Chapter Seventeen: Demonstration
On Sinen, Rhysel and Talyn met Tekaal at their assigned auditorium. She'd never seen a more-than-classroom-sized part of the school apart from the cafeteria and the library. Seats were staggered in a sloped half ring around a semi-oval table at ground level, where Tekaal was already sitting; the audience's chairs didn't come with desks, just armrests. "Hello," Tekaal said. He didn't seem to know whether to call Rhysel by her first name or her last in Talyn's presence.
"Hi," Rhysel said, thunking her satchel onto the table and sitting down next to Tekaal. Talyn took the last chair. "What kind of crowd should we expect? This is a big room."
"I would be surprised if we filled it," Tekaal said. "But perhaps a hundred attendees can be expected, and they will spread information to their friends who choose not to attend or have conflicts at this time. We will need to devise some way of sorting them if even forty students of sufficient age wish to study kamai in the first term. Perhaps by their current wizarding grades, to determine how likely they are to be able to keep up with the additional work."
"That sounds like a reasonable measure to me," Rhysel said. "Are Korulen's grades good? I'm looking forward to getting her in the class, and I know she's interested."
"Aaralan Inular maintains above-average grades, although she is not the top of the tier," Tekaal said. "Her friend Aaralan Mehaas -"
"- Yes - is less academically promising, although depending on what sort of kamai she cared to learn her excellent marks in art may count for more than their standard weighting."
"Image, you're thinking?" At Tekaal's nod, Rhysel grinned. "Yeah, the key skill there is more about being able to clearly imagine what you want than it is the ability to study effectively, to hear Eryn tell it."
"And she is?" Tekaal asked.
"Eryn - um, last name is Lennryth, sorry - is my blood sister," Rhysel said. "Do they do that here?" He looked at her blankly. "We don't share parents, but we sort of adopted each other. The ritual to do it involves blood, hence the name. And she's an image kama."
"Hi!" said Talyn brightly, as the first attendee walked in. Rhysel recognized the girl as a vampire, from her starkly white skin against black eyes and hair.
"Aaralan Hhirheek," said Tekaal politely, stumbling somewhat over the awkward name. Rhysel had no notion how a species who found that sort of sound natural and easy spoke Leraal without detectable accents.
"Hi, Aar Kithen," said the vampire politely, sitting down. "Why did you jump off a cliff?" she asked Talyn.
"What?" said Rhysel.
"How did you know I jumped off a cliff?" Talyn demanded, leaning forward in fascination.
"Your shoes," said the girl. "The way they moved - they hit the corner of the cliff, then fell, but they stepped, you weren't pushed - I mean, that's if you were wearing them. If someone else had them on when that happened, then I was wrong."
"You were right!" exclaimed Talyn. "What's your name? Why is your head full of voices that aren't yours? I can't even tell what you're thinking if I try. That's amazing."
"You can hear them?" asked the vampire blankly. "I'm Leekath."
"You jumped off a cliff?" asked Tekaal incredulously.
"It was cliffdiving! Rhysel used to do it too," said Talyn.
"Is that how you broke your arm?" Rhysel asked. "You shouldn't be cliffdiving at all, but if you do, you should at least gather the energy to fly before you jump to begin with. If you wait you'll mistime and hurt yourself. You could have been killed."
"I wouldn't have been killed," Talyn protested. "My stoneskin is automatic now."
"And your arm broke because?" Rhysel inquired archly.
"Because it was just my arm. It's not automatic for little things - I have to be able to draw blood for some things and I don't know how to make a hole in a total defense yet - but I wouldn't have died." His attention snapped back to the vampire girl, who appeared to fascinate him.
Rhysel sighed and let it go. Revenn had doubtlessly already shouted at the boy. Out of curiosity, she did extend a tendril of her novel mind-reading magic towards Leekath - just enough to tell what Talyn was talking about, not to intrude - and found the vampire's head a cacophony of shrieking in her native language, some thousand voices talking over each other. She drew back her magic and wondered what Talyn could like about having to listen to that, but didn't ask.
"You," Tekaal said, "jumped off a cliff?"
