Tama returned to her rooms as quickly as she could, not wanting to face any of the people she had voted down. It still took a while as other people recognized her and wanted to ask her questions. She managed to convince most of them that she was in a genuine hurry, and got back without having anyone track her down.
Two pieces of paper waited for her on the bedside table. The larger one was folded in thirds and appeared to be gently embossed with leaf patterns. She picked it up and unfolded it. I tried to contact you more directly, but no one would let me, it read in blocky but somehow graceful printing. I wanted to apologize for failing and congratulate you on succeeding. I wish I could have seen what happened, but that didn't work out. Even if some of us can see the future, all of us have to live it. You did the right thing. In your place, I couldn't have.
She took her attention off the letter for a few moments. There hadn't been a choice, the way she'd seen it. Maybe, she realized, that was why it had to be her that used the device. Maybe it wasn't just Vanceshe knew without having read the signature that the letter was from himwho would have done the wrong thing.
I know the device is going to stay at your installation, the letter continued, but if you have time between performance reviews and meetings, feel free to come by anyway. I know I'll be stopping by your place a few timesall of us will, to teach you people how to use it or to take care of business we need it for. (Between now and when our teams figure out how to make another one, that is.) Tama smiled at that and went on. You've always lived free, even if it didn't seem like it at the time. I know that if you stay with the effort, everyone else in this new world will too. It was signed, in the same printing, Vance.
Tama refolded the letter, admiring the detail of the leaves pressed into the paper, and set it back down. The part about seeing the future was a little strange, but she decided it must mean that he knew about the books since neither one of them could foretell things. The invitation, though, was welcome; someone who'd lived with a sensory Power and its accompanying drawback for longer than she had would be good to talk to.
The second piece of paper was smaller, and complexly folded. When she got it open, which was hard to do without ripping it, she was surprised to see that this one had an old-fashioned wax seal affixed below the writing: two arrows, crossed in a tall narrow X, bracketed on the sides by the initials "IB." Leave it to Irina to have her own seal, she thought, and began to read.
With luck, the meeting went the way it had to and you people have the machine now. Tama was startled, but read on. Don't lose your noseMyrithe told me. Well, that was a relief. I wish I hadn't had to keep you in ignorance about things, but she said if you'd known, you would have done it for the wrong reasons, and she says that's just as bad as doing the wrong thing. To tell the truth, I was more worried about the meeting than the demonstration, because I knew you wouldn't want to hurt anybody. I hope that didn't make you abstain from voting. It had to be you that cast that last vote, because everybody would listen to you. I hope they did. I'm rambling now, but one last thing. I sent a note to Lesana too, and she should be coming to meet you soon after you finish reading this. If you want a short magic lesson, go with her. I'll see you there.
Tama didn't try to refold this letter, just laid it back on the table. She had thought letters like it only happened in stories, and found herself wondering if maybe things should have stayed that way. It was strange to read something that was of neither the past nor the present, whether it was a letter or a book of prophecy. She was wondering whether she should give back that last when there was a knock on the door. After one last glance at the letter, she left the room.
They faced off in Tama's counseling room, standing about a pace apart. Irina's stance made a triangle with them; Ulith watched from his slouch near the door. According to Irina, the lesson wouldn't require anyone present who actually knew magic, which was good since Ranell was sulking over the vote.
"This little bit of magic is for seeing people's auras," Irina began. "Most people see them with their eyes, but then most people aren't you, Tama. It's anybody's guess what you'll see, or hear, or feel, if it even works."
"So if it does work, how is it going to?" asked Tama.
"It's just a trick of concentration, really, or so 'Nell tells me," said Irina. "There are traditionally certain words that go with it, but you don't have to say those particular ones. Just hold in your mind the image of the person in front of you, but made of silver, and repeat a rhyme five times."
"Does it matter which rhyme?" asked Lesana.
"It shouldn't be one that mentions killing or death or anything like that," said Irina. "Aside from that, any nursery rhyme or short poem will do. It's just a tool to focus your mind."
Tama dredged up a short lullaby that her mother had sung to her a few times. She knew it only by sound, since it was in Bianxeni, but remembering the sounds ought to focus her mind if anything did. The hard part was going to be the silver. She settled for mentally superimposing the energy she could sometimes sense coming from emPowered people atop Lesana's shape, and started chanting under her breath. As she continued, something strange intruded on her field of vision. It wasn't anything she had ever sensed before, and it nearly disrupted her concentration. When she had finished, the energy around Lesana had taken on that quality entirely. It feltflat, not like the tangibility of the rest of her world, and also warm somehow, though she couldn't identify why.
