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Kaylin had a new home, and she loved it.
The Imperial Palace was, to many, the pinnacle of dream homes. But to Kaylin, it had been a nightmareone that she'd finally escaped. The Palace Guard no longer lined the halls outside of her room, and her rooms were no longer so grand or so fine that she felt as if she didn't belong in them. The shutters on her windowsand they were shuttered, not barredweren't as warped as they had been in her old apartment, but the windows opened to let both light and air in, when she desired it.
And best of all: Dragon arguments no longer woke her out of a sound sleep.
In theory, Barrani arguments were quieter than draconic arguments, Barrani throats being confined to the general shape and size, even if they were immortal. Angry Barrani weren't exactly safer to be around, but at least they didn't demand attention half a city block away.
So much for theory.
The Barrani engaged in this particular argument were in the same building. Their shouts shook the floor, which shook her bed, which caused Kaylin to sit up and scrabble under her pillow for the dagger she always slept with.
Her small dragon familiar, usually a floppy and relatively inert mass somewhere at the top of her pillow, hissed. It was dark enoughbarelythat she could feel him more than see him.
In response to the stray thought, a soft glow lit the interior of the room. This was a standard feature of living in an intelligent and responsive building, but three weeks in, Kaylin still found it a bit creepy.
"I'm sorry, Kaylin," Helen said, although she didn't dim the lights. "It's habit. Generally when people are worried about visibility, it's because they might injure themselves in the darkness." She was, of course, nowhere to be seenor, conversely, everywhere, as she was the building.
Guilt, of course, came on the heels of light. Kaylin wasn't used to guarding her thoughts. She could (mostly) keep the bad ones firmly sealed behind her teeth, but Helen didn't require the spoken word. Then again, Helen didn't seem to judge or take offense at the unspoken word, which was definitely for the best.
The floor shook again, and this time, Barrani words were clearly audible. There were, as expected, two voices, crashing into each other: Mandoran's and Annarion's.
"What exactly are they doing?" Kaylin swiveled to dump her feet off the side of her bed. The mattress was dense and thick, but it was notlike palace mattressesthree feet off the ground.
"Sorry, I got that part. What are they disagreeing about?" Mandoran switched, midsentence, to the Elantran that was Kaylin's mother tongue.
"You can't hear them?"
"I heard the last bit, and you should tell Mandoran that what he's suggesting is anatomically impossible." She walked to the chair nearest the actual closet and retrieved the clothing she'd be wearing, bar disaster, to the office today. The small dragon showed his appreciation for being rudely woken by taking off with the stick she used to keep her hair off her neck and face. He also squawked a lot.
"Mandoran says," Helen finally replied, "that it's not anatomically impossible for them. Annarion says"
"Yes, thanks, I heard his response. Have they let up at all in the past four days?"
"They haven't been shouting at each other"
"I mean, have they taken any breaks?"
"It's probably a miracle they're both still alive."
"Mandoran agrees. He apologizes and says they will take a break now, and resume practice once you've headed into the office."
In the three weeks since their narrow defeat of the ancestors, Annarion had not emerged from wherever he was training. Kaylin didn't expect that he would until Helen believed that his self-containment was complete enough to walk the city streets without immediately attracting every Shadow in the heart of the fiefsor worse.
He'd already done that once, though unintentionally. Helen insisted that Annarion had been shouting for attentionfor want of a better descriptionand the ancestors had heard him. Since Kaylin had been standing beside the young Barrani for most of his stay in Elantra, she sympathized with his confusion: she certainly hadn't heardor seenanything that demanded attention. Nothing beyond his striking Barrani looks, at any rate.
the Shadows had come, leaving the containment of the fiefs and venturing into the streets of Elantra proper. And they'd made a beeline to Annarion. They weren't particularly careful about anything standing in their way, especially once they turned their attention to the Barrani High Halls. At that point, the Barrani and the Dragon Court had arrived in force.
The city had mostly recovered, although the streets in the high-rent district were no longer flat; the stone had been melted, and the creatures that had done the melting had left marks in the road when it once again solidified.
