Things I learned during my interrogation of Sai Aleynten, better known as Smug Git:
- They have never seen magic like mine before.
- This place is a sort of cross between a school and a co-operative of magic.
- That cap could have killed me.
- My coming here was, as I guessed, a complete accident.
Obviously the thing I’m most concerned about right now is number 3, though number 4 runs a close second. How dare Terrael risk my life like that? Yes, I’m glad I can understand these people now, and no, there’s no way he could have explained the situation to me and gotten my consent, but I’m still angry. Fortunately for Terrael, I haven’t seen him since last night, when he escorted me (in silence) back to my room. In the morning, a white-robe brought me breakfast (gruel studded with raisins and sprinkled with sugar, better-tasting than it sounds) and waited for me to finish (it’s hard to eat when someone’s staring at you, did you know?) then escorted me down the hall to a chamber near the mouth of the corridor. It was a much bigger room than the “sitting rooms” I’d seen before, maybe thirty feet in both directions. There was a table made of some wood so dark it was nearly black, a long, plain thing like a stone slab, and two chairs facing each other across it, but on the long sides, so we weren’t fifteen feet away from each other. Sai Aleynten stood next to one of the chairs, hands clasped behind his back, smug gitty look on his face as usual. “Sit down,” he said, pointing at the other chair. I tried to think of something rude to say to that, but in the end I just sat. So did he.
For a minute or so, we just stared at each other. His face was completely expressionless. I don’t know what I looked like; belligerent, probably. I’ve never been in a position to spend a lot of time looking at my own face, but I’ve been told I sometimes look as if I’m about to start a fight, which is never true. Starting fights only gets you noticed, and getting noticed only gets you a cell. In this case, I wasn’t going to be the first one to speak. This interrogation was Sai Aleynten’s idea; let him start the “conversation.” And speaking of conversations, how I wish I had the kind of memory that would let me remember everything word for word! My memory’s pretty good, what with all the memorizing I’ve had to do since the magic woke up in me, but it’s not that good. So I’m going to write as much as I can remember, and I’m going to guess at the rest, and maybe that means it’s not a totally accurate history, but I’ll be as honest as I can, and this should make it more readable for whoever it is reads it in the future. Which, again, might only be me, but I don’t see why my personal record shouldn’t be entertaining.
Finally, Sai Aleynten said, “You’re very lucky. That aeden Master Peressten used on you might have killed you.” (I guess this means number 3 is actually number 1. Oops.)
That made me feel a little faint, but I said, “That would have solved your problem, wouldn’t it?”
He didn’t flinch. “I have no desire to see you dead,” he said. “You are a curiosity.”
“And one who keeps trying to escape,” I said.
“We are keeping you here for your protection,” he said. “Far worse things might happen to you outside the Darssan.”
“I only have your word for that,” I said.
He raised his eyebrow, which made me itch to slap him. “Why did you interfere with our kathana?” he said. (Number 4, which is really number 2. I should have thought more clearly before I made that list.)
“I didn’t interfere with anything,” I said. “You brought me here.”
“Provably untrue,” he said. “That kathana could not have summoned or created anything living. I repeat, why did you interfere with our kathana?”
“And I repeat, I didn’t do anything. I was asleep when you and your kathana, whatever that means, dragged me to wherever this place is. I…had nothing to do with it.” I was about to say I don’t even know how to do that kind of magic when I realized I shouldn’t tell him any more than I had to about my abilities. Better to keep him guessing.
Sai Aleynten frowned. It was the first really human expression I’d ever seen him use. “I think you are lying,” he said.
“And I think you’re a smug git who wasn’t spanked enough as a baby,” I said. (This is untrue. I actually said something like “Am not!” but I came up with this when it was too late to say it, so I put it in here, but now I feel guilty about being deceptive, even if the only person I’m deceiving is myself. So this is me telling the truth.)
“Your magic is unlike ours. You might be capable of anything,” he said. (New number 3.)
“I could,” I said, “and so could you. But I didn’t. So if you didn’t bring me here, and I didn’t interfere with your kathana, maybe you should look for a third option instead of just accusing me of lying.”
He raised his eyebrow again. “I can think of any number of reasons why someone might want to insert herself into the Darssan,” he said. “You might be a spy. You might be a saboteur.”
I started to get angry, but he shushed me before I could do more than begin to shout. I’m embarrassed to write that I backed down immediately. Smug git or no, he has a very powerful presence, and I can see why everyone around here defers to him. It’s infuriating. “But I am inclined to believe you, because it is true I have never seen magic like yours before, and you could not have pretended to be affected by the aeden, which tells me you genuinely did not speak our language. And Master Peressten informs me you spoke none of the many languages in which he is fluent, which tells me further that wherever you have come from, it is very far away. So if you are not spy, nor saboteur, and you did not choose to come here….” His voice trailed off, and his gaze slipped to a point somewhere above my head, where it stayed for long enough that I became impatient.
“Excuse me,” I said sarcastically, “but if you’re done, I’d like to leave this place. Though I imagine you’ll just take me back to my cell.”
That brought his attention back to my face. “Are you not comfortable?” he said. “I thought we had corrected the misunderstanding that put you in that unused storage room first.”
“It’s comfortable, but as long as I’m not free to leave, it’s a cell,” I said.
“You would not be safe outside the Darssan.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Undoubtedly,” he said, and he got this sort of sour look on his face, “but not all the dangers you would face are the kind that respond to being set on fire.”
That made me want to laugh. So he hadn’t been so composed when I tried to burn him last night. I said, “Are they the kind that respond to being thrown into a countertop?”
