Sesskia’s Diary, part 101

14 Coloine (continued)

It’s a good thing Cederic had already established himself as the true leader of the mages, because no one argued, and he was right, there wasn’t time for that. I don’t know why our clothes had to be burned, since none of us were bloody, but I’m just as happy not to be reminded of what happened by putting on the wrong trousers one morning.

I changed quickly, washed Vorantor’s blood off my face, and met Terrael at the stairs near the mages’ quarters, and I took him to the empty wing of guest quarters. We didn’t talk much—I think he was in shock, still, so it was mostly me asking what kind of room we needed and him explaining why he’d rejected yet another one.

Though at one point, while I was opening doors that all led to tiny bedrooms, he said, “So. You and Sai Aleynten.”

“I’m surprised Audryn didn’t tell you,” I said, feeling pleased that Audryn had kept my secret even from her own husband.

“Not a word,” he said. “Though it makes sense, in retrospect.”

“Why is that?” I said.

He suddenly couldn’t meet my eyes. “Um…Sai Aleynten became a lot more…relaxed… about two weeks ago, just after he proved the worlds were merging. Not that it was really obvious, but now that I know he was…that you were….”

“Yes,” I said, which wasn’t really an answer, but I thought it might stop Terrael babbling. Audryn doesn’t seem to have any complaints, but it’s sort of funny how embarrassed Terrael gets about sex even now that he’s a married man; it reminds me how young he is. How young a lot of them are.

Terrael chose a room whose original purpose I don’t know. It has a very fancy wooden floor with no rugs, so maybe it was for dancing. I don’t know if Castavirans have dancing rooms the way the King and nobles of Balaen do. It doesn’t matter. We got back to discover that servants had removed Vorantor’s body and Cederic had locked the door to the circle chamber and done something to melt the lock shut, after burning away all the blood and the contaminated clothes.

Then we ate something—I don’t remember what—and everyone went with Terrael and me to the new chamber and began setting up the kathana again. The second tremor—Sovrin’s word, and yes, I know it’s nothing like a tremor, but to me the convergence is like two overladen carts hurtling toward each other, each so heavy it makes the road vibrate, and I don’t have a better word for it—happened right about that time, and I think for a few seconds when it was over, everyone gave up inside.

Cederic doesn’t flinch, fortunately for all of us. He drew me to one side when everyone was working and set me to doing pouvrin in a steady rhythm, all of them including the secret ones. “I don’t want to frighten you,” he said, “but there is a chance you will need to be attuned to the kathana the way the body-scribing mages were, in order to make your pouvra fit into it.”

“You can’t be more specific than that?” I said.

“We lost a lot of work,” Cederic said. “At this point I am making up large sections of this kathana out of whole cloth. I don’t want to tell you anything more until I am certain. But I can assure you that you will be in no more or less danger than any of us.”

“Do you know how long we have?” I said.

“No,” he said, and there didn’t seem to be anything more to say, so he left me there and I did pouvrin until I could barely remember what they were for.

We’ve had dinner, and I’m in my room writing because I need time to myself before I join the others in the new kathana chamber. I don’t know where Cederic is. I wish he were here, because I’m finally able to write what’s really worrying me, which is that stupid Vorantor was so eager to see Cederic dead that he gave away Aselfos’s plan!

How could he let his lust for revenge, or whatever it is he wanted, destroy what might be Castavir’s chance at having a better government, or at any rate a sane ruler? I’m not stupid. I’ve seen civil war—not on a large scale, but still war—and I’ve seen the results of revolutions, and it’s vicious and brutal and only madmen enjoy it. But I’ve also heard something of what the God-Empress sends her soldiers to do, particularly what’s been happening in Viravon, and I’m not sure Aselfos’s plan isn’t better for Castavir in the long run.

In any case, Vorantor’s mania might have ruined everything Aselfos has planned for. Unless that general is able to convince the God-Empress that Vorantor made it all up.

There’s another tremor. If Aselfos is still on schedule—and that’s a big ‘if’—he’ll discover that the convergence has thrown all his plans into confusion. I don’t know if it’s writing all of this that’s calmed me down, or if I’m too overwhelmed to panic because now I’m in danger not only from the convergence and a possible war, but also from whatever insanity the God-Empress might decide to rain down on me. At least I don’t have to worry about anyone finding out about me and Cederic now. I wonder if sex will be less wonderful now that it’s not secret, semi-illicit sex. Probably not.

Tomorrow should see the end of it. It might only be a few hours from now. I won’t write that we can handle whatever that is, because I’m superstitious now. But.

But.

If it is the end—I don’t regret anything. There were days when I would stop in the middle of an empty road stretching from one tiny, xenophobic town to another and wonder why I bothered taking the next step. I had no family, no friends, nothing but the urge to learn more magic, and on those days I couldn’t even picture any more to life than that.

