Chapter Seven: Disconnection

Rhysel gave an eager smile when Keo came back. "Thank you so much," she said.

"No problem," said Keo, stepping out of the circle. It was apparently unnecessary to smudge it; Rhysel supposed that sending circles didn't need that particular safety feature. "Revenn is a nice man. And one of the apprentices says I think loudly," she added, thoughtful.

"That's probably Talyn," Rhysel said. "I've only met him a few times, because our apprenticeships never overlapped and I rarely have a chance to visit my Master, but he's an innate kama - manifested early, incredible natural facility with kamai - and he hears thoughts without trying."

"Yes, Talyn," Keo nodded. "Cute kid. Speaking of which, I should go fetch the baby from my parents now."

"Keo," said Rhysel, as the dragon raised her hand to gesture for teleportation, "would you and your family like to come over for dinner, the day after tomorrow?"

Keo put her hand down and looked at Rhysel, pursing her lips. "By 'my family', who do you mean?" she asked, at length.

"You. Kanaat. Korulen. The baby," Rhysel said, and then she inhaled deeply and said, "If they'd like to come, your parents, and... your siblings. And your sister-in-law."

"Both sisters-in-law?" Keo asked.

Rhysel blinked. "I didn't know you had two."

"Vara's not actually married," Keo said. "But she's in a committed relationship. Pilar might as well be my sister-in-law. I didn't know if Narax had mentioned it."

"He didn't," said Rhysel, trying to keep control of her breathing. "Sure. Pilar too if she'd like to join us. But please tell me how many to cook for."

"I'll ask them all and let you know within a few angles," Keo said, smiling sympathetically. Then she straightened up with a sudden idea. "Do you want to learn the local language, or just stick with your translation spell?"

"I could be here for years, right?" asked Rhysel, and at Keo's nod, she said, "I think I should at least try learning the language. But I'm not sure how that will work with the spell on."

"I have a cousin, Maeris, who tutors languages," Keo said. "She's not a wizard, but she knows how translation spells work, and how to work around them. And she's licensed to teleport, so it shouldn't matter that she lives in Tava. I could invite her and you could ask if she'd teach you. But I should warn you that she's expensive."

"I can probably afford it," said Rhysel. "I still have most of the jewels from my bag, even after changing some into aaberik to buy the land. And of course she's welcome at dinner."

"Two questions," said Keo, holding up two fingers. "One. What is your address? So we can actually accept your invitation. And two. How did you come to have a bag of jewels?"

"The realtor told me I was at Northwest 22-88-5, Paraasilan, Esmaar. I don't actually know what that means - for all I know it's the lot number. Is it an address?" she asked, and Keo nodded. "And I have the jewels because trolls hand them out by the sackful to people who perform services for them, rather than using them for jewelry or anything like that. I helped a clan out of a mudslide once. It usually happens that they give gems to other trolls, so trolls as a group don't run out of gems to give away fast enough to offset their mining, but sometimes they'll give them to others."

"Fair enough," said Keo. "I'd ask what a troll is, but I fear running out of light dinner conversation. What time should we be there on Arnen?"

"Arnen?" said Rhysel blankly. "That didn't translate."

"Oh, sorry. It's a day of the week. Tomorrow's Inen, day after is Arnen. Did Narax explain to you how we keep time?" she asked as an afterthought.

"I think so, but I couldn't call it to mind," said Rhysel, shaking her head. "How about sunset? I can figure out when that is."

"Sunset it is," agreed Keo. "You might want to get Maeris to teach you this sort of thing too."

"Anything I need to keep in mind about the food?" Rhysel asked, running through possible menus in her head.

"Korulen's allergic to peaches," Keo said. "And the baby's picky, but we haven't worked out a pattern to it yet and she won't be talking for a few weeks yet. Otherwise I think everyone getting an invite will eat whatever you put in front of us. I like spicy food," she added with a grin. "Extremely spicy food."