He actually smiled! It was a thin, anemic little thing, but it staggered me. “You seemed surprised that anyone might fight back against you,” he said.
“Most people don’t,” I said, and immediately wished I hadn’t, because that was the sort of information he did not need to have, and of course he jumped on it. “You often use your magic aggressively?” he said.
Damn, damn, damn. “Sometimes,” I said.
“Then you mean that people in your homeland lack the ability to respond. Is magic something rare, where you come from?”
Damn times one hundred. “It is,” I said. I don’t know why I didn’t just lie to him, but I had a feeling he would know if I did, and that might mean he’d keep an even closer eye on me. So I suppose I do know why I didn’t lie.
“And all magic is like yours? You do not use kathanas or th’an?” he said.
“Those words don’t even translate.” This was when I figured out why there were words the cap hadn’t bothered to give me. Anything my language doesn’t have a concept for gets left in their words.
“Th’an.” Sai Aleynten waved his fingers in the air, again like writing, and the table shifted two inches to the left, startling me. “You saw them on the other aeden in the safe room, and no doubt on the walls of the cavern. And a kathana is using th’an in patterns, combined together, to work magic.”
At this point, I have to stop and justify myself. I know I wrote that I wouldn’t give away any more than I had to. That I was going to get more information out of him than he did from me. And he’s arrogant and I don’t like him and I don’t want him to have the satisfaction of thinking his interrogation succeeded. But. This was what I’ve dreamed of ever since the magic awoke—being in a place where I didn’t have to fear being killed for what I can do. And Sai Aleynten’s magic might be nothing like mine, but what if there’s something in it that teaches me more about my own? I couldn’t help myself. So if this decision causes a total disaster, and my future self reads this and wants to kill me, I just want to point out that you were me once and this was your decision too. If that makes sense.
Anyway. I told him about my magic. I told him everything. All about pouvrin and how I learn the shape of them, and the research I’ve done over the last ten years, and the kind of pouvrin I can do and the ones I’m still not sure of. I didn’t tell him how magic is feared in my country, in the nearby countries even, and I didn’t tell him anything about how scared I am sometimes when I realize I might be the only person who can do what I do, and I didn’t tell him about the magic waking up inside me—I haven’t told anyone that, haven’t even written it in any of the record books I’ve kept, not that I have access to any of them but this one now—but everything else, I poured out to Sai Aleynten like water from an ever-flowing spring. He just sat there, his smug face impassive and therefore marginally less smug, listening without comment, until the flow dried up and I sat back, my throat and mouth dry from speaking. Then he stood up and went to a cabinet on the far wall, and returned with a pitcher and a couple of glasses, which he set in front of me. He made a gesture, sort of an invitation, and I looked and saw that the pitcher was empty. So I did the water-summoning pouvra and filled the pitcher about three-fourths of the way. And he wiggled his fingers again, and the pitcher floated off the table and poured water into the glasses, wobbling a little bit and spilling a few drops. That awkwardness—I looked at Sai Aleynten, and he was smiling that thin little smile again, but this time there was actual humor in his eyes, and for a minute I forgot I don’t like him.
We drank, and sat silent again for a minute or two. I felt drained, like I’d been practicing pouvrin all day, and I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to say to Sai Aleynten. Besides, I’d been doing all the talking; I decided it was his turn.
Finally, he said, “The kathana was to summon something. A book. We have been working for three days to discover why it brought you here instead. As I said, it should not have summoned anything living.”
“Do you know how to send me back?” I said.
There was another long pause. Then he said, “We are trying to discover this as well.”
“What is this place?” I said. “This Darssan?”
A third pause. My momentary lapse of judgment that had me disliking Sai Aleynten less vanished. “If you’re afraid of giving away your secrets, you ought to ask yourself who I could possibly tell them to,” I said. “And I’ve already told you all of mine.” This was untrue. There are any number of things I hadn’t told him that are frankly none of his business. But it was true in the specific context of our conversation.
He looked at me in silence for a moment longer, his face growing more expressionless, then he said, “The Darssan is a place where mages come to learn and to teach others. It provides resources and shelter and a certain amount of protection against those who would like to turn our magic to their own purposes.”
His lack of specificity suggested there were things he wasn’t telling me, but since I had my own secrets, I decided not to push. “So why were you trying to summon that book?” I asked.
“That is not something you need to know,” he said, and once again he looked arrogant and smug.
“Then you don’t need to know anything more about the pouvrin,” I said. I wanted to fling fire at him again, but my hip still hurt from where it had struck the counter, and I decided it wouldn’t get me what I wanted. So I took refuge in rudeness.
“If you explain your magic, we might have a better chance of returning you,” he said.
“I might say the same,” I said, and then we glared at each other for a while until he stood and said, “Master Peressten will come to you later. I will instruct him to answer as many of your questions as he is allowed, if you will extend him the same courtesy.”
I couldn’t believe Sai Aleynten had bent even that much, so I only nodded and left the room, where I found a white-robe waiting to take me back to my bedroom. It would be just like Sai Aleynten to make someone wait at the door that whole time—it must have been over an hour that we were talking. But I was too full of questions to have much room to be indignant on the poor man’s part.
And that brings me to now. Terrael hasn’t appeared yet, which is also typical of Sai Aleynten, leaving me here with nothing to do, as far as he knows. I’m trying to come up with questions for Terrael—more accurately, I’m trying to work out which of the hundreds of questions I have are the most important. And I haven’t given up on trying to escape the Darssan. Sai Aleynten may be worried about safety, but I had to scrape a living for myself and Mam and Bridie since I was twelve, and I’ve been on my own since I was seventeen, and I’m not afraid of anything that might be outside these walls.