Chapter Five: Tower
Neris and Rhysel landed just outside the front door of Kanaat's school. Rhysel could read the sign staked into the grass, with her literacy spell on - "Binaaralav Academy of Wizardry" - but that didn't distract her long from lingering questions.
"Tell me what happened, Neris," she begged.
"How much detail do you need? I don't know what Narax told you," sighed Neris. "And where am I taking you? I assume you don't want me to leave you standing here outside."
"I don't remember the room number. I might be able to find the window," said Rhysel, brushing wisps of red hair out of her face. "I don't know. I'll look. But tell me how she can be alive." She started walking, looking for the familiar building by handfire light, and looked over her shoulder to make sure Neris was following. The sapphire didn't look happy about the situation, but she did go where Rhysel led. Rhysel launched into a summary of what Narax had told her about Samia and her "death".
Neris listened, and then nodded once. "Okay," she sighed. "So, Ertydoans don't like dragons. When Narax and I were in school, we hid it - he had an easier time than I did; I had to keep up really diligently with hair dye. But after we graduated we didn't bother hiding any more. It'd been a while by then, anyway; people would've noticed we weren't aging like humans sooner or later. And his wedding would've been invalidated retroactively if he'd lied about his species on the official papers for it."
"Okay, and?" Rhysel asked.
"So, all of Samia's friends knew she was marrying a dragon, and not a one of them liked it. Narax mentioned that a light can do physical healing well enough to save someone's life after they get memory-shredded?" she inquired.
"Yes," said Rhysel.
"Samia had a friend from school, who was a light as well as a wizard," Neris said. "Well, I say friend, but not hardly, what she did... Anyway, this light was with Samia when she got hit by the spell. Narax and Samia didn't spend all that much time together physically, you see. They thought it was mostly redundant with the mindlink. So Samia was alone with this light, and the light saved her life, but then..."
"Faked her death?" Rhysel guessed quietly, shivering.
"Yes, pretty much. Ertydo has this... do you want the history lesson or just the facts?"
"Facts, please," said Rhysel.
"Ertydo has this poorly-enforced law on the books saying that the first person to find a dead body is supposed to cremate it immediately. So the light got hold of some ashes - I don't know if she conjured them or set something else on fire or what - and claimed those were Samia's. But first, she teleported to the tropics and checked Samia into a mental hospital in Egeria."
"Is that... the other country that doesn't like dragons?" said Rhysel, recognizing the name.
"Right. The light told the staff that Samia had a dragon after her who'd stop at nothing to get ahold of her if he found out where she was, a dragon who was responsible for her condition, and they didn't second-guess her. Certainly it never occurred to them to contact some other dragon and get in touch through the Council with Keo, who could actually fix her. No, they gave Samia a false name and kept her there - on public funding - because they like to be good little crusaders against the scaled menace." Neris shuddered with distaste. "And the light teleported home. Showed up with her fake ashes, claimed she hadn't been able to get to Samia in time. No one bothered with lie-detection on her because she was Samia's friend and everyone knew that she had been subject to a fatal spell."
"And no one found her. But now she's been found, somehow?" Rhysel whispered.
"Memory shred scrambled her empathic signature so not even Keo could locate her that way, and of course the mindlink evaporated as soon as Narax got hit with his, let alone Samia," Neris said. "However, the staff at the hospital weren't completely worthless. They were able to get some of Samia's memories to hook up to their neighbors again. I think they actually hired a wizard specifically to invent a spell that would do that, but it didn't do much per casting so it was years before she was even slightly functional."
"And then she looked for Narax?" asked Rhysel.
"She tried," scoffed Neris. "But the staff wouldn't let her go, especially after she made the mistake of telling them the man she wanted to find was a dragon. She didn't remember Keo's name so she couldn't get her attention. She couldn't access her memories of any spells. And she didn't know where Narax had gotten to, so she couldn't claim to have some other reason to be there. She had to wait in the hospital for another two and a half years letting them fix her in tiny, random pieces, and then she remembered some of her family and could ask to go to them."
"So then they let her go?" Rhysel asked.
"No, then they wrote a letter to her family, and her stepfather had to travel all the way there and prove he wasn't a dragon and was really her legal parent and promise to protect her from the dragon before they'd let him take her away back to his house in Ertydo. And he didn't know where Narax was, either, nor did he know the trick of pinging Keo, so he had to get in touch with the Dragon Council. Normally you do that by talking to a dragon you know, but he didn't know any besides Narax, so he had to write them a letter and they sat on it for a year before they even opened it because they don't think letters from non-dragons who aren't even thudias can possibly be important."