"I'll make some troll food, then," laughed Rhysel. "They never make anything less than half composed of pepper, it sometimes seems like. And I'll see that there's a variety."

Keo grinned at her and teleported away to retrieve her little daughter, and Rhysel bade Kanaat a polite goodbye and went out of his office by lift.

Rhysel spent the subsequent day (which she tried to think of as "Inen") finishing her read-through of the scroll, and outfitting her kitchen. She'd already used her ward stones to turn some of the cupboards into permanently chilly or outright freezing storage spaces, since she didn't know what was used in place of iceboxes in Elcenia or how to get some installed and doing it herself was simpler anyway. But she needed more plates and utensils to accommodate guests, and more pans and mixing bowls, so she drew stone out of her walls and shaped it like it was uncannily obedient clay. The tower in turn drew more substance from the land around it; Rhysel supposed that eventually she'd sink herself into a little scooped-out valley, but it would take more than equipping herself to have friends over to eat.

Friends. She'd never met Samia (nor Vara, Pilar, or Keo's parents, but they'd all declined the invitation). But Samia was important to Narax, so Rhysel was up for being friends if she was. And Narax and Samia were coming, so that was something.

Kolaan came in the early afternoon with the extra groceries Rhysel had written him about, and accepted his coins with a self-satisfied smile. "By the way," he said, carrying in bags of bread and peppers and lemons. "Next month, the play I'm in opens. I can get you tickets for less than sale price if you want, and that's even after I take a little off the top."

"Is that so?" Rhysel asked. "I didn't know if there was much theater around here. What's the play?"

"It's called The Man in Red and Gold," Kolaan said. "It's not a major professional production or anything, it's basically filler because the theater had a couple unbooked months, but we do have a strong lead, sings really well -"

"Sings? I thought it was a play," Rhysel said.

"It's a play with songs in it. Don't they have those where you come from?" Kolaan asked.

Rhysel shook her head, wide-eyed. "That sounds amazing. I'd love to go. And I can schedule around it - I don't have any inflexible appointments - so I'll take a ticket for whatever showing would be best. Will you just bring one next time I order food, and I can add the price to your usual pay?"

"Sure," said Kolaan, grinning at her. "They have the sale price printed on them, so you'll know I'm ripping you off if I charge you that much or more."

"I trust you," said Rhysel, smiling faintly and raising an eyebrow at him. "Shouldn't I?"

"No, you totally should," Kolaan said, holding up his hands as though to forestall retraction of trust. "But, you can check, if you want. Because it's printed on the ticket."

Rhysel started putting away fruit juice. "All right," she said easily. "Thank you, Kolaan."

After explaining how he'd selected cheeses to match her specifications - necessary because the exact varieties available differed world to world - Kolaan zoomed away on his hover platform. Rhysel finished putting away the food, except for what she needed to fix herself a sandwich, and then read again through the first section of the scroll, which was about the air-purification part of the ritual.

It was complicated, even more than the proxic workings she'd taken a year to truly understand. But, unlike when she'd studied proxic workings, she wasn't working as a kama anymore. That was disheartening in the sense that, to her new neighbors, she was essentially useless. If someone did ring her bell and call for help, she'd provide it, but she wasn't part of a well-understood system on Elcenia; no one knew that living in a tower meant that she was available to give aid.

But it did mean she had a lot more free time.

Rhysel touched the wall behind her worktable and pulled out a fist-sized crucible. It was probably going to explode, that being the listed way in which the working failed if performed improperly, so she called up her physical protections, and then set up her ward stones around the precious scroll to perform their titular function: an obsidian over a sapphire, a sapphire over a ruby, a ruby over a marble, a marble over an obsidian, each stack of two at a corner and called up to protect what was within the rectangle. The ward shimmered into place; it looked like paper-thin leaded glass and made it difficult to see the diagrams clearly.

