Toby opened his eyes slowly, beholding the relative calm of the afternoon on the campus lawn. As usual, he’d been left alone to meditate. He liked doing so outdoors, under the sun, and over the last year the other students had learned to leave him be.
It usually brought him more calm.
With a sigh he stood up from his seat beneath the oak tree, the same one Professor Ezzaniel had ordered Gabriel to punch almost exactly a year ago. They had all been new to the campus and its peculiar rules and customs, all out of place, nervous, tense… Which was preferable to how he felt now.
“Funny, that looked like it should have been more relaxing. Something on your mind?”
Toby actually jumped very slightly at being addressed, but immediately mastered himself, turning to study the speaker.
He was an elf, and seemed familiar, though Toby could not recall having met him. The elves on campus were a mixed lot; this one had upright ears, marking him a wood elf, and wore Tiraan-style shirt and trousers with sturdy boots.
“Oh, just…this and that,” he said evasively, trying to clear the frown from his expression. “I’m sorry, I could swear I’ve seen you before but I can’t recall your name now.”
“You saw me briefly,” the elf said with a grin, stepping forward and extending his hand. “I was with a few of the other freshmen, coming from class.”
“Oh! That’s right!” Toby grasped his hand in return, smiling. “And now I remember, you were pulled away before we could speak. Another wood elf…a friend of yours?”
He winced. “Ah. Well. Addiwyn seemed to latch onto the idea that since we are both of the same race, and both somewhat ostracized from our kin, we should be the best of friends and perhaps more. Unfortunately, I do believe that girl is the single most unpleasant person I have ever met.”
“Ouch,” Toby said, grimacing sympathetically.
His new acquaintance grinned, a slightly lopsided expression that promised mischief. “I’m Raolo. Glad to know you.”
“Toby, and likewise.”
“But of course, you are the great and inimitable Tobias Caine!”
Now it was his turn to wince. “Ah, well… I think ‘great’ is really pushing it.”
“Well, how many paladins are there in the world, after all? Wait, don’t answer that, I know this one.” Raolo grinned. “Three. There are exactly three.”
“Yes, but I’m the most senior by at least two weeks,” he said solemnly. “That makes me the most boring.”
Raolo laughed brightly. “Well, I can’t argue with that logic. Guess I’ll just have to make do with you until I can work my way up to a more interesting paladin. If you’re so dull, though, why so gloomy? It takes some imagination to really suffer, I think.”
“That’s…oddly profound,” Toby mused.
“Something one of the Elders used to say. Which means, I suppose, I really ought to leave it back in the grove…” For a moment, Raolo frowned himself, glancing aside. “New place, new rules, and all that.”
“It’s certainly been an adjustment, getting my bearings in this place,” Toby said, glancing around the lawn. “It doesn’t help that Professor Tellwyrn’s idea of education is to keep everyone as off-kilter and nervous as possible at all times.”
“Should I be frightened?” the elf asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Yes,” Toby nodded solemnly. “Yes, you should. For what it’s worth, she makes a pretty solid effort not to get anybody killed.”
“I have to admit I find myself nostalgic for the peace and quiet of the monastery on a regular basis.”
A shadow passed over Raolo’s face. “Ah, well… I don’t really have that problem. Getting almost killed should at least let me practice my skills a bit. Uh, forget a said that.” He grimaced, glancing away. “I seem to keep dragging up my problems in every conversation since I got here. You don’t need to hear about it.”
Toby shrugged, keeping his expression open and calm. “I don’t need to, no, and you certainly have no obligation to tell anybody your business. But if you keep finding yourself doing so, maybe it’s a sign you want to talk about it?”
Raolo looked uncomfortable. “Well…no shit. I mean… Dang, I’m sorry, that came out a lot harsher than I intended. Never mind, it’s just that I’m trying to find my footing here without making a pest of myself.”
“Admirable,” Toby said, nodding. “I’ll tell you what, though; as the Hand of a peacemaking god, there’s not much that’s more central to my calling than listening to other people’s problems. You ever feel the need to unburden yourself, look me up.”
