Home > Cast in Honor (Chronicles of Elantra #11)(2)

Cast in Honor (Chronicles of Elantra #11)(2)
Michelle Sagara

“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 everything—they 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, either—she hadn’t really been aware of their existence until she’d crossed the bridge. “Some people—mostly Barrani—have 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 do—and have done in the past—that you would consider neither safe nor respectable.” Helen sighed. “Understand that the mirror network is a magical lattice that underlays the city.”

Kaylin nodded.

“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 fashion—it 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 have—I 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 that—mirrors function in the Palace.”

“Dragons aren’t as fragile as mortals, for one. Look—I’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 cases—but not all. Magic is not precise; it’s not entirely predictable—as 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 mean—Teela lets the damn network follow her.”

Not for the first time, Kaylin wished she could be part of that internal dialogue. “The communication—the flow of information—is bound to mirrors. Teela can’t just speak to me whenever she wants unless I carry a portable mirror on my person—and those are way too expensive to give to a private. I can mirror Teela—and she’ll pick up if she’s near a functioning mirror. Break the mirror, and you break the communication. And the mirrors aren’t any sturdier than regular glass.”

“If you were better at magic,” Mandoran told her, “you could easily do what Teela does. It wouldn’t be expensive.”

Kaylin’s magic lessons had been severely disrupted for the past two months, but the implication that she was incompetent was clear. She tried to swallow her defensive words because, blunt or not, he was only speaking the truth. She even managed to succeed, although swallowing food was easier. She focused on that instead.

“If you allow your network access to this house, as opposed to the hovel you purportedly lived in before the Palace,” Mandoran continued, “the information to be gained could be a danger—to Helen. No one was interested in your previous home until Bellusdeo arrived. They might have had a great deal of interest in your palace residence, but Teela tells me the Palace is practically a magical stronghold.” His expression made it clear that he didn’t agree. And also made clear, after a moment, that Teela didn’t think much of his disagreement and was letting him know.

The thought of Teela in lecture mode made Kaylin appreciate being left out. “People mirror me when they need me. And when they need me, it’s an emergency. They don’t have time to run halfway across the city to hand-deliver a message.” She turned to Helen and added, “Even Tiamaris—the Tower of Tiamaris—has mirror access.”

Helen frowned. “Let me see, dear.”

Kaylin was already thinking about mirrors made of water in the large, glyphed stone room of that Tower, Tara standing beside them, her eyes not quite human.

“Is it only in that room that you have access to your network?”

Kaylin frowned. “No. Tara can create a mirror out of nothing if we need one.”

“Understood. I will look into this further. I am no longer—as you know—what I was when I was first created. Information I once possessed has now been lost, and I must work the way you do.” This was not in any way accurate, but Kaylin didn’t quibble. “It would be useful to have some contact with at least one of the Seven Towers; the Seven do not take unnecessary risks.” She glanced at Mandoran. “Perhaps you can be of aid in this regard.”

“I’d like to be a guest, if it’s all the same to you.” Mandoran’s answer—which didn’t appear to line up with Helen’s comment—caused Kaylin obvious confusion. “Guests aren’t asked to do necessary work—in large part because they can’t be trusted with it.” Mandoran’s smile was sharp, lean.

“I am not Barrani,” Helen replied, an edge of disapproval in her otherwise correct voice. “Believe that I would know if you were misbehaving anywhere it was likely to cause damage.” Her expression softening, she added, “We would not have survived without your intervention—and to intervene, you stood almost at the heart of my power. As such, there is now very little with which I would not trust you.”

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