Chapter Eleven: Nanain
Mallyn's immediate family sometimes received visitors, too, and that included Tem and Allera. During their next trip through Paraasilan to see Rhysel's and Gyre's families, Mallyn sat next to Tem and tried to think what to ask.
Surprisingly, the taciturn old human spoke up first. "Kenar's a decent kid," Tem said.
Mallyn glowered at the floor. "He hurt Mom. And Dad."
"Not a perfect kid," Tem said.
"He hurt Mom."
Tem shrugged. "D'you hate your grandma?"
"What?" Mallyn asked.
"You know the story. Do you hate your grandma Allera?"
"Why?" asked Tem.
"She - she apologized. She changed what she was doing and made it right," Mallyn said.
"Kenar apologized. He started visiting," Tem said. "I had to talk a little sense into him first. But he's only a boy."
"That doesn't make it right," Mallyn said stubbornly.
"What would?" Tem asked.
"He -" Mallyn realized he had no idea how to finish the sentence. He didn't want Kenar to come live with them, or even visit more. He was pretty sure time travel would be an unfair thing to ask of anyone, even Kenar. Kenar had apologized to Ehail. He didn't owe Mallyn an apology; the whole mess had happened before Mallyn had even been adopted.
"I don't like him," Mallyn said.
"Don't have to," said Tem. "Don't have to hate him either."
Mallyn chewed on that one even after his grandparents had gone.
Kenar came to vist at the end of Komehel.
Mallyn ignored him, and avoided skulking around to shoot dirty looks at him, too. Kenar didn't make it any harder than he ever had to keep out of his way.
"Mallyn?" Rithka said, when Cenem had been allowed to go out to lunch with her egg parents. She was messily spreading almond butter onto a piece of bread. "What did they do to your birth parents?"
"Personality revision," Mallyn said shortly, not putting down the copy of All About Simple Mind Kamai he'd borrowed from Korulen.
"So they aren't the same people?" Rithka asked.
"No - well, yes, but - sort of," Mallyn said uncomfortably, sighing and closing the book. He tried to avoid thinking about them at all, really. "Supposedly they only change what they have to so they won't be able to hurt anybody."
"But that was practically all they did so they'd have to change a lot," Rithka said.
"If they can't hurt anybody, why did you all get taken away?" she asked.
Mallyn shuddered at the idea of being sent back to the farm with revised birth parents. "I don't know what they usually do about situations like it. For me it was probably because I made it to Esmaar, and then if Aristan left Lyrrae and Renn there, they'd look bad."
"But if they're not the same -"
"If somebody made me go back to them at this point I'd probably try to hurt them," Mallyn said flatly. "And I'd definitely run away again. It doesn't matter what the kama did. They're still them. They look the same and sound the same and under a couple of magic blocks they are the same and they're not my parents."
"So you wouldn't ever go with them, not even a little like Cenem, just because they're different now," said Rithka.
"Is that what you brought this up for?" Mallyn said with a weak laugh. "Never. Never, ever, ever. I never want to see them. They're evil people. Cenem's parents screwed up but they're basically okay."
"Okay," Rithka said, putting her plate on the table and hugging him. She got a smear of almond butter on his shirt. "I'm glad you're not going anywhere."
"It shouldn't even surprise you," Mallyn said. "I don't think I ever sound like I want to run into them, do I? I mean, how would you feel about getting to never see Kenar again?"
Rithka's eyes flew wide open. She was still for a moment, and then let go of Mallyn and dashed up the stairs at top speed.
"Rithka?" said Mallyn. There was no reply. He got up to follow her. "Rithka? Are you okay?"
"She's in here," said Kenar's voice, sounding puzzled.
Mallyn peered into Kenar's room, and there was Rithka, all four limbs wrapped around Kenar's leg. She was half-bawling, but Mallyn could make out sentence fragments: "don't want to never see you again", "I'm sorry," "I'm your sister forever" -
"What's going on?" Mallyn asked.