Helen was attempting to teach Annarion to be quiet. For some reason, Annarion did not take as well to these lessons as Mandoran had done. Mandoran joined Kaylin from time to time; Kaylin suspected that he did it just to annoy Annarion.
Then again, Annarion was desperately worried for his brother, Lord Nightshade. Nightshade's abrupt disappearance from his fiefand, more important, his Castleweighed heavily on his younger brother, who suspected that his presence was the cause of Nightshade's absence. Kaylin privately agreed, but she didn't blame Annarion.
She blamed herself. She shouldn't have let Annarion visit his brother in Castle Nightshade. She shouldn't have let him out into the city at all until she was certain he wasn't a danger to others.
And you would have stopped him how, exactly?
Rationally, she was not responsible for anything that had occurred within Elantra. But as hers had been the hand that had rescued Annarion and the rest of his cohort from their jail in the heart of the green, her guilt had clear and undeniable roots. Kaylin attempted to push aside the feelings of remorsethey pissed Teela off when she was in the office, and while Teela couldn't actually read minds, her familiarity with Kaylin's moods made her intuition pretty much the same in practical terms.
The sounds of shouting that would have contained nothing but curse words in most languages diminished as Kaylin made her way out of her room.
* * *
The halls in her new home were in far finer repair than the halls in her first home had been. Doors lined the wallsdoors behind which some of her friends now lived. Those friends were seldom in their own rooms, with a single notable exception: Bellusdeo. Her sole guard, Maggaron, had spent two weeks standing in the hall outside of the Dragon's doors; he took breaks for food, but they were short and silent.
Mandoran and Annarion spent their daysand nightsin what Helen referred to as the training room. It wasn't, as far as Kaylin could tell, actually a room in the strictest sense of the word. Teelathe reason that Kaylin had attempted to even find itdidn't consider it a room in the loosest sense of the word, either. Kaylin pointed out that it had a door.
Teela in turn pointed out that Helenwhose voice was presenthad had trouble giving the two Hawks necessary directions to reach it; in Teela's opinion, the door had only been created as a visible marker. Helen confirmed this.
Regardless, although the two not-quite-Barrani boys had rooms of their own, they'd been holed up in a part of the mansion that couldn't be considered home, Maggaron had been standing or slumping against a wall in the hall, and Bellusdeo had treated her room like an impregnable fortress. As house-warmings wentand Kaylin had only attended one, at Cait-lin's insistenceit was unsuccessful.
Kaylin, however, had felt at home in her room from the moment she crossed its threshold.
She felt at home in the dining room, even though it was large; she felt at home entering the front door, even though it opened to a foyer with multiple levels and too much light; she was even becoming more comfortable with Helen's habit of treating her thoughts as questions, and answering them out loud. Tara, the Avatar of Tiamaris's Tower, did the same. It was hard to feel lonely in this house. If it was also hard to be aloneand it wasKaylin didn't mind. Helen didn't judge her thoughts, her moods or her achievementsor, more specifically, their lack.
"I would," Helen said, as Kaylin made her way to the dining room. "But thoughts are not actions; they're not plans. If you were planning something unwise, I would tell you." This was demonstrably true. "If you were planning something unethical, I would also tell you. I have lived with tenants who have chosen to act against their own beliefsand the results were not pleasant."
"They messed up?"
"Ah, no, dear. I have had a number of tenants since Hazielle. It is almost universally true that what you cannot bring yourself to door perhaps to avoid doingyou cannot believe anyone else would avoid. For instance: if you decry lying, but then do it yourselfand not in the way manners might dictateyou quickly assume that no one is honest. If you betray a trust for your own benefit, you assume that no one is trustworthy.
"This eventually causes a spiral of ugliness and loathing. The reason I would stop you from doing something you despise is not necessarily because I would despise it. It is because of the effect it would have, in the end, on the way you view and interact with the important parts of your world. If you have no self-respect, your ability to respect anything or anyone else is in peril."
Kaylin thought about this as she ate.
Mandoran soon joined her, looking glum and exhausted. Had he been mortal, she would have attempted to send him back to bed. Since he wasn't, and given that he was up against the wall of Annarion's frantic fear for his brother's safety, she decided against it.
