Chapter One: Arrival

Rhysel dragged herself the mile's walk back to her tower on foot. She was too weary to fly. Even in a crisis, most of her neighbors were too skittish about magic to let her tap them for energy. After a crisis, there was no chance of it, especially when she hadn't gotten there in time to save everyone and they were feeling more grief than gratitude. She pulled energy out of the earth where she set her feet. Sleep - and then an enormous breakfast - would be the only complete solution to her fatigue.

Past her threshold, she let her satchel slide off her shoulder and fall half-open onto the floor. She took a look at the steep staircase that spiraled up the inner wall of her tower, which had no banister. Then she collapsed on her couch, instead.

She was almost certain that the sole casualty had been dead before the messenger had even arrived at her door to tell her about the collapse. She couldn't have saved him. Almost certain.

Eventually exhaustion won over the sliver of remaining uncertainty, and Rhysel slept.

When Rhysel woke up, her first thought was that she had to have fallen off the sofa and onto the floor, which would explain why she was no longer on a cushioned surface. She didn't feel like she'd gotten a full night's sleep, though bright sun was plain even through her closed eyelids. With a yawn, she sat up and looked around.

She was on the floor.

She was not in her tower.

Standing over her were two girls (she judged them fourteen and twelve), one a blonde elf and one a darker human. They looked at her like she was somehow fascinating - what could be fascinating about a sleepy halfblood in yesterday's clothes, Rhysel didn't know, except possibly whatever had brought her to this place to begin with. After a moment, they turned towards each other and started jabbering rapidly over one another in a language Rhysel didn't recognize.

The room had an institutional character - beige walls, wood floor, a window in one wall and a door in the other, matching pairs of beds and desks and shelves. "Excuse me," said Rhysel, rubbing at her eye with one fist, "where am I and how did I get here?"

The girls looked at her again, and then chattered a few more sentences back at each other. The elf started running her finger along the spines of books on the nearest shelf, humming to herself. "No Martisen?" Rhysel inquired. "Do you speak Eashiri? Trollspeak?" she added when that didn't elicit a different reaction, though her Trollspeak was barely passable.

The human girl held up a hand in an unfamiliar gesture and said another word. Rhysel thought for a moment that she'd have done better to learn mind magic than elemental; then she'd have a hope of figuring out what the girls were trying communicate.

Rhysel hauled herself to her feet, glad that she hadn't mustered the impetus to change into nightclothes the prior night. She tried to take a step towards the bookshelf the blonde was scanning, to check if she recognized any of the letters in the titles, but found her progress blocked by an invisible wall that left a stinging spot on her forehead.

"Wha-" Cautiously, she felt the barrier with her hand. It had no texture and no temperature: it just stopped her palm from pressing beyond it. She was starting to suspect that the girls were responsible for having brought her in - which was surprising, since at their ages they couldn't have been studying magic for more than three years between them. They didn't look threatening. The wall was the first thing to make her feel afraid: if she couldn't get out of the room and onto open ground, she couldn't find a transfer point, or even make one of her own, in which case she'd have a much harder time getting home.

On the floor, running along the curve of the wall, was a pair of concentric circles in red chalk. Between them was a ring of bewildering symbols, a couple of which resembled Martisen letters but most likely out of sheer coincidence. "Look, this isn't funny. Let me out of here." She knocked, carefully, on the barrier, which didn't make any sound. "...Eryn, if this is one of your pranks..." Waking her up in an imaginary dormitory with illusory children who didn't speak any of the major languages wasn't her blood sister's style, exactly, but Eryn was the most likely culprit for any such thing. Then again, maybe it wasn't anything so innocuous as a prank.

The blonde found the book she was looking for and plucked it from the shelf, then flipped through it. It was square, not the long rectangle book shape Rhysel was used to. The elf muttered something to the human, who nodded and repeated the gesture to Rhysel she'd made before.

Rhysel folded her arms and waited, frowning at the girls. After a few moments, the blonde found the page she'd been looking for, studied it, and then set down the volume to trace a shape in the air with one hand and utter more nonsense.

"Can you understand us now?" the brown-skinned girl inquired eagerly, leaning towards Rhysel but not getting too close to the transparent wall.

"Yes," said Rhysel. "Now: tell me what's going on. How did I get here? Where is here?"

"Me and Korulen summoned you!" exclaimed the human gleefully, clapping her hands together.

"You're in our room," added the elf, "in our school. We only need you for a little while and then we can unsummon you." Then she bit her lip. "Uh, Saasnil, better go get Nemaar soon. My mom just pinged me again and she's going to start getting curious about why I'm not answering in a degree."

"Okay," Saasnil agreed, and she started for the door before Rhysel could ask if she might be let out of her cylindrical prison. When she pulled it open, there was an elven man standing in her way, hand poised to knock; lines on his face made Rhysel place him at nine centuries, if not older. "Uh," said Saasnil, turning her head to look at Rhysel as though contemplating hiding her under a comforter. "...Hi, Aar Inular."

"Daddy," said Korulen with a sheepish expression, folding her hands behind her back. On inspection, she and the man did look very similar.

"Korulen," said Aar Inular, "what have you done?"

"It was only going to be for a few degrees," Korulen said defensively. "Nemaar was being a brat and we were going to prove that we could -"

"Excuse me, sir," Rhysel interrupted, raising her voice. "If you need to discipline them, that's fine, but can you do it after I am let free and shown to a transfer point?"

Aar Inular met Rhysel's eyes. "Just one moment, please. I'm sorry about this," he said, and then, after looking over the symbols in the circle at her feet, he faced his daughter again. "Korulen, that circle looks to me like a five-hundred-fifty-unit spell. You didn't cast that alone."

"No, we did it together," Korulen replied. "Saasnil learned to co-cast last term, it was perfectly safe -"

"Saasnil's casting abilities are not the problem," said Aar Inular gravely. "Nor is the primary problem that you have summoned an outworlder without any regard to the protocols on how to do that ethically. The problem is that you can't co-cast a reversal."

"Oh," squeaked Korulen, paling. "Then - then -"

"I don't understand," said Saasnil.

"Nor do I," said Rhysel. "And frankly I'd be willing to skip figuring it out if it let me get home sooner. I'm starving, I have a funeral to attend, I never put in for leave and someone could drop by my tower any moment needing help..."

Aar Inular inhaled deeply, and turned back to Rhysel. "They can't reverse your summoning spell," he said. "The upshot of which is..."

"You can't go home," whispered Korulen, wide-eyed with guilt.

Everyone talked over each other, Saasnil shrieking that she didn't want to be expelled and Korulen babbling something about a familiar and Aar Inular attempting to calm both girls down while Rhysel got halfway through another demand that she be let free. She clamped her mouth down after the fourth word, though, sure no one could hear her.

"Stop, both of you," snapped Aar Inular, finally quieting both children. "Shouting at me won't help anything." He looked up at Rhysel, who was a couple of inches taller than him. "What is your name?" he inquired.

"Rhysel Camlenn," she replied. "And you're... Ahr Inular?" She couldn't quite produce the throaty, drawn-out ah that the girls had used when addressing him.

"The 'Aar' is a title; you can call me Kanaat," he invited. "My wife will be here in just a short time; she has some other things to take care of before she can get away, but once she's arrived, she'll be able to confirm that you're not hazardous and then we can at least let you out of the circle."

"That would be appreciated, yes," Rhysel sighed, aiming for dry wit but missing the mark. She touched the wall again; it was a novel sensation, if nothing else, to watch her fingers slide over nothing, without resistance in any direction but outward. "I'm not going to hurt anyone - well, barring self-defense - but I don't understand why you're saying I can't go home. Can't you just show me to a transfer point? I can travel the rest of the way myself; I'm a kama." If she wasn't home in time for the funeral for the one she hadn't saved, she'd just be failing the lost man over again.

"What's a transfer point?" asked Saasnil.

"You're not in your world," Korulen murmured. "Some of your magic might work, but I don't think you have the power to unsummon yourself."

"I'm... are you saying you got me from my tower to another world?" exclaimed Rhysel, starting to feel a little faint. No kama had the power to pull objects or people from planet to planet. None she'd ever heard of, anyway. If distant worlds also harbored kyma who had learned more than her colleagues had... "Then... then you're right, even if I made a transfer point, it wouldn't work." Contiguous solid ground was required (even if some of it was underwater). One could transfer from any land-based point on Barashi to any other, with a couple of exceptions on floating islands too small to bother with anyway, but if this wasn't Barashi she was stuck unless the locals could send her home.

"I'm sorry," said Korulen desperately. "Daddy, could someone break the summon...?"

"It's worth a try, I suppose," said Kanaat, but he didn't sound hopeful. "Aar Kithen is skilled with breaks and we could try your uncle - but co-castings are vastly more difficult to break than ordinary spells. Korulen, we'll put you in a breakings class early, next term, and you can try it yourself, possibly to better effect than someone else, but some people simply aren't any good at it. If you can't pull it off we'll have to accelerate Saasnil too."

"Okay..." Rhysel's brain caught up with the statement that some of her magic might work, and she quickly conjured a globe of red handfire to float in front of her. The energy she'd recovered with sleep was more than enough for the task, though she was still hungry. The magic responded normally to her will.

"What's that?" Saasnil asked, staring at the heatlessly burning ball of light.

"Handfire," Rhysel said shortly. "So that works... there's a limit to what I can try, in this circle."

"Keo will be here..." began Kanaat, and then beside him appeared (instantly, as though by transfer, though that was impossible on a wood floor) a young human woman with sea-green hair. Rhysel blinked to see that the newcomer's eyebrows, too, were green - it was either the work of magic or a very thorough dye job. "Now," he finished.

"Hello, Rhysel," said the green-haired woman, presumably Kanaat's wife Keo. Rhysel wasn't clear on how Keo knew her name, but supposed some magic was going on invisibly and filed the question away to ask later. "I apologize on our daughter's and student's behalves. She never should have summoned you without your permission. But as long as you're an unknown quantity, we can't take you out of the ward without making sure it's safe. Do you object if I do a quick, minimally-invasive scan of your mind? You won't feel it and I won't alter a thing, I'll just look," Keo promised.

Rhysel shifted uncomfortably, but after thinking about it for a moment she didn't have much choice and it didn't sound that different from what mind kyma did all the time, to speed up conversations or detect hostility. She'd had kamai-augmented conversations herself, albeit usually with her Master or other people she knew and trusted. "Fine," she said.

Keo closed her eyes, but only for the duration of a slow blink. Then she stepped forward and, with the toe of her sandal, smudged a gap in the outer ring of red chalk.

Rhysel put her arm in front of her to confirm that the barrier was gone, and then walked out of the circle. "You're a mind kama?" she asked the green-haired woman.

"Mmm... no, but close," Keo said. "Why don't you and I and Kanaat go to his office to talk? It will be more comfortable than a dorm room. We will deal with the girls later. After they have turned over their summoning chalk, of course." Keo held out her hand in Korulen's direction without looking at the young elf, who hunched her shoulders guiltily and pulled out a stick of red chalk from under the corner of her bedspread. She put it in her mother's hand, and Keo tucked the chalk into a pocket of her dress, still looking pleasantly at Rhysel.

"All right," said Rhysel. Her stomach growled, and she added, "I could really use breakfast. I had a very draining evening, yesterday."

"I-I can get you something," volunteered Korulen shakily, "and bring it to you in Daddy's office. What do you eat?"

"Just about anything," Rhysel said. Then, thinking of some of the weirder restaurants she'd encountered, she amended that to, "Well, I don't know what passes for normal here, but..."

"I'll just get a bunch of different things," Korulen said, and then she ducked around her parents and fled the room. Saasnil appeared to cast about for something helpful to do. Coming up with nothing, she sat on her bed and tucked her feet under her, looking apologetically at Rhysel.

"This way," said Keo, and Rhysel followed the couple out of the office.

The hallway on which Korulen and Saasnil's room was located had twenty idiosyncratically-decorated similar rooms on either side of the corridor, a window at one end, and an unadorned door at the other. Keo and Kanaat ushered Rhysel towards that door, which opened to a cramped little room lacking other exits. "This is called a lift," Keo explained. "It'll take us anywhere in the school. In this case..." She closed the door behind her, and then said, "Headmaster's office!" in a clear voice.

The little room fell - well, it didn't fall, but it descended, a little more rapidly than Rhysel would have expected even if Keo had warned her that it was going to do that. A moment later, it lurched to the right, then traveled backwards, then rose farther than it had fallen. "They take a little getting used to," Keo said, seeing the unsettled expression on Rhysel's face.

"I can imagine," Rhysel said. "I used to cliff-dive, I still fly regularly, but..."

"It's better than the stairs," said Keo. The lift shuddered to a stop, and the door swung open of its own accord to reveal Kanaat's office. The desk, arrayed with overlapping square papers, was shaped like a half-ring, and the walls were completely occupied by bookshelves, except for the one that was a single pane of glass open to a green prairie beyond. The three of them stepped out of the lift, which shut itself once Rhysel's foot was clear.

Keo pulled up two chairs from the corner of the room and Kanaat went to sit behind his desk. After Rhysel had sat down, Keo opposite her, Keo said, "So. I can summarize everything from the top, or you could ask questions and get info in whatever order you prefer - I'm sure this is really confusing."

"Very. I'm somewhat expecting to go into shock," Rhysel said, shaking her head. "I don't know why I'm still so calm at this point. Before I realized... how far away this is, I thought it was just an inconvenience. A couple of irresponsible young kyma playing with magic too advanced for them... speaking of which, everything that you all have said about magic since I arrived has gone completely over my head. It must be very different here."

Keo's mouth quirked up on one side. "More so than you're thinking. Korulen and Saasnil aren't kyma. We don't technically have kyma - we have a lot of different kinds of magic. The kind that brought you here is called 'wizardry'."

Whatever magic Korulen had done to make Rhysel able to communicate with the others failed to capture this last word, which came through with more of the unfamiliar long aas that were characteristic of the local language.

Keo went on: "The kind that's keeping you calm right now - which I will stop if you ask me to, but I don't recommend that - is called 'empathy'. There are more, but those are the relevant ones for right now."

"And this is... not kamai?" asked Rhysel.

"Uh, what do you speak besides what you've been speaking? Maybe there's another language that has the needed vocabulary," said Keo.

"Eashiri and a little Trollspeak," said Rhysel.

Keo paused, then said, "Hang on, I'm getting Korulen to undo your current translation spell. We'll put another one on after having this conversation, but I can speak all the languages you can and it'll be easier without the spell in my way."

"She can do that from however far away?" asked Rhysel.

Keo nodded. "You heard Kanaat talking about reversals earlier - that's basically doing a spell backwards, to undo its effects. Normally, someone who'd been summoned would be sent back that way. The problem is that Korulen and Saasnil cast the spell together. Neither one has the capacity to cast that specific one on her own. But you can't undo a spell cooperatively, and it takes as much capacity to undo one as it does to cast it in the first place."

"And there's no other way to send me home?" Rhysel asked.

"There are ways," Keo said. "You aren't stuck here forever. But the ways to unsummon you are all long shots, take a long time, or both. One possibility is that someone breaks the spell. This is hard under the best of circumstances, harder when breaking a spell someone else cast, and absurdly difficult when it's a co-cast spell, but when Aar Kithen's done with his class I'll call him in here and ask him to try - breaks are a talent of his - and if that doesn't do it, I'll call in my brother, who's an excellent wizard and might have a shot at it. If that doesn't work, we'll teach the girls breaks earlier than the curriculum recommends and they can try, but the odds are against them being able to do it either. If that fails, we have to wait until at least one of the girls graduates from school and can legally get a familiar, which increases capacity and might do so enough that one of them could reverse the spell by herself."

Rhysel nodded slowly, accepting for the time being that half of everything Keo said was going to sound like nonsense, then said, "You were saying something about kamai?"

Keo tilted her head and did another slow blink, like the one that had accompanied her mental scan, and then said in fluent Eashiri, "Kamai is one kind of magic. We only have other kinds of magic." The term she used for "magic" was obscure and Rhysel took a moment to recall what it meant - it was used to refer to a catch-all category of kamai, divine intervention, certain properties of animals, and fictional powers from unpopular genres of stories. And, apparently, the things the people of this world could do.

"Okay..." said Rhysel. "How is that you speak Eashiri? I've never heard of your world before and don't see how you could have learned it."

"I didn't exactly learn it," said Keo, switching to Martisen with the topic of magic out of the way. "I'm not a human, in case the hair didn't give it away. My species can just speak every language there is. It's pretty handy sometimes."

"Are you a god?" Rhysel asked, blinking rapidly. Keo's name didn't belong to any of the twenty-four. And Rhysel half-expected the messenger goddess to appear in the room (wielding a spiked club with which to punctuate a lesson about heresy) for even making the suggestion. But gods were the only creatures with such powers Rhysel had ever heard of. Then again, Keo had no divine presence bowling mortals over with sheer charisma from across the room, and her ears looked round to Rhysel where any god's would have looked like her own halfblood points.

"No," said Keo. "I'm a... I don't think I'm the same kind of dragon you have at home, but I'm a dragon, not a god."

Korulen chose that moment to emerge from the lift, carrying two square, sectioned plates full of miscellaneous food. She handed both to Rhysel, avoiding eye contact, and then pointed to an item. "Denevar kath imsaal -" She stopped, smacked herself in the forehead, and looked at her father, who twisted his hand in the air and spoke a syllable. "There. Sorry. Um, this is bananas and sweet potatoes, I guess the name of the specific dish won't translate. Chocolate rice puffs. Toasted beetle. Meatballs. Bread with almond butter. Avocado egg thing. Leeks and potatoes. Apple. It's lunch food, not breakfast, but hopefully that's okay? Do you recognize at least some of the ingredients? If you do it ought to be safe."

"That's fine," said Rhysel gratefully, setting one plate on her lap and using the tongs laid across the other to start with a potato. "I can't say I'd normally eat beetle, and I haven't heard of chocolate, but everything else is familiar."

"You haven't heard of chocolate?" cried Korulen, sounding pitying. "If it turns out Aar Kithen or Uncle Narax can send you home today after all, I think maybe I did you a favor on net..."

"Korulen," said Keo warningly, and the young elf ducked her head and backed towards the lift.

Rhysel looked at the items Korulen had identified as being chocolate, and thought they looked a little muddy, but didn't comment. She ate quickly, skipping the beetle but otherwise working her way through the full array of provided foods one at a time. "A dragon?" she asked Keo. Then she reached the chocolate puffs, stopped chewing halfway through her first one to stare at them, and bolted them down like she'd gone without food twice as long as she really had.

Keo nodded. "I'd show you, but I'd mess up the architecture. Koru-" Korulen had already closed the lift door behind her. "Oh well. Our other daughter is napping; otherwise you could look at her. Anyway. Rhysel, we're extremely sorry for the inconvenience that led you to be brought here in the first place, and if you want, I can and will sit here with you all day answering questions. However, if you'd rather, Aar Kithen just finished his class and I can have him here in no time if you'd like him to try to send you home. He's the best on the faculty at breaks."

"I don't suppose I can come back and visit under less constrained circumstances?" asked Rhysel weakly. "Really, this is fascinating, or at least it would be if I'd come to visit of my own accord, and I'd love to learn more about you and your world or at least refer some colleagues to you. But the Councilor will want to know where I am, I didn't put in for leave..."

"Nothing rules that out at all," Keo said. "Now that we've met you, finding your world again would be easy, and someone who can independently cast and reverse a less outdated spell will be able to bring you back here, or visit you, or whatever you like. But there will be plenty of opportunity to make plans for that after determining whether you're going to be forcibly stuck here."

Rhysel nodded. "If you could ask him to come try, then... that would be good."

Keo closed her eyes. "On his way," she reported after a moment.

The lift door opened, and from it emerged a tall, reedy elf man with untidy brown hair. "Aar Inular, Aaral Pyga," he said respectfully to the headmaster and his wife. "Aaral...?" He looked at Rhysel, politely inquisitive.

"Her surname's Camlenn," offered Keo. "Korulen and her roommate summoned her - old, costly spell, neither one can undo it without a familiar. Can you break it?"

"I'll do my best," said Aar Kithen. Squinting with focus in Rhysel's direction, he began a more complex gesture than the ones that had accompanied either translation spell.

Rhysel held her tongue until he was finished, not knowing if it would be dangerous to break his concentration, but then said, "You can call me Rhysel."

"That's kind of you," he said, frowning at the air in front of her with his hand poised as though to cast something else. "I will try to break this, Aaral Camlenn, but I should warn you that it is unlikely to work. If my first four tries are unsuccessful it will not be worthwhile to continue."

"I understand," she sighed. "You can really call me Rhysel."

Aar Kithen nodded, silent, and then muttered a long word and traced undulations in the air. Nothing happened. He closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and repeated the process, scrunching his eyebrows together. That, and two more attempts, accomplished nothing.

"I'm sorry," he said solemnly, dropping his hand and meeting her eyes.

"We'll try Narax, he might be able to," said Keo soothingly before Rhysel could speak. Aar Kithen nodded to Keo, Kanaat, and Rhysel in turn before turning to go. The door clicked shut behind him. "Narax'll be here in a tick," Keo continued after a pause.

"How are you doing that?" Rhysel asked her, finally. "Is this like what you were talking about when you said you weren't a mind kama, but close?"

"Exactly," said Keo. "It has to do with the kind of dragon I am. Just me - my brother and sister have the empathy I mentioned, but not the other stuff."

There appeared, in the middle of the office, a human-shaped man with artfully shaggy black hair and jade green eyes. "One summons break, coming up," he said, patting Keo affectionately on the head once before turning to Rhysel and poising his hand to cast a spell. Rhysel couldn't tell one of their workings from any other, but he followed a pattern similar to Aar Kithen's, casting one and then scrutinizing the space around her before trying something else. "This is quite a knot your kid managed to tie, Keo," he muttered without turning to look at his sister, when the first try failed. He repeated it twice more, looking more frustrated each time. "Yeah, this isn't going to happen. Co-casting is a terrible idea and no one should ever do it."

"Drat," said Keo under her breath.

Narax shrugged helplessly, looked at Rhysel, and said, "Welcome to Elcenia."

Chapter Two: Narax

"So that's what this world is called?" asked Rhysel, still feeling abnormally calm. She considered asking Keo to back off, but decided to wait until she was more settled in. Wherever they were going to put her. "El-see-nee-ya?"

Narax nodded, apologized, and departed the room, but not by lift nor by outright vanishing; instead, he turned and walked straight through the bookshelf occupying the far wall of the room. "Is... that shelf an illusion?" Rhysel asked.

"It's real," Keo said, "but can be walked through. More shelf space than having a door. Leads to the headmaster's quarters, where me and Kanaat and our baby live. Narax is going to see his new niece, as long as he's already here. He was going to visit soon anyway." She shrugged apologetically. "There's still a chance Korulen or Saasnil will be able to break the spell. It's much easier to break your own than someone else's. And if that doesn't work, it's still not forever. Whichever of the two graduates first - more likely Korulen - can get a familiar. Then she'll be able to channel enough power to reverse the spell herself. I'm so, so sorry, Rhysel."

"What do I do in the meantime?" Rhysel asked softly.

"The school is responsible for you," Keo said briskly. "And in this country - it's called Esmaar - that means Kanaat personally, since he's the headmaster. We'll let you live in the school, eat in the cafeteria, et cetera. There are some empty dorms, although you'd have to be next door to teenage girls."

"What do I do?" Rhysel repeated. "With my time. At home I'm a town kama; I have a tower and my neighbors come to me for help when they need magic done. Is there something useful for me to do here?"

Keo fidgeted. "Well... whatever you like, really. I suppose I can't rule out the possibility that you could get work doing magic, but people here haven't heard of kamai and won't know what you can do, so they won't know when to go to you as opposed to a professional wizard. What can you do?"

"I'm an elementalist," said Rhysel. "Yesterday, I moved stone that had collapsed from a building in progress onto some of the workers. Last tenday I stopped a fire from spreading to the town from where it started up in the mountains. I can do healings - injuries only, not illness - with proxic workings. I can fly, create wells, erect buildings. Sculpt," she added, though as often as not that last had nothing to do with magic.

Narax emerged from the headmaster's quarters. Draped around his neck was a two-foot-long green dragonet the same color as Keo's hair or Narax's eyes, sleek with tiny scales and swept-back pale horns. Liquidy black eyes, huge in her miniature head, peered around the room. "Baaa," she declared. "Asto tlep vee." Rhysel wasn't sure if the syllables were baby talk, or a language that her spell wasn't coping with.

"That's... your other daughter?" Rhysel asked Keo uncertainly. She'd never seen a dragon on her home world, though she knew what they looked like. They didn't tend to care for interacting with humanoids, and certainly never shapeshifted into them. An infant dragon many times smaller than she ought to have been, belonging to a woman who looked human (albeit with green hair), was jarring.

"That's right," said Keo. She extended an arm in Narax's direction, and the dragonet flowed down his arm and launched herself into the air to land on Keo's shoulder instead. "Anyway, as long as you don't break the local laws you can do as you please. I should probably get you a summary of what those laws are, sooner rather than later, since I don't know what is and isn't common sense where you're from."

"It's called Barashi," supplied Rhysel. "The world, anyway. I was living in a country called Restron. I suppose I'll find ways to occupy my time, but I'm not used to having nothing productive to do..."

"Do you like traveling?" interrupted Narax suddenly. "Going places, seeing stuff."

Rhysel blinked. "I haven't done that much of it, but yes, in general."

"My travel buddy," he said, "up and got married and turned into a homebody, last month. I'm bored when I'm home and now I'm lonely when I go places. Want a tour of the planet? Maybe you'll run into something you're more comfortable doing than idling in one of the school dorms and letting students doing Otherworld Studies interview you about your dietary habits and religion and marriage customs."

Rhysel blinked - it was an abrupt invitation - but she tilted her head and considered the prospect. Holing up in a dormitory, without even her research notes, sounded like a recipe for miserable dissipation to her. Going by what Korulen and Saasnil's room had looked like, it wouldn't even afford the opportunity to throw herself into cooking. She imagined herself generating stones, turning them into figurines, and then slagging them, by the dozens and hundreds, for lack of space to keep them or recipients to take them off her hands...

"Maybe," she hedged. "Where would we go?"

He shrugged, smiling crookedly. "Anywhere! Linnip, maybe, I wouldn't go there alone but it'd be fine with you. Baverian beaches. All the tourist traps in Mekand. Visit wolfriders, maybe. Heck, my house could be interesting with a really fresh pair of eyes looking at it; everything'll be new to you."

"Why would Linnip be fine with me but not by yourself?" Rhysel asked. She didn't feel like much of a guide, in this foreign world.

"They look funny at men walking around alone, there," Narax said, rolling his eyes. "It's not actually illegal even for the locals, and people don't tend to harass a dragon so all I have to do is shapeshift and I get as wide a berth as I want. But that doesn't mean I like it. You'd fit right in there, though, even have the red hair - well, it's mostly humans, there, not half-elves, but from a distance no one could tell. You are a half-elf, right?"

"Yes," she said, "as it happens, but that's not what we call it. I'd say I'm a halfblood."

"Why's that?" he asked. Keo had scooted her chair towards Kanaat's half-ring desk and was helping him with some paperwork.

"Because halfbloods are all the same, even if they're only a quarter elf, or a thirty-second elf, or for that matter a tiny fraction human," Rhysel said. "My father's human and my mother's elven, but I'd look the same if I had only one ancestor of either a hundred generations back, and some halfbloods do. It's the blood that's halved, not the actual descent."

"Interesting." Narax clicked his tongue. "Hey, Keo, should I and possibly Rhysel get out of your hair? I know my way around, I can show her to a dorm if that's what she decides on."

Keo looked over her shoulder at them, smiling. "Sure," she said. "Room 4410 is open now. Rhysel, if you need my attention for any reason, you can just think my name, very hard, and I'll pick it up and contact you. Okay?"

"Okay," said Rhysel, picking up the stacked plates on her lap and tipping herself up to her feet. "I..." She gestured at the dishes.

"Ah," said Keo, getting up to take them out of Rhysel's hands, "like this." She passed a hand horizontally over the plates and they disappeared. "Sent them to the cafeteria."

Rhysel blinked. "Of course you did. Um, I suppose I'll see you both later?"

Keo and Kanaat nodded in unison, and Rhysel turned to step into the lift that Narax was holding open for her. "Bye," she said, and Narax let the door close.

"Hall 44," Narax told the lift, leaning comfortably on its wall, and the little room began its swift transit complete with abrupt changes in direction. "Even if you don't want to stick around in the room it'll be a decent place to hang out for the time being," he commented to Rhysel.

She nodded. "Are you doing the empathy thing Keo mentioned now?"

"Yeah. She can do it from any distance, but I took over because you can just say so if you want me to stop, instead of doing Keo's mindspeak thing. Which does work, but might be strange for you. Do you want me to stop?" he inquired.

Rhysel shook her head. "I'd probably be gibbering in a corner without it. Mindspeech won't be so unfamiliar, though. I think. If it's like what kyma do at home. I don't know any mind kamai to speak of, myself, but I've met a man who was born mute and can only talk that way."

"Interesting. Your kind of magic can't fix that?" Narax asked. The lift jolted to a stop at its destination and opened for them, revealing a dorm hallway much like the one Korulen and Saasnil lived on. Some of the rooms stood open, and she heard girls chattering to each other and watched a few of them going from room to room. The ones she spotted were all humans or elves, and all matched coloring with Saasnil or Korulen depending. Narax went out of the lift first, peering at the numbers on the doors until he found the one he was looking for. Rhysel found that she couldn't identify the numerals.

"It can, he just opted not to have it done," she answered. "The translation spell doesn't work on reading?"

"Not if Kanaat only cast one, it won't, but you can get a separate literacy spell," Narax replied, opening the door and walking into the room. It was furnished and laid out like the one Rhysel had appeared in, though it was devoid of personal possessions. He sat on one bed, and she sat on the opposite one after closing the door behind her.

"What is it that you do?" she asked. "I take it you're also a 'wizard'."

He nodded. "At the moment, I'm officially unemployed, though," he said. "Being a wizard isn't a job all by itself; you still have to sign on with an employer or freelance at doing something in particular. I wrote books, and then I invented a thing, and that made me some money so now I'm on vacation all the time." He regarded Rhysel, chewing on his lip a bit. "Do you want me to try to explain the thing I invented, which is very wizardy, or not bother?"

"Not today, I think," she said. "I have so much to get used to. Although really I guess I should be glad this place is as hospitable as it is. That I was summoned by foolish children, not anyone with ill intent. That there's air to breathe and that I still feel fine after eating the food here."

Narax peered at her sympathetically. "Anything I can do to cheer you up? Besides the cheap, possibly unethical, obvious solution of more empathy?"

"Distract me?" she suggested, glancing out the window. This one displayed not open prairie, but school buildings and, farther out, denser town. "How does the empathy work?"

"It's a dragon power," he said. "Specifically, a power belonging to green-group dragons. Me and Keo and our sister and parents and the little one you saw are jades, so we've all got that. Keo's got extra stuff because she's just lucky that way. We pick up emotions from people around us, or people we've met and are concentrating on at any distance, and can send them the same way. It's not as useful as it probably sounds, most of the time. Most days there aren't any spooked offworlders to soothe."

"I'm having a slightly hard time really believing you're dragons. The baby I can believe - does she have a name?" Rhysel asked.

"Not yet. She'll get one in about six weeks. Little dragons don't get named until they're a month old," Narax said.

"Right," said Rhysel, filing away the information about the length of months. "Anyway, shapeshifting kamai exists, but dragons don't use it, certainly not to turn into humans. They're reclusive sorts where I'm from. They don't... marry elves and live in schools."

"I assure you we're dragons," said Narax cheerfully. "Korulen's not. Takes more after her dad. She can turn into a dragon shape, but it's midgety and doesn't have interesting powers. Which is why her hair's not green."

"Your hair isn't green," Rhysel pointed out, and then felt foolish, because even if this would have been news to him his hair was long enough to get in his eyes and he'd have noticed without help.

"My eyes are. Male/female thing," he explained. "In humanoid shapes, anyway. Keo can turn into a mouse and then she's green all over. I don't have a mouse form but if I did, I too would be green all over."

"Still," said Rhysel. "It's strange."

He shrugged. "Want to see? We have to go outside, but I'll show off if you want. I am resplendent and shiny."

"Yes," she said at once. She'd occasionally toyed with the idea of taking leave and traveling to someplace where dragons were common. Her blood sister lived not far from a conclave, though there wasn't significant contact between the remote mountain town and their reptile neighbors. Not that a dragon from Barashi would have deigned to talk to her even if she'd managed to spot one.

"Right then," he said. "I was hearing you through a bookshelf, but I think you mentioned you can fly? We can just go out the window."

"Wizardry lets you fly, too?" Rhysel asked, peering at the window. It looked like she'd fit through.

"No. Well, I'm sure there's a spell for it, but I haven't learned one; what would be the point? I was planning to turn into a beetle," he said. "Then into a dragon, obviously, that being the point of this exercise."

Rhysel blinked rapidly. "A beetle."

"I can turn into one of those same as I can turn into this," he said, gesturing at himself. Rhysel tracked the path described by his hand, then nodded and got up to open the window. The clip holding it shut was unfamiliar but simple, and once she had it undone, the window readily slid up and out of the way when she pushed.

"Probably should make sure your magic works here before leaping out the window," advised Narax.

Rhysel nodded and focused, but the air was full of all the usual flavors, and her energy responded as normal when she called on it to push out and make winds to pick her up. "See?" she said, smiling at Narax, floating six inches off the floor.

"I do," he acknowledged. "Oh, by the way, if there's anyone outside, you're not likely to get looked at oddly for flying. Wearing pants, on the other hand, will get you attention. It's just this country, not the rest of the world." He shrugged, and then abruptly became a large, iridescent green beetle. He zipped directly out the window and Rhysel soon lost visual track of him, but she assumed he'd find her once she'd gone out after him.

She looked down at her pants, which were perfectly ordinary brown linen, then shrugged and tilted to make a controlled dive out the window. She touched the ground a few moments later, having gone down nine stories.

Narax-the-beetle made one circuit around her head, and then flew clear of her and landed in the grass. And then, instead of a beetle, there was a dragon.

Rhysel took an involuntary step back. Narax was easily a dozen times as long as his tiny niece, twenty-five feet nose to tail, and in the sunlight he shone like he was tiled with real jade. His horns were the same shape as the baby's, and he had the same sleek contours, free of the spines and protrusions Rhysel kept expecting to see on his back and tail. He dipped his head with his long, swanlike neck to preen above one of his wingjoints, and then spread both wings wide. Light filtered through the pale membranes, leaving Rhysel shadowed with green staring up at the outstretched appendage. It was enormous, easily enough to carry the dragon aloft.

As though reading her mind, he grinned toothily, said, "Watch," and then leapt into the air, bringing his wings down hard in several beats before flinging them open against the breeze and gliding in a wide circle. Rhysel was buffeted back a few steps by the wind. She stared, and then he landed where he'd started. He resumed his human shape, which appeared standing with his arms spread wide in self-satisfaction and a lopsided smile on his face.

Rhysel applauded, beaming, and then heard laughter from a pack of children who were sitting on the grass near a neighboring building. They didn't seem to have been affected at all by the display Narax had put on; they were in fact looking at Rhysel, and her clothes.

She turned back to Narax, who had ambled over to her after changing forms again. "You're wearing pants," she observed.

"I'd be getting the same giggling if I went around in a skirt," he said. "As far as Esmaar's concerned, you're in drag. Say the word and I'll whisk you to a country with more compatible styles of dress," he offered.

"Maybe I should just get new clothes," muttered Rhysel, picking at a stray thread on the hem of her blouse. "I've been in these since yesterday and can't get at my wardrobe. Which has, I think, one dress in it anyway. I don't hate them, they're just not practical." She paused. "But I don't have any money here, and even if I did I don't think the stores would take my emarks."

Narax waved a hand. "Kanaat's responsible for you, and that doesn't mean he's supposed to leave you in one outfit for the next several months or years. If you want to go shopping, you can go shopping." He chewed on his lip a bit, and then said, "I'm probably not the best companion for the purpose, and I have no idea where to find women's clothing in Paraasilan, but if you want..."

"Maybe Keo would take me," said Rhysel, presuming Paraasilan was the name of the town near the school.

"She'll probably send Korulen," predicted Narax. Then he cast a quick spell, which made symbols appear in the air before him; he studied them and then they vanished. "It's almost tenth-and-naught," he said. "Stores will be closed in a couple of angles. You want to get ahold of Keo, or want me to do it?"

"What's an angle? Tenth-and-naught?" asked Rhysel, bewildered. "Are those times?"

Narax blinked, then said, "Right. Here." He cast the same spell he had before. "See how the last number after this dash is changing?" he asked, pointing at it. "You don't have to read it, just note how fast it goes. That's a split. Five splits is a tick. Twenty-five ticks is a degree. Twenty-five degrees is an angle. Twenty-five angles is a day. Tenth-and-naught means exactly ten angles since sunrise, or rather the time that would have been sunrise if this were the summer solstice, whereas it is in fact late spring."

"I'm never going to remember that," said Rhysel. She didn't think Narax would be able to map these times onto divs and subs if she asked, and she might not be able to keep track of them even if he did.

"Okay... well, you have time to go shopping, but not that much, so you should get started," Narax translated.

"I'll try getting ahold of Keo," Rhysel said. She closed her eyes, and tried to "think hard": Keo!

<You called?> inquired Keo's voice, floating into Rhysel's mind in much the same way as kamai mindspeech might, although without the hollow quality.

<Can you hear me?> Rhysel asked, thinking back and trying to mentally shout.

<Just fine. Don't strain yourself,> Keo returned mirthfully. <What's up?>

<I could use a few more sets of clothes...>

As predicted, Keo sent Korulen on the errand. Korulen arrived on the wing, like Narax in miniature or her sister increased to four times her length, and landed beside Rhysel and Narax before shifting into the elf shape in which Rhysel had met her. "I'm supposed to take you into town and show you where to get clothes," she said to Rhysel. Korulen had on a belted burgundy top and a marble-patterned purple skirt, and Rhysel hoped that there was a wide selection at the stores she preferred.

"Have fun," said Narax, waving, and then he gestured elaborately and spoke a word, and vanished.

"Where'd he go?" asked Rhysel.

"Home, probably," said Korulen. "There's no reason for him to stay here overnight, when he can teleport. This way," she said, and started off towards the town on foot.

"Wouldn't you rather fly?" asked Rhysel, pulling up the air magic again and lifting off.

Korulen peered over her shoulder, took note of the gap between Rhysel's boots and the ground, and said, "Sure!" She swapped instantly into her green-scaled alternate shape and sprang upward.

"Can you talk in this shape too?" Rhysel asked, keeping pace alongside the girl.

"Sure," replied Korulen from a mouth full of pointy teeth. "So... I think I've said this a dozen times now but... I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. We were being stupid. A boy from the next hall over kept making fun of us and we chose one of the stupidest possible ways to try to prove him wrong and impress everyone."

Rhysel didn't say anything for a moment. Then, "This world isn't so bad. I would have been happy to just have the chance to visit. It's not being able to return that's the problem."

"There are summoning spells that I could have cast alone, or Saasnil could have," murmured Korulen. "I got the one I used out of an old book on obsolete magic, because my parents would have been told if I'd gotten a book about summoning, and I knew I wasn't allowed."

"What's going to happen to the two of you, anyway?" Rhysel asked.

Korulen glanced at her. "Sort of depends on you, actually," she said. "It was an actual crime. You can press charges, if you want, and then as soon as one of us manages to get you home we go to jail. And they'd check to make sure we were studying hard, and not trying to put off being able to send you home indefinitely to avoid that. If you don't, then we get a school punishment and take a couple of classes early and... that could be it." She stopped short of actual pleading, but it seemed implied. "Uh, let's land here, there's a good store with lots of stuff."

Rhysel followed the half-dragon to the ground, glancing around at the people on the street. They were mostly an even mix of brown-skinned humans and pale elves, although Rhysel saw one adult-proportioned person who was less than three feet tall, and one person who looked like a bipedal lioness, and a small group in such full-coverage black garments that she couldn't identify them. "I don't think I'm going to press charges," she said to Korulen. "What kind of school punishment are you looking at? If I did something wrong when I was a child, or during my apprenticeship, I usually got paddled, but I don't know what they do here."

Korulen shifted back to her elven shape and stared incredulously at Rhysel. "My parents aren't going to hit me," she said, sounding affronted. "Don't even say that in public, you'll upset people. Me and Saasnil are getting detention. She's going to work in the library. I have to tutor the lower tiers in wizarding ethics until I manage to send you home, because Mom thinks it's ironic."

Rhysel snickered. "Are you qualified to tutor wizarding ethics?"

"The sad thing is, I actually am. I passed it two terms ago," sighed Korulen. "I got an Excellent. Theory and practice." She pushed open the door to the clothing store and proceeded to help Rhysel with reading the labels on the clothes, which came in enough variety that Rhysel wasn't completely displeased with her selections when the staff started looking like they wanted to close up. Korulen paid a clerk with thin, ellipse-shaped electrum coins, and Rhysel walked out with skirts, tunics, sashes, and leggings in brown, grey, beige, and shades of green and red.

"The leggings don't count as drag?" she asked Korulen.

"Not if you have a skirt over them," Korulen said. "So that'll be good for flying. You probably want clothes on when you fly." She shifted into her own jade-scaled form, which needed no such accessorization, and took off, leading Rhysel after her back to the school.

"Now that we're not in public, per se," said Rhysel, when they were in midair, "what's the issue with mentioning -"

"You'll upset people! You don't just announce that you're an abuse victim in the middle of the street, unless you're actively trying to get police help," Korulen said. "And it's outright insulting to suggest that my parents would hurt me. The accusation wouldn't stick, but can you imagine how embarrassing it would be if I had to stare down a cop, telling him in precise legal language that my parents have never hit me in my life so him and his lie detection will be satisfied?"

"I'm not an abuse victim," said Rhysel.

"Okay, I guess maybe they don't see it that way, where you're from, there's places in Elcenia like that too, but this is Esmaar and everybody who might have overheard you was Esmaarlan," said Korulen, rubbing her forefeet together uncomfortably as they coasted in to land in front of the school. She shifted again, looking flustered. "So... do you need any other help, or do you want me to tell my parents anything for you, or...?"

"No," said Rhysel, picking out the still-open window she'd flown out of from the wall of the correct building after a moment's inspection. "I'm set, I think."

Korulen ducked her head and went at a near-run to the closest door. Rhysel sighed and flew back to her borrowed room.

After changing into more local garb and flopping back onto one of the beds for a failed attempt at a nap, Rhysel thought, <Keo?>

<Here I am,> replied the dragon woman.

<Would you tell your brother for me that I want to accept his offer?>


For a moment, nothing happened, but then there was a knock on Rhysel's room door, and when she opened it there stood Narax, wearing that uneven smile. "Missed me?" he asked.

Rhysel laughed faintly, standing aside to let him in. "Korulen seems really uncomfortable around me, and your sister and brother-in-law not much less so. I realize me being here is a big deal, but it's easier on me to pretend it's not, and it helps that you're so at ease."

"It's a carefully cultivated skill," he replied. "Korulen'll loosen up after a while, though. She's just feeling guilty."

"It's not that. She acted like I was an abuse victim, because my parents and Master used to paddle me when I misbehaved." Rhysel shook her head incredulously. "They never raised a hand to me in anger, or left a mark, but she didn't act like that mattered."

"Esmaarlan thing," said Narax. "I don't live here. My current home isn't thrilled with the practice either but they're not so horrified by its existence. And I didn't grow up there, I actually grew up in Corenta and went to school in Ertydo."

"And you now live...?"

"Country called Imilaat. South of here, by the beach, next door to the newlywed former travel buddy I told you about," he said. "Want to see?" He held his hand out to her.

"How are we getting there? I can't teleport," said Rhysel, looking at his hand.

"I can take passengers, but we have to be touching," he explained. "I mentioned you to Neris - she's the aforementioned neighbor - and she wants to meet you, so we'll start at my house but after that we can go wherever you want."

"All right," said Rhysel, and she placed her hand in his. Narax curled his fingers around hers, and then with his other hand, made the motion that accompanied the spell while he spoke the word.

Chapter Three: Planet

Narax teleported the pair of them to a light-filled front hall, irregular panes of glass interrupting the stone wall on either side of his front door. Rhysel turned in place, noting houseplants along walls, on shelves, and - she nearly failed to notice - creeping along portions of the ceiling and the wall leading up the side of the stairwell.

"Here we are," Narax said.

"How do you water all your plants if you're away so much?" Rhysel asked, approaching a potted fern.

"Magic," he said. "Enchanted pots and the like. Useful stuff." As he finished his reply, a sinuous purplish-red dragon, even smaller than Keo's younger daughter, gamboled into the room and crawled up Narax's leg. "Oh," he continued as Rhysel stared inquisitively, "this isn't an actual dragon. This is a drake, and it's her adult size, too - they're only animals, they just look sort of dragony."

"She's a pet?" Rhysel asked. The drake clung to Narax's shirt and peered in her direction, making a chattering noise.

"Kind of. She's my familiar," Narax explained, pulling the drake off his shirt only to deposit her on his shoulder. She didn't care for the change in position and jumped off, gliding to the third step on the staircase instead. "They're animals that wizards enchant to help us be able to channel more magic. Not everybody has one - Kanaat doesn't - but I have. Her name is Onion."

"She's very cute," Rhysel said. Onion chittered and flew directly towards Rhysel's face; when Rhysel ducked, the drake winged around to land on her shoulder instead. "And apparently has some personality, too."

Narax laughed. "Yeah. She's never actually collided with anybody's nose, don't worry - very agile in the air."

There was a perfunctory knock on the door, echoing on the metal, and then it swung open. On Narax's doorstep stood a dark-skinned, grinning woman, who looked human save for the electric blue hair pulled into a puff at the base of her neck. "Narax! And you must be Rhysel!" she exclaimed.

"And you must be... Neris," said Rhysel, remembering. "It's nice to meet you."

"Don't be silly," said Neris. "It's perfectly dreadful to meet me. If your day were going well you'd never have heard of me. But hello! Welcome to Imilaat. So where is it exactly you're from?"

Rhysel was wrong-footed by this response to her pleasantry, but said, "My world is called Barashi."

Neris bobbed her head once, then turned to Narax, and said, "Why are we standing in your hall? Let's all sit in the library." She led the way, and Narax laughed and followed her; Rhysel went after them both and took a puffy chair with checkered upholstery while the dragons sat on the couch. Onion departed Rhysel's shoulder and began attempting to nest in Neris's hair, with which the drake's scales clashed brilliantly.

Narax disentangled his familiar from his friend, then said, "So we need to figure out where we're going, after my house ceases to amuse you."

Rhysel peered at the nearest bookshelf, and said, "If you put a literacy spell on me, that might give us a lot of time to decide." The room was full to bursting with books, which were mostly neatly shelved but had begun to overflow onto the footrests and an oddly-shaped flowerpot.

Narax laughed and tipped a book off the shelf that was nearest him. Flipping through it, he replied, "If you want to hang out here for a while and read, fine by me, you deserve a chance to decompress. But we could also go someplace interesting."

"I still say you need to learn to sit still," said Neris. "Maybe if you were home for two days running you'd get used to Parak."

"I have nothing against Parak, seriously," said Narax, sounding like this was an old or at least oft-repeated exchange. "I just think you married him kind of hastily, is all."

"You're one to talk."

"You're married?" Rhysel blurted. There'd been no hint of it, and wouldn't Narax have wanted to consult a spouse before extending Rhysel the invitation he had...?

"She died," murmured Narax, much of the mirth gone from his eyes. "Ten years ago."

"Oh," Rhysel exhaled. "I'm so sorry."

"You didn't murder her," Neris said. "And one of these years I'm sure Narax will be able to hear Samia brought up without instantly turning into a gloom factory." She gave Narax a friendly sort of shove to the shoulder, and he leaned with it, huffing a brief sigh.

"She was murdered?" Rhysel said, unable to restrain herself.

"Mm-hm," Neris said. Narax let Onion wind snakily between his fingers, looking at neither woman. "The very day after they got married. It's a horrible story, but it was a decade ago and he still does this every time she comes up." She gestured at his slumped posture. "And he married her when they'd been dating each other for four months - after sneaking looks at each other behind her previous boyfriend's back for three - so the fact that I've known Parak for a year is not grounds for him to be saying anything."

"Oh," said Rhysel quietly. She was inclined to cross the room and give Narax a hug, but wasn't sure if it would be welcome or appropriate.

"Neris," said Narax, "you've met Rhysel now. Maybe you should go home to your husband."

"He's not home," Neris said blithely. "If you want me to stop making the comparison, stop sniping at me, understood? But I'll go. Bye, Rhysel." She stood fluidly and teleported, rather than walk to the house next door.

There was a silence, and then Rhysel said, "I'm sorry."

Narax glanced up at her, barely lifting his head. He wasn't crying, but it looked like he wanted to. "You didn't do anything wrong. As long as I'm in a mood, you can ask whatever questions you have. And I'll cheer up soon enough and then we can go up to the tundra to see some wolfriders, or wherever else."

Rhysel hesitated, but then asked, "Who killed her?"

"The previous boyfriend Neris mentioned. Name was Rellen. He tried to get me too, but he picked a method and bad timing such that Keo was able to save me. Not Samia, though." Narax delivered the answer in a near-monotone.


Narax leaned backwards, tipping his head over the cushion behind him to look at the ceiling. Onion chose this time to creep under the couch. "Magic isn't all nice helpful stuff like watering my plants. I'm not saying it's common, at all, but sometimes someone invents a really nasty spell. The one Rellen picked was called a 'memory shred', but that's not really a complete description. It separates all the parts of your mind from each other."

"Parts of your mind, meaning...?"

"Memories, personality fragments, but also the parts that are telling your heart to beat and so on. Even if a light - that is, a healer - gets to you right away and forces your body to work correctly regardless, that's not something you recover from. I was talking to Keo when the one he sent my way hit, but she's got more power in the mind-magic department than any spell I've ever heard of and undid its effects before they did anything besides disorient me. But by the time she'd sorted that out for me, Samia was already gone."

"What happened to Rellen?" whispered Rhysel.

"I incinerated him," Narax replied shortly. "And then fled the country."


Silence ensued again, until Narax said, "I did go back and pay a large fine to his surviving relatives and let the cops put a five-year anti-aggression spell on me, later. But I waited until they managed to find probably the only person on their police force who doesn't have some anti-dragon prejudice to pass the sentence, because I didn't like the idea of letting them issue a judgment while quietly ignoring the provocation, or something unfair like that. Ertydo's not a friendly country to us. I was pretending to be human for the duration of my education there and only gave myself away after I graduated."

"You can... just flee the country when you commit -" Rhysel began, and then, deciding that was rude, she began again. "Where did you go?"

"Dragon Island. Home of the... I guess you could call it a dragon government, but they only perform some of the functions thereof. The Dragon Council don't normally harbor fugitives from justice, but they make limited exceptions for Ertydo and Egeria, those being the countries that don't like us." He sat up straight again; his dour mood was starting to lift. Presumably he found the topic's drift distracting.

"So." Rhysel cast about for a suitable, non-depressing topic, then said, "Tell me how dragons age. You and Keo must both be older than you look, if you were married ten years ago and she has a teenage daughter." Either of the siblings could have passed for twenty.

Narax blinked at her, then said, "Korulen's forty-two."

"She's what? How?" exclaimed Rhysel.

"She's an elf. Well, for that purpose, she's an elf. They age three times slower than humans." He paused. "Who are usually considered adults sometime between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two, depending on who you ask, and usually die shy of a century along."

"Okay, so humans are the same here," Rhysel surmised.

"Good, because they're the usual reference point," laughed Narax. "They tend to yield convenient multipliers. How's it work where you're from, that you thought Korulen was in her teens?"

"I need to stop making assumptions like that here," chuckled Rhysel. "At home, elves grow to adulthood at the same rate as humans; they just stop aging when they're twenty-five and don't start again until they're approaching a thousand - but then they get old at the same rate as humans. Halfbloods are the same, except we don't live as long."

Narax studied her. "If you were an Elcenian half-elf, I'd say you were around fifty. But now I have no idea." His eyes lingered, perhaps longer than necessary for identifying her apparent age.

"Thirty-eight," she corrected. "You?"

"Two hundred forty-six." He rearranged his feet, twice, then finally toed off his shoes. "Dragons - well, in our natural forms we grow at a constant rate our whole lives. About a foot a decade, give or take. And in most animal forms, we look like adult versions regardless of how old we are. But in humanoid shapes like this one, we grow ten times slower than humans till we're two hundred and then stop. Without starting again later."

"If you don't start again," Rhysel began, but she couldn't think of a tactful way to word then how do you know when you'll die.

Narax figured it out anyway. "Dragons die of old age at random times somewhere between the ages of two and four thousand," he told her. "Averaging on the younger side of that. Which makes certain kinds of advance planning awkward."

"I'd imagine," Rhysel said.

Narax looked down at the book in his lap, then said, "Oh, right, I was going to get you a literacy spell, and then you can look at an atlas and discover the limitations of magical transliteration. And, also, pick a destination." He turned a few more pages, found what he was looking for, and cast a spell.

Rhysel didn't blink, and there was no flash of sudden change on the book spines, but when she looked at them they seemed like they were written in Martisen. The spell wasn't perfect - one book she looked at now trailed title text past the actual height of the volume - and some of the words were incomprehensible anyway, things about people and places and jargon she'd never heard of. "My consolation is that you'd be nearly as bewildered by my library," she said.

Narax chuckled. "Probably. Knowing the language only helps so far." He re-shelved the spellbook and hunted for the atlas he'd mentioned, an oversized but still square leatherbound monstrosity. He plopped it onto Rhysel's lap. "Nice world map on page one."

She opened the cover, and there was a square map, with three continents and numerous islands, but the continents reached the edges and two corners, and Rhysel couldn't figure out for the life of her how they were supposed to wrap around. If Narax hadn't called it a world map, she would have expected continuations, but as it was she asked, "What kind of projection is this? It doesn't make sense."

"Projection?" Narax asked. He leaned his forearms on the back of her chair and peered over her shoulder; a wisp of his hair brushed her cheek. "I can't say I know what that means in the context of maps. That's what the planet looks like."

"But these continents," said Rhysel. "Something's missing."

"Nanela," he said, indicating the northern continent. "Espaal. You are here." He pointed at a coastal spot on the western landmass. "And Anaist." The eastern chunk of land. "Those are all the continents we have unless you count Mekand, which is the huge island up there. Were you expecting more?"

"No, I was expecting them to... connect, or be bordered by water on all sides," she said. "This makes it look like your planet is flat."

"It's got mountains," he said. "The topographical map is in the back somewhere..."

"I mean flat as opposed to round. A sphere," interrupted Rhysel, feeling like she ought to be hysterical but not managing it. She wondered if tamping down her emotions constantly was tiring for Narax or if he was just doing it unconsciously. "Planets are ball-shaped. They have to be. Anything big enough to be a planet will already be close to spherical or they'll crumple in on themselves until they are."

"Oh." Narax considered this, tapping his fingers on the back of the chair. "I didn't do a lot of otherworld studies, so I'll take your word for it that planets do that where you're from, but here they can be all kinds of shapes, usually regular polygons. This one's a square. You are really freaked out, under the empathy - um -" He patted her shoulder, twice. "Why is this a bigger deal than the rest of it?"

"I'm... I think I'm farther from home than I thought I was," whispered Rhysel. "I thought I was just on another planet. Under a different star. We can't travel to them yet but we have telescopes and an idea of what's out there; magic that would let me be summoned to one wasn't so farfetched. But if you don't even have the same laws of physics..."

"Ooh. Hm." Narax straightened up and went to sit back on the couch, looking pensive. "Translation spells have their weaknesses. We were saying 'world'... I don't think Martisen has a better word for it, and that's what you're getting when we speak anything you don't understand, because it's your native language. Eashiri has... 'existence'?" he tried.

"Existence," repeated Rhysel. "I'm in another existence. With laws of physics that let planets be square. How does that work?" she cried. "How does the planet hold an atmosphere? How does it have day and night and seasons and weather? How are we not floating around in space instead of sitting on chairs that are themselves standing on the floor?"

"Is it any help at all if I say, 'magic'?" Narax asked apologetically.

"Not really," Rhysel said, "no."

"Sorry. I never took an astronomy class, and while my primary education might have covered some of those questions in more detail, it was a hundred years ago," he said. "I can't remember the capital of Kervaite anymore either. Look, it's okay," he soothed, and Rhysel noticed a distinct uptick in the eerie calm. "It's okay. It's not any harder to get you home than was explained before. The air's not going to evaporate, days and nights and seasons and weather are going to happen on a regular basis, and you're not going to start floating around in space except when you decide you feel like it. Okay?"

"Okay," Rhysel breathed.

"Are we secure about the ground under our feet now?" Narax asked, lifting his own feet off the floor a couple of inches before bringing them back down again.

"Mostly." Rhysel unfolded from herself as the distress passed. "Thank you for keeping me from - I don't even know what I'd be doing without help. Shrieking and tearing my hair out, probably."

"And that would be a pity, when you have such lovely hair," Narax said.

"Thanks," she said, laughing self-consciously. "I gather you can read emotions too, not just send them? When you said I was freaked out."

"Yeah," he said, "that's the standard green-group dragon package. Jades and greens and coppers and malachites and emeralds," he added when Rhysel raised an eyebrow at the phrase "green-group". "All have the empathy. Unless you're an unusual, in which case you get that and you're also a telepath. And unless you're Keo, who's an empath and a telepath and also kind of ridiculous."

"Kind of ridiculous how?" Rhysel asked. "You mentioned how she saved your life, but other than that I don't think I've seen her do anything that telepathy alone wouldn't explain."

Narax smiled crookedly. "You met Kanaat."

"Yes," Rhysel said. "He's not even a dragon, though, is he?"

"No, he's all elf," Narax assured her. "But what Keo did is she hooked up her and Kanaat in a mindlink. They're always connected. One hundred percent. Always know what each other are thinking. Instant access to each other's memories, senses, feelings, et cetera. For a lot of outside purposes, they're one person in two bodies at this point. They'll tell you otherwise if you ask, of course..."

Rhysel gave an involuntary shudder. "That sounds. Well. Excessive."

"Does it?" he asked. "Mm. Well, it's an example of something she can do. Has done. In theory she doesn't have limitations within the category of fooling around with people's minds, although most of the things that fall into that category she won't do. She's very restrained."

"That's good."

He chewed on his lip. "If the idea makes you uncomfortable, maybe we'd better avoid wolfriders. They do the same thing, just not with their spouses, and not so artificially. When they're babies they get connected to each other, wolves and riders, in about the same way."

"It's not that," Rhysel said. "I'm not going to be uncomfortable around Keo and Kanaat now, and I don't imagine I'll be uncomfortable around wolfriders either. I was just thinking the mindlink didn't sound appealing to me."

"Fair enough," said Narax, after a pause. "Do you want to go visit wolfriders, then? I should warn you, they move around a lot and I don't know exactly where the ones I know are. We might have to fly around some looking for them."

"I can... what was it you said? Decide I feel like floating around in space," laughed Rhysel weakly. "I might need to stop and recharge if we don't have any luck within a couple of divs, though."

"I'd offer you a ride, but I just outgrew a saddle," he said. "New one's on order. You probably don't want to try sitting on a dragon without something between you and sharp scale edges."

Rhysel blinked rapidly, then said, "You let people ride you?"

"Sure, when that's the most convenient way to get around. It's not that different from teleporting a passenger, just requires more equipment. Why is that surprising?"

"Dragons never do that at home," she said. "I mean - I haven't met any - but I've heard."

"Every time you mention Barashin dragons, it confirms my suspicion that they must be extremely tiresome people," said Narax. "I'd be happy to fly you around if that would be more convenient for some reason and I had the new saddle."

"I can protect myself from getting scratched by your scales, if that's the only obstacle," Rhysel said, perhaps too quickly. "And I'm not going to hit the ground if I fall off for lack of anything to hold onto."

"All right then," said Narax, looking amused. "Uh, let's see, other logistical issues... It's cold there. They'll offer us food, most likely, but they only eat meat, at least this time of year - we can teleport back for dinner instead if you want. And they'll probably invite us to stay overnight, which, again, we can turn down if you want, but if we don't it involves sleeping on the ground in a cave or a mud-based structure. And they will visibly pity you for not having a wolf. Oh!" He snapped his fingers. "And I need to put an extra translation spell on you. Wolfriders are weakly telepathic and their whole language is built around that; the spell you have isn't that versatile."

"I can handle the cold," Rhysel said. "And be comfortable on a stone or earth floor as long as they don't mind me using magic to adjust it. I don't mind an all-meat dinner and I think I can stand it if they think I'm pitiful."

Narax nodded, and then flipped through the same book he'd gotten Rhysel's literacy spell from. "I've got one on myself. I'll have to give you a different version, either that or call Neris over to do yours. I can't have the same one active twice at the same time. I think one of the older spells will do the trick, though." He paused on a page, frowning at it. "This one's main weakness was that it didn't work on anything sung..."

"Are they likely to sing?" asked Rhysel. "I'd like to be able to understand it if they do. I love hearing people sing, even though I'm hopeless at it myself."

"Yeah, pretty likely," said Narax, glancing up at her and smiling. "Most nights they sing a bit before they go to sleep. Okay, so you need the best spell. I'll ask Neris." He cast a spell without consulting his book, and then his mouth moved without any sound coming out for a few sentences.

Rhysel cocked her head curiously. When Narax had finished his silent conversation, he said, "Whisper spell. Conveys my voice to her ear. Not all of us are Keo."

Neris appeared in the middle of the room, plucked the spellbook out of Narax's lap, and turned to Rhysel, on whom she cast the desired spell. Then she returned her friend's book and teleported away, waving a bit with the hand she hadn't used for the spell, before Rhysel could thank her.

"She's sometimes... perfunctory like that," Narax excused her. "By the way, let me know if there are any odd problems with your spell. I'm not completely satisfied with the current version but I'm not sure how to adjust it."

"Did you invent this spell?" asked Rhysel, blinking.

"Yeah. There were a couple of really lousy ones circulating before I started working on it, but as recently as a century ago, the general consensus was that wolfriders must be very stupid and not worth talking to because their spoken vocabulary is small and simple and they're confused by all-verbal languages. It took a really dedicated anthropologist to figure out that they weren't just talking, and then she had some trouble getting any wizards interested in learning to work with their telepathy until I read her book." He rolled his eyes. "It's no longer fashionable to believe that wolfriders are stupid, at least, but people still mostly ignore them."

"There are some similar stereotypes about trolls on Barashi, although they have a perfectly normal language," Rhysel said. "Of course, the trolls confirm some of the things that are said about them anyway."

Narax laughed. "Okay. I think we're all set, now. Shall we?" He got to his feet and extended a hand to Rhysel.

She took it in hers, and Narax cast the teleportation spell.

Their destination was extremely chilly; Rhysel was buffeted across the face by a cold wind and began heating the air in a thin envelope around her body. The pair of them were standing hand in hand on a rocky outcropping over a gently sloped tundra, spotted with irregular patches of grasses and lichens. There was no sign of habitation that Rhysel could detect. "How do we find them?" she asked.

"Well," he said, "they're not here, so next I take a guess as to who I've met will still be with the pack I want to introduce you to, and follow the empathic signature." At Rhysel's blank look, he explained: "If I read someone's emotions I also know where they're coming from. Direction, not distance, so I don't know how long a flight it'll be, but we can find my friend Rolu thataway." He pointed, then finally released Rhysel's hand to step back and shift into dragon shape.

"...May I?" Rhysel asked, lifting into the air and unobtrusively activating her defenses to protect from scale scratches, even though she had enough energy to fly for quite some time on her own.

"Go for it," Narax said, tossing his head. "Sit in front of the wing joints, up by my neck."

Rhysel rose higher and deposited herself where he indicated, and was glad of having bought leggings to go under her skirt, as it was not otherwise clear how she could have managed to sit astride. "Hang on," warned Narax, and then he sprang off the rock into the biting air.

Narax flew faster than Rhysel normally cared to spend the energy on, and with a natural aerobaticism that she'd never managed at all. That, plus the fact that she was riding a dragon, was preposterously thrilling and she couldn't resist whooping with delight. Narax laughed at her, good-naturedly. "I'd offer to do a loop, but I'm sure you'd fall off," he called over the shriek of the wind.

"This is amazing already," she shouted back, although she wasn't sure if he heard her, since the air wasn't carrying sound in that direction. In any event, he didn't loop, and she clung to him with her knees as every wingbeat shifted her seat.

After almost a sub in the air by Rhysel's estimate, Narax yelled, "The direction of the signature is angling down; we're close. I'll land in a tick."

He tilted his wings and spiraled in a wide loop to the ground, touching down so gently that Rhysel barely felt a jolt. She floated off of his back and onto the ground herself, though she wobbled for a few steps after the exhilarating flight.

"Rolu!" called Narax, shifting between syllables from dragon to human shape. "It's Narax! I've brought a visitor!"

Rhysel looked around for a structure, but didn't see one. But it turned out the entrance to the dwelling was just angled towards her and on the far side of a rock; presently a young man emerged from it.

To Rhysel, Rolu looked almost like a halfblood, with a dusky parchment tone to his skin and hair as black as Narax's. On his face were dark slate-blue markings, symmetrical on either side and covering the space around his eyebrows and tapered stripes along his cheekbones, as well as a line of circles dotting his jawline. His outfit appeared to be composed entirely of leather and fur, and at his waist he wore a slender sheath from which a bone hilt protruded.

"Hi, Narax," said Rolu amiably. "Who's your girl?" From the same underground hideout emerged a pale wolf the size of a horse, who proved on turning around to have facial marks that matched Rolu's as well as they could on a wolf's face.

"This is Rhysel," Narax said. "Rhysel, Roluro and his wolf Luroro - you use the three-syllable names. How's the pack?"

"Pack's well," said Roluro. "Come in! I haven't seen you for years. You're looking better."

"Could say that," Narax said. "Time helps."

"I can't imagine," Roluro said, shaking his head and leading the pair of them into the cave. It was dark, and Rhysel conjured up a globe of white handfire to see by. Roluro looked at her hands where they hung by her sides, and seemed mildly puzzled, but didn't comment. "I mean, I know it's not the same, but -"

"Rolu," interrupted Narax.

Roluro ignored him. "Know it's not the same as me and Luro, but I don't know how you survived your wife's death, when you were linked in almost the same way."

Chapter Four: Togetherness

Rhysel's first thought was that something was the matter with her spell, any of the three but probably the one for the wolfriders in particular - but the look on Narax's face said otherwise. He was gazing at the ceiling, corners of his mouth pulled down.

"You and Samia were mindlinked, too?" Rhysel asked quietly.

"We were," confirmed Narax distantly. "After, I was something of a wreck for - well, a long time. Occasionally I'm still a wreck. It's... hard to be without, once you've had it."

"He says that," said Roluro, "but he's alive! He's a miracle."

"Rolu, please," said Narax. "We're here to visit and show Rhysel what it's like here. My miraculousness is - is nonexistent, anyway, because as you said it's not the same as a wolfrider bond, and even if it were existent it wouldn't be a comfortable topic."

"Fine, fine," said Roluro. One of the rider's hands reached behind him to bury in the fur on his wolf's neck. Luroro, who made Rhysel double-take every time she looked in his direction because wolves were not supposed to be that big, butted his forehead into Rolu's shoulder gently. "What'd you want to see, Rhysel?"

"I'm told you sing?" said Rhysel. This was nearly all of what she'd been told and she'd been expecting Narax to play the tour guide. Perhaps he'd been expecting it too, but Roluro had gone and derailed Narax's train of thought. If it weren't for Keo and Kanaat, Rhysel would have thought everyone Narax knew made a habit of bringing up Samia on every possible occasion.

"We do!" said Roluro cheerfully. "Later in the day, though. We were planning to visit the Ri, after supper, and we will certainly sing with them. Do you sing yourself?"

Rhysel's eyes began to adjust to the dim light in the cave provided by indirect sunshine and her floating ball of handfire; she made out a dozen more riders and a dozen wolves to match scattered around the space. The riders were all dressed up, and some curled against their wolves as though cold, but there wasn't a fire lit. Rhysel didn't know if that was because they didn't need it, or didn't have the fuel, or didn't want to use up the oxygen in the cave. (If that was even how fire worked in this existence.) "No," she said, recovering from her distraction and looking back at Roluro. "But I come from a musical family and love to listen."

"What are your talents, then?" asked Roluro. "You have some kind of magic I've not heard of - not quite a mage, not quite a light, not quite a wizard like Narax, what are you?"

"I'm a kama," she said. "I, um, work with earth and air and fire and water. That," she said, pointing to the ball of white light, "is just part of fire, not all of it. Just the light, not the heat or the burning of fuel."

"Like all four kinds of mage?" Roluro inquired, peering with renewed interest at the handfire. "At the same time? Did you have to die?"

"I beg your pardon?" Rhysel asked.

"Yes, somewhat like all four kinds of mage," said Narax. "Rhysel, mages are an element-controlling magic user, one element per person. The potential's inborn for some people, but doesn't activate until the element in question would otherwise get them killed somehow, for instance a potential fire mage almost dying in a fire."

"Oh. No, I didn't have to die," Rhysel said.

"Can you teach it?" he asked eagerly, lifting a hand towards the light as though inclined to touch it but pausing before making contact.

"You can touch the handfire; it's harmless," she said, and he combed his fingers through the flame, interrupting the light but not otherwise affecting it. "I don't think I can teach you. For one thing, I don't have my Mastery qualification yet; I'm only a Journeyman. I'm not allowed to take students. And even if I broke that rule, you need to have the ability to use kamai before you can learn any workings. I don't think anyone here is likely to have it. I can check, I suppose."

"Yes, please," said Roluro. "What do you need to do?"

"Just touch you," she said, and he stepped closer and she placed her fingertips on his forehead, looking for the conduit between his lifeforce and his mind that would let him use kamai, if he were a kama. It was absent. "I'm sorry," she said. "You're not capable of kamai."

"Oh, well," sighed Roluro. His wolf drooped behind him.

"I don't know if this will be a consolation," Rhysel said, "but - to qualify for Mastery - I was working on reverse-engineering an old ritual that supposedly would have been able to infuse anyone with kamai ability. Maybe, if I ever get back to my research and finish it, I can come back and do that for you."

"It sounds very useful," Roluro said. "We have few mages - there are no wizards here, except when Narax visits, to tell us who can be one and who can't. So trying to have more mages would be very deadly and there are only sometimes accidents that cause them. Narax was helpful when he was last here, checking many of us for potential, but then that's rare to begin with. He found one potential water mage, in the Sa pack, and that was all. And they took her to the shore and drowned her and now she's very useful, but it would be good if there were more."

Rhysel twitched at the casual mention of drowning a girl, but, given the implication that she'd survived, changed the subject instead of complaining. "Do you all live in packs?" The people in the cave were boys Roluro's age or younger, but all postpubescent.

"After our wolves are riding size, and until we get married," said Roluro. "Children live with their families while the young wolves can't yet carry their bondmates, and adults go back to their families when they're ready to have children of their own."

"So," said Narax thoughtfully, "is there a reason you're going to visit the Ri in particular today?"

Roluro laughed. "Yeah. Me and Luro, and those two -" he pointed at a pair on the far end of the cave, who looked older than anyone in the pack but Roluro and his wolf themselves. The rider of the indicated pair was sewing closed a hole in something leather. "We're seeing pairs from the Ri. There's also two pairs of us courting La girls, but we saw them day before yesterday, so it's our turn now."

"I'm going to have trouble keeping these names straight," murmured Rhysel.

"Just call everyone by three syllables, oos and ohs for guys and ees and ahs for girls, and they'll correct you on the details," Narax muttered back. "In their language there's telepathic backchannel decoration on everything and it doesn't sound so... monotonous."

Rhysel nodded once, and then Roluro clapped his hands. "So. Time to break open the freezer for dinner. Kono, Noko, Ozu, Zuo!" he called, beckoning two riders and their wolves to follow him out. "Narax, want to make yourself useful and do the cooking?"

"You cook?" Rhysel asked him, following the group outside to watch.

The left corner of Narax's mouth quirked upward. "Yes, actually, but he means he wants me to breathe fire on the meat. Saves on fuel."

The three pairs moved aside a stone that covered a pit in the ground, and then Roluro and the other two riders descended the narrow stairs that led down and came out carrying what looked like deer parts. Rhysel thought it might be enough to account for an entire deer, and a large one at that. They laid everything directly on the ground with a third of the meat apart from the rest of it. ("I can clean yours off by magic if you want, but it's safe without," Narax said in her ear.) Then the dragon resumed his natural shape and everyone stood back.

Narax breathed fire that was as jade as his scales. Gentle bursts, swept back and forth as he swayed his head, defrosted all of the meat in a short time. The riders and wolves started ferrying the greater portion into the cave at that point, and Narax went on heating the smaller amount, presumably for the riders to eat while the wolves preferred it undercooked.

Narax turned over the meat once with a foreclaw, unharmed by the heat, and cooked the other side before cutting off the stream of jade fire with a snap of his jaws. He shifted again. "Let's eat," he said, clapping his hands together once. "I'm starving."

Roluro and another rider who came out to help sliced off pieces of the meat with the bone blades they carried, and Roluro also cut pieces for Rhysel and Narax. She pulled a fist-sized rock off the ground and shaped it into a plate, though she willingly ate with her bare hands once she had the food set down on her makeshift dish.

"Neat trick," Narax said.

"Do you want one?" Rhysel asked. "There are more rocks handy."

"Nah, I got used to this last time I was here," Narax said, taking a bite out of his piece. "I was hanging around these guys for, what three months? Four? Not these exact ones, this was years ago and most of the pack from then is married now and most of the ones here now are new since then." They started to meander back into the cave, as the pile of meat dwindled at the hands of hungry riders.

"And that was before I had my house," Narax continued, "so I couldn't just teleport home - I mean, I could go visit my parents or Keo or our sister Vara, but I didn't like to do that too much. Neris had an apartment then that barely had enough room for her if she spent all day as an ant, so I didn't like to impose on her."

"Neris turns into an ant?" Rhysel asked after finishing her bite of caribou. It was plain, but tasty.

"She can turn into any number of things. She's a sapphire - blue-group dragons get extra shapes - and she's an unusual, which means she's like Keo, only less so and for blue-group powers instead of green-group ones. She can learn all the forms she wants. I don't actually know if she has an ant form," he said thoughtfully, pursing his lips. "But she'll take one as soon as someone suggests it to her."

Rhysel sat on the floor of the cave, nibbling on her food, and listened to the conversation swirl around her. The riders did all the talking, by necessity, but the wolves weren't silent: not only did they have a surprisingly expressive range of body language, they barked and whined and made laughter-like noises, and half of everything their corresponding riders said referred to wolf opinions and wolf thoughts.

Roluro sat near her and Narax. Glancing again at the handfire, he said, "Where did you learn your magic?"

"From my Master. Revenn Casten," said Rhysel, voice full of affection. "He was a brilliant teacher. I studied under him for eleven years before I achieved Journeyman status and moved out."

"Moved out?" Narax asked. "You lived with your teacher?"

"Most apprentices do," Rhysel answered. "Sometimes they don't, especially if their families live near their Masters, but my Master lives across the continent from my parents." She paused. "Of course, there are transfer points, but I couldn't use those immediately. And... I don't visit my family very much, even now. Or rather, even at the time right before I was summoned." She sighed. "At least they won't be worried about me if I get home within a few months. I think Ryll at least - my oldest sister - will want to know what became of me if I'm not back in a year."

"Why did you travel so far to study?" Roluro wanted to know.

Rhysel flushed and looked down. "I had... unusual needs, early on. I wasn't born with kamai ability. I'm what's called a 'spontaneous' kama. We get our ability suddenly, later than usual - and we can't control it at all without a lot of training. It took me a year to reliably manage even handfire, without accidentally raining on everyone in the room with me, or breaking the windows, or dissolving a wall on the tower into sand. Most people can do handfire perfectly on their first day of trying, if not the first try. My parents originally didn't want to send me to learn kamai at all, they wanted me to stay at home and keep apprenticing with my father at sculpture, but... I destroyed a lot of things. I almost hurt my family, several times. So they finally did decide to send me away, but they had to search pretty far afield to find a Master who'd take me. I was lucky, though. He's a great, great man, and a fantastic teacher, and I'm still friends with most of the people who were apprenticed with him at the same time as me."

Roluro and Luroro gave her twin stares. "You're safe now, right?" Roluro asked.

"Right," she said. "I'm controlled now. As long as I don't get even slightly drunk." She shuddered, recalling the experiment that had yielded that information.

"Oh, there goes my idea of taking you to a wine tasting on a tropical island," said Narax, snapping his fingers. "Darn."

Rhysel giggled. "Did you actually have that idea before, or did you just make it up?"

"I just made it up," Narax admitted. "They do make nice wines in Moyet... but you know what, they also make nice cheese. We can go eat cheese in Moyet instead."

