1 Coloine, evening
That was the strangest fight I’ve ever witnessed. Cederic won, but in a way Vorantor can’t use to accuse him of insubordination. And that is because my husband—yes, I’m calling him that, and it makes me tingle all over when I do—my husband is brilliant, and frankly, Vorantor never stood a chance once Cederic decided to stop pretending he was anyone’s subordinate. The situation is too serious for that.
But, back to the beginning: not only didn’t I see Terrael at breakfast, I didn’t see Cederic either. I didn’t think that might mean they were together until Audryn and Sovrin and I arrived at the circle chamber and they weren’t there either.
Vorantor was, and he looked so smug I think I could have popped him if I had a long enough pin. He was standing at one of the walls, writing something and holding forth to a couple of the Sais, and he caught my eye and smiled at me. It was a nasty little smile, though it didn’t last long, and I didn’t need the hypothetical mind-reading pouvra to know what he was thinking: otherworlder, your side has lost.
So I started doing pouvrin, fire and water at the same time to make great clouds of steam, which definitely caught his attention, though he pretended not to notice me. The other mages didn’t have any problem coming to admire my work, and for about half an hour I demonstrated what I could do (not the secret pouvrin, but the other things) and we discussed possibilities for other pouvrin.
I need to give Vorantor’s mages credit, and remind myself that about two-thirds of them used to be Darssan mages; they’re all bright, and talented, and every one of them takes the coming disaster seriously. And it was fun to have an excuse not to work, since we didn’t have Terrael to explain what he was learning from the Codex. Regan, one of the Sais, had some clever ideas about adapting the see-in-dark pouvra to enhance hearing, and I think he might be on the right track, so we arranged to work together during the rest periods Cederic made Vorantor believe were his idea.
So, as I said, we did this for about half an hour, and then Cederic came in alone and went straight to Vorantor, who pretended not to see him at first, then greeted him cheerfully, saying, “I was afraid you might not return, old friend.”
“Why would I not return?” Cederic said, raising an eyebrow as if this were a completely absurd question.
“Well, you did seem upset about learning what a mistake you’d made,” Vorantor said, smiling even more broadly. “I’m glad you didn’t let your pride lead you to make another.”
“No, Denril, I can admit I was wrong,” Cederic said, very pleasantly. “I should have listened to you from the beginning. I hope you won’t hold it against me.”
“No, of course not,” Vorantor said, clapping Cederic on the shoulder. “As I said, I have some ideas for your research. I’m grateful you were willing to follow the God-Empress’s suggestion and put yourself under my supervision. I think that’s better for everyone, don’t you? Given as how you’re two years behind the rest of us.”
“Of course, Denril,” Cederic said. “Tell me what you’d like me to do.”
At this point I was becoming suspicious. Cederic sounded far too affable, and I couldn’t believe Vorantor didn’t suspect something. But I couldn’t figure out what Cederic’s plan was.
Then Terrael came in, holding the Codex, and since he’s even worse about controlling his face than Audryn is—really, I don’t know how the two of them managed not to reveal their mutual feelings to each other—I could see immediately that Terrael and Cederic were in collusion. Vorantor still didn’t suspect anything. My estimation of his intelligence dropped by a lot today.
“Sai Vorantor,” Terrael said, “I’ve translated a bit more, and I think it’s important.”
I glanced at Audryn, who had the tiniest wrinkle to her brow. “When did he have time to translate more?” I whispered.
“He didn’t,” Audryn said. “I can guarantee that.”
“Master Peressten, thank you for joining us,” Vorantor said in that patronizing tone he takes with the Darssan mages and especially with Terrael; Vorantor doesn’t take him seriously because he’s so young, despite Terrael’s brilliance. “What have you learned?”
“Well, you know about Nialak’s Conjecture, yes?” Terrael said with such wide-eyed eagerness I was certain Vorantor would realize Terrael was playing him. Vorantor looked mystified.
“He theorized that mages have inherent abilities that allow them to manipulate th’an,” Cederic said in a low voice, sounding as if he were prompting Vorantor.
“Of course,” Vorantor said. “He…naturally, he was wrong.”
“Only for this world,” Terrael said. “The Codex reveals that in the time before the disaster, it was true. And it remained true for mages in Sesskia’s world. Just not in ours.”
“Oh, of course,” Cederic said. “You are correct, Master Peressten, that is important.”
“Yes,” Vorantor said, but he sounded uncertain.
Cederic looked at him in surprise. Really, someone had to notice how unusually animated he was. “Denril, you see the implications, don’t you?”
“I—well, of course,” Vorantor said. “It’s an example of how the magic reformed in each world.”
“No,” Cederic said, “no, it gives us part of the structure of the original kathana, of how they intended to reshape magic. Obviously they wanted to remove the requirement that someone have inherent ability to use magic. To make it more widely available. Sesskia’s world is made of the things they thought interfered with magic as it should be. I mean no slight on your world, Sesskia,” he said, and I had to admire how he could speak to me without a trace of the love that had been in his voice last night, even as his seeming indifference left me feeling a little hollow. I nodded in acknowledgement.
