Sesskia’s Diary, part 12

20 Senessay

There was just no time yesterday to bring this record up to date. So much has happened—and yet I don’t feel much has changed. One change is that Sai Aleynten knows about this book now. I left it on the dresser when I lay down, and then I fell asleep—I’ve been sleeping restlessly, and I suppose I was more tired than I realized. I woke to a knock at the door, and then Sai Aleynten came in without waiting for me to invite him, which might be a Castaviran custom but is more likely just Sai Aleynten being himself. “I could have been naked,” was the first thing that emerged from my mouth, and then I wanted the floor to swallow me up. Sai Aleynten just raised an eyebrow and said, “Is it a custom of your people to sleep naked?”

“It’s a custom of my people to wait to be invited before entering a room,” I said, wishing once again I could come up with snarky responses to him.

“My apologies,” he said, which surprised me, as I didn’t think he was in the habit of apologizing to anyone. Then he saw the book lying on the dresser and went to pick it up, so I jumped off the bed and snatched it up before he could touch it. “I meant no harm,” he said.

“It’s private,” I said. The idea of anyone reading this book—yes, now I remember he couldn’t read my language any more than I could read his, but at the time I was a little sleep-fogged and paranoid.

“I cannot read your language,” he pointed out (see, he could think clearly!) and held out his hand, and I gave it to him. I wish I had half his presence, though really, if I did it would just draw attention to me, which is fatal for a thief and even worse for a secret mage.

He flipped through the pages, turned it over and looked at the cover, then handed it back to me. “Did you make this yourself?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. I didn’t explain about how hard it was to find blank books, how I’d taught myself bookbinding with the help of a manuscript and scrounged the end pages from other books for paper, because that’s not really interesting to anyone but myself. But it’s an accomplishment I’m proud of.

“It’s very fine workmanship,” he said. “And you are writing…what?”

I was going to say “My business” but when I opened my mouth, what came out was, “A record of my journeys.” Damn him.

Sai Aleynten nodded, thoughtfully. “But you have been traveling for many years. Are the others lost?”

“They were in my pack when you—when I came here,” I said, “and all of that stayed behind.”

“I am sorry for that,” he said. “It must be a great loss.”

I couldn’t think what to say to that. “Thank you,” was what I eventually came up with. I put the book away inside my clothes and said, “Do you finally have some answers for me?” I probably did look belligerent then. I know I sounded belligerent, because Sai Aleynten raised his eyebrow at me and smiled, just a tiny bit, and beckoned to me to follow him.

Now I wonder why he didn’t send a messenger, Terrael or somebody, to fetch me. I’m still puzzling over that. I doubt the Wrelan has any time to waste going after inconvenient women who disrupt his institution. I suppose it’s not important, but it’s too strange for me to forget entirely.

We went, not into the cavern, but into the eating room, which was filling up fast. There have to be at least two hundred people in the Darssan, maybe more, and the room was barely big enough to hold them all. There certainly weren’t enough stools, though someone near the front stood and gave me hers when Sai Aleynten and I approached. The front, that is, defined as the place where Sai Aleynten stood, since everyone immediately focused on him. I sat and waited. I don’t mind writing that I was nervous, though at the time I had absolutely no idea just how much cause for nervousness, let alone fear and panic, I had.

Sai Aleynten just stood facing the room, hands clasped behind his back. He didn’t seem as smug as he usually was, I think, more…he was almost eager, if he ever displayed that kind of emotion. It was just that there was a tenseness to him that made me think of how it feels the first time I try a new pouvra, the anticipation and nervousness and excited fear that maybe I’m wrong about it and this could be the time it kills me, though I’ve never seen references to improper use of pouvrin killing anyone. That kind of tenseness.

Eventually, the room settled down, and no more people entered, and Sai Aleynten waited just a minute more before saying, “You all saw the kathana fail. It should have brought us the Codex Tiurindi, and it brought Thalessi instead.” He paused—I could just see his face getting smug, like he was about to say something profound—and said, “It did not fail. The th’an described a literal interpretation of the kathana, and rather than bring us the Codex, it fulfilled its instructions perfectly. However, were wrong in one key fact. We assumed Thalessi came to us from a time before the disaster. I have now confirmed that Thalessi is actually an inhabitant of the shadow world.”

