Sesskia’s Diary, part 49

9 Lennitay, very early, maybe just past midnight

More research today. I mean yesterday. Still not enough successes for Master Terrael, so I’m still working on the glass instead of with fire. Though we took a small break in the middle of the morning for me to demonstrate some of the pouvrin, mainly fire and water. I’m getting better at juggling water, which is fun, and this time I did splash Terrael in the face. Just a little. He laughed with everyone else.

I don’t know how much longer it will take before they can do the kathana. I have this horrible feeling they’re waiting on me, which makes me work even harder but makes my work less effective. The mages in charge of tracking what they call “the convergence” (presumably because it sounds less awful than “unavoidable catastrophic destruction”) have stopped saying how long until it gets here, which makes me even more nervous. But, again, that makes me less capable, and my hands start to shake, and then I have to sit in a corner and watch everyone else until I regain control.

It’s interesting to watch Cederic and compare him to Vorantor. Vorantor bustles a lot. He likes to draw people’s attention to what he’s doing, even if what he’s doing is complimenting someone else’s work. Which he does, frequently—gives compliments, I mean. But he’s the sort of person who thinks he’s being a leader because he read somewhere that’s what leaders do.

Cederic, on the other hand, is always quiet and rarely makes comments, but when he does, everyone stops to listen, even people who aren’t involved in whatever he’s talking about. And he does a lot more listening than Vorantor does, and listens with his whole attention—I know this from experience. So when he does give praise, you can see it really matters to the person he’s giving it to. They may listen to Vorantor, because he does most of the talking, but they pay attention to Cederic, especially when he doesn’t say a word. Even Vorantor’s mages give him a kind of respect Vorantor can’t command. It makes me feel proud on behalf of him and the Darssan contingent, even though we’re so much smaller.

I don’t know why I’m going on about this. The exploring I did was far more exciting than writing about stupid Vorantor. Though I have to write about him a little, because I decided I need to spy on him a little more closely, just in case he has any more clandestine meetings. I haven’t told Cederic, because he would definitely object—he still believes Vorantor is his friend, and I know he hates that I sneak around the palace at night. But I think Vorantor is more dangerous than he seems, and I won’t be satisfied until I know why he met with Aselfos. Fortunately, he has a routine he rarely deviates from, in the evenings: he eats dinner with Cederic and some of the other Sais, then all of them go to their common room, which is around the corner from the dining hall, where they sit and talk and have after-dinner drinks. (Our common room is larger, and the conversation is more lively, and there’s more use of th’an for amusement.) Vorantor always retires early, no later than nine o’clock, and goes to sit in the observatory for half an hour, then retires to his room, where he reads for another half hour before going to sleep. I know the last part because I sat concealed in his room last night, watching him. He’s really very dull. He didn’t sneak out later, and he didn’t meet with anyone in the observatory. But his meeting with Aselfos didn’t sound, even what little I heard of it, like a chance encounter or a one-time event, so I’m certain he’ll meet with the man again. Unfortunately, I can’t just follow him around, concealed, waiting for it to happen, so I’ll need to make a better plan. Last night was just to confirm his pattern, so I didn’t spend much time watching him before I got down to my real exploring.

This time, I used the concealment pouvra immediately and went down the stairs, counting, so I could keep track of where I was with regard to the tower. There are no doors off the Sais’ stairwell, which descends in a series of landings in a sort of tall chimney, and by the time I reached the bottom, I’d determined I was at the floor above the base of the tower. So then I started looking around for a way into the tower, or failing that, a flight of stairs that would take me one story lower where an entrance might reasonably be found.

Part of me wanted something mysterious, so I was a little disappointed when access to the tower was as easy as following the hall off the stairs to a junction and then turning right. That led me to a short double door made of brass that filled the width of the hallway. I used the see-through pouvra to verify that no one was standing immediately behind it, learned that it opened on a hall that curved downward immediately to the right, and went through it—the conventional way, since the walk-through-walls pouvra still makes me nervous.

The curving hallway actually went in both directions, with a gentle slope that suggested it followed the contours of the tower, and wasn’t so dim that I needed the see-in-dark pouvra. I went uphill for a bit and soon found one of the narrow windows on my left, which let in the light of the moon. It looked out over the palace rather than Colosse, which told me that “my” window, or the one that would give me access to the “staircase” to the observatory, was on the opposite side of the tower from here. I continued walking, occasionally passing doors on my right that I itched to explore, but first I wanted to see if I had an exit from this place. All the doors were made of brass like the first, but single rather than double. Once I passed a brass double door on my left that I guessed led to another level of the palace, and I really wanted to explore that one, but I kept going, and my persistence paid off when I reached the final window, looked out, and saw a jutting brick just inches from the top of the window frame.

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 48

7 Lennitay

I’m being required to learn a single th’an and scribe it in fire. This is so much harder than it sounds, and since I just re-read that first sentence and realized it doesn’t sound easy, it’s probably damn near impossible. Fortunately for everyone’s peace of mind, Terrael was told off to teach me the th’an, and as impatient as he sometimes is with lack of progress, he’s got quite a lot of patience when it comes to teaching.

