Sesskia’s Diary, part 109

unknown, could be 15 Coloine still (continued)

I only intended to give the mages a few more seconds by keeping the God-Empress from commanding her soldiers to attack. They’d probably act on their own initiative if she didn’t give the order. Instead, all the soldiers suddenly looked confused, as if they didn’t know what they were doing or even why they were in the room.

That was all I had time to observe before I had to use all my strength to subdue the God-Empress. I was able to make out the outline of her face before the pouvra’s compulsion for me to look elsewhere took effect, and I jammed my arm into her mouth so she couldn’t shout. She ground down with her teeth, but my sleeve protected me enough that it was just a dull pain, though not an insignificant one. I pressed harder and tried to ignore it.

Gagging her with my arm left me with only one hand to fend off her attacks, but her greater height didn’t give her any advantages while we were on the floor, and I both outweigh her and have experience with fighting dirty. I learned a long time ago that the only technique that matters, for someone my size, is the one that gets you away from your assailant.

So we punched and clawed and elbowed, neither of us able to see the other, and I was able to smash my forehead against her chin, which stunned her for a moment, but not as long as if I’d hit her nose, which is what I was aiming for.

She rocked, trying to roll me off her, and I got my knee up to give myself a stronger position, and that’s when I realized Cederic was standing nearby, shouting my name in a way that told me he had no idea where I was. So I released the pouvra while still keeping a grip on the God-Empress, and then hands were taking her from me, and I pushed myself to my knees and let Cederic help me stand.

My eyes were watering because she’d managed to claw my face, just at the end, but I looked around the room and was stunned to see no soldiers left standing. Some of them had blood running from their eyes and noses and ears, and others had faces tinged blue from asphyxiation, and some lay in heaps next to the walls as if they’d been flung into them, hard. I still haven’t seen mages use th’an in a fight, and I know they’re useless if someone has a sword to their throats, but give them enough space and they’re deadly.

“Are you all right?” Cederic said, touching my cheek; I winced away from how his touch made the wounds sting. I’m glad I didn’t think, at the time, that they might have been poisoned, since the God-Empress is the kind of person who might paint her nails with poison just to have that extra weapon. I was already on edge and that would have been more strain than I needed.

“I’m fine,” I said, wiping my eyes. The God-Empress stood a few feet away from me. No one was holding her—I figure a lifetime’s habit of revering her as God couldn’t be broken easily—but there were at least five people between her and the door, so it’s not like she could go anywhere. (I thought. We all thought.) She looked awful. Her golden crown of hair was completely disordered, she had bruises forming on her chin and at the corner of her mouth where I’d gotten in a lucky punch, but she looked as self-possessed as if we were all in her pavilion and she were about to pronounce judgment on us.

“You’ve disappointed me, Sesskia,” she said. “You were God’s choice and you rebelled against her. You will have to die.”

“We’re all probably going to die thanks to you ruining the kathana,” I said.

She shrugged. “I told you God won’t allow that to happen,” she said. She looked at Cederic, then back at me. “You don’t appreciate your gift,” she said. “You will watch as I peel the skin from his body, and then you will die, screaming.”

She raised her hand as if to point at me, but instead she began doing that complicated salute she’d done at the honey day ceremony, only rapidly, and I could see amber light outlining her fingers just as Cederic said, “Th’an!” and lunged at her. It was too late. She…sort of flattened, like dough being rolled out, going thinner and thinner until she was a mist that dissipated and was gone.

“What was that?” I said.

“I don’t know,” Cederic said. “It’s not—”

That was when the biggest tremor we’d ever felt struck. I was in five places at once, only one of them in that room, and it hurt when I pulled back together, enough that I had to stand and breathe deeply so I wouldn’t faint. Everyone around me was doing the same, leaning on each other, and I saw Terrael supporting Audryn, whose robe was bloody along the front.

Then an actual tremor sent shockwaves through the room, staggering everyone. Cederic reached out to grab my hand, and I held onto him until the room stopped trembling. Then he let me go, and said, “Clear the circle. And move quickly.”