But it was that magic that brought me here to a place where I have friendship and love and the chance to let that magic grow. I had no idea my life could be so full. I never thought I would know what it’s like to love and to be loved. If the world doesn’t end tomorrow, maybe I’ll be embarrassed and tear this page out. But if it does—I know this record won’t survive the disaster any more than I will, but this is how I want it to end, even if no one ever reads it. Here at the end, it was all worth it.

 

Sesskia’s Diary, part 100

14 Coloine (continued)

Everyone screamed except Cederic, who probably didn’t dare move. Vorantor’s blood was everywhere. I couldn’t stop staring at his body, which landed across the gold circle to obliterate half the th’an he’d so meticulously guided the mages in scribing.

The God-Empress’s white dress was spattered with scarlet, her breasts and face were smeared with it, but she simply stood there, looking down at the body. “He offered to serve God all the days of his life,” she said. “God alone knows that number. Do not presume upon God’s gift.”

She turned back to Cederic. “Kilios,” she said, and the soldier holding Cederic moved slightly, making the knife press too firmly into his throat. Cederic let out a little hiss. I took half a step forward, and his eyes went to me again, warning me.

And the God-Empress saw it.

She turned around fast, and her eyes had that terrible sharpness to them. “You care,” she said, and the room went completely silent. “He is Kilios, but I think that’s not it, is it?”

I have a feeling Cederic was trying to tell me something, but I was afraid to look away from her, the way small animals know not to look away from the fox. “He is Kilios,” I agreed, wondering how I was going to get out of this.

The God-Empress smiled. Her gory face made the smile look like something demonic. “Cut him,” she said, and I couldn’t stop myself, I took another step forward and did the mind-moving pouvra on the knife, but I wasn’t strong enough to stop the soldier cutting the finest thread of a line across the base of Cederic’s jaw. I looked at him long enough to see his wince of pain, then the God-Empress’s bloody hand grabbed my chin and forced me to meet her mad, evil eyes. “You care,” she repeated.

“I care,” I said.

Her smile broadened. “What will you give me for him, Sesskia?” she said. “Your heart, still beating? Your eyes, those strange green eyes, still blinking? What is he worth to you?”

I don’t know what I should have said. If she hadn’t slaughtered Vorantor in front of us, maybe I would have kept my composure enough to bluff. But it was too late for that. “Everything,” I said. “I will give you everything for him.”

The God-Empress licked her lips, and made a pleased sound. “Life tastes like salt,” she said, and her eyes went unfocused again. “You always were the lucky one, Sesskia, yours is still moving and mine always fall down and break,” she said, and gestured to the soldier to release Cederic, who stayed frozen in place as if he could still feel the knife there.

“Thank you, Renatha,” I said, “it is a most generous gift I truly do not deserve.”

“No, you don’t,” the God-Empress said. “I am such a wonderful sister! Don’t let him break, I will be angry if you do.” She walked out of the circle chamber, the long train of her gown smearing blood across the floor that her soldiers’ boots made prints in.

The sound of their feet faded away, and still no one moved. I was focused on the empty doorway, and now I can’t remember why—I know I had a reason, but it’s gone now. I didn’t come back to myself until I felt a hand on my arm, and Cederic said, “Sesskia.”

I turned to look at him then. The thin line of blood was already clotting. “I don’t know what I just gave away,” I said, and then we were clinging to each other because it didn’t matter anymore who knew.

“It was my fault. She saw me look at you,” Cederic said.

“I let her rattle me. It’s my fault,” I said.

“I think we can agree that it is actually her fault,” Cederic said, and I tried to laugh, but it didn’t sound right. But I felt better, with Cederic’s arms around me, and the God-Empress gone for now, and Vorantor no longer able to interfere with the kathana—though I felt horribly guilty for that thought, and I certainly didn’t wish him dead no matter how much I’d disliked him.

Anyway, I was starting to feel better, so of course that’s when the first signs of the convergence occurred.

Even now that I’ve had time to reflect on it, and discuss it with Terrael and Audryn and Sovrin, I still have trouble describing it. There was blurriness, at first, like coming up out of the water and blinking your eyes clear, only it lasts longer. Then everything went clear, but distorted; that first time, I was standing toward the northwest side of the room, so opposite the door, but it felt as if I were standing right next to the door at the same time.

That lasted for a few seconds, then faded, giving the sensation of being pulled slowly back into place. It felt like the much harder pulling I’d felt when I was brought to Castavir. When I described it to my friends, they all said that was nothing like what they experienced, and none of us could agree on anything except the sensation of being pulled.

It’s happened three more times since then (four times in the last nine hours) and there hasn’t been any pattern to it, or any better warning than the blurriness, or whatever it is everyone else feels.

But that was later. Cederic and I held each other for a few moments after the convergence’s warning passed, then he stepped away from me and said, “We no longer have any time to waste. Everyone gather your materials and your slates, go to your rooms and change your clothes. Return here with what you are wearing now so it can be burned. This room will have to be abandoned. I will arrange for Sai Vorantor’s body to be cared for. Sesskia, take Master Peressten to find us a new chamber. He will know what we need. We will mourn Sai Vorantor later. For now we have two worlds to save.”

