Chapter Eight: Dancing

Talyn eventually got out of the Hhirheek house, although only after relating his entire life story to Aar Hhirheek while trying not to flinch away from the man's disapproving glare and menacing thoughts too often. Leekath spent the entire remainder of the visit in her aaihhhi's office, taking bewildering pleasure in tedious regulations on teleportation. She was good enough at multitasking to mindspeak intermittently to Talyn - coaching him on how to phrase answers to questions, mostly, and saying goodbye when Aar Hhirheek couldn't think of anything else to interrogate him about in that high, sharp voice.

"I believe I have satisfied my curiosity about you," said Aar Hhirheek. "Aaeeihhyleekatheeei will most likely be occupied with my husband for the rest of this evening. You should be on your way."

Talyn didn't need to be told twice. <Call me when you can,> he sent to Leekath on his way out.

<I will,> she promised.

Leekath called him the next day. "I'm sorry I didn't come out to say goodbye," she said. "I didn't want Aaihhhi to think I was getting bored or wanted an excuse to stop helping him..."

"That's okay, I understand," Talyn said. "Does all that legal stuff really interest you?"

"Kind of," she said. "I mean, the reason I wanted to go to wizard school in particular is because you have to be some kind of magic user to get into Parliament. Aaihhhi's a sorcerer, not a wizard, but hearing's not recognized as a form of magic so I have to learn wizardry to qualify. And then maybe someday if I work my way up we can work together all the time."

"Uh-huh," Talyn said slowly. "Um..." He couldn't think of a good way to bring up Aar Hhirheek's less than fatherly behavior directly. "Does Rhysel count as 'supervision' such that you could come over here? She'll be a teacher at Binaaralav next term," he said instead. "...I don't like that you're all cooped up in that house. And your aaihhhi's at work most of the time, isn't he?"

"Yeah, he is," acknowledged Leekath. "I can ask if Rhysel counts. If Fheeil wants her to talk to him - by crystal - will she say she's responsible for me while I'm there, and stuff, even though it's a school break?"

"I'm sure I can get her to do that," Talyn said. "And then, if Rhysel said it was okay, would you want to come with me to visit my family?"

"Do they want to meet me?" Leekath asked.

"I haven't asked them," Talyn admitted. "They know about you but won't start pestering me to bring you home for a visit for another few months at least. But they won't mind. Coryl - she's in my batch, a little older than me - brings home boyfriends without warning all the time when she has them, and my parents are always happy about it."

"If you think they'd like to meet me, I can go," Leekath said, though she didn't sound gleeful over the prospect.

"...It's really different at my house compared to yours," Talyn said. "It's... more like when your aaihhhi is home than when he isn't. Only, uh, more so, and all the time. And none of my sisters are like Iilha. Does that make sense?"

"Aaihhhi can only be so easygoing because Fheeil takes care of the day-to-day stuff for him, since Aaihhhi is very busy," Leekath said. "I'm not sure how it would work to have both parents be more like my aaihhhi only more so..."

Your fheeil told you that, didn't he, and you never wanted to waste your aaihhhi's valuable time checking up on it, Talyn thought but didn't say. "Well, you can see how it works for yourself!" he told her instead. "I think my family gets along just fine. I have fifteen older brothers and sisters who've all turned out okay, and two little brothers and a little sister who seem pretty great to me."

"I'll ask about whether Rhysel counts as supervision, if you'll ask her if she's willing to supervise," Leekath said.

The conversation drifted away from there, and eventually Leekath had to go ("Fheeil wants me to look up how to renew the spell on the laundry hamper so he doesn't need to pay someone to fix it; bye.") Talyn managed to tell her he loved her before she deactivated the crystal, and then went to write a letter to his family and ask Rhysel a few questions.

<Welcome to Kalelifar, Restron,> said Talyn. <Or, well, the transfer point nearest to it. But it's not that far away from my house because my sister made it.>

<How many kyma are there in your family?> Leekath asked. She rearranged her sun cloak under her arm to confirm it was still there. Aar Kithen had promised that the sun wasn't due up in this time zone for a few divs.

