Chapter Eight: Tiger

Tennel spent more than a month on Allera's side of the ultimatum. After that, Gyre turned up at the shren house (having troubled his sister for a ride through the transfer point) announcing that he'd cracked - he'd heard about the shren adoption business at his town council meeting and that Senator Rysen had two. He'd decided he preferred to swallow his pride and meet his niblings than wait, stubbornly, with Allera.

Allera had gotten the news too, but hadn't budged.

"Tennel wants to meet you," Gyre said. "I told him I'd ask if you wanted to come out again. In the meantime he's at my place, rather than taking the entire trip back to his town from Tyren in one leg."

"This is the first break in ferrying children to Paraasilan I've had all day," Ehail said. "We just got word that they can be adopted. But the ones who're willing to be in the adoption pool are all in Lator house now and I would love to be somewhere else for a while."

"Shall we?" Gyre asked, holding out a hand. "I'm glad they're getting adopted."

"They aren't quite yet," Ehail said, taking his hand. She teleported them to the circle. "They're just boarding in the Lator house so they can be interviewed by prospective families who come in by circle. They're bunking beds and doubling up rooms to accommodate them all but Jensal is very pleased about it."

"I'd imagine," replied Gyre as they walked onto the circle and appeared in Barashi. "How many of the kids are going into the pool?"

"Most of them," Ehail said. "Not all. Some want to... wait, and see if their biological parents come after all."

"Does that happen?" Gyre asked.

"Not after they turn twenty-five," said Ehail. "And one going home at age twenty-four only happened once." She sighed. "And some of them don't want families. Or think they're too old."

"It is more likely that the smaller children will find families than that the older ones will, but there are a lot of people in Aristan and only so many shrens," Gyre said.

"That any of them get homes is amazing," murmured Ehail.

"I was wondering..." Gyre began.


They were nearly to his shop. A redheaded halfblood with a small tuft of beard on his chin was sitting in front of the window of jewelry, playing something on a flute. "Never mind," said Gyre. "Tennel, hello again. This is my girlfriend Ehail."

Tennel stood up and withdrew the flute from his lips and bowed. "Nice to meet you, Ehail," he said. "Ryll told me a little about you."

"Wh-what did she say?" asked Ehail. She bowed back tentatively, surmising that it was the equivalent of shaking hands in cultures she was acquainted with.

"All good things," Tennel assured her. Gyre held open the shop door and they went inside. "I'm afraid I only have a few subs left before my coach leaves, though, and if I don't catch that one, I'm stuck here another two days. I live out in the sticks."

"Do you like it there?" Ehail asked, feeling remarkably inane.

Tennel seemed to like the question, though. "I do. It's quiet, I have a lot of space to myself. It's only inconvenient when I want to see people. So I don't do much of that, which is why I could hold out as long as I did." He sighed and looked at Ehail apologetically. "I've never met you. I have no idea what you do with your magic. I'm just sorry it took me this long to realize I was basing my reaction to real people on scary folktales."

"There are scary folktales about wizards?" Ehail asked blankly.

"No, which makes me feel like even more of a fool," Tennel said. "I still think it made sense to be wary around Rhysel when she'd recently manifested, even if no one was ever actually hurt. I mean, she was slinging fire. But then she stopped. And for all I know, you can't even do anything like that."

"I can't cast any spells in Barashi at all," Ehail said.

"There you go." Tennel sighed. "Well, I'd better head to the coach stop. See you around, Gyre." The brothers hugged and clapped each other on their backs, and Tennel let himself out.

"He seems nice," Ehail said.

"He is," Gyre agreed. "When he's not being reactionary about magic. He was always very big on history, and thousands of years ago some kyma did get up to some remarkably awful things. There was a war. But afterwards, the remarkably awful things were forbidden, and as far as I know no kyma have repeated the behaviors since."

"Oh." For no particular reason, Ehail stepped closer and leaned her cheek on his shoulder. "I love you."

"I love you, too," he said, wrapping his arms around her and kissing the crown of her head.

The door opened; Ehail looked up to see what sort of customer it was. She stepped back when she spotted Arylla, instead. The elf had her characteristic makeup on, and to aid her limited dress in showing herself off, she had both hands clasped behind her back.

"Gyre," purred Arylla. "I figured out what's wrong."

"What's wrong is that you won't leave me alone," growled Gyre. "Go aw-"

"No, no," she said with a mirthless laugh. "What's wrong is her."

"Me?" asked Ehail softly.

Arylla ignored her. "She's done something to you, Gyre, we always got along so well before, I know you looked at me even if you didn't want to admit how you felt..."

"I tolerated you because I knew you'd bully your brother about selling me gems if I didn't, and now I don't care anymore. We didn't get along," Gyre said.