At that, a slightly amused expression flitted across the elf’s face. “Do you offer therapy to everyone you meet?”
“…huh,” Toby said after a moment spent staring into space. “You know, now that you mention it, I more or less do. Wow, that must be kind of annoying for people, right?”
Raolo laughed again. “Well, it’s one way to make friends. How’s it work for you?”
“Eh… Well, you remember Ruda?”
“Ah, yes, the Punaji princess! Don’t tell me, let me guess. She punched you.”
Toby valiantly tried to repress a grin. “In my defense, not for that.”
There came a short, sharp rap on the door, and then it swung inward and Afritia leaned into the room, wearing a slight frown.
“Maureen,” she said, “could you come here for a moment, please?”
“Sure!” Maureen set aside her textbook and hopped down from her bed. “What’s up?”
“Follow me,” Afritia replied, ducking back out. The gnome trundled after her without further comment. Szith, Iris, and Ravana exchanged a look, then rose in unison and followed them.
The cause of the house mother’s concern was apparent as soon as they stepped into the stairwell, from the broken fragments of metal lying on the stone floor, though the frame of steel pipes comprising Maureen’s package-delivering apparatus remained intact and secured to the bannister down here. The gnome heaved a small sigh, but said nothing, following Afritia up the stairs. The house mother glanced back at them, her lips twisting wryly at the sight of the rest of the dorm trailing along behind, but did not rebuke them.
At the top, the damage was much more severe. A whole segment of the framework was in shambles, all but severed and ripped free of its moorings, pipes twisted and broken in a few places. Oddly enough, the bell rope connecting the door to their room had been left untouched.
The entire area was splattered with purple ink. It made a couple of sprays on the stone wall and practically soaked the stairs themselves. A few purple footprints were visible heading down, but they trailed off after several steps.
“When I said you could build this,” Afritia said archly, “it honestly didn’t occur to me to stipulate that it should not be filled with paint and explosives.”
“There were no explosives!” Maureen exclaimed. “C’mon, what would be th‘point o’ that? I’m not an idiot!”
Afritia shook her head. “Look at this, Maureen. Whatever this stuff is, it didn’t just leak out. It’s sprayed everywhere. What part of a simple metal framework should have had any components that would do this? And for that matter, what is this stuff, and why was it necessary?”
Maureen cleared her throat and shuffled her feet slightly. “It, ah, wasn’t strictly necessary for the function of the device, ma’am.”
Afritia raised an eyebrow.
“It’s a simple alchemical dye,” Ravana said smoothly. “Professor Rafe provided it. He also gave us a solvent which will remove it from any surface without causing further damage.”
The house mother grimaced. “Rafe. I should have known. How, exactly, did you convince him to give you this stuff? I’m fairly certain that whatever this is, it belongs on the list of substances students aren’t to be issued outside of class.”
Ravana smiled. “We told him it was for a prank. He handed over several bottles, and gave us extra credit in both of his classes.”
“That imbecile,” Afritia growled, rolling her eyes.
“An’ there were no explosives, see?” Maureen said, holding up a broken piece of pipe. The interior was entirely stained purple. “The innards, ‘ere, were just pressurized. Break ’em open an’ the ink sprays out. Simple. Just takes a li’l equipment an’ some extra elbow grease! Nothin’ dangerous.”
Szith took the pipe from her and held it up to the light. “This was severed with a bladed implement. An axe, I believe—see how this side is heavily dented, right at the cut? It was struck with significant force.” She turned slowly, pointing. “Considering how quickly this dries, whoever left those footprints was obviously here right when the spray occurred. And look at this spray pattern on the wall. It’s a single, wide splatter, with an interruption in the middle. Considering the positioning involved, I would say that break is perfectly sized to have been a person standing right in the spray.”
“Just as a point of edification,” Ravana said sweetly, “Professor Rafe assured us this dye would adhere to skin and hair as perfectly as anything else. We’ll just go get the solvent and get to work cleaning this up, shall we?”