"You're all blue," said Lesana in awe.
"That's because she's emPowered," said Irina. "UnemPowered people show up yellow or red most of the time."
"So I'mseeing" Tama nearly tripped over the word "yellow or red?"
"What?" yelped Ulith. "Tama, did you say"
"I don't know what else it would be," she said, conscious that she was babbling and unable to control it. "It's not like anything I usually see, it feels sort of like when I see people using Powers but flat, and not connected to her, and kind of warm but I don't know how . . . "
Ulith was already muttering. " . . . nerves aren't the problem, just the connection, it has to be. Tama, whatever this bit of magic is, it looks like it's dumping the color information directly into your brain, and you're handling it just fine. You've just never experienced it before."
"Don't you see other people's thoughts in color?" Irina wanted to know.
"No," Tama said automatically, then thought about it. This energy felt a lot like the noise she always picked up from other people's minds. "Or maybe I just filter it out . . . but I don't see how that would happen since I've been reading thoughts all my life. I would have gotten used to getting colors from them."
"Maybe it's just not connected at both ends," Irina suggested. "You can pick up the colors from thoughts, but you can't interpret them. This doesn't need that kind of connection."
"You're blue, and you're fuzzy," said Lesana, nearly giggling. "You look like a bad monitor picture."
"That's great," said Tama, her attention elsewhere. "So this means if there were another spell that did the same thing . . . I could see colors?"
"Maybe," Ulith began, looking to Irina for guidance. But Irina was most definitely not paying attention, or at least not to him. She looked from Tama to Lesana, a bemused smile building on her face, and then turned to leave the room. The laughter that rang in the hall after she left had a bitter edge to it that none of them wanted to ask about.
Tama awoke from a dream that suddenly shifted to being about a collapsing building to find that she was being shaken awake. She sat up without looking and clonked heads with the person who'd been doing the shaking. "Ow!" howled Ranell's voice. "Watch it!"
"Aaaahgh," Tama agreed, rubbing her forehead. "You could try knocking on the door instead. Ow."
"I did," said Ranell, sinking into Tama's desk chair. "For over a minute. You didn't even budge when I came in. Mora, I don't think my nose will ever be the same."
Tama took a cautious look at the other woman's mind, hoping the friendliness wasn't an act after what Irina had said the night before. She was glad to find that it wasn't; Ranell appeared to have accepted the vote and decided to move on. "Sorry. I guess yesterday tired me out more than I thought. What brings you here at whatever time of the morning this is?"
"Myrithe's here," said Ranell. "Everyone else was up when she got here and they went straight into a meeting. Then she wanted to know where you were and they all basically said, 'Oh skrat' and sent me here."
"Oh skrat is right," said Tama, throwing herself out of bed in the general direction of the closet. Grabbing a random shirt and pants, she hurried into the bathroom to make herself presentable. A few minutes later, they were on the way to the meeting room.
The table layout had been corrected, Tama noticed as she entered. Also, the woman sitting next to Irina seemed familiar. Tama gave her a quick scan and nearly ended up in a heap on the floor. It was as if she had no thoughts and several layers of thoughts and memories all at once. She was able at first to glean only a few things from the brief contact: first, that her name was Myrithe; and second, that she had been alive before.
As Tama was attempting to clear her head of the triple vision the experience had given her, Myrithe looked over at her. "SiXianis angara, selavenith," the other woman said.
Myrithe looked and felt disappointed. "You are not as you appear, then," she said. "I will try to remember."
"What did you just say?" asked Tama. It sounded completely foreign, but just on the edge of understanding.
"I greeted you, and called you by name," said Myrithe.
"My name is Tama, not what you said."
"We have many names. This is only one of yours, but true."
"I have one name," said Tama, conscious that everyone else in the room was watching the interaction, and wanting it to be over. "Please call me by that."
Myrithe looked more disappointed. "I had hoped you would want a connection to your family," she said. "If Selavenith is not to your liking, perhaps you would prefer Shomarith? That one is newer, but still true."