"All right," laughed Rhysel. "I have no objections to cheese."

"What's 'cheese'?" Roluro asked, and Rhysel sat back and listened while Narax explained cows, domestication, milking, and curdling to his puzzled but rapt friend.

After her food was all gone and she'd decided that she didn't need seconds, Rhysel melded her plate with the wall of the cave, leaving smooth stone behind. Roluro watched this, fascinated. "Is that hard to do?" he asked.

"No," she said. "Why? Do you want me to smooth over the rest of the cave?"

"I was thinking perhaps the floor," Roluro said. "We're pretty good at not tripping, but it'd be easier if it were even, and more comfortable."

"Sure," Rhysel said.

"Do we need to get out of the way?" Roluro asked, half-standing; Luroro, who lounged nearby, straightened his forelegs and sat up.

"Not if I do it slowly," Rhysel said. "Might be a good idea for everyone to be sitting..." She peered around in the half-light her handfire afforded, confirming that everyone was in fact sitting or lying down, and then she leaned forward and planted both palms on the ground. Smoothness languidly rippled away from her hands, coating the floor of the cave even under the inhabitants. One of the wolves nosed the flat stone and barked approvingly at her.

Rhysel lifted her hands, and sagged with effort. "There," she said.

"Thanks!" exclaimed Roluro. "This is great. You look... tired."

"I am," she said. "I'll be fine in a sub. It wasn't that draining, but it wasn't trivial like the handfire, either." She sat back and monitored her power levels, rising with the slow creep of natural recharge and the faster replenishment from pulling energy out of the world around her.

"Whenever you're ready," Roluro said, raising his voice to make it an announcement to the pack instead of just a statement to Rhysel, "we'll head for Ri territory."

The likelihood that she'd get to travel on dragonback to get there perked Rhysel up as much as the renewal of magical reserves did. She drew herself to her feet, avoided leaning on the wall, and said, "I'm all set."

The pack trooped out of the cave in uncanny unison; Rhysel wondered if they could also use their backchannel without words, to coordinate like that. Outside, each rider vaulted onto his wolf. Rhysel noted the variance in sizes - younger riders were smaller than older ones, but not by as much as younger wolves differed from older wolves. Younger children would be unable to travel on wolfback for long.

"Ahem," said Narax, and she turned to see that he'd already shifted. She laughed, activated the necessary magic, and wafted up onto his back. He grinned toothily and leapt into the air.

The wolves were fast even burdened with their bondmates, but compared to how rapidly Narax had traveled before, he was maintaining a sedate pace to follow them. The wind was quiet enough that she thought he'd be able to hear her if she spoke.

"How long will we stay up here?" she asked loudly.

"I was thinking we'd leave either shortly before they get ready to go to sleep, or tomorrow morning if you wanted to stay the night," Narax called back. "I have a guestroom in my house, to which you are welcome and in which you may be more comfortable than on even a magically remodeled cave floor."

"All right," said Rhysel agreeably. "As long as I get to hear singing first."

"There'll be no shortage," Narax promised.

After a while on the run, the wolves began to howl loudly. It was mostly Luroro, but occasionally others chimed in, harmonizing with keening calls. In reply, there were softer, more distant howls, and the pack angled to follow them where they beckoned. The rest of the journey was brief, and soon Roluro's pack was greeted by a young girl mounted on a wolf of her own coming out of an aboveground house made of sod. She appeared startled to see Narax approaching from the air with the pack, and her wolf backed up two steps, barking.

Narax landed neatly on all four feet, let Rhysel off, and then shifted, smiling broadly. "Sorry to alarm you," he called to the female pair. The first few Ro boys halted and dismounted while the slower ones caught up. "I didn't know I was going to be up here myself until recently."

"I've heard of you!" exclaimed the rider girl, and her wolf wagged her tail, just once. "You're the dragon who the Ro adopted, nine years ago. Some of the older pack sisters have met you. But you have some terribly long name I can't remember."

"I don't use the whole name," he laughed, which saved Rhysel having to wonder how two syllables constituted length. "Just call me Narax."

"Okay," said the girl. "I'm Kanari, and this is Nakari." She patted her wolf on the head when speaking the second name. "We welcome you, adopted of the Ro, in the name of our pack the Ri." Kanari then turned her gaze to Rhysel and tipped her head. "Who are you?"

"Rhysel," answered Rhysel. "I'm just visiting, with Narax."

"Ooh," said Kanari, clearly taking more from this statement than Rhysel had intended to convey, but instead of commenting she just said, "We welcome you, visitor to the Ro, in the name of our pack the Ri. You can all come in," she said, raising her voice to indicate that she spoke to all the Ro as well as to Narax and Rhysel.

The dwelling was only partly aboveground; it had a dug-out basement, reached by a spiraling ramp large enough to accommodate even the biggest wolves. No one was on the ground floor at all. "So what's your actual name?" Rhysel asked Narax, as they went down into the darkness. She conjured a new globe of handfire, much to the interest of Kanari and Nakari.

"Naraxalar­tsukeraemershao­kerialnersamro," he rattled off fluently, as they reached the bottom of the ramp and stood aside to let the Ro flow in. "First two syllables are my personal name, second two are my line name - sort of like a surname, but not really - and the ones after that are syllables I've been given by friends and family members who I'm close to."

"Given? They don't have them anymore?" Rhysel asked.

He laughed. "They do. I just copied them. The way it works is I ask someone for a syllable, and then they say my entire name with the one they want to give me tacked on. Uh," he added, "never ask a dragon about whether they want or plan to ask for one from you. There's magic attached to dragon names, and syllable-adding only works if it's entirely the idea of the dragon in question."

"I won't," Rhysel promised. "Can I ask where your syllables came from?"

"In order," said Narax, "my mother, Keo and our sister Vara, a bunch of friends I had when I was a kid interspersed with a couple cousins, Neris, Samia, and Rolu - but I asked him because he could give me the same syllable as the pack's, and they were adopting me and that's normally when one adds a pack syllable their own way." His eye twitched when he spoke Samia's name, but it didn't seem to bring him down as decisively as it did when someone else brought her up first.

"Not your father?" she asked.

"Couldn't get one from him - he conferred the line name, 'Alar'," Narax explained. "Keo and Vara don't have one from our mother, same reason."

"Hey," said Roluro, padding over to where Narax and Rhysel stood, "Rhysel. We're going to sing."

"Ooh," she said, lighting up and sitting down to watch. Narax sat with her, and around the cavern the riders and wolves were forming a snug circle. Roluro strode to the open center, Luroro staying behind to lounge on the floor and look at his rider. One of the Ri girls, Roluro's age, got up to join him - her wolf trotted across the circle to lounge against Luroro, but was obviously not part of the song.

At no signal Rhysel could see, Roluro and his girlfriend launched into perfectly twinned harmony.

Rhysel listened raptly while they sang. The lyrics - rendered comprehensible, if non-rhyming, by the translation spell - were about some legendary romance, each singer taking the part of the participants of the matching gender. (Rhysel had already had an inkling that wolfriders could not do otherwise than marry in pairs, and the song confirmed it.) Roluro and the girl were both good singers. Not the best she'd heard, but the best she'd heard in a while, and they contributed a fair amount of feeling to the love song too. Their wolves had developed a habit of licking each other's faces when Rhysel next glanced in that direction.

The song ended, and Roluro dipped his girlfriend and kissed her deeply before leading her away from the center of the circle while she giggled. The youngest Ri girl, eleven years old if riders aged like people on Barashi, sang a solo next, and then two of the Ro boys duetted, and then three girls and a boy - Rhysel was dizzy with music, grinning from ear to ear.

"You look happy," Narax murmured in her ear between songs.

"I am. This is wonderful," she whispered back, beaming.

"I'm glad you're having a good time," he replied.

"Go on, just kiss her, Narax," crowed Kanari, who was standing up to take the center of the circle. "She obviously wants you to!"

Narax stared at Kanari, completely poleaxed. Rhysel felt a flush creeping up her face and suspected she looked red as a tomato; she was tempted to let her handfire wink out. It wasn't that she didn't like the idea, but apart from one comment on her hair that could have meant anything, she had no evidence that Narax felt anything but friendly and sympathetic towards her. Especially given her unfamiliarity with the culture in Elcenia.

The dragon was still gaping in astonishment at the rider girl, who was starting to look uncomfortable about having blurted out the suggestion. Kanari shrank, and turned aside and started to sing.

Rhysel left her handfire where it was, but she called up her air magic too, and flew along the ramp to the outside.

"Rhysel!" Narax called as she broke out into the setting sun's light. "Where are you going?"

"Just - out," she said. "I was embarrassed." She paused. "I guess you knew that."

"I wasn't trying to read you," he said. "Even if I was, empathy's an imprecise instrument - it'd tell me what you feel, but not why or even what you're feeling it about. Relying on it for anything complicated is a bad idea."

"So you really were surprised, then," Rhysel said softly, "when Kanari said that?"

"Well, I would've been surprised that she said it, even if you were going around wearing a sign that said 'I think me and Narax should kiss now'. And if wolfriders could read. But yeah, I was also taken somewhat aback by the idea itself."

"I wish she hadn't pointed it out," said Rhysel.

Narax blinked and tilted his head at the phrasing. "Pointed it out?" he said. "Not, 'made it up' or 'hallucinated' or -"

"No," said Rhysel, flushing deeper and turning away.

There was a silence, and then Narax said, "If you ask Neris, I'm emotionally unavailable, have no direction in life, and am incapable of smiling with both sides of my mouth at the same time."

"I didn't ask Neris," said Rhysel.

He hesitated again. The wind whistled in Rhysel's ears.

"Rhysel," he said, and she turned around to find him standing somewhat closer.

Close enough to cradle her face in his hands, lean down three inches, and kiss her.

Rhysel had not made a habit of kissing people before.

It was not, quite, her first kiss. Eryn had laid one on her, back before she acknowledged that Rhysel was never going to be attracted to women and decided that she only wanted to be Rhysel's blood sister; there had been a brief relationship in her teens, with a boy from her hometown, before she manifested kamai and started blowing things up and he'd been too afraid of her to even hear her attempt at a goodbye; the same party at which Rhysel had gotten tipsy for the first and last time had featured her plastering her face against Corvan's while he shouted in mindspeak that he did not appreciate that, especially not while her hair was on fire.

But she very much enjoyed kissing Narax, and while she suspected she wasn't very good at it, he didn't seem inclined to stop her to issue corrections on her technique so much as he seemed inclined to toy with the end of her braid and wrap one arm around her waist.

Then he pulled away, looking - annoyed? His mouth formed words, but no sound came out. It looked to Rhysel like the whisper spell he'd used with Neris before; someone presumably had bad timing and was contacting him. Possibly he couldn't talk to anyone except the caller on the other end while the spell was active. She didn't blame him. She swayed a bit on the spot, waiting patiently.

Rhysel's translation spell made people's mouths match up with what their words sounded like to her. She wasn't a skilled lipreader, but she could make out a few words. "Neris" and "time" and "Rhysel". It looked like he was telling off his friend for bothering him.

Then Narax's face went utterly ashen and his eyes widened.

"Narax?" asked Rhysel.

He didn't even look at her.

He just cast the teleportation spell, mouth forming the familiar shapes to accompany the gesture even as no sound came out, and disappeared.

Rhysel stood in place, stunned. She reached forward, as though he might have become invisible for some reason and not vanished, but her hand met empty air. He was gone.

She sank to the ground, and waited. Quite likely there was some emergency at his home. His house was on fire, or a wild animal was eating Onion, or Rellen had come back from the dead for revenge. She wasn't in immediate danger or anything. He would come back at any moment.

After the sun had dipped below the horizon, one of the wolves peeked out of the sod house to see what was going on. She waved the wolf away and he retreated underground again. <Keo?> she tried.

<What is it?> Keo replied promptly, and Rhysel released tension she hadn't known was there about the idea that she'd be stranded in the tundra with no way to get to civilization. However much she liked the wolfriders, she didn't like to think of living with them full time for the rest of her life.

<Narax... disappeared,> Rhysel thought back. <I think Neris whisper-spelled him, but I don't know what she said. He just teleported away.>

Keo was silent for a moment, and then said, <Neris is going to trace his teleportation spell and fetch you. She'll bring you to the school. The room you were using is still open. Everything will be fine.>

<I don't understand what's happened!> protested Rhysel.

<I'm very sorry, Rhysel, but I have just become extremely busy and I can't talk. Neris will be there in a tick.>

Rhysel flopped onto her back on the ground, staring up at the sky while the stars winked into existence. The constellations were unfamiliar.

When she thought of that, it sparked a little flare of hysteria somewhere in her ribcage, and she realized Narax wasn't even calming her anymore. Even though he could do that from any distance.

Neris popped into place right where Narax had stood, her bright hair visible against the darkness even under starlight. "Ready to go back to Paraasilan?" she asked, bending down to hold out a hand to Rhysel.

Rhysel sat up. "What's going on?" she demanded, not taking Neris's hand immediately.

"Samia is alive," said Neris shortly, and then she touched Rhysel's forehead and cast the teleportation spell.

Chapter Five: Tower

Neris and Rhysel landed just outside the front door of Kanaat's school. Rhysel could read the sign staked into the grass, with her literacy spell on - "Binaaralav Academy of Wizardry" - but that didn't distract her long from lingering questions.

"Tell me what happened, Neris," she begged.

"How much detail do you need? I don't know what Narax told you," sighed Neris. "And where am I taking you? I assume you don't want me to leave you standing here outside."

"I don't remember the room number. I might be able to find the window," said Rhysel, brushing wisps of red hair out of her face. "I don't know. I'll look. But tell me how she can be alive." She started walking, looking for the familiar building by handfire light, and looked over her shoulder to make sure Neris was following. The sapphire didn't look happy about the situation, but she did go where Rhysel led. Rhysel launched into a summary of what Narax had told her about Samia and her "death".

Neris listened, and then nodded once. "Okay," she sighed. "So, Ertydoans don't like dragons. When Narax and I were in school, we hid it - he had an easier time than I did; I had to keep up really diligently with hair dye. But after we graduated we didn't bother hiding any more. It'd been a while by then, anyway; people would've noticed we weren't aging like humans sooner or later. And his wedding would've been invalidated retroactively if he'd lied about his species on the official papers for it."

"Okay, and?" Rhysel asked.

"So, all of Samia's friends knew she was marrying a dragon, and not a one of them liked it. Narax mentioned that a light can do physical healing well enough to save someone's life after they get memory-shredded?" she inquired.

"Yes," said Rhysel.

"Samia had a friend from school, who was a light as well as a wizard," Neris said. "Well, I say friend, but not hardly, what she did... Anyway, this light was with Samia when she got hit by the spell. Narax and Samia didn't spend all that much time together physically, you see. They thought it was mostly redundant with the mindlink. So Samia was alone with this light, and the light saved her life, but then..."

"Faked her death?" Rhysel guessed quietly, shivering.

"Yes, pretty much. Ertydo has this... do you want the history lesson or just the facts?"

"Facts, please," said Rhysel.

"Ertydo has this poorly-enforced law on the books saying that the first person to find a dead body is supposed to cremate it immediately. So the light got hold of some ashes - I don't know if she conjured them or set something else on fire or what - and claimed those were Samia's. But first, she teleported to the tropics and checked Samia into a mental hospital in Egeria."

"Is that... the other country that doesn't like dragons?" said Rhysel, recognizing the name.

"Right. The light told the staff that Samia had a dragon after her who'd stop at nothing to get ahold of her if he found out where she was, a dragon who was responsible for her condition, and they didn't second-guess her. Certainly it never occurred to them to contact some other dragon and get in touch through the Council with Keo, who could actually fix her. No, they gave Samia a false name and kept her there - on public funding - because they like to be good little crusaders against the scaled menace." Neris shuddered with distaste. "And the light teleported home. Showed up with her fake ashes, claimed she hadn't been able to get to Samia in time. No one bothered with lie-detection on her because she was Samia's friend and everyone knew that she had been subject to a fatal spell."

"And no one found her. But now she's been found, somehow?" Rhysel whispered.

"Memory shred scrambled her empathic signature so not even Keo could locate her that way, and of course the mindlink evaporated as soon as Narax got hit with his, let alone Samia," Neris said. "However, the staff at the hospital weren't completely worthless. They were able to get some of Samia's memories to hook up to their neighbors again. I think they actually hired a wizard specifically to invent a spell that would do that, but it didn't do much per casting so it was years before she was even slightly functional."

"And then she looked for Narax?" asked Rhysel.

"She tried," scoffed Neris. "But the staff wouldn't let her go, especially after she made the mistake of telling them the man she wanted to find was a dragon. She didn't remember Keo's name so she couldn't get her attention. She couldn't access her memories of any spells. And she didn't know where Narax had gotten to, so she couldn't claim to have some other reason to be there. She had to wait in the hospital for another two and a half years letting them fix her in tiny, random pieces, and then she remembered some of her family and could ask to go to them."

"So then they let her go?" Rhysel asked.

"No, then they wrote a letter to her family, and her stepfather had to travel all the way there and prove he wasn't a dragon and was really her legal parent and promise to protect her from the dragon before they'd let him take her away back to his house in Ertydo. And he didn't know where Narax was, either, nor did he know the trick of pinging Keo, so he had to get in touch with the Dragon Council. Normally you do that by talking to a dragon you know, but he didn't know any besides Narax, so he had to write them a letter and they sat on it for a year before they even opened it because they don't think letters from non-dragons who aren't even thudias can possibly be important."

"Thudias?" asked Rhysel faintly, though it was certainly a distraction.

"Like Narax's niece, the older one - Korulen. Half-dragons. Anyway. Later letters got treated the same way. And then, finally, the jade representative showed up at Narax's house earlier today. Narax wasn't home because he was off with you, so he knocked on my door since I was right there and I'm a dragon, and I went and checked to make sure it was really Samia, and it was." Rhysel stopped walking, because she recognized the building she'd been offered a room in, but didn't move to fly up to her window; she wanted the rest of the story.

"The exact timing was... awkward," murmured Rhysel.

"Believe me," said Neris, "I know. I did a quick scry on him first to make sure he was in a position to be whispered at. I didn't know where you were; for all I knew he was introducing you to merfolk in the middle of the sea or something like that and wouldn't be able to open his mouth. So yeah, I saw, but I interrupted him, because I had just happened to find out that he was still married and might want to stop what he was doing."

Rhysel sighed deeply and gazed up at the stars, which were out in force and twinkling indifferently. "Right. Of course."

Neris patted Rhysel's shoulder, looking away awkwardly. "Anyway. Now Keo is fixing up Samia like she should've been let to do ten years ago, and Narax is highly unavailable, but Keo said you're welcome here. You'll be okay. You'd known Narax for less than a day anyway. Do you need anything before I go? I'm a little more inconvenient to get ahold of from a distance than Keo is, and she's going to be busy for a day, maybe two."

"I think I'll be fine," murmured Rhysel.

"Right," said Neris. "Well, good night. I guess I may or may not see you around." The sapphire dragon stepped back, swept her hand through the air and spoke, and disappeared.

Rhysel didn't have any clothes specifically designated for sleeping, so she got into one of the beds at random wearing the same outfit she'd changed into after her shopping trip. She was tired - she hadn't gotten a full night's sleep, and then she'd been summoned to and teleported all over an absurdly-shaped planet and kissed and abandoned in the wilderness.

Even so, sleep was slow in coming. The bed was comfortable, but it didn't have the familiar sag in the middle of the one she had at home. The curtains were heavier than her own and left the room pitch-black without so much as a sprinkling of moonlight when she closed them. Intermittently she was overtaken by shivers of unsettled dread about what new surprise would next disturb her uprooted life.

But eventually, she did sleep.

In the morning, Rhysel put on a different outfit, and went out and stopped a human girl who was tearing down the hallway. "Excuse me. How do I get to the cafeteria?" she asked.

"You go into the lift, and tell it to take you there," said the girl, blinking wide dark eyes. "Who are you?"

"Someone summoned me and I'm stuck," Rhysel said. She paused to wonder if Keo had any official title, but then said, "Keo said I could stay here until I can be sent back."

"Oh. Okay," said the girl, and then she ran on and ducked into one of the rooms.

Rhysel went to the lift. "Cafeteria, please," she told it, feeling sheepish, but the device went into motion and carried her on a zigzagging journey to her destination.

The cafeteria was an expansive, vaulted hall, divided by tables that offered food and tables at which students and faculty congregated. Rhysel hung back near the lift for a while, watching the flow of people and working out how she was meant to get her meal, before going to take a plate of her own and pile it with the more recognizable items.

She scanned the crowd, hoping to find one of the handful of people she knew. She thought she recognized the elf who had tried to break her summon before Narax had made the attempt, but she wasn't sure; she'd seen him for only a sub or so. When Rhysel spotted Korulen, sitting at a crowded but not full table near a window, she made her way in that direction.

"Hi, Rhysel," said Korulen softly as the kama approached. "Mom told me you were coming back, before she became, um, occupied." Korulen's friends, some elf girls and some human ones and one spindly half-sized one, didn't seem astonished by Rhysel or by the news that Keo was suddenly busy.

Rhysel nodded. "Can I sit here?" she asked.

"Sure," said Korulen, gesturing at one of the empty seats between a human and the tiny girl.

"So what are you going to do while Korulen researches breaks like mad trying to get you unstuck?" asked the human around a mouthful of breakfast.

"I'm not sure yet," admitted Rhysel. "I wish I had some of my things from home."

Korulen blinked; the other girls at the table began satellite conversations. "I can summon your stuff for you, Rhysel. Properly, I mean, although it wouldn't matter as much just for objects. Or, um," she looked down in embarrassment, "possibly I should get a teacher's supervision before doing that, especially while my parents are indisposed, but it's totally doable."

Rhysel almost dropped her fork. "It is? I didn't realize. I would appreciate that very much."

"After breakfast, then," said Korulen. "Today is Chenen and we don't have classes on Chenenik, so I'm free. I'm sure we can find a teacher who'll help. Lots of them live on campus or have office angles even on free days."

Rhysel smiled at the girl and tried the rice she'd taken, deciding it was good. "Both of your parents are indisposed?"

"Yeah," said Korulen. "What Mom is doing for Aunt Samia is very complicated, not like what she had to do to save Uncle Narax back when the spell was just cast. She couldn't be sure of doing it right and have my dad in the mindlink at the same time, so she had to undo it temporarily. My little sister is with my grandparents for a while."

They finished breakfast, and Korulen chattered to her friends about classes and the school choir and music and boys. When the halfblood and thudia had both finished eating, Korulen waved her hand over her plate, Rhysel imitated her, and then Rhysel followed Korulen to the lift. "I think we should try Aar Kenjin, first," Korulen mused. "He does classes on summoning and I'm sure he has the right chalk, and he might be in his office. I don't know what my parents did with the piece I had. Hall 78!" she told the lift. "How much stuff are you going to want?"

Rhysel mulled over the question. "Are gems worth money here? Rubies, diamonds, emeralds, that sort of thing?"

"Only if they aren't created by magic," Korulen replied. "It's against international law to sell magically created gems. Otherwise yeah, those are very expensive and you could sell them for local money at a currency exchange."

"I'll want those, then, I have some left," Rhysel said. "Some books and scrolls for my research. My staff and ward stones and satchel. Some of my clothes - I realize they won't all look appropriate here, but I'd rather have them available than not. Can you send things to other worlds, too?"

"You can send things. Or people," said Korulen. "The only reason I can't just add a sending spell on top of your summon and get you home that way is that sendings only work on natives."

"I'd like to be able to explain to Councilor Jezren and my Master where I am," Rhysel said. "They'll be the ones to wonder first, and they'll be able to tell anyone else who asks."

"Then sure," said Korulen, as the lift shuddered to a halt and opened for them. "We can ask Aar Kenjin, or whoever, to send them notes, or send someone to talk to them. Wizard stuff won't work there, though, so if you want to send a person it should be a dragon who can speak the language without a spell. Mom would probably go, as long as you wait until she's done with Aunt Samia."

"Sending her to Barashi won't just disrupt her mindlink again?" Rhysel asked, surprised.

Korulen shook her head, leading Rhysel down the hall and seeking out the door she wanted. She rapped her knuckles on an office marked Enokan Kenjin. "It'll hold across worlds. It's only wizardry that can't be done there; my mom's powers are dragon magic and they'll stick wherever she goes."

There was no response from Aar Kenjin's office. "I guess he's not in," Korulen said, frowning. "Let me think. Maybe Aar Kithen. I don't actually know if he does summons at all, but I spotted him at breakfast and if he was having breakfast on campus today he's probably in his office. And he'd know who would be able to help." She jogged back to the lift, Rhysel at her heels, and directed it to another hall, where she found a door labeled Tekaal Kithen and knocked.

The door opened at once, and the elf who'd tried to break Rhysel's summon stood there. "Aaralan Inular, Aaral Camlenn," he said cordially, looking first at Korulen and then at Rhysel. Rhysel was mildly surprised he remembered her name. "What can I do for you?"

"Hi, Aar Kithen," said Korulen. "Do you have summoning chalk and a spare angle? Rhysel wants some of her stuff summoned. And - Rhysel, do you want to send notes, or wait for my mom? My dad can send her if she goes and then he'll be able to tell you what people are saying and you can have an almost normal conversation, through intermediaries."

"That sounds like a better solution than just notes," said Rhysel. "Waiting another day or two won't be a problem."

"Okay. Then, all we need is the summoning, her money and books and stuff," Korulen told Aar Kithen. "If you don't have the chalk or the time, do you know someone who does?"

"As it happens, I do have summoning chalk," said Aar Kithen, "and no demands on my time until later today. Please, come in." He stood aside, and Korulen and Rhysel went into his office.

Aar Kithen took Korulen through the process of drawing the circle he needed for the summon, while Rhysel perched on one of the chairs in the corner of his office and watched in fascination. Korulen was allowed to draw some of the symbols in the diagram, although the teacher checked them over carefully for her. "These are very neatly done," he said, when he didn't discover a flaw in the lines. "It is lucky for Aaral Camlenn that you were precise when you drew her circle." Then, he drew a lesser diagram, most of a circle but ending where it touched the larger one. "Aaral Camlenn, if you will place your hand here," he said, indicating the small marked-out area on his floor, "it will allow you to serve as a focus to more readily find the objects I will summon for you."

Korulen, done with her part in the spell, took a different chair and watched; Rhysel knelt on the floor and placed her palm where Aar Kithen had indicated. "You can call me Rhysel," she told him, although she suspected that it was pointless.

"So I have been informed," he said, the faintest twitch of a smile on his face before he consulted his book one final time. "Please concentrate on the objects you wish to summon here. We can repeat this process as many times as necessary while the circle is unbroken, to complete your list of desired items, although if I retrieve anything you prefer to send back, it will be inconvenient to return it. So, precision is more important than being thorough the first time. Let me know when you are ready."

Rhysel shut her eyes and thought, first, of her ward stones and staff. "Ready," she said.

Aar Kithen said a phrase, and Rhysel opened her eyes. There were her stones, scattered on the floor in the same careless pattern they'd been left in, and her staff, propped up on the invisible barrier created by the circle. She shut her eyes again and began thinking of books. "Ready," she said again.

Nine repetitions of the spell later, all of the tools and resources she wanted were piled high in the circle. "Will that be everything?" Aar Kithen asked when Rhysel sat back, lifting her hand off the floor.

"Yes," said Rhysel. "Thank you very much." Then she remembered a rule of wizardry that seemed to apply. "This isn't going to stop you from using that spell until I can go home and take my belongings with me, is it?"

"It will not," said Aar Kithen. "This particular spell attaches your possessions to this world as though they were native to it, until they are further enchanted. Aaralan Inular mentioned that money would be among the summoned items, and I suspect you do not prefer to spend currency dependent on my continued cooperation to remain in this world."

Rhysel laughed. "You suspect correctly. Thank you again."

"You are welcome," he replied. He stepped forward and smudged the outer chalk border with his foot. Her staff and one of the more precarious piles of books clattered to the floor. "Do you require help transporting these things?"

"No, I've got them," Rhysel said, levitating everything and plucking her satchel out of the air to sling over her shoulder.

"Do you want to put them in your room?" Korulen asked, trotting down the hall after Rhysel.

"No," Rhysel said. "I want to build a house."

After Rhysel had clarified that she didn't want to build the house on school grounds, and that she expected the entire process to take a div (she had to translate this to "a sixteenth of a day") after she had land on which to put it, Korulen was considerably less stunned.

"I've never bought land before, Rhysel," said Korulen. "I don't know how to do it. I don't think I'll be much help."

"That's all right," Rhysel said. "I'm not in a hurry. Do you want to come along?"

Korulen shook her head. "I should probably be studying, if you don't need me anymore," she said. "Um, but you should know how to find me in case we don't run into each other in the cafeteria again." Rhysel got a scrap of paper out of her satchel and wrote down Korulen's hall and room numbers, and then the girl let Rhysel into the lift first.

Rhysel considered dropping her belongings off in the room she was borrowing, but she decided she wanted to at least get an idea of how long it would take to secure a plot of land first. "Headmaster's office," she told the lift. Kanaat's indisposition might keep him from doing much work or being a suitable guardian for the day, but she thought he'd probably be able to answer a couple of simple questions, or refer her to people who could.

The lift obligingly took her to Kanaat's office, which was empty. "Kanaat?" she called, presuming that he could hear her in his quarters through the bookshelf.

"What?" asked the elf's voice from the expected direction. He sounded more like he was confused by the use of his name than like he wanted to know what Rhysel was about.

"It's Rhysel," she said. "I want to talk to you; can I come in?"

There was a pause. "I don't care," he answered, sounding muffled.

Concerned, Rhysel put her hand through the bookshelf, and then went through the rest of the way when it proved insubstantial as she expected. Her summoned things followed her obediently.

The shelf led to a large bedroom; a broad window shed light on the cradle that Rhysel assumed normally held the baby dragon. Kanaat was sitting on his and Keo's bed, hunched over her where her head rested in his lap. Her eyes were closed and her hair was a green fan over his knees. While Rhysel watched, Kanaat picked up Keo's hand where it rested on her belly, looked at it expectantly, and then bit his lip and set it down again. He waited a moment, and then repeated the action and was disappointed again.

"Kanaat?" said Rhysel softly.

"She'll come back," he murmured. He was staring at his wife with an overwhelming intensity. "Keo. She said, she said she'd come back, she'll come back. Keo. She'll come back."

Rhysel was painfully aware that she had misjudged the situation. "I'll - I'll just go," she said.

"She'll come back," said Kanaat. "My Keo. She said." He didn't look at the intruding kama, or seem to register her presence; he might have been talking to himself or to no one. He stroked Keo's hair, and frowned again. "It will be better when she's back. Keo."

Rhysel backed away, through the bookshelf and back into the office. She and her belongings went into the lift, and she directed it to the hall where her room was.

Rhysel deposited her things in her room, and then decided to try asking the lift to take her to the library, presuming that a school would have one. The lift obeyed the command, and it was quite a library.

She couldn't make heads nor tails of the categorization system, and on reflection she wasn't sure if a library for a wizarding school would have anything relating to buying land, so instead she asked a librarian. The librarian she chose proved more than happy to tell Rhysel about the necessary steps to obtain a plot as long as Rhysel was also willing to listen to anecdotes about the librarian and two of her children and one of her grandchildren doing the same. Rhysel sat through it indulgently, and then, having written down the librarian's directions to a moneychanger and to an office that would sell her what she wanted, told the lift to take her to an exit.

Neither location was hard to find, nor were they far enough away that Rhysel was tired by the flight. The moneychanger cast a lot of spells over the gems she selected from her bag to sell, to confirm that they were genuine, not magically generated, rightfully hers, and so on, but turned up nothing to concern him and gave Rhysel a rather staggering number of coins. She found herself very glad that she didn't have to carry them by hand.

The librarian had described a second office; the name hadn't translated effectively, but it sounded to Rhysel like some kind of transaction management service that sold land on behalf of people who wanted rid of theirs and didn't care to bother with finding buyers. When Rhysel went there and explained what she wanted, the clerk cheerfully presented her with options reasonably near the school, within flying distance of Paraasilan proper but not hemmed in by neighbors, and without buildings. Rhysel got him to carve off a piece of a larger parcel of land which would have plenty of space for a tower and a garden and some breathing room, and walked out with papers saying she owned it, directions to the place, and considerably fewer coins.

Rhysel flew to her new home, after a stop back at the school for her things. The land she'd bought was a deserted sort of place, occupied by tall grass and wild shrubs and not much else. She made a circuit on foot, following the little flags that marked the edges of her plot, and then went to the center of it and started to lay out her ward stones.

There were eight cube-shaped stones a little over an inch to a side. Two rubies, two sapphires, two marble, two obsidian. Created by kamai, all of them, so Rhysel supposed she couldn't sell them if she'd wanted to, but she didn't. They were tools.

She formed an octagon of harmless firewriting at the perimeter of where she wanted her tower, and placed one stone at each point and opposite its twin. The grass within the area was in her way, so she burned it away with a controlled flame which she extinguished when it was all gone. Standing behind one of her rubies, she closed her eyes, let her possessions fall to the ground behind her, raised her hands to focus her attention on the task, and woke the stones.

The ward stones had a variety of uses, the first and most obvious of which was the creation of wards, but they also allowed very efficient channeling of magic for large-scale workings like the one Rhysel planned on using to erect her tower. The fact that her own stones were attuned to her in particular would also give her a lasting connection to the building, which would let her modify it more easily in the future than she would have been able to otherwise. She was still going to be exhausted afterwards, but she'd have a home of her own to collapse in.

Rhysel reached with tendrils of power into the ground, and began transmuting earth to stone and lifting it up into the shape she desired. The floor plan was copied directly from her tower back in Barashi, which she'd labored over for a bit longer figuring out exactly where everything belonged. The results had served her well and she intended to duplicate them in Elcenia. She felt the stone she called up pulling at her power as it formed five stories with eight outer walls, the spiraling staircase inside them, the glass of the windows, the furniture that sprouted out of the floors and detached itself when it had its form, and the high pointed roof all kyma's towers had as a beacon to petitioners needing help.

She pulled at the texture and the color of the stone, turning the outside of her tower brick red and coaxing other colors out of the surfaces inside. She convinced the floors to hold warmth, just enough that they would feel more like wood than rock if she walked barefoot on them, and made the surfaces of the chairs and couches and beds spongy and yielding so they would require no separate cushions.

And then, drained beyond the ability to pick up her books and supplies from where they lay, she staggered in through her open front door and fell onto a familiar, brand-new sofa.

Chapter Six: Barashi

Predictably, Rhysel woke up from her nap absolutely ravenous, and while she had learned a working to turn a stone into bread, in her current state it would cost far more energy than eating the bread would gain her. It was barely worthwhile even when near starvation.

Instead, she hauled herself off of the couch and out the door, guessed from the sun that it was early afternoon, and slowly collected her ward stones and the belongings she'd left in a heap on her doorstep.

When everything was inside, she sat heavily on the springy sofa, worked on recovering her expended lifeforce, and debated whether to go to the school and visit the cafeteria, or to Paraasilan to find a grocery store. The way her tower was situated, they were roughly equidistant, and the grocer would be a longer-term solution given that she didn't want to rely on someone else's cooking indefinitely.

Rhysel sat and recharged until she judged that she could walk the half-mile, plus however much walking within the city, without falling over or fainting. Then she left her tower again, a bag of coins in her hand, and set off.

Rhysel got directions to a grocer's from a middle-aged human man and was relieved to find that it wasn't too much farther from where she'd entered the city proper. She found Paraasilan's layout strange. It began suddenly, and with buildings just as tall at its edges as she'd seen from a distance at the center. And the grocery store seemed to be located in the middle of a residential neighborhood, where tall, closely-spaced houses circled shared yards and cobbled streets wound between the rings.

After pausing near the broad, open entrance to the store and watching people in it to confirm that she understood how retail worked in Esmaar, Rhysel went into the aisles, picked up the first piece of fruit she recognized, and bought the apple before she did anything else. The other customers were followed by floating baskets, or trains of them. She went back outdoors to eat it, burned the core, and - feeling much more sure on her feet - returned to explore the food in detail.

She recognized about two-thirds of the items for sale, or could figure out what they were after reading their labels. Other things, like the chocolate she'd been introduced to the previous day, were alien. She took a packet of chocolate candies off the surprisingly large display devoted to such things, but mostly stuck to what she could figure out: meat and vegetables and flour - Rhysel had to hunt for wheat flour on a shelf including everything from powdered black beans to almond meal - and fruits and butter and more staple ingredients she'd need to establish a usable pantry. They didn't sell bowls or dishes or utensils, but Rhysel planned to make her own anyway.

Rhysel wound up filling half a dozen of the floating baskets. The young elf girl who waved a clear wand at them and quoted the price spelled in the glass asked if she needed help transferring to a hover platform.

"I don't have a hover platform," Rhysel told her, counting coins out of her bag. She had more than enough.

The elf looked surprised. "Oh. Um, well, I'm sure you have a way to get them home, but do you need any help?"

Rhysel was about to turn her down, but then she smiled and said, "I'm fine for today, but actually, do you have some kind of delivery service available? I live a ways out of town."

"There's nothing like that attached to the store," the girl said. "But if you want a person to bring you groceries and you'll pay them, I'm sure you could get someone interested. Maybe my little brother."

"That would be perfect," Rhysel said.

"Okay," said the girl. "I'll call him now, if you want." When Rhysel nodded, the elf produced from her pocket a long, green faceted crystal, and thwacked it sharply against the corner of a shelf containing dried locusts. Instead of cracking, it chimed, and she held it to her ear where it was hidden under honey-blond hair. "Hey! Kolaan! A customer wants someone to deliver her groceries to her place out of town. Are you interested?" There was a pause; Rhysel couldn't hear whatever the girl's brother said in reply. "Yeah, she's right here. I'll ask. Aaral?" she inquired politely, addressing Rhysel. "Do you want to wait here, and he can show up in a degree or two, or do you want to tell me when you'll be back so he can be waiting for you then?"

"I can wait," said Rhysel, trying and failing to remember how long a degree was. She didn't think it could be long, from context.

"Okay. Kolaan, she'll wait for you, but don't dawdle, okay? Right. Love you too. Bye!" The elf knocked the crystal against the shelf again and pocketed it. "Thank you for your business and for giving my little brother a job," she said to Rhysel, smiling sunnily, and then she moved off to scan the purchases of another customer.

Rhysel stood near the front of the store with her floating baskets, munching on a heel of brown bread. After a short wait - she estimated it took less than a sub - a boy who looked rather like the elf girl poked his head into the store. "Aaral Wants-Her-Groceries-Delivered?" he called.

"I think that's me," laughed Rhysel. "You can call me Rhysel. How shall we do this?"

"Here's what I think would work," said Kolaan brightly. "You buy a hover platform but I keep it to use for delivering you things. And you get us pads of link paper, so you can write your lists on it and when you want deliveries and I'll be able to see it. How far out of town do you live?"

"It's about half a mile from here," Rhysel said.

"Okay, then I want five aaberik per delivery, seven if it rains but that's not going to happen much," Kolaan told her. "Plus you pay for the groceries, obviously. It might make sense for you to pay in advance - they do that here; my sister's always complaining about it. And then you can authorize me to draw on your advance."

"Well," said Rhysel, "you're clearly the expert. Can your sister handle that transaction?" She pulled out a coin at random, and, sure enough, it said "one aaber" on it.

"Yeah, sure. Taaril!" hollered Kolaan.

The elf girl hurried over, looking embarrassed. "Don't shout for me in my workplace," she hissed at him.

"Sorry," said Kolaan, completely unapologetic. "Rhysel wants to pay in advance for a few grocery trips. I know how much you love that part of your job, right?"

Taaril huffed a sigh at him, but then turned a pleasant smile on Rhysel. "How much would you like to deposit, Aaral?"

Rhysel wound up handing over all of the coins she had on her, less what Kolaan said would be needed for a hover platform and link paper, and then followed Kolaan out of the store, floating her groceries in a less organized train behind her. "There's a place up the block that will have the platform, and one right across the street from it that will have link paper," he chattered. "How often are you going to want deliveries? Taaril brings home food most every day, but that's because she's always at the store anyway. I think most households send somebody shopping twice a week."

"I'm not sure yet," said Rhysel. "I just now moved here. Probably once a week, since I live by myself." She'd noticed that most of the food was available in very large amounts per package, although she'd been able to find smaller quantities. "Are families here usually very large?"

"Fifteen, twenty, thirty people to a house," said Kolaan. "Eighteen in mine."

"Wow," said Rhysel, shaking her head. "And I thought my family was huge."

"How huge?" asked Kolaan, holding the door for her into a store. He made a beeline for a pile of what looked like crosses between puzzle boxes and stacks of planks, and picked one up. "This'll do. Excuse me!" He waved over a staffperson.

"I have two sisters and four brothers," said Rhysel. "But there was never a time when we were all living in the house simultaneously; Ryll had moved out for her apprenticeship before the younger twins were born."

"That's a big immediate family," said Kolaan. "We live with other relatives. Me and Taaril only have two other siblings. She's paying," he added to the clerk, who looked at Rhysel expectantly.

Rhysel handed over the money for the platform, and Kolaan marched out with it tucked under his arm. Outside the store, he unfolded it with a shake like one would a rug, the wood pieces joining up on their edges to form a rectangle. Kolaan released his hold on it and it dropped only partway to the ground, stopping a foot up and then holding motionless while he stepped onto it. "You can put those down if you don't want to float them," he said to Rhysel, motioning at the food and then at the remaining space on his platform.

Rhysel arranged the groceries around his feet. "They won't fall off?"

"Nope," he said, and he stamped his foot on the wood, causing it to coast smoothly across the street until he stopped it with another kick outside the second store. There, he picked out and directed Rhysel to purchase a twin pair of pads of paper. "Now you should show me where you live, so I can find it next week. Where are you from, anyway?" he asked as they walked out and he stood on the platform again. He followed Rhysel when she lifted into the air and began flying back to her house.

"Barashi," said Rhysel.

"Where's that?" Kolaan asked.

"Another world," she said. Kolaan had more questions after that, and she eventually told him a nonlinear version of the story of her arrival, including the fact that she wasn't an air mage as he'd thought but something else entirely. She conjured a globe of handfire to prove it.

When they arrived at her tower, there was a packet of papers attached to her front door. "Huh," she said, tugging at it; it came off in her hand readily.

"Is the... house new?" Kolaan asked. His tone suggested that he was momentarily unclear on whether the tower was a house. Rhysel nodded. "Then they came in and put up your ward, probably," he surmised.

Indeed, the packet's first page said:

Ward Notification. We apologize for failing to arrive at a time when someone was home. While you were out, an agent or agents of the Paraasilan municipal government visited your home and placed an Esmaar Standard House Ward on it. By default, this ward is down, and tied to the owner of the land, which realtor record shows to be one Rhysel Allera Camlenn. Aaral Camlenn may key others to the ward according to the instructions on page three and may cede tying to another person according to instructions on page four. Instructions on how to raise and lower the ward are on page two. Details about the ward's functions beyond these are on pages five through seven. If you believe there has been a mistake of any kind with your ward, please visit the Warding Office in Paraasilan City Hall.

"They just show up and cast wards on people's houses without asking?" Rhysel asked Kolaan, blinking at the packet.

"Well, yeah," said Kolaan. "Everybody has to have one. They would've explained what they were doing if you were home when they got around to it, but the wards aren't customized except for the keying and tying you can change, so they don't have to wait for you."

"Oh," said Rhysel blankly.

"Do you want me to help you carry your things in?" Kolaan asked.

She looked up from the papers. "No, thank you, I've got them," she said, and floated them off of his platform and through the door into her kitchen.

"Okay," he said. "Write on your link paper what you want next and when." He grinned at her and then kicked his platform into action again, speeding back towards town.

After reading the packet and making lunch - a roast with a side of spinach rice, which she cooked by magic and ate off dishes pulled from the stone of her wall - Rhysel shelved her books in the library on her second floor, and then laid out the old scroll she had been translating on the table in the workroom opposite it. With a start, she realized that her literacy spell worked as effectively on the ancient fairy dialect as it did on Elcenian languages. Whatever else she might have to say about Korulen and Saasnil's irresponsible summoning behavior, it had saved her a month of work going back and forth between tiny runes and a poorly-written dictionary.

She read the scroll, starting from the beginning to familiarize herself with any translation quirks from the spell that might confuse her when later paragraphs referred to definitions in the beginning of the text. It was a long document, in tiny print, supplemented by cramped diagrams and half-legible marginalia.

It occurred to her that she didn't know if she'd get to thank Narax for the spell, as things had turned out. She didn't know if she'd ever see him again. But she returned her attention to the writing, shaking her head.

When Rhysel was halfway down the first column of paragraphs, re-familiarizing herself with the part of the ritual that involved purifying a sample of air, she heard Keo's voice. <Rhysel?>

<Keo! Hi,> Rhysel responded, giddy over the leap forward she'd made in her research. <How are you doing?>

<I'm good as new, and so is Kanaat,> the dragon sent. <I'm sorry Korulen didn't think to warn you not to try to talk to Kanaat while he was broken away from me. It was better than it could have been, since I was able to do it cleanly and he expected it, but it didn't leave him ideal company. What was it you needed?>

Rhysel thought that "not ideal company" was an understatement, but she replied, <That's all right. I only wanted to ask about how I could buy some land on which to build the tower, and I found out another way.>

<I'm glad it wasn't an obstacle. Korulen told me you were going to build a house by magic?>

<That's done,> sent Rhysel wryly, <complete with a ward I didn't ask for, but at least they left instructions. Korulen had a suggestion - would you be willing to go to Barashi and talk to one of the town councilors where I was living, and my Master? I can describe where both them are likely to be found.>

<Sure, I can do that,> said Keo. <When did you have in mind? Our schedule is clear for the rest of the day, since I didn't know how quickly I'd finish with Samia.>

<Today works for me,> Rhysel answered. <Shall I meet you in Kanaat's office?>

Keo agreed, and they ended the conversation with an exchange of pleasantries. Rhysel smiled once more at her newly comprehensible scroll, and then made a door open in her wall and close behind her when she flew out.

By the time Rhysel had arrived at the school and gotten to Kanaat's office, Kanaat was halfway through chalking a circle onto his floor. Like the one Aar Kithen had used to summon her possessions, it had an extra lobe attached to it, and Kanaat confirmed that Rhysel would need to put her hand there to serve as a focus.

Keo stepped into the circle when Kanaat set aside the chalk and got to his feet. "Where am I going first?" asked the dragon.

"Councilor Jezren's home," Rhysel said. "In Dyran, Restron. I think some people might be alarmed by seeing you just appear in a place with no transfer point, though, so maybe you should start out at my tower and travel from there to the town."

"Are they going to be alarmed if I fly?" Keo asked. "In my natural form, I mean."

"Maybe, but less so," Rhysel said. "I don't think anyone will bother you, although they'll probably assume you're a kama. You'll want to land outside of town, and walk the rest of the way." She described how to find Councilor Jezren's house from the side of town nearest her tower, which could be reached by going straight out the tower's front door.

Keo nodded. "And you can tell me what to do through Kanaat when I get there," she said. Kanaat lifted his hand, Rhysel put hers on the extra bit of circle, and the headmaster sent his wife to Barashi.

Keo appeared on the first floor of Rhysel's tower. It was cluttered, with a basin full of dishes in the kitchen and a blanket trailing off the sofa onto the floor, but Keo wasn't there to tidy up the place. She let herself out, shut the door conscientiously behind her, and, seeing no one about to alarm, shifted and jumped into the sky.

It was a short flight on a dragon's wings, and Keo soon coasted down to a clear area near the wooden thatch-roofed homes near the outskirts of Dyran. This did attract some attention - halfbloods were staring at her from windows and streets - but Keo just tossed her head, changed back to her human form, and walked right into town as though she was stared at by offworlders on a daily basis.

Councilor Jezren's house wasn't hard to find with Rhysel's directions. It was nicer than most of the surrounding houses, with slate on the roof and a brick facade behind the wrought-iron fence that surrounded the yard. The gate was open, and Rhysel's answer to Kanaat's question confirmed that Keo was welcome to walk right in.

Keo did exactly that, and yanked the bellpull that hung beside the double doors at the center of the house's front side. A halfblood boy shy of adolescence answered the door, looked politely nonplussed by Keo's green hair, and said, "How can I help you?"

"I'm here to bring a message from Rhysel Camlenn to Councilor Jezren," Keo said politely. "Is the Councilor home?"

"She is, ma'am. May I say who bears the message?" asked the boy.

"I'm Keo," replied the dragon. "But she won't know me."

"That's all right, ma'am. Please come in. You're welcome to sit," he said, indicating a row of wooden chairs with tied-on cushions along the inside of the hall. He turned to go, presumably to fetch Councilor Jezren.

Keo sat, and admired the mountain landscape painting hung on the opposite wall until the boy returned. Following him was a woman in a starched button-down dress that fell to her ankles, with brown hair curling around halfblood ears. "Ms. Keo," she said. "You're a messenger for Rhysel?" She looked at Keo's hair with a raised eyebrow, as though to convey that she was skeptical anyone would employ a green-haired messenger.

"That's right, but it's just Keo, please," said Keo. "Rhysel asked me to let you know that she's been unavoidably called away. It may be months, or years, before she can return to Dyran." Rhysel was telling Kanaat that while of course the Councilor knew Rhysel was a kama, she, like most non-kyma on Barashi, was somewhat uncomfortable with magic and would be happier not to know all the details. "I'm going to take a similar message to her Master, Revenn Casten, as soon as I'm done here, and I can let him know that Dyran requires a replacement kama to be assigned to it, so he can make those arrangements. If you have any specifications, I can carry those as well."

The Councilor frowned. "Unavoidably called away? To do what?"

"She didn't tell me to specify, Councilor," said Keo gracefully. "Suffice it to say that it was truly impossible for her to give notice or request leave first, and she really can't come back."

"Well. I don't suppose I can do anything about it, then. Please ask Master Casten to arrange for another elementalist," replied Jezren. "Rhysel's ability to move stone saved several lives recently, and we might have lost more than one man if she'd had to wait for another kama to arrive instead of doing it herself."

"I'll pass that on," said Keo. "Rhysel does expect to return eventually, although she doesn't know when she'll be able to, and would prefer that her tower remain undisturbed until then."

"That can be arranged," said Councilor Jezren. "If there's nothing else to the message, you may go."

"Thank you, Councilor," said Keo lightly, and she walked out through the door the young boy was holding open for her and back out of the town. Eyes followed her, and she heard a few gasps when she reverted to her natural form at the outskirts of town, but she ignored them and followed Rhysel's directions to Revenn Casten's tower.

It would have been faster for Kanaat to unsend Keo and then send her to her second destination, but Keo enjoyed the longer flight, a chance to stretch her wings after a harrowing night and morning. After a time in the air, she noticed that there were two overlapping shadows skimming the ground below her, one sharper than the other. In fact, everything had two shadows. Kanaat asked Rhysel, only to be informed that Barashi orbited a "double star", which apparently entitled it to two suns, one greater and one lesser.

Kanaat's time spell indicated that the flight from Dyran to Aydin, the city that Master Casten served, took two and a half angles. During this time, Rhysel got Kanaat to look up a calling spell and fetch a scroll for her from her new tower, which she read avidly while muttering something about translation magic; Kanaat just sat and enjoyed Keo's flight vicariously, and his ability to enjoy what Keo experienced again. When she came in for a landing outside a tower much taller than Rhysel's at Dyran, Rhysel rolled up the scroll.

No one had spotted Keo out of the tower's windows. She landed gently, shifting the moment a claw touched the ground, and rang the bell.

A halfblood boy, who would have been approaching thirty if he'd been an Elcenian half-elf, answered the door. He had olive skin and curly dark hair, and he trained a disarming smile on Keo. "Hi! I'm Talyn. What can we do for you?"

"Hi!" replied Keo. "I'm Keo, and I'm here with a message from Rhysel Camlenn to Master Revenn Casten. Is he here?"

"Yeah," said the boy. "I'll go get him." He waved Keo in. The first floor of the tower was occupied by small desks and chairs to match; one of those chairs contained a small elf girl and another a halfblood boy older than Talyn, both of whom looked at Keo and then returned to the books they were reading. Talyn charged up the stairs, calling, "Grandfather! Grandfather! There's a lady here called Keo with a message from Rhysel and she thinks really loud!"

Keo leaned on the wall of the tower, and closed the door behind her. She waited; a grinning, bearded man, with coloring similar to Talyn's and an imposing shape, descended the staircase and approached her. "Good morning, Keo," he said genially. "I hope Talyn's exuberance hasn't annoyed you."

"I'm afraid I have to deny thinking really loud," said Keo. "I assure you I'm doing it in perfect silence. Are you Master Revenn Casten?"

"I am," he acknowledged, "but please, call me Revenn. I should explain - Talyn hasn't yet achieved reliable control over his innate ability to hear thoughts. I can't confirm whether you do think 'loudly' or not without attempting to read you more actively myself, but some people do make it through his attempts to hedge them out more readily than others."

"I see," said Keo, and then she tried something. Like much of what she did, it was a clear path from intent to result, without an obvious mechanism in between, but it did cause Talyn to creep back downstairs.

"Thanks for shielding," the boy said. "I'm sorry."

"It's no trouble," said Keo.

"Your message?" Revenn prodded.

"Right." Keo explained how Rhysel had been summoned, why she couldn't return while Keo had no trouble visiting Barashi, and what prevented her daughter and daughter's roommate from immediately undoing their mistake, and then passed on Councilor Jezren's request.

Revenn didn't seem to know whether to grin at Keo for being so interesting or frown at her for having brought such unfortunate news. "But Rhysel's safe?" he asked.

"Sitting in my husband's office right now," Keo said. "I'm in constant mental contact with my husband, and he can talk to her for you if you have something to say to her."

"You mentioned Rhysel was summoned by 'wizards'. What is a wizard?" Revenn asked next.

"A kind of Elcenian magic-user," Keo said. "We don't have kyma, although Rhysel's magic works fine there. She asked a faculty member from the school my husband runs to retrieve some of her belongings, which he did, and she's continuing her research there."

Revenn beamed. "She was always hard-working when she had a project on her mind," he said. "Does she know when she'll be done? I would make a trip to another existence to witness her Master working. I would like to go even without, and see the place, but." Revenn gestured at the little elf and the halfblood boy, and put a hand on Talyn's shoulder where he'd come up behind his grandfather. "Lots of apprentices to look after."

"Rhysel says," said Keo, waiting for the answer, and then finished, "that with the scroll translated, she may be done in as little as two or three months."

"She's finished translating the scroll?" Revenn asked. "I thought she was barely a quarter done."

"Elcenian magic is in fact good for more than summoning unwitting women and getting them stuck," chuckled Keo. "She's under a translation spell, since she can't speak the local language."

"Which prompts the question," said Revenn, "how can you speak Martisen?"

"It's a dragon thing," said Keo blithely.

"You're a dragon? An otherworldly dragon?" exclaimed Revenn in fascination.

"I most certainly am," she said. "My sort of dragon can shapeshift, too, but it does leave signs." She tossed her hair.

"I want to see!" cried Talyn.

"Sure," laughed Keo, "but not in here. I'd wreck your furniture. Before I go, I'll step out and show you." That made Talyn smile. "Is there anything else that I should relay to Rhysel, or that you want to ask?"

"A thousand things," said Revenn, shaking his head, "but I shouldn't keep you. Is there a way to get in touch with your people if need be?"

Keo clicked her tongue, thinking, and then said, "Can you sing?"

"Passably," said Revenn, puzzled. "Why do you ask?"

"It's another dragon thing. If you sing my full name - quite a bit longer than 'Keo' - to a particular melody, I'll know you've done so, and then I can come see what's going on," she explained. "I should probably write down the name for you, although I don't know how you write music here."

"Talyn," said Revenn, "why don't you make us a crystal to record the song, so we don't forget it?"

"Okay, Grandfather," said Talyn, smiling up at Revenn. He closed his eyes and adopted a look of intense focus, and in his palm, a clear octahedron appeared. "If you sing your song, Keo, I'll record it in this," Talyn said. "The crystal won't last forever because it's image kamai, but it should be fine long enough for us to learn the song."

Keo nodded, tipped her head back, and sang. "Keopyga­vakilshelarinebna'­achithkanlen," she crooned.

Talyn touched a side of his crystal, and it sang the same notes in Keo's voice. "Exactly," Keo said. "And if we need to get in touch with you, I or someone else will come in person, or we'll send a note. Where would you find a note that wouldn't be too in the way?"

"How about on one of these desks?" Revenn suggested, patting an unoccupied one to his left.

"Sure," Keo said. "And now... I believe I promised to show you something."

Revenn and Talyn - and the two apprentices who had been studying on the first floor - followed Keo outside, and watched as she transformed into her dragon shape, nearing thirty-seven feet long and more than that in wingspan. She showed off the wingspan, though she didn't take off, and giggled when Talyn made an incoherent noise of awe and Revenn clapped.

Then, because she wouldn't fit into the circle that way, she transformed, took a bow, and let Kanaat unsend her.

Chapter Seven: Disconnection

Rhysel gave an eager smile when Keo came back. "Thank you so much," she said.

"No problem," said Keo, stepping out of the circle. It was apparently unnecessary to smudge it; Rhysel supposed that sending circles didn't need that particular safety feature. "Revenn is a nice man. And one of the apprentices says I think loudly," she added, thoughtful.

"That's probably Talyn," Rhysel said. "I've only met him a few times, because our apprenticeships never overlapped and I rarely have a chance to visit my Master, but he's an innate kama - manifested early, incredible natural facility with kamai - and he hears thoughts without trying."

"Yes, Talyn," Keo nodded. "Cute kid. Speaking of which, I should go fetch the baby from my parents now."

"Keo," said Rhysel, as the dragon raised her hand to gesture for teleportation, "would you and your family like to come over for dinner, the day after tomorrow?"

Keo put her hand down and looked at Rhysel, pursing her lips. "By 'my family', who do you mean?" she asked, at length.

"You. Kanaat. Korulen. The baby," Rhysel said, and then she inhaled deeply and said, "If they'd like to come, your parents, and... your siblings. And your sister-in-law."

"Both sisters-in-law?" Keo asked.

Rhysel blinked. "I didn't know you had two."

"Vara's not actually married," Keo said. "But she's in a committed relationship. Pilar might as well be my sister-in-law. I didn't know if Narax had mentioned it."

"He didn't," said Rhysel, trying to keep control of her breathing. "Sure. Pilar too if she'd like to join us. But please tell me how many to cook for."

"I'll ask them all and let you know within a few angles," Keo said, smiling sympathetically. Then she straightened up with a sudden idea. "Do you want to learn the local language, or just stick with your translation spell?"

"I could be here for years, right?" asked Rhysel, and at Keo's nod, she said, "I think I should at least try learning the language. But I'm not sure how that will work with the spell on."

"I have a cousin, Maeris, who tutors languages," Keo said. "She's not a wizard, but she knows how translation spells work, and how to work around them. And she's licensed to teleport, so it shouldn't matter that she lives in Tava. I could invite her and you could ask if she'd teach you. But I should warn you that she's expensive."

"I can probably afford it," said Rhysel. "I still have most of the jewels from my bag, even after changing some into aaberik to buy the land. And of course she's welcome at dinner."

"Two questions," said Keo, holding up two fingers. "One. What is your address? So we can actually accept your invitation. And two. How did you come to have a bag of jewels?"

"The realtor told me I was at Northwest 22-88-5, Paraasilan, Esmaar. I don't actually know what that means - for all I know it's the lot number. Is it an address?" she asked, and Keo nodded. "And I have the jewels because trolls hand them out by the sackful to people who perform services for them, rather than using them for jewelry or anything like that. I helped a clan out of a mudslide once. It usually happens that they give gems to other trolls, so trolls as a group don't run out of gems to give away fast enough to offset their mining, but sometimes they'll give them to others."

"Fair enough," said Keo. "I'd ask what a troll is, but I fear running out of light dinner conversation. What time should we be there on Arnen?"

"Arnen?" said Rhysel blankly. "That didn't translate."

"Oh, sorry. It's a day of the week. Tomorrow's Inen, day after is Arnen. Did Narax explain to you how we keep time?" she asked as an afterthought.

"I think so, but I couldn't call it to mind," said Rhysel, shaking her head. "How about sunset? I can figure out when that is."

"Sunset it is," agreed Keo. "You might want to get Maeris to teach you this sort of thing too."

"Anything I need to keep in mind about the food?" Rhysel asked, running through possible menus in her head.

"Korulen's allergic to peaches," Keo said. "And the baby's picky, but we haven't worked out a pattern to it yet and she won't be talking for a few weeks yet. Otherwise I think everyone getting an invite will eat whatever you put in front of us. I like spicy food," she added with a grin. "Extremely spicy food."

"I'll make some troll food, then," laughed Rhysel. "They never make anything less than half composed of pepper, it sometimes seems like. And I'll see that there's a variety."

Keo grinned at her and teleported away to retrieve her little daughter, and Rhysel bade Kanaat a polite goodbye and went out of his office by lift.

Rhysel spent the subsequent day (which she tried to think of as "Inen") finishing her read-through of the scroll, and outfitting her kitchen. She'd already used her ward stones to turn some of the cupboards into permanently chilly or outright freezing storage spaces, since she didn't know what was used in place of iceboxes in Elcenia or how to get some installed and doing it herself was simpler anyway. But she needed more plates and utensils to accommodate guests, and more pans and mixing bowls, so she drew stone out of her walls and shaped it like it was uncannily obedient clay. The tower in turn drew more substance from the land around it; Rhysel supposed that eventually she'd sink herself into a little scooped-out valley, but it would take more than equipping herself to have friends over to eat.

Friends. She'd never met Samia (nor Vara, Pilar, or Keo's parents, but they'd all declined the invitation). But Samia was important to Narax, so Rhysel was up for being friends if she was. And Narax and Samia were coming, so that was something.

Kolaan came in the early afternoon with the extra groceries Rhysel had written him about, and accepted his coins with a self-satisfied smile. "By the way," he said, carrying in bags of bread and peppers and lemons. "Next month, the play I'm in opens. I can get you tickets for less than sale price if you want, and that's even after I take a little off the top."

"Is that so?" Rhysel asked. "I didn't know if there was much theater around here. What's the play?"

"It's called The Man in Red and Gold," Kolaan said. "It's not a major professional production or anything, it's basically filler because the theater had a couple unbooked months, but we do have a strong lead, sings really well -"

"Sings? I thought it was a play," Rhysel said.

"It's a play with songs in it. Don't they have those where you come from?" Kolaan asked.

Rhysel shook her head, wide-eyed. "That sounds amazing. I'd love to go. And I can schedule around it - I don't have any inflexible appointments - so I'll take a ticket for whatever showing would be best. Will you just bring one next time I order food, and I can add the price to your usual pay?"

"Sure," said Kolaan, grinning at her. "They have the sale price printed on them, so you'll know I'm ripping you off if I charge you that much or more."

"I trust you," said Rhysel, smiling faintly and raising an eyebrow at him. "Shouldn't I?"

"No, you totally should," Kolaan said, holding up his hands as though to forestall retraction of trust. "But, you can check, if you want. Because it's printed on the ticket."

Rhysel started putting away fruit juice. "All right," she said easily. "Thank you, Kolaan."

After explaining how he'd selected cheeses to match her specifications - necessary because the exact varieties available differed world to world - Kolaan zoomed away on his hover platform. Rhysel finished putting away the food, except for what she needed to fix herself a sandwich, and then read again through the first section of the scroll, which was about the air-purification part of the ritual.

It was complicated, even more than the proxic workings she'd taken a year to truly understand. But, unlike when she'd studied proxic workings, she wasn't working as a kama anymore. That was disheartening in the sense that, to her new neighbors, she was essentially useless. If someone did ring her bell and call for help, she'd provide it, but she wasn't part of a well-understood system on Elcenia; no one knew that living in a tower meant that she was available to give aid.

But it did mean she had a lot more free time.

Rhysel touched the wall behind her worktable and pulled out a fist-sized crucible. It was probably going to explode, that being the listed way in which the working failed if performed improperly, so she called up her physical protections, and then set up her ward stones around the precious scroll to perform their titular function: an obsidian over a sapphire, a sapphire over a ruby, a ruby over a marble, a marble over an obsidian, each stack of two at a corner and called up to protect what was within the rectangle. The ward shimmered into place; it looked like paper-thin leaded glass and made it difficult to see the diagrams clearly.

She cradled the crucible in the palm of one hand, and began funneling air through the other, passing it through a wall of power to clear it of impurities and infuse it with the ability to pass on kamai to someone born without it.

The crucible exploded.

Fragments of stone clattered off Rhysel's defensive magic and the ward over the scroll, and skittered across the floor to collect in corners, but the kama touched the wall again, undaunted, and made another.

When she started cooking on Arnen, Rhysel had destroyed several hundred crucibles. She'd made most of these out of the pieces of the prior failures, rather than letting drifts of stone debris accumulate in her workroom. By the time she adjourned to start fixing dinner, she was dragging her feet with magical exhaustion and half-suspected that Elcenian days were longer than Barashin ones, but she nibbled on her ingredients and was much improved before her guests arrived.

Keo, Kanaat, and their daughters came first, the baby clinging to her father's head and babbling enthusiastically while her more linguistically capable family issued compliments about the pleasant smells of the meal.

Maeris was next, and Rhysel caught a glimpse of her coming in for a landing out the window. She was more than twice Narax's size in that form and every bit as lovely, but then instead of adopting a human form like her cousins, she turned into one of the miniature point-eared people Rhysel had noticed (complete with green hair). Rhysel adjusted a chair to suit the dragon's diminutive shape and bring her up to the table's height, and Maeris chirpily introduced herself while seizing Rhysel's hand and shaking it for no obvious reason, then sat.

Then the bell rang again.

Rhysel delayed a moment, composing herself, but then she smiled and went to open the door.

Narax was there, and at his shoulder stood a human woman with light brown skin, dark hair barely long enough to curl, and an assessing light in her narrow eyes. She looked like she was somewhere in her thirties, but there was a tiredness about her that would have suited someone twice her age. "Hello, Rhysel," she said, when she'd studied her hostess's face for several eyeblinks. "I'm Samia."

"Hello, Samia. And Narax," Rhysel added, standing aside to let them in. "Welcome. Come in."

"Thank you," murmured Narax, and he and his wife stepped into the tower. He sat by his sister, and Samia next to him. Rhysel watched them out of the corner of her eye as she closed the door, and - yes, they moved with the same mutual body awareness that Kanaat and Keo, or a rider and his wolf, showed. The same odd synchronized timing, when they pulled out their chairs. Narax held out his water glass for Samia to fill from the pitcher but looked at neither her nor the glass. Keo had re-linked them after healing Samia.

That should have been predictable, Rhysel told herself, and she sat down and started identifying dishes for her guests, pointing out what was hot, what was best eaten fresh off the fire, and what the juices were.

Samia looked up and met Rhysel's eyes, and it occurred to the kama that the mindlink meant Samia knew her husband had kissed her.

Keo was in transports of delight over the spiciest thing Rhysel had made, and so Rhysel turned her head to smile and accept the praise. She dished herself potatoes, and watched Korulen trying to convince her chattering little sister that broccoli was not going to do her harm. Maeris quoted prices for Leraal lessons of various possible durations and frequencies and did a decent job of articulating her schedule constraints in terms of the sun rather than foreign units of time. Kanaat didn't speak, but did partake of the food and smile.

Narax and Samia both talked, albeit never to each other. Narax caught Keo's attention between declarations of eternal fealty to Rhysel's cooking, and asked after their parents, who Keo had more recently seen. Samia looked at Rhysel, and sometimes answered Korulen's tentative questions about her well-being in uninformative monosyllables that tended to imply that Keo was a better source of information than Samia herself. Maeris questioned Samia about her accent in Leraal, which the translation spell utterly failed to render, so Rhysel listened with interest when the tiny dragon and the human described it. The baby was finally coaxed into tasting the broccoli, which Rhysel had soaked with lemon dressing. Finding it appealing, the dragonet attempted to climb onto the table for more of it before Kanaat plucked her off and served her seconds.

Gradually, people filled up, and were sipping at their water more often than they were taking bites of dinner. Rhysel was about to float in the pies she'd baked from where they rested on the kitchen counter when Samia coughed, obviously to attract attention. "I have something to announce," she said. When everyone's eyes were on her, she continued: "I'm pregnant."

Everyone reacted simultaneously - Keo and Kanaat wore matching expressions of consternation, Korulen looked gleeful and excited and wanted to know if it was a boy or girl and whether they'd named it, Maeris tapped Rhysel's elbow and helpfully murmured that conceiving at will was another dragon power. Rhysel herself just froze in place the smile she'd reserved for the anticipation of pie, and managed to say, "Congratulations."

"So soon?" Keo murmured.

"Soon, after ten years? I'm not getting any younger," said Samia, lifting her chin. "We wanted a child before. That never changed. And now I'm back, and we're together again, and why wait? It's a girl, Korulen, and a thudia like you," Samia added, smiling at her niece. "We're going to call her Alyah."

"H-how do you know it's a girl?" Rhysel asked, forcing herself to focus on the intricacies of the strange world and how it worked, and not the suddenness of her crush being married and, imminently, a father, when he'd been widowed and childless.

"Dragons can do that, too," Maeris whispered in her ear. "Pick our children's genders."

Samia threw Rhysel an almost challenging look. "Even if that weren't the case," she said, "there are spells to find out such things. We would have known anyway that we're going to have a girl. That's how we know she'll be a thudia."

There was a silence, and Rhysel said, "I... made pie. Does everyone have room for dessert?"

"Yes, please," said Korulen, and Maeris and Keo both nodded enthusiastically. Even Narax seemed to like the idea. Rhysel floated in the pies - one raspberry lime, one coconut cream - and started cutting slices of either or both, as requested.

The baby dragon devoured a slice of the raspberry lime pie in two bites and cried for more, but was cruelly denied; most everyone else had a sliver of each. "Narax," said Keo, having recovered somewhat from her discomfiture, "I think I remember you saying that you like living in Imilaat but wouldn't want to bring up a child there."

"Right," Narax said. "So we're thinking we'll move. And probably not to Ertydo, either, even though Samia's stepfather and brothers are there. I was thinking I'd ask if that offer to have me as faculty at Binaaralav was still good. Samia too. We could get a place in Paraasilan."

"...Sure," said Keo. "Sure. The courselist for the Rohel-Komehel term is already set, but you could come in for Marahel-Nidhel."

"Great," said Samia. "We can start househunting, then. Neris ought to have some more space, with her new husband, anyway."

Something flickered across Narax's face, but Samia reached blindly to her side and clasped his hand where it lay on the table, and he calmed, looking smilingly at his family and Rhysel around the table.

"Well," said Maeris. "I think I'd best get going for tonight, or is my husband ever going to pout. Thank you so much for dinner, Rhysel, and how about Fenen - that's day after the day after tomorrow - early afternoon, for your first Leraal lesson?"

"That will be fine," said Rhysel automatically. "Thank you for coming, Maeris."

Maeris smiled, waved at her cousins, and teleported away.

"I think the baby is getting cranky," Korulen opined.

"We'd better get going too," said Samia, standing up simultaneously with Narax.

"Thank you for inviting us," Narax added to Rhysel.

Her guests left, all by teleportation - Kanaat took Korulen, and Keo carried the baby - and Rhysel was left alone.

Rhysel spent the next day, and the day after, and the morning after that, bursting open a thousand more crucibles with her attempts at capturing, purifying, and empowering air. She got a little closer, each time, to making it come and take the transformation and stay. And managing it once wouldn't be enough: she had to be able to do it reliably, for air and for water and fire and earth too, and then be able to do all four in the same vessel according to the timing of the ritual in her scroll. But she had time.

Maeris arrived to give Rhysel a Leraal lesson not long after Rhysel finished her inordinately large lunch. Blowing up crucibles wasn't as exhausting as lifting up a tower from the earth, and while she sometimes wanted a nap, she thought that was because of how the days dragged longer than they ought. The practice nevertheless left her with a formidable appetite.

Rhysel opened the door when Maeris rang the bell. The dragon was laden with a flap-top bag over her shoulder. "Why didn't you teleport here on - Arnen?" she asked. "I saw you fly in."

"I hadn't been here before on Arnen," Maeris said. "I'd visited Keo at the school before, so I teleported there, and flew the rest of the way. Even actual wizards can only teleport places they've been."

"Interesting," said Rhysel. "That's not how transfer points work. You need to know the signature to travel to one, but you can learn it from someone else without having visited it."

"A transfer point is something from your kind of magic? You can use a teleportation circle that way, except they work automatically, you don't have to know anything. If you're standing on it when it activates, you get moved."

Rhysel motioned for Maeris to follow her up the stairs. "I hadn't heard of those. Also - can you tell me what your current shape is called? I've seen people that size before but I'm not sure how to ask; at least you're actually a dragon and not a..." Rhysel trailed off.

"Halfling," supplied Maeris. "Most dragons pick human forms. Some even have more than one humanoid shape. I just have this, because I'm from Tava and everything's sized for halflings there. I mean, public buildings have to have ceilings and doors tall enough for everyone, and there's businesses catering to minorities and foreigners, but it's really inconvenient to be tall in Tava." They reached Rhysel's library, sparser than its Barashin twin because she hadn't brought in all of her scores of books, and the kama called up a halfling-compatible chair from the floor near the desk. Maeris hopped into it and hauled her bag onto the table before her. "Let's start with the alphabet."

"Will my spell transliterate individual letters if you write them?" Rhysel asked, as Maeris pulled out a sheet of paper and a stick of graphite with a rubber grip near one end.

"It will if they have reasonable phoneme equivalents in your language or spell words," Maeris said. "No single Leraal letter is a word, but I think about... half... of the letters would be readily transliterated into Martisen. That's why I'm not going to write them." She presented the graphite stick to Rhysel.

Rhysel took it, but stared quizzically at the paper. "Okay..."

"If you write something - in any language - your spell will leave it alone," Maeris said. "Ideally, I won't write anything during these lessons, until you get the spell taken off - it will all be you. That's a good idea anyway, to help retention, but especially important when you have a spell. Now, there are 21 letters in the main dialect of Leraal - plus two more in Ryganaavlan Leraal, but you're not going to Ryganaav, certainly. So leave room for 21 lines. Draw a circle," she instructed. When Rhysel did, Maeris added, "And a little square inside of it, that doesn't touch the circle."

"That's the first letter of the alphabet?" Rhysel asked, looking at the shapes.

"Yup!" said Maeris. "It's a mel. Makes an 'mmm' sound. Write down 'mel' however it seems to you like it'd make sense to spell it, next to the letter, and then an emy as the nearest Martisen equivalent. Keo said you spoke other languages?" Maeris said.

"Decent Eashiri, passable Trollspeak," Rhysel confirmed.

"Might dip into those alphabets for some sounds," mused Maeris. "Okay, the next letter is kar..."

Rhysel wrote down the rest of the Leraal letters, their names, and what sounds they made, at Maeris's direction. The entirety of Leraal seemed to consist of shapes and arcs inside other shapes and arcs, or occasionally crossed by lines and curves, which made it easier than it might have been to describe the forms of the letters.

After the alphabet was down, and all the numerals with it (mercifully in base ten), Maeris told Rhysel how words were put together in Leraal: always ending with consonants, no multiple vowels together, clusters of consonants only in groups of two and only in the middles of words. "Anything that breaks those rules isn't standard Leraal. It might be a recent loan word, or Ryganaavlan, or misspelled, but it's not correct for Esmaar. So, study the alphabet, work on pronouncing the aa sound from the letter aan more like a yawn in the back of your throat." Maeris cast the same time spell Narax had used, blinked at it, and said, "We've got a few degrees left before I need to go. Anything you'd like to cover today rather than tomorrow?"

"What is a degree?" Rhysel asked helplessly. "And - why wouldn't I go to Ryganaav?"

"You wouldn't go to Ryganaav because it is a nasty, nasty place and they'd kill you on sight for having pointy ears, that's why," said Maeris tartly. "Don't worry, you're not likely to stumble into it by mistake. Write down the following letters..." She told Rhysel how to spell the words 'year', 'month', 'day', 'angle', 'degree', and 'tick' in Leraal, and Rhysel copied them down with frequent reference to her alphabet notes. Maeris also supplied the ratios for each, summarized the timekeeping system, and confirmed their appointment for the next day, before picking up her bag and teleporting away.

Rhysel was less focused on crucible explosions with a language to study; when exhaustion forced a break or she wanted a change of pace from constant magic use, she reviewed her notes and practiced pronouncing that long aa sound, and translated the math on the scroll into Leraal numerals.

Maeris arranged to come daily, at different times depending on the day of the week (Rhysel learned those, too: Inen, Arnen, Saanen, Sinen, Fenen, Lunen, and Chenen - Maeris had no good explanation for why Elcenians used awkward seven-day weeks instead of tendays like Barashins). By the end of her third lesson, Rhysel had stacks of paper with vocabulary words and sentence patterns scrawled all over them in decreasingly stilted handwriting. Maeris praised her diligence, but with only two tasks and no interruptions, she didn't have much to do but be diligent.