Afritia stared at them in silence for a long moment, then looked away to the side, not quite succeeding in suppressing a smile. “Yes…you do that, girls. And later, if you’re asked, you be sure to tell Professor Tellwyrn I lectured you in a very stern voice about pranks and vigilantism in general. For now, excuse me.”
She didn’t turn to look as they all followed her back down the stairs. Afritia walked more quickly this time, heading straight into their room and toward the extra door at the back. The others clustered around Ravana’s bed as she opened her trunk and began extracting and handing out vials of an effervescent transparent liquid, but none made any pretense they were not watching the house mother.
Afritia rapped sharply on the door. “Addiwyn, come out here, please.”
“I’m not feeling well,” came a muffled voice from within. “Can this wait till later?”
Iris grinned with savage glee.
“I said I don’t feel well.” Addiwyn’s petulance was audible even through the wood.
“Young lady, I am offering you a chance to grasp at some dignity which I suspect will be sorely needed. If you are not out here in a count of five I will come in and get you.”
There came a muted thump, then a moment of silence, then finally the door opened a crack.
Afritia grabbed the knob and pushed it all the way inward. Addiwyn skittered back, but not in time to conceal the purple streak splashed across her face and soaked into her golden hair. She had at least changed her clothes; only her person was marked.
“Addy, honey, you don’t look so good,” Iris said, still grinning. The elf gave her a murderous stare.
“Oh, yes, laugh it up,” she sneered. “I’m sure it’s great fun to booby-trap the stairwell. It would serve you right if it was a visiting professor caught in your little trap—”
“That’s bollocks and you know it!” Maureen shouted, brandishing the broken length of pipe, which she had retrieved from Szith. “Look at this! Look at it! The purple stuff was fully contained inside—nobody would ever have known it was there unless somebody deliberately took an axe to the thing!”
“Well, that’s interesting,” Addiwyn said, folding her arms. Her smirk looked purely ridiculous with half her face painted purple. “You know your accent completely vanishes when you’re angry?”
“Enough,” Afritia said quietly. “Girls, you have cleaning up to do. Save some of that solvent for her to use later. You, miss, will come with me.”
“Oh, great,” Addiwyn sneered. “Another very fascinating conversation. Can I bring a book this time?”
“You’ll find I have limited patience for wasting my time on hopeless causes,” Afritia said flatly. “You declined to listen to me, so now you get to have a talk with Professor Tellwyrn.”
“So, no, attending the University isn’t exactly a point of pride in the grove,” Raolo said, leaning against the stone balustrade separating them from the one-story drop to the lower terrace. “Not in any grove, I would imagine. In mine, at least, it’s not exactly a mark of shame, but heck… That would be pretty redundant in my case, anyway.”
“Wow,” Toby said, leaning beside him. “That sounds… Well, honestly, rather hard to believe. It sounds like you’re quite good at magic.”
“I may have exaggerated my gift a little bit,” the elf confessed, grinning at him. “I’m very egotistical, I’m told. But, well, it’s the wrong kind of magic. Tradition is a huge concern to elves, considering most of our communities have people still alive who remember why the traditions were founded.” He idly held out one hand, palm up, and produced a small cloud of blue sparks, which began to dance in intricate patterns in the air.
“I don’t want to tread on any sensitive cultural taboos or anything,” Toby said with a frown, “but I have to ask… Why are elves so opposed to the arcane? I think Professor Tellwyrn is the only other elven mage I’ve even heard of, and I’ve seen hints that other elves don’t think terribly highly of her, either.”
“It’s because it’s too easy,” Raolo said, closing his fist and cutting off the display of sparks. He straightened up and turned to Toby. “This is another thing we don’t like to discuss with humans, but the hell with it. Do you know anything of how elvish metabolism works?”
“I didn’t realize it works any differently than ours,” Toby admitted.
Raolo grinned. “We don’t process energy with our squishy internal bits like you do—it’s all in the aura. Everything we take in, food, sunlight, air, every source of energy, goes right to the aura. Elves don’t generally eat with any regularity; we tend to have large quantities at wide intervals. In fact, an elf with a highly charged aura can hold their breath basically forever. Don’t need air when we can recharge the blood straight from our personal energy stock.”