There was half a second of silence, and then everyone started talking at full volume. I just sat there, stunned, because what Sai Aleynten said made no sense to me. Balaen isn’t shadowy and neither am I. Sai Aleynten just stood there looking smug at the commotion he’d caused, so I jumped up and shouted, “That’s not an explanation, that’s just you being a smug git and saying things that make no sense! I demand you tell me what hell you’re talking about!” (More or less word for word what I said. The rest of this…I paid very close attention, because I knew it would matter to me more than anyone else there, so I’ve only had to fill in a few blanks. Much more of this and my memory might actually be good enough to recall everything word for word. Maybe there’s a pouvra for that.)

I actually got a reaction out of Sai Aleynten, the slightest look of surprise at my attack before the smug look descended again. “You’re correct, you deserve more of an explanation,” he said, and in a louder voice said, “Please calm yourselves. Thalessi has more questions than the rest of you, and I think she should have answers. Master Peressten, please explain to our guest what we know about the shadow world.”

Terrael jumped up from where he was sitting, two tables over and a few seats back. “Of course, Sai Aleynten,” he said. “Thalessi, a long time ago, nobody knows exactly how long, a group of mages was working on a powerful kathana. We don’t know what it was supposed to do, but what actually happened was a catastrophe that caused the world to peel into two separate worlds, each invisible to the other. Not that anyone knew this at first. All we knew—all that history records—is that there was widespread devastation. Cities were destroyed, people were killed, knowledge lost. If someone, or some place, disappeared, it was assumed they or it had simply been lost in the cataclysm. It wasn’t until this decade that anyone knew what had truly happened. People started seeing ghosts, not just of people but of buildings and animals, all of them foreign-looking, and the mages of the Darssan discovered that those “ghosts” were, well, shadowy images of people and places that exist in the other world. That’s why we call it the shadow world. We believe the same things are happening in your world—to you, we would be the ghosts.”

That raised a whole slew of questions, but I went with, “So why are these ghosts appearing?”

“Because the worlds are coming back together,” Sai Aleynten said. “As they near one another, more of the shadow world becomes visible to us. And vice versa, probably.”

More questions. “What does that mean? What happens when they recombine?” I said.

Sai Aleynten’s face was still again, and much less smug. “Disaster,” he said. “For both worlds. Destruction on a level not seen in millennia. Countries will fall, hundreds of thousands will die. We of the Darssan have been working for the last two years to discover a way to prevent it happening.”

At this point, I was overflowing with questions to the point that I couldn’t ask any of them. Fortunately, Sai Aleynten kept on going. “The Codex Tiurindi was a book referred to many times in later texts. It supposedly contained the kathana those first mages created, the one whose failure caused the division of worlds. We intended to summon it from the past, from a time before it was destroyed. But the kathana we used was not specific enough—could not be, because we know very little about the book—and instead it attempted to reverse the effects of the failed kathana, the one that separated the worlds. Since we use safeguards to prevent exactly that, it was able only to bring the worlds into contact briefly, at a single point—and, as its th’an still instructed it to summon something, it brought whatever was at that point from the shadow world into our own. It found you.”

The shouting began again, though I remember thinking it was terribly distant and quiet now, and I found myself inexplicably fascinated with the smooth-rough texture of the table I sat at, how it felt like sandpaper under my palms, but pebbly sandpaper that’s been used so often it loses its bite. I couldn’t stop looking at Sai Aleynten, whose face had gone expressionless again, and it felt as if—it’s strange, but it felt as if despite the commotion he and I were the only people who really cared about what was happening to the world. To our worlds.

I opened my mouth to speak, and Sai Aleynten raised his hand for quiet, and of course he got it. “Ask,” he said to me.

“It’s not a question,” I said. I still can’t believe, even looking back as I am now, that everything was so obvious. “You can’t send me back, can you? The worlds would have to touch again, and every time that happens, there’s a chance the worlds will snap back together. You’re not saying it, but I know I’m right about this.”

Sai Aleynten paused, then nodded. “We did not realize the danger we were in with the kathana that brought you here,” he said. “Those safeguards I spoke of become less effective as the worlds draw nearer to one another. In only a few weeks we will be unable to use certain kathanas for that reason.”

“And how long before the…catastrophe?” I said.

Again, he paused, considering. “Months, possibly. At the most.”

That left me, once again, with nothing to say. I was trapped here. My world—this is still overwhelming, to write “my world” so casually, as if it weren’t the stuff of some child’s fantasy—is going to be destroyed if the Darssan can’t stop it, because no one in Balaen or anywhere else knows enough about magic to prevent the destruction. Right now I’m furious, because it’s the only way I can keep from falling into despair—furious at those long-dead mages and their stupid, careless kathana that could not possibly have been worth what’s happening to us now.

There. I did a couple of fire-summoning pouvrin and I feel better, though one of those window paintings is blackened now. I think I can focus on finishing this record. Sometimes using magic relaxes me, and sometimes it makes me tenser, and I don’t know what makes the difference, but that’s not important now.