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 99

14 Coloine (continued)

But nothing happened. People began to calm down, once it was clear Cederic and Vorantor weren’t going to turn their verbal battle into a magical one. The kathana began to take shape. One of the Sais had just suggested to Vorantor that it was time to break for lunch when soldiers suddenly filled the doorway, pushing mages out of the way until they could make a double file along the southern wall of the room.

I wonder what kind of person can serve the God-Empress as a soldier. Never mind the awful uniform; she’s insane, and sometimes she’s the funny kind of insane that makes me dress up in beautiful but useless clothing, and sometimes she’s the unnerving kind of insane that makes her think she’s God, and sometimes she makes horrible demands of her soldiers, like killing that collenna master, and how in the name of the true God can anyone justify doing those things? Is it just that they’re afraid of her? Or do they enjoy being given freedom to indulge their own evil desires? I don’t understand.

So they all lined up along the southern wall, and I was bumped by people moving out of their way (I was standing near the northwest point), and then the God-Empress came in. She was dressed entirely in white today, thick white satin with a neckline that plunged to her navel and no jewels or anything that might distract from the sight of her perfect body outlined in white. Was that coincidence, or do Castavirans associate white with death the way we do in Balaen?

Vorantor went to her and bowed, all very proper, and she touched the top of his head to acknowledge him and allow him to rise. Cederic approached to make his bow as well, but she ignored him, so he was forced to continue kneeling through everything that came next. “Denril Vorantor, you have asked for a judgment,” she said, in that remote, formal voice that meant she was God.

“I have, my God. I accuse Cederic Aleynten of treason,” Vorantor said, and I gasped, but since everyone else was making similar incredulous noises, I didn’t stand out. Cederic raised his head to look at Vorantor, but said nothing.

“Your word is not enough,” the God-Empress said, raising a finger. Her nail was enameled pearly white. Four soldiers came to make a loose circle around the group that was Vorantor, Cederic, and the God-Empress. Vorantor was even paler than usual, and his self-control slipped enough that he grimaced with anger at the God-Empress’s words. I’m sure he thought Cederic’s word would have been good enough for her.

“I have proof for you, God,” he said. He reached inside his robe and pulled out a handful of familiar scraps of paper. I made a sound and Cederic’s gaze flicked to me, blazing with the message to Stay silent.

The God-Empress regarded the papers as if he were offering her a mass of writhing worms. A soldier in what I thought was a general’s uniform—in fact, the soldier who was Aselfos’s co-conspirator—stepped forward and took the papers from Vorantor’s hand, which was shaking. “I found these in Cederic Aleynten’s chambers,” Vorantor said. “Carefully concealed, but nothing is hidden from God’s true servant, which God knows I am.”

The general began reading the scraps of paper silently. “They are half of an ongoing communication between two people, one of whom requests that the other perform certain magical services in benefit of a proposed coup against God,” she said.

“Cederic Aleynten,” the God-Empress said.

“Yes, God-Empress?” Cederic said. I still can’t believe how calm he sounded.

“You plot against God?” the God-Empress said.

“I do not,” Cederic said. “Denril Vorantor is trying to discredit me. He has no proof of anything he has said.”

“God sees how he wears his Kilios’s robe though it is not a honey day,” Vorantor said. “He believes his rank puts him above everyone, including God. He wants to take God’s place.”

“Untrue,” Cederic said, and then he couldn’t say anything else, because a soldier stepped up behind him, grabbed his hair to lift his head, and put a knife to his throat. I opened my mouth to scream, and he gave me another look, warning me off. I should have struck that soldier. I know I could have found a way to make him drop the knife without hurting Cederic. Everything would have been so different—

Yes, different. And probably many more people would have died. I—I have been sitting here, trying to figure out how I could have stopped it all. I hate that the God-Empress makes me feel so helpless. That she has the power to make men and women do evil things, or convince them that they have to, which I realize isn’t the same, but what’s the point at which all your choices narrow down to just one? And what do you do then?

Well, I did nothing, except glare at Cederic so he’d know he had damn well better have a plan, or my plan would be to start setting people on fire. I’m not sure how much of that went through, but I could tell he knew I wasn’t going to wait much longer. I kept glancing at the God-Empress, though it was hard for me to take my eyes off Cederic and that so-very-sharp knife. The God-Empress wasn’t looking at him; she had her eyes fixed on Vorantor. “Would you serve God, then?” she said, her voice distant.

“With my life, my God,” Vorantor said. I spared a glance for him; he was glowing with ecstasy, the poor bastard.

“As God’s most high priest?” she said, still in that same distant voice.

“Until the end of my days,” he said.

