Sesskia’s Diary, part 163

15 Nevrine

We were a little more organized today. Had the mages practice their pouvrin as a warm-up before breaking into groups for more theory. My group is moving along quickly, though not as quickly as Jeddan’s. I think their understanding of pouvrin, that sense of being shaped by the magic, is easier to comprehend than seeing it in multidimensional shapes the way I do.

I also think it’s why Jeddan has so much trouble learning to bend his will to meet the pouvrin; he’s used to thinking of it as something that makes him change and doesn’t have experience letting himself change. So their progress will almost certainly slow down once it comes to learning an actual pouvra. Jeddan also told me he still hasn’t mastered the mind-moving pouvra and wanted to work on it privately, so we’re doing that first thing in the morning.

No idea how Norsselen’s group is faring. They sit together, and talk a lot, but there’s nothing to see at this stage. I regret putting him in charge, because I’m less certain he’s willing to accept my explanation of how magic works. And he has a point, given that he didn’t need all this talking to learn more pouvrin. What I’m hoping is that he took my demonstration of pouvrin to heart, believes that people can be taught pouvrin, and is trying to figure out how he learned them so he can teach the method to others and spit in my eye. As long as he’s successful, I don’t care what method he uses.

16 Nevrine

More progress. I hope. Three new mages arrived. Norsselen led everyone except me and Jeddan in the pouvra performance. He hasn’t invited us to learn it.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 162

14 Nevrine (continued)

So we sat everyone down, and I talked about pouvrin, and asked people to explain what they felt when they used their magic. It’s remarkable how easy it is to see the connections when you have enough mages in one place, all talking their way through the process of manifesting pouvrin. Where Jeddan and I had been initially frustrated by our very different experiences, I was heartened to discover that in this group of forty mages, instead of forty different ways of perceiving pouvrin, there were three.

So I rearranged everyone into new groups and told Jeddan off to handle the mages who learned the way he did. Relania and I fell into the second group, and, somewhat reluctantly, I asked her to work with them. That left me talking to the third group, whose experience was completely alien to me and, naturally, included Norsselen and five of his minions.

It didn’t go well. Norsselen’s group was resistant to any suggestion I made, and my efforts to teach them the vocabulary of pouvrin were mostly met with confusion. At the end, frustrated and tired, I resorted to bald-faced flattery. I pulled Norsselen aside and said, “You see magic so differently from me that I’m not sure I can help you. But I think anyone who could learn so many pouvrin so quickly can certainly figure out how to teach them to other people. And I think Relania isn’t experienced as a teacher. So it would be best if you’d take over here so I can work with that other group.”

It worked. Good thing for me Norsselen is either not as smart as he thinks he is, or really is motivated by a lust for recognition and honor. And maybe I’m wrong, and he’ll be able to analyze his perception of magic so learning new pouvrin will come more easily to him. But the real point is that this gives him something to do when we aren’t learning battle tactics and, I hope, keeps him from causing trouble. I don’t want to write about those. I really don’t understand about military strategy, but the thing is, I don’t think Norsselen does either. He’s got us drilling in ways I think would be useless in combat, but there’s no point me saying anything, both because it’s Norsselen and because, as I said, it’s not like I really know anything about it. So I’m just going to skip that part.

It was a long, difficult day, and the only bright spot in it was that my group, and Jeddan’s, learned a little of the pouvra vocabulary, enough that they could start comparing notes with each other, and it was amazing how cheerful everyone was about it. Not that this is a morose bunch; they all seem not to have any reservations about using magic, none of the fears that we old mages lived with all the time, but I think knowing that learning new pouvrin is not a matter of luck made them all feel confident in the magic they already have.

Lunch was brought to us in the ballroom, cold meats and cheeses and hunks of bread, but dinner was an elaborate affair in the large dining room (I was wrong, the table seats fifty) and Jeddan and I chatted with some of the other mages and learned a little of how they’d come to Venetry and what things had been like in the first few days. Though no one wanted to talk about that last subject, and when bringing it up blighted the conversation for several minutes, Jeddan and I didn’t press.