“So we’re justified in allowing that world’s destruction,” one of the Sais said, and I felt like slapping him with five gallons of water in the face, which is a lot more painful than you’d think. “Since it’s essentially spare parts.”
“I am sorry to contradict you, but I think perhaps you have not seen the implications of this. Our Codex-summoning kathana only worked because of Sesskia’s magic,” Cederic said, his tone of voice not at all humble. “Two kinds of magic in tandem. Magic calls to magic, didn’t you say, Master Peressten?” Terrael nodded eagerly. “The worlds are not trying to obliterate each other. They’re trying to meld.”
Vorantor gaped. “Cederic,” he managed, then cleared his throat and regained his smirk. “Old friend, I think you haven’t quite learned your lesson,” he said in a low, confidential voice. “Are you so unable to swallow your pride that you insist on challenging me? Again?”
“I’m surprised that you could accuse me of that, Denril,” Cederic said, “since it is your research that proves my assertion. At least in part.”
He went to one of the boards—I forgot to mention this, because I can’t read their language and that means most of what’s on the walls is a mystery to me, but about a third of the wall space is taken up by Vorantor’s explanation of what will happen when the worlds come together and notes for the kathana that will protect as much of this world as possible.
Anyway, Cederic went to the wall and used his sleeve to scrub out some of the writing, which made Vorantor begin to protest. “No, I am sure you will agree when you see this,” Cederic said, and then he began writing, and I won’t even try to reproduce what he said, it was so far beyond my comprehension. But Vorantor stopped in mid-rant, and the other mages were nodding, and Terrael, who’d come to stand beside us, couldn’t stop grinning.
“Did you plan this?” I whispered in his ear.
“Sai Aleynten found me this morning,” he said, blushing, which told me Cederic had found him while he was sneaking back to his own room from Audryn’s, “and told me what I needed to say. None of it came from the Codex. There’s no such person as Nialak. I think Sai Aleynten was down here studying Sai Vorantor’s research early this morning.”
“So he didn’t get any sleep last night,” I said, unthinking, and then wished the floor would swallow me up, but my gaffe didn’t register with them, probably because they were paying closer attention to Cederic’s explanation than I was. I really want to tell them. I’d like to tell everyone. Damn the God-Empress.
“I am sure you would have gotten there in the end,” Cederic said when he wound down, “but as long as I have agreed to assist you, I should no doubt do my utmost to aid this endeavor. Of course my skills are at your service.”
Vorantor walked to Cederic’s side in a daze. “Melding,” he said.
“No shame in being wrong, is there?” Cederic said cheerfully, but his eyes were cold, and Vorantor flinched away from him before he could gain control of himself.
“Of course not,” he said. “How fortunate that you were here to aid me.”
“As I swore,” Cederic said. “Now, if you’ll direct me, I’m certain you understand exactly what the implications of this new development are, and we’re all eager to hear what you want us to do.”
Vorantor glared at him, but what could he say? Cederic had behaved with perfect adherence to the letter of his vow. “If I could make a request,” Cederic added, “I would be interested in working on the problem of how our magic can work with Sesskia’s to encourage melding rather than destruction, but of course the decision is entirely yours.”
“I—certainly, since you seem familiar with the concept,” Vorantor said, and began handing out assignments. He was desperately trying to regain control, but it was too late—every person in that room knew who was really in charge.
We spent the rest of the morning laying the groundwork for our new research, the Darssan mages and Cederic and I, talking about what we already knew about the similarities and differences between our magics. Except for Terrael, who followed Vorantor around, reading things out of the Codex to him in a cheeky voice just this side of insubordination, but Terrael is the one person Vorantor can’t afford to alienate, not and still have the information in the Codex. Vorantor, of course, is designing (redesigning) the kathana, because that’s where the glory is, but no one in our group cares about that.
This afternoon I wanted to ask Cederic what it meant, in practical terms, that the worlds were going to meld—does that mean Thalessa will join this world, or Colosse join mine? What will this single world look like? But there was never time, because after lunch he immediately began directing us in practical matters, setting half our mages to creating th’an that would perform pouvrin and the other half, with me, trying to teach me to manifest th’an without going through the exhausting process I did for the summoning kathana, which would simply take too long.
Cederic asked Vorantor’s mages, the ones timing the coming catastrophe, how much time we have left, and it’s much shorter than it should be. Cederic looked grim about that and said (to me, privately) that he believes our using magic is not just causing the convergence, but accelerating it. But there’s no help for that. Without magic, the worlds will simply collide and annihilate each other. So what we’re doing is both saving and destroying us.
So I’ll have to ask him tonight, right after I pounce on him for deciding we should be married without consulting me first. I love him, and I think he’s brilliant, but it hasn’t occurred to him that one of us is capable of passing between our rooms without anyone being the wiser. Even so, I’m waiting until well after everyone’s retired before going to him. But we’re spending the whole night together. We might even sleep for some of it.