Sesskia’s Diary, part 181

28 Nevrine, dawn

I didn’t realize, when Nessan said he’d be putting the spies through the training course, that he was including me in the group. I hadn’t even thought about it, hadn’t really thought about what I’d be doing when it comes time for combat, because so much of my efforts have been directed toward teaching the other mages. But the truth is I’m still a better thief than I am at any of the individual pouvrin; despite my range with the fire pouvra, my skill seems to be my ability to learn pouvrin quickly and, if the binding pouvra is any indication, I might be good at creating them from th’an. None of which is as useful to the military as my ability to sneak into places where people might try to kill me.

And that course is brutal. Nessan believes in treating every exercise as if it’s the real thing—smart, I think, at least in principle. In reality, it makes for painful training. I had to use every trick I know and the flitting pouvra to keep from being caught by his traps. The pouvra surprised him, and I think he would have called it an unfair advantage if he believed in such things. He’s more suspicious and paranoid than I am, squeezes every ounce of advantage out of whatever situation he’s in, and I really like him, the sneaky bastard.

My spies weren’t so lucky; all of them were caught at some point, though Nessan approves of Rutika, or at least that’s how I interpret his being harder on her than the others. They’ve all learned things, and what I’m happiest about is knowing they won’t ever be caught by those traps again. Other ones, that’s a different story. I’m satisfied with their ability to move quietly, though Nessan’s not going to let up until they can walk across five feet of dry leaves with hardly a crackle. (I wouldn’t bother doing it stealthily; I’d make it sound like I was a harmless squirrel.)

When we were done, Nessan just grunted and walked away, saying over his shoulder, “Tonight again. Don’t eat so heavily, you were all moving like pigs in wallow.” I think that means he doesn’t completely despair of us, or he just wouldn’t come back. So that’s something, anyway.

I’m going to have to figure out a way to get more sleep, if I’m going to be training mages all day and training spies all night.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 180

27 Nevrine

  1. Forty-two mages with the fire pouvra, minimum range 155 yards, maximum 600.
  2. Thirty-nine mages with the mind-moving pouvra, range 729 yards (way to go, Saemon!), minimum weight 65 lbs. “maximum” 425 lbs. (This number increases every day.)
  3. Eight mages being trained as spies, minimum time insubstantial 1 min. 48 sec., maximum 3 min. 26 sec. Still working on the non-magical skills. Rutika continues to need greater challenges. I don’t know if she realizes how good she is.
  4. Two mages with the flitting pouvra. It’s incredible. It feels like flying.

Dinner with Mattiak again. He wasn’t as excited about our progress as I thought he’d be, but then I learned he’d had an argument with King and Chamber today about moving the army toward Hasskian that had ended with the King accusing him of disloyalty and Mattiak storming out without being dismissed.

I expressed my concern about what the King might do to him, and he said, “I’d have to attempt to assassinate him before he’d do anything truly punitive to me. They don’t have anyone else who can command the army. Not that it takes much skill to tell soldiers to sit on their asses and do nothing.”

“Is there any more news of the G—the invading army’s progress?” I said.

“Hasskian must have fallen by now,” he said. “I expect a messenger tomorrow. And there’s nothing I can do about it but continue to press my case and try to convince the King that moving the army will do more to protect him than having it camp outside Venetry’s walls.”

“It’s too bad there isn’t a way to get news instantaneously,” I said, remembering Lineta and her talk about the “Firtha th’anest” communication.

“Are you sure there’s not?” he said, and I laughed before I realized it was a serious question.

“Sorry,” I said. “It’s like I’ve told you before, Mattiak: there could be pouvrin to do anything we can imagine, but nobody knows how to create one. We have to depend on people either spontaneously manifesting them when they become mages, or finding them in old books. And there’s just no time to do that.”

“I know,” he sighed. “I don’t want you to think I’m not grateful for what you can do, Sesskia. It’s hard for me to do nothing, and I start groping for anything to keep myself from feeling helpless.”

“I understand that feeling,” I said.

“It must be difficult for you, unable to continue your search for your husband,” he said.