"I don't know," Kenar said. "She just ran in here and grabbed me and started talking."
"I don't wanna never see you again, I was mad but I love you," wailed Rithka.
"Rithka," Kenar said, "I can't move, let me go."
Rithka just sobbed and hugged him tighter. Kenar looked at her, and looked at Mallyn, and finally turned into a woodpecker beating his wings in midair, leaving Rithka with an armful of air.
"Rithka, c'mon," Mallyn said, "let's go downstairs, you were in the middle of a snack..."
The iron dragon rubbed at her eyes, looked up at the circling bird, and got up to grab Mallyn's hand and follow him out.
"So," Mallyn said, "you don't actually hate him?"
"No-o-o," sniffed Rithka. "I was really mad! I was just mad, that's all! But then you said - and he could just go anytime, he might, he almost did, it's not like you 'cause you don't ever want to at all and not like Cenem 'cause she always comes home!"
"I didn't mean to... scare you," Mallyn said.
She sniffled again and plopped into the chair in front of her bread.
"I don't think he's going to stop coming here," said Mallyn. This was mostly because Kenar seemed to actually like Tem, and Tem's approval was probably contingent on Kenar having some connection to the family. So maybe the visits would stop when Tem died, which could be alarmingly soon - but probably not soon enough that Rithka wouldn't have a while to find other ways to make nice to Kenar, if she wanted him around.
"I guess," Rithka mumbled.
"If I make you mad are you going to tell me you hate me and avoid me all the time?" Mallyn asked.
"I'd have to be really mad," Rithka said.
"That's probably not the best way to be mad at somebody."
"What's the best way?" she asked.
"I don't know," said Mallyn.
Mallyn didn't interact with the blue opal again until Kenar started making an awful racket in the backyard. It was a patter of erratic short thunks that made Rithka cover her ears and Cenem put her head under a pillow.
"I'll go see what's going on," Mallyn told them, and he got up from their game.
Kenar had a small log propped up in the yard and he was clinging to it in woodpecker form. Apparently it had occurred to him to try a novel form of sculpture. "That's really loud," Mallyn said over the din.
Kenar stopped and looked at Mallyn. Bird beaks didn't afford much room for facial expression. "I'll stop," he said, and he let go of the log and shifted to human form.
Mallyn really hadn't been lurking so as to glare at Kenar, but then he was right there. He found himself looking quizzically at the blue opal boy. Kenar was a fair bit shorter than Mallyn was, since Mallyn had started getting better nutrition. For the first time Mallyn realized how young - youthful, rather - Kenar was.
"I haven't been very nice to you," Mallyn said.
"No," Kenar said. "You haven't."
"I'm sorry," Mallyn said.
Kenar looked away and shuffled his feet. "Does that mean you don't think I'm a morally bankrupt idiot, anymore?"
"That's good. Or at least it's better," said Kenar.
There was a prolonged silence. Mallyn wondered why Rithka hadn't run out to haul him back to the game yet. Maybe she didn't want to go near Kenar, out of lingering anger or embarrassment.
"Was it worth it?" Mallyn asked.
"Going with your egg parents. Was it worth it?"
"Yes," Kenar said.
"How?" Mallyn asked.
"They're - I could've been unlucky," Kenar said. "They could have been totally different. I would have gone anyway, but they could've not matched up with how I am at all. But they do. Rthan's a writer. He goes all around the world and writes about the places there. Mialhre's a librarian. She spends all her time around books and loves them as much as I do. My little brother and sister knew about me from the time they were babies and they're glad to have a big brother and they're so cute. I used to write dumb little stories about my family, before I knew anything. I never showed them to anyone. But they had a little sister and a little brother in them, and I guessed wrong about Tanzil being a red but that doesn't matter, and they had a big old house and I guessed wrong about it being in Nirlan but that doesn't matter either."
