I’m feeling overwhelmed, so I’m just going to start at the beginning and hope writing it all down calms me. I’m fairly certain about the date, but that’s the only thing I’m sure of anymore.
The new bedroom was still a cell, if a nicer one. People brought me meals, and the lights dimmed by themselves after a time—I think the lights in my first cell didn’t work properly—so I slept when it was dark and paced the room and practiced pouvrin when it was light. I gained enough control over the mind-moving pouvra that I could lift the bed, the dresser, and the wardrobe all at once. Only an inch or two, and only for a few seconds, but it was exciting. But that’s not what has me overwhelmed. I just went back and re-read the first page of this book, just to be certain I haven’t forgotten my own language. Though if I’m writing in it now—see how flustered it’s made me? But I’m getting ahead of myself again.
I didn’t see Terrael yesterday or today, and I was a little surprised at how disappointed I was. I mean, I couldn’t understand him, but at least he was nice and didn’t treat me like a problem. I poked my head out of the door a few times and there was a single guard, so either they were feeling more sure of me or they’ve given up on trying to contain me and that was just a token. I smiled and waved at the guard (a man) and he just watched me impassively until I became bored and went back inside. I decided I was going to make another escape attempt tonight when the lights went dark again.
Except before that happened, Terrael appeared. He no longer looked confident. He looked like a boy about to do something that would get him into trouble. He came into my room, shut the door, and made a pinching gesture in front of his lips that I guessed meant “be quiet.” As if anything I might say would be meaningful, no matter how loudly I said it. Then he opened the door and gestured for me to precede him. In the hall, he said something to the guard, who nodded. He looked bored. I couldn’t blame him.
I followed Terrael down the corridor and into the cavern again. It was quieter, less busy, like a marketplace where almost everyone has closed up shop for the day. Terrael was walking very casually now, greeting the people we passed, stopping to exchange a few words with a pretty young woman whose hair was fastened with a jeweled clasp, polished jasper with cabochon garnets, reasonably valuable if only for the craftsmanship, and the first sign of individuality I’d seen among these drones. Eventually we made it around the perimeter of the cavern to a door, metal like all the ones in the corridor, but wider, and Terrael took out a large key and unlocked it, then shooed me inside with the first hint of nervousness he’d displayed so far.
The room beyond was much larger than the corridor rooms, though of course nothing near as big as the cavern, and was brightly lit. And it was filled with castoffs—I didn’t recognize a single thing there, but I’ve been stealing from great estates long enough to recognize a room where unwanted things are stored. Almost all of the things were made primarily of metal, and they were all intricately decorated with engravings that reminded me of the maybe-letters on the glass light baskets. I went to pick up a sphere of overlapping bronze strips like an enclosed basket, and Terrael yanked my hand away, shaking his head vigorously in a way that told me, first, that ‘no’ was in fact a universal gesture, and second, that he absolutely did not want me to touch anything. Naturally, this made me want to touch everything I could get my hands on, but there was fear on Terrael’s face that made me put my hands in my pockets. I was planning to go back there for some real exploration, but after what’s happened, I’m not sure I’ll be able to.
Terrael went to the back of the room, carefully not touching anything himself, and soon disappeared behind this tall slab of greenish copper that looked like a horse trough stood on end. I waited, jamming my hands firmly into my trouser pockets just in case they decided to do a little exploring on their own, and eventually he came back holding some kind of helmet. No, it was more of a cap made of black iron, and for a wonder it wasn’t covered with scribbles; there was just a blank band all the way around the rim that was smoother and shinier than the rest of the cap. Terrael held it out to me, and I took it. It felt like cold metal, and nothing happened to me when I touched it, so I turned it upside down to look into it. The inside of the cap had these hair-fine traceries all over it, as if someone had done lacework on it in molten iron. I ran my finger over the lines, and it still only felt cold.
Terrael nudged me, and made a gesture like he was putting something on his head. I looked at the cap again. Suddenly it seemed a little sinister, all this secrecy, Terrael acting tense and telling me not to touch anything, and then handing this thing over as if it were nothing. When I didn’t respond right away, Terrael made an exasperated sound, took the cap from me, and put it on his own head. Nothing happened. He took it off and offered it to me with a “see, it’s harmless” look. So I put it on. It was far too big for my head, and canted a little over my left ear. I must have looked so stupid—I certainly felt stupid, standing there in that room surrounded by mysterious cast-off things, with Terrael beaming at me as if, once again, I’d performed a trick and deserved a reward. Then he looked around, made that exasperated noise again, and began clearing a spot on a nearby counter until he had a bare space about five feet across. He pointed at it, but it wasn’t until he sat on the counter himself that I figured out that’s what he wanted me to do. It wasn’t a very tall counter, but I’m not a very tall woman, and my feet dangled a little.