A flurry of words and images passed through Tama's mind. A large shape, leaning over her as she pretended to sleep, radiating feelings of love and pride. The memory, not her own, of another shape with a panicked expression repeatedly flipping the button on a flashlight aimed at a tiny version of her. Shomara! he shouted. I think
Tama shook her head to get rid of the ghosts, hoping the rest of her wasn't shaking. "How did you know my mother's name?" she demanded.
"Not your first mother," said Myrithe, "and not her first name. It was much longer ago than that, but still your family as sure as the Innocent."
"The who?" asked Tama, remembering as the words left her lips the "blood of the innocent" passage in the prophecy book.
"Another of your line," said Myrithe. "The first of your mothers to have multiple Powers, for all she never knew it. Her worldly name has been lost to time and other traditions, but you have a right to either of the others, should there be a need."
"What kind of need" she began, and was assaulted again, this time by the books. Nothing and need. The way it was supposed to have been. Her face seemed to want to melt. "What are you doing to me?" she yelled. "Why? What right do you"
"Please don't kill the guests, Tama," Lesana said quietly from behind her.
Tama realized that she had been advancing on Myrithe, and that the other woman hadn't shied away in the slightest. She lowered a fist she didn't know she had raised, swallowed, and started over. "What do you want from me?"
"I want certainty," said Myrithe. "I want to know what you will do."
"Now that it's all over, you mean?" she asked. "I don't know. Keep going. Teach maybe. Whatever I can. Whatever I have to."
"Will you also love, then, as you have to?"
What an absurd question. "That, I'll do however I can."
Myrithe smiled. "Then this has not been in vain," she said, standing up and coming over to Tama. They were of a height, but the stranger was slender to the point of being skinny. She reached toward Tama, who managed not to cringe as a hand grasped her shoulder. "Know this. You are right that time does not heal everything. We do not get through or get past; we only go on. But you are wrong that you will be alone. Look around you and know this also."
Tama, feeling she must be biting her lip through to keep from dissolving right there, only trusted herself to nod. In a moment, Myrithe's hand left her shoulder, and the absence of contact made it easier for her to keep control.
"What about you? What are you going to do now?" Lesana asked after a few seconds.
"Live," said Myrithe. "Something I wanted to do twice before and could not. I owe it to all of you, and more, that this time I can."
"While you're here," said Irina, "or after you die this time, of old age instead of being killed, what will happen if someone casts the spell again?"
"I cannot say."
Tama had a sudden thought and wasn't sure whether to voice it. "Did you know her?" she finally asked, surprising herself.
"The great-great-long-ago-grandmother you said I had," she said.
"Briefly," said Myrithe. "Long enough to know that she was a woman of great character and strength, and for her to recognize me for who I was. I promised her that I would return in a time of great need, and that I would meet one of her line." She chuckled softly. "I did not know then that it was not my help you would need. The mind of the world can be vague."
The phrase surprised her, but not as much as it surprised Ulith and Lesana. "What's that?" Lesana asked.
"What it sounds like," answered Myrithe. "You will learn more later." Lesana must have been just enough in awe not to press the issue. "Now I must speak with Tama, privately." She looked around at the rest of the occupants of the room, who reluctantly got up and left. When they had closed the door, she said, "You are near an answer, but it does not lie in the direction you are going. I can direct you, but only in principle. You must be the one to take the action. Would you learn?"
Tama didn't know what in the world she was talking about, but she had a feeling there was only one way to find out. "Yes."
"Wonder what's going on," mused Irina, leaning against the wall. "I think secrecy is just in her nature, but this is kind of weird."
"I'm just wondering why all the interest in Tama," said Lesana. "And her family of whenever this was."
"Maybe it's just her connection to what she knows," Ulith suggested. "The ancestor she mentioned." He had his doubts about how likely that was, remembering that Myrithe hadn't said she knew the woman well.
"Possibly," Irina said. "Although it seems more likely to be connected with some piece of prophecy than"
"That's it!" exclaimed Ranell, and three gazes fastened on her. She had been mostly lost in thought since about halfway through the discussion in the room, but now she appeared to have remembered whatever it was she had been fishing for. "The prophecy books."
"What about them?" asked Irina. "I'm not asking for them back."
"No, I just remembered that's where I heard that name Myrithe said," Ranell explained. "Selvenith."
"Selavenith," Lesana corrected.
"That's what she said, yes," said Ranell. "But I meant the other. That was the married last name of the sister that did the writing."