“Well, you made a good point about it being easier for him to find me if I stay put,” I said, “much as it makes me impatient.”

“I’ll keep you informed about the situation to the east as I receive information,” he said, “which I realize isn’t much, but it’s all I can do at the moment. It really is dangerous out there right now.”

“I appreciate it,” I said. I really do. If the God-Empress has captured Hasskian, and is on the move again, our communication with the east will really be cut off. And, as I told Mattiak, I am so impatient, all the time. I throw myself into training so I’ll be too exhausted to think about what might have happened to Cederic and my friends. I wonder if Terrael has come to terms with the loss of his magic yet. I wonder how he and Audryn are bearing up under what must be the terrible stress of her still having magic when he doesn’t. I wonder if anyone’s trying to fix the locator kathanas.

Time to meet with my spies. Mattiak sent Nessan back with me after dinner. That strange uniform he wears? It means he’s a member of an elite military force, the White Squads, that are trained for infiltration and assassination. Nessan is going to put the spies through the training course his force uses. I’m afraid he might kill them by accident, but with the knowledge that the God-Empress is advancing, I think the time for coddling them is past.


Sesskia’s Diary, part 179

26 Nevrine

Mattiak—Tarallan offered me his praenoma tonight at dinner and asked the honor from me, and I do feel like we’re friends—is worried about the advance of the God-Empress’s army and the fact that we’re still stuck here in Venetry. He won’t come out and criticize the King, even behind his back, even privately to me, but it’s clear he’s frustrated at not having the power to do what he’s responsible to do, which is defend Balaen. Not protect the King, not protect Venetry, but defend our country.

The God-Empress is still besieging Hasskian, from last reports anyway, but it takes so long to get a messenger from there to Venetry that we won’t know if she’s taken the city until it’s already happened. Mattiak showed me how they’d attacked the Castaviran city to the north with the utensils and condiments on the table, and I didn’t really understand the details, but I think it made him feel better to have something concrete to focus on.

He also told me a few more details about the conflicts to the east that are centered on Colosse, not that he knew that, and asked if Cederic and I had a plan for finding each other. Of course we don’t, and that made me depressed, but he reassured me that the best chance we had of being reunited is for only one of us to do the searching, that my remaining in Venetry was the smart thing to do. That did make me feel better, as did the thought (which I couldn’t share with Mattiak) that Cederic and the mages are too powerful a force to simply have been destroyed no matter what had happened in Colosse. But I’d feel happier if any of Mattiak’s men would return with more specific information.

More progress. We set up some practice dummies from the archery range and worked on setting them on fire and smashing them with stones or bricks. I don’t like how excited everyone is about destroying them, because it feels like they’re not taking this seriously—that when we face the enemy, we’re going to do it to actual people who scream and die. That’s what war is.

I’m afraid some—maybe a lot—of these people won’t be able to use magic on living targets, but there’s no way to test that. I’ll have to ask Mattiak what soldiers do to become inured to killing people. Or maybe they don’t. Something else I can ask him.

Funny, that reminded me of some of my entries in the sixth book, where I was going to Cederic for everything and never realized I was falling in love with him. Not that I’m falling in love with Mattiak; I like talking to him, but I’m not attracted to him and he’s far too old for me. It’s just that we often end up talking about Cederic, so I come back from our dinners remembering things about my husband, especially memories that look different when I realize he was secretly in love with me. That trip by loenerel to Colosse, when he was always the one to come for me when it was mealtime, and I thought it was because he was trying to give me privacy to keep my book hidden, but it was actually because he was attracted to me and trying to work out how he felt.

Damn it. Now I’m crying. I thought I was past doing that.

