But it wasn't a cell, it was the women's quarters, that's what the
moon-priest had said. Yes, they did happen to be the only two women
within the temple complex, and yes, the door was indeed locked from the
outside - only to spare the acolytes from temptation. How considerate. But
no, it wasn't a cell.
Roween looked at the bare walls that imprisoned her, wondered
yet again how long it would be before someone came to take her away.
She'd already tarried too long, dawdling in the ruins, put herself behind
time for the rendezvous. Now all this.
She shook her head. She was deluding herself. Her plan was
trashed, events had overtaken her. Too many possibilities, she couldn't
cope. The only way she'd ever leave this place would be on a death cart.
Despair wooed. She closed the book she was reading, the
Lonicon, sacred text of the Message. How thoughtful of the priests to
provide a copy. Depressing.
Conley was still sleeping, as she had been since they'd arrived.
The temple healer had immediately recognised her complaint, it was caused
by the bite of an insect, swampland. Incubation period, three or four
weeks; Roween reckoned it was the marshes near Dreimen. The cure was
regular doses of special herbs and roots, mixed and taken as an infusion.
Roween wanted to sneer when he told her - they were always "special"
herbs, it made the healing arts seem more mystical. Probably only one of
them was doing the job, the rest just colouring and the mandatory evil taste.
Something had worked, anyway, Conley was over the fever,
sleeping like a babe. The simile made Roween smile; yes, a babe, with
herself as mother. Feeding her, washing her, changing her, keeping her
warm. Crying for her.
She wandered over, took a brush from the table. They were
allowed a few of their belongings, but not many. No spellbooks, she'd
buried them in a wood a day's walk away, along with half of Medreph's
rubies. The remaining ones she'd let them find, except for four. Those,
Kneeling down, she took Conley's hair, began to smooth it.
Silky, fine, gossamer when the light caught it, and yet she'd used to hue it!
Some women would contemplate murder if it could give them tresses like
Conley's, but she herself took her good fortune for granted, wore a
figment! Roween sighed. Even if Conley went bald, she'd still steal men's
glances beside a short, cross-eyed plainface. Ask Lord Sennary.
Conley began to stir, Roween didn't react at first, but then she
realised, hastily replaced the brush.
"Con?" she ventured. Original...
"Anya?" Her voice seemed distant, slurry.
Anya? The keyboard player? "It's me, Con, Roween, you've
Taking some effort, Conley opened her eyes, squinting from the
light as it beamed through a slat window high on one wall, picking out dust
like specks of ground diamond.
"Don't try moving, you're too weak."
"Roween? I thought I was in, I don't know where I thought I
was. I feel so woozy." She blinked, slowly.
"Probably something in the potion. We're in a temple of the
Message, I told you I was taking you here, remember?"
"I don't know where I thought I was..."
"Can you move your hands? Gesture?"
Too late, she'd gone again.
* * *
The healer had returned shortly afterwards, smiled insincerely,
given Conley more medicine. When he'd left, Roween had put a finger
down her friend's throat, brought it all back up. A sleeping draught to keep
her harmless until the soldiers came.
She was awake now, but still lying down, Roween shining her
hair, looking bored, a dreary, uninteresting scene for the benefit of anyone
observing through secret peepholes.
"I memorised the antifever spell from your MedSpell library,"
whispered Roween. "You can cure yourself now, no need to rely on their
"How long is it?"
"Just over two thousand."
"You memorised two K gestures? That's impressive." Her
throat was still raspy, even when speaking hushed.
"I was working on them day and night, deciphering the
shorthand. They're structured, I only had to remember eight major
segments and some twiddly bits gluing them together."
"Well let's start on it, I don't want to have to depend on those
infusions. I feel a little stiff, whisper the gestures slowly at first, until I get
used to flicking again. We have plenty of time."
* * *
"Con, why did you break the click-well?"
"It was some kind of special tagged, how else could Sennary
have found us?"