On Chenen evening, Rhysel's bell rang. After blowing up another crucible - she would have liked to think it was distraction, though it probably would have burst anyway - she jogged down the coiled stairs to admit the visitor.

It was Samia. Narax wasn't with her, although given the link, that meant nothing. Possibly unless he was asleep, but Rhysel didn't know how that worked, and didn't have a good context to ask Samia at that moment. "Samia," she said. "Hello! I'm surprised to see you. Come in. Can I help you with something?"

"Possibly," said Samia, stalking into the tower and rolling her shoulders like they were tense but she was too dignified to rub them. "We'll see. Let's sit down." Samia took one of the chairs at the dining table, and sat with her wrists crossed in her lap.

Rhysel sat, apprehensive, but leaned her arms on the table and looked earnestly at Samia. "What is it you need?"

"I need your word you're not going to poach my husband," said Samia.

Rhysel sat up, surprised. "I doubt Narax is going to cheat on you. If he even could, given the -"

"That's not what I mean," snapped Samia. "You're a half-elf. I'm a human. He's a dragon and he'll be around in a hundred years, and so will you, and mindlink or no mindlink... clearly... the fact that I won't is going to have him looking for who's next."

"I don't understand," said Rhysel. "My parents have always assumed that, after my father dies, my mother will eventually -"

"Yes, of course. That's the assumption with dragons too. Maeris is on her... I think third... husband, now, and if she sticks to halflings and they don't eat right, she can fit in another four or five before she hits the age where she's traditionally supposed to settle down with another dragon for the long haul. Narax's dad married eight women before he met Narax's mom. And nobody wonders what the first one... what was her... Decia, no one wonders what his first wife Decia thought of that. But you know what? Narax's dad didn't marry anyone poor Decia knew, after she died."

"So it's just me in particular?" Rhysel asked quietly.

Samia shook her head. "I have this problem with Neris, too. I would have thought that getting married to her own human would get her off the idea that she and Narax are supposed to get married when they're a thousand, you know, I would have thought her husband would object like I do, but apparently not. But that's my problem, not yours, and even if I can't do anything about Neris, that doesn't mean I want you taking up the interim between me and her. If I can't have him to myself forever, I at least don't want to know the names and faces of the others."

"I didn't know that about Neris," murmured Rhysel.

"Not surprised," said Samia, looking away. "Why would you know? Why would either of them tell you? But it's true."

"Why isn't Narax here with you?" Rhysel blurted out.

"Because he's an empath, and he can turn it down, but he can't turn it completely off," Samia said, and she clenched her teeth. "If you're within thirty feet, he can't not know something about what you're feeling, whether he means to or not. And then I'd know too. And I don't deserve to have to care. I deserve one thing that I can just ask for, and get, because it's mine, without worrying about whether my wanting it will upset someone. I want my husband and my baby, and then I'll be satisfied."

"I -" began Rhysel. She didn't know what came after that word, but Samia interrupted her anyway.

"You," said Samia derisively. "You got summoned here. Poor thing. That will take a maximum of six years to fix, if you have to wait for Korulen to graduate and get a familiar instead of just waiting for her to finish a class on breaks, and in the meantime you can communicate with your friends and family. In the meantime you're still ambulatory, conscious, sane, you don't have people cutting off your hair so you're easier to take care of or conspiring to keep you away from the person you love most out of everyone because they don't like his species. No one's tried to murder you lately, am I right?"

"Right," whispered Rhysel. "I - I can -"

"You implied your parents are both alive, didn't you, it's not like your father abandoned you when you were a child and your mother died while you were comatose, leaving you with one stepfather who looks after you out of duty and resents that you weren't around to work and pay off your school loans? Which is obviously my fault, of course, I could have just stayed with Rellen forever and then he probably never would have made an attempt on my life, maybe. You're not married to someone who'll live twenty times as long as you will if not more and who has his eye on various women of your acquaintance who have less baggage and won't get so old so fast?"

"I can fix your hair," Rhysel said, quickly, softly, not making eye contact. "I can make it grow out as long as you want."

That seemed to startle Samia, who allowed a tick to pass without speaking. "How?" she asked, at length. "Wizards have been trying to work out a spell for that, but haven't figured out how to make the spells distinguish between hair on the scalp and everywhere else."

"Proxic kamai," said Rhysel in a low voice. "I can make a model of you, and connect you to it. Then if I make the model's hair longer, yours will grow too. It will feel strange but doesn't hurt."

Samia blinked, but said, "All right - yes - that would be good."

"I need something from you to connect the statuette," Rhysel said. "A hair is probably easiest."

Samia plucked one and handed it over, and Rhysel pulled up a lump of stone from the floor. She made the hair sink into it, and forced it into a representation of Samia, in the same sitting position (on a phantom chair); she brushed her fingertip across Samia's hand where it rested on the table to connect proxy to person, and the statuette began moving when the real woman did. Rhysel laid her fingertips on the stone Samia's head, and urged its hair to grow out. "How long do you want it?" she murmured.

"Halfway down my back," said Samia.

When that was done, Rhysel pulled the hair out of the model and let the model sink back into the floor. Samia shook out her curls. "Thank you," she said. "That was very kind. It would also be kind of you to promise that you aren't going to go after my husband. I wouldn't even be this worried about it if you hadn't come on to him. I wouldn't worry about you, except you seem awfully cozy here in Elcenia, for someone stuck against her will."

"I'm sorry," said Rhysel. "I am so sorry. I - would it solve the problem if you were going to live longer than me?"

"...Yes," said Samia suspiciously.

"There's... a way to do that, with kamai," Rhysel whispered. "I don't know how to do it now, but I can learn, once I'm back home. And then I could give you some of my lifespan, and maybe that will make up for how I hurt you."

Samia stared at her. She looked on the verge of saying something, but then her face contorted into an awful expression, somewhere between pain and self-recrimination.

"Samia?" said Rhysel. Samia made a noise that didn't sound human, and slumped forward to the table; only a quick kamai intervention prevented her from breaking her nose. "Samia. What's wrong?"

The human rolled her head, ear to the table and eyes staring in the direction of the front door glassily. "Narax," she choked. "He's gone."

Chapter Eight: School

Rhysel was not equipped to handle a link-broken Samia. <Keo!> she called. <Keo, Samia says Narax is gone. What could have happened? Is he all right? She's -> Samia was barely conscious. She looked worse than Kanaat had when Keo had disentangled from him, and Rhysel had a terrible fear that Narax was dead.

<Narax is alive,> Keo said immediately, <the idiot, what was he thinking? He should have asked me if he wanted out - could undo half of her repairs ->

<She's that fragile?> Rhysel asked, alarmed. <Is there anything I can do for her, or...?>

<I can put her back together again, but yes, this soon after the fix, that kind of trauma could easily dislodge something. Checking her over now.> Keo went silent in Rhysel's mind, and, one tense tick later, said, <She's intact. Apparently had time to brace herself before he split. That idiot, that complete idiot. She wouldn't be any happier about it if I'd done it, but at least it wouldn't be so dangerous.>

<What should I do?> Rhysel asked.

<Stay put. Make sure she doesn't fall off her chair,> said Keo. <If she talks to you, you can talk to her, but don't push it. I'll be there to take her - home to her stepdad, I guess - after I've finished yelling at Narax and apologizing to Samia's family.>

Rhysel sent back her assent, and watched Samia where she was slumped over the table. There was a little pool of tears under her right eye. "Narax," murmured Samia.

"It was probably just some kind of misunderstanding," suggested Rhysel, though she had no idea. She hadn't even known that people other than Keo could break mindlinks, until she'd seen it happen. Presumably they could only break their own.

"No," murmured Samia. Her jaw moved awkwardly against the stone she was leaning on, but Rhysel's translation spell didn't broadcast any slurring of her words. "He doesn't like what I was thinking."

"Narax loves you," said Rhysel.

"Maybe," said Samia.

"Wouldn't you know?"

"Not now," sobbed Samia. She slapped one of her hands onto the table, hard enough that Rhysel winced in sympathy, and pushed herself up into a sitting position. She still hung her head, and her hair fell like a curtain around her face. "He... loved me, ten years ago. I know that." Rhysel waited, and Samia went on: "Keo didn't think we should re-link right away. She said it was a bad idea."

"I confess I don't know a lot about how it works," Rhysel said.

"It's the last thing you do," Samia said. "Keo says you have to be close as can be before. You have to make it a small step." She paused between sentences, and between words, like she had to retrieve vocabulary and grammar from deep storage. "Keo and Kanaat were married for two years first. She didn't want to do it for us the first time either. We hadn't been together long enough, we'd only just gotten engaged, we - but we told her it would be fine, and it was, it was wonderful, it was - I wanted that back. So did he. Once I found him again."

"You seemed all right at dinner the other day," murmured Rhysel.

"It takes a while to acclimate. To - look at everything once you're able to see it," Samia said miserably. She brushed her hair out of her face, but didn't tuck it behind her ear, and it fell forward again. "And then you made your stupid offer and I couldn't even wish I could take it, without... he couldn't stand having it in his head, having me in his head, so he tore away."

"I'm sorry," whispered Rhysel.

"I don't care," Samia snapped. She planted her palms on the table and hauled herself to her feet. "Now it doesn't much matter how long I live, and maybe you won't even have to wait until I die to go after Narax. There's no way he ripped out our link and plans to stay married." She made a strangled choking noise and said, "At least we agreed on a name for our baby first... I'm going home."

"Are you sure you should be -" began Rhysel, but Samia's hand danced in the air and she spoke a word, and she was gone.

Rhysel heard an update from Keo, an angle later. Samia was back home with her stepfather, and divorce proceedings had been rushed through by the Ertydon government, who were eager to disentangle one of their citizens from a dragon. Narax was still planning to move to Paraasilan and teach, since he'd have his daughter alternate months when she was born. And Keo added a ranting editorial about how she was never going to mindlink anyone else, ever again, however much they begged.

And then Rhysel was alone in her tower, not even Keo's voice in her mind.

She set up her ward stones into an open cube, matching pairs at opposite corners. She poured all the lifeforce she could spare into it, and recharged, looking listlessly over her Leraal words for household objects blocked out in her own hand. When she had more energy, she poured that into the box, too. And again, and again, storing up enough that usually she'd want to tap at least six, maybe ten, people to do a working that draining.

When the box held enough, and she was recovered enough to stand and wolf down two bowls of leftover soup, Rhysel picked up the ward stones - which adhered to their box configuration even when she held only two in her hands - and carried them up to her library.

She drew a circle on the floor in dancing firewriting, and crisscrossed it with lines. She sat down on the floor, set her power-box beside her knee, and rested her hand on the top face, causing her whole arm to thrum with energy.

Focusing on the lines in her circle, and hauling at the power in the box with all her might, she made a transfer point in the same place as the one in her tower on Barashi.

Rhysel dozed off - well, passed out - and when she woke up, it was dark, all her firewriting extinguished and the setting sun only feebly wafting light in through the windows. Her ward stones, emptied of stored power, had clattered inertly to the ground. But from the circle of stone in front of her - visually indistinguishable from every other part of the floor - came a gentle thrum. A transfer point's unique signature.

She read it, and memorized it, and then she pulled herself to a standing position with the help of a chair, stood on the transfer point, and tried to go home.

Of course it didn't work. She remained exactly where she was; if the transfer point could have made a whine of confusion, it would have. It wasn't touching the same ground as the one she'd meant to go to.

Rhysel glanced out at the sun. It was sinking; she hadn't slept through the whole night in a heap on the rock. She lurched to her bed, and fell into it gracelessly.

Maeris came every day to teach Rhysel more Leraal. Kolaan arrived at the tower whenever called for, his hover platform heavy with groceries; when he had access to tickets to his play, he sold one for a few weeks after opening night to Rhysel at two aaberik shy of the printed price. Rhysel had Keo, Kanaat, Korulen, and the baby over once a week, partly for company and partly to practice speaking Leraal with more conversational partners. (She still couldn't hear Leraal when they spoke it, but when she halted through an offer of pie, everyone but the baby understood her.) And she continued to blow up crucibles, until she finally forced the funnels of air to do her bidding and moved on to water. Water tended to dissolve its cups rather than exploding them, and after a long session her workroom was duned with sand.

Four tendays (no: almost six weeks) after Rhysel's arrival, Keo presented Rhysel with an invitation to her baby's naming ceremony. "Since she'll be a month old, it's time she got a name. But, I should warn you," Keo added, after explaining the rough details of how baby dragons were named, "that -"

"I assumed Narax would be there to watch you name his niece," Rhysel said. "I'd like to come anyway. If it's awkward..." She shrugged. "He doesn't have to talk to me."

"Right," said Keo. "Okay, we'll expect you."

"Why do you wait a month to name a baby dragon?" Rhysel asked. "Wasn't Korulen named when she was born?"

"She was," Keo said. "Dragons... well, not so much parunias like my baby; they just use the same ceremony even though it doesn't apply for the usual reasons. But full-blooded dragons have a staggering mortality rate, before they get to be about a month old. After that it drops off very sharply."

Rhysel bit back the question of how many brothers and sisters Keo had lost, and instead asked if she was supposed to bring a gift. Keo told her that she could bring a toy or similar for the baby but was by no means obliged.

The ceremony was on Pehahel 32, one day after the baby turned a month old. (Rhysel was still thrown off by fifty-day months, a tenday longer than she was used to, and unremittingly confused by the fact that every month had an extra fifty-first day that did not get a number, only a name: the previous month with "-for" appended to it. If they were going to have days outside the calendar, they at least shouldn't get days of the week - like Ascendancy Days on Barashi.) Local guests were invited to a dinner beforehand at Kanaat's family's house, but Rhysel skipped it, and - like people who were traveling farther - met the crowd on the grounds of the school.

Maeris was there, with her husband, an older halfling with wispy grey hair who attempted to get bets from everyone he passed about what sound the baby's new name would start with. Most people who took him up on it seemed to expect another "k" phoneme, to match her parents and sister, and people who disagreed got better odds.

School was not in session during the month of Pehahel; it was one of two breaks between terms. With the students and faculty cleared out of the place, there was no one to shoo away when it came time for everyone to sit on the grass in a circle.

While Keo and Kanaat sat together, Keo holding the squirming scaled baby in her arms, there was no order in which anyone else was to sit - immediate family didn't seem to wind up any closer on average than arbitrary others, including some girls who seemed to be Korulen's friends and to have no other claim to be present. Rhysel sat next to Maeris and her bookie husband, not quite diametrically opposite the dragonet and her parents.

"There's my uncle Kilaer - Keo's dad," said Maeris, pointing. The man looked exactly like Narax, not even their different ages showing through in human form. Kilaer did wear his hair long, and it was tied back in a ponytail, but otherwise - he even smiled the same crooked smile. "And my aunt Tsuan, his wife." Tsuan was the exact image of Keo without even a different hairstyle as a clue, but she was at least dressed differently and didn't move in time with Kanaat. "Vara's over there, with her girlfriend Pilar..." Vara looked like a green-haired, brown-skinned dwarf (Maeris had gone over this and other species with Rhysel, as a supplement to the language lessons, and Rhysel could recognize any Elcenian sapient now) with no family resemblance whatever to mother or sister; apparently the twinlike resemblances only held within a given shape. Her girlfriend was also dwarven, though paler. "And..."

Maeris was interrupted, when Keo decided that the circle had settled into place as neatly as it was going to. "Friends and family," she said. "I'm so glad you've all come to our daughter's ceremony. I know some of you have never watched a dragon being named before. What we're going to do is this. I'll speak our daughter's name - personal name, and then the line name 'pyga' she'll get from me. I'll hand her to Kanaat, and he'll repeat her personal name, and she'll be passed around the entire circle that way, everyone greeting her. If you have a present for her, toss it in to the middle of the circle after you pass her on to your neighbor - if it's not safe to throw, of course you can get up and put it there more gently."

Rhysel tucked her hand into the satchel she'd brought to the ceremony and made sure her gift was there. Keo went on. "Ready, everyone?" Enthusiastic nods made the entire circle appear to ripple, and Keo beamed, picked up her baby, and said, "Runapyga."

Kanaat took the dragonet, who lashed her tail and chittered. "Runa," he said, and he kissed her between her horns and passed her on.

Runa was reasonably tolerant about being passed around, except when it turned out that her grandmother Tsuan's gift was a packet of yellow cookies; this appealing item caused her to squirm out of her grandfather's hold and make for the center of the circle as fast as her wings would carry her, necessitating a brief chase. Her grandfather chided her, laughed through his recitation of her new name, and then handed her on.

Rhysel accepted little Runa from her right-hand neighbor (some relative of Kanaat's, if the ears and blond hair were anything to go by) and said, "Hello, Runa."

"Dedda kwazeecu asaruxl!" jabbered Runa, fluttering her wings and craning her neck to look at the cookies she hadn't managed to devour prematurely. Her scales were tiny and almost soft under Rhysel's hands where she held the dragonet under her forelegs like she'd seen the others doing. Rhysel laughed and handed Runa over to Maeris, then dug out her present from her bag. It was a hollow glass ball, about the size of Rhysel's two fists together, and full of colored sparks that changed colors every time it bounced on its way to the center of the circle.

Soon, Runa was back in Keo's arms, and Kanaat started gathering presents into bags while everyone else climbed to their feet and milled about. Keo fished the cookies out of the pile and let Runa have one, but only one, which led to the newly named infant clacking her teeth together snappishly and poking her mother in the neck with the corners of her wings. Rhysel tried to stick with Maeris, but soon lost the tiny woman and her equally tiny husband in the crowd. Eventually she gave up, congratulated Keo by mindspeak rather than wade past strangers and Narax to do it aloud, and lifted into the air to fly home.

The next day, Rhysel made purified, energized water sit nicely in its crucible ten times in a row, and moved from dissolving containers to melting them. Some combination of fire being her best element, and practice effects from the prior two steps of the ritual, let her make better incremental progress with each cup of stone that dripped between her fingers and cooled into lumps on the floor. With heat protections active, it felt rather like raw egg. Rhysel thought she might have the entire thing ready to test - ready to show to her Master and the other supervisors - in just a couple of weeks.

She wasn't sure who she'd try it on. Everyone she knew on Barashi was either a kama already or highly suspicious of magic in general, and she didn't know where to go looking for an Elcenian test subject. There was Roluro, the rider who'd been intrigued by the way she performed workings, but she didn't have a way to get in touch with him except through Narax. Possibly she'd be willing to do that in a few months more, but for the time being she thought she'd like to find a different recipient.

When Keo came with her husband and daughters for dinner the next day, Rhysel brought it up, over almond biscuits with butter and jam. "Any ideas?" she finished.

"Do you have any interest in teaching kamai?" Keo asked her, spreading marmalade onto Runa's biscuit for her. "At, for example, a nearby school of magic?"

Rhysel blinked. "I hadn't thought that far ahead," she said. "I wasn't intending to become a teaching Master - I'm more about research - but - I suppose I'm the only kama here, and I don't know how much luck you'd have importing others. If I give an Elcenian the ability, I guess I have to teach at least that one person."

"Well, not necessarily," Keo said. "If you do mean one person, I can spare an afternoon to go through and copy your expertise to someone else, I just wouldn't want to do it over and over." She gave Runa her marmaladed biscuit, and started slathering jalapeño jelly onto her own. "If you don't have teaching experience, you could infuse one of our teachers, and we could start up a kamai department that way. I'm sure someone on the faculty would volunteer. And then you could infuse students who want to learn, and they could study at the school in which they are already enrolled."

"That sounds like a great idea," said Rhysel, smiling. "Will you want to pick from the volunteers - assuming there's more than one - yourself?"

Keo nodded. "We'd trust some of our teachers with overseeing entire new departments, but not necessarily all of them. Kanaat will mention the opportunity at the next staff meeting and we'll see who wants to be involved. But, Rhysel, it'd be better to have you involved too. I can be thorough, but I'm bound to miss something, and transferred knowledge is never as sure and natural as learned knowledge until it's been practiced a lot anyway. Are you sure we can't convince you to teach too? Even if you do all your classes with the other instructor?"

"Maybe," Rhysel said. "It might depend on the other teacher. I did help teach younger apprentices, before I made Journeyman and left my Master's tower, but I usually preferred to do it with a partner." She paused, and said, "The other problem is that I only know one of the five kamai aspects, elementalism. I might be able to give myself a crash course in one or two of the others, enough to teach introductory students by the term after this coming one, but not all four."

Keo shrugged. "So your fellow teacher will have to be someone very dedicated, who wants to give himself or herself a crash course in the two you don't pick. Then you'll both be able to do elemental kamai and the other four will be covered by you or the other person."

"What are the others?" Korulen asked.

"Besides elemental, there's mind, image, wild, and death," Rhysel said. "Mind kamai does things somewhat like what your mom can do, although I don't think even experienced mind kyma are as powerful, or as fast with the complicated workings. Image kamai is about creating illusions. Wild kamai is about living things - plants, animals - and some more peripheral workings. And death kamai I know less about, but I know it's used to do things like kill infections and vermin, and sometimes converse with the spirits of the dead."

"You can talk to the dead?" asked Korulen, wide-eyed.

"Not me personally, but it can be done," Rhysel said. "There isn't a spell for that here?"

Korulen shook her head. "People have tried, but communicating with - let alone bringing back - dead people is one of the things that wizardry just seems not to do," Korulen said. "Can kyma resurrect the dead?"

"No, only gods can do that," Rhysel said, "and they don't do it much. The best death kyma can do is converse with them."

"I wonder if that particular working would function here," Keo murmured.

"I don't know," Rhysel said. "I suppose we'll find out eventually, if this plan pans out. I'd certainly expect so."

"You think it would be very hard to get other Barashin kyma to come teach here?" Keo asked, when the conversation lulled there.

"I think so. If they'd have to either move here, or commute every day by a summoning spell, I can't see many taking you up on it. I suppose you could ask."

"I might. Let's gauge demand for the classes first, though," Keo said.

"I want to learn mind kamai," announced Korulen.

"Pass your breaks class next term, and you can take kamai the term after," Keo said; Korulen blushed. "...If Korulen does break your spell, Rhysel, are you going to go back to Barashi?"

"At this point," Rhysel said, "I don't know. I want to be able to visit my friends and my family, but I might not go back to live there, now that I'm more used to this world." She laughed softly. "What I'd really like is a way to make transfer points go from one world to the other."

"Someone published a theory paper about a summoning circle - like a teleportation circle, only for summoning, not teleportation - a few years ago," Keo said. "But it would require so much power that no one would cast it."

"People don't get that much capacity?" Rhysel asked.

"They do," Keo said. "Rarely, but there's a few practicing wizards who could manage it, including Narax. But using more than half your capacity stings, and using most of it hurts a lot, and using almost all of it is astonishingly painful. Governments have to pay exorbitant amounts of money to get people to cast teleportation circles, and summoning circles would be forty or fifty units more costly still. And before you ask, installation spells can't be co-cast to spread it around."

"I don't suppose there's a way to store whatever sort of energy wizards use?" Rhysel asked, thinking of her power box.

"I suppose someone might have invented such a thing as an exercise," Keo said. "But there's no point. There's not a shortage of energy in the reservoir - there's a shortage of ability to pull that energy through oneself to shape a spell."

"I asked Maeris if she'd teach me to tell time," Rhysel remembered. "And she said I was doing everything right, but nothing happened."

"You probably don't have a channeling capacity," Keo said. "I can measure it for you if you want, although I'd have to go look up the spell. But I'd be surprised if you did have one, coming from another world."

"So no summoning circle," Rhysel concluded with a sigh, and Keo nodded. "That's a pity, it would be so convenient."

"Agreed," Keo said. "It wouldn't undo your predicament, assuming we understand the theory correctly, but it would make hiring teachers more straightforward. Oh well. Pie?"

"Pie," Rhysel agreed. Runa flicked her ears and looked wide-eyed at Rhysel, apparently beginning to recognize a few words.

Rhysel made her fire infusion behave tamely a week after managing the same trick with water, and went on to earth: the final piecemeal step before she'd have to figure out how to make all of these elements cohabit together. Attempts at this version failed less dramatically than the others, fusing with the stone of the crucible instead of crumbling and swirling slowly like it was supposed to, and Rhysel didn't need any defensive magic while she worked with it - not that this meant it was easier to handle.

Keo wound up selecting Aar Kithen, the same fellow who had first attempted to break Rhysel's summon and who had retrieved her belongings, to be the first person infused with kamai. Rhysel met him in his office at the school to give a layperson's understanding of the ritual he'd participate in (which boiled down to "I will do some elaborate magic to a bowl of juice, and then you will drink it and it will taste terrible and then you'll pass out and wake up able to do kamai, if it works"). He didn't ask her what would happen if it didn't work. She felt compelled to tell him anyway, but the answer was "I don't know; the scroll doesn't say." Aar Kithen accepted this uncertainty with a grave nod of his head.

As for Rhysel's inexperience with, not only teaching in general, but the specific system preferred by teachers at Esmaarlan children's trade schools, it was agreed that she would audit two of Aar Kithen's courses during the Rohel-Komehel term. She didn't expect to understand the content of "Information-Manipulating Spells Practicum" or "Sixth Tier Theory", but they would at least give her a taste of how Binaaralav Academy in general, and Aar Kithen in particular, conducted class and handled students. The smaller children Binaaralav enrolled in their lower-level classes wouldn't be old enough to access kamai if they had it, but the two selected items would contain the young adolescents who would populate an introductory kamai class.

Rhysel got her spoken translation spell taken off one Elcenian month after she'd first started learning Leraal. The literacy spell she left in place, even though she could have asked Keo to ask Narax to remove it for her without having to inquire directly. It was a useful emergency backup provision, and prevented embarrassing mistakes when she sent Kolaan on errands. It was also easier to study reading and writing Leraal with the spell on than it was to get conversation practice similarly encumbered. The transition was awkward, and the first time Rhysel went to Paraasilan proper and heard all the Leraal as it really was, she was momentarily tempted to ask for her spell back; but she resisted, and soon felt only somewhat lost when people chattered at her rapidly in the local language.

When the course schedule for the new term came out, Rhysel was concerned that it would overlap with the showtime Kolaan had picked out for her, but it didn't. And so on the summer solstice, she flew to the Binaaralav Academy to watch Aar Kithen teach class.

Chapter Nine: Lessons

Sixth Tier Theory met every Inen, Saanen, and Fenen, shortly after lunchtime. The summer solstice was an Inen and the start of the term, and all of the students Rhysel passed in the hall of classrooms on her way looked some combination of flustered and excited. Rhysel had planned to arrive five degrees early to get an idea from Aar Kithen what to expect and make up for her inadequate timekeeping abilities. She might also get him to read aloud components of the syllabus so she'd be able to correlate the translated writing with his lecture in its original Leraal, although the exact details of the material were largely irrelevant.

Aar Kithen was already there, although no students had arrived. He smiled politely at Rhysel when she walked in. "Good afternoon, Aaral Camlenn," he said. "You can sit at any of the student desks you like; depending on whether you are more interested in my teaching style or the way the students conduct themselves you might find any location suitable."

Rhysel pulled out one of the low stools under the low desks intended for the students, positioned halfway along the left wall of the room. The desks were round-cornered hexagons, and arranged in diagonal aisles so no one would sit directly behind anyone else, but one could maneuver from the margin of the classroom to the desk of their choice. "Some of each," she said. "What to expect from them, and how I'll work with you. As long as none of the children are here yet, can I ask - why did you volunteer to be the first infused? Keo did tell you it was dangerous, right?"

"I am aware that there is a risk, of course," agreed Aar Kithen. "I do not generally take such things lightly. But neither could I honestly claim to be afraid of the procedure. One of my brothers is a witch... " At Rhysel's look of puzzlement, he clarified, "He makes various magical liquids, mostly with medicinal properties although he creates others as well, called 'potions'. And I have been long accustomed to testing his potions. The infusion will just be another questionable substance that I will drink and, more likely than not, survive. Survive augmented, presumably."

"I don't think it will hurt you," Rhysel said immediately. "I don't, or I wouldn't want to go ahead with the test. The scroll claims a dozen successful infusions, and no side effects except for falling asleep for a good eight divs - er, half a day. And it's been accurate in every other particular, and I don't want you to drink anything until I have the entire ritual completely mastered, and the theory checks out."

"I understand," said Aar Kithen. "I would not expect you to put me in harm's way."

Rhysel smiled gratefully. "A lot of people where I come from... are uneasy about kamai," she said. "I think I'd have a hard time finding a volunteer on Barashi. So... I appreciate it."

"You are entirely welcome," Aar Kithen said, and then the door opened.

Korulen came in, at the center of a pack of girls - mostly humans and elves, and a halfling. "Hi, Rhysel!" said the thudia, picking a desk in the middle of the room; the other girls fanned out to her right. "Mom said you would be auditing this one. Hi, Aar Kithen."

The girls, Korulen included, resumed what seemed to be an animated exchange of gossip about someone named Lil and one of her six boyfriends. Rhysel listened with half an ear. Aar Kithen, meanwhile, busied himself by going up and down the aisles to place a syllabus on each. An elf friend of Korulen's, blond like her but with shorter hair, took hers directly and started reading it, but the others ignored the packets laid on their desks.

Rhysel imitated the short-haired elf, and scanned her syllabus. Sixth Tier Theory, Inen/Saanen/Fenen, seventh-and-naught to eighth-and-ten. Instructor: Aar Kithen, read the header. There followed a list of the units of the class, from "Familiars" to "Tah Roie rhythms and other reservoir phenomena", and their assigned dates and which test date corresponded to which material. Once Aar Kithen had distributed the syllabi, he started again with a stack of packets entitled Familiar Theory by someone associated with "Daasen University".

More students trickled in, in groups and pairs and by themselves, and scattered around the room to take seats and read their papers. A few of them checked the time, and Rhysel wondered if there was some non-spell-based means of doing that which worked indoors; as it was, she read the numbers that floated in front of the casters and saw that it was one degree till classtime (or thirty slices, if she translated back to familiar units, but she was getting increasingly accustomed to the fives-based system on Elcenia). Aar Kithen appeared to be making a point of ignoring the students, except when one boy shoved his friend and the teacher's grey eyes flicked up. He made no other move, but the boys stopped arguing.

Aar Kithen himself didn't cast the time spell at all, but at what seemed like a precisely punctual moment, he got up from his desk again. The kids fell silent - one in the middle of casting a spell, which caused a small puff of black soot to hit him in the face. Aar Kithen produced a rag from a drawer in his desk and tossed it to the student, who wiped the soot off sheepishly. "It is inadvisable to interrupt spellcasting, without considerably stronger reasons to be silent, or motionless," Aar Kithen said mildly. "Is there anything else from previous tiers of theory classes we ought to review before beginning with the packet each of you ought to have found on your desks, regarding familiars?"

No one spoke up, and Aar Kithen chose a student seemingly at random to read aloud the first paragraph of the reading on familiars. Rhysel followed along as best she could, although contrasting grammars meant she occasionally found herself skipping around in the sentence or puzzling over which unfamiliar word meant which inadequate translation while the girl had gone on to the next sentence.

"The beginning and end of what most people know about familiars," read the student haltingly, "could fit on a single page. That they are non-sapient animals, that they live and die with their wizard regardless of native lifespan, that they appear when called, and that they are desirable for their unusual docility and cleverness when interacting with their wizard in addition to the increased channeling capacity they offer. Few laypeople know why familiars have these traits, or what else there is to know about them. This paper is an introduction to the properties of familiars, aimed at students of tiers 5 or 6 in a wizarding university program." The student blinked. "Aar Kithen, we aren't in a university program, we're in an academy."

"The paper should be sufficiently accessible. Do, of course, ask questions if any of it should seem too opaque - but the goal of Binaaralav is to turn out graduated wizards after tier ten, and so our curriculum cannot diverge too much from those employed by universities. Are there questions about this first paragraph?" he asked, addressing the entire class.

"Yeah," said one of Korulen's friends, a human girl with shoulder-length dark hair. Rhysel had heard Korulen addressing this one as "Lutan", but thought it unlikely that Aar Kithen would call her that.

"Aaralan Mehaas," acknowledged Aar Kithen.

"It says familiars come when called," she said, "but everything comes when called unless it's got specific anti-calling wards on it. Or if you used a diagram spell and it won't fit in your diagram, or something. Why is that worth mentioning?"

"Excellent question," Aar Kithen said, and the student smiled. "Familiars do not require calling spells to come to their wizards. Instead, the process of tying a familiar involves dedicating a non-verbal, whole-body gesture that may be enacted to summon the familiar to a specific location on one's person. For this reason among others, it is strongly advisable to choose a creature light enough that you can readily support its weight. A demonstration," he concluded, and then he crossed his ankles, tilted his head at a peculiar angle, and held out one fist so his forearm was parallel to the floor. There appeared, standing on his arm, a resplendently blue-and-silver bird.

The bird had a crest like a cockatoo, trailing tailfeathers like a bird of paradise, and a songbird's small conical beak, all on a downy body diamond-patterned in shades of cobalt and sky and ticked with whorls and speckles of shining grey. Aar Kithen stroked it under the neck with one knuckle, and the bird trilled a high note. "It is recommended that one choose a posture that is easy to remember and adopt, without being something you would tend to fall into by mistake."

The class was highly impressed, more so than Rhysel - she thought the bird was pretty, but the students were bowled over, exclaiming over Aar Kithen's familiar's rarity and magical properties. "What's his name?" someone wanted to know, and "where did you get a stratus-chaser?" and "can I pet him?"

Aar Kithen answered the questions in sequence: "His name is Semel. I got him from a zoo that was closing near the town where I went to university. If you wish to stay after class, you may pet him." The wizard shooed Semel from his arm to the desk, where the bird huddled down and tucked his head under his wing. "Normally, I allow Semel to fly where he likes; stratus-chasers are not particularly vulnerable creatures. I can retrieve him whenever I choose, as you saw, without requiring a spell."

The rest of the class went much the same way, a different student reading each paragraph of the paper and then Aar Kithen taking questions, although he didn't demonstrate any more fantastic bird-producing magic. Most of it went well over Rhysel's head after the first few paragraphs in, talking about phenomena named after people or schools and obviously referring to things the children had been studying for years: "Desinni reservoir impressions" and "gesture tags" and "Voyan numbers" and the difference between "tying" and "keying". When the end of the period approached, he assigned them to read the rest of the packet, write down all of their questions, and make at least a paragraph's worth of attempt to answer each one before looking it up elsewhere.

Most of the students stayed after class to pet Semel, who sang, and willingly sat on Korulen's studious elf friend's shoulder to preen her hair. The girl (who Aar Kithen had called "Aaralan Bantar" and whose friends called her "Kaarilel") seemed like she was tempted to ask if she could keep the creature, but restrained herself.

Rhysel stayed, too - when the students had trickled out the door, and she made her way up to the front of the room, she did run a hand over the stratus-chaser's back where it sat on the desk, but it wasn't her primary interest. "Was that a typical class?" she inquired.

"A typical first class without a practical component. Subsequent ones will have them doing less reading in class; ideally they do most of that on their own time. But I find it useful to start off with to get an idea of how comfortable each one is with this level of material. They're encouraged to make appointments with tutors if they struggle, but they don't always take advantage without specific prompting." He watched Rhysel pet Semel. "If you want, you can take him home with you; I can call him at any time, so there is no reason not to let you borrow him."

"Truly?" Rhysel asked. "Now that you mention it, I'd rather like to sculpt him... he's a beautiful animal."

Aar Kithen smiled at her. "He responds to a selection of verbal commands well enough that he accepts them from people other than myself. Among them is... Show off," he instructed Semel. The stratus-chaser got up from his crouch, tipped his beak towards the ceiling, and spread his wings - they were longer and narrower than Rhysel might have guessed from how plump the animal was with them folded, and tip to tip the span was almost four feet long. "However, please don't remove any of his feathers, and if he sheds them unassisted, I'd appreciate their return - we didn't get to the part of the reading explaining the uses of familiar parts, but they are several."

Rhysel picked up Semel carefully; he folded his wings and pecked at a wrinkle in her sleeve. "I'll keep an eye out," she promised. "Thank you very much."

"It's no trouble," Aar Kithen assured her, smiling. "If you'll excuse me, I have an appointment this evening, and need to make copies of the handouts for my other class before departing." He inclined his head politely to Rhysel, and teleported away.

Rhysel, still holding Semel, went out into the hall and took the lift to the exit, and flew home. Semel obligingly perched on her wrist the entire way.

The following morning, Rhysel arrived five degrees early to the Information-Based Spells Practicum, which met not in a normal classroom but in a room attached to the library. Chairs were arranged in a circle with no associated desks; Aar Kithen had a rotating stool in the center of the circle, but was up putting copies of the syllabus and another paper on each chair. Rhysel sat in one of the still-empty seats, and he handed her copies with a smile. "Good morning, Aaral Camlenn."

"Morning. I'm never going to convince you to call me Rhysel, am I?" she asked, smiling back and then looking down at the papers. The syllabus was much like the theory one in format, although the units included things like "Ordering of text", "Working with multiple languages", and "Modes of information display". The other paper appeared to be a list of spells. Each item on the list had a spell's name, like "Eker Relevance Sort" or "Standard U.Daasen Disambiguation 4", and then a number and a magic word, plus a few remarks about what "intentional components" were called for.

"It is not strictly impossible, but it is unlikely," Aar Kithen replied. "I'm afraid you may find this class even less interesting than the other. The students will spend much of it running around the library, using the spells we cover to locate and process selected information. It is, at least, probably more interesting to an outsider than the half-term course on teleportation, where they would cast the same spell repeatedly and do nothing but appear and disappear in various locations. That is the only other practicum I'm teaching this term."

"So you're teaching three classes?" she asked.

"Four," he said. "I also have another section of Sixth Tier Theory. Aaral Pyga suggested that you be placed in the same one as Aaralan Inular."

Rhysel took a moment to translate these formalities into "Keo" and "Korulen", then nodded. The door opened, and students started to collect in the room. Rhysel wound up sitting between a sandy-haired elf boy, and a dark tan halfling who decided to introduce himself instead of ignoring her like the other children were doing.

"Hi," he said, sticking out his hand; Rhysel barely paused before remembering to shake it, although she tried to be gentle with the halfling's little hand. "I'm Ngen Irening. Who're you?"

"Rhysel Camlenn," she replied. "I'm auditing to get accustomed to what classes are like here."

"Why?" asked Ngen. "I don't think new teachers usually do that. What kind of accent is that?"

"I'm a new teacher from another world," she said. "I won't be teaching until next term at the earliest, and it's a new kind of magic."

"Whoa," said Ngen. "What kind? Binaaralav's never had a witchcraft department - Esmaar usually does that by apprenticeship, it's Anaistan countries that send witches to school..."

"It's an offworld magic called kamai," she explained. She conjured a globe of handfire, and then - to differentiate herself from a mage or a light - a sphere of water that she floated above her opposite palm. Then she dismissed them both and folded her hands in her lap. "There are five kinds of kamai, and we're hoping to offer instruction in all of them, but right now I only know elemental. It's a little like being all kinds of mage."

"That's awesome! Are you taking anybody who signs up? I think I could stand to be in school a little longer if -"

"Aaran Irening," said Aar Kithen, and the halfling fell silent, sheepish.

Aar Kithen, thus equipped with his class's attention, announced that each of them was to spend the first ten degrees of class making sure that they could each cast all of the spells on their handouts, and that they could use their syllabi if nothing else - he had more copies if theirs were alphabetized beyond usefulness - but that the library was also open to them and he or any librarian would be able to undo the sorts of mishaps they might wreak on the books with the spells available. "After ten degrees," he said, "or sooner if you find yourself able to cast each spell immediately, return here and I will give you individual assignments for things to find within the library. You are forbidden the card catalog, but of course you can attempt to find the contents of your assignments without the use of the listed spells should you desire. It would simply be unlikely to result in success within the class period."

The students mostly scattered, and through the window in the classroom Rhysel could watch them weaving through the stacks and gesturing and barking spells. Some stayed put to play with their syllabi instead; Aar Kithen cautioned that they would be well advised to leave alone the lists of spells themselves.

Rhysel couldn't cast any of the spells herself, so she decided to follow Ngen. He was pawing through a book on religion, his sheet of spells perched precariously on a stepladder she'd seen him climb to reach the shelf. "That spell told me this book," he said, talking either to Rhysel or to himself. Then he looked at his spell list again. "One of these ought to tell me which page, but..."

"Books don't have indices here?" Rhysel asked.

Ngen blinked. "Right. Index. I'm an idiot." He flipped to the front of the book. "Thanks, but I'm glad this isn't the part we're marked on. I'm not sure if that was allowed, you giving me a hint."

"Sorry," said Rhysel. She glanced at the books, and then went back to the circle of chairs and sat back down.

"How do you know everyone's name?" she asked Aar Kithen, who didn't appear to have anything to occupy himself with while the students tested out the spells. "Have you had all these students before?"

"No. I have had some of them - for instance, I taught Aaralan Inular in fourth tier theory - but for the most part, I'm merely grateful that I receive lists of names accompanied by photographs. Better to memorize them ahead of time rather than wasting everyone's class time asking to be reminded of various surnames."

"Why do you call everyone by Aaral or whatever and then their surname?" Rhysel asked.

"Not everyone," he said. "Only people I am not related to."

"So if a relative of yours enrolled?"

"If, for instance, my small cousin Ansil Kithen were to enroll, I would call her Aaralan Kithen in class," Aar Kithen said, "because to call her by her first name would draw undue attention to the family relationship while 'Kithen' is an extremely common name, but when I visit my family's home of course I call her Ansil."

"I was under the impression that extended families usually lived together," Rhysel said. "Do you not live with yours, or did you marry into a different family, or...?"

"I am not married," he said. "I live alone. I would be entirely welcome in my family's house, but they are sufficiently crowded that I would find it necessary to share a room with my youngest brother. This is not an uncommon arrangement, but I found it a disagreeable one, and moved out of the house not long after graduating university."

"Is this the brother who's a witch?"

"Aaral Camlenn, as we expect to work together extensively in the future, it is only appropriate that we know something about one another, but I prefer not to discuss much of my personal life in front of students," he said, looking significantly at the handful of children still in the room making the letters on their syllabi glow and dance and float off of the paper. None of them appeared to be paying any attention to the conversation, but of course they all had ears; Rhysel supposed it was only fair for Aar Kithen to prefer that certain conversations happen elsewhere. She fell silent, and Aar Kithen fidgeted for a moment before producing a spare syllabus and a graphite stick. He looked like he was writing something on the back of the square paper, but Rhysel couldn't see what.

The students started going to Aar Kithen for their assignments, and he handed each one a little card - Rhysel looked over a student's shoulder and read Find the techniques used to estimate the incidence of the following: shren eggs laid annually, given underreporting; national referendum participation rates, given fraud; average vampire lifespan, given unreliable memories of vampires.

"I didn't understand anything on that card," said Rhysel.

"I'm afraid I'm handing them out at random, and don't know which one you read," Aar Kithen said. "At any rate, it would be surprising if you were already conversant with the deliberately obscure topics I selected. It would be unproductive to ask students to use magic to learn information they already know."

Rhysel nodded. "What's a shren?" she asked.

"An unfortunate congenital defect that sometimes befalls the children of dragon couples," said Aar Kithen.

It didn't sound like he wanted to talk about shrens anymore, so Rhysel just nodded again and watched the students run around. "Would it be best if I was here for every class?" she asked.

"Not necessarily," he said. "Of course you are entitled to supervise them all, but if you have other demands on your time, you are also welcome to omit some class sessions from your schedule."

"I may skip the Sinen meeting of this one, then," she said. "I'm very close to making the last few steps of the infusion ritual work, and the sooner I manage that, the sooner you can learn enough kamai to help me figure out a lesson plan."

Rhysel sat through the rest of the practicum anyway, but left - waving to both Aar Kithen and Ngen - promptly when the instructor dismissed the class, rather than lingering with questions as some students did. She wanted to get home, and fix lunch, and do some more work on the earth step before she attended Kolaan's play.

Rhysel didn't manage to purify and empower earth without it adhering stubbornly to the sides of its crucible before it was time to go to the play, but she did think she was almost there, and would have considered skipping the show to perfect it if it weren't a play with songs. As it was, she put down her work precisely when the sun reached the point she'd decided was her signal. She flew out the side of her workroom, nearly forgetting to seal up the obedient stone wall behind her.

The theater was in a district full of them, organized in more familiar square blocks with gridded streets rather than the circles-around-yards that residential neighborhoods seemed to favor. Rhysel flew over the throng rather than wading through, and exchanged her ticket for admittance to the building without fuss. She had a seat in the front row of the balcony, and looked down at the heavy white curtain in front of the stage eagerly.

Some time later, when the theater was filled up (Rhysel was glad to see that she wasn't underdressed or overdressed for a night at the theater, judging by the other attendees), the curtain lifted, and the story began. Rhysel clutched at the program she'd found on her seat and listened.

The play opened with a song, and while Kolaan had claimed that theirs wasn't a polished, professional production, Rhysel was enraptured anyway. There were lyrics written in her program, which she skimmed quickly to help her make sense of the music. The opening number described the fictional country in which the story was set, its cruel king, and its lovely princess, both of whom paraded onto the stage from beyond the sides of the set when mentioned and took their places on thrones.

The eponymous man in red and gold didn't appear until after the opening song, when the sets moved of their own accord to show the Princess Habiris leaning over the railing of her balcony and delivering a monologue about how much she chafed under her father's supervision and feared that he planned to force her to marry an evil duke. As the set's moon rose, her monologue turned into another song, and in a few measures her voice was joined by a man's: the man in red and gold.

This masked character (Rhysel checked the program: he was listed as "the man in red and gold", appropriately for his costume, and had no actual name) was played by an elf, unlike the royal characters and the duke; he was, as Kolaan had promised, an excellent singer. Precisely on pitch, he sang with the princess, until she spontaneously noticed that he was there and dropped out of song to question his presence in the royal garden. He announced, still soaringly tuneful, that he was there to save her from her father's plot to marry her off to the unpleasant duke. However, he then went on to clarify that he was under a curse, and could answer no more than three questions a night, and for each one she asked he would require a strand of her hair. Apparently finding nothing suspicious about this at all, the princess gave her pet golden dove ("aurum-dove", said the program) a strand of hair from her head and bade it fly down to the man in red and gold. In a similar manner she asked two more questions - his name, and his origins - but in the first case he claimed to lack such a thing and in the latter case claimed to be from nowhere whatsoever. With the third strand of Princess Habiris's hair in his possession, he departed the garden.

The set changed, and showed the king and his daughter in the throne room again, this time entertaining the suit from the horrible duke. Princess Habiris's distress went unremarked, and by the end of the scene - which included a song in which the duke explained how evil he was and the king explained how much he wanted the duke's money as a bride gift - the princess was betrothed.

The next scene showed the evil duke's household, where he went through a comically abusive song-and-dance routine of mistreating his servants and gloating over his engagement, until the man in red and gold strode in. The nameless visitor introduced himself as an ambassador from the nation of Matref, which he described in still further musical exposition: Matref was made out to be an astoundingly wondrous place, so wealthy and with so high a standard of living that it had become a way of life among its people to exchange absurdly lavish gifts on the most trivial of pretenses. And, said the supposed ambassador, the king of Matref wished to begin such an exchange with the duke, word of whose lucky betrothal had made its way overseas.

The duke was of course flattered, and wished to know what gifts the monarch of Matref had sent. The man in red and gold explained that the king had set aside some five hundred of the finest Matreflan camels for the duke, and was waiting for the duke to send back word (with the ambassador) that he had stables ready for them. Upon receipt of this news they would be sent along at once. The man in red and gold then asked if the duke had a gift of comparable value for the king of Matref.

Intrigued, the duke ordered a set of bejeweled, golden dishes (made of all natural materials) packed up and sent with the ambassador to Matref, but said it might be some time before a stable fit to hold five hundred fine Matreflan camels would be built. The man in red and gold said that this would be fine, and the king would be willing to hold the camels as long as necessary. He departed with the dishes, singing a refrain from the tune about Matref.

The man in red and gold returned to the princess's garden, and she had her three questions and three strands of hair ready: she wanted to know why he had no name; who had placed his curse; and how he planned to rescue her. The answers were, respectively, because of the selfsame curse; his father; and "through trickery and deceit, against everyone but you, Princess".

The following day, the man in red and gold returned to the duke's household, and announced that the king of Matref was immensely pleased with the gift of the gem-encrusted dishes. In addition to the camels, therefore, he had ordered that a thousand pounds of fine Matreflan spices and herbs be added to the gift, but wished to send them only when the duke had enchanted a chamber to be sufficiently dry and cool that the spices could be stored safely. When asked if he had such a chamber already, the duke replied that he did not, but he would begin construction and enchantment immediately. The man in red and gold then, again, prompted the duke to provide a gift for the king of Matref, and walked out with several bolts of precious silks.

At his visit to the princess that night, she arranged to be in the garden instead of up on her balcony, and asked three prepared questions again, and paid for them without using her pet as a delivery mechanism: why did the man in red and gold wear a mask? (Another part of the curse.) And why had his father cursed him? (Because his mother was of the Shadow People, which Rhysel gathered were a mythological race with supernatural powers, and his father feared that the man in red and gold would be a threat to him for this reason.) And: would he give her a kiss?

The man in red and gold's mask only covered his eyes and nose, not his lips, and he did bend down and kiss the princess's forehead before accepting the strands of her hair and fleeing the garden.

Whenever she heard the man in red and gold deliver dialogue, Rhysel was increasingly subject to a puzzled feeling of recognition. She'd already spotted Kolaan in the chorus, and knew that he didn't play the lead; she couldn't think who else she might know would be behind the mask. So she flipped through her program.

The man in red and gold convinced the duke that the king of Matref would send along bars of natural platinum, as soon as the duke had a treasury secure enough to hold them; the duke complained that he was already spending a great deal of money on the stables and the climate controlled spice room, but sent the man in red and gold home with several cages full of rare animals for the king.

Rhysel, meanwhile, found in the program: The Man in Red and Gold is played by Tekaal Kithen.

Chapter Ten: Masters

As the man in red and gold lured Princess Habiris's father to a hidden place in the duke's household where he could eavesdrop on the duke ordering his servants to prepare for the receipt of Matreflan gifts, Rhysel stared at the program. Aar Kithen had claimed to have a common surname. She didn't know if his first name was common too, but Maeris's book of Leraal exercises included "Tekaal and Saasnil" as stock characters, and it seemed likely that both of those would be frequently used. So it might not be him.

But he was an elf, the right height, the right hair color, and the voice... She wouldn't have guessed that Aar Kithen sang. But in the actor's spoken dialogue he did sound similar. Maybe more projected - but of course anyone would talk louder on stage addressing an audience than he would in an office addressing someone three feet away.

She wondered if he would mind very much if she looked up his address on the little summary of information about him Keo had written down for her, and turned up at his house to issue effusive compliments on how he sang.

The play finished, and Rhysel distractedly followed the plot (man in red and gold revealed that Matref was fictional, duke was bankrupt, king was no longer interested in him as a son-in-law, obscure legal maneuvering previously unmentioned prevented him from setting his daughter up with anyone else, she opted to marry the man in red and gold, they departed the stage in a floating carriage while kissing). The songs - especially Aar Kithen's parts - were as riveting as before, but she found herself nonplussed that the reserved, formal Aar Kithen would kiss anyone, even as part of a play. He probably didn't even call his co-star by her first name, any more than he did Rhysel.

The curtain fell. The audience stomped on the floor, instead of clapping as she would have naively expected, and she contributed to the thunder enthusiastically. Rhysel waited for the crowd to thin before she left the theater, deciding that it would be inappropriate to turn up at Aar Kithen's house; instead, she planned to discreetly inquire about it after class the next day. Ideally, with no students present, he'd be more willing to talk about what would surely constitute "his personal life".

She would try to gush only a little bit. He seemed like he might find it discomfiting.

At home, she worked mechanically towards completing the earth step of the infusion ritual. She succeeded once, after staying up later than was really wise, but then failed the next four attempts, and finally went to bed.

On Saanen, Rhysel perfected the earth step, and immediately blew a bowl to smithereens trying to combine air and water, but she expected to mix all four elements much more rapidly than she'd learned to purify and energize any individual one. She continued until it was time for lunch, ate three sandwiches, and flew to the school, wondering how hard it would be to collect volunteers to build a transfer point there too. She could just store up lifeforce all day in a power box again, but it was somewhat more difficult to use that much energy from one source instead of half a dozen or more.

Aar Kithen, who gave no indication whatsoever that he had spent the previous evening playing the main character in the musical theater adaptation of a folktale, reviewed the material on familiars and segued neatly into more general information on the theoretical underpinnings of channeling capacities. Rhysel was even more lost than she had been during the first class, but dutifully studied the way Aar Kithen handled questions and addressed the students' confusions. And remembered how it sounded when he sang. She was rapidly losing any doubt that the actor and the teacher were the same man.

The students dispersed, without any bird to hold their attention. (Rhysel still had Semel in her tower; she'd left a window open in case the bird preferred to leave, but he'd seemed content to stay there and eat bits of bread and fruit she'd put out for him after having looked up in the library what stratus-chasers ate.) Rhysel stayed behind. Aar Kithen retrieved the copy of the handout that had rested on a desk left unoccupied by an absentee wizardling, and looked at her expectantly.

"I saw a play last night," she blurted.

"Oh? I hope you enjoyed yourself," he said.

"Yes," Rhysel said. "It was wonderful. It had songs. Plays at home don't have songs - not with words in them, only orchestral music, sometimes dancing..."

"If you're interested in attending more theatrical productions, I am possibly qualified to make recommendations," said Aar Kithen after a silence, still not appearing to divine why she was lingering, though he didn't seem to object either.

"It was called The Man in Red and Gold," added Rhysel, softly.

There was another hesitation in the conversation, and then Aar Kithen said, "It's an old Saraanlan story, I believe."

"Is it a secret?" she asked. "That you act?"

He sighed and looked away, out the window at the pond. Oddly-colored ducks, one spangled black and one glittering red, swam in it. Rhysel wondered if students had changed their feathers by magic. "Not exactly," Aar Kithen said at length. "I use my real name; I rely on its extremely commonplace nature for a limited sort of anonymity. And I prefer productions where I can obscure my face somewhat - not usually with a mask, as you saw, but with stage makeup and lighting effects and so on. Periodically I appear in shows less obscure and amateur than the one you saw, particularly over term breaks and when I have occasion to sabbatical, and there is some possibility that a student might recognize me, but it has yet to occur."

"And you don't look forward to it," she surmised.

"I do not. But I began acting before I had even started to learn wizardry, let alone considered teaching it, and later when I wanted to resume the pastime, I preferred to have access to my earlier history in convincing directors to cast me." He shrugged, still evading eye contact. "I am glad you enjoyed the show."

"I enjoyed your singing," she clarified. "Kolaan told me you were good, but I didn't realize how good."

"You do me too much credit, but thank you. Do you know your friend's last name?"

She blinked. "No. No idea. Elf boy, maybe - er - mid-forties? Blond, yea high?" She stood and hovered a hand where Kolaan's head would reach.

"In the chorus?" At her nod, Aar Kithen said, "Aaran Urelaal, I believe."

"Maybe. I guess I can ask him for his full name the next time he delivers my groceries." The door swung open, and a human woman carrying a canvas portfolio full of papers in one hand - presumably the teacher of the next class to meet in the space - walked in.

"I apologize, Aaral Shanbin," Aar Kithen said. "We will vacate the room for you. Excuse us."

Rhysel followed him out, sheepish. "I didn't know someone else had the room right after."

"Aaral Shanbin's class meets only on Saanen, not three days a week," he said. "But yes. If you would particularly like to continue this conversation, we are unlikely to be displaced from my office, at least while the term is in session."

"What I'd really like is to listen to you sing some more," she admitted, "but I shouldn't monopolize you; I doubt you made your plans for the day expecting me to connect you to... yourself. So I should probably go home and work on your infusion ritual."

Aar Kithen inclined his head. "Of course I won't keep you. Until next time, then."

She smiled at him, and he smiled back briefly and then teleported away. Rhysel took the lift to an exit, and went home to destroy bowls in new and inventive ways.

When she went to the next meeting of the theory class, after the students left and she was trying to get her copy of the handout into her satchel without crumpling it, Aar Kithen silently walked to her desk and placed a fifteen-edged long crystal prism wrapped in paper on it, before teleporting away. Rhysel picked it up and looked at the paper, which explained that it was a musical recording crystal, and had the song list, and instructions on how to play it. She scanned the sheet rapidly, and then ran her thumb along the edge labeled The Wonders of Matref.

Sure enough, Aar Kithen's voice filled the room, singing about the scenery.

She smiled, tapped the end of the crystal that paused it, and tucked it into her bag before hurrying to the privacy of her tower.

Rhysel forced all four elements to coexist without exploding on the subsequent Chenen, once, twice, then twenty times in a row without error. After some consideration about how awful it would be if Aar Kithen were to explode, she did it another twenty times, and then broke for dinner, and then repeated the success until she had to stagger to bed.

The next morning, she went early to school, headed for Kanaat's office, and found Keo sitting at her husband's desk filing things in his drawers. "Kanaat's running a staff meeting," Keo said. "Can I help you?"

"I can help you," Rhysel announced, grinning. "The infusion is ready."

"That's great!" Keo exclaimed. "Okay, so I'm given to understand that we need to contact your Master - Revenn, right?" Rhysel nodded. "Contact Revenn and get him to collect some people to watch you show off your stuff."

"And to help Aar Kithen, if I make a catastrophic mistake," murmured Rhysel, embarrassed. "They're also supposed to be there for that. But yes. I'd appreciate it if you could get in touch with my Master and ask him when would be convenient. And, er, be careful about figuring the timing, because I think days are longer here on top of being divided differently."

"Noted," said Keo brightly. "I'll draw up a circle and send him a note and get back to you when I've got an answer."

Rhysel smiled gratefully, and went to help herself to a cafeteria lunch before Sixth Tier Theory convened.

<We're going to summon people at fifth-and-naught today,> Keo sent to Rhysel the morning of Saanen. <Assuming we worked it out correctly, that's evening but not the dead of night where Revenn lives. We've got a substitute lined up for Aar Kithen's classes today, as I understand that even in the best case scenario, he's supposed to be very tired afterwards.>

<Right,> Rhysel returned. <Who's performing the summons?>

<I'm doing one, Kanaat's doing one, and we're borrowing a couple of teachers to do the other two,> Keo said. <We thought it would be best under the circumstances if Aar Kithen didn't help.>

<He wants to bring three other supervisors, not just two?> Rhysel asked, puzzled. <Do you know who they are?>

<No, I'm going to summon him first and then he'll serve as focus for the others. He said it would be fine if I scanned them all before letting them out like I did you.>

<Huh. I expect Corvan and Stythyss... I don't know who else he'd bring. Surely Master Bryn is too busy? I mean, I'd love to meet her, but...>

<You can ask him when he gets here,> Keo replied cheerfully. <Kanaat and I will be at your place at third-and-ten to leave plenty of time to draw the diagram, assuming that's okay? And I've asked Aar Kithen to be there at fourth-and-twenty, and he's quite punctual so I imagine he will, and the other teachers I've told fourth-and-ten but expect them to show up late. Clear out a place for us to do the drawing if you don't have one already.>

Rhysel picked up a bit in her library, then decided that she might not want to experiment with putting a summoning circle on top of a transfer point and melted her kitchen table into the floor instead. She could put it back afterward.

Keo and Kanaat arrived on time, and - each holding half a stick of chalk - started sketching the circle together. Keo occasionally consulted a book they'd brought, and checked the whole thing against it afterwards but didn't need to change anything. Rhysel sat on her counter and watched, interested in wizardry despite her own incapacity. She wondered if there would ever be a way to give someone a channeling capacity the way she intended to give Aar Kithen kamai ability.

The other teachers showed up a few degrees late, and Aar Kithen precisely on time. He accepted Rhysel's offer of a chair, appeared silently impressed by how comfortable it was in spite of being made of rock, and did not participate in the chat struck up between Keo, Rhysel, and the other teachers. Kanaat cast the time spell periodically, and when it came up just shy of fifth-and-naught, Keo got up, motioned Rhysel to put her hand in the focus lobe of the diagram, and said, "Concentrate on your Master, please."

Rhysel closed her eyes and pictured him, and Keo cast the spell. When Rhysel opened her eyes, a familiar face was smiling down at her. She leapt to her feet and, pausing only long enough to let Keo smudge the chalk around the circle, threw her arms around him. "Master! It's so good to see you!" she cried, grateful to switch back to Martisen after weeks of only Leraal.

Revenn hugged her back. "It's good to see you too, Rhysel. This certainly looks homey, doesn't it? Which of these people is the one you're going to infuse today?"

"That would be Aar Kithen, there," she said, pointing at the seated elf.

Aar Kithen gave a little cough, and said, "Aaral Camlenn, would your guest like a translation spell, so that persons other than yourself, Aaral Pyga, and the other summonees can understand him?"

"Oh!" exclaimed Rhysel, and she relayed this request to Revenn, who agreed genially; Kanaat produced from his pocket a slip of paper with such a spell written on it, refreshed his memory, and cast.

"Is that better?" Revenn asked, looking in Aar Kithen's direction. The elf nodded. "So you're Aar?"

"Aar Kithen."

"Aar Kithen. Okay. Keo, what do I do, exactly?" he asked, releasing Rhysel from the prolonged hug to turn towards the dragon.

"Put your hand there," Keo said, pointing at the same place Rhysel had placed hers. Kanaat reconstructed the smudged part of the circle. "And concentrate on who you want to bring next."

The next kama, summoned by one of the extra teachers, was Corvan. "Hi, Corvan," Rhysel said, though she didn't hug him and he didn't seem inclined towards doing so either. He was human, but dramatically paler than Esmaarlan humans, or even than Rhysel - if it weren't for the black hair and dark eyes he could have been albino. Keo, presumably after her scan, let him free. He exited the circle with a nod in Rhysel's direction but didn't speak. "How have you been?" Rhysel asked.

<Tolerably well,> replied Corvan; Rhysel blinked once at the familiar feel of kamai mindspeak after having grown accustomed to Keo's version. He broadcasted the reply to the entire room, and Aar Kithen furrowed his brow and Keo looked vaguely intrigued.

Kanaat redrew the circle, and Keo said to Revenn, "Focus on the next visitor, please," and the second extra teacher cast the spell.

It occurred to Rhysel a moment too late that she might have wished to warn the Elcenians about Stythyss, who, as a trog, was seven feet tall, red, scaly, and built like a house. The teacher who'd summoned him did startle back when the wild kama appeared, but schooled his reaction, and no one else visibly complained about Stythyss. Keo again scanned and smudged, and he walked out and clapped Rhysel on the shoulder, smiling a sharp-toothed smile. "Hello, firebrand," he said. "So this is where you're stranded."

"It's rather nice here, really," said Rhysel earnestly, smiling at Stythyss and then watching as Kanaat replaced the chalk marks and stood up to perform the final summon himself. Aar Kithen performed a translation spell on Stythyss. "Master, who is the fourth person?"

"You'll see," he said, grinning, and Stythyss laughed. Corvan was inspecting one of her windows and if he had an opinion about the matter, it wasn't detectable.

"Well, whoever it is, focus on him or her," Keo said, and Kanaat raised his hand to perform the last spell.

When the magic was complete and the last visitor stood in the circle, Rhysel gaped, and fell into a deep bow. "Aziel," she breathed, respectfully addressing the goddess.

"You may stand, child," said Aziel indulgently. Rhysel straightened up and tried to form a coherent question, but Aziel obviated the need. "I am here to supervise the introduction of kamai to a new existence. Presuming you succeed." The goddess turned towards Keo. "I was informed that you would be 'scanning' me and then releasing me from this circle. I believe you have completed the scan. Kindly let me out."

"I've done that part, yes," Keo said. "Now I'm trying to figure out how to fix the headache you're giving me and my husband. You've got round ears and green hair when I look at you, and you're a blond elf when he does." Keo frowned, and rolled her head around on her neck once and then visibly relaxed. "There. Some illusion, to project through the ward."

"That's just something gods do, Keo," Rhysel said, whispering pointlessly. "They look like whatever sort of person is looking at them. Prevents wars over who resembles them most."

"I would not appreciate it if you were to disseminate information regarding my unfiltered appearance," said Aziel mildly. "But for the sake of your head and that of your husband, I will permit you to suppress the illusion for yourselves alone. Perhaps now you will let me out?"

Keo hesitated longer than she had with any of the other three, but finally stretched a toe forward to smudge the chalk. The instant the ward came down, Rhysel's kitchen was flooded with divine presence - dizzying charisma that not even a blind person could have missed. Aziel stepped delicately out of the circle, trailing her diaphanous white garments that resembled the winds she held dominion over. "Well," she said. "So this is 'Elcenia'. I am sure it is lovely, but I find being here... diminishing... and would prefer to complete my visit here as quickly as possible. Shall we proceed?"

"Right," said Rhysel. "Right, the infusion. Um. Are you staying?" she asked, turning to the two spare teachers. "For the whole ritual?"

"I think I'll go," said the one, and the other nodded, and in rapid succession they teleported away, leaving Keo, Kanaat, Rhysel, Revenn, Corvan, Stythyss, Aziel, and Aar Kithen in the room.

"I'll... I'll just start, then," Rhysel said, and forced her hands to steady as she touched the wall and pulled out a bowl that would hold all the elements. She had not expected her Master working to be supervised by any of the deities at all. Next to the bowl, she materialized four crucibles. "Air..." She set the bowl on the counter, picked up a crucible, and forced air into it, which she poured from crucible to bowl. "Water. Fire. Earth." Each went in after the air, and soon she had a bubbling, sparkling froth with swirls of earth in it. "Aar Kithen, this is going to taste awful, I'm sorry, but you have to drink it straight in one go, a continuous stream, or it will lose its power. Stay sitting, but don't worry if you want to collapse afterwards. I won't let you fall. Here." She handed the bowl to the elf.

He took it gravely, scrutinized the coruscating fluid, and then took a deep breath and poured it down his throat.

When he'd swallowed the last drop, the bowl fell from his fingers, his eyes fluttered closed, and he slumped off his chair.

Rhysel caught him with a cushion of air, and floated him into a more comfortable position, hovering him face up with his arms folded over his midsection. Nervously, she checked his pulse, but it beat strongly. "I think I should probably take him home," she said. "And in the morning, we can make sure that he can do kamai. Masters, are you staying overnight, or coming back then? Aziel?" she added, glancing at the goddess.

Aziel smiled faintly. "I believe I will stay in this world for another division, no longer."

"Almost an angle and a half," murmured Rhysel.

Aziel raised an eyebrow, as though it was quaint and foolish for anyone to use a timekeeping system unlike her world's own, and turned to Kanaat. "I am informed that you can return me to my home at any time. I will tell you when I wish that done."

Kanaat nodded cordially; Keo eyed the deity but didn't remark on it when she drifted to Rhysel's front door and let herself out. "Masters," Rhysel said, looking at Revenn and Corvan and Stythyss, "this tower is laid out like my old one - the guest floor is divided into three rooms for today - please make yourselves at home; I'll be back to discuss the working as soon as I've taken Aar Kithen to his house. Keo, Kanaat, thank you. Er, actually - I don't suppose you could teleport him home?"

"We haven't been to his house," Keo said, as the three visiting kyma trailed up the stairs. "Or we would. I think you flying him there is actually faster than any other way, assuming you don't want to just magic him up a bed here."

"For some reason I doubt he'd be comfortable with that," said Rhysel wryly. "Okay. I'll be back in a while. I think I've gotten an adequate sense of how addresses work, but I'll ping you for directions if I get lost."

Rhysel, floating Aar Kithen behind her, went out the door - seeing no sign of where Aziel had gone - and lifted off.

Esmaarlan addresses defined direction from city center, and (in a peculiar order) distance from city center, position along that arc of the circle at that distance, and then a number assigned in order of building construction to anything close enough to have the same prior identifiers, even if some prior buildings had been demolished or divided into multiple later-numbered addresses. Rhysel was therefore reasonably able to determine how to get to Aar Kithen's place. She had to fly towards the city center for a couple of miles, and then circle around clockwise, and then read the signs.

She eventually found his home. It was in a building with six modest houses - or perhaps they were better called apartments - stacked vertically on top of each other, each accessed by a balcony that exited onto a staircase up the corner of the building. Rhysel didn't bother with the stairs; she found the floor with his house number on it and flew herself and Aar Kithen over the balcony railing.

The door had no lock, like most doors in the country - people who wanted to keep others out of their houses were free to use the Esmaar Standard House Ward to accomplish that, and the huge population of the average household meant that most doors would be uselessly inconvenient if they were locked and unlocked every time someone wanted to enter or exit. Rhysel turned the knob and floated Aar Kithen in behind her.

Rhysel didn't know what she'd expected from Aar Kithen's house, but would probably not have guessed that he would have paintings. Still, paintings there were. Rather a lot of them, actually: some realistic portraits of elves who looked more or less like Aar Kithen, some abstracts of shapes and lines with restful colors, one landscape over the couch. She saw a small kitchen that opened directly into the front room, and four closed doors, each of which she tried. One was a bathroom, one appeared to be an art studio - complete with both a painting in progress propped up on an easel, and unfamiliar musical instruments - one was a closet, and one was Aar Kithen's bedroom.

Rhysel peeled back the covers on his bed, set the wizard down on it gently, and then laid the blankets over him. She thought to leave a note, but a quick scan of the meticulously tidy bedroom didn't reveal any paper. Firewriting on his wall would brighten the place, and while she doubted it would wake him immediately, it could have him groggily turning over at two in the morning, and he wouldn't be able to extinguish it. So she went back to the door that had revealed his art studio and started looking through the drawers in the desk there.

The first drawer yielded pens and graphite sticks as well as more exotic drawing utensils; she grabbed the first instrument she recognized, and then tried the next drawer down. This did contain papers, but when she picked up the top one, it proved not to be blank. It looked a little like poetry, the way the writing was arranged on the page.

Rhysel, read the title.

Rhysel blushed beet red, put the poem back where she'd found it, and carefully looked through the other drawers until she found some empty notecards. On one of these, she wrote, Ritual seems to have gone according to plan. Took you home to sleep. Please come back to my tower whenever you wake up to show the Masters that you can do kamai now. Thank you.

Rhysel went stiffly back to his bedroom, propped up the note on his nightstand, and flew away from the house.

Chapter Eleven: Responsibility

When Rhysel landed on her front step, she could feel the divine presence inside her tower. She hesitated, but opened the door, bowing before she even saw the goddess.

"You may stand," Aziel said. "Child, I congratulate you. I am sure that when they have verified your success, your Master and his colleagues will as well. But I have a more significant matter to discuss with you."

"What is it, Aziel?" Rhysel asked, rising out of the bow. In addition to the goddess, Keo and Kanaat were still in the house - the latter was erasing the summoning circle while Keo's facial expression changed for no obvious reason, possibly a mental conversation with someone far away.

Aziel pursed her lips. Rhysel wondered briefly whether Keo might ignore the order not to say what she looked like, once Aziel had gone, but then quickly quashed the thought; even on Elcenia it probably wasn't clever to defy Barashin gods. Better not to encourage Keo to do it even if she would.

Finally, Aziel said, "You have introduced kamai to a new world, one which did not contain it. One where the gods did not choose to introduce it. I and my family would not have sought to stop you. Mortals are to be left free to do as they please, generally speaking. But you have done this here instead of in my family's realm. And so I believe it only appropriate to hold you responsible for how the man you have infused, and any that follow him, use kamai."

Rhysel trembled, just a little, but swallowed and nodded. "Yes, Aziel."

"Choose your subjects wisely. Choose what to teach them wisely." Aziel sighed. "I believe I will return home now. I am sure you can send an agent to one of my temples if you have something of immense importance to ask or report."

Rhysel nodded mutely, and the goddess closed her eyes. "I wish to return to Barashi now, wizard," she told Kanaat. He straightened up from his diligent erasure and reversed her spell. Aziel disappeared, and with her the oppressively powerful divine presence.

"Are they all like that?" asked Keo.

"Well, the gods have different personalities, obviously," Rhysel said. "Aziel's probably one of the nicest, going by a mortal definition of niceness... I suppose you could call Aiath friendly, but... Anyway, yes, that was a goddess, and she's the one they usually send as a herald or a messenger, so I suppose she's close to representative. The greater deities have much more powerful presences. And then there are the Maker and the Destroyer, who don't appear in person to things generally but they'd presumably be even stronger..."

Keo blinked. "Elcenia," she says, "doesn't usually have gods turn up to things. Not in bodies that have locations and weight and the like."

"They don't?" Rhysel asked. "Huh. Would people have been confused when I referred to gods and implied that they did that, then?"

"Maybe they didn't believe you, but it wouldn't have been polite to question your religious beliefs," Keo said.

Rhysel blinked. "I'm sorry? It wouldn't have been polite? On Barashi, it's not really safe to question the existence or the divinity of the gods, but if people thought I was claiming things that were false, shouldn't they have asked...?"

"There are a lot of religions in Elcenia," Keo said. "Contradictory ones; I don't just mean that everyone agrees that a certain set of gods exist but pay different amounts of attention to each. People take them extremely personally and become annoyed when overtly disagreed with. There are various regional solutions to this problem, ranging from 'institute a state religion and kill infidels who wander across your borders' to 'don't talk about it much except in extremely vague and general terms'. Esmaar's more of the latter sort. You might meet Kovin or Aleists or, um, Sand Dusk Chanters, but they're unlikely to make nuisances of themselves about it. The religions that do make nuisances have reputations for being unpleasant to live next door to... like Thanetans... anyway, apparently that is not the kind of god you have."

"Apparently," said Rhysel. "Ours don't really care if anyone worships them. They require that we behave respectfully towards them and acknowledge that they're gods, and if one actually tells you to do something, you do it... but usually they don't do much unless they're asked and the service is paid for."

"Huh," said Keo. "Well. That was certainly interesting. How is Aar Kithen?"

A trace of a blush crept back into Rhysel's cheeks. "He's sleeping. I put him to bed, and left a note, saying to come here when he wakes up."

Keo seemed to notice the blush, or maybe the flurry of confused emotions that accompanied it, but apart from a small smirk, she didn't react to it overtly. "Well then. Kanaat and I should probably go home and relieve Korulen of babysitting duty, and you should entertain your guests if they're still awake despite it being late in Barashi."

"It's only late in part of Barashi. Corvan lives one time zone to the west, and Stythyss is four divs earlier than that," Rhysel said.

"That," said Keo, "sounds very confusing."

"We're used to it, and anyway, it wouldn't make sense to call it noon in eastern Restron at the same time as in Aristan. It could be dark in one place and broad daylight in the other."

Keo shrugged. "Anyway, we'll be on our way. Call us when Aar Kithen wakes up, will you? Corvan said he was here partly to help make sure there weren't any odd mental effects from the infusion, but I'd like to make my own check on our employee."

"I will," Rhysel promised.

Keo smiled, and she and Kanaat teleported away in perfect unison.

"I probably should have been more formal about how I conducted myself," Rhysel said sheepishly, speaking to her yawning Master. "I was going to try to translate the poetry on the scroll, so it would rhyme in Eashiri, but -"

"It's all right, Rhysel," said Revenn, smiling tiredly. "It's irregular, but everything about this was irregular, and having a goddess show up to my Master working certainly would have thrown me off."

Rhysel nodded fervently. "I didn't expect that at all. And... did you hear what she said before she left?" Revenn shook his head, and she went on. "She says that I'm responsible for how kamai is used in this entire world, now that I've introduced it. I think Aar Kithen is trustworthy -" she felt a heat in her cheeks, and wondered how her Master would interpret the blush - "but I've agreed to take students, children, from the ones enrolled at Kanaat's wizard school too, and... well, I guess I'll just have to evaluate them all personally, there's nothing else for it."

Revenn nodded gravely. "I don't believe you'll have to do that indefinitely, but if you're going to start a wider tradition of kamai here, giving it a solid foundation - scrupulously avoiding the forbidden workings, in particular - will be important."

Rhysel ducked her head and blushed deeper when he mentioned forbidden workings. "Yes, Master."

"Rhysel?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I," she began. "Er, I didn't actually do it. I don't think I would have gone through with it, really, and it didn't come to that anyway..."

"What did you do?" he asked, sighing.

"I mistakenly did something that deeply hurt another person," Rhysel said, squirming like she was sixteen again and being reprimanded for cliff-diving, "and she was very angry at me, and it seemed like it would be a convenient solution to... offer to give her some of my lifespan. But I didn't know how, and I didn't even start trying to learn before it became a moot point, and... I'm sorry, Master."

Revenn groaned. "That's not the reason it was forbidden, so kyma couldn't go around giving their years away... but you know what they say about the whirlpool, Rhysel."

"You're safer at the edge than in the middle, but it's only safe to be somewhere else," she recited. "I'm sorry. It won't happen again."

