Chapter Six: Barashi
Predictably, Rhysel woke up from her nap absolutely ravenous, and while she had learned a working to turn a stone into bread, in her current state it would cost far more energy than eating the bread would gain her. It was barely worthwhile even when near starvation.
Instead, she hauled herself off of the couch and out the door, guessed from the sun that it was early afternoon, and slowly collected her ward stones and the belongings she'd left in a heap on her doorstep.
When everything was inside, she sat heavily on the springy sofa, worked on recovering her expended lifeforce, and debated whether to go to the school and visit the cafeteria, or to Paraasilan to find a grocery store. The way her tower was situated, they were roughly equidistant, and the grocer would be a longer-term solution given that she didn't want to rely on someone else's cooking indefinitely.
Rhysel sat and recharged until she judged that she could walk the half-mile, plus however much walking within the city, without falling over or fainting. Then she left her tower again, a bag of coins in her hand, and set off.
Rhysel got directions to a grocer's from a middle-aged human man and was relieved to find that it wasn't too much farther from where she'd entered the city proper. She found Paraasilan's layout strange. It began suddenly, and with buildings just as tall at its edges as she'd seen from a distance at the center. And the grocery store seemed to be located in the middle of a residential neighborhood, where tall, closely-spaced houses circled shared yards and cobbled streets wound between the rings.
After pausing near the broad, open entrance to the store and watching people in it to confirm that she understood how retail worked in Esmaar, Rhysel went into the aisles, picked up the first piece of fruit she recognized, and bought the apple before she did anything else. The other customers were followed by floating baskets, or trains of them. She went back outdoors to eat it, burned the core, and - feeling much more sure on her feet - returned to explore the food in detail.
She recognized about two-thirds of the items for sale, or could figure out what they were after reading their labels. Other things, like the chocolate she'd been introduced to the previous day, were alien. She took a packet of chocolate candies off the surprisingly large display devoted to such things, but mostly stuck to what she could figure out: meat and vegetables and flour - Rhysel had to hunt for wheat flour on a shelf including everything from powdered black beans to almond meal - and fruits and butter and more staple ingredients she'd need to establish a usable pantry. They didn't sell bowls or dishes or utensils, but Rhysel planned to make her own anyway.
Rhysel wound up filling half a dozen of the floating baskets. The young elf girl who waved a clear wand at them and quoted the price spelled in the glass asked if she needed help transferring to a hover platform.
"I don't have a hover platform," Rhysel told her, counting coins out of her bag. She had more than enough.
The elf looked surprised. "Oh. Um, well, I'm sure you have a way to get them home, but do you need any help?"
Rhysel was about to turn her down, but then she smiled and said, "I'm fine for today, but actually, do you have some kind of delivery service available? I live a ways out of town."
"There's nothing like that attached to the store," the girl said. "But if you want a person to bring you groceries and you'll pay them, I'm sure you could get someone interested. Maybe my little brother."
"That would be perfect," Rhysel said.
"Okay," said the girl. "I'll call him now, if you want." When Rhysel nodded, the elf produced from her pocket a long, green faceted crystal, and thwacked it sharply against the corner of a shelf containing dried locusts. Instead of cracking, it chimed, and she held it to her ear where it was hidden under honey-blond hair. "Hey! Kolaan! A customer wants someone to deliver her groceries to her place out of town. Are you interested?" There was a pause; Rhysel couldn't hear whatever the girl's brother said in reply. "Yeah, she's right here. I'll ask. Aaral?" she inquired politely, addressing Rhysel. "Do you want to wait here, and he can show up in a degree or two, or do you want to tell me when you'll be back so he can be waiting for you then?"
"I can wait," said Rhysel, trying and failing to remember how long a degree was. She didn't think it could be long, from context.
"Okay. Kolaan, she'll wait for you, but don't dawdle, okay? Right. Love you too. Bye!" The elf knocked the crystal against the shelf again and pocketed it. "Thank you for your business and for giving my little brother a job," she said to Rhysel, smiling sunnily, and then she moved off to scan the purchases of another customer.