My spies learned quickly from their first lesson and none of them were blinded last night. Rutika even managed to duck inside a wall when I “caught” her. Tonight I’m going to have them retrieve their first piece of “information”—a vase I borrowed from one of the sitting rooms and concealed in an unused bedroom. Oh! That reminds me that that bastard Norsselen claimed the best rooms for himself and his cronies, which is why we ended up in the old servants’ quarters. We’re not moving, of course, but it still makes me mad.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 178

25 Nevrine

More practicing. Hasseka and Saemon still fighting it out for greatest distance with the mind-moving pouvra. My spies are getting better at navigating the rope course. Last night was funny. The see-in-dark pouvra makes moving around at night easier, but they don’t have any experience with moving quietly, and were all caught completely off guard when I flung open the door to a well-lit room in their faces and made them cover their eyes and cry out in pain. Not that I took pleasure in that. Well, maybe a little.


It’s here! The next book in my Extraordinaries series, WONDERING SIGHT, is released today. How am I going to celebrate? With a visit to the dentist, you know, like you do…

WONDERING SIGHT is the story of Sophia Westlake, the Extraordinary Seer who discovered the secret of how the pirates were tracking the Royal Navy ships in BURNING BRIGHT. Sophia is a talented, well-respected Seer within the government’s War Office, with a perfect accuracy rating. But when she accuses Lord Endicott of embezzling from the government, her Dream is “proved” false, and she is expelled, sent back to London, her reputation intact only because the War Office would look bad in condemning her. Furious, Sophia decides to turn her talent toward bringing down Lord Endicott, with the help of her best friend Cecy and her cousin Lady Daphne St. Clair, an Extraordinary Bounder. But as Sophia draws ever nearer to bringing down her prey, she becomes increasingly like the man she’s sworn to destroy. Will Sophia’s success come at the cost of her own sanity–or even her life?

WONDERING SIGHT is available as an e-book here, and coming soon in print.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 177

24 Nevrine, continued

Anyway. I let them talk quietly among themselves for a while, maybe ten minutes, and then I went back and said, “Well? What do you think?”

Relania stepped forward. “You make a good point, Sesskia,” she said. “We’re not just opposed to violence because we think it’s inherently wrong, though most of us do. We’re opposed to it because we care about human life and the preservation of it. And we think it’s not enough to just sit back and not participate. So we’re ready to learn from you.”

“Some of us also want to know why you’re qualified to teach us to spy,” one of the mages said, grinning so I’d know he was teasing, and everyone laughed, myself included.

“Well, Keonn, the truth is I’ve had to do a lot of things in the course of learning magic, and one of those things is sneaking in and out of places,” I said. “You’ll be learning the concealment pouvra as part of this, but you have to remember it’s not invisibility, and you can’t rely on it to protect you. You also can’t rely on the walk-through-walls pouvra unless you think passing out is a good way to not be caught. So in addition to practicing those pouvrin, we’ll be learning how to move quietly, and how best to investigate an enemy’s home—or camp—and some other skills that will be of use in that. But first—” I waved my hand at the marked-off field—“we’re going to see how fast you can run.”

The rest of the afternoon was actually fun. I lined them up along the field and had them go insubstantial and see how far they could get before shortness of breath stopped them. Then I had them go inside the “houses” and practice putting their faces through the walls, trying not to expose themselves too much. And then I set them to walking the narrow, curving path I’d made with rope and bells. They couldn’t go insubstantial, and they couldn’t make the bells ring or I’d make them start over.

“You all know you can’t stay insubstantial forever,” I said when they complained. “You have to learn to move quietly, and you have to learn to pass obstacles. Yes, if this were a real camp, you’d just work the pouvra and walk through the whole thing, but you can’t always count on being able to do that. Tonight we’re going to do this in the manor, with the see-in-dark pouvra. Think how much of an advantage that will be.”

They’re all more enthusiastic about it than I thought possible. And Rutika is a born thief, not that I told her this. She can’t stay insubstantial as long as some of the others, but she walked the rope course perfectly the first time, and she has a very good sense for how far she can go through a wall to examine her surroundings without revealing too much of herself. I already have some special training planned for her.

I told most of this to Tarallan that evening when I “reported” to him—not the bit about Rutika being a good thief, but that she was going to be an excellent spy. He was very happy to learn how far a range most of us have, and pleased about the budding spy corps. I think he might have made a good thief himself, because he thinks about problems sideways the way I try to, and he appreciates the value of intelligence.