"It really is safer than it sounds," Rhysel said. More students were trickling in - humans and elves, a red-eyed dragon boy, occasional halflings and vampires and leonines, Korulen with her posse including Lutan and Kaarilel, Kolaan and about half of the kids he'd brought to help Rhysel with her transfer point, and, startlingly, one wolfrider girl with her wolf in tow. The wolf looked too small to carry her rider, and Rhysel didn't recognize the pair, but there they were. <Keo?> she called.
<I'm coming, I'm coming, I'll be there in a tick, but you don't have to wait for me,> Keo sent.
<Take your time, we won't be starting for a couple degrees yet. I just wanted to ask when Binaaralav started having wolfrider students. Have they been here all along?>
<No, they're new, and technically they're not enrolled yet. They're another new program next term. Narax pushed it and he's handling most of the details about their accommodation. Did you get one at your assembly?>
<Two, technically, but yes.>
<I think the ones who are on campus right now are all bedecked in spells to the point where you shouldn't need to adjust anything,> Keo sent. <Just treat them like the others in the audience unless the rider says they need something changed.>
Rhysel kept a count of attendees as they flowed into the auditorium and scattered into chairs. By the time Tekaal's spell indicated it was sixth-and-naught, she'd gotten to a hundred and fifteen, counting both the wolf and her rider. Keo teleported in, absent one moment and sitting in a seat at the rear the next.
"Is this everyone," Rhysel said, trying to project her voice, "or does anybody know of a friend who was planning to come and isn't here yet?" The students seemed to find it an odd question, and no one put a hand up, so Rhysel started off by pushing the door closed by air kamai. "Welcome," she said. "What we're going to do today is talk about kamai - what it can do, and how you can sign up to learn it here starting next term if everything goes according to plan. Kamai is a form of magic from my native world, Barashi..."
Rhysel proceeded with her lecture on the basics of kamai. Most of it had been in small print on the fliers that had decorated the school, but she didn't know if everyone had read the entire thing - some were probably there through word of mouth or had only skimmed the advertisement. "Now, you've already seen a brief demonstration of elemental kamai," Rhysel said when the overview was complete. "I closed the door with a puff of air. Air magic is pretty useful." As she said that, she rose into the air until she was halfway to the ceiling, eye-level for students nearer the back of the ring.
"But," she continued, "elemental kyma aren't limited to just one element the way Elcenian mages are." She conjured a ball of handfire, replaced it with a globe of water, and then conjured a rock, which she shaped like clay into a duplicate of the aurum-dove she'd seen in Tekaal's play, spreading the stone out over enough volume to form the shape and mimic the real bird's weight and softness too. Then she leached colors into the surface, turning it muted gold. "And there are some tricks we learn that are more than just manipulating the substances directly. Would anyone like this bird - or something else, if you tell me what to make - as a pet?"
Korulen's friend Kaarilel waved her hand eagerly in the air, and Rhysel caught her eye and smiled, drifting down to the ground. "Okay, Kaarilel. I'll make this aurum-dove into a golem for you. It won't be alive - you don't need to feed it, or clean up after it. And I can modify its behavior for you if you want. Any changes that should be made to the standard behavior of aurum-doves? I confess I don't know if they make good pets."
Kaarilel started to shake her head, but Lutan elbowed her and whispered in her ear, and the elf sheepishly said, "They sing at dawn every day and I don't think my roommate wants to be up that early. Can you make it just sing when I tell it to and not otherwise?"
"Sure," said Rhysel. "Nothing else?"
"No, they totally are good pets," Kaarilel said.
"All right then." Rhysel impressed the shape of the aurum onto the inert rock, forcing it to take after its form rather than its substance, with the requested modification. The bird blinked, picked up one foot and then the other in Rhysel's hand, and spread its wings. "Go on," she coaxed, and it hopped into the air, flapped, and made its way to Kaarilel. Kaarilel put out a hand to receive it, looking pleased as could be, and set it on her shoulder; it began to preen her hair.
