Sesskia’s Diary, part 92

8 Coloine, very early

I was right to be suspicious of Vorantor, though I still don’t know exactly what he’s up to. I’ve decided to write all this down before taking it to Cederic, since there’s nothing he can do about it now, but there were things that happened before I found Vorantor in what I’m sure are illicit activities, so I have to make a quick list before I forget the details:

  1. snake, arch, fork
  2. pictures (he’s a good artist, maybe that’s something all mages in this world learn)
  3. why did he spit?
  4. rhythm tap tap taptaptap thump

Before that: last night Cederic finally came to bed before I fell asleep, and though we were both too tired for sex, we cuddled together and I poured out my fears to him. I love how he listens like what you’re saying is the most important thing in the world.

When I was finished, he wiped away the few stupid, self-indulgent tears I’d cried and said, “It doesn’t matter if our mages succeed. The kathana Denril has invented has no room for your magic, and it is bound to fail.”

“So why aren’t you doing something about it?” I said, sitting up in outrage.

He pulled me back down to lie close beside him. “Because he is not listening to me,” he said, “and there is a smugness about him that I do not understand. I may have the allegiance of the mages, but Denril still has control of the kathana, and he is relying far too heavily on the th’an Master Peressten extrapolated. He is clearly building the kathana to his glory without regard for whether or not it will work.”

“I don’t understand how he can do that!” I said. “He’ll suffer as much as anyone if we can’t bring the worlds together safely.”

“I think he intends to make the failure look like my fault, to make me look like a fool, and then he will reveal another kathana, this one effective. This is my fault. I should not have humiliated him so thoroughly,” Cederic said.

“If you hadn’t, he would have found another way to strike at you,” I said.

“Probably true,” he said. “At any rate, I have asked Master Peressten to observe him; he can get closer to Denril than I. And I am studying the false kathana when Denril is not present, to see if there is any way to salvage it. If we make corrections…and don’t worry that your efforts don’t seem to be successful. Just keep working at what you’ve been doing. If it doesn’t affect the kathana, it will almost certainly matter after the worlds come back together.”

He kissed me, then said, “I apologize, but I have to leave you now. I have very little opportunity to study the kathana without Denril hovering behind me.”

“But—” I began, then realized I was being selfish. “I understand,” I said. “Just as you will understand that I intend to go exploring now.”

His face went impassive in the way it does when he’s trying to control a strong emotion, then he said, “Where do you intend to go?”

“Somewhere you’re happier not knowing about,” I said, then, when he began to protest, I said, “I’m going to snoop around in Vorantor’s room. If he’s trying to get you out of the way somehow, I want to know about it.”

“You are correct, I was happier not knowing that,” Cederic said. “Though I was afraid you were going back to examine those war wagons again. I admit to being curious about them myself, though I think it is less safe for you to pass those guards than any of the other places you have gone wandering.”

“I agree, and I’m not going there tonight,” I said.

“Which implies that you will do so some other night,” Cederic said.

“I knew you were brilliant,” I said, and he laughed and held me tight for a moment, then released me to rise and dress. I did the same, then concealed myself and watched him move silently down the hall to the stairs before going, equally silently, to Vorantor’s door. No light came from beneath it, so I sneaked to the end of the hall and checked the observatory.

Sure enough, Vorantor was there, sitting where he always did. It was too dark for me to make out any details, so I don’t know if he had a note or not, but that wasn’t important. I crept back to his room and passed through the wall, then used the see-in-dark pouvra and took a look around.

Vorantor—this wasn’t new, I’d learned it the last time I’d been in his room—is very neat and has almost no personal belongings aside from his clothing. I went through his wardrobe and found several ceremonial robes of different levels of splendor, though I’m sure I’d have been more impressed with them if I could have seen colors.

He also had a lot of shoes; I think he could wear a different pair of shoes every day for a week. He uses only one drawer of his dresser, for underclothing, and I poked through that in case he was a fool and kept important things there. Nothing.

There were no rugs on his floor, which is one of the places I look first when I’m searching for hidden documents. The lack of rugs almost got me caught, later, and I still wonder why Vorantor doesn’t have such basic amenities. Though I suppose, based on what I witnessed in his room, he might have had them removed on purpose.

I checked under his pillows (he has more than I do), between his mattresses and in the frame of the bed, felt along the top of the canopy frame, and found nothing. Since I didn’t know what I was looking for, I wasn’t terribly disappointed. I slipped behind his bed, which had been shoved nearly all the way against the wall (that made no sense at the time, but I get it now), and checked underneath it and along the wall.

There was a niche very like the one in my room, the one that’s practically an invitation to hide things, and I was about to feel around inside it, just to be thorough, when the door opened and Vorantor came in. I closed my eyes in time to avoid being blinded by his lamp. I was crouched behind the bed, so between that and the concealment pouvra I wasn’t worried about him seeing me, but I went very still anyway until the effects of the see-in-dark pouvra wore off.

