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Sesskia’s Diary, part 37

3 Lennitay, after dinner (continued)

The rest of it I’ll sum up, because it’s too painful to remember. I think Cederic told Vorantor to keep his stooges out of the way when he told the Darssan mages what was going to happen, and there was a lot of noise and furor. Cederic was so still during all of this that I couldn’t help wondering just how painful it was for him, that they all thought he’d abandoned them and the research they’d all worked so hard on. I tried to stay out of the way as they all packed up the books and washed down the walls, shut down the kathanas powering the commodes and the pools, and gathered up their belongings, because it felt as if my home were being destroyed. I had so many goodbyes to make that it didn’t help that the thirteen mages coming with us (not including Cederic) were all friends of mine, ten of the group leaders, including Terrael (that was an obvious choice) and Sovrin, plus Audryn and two other men I knew well. I had to hide in my room often so I wouldn’t make them feel worse by how miserable I was. This is why I’ve never had friends. It’s too hard when you have to leave them behind, and you always have to leave them behind.

No, that’s a lie, and if I’m going to be lying a lot in the days and weeks to come, I shouldn’t lie to myself. I’ve never had friends because I never could trust anyone before, and as much as it hurts, saying goodbye, I’d rather have had friendship than not. And Sovrin was more miserable than the rest of us. Her lover isn’t coming along, despite her arguments and even my pleas to Cederic to make an exception. He said, damn him for being right, “We can’t look weak in front of the Empress, and Denril will know we didn’t bring our best. Hard choices, Sesskia.” So the best we could do was give them as much time together as possible.

Eventually, the second loenerel arrived, and I didn’t go up to see it, but if the one we’re riding in now is small, I can’t even imagine how huge that one was. After it left, there was some uncomfortable shuffling around—I think Denril’s mages had the decency to feel guilty about why they were there—for an hour or two before our loenerel was positioned for us to bring our things on. It’s beautiful, in a hard and gleaming way—lots of brass and rubbed brown leather, and some of the senets are just rows of seats with lots of windows, and others have sleeping cubicles, and there’s one for eating in. It smells of hot metal all the time, though as I wrote above, the smell becomes stronger when it stops, and there’s also a bitter-oily scent I now associate with large quantities of magic, and never mind what Terrael said about magic being completely used up by th’an or kathanas. I went up to look at the collenna, which is what actually contains the magic—the senets are all connected to it in a long row—and it positively reeked of that odor. The master, whose name I’ve forgotten, showed me where he draws the th’an, and it was so clever! There’s an engraving on this brass panel in the shape of a couple of linked th’an, a groove just thin enough for a skinny paintbrush to fit, and the master has a five-gallon bucket full of that silvery ink or paint Terrael used on the aeden to give me his language. He paints the th’an, following the grooves exactly, and that makes the th’an work. That’s how people other than mages can use magic, though I gather it’s not as simple as just filling in a line. The masters, not just of collennas but of other machines as well, have to be taught to write their rune in exactly the right way, and they usually only learn just the one their job makes them responsible for. I’m not sure how that doesn’t make them mages, though I suppose in Castavir being a mage is defined as knowing hundreds or thousands of th’an. But it is reassuring to know if anything happened to the master, we’ve got fifty people on the loenerel who can make it go, which is good because the idea of being trapped in this horrible, hot, arid, stinking wasteland makes me feel even more queasy.

And that brings me up to now. To sum up:

  1. We’re all going to Colosse to take part in research none of us believes in.
  2. Denril Vorantor is dangerous.
  3. The Empress is even more so.
  4. Cederic still has hope the Codex Tiurindi will prove him right, and in time for that to make a difference.

We should be out of the desert soon, probably by tomorrow morning. I wish I knew how fast we’ve been traveling, so I could get a sense for how far we’ve come, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. And despite everything, I’m a little eager to see Colosse. I’ve visited many cities in I don’t know how many foreign lands, but this is my first time visiting a city in a completely different world. I hope it isn’t a disappointment.


Sesskia’s Diary, part 36

3 Lennitay, after dinner (continued)

Cederic looked horrified, and that frightened me more than anything Vorantor had said. “Denril,” he said, “how can you possibly condone this? Let alone preside over it?”

“Cederic, I have little choice in the matter.” Vorantor said.

“No choice. That is never true, and you know it,” Cederic said in a low, intense voice. “I warned you not to throw in your lot with hers. She’s insane, Denril, you know she is. Only a madwoman could order such a vile thing.”

