The adventures of Thanan, Irinan, and Hanan, so far are collected here.

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Irinan had left Tha and Hara back in their quarters. The page--the same boy who had greeted them when they arrived, and delivered the do-ketir's invitation--had suggested by his phrasing that only she and not her charges was included in that invitation. It hadn't been rude. Indeed, it had been both subtle and respectful, but also fairly clear.

She knew Teleric Do-ketir. This boy, Karic, bore his hallmarks--a student, at least, possibly his own protégé. She doubted her approval mattered much, but she approved.

And so, despite her misgivings about leaving the two girls alone, she took the hint, and presented herself alone outside the door to their room an hour later, where Karic once again waited to take her to see the his master. There was tension here in the local Tower holding, a feeling of preparation for a siege, though she could not have put her finger on why. She had expected to find the hold all but deserted, the local Gifted gone ahead of her with their staff and retainers already. Instead, the place was full.

Teleric had changed little in the twenty or so years since she'd last seen him. A bit greyer, certainly, and a bit thicker around the middle. No shame in that. She wondered if he would remember her, though.

His smile was broad and warm despite the worry lines on his face, and his voice mirrored his expression. "Irinan! When Karic said who had arrived from the west, I was sure I could not have heard him correctly. Have you been hiding under my nose all this time?"

She smiled back, a little shyly, pleased by his recognition but embarrassed by the truth she could not hide from him. "Yes, old friend, I'm afraid I have. You know the reasons why I've laid low. I'll admit that I took some advantage, though--I moved to Alari not long after I'd heard you came here. Figured if I ever got into real trouble..."

His smile, no less warm, yet turned wry. "And now it is we here who are in real trouble, and you arrived in the nick of time."

That caught her by surprise, and she knew it showed immediately. She'd never been able to dissemble with Teleric, not from the first day they'd met in class in the Tower.

"So, you didn't know?" he said.

"I received the General Summons. That's all I know."

He nodded. "I thought as much. Iri...we're in a terrible scrape. You left Alari...what? Four days ago?"

"Five, actually. Thanan--my younger ward--was not really prepared for the rigors of the road. About three days out, she had...well, a spell, I guess, I'd call it. Said she was dizzy, and in truth she had quite a fever. She also said she thought she heard...voices. Whispering to her. But honestly the girl's got such an imagination that it's hard to know what's real with her, even when she's not fevered. She's not a liar, not really, but she doesn't always sort out real from imagined. I need to talk to you about that anyway--if Karic's as perceptive as I think he is, he's told you she's Gifted."

"He has. Said he saw it right off."

"Yes. Her imagination's tied up in her Gift--well I guess all of ours is, but hers...she's invented an imaginary brother, and at least one other imaginary friend, and...well, they do things for her. She doesn't see anything odd in it. I don't think she even really sees herself as Gifted. She thinks they're real people."

She stopped, and took a breath. "I'm sorry, Tel. I didn't mean to ramble. It's just that I haven't had anyone to consult with about her and I'm at a loss."

Teleric nodded. "That's fine, Iri. It does sound like a difficult case. But...three days out, you say, she had this...spell?"

"Yes."

"That fits. Iri...Alari's been invaded, right behind you. There's odd magic involved in the invasion... and given what little I know, it happened at the same time your ward had her attack."

The color drained from Irinan's face, and she slumped back in her chair. After a stunned moment, she said hoarsely, "Tel...I am a fool. An utter fool. I should have been stripped and sent out into the normal world ages ago. Every damned thing I do is a blunder."

If Teleric agreed, he didn't show it. Instead, he said, "Tell me." There was no harshness there, but there was command, which was his prerogative.

She held out her hand. "Easier to show you."

He took her hand. They synchronized, and he saw...

"Thanan, dear, what's wrong. You aren't usually that clumsy!"

"She's been like this for a couple hours, Mama." That was the older girl. Haranan, came a whisper from Iri. "Wobbly and dizzy."

"Why didn't you say something?" Calm, as always. Just a question.

