Sythyry (sythyry) wrote,

The Wizard’s Apprentice, part 2

Mirrored from Sythyry.

[OOC: posting on a schedule won by about two to one, so I'll keep doing that.]

Feralan followed Wexiset past the Witch column. To his left was the wall of Kismirth, on this level a plain circular cylinder of polished wood. Twelve yards to his right was a balustrade, each wooden baluster echoing the Witch of Agnesi until it abruptly and discontinuously ended in a square capital, as if the arc of the railing — a simple circle! though a huge one, since it went around the city! — could not bear the contact of the Witch. Past the balustrade was a region of protective enchantment, strong enough to easily defy the people who dwelt in the native region of Feralan’s soulmate. They were transparent, invisible, to afford a spectacular view of the branches of the World Tree spread out like an endless plane irregularly tesselated in green beneath Kismirth. Feralan knew the walls were there; he had helped his master construct them. The walls comforted him; he knew far too well what those people were capable of, what they rejoiced in.

Wexiset turned to inspect Feralan, her bright black eyes full of some incomprehensible message or emotion.

You must be new to Kismirth!
They say that the vista grabs you
by both eyes for the first month you're here,
by one eye for the second month, and
by the third you can ignore it.

Her face deformed again, as it had before.

 I think that's silly. Wouldn't it mean that Khtsoyis
 got distracted by it for five months? That is how many
eyestalks they have, isn't it? I don't know any Khtsoyis
well enough to count their eyes.

Feralan pondered her words. What could she mean? Why was she talking about not knowing any Khtsoyis? Was she hinting at some conspiracy against the Grinwipey, master of the casinos, the most important of the few Khtsoyis in Kismirth? He thought he should pump her for further information, but could not think of any way to do so. He temporized, saying, “I’m not new to Kismirth. I helped build it.”

The creature, the girl, emitted a sort of sharp barking noise.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Kismirth has been open for five years.
You would have been a child when it was being built.

It had been rather more than five years for Feralan. He answered, “I’ve been Sythyry’s apprentice for a long time. Since before zie started Kismirth. I was a child … I only helped with a few things, mostly the Locador spells.”

Wexiset turned to stare at him, the way one enigma might stare at another.

The wizard doesn't have an apprentice.
Zie's got an assistant, Phaniet. Well, some kind of assistant.
Phaniet is a lot more important than Sythyry.

“Phaniet sometimes teaches me too,” said Feralan, truthfully.

Wexiset barked again.

Ha! Ha! You are such a joker. Phaniet takes
time out of her busy schedule to teach a lost
and slow little boy?

Feralan reached up to rub his head in confusion, and suffered another instant of disorientation when he discovered he somehow had a pair of rounded furry ears there. Where had they come from? He forced himself to remember seeing those same ears in the mirror-bracelet a minute ago, the same ears he had had all his life. “She doesn’t take time out of her day. She puts it into her day. We do a lot of Tempador, time magic. Some days are three or four days long for us.”

I know they do Tempador. They made the
Quick Quarter and Slow Side, didn't they?

She leaned towards him, and he could smell her breath, with a hint of some pulpy fruits that she must have devoured not long ago.

Are you claiming to have helped with that?

“Just a little of the math and space distortion,” he admitted.

The creature pressed her advantage.

Well. If you're helping the wizard with zir math,
you can help me with my math homework.

An assertion of status? An offer of an alliance? A conciliatory gesture? There was no way to tell. Feralan searched for a way to divert attention from the topic, looking this way and that along the corridor. He discovered that it was a straightforward and bland rectangular prism, radial to the huge circle of this district of Kismirth … and occupied at some distance by a swarm of uncanny beings, combining anthropoid and insectile features. He shuddered, and sought and found a nearer distraction.

“That side-corridor! It is named Chavan’s Striped Walkway!” Feralan and his soulmate had designed a complete system for giving unique coordinates to each corridor and room in Kismirth, in terms that would let one calculate directions from any place to any other simply from their addresses. Even the most mathematically-adept of the other builders winced at the intricate twelve-or-more-part coordinates, and accepted a simpler (but utterly useless for calculation) system of naming each roadway.