“Do not make such accusations, even where only I can hear,” Vorantor said. “She is our ruler, Cederic, and she deserved to know what was coming. We will need her temporal power in the aftermath, however well we are able to contain the destruction. She has amassed an army the likes of which no one has seen since the days of the Conqueror to maintain Castavir’s stability after the coming disaster. But the God-Empress is preparing for war against an enemy she knows she can’t fight, and her paranoia is increasing. She insists I produce results, regardless of the cost, and you and I agree on one thing: Thalessi, or whatever you call her, as an inhabitant of the shadow world, is crucial to our ability to preserve this one—that’s true no matter which of our theories is correct. And I am sorry, old friend, I am truly sorry, but you must give up this mad, doomed quest. I need your help. Your skills are unparalleled; I can even admit you’re better than I am. Your continued refusal to join me will mean the deaths of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions. You made a request of me. Let me extend the same to you. Help me. Please.”

Cederic turned away—and looked directly at me. I’m sure he hadn’t been aware of my presence until that moment. His face was once again impassive, but his eyes were pleading with me—for forgiveness? For approval? I nodded, though I wasn’t sure what I was agreeing to. He turned back to look at Vorantor and said, “I will join you. And Sesskia will come peacefully.”

“Thank you,” Vorantor said. “And I truly am sorry for this.”

“I am sorry, too,” Cederic said, though he didn’t say for what. I wrote that Vorantor was smart; he stood up from his chair and said, “I will leave you to decide how best to tell the mages. They really should be evacuated from the Darssan.”

“And I suppose you have a plan for that as well,” Cederic said.

“I have called for another loenerel to transport them to Trengia,” Vorantor said. “From there they will be able to return to their homes.”

“And forbidden the opportunity to save their world,” Cederic said. His voice was as expressionless as his face.

“You know most of them lack the skills to give us any advantage. Choose your best, and thank the others for their assistance to date,” Vorantor said.

“They were your best, once, Denril,” Cederic said. “Are you so completely lost to human feeling?”

“This is a hard time, and we must make hard choices,” Vorantor said. I couldn’t see his face, but he sounded angry. “Past time you learned that.”

Cederic said nothing, just made a little dismissive wave of his fingers as if to say the conversation was over. Again, Vorantor demonstrated his intelligence by leaving without saying another word. When the door was shut, Cederic said, “I wish you had not heard that.”

I released the concealment pouvra and said, “I’m sorry. I know I said I wouldn’t use the pouvra like a thief.”

“I am not angry at your eavesdropping, Sesskia, but you do not need to be burdened with the knowledge that we are at the mercy of a mad Empress who is willing to slaughter innocents,” Cederic said.

I said, “Why not? It was me she wanted to coerce. I’m the one she’s going to try to control. I think I have a right to know in what way I need to defend myself.”

Cederic shrugged. “You have a point,” he said. “And now I must decide how to tell two hundred mages that our work is not only over, but has been a waste of time. Without implicating Denril.”

“Why not implicate him?” I said. “It’s his fault!”

“He is the Empress’s right hand in this matter. If I give them reason to murmur against him, and that murmuring gets back to her, their lives will be forfeit,” Cederic said. “I will take the blame myself. I will explain that in light of new evidence, I have been convinced that our work needs to take a different direction, and the Darssan must be closed for everyone’s safety. If I am lucky, they will hate me and not Denril.”

“That’s not fair,” I said.

Cederic looked up at me, and his eyes showed all the pain his face never would. “This has never been about fairness,” he said. “Was it fair to pull you from your world into this one, make you a pawn in a game you never agreed to play? Denril was right, in part—this is a hard time that requires hard choices. The difference is that he believes he has the right to make those choices for everyone else. I have never agreed with him in that respect.”

“Do you still believe you’re right?” I said.

“I do,” he said, “and I will take with me the mages most capable of proving me correct. We will summon the Codex Tiurindi, and it will prove the truth to Denril. I only hope it will do so before it is too late.”

“I’ll help you find a solution,” I said. “I don’t have to be cooperative with him,” and then I remembered what Vorantor said about killing the mages, and it made me so angry I couldn’t go on speaking. I would be going to Colosse surrounded by hostages.

“You see the problem,” Cederic said, drily.

“Damn him to hell and damn your God-Empress too,” I said.

“Never say that again. Never even think it,” Cederic said. “She is dangerous in ways you cannot imagine, because she is erratic and paranoid and is capable of destroying things, and people, even when that destruction hurts her cause. Your guess is correct: she wants you in Colosse so she can control you personally, and not because Denril has told her you are necessary to his work. But if she turns on you…God only knows what she might decide to do.”

“I can defend myself,” I said, “but I can’t defend everyone around me.”

“Exactly,” Cederic said.

