn elemental from me through Keo, and I can't help but think it would make more sense if you'd learned at least a basic working the usual way first."

"Handfire it is, then," agreed Aar Kithen. "How is it done?"

Revenn stepped forward and conjured, not a globe of handfire, but a stick of wood, which he then ignited with perfectly ordinary fire that consumed the stick slowly. "Have a close look at the fire. Don't burn yourself, we haven't taught you protective workings yet, but investigate it. Are you musical at all?"

Aar Kithen looked perplexed by the question, but answered simply, "Yes." Rhysel went somewhat pink, and thought of the music crystal sitting on her nightstand and how fingerprinted it had gotten.

"Then you'll probably find it easiest to work with the tones as sounds. Other people do flavors or textures, but sounds are more popular if you've got a speck of music in you. Rhysel doesn't use 'em, but she learned them, so hopefully your, er, transferred knowledge will be translatable. Are you hearing anything from the fire right now?"

"Apart from the ordinary crackling sounds typical of a flame consuming a stick of wood," Aar Kithen said, "no."

"You should be able to detect a four-note chord," Revenn said. "Don't worry if it takes a while. Most people take a few divs at least to do it the first time - they're usually children, though, and I don't know if you'll be quicker or slower picking it up as an adult. I don't know exactly what it will sound like to you, either, although once you hear it you can expect it to be consistent in pitch and timbre."

There was an extended silence, although not so long that anyone decided to sit down. "I believe I have located the chord you describe," Aar Kithen said at length. "High altered sed, high kar, middle pal, low mel."

"I take it those are names for notes?" Revenn asked.

"Do you have perfect pitch?" Rhysel asked enviously.

"Yes, to both," said Aar Kithen.

"The highest note is the fire's light," Revenn said. "The next lower ones, in order, are heat, burning, and fuel. You can separate any of these from the others. Although if you took away everything except fuel, what you'd have is this stick and it wouldn't be on fire anymore - the stick becomes part of the fire when it sustains it, so it's part of the chord. Burning alone will turn flammable substances to smoke and ash without heat or flame. Heat alone has the obvious applications. And the light of fire, alone, is handfire - or firewriting or any number of other things, depending on how you shape it, but the simplest form is handfire."

"Understood," said Aar Kithen. "It seems to be implied that I can manipulate the notes in some way, and this will alter the actual fire?"

"Yes," Revenn said. "Imagine yourself as a conductor, and direct the note representing heat to fade and quiet while the others remain as they are."

"Done," said Aar Kithen after a time.

"Don't touch the fire yet," cautioned Revenn. "It'll still hurt you, it just isn't hot. Now, quiet the burning note."

"Done," Aar Kithen repeated. The fire still looked exactly the same where it danced at the end of the stick, but the wood stopped crisping and snapping under it.

"You can touch it now," said Revenn. "Slowly, slowly fade the lowest note. And let the fire follow your hand away from the wood, and float where you want it."

Aar Kithen pinched the end of the wood where the center of the fire fluttered, and delicately drew his hand away, keeping the fire but not the stick clutched between his fingers. Slowly, he relaxed his hand, and the ball of light sat obligingly in his palm.

Rhysel couldn't help but applaud, grinning from ear to ear. Aar Kithen raised an eyebrow at her and smiled faintly.

"Now that you've pulled it out of actual fire," Revenn said, stepping back and beaming, "you should be able to summon up a ball of light just like that by calling power through your tellyn conduit through the note that represents firelight, and focusing your thoughts on a shape - spheres are easiest. Let the note sustaining that globe die now, and try to make a new one."

The handfire Aar Kithen was holding winked out, and, after a lengthy delay, was replaced by an identically colored flame in a ball shape. He presented it wordlessly to Revenn, who was still ecstatic. "Excellent," he pronounced. "Well. Master Camlenn," he said with no small relish, and Rhysel fidgeted happily, "congratulations on a truly monumental Master working. I believe my apprentices will start causing trouble and turning my furniture into sawdust and sand while threatening to turn each other into platypuses sometime in the next div, so while I would dearly love to visit longer and see more of this world, I believe I should collect the scroll and the dictionary you will no longer be using and ask Keo to send us home."

"What is the purpose of the dictionary?" asked Aar Kithen.

"Someone else is going to work with the scroll, now that I'm done with it," Rhysel explained, "but it's in a dead language."

He blinked. "Someone else would not appreciate the translation into a living language that any scribe fluent therein, with a translation spell, could produce in a matter of angles?"

There was a silence, and then Revenn said, "Well, depending on the scholar, possibly, but producing a translation like that might be wise anyway."

"I can think of a small business that advertises a dragon calligrapher on retainer that could do it for you," Aar Kithen said, "without even requiring a Barashin to spend more time here. Albeit that would be more costly than my simply casting a literacy spell on one of you, for which I would not presume to charge."

"I'll write up a translation of the scroll," said Rhysel, averting her eyes sheepishly. "I ought to have thought of that myself."

"Nonsense," said Stythyss. "Your time would be better spent preparing for all the teaching you have ahead of you. I don't have any apprentices to restrain from havoc. I'll stay here, if you'll have me and that fellow who brought me in doesn't mind, and write it myself."

"You're welcome as long as you want to stay, Stythyss," Rhysel said. "Thank you."

"Rhysel," said Revenn, "much as I hate to leave, would you mind asking Keo to take off whatever spells are on me, and on Corvan as well? Stythyss can bring back the books and scroll and the translation when he's done here."

"Any spells you are under apart from your summons will break without further intervention once you leave Elcenia," said Aar Kithen.

"Just the summons, then, I suppose," shrugged Revenn, looking apologetically at Rhysel.

"Of course, Master," she said, although she did sneak in one hug before pinging Keo and making the request.

Revenn disappeared, and Corvan after him.

Rhysel sighed, and then turned to Stythyss. "The scroll is in my library, and it's the only scroll in there. There's plenty of paper and a pen on the desk in there. Let me know if you need anything else."

"I think I'll be fine," said Stythyss, and he strolled up her staircase.

"Well," said Rhysel. "Now... I have a confession to make, Aar Kithen."