"I'll forgive you for saying that because I know it's all her doing," Arylla crooned. "Some kind of magic. It'll go away when she's gone."

"I've told you to go away without Ehail around, too," Gyre said, rolling his eyes. "Get out of my shop or I'm going to call the Watch."

"You won't want me to go after she's gone," said Arylla, stalking forward. "This will only take a slice and then it'll be all back to normal..."

"What are you talking about?" said Gyre. "No, never mind, I'm going to call the Watch -" He advanced a step.

Arylla's right hand flashed out from behind her back, clutching a carving knife, and she stabbed it towards Ehail's chest.

Ehail turned into a bluejay as soon as she saw the blade approach, several feet out of its way, but Gyre didn't see her do that, and interposed himself in its path.

With a shriek, Arylla buried her knife in his chest, and then her eyes went wide and she pulled it out again, staggered back, and lunged towards Ehail's bird self.

There was blood on the knife.

There was blood on the floor.

There was blood on Gyre, and he was making some half-vocalized sound, not even a word.

Ehail watched Arylla fall towards her and wondered if her silver head hitting the ceiling would kill her if she lost the jay form and force-shifted, and then Gyre twitched and there was no time to wonder that. He hurt and he cared that he hurt, he was injured and he didn't have other shapes to fall back on...

Tiger, Ehail thought, and she was a cat, propelling herself roaring claws-first into the elf without regard to the knife. It glanced off the thick fur as Arylla fumbled it in surprise.

Ehail knocked Arylla into a display case. Arylla's head struck a corner and her eyes rolled back in her head.

"Gyre," said Ehail, nudging his face with her great head where he lay. "Gyre. I need to get you to a light or a kama. Can you get on my back? Can you hold on if I run? I can't wait to catch a coach. I need to carry you. Gyre?" She shifted human and pulled him to a sitting position and shifted again, and he managed to get his arms around her neck and haul himself onto her. "Hold on. Hold on."

She pushed out the door, and broke into a run. Screaming pedestrians parted before her.

The doors to the circle were open. She leapt through, and felt Gyre's grip slipping, but they were on the marked area, and had only to wait -

"Hold on," she said.

"Ehail," he murmured.

The magic noticed them and pulled them across.

"LIGHT!" roared Ehail when they were through. She closed her teeth on the fabric of his shirt and pulled him clear of the circle. "LIGHT!" she repeated. No one in the room had the identifying yellow circles tattooed around their wrists; no one came forward. She flung herself into human form, ran to the mandatory emergency crystal on the wall, and brought her hand down onto it hard enough to open a cut in her palm. "Light!" she shouted again, in case there was one in the complex after all who could arrive faster than the emergency healer.

Another instant went by without help coming. She tried to think of a light's office, any light's office, she might have been to in the last fifty years, that could be counted on to still be standing where she'd seen it - but she hadn't been that sick in ages -

She ran back to Gyre, dropping to her knees and sliding when she was close, but she couldn't bring herself to look at the wound. She didn't know any spells for pain, for bleeding, for healing; those tasks were left to lights and witches. "I need a light!" she cried again. Someone might have a very young light with them, not realize it was urgent, come running if she shouted one more time.

"Hold on," she whispered.

Someone - yellow circles, yes - popped into place at the emergency crystal. "Who needs a -"

"Here!" she cried. "Here!"

The light was an aging human man, and his little globe of sparks was the same red as Gyre's blood, and he pressed it to the wound. Light spread over Gyre's skin in red bolts of magic. Gyre coughed up a spray of blood and gasped. He opened his eyes.

"Gyre," said Ehail.

Gyre gasped again. The light sat back and let his hands drop and the sparks died away. "Is that the only injury here?" asked the light.

"I-I think so," Ehail stammered. "Gyre. Gyre, you stupid man, I would have been fine, even if she'd gotten me -"

"I couldn't -" He gasped again, coughed again. "I couldn't let her hurt you."

"Better me than you, and I'm not saying that because I love you or to be self-sacrificing, I'm saying that because I can shift and because -" The circle complex was crowded; people were watching her. "Because it makes sense, you shouldn't have jumped in front of me."

"Wasn't thinking like that," he said with a rueful smile. "Was thinking - I couldn't let her hurt you."

Ehail bent over him to scoop him into a hug.

"Marry me," she murmured.

"Yes," he said.

"Explain, in your own words, what happened, Ms. -" The Watch officer trailed off, unsure what to make of her name.

"It's just Ehail, sir," said Ehail. "That's the only name I have. No 'Ms.'."

"All right. Ehail. Explain in your own words what happened, please."

"I'm sorry, but where exactly did your partner take my fiancé? He said we'd need to talk to the Watch and I went along; I didn't expect him to be in any sort of trouble..."