"He's going to be the definition of anti-fun until we find his brother. I've taken quite a personal dislike to Lord Nightshade." He pushed food around his plate as if the eggs were unappetizing. "If it weren't for his brother, we could try to learn to be 'quiet' at a reasonable pace. The way things stand now, Annarion might as well be mortal."
"And you mean that in the nicest possible way, of course," Kaylin replied.
"Not really." Being on the receiving end of Kaylin's glare, he glanced at Helen; her Avatar had been waiting, more or less patiently, in the dining room. She appeared entirely unruffled by his comment.
"Look, I understand why mortals are in a rush about everythingthey get old and weak so quickly that they can't afford to take their time. We're not mortal. We have time."
"We don't know what happened to Nightshade."
"We know he isn't dead."
"There are worse things than death."
"One of which would be practicing with Annarion," Mandoran replied. Wincing, he added, "Great. Now he's angry."
Kaylin was on Annarion's side this time, but said nothing; the Hawks had taught her to leave Barrani arguments between the Barrani who were having them.
Thanks to Annarion and Mandoran's not exactly silent disagreement, Kaylin was in no danger of being late for work. The midwives had called her out twice during the past three weeks; they'd sent a runner to the house each time. So far, Helen seemed unwilling to install active mirrors in the manse. Mirrors were modern necessities. Anyone of import used them to communicate, especially in emergencies. Since Kaylin was feeling surprisingly awake despite the hour, she turned to Helen to tackle the subject for a third time.
"I need some sort of working mirror connection somewhere in the house. It doesn't have to be everywhere. It could be in one room. Or even only in mine. Marcus mirrors whenever he needs someone to shout at, and the midwives' guild mirrors when there's an emergency. So does the Foundling Hall. I can't ask the midwives' guild to send a runner between the endangered mother and this house and expect me to make it there in time. So far I've been lucky, but I doubt that will last."
Helen's expression flattened. There was a reason this was the third attempt at discussion. "I have made some inquiries about the mirror network; they are incomplete thus far. I am perhaps remiss; I do not wish to insult either you or the people for whom you work. But the mirror network is not secure. I am almost certain such forms of communication would not have been allowed in my youth."
"Almost everyone has some sort of mirror access." Everyone, Kaylin thought, who could afford it. She hadn't had a mirror when she'd lived in the fiefs. She hadn't daydreamed about having one, eithershe hadn't really been aware of their existence until she'd crossed the bridge. "Some peoplemostly Barranihave even set the mirror network to follow them when they move from place to place. And if the Barrani are willing to use it, how dangerous can it be?"
"There are many things the Barrani doand have done in the pastthat you would consider neither safe nor respectable." Helen sighed. "Understand that the mirror network is a magical lattice that underlays the city."
"At the moment, it is a magic that I do not permit across my boundaries. It appears to have been designed to travel around areas of non-cooperation; it therefore skirts the edge of my containments. I have not disrupted it in any fashionit did not seem to be directly harmful. If you wish to have access to your mirror network, I would have to alter my protections to allow the grid's magic to overlap my own, at least in part. I do not know who, or what, is responsible for the stability of the grid; I do not know who, or what, created the spells that contain it; nor do I fully understand the magic that sustains it."
"Don't do it," Mandoran said.
Kaylin glared at him. "Why not?"
"You don't let stray magic into the heart of your home."
"Everyone else does."
"So I'd gathered." He winced. "Teela's in a mood, by the way." Great.
"I don't know what kind of power your people haveI have to assume it's not significant." Big surprise.
"But someone with significant power could transmit or feed an entirely different kind of magic through the lattice on which the mirror network is built."
"I'd think the Emperor would have something to say about thatmirrors function in the Palace."
"Dragons aren't as fragile as mortals, for one. LookI'm not an Arcanist. There are no doubt some protections built into the mirror network to prevent its use as a weapon. I can imagine those protections being successful in most casesbut not all. Magic is not precise; it's not entirely predictableas you should well know.
"But the possibility of being used as a weapon is not the only threat the mirrors might pose. It's highly likely that they could transmit private information to outside observers." His expression darkening, he added, "I meanTeela lets the damn network follow her."