9—Explaining to Do

Casey

After I had bathed and changed into clean clothes, I was ambushed by Irian. "Casey, if you are not too fatigued, I wanted to introduce you to the mages in charge of the mages' library—in case you ever wanted to take up research like myself. It will not take very long..."

"Certainly! Where is it?"

Irian smiled. "As you say, it is 'in the middle of nowhere'. There is a mages' school there."

I blinked. "A mage school? I thought—"

"—That all mage-student relationships were a one-to-one apprenticeship? Hardly! In fact, that style of teaching has been somewhat outmoded for years. It usually only occurs with unusually bright or unusually slow Apprentices."

I laughed; Irian's tendency towards bad word choice had caused some problems earlier in our time together, but now it was more amusing than annoying. After all, he wasn't doing it to cause harm.

"Which am I?" I asked teasingly. Now Irian understood what he had said and laughed along.

"Both!" he declared. "What mage ever started at seventeen? What mage ever was a Master-First in a Cycle and a half?"

"You jest."

Irian laughed at the expression on my face. "I do not! By most any measure save years of training, you are a Master Mage."

"Does that mean I have to choose a mage name and..." I waved a hand, indicating without words any and all ceremony involved in naming a person a Master Mage.

Irian shook his head, then flicked a piece of hair that had shifted into his eyes with the gesture. "No, I think it would be best to let some of the older mages get used to you before we light a fire beneath their behinds."

I laughed at the mental image and Irian rolled his eyes. "Now, back to the subject at hand..."

"Right. Mage school. Mage library."

"We cannot transport directly in, for security, but we can go to the edge of the warding and walk through. Are you ready?"

I nodded and took his hand.

XX

Irian

I believe that there are, perhaps, less than ten mages in Sunbright colors who can pick out where the School is on a map of the Kingdom. I am not one of those few. Like most anyone else, I know the precise point where the warding against transportation spells and the entrance to the grounds meet, but where that point may be, I have no idea in all the world. There is a forest to the northwest and all the rest is meadow, tall grasses in the wind. There is a reason for this secrecy, of course.

Security is strong at the School. The records of those allowed and disallowed are made current as many times as possible, so that in the rare occasion that a Sunbright turns to the dark, or a nonmage is found to be a spy, that person is forcefully prevented from returning, turned back by the very doors he seeks to enter.

Casey looked around, fixing the location in her mind. When she told me that her memory was abysmal, I simply could not believe it—it only took her one or two attempts before she could quickly and accurately transport to a place. When I asked her, she only shrugged, as perplexed as I.

When she glanced back at me, I indicated a simple archway of stone. While to me, it had once seemed strange, she inspected the doorway to nowhere avidly as we approached. "There is a dome, made of six-sided figures, and it extends all the way below the earth, and probably creates the full sphere under the earth. The doorway itself crackles with defensive and offensive magics. However..." Casey frowned, "it is all keyed to magic signature. Can a magic signature be faked?"

"I have never heard of such," I replied. I had never thought about how the doors knew to open.

"Maybe I should investigate that," she said simply. "Just in case."

We walked through the doorway: Casey first, myself second. Kyar had kindly sent ahead to make certain that the doorway would open for her, and it was for that reason that I had decided to visit today.

XX

Casey

The doorway wasn't all that interesting. Except that it checked every stitch of clothing on me, examined my magic signature thoroughly, and then sparkled happily as I passed through. I glanced back. "Is that normal?" I asked, trying not to snicker at the little gold lights that stuck to Irian's hair like fairy dust. Think happy thoughts, Irian...

"It is how the door greets newcomers, I think." He swatted at the sparks. "It is much more impressive when one is a child."

"Of course," I replied with a grin, trying to get that little jingle out of my head. He can fly, he can fly...

"What are you grinning about?"

I shook my head, trying to dislodge that catchy melody before it got deep enough to plague me for weeks. "Nothing important."

He raised his eyebrows. I blinked back innocently. Irian laughed and we continued to cross a field with knee-high grass.

Within a few steps, there was a flash of the deep blue of shielding, and the Mage School appeared. It was an entirely innocuous building. "Huh."

