Chapter Nineteen: Brokenness
The following day was chosen as the infusion date; because Lunen was the first of two consecutive days off the students enjoyed each week, it would be non-disruptive for them to pass out. Leekath would be going to Barashi for an unusually short visit the next morning. Rhysel and Tekaal were assigned the use of the same auditorium they'd used for the demo, and arrived early to set out a cup at each of twenty-four seats and prepare the crucibles and bowl that would be used to actually make the infusion. Leekath was going to bring a bag to take hers out of, since she could only drink through her fangs, and Tama, the wolf, would use the bowl itself after everyone else's portions were ladled out.
Rhysel delayed making the infusion until everyone was there. Besides the twenty-six to be infused, a number of those had brought along roommates to conduct them back to their beds where they'd sleep it off. Tekaal had informed Rhysel that vampires, halflings, and (newly) wolfriders, having different furnishing needs than the other species, tended to be roomed with their own kinds. Rhysel was reasonably confident she could pick out which girl was Leekath's roommate and who was there to help Mata and Tama, on that basis, though she wasn't clear how the other wolfriders were going to haul an unconscious wolf anywhere and made a note to offer to float students to their rooms.
"Everyone ready?" Rhysel asked, poising her hand over the first crucible. "You all know what you have to do, right? I'll make a big batch of infusion in this bowl, and ladle it into your cup - or bag - Tama, you'll get the bowl - and when you get yours, you immediately swallow it all in a continuous stream. You'll pass out - except Leekath, I suppose; do you want your roommate in here to hang you up when you shift to bat form so you can fall asleep?" Leekath nodded and waved the younger vampire girl into the room from where she was hanging back. "And then whoever you've brought along will put you to bed, but if they turn out to have trouble moving you, I or Aar Kithen will float you where you need to go. Any questions?"
"What would happen," Kaylo asked, "if we didn't drink the infusion in a continuous stream?"
"There wouldn't be enough power to do the work in one go if you split it into partial doses like that, and so instead of trying once and succeeding it'd try twice and fail both times," Rhysel said. "You'd still pass out, but when you woke up, you wouldn't have kamai; we'd have to do it over again." Rhysel tapped her chin, then reached out curiously for Kaylo's lifeforce. "Actually," she amended, finding it just as robust as the shrens she'd checked, "you might not pass out, whether you drink it all in one swallow or not. Dragons have a lot of energy and you might have some left over. But regardless, it wouldn't work."
"What about me?" Korulen asked. "Are thudias the same?"
Rhysel checked her. "Above average, but not as much as Kaylo; I'd call it even odds on your staying awake."
Mata raised her hand; when Rhysel pointed at her, she said, "Should Tama and I drink at the same time, in case we both fall asleep from one of us drinking it?"
"Good idea," Rhysel said. "I'll leave you until last so I can fill your cup and give Tama the bowl simultaneously. Anything else?"
None of the other students made comments, so Rhysel picked up the first crucible and smiled. "All right. Here goes."
Air, water, fire, earth - and the extra-large batch of infusion was soon fizzing away in the bowl. Rhysel poured ladlesful for Korulen, Lutan, Kaarilel, Ngen, Kolaan, Soraak, Kutran, Kaylo, and the fifteen miscellaneous elves and humans who'd also signed up; she poured a dose into the bag Leekath held open and sank her fangs into; and then she gave Mata and Tama their shares at the same time.
Kaylo in fact did not fall asleep; he looked groggy, but not in immediate danger of closing his eyes and slumping out of his chair. He left under his own power, roommate tagging along ready to catch him if he collapsed. Korulen appeared conscious, though only barely, and leaned heavily on Saasnil on her way out of the auditorium. Leekath turned into a bat and clenched her feet around the stick her roommate offered, hanging from it while she was carried briskly away. Most of the other students were variously hover-platformed, levitated, or cooperatively dragged off. The wolfriders who'd come along - all pre-riding age - slung Mata over two wolves' backs and found themselves puzzled about what to do with Tama. Rhysel did wind up floating her.
