Chapter Thirteen: Stealing
Oris was not as calmed as Talyn had hoped by her mother's acquiescence.
"What are you doing?" she whined. "Where are we going?"
"Shh," Talyn said. "We have to go, uh, north."
"But I'm s'posed to be home for bed - I -"
"Shh," Talyn pleaded. No one was batting an eye at him carrying Oris, even at a run - the streets were dim, and even if he was recognized, Cheris hadn't screamed yet. He could be interpreted as Oris's brother, or a friend of the family, taking her somewhere in a terrible hurry.
"Where are you taking me?" Oris asked frantically.
"Esmaar," he said. "Please, please be quiet."
"But I don't belong to you, I belong to Papa, he didn't say -"
She was growing more strident with each word. One person in reading range considered the possibility of kidnapping - well, "theft". Talyn gritted his teeth and sent her to sleep, in the first deliberate exercise of kamai he'd deployed since arriving. She slumped in his arms, dropping her head onto his shoulder.
Behind him, Cheris cried out in very real distress. There went his head start.
Talyn sped up. He called a wind behind him to kick up sand and shield him from view, and he flew.
He didn't get far by air. He hadn't taken any food or - more importantly - water, and he'd been planning on going to bed in less than an angle before Oris had lit up. Tapping the girl would have gotten him more distance, but not all the way to the border. He landed, far enough from Egalon that no one would find him any time soon, and thought, <Keo!>
<I need to get out. Please ask Leekath to call me and the little girl I have with me - she's a light ->
<Will do. Just a tick.>
Oris was drooling on his shoulder. Talyn shuffled his feet in the sand, wondering what to do with her. She could stay in public housing, sure, they'd take anyone who needed a place, but who was going to take care of her? Sarid? He had no idea if Sarid wanted a third daughter, let alone a light. He didn't know what the relevant laws were. Probably, minor children never got all the way across the desert to Esmaar without a parent or an older sibling or something.
He decided that Lorin would know about the rules there and he could ask her.
Then Oris's weight was gone from his arms and he was standing on the stone in his room, not in sand. "Leekath," he breathed, smiling.
"You need to be the focus for the light," said Leekath tightly. "I don't know her. There."
Talyn got out of the circle and placed his hand where she pointed, and concentrated on Oris. Leekath cast, and Oris appeared, sleeping still and her hair full of sand, in the calling circle.
"This is her?" Leekath asked.
"Yeah. Her name is Oris," Talyn confirmed. "I was working for her father. And then she decided to show me a pretty thing she could make. I kind of panicked - but I had to get her out - lights aren't like sorcerers, I couldn't have just made her hide the power because sooner or later someone'd notice she didn't react normally to sun."
"What are you going to do with her?" Leekath asked.
"I was going to ask Lorin, the public housing lady, about that," Talyn said. "I have no idea how legal what I just did was. But I couldn't let her die."
"Of course not," said Leekath, looking away.
"Aren't you happy to see me?" he asked softly. Leekath was shielding - he couldn't remember her ever doing that before. But he could read her face and her posture and her voice.
"You were gone a long time," she said. "I missed you. And now you look all Ryganaavlan and you're still talking in their dialect and you didn't leave because you wanted to come back to me, you left because you found a little light."
"I did want to come back to you," he insisted. "Um -" He repeated himself in carefully Esmaarlan sounds, then continued. "I just -"
"And you smell awful," she said.
"Uh," Talyn said. Well, of course; he'd had a repulsive job and not so much access to water that he could pour it on his skin every morning. "I'll go put Oris in a guest bed since by this time the housing place has a night attendant on duty instead of Lorin, and I'll tell Rhysel what's up, and get cleaned up, and then can we talk? Okay?"
"Okay," said Leekath, sitting on his bed and tucking her feet under herself.
Talyn leaned to kiss her, but decided that was better saved. He scooped up the light on the floor and went to put her to bed.
