Sesskia’s Diary, part 34

3 Lennitay

I’m no longer faking illness. Cederic took one look at me when I came to breakfast and ordered me back to my room. Then he brought me food himself. This was to give him an excuse to speak to me privately, to make sure there wasn’t anything more wrong with me than (as we determined) motion sickness. He offered to send Vorantor to me, as he knows some healing magic, but I declined, and he didn’t push. I know Terrael and Audryn said they were still friends, but from what I overheard between them, it’s a friendship on the brink of falling apart.

Right. I haven’t reached that point yet. Vorantor didn’t say anything more to me, and Cederic said a few things that sounded like hospitality ritual, and then Vorantor said something like “don’t let us keep you from your work” and everyone broke into their groups and went back to their research.

Hahahaha.

What really happened was that everyone broke into groups and pretended to work, because Vorantor’s people spread out and started “helping” by making corrections to their th’an or offering suggestions about which book to refer to. I followed Cederic to our table, since I had nothing else to do, and Vorantor came with us. More accurately, he went a few steps ahead of us, as if he were leading the way, and that annoyed me. I know he was Wrelan here before Cederic, but he has no right to act as if he’s still in charge. Cederic didn’t seem to mind. When we got to the circle, Cederic showed Vorantor the books we’ve been translating, starting with the Eddon book, and they had a technical discussion I probably could have followed, since it was about everything Cederic and I have been working on with regard to pouvrin and th’an, but I was too busy worrying about why Vorantor was even here. I was certain it was all due to me, even though he was putting on a good show of being interested in our research, and I was right, which makes me furious as I’m writing this. Vorantor wanted me for his own purposes, and it makes me even angrier to remember how they were talking as if they were collaborators instead of Vorantor waiting for the right moment to reveal the truth. I despise him because he thinks of me as a prize, as a thing, and I swore no one would ever use me like that. But there isn’t much I can do about it now. Maybe when we reach Colosse, Cederic will think of something, or the God-Empress will change everyone’s plans.

They talked for several minutes, and I ended up flipping the pages of a book I couldn’t read, looking at the pictures. I’m probably just as happy I can’t read that one, because based on the illustrations, it’s a sex manual, and what it’s doing with the rest of these books is a mystery. Then Vorantor said, “Thalessi,” and that brought my attention away from the picture of three people tangled together. “I would love to see your magic, if you don’t mind,” he said.

“Of course,” I said, and did the fire-summoning pouvra almost in his face. I regretted it before the fire died away, and cursed myself for letting my annoyance override my good sense. I’m sure making myself seem dangerous was a wonderful choice that made Vorantor decide I had nothing to offer him and leave me alone. Fortunately, Vorantor didn’t seem angry or frightened, and he didn’t flinch. He might smile more, but he seems every bit as self-controlled as Cederic.

“Fascinating,” he said. “Will you show me the others?”

I looked just past him at Cederic, hoping he could give me guidance, but his face was completely expressionless, as always. And then I saw his hand was open, his fingers spread, and he flexed his fingers a few times. Five. But I know seven pouvrin, counting the walk-through-walls one I don’t use—and then I realized what he was telling me, as clearly as if there were a mind-speaking pouvra we both had access to. I said, “Yes, but I won’t be able to show you how I can see in the dark,” and I summoned water, then caught it and turned it into a sphere and flew it around for a bit (even in my nervousness, it was hard not to make it hit the back of Terrael’s head, just for fun) and I had him go behind one of the bookshelves and hold up so many fingers, and I looked through it to tell him how many. Cederic, standing with his back to Vorantor during this test, gave me another meaningful look, this one of thanks. He may trust Vorantor more than I do, but I saw he thought we might need the advantage of him not knowing about the walk-through-walls and concealment pouvrin, and he was right. I didn’t realize he could be as paranoid as I am. It’s funny how we have far more in common than I believed back at the beginning.

