Chapter Twelve: Lalti

Ehail figured out that Mallyn liked Draconic words, and used them to distract him from the chaotic crowding while they shopped for school supplies. It worked fairly well; he focused on memorizing them instead of on how many people thronged the stores.

"You'll need a bag - atlo - for your books - kez," she muttered as she looked at the shopping list. "It should be reasonably big, to hold all those texts and notebooks and whatever else you want to put in it. Do you want to pick it out yourself?"

"You can pick," Mallyn said. "What's Draconic for 'school'?"

"Lalti," Ehail said after a moment's thought. She peered at the selection of bags, and got something serviceable in slate-blue canvas that could be worn over one shoulder and under the other. "All right. I think we should get you some more clothes -"


"You're taller again."

"Isn't there a spell? There's spells for everything." And workings for other things, like transferring some CC from Rhysel's apprentice to him, but clothing alteration seemed more wizardy than kymic.

"Alteration spells are no good for lengthening sleeves and pants unless the caster has knowledge about clothes that I don't, I'm afraid. You can see if your wizarding teacher will help you with one if it really bothers you. But we can hold it down to a few outfits if you're getting tired. Remember if we need to make another trip before school starts, we have to bring Nemaar and the girls along; your father can't take off work too often or he'll fall behind."

"I'm a little tired," Mallyn admitted. Ehail had coaxed him along with words the whole way - bekhorlt for the kind of spontaneity that applies to kamai, mueke for "teacher" and reth for "student", yoara for "wizard". He would start forgetting them if it went on much longer.

"Okay. Three new shirts, temet, three new pairs of pants, viarr, and then we'll go home," Ehail said.

"Casaith," Mallyn said. That one he'd learned from Rithka. It meant something like "okay, all right".

Ehail smiled at him, and he followed her to the next store.

Mallyn looked at his schedule. It was tucked away in his pocket, only not discarded in case he wanted to show it to someone else - he was just calling up the memory of what it looked like. Theory and kamai met every day except the schoolwide breaks each week. Basic Spells met on Inen, Saanen, and Fenen, and World History on Arnen and Sinen. So each class day would have three classes, starting with kamai (so he would need to eat plenty of breakfast) and ending with theory.

Going over this in his head made it a little less scary.

Just three classes, and then he'd go home.

Mallyn took a deep breath, and stepped away from the lift to find his first classroom.

The room was crowded; there were twenty-five students in each of the two introductory classes, he'd heard, and half of them had arrived before him. But they were all sitting at desks, not milling around. He was fine. He sat up front and wouldn't have to look at more than the few in his row, plus the teacher. He'd been placed in the class that Rhysel taught to start, although since introductory courses handled several disciplines there was a rotation between more than one instructor and later he'd have someone else.

Rhysel arrived a little before class was due to start, and she patted Mallyn on the head on her way to the head of the room. He wished she hadn't done that. Everyone would assume that she'd treat him differently for being her nephew.

When classtime arrived, Rhysel called roll. Names flew past Mallyn's ears. He was never going to remember who any of these people were - he'd mix up the wolf and the rider - he had no hope of pronouncing the vampire syllables - he'd confuse the last name of one Min with the other - he'd call the wrong Saasnil by her nickname - he'd better just not talk to anyone.

Sure, he thought to himself. That's one way to make friends in school.

Rhysel passed out syllabi. Mallyn had a moment of terrible dreamlike blankness at the Leraal writing, before it resolved into words and he exhaled. Handfire. Mindspeech. Water conjuration. Transfer point use. Surface visual illusions. Animal-calming and animal-calling. Line-of-sight death kamai (for insects). Flight, or, free study unit.

Such a lot of things. He only knew the first two. If only something else had been first, he could have lagged behind on that like he was guaranteed to do and then caught up while everyone else breezed through handfire and mindspeech.

Mallyn swallowed.

"Okay," said Rhysel. "Let's get started. We'll get to handfire today if we have time, but first I want to talk about - what is kamai? What do kyma do, and how?"

She talked about tellyn conduits, and the three kinds of tones, and what materials each kind of kamai used for its tools (stone for elemental, wood for wild, crystal for image, bone for death, and metal for mind). She spoke sternly on the subject of forbidden kamai: "The curriculum will try not to mention it at all. However, some acceptable workings are very similar to forbidden ones - similar enough that you could figure out the latter on your own - and there we'll tell you what you are not to do. If you practice forbidden kamai, it'll be the last kamai you ever learn."

"That doesn't make sense," a halfling boy said. "What if we learned the forbidden working, and then learned something else, and then did the forbidden kamai?"