Rhysel, when he went to find her, was in the middle of eating dinner, which smelled amazing. "Talyn! Welcome back," she said. "Did you have -"
"I saved a five-year-old light," Talyn interrupted. "She's asleep. I put her in a guest bed. In the morning I'll take her to Lorin's housing place and figure out what to do long-term. I can take her now, if you don't want her in the tower, but there's only a night attendant there now and the night attendant isn't as highly trained as Lorin. He won't know anything about the details of whether I did anything illegal, or how Oris is supposed to assimilate, or anything."
"Of course she can stay here overnight," Rhysel said, blinking rapidly. Aar Camlenn seemed significantly more concerned about the matter, but didn't contradict his wife. "Does she," Rhysel asked, "have a name?"
"Oris us Azef," Talyn said. "Uh, you and Aar Camlenn might want to hide your ears or change them before interacting with her if you do at all. I'm not sure if she'd be less scared of you if you were also darker colored, or not. That's not technically part of the Yaanor doctrine, that being a certain color matters, but she's just five, and it'd make you less unfamiliar-looking."
Rhysel nodded. "But you know what you're planning to do in the morning?"
"You probably won't need to talk to Oris at all," Talyn assured her. "Thanks for letting her stay the night. I need to go take a shower."
"Yes, a bit," Rhysel admitted, smiling weakly. Talyn took that as a dismissal and ran up the stairs.
He took his time under the shower. For one, it felt preposterously luxurious to stand under infinite conjured water, its temperature shifting between frigid and scalding according to his whim. He was intensely relieved to lather up and rinse away accumulated sweat and grime until his fingers had gone wrinkly and the entire bathroom smelled like the almond milk in his soap.
For another thing, though, he didn't know what to say to Leekath. He had missed her. He got her a present there, practically. (Was she too mad to even accept dinner out of his veins?)
He wouldn't have stayed in Ryganaav longer than he'd said he might, lingering unsettlement or not. (Talyn thought, on reflection, that he might have been picking up on Oris's reaction to sunshine and suspected subconsciously she was about to more visibly manifest. He wasn't always fully aware of the things he "heard", and in his early manifestation of power, he'd spent a solid month sharing dreams with his siblings and parents until he'd been packed off to his apprenticeship and taught enough control to sleep in his own head.)
And she hadn't complained - well, she'd complained a little, when she'd pushed him into Ryganaav to begin with. He could apologize for not listening; maybe that would help. (He'd listened, just not agreed with her, but apologizing for disagreeing with her would probably sound passive-aggressive.)
He turned up the heat on the water until it was barely tolerable. He knew Leekath liked that he was warm. If he could just get her into his arms and pet her hair a bit he was pretty sure she'd forgive him for whatever had her upset. And then she'd let him listen to her thinking again, and then she'd bite him and never want to sink her teeth into anyone else again.
Leekath was Elcenian and probably didn't think much about the forbidden kamai distinction. If it did bother her at all he could just explain Kaylo's logic about Ryganaavlan mortality rates and she'd probably understand that.
Talyn finally let the water stop and wrapped a towel around himself, having forgotten to bring a change of clean clothes in with him. He went back to his room.
Leekath was still sitting on his bed. She looked at him frostily.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"You are?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said, sitting next to her. She didn't unshield or touch him, but she didn't move away either. He put his hand on her shoulder. She let him.
"I, uh, I guess I didn't listen to you as much as I should have when I was talking about going in the first place," he said. "And I said a maximum amount of time I'd spend there but I didn't need to use that much of it. I really did miss you. I thought about you a lot. I really wish I'd come up with some way to talk to you from there. I probably should've set up a long line of mind coins to relay long range mindspeech, or something, I just... felt like I was in a hurry. And that was dumb."
"I missed you," she mumbled.
He held out his arms. "I missed you too."
Leekath leaned into the offered hug. He didn't escalate to petting her hair, not right away, but she did snuggle up to the warmth. "Are you going to go away again?" she asked.
"Not anytime soon," he said. "Not until after your school break has come and gone and not for so long unless you come with me."
She made a face. "I don't think I'd like it there."
"Well, no, probably not," he admitted.
"And I would have to change a lot more to pass for human than you did," she said. "Do you want me to put your ears back?"
"Not yet," he said. "I don't know how Oris'd react. Right now I'm a familiar person to her. Putting points on my ears would probably screw that up."