Rhysel stood near the front of the store with her floating baskets, munching on a heel of brown bread. After a short wait - she estimated it took less than a sub - a boy who looked rather like the elf girl poked his head into the store. "Aaral Wants-Her-Groceries-Delivered?" he called.
"I think that's me," laughed Rhysel. "You can call me Rhysel. How shall we do this?"
"Here's what I think would work," said Kolaan brightly. "You buy a hover platform but I keep it to use for delivering you things. And you get us pads of link paper, so you can write your lists on it and when you want deliveries and I'll be able to see it. How far out of town do you live?"
"It's about half a mile from here," Rhysel said.
"Okay, then I want five aaberik per delivery, seven if it rains but that's not going to happen much," Kolaan told her. "Plus you pay for the groceries, obviously. It might make sense for you to pay in advance - they do that here; my sister's always complaining about it. And then you can authorize me to draw on your advance."
"Well," said Rhysel, "you're clearly the expert. Can your sister handle that transaction?" She pulled out a coin at random, and, sure enough, it said "one aaber" on it.
"Yeah, sure. Taaril!" hollered Kolaan.
The elf girl hurried over, looking embarrassed. "Don't shout for me in my workplace," she hissed at him.
"Sorry," said Kolaan, completely unapologetic. "Rhysel wants to pay in advance for a few grocery trips. I know how much you love that part of your job, right?"
Taaril huffed a sigh at him, but then turned a pleasant smile on Rhysel. "How much would you like to deposit, Aaral?"
Rhysel wound up handing over all of the coins she had on her, less what Kolaan said would be needed for a hover platform and link paper, and then followed Kolaan out of the store, floating her groceries in a less organized train behind her. "There's a place up the block that will have the platform, and one right across the street from it that will have link paper," he chattered. "How often are you going to want deliveries? Taaril brings home food most every day, but that's because she's always at the store anyway. I think most households send somebody shopping twice a week."
"I'm not sure yet," said Rhysel. "I just now moved here. Probably once a week, since I live by myself." She'd noticed that most of the food was available in very large amounts per package, although she'd been able to find smaller quantities. "Are families here usually very large?"
"Fifteen, twenty, thirty people to a house," said Kolaan. "Eighteen in mine."
"Wow," said Rhysel, shaking her head. "And I thought my family was huge."
"How huge?" asked Kolaan, holding the door for her into a store. He made a beeline for a pile of what looked like crosses between puzzle boxes and stacks of planks, and picked one up. "This'll do. Excuse me!" He waved over a staffperson.
"I have two sisters and four brothers," said Rhysel. "But there was never a time when we were all living in the house simultaneously; Ryll had moved out for her apprenticeship before the younger twins were born."
"That's a big immediate family," said Kolaan. "We live with other relatives. Me and Taaril only have two other siblings. She's paying," he added to the clerk, who looked at Rhysel expectantly.
Rhysel handed over the money for the platform, and Kolaan marched out with it tucked under his arm. Outside the store, he unfolded it with a shake like one would a rug, the wood pieces joining up on their edges to form a rectangle. Kolaan released his hold on it and it dropped only partway to the ground, stopping a foot up and then holding motionless while he stepped onto it. "You can put those down if you don't want to float them," he said to Rhysel, motioning at the food and then at the remaining space on his platform.
Rhysel arranged the groceries around his feet. "They won't fall off?"
"Nope," he said, and he stamped his foot on the wood, causing it to coast smoothly across the street until he stopped it with another kick outside the second store. There, he picked out and directed Rhysel to purchase a twin pair of pads of paper. "Now you should show me where you live, so I can find it next week. Where are you from, anyway?" he asked as they walked out and he stood on the platform again. He followed Rhysel when she lifted into the air and began flying back to her house.
"Barashi," said Rhysel.
"Where's that?" Kolaan asked.