"It didn't seem serious, really, and you seemed to be pretty focused on the road."

"The horses have been acting funny. It was all I could do to keep them straight. Still..."

"Mama..." That was Thanan. "They're...whispering to me. Except I don't think they're whispering. I think they're just far away. They want me to be good, to behave, to do what they tell me."

Irinan put a hand to the girl's forehead. "You have a fever, dear. We'll sleep here in the village tonight, I think, instead of pressing on and camping somewhere. I'll fix you something to help you sleep. I'm sure you'll be all right in the morning."

Thanan looked at her, worried, but trusting. "If you say so, Mama. I hope the voices go away. I don't like them much."

Irinan stopped projecting at that point, and Teleric released her hand. He looked at her gravely. "You could not have known."

But she was not to be dissuaded just now. "I should have. Been rusticating in that flat, Giftless village so long, so used to hiding more than the merest hint... what was it, Tel? Do you know?"

He shook his head. "We have only scraps of reports, from the southwest and now, other than your report, just a single scrap, literally, that told us what happened in Alari. There's a hint..." he hesitated. But just as his staff had needed to know, so would Irinan. He would need her. "There's a hint that someone has figured out how to imbue objects, devices, with the Gift. And there's more than a hint--corroborated now by what you just showed me--that the invaders are using that to quell the local population."

She looked at him, horrified. "And you took my hand just now? Are you a Sky?! What if I'd been suborned?!" Suddenly realizing the tone she had taken, she covered her mouth.

Teleric chuckled. "There is the Irinan I remember. I was starting to think your rustication had blunted your tongue."

She rewarded him with a rueful laugh. "No, old friend, not entirely. My wits may be wandering, but I've found whetstones enough for my tongue. Even Alari has...had...a blacksmith. Oh! Dammit!"

She covered her face, then, not quite sobbing. "That stupid little village didn't deserve..."

Gently, Teleric said, "No, Iri, it didn't. But now we have a bigger problem. We don't dare answer the Summons and leave the city unprotected."

She looked at him, thinking she understood, and nodded. "We need to defend Kantari. I'm not sure how, though We don't understand what they're doing."

"No, Iri."

She blinked at him.

"We--those of us stationed here--need to defend Kantari. You need to press on, and as quickly as we can speed you. A night here at most, and then on your way."

"But--"

"No. You and I have...rapport. I also have a connection to Karic. He'll go with you. Between you, I should be able to relay whatever we discover when they come here. The Tower will need that."

She looked at him on the edge of another outburst. "Do you really expect me to leave you here to..."

"Yes, Irinan tra-ketir," he responded sternly, this time the voice of command unmistakable. She flinched at her old title--a title she'd renounced more than 20 years before. "The Ketir is going to need every Indigo she can muster. That's going to mean you, and Karic, and that child of yours, who's so blue with power she's almost black, in case you've been turning your eyes from it."

She met his gaze firmly. "And you, Teleric do-ketir?"

"My duty is here, unmistakably. The oath of office when I took this post included the promise to protect, as you well know."

She closed her eyes, and sighed, her failures, real and imagined, bowing down her shoulders, He wished he had time to get to the root of it all, but there was none. He had other preparations to make. Karic was a good boy, but there would still be an argument over being sent away with strangers. There were defenses to prepare, albeit entirely speculative ones, since they knew nothing, really, of what they would be fighting against.

Finally, because he knew he could, he said, much more quietly, "Iri...the storm is coming, and all I have here to stand against it are a few parasols. If we're going to turn the storm, we need to understand it. In order to do that..."

"...someone has to stand in its path. And just like when we turned that twister away from Viari, you're determined it's going to be you! Dammit, Tel, you're not indestructible."

He bowed his head. She had him, there. "No, I'm not. But now, as then, I'm counting on you to use what I learn to turn the storm, whether or not it's in time for me. I will send you and Karic every scrap of information I can, for as long as I can. Make sure it gets to Bluetower!"

Once again, she met his gaze firmly. "I will. And somehow...I will turn this storm, too."