After Sai Aleynten said that, about it being a matter of months before the worlds came back together, the room got noisy again. This time it was the sound of a lot of people having technical discussions about what they were working on to stop the destruction. Sai Aleynten said nothing, just kept looking at me with that still, not as smug as usual expression, until I said, “What can I do?”

That shut everyone up, though not all at once—the silence spread out from around me to the farthest corners of the room until everything was quiet. Sai Aleynten said nothing. I said, “Do you really think that kathana brought me here because I was convenient? Me, one of the only people in my country, possibly in my world, who knows how to use pouvrin?”

Sai Aleynten said, “No. Had you not been in that place at that time, the kathana would simply have failed. I think whatever it is about you that can work magic…resonated with the kathana. I think your magic comes from a time before the separation. You are able to do many of the things we do with th’an, but in a different way, a way that has been lost to us.”

“And you think that is the key to finding the kathana that will stop the worlds coming together,” I said.

Sai Aleynten smiled that thin little smile again. “I see you need little explanation to grasp the essence of a problem,” he said. “Yes, I believe your magic may be of use to us.”

I didn’t like the sound of that—as if my magic were something that could be separated from me, like the yolk of an egg—but I thought of the places I’ve visited, thought of them being destroyed by being mashed together with their Castaviran counterparts (though I don’t know if that’s how it happens, but then, does it really matter?) and made a decision. “Then I’ll help you,” I said, and Sai Aleynten’s smile grew fractionally wider.

“Sai Aleynten,” Audryn said from somewhere behind me, and I swiveled around in my seat, craning to see her, “how will this affect our research?”

“For most of you, nothing will change,” he said. “The general shape of the kathana will remain the same, and we will still need to determine whether it is possible to return the worlds to their original, fully separated state, or if it is only possible to halt the recombination. For those of you who have been searching the most ancient records for kathanas that might help us, you will now work directly with me to interpret those records in light of the knowledge Sesskia brings to us. For the remainder of the day I expect each of you to reevaluate your research. Look for

All right. Enough of that. I’m just lying at this point in implying that I remembered all of that verbatim. And I’m being unfair to Sai Aleynten. I may dislike him, but throughout this speech it started to become clear to me why everyone here defers to him, and it’s not because of his presence (which is powerful) and it’s not because he’s so much better at magic than they are (though I gather he’s skilled beyond the reach of anyone except Terrael, who’s hampered by his lack of common sense). Keeping the worlds from coming together is something that matters to him tremendously, and it was obvious even to me, who has trouble seeing past his smug face, that he respects and admires everyone who was in that room, and genuinely believes if anyone can find a solution to this problem, they can. And I could tell that having his respect made every one of those people resolve to be worthy of it. It was strange, seeing him through their eyes, and it’s made me reevaluate my first impressions of him. Though I still think he thinks too highly of himself, Sai or no.

So, basically, what Sai Aleynten said was they would have to go at their research in a different direction, but he didn’t want to entirely throw away what they’d learned so far. And he told me he would work with me directly, which obviously didn’t fill me with joy, but I could see the sense in it. Then he asked everyone to separate into their “working groups,” which I assume means the knots of people I observed while I was wandering around the tables waiting for Sai Aleynten, and come up with ideas for how to investigate my magic. Another thing that didn’t make me feel very happy, and made my opinion of Sai Aleynten drop again, because I’m afraid if I don’t push back he’s going to treat me like a thing and forget I’m a person. Well, I may not hate him as much anymore, but I sure as hell don’t think he deserves my respect and he’s definitely not getting my unthinking compliance.

All of this took until early afternoon yesterday, but then people kept coming to me and asking questions, then making notes on their writing boards and going away to discuss. Since it was usually the same questions over and over again, that made me irritable and bored at the same time, and I wish I’d thought to tell Sai Aleynten just to keep everyone gathered together to ask their questions, but he disappeared and no one else seemed inclined to take the initiative. That went on until it was almost too late for dinner, and I was starving, but Terrael and Audryn sat with me and asked more normal questions about my culture, and told me things about theirs, and that was almost fun. Then I was too tired to write, and that brings me to now. I woke unnaturally early today and couldn’t fall back asleep, so I decided to bring this book up to date, and now I’m thinking about breakfast. I imagine today is going to be more exciting than yesterday, and Sai Aleynten will have things for me to do, and I’ll be able to see an actual kathana instead of just Sai Aleynten wiggling his fingers, as impressive as that is. But breakfast first.