I don’t think anyone needed to hear that last part. We all began dragging bodies to the sides of the room, mostly soldiers, a few robed mages we didn’t have time to mourn. The circle, which had been drawn in ink, was intact, but the th’an scribed in and around it were ruined. Mages dropped to their knees and began scrubbing what was left of them away, while others began writing new ones, these more permanent. I stood to one side, watching, but then Terrael grabbed me and tore off my shirt before I could protest.

He began drawing on my chest and shoulders with his fat writing tool, and then I squeaked and began batting at his hand. “Stop it,” he said, and slapped my hands away. “I don’t have time to explain, Sesskia, just hold still,” and he kept on scribing.

I obeyed him, praying that he wasn’t about to remove my breast band too, but he secured my hair messily on top of my head using the clips I’d last seen Audryn wearing, then turned me around and began drawing on my back, th’an after th’an. The ink was cold and felt wet, as if it were trickling across my skin.

Another tremor struck, and I was in the throne room and my bedroom and the observatory and somewhere down in Colosse, where I saw people screaming, and then I was back in my body, aching everywhere as if I’d been beaten. Terrael was crouched on the floor, one hand holding himself up, the other still clutching his writing tool. I reached down and helped him stand while the earth shook. “Thanks,” he said, and made a few more marks on my cheeks. “Sai Aleynten will tell you what to do, when it’s time,” he said. “I think it will hurt. I’m sorry.”

“If it will help save the world, I think I can endure a little pain,” I said, but I was starting to feel afraid, because I don’t like not knowing things. I wished he’d been able to explain—though I think, now, if I’d known what was coming, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 108

unknown, could be 15 Coloine still

Now that I’ve recovered from the kathana, I’m going to write everything down because, as is often the case, writing helps me stay sane when everything around me is confusion and strangeness. And then I’ll figure out what to do next.

As I wrote, I went to stand where I was the first thing visible to anyone coming through the door. Soldiers entered, silent except for the sound of their boots on the fancy wooden floor. It was eerily like the way they’d made a double file in the circle chamber, just before Vorantor was killed, and I think everyone felt the same way, because the mages all drew in together, into a loose clump near the middle of the room that put them behind me. Cederic came to stand beside me, not touching me, but his presence was a comfort—not enough to dispel all my anxiety, but still a comfort.

For a few seconds more, I held out hope that it was Aselfos, that I’d be able to reason with him or at least threaten him with more of the walk-through-walls pouvra, and then the God-Empress came through the door, and the hard, cruel look on her face dispelled any hope that this might end well for anyone. I tried not to look as despairing as I felt and waited, because I didn’t think I had any chance at tricking or manipulating her with words.

“Sesskia,” the God-Empress said, “you are God’s choice. Do you understand what that means?”

“No, Renatha, I don’t,” I said.

“Your magic is God’s gift, direct from her without need for all this scribbling,” the God-Empress said. “You should have been most high priestess from the beginning.”

“Thank you, Renatha, it is a gift—” I began.

“Do not waste my time, Sesskia, we all know no one deserves my gifts,” the God-Empress said. “And I have been especially generous with you. You are God’s choice. You will stand by God’s side today.”

“I—all right, Renatha,” I said, though I could sense Cederic going tense beside me. “How can I serve God?”

The God-Empress smiled. “We have rebellion,” she said. “There are fools who have chosen to fight against God. My army is going to war, Sesskia, and you will use your magic against the enemy, you and every mage here. Bring what you need, scribblers, and we’ll leave this place now.”

“The convergence is upon us,” Cederic said. “If we do not perform this kathana now, the world will face destruction that will make your battle irrelevant.”

“Your excuses are what’s irrelevant, Cederic Aleynten,” the God-Empress said. “God will not allow her world to be destroyed. Do you really want to disobey God?”

“You must surely have felt the signs of the convergence,” Cederic said. “We need more time.”

The God-Empress turned her mad eyes on me. “You gave me everything in exchange for him,” she said. “Command him. You are God’s choice.”