She cradled the crucible in the palm of one hand, and began funneling air through the other, passing it through a wall of power to clear it of impurities and infuse it with the ability to pass on kamai to someone born without it.

The crucible exploded.

Fragments of stone clattered off Rhysel's defensive magic and the ward over the scroll, and skittered across the floor to collect in corners, but the kama touched the wall again, undaunted, and made another.

When she started cooking on Arnen, Rhysel had destroyed several hundred crucibles. She'd made most of these out of the pieces of the prior failures, rather than letting drifts of stone debris accumulate in her workroom. By the time she adjourned to start fixing dinner, she was dragging her feet with magical exhaustion and half-suspected that Elcenian days were longer than Barashin ones, but she nibbled on her ingredients and was much improved before her guests arrived.

Keo, Kanaat, and their daughters came first, the baby clinging to her father's head and babbling enthusiastically while her more linguistically capable family issued compliments about the pleasant smells of the meal.

Maeris was next, and Rhysel caught a glimpse of her coming in for a landing out the window. She was more than twice Narax's size in that form and every bit as lovely, but then instead of adopting a human form like her cousins, she turned into one of the miniature point-eared people Rhysel had noticed (complete with green hair). Rhysel adjusted a chair to suit the dragon's diminutive shape and bring her up to the table's height, and Maeris chirpily introduced herself while seizing Rhysel's hand and shaking it for no obvious reason, then sat.

Then the bell rang again.

Rhysel delayed a moment, composing herself, but then she smiled and went to open the door.

Narax was there, and at his shoulder stood a human woman with light brown skin, dark hair barely long enough to curl, and an assessing light in her narrow eyes. She looked like she was somewhere in her thirties, but there was a tiredness about her that would have suited someone twice her age. "Hello, Rhysel," she said, when she'd studied her hostess's face for several eyeblinks. "I'm Samia."

"Hello, Samia. And Narax," Rhysel added, standing aside to let them in. "Welcome. Come in."

"Thank you," murmured Narax, and he and his wife stepped into the tower. He sat by his sister, and Samia next to him. Rhysel watched them out of the corner of her eye as she closed the door, and - yes, they moved with the same mutual body awareness that Kanaat and Keo, or a rider and his wolf, showed. The same odd synchronized timing, when they pulled out their chairs. Narax held out his water glass for Samia to fill from the pitcher but looked at neither her nor the glass. Keo had re-linked them after healing Samia.

That should have been predictable, Rhysel told herself, and she sat down and started identifying dishes for her guests, pointing out what was hot, what was best eaten fresh off the fire, and what the juices were.

Samia looked up and met Rhysel's eyes, and it occurred to the kama that the mindlink meant Samia knew her husband had kissed her.

Keo was in transports of delight over the spiciest thing Rhysel had made, and so Rhysel turned her head to smile and accept the praise. She dished herself potatoes, and watched Korulen trying to convince her chattering little sister that broccoli was not going to do her harm. Maeris quoted prices for Leraal lessons of various possible durations and frequencies and did a decent job of articulating her schedule constraints in terms of the sun rather than foreign units of time. Kanaat didn't speak, but did partake of the food and smile.

Narax and Samia both talked, albeit never to each other. Narax caught Keo's attention between declarations of eternal fealty to Rhysel's cooking, and asked after their parents, who Keo had more recently seen. Samia looked at Rhysel, and sometimes answered Korulen's tentative questions about her well-being in uninformative monosyllables that tended to imply that Keo was a better source of information than Samia herself. Maeris questioned Samia about her accent in Leraal, which the translation spell utterly failed to render, so Rhysel listened with interest when the tiny dragon and the human described it. The baby was finally coaxed into tasting the broccoli, which Rhysel had soaked with lemon dressing. Finding it appealing, the dragonet attempted to climb onto the table for more of it before Kanaat plucked her off and served her seconds.

