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.