I gather that here in Venetry, at least, most of the mages created by the convergence were killed, and the survivors were lucky enough to either have had hidden pouvrin or people who cared about them to keep them concealed. I’d like to ask Norsselen what happened to him, but the odds of my carrying on a civil conversation with him are fairly low. So we danced around that subject, and ate too much, and now I’m in my room, and I’m so tired I can barely think.

But I don’t need to be able to think to know I’m not leaving Venetry any time soon.

I really didn’t realize this for the longest time. Not when I was organizing mages or coddling Norsselen’s ego, not when I was deep in enthusiastic discussion with my group (after gently relieving Relania of her duties; she’s not a good or patient teacher), not even when I was consulting with Jeddan on how he thought his group was doing (very well, though his group is also smaller than the other two).

No, it wasn’t until we were at dinner, and somebody said he wanted to learn the see-in-dark pouvra, joking that he wanted to be able to sneak into the kitchen for a late night snack, and I joked back and said something like “That will take at least a week” that I realized I’d committed myself. I’d acted all day like someone who’d made a long-term plan and was going to see it through. So the first thing I did upon returning to this room, before writing anything, was fling myself on my bed and scream into my pillow and beat my fists on the mattress. Because I don’t want to do this.

I’m not a leader. I don’t know anything about what the army wants its mages to do. I was barely able to teach Jeddan anything about magic, and he’s got actual experience with learning it, something none of these people have. I shouldn’t be here. I should be with my husband, learning to blend Balaenic magic with Castaviran, surrounded by my friends and working to bring our countries together, something I’ve got no power to do here. I should pack my things and walk out of here tonight, walk through Venetry’s wall and keep walking until I find Cederic. This isn’t my problem.

Except that it is.

I keep remembering how they all looked, listening to Norsselen talk about how impossible it was to learn magic, and how they believed him because they had no reason not to. I remember becoming a mage, and how the desire to learn more filled me so completely it was like a pouvra itself, compelling me onward, and I know every one of these men and women has that same feeling. And Norsselen was telling them that feeling was wrong, that it was impossible to satisfy it. I couldn’t let them go on believing that.

And once I’d proved to them it was possible, I couldn’t walk away. I have to teach them, even if all I can teach them is how to learn for themselves. I still don’t know how those ten mages learned more pouvrin spontaneously. It could be that becoming a mage via the convergence alters how you acquire pouvrin. See? Even now, even as I’m railing against fate, I’m making plans for what I’ll do with the mages tomorrow, and the next day, and so forth, indefinitely. I’m stuck here, and I did it to myself.

I hope, in the morning, I’ll be better resigned to my fate. Right now I’m going to put this book away and indulge my petulant, spoiled self whose only desire is to find the man she loves and curl up in his arms for the rest of forever. Tomorrow, everything will look different.

 

Sesskia’s Diary, part 161

14 Nevrine (continued)

So I said, “Norsselen, how long have you been a mage?”

“A magicker,” he said.

“Almost exactly a month, isn’t it?” I said, ignoring him. “And yet you are awfully quick to say what is and isn’t possible.” I took a step back and raised my voice. “I’ve been a mage—” I couldn’t help stressing the word—“for over ten years. Jeddan here has been a mage for four. I learned my first pouvra when I was sixteen, and in the years since I’ve developed eleven more.” That got a reaction. I let them murmur for a few seconds, waited until Norsselen opened his mouth to speak, and overrode him. “You’re all young by my standards,” I said, “and you all came about your magic differently than I did. But there’s no reason you can’t learn new pouvrin just the way I did. More easily, maybe. So let me show you what I can do.”

I took a few steps toward the scarred wall and summoned the long whip of fire the way I had just minutes before. Then I brought up a huge swathe of fire (I admit I was showing off there), summoned water and tossed it into the center of the blaze, raising a huge cloud of steam. I worked as many pouvrin as were easily visible, saying “I can’t show you how I can see in the dark or see inside things, but I can do those too,” and ended by working the concealment pouvra and making all of them, except Jeddan, exclaim in fear or wonder.