Ulith remembered the sister from the quick explanation of the prophecy book he'd gotten from Tama and Yaren. He also remembered seeing the name before, but not in the same place. "The one she said, Selavenith, was actually a historical poet right after the Darkness. We had a complete collection of their works. It was huge."
"How did you come by a complete collection?" Irina wanted to know. "I've been looking for the last volume for years."
"Wait a second. Their works?" asked Lesana. "Was it a he or a she?"
"Nobody's been able to figure out," Ulith told her. "The love poems talk about both sexes and never about which one the author was."
"And anyway, you can have the last volume if you want it," Ulith said to Irina. "I'll have my mom send it to you. I could never understand it anyway. Never got more than a few pages in." It had looked different from the rest of the books in his family's collection, smaller and older than its companions on the shelf. But then, they were all from different editions and different publishers, and only two of them matched.
"What, the unfinished world-chronicle?" asked Irina.
"No, the one after it. The weird little thing about gray birds and souls of light," he said. Obviously she'd never heard of it, from the look on her face. "Don't tell me you haven't at least heard about it."
Irina finished looking like she was swallowing a fishan expression Ranell shared, he noticed. Carefully, she said, "That's not part of the collection. That's the book of prophecy."
Ulith could almost feel the fish transport itself to his own stomach and start swimming. "You've got to be kidding. It even said Selavenith on the inside cover." Or had that been Selvenith?
"You mean you didn't even read a little of it when Tama came back with it?" Lesana demanded.
"No, why would I?" She certainly hadn't told him to. He was about to continue his reply when Ranell touched him on the arm.
"You do know that there are very few copies of that book," she said. "Even before the riots there were fewer than fifty, privately printed and usually hand bound. And they were diligently guarded by the descendants of that sister. Almost nobody outside the family has a copy."
Ulith stared at her, and she and Irina stared back. "I think I need to go talk to my mom," he managed. It would be interesting, that was for sure.
Tama reeled backward, snapping back the tendril of her Power she had threaded through Myrithe's mind. "Thathurt," she panted. Hurt wasn't the word for it; it had felt as if her head had been thrown into a river of electrical shocks. "You people do that all the time?"
"Yes, but we are accustomed to it," said Myrithe. "I apologize; I should have darkened the room first. For most emPowered people, seeing through another's eyes is simply disorienting."
"Fine, but for me it's like having my brain exploded." Tama stayed where she was, not wanting to move for fear it would jar her head. She wasn't certain that would hurt, but she didn't want to take any chances. "Full-color light-based vision and I don't appear to mix."
"So it would seem," Myrithe agreed. "This was generally taught to the younger emPowered, as one of their first lessons. At the time I was learning, there were no Powers like yours, so the effect of this type of lesson on you was uncertain until we tried. I suppose that, had you been younger, it may not have been so difficult."
"Thank you anyway," said Tama. "I do remember how to do it in case anyone else wants to learn and you're not available."
"Which was my aim." Myrithe started toward the door. "Do you wish to ask me anything more?"
"I don't think so," said Tama, then remembered. "Wait. You used to tell people's futures, right?"
"Correct. Would you like yours?"
"No. Not all of it."
"I never tell all of anyone's future. Only the parts they most need to hear."
"Do I have a part I need to hear?"
"I have already told you much," said Myrithe. "And I will tell you other things in the future. But since you ask, I will tell you now: you will find the truth, and you will see it through your own blood."
Tama tried not to look too put off. "That doesn't sound pleasant."
"The truth rarely is." Myrithe's hand was on the knob of the door opposite the one the others had gone through. "Remember what you have learned."
Myrithe left the room, and Tama waited for a few moments before leaving it herself. The people in the hall seemed to have separated into couples, but nobody was talking much. Irina noticed her first. "What was that for?"
"Something she wanted to talk to me about," said Tama, hoping they wouldn't press her. "Is she going to go back to your place now?"
"I don't know," said Irina. "She keeps trying to refuse things like clothes and rooms. I don't know what she wants, but I don't think it's at the Stronghold."
"Which we have to get back to," said Ranell, coming over. "The rollers are going to leave at eleven."
"True. But we'll be back." Irina grinned. "You can't get rid of us completely. Not while you have our machine."
"Our machine," Ulith corrected, making a sweeping gesture. "As in, all of our."