Terrael started muttering to himself. It was the kind of muttering you do when you’re going over a complicated project in your head, like planning to break into one of the royal manors, so I didn’t feel obliged to pay any attention to him. He reached inside his robe and pulled out a pot with a stoppered lid and a small brush, its skinny bristles no longer than my pinky nail. The pot turned out to be full of silvery ink or paint. Terrael came to stand close in front of me and began painting on the brim of the cap. Every few minutes he would rotate the cap on my head to paint a new section. I really wished I could ask him questions—hah! That’s funny now. Anyway, I stayed patient because I was curious about what he was doing. I don’t know if it’s good or not that I didn’t just run away.
Finally, he stepped back, and his eyes focused on mine again. He looked very serious, like saying goodbye forever serious, and I got nervous and was about to take the cap off when he reached out with the brush and made a final mark on the cap.
I thought my head had exploded. It hurt worse than anything I’d ever imagined possible, and I wanted to rip the cap off my head and throw it at Terrael’s face, but my entire body was paralyzed. I found later that I’d fallen off the counter, but at the time I couldn’t feel anything but the pain that radiated from my forehead through my entire body. Phantom smells of ash and rainwater filled my nostrils, and I tasted salt, and I couldn’t see or hear anything at all, not even the screaming I’m sure I was doing. And then I could hear too much, all these voices shouting in hundreds of languages, none of which I understood. Somewhere in there I blacked out, I think, because the sound went from being hundreds of voices to just one, high-pitched like a woman’s, chanting. I still couldn’t understand it, but then I realized I could move—that’s when I found I was on the floor. I had the cap off my head and flung across the room before I discovered I wasn’t in pain anymore, and I could see. What I saw, from my perspective on the floor, were two pairs of sandaled feet attached to two pairs of black trousers. Terrael was arguing with Smug Git, and this is the overwhelming part—I listened to their conversation for nearly a minute before I realized I understood what they were saying. It staggered me to the point that I can’t remember now what their exact words were, just that Smug Git was furious with Terrael about what he’d done with the cap, and Terrael, surprisingly, was standing up to him and saying something like “it was worth the risk.”
I got to my feet, and they both stopped arguing. Smug Git said, “We will have to watch her to see if any permanent damage was done.” The way he said it, like I was some kind of animal, made me angry, so I said—I can’t remember exactly, that’s how angry I was—“Oh, yes, let’s hope she didn’t sustain any permanent damage, that would be so inconvenient for you” and that’s as far as my anger took me before I realized I was speaking their language, and that startled me so much I shrieked and clapped my hands over my mouth. Terrael’s mouth fell open. Smug Git raised one eyebrow again—really, that makes him look even more arrogant and annoying than he naturally does. “It worked,” he said. He made it sound like the whole thing was his idea.
It sounded like Terrael felt the same way, and he said, “Just as I said, Sai Aleynten,” and I could practically hear him thinking I told you so, though he was careful not to sound rude. Smug Git nodded once, and said, “Take her back to her room, Master Peressten, and I will interrogate her in the morning.”
I didn’t like the sound of “interrogate,” and I said, “You brought me here, maybe I should be interrogating you.” It wasn’t much, but I couldn’t stand there and not defy him. It’s his face.
He just turned that cold, indifferent gaze on me, then said “In the morning, Master Peressten,” and walked away. So I lost my temper and summoned the fire in a circle around him. Terrael cried out and took a step toward the git, who just turned smoothly on his heel, made a few gestures like writing on the air—and I flew back into the counter I’d been sitting on. It knocked the air out of me, and I lost control of the fire and it went out, but obviously what really stunned me was seeing him work that pouvra. Never mind that I couldn’t do anything nearly so powerful; what was the gesturing for? Pouvrin are meant to come from inside you, something you encompass with your mind and then turn outward. If I gestured all the time when I did magic, I’d be captured instantly. So—
All right. I’m still overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed enough then that I didn’t strike back at Smug Git or whatever it was Terrael called him. Sai Aleynten. He walked away without another word, and Terrael helped me stand, babbling something about how I shouldn’t attack people and Smug Git could have done far worse because he’s some word I didn’t understand. Whatever Terrael’s cap did to me, there are apparently words it didn’t bother translating, and there’s probably some logic to it, but I can’t see it at the moment. He brought me back to my room, and now I’m hurrying to write this before the lights go out.
There’s just too much. Here’s what I know.
- That cap did something to me that lets me speak their language.
- These people have magic. Powerful magic, if Smug Git is representative.
- They don’t work magic the way I do.
- They want to learn something from me, hence the promised interrogation.
I ought to escape. I have no reason to believe that just because I haven’t been hurt before, their interrogation won’t involve…maybe not torture, but physical duress at least. But—this is the first place I’ve ever been where magic not only isn’t feared, but is openly practiced. Even if the way they use pouvrin is not at all like mine. I can’t leave until I’ve at least learned why that is. And I’m increasingly curious about why I’m here at all. I think Smug Git’s interrogation may give me more information than I give him. At least, that’s my plan.