"Hmm?"

"Strong shields. They were blocked from detection."

"Well, yes, of course," Irian replied. "Only Sunbrights should be able to find this place."

...Right. Irian reached around to open the door for me, and motioned me through, following and closing the door behind him. Me, I was too distracted.

Mages. Everywhere.

The main hall hissed and swished with the sound of gold magerobes in motion, overlaid with the hum of talk. Apprentices and Journeymen congregated; groups of preteen of all stripes (literally) gabbled brightly while teens and young adults conversed slightly more sedately. Masters generally had someplace to be—pairs and trios spoke as they walked. I could see no Adepts from where I stood.

"Casey?"

Hello, wake up. I followed Irian over to a table with my borrowed magerobes, but I was sure I looked like the country cousin anyway.

"Oh good!" Irian snapped the book closed. "The Librarian is on duty." He clicked his tongue to get my attention. The Avaduri didn't like to touch, I'd noticed, especially skin-to-skin. Since I wasn't all that keen on physical contact either (except for hugs), it was just another reason why I was so suited to this place.

We headed down one of the main hallways branching off from the main common area, and took a sharp left. "The archives are in the other direction," Irian explained.

"What is the difference?"

"The books are generally works based off the archives. The archives are journals, letters—if it was written by a mage and left unburned, Chance placed it in the archives," quipped Irian. Then we reached the doors of the Mages' Library and pushed inside.

XX

Irian

I had never lost my wonder at the sight of the Library, and if the expression on Casey's face was any indication, she felt the same way.

When one opens the door of the library, the first sight that one sees is of books. Placed in shelves spaced only a man-and-a-half wide, well-lit, with reading stations placed against the ends of the shelves and along the walls—the first sight is of a reader's paradise.

I gained Casey's attention again and we walked over to the desk on the other side of the door. The woman who occupied the space had her back turned. "Lyberis," I said softly, "here is a new researcher for you."

The young Librarian turned about. "Lovely!" she whispered back. "Name, rank and specialty, please?"

"Casey Drake," Casey spoke for herself. "Apprentice... I think. Specialty: None. Or all, I suppose."

Lyberis frowned, then looked long and hard at me. I flushed and nodded. Lyberis had been instrumental in finding all the materials on the Paladin.

"Ah. For future reference, Casey, the original Paladin kept himself outside the general ranking system, while it was being developed. However, generally he is represented with four stripes." Lyberis tapped her sleeve.

Casey nodded.

XX

Casey

After we'd conferred with the Head Librarian, we headed into the library proper. Irian showed me how the indexing system worked, without making a sound. For instance, most of the materials regarding the Paladin were under Early History, Paladinic Era, Terhayan the First, Persons, Mages, Paladin. When I Sent the beginning of a question, as 'quietly' as possible, he shook his head, made the 'silence' signal, and gestured towards the scraps of paper used to note down a shelf location. Apparently, the Mages' Library was a total-silence zone. That actually made sense, in a world of telepaths. There had to be at least one place where a strong Receiver could relax a bit in a building full of people trained to send thoughts like instant messages.

I snagged a piece of paper and the Avaduri equivalent of a pencil and scribbled down, I will investigate the questions I have. What are you planning?

Beneath my scrawl, Irian wrote neatly, Transport-world spells. I knew they had to exist before you came, but your arrival made it even more clear. Besides, if ever you wish to return...

I ignored the last sentence, and nodded. We turned to our separate tasks.

Within an hour, I was happily devouring a biography of the first official mage, who apparently had helped the Paladin cope with his new powers and therefore was cross-referenced with the Paladin section. Borlan Greentouch had been a mundane healer as well as a researcher of healing techniques, when as a young man, a year as a healer-journeyman under his belt, he came in skin-to-skin contact with a tribal shaman in what was now Tul-Hamik, while observing the shaman at work. After a week of seizures and another of coma, or so he wrote, Borlan awoke with the uncontrolled use of the same powers that the shaman had—the ability to sense illness and injury and correct it, the ability to send thoughts to and receive thoughts from the shaman, and a few others in much weaker form than the shaman's.

