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. 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.
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