Chapter Twenty-Eight: Exchanging

"I - I'm a Linnipese subject," Leekath tried. "Twelfth Resolution -"

"Being a subject doesn't mean we can't arrest you, Aaralan Hhirheek," said the taller of the soldiers. "It means we need sufficient suspicion. Please be advised that resisting arrest is a crime. Place your wrists in these cuffs -"

Leekath backed away. "Si-sixteenth -"

"We haven't asked you anything, Aaralan Hhirheek," said the taller soldier. "None of the Resolutions apply; we have sufficient suspicion and we're placing you under arrest, and if you don't put your wrists in these cuffs before the timer goes off we'll be authorized to use force to apprehend you."

Leekath took another step back, lifted one arm in a defensive gesture and tried to teleport with the other hand, but nothing happened.

"We're not stupid, Aaralan Hhirheek," said the shorter soldier.

Leekath stepped back again.

"I really, really don't recommend resisting arrest," said the taller soldier. "We wouldn't have been sent for you if we weren't the pair of us equipped to take in a wizard kama vampire."

The wizard kama vampire in question was shaking, and looking from side to side at her neighbors' doors, but nothing else came to her, no one appeared to help.

She held out her hands and dropped her head and let them snap the cuffs on.

The short soldier touched one of Leekath's hands and one of the other soldier's, and teleported away.

The scry failed to follow beyond that; it blurred into a blob of white in the air in front of Talyn.

Talyn swore and swung his fist through the scry's display. The spell dissolved.

Leekath was the legal expert. Leekath was the one who'd know how long they were allowed to hold her, on what charges, when there'd be a trial - would there be a trial? Did Elcenian countries really not do trials? - what her rights were, how they had to treat her.

Talyn knew none of those things.

Everyone was leaving him alone after he'd snapped at Kutran, and that was very good, because if someone had bothered him, he'd wind up doing something illegal to them.

He could've strangled Emryl. The possibilities were that she'd voluntarily provided the information (acceptable, but meant that he might wish to kill her) or that the Linnipese did awful things to their prisoners (not acceptable: they had Leekath).

He didn't know what had been going through his girlfriend's mind when they'd taken her. There were, he'd found, no past-scries that read thoughts. He could only watch her face, listen to her stammer the numbers of resolutions that the soldiers brushed off. He could watch it a dozen times if he wanted. It wasn't a secret arrest, under an anti-scry. They weren't hiding from him that she'd been taken. Her roommate had told him.

But they were hiding her from him now.

He considered drastic actions. Shaking the entire nation of Linnip into rubble had the problem of aim, as it was not a round-bordered country. Assassinating the Empress would be all well and good if she didn't keep her palace buttoned up so tight. Maybe he should just blow up the entire blasted Shield.

No. No, that wouldn't be a good idea. Not before he got Leekath out, anyway.

So. Getting Leekath out.

From where? They didn't know where she was any more than they knew where Emryl was. Rhysel had gone to city hall to ask the occupiers in charge of Paraasilan, but Talyn didn't think they'd put Leekath in a normal, civilian prison where she could get visitors. No, she'd be somewhere obscure, somewhere hard to get at even if he knew where it was.

He took her hairbrush. He made a figurine with one of her black, soft hairs. It wouldn't talk to him, the figurine or the hair. He deactivated it, but he couldn't stand to slag it; the little image of her went on standing where he'd made it.

Leekath had to get out. They'd starve her. They might try to feed her (maybe), but would they do it to her exacting religious specifications in a way she could believe? They certainly couldn't have anyone on hand as palatable as Talyn himself. Could she even choke down human blood anymore? If they even got human blood for vampire prisoners. Maybe they were giving her cow's blood or something.

Talyn shuddered.

He had to get her out.

There was no new security on Teiat-laina's house. Maybe there was nothing to add.

She was home, which was good. He couldn't sense her directly through her shields, and she had some kind of opacity on her windows, but he could detect an obstinacy in the air - her shields, a part of the world that didn't like him and wanted him to go away. It was important that she be home. If he camped out waiting for her for angles on end again, one of his well-meaning alliance compatriots might figure out what he was up to and pull him out.

Her shields had been boosted relative to what they were before. Nothing he couldn't dismantle, but he'd really rather she didn't set off another alarm while he worked on that. Maybe he could pour in more force, get speed that way? Probably not enough. What was the alarm trigger? Could he destroy it?

Unfortunately, he couldn't read her mind.

He expanded his gaseous form as far as was safe. None of the wards stopped air; no one could see air. An air mage might notice something amiss, but wouldn't be able to identify it. He was looking for one of the people on the response team, any one of them, who'd rushed to the house the first time she'd tripped the alarm.

