unknown, could be 15 Coloine still (continued)
The mages were done scribing th’an, the inert ones, in black ink rather than chalk, and there were so many of them they made a thick pattern around the black circle. They outlined two more circles, one only a few inches across, near the northwest point, the other about two feet across, centered on the south point.
Three mages were walking around the room, slapping the walls or stomping their feet. “Right here,” one of them said, and the others came to sit on the floor with her, making a loose circle around a spot that didn’t look very special to me. Then each of them took off one shoe and began tapping with the heel on the wood, as if testing for sound.
“Sesskia,” Cederic said, and I turned to face him. His face was so emotionless it looked as if it had been carved of marble. “It’s almost time.”
“What’s going to happen?” I said. My voice didn’t tremble. I’m sure I looked as emotionless as he did. He was already under enough stress without seeing me burst into tears.
“The binding kathana is simple enough,” he said. “And we have found a th’an that connects the ruins, as many as we can identify, in a way that will reverse what the original kathana did. We will make a correspondence between the ruins in each world so they will be drawn back together. Binding the worlds at those points will allow all the other places to merge, not only in Castavir but over all three continents and all the oceans, though any manmade constructions that overlap that are not one of the ruins will be destroyed. It is the best we can do.”
“That doesn’t explain why Terrael used me as a slate,” I said.
Cederic looked away from me. “The ruins give shape to the th’an; they are like instructions for how the worlds are to fit together. If the ruins in each world are simply drawn back together, they will destroy each other, and the worlds will also be destroyed. So the ruins must be made to slip together, to occupy the same space at the same time. To be insubstantial just long enough for the worlds to merge completely.”
“You need the walk-through-walls pouvra,” I said. “That’s how my magic will be part of the kathana. But I have to touch things to make them insubstantial. How am I supposed to touch all those ruins, let alone quickly enough to make a difference?”
“The th’an on your body will draw all the ruins into one place, symbolically, so that what you do to one, you do to all,” Cederic said.
“What if you’ve missed some of the ruins? Won’t the kathana fail?” I said.
“The th’an connecting the ruins is what matters,” he said. “So long as enough of those ruins are part of the th’an, the worlds will still come together. Any of them we miss will be destroyed, as any two overlapping structures will be. We have done our best.”
“You—” Another tremor, putting me at seven places throughout Colosse and in two places I didn’t recognize, and it felt like having my heart and lungs ripped out of my body to be pulled back together. “You aren’t telling me everything,” I said when we’d both recovered.
Cederic looked away from me again. “You will need to maintain the pouvra for almost three minutes,” he said.
I felt my stomach churn. “I can’t hold my breath that long,” I said.
“You will have to,” he said, still looking away. Now I know he was trying to keep his composure, but at the time I felt abandoned. But then he looked back at me, and said, “I cannot even touch you without ruining Master Peressten’s work. I wish I had thought of that before I told him to begin.”
“I understand,” I said, and he leaned down and kissed me, gently. It felt so much like a farewell that tears came to my eyes, and I had to duck my head so he wouldn’t see them. “Can we do it now? The kathana?” I said.
He nodded, and took my hand to lead me to sit in the larger of the th’an-described circles, with my back to the rest of the circle. I crossed my legs and rested my hands on my knees, forcing myself to breathe normally and relax so I could fill my lungs as deeply as possible when the time came.
From somewhere off to my right, the three mages began tapping a beat, then pounding it with the heels of their shoes. The wood resonated, making a hollow sound: thump, thump, thump-thump, thump-thump, THUMP. Mages moved past me, and I could hear their bare feet brushing the wood as they moved with the rhythm, finishing the kathana.
Then Cederic knelt in front of me, hand raised to my forehead. I didn’t dare break the rhythm by speaking, and that was when I realized I hadn’t told him I love him. But I think he knew what I wanted to say. The cool ink of the writing tool brushed across my forehead, once, twice, and then I sucked in a deep breath—
It felt as though I were being branded over my whole upper body, everywhere Terrael had drawn th’an. I let go that breath and screamed—I couldn’t help myself, it hurt that badly. Cederic was gone. The room was gone. I was in a white void that spun so fast some of my hair came loose and whipped past my face, stinging, and I had to swallow hard to keep from throwing up from dizziness.
Pale gray shapes lunged at me through the whirlwind, though none of them struck me; it was as if I were already insubstantial, though I knew I wasn’t because I could breathe easily. Then a darker shape loomed up in front of me, rushing hard and fast toward me, and I sucked in a deep breath and worked the walk-through-walls pouvra just as I would have collided with it, and turned it insubstantial with me.
to be continued…