Gradually, people filled up, and were sipping at their water more often than they were taking bites of dinner. Rhysel was about to float in the pies she'd baked from where they rested on the kitchen counter when Samia coughed, obviously to attract attention. "I have something to announce," she said. When everyone's eyes were on her, she continued: "I'm pregnant."

Everyone reacted simultaneously - Keo and Kanaat wore matching expressions of consternation, Korulen looked gleeful and excited and wanted to know if it was a boy or girl and whether they'd named it, Maeris tapped Rhysel's elbow and helpfully murmured that conceiving at will was another dragon power. Rhysel herself just froze in place the smile she'd reserved for the anticipation of pie, and managed to say, "Congratulations."

"So soon?" Keo murmured.

"Soon, after ten years? I'm not getting any younger," said Samia, lifting her chin. "We wanted a child before. That never changed. And now I'm back, and we're together again, and why wait? It's a girl, Korulen, and a thudia like you," Samia added, smiling at her niece. "We're going to call her Alyah."

"H-how do you know it's a girl?" Rhysel asked, forcing herself to focus on the intricacies of the strange world and how it worked, and not the suddenness of her crush being married and, imminently, a father, when he'd been widowed and childless.

"Dragons can do that, too," Maeris whispered in her ear. "Pick our children's genders."

Samia threw Rhysel an almost challenging look. "Even if that weren't the case," she said, "there are spells to find out such things. We would have known anyway that we're going to have a girl. That's how we know she'll be a thudia."

There was a silence, and Rhysel said, "I... made pie. Does everyone have room for dessert?"

"Yes, please," said Korulen, and Maeris and Keo both nodded enthusiastically. Even Narax seemed to like the idea. Rhysel floated in the pies - one raspberry lime, one coconut cream - and started cutting slices of either or both, as requested.

The baby dragon devoured a slice of the raspberry lime pie in two bites and cried for more, but was cruelly denied; most everyone else had a sliver of each. "Narax," said Keo, having recovered somewhat from her discomfiture, "I think I remember you saying that you like living in Imilaat but wouldn't want to bring up a child there."

"Right," Narax said. "So we're thinking we'll move. And probably not to Ertydo, either, even though Samia's stepfather and brothers are there. I was thinking I'd ask if that offer to have me as faculty at Binaaralav was still good. Samia too. We could get a place in Paraasilan."

"...Sure," said Keo. "Sure. The courselist for the Rohel-Komehel term is already set, but you could come in for Marahel-Nidhel."

"Great," said Samia. "We can start househunting, then. Neris ought to have some more space, with her new husband, anyway."

Something flickered across Narax's face, but Samia reached blindly to her side and clasped his hand where it lay on the table, and he calmed, looking smilingly at his family and Rhysel around the table.

"Well," said Maeris. "I think I'd best get going for tonight, or is my husband ever going to pout. Thank you so much for dinner, Rhysel, and how about Fenen - that's day after the day after tomorrow - early afternoon, for your first Leraal lesson?"

"That will be fine," said Rhysel automatically. "Thank you for coming, Maeris."

Maeris smiled, waved at her cousins, and teleported away.

"I think the baby is getting cranky," Korulen opined.

"We'd better get going too," said Samia, standing up simultaneously with Narax.

"Thank you for inviting us," Narax added to Rhysel.

Her guests left, all by teleportation - Kanaat took Korulen, and Keo carried the baby - and Rhysel was left alone.

Rhysel spent the next day, and the day after, and the morning after that, bursting open a thousand more crucibles with her attempts at capturing, purifying, and empowering air. She got a little closer, each time, to making it come and take the transformation and stay. And managing it once wouldn't be enough: she had to be able to do it reliably, for air and for water and fire and earth too, and then be able to do all four in the same vessel according to the timing of the ritual in her scroll. But she had time.

Maeris arrived to give Rhysel a Leraal lesson not long after Rhysel finished her inordinately large lunch. Blowing up crucibles wasn't as exhausting as lifting up a tower from the earth, and while she sometimes wanted a nap, she thought that was because of how the days dragged longer than they ought. The practice nevertheless left her with a formidable appetite.