There was one. He was off duty (he; what kind of self-hatred drove a Linnipese man to join the army, anyway? Talyn never ceased to be bewildered) and he was home with his kids. And his mind wasn't shielded, and he knew where Teiat-laina kept the crystal that sounded the alarm.

Talyn contracted himself again, and sought out the alarm crystal in the heel of the laina's boot. There it was. He considered shattering it into a million pieces. It was only supposed to activate when struck with intent, or it would summon soldiers every time she took a step, but maybe breakage would activate it too, for safety purposes.

He melted it instead. Magic was so easy when he was really, truly focused - not on floaty theories or high ideals but on what he wanted to do. And he had never wanted anything as badly as he wanted Leekath free and safe.

He couldn't see her or hear Teiat-laina; maybe she was removing the boot. It would have warmed up, maybe enough to burn her foot. At any rate, no soldiers appeared.

Talyn swooped in through her wards and materialized in the room with her. His desperation coalesced with him, finding a home in his body that it didn't have when he was a cloud of air, and his face twisted into a grimace.

He didn't bother with the disguise. His idea depended on the Linnipese knowing who they were talking to. Knowing who they had pissed off.

"Hullo, Emia," he said, before she'd reacted to his presence, and he broke her shields apart.

"If you're here to kill me," she said, from where he'd commanded her into her chair, "that's not a very efficient way of achieving anything. All six of my potential replacements are competent and will carry out the goals of the Empire as faithfully as I will. I'm also eighty-two, so no one's been counting on me to stick around forever in a long, long time. Maybe that's not what you're after. You'd be the fifteenth person to fail to extort me into using my position for their ends, if that's the idea."

"I'm not here to kill you, and I don't think extortion's the right word either," said Talyn with false pleasantness, sitting in the other chair. "I just want to talk. You don't make it easy, you know. I tried sending a letter first." It hadn't even been an explosive letter, which had been his first plan.

"And you found out that I don't receive mail, so the obvious next step was to break into my house and psychically pin me to my seat after melting my alarm crystal," she said flatly.

"Yep," said Talyn. "But you might be glad I want to talk to you." But not as glad as he was enraged. He was down in reserves he didn't know he had, forcing out casual words when his heart was pounding and his jaw ached from clenching.

"Not really," said Teiat-laina.

"There's this prisoner you've got hold of," Talyn said. "I want her out." And if she didn't get out, there would be semi-random destruction, in quantity.

"We imprison people we're willing to let free constantly, so I'm sure that won't be any trouble," said the laina.

"Yeah, normally I'd be in the mood for sarcastic banter, but I find I'm really not at all," said Talyn. And if she kept trying it he might be in the mood for setting her hair on fire. Then it'd be red again. "Do you know who I'm talking about?"


She was actually not lying to him. How was Leekath not important enough to make it to the attention of a laina? For that matter, why wasn't she lying to him, stringing him along? Maybe she just avoided lying because she thought everyone went around with lie detection on like she did. "Name Leekath Hhirheek sound familiar?" he asked.

"I assume you can read my mind, since you ruined the shields around it. Is there a reason you're asking me questions?"

"Well," Talyn said. "I've noticed you have... I'm going to say 'annoyingly'... managed to not actually know a surprising amount of information, or I'd already have what I want. If you'd been paranoid a little differently you wouldn't trust your underlings, you'd do everything yourself, and then you'd know everything."

She coughed. "I'd be a single point of failure for everything. You can see I'm not."

"Yes, you're clever, but you're running the risk of making me even more upset, which is not clever," Talyn snapped. "So her name doesn't sound familiar. But you did order a reaction to what happened here the other day."

"You haven't answered my question," said the laina.

"Yeah, that's not really the point of the exercise," said Talyn, standing up abruptly and peering at her. She wasn't even faking her calm, like he was. At least she couldn't see through his bravado.

"But you seem to want to talk to me," she said. "There's something I can do with my own brain that you can't. What is it?"

"Think with it," Talyn said. "So you don't recognize the name? Leekath. Hhirheek. Aaeeihhyleekatheeei. She's the daughter of one of the members of parliament your lot forced out. I don't think you arrested him or anyone else from his office so it's not that. Why?" Why did they take her -

"Sennah's breath, I don't know."

"Right," Talyn said, stalking a step closer. "But you can think. I recommend thinking."

She didn't have to talk for him to hear. She was thinking it was his fault, that someone had figured out what he was up to and his connection to Leekath, someone had noted that she had skills or history or connections that he seemed likely to be using, and had brought her in when he himself had proven unavailable.

"Interesting," said Talyn. It wasn't. He hadn't gotten Leekath arrested, had he? He hadn't even been there - they hadn't mentioned him during the arrest -

"But I don't know where she is, don't know who knows where she is, and have a drastically incomplete list of locations where she might be," said Teiat-laina.