“No,” I said. “And he wouldn’t obey that command anyway.”

I don’t think anyone’s said no to the God-Empress in her life. For a moment, her eyes went wide and her jaw slack. Then she said, “Take them.”

I was too slow. So were the mages. Before I had time to do more than circle the God-Empress with fire, several of our mages were grabbed by soldiers and pinned against the walls or held tight with knives to their throats or hearts. One of them was Audryn.

Terrael brought his slate up and raised his stubby piece of chalk as if it were one of those sharp knives, and I shouted, “No!” though I had no idea what he intended to do with those unlikely weapons. “Let them go, Renatha,” I said, making the fire blaze hotter.

“Burn me, and my soldiers kill every one of them,” she said with a cruel smile. “You always were the soft one, Sesskia. How you can wield such power and still be so weak baffles me. Command them, or they die.”

I felt weak right then. I could have killed the God-Empress, and ended that threat, but some of our mages would have died before the rest could defend themselves—at the time I didn’t know how effective that defense could be. Maybe I should have killed her. It would have changed everything.

But all those deaths…like I said, I felt weak, unable to condemn people I cared about, especially Audryn, to death. I dismissed the fire and said, “Let them go. We’ll do as you ask,” thinking that we’d find a way out of it, that Cederic would see a solution I didn’t.

Instead, he raised both his hands and began rapidly scribing th’an on the air. Several soldiers screamed and dropped their weapons, their hands turning red like the coals of a blacksmith’s fire. “Get out!” he shouted, and I turned to use the fire-starting pouvra on the rest of the soldiers while some of the mages began to move and others, those holding their boards, began scrawling on them.

A few more soldiers shouted in pain as their skin began to smoke. But there were too many of them, and we were all weary from lack of sleep, and we still weren’t fast enough. Two mages screamed as knives found their mark, more soldiers tackled Cederic and immobilized his hands, and still more soldiers went to block the exit, their swords drawn. More mages went down to those blades, and the rest of us fell back, away from the carnage.

“Stop, stop!” I shouted. “If you kill them all, who will fight for you?”

“I don’t need disobedient priests. God will raise up others,” the God-Empress said. “Your gift tried to fight me, Sesskia. I’m not happy with your inability to control him.” She turned her gaze on Cederic. “Kneel before me, Cederic Aleynten,” she said, and the soldiers holding him kicked his knees so they folded, and he landed on the floor with a grunt. “No, I think you had better bow instead,” she continued, and they forced him to bend until he was prostrate in front of her.

“You gave him to me, Renatha,” I said. “I’m responsible for his actions. It’s me you should punish.”

“Sesskia—” Cederic shouted, and one of the soldiers kicked him in the face, making him cry out at the same time I did.

“I still need you, Sesskia,” the God-Empress said, as if this were the most obvious thing in the world. “I don’t need him.” To the soldiers, she said, “Remove his hands.”

No!” I screamed, and stupidly threw myself at the soldiers, forgetting entirely about pouvrin. One of the men grabbed me and dragged me away, and then I did set him on fire, but he kept hold of me even as he screamed and tried to extinguish the flames. My mind-moving pouvra was too weak to force his hands open. I watched Cederic struggle as the soldiers holding him stretched out his arms, leaving his wrists bare, and another soldier drew his longsword and approached, raising it high for a powerful two-handed stroke. I wrenched myself free—

—and even as I set the man on fire, Cederic’s captors flew backward into a knot of mages, knocking them all down, and he reared up, his eyes wide and panicked, and with a sweeping motion of both hands sent half a dozen soldiers to the ground.

It took me a second or two to realize he hadn’t scribed th’an, that his terror had woken the magic within him and given him his own mind-moving pouvra. I had no idea it could be so powerful, though I guess he’s used to being able to move much heavier things than I can with th’an, and maybe it translates. That thought came later. At the time, though, I reacted by shouting, “Strike back!

The mages began to move, the soldiers dropped their knives and drew their swords, the God-Empress opened her mouth to give a command, and without stopping to think I grabbed her, bore her to the ground, and worked the concealment pouvra on both of us.

