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."