Toby blinked. “Wow.”
“So, related to that, we have a much higher capacity for storing energy than other intelligent races. Shamanism, now, is all about connection. You grow in power as a shaman by forming relationships with fairies, gathering totems and objects of power…all paths that root you in the world. It’s all very much in line with the elven perspective on our role in nature. The arcane, though… You gain power in the arcane by increasing your capacity to store power. Elves start out with a large advantage, there. Almost any elf has the arcane storage capacity of a professional wizard, even if they don’t know how to use such power should they try to gather it.” He shrugged.
“Why don’t the drow have mages, then?” Toby asked curiously. “I can’t see them turning down a source of power, but I’ve never actually heard of a drow wizard.”
“That’s just their genetic peculiarity,” Raolo said, “like how dwarves can use divine magic on their own, but no other races can, or how gnomes are the only sentient race that can’t interbreed with the others. Who knows why? Drow just don’t generally have the ability to grasp the arcane. Actually a few do, a handful every generation. I understand they’re basically treated like royalty down there.”
“I’ll bet,” Toby mused.
“There are old legends—old even as we reckon time—about the first origins of the arcane and why it shouldn’t be messed with, but that aside, it’s seen as cheating. As laziness, selfishness, and hunger for power. You start dabbling in the arcane, and you’ve basically declared your intention to go tauhanwe, at the very least.”
“But you did,” Toby said quietly.
Raolo sighed. “It’s just that… I’m good at it. It feels as natural, to me, as breathing. It’s a part of who I am. After growing up with lectures on the nature of being, I just can’t see how it’s fair to expect me not to be who and what I am. Y’know?”
“I think I do,” he said, nodding slowly.
The elf grinned again, his dour expression of a moment ago evaporating in an instant. “Well! I bet you’re good at empathizing with other people’s problems, after all. You are clearly a people-pleaser.”
“Now, what makes you think that?” Toby asked, amused. “Almost the whole time we’ve been talking, we talked about you.”
“And that is why,” Raolo said, prodding him in the chest with a finger. “I came upon you looking all tense and broody, despite being right out of a meditation. But a few minutes listening to someone else blather on about his problems, and you’re the very portrait of serenity! Simple deduction.”
“Well, I guess you’re pretty perceptive, then,” Toby said, now fighting a smile.
“Don’t feel bad, I also ensnared you in my trap,” the elf replied with a bow. “I am very clever. So let me ask you, Toby the Paladin, what would you do if you came upon somebody looking as glum as you were earlier? How do you fix that?”
“People are not for fixing,” Toby said, frowning. “Most aren’t truly broken. Everyone just needs a little bit of a boost, now and again, to sort themselves out.”
“Okay, well, the question stands. Put yourself outside yourself. You don’t know this Toby guy, but he’s clearly got a good, solid glum worked up. What’s your approach?”
Toby sighed, turning his head to stare out over the campus. “You can’t make somebody talk to you, any more than you can make somebody better. I guess… I’d just offer to listen.”
“Check,” said Raolo, leaning sideways against the stone rail and keeping his eyes on Toby. “Doesn’t seem to me like he wants to talk, though.”
“Sometimes people don’t,” Toby said with an irritable shrug. “Then you leave them alone.”
“Even when they clearly need to?”
“Yes. Even then. Besides, a lot of people have trouble opening up to people they don’t know.”
“And what about people they do?”
He sighed. “Well, there’s… I mean, yeah, if they…”
Toby trailed off, staring into space.
“I’ve got a feeling some of those people have noticed already,” Raolo said in a more gentle tone. “Bet they’d be glad to be supportive of you for once. I don’t need to know your history to conclude you’re the only who usually plays that role.”
“You know what?” Toby said, staring into space. “I’m an idiot.”
“I’m sure you are,” the elf said gravely, then winked when Toby turned to scowl at him. “But don’t take it to heart. We all are, at one point or another.”