Our conversation went long enough that he invited me to eat with him again, and I accepted. This time we talked about other things as well as the war, mostly him telling me about his family, and me talking about my Dad—I really don’t know how we got on that subject. He seemed interested in the loss of our surname, and said, “So you don’t have any idea who your family was?”

“None, and I don’t really care,” I said. “From what I’ve seen of the upper classes, there’s nothing inherently wonderful about being part of them. And it’s not like I could regain our status even if I knew what the surname was.”

“I’d think it would be uncomfortable, not knowing if I had a connection to one of these families,” he said. “Suppose Lenssar was your uncle, for example.”

I shuddered. “Sorry, I don’t mean to disrespect Lord Lenssar, but—”

“—it would be like being related to a weasel,” Tarallan said.

I laughed. “A little. But the only thing I know is our family line was completely lost, so it’s unlikely I’m, for example, the King’s long lost heir.”

“Too bad,” he said. “That is, the King having an heir would almost mean more to Balaen than winning this war.”

“Why is that?” I asked. This was the first I’d heard of the King not having an heir.

“Obviously the King has no offspring, and he hasn’t designated an heir,” he said, “which means if he were to die, the noble houses would go to war, so to speak—or maybe literally, I’m not sure—over who would take the throne. I’m not privy to their machinations, but I imagine the Chamber Lords have an edge over the others, and there’s no question they’re building support for themselves even though the King is relatively young and quite healthy.”

“One more reason not to belong to the upper classes,” I said, and we parted on that note. I like him. He’s interesting, and clever, and never makes me feel stupid when I say something that shows I know nothing about military science. I think we might become friends.

Time to go teach my spies about moving silently in the dark.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 176

24 Nevrine

Unbelievable. Once we got access to a nearly unlimited space to practice, it became clear a lot of these mages had power nobody dreamed of. We went north of the city today, where there isn’t anything but fallow land stretching all the way to the northern forests a hundred miles away, and spent the morning marking off distances. The farthest marker was at two hundred yards, which I thought was optimistic, but better to have marked off too far than too short, right?

We marked too short. I was able to start a fire five hundred yards from our starting mark without even straining. Daerdra reached nearly as far. Hasseka and Saemon were so nearly tied for mind-moving things at five hundred and fifty yards’ distance that we spent half an hour watching them compete for first place. That contest is still undecided. The fire-rope is limited in distance; no one could manifest it farther than fifty feet away, even me, but that’s a one-on-one “weapon” so that makes sense.

Once we’d extended the markings on the field, and I’d demonstrated the kind of exercises I wanted everyone to do, I left Jeddan in charge and had a handful of mind-movers help me set up the things I’d brought in a very large, very heavy wagon pulled by a team of placid horses whose shaggy winter coats made them look warmer than we were. At the end, we had a couple of “houses” that were really just prefabricated walls jammed into the ground at right angles to each other, no roofs, a lot of sticks standing upright with ropes strung between them to make a path, said ropes being hung with little brass bells, and another wide stretch of empty field marked off at ten foot intervals.

Relania’s group watched all of this curiously—they don’t have the fire or mind-moving pouvrin, so it was either watch me or watch the great clouds of steam that went up wherever someone set a fire in the snowy field. When I was finished with my preparations, I called them to me and said, “You haven’t made any secret of the fact that you don’t believe we should be using magic for violence. Now, I don’t know if that means you don’t want to be here at all, or if you wish there were something else you could do. What I do know is that King and Chamber see us as key to fighting the, um, invading army, and they are extremely unwilling to let any advantage slip away. Which means unless you want to make the kind of stink Norsselen did, you’re stuck here.”

“If you’re trying to make us feel bad, Sesskia, it won’t work,” Relania said. “We’re all committed to principles of non-violence.”

“Believe it or not, I agree with you,” I said, “mostly, anyway. I’ve spent most of my life trying not to get into fights.” Of course, my reasons for doing so weren’t that I believe violence is always the wrong way to handle conflict—sometimes it’s the only way—but that I’m too small to be an effective fighter. But that was irrelevant. “So I’m not going to train you to be fighters. I’m going to train you to be spies.”

