Chapter 2

1463 Words
CHAPTER 2 Penrys waited in Zandaril’s company while the Commander made certain that the threatened attack was not about to materialize, based on the reports of his returning scouts as they continued to come in. She glanced at her oh-so-polite custodian. It’s not like I can go anywhere, from the middle of an armed camp. That they know of, anyway. Guess they don’t see it that way. In spite of herself, she yawned and belatedly covered her mouth. At Zandaril’s raised eyebrow, she protested, “I’ve come west a great distance, so my night just got a lot longer.” She left it at that, not wanting to admit that the shielding had also had its cost. And just why did I have to stop at holding three under my mind-shield? Where did that limit come from? “Who was in the mirror?” she asked him, quietly. “Menbyede of the Rasesni.” “I’ve read about them—they’re your neighbors to the west, aren’t they? Who’s this Menbyede fellow?” He narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously, without comment “No, I don’t know,” she said, answering the unasked question. “Hey, I can name several colleagues from the Collegium who will vouch for me and where I was last night. Um, this night.” “And what should we do with you while we wait for messages to go and return, all the long way?” Zandaril said. “Or perhaps you have a better means of communication?” His eyes slid to the spot where the mirror had been. She swallowed and decided to resume her silence. As if to contradict her resolve, the smell of the hot, bitter bunnas sitting untouched on Chang’s crowded camp table made her stomach growl, audibly. She was always hungry after a prolonged effort, but it was food she wanted, not that foul stuff. That’s not actually a bad idea, though—using a mirror to cross distances. How did they attach sound to the vision? How do they focus it? How far can it go? And how do they send an attack through it, like the one I shielded? She settled down to ponder ways and means, her fingers itching for something to write on. With the camp on high alert until daybreak, but no enemy detected, Chang finally returned his attention to her. Two of his officers stood behind him and waited. She could feel the suspicion radiating off of them. “I would like an explanation,” he said. It was little short of a command. May as well tell them part of the truth, anyway. Not that they’re likely to believe it. “I was at my workshop, at the Collegium. Working on my…” She paused. “You see, I made this bendu, a device, kind of a detector, a ryskymmer, like a bound-circle, only the reverse…” They looked at her blankly. These are Kigaliwen, and they don’t have the terms. She started over. “Look, if you take a defined space, like a big box, you can cancel out the magic inside the space.” She framed the concept out with her hands. She glanced at Zandaril. He was nodding as if he’d heard of the theory. “Most people stop there,” she said, “but I thought if you could set it up right, you could use it to find active magic somewhere else.” Zandaril stopped nodding, but she pushed on anyway. “And if it’s big enough…” She spread her arms wide to illustrate. “You could maybe go where that magic is.” If you were fool enough to stand on the inside of it. There was silence for a moment, broken only by the spitting of the cressets outside. “What, seven thousand miles?” Zandaril raised both eyebrows this time. “Well, I had it set up to look for the biggest activity it could detect. I didn’t think it would go further than the Collegium. After all, there’s plenty there for it to find. And besides, I wasn’t trying to use it—the full-scale version wasn’t working yet.” Didn’t think about what I was doing. Idiot. Zandaril said, “So the Rasesni tried out their new weapon, and…” “It sucked me in. I was on the inside, tinkering with the framework’s joints, but then I, um, hit it and, wham, here I was.” She could feel her cheeks heating. “Guess it worked.” Zandaril and Chang exchanged opaque looks. Chang began again. “You sound like a Northener, but you don’t have the look.” “No. No, I don’t.” She cleared her throat. “About three years ago, they tell me, there was a disturbance out in the forests of Sky Fang in the Asuthgrata region, enough to bring Vylkar, the local wizard, out to track it down.” “You?” Zandaril suggested. “Well, I’m what they found.” She raised a hand and fingered the heavy chain resting high around her neck like a collar. Waking up at the base of a rough-barked tree, surrounded by torches and strange, armed men. Waiting for them to speak and then tapping them for the language. “And where had you come from? How did you get there?” “Wish I knew. That’s