"They could have been awful," Mallyn said. "You didn't know. They could have been like my birth parents."
"I wouldn't have cared if they hit me," Kenar said.
Mallyn was stunned by the simplemindedness. "You wouldn't have cared if they hit you," he repeated slowly.
"Yeah. Why?" Kenar asked, looking up. "Do you feel like hitting me?"
"No." Mallyn swallowed. "It's not just that. Even if you really didn't care about it hurting - maybe you really wouldn't - it's not just that. Sometimes I couldn't see, or breathe, or move, and I thought I was going to die - sometimes they wouldn't let me sleep - I had to sneak off and risk getting punished worse to do anything but work - they hurt Lyrrae and Renn too -"
"If my parents were hurting Tanzil and Simnel that'd be bad," Kenar acknowledged.
"Being a miracle doesn't make you immune to not getting sleep or any of that," Mallyn said.
"Different stuff is important to me than you," Kenar said. "That doesn't make me stupid. It just means I'd put up with stuff you wouldn't to get my real parents."
"I bet you wouldn't say that if your parents were terrible," Mallyn said.
"I bet I would," Kenar said flatly. "But I got lucky."
Mallyn bit the inside of his cheek. "Ask Mom for a silencing spell if you're going to do that to the log," he said, and he turned around and marched back inside.
Sashpark wanted to see Barashi.
"You know your way around Barashi, right?" she asked. "You should take me and show me all the cool stuff."
"Barashi is really big and I've only been to one country in it," Mallyn said. "And like four towns in that one country."
"You can show me those, then," Sashpark said, undaunted. "I've been showing you Lypan. It's only fair."
"I guess. We could just start at Aristan City because it's right through the circle. Do you want to see Dad's jewelry shop?"
"That sounds good," Sashpark said serenely.
"Okay," said Mallyn, "but as long as we're in Aristan City, do you mind if we visit my aunt and uncle and - cousins?" He'd started referring to Lyrrae and Renn that way to avoid the long, difficult story. He still flinched a little every time.
"I don't mind. But not for all day, I want to see stuff, not just distant relatives," Sashpark said.
Mallyn nodded. "I know a couple places. There's temples and the Peace Tower and the Garden on the Wall."
"Wouldn't a garden on a wall be really narrow?"
"It's on the side of the wall, and the wall's a sloped retaining-type wall against a hill. You go up stairs and along the top and down stairs and along the bottom along the whole thing."
"What kind of temples do you have?"
"I don't personally have... Just ones for gods. One per temple usually, but there are some for pairs or groups and some for all of them," Mallyn said.
"Temples are usually for gods," Sashpark said, pursing her lips. "I mean what religions do you have there?"
"There's not a bunch of religions. Everybody knows the gods exist," Mallyn said. "It's not like here."
"Whoa, did your religion form an army and take over the entire world and convert everybody at swordpoint and coalesce into an overgovernment?" exclaimed Sashpark. "Like in Gray Chapel and the sequels! In the sequels some people independently reconstruct Salvationism and they start a rebellion -"
"It's not like that," Mallyn said. "There's lots of governments. We all agree on the gods like we all agree on there being two suns in the sky during the day. They show up and you can see them and talk to them and they'll tell you what their names are, there's nothing to argue about."
"The suns tell you their names?" teased Sashpark.
"No, but the sun pilots will."
"Your suns have pilots? Are the suns like... really shiny scoots?" Sashpark asked.
"I think they're about like the sun here. I'm not sure. I don't know hardly anything about astronomy. But they have to move around, and some gods do that," Mallyn said.
"If we go to temples will we meet gods?"
Mallyn shook his head. "Probably not. They have a lot to do and a lot of temples they could be visiting if that's how they're spending time. Unless you want to petition one and call it over on purpose, and that's not a good idea unless you're really desperate."
There was a pause, and Sashpark said, "Why didn't you ever petition one?"