"Yeah, I know," Talyn said, smiling grimly. "But you're going to find out, because whichever one of your people took her, wouldn't they rather have me?"

The laina was looking at him quizzically. "You're serious?"

"I want Leekath out. I want her to go home and go about her business like you never thought to touch her. You've made it hard for me to find her, and I want her out now, so let's make a deal," hissed Talyn.

"I doubt you think we could hold you," said Teiat-laina. "I think we'll take your word for it rather than pay for a test with someone worth arresting."

"I didn't say - well, you can't hold me if I don't let you," Talyn said. "You've heard of geas spells. If you - and whoever else in your organization has the power to follow through - will swear on one, so will I. I want Leekath out now and I will actually hand myself over and stay put to get it if we can work out a way to orchestrate the whole mess. Pull any tricks, and yes, I'm out and more pissed off than ever. But if you'd rather have me than Leekath, you can have me - instead."

The laina was intrigued. She was idly considering if she'd have done anything so "reckless and shortsighted" for her husband, when he'd been alive. Well, if she wouldn't, she couldn't have cared much about him. "Interesting," she said. "But I'm not sure this will fly. We can't give your girlfriend diplomatic immunity, she can't go around doing whatever she wants just because you bargain yourself in. I'm not even sure we'd rather have you than her as it stands; I don't know what she did - but if we let her out and she commits a crime in broad daylight? Are you saying you're so valuable that we'd like to let her get away with that to keep you?"

Talyn couldn't think of anyone he'd ever met who he liked less than Emia Teiat at that moment. "Well, the alternative is I start destroying stuff until I get her back," he snarled.

"Unfortunately, Empire policy is never to respond to threats," said the laina. "It's been quite consistently followed, too, as you'd know if you read up on the War of Independence, the Saishi poisonings, the Linthi disaster..."

And she wasn't lying about that either.

Talyn considered kicking her, but that would probably only get him a smart remark about how the Empire didn't kick its prisoners.

"I have an idea," suggested Teiat-laina.

"What?" Talyn snapped.

"I assume she can be geased too."

Talyn's component parts rebelled at that idea, but he swallowed bile and listened.

"To, for instance, comport herself as a law-abiding subject of the Empire, and resist attempts to break the geas to the best of her ability. And then I think the trade you propose would look more attractive to the relevant parties. We don't usually release prisoners with geas spells on them, simply because the spells are terribly complicated and even most wizards can't learn to cast them. We don't have the wizardpower to make it a typical thing. But with the stakes you're describing..." She shrugged. "I know we have one geas-competent wizard available. She could be spared to assist with an exchange like this. If other parties deem it appropriate."

Talyn chewed the inside of his cheek. He was beginning to really, really hate the fact that Teiat-laina was so honest (sarcasm aside) and unflappable.

"Why are you helping me?" Talyn asked.

"I think I'm trying to get you locked up," she said, raising an eyebrow.

"Why are you helping me get what I want?" he clarified, clenching his fists.

"Because you seem willing to buy it very dearly," she said. "I'm sure you can tell that I don't think you're being very smart, but as long as you prefer to go on not being very smart anyway, that puts me in a cooperative mood."

Talyn's teeth ground together and he turned away from her. "Well. What needs to happen to set this up?"

"Do you receive mail?" she inquired archly.

"No. Not someplace I want stuff about this sent, anyway."

"Well, then, I suppose you could invade my house again, since you already know where it is and I'm going to want to move anyway, sometime tomorrow evening."

"That's not fast enough," said Talyn, turning back to scowl at her.

"That's already pushing it," she countered. "In addition to annoyingly not knowing anything, I am annoyingly not empowered to do anything quickly. For some reason, that seems to be a demand that terrorists and the like make frequently." She coughed. "But I can most likely have a deal on the table for you in twenty-five angles."

So irritatingly honest. If she'd been hiding anything, instead of singing like a teakettle, he could have worked out some of his anger getting her to be more forthcoming, as a poor substitute to rescuing his girlfriend from starvation and withdrawal and whatever other mistreatment she was enduring.

"If," she said, "speed is such a concern, we might as well cover possible modifications to the trade now. Anything else you'll throw in if my people won't take the trade straight across?"

"What, like somebody else I'd turn over? No, that's not happening," said Talyn, trying to sound resolute. That would be a stronger bargaining position. Maybe. He didn't understand how that worked.

"What about helping us while you're in custody?" Teiat-laina suggested. "Even with an expertly applied geas, I doubt we'd entrust you with anything sensitive, but -"

"No," Talyn exclaimed. "I can't stand you people!"

"- but it would doubtless be more mentally stimulating than sitting around in a cell with nothing to do," she said. "No? Not even something we could be doing with our own resources anyway so you'd only be saving us money, or letting a few of our people go home to see their families an extra day a week?"