Norsselen looked stunned and furious. I took a few steps toward him and dismissed the pouvra, making him curse and stumble away from me. “Sorry,” I said, though I wasn’t very. “You learned three pouvrin in a month, Norsselen. That’s impressive. I mean it. You’re a remarkable mage.”

“You dare come in here,” he said in a low, vicious voice I had to step close to hear, “and try to take over, as if you had any authority?”

“I don’t want to take over, Norsselen,” I said. “You’ve got these people working together, you seem to understand what the military needs from us—they look to you for leadership. But I know more about magic than you do. I just want to help everyone learn more. I want us to work together.”

Norsselen just glared at me. He was breathing heavily, and he looked both angry and afraid, and that made me feel afraid also, because it was the sort of situation that turns on a knife edge, balanced between sanity and violence. I hoped Jeddan was nearby, because if I had to turn a pouvra on Norsselen to protect myself, the room would erupt into a full-out magical war, with who knew how many sides. I kept my eyes fixed on Norsselen’s, willing him to see sense.

Finally he said, “I don’t think any of us realized magic existed before the Event. Or that…mages…from that time might have been able to survive the prejudice and hatred that dominated society before the King proclaimed magic to be good rather than evil. I think we all have a lot to learn.”

His little speech made everyone else relax, but his gaze was still locked with mine, and there was neither humility nor friendliness in it. If Norsselen could manage it, he’d make me disappear. One more reason he reminds me of Vorantor: he’s dangerous because he hides his true nature behind a façade of cooperation and amity, and even if you know not to believe the façade, there’s still no way to tell where he’ll attack from until he’s already launched himself at your throat.

“I know Jeddan and I have much to learn about how to use magic in the service of the army,” I said, hoping Norsselen would accept the bone I was throwing him and not toss it back in my face. “Will you let us work with you in mastering more pouvrin, and you teach us your military strategies?”

Norsselen nodded once. “You’ve seen what we can do,” he said, “and we’ve seen your abilities. I think it would be best if all of us were capable of fire, or of moving things; those will be useful in attacking the foe. Which do you judge will be easier?”

Jeddan said, “I’ve almost mastered the mind-moving pouvra. I could teach that and you could teach fire, Sesskia.”

“Either way, we have to begin by teaching everyone to understand what it is they do when they work magic,” I said.

“That’s what I’ve been saying all along,” said Relania. “That it’s all about giving the magic shape. But they just can’t understand.”

“It takes time,” I said. I’d seen Norsselen bristle when Relania started talking, and I couldn’t exactly blame him. She’d just been vindicated, and from what little I knew of her I was fairly certain she’d rub Norsselen’s face in it when she could. That would destroy any hope I had of getting Norsselen to cooperate.

“Remember how hard it was to learn the second pouvra?” I said, hoping her experience matched mine. “How everything seemed counter to sense? It’s not really fair to these people to expect them to understand more quickly than we did, I think.”

Relania’s gaze flickered to Norsselen’s face, just for a second. “You’re right, Sesskia,” she said. “But then, of course you’d know best.” (Side note: Relania uses my praenoma ALL THE TIME. As in, every sentence she directs at me. I think she’s trying to show that we have a special connection due to our having read the same books and therefore share some kind of magical genealogy. And she doesn’t have much in the way of social graces, though as I write that I realize that being as isolated as both of us have been makes it logical that we’d lack social graces, which means me having them at all is really what’s unusual. I don’t have the heart to tell her to stop, but I’m worried she’ll try to boss people around on the strength of her connection to me.)

“Thanks, Relania,” I said. “Norsselen, you know everyone’s strengths. Could you direct them to gather in groups based on what pouvra they’re best at?” I hoped I didn’t sound as patronizing as I felt. Either I didn’t, or Norsselen was pretending to be cooperative, because he started directing people into their groups, and I could take a few seconds to think very rapidly back over what Jeddan and I had been doing for the last month.

As I write all of this, I realize just how quickly everything happened—too quickly for me to think beyond the moment. It’s cold comfort to realize that even if I’d had time to consider the implications of what I was doing, I still would have made the same choices. Though maybe I would have been happier, making a conscious choice rather than feeling, as I do now, as if the choice was made for me.