"I know it was tagged. Why did you break it?"
* * *
Roween was standing before a different moon-priest. This one
seemed to have authority, was confident with his instructions to the others.
It was clear that he wasn't used to interrogation, though.
"So you're a mage," he began.
Gentle start. "I know magic," she replied, "but I won't use it."
He wrote something down. "That's inconvenient," didn't look
up, "you're valueless to us, then."
"That depends on whether you want to see spells cast, or cast
them yourself. I'm a teacher." Well, I am now.
He raised his eyes. "Prove it. Explain to me how magic
She tried to look paternal. "It's not really that easy. Do you
know anything about macro physics?"
She gazed downwards, to one side, hard for him to tell where
exactly. "As you wish. Macro physics. Well, we all know that the world is
made up of matter and energy. Whenever people do things, they change the
state of the world a little, alter some of its matter and energy. What exactly
happens is described by various laws of physics. We've discovered rules for
the effects of motion, heat, light, sound - all the major energy forms. Now
these in turn are derived from more fundamental laws governing forces on
and between objects, like magnetism and gravity. Study of one particular
force, the matter-energy force - that's the one that holds something in its
physical form - led physicists to develop the theory of macro physics. The
worldly manifestation of what this theory models is what we call `magic' -
that's because most of what we once explained using the term in its old,
superstition-loaded way, the theory now allows us to interpret technically."
She looked up.
He was making notes, nodding. "Carry on."
She tried to read what he was writing, couldn't, too small.
"Yes, well, basically then, `magic' is just the name we ascribe to any
process which changes the world by manipulating the matter-energy force
in some way. If it uses some other force, we use another word, `magnetic'
or `kinetic', say, or `electric' for the one you get when you rub amber.
`Magic' just covers one set of related physical laws, that's all."
She waited. He said nothing, reached the bottom of the page.
"Is that enough for you?" she asked, nervous.
He glanced up, pursed his lips a moment. "You've explained
what magic is, in a way, but not how it works."
"You want me to go into more detail?" She sighed. Well, if he
wants technical, he'll get technical. "So, every physical presence in the
world is either matter or energy. Rocks, lakes, people, light, heat - they're
all physical presences. Each such presence has a force radiating from it, the
matter-energy force, which, as I said, is what holds the presence in its
physical form. When matter changes into energy or energy into matter, it's
because of a change in the matter-energy force. So that's the force's main
function, then, to stop everything from turning into light."
"Why light?" interruption.
"Because that's the purest form of energy. They've done
experiments, you want me to give you the references?"
Roween had immediately regretted the remark, felt unsettled,
tried to regain her train of thought. "Well the interesting thing about the
matter-energy force, from a mage's point of view, is that it's focused, but
only weakly so. Also, it doesn't diminish with distance; it extends from
every physical presence to infinity in all directions, just it's stronger in one
of them. Normally, its orientation is random, it could be anywhere, and it
moves about arbitrarily, a bit like the stalk on a cherry spun into the air.
There are, though, certain things you can do to align the force relative to
some local point, as with making a nail magnetic by placing it next to a
lodestone for long enough. An aligned force is what we call a `focal
matrix'; creating and modifying such things is the purpose of gestures."
She paused for breath.
"And this focal matrix: how does altering it change an object in
the real world?"
Try keep it simple. "A matrix is a manifestation of an object -
or, more correctly, of the physical presences that make it up. Alter an
object, and its matrix changes; alter the matrix, though, and its object does.
The matrix of an object is the way its physical make-up is projected, in
terms of matter and energy."
"Do you consider thoughts as matter or energy?"
That old chestnut? Well at least it shows he's understood...
"The question is unresolved. Personally, I believe that thoughts are what
arise when the matter that makes up the brain has the right sort of internal
energies. By altering the energies, you can change - or eliminate -
thoughts." She smiled, ironically. "I can't give you anything deeper, how
magic fine-tunes the required alterations. I'm not a biomancer..."