That got them talking all at once. The voice that won out over the rest wasn’t Relania’s, but Tobiak’s. He’s about fifteen years old with terrible acne, poor kid, but he’s got the kind of self-confidence you usually only see in really attractive people. “How is that any different from making us fight?” he said. “We’re still advancing the cause of the military.”
“Tobiak,” I said, “what is the purpose of pacifism? In your opinion.”
“To oppose violence as a tool to make people do things,” he said. “To prevent people from being hurt or killed.”
“Sesskia, that’s not what—” Relania said.
“I know it’s not as accurate a definition as you’d like, Relania,” I said, “but the point here is to establish what exactly all of you want to accomplish by refusing to use pouvrin in the war. Am I right that you don’t want to be responsible for people’s deaths?”
They looked at each other, then began nodding, some vehemently, others as if they still weren’t sure. I pushed forward so I wouldn’t lose momentum.
“I know you don’t like it, but this war is happening whether you fight with us or not,” I said. “I don’t like it either. I think it’s idiotic that our people and their people can’t figure out a way to live in peace. But the army that’s advancing on us is commanded by a madwoman who doesn’t give a damn how many people die in her conquest of both countries. She doesn’t even care how many of her own people die. General Tarallan is working to stop her before too many people are killed. To do that, he needs information. And that is what spies are for—to minimize losses and end wars more quickly.”
Most of them were looking confused, but to my surprise, one or two people had looks on their faces that said both that they’d never thought of it that way before, and that now that they had thought of it, it made perfect sense.
“So you need to consider this,” I said. “I’m not going to make you learn those offensive pouvrin. I’m not going to make you do anything that violates your principles. If you want, you can sit this out in Fianna Manor—I won’t even let the General know I’m not sending him all my mages. And you will have absolutely no effect on stopping this war. Or…you can learn to gather information about our enemies, give it to people who know how to use it, and maybe keep hundreds or even thousands from dying. It’s up to you.”
And I walked away and went back to watching mages argue over how to bring boulders here so people could practice their lifting as well as their distance. And that is almost exactly word-for-word what I said. It felt right, again, only better because I wasn’t making a speech to bully someone. And I can’t even say I learned it from watching Cederic, because he doesn’t make speeches. I don’t know where it came from. It just felt good, the kind of feeling I usually only get when I’m doing magic. I think I felt like an actual leader for the first time today.
to be continued…

Sesskia’s Diary, part 175

23 Nevrine

The good news: everyone with fire or mind-moving pouvrin can work their magic at a distance of 100 feet, which is from one side of the ballroom to the other. The bad news: we’re pretty sure everyone’s actual range is a good deal farther than that, and we can’t practice finding the real distance without dropping fire or stones on the heads of people in the lower city.

In order to have that kind of practice area, we’ll have to go outside the city—at least a mile outside the city. And transporting all of us is a logistical nightmare. We lose too much work time in transit. But I don’t dare suggest that we set up a camp outside the walls, out in the cold and snow (it’s been snowing heavily for two days, on and off), or I’d have a mutiny to deal with. So as frustrated as I am, I’ve had to accept the situation as it is.

So tomorrow morning there will be many, many carriages to drive us to our new practice grounds. All of us, including those who don’t have an offensive pouvra, and Relania’s group tried to pitch a fit about that until I said they would be learning new tactics that did not involve doing violence to anyone. I guess we’ll see tomorrow whether espionage falls under their rules about non-violence.

I wish there were three of me. I have two, maybe three mages who are almost capable of taking over the fire pouvra instruction, and when that happens I can focus on—well, it’s not exactly “focus on” if there are three things you’re splitting your attention between. I’m excited about teaching my pacifist mages thief skills, seeing if any of them take to it naturally. I was, after all, a thief before I was a mage, and I’m proud of those skills.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 174

22 Nevrine, half an hour later

I’m confident I can reproduce twelve of the th’an Cederic used. Damn it, if I had that hypothetical memory pouvra…I would still not have any idea how to turn the th’an into a pouvra. I guess that’s not entirely true; I remember how the binding th’an came together into a pouvra, and I know that pouvra works even if I don’t know what it’s for. But this is a lot more th’an than the binding had, and I don’t think I can keep all the pieces in my head at once, let alone practice arranging them into a pouvra. I need an alternative. But not tonight. I’m so tired now.