“You seem interested in your life and the end of it,” the God-Empress said, and stepped around the still-kneeling Cederic and approached Vorantor, followed by a soldier. “God knows the count of your days, you know,” she said. “All of them. And she is merciful.” To the shock of everyone, she took Vorantor’s face between her hands and kissed him full on the lips. Then she took a step back, leaving him motionless, his eyes wide, and made a little gesture with her finger. The soldier whipped out his knife and drew it across Vorantor’s throat in one swift motion that sprayed the God-Empress with arterial blood.

to be continued…

Failure is Sometimes an Option

lightbulbsFrom May of 2013 to the end of August 2015, I completed thirteen books. It wasn’t so much that I had a system, or anything like that; I just had plenty of time on my hands and a burning drive to use that time for writing. The point here is not to brag, because fast writing is not a guarantee of quality writing. The point is I had reached a state where I was confident in my ability to finish what I started.

Then things changed. In August of 2015, I was having trouble with the middle of the Willow North novel (which will probably be a trilogy, in the end), so I decided to work on something else for a while. I’ve done that before, writing an entire novel while giving my subconscious time to work out problems with a different one. And I’d had plenty of people ask me what happened to Zara after the end of Servant of the Crown. So I thought it would be interesting to tell that story. I worked out the bones of a plot, created a new culture for the continent south of Tremontane, and dug in.

It fought me the whole way. I made it to about 85,000 words before realizing it was a really stupid book. There were some great characters, but Zara herself was dull. My husband insisted that she didn’t read like an 86-year-old woman, which I think now is true–at the time I resisted that feedback because I couldn’t face the fact that the problem was with the whole book. But the 85K mark represents the point where, having written the same chapter three different ways, I realized the book was a dud. That none of the endings I’d forced into existence–and it took force–had any resonance.

Thirteen novels is enough to make you feel invincible. I was incredibly demoralized by this setback, not least because I had no idea what had gone wrong. Later analysis suggested that I’d written myself into a corner and that Jacob was right about Zara not behaving like an old woman, but at the time it was just frustrating. And I admit to being prideful. Most authors have at least one trunk novel–the kind you finish and lock away in a trunk because for whatever reason, it’s not good enough to see the light of day–and there was no reason I should be different. So I locked Voyager of the Crown in its own file (I am too superstitious to just delete it) and went on to write the four interrelated short stories that became Exile of the Crown.

But I couldn’t get the idea of a Zara novel out of my head. Willow was still giving me trouble, the only other idea I had was stalled out, and I got to a point where I hadn’t written anything in weeks, which was a nightmare. So in January of 2016 I started planning a new book. It was an exciting opportunity to explore Veribold and to finally allow Zara to reunite with her family, and I was looking forward to it.

It was worse than the first one. At 47,000 words I had to admit it was another failure. Once again Zara didn’t behave like an old woman, and the plot was just stupid. This time I was quicker to realize the problem, but it was every bit as demoralizing. I wanted to tell this story and it was clear it wasn’t working out.

At this point, there should probably be some kind of revelation. After all, if I wanted it badly enough, I should be able to figure out the problem, right? Problems are just opportunities in disguise, right?

In this case–no.

For someone who depends heavily on outlines, I’m also remarkably dependent on instinct. I can feel when the shape of a story is working and when it isn’t. And I could tell these were not books I was going to be able to save, no matter how much I wanted to, because they were fundamentally broken. I had to admit to failure. And then I had to move on.

So what makes the difference between a total loss and a temporary setback? I’m still not sure. Wondering Sight, my alternate-Regency-era fantasy with psionics, had a very rocky start where I was working with the wrong plot, but I fixed that and the book turned out fine. Willow North’s book, which I’m currently working on, turned out to have trouble related to the balance between the three plotlines–also fixable. So it’s not as if a problem with writing is always a sign that you should give up. With Zara’s books, I eventually realized that a major part of the problem was that Zara was never intended to be a POV character. When I created her, I was experimenting with ways to make side characters powerful, and part of that experiment was not letting any of the story be told from her perspective. The final story in Servant of the Crown, “Long Live the Queen,” was a departure from that, as were the stories in Exile of the Crown, but Zara was not meant to carry the weight of a novel.

The other problem was that much as I liked Zara, I didn’t actually want to write her story. I was doing it because I felt it would be popular. And that’s not the best reason for writing–trying to game the system. There’s a fine line between having an audience in mind when you write and writing not because you love something, but because you think it will sell. The latter is perfectly acceptable if you’re that kind of writer. Turns out I’m not.

Nobody sets out to fail. I’d rather either one of those books had worked out. But if the alternative was ending up with an awful but completed book, I’d rather take the failure.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 98

14 Coloine

Did I really write that? That we could handle anything tomorrow brings? My hands are shaking so hard I can barely

Trying to stay calm. This book does no one any good if it’s illegible. I’m going to write it all as it happened, and then I’ll let myself think about what has to come next.

This morning I woke when Cederic kissed my forehead and said something about going to the circle chamber. I never used to sleep this soundly. You’d think sharing a bed with someone would make me more likely to be roused at unfamiliar movement, but no, he can rise and dress and be out the door while I snore peacefully away. (That was a figure of speech—I don’t snore. I know, everyone says that, but trust me, if I were a snorer, I’d be dead several times over by now.)