"Because," Mallyn said, "all the stories about gods we heard in school, when I went to school, had them asking for the worst possible thing in exchange, to make sure the petitioner's really serious. And I tried to think of what the worst possible thing would be, and I decided that a god would probably make me pick a sibling to leave behind."
Sashpark bit her lip and reached out to squeeze Mallyn's knee.
"Also I would have had to run away just to get to a temple," Mallyn said. "And gods take a while to show up to meet petitioners and my birth parents could have come and taken me away."
Mallyn sang for Ehail, and she popped into the living room of Prathu's apartment and teleported the both of them to the circle, admonishing them both to be home in time for dinner.
They went to the jewelry shop. Mallyn introduced Sashpark to the assistant, who was a black-haired, black-winged Mainland fairy and didn't ever seem to know what to make of Gyre's personal friends and relations appearing in his shop no matter how many times it happened. Sashpark tried everything on. She also inspected the assistant until her feathers fluffed up with annoyance, remarking that Barashin fairies looked like winged halflings. Then Sashpark showed off her linguistic accident of an insectile fairy form, inspiring spluttered insistences that this was not what a fairy looked like from the small assistant.
When they'd grown bored with looking at the pieces and Gyre had gone back to his crafting, they set off for their next destination.
They were halfway to the Peace Tower when Sashpark suddenly stopped and put her hand on Mallyn's shoulder.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Your mom is songing me," Sashpark said, puzzled.
"Why would she do that?"
"I don't know. All I can tell is that she's songing me. I didn't even know she had my song; I guess Dad must've given it to her at some point."
"Should we go home?" Mallyn asked.
"I guess," Sashpark said. "Should we stop at the shop again? And see what your dad thinks?"
"That sounds like a good idea," said Mallyn, relieved. They could abdicate the decision.
Gyre seemed unnerved too, when Sashpark explained. He finished up the wire he was drawing, told his assistant the shop was in her hands until closing, and then said they were all three going back to Elcenia to see what was wrong.
Nothing was obviously the matter when they reached the house. Ehail was pacing, but Rithka and Cenem were coloring nonchalantly.
"What's the song for?" Sashpark asked.
"It's... I'm not sure," Ehail said. "I was using an analysis to look at a spell in a journal that I wanted to try, and... the wards have been raised. Centrally. I can't move ours even though I'm the ward tie."
"Mom," Rithka said, "I told you, that happens sometimes, it's always a false alarm. It happened once four years ago, and once ten years ago, and once sixteen years ago, and nothing happened."
"But there must be a reason," Ehail said.
"The ward will keep you guys safe," Sashpark said. "Esmaar's impenetrable. Do I have to go home?"
"I think that would be best," Ehail said. "If something does happen -"
"Nothing's going to happen," yawned Rithka.
"- then you should be at home in Reverni. I'll take you," Ehail said, ignoring Rithka.
Sashpark sighed theatrically, planted a kiss on Mallyn, and let Ehail teleport her away.
Ehail came back, still looking nervous, but Mallyn was inclined to listen to Rithka, who'd lived in Esmaar for more than sixty years.
He regretted this choice in the morning.
"A town exploded?" Rithka cried, having glimpsed a headline in the newspaper before Ehail snatched it away.
"They don't know anything yet," Ehail said. "They know something bad happened in Aabalan but not what. Parliament will release a statement soon."
"Should we be here?" Gyre asked. "Should we all go to the circle and stay with my family for a while?"
"The circle is guaranteed to be mobbed," said Ehail. "I could send you all, but then I'd be stuck. We might want to try Prathu's, if we decide we need to leave."
"Is Aabalan... near here?" Mallyn asked.
"What does that matter?" Rithka asked.
"I just - I wanted to know," Mallyn said.
"It's not nearby," Ehail said. "It's very far away. It's closer to Daasen. But Rithka is right, that doesn't matter. If this is going to happen again -"
"Parliament has to have known," said Gyre, "if they raised the wards. Didn't they raise the wards over Aabalan too?"
