The second three months were… different from the first three. On one hand, I was starting to learn more easily, slowly but surely picking up Silva, which was definitely good.
On the other hand… Sarah. Oh, and the letter.
I’d been staying at April’s for about five months when a message arrived via pigeon post. It was beautifully set, with each letter formed exactly like every other one of the same letter. It was short and to the point, but it was enough to make me kind of nervous.
I have a working first model. I would like to present it for your review. Truly this is an exciting time!
I would also invite your comrade, the esteemed Arbiter, to visit the Academy as a guest of honor.
Laid out and printed by my own hand,
So on one hand, he had a prototype of a printing press. That’s kind of awesome. Well, more than “kind of,” really. But on the other hand… all the other stuff he said. He shouldn’t know that I was here, or that the persona of mine that he knew–Anthony Stark, the eccentric scientist and inventor–had any sort of connection to the bard Peter Parker, who had acted as the king’s Arbiter to deal with the rebellion in Aster a few months back.
But then again, if he was paying attention, of course he could have. He had helped me gain an audience with the king, and then Eleanor had walked in. She had already known who the king was talking with, which means someone outside had to have told her. It was kind of last-minute, so barely anyone knew, but maybe she had asked Evan?
Then Sarah and I exposed her as a dracora spy, which impressed the king enough that he sent me to deal with Aster as his Arbiter. And when I needed some help with the task, I called upon the local bards… who of course ended up publishing the tale of what we did there far and wide. If Evan was paying attention, it wouldn’t take much to come up with a hypothesis that was uncomfortably close to the truth. And he had stopped just short of calling me on it.
So, how to respond?
I got a pen and paper and, with a good deal of help from April, I wrote out my first letter in the new language.
What marvelous news! The characters are lovely, each one precise and perfect! Truly this is a great day for progress.
As you have no doubt heard, I am in ill health at the moment, staying with my friends until I recover. I wish you the best of success with the new device, and you have my word that I will come to the Academy to see it as soon as I am fit to travel again.
If I see the Arbiter again, I will pass along your gracious invitation.
Written and signed by my own hand,
April gave me a funny look when I signed it. “Do you really mean to sign it as Paul Twister?” she asked. In Silva, of course.
I couldn’t believe I had just done that. Purely by force of habit; it was the first thing I ever learned to write over here, and I’d taken a certain mischievous glee in leaving “Paul Twister was here” as a calling card at the scenes of some of my more audacious capers over the past couple years.
I groaned. “Now I’ll have to write the whole thing over!” And with a quill pen, to boot! Now that we had a working printing press, I couldn’t wait for Cory Tucker to finish inventing that piano he’d been working on. Once both concepts were available, I could borrow elements from both and invent the typewriter, and forever change the way people communicate around here.
“No, wait,” April said as I grabbed the sheet to wad it up.
“What? You have a magic eraser that’ll take ink out?” I wouldn’t put that past her; she’d been quite the enchanter before her magic was stolen by Ken’tu Kel.
“Almost,” she said. She passed her hand over the page and muttered something, and the signature disappeared. Then she closed her eyes and sweat broke out on her brow. I saw a wince of pain flash across her features, but she hid it well, mostly.
“You didn’t have to do that,” I said. Ever since having her gift ripped out of her, she only had the natural spark of power that most people are born with, and even simple magic was exhausting, or even painful for her.
But she shook her head. “I’m learning,” she said. “A year ago, trying to do that would have put me out cold. Now I just get a headache from it. Another year of practice… who knows?”
I nodded. “Just… don’t overexert yourself. I know where you won’t be in a year.”
April gave a sigh of frustration. “Of course. I have no illusions of rising to my old level again, or even to Sarah’s. But I refuse to just lay down and wallow in despair and become his victim. I’ve spent centuries as a sorceress, and there’s no way I’m going to let a little thing like that sivplek stealing my magic stop me from being one!”
I raised an eyebrow at her. “Sivplek. Do I even want to learn the translation of that word?”
She looked down, embarrassed. “Probably not,” she admitted, the fury draining out of her. “It’s… not something they’d let you say on TV, if they had that here.”
I nodded. “Just don’t hurt yourself. I mean, I know, no pain, no gain, but… you know what I mean. Don’t hurt Sarah and Patrick, OK?”
“I won’t,” she said with exaggerated patience. “Thank you, but… please trust me. I didn’t live this long by taking stupid risks.”
That was a pretty good point. I signed the letter right this time, then headed out to send it.
But while that was a long-term problem to deal with eventually, Sarah was an ongoing issue. There was this subtle but real undercurrent of tension every time we talked. Yeah, she wasn’t blatantly throwing herself at me anymore, but there was always some subtle thing. The way she smiled. The way she always seemed to find some excuse to hang around me. The times I’d catch her looking at me, and she’d blush and look away just a little too slowly. Her tendency to find ways to show off around me, especially when she was in one of her bigger, stronger forms. And more than anything, the way she inexplicably threw herself into her study of English with me, even though it had no conceivable practical value to her outside of talking with me.
She was a model student, really, intelligent and eager to learn. Unfortunately, I kind of sucked at teaching her, since I didn’t know much of her language and she didn’t know much of mine. That got easier as time went by, but it was always a bit of a hassle, especially since she refused to have her mom teach her. (And April didn’t seem interested in pressing the matter.)
April seemed oblivious to her daughter’s antics, though she couldn’t have lived that long (and raised a bunch of kids along the way) without learning to pick up on stuff like that. But more than her, the real problem was Patrick. He didn’t ignore it; he found subtle ways to egg her on! Sometimes it seemed like everyone thought that Sarah and I would make a good couple… except me! Sigh.
So the second three months passed, better in some ways and worse in others. By the end of them, after half a year of intensive, immersive study, I was about ready to go out in public and make myself understood well enough. Either that or completely snap and throw myself off the roof of the tower. One or the other.
Of course, none of that meant much when, a few days into the seventh month of my ordeal, an unmanned spy plane flew by the tower, looking for me.