I didn’t remember what had happened between Vorantor and Cederic until I reached the dining hall; I was in a good mood thanks to a wonderful night with a wonderful man, but when Audryn said, “What is Sai Aleynten going to do?” it brought me out of my peaceful contentment like a gallon of ice water to the face.

“You probably know more about it than I do,” I said. “I barely understand the oaths they swore. What judgment was Vorantor talking about?”

Audryn and Sovrin exchanged glances. “Only the God-Empress can determine if they’ve broken their vows,” Audryn said. “Sai Vorantor will try to show her that Sai Aleynten failed to follow his leadership. What we want to know is if Sai Aleynten decided to counter-challenge.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Can he?”

“Sai Vorantor hasn’t been listening to Sai Aleynten for days now,” Sovrin said, lowering her voice to a whisper. “Sai Aleynten can claim Sai Vorantor wasted the Kilios’s abilities after accepting what he offered. If he counter-challenges and wins, he can request that Sai Vorantor be removed.”

“That sounds like a good idea. Why wouldn’t he do that?” I said.

“Because the God-Empress is…not consistent,” Audryn said, after nearly three seconds of groping for a word that didn’t sound like a criticism. “She might see being asked for a judgment at all as an affront to God. Sai Aleynten might be better off staying quiet. It’s not as if Sai Vorantor can prove his case.”

“So why is he bothering?” Sovrin said. “This is a waste of time. We should be preparing that kathana. I swear I’ve felt tremors this morning.”

“We don’t even know what the signs of the convergence are,” Audryn said. “It’s your imagination. Sesskia, hurry up and eat, and let’s go to the circle chamber. Whatever happens, we should be there.”

I gobbled my food, and I wasn’t the only one; if Vorantor did bring some kind of challenge against Cederic, it would affect all of us. When we arrived, though, Vorantor and Cederic weren’t there. We found places with the rest of the Darssan mages and resumed our work on the complicated th’an.

I wish I could write that it became instantly obvious that it was a pouvra and that I could use it with ease, but all I can say is that it does feel like it has the same shape as a pouvra, just with missing parts. I was debating with Kaurin whether it made more sense for me to figure out those missing pieces first, or just try to make it work, when Vorantor came in. He was dressed in one of his most ornate robes (not the red one, so he wasn’t insane) and there was a smug gleam in his eye I didn’t like.

He started ordering people around immediately, both his mages and the Darssan mages, but he ignored me entirely. I stood and watched and wondered, first, where Cederic was, and second, whether I should try to annoy Vorantor by asking for instructions when he clearly didn’t believe I was necessary. I decided to watch for the moment, and see how much of the kathana I could understand.

It was another twenty minutes before Cederic appeared, and all movement stopped when he entered, because he was wearing the Kilios’s robe and looked every inch the leader Vorantor wished he could be. He came to Vorantor’s side—Vorantor was supervising a pair of Sais crouched on the floor who were having trouble scribing an inert th’an, it kept activating and disappearing—and said, “I believe if the two of you switch places, you will overcome your difficulty.”

“You have no authority here, Cederic,” Vorantor said. The two Sais looked up at him, then at each other, nervously.

“You made that clear, Denril,” Cederic said. “I think you will find that the Kilios still has a right to participate. And there is nothing wrong with the Kilios making a suggestion.” The two Sais quietly began to switch places with as little movement as possible.

“Stay where you are,” Vorantor said to the Sais. “Full of yourself today, aren’t you, Kilios? Feeling the need to impress your lowly inferiors with the red robe?”

“Just a reminder,” Cederic said, though he didn’t say who needed to be reminded.

Vorantor turned on him, grabbed his shoulder and got right up into his face. “As if you haven’t gone out of your way to remind me of it every day for the last four years,” he snarled. The two Sais looked like they were thinking about crawling away. “You couldn’t let it go, could you,” Vorantor said.

“You are the one who craved glory, Denril, not I,” Cederic said. He was the only one unmoved by Vorantor’s aggression; everyone else went tense, waiting for a fight to start. I began making plans in my head, ways to defend Cederic, ways to attack Vorantor and anyone who might want to side with him.

“I only wanted what was mine,” Vorantor said, his fingers tightening on Cederic’s arm. “And you always got there first. Well, that’s not going to happen again. I’m going to ask the God-Empress to strip you of that robe.”

“She lacks the authority to do so,” Cederic said. “Release me, Denril. If the God-Empress comes, I will submit to her judgment, but until then, I will exercise my right to be present. Unless you believe you should usurp her authority in that as well.”

Vorantor cursed (I think. It was a word that didn’t translate) and shoved Cederic away; Cederic rocked, but otherwise stood firm, then stepped away from the circle and went to stand by himself at one side of the room. I nodded once at him in acknowledgment, then looked away toward where Sovrin was having a discussion with one of Vorantor’s mages that had an edge to it that promised violence, even if only verbal.