I sat down in the chair next to him and said, “How can I help you? Since it’s clear I won’t be able to help myself.”

He smiled. “Behave as if you know nothing of this conflict. You don’t have to be cheerful about it, naturally, but a desire to mitigate the coming disaster would be appropriate. Cooperate with Denril when he asks you about pouvrin. I’m glad you understood what I asked you earlier.”

“Now I’m especially grateful I did,” I said. “Having pouvrin he knows nothing about could save my life.”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Cederic said. “We won’t leave until that second loenerel arrives to transport everyone—I won’t let it seem I’m abandoning anyone. You and I will have to find a way to pursue the correct line of research without me seeming to be insubordinate. It could be dangerous.”

“Because nothing about the rest of this is dangerous,” I said. “I don’t understand loenerel.”

“It is a machine powered by th’an that can transport large numbers of people more quickly than walking or riding,” Cederic said. “They are made in segments, so those segments, the senets, can be added or removed depending on how many people it needs to transport. It will require a fairly large loenerel to move all the mages of the Darssan—minus the few I am to be allowed as part of my entourage,” he added, sounding bitter. “I cannot believe Denril is so dismissive of their abilities, simply because he took many of our best mages when he left for Colosse two years ago.”

That was a surprise. “Those men and women with him, they used to belong to the Darssan?” I said.

“Many of them, yes,” Cederic said. “Some of them were privately employed before Denril coaxed them to work for him. But enough of those mages have friends here….” We both sat silent for a moment, and I’m sure he was thinking (as I was) about what kind of people could agree to kill their friends for any reason. Or maybe Cederic wasn’t exaggerating about the Empress’s madness. “And there were more Sais here, once,” he went on. “Seventeen of us. They all believe as Denril does.”

That made my heart ache for him. Seventeen people who might have been his friends in a way the ordinary mages could not. “So you were the only one who saw this possibility,” I said, and he nodded. Then he stood, and said, “I hope for all our sakes you are as good a liar as you are a thief,” and I could see he was trying to make a joke, so I laughed. It didn’t hurt my feelings—I’m sure he meant it as a compliment—but it reminded me that my life had suddenly become dangerous, and that I have secrets that could mean people’s deaths, or even my own, if I reveal them.

to be continued

Sesskia’s Diary, part 35

3 Lennitay, after dinner

So. Eavesdropping. I followed Cederic and Vorantor, keeping behind groups of mages and acting as if I were interested in their discussions. When Cederic and Vorantor left the cavern, I lagged behind them as they moved along the corridor until they were out of sight, but not out of hearing—fortunate they weren’t wearing those sandals. I stayed just close enough to know which one of the sitting rooms they entered, which was the one Cederic and I had used when I read to him, and then they shut the door and I stood alone in the corridor, trying not to panic.

I wrote that I’ve only used the walk-through-walls pouvra once. It’s frightening. It makes you mostly insubstantial, which means it’s impossible to breathe, and alters whatever you walk through to be a little insubstantial too. But you can still feel, and it feels as if you’ve been turned to liquid, and you’re flowing through the cold stream that is the other object, and if you don’t concentrate, you’ll be swept away and mingled with it. But I also feel if I try to pull away from the other stream, I could go too far the other way and become solid in the middle of whatever I’m moving through, which would make it become solid too, and that sounds like one of the more gruesome deaths I can imagine. But I was sure whatever Cederic and Vorantor were about to discuss was important to me and not just to them. So I took a few deep breaths, did the concealment pouvra (because coming through the wall completely visible would ruin everything), prayed the walk-through-walls pouvra wouldn’t negate the concealment, and went straight at the wall before I could think too hard about it.

I felt that moment of transition, that sensation of being fluid and the horrible feeling of having all my organs exposed to the wall’s near-immaterial substance, and then I was through and standing next to the door. Cederic and Vorantor were seated across from each other, and Cederic was using a th’an to pour water for them. The pitcher was steady and he spilled not a drop, which made me proud and a little smug on his behalf, because I’d bet Vorantor couldn’t do as much. He can’t write th’an on air, either.

They were chatting, mostly small talk about people they both knew and I didn’t. I paid close attention to this conversation, so I could record it more accurately later, but I didn’t bother remembering that part. I leaned back against the wall and prepared to wait for a while, but a few seconds later, Cederic said, “I hope you are convinced by this, Denril.”

Vorantor sipped his water, put the glass down, and said, “I was about to ask the same of you.”

“Sesskia’s arrival nearly brought down the Darssan around our heads,” Cederic said, which was news to me. No one ever talked about the day I came here, and while Cederic had said the kathana was dangerous, I had no idea just how dangerous that was. “Imagine the devastation if the transfer had not been confined to a single individual.”