"Another world," she said. Kolaan had more questions after that, and she eventually told him a nonlinear version of the story of her arrival, including the fact that she wasn't an air mage as he'd thought but something else entirely. She conjured a globe of handfire to prove it.
When they arrived at her tower, there was a packet of papers attached to her front door. "Huh," she said, tugging at it; it came off in her hand readily.
"Is the... house new?" Kolaan asked. His tone suggested that he was momentarily unclear on whether the tower was a house. Rhysel nodded. "Then they came in and put up your ward, probably," he surmised.
Indeed, the packet's first page said:
Ward Notification. We apologize for failing to arrive at a time when someone was home. While you were out, an agent or agents of the Paraasilan municipal government visited your home and placed an Esmaar Standard House Ward on it. By default, this ward is down, and tied to the owner of the land, which realtor record shows to be one Rhysel Allera Camlenn. Aaral Camlenn may key others to the ward according to the instructions on page three and may cede tying to another person according to instructions on page four. Instructions on how to raise and lower the ward are on page two. Details about the ward's functions beyond these are on pages five through seven. If you believe there has been a mistake of any kind with your ward, please visit the Warding Office in Paraasilan City Hall.
"They just show up and cast wards on people's houses without asking?" Rhysel asked Kolaan, blinking at the packet.
"Well, yeah," said Kolaan. "Everybody has to have one. They would've explained what they were doing if you were home when they got around to it, but the wards aren't customized except for the keying and tying you can change, so they don't have to wait for you."
"Oh," said Rhysel blankly.
"Do you want me to help you carry your things in?" Kolaan asked.
She looked up from the papers. "No, thank you, I've got them," she said, and floated them off of his platform and through the door into her kitchen.
"Okay," he said. "Write on your link paper what you want next and when." He grinned at her and then kicked his platform into action again, speeding back towards town.
After reading the packet and making lunch - a roast with a side of spinach rice, which she cooked by magic and ate off dishes pulled from the stone of her wall - Rhysel shelved her books in the library on her second floor, and then laid out the old scroll she had been translating on the table in the workroom opposite it. With a start, she realized that her literacy spell worked as effectively on the ancient fairy dialect as it did on Elcenian languages. Whatever else she might have to say about Korulen and Saasnil's irresponsible summoning behavior, it had saved her a month of work going back and forth between tiny runes and a poorly-written dictionary.
She read the scroll, starting from the beginning to familiarize herself with any translation quirks from the spell that might confuse her when later paragraphs referred to definitions in the beginning of the text. It was a long document, in tiny print, supplemented by cramped diagrams and half-legible marginalia.
It occurred to her that she didn't know if she'd get to thank Narax for the spell, as things had turned out. She didn't know if she'd ever see him again. But she returned her attention to the writing, shaking her head.
When Rhysel was halfway down the first column of paragraphs, re-familiarizing herself with the part of the ritual that involved purifying a sample of air, she heard Keo's voice. <Rhysel?>
<Keo! Hi,> Rhysel responded, giddy over the leap forward she'd made in her research. <How are you doing?>
<I'm good as new, and so is Kanaat,> the dragon sent. <I'm sorry Korulen didn't think to warn you not to try to talk to Kanaat while he was broken away from me. It was better than it could have been, since I was able to do it cleanly and he expected it, but it didn't leave him ideal company. What was it you needed?>
Rhysel thought that "not ideal company" was an understatement, but she replied, <That's all right. I only wanted to ask about how I could buy some land on which to build the tower, and I found out another way.>
<I'm glad it wasn't an obstacle. Korulen told me you were going to build a house by magic?>
<That's done,> sent Rhysel wryly, <complete with a ward I didn't ask for, but at least they left instructions. Korulen had a suggestion - would you be willing to go to Barashi and talk to one of the town councilors where I was living, and my Master? I can describe where both them are likely to be found.>
<Sure, I can do that,> said Keo. <When did you have in mind? Our schedule is clear for the rest of the day, since I didn't know how quickly I'd finish with Samia.>
<Today works for me,> Rhysel answered. <Shall I meet you in Kanaat's office?>
Keo agreed, and they ended the conversation with an exchange of pleasantries. Rhysel smiled once more at her newly comprehensible scroll, and then made a door open in her wall and close behind her when she flew out.