“So that much is cleared up,” Ravana said lightly. “I think we all assumed it was Addiwyn behind these attacks, but it’s pleasing to have confirmation. Now we can decide what to do about it.”
“Need we do anything?” Szith asked pointedly. “She is being reprimanded by the University’s highest authority as we speak. The matter is being dealt with.”
“To assume that matters are simply dealt with is to confer imaginary and impossible powers upon authority figures,” Ravana replied. “One must consider the nature of the crimes and the person responsible. Were Addiwyn responsive to reprimand, she would likely have at least slowed her pattern after being lectured by Afritia. In reality, though, she proceeded immediately to her next attack. More to the point, we may be dealing with an individual suffering from a severe personality disturbance. It may be that even Tellwyrn can’t bring her to heel.”
Despite her dainty frame and uncalloused fingers, the young Duchess was working vigorously alongside the rest of them without complaint. Truthfully, it wasn’t onerous labor. The solvent had a pleasantly mild but antiseptic scent, and the purple dye dissolved apparently into nothing under its touch. They had simply to damp their rags with it and apply them to stained areas. By far the most difficult part of the job was making sure they didn’t miss any spots.
“The cause of Addiwyn’s behavior is an immediate concern,” Ravana continued, frowning pensively at the bannister she was currently scrubbing. “Her actions were at once absurdly juvenile and frighteningly cruel, and the context in which they occurred defies my understanding. Not knowing what motivates her, I cannot guess what she will do next. This leaves me quite unsettled.”
“She’s a bully,” Iris snorted from a few feet above, where she was on her knees, scrubbing dye off the steps. “Simple as that.”
Ravana shook her head without lifting her own eyes from her task. “Bullying occurs for specific reasons, according to specific patterns. It is, ultimately, about power. A bully will consistently place her victims in weaker positions, using her actions to emphasize how much lesser they are in power than she. That is the entire point. Addiwyn, though, might as well have been deliberately knitting us into a united front against her. She never tried to exercise any leverage or build a power base. It was just…lashing out, without pattern. Not consistent with any bullying I’ve ever seen. She would have tried to control the situation somehow.”
“So she’s a stupid bully,” Iris said disparagingly.
“Somehow, I doubt there are any stupid people of any kind admitted to this University,” Maureen noted.
“Having discarded that idea,” Ravana went on, “I considered the possibility that she might be anth’auwa.”
Szith stopped scrubbing the wall and half-turned to give her a sharp look.
“Uh, sorry?” Iris said, also looking up. “What’s that in Tanglish?”
“Unfortunately,” Ravana said ruefully, “it’s nothing in Tanglish. Human scholarship is lamentably behind the elder races in categorizing mental illness. The elvish word I just used literally means heartless. The dwarven scholars call it ‘social pathology.’ It refers to an aberrant personality which lacks any empathy or ability to connect emotionally with others.”
Iris snorted again, turning back to her work. “That sounds about right to me.” Szith slowly followed suit, a faint frown creasing her brow.
Ravana sighed softly, still wearing her own thoughtful little frown, though she straightened up and flexed her back as she continued speaking. “I am not ready to definitively rule it out, but… No, that, too, falls apart upon closer inspection. I have known several such individuals. The nobility, ever eager to conform to stereotype, tends to produce them at a higher rate than the general population.” She bent back to her scrubbing, continuing to speak. “At issue is that this is a severe personality disturbance. The primary concern of anth’auwa is always to hide what they are. They make a consistent effort to imitate normal social behavior; you have to catch them when they aren’t being careful to see the truth. Addiwyn has done precisely the opposite: she is surly and disagreeable whenever interacting with anyone, but at other times appears quite calm, even happy.”
“When have you seen her calm or happy?” Iris demanded, looking up from her task to stare incredulously at Ravana.
“She is hostile, erratic and probably emotionally unstable,” Ravana said dryly. “I watch her carefully. Don’t you? In fact, in just a few days I have observed that she quite enjoys Tellwyrn’s class, seems oddly fond of Professor Rafe and is even more suspicious of Professor Ekoi than the rest of us.”