"Thudias?" asked Rhysel faintly, though it was certainly a distraction.
"Like Narax's niece, the older one - Korulen. Half-dragons. Anyway. Later letters got treated the same way. And then, finally, the jade representative showed up at Narax's house earlier today. Narax wasn't home because he was off with you, so he knocked on my door since I was right there and I'm a dragon, and I went and checked to make sure it was really Samia, and it was." Rhysel stopped walking, because she recognized the building she'd been offered a room in, but didn't move to fly up to her window; she wanted the rest of the story.
"The exact timing was... awkward," murmured Rhysel.
"Believe me," said Neris, "I know. I did a quick scry on him first to make sure he was in a position to be whispered at. I didn't know where you were; for all I knew he was introducing you to merfolk in the middle of the sea or something like that and wouldn't be able to open his mouth. So yeah, I saw, but I interrupted him, because I had just happened to find out that he was still married and might want to stop what he was doing."
Rhysel sighed deeply and gazed up at the stars, which were out in force and twinkling indifferently. "Right. Of course."
Neris patted Rhysel's shoulder, looking away awkwardly. "Anyway. Now Keo is fixing up Samia like she should've been let to do ten years ago, and Narax is highly unavailable, but Keo said you're welcome here. You'll be okay. You'd known Narax for less than a day anyway. Do you need anything before I go? I'm a little more inconvenient to get ahold of from a distance than Keo is, and she's going to be busy for a day, maybe two."
"I think I'll be fine," murmured Rhysel.
"Right," said Neris. "Well, good night. I guess I may or may not see you around." The sapphire dragon stepped back, swept her hand through the air and spoke, and disappeared.
Rhysel didn't have any clothes specifically designated for sleeping, so she got into one of the beds at random wearing the same outfit she'd changed into after her shopping trip. She was tired - she hadn't gotten a full night's sleep, and then she'd been summoned to and teleported all over an absurdly-shaped planet and kissed and abandoned in the wilderness.
Even so, sleep was slow in coming. The bed was comfortable, but it didn't have the familiar sag in the middle of the one she had at home. The curtains were heavier than her own and left the room pitch-black without so much as a sprinkling of moonlight when she closed them. Intermittently she was overtaken by shivers of unsettled dread about what new surprise would next disturb her uprooted life.
But eventually, she did sleep.
In the morning, Rhysel put on a different outfit, and went out and stopped a human girl who was tearing down the hallway. "Excuse me. How do I get to the cafeteria?" she asked.
"You go into the lift, and tell it to take you there," said the girl, blinking wide dark eyes. "Who are you?"
"Someone summoned me and I'm stuck," Rhysel said. She paused to wonder if Keo had any official title, but then said, "Keo said I could stay here until I can be sent back."
"Oh. Okay," said the girl, and then she ran on and ducked into one of the rooms.
Rhysel went to the lift. "Cafeteria, please," she told it, feeling sheepish, but the device went into motion and carried her on a zigzagging journey to her destination.
The cafeteria was an expansive, vaulted hall, divided by tables that offered food and tables at which students and faculty congregated. Rhysel hung back near the lift for a while, watching the flow of people and working out how she was meant to get her meal, before going to take a plate of her own and pile it with the more recognizable items.
She scanned the crowd, hoping to find one of the handful of people she knew. She thought she recognized the elf who had tried to break her summon before Narax had made the attempt, but she wasn't sure; she'd seen him for only a sub or so. When Rhysel spotted Korulen, sitting at a crowded but not full table near a window, she made her way in that direction.
"Hi, Rhysel," said Korulen softly as the kama approached. "Mom told me you were coming back, before she became, um, occupied." Korulen's friends, some elf girls and some human ones and one spindly half-sized one, didn't seem astonished by Rhysel or by the news that Keo was suddenly busy.
Rhysel nodded. "Can I sit here?" she asked.
"Sure," said Korulen, gesturing at one of the empty seats between a human and the tiny girl.
"So what are you going to do while Korulen researches breaks like mad trying to get you unstuck?" asked the human around a mouthful of breakfast.
"I'm not sure yet," admitted Rhysel. "I wish I had some of my things from home."
Korulen blinked; the other girls at the table began satellite conversations. "I can summon your stuff for you, Rhysel. Properly, I mean, although it wouldn't matter as much just for objects. Or, um," she looked down in embarrassment, "possibly I should get a teacher's supervision before doing that, especially while my parents are indisposed, but it's totally doable."