"We have a guest here today," Rhysel said, gesturing tiredly at Talyn. He left off staring at Leekath (Rhysel wondered if he was having a mindspeech conversation with her - wondered how he'd do it through the screeching in her head). "While Aar Kithen and I will be competent to teach introductory kamai in all five disciplines by the time next term starts, Talyn's been generalizing for a few years now and can show off some more interesting, advanced workings outside elemental kamai, which will make for a better show. Talyn?"
<Hello, everybody,> Talyn broadcast cheerfully. <This is called mindspeech. It's almost the most basic mind kamai there is. Really advanced stuff is just about like what Keo can do - maybe not as powerful, but the same sort of thing. Who wants to see a memory I have of flying over the Baltryss Mountains with a flock of wild rocs - Oh, you don't have rocs here. Really, really big birds - while I was turned invisible so they wouldn't try to eat me? It was great! Raise your hand if you want to opt out though.> A handful of people did raise their hands; Talyn scanned the crowd to see who they were, and then broadcast the memory, including Rhysel and Tekaal in the sending too.
Talyn kept up the sending of the memory until students started fidgeting, then broke off. <There's no animals in here,> he sent. <So that kind of limits what I can do with wild kamai - I don't know how to shapeshift yet, and no one here is injured so I can't show a healing. But wild kyma can do with wood what Rhysel just did with rock, except for the conjuration part - the wood does have to grow from a plant. So I brought this.> He reached into Rhysel's bag and retrieved a block of wood that he'd melded together from the scrub on and around her property. He started to squeeze and shape it in his hands, turning it into a ball and then stretching it like dough. <Anybody else want a critter?>
Talyn made a golem of a blue chinchilla, with whisper-thin paper filaments for fur and whiskers formed out of the wood, and gave it to the boy in the first row who asked for it. <Death kamai's hard to demonstrate, in a setting like this,> he went on. <Actually, when we planned this I wasn't going to do any death kamai at all because it all involves things like summoning dead people - and I don't know anyone who died on this world - or animating corpses - not pretty - or killing things - which, again, there's no animals here. But there's one thing I can do that Leekath just volunteered for!>
"Talyn, what are you doing?" muttered Rhysel.
<It's okay,> Talyn replied cheekily, just to her, and then he continued broadcasting to the whole auditorium as Leekath got up and drifted from her front-row seat to sit on the desk. <Death kyma can tell how long someone's lifespan is, assuming they die of old age, not accident or illness or something else,> he said. <Most people don't want to know that, but Leekath already has a pretty good idea, because she's a vampire.>
Rhysel turned to Tekaal. "What's he talking about?" she said under her breath.
"He is in fact correct," Tekaal replied quietly. "The mechanism is moderately complicated, and the explanation should wait, but his reading Aaralan Hhirheek's lifespan will not distress her, if that and not his improvisation is what alarms you."
Talyn looked smug when he took Leekath's hand. <It's not part of the working to show the number visibly,> he said. <I'm going to do that separately with image kamai so you can all see. But I'm getting the information with death kamai. And I'm converting it from Barashin years to Elcenian ones with ordinary math, which is not supposed to be part of this demo but what are you going to do.> He rearranged her hand in his, to an extent that Rhysel suspected was not necessary, and then large numbers - in Leraal, the shapes of the digits probably pulled from someone's mind - sprang up above them for the audience to read. Rhysel squinted and deciphered them backwards: 332.
<Is that about what you were expecting, Leekath?> Talyn asked, sharing the question with everyone.
"I was two years off," she said. Her voice was quiet; Talyn amplified it for her after she breathed the first word. "I had to estimate for the first couple hundred..."
There was a pause, during which Talyn grinned foolishly at Leekath and she furrowed her brow at the floating numbers, and then he finally let her hand go. <Thanks! And now, image kamai!> Leekath walked back to her seat to the sound of a dozen-piece orchestra and the flashing colors of illusory fireworks. Talyn also conjured platters of image cookies. <Pass them around. They have no nutritional content at all. No content, period, they're imaginary - but they've got texture and taste like the real thing, just like Mom makes.>
Rhysel put her hand on Talyn's shoulder when he was near his seat again, not-so-gently ushering him back into it. "Thank you!" she said. "Now, none of you in the audience currently have the ability to perform any kamai at all. However, I've reconstructed a previously lost working that will let me infuse people with the capacity. Aar Kithen was infused in this way, and he's now as capable of kamai as I am." Tekaal rose a non-dramatic several feet off the ground, conjured handfire, and then floated back down to his seat. "The process hasn't done him any harm, but - I'll let him describe it."