"I said no," snapped Talyn, looking away.

"You're not very flexible," she remarked.

"Why, what do you want to throw in if I don't like the terms of your deal?" He considered offering the soldiers still imprisoned in the citadel, but he'd made up his mind that he didn't want to hurt the rebellion by taking any resources other than himself away from it. Leekath wanted to live in Esmaar, not something named Esmaar that Linnip held as a province.

"This is your deal. Yourself for this Leekath individual, enforced by geas on all sides," said Teiat-laina. "It remains to be seen if we'll take it."

"It would be stupid of me to tell you in advance how high you could talk me up, anyway!" Talyn exclaimed.

"Yep," agreed the laina, tilting her head to look at Talyn from another angle.

He made an incoherent noise.

"But if you don't, then you run the risk of having to wait an extra day for a revised exchange to be put through," she went on. "In case you aren't tempting enough for the decisionmakers to come to an agreement."

All the gods curse her.

"I'll consider work you could have done with your own resources if you throw in my friend, too," Talyn said. "Someone on your staff will know who I mean."

"I'll mention it," Teiat-laina said evenly.

"Right," he growled.

"Anything else?" she asked.

Talyn dissolved into air and released the command that kept her in her chair with a single motion.

He went back to the citadel, invisible, even while people were there talking about him and wondering where he'd run off to. He put as many bags of blood as he could draw from himself without passing out into Leekath's stash. He'd have left twice as much, but she wasn't there to replenish the supply in his body.

And then he wrote a note.

Dear Leekath,

You're probably thinking I'm stupid, but I couldn't leave you there for a tick longer than I had to.

I'm sort of hoping you'll come up with a good way to get me out of jail, but just in case, you should probably ration this - wean yourself off if you can. Try biting Barashin fairies (don't overdo it) or Barashin dragons. I think they live longer than Elcenian dragons and might make it easier to step down.

I'm not actually stupid. I'm going to leave a wizard - not going to tell you who - a note saying they should get you to Barashi as soon as possible. That'll break the geas, and if you don't know who it is maybe you won't be able to obey the geas telling you to make a sincere effort to keep it on. (Maybe they won't even remember to include anything about that, but I'm not betting on it, so I'm leaving the note just in case, but it'll take a few days to find, I don't want to tip anyone off early.)

I love you.

I love you so, so much.

- Talyn

"I - I have to ask," said the wizard, looking at Teiat-laina and then Talyn and then back, "is this really safe for us to be here - what if it's a trick -"

"Did you cast all of the wards I asked you to cast, Nina-eian?" Teiat-laina asked the wizard.

"Ye-e-es, but the kamai briefer at Mystic Forces says -"

"Has he killed us yet, Nina-eian?" said Teiat-laina. "Are you even now a watchful spirit beholding your own funeral?"


"Then proceed, please."

Nina-eian read over the geas specificiations again. Finally she pursed her lips, closed her eyes, and performed a gesture while murmuring a long word. "Emia Teiat," she said. "Contingent on the geasing of Aaeeihhyleekatheeei Hhirheek and Talyn Casten carried out as agreed during this casting, this spell compels you to cause those on whose behalf you act to release Aaeeihhyleekatheeei Hhirheek from custody within one angle, without in so doing treating her in any way you would not accept for yourself were you a vampire; she is to be left free and her behavior is not to be interfered with beyond the parameters of her geas. Do you accept?"

"I do," said Teiat-laina.

"Talyn Casten," said Nina-eian, "contingent on the geasing of Emia Teiat carried out as agreed during this casting, this spell compels you to make no attempt to resist arrest, escape custody, or aid attempts by others to bring you out of custody; you are to comport yourself as a well-behaved prisoner for the duration of your sentence. Do you accept?"

"I do," said Talyn, gritting his teeth. The contingency meant that the spell was void if the laina or anyone else in her command structure messed with Leekath. That even included the other lainas, and the Empress herself, who'd ratified Teiat-laina's position and in so doing did empower the laina to act on her behalf. He'd checked in the wizardess's mind, which he knew had to be left accurate at least on the subject of the geas lest protective ignorance foul the spell.

Nina-eian then got up and walked out of the room. They'd moved Leekath to somewhere in the building, or so he'd been told, but she was swathed in every kind of ward, and he couldn't feel her presence.

But he could feel the geas settle into place, like a giant clawed insect on the back of his neck.

"Well," said Teiat-laina, rubbing her own neck and picking up the cuffs that lay on the table. She held them out with a thin smile. "Talyn Casten, you are under arrest on suspicion of criminal collusion, on known actual trespassing, on known actual assault of an officer of the Imperial Military, on known actual destruction of Imperial Military property, on known attempted extortion by threat of terrorism..."