Vorantor was pretending he still had control, but everyone kept glancing at Cederic, who looked bored. The only time I’d seen him look bored before this was when he created that shield kathana, and since I now knew he’d been ready to attack the God-Empress’s soldiers if they raised their swords, I was really worried about what might happen next.

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 97

13 Coloine

This was a really bad day. I’m starting to feel afraid, about so many things.

Cederic forced Vorantor to reveal his kathana. He was clever about it, put it in terms of “we’ll all have to understand it” and “don’t know how soon we will need it” so he sounded too reasonable for Vorantor to refuse. So Vorantor did—still smug, still completely affable, which made me suspect him more.

And it almost did what it was supposed to do.

Like Cederic said, it had no room for my kind of magic at all. Vorantor explained that, how my magic only exists because the original disaster created it, and therefore would just make the kathana unstable—he made it sound logical, but Cederic immediately countered it by pointing out that my magic was actually half of what had originally existed, and therefore his argument was invalid.

That’s when Vorantor became furious. He accused Cederic of undermining him at every turn, of insisting on pursuing research that was irrelevant, in short, of breaking his oath. And Cederic became completely expressionless and rose to new heights of sarcasm, claiming that Vorantor had abused his responsibility and misused the Kilios’s abilities.

The fight went on for half an hour while everyone stood and watched, terrified to intervene or leave. It ended with Vorantor challenging Cederic’s loyalty and insisting on a judgment, and Cederic saying he could take it up with the God-Empress if he wanted, and then Vorantor stormed off.

Except I was watching him the whole time—I already know how Cederic looks when he’s furious—and I’m certain Vorantor planned it all. He wants the God-Empress to make a ruling on whether the oath was broken, and who did it, and I know he’s got some plan to make it so Cederic is the one the God-Empress blames. Cederic is still angry enough that he won’t talk about it, though I think part of that anger is that he agrees with me and despises himself for being goaded.

The other frightening thing is that there was a message for me, in my room, my locked room, when I came back after dinner, sitting on my bed where I couldn’t help but notice it. It was in the same hand as the messages Vorantor received from Aselfos. It frightened me enough that, after I thoroughly checked my room to see if there were any secret entrances I didn’t know about, I went to the Sais’ common room and made up some reason for Cederic to come with me. It was dangerous, I know, but I can’t read and I didn’t want to wait for Cederic to eventually come to bed.

We went back to my room, and Cederic read the message silently, then set it aside and stared off in the direction of my wardrobe. “Tell me,” I insisted after it became clear that he might sit there like that all night.

“It says, ‘Three days from now the palace will not be safe,’” Cederic said. “It seems Aselfos is repaying his debt to you.”

“Three days,” I repeated. “No wonder Vorantor was transferring the war wagons. Aselfos is planning his coup.”

“The convergence could happen any day,” Cederic said. “In three days nowhere might be safe.”

“And tomorrow Vorantor will have prepared his challenge,” I said. “Anything might happen, when the God-Empress is involved.”

Cederic put his arms around me, and I held onto him and closed my eyes, wishing I could shut out the world that easily. “Why isn’t everything simple?” I said. “Why does Vorantor have to be jealous and the God-Empress have to be insane and Aselfos want to take over Castavir? I would like just one night where none of those things exist.”

“I think I can give you that,” Cederic said. “Go to my room and get into bed. I will return to the Sais’ room and join the discussion so no one remarks on my absence, and then I will come to you. I only wish I could find you wearing that dress.”

“Did you like it, then?” I said.

“I found the sight of your bare shoulders intoxicating. It was with great difficulty that I refrained from carrying you off to my bed and ravishing you,” Cederic said. “But then I have the same trouble when you wear nothing at all.”

“When I wear nothing at all,” I said, “I don’t mind being ravished.”

So now I’m waiting here in Cederic’s room, naked and writing all this down, and I feel less frightened. Whatever tomorrow brings, we’ll be able to handle it.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 96

12 Coloine

Vorantor agreed to begin setting up the kathana, doing the same preparatory work they did for summoning the Codex. He was so agreeable about it that I know he’s planning something. Cederic was very polite about it, but when Vorantor left the room, he quietly wandered in our group’s direction and whispered a few things to Sovrin, who’s become the Darssan mages’ leader in Terrael’s absence—personally I think she’s better at it than Terrael, who’s easily distracted.

Then Sovrin gathered the rest of us and drew a complicated set of linked th’an that I didn’t recognize at all. She says it’s part of the kathana and we need to see if I can learn to manifest it as a pouvra. It’s daunting, but I had the mages deconstruct it and we’ll see what we can do. At least we know it will be useful, if we succeed.