He nodded sharply. Then he sighed, and held out his arms for a hug, which she gladly accepted. "I sent your eldest sister a letter," he said after releasing her from the embrace. "I got a reply a tenday ago - Ryll's translated the situation in a sufficiently vague way that your parents and other siblings will tolerate it, she says."

"She's good at that," said Rhysel, relieved. "I hope they're not too worried. I hope they don't want to ask me too many questions, when I do manage to get back."

"And," said Revenn, "your town is being occupied by a Wandering elemental kama, who wants to go right back to wandering when he's not needed, and so he'll yield the place whenever you return."

"If I return," said Rhysel wryly. "I seem to be putting down roots, here."

"By the time the Wanderer wants out, one of my current apprentices will be ready for a posting. Emryl, maybe - you remember Corvan's niece?" Rhysel nodded. "She's studying elemental. Might like the town."

They talked a bit more - he agreed to loan her books on the forms of kamai she hadn't studied, so she and Aar Kithen could learn enough to teach introductory students, and she answered his questions about Elcenia. Revenn then shooed her out of the guest room she'd divided up for him, so he could sleep, and she went to catch up with Corvan. He chose to do this via the intensely rapid mental transfer that had been his own Master working, so three ticks later, she walked out of his section of the guest floor and into Stythyss's, aware of the broad sketches of everything Corvan had been up to for the past several months. "Hi, Stythyss," she said to the trog, who was considerably less tired than his companions.

"Hi, firebrand," he said.

"I think I grew out of that nickname," she said. "Some twenty years ago."

Stythyss laughed. "Maybe. But it's stuck anyway."

She smiled. "Are you comfortable in here? Do you want to borrow a book, or anything?"

"I have one," he said, pulling a much-abused volume from the back pocket of his pants. "But thank you for asking. You don't need to entertain me."

"Okay. Let me know if you get hungry; they have approximately normal food here," she said, smiling, and then she went downstairs to reconstitute her kitchen table.

Rhysel didn't plan to attend Sixth Tier Theory while a substitute taught it, but the arrival of class time did have her thinking about putting a transfer point in at the school rather than flying all the time. Considering possible sources of volunteers, she eventually wrote on her link paper to Kolaan: Could you convince 5‒10 of your friends/relatives to help me with a kamai working? I would tap them for energy; they would get tired and hungry but not be otherwise affected. I can pay them (and you, if you want to help).

She checked an angle later, having fixed herself lunch and brought some up to Stythyss, and the paper said in Kolaan's handwriting, Sure. When and where?

Binaaralav campus (I'll meet you at the front entrance), Saanen, eighth-and-twenty, she wrote back. I'll trust you to pick a fair price for your and your friends' time. That would give a ten degree gap between the end of the next theory class and the arrival of the students, and she could check to see if the spot by the campus pond she had in mind would be suitable and roll back the sod. She liked the idea of seeing the magically-colored ducks whenever she popped over to campus; they were pretty.

And then she realized that she had no project to occupy her time. The infusion ritual had either worked or it hadn't, but until she knew, she couldn't do anything with it.

She picked up her Leraal exercises, looked them over, and then pinged Keo, asking her to ask Narax to remove the literacy spell.

To see if it was working, she went to her workroom, where the old scroll was still unrolled on the table; it appeared to be in Martisen at first, but a few moments later, the text abruptly snapped back into its tricky dead language. Rhysel rolled it up and put it away in the library, smiling. Then she picked up the children's books in Leraal that Maeris had given her to read when she got her spell removed, and picked her way through two of them.

Rhysel went to bed early, in case Aar Kithen came to early in the morning and took her request that he arrive once he woke up literally. In the morning, she found all of the visiting Masters sitting in her kitchen, talking (or, in Corvan's case, mindspeaking) about the theoretical underpinnings of her reconstructed infusion working. "Rhysel!" said Revenn heartily when she came down the stairs. "Tell us, do you think there are other applications for the individual purified elements you use in this working?"

"Probably, Master," she said. "I'd be surprised if there weren't. But I think I'm going to have my hands full preparing to teach at least two unfamiliar aspects of kamai, assuming the infusion ritual itself worked. Otherwise I'd dive into experimenting with that."

"Do you want me to take the scroll back to Barashi, then, and see if someone else wants to look into it?" Revenn said. "If nothing else, I'm sure there's half a dozen Researchers down at the Repository who would barely restrain themselves from tearing the thing out of my hands."

Rhysel laughed at the mental image. "Please don't let anyone damage it, but yes, someone else should take on that particular project. You can bring back the books I was using to help translate it, too."

He nodded, and then, the doorbell rang.

Rhysel spun and went to the door. As expected, there stood Aar Kithen. He did not appear to have taken her note literally; he'd changed clothes, at least, and given the time might have eaten breakfast too. "Good morning, Aaral Camlenn," he said, and he briefly inclined his head to the three men in the room as well. "I appear to have suffered no ill effects, but I confess I am unaware of how to go about performing feats of kamai."

Rhysel smiled. "Then it's a good thing there are three Masters here, isn't it?"

"Four, if he manages so much as handfire," said Revenn, getting up. "We agreed overnight that there's no question this qualifies as a suitable Master working. Aar Kithen, I'd like to do a simple check to see if you have a tellyn conduit - that's a connection between your will and your lifeforce that will let you use your energy in kamai workings. I need to touch you briefly to do it."

"Very well," said Aar Kithen. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back; Revenn placed his fingertips on the elf's forehead and concentrated.

"It's there," said the Master, dropping his hand and breaking into a broad grin. "Rhysel, you've done it!"

"He hasn't done any magic yet," said Rhysel, though her Master's smile was infectious.

"To be strictly accurate," Aar Kithen said, "I did teleport here."

Rhysel laughed aloud at that, and Revenn and Stythyss followed suit; Corvan rolled his eyes. Stythyss got to his feet. "I'd like to verify the tellyn conduit," he said.

Aar Kithen nodded once, and didn't so much as flinch when the trog placed red-scaled fingers between his eyebrows. "What is a 'tellyn'?" he inquired.

"A unit of lifeforce," Stythyss answered. "Amazing. It's like you were born with it; it's not even full of extra runnels like Rhysel's or another spontaneous kama. Corvan, do you want to check it?"

The human got to his feet and raised an eyebrow at Aar Kithen, who looked him in the eye calmly. Corvan shrugged, touched Aar Kithen on the forehead, and then nodded abruptly.

"Oh," Rhysel said, "I should call Keo. No offense, Corvan, but her husband employs Aar Kithen and she wanted to check him out herself..."

<Why would I be offended?> asked Corvan sarcastically, broadcasting his reply to the room rather than keeping it private as was default for mindspeak. <I'm only a Master mind kama. Certainly no one should just take my word for it if I declare a person sane. Which he is.>

"Aaral Pyga is a unique jade dragon," Aar Kithen said quietly, "a distinction which I am sure means as much to you as your own means to her. I would be more comfortable with more well-wishers investigating me for side effects rather than fewer. I would also be more comfortable if you, like your colleagues, solicited express permission per working attempted rather than taking my willingness to be checked for a tellyn conduit as willingness to be checked for general sanity."

"She's a dragon?" said Stythyss blankly. "She looked like a human with peculiar aesthetic preferences."

"She is, Stythyss," said Rhysel. "I haven't seen Keo personally transform, but I've seen her elder daughter Korulen shapeshift and her younger one Runa is in dragon form all the time, and I've watched her cousin Maeris shift too, and I've ridden her brother Narax." Rhysel couldn't help but sound smug.

"I should've mentioned that," said Revenn, snapping his fingers. "I did see Keo turn into a dragon. It was astounding."

<This is a distraction from the topic,> complained Corvan. <Aar Kithen, you have my apologies for a fragment's worth of kamai that you didn't even detect; I must have suspected based on your willingness to swallow whatever untested bubbling mix Rhysel handed you that you were more cavalier about these things. How absurd of me.>

"Your apology is accepted, of course," said Aar Kithen, regarding Corvan implacably.

"I'll just ping Keo," said Rhysel awkwardly, and she mentally called for the dragon woman.

Keo pronounced Aar Kithen mentally intact from a distance, and then Stythyss announced that he wanted to have a look at how Aar Kithen was holding up physically. The test subject tolerated the wild kama's further magical investigations, and was determined to be whole and in fine health. "What working is generally considered best to begin with?" Aar Kithen inquired when Stythyss released his hand.

"Depends on the discipline," Revenn said. "I teach all five. Death kyma learn to kin bones - that is, tell if two of them are from the same creature or not. Wild kyma learn to soothe animals, usually start with domestic ones. Image kyma do superficial, visual-only illusions. Elementalists do handfire. And mind kyma learn to find other minds to speak with, starting with touch range. What do you fancy?"

"I believe it would be most sensible for me to learn whichever non-elemental disciplines Aaral Camlenn finds least to her liking," said Aar Kithen, glancing in Rhysel's direction.

"I don't have a strong preference," she said. "Maybe I'd like mind, but help yourself to whichever two of the others you'd prefer. But, I think you should start with handfire - you're going to learn elemental from me through Keo, and I can't help but think it would make more sense if you'd learned at least a basic working the usual way first."

"Handfire it is, then," agreed Aar Kithen. "How is it done?"

Revenn stepped forward and conjured, not a globe of handfire, but a stick of wood, which he then ignited with perfectly ordinary fire that consumed the stick slowly. "Have a close look at the fire. Don't burn yourself, we haven't taught you protective workings yet, but investigate it. Are you musical at all?"

Aar Kithen looked perplexed by the question, but answered simply, "Yes." Rhysel went somewhat pink, and thought of the music crystal sitting on her nightstand and how fingerprinted it had gotten.

"Then you'll probably find it easiest to work with the tones as sounds. Other people do flavors or textures, but sounds are more popular if you've got a speck of music in you. Rhysel doesn't use 'em, but she learned them, so hopefully your, er, transferred knowledge will be translatable. Are you hearing anything from the fire right now?"

"Apart from the ordinary crackling sounds typical of a flame consuming a stick of wood," Aar Kithen said, "no."

"You should be able to detect a four-note chord," Revenn said. "Don't worry if it takes a while. Most people take a few divs at least to do it the first time - they're usually children, though, and I don't know if you'll be quicker or slower picking it up as an adult. I don't know exactly what it will sound like to you, either, although once you hear it you can expect it to be consistent in pitch and timbre."

There was an extended silence, although not so long that anyone decided to sit down. "I believe I have located the chord you describe," Aar Kithen said at length. "High altered sed, high kar, middle pal, low mel."

"I take it those are names for notes?" Revenn asked.

"Do you have perfect pitch?" Rhysel asked enviously.

"Yes, to both," said Aar Kithen.

"The highest note is the fire's light," Revenn said. "The next lower ones, in order, are heat, burning, and fuel. You can separate any of these from the others. Although if you took away everything except fuel, what you'd have is this stick and it wouldn't be on fire anymore - the stick becomes part of the fire when it sustains it, so it's part of the chord. Burning alone will turn flammable substances to smoke and ash without heat or flame. Heat alone has the obvious applications. And the light of fire, alone, is handfire - or firewriting or any number of other things, depending on how you shape it, but the simplest form is handfire."

"Understood," said Aar Kithen. "It seems to be implied that I can manipulate the notes in some way, and this will alter the actual fire?"

"Yes," Revenn said. "Imagine yourself as a conductor, and direct the note representing heat to fade and quiet while the others remain as they are."

"Done," said Aar Kithen after a time.

"Don't touch the fire yet," cautioned Revenn. "It'll still hurt you, it just isn't hot. Now, quiet the burning note."

"Done," Aar Kithen repeated. The fire still looked exactly the same where it danced at the end of the stick, but the wood stopped crisping and snapping under it.

"You can touch it now," said Revenn. "Slowly, slowly fade the lowest note. And let the fire follow your hand away from the wood, and float where you want it."

Aar Kithen pinched the end of the wood where the center of the fire fluttered, and delicately drew his hand away, keeping the fire but not the stick clutched between his fingers. Slowly, he relaxed his hand, and the ball of light sat obligingly in his palm.

Rhysel couldn't help but applaud, grinning from ear to ear. Aar Kithen raised an eyebrow at her and smiled faintly.

"Now that you've pulled it out of actual fire," Revenn said, stepping back and beaming, "you should be able to summon up a ball of light just like that by calling power through your tellyn conduit through the note that represents firelight, and focusing your thoughts on a shape - spheres are easiest. Let the note sustaining that globe die now, and try to make a new one."

The handfire Aar Kithen was holding winked out, and, after a lengthy delay, was replaced by an identically colored flame in a ball shape. He presented it wordlessly to Revenn, who was still ecstatic. "Excellent," he pronounced. "Well. Master Camlenn," he said with no small relish, and Rhysel fidgeted happily, "congratulations on a truly monumental Master working. I believe my apprentices will start causing trouble and turning my furniture into sawdust and sand while threatening to turn each other into platypuses sometime in the next div, so while I would dearly love to visit longer and see more of this world, I believe I should collect the scroll and the dictionary you will no longer be using and ask Keo to send us home."

"What is the purpose of the dictionary?" asked Aar Kithen.

"Someone else is going to work with the scroll, now that I'm done with it," Rhysel explained, "but it's in a dead language."

He blinked. "Someone else would not appreciate the translation into a living language that any scribe fluent therein, with a translation spell, could produce in a matter of angles?"

There was a silence, and then Revenn said, "Well, depending on the scholar, possibly, but producing a translation like that might be wise anyway."

"I can think of a small business that advertises a dragon calligrapher on retainer that could do it for you," Aar Kithen said, "without even requiring a Barashin to spend more time here. Albeit that would be more costly than my simply casting a literacy spell on one of you, for which I would not presume to charge."

"I'll write up a translation of the scroll," said Rhysel, averting her eyes sheepishly. "I ought to have thought of that myself."

"Nonsense," said Stythyss. "Your time would be better spent preparing for all the teaching you have ahead of you. I don't have any apprentices to restrain from havoc. I'll stay here, if you'll have me and that fellow who brought me in doesn't mind, and write it myself."

"You're welcome as long as you want to stay, Stythyss," Rhysel said. "Thank you."

"Rhysel," said Revenn, "much as I hate to leave, would you mind asking Keo to take off whatever spells are on me, and on Corvan as well? Stythyss can bring back the books and scroll and the translation when he's done here."

"Any spells you are under apart from your summons will break without further intervention once you leave Elcenia," said Aar Kithen.

"Just the summons, then, I suppose," shrugged Revenn, looking apologetically at Rhysel.

"Of course, Master," she said, although she did sneak in one hug before pinging Keo and making the request.

Revenn disappeared, and Corvan after him.

Rhysel sighed, and then turned to Stythyss. "The scroll is in my library, and it's the only scroll in there. There's plenty of paper and a pen on the desk in there. Let me know if you need anything else."

"I think I'll be fine," said Stythyss, and he strolled up her staircase.

"Well," said Rhysel. "Now... I have a confession to make, Aar Kithen."

Chapter Twelve: Flight

Aar Kithen blinked at Rhysel, plainly nonplussed. "Have you?"

"When I was looking for paper to write you a note on," she said, feeling a blush steadily creep up her face, "I opened a different drawer first. It, um, had paper in it, and I picked one up, and..."

Aar Kithen had stopped blinking, and possibly also breathing.

"And I saw what looked like a poem on it, and I didn't read it, but I saw the title, and..."

It was no longer obvious by looking that Aar Kithen was still alive.

"And obviously I shouldn't have been going through your drawers," she stammered, "I should have thought ahead and brought paper, or - or something. Firewriting still wouldn't have worked but... I shouldn't have been going through your desk, and I'm sorry."

Aar Kithen's eyes slid over to her front door, as though he was contemplating the exact most efficient angle at which to bolt.

"Er," she said, "if I give you an excuse to leave right now, are you going to be able to teach classes with me in them? I can skip this afternoon's, but I really did want to go to all the theory ones..."

"Possibly," he said in a low voice.

"I didn't read anything but the title," she reiterated.

"The fact that you are aware that I wrote po- a poem about you is sufficiently problematic," he said. "I... you have my apologies, and -"

"Apologies?" she said blankly.

"It's hardly professional," he said.

"You didn't interrupt classes to recite them, so I don't see how it's unprofessional..."

"That's not precisely what I meant," he said. No longer rigid, he appeared to be experimenting with ways to twist away from Rhysel that were not overtly rude but spared him having to look her in the eye.

"Then I'm afraid I don't understand," Rhysel said.

"Do you require an explanation in more detail?" asked Aar Kithen, looking desperately at the door.

"I guess I can just chalk it up to different standards of professionalism - although, isn't Keo on the school payroll...?"

"Aaral Pyga is employed on paper as Aar Inular's secretary," said Aar Kithen, "although in practice she serves as a proxy for him in arbitrary contexts, and - and they were involved with one another before she took the job."

"On Barashi apprentices aren't allowed to date other apprentices with the same Master, unless they were already dating or engaged before they started their apprenticeships. Is this like that?" Rhysel asked. "I should really look at the employee handbook..."

"There is not a rule of that nature in the handbook," Aar Kithen ground out.

"Then what I don't understand," Rhysel said, "is why you wouldn't have just said something to me, if you were interested?"

He went very still, and said, "I did not expect that it would be a useful course of action."

She smiled faintly. "Why'd you think that?"

Aar Kithen closed his eyes outright, and bit his lip. "Aaral Camlenn -"

"You can call me Rhysel," she prompted. "That was the title of the -"

"Rhysel," he said, possibly just to cut her off before she said the word "poem". "I am aware that you are not a native speaker of Leraal, and fear that you are implying things that you do not intend to imply."

"I think I'm implying that you could ask me out," she said. "And implying that I'd say yes."

Aar Kithen opened one eye.

Rhysel made an effort to smile encouragingly.

He took an extremely deep breath, and forced out a sentence: "Would you like to go to dinner with me on Sinen evening, before that day's showing of The Man in Red and Gold?"

"I would love to," said Rhysel. "Can you recommend a restaurant? I haven't been to any since I arrived in Elcenia, unless the school cafeteria counts."

"Not knowing what passes for standard fare in Barashi, I'm not sure how to suggest something that you'll find inoffensive," he said. "In the absence of such information, I suppose there is Varaas's, a Saraanlan restaurant. Saraanlan food is typically a starchy mash of some sort, intensely flavored with highly concentrated forms of the spices, juices, or other seasonings of your choice."

"That sounds interesting," said Rhysel. "I'd like to try it. What time on Sinen would be good?"

"Twelfth-and-naught?" he said. "I can meet you here and teleport us to the restaurant."

"Or I could teach you to fly," Rhysel offered. "How much do you want to learn before Keo transfers everything I know about kamai?"

"I think learning to fly would be agreeable," he said.

"And," Rhysel said, "if we're going to dinner, do I have to call you Aar Kithen?"

"I suppose not," he said slowly. "If you prefer, you can call me Tekaal."

Saanen's theory class went perfectly normally, except for the chat right before the students arrived, during which they called each other by their first names. "Please don't refer to me as 'Tekaal' in front of the students," he said. "And I am not planning to call you 'Rhysel' in front of them either. At times, it seems as though gossip is their only entertainment."

"I can imagine," Rhysel said. "In front of third parties, 'Aar Kithen' it is."

The class was on channeling capacities, more specifically how they neatly came in integer quantities, except for a handful, which were the only non-integer capacities on record but each came up as often as their non-fractional neighbors. There was no explanation for why this should be, which seemed to frustrate several of the students.

Rhysel lingered afterwards, but Tekaal had to excuse himself to grade exams, apologizing profusely before making it halfway to the lift and then remembering that he could teleport. Rhysel allowed herself a giggle.

She took the lift herself, and it let her out by the pond. The ducks were out on the water, sparkling red and black together. A few students were watching them, practicing color-change spells on blocks of wood but occasionally casting glances in the direction of the waterfowl. Perhaps two terms ago the ducks had been orange and pink.

Rhysel found a suitably non-spongy patch of ground close to the pond, levitated a large rock out of the dirt, and turned it into a spade. She stabbed the spade into the grass around the perimeter of a suitably sized circle, and then made the spade end broader and flatter and worked it under the grass roots until she could turn up the flora whole. The sod could go back after she'd worked the transfer point with the help of Kolaan and his friends, but for the working itself, she needed bare earth.

Out of her bag, she produced the paper-wrapped sandwiches she'd made to feed her helpers; they'd be ravenous by the time she'd taken the lifeforce she needed for the transfer point. They'd also be exhausted, but they could sit by the pond for a while. It would be staggeringly inefficient for Rhysel to send energy, and as none of them were kyma they couldn't tap her, but at least she could feed them.

She counted the sandwiches, then flew around from the pond to the front entrance, where she waited for Kolaan and his entourage. They arrived a couple of degrees late, all crowded together on Kolaan's hover platform, which he'd unfolded wider than she'd seen it before. Mostly, they were elves Kolaan's age, but there was a human boy and a lion-girl ('leonine', Rhysel remembered), too. "Hey, Rhysel!" called Kolaan, waving, when they approached within earshot. "Will eight of us be good?"

"Eight's fine," she called back. The hover platform coasted to a stop by the building. "Follow me," she said, and she popped up into the air to show them to the pond.

Once she had them where she meant to put the transfer point, they got off the platform and sat around it where she directed. "Link hands," Rhysel said.

"Th-that wasn't mentioned," stammered an elf girl, blond hair in a loose ponytail. She was sitting next to the human boy, who she was determinedly not looking at.

"Relax," said the leonine girl on her other side, "my claws are retractable."

"...Oh?" said the elf, and then immediately pretended that had been her concern. "I... should have known that."

"Why... are... we... linking hands?" asked the human boy, glancing at his blushing neighbor. They were sitting very close together, for all that they seemed nervous about doing what everyone else in the circle had already done.

"So I can get energy from all of you without having to touch you all at the same time," said Rhysel, sitting on the grass between Kolaan and another elf boy and grabbing the nearest hand belonging to each. "If it really bothers you -"

"No, it's fine - right, Kutran?" the human boy said hastily.

"Right," agreed Kutran swiftly. "Her claws... are... retractable." Her hand was already in the leonine's.

Rhysel looked, amused, as everyone was finally connected in a circle. "Well then. This won't feel like anything in itself, but I'm sure Kolaan warned you that you'll feel tired, and you'll also get hungry. I have a variety of sandwiches with me and you can help yourselves to those once I've finished the working."

"I'm a Kovin; do you have any sandwiches that are okay for us?" asked one of the elves.

"What do Kovin eat?" Rhysel asked.

"Plants," came the reply. "And salt and mushrooms - basically no animal products."

"Yes, I've got some that are just plants," Rhysel said. "Any other questions before I start?"

The human boy spoke up. "Do we have to be really careful not to let go of each other or else you'll explode, or anything like that?"

"No, not really. If one pair of you drop your hands I can still access everyone from the other direction - if two pairs of you did, the ones I was still connected to would get much more tired and hungry, but I can interrupt the working if I don't have enough to draw on. So do please hang on, but it's not a dire emergency if you don't." The boy nodded, but he squeezed Kutran's hand anyway. "Ready?" Rhysel asked.

"Ready," Kolaan announced, scanning the circle.

Rhysel focused on the cleared spot of ground, and firewriting flared to life in the requisite pattern. "Ooh," Kutran said, watching it, "that's pretty."

Just for fun, Rhysel made the fire coruscate through a rainbow of colors, and then she started drawing on her helpers to make the transfer point sing with its own signature and let her hop to it effortlessly from the one in her tower.

The working itself didn't take long. "You can let go now," Rhysel said to the slumping adolescents. Most of them let go, including Kutran and her friend, although she did fall onto him, yawning hugely and pillowing her head against his chest where he'd flopped back onto the grass. Rhysel yawned once herself, although she'd conserved enough of her own energy to supervise her donors and distribute food. She placed a sandwich on everyone's knee, reserving one of sprouts and avocado and bean curd for the boy who'd identified himself as a "Kovin".

"Actually," said the leonine girl, around an enormous sigh of tiredness, "I'm a carnivore..."

"You don't have to eat the bread or the lettuce," Rhysel said. "The other filling there is all ham."

"Ham's good," said the leonine. "Mm." She flipped her sandwich open, un-retracted a claw, and hooked it through the topmost slice of meat.

Gradually everyone perked up enough to start devouring their sandwiches; particularly hungry people got seconds. Kutran and the human boy (Rhysel heard him addressed as "Soraak") swapped their food halfway through, casually enough that Rhysel was perplexed as to why they were hesitant about holding hands.

Eventually everyone piled back onto Kolaan's hover platform, several of them sitting on the edges with their legs dangling. "What do I owe you?" Rhysel asked Kolaan.

"I decided, um, three aaberik for each of them, and an extra aaber for me 'cause I got them all together for you," Kolaan said.

Rhysel handed out the coins; Kutran, leaning her head on Soraak's shoulder, didn't take them herself but waved in her friend's direction and mumbled that he could hold them for her. When everyone had been paid, Kolaan lazily kicked the platform into gear, and they drifted away at a leisurely pace.

Rhysel turned back to her transfer point and rolled the sod back over it, then tested it out. She appeared in her tower, and then back at the pond, only to find the ducks watching her.

Rhysel picked up the bread the leonine hadn't eaten, and the lettuce leaf, and tore them up to throw to the birds. They ate them, although occasionally the black-sparkling duck would catch a bit of bread in its bill and then swim with it into a low cave-like opening at the pond's far edge. Rhysel couldn't see inside, but supposed they nested there.

When she ran out of extra sandwich fixings to throw, she transferred back home, smiling to herself.

Tekaal arrived at Rhysel's house precisely on time, though he looked self-conscious about it when she answered the door. "Good evening," he said. "We have roughly two angles before I am expected at the theater; I am not sure how long it takes to learn to fly, but we can interrupt the process and teleport to the restaurant instead if it threatens to constrain our meal."

"You're a quick study," she said. "I bet we can fly there. Have you been listening for tones from things in general?"

"They have become hard to miss when I am not otherwise occupied," Tekaal said.

She grinned. "Right, so, you know how air sounds?" When he nodded, she said, "What you're going to need to do is pick out the tones of your own lifeforce, and meld those with the chord of the air - then it'll pick you up and move you around as you direct by altering its tones, like you're part of it yourself. There are a few ways for this to go wrong, but I can undo or tell you how to undo any of them. Does it make sense to you when I say you need to meld the tones?"

"I suppose, but if I have tones of my own, I have yet to notice them," said Tekaal.

"Right. Sorry, got ahead of myself. They're very easy to ignore if you're not looking for them. Everything will become that way, in time, but since you're only just newly a kama, you're still hearing everything you pass unless you're concentrating on something else. Now, living things don't have tones in exactly the same way that air and water and earth and fire do," Rhysel lectured to the attentive elf. "Instead, we have biorhythms. These are... sorry, I work with flavors and I have to dig up the old musical analogies. I guess I'm glad I learned them, now. Biorhythms are more percussive. But even a drum has a pitch, of sorts, and you can translate that into a chord that will behave with the air."

"And how do I go about detecting my biorhythm?" he inquired.

"It's a combination of three things," she said. "Heartbeat, breath, and lifeforce pulse. The first two you can figure out yourself, I imagine - press your fingers to your wrist, pay attention to how far apart the moments when you stop inhaling and begin exhaling are. The lifeforce pulse I'm going to find for you, this time, since otherwise you would need to meditate for a while to find it until you'd done that a few times. Give me your hand?" she asked, holding hers out.

Tekaal laid his hand in hers, timidly limp as though he feared he'd offend her should he twitch the wrong way, and she interlaced their fingers and closed her eyes to seek out his lifeforce - not to tap, only to monitor. "I assume you can keep time once I start. This one doesn't change. Beat," she said, "beat, beat, beat, beat..."

He nodded his head in time, and she stopped speaking and released his hand. He didn't seem thrilled about the disentanglement, but laid his first two fingers against his opposite wrist, and began adding a nod at a different angle to the rhythm set by his heartbeat. "Is it," he asked, once these were established, "a poor idea to deliberately breathe in time with one or the other, so as to make the entire thing more manageable?"

"No, it's recommended when you're starting out," she said.

"Mm." He began breathing in time to the slow intervals of his lifeforce's swelling and falling. "What do I do next?" he murmured.

"Next," she said, "think of the approximate pitch of your heartbeat..."

"Aal," he sang obligingly, and Rhysel's breath caught before she composed herself. "And similar for breath, presumably, but I haven't personally heard my lifeforce."

"Right," Rhysel said, embarrassed. "I'd, um, I'd hum it for you, but I have no ability with anything related to pitch. I'll be able to tell you if you guess it, though. It should be between breath and heartbeat, and something that sounds nice with the both of them."

Tekaal assigned his breathing a note, which he sang on the same nonsense syllable - politely ignoring the heat in Rhysel's cheeks. Then he began guessing at a center pitch. When he struck unison with the hum of his lifeforce, she nodded vigorously.

He sang through the entire chord again, root and middle and top, and an involuntary shiver went up Rhysel's spine. "Right," she said. "Now... add that to the air's chord..."

Tekaal didn't move, but Rhysel was paying attention, and noticed the moment when he performed magic. "Er," she said. "You're supposed to add you to the air. If you add it the other way around, this happens..." She poked a finger at his chest, and it sank in up to her second knuckle.

He looked down at where she'd prodded him. "That is very alarming, Rhysel," he said.

"Sorry." She withdrew her hand. "Separate the chords again. That's actually a useful working - you can turn into air and get through the smallest of spaces - you didn't do the whole thing, and that's good, because you can't yet use your lifeforce that efficiently and you'd be exhausted. But you did a little of it."

He concentrated, and then asked, "Am I substantial again?"

Rhysel patted his arm, and it was as it ought to be. "Yep," she said. "Try again - leave the air what it is, and add your chord to it."

Tekaal repeated his attempt, and Rhysel tasted the air's acceptance of him as a part of it. "Great!" she enthused. "Now, you can control vertical and lateral movement and rotation and pitch, too, but since you can turn around by briefly landing, I think for today all we'll cover is going up, down, and forward. That will get you to the restaurant. To lift off the ground - hear the second highest note in the air chord? Make that one louder..."

She walked him through the changes necessary to hover a foot off the ground and propel himself forward, and then hopped into the air herself, showing off with a loop around him as he moved at his sedate pace. "With practice, this is second nature," she said. "I'm not thinking about changing flavors, I'm just flying. It's all much more intuitive once you're accustomed to it than it seems now."

"I'll take your word for it," Tekaal replied. "It's most intriguing even with the explicit musical manipulation."

Rhysel grinned at him. "Great. Where are we going?"

Tekaal had to land and make course corrections on a few occasions, but conducted them to the restaurant with almost an angle left to spare for the dinner itself. The menu was divided into two parts: substrates, and flavors. Rhysel recognized a few things on the first list (mashed potatoes, oatmeal, rice, wheat) and many things on the latter (blueberries, fennel, mustard, peanut, onion, chocolate...), but she wasn't sure on what basis she ought to make selections, nor why the flavorings list said It is advised that you select no more than three flavorings, though experienced customers may choose up to five. Quantities of each flavor are not adjusted to reflect the total number. So she asked Tekaal.

"The flavors are very intense," he said. "That's a good portion of why I like Saraanlan food - I have no sense of smell, and am rarely able to detect subtler flavors. One flavor is not appreciably stronger than an ordinary meal, although it has less complexity than most. Two is strong, three extremely so. Four and five are better not attempted unless one is attempting to win money from one's friends."

"What are you getting?" she asked.

"Fennel, garlic, and mixed peppers," he said. "With potatoes."

"Hmm," she said. "Does raspberry and chocolate sound good? On oatmeal?"

"I think that sounds like a fine choice for your first Saraanlan meal," he said.

They placed their orders by writing them down and handing them to the waiter who glided by the table. "So," Rhysel said, "how is my teaching technique?"

Tekaal mulled this question over. "It could," he said, in a diplomatic tone, "benefit from advance lesson-planning, to ensure that you have the opportunity to select the best order in which to present information."

Rhysel looked down. "That... would have been a good idea. I'm sorry."

"I have suffered no ongoing ill effects," Tekaal said mildly. "It would have been a wise choice to create lesson plans for our classes in introductory kamai regardless of native skill at that aspect of teaching, simply to coordinate with each other."

"Right," said Rhysel, chuckling self-consciously.

"I did successfully fly here," he said. The waiter chose that moment to come by with their square bowls; the slips of paper on which they'd written their orders were stuck to the lips of the dishes and each heap of food had a spoon stuck into it. Rhysel's oatmeal was a burgundy-brown color, presumably from the raspberry and chocolate flavors. Tekaal's was pale with flecks of green and red and yellow, and looked festive.

Rhysel filled her mouth with a spoonful of oats, and immediately made a strangled pleased noise as raspberry and chocolate flooded her senses with tart-sweetness. "Oh my word, that's lovely," she said, when she'd recovered the presence of mind to chew and swallow and was released from the thrall of deliciousness.

"I'm glad you like it," said Tekaal, having nonchalantly gone through two bites of his own food. "This is one of the better Saraanlan restaurants in Paraasilan."

"If it wasn't, I think I'd be scared to try the really good ones," she said. "They'd send me to the..." Rhysel cast about for a Leraal word, then just inserted the Martisen term - "the hospital, delirious with fruit and - and, what exactly is chocolate? It comes in so many forms."

"Chocolate is derived from a seed," Tekaal said. "I'm not familiar with the details of how it is processed. What is a 'hospital'? Perhaps if you describe it I can tell you the Leraal word, although I don't think there is a particular place designated for victims of excellent Saraanlan cuisine."

Rhysel tilted her head. "In Barashi, there aren't enough kyma to treat every illness or injury - and some we can't treat, and some people who won't see us. They're helped by non-magical medics who can give them drugs, set their bones, or stitch up wounds. In larger cities, instead of just going to a medic's house, you go to a hospital, where a lot of them work."

"I see. I suppose the nearest equivalent would be a light's office, although they staff facilities in shifts one at a time. They work quickly and there would be little advantage to collecting many of them in central locations."

Rhysel winced; she had yet to personally meet a light, and the only one she'd heard of was the one who'd faked Samia's death only to ensconce her in a mental institution. When she thought of that, she added, "There are also hospitals for illnesses of the mind."

"Those," Tekaal said, "do exist." He supplied the word, but went on, "It would probably not be sensible to appropriate that term for the Barashin hospitals."

"I'll just make the Martisen into a loanword, then," she said. "How's your dinner?"

"Quite pleasant," he said. "Would you like a taste?"

"Sure." She turned her spoon around and used the other end of it to get a bit of his mashed potatoes, and popped it into her mouth. Assaulted by piquancy, she reeled for a moment before commenting, "Are you just really accustomed to this sort of thing, or...?"

"The lack of a sense of smell is relevant," he said. "I am most likely experiencing less than half of what you are, when we taste the same food."

"Why don't you have a sense of smell?" Rhysel asked, sipping water before going back to her oatmeal.

"It runs in my family," Tekaal said. "My paternal grandfather, my father, my uncle, and the younger of my two brothers have the same condition, although my other brother and my sister and great-aunt escaped it. I don't believe it is common."

Rhysel nodded. "Is there no way to fix it? I had sort of got the impression that magic could do anything whatever along those lines."

"It does not fall within the scope of lightcraft, although some syndromes with comparable symptoms would," said Tekaal. "There is no reason why a diligently researched wizard spell, precisely targeted, could not repair the condition. No one has troubled to invent one, including myself. It rarely interferes with my life, and none of my relatives has requested that I devote the necessary time."

Rhysel nodded. "I suppose you're accustomed to food not tasting like much."

"Indeed, and I doubt it would be an entirely positive development for that to abruptly change. It might be challenging to adjust. I can certainly come to establishments like this one, but you will notice I requested only three flavors."

"Still," she said. "I bet kamai has a way to fix it. I would need more detail than I have to even try with proxic magic, and that's it for my repertoire and healing, but I could ask my Master the next time I contact him. Would that bother you?"

"It would not," said Tekaal. "I would, of course, prefer to have more detail about any such cure before accepting it for myself, although I could pass along to my family its availability even if it did not interest me."

"Of course," said Rhysel. "So... what else, besides making lesson plans, do you think I need to learn before we start teaching kamai?"

The conversation drifted from there, through Tekaal's gentle criticisms of her didactic technique through a comparison of their own educational history. (Rhysel learned that it was uncommon for Esmaarlan children to be sent to schools like Binaaralav, and the place only existed because it taught magic - one of a handful of subjects that the average extended family couldn't teach its own youngsters at home. And more would-be wizards didn't begin to study until they reached adulthood and could do so at a university.) By the time their bowls had sat empty for several degrees, Rhysel was confessing to her history of cliffdiving ("the trick is to gather the energy to fly before you jump, so you can do it in an instant when you're nearly all the way down - not that it was smart of me anyway -"). Tekaal named the instruments he played ("the stringed one is a marteth, the key instrument is a fron").

Abruptly stopping midsentence, Tekaal cast the time spell, and paled at the numbers it displayed. "I needed to be at the theater four degrees ago," he said. "The makeup artist will be livid."

"Go ahead and teleport there, I'll cover dinner," Rhysel offered.

"It's covered - my credit stamp was keyed to our orders when we placed them - but yes, I need to go. I'm terribly sorry; if I had been paying more attention it wouldn't have needed to be so sudden -"

"Do I get a kiss goodbye?" Rhysel interrupted brazenly.

Tekaal stared at her, stunned, for a few ticks, but then he leaned across the table, pecked her cautiously on the forehead, and disappeared with a hasty wave of his hand and muttered word.

Rhysel smiled giddily to herself, and, after confirming with the waiter that Tekaal had paid for the dinner without even asking if she wanted to cover her half, she flew home.

Chapter Thirteen: Ducks

When Rhysel transferred to Binaaralav on Fenen, ready to attend theory class, she landed up to her knees in muddy water.

Spluttering, she pulled herself into the air and out of the hole that her transfer point had become. It still worked - it would take more than digging it out to break it - but that only meant that instead of being unable to use it, and flying in to see what was wrong with it, she'd ruined a pair of shoes and soaked her leggings and skirt. In front of some dozen students. "Ugh!"

"Oh, yikes!" said a girl Rhysel recognized from class, Korulen's human friend Lutan. "Do you want me to look up a cleaning spell? I'm sure I've got one in this book I have if I just run up to my room..."

"Thank you," said Rhysel, "but I've got it - well, perhaps not the shoes, but could your spell fix those?"

"No, probably not," Lutan admitted. "It'd dry them off and get the dirt out but I don't know how to fix the water damage. You could ask Aar Kithen. What are you going to do? Kah-maa?" she asked, trailing off awkwardly at the end of the erroneously declined foreign noun.

"Kamai," corrected Rhysel. She forced the water out of her clothes first, then took hold of the remaining dust by magic and ushered it out of the fibers. Soon her skirt and leggings were clean, if oddly stiff. "How long has my transfer point been a pit of mud?"

"It was like that when I got here," Lutan said. "It's not supposed to be, I take it?"

"No," Rhysel said. "It's not. I don't see how this would have happened here even if it rained very hard on this spot and nowhere else..." She felt water squish between her toes, and magically wrung out her shoes, too, but the leather was already damaged. She'd wear them until the end of the class, then go home and swap them for a backup pair.

"It looks kind of like somebody dug a hole there and then poured water in," Lutan said. "But I don't know who'd do that. Can you fix it?"

"It's not broken, per se," Rhysel said. "It'd take much more damage to the area to ruin the magic - the place'd have to be completely unrecognizable - but it's certainly not pleasant to use as is. I can fix that." She frowned at the glop on her transfer point, then fountained it up into the air and into the middle of the pond. It splashed, but was far enough away not to hit Rhysel or any of the students lounging around the edge of the water. The ducks were nowhere to be seen; Rhysel would have been hard pressed to avoid them too if they were on the water.

When the hole was only that, not a pool, Rhysel transmuted the bottom of it to rock and pulled it up to lie flush with the surrounding ground much as she'd pulled up her tower. This was a smaller working than that had been, and she was only a touch drowsy when she'd finished. "That should make it challenging for whoever it was to repeat themselves, at least," she said.

"Looks good to me," Lutan said. "Hey, Korulen said you're going to teach kaa-maa-eeeeee... Why do languages exist that end words on vowels? I don't know when to stop saying them. Anyway, Korulen said you're going to teach your magic here. Do you have room for me in there?"

"I haven't started evaluating potential students yet," said Rhysel, starting for the entrance. Lutan followed at her heels. "But possibly. Did Korulen also tell you about the aspects?"

"Mm-hmm," said Lutan. "I like the sound of image kama-a-ai. I like wizard illusions, but you have to advertise what you're doing to everyone, waving your hand around and saying the words. Ka-a-ee-maa-aa don't have to do that, right?"

"Kyma. No, we don't. Some kyma use words or gestures to help focus their attention, but they have nothing to do with the workings themselves."

"How're you going to pick who gets in the program, anyway?" Lutan asked. "If you just go by word of mouth you'll have me and Korulen and that dragon boy who I think has a crush on her and maybe four other people we know."

"I hadn't thought about it," Rhysel said, and she instructed the lift to take them to the correct hall. "Any suggestions?"

"Hold an open assembly and show off what you can do?" Lutan suggested.

"I only know a few workings in disciplines besides elemental kamai, right now, so it might have to wait while I cram with - Aar Kithen," said Rhysel. "But perhaps."

"Riiight," said Lutan. "Aar Kithen's helping you. That's neat. He's a good teacher, just kind of stuffy. I know hardly anything about him and I know things about most people."

"What do you know about me?" Rhysel asked, amused, as she and Lutan walked from the lift up the hall to the classroom.

"Mostly stuff I got out of Korulen. You're an offworlder from a place called Barashi - her mom went there and it has two suns and the planet is a ball shape - and you do kamai, the elemental kind. And you were with her uncle Narax for a bit but you're not now because of his wife but I don't know the exact details of that, was she okay with you and then she changed her mind or what? And, you know, stuff like that. I like knowing who's around me."

Rhysel laughed good-naturedly. "That so? Why?"

Lutan pushed the door to the classroom open. "It's like knowing somebody's name, to me - like, wouldn't you think it was odd if you talked to a person for a couple angles and then when they left you realized you had no idea what their name was?"

"So what should I know about you?" Rhysel asked Lutan, taking a seat and nodding (she refrained from winking) at Tekaal. Lutan sat at a nearby desk and began chattering happily about her art classes and her practica and her girlfriend and her boyfriend and the anthology of short stories she was reading, although she seemed to find it persistently difficult to talk about herself, and not her friends or her significant others or her relatives. By the time the classroom filled up, Rhysel thought she could have recited more facts about Korulen and Lutan's friend Kaarilel than about Lutan herself.

Korulen and Kaarilel, and the others in the posse, wound up clustering around Rhysel. Kaarilel attempted to pass a note to Korulen through Rhysel once, but mysteriously, it was caught by a breeze en route and directed into the misbehaving elf's hair, instead.

Lutan waved at Rhysel when she left with Korulen and company, and Rhysel waved back. The classroom emptied of students.

"Do be cautious about Aaralan Mehaas -"

"Lutan?" Rhysel asked.

"- Yes. She is not discreet with what she learns, as you may have already discovered," Tekaal said.

"I won't tell her anything sensitive. But she seems like a nice person," Rhysel said. "And she's a friend of Korulen's, and she offered to help me with something when I got here..." Rhysel then explained the state she'd found her transfer point in. "I can't think what the motive might be. The only person who might hate me that much is Samia, and the last I heard, she lived in Ertydo. Which, correct me if I'm wrong - isn't it on a different continent?"

"Aaral - what is her surname?"

"I don't think I ever learned it."

"Aar Alar's erstwhile spouse is a wizard, and so the distance may mean little to her, but it does seem farfetched for her to do as you describe. Yet I agree it sounds deliberate."

"Hmm." Rhysel sighed. "Well, it'll be a good bit harder for anyone to repeat the vandalism now. The grass was all gone anyway, so I turned it into a rock dais. Is it technically accurate to call a dragon 'Aar' and then his line name? I thought they were different from surnames."

"It is as close as one can get to formal address with a dragon," Tekaal said. "The only one I would prefer to address by anything else is my great-great-grandmother."

"You're part dragon?" Rhysel asked.

Tekaal shrugged. "A great many people have traceable dragon ancestry. Many more have lost track but have it nevertheless. All of the significant traits breed out within a generation or two. But, yes, my great-great-grandmother is a dragon, and my great-grandmother a thudia. Diamond."

"Wow. Are you close to her?"

"She visits my family several times annually; there are some dozen of her descendants in the one house alone, and she divides her time between ours and various other households to which her progeny have migrated. So while she is permitted to address me by my first name and so forth, it might not be accurate to claim closeness. She lives in Drast, now. And as neither a wizard nor a licensed teleporter, does find the distance significant - although as a white-group dragon, not as significant as she might."

As it was Fenen, there was no immediate need to vacate the room, and they loitered for some time chatting about miscellaneous things. By the time Tekaal teleported away, they had another date set: after his Lunen instance of the play, they would attend an art show. Rhysel went out to her transfer point - which had acquired a chalk drawing of some roses in unlikely colors, but was otherwise unmolested, and she didn't mind its being used as an art canvas. Smiling at the observing ducks, she jumped home.

Lunen found Rhysel curled up with the books her Master had sent along on the other four disciplines of kamai. She started reading about mind, inspired by Keo's usefulness to pick up what had always seemed to her a relatively uninteresting topic, but found that she couldn't get very far without a practice partner. Wild kamai, her next choice, was similarly limited, but she would be able to get a subject by sitting outside and practicing animal-soothing. It was normally simpler to start with domestic creatures, but having none ready to hand and not interested in buying a pet, she decided to hop to school and try the ducks. They were close to tame, if still wild.

When Rhysel jumped to their pond, though, she nearly fell over. Instead of being dug out, her transfer point was buried under a mound of earth nearly waist-high at the top, but it wasn't packed down and didn't hold up well to being stood on. She had to catch herself in flight to avoid tumbling into the water.

She landed on solid ground, located the nearby scooped-out place whence the heap of dirt had come, and shoved the pile of soil into it unceremoniously with kamai. Her temper was beginning to fray.

A soft quack sounded behind her.

Rhysel turned around to see the red-sparkling duck, floating in the water, looking somehow disgruntled.

She glanced from side to side; there weren't any students up this early on a day with no classes, even if some of them were on campus. The lake was deserted apart from her and the duck. So she could feel only so ridiculous about saying, "Are you ducks trying to ruin my transfer point?"

The duck paddled backwards, then turned around and swam for its hidey-hole.

Rhysel frowned, and reached out across the air for the retreating duck's lifeforce, intending to calm its rhythm and tame the duck long enough that she could pick it up and get a look at it. But the duck didn't have a weak, fluttering biorhythm that should have belonged to such a small animal. It didn't even have a solid medium-sized one like she'd expect from herself or Tekaal. It had a veritable torrent of lifeforce wrapped up inside its feathers, like it was a tiny power well. Rhysel had only tapped a power well once, but felt a comparable rush of dizziness when she brushed the duck with her magic.

"Wait," she said to the duck, intending to call out but managing only a weak, awkward murmur. "Hey - wait - can you understand me?" She stepped out onto the water of the pond, making it support her as she chased the duck.

The duck quacked in alarm and swam faster, but when Rhysel was halfway to the hidey-hole, it abruptly turned in the water and squawked angrily at her, spreading its wings.

"I'm not going to hurt you," she said. "It's just -" She stepped forward, forcing the water not to ripple and upset her footing.

The duck took off into the air, flying at her face and swatting her with its wings. This was more painful than she would have expected, but once she recovered her balance and her presence of mind she had no trouble catching the duck with a wad of controlled air and forcing it away from her. It hung suspended there and quacked furiously, unable to otherwise move.

"There was no call for that," Rhysel said sternly. "I haven't attacked you. Can you understand me? Quack twice if you can."

The red duck remained resolutely silent. Out of the darkened hidey-hole swam the black-sparkling duck.

"Hello," said Rhysel to the newcomer, feeling steadily less ridiculous about addressing ducks. "Can you understand me? Quack twice if you can."

The black duck didn't make a sound, but looked up at the red one, then at Rhysel.

"It attacked me," Rhysel said. "I'm hanging onto it until I know what's going on. Maybe you'll be more reasonable." The black duck swam in a tight circle, then looked at the red duck again. "No? Okay. I'm going to see what's going on myself, then." Rhysel advanced towards the hidey-hole.

The black duck swam in front of her, although it didn't fly into her face. Rhysel stepped over it, and it tried to get in her way again, but she continued anyway.

When she was six feet from the low, darkened hole, both ducks behind her, she heard a low, pained woman's voice: "Stop!"

Rhysel did stop, and turned around to see the black duck looking up at her. "Please," went on the voice, and she saw it was the black duck speaking. "Please don't. Please leave us alone. Please."

"Have you been interfering with my transfer point?" Rhysel demanded.

"Please go away," said the black duck. "Please."

Rhysel sighed. "Does the headmaster know you're here?" she asked. "I mean, I suppose he knows that there are ducks in the pond, but does he know you're intelligent?"

"Don't tell him!" cried the black duck hysterically. "Please go away. Please. Forget we're here and leave us alone. We'll leave your transfer point alone. Please, please, please."

"So you have been messing with it," said Rhysel. "Why?"

"I couldn't hear you coming," said the black duck, swimming in an anxious circle. "I can hear people coming on foot. There's no reason for anyone to teleport here. Please let him go," she added, gazing up at the red duck.

"All right, but he'd better not attack me again." Rubbing the bruise he'd left on her cheekbone, Rhysel released the other duck, who dropped unceremoniously into the water, shook out his wings, and touched beaks to the black duck. "What are you doing here? What are you? Ducks in general aren't intelligent in Elcenia, are they?"

"Please go away and leave us a-" the black duck began to repeat, but then she startled, perhaps hearing something Rhysel couldn't make out. She swam at top speed towards the hidey-hole, and the red duck got between Rhysel and the entrance, looking challengingly at her.

"I'm not going to follow her in," said Rhysel, holding up her hands placatingly. From a distance, she hadn't been able to make out how big the hidey-hole entrance really was. It wouldn't be a comfortable fit, but she could have floated in horizontally.

"You'd better not," said the red duck in a snarling voice. It sounded very odd, emerging from waterfowl.

"No," came the black duck's voice from inside the hole. "No, no, don't go out there, come back, little one - little one!"

But her exhortations were ineffectual. Out of the hidey-hole swam a sparkling, black, infant dragon.

The baby dragon looked up at Rhysel cheekily and made a peeping noise.

"You're dragons," breathed Rhysel. "Not color-changed ducks."

"We are not," snapped the red-feathered one. "We're shrens. Will you go away now?" He swam forward and tried to nudge the baby black-opal-scaled dragon into the hole with his beak, but the baby wasn't having it, and they were similar sizes while he was in duck form.

"Eret," called the black not-a-duck. "I can't hold onto all of them at once now they're awake -"

"Dammit," Eret muttered. He looked around, saw only Rhysel anywhere nearby, glared at her, and shapeshifted. In human form, he was a brown-skinned, brown-haired man, wearing shabby pants but no shirt or shoes. The pond was reasonably deep, but he was tall, and he was able to stand on the bottom and shove the tiny dragon back into the dark hole. When that was done, he glared at Rhysel with red color-flecked eyes, and shifted back into duck form. "Go away."

"You're trying to raise children here? What do they eat?" Rhysel asked incredulously.

"How many times do we have to tell you to leave us alone?" snapped Eret. "How is that confusing? I know you speak Leraal. I've heard you do it. Do you want it in some other language?"

"I just - why would you - living as ducks, with - someone is bound to find you eventually," Rhysel said. "Keo could just walk by and she'd notice your empathic signatures; she wouldn't even have to suspect. I know Korulen brings Runa here sometimes and soon Runa will be able to express herself well enough to mention the same thing."

"Yes," said Eret, voice heavy with sarcasm, "someone is bound to find us eventually. I wonder when that will happen."

Rhysel flushed. "I won't tell anyone about you," she said. "But how are you going to feed - how many baby dragons?"

"It's none of your business unless you want to bring us a sack of groceries twice a week!" snarled Eret.

"I could do that," Rhysel said.

He stopped short, and blinked at her.

"Really," she said. "What do you want? I'll get it and bring it here for you. Your children shouldn't have to go hungry, no matter why you're living as ducks. I've personally fed you bread and lettuce; you probably don't have some excellent source of food if you'll eat what you're thrown."

"Four," he said, finally. "Four baby dragons. They'll eat most anything humans or elves will eat. We're fine ourselves. Ducks eat grass."

"And I assume you don't have a kitchen in there." At his silence, she said, "I'll bring something by, stuff that doesn't call for cooking, tomorrow or the day after - my delivery person will need at least that much notice."

"Thank you," said Eret grudgingly.

"Can I ask you a question?" Rhysel asked, sitting down on the water.

"Fine," he huffed.

"What exactly is a shren?"

"Like a dragon," he said, "but can't fly."

"But you can fly; I saw you do it. Right at my face."

"In our natural forms," he said, exasperated. "Once we learn to shapeshift, yeah, we can fly in other forms as long as they come with functioning wings."

"Oh," she said. "Are the babies shrens too?"

"No!" he shouted. "Do we look sadistic to you? Why the hell would we have children if we expected them to be shrens too?"

"I'm sorry?"

"I would hope so. Ugh. Someone might drop by any moment. Would you go away and stop drawing attention to us? And come back tomorrow with food," he added in an undertone.

"Maybe I'd better get a book about shrens, or something," she said.

"Even you are unlikely to offend a book," said Eret. "Goodbye." And with that, he swam into the hole.

Rhysel transferred home, thoughts of taming ducks forgotten. She wrote an extensive list of minimal-preparation foods that didn't require cold storage on her link paper to Kolaan. Then she scratched in quantities that she thought would sate four tiny dragons Runa's size for four or five days.

She felt like she ought to do more to help the small family, but they clearly didn't trust her. Maybe a few grocery deliveries, and a few weeks of no one turning up at their hidey-hole looking for them, would help them be willing to tell her what they needed. Although she didn't understand how they were going to keep their children out of sight, when Runa alone was a such a handful for her parents. Maybe Eret and - Rhysel kicked herself for not asking the black opal's name - had only had their babies hatch very recently, and didn't yet know how much of a trial they'd be.

Once she'd put in the grocery order and added As early as you can get it here tomorrow, please, or the next day if need be, she transferred back to school, politely ignored the "ducks", and made for the library. The librarian she asked gave a delicate shudder at the word "shren", but pointed her to a shelf.

There were a handful of likely-looking titles: "A History of Shrens and Shren Houses". "On the Etiology of Shrenness". "Six Shren Case Histories (Anonymized)". "Illnesses of Dragons, & Shrens, incl. Shrenness Itself". "Sociology of Shrens: The Childhood, The Stigma, The Obscurity".

Rhysel stared at these. Eret and his (wife? presumably wife) hadn't seemed particularly diseased. Not being able to fly in dragon form was surely inconvenient for them, but "stigma"? She pulled the last book off the shelf, and opened it to the introduction.

This volume would be remiss to exclude the following introduction to shrens before moving on to the more advanced branches of the topic. Shrens are the dragonlike children of dragon parents (full-blooded always; shren parunias unheard of except in cases where there is plausibly a situation of deception (p. 348) or cuckooing (p. 350)), sharing in fact all of their characteristics save the inability to fly in dragon form. Shrens themselves, on the occasions that they reproduce (rare: see ch. 12), produce children as dragons (thudias, parunias, "full-blooded" dragons with other shrens or even (see p. 202) with dragons, and no higher than typical risk of producing shren children of their own). Shrenness is detectable via markings on the eggs (p. 115). Of shren eggs that are not destroyed immediately on laying, an overwhelming majority are sent to hatch in "shren houses" (list of these institutions on p. 38), where the hatchlings grow to shapeshifting age and then, no longer necessarily contagious (p. 16), may be picked up by their parents or other relatives; however, approximately half of shrens are left at shren houses past this age. Other shrens without clutchmates they would infect whose families live in sufficiently remote areas are occasionally raised at home (ch. 14 section 3), though dragon parents often find themselves unequal to the task of raising infants in such constant pain (p. 63) and with draconic culture standing so formidably against their choice.

Eyebrows shooting up at the word "contagious", Rhysel turned to the marked page. Shren Contagion, it said:

While shrenness is not caused by any detectable microorganism (c.f. Rak and Enseeli, 11197), it can nevertheless be passed from shrens to dragons. This contagion has several unusual characteristics. First, it can only be transmitted if both the shren and the dragon are in natural form. Second, it is a matter of pure proximity - recorded infections (see page 386) have taken place through assorted barriers provided that the shren and victim were within some 200 feet of one another. Third, it is instantaneous, although if the victim does not attempt to fly immediately after infection, he or she may not immediately notice the situation. (This can in theory lead to "shren chains", where shren 1 infects victim 2 immediately affects more distant victim 3, but this has never happened in recorded history.) And fourth, non-shrens cannot transmit the infection. Parts of shrens such as shed scales, or non-dragon non-shrens who associate with shrens and then interact with dragons, do not carry the contagion. For obvious reasons, infant shrens are the most dangerous and infant dragons the most vulnerable. Shrens who have learned to shapeshift typically never return to their natural forms again (though see ch. 12), associating the form with pain and with the necessity of being shut away. Shren houses also responsibly teach young shrens to avoid the form, to limit the risk of contagion.

Rhysel frowned and went back to the introduction, then turned to page 63. A section header marked "Esu" preceded a paragraph that read:

Esu is the transliteration of a Draconic word (accurate as of this edition's publication in 11239) referring to the effects on a dragon (or a shren) who does not fly for an extended period of time. For obvious reasons, shrens too young to have learned to shapeshift (i.e. in the first two decades of life, plus or minus a year) are most subject to this effect. Initially it takes the form of lethargy and what has been called "air hunger" (c.f. Rhanaleuly). If left unsatisfied, this "air hunger" deepens into a non-localized pain, which continues to worsen steadily until the affected dragon or shren takes flight. The flight may be in any form, but must be under the dragon or shren's own power. (It is unknown if dragon or shren mages, if any existed, could satisfy the esu/"air hunger" with air mage powers in place of actual effective wingbeats.) The pain of esu is originally very slight. Interviewee Ludei (see full text of interview in appendix 4) compares it to a pinprick. By the end of one full year of painful esu, he claims that it is more similar to a fractured arm, and continues to worsen at a comparable rate throughout each subsequent year. He cautions that as a white shren himself he may have been more subject than shrens of other colors to the effects of esu, though interviews with shrens from each color group do not yield consistent differences.

Rhysel winced, and wished she could teach babies kamai, but the way dragons aged they'd have been flying around in assumed forms for a century before the ability would take, no matter whether she chose to infuse them before that. She flipped back to the introduction, and followed the page number directions to the list of shren houses.

Keppine Shren House. Operated by Ludei (white). Kep Island, Petar.
Sansee Shren House. Operated by Camsa (copper). Teiases, Corenta.
Lator Shren House. Operated by Jensal (turquoise). Paraasilan, Esmaar.
Priskta Shren House. Operated by Quaro (amethyst). 358 by 127, Tenebirokalamikikek.

Rhysel squinted at the third line of the list. The book she was holding didn't have more detail about it, so she put it back and grabbed the history of shrens and shren houses. That one didn't have an address, but it did show Lator Shren House on a map. An outdated map, but the layout of the city and the cardinal directions would do the trick.

Rhysel re-shelved the books and went out of the library, and took to the air, looking for the shren house.

Chapter Fourteen: Shrens

The shren house was obvious when Rhysel found it: three blocky stories wrapped around a courtyard, surrounded by a fence that would keep any onlookers well back beyond infection distance. Rhysel wasn't sure if the place was also warded to keep out flying dragons, but when she landed at the entrance and tried the gate, it swung to admit her - either it didn't have a ward like that, or it ignored her.

She saw people peering out of the windows - small dragons (shrens, presumably, though why the distinction was made so rigidly was lost on Rhysel) and shapeshifted human or elf faces - but no one came out to greet her, and when she knocked on the door, it wasn't immediately opened.

Rhysel waited, and finally, someone opened the door. The woman had light brown skin and sky-blue hair, bangs curling down over annoyed brown eyes. "You aren't the orchestrator of the charitable cause department, a dragon, or a shren. What are you doing here?"

"I -" Rhysel's purpose had seemed clear in her head. Go meet shrens, see if there was some way that kamai could help where Elcenian magic couldn't. Elcenian magic hadn't been able to regrow Samia's hair, couldn't make transfer points - maybe kamai could heal shrens, but she'd need more cooperative ones than Eret and his wife to see if that might be the case. But obliged to articulate it, she blanked. "I'm here to help."

The blue-haired shren closed her eyes briefly and took a sighing breath, then put on a rehearsed smile. "Our organization accepts monetary donations through the Paraasilan Charitable Cause Department, or federally through the Daasen Union of Welfare. We are not in the market for volunteer work at this time and prefer to source needed labor in-house. If you wish to provide some other form of help, please mail us a written description so that we can evaluate our ability to make use of it. Thank you for your interest in the Lator Shren House."

"That's not what I - I mean, I have offworld magic," Rhysel said, backtracking. "I only just learned what shrens are, and I know my magic can do some things that Elcenian kinds can't. I wanted to learn more and find out if there's any way I can help."

The blue-haired shren blinked at her. "Offworld magic."

Rhysel nodded, and conjured a globe of handfire, which she spun through a rainbow of colors. "But I don't know if I can help until I get a closer look at some shrens. Or I'd go home and write a description for you. Er, what's your name? Are you Jensal?" she asked, recalling the list of houses in the book.

"Yes. So what do you want to do, exactly?" asked Jensal.

"Er," Rhysel said. "Meet some baby shrens, I suppose? Check their lifeforces, figure out what wild kamai I might want to learn to work on their wings -"

"Do you think you can handle being in a room with a bunch of baby shrens?" asked Jensal. "They're not going to stop screaming to avoid offending your sensibilities."

Rhysel winced. "I'm not going to make it any worse, am I?"

"Are you?" inquired Jensal archly. "I don't know anything about your magic. Are you affiliated with some trustworthy institution I might have heard of? Do you have credentials? Or do you just want me to let you muck around with the babies on the off-chance that you'll perform miracles?"

"Er." Rhysel bit her lip, then said, "I'm supposed to start teaching my form of magic, kamai, at the Binaaralav Academy in a term or two."

"It might be a better use of your time to use that connection to convince the headmaster's unique-green-group wife that she really should tolerate the horrible, horrible thought of shrens for the half angle it would take her to individually anesthetize every baby in every house."

Rhysel hadn't thought of that before, but nodded immediately. "I'll bring it up to her. I'll have her over for dinner tomorrow and mention it. But it's possible that even after she does that, some of you would want to be cured outright, isn't it? I might be able to do that."

Jensal sighed. "I will let you meet one baby. A little one who won't cry too much, because I would feel foolish if it turns out in fifty years that you can cure shrens but didn't get around to it because you weren't prepared for the reality of a nineteen-year-old shren who left behind the mere sensation of melting some five or six years ago. You get half an angle or until I say otherwise, whichever comes first. I will supervise the entire process and you will explain what you're doing before you do anything to the baby in question. Is that understood?"

"Okay," said Rhysel meekly.

"Come in," Jensal said, waving Rhysel through the door and into an office just inside. "Sit here. Don't go anywhere. Don't touch anything. If someone walks in, tell them I'll be there in a degree. Understood?" Rhysel nodded, and Jensal left her behind.

The office was small, neatly kept, and full of files and books and slips of paper tucked into things. Rhysel was on one of three chairs that were not tucked under Jensal's desk, looking out the window behind Jensal's own chair into the lawn between building and fence.

Jensal was back promptly, before anyone else ventured into the office asking after her. In her arms was a baby shren Runa's size, whose bold, primary-green scales made her stand out starkly against Jensal's black shirt. "This is Artha," Jensal told Rhysel. "Artha, say hi."

"Morning!" said Artha instead, waving a forefoot. She scrabbled against Jensal's grip, trying to get down. "You do miracles?"

"Uh," Rhysel said.

"She's going to see if maybe she can," Jensal said. "No promises, Artha, okay?"

"Okay, but maybe?" said Artha.

"I wouldn't call it a 'miracle' even if it turns out I can do it," Rhysel said. "I'm not a god, I'm a kama."

"Forgive her," Jensal said dryly. "'Shren' is a Draconic word. And Draconic is set up in such a way that a shren ceasing to be a shren by any means other than death is a miracle, no two ways about it. Your lack of divinity doesn't enter into the question. But Artha -"

"No promises," sighed Artha. "But, but, you can try."

Rhysel held out her hands, and Jensal handed over the little shren. Artha moved differently than Runa did. Even when Runa wasn't trying to take off, she used her wings to maneuver and express herself. Artha didn't do that. Her wings were present, and weren't obviously shriveled or in any way misshapen, but she held them tightly against her sides all folded even when she was climbing into precarious poses on Rhysel's forearms.

"What are you going to do?" Jensal asked.

"Miracles!" cried Artha. "Miracles miracles. No promises," she added hastily when Jensal opened her mouth.

"I'm going to check her lifeforce first," Rhysel said, petting the tiny green shren between her stubby conical horns and getting a purr for her troubles. "It's completely harmless. I've done it to my boyfriend."

"And he's fine?" Jensal asked. Rhysel nodded, and the turquoise pursed her lips. "All right then. You can do that."

Rhysel sought out Artha's lifeforce. Like Eret's, it was considerable - there was a lot of energy wrapped up in the little hatchling. "This is interesting," Rhysel murmured. "I wonder if it's just shrens, or dragons too? I should check Runa, and Keo..."

"You didn't test me too, did you?" Jensal asked. "Did you meet some other shren before?"

Rhysel brought herself up short; she didn't want to give away the "ducks" after having promised not to. "I can test you," she offered.

"Knock yourself out," said Jensal. Rhysel reached out for the other shren's lifeforce, and found it no less spectacular than Artha's or Eret's.

"Amazing," Rhysel said. "I could build a transfer point tapping just three dragons."

"Amazing," said Jensal. "That was completely meaningless to me. I speak all languages; I'm not familiar with all concepts."

"Sorry. I just mean - apparently shrens have a lot of lifeforce. That's what I use to do my magic, and for large workings, I can borrow it from other people."

"Also," Jensal said, "I'm not a dragon."

"...Sorry?" Rhysel said. "Can you explain why? If I couldn't walk, I'd still be a halfblood."

"Draconic," said Jensal. "'Shren' is a Draconic word, and it means us, and it doesn't mean dragons."

"Okay then," Rhysel said. "Can you tell me what's wrong with her wings?"

"You mean besides the fact that she hatched out of a striped egg?" Jensal asked. "Not a thing. She's not using them because they don't work."

"She can't move them at all?" Rhysel asked.

"Nuh-uh, I can," said Artha. With a look of supreme concentration on her face, she stretched out her left wing to its full span before Rhysel's eyes. Apart from the color, it could have been Runa's wing. There was nothing wrong with it. "It's not so hard!"

"I'm going to touch your wing, okay, Artha?" Rhysel said, and at the infant's nod, she ran her fingers over the struts and the webbing. "Does it hurt?"

Artha tossed her head. "Not especially."

Rhysel winced, but continued to examine the wing. The wing felt like one of Runa's too. Warm, though not as warm as a non-reptile; the webbing taut and leathery between the scale-encased bones and muscles. "Is dragon flight a physical thing, or magical?" Rhysel asked Jensal.

"Physical," said Jensal. "If you buy the latest research. Their wings have to be very strong to do it, but they're taking off and flying around like birds and bats do."

Rhysel let go of Artha's wing. It flopped limply, and then Artha folded it, using her tail to help move it now that she was done showing off. "I think," Rhysel said, "that I need to learn more wild kamai, and come back and try again. Maybe I should even ask my Master for help so no one has to wait on my education."

"So you're done?" Jensal asked.

"For today," Rhysel said. "Yes. But I'll ask Keo about it tomorrow night, assuming she'll come over for dinner - I think I know how to lure her - and I'll be back later when I've talked to my Master and gotten his advice on what to do."

"Miiiiiiiracles," sang Artha as Jensal scooped her up out of Rhysel's lap.

"You can see yourself out," Jensal told Rhysel, draping Artha over her shoulder. "Close the front door behind you." She paused, and said, "Good luck with the unique green-group. She'd be the first of her kind to do anything about it, if you talked her into helping."

Rhysel frowned. Something didn't add up; Keo wasn't callous. But she waved goodbye to Artha, who lashed her tail in reply, and saw herself out of the shren house.

Rhysel successfully got Keo to agree to come to dinner on Chenen, with the aid of the promise that there would be blackened catfish and a pepper-filled potato stew. She didn't mention the ulterior motive. Then she read from her wild kamai book - not practicing the basics, just looking for anything she might want to learn out of order to help the shrens.

Her reading didn't show anything immediately useful. The most promising item she found that was within her ability to accomplish was a lifelink. She'd always assumed that was advanced death kamai, but apparently it was a basic working and wild kyma learned it too. The magic was simplicity itself - but wreathed heavily with cautions, and she surmised that the reason she'd thought it was advanced was because no one dared try it early in their studies.

She memorized the instructions, but the shrens weren't dying, only in pain. A lifelink would prevent them from dying until and unless Rhysel did, but it wouldn't anesthetize them, or cure their disability.

Rhysel might have been late for her date with Tekaal if she'd had to meet him there. As it was, he rang the doorbell and snapped her out of her studious reverie. She kissed him in greeting, leaving him to stammer somewhat through his question about whether she'd prefer to teleport or fly to the art show.

They flew, and Rhysel allowed herself to be distracted for a couple of angles by the landscapes in the gallery. Tekaal hadn't painted any of them - he didn't do landscapes, preferring portraiture and abstracts, but he knew one of the artists who'd contributed. After they'd seen all the paintings, Rhysel said, "So today I went to the shren house. Did you know there's one in Paraasilan?"

"I was aware," Tekaal said. "My great-great grandmother has occasionally complained."

Rhysel frowned. "Why would she complain? It'd be hard to miss and accidentally get herself turned into one."

"I am unclear on some of the details of why dragons feel so strongly about shrens," Tekaal said. "But it is a particularly strong prejudice among white-groups, of which my diamond ancestor is one."

"At the house, the woman who ran the place didn't seem to think I'd be able to talk Keo into helping the baby shrens," Rhysel said slowly. "I thought that was ridiculous, but..."

"I would not be surprised if Aaral Pyga were in fact unwilling to entertain the question," Tekaal said quietly.

Rhysel's frown became a scowl as they left the art gallery and simultaneously lifted off into flight. "That's absurd. She's a good person."

He shrugged. "It is not impossible, but if you are determined to help shrens, you may need to choose avenues that don't involve the cooperation of dragons. It is a blind spot that is, if not universal, at least very commonplace among them."

"Right. I guess I'll look deeper into mind kamai as well as wild, so I can anesthetize them myself. Speaking of which, I should ask Keo when she wants to transfer my kamai knowledge to you."

"Tomorrow might be ideal, as it is a Chenen and she will have few if any school-related responsibilities," Tekaal said. "Perhaps it would be wise to do it before the dinner at which you pose this question, as it is likely to make her uncomfortable regardless of her answer."

Rhysel sighed. "Okay. I'll ask her after we get back to my tower. How was your day?"

Tekaal summarized his day - worked on a painting, graded some assignments, practiced his instruments, starred in The Man in Red and Gold, picked up Rhysel for the art show date - during the rest of the trip home. Rhysel coached him intermittently on flying, and while he still moved stiffly, he could manage the changes beyond going up and forward and down after a moment's thought by the time they landed on her doorstep.

"I had a good time," Rhysel murmured.

"Likewise," Tekaal replied. There was a pregnant pause. And then he kissed her - not the perfunctory peck that he'd had startled out of him at the restaurant, but a more thoughtful and extended kiss that made her spine tingle. When he straightened up again, she smiled at him, and he smiled back in a vaguely goofy way that was quite uncharacteristic of him.

"G'night," Rhysel said.

"Good night," Tekaal replied, and he teleported away.

<I don't actually need you to be near each other, or me, to make the transfer,> Keo sent the next morning when Rhysel pinged to let her know that she and Tekaal were ready.

<Oh. Well, he's already here,> Rhysel sent.

<That's okay. I won't even need your attention for most of it, so you can just hang out together, study kamai or chat about teaching or whatever,> Keo sent. <But don't start anything you'd mind my interrupting.>

<We won't,> replied Rhysel, before she caught the implication and blushed. Tekaal, looking at her from across the table, evidently noticed but didn't comment. <What do we do?>

<He doesn't have to do anything. Putting stuff in a mind is much simpler than finding stuff in one. You need to do one thing right now, and then you're done unless I turn up a problem spot-checking at the end of the procedure. Pull up and focus on the memories of learning the following workings: one that you do so easily now that it's instinctive and you don't even have to decide to do it, one that you still find difficult, one that strikes you as a very standard, ordinary working, and one that you've learned but most people wouldn't. And say when.>

Rhysel thought of the stoneskin defense that she brought up when startled; the infusion working itself with its many nerve-wracking steps and high stakes; handfire; and the proxic workings that she'd only delved into because of her background in sculpture. <When.>

<Okay, I'll get going on that then,> Keo said. <You two have a fun day.>

"She's working on it," Rhysel reported.

"She mentioned as much," Tekaal said. "While I suppose it is not in fact necessary for me to impose on your hospitality for the length of time originally planned... I am already here."

"You are," Rhysel agreed. "Uh, I don't know what order Keo's going to be finding and moving stuff in, so I don't suppose we ought to start on a lesson plan just yet or anything else that relies on you having kamai knowledge I didn't already teach you. But we could do something else. You could sing," she proposed shyly.

Tekaal blinked. "That is a capacity I possess. I have no memorizations current except for the selections from The Man in Red and Gold and a handful of others that have stuck in spite of minimal practice; did you have in mind a few degrees of singing or some number of angles? If the latter I will need to retrieve sheet music."

"I'd find it entertaining if you sang all day. I don't know if you want to," Rhysel said.

"I'll see how much material I have," he said, looking gratified, though surprised. "I'll be a few moments." He teleported away.

Rhysel leaned back and waited. Tekaal returned with a number of books under one arm. He casually reached out a hand and crooked a wrist, pulling a music stand out of the rock floor to eye level. Then he blinked, and stared at his hand.

"She works fast," observed Rhysel, applauding softly and grinning. "Did you even mean to do that?"

"I arrived, realized there was no music stand, considered teleporting home again to fetch mine - and then it occurred to me that this would be simpler - and then it occurred to me that I hadn't known how, mere ticks ago," Tekaal said. "How unsettling. I will most likely become accustomed to it." He furrowed his brow at the music stand, and set his books on it. "Have you any preference about where I begin?"

Rhysel shook her head, eyes shining. Tekaal smiled at her, then opened the first book, cleared his throat, and sang.

After some deliriously lovely amount of time, Tekaal halted at the end of a song and coughed. "I hate to interrupt myself when my audience is so appreciative," he began.

Rhysel didn't let him finish the sentence before she shot to her feet and threw her arms around his neck, planting a kiss on his mouth enthusiastically. Tekaal reeled, faint, and - she thought unconsciously - propped himself up with a touch of air kamai, but even when she pulled out of the kiss breathless and beaming, he didn't resume his sentence. "You were saying?" she prompted.

"Oh. Yes, I was. I believe it might be a suitable time for lunch," said Tekaal, blinking rapidly. One of his arms had gone around her; his hand found the end of her braid and fidgeted with it gently enough that she could barely tell he was doing it. "I am unaware if you had plans incompatible with spending lunch together, or prefer not to dine out several times in the same week..."

"I could fix us something here," Rhysel said, pillowing her head on his shoulder. "I should probably start the pie for dinner about now anyway; I can make sandwiches between steps. Runa will complain if there isn't any pie."

"Aaral Pyga's family is coming?" Tekaal asked. "Sandwiches sound eminently suitable."

"Sandwiches it is," Rhysel said, pecking him on the nearest cheekbone and drawing away into the kitchen. Her hair bounced against her back when he let it go. "The rest of her family isn't, but she's bringing Runa, because there's a wizardry convention Kanaat and Korulen are going to that has its opening talks this evening and Runa would be bored there. So the alternative would be to leave Runa with a set of grandparents or something, and I didn't think it would be a problem to have her over. Do you think it'll make the conversation go more awkwardly?"

"I would be surprised if it did not," Tekaal said, watching Rhysel chop strawberries. "However willing Aaral Pyga might be to discuss shrens under neutral circumstances, having her infant parunia with her would not be the sort of factor that could improve things."

Rhysel chewed her lip. "I don't think I can uninvite Runa at this point. But it's not like I have a shren in the attic threatening Keo's baby."

"Perhaps it will make no difference," said Tekaal.

Rhysel put the chunks of fruit in a bowl with some sugar and put it aside to macerate, then started slicing bread. "What do you want on your sandwich?"

"I could not be reasonably described as choosy," Tekaal said.

Rhysel nodded and started building identical sandwiches for each of them. "Oh, by the way," she said. "I think I'm going to want to talk to my Master about the possibility of kamai helping shrens. They shouldn't have to wait for me to learn the relevant discipline if kamai has a working that could help them now. Would you mind casting the relevant spells to send him a note and get a reply?"

