14 Nevrine (continued)
“How did you do that?” said a dark-haired man who entered just as I struck my target. “I’ve never seen anything like that kind of control.”
“Um,” I said. I could see my plan start to fray at the edges. “It was just a lucky stroke, I guess. I’m Sesskia. What’s your name?”
“I—” He looked embarrassed. “I don’t think I’ve earned the right to your praenoma.”
“We’ve met several mages in our travels,” I said, “and given how different we are from other people, it felt like kinship. My placename is Thalessi Scales, if you’re more comfortable with that.”
“No,” he said, “no, you’re right. I didn’t think of it that way. Kinship.” He brightened. “I’m Davik.”
“And I’m Jeddan,” Jeddan said, coming forward to exchange salutes with him. “What magic do you have?”
“The fire rope, same as Sesskia,” he said. “Did you say ‘mages’? I haven’t heard that word.”
“Everyone in the south uses it,” I lied—though it wasn’t exactly a lie; I’d pushed that terminology hard everywhere we’d been—“and we think it sounds more dignified than ‘magickers.’”
“I wonder if Norsselen will like it,” Davik said, mostly to himself. “But I’m serious about your ability with the fire rope, Sesskia. I don’t have nearly that much control.”
“Well, I might be able to show you,” I said, then remembered I wasn’t going to be here long, and he didn’t have the right vocabulary, and added, “Have you all had much success learning each other’s pou—magics?”
“Learning each other’s—that’s not possible,” Davik said. “Some people have acquired more than one magic, but that just happens as you get better with the one you start with.”
Jeddan and I glanced at each other, and Jeddan gave the tiniest shake of his head. I agreed with him. This was not the time to contradict this man’s assumptions. I wondered about this Norsselen he mentioned (now, of course, the name makes me scowl) and why his liking anything would matter.
“Well, I can try showing you what I’ve learned,” I said, and directed him to take up a solid stance, which I don’t think is necessary but is something the Darssan mages find critical in scribing certain kinds of th’an, and I figured the focus might help him. Then I broke down the steps of the pouvra and tried to walk him through it, which led to us having to stop to discuss how it felt to wield the magic at all. Davik isn’t terribly bright, but to my surprise this made things easier; he was compliant instead of argumentative, and we’d almost come to common ground when a couple of women showed up, and then another handful of people, and they were all curious about the newcomers.
We kept introducing ourselves by our praenomi, explaining of course no one should feel obligated to return the favor, and only about a quarter of the mages declined the honor. Interestingly, they all stuck together in their own corner, like a gang of toughs in the street who were dismissive of anyone not in their group, even down to a sense of low-grade menace. I kept an eye on them, just in case. Now I’ve met their “boss” Norsselen, I’m even more cautious around them. If I can’t predict what he’ll do, I certainly can’t predict what he might ask of his minions.
So we met people, and demonstrated our pouvrin, and I was more careful this time not to look like I had tremendous control over my magic. It turns out to be difficult to pretend to be less capable with pouvrin than you are. I was glad I’d chosen one I really am less experienced with. Jeddan had no problem downplaying his pouvra. At least he’s using it, though I have a feeling he’s never going to go immaterial through flesh again, which is fine by me.
Nobody seemed to think we were remarkable, and things were going well, when another man came through the door and said, “Ah, you must be our new members! I hope everyone’s made you feel welcome.” He was blond, white-blond, and had a long jaw and freckles that made him look younger than the thirty-plus I guessed his age to be. He also reminded me so much of Vorantor, with his broad smile and his “I’m a great leader” pose, that I had to choke back nausea, remembering my last sight of Vorantor collapsed across the kathana circle with his throat slit.
“My name is Norsselen,” he said, “and my magic is fire. And you are?”
“We choose to offer our praenomi in a spirit of kinship,” I said, “but if you’d prefer, my placename is Thalessi Scales.” I said this because despite what I avowed, I had no desire for this man to use my praenoma. I’m still not certain he won’t turn out to be an enemy.
“Thank you, Thalessi, I would prefer to maintain formality at the beginning of our acquaintance,” Norsselen said, extending his palm to me, then to Jeddan.
“Rokyar Axe,” Jeddan said, not even pretending to offer kinship. “I can move through things.”
“And my, um, magic is the fire rope,” I said.
“Good, good,” Norsselen said. “I take it we haven’t demonstrated our magics for you? Everyone, let’s show our new friends what we can do.”
The next part was impressive, and I have to give Norsselen credit for being able to point all these people in the same direction, even though I disapprove of both his methods and his motives. Everyone went to what looked like pre-determined spots in the room to form small groups. Then, exactly as if they’d practiced (because of course they had) each group took turns demonstrating a pouvra.
Norsselen (I guessed this, and it was later confirmed) had done the organizing, and he’d at least worked out that the fire mass and the fire rope were different pouvrin. There were a lot more people doing the former than the latter, which made sense to me, given how hard it had been for me to learn the rope. The largest group did mind-moving—I forgot to mention there were stacks of all kinds of things all around the room, bricks and short planks and hard rubber balls and things like that. None of them were capable of using the mind-moving pouvra on the same level as Cederic, but all of them seemed to be stronger than me. I’d feel inadequate about that if I didn’t remember crushing that bandit’s heart, and I try not to remember that.
There was another small group who could walk through things, and then, excitingly, a woman who flitted from one side of the room to the other in the blink of an eye. I’m still trying to figure out how to justify taking her aside and making her teach me that pouvra.
A couple of people, no more than ten, moved from one group to another to demonstrate a second or even a third pouvra. Norsselen has three—fire, mind-moving, and see-in-dark, though he not so modestly told us this later since of course he couldn’t demonstrate the last. There are another five who have that one, and three who can see through things. No concealment, obviously, no see-inside, and I don’t think any of them can turn their pouvrin on other people. They’re all pouvrin you’d expect someone to develop first based on some trauma, even though we established (through some quiet questioning) none of them had experienced anything unusual but the convergence.
to be continued…