He closed his notebook. "I have sufficient information now.
You may leave."
She was taken back to Conley.
* * *
The cell door opened, framed a huge man in flowing, black,
star-flecked robes. He pointed at Roween, "Come." Conley was playing
sleepers, Roween tucked a blanket around her, followed the priest.
She was led along the corridor, down some steps, out into a
courtyard. There was no-one with him, but Roween knew she wouldn't get
far if she bolted. He wore a sword, and the metal stars on his belt looked
removable, designed to be thrown. She followed him into an older building,
down again, underground, to a dimly-lit chamber. He locked the door,
waved her towards a rickety chair, seated himself behind an unadorned
"Do you know what I am?" he asked.
Roween nodded. "A star-priest, unattached to any of the twelve
"Do you know what I do?"
"You're a magisterial inquisitor. You rule on interpretations of
"I represent the Messenger in matters which do not fall entirely
within the domain of any one sect."
"If the Messenger wishes information from me, surely the task
of obtaining it should fall to a priestess of Keskh?"
He ignored her question. "You impressed the moon-archpriest
enough for him to refer your case to me. It is as well for you that he did,
otherwise you would undoubtedly be dead."
"I do doubt it, but proceed." Be enigmatic, seems to sway them.
"Your companion is a mage. Her father is Ansle of Malith,
chancellor of the Academy in Cala; he is the world's leading authority on
"If you say so."
"This much is known to us. Why she is in the empire of the
Followers is not. Tell me."
She thought he'd flinch, but he didn't. "Chewt is dead. We
have other spies. Why are you on Purasan soil?"
She thought as much: Chewt had been turned by the Message,
Ansle had found out, killed her somehow, made like it was he who was
dead. Fooled the Messenger into misleading the Estavians. Smart, but not
so smart. Didn't he care how his daughter would feel if she heard the
rumours? Thank the skies Sennary was discreet!
"Let's make it simpler, then. Your name?"
"I look after her."
"I know that! I know exactly what you do -"
"I'll wager! In an all-male monastery, you're not exactly going
to be short of volunteers to spy on us, are you? Not with her looks..."
He rapped a knuckle on the desk. "Flippancy. Well if you don't
wish to answer freely, so be it. I can force you. I have drugs that will wash
your mind of all resistance. I have poisons from Ca-Atl that will pain you
so much, you'll plead for a fatal dose, just to be free of their agonies. Or I
can give them to Conley."
Vacuous threat; he wouldn't touch Conley, she's too valuable.
No qualms about hurting a scruffy nobody, though, might even enjoy
himself. How can I become significant, worth keeping alive?
He made to stand up. "Very well, if you refuse to tell me
who - "
"Enough! I wish to see Lonalon." She tried to sound used to
The star-priest narrowed his eyes. "You call him by his godly
name. That he left that behind when he descended to our Earth and wore
the torus. He is the Messenger now."
"Lonalon is the name he should have kept. He brings false
tidings. He is no Messenger." The one advantage of skewy eyes is that
people can't tell when you're death with fear inside.
Her questioner was scornful. "You blaspheme!" Not entirely
the right tone, though. Even through his accent, there was something about
him. A wisp of doubt? Macabre interest? Perhaps - but was there enough to
Time to try it. "You know who Conley is, and I know who you
are, but you don't know who I am."
Arms folded. "Tell me."
Pitch it over his head. "Return to Lonalon; say his half-sister
wishes to speak to him. Our father is angry." She turned her back on him.
"I will talk with you no more. Go."
* * *
"And he believed you?" Conley was astonished.
"Course he didn't, but I hooked him. At least I'll be drawing
breath for a while yet, until he figures what to do."
"Someone will be coming for me anyway, he'll pass the
problem upwards, perhaps to the Messenger himself. He might be intrigued
enough to indulge you."
"It's what I'm hoping, yes. I just wish I knew what I'm going
to do when they push my bluff. Think I'd better have a closer read of that