"Right." She sighed.
"Hungry?" he asked tentatively.
"A little," she mumbled.
"You can bite me," he said. "I missed that."
Leekath hesitated, and he was tempted to advertise how improved the flavor would be, but she didn't need the encouragement. She squirmed into position and bit.
Her shields fell away.
<I got you a present,> he sent, unable to keep a possessive edge out of the thought.
<You like it?>
Talyn smiled a smug smile that his girlfriend couldn't see. <I'm glad.>
<What did you do?!> she asked. She was pressed very close to him, like she could get more blood if as much of her surface was touching his as possible. She was making little sounds in the back of her throat. Talyn touched her hair but didn't pet it; he didn't want her falling into a trance and missing a moment of the feeding.
<Promise you won't tell anybody?>
<Oh my God. You taste so good. I promise. What did you do?>
<When I was in Ryganaav I took the CC of everybody I met. And just a little lifespan from almost each one too.>
<How many people was that? You taste better than a dragon, I've never even imagined anything so good, this is amazing ->
<A few thousand of them. I didn't count. It added up. I've probably got a really ridiculous CC now, too. I'm glad you like the taste. I'm going to figure out a blood replenishing working and then you can bite me whenever you want.>
<I'm going to have to stop soon if I'm not going to make you pass out,> Leekath realized unhappily.
<Tomorrow. I'll figure out the working for you tomorrow,> he said. She was still making those noises. Talyn's smile widened. <How much can you eat?>
<A lot,> she sent shyly. <More than we usually ever would.> She pulled her fangs out of his neck slowly, reluctantly, and he held her and kissed her temple.
<Well,> he sent. <I'm going to make sure you are very well-fed. Sound good?>
<Yeah.> She curled up against him in utter comfort and languor; he was sleepy just listening to her think.
<Are you still mad at me?>
<Hm? Oh - oh, I wasn't mad. I just missed you a lot,> she sent. <You're warm.>
Talyn stroked her hair. Her mind quieted; she tranced. Talyn smiled.
In the morning, Talyn was up before Oris, and parked in her room so she wouldn't wake up alone and confused. Leekath had eventually gone back to her dorm, late the prior night, and Talyn hadn't gotten much sleep, but he woke up wired and antsy and eager to get Oris situated.
The little girl woke up as soon as a ray of sun struck her face through the window, and then she sat bolt upright and flung the covers off of herself. "Taalen?" she asked, frowning at Talyn.
"Good morning, Oris," Talyn said in what he hoped would be an encouraging voice.
"Do you remember your mama asked me to take you here?" Talyn asked.
"But that's not her say," said Oris.
"Well, it was an emergency, and I couldn't ask your papa because he wasn't home," Talyn half-lied. "It was very important to get you here as soon as possible so I just asked your mama."
"She's not next, Akar's next," said Oris. "Where am I?"
"You're in my house," Talyn said.
"You don't have a house. You live by camels," Oris said, narrowing her eyes. "In a tent. You're a worker person."
"Well, it's not my house, but I live here. I was only visiting Egalon for a little bit," Talyn said. "Now I need to take you to see a friend who's going to let you stay with her for a while. We can get some candy and some water on the way." Oris wasn't hungry; she'd gotten plenty of sun and wouldn't have had a meal until midmorning anyway at home. But sweets were always welcome.
"But Papa's not gonna send me away until I'm older. Like Jisaal. You didn't even ask him," cried Oris. "I'm still little. I want to go home."
"Let's go see my friend and see what she has to say," Talyn coaxed. "She's very nice."
"Who's she belong to?" Oris asked.
"I don't know her family," Talyn dodged. "Just her. Her name is Lorin. Let's go see her."
"Then can I go home?" Oris asked.
"That's not up to me, really," Talyn said.
"It's up to my papa."
Talyn didn't answer her again, just picked her up and headed for the stairs. She smelled better than he had the previous night, since she didn't have camel-related chores, but a little ripe. He decided it probably wasn't worth exposing her to conjured water this early on; Lorin would know more about how to gently immerse her in Esmaarlan conveniences.
