3 Lennitay, after dinner (continued)
Cederic looked horrified, and that frightened me more than anything Vorantor had said. “Denril,” he said, “how can you possibly condone this? Let alone preside over it?”
“Cederic, I have little choice in the matter.” Vorantor said.
“No choice. That is never true, and you know it,” Cederic said in a low, intense voice. “I warned you not to throw in your lot with hers. She’s insane, Denril, you know she is. Only a madwoman could order such a vile thing.”
“Do not make such accusations, even where only I can hear,” Vorantor said. “She is our ruler, Cederic, and she deserved to know what was coming. We will need her temporal power in the aftermath, however well we are able to contain the destruction. She has amassed an army the likes of which no one has seen since the days of the Conqueror to maintain Castavir’s stability after the coming disaster. But the God-Empress is preparing for war against an enemy she knows she can’t fight, and her paranoia is increasing. She insists I produce results, regardless of the cost, and you and I agree on one thing: Thalessi, or whatever you call her, as an inhabitant of the shadow world, is crucial to our ability to preserve this one—that’s true no matter which of our theories is correct. And I am sorry, old friend, I am truly sorry, but you must give up this mad, doomed quest. I need your help. Your skills are unparalleled; I can even admit you’re better than I am. Your continued refusal to join me will mean the deaths of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions. You made a request of me. Let me extend the same to you. Help me. Please.”
Cederic turned away—and looked directly at me. I’m sure he hadn’t been aware of my presence until that moment. His face was once again impassive, but his eyes were pleading with me—for forgiveness? For approval? I nodded, though I wasn’t sure what I was agreeing to. He turned back to look at Vorantor and said, “I will join you. And Sesskia will come peacefully.”
“Thank you,” Vorantor said. “And I truly am sorry for this.”
“I am sorry, too,” Cederic said, though he didn’t say for what. I wrote that Vorantor was smart; he stood up from his chair and said, “I will leave you to decide how best to tell the mages. They really should be evacuated from the Darssan.”
“And I suppose you have a plan for that as well,” Cederic said.
“I have called for another loenerel to transport them to Trengia,” Vorantor said. “From there they will be able to return to their homes.”
“And forbidden the opportunity to save their world,” Cederic said. His voice was as expressionless as his face.
“You know most of them lack the skills to give us any advantage. Choose your best, and thank the others for their assistance to date,” Vorantor said.
“They were your best, once, Denril,” Cederic said. “Are you so completely lost to human feeling?”
“This is a hard time, and we must make hard choices,” Vorantor said. I couldn’t see his face, but he sounded angry. “Past time you learned that.”
Cederic said nothing, just made a little dismissive wave of his fingers as if to say the conversation was over. Again, Vorantor demonstrated his intelligence by leaving without saying another word. When the door was shut, Cederic said, “I wish you had not heard that.”
I released the concealment pouvra and said, “I’m sorry. I know I said I wouldn’t use the pouvra like a thief.”
“I am not angry at your eavesdropping, Sesskia, but you do not need to be burdened with the knowledge that we are at the mercy of a mad Empress who is willing to slaughter innocents,” Cederic said.
I said, “Why not? It was me she wanted to coerce. I’m the one she’s going to try to control. I think I have a right to know in what way I need to defend myself.”
Cederic shrugged. “You have a point,” he said. “And now I must decide how to tell two hundred mages that our work is not only over, but has been a waste of time. Without implicating Denril.”
“Why not implicate him?” I said. “It’s his fault!”
“He is the Empress’s right hand in this matter. If I give them reason to murmur against him, and that murmuring gets back to her, their lives will be forfeit,” Cederic said. “I will take the blame myself. I will explain that in light of new evidence, I have been convinced that our work needs to take a different direction, and the Darssan must be closed for everyone’s safety. If I am lucky, they will hate me and not Denril.”
“That’s not fair,” I said.
Cederic looked up at me, and his eyes showed all the pain his face never would. “This has never been about fairness,” he said. “Was it fair to pull you from your world into this one, make you a pawn in a game you never agreed to play? Denril was right, in part—this is a hard time that requires hard choices. The difference is that he believes he has the right to make those choices for everyone else. I have never agreed with him in that respect.”
“Do you still believe you’re right?” I said.
“I do,” he said, “and I will take with me the mages most capable of proving me correct. We will summon the Codex Tiurindi, and it will prove the truth to Denril. I only hope it will do so before it is too late.”
“I’ll help you find a solution,” I said. “I don’t have to be cooperative with him,” and then I remembered what Vorantor said about killing the mages, and it made me so angry I couldn’t go on speaking. I would be going to Colosse surrounded by hostages.
“You see the problem,” Cederic said, drily.
“Damn him to hell and damn your God-Empress too,” I said.
“Never say that again. Never even think it,” Cederic said. “She is dangerous in ways you cannot imagine, because she is erratic and paranoid and is capable of destroying things, and people, even when that destruction hurts her cause. Your guess is correct: she wants you in Colosse so she can control you personally, and not because Denril has told her you are necessary to his work. But if she turns on you…God only knows what she might decide to do.”
“I can defend myself,” I said, “but I can’t defend everyone around me.”
“Exactly,” Cederic said.
I sat down in the chair next to him and said, “How can I help you? Since it’s clear I won’t be able to help myself.”
He smiled. “Behave as if you know nothing of this conflict. You don’t have to be cheerful about it, naturally, but a desire to mitigate the coming disaster would be appropriate. Cooperate with Denril when he asks you about pouvrin. I’m glad you understood what I asked you earlier.”
“Now I’m especially grateful I did,” I said. “Having pouvrin he knows nothing about could save my life.”
“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Cederic said. “We won’t leave until that second loenerel arrives to transport everyone—I won’t let it seem I’m abandoning anyone. You and I will have to find a way to pursue the correct line of research without me seeming to be insubordinate. It could be dangerous.”
“Because nothing about the rest of this is dangerous,” I said. “I don’t understand loenerel.”
“It is a machine powered by th’an that can transport large numbers of people more quickly than walking or riding,” Cederic said. “They are made in segments, so those segments, the senets, can be added or removed depending on how many people it needs to transport. It will require a fairly large loenerel to move all the mages of the Darssan—minus the few I am to be allowed as part of my entourage,” he added, sounding bitter. “I cannot believe Denril is so dismissive of their abilities, simply because he took many of our best mages when he left for Colosse two years ago.”
That was a surprise. “Those men and women with him, they used to belong to the Darssan?” I said.
“Many of them, yes,” Cederic said. “Some of them were privately employed before Denril coaxed them to work for him. But enough of those mages have friends here….” We both sat silent for a moment, and I’m sure he was thinking (as I was) about what kind of people could agree to kill their friends for any reason. Or maybe Cederic wasn’t exaggerating about the Empress’s madness. “And there were more Sais here, once,” he went on. “Seventeen of us. They all believe as Denril does.”
That made my heart ache for him. Seventeen people who might have been his friends in a way the ordinary mages could not. “So you were the only one who saw this possibility,” I said, and he nodded. Then he stood, and said, “I hope for all our sakes you are as good a liar as you are a thief,” and I could see he was trying to make a joke, so I laughed. It didn’t hurt my feelings—I’m sure he meant it as a compliment—but it reminded me that my life had suddenly become dangerous, and that I have secrets that could mean people’s deaths, or even my own, if I reveal them.
to be continued