<Me, my sister Ranel, and my Grandma Casten - Grandfather Revenn's daughter-in-law,> Talyn sent. <He's - he was - actually my great-grandfather. One of my great-uncles is a kama too. More people in the family have the ability - about a third of my siblings and my dad and so on - but it's not the most popular career choice.>

<What does your dad do?> Leekath asked, turning into a bat and starting to fly in the direction he'd indicated.

Talyn rose into the air after her. <He's an archaeologist - he goes out and digs up old things and figures out what they were,> he clarified, when the concept didn't meet with recognition in Leekath's mind. Then something occurred to him. <Uh, you might not want to tell him you're a hearer, because he will believe you. And then he'll want you to go out to his workshop and listen to every unidentified little object he has.>

<I wouldn't mind doing some of that if he wants,> Leekath sent.

<That's up to you. Just warning you,> Talyn sent. <I can't think of any other instructions you need. I explained about you and how you're a vampire and won't need a bed and stuff in my letter, so you don't have to do that. The only siblings you're going to see at the house are Erryl and Cyranna. We can go visit Abel and Coryl where they're apprenticing, though, if you want. Other siblings I'd need to make plans with.>

They reached the Casten house, which was quiet, and landed on the porch. <Will going inside wake them up?> Leekath asked.

<Probably not, but before my dad monopolizes you, I wanted to ask you if you'd teach me to fly. With bat wings,> he clarified.

<Did you learn to turn into a bat?> she asked, incredulous.

<Mm-hm,> he said, and proved it, blurring into the shape before her eyes. <I was hoping to impress your family but it, uh, didn't come up. But I'm still glad I learned it.>

Leekath scooted forward along the porch toward him and touched their noses together. <Thank you,> she sent.

Talyn squirmed, unable to put together a smile that wouldn't look ridiculous in bat form, then tapped their noses together again. <You're welcome.>

<Of course I'll teach you to fly. But, can you echolocate?>

<Uh... sort of. I can make the squeak and I can hear the echoes, but I'm not very good yet at figuring out what they mean...>

<Then we either need to wait for daylight, or start with that,> Leekath sent matter-of-factly. <Watch what I'm doing...>

Talyn spent the rest of the early morning spying on Leekath's mind putting together a sound-picture of the world, and was halfway competent - such that he might bump into Leekath, but not a wall - by the time the sun came up. He shifted back to his halfblood shape; Leekath stayed bat-formed to protect herself from the sun, and he scooped her up to carry her inside. The front door let into the kitchen, which had west-facing windows and allowed Leekath to safely shift and pull on her sun cloak.

Erryl, Talyn's eight-year-old brother, was an early riser, and woke up a moment after Talyn shut the door behind him only to hurtle out of his room and into the kitchen. "Talyn!" he exclaimed. "You're home! You're prob'ly Lee-kath!" Erryl added to the vampire visitor.

"Yes," Leekath said, sending the subtle translation of her words that Talyn had taught her to use so she could talk to people without him present. "You must be Erryl."

"Mm-huh. Talyn, I'm supposed to go to the Herryses' house for tomatoes for breakfast today but I wanna meet Leekath, can you go instead?" wheedled Erryl.

"Uh," Talyn began.

"You already know her," Erryl pointed out.

"I guess..." Talyn said. <Unless you mind, and then I'll make him go,> he sent to Leekath.

<It's okay,> she sent. <Go ahead.>

Talyn picked up how many tomatoes Erryl had been told to get from his brother's thoughts, and left Leekath and Erryl alone in the kitchen and went down the street to the Herryses' farm. He had to remind Mr. Herrys who he was, but was accepted as a Casten when he did, and the cost of the tomatoes would be billed to the house later.