"This is a tall house, like a temple is tall," observed Oris as he descended with her in his arms.
"Yep. It's a tower," he replied.
Rhysel (ears covered in her hair) and Aar Camlenn (looking awkward in a hat) were having breakfast, which didn't interest Oris, and a large pitcher of juice, which did. "Juice," she observed, carefully not asking for any; at home she was supposed to wait and take what she was given.
"Want some of it?" Rhysel asked.
Oris nodded once, slowly, distracted by the couple's pale coloring and especially Rhysel's vibrant hair. Rhysel poured some juice into a cup - one that already existed, thankfully - and offered it to the girl. Oris sipped. "Thank you," she said, directing the statement at Aar Camlenn even though he'd neither offered nor poured.
"You're welcome," said Rhysel, ignoring the misdirection of the thanks.
Oris looked between Rhysel and Aar Camlenn in puzzlement, but finished her juice in little sips.
<Any suggestions for how to get her there without her seeing any really obvious magic?> Talyn asked his Master and her husband.
<Walk there and keep her distracted?> Rhysel offered, though she was thinking, as Talyn was, about the many elves and vampires and halflings who walked through every street, everyone feeling perfectly free to tell time or call friends or, if licensed to do so, teleport. <Put her back to sleep?>
"You talk funny," Oris told Rhysel, returning the cup.
"We're not near Egalon," Talyn told Oris. "People talk differently here."
"It's hard to understand," she said.
"You're very smart. You'll figure out," he encouraged. "Are you still tired at all? You can nap on the way to Lorin's."
"No, sun's up," Oris said. "I like sunshine."
Talyn chewed his lip. "You look tired to me," he said. "I think you should take a nap -"
"I don't have to sleep if you say. I don't belong to you," Oris said. "I want to go home."
Talyn took a deep breath and pushed at her mind again to make her nod off. It was more easily shrugged off than seeing even half the things he was going to walk past on his way.
"With her out, I can take a transfer point, at least," he muttered, going back up the stairs to the relevant floor.
"You kidnapped a five-year-old light from Ryganaav?" Lorin asked, staring at the sleeping girl in Talyn's arms.
"They would've killed her!"
"I'm not disputing that, but what makes you think I have a way to handle her? Lone children don't ever get this far. I can't treat her like Sarid's family, or like an Esmaarlan orphan. There's no procedure. There's no classes for her, even in the southeast of the country where they handle lots of refugees, that don't rely on her having a familiar guardian."
"She knows who I am," Talyn said.
"But she doesn't acknowledge you as having authority over her, does she?"
"No," he admitted. "If she were an Esmaarlan orphan, what would you do? Or - what would you do if her mother had brought her here, and then died right away?"
"If her mother had brought her and then died, we'd have a little girl who'd been reassured the whole way by her mother, and we could put her through slightly modified acclimation classes," Lorin said. "If she were an Esmaarlan orphan, we could place her with an adoptive family who sometimes clean their house and cook food and she wouldn't expire of terror."
"What about Sarid?" Talyn asked.
Lorin shook her head. "We aren't going to take Sarid's children away from her unless she starts hitting them or something. But we're not going to give her another one, either. She still believes in Yaanor. It's not the healthiest environment for anyone, let alone a magic-user. I don't like the outlook for Sinhar. Ideally we'd find a native, human family without any wizards or anything in it who could gently nudge her along, but... well. I'm not sure. She's asleep. How has she been since you got her here?"
"She wants to go home. She likes juice," said Talyn, looking away. "She keeps reminding me that she doesn't belong to me."
Lorin inhaled deeply and ran a hand through her hair. "Look. I care about her. I wish I knew what to do. I'd adopt her myself, if I didn't have pointed ears, a mage aunt, and enough of an impulse to adopt nearby children that I've already got two leonine daughters and a halfling son at home. But I'm not going to come up with anything obviously brilliant in the next five degrees. Let me think."
Talyn shifted in his seat and Oris mumbled something sleepily. "I can't keep her asleep forever. Not without hurting her."