"It involves drinking an unpleasant-tasting, effervescent liquid," Tekaal said, voice mild despite the way he forced it to fill the auditorium, "and falling unconscious for an extended sleep."
"I'll take questions now," Rhysel said.
Leekath wanted to know how she was supposed to fall unconscious when she couldn't sleep in her humanoid shape, nor drink in her bat shape. Rhysel didn't know, but hypothesized that Leekath would want to shift immediately after downing her infusion. The rider girl wanted to know if her wolf would be able to do kamai, as it didn't seem to require hand-based gestures or speech like wizardry did. Rhysel didn't see any reason why not. Two more people wanted golems; Rhysel made a tame cobra, and Talyn popped outside to harvest a branch to turn into a miniature elephant. Others wanted specifics about when the classes would be held and similar administrative trivia, which Rhysel couldn't provide.
By the time four questions had been asked, people were leaving the hall in ones and twos. Talyn abandoned his chair at the long desk to sit next to Leekath, when a seat next to her opened up; the boy with the red eyes climbed over a few rows of chairs to sit in front and seemed to be waiting for something. Kolaan, with Soraak and Kutran and their leonine friend following him, waved at Rhysel as they left - Rhysel glanced at Tekaal, who hadn't betrayed any recognition. Presumably Kolaan didn't know that Aar Kithen was the Man in Red and Gold at all.
Leekath seemed absorbed in a silent conversation with Talyn, although she made little eye contact and seemed to prefer to keep her eyes closed. "Was there something you wanted to ask?" Rhysel asked, addressing the red-eyed boy directly. She supposed he was a dragon, though she couldn't tell exactly which kind.
"Theory," said the boy. "When you conjured that rock, where did it come from? What features of Leekath did Talyn's spell -"
"Working," corrected Rhysel.
"Working - look at to tell how long her lifespan is now? What was the fire you conjured fueled by? Do you have to actually know anything about the behavior of animals you make golems of, and if so, how much? Is mindspeech language-dependent? Are the -"
"Whoa, whoa," Rhysel laughed. "I'm not a teacher yet. Maybe you should enroll."
"Plan to," the dragon boy said. "But I have these questions now and I'll only have more after I see more kamai, so -"
"So," she said, "it'll require a lot more background to answer some of those. I can see why you waited for a thinner crowd before you asked your questions, but I'm not sure I'm even equipped to give the theoretical understanding you seem to want."
"Mindspeech is language-dependent the most basic way but not in more advanced forms," Talyn said. "I don't know Leraal very well - just what I've been able to pick up listening to people think - so I used a kind that isn't. And we don't need to know much about how the animals work - the forms take care of that. I don't know the answers to the rest of it though."
"What's your name?" Rhysel asked, before the curious boy could say anything else.
"Kaylo. Will you be doing any theory in the classes proper?"
"Some. Probably less than you'd like, but I can't please everyone," Rhysel said. "I'll be able to get you books, if you're interested enough to study on your own time."
"Will definitely take you up on that. But I'll leave you be for now," Kaylo said. "Thanks," he added to Talyn, who spared him a glance and a smile before returning to staring at Leekath.
There were only Rhysel, Tekaal, Talyn, and Leekath left in the auditorium. "Rhysel," Talyn said abruptly, "how long am I welcome to stay?"
She blinked. "As far as I'm concerned, however long you want - but won't your grandfather want you back soon?"
"Aar Kithen, can you send him a letter for me?"
"I can," Tekaal replied.
"I want to stay a couple more days," Talyn said, as Leekath stood up smoothly and walked out of the auditorium.