Rhysel almost dropped her fork. "It is? I didn't realize. I would appreciate that very much."
"After breakfast, then," said Korulen. "Today is Chenen and we don't have classes on Chenenik, so I'm free. I'm sure we can find a teacher who'll help. Lots of them live on campus or have office angles even on free days."
Rhysel smiled at the girl and tried the rice she'd taken, deciding it was good. "Both of your parents are indisposed?"
"Yeah," said Korulen. "What Mom is doing for Aunt Samia is very complicated, not like what she had to do to save Uncle Narax back when the spell was just cast. She couldn't be sure of doing it right and have my dad in the mindlink at the same time, so she had to undo it temporarily. My little sister is with my grandparents for a while."
They finished breakfast, and Korulen chattered to her friends about classes and the school choir and music and boys. When the halfblood and thudia had both finished eating, Korulen waved her hand over her plate, Rhysel imitated her, and then Rhysel followed Korulen to the lift. "I think we should try Aar Kenjin, first," Korulen mused. "He does classes on summoning and I'm sure he has the right chalk, and he might be in his office. I don't know what my parents did with the piece I had. Hall 78!" she told the lift. "How much stuff are you going to want?"
Rhysel mulled over the question. "Are gems worth money here? Rubies, diamonds, emeralds, that sort of thing?"
"Only if they aren't created by magic," Korulen replied. "It's against international law to sell magically created gems. Otherwise yeah, those are very expensive and you could sell them for local money at a currency exchange."
"I'll want those, then, I have some left," Rhysel said. "Some books and scrolls for my research. My staff and ward stones and satchel. Some of my clothes - I realize they won't all look appropriate here, but I'd rather have them available than not. Can you send things to other worlds, too?"
"You can send things. Or people," said Korulen. "The only reason I can't just add a sending spell on top of your summon and get you home that way is that sendings only work on natives."
"I'd like to be able to explain to Councilor Jezren and my Master where I am," Rhysel said. "They'll be the ones to wonder first, and they'll be able to tell anyone else who asks."
"Then sure," said Korulen, as the lift shuddered to a halt and opened for them. "We can ask Aar Kenjin, or whoever, to send them notes, or send someone to talk to them. Wizard stuff won't work there, though, so if you want to send a person it should be a dragon who can speak the language without a spell. Mom would probably go, as long as you wait until she's done with Aunt Samia."
"Sending her to Barashi won't just disrupt her mindlink again?" Rhysel asked, surprised.
Korulen shook her head, leading Rhysel down the hall and seeking out the door she wanted. She rapped her knuckles on an office marked Enokan Kenjin. "It'll hold across worlds. It's only wizardry that can't be done there; my mom's powers are dragon magic and they'll stick wherever she goes."
There was no response from Aar Kenjin's office. "I guess he's not in," Korulen said, frowning. "Let me think. Maybe Aar Kithen. I don't actually know if he does summons at all, but I spotted him at breakfast and if he was having breakfast on campus today he's probably in his office. And he'd know who would be able to help." She jogged back to the lift, Rhysel at her heels, and directed it to another hall, where she found a door labeled Tekaal Kithen and knocked.
The door opened at once, and the elf who'd tried to break Rhysel's summon stood there. "Aaralan Inular, Aaral Camlenn," he said cordially, looking first at Korulen and then at Rhysel. Rhysel was mildly surprised he remembered her name. "What can I do for you?"
"Hi, Aar Kithen," said Korulen. "Do you have summoning chalk and a spare angle? Rhysel wants some of her stuff summoned. And - Rhysel, do you want to send notes, or wait for my mom? My dad can send her if she goes and then he'll be able to tell you what people are saying and you can have an almost normal conversation, through intermediaries."
"That sounds like a better solution than just notes," said Rhysel. "Waiting another day or two won't be a problem."
"Okay. Then, all we need is the summoning, her money and books and stuff," Korulen told Aar Kithen. "If you don't have the chalk or the time, do you know someone who does?"
"As it happens, I do have summoning chalk," said Aar Kithen, "and no demands on my time until later today. Please, come in." He stood aside, and Korulen and Rhysel went into his office.