Vorantor was impressed, and not in a child-doing-tricks way. He asked a lot of questions about pouvrin, how to learn them and what it feels like to use them, and were there any similarities between pouvrin and th’an. I told him what we’d learned, and I didn’t hold anything back, just in case Cederic had already told him things. I think it may be another advantage for him to believe I’m cooperating, so I hope he couldn’t tell I was furious about being forced to go to Colosse, and in that way. And I have to admit Vorantor is easily as intelligent as Cederic, because he grasped the implications of our work immediately. On the other hand, he said nothing about the Codex Tiurindi, nothing about the worlds coming together, and at the time I assumed it was just because they both knew what needed to be done and talking about it was irrelevant. I was wrong.

Eventually, their discussion wound down, and Vorantor said, “I would like to speak with you privately, Cederic. We have so much to catch up on.”

Cederic nodded, turned to me, and said, “Thank you for your help, Sesskia.” Then he and Vorantor walked away toward the corridor, leaving me gaping for a moment at the abruptness of his farewell. It took me less than a second to decide that I had to hear whatever they were about to say to each other. Yes, I know I’d told Cederic I wouldn’t use the pouvra like a thief, and I felt slightly guilty about using it on him, but I was tired of everyone but me knowing what his relationship with Vorantor really was. And he had told me to keep them a secret from Vorantor, which is close to giving me permission to eavesdrop.

I used to be better at justifications.

And I got what eavesdroppers are proverbially supposed to get, which is, nothing good. I don’t really regret it. Cederic would have told me the details later, but hearing Vorantor’s words from his own mouth—I’m glad I know what kind of man he actually is. I

Dinnertime. I’m a little surprised Cederic is always the one who comes for me. I think he knows I’m writing and is trying to keep anyone from finding out about this book. I think writing while the loenerel is moving is making me queasier, but there’s no way I’m going to delay any longer. It’s supposed to take fewer than three days to reach Colosse, and I’m determined to have caught up before then, because who knows what might happen?

 

Sesskia’s Diary, part 33

2 Lennitay, just after dinner (continued)

We stood together and waited for a few minutes. Everyone was very still, almost unmoving. I noticed Cederic clenching his hand into a fist and then forcing it to relax, clench/relax, at least a dozen times before a door on the third level, high above, opened with a loud clang, and a few dozen people emerged and came down the ramps to meet us. (This is another thing I haven’t mentioned. About half the living quarters are on the second level, and all the facilities and the other half of the living quarters are on the first, and the third is entirely unoccupied. The population of the Darssan used to be much bigger.) They walked single-file, even though the ramps are broad enough for three people to walk side-by-side comfortably, and I was certain, looking at the procession, that they were doing it to look more impressive. Though that could just be my impression in hindsight, knowing a little more of Vorantor now. Cederic watched them impassively, his hand now relaxed—or maybe it was just open rather than clenched, because I could tell by the way his jaw was tight that he was in no way relaxed about any of this.

Eventually the procession came to the bottom of the ramps and the man at the head of the line approached us, while the rest of the men and women following him bunched up behind him. The man held out his hands to Cederic, who clasped them by crossing his arms so right hand took right hand and so forth. “Thank you for the invitation,” the man said.

“We are always happy to welcome you and our other friends to the Darssan, Denril,” Cederic said.

“I am glad to hear it,” Vorantor said, and then he looked at me, and I didn’t like it. He had the smile of a shark, a toothy, humorless smile. He had a receding hairline, which made him look older than I suspected he was (early thirties, the same as Cederic), and wore his black hair pulled back the way all the mages of the Darssan did—all the newcomers wore their hair this way—but he and his friends wore richly colored and heavily embroidered robes that fell past their knees, tied with metallic-looking gold ropes that ended in tassels as thick as my wrist, over pale gray trousers almost the color of my own. Vorantor also wore an earring made of a square-cut ruby that could feed a family of ten in Thalessa for a month, and that made me dislike him more. I don’t know if the earring means something, or if he’s just showing off how important he is, but I’ve stolen much better than that from the noble and wealthy of Balaen, and if he thinks it’s something that will impress me, he is utterly wrong. Not that I imagine he worries much about impressing me; no doubt he cares more about what the God-Empress thinks. I suppose I’ll find that out soon.