“You know I have never downplayed the extent of the coming catastrophe,” Vorantor said. “I know very well how bad it will be. Which is why we have been working so hard to find ways to minimize it.”

“It will be impossible to protect everyone, Denril,” Cederic said, in a voice that implied they’d had this conversation a dozen times before. “We have to prevent it happening entirely.”

“If you would allow yourself to think rationally—” Vorantor began.

Do not accuse me of irrationality,” Cederic said, sounding so intense that Vorantor flinched back. “We worked side by side for years. I disagree about the results of our research. That hardly makes me irrational. You are the one who sits there and counts casualties and talks about acceptable losses instead of working with me to prevent the coming disaster!”

“I apologize, Cederic, my words were poorly chosen,” Vorantor said, but I’m pretty sure he was lying. He wanted—still wants—Cederic to be off-balance in Colosse, so he can get him to do as he wants. “You are correct, we disagree, but time and again our research has indicated that complete prevention of the worlds’ coming back together is impossible. Containment is the only solution.”

“We are close to summoning the Codex Tiurindi,” Cederic said, calmer now, and he definitely surprised Vorantor. “And thanks to Sesskia’s input, we will be able to read it when we do.”

“Astonishing,” Vorantor breathed. “You did not put that in your letter.”

Cederic actually smiled. “I wanted to tell you to your face and see your reaction.”

“Well, I hope you’re satisfied with my surprise and delight,” Vorantor said, laughing. It was a strange conversation. At times, they sounded like mortal enemies, and then they could joke and laugh together like old friends.

“Entirely,” Cederic said. “Now, Denril. Please see sense. The Codex Tiurindi will show us how to keep the two worlds apart permanently. No future generation will have to struggle to prevent chaos the way we are right now. I want us to work together again. Please.”

“I was unaware Cederic Aleynten knew how to make requests,” Vorantor joked, but it made Cederic recoil as if he’d been slapped. “You know the contents of the Codex are in large part a mystery. We don’t know what we will learn from it. The end is fast approaching, old friend. We no longer have time to entertain your…optimistic ambitions.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Cederic said.

“I mean it is time for you to work with me,” Vorantor said. “You have failed to prove that your theory is correct. I, on the other hand, have a great deal of proof on my side. The God-Empress sees the need for action, now, and has entrusted me to carry out her orders. I am to collect what you have learned and bring it back to Colosse for the Sais to study.”

“Denril—” Cederic said. His voice was rising.

“Don’t shout at me, Cederic, you know it doesn’t affect me,” Vorantor said. “You have a choice. Stay here in the Darssan, with your mages, and face destruction—you know this is too far from civilization for my kathana to protect you. Or come with me and have a part in saving the world.”

Cederic said, “This world, naturally.”

“The destruction of the other world is regrettable, but there’s no hope for it,” Vorantor said. “Its mages will have to save it themselves.”

“They have no mages,” Cederic said. “You are condemning a world to death.”

“As I said, regrettable, and the thought of all that death pains me, but I have an obligation to this world,” Vorantor said.

I’m a thief. If I went around reacting in surprise or anger or fear or horror all the time, I’d be a dead thief. But hearing Vorantor talk so casually about the destruction of my world made me so furious I nearly dropped the concealment pouvra and throttled him there in that seat. Cederic said, “You cannot take the knowledge in our heads. We will still be able to summon the Codex Tiurindi.”

“Possibly,” Vorantor said. “With the help of the woman. I thought her name was Thalessi.”

“Sesskia is not a name she shares with casual acquaintances,” Cederic said, “and her magic is key to that kathana, yes.”

“Unfortunate that the God-Empress has instructed me to bring her with me, then,” Vorantor said, and he sounded so sly that I know, I just know, the bastard waited until that moment to strike at Cederic when he was at his lowest point.

Cederic sat straight up in his chair. “She is not a thing you can simply carry away,” he said.

“No, but she will not refuse the God-Empress’s command, I think,” Vorantor said.

“I would not count on it,” Cederic said. “She has no more loyalty to this world than you have to hers.”

“I have brought thirty-five mages, thirteen of them Sais, to ensure her compliance,” Vorantor said.

“That might not be enough to contain her,” Cederic said.

“They aren’t to contain her,” Vorantor said. “My orders are to begin killing the mages of the Darssan if she refuses. From what you wrote of her, we know she’s developed an attachment to them. The God-Empress thinks she won’t want to see them die when she can prevent it with a single action.”