By the time Rhysel had arrived at the school and gotten to Kanaat's office, Kanaat was halfway through chalking a circle onto his floor. Like the one Aar Kithen had used to summon her possessions, it had an extra lobe attached to it, and Kanaat confirmed that Rhysel would need to put her hand there to serve as a focus.
Keo stepped into the circle when Kanaat set aside the chalk and got to his feet. "Where am I going first?" asked the dragon.
"Councilor Jezren's home," Rhysel said. "In Dyran, Restron. I think some people might be alarmed by seeing you just appear in a place with no transfer point, though, so maybe you should start out at my tower and travel from there to the town."
"Are they going to be alarmed if I fly?" Keo asked. "In my natural form, I mean."
"Maybe, but less so," Rhysel said. "I don't think anyone will bother you, although they'll probably assume you're a kama. You'll want to land outside of town, and walk the rest of the way." She described how to find Councilor Jezren's house from the side of town nearest her tower, which could be reached by going straight out the tower's front door.
Keo nodded. "And you can tell me what to do through Kanaat when I get there," she said. Kanaat lifted his hand, Rhysel put hers on the extra bit of circle, and the headmaster sent his wife to Barashi.
Keo appeared on the first floor of Rhysel's tower. It was cluttered, with a basin full of dishes in the kitchen and a blanket trailing off the sofa onto the floor, but Keo wasn't there to tidy up the place. She let herself out, shut the door conscientiously behind her, and, seeing no one about to alarm, shifted and jumped into the sky.
It was a short flight on a dragon's wings, and Keo soon coasted down to a clear area near the wooden thatch-roofed homes near the outskirts of Dyran. This did attract some attention - halfbloods were staring at her from windows and streets - but Keo just tossed her head, changed back to her human form, and walked right into town as though she was stared at by offworlders on a daily basis.
Councilor Jezren's house wasn't hard to find with Rhysel's directions. It was nicer than most of the surrounding houses, with slate on the roof and a brick facade behind the wrought-iron fence that surrounded the yard. The gate was open, and Rhysel's answer to Kanaat's question confirmed that Keo was welcome to walk right in.
Keo did exactly that, and yanked the bellpull that hung beside the double doors at the center of the house's front side. A halfblood boy shy of adolescence answered the door, looked politely nonplussed by Keo's green hair, and said, "How can I help you?"
"I'm here to bring a message from Rhysel Camlenn to Councilor Jezren," Keo said politely. "Is the Councilor home?"
"She is, ma'am. May I say who bears the message?" asked the boy.
"I'm Keo," replied the dragon. "But she won't know me."
"That's all right, ma'am. Please come in. You're welcome to sit," he said, indicating a row of wooden chairs with tied-on cushions along the inside of the hall. He turned to go, presumably to fetch Councilor Jezren.
Keo sat, and admired the mountain landscape painting hung on the opposite wall until the boy returned. Following him was a woman in a starched button-down dress that fell to her ankles, with brown hair curling around halfblood ears. "Ms. Keo," she said. "You're a messenger for Rhysel?" She looked at Keo's hair with a raised eyebrow, as though to convey that she was skeptical anyone would employ a green-haired messenger.
"That's right, but it's just Keo, please," said Keo. "Rhysel asked me to let you know that she's been unavoidably called away. It may be months, or years, before she can return to Dyran." Rhysel was telling Kanaat that while of course the Councilor knew Rhysel was a kama, she, like most non-kyma on Barashi, was somewhat uncomfortable with magic and would be happier not to know all the details. "I'm going to take a similar message to her Master, Revenn Casten, as soon as I'm done here, and I can let him know that Dyran requires a replacement kama to be assigned to it, so he can make those arrangements. If you have any specifications, I can carry those as well."