Anyway, he looked at me, and he said, “And you are Thalessi, our visitor from the shadow world,” and that surprised me, because it had to be Cederic who told him about me, and I didn’t know he understood how personal praenomi are to Balaenics or that he wasn’t allowed to give my praenoma to a stranger on my behalf. It made me realize for the first time that we really are friends, and that’s so strange, given that I once thought that was impossible.

Even with the buffer of my placename between us, I was very uncomfortable having his attention on me, so I just nodded and said, “I am.” I wasn’t sure at the time why he made me so uncomfortable, other than his resemblance to a shark, but now that I have time to think, I feel as if I’ve felt protected in the Darssan, and Vorantor’s arrival, even though I didn’t know then that there was something sinister about it, disrupted that protective little world. I’d managed to convince myself I could stay there indefinitely, even managed to pretend the world’s fate wasn’t in the balance because I finally had friends and a place where I didn’t have to conceal my magic, and that was just stupid.

And speaking of the shadow world, I finally understand why they call it that. The loenerel is still traveling through miles and miles of wasteland, but every now and then we pass things that are, well, shadows. Barns or houses you can see through, or people walking around doing things that would make sense if you could see the world they were actually interacting with. Once we drove entirely through some kind of gathering hall and we could see its interior, complete with people dancing. The shadows don’t persist—sometimes we see them in the far distance, and they fade in and then out again—but they do appear frequently, and Sovrin said that although they never saw them in the Darssan (no idea why not) they knew from the news they got from outside that the shadows were showing up more often and staying for longer than they used to. Just more evidence of the approaching disaster. This also reminds me that I didn’t ask her how they get news from outside, if the Darssan is so isolated. Not that it matters anymore.

Audryn just stopped by to see if I’m still alive. I hid the book before she entered. It’s not that I don’t trust her, because I do, but the fewer people who know I have this, the less likely one of them will reveal its existence to Vorantor, even though I’m sure they wouldn’t mean to. But I’m taking this as a sign I need to turn out the light and try to sleep. I can’t believe I’m actually looking forward to arriving in Colosse. I can’t believe I ever had the innocence to write that the Empress was never going to have anything to do with my life. More tomorrow.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 32

2 Lennitay, just after dinner

I’m hiding in my room—it’s not so much a room as a cubicle, with barely enough space for a bed and window—having pretended to have a headache. It’s not entirely a lie. The motion of the loenerel makes me a little queasy, and right now I’ve got my face hanging over a little vent that constantly blows cool air into the room, probably to compensate for how hot the loenerel is. The master, the one who keeps the collenna moving, said it would be much hotter if not for the kathana that shields it from the sun’s rays. I can’t even imagine walking through the desert unprotected, and I’m trying to be grateful, but since I’m still angry at Vorantor’s manipulation, it’s difficult to hang on to gratitude for anything.

I hate when I can’t write every day. I know I’m forgetting things, and then I remember them and have to put them in out of order, and I’d like to just summarize, but so much of importance has happened that I feel as if I’m cheating myself to skim over it. So if this is confusing—but I suppose I’m the one who’ll be reading it later, so there’s no sense apologizing to myself.

So, as I wrote earlier, I was tired and just went to bed instead of writing, not that that really mattered because I hadn’t done much worth writing about. In the morning, I went to breakfast and the refectory was practically empty. One of the mages was leaving as I entered, and he told me to be quick, because there were visitors on the way. Well, that excited me—any change is exciting, though the news that someone had discovered the right kathana for summoning the Codex Tiurindi would have been far better. I gulped down my food and hurried out to the cavern to find it was nearly empty, too.

(The loenerel just came to a stop again. They have to refresh the th’an frequently because the loenerel is so massive it swallows magic like a drunkard swigs brandy. When it stops, it becomes warmer, and the smell of hot metal becomes more pervasive, and then I really do feel ill. It’s a measure of how quickly I’ve come to take the casual use of magic for granted, that I can be annoyed at the loenerel’s failings rather than awestruck that anything can transport fifty people across the desert faster than a horse can run and with greater endurance.)