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 107

15 Coloine, twenty minutes later

We won’t be destroyed. I can’t believe it was sitting in Cederic’s room this whole time. It seems obvious now, but I think—no, I should start at the beginning.

Cederic came racing back in here a few minutes ago, clutching some large papers that turned out to be our maps. He practically fell to his knees in front of me, spread them out one atop the other, and said, “There’s a pattern. I didn’t see it because I was so obsessed with the missing th’an—you won’t see it, Sesskia, you don’t know the th’an, but—come and look at this, everyone, and tell me what you see!”

It’s true, I was mystified, but Terrael looked at it, shoved his way to a different position, and said, “It’s the unlocking th’an.”

“The lines are not quite perfect,” Cederic said, “but even with Sesskia’s information, we knew we did not know the location of all the ruins. Knowing what th’an it is lets us extrapolate the position of the remaining ones.” He took my chalk and drew a th’an quickly, connecting the marks on the map and interrupting the line once so it wouldn’t activate. It’s an elaborate shape, and it’s surprising anyone could look at those X’s and see that pattern, but I think desperation makes everything look different.

“So what does it mean?” asked one of the mages.

“It means they bound the land to the kathana,” Cederic said. “It explains why the ruins are all so uniform, and so small; they were built specifically for that purpose. That is why Master Peressten was unable to identify the missing parts of their kathana. The ruins are the missing parts.”

He stood and brushed off his knees. “Sai Howert, take half our mages and clear the circle for a binding kathana. The rest of you, copy these marks to your boards—be accurate, but don’t worry about perfection. We need to connect these ruins in a new th’an. You are looking for anything that suggests union or coming together. Master Peressten, with me, please.”

He walked away without waiting for Terrael to respond. I followed him, Terrael trailing behind, to where the books of the Darssan library were piled on a couple of tables scrounged from nearby rooms.

“For this to work, we need three things,” Cederic told us—well, he told Terrael, and I listened. “We need a binding kathana—”

The room stretched and contracted with another tremor. Cederic fell silent until it passed. They feel like they’re lasting longer as well as coming more frequently now. “We need a binding kathana,” Cederic said, “one based on the original unlocking kathana. Sesskia—”

“It’s not the right one, is it?” I said, and I can’t describe how discouraged I was. “The one I’ve been working on.”

Cederic shook his head and laid his hand along my cheek. “It was not wasted effort,” he said. “We still need your magic in the kathana. The binding th’an are simple; you may be able to learn them in time. Master Peressten, we also need to draw a new th’an that connects all the ruins, or as many as we can find. And we need some way to attune our kathana to the landscape, to the ruins themselves, in effect scribing th’an on them the way Sesskia draws on her board.”

He drew in a deep breath, and in a lower voice said, “And I have no knowledge of how to do that. I need you to go through the books I cannot read, looking for some hint to that secret.”

“Sai Aleynten,” Terrael said, “that could be impossible. We’ve been through these books dozens of times. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

“You saw that th’an on the map when no one else did,” Cederic said. “We need to look at these books with a fresh eye. And pray what we need is not in one of those books we cannot read.”

Terrael nodded. “I’ll—” Another tremor. “—do my best,” he said. “And I already have an idea.” He began shifting books on the table, making a neat stack, because even in this nightmare he’s still Terrael.

I pulled Cederic to the side, and said, “You know there’s no way I can learn a new th’an in time. What can I really do?”

Cederic sighed. “If we cannot find a way to put your magic into this kathana, everything else we do may be for nothing. And I see no way to accomplish that. What do you see?”

I had to shake my head and say, “I don’t know.”