Sesskia’s Diary, part 34

3 Lennitay

I’m no longer faking illness. Cederic took one look at me when I came to breakfast and ordered me back to my room. Then he brought me food himself. This was to give him an excuse to speak to me privately, to make sure there wasn’t anything more wrong with me than (as we determined) motion sickness. He offered to send Vorantor to me, as he knows some healing magic, but I declined, and he didn’t push. I know Terrael and Audryn said they were still friends, but from what I overheard between them, it’s a friendship on the brink of falling apart.

Right. I haven’t reached that point yet. Vorantor didn’t say anything more to me, and Cederic said a few things that sounded like hospitality ritual, and then Vorantor said something like “don’t let us keep you from your work” and everyone broke into their groups and went back to their research.


What really happened was that everyone broke into groups and pretended to work, because Vorantor’s people spread out and started “helping” by making corrections to their th’an or offering suggestions about which book to refer to. I followed Cederic to our table, since I had nothing else to do, and Vorantor came with us. More accurately, he went a few steps ahead of us, as if he were leading the way, and that annoyed me. I know he was Wrelan here before Cederic, but he has no right to act as if he’s still in charge. Cederic didn’t seem to mind. When we got to the circle, Cederic showed Vorantor the books we’ve been translating, starting with the Eddon book, and they had a technical discussion I probably could have followed, since it was about everything Cederic and I have been working on with regard to pouvrin and th’an, but I was too busy worrying about why Vorantor was even here. I was certain it was all due to me, even though he was putting on a good show of being interested in our research, and I was right, which makes me furious as I’m writing this. Vorantor wanted me for his own purposes, and it makes me even angrier to remember how they were talking as if they were collaborators instead of Vorantor waiting for the right moment to reveal the truth. I despise him because he thinks of me as a prize, as a thing, and I swore no one would ever use me like that. But there isn’t much I can do about it now. Maybe when we reach Colosse, Cederic will think of something, or the God-Empress will change everyone’s plans.

They talked for several minutes, and I ended up flipping the pages of a book I couldn’t read, looking at the pictures. I’m probably just as happy I can’t read that one, because based on the illustrations, it’s a sex manual, and what it’s doing with the rest of these books is a mystery. Then Vorantor said, “Thalessi,” and that brought my attention away from the picture of three people tangled together. “I would love to see your magic, if you don’t mind,” he said.

“Of course,” I said, and did the fire-summoning pouvra almost in his face. I regretted it before the fire died away, and cursed myself for letting my annoyance override my good sense. I’m sure making myself seem dangerous was a wonderful choice that made Vorantor decide I had nothing to offer him and leave me alone. Fortunately, Vorantor didn’t seem angry or frightened, and he didn’t flinch. He might smile more, but he seems every bit as self-controlled as Cederic.

“Fascinating,” he said. “Will you show me the others?”

I looked just past him at Cederic, hoping he could give me guidance, but his face was completely expressionless, as always. And then I saw his hand was open, his fingers spread, and he flexed his fingers a few times. Five. But I know seven pouvrin, counting the walk-through-walls one I don’t use—and then I realized what he was telling me, as clearly as if there were a mind-speaking pouvra we both had access to. I said, “Yes, but I won’t be able to show you how I can see in the dark,” and I summoned water, then caught it and turned it into a sphere and flew it around for a bit (even in my nervousness, it was hard not to make it hit the back of Terrael’s head, just for fun) and I had him go behind one of the bookshelves and hold up so many fingers, and I looked through it to tell him how many. Cederic, standing with his back to Vorantor during this test, gave me another meaningful look, this one of thanks. He may trust Vorantor more than I do, but I saw he thought we might need the advantage of him not knowing about the walk-through-walls and concealment pouvrin, and he was right. I didn’t realize he could be as paranoid as I am. It’s funny how we have far more in common than I believed back at the beginning.

Vorantor was impressed, and not in a child-doing-tricks way. He asked a lot of questions about pouvrin, how to learn them and what it feels like to use them, and were there any similarities between pouvrin and th’an. I told him what we’d learned, and I didn’t hold anything back, just in case Cederic had already told him things. I think it may be another advantage for him to believe I’m cooperating, so I hope he couldn’t tell I was furious about being forced to go to Colosse, and in that way. And I have to admit Vorantor is easily as intelligent as Cederic, because he grasped the implications of our work immediately. On the other hand, he said nothing about the Codex Tiurindi, nothing about the worlds coming together, and at the time I assumed it was just because they both knew what needed to be done and talking about it was irrelevant. I was wrong.

Eventually, their discussion wound down, and Vorantor said, “I would like to speak with you privately, Cederic. We have so much to catch up on.”

