The story so far: Tollon is sailing back to Auspulia to rescue his friends and allies. But one of his allies, Chypa the Stranger, is less confident than before that they can succeed. Now read on . . .
Chypa is worried. She shows no signs of it. Outwardly, she is perfectly calm. But she’s teaching me and drilling me endlessly on only two aspects of magic: gaining and holding magical power, and hiding my power.
Only when she’s explaining her reasons does her worry seep through. “Despite what is commonly held, gods are not unpredictable. They do have motivations. Those motivations may be completely alien to us, but they still exist, and we can try to understand them, to manipulate them, to use them.
“If gods are involved in Vorana’s takeover of Auspulia, then you are the most likely reason. Which makes Ovedisca or Mrokitar the most likely suspects, their kin secondary possibilities, any other god a low possibility. Considering any of them could kill the lot of us, the issue is not whether we can overpower them, we can’t, but whether we can manipulate them. Still, to survive long enough to do so, we need as much power as possible, and being able to trick them into ignoring us is a worthwhile skill to cultivate.”
I recall something Sarton said. “Isn’t it dangerous for me to try to gain so much power without having full control over how I can use it?”
“It could kill you.” Chypa shrugs. “Or corrupt your nature, as it did Vorana’s. It’s a risk, Tollon, that’s all I’ll say. And now I want you to tell me everything about your encounters with Vorana and these gods. Everything.”
We spend two days walking the main deck of the yacht, me talking, Chypa listening. At her insistence, I also tell her about Mia, everything, including embarrassing intimate details.
The whole time this is going on, Chypa’s appearance keeps changing. She’s now taller than me, older-looking, as if she’s in her mid-thirties, very dark-skinned, and ample-bosomed. I would think the crew would be spooked by this, but they aren’t. They’ve become incredibly respectful of her. The captain even consults with her on crew matters. Even Inacha, who has been on very familiar terms with Chypa up to this point, is now treating her more as a mother figure. It takes me a while to figure out that Chypa’s taking on an appearance that suggests feminine strength and authority. I find her physically irresistible, but oddly enough I’m no longer in love with her. I’m assuming this is all deliberate on her part.
I’m so deep into trying out evocations and spells to increase my power that I don’t notice how Inacha is changing, too, until only a few days before we’re likely to arrive in port. Inacha is reeking of magic. And she barely has anything to say to me anymore. I assume Chypa’s up to something, and ask her about it.
“Inacha’s way of coping with the world is to learn about it. I’ve increased her motivation and abilities in acquiring and analyzing information,” Chypa tells me. “Like what I’m doing with you, there are risks. So it’s just as well you don’t ask her about any of this. Just keep treating her as if she were normal.”
It’s what Chypa is trying not to say that bothers me. “Inacha doesn’t entirely understand what’s happening to her, does she?”
Chypa doesn’t answer me immediately. Still, she looks me straight in the eye as she says, “We’re about to go to war with soldiers, magicians, and gods. All three of us have to be instruments of war. I’d rather you both came out of this alive and in need of serious remedial magical treatment than that you die healthy. It’s not what I want, Tollon, it’s not what I was hoping for, but it’s what has to be done.”
I want her to admit it. “You’re worried.”
“I am. You’d better be, too.”
(To be continued . . .)