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.