I forgot to write about dinner with Tarallan, so I guess I’m not going to sleep yet. He’s set up his headquarters in one of the manors about a quarter mile from ours—not in Janeka Manor, which I think makes a statement about the army’s relationship to the king—but it’s surprisingly non-martial in feel, at least the part of it I saw. Probably he’s turned most of the ground floor public rooms into offices. But we had dinner in a very nice dining room, not a huge one like ours but small, with just the one round table, and it was a good meal. I wonder if his cook goes with him when he’s out campaigning. I have trouble imagining anyone, no matter how good a cook, producing meals like that one over a camp stove, so probably not.

Anyway, we ate, and discussed tactics. Tarallan wants us to practice extending the range of our pouvrin, so we can attack more distant targets. Apparently the God-Empress’s battle mages can do damage from a great distance, and we’re intended to neutralize them (Tarallan’s word) rather than use our magic on the army itself.

Tarallan told me about the Castaviran city they’d been besieging when they were summoned back to Venetry thanks to our information. Our side didn’t know exactly how it all started, but Tarallan thinks when the city appeared (from our perspective) their ruler decided to start conquering territory by running over all these towns that lie along the highway between Venetry and Durran. I felt sick listening to Tarallan’s description of what they’d done to those Balaenic towns, even though he didn’t go into much detail. They’d managed to claim a good chunk of Balaen before King and Chamber learned about it and dispatched the army.

Tarallan pinned down their forces, making them retreat to their city, and the siege had been going very well until they were forced to withdraw. Tarallan is bitter about that, but he puts a good face on it because it’s not the King’s fault that the God-Empress is marching on Venetry.

I asked him more about the army staying at Venetry rather than advancing south, and he said, “Position is important. By leaving immediately, we have a chance to choose our ground. If we wait here long enough, we’ll be fighting a defensive battle, and in this case that’s a mistake. I want to catch the enemy when they’re weakened from fighting a hundred little battles around Hasskian, not when they’ve had time to regroup and rest and, not incidentally, cut us off from some of our support.”

“Are there more troops in Balaen you can call on?” I asked. “I assume they’ve already eliminated the forces at Calassmir.”

“Unfortunately,” Tarallan said with a frown. “Our forces are already divided. I had to leave troops to watch that enemy city, just in case they decide to emerge and go back to sacking and looting the countryside, or, true God forbid, nip at our heels. There are several divisions at Barrekel, but we haven’t regained contact with them, and for all I know they’re fighting off more enemy invaders and aren’t able to join us. Hasskian doesn’t have much more than a token force these days, and Denderiss has its hands full dealing with Fensadderian refugees and maintaining the border defense. It sounds as if Fensadderis is falling apart more rapidly now than it was before, which means it must be in utter chaos.”

“I wish people could be told what really happened,” I said. Jeddan and I had explained a bit about the convergence to King and Chamber, claiming to have learned it because we are such gifted, experienced mages, but I’m not sure how much they believed. The King got it into his head that everyone in this world had a counterpart in Castavir and kept asking, worriedly, what we were doing about his double. Tarallan, on the other hand, understood it quickly and had asked a lot of questions at the beginning of the meal. After dealing with King and Chamber so often, it’s refreshing to talk to someone so intelligent and quick-witted.

“I don’t think it matters,” Tarallan said. “It’s unfortunate, but people will always be afraid of things, and people, they don’t understand. Conflict is inevitable.”

“But it shouldn’t have to be, if we try to understand each other,” I said, but I remembered how afraid and suspicious I’d been of the Darssan mages before Terrael gave me their language, and knew Tarallan was right. It left me feeling discouraged, thinking once again of the destruction of both our worlds not by the convergence, but by each other.