"I am entirely willing," Tekaal said. "Shall I fetch my chalk and draw the circle now?"

"Sure," she said, "as long as I'm occupied over here."

He teleported away and back again, and went to the part of the floor Rhysel indicated to draw the circle. Time went by in companionable near-silence, punctuated by occasional remarks, as he sketched and she assembled pie and sandwiches. Rhysel got her pie plate into the oven roughly when he chalked in the last symbol in the sending circle, shut his diagramming book, and stood up. "Aaral Pyga is highly unobtrusive with her work," he said, "but I remain intrigued to note the changes in myself as she adds information. For instance, I no longer find the sounds of tones intrusive. They are available when I choose to listen and otherwise fade into the background."

"I wasn't sure if that would happen or not," Rhysel said, rinsing flour off her hands with conjured water and then carrying plated sandwiches to the table. "Help yourself to these; if there are extras I'll leave them in the preserving cabinet to bolt down next time I magically overextend myself. I probably won't decide to make a transfer point all by myself again, but -"

"You did what? Power boxes can only -" Tekaal interrupted himself, a bemused look on his face. "How peculiar. But - you made a transfer point without tapping any subjects?"

"I wasn't thinking straight," Rhysel admitted. "It was stupid. I thought maybe if I had one, I could use it to go home, but - well, you probably know why that wouldn't have worked."

"Twice over," Tekaal said. "The planets aren't physically contiguous, and kamai doesn't have any transworld functionality." He paused, chewing on the last corner of his sandwich, then said, "Do you miss Barashi very badly?"

"At this point..." Rhysel sighed. "Well. The world itself, I can live without. I don't care that there's only one sun here, and I stopped freaking out about the planet being a square more than a month ago, and the culture here isn't too different in important respects except for how much people overreact to being told I was spanked when I was a child -" She stopped, observing that Tekaal's face had gone pale and his knuckles were white around the cup of water he'd conjured for himself. "Tekaal. I'm fine. This is the sort of overreaction I mean."

"I will attempt to react... less... should the topic come up again," he said carefully, unpeeling his fingers from his cup one at a time and leaving it on the table. "I must ask that if you ever have cause to meet my sister, you do not share this information with her."

"Why?" asked Rhysel. "I mean, she's presumably Esmaarlan as you are, but why her in particular and not your brothers?"

"Linisaar, my sister, at one time had an abusive boyfriend," Tekaal said delicately. "It is apparent that you do not consider your upbringing to have been abusive, and perhaps your culture also distinguishes between significant others and parents here -"

"It does."

"But Linisaar would not consider those nuances if she heard of your history. It would simply upset her to no purpose, and she would be unable to believe that you were 'fine' unless she had previously known you for some years. The way she behaves around my brother's boyfriend's daughter is evidence of that. Linisaar is fond of the girl but treats her more delicately than she does our cousins of comparable ages."

"Your brother's boyfriend's daughter was abused?"

"Her mother hit her," Tekaal said. "Once. Since that time the girl has been in her father's sole custody, as her mother has been in prison and can be expected to remain there until her child reaches adulthood."

"Oh," said Rhysel. "I see."

Tekaal pressed his lips together, then took a sip of water. "But you were talking about Barashi," he said, after a silence.

"Right," she said. "Well, in spite of that... thing... and other stuff that looms larger to me, I miss my family. But they'd never want to come here. They don't like magic. My fault," she added.

"How so?"

Rhysel took a breath through her teeth. "Well, people in general are suspicious of kyma, but I manifested spontaneously, and I couldn't control myself until I had a year of training under my belt. No one was seriously hurt, but I did a lot of damage. The first thing magical I ever did was set a switch on fire when my father was about to punish me -" At the look on Tekaal's face, she raised an eyebrow. "Do I need to censor all my stories from before age eighteen for you?"

"No. Please go on," he said.

"He wasn't burned, but he was shaken. At first my parents didn't want to send me to a kama to apprentice. A lot of people with kamai ability just never learn magic and go on as though they couldn't, and they didn't see why I shouldn't be the same. But I kept doing magic accidentally - usually setting things on fire or blowing them up - whenever I sneezed or got scared or anything. My mother's last straw was when the oven exploded. I think Father's was when I melted one of his sculptures. So they had to find me a teacher, but most kyma aren't used to dealing with spontaneous manifesters and didn't want me. I wound up thousands of miles away, in Restron with my Master. I used to visit my eldest sister sometimes. She's the most accepting."

"But you suspect that even she would not prefer to visit Elcenia?" Tekaal asked. "I would be happy to summon anyone you wished who was willing."

"Ryll might be willing if I wrote her a long letter to convince her, but she's way too busy," Rhysel said. "She's a Senator of Aristan. Even when the Senate isn't in session she's got five children and trains horses and there's more local politics she has to keep up with. Even reading the letter would take too long. So I'd rather visit her, and fade into the background or talk to my other relatives when she needed to do something - but I can't."

Tekaal regarded her gravely. "I would offer to try again to break your summon, but as I explained on the first attempt, it would be futile after multiple failures."

Rhysel nodded, and sighed.

<All done!> Keo sang in her mind.

Chapter Fifteen: Dinner

"Aaral Pyga believes she has completed the transfer," Tekaal said.

"She mentioned," Rhysel replied. "Want a book on image kamai first, or death?"

"Whichever is closer to hand," Tekaal said. Rhysel went to her stack of books from her Master and handed over the death kamai book on top. "Generally speaking, is it possible to teach oneself kamai entirely from books? It can be done with wizardry, although to legally practice advanced spells one must at least sit exams under a credentialed proctor."

"It wouldn't be smart to start from scratch with only books," Rhysel said. "But I'm a Master kama now, even if only in one discipline - I can clean up my own mistakes with familiar methods if I mess up something unfamiliar, more likely than not. I know how to recharge my lifeforce. Importantly, I'm not a teenager anymore. And you've got all of my expertise, even if you don't get the title to go with it. Image in particular is very safe. You can't directly hurt any person or animal with a kamai illusion; it'll dissipate first."

"Should I perhaps begin there instead?" Tekaal asked, peering at Introduction to Death dubiously.

"I don't think so. I looked at the table of contents there and in spite of the ominous name you're not going to kill anything more than a bug with the magic in that book. Your elemental knowledge is more dangerous than introductory death kamai."

"Very well. Should I get out of your way while you prepare for Aaral and Aaralan Pyga to visit?"

"Aaralan Pyga is... Runa?" Tekaal nodded. "You can read here if you want. Actually, I was thinking I'd start practicing mindspeak on you, and I can do that while I cook. The book says to start from touch, but it's aimed at people thirteen and fourteen years old - throwing more power at it, more than a kid would have, ought to let me start at a short range." She closed her eyes, sought out Tekaal's mind, and shouted, <Can you hear me?>

"For a certain value of 'hear', yes," reported Tekaal. "Faintly."

<I'll just carry on talking this way,> she hollered. <Eventually I'll be able to pick up thoughts sent in response even from people who can't mindspeak themselves, but for the time being mindspeak will be one-way. A lot of people who don't specialize in mind kamai learn this anyway. I never picked up anything outside my discipline because I was firmly decided on it by the time I didn't make my surroundings explode regularly, but some people dither for a year or two even if they don't end up as full generalists like my Master.>

"This book isn't written in Leraal," said Tekaal, looking at Introduction to Death, "is it."

Rhysel blinked. <No. Do you need it translated? I was assuming you'd use a spell, but maybe that's not precise enough?>

"I require neither a translation nor magical assistance. It seems that Aaral Pyga has also granted me the ability to speak Eashiri." He paused. "And Martisen. She is very useful when she opts to dedicate the better part of a day to this sort of thing, it would appear."

Rhysel laughed. <Apparently! I'm sure she'll help with the shrens as soon as I explain it to her, too. That would be even faster and do much more good.>

"I hope your optimism is well-placed," Tekaal said. "Why is it that I do not qualify as a Master under the Barashin credential system for kyma? I have no grounds for complaint - I merely find myself curious about the arrangement. Aaral Pyga knows, through her husband, more than enough wizardry to pass the final tier test and become a wizard herself. She has merely not arranged to do so because to honestly sit the exam would require that she disrupt her mindlink. So she is officially not a wizard, but receives permission from Aar Inular individually whenever she casts spells requiring that or graduated wizard status."

<Oh, that's not why you're not a Master,> Rhysel sent. <I mean, for one thing, you don't have a mindlink. But the difference between a Journeyman and a Master isn't number of workings known, it's the Master working, which has to contribute significantly to the knowledge base either by recreating a lost working or inventing a new one. Master Bryn herself wouldn't be a Master if she hadn't developed ward stones.>

"Master - Rhylenn -" he said, pulling Bryn's last name from his transferred knowledge; apparently Keo had brought along a lot of extra background in addition to pure procedural knowhow. "Rumored to know every working currently known, with the obvious lag time when new ones are created... By what logic am I a Journeyman? I have not been released from an apprenticeship by a Master."

<I suppose not, technically,> Rhysel sent. <Well. I, Master Rhysel Camlenn, declare you my apprentice. And, I hereby release you to Journeyman status. How's that?>

"Satisfactory," said Tekaal, the corner of his mouth quirking up. "However, I suspect that the apprenticeship system is not ideal for a formal institution with discrete courses like Binaaralav. Perhaps Elcenia needs its own form of credentialing."

Rhysel pursed her lips. <Maybe. Like the wizarding tiers? I gather would-be wizards start in first tier and have to pass tests to get into each subsequent one and when they pass the test at the end of tenth they're just wizards?>

"Yes," Tekaal said. "Although perhaps kamai isn't so amenable to standardized testing, we could require passing certain classes to be considered to have certain benchmarked levels of competency. Per discipline."

Rhysel nodded, and rinsed garlic off her knife. <Fair enough. But that's not an immediate problem - we don't even have our introductory students, let alone a call to rank them above or below ones who came in before or after them. Speaking of which...> She related Lutan's idea of holding an open assembly. <I'd like to do that, but after we have something demonstrable from each discipline and can give a more well-rounded presentation. So don't go too deep into death kamai before you start on some image, okay?>

"A sound plan," Tekaal replied. "What do you have in mind to show the students wild and mind kamai?"

<Mindspeak will do for mind. I should be practiced enough to address an audience by the time we need to worry about it. For wild, probably wood shaping. I'm a reasonably good sculptor, even though that apprenticeship was aborted, so I'll be able to make something nice-looking.>

"I don't believe I've ever seen a sculpture of yours," Tekaal mused. "Except insofar as your entire home and its contents may qualify."

<I don't have the spare brain at the moment to design something new. I could copy one I've made before if you like.>

"That would serve as a representative, albeit without being artistically stimulating for you."

Rhysel laughed, and set down her spoon to touch the counter and call up the shape of a platypus.

"Did you invent this creature?" asked Tekaal, floating the platypus off the counter and peering at it. "It's quite fantastic."

<What? No, that's a platypus,> Rhysel said. <They're real. You can find them near the river that runs through my hometown.>

Tekaal looked at the sculpture. "These exist?"

<Yes. I admit they're silly looking, but they're real. You can keep that if you want.>

"I believe I shall."

Rhysel went on cooking and chatting by mindspeak, and Tekaal read up on death kamai and replied to her remarks, until, at length, one of his castings of the time spell yielded the information that Keo would be there at any moment. He helped himself to the death and image kamai books, kissed Rhysel goodbye, and teleported away, platypus in hand.

When Keo arrived, Rhysel had the spread all laid out on the table and greeted her friend with a bright smile. Runa, perched on her mother's shoulder, looked skeptically at the steaming fish and stew, and made an attempt at unobtrusively flying off of Keo's shoulder to get at the pie on the counter.

"No, Runa," said Keo, catching the dragonet by the tail.

"But there is a pie there," explained Runa reasonably. "It is there. So I will go there. Tail, please?"

"Nope. Dinner first," said Keo, plopping down into a chair. "This looks delicious, Rhysel."

"It's amazing how much she talks, so young," Rhysel said.

"Dragons do," grinned Keo. "It'll take her a long time to pick up all the knowledge to match the words, but words, she's got. Started reading two weeks ago too. But she seems to prefer talking."

"I have things to say," said Runa. "Like, pie, please. That tail is not yours, Mommy, it is mine. It is attached to me."

"That pie is not yours," returned Keo. "Have some dinner, and then you can have some pie. Stop trying to fly across the room for pie, and you can do whatever you like with your tail."

"I met a little green dragonet today," Rhysel said, while Keo served herself and Runa one-handed.

"I am cuter than it! I am the cutest of everyone! Ever!" crowed Runa defensively.

"I didn't say anything about how cute she was," Rhysel laughed. "But she talked too. Mostly wanted me to do 'miracles'."

"Miracles?" Keo asked. "I thought it was poor form on Barashi to claim to be a god."

"I expressly disclaimed it," said Rhysel. "Apparently that's the word for what I thought I might be able to do, given Draconic."

Keo took a large mouthful of fish and looked quizzically at Rhysel. Runa finally consented to eat a bite of potato and then wailed, "Hot!"

"Is it hotter than fire?" asked Rhysel.

"Not that hot. The other hot," Runa said. "Spicy hot. Mommy, now can I -"

"Eat three more bites of stew and five bites of fish - you can pick off the black part if you want - and then you can have pie," Keo told her resolutely. "Rhysel, what are you talking about?"

"Well, I went to the local shren house -"

"Mommy! My tail!" shrieked Runa. Keo startled and released her too-tight grip, but then dropped her fork and caught up her daughter in a more enveloping hug. Runa squirmed.

"That's an interesting idea of polite dinner conversation, Rhysel," whispered Keo, eyes round and face unmoving. "It's a mistaken idea."

"Mommy," said Runa, "I am mine and attached to me and want to be down." Keo slowly released her, and the dragonet fluttered to her seat again. "Mommy, what is a -"

"Not now, sweetie," Keo bit out. "Rhysel, I don't know what's gotten into you, but get someone to explain why it needs to get out of you. Someone who's not me. Someone who's not me with my baby parunia and her eager little ears. I think we should go home."

"But pie!" Runa protested. "It is there -"

"Rhysel, may we take the pie?" asked Keo mechanically, picking up Runa again. "For Runa."

"Of - of course. Go ahead," murmured Rhysel, flabbergasted. "I only -"

"Thank you. Goodbye." Keo got up fast enough to knock over her chair, crossed the room in three steps to scoop up the pie from the counter, and teleported away, Runa in tow.

Rhysel sat at the table with the barely-touched dinner, completely lost.

Finding that she'd completely lost her appetite, Rhysel packed up the food as leftovers. She could have flown to Tekaal's house and asked if he wanted to help eat it, but even in her confidence that he wouldn't be smug about having told her so, she didn't want to face him right away. He had told her so.

But then she looked at the circle he'd drawn for the purpose of contacting her Master, and sighed. She couldn't leave goodness knew how many baby shrens in pain longer than they had to be because she was embarrassed to ask her boyfriend for a sending spell.

She fetched paper and a stick of graphite, and began to draft a letter.

Rhysel had a letter she was happy with before she went to bed, but by that time she was certain Tekaal would be fast asleep, and resolved to ask him to send the letter in the morning after she delivered her food to the "ducks" in the pond. Kolaan arrived early, while she was only halfway through breakfast. "Big order," he said. "You'll need to go top off your deposit at the store - or give me money to do it for you - soon if you keep eating this much. I guess kamai makes you hungry, too, not just the people you tap?"

"It does," said Rhysel, sidestepping the question of whether it made her that hungry. "Thanks, Kolaan."

"Kamai looks really neat," he remarked, handing over bags for her to ferry into the kitchen and pretend to put away.

"If you want," Rhysel said, "I'll let you know when I hold the assembly advertising the program I'm starting to teach it at Binaaralav. You and any of your friends who are interested can come, maybe enroll."

"Definitely let me know," the young elf said. He offered up the last sacks of food and shot away on his platform.

Rhysel took out what she'd put into cupboards, and dangled bags of food from each arm. She went to her transfer point and stepped onto it, and then it occurred to her that the pond wouldn't be deserted on an Inen morning. Someone would notice her carrying the bags, and even if she hid them somewhere for the shrens to retrieve under cover of darkness so attention wouldn't be drawn directly to them, it would be an odd-looking behavior.

Tekaal had her image kamai book, and even if he hadn't, invisibility was intermediate-level - Rhysel remembered that Eryn hadn't picked it up until her third year of study, and had kept flickering into partial visibility when distracted for a month of further practice. Mind kamai might do the trick, but she didn't think she could learn to make a dozen students, some a ways off, all ignore her with so little time to practice. It would be faster to bring the food in the evening.

She set down the food, and transferred. <Eret,> she called towards his mind in silence, starting to stroll around the pond and attempting to act natural. <I have food for you, but I can't get it here during the day without being conspicuous. If you fly to my home in duck form, then - if I understand how your kind of shapeshifting works - you can tuck the groceries into your human form and fly back and have them here. Swim out and in a clockwise circle if that's okay and you want directions to my place. I can't get a mental reply yet.>

Eret, shaped like a red-sparkled duck as usual, emerged from the hidey-hole, caught Rhysel's eye, and made a circle in the indicated direction - pausing to catch a tossed bit of bread from a student - then retreated inside.

Rhysel sent him her address. <It's west-southwest of here. The huge tower with no neighbors - hard to miss. If you're there in the next angle, that would be best. After that, my boyfriend's morning class will let out and I'm going to ask him over to send a letter to someone on my home world. If you can't make it within an angle, come in two. If there's anything unclear about that, come out again.>

Eret stayed where he was. Rhysel completed her circuit of the pond and transferred back home.

Ten degrees later, a duck's beak pecked on her window demanding entry, but it wasn't Eret, it was his wife. Rhysel opened the window and let her in, and the duck shifted into a human shape. The shren woman's light olive-toned skin was mostly concealed under a curtain of hair like a star-crowded sky and a long-sleeved, ankle-length dark purple dress. "I'm here for the food," she murmured. She looked to be taller than Rhysel, but had her head dipped and knees bent so she needed to look up in the kama's eyes. "We thought it would be better if I went - I can see farther - I'm a black-group."

"Sure," said Rhysel. "It's upstairs, I'll get it - by the way, I never caught your name."

"Theedy," came the soft reply. Theedy waited in place while Rhysel jogged up the stairs and back down again. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Rhysel said, smiling. "Are your children very hungry right now? If they're not you could stay and chat a bit - I'd like to get to know you and Eret better."

Theedy twisted her foot against the floor. "I got into the cafeteria last night and got out with some food. The children are all right for a few degrees if you really want me to stay."

"Why did you decide to set up near the school?" Rhysel asked. "I was assuming that you were colored the way you are because some student had done magic to you - is that it?"

Theedy nodded. "And the cafeteria was important, too."

"Don't they have any kind of social services here?" Rhysel asked. "If this were Aristan or Restron you could at least get food at a charity pantry or something. I'm not clear on whether Esmaar has anything like that."

"They do... I don't want to talk about that," said Theedy.

"All right," said Rhysel, holding up her hands placatingly. "I went to the local shren house the other day. I didn't mention you," she added, when Theedy looked up at her sharply. "Or go into any detail about what led me to visit. But I'm going to send my Master - erm, my old teacher - a letter today. I think my world's magic might be able to cure shrens." She paused, a new thought occurring to her. "Maybe even stop whatever causes dragon babies to die at such a high rate like I've heard they do -"

"You might have mentioned that!" cried Theedy, immediately looking away after the sentence escaped her.

Rhysel blinked. "I - just thought of it. Why?"

"We lost one," whispered Theedy. "Yesterday. The other three were fine when I left but we won't know for sure if any will make it until they're a month old."

The kama's mouth dropped open. "Oh, gods. I'm so sorry. I wasn't thinking straight, I should have... I'm so sorry, Theedy."

Theedy's shoulders hunched and she crossed her wrists to clasp her hands together. "You might not have gotten word back in time," she murmured. "It might not have made a difference."

"No, I -" Rhysel's thoughts flew to the wild kamai book. "Let me look something up."

"What?" asked Theedy as Rhysel found the volume and flipped to the page on lifelinks. "What is it?"

"I have a stopgap solution that will at least let someone hang on until I can get my Master's help," Rhysel said, eyes skipping around the words. "But I don't know if I can do it on several - oh. No, I can't do several, only one, so if I guessed the wrong one, it wouldn't do any good... Did you get any warning? When you... lost one?"

Theedy nodded, and scrubbed tears out of one eye. "He started coughing. There was - oh - almost an angle before he... stopped."

"Is there some way you can contact me if it happens to one of the others? Then I can get there, lifelink that one, and summon my Master whether he's busy or not, and I'm sure he'll know something to do. I've never seen him stumped."

"Communication crystals?" suggested Theedy after a hesitation. "I - we don't have any money for them, but -"

"If I can save your children by throwing money at the problem, I'll do it," Rhysel said firmly. "It's not an object. Where do I get crystals?"

Theedy described the sort of store that would have such things but couldn't name a specific establishment. "Should I wait here while you get them?" she asked. "Oh, but I don't know when you expect your boyfriend."

"Soon," admitted Rhysel. "When he's gone I'll run to town, buy those, and drop one in the pond. I think I can do that unobtrusively, if I wait until no one's looking and don't let the water splash audibly. You'll be able to get it, right?" At Theedy's mute nod, Rhysel went on: "When I hear it, I'll drop everything and get to you and lifelink the affected baby and tell my boyfriend to summon my Master. I don't think my boyfriend'll ask inconvenient questions if I ask him not to - my Master will have to see the baby but he'll go home to Barashi afterwards so that should be all right, shouldn't it?"

"If he can save one," Theedy said.

Rhysel nodded. "He once told me that every cause of death except old age has a solution in kamai. I can't guarantee you that he was right, but he hasn't been proven wrong yet."

"Thank you," murmured Theedy.

Theedy picked up the groceries, transformed into a duck, and flew out the window to return to her home.

Tekaal came to Rhysel's tower immediately after his class let out - she'd been planning to go to his office at the relevant time, but he remembered without prompting. He placed the letter she provided into the pre-drawn circle, sent it to Barashi with her as the focus for the destination, and then observed quietly, "You seem anxious."

"You were absolutely right about Keo," Rhysel said. "I just don't understand why."

"The exact details elude me," Tekaal said. "I could predict the reaction, but cannot explain the underpinnings. I am sorry to have been accurate."

"Well," said Rhysel. "My Master will know what to do. The letter asks that he at least write when to expect a full reply within eight divs, so we can check late tonight - do you mind staying up? I have no idea what time it is there or how to find out and thought it best to give him half a day so he'd be sure to spend part of the time awake and see the letter."

"I can stay up until nineteenth-and-naught if need be," Tekaal said.

"That should do it. Thank you," sighed Rhysel, and she kissed him. "I'll -" She tried to think of a polite way to shoo him so she could covertly buy communication crystals without making it sound like she generally wanted less of his company. "After class, do you want to study kamai together?"

"By all means," Tekaal said, and he seemed to take that as the temporary dismissal it was. "I have some assignments to grade over lunch. Until this afternoon." He gave her a kiss, and she fought the impulse to cling to him and change her mind about ushering him away. Tekaal straightened up and teleported.

Rhysel picked up her satchel and flew to town without further delay, and asked someone for directions to the nearest store with communication crystals. At the store, she bought several pairs - she could give Tekaal half of another pair, and call him instead of having to rely on his admittedly excellent punctuality. She didn't have an immediate plan for pairs three and four, but they were inexpensive and might come in handy.

So equipped, Rhysel flew to the school and sat at the edge of the lake. There, she had an even better idea than trying to be sneaky about dropping the crystal: she pulled up rocks out of the soil and tossed them in, one at a time, until any attention that had alighted on her was diverted to more interesting pursuits. Then she coated the bright green crystal in enough dust that it wouldn't shine when it flew through the air, and aimed it at Eret and Theedy's home. Theedy swam out after the projectile plunked into the water, and gave Rhysel a subtle nod before diving underwater as though in search of pond weed.

Rhysel went early to theory class, arriving even before Tekaal. She read, distractedly, from her wild kamai book in the interim, paused to chat with him when he'd arrived but no students had, and then went back to her scan of the text, attending with only half an ear to the wizardry jargon. Korulen asked her, on her way out of the classroom, if she was all right. Rhysel's answer that she was fine didn't seem to satisfy the thudia girl, and it certainly didn't satisfy skeptical Lutan hovering at Korulen's shoulder, but Rhysel waved them off.

"You needn't feel pressed to attend wizardry classes if you would prefer to study kamai," Tekaal said to her when the children had dispersed. "For the purpose of being prepared to teach next term or the term after, I doubt there is any advantage to being here over focusing your full attention on wild and mind magics." He extended his hand to her in silent offer of a lift to her tower.

"I like being here," she said. "And I do think I'm getting something out of watching you teach, and handle the students. I'm sorry if it was rude of me to read. But the material all sounds the same at this point - Toy Rah rhythms and Vyan numbers -" She took his hand.

"Tah Roie, Voyan," he corrected, and then smoothly teleported them into her tower, close to the couch. "Understandable. You are also welcome to attend classes and read about kamai during them; I have no objection, merely wondered if the former half of the time expenditure was out of a misplaced sense of obligation. I doubt the students will consider an adult auditor of the course to be a target for emulation."

Rhysel laughed softly and let herself drop onto the couch, and then onto Tekaal after he'd sat down beside her. She glanced down at her book. "I would have stopped if you minded."

Tekaal kissed her hair. "I know." He cast a spell, calling his book on death kamai to hand, and Rhysel lifted her wild kamai text into view. A little maneuvering later and they found a way to curl up together without preventing either from feeling their own limbs or seeing their objects of study, although this wound up involving Tekaal levitating his volume.

An angle and a half later, the communication crystal in Rhysel's pocket sounded a jangling chime that shocked her out of her comfort.

Chapter Sixteen: Dragonet

Rhysel let fly a swear word she hadn't used in years and pressed her hand against the crystal in her pocket. With Tekaal in the room, she didn't want to answer it, but she knew what it meant. "Tekaal," she said, "will you wait here for me, please? Er - actually - will you draw a summoning circle, one to bring in a person - and - not ask questions?"

Tekaal blinked at her. "I need to know something about who I'm going to summon or it's -"

"Nobody but my Master," Rhysel promised. "But that's all I can tell you. I need to go. I'll be back." She flew halfway up the stairs, then abruptly turned around. "Tekaal, is there any way to get the pond area cleared of students in a hurry that won't get too much attention later?"

"Not when you have yet to technically join the faculty," he said. "I can most likely come up with something, but not without knowing what the trouble is. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she said. The crystal stopped ringing, and then started again; Rhysel winced. "I - er - wait here? Draw the circle for me? I'll be right back -" She flew up several stories until she'd be out of Tekaal's earshot, and picked up the crystal. "Eret, Theedy, my -"

"It's the red opal girl," said Eret's voice in a low, anxious growl. Rhysel heard a hacking cough in the background, and a soft whine that had to be Theedy. "Can you help her or not?"

"My boyfriend is drawing the circle to summon my Master right now," Rhysel said. "But that takes time and I want to lifelink her as soon as possible. I don't know how to do that without drawing attention to you unless you let me tell my boyfriend about you - he can get the pond cleared of students, he says, but not if he doesn't know what's going on -"

"Then tell him!" snapped Eret. "Tell him, get him to shoo the students, and get in here and save our daughter!"

"Okay. We'll be there in a few ticks," Rhysel promised. The crystal went dead in her hand and she dropped it back into her pocket, hurtling back down the stairs.

Tekaal had a book in his hand and was carefully chalking runes onto her floor, next to the sending circle he'd used for the letter. "Tekaal," she said.

He looked up. "Yes?"

"The ducks in the school pond aren't ducks, they're shrens, they've got babies, one is dying, I think my Master can save her but you're not going to have the circle done in time so I need to lifelink her, I need the students away from the pond so I can get her out of there and bring her here, will you help?" Rhysel's hands twisted together as the words tumbled out of her. "Please."

Tekaal regarded her in still thought for several moments, then said, "Yes," and rose to his feet to offer his hand for teleportation. Rhysel clasped it gratefully and he brought them both to the pond.

"Attention, students," Tekaal called when they'd landed and he'd released Rhysel's hand. "I have recently heard a report of local criminal activity such that I must require all of you to go indoors. Please proceed to the entrance in an orderly fashion and share lift boxes. I will opaque the windows after the grounds are clear. This is expected to be a temporary measure." The kids scattered around the pond exchanged looks, but Tekaal's face gave nothing away but what he'd chosen, and they picked up their belongings and went, small clump by small clump, into the school.

"Criminal activity?" Rhysel asked in a whisper when the last assortment of wizardlings was away and Tekaal had - apparently not via spell - turned all of the windows dark.

"Technically accurate," he said. "I believe we are in a hurry?"

Rhysel strode out onto the water. "That's not going to get questioned later?" she asked over her shoulder, drawing her eyebrows together. Eret swam out of the hidey hole in duck form and looked around, then transformed into his human form and ducked back into the hole. When he came out again he was clutching a thrashing dragonet the same color as his eyes, holding her above his head and ignoring the scratches her flailing claws left on his hands and his head. She coughed, and drew just enough breath to do it again, and again, as though she were trying to expel her lungs. "I need her held still," Rhysel said.

"I've got two hands. Which parts do you want held still?" asked Eret in a dead-sounding voice.

"Never mind," Rhysel said quickly, "I'll do it." She floated the baby out of her father's hands and forced her with the same air magic to stop moving. Then Rhysel conjured a sharp rock, sliced open her palm, and began painting the necessary patterns of blood on the dying child with the index finger of her other hand. Eret, up to his neck in water, looked somewhere between queasy and about to weep.

When the baby had a ring of blood around her neck, a dot on her forehead, and a line across each foot, Rhysel touched the wet spot on the dragonet's face and performed the simple working for the lifelink. "There," she gasped as the pain hit. Lifelinks were only painless when they were useless. "There. I'm not going to be much - ah - much use now but - she'll live as long as I hold it - we need to get back to my - tower -" She lost her hold on the magic that was keeping her feet stable on the water and sank up to her ankles, and nearly dropped the baby, before Tekaal caught her.

"Take your daughter," Tekaal instructed the shren gravely. "It will not matter now if you disturb the blood pattern." Rhysel dimly remembered that she'd read about lifelinks before Keo had given Tekaal her knowledge. "Give me your hand and put one of her claws on my hand as well; I can teleport all of us to the tower and then I need to complete the summoning circle."

Rhysel felt her hand moved to touch Tekaal's, and the change in the air that signified teleportation, and then she was set down on a couch and she abandoned her attention to the pain. Occasional words made it past her ears into her mind. Eret barked questions at Tekaal, who answered with tense levelness. Tekaal spoke the spell. Her Master appeared; Eret, half-hysterical, shouted over Tekaal in attempting to explain.

"Master Casten -"

"My daughter is dying, she said you could save her, do something -"

"Rhysel was aware that it was possible to transfer the -"

"You're here to look at my daughter!"

"Master Casten, Rhysel is in extreme pain -"

"She's in extreme pain? Is she actively dying right now? Like my daughter is?" Eret snapped.

"Silence," said her Master. "Aar Kithen, please explain to me what is going on."

"Rhysel has lifelinked this gentleman's daughter," Tekaal said in a rapid, precise rhythm like he was about to burst into furious song. "Both of them are presumably in pain, but the child is safe as long as Rhysel maintains the lifelink, which she is more likely to be able to do if you transfer her pain to someone else."

"You mean she might not hold it? She's got to hold it," breathed Eret. "Give it to me, I can take it, I don't care, then save my daughter."

"All of it?" asked Revenn. "You may not know what -"

"Taking care in this matter is appreciated but he can in fact be expected to tolerate the whole of it," interrupted Tekaal. "For complicated reasons, so it would be altogether better if you trusted us and made haste. Please perform the transfer and then attend to the young dragon."

There was a hesitation; Rhysel felt a hand on her head; and the pain was gone.

She sat up, too fast, and saw spots. When she'd blinked them away, Revenn was staring in disbelief at an impatient Eret, who didn't look like he was in any discomfort at all. "My baby," he snapped, thrusting the writhing dragonet in Revenn's direction.

"How are you taking that much - I'm sorry. Another time." Revenn sucked in a breath through his teeth and took the little dragon. "What's the matter with her? I've anesthetized her but she won't stop thrashing..."

"She's a baby dragon, and they usually die," said Eret dully. "Rhysel thinks you're omnipotent. You're probably at least better than nothing. I lost a son already."

"You don't know what they die of?" asked Revenn, inspecting the baby with both his eyes and his magic. "At all?"

"No," said Eret. "Not at all. Save her anyway."

Revenn chewed his lip, staring at the wriggling red-opal in thought. "Master," piped up Rhysel, "I remembered what Master Bryn wrote about the tradeoff of power and finesse. If you tap all of us - Eret and his daughter will both have much more lifeforce than you'd expect - maybe you can do it without knowing what's killing her?"

"The baby's lifeforce is very weak, Rhysel," corrected Revenn. "But yours," he said, furrowing his brow at Eret, "is impressive... Aar Kithen? Can you summon someone else here?"

"Given the time to make some alterations to the circle, yes," said Tekaal.

"Who?" Rhysel asked, while Tekaal took up his chalk again and replaced enough runes to make the second summon count as a different spell.

"Talyn," said Revenn. "An innate kama might be able to sense something about the baby that I can't, and I can ride his senses if he's here. And I can tap him, as well. Together those factors might make it possible." Revenn glanced in Tekaal's direction; the wizard was still diligently replacing symbols. "Also, he's broken his arm, and if Byron heals it instead of me, he won't be able to do it slowly enough that Talyn can watch. I suspect the boy would deliberately re-injure himself to have an opportunity to observe the working in progress."

"Master Casten," said Tekaal, "or Rhysel, I require a focus to summon the second visitor."

"His last name is Casten too, Tekaal," said Rhysel, getting up to put her hand in the diagram. "And I guess he'd be an Aaran."

Tekaal inclined his head and cast a different summoning spell, and then, when the curly-headed boy had appeared, smudged the border again. Talyn had his arm in a makeshift sling. "Grandfather, what's going on?" he asked, although he seemed more intrigued than distressed.

"This baby dragon is dying; Rhysel thought I could help her," Revenn explained. "Look at her and let me see what you see. I need to know more to heal her."

Talyn obediently focused on the contorting infant. "She's lifelinked," he said. "Uh, but none of you is twitching on the ground right now...?"

"I don't understand it either, my boy, but let's focus on the task," admonished Revenn. Silence fell. Eret, who still displayed no outward sign of pain though he was supposedly bearing Rhysel's from the lifelink and should have been worsening degree by degree, stared intently at his daughter.

At length, Talyn said, "Look, Grandfather. Her lifeforce is draining away to nowhere - there - the lifelink isn't plugging the hole, it's just regenerating more. Can we patch it?"

"Perhaps," murmured Revenn. "Everyone, sit down. I'm going to need a lot of energy. Aar Kithen, I'll try to leave you awake enough to send me home, but perhaps you should keep Talyn overnight. Rhysel can heal his arm as slowly as he likes when both come to, and I'm going to be explaining to some half dozen apprentices where I went and why."

Talyn turned a brilliant grin in Rhysel's direction as everyone settled onto the floor. "With proxic elemental kamai?" he asked her.

"Yes," she said. She put her hand gently on Talyn's shoulder, rather than disturbing his arm; Eret, picking up the need to link hands, took the uninjured side. When everyone was connected, Revenn began to tap.

When Rhysel woke up, she was tucked into her bed, there was a plate of neatly sliced sandwiches on her nightstand, and she could hear Talyn's voice crowing downstairs about how proxic kamai was so cool. Outside the window, everything was dark.

She sat up, bolted down three of the half-sandwiches with barely a pause for breath between them, and then went downstairs. "Good night," Tekaal said to her, glancing up from his extremely leisurely healing of a beaming Talyn's arm. "The child survived and no longer appears to be in ill health; she and her father have returned to the pond under cover of darkness; there is unlikely to be any investigation later about my evacuation of the pond area; and I have taken the liberty of repairing Aaran Casten's arm, as I had more energy left than you, took a briefer nap, and was available first. I hope you do not object that I and Aaran Casten made use of your furniture; I was not feeling up to teleporting home safely and there was no obvious place to put him apart from the other couch."

"Morning," said Rhysel, smiling sleepily at him. "That's all fine."

"It will not be technically morning until dawn," Tekaal said.

"Oh." She took a seat at the kitchen table and watched Talyn's arm slowly repair by proxy under Tekaal's application of magic. "Yesterday - is it technically the next day yet?"

"It is not, but I know what you mean."

"You mentioned something about criminal activity?"

Tekaal nodded. "It is unlawful to live on someone's property without their knowledge and consent, if one is in fact a person and not a duck. I am quite sure that Aar Inular has not arranged to allow the family in his pond to become legal tenants there. However, it is unlikely that anyone will follow up on my clearing of the pond area. Faculty are authorized to send students indoors, where they can be protected by the building wards, on a variety of justifications, and this happens frequently enough that my behavior will not be considered abnormal. I used a technically accurate pretext in case any of the students was wearing a lie detection, which some fraction of them habitually choose to do."

"Oh." She looked at Talyn. "Having fun?"

"Yes, Master Camlenn," the boy chirped back, flicking his eyes back and forth between the little model of himself that Tekaal was using and his own arm in fascination.

"Call me Rhysel."

"Okay, Rhysel. Hey, can I stay here for a couple of days and learn more proxic kamai? Grandfather doesn't do it at all. He was just going to fix my arm with wild kamai."

"I don't mind," she said. Then she blinked. "You're generalizing, aren't you?"

"Yep," said Talyn. Tekaal, at long last, finished with the healing and broke the connection between the proxy and the boy. This fascinated the apprentice to no end. "Cooooool... Yeah, all five aspects, why?"

"We're going to be teaching kamai at the local school for wizardry - the kind of magic that, er, Aar Kithen used to summon you and Master Revenn. We want to put on a bit of a show for interested students, but I only know a little bit of mind and wild kamai and Aar Kithen only knows a bit of death and image. We could do our assembly much sooner if you wanted to help."

"I'll help," agreed Talyn. "Can I learn some wizardry, too, while I'm here?"

"No," Tekaal said. "Presuming Aaral Camlenn is representative, people from your world do not have channeling capacities; you could learn spells, but attempting to cast them would accomplish nothing."

Talyn sighed. "Okay."

"I'll write a letter to send to Master Revenn about you," Rhysel told him. "The sending circle for letters is still there, right?"

"Undisturbed," Tekaal confirmed.

"Talyn, I should warn you," Rhysel said as she hauled herself to her feet, "the days are longer here, and now you've been up most of the night. You're going to have some trouble getting your sleep cycle back to normal."

"Has that been troubling you?" Tekaal asked. "There are potions that fight fatigue, and they are quite safe if you do not use them as an outright substitute for sleep or exceed the recommended dosages. I can buy them inexpensively from my brother."

"That would be great, actually," Rhysel said. "I didn't realize. I get jittery on coffee or tea, but a potion might be fine; it's worth a try."

There was a silence, and then Tekaal said, "I find it unlikely that the family in the pond can remain undiscovered indefinitely, and in our knowledge of their residence there, we are legally complicit unless we report them to either Aar Inular or the police."

Rhysel made a frustrated noise. "I don't know how much charity they'll take, but I guess I can try. What happens if they get caught?"

"Assessment for other possible criminal history," listed Tekaal, "a term of imprisonment for the parents, fosterage for their children for the duration of that term - I believe Esmaar has an arrangement with the Dragon Council to place dragon fosterlings with other dragon families, although I doubt it comes up frequently, given how few dragons there are."

"Few?" Rhysel asked. "I wasn't under that impression."

"You have met a skewed sample of the population," Tekaal said. "I doubt the entire city of Paraasilan has more than fifty dragons in it, including Aaral and Aaralan Pyga, the three currently occupying the pond, and the two dragon students at Binaaralav, even though one of those technically lives with her family in Edansar. Paraasilan is the fourth largest city in Esmaar and Esmaar is considered a dragon-friendly country."

"Wait," said Talyn. "Term of imprisonment? That's a normal thing here?"

"Yes," Tekaal said. "Imprisonment, fines, occasionally community service; certain crimes carry the death penalty."

"You don't do personality revisions?" Talyn asked.

Tekaal blinked. "No. Is this a kamai working?"

"Yeah. Especially for violent crimes, but sometimes for stuff like stealing or whatever, they have a mind kama edit the criminal's personality so they won't do it or anything like it again. I had to work one once," Talyn said, a light shiver going up his back. "They called in Grandfather but then there was an emergency - demon on the loose - and he was needed and I went to do the revision in his place."

"I see," said Tekaal. "No. We have nothing of the kind. Aaral Pyga would be competent to do it, but there is only one of her, and she would be unlikely to have any interest in the profession. What is a 'demon'?"

Rhysel explained demons - possessed creatures inhabited by malevolent versions of an insubstantial race, marokel, which lived in parts of Barashi. "Incredibly dangerous," she said. "You have to kill the host, at range, or it can get into you - and if it has an animal or another person to jump to, you have to kill that, too, until you can trap it in one host and kill that. Normal marokel are harmless. They sometimes possess people, but never forcibly."

The conversation drifted from there, and they worked out a rough plan for the contents of an assembly at which to display kamai. Not long after sunup, Tekaal was obliged to teleport to school to teach his morning theory class. Talyn was fading again after his too-short nap, so Rhysel put him in a guest bedroom and then ate the rest of the sandwiches on the plate on her nightstand. When she thought it was a reasonable time of day, she tentatively pinged Keo. <Keo? Can I talk to you?>

<What about?> Keo asked guardedly.

<Just the kamai assembly,> she promised. <I have Talyn here - Aar Kithen summoned my Master for me, and my Master asked him to summon Talyn too, and Talyn's going to stay for a few days. He can help us with the demonstration. So it would be good if we could get that scheduled sooner rather than later, and advertise it to all the students who might want to attend.>

<I'll take care of that. When do you want it?>

<Any time that doesn't interfere with Aar Kithen's classes will be fine. Er, and not too late in the evening.> Rhysel hoped Keo wouldn't ask why not too late; she didn't think Tekaal wanted her and his employer to know about his theatrical activities. With a start, she realized that Tekaal had to have missed the prior evening's production of The Man in Red and Gold, dealing with a crisis that she'd taken responsibility for and dragged him into without notice. She hoped he'd at least been able to send word and tell them to get an understudy.

<Sinen, sixth-and-naught?> Keo asked.

<That sounds fine. Thank you, Keo. And, um...> Rhysel wasn't sure how to apologize for the disastrous dinner, or even what to apologize for, but she thought making some kind of attempt would probably help repair the friendship.

<Is there something else?> Keo asked. The way she emphasized "else" made it clear that she meant to say "other than anything relating to shrens".

<No,> Rhysel sent. <I think that's it. Will I see you at the assembly?>

<Maybe; I'll think about it,> Keo sent.

The contact broke off and Rhysel sighed. Then she went to study mind kamai.

When Talyn woke up, Rhysel interrupted him in his rummaging through her kitchen for breakfast. "I forgot to ask Master Revenn about shrens," she said. "Did he tell you about them?"

"No," Talyn said, "but I heard him thinking about them a couple of times, when he unshielded for lessons with Mysha and the other mind students. They're kind of sad. Why?"

"I don't expect you to be able to cure them," she said, "but do you know how to do the anesthetic working? The younger shrens are in so much pain."

"Yeah, I can do that," Talyn said. "Do you want to go right now?"

"Here," she said, opening a cupboard and grabbing a bag of nuts and dried fruit. "You should have a snack if you're going to do a lot of kamai. But yes, right now."

Talyn took the bag and followed her out the door and into the air. "If it's that bad - they can't shield, right?"

"They're babies," Rhysel said. "And not kyma, either."

He shuddered. "Is there a way I can do this one at a time? If it's that bad..."

"We'll ask Jensal," Rhysel said. "I imagine you could be in a room far away from most of the babies and she could bring them in one at a time. She did that when I met Artha."

They landed at the shren house, and Rhysel knocked. Jensal opened the door and looked skeptically at Rhysel and Talyn. "This isn't a tourist attraction," she said.

"He's better at some kinds of kamai than I am," Rhysel said. "He probably can't cure the babies, but he can anesthetize them."

"For how long?" Jensal asked. "They just got their dose of sootheweed for the day."

"Indefinitely," said Talyn. At Jensal's wide eyes, he said, "It's not a good idea to go around doing that to everybody all the time - they start biting their tongues off, and stuff - but I think this is a special case. And sootheweed doesn't even do a very thorough job, sounds like, let alone last for more than a few -"

"Talyn," said Rhysel. "She can't shield, but you can mind your own business. I'm sorry, Jensal - he reads minds - automatically."

"Does he," said Jensal, raising a blue eyebrow. "And you want to put him with baby shrens? Well, maybe he can knock the esu out of one or two before he collapses screaming. Come in."

"I should probably see them one at a time," Talyn said. "Exactly that reason."

"Right. Wait here," Jensal said, shooing the halfbloods into her office. "I'll start you with Artha. She shouldn't be too overwhelming. If you can do it with her, I'll have you through all of ours and get a wizard to teleport you to the other three houses before you can recite my entire name."

"What's your entire name?" Rhysel asked her.

"Jensal," said Jensal, and she left them there.

There was a moment during which neither Rhysel nor Talyn spoke, and then he said, "I really hope their minds work about like a halfblood's or a human's or an elf's. I haven't really practiced on anyone else, but Mysha's got this book that says even Barashin dragons are pretty different in some ways. Dragons here might be more different."

"You could hear Jensal, couldn't you?" Rhysel asked anxiously.

"Yeah," Talyn said. "I mean, I'm sure I can do it. I'm good at kamai."

Jensal opened the office door, Artha draped over her arm looking groggy. "Did you know," Artha drawled, "that sootheweed is not a weed because a weed means a bad plant that people don't want?"

"I didn't know that," Rhysel said.

Jensal handed Talyn the baby shren, who looked up at him and then giggled for no clear reason. "You're a scared," she declared.

"I'm a what? No, I'm not," he said.

"Are so, I can tell, see," she said, waving her tail. "I'm greeeeeen. You're not green. Not even a little bit green. Paint won't help," she advised.

"Sootheweed is not renowned for its lack of side effects," said Jensal dryly. "Is that going to interfere?"

"Shouldn't," Talyn said uncertainly. "Okay, Artha, I'm going to try to make the hurting stop."

"You're not a weed!" she proclaimed, tilting her head back far enough to touch the base of her tail with her nose. "Because you don't grow from the ground."

"They don't get addicted to this stuff, do they?" Rhysel asked.

"Are you on sootheweed too?" Jensal said. "Of course they do. They spend their twenties weaning off of it. We keep the teenagers drugged to the gills, much good may it do them at that age. Avoiding addiction is just not a priority; in the Corenta house they barely make it a priority to avoid fatal overdose and accidentally kill one every few decades trying to keep them comfortable."

Rhysel shuddered. "Oh."

"If you gave me the power to go back in time and give myself a tradeoff between having to come down off sootheweed for a decade, or doing without, you know what I would choose? I'll give you a hint. I picked that choice as the policy for my house when sootheweed potions became generally available."

Rhysel fell silent and watched Talyn. He held Artha's face in his hands and she lounged in his lap. "It's weird in her head," Talyn murmured. "The pain's ignorable, but... everything's connected up strangely."

"Be careful with her," said Jensal. "I don't think her parents would care, based on the note they sent with her egg, but I value her life."

"I will," said Talyn, and then Artha screamed.

It wasn't exactly a scream. It was the sort of noise someone would produce when they couldn't figure out how to scream, but needed desperately to guess, as loudly as possible.

"What did you do?" Jensal roared, looming over Talyn and making as though to grab Artha away from him, but he swatted her hand away.

"I don't know! I'll undo it! I'll - here - just undo it - it'll be fine," he babbled, and the noise coming out of Artha stopped with a choked sort of gurgle and she blinked damp black eyes. Then she leapt away from Talyn, back claws tearing holes in his shirt as she threw herself at Jensal and tried to hide in her blue hair.

"What," said Jensal. "Did. You. Do. To. Her?"

"I tried to cut off the pain, but it must have been connected to something else," Talyn said defensively, holding up his arms as though he expected Jensal to hit him. "I don't know what it was but she's all hooked up as normal now! I'm sorry!"

"It was baaaaad!" wailed Artha, almost incomprehensible with tears. "Make him go awaaaaaay!"

"Artha, sweetie, what happened? What was bad?" asked Jensal, peeling the small shren out of her hair to look her in the eye. "Did it hurt?"

"No," Artha sobbed. "It didn't do anything. I wasn't a thing that could hurt."

Jensal kept asking questions, but nothing more coherent than that seemed within Artha's capacity or willingness to articulate, and finally Jensal pinned both kyma in place with a glare and went to put the baby back whence she'd come.

"I'm sorry," Talyn whispered, either to Rhysel or to the empty room.

"You didn't mean to," Rhysel whispered back. "I just hope Jensal will let me or Master Revenn try other solutions."

Jensal stomped back to the office, unladen with Artha, and said, "Both of you, out."

"Jensal," Rhysel began, as they got to their feet.

"Rhysel, I don't know what this kid did to convince you that he was safe to have mucking about with the babies, but I don't want him on the premises again. You can come back, after you mail me a complete description of what you want to try next and get written permission and not before. No more unannounced visits, and I don't care if you have to spend a year giving me a crash course in magic before I can understand what's going on, I will understand it before you do it to anyone under my care. Is that understood?"

"Yes," Rhysel murmured, placing her hands on Talyn's shoulders and steering him to the door. "I understand. I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry too," spluttered Talyn. "I didn't mean to hurt her. I didn't think it would."

"Out," said Jensal, pointing to the gate in the fence. "Just - out."

Chapter Seventeen: Demonstration

On Sinen, Rhysel and Talyn met Tekaal at their assigned auditorium. She'd never seen a more-than-classroom-sized part of the school apart from the cafeteria and the library. Seats were staggered in a sloped half ring around a semi-oval table at ground level, where Tekaal was already sitting; the audience's chairs didn't come with desks, just armrests. "Hello," Tekaal said. He didn't seem to know whether to call Rhysel by her first name or her last in Talyn's presence.

"Hi," Rhysel said, thunking her satchel onto the table and sitting down next to Tekaal. Talyn took the last chair. "What kind of crowd should we expect? This is a big room."

"I would be surprised if we filled it," Tekaal said. "But perhaps a hundred attendees can be expected, and they will spread information to their friends who choose not to attend or have conflicts at this time. We will need to devise some way of sorting them if even forty students of sufficient age wish to study kamai in the first term. Perhaps by their current wizarding grades, to determine how likely they are to be able to keep up with the additional work."

"That sounds like a reasonable measure to me," Rhysel said. "Are Korulen's grades good? I'm looking forward to getting her in the class, and I know she's interested."

"Aaralan Inular maintains above-average grades, although she is not the top of the tier," Tekaal said. "Her friend Aaralan Mehaas -"


"- Yes - is less academically promising, although depending on what sort of kamai she cared to learn her excellent marks in art may count for more than their standard weighting."

"Image, you're thinking?" At Tekaal's nod, Rhysel grinned. "Yeah, the key skill there is more about being able to clearly imagine what you want than it is the ability to study effectively, to hear Eryn tell it."

"And she is?" Tekaal asked.

"Eryn - um, last name is Lennryth, sorry - is my blood sister," Rhysel said. "Do they do that here?" He looked at her blankly. "We don't share parents, but we sort of adopted each other. The ritual to do it involves blood, hence the name. And she's an image kama."

"Hi!" said Talyn brightly, as the first attendee walked in. Rhysel recognized the girl as a vampire, from her starkly white skin against black eyes and hair.

"Aaralan Hhirheek," said Tekaal politely, stumbling somewhat over the awkward name. Rhysel had no notion how a species who found that sort of sound natural and easy spoke Leraal without detectable accents.

"Hi, Aar Kithen," said the vampire politely, sitting down. "Why did you jump off a cliff?" she asked Talyn.

"What?" said Rhysel.

"How did you know I jumped off a cliff?" Talyn demanded, leaning forward in fascination.

"Your shoes," said the girl. "The way they moved - they hit the corner of the cliff, then fell, but they stepped, you weren't pushed - I mean, that's if you were wearing them. If someone else had them on when that happened, then I was wrong."

"You were right!" exclaimed Talyn. "What's your name? Why is your head full of voices that aren't yours? I can't even tell what you're thinking if I try. That's amazing."

"You can hear them?" asked the vampire blankly. "I'm Leekath."

"You jumped off a cliff?" asked Tekaal incredulously.

"It was cliffdiving! Rhysel used to do it too," said Talyn.

"Is that how you broke your arm?" Rhysel asked. "You shouldn't be cliffdiving at all, but if you do, you should at least gather the energy to fly before you jump to begin with. If you wait you'll mistime and hurt yourself. You could have been killed."

"I wouldn't have been killed," Talyn protested. "My stoneskin is automatic now."

"And your arm broke because?" Rhysel inquired archly.

"Because it was just my arm. It's not automatic for little things - I have to be able to draw blood for some things and I don't know how to make a hole in a total defense yet - but I wouldn't have died." His attention snapped back to the vampire girl, who appeared to fascinate him.

Rhysel sighed and let it go. Revenn had doubtlessly already shouted at the boy. Out of curiosity, she did extend a tendril of her novel mind-reading magic towards Leekath - just enough to tell what Talyn was talking about, not to intrude - and found the vampire's head a cacophony of shrieking in her native language, some thousand voices talking over each other. She drew back her magic and wondered what Talyn could like about having to listen to that, but didn't ask.

"You," Tekaal said, "jumped off a cliff?"

"It really is safer than it sounds," Rhysel said. More students were trickling in - humans and elves, a red-eyed dragon boy, occasional halflings and vampires and leonines, Korulen with her posse including Lutan and Kaarilel, Kolaan and about half of the kids he'd brought to help Rhysel with her transfer point, and, startlingly, one wolfrider girl with her wolf in tow. The wolf looked too small to carry her rider, and Rhysel didn't recognize the pair, but there they were. <Keo?> she called.

<I'm coming, I'm coming, I'll be there in a tick, but you don't have to wait for me,> Keo sent.

<Take your time, we won't be starting for a couple degrees yet. I just wanted to ask when Binaaralav started having wolfrider students. Have they been here all along?>

<No, they're new, and technically they're not enrolled yet. They're another new program next term. Narax pushed it and he's handling most of the details about their accommodation. Did you get one at your assembly?>

<Two, technically, but yes.>

<I think the ones who are on campus right now are all bedecked in spells to the point where you shouldn't need to adjust anything,> Keo sent. <Just treat them like the others in the audience unless the rider says they need something changed.>

<Got it.>

Rhysel kept a count of attendees as they flowed into the auditorium and scattered into chairs. By the time Tekaal's spell indicated it was sixth-and-naught, she'd gotten to a hundred and fifteen, counting both the wolf and her rider. Keo teleported in, absent one moment and sitting in a seat at the rear the next.

"Is this everyone," Rhysel said, trying to project her voice, "or does anybody know of a friend who was planning to come and isn't here yet?" The students seemed to find it an odd question, and no one put a hand up, so Rhysel started off by pushing the door closed by air kamai. "Welcome," she said. "What we're going to do today is talk about kamai - what it can do, and how you can sign up to learn it here starting next term if everything goes according to plan. Kamai is a form of magic from my native world, Barashi..."

Rhysel proceeded with her lecture on the basics of kamai. Most of it had been in small print on the fliers that had decorated the school, but she didn't know if everyone had read the entire thing - some were probably there through word of mouth or had only skimmed the advertisement. "Now, you've already seen a brief demonstration of elemental kamai," Rhysel said when the overview was complete. "I closed the door with a puff of air. Air magic is pretty useful." As she said that, she rose into the air until she was halfway to the ceiling, eye-level for students nearer the back of the ring.

"But," she continued, "elemental kyma aren't limited to just one element the way Elcenian mages are." She conjured a ball of handfire, replaced it with a globe of water, and then conjured a rock, which she shaped like clay into a duplicate of the aurum-dove she'd seen in Tekaal's play, spreading the stone out over enough volume to form the shape and mimic the real bird's weight and softness too. Then she leached colors into the surface, turning it muted gold. "And there are some tricks we learn that are more than just manipulating the substances directly. Would anyone like this bird - or something else, if you tell me what to make - as a pet?"

Korulen's friend Kaarilel waved her hand eagerly in the air, and Rhysel caught her eye and smiled, drifting down to the ground. "Okay, Kaarilel. I'll make this aurum-dove into a golem for you. It won't be alive - you don't need to feed it, or clean up after it. And I can modify its behavior for you if you want. Any changes that should be made to the standard behavior of aurum-doves? I confess I don't know if they make good pets."

Kaarilel started to shake her head, but Lutan elbowed her and whispered in her ear, and the elf sheepishly said, "They sing at dawn every day and I don't think my roommate wants to be up that early. Can you make it just sing when I tell it to and not otherwise?"

"Sure," said Rhysel. "Nothing else?"

"No, they totally are good pets," Kaarilel said.

"All right then." Rhysel impressed the shape of the aurum onto the inert rock, forcing it to take after its form rather than its substance, with the requested modification. The bird blinked, picked up one foot and then the other in Rhysel's hand, and spread its wings. "Go on," she coaxed, and it hopped into the air, flapped, and made its way to Kaarilel. Kaarilel put out a hand to receive it, looking pleased as could be, and set it on her shoulder; it began to preen her hair.

"We have a guest here today," Rhysel said, gesturing tiredly at Talyn. He left off staring at Leekath (Rhysel wondered if he was having a mindspeech conversation with her - wondered how he'd do it through the screeching in her head). "While Aar Kithen and I will be competent to teach introductory kamai in all five disciplines by the time next term starts, Talyn's been generalizing for a few years now and can show off some more interesting, advanced workings outside elemental kamai, which will make for a better show. Talyn?"

<Hello, everybody,> Talyn broadcast cheerfully. <This is called mindspeech. It's almost the most basic mind kamai there is. Really advanced stuff is just about like what Keo can do - maybe not as powerful, but the same sort of thing. Who wants to see a memory I have of flying over the Baltryss Mountains with a flock of wild rocs - Oh, you don't have rocs here. Really, really big birds - while I was turned invisible so they wouldn't try to eat me? It was great! Raise your hand if you want to opt out though.> A handful of people did raise their hands; Talyn scanned the crowd to see who they were, and then broadcast the memory, including Rhysel and Tekaal in the sending too.

Talyn kept up the sending of the memory until students started fidgeting, then broke off. <There's no animals in here,> he sent. <So that kind of limits what I can do with wild kamai - I don't know how to shapeshift yet, and no one here is injured so I can't show a healing. But wild kyma can do with wood what Rhysel just did with rock, except for the conjuration part - the wood does have to grow from a plant. So I brought this.> He reached into Rhysel's bag and retrieved a block of wood that he'd melded together from the scrub on and around her property. He started to squeeze and shape it in his hands, turning it into a ball and then stretching it like dough. <Anybody else want a critter?>

Talyn made a golem of a blue chinchilla, with whisper-thin paper filaments for fur and whiskers formed out of the wood, and gave it to the boy in the first row who asked for it. <Death kamai's hard to demonstrate, in a setting like this,> he went on. <Actually, when we planned this I wasn't going to do any death kamai at all because it all involves things like summoning dead people - and I don't know anyone who died on this world - or animating corpses - not pretty - or killing things - which, again, there's no animals here. But there's one thing I can do that Leekath just volunteered for!>

"Talyn, what are you doing?" muttered Rhysel.

<It's okay,> Talyn replied cheekily, just to her, and then he continued broadcasting to the whole auditorium as Leekath got up and drifted from her front-row seat to sit on the desk. <Death kyma can tell how long someone's lifespan is, assuming they die of old age, not accident or illness or something else,> he said. <Most people don't want to know that, but Leekath already has a pretty good idea, because she's a vampire.>

Rhysel turned to Tekaal. "What's he talking about?" she said under her breath.

"He is in fact correct," Tekaal replied quietly. "The mechanism is moderately complicated, and the explanation should wait, but his reading Aaralan Hhirheek's lifespan will not distress her, if that and not his improvisation is what alarms you."

Talyn looked smug when he took Leekath's hand. <It's not part of the working to show the number visibly,> he said. <I'm going to do that separately with image kamai so you can all see. But I'm getting the information with death kamai. And I'm converting it from Barashin years to Elcenian ones with ordinary math, which is not supposed to be part of this demo but what are you going to do.> He rearranged her hand in his, to an extent that Rhysel suspected was not necessary, and then large numbers - in Leraal, the shapes of the digits probably pulled from someone's mind - sprang up above them for the audience to read. Rhysel squinted and deciphered them backwards: 332.

<Is that about what you were expecting, Leekath?> Talyn asked, sharing the question with everyone.

"I was two years off," she said. Her voice was quiet; Talyn amplified it for her after she breathed the first word. "I had to estimate for the first couple hundred..."

There was a pause, during which Talyn grinned foolishly at Leekath and she furrowed her brow at the floating numbers, and then he finally let her hand go. <Thanks! And now, image kamai!> Leekath walked back to her seat to the sound of a dozen-piece orchestra and the flashing colors of illusory fireworks. Talyn also conjured platters of image cookies. <Pass them around. They have no nutritional content at all. No content, period, they're imaginary - but they've got texture and taste like the real thing, just like Mom makes.>

Rhysel put her hand on Talyn's shoulder when he was near his seat again, not-so-gently ushering him back into it. "Thank you!" she said. "Now, none of you in the audience currently have the ability to perform any kamai at all. However, I've reconstructed a previously lost working that will let me infuse people with the capacity. Aar Kithen was infused in this way, and he's now as capable of kamai as I am." Tekaal rose a non-dramatic several feet off the ground, conjured handfire, and then floated back down to his seat. "The process hasn't done him any harm, but - I'll let him describe it."

"It involves drinking an unpleasant-tasting, effervescent liquid," Tekaal said, voice mild despite the way he forced it to fill the auditorium, "and falling unconscious for an extended sleep."

"I'll take questions now," Rhysel said.

Leekath wanted to know how she was supposed to fall unconscious when she couldn't sleep in her humanoid shape, nor drink in her bat shape. Rhysel didn't know, but hypothesized that Leekath would want to shift immediately after downing her infusion. The rider girl wanted to know if her wolf would be able to do kamai, as it didn't seem to require hand-based gestures or speech like wizardry did. Rhysel didn't see any reason why not. Two more people wanted golems; Rhysel made a tame cobra, and Talyn popped outside to harvest a branch to turn into a miniature elephant. Others wanted specifics about when the classes would be held and similar administrative trivia, which Rhysel couldn't provide.

By the time four questions had been asked, people were leaving the hall in ones and twos. Talyn abandoned his chair at the long desk to sit next to Leekath, when a seat next to her opened up; the boy with the red eyes climbed over a few rows of chairs to sit in front and seemed to be waiting for something. Kolaan, with Soraak and Kutran and their leonine friend following him, waved at Rhysel as they left - Rhysel glanced at Tekaal, who hadn't betrayed any recognition. Presumably Kolaan didn't know that Aar Kithen was the Man in Red and Gold at all.

Leekath seemed absorbed in a silent conversation with Talyn, although she made little eye contact and seemed to prefer to keep her eyes closed. "Was there something you wanted to ask?" Rhysel asked, addressing the red-eyed boy directly. She supposed he was a dragon, though she couldn't tell exactly which kind.

"Theory," said the boy. "When you conjured that rock, where did it come from? What features of Leekath did Talyn's spell -"

"Working," corrected Rhysel.

"Working - look at to tell how long her lifespan is now? What was the fire you conjured fueled by? Do you have to actually know anything about the behavior of animals you make golems of, and if so, how much? Is mindspeech language-dependent? Are the -"

"Whoa, whoa," Rhysel laughed. "I'm not a teacher yet. Maybe you should enroll."

"Plan to," the dragon boy said. "But I have these questions now and I'll only have more after I see more kamai, so -"

"So," she said, "it'll require a lot more background to answer some of those. I can see why you waited for a thinner crowd before you asked your questions, but I'm not sure I'm even equipped to give the theoretical understanding you seem to want."

"Mindspeech is language-dependent the most basic way but not in more advanced forms," Talyn said. "I don't know Leraal very well - just what I've been able to pick up listening to people think - so I used a kind that isn't. And we don't need to know much about how the animals work - the forms take care of that. I don't know the answers to the rest of it though."

"What's your name?" Rhysel asked, before the curious boy could say anything else.

"Kaylo. Will you be doing any theory in the classes proper?"

"Some. Probably less than you'd like, but I can't please everyone," Rhysel said. "I'll be able to get you books, if you're interested enough to study on your own time."

"Will definitely take you up on that. But I'll leave you be for now," Kaylo said. "Thanks," he added to Talyn, who spared him a glance and a smile before returning to staring at Leekath.

There were only Rhysel, Tekaal, Talyn, and Leekath left in the auditorium. "Rhysel," Talyn said abruptly, "how long am I welcome to stay?"

She blinked. "As far as I'm concerned, however long you want - but won't your grandfather want you back soon?"

"Aar Kithen, can you send him a letter for me?"

"I can," Tekaal replied.

"I want to stay a couple more days," Talyn said, as Leekath stood up smoothly and walked out of the auditorium.

Tekaal was called on to send and receive a great many letters over the next several days. Leekath, who Talyn had managed to convince to go on a date with him and begin correspondence, turned up at Rhysel's tower periodically holding envelopes and expecting more from Talyn, on top of the exchange Rhysel was carrying on with Revenn as she worked her way through books on shrens. Finally, Tekaal remarked that it would be easier to send a person to and fro on a regular basis, and Leekath immediately volunteered. She showed up to be sent every Fenen evening and Tekaal unsent her every Chenen afternoon, and conveyed the bundles of letters each way. "I can hear what they say," she told Rhysel. "Don't write anything private."

So Rhysel referred to Eret and Theedy only obliquely, describing more generally what she learned about the afflicted subspecies and her ideas for how to help them. She didn't expect Jensal would let her past the walls of the shren house without a very solid plan of action, even if Revenn took time away from all his apprentices again to help and was less likely than Talyn to do something awful to a shren baby.

Tekaal explained how vampires worked beyond the "this is what they look like" introduction she'd gotten from Maeris. "They drink blood," he said. "Not enough to do serious harm, and it's painless. Vampire lifespans depend on who they bite - if they feed from elves, they'll have lifespans like elves, if they feed from humans they'll have lifespans like humans, if they mix the two half-and-half, they'll have lifespans like half-elves. Aaralan Hhirheek has most likely been able to avoid humans, as most Esmaarlan vampires can, and her status as a student at Binaaralav entitles her to a spot on the waiting lists of the resident dragons."

"They have waiting lists," said Rhysel, vaguely queasy.

"Yes. Aaral Pyga and both dragon students - presumably Aar Alar does as well, now," Tekaal said. "To distribute their limited amounts of safely donated blood fairly."

"Okay," Rhysel said, wishing to be away from the topic. "And why does her head sound like it's got a thousand people in it?"

"That is unlikely to be a general property of vampires," Tekaal said. "Aaralan Hhirheek has a diagnosis of a mental illness called vampiric hallucinatory audition. She claims to be able to hear the voices of inanimate objects, and perhaps this is reflected when one attempts to read her mind, but this is considered an illness. She is unusually functional for a sufferer."

"She knew Talyn had been cliff-diving," Rhysel pointed out.

"I will concede," Tekaal said, "that it was impressive."

"Why is it classified as a disease and not a kind of magic? Can't Leekath reliably tell things about objects she has no way of knowing - was it a fluke?"

Tekaal shrugged. "To the best of my knowledge, Aaralan Hhirheek has not been professionally evaluated, because the diagnosis is simple and can be made by a layperson who has simply heard of it before. Past studies of vampires with the condition have revealed no unusual knowledge, as far as I know, although I have never read a primary source on the subject."

"Hmm," Rhysel said.

They both picked up their books, Rhysel laid her head in Tekaal's lap, and they read.

Almost a week after the crisis with Eret and Theedy's daughter, Rhysel had an idea that would get them off the Binaaralav campus. She went to the pond and sat near the hidey-hole, on the opposite side of the pond from where students usually set up picnics or otherwise clustered. <Suppose,> she sent to the shrens, <that I hired the two of you to put in and maintain a garden, and keep my tower tidy. I'm kind of a slob and I'd like to have plants in but never would have time for them. I can put in a private, basement apartment for you. The place is out of the way and I can warn you when I've got guests over. And I get my groceries delivered and can order extras for you. And I'll pay you wages on top of room and board, so you can save up to do - whatever it is you'd rather be doing. It's probably not your lifelong ambition. And you can reply by thinking "at" me, if that makes sense.> She kept her mind open for replies, having finally mastered that trick.

There was a pause. <Can you get us all out of here tonight after dark?> asked Theedy timidly. <We're afraid to expand the hole too much - it might collapse - but the children need more room. They try to get out more often every day.>

<I'll go make the apartment now,> Rhysel sent back, relieved. <And come fetch you an angle past dusk - everyone should be inside by then.>

The pair assented, and Rhysel went home to put in three underground floors, all deep enough that Keo wouldn't sense the tenants by walking in Rhysel's front door. Stairs from an unobtrusive back door led to a kitchen much like hers and a bathroom, and then more spiraled down to a floor with four bedrooms, and then she added a playroom for the dragonets and another room that Eret and Theedy could use for whatever else they might want. When she'd recharged from the remodeling, slumped over the back of the couch that would be theirs in a few angles, she equipped the kitchen with dishes and moved some assorted food down from her own kitchen to hold them until Kolaan made another delivery. It was cooler in the basement than up in the tower; she normally did without blankets but they'd probably want to buy some, and probably new clothes too, they couldn't have much. Rhysel left stacks of coins on their kitchen counter, and a note: "Advance wages for a few weeks to help settle in. Town is southwest of here."

With that settled, she went up the stairs and into her own part of the tower to wait for sundown.

Rhysel taught herself mind and wild kamai, using her boyfriend as a guinea pig for the first, birds or fieldmice she caught for second. She sat in on about half of Tekaal's theory classes and a handful of his practica. They went to restaurants - and to concerts and plays, once The Man in Red and Gold came to an end and Tekaal's evenings were free - and sometimes curled up together, reading or talking or letting Tekaal serve as another mind to bounce off of for Rhysel's mind kamai practice. Tentatively, she had Keo (and Kanaat and Korulen and Runa) over for dinner again, and when Keo relaxed - confident that Rhysel had learned her lesson about appropriate conversation topics - she rhapsodized about every pepper-laden troll dish Rhysel knew how to make. And, when Rhysel had moments alone, even her caged mice asleep, she thought about shrens.

She'd checked out the library books on them, and worked her way down the stack, and no one knew why they couldn't fly. Their wings were weak, certainly, but the people who'd dared touch them, look at the limbs - even, gruesomely, open them up and peer inside, for which the shrens past a certain age needed no anesthesia - didn't find physical defects. (Handling shrens was made out to be some showing of a strong stomach, like they were disgusting - but they looked just like dragons, only held their wings differently. Rhysel didn't understand. Artha was adorable; why wouldn't anyone want to pet her?)

Annoyingly, a fair amount of the research was anonymous - maybe conducted by shrens themselves, who were in one kind of hiding or another and didn't want to advertise.

Rhysel ran into the same dead ends in her mind, over and over. Can't teach the baby shrens to fly with kamai (or shapeshift with kamai) - because they're babies, and even in species that age differently from halfbloods (humans, elves), like fairies or Barashin dragons, it's always adolescence, always right around the onset of maturity... Maybe worth checking. Could ask Eret and Theedy if they'd let me infuse one of theirs. Could I teach a baby shren to fly? I don't know how to shapeshift. Even Master doesn't. He could talk to Master Bryn, though... I need to learn more wild kamai, but I need to learn different wild kamai than what Master knows, because he doesn't know how to help them either, says he doesn't know any more diagnostic workings than the one I already tried and can't figure out anything from Talyn's memories of what Artha's lifeforce looked like... Can't anesthetize them, unless I think of a new way to do it, or convince Keo... even a new way might not get past Jensal... but there are other houses. I could go to Corenta or Petar. Or that merfolk country with the long name... Is there any way to convince Keo? Did I give up too quickly? She seems completely irrational about it, but it's so important... Why can't they fly? Why can't they just fly, like Runa or like Eret and Theedy's three?

Eret and Theedy's three were named on the fifth of Komehel, in a tiny version of the same ceremony that had named Runa, at which Rhysel was the only guest. Theedy had asked her downstairs after finishing with straightening the library, and Rhysel had the impression that Eret hadn't given his permission for her to do so, but he didn't shoo her away. They called the black opal girl Lisha, with Theedy's own name serving as a line name; their red opal boy was Rathoneret; and the red opal girl, the one Rhysel's Master had saved, was called Mirradyret. Theedy didn't know if the line name would work - it was the latter syllable of her own personal name, and the one she'd added from Eret. Apparently there was precedent for using added syllables but not for combining them with the personal name, but Theedy didn't have any more to give. "Mirra will be able to tell us if it stuck, when she's talking," Theedy said.

"When will that be?" Rhysel asked.

"Soon," Theedy said, petting Mirra and smiling.

Chapter Eighteen: Family

"My family wants to meet you," Tekaal told Rhysel after the students in his practicum dispersed, including Ngen, who'd hung back to quiz Rhysel and Tekaal about kamai as he'd taken to doing since the demo.

"They do?" she asked. "That's - er - how many people?"

Tekaal held out his hand, and when she took it, teleported them both to her tower. "The request was delivered by my mother, but I suspect both parents and all three of my siblings would be interested - and if, as has been proposed, the meeting takes place at the family home, there is no shortage of extended family." He seemed affectionately exasperated.

"Will your great-great-grandmother be there? The dragon?" Rhysel asked, pulling Tekaal towards the sofa and sitting.

"No - well, unless you would like me to invite her specifically to overlap with your visit. Which may take place at any time you prefer; the most relevant family members have flexible schedules and can arrange to meet you."

"Tomorrow, after your classes are over?" she suggested. "I should probably take a break sooner or later - I was thinking I'd sculpt for a while, but visiting your family would be fun too."

"I am uncertain that meeting as many as two dozen unfamiliar people should be classified as a relaxing activity," Tekaal said dryly. "Possibly you should also sculpt before returning to your truly astounding pace of self-imposed work."

"You work hard too, Aar Teacher-Actor-Painter-Musician-Wizard-Kama," Rhysel teased.

Tekaal raised an eyebrow at her. "I have many pursuits, but do not play my instruments professionally, rarely if ever paint according to a deadline or with any sense of urgency, have found that roughly half of death kamai does not function in Elcenia and therefore needs not be practiced to allow me to teach the subject here, currently lack an ongoing theater production, and have a light course burden this term. Meanwhile, you are learning two new kamai disciplines - not one and a half - and filling every spare moment with research and theorization about shrens."

"All right, fine," she said. "But tomorrow would be a fine time to meet your family anyway, wouldn't it?"

"By all means. I'll let them know to expect us for dinner. My mother or cousin - less often my brother the witch - usually handle food for the household, and I will assuredly be asked what you like to eat. What should I tell them?"

"I'll eat anything," Rhysel laughed. "You know me."

"I will tell them to put chocolate in the dessert," said Tekaal, smiling fractionally, and Rhysel laughed as she rearranged herself to use him as a pillow and picked up her mind kamai book.

Tekaal's family lived in one of the houses in one of the circles that dotted the residential zones of Paraasilan, opening to the street on one side and to a shared yard on the other. As soon as the pair began to descend from their flight (selected in place of teleportation in case it would ever behoove Rhysel to know where the house was located), Rhysel heard the whoops of children, the sounds bouncing past the sides of the six-story home from the lawn. Tekaal opened the front door for her, and at once, an elf with a considerable resemblance to her boyfriend peered into her eyes intently. "Are you Rhysel?" he asked. "I've heard you're from another world. What's that like? I'd love to hear all about it. Come in."

"Esten, get out of her face," scolded a female voice; Rhysel couldn't immediately see who it belonged to because her field of vision was occupied by staring grey eyes. The inquisitive fellow, presumably Tekaal's youngest brother, was pushed aside gently by a young woman. "I apologize for him. I'm Linisaar, Tekaal's sister. It's so nice to meet you." Linisaar had wavy brown hair and the same grey eyes as the brothers, and from what Rhysel had gathered about Esmaarlan fashion, she was also smartly attired in her cardigan and long, drapey dress. "Our other brother isn't home yet, but he will be soon, probably before dinner begins."

"It's nice to meet you," Rhysel said, casting a glance in Esten's direction. "Perhaps you could repeat your questions again more slowly?" Tekaal was gesturing furtively at her. <What?>

<I need to learn to initiate mindspeech myself - Esten is a reporter. He writes articles for a newspaper. Anything you tell him is reasonably likely to be served with breakfast to half the country in the next day or two,> Tekaal sent. <He restrains himself from reporting on family members but to the best of my knowledge you do not yet qualify, and offworlders are certainly interesting enough to merit articles if enough information is obtained to fill them out. I apologize for not having previously warned you. I do not often bring people here.>

Esten had begun repeating his questions earnestly while Tekaal thought this at her, and Rhysel avoided exhibiting visible suspicion. "Yes, I'm Rhysel," she said. "Yes, I'm from another world, which is hard to summarize - what would you say if someone asked you what Elcenia is like?"