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 160

14 Nevrine (continued)

Norsselen wanted us to be impressed, so we made appropriate noises. Then he said, “You’ve seen which groups you’ll work with. They’ll explain the techniques we’re studying, though of course everyone’s equal and you’re free to make comments of your own.” The look on his face said he didn’t consider himself anyone’s equal. He was really starting to annoy me, despite my resolve not to be drawn and my constant reminders to myself I wasn’t going to be here long enough to worry about what he did. But I couldn’t help saying, “You must be very experienced, to be in charge.”

“I live in Venetry, so I was the first to respond to the King’s summons,” Norsselen said, “and I’ve gained new magics faster than anyone, so everyone agreed I was the logical choice. I like to think I’ve been able to organize us efficiently. Of course I don’t think of myself as better, and I’m certainly not the best at everything. But someone has to take charge, and I’m pleased to do so.”

“Not everyone agrees with that decision, Norsselen,” said a woman who was just then entering the room. She had black hair, and brown eyes, and was so nondescript I felt a pang of jealousy, because with her looks I could go anywhere and never be noticed. Then I remembered that Cederic thinks I’m beautiful the way I am, and the jealousy passed. (It was stupid, I know, but I still think of myself as a thief first and a mage second, no matter how many pouvrin I learn.) “And not everyone believes we are pursuing the right course.”

“Phellek,” Norsselen said, “it’s good to see you. You see we have new members.” He really did sound genial, not at all offended by her remarks, and when I observed him he didn’t show any signs that he was concealing a different emotion. I think this was because he doesn’t see Relania as a threat and therefore is genuinely unmoved by her disdain for him.

“Of course I see that,” she said, and extended her palm to Jeddan, who was nearest her. “Welcome,” she said. “I’m Relania Phellek.”

“I offer you my praenoma in a spirit of kinship between mages,” he said. “My name is Jeddan.”

“And mine is Sesskia,” I said, “though—”

Relania gasped, and instead of laying her palm against mine, gripped my hand so tightly it pinched the skin. “Sesskia,” she said. “I know you. I’ve been following the trail you left for two years. Did you ever learn the mind-moving pouvra?”

I was so shocked I couldn’t pull away from her. This was no new-made mage. I’d left clues, here and there, for other mages to follow, but I’d never actually believed anyone would find them, much less be able to use them. So I’d signed my praenoma to all of them, more as a gesture of defiance at an uncaring world than to brag. “How long,” I began, realized that was a pointless question, and changed it to, “You found my clues?”

“Excuse me,” Norsselen said, but Relania overrode him.

“About two years ago, I stumbled on the cache outside Durran,” she said. “The one that has the see-in-dark pouvra. And you’d left that note about some of the secondary materials in the book, pieces that were incomplete, and that you were going off to find more of it. I never was able to make sense of it, myself, but did you?”

“Phellek, I’ve told you we aren’t humoring your desire to complicate magic with foreign words,” Norsselen said, though he kept looking at me as if he wanted to ask me questions but didn’t know which ones. “Or your claims of seniority.”

“Shut up, Norsselen,” Relania said. “This woman has even greater seniority than I. You should be asking her to teach you.

This was where I regretted more than I ever have not having enough knowledge in advance to make the right plan. Not that I blamed myself. I couldn’t have guessed that an…well, an old mage, in contrast to the new mages, even though Relania is younger than I am. Anyway, there was no way for me to know that an old mage would find her way here, and not only an old mage, but one who’d used the same resources I had.

I couldn’t have guessed she and Norsselen had been fighting for over a week over Relania’s insistence that she had more experience; in the arguing that followed, I learned Norsselen didn’t believe Relania was any different than the rest of them and was dismissive of her pouvrin, since two of them were the invisible sort (the see-in-dark and see-through pouvrin). Not only that, he thought she was delusional and interested in stealing his power.

Relania, for her part, not only persisted in her story (because it was true) but was resistant to the idea of using pouvrin in the service of war. What the rest of the mages thought…well, the gang of toughs were Norsselen’s men (all men), and about a quarter of the others were willing to let him boss them around, and a handful of the rest sympathized with Relania, but covertly, since Norsselen seemed to have all the power.