Aar Kithen took Korulen through the process of drawing the circle he needed for the summon, while Rhysel perched on one of the chairs in the corner of his office and watched in fascination. Korulen was allowed to draw some of the symbols in the diagram, although the teacher checked them over carefully for her. "These are very neatly done," he said, when he didn't discover a flaw in the lines. "It is lucky for Aaral Camlenn that you were precise when you drew her circle." Then, he drew a lesser diagram, most of a circle but ending where it touched the larger one. "Aaral Camlenn, if you will place your hand here," he said, indicating the small marked-out area on his floor, "it will allow you to serve as a focus to more readily find the objects I will summon for you."
Korulen, done with her part in the spell, took a different chair and watched; Rhysel knelt on the floor and placed her palm where Aar Kithen had indicated. "You can call me Rhysel," she told him, although she suspected that it was pointless.
"So I have been informed," he said, the faintest twitch of a smile on his face before he consulted his book one final time. "Please concentrate on the objects you wish to summon here. We can repeat this process as many times as necessary while the circle is unbroken, to complete your list of desired items, although if I retrieve anything you prefer to send back, it will be inconvenient to return it. So, precision is more important than being thorough the first time. Let me know when you are ready."
Rhysel shut her eyes and thought, first, of her ward stones and staff. "Ready," she said.
Aar Kithen said a phrase, and Rhysel opened her eyes. There were her stones, scattered on the floor in the same careless pattern they'd been left in, and her staff, propped up on the invisible barrier created by the circle. She shut her eyes again and began thinking of books. "Ready," she said again.
Nine repetitions of the spell later, all of the tools and resources she wanted were piled high in the circle. "Will that be everything?" Aar Kithen asked when Rhysel sat back, lifting her hand off the floor.
"Yes," said Rhysel. "Thank you very much." Then she remembered a rule of wizardry that seemed to apply. "This isn't going to stop you from using that spell until I can go home and take my belongings with me, is it?"
"It will not," said Aar Kithen. "This particular spell attaches your possessions to this world as though they were native to it, until they are further enchanted. Aaralan Inular mentioned that money would be among the summoned items, and I suspect you do not prefer to spend currency dependent on my continued cooperation to remain in this world."
Rhysel laughed. "You suspect correctly. Thank you again."
"You are welcome," he replied. He stepped forward and smudged the outer chalk border with his foot. Her staff and one of the more precarious piles of books clattered to the floor. "Do you require help transporting these things?"
"No, I've got them," Rhysel said, levitating everything and plucking her satchel out of the air to sling over her shoulder.
"Do you want to put them in your room?" Korulen asked, trotting down the hall after Rhysel.
"No," Rhysel said. "I want to build a house."
After Rhysel had clarified that she didn't want to build the house on school grounds, and that she expected the entire process to take a div (she had to translate this to "a sixteenth of a day") after she had land on which to put it, Korulen was considerably less stunned.
"I've never bought land before, Rhysel," said Korulen. "I don't know how to do it. I don't think I'll be much help."
"That's all right," Rhysel said. "I'm not in a hurry. Do you want to come along?"
Korulen shook her head. "I should probably be studying, if you don't need me anymore," she said. "Um, but you should know how to find me in case we don't run into each other in the cafeteria again." Rhysel got a scrap of paper out of her satchel and wrote down Korulen's hall and room numbers, and then the girl let Rhysel into the lift first.
Rhysel considered dropping her belongings off in the room she was borrowing, but she decided she wanted to at least get an idea of how long it would take to secure a plot of land first. "Headmaster's office," she told the lift. Kanaat's indisposition might keep him from doing much work or being a suitable guardian for the day, but she thought he'd probably be able to answer a couple of simple questions, or refer her to people who could.
The lift obligingly took her to Kanaat's office, which was empty. "Kanaat?" she called, presuming that he could hear her in his quarters through the bookshelf.
"What?" asked the elf's voice from the expected direction. He sounded more like he was confused by the use of his name than like he wanted to know what Rhysel was about.
"It's Rhysel," she said. "I want to talk to you; can I come in?"
There was a pause. "I don't care," he answered, sounding muffled.
Concerned, Rhysel put her hand through the bookshelf, and then went through the rest of the way when it proved insubstantial as she expected. Her summoned things followed her obediently.
The shelf led to a large bedroom; a broad window shed light on the cradle that Rhysel assumed normally held the baby dragon. Kanaat was sitting on his and Keo's bed, hunched over her where her head rested in his lap. Her eyes were closed and her hair was a green fan over his knees. While Rhysel watched, Kanaat picked up Keo's hand where it rested on her belly, looked at it expectantly, and then bit his lip and set it down again. He waited a moment, and then repeated the action and was disappointed again.
"Kanaat?" said Rhysel softly.