"I can come up with more specific -" Esten began, but the entry hall, already cramped with four, came to hold five when another woman swung into the room from the adjacent parlor. She looked like an elder version of Linisaar - less sharpness to her ears and less wave to her hair, but the same face with more lines. And once she'd squeezed past her children, she immediately enveloped Rhysel in a hug.

"Hello," said Rhysel awkwardly, hugging the woman back for lack of any other clear reply. "I'm Rhysel."

"I'm Rinaal, Tekaal's mother," said the older woman, stepping back to hold Rhysel at arm's length with a hand clutching each shoulder. "Why, look at you! You're lovely." She didn't sound surprised, but she sounded like she was making sure to avoid it.

"Mother," said Linisaar. She didn't say anything else, but Rinaal, still smiling broadly, huffed a small sigh and let Rhysel go.

"It's nice to meet you, too," Rhysel said. "I know I'm missing one brother, who's not home, and one father. Tekaal, is your dad home?"

"He lets you call him Tekaal," crooned Esten. "It must be love."

Rhysel fixed Esten with an amused look, recalling Tekaal's remark about finding sharing a room with his brother to be a "disagreeable" arrangement. "You're the one he'd be rooming with if he lived here," she said, "aren't you."

"He probably told you," Esten shrugged. "Anyway, Dad is home, but he's currently losing badly at pel-pwon and he's sticking out the entire endgame till he loses his last pawn or until Balket gets tired of humiliating him. Or until Redan drags them both by their ears into the dining room."

"Or until Ahin gets home," Linisaar said, "and tells Dad how to rescue the game."

"Ahin's the other brother?" Rhysel asked. "The witch? I'm sorry, I know I've heard all your names before, but I can't keep them straight."

"That's right, Ahin's my second child, right after Tekaal," Rinaal said. "He might be bringing his boyfriend, Kestaar, and possibly also Kestaar's daughter Rasam. But, Rhysel, you mustn't worry about remembering anyone's name tonight. We all know what it's like to go to someone's houseful of family for the first time. No one expects you to get it right yet."

"Just go ahead and call me 'you in the grey' until you're less overwhelmed," Linisaar offered, smiling.

"And Ahin can be 'Witch With Excessive Potion in His Hair', and I can be addressed as 'Tekaal's Much Better-Looking Brother'," Esten put in. Linisaar made as if to shove him, but pulled her hand back after barely a tap. Esten gracefully pitched himself into the wall to oblige her anyway, upsetting the straight alignment of a painting. Rhysel looked at it to see a portrait of Linisaar and Rinaal together - both somewhat younger - in what she strongly suspected was Tekaal's style.

"Well!" said Rinaal brightly. "Do you want the tour of the house? I should warn you - there are plenty of stairs."

"We do have stairs where I come from," Rhysel said, smiling.

The Kithen family home was all common areas on the first floor: two cushily-furnished parlor/living rooms on either side of the front hall, and then an ample kitchen and a dining room with two rectangular tables behind them. A back door led to the yard, where Rinaal identified one boy and one girl as belonging to their household. "None of my kids have started producing grandchildren yet," she said, leading the way up the stairs to the second floor. "Both of my sisters have several by now."

One of those sisters, Rinaal's identical twin Mubil, still lived in the house; the other had moved in with her husband's family and was not present. Four of Mubil's five children still lived at home, and two of those were married, having produced one of the house's children apiece. Names flew past Rhysel's ears as Rinaal led her up and up, floor by floor - cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents and nieces and nephews and details from decades of living with all of them ("I know this looks like a closet, but there's just so few rooms, and Ahin said he'd rather have this to himself than share with Esten, I don't know what we'll do if he marries Kestaar"; "Redan and Olaav share this one, and Redan's making dinner tonight, he's a good cook"; "this used to be two rooms but when Balket married Piran we knocked out a wall so it would be enough for the pair of them, and their girl loves living up in the attic"). The pattern for each floor after the first seemed to be two or three bedrooms of assorted size, a bathroom, and a couple of closets. Several of the bedrooms were turned over to storage of books or other items, which Rinaal lamented the need for as they passed, and one was a sort of shared office.

"I'm home!" a voice echoed from up the stairwell, and Rinaal lit up. It continued: "And I've brought a spectacular man and an adorable child with me! Come one, come all, marvel at my luck!"

"That'll be Ahin!" exclaimed Rinaal. "The sixth floor is just an attic, all one room, it's got angled walls because of the roof. The little girl you saw, Ansil, lives there. We can skip it. Let's go back downstairs and eat!"

Rinaal led Rhysel, and the three of her children who'd been following along for the tour, back down all the stairs again. Ahin, who did appear to have something in his yellow hair to make it spike neatly towards one ear, was already in the dining room by the time the group made it to the ground floor - having accumulated more miscellaneous family on the way down, who also suspected it was time to eat. Everyone seemed to know Rhysel's name, and while she didn't catch all the remarks in the hubbub, she got the general impression that some of them hadn't believed her to exist. Whether this was because she was an offworlder or because she was Tekaal's girlfriend was unclear.

Rhysel wound up sitting with Tekaal on one side and his brother Ahin on the other. Ahin had one arm slung around the shoulders of his boyfriend, who looked at least a quarter human - his daughter was by far the darkest person at the table among all the elves, probably close to half and half. "So!" Ahin said. "You're the famous Rhysel! You're interesting enough that Esten wants to put you next to every glass of banana juice in Esmaar but you're dating Tekaal! Explain yourself at once." He looked too happy to really come across as challenging.

"Are you aware he can sing?" Rhysel asked, laughing.

"That'd be hard to miss," snorted Ahin. "I think half the reason he went off to wizard school was so he could soundproof things and practice without everybody piling in to listen. But I'm glad he sings!" Ahin went on gleefully. "Kestaar's a stage manager. Tekaal introduced us." And with that, the witch pecked his boyfriend swiftly on the cheek. Kestaar smiled almost dazedly in Ahin's direction and Ahin continued. "But this isn't about my good fortune, this is about Tekaal's. Who exactly is this Rhysel Camlenn person I seem to be sitting next to, who appears to be real and not some sort of illusion?"

Rhysel was aware of Esten sitting across the table, failing at looking nonchalant, and kept her response uninformative. "Doesn't he talk about me?"

"Raves about you," Ahin said. "Constantly. It's annoying. He used to be able to hold conversations about other things, you know. But is it all true? Or has he been making it up?"

"I think the 'platypus' was definitely made up," Linisaar said, from beside Esten on the other side of the table. "I didn't think he was exaggerating particularly until he showed us that statue and said it was a real animal from your world."

"Platypuses exist!" laughed Rhysel. "I promise! If I could, I'd take you to where they live and catch a live one for you to look at."

"Wow," said Linisaar, wide-eyed.

"Are you adjusting all right, to being in Elcenia and not even able to travel home?" Rinaal asked. The tables were filling up, and the seat beside Rinaal was taken by a man about her age who Rhysel presumed was Tekaal's father. "Oh, Rhysel, dear, this is my husband Evaad," she added, patting the man on the shoulder.

"It's good to finally meet you," Evaad told Rhysel. He looked more like Esten than like Tekaal, although the three all shared coloring.

"I'm adjusting pretty well," Rhysel told Rinaal. "I suppose it will get hard if it takes the girls who summoned me too long to undo their mistake, because I'll miss being able to easily visit my family and friends, but at this point I plan to go on living here even when they do manage to get me back to Barashi."

"So it's called Barashi," Esten said, leaning forward.

"Esten," said Evaad reproachfully.

Another elf, presumably the cousin of Tekaal's responsible for dinner, started plunking serving dishes onto the table, which was already set with square plates and tall glasses of water and utensils. "Eat up!" he invited jovially, winking at Rhysel but otherwise not insinuating himself into Tekaal's immediate family; he sat at the other table.

Tekaal identified everything for her: the sautéed purple rectangles with pale veins running through them were fried nilir leaves, associated with the yellow mustard and butter and egg yolk sauce. The white stuff was mashed turnips with cheese mixed in. There was bread (Tekaal warned her that it contained insect flour, but Rhysel had gotten over her squeamishness about the Esmaarlan diet of arthropods and took a slice anyway) with garlic oil, and dessert was a chocolate custard that Rhysel was tempted to start with. She held back and tried everything else first.

The cousin was in fact a good cook, although she heard him congratulating the blondest elf in the room (she didn't look closely related; possibly she was married to one of Tekaal's cousins) on her assistance with the sauce, so he hadn't done it all himself. "This is delicious," Rhysel said, loud enough to carry; the cousin smiled at her but didn't shout back across the room.

Over the rest of the dinner, Rhysel dodged Esten's scrutiny, got to like Linisaar and Rinaal both very much, and found herself alternately annoyed and amused by Ahin's exuberant domination of most conversations. She prompted Tekaal to remind her by mindspeak when she forgot names, which led to Ahin's boyfriend Kestaar congratulating her on her memory by the time they were all halfway through their custards.

"I can't take credit," she said. "I've been mindspeaking to Tekaal when I forget things."

"Is that a kamai spell?" asked Esten.

"It's mind kamai, but 'spell' isn't the right word," Rhysel said.

"More like Ahin's witchcraft?" suggested Linisaar. "Did you make a potion?"

"I made a potion-like thing to infuse Tekaal with kamai, but no, mindspeech is just -" <Like this,> she finished, including only Tekaal and his immediate relatives in the sending.

"Oh, how interesting," exclaimed Rinaal.

"Come to think of it, I don't know much about witchcraft," Rhysel said, glancing at Ahin. "What is it that you do?"

"Make potions," Ahin replied at once. "I'm very versatile, not one of those so-called witches who just makes batches of hofis and stops there - I can do medicinal, household, cosmetic, all kinds."

"He can also put pef tan in the food, when he cooks," Linisaar whispered loudly.

"Hey!" Ahin said, affronted. "Pef tan is a legitimate ingredient!"

"Flavor enhancer," laughed Esten, "perks up anything you don't think is good enough on its own, lets you magic it up a bit..."

"Harrumph," Ahin said, but he was smiling. "It's harmless, anyway."

"Delicious pef tan," said Rinaal.

"I want to be a witch!" cried Kestaar's daughter - Rasam, Rhysel remembered. The child had an appetite and had been mostly quiet through the meal, but, having devoured her chocolate custard, had found her voice. "I want to apprentice with Ahin and make all the kinds of potions there are and be super rich."

"You're still a touch too little, sprout," said Ahin, voice transformed from the loud and enthused half-shout that he normally employed to a gentler tone when addressing Rasam. "When you're seventeen, I'll have you - nothing'd make me happier."

"Why do I have to waaaait?" Rasam pouted. "You've got a 'prentice who's only nine!"

"He's all human, and you're five-eighths human and the rest elf," Ahin said implacably. "I didn't apprentice until I was twenty-five, how would you like that?"

"That would be awful!" Rasam declared. "So awful! It's better that I'm not all an elf."

"There you go, this way you only have to wait a couple years," Ahin laughed, reaching in front of Kestaar to ruffle her hair. "And then I'll teach you to make whatever you want."

"In a sane order, please," said Kestaar mildly, clasping Ahin's hand where it was entwined with Rasam's hair. "Hofis first, oharthar essence after that."

"Hofis isn't first, elixir base is first," said Ahin, wagging a finger. "But yes. In order."

"Awww," sighed Rasam. "How old do I have to be before I get to learn everything?"

"Depends on how fast you learn," said Ahin, grinning.

Rasam thought about this, decided it was acceptable, and then looked at Rhysel. "Are you going to be my aunt?" she asked.

Tekaal went bright red, and appeared to be clutching his spoon tightly enough that it could neither be healthful for his hand nor safe for the spoon. "I thought your daddy and Ahin weren't married?" Rhysel asked Rasam mildly, patting Tekaal's arm.

"They're not, but they're gonna!" Rasam crowed, clearly thrilled.

"Rasam, honey, that was going to be a surprise for later," Kestaar murmured, but it was too late - they had the attention of the room. Rhysel could barely make out half the shouts of congratulations, and only when she started listening for echoes of the spoken words via mind kamai did she understand that Rinaal's plaintive question was about whether Ahin would be moving away.

"Well... I don't know, Mom," Ahin told her under the din. "There's not really room for us, is there?"

"Oh - well - we could move some books - put them in people's rooms, or in the living room, if we put the potted plants out back we could -"

"Where would Rasam go?"

"She could share the attic with Ansil?" proposed Rinaal. "Ansil wouldn't mind, she loves Rasam..."

"I don't know, Mom," said Ahin, shaking his head, eyebrows knitted in simultaneous happiness and regret.

"Why don't you have a basement?" Rhysel asked, thinking back to the tour.

"The house didn't come with one, and we would have to evacuate the first floor - people, furniture, everything - to let them put one in without disturbing the neighbors," Evaad said. "There's just no way we can make that happen. We could put in another floor, maybe, if Ansil went to visit Piran's family for a few days..."

"I can make you a basement," Rhysel said. "I put one in under my tower not long ago - it's fast and I don't think it would bother the neighbors and you don't have to move any furniture, unless you want stairs down to it from inside as well as outside."

"My goodness, could you?" breathed Rinaal. "We could move all the things down there - if there were enough new rooms Redan and Olaav could stop sharing, perhaps - Ahin can stay, Kestaar and Rasam can move here - you will, dear, won't you, if there's room?"

"If there's room, yes," Ahin said, nodding. "Rhysel, you can seriously just up and make us a basement?"

Rhysel nodded, pleased. "Right now, if you like. Do you need it accessible from inside?" At Rinaal's eager nod, she said, "Show me where you'd like the stairs to begin."

Under the supervision of Rinaal, Evaad, Rinaal's twin sister and brother-in-law, and several older family members who were presumably Tekaal's grandparents and great-grandparents, Rhysel burned away a designated section of floor down to the earth under the house. Its foundations seemed more magical than the ones she was familiar with from when she'd examined nonmagically-constructed buildings on Barashi - under the floor was bare earth, packed but not poured with concrete or set with stones to connect the house firmly to the ground below.

Whatever wizardry was holding the house down didn't stop Rhysel from pressing the earth into stone and shaping it into stairs. She shored up the rock as she created it, carefully checking it for tension as it had to support the entire six-story building with an increasingly hollow layer. She laid out the basement as the Kithenik requested of her, and let Tekaal do much of the detail work both to save her energy and take advantage of the fact that he was more familiar with the family's needs and aesthetics.

"I should have thought of this," he murmured, "when I saw the modification to your tower, even if not the moment I had your kamai knowledge."

"It's all right, dear, we didn't lose anyone for lack of space and now we may never have to," Rinaal said cheerily, running her hand over the molding he'd installed around a doorway. "Can we make this room blue...?"

By the time the basement was finished to everyone's satisfaction, it was late, and the helpful effects of having eaten a large dinner were flagging. Rhysel went up the stairs again to fetch her satchel, where she'd begun to keep several vials of a potion Tekaal had gotten her. She found it effective at fighting drain, even taken in partial doses, and helped herself to a small sip.

"Is that what Tekaal's doing with all that at-cost wakeflower spirit?" Ahin asked, noticing her as she imbibed. "Giving it to you?"

"Well, I don't know about all of it - he's a kama now, too - but yes, some," Rhysel said. "I'm taking it as directed - never substituting wakeflower for sleep, never more than two doses in a day or four in a week."

"All right, but be careful, that stuff hasn't been extensively tested on offworlders or anything. You're fine so far?"

Rhysel nodded. "Oh," she added, "and I don't think I mentioned before - congratulations."

"Thanks!" Ahin replied, breaking into a grin. "You're invited, of course, to the wedding. We're thinking this winter - maybe early Nidhel."

"Not a very long engagement," Rhysel remarked. "That's just three months from now."

"We've been together for five years," said Ahin, smiling ruefully. "We were dithering because we weren't sure Rasam would adjust to it well - but she's obviously enthusiastic about the idea, isn't she?"

"I did get that impression," laughed Rhysel.

Esten poked his head into the room. "So," he said. "On Barashi, was making basements often how you spent your time...?"

On Fenen afternoon, Rhysel and Tekaal received a list of students who were interested in starting to study kamai. There were fifty-one, and given that they planned to co-teach to start out and couldn't split up the class into halves, they agreed that they couldn't take more than twenty-five. Tekaal fetched academic records where they existed, but Kolaan and his friends Soraak and Kutran had also applied to enroll as kamai-only students, and had no records whatever. It turned out, when Rhysel asked, that Esmaar had no public education, no compulsory education, and effectively no system to get children in general educated: they were taught at home, unless their parents opted to enroll them in a private institution like Binaaralav, usually oriented towards a specific topic like Binaaralav was towards wizardry. "Or," Tekaal said, "towards magic in general, as seems to be the current trend."

"So there are schools for other things?" Rhysel asked, sifting through the names. She made check marks next to Leekath's name, and Kaylo the inquisitive dragon, and Korulen, and Ngen. After a moment, she made checks next to Kolaan and his friends too.

"No shortage," Tekaal said. "Art and dance and music, besides wizardry, are the most common. I believe there are some witchcraft schools that accept children, too, but apprenticeship remains the most popular way to teach that trade. Academic subjects such as history and literature are more the province of universities."

"Huh. But you didn't go to one, did you?"

"No, I did not attend school until I was sixty-one years old, at which time I went to a wizarding university," he said.

"So you learned to sing like that by yourself..."

"I did have a voice teacher for some time. And lessons in the various instruments, until I had enough familiarity to advance on my own. I took several painting classes. It is hardly uncommon for people, children included, to take classes in things, or employ tutors - merely unusual to collect children into uniform, dedicated institutions and teach them generic curricula." He pulled out several files from the pile and sorted them into separate stacks. "I believe these fifteen students would be unable to usefully keep up with the kamai program and their commitments to wizarding classes; these six have behavior problems that make me disinclined to accept them when our discretion is called for; these three appear to have applied in ignorance of the fact that kamai is only possible for individuals who have entered puberty; and this student, while unobjectionable in and of herself, is Oridaanlan, and I believe you would find your objective of keeping kamai under control in Elcenia to be significantly compromised if she returned to her homeland and was legally obliged to do whatever her plutarch requested of her."

"I don't know anything about Oridaan... but we've got to cut some people; I'll trust your judgment. Should we count the wolf and rider as one student or two?"

"It is reasonably likely that only one would physically attend class at a time," Tekaal said. "Certainly they would not be likely to have two students' worth of challenges with the material. But either counting could be justified."

"Okay," Rhysel said. Tekaal crossed out the names corresponding to the ones he'd chosen to reject. Rhysel stared down the remaining twenty-six names, which included "Mata" and "Tama", the wolfrider pair who'd attended the demonstration. "I think that we can call this our first class roster, then. Lutan and Kaarilel have good enough grades?"

"Borderline," Tekaal said. "They may or may not wish to continue with the course's requirements after a term; I will keep an eye out for flagging performance in other areas."

Rhysel nodded. "Well," she said. "I guess this is our roster."

Chapter Nineteen: Brokenness

The following day was chosen as the infusion date; because Lunen was the first of two consecutive days off the students enjoyed each week, it would be non-disruptive for them to pass out. Leekath would be going to Barashi for an unusually short visit the next morning. Rhysel and Tekaal were assigned the use of the same auditorium they'd used for the demo, and arrived early to set out a cup at each of twenty-four seats and prepare the crucibles and bowl that would be used to actually make the infusion. Leekath was going to bring a bag to take hers out of, since she could only drink through her fangs, and Tama, the wolf, would use the bowl itself after everyone else's portions were ladled out.

Rhysel delayed making the infusion until everyone was there. Besides the twenty-six to be infused, a number of those had brought along roommates to conduct them back to their beds where they'd sleep it off. Tekaal had informed Rhysel that vampires, halflings, and (newly) wolfriders, having different furnishing needs than the other species, tended to be roomed with their own kinds. Rhysel was reasonably confident she could pick out which girl was Leekath's roommate and who was there to help Mata and Tama, on that basis, though she wasn't clear how the other wolfriders were going to haul an unconscious wolf anywhere and made a note to offer to float students to their rooms.

"Everyone ready?" Rhysel asked, poising her hand over the first crucible. "You all know what you have to do, right? I'll make a big batch of infusion in this bowl, and ladle it into your cup - or bag - Tama, you'll get the bowl - and when you get yours, you immediately swallow it all in a continuous stream. You'll pass out - except Leekath, I suppose; do you want your roommate in here to hang you up when you shift to bat form so you can fall asleep?" Leekath nodded and waved the younger vampire girl into the room from where she was hanging back. "And then whoever you've brought along will put you to bed, but if they turn out to have trouble moving you, I or Aar Kithen will float you where you need to go. Any questions?"

"What would happen," Kaylo asked, "if we didn't drink the infusion in a continuous stream?"

"There wouldn't be enough power to do the work in one go if you split it into partial doses like that, and so instead of trying once and succeeding it'd try twice and fail both times," Rhysel said. "You'd still pass out, but when you woke up, you wouldn't have kamai; we'd have to do it over again." Rhysel tapped her chin, then reached out curiously for Kaylo's lifeforce. "Actually," she amended, finding it just as robust as the shrens she'd checked, "you might not pass out, whether you drink it all in one swallow or not. Dragons have a lot of energy and you might have some left over. But regardless, it wouldn't work."

"What about me?" Korulen asked. "Are thudias the same?"

Rhysel checked her. "Above average, but not as much as Kaylo; I'd call it even odds on your staying awake."

Mata raised her hand; when Rhysel pointed at her, she said, "Should Tama and I drink at the same time, in case we both fall asleep from one of us drinking it?"

"Good idea," Rhysel said. "I'll leave you until last so I can fill your cup and give Tama the bowl simultaneously. Anything else?"

None of the other students made comments, so Rhysel picked up the first crucible and smiled. "All right. Here goes."

Air, water, fire, earth - and the extra-large batch of infusion was soon fizzing away in the bowl. Rhysel poured ladlesful for Korulen, Lutan, Kaarilel, Ngen, Kolaan, Soraak, Kutran, Kaylo, and the fifteen miscellaneous elves and humans who'd also signed up; she poured a dose into the bag Leekath held open and sank her fangs into; and then she gave Mata and Tama their shares at the same time.

Kaylo in fact did not fall asleep; he looked groggy, but not in immediate danger of closing his eyes and slumping out of his chair. He left under his own power, roommate tagging along ready to catch him if he collapsed. Korulen appeared conscious, though only barely, and leaned heavily on Saasnil on her way out of the auditorium. Leekath turned into a bat and clenched her feet around the stick her roommate offered, hanging from it while she was carried briskly away. Most of the other students were variously hover-platformed, levitated, or cooperatively dragged off. The wolfriders who'd come along - all pre-riding age - slung Mata over two wolves' backs and found themselves puzzled about what to do with Tama. Rhysel did wind up floating her.

"This way," said one of the rider girls, sounding grateful. "We have a large room together - we girls do, the boys have another. We didn't like to be two or four at a time in small rooms. So we are ten pairs of girls all together, almost a pack, but all this age." She sounded awkward even through the translation spell.

"Are you all learning Leraal?" Rhysel asked.

"Yes," said the same girl. "But it is so hard. There is no backchannel, so to talk, we must learn so many words, and how to do with our voices everything we do with backchannel. And we have all learned spells to let us see printed words," she added. "But that is confusing."

"See printed words?" Rhysel asked.

"Our eyes are different," explained the rider. "We see depth first, not lines like you. On a flat paper we can tell that there are shapes but not learn to read them, unless we cast a spell to make them stand out and have depth too."

"Still," Rhysel said, "do you think you'll be ready to do without spells by the time next term starts and you're in regular classes?"

"Maybe," said the girl. "Maybe half of each pair will have spells, for a time, so we can get help on hard things but practice otherwise."

They reached the wolfrider girls' room, and Rhysel floated Tama in through the door and laid her on the mat the conscious ones indicated belonged to her and Mata. Then Rhysel went back to the auditorium to rejoin Tekaal and clean up the knocked-over cups and discarded bowl and crucibles.

"All of this is going so fast," Rhysel remarked. "I know I've barely scratched the surface of mind and wild kamai."

"We still have nearly a month of this term, and a month of break, before we are obliged to teach classes," Tekaal said.

"I suppose that will be enough time to get competent to introduce everything," sighed Rhysel. "If I don't spend all my time going in circles about shrens, anyway. Though I imagine we'll disappoint Kaylo no matter what we learn."

"Having had Aaran Besayn as a student before, I can confirm that he is difficult to satisfy," said Tekaal. He tucked the last cup into Rhysel's satchel. "At any rate... shall we?" He held out his hand to teleport them both, and she took it.

"Mirra isn't talking," Eret said abruptly, in lieu of "hello" when he came up to receive his and Theedy's share of the groceries. The dragonets in Rhysel's basement had borne names for more than two weeks. "Lisha is. Mirra isn't breathing fire. Rathon is. Mirra isn't even responding to words - her brother and sister both are."

Rhysel blinked. "Doesn't it vary, how long it takes...?"

"Not by that much," said Eret in clipped tones. "Lisha got talkative last week. She's figured out sentences now. Had an extended argument with me yesterday about her favorite color and why it was better than mine. Rathon's quieter but he knows his name and he calls us Daddy and Mommy. Mirra doesn't react when we call her, doesn't say anything. And she's a red-group so she should be interested in fire by now even if Lisha might not be for months, but there's nothing at all. I saw her trying to breathe fire after she saw Rathon doing it - nothing happened."

"I - I don't know how that -"

"In case you didn't remember," said Eret in a low voice, eyes narrow, "Mirra's the one you and your Master saved. I'll give you that she's alive, but she isn't talking, and she should be talking, and toasting her own bread, and paying attention when we say her name. We knew her line name might not stick, but her first name ought to work, unless it's something you did."

Rhysel put a hand on the doorframe and set down her tenants' groceries slowly. "I - can look at her, but I don't know that I'll be any help. Later this week Leekath will be over and I can ask her to tell my Master what's happening, and he may be able to make time..."

Eret plucked the bags of food off the ground. "Come down, then." He stalked around the tower to the back door that led to the basement, and led Rhysel after him.

"Hi!" exclaimed a perky, high voice. The black-opal baby, Lisha, rocketed through the air to cling to Rhysel's shirtfront and touch noses with her. "I know a word for you! Landlady! Right? Right?"

"Hi," said Rhysel weakly, descending the last few steps to their top floor without trying to dislodge Lisha; the dragonet clawed her way up Rhysel's shirt to settle around her shoulders. "Where's Mirra?"

"Mirra's in her room!" cried Lisha. "I'll make her be here!" She launched herself off of Rhysel and soared down the stairs. Looking around, Rhysel saw Rathon curled up on the counter where Eret was unpacking the groceries; he started to wrestle with an eggplant before his father took it away.

"Hi, Rathon," Rhysel murmured.

"Hi," Rathon replied, and he yawned and tucked his snout under his tail.

Lisha returned, Mirra flying after her. "I made her come! She doesn't do talking but she can do following," Lisha explained. "I bit her, real gentle on her horn so she doesn't go eeeee, and I pulled her and she's doing following. See, landlady?"

"My name's Rhysel, Lisha," said Rhysel softly.

"Okay, Rhysel!" Lisha gamboled away and Rhysel picked up her sister.

Mirra looked healthy enough, and she looked at Rhysel with bright eyes and pawed gently at the kama's face, careful not to claw. "Hi, Mirra," Rhysel murmured.

The dragonet's ear twitched when Rhysel spoke, but Mirra didn't appear to recognize the words. Rhysel reached out with wild kamai, but as far as her scan could detect, there was nothing wrong with the baby in her arms. She tried mind kamai, and found pictures and feelings and sounds in Mirra's mind, but no words. Rhysel didn't know what to do.

"I'll get in touch with my Master about her," Rhysel murmured. "Her lifeforce is..." She checked. "Normal for a dragon, now. Like yours or..." She checked the baby boy. "Like Rathon's."

Across the room, Rathon set one of the paper grocery bags merrily alight with a glinting pah of fire. Eret poured a glass of water on it, chiding his son under his breath, and shook droplets of water off a singed packet of green beans into the sink.

Mirra whined in her brother's direction, and opened her mouth, and closed it again.

Rhysel put her down.

Mirra flew up to the counter with Rathon, and he breathed fire at her, which she seemed to like. She purred just like any other dragon baby Rhysel had met while the tongues of flame curled harmlessly against her scales.

"I... guess I'll go, now," Rhysel said at Eret's back.

His shoulders hunched, and he touched Mirra between her wings, where Rathon's fire wasn't reaching. "Right," he said.

Rhysel half-flew up the stairs.

"I'd be happy to teach the child to draw," Tekaal said, when Rhysel poured out the story to him that evening.

"That's treating the symptom," Rhysel said. "Maybe it'll let her communicate, and I'd really appreciate it if you would - but there's something the matter with her, and I have no idea what it is. I hope my Master can figure it out. I'd feel just terrible if it's my fault she's impaired like this."

"Did you already write him a letter?" Tekaal asked.

Rhysel nodded. "Leekath should be here Fenen as usual and I'll give it to her then. Try not to let me chew off my fingernails with anxiety before she comes back?"

"Of course," he said, holding her hands. "You and not I are studying wild kamai; I would have to grow them back for you with proxic elementalism, and I suspect that would be a very delicate job for someone without your sculpture background."

Rhysel laughed, though her voice still shook. "Yes. A little. That's why it's so obscure..."

Leekath arrived on time, and Rhysel gave her the appropriately vague letter, and Tekaal sent the vampire girl to Barashi.

Rhysel couldn't stop pacing as the moment to un-send Leekath approached. Her Master had been able to save Mirra in the first place; surely when he had a day to spare he could come back and find out what had gone wrong with the child. And fix it. And then Mirra would be as talkative as her siblings, she could set things on fire, she would know her own name, and Eret would stop glaring darkly at Rhysel whenever they crossed paths in her new garden. Theedy, for her part, didn't seem to blame Rhysel, but she tidied the tower listlessly, or else rushed through everything to run back down and spend more time with her babies, where previously she'd been methodical.

Finally, Tekaal reversed the sending spell, and Leekath appeared in the circle.

A mangled letter was crushed in the vampire's hands, and her eyes were wide and sad.

"Leekath? What is it?" asked Rhysel anxiously.

"M-M-Master Revenn died," Leekath whispered.

Leekath might have said something else, but Rhysel didn't hear it, or anything, over the sound of her own screaming.


She recognized the voice. Belatedly; he'd been trying to talk to her for some time. Tekaal. Not her Master.


But he was a wizard.

"Rhysel, please, talk to me."

Wizards could do many things.

"I need to go to him," Rhysel said.

"Rhysel -"

"To Barashi. I have to go to Barashi. I have to see for myself," she said, monotone. "Leekath might be wrong. She might -"

"She said that Master Casten was killed by a demon," Tekaal said. "Along with several of the older apprentices. Aaran Casten was the one who finished it off, but Aaralan Hhirheek -"

"I have to go there and see for myself," Rhysel repeated. "I have to. Tell me how to do it. There's got to be some way."

"Rhysel, there's -"

"Try the break again."

There was a silence. She repeated herself, and Tekaal drew breath and cast the spells, one after the other.

Rhysel stayed in place.

"Are you really trying?" she growled. "Do you really want me to be able to go home?"

She heard him scoot back a few inches along the sofa. She wasn't sure when she'd been put on a sofa. "I want to help you," Tekaal said. "But co-cast spells -"

"There has to be a way."

"Not without killing Aaralan Inular or Aaralan Fikastel -" Tekaal stopped himself, paused, and said, "You are not going to do that."

There was a silence. "No," Rhysel admitted with a heavy sigh. "I'm not." She clenched her fingers in the fabric of her skirt, hating it. She didn't wear skirts on Barashi; ergo she wasn't on Barashi; ergo she couldn't find the nearest death kama and demand one last chance to see her Master.

"I can catch up with Aaralan Hhirheek," Tekaal ventured after another lengthy pause. "I believe one of her parents is in Parliament. He may - again: may - be able to get Aaralan Inular a dispensation to obtain her familiar early. I have no information regarding whether he is likely to be willing to do so. I am not entirely sure individual members of Parliament are allowed. But it could be tried. I am not certain you should be left alone."

"Korulen's not doing well in her breaks class," Rhysel said softly, "is she."

"She is not," Tekaal responded quietly. "Or that would have been my first suggestion. She has repeatedly failed to break spells she herself cast, even without a co-caster."

"You could get Theedy and ask her to sit with me," Rhysel said.

"Rhysel, what do you want to do in Barashi?" Tekaal asked. "If all you want is to view the - body, I can perform a transworld scry..."

"I want to go there and find someone - maybe Master Bryn - somebody who does death kamai, who could let me talk to him," wailed Rhysel.

"I have yet to succeed at that working here, but have read the procedure - if I go and -"

"No," Rhysel snapped. "Not secondhand. I want to talk to my Master."

"Suppose I contacted Aaral Pyga for you, and -"

"It's still secondhand," Rhysel sobbed, tearing up again and drawing her knees towards her face. She shrugged off Tekaal's hand on her shoulder. "I have to go there."

There was another silence, and Tekaal finally said, "I will fetch your housekeeper and speak with Aaralan Hhirheek regarding her parent in Parliament."

"Thank you," whispered Rhysel.

Tekaal fetched Theedy, who sat in perfect silence beside Rhysel. Rhysel didn't know how long it was before her boyfriend returned.

"Aaralan Hhirheek called her father on your behalf," he said softly, sitting down when Theedy stood up. "He refused the dispensation. Rhysel, I am so sorry."

Rhysel didn't say anything. She just tilted to lean against him, let him enfold her in his arms, and wept.

Leekath came by the tower again on Inen afternoon. Rhysel was still under Theedy's loose "supervision", as Tekaal couldn't spend an entire school day with her, but the keen-eared shren heard the vampire coming and made herself scarce on an upper floor before Leekath even rang the bell. Rhysel let her in, but didn't greet her.

"I'm sorry," Leekath said.

"Thank you," Rhysel said mechanically.

"If - if you want - I could tell you more about what happened," Leekath said awkwardly, wringing her hands behind her back. "I wasn't there for that part. By the time I got there he was already gone and the demon was in one of the apprentices - that's where it was when Talyn killed it - it was awful - but - I do know what happened." She paused, and then said, "Corpses... turn out to count as objects. I can hear them talking about themselves."

Rhysel shuddered. "Do I want more details than 'killed by a demon'?"

"I don't know," Leekath said. "But if you do I can tell you."

"No, I don't think so," Rhysel said, grimacing. "Er - before it happened - did you give him my letter?"

"He didn't have time to read it," Leekath murmured.

Rhysel ground her teeth. "Right. Well. Thank you, Leekath."

"Er," Leekath said, scuffing her shoe against the floor.


"Most of the apprentices are going to other Masters, now," Leekath said. "Except the one that the other Masters declared Journeyman instead because he was almost done... Um - Talyn wanted me to ask for him - if - not right away, but later, when you're ready - if you'd let him apprentice with you. He says he can mostly self-teach. And he could help you and Aar Kithen with your extra disciplines. Um, I think he mostly just wants to... live... here."

Rhysel didn't reply immediately. Finally, she said, "Check again in a week, but - tell him 'probably'."

"Okay," Leekath said softly, and then she let herself out.

Rhysel had a clearer head when Leekath checked in again, and confirmed that Talyn could apprentice with her. "He'll be a useful teaching assistant," she told Tekaal.

"I believe an exception could be made to the policy that non-students are not to tutor," agreed Tekaal. "Under the circumstances."

Rhysel sectioned off a bedroom in the guest floor for her new apprentice, and Tekaal performed the summons. The boy wasn't particularly hard to live with, especially after Rhysel spent the better part of an afternoon performing miscellaneous proxic elemental kamai on him to let him pick it up - by the end of the day Leekath needed to be consulted on exactly what shape Talyn's ears were meant to have as seen from certain angles, but Talyn was confident that he could use the same magic. He otherwise kept to his promise to educate himself autonomously.

After two weeks had passed since Revenn's death, Rhysel felt able to have houseguests, and had Keo and her immediate family over again - after warning Eret and Theedy to keep in their basement. She managed to be presentable to her company through the entire meal, although Runa declared her to be "a sad" and was chastised for invasive use of empathy over saying so.

Tekaal wrote most of their lesson plan, and Rhysel looked it over once, then told him to go ahead and submit it. She had herself together well enough to study, but challenges like developing a curriculum were beyond her. Attempts to think about the shren problem were even more useless than they had been before, and this time she didn't even have Revenn to bounce ideas off of. Tekaal listened, but his knowledge was too much like hers in elemental, and image and death kamai he'd looked into held no answers.

It was easy for Tekaal to fade into the background. He was at Rhysel's tower nearly every day, teaching Mirra to draw - at which she rapidly became proficient - and simply sitting on Rhysel's sofa, preparing to instruct kamai students in the winter term. He was there to hold her when she wanted to go on crying jags, there to accept soup when she couldn't think of anything she wanted to do but behead carrots for half an angle, there to throw magic at when she wanted to practice or just rehearse her approximation of empathy to feel his emotions instead of hers.

The term ended. Korulen passed her course on breaks - it was graded on effort and on written assignments, since actual talent at the spells was very rare and couldn't be determined until after extensive study. But the wizardling could accomplish little of the actual magic, outside of exercises designed to be trivial. "There's probably not even a point to me trying," she said, when she came to Rhysel's place to see about dispelling the summon.

Rhysel's desperate urgency to be in Barashi had faded, but her trapped status didn't sit as easily as it had before her master's death. Someone else she loved could be killed at any moment, by a demon or by any other hazard, and Rhysel would be powerless to intervene except by proxy. "Please try anyway," Rhysel murmured. "On the off-chance."

Korulen dutifully cast the spell, and squinted at Rhysel to make out what was there to disentangle, and spoke the word and described the gesture associated with a break.

Rhysel stayed where she was, and again, and again, and Korulen said, "Saasnil will try, next term. And I'll graduate as fast as I can so I can get a familiar, which will definitely work."

"I understand," Rhysel said softly. "Thank you for trying, Korulen. I'll see you in class in a month."

Korulen ducked her head and let herself out, to fly back to the school.

Rhysel dropped her head onto her arms where she had them folded on her kitchen table. She didn't cry. But she sat that way until the sun set.

Chapter Twenty: Conversations

The last term of the calendar year began on Sutaahel-for, the Inen closest to the beginning of winter. Rhysel was nonplussed by how samey the Esmaarlan weather seemed to be despite the claim to have four seasons - it was as cloudless and unhumid as it had been in the spring when she'd arrived, just a little colder and windier. Aristan, where she'd grown up, was limited to a dry (drier; it was never dry) season and a monsoon season, where Restron, where she'd been living as an adult, had extreme winters that couldn't have masqueraded as anything other than winter. Esmaar just seemed to cycle from pleasantly cool to rather chilly.

Rhysel and Tekaal went to their assigned classroom together. There were twenty-five student desks (Tama wouldn't be able to use one, if she even attended class in person rather than through her rider and the mindlink). Rhysel sat at one of the two chairs behind the larger desk at the back of the room and stared out at the chairs. "I'm going to screw something up," she said.

"Would you like to go over the lesson plan again?" asked Tekaal.

"No, I have it memorized, I'm just going to be really creative and find a way to screw something up anyway," she sighed.

"I believe you will be fine," Tekaal said. "If you need to, you can of course consult me via mindspeech before improvising in any way."

"I guess that will be fine for this term, but what about next, when we have a second-term class in each discipline and a new batch of first-termers? We'll have to split them up then."

"Then, you will have a term of teaching experience," Tekaal soothed, stroking her hair.

"And this term. We're going to be inundated with students signing up for the one-on-one meetings because they're all going to have different specific interests within even the introductory material. Especially Kaylo. Gods, I have no idea how I'm going to handle his addiction to theory. Did I tell you that the other day I got a letter from him? He tracked down my address to send me a letter full of questions."

"You can refer some of those to Aaran Casten." This had been the compromise regarding the policy of not bringing in young, outside tutors - like Talyn - to Binaaralav. Talyn would not participate in standard class sessions, but if the two teachers were overloaded by extracurricular requests, he could handle some of their overflow. Rhysel suspected that Leekath would be getting - had perhaps already gotten - private lessons from her boyfriend, but as that wasn't arranged through the school, Keo and Kanaat didn't concern themselves with whether it was to be allowed or not.

"That reminds me - Leekath's going to be ahead of everyone, probably - we should have waited to infuse them until closer to today -"

"Aaralan Hhirheek is accustomed to being somewhat ahead of her classmates. I have never observed this to cause problems, with her in particular," Tekaal said.

"Aren't you at all nervous?" Rhysel asked.

"It is a new subject," he said, spreading his hands, "but I start new classes on a regular basis, and can still remember beginning to teach. I am not completely unresponsive to the situation, but it does not begin to disquiet me as badly as it has you. Had I learned any mind kamai beyond basic mindspeech I might attempt more directly to help you..."

"I'll get over it," Rhysel sighed as the door opened. Kaylo entered; the door didn't have time to close before Ngen followed, and then Korulen and her friends. Tekaal took this initial flow of students as his cue to begin placing syllabi on each desk. Rhysel looked at her own copy. The first lesson was to be on handfire - Tekaal had thought it was optimistic to suppose that everyone would manage to conjure it at all on the first day, but anyone who managed it before the class was over could learn to turn it different colors or control several globes at once or move it around, trivial variations on the exercise that didn't warrant classtime in a non-specialized introductory course. Saanen, they'd start on mindspeech. Fenen, simple visual illusions. And so on. Rhysel hoped they'd picked a good series of workings to teach to let the students get an idea of where they'd rather specialize.

Finally, the last chair was filled, and Rhysel drew herself to her feet and called up her memory of the introductory speech she and Tekaal had written. Trusting that he'd take over smoothly if she needed to excuse herself to vomit, she began: "Hello, everyone. Welcome to Introductory Kamai..."

Everyone did manage handfire on the first day. (Mata joked that when Tama did it, it should be called "pawfire". Korulen suggested that if she did it while in her dragon form, it would be "clawfire". Everyone had looked at Leekath, expecting her to chime in with "wingfire", but she'd been too busy turning her firelight into firewriting and drawing spirals of it up the legs of her desk.)

"I'm alive," sighed Rhysel into Tekaal's shoulder, when she'd finally shooed Kaylo away with an invitation to put his questions into another letter.

"I was not aware that you had believed the class to be life-threatening," he replied in a deadpan.

She laughed weakly. "Have I mentioned recently that I love you?"

"If we define recently to mean within the last twenty-five angles: no," he said, smiling faintly.

"I love you," she said. "You're amazing. I could not have done that without you. I never wanted to teach - I don't know if I'll get used to it, but right now it is hard and you made it doable."

"I love you too," he murmured.

"And in..." Rhysel consulted the sign-up sheet for one-on-one lessons. "Five degrees, I need to meet Kaylo in my office. I have an office." She made a face. "Maybe we should have taught everyone to use transfer points for the first lesson, and then they could just jump to my tower for lessons. I don't think I like having an office."

"Did Aaran Besayn specify what he wished to meet with you about?"

"He promised it wasn't theory questions," Rhysel sighed. "He's a red-group dragon, right? Maybe he wants to get a jump on learning more fire workings. I could do that."

"Garnet," supplied Tekaal. "That seems plausible. I will see you this evening, then? Iraamlan fondue to celebrate achieving the modest goal of living through your first lesson. Possibly, iced planets to celebrate having taught twenty-five children to work handfire."

"Why are they called iced planets?" Rhysel asked. "I think we've been out for them four times now and I keep forgetting to ask."

"Because," Tekaal explained, "they are square, with the icing on top."

"Of course," she laughed. Tekaal kissed her, and then he teleported away.

Rhysel went to her office. It was next to Tekaal's. It had come furnished, but hadn't yet accumulated any objects, except for a wren-golem she'd made for it to liven the place up a bit. Her books were in her library, and so far her papers for class all fit in her satchel. She'd given the wren some dry grass - the plants seemed to be able to tell it was winter, even if Rhysel couldn't - and it was cheerfully building a nest it couldn't sleep in, in the corner of an empty bookshelf.

Kaylo showed up early, and Rhysel heard him cast the time spell and then mutter under his breath. Footfalls suggested pacing. She opened the door rather than making him wait. "Come in, Kaylo."

The dragon entered, grinning. "Hi! I won't take up much of your time - I mean, I'm going to write you that letter, I don't have to pose my questions out loud as long as you'll get to them that way. I just wanted to ask -"

"Fire workings?" Rhysel asked, ready to unearth a stick to burn by way of example.

"No. You have Korulen's family over for dinner sometimes, right? Do you know if she's dating anybody?" Kaylo asked, blinking expectantly.

"Er." Rhysel hadn't been expecting her first ostensibly school-related meeting to involve gossiping about another student. "Why are you asking me?"

"Well, I'd ask Lutan, but then she'd tell Korulen even if the answer was 'yep, Korulen's engaged to an Oridaanlan prince' or something, and then she'd tell the whole rest of the school to boot. Although, to be fair, I suppose I'd have heard it through Lutan if Korulen were engaged to an Oridaanlan prince..."

"As far as I know, Korulen's not seeing anyone," Rhysel said. "And I'm not going to tell the whole school, but if Korulen asks me, I'll tell her you inquired."

"That's fine," said Kaylo merrily. "That's all I wanted to know - except the contents of my forthcoming letter. Expect it soon."

"That reminds me," Rhysel said as Kaylo stood up. "How did you get my address?"

"Asked Lutan," Kaylo replied cheerfully, letting himself out of the office.

Rhysel received an unexpected visitor the second day of term. Kamai lessons met only three times a week, so she was at home while Tekaal was teaching his other classes; Talyn would have been home if he had not been out with Leekath. Eret or Theedy wouldn't have rung the bell before entering. Kolaan wasn't supposed to be by with groceries until Sinen.

Rhysel opened the door to see a human man she'd never met before. "Er," she said. "Hello."

"Aaral Camlenn -"


"Rhysel, excuse me. I'm Fet Disam, Esmaar Post. Can I have an angle of your time?"

"Depends on what you want to do with it, I suppose," Rhysel said, raising an eyebrow. "'Esmaar Post'?"

"It's a newspaper. Do stop me and ask any questions you have if I use terms that aren't familiar to you; I know you're an offworlder but not precisely what you will and won't need explained. May I come in, or would you prefer to talk outside?" he asked, smiling. He showed a lot of teeth.

"I guess you can come in," she said. "Why the visit?"

"I heard about the new kamai program you're heading up at Binaaralav, Rhysel," Disam said, striding across her threshold when she made way and helping himself to a kitchen chair. The way he said "kamai" wasn't wrong, like it was when most Leraal speakers tended to adapt the word, but he made an obvious and dramatic change of accents to utter it. "It's just fascinating, and I think it's a shame that the public hasn't had a chance to learn a little about the development. Do you mind if I use a recording crystal, Rhysel, so I can focus on talking to you instead of taking notes?" he asked, producing a little red prism.

"It just... records what we say?" Rhysel asked, looking dubiously at the object. Disam nodded, gesturing at his prism as though to demonstrate its harmlessness. "I guess." He tapped it twice on its top face, and an inner light set it aglow. "But I'm not sure if I'm the best person to talk to. Kanaat Inular's the headmaster..."

"Oh, I do plan to conduct several interviews," said the reporter pleasantly. "Aar Inular among them. But I'm given to understand that you're the head of the department and I can hardly leave you out, Rhysel."

"It's not much of a department. It's me and one other teacher. I'm not even sure if I'm formally head of it, actually," Rhysel said.

"I'm sure Aar Inular will be able to explain the setup. Rhysel, how is kamai typically taught on your home world? It's called Barashi, is that right?"

"That's what it's called," Rhysel sighed, and resigned herself to answering some of his questions; the less time Kanaat had to waste on this reporter, the better. "Usually, on Barashi, kamai and everything else is taught through apprenticeships. Sort of like what witches do here. I have an apprentice, too, who I inherited when his previous Master died. He's not home, though," she said, when Disam opened his mouth.

"Pity, I'd have liked to talk to him. How are you adjusting to Esmaar, Rhysel? The culture, the different expectations of teachers...?"

"I wasn't a teacher before, so I suppose I didn't have any habits I needed to break," she said.

"But Rhysel, you had teachers, surely."

"Mostly just one. The same man who died and left my apprentice in need of a new Master."

"Mostly?" prompted Disam.

"Well, he had colleagues, and they'd sometimes come by and help out... more experienced apprentices taught newer ones some basics... and before I started as a kama I was apprenticed under my father, as a sculptor."

"What led you to change apprenticeships, Rhysel?" asked the reporter.

Rhysel told him the story about setting the switch on fire, and Disam leaned forward and touched his prism as though to confirm it was still there; his eyes never left Rhysel's face. He kept her talking about kamai - asked her to demonstrate some; she made it rain on his head and he only smiled more broadly - wanted to know details Rhysel didn't have about her co-teacher's professional qualifications - asked the strangest things about the circumstances of Revenn's death - wanted to know when Talyn would be home. Finally, an excuse to shoo him away arrived. Without the ability to cast the time spell, Rhysel didn't know if he'd outstayed the intended angle of her time or not, but she was past caring by the time Tekaal rang her bell.

"That'll be my boyfriend," she told Disam, standing up abruptly. "We have plans. So sorry."

Disam stood up more smoothly, smiling. "Your boyfriend. You hadn't mentioned him."

"You didn't ask. Now, I'm sure you've got lots of other interviews to get to," Rhysel said, struggling to keep polite. She opened the front door; it was indeed Tekaal, who blinked at Disam. "Goodbye," she said, aiming this at the reporter with finality.

"Of course. I wouldn't want to disrupt your plans," said Disam, fixing his eyes on Tekaal and continuing to smile. He gently scooped up his crystal, turned off its interior glow, and tucked it into a pocket inside his sleeve. "Goodbye, Rhysel."

Disam slipped out of the tower past Tekaal, who hadn't spoken. Tekaal remained silent until Disam had walked out of earshot. "Who was that?" he inquired of Rhysel.

"Called himself Fet Disam. Said he was a reporter. I couldn't think of a good way to get rid of him until just now - thank goodness you're punctual."

Tekaal frowned. "I see. What did he want?"

"To talk to me." She sighed and stepped out, shutting the door behind her. "About the kamai program, and kamai in general, but also about everything else to do with me."

"Esten has explained to me that reporters prefer to personalize articles by soliciting details about their subjects," Tekaal said, though his voice was wary. He held out his hand for Rhysel, and when she took it, teleported them close to their intended restaurant, though he hadn't been to it before and couldn't take them directly there. "I hope you were judicious about what you said."

"I'm not even sure what he's trying to do. He doesn't have a reason to make me look bad, does he?"

"Not quite. He has a reason to make you look interesting," Tekaal said. "If he can do that more easily by painting you like a villain of some kind - or like anything at all - you may expect him to do it. The consolation is that he can't lie outright in the article, or his newspaper is legally obliged to fire him."

They reached their restaurant, and the conversation turned to other things.

At the Saanen kamai class, Korulen and Kaylo sat next to each other, and took it in turns to poke each other in the calf with their feet, then giggle; Lutan spent the lull before the lesson so pleased that her head looked about to split open from her grin. Rhysel told everyone to pair off, to work on mindspeech, and was unsurprised when the thudia and the dragon wound up scooting their chairs closer together. She was equally unsurprised when Kutran and Soraak formed a pair; although they were supposedly not dating, they were exceptionally close.

There was technically an even number of students, but it was soon plain that Mata and Tama couldn't have different partners without getting confusing echoes, and so Rhysel assigned the particularly proficient Leekath to work with both of them and then partnered Kolaan herself while Tekaal wandered the aisles looking for anyone in need of assistance.

<What do we talk about?> Kolaan finally succeeded in whispering at her.

<Don't worry about deafening me. Go ahead and "shout" as loud as you can, for now,> Rhysel said. <We can talk about anything. Like... Why are Soraak and Kutran not dating?>

<Because they're dumb?> suggested Kolaan. <If I had an aaber for every time I tried to convince Soraak to just kiss her already - well, okay, I'd still want more aaberik, but not as much. But he won't do it. Doesn't think she likes him that way.>

<He is obviously wrong,> Rhysel said.

<I know!> Kolaan answered, finally achieving something resembling conversational volume in his strident agreement. <He doesn't see it. I think the problem is that she used to babysit him, when he was little, so he figures she thinks of him as a little kid and she figures he thinks of her as being, like, old or something. Elf-human aging stuff is kind of a mess. I like another elf - not Kutran, you don't know her, her name's Marin. Way more sensible. But there's no helping Kutran. She's so far gone I don't think she knows other boys exist. She probably thinks I'm some extra, third gender.>

<Want to tell me about Marin?> Rhysel proposed.

Kolaan did, chattering with increasingly adequate clarity about how Marin was apprenticing with a witch and she was really pretty and she lived next door to him and she was dating this guy of whom Kolaan disapproved but he thought she might break up with him soon and then he was definitely going to ask her out -

"Switch partners, please," Tekaal said, after checking the time.

Rhysel directed Korulen to talk to Mata and Tama, since Korulen still seemed to intend to specialize in mind and would probably benefit from the challenge, and then when Kolaan had gotten ahold of Soraak and Kutran was looking shy about partnering anyone else, Rhysel crouched next to her herself. "Hey," she said. "Want to mindspeak at me? See if you can do it without touching," she added, raising her voice to address the entire class with that instruction.

Clasped hands came apart, and Rhysel suspected there was some relief as people were freed of the obligation to touch partners not their first choice. <So,> Rhysel sent to Kutran, <can you get me to hear you without touching?>

Kutran scrunched up her face in concentration. <-th Soraak,> Rhysel finally heard a murmur of. <This was so much easier with Soraak ->

<I can hear you,> Rhysel said encouragingly. <Go ahead and pour in enough power to tire you out a little. You'll get more efficient in time and mindspeaking will be easy even from a bit of a distance.>

<What do we say?> Kutran asked.

<What were you talking about with Soraak?>

<His little sisters, and then about a music crystal that we accidentally both got copies of for each other for Lufelsis, and then about soap, and then about how my mother says he can come over for dinner on Fenen after all because my aunt and uncle aren't coming over because my uncle's brother is moving back in and they want to help him settle, and then about my ears and whether they're more of a Darpan or a Keltis shape - um, I don't know what kind of words you have where you're from to talk about ear shapes, but they're a thing here, like if you were describing me you'd say I was blond and had green eyes and Darpan type ears.>

<What kind of ears do I have?> Rhysel inquired.

<Well, it's different for people who're only part elf,> Kutran sent. <I'm not sure if the same words work for mixes. I guess just angle-wise you're some sort of Tanpenaav. But there's stuff about width and pointiness. Aar Kithen's very Keltis. A really good example actually, you could put his picture in a book of ear shapes.>

<Are some ear shapes more fashionable than others?> Rhysel asked, amused. <I haven't heard of this before.>

<Yeah, Keltis is the best kind actually,> Kutran said. <And...> The girl glanced around the room. <That girl talking to the wolfriders - Korulis? Korudaar?>


<Korulen's a wide Afsar. Afsar's fine, but wide's not fashionable. She's probably sensitive about it, don't mention it.>

Kutran went on elaborating about the correct descriptions for all the elf ears in the classroom, and gamely attempted the shorter but still pointed ears on Ngen and Mata, and then identified a sent image of Rhysel's mother as having the same ear type as Kolaan, while marveling that Rhysel came from a society full of elves with prominent ears but had no particular way to refer to them other than being more or less long and pointy.

<I wouldn't have expected you to have the same words for ear shapes and angles, but none at all is weird,> Kutran opined.

"Change partners, please," Tekaal said. "Do not return to your original partner." Some of the students had to get up and move around, looking for partners not within easy range of their original seats.

Rhysel went to talk to Mata and Tama herself rather than assigning another student. <Hi,> she said, taking an empty chair near the pair, curious about what the wolf would sound like. Generally, people sounded like their actual voices; Corvan, who couldn't speak, had a distinct mindspeech sound, but there was no way to compare it with what he would sound like if he'd ever gotten someone to repair his vocal cords from their malformed state, because he'd always refused to let anyone do it. Rhysel suspected Tama might sound like her rider.

Mata answered first. <Hi, Rhysel,> she sent. <We were telling Leekath about wolfrider face marks, and Korulen about backchannel, but we are so tired of talking about how we are wolfriders and that is different from who we talk to. Can we mindspeak about something else?>

<Do you have something in mind?>

<We could talk about how you are Barashin, and that is different from us,> suggested another voice with an edge of mirth - feminine, but low and edged, distinctly wolfish. Rhysel hadn't heard Tama whine or bark or growl, but the voice was more like that than like Mata.

Mata giggled and Tama licked her face; Rhysel smiled. <You two should be doing more of the talking. I already know how to mindspeak.>

<Leraal is hard,> Mata sent; it sounded like this was a well-rehearsed grievance. <We have done hardly anything but study it, and were here all of this break instead of back with our family except for one visit. But if we sent in wolfrider you could not understand it?>

<I don't think so, no,> Rhysel replied. <I don't have a spell on to understand backchannel, or know the words.>

<Korulen said that backchannel sounded hard,> Tama sent. <But it is much easier than having too many - I mean, so many words.>

<In wolfrider,> Mata sent, <too many and so many and all the numbers of many and not many and - and many other things - are all one word, with different colors.>

<Colors?> Rhysel asked.

<That is not the real word for it. Leraal does not have one, but one meaning of the word in wolfrider that means it is "color" - if you make it a different "color",> Tama sent.

<Narax says explain it this way,> Mata sent. <Suppose you write simple words, and you have several colors of pen, and you draw lines between your words too. Lines can be dotted or have arrows or curl around or have angles - things like that - and colors can be one to a word or to a syllable or to a letter. And these lines and colors make the simple words a complicated sentence. Leraal does the same thing by having so many words, and making "tone of voice" mean so many things, and you must say words in specific orders.>

Rhysel tried to imagine a sentence written with the lines and colors Mata described. <I could probably learn to hear backchannel with mind kamai, if I tried,> she sent, <but I'd still have to learn it like it was its own language or code?>

<Yes,> Tama said. <We have met wolfriders from farther west than us who color and tie some things differently. They were hard to understand.>

"We are coming up on the end of our time," Tekaal announced. "You have two degrees left."

<I might want to meet with you outside of class, when I have more spare time,> Rhysel sent to the pair, <and figure out a kamai working for backchannel anyway.> She got up to head for the desk at the back of the room.

<Okay,> Mata sent faintly after her as she left their range.

The class adjourned, and Rhysel went home, to study and think about shrens for a few angles; she went to bed earlier than usual, mentally exhausted by the still-novel experience of teaching.

When Rhysel woke up, she found that Tekaal had let himself into her tower. This wasn't unusual, except for the time of day.

And the fact that he was pale, trembling, and clenching a mangled newspaper in his hands.

Chapter Twenty-One: Proxy

"What?" Rhysel asked, staring at her boyfriend, at the paper in his hands. "Is that the - is it bad?"

Tekaal held the newspaper towards her. He didn't speak or make eye contact. Gingerly, Rhysel took it; it was open to an article headed Binaaralav Academy Teaches New Form of Magic [Fet Disam, Esmaar Post Staff].

"At least the headline isn't too -"

"Please tell me there is some factual error in his article," Tekaal said, sounding terribly level despite the tension in his shoulders and burn in his eyes, "such that a complaint can have him fired for printing misinformation."

Rhysel swallowed and read the body of the piece.

On Berehel 38 of this year (see the 39th's edition of the Post for coverage), two students of Binaaralav Academy of Wizardry illicitly performed a cooperative summoning spell, which brought half-elf Rhysel Camlenn to Elcenia. The summoners - one of whom is the daughter of Binaaralav headmaster Kanaat Inular - were not charged for the crime they committed, although their mistake trapped Aaral Camlenn in our world. But, not content to wait out the elder summoner Korulen Inular's graduation such that she can be unsummoned home, Aaral Camlenn has founded a new department at the school to which she was brought, and has begun teaching her homeworld Barashi's only form of magic, kamai.

"He didn't need to do that to Korulen," Rhysel said when she reached the end of the first paragraph, "but it's -"

Tekaal gestured, and Rhysel pursed her lips and read the rest of the article. The middle of it mostly summarized what the kamai disciplines were and could do, and had a dry quote from Kanaat about the school's hopes for the ongoing success of the kamai program. Rhysel held her tongue and reached the last paragraph.

Aaral Camlenn has certainly put down roots in Elcenia, from purchasing land and building a home on it to committing to heading up a program that may persist for many decades. On a more personal note, she has become romantically involved with co-teacher Tekaal Kithen (also known in acting under the same name, perhaps best known for his 11247 starring role in the Isken Theater production of Salute the Night, more recently as the titular character in The Man in Red and Gold at the Chaahintek). Her interest in remaining in Elcenia indefinitely is understandable. Before being summoned, she had already taken up residence in a country many hundreds of miles away from her birthplace, where she was abused by her parents. The recent death by violence of her former teacher, and the fact that one of that teacher's surviving apprentices chose to move to Elcenia with her instead of staying behind, suggests that Barashi may be a dangerous place in general. Whether that has anything to do with the presence of kamai or not remains to be seen.

Rhysel blinked rapidly at the paper. "Factual errors will get him fired?"

"To be exact," Tekaal said, "lies, rigorously specified, will. Did you find one? I could not detect any."

"I wasn't abused," she said firmly.

"The legal definition would not agree with you, and is what would be consulted."

She frowned at the paper. "Barashi's not an especially dangerous place? Kamai didn't have anything to do with my parents' disciplinary choices or with my Master's death? I didn't decide to settle in here because of dangers there?"

"Couched as speculation, for the first. As is the notion that kamai itself could be dangerous. For the last, the connection between your decision to live here and the supposed hazards of Barashi is never reported as such."

There was a silence, and Rhysel said, "Tekaal, I didn't tell him anything about you. I didn't even say my boyfriend and my co-teacher were the same person, let alone anything about your acting."

Tekaal let out a long breath. "He may have simply recognized me, and done additional research on his own," he said in a low voice. "I do not always go masked onstage."

"Or he got it from somewhere else," Rhysel said. "Come to think of it, how did he hear about the program to begin with? A student? I'd believe it of Lutan, I suppose, but wouldn't that have gotten him the information a lot earlier?"

"I do not know."

"At least it wasn't Esten, breaking his rule about reporting on family?" Rhysel offered weakly, putting the newspaper down on the table and taking a chair next to Tekaal's. Tentatively, she reached for his hand; he squeezed it.

"My brother," murmured Tekaal, but he didn't finish the sentence.

"Mm?" Rhysel prompted.

"Excuse me," Tekaal said, getting to his feet and releasing Rhysel's hand. "I need to go shout at my brother. I expect to be finished before our lunch appointment."

Before Rhysel could say anything about that, Tekaal had teleported away.

Tekaal hadn't returned to the tower by a few degrees after the sun reached the top of the sky, at which point Rhysel decided something was seriously wrong. She flew to the Kithen residence and tried the door. It opened when she pushed, but inside, it was chaos.

"Esten Kithen," Rinaal was hollering, "do not set foot on those stairs until we are done talking to -"

"I'm not twenty anymore, Mom! I said I was sorry!" cried Esten. "I don't have to listen to everyone until you happen to be done screaming at -"

"You knew what that man was like! What did you trade the lead for? An interview with an ambassador? A press pass to a Parliamentary hearing? What? What was worth destroying Rhysel's privacy and mine?" Tekaal snapped. Rhysel winced; she couldn't remember ever hearing her boyfriend that angry. "What did he offer you that was so valuable?"

Esten's answer was drowned out by Linisaar's pleading, "Everyone, please, calm down, please, this won't solve -"

"Linisaar, you have things you'd prefer not to see printed, too," Evaad said, albeit at a more reasonable volume. "Esten breached confidence, loophole or no loophole, and -"

"I didn't know what he was going to write! I told him there was a story in the kamai department, that's all -"

"That's not all, Esten!" Tekaal roared, and Linisaar made a piteous noise.

"Rhysel?" said one of Tekaal's cousins, the only woman, coming in from the other side of the hall. The shouting family members hadn't noticed Rhysel's presence yet. "What are you doing here? Come in away from the yelling..."

Rhysel followed the cousin through the abandoned second parlor and into the dining room, where it was a bit quieter. "I'm sorry, I can't remember your name -"

"Feris," supplied the cousin. "Tekaal's mother's twin's middle child. The little boy of the house is my son. That help?"

"It does. Er, has Tekaal been shouting at his brother since early this morning?"

"There've been occasional lulls of mere hissing and glaring," Feris said. "People keep going in trying to break it up and starting the shouting part again instead. I'd stay out unless you think you can extract somebody instead of just participating yourself."

"Well, I came intending to get Tekaal. We were going to get lunch, and then he was going to check on a letter for me," Rhysel said.

"Check on a letter?" Feris asked.

"I sent one to my blood sister back in Barashi, asking her to find a kama who'd ask my Master some questions -"

"I read the article," Feris said. "Isn't he -"

"He died, but a death kama can talk to him, if he's willing. But Eryn's having some trouble finding a death kama who'll talk to him when I'm trying to be as confidential about some of the questions I want to ask as possible," Rhysel said. "They don't like the idea of being responsible for letting me have a conversation when they can't be sure of what everything in it means. If Eryn doesn't manage to find one for me in the next week or two, I'm going to ask someone to send Tekaal to Barashi so he can try." Rhysel sighed.

"Oh." Feris didn't ask what it was Rhysel needed to talk to Revenn about. "I'm not sure if you'll be able to get Tekaal out of here until Esten coughs up what he got in trade for the lead on your program," Feris said. "It was probably good. He's never pulled anything like this before. I mean, he's a reporter, but he stayed away from family."

"I don't like that my parents are being libeled in the press, but -"

"Oh, was that a lie? You can get him fired if -"

"Not legally," Rhysel said, grinding her teeth. "Apparently. But I'm more concerned about Tekaal. He's definitely not happy about his various 'personas' being connected. Also, our students didn't know we were dating."

"Ooh," said Feris sympathetically. In the other room the shouts were dying down. "You might want to duck in and tell Tekaal he's keeping you waiting," she suggested.

"I'll do that. Thank you," Rhysel said, and she went to fetch her boyfriend before anyone could burst into loudly-expressed outrage again.

Rhysel didn't try to engage Tekaal in conversation over lunch, which took place at a Nirlani restaurant (no menu: one made requests along the lines of "something fruity" or "something with rice", and received an improvised response from the kitchen). Rhysel got "a soup, something hot" and Tekaal got an "anything"; they were presented with identical bowls of soup and crackers on the side, and Tekaal disintegrated crackers into his bowl until there was a layer of them half an inch thick before taking a spoonful.

"Are you all right?" Rhysel asked softly, after they'd both finished their food and he hadn't offered his hand for teleportation.

"I will, I expect, survive. The students will be insufferable this afternoon, however," he said.

"They read newspapers?"

"Some of them do. I suppose my students today are likely to be less of a problem than our students tomorrow, who are more likely to have chosen to read the... article... on the kamai department in particular."

"We can check Eryn's letter tomorrow, instead, if you want to be alone," Rhysel murmured.

Tekaal appeared genuinely startled by this idea. "No, not at all, we certainly should unsend the letter and see if she has added an update on her progress. Aaralan Dyret and other interested parties should not have to wait longer than strictly necessary. I apologize; I'm being poor company. I am merely... distracted."

With that, he held out his hand, Rhysel took it, they teleported to her tower, and he made a beeline for the sending circle semipermanently installed on her floor, reversing the sending spell as he went. The letter appeared. Tekaal picked it up. "There's writing on the back," he observed, but he handed it to Rhysel rather than reading it.

Hey Rhysel, finally found a death kama who'd do it - no, not Master Bryn, she's holed up in the Repository up to the tips of her ears in research - a lady who apprenticed with Master Revenn before we did, finally sent word back with a Wanderer saying she didn't care what I wanted to tell him as long as I wasn't going to teach her parrots vulgar words. Went there on Pyden and she summoned him up - he took half a div to answer her, she said that's normal for people who've been gone so long - and read him your letter. He says your dedication is admirable but that's not what death kamai's for, and that he loves you too (and me, when I gave him a look, but I know he was practically like your dad), and to try "making the children lighter" and to tell you that he thinks "the red opal is like the children from the house, somehow". Then he disappeared. I don't know what in the names of the twenty-four you're working on, Rhysel, but hope that helps. I don't think he'll come again if called, but the death kama lady said she'd try again if I needed her to (or if you figure out how to get back here and you want to talk directly). I was going to teach her parrots a vulgar word just for fun before she said that, but now I think I'd better keep on her good side, right? Best of luck, sister-mine. Love, Eryn.

"Lighter," murmured Rhysel. "Hasn't that been tried?"

Tekaal had skimmed a couple of her books about shrens. "It has been tried with wizardry - the spells in question would probably work by reducing the force of one's pull towards the ground, rather than by affecting the children's composition. It may or may not make a difference."

"Something proxic," Rhysel murmured. "Reduce their actual density. Temporarily, long enough that they can fly around the room and reset the esu. It could be so dangerous, though, I don't know how light I'll have to make them - they could break bones so easily if I made the least plausible change, they could bruise, they don't have any practice at flying and would be so likely to crash - Jensal will never let me test it on the babies." She thought, the letter falling ignored from her fingertips. "If I tested it on myself until I managed to get light enough that I could get off the ground by flapping my arms, then wouldn't it have to work? Even if their wings were cursed or something, they have legs, tails..."

"Rhysel, you can't do proxic kamai on yourself," Tekaal said.

"I know, I'd need your help -"

"You want me," Tekaal said, "to help you with a working that could leave you extremely fragile, to the point where the proprietor of the shren house would not permit you to attempt it on even the older, pain-inured infants who would be helped immeasurably should it succeed?"

Rhysel frowned. "I can ask Talyn," she said.

Tekaal shuddered. "Rhysel, don't."

"It's the only idea on the table right now. Those babies are in pain -"

"You don't need to be the test subject. You aren't even built the same way. If you won't be allowed to experiment on the local infant shrens, there are other houses -"

"I shouldn't test this on babies, even if I can find someone who'd let me try."

"Ask the adult shrens living in your basement."

"They have children! And besides, where would they go? They mustn't get into dragon shape anywhere but a shren house, not without warning everyone."

"The bottom of the world. It's uninhabited," Tekaal said. "Well away from anyone who could be infected, and unlike the moon it is not popular to fly there simply because one can. It is something of a long walk, as the side of the planet is some ten miles across, but both you and they can fly - provided they shapeshift first - and if they break anything, you will be able to heal them. Plausible levels of pain will not distress them, you can heal them if they are injured, and they are capable of consent."

"But what if one of them died? Their children -"

"What if you died?" exclaimed Tekaal. "I will grant that you have no children, but you have a family, you have students, you have an apprentice - you have me - if nothing else will sway you, you have a promising avenue of research into the shrenness question -"

"You and Talyn could pick it up -"

"I have little information on Aaran Casten's dedication to the issue, but as far as I am concerned, I am likely to live for another two hundred years, if that; suppose it is not such a tractable problem? Suppose Aaral Pyga discovered what I was up to - you are her friend, and may well have leeway that I do not in reminding her of topics that distress her; she is not incapable of having me fired on grounds such as 'the sight of this employee makes me think of shrens and I am not so personally fond of him as to forgive the fault'. To say nothing of the fact that I would be obliged to find other employment or move back in with my family, there would be the more immediate consequences to the kamai program that you were divinely appointed to supervise."

"Keo wouldn't do -" Rhysel paused, and realized that she had no idea what went through Keo's mind when shrens were the subject. "I'll ask Eret and Theedy, but they might say no, and then -"

"Then there are four shren houses full of shrens of assorted ages, with the contact information for more shrens still. I will not abet you in making yourself the test subject, and if I have to threaten to unsummon him to arrange it, nor will Aaran Casten."

"You'd unsummon Talyn just to -"

"I am certain that Aaralan Hhirheek would find a way around my uncooperativeness in due time, but the necessity of due time might make him pay attention, if for some reason the fact that you wish to be the subject of a life-threatening experiment intended to test a treatment for another species did not."

Rhysel sighed and dipped her head, chastened. "All right. I'll try Eret and Theedy."

"Thank you." He cast the time spell, between deep breaths, and pursed his lips. "And now I need to be on my way to the school. I will see you tomorrow if not sooner."

"I love you," Rhysel said.

Tekaal stepped forward and bestowed a careful kiss on her. "I love you too." He teleported away.

Rhysel picked up Eryn's letter, read it over again, and then started sketching out lists of things that might be safely reduced in density and how much.

"You think you could make us fly? In our natural forms - with our real wings -"

"Theedy, it could get you very seriously hurt, maybe even killed," Rhysel said. "I can't lifelink you or I wouldn't be able to heal you if you needed it; my boyfriend doesn't know how to lifelink and can't be the one to heal you because he's not good enough at sculpting to do proxic healings safely; Talyn can't lifelink you because he wouldn't be able to hold on if he had to even long enough to transfer the pain to someone else. I'm only suggesting it because -"

"Can I try it now?" whispered Theedy.

Rhysel blinked. "Er, we need to go to the bottom of the world, first, but I think I have everything worked out as well as I can without a practical test -"

"I'll tell Eret he needs to look after the children," said Theedy, fluttering her hands. She dashed out of the house, long hair twinkling as it trailed behind her.

Rhysel pulled up a chair and sat in it. A degree later, Theedy was back, wringing her hands and incapable of keeping both feet on the ground at one time. "He's all set."

"Theedy, this could literally kill you," Rhysel said. "I haven't had a chance to try this with anyone else yet."

"You don't think it will definitely kill me," Theedy said. "You wouldn't ask if you did."

"Well, no, but -"

"I want to fly," she said. "I don't care if I break every bone in my body - you can heal me, can't you? Or I can shift after being injured, and then even if I can't be healed, I never need the form. It could stay injured and never bother me at all."

"I can definitely heal any injury that doesn't kill you," Rhysel said. "I just - well - okay. Just don't crash into anything, or move around too fast or stomp around - you're going to be very delicate."

"I understand," said Theedy.

Rhysel chewed her lip, but finally said, "I need to stay here for another angle because I'm expecting Kolaan with groceries. I thought you'd want more time to think about it, and you didn't let me finish before. But after the food arrives, then we can go."

Theedy nodded vigorously and trotted away; with black-group dragon hearing she'd know when Kolaan had been and gone even from the basement apartment.

Kolaan rang the bell at roughly the correct time, and when Rhysel opened the door with a greeting on her lips, he stomped past her, groceries in hand, and thunked them onto the counter before going back for a second load.

"Afternoon," she said, nonplussed.

"You knew I didn't recognize him," Kolaan said under his breath.


"I was in The Man in Red and Gold," Kolaan said. "I got you your tickets to it. Remember?"

"I remember..."

"Now," Kolaan said, "Soraak and Kutran both think I was hiding from them the fact that apparently our teacher is the actor they both saw in my play. They thought he was really cool when they came to see it. They wanted me to get his autograph for them. I told them I had no idea who he was, he always showed up in his mask, I wouldn't know him on the street, and they said, oh, okay. And now this article is out and they think I was winking at Aar Kithen behind their backs the whole time."

Rhysel winced. "I can tell them otherwise, if -"

"I don't know if that'll help, but yeah, great, that won't change the fact that Aar Kithen was the same guy I was in the play with and you never thought I might want to know that."

"He's careful about his privacy. The article really bothered..." She trailed off at the skeptical look on Kolaan's face. "What?"

"All that, and he didn't think of using a stage name?"

"Isn't his name really common?"

"Sure, but it's more common to have a name other than it," Kolaan said. "He could've gone on stage as, I don't know, Min Palan."

"I'm sorry, Kolaan."

Kolaan set the last batch of groceries on the counter. "Here you go. See you tomorrow." He closed the front door behind him and zoomed away.

Theedy was through it a moment later, looking at Rhysel with wide, dark eyes.

"How do we do this?" Rhysel asked, staring at the edge of the world.

"You haven't been to the edge before?" Theedy asked. "You just walk over it and plant your foot on the side. You'll swing around and you can walk on it."

"Why can't we fly over?" Rhysel asked.

"I don't know if you can," Theedy said. "I could, but it would make me even sicker than just walking over would. We can fly when we're on the side."

Rhysel stared at the corner. It looked exactly like a sheer, flat cliff dropping away into dark blue nothingness.

"I can go first," Theedy offered.

"Would you?" Rhysel said, knitting her eyebrows together.

Theedy approached the edge, touched the sole of her foot to the side of the world, and pushed off with the other. With only a little windmilling of her arms, she was standing sideways.

"I'm never going to be used to this," muttered Rhysel, and she attempted to mimic the step.

She promptly vomited onto the side of the world.

"Did you eat?" Theedy asked. "I'm sorry, I should have warned you."