"My partner's assessing Mr. Camlenn for injury to see if he needs medical attention, that's all, M- Ehail."

"But I got a light for him."

"This is all extremely irregular and we're just going to play it by the book as best we can, Ehail," said the Watch officer. "Explain what happened, please."

"We were in his shop. This woman he knows, Arylla, came in and -"

"Last name?"

"I don't know it. Gyre probably does. She came in and she was talking about how she thought I'd enchanted him somehow so he wouldn't like her anymore."

"Are you a kama or in possession of kamai ability, Ehail?"

"No." She paused, then said, "I'm a wizard. But I can't do any magic in Barashi. I definitely can't do the things she was saying. Anyway, she said the enchantment would go away if I was gone, and Gyre threatened to call the Watch - I guess that's you - how long does it take to assess him for injury, please?"

"A while, given that he appears completely unharmed without so much as a scab, and he's claiming he was stabbed in the chest," said the Watch officer.

"I got him a light." Ehail glanced around the Watch station. Officers came and went through the doors, front and back, and disappeared up stairs and into rooms. "That's how lights work. There would only be a mark on him if he'd already scarred when he was healed. But there's his blood on his shirt, and on her knife."

"You hadn't gotten to the part about the knife. Please explain in your own words what happened," he said implacably.

"Gyre threatened to call the Watch because he wanted Arylla to go away and she wasn't leaving him alone. And then she came forward and she had a knife held behind her back, I guess it's still in his shop unless someone's moved it, and she tried to stab me. I shifted into a bluejay -"

"This is a wizard power?" asked the officer.

"No. I told you I can't do magic in Barashi."

"Turning into a bluejay sounds like magic to me."

"I meant I can't cast wizard spells, I can't do anything wizardly here. I can turn into a bluejay because I'm - how long does it take to assess him for injury, please, I would like my fiancé here with me now," she said, clenching her fists.

"Because you're what, Ehail?"

She fluffed her hair, not meeting his eyes, and willed him to come to his own conclusions, but apparently that wasn't by the book. "I'm a shren," she said. "We can learn to turn into things. Like this form, or the bluejay one."

"Or a tiger?" asked the officer.

"I haven't gotten to that part yet. I want to see Gyre."

"Ehail, even if he weren't being assessed -"

"I think you're lying," she said.

"Even if," the officer repeated, "he weren't being assessed, we'd need to keep the two of you in separate rooms so you couldn't coordinate a fabricated story, understand?"

"We had all the time we wanted to talk about anything we could have wanted to talk about, before Gyre decided it was important to come and see you!" said Ehail. "Keeping us in separate rooms now won't help."

"Telling me how many clever ways you have to get around our detective work won't help either," said the officer. "What happened next?"

"I turned into a bluejay, so she would have missed anyway, but Gyre didn't see me do it, and he got in the way of the knife," said Ehail. "Arylla stabbed him and I turned into a tiger and knocked her over and then I got him to cling to my back so I could take him to the circle and get him a light. I didn't know where to find a kama around here. And I got him a light and there were dozens of people there to see it happen and he woke up." She glossed over the proposal. That wasn't this fellow's business even if everything else was. "And he said that there was an unconscious, maybe dead, woman lying in his shop and the door had been left wide open and he wanted to come and explain everything to you but I don't know why."

"Can you demonstrate the turning-into-animals thing for me, Ehail?"

"I'm demonstrating it right now," she said testily. "I've turned into a human."

"I mean the bluejay and the tiger, Ehail, since those are the ones in the story. Don't try to rile me, it doesn't look good."

Ehail shifted, jay and then bloodstained tiger and back, just barely slowly enough that he'd have to acknowledge she'd done it. "I want my fiancé now," she said. She sounded shrill. She'd never been involved with any Elcenian law enforcement but she was sure they didn't go about things like this.

"- told you I don't need a medic, but if you insist, will you at least let me see my sister-in-law?" came Gyre's voice down the stairs. The man himself followed, accompanied by another Watch officer in the pale brown uniform that was beginning to annoy Ehail in its own right.

"He doesn't need a medic," said Ehail, getting to her feet. "Can't we go?"

"Ms. Arylla Allysel is in poor condition at the hospital," said the officer who'd been assessing Gyre. She waved him over to Ehail and he crossed the floor to stand by her and put his arm around her shoulders. "The fact that neither of you is injured and she is makes the story about self-defense a little tenuous. We're hoping she wakes up and can give a statement of her own, but..."

"Get her a light," Ehail said. "Or a kama, I know you know how those work. As long as you can keep her from trying again once she's better. Get the light who healed Gyre to tell you how he was hurt. Get anyone who saw me running to the circle to tell you how he was bleeding. Look at her knife. I know you don't have criminological spells here, but just because you don't know how Elcenian magic works -"

"Ms. Ehail, we're doing our best to get to the bottom of this, and being uncooperative or telling us how to do our jobs won't improve the situation," said the male officer, apparently forgetting her lack of title.