"They must have," said Ehail.
Rithka squirmed. "Let's go visit Uncle Prathu."
"All right," murmured Ehail. "Everyone, pack as much as you want. I can tuck everything in dragon form if it's too much so don't worry about the weight. And then we'll go. I'll call ahead."
Everyone split up and went to their rooms to bundle up key possessions. Mallyn didn't know if he was supposed to be packing to move or packing to have an overnight visit. In the end he tied his sheet around his modest wardrobe and boxed up all the books he was still working through and left everything else.
Mallyn slept on the couch and Rithka and Cenem shared Sashpark's room, though Sashpark argued it made more sense the other way around. Prathu just remarked that he'd heard Mallyn and Sashpark argue and didn't want to stuff them together into a single room. Ehail and Gyre and Nemaar went into the little guest room. The apartment was crowded, meant for three people and containing nine; everyone spent time outside when they could. Mallyn helped at the cheese shop when Sashpark did, and she amused herself by bossing him around.
They were there for a week, with Ehail performing spellwork to get Gyre to and from his shop most days. They kept an eye on the news, which was obligingly reported in the Lypan Observer.
The statement from Parliament said that Linnip had been behind the attack, that they could do it again, and that they wouldn't if and only if Esmaar surrendered.
Esmaar didn't have much other choice.
"What do you know about Linnip?" Mallyn asked Sashpark.
"They're Aleist and they're kind of a bad place to be a guy in and they have an Empress," said Sashpark. "Most of them have red hair. They wear silly clothes and eat a lot of rice."
"How bad to be a guy there," Mallyn said, "exactly?"
Sashpark frowned. "I don't know. I think it mostly depends on your female relatives? Like, you'll have to put stuff in your mom's name."
"Oh. That's okay then," breathed Mallyn. "If that's all."
"You think you'll move back permanently?"
"I think so. They aren't making it hard to leave, so if we want to, we can, but maybe it's fine," said Mallyn.
"Okay," yawned Sashpark.
"What's Aleism like?"
"I don't remember much about it. There's a goddess. Or five of them. Or something."
That wasn't very helpful. "Oh."
"Let me know how it is when you get settled back in and if it's awful you can just come back here," she went on brightly.
"I think Mom and Dad will decide where we live, but yeah," Mallyn said. "Maybe we'd go here."
"You'd be the only one who'd have to learn a new language. Nemaar's little enough that he'd just grow up speaking Munine if you moved now," said Sashpark.
"Dad would have to, too."
"Oh, right, him. But still," Sashpark said. "But you're going home. I'll help you pack."
"Thanks," said Mallyn.
Nothing was overtly changed. Mallyn went back to his occasional head-start lessons with Korulen. He played kebel with Rithka and her team. He saw soldiers around outside, occasionally, but aside from a single census visit where they wanted to know who lived in the house, they never bothered him. He was still able to enroll in school for Marahel. He picked courses: First Tier Theory, Basic Spells Practicum, Introduction to Kamai, and, because he was still behind on academics all his classmates would probably know, Introduction to World History. Rhysel advised against trying to fit any more classes than that into his first term.
It was with surprise that Mallyn noticed that he'd grown taller than his mother.
It was with more surprise that he realized he'd been in Elcenia for nearly a year.
"What's Draconic for year?" Mallyn asked Rithka.
"Elcenian year? Or any kind of year? Or Barashin year or what?" she asked.
"Elcenian year. It'll be the anniversary of my adoption in about three weeks," he said.
"Nanain," said Rithka. "You know every time I tell you a word it's wrong for about half the ways you could use it? You would say something like 'it's been one nanain', but you wouldn't say 'one nanain ago' or ever talk about more than one nanain. You'd have to decline it differently."
"I still like the words," Mallyn said.
"You're weird," Rithka said.
"That's okay with me," Mallyn said contently.