August 9, 2018 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“You can do as you please, as long as you don’t tell me what you’re doing.”
They took the opportunity, once classes were over, to duck back into their new secret hiding place. Saydrie was entirely unsurprised to find that both Taikie and Enrie had brought things to brightened it up. He, in turn, added his own contributions – the first was a bright tapestry, Calenyen-bright. “The guard gave it to me,” he told his friends, as he hung it on the wall.
“Guard?” Enrie perked up in a way that was sometimes disconcerting. She could pick up on things he hadn’t even really meant to say, and suddenly she was asking questions he hadn’t expected.
He cleared his throat. “When they take us from the enclave, it’s under guard. You know, like a soldier comes and escorts us to the school.”
“Because… because you’re somehow dangerous?” Taikie looked confused. “I mean, I’ve seen you in a fight, you’re impressive-”
“-Thank you. So are you.”
She wasn’t going to be derailed, but it had been worth a try.
“Thank you. But you couldn’t take down soldiers. I mean, probably not, not without-”
“Taikie.” Enrie passed her over a candle sconce. “Here, I think there’s a little shelf over there.
Saydrie cleared his throat. “Because we’re considered a threat to the Empire. It’s why – well, there’s all the laws, you know. Why I have to do well. All of it. Why the Cevat… why the other Cevati Bitrani are the way they are.”
He glanced at Enrie, but she didn’t seem to have noticed his slip.
“So the soldier who brought you here-” Enrie prompted.
“He liked me, or felt bad for me, or something. So he gave me a couple things so that I’d fit in better. A Calenyen tunic, this, a blanket for the bed. They’re, well, this is Bitrani patterns in Calenyen colors. The blanket is the same. It was pretty thoughtful, actually.”
Enrie looked at it and smiled. In the dim light down here, it looked even brighter, like it was illuminating the room. “But it won’t fit in your dorm room until third or fourth year.”
“There is that. Here, though. Here it can be -” He gestured vaguely.
Bitrani in Calenyen colors, like me, he couldn’t quite say.
“Beautiful and a little bit unusual.” Enrie smiled at him. “Just like you.”
He didn’t quite know what to say about that, so instead he handed Taikie the little jars of jam. “These were from home. They keep for just about forever, especially in a cool, dark place.”
“This is a cool, dark place,” she agreed, looking around. “Here, there’s little shelves built into the walls.”
They pulled out the rest of their goods – a couple comfortable cushions, a stack of books, a wax-lined package of the road-bread that kept nearly as long as the jam, a few apples, which also stored well, a map of the campus and a map of the country, and, unsurprisingly, a series of diagrams.
“I’ve been thinking,” Taikie offered, as she rolled out the diagrams and pinned down one corner with an apple. “I – don’t yell at me until I finish, please. I’ve been thinking about the humanic aether. Oh, and this is in case we see that creepy woman again. We can map out where we see her.” She tapped the school map.
“Where did you find a school map?”
“Oh, Libkazaari. She is very helpful as long as – her words – I promise not to tell her what I’m doing and promise not to fall off of anything taller than a first-story balcony while I’m doing whatever it is I’m not telling her about.”
Saydrie stifled a chuckle. “That sounds like she’s a little bit exasperated with us.”
“Well, she DID say that the paperwork tends to pile up when we’re involved, and she would appreciate if we would not save anyone or anything else until at least our second year. Yes, even the fate of the nation, or she may lower our overall grades.” Taikie looked as if she couldn’t decide whether to be amused or horrified.
“I don’t think she can do that.” Enrie fluffed a cushion on a stool and pulled it over.
“I,” Saydrie opined, “am coming to believe that House Monitor Libkazaari can do whatever she wants to within this school. I think it’s possible that she really runs this place.”
Taikie smiled. “She knows where everything is. She probably knows where this room is, to be honest. But she doesn’t mind where we hide out, either, as long as we go to classes. And since we’re good students…”
“Of course we are. We go to all our classes unless we’re saving the nation.” Enrie smiled. “What did you want to ask us about, Taikie?”
“Oh!” She looked startled, as if she’d forgotten there was something on her mind at all. After a moment, she cleared her throat. “Promise not to yell at me until I finish?”
“Taikie.” Saydrie really did try not to get impatient with her. He was not doing well today. “We can’t yell at you unless you start. Because you can’t finish until you’ve started.”
“All right, all right. I’ve been thinking. I’ve been thinking specifically about the way that you said you could smell that someone had bad aether – well, Lirnilalie.. I did recall that correctly, right?”
“Yes… yes.” Saydrie did not yell at her. She hadn’t asked anything yet.
“So the question is, can we duplicate that? The first thing I have to do is be able to sense humanic aether without using it. So something that, like my tea engine, could read the aether in the air, but without, well, using it to boil tea.”
“But what would the purpose be?” Saydrie frowned. There was nothing inherently wrong with the idea, but somehow it still bothered him. He didn’t know if that was because she was reminding them of her ‘tea engine’ or simply because it was relating to humanic aether – but it still seemed somehow wrong.
“The first purpose would be simply to determine that there is aether in people. From there, we might be able to sense bad aether, or something like the device that steals aether, or if there is more or less aether in an area. I don’t think we want to consider using that sort of aether for alchemy, but maybe we can just see how it is different from other sorts, so that we can better study it – and maybe even know if someone is doing something awful and using that aether for alchemy or something else horrid. I mean…” She trailed off, looking at both of them uncertainly.
“If all you’re doing is looking for aether,” Saydrie offered slowly, “I don’t think there’s a problem. The issue was really in cooking with what ended up being people’s emotions. Humanic Aether is easy to misuse even without meaning to. That’s why it shouldn’t be used…. what?”
Both of his teammates were looking at him oddly, or, at least, they were looking at him, and the candlelight and lantern-light made it look strange.
“We had to fight and struggle to get anyone here to even admit that it existed,” Enrie answered. “Pelnyen still doesn’t. It’s a myth; even if it did kill Instructor Talmizhaab. It just doesn’t exist, or you’re not supposed to think about it or -”
“-do you think you could use an aether pattern in a robe to make yourself feel better or stronger or anything like that?”
“-well, Taikie thinks about it, but that’s because she knows it exists now. But you’re talking like there’s already established moral rules for it and ways that it should or shouldn’t be used.”
“Well…” Saydrie shifted a little bit.
“You said you could smell if someone’s aether was bad, right?” Taikie leaned forward. “You know what it’s like, bad humanic aether?”
“Until I came here, I thought everyone did,” he admitted.
“Can you teach us?”
“I – I don’t know,” he admitted. “But I can try.”