"She'll come back," he murmured. He was staring at his wife with an overwhelming intensity. "Keo. She said, she said she'd come back, she'll come back. Keo. She'll come back."
Rhysel was painfully aware that she had misjudged the situation. "I'll - I'll just go," she said.
"She'll come back," said Kanaat. "My Keo. She said." He didn't look at the intruding kama, or seem to register her presence; he might have been talking to himself or to no one. He stroked Keo's hair, and frowned again. "It will be better when she's back. Keo."
Rhysel backed away, through the bookshelf and back into the office. She and her belongings went into the lift, and she directed it to the hall where her room was.
Rhysel deposited her things in her room, and then decided to try asking the lift to take her to the library, presuming that a school would have one. The lift obeyed the command, and it was quite a library.
She couldn't make heads nor tails of the categorization system, and on reflection she wasn't sure if a library for a wizarding school would have anything relating to buying land, so instead she asked a librarian. The librarian she chose proved more than happy to tell Rhysel about the necessary steps to obtain a plot as long as Rhysel was also willing to listen to anecdotes about the librarian and two of her children and one of her grandchildren doing the same. Rhysel sat through it indulgently, and then, having written down the librarian's directions to a moneychanger and to an office that would sell her what she wanted, told the lift to take her to an exit.
Neither location was hard to find, nor were they far enough away that Rhysel was tired by the flight. The moneychanger cast a lot of spells over the gems she selected from her bag to sell, to confirm that they were genuine, not magically generated, rightfully hers, and so on, but turned up nothing to concern him and gave Rhysel a rather staggering number of coins. She found herself very glad that she didn't have to carry them by hand.
The librarian had described a second office; the name hadn't translated effectively, but it sounded to Rhysel like some kind of transaction management service that sold land on behalf of people who wanted rid of theirs and didn't care to bother with finding buyers. When Rhysel went there and explained what she wanted, the clerk cheerfully presented her with options reasonably near the school, within flying distance of Paraasilan proper but not hemmed in by neighbors, and without buildings. Rhysel got him to carve off a piece of a larger parcel of land which would have plenty of space for a tower and a garden and some breathing room, and walked out with papers saying she owned it, directions to the place, and considerably fewer coins.
Rhysel flew to her new home, after a stop back at the school for her things. The land she'd bought was a deserted sort of place, occupied by tall grass and wild shrubs and not much else. She made a circuit on foot, following the little flags that marked the edges of her plot, and then went to the center of it and started to lay out her ward stones.
There were eight cube-shaped stones a little over an inch to a side. Two rubies, two sapphires, two marble, two obsidian. Created by kamai, all of them, so Rhysel supposed she couldn't sell them if she'd wanted to, but she didn't. They were tools.
She formed an octagon of harmless firewriting at the perimeter of where she wanted her tower, and placed one stone at each point and opposite its twin. The grass within the area was in her way, so she burned it away with a controlled flame which she extinguished when it was all gone. Standing behind one of her rubies, she closed her eyes, let her possessions fall to the ground behind her, raised her hands to focus her attention on the task, and woke the stones.
The ward stones had a variety of uses, the first and most obvious of which was the creation of wards, but they also allowed very efficient channeling of magic for large-scale workings like the one Rhysel planned on using to erect her tower. The fact that her own stones were attuned to her in particular would also give her a lasting connection to the building, which would let her modify it more easily in the future than she would have been able to otherwise. She was still going to be exhausted afterwards, but she'd have a home of her own to collapse in.
Rhysel reached with tendrils of power into the ground, and began transmuting earth to stone and lifting it up into the shape she desired. The floor plan was copied directly from her tower back in Barashi, which she'd labored over for a bit longer figuring out exactly where everything belonged. The results had served her well and she intended to duplicate them in Elcenia. She felt the stone she called up pulling at her power as it formed five stories with eight outer walls, the spiraling staircase inside them, the glass of the windows, the furniture that sprouted out of the floors and detached itself when it had its form, and the high pointed roof all kyma's towers had as a beacon to petitioners needing help.
She pulled at the texture and the color of the stone, turning the outside of her tower brick red and coaxing other colors out of the surfaces inside. She convinced the floors to hold warmth, just enough that they would feel more like wood than rock if she walked barefoot on them, and made the surfaces of the chairs and couches and beds spongy and yielding so they would require no separate cushions.
And then, drained beyond the ability to pick up her books and supplies from where they lay, she staggered in through her open front door and fell onto a familiar, brand-new sofa.