The Councilor frowned. "Unavoidably called away? To do what?"
"She didn't tell me to specify, Councilor," said Keo gracefully. "Suffice it to say that it was truly impossible for her to give notice or request leave first, and she really can't come back."
"Well. I don't suppose I can do anything about it, then. Please ask Master Casten to arrange for another elementalist," replied Jezren. "Rhysel's ability to move stone saved several lives recently, and we might have lost more than one man if she'd had to wait for another kama to arrive instead of doing it herself."
"I'll pass that on," said Keo. "Rhysel does expect to return eventually, although she doesn't know when she'll be able to, and would prefer that her tower remain undisturbed until then."
"That can be arranged," said Councilor Jezren. "If there's nothing else to the message, you may go."
"Thank you, Councilor," said Keo lightly, and she walked out through the door the young boy was holding open for her and back out of the town. Eyes followed her, and she heard a few gasps when she reverted to her natural form at the outskirts of town, but she ignored them and followed Rhysel's directions to Revenn Casten's tower.
It would have been faster for Kanaat to unsend Keo and then send her to her second destination, but Keo enjoyed the longer flight, a chance to stretch her wings after a harrowing night and morning. After a time in the air, she noticed that there were two overlapping shadows skimming the ground below her, one sharper than the other. In fact, everything had two shadows. Kanaat asked Rhysel, only to be informed that Barashi orbited a "double star", which apparently entitled it to two suns, one greater and one lesser.
Kanaat's time spell indicated that the flight from Dyran to Aydin, the city that Master Casten served, took two and a half angles. During this time, Rhysel got Kanaat to look up a calling spell and fetch a scroll for her from her new tower, which she read avidly while muttering something about translation magic; Kanaat just sat and enjoyed Keo's flight vicariously, and his ability to enjoy what Keo experienced again. When she came in for a landing outside a tower much taller than Rhysel's at Dyran, Rhysel rolled up the scroll.
No one had spotted Keo out of the tower's windows. She landed gently, shifting the moment a claw touched the ground, and rang the bell.
A halfblood boy, who would have been approaching thirty if he'd been an Elcenian half-elf, answered the door. He had olive skin and curly dark hair, and he trained a disarming smile on Keo. "Hi! I'm Talyn. What can we do for you?"
"Hi!" replied Keo. "I'm Keo, and I'm here with a message from Rhysel Camlenn to Master Revenn Casten. Is he here?"
"Yeah," said the boy. "I'll go get him." He waved Keo in. The first floor of the tower was occupied by small desks and chairs to match; one of those chairs contained a small elf girl and another a halfblood boy older than Talyn, both of whom looked at Keo and then returned to the books they were reading. Talyn charged up the stairs, calling, "Grandfather! Grandfather! There's a lady here called Keo with a message from Rhysel and she thinks really loud!"
Keo leaned on the wall of the tower, and closed the door behind her. She waited; a grinning, bearded man, with coloring similar to Talyn's and an imposing shape, descended the staircase and approached her. "Good morning, Keo," he said genially. "I hope Talyn's exuberance hasn't annoyed you."
"I'm afraid I have to deny thinking really loud," said Keo. "I assure you I'm doing it in perfect silence. Are you Master Revenn Casten?"
"I am," he acknowledged, "but please, call me Revenn. I should explain - Talyn hasn't yet achieved reliable control over his innate ability to hear thoughts. I can't confirm whether you do think 'loudly' or not without attempting to read you more actively myself, but some people do make it through his attempts to hedge them out more readily than others."
"I see," said Keo, and then she tried something. Like much of what she did, it was a clear path from intent to result, without an obvious mechanism in between, but it did cause Talyn to creep back downstairs.
"Thanks for shielding," the boy said. "I'm sorry."
"It's no trouble," said Keo.