Cederic nodded, turned to me, and said, “Thank you for your help, Sesskia.” Then he and Vorantor walked away toward the corridor, leaving me gaping for a moment at the abruptness of his farewell. It took me less than a second to decide that I had to hear whatever they were about to say to each other. Yes, I know I’d told Cederic I wouldn’t use the pouvra like a thief, and I felt slightly guilty about using it on him, but I was tired of everyone but me knowing what his relationship with Vorantor really was. And he had told me to keep them a secret from Vorantor, which is close to giving me permission to eavesdrop.

I used to be better at justifications.

And I got what eavesdroppers are proverbially supposed to get, which is, nothing good. I don’t really regret it. Cederic would have told me the details later, but hearing Vorantor’s words from his own mouth—I’m glad I know what kind of man he actually is. I

Dinnertime. I’m a little surprised Cederic is always the one who comes for me. I think he knows I’m writing and is trying to keep anyone from finding out about this book. I think writing while the loenerel is moving is making me queasier, but there’s no way I’m going to delay any longer. It’s supposed to take fewer than three days to reach Colosse, and I’m determined to have caught up before then, because who knows what might happen?


Sesskia’s Diary, part 32

2 Lennitay, just after dinner

I’m hiding in my room—it’s not so much a room as a cubicle, with barely enough space for a bed and window—having pretended to have a headache. It’s not entirely a lie. The motion of the loenerel makes me a little queasy, and right now I’ve got my face hanging over a little vent that constantly blows cool air into the room, probably to compensate for how hot the loenerel is. The master, the one who keeps the collenna moving, said it would be much hotter if not for the kathana that shields it from the sun’s rays. I can’t even imagine walking through the desert unprotected, and I’m trying to be grateful, but since I’m still angry at Vorantor’s manipulation, it’s difficult to hang on to gratitude for anything.

I hate when I can’t write every day. I know I’m forgetting things, and then I remember them and have to put them in out of order, and I’d like to just summarize, but so much of importance has happened that I feel as if I’m cheating myself to skim over it. So if this is confusing—but I suppose I’m the one who’ll be reading it later, so there’s no sense apologizing to myself.

So, as I wrote earlier, I was tired and just went to bed instead of writing, not that that really mattered because I hadn’t done much worth writing about. In the morning, I went to breakfast and the refectory was practically empty. One of the mages was leaving as I entered, and he told me to be quick, because there were visitors on the way. Well, that excited me—any change is exciting, though the news that someone had discovered the right kathana for summoning the Codex Tiurindi would have been far better. I gulped down my food and hurried out to the cavern to find it was nearly empty, too.

(The loenerel just came to a stop again. They have to refresh the th’an frequently because the loenerel is so massive it swallows magic like a drunkard swigs brandy. When it stops, it becomes warmer, and the smell of hot metal becomes more pervasive, and then I really do feel ill. It’s a measure of how quickly I’ve come to take the casual use of magic for granted, that I can be annoyed at the loenerel’s failings rather than awestruck that anything can transport fifty people across the desert faster than a horse can run and with greater endurance.)

Terrael was there in the cavern, and he told me everyone was cleaning up so the Darssan, and its inhabitants, would look their best for the visitors. But what he and a handful of other mages were doing was washing off the walls in places, and I think they were concealing some of their research from whoever was coming to visit. Now that I know it was Vorantor, that makes sense. Damn it, now I’m telling the story out of order again. At least I can take comfort in knowing my dislike of Vorantor is rooted in good reason, unlike my dislike of Cederic, which was just mutual misunderstanding and my unfortunate prejudice.

I asked what I could do, and he said I should dress as nicely as possible, which was useless advice because I have no idea what constitutes nice dress in Castavir. I certainly don’t have a white robe to wear. I compromised by going back to my room and dressing in the clothes I think look nicest on me, a pale blue shirt embroidered with white flowers around the neck and cuffs and hem and a pair of gray trousers almost too fine a weave to be practical. I couldn’t do anything about my shoes—I don’t think I’ve ever said that everyone here wears thin-soled sandals held on by cloth strips, and if they have other shoes, they maybe have a single pair, and there wasn’t any need for me to borrow them. And of course if the sandals are too informal for something as important as this visit, they’d all need their own shoes and no one could loan a pair to me. So my worn and cracked leather ankle boots didn’t look right, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Audryn knocked on my door just as I was about to leave and made me sit while she pinned my hair up with two of her clips, simple openwork brass loops big enough to keep my mass of hair in place. She’s the one who told me our visitor was Vorantor, and she wouldn’t say much more than that, which left me nervous because I still didn’t know the truth about him and his relationship to Cederic.