Terrael was there in the cavern, and he told me everyone was cleaning up so the Darssan, and its inhabitants, would look their best for the visitors. But what he and a handful of other mages were doing was washing off the walls in places, and I think they were concealing some of their research from whoever was coming to visit. Now that I know it was Vorantor, that makes sense. Damn it, now I’m telling the story out of order again. At least I can take comfort in knowing my dislike of Vorantor is rooted in good reason, unlike my dislike of Cederic, which was just mutual misunderstanding and my unfortunate prejudice.

I asked what I could do, and he said I should dress as nicely as possible, which was useless advice because I have no idea what constitutes nice dress in Castavir. I certainly don’t have a white robe to wear. I compromised by going back to my room and dressing in the clothes I think look nicest on me, a pale blue shirt embroidered with white flowers around the neck and cuffs and hem and a pair of gray trousers almost too fine a weave to be practical. I couldn’t do anything about my shoes—I don’t think I’ve ever said that everyone here wears thin-soled sandals held on by cloth strips, and if they have other shoes, they maybe have a single pair, and there wasn’t any need for me to borrow them. And of course if the sandals are too informal for something as important as this visit, they’d all need their own shoes and no one could loan a pair to me. So my worn and cracked leather ankle boots didn’t look right, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Audryn knocked on my door just as I was about to leave and made me sit while she pinned my hair up with two of her clips, simple openwork brass loops big enough to keep my mass of hair in place. She’s the one who told me our visitor was Vorantor, and she wouldn’t say much more than that, which left me nervous because I still didn’t know the truth about him and his relationship to Cederic.

We went back to the cavern, which in contrast to earlier was now full of people, everyone dressed neatly in their white robes and black trousers. Some of the women now wore hair clips and a few of the men wore earrings, nothing flashy, nothing that might get in someone’s way while he or she was scribing th’an. I saw Sovrin across the cavern, and she saw me and gestured to me in a way I eventually realized meant “step back”. So I took a few steps until I stood behind someone else, partially concealed by the crowd. I realize now she meant to conceal me from Vorantor, but at the time I thought it was just a custom. It didn’t matter, because at that moment Cederic entered, looked around the chamber, saw me immediately despite my being much shorter than the person I was standing behind, and made a little motion for me to come stand beside him at the circle. He was dressed just as he always is, no extra jewelry or anything, though he was wearing shoes rather than sandals. “Say nothing except in direct response to something Denril asks you, and then be as brief as possible,” he instructed me in a low voice. “You may want to argue, but say nothing. Promise me, Sesskia. This is important.”

“I promise,” I said, because his tone of voice frightened me a little, and if he thought Vorantor would make me want to argue, then something serious was happening.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 31

2 Lennitay

I’m writing this from the rear senet of the loenerel, where I can have a little privacy because it’s noisier than the others and no one wants to endure that. Everyone else is gathered in the senet just behind the collenna, which is the thing that makes the loenerel go. I’m so full to bursting with new words and ideas that I feel dizzy, a feeling not helped by how fast we’re traveling across this horrible, hot, arid wasteland. I remember now what Cederic said about my not being safe outside the Darssan. I didn’t realize he meant that literally. The Arabel Mountains, under which the Darssan is located, sit squarely in the middle of the least hospitable desert I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen more than a few. I looked back at them when we left about an hour ago, before the loenerel kicked up so much dust I couldn’t see anything, and they were these jagged black hills like the desert’s teeth, jutting up toward the sky. Now they’re far in the distance, and I wish I were back there safe beneath them. Even if it meant not seeing the sky for a few more weeks.