All of that came later, though. At the moment, Relania was looking at me with something akin to worship, Norsselen was looking at me with suspicion, Jeddan was expressionless, and we were gathering an audience of people who probably were used to Norsselen and Relania butting heads and considered it good entertainment. And I had no idea what to do. I mentally cursed Relania for putting me in this position, and cursed Norsselen for needing to be in charge, and then I said, “I don’t want to interfere with the system you have in place. It seems to be functioning well.”

“Do you know her, Thalessi?” Norsselen said.

“No,” I said, and Relania made a sound of outrage. “We’ve just read the same books.”

Norsselen smiled one of those smug, self-impressed smiles that made me want to slap it off his face. “Another delusional,” he said in a low voice. “I suppose you’re going to claim you learned your magic from those books?”

“I’m not sure I understand, Norsselen,” I said in my sweetest, most reasonable voice. “How do you know that’s not possible?”

“We all have magic because of the Event,” he said, and I could hear him pronounce that capital E. “None of us needed books to become magickers. And magic is something inherent to each person. No one can teach magic any more than we can show someone how to change their hair color. It’s just not possible.”

I’m a thief. I’ve survived all these years by not standing out, by not causing trouble, by not letting my emotions get the better of me. And my first reaction to Norsselen’s smugness was to do just that. It didn’t hurt me that he was ignorant and power-crazed. I was leaving in a few days and it didn’t matter what he thinks of me. So I was going to let him keep his delusions. It would crush Relania’s hopes, but I wasn’t responsible for her emotional well-being. And it would give Jeddan the opportunity to choose whether he’d align himself with Relania or continue to conceal his abilities.

Then I looked around the room at everyone, and at this point it was everyone, watching our encounter. Norsselen had spoken loudly enough that everyone had heard him. I looked at their faces, and I realized Norsselen was going to deny every one of them their magical heritage. Who knew how many of them were capable of learning more pouvrin? Who knew how many of them would discover ones I’d never heard of? I could keep quiet for my own sake. Or I could speak out for theirs.

to be continued…

Monday morning reading

bookstackMonday. I don’t actually dread Mondays. They’re like resetting the switch for the week, getting a fresh start. I like to start Monday with a new book, though this week it’s actually an old book called Ripley Under Water. I found the book The Talented Mr. Ripley in New Orleans and gradually became addicted to the rest of the series. Tom Ripley is not your typical sociopath–he’s a murderer, knows what he’s done is wrong, but resolves not to let those deaths destroy him. And since most of the people he kills are objectionable or even evil, it’s hard not to have sympathy for him. Highsmith’s writing is spare and economical where it needs to be and full of detail where that’s necessary. This is the last book in the series, and I’ll be sad to let it go.

thegodtouchedmanebookcover-1This Monday also marks the beginning of a week of sales for me. The God-Touched Man, sequel to The Smoke-Scented Girl, comes out on Tuesday. It features Piercy Faranter, man about town and secret agent, whose assignment to chaperone a foreign princess turns into a quest to solve a mystery with roots a thousand years deep. Piercy was a fun character to write, and I hope readers will enjoy reading about him.

thesmokescentedgirl smallIn celebration of this release, I’m putting The Smoke-Scented Girl on sale for $0.99 all week. It’s not necessary to read it before The God-Touched Man, but if you haven’t, this is a great opportunity to pick it up for cheap. In The Smoke-Scented Girl, Piercy’s friend Evon is a magician tasked to solve the mystery of spontaneously occurring fires hotter than anyone can make. What he finds is a girl named Kerensa, a thousand-year-old curse, and the legend of four semi-mythical heroes, all of which may be the key to stopping a power-hungry warlord bent on conquering the world.