When he got back, Leekath had Erryl trying to convince him that it was probably safe to bite him even though he was little ("because I'm really strong! And because it sounds coooooool!") and she had Cyranna, the six-year-old, sitting on her lap. Cyranna was holding her ever-present stuffed bunny, patched and restuffed and refurbished so many times throughout its long history of belovedness by small children that Talyn wasn't sure if Leekath would even hear it as the same object it had started out as.

"She's pretty, Talyn," Cyranna whispered loudly when he came in bearing tomatoes.

Talyn grinned. "I know," he said. "How're you, 'Anna?"

"I'm gooood," Cyranna said. "Leekath Leekath Leekath, can Murry really talk to you?"

"Yes," Leekath said. "He says he likes you."

"He should, he's my friend," Cyranna said, squeezing the rabbit tighter.

"My goodness, you're here already," said Talyn's mother's voice. She came into the kitchen with a hairbrush stuck in her long waves of hair and a sleepily pleased expression on her face. When she spotted the tomatoes on the counter, she nodded, smiled, and went on brushing out her hair. "Good morning, everyone. Hello, Leekath, I'm so glad we get to meet you at last."

"Hello, Mrs. Casten," said Leekath politely.

"Oh, you can call me Astyrell - or Asy, even. Most people call me Asy. Now," she said, busying herself chopping up the tomatoes and fetching a packet of sausage from the icebox, "tell me about yourself, Leekath - what do you do?"

"I study wizardry, which is a form of magic, at Binaaralav Academy, and I'm going to start learning kamai formally in - four tendays," Leekath said, correcting herself from reflexive reference to "weeks".

"Hobbies? Everyone should have hobbies," said Asy.

"I like music," Leekath said. "Vampire music. And, um, politics. My aaihhhi - my dad - is in Parliament."

"Maybe you'd like to share a song or a story with us tonight at the gather," Asy said.

"The what?" Leekath asked, blinking rapidly.

"Oh, didn't Talyn tell you?" Asy asked. "Every evening when Garrytt, my husband, is home and not on some expedition, we all join together as a family - sometimes even our apprenticing children, Abel and Coryl, come home - and share music, or a story, or something else."

"Oh," Leekath said softly, eyes very wide. She was frantically trying to come up with a vampire song that took place at least mostly in a halfblood-audible register, or a story that they might find interesting that she could deliver without tripping over her own narrative.

"But you don't have to do anything if you don't want to," Talyn inserted. "It's optional for everyone anyway, and I forgot to tell you to expect it, and you're a guest."

This didn't seem to calm Leekath down. He peered deeper; she couldn't think of a more surefire way to infuriate his parents (however calm Asy seemed, whatever was claimed about the gather's optionality) than to refuse such a reasonable sort of request. <They won't be mad if you don't want to do anything!> Talyn assured her. <Really!>

Cyranna had picked up on Leekath's nervousness. "Here," she said, pressing Murry into Leekath's shoulder until the vampire lifted her hand to hold the rabbit. "Murry's best at making me feel better when I feel bad. You can have him for a little bit."

"Thank you," murmured Leekath.

"Goodness," Asy said. "I'm so sorry - do you have a fear of performing in front of people?"

"I - I don't know," Leekath said. "No one ever asked me to before." She'd stopped trembling, though she was now considering the possibility that Asy would only accept an abstention from the gather if Leekath had a certificate diagnosing her with a phobia.

"It's okay, Leekath," Talyn said, shooing Erryl from the chair next to her so he could sit down and put his arm around her. "You don't have to do anything. We could even skip it and go somewhere else together."

"Oh," Leekath said.

"Maybe we should go to Cayter Springs," Talyn suggested. "Mom, do they still do open dance lessons? Leekath, do you want to learn some Barashin dances? And even if you don't it's worth going at least once to look at all the weird buildings. It's an artists' commune," he explained.

"That could be fun," Leekath allowed, when Asy nodded about the dance lessons.

"I wanna go to the Springs," said Cyranna. "I wanna dance and I wanna go in the hot springs and I want Talyn to fly me around."