It’s been a few days since I was able to write anything, and they were such eventful days that I’ll only try to record accurately a few important conversations, because I’ve already forgotten most of the details. The night after my last entry wasn’t eventful. I practiced the concealment pouvra and did a little sneaking around before I felt guilty about it. Even though I wasn’t trying to spy on anyone, and I only wanted to test its effectiveness, I knew they’d object if they knew about it. So I went back to my room, but discovered I was unexpectedly tired, so I told myself I’d write more

Cederic just came in and told me I was expected to join the rest of them. He was more expressionless than usual, which told me he wasn’t happy, but then he hasn’t looked happy since Sai Vorantor arrived. Not that I should call him that, but I don’t know what other name to use. Cederic addresses him as Denril, but I’m guessing my calling him that would be inappropriate even by Castaviran standards. So I’ll call him Vorantor in these pages and try to avoid addressing him personally.

He also said, “Don’t let anyone see that book.” When I asked why, he said, “The Empress does not like not possessing information she believes is important. A book she cannot read would fall into that category. She would likely have it destroyed.”

I thanked him, and told him I would follow shortly. He never asks what I’m writing, though I think he’s curious. I’m sure a foreigner’s impressions of Castavir would interest him, even if I weren’t writing about people he knows. But he’s too polite to pry. So I’m putting this away for now, but I intend to find more chances to write about what’s happened in the last three days.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 30

30 Senessay (continued)

“So what about the things in the storage room?” I asked. “Those th’an are made of metal.”

Cederic grimaced, the faintest drawing down of the corners of his mouth. “Experiments,” he said, “from years, sometimes decades, ago. Occasionally someone revisits the idea of permanent th’an with permanent effects. Those aeden still have power, some of them, but it’s an unpredictable power, which is why they are locked away. Not that anyone but Master Peressten would dare to use them.”

“You didn’t want him to,” I recalled.

Cederic shook his head. “I did not think it fair to you to subject you to such a dangerous experiment,” he said. “I told Master Peressten to speak with you long enough to learn your language, so he could gain your consent. But he is often impatient. I’m afraid I lost my temper at him.” He looked away from me and began twiddling the writing tool in his fingers. I think he was embarrassed.

“I forgave him for it,” I said. “But thank you for trying to contain him.”

He smiled. “I am glad it worked,” he said, “even if our conversations are occasionally…strained.”

“That’s because you’re stubborn and irrational,” I said.

He raised his eyebrow at me. “You are only able to say that,” he said, “because you are so intimately familiar with those characteristics.” He smiled as he said it, and that made me laugh.

“Can you use the pouvra again, while I watch?” he said.

“Maybe,” I said, and reached for the shape of the pouvra in memory. It took a few tries, and Cederic standing there watching me made me nervous, but eventually the numbness spread over my body again, and Cederic’s eyes began to water.

“I can still see you,” he said, “but it is difficult not to want to look away.” He turned his head briefly, then looked back at me. “And now you are once again part of your surroundings.”

I released the pouvra and shook out my fingers. “I wish I knew how this could help with the kathana,” I said.

“Anything might help,” he said. “What will you use it for?”

I knew what he was really asking. Why did I tell him I’m a thief? Why do I tell him anything personal? Even if I do consider him a friend, now. “I’m not going to sneak around and spy on people, if that’s what you mean,” I said, “and I have no need to pursue my former profession, since there are all these books lying around and no one minds if I read them. But practicing pouvrin makes me better able to learn new ones. So that’s what I’ll use it for.”

“I did not mean to imply that I distrust you,” he said in a low voice, though there wasn’t anyone around to hear us.

“Then what did you mean?” I said. I swear I didn’t intend to sound hostile, because I didn’t feel hostile. Just a little disappointed that he thought less of me because of who I’d had to become to survive.

He paused, looking off into the distance, then said, “You see the world in ways no one else has thought of. The pouvra has obvious implications. I am interested in the non-obvious ones I am certain you will discover.”

“Oh,” I said. It felt like—still feels like—a tremendous compliment, and yet I’m not sure what he meant. I’m a mage because I see things others don’t, or I wouldn’t be able to learn pouvrin, but I could say the same of every mage in the Darssan. Aside from the obvious, I don’t think of myself as anyone special. Well, I am, though, because after the magic woke up in me, I could have ignored it and not learned any more pouvrin. But seeing the world differently…I think he might be mistaken about that. But it was a nice compliment, so I accepted it at face value.