The creature moved her head to some swift unheard rhythm.

That's the road. Our class suite is number Sh, on the right.

“Sh isn’t a number. It’s a letter,” said Feralan, who was sensitive about such matters.

Wexiset proclaimed,

I can't call it a house letter. That would be silly.

There was no accounting for the arbitrary precepts of such strange creatures.

Suite Sh was immense: thirty-one rooms, two of them large enough for 418 students, if arranged correctly, to stand so that they could not touch each other or the walls. It was also mostly empty. The same went for most of Kismirth. It was a the size of a large town, but where a branch-bound town would be more or less two-dimensional (with brief excursions into a third on upper floors and basements), Kismirth was fully three-dimensional, or occasionally more where Sythyry’s spells had gotten out of hand. It could be regarded as a single building a mile tall: room enough for the population of a hundred large cities. But nearly all of that space was empty, despite the best efforts of the Purists, and would be for decades or centuries to come.

Feralan followed Wexiset’s ringed tail around two corners in the suite. The door to the classroom was open. The room was pentagonal — a barely-regular pentagon, composed of a square with an equilateral triangle attached to one face, the addition surely due to imperfections in the wizard’s city-construction spell. The ceiling was high and fantastically arched, and a dozen chandeliers of autoluminescent beech-wood crescents made the room bright.

A tall creature stood on four legs in the center of the room: half anthropoid, half insectile, encased in gleaming white chitin and purple and black garments. It stood on four legs, holding a notebook in one forelimb and a pen in the other. It turned its eyes on Feralan when he entered, and raised its antennae and worked its mouth-parts, speaking to a lazy assemblage of a dozen assorted smaller creatures sitting attentively on couches.

Hello, Feralan!
 Students, this is the new pupil I was telling you about.

Feralan instantly understood that the half-insect must be the teacher. An instant’s comparison of her appearance with a memory of their interview revealed that it — she — was indeed Miss Qualsohn. (Or, as persistent and precise inner voice reminded him, it could be some other Herethroy who resembled her in some moderate degree. Feralan had made such mistakes before, often.) He quietly said, “Hallo.”

Miss Qualsohn addressed the half-circle (though Feralan noted that a half-dodecagon would be a better description, as the students were sitting on straight rather than curved couches — and not a completely regular dodecagon either) of students.

 Just to remind everyone, Feralan is the wizard
Sythyry's ward and apprentice.
He's very clever at magic and mathematics;
he won't be studying those with us.
He's been neglecting other studies somewhat. 

With his bitterest flaws thus revealed but minimized, Feralan could only nod.

Miss Qualsohn continued,

 Feralan, would you like to say a few words to introduce yourself? 

“No,” answered Feralan.

Miss Qualsohn gesticulated with her antennae, speaking to the students.

 I'm sorry. He's also the victim of an unusual psychic injury,
and has trouble with ordinary conversation.
Just pretend that you're a Cani talking to a non-Cani,
be very clear about what you mean,
and everything should be fine. 

She turned back to Feralan.

 I meant, please tell us a few words about yourself,
such as your full name,
a bit about your family,
and what you hope to learn this term. 

Feralan shivered in the doorway. He thought about teleporting away, to the safety of his hidey-hole outside the main universe … but Miss Qualsohn’s class had seemed the best place for him to get used to being around people, and he steeled himself to the ordeal. “I’m Feralan ky Disastro. My mother and her Cani lover were Sythyry’s accountants. They embezzled all zir money. Sythyry caught them, and they’re captives in Oorah Thrassen. I don’t see them much. I’ve got one brother, Ochirion, who is fostered with a Rassimel family in Kismirth. I’m Sythyry’s ward and apprentice. My soulmate is named hCevian; he’s here…”

Feralan’s familiar demon manifested by Feralan’s head. hCevian could not wear clothes of course, but he had orthonormalized himself for neatness. All of his spikes were perpendicular to the others, and all were of the same length: one could hardly appear simpler or snappier. Of course, people confined to a three-dimensional locally-Euclidian space (such as Miss Qualsohn and her students) would simply see hCevian as a floating ball of black spikes, glittering and wicked, the size of a walnut. But hCevian did what he could. “I am pleased to meet you all!” hCevian’s voice was an elegant blend of harmonics, purer than the voice of anyone made of flesh.