“What’s troubling you?” Tarallan said. Did I mention he’s observant as well as intelligent?

I cast about for something to say that wouldn’t implicate myself as a Castaviran sympathizer and came up with, “I’m worried about my husband. We were separated during the convergence and I don’t know where he is.”

“I…didn’t realize you were married,” Tarallan said, sitting back in his chair. “Where were you when you were separated?”

“Near the Myrnala River, several days’ journey north of Garwin,” I said. “The middle of nowhere, or at least it was. Who knows what kind of Cas—of invader cities might have appeared there?” Like, for example, their strife-ridden capital.

“It’s a dangerous place these days,” Tarallan said. “The messengers we sent in that direction returned with news that the whole area has been occupied by the enemy. I hope your husband is unharmed.”

“I’m sure he is,” I said. “I was traveling to find him when the trouble at Calassmir, and the King’s summons, brought me here.”

“Just as well,” he said. “You might have been killed, and the mages would be leaderless, and my dinner just now would have been a good deal more boring.”

I laughed, and said, “The mages wouldn’t lack for leadership, they’d still have Norsselen.”

“Really?” Tarallan said. “You make it sound as if Norsselen’s leaving was a response to your presence.”

“I, um, that’s a little true,” I said. “We had some differences of opinion, and he chose to, um, go elsewhere to use his talents.”

“I think you may be prevaricating,” Tarallan said, but with a smile. “However, you seem extremely competent, and the mages seem happy, so I’m willing to accept your version of events. And I admit I enjoy your company.”

“Thank you, General,” I said. “I enjoy yours as well.”

“That’s fortunate, because I’m going to require you to bring me a report every evening on your troop’s progress,” he said. “I want to know when new mages arrive, what progress they make on learning pouvrin, and I especially want to know how those ranges are extending. A verbal report will be enough, and I expect to see you between six and six-thirty every evening.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, pretending seriousness, and that made him laugh.

“Keep in mind I’m still your superior officer, Thalessi,” he said, “and you’re to show respect.” He smiled at me to show he wasn’t entirely serious. Which is to say, I know he believes respect is key to good discipline, but he’s not so stiff as to have no sense of humor.

“I certainly intend to, but you should keep in mind I’m not military and I don’t always know how to be properly respectful,” I said in the same light tone.

“I’ll let you know if you overstep,” he said, still smiling, and rose to indicate the meal, and the meeting, was over. And now I truly am exhausted. I wonder what I’d be doing if I were with Cederic instead of here in Venetry. Not sleeping alone, for one.


Sesskia’s Diary, part 173

22 Nevrine, continued

Crossar stayed behind to talk to Tarallan. It didn’t seem like a private discussion, but I didn’t think it had anything to do with me, so I was about to excuse myself when Tarallan said, “Nessan tells me all mages have the same eye color. Is that true?”

It took me a minute to remember where I’d heard that name before—the soldier at the gate. “It’s true,” I said. “Nobody who doesn’t have those eyes developed magic after the event.”

“Fortunate for you no one knew that until recently,” Crossar said. “You would have found it much more difficult to stay hidden.”

“I’m grateful for that, Honored,” I said.

“So would it be worth seeking out more like you?” Tarallan said. “Rather than waiting for them to come forward on their own?”

“We don’ t actually know whether everyone with those eyes developed magic. If they aren’t already mages—if they haven’t already developed a pouvra—I don’t know how to give them that,” I said. “So I’m not sure it would increase our numbers any faster. It would depend on how many resources you have to put toward doing it, identifying actual mages before sending them here.”

“Then we’ll focus on training the ones we have, and spread the word of the King’s summons more widely,” Crossar said. “But I don’t know how much time we have.”

“The enemy has laid siege to Hasskian,” Tarallan said. “If we leave immediately, we might be able to trap them against the city before it’s overcome.”

“Hasskian can hold out indefinitely,” Crossar said.