Cederic had me look at the maps a few minutes ago and asked if I saw anything strange, other than how the large cities don’t overlap. It just looks like a map to me. There’s not even a pattern to the ruins, even if you assume that we haven’t discovered all of them. Cederic nodded, but he stared at the maps himself for several minutes while I waited for him to speak. Finally he said something about it not mattering and walked away. I tried not to feel offended. He’s been working harder than anyone.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 95

11 Coloine

Kathana almost done, according to Vorantor, not that anyone else would know because he’s keeping it all to himself. Some argument today between Vorantor and Cederic over whether we should perform the kathana now (Cederic) or wait until the convergence is upon us (Vorantor). Vorantor’s reasoning is that we’ll have a better chance of success the closer the worlds are, and he has a good point.

Cederic, on the other hand, wants us to minimize the damage the convergence will cause by doing the kathana before the worlds are close enough to start disrupting each other. What he didn’t say was that he wants to have time to perform the correct kathana after Vorantor’s fails. It wasn’t so much an argument as a difference of opinion, carried out in reasonable and polite voices, which tells me that Vorantor is definitely planning something. He’s certainly not letting Cederic near any of the plans for the kathana now, telling him that he (Cederic) needs to work on his part of the research and not try to do everyone’s jobs for them, in a supercilious tone of voice that to me sounds as if he has a nasty secret he’s just waiting for the right time to reveal.

This is the closest I’ve seen Cederic come to really losing his temper—other than when he shouted at me, but that’s best left forgotten. It would be easier if we knew when the convergence will occur, because it will take time to set the kathana up, and that’s the best argument against Vorantor’s position—we need to be better prepared.

We’ve identified two th’an that fit the pattern of the pouvra, but although I’m fairly sure it only needs one more to complete it, we don’t have any idea which one that is. And it’s only just occurred to me to wonder what this th’an will do when we’ve made it match the mind-moving pouvra—will it exactly duplicate what I do, or will it still have to be scribed on a surface?

I asked Alessa and Jaemis to give that some thought. It would be so much easier if we had a piece of the merging kathana to work on! Because right now we’re starting to feel discouraged again; even if we make this work, there’s nothing it can do in the kathana.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 94

9 Coloine

Breakthrough BREAKTHROUGH!!!

I’ve been going back and forth from elation to feeling like a complete idiot, trying to tell myself that there was really no way I could have known this, when really it’s that with one thing and another I forgot about the collenna. Well, no wonder, when all I could see for days was the master’s neck snapping. And I know I told Cederic, but I can’t have made it make sense or he would have seen it. Probably.

Oh, I’m so excited—everyone is, even though we don’t know what use it will be—but I’m having trouble keeping my thoughts from flitting all over the place like a pod of baby dolphins, so:

  1. Pouvrin and th’an ARE related.
  2. We may be able to combine a pouvra with the merging kathana.
  3. Creating new pouvrin is now more likely.
  4. Using pouvrin in the merging kathana is unlikely no matter how successful we are, thanks to damned Vorantor and his pride.

It was a dream I had last night that did it. I was touring Colosse with Cederic, and we were both in our underclothes (no mystery about that; it had been six days since we made love), and Terrael was driving the God-Empress’s rose-colored collenna. Only instead of painting the th’an in the grooves of the brass plate, he was drawing them in mid-air, making it three-dimensional instead of flat.

And I saw it.

The reason it felt familiar is that it’s the mind-moving pouvra! Missing pieces, and flat instead of multidimensional, but once I saw it in the dream it all fell into place.

I wrenched myself out of the dream and startled Cederic awake, and then I started babbling until he hushed me (that still works on me, and I hope it doesn’t become a problem for us later) and made me explain everything more slowly. He went very still, of course, as I explained, then when I’d wound down he said, “But you never recognized th’an before.”

“No, it all makes sense now,” I said. Honestly, I thought I might leap out of the bed, I was so excited. “I’ve been looking at individual th’an, or maybe two or three combined, and that’s like…like recognizing a person by being shown their heel and big toe. Pouvrin are far more complicated than that, have many more parts—many more th’an, is another way of looking at it. So on the lowest level, there’s the th’an you use to lift things—not to disparage your ability—”

“I understand,” Cederic said. “Then the next step up are the th’an combinations used to power a collenna, and your pouvra is another degree of complexity beyond that.”

“Right,” I said. “And if the collenna th’an is similar to, but isn’t as complex as, the mind-moving pouvra, that means there are individual th’an that could be added to it to make it do what the pouvra does. Which means I might be able to turn any large group of th’an into a pouvra by adding the right th’an to it!”

Cederic nodded, slowly. “But you don’t know enough about th’an to know which ones,” he said.

That sobered me up a bit. “No, and I have no idea how it can help the kathana,” I said. “I mean, I could see how, in theory, a pouvra could be substituted for a group of th’an or a step in the kathana, but I only know the seven pouvrin, and even if we could use one of them, Vorantor would never agree to it.”