Borlan came back to the fledgling kingdom of Avadur when he'd finished his journeyman years under the shamans of the tribes he met in Tul-Hamik. With his new abilities completely under control, he began researching a way to transfer mages' abilities to someone not a direct bloodline without the agony he had gone through. He never finished this research, according to the book, because along came a very hurt, very angry, and very powerful mage-swordsman.

Huh. I was getting hungry. Perhaps I should set this book down and go obtain something to eat.

Now, I knew I didn't think that formally in my own head. Besides, he wasn't that good of a voice-mimic.

Hello, Juran. Something you do not want me to see in here? I glanced down, and read:

Greentouch, by the oaths he had sworn under both the Healer's Guild and the Tul shamans, could not ignore the agonized mental screams that he later described in his journals (M.A. 53-65: 94). Tracking the emanations to their source, he discovered Juran Tracker, a man not unknown to him, in the seizure stage of forced-magic syndrome, along with the corpses of his family.

From that point, I was completely distracted.

You? What the hell are you doing in my head! You're dead! Hey, it rhymes... Quit that! I'm onto you now, sir. How long have you been there, Paladin Juran, and what have you made me ignore!

I, ah, have been with you since you came in contact with the spell that brought you here. I have been shielding you from the seizures and the coma—Borlan and I discovered that the only way to do it was to remain in complete mental contact with the sufferer and let the tension go slowly. You will not have noticed that you twitched for a time twice a day, and when the seizure stage had finished, you will not have noticed that your sleep was so deep.

And?

Yes, my body is deceased. I did that for a reason. I knew that when it was absolutely necessary, when the Dark One had created a powerful enough base from which to work despite his curse, so I... well, I used one of the spells he created to attach my soul to the spell that was supposed to summon me from the dead, as a spirit. As you see, it did not work so very well.

Not necessarily, I argued. After all, what could you do as a spirit? Only possess people. Like you are doing right now.

I am not... in truth, I suppose I am, am I not? For that, I beg your pardon, but I seem incapable of leaving. As for what I have made you to ignore or forget...

I froze, staring straight ahead, as all the thoughts that should have remained with me reappeared. Comparisons, funny mental images, thoughts of people and places and things that should have passed over, made me homesick, and faded in time... Biting my lip, I refused to cry under the pressure that threatened to flatten me. You made me forget my family, Juran! I have been missing for two whole fucking months and you made me forget that they will be worried sick! Mom, Dad, Lan, my friends whom I was talking to at the moment I vanished... What the hell is wrong with you?

I thought to protect you. I see I was wrong.

Ladies and gentlemen, the amazing Captain Obviousman! Hold your applause, while he astonishes you even more with his fail-boat reasoning!

'Fail-boat'?

The mental image of the poster on the band director's door, of a boat capsizing and the caption All Aboard the Failboat, flashed up in my mind.

...I see.

Then I let him have it, with the images of Failtruck, Failcopter, and the others. Partially, it was to distract myself so no one would start staring at the apprentice mage crying her eyes out for no apparent reason, ruining a good book. Mostly, though, I reveled in what I should have missed—memories.

Are you quite finished? If you think carefully, you will also find that I have kept you from needing those little pills you had to take in your homeland, to control malaise and anxiety. I kept you from culture shock, gave you the culture, the language and the ability to write it, have been teaching you to control what magic you have. I have been attempting to aid you in the fighting ring, but that seems a bit more difficult.

Now that I had the reason, it made so much more sense. It is mostly a problem of balance. A man's center of balance is in his chest, a woman's in the abdomen. Now all that the Armsmistress talked about, fighting in the wrong skin and all of that—and the archery! Juran, I have poor distance perception, naturally. I have a hard time telling the distances of things that are not directly in sight and reach. No matter what your skill, I will not be able to do it correctly.

I had wondered about that.

Well then, now that we've met officially, can I get back to reading about you?

...Very well then...

(Yes, I do think like that. And yes, all of those weaknesses of mine mentioned? Yyyyup, they're real. And the ones who aren't being corrected by Juran-and a few that are-WILL show up.)