"This way," said one of the rider girls, sounding grateful. "We have a large room together - we girls do, the boys have another. We didn't like to be two or four at a time in small rooms. So we are ten pairs of girls all together, almost a pack, but all this age." She sounded awkward even through the translation spell.
"Are you all learning Leraal?" Rhysel asked.
"Yes," said the same girl. "But it is so hard. There is no backchannel, so to talk, we must learn so many words, and how to do with our voices everything we do with backchannel. And we have all learned spells to let us see printed words," she added. "But that is confusing."
"See printed words?" Rhysel asked.
"Our eyes are different," explained the rider. "We see depth first, not lines like you. On a flat paper we can tell that there are shapes but not learn to read them, unless we cast a spell to make them stand out and have depth too."
"Still," Rhysel said, "do you think you'll be ready to do without spells by the time next term starts and you're in regular classes?"
"Maybe," said the girl. "Maybe half of each pair will have spells, for a time, so we can get help on hard things but practice otherwise."
They reached the wolfrider girls' room, and Rhysel floated Tama in through the door and laid her on the mat the conscious ones indicated belonged to her and Mata. Then Rhysel went back to the auditorium to rejoin Tekaal and clean up the knocked-over cups and discarded bowl and crucibles.
"All of this is going so fast," Rhysel remarked. "I know I've barely scratched the surface of mind and wild kamai."
"We still have nearly a month of this term, and a month of break, before we are obliged to teach classes," Tekaal said.
"I suppose that will be enough time to get competent to introduce everything," sighed Rhysel. "If I don't spend all my time going in circles about shrens, anyway. Though I imagine we'll disappoint Kaylo no matter what we learn."
"Having had Aaran Besayn as a student before, I can confirm that he is difficult to satisfy," said Tekaal. He tucked the last cup into Rhysel's satchel. "At any rate... shall we?" He held out his hand to teleport them both, and she took it.
"Mirra isn't talking," Eret said abruptly, in lieu of "hello" when he came up to receive his and Theedy's share of the groceries. The dragonets in Rhysel's basement had borne names for more than two weeks. "Lisha is. Mirra isn't breathing fire. Rathon is. Mirra isn't even responding to words - her brother and sister both are."
Rhysel blinked. "Doesn't it vary, how long it takes...?"
"Not by that much," said Eret in clipped tones. "Lisha got talkative last week. She's figured out sentences now. Had an extended argument with me yesterday about her favorite color and why it was better than mine. Rathon's quieter but he knows his name and he calls us Daddy and Mommy. Mirra doesn't react when we call her, doesn't say anything. And she's a red-group so she should be interested in fire by now even if Lisha might not be for months, but there's nothing at all. I saw her trying to breathe fire after she saw Rathon doing it - nothing happened."
"I - I don't know how that -"
"In case you didn't remember," said Eret in a low voice, eyes narrow, "Mirra's the one you and your Master saved. I'll give you that she's alive, but she isn't talking, and she should be talking, and toasting her own bread, and paying attention when we say her name. We knew her line name might not stick, but her first name ought to work, unless it's something you did."
Rhysel put a hand on the doorframe and set down her tenants' groceries slowly. "I - can look at her, but I don't know that I'll be any help. Later this week Leekath will be over and I can ask her to tell my Master what's happening, and he may be able to make time..."
Eret plucked the bags of food off the ground. "Come down, then." He stalked around the tower to the back door that led to the basement, and led Rhysel after him.
"Hi!" exclaimed a perky, high voice. The black-opal baby, Lisha, rocketed through the air to cling to Rhysel's shirtfront and touch noses with her. "I know a word for you! Landlady! Right? Right?"
"Hi," said Rhysel weakly, descending the last few steps to their top floor without trying to dislodge Lisha; the dragonet clawed her way up Rhysel's shirt to settle around her shoulders. "Where's Mirra?"
"Mirra's in her room!" cried Lisha. "I'll make her be here!" She launched herself off of Rhysel and soared down the stairs. Looking around, Rhysel saw Rathon curled up on the counter where Eret was unpacking the groceries; he started to wrestle with an eggplant before his father took it away.