"Right, we have something at eleven too," Lesana remembered. "We'll talk to you later."
Tama was already heading toward a shower.
"Melinjani Medanis." The breeze carried Lesana's voice through the courtyard, beyond the semicircle of chairs arranged in the middle. "You have come to us in decision, to live and work as an agent for change. Have you read the agreements?"
"I have." Jani stood calmly on the grass, facing the head committee. "I will agree to uphold the laws and principles of the League and the Thirty Points to the best of my ability, so long as those bodies exist and I am a part of them."
"Will you facilitate the exchange of information and ideas?" asked Ulith.
"As is the goal of the Thirty Points, so it is mine."
"Will you assist in the rebuilding of a functioning city and world?" Beriali sounded just the slightest bit unsure about his first official duty.
"As is the goal of the League, so it is mine."
It was Tama's turn. "In what capacity would you work?" It was the only genuine question in the litany, and the answer was different depending on the person.
"In whatever capacity I can," answered Jani.
Lesana missed a beat, as well she should have. That wasn't one of the usual answers. "Then be welcome," she said. "From this day, you are one of us."
Jani's face broke out in a smile that made Tama smile back. "Thank you," she said.
"So how did your mom react when you said you weren't going back?" asked Tama, glad the formalities were over.
"She was happy, actually," said Jani. "She wanted me to join you for over a year, but I kept putting it off."
"Well, we're all glad you finally got around to it," said Lesana. "Now you'd better go check out your rooms and get settled in."
Jani nodded and went back toward the building, leaving the committee alone.
"I love doing that," said Lesana, grinning.
"You'd recruit the whole world if you could," Ulith commented.
"One person at a time," Lesana told him. "Which leads me to the second order of business today. May I present Moyann's new head of diplomatic relations, Vardren Beriali."
"May I be worthy of the position," he answered.
"Thank you for agreeing to the promotion," said Lesana. "It would have been hard to find someone if you hadn't."
"I had a good example."
Tama kept quiet for a moment, as did everyone else. Then she asked, "So, are we going to establish a Power department?"
"Apparently so," said Lesana. "You've got five people who are certain they have some kind of Power waiting to be tested, and about thirty more who are just curious. And then there's the rest of the place. You'll probably want to run the blue thing on everyone next round of evaluations."
"Exactly what I planned," said Tama. "Once I figure out what blue is anyway."
"Right," Lesana realized. "How about after this we both call in those five people and I'll show you?"
"Any news from the technical sector?"
"Aside from the fact that we're going to need a bit more power to run that machine on a regular basis and still keep the lights on, not really," said Ulith. "Nobody's gotten a chance to look at it or talk to any of the Stronghold crew yet. They're sending their specs tomorrow and coming next week."
"Sounds like fun," said Lesana. "Anybody else?"
"Actually," said Beriali, "I was talking to the head of the medics yesterday and he said he'd like to send a representative to the meetings from now on. Him, and the quartermaster."
"Did they come to you?"
"No, I went to see Kestryn in the medic bay and ran into them both there."
"How is she?" asked Ulith.
"Better," said Beriali. "Almost ready to leave."
"Good to hear it."
Tama let her mind wander, and found herself thinking about what Myrithe had said. You will find the truth, and you will see it through your own blood. Thinking about the language, and other ways she had heard the words used in the prophecy book, she came up with several possibilities. Whatever the truth in question was, she would either find it somewhere on her family tree, die a violent death in an attempt to find it, or find it just because she was herself. She hoped it wasn't the second. She also hoped it was something she actually wanted to know, or would in the future.
"Tama? Anything of note happen in the last few hours?" asked Ulith, bringing her back to herself.
"Um, no," she said. "Except that the meeting with the third Stronghold delegation went well. They seem to want to keep speaking to us, which is a change from their earlier attitude."
"Right," said Lesana. "Do you think any of them would be amenable to teaching?"
"Maybe. You'd have to ask them. I'm fine with it in any case."
"You'd better be, with thirty-five-plus potential students," said Ulith.
"Exactly." Tama returned to the puzzle of Myrithe's words. She still wasn't sure what was so important about whatever truth she was supposed to find; she supposed it would become evident when it was necessary. Truth seemed to have a way of happening at the least expected times. But there would be time to deal with that later. Right now, there was a world to build.
Copyright © 2001 by Katherine Foreman.