"Fine," Rhysel said darkly. "I'll put it another way. I've been charged by the Barashin gods to keep kamai on Elcenia under control. If I find out one of my students has used forbidden kamai, he or she will be stopped, even if I have to kill him or her. You'll get comparable guarantees from your other teachers. Forbidden kamai is not something fun you can get away with. It is nasty stuff that has been placed off-limits for sound reasons. If you look like you don't take me seriously by the time we get to those sections, I will ask Corvan, the mind kamai instructor, to enforce it with mental blocks. Is that clear?"

"Clear," squeaked the halfling.

"What if it's a mistake?" asked a human girl. "If we read ahead before you get to warning us, or we invent something you never mentioned, or we forget -"

"Well," Rhysel said. "If it's a sincere mistake - then it won't be hard for me to stop you, will it. Certainly it wouldn't come to a huge fight."

The human nodded, pursing her lips.

Rhysel moved on and talked about the approach differences between the five disciplines, and the options for specialization.

Mallyn took notes with his brand-new graphite stick in his brand-new notebook, so he could memorize what Rhysel said effectively. Over the course of the class, he calmed down.

They didn't get to handfire after all. His classmates had too many questions, and Rhysel didn't seem at all inclined to cut them off so she could get to the balls of light lesson. Mallyn filled four squares of paper with a near-verbatim transcript of the entire class.

"Hey," said a voice at his elbow, after Rhysel declared the class over.

"Hmm?" Mallyn looked up, and then discovered that "up" was the wrong direction; the kid who'd addressed him was the halfling who'd complained about Rhysel's wording. Of course he couldn't remember the other boy's name.

"You take a lot of notes," observed the halfling.

"Yeah," Mallyn said. "I remember stuff better when I see it than when I hear it."

"I have terrible handwriting. Can I study from your notes sometimes? I don't need to today, but if there's something complicated later."

"Uh, sure," Mallyn said. He would never need to look at the notes on paper more than once anyway.

"Your name was Malin, right?"

"Mallyn." The pronunciation was just a little differently accented. "Yeah. Um, I don't remember yours."

"Eran. Eran Kang," said the halfling, peering at Mallyn's notes. "You have really good handwriting."

It was mostly stolen from a combination of Ehail and professional calligraphers who copied out books, but Mallyn said "Thanks," anyway.

"You're welcome. Is this your first term here, or just first term in kamai?"

"I'm new altogether," Mallyn said. "I'm doing wizardry too. I have my practicum next in a half angle."

"Aw, everyone's doing wizardry, but kamai's still really new," Eran said. "That's why I'm just focusing on this. So I can have a chance at distinguishing myself, you know."

"My mom is a wizard," Mallyn explained.

"So's mine, but she just repairs people's stoves and whatnot. Most people don't have what it takes to do anything interesting in wizardry and it takes years of studying it to figure that out. But since there's only, what, a couple hundred people in kamai classes ahead of us, we don't have to be super-special to do neat kamai things."

"Well, I'm doing both to start," Mallyn said, shrugging. "I might stop one or the other."

"Up to you. I don't have anything else today but I'm staying on campus anyway. Maybe I'll see you at lunch." Eran touched his thumb to his temple in some sort of gesture Mallyn didn't recognize, and scampered off.

Mallyn packed up his notebook, and the class text that he'd taken out for no reason, and got up so he could find his next room.

The practicum instructor knew that no one had picked up any gestures yet, since those were - for some reason - covered in theory courses. So instead he passed out syllabi and talked about some of the spells they were going to cover. He also introduced them to the class's cageful of test mice and reminded everyone that botching a spell could kill one so they ought to be very careful. He also showed them the other testing targets: blocks, papers, pillows, boxes, sticks, cups that could be filled from a waterspout, "and the very air around you - and yourselves, once you're steady enough to try that!"

Then, with most of an angle left to go in the class period, he dismissed them.

Mallyn would normally have gone to lunch after the practicum, but he wasn't hungry yet, so instead he sat in the hallway and read ahead in his theory textbook and tried moving his hand through the first five gestures. He wasn't sure how long they were going to spend on each batch, but knowing five couldn't hurt him, even if he couldn't get through the entire first lesson on those alone.

"Why are you sitting in the hall?" asked a - leonine. Mallyn couldn't tell boy leonines from girl leonines until they got a bit older than this one. The clothes were no help; he'd seen adult leonines of both genders wearing that exact kind of skirtlike wrap. Perhaps pants didn't work very well with legs that bent that way or it was a cultural thing.

"I'm studying," Mallyn said.

"Why don't you do that in the library, though?" the leonine asked.

"It didn't occur to me," Mallyn admitted.

"I was going there anyway," the leonine said. "Come on."

Mallyn stood up and followed the leonine to the lift. "Uh," he said. "What's your name?"

"Aaseth Nesh-har," came the reply, which was no help at all, because "seth" was a unisex name ending. "Library!" The lift started trundling along.