After that, he drew more th’an and we talked about kathanas, which I still haven’t seen, and I began to grasp some of the underlying logic behind the shapes of Castaviran magic. I still don’t think I’ll ever learn to do magic their way. Maybe it’s more flexible, but I’m so used to encompassing magic with my body and giving it shape there that I think I’d feel hampered by the need to learn all those fiddly th’an. Learning the concealment pouvra, though, has made me think about the possibility of crafting pouvrin of my own. It’s a huge stretch, because I don’t even know what’s possible, but what a challenge! Maybe learning more about th’an will give me some ideas. But I’m going to master the concealment pouvra first. And maybe see if I can find some non-obvious applications for Cederic.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 29

30 Senessay

I did it. The concealment pouvra works.

I didn’t realize it at first, because it doesn’t conceal you from yourself. But it makes you feel different, a little numb, like everything is happening just an inch beyond your fingers. That’s going to be a problem if I use it while I’m stealing things, but I think it might just be a matter of learning to compensate for the difference, like learning to grab a stone from a riverbed despite its visual displacement. So I knew something had happened, just not what. I left my room and went down the hall to the cavern, and wandered around a bit. No one paid attention to me, but that’s normal. Cederic was at the circle, kneeling on the floor and drawing th’an with his fat writing tool. I walked over to him and crouched opposite, watching him work. He didn’t raise his head, but I’m used to him knowing I’m there, so I assumed he just didn’t see a need to greet me, which he usually doesn’t. I said, “Does it matter what you draw the th’an with, or can you use any pen or pencil?” Continue reading

Sesskia’s Diary, part 28

29 Senessay

Still no success on either front. Finished with the madman’s book, but Cederic asked me to watch him draw several individual th’an and tell him if I see anything familiar. Nothing. Not even that hint of recognition I got from the water-summoning th’an. I didn’t tell him about that, because I’m increasingly convinced it was just my imagination, like when you have the feeling you’ve done something or been somewhere before, and I don’t want us heading off down a false path when we don’t have time to waste. Cederic was disappointed at our failure, which he displayed exactly the way he shows every other emotion—complete lack of expression. I’m getting better at reading his actual feelings, what with spending so much time with him. Good thing I don’t hate him anymore.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 27

28 Senessay

Still wrestling with the pouvra. Read more of the madman’s book to Cederic today while he took notes. I have no idea what, if anything, he’s learning from it, but he seems satisfied.

Learned something surprising tonight, which is that Audryn is at least as enamored of Terrael as he is of her. He wasn’t at dinner tonight, and when I asked why, Audryn said he was involved in the translation of one of the Castaviran mage books, and he was working himself to the bone, and she wished he would listen to her when she told him to eat. She’s good at hiding it, but that concern wasn’t at all what you’d expect from someone only worried about her superior. I wish I could tell one or the other the truth, but I don’t poke my nose into other people’s business. I just hope one of them summons the nerve to speak up.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 26

27 Senessay, evening

Today was a near-total loss. Cederic was every bit as exhausted as I was, and irritable in a way I wasn’t until I started talking to him, and we had an argument that was more of a squabble, in which he was sarcastic and I was rude. We managed to cut it short and apologize to each other, but neither of us meant it. Finally, he said, “This is pointless. Have your lunch, and take a nap, and let us see if we can salvage anything of this day after that.” Continue reading

Sesskia’s Diary, part 25

After breakfast

Still headachy. I’m going to forgo a bath this morning—and no, that’s not going to make me stinky, I bathed yesterday and I can afford to miss one day—so I can write more about the pouvra. I haven’t come close to mastering it yet, of course, and I didn’t expect to. It has a strange shape, much more angular than the others, and I think it’s because the madman who described it was working from all manner of wrong assumptions. But I know it will work. I can feel it, deep inside, where my magic responds to the pouvrin and my will bends to meet them. What’s interesting is that part of what the madman did makes the underlying reasoning behind the pouvra more obvious, which means I’ll probably learn this one more rapidly than the others, all except the fire-starting pouvra, of course. Continue reading