26 Lennitay, continued
Vorantor’s eyes were wide and panicked. “What do you—what should I show you, God-Empress?” he begged.
“The Codex Tiurindi was written in a time when defensive magics were more refined than they are now, God-Empress,” Cederic said. “Would you care to see one of them?”
Vorantor’s eyes were even wider now. I know a good lie when I see one, and I prayed to the true God that Vorantor wouldn’t do or say anything to give Cederic’s game away. Of course there was no way the Codex Tiurindi could show the God-Empress anything, but she didn’t know that, and I was certain by the expressionless look on Cederic’s face that there were a lot of other things about magic she didn’t know.
“The book, please,” he said to Terrael, who was as wide-eyed as Vorantor, but handed the Codex to Cederic. He flipped it open (at random, I guessed) and said, “We will need to translate it to create the ultimate kathana, of course, but there are smaller pieces to the puzzle—here.”
He shut the book, tucked it into his trouser pocket, stripped off his robe and began scrubbing with it at the floor to remove the residue of the th’an. He’s slim, with a scattering of short dark hairs across his chest, and he has more muscle than I would have guessed, for an academic. He was nearly done before it occurred to anyone to join him. He threw the stained robe away and began chalking th’an on the floor, looked at the book again, chalked a few more th’an, then said, “Step back, please,” and made a few final marks.
A shimmering hemisphere about two feet tall sprang up around the th’an, glowing with a greenish-gold light that swirled like a film of oil across the hemisphere’s surface. Cederic stood and rapped on the hemisphere with his knuckles, making the oil ripple out from that point of contact as if his hand were a stone thrown into a lake. “You might ask one of your soldiers to strike it,” he said, “but I am not entirely certain it will not turn that force back on him.”
The God-Empress shrugged and snapped her fingers in the direction of her soldiers, and with some hesitation, one of them came forward. She pointed, and the soldier drew his knife and approached the hemisphere, then brought the weapon down as if he were stabbing an enemy in the back. The knife met the oily surface—and shattered.
No one spoke. The soldier looked impressed. All the mages looked stunned. I don’t know how I looked, awestruck probably. Cederic looked bored. The God-Empress nodded once, slowly. “I am satisfied,” she said. “Teach the others. And tell me when the book is translated.” She gestured at her soldiers, and they surrounded her as she left the room.
The instant she was gone, and the heavy door was shut, Vorantor was in Cederic’s face, shouting, “What in hell’s name were you thinking?”
“I was thinking,” Cederic said, not shying away from Vorantor’s ire, “that I would prefer that none of us be killed by the God-Empress’s soldiers.”
“You had no idea whether that kathana would work!” Vorantor shouted. “Kilios or no, you could barely have understood what you were reading—how could you even know it was what you said it was?”
“I didn’t,” Cederic said. “I made it up.”
That left Vorantor gaping with nothing to say. “Even Master Peressten cannot read that book,” Cederic said. “I gambled that the God-Empress would not believe that we were telling the truth that it would take time to translate all of it, and I…invented a kathana that would satisfy her.”
I think I was the only person watching Vorantor at that moment—everyone else was staring at Cederic in awe—and I was enjoying the look of stunned chagrin when it turned, for the briefest instant, into something much darker, something that frightened me. Then he smiled, and threw his arm around Cederic’s shoulders. “You never stop amazing me, old friend,” he said. “Cheers, everyone! It’s time to celebrate!”
The first cheers were weak little things, but they grew into robust, happy noise as it settled on everyone that we, first, had succeeded in the task that had driven us these many days, and second, were not dead. The room wasn’t really conducive to celebration, so we moved to the dining hall, and I ended up at the tail end of our procession next to Cederic, who looked as calm as always, though a bit scruffy in his reclaimed, wrinkled robe. He congratulated me on my part in the kathana, and I expressed my admiration at him making up a new one out of whole cloth.
“That may turn out to be a bad idea,” he said in a low voice. “It probably saved all our lives, so I do not regret it, but now the God-Empress will want us to turn that kathana to her army’s use. Just one more way in which we are giving her more power. And I am not entirely certain I remember how to repeat it.”
“I don’t believe you’ve forgotten a kathana in your entire life,” I said, making him smile, “and I don’t see that you had much choice. She wouldn’t have been satisfied with a kathana that showered her enemies with rose petals.”
He smiled again. “Not unless they were rose petals that exploded,” he said.
That brought us to the dining hall door, and I thought about inviting him to sit with me—he couldn’t possibly want to sit with Vorantor after that, could he?—but I hesitated too long, and he nodded at me and moved off to his usual table. So I sat with my friends, and we laughed, and drank too much wine, and had a wonderful time. My head hurts from the wine, so I’m going to sleep it off, and in the morning—strange, I don’t know what I’m going to do next.
I’ve been so focused on the kathana that I’m used to having direction, and now I think it’s a matter of waiting for Terrael to translate the book. And I really don’t know what happens then. Will Vorantor be able to accept that he’s been wrong? I really think he’d be capable of violence if threatened, and I’m sure he sees Cederic’s competence as a threat to his position. Never mind that Cederic wouldn’t want to be the God-Empress’s chief mage even if—well, no, if it meant saving both our worlds I think he’d accept the position. But certainly not for anything less.