all there is, nothing further back.” “But you knew the language?” Zandaril asked. She compressed her lips. “I know all the languages. I get them from the speakers.” She looked at them pointedly. “Yours, too, you may have noticed.” Chang glanced over at Zandaril for confirmation, and Zandaril shrugged. “I’ve never heard of that,” the Zan remarked. “Yes, that’s what Vylkar said. It’s true, nonetheless.” He let it pass, though his skepticism was plain on his face. “So, you ended up at the Collegium.” “They figured it was the best place to… examine me. They gave me a name and a bunch of tests.” She half-smiled. “Then they argued a lot.” “You’re what, then? An apprentice? A nal-jarghal?” Zandaril asked. She snorted. “No, they couldn’t really make me fit properly anywhere in their system. Old Aergon declared they should revive the ancient title of hakkengenni, um, ‘Adept.’ All I wanted was a place to work, and to persuade them there was no harm turning me loose in the library. Help ’em with the catalogue.” “And they did? They just took you in and exposed everything to you? The Collegium, with its reputation for stringent qualifications?” Zandaril snorted. “And what’s the first thing you did, eh?” Penrys said, and cocked her head at the corner where she’d arrived. “Tried to find out what I was and what I could do, didn’t you? You’re no different then the rest of your wizardly colleagues.” She heard her voice rise. “Made m’self available for experiments, I did. That was the exchange. Made some devices, too, not that they’re any too eager to use ’em. Why? You want to come up with some tests yourself?” “Enough,” Chang said, and she subsided. “Sorry.” Don’t be a fool. Don’t alienate them—they may be your only means of getting back. She took a deep breath, and sneezed from the smoke of the cressets drifting inside. “Whatever the Rasesni had in mind seems to have been called off. I’m going to stand down the camp.” Chang waved over one of the guards at the entrance. “Take our… guest over to Jip-chi and have her assigned quarters for what’s left of the night.” He glanced at her. “Under guard, if you please.” Zandaril stroked his beardless cheek as he settled back in the folding camp chair and watched Chang’s face. The quiet discussions elsewhere in the tent gave them a bit of privacy. “What did you think of her story?” “She has to be a Rasesni plant,” Chang said. “Nothing else makes any sense. Accent or not, she’s certainly no Northener, not with that dark hair. Not skinny enough, either. Or tall.” “She is what, then? Who are her people? Not the bandy-legged Rasesni.” Zandaril let that hang there for a moment. Chang nodded, reluctantly. “No. Not a pure-blood anyway. Probably some sort of border family, mixed-blood. Or something else.” “I know what I saw.” Zandaril shook his head. “I don’t know any border families with pricked animal ears, Commander-chi. Do you? Not even in the old granny tales.” Chang glared at him. “You have a point?” “You should believe her story for now, as long as it doesn’t disturb your mission.” “And what’s to keep her from vanishing the same way she materialized?” Zandaril had been facing that corner of the tent when he was locked in place by the Rasesni attack. He’d seen her arrival, tumbling on her rear with her arms flailing. That was the clumsiest entrance I’ve ever seen. Hard to associate that with a secret enemy. He poured himself a mug of the still-hot bunnas, lifted it to his nose, and inhaled before taking a sip. “If she needs a large device to travel, as she claims, we can prevent it. If she lied about it, and needs nothing, how could we stop her?” “Chains,” Chang said, with a frown. Ah, yes, I want a closer look at that necklace she keeps fingering. I didn’t recognize the style. He put the mug down on the ground beside his chair. “I’ll take charge of her,” he said. “What, in Hing Ganau’s wagon? And won’t that start rumors.” “Oh, come now, a young girl she is not, Commander-chi.” “As if that mattered.” Chang narrowed his eyes. “She’s young enough, and I didn’t hear mention of a husband. Still, the idea has some merit—who better than you to defend us if she’s not what she says?” He thought for a moment. “All right. If she can ride, we’ll mount her, else she can bounce along in your traveling warehouse with the rest of the odds and ends. Think you can catch her if she makes a run for it?” Zandaril raised one robed arm and let the sleeve flutter gracefully while his hand waggled in the air. “Outride me she will not.” “Then she’ll be in your charge tomorrow. You’ve just made yourself responsible for her.” Well, I asked for it, did I not?
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