All exposition and no action. Also, very short. Not really spoilery.
Taro always enjoyed watching Lee after they’d been dancing at the assembly hall. Dancing relaxed her more thoroughly than pretty much anything else, as long as she didn’t have to worry about music that might make her violent, amorous, or weepy. And she didn’t. The musicians had come to know what music Lee could dance to and what music she couldn’t, and, when she was there, adjusted their repertoire accordingly. Taro felt a little bad about interfering with the music in that manner, that the other dancers had to put up with it, but no one had expressed any annoyance about it. At least, not within his hearing.
Some were reluctant to dance with Lee, fearful they might have to manage an out-of-control partner despite the precautions. Others weren’t. Farmer Barr, a huge man, scoffed at the idea that ‘a little thing’ like Lee could do him a scrap of harm.
And so they could dance, and Taro felt no anxiety over Lee dancing with other partners, no worry that he couldn’t risk dancing himself or that, while doing so, had to focus most of his attention on Lee and deliver a gross discourtesy to the person he was dancing with.
Taro loved to dance, too, always had. He couldn’t distinguish one note from another, but he could always find the beat, and that was all that mattered. He enjoyed watching the bodies move in unison, sometimes following precise steps, sometimes just flowing with the music.
But another wonderful part of dancing in Flown Raven was walking back to the manor and watching Lee walk with that loose easy gait, hearing her laugh.
She frowned too much, these days.
“Some night,” he said, “We have to get Roshni to come with us. She needs to spend more time out among people.”
“She enjoys her solitude, Taro.”
True, she never seemed unhappy. And it wasn’t as though she never saw people at all. Fiona consulted with her. She took walks with Lee and Fiona every other day or so. But those weren’t particularly exciting activities. “I think it’s too much solitude. The older she gets, the higher the walls climb, and there’ll be a day she can’t see over them.”
“She knows what’s best for her.”
Taro grinned. “How hard was it for you to say that?”
She jabbed him in the ribs. “I don’t tell people how to live. I’m not the one making judgments about another person’s habits.”
Fair point. “I know, but - ” He halted when he felt the faintest pressure behind his left eye. “Tsunami’s coming.”
Lee froze for a moment, then she reached for her purse, the one she always carried with her, the one that held the casting ingredients to help her Shield him in an area in which he should have never been channelling in the first place.
The purse that wasn’t there.
She looked up at him, eyes wide with panic.
Not, not panic. Lee never panicked.
He almost asked her if she’d remembered to put the purse on before they left the manor, but she would have had every right to smack him for that. Of course, she had remembered. “We have a bit of time,” he assured her.
So they headed back to the assembly hall, careful to follow the path they had taken out, peering into the darkness with only the dull light of the lantern to illuminate a brown piece of leather. For this reason, it took them significantly more time to make their way back to the assembly hall than would have been usual. The pressure grew stronger behind Taro’s eyes.
The assembly hall was empty and dark. As they did the ground, they searched every fraction of the floor. From moment to moment, his awareness of the approaching tsunami became more difficult to ignore.
“It’s not here,” Lee announced tersely.
“I can’t wait any longer.” The waves were beginning to hurt.
“Don’t worry, we’ve performed without the cast before.” It had been painful, and there’d been points when he thought his skull was going to fly apart, but they could do it.
“Where the hell did I leave it?”
“Can you punish yourself after we channel?” He was barely holding on.
“Aye. Sorry. Damn it.”
He let the forces in, feeling Lee’s Shields around him, solid and warm, her touch in his mind and chest.
He tensed in anticipation of the jagged agony the forces would bring him, the brutal struggle of sending them where they needed to go.
Except that didn’t happen. There was a slight increase in the swelling in his brain, and then the forces smoothly flowed down the path he had built for them. And that was it. It was done.
He’d never channelled an event so quickly in his life.
He and Lee stared at each other for a moment. “Is that it?” she asked.
The pressure had completely eased away. “I think so.” He put up his protections and she took hers away.
“What was that about?” she asked.
“I don’t know. It was just really easy.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
Sources weren’t posted in the place of their birth – usually – because channelling was particularly difficult for them. It was a lesson the Triple S had learned decades before, and it wasn’t something they were prepared to test again. The only reason he and Lee were in Flown Raven was because the Emperor, violating the authority of the Triple S, had sent them there. Taro and Lee had arrived with no guarantee that they would survive the first time they channelled.
They did survive, because they were very good at what they did, but perhaps they wouldn’t have been able to do it indefinitely. So Lee had found a solution, a cast she could use while they channelled, to make channelling less awful. “Maybe it was a fluke.”
She sighed. “Let’s hurry back. I need to put together another kit and I’d rather not risk another event without it.”
Events rarely lapped over each other so quickly, but Lee knew that. She wouldn’t be able to relax until she had her supplies, and really, neither would he. They jogged back to the manor.
Where they discovered that one of the tenants had found the purse at the assembly hall, recognized it was Lee’s, and were kind of enough to immediately return it despite the late hour.
The strings of the purse had frayed. Lee would be flaying herself over that. She assembled new ingredients and stayed awake all night silently castigating herself. The following day, she got a new purse with straps so thick it would take a sharp knife or twenty years of wear to break them.
She was in a vicious mood for about three days, though she strove hard to hide it by being excessively polite. She didn’t handle making mistakes well. Though it hadn’t been a mistake. It had been a mishap, no one’s fault, and there hadn’t been any repercussions. But she wouldn’t see reason in the matter.
He wouldn’t try to force her to. There were things he couldn’t be made to see reason about, too.
She buried herself in books, looking for answers. Taro didn’t think she’d find any, if only because she’d already read anything in Fiona’s library, even the really tedious trash, and being able to Shield a Source working in his place of birth without the assistance of a cast would have stuck out in her mind. She just felt she couldn’t just leave it, do nothing. In time, when she reread all of the books and found no answers, she would have to give up. Because it wasn’t as though she could ask anyone outside of Flown Raven for assistance. That would mean she would have to admit she could cast.
While she studied, her mood soothed out, but after she resurfaced from weeks of reading with nothing to show with her efforts, she became excessively polite once more. Taro knew words wouldn’t pacify her, not when it came to duty. He could only wait.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to wait too terribly long, because, after a while, another event threatened.
It was after supper. They were in their suite. Taro was watching Lee pace, wishing he could lure her outside to get some proper exercise.
And then he felt the pressure behind his eyes. “Tsunami’s coming.”
She swore and opened her purse. She wore it even in their suite. Taro had had to talk her out of wearing it while they slept.
Taro had an idea. “No, wait. I want to try it again.”
She frowned. “Without the cast.”
“Without the cast.”
She looked down at the ingredients in her hands, clearly reluctant to take a second risk.
“Wouldn’t you prefer to be able to channel without the cast?” Sometimes, Taro worried Lee might be becoming a little dependent on casting, that it was the first place her mind went when she needed a solution to a new problem. “It’s not as though we can’t channel at all without the cast.”
She didn’t like the idea, but she nodded.
And the event came and went as smoothly as had the one before.
This was excellent.
Taro grinned. Lee pursed her lips, clearly still not won over.
She wouldn’t trust it for a while, change made her edgy, but she would keep Shielding the old fashioned way, and in time, she would lose the uneasiness that came with always worrying whether she had everything she needed to cast at a moment’s notice.
Getting her to go back to the assembly hall? That was probably going to be a little more difficult.