"Your message?" Revenn prodded.
"Right." Keo explained how Rhysel had been summoned, why she couldn't return while Keo had no trouble visiting Barashi, and what prevented her daughter and daughter's roommate from immediately undoing their mistake, and then passed on Councilor Jezren's request.
Revenn didn't seem to know whether to grin at Keo for being so interesting or frown at her for having brought such unfortunate news. "But Rhysel's safe?" he asked.
"Sitting in my husband's office right now," Keo said. "I'm in constant mental contact with my husband, and he can talk to her for you if you have something to say to her."
"You mentioned Rhysel was summoned by 'wizards'. What is a wizard?" Revenn asked next.
"A kind of Elcenian magic-user," Keo said. "We don't have kyma, although Rhysel's magic works fine there. She asked a faculty member from the school my husband runs to retrieve some of her belongings, which he did, and she's continuing her research there."
Revenn beamed. "She was always hard-working when she had a project on her mind," he said. "Does she know when she'll be done? I would make a trip to another existence to witness her Master working. I would like to go even without, and see the place, but." Revenn gestured at the little elf and the halfblood boy, and put a hand on Talyn's shoulder where he'd come up behind his grandfather. "Lots of apprentices to look after."
"Rhysel says," said Keo, waiting for the answer, and then finished, "that with the scroll translated, she may be done in as little as two or three months."
"She's finished translating the scroll?" Revenn asked. "I thought she was barely a quarter done."
"Elcenian magic is in fact good for more than summoning unwitting women and getting them stuck," chuckled Keo. "She's under a translation spell, since she can't speak the local language."
"Which prompts the question," said Revenn, "how can you speak Martisen?"
"It's a dragon thing," said Keo blithely.
"You're a dragon? An otherworldly dragon?" exclaimed Revenn in fascination.
"I most certainly am," she said. "My sort of dragon can shapeshift, too, but it does leave signs." She tossed her hair.
"I want to see!" cried Talyn.
"Sure," laughed Keo, "but not in here. I'd wreck your furniture. Before I go, I'll step out and show you." That made Talyn smile. "Is there anything else that I should relay to Rhysel, or that you want to ask?"
"A thousand things," said Revenn, shaking his head, "but I shouldn't keep you. Is there a way to get in touch with your people if need be?"
Keo clicked her tongue, thinking, and then said, "Can you sing?"
"Passably," said Revenn, puzzled. "Why do you ask?"
"It's another dragon thing. If you sing my full name - quite a bit longer than 'Keo' - to a particular melody, I'll know you've done so, and then I can come see what's going on," she explained. "I should probably write down the name for you, although I don't know how you write music here."
"Talyn," said Revenn, "why don't you make us a crystal to record the song, so we don't forget it?"
"Okay, Grandfather," said Talyn, smiling up at Revenn. He closed his eyes and adopted a look of intense focus, and in his palm, a clear octahedron appeared. "If you sing your song, Keo, I'll record it in this," Talyn said. "The crystal won't last forever because it's image kamai, but it should be fine long enough for us to learn the song."
Keo nodded, tipped her head back, and sang. "Keopygavakilshelarinebna'achithkanlen," she crooned.
Talyn touched a side of his crystal, and it sang the same notes in Keo's voice. "Exactly," Keo said. "And if we need to get in touch with you, I or someone else will come in person, or we'll send a note. Where would you find a note that wouldn't be too in the way?"
"How about on one of these desks?" Revenn suggested, patting an unoccupied one to his left.
"Sure," Keo said. "And now... I believe I promised to show you something."
Revenn and Talyn - and the two apprentices who had been studying on the first floor - followed Keo outside, and watched as she transformed into her dragon shape, nearing thirty-seven feet long and more than that in wingspan. She showed off the wingspan, though she didn't take off, and giggled when Talyn made an incoherent noise of awe and Revenn clapped.
Then, because she wouldn't fit into the circle that way, she transformed, took a bow, and let Kanaat unsend her.