"Hi, Rathon," Rhysel murmured.
"Hi," Rathon replied, and he yawned and tucked his snout under his tail.
Lisha returned, Mirra flying after her. "I made her come! She doesn't do talking but she can do following," Lisha explained. "I bit her, real gentle on her horn so she doesn't go eeeee, and I pulled her and she's doing following. See, landlady?"
"My name's Rhysel, Lisha," said Rhysel softly.
"Okay, Rhysel!" Lisha gamboled away and Rhysel picked up her sister.
Mirra looked healthy enough, and she looked at Rhysel with bright eyes and pawed gently at the kama's face, careful not to claw. "Hi, Mirra," Rhysel murmured.
The dragonet's ear twitched when Rhysel spoke, but Mirra didn't appear to recognize the words. Rhysel reached out with wild kamai, but as far as her scan could detect, there was nothing wrong with the baby in her arms. She tried mind kamai, and found pictures and feelings and sounds in Mirra's mind, but no words. Rhysel didn't know what to do.
"I'll get in touch with my Master about her," Rhysel murmured. "Her lifeforce is..." She checked. "Normal for a dragon, now. Like yours or..." She checked the baby boy. "Like Rathon's."
Across the room, Rathon set one of the paper grocery bags merrily alight with a glinting pah of fire. Eret poured a glass of water on it, chiding his son under his breath, and shook droplets of water off a singed packet of green beans into the sink.
Mirra whined in her brother's direction, and opened her mouth, and closed it again.
Rhysel put her down.
Mirra flew up to the counter with Rathon, and he breathed fire at her, which she seemed to like. She purred just like any other dragon baby Rhysel had met while the tongues of flame curled harmlessly against her scales.
"I... guess I'll go, now," Rhysel said at Eret's back.
His shoulders hunched, and he touched Mirra between her wings, where Rathon's fire wasn't reaching. "Right," he said.
Rhysel half-flew up the stairs.
"I'd be happy to teach the child to draw," Tekaal said, when Rhysel poured out the story to him that evening.
"That's treating the symptom," Rhysel said. "Maybe it'll let her communicate, and I'd really appreciate it if you would - but there's something the matter with her, and I have no idea what it is. I hope my Master can figure it out. I'd feel just terrible if it's my fault she's impaired like this."
"Did you already write him a letter?" Tekaal asked.
Rhysel nodded. "Leekath should be here Fenen as usual and I'll give it to her then. Try not to let me chew off my fingernails with anxiety before she comes back?"
"Of course," he said, holding her hands. "You and not I are studying wild kamai; I would have to grow them back for you with proxic elementalism, and I suspect that would be a very delicate job for someone without your sculpture background."
Rhysel laughed, though her voice still shook. "Yes. A little. That's why it's so obscure..."
Leekath arrived on time, and Rhysel gave her the appropriately vague letter, and Tekaal sent the vampire girl to Barashi.
Rhysel couldn't stop pacing as the moment to un-send Leekath approached. Her Master had been able to save Mirra in the first place; surely when he had a day to spare he could come back and find out what had gone wrong with the child. And fix it. And then Mirra would be as talkative as her siblings, she could set things on fire, she would know her own name, and Eret would stop glaring darkly at Rhysel whenever they crossed paths in her new garden. Theedy, for her part, didn't seem to blame Rhysel, but she tidied the tower listlessly, or else rushed through everything to run back down and spend more time with her babies, where previously she'd been methodical.
Finally, Tekaal reversed the sending spell, and Leekath appeared in the circle.
A mangled letter was crushed in the vampire's hands, and her eyes were wide and sad.
"Leekath? What is it?" asked Rhysel anxiously.
"M-M-Master Revenn died," Leekath whispered.
Leekath might have said something else, but Rhysel didn't hear it, or anything, over the sound of her own screaming.
She recognized the voice. Belatedly; he'd been trying to talk to her for some time. Tekaal. Not her Master.
But he was a wizard.