Mallyn scrunched his eyes shut. "This is a really embarrassing question, but I can't tell if you're a boy or a girl," he said.

Aaseth laughed. "You won't have that problem next year. I'll start growing a mane and my voice'll drop."

"Thanks," breathed Mallyn.

"You seriously can't tell? I can tell what you are."

"I don't think girls usually get this tall, at my age, or tend to cut their hair this short," Mallyn said as the lift shuddered to a stop. "So that'd help if you couldn't tell by my face or the fact that I'm wearing pants."

"Nah, none of that," said Aaseth. "You just smell different."

"Ah-huh," said Mallyn.

"I don't mean you smell bad," Aaseth said. "Just not like a girl."

"I guess that's one way to tell," Mallyn said diplomatically.

Aaseth laughed and plopped down into a beanbag near the library lift entrance. Mallyn picked one nearby and took out his book again.

"But it's weird," Aaseth said, "that boy elves and humans and halflings and vampires and so on cut their hair around here. It's the other way round some places even for those species, or at least it's not gender-based some other places, so what's up with Esmaar? It makes you look girly."

"I look girly?" Mallyn said.

"With the short hair, a little. You're old enough you'd probably have a mane longer than that by now if you were me instead."

"If I were you instead, I'd be your age," said Mallyn.

Aaseth chuckled. "You know what I meant."

Mallyn shrugged. "I like my hair this way. I should probably get it cut soon, actually."

"I have that same textbook. I mean, plus the Supplement for Leonines, since my fingers work different," Aaseth said, in obvious lieu of laughing at Mallyn's aesthetics. "First tier?"

"Yeah. I have theory in about an angle and a half, so I'll have lunch soon."

"I have theory in an angle and a half too," Aaseth said.

"Aaral Fenbin?" Mallyn asked tentatively.

"Aaral Fenbin," repeated Aaseth.

"Cool," Mallyn remarked.

Aaseth grinned with sharp teeth.

Lunch was good; Mallyn sat with Aaseth and watched his new friend eat a half-raw steak with nothing whatsoever on it, and Aaseth watched with equal repulsed interest when Mallyn ate a cabbage-and-egg stirfry.

They accompanied each other to Aaral Fenbin's first tier theory course, and sat next to each other, but they couldn't be of much help to each other since Aaseth was mostly working out of the Supplement for Leonines. (He showed Mallyn how he could extend and retract his claws, which Mallyn found unduly fascinating but which seemed like more trouble than it was worth for a would-be wizard.)

The class covered only the gestures for one, two, and three units, plus the pronunciation for number reads and an explanation of the Two Essential Spell Features (gesture to measure and pull power, word to select spell). The syllabus had them learning the regular gestures up to one hundred units for the first four weeks. This was nineteen gestures in total (one through ten, and then up by tens), at a rate of two or three a day, and with one lesson in the middle devoted to combining multiples of ten with single digits for results like 22.

Then they'd cover other theory subjects, go back to gestures and learn those for 200, 300, and, for those of them with sufficient CC, 400 and 500. This would sting, and induce spell-flinch, which they'd be expected to train away in their practica while they were still dealing mostly with smaller, safer spells. There was another more academic segment, and then the class concluded with Voyan numbers.

Someone, mercifully, wanted to know more about sting and spell-flinch; Mallyn couldn't figure out how to ask. Ehail hadn't been able to tell Mallyn much about that. She was as inured to channeling sting as she was to other kinds of pain, and had never had to work through a period of flinching away from something that felt so trivial to her.

Aaral Fenbin explained that while wizards didn't spend most of their time casting spells that were big enough to sting much, they did do it sometimes. That led them to subconsciously expect even smaller spells to hurt, and that caused botched gestures or stammered words. Messing up small spells was just embarrassing; messing up big ones was more dangerous than just sting. So, early on, they were exposed to enough sting via number reads to provoke this hesitancy, and then practiced following through on small, first-tier spells until it went away. Aaral Fenbin said that it was very rare for anyone to have to do this more than once.

Mallyn hoped he did not have to do it more than once.

Aaral Fenbin taught them to pronounce the number read spell, which accompanied by any gesture would display a number in the air corresponding to the amount of power pulled. She had them all able to display the first three numbers by the time she let them go, which was four degrees past the official end of class.

"My hands hurt," said Aaseth. "The supplement says that'll go away in about a month if I practice an average amount though."

"Just in time to start dealing with spells big enough to sting," remarked Mallyn.

Aaseth winced. "Well," he said. "If being a wizard didn't hurt, my brothers would make fun of me for doing it."

"That's not very nice," Mallyn said.

Aaseth shrugged. "They're bigger than me, they can do what they want. Till I learn some good spells."