Feralan nodded nervously. “This is hCevian. He’s a Locador fairy.” Everyone else called the species Locador demon, though the distinction between fairies and demons was sketchy at best. “Vae, the nendrai, had taken me on a trip, and got me killed. She waited a bit too long to get me to a healer, so she grabbed hCevian and transformed him and used him as spiritual glue to keep me from being totally dead until Sythyry could heal me. Then we were stuck together a long time. We got cut apart, except bits of his soul came with me and bits of mine came with him.”

By this time, the students had all become rigid. Those with external ears had generally flattened them, and those with visible tails had tucked them between their legs. Several of them were making low whining or whistling noises. Feralan tried to remember from his notebook what that might mean, but, in his nervousness, he could not picture anything but the cover.

Miss Qualsohn, nearly rigid herself and with lowered antennae, said,

 Feralan, you must banish the demon.
 It is scaring the other students. 

Oh! That was fear they were displaying! He tenderly said, ⊙ ¬({hc} δ here) to the fairy, a slangy mixture of proximity topology and modal logic. hCevian giggled happily. “Told you they’d fear me at first!” He whirled, his spikes appearing to pass through Feralan’s head, but of course missing by whole dimensions, and became mostly elsewhere with the barest ripple in the essential world.

“hCevian won’t hurt you,” Feralan said. “He’s a refugee here. Vae wrecked his soul, and he’s not safe in his proper region. He’s under Sythyry’s protection, and Vae’s. He won’t hurt anyone. He can’t hurt anyone too much; he understands too much about feelings.”

The students remained silent for a moment. Wexiset asked, in a quiet voice with unusually complex frequency and amplitude spectra even for a voice based in flesh,

Will it be back?

“Well,” Feralan said uncertainly. “hCevian isn’t precisely not here, and, fundamentally, couldn’t be anywhere else in the universe without also being slightly here too. Imagine that he’s a …” Feralan glanced at his bracelet to confirm the species. “… a Rassimel with an infinitely fluffy tail — infinitely dense and infinitely long tailfur, but finite mass, so …”

Miss Qualsohn spoke firmly,

 Feralan, leave off.
The question called for a simple yes-or-no answer,
not a mathematical theorem.
Students, the demon has left;
it will not return.
Infinitely fluffy tails need not enter the picture. 

With a familiar person — Sythyry or Phaniet, say — Feralan would have argued. It wasn’t a theorem, and hCevian had simply become far less here than he had been before. Well, there were some points of view from which hCevian was absent. Perhaps Miss Qualsohn was thinking of one of them, rather than considering the matter more generally.

Miss Qualsohn continued.

 Feralan, have a seat on that couch, next to Wexiset.
Now, it is time for a lesson in history.
We discuss the events leading up to the Holocaust Wars." 

Feralan sat down, crouched a bit as if to maximize the ratio of his interior to his surface. He tried to follow the history lesson. The flood of names of historical figures would have overwhelmed him at the best of times. Worse, the bulk of the lesson tried to explain their motivations, why they entered the web of alliances and vengances that nearly destroyed Ketherian civilization. Motivations generally eluded Feralan at the best of times, and the motivations of people who only existed anymore as a mess of words were utterly incomprehensible. He carefully wrote down everything the teacher said, and, in her pauses for breath, developed a formalism for describing alliances and motivations. By lunchtime, he had set of equations detailing the history. He might not understand what it meant for one wizard’s honor to be impugned by another’s actions, but he certainly could chart when it happened.

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