“That is sayin’ something,” Maureen muttered.
“Not a bully,” Ravana mused, “not a heartless… Completely irrational and aggressive. It is very curious indeed.”
“So, maybe she’s just crazy,” Iris said disdainfully.
“No one is just crazy,” Ravana replied. “That is not how the mind works. Insanity follows patterns—a thinking person cannot be truly random in their behavior, though the pattern may be opaque to the outside observer. No… I don’t even see Addiwyn as insane, to be frank. Her conduct is generally that of a mentally normal person who is…doing something.”
“Doing what?” Szith inquired.
“That is the question, isn’t it?” Ravana said, staring thoughtfully at the rail she was scrubbing. “If I knew that, I suspect all of this would make perfect sense. That, ladies, is what I think we must determine, if we are to ensure our own safety.”
“’ere, now,” Maureen said worriedly. “Y’don’t think she’d actually harm us, do ye? I mean…sabotaging our belongings is one thing…”
“I cannot say what she might do,” Ravana admitted, “because I do not know what she wants. Right now, that she might harm us remains a possibility, as yet untested.”
“And how do you propose to find out?” Iris demanded. “You wanna just ask her nicely?”
“Asking her seems a good approach,” Ravana said, beginning to smile slightly. “After all, who else but she knows the answer? But I think we are well past the point of doing anything nicely. Don’t you?”
Sheyann slowly opened her eyes and smiled down at the translucent blue hare which had materialized on the rooftop before her. It had taken a good fifteen minutes of concentration to weave the magics just right. Hopefully this one would last longer than its predecessors.
The inn she had chosen was low, dwarfed by the surrounding buildings, though it was an amusing irony that she had come to think of a four-story structure as small. Its attached iron fire escape made a serviceable path for her spirit hare to reach the street below. The last three had generated some small outcry as they passed, but less than she had feared; apparently citizens of the great metropolis were accustomed to unusual sights.
Now, though, a few were gathering on the sidewalk opposite to see if another hare would come down from the roof. This would have to be her last attempt of the day; aside from her disinclination to put on a show for the locals, drawing too much attention here could lead to citizens or even authorities interrupting her work.
“You know whom I seek, little friend,” she whispered to the hare. “Find her for me.”
It stared up at her for a moment, spectral nose twitching, then turned and bounded onto the fire escape.
Sheyann settled back into a meditative pose, closing her eyes and attuning her senses to the hare’s. It made it to the street, seeking the faint traces of Kuriwa’s distinctive aura that she had instilled from her own memory.
There were muted cries of excitement from the onlookers as the hare reached the street, which both it and Sheyann ignored. Already she could tell this was going better, thanks to her fine-tuning; the last two had decayed rapidly under assault from all the loose arcane magic in the city. This one was more stable, existing in much less inherent conflict with its surroundings. It quested about for traces of the magic it sought, turned and bounded across the street…
And burst apart in a flash of light as it was crushed by a passing carriage.
Several cries of dismay and one loud cheer rose from the audience. Sheyann winced, opened her eyes, and sighed heavily in irritation.
“You might try asking down at the Shaathist lodge. Their spirit wolves and hawks seem to operate just fine in the city. Clearly they’ve mastered the method.”
Sheyann lifted her eyes, showing no hint of surprise on her features, to behold Kuriwa herself seated on the inn’s currently inert chimney, smiling down at her. She was dressed in soft buckskins, like a plains warrior. When had she started doing that?
“Or,” Sheyann said evenly, “you could explain the method yourself, as I strongly suspect you have it down.”
“On the other hand, I’m sure you would work it out yourself quite quickly, were you inclined to continue experimenting,” the other shaman said lightly. “What brings you out to seek me, Sheyann? This is a most peculiar place to find you. Virtually the last I would have expected.”
“I could say the same.”
Kuriwa shook her head. “I have always gone where the trouble is. You, though, seldom stir from your grove unless there is an apocalypse brewing.”
“Fair enough,” Sheyann said wryly. “Arachne and I need your help.”