"I saw a sign for practice rooms in the library," Mallyn said. "Do you want to go work on the number reads some more?"

"Yeah," Aaseth said.

The first room they tried contained a pair of boys, neither of whom was wearing a shirt; Mallyn couldn't think of any good practice-related reason for that to be, but he closed the door at once when they snapped at him. He heard them muttering to each other about how the practice rooms should come with wards like dorms did.

The second room they tried contained Eran.

"Hi, Eran," Mallyn said. "Uh, what are you practicing? We didn't even get to handfire today."

"Yeah, I know," he said. "I'm trying to see if I can get it to work without being told how. I've seen it done, but, no luck so far. Who's... that?"

"This is Aaseth," Mallyn said. Eran nodded but still had the puzzled expression. "He's a boy."

"Oh," said Eran.

Aaseth laughed. "This school is going to get awfully tedious before I get my mane. At home people could tell because there's more leonines in the neighborhood and they got used to us, I guess, but there's not so many here. Should I wear a sign?"

"Might help," said Eran. "Or pants."

"I don't wear pants," Aaseth said.

"Up to you," said Eran.

"I know how to do handfire," Mallyn said. "Do you want me to show you?"

"You two do that, I'll work the cramp out of my thumb," Aaseth said, taking a seat, and Mallyn grinned.

Mallyn learned to change the color on his handfire, which he hadn't done when he was only using it as a spontaneous-reaction trigger. He got more efficient and learned to control his volume better when using mindspeech. He conjured water, read transfer point signatures and hopped from one to the other, and started the long unit on illusions.

He got all the assigned gestures down, with some out-of-class help. Aaseth wasn't useful there, but Ehail was. He was better at the academic theory, though, memorizing charts and names and categories.

He didn't get any of the test mice killed, which was about the best thing he could say about his performance in the practicum. Two other students were doing worse than he was. Ehail said some people took a while to get the knack of casting, and she didn't want him to get discouraged, but he could stop next term if he wanted to.

When the teacher who traded classes with Rhysel for the unit on visual illusions took a day off to attend someone's wedding, Rhysel combined the absent teacher's class with her own and took all fifty kids on a field trip to see the Hub.

"On Barashi," Rhysel said, "the Hub is a huge, old chamber under one of the poles. But since Elcenia doesn't have any land connection to Barashi, it needs its own. If we ever colonize the moon, that'll need one too."

"Where are we?" asked a girl with scarlet-red hair.

"A couple of miles under the northwest corner of the world," Rhysel said, smiling with satisfaction at the dim chamber she'd brought them down to. Illusion crystals that he recognized from Rhysel's quick overview of common kymic tools glowed with false light. The Hub seemed bigger than it needed to be, perhaps just because much was left in shadow.

It was a circular room, oriented around a dais with a table that was also a huge map of Elcenia. The landmasses seemed to be made of crystal, a different color for each country, and the water looked like actual water with more crystal below. Rhysel walked up to the map and showed them how the table's two legs were connected with a rod that went through the map, allowing it to spin and show the underside.

"What's the crystal for?" someone asked.

"What's the Hub for?"

"Does it just map where transfer points are? What good is that?"

"It doesn't just do that," Rhysel said merrily. She flipped the map back right-side-up and poked at Esmaar. A blown-up illusion of the country sprang into existence over the main map. It was sprinkled with colors and black speckles. "If you touch a country," she said, "it does this. A colored region - like here over Paraasilan - means there's another illusion nested beyond it, with more detail, because there are a lot of points there. The black spots are those transfer points. And if you touch a spot, the Hub will impart the signature of the transfer point to you."

"Does this have all of them?" inquired a boy from the image kamai class.

"Not private points, like the one inside my tower," Rhysel said. "And not points that may have been made without anyone telling me or putting them here themselves."

"We can add points?" asked Eran, who didn't seem to be able to see.

<Do you want me to pick you up?> Mallyn asked.

<I'll learn to fly and then I won't have this problem. For now? Sure,> Eran sent. Mallyn hoisted up the halfling and set him on his own shoulders.

"You'll learn to make your own transfer points later, if you continue on with elemental kamai for a few years," Rhysel said. "Adding things to the Hub is a little more complicated still. You need some mind kamai - to embed the signature in the metal plate inside the map. And some image kamai to make the spot show up. But those things can be done by separate people. I worked with Eryn and Bryn to make this."

Everyone took turns crowding around the map and looking at closeups of spots around the world. There was at least one in each country except Erubia and the merfolk nations. When Mallyn had jostled up to the front of the crowd - and put Eran down, so he could look too - he touched one in Lypan, which might be walking distance from Sashpark's house.

He saw one in Mekand, too.

It was near the little bay along which Sashpark said their grandparents made their home.

Mallyn touched that one, too.