And the fun doesn’t stop there! Thursday and Friday only, Burning Bright goes on sale for $0.99 on Amazon. You can now also preorder the sequel to Burning Bright, titled Wondering Sight, which is about Burning Bright front coverSophia, the Extraordinary Seer who discovered how the pirates were tracking the Navy ships. Robbed of her professional reputation by the Viscount Lord Endicott, Sophia sets out to prove his criminal activities and redeem herself–but in her quest to destroy him, she finds herself becoming increasingly like him. Wondering Sight will be released on January 19, 2017.

So, it’s Monday. What are you reading today?

Sesskia’s Diary, part 159

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…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 158

14 Nevrine

I feel as if I begin a lot of these entries with variations on “I wonder if I made the right choice.” I used to pride myself on being decisive. Not rash or reckless, but when your actions can potentially get you killed, waffling about them is a big mistake. So I always try to think things through, and go over all the possibilities, and then, when I’ve decided what to do, I do it without revisiting every last detail. (That’s not the same as changing plans in midstream, which happens frequently, but is a response to the situation changing, not my analysis.) It’s like I’m swimming out of my depth all the time, not having enough information but having to act anyway, worrying that if I knew more, I’d see that whatever decision I’d made was the wrong one.

In this case, however, despite having not even close to enough information, I know I made the right choice. I just wish it had been the wrong one.

The day started, for me, with a knock on my door, and when I called an invitation, a woman entered with a steaming tray and set it down across my lap with a bow. It was scrambled eggs and bacon and apple juice and hot, black coffee, which I don’t care for but smells divine, and all the little condiments to make the meal perfect, and it was the first hot breakfast I’ve had in over a week, so I fell on it like I was starving and was really grateful no one was around to see my lapse of good manners.

The woman left me to my breakfast with another bow, and I ate my fill, then set the tray on the floor and got up to dress. I really wish I’d had my own clothes, because the ones the King forced on us gave the impression that Jeddan and I are somewhat higher class than we are, certainly people who deserve a surname and a home with two servants. Not what I wanted these mages to think of me, and I certainly couldn’t blend in very well in that getup, but there was nothing I could do about it except consider finding the servants’ wing and stealing something more practical. I’d leave money, naturally.

Anyway, I dressed—at least the clothes look nice—and then waited for a few minutes before remembering I’m not the sort of woman who sits passively waiting for things to happen, and that I didn’t care if wandering through the manor was against the rules. So I crossed the hall to Jeddan’s room and knocked, then entered on his invitation. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, dressed in his own too-nice clothes. “So what do we do now?” he said.

“Explore,” I said. “I want to meet these other mages as soon as possible.”

“Have you decided what you want to do about the pouvrin?” he said. “Or, for that matter, telling everyone they’re called pouvrin, because I doubt that’s knowledge they got when they became mages, especially since somebody came up with ‘magickers.’” He made a face.

“I’ve been going back and forth on that all night,” I said. “On the one hand, if we go in there claiming one pouvra, then have to reveal more later, that makes us seem untrustworthy. But if we manifest several, who knows what kind of balance that will upset, if none of them have more than three? On the third hand, I’m leaving soon, and don’t care if they think I’m trustworthy. So I’ve decided to say I’ve got just the one, and see what happens from there. My least favorite kind of plan, but I don’t know enough to do better.”

“That’s the conclusion I came to,” Jeddan said. He made a motion that encompassed all of him. “People see me as a threat because I’m as big as I am, and having several pouvrin will only make that worse. Better to find out what the people are like, and then reveal everything.”

“Then let’s see if we can find our colleagues,” I said, “and maybe we’re being too paranoid. Maybe we’ll be able to share what we know and learn from them.”

“Or maybe it will be as bad as I know you think it will, and we’ll both be leaving this place at a run,” Jeddan said.

“I’m trying to learn optimism,” I said. “You’re not helping.”

We retraced the route we’d taken the night before, down the narrow servants’ stairs, and went down the corridor only to discover ourselves outside. So we turned around and went the other way, through a small door into a tall-ceilinged hallway half-paneled in light maple, with skylights high above that made the place look cheery. There were two or three doors opening off the hallway that led to empty rooms with the same paneling and bare wooden floors. None were occupied.