“Not against the weapons this army has,” Tarallan said. “Not only those battle mages, but weapons we’ve never seen before. They seem to work like rifles, but they fire shot the size of a man’s head that fractures when it hits its target. My spies tell me Hasskian’s walls are starting to look like lacework.”

My stomach churned at the thought of Hasskian and all its inhabitants being overrun. I wondered if those mystery weapons could be the war wagons. The God-Empress couldn’t have many of them, could she, if Vorantor had transferred most of them to Aselfos’s troops? Idiot, who says that room you saw was the only one she had? I thought. I considered telling them about the war wagons, realized I couldn’t without giving away knowledge I shouldn’t have, realized further there was nothing I could tell them they didn’t already know, and held my tongue.

“I don’t have the power to order the army away from the city,” Crossar said, “and the—” He seemed to realize I was still there, listening, and turned a frown on me. “Excuse us, Thalessi,” he said, and I nodded and walked away.

It’s strange that the Chamber Lord of Defense doesn’t have power to maintain the kingdom’s defense, if he can’t order the army to move. I guessed the King, frightened of Venetry being overrun and himself taken or killed by the God-Empress’s army, insisted the army make their stand here. I don’t know enough about strategy to understand what the best battleground is, but I think Tarallan, and probably Crossar, do, and it’s not in the area surrounding Venetry. My respect for the King, never great, is diminishing.

Tarallan and Crossar talked for a while longer; I watched them covertly as I worked with my group. Finally Crossar exchanged farewell salutes with Tarallan, looked at me in a way that told me he knew I’d been watching, and left the room. Tarallan also looked my way and nodded to indicate I should join him.

“You heard enough to know what the problem is,” he said without preamble.

“I guessed the King doesn’t want the army to leave Venetry,” I said.

“Not a single division of it,” Tarallan said. “Even though the enemy has divided her own forces somewhat. Hasskian’s the only city of any size in that area, but she’s spreading out to take over all the smaller cities surrounding it, taking what provisions she can and killing the inhabitants. If she can afford to do that and still smash Hasskian’s defenses to powder, she’s a formidable threat.”

“Does that affect what the mages are doing?” I said.

“Only in the sense that the more of you we have, the better,” he said. “Hence my question about searching out mages rather than waiting passively for them to arrive.”

“They still come in, a few at a time,” I said, “and about half of them already know the offensive pouvrin. I just wish I could be sure they can use them, um, offensively.”

“No way to know until we come to that point,” he agreed. “I’d like to discuss more of the tactics I want you to use, but I don’t have time until evening. Let’s meet over dinner.”

“All right,” I said, and we arranged a time. Then he left, and I went back to working with the mages. Two more came in that afternoon, both fire mages, both in my group (interestingly, the majority of my group started with the fire pouvra, and most of Jeddan’s knew the mind-moving pouvra first, and the third group is primarily the see-in-dark pouvra. Something for me to study if I had any time which I do NOT). This gives us a total of forty-nine mages. We’re going to need another dining room soon.

Out of forty-nine mages:

  1. Thirty-six know the fire pouvra, and fourteen of those can do the fire rope.
  2. Twenty-five know the mind-moving pouvra. All of them except Jeddan and me can lift weights of at least five pounds, all the way up to Saemon at several hundred, and I think he hasn’t reached his limit.
  3. Twenty of 1 and 2 combined can do both pouvrin.
  4. Eleven mages have three pouvrin, and all of those except Relania have fire and mind-moving as two of theirs.
  5. The remaining eight are all, probably not coincidentally, Relania’s pacifist friends. They’re all good at seeing in the dark and walking through things. I haven’t told them yet that this makes them perfect spies. I’m saving that in reserve for if Relania gets too smug about her pacifism.

I’ve spent the last few nights going over what I can remember the Castaviran mages doing, wondering if there’s any way I can build a pouvra to replicate those things. I have a good memory, but I don’t

Oh. The shield. Cederic’s shield kathana. Tarallan never said anything about the God-Empress using it, and I think Cederic only taught it to the Colosse troops. But—no, it’s impossible. It was so complicated, I can barely remember half of what he did.