Tekaal was called on to send and receive a great many letters over the next several days. Leekath, who Talyn had managed to convince to go on a date with him and begin correspondence, turned up at Rhysel's tower periodically holding envelopes and expecting more from Talyn, on top of the exchange Rhysel was carrying on with Revenn as she worked her way through books on shrens. Finally, Tekaal remarked that it would be easier to send a person to and fro on a regular basis, and Leekath immediately volunteered. She showed up to be sent every Fenen evening and Tekaal unsent her every Chenen afternoon, and conveyed the bundles of letters each way. "I can hear what they say," she told Rhysel. "Don't write anything private."
So Rhysel referred to Eret and Theedy only obliquely, describing more generally what she learned about the afflicted subspecies and her ideas for how to help them. She didn't expect Jensal would let her past the walls of the shren house without a very solid plan of action, even if Revenn took time away from all his apprentices again to help and was less likely than Talyn to do something awful to a shren baby.
Tekaal explained how vampires worked beyond the "this is what they look like" introduction she'd gotten from Maeris. "They drink blood," he said. "Not enough to do serious harm, and it's painless. Vampire lifespans depend on who they bite - if they feed from elves, they'll have lifespans like elves, if they feed from humans they'll have lifespans like humans, if they mix the two half-and-half, they'll have lifespans like half-elves. Aaralan Hhirheek has most likely been able to avoid humans, as most Esmaarlan vampires can, and her status as a student at Binaaralav entitles her to a spot on the waiting lists of the resident dragons."
"They have waiting lists," said Rhysel, vaguely queasy.
"Yes. Aaral Pyga and both dragon students - presumably Aar Alar does as well, now," Tekaal said. "To distribute their limited amounts of safely donated blood fairly."
"Okay," Rhysel said, wishing to be away from the topic. "And why does her head sound like it's got a thousand people in it?"
"That is unlikely to be a general property of vampires," Tekaal said. "Aaralan Hhirheek has a diagnosis of a mental illness called vampiric hallucinatory audition. She claims to be able to hear the voices of inanimate objects, and perhaps this is reflected when one attempts to read her mind, but this is considered an illness. She is unusually functional for a sufferer."
"She knew Talyn had been cliff-diving," Rhysel pointed out.
"I will concede," Tekaal said, "that it was impressive."
"Why is it classified as a disease and not a kind of magic? Can't Leekath reliably tell things about objects she has no way of knowing - was it a fluke?"
Tekaal shrugged. "To the best of my knowledge, Aaralan Hhirheek has not been professionally evaluated, because the diagnosis is simple and can be made by a layperson who has simply heard of it before. Past studies of vampires with the condition have revealed no unusual knowledge, as far as I know, although I have never read a primary source on the subject."
"Hmm," Rhysel said.
They both picked up their books, Rhysel laid her head in Tekaal's lap, and they read.
Almost a week after the crisis with Eret and Theedy's daughter, Rhysel had an idea that would get them off the Binaaralav campus. She went to the pond and sat near the hidey-hole, on the opposite side of the pond from where students usually set up picnics or otherwise clustered. <Suppose,> she sent to the shrens, <that I hired the two of you to put in and maintain a garden, and keep my tower tidy. I'm kind of a slob and I'd like to have plants in but never would have time for them. I can put in a private, basement apartment for you. The place is out of the way and I can warn you when I've got guests over. And I get my groceries delivered and can order extras for you. And I'll pay you wages on top of room and board, so you can save up to do - whatever it is you'd rather be doing. It's probably not your lifelong ambition. And you can reply by thinking "at" me, if that makes sense.> She kept her mind open for replies, having finally mastered that trick.