Rhysel opened the door when Maeris rang the bell. The dragon was laden with a flap-top bag over her shoulder. "Why didn't you teleport here on - Arnen?" she asked. "I saw you fly in."

"I hadn't been here before on Arnen," Maeris said. "I'd visited Keo at the school before, so I teleported there, and flew the rest of the way. Even actual wizards can only teleport places they've been."

"Interesting," said Rhysel. "That's not how transfer points work. You need to know the signature to travel to one, but you can learn it from someone else without having visited it."

"A transfer point is something from your kind of magic? You can use a teleportation circle that way, except they work automatically, you don't have to know anything. If you're standing on it when it activates, you get moved."

Rhysel motioned for Maeris to follow her up the stairs. "I hadn't heard of those. Also - can you tell me what your current shape is called? I've seen people that size before but I'm not sure how to ask; at least you're actually a dragon and not a..." Rhysel trailed off.

"Halfling," supplied Maeris. "Most dragons pick human forms. Some even have more than one humanoid shape. I just have this, because I'm from Tava and everything's sized for halflings there. I mean, public buildings have to have ceilings and doors tall enough for everyone, and there's businesses catering to minorities and foreigners, but it's really inconvenient to be tall in Tava." They reached Rhysel's library, sparser than its Barashin twin because she hadn't brought in all of her scores of books, and the kama called up a halfling-compatible chair from the floor near the desk. Maeris hopped into it and hauled her bag onto the table before her. "Let's start with the alphabet."

"Will my spell transliterate individual letters if you write them?" Rhysel asked, as Maeris pulled out a sheet of paper and a stick of graphite with a rubber grip near one end.

"It will if they have reasonable phoneme equivalents in your language or spell words," Maeris said. "No single Leraal letter is a word, but I think about... half... of the letters would be readily transliterated into Martisen. That's why I'm not going to write them." She presented the graphite stick to Rhysel.

Rhysel took it, but stared quizzically at the paper. "Okay..."

"If you write something - in any language - your spell will leave it alone," Maeris said. "Ideally, I won't write anything during these lessons, until you get the spell taken off - it will all be you. That's a good idea anyway, to help retention, but especially important when you have a spell. Now, there are 21 letters in the main dialect of Leraal - plus two more in Ryganaavlan Leraal, but you're not going to Ryganaav, certainly. So leave room for 21 lines. Draw a circle," she instructed. When Rhysel did, Maeris added, "And a little square inside of it, that doesn't touch the circle."

"That's the first letter of the alphabet?" Rhysel asked, looking at the shapes.

"Yup!" said Maeris. "It's a mel. Makes an 'mmm' sound. Write down 'mel' however it seems to you like it'd make sense to spell it, next to the letter, and then an emy as the nearest Martisen equivalent. Keo said you spoke other languages?" Maeris said.

"Decent Eashiri, passable Trollspeak," Rhysel confirmed.

"Might dip into those alphabets for some sounds," mused Maeris. "Okay, the next letter is kar..."

Rhysel wrote down the rest of the Leraal letters, their names, and what sounds they made, at Maeris's direction. The entirety of Leraal seemed to consist of shapes and arcs inside other shapes and arcs, or occasionally crossed by lines and curves, which made it easier than it might have been to describe the forms of the letters.

After the alphabet was down, and all the numerals with it (mercifully in base ten), Maeris told Rhysel how words were put together in Leraal: always ending with consonants, no multiple vowels together, clusters of consonants only in groups of two and only in the middles of words. "Anything that breaks those rules isn't standard Leraal. It might be a recent loan word, or Ryganaavlan, or misspelled, but it's not correct for Esmaar. So, study the alphabet, work on pronouncing the aa sound from the letter aan more like a yawn in the back of your throat." Maeris cast the same time spell Narax had used, blinked at it, and said, "We've got a few degrees left before I need to go. Anything you'd like to cover today rather than tomorrow?"

