That was the most astonishing experience, on so many levels.
And yes, it worked.
We woke extra early, long before sunrise, and ate a quick but filling breakfast—Vorantor wasn’t sure how long the kathana would take, and we all needed to stay alert and undistracted by physical demands, so there was a lot of use of the chamber pots as well. Some of the groundwork was done yesterday, so the floor inside the gold ring was dotted with th’an, a type that are inactive until some other th’an wakes them up.
Vorantor walked around, chatting with people in his “I’m a great leader” way, while Cederic sat to one side with his hands resting on his knees, apparently meditating. I tried to do a little meditating myself, but I was too excited to manage it. So I watched the others. Four of Vorantor’s mages, all of them men, were stripping out of their robes to only their trousers for the body-scribing aspect of the kathana.
This is what I know, as per Terrael’s explanation:
A kathana, in essence, brings th’an together in a particular order at particular times to achieve a result larger than anything single th’an or small groups of th’an can produce. Most of them require multiple mages to complete, if only because people only have so many hands. And the mages have to practice together for hours to get the timing exactly right. That’s what everyone else has been doing while I struggled to master my single th’an: practicing scribing th’an in the right order at the right time.
And this is a hugely complex kathana, a summoning kathana, that describes a reality in which something that was not, is. We’re trying to create a reality in which the Codex Tiurindi wasn’t destroyed so many hundreds of years ago, but exists here and now. My part is to unite those two realities for long enough that the kathana can make the Codex part of this one.
Personally, I think the fact that they can do this is evidence that Cederic is right, because what else are we dealing with but two worlds, two realities, that are coming together? And if it weren’t natural for realities to spring apart, we wouldn’t need my part of the kathana to keep them together. But Terrael shook his head when I brought this up and said realities and worlds aren’t the same thing, and then I think he became technical just to annoy me.
So I’ll explain all of that as it happened, which was directly after the God-Empress and her chicken-headed minions arrived, one of them, a fat, gray-haired woman, wearing a red tunic instead of black and carrying her helmet under her arm. The God-Empress was dressed rather plainly, for her, in gold brocade over white silk and pearls the size of quail eggs dangling around her neck.
Cederic and Vorantor greeted her with regulation bows, Cederic’s much shallower than Vorantor’s, and they had a low-voiced discussion that ended with the God-Empress beckoning to me and, when I approached, saying, “You will sit with me, won’t you, Sesskia? I would like someone to observe with.”
I looked to both Cederic and Vorantor for advice, and got nothing, because Cederic looked impassive and Vorantor had his eyes closed in his “that’s a really bad idea” expression. “Thank you for the invitation, Renatha,” I said, “but I must stand here to perform my part, or the kathana might not work.”
The God-Empress gazed at me, her eyes slightly unfocused, and then she said, “Of course. My priests, I will sit where you direct me,” but it took a while for them to “direct” her to a spot she liked. I returned to my position, which was at the base of the circle (it’s marked with the four cardinal and four ordinal directions, so the base of the circle is south), and balanced lightly on the balls of my feet, trying to stay relaxed and not to think about what the God-Empress might do if we failed.
Eventually, though, she was settled, and her soldiers were disposed throughout the room in a manner that did not suggest in any way that they had orders to begin slaughtering mages if the God-Empress was displeased, and Vorantor waved to everyone else to take their places. He signaled to the mage serving as drummer, who began beating the count, and when everyone had picked up the rhythm, Vorantor nodded to the first group to begin.
The first part was the easiest and required the most people. Those mages scribed th’an to complete the “phrases” already written in and around the circle. Terrael explained to me that it “wakes up” the magic (that was my phrase, not Terrael’s, and when I said it he rolled his eyes and said, “you’re almost a savage, you know that?” and I had to soak his head. Really, I had no choice) and gives a base shape to the kathana.
Savage or no, that part I did understand, since something similar happens when I learn a new pouvra. I was in a perfect position to watch this, and it’s beautiful, like a dance, with people passing back and forth across the circle, bending and swaying. Then they step away, and the body-scribers take their places at the four ordinal directions, sit down just outside the circle, and begin writing th’an on their chests and faces.
It’s awe-inspiring, how perfectly synchronized they are. The body-scribing is to attune those mages to the kathana, and it’s extremely dangerous because in a way, they’re linking their hearts and lungs to the kathana so it will persist beyond the instantaneous effect of activating the final th’an, and it could kill them if we aren’t perfectly accurate.
They didn’t look afraid. It took only a few minutes for their bodies to be crisscrossed with inky markings. As they each drew a final mark from the bridge of their noses down over their lips and to the point of their chins, those markings began to glow with a blue so bright it was painful to look at. I kept my eyes focused on the spot painted in red on the wall beyond the circle. It was my guiding mark for when it was my turn in the kathana.
to be continued…