There was a pause. <Can you get us all out of here tonight after dark?> asked Theedy timidly. <We're afraid to expand the hole too much - it might collapse - but the children need more room. They try to get out more often every day.>
<I'll go make the apartment now,> Rhysel sent back, relieved. <And come fetch you an angle past dusk - everyone should be inside by then.>
The pair assented, and Rhysel went home to put in three underground floors, all deep enough that Keo wouldn't sense the tenants by walking in Rhysel's front door. Stairs from an unobtrusive back door led to a kitchen much like hers and a bathroom, and then more spiraled down to a floor with four bedrooms, and then she added a playroom for the dragonets and another room that Eret and Theedy could use for whatever else they might want. When she'd recharged from the remodeling, slumped over the back of the couch that would be theirs in a few angles, she equipped the kitchen with dishes and moved some assorted food down from her own kitchen to hold them until Kolaan made another delivery. It was cooler in the basement than up in the tower; she normally did without blankets but they'd probably want to buy some, and probably new clothes too, they couldn't have much. Rhysel left stacks of coins on their kitchen counter, and a note: "Advance wages for a few weeks to help settle in. Town is southwest of here."
With that settled, she went up the stairs and into her own part of the tower to wait for sundown.
Rhysel taught herself mind and wild kamai, using her boyfriend as a guinea pig for the first, birds or fieldmice she caught for second. She sat in on about half of Tekaal's theory classes and a handful of his practica. They went to restaurants - and to concerts and plays, once The Man in Red and Gold came to an end and Tekaal's evenings were free - and sometimes curled up together, reading or talking or letting Tekaal serve as another mind to bounce off of for Rhysel's mind kamai practice. Tentatively, she had Keo (and Kanaat and Korulen and Runa) over for dinner again, and when Keo relaxed - confident that Rhysel had learned her lesson about appropriate conversation topics - she rhapsodized about every pepper-laden troll dish Rhysel knew how to make. And, when Rhysel had moments alone, even her caged mice asleep, she thought about shrens.
She'd checked out the library books on them, and worked her way down the stack, and no one knew why they couldn't fly. Their wings were weak, certainly, but the people who'd dared touch them, look at the limbs - even, gruesomely, open them up and peer inside, for which the shrens past a certain age needed no anesthesia - didn't find physical defects. (Handling shrens was made out to be some showing of a strong stomach, like they were disgusting - but they looked just like dragons, only held their wings differently. Rhysel didn't understand. Artha was adorable; why wouldn't anyone want to pet her?)
Annoyingly, a fair amount of the research was anonymous - maybe conducted by shrens themselves, who were in one kind of hiding or another and didn't want to advertise.
Rhysel ran into the same dead ends in her mind, over and over. Can't teach the baby shrens to fly with kamai (or shapeshift with kamai) - because they're babies, and even in species that age differently from halfbloods (humans, elves), like fairies or Barashin dragons, it's always adolescence, always right around the onset of maturity... Maybe worth checking. Could ask Eret and Theedy if they'd let me infuse one of theirs. Could I teach a baby shren to fly? I don't know how to shapeshift. Even Master doesn't. He could talk to Master Bryn, though... I need to learn more wild kamai, but I need to learn different wild kamai than what Master knows, because he doesn't know how to help them either, says he doesn't know any more diagnostic workings than the one I already tried and can't figure out anything from Talyn's memories of what Artha's lifeforce looked like... Can't anesthetize them, unless I think of a new way to do it, or convince Keo... even a new way might not get past Jensal... but there are other houses. I could go to Corenta or Petar. Or that merfolk country with the long name... Is there any way to convince Keo? Did I give up too quickly? She seems completely irrational about it, but it's so important... Why can't they fly? Why can't they just fly, like Runa or like Eret and Theedy's three?
Eret and Theedy's three were named on the fifth of Komehel, in a tiny version of the same ceremony that had named Runa, at which Rhysel was the only guest. Theedy had asked her downstairs after finishing with straightening the library, and Rhysel had the impression that Eret hadn't given his permission for her to do so, but he didn't shoo her away. They called the black opal girl Lisha, with Theedy's own name serving as a line name; their red opal boy was Rathoneret; and the red opal girl, the one Rhysel's Master had saved, was called Mirradyret. Theedy didn't know if the line name would work - it was the latter syllable of her own personal name, and the one she'd added from Eret. Apparently there was precedent for using added syllables but not for combining them with the personal name, but Theedy didn't have any more to give. "Mirra will be able to tell us if it stuck, when she's talking," Theedy said.
"When will that be?" Rhysel asked.
"Soon," Theedy said, petting Mirra and smiling.