"What is a degree?" Rhysel asked helplessly. "And - why wouldn't I go to Ryganaav?"

"You wouldn't go to Ryganaav because it is a nasty, nasty place and they'd kill you on sight for having pointy ears, that's why," said Maeris tartly. "Don't worry, you're not likely to stumble into it by mistake. Write down the following letters..." She told Rhysel how to spell the words 'year', 'month', 'day', 'angle', 'degree', and 'tick' in Leraal, and Rhysel copied them down with frequent reference to her alphabet notes. Maeris also supplied the ratios for each, summarized the timekeeping system, and confirmed their appointment for the next day, before picking up her bag and teleporting away.

Rhysel was less focused on crucible explosions with a language to study; when exhaustion forced a break or she wanted a change of pace from constant magic use, she reviewed her notes and practiced pronouncing that long aa sound, and translated the math on the scroll into Leraal numerals.

Maeris arranged to come daily, at different times depending on the day of the week (Rhysel learned those, too: Inen, Arnen, Saanen, Sinen, Fenen, Lunen, and Chenen - Maeris had no good explanation for why Elcenians used awkward seven-day weeks instead of tendays like Barashins). By the end of her third lesson, Rhysel had stacks of paper with vocabulary words and sentence patterns scrawled all over them in decreasingly stilted handwriting. Maeris praised her diligence, but with only two tasks and no interruptions, she didn't have much to do but be diligent.

On Chenen evening, Rhysel's bell rang. After blowing up another crucible - she would have liked to think it was distraction, though it probably would have burst anyway - she jogged down the coiled stairs to admit the visitor.

It was Samia. Narax wasn't with her, although given the link, that meant nothing. Possibly unless he was asleep, but Rhysel didn't know how that worked, and didn't have a good context to ask Samia at that moment. "Samia," she said. "Hello! I'm surprised to see you. Come in. Can I help you with something?"

"Possibly," said Samia, stalking into the tower and rolling her shoulders like they were tense but she was too dignified to rub them. "We'll see. Let's sit down." Samia took one of the chairs at the dining table, and sat with her wrists crossed in her lap.

Rhysel sat, apprehensive, but leaned her arms on the table and looked earnestly at Samia. "What is it you need?"

"I need your word you're not going to poach my husband," said Samia.

Rhysel sat up, surprised. "I doubt Narax is going to cheat on you. If he even could, given the -"

"That's not what I mean," snapped Samia. "You're a half-elf. I'm a human. He's a dragon and he'll be around in a hundred years, and so will you, and mindlink or no mindlink... clearly... the fact that I won't is going to have him looking for who's next."

"I don't understand," said Rhysel. "My parents have always assumed that, after my father dies, my mother will eventually -"

"Yes, of course. That's the assumption with dragons too. Maeris is on her... I think third... husband, now, and if she sticks to halflings and they don't eat right, she can fit in another four or five before she hits the age where she's traditionally supposed to settle down with another dragon for the long haul. Narax's dad married eight women before he met Narax's mom. And nobody wonders what the first one... what was her... Decia, no one wonders what his first wife Decia thought of that. But you know what? Narax's dad didn't marry anyone poor Decia knew, after she died."

"So it's just me in particular?" Rhysel asked quietly.

Samia shook her head. "I have this problem with Neris, too. I would have thought that getting married to her own human would get her off the idea that she and Narax are supposed to get married when they're a thousand, you know, I would have thought her husband would object like I do, but apparently not. But that's my problem, not yours, and even if I can't do anything about Neris, that doesn't mean I want you taking up the interim between me and her. If I can't have him to myself forever, I at least don't want to know the names and faces of the others."

"I didn't know that about Neris," murmured Rhysel.