“Then practice pouvrin,” he said, “and think, and allow me more time to consider. We still do not know what Aselfos has in mind, nor what the God-Empress might do. If it comes to it, you may be defending us against one or both of them.”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” I said, and went to stand near the door. I practiced pouvrin until my eyes and my chest ached, then rested and wrote for a bit, then back to pouvrin. My fire-summoning pouvra is more effective now; I think I could encircle five people at once, and I’m steeling myself to burn flesh. My mind-moving pouvra isn’t ever going to be strong enough to hurt anyone, and though I think I could drown someone by holding a globe of water around their head, that’s not practical in a fight, where the person might have fifteen friends trying to kill me at the same time.

But the concealment pouvra, and the walk-through-walls one—I figured out how to turn them outward, so I can work them on another person. I’m still not sure how useful that will be, particularly turning someone else virtually invisible, but it’s something.

Cederic and Terrael are having an intense discussion, Cederic gesturing with large swoops and Terrael shaking his head. It reminds me of the first time I saw them interact, when Terrael was trying to convince Cederic to use the aeden on me, and how much I disliked Cederic then. That seems so long ago, but really it was less than two months. Two months to go from hating someone to loving him—I think I must have been more lonely than I knew. I hope I didn’t

I was going to write “I hope I didn’t just attach myself to Cederic because I was desperate for love,” but I feel certain it’s not true. We still have so much to learn about each other, and I don’t want to be like Mam, blaming Dad for every little thing that went wrong and for not being a good provider, even though he went out on that boat every night and brought home a good catch, then had to sell it himself because Mam was unreliable. But I trust him. I feel more myself than I ever have when I’m with him. I don’t want the world to end just as my life is really beginning.

Another tremor. Cederic is pointing at a book and now Terrael is nodding. They’ve got their boards out and they’re drawing. I can’t believe they found anything useful—we weren’t able to bring the entire Darssan library here, so what are the odds that one of those books would have the right th’an? No, more likely the two geniuses saw potential in something completely unrelated. I should be practicing now, but I can’t stand the tension, I have to see if they’ve figured it out. I don’t want to disturb them, though, so all I can do is stand over here by the door

I hear someone coming. A lot of someones. Boots.

It’s soldiers. Aselfos or the God-Empress, I don’t know, but it can’t be good. I’ve called out a warning and now I’m going to stand where I’m the first thing anyone entering this room sees. Putting the book away now and hoping this isn’t my last record.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 106

15 Coloine, breakfast (not that anyone’s able to eat)

Something strange happened. Cederic came to sit with me for a few minutes—I’m glad he’s realized that his going entirely without rest helps no one—and I leaned against his shoulder and pretended the world wasn’t about to end. He smells of fresh linen and, faintly, of old paper, which is one of my favorite smells, and now it’s doubly so. I had Terrael’s board in my lap, and Cederic picked it up and twirled it in his fingers, just for something to do, and then he stopped abruptly and held it at arm’s length to look at it.

Then he swore, and leaped up from where he was sitting, and ran out of the room before I could ask him what was wrong. He took the board with him, whether because it was important or because he forgot he was holding it, I don’t know, but it left me with nothing but this book to entertain myself.

If things weren’t so urgent, the way everyone stopped in mid-step when Cederic left would be funny. One of the Sais rallied them, but it’s clear everyone knows that if they’re going to discover a kathana that works, it will be thanks to Cederic’s genius, so him tearing out of here like he’s being chased left everyone bereft, including me, since everyone else’s leaning on him is metaphorical, and I nearly fell over when he got up. So it must be important.

Nothing else to write. I’ve accomplished as much as I can with the pouvra without actually taking part in the kathana. I don’t dare wander over to see what the mages are doing and possibly interrupt them. I’m going to look at the painting and think about what spring will look like. It’s six months away, according to my count, though I’ve said I don’t know if Castaviran seasons match up with mine. But how could they not?