At the end of the hall, another hallway, this one wider, intersected ours. More doors, more skylights. We investigated each one: these were furnished, mostly sitting rooms, but also a music room and a formal dining room with a table that could seat forty diners. We saw not a single living soul in all this time, not even servants. I think, now, that all the other mages got used to a leisurely morning, like we used to have in the Darssan, but while that does appeal to me, it certainly wasn’t how I was going to behave when there were so many things to explore.

We finally found a staircase, a big one with an ornately carved railing and thick carpeting with brass stair-rods, and went up to the next floor. That one had hardly any doors at all, and we were almost all the way to what I gauged was the north end of the house before finding anything worth investigating. That hallway terminated in the most beautiful window made of two enormous sheets of curved glass, one framed above the other, and it looked out over Venetry and the view was just breathtaking. Cities really are beautiful, if only from a distance.

We looked at it for a while, then decided to try the door on our left, which was a big three-paneled thing (it looked like three doors in the same frame, but only the outer two opened, and the middle was just a wood panel) we figured couldn’t possibly lead to someone’s bedroom, which was what had kept us from trying the other doors on this level so far.

The room it led to was enormous. The ceiling was two stories tall and capped with a dome of glass so clear it looked as if it wasn’t even there; the silence, as opposed to the birdsong of early morning, was the only thing that dispelled that illusion. More tall windows lined the walls on two side at regular intervals, with rose-painted panels dividing them. The floor was a glossy parquet of wooden squares of different sizes and colors, like a mythical giant’s puzzle, and sunlight reflected off it to cast a glow over the other two walls, which by contrast had been covered to a height of about twelve feet with rough oak planking that was scarred and burned everywhere.

I took a few steps into the room and turned in a slow circle. “Those light fixtures above the windows would turn night into day here,” I said. “I think this is a ballroom, or was.”

“There’s a patio over here,” Jeddan said. He’d crossed the room and opened one of the tall windows, which turned out to be a door. “It’s a sheer drop fifty feet down, but you can see most of Venetry from it. Very pretty.”

“I’m guessing we’ve found at least one of the places where the mages study,” I said, summoning a rope of fire and flicking it like a whip at the paneling. It made a mark paralleling an old burn scar. I tried again and managed to overlay the old mark entirely. Very satisfying.

to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 157

13 Nevrine, after curfew (hah!) (continued)

“Of course he leaves it to us to handle the details,” muttered Lenssar, then in a louder voice he said, “You are indeed favored highly among your class. I hope you will show proper appreciation for his Majesty’s condescension.”

“Yes, Honored,” Jeddan said. “Where should we go?”

Batekessar rose and walked past us without a word. The others didn’t seem to think there was anything strange about this. “I’ll summon a servant to take you to the guest wing,” Jakssar said, though she didn’t rise, just sat there looking at us with the same intent expression Crossar had. I was starting to feel very twitchy.

“It really does make one wonder,” Lenssar said, and I had to avoid looking at him because that whiny whistle coming out of a face so eerily familiar was too disconcerting, “how society will be shaken up, all these nobody magickers coming up from nowhere.”

“Be polite, Lenssar, you’re talking about our guests,” Jakssar said, and now she did stand. “You went into the invading army’s camp, young woman? How thrilling. Whatever prompted you?”

“I wanted to help our country, Honored,” I said.

“I don’t know many people who would take such a risk simply to help their country,” Jakssar said. She came to stand in front of me, looking down—she’s not hugely tall, but taller than me—and I had this strange feeling I was in front of the God-Empress again. They’re nothing alike physically, and Jakssar strikes me as very sane, so I’m not sure what I was responding to. I’ve decided to be very careful if I have to interact with her again. She may seem friendly, and I still have sympathy for her position, but she’s still a Lord of the Chamber and every bit as ruthless as her peers to hold that position.

“It wasn’t much of a risk, Honored, the enemy has female as well as male soldiers,” I said.

“Really?” said Crossar, more interested now than before, which made his needle-sharp attention even more acute. “What else did you see?”

I’m embarrassed that my first reaction to this was to tell him nothing, so I wouldn’t betray Castavir, then I felt stupid because, for one, it was the God-Empress’s army and even Castavir wanted her defeated, and for another, I was still a Balaenic citizen and wanted my people to have every advantage when it came to war.