We went back to the cavern, which in contrast to earlier was now full of people, everyone dressed neatly in their white robes and black trousers. Some of the women now wore hair clips and a few of the men wore earrings, nothing flashy, nothing that might get in someone’s way while he or she was scribing th’an. I saw Sovrin across the cavern, and she saw me and gestured to me in a way I eventually realized meant “step back”. So I took a few steps until I stood behind someone else, partially concealed by the crowd. I realize now she meant to conceal me from Vorantor, but at the time I thought it was just a custom. It didn’t matter, because at that moment Cederic entered, looked around the chamber, saw me immediately despite my being much shorter than the person I was standing behind, and made a little motion for me to come stand beside him at the circle. He was dressed just as he always is, no extra jewelry or anything, though he was wearing shoes rather than sandals. “Say nothing except in direct response to something Denril asks you, and then be as brief as possible,” he instructed me in a low voice. “You may want to argue, but say nothing. Promise me, Sesskia. This is important.”

“I promise,” I said, because his tone of voice frightened me a little, and if he thought Vorantor would make me want to argue, then something serious was happening.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 31

2 Lennitay

I’m writing this from the rear senet of the loenerel, where I can have a little privacy because it’s noisier than the others and no one wants to endure that. Everyone else is gathered in the senet just behind the collenna, which is the thing that makes the loenerel go. I’m so full to bursting with new words and ideas that I feel dizzy, a feeling not helped by how fast we’re traveling across this horrible, hot, arid wasteland. I remember now what Cederic said about my not being safe outside the Darssan. I didn’t realize he meant that literally. The Arabel Mountains, under which the Darssan is located, sit squarely in the middle of the least hospitable desert I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen more than a few. I looked back at them when we left about an hour ago, before the loenerel kicked up so much dust I couldn’t see anything, and they were these jagged black hills like the desert’s teeth, jutting up toward the sky. Now they’re far in the distance, and I wish I were back there safe beneath them. Even if it meant not seeing the sky for a few more weeks.

It’s been a few days since I was able to write anything, and they were such eventful days that I’ll only try to record accurately a few important conversations, because I’ve already forgotten most of the details. The night after my last entry wasn’t eventful. I practiced the concealment pouvra and did a little sneaking around before I felt guilty about it. Even though I wasn’t trying to spy on anyone, and I only wanted to test its effectiveness, I knew they’d object if they knew about it. So I went back to my room, but discovered I was unexpectedly tired, so I told myself I’d write more

Cederic just came in and told me I was expected to join the rest of them. He was more expressionless than usual, which told me he wasn’t happy, but then he hasn’t looked happy since Sai Vorantor arrived. Not that I should call him that, but I don’t know what other name to use. Cederic addresses him as Denril, but I’m guessing my calling him that would be inappropriate even by Castaviran standards. So I’ll call him Vorantor in these pages and try to avoid addressing him personally.

He also said, “Don’t let anyone see that book.” When I asked why, he said, “The Empress does not like not possessing information she believes is important. A book she cannot read would fall into that category. She would likely have it destroyed.”

I thanked him, and told him I would follow shortly. He never asks what I’m writing, though I think he’s curious. I’m sure a foreigner’s impressions of Castavir would interest him, even if I weren’t writing about people he knows. But he’s too polite to pry. So I’m putting this away for now, but I intend to find more chances to write about what’s happened in the last three days.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 30

30 Senessay (continued)

“So what about the things in the storage room?” I asked. “Those th’an are made of metal.”

Cederic grimaced, the faintest drawing down of the corners of his mouth. “Experiments,” he said, “from years, sometimes decades, ago. Occasionally someone revisits the idea of permanent th’an with permanent effects. Those aeden still have power, some of them, but it’s an unpredictable power, which is why they are locked away. Not that anyone but Master Peressten would dare to use them.”

“You didn’t want him to,” I recalled.

Cederic shook his head. “I did not think it fair to you to subject you to such a dangerous experiment,” he said. “I told Master Peressten to speak with you long enough to learn your language, so he could gain your consent. But he is often impatient. I’m afraid I lost my temper at him.” He looked away from me and began twiddling the writing tool in his fingers. I think he was embarrassed.

“I forgave him for it,” I said. “But thank you for trying to contain him.”

He smiled. “I am glad it worked,” he said, “even if our conversations are occasionally…strained.”

“That’s because you’re stubborn and irrational,” I said.

He raised his eyebrow at me. “You are only able to say that,” he said, “because you are so intimately familiar with those characteristics.” He smiled as he said it, and that made me laugh.

“Can you use the pouvra again, while I watch?” he said.

“Maybe,” I said, and reached for the shape of the pouvra in memory. It took a few tries, and Cederic standing there watching me made me nervous, but eventually the numbness spread over my body again, and Cederic’s eyes began to water.