"Not surprised," said Samia, looking away. "Why would you know? Why would either of them tell you? But it's true."

"Why isn't Narax here with you?" Rhysel blurted out.

"Because he's an empath, and he can turn it down, but he can't turn it completely off," Samia said, and she clenched her teeth. "If you're within thirty feet, he can't not know something about what you're feeling, whether he means to or not. And then I'd know too. And I don't deserve to have to care. I deserve one thing that I can just ask for, and get, because it's mine, without worrying about whether my wanting it will upset someone. I want my husband and my baby, and then I'll be satisfied."

"I -" began Rhysel. She didn't know what came after that word, but Samia interrupted her anyway.

"You," said Samia derisively. "You got summoned here. Poor thing. That will take a maximum of six years to fix, if you have to wait for Korulen to graduate and get a familiar instead of just waiting for her to finish a class on breaks, and in the meantime you can communicate with your friends and family. In the meantime you're still ambulatory, conscious, sane, you don't have people cutting off your hair so you're easier to take care of or conspiring to keep you away from the person you love most out of everyone because they don't like his species. No one's tried to murder you lately, am I right?"

"Right," whispered Rhysel. "I - I can -"

"You implied your parents are both alive, didn't you, it's not like your father abandoned you when you were a child and your mother died while you were comatose, leaving you with one stepfather who looks after you out of duty and resents that you weren't around to work and pay off your school loans? Which is obviously my fault, of course, I could have just stayed with Rellen forever and then he probably never would have made an attempt on my life, maybe. You're not married to someone who'll live twenty times as long as you will if not more and who has his eye on various women of your acquaintance who have less baggage and won't get so old so fast?"

"I can fix your hair," Rhysel said, quickly, softly, not making eye contact. "I can make it grow out as long as you want."

That seemed to startle Samia, who allowed a tick to pass without speaking. "How?" she asked, at length. "Wizards have been trying to work out a spell for that, but haven't figured out how to make the spells distinguish between hair on the scalp and everywhere else."

"Proxic kamai," said Rhysel in a low voice. "I can make a model of you, and connect you to it. Then if I make the model's hair longer, yours will grow too. It will feel strange but doesn't hurt."

Samia blinked, but said, "All right - yes - that would be good."

"I need something from you to connect the statuette," Rhysel said. "A hair is probably easiest."

Samia plucked one and handed it over, and Rhysel pulled up a lump of stone from the floor. She made the hair sink into it, and forced it into a representation of Samia, in the same sitting position (on a phantom chair); she brushed her fingertip across Samia's hand where it rested on the table to connect proxy to person, and the statuette began moving when the real woman did. Rhysel laid her fingertips on the stone Samia's head, and urged its hair to grow out. "How long do you want it?" she murmured.

"Halfway down my back," said Samia.

When that was done, Rhysel pulled the hair out of the model and let the model sink back into the floor. Samia shook out her curls. "Thank you," she said. "That was very kind. It would also be kind of you to promise that you aren't going to go after my husband. I wouldn't even be this worried about it if you hadn't come on to him. I wouldn't worry about you, except you seem awfully cozy here in Elcenia, for someone stuck against her will."

"I'm sorry," said Rhysel. "I am so sorry. I - would it solve the problem if you were going to live longer than me?"

"...Yes," said Samia suspiciously.

"There's... a way to do that, with kamai," Rhysel whispered. "I don't know how to do it now, but I can learn, once I'm back home. And then I could give you some of my lifespan, and maybe that will make up for how I hurt you."

Samia stared at her. She looked on the verge of saying something, but then her face contorted into an awful expression, somewhere between pain and self-recrimination.

"Samia?" said Rhysel. Samia made a noise that didn't sound human, and slumped forward to the table; only a quick kamai intervention prevented her from breaking her nose. "Samia. What's wrong?"

The human rolled her head, ear to the table and eyes staring in the direction of the front door glassily. "Narax," she choked. "He's gone."