Then again, how can the desert around the Darssan be grassy plains in my world? I don’t know. It all seems pointless when it’s possible both plains and desert might be destroyed.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 105

15 Coloine, dawn

I can’t believe it. I’m starting to feel the pouvra come together! The problem is that it doesn’t seem to do anything. Sovrin told me it’s another binding th’an, but I think—this is just my instinct—that it won’t actually work unless there are specific things for it to bind. And I can’t tell if it’s supposed to work through my body, or around it—there’s a lot about it I don’t know. But Cederic closed his eyes and breathed out a long sigh of relief when I told him, so I’m accomplishing something. I’m trying not to feel too relaxed about this, because I haven’t succeeded yet.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 104

15 Coloine, half an hour later

Had to take another turn in the kathana circle, this time manifesting the binding rune in fire. That was effective, but Cederic says there’s no way for them to know when or where in the kathana to use it. That frustrates me more than failure would. Cederic said, “It’s progress,” and then he kissed me in full view of everyone, which made me happy. He’s going to solve this problem.

I have faith in him and in all our mages—no more Vorantor mages and Darssan mages, all one group with our squabbles set aside. I’m going to practice Terrael’s th’an again for a bit. It’s as soothing as writing, at least for short periods. Then it gets tedious, and I go back to my futile efforts at creating a new pouvra.

Another tremor. There’s no way to predict when one will happen, they’re still coming at irregular intervals, but they’re definitely coming closer together.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 103

15 Coloine, two hours past midnight

I was encouraged too soon. It didn’t work at all. I’m trying not to feel as downhearted as Terrael was. I think he knew how I felt, because he came to sit next to me when I’d retreated to my corner, before I started writing again, and gave me a board with a th’an marked on it in that dotted-line shape.

“It’s a fire-making th’an,” he said. “The fire-starting pouvra seems to be the one you’re most comfortable with. This might help clear your head, and maybe you can work out how it intersects with your pouvra.

He gave me some chalk and then went back to the circle. And he was right; it does help clear my head, even though I have no hope of learning to scribe the th’an in just a few hours. So I practice with it for half an hour, and then I go back to trying to make that complicated th’an work. It’s something to do when there’s nothing to write, like now.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 102

14 Coloine, an hour before midnight

It hasn’t ended yet. I’m sitting in a corner of the kathana room, writing while the mages change the kathana’s configuration yet again. There’s a diagram of the original kathana, the one that caused the whole damn mess, drawn on the northern wall in thick black inky lines. The paintings that used to be on that wall are propped below the diagram in a long row. Most of them are landscapes of the same hilly country in early spring. I hope they’re of a real place, because I look at them when I start to feel overwhelmed and tell myself we’re doing all of this to keep that place from being destroyed.

Now I’m wondering why I’m not letting the thought of saving millions of people motivate me. I feel guilty about that, but not much. Millions of people is too much for me to keep in my head; I can just about manage a picture of a grove of trees surrounded by daffodils.

The diagram is there so the mages can refer to it when they reconfigure their kathana. Terrael explained it as being like a puzzle: they have most of the elements of the original, but only one arrangement of those elements will do what they want. So they start putting it together until it becomes clear that the direction is wrong, and then they start over. It’s not something I can help with, and writing keeps me calm. So that’s what I’m doing.

Vorantor was right about one thing—the original kathana needs to be inverted. Cederic says they can alter the key parts and get the new one close enough that it will be effective. He didn’t sound convincing.

Terrael is in despair because he blames himself for not being able to read the minds of those long-dead bastards mages and produce the missing th’an. Cederic had to lecture him for a full minute until Terrael felt he was properly chastised, then told him to take a walk for five minutes to give himself a rest. It’s funny to remember when I resented Cederic’s ability to command, and how I’m so grateful for it now.

They’ve gotten a lot further than before. Looks like they’re ready for me to take part. I wish I’d realized sooner what the connection between th’an and pouvrin is. With more time we might have been able to translate that th’an he gave us into a pouvra. Cederic is certain part of the kathana must be performed using my magic, but that’s as much as he knows, and at this point we’re just experimenting.

Right now I’m going to sit in the circle, in a spot that’s been marked off by th’an, and go insubstantial when I’m told. It’s difficult, because I start to fall through the floor, and of course I can only stay that way for about two minutes before I need to breathe, but the hard part is all on them, trying to scribe the right th’an in that two minutes. No guarantee that it will work, but at least it’s direction.