Then I told him as much as I could remember about the number of troops, the number of generals, the way they organize themselves, and how well supplied they were. I also told him about the God-Empress, including some details I pretended I’d learned in the camp that I’d actually learned from personal observation.

“I don’t speak their language,” I said at the end, “but by the way they reacted when her tent burned, I think half her officers are afraid of her. Honored.” I’d realized about halfway through my speech that some of that information I could only have gotten if I understood Castaviran. I hoped no one noticed the inconsistencies. I have got to be more careful now that we’re among Balaenics exclusively.

“This is excellent information,” Crossar said, and I saw him close his lips on a sibilant that was almost certainly the first syllable of my name. He had permission to use my name, as I’d been maneuvered into giving it by the King, but it was still a presumption on a relationship we didn’t have, so his choosing not to felt like more of an honor than the King’s dubious request. Naturally, this made me even more suspicious of him: was he trying to gain my, if not allegiance, then my good will? Because basically I don’t think someone like Crossar ever does anything without an eye to his political future. And I’m certain he wants something from me. I really don’t trust him.

We answered questions for a while, the kind of questions people of high rank ask of their inferiors that show they have no idea how anyone manages to live without a hundred thousand crowns’ income a year, then Jakssar finally did summon some servants, who took us away to be washed and clothed appropriately. The clothes are nice, but too ornate for my taste, and I don’t know where they took my old clothes. Probably burned them, so it’s lucky I smuggled these books behind a curtain instead of wrapping them in my clothes. Too bad, because I really liked that shirt. These new clothes are going to make sneaking around Venetry very difficult.

Then we had dinner with the King, who asked the same equally foolish questions as Chamber had, though he did manage to stay focused on our trip and what we’d seen along the Royal Road. He also wanted to know about magic. We told him the truth about pouvrin, which made his eyes glaze over, but didn’t say anything about our having more than one. At some point we’ll have to reveal ourselves, probably tomorrow when we meet the mages, and I’m not looking forward to that. The King said “two or even three” like that was really impressive, so I’m certain that walking in there tomorrow with twelve is going to disrupt whatever power structure they’ve got in place. Time enough to worry about that when it happens.

Dinner was very, very long, with so many courses I ended up taking just nibbles off some of the dishes I liked most because I’d incautiously eaten too much of earlier ones I didn’t really care for. I hope they give what we couldn’t eat to the servants. Some of those dishes were delicious. We ended with after-dinner drinks, which I only pretended to imbibe, and finally the King started yawning, and told us someone would take us to Fianna Manor, and left before we could finish saluting him.

We didn’t see much of Fianna Manor in the darkness. I’d like to say it’s the same as all the other manors up at the top of the city, but none of them share any similarities aside from having walls and windows and roofs. Sizes, construction materials, floor plans, all of those are unique to each manor, which is a fun challenge for a thief.

I’ve never stolen from Fianna Manor, so I didn’t know what to expect, and I still don’t, because we went through a side door down a narrow corridor, up stairs that had to be servants’ stairs, and into a wider, low-ceilinged corridor lined with plain wooden doors. These also are probably servants’ quarters, which makes me wonder if someone’s already trying to prove a point by pushing us to the side. If I were planning to stay, I’d care more about that. It’s still a nice, sizable room, though, with a pretty rug and matching counterpane, and a water closet, and furniture that all matches (heavy old oak, and I wonder how they got it up those stairs).

Jeddan’s across the hall from me and his room is almost identical, except for the rug and counterpane being in different colors. I was tired enough that all I did was strip down to my underwear and cuddle up in the bed to write all of this. It’s a good, comfortable bed, too. It makes me wonder what kind of luxury some of these mages might be living in.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring. I’m planning to stay three days and then head out for Colosse. I haven’t asked Jeddan if he wants to come with me—that’s part of what the three days are for, to see what happens with the mages and whether Jeddan would rather be part of whatever they’re doing. I’d miss him if he stayed, but I know too well what it’s like to crave learning to be disappointed if he did.