“We need to look at Denril’s kathana and determine which groups you can turn into a pouvra,” Cederic said. “And you are correct that he will resist that. So leave him to me. Tomorrow you and the mages will begin work on the collenna th’an to turn it into a true representation of your pouvra. That should be good practice for the real thing. And if I cannot convince Denril to cooperate, I can at least extrapolate from what I do know and possibly establish what th’an you should work on.”

I think that’s what he said, there at the end, because his hands were sliding under my sleep shirt and pulling it off over my head, and I was so busy kissing him while he stroked my breasts that I wasn’t really paying attention. We really shouldn’t go that long without sex again, though I have to admit it was probably more spectacular for being so long delayed.

Anyway.

Today I shared the news with our mages, and they were as excited as I was, and then we were all angry that Vorantor is still monopolizing Terrael’s time, because he knows more th’an than anyone except Cederic, and what we needed was a lexicon of th’an that might be the missing parts of the pouvra.

But Sovrin had the clever idea of drawing out the collenna th’an a piece at a time, in colored chalks so it was obvious which part of the two-dimensional shape went to which th’an, and then letting me fill in the spaces as best I could with ink. Then she erased the chalk and what was left was…well, not much of anything that made sense, but she directed everyone to start looking up th’an to see if we could find anything that matched those shapes. We didn’t have any luck, but morale is high because at last we have a direction!

Cederic, on the other hand, looked as if he were barely containing his anger. I saw him talking to Vorantor a couple of times, and the first time Vorantor didn’t seem to pay him much attention and continued to write on his board the whole time Cederic was talking to him.

The second time, Cederic pulled him off to one side and they had an increasingly heated exchange, which ended with Cederic storming off (except that, because it was Cederic, “storming off” meant he walked away at his usual pace but more expressionless than he’d been all day). It’s only a matter of time before one or both of them explodes.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 93

8 Coloine, evening

I had nodded off when Cederic returned and prodded me awake, telling me I shouldn’t sleep in my clothes. The note was crumpled in my hand—I had to smooth it as best I could before returning it—and I told him what I’d seen and what I’d found, leaving out the part where Vorantor nearly caught me.

Cederic was very interested in the kathana I’d witnessed and asked me a lot of questions about it. I was surprised at how much of it I remembered, and I was able to draw the th’an Vorantor had used at the end.

“It was a transference kathana,” Cederic finally said, “to move things from one location to another. The spit…it is a way to allow one person to perform a kathana that would normally take two or three mages. It is easy, but we try to train ourselves out of using it, not only because it is disgusting but because it often prevents a mage from moving further in his or her training. Denril was likely moving those war wagons. It might explain why there was no other exit from that chamber.”

“But he couldn’t have been doing it officially,” I said, “or he would have used the circle chamber, and asked for help. So he was doing it for Aselfos.”

“That is far too much speculation,” Cederic said.

I thrust the note at him. “Maybe this will confirm it,” I said.

Cederic read it quickly. “It is a list of items, most of them martial in nature,” he said, “and a few that are unfamiliar to me.”

“I bet one of those is whatever the war wagons are actually called,” I said.

“Possible,” Cederic said. He gave the note back to me. “But not proof, unfortunately. It is unsigned and Denril’s name is not on it.”

“I could bring all the notes here,” I said, and Cederic shook his head.

“That is unnecessary,” he said, “and I don’t say that because I dislike you risking yourself, because you could certainly do it tomorrow—later today, I suppose—when Denril is gone. This may not be proof good enough to accuse Denril of collusion in whatever plot Aselfos is behind, but it is enough to convince me of his involvement. But, as I believe I told you before, we still don’t know enough to do anything but confuse things. And an attempted coup by Aselfos is not necessarily a bad thing.”

“What I’m worried about is that Vorantor is planning something to hurt you,” I said, “and I don’t like not knowing what it is.”

“This does not seem related,” Cederic said, “and if you were not able to find anything indicating what Denril might have in mind, it is likely there isn’t anything to be found. I believe it is nothing more sinister than trying to take all the credit for the melding kathana, and it doesn’t matter to me who gets the credit for that.”

“You said you thought he would try to make it fail and look like your fault,” I said.

“Which cannot hurt me, since those whose opinions I care for will know the truth,” he said, and brushed my hair gently away from my face. “What matters is that the kathana works, and we will deal with whatever else happens afterward.”

“All right,” I said, “but I’m going to keep an eye on him anyway.”

“You and Master Peressten can protect me,” he said with a smile, “and I will do my best to allow myself to be protected. Now, let’s sleep, and make what we can of what’s left of this night.” And that’s what we did. We probably won’t be making love tonight either. Damn Vorantor anyway.

The day was just like yesterday. More Vorantor planning his kathana and keeping Cederic out, more of us (meaning the Darssan mages and me) failing to get our magics to combine. I didn’t tell anyone what Cederic said about our efforts possibly being useless, which would have been cruel.

I went back after lunch to put the message back in its niche, then went to the observatory to see if Aselfos had left a new note. He had. I wish I could read. Terrael would teach me if any of us had time. If the world doesn’t end, that’s the next thing I’m doing.