“I can still see you,” he said, “but it is difficult not to want to look away.” He turned his head briefly, then looked back at me. “And now you are once again part of your surroundings.”

I released the pouvra and shook out my fingers. “I wish I knew how this could help with the kathana,” I said.

“Anything might help,” he said. “What will you use it for?”

I knew what he was really asking. Why did I tell him I’m a thief? Why do I tell him anything personal? Even if I do consider him a friend, now. “I’m not going to sneak around and spy on people, if that’s what you mean,” I said, “and I have no need to pursue my former profession, since there are all these books lying around and no one minds if I read them. But practicing pouvrin makes me better able to learn new ones. So that’s what I’ll use it for.”

“I did not mean to imply that I distrust you,” he said in a low voice, though there wasn’t anyone around to hear us.

“Then what did you mean?” I said. I swear I didn’t intend to sound hostile, because I didn’t feel hostile. Just a little disappointed that he thought less of me because of who I’d had to become to survive.

He paused, looking off into the distance, then said, “You see the world in ways no one else has thought of. The pouvra has obvious implications. I am interested in the non-obvious ones I am certain you will discover.”

“Oh,” I said. It felt like—still feels like—a tremendous compliment, and yet I’m not sure what he meant. I’m a mage because I see things others don’t, or I wouldn’t be able to learn pouvrin, but I could say the same of every mage in the Darssan. Aside from the obvious, I don’t think of myself as anyone special. Well, I am, though, because after the magic woke up in me, I could have ignored it and not learned any more pouvrin. But seeing the world differently…I think he might be mistaken about that. But it was a nice compliment, so I accepted it at face value.

After that, he drew more th’an and we talked about kathanas, which I still haven’t seen, and I began to grasp some of the underlying logic behind the shapes of Castaviran magic. I still don’t think I’ll ever learn to do magic their way. Maybe it’s more flexible, but I’m so used to encompassing magic with my body and giving it shape there that I think I’d feel hampered by the need to learn all those fiddly th’an. Learning the concealment pouvra, though, has made me think about the possibility of crafting pouvrin of my own. It’s a huge stretch, because I don’t even know what’s possible, but what a challenge! Maybe learning more about th’an will give me some ideas. But I’m going to master the concealment pouvra first. And maybe see if I can find some non-obvious applications for Cederic.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 29

30 Senessay

I did it. The concealment pouvra works.

I didn’t realize it at first, because it doesn’t conceal you from yourself. But it makes you feel different, a little numb, like everything is happening just an inch beyond your fingers. That’s going to be a problem if I use it while I’m stealing things, but I think it might just be a matter of learning to compensate for the difference, like learning to grab a stone from a riverbed despite its visual displacement. So I knew something had happened, just not what. I left my room and went down the hall to the cavern, and wandered around a bit. No one paid attention to me, but that’s normal. Cederic was at the circle, kneeling on the floor and drawing th’an with his fat writing tool. I walked over to him and crouched opposite, watching him work. He didn’t raise his head, but I’m used to him knowing I’m there, so I assumed he just didn’t see a need to greet me, which he usually doesn’t. I said, “Does it matter what you draw the th’an with, or can you use any pen or pencil?” Continue reading

Sesskia’s Diary, part 28

29 Senessay

Still no success on either front. Finished with the madman’s book, but Cederic asked me to watch him draw several individual th’an and tell him if I see anything familiar. Nothing. Not even that hint of recognition I got from the water-summoning th’an. I didn’t tell him about that, because I’m increasingly convinced it was just my imagination, like when you have the feeling you’ve done something or been somewhere before, and I don’t want us heading off down a false path when we don’t have time to waste. Cederic was disappointed at our failure, which he displayed exactly the way he shows every other emotion—complete lack of expression. I’m getting better at reading his actual feelings, what with spending so much time with him. Good thing I don’t hate him anymore.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 27

28 Senessay

Still wrestling with the pouvra. Read more of the madman’s book to Cederic today while he took notes. I have no idea what, if anything, he’s learning from it, but he seems satisfied.

Learned something surprising tonight, which is that Audryn is at least as enamored of Terrael as he is of her. He wasn’t at dinner tonight, and when I asked why, Audryn said he was involved in the translation of one of the Castaviran mage books, and he was working himself to the bone, and she wished he would listen to her when she told him to eat. She’s good at hiding it, but that concern wasn’t at all what you’d expect from someone only worried about her superior. I wish I could tell one or the other the truth, but I don’t poke my nose into other people’s business. I just hope one of them summons the nerve to speak up.