"Not asking you to. As a stopgap, I can put her in with the Retaasik, maybe, they're humans, Aaral Retaas might look after Oris during the day and I can divert some of the budget to compensate her... it's going to be a shock to the poor girl, though, however we handle it. If only she were a year or two younger."
"She doesn't even understand that what she can do is a 'devil-power'," Talyn said.
"Oh, marvelous," said Lorin, thinking of clonking her head on her desk. "So she doesn't even understand that she can't go home. What does she think it is?"
"A pretty thing," Talyn said helplessly. "She thinks of devil-powers as being like... dark slime. I think she'd make the leap if she saw sorcery or certain wizardry or kamai, but she definitely hasn't connected black goop emanating from monsters with green light emanating from her."
"Of course not," said Lorin. "Grand. Well. I'll send for a curriculum from the southeastern acclimation offices and do what I can to suit it to her situation. I'll ask Aaral Retaas if she wants to very very carefully mind an extra little girl. And I'll keep reminding myself that however much of a headache you just caused me, you did save Oris's life."
"I didn't do anything actually against the law," Talyn said, "did I?"
"Against the law in Esmaar? You'd need to talk to a police officer to be sure, but I don't think so," Lorin said. "You said you had Oris's mother's permission, which, if you can confirm under lie detection, counts for a lot. Sarid didn't do anything illegal relative to Esmaar law. This case just doesn't have Sarid's counterpart along for the trip."
Talyn nodded, relieved. "Good."
"Can you wake her up? I need to know whether she can talk to me at all without trying to run away," Lorin said. "If she can't, I might have to hand her off to a southeastern office."
Talyn nodded and carefully woke Oris. She stirred, lifted her head, and looked around. "But I wasn't tired!" she complained. She blinked at Lorin, and at the long bejeweled elf ears, and shrank. "There's things on your head," she told Lorin.
"Those are my ears," Lorin said in a softer, gentler tone than she'd used to talk to Talyn. "They're shaped a little different. I can put lots of earrings on them, though, so I don't mind. What do you think?"
"They don't look right," said Oris.
"I've gotten used to them this shape," Lorin said. "I'm sorry you don't like them."
Oris squirmed, suspecting belatedly that she'd been rude. She was remembering some occasion where she'd commented on a man's overlarge nose and been punished for the remark. "It's not that bad I guess."
"Thank you," Lorin said, smiling.
"This is my friend Lorin I was telling you about," Talyn said.
"Oh," said Oris. "Now we met her. Can I go home?"
"No, you need to stay here," Lorin. "You won't stay forever, but for a while. There's some lessons it's important that you get. I'm going to ask a family if they'll let you stay with them. They have some children your age you can play with."
"I want to play with my brothers and sisters," Oris said.
"They can't come here," Lorin said. "I'm sorry, Oris. Do you know how to read at all?"
Oris shook her head. Off the top of Talyn's head he thought about a quarter of the women in Egalon knew how to read, and a slim majority of the men; it hadn't been a ridiculous question.
"We're going to teach you," Lorin said, "and there will be some things you'll need to read, and you'll talk about those things with me or some of my friends. And then we'll talk about what happens next."
"But I want to go home."
"I know, Oris, but you'll behave here, won't you? It's very important," said Lorin. "I bet your papa raised a very well behaved little girl."
Oris squirmed. "Papa didn't say I was going here."
"I understand it's confusing," said Lorin weakly. "It'll make more sense later. Do you want to come see where you're staying and have some water and find a room with a window so you can sit in the sun?"
"I like sunshine," said Oris tentatively. She slid off Talyn's lap and followed Lorin out. Talyn trailed after.
Lorin spoke to Aaral Retaas, introduced her to Oris, and assigned the small light a spare room in the apartment they were using. It had a window, which Oris promptly opened and leaned half out of to soak up the rays. Talyn listened in on the feeling. It was warm and filling and very pleasant, but not so overwhelming that Oris couldn't have imagined everyone felt the same.
"I'll write if I need your help with her," Lorin told him. "Thank you. For saving her."
"You're welcome," said Talyn.
He felt very pleased with himself during the walk to the transfer point.
This lasted until he got bored and his occupants squirmed under his own thoughts.
Now I need to think of something else to do, he thought.