"Are we free to go?" Gyre asked.

"Just a few subs, Mr. Camlenn," said the female officer, and she conferred quietly with her partner.

Ehail leaned on him. "Why did we have to come here?" she asked in an undertone.

"I don't like how they're handling it either, but it's better than if they'd had to track us down after finding Arylla unconscious in the shop, I think," he murmured back. "This way we aren't acting guilty. They already know it's a weird situation - a lot of people saw you take me to the circle."

"Why aren't they getting her a kama or a light?" asked Ehail.

"They probably will. It's not typical - there aren't enough kyma to staff every hospital and handle every injury, even every life-threatening injury, and some people wouldn't stand for that anyway - but they want her testimony, and they'll want her to stand trial. So they can justify calling one in," he soothed. "And then as long as there's a kama there already, if she lies about what happened, they won't have as much resistance to involving a mind kama to check her story. I think we'll be fine; we just have to sit through some hassle first. Do you need to get home urgently?"

"Not urgently - things don't break that quickly - but they'll wonder why I'm still gone," she said, wringing her hands once and then instead hugging him. "He made me turn into a bluejay and a tiger for him - I can't turn into my natural form if they ask me, I just can't..."

"They probably don't even have a working treaty with Petar yet," soothed Gyre. "If you have to go, tell them to get in touch with your government and get their permission if they want to hold you. They have to do that if you ask, and they might just let you go rather than try to get ahold of your representatives."

"Okay," she sighed, tucking her head under his chin.

"Your stories check out with each other and with the witness statements we'd already taken in before you got here," announced the female officer. "You aren't under arrest, but I need to ask you to stay in Aristan City until further notice -"

"How long is that?" asked Ehail.

"Depending on how backed up the court system is, possibly one to three tendays."

"I can't stay here that long," Ehail said. Gyre squeezed her hand and she continued, "So, you can ask th-the government of Petar where I have citizenship if they want to let you do that."

"Ehail," said the male officer, "by your own admission you turned into a tiger and attacked a romantic rival who is now hanging on by a thread at the hospital -"

"Arylla does not qualify as Ehail's rival," said Gyre.

The officer ignored him. "- and then fled the country. If she attacked you and your fiancé, and only then, will that be something you're going to get away with. I'm pretty sure whatever kind of country Petar is, they don't take kindly to assault or murder no matter how many whiskers you sprout first."

"If I have to stay in this city, you have to talk to Petar and let them know you're making me do that," said Ehail. Her voice only shook a little. "And they'll tell you to send me home, and maybe they'll be suspicious enough to ask me to tell them I'm not a murderer while someone wearing a lie-detection looks at me and sees if I glow black or not, but they won't strand me for weeks."

The male officer looked like he had a headache and his partner looked like she wanted to go home. "Fine," said the former. "Mr. Camlenn, do you have any problem with staying in town for a few tendays? Can you get ahold of Ehail if we need her to testify later?"

"I don't need to go anywhere out of the city," said Gyre, "unless you want me to get ahold of Ehail sometime when she isn't already here enjoying Aristanian hospitality. She lives in another world."

"Right. That. We can have someone escort you if necessary, will that do?"

"I imagine so," he said. "Within city limits excluding the circle, I'm free to go?"

The female officer nodded, and Gyre and Ehail turned to go, snugly hand in hand.

"I'm sorry that was such an ordeal," Gyre said, picking up the jewelry that Ehail had knocked over with the back of Arylla's head and inspecting the pieces for damage. The Watch had been all over the area moments after Ehail had turned tiger, and nothing seemed to be missing, but a couple of things had new scratches and one bracelet was bent out of shape. "I would have gone alone if I'd known how they'd act."

"I'll be okay," she said. "I should probably see if I can find the emergency light who helped you. He might be willing to come to her 'trial' - that's a thing where some people formally try to figure out whether she's guilty, right? I think they have them in Erubia but I don't know if they're the same."

"Finding that light would be very helpful. Will it be hard to do?"

"I don't think so. I don't know the Esmaarlan light system very well but they probably have ways to locate lights who were at particular scenes. If that doesn't work I can look for him with spells." She sighed. "I really want to stay here with you, but I should probably do that before he forgets all about the incident and can't tell them anything interesting. He probably sees a lot of equally serious injuries every day."

"You're probably right," said Gyre regretfully. "Come back when you can? I can't come fetch you anymore."

"I will," said Ehail, and she gave him a kiss.

"We have a wedding to plan," Gyre reminded her, smiling.

Ehail didn't know whether to faint or grin at him. She settled for kissing him again and then pulling away to go back to her own world.