Talyn blinked, trying to think of a way to exclude his little sister from the date without making her cry, but Leekath actually seemed to like the idea of Cyranna tagging along when he peeked. "Okay," Talyn said.

"Hot springs?" Leekath asked, petting Cyranna's wavy hair while the little girl squirmed with excitement.

"...Huh," he said. "I guess a flat planet wouldn't have them. The inside of the planet is really hot," he explained. "Some places, the heat comes up to the surface and it can make warm pools. People go swimming in them."

"I probably shouldn't go in those," Leekath said. "Vampires and warm temperatures don't mix very well."

"We can skip them, then," Talyn said, watching Cyranna for signs of mutiny, but she seemed like she might be content without. "And just go to the dance studio and go on a flying architectural tour."

Asy finished breakfast, and Talyn's father finally lurched out of bed in time to get a plate. "Morning. You're Leekath?" yawned the archaeologist. "Good to meet you. I'm Garrytt."

"Hello, Garrytt," said Leekath. She was grateful to have Cyranna on her lap, as this meant she didn't awkwardly sit in front of an empty place setting; Cyranna seemed glad that she had someone to hang on to Murry for her while she messily consumed tomatoes and sausage. "Talyn thought you might want me to help you with your work some because I can hear objects talking about themselves."

Talyn hadn't been expecting her to volunteer the information first thing, but he could spend his visit catching up with family members while Leekath was occupied and then pull her away come evening on a claim of prior plans. The offer woke up Garrytt more than the food had. "This is an offworld magic you do?"

"Yes," Leekath said, lifting her chin a fraction that no one but Talyn noticed. "I'm a hearer."

"If you're willing to help, I'd be thrilled to have you," Garrytt said. "I have all sorts of odds and ends I haven't been able to figure out."

After Garrytt finished his food, he picked up Cyranna, spun her around twice, set her dizzy on the floor and gave her Murry out of Leekath's hand, and led the vampire out to his workshop. Talyn got started on the dishes.

"- and I put together a mosaic he hadn't been able to puzzle together. He thought he was missing a piece, but he'd mistaken it for the left eye of this statuette that didn't have separate eyes. The other eye was actually a piece of a wine bottle."

"But I liked how that statue looked with eyes!" Cyranna complained, swooping through the air under Talyn's power. He wondered if she'd study kamai when she was old enough. "It looked like a bug! With big bug eyes!"

Leekath laughed. "It's a goblin representation of a god, silly." She was speaking vampire, of necessity due to her bat form, and projecting the translation.

"Goblins look like cats," Cyranna asserted. "They got big cat ears."

"Which god?" Talyn asked.

"I don't know," Leekath said. "That's not the kind of thing it could tell me. I didn't even hear it saying it was supposed to be a god; your dad told me that."

"Dancing soon," whooped Cyranna. "Dancing dancing."

"I like dancing," murmured Leekath. "Sometimes my brother used to dance with me before he went off to school for it."

"He doesn't anymore?" Talyn asked.

"We're not home at the same time very often," Leekath said. "And he does a lot of his practicing alone now. He's very good at dancing and I'm not - the best he could do is use me as a placeholder, and Iilha works better for that because she's closer to his height."

"Iilha cooperates with that?" Talyn asked skeptically.

"She does if he pretends to listen to her talking about different kinds of braids and shampoo and stuff while he dances around her," Leekath said, shrugging.

"Well, the open dance lessons are usually a line dance," Talyn said, descending towards the ground in front of the dance studio. "They'll give the instructions pretty much continuously through the whole thing, and it doesn't matter if you're good or not."

"Leekath!" exclaimed Cyranna when her shoes touched the flagstones. "Before you don't be a bat, can I pet you?"

Leekath landed on the ground and looked up at Cyranna, nonplussed. "I suppose," she said.

Cyranna petted Leekath's fur, very gently, attracting some puzzled glances from other people arriving for the open dance lesson. "You're soft," cooed Cyranna.