First, I had to study this th’an using just my eyes and my mind. For a very long time. It felt like hours, though Terrael told me when I bitched about it that it had only been twenty minutes. The th’an is shaped like a two-pronged fork (note: forks in Castavir have four tines instead of three) with the right-hand tine bent at the tip at a right angle away from the other. Terrael had me stare at it, following its lines in an exact order: tip of left tine down to base of handle, lift gaze, start again where right tine meets handle, right tine from there to bent tip. It sounds easy, but after a while all I could see was that shape, burned black on the inside of my eyelids.

After several hours (Terrael: forty-three minutes) I was allowed to begin writing the th’an with one of those fat inky writing tools. But I wasn’t allowed to just write it anywhere I wanted. Terrael drew a dotted-line version of it on a board—obviously if he just wrote it, it would activate and do no one any good—and put a square of glass over it. Then he made me draw the th’an, then erase the glass, then draw again, at least a million times (Terrael: two hundred twenty-three) until my hand ached. I still wasn’t very good, because the th’an never activated, but that was when Terrael judged I needed a rest. I sat, and rubbed my hand, and watched everyone else working on their part of the kathana. This was all happening in a domed, windowless room with slate set into the walls and a gold circle inset in the floor at the center of the room. It was obviously meant to imitate the Darssan, which made me want to laugh. Vorantor might have left the Darssan behind, but it’s clear he still feels inferior and is doing whatever he can to boost his importance.

At that moment, Vorantor was off to one side with some of “his” mages (I know, they’re all his mages now, technically, but knowing that “his” mages were willing to kill ours makes it impossible for me not to make the distinction) and they were going over the order of th’an again, since the order in which they’re scribed makes a difference to the kathana. I can’t stop watching him, and I’m not sure why. Possibly because I feel he’s dangerous, and I want to know exactly what kind of danger he poses. I’ve gone over that fragment of conversation many times, and all I can figure is that Vorantor is counting on Cederic’s honor to keep him from interfering with whatever Vorantor is planning. That could just be the kathana, or it could be something more sinister; I, being a professional paranoid, am counting on the latter. Why else would he be meeting with the God-Empress’s spymaster? Though come to that, shouldn’t the spymaster have primary allegiance to his mistress, and in that case, why would Vorantor be meeting with the man at all? Or is the spymaster a go-between for the God-Empress, and there’s some reason Vorantor can’t meet with her publicly? I’ve decided that I’ll need to explore further tomorrow night—still achy now from today’s work.

Anyway, I watched Vorantor for a while, until I was so angry I had to think about something else. He interacts a lot with Cederic during the day, comparing research—they’re each tackling a different aspect of the kathana—but every single damn time he manages to make himself sound like he’s indulging Cederic’s input, like Cederic is his inferior. And I know that’s technically true, I know Cederic chose to take a secondary role, but Vorantor is so smug about it! And I cannot believe I ever thought Cederic looked smug, now that I’ve seen what it looks like on Vorantor. Cederic, for his part, remains perfectly expressionless and deferential, and I can’t tell what he’s actually thinking. How he can still consider Vorantor his friend is beyond me. We don’t speak much these days, since his part of the research is separate from mine, and I miss that. He’s the only one who really understands my magic as more than just a useful tool, and I liked being able to compare th’an and pouvrin and feel as if we were learning about some structure that underlies both. Which might not be true, but it was an interesting thought exercise, and I wish we had time for more discussion. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed spending time with him.

After I had only a few minutes for rest (Terrael: thirty-five minutes) he set me to work again, drawing over the shape repeatedly until I had sort of drifted off into a reverie about what we might have for dinner when something in front of me went pop and the glass pane shrank in on itself as if it were clear fabric someone had just grabbed in the middle and twisted. I admit I shrieked like a baby and jumped back a little, but then I was surrounded by mages congratulating me on my first th’an. Cederic explained that it was a binding that, when performed by me using my magic, would tie the kathana to both worlds and provide a link to the time before the worlds were separate. The time before the Codex was destroyed.

So now I just have to do it with fire.

It’s made me wonder what magic looked like before the worlds were separated. Each world’s magic is so different now—different from the other, I mean—so does that mean they were combined, once? And what would that even look like? I have trouble even comprehending how pouvrin work, let alone th’an, so imagining them together is beyond me. I doubt they could even occupy the same space. It’s something I could talk to Cederic about, assuming we ever had time to talk.

I’m so tired. After my success with th’an, I wanted to go straight to trying it with fire, but Terrael insisted I repeat my success at least a dozen times before moving on. I managed to do it twice more before my efforts became too wobbly and Cederic told me to stop for the day and have something to eat. He stayed behind with Vorantor when the rest of us went to the dining hall. I wonder what they talk about when we’re not there. I wonder if Vorantor ever rubs it in his face that he won. I wonder if Cederic ever thinks about punching him in his stupid smug face. I know I have.

Sleep now, work tomorrow, explore tomorrow night.