Kuriwa straightened up slowly. “Arachne…and you? Now I begin to be worried. Is the world actually ending?”
“We consider that a lesser probability,” Sheyann said, folding her hands into her sleeves, “but I am not yet prepared to conclusively rule it out.”
“The short version is that we have two injured dryads on our hands. Juniper is mostly well and in fact making greater progress toward being an emotionally stable, responsible person than most of her sisters have ever achieved. She is, however, grieving, and has a blockage placed in her aura by Avei herself, which seems to have lead Naiya to believe she is dead. That brought in Aspen, who currently is severely traumatized and began to transform before being fixed in a time-altering spell by Arachne. She remains thus, in a secure room at the University. And she is the only one who knows what Naiya thinks and plans to do about this.”
Kuriwa narrowed her eyes, but made no other sign of distress. “Naiya is not the patient sort. I suspect her plans would have become clear already if she had any.”
“Ordinarily, I would concur. Juniper, however, is living proof that she can act with more agency and subtlety. Arachne had to spend some time campaigning for it, I understand, but Naiya sent her out specifically to learn the ways of mortals, as a first step toward making peace between them and the fey kingdom. With regard to this, at least, Naiya is not only able to act with more discretion than usual, but highly motivated.”
The Crow sighed, shaking her head. “And Aspen is with Arachne. Frozen in time? That sounds typical of her.”
“In that it is overbearing, inefficient and undeniably effective?” Sheyann said dryly. “Yes, that’s Arachne all over.”
“What do you think of her at present, Sheyann?” Kuriwa asked, watching her carefully.
“Arachne is one of the things that worries me least about the world,” Sheyann replied. “She remains mostly in her chosen place, training young ones. Training them as tauhanwe, to be sure, but I have noted that she teaches them how to think, not what to think. She stands as a living impediment to other mortal powers, and her presence serves to strongly discourage destructive influences. All in all, and aside from being an arcanist, she would be the very picture of a respected Elder if she were not such a tauhanwe to her core. Rather like someone else I could name,” she added with a smile.
Kuriwa returned one of her own. “That much is a relief, then. I’ve not had any interaction with her since she vanished into the Wild, and none with that school of hers. This assuages some of my worry.”
“You trust my judgment on the matter?” Sheyann asked with mild surprise.
“I have frequently disagreed with your judgment, Sheyann. When have I ever disparaged it?”
She acknowledged this with a nod. “Fair enough. For now, can we count on your help with the dryads?”
Kuriwa frowned pensively. “Hm. In your opinion, how likely is it that Naiya will take violent action?”
“In my opinion, not likely at all. Plans or no, she isn’t patient, and as you know, she has little ability to act on the world directly, except in just the kind of dramatic assaults we fear. Those are brief in duration and highly localized, though. I think if she were going to react, she would have by now. This is, of course, nothing but opinion. Naiya’s mind is unknowable.”
Kuriwa nodded. “Good. Yes, of course I will lend any help I can; this issue is clearly serious, even apart from then need to be of aid to the dryad in question. But if it is not an immediate urgency, Sheyann, I am monitoring a situation here in Tiraas that I hate to leave unattended until it reaches a conclusion.”
“Yes, your human friend Darling,” Sheyann said disapprovingly. “You are surely aware he has two eldei alai’shi in his custody? I see no way that can end in anything but catastrophe.”
“Actually,” Kuriwa replied, “he has kept those girls stable longer than any previous headhunter has ever been, and even taught them to be happy and somewhat well-adjusted.”
“You’re not serious.”
“Entirely. I consider him worth preserving for that alone. But no, that is a long-running affair, and anyway, it is business. My immediate concern is a family matter.”
“I see. I won’t pry…”
“Oh, I don’t mind if you pry,” Kuriwa said with a slight grin. “In fact, you would be welcome to watch, if you wish. It appears that Lanaera’s daughter is actually doing something constructive with her life.”
Sheyann raised her eyebrows. “Principia? Headhunters, dryads and apocalypses are one thing. That I will believe when I see it.”