"Rhysel, please, talk to me."
Wizards could do many things.
"I need to go to him," Rhysel said.
"To Barashi. I have to go to Barashi. I have to see for myself," she said, monotone. "Leekath might be wrong. She might -"
"She said that Master Casten was killed by a demon," Tekaal said. "Along with several of the older apprentices. Aaran Casten was the one who finished it off, but Aaralan Hhirheek -"
"I have to go there and see for myself," Rhysel repeated. "I have to. Tell me how to do it. There's got to be some way."
"Rhysel, there's -"
"Try the break again."
There was a silence. She repeated herself, and Tekaal drew breath and cast the spells, one after the other.
Rhysel stayed in place.
"Are you really trying?" she growled. "Do you really want me to be able to go home?"
She heard him scoot back a few inches along the sofa. She wasn't sure when she'd been put on a sofa. "I want to help you," Tekaal said. "But co-cast spells -"
"There has to be a way."
"Not without killing Aaralan Inular or Aaralan Fikastel -" Tekaal stopped himself, paused, and said, "You are not going to do that."
There was a silence. "No," Rhysel admitted with a heavy sigh. "I'm not." She clenched her fingers in the fabric of her skirt, hating it. She didn't wear skirts on Barashi; ergo she wasn't on Barashi; ergo she couldn't find the nearest death kama and demand one last chance to see her Master.
"I can catch up with Aaralan Hhirheek," Tekaal ventured after another lengthy pause. "I believe one of her parents is in Parliament. He may - again: may - be able to get Aaralan Inular a dispensation to obtain her familiar early. I have no information regarding whether he is likely to be willing to do so. I am not entirely sure individual members of Parliament are allowed. But it could be tried. I am not certain you should be left alone."
"Korulen's not doing well in her breaks class," Rhysel said softly, "is she."
"She is not," Tekaal responded quietly. "Or that would have been my first suggestion. She has repeatedly failed to break spells she herself cast, even without a co-caster."
"You could get Theedy and ask her to sit with me," Rhysel said.
"Rhysel, what do you want to do in Barashi?" Tekaal asked. "If all you want is to view the - body, I can perform a transworld scry..."
"I want to go there and find someone - maybe Master Bryn - somebody who does death kamai, who could let me talk to him," wailed Rhysel.
"I have yet to succeed at that working here, but have read the procedure - if I go and -"
"No," Rhysel snapped. "Not secondhand. I want to talk to my Master."
"Suppose I contacted Aaral Pyga for you, and -"
"It's still secondhand," Rhysel sobbed, tearing up again and drawing her knees towards her face. She shrugged off Tekaal's hand on her shoulder. "I have to go there."
There was another silence, and Tekaal finally said, "I will fetch your housekeeper and speak with Aaralan Hhirheek regarding her parent in Parliament."
"Thank you," whispered Rhysel.
Tekaal fetched Theedy, who sat in perfect silence beside Rhysel. Rhysel didn't know how long it was before her boyfriend returned.
"Aaralan Hhirheek called her father on your behalf," he said softly, sitting down when Theedy stood up. "He refused the dispensation. Rhysel, I am so sorry."
Rhysel didn't say anything. She just tilted to lean against him, let him enfold her in his arms, and wept.
Leekath came by the tower again on Inen afternoon. Rhysel was still under Theedy's loose "supervision", as Tekaal couldn't spend an entire school day with her, but the keen-eared shren heard the vampire coming and made herself scarce on an upper floor before Leekath even rang the bell. Rhysel let her in, but didn't greet her.
"I'm sorry," Leekath said.
"Thank you," Rhysel said mechanically.
"If - if you want - I could tell you more about what happened," Leekath said awkwardly, wringing her hands behind her back. "I wasn't there for that part. By the time I got there he was already gone and the demon was in one of the apprentices - that's where it was when Talyn killed it - it was awful - but - I do know what happened." She paused, and then said, "Corpses... turn out to count as objects. I can hear them talking about themselves."
Rhysel shuddered. "Do I want more details than 'killed by a demon'?"
