"Thanks for all your help, Chenii-Imor." Roween meant it.
The Elet didn't react, seemed uninterested.
Conley touched her on the arm. "It's been nice knowing you,
Chenii-Imor. Enjoy yourself in the western lands, and let us know how you
She appeared startled. "The comsphere! You should take it with
you!" She opened her bag, dug around in it, hasty.
Conley glanced to Roween; Roween shrugged.
"Here it is, I knew I had it." She produced the rose-pink
com-2, smiled, then sensed Roween's incomprehension. "There was an
open appeal last week, I remembered it this morning but it slipped me
again. Here, you should have this now." She offered the ball to her,
Roween took it, still muddled. "That's, er, yes... So, why
exactly do we need this, Chenii-Imor?"
She was surprised by the question, emptied all expression from
her face. "I don't know why the appeal was made, Roween, I'm just
complying. My sphere, take it to the library; that's where the rest will be."
Then, Roween understood.
* * *
"I thought you'd been there before?" Conley was impatient.
"I have, Con, it's not far now, don't worry."
She looked around. "Well I don't see any library. I know these
buildings are big, but how many books did you say it contained?"
Roween grinned. "It's right beneath us. They hollowed out a
cavern inside the hill, put the library in it. Less risk of fire, no risk of flood
or vermin, and they can expand it whenever the need arises. Bit dark, but
there's lamps and stuff."
"And there's only one entrance?"
"There are several - four, I think - but we're going to the main
gate; that's where the comspheres will be."
Roween smiled, knowingly. "I can feel them already, hundreds
of them! This is all going to be so much easier than I'd earlier feared."
* * *
Conley had never seen so many com-1s, com-2s and black-fac
lookalikes together before. Roween had underestimated: there were maybe
four or five thousand of them. "The Eletic philosophy is founded on the
premise that communication is the key to freedom," she'd said, "so of
course, people such as Medreph imported a few comspheres from Cala." A
few? Hot! And what about the thousands more that haven't been handed in?
Roween's face was twitching with concentration as she slowly
descended the stairs. "I think I can manage it now, Con, the smell isn't
quite so overpowering..." She kept her back to the wall, stared intently at
the comspheres like they were the eggs of giant spiders, huge, deadly,
ready to hatch.
"I can move a few more away if you like," said Conley,
stooping to scoop some up.
"No, they're fine, leave them, the disturbance..." She took the
last step, closed her eyes, edged into the space to her left. Conley followed.
"When I can sense magic, will comspheres have the same effect
Roween was bent over, panting, looked up. "This many? Yes,
they'd better, or it'll all have been a waste of time..."
* * *
The librarians had relocated the bound books from where
Roween remembered them as being. The new room was smaller.
"There's less of them now," she explained. "The Elets don't
reseal a book once it's opened, there's no point. The writings left in here
are the ones no-one has yet asked to read. Obscure research reports, things
Conley was looking at her, suspicious. "You don't seem to find
them very strong-scented."
Roween hesitated for a moment, like she was listening for
something. She nodded. "They're not so bad at first, but they sort of get
worse the longer you stay with them, happens quickly. There are still
enough here to provoke your reflex capacity into being, but the presence of
all those comspheres will make it much, much easier."
"I wish you could help me shift them, or we had a barrow or
something. There's so many..."
"Carry them piled up in your arms, it doesn't matter if you
drop a few. While you're walking, reach out with your mind, try to
imagine what it's like to sense their magic, try to see them with your eyes
closed. It'll come after a few hours, if you want it to, believe me."
"Believe you?" Conley pulled a book from the shelf, random.
"Ro, I believed you when you told me that trash about recording gestures.
How do I know you're not snicking me up again?" She read the title.
"You don't," answered Roween, coldly.
Conley replaced the book, turned her head sideways to look at
the spine of the next one. "I still don't understand why I need this built-in
demagicking ability anyway. Why can't I just cast the spell that'll get rid of
magic all at once, and be done with it?"
Roween was suddenly red-faced, backed towards the door.
"Con?" She was gulping for breath. "Sorry, the books, they've come on,
starting to get to me," apologetic. She fumbled with the handle, almost fell
into the corridor.
Conley ignored her. "If I accept at an intellectual level that this
true magic of yours is a reality, but I don't believe it deep down, then how
does acquiring this conditioned reflex really change anything?"
"When you get it, it's not all you get," said Roween, dizzy.
Her eyes were half-closed, like she was enduring pain. "It wakes up the
part of your brain that's meant to deal with magic, the bit that nature built
to just know how magic really works, instinctive." She stumbled against the
wall. "Con, I can't stay here, I'll snuff this all out..."
Conley walked over, dutifully, no enthusiasm, helped Roween
away from the room. "I'm still unconvinced," she stated.
"It'll only take another day, then you'll have your proof. After
all we've shared in getting here, Con, can't you humour me for just
twenty-four more hours? Please?"
* * *
"Well, I've barricaded the main entrance now. How are things
going with you?"
Conley wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. "I've
moved about a fifth of them, I think. I thought you said there were four
ways into this place?"
"There are, but I can seal us off from the rest of the complex by
blocking a couple of stairwells. Do you sense anything yet?"
She closed her eyes, bounced the comspheres in her arms like
she was guessing their weight. "I'm not sure, maybe. Or it might only be
that I'm thirsty."
They both smiled. "Fine, fine, let's have a break. I'll get the
canteen." She turned.
"I fetched it already," nodding towards the chair beneath which
Roween sighed, stage-whisper loud.
"Well, we left it near the comspheres, and I was over there
"Let's have something to drink..."
* * *
Conley was sitting, her scarf tied so as cover her eyes.
"Where is it?" asked Roween.
Roween walked behind her, held the comsphere out to her left.
"Where is it?" she asked.
Conley turned slightly, pointed. "Sneaky."
Roween pocketed the com-1, undid the blindfold. "You get it
right every time now."
Conley combed back her hair with her fingers. "I know." She
was shaking. "So I'm ready?"
"It's late. I'm - we're both tired. We'll do it in the morning,
when you're sharper. We ought to get some rest now."
"I could sleep in the bound-book room..." Expectant.
Roween shook her head. "With true magic, you can fulfil any
desire, create any thing, world you're able to imagine. If you were to have
Conley gave in. The terrors that exist in the reality of dreams
were something she remembered all too well.