When I opened my eyes again, he was removing his gold and brown “working” robe; fortunately for my peace of mind, he wore a sleeveless tunic under it, because what I do not need to see again is Vorantor’s very pale, slightly flabby skin. Just one more reason for him to be jealous of Cederic, who is wonderfully handsome and has not a bit of flab anywhere.

I closed my eyes again, in case he was undressing for the night, but I heard him taking things out of his wardrobe, so I opened my eyes again and saw him pulling a richly embroidered red robe around himself, and despite my well-trained self-control I nearly made an indignant noise, because he is not entitled to the robe of a Kilios! I don’t even know how he got one!

I managed to stay quiet despite my outrage. Vorantor dressed himself with great care, unfastened his hair and brushed it and secured it again with a wide gold band. Then he knelt on the floor, took out a piece of black chalk, and began drawing. I couldn’t see a thing with the bed in the way, so I carefully slid out from that narrow space and went to stand behind him. It was insane, I know, but I had to know what he was doing.

This is what it looked like: He drew a circle—the mages are all very good at drawing nearly perfect circles—and then a much smaller circle inside it, centered on it. (I’m having to check my list from the beginning of this entry, because I’m already forgetting things. I feel very smart for having made it.)

In the space between the circles, he began drawing th’an, some of which I recognized from the Codex Tiurindi summoning, others which were unfamiliar to me. Inside the small circle, he drew a tiny picture, and he is a very good artist, because it was obviously a war wagon.

Then he sat back on his heels, breathing hard as if he’d been running, then with his left hand began tapping out a rhythm, tap tap taptaptap THUMP, over and over again. He did it for long enough that I almost started tapping myself. Then, at the top of the pattern, he leaned over and with his right hand began making new th’an, following the beat.

I didn’t know these th’an, but they looked so much like real things that it was easy to remember them: one like a snake, or an S with two extra curves, one like an arch that curled outward at the ends, and one like a Castaviran fork, with four tines. He drew these in several places around the outside of the circle, and then totally surprised me by spitting a great gob of saliva at the war wagon at the center of it all.

All the chalk lines went from matte black to shining gold, as if inlaid with metal, and the spaces inside the circle that didn’t have lines drawn on them glowed with white light, not bright or painful, just a soft white glow.

And then I did something stupid. I inadvertently took a step back because the glow caught me off-guard, and I wasn’t as balanced as I thought. My boot scraped across the bare floor (no rug!) and made a small but distinct sound. Vorantor’s head whipped up and around, and he stood up and scanned the room, his eyes slowly passing over the walls and the floors.

I closed my eyes, which was terrifying, but I had a feeling if our eyes met, the concealment pouvra wouldn’t protect me. So I had to stand there, motionless, blind, waiting for him to grab me and unable to do anything about it.

Nothing happened. Finally Vorantor took a few steps in the direction of the window, and I opened my eyes and tried not to breathe loudly. The chalk marks on the floor, and the light, were gone as if they’d never been. Vorantor had the curtains open and was looking out at Colosse (my room is on the other side and looks over the palace roofs).

I dared take a silent step backward; he didn’t react. Slowly, one cautious step at a time, I moved toward the door—and then I stopped. I should have left, but I really wanted to know if he kept anything in that niche behind the bed. So I leaned against the wall next to the door and waited. Eventually he got undressed (I kept my eyes closed for this too) and I waited for him to finish reading, then he turned off the light and settled in for the night.

I waited a little longer until his breathing slowed. I hoped he’d start snoring, but unfortunately that’s one annoying trait he doesn’t have. So I did the see-in-dark pouvra again, crept up to his bed, slid between it and the wall, then crouched low and felt along the base of the wall, wishing there were enough room for me to wiggle under the bed. Instead I knelt there with my face pressed against the cold wall, telling myself I was being stupid and there was nothing to find, and then my fingers reached the crack and I reached inside.

Something moved beneath my hand and made a rustling sound that in the dark seemed louder than an explosion. Vorantor shifted his weight, and I held my breath, but he didn’t wake. The wall niche seemed full of dry leaves, or small papers—I teased one out and brought it to where I could look at it. Meaningless writing, but I was certain it was one of the notes Aselfos had sent Vorantor.

And now I had a dilemma. I really wanted to know what was in those notes, but I was equally desirous that Vorantor not know someone had been snooping in his room. There was a chance he’d notice if one of them were missing. I crouched there with the note in my hand, weighing the possibilities.

Then I tucked the note inside the waistband of my trousers and began to retrace my slow, silent steps. Vorantor hadn’t checked the niche when he came in, which meant he likely only looked inside when he put a new note there. I could show the note to Cederic, then return it during the day tomorrow when Vorantor was at the circle chamber, before evening when he might receive a new one.

That’s my plan, anyway. I’ve been waiting for Cederic for nearly an hour now and I have no idea when he’ll return. He can’t go forever without sleep, though he doesn’t seem to need as much of it as normal, sane people do, so eventually he’ll have to come back, and then he can read the note and we can decide what, if anything, we should do about it.