February 28, 2019 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
By my sneezing and my aching
I can feel the evil that is taking
Taking hold, right in my joints,
By my pain, to evil I can point
They followed the quiet clacking of Taikie’s arrow like a child’s game of hot and cold. Saydrie couldn’t smell any bad aether, but the machine seemed to be aiming them into the middle of the market. Riensin stuck close to the other side of Taiki, looking into the crowd in obvious interest.
Well, Engineering Students in Ileltedez couldn’t be all that unusual, Saydrie reasoned, and, on top of that, students looking excited were probably not that odd. Of course, when you combined them, there was a good chance someone thought they were going to blow something up, but that was, he imagined, probably one of those things one took into account when one built this close to a school like Edally.
He did his best to keep the crowd away from his friends and his friends away from the crowd, moving them this way and that with little gestures and wishing, not for the first or tenth or hundredth time, that Calenyena weren’t so picky about physical contact.
The crowds in Ileltedez were interesting in a way he thought he would have found very distressing just a few months ago. No two people were wearing the same colors or the same combinations, and the styles ran the gamut from things that looked very severe and straight to things that showed nearly as much skin as they covered and used clever variations on buttonings and plackets to not expose more than they intended.
The person Taikie was heading towards – and thus that Riensin and Saydrie were as well – was neither severe nor uncovered, but almost, if one could say such a thing about Calenyen fashion, ordinary. The colors didn’t clash must, the cut was nothing startling, the hair was in four braids with two ribbons that looked like they were chosen to be the colors that the outfit wasn’t. In a Bitrani compound, they would have stuck out like jewels in the mud. Here, the only thing notable about them was that Taikie was heading straight in their direction.
They, Saydrie kept thinking, because he was once again reminded how people in Calenta – there he went again – people in the north treated gender far more casually than people in the south. He wanted to look over at Maireana and see if she’d noticed, but she wasn’t in on this plan, and most of the rest of the Cevati Bitrani weren’t talking to him right now.
It wasn’t fair, he grumbled internally, and shook himself. He had bigger things to worry about than fair. Things like this person in front of them. Taikie was about to clear her throat. “Ex-”
Riensin stepped in front of her, smiled, and bowed deeply to the person as they turned around. “Do you happen to know the time?” he asked brightly. “We’re supposed to meet up with our friends, you see, and we’ve lost everything, and while our Engineer is brilliant, she is not so good at remembering to carry a time-piece.”
The person – man – turned around and looked startled. “Me?”
Saydrie did his best not to gag as the smell of bad aether hit his nose.
“You, yeah.” Riensin smiled. “If you don’t mind? It’s just that we don’t want to go all the way back to the clock tower, and we’re going to have to keep asking people otherwise, and-”
“You’re from the Academy?”
“Edally, yeah. We’re here on a break, and we split up from our friends, you see, and now-”
“It’s-” the man pulled out a time-piece from a pocket in the second or third layer of his clothing. “Ah, it looks like you have about twenty minutes until 11 o’clock. Does that help?”
“Yes, yes it does, sir, thank you, very much.” Riensin bowed, backed up, and bowed again. “We should hurry,” he continued, to Saydrie and Taikie. “We need to-” He bowed at Taikie quickly “-to meet the others.”
“Let’s get moving, then,” Saydrie offered, and started walking. Taikie was notoriously bad at lying, but he was not all that much better; he was just harder to read in general than she was, because he was foreign to them.
Whether Taikie understood, or wanted to get out of the man’s presence, or was baffled by Riensin’s continued bowing, they left in a hurry, as if they were trying to catch up with those friends, and kept hurrying until they were well out of earshot and Taikie’s machine had settled down to ‘normal’ readings.
“That was – Saydrie? Are you okay?” Taikie frowned at him in concern.
He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his nose. ‘It doesn’t do any good,” he explained, “but sometimes it makes me feel better. Your machine did that one correctly. That person had very bad aether indeed.”
“They looked so normal,” Taikie complained.
“But they seemed a little off.” Riensin rubbed his arms. “I wouldn’t want to be alone in a dark alley with them. I don’t know if I would want to be alone in a *bright* alley with them.”
Saydrie stepped a little closer to him. “What made you feel that way? “ He felt a little like Taikie, trying to gather data, but he’d never had a chance to really compare his sense of bad aether with a Calenyena before.
“I – you know, I don’t know? My mother calls it ‘the ache in her shoulders’ and her mother calls it ‘the weather in her joints’ but it’s sort of like you suddenly have to sneeze all the time?”
“That – that is very interesting.” Saydrie was going to have to think about this more, when he had some time where he was by himself, which didn’t appear to be coming any time soon. “Thank you. Taikie?”
“The device works! That is, I want to get more readings, butit’sa solid proof of concept.” She hesitates and sighed. “Maybe I should make it small enough to carry around all the time, since that man seemed completely normal to me. He seemed like just another person.”
“That,” Saydrie told her firmly, “is what you have friends for, not what you need Devices for.”
“Yeah,” Riensin agreed. “We’ll keep an eye out for you and keep you from wandering into any dark alleyways with strangers, creepy or just vaguely questionable.”
“I might,” Saydrie teased, “Even keep you from wandering into dark alleyways with Reinsin. Just to be on the safe side.”
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