"I don't know," Leekath said. "But if you do I can tell you."
"No, I don't think so," Rhysel said, grimacing. "Er - before it happened - did you give him my letter?"
"He didn't have time to read it," Leekath murmured.
Rhysel ground her teeth. "Right. Well. Thank you, Leekath."
"Er," Leekath said, scuffing her shoe against the floor.
"Most of the apprentices are going to other Masters, now," Leekath said. "Except the one that the other Masters declared Journeyman instead because he was almost done... Um - Talyn wanted me to ask for him - if - not right away, but later, when you're ready - if you'd let him apprentice with you. He says he can mostly self-teach. And he could help you and Aar Kithen with your extra disciplines. Um, I think he mostly just wants to... live... here."
Rhysel didn't reply immediately. Finally, she said, "Check again in a week, but - tell him 'probably'."
"Okay," Leekath said softly, and then she let herself out.
Rhysel had a clearer head when Leekath checked in again, and confirmed that Talyn could apprentice with her. "He'll be a useful teaching assistant," she told Tekaal.
"I believe an exception could be made to the policy that non-students are not to tutor," agreed Tekaal. "Under the circumstances."
Rhysel sectioned off a bedroom in the guest floor for her new apprentice, and Tekaal performed the summons. The boy wasn't particularly hard to live with, especially after Rhysel spent the better part of an afternoon performing miscellaneous proxic elemental kamai on him to let him pick it up - by the end of the day Leekath needed to be consulted on exactly what shape Talyn's ears were meant to have as seen from certain angles, but Talyn was confident that he could use the same magic. He otherwise kept to his promise to educate himself autonomously.
After two weeks had passed since Revenn's death, Rhysel felt able to have houseguests, and had Keo and her immediate family over again - after warning Eret and Theedy to keep in their basement. She managed to be presentable to her company through the entire meal, although Runa declared her to be "a sad" and was chastised for invasive use of empathy over saying so.
Tekaal wrote most of their lesson plan, and Rhysel looked it over once, then told him to go ahead and submit it. She had herself together well enough to study, but challenges like developing a curriculum were beyond her. Attempts to think about the shren problem were even more useless than they had been before, and this time she didn't even have Revenn to bounce ideas off of. Tekaal listened, but his knowledge was too much like hers in elemental, and image and death kamai he'd looked into held no answers.
It was easy for Tekaal to fade into the background. He was at Rhysel's tower nearly every day, teaching Mirra to draw - at which she rapidly became proficient - and simply sitting on Rhysel's sofa, preparing to instruct kamai students in the winter term. He was there to hold her when she wanted to go on crying jags, there to accept soup when she couldn't think of anything she wanted to do but behead carrots for half an angle, there to throw magic at when she wanted to practice or just rehearse her approximation of empathy to feel his emotions instead of hers.
The term ended. Korulen passed her course on breaks - it was graded on effort and on written assignments, since actual talent at the spells was very rare and couldn't be determined until after extensive study. But the wizardling could accomplish little of the actual magic, outside of exercises designed to be trivial. "There's probably not even a point to me trying," she said, when she came to Rhysel's place to see about dispelling the summon.
Rhysel's desperate urgency to be in Barashi had faded, but her trapped status didn't sit as easily as it had before her master's death. Someone else she loved could be killed at any moment, by a demon or by any other hazard, and Rhysel would be powerless to intervene except by proxy. "Please try anyway," Rhysel murmured. "On the off-chance."
Korulen dutifully cast the spell, and squinted at Rhysel to make out what was there to disentangle, and spoke the word and described the gesture associated with a break.
Rhysel stayed where she was, and again, and again, and Korulen said, "Saasnil will try, next term. And I'll graduate as fast as I can so I can get a familiar, which will definitely work."
"I understand," Rhysel said softly. "Thank you for trying, Korulen. I'll see you in class in a month."
Korulen ducked her head and let herself out, to fly back to the school.
Rhysel dropped her head onto her arms where she had them folded on her kitchen table. She didn't cry. But she sat that way until the sun set.