Leekath shifted after Cyranna had had her fill of soft bat fur. That attracted attention, too, but the fact that they'd flown in led most of the minds Talyn could hear to dismiss it as some kamai thing. No one questioned them as they went in, each holding one of Cyranna's hands.

They danced until Cyranna was too tired to go on, though Leekath seemed to find the exercise energizing and was much more graceful than she'd claimed. Talyn watched with some interest as she didn't appear in the long mirrors along the walls of the dance hall; he remembered her making the claim about vampires and mirrors but hadn't seen her in front of one before.

"Do you think," Leekath asked as Talyn picked up his sister to carry her out, "that Khi could take lessons here - not these introductory open ones, something more formal - on his break? I think he'd rather do that than go home." She peered at the last, indirect rays of sunlight, and left her sun cloak tied around her waist.

"You'd have to ask the Master," Talyn said. "I don't think he does these things most of the time - the dance caller was a journeyman and the people on the floor helping out were apprentices. He's probably in the other half of the building. Do you want to go around and see if he'll talk to you?"

Leekath nodded. "Unless we need to get Cyranna home sooner than that."

"She's okay. Right, 'Anna?" Talyn asked.

"Iwannadancemore," yawned Cyranna.

"Well, that didn't sound like a vote for going home," Talyn said. He showed Leekath around to the other entrance, where a receptionist handled the dance studio's business, and sat with Cyranna in one of the handful of chairs.

"Excuse me," Leekath said to the receptionist. "I have what's probably a weird request. My brother goes to a dance school most of the year, but he gets five tendays off at a time occasionally, and I was wondering if he could spend those in a part-time apprenticeship here if he wanted?"

The receptionist blinked many times. He was trying to figure out what Leekath was, but instead of asking, eventually settled on "she's clearly just a mostly-Malterian halfblood and the light is bad in here". After coming to that erroneous conclusion, he asked, "What kind of apprenticeship gives him five tendays off at a time?"

"It's not really an apprenticeship," Leekath said. "It's just a school."

The receptionist pursed his lips. "Well. Your brother would probably need to talk to Master Coranton himself, and audition, but Master Coranton might be open to some kind of arrangement."

Leekath nodded. "Thank you," she told the receptionist, and went to fly home with Talyn and Cyranna.

Back at the Casten house, there was a brief fuss over sleeping arrangements. "You can put me anywhere," Leekath said. "I could go in the coat closet if we moved the coats over. I just need something to hang from, that's all."

"Nonsense. You belong in a proper room. Now, we have Coryl's room, which no one is using tonight..."

"I wan' Leekath with meeeeee," mumbled Cyranna.

Asy considered this. "Do you want to go in Cyranna's room? She has a closet, if that sort of bar is really best, or there's a clothes-hanger that fits over her door and could be cleared off."

"That sounds fine," Leekath said. "Either one."

"I was a little alarmed when the letter said you wouldn't need a guest bed," Asy chuckled, "until I got to the part where Talyn explained. Very well. Cyranna's clothes-hanger it is. I'll go get the clothes out of the way for you."

Ostensibly, everyone in the house went to sleep at the same time. But his room was close enough to Cyranna's to mindspeak easily. <Did you have a good day?> he asked Leekath.

<Yes,> Leekath answered. <Your family is really nice.>

<I'm glad you could come here,> Talyn sent. <Do you get what I meant about it being like when your aaihhhi is home?>

<Maybe,> Leekath hedged sleepily. <I think your family is probably nicer than most families.>

Talyn tried to think of a way to take that as a compliment without allowing the conclusion that her family was about as nice as most families. <Maybe you should visit more people at home,> he sent. <Emryl might want to have you over. You could get back in touch with her and drop by when she's at home sometime.>

<It'd be nice to see Emryl again.>

<Or some people you know from school, if any of them would let you hang out at their house for a while,> Talyn pressed.

<G'night, Talyn,> Leekath sent.

<Good night,> he replied. <I love you.>

<Love you too,> came her answer, and she fell silent in sleep.