"Not recently," coughed Rhysel, conjuring some water to sip slowly. "Okay," she huffed when the taste was out of her mouth. "Down we go." Except it didn't look like "down" anymore; it looked like a perfectly horizontal desert expanse.

Theedy transformed into a duck and Rhysel got airborne in her own way, and they flew.

Ten miles and another sickening transition later, they were on the bottom of the world.

"I have my satchel with me," Rhysel said. "It has ward stones in it. I think I might want to hang out down here for a while, tap you a few times, pour some power into a power box, and make a transfer point so I do not have to do that again."

"Okay," Theedy said blankly.

Rhysel inhaled deeply, created some more water to gulp down, and sat down. "Give me a tick. You can shift whenever you want -" (the bottom of the world was flat, lifeless emptiness on all sides; anyone who approached would be visible from miles away) "- but I need a tick."

Theedy walked a ways away from the bottom edge of the world, turned twice on the spot looking intently into the distance and cupping her hands to her ears, and - changed.

The black opal shren was about twenty feet long, nose to tail, delicately built with horns that curled back around her ears like Lisha's did. When she transformed, a rain of scales shimmered down her sides and clattered to the ground, some hundred of various sizes. Theedy looked up at the sky - it was dark, although not completely, as the sun was setting on the top of the world - and breathed a tiny lick of black flame.

"Where did all those scales come from?" Rhysel asked.

"We lose one every year or two," Theedy murmured, touching one with a claw. "If we're never in natural form, they can't fall off anywhere."

Rhysel picked up a scale. "They're pretty."

Theedy dipped her head as though embarrassed, and then slowly unfurled her wings. "You can have them, if you want. I don't have anything to do with them."

Rhysel consulted her stomach, which was complaining somewhat less. "I think I'm ready to give this a try. Be careful, Theedy, all right?"

"I will," Theedy said.

Rhysel made a small model of Theedy, pressed the scale into it, and touched the shren's outstretched wing to forge the connection.

Eighty-two cracks, loud and soft, signified breaking bones.

Sixteen when Theedy flapped her wings. Two when she opened her mouth to comment, nine when she moved her neck. Twelve when the loss of lift from the snapped-backwards wing struts left her to collapse, putting sudden pressure on legs, and then eight ribs; fifteen when the spine followed. Twenty when she twitched her tail in frustration.

Rhysel repaired the model, wincing, and Theedy returned to her customary solidity, uninjured. "Can you try again right away or do you need to do more research first?" asked the shren.

"Didn't that hurt?" Rhysel cried.

"Yes," said Theedy. "I don't mind."

"You mean you can feel it, and you don't care? I don't know how this works."

Theedy shrugged her wings. "For twenty years, all the pain meant nothing. I know now it means something, but I'm still used to it being just esu, just a signal that didn't mean I was injured or needed to be worried. I don't care about it as long as it won't kill me."

Rhysel bit her lip, but said, "I can try again. I'm going to modify the structure of the bones, and see if I can strengthen them relative to the kinds of motions you were making..."

They tried again. Seventy bones. Again. Seventy-four. Sixty-eight. Sixty-one. Rhysel wouldn't have had the will to go on, except Theedy seemed so encouraged by the progress, and protested again and again that she didn't care if it hurt.

When Rhysel rested from the drain and squinted against the bottom of the world's sunrise, Theedy blew plumes of fire into the sky, and stretched her wings.

Sixty. Fifty-two. And then Rhysel, at last convinced that she didn't have to expect Theedy to howl and weep if another bone gave way, gave up on protecting Theedy's legs, which were irrelevant to the flight once airborne; they'd snap on takeoff but that didn't matter. She allowed barely anything more than smoke in place of the shren's ornamental horns and spines, thinned the shining scales until they were translucent black mica, and left space-filling foam in exchange for every muscle that didn't power Theedy's wings and let her leap into the air in the first place and breathe. If Theedy could blink without bruising her eyes by the time Rhysel was done, it wasn't for lack of trying. "Jump," Rhysel whispered. "Fly."

Theedy jumped.

Theedy flew.

Chapter Twenty-Two: Lightness

"I flew," wheezed Theedy over a grotesque chorus of cracks, awkwardly landing. "Did you see, were you watching? I flew -" And another rib broke and she coughed and Rhysel hastily restored the statuette. Theedy caught her breath. "Did you see," she exhaled.

"I saw," panted Rhysel. "Now, I'm going to break your connection to the statuette - might need to tap you for energy immediately - that was a lot of work. Let me touch your wing again?"

Theedy extended a wing in the kama's direction. Rhysel lifted the shed scale out of the proxy, and the drain hit, and she pulled lifeforce out of Theedy through her wing, enough to keep her sitting up straight and able to scrabble through her satchel for wakeflower.

With a dose of the blue potion in her system, Rhysel felt much perkier. "You're feeling okay?" Rhysel asked.

Theedy nodded. "You didn't put me back together wrong," she said softly. "I'm fine. I flew." She shifted back into human form and sat on the featureless ground, wrapping her arms around her knees and closing her eyes with a sigh.

"I can't break a baby shren that many times before getting him or her into the air," Rhysel said. "Or spend that much energy and still be able to treat them all. I need to get a better handle on the technique. Not today, but maybe tomorrow, do you want to try again?"

"I should let Eret have a turn," Theedy said.

"Let him have a turn," said Rhysel, blinking, still slightly mystified. Theedy and Eret both could fly as much as they wanted, in duck form. "I think we'd better go back over the side," - she shuddered - "rather than wait for me to accumulate enough energy to make a transfer point. Next time I'll bring Tekaal and then he'll be able to teleport."

They traveled home, Theedy in serene silence, Rhysel gagging and clutching at her middle after each turn of the corner.

Theedy hurtled down the stairs to the basement as soon as they were in sight of the tower, presumably to tell her husband all about her day.

Rhysel went in through her bedroom window, instead, and collapsed.

"Rhysel," Eret said, already in the kitchen when Rhysel came down for breakfast the next morning. Talyn was at the table, and looked put out when Eret turned away from him; he'd been using Eret and Theedy as practice conversation partners for his mind-kamai-accelerated learning of Elcenian languages.

"Good morning," Rhysel said to the red opal shren. She went to the cupboards and rummaged around for eggs.

"Morning. Regarding your testing - do you need me or Theedy to avoid flying for a few weeks so we can tell you if what you let her do 'counted'? She doesn't know if it would've undone esu."

"I think I can refine the process enough to safely try it on a baby shren in less than a few weeks," Rhysel said. "You can, if it's convenient, but the real test will be if it can stop one of the babies' pain."

Eret nodded once, and then let Talyn capture his attention again with a half-illusory cascade of vampiric shrieks and replied in kind, rolling his eyes. Rhysel cracked her eggs, poached them in midair, and made a plate for them, which she carried up to her room rather than listen to her apprentice practice the shrill language.

Class buzzed with gossip when the students came in. Korulen was the first to arrive, and she burst into helpless laughter when she saw the paired teachers.

"What?" asked Rhysel. The thudia proved unable to catch her breath long enough to answer. <What?> Rhysel tried.

<It's just... Aar Kithen! I wouldn't have ever thought of him as dating anybody! And... and... it's Aar Kithen!> Korulen managed in reply, still doubled over. Her friends and new boyfriend came in and took seats around her; Lutan, who had a copy of the paper poking out of her school bag, looked frustrated, but Kaarilel and Kaylo didn't seem to be having any special reaction to the newspaper article. Kolaan, flanked by Soraak and Kutran, arrived next. The first looked disgruntled, whereas his companions trotted up to Tekaal and politely solicited autographs. With a mild sigh, Tekaal wrote his name on the profferred slips of paper.

In total, the reaction was less profound than the teachers had feared, but Tekaal did have to look somewhat severely at Korulen before she was capable of restraining her laughter, and issue a mindspeech apology to Kolaan before the boy would stop glaring. That settled, Tekaal began conducting the lesson on introductory illusion magic.

Tekaal did most of the work, as he was the one who'd been studying image kamai. He coaxed a basic illusion from everyone, including Rhysel, though he diligently avoided the appearance of teaching her where the other students could see; she listened while he explained the procedure to everyone else.

Most of the children chose simple shapes - spheres or cubes or pyramids - and then spent the rest of the lesson squinting at them and trying to make them catch the light from the ceiling's glow realistically. Lutan got more creative with hers, setting images with several parts in motion and sustaining three at once by the time class ended. Mata and Tama could coordinate to similarly impressive effect.

Leekath, who had definitely been picking up hints from Talyn, was ahead of the rest of the students. Instead of showing off in some way that would have been obvious to her peers, she simply made her illusions solid and held them in her hands, turning them over and frowning at them as though finding them dissatisfactory. Whether that part was an act or not, Rhysel couldn't tell.

Kaylo - apparently by complete accident - also wound up with a solid illusion. Tekaal's inquiries yielded the hypothesis that the garnet boy was taking the use of texture metaphors for his magic's tones very seriously. The dragon had the spare lifeforce to accidentally expend it on such details, without the aversive weariness that trained most beginning kyma out of stray, unintentional magic use.

Finally, the class was over. (Rhysel had to tell Kaylo to put his questions about how solid objects could possibly be "illusions" as opposed to "temporary conjurations" in a letter, and Korulen had to physically take him by the hand and haul him away).

"Time for 'Eret's turn'," Rhysel said wryly to Tekaal. "Will you come with us down to the bottom of the world, so you'll be able to teleport us there and back in the future? I don't like going over the edges."

"I could escort your gardener myself and teleport back to fetch you," suggested Tekaal.

"That would be wonderful," said Rhysel gratefully.

Half an angle later, Rhysel was back on the bottom of the world, a different shren before her. While Theedy had breathed fire given the chance, she hadn't been so enthusiastic about it; the red opal roared flames into the sky like they were consuming his belly and had to be expelled or he'd burn to a crisp. The air around him shimmered with spillover warmth.

Tekaal, beside her, murmured, "Do you need any help?"

"Maybe an energy source."

"I know you were worried about the procedure being dangerous to your subject - I'm not certain why you did not ask me to lifelink his wife, yesterday. I have read the instructions on the working, even if I have yet to find occasion to test it."

"That's why I didn't ask you," Rhysel said. "You've never practiced it, not even on something that you could let go if you needed to. Talyn has tried it with spiders and things like that, he told me when I assessed how much he'd learned before he started apprenticing with me, and he knows he can't reliably hold onto a strained lifelink. I managed, my first try with Mirra, but it's incredibly hard. It's like forcing your hand down on a hot iron, and if you so much as flinch, you'll lose who you're linking. And neither of us knows how to transfer the pain, yet. All it'd accomplish to have you lifelink Eret would be for you to feel guilty if he turned out to need it. And he won't - Theedy was fine, and I won't make as many mistakes this time."

Tekaal seemed about to respond, but Eret snapped his jaws closed around a plume of sparkling fire, and smoke hissed out from between his teeth. "Can we get to the part where I fly, now?" he asked.

"Er, yes," said Rhysel, picking up one of the scales he'd lost. They were interspersed with Theedy's, left on the ground for lack of any clever ideas about what to do with them. She made a model of Eret and held out her hand to touch him. He profferred his foreclaw, which sufficed, and she pressed his scale into his proxy and forged the connection.

"Do not crash," Rhysel instructed sternly. "Don't make unnecessary moves. I'll leave you able to breathe, but do it slowly and evenly, and avoid trying to talk if you can. Certainly don't breathe fire - you can do that down here all you want as long as you don't try it while fragile."

"I understand," said Eret, rolling his eyes, and Rhysel took a deep breath and lightened him.

Eret jumped, cracking legbones when he pushed off, and snapped his wings open. He flapped them twice, and then glided, and then skidded to an awkward landing.

Rhysel healed the breaks and restored his density. "Have fun?" she asked.

Eret nodded, then spat another column of fire at the dark sky.

Rhysel lifted the scale out of the statuette. "I'll write Jensal," she said. "I don't know if she'll tolerate the babies breaking their legs every time they try to fly, but she might. If she won't we can keep testing, I suppose."

The red opal shren interrupted his conflagration to say, "We want to be anonymous."

"Even to Jensal? Didn't she practically raise you?" Rhysel asked.

"She runs the house," Eret said. "She doesn't look after the kids in it personally. Don't tell her we're your test subjects."

"Rhysel," said Tekaal, "could it perhaps suffice to levitate the subject in place of manual takeoff? They could fly unassisted without having to leave the ground, or return to it, in the same way - if I understand the issue."

"Maybe," she said. "I don't think I could do that at the same time as working with the proxy. Do you want to try it?"

Eret quit breathing fire, Tekaal worked air magic to lift him well off the ground, and Rhysel adjusted his composition again. "On my mark," Tekaal said. "One, two, three, now."

The shren beat his wings, and swooped, falling but catching himself without touching the ground. "I'm going to catch you again," Tekaal said. "One, two, three, now." Eret's movement was arrested in midair; Rhysel fixed his solidity again, but there was no breakage to repair.

"Jensal will like this idea much better," Rhysel said. "It just requires that I bring you or Talyn with me whenever I go to treat the children."

"I was under the impression that Aaran Casten was not welcome."

"Well, not at Jensal's house, but he hasn't been barred from the other three. For the local one, I need you in particular," Rhysel agreed.

"Of course I will accompany you," Tekaal said. He let Eret down, and Rhysel pulled the scale out of the statuette. She yawned, but had made fewer adjustments than the previous day, and accepted only a little of Tekaal's lifeforce when he touched the back of her neck to offer.

"Shall we?" Rhysel asked, pulling herself to her feet.

Eret enflamed the sky once again, but finally shifted back to his human form and held out his hand toward Tekaal. Rhysel touched her boyfriend's hand too, and he used his other to cast the teleportation spell.

The next morning, Rhysel and Talyn were sitting at the kitchen table eating biscuits and jam when Leekath let herself in and handed Rhysel a letter that had been sitting on the front stoop. (Rhysel couldn't work out how the postal system was supposed to function - Tekaal had gotten as far as saying that it was built into the Standard House Wards before descending into opaque jargon.) "She says you should come to her house," Leekath told Rhysel perfunctorily. Then she turned and tugged on Talyn's elbow, persuading him to abandon his inclination for seconds. The teenagers disappeared up the stairs and Rhysel unsealed the envelope, which she presumed was from Jensal.

Vampiric Inanimate Audition is a disease, Rhysel, not a security risk, but fine, vagueness: come to my house. Bring your boyfriend, it said.

Rhysel grinned, called Tekaal with the communication crystal that matched his, and arranged to meet him there.

Tekaal was at the gates of the shren house when Rhysel landed there. "I need to make transfer points around town," she remarked, linking elbows with him and walking in. "I don't mind flying, usually, but it's getting kind of chilly."

"Perhaps on the day we have planned to teach students how to use transfer points, they could also witness the creation of several," Tekaal suggested. "There are enough of them to make a number."

"And then they'll have more to go between than just the ones at the school and the tower," Rhysel said. "Good idea." They reached the building in the center of the desolate grounds and she knocked.

Jensal answered the door, a grudgingly anxious look on her face. "Since you can't tell me who your test subjects are," she said abruptly, not greeting the kyma or even acknowledging Tekaal, "I want to see for myself before I let you touch any of the babies. Will it work on a shren my size, or should I ask for a volunteer closer to some other age?"

"I think it would work on you," Rhysel said. "No matter how old you are."

"One thousand, eight hundred, and seventy-seven." she said softly. "All right then." She stepped out and shut the door behind her. "Bottom of the world."

Tekaal held out his hand and brought both women to the bottom of the world. Rhysel felt a moment of panic - the scales on the ground might be suggestive of her unidentified test subjects, and she hadn't thought to collect them - but he had apparently had the foresight to visit the underside and travel a ways from the prior site so he could teleport them to a more anonymous location.

Jensal didn't seem to notice Rhysel's tension. She only turned into a peregrine falcon, her blue coloring replacing the dark hood common to the real birds, and made a circuit around the area to check for any misplaced dragons she might harm.

Finding none, the turquoise shren landed, and again she shifted.

Jensal was almost two hundred feet long, and only half of that was neck and tail. She stretched out her wings, and blotted out most of the stars Rhysel had been able to see a moment before. Scales rained down her sides, and Jensal tilted her wings to shake free more, and Rhysel stared.

"You need one of these?" Jensal asked, sweeping a forefoot through the scales on the ground towards Rhysel. Several bounced toward her; numbly, Rhysel picked one up and made a ludicrously tiny model of the shren before her.

"I don't think I'd quite realized how large older dragons - shrens - are," Rhysel said. "But when dragons fly, it is physical, right, not magical? And you're shaped the same way?"

Jensal dipped her head with its corkscrew horns. She didn't breathe fire like the others had and Rhysel felt embarrassed to ask why. "That's the understanding."

"Right. I still think this will work - your wings are bigger too - but even if it doesn't, it did work on my test subjects and should work even better on a baby. If I can't make you fly, will you let me try with one of the children anyway?"

"As long as you manage not to get me killed or do anything unspeakably horrific to me," Jensal said, tilting her head back on that preposterously long neck to look at the stars.

"I - right." Rhysel pressed the scale into the model. "I need to touch you, to make the connection."

Jensal swung the tip of her tail close to Rhysel, who brought a finger to the large spiked plate that capped off the extremity. The sculpture abruptly moved under Rhysel's hand when the shren moved her tail away and half-folded her wings.

"I explained in the letter," Rhysel said, "how you need to be careful. Do you want me to repeat it, or...?"

Jensal shook her head. "Your boyfriend can levitate me?"

"Yes," said Tekaal, speaking for the first time since he'd teleported them down.

"Do it," Jensal said.

Tekaal persuaded the air to bear up the turquoise-shingled shren. Jensal's feet dangled, and she had to be lofted higher than Eret or Theedy to keep her tail off the ground where it hung, but finally he deemed her high enough and paused her there. "Ready?" shouted Rhysel.

"Ready," Jensal replied.

Rhysel bent over the model, and changed it. "One, two, three, now," she announced.

Tekaal let Jensal go, and Jensal nearly knocked over the kyma with the downdraft of her first wingbeat, and she ascended.

"Children," said Jensal, "this is Rhysel. Artha might have told you about her."

The room in which the baby shrens lived was spacious and low-ceilinged, devoid of sharp objects - the older ones even had their claws and teeth filed down, and Rhysel didn't know whether that was to stop them from fighting with each other, injuring themselves in their contortions of pain, or taking their own lives. There was a plush armchair, which held a shren woman with hair as green as Artha's scales; shelves protruded from this chair in several directions and some were occupied with little shrens who'd been listening to a story read aloud complete with voices before Jensal and Rhysel had barged in.

"Hi," said Rhysel in response to the resounding silence. Even the mewling and wailing she'd been able to hear from the hall paused. She spotted Artha on a beanbag in the back corner, which she shared with one obsidian and one moonstone, but the little green dragonet was resolutely not looking at the kama.

"Rhysel and her boyfriend Aar Kithen are here to -"

"Do miracles!" exclaimed a blue child, stotting up and down on all four feet.

"Not today," Jensal said. "She can't make you stop being shrens. But she can make you fly -"

"That's sort of a miracle," objected the blue.

"We aren't even sure if it will help the esu, but it's something to try. Kytheen," Jensal called. "You can go first. You're oldest. Will you come here, please?"

The largest of the children in the room, almost four feet long, was a gold who didn't seem to want to open her eyes. At Jensal's request, she peeled herself up from the cushion she'd been writhing on and hauled herself step by step towards the kyma. Her wings were clenched tightly to her body and her ears were plastered flat against her head.

"When did they last get sootheweed?" Rhysel asked under her breath, although all of the black-group dragonets in the room turned to look at her anyway.

"A couple of angles ago," Jensal said. "It doesn't help that much at her age. I'm reluctant to rush you, but..."

"Right," said Rhysel, and she pulled her prepared rock out of her satchel and turned it into a quarter-size duplicate of Kytheen. The little gold didn't have any shed scales, so she took the dragonet's forepaw and worked wild kamai to pull a single drop of blood out to the surface. She used that to connect statue and child. "Tekaal -"

He didn't correct her on his form of public address, just picked up Kytheen with air magic and left her floating. She looked like a marionette.

"Oooh," said the blue who'd remarked earlier.

Rhysel lightened the baby shren in the air. "Kytheen, you need to try to fly," she said. "Don't move anything else but your wings, but you need to try to fly."

Kytheen opened one eye a crack. "Nnn," she whined.

"Please," Rhysel whispered. "Flap your wings."

"Do it, Kytheen," said Jensal, an edge of severity in her voice.

The small gold form unfurled her wings, and brought them down once, twice - Tekaal let her go - the baby shot towards the ceiling and he had to catch her again before she crashed, but suddenly her eyes were wide and she'd opened her mouth to laugh and Rhysel hastily undid the changes before she snapped her ribs.

Kytheen shrieked with laughter. She looked like she was doing her best to dance in midair. Tekaal lowered her to the ground and she capered across the room to tackle a listless ruby, bite him on the horn with blunted teeth, and drag him towards the kyma. "Come on, come on, him too," she exclaimed. "He's next! Him too!"

Rhysel laughed too, relieved and suddenly, belatedly shaking with nerves, but she pulled Kytheen's blood out of the statuette, shaped it to look like her ruby friend, and took a droplet from him to begin the process again.

Artha was finally coaxed into the air by seeing everyone else's success. Kytheen, her ruby friend, and the next five baby shrens down the line, were curled up sleeping; Rhysel had needed to tap them to get through the entire population of the room.

The green littlest shren butted her head against Rhysel's leg when she touched the carpet again. "I forgive you," she announced in tones of great solemnity.

"Thank you, Artha," said Rhysel. She crouched down to pet Artha, who purred at her before streaking off to chase a ball another shren had lobbed her way.

Rhysel turned to Jensal. "Well," she began, but she was cut off when Jensal abruptly hugged her.

"Thank you," Jensal whispered fiercely in Rhysel's ear.

"You're welcome. I'll be back in a few weeks, reset them again," Rhysel assured her. "And I'll keep working on - on a proper 'miracle' for you."

"You need to - if you're willing - to the other houses - I'll call Ehail -" Jensal half-fled the roomful of babies, and Rhysel and Tekaal followed her towards her office. "Ehail can teleport here, and take you there - I mean - it doesn't have to be today, you must be exhausted - but -"

"As long as I can tap the shrens there while I work, I can do another houseful today," Rhysel said. She looked at Tekaal for confirmation, and he nodded. "Maybe all four, if they have people who can teleport us too. Go ahead and call Ehail."

Jensal pulled a communication crystal out of a drawer in her desk and struck it against the corner. Impatiently, she paced, waiting for an answer with the green prism pressed to her ear. Finally, it stopped chiming. "Ehail! It's Jensal -" And from there she burst into a cascade of incomprehensible Draconic, perhaps finding it more efficient than sticking to a language her witnesses spoke.

The call ended abruptly, and there was a knock on the house's front door. Jensal bolted to answer it, Rhysel and Tekaal following again, and flung the door wide to reveal a short, silver-haired woman with round brown eyes. "Ehail, Rhysel and Aar Kithen," Jensal said, gesturing at both kyma. "Rhysel, Aar Kithen, Ehail. She's a wizard from Keppine House, down in Petar."

"It's nice to meet you," said Ehail politely, though she was unsmiling. "I can teleport you to my house." She held a hand out. Tekaal and Rhysel both moved to touch her hand, but Ehail shook her head. "I can't take two passengers, only one."

"But you're a wizard?" Tekaal asked, furrowing his brow.

"I am," she assured him. "It's not just a teleportation license. But I don't have a high channeling capacity. I'll make two trips."

Tekaal withdrew his hand, and Rhysel, confused by most of the content of that exchange, left hers where it was. Ehail cast the teleportation spell with her other hand.

The Petaran house was in the tropics, and the early afternoon air was heavy and damp and far warmer than Esmaar. It reminded Rhysel a little of growing up in Aristan. The building itself was only two floors high, unlike the three-story Paraasilan house, and Ehail opened the iron door for Rhysel.

"I'll go get Aar Kithen, and then talk to Ludei for you," Ehail said. "The babies are just there, behind that door on the right. You'll want to explain to their caretaker."

"Thanks, Ehail," Rhysel said. The silver shren teleported away, and Rhysel started down the hall.

She knocked on the door to the babies' room. It opened.

"Narax?" she asked, bewildered.

"Beg pardon?" asked the jade-eyed, crookedly-smiling, black-haired, pale man before her.

Chapter Twenty-Three: Homeworld

"You're not Narax," Rhysel realized aloud.

"My name is Ilen," said the man. "Er, can I help you?" He could've been Narax's mirror image - but not quite. He had his hair cut short, fuzzily close to his head, in contrast with Narax's shaggier style. While Ilen was smiling, and lopsidedly, he didn't have his eyes squinted with the same smugness Narax exhibited when happy. They were the same height, but Ilen stood stiffly, where Narax slouched and exuded comfort wherever he went.

Rhysel privately kicked herself for having such an indelible memory of Narax's mannerisms after so long without crossing his path. He wasn't in her department at school and she never had to show up to his meetings; he didn't live near enough her that she risked running into him when she went on errands; he had not turned up on her doorstep. But a second look at Ilen instantly confirmed that this wasn't the same man.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I mistook you for someone I know." Shaking off the disorientation, she explained what she was doing there. Tekaal approached behind her as Ehail completed her second trip, and the silver shren went off to explain the situation to Ludei, Jensal's counterpart at the tropical house.

Ilen was plainly taken aback by Rhysel's pronouncement about her ability to help the children, and when she fell silent, he didn't react beyond a still stare for the first few moments. Then he scrambled to get out of her way. "Please," he said. "Please, help them."

The southerly assortment of baby shrens were in more or less the same shape as the ones at Jensal's western house. Rhysel's first patient was a white opal who reacted with more decorum than Kytheen had, although he was still enthusiastic about the treatment being bestowed on all of his peers. Tekaal levitated, Rhysel lightened, shrens flew, Rhysel tapped, shrens slept.

Somewhere during the middle of the sequence of treatments, the door opened again, and Rhysel was vaguely aware that Ehail and a dark-skinned shren man were standing behind Ilen and watching her and Tekaal work. They didn't speak and she paid them no mind until the tiniest shren in the room - a platinum too young to have even started to feel pain in place of lethargy - was taken care of.

"Astounding," said the dark shren. Rhysel turned her head and gave him a closer look. The irises of his eyes were even whiter than the surrounding sclera, giving his otherwise kindly gaze an unnerving quality, but his voice reminded her of Revenn's deep boom and she felt a twinge somewhere inside her ribcage.

"Thank you," Rhysel said. "Ehail, has Jensal called back? I think she was going to contact the other houses and ask if they had ways to get us to them today too."

"I would take you if I could, but I've never been to Corenta or Tenebirokalamikikek," Ehail said. "I don't think either of those houses have wizards, either."

"How are we going to get there without?" Rhysel wondered aloud.

"A combination of teleportation circles and flight should suffice for the first trip, after which I can transport us myself," Tekaal said. "But we will need to consult teleportation circle schedules and will most likely be obliged to wait until tomorrow."

Rhysel ground her teeth, but nodded. "I'll be much happier when I've seen to them all," she said.

"That you are doing this for any of them is a great good," Ludei said. "That you desire to help them all is... as I said, astounding. We are not a common object of charity. But excuse me, I should introduce myself. I am Ludei."

"It's nice to meet you, Ludei. And - well - until literally the other day no one could have done this," Rhysel said. But she thought of Keo, and bit her lip. "Anyway. I'm just glad I could help. I'll want to come by regularly and make sure none of them need to hurt as long as I have any way to help."

"Thank you, Rhysel," said Ludei, stepping forward and clasping her hand in his. "You cannot know the extent of my thanks."

"Do you need to go home right away?" Ehail asked.

"No; why?" Rhysel inquired.

"I'd like to talk to you," Ehail said.

Rhysel glanced at Tekaal, who seemed amenable, then nodded and followed the silver shren - with a glance backward at the jade one. Ilen shivered with some unidentifiable emotion, but his smile soon returned, and he picked up an iron-scaled dragonet as Rhysel turned into the hallway.

"I have an office," Ehail said. "I - I'm not very good at wizardry, I suppose you could have guessed because you just did in a few angles something I haven't made any progress on in a hundred years, but I have a sort of a research project going on, trying to figure out... us. Why we're how we are. If there might be a way to change it." Ehail led Rhysel and Tekaal through the house towards her office.

"I am also a wizard," Tekaal told her. "I am reasonably likely to be able to follow your research, presuming any of it is written in a language I know."

"I - I'm afraid most of it is in Munine, because that's the language I studied in," Ehail said. "And some Draconic, although not very much, because I did always hope I might find someone to collaborate with. Do you read Munine?" she asked. Tekaal and Rhysel both shook their heads. "I can get started on translating. But I wanted to know more about what you did today, whatever part of it you can explain."

Rhysel and Tekaal fluidly described the technicalities of the procedure together, Rhysel doing the fiddly sculpture demonstration and Tekaal providing analogies to wizarding jargon to cover for the fact that Ehail was not a kama. Ehail listened with great solemnity. "I'll consolidate and translate my notes for you," she told Tekaal. "But I don't have very much of use. I hope you'll be more successful than I've been."

Tekaal nodded gravely. "I wish I could learn wizardry," Rhysel said. "It sounds so useful."

"Jensal said your magic was from offworld," Ehail mused. "I guess you must be too. And you must not have a channeling capacity at all. Mine is low but it's there. I'm sorry you can't cast spells."

"I have kamai," Rhysel said. "At any rate, Ehail, thank you. We'll be back in a few weeks and repeat ourselves, and we can talk more then."

Ehail dipped her head. "Thank you," she said. "On - the babies' behalf. Ilen tries but they're really too young to have good manners."

"You're welcome," Rhysel laughed softly. "Well -" She turned to Tekaal. "Home?"

He took her hand, and brought them back to Esmaar.

Tekaal dropped Rhysel off and was immediately on his way, excusing himself to Daasen to see about teleportation circles. Rhysel, at a loose end, poured herself a glass of juice and made for her current textbook - the third in its series - about wild kamai, only to glance out the window and find an unfamiliar feature in the view.

A bit beyond what she remembered as the border of her yard, there had appeared a petite, square-windowed cottage under a slate roof.

"Talyn?" Rhysel called.

<What? I thought you didn't need me for anything today!> came Talyn's protest. Rhysel rolled her eyes at the fact that he wouldn't even disengage his lips from Leekath's long enough to reply audibly.

<I don't. I just want to ask if you know anything about the little house next door.>

<It's full of halflings,> he reported. <A mom and a dad and two girls and four boys. They came over to introduce themselves and I said you weren't back yet but would be later.>

<I hope you weren't rude to them about it, even if they did interrupt you.>

<I wasn't! I said, very nicely, that I didn't own the place and couldn't let them in but I was sure you'd be happy to meet them later in the afternoon.>

<All right then. I'll leave you be,> Rhysel replied.

Talyn didn't answer her. She sipped at her juice and peered out the window at the wee house. It was noticeably shorter than the sort she was used to seeing, although if she guessed rightly there was enough clearance that she'd be able to stand upright in it, should she ever have cause. She'd need to duck through the doorway, though.

As Rhysel watched, a face peered out the cottage's own window. From a distance she might have mistaken the child for Tekaal's niece-to-be - she had a similar pale brown coloring and darker brown hair, and similar gently-pointed ears - but of course she was half the size. The halfling girl's face vanished from the window and a tick later a line of eight people was marching neatly from it towards the tower, no doubt alerted to Rhysel's return and intent on making themselves known.

Rhysel met them at the door without waiting for the bell to ring. "Hello," she said. "You must be my new neighbors."

"Hello!" replied the man, who came up to about Rhysel's navel and wore a broad grin across his square-cornered face. He said it in Martisen - or rather, Rhysel heard it in Martisen. She supposed he was speaking something but had a translation spell on him. "We are your new neighbors. We're the Mimerings. I'm Ennim, and this is my wife Ranalin, our daughters Lerra and Mariming, and our sons Marlan, Ingarren, Elingmer, and Nangingel." He pointed at each member of the family, all of whom smiled at her and nodded when indicated. Lerra was the oldest of the children, about Ngen's age (whatever age that was; Rhysel couldn't keep track of all the disparate aging rates among the species in Elcenia). Mariming was the one Rhysel had imagined mistaking for Rasam at a distance, through the window, and looked to be second-youngest.

"It's nice to meet you. I'm Rhysel. Would you like to come in?" she inquired. She held up her cup of juice. "Have something to drink?"

"Thank you, don't mind if we do," Ennim said, stepping around her and into the tower. His family followed him; they weren't in lockstep, but maintained a practiced, stable distance between each one and the one following.

"So you just moved in," she prompted.

"Just today," Ennim agreed cheerily. "From Nirlan. The house is prefabricated. We're going to start a farm, but we'll spend the winter learning Leraal and making sure we have the network we'll need to sell our produce. There are a few things we can plant at this time of year, but we're probably only going to use half the plot on that while we're settling in. We'll also be putting up some outbuildings for animals."

"Sounds like a plan," Rhysel said. "Are you the only one with a translation spell on?"

Ennim nodded, but then frowned. "I was told it wouldn't be noticeable," he said. "That I would sound like a native speaker to anyone listening."

"You do sound like a native," Rhysel smiled, "of my native language - I suppose you'd sound like a Leraal speaker to anyone who spoke that first."

"Oh," blinked Ennim. "Well, I suppose that makes sense. Anyway, we're the Mimerings from Nirlan and we just wanted to get to know you. Your - apprentice? - answered the door earlier and didn't seem to want any more guests besides the vampire girl we saw, so we thought we'd come back later, and then Mariming saw you through the windows. Your home is so striking - very tall. It's just you and the apprentice here? Does the vampire live here too?"

"Leekath doesn't live here. She goes to the wizarding school nearby, where I teach an offworld magic," Rhysel said. "But she is here frequently." She avoided mentioning the family in her basement; it was up to them if they wanted to take steps to be invisible to the neighbors. Rhysel could build them an interior staircase so they wouldn't need to get in and out of the tower via the outdoors, although she wasn't sure how the gardening would work. Theedy could probably see in the dark and might take over that job past dusk. She would ask later. "My apprentice is interested in learning Elcenian languages, and he has a form of magic that lets him pick them up very fast by just talking to people who use them - it's the same offworld magic. If you want, I'm sure he'd be happy to help you and your family with Leraal if they'll speak - whatever your native language is - to him sometimes."

"That sounds like it would be very agreeable," Ennim said. The children were all still in their row, listening intently to Rhysel when she talked, presumably picking up Leraal; Rhysel wasn't used to kids behaving so solemnly, but chalked it up to some halfling oddity or perhaps a Nirlani cultural feature. Or it could just be the Mimerings in particular.

"I'll let him know and he'll drop by at some point. I think he could probably fit in your house," she said. "Until he hits his next growth spurt, anyway. And if you find it inconvenient to get groceries out here, I can recommend you a delivery service."

Ennim smiled. "That's kind of you," he said. "Well, it was lovely to meet you, Rhysel. We're going to head back and unpack some more. Thank you for inviting us in."

With that, all the halflings stood up, and went out of the house, nodding politely to Rhysel as they departed. She shut the door behind the littlest boy and picked up her book again, waiting for Tekaal.

Tekaal explained the itinerary to Rhysel when he returned to her tower. Esmaar's only circle was in its capital city, Daasen, and this was also the only city with a circle in it that Tekaal had ever visited. He went to its surrounding complex, picked up a schedule that made Rhysel's eyes swim to look at, and determined the most efficient route. "We'll have to start at Daasen," he said. "The next closest circle is in Saraan's capital and that's too far to fly from anywhere I can take us - if I teleported us to the tropical shren house we could fly to the Petar circle, but it's on the main island and doesn't have a better schedule than the Daasen circle does. So we'll go to Corenta's circle at fifth-and-four, and to the shren house from there. That will be a flight, but not an unmanageable one."

"And the shren house in - I can't remember the whole name of the country - the one with the violet-group shrens in it, in the water?"

"Tenebirokalamikikek is a merfolk country. They may or may not have a circle, but if they do, it isn't part of the network on land. I think our best bet is to travel to Mekand, which we can do from the Corenta circle earlier than from the Daasen circle, and there find a wizard or a licensed teleporter who can take us to an island or an iceberg close to the house. In theory we could hire such an individual anywhere, but geographic closeness to the house in question can only help. I will need to cast translation spells on us, as residents of Mekand are unlikely to speak any of the languages we do."

They were curled up on her sofa, books lying open and unattended on either side of the couple. Rhysel nodded at the explanation of their schedule, but had nothing to add. "Ludei sounds kind of like Master Revenn," she said against Tekaal's neck. "He doesn't look anything like him, but his voice..."

"It had escaped my notice," Tekaal said.

"There are exceptions," Rhysel said, "but usually the dead are less and less interested in answering calls as time goes on. They get involved with projects in the afterlife - they don't outright develop amnesia, but their memories don't get any better, either, and they forget things from the living world and reunite with people who died before them. Death kyma interrupt them; they're annoying; eventually they can't convince the spirit to come back, at least not without pestering them nonstop for days so it's less trouble to answer. Probably he won't be willing to talk to me by the time Korulen can get a familiar and unsummon me to Barashi. I don't suppose Saasnil is proving to be a prodigy with breaks?"

"She is not," Tekaal acknowledged. "She is not even proceeding as well with the academic background as Aaralan Inular did, let alone demonstrating talent at the practice."

"Right," Rhysel sighed. She pulled Tekaal closer for comfort.

"Rhysel," Tekaal said slowly.


"I had meant to wait until I was more confident in the practicality - had perhaps tried the spell on an animal at least once, which unfortunately I have yet to find the time to attempt - but perhaps you would prefer to know now - I believe I may have a way you could return to Barashi."

Rhysel froze, pausing even in her breath. "How? Some esoteric break...?"

"No, nothing of that nature at all. I found another angle from which to approach the problem. You understand that there are summoning spells and sending spells, and that these are different - that summons bring people from other worlds to this one, and sendings push people from this world to others?"

"Yes," she said, clenching her fingers in his shirt.

"I have been developing a spell that would, so far as the relevant magic is concerned, reset your home world to Elcenia."

"Then," she said, but couldn't finish the sentence before taking a deep breath, "then what would happen?"

"If I am correct," he said, "and I caution you that I may not be - then, nothing visible, to begin with. But a wizarding summon cannot affect an Elcenian creature, so it ought to break - and then you could be sent the same way I could."

"I could go back to my tower and get the rest of my things," she murmured. "I could go see that death kama Eryn found and try to contact my Master. I could visit my family. We could visit my family, if you want - I've met yours -"

"I would be happy to accompany you," Tekaal said, and he punctuated this remark with a kiss to her hairline.

Rhysel bowled him over like she was a wild animal and locked her lips onto his.

The Corenta house was much like the Esmaarlan and Petarlan houses. The aquatic one - which they eventually reached only by walking into a Mekandish post office and announcing that they wished to be mailed there - was something else again. The adults had merfolk forms, and they and the babies (amethyst, violet, charoite, spelter, erythrite), all water-breathers, lived inside hollow tunnels within a vast iceberg. Rhysel and Tekaal were able to envelop themselves in warm air and travel through it, but of course for the babies to fly they needed to swim up to the surface. For permission to make that happen with dragon-shaped shrens, Quaro, the fellow who ran the place, had to call the dragon council.

"The dragon council takes your calls?" Tekaal asked.

"Oh," Quaro said, expression unreadable on his scaled merfolk features, "they have to. I could be calling about a rogue shren."

"We could just take them to the bottom of the world," Rhysel said. "Or if any rooms are bigger than what we've seen, we could get an air bubble into one..."

"They're all too small," Quaro replied.

"We could melt the ice," Rhysel said.

"I think it would be preferable to go to the bottom of the world rather than remodel our iceberg," Quaro told her. "Should it come to that. There is a small ledge open to the air, above the waterline, but it is intended for them to take off as puffins or fruit bats or what have you."

"And if they take off as dragonets, you need to let the dragon council know. Understood," Rhysel said.

Quaro made the call, which took place entirely in Draconic, and finally put away his communication crystal. "As luck would have it, there are not any dragons anywhere near the shren house, and we can safely proceed," he said. "How fortunate. Shall we?"

Once the babies were lined up in the air, in age order, claws dug into the ice, the process was as normal - purple and silvery shapes flew as far as they needed to and were deposited back to damply nose Rhysel's knees or pat Tekaal's shoes, then disappear back into the tunnels of ice. There were fewer babies at this house than at any of the other three, as it served only one color group rather than the mix of five seen at the terrestrial locations, and the entire thing was done in less time than Rhysel had expected.

They made arrangements to come back on a regular schedule that didn't clash with kamai classes or the visits to other houses, and Tekaal teleported them home.

"I'm so glad we've gotten them all now," Rhysel sighed. "Just maintenance from here on out... Can we try the homeworld reset now?"

"I would prefer to summon an animal of some kind, ideally from Barashi, and attempt it with that first," Tekaal said.

"Are you going to send it back if it works, or just leave it here?" she asked.

"I am reluctant to leave a sending spell permanently active on an animal," he said.

"Get a platypus, donate it to a zoo?" she suggested, a smile playing about her lips.

"I am uncertain that Elcenian zoos are equipped to deal with such... entities. Would you like something to add to your collection of combination pets and wild kamai subjects?"

"How about something little, then - a wren?" she said, pulling a birdcage shape out of her wall and twirling it around on her finger by the hook at its top.

"A wren it is. I can begin drawing the diagram right away, of course. I'll fetch my chalk."

An angle later, Rhysel had a wren in her birdcage, newly a citizen of Elcenia. Tekaal cast an analysis on it and peered at the surrounding magic.

"No active summon," he murmured.

"The wren is fine," she said, calming the bird with wild magic and coaxing it to step onto her finger. "He's completely fine."

"Ideally, we would give it some time, to ensure that -"


"But there is no reason whatsoever to assume that there are non-obvious side effects," he said, sighing at her affectionately, "and so, yes, if you like, I can reset your homeworld now."

"Please," she breathed, eyes moist.

Tekaal gently kissed her between her eyebrows, and cast the spell.

So far as Rhysel could tell, absolutely nothing happened.

"Is it gone?" she asked. "My summon?"

Tekaal's analysis was still active; he looked her up and down. "I believe so," he said in a low voice. "Welcome to Elcenia."

Chapter Twenty-Four: Ceremony

"So," Rhysel said, "I can go back?"

"Presumably," Tekaal said in a soft voice.

She met his eyes. "I won't want to stay there. I live here now. I have work and a home - and a wonderful boyfriend. But I want to go for just a few degrees, now, to see for myself that I can - and then later, when we've had more time to prepare for a trip, I want to go with you and show you the world."

Tekaal nodded. He kissed her forehead, and said, "I'll draw you a sending circle."

An angle later, Rhysel was standing in her tower near Dyran, not a foot from where she'd collapsed to sleep before waking up on Korulen and Saasnil's floor. A moment of vertigo suggested that she'd dreamed the last months. That it had been only yesterday she'd gone to help with the collapsed rocks, the crushed workers, and hauled herself home and not dared to try the stairs.

But she looked down at herself - at the skirt, the sash, the long scoop-collared shirt and the sandals on her feet. She hadn't gone to sleep in these clothes; she hadn't owned these clothes. She ran lightly up the stairs to her library, which was missing the books Tekaal had summoned for her. A scan of the shelves left her with an armful more she wanted to bring back with her.

And then she was back in Elcenia again, Tekaal standing at the border of her circle with his lips pursed tight and his hand still out in the reversal gesture.

Rhysel pitched forward to fling her arms around him, books tumbling to the floor behind her. "You are the most brilliant," she said, "the most wonderful, the most amazing wizard I have ever met. I love you. You're spectacular."

"The spell invention itself was not difficult," he murmured, wrapping his arms around her. "It was only necessary to have the idea."

"But you're the one who had the idea," she said. "And you're the one who did invent the spell. And you're the one who cast it, and you're the one who sent me back, and I love you."

Tekaal kissed her. "I love you too."

They didn't go to Barashi that week. The students took up a ludicrous amount of time - Tekaal blamed the fact that they were being encouraged to choose specialties, and were more interested in taking up office angles to pursue those than in practicing the assigned workings from other disciplines. Rhysel was more inclined to think that the students were just studious and wanted to do well.

Whatever it was, Inen through Fenen were taken up by classes and meetings with students. Tekaal, who was still loaded with other classes, had it even worse, but Rhysel had responded by taking on most of his individual meetings and sending the rest of the kids to Talyn. She found herself irrationally jealous of her apprentice for being able to field questions and hold practice sessions at her tower while she was obliged to use her office; it still didn't feel natural to her.

"I confess I am not looking forward to hiring additional teachers. They will oblige us to hold weekly department meetings even if we should find ourselves with nothing to say," Tekaal told her when they found a simultaneous few degrees to lean out of their offices and talk.

"That sounds like a waste of time," she said.

"Ostensibly, it is to provide a platform for issues to be raised without making anyone go to the trouble of organizing a meeting for it," Tekaal said. "To encourage faculty to bring up minor things rather than waiting until they are worth the rigmarole."

"Well," she said. "I'm glad we can skip them, too, but I think another teacher might save more time than he or she would cost in obligatory staff meetings."

They didn't go to Barashi on Lunen, either, because that was the day of Ahin's wedding. She spent Lunen morning with an amused Keo, demanding help finding an outfit nice enough to wear to a wedding by Esmaarlan standards. Keo helped her pick out a layered sleeveless dress in ice-blue and a cardigan to match.

Rhysel decided against telling Keo about Ilen on this particular occasion. She still didn't understand Keo's - or any dragon's - issues with shrens, and until she found some clever way to approach it, she didn't want to fly into that particular window again.

Keo and Rhysel grabbed lunch at a restaurant the dragon favored. Each dish on the menu was marked with a number of stars, which Rhysel foolishly didn't ask about. When Keo asked what Rhysel thought of the food, Rhysel's response was to breathe a little puff of fire at her; this was technically kamai, not a side effect of her "pepper rice", but it felt like it ought to be.

And then Rhysel, dress wrapped in paper and tucked into her satchel, flew to Tekaal's home. "Can I change into my dress here and then teleport over with you?" she asked. "I don't want to fly across town in it."

"Of course," he said. She changed clothes in his bathroom, and emerged to find him pacing.

"I'm not going to make us late, am I?" she asked, stepping into new, white sandals and wrapping the straps around her calves.

"No, no," he said. "You may make us merely on time."

Rhysel laughed and hurried. "How do I look? Should I take my hair out of the braid?"

"No, you're entirely lovely," he assured her. Tekaal was in something not unlike his ordinary wear, as far as Rhysel could tell, though she couldn't remember seeing the particular shirt or trousers before. They were perhaps a little more form-fitting than most of his clothes, and all sage green. "Shall we?"

Tekaal teleported them to the Kithen household, where everyone was running from place to place and shouting at each other about forks and when they were expecting Cousin Nemifaath and boxes and whether anyone had seen Rasam. Rhysel tried to stay out of the way. Tekaal, who knew more about what was going on than she did, kissed her cheek and disappeared into the sea of Kithenik and farther-flung family and copious friends.

After about an angle past when Rhysel had expected the ceremony to start, she was herded into the backyard by Rinaal, who was beaming ear to ear about the fact that (she explained repeatedly) "my son is getting married!"

The backyard that the Kithen household shared with their neighbors was devoid of such neighbors, except for any who were in the crowd attending the wedding. At an edge of the circular lawn, an elf woman Rhysel didn't recognize was standing on a row of cube-shaped boxes. When Rhysel squinted she was able to read scrawled labels on the boxes - "K. clothes", "R. toys & books", "miscellaneous". The woman held a heavy book open along one arm, supporting its spine in her elbow. Everyone in the crowd was either facing her or looking covetously at the buffet table that had been set up opposite her.

Rhysel glanced at the food, but she wasn't hungry, and turned her attention to the woman on the boxes. Presumably she was some sort of celebrant.

The crowd gradually quieted. "Welcome, family and friends of Ahin Kithen, Kestaar Rebaaven, and Rasam Rebaaven," said the book-holding woman, breaking into a broad smile. "I'm Ahin's cousin Nemifaath, and I'm officiating today. Ahin, come up here and tell me why you hauled me across town today." The tone was light and teasing.

Ahin climbed up onto the platform of boxes Nemifaath was standing on via a shorter box on the officiator's left side. He was wearing a style like the one Tekaal had chosen, except it was in white trimmed with silver. "I hauled you across town so you could bring your book," he said, tapping it, "and so I could write my name in it, next to the name of the man I love, and next to the name of his child I love, and spend the rest of the day and the rest of my life married, and a father."

"Their names?" said Nemifaath. The words seemed memorized to Rhysel, parts of a ritual, but it was unfamiliar enough to her that she could largely forget about it.

"Kestaar, get up here," laughed Ahin. "Tell my cousin what you're here for."

Kestaar, his clothes exactly like Ahin's but with the colors reversed, climbed up the opposite side of the platform of boxes. Rhysel abruptly wondered if it was made of boxes deliberately, or for a lack of other materials. She could have made them a stage if anyone had asked her.

"I'm here to marry you, of course," Kestaar said. "And join your family, with my daughter too. But I think that will involve changing our names. This," he continued, gesturing at the house, "is a household of Kithenik. So, I'm here to spend the rest of the day and the rest of my life married, and a Kithen."

"But this isn't just a wedding," Nemifaath said.

"That's right," said Kestaar. "Rasam, sweetie, up here."

Rasam trotted up the box-stairs herself in a silver skirt and white blouse that matched the grooms' clothes. "I'm going to be a Kithen too," she announced, and Rhysel thought from the amused smiles on her father and stepfather-to-be and officiator's faces that this might not be entirely on script. "And I'm going to have two fathers instead of one. For the rest of my life."

"Well," said Nemifaath, "you're not going to do this only for Kestaar and Rasam to go back to the Rebaavenik's house up in Kelsandek, are you?"

"No," said Kestaar, and he tapped his foot on the boxes; Ahin followed suit, and Rasam a beat later. "While we were waiting for you to come make it official, we gave some of our things to the family we lived with until today, and we decided we didn't need other things and discarded them, and everything else is in boxes like the ones under our feet now."

Nemifaath looked down in mock surprise. "Well, you seem to have this all set up. I suppose all you need now is my book," she said.

"If you please," Ahin said.

Nemifaath handed Ahin the book and produced a silvery pen from the pocket of her drapey grey dress. He signed his name with a flourish, twice, and handed her the book; she wrote a few strokes and offered the volume to Kestaar. Kestaar signed twice, and Nemifaath initialed those signatures too and held the book down where Rasam could reach it. Rasam signed her name once, painstakingly, and Nemifaath made one last scribble in her book and clapped it shut with a bang.

"Help yourselves to your first kiss as a married couple," she said, grinning, and the men crossed the makeshift stage to meet in the center and do exactly that. "And Ahin," she added at length, when they'd torn themselves away from one another, "go ahead and give your daughter a kiss too."

Ahin scooped up Rasam under both arms and spun her around, then kissed her on the forehead and put her down again. She giggled riotously and almost fell off the boxes from dizziness before Kestaar caught her by the shoulder, and then the crowd burst into thunderous foot-stomping and whoops and cheers.

Tekaal had, at some point, made his way through the crowd to Rhysel. He kissed her right beneath her ear and murmured, "Now the ceremony is over; there's only a party left. You can leave at any time if you like, but you're welcome to stay, too. Ahin made the food."

"He cooked his own wedding dinner?" Rhysel asked incredulously.

"He wouldn't dream of entrusting it to anyone else," Tekaal explained. "It's very good. He's a wonderful cook."

"I don't have much appetite," she demurred. "I got lunch with Keo."

Linisaar had moseyed towards them. "Hi, Rhysel," she said. "You haven't had Ahin's cooking yet, have you? Don't miss it, even if you're not hungry - just have one bite of everything."

"Well, all right," laughed Rhysel, and let Tekaal and his sister propel her towards the buffet. She reached between bodies and ducked under arms to get a plate with the most modest possible portions of each item on the table, and tasted. Tekaal raised an eyebrow at her when she went back for thirds, but he didn't comment.

"You don't have a sense of smell," she muttered at him under her breath, "you don't know how good a cook he is."

"I have nonetheless been reliably informed that the world is richer for Ahin having escaped that family malady and thereby being able to cultivate this skill," Tekaal told her. He seemed to be enjoying the food, too, although not with as much ecstatic relish as people who could appreciate the aromas.

Rhysel was mildly surprised that there was no dancing at the wedding. Perhaps everyone was too full of fruit-honey-butter sandwiches on almond bread, and turkey marinated in something secret, and skewers of asparagus and halibut and lemon and bayleaf drizzled with an equally mysterious sauce, and rolled-up salad greens concealing nuggets of soft cheese, and six-layered chocolate maple buttercream truffles, and the smooth white soup of impossible savoriness to which no one could identify any ingredients other than "water, presumably" and "probably pef tan, because he puts that in everything, doesn't he?"

"Dear gods," she muttered after an epic fight with herself over a fourth truffle. "Why hasn't he made a trillion aaberik opening a restaurant?"

Tekaal shrugged. "I believe he prefers witchcraft and would become bored if he had to cook on a daily basis. Also, he guards his recipes with an extreme jealousy that would not support having any staff in the kitchen other than himself. But we are all pleased when he chooses to produce a meal."

"I can imagine," Rhysel said, swooning over her candy. "Dear gods. I wish I'd skipped lunch. I think he's a better cook than my mother."

"If you only think that instead of knowing it, she must be incredible," commented Esten, sidling up to them.

"She's really, really good," Rhysel said. "Lots of practice. But no pef tan. They're probably on a par if Ahin doesn't use any of that."

"You should tell him that, and then put him in a situation where he can challenge your mom to a cooking contest, and put me in a situation where I can judge it," Esten encouraged her.

Rhysel shrugged noncommittally. She consulted her stomach about its ability to hold more food. It did not like the idea, much as her mouth craved another spoonful of the soup, another triangle of sandwich, another little leaf-cheese wrap, another skewer, another bite of turkey... "Tekaal," she said, "if I build a power box, flood it with lifeforce, and chug a vial of wakeflower so I can stand up, in order to become hungry enough to have another helping, will you be very cross with me about endangering my health?"

Tekaal smiled at her gently. "Only slightly. It is a special occasion. But I don't advise it."

"Hey, know what?" said the little blond elf girl who lived in the Kithenik's attic; Rhysel failed to place her for a moment until Tekaal supplied, <That is my cousin's daughter Ansil.> "If you want Ahin to cook again you should make there be another wedding. He'd cook at it." The small elf then poked Rhysel several times in the side to drive her point home, and then skipped away with a truffle in one fist, whistling.

Rhysel glanced at her boyfriend, who had become quite pink. <It's not that embarrassing an idea, is it?> she asked him.

<The way it was presented was embarrassing,> he answered.

She decided not to push.

She'd see how Tekaal held up after meeting her family.

They did not visit Barashi until another week of classes had gone by. On Fenen evening, though, they went to Kanaat's office, where the headmaster and Keo were waiting to send the pair of them along. "Aar Kithen, you know my dragonsong, correct?" Keo asked Tekaal. Rhysel didn't know what a dragonsong was, but didn't want to hold up the trip soliciting an explanation.

"I do," he confirmed. "I will notify you if we should wish to be unsent at any time before Chenen at twelfth-and-same."

"Right then," Keo said. "Who's going first?"

"I will," Rhysel said. "Do you need a focus, or...?"

Keo shook her head. "I'm just going to send you to your tower. I've been there, so I can do it, and Kanaat can too because he experienced it through me. From there you can take transfer points wherever you want to go."

Rhysel nodded and stepped into the diagram.

Keo cast the spell.

Rhysel landed in her tower again, but without the nervous questioning of her experiences; there was no particular relief of tension when Tekaal appeared beside her, only an intensified excitement. She glanced out the window and saw it was late morning, although if she wanted to stay on something resembling her usual schedule, she'd need to go to bed soon.

"Where shall we begin?" Tekaal asked her.

"First," she said, "let me give you some transfer point signatures, in case we get split up somehow. This is the one for this tower..." She touched his head and shared the point's fingerprint. "This is my parents' hometown; this is the one in my blood sister Eryn's tower; this is the one at Master Revenn's old tower, though I'm not sure who has it now, probably one of his children or grandchildren." She puffed a sigh. "I don't know if we'll get to everything over the next couple of days. But if you don't mind... I think the first thing I want to do is visit some graves."

"Several of them?"

"Two," she said. "One is near here. Right before I was summoned, there was a disaster in town - I was able to save everyone but one man. He was a friend. Used to best me often as not in the annual ice sculpture contests Dyran holds... I wasn't allowed to use magic for those," she added when Tekaal looked incredulously at her. "I'd like to pay my respects while we're here. And before we leave Dyran I should also talk to the Wanderer who was installed in my place. Then, I should talk to Eryn - you can meet her too - about that death kama she found, and try contacting my Master to - say goodbye. I don't know if he'll let me, but, I can try. And I'll visit his grave either way."

Tekaal nodded soberly. "Of course."

"And I'll send word to my parents that I want to visit," Rhysel went on. "I have a standing invitation to Ryll's place, so just showing up unannounced wouldn't be a complete loss even if everyone else were away, but we might not wind up with time this week, depending. We can come back later if it's almost the end of Chenen, Elcenian time, and we haven't gotten to it yet."

Tekaal nodded. Then, he tilted his head, and pointed out, "I have been studying death kamai and may be able to ask a spirit's presence. Of course you should visit your blood sister if you wish, but it may not be necessary to ask the help of the kama she found for you."

"Oh, good point," Rhysel said. "I wonder if he'd be more likely to come to you than he would be to come back to the other kama? I might want to try her, if he won't talk to you," she added. "Or if it turns out that you simply can't do those kinds of workings, rather than them not working on Elcenia."

"Of course." He bent to kiss her forehead. "Where is your friend's grave likely to be?"

"I missed the funeral, so I don't know where it will be in the yard, but I know where the yard is," Rhysel murmured, and she led Tekaal out of her tower and into the air. "It'll be marked."

The graveyard was a grove of trees of every size, each with a stone plaque at its base, except for the ones that had grown so broad as to swallow theirs in roots and bark. Rhysel looked among the saplings; Mortel had died less than a year ago. She found his name at the foot of a birch.

Rhysel reached out to touch the young tree and felt its lifeforce under her hand. It wasn't anything like Mortel's, but she liked the Restron tradition of planting trees over bodies, to encourage new life in place of lost life. Tekaal didn't speak, and no one else approached the grove to disturb them.

When the sun hit the top of the sky, Rhysel drew away from the tree. "All right," she said. "Let's find where the Wanderer set up his tower, and then move on."

The kama Revenn had sent to look after Dyran sighed to learn that Rhysel didn't intend on coming back after all, but said he'd put in a request for a replacement. He was curious about Tekaal, and kept ignoring Rhysel's questions about how her erstwhile town was doing to ask Tekaal about Elcenia.

Eventually, Rhysel was satisfied that Dyran would be taken care of one way or another, had gotten the Wanderer to agree to bring a letter to her parents' town indicating that she'd be there in the next tenday, and extracted herself from the new tower. "To Eryn's?" she asked.

"By all means," Tekaal replied, and they borrowed the Wanderer's transfer point to visit the image kama.

Eryn lived in a mountain village in the north of Restron, not far from Broad Lake, and the last time Rhysel had visited, the place had been buried so deep in snow that Eryn had gotten into and out of her home via a door on the fourth floor. It was summer this time, though, and that door opened into the air, without even so much as a ladder justifying its place in the architecture. Rhysel instead rang the bell at the door that opened to a narrow set of mossy stairs winding up the mountainside; Tekaal waited on the step below.

"Just a sub!" hollered Eryn's voice - it was illusory, as from nowhere in the tower could it have carried so clearly, but Rhysel smiled to hear it anyway. "I've got my hands full."

<I've waited this long,> Rhysel sent mirthfully, echoing the sound to Tekaal so he'd know what was going on.

"Rhysel?!" exclaimed Eryn's illusion, and the door flew open, trailing soap bubbles from the image kama's froth-covered hands. She was plump as ever, blond waves of hair framing a beaming face. "Gods, it's you! I thought you were stuck in that other existence."

"I was," Rhysel said, flinging her arms around Eryn's neck without heed to the soap. "Tekaal found a way to let me come back."

"Tekaal's this serious-looking elf fellow?" Eryn said, looking appraisingly in his direction while she squeezed Rhysel back. Rhysel suspected she was bolstering her pronunciation of the long aa with more illusion, but the effect was quite seamless.

"I prefer to be called Aar Kithen, generally speaking," said Tekaal.

<Sorry,> Rhysel sent to her boyfriend, and she stepped back and went on without giving Eryn a chance to inquire deeply into the justification for the alternate set of syllables. "He's a wizard, that's the kind of Elcenian magic that let me write to you. A bunch of wizards tried to figure out how to let me come back and he's the one who pulled it off."

"Good for you, Aar Kithen Tekaal," said Eryn, apparently interpreting "Aar Kithen" as a title all its own and "Tekaal" as a name that might reasonably follow it.

"Just, 'Aar Kithen', please," he said patiently. "Thank you."

Eryn stuck out her tongue at Rhysel, who rolled her eyes. "So," Eryn said after a pause, "you want the transfer point signature for that death kama?"

"Maybe," Rhysel said. "Te- Aar Kithen's going to try first. He's studying death kamai, but either some death kamai things don't work on Elcenia, or some of them don't work for Elcenians. I guess we'll find out." She sighed. "When you talked to Master Revenn, did he sound - happy? Rested?"

"He sounded put out with me for bothering him?" Eryn suggested. "But yeah. I think he's happy and rested. Come in, both of you."

The sisters caught up, which included Eryn introducing Rhysel to her soapy new puppy (Tekaal was taken aback by the creature; apparently it had escaped Rhysel's notice that Elcenia lacked dogs). Tekaal, opposite the room from the women, undertook the tedious ritual of spirit-calling, which involved drawing several drops of his own blood and repeating Revenn's full name some sixty-four times between long pauses. Rhysel's eyes kept sliding away from Eryn's face towards her boyfriend performing his working, towards the end of it. Eryn would normally have made doe-eyes and complained of neglect, but she held her tongue this time.

"Revenn Carrel Aldrel a Casten," intoned Tekaal a final time.

There was a silence. Rhysel held her breath.

A grey, smoky figure, shaped in a manner suggestive of Revenn, appeared between the elf's hands. Revenn looked at Tekaal and then Eryn and then Rhysel, and sighed.

"You have one sub," was the first thing Revenn said. One sub, sixty-four slices, long enough to bolt down a small breakfast - simultaneously not enough and all Rhysel could've asked for.

Tekaal stood back. Eryn had already had the chance to talk to the dead man, and so she only waved and then stood aside as well.

"I -" She faltered, then started over; she wanted to fill her time with the most important things, but the silence she uttered when trying to sort out her thoughts wasn't such a thing. "I learned to help the children. They're still how they are, but they're feeling better. And I'm teaching, and it hasn't killed me, and Master, I miss you, I'm sorry I couldn't be there when it happened, I'm sorry I couldn't come right away when I heard -"

"It's all right, Rhysel," said Revenn. "The demon was stopped. We couldn't have brought you there in time to help even if you had been on Barashi."

Rhysel glanced at her feet. "I guess that... I've distracted you from time with - with your wife, and -"

"Yes," said Revenn gently. "I'll see you again in a few hundred years, Rhysel. I wish you all the best. But please don't tell Aar Kithen to call me up again. I don't really have the knowledge I'd need to be of any use if an emergency comes up, you know, and for a social call... Don't dwell on me, Rhysel."

"I understand," she whispered.

"Goodbye, Rhysel," Revenn said, and the spirit dissipated.

Chapter Twenty-Five: Hometown

Tekaal was visibly drooping by the time Revenn left, and the conclusion of the working and the subsequent hit of drain didn't improve the situation. Rhysel was a little tired herself, but had gotten accustomed to ignoring the sensation, as longer Elcenian days made it chronic. "Time to go back to my tower and turn in for the, er, afternoon?" she asked Tekaal. She scrubbed a tear away from the side of her nose.

"If there is nothing else you would prefer to accomplish first," Tekaal said, swallowing a yawn. "I believe it is rather late in Elcenia."

"Let's go," she murmured, taking his hand.

"Bye!" Eryn said, hugging Rhysel one more time and waving in Tekaal's direction as they left her tower and made for the transfer point carved into the mossy stairs.

Rhysel's tower had a layer of dust in it, easily blown away, and otherwise was perfectly able to accommodate them for a cycle of sleep. When they woke up, it was still dark outside. "They're not going to be awake yet in Aristan," she said, peering out at the stars, "but they will be in a few angles - I mean, a few divs, maybe four - and then we can go meet Ryll and her family, even if no one else. Er, are you going to insist on formal address with all of them? I suppose Ryll would be the only Aaral Rysen, but there'd be a lot of Aar and Aaral Camlenns..."

"I suppose I can refer to your relatives by their first names," Tekaal said. "When it is called for. I have of course developed some skill at avoiding the need for them, as you may have observed."

They passed the time mostly by going through her library under firelight, choosing what to take and what to give away. Rhysel made a few trips to deposit stacks of books at the doors of the relevant recipients, and made glass belljars with which to protect the volumes until they were found. Rhysel then took the pair of them far enough east - to a country on another continent that she'd only been to once - that restaurants were open. They got breakfast, with Rhysel ordering for both of them in Eashiri, and then killed time by going to Aristan early and trying to catch platypuses.

"I am astounded," Tekaal informed her when she finally levitated a wriggling duckbilled animal into the air. It had been swimming moments earlier, but seemed to resent the rain, which ran down in rivulets off the towering trees flanking the river and kept splattering on its forehead. Rhysel extended her protection from the drops to the animal and it calmed down.

"Want to hold it? This one is..." She extended wild-kamai senses towards it. "...a female, so it's not poisonous."

"They don't deter predators by sheer absurdity?" Tekaal asked, holding out his hands to take the platypus and peer at it up close.

Rhysel laughed. "No."

Tekaal frowned at the platypus, as though expecting it to realize that it did not make sense and cease to exist, and finally released it into the river where she'd caught it. The sky was starting to pink with sunrise in the clear patches of sky.

"There's another transfer point closer to Ryll's house than the one we used to get here," Rhysel said, "but none of them are early risers, so I think we should just fly there. At least one of Ryll's kids, and by extension Ryll, will be up by the time we land. She has five - a singlet and two sets of twins. Ryll will like you," Rhysel promised. "And her husband's a good sort and her kids are just precious. And my little sister, Myret, will at least think you're interesting."

They flew in silence for a few moments, and Tekaal said, "And your parents?"

"Maybe don't mention to them that you're a wizard," she said. "Or a kama. Don't talk about magic if you can avoid it, or about being from another world, or where I was."

"I see." He tilted his head. "This leaves open... what topics of conversation?"

"Oh - lots - they aren't going to back you into corners trying to make you mention those things," Rhysel hastened to say. "You can tell them you sing and act - although they might want you to prove it, it's a very musical family and I'm the odd one out there - you can tell them you paint, you can tell them you teach and be vague about it if they want to know what, you can tell them about your family - er, leave out that Ahin's a witch, or if you do have to mention that say he's like an apothecary. Like Myret, my little sister."

Tekaal chewed on his lip. "I believe my customary approach to situations of this nature, namely fading into the background, will be unlikely to work in this context."

"Probably," Rhysel admitted. "Don't make a fuss over their having spanked me when I was little," she added. "It's just not a form of abuse. It wouldn't make any sense to them, you'd only offend them."

"I will endeavor to avoid that topic among the other forbidden items," Tekaal said, expression darkening.

"If it's any comfort, Ryll and Lerrel don't hit their kids, and neither do Batai and Karyn - my brother and sister-and-law, the ones with my other niblings," Rhysel said earnestly.

"Do they leave their children in their grandparents' care?" Tekaal asked quietly.

"Sure, but Mother and Father abide by their discipline structure," Rhysel said. "They're not - I don't understand how I can explain so you'll really believe it, but they're not abusers, they didn't set out to hurt as many children as they could get their hands on and choose the mechanism of corporal punishment for rulebreaking and misbehavior."

"I see."

Rhysel spent the rest of the trip drilling Tekaal on Ryll's children's names (Tyrrel, Garyn, Leyf, Rhysel's namesake who went by "Sel", and Vianne). He appeared to have those and the other relevant parties' names memorized by the time they landed in Tyren.

"This is where I grew up," Rhysel said, sweeping an arm to indicate the quietly waking town. "Ryll's house is this way; my parents live north of the bridge we passed, and Myret's above her shop in the town center when she's home."

Tekaal nodded at her, and followed her on a meandering stroll through the town. It was weedy between the cobbles, but lacked the thick trees that dominated the unsettled parts of Aristan. She pointed out its few landmarks - "My father built that fountain and I helped with the curlwork around the bowl", "according to my mother, that's where I said my first word, which was reportedly 'suns'", "I used to come here for fruit tarts every Desden" - and eventually they reached Ryll's long, low ranch house.

The ranch itself, and the associated stable for the horses, stretched out from the Tyren town limits, and a few horses and one zebra were already out in the pasture getting rained on, which told Rhysel that Ryll was up and about. She paused to explain horses and zebras to Tekaal, who was reasonably sure they were not any more Elcenian than platypuses but could at least compare them to deer. Then she went to the front door, saw a sign saying "Bell out of order, please knock", and rapped her knuckles against the wood.

Not particularly promptly, the door was dragged aside by a small redheaded halfblood girl who fixed Tekaal with a suspicious look and then smiled at Rhysel. If Rhysel remembered right, Ryll's younger twins were seven, and the one she was looking at was Vianne, not Sel. "Hi, Vianne," she said. "Can you go tell Mommy that I'm here?"

Vianne bobbed her head twice and dashed back into the house, leaving the door half-open. "Mommy Mommy, Mommy," she exclaimed. "It's Sel's aunt."

"Sel's aunt?" Tekaal asked Rhysel quietly.

"The girls have a joke that I'm Sel's aunt, because we have the same name, and so Vianne gets Myret," Rhysel replied, crossing the threshold. "For some reason, they're perfectly willing to share Karyn, but I suppose she's not a biological aunt so maybe they imagine it's different?"

If Tekaal had a reply, it was drowned by Ryll's enthusiastic cry of "Rhysel!" as she emerged into the front hall from the kitchen off to the left. Ryll's hair was a butterier shade than Rhysel's, and her face more compact, but the resemblance was obvious. The sisters embraced, and then Ryll clamped her hands on Rhysel's shoulders, pushed her out to arms' length, and looked her up and down. "Well, you don't seem much the worse for wear. How did you get back so soon? I thought it would take months, years...?"

"Tekaal found a way to bypass the usual process," Rhysel said, reaching behind her to tuck a thumb into one of the fasteners of his shirt and pull him forward. "Tekaal, this is Ryll. Ryll, my boyfriend, Te-"

"Boyfriend! Oh my!" exclaimed Ryll, hands leaving Rhysel's shoulders to seize Tekaal's and maneuver him into the gaslight for a better look. Tekaal permitted this, although he looked somewhat alarmed when she transformed the gesture into another hug. "Tekahl?"

"Tekaal," he corrected, patting Ryll's back awkwardly until she let him go and returned to holding him in his place by his shoulders for inspection. He didn't offer to let her substitute "Aar Kithen", which contained the same problem vowel.

"Tekawl," attempted Ryll, and he shrugged; whether this was to achieve the subsequent effect of her taking her hands off his shoulders was unclear. "Well, welcome! I'm so glad to see you! Rhysel, I got your letter, but I haven't opened it yet... there's been Senate business..."

"That's all right," Rhysel said. "It just said we were coming here, today or tomorrow or in half a tenday after that, and that you might want to let Mother and Father know."

"Well, I can go ahead of you and tell them you're coming," Ryll offered. "But they're home and I don't think they'll tell you to go away and come back next Ruden! You haven't seen them in three years!"

"Three years?" Tekaal asked.

Rhysel glanced away - at, as it happened, the twin girls now peering into the hall. Sel appeared to be marshaling a valiant effort to contain her excitement, which failed the instant her very own aunt made eye contact: she launched herself into Rhysel's knees, aiming so as to knock her over. Tekaal caught his girlfriend and her niece both with air kamai and set them on their feet; Sel giggled.

"Three years," said Ryll, after planting her palm on Sel's head and drawing the child away from Rhysel. "I know you live far away, Rhysel, but it's not like they'd work it into the conversation if they suspected you got here by transfer point. You don't have to put up with the godsawful stagecoach ride every time."

"I know," said Rhysel, fidgeting. "I took transfer points most of the way here today, and flew the rest of the way. But... you know."

Ryll sighed. "I do. Uh, if you'd like to take over making breakfast, I can go now..."

Rhysel was nodding halfway through the suggestion. "I'll handle breakfast. Had you started?"

"Got out the eggs but haven't cracked them," Ryll said gratefully, and she hugged Rhysel again and slipped out the door.

<I'm the only one without pitch,> Rhysel informed Tekaal as she sidled into the kitchen, <but I'm also the only one Mother managed to teach to cook.>

<Shall I do anything in particular while awaiting your sister's return and the availability of eggs?> Tekaal inquired. He was eyeing the girls, who were observing him from a shrinking distance.

<Nothing in particular, no.>

Rhysel fixed omelettes, and by the time she was sliding a third onto a plate, the rest of the household had awakened and Rhysel had paused to hug her brother-in-law and the three nephews. (Ryll's husband Lerrel was as inclined towards hugs as his wife, and required one of Tekaal, but this one had left the wizard coughing somewhat when it ended.) Each of these, having Rhysel's presence explained to their satisfaction, started quizzing Tekaal; not yet prohibited from discussing magic, he was reasonably forthcoming with answers to everything from "how old are you?" (Garyn) ("ninety-two") through "are you a kama too?" (Tyrrel) ("yes") to "you know she's my aunt, right?" (Sel) ("so I have been informed").

Eventually everyone but the yet-absent Ryll was full of eggs, and Ryll too finally arrived and hung up her dripping poncho to find her own eggs plated and kept warm for her. "They'll expect us all over for lunch, and Myret'll be there too," she reported after she was halfway through.

"All right," said Rhysel, smiling just a little and then picking up Leyf's napkin to dab away some of his food from his chin.

"So, Tekaal," said Ryll, sounding like she'd been practicing the sound on her way to her parents' house, "what makes you think you're good enough to date my sister?"

"I have no excuse to doubt her esteemed judgment," Tekaal replied steadily.

"Good answer," Ryll laughed.

Ryll finished her breakfast, while her elf husband Lerrel slipped out to hitch horses to the family wagon and make the trip across town possible without shedding overactive children to the enticements of street musicians and sweet shops. Rhysel showed Tekaal how to climb up into the dry, roofed wagon without slipping on the wet steps that hung from its rear entrance. Flying would have been possible but he'd need to know how to get out of the wagon without when they arrived at their destination.

Lerrel drove the carriage, and the children engaged in ever-more-fanciful speculation about what their grandmother would make for lunch (eventually collapsing into giggles when Leyf opined that she'd spin them snowhawks out of sugar that would make real icicles descend from their teeth). The usual flautists and fiddlers and others with portable instruments were lining the avenues under every third building's last two feet of roof, filling the air with songs, and Rhysel closed her eyes and tilted her head back to listen. All of the musicians took cues from their neighbors, and popular songs they could all follow along with rippled along after the wagon.

"Are they trying to earn money?" Tekaal asked her.

"No - if they were performing for money it would be at a concert hall. But most people in Aristan learn at least one instrument, or sing, and practice outside like this," she said. She sighed. "I used to go on long, long walks when I was a little girl to hear them all, since I never managed to be even passable at making music of my own."

"What about you, Tekaal, are you musical?" Ryll asked, picking lint out of Garyn's hair and glancing in his direction.

"Yes," he said. He didn't elaborate.

Ryll was about to inquire further when Lerrel pulled the horses to a stop and tied them to a post outside Rhysel's parents' house. Rhysel peered out the gap in the front of the carriage's top.

A grey-haired, solid-bodied human man was sitting on the covered patio in front of the house, whittling something that hadn't yet taken recognizable shape. He set down knife and wood and hauled himself to his feet when the wagon stopped.

"Good to see you again," he said to Rhysel, and he held out his arms, hugging each passing grandchild as they streamed into the house, but then straightening up and looking at her. He didn't say anything about having thought it would be a while, or ask how she'd been able to come back; Rhysel didn't know if that was her sister's coaching or just his own laconic self, but she was glad she didn't have to explain it. She lowered herself from the wagon, let herself get wet in the few steps between it and the building, and went to accept her hug.

"It's good to see you too, Father," she murmured.

He squeezed her and let go. "And this is the young man you're seeing?" Tekaal looked older than any Barashin elf under nine centuries did, despite being only in his nineties, but whether Tem knew that or not he'd be calling Tekaal Rhysel's "young man" simply because he was her boyfriend. Ryll had never been able to convince their parents to stop calling Lerrel "child" even though he was more than five times the combined age of his in-laws.

"Yes, Father, this is Tekaal. Tekaal, this is my father Tem."

"Good morning," Tekaal said, smiling - Rhysel wondered if he was drawing on his acting skills. Tekaal offered his hand to be shaken. Tem didn't recognize the gesture and might have ignored it anyway; he used the opening to hug Tekaal too. Tekaal was stiff but refrained from protest.

Tem, having finally hugged everyone who he felt required hugging, ushered those who were still sitting on the patio into the house. There, Rhysel's mother - who looked no older than Ryll or Rhysel herself, and bore similar red hair over her sharp expression and falling around her sharp ears - was already dandling one of Ryll's girls on each knee and couldn't readily get up to continue the round-robin of hugs. "Welcome home, child," she said to Rhysel. "It's been so long. I wish you'd visit more often."

Rhysel fidgeted. There wasn't a good answer to that, not one that wouldn't bring up either magic or not wanting to spend much time at her parents', so she only said, "Hi, Mother. This is my mother, Allera," she added in Tekaal's ear.

"You must be Tek," Allera said to Tekaal.

"Tekaal," he replied, slowly and clearly.

"I can't pronounce that," Allera said, removing one hand from its task of stroking Vianne's hair to wave dismissively through the air. "Temmer, Tem. Tekaal, Tek."

"The syllable 'tek', in my native language, means 'hat'," Tekaal tried. "I would prefer not to be addressed as 'hat'."

Allera blinked, and said, "Have you got a middle name?"

"I do not." There was a silence, and he said, "I would not object if you were to call me 'Kithen', that being my surname."

Allera clearly didn't like that, but found herself with no graceful way to object, and so she shrugged and started putting small braids in Sel's strawberry-brown hair. "Kithen it is. So what do you do?"

"I am," he said carefully, "a teacher," - and then, to deflect attention from the question of what he taught, "and occasionally I act."

"He sings," Rhysel put in; she laid her hand against Tekaal's back.

"Do you?" Allera asked. "Will you show us? We usually try to do some singing as a family when we get together. And it won't be time for lunch until a bit later."

"Now?" Tekaal asked, blinking.

"Well, if you don't have anything memorized... Rhysel, did you actually mean he performs, or -"

"I do perform," he murmured. "I have several songs memorized. Nothing with lyrics in Martisen, however."

"That's fine," said Allera, and by this time all five of Ryll's children were looking at him expectantly too.

Tekaal inhaled as though to sigh, but instead he produced the opening bars to The Wonders of Matref.

When he finished the song, Ryll was the first to applaud, and everyone else followed suit. Tekaal watched Rhysel clap her hands twice and looked confusedly at her.

<Mindspeech is safe; no one can tell. This is like stomping your feet is in Esmaar,> she sent him.

<Ah.> "Thank you," he said aloud.

"That was lovely," Allera said sincerely. "It's so nice Rhysel has found a young man with some musical talent, when she can't make music herself."

Since Rhysel felt exactly the same way about the matter when she thought about it, she didn't think herself justified in the flare of annoyance, and controlled it; something crossed Tekaal's face but he didn't speak. Ryll cut in. "Tekaal, do you want to hear some Aristanian songs? My kids can harmonize on The Mango Tree."

"I would be intrigued," Tekaal said, after scanning eager faces and appearing to conclude that he would not be putting any of them too terribly on the spot. Ryll conducted them through the folk song, singing along herself to balance the voices, and then Allera fetched a lap-harp and accompanied herself in another song and Tem in a third selection. Tekaal was pressed to sing again - he chose something Rhysel only vaguely remembered hearing at one of his private concerts for her, rather than another song from The Man in Red and Gold - and finally Allera decided it was time for lunch and went off to the kitchen.

"Have you been doing any sculpting?" Tem asked Rhysel next.

He wouldn't count anything for proxic kamai, so she could only say, "A little," and bring up the ice sculpture contests in Dyran and the handful of things she'd made the long way in the last three years.

"Father," Ryll said, "did you ever give Rhysel journeyman sculptor status? Wasn't she close when she left? And she's kept up."

"Haven't yet, no," grunted Tem.

"Maybe you should," Ryll suggested.

Tem looked at Rhysel appraisingly. "Let's see you make something, girl," he said.

Everyone followed Tem to his workshop, where a fairy in marble with half-finished wings stood opposite a bronze tower of miniature leaping capybaras. (Tekaal did seem to recognize the capybaras, although Rhysel suspected they lived somewhere other than Esmaar in Elcenia.)

"Something in wood?" Rhysel said, looking at her father's pile of scrap. "Do you care what I make?"

"Up to you," Tem said, taking a seat and leaning his elbows on his knees.

Rhysel took up an irregular block of wood that looked like it might fit around the shape of her pet wren. She helped herself to one of her father's knives and started to carve.

By the time Allera called everyone into the main part of the house for lunch, the bird was clearly a bird, although Rhysel had yet to peel away the shavings between feathers or sand anything. "You can come back to it later," Tem said, clapping Rhysel once on the shoulder and turning to go in for the meal.

Allera had made pork and onion dumplings, rice and beans smothered in cilantro, and a mango yogurt dessert. "No troll food?" Rhysel asked.

"I know you like troll food, Rhysel, but I don't know if your young man does; it's an acquired taste," Allera said briskly. "You can fix it for yourself later on if you like. I'll let you help with dinner. You always had lots of promise as a cook. Kithen? This will be all right for you, won't it? No allergies or whatnot?"

"Not that I am aware of," he said. "Thank you."

The door slammed open. "It is pouring out there!" called a new voice. "Am I in time for lunch? Gods, that smells good. I've been working with the most foul-smelling goops all morning..."

"My aunt," said Vianne.

"Myret," called Ryll, "guess who's here!"

"Aziel?" guessed Myret. "No, I'd've noticed her from outside. The First Citizen? Hey, First Citizen, Ryll can't actually cook, she's tricking you -"

"It's me, My," laughed Rhysel.

"Rhysel!" Myret exclaimed, poking her head into the dining room. "Good gods, it's been ages. I'd tell you to stand up so I could hug you but my umbrella's busted and also I've got rash ointment all down my arms and don't think you'd like it on your shirt. Weird clothes. Does everybody wear stuff like that where you live now? What was it called?"

"Myret," Ryll said, getting up to pull another chair out of the stack in the corner, "why don't you just sit down and help yourself to some food."

"Don't mind if I do, I'm starved. Gods, this smells amazing, Mother -"

"Myret," said Allera sternly, "why do you have rash ointment on your arms?"

Myret blinked, nonplussed, as she took a plate and heaped it with dumplings and rice. "'Cause I've got a rash, that's why. Don't worry, 's not contagious, I just fell into a patch of -"

"Fell in?" asked Allera, frowning. "Or did you jump in, like last time, to have an excuse to test something on yourself?"

"I said I fell, and I fell!" snapped Myret hotly. "But it wouldn't be any reason to bark at me if I didn't. I can't go testing things I'm not sure of on other people, can I? Can't tell if something works for a rash if I don't have a rash to put it on, can I?"

"You're not nearly careful enough. Half the time you come in here for meals you're near-drunk on a new tincture or smeared in a new cream, goodness only knows what you're doing to yourself when you don't need to be presentable. What if you get yourself permanently sick, lose a limb, wind up a freak of nature like Rhysel?"

"Mother!" exclaimed Ryll.

Rhysel shrank into herself and reached blindly for Tekaal's hand. He took it, and squeezed it, and she glanced at his face, which was frozen in astonishment.

"That's not going to happen!" Myret shouted. "Any of it! I know what I'm doing, I always start with tests on animals -"

"Animals don't start setting things on fire and making them explode!" Allera fired back. "Testing on your rodents wouldn't tell you if you'd discovered a plant that would make that happen to you! I lost one daughter -"

"Mother," Ryll interrupted. "Mother, you haven't lost anyone, all three daughters are right here -"

Allera ignored her. "Lost one, and Myret, you have no care for your well-being at all -"

Tekaal was squeezing Rhysel's hand hard enough to hurt, and she couldn't stop herself from squeaking in pain. He instantly released her, but the squeak was enough to draw Allera's attention.

"And you!" the elf woman snapped. "I can't believe you! You were a sweet little girl, you had a problem, that charlatan -" Rhysel flinched at hearing her talk about Revenn that way - "said you could learn to control yourself and come back and live a normal life, but no, you wanted to learn more kamai, dive deeper and deeper into the thing that nearly destroyed our entire family, and now you've gone off to live in another existence where that sort of thing is tolerated -"

"Mother," Ryll tried again. "Mother, please calm down."

"Don't interrupt me, Ryll! And now your baby sister is so encouraged by this behavior that she wants to turn herself into a freak just like you, you abnormal -"

Tekaal stood up abruptly; his chair fell over backward behind him. "What," he said in a voice full of steel, "in the name of all that is good and decent makes you think you have the right to speak to her that way?"

"Hold your tongue, young man," hissed Allera. "Rhysel -"

"I will do no such thing," Tekaal growled. "I will not listen to another word of this in silence. I will not listen to you berate your own daughter for possessing the ability to use kamai through no fault of her own."

"I suppose you're a kama too," Allera sneered. "I don't have much hope that she could have found a normal boyfriend. But I was civil about it -"

"Mother, Tekaal," Ryll squeaked. She went unheeded. Rhysel dimly noticed that Lerrel had herded the children into the playroom upstairs some time ago.

"Civil about it," shouted Allera over her eldest's protests, "until -"

"You were civil about it because we scrupulously avoided every topic adjacent to the subject of magic!" Tekaal roared. "Despite the fact that this cuts you out of ninety percent of your supposedly beloved daughter's life -"

"Don't you dare suggest I don't love my daughter -"

"I'll say it outright!" Tekaal bellowed. "No kind of love is manifested by one party calling the other a freak of nature over the dining table! I cannot fathom what failure of emotion or intellect could lead you to imagine otherwise! I do not know why you might choose to do such a thing, nor why you -" he turned his blazing eyes towards Tem - "might allow it to take place without comment! I will say it outright: you do not love her."

Rhysel scrambled to her feet and fled the house.

Being on the patio, away from the contorted faces and with distance between her and the shouting, helped.

But the walls were only so thick, and Rhysel could still make out the words, and she thought if she took one step out into the rain to get away from them, she might expire of misery on the spot. She contemplated a weed. She didn't touch it with her magic, only looked at it. If the last time she'd provoked her mother into a tirade was any indication, she wouldn't want to do magic for half a tenday.

Tekaal had actually shocked Allera into silence, but he'd simultaneously roused Tem's ire. "Look here, boy," Tem said. "Spontaneous kyma are freaks of nature - consult any book on the subject -"

"I can imagine nothing less relevant!" cried Tekaal. "Its appearance in print does not make it an appropriate way to refer to your daughter! She has done nothing to deserve your wife's vilification or your own neglect! She did not choose to become a spontaneous kama - for that matter, if you hadn't been about to hit her -"

"Are you blaming Tem for Rhysel?" shrieked Allera, no longer silent.

"I am blaming the both of you for causing her pain! In my country she would have been taken from you the instant you laid a hand on her and given to fitter parents who would not abuse her -"

"How dare you. We never raised our hands to her in anger," Allera began, but Tekaal cut her off.

"Rhysel has been so mistreated that I have no idea what led her to wish to come here. She claimed that she was not a victim of abuse, but the topic was confined to corporal punishment - I confess I had not believed you so twisted as to also attack her in this way - I can attribute it only to her own spectacular generosity of spirit that she is willing to set foot in your house if this persecution is what she can expect -"

"You watch what you say, boy," Tem growled.

"Tekaal!" Ryll cut in desperately. "Maybe you had better go find Rhysel and we should all calm down."

There was a silence, or maybe they were speaking more quietly.

The door behind Rhysel opened.

She didn't look around, but she felt Tekaal's arms wind around her, and she trembled where she sat until he kissed the side of her neck and began to croon a lullaby.

Chapter Twenty-Six: Fear

"You don't understand," Rhysel said, when she felt like she could speak.

"Rhysel, you don't have to excuse -"

"I'm not," she said. "I'm not. But until I was fifteen - until I set that switch on fire - until I scared the living daylights out of my parents, until they were afraid of me - I honestly, truly had a wonderful childhood, Tekaal. This doesn't have anything to do with spanking me. The last time they did that, they learned I'd make things explode when hit just like I would when I sneezed. The last time they did that was before it turned into... what you saw." She sighed. "Sometimes I come here to visit and nothing sets them off. Sets Mother off, more like. Father doesn't have her temper. And sometimes, this happens. Ryll tries to smooth things over; she's the diplomat. Sometimes she can."

The inside of the house had been quiet, as far as either Rhysel or Tekaal could hear from the patio, but when Tekaal drew breath to reply, the door swung open and Ryll stepped out. "Lerrel thinks it's best if the children aren't hustled out of the house in a terrific hurry," she said in a low voice. "Let's walk back to my place. He'll bring them home in the cart later."

Tekaal helped Rhysel up, and looked darkly over at Ryll, who didn't meet his eyes. The three of them picked their way through the rain, but Tekaal, evidently having lost interest in the polite fiction about magic, shielded all three from the drops. Ryll didn't complain, about the look or the kamai.

"I expect Mother will cool off and want to come make her apologies in a few divs," Ryll said, halfway to her ranch.

"I've lost track of time," Rhysel murmured. "I don't know if we'll still be here then or not. I don't know if I even hope we are or not."

"We can arrange not to. I can song Aaral Pyga at any time," Tekaal said, squeezing Rhysel's hand. "There is in fact no compelling reason you should ever have to see your parents again."

Rhysel snapped up her head to look at Tekaal. "But - they're not always like - often it's different - today it was only that Myret - Tekaal, I'm not going to shun my parents forever because my mother called me a name over lunch."

"She did not merely -"

"Tekaal," said Ryll sharply. "I'm sure you'll have plenty of time to convey your advice on the subject. But for the time being - Rhysel, what do you want to do?"

Rhysel scrubbed her hand across her face as though rain had fallen on it. "I want to go back to your house. And fix something for lunch to make up for the fact that I got just a few bites of mine. And play with your kids. And let Keo and Kanaat unsend us at the original time, and if Mother comes to apologize before then, I'll let her. And if she doesn't, then I guess she'll do it the next time I'm in town."

"Then that's what you'll do," Ryll said, in a voice that efficiently hedged out the possibility of an argument from Tekaal. Rhysel wondered if she practiced that sort of tone in the mirror, to have it ready to whip out in family disputes and Senate committees alike.

They reached the ranch house. Rhysel busied herself in the kitchen with Ryll's help, and came out with sandwiches. Tekaal took one, fuming quietly. Presently, Lerrel and the children returned home and Ryll roped everyone into a board game, including Tekaal, who moved his pawn at near-random and was swiftly eliminated from the running. Leyf eventually won, and was, by family tradition, entitled to choose the next activity, which wound up with everyone on a horse (Rhysel was obliged to borrow a pair of her sister's pants, which seemed to discomfit Tekaal, but did not elicit complaint).

At the conclusion of the trail ride along the half-trampled path through the thick, buggy forest - during which Tekaal fell off his horse only three times - Rhysel put together a light dinner.

Before they were done with dessert, and before any sign of Allera come to apologize made itself apparent, Rhysel and Tekaal were unsent and reappeared in Kanaat's office.

Tekaal, to Rhysel's mild surprise, left the entire subject of her parents alone for the next week. Perhaps he'd have been more insistent about it if there had been any plans on the table to go back to Tyren. But they readjusted their sleep schedules, and taught class, and on Lunen, they went to Jensal's shren house to treat the groggy but pain-free infant shrens. They talked about kamai and about students and about music and about platypuses and about a new potion Ahin had developed which he believed would make channeling sting a thing of the past and about everything else except Allera and Tem.

It was on Chenen morning, when Rhysel rummaged around in Tekaal's kitchen cupboards trying to find something that was intended to be cooked instead of eaten in its current form, when he brought it up.

"Rhysel," he said.

"Don't you even have flour?"

"I believe there is a small bag of rice flour, in the cabinet to the immediate left of your head, but that was not what I wished to discuss."

Rhysel found the bag he'd mentioned. It was half-empty, but she could make a modest batch of pancakes with it. "What is?"

"I am finding myself unable to make certain relevant predictions about the compatibility between your parents, your desire to maintain a relationship with them, and... a proposition I might ask you to entertain."

Rhysel looked at him blankly, whisking milk into her batter. "I find myself unable to do that, too. Maybe you could explain what you're talking about."

Tekaal chewed on his lip. "Regardless of where the event might take place, some amount of magic - a considerable amount, really - would be called for to enable the attendance of everyone who might wish to be present if..." He coughed, and Rhysel tilted her head. "If you were to agree to marry me."

Rhysel lost a few ticks detachedly considering whether there was any way her parents would put up with being summoned and how much of an improvement it could possibly be to instead send all of the guests from Elcenia to Barashi, before she realized what Tekaal was actually asking and put down her mixing bowl to kiss him.

"I'll marry you," she said in his ear. "We'll figure it out."

"I love you," Tekaal told her, wrapping his arms around her.

"I love you too."

Talyn had pestered Rhysel for a chance to help her with the baby shrens, and since he wasn't allowed in the Paraasilan house, she'd already agreed to let him to come to the tropical one. Accordingly, Tekaal dropped off Rhysel and her apprentice both, and she promised to call when they were done.

Ilen still looked just like Narax, and still made Rhysel double-take when she walked into the roomful of small shrens. "I wish you wouldn't stare at me like that," he said.

"Sorry," she said. "Erm - pardon me if this is rude - do you know who your parents are?"

A deep shudder ran through Ilen. "No."

"Sorry," Rhysel said hastily. "It's just -"

"We all look like someone," Ilen said. "That's how it works."

"How old are you?" she asked.

He seemed to like that question a little better. "Two hundred eighty-eight."

Older than Narax. Rhysel decided to leave the man alone, at least for the day, and turned to the first patient of the day.

Halfway through the queue, Ehail, the silver-haired wizardess who'd first brought Rhysel to the house, let herself into the room. She was silent apart from whispering a greeting to Ilen, and Rhysel surmised she was willing to be ignored until the babies were taken care of. The littlest platinum was granted a circuit around the room, restored to a standard density, and set down; Rhysel then turned to Ehail. "Hi."

"I have some of my notes translated, for your boyfriend," Ehail said.

"Fiancé!" Rhysel couldn't help correcting. She felt a ridiculous grin cross her face.

"Oh. Congratulations. I translated these into Leraal for him," Ehail said, holding out a stack of papers choked with tiny handwriting and rigidly ruled and traced graphs. "I think these are the most important parts, but I'll keep working. I'll have more when you're here again next time. In two weeks?"

"Two weeks," Rhysel confirmed. Behind her, Talyn was teaching an eighteen-year-old diamond shren some complicated clapping game. "But maybe we should be talking to you more often than that. Do you want to come to my tower for dinner sometime this week?"

"I suppose I can do that if you give me your address," Ehail said.

Rhysel tried in vain to find a blank corner to tear off one of the pages of notes, and eventually found a scrap in her satchel instead. "Here. Don't you ever smile?"

Ehail thought about it for a moment. "Twice," she reported, at length.

"...How old are you?"

"Six hundred and sixty-two."

Rhysel stared, then recovered herself and tucked the translated notes into her bag. "Does Arnen at twelfth-and-naught work for you?"

"That's fine," Ehail said. "I'll see you then."

Ehail let herself out of the room. Talyn, apparently bored, went out after her and out to the house yard. Rhysel looked over at Ilen, again, before averting her eyes for fear that she'd stare. "Do you want to come over for dinner sometime, too?" she asked him.

Ilen reacted like she'd threatened to carve out his eyes, shaking violently and drawing back from her. He nearly tripped over a small red shren. "I - I -" Rhysel felt a ripple of terrified empathy, and then another, before flinging up her mind kamai shields.

"Hallai, Hallai," said a malachite baby. "Hallai Hallai Hallai."

"Hallai?" Rhysel asked the malachite. "Ilen, are you -"

The door slammed open, nearly clipping Rhysel across the nose but striking none of the children. A dark-brown-skinned woman with a brilliant cascade of copper hair down her back stormed in, seized Ilen by the front of his shirt, and dragged him, still trembling, out of the room.

"What's going on?" Rhysel asked, addressing the room generally.

"Hallai is the empath," said the same malachite baby. "She took Ilen. He needs to be empathed. You scared him."

"I scared him by inviting him over for dinner?" Rhysel asked.

"Ilen stays in. He's an inside shren," the malachite baby explained. "Ilen doesn't go out. Out scares him. Not me," she added. "I'm gonna go out soon as I'm allowed."

"I see," Rhysel said, though she didn't. She shifted her weight, unwilling to leave the babies unsupervised. She considered calling Talyn back in by mindspeech to ask him to find out who Ilen's backup was, but instead stuck her head out into the hall. It was almost, but not quite, deserted; there was a loitering girl probably in her seventeenth decade, cherry-bright hair marking her a red. "Excuse me, do you know who is supposed to look after the children when Ilen isn't?"

"Ilen's brain broke again?" the girl asked rhetorically. "I can do it. I'm Finnah." She entered the babies' room and plopped herself down on the ground.

"So I'm told," Rhysel said. "What happened to Ilen, do you know?"

"Somebody either opened a window, threatened to make him walk out the door, or suggested that he depart the house by magic," said the red shren. Small shrens started climbing her. One summitted her head. "Hallai's going to have to scream calm at him for a few angles and then he'll be fine."

"I didn't realize inviting him over for dinner would have that effect," Rhysel said.

Finnah shrugged. "Sometimes it happens all by itself. I can watch the kids till Hallai's done with him. You don't have to stick around. You're done, right?"

"Waiting for my fiancé to pick up me and my apprentice. He'll be here any degree now." Rhysel squirmed pleasedly at the word "fiancé" again. "Actually, he should have been here a while ago, if my sense of time is right. I'm not sure what's keeping him."

"You could get Ehail to take you home," Finnah said.

"If Aar Kithen isn't here in half an angle, I'd like to find some volunteers to tap so I can build a transfer point," Rhysel said. "I can get home that way. Actually, that might be a good idea anyway."

"Volunteers to what so you can build a what?" Finnah asked.

Rhysel explained transfer points to Finnah, and then, when the red shren seemed fascinated, went on to give a more detailed description of kamai.

"What's tuition like at your school?" Finnah demanded.

Rhysel blinked. "I don't actually know. I don't see that side of it," she said.

"If it's not really ridiculous maybe Ludei'd send me there and I could learn kamai," Finnah mused. "The house has some funds to get us educated. That's how Ehail's a wizard."

"Do you think I could get some volunteers from the house - four, five, six people who are willing and able to go outside - to help me with that?" Rhysel asked.

"Sure," Finnah said. "Try asking -"

"Room numbers would be more useful than names," Rhysel inserted swiftly.

Finnah shrugged and rattled off a half-dozen room numbers. "I'd do it but I'm sort of inhabited," she said, looking at the pool of babies in her lap and the ones clinging to her sleeves and the two wrapped around her neck and the one still triumphantly sitting in her hair. If she'd been able to rotate her head to look at her own back she might have seen three hanging off the back of her blouse as well.

Rhysel thanked the red shren and found the designated rooms. Five of the six recommended shrens - half young not-yet-adults, close to Finnah's age, the others indeterminate centuries old - agreed to help. Rhysel brought them all outside, called Talyn over from where he was inspecting the vegetable garden, and built a transfer point.

"Does one of you know how to tell time?" she asked the donor shrens. "I can't - no channeling capacity." A woman with glassy black hair - obsidian, Rhysel guessed - made the gesture and yawned the word.

Tekaal was late.

He was an entire angle late.

Rhysel stood up abruptly. "Thank you all for your help," she said, voice trembling. "I need to go home now. Come on, Talyn."

She stepped onto the new point, and jumped to the one in her tower.

Tekaal wasn't answering his communication crystal.

<Keo,> Rhysel tried next.

<That's me!>

<Can you find Aar Kithen for me? He's not answering his crystal and he was late to pick me up when he said he would.>

<Just a tick.> A tick, and then two, passed, and Keo's voice sounded again: <I can't tell you where he is because he's unconscious and therefore doesn't know. I could search through his recent memories, but I don't want to do that unless he's been missing for a long time...>

<He was only an angle late. I'm going to try his family. Thanks, Keo.> The mental connection died, and Rhysel felt a moment of frustration for not being able to ask Keo about Ilen before her thoughts flew back to Tekaal.

The kamai students had participated in building transfer points all over Paraasilan, including one near the Kithen household, and Rhysel used that one rather than make the flight. She knocked on the door, but it swung wide when her hand first struck it.

"I'm looking for Tekaal!" she called into the house.

"He's not here!" called back someone else.

"I think Ahin was going to meet him today for something," another voice added.

Rhysel ground her teeth. "Where's Ahin?"

"His shop," came the answer.

"Can someone show me where that is?" Rhysel asked, fighting the urge to pace. "Or write it down?"

One of the voices haltingly recalled something that was half-address, half-directions, and Rhysel took it to be good enough. She backed out of the house, went aloft, and searched.

In time, she located the witch shop ("Ahin's", said its helpful sign) and landed in front of it. The door was propped open. "Is my fiancé here?" she demanded of the girl behind the counter.

"If your fiancé's Aar Ahin's Brother," replied the girl. She was a blond elf with her hair up in thin braids, wearing an apron and leaning on the till.

Rhysel's panic was momentarily derailed by the appellation. "Aar Ahin's Brother?"

"We can't really call him Aar Kithen. That's Ahin's last name too," explained the girl. "And he won't let us use his first name. So he's Aar Ahin's Brother. I saw him come in earlier and he went in the back room to test something for Ahin. I guess they're hanging out or something."

"I don't think so," Rhysel muttered. The hair on her arms stood up when the girl said the words test something. She stalked towards the door.

"You can't go in there," the girl said.

Rhysel's temper was starting to fray, even not knowing what specifically Ahin had done; in Ahin's absence the girl was the only target, but clearly not an appropriate one. She swallowed the impulse to snap at the young elf. "Why is that?"

"Ahin doesn't let anyone but apprentices in the back room. Sometimes he clears us out too - secret recipes."

"What's your name?" Rhysel asked.


The name sounded familiar, but Rhysel didn't let that distract her. "Marin, I need you to go back and get my fiancé out for me. Or get Ahin out so I can talk to him."

"I can't leave the till..."

"There's no one in the shop," Rhysel said, sweeping her arms wide. "If you won't, I'll mindspeak to Ahin, but I wouldn't want him to find that startling enough to drop anything volatile and hurt an innocent apprentice or my fiancé."

"Uh," said Marin. "I can poke my head in real quick..." She hopped down from her stool behind the counter and opened the door, enough to give clearance to her long ears, and called into the back room, "Ahin, your future sister-in-law wants you!"

"Esten needs to stop letting his flings think he's going to marry them!" Ahin shouted back. "Tell her that!"

"She's looking for Aar Your Brother, not Esten," Marin told him.

There was a silence, and then with a loud sigh, Ahin called, "You can let her in."

Rhysel pushed past Marin before the girl was entirely through making way. When she was into the back room, she searched it for Tekaal - there were shelves of ingredients in jars and bundles, half-full boxes of vials and corks, strings of garlic and sprigs of herbs hanging from the ceiling, eight cauldrons (two full) along the left side of the room, and - slumped, half-propped-up by the wall Marin stood in front of when she minded the till - Tekaal. Asleep - or knocked out - or comatose - she couldn't tell. Rhysel dropped to her knees beside him.

"I'm checking his heartbeat and breathing regularly. If he doesn't wake up on his own in two angles, I'm trying a dose of wakeflower; if that doesn't do it, I'm going to try pep elixir; and if that doesn't do it either I'm giving up and hauling him to a light," Ahin said. "And, future sister-in-law, Marin said? Welcome in advance to the fam-"

"What in the gods' name did you do to him?" Rhysel cried, touching Tekaal's wrist. There was a pulse, and breath warmed her hand when she hovered it in front of his face, but he was so still.

"He was testing a potion for me -"

"He's unconscious! He wouldn't have taken a sleeping potion when he was planning to pick me up later!"

"It's not a sleeping potion. It's an anti-channeling-sting potion. The apprentices all took some and they were fine, but they don't usually cast spells that sting, and Tekaal's a wizard, so -"

"So you made him drink it. And then he, what, summoned something -"

"Teleported across the room with three passengers," Ahin corrected her. "He made it there just fine, said it didn't sting, no ill effects, and then a few degrees later he just fell over - I caught him, he didn't hurt himself on the way down."

"You could have the decency to be worried!"

"Do you think I'm not?" Ahin said. "But he's alive, he's not deteriorating in any way, trying everything in my arsenal to get him to open his eyes could make things worse if he's just sleeping something off, and I didn't know he was expected anywhere or I would have dug your communication crystal out of his pocket and told you he was delayed."

Rhysel touched Tekaal's forehead; he wasn't feverish. Finally she remembered wild kamai, and checked him with her magical senses. Her magic came back convinced that he was perfectly healthy, with no explanation for why he should be unconscious; it returned no when she asked it if he was asleep, if he was brain damaged, comatose, dead...

"Is it safe to move him?" she asked Ahin in a low voice.

"Should be," Ahin said. "I mean, don't toss him around, but if you want to hug him or something go ahead."

Rhysel sat against the wall, and gently put Tekaal's head in her lap. She waited.

Every few degrees, Ahin came by, checked that Tekaal was breathing and his pulse was strong, and then went back to instructing his handful of apprentices on the potions they had in progress.

Ahin was frowning and muttering, "I'll ask Marin to pull a vial of wakeflower", when Tekaal's eyelids fluttered.

"Tekaal," breathed Rhysel.

"My head," Tekaal groaned.

"Does it hurt?" Ahin asked, leaning over his prone brother. "Want some hofis?"

"Something stronger."

Ahin bobbed his head once, and poked his head out the door. "Marin. Get me a vial of teth-teth."

Marin passed him a little glass bottle, which Tekaal opened his mouth to receive and Ahin poured in. "Better?" asked the witch.

"Mm. What happened?"

"Are you missing memories of anything?" Ahin asked.

"I took the moon water..." murmured Tekaal, rubbing his temple; Rhysel smoothed his hair. "You chose three of your apprentices for me to teleport from that corner to the opposite one. I did, and it didn't sting, which was what the moon water was meant to do. I felt perfectly normal. I told you that it worked and that I was all right. And then I closed my eyes for a moment, and woke up here and my head felt as though it was about to explode..."

"Now," Ahin said, "this is important, was the momentary headache worse or better than the worst sting you've encountered? Not the teleporting three passengers, but the very worst -"

"Given that it was momentary, the headache is an improvement, but the unconsciousness - Rhysel, did I neglect to fetch you? What time is it?"

Rhysel bent to kiss him between the eyebrows. "I tapped some people at the house to build a transfer point and got home just fine. Don't worry about it, love."

Ahin cast the time-telling spell. "You were out for three angles, four degrees," he announced. "I think I can probably get rid of the knockout side effect, though maybe not the headache, if I omit the lily petals and substitute distilled water for the spring water. At least the headache responded to teth-teth, but I can't just mix them directly, the willowbark won't tolerate the moondust... I'll need something to replace the lily petals as a stabilizer, though." He paused, thinking, then turned to the nearest apprentice. "Name all the stabilizers and whether they have acceptable interactions with the other ingredients of moon water."

The apprentice started stammering through a list of plants and naming what other things in the recipe would make them explode or dissolve or fall inert, and Rhysel tuned out to help Tekaal sit up and pull him close. "You're never late," she said. "I was so worried."

"I'm fine," he murmured.

"You might not have been -" But she didn't want to stress Tekaal when he could still be fragile. "Let's get you home."

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Sting

"I think we should have Ryll's help, figuring out the logistics of the wedding," Rhysel said, when she'd gotten Tekaal back to his place. Mindful that he'd just been unconscious for several angles and woken with a splitting headache kept at bay only by a potion, she put him to bed and tucked his blankets in around his shoulders over his very mild protest, then sat on the edge of the mattress. "She'll know better than I would how much my parents - and my brother Tennel, who I don't see as much but he's similar - will be able to take. It might be simpler to have two ceremonies, one here and one there..."

"I believe my family might object if they were not invited to attend both, and would insist upon doing so," Tekaal said. "It is probably more efficient to simply hold a ceremony in Barashi. I believe that if I draw the circles myself, I can secure the cooperation of enough Binaaralav faculty to send everyone who will need to be sent."

Rhysel nodded. "Ryll can perform the wedding - she's a senator - and I think she will, if that's okay with you. You're not too attached to the Esmaarlan sort of ceremony Ahin had, are you?"

"I am not, but I expect Ryll lacks the power to make it legal in Esmaar, and I am unclear on the mechanism for importing foreign marriages," Tekaal said. "My cousin Nemifaath would be present in any case; hopefully there is some way to incorporate her into the relevant ritual, but if not, the only indispensible portion is signing our names in her book, which could be done before or after the Barashin celebration."

"Right. I'll write a letter about all this to Ryll, if you'll send it for me."

"By all means," Tekaal said. "Although I will find it challenging to do so while cocooned in blankets."

"Well... are you feeling okay?" Rhysel asked him. "I don't know how well Ahin's potions work."

"I feel quite well," he assured her. "I am certainly up to drawing a circle and casting a spell. They are not strenuous activities. However, the floor in my house is not suited to hold lines of summoning chalk. One of our offices or your tower would be a better choice."

"Mm... all right," said Rhysel, standing up and releasing the edge of the blanket she'd been sitting on. Tekaal disentangled himself from the sheets and profferred his hand to teleport Rhysel.

They arrived in her tower, and Tekaal fetched his summoning chalk from its semipermanent residence on Rhysel's end table and began sketching the sending circle, while Rhysel wrote her sister a letter and occasionally asked Tekaal questions. ("How many people are you going to want to invite, for your side of it?", "At least thirty-five."; "Is Ahin going to want to cook for your wedding too?", "He may, if asked, but will not insist on it, particularly if it is held in Barashi where his excess pef tan will be ineffectual.")

They each finished their tasks at roughly the same time, and Rhysel deposited her letter in the middle of the sending circle and looked for a focus lobe to place her hand.

"This spell doesn't call for a focus," Tekaal said. "I have visited Barashi, and can send objects to it without one."

"Oh, okay," Rhysel said, sitting back.

"If I did need a focus to find the world," he said softly, "you could not serve - for magical purposes, you are no longer Barashin."

"Oh." Rhysel chewed on her lip and watched Tekaal lift his hand for the spell's gesture.

The letter disappeared, and Tekaal collapsed to his knees, his face a mask of pain.

"Tekaal!" exclaimed Rhysel. "What happened? Are you all right?"

"Channeling sting," he gasped.

"But you've sent letters before - you don't collapse -"

"I know," he said, still gulping down air too fast. "Something is wrong. I'll be fine - the sting is instantaneous - but I did not expect it, or I would have reacted less strongly."

"Does this have something to do with the moon water?" Rhysel asked. "Ahin - I should blow up his shop - what was he thinking -"

"I was still able to teleport you here without sting," Tekaal said. "That places some limit on how much of a handicap I now possess. But I should check my channeling capacity. I believe I should transfer to the school and find a spell to do so; I have not taught first tier theory in several terms, where it is customarily taught, and cannot recall it." He drew in a breath between his teeth. "It will take me only a few moments..."

"I'll come with you," Rhysel said, getting to her feet.

They took the transfer point from her tower to the pond outside the school in silence, and Tekaal ordered the lift to the library. He knew exactly where to find the book he was looking for, which relieved Rhysel; if he'd gone about casting the information-based spells he'd taught in the class she'd audited the prior term she would have worried that every speck of magic to go off would be the one that made the situation more dire than it already was.

Tekaal started to cast the capacity-checking spell himself, when he found it, but stopped partway through, with enough time to spare that it didn't explode in his face. "Best not to cast where it is not necessary, until I know what has happened," he murmured to Rhysel. Instead he went to the librarian behind the front desk, handed her the book, and quietly asked her if she was able to do it.

She proved capable.

"Three hundred and five," breathed Tekaal, reading aloud the number.

"That's bad, I take it," Rhysel said.

"It is one hundred and thirty-six units lower than it should be." His voice was carefully controlled.

"Nonsense, channeling capacities don't change except to increase when you get a familiar," the librarian said briskly.

Tekaal ignored the librarian, and he closed the book and went to put it back where it had come from.

"Tekaal?" Rhysel said, following him.

"I was within eight units of death when I sent that letter," he murmured. "If I had chosen a different spell - and I considered it - I would be dead, right now."

Rhysel stood behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Ahin shouldn't have tested his moon water on you." Tekaal didn't answer. "Maybe he can fix it."


"If - if he can't - and it doesn't come back on its own - what does that mean, for you?" Rhysel asked, stepping around Tekaal to look into his eyes.

"I will need to recalibrate my expectations about what will and will not cause channeling sting, and how much," Tekaal said, not meeting her gaze. "I will be obliged to refrain from most summoning and sending activities and to make more trips when teleporting groups of people. My capacity is now below average; it is fortunate that I work as a teacher and not a professional caster, as my livelihood is not likely to suffer overmuch."

"We'll talk to Ahin," she said.

"Later," said Tekaal wearily. "He is unlikely to pour moon water down anyone else's throat in the next week. I believe the day has caught up to me and I would like to sleep."

"Okay," Rhysel murmured. "You're safe teleporting home?"

"That, at least, will not sting even at this capacity," Tekaal assured her. He gave her a deep kiss and then teleported away.

Rhysel didn't find herself tired - far from it, she was wide awake, head buzzing with wedding details and worry for Tekaal and the fact that she'd have to teach class the next day. She went home, decided she was hungry, and then thought she might as well ask Keo if she wanted to have dinner.

<Keo? Want to grab some food with me? But not at that ridiculously spicy restaurant, please.>

<Sure. Saraanlan food?> Keo suggested.

<Sounds great.>

Keo picked Rhysel up a degree later and took them both to a Saraanlan restaurant Rhysel hadn't been to before. "What's up?" Keo asked, after ordering herself a bowl of chickpea mash with horseradish, chili pepper, mustard, and garlic.

Rhysel went for a more conservative wheat with sesame and tomato. "Tekaal asked me to marry him," she said, leaning over the table.

"Eee!" Keo exclaimed, clapping her hands to her cheeks. "And you said yes?"

"Of course!" Rhysel grinned. "We haven't worked out all the details of how we're going to do the ceremony yet, but it's probably going to be a Barashin style wedding - well, Aristanian in particular, since that's where my family lives. And it's probably going to be pretty big, with Tekaal's family and mine and all of my friends - I'm actually not sure if he's going to invite any friends, but he does have a lot of relatives. Anyway, it's traditional for both participants to have an attendant - someone to make sure that all the bride or groom has to worry about is showing up in the right outfit and making it to the front of the ceremonial hall. Would you be willing to be mine?"

Keo blinked. "Well, I can, sure, if you want me to, but I thought you had sisters...?"

"Three, and my attendant doesn't have to be a woman, so I could technically pick one of my brothers too, although I'm not really close to any of them," Rhysel said. "Ryll's going to officiate - at least, I've asked her to, and think she'll say yes. Myret can probably be trusted to show up to the wedding itself without being under the influence of any experimental medicines, but traditionally the attendants each also throw small parties beforehand, and help a lot with the prep work, and I'm not sure if she can go that long without testing some batch of something - or losing her temper and mortally offending someone. And Eryn... well, I think she would probably consider my wedding a good time to not pull any pranks, but I'm not quite sure, and I'd rather be quite sure.

"Besides," Rhysel added with a smile, "you'll be able to talk to everyone, even on Barashi without a translation spell. And, the biggest problem attendants have is that they need to figure out how to fix things so the person getting married has what he or she wants, without stressing him or her out. There are a lot of tiresome books where they try to do it by asking complicated indirect questions and they get misleading answers and - anyway, you won't have that problem, right?"

Keo laughed. "That is true. I can figure out what you want without notifying you. Should I assume I have standing permission to do that?"

"As regards the wedding, yes, erm, except," Rhysel thought suddenly of the possibility that she might want to invite one or more shrens. "Is there a way I can exclude some topics without telling you what they are? Some of my guests might have... privacy issues..."

"Sure, sure," soothed Keo. "I can just do two layers of checking - first, checking whether you'd want me to check this, and then, checking it. No problem."

"Okay, great," said Rhysel, smiling in relief. Then her eyes watered - the waiter had brought their food, and the smell of Keo's was extraordinarily piquant.

"Mmmm," declared Keo around the first mouthful of her garlic-mustard-chili-horseradish concoction.

"You're insane," muttered Rhysel good-naturedly.

"Am not," Keo sniffed.

"Oh, it's good to have that cleared up," laughed Rhysel. "There's one more thing I wanted to ask you."

"What's that?" Keo inquired.

"Do you want to be my sister, too?"

"Your blood sister, like Eryn?" Keo asked. "Uh - maybe! What's involved?"

"Involves blood, hence the name," Rhysel said around a mouthful of her own dinner. "We cut our palms, let some blood well up, recite a little poem in archaic Martisen, and that's it."

"No kamai, no legal proceedings?"

"No. Well, I think maybe there used to be kamai of some kind associated with the ritual, but if there ever was, it's lost."

Keo considered this. "I think I'd like that," she said finally. "Should we do it with me in my natural form? Not that this one doesn't have blood, or anything - but, you know, for authenticity."

"I think that would be great," Rhysel said, smiling. "Assuming you can cut through your scales."

"It'd be easier to pry one off," Keo said.

"Ow," Rhysel winced.

"It sounds worse than it is," Keo assured her. "I probably won't even bother going to a light about it. So what else is going on?"

Rhysel sobered, and told Keo the story of Tekaal's mishap with the moon water. "He says it shouldn't affect his teaching," she said.

"Well, probably it won't, especially as he does more kamai and less wizardry," Keo said. "Don't you worry about his employment status; we didn't hire him for his channeling capacity. But it's peculiar that a potion could have that effect. And why that exact number...?"

Rhysel shrugged helplessly. "I don't know anything about the significance of the number three hundred and five. Or one hundred thirty six."

"Remind me what he did under the influence of the moon water?" Keo asked suddenly.

"Teleported three passengers across a room," Rhysel said. "I think they were probably his brother's apprentices. The apprentices don't seem to have suffered any ill effects, or Ahin probably wouldn't have tested it on Tekaal - you think it had to do with the spell he cast?"

Keo shrugged thoughtfully. "It could be a coincidence, but... teleporting three passengers across a room costs three hundred and four units."

Rhysel sat back. "You think the moon water dropped his capacity to just above the next thing he cast?"

"Maybe?" Keo shrugged. "But then I'm not sure why it wouldn't have done anything to the apprentices. Presumably they tell time or do household chores sometimes. Although the people who would be stung at all by those little spells are few and far between - if the potion only is meant to affect sting, perhaps it just didn't have any effect on them."

"Huh. Not that this helps Tekaal."

"Well, no, it doesn't," Keo agreed. "But it could help people who have a channeling capacity of, say, five hundred and sixteen."

"Five hundred and sixteen?" Rhysel asked. She considered tasting Keo's food, out of sheer curiosity, but eventually decided not to be that stupid.

"You know about teleportation circles?" Keo asked.

"I've used them a few times," Rhysel said, not specifying why.

"Well, only the richer countries have them, and even those countries only have one apiece - except for Oridaan, which has three, because separate landholders sprang for each one. This is because very, very few wizards have the channeling capacity to cast a teleportation circle at all, and the ones who have, don't want to do it. It hurts. But if moon water does what we've just guessed it may, any wizard with a capacity of exactly five hundred and sixteen could cast teleportation circles all day, feel no sting, and not even have his or her capacity reduced. Currently those wizards wouldn't want to try it even though they technically can, because it would use almost all of their capacity and be absolutely excruciating - circles are more often cast by people with extremely unusual capacities like Narax's. His is 545," Keo added. "He cast one of the three Oridaan circles."

"Oh, I see." Rhysel pursed her lips thoughtfully. "From what I've seen, wizards are pretty commonly willing to sell their services, unlike kyma who make a habit of working for fixed stipends - I'll buy that it hurts a lot, but enough that entire countries couldn't pull together enough money to compensate? When it's only for a moment?"

"There's that, and the fact that if you cast a spell and it hurts that much, it can permanently throw off your spellcasting to the point where you can't even tell time any more without getting a faceful of spell-soot," Keo said, shaking her head. "Wizards spend years learning magic - the ones with huge capacities and the head for casting that it takes to cast teleportation circles, can make excellent money without touching teleportation circles. Or they can try it and risk never being able to teleport without a circle, ever again, maybe accidentally killing themselves botching a high-pull cast..."

"Is Tekaal going to be in danger from having sent Ryll that letter?" Rhysel said, spoon freezing in her sesame-tomato mash.

"Probably not," Keo said.

"Is he okay now? He teleported home -"

"Did he disappear when he cast the spell, or did he fall over in place covered in black dust?" Keo asked reasonably. "I can check if you want..."


"He's fine," reported Keo after a moment. "Asleep."

Rhysel exhaled. "Thanks."

"Anyway, more tests of moon water would be called for, before anyone tried this," Keo said. "But it's an idea, if he can't just make it work perfectly."

"Would that let someone cast a summoning circle?" Rhysel said. "I remember months ago, you said there was theory written up for a summoning circle but no one could actually cast it..."

"Maybe," Keo said. "Narax could cast one, he just wouldn't. And for some reason I can't quite dull channeling sting. I can cut out normal pain fine - not wise for extended periods, people start biting through their tongues, but I'll do it while someone I know is on the way to a light for a broken leg. Channeling sting is too fast, or something. My predecessor never figured it out."


"There was another unique green-group. He died when I was twelve," Keo said. "He didn't have any overlap with his predecessor, but he stored a lot of what he'd figured out in my head for me to find later."

"Interesting. I hope Ahin figures out something with the moon water," Rhysel added dryly. "It would be much more convenient to bring all my wedding guests to Barashi by circle than by having half your faculty do us favors."

"Our faculty won't mind," said Keo, waving a hand. "It's a few ticks of their time. When are you thinking you'll have the wedding?"

"Well, we don't have a date picked yet," Rhysel said. "I guess it will depend on - on a lot of things. Maybe in a month or two or three."

"If you get married on the first of Shuraahel, that's supposedly good luck," Keo said.

"Is it? I'll keep that in mind."

They finished their dinners at roughly the same time. "So," Keo said. "Want to go become blood sisters?"

"Yes," said Rhysel, grinning at the jade dragon.

They chose a spot near the pond on campus for the ritual. Keo transformed - she was big, but not as awe-inspiringly so as Jensal - and took the knife Rhysel had formed out of earth to slide it under a scale on the bottom of one forefoot and force it up and off. Then she drew the knife across the exposed skin beneath and produced a well of blood.

Rhysel took the knife out of the dragon's claws and sliced her own palm open, hissing a little, and then pressed her wound against Keo's. And then they recited the poem together.

"Family is blood and blood is family. Chance family is blood and chosen family is blood. I pledge to be your sister for now and always."

"Is that all?" Keo asked when Rhysel lifted her hand away from the large scaled foot.

"Yep," Rhysel said. She couldn't close her own wound with kamai, so she wrapped up her hand in a rag out of her satchel.

Keo licked the blood off her foot with a long, forked tongue, and then shifted into her human form again. "Do you want to see the school light?"

"I would. I don't think I've actually met a light," Rhysel said. "Despite them supposedly being fairly common."

"They don't usually learn wizardry, so you wouldn't have run into one at the school except by visiting the light's office," Keo said, walking with Rhysel to the lift. "You've doubtless seen a few on the street, but they're only a couple percent of the population and don't go around with their hands cupped and lit up all the time. Light's office!"

The lift lurched its way through the buildings and the tunnels between them, and spat out Keo and Rhysel at a small, wide-windowed lounge sort of room. In it was a man, reclined in a puffy armchair. "Keo," he acknowledged.

"It's her, not me," Keo said, aiming a thumb at Rhysel. <Just touch his light when he conjures it; it'll do the rest,> she sent to Rhysel.

The man cupped his hands like he was going to catch falling sand, and a sphere of turquoise sparks materialized an inch above them. Rhysel reached her uninjured hand towards the sparks and dozens of them leapt from the sphere to fizz over her skin, covering her entire body and soothing the cut on her hand. She unwrapped the bloody rag and saw that her palm was whole.

"There you go," said the man, letting his hands fall. The light winked out and he reclined again. "Have a good day."

Rhysel forgot that she'd invited Ehail over for dinner on Arnen until the last moment. She made her apologies to Tekaal - they'd had no scheduled date, but he had been, as was common, loitering in her tower. When he'd gone, she whipped up a meal sufficient to feed to a guest in time for the silver shren's arrival.

Ehail was there on time, and Rhysel was struck by the permanent expression on her face when she opened the door at the ring of the bell. Ehail didn't so much look sad, although that was the first approximation. She looked more like she'd never expected anything nice to happen to her, and it hadn't.

Rhysel ushered her in, and hoped that the silver would like her cooking.

"Did you find the tower okay?" Rhysel asked.

"Yes," Ehail said. "Esmaarlan addresses are easy to follow. I have more translated notes since Chenen."

"That's great. I made us some onion spread to put on sandwiches with sliced roast beef," Rhysel said. The roast beef was leftover and only its slicedness and the onion spread were new, but Rhysel suspected that if she told Ehail that, the shren would simply not have expected anything more sophisticated and act puzzled that Rhysel thought to apologize for it.

"Thank you," Ehail said. She took a seat at the table and started constructing a sandwich for herself.

"I don't know what you usually eat at the house," Rhysel said conversationally.

"Things that are easy to make in large batches," said Ehail. "There are a lot of us. Soups, stews, casseroles, salads."

"How many is a lot?"

"There's usually about twenty babies in our house. It's the biggest," Ehail said. "About half of those are picked up when they learn to shift. The rest grow up at the house, so there are usually something like ninety children who can shift. After that, people leave... I think there are four or five hundred adults in our house now."

Rhysel took a bite of her sandwich. "I wouldn't have guessed that. I think of the houses as mostly being about the babies. I guess I haven't seen much of the children."

"The houses are for the children," Ehail said. "The houses wouldn't exist without them - if shrens stopped hatching tomorrow, the houses would shut down in the next hundred years. Maybe sooner. But as long as they're there, it's easier for a lot of us to stay than to go."

Rhysel nodded slowly. "In a hundred years? But some of the children would still be children, in a hundred years."

"Occasionally," Ehail said, "not very often, an adult who leaves will take a child or two along. If they like each other. It's sort of like an adoption. Not legally, just like the adult is operating a very, very small shren house. I think a dissolving house would have more of that going on."

"Single adults?" Rhysel asked.

Ehail shrugged. "Sometimes couples. I guess couples are more likely to take kids with them. They wouldn't have their own."

"Why not?" Rhysel asked, thinking of the shrens directly below her and their natural-born dragonets.

"If anyone found out about shrens having dragon children and trying to raise them," Ehail said, "the dragon council would take their children away. I'm not sure what would happen if they happened to have shrens. That's possible too. Maybe they could keep those, if they lived in a remote area."

"Oh," Rhysel said. She sipped at her water and tried not to squeeze the glass to smithereens. Keenly wishing to change the subject, she said, "Do you want to come to my wedding?"

Ehail looked up from her sandwich, wide-eyed with surprise. "Um, I - I don't know. I don't usually go out - I mean, I'm not an inside shren, I went to school and I picked you up and I came here, but I don't go to events. And in school I had my hair dyed brown."

"You did?" Rhysel said. "Why?"

"I didn't want anyone to know I was a shren, so I passed for human. I don't think anyone guessed. I kept to myself and was careful about the dye, and makeup to make myself look younger when I started and older when I finished," Ehail said. "I guess I could dye my hair again to go to your wedding. If you really want me there."

"I'd love to have you," Rhysel said. "Although, I will have at least one dragon present - possibly more - would that bother you?"

"Not if you don't tell them I'm a shren," Ehail said. "There were a couple of dragons around when I was in university. I just stayed out of their way and they didn't notice me."

"Okay," said Rhysel. She ate the last corner of her sandwich. "I'll let you know when we have a date picked out."

Ehail nodded. Rhysel plated some cookies she'd made the previous night for dessert, and Ehail ate one and teleported home.

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Marriage

"You want Ahin to be your attendant?" Rhysel asked Tekaal incredulously.

He picked up the extra handout that would have gone to the day's absent student and added it to his stack of miscellaneous papers. "Based on your description of the role, it seems appropriate. Linisaar will want to make our wedding outfits and ought not to be occupied with other responsibilities, and I'm not particularly close to Esten. My cousins will want to attend, but I don't know that any would be interested in taking such a central position, particularly over my siblings."

"Ahin basically poisoned you!"

"He remains my brother," Tekaal said. "He did not believe that my channeling capacity would be affected. His apprentices who sampled the moon water have their normal capacities; I checked them yesterday. It would seem likely that he could not have learned of the danger without someone casting a sting-causing spell, which non-wizards can rarely cast safely anyway. I was the only accessible wizard test subject."

Rhysel ground her teeth. "Well..."

"I could ask my cousin Balket, if you prefer that Ahin not be involved in the proceedings..."

"No, it's fine..." She sighed. "Sorry. It's always easier for me to lose my temper on others' behalf. But if you want Ahin for your attendant, go ahead and ask him."

Tekaal kissed her forehead. "And I will ask Linisaar about the outfits. Are there traditional parameters she should adhere to?"

"We wear spring green, the attendants wear sky blue," Rhysel said. "The shapes of the outfits can be anything, except Keo and I should be in dresses. Are you sure Linisaar will want to make them for us?"

"I'm not certain she'll wish to do the attendants' clothes. Yours and mine, though, I expect she will - she made Ahin's and Kestaar's."

"We need to pick a date," Rhysel said, taking Tekaal's hand when he offered it. He teleported them to her tower and they settled onto her couch. "Keo says the first of Shuraahel is good luck?"

"So goes the superstition," Tekaal said. "It also has the advantage of occurring during the short break between the winter and spring terms. There is only a week of interim there, unlike the month after the spring term or the summer-autumn term."

"So if we want to get married when we're not in the middle of classes and we don't want to wait three and a half months, Shuraahel first is good," Rhysel concluded. "Now I just have to figure out what that corresponds to on Barashi. Ugh."

"I can use -" Tekaal paused. "I can ask a colleague to use a scrying spell for the purpose. Scrying the future is notoriously inaccurate, but for comparing time zones it should suffice. Is there some location on Barashi that will reliably show the correct date?"

Rhysel's hand tightened around Tekaal's. "The Temple of Zeram in Aristan City has a bunch of stone tablets that the clergy change at midnight every day to reflect the date. If you look there it'll have it."

"And there is only one Temple of Zeram in Aristan City?" Rhysel nodded. "Then that will suffice," Tekaal said. "I should look for a colleague to perform the scry today, before all of the faculty return home, so as to be able to print accurate invitations for Barashin guests that give them sufficient notice."

"Right," Rhysel said. She gave him a kiss. "See you later."

<Kanaat's talking to your witch brother-in-law-to-be,> Keo informed Rhysel. <About the moon water and how it might work. Kanaat doesn't know much about witchcraft, but based on the explanations Ahin came up with, we're pretty sure it works like I guessed. Ahin thinks he's gotten rid of the headache and the unconsciousness side effect and Kanaat is going to test a dose and cast something that costs one less than his CC, to check.>

<You're going to test it on Kanaat?> exclaimed Rhysel.

<He can safely cast the spell, not like some untrained non-wizard. We might be able to find a volunteer like that and I could implant a spell in their head, but I can't do nearly as much with body memory, and they could still botch the gesture and die,> Keo said. <And, perhaps more importantly, Kanaat's got me - I have a higher CC than he does anyway and I do more of the big casting we need. If his goes down, it's a minor inconvenience. And if it doesn't, we can put together a summoning circle spell that costs exactly five hundred and forty-four capacity, and hand Narax the specifications and a vial of moon water.>

<Please tell me that you aren't doing this just to make my wedding more convenient.>

<I'm not,> Keo assured her. <A summoning circle would make a lot of things more convenient.> Rhysel laughed in spite of herself. Keo went on, <For instance, it might be easier to convince the new kamai teachers that we're going to need that they should commute than that they should move to Elcenia. Your students aren't going to be ready in time to teach the next batch before you and Aar Kithen have too many classes to handle, and I'd rather hire kyma than spend more afternoons tediously moving knowledge from one head to another head.>

<Okay.> Rhysel took a deep breath. <I can't really stop you, anyway, but make sure Ahin's not handing Kanaat something he's not as sure of as he can be, won't you?>

<Actually, the reason I'm telling you all this now is that I wanted to ask if you'd lifelink Kanaat for me,> Keo said. <He can tolerate a hit to his CC. Not so much dying if that risk should be involved at all. I can't kill pain from sting, but I see no reason to expect that I can't deaden the pain of lifelinking - we can test that with a bug or something first, if you want to be sure.>

Rhysel blinked. <Oh. Of course. I'll catch a bug and come meet you?>

<I'm in Kanaat's office. Once we figure out if the lifelink will work, I can teleport us both to the witch shop. Ahin has a batch of revised moon water ready and is walking Kanaat through its ingredients and properties.>

Rhysel met Keo in the headmaster's office, lifelinked a caterpillar she'd caught, and gritted her teeth in apprehension as Keo dropped a book on it. There was a low hum of something. Rhysel could definitely feel the lifelink under strain. But it wasn't painful, and she didn't have the urge to magically recoil from the insect and let it die of its injuries.

Keo poked the caterpillar with a graphite stick. It twitched. "Do you want to let it go, or bring it to the light?"

"I didn't know lights worked on animals. But I think I'll just let it go," Rhysel said. The caterpillar stopped moving as she withdrew. "That didn't hurt. Thank you."

"Shall we go supervise my husband's test, then?" Keo asked, brushing the caterpillar into a wastebasket with a bit of scratch paper and holding out her hand for Rhysel.

Rhysel nodded, touched Keo's hand, and let the dragon teleport.

Keo teleported them as close to Ahin's shop as she could, and a short walk from there had them standing with Kanaat and Ahin in the back room. Ahin eyed Rhysel warily for a moment, as though expecting her to attack him; she did consider engulfing him in flames, on first spotting him, but conquered her temper in favor of placing a lifelink on Kanaat and then standing out of the way.

"What are you going to cast?" Ahin asked the headmaster, measuring out a single dose of moon water.

"Will it work with a simple numerical read?" Keo asked. "If not, we can find a sufficiently elaborate scry..."

"Number read should do," Ahin said, glancing between the headmaster and his wife with a raised eyebrow.

<Number read?> Rhysel asked Keo.

<Spell for practicing gestures with real risk and real sting instead of just dry runs without actual casting. Same word all the way up, just makes the number of units you've pulled float in front of you,> Keo explained. Kanaat, meanwhile, swallowed the silvery liquid, then traced his hand through the air and uttered a word.

The lifelink didn't even come under strain when the number "431" appeared; Rhysel held onto it, just in case, while Keo checked Kanaat's capacity. "Just what it should be," she announced.

"Excellent," said Ahin, beaming broadly. "Do let me know if there's any unexpected side effects, but I'm nearly certain there won't be. You wanted another dose of this stuff?"

"Yes, please," Keo said.

Ahin ladled more of his cauldronful of moon water into a vial. "So the price I was thinking for the stuff was -"

"- more than covered for by my husband volunteering as a test subject, is what I'm sure you were going to say," inserted Keo sunnily.

Ahin chewed on his lip, but handed over the vial. "Pleasure working with you," he said.

"Likewise." Keo turned to Rhysel and asked, "Want a ride anywhere?"

"My tower, if you don't mind," Rhysel said, touching Keo's hand. "Do you want me to hold the lifelink, or shall I let it go?"

"I think you can let it go," Keo said. Rhysel released the magic and dropped her connection to Kanaat. "To your tower we go."

"Tell me how you want your dress," Linisaar said, arranging a marked measuring string around Rhysel's bust and then scribbling the number on a notepad. "And how you're going to do your hair, because that will affect what will look best around the neckline and the shoulders, especially if any of it's down. I don't do shoes, but I have a co-worker who does, she owes me a favor - how do you want your shoes?"

"Uh - long skirt, I think. Sleeveless?" said Rhysel, almost at random. "Keo's going to do my hair. I don't know if she's decided what to do with it yet."

"Maybe a strap around your neck, instead of over your shoulders," mused Linisaar, draping her measuring string around the proposed path for the strap. "Does it need to be all one shade of spring green, or could I use two, accent it with a little gold...?"

"A little gold, like embroidery or buttons or beading, is okay if you think it'll look nice, but not gold fabric," Rhysel said. "Shoes... uh... closed shoes, ending below the ankle, no heel. They have to hold up to some dancing," she added.

"Ooh. Tekaal's shoes too?" Linisaar asked, writing down a new measurement and taking the length of Rhysel's leg. "Or is it only you who'll be dancing? I don't know how your weddings work."

"Me, Tekaal, our parents, and our attendants all have a set of dances we're supposed to do. I suppose I should find out if Ahin and your parents know how to dance. Keo can implant enough to get along with if she has to, even if body memory isn't as easy to work with. I know Tekaal can dance a little, for stage productions..."

"Ahin can dance," Linisaar said. "Esmaarlan dances, anyway. Kestaar loves dancing and Ahin had to learn to get anywhere with him. Now he's as arrogant about that as he is about everything else he can do. Our mother used to do leherin when she was little, but hasn't kept up with it at all. And our father will step on everyone's feet, I'm sure."

"Thank goodness for Keo," muttered Rhysel. "You can make the dress something soft, right? I can't imagine a less pleasant way to spend my wedding than trying not to scratch itches."

"Of course. Silk?" Linisaar proposed. She took the circumference of Rhysel's ankle. "Oh, my company has some rolls of this lovely Kevehaar raan..."

"You're allowed to use company supplies for this sort of thing?" Rhysel asked.

"If I call it a prototype, I am," Linisaar said, smiling brightly up from her scrutiny of Rhysel's bare feet. "Will you mind awfully if people go about dressed in something like your wedding dress, next summer? Not the same color, probably, but the same cut."

Rhysel laughed. "No, I suppose that's fine."

Linisaar hopped up to her feet and gave Rhysel a hug. "I'm so glad you're marrying Tekaal," she said.

"I am too," Rhysel smiled.

<Want to watch Narax cast the summoning circle?> Keo asked Rhysel.

<You and Kanaat worked up a spell that cost the right amount?>

<With Narax's help. Given that much power to work with, it has many excellent features. We were also hoping you could help us pick a good spot for it to point at.>

<Point at?>

<The circle will be located here, in a plot of land Narax bought to put it on. He's going to hire some people to run it like a teleportation circle complex and get even more ridiculously rich,> Keo explained. <But it'll function the same way here and in one place on Barashi. It notices who walks onto it, sends them to a place, and notices when people walk onto that place, and summons them here - or unsummons or unsends, as appropriate.>

<Will it be able to unsummon people who got here with a regular summoning spell?> Rhysel asked.

<No, it can't break a summon, just undo the ones it places itself. If you were still under your summon and you walked onto the summoning circle, nothing would happen. Does all this actually have to do with whether you want to watch Narax cast it?>

<Er. Does he want me there?>

<He'll be fine. He's not as ruffled about the thing between you two as you seem to think he is, Rhysel.>

Rhysel fidgeted, but finally said, <I'd like to watch. Can Tekaal come too?>

<Sure. Is he there? I can just grab you both.>

<Yes, he's here. Give us a few degrees?>

<Of course,> came the mirthful reply. <Say when.>

The diagram for the summoning circle looked a lot like the other wizarding diagrams Rhysel had seen, but it was much bigger. "Are there any particular criteria for where the circle should point?" she asked.

"Not in somebody's house," said Keo.

"Or on top of anything that people will object to traffic on," Narax said. "Actually, it'd be best if I could just outright buy the place, wherever that may be. I'll probably make a few of these to aim at different spots eventually."

"Do you want to buy my old tower?" Rhysel asked. "The new kama for the town built a separate one. I still own the land my tower sits on. And it's got a transfer point already."

"Name your price," Narax said.

Rhysel shrugged. "I bought it for sixty-three thousand emarks. I'll take that, in aaberik, whatever the exchange rate settles out to be in a few years - no rush."

"Right then. You only have one tower? I'm not going to hit the wrong one focusing on that?" Rhysel nodded. Narax smiled and said, "Here goes."

He swigged moon water, and then made the most elaborate gesture Rhysel had ever seen used to cast a spell, accompanied by the anticlimactic words, "Summoning circle!"

<You can have magic words be anything, I take it?> Rhysel asked Keo.

<Most people go with nonsense because they think it sounds dramatic, and of course spells don't stay in monolinguistic communities,> Keo said. <We decided to keep it simple.>

"Moon water," announced Narax, "is officially amazing. You could bulk up a lot of high-pull spells to get them to arbitrary costs, if you wanted to charge them up instead of hike them down..."

Rhysel drifted towards Tekaal, whose lips were thinned in annoyance. Kanaat was carrying a small turtle, which he sent to Barashi and back without incident as a test (it wasn't quick enough to flee the radius of the circle before the delay). "Rhysel," said Keo, "want to do the honors of being the first person to test the circle?"

"I just walk into it?" she asked.

"And then stay put, and it'll unsend you right back after a ten-split delay that would let you get clear if you wanted to," Keo said. "No mess with co-casting or anything else to interfere with it behaving itself as planned."

"Can Tekaal come with me?" Rhysel asked, interlacing her fingers with his.

"Sure," Keo said.

The pair stepped forward.

The circle worked, utterly without incident.

"So on your side it'll be your parents, your brothers and sister and brother-in-law and niece, all four grandparents, two great-grandparents, your great-great-grandmother, seven aunts and uncles, how many cousins of various types...?"

"Thirty-six confirmed," said Tekaal. "And you have six siblings, seven counting your blood sister -"

"I have two of those now, remember, I added Keo."

"...Eight, counting your blood sisters, then; three are married, with nine children between them, although I'm given to understand that Aaralanik Inular and Pyga are not in any special relationship to you based on their mother's blood sisterhood."

"They're not, but I'd like them there anyway, plus Talyn and maybe some of the other students. And nine cousins close enough to come, and my parents, and one set of grandparents and two sets of great-grandparents and one set of great-great grandparents..."

"You said you would be inviting friends as well? Apart from Aaral Pyga, that is?"

"Yes, mostly people who were apprentices alongside me, a couple of people I knew when I was a kid... Maeris said she'd be there... And Ehail's coming."

"The silver wizard from the tropical house?" inquired Tekaal.

"Yes. I asked Eret and Theedy too, but they don't want to go, and I can't blame them. Ehail's willing enough and she's going to dye her hair so Keo and so on don't notice her."

"This is going to be enormous regardless," Tekaal said, boggling at the list.

"Ryll booked a big hall for us." Rhysel sat back and smiled. "We'll have room."

"The summoning circle is a mercy," remarked Tekaal.

Rhysel nodded fervently. "Now, Mother agreed to coordinate the cooking - she's not doing all of it herself; my cousin Laryn is helping and she's going to rope in a few volunteers from other quarters too - we need to decide what to serve -"

"Can I have a syllable from your name?" Keo asked Rhysel over lunch - Saraanlan food again, the best compromise on their tastes.

Rhysel blinked. "How does that work?" she asked. "I don't remember the details."

Keo put her spoon down in her double-pepper-onion-cheddar corn, and ticked off fingers. "You pick a syllable that is somewhere in your name," she said. "You recite my entire full name, with that syllable added to the end. You can't give away the same syllable again to any other dragons who ask, only ones you haven't used yet. That's about it."

Rhysel thought, and ate another spoon of lemon-cilantro rice. "Okay," she said finally. "What's your entire name?"

"Keopyga­vakilshelarinebna'­achithkanlen," Keo said. "I can write that down if you need me to."

"Yes please," laughed Rhysel.

"They do tend to get longer over time, for contextually obvious reasons," Keo said, casting a calling spell to bring a pen to her hand and writing on a scrap of paper Rhysel handed over.

"Keo-pygava-kilshelar-inebna-achith-kanlen-sel," Rhysel said carefully.

"Thanks!" grinned Keo. "Oh, and, news. Narax is a daddy now."

Rhysel blinked rapidly. "I'd almost forgotten that Samia was pregnant..."

"Well, she's not anymore. They're going to switch off little Alyah every month on the twenty-fifth," Keo said. "And Samia has her first, so Narax won't get hold of Alyah until mid-Nidhel. But I'm finally an aunt, anyway!"

"Congratulations," said Rhysel. "You weren't before?"

Keo shook her head. "Vara and Pilar don't have any kids. Well, I suppose lots of my thudia half-siblings had kids, but those mostly died before I hatched... it's not the same; I'll actually see Alyah sometimes." Rhysel nodded. "Are you thinking you and Aar Kithen will have kids?"

Rhysel broke eye contact and stirred her rice mash. "There's a spell he isn't planning to re-cast after it breaks on our trip to Barashi for the wedding," she said, failing to restrain a small smile.

Keo laughed. "I see. Leaving it up to chance?"

"A bit. We don't know for sure if we'll be able to have kids without magical help, since I'm from another world..."

Keo nodded. "Well, magical help will almost definitely do the trick when the time comes, anyway," she said. "So don't worry about it. Speaking of Aar Kithen, who's moving into whose house?"

"He's moving in with me," Rhysel said. "He already doesn't live with his family, and I can make the tower bigger whenever I want. We're not doing the standing-on-boxes thing that Esmaarlan weddings do. We're just going to bring everything over a few days before the big one."

"Just a little over a month left," Keo said. "Excited?"

"Mmhm," Rhysel said, smiling and looking up at Keo. "He's wonderful, Keo. I just realized I never thanked you," she added. "For introducing us."

"You're welcome," Keo laughed. "It was my pleasure."

"I think braids," Keo said. "Two of them, wrapped around your head and pinned there, but with two tendrils to each side of your face and curled a bit..."

"Whatever you think is best," Rhysel said contently. There was a mirror in front of her, but her eyes were closed. She didn't have to worry about anything; on her wedding day, that was her attendant's job. "You didn't consult me about the bridal party you threw."

"I'm not consulting you now, just thinking aloud," Keo said loftily, hefting Rhysel's hair and starting to weave it around itself. "I do that sometimes. I know perfectly well that listening to me chat about your hair isn't stressing you out."

"You've been the best attendant I could have hoped for," sighed Rhysel, smiling. "I haven't had to worry about a thing. I haven't even worried about my mother throwing a fit. Until just now."

"Sh, sh," said Keo, tying the first braid and starting on the second. "It's all fine."

"You've got Maeris or somebody following her around making sure she doesn't get annoyed, don't you."

"Let's talk about your hair," Keo said, a hum in her voice. "Or your dress. It's a lovely dress. Is that raan?"

"That's what Linisaar said it was," Rhysel said, running her hands through the folds of the skirt. It flowed around her ankles like warm water. "I don't know what in the world the stuff is made of. I don't think Barashins have it. But it's marvelous."

"Cactus," Keo said. "Made of cactus fluff."

"Are you serious?"

"Completely. That's you braided and pinned less two tendrils... annnnnd..." Keo plucked up hot tongs and coiled the spare bits of hair around them. "There. Oh, aren't you beautiful."

"Is it time?" Rhysel asked.

Keo patted the top of Rhysel's head. "Yes. Off we go."

Rhysel followed Keo as she threaded through the aisles. Dozens of people were sitting along benches, watching her. And across the room was Tekaal, escorted by Ahin. His suit was the same color as Rhysel's dress, tailored trimly. He had half an eye on his brother, who he followed in lockstep, but he was also looking over at Rhysel.

When they'd passed in front of each benchful of guests, they were up at the front, with Ryll in her formal grey Senate robes and circlet and Cousin Nemifaath in her sunset-color party dress. "Join hands with your intended," intoned Ryll.

Rhysel and Tekaal clasped hands at a single point between them and turned their faces towards Ryll.

The Senator launched into a speech, describing for the audience how Tekaal and Rhysel had met. She wasn't privy to the information about Rhysel digging poems out of Tekaal's desk, but gave correct broad strokes of the story - the summoning, the attempt at breaking it, their subsequent bonding over introducing kamai to Binaaralav. She spoke serenely, as though completely unaware of the possibility that all the talk of magic would set off Allera; whether she trusted Keo to have the possibility forestalled or trusted Allera to control herself on Rhysel's wedding day wasn't clear. Either way, there was no stirring in the audience to indicate discomfort.

Ryll's speech ended; the story related, she turned her gaze from the guests to the couple. "Keo," she said, addressing the dragon attendant. "Is it your belief that Rhysel loves Tekaal?"

"Yes," said Keo.

"Ahin," Ryll continued, turning to the witch, "is it your belief that Tekaal loves Rhysel?"

"Yes," Ahin replied.

"Do you agree to stand as witness to this union?" Ryll asked both attendants.

"Yes," each replied.

"And is it your belief that they should be wed?" Ryll went on.


Ryll looked to Tekaal. "Tekaal Kithen, you may speak your vows," she said.

"Rhysel," Tekaal began without hesitation. "I love you with all my heart. I am yours, body, mind, and soul, and I swear to be devoted and faithful to you, unwavering, for the rest of our days together. I swear to accept you and everyone and everything that comes with you, with open arms."

"Rhysel Camlenn," said Ryll. "You may speak your vows."

"Tekaal," Rhysel said, and then she inhaled deeply and repeated the same promise.

Ryll touched their clasped hands. "I witness these vows, and witness them binding, and let what I have seen joined be joined always," she said with finality. She dropped her hands and stepped back to let in Nemifaath and her nod to Esmaarlan ceremony.

Nemifaath stepped up and held out her book. "Sign your married names, just here," she murmured.

Rhysel picked up the pen first and wrote Rhysel Camlenn on the indicated line, and then handed it to Tekaal.

Tekaal Camlenn, he wrote.

Nemifaath took the pen, initialed the line, and shut her book. "Help yourselves," she said cheerfully, "to your first kiss as a married couple."

The newlyweds and their parents and attendants danced their requisite set of dances - Rhysel was on tenterhooks, when she danced with Evaad and Tekaal was paired with Allera, but whatever passed between her husband and her mother did not resolve itself in shouting or a premature end to the dance. When the eight central people had finished with those dances, they were permitted to sit and others were allowed onto the dance floor. Their table had separate bowls of every dish; the guests would serve themselves from other sources buffet-style.

Relatives and friends swung by the central table, depositing gifts on the benches beside Rhysel and Tekaal, congratulating them, issuing hugs. Tekaal's diamond dragon great-great-grandmother staggered up to them, drunk as a fish, and half-collapsed onto her descendant attempting to embrace him. Tekaal didn't react to this as though he found it unusual, although he did shrug her away and suggest that she find a place to sit.

Rhysel's younger brother Gyre, Myret's twin, brought the only gift that wasn't wrapped in a box - "Sorry," he said, handing them a pair of rings. "The gem chips I needed didn't come in until the last slice, and I didn't have time to wrap them. Tekaal, welcome to the family - your brother gave me a picture of the kind of bird you have to work from. Cloud-chaser, or something like that, I think is how the green-haired woman translated it... Rhysel, yours is a phoenix."

Each ring did have a likeness of a bird around the band, with gem chips for eyes and etched metal for the patterns of the feathers. Tekaal's was platinum or silver, Rhysel couldn't tell which, and Rhysel's was gold.

"They're beautiful, Gyre," Rhysel said, putting hers on her right middle finger. It was a fit. "Thank you." Tekaal echoed the sentiment, similarly locating his own ring.

"Thought they'd suit. Now I need a place to sit. Hm, she looks lonely. What's her name? The pretty brunette, all alone over there..."

Rhysel looked up and spotted the only "brunette" in the region he was eyeing. "That's Ehail, but Gyre, she's shy..."

"I won't terrify her out of the wedding hall, I promise, sis." He kissed the crown of Rhysel's head and departed.

Rhysel returned her attention to her food and her husband. "Just another couple angles of this and we can go home," she murmured in his ear.

"That sounds quite appealing," he whispered back.

"Your grandmother," Keo told Rhysel, "just complimented Kanaat on his 'cute lizard' and asked to pet it. The 'cute lizard' has corrected her on this matter and denied the privilege."

Rhysel laughed, vividly imagining Runa telling off her grandma about her status as a non-lizard. "I hope Grandma is taking it well."

"Admirably so. Runa's changed her mind and is letting herself be petted," Keo reported.

At last, the party died down. Tekaal's great-great grandmother was hauled out of the hall by her grandkids, and the kyma in attendance capable of using transfer points - Eryn, Corvan, Stythyss, Talyn, Leekath, Korulen, a handful of others - began making trips to ferry home the guests who'd come in from distances. More local guests, including Rhysel's parents, took coaches home.

"Let's go," Rhysel sighed in exhaustion when there were few enough people left that she and Tekaal could politely depart. "Let's go home and collapse."

"Of course, love," Tekaal said.

A transfer point, a circle, and another transfer point had them at the tower.

"Welcome home," Rhysel said. He only smiled and kissed her.

Rhysel and Tekaal climbed the stairs of their home, crawled into bed, and curled around each other as they fell asleep.