Chapter 14 can be read below the cut.
Avatar Chanda walked into the room. She was dressed as she usually was – a light tunic with pleated sleeves, a hooded headdress, and gold and lapis lazuli jewelry – with the exception of a deep blue coat that Nymue had never seen before. It was undoubtedly necessary for the cold.
Chanda walked up to Tjara and raised a hand in greeting. “Hey, Tjara!” she said. “Is your group the only one here today?”
Her voice sounded different than it did on television or the radio. Nymue barely had time to think about that before Tjara started talking. “Avatar! The other professors and their squads are schedule to meet with you after your speech,” said Tjara.
“Ah, yes. I remember that now,” said Chanda casually. She raised her voice and her hand. “Excuse me! I’d like to have your attention now!”
Tjara didn’t look too pleased with the Avatar’s informality, and the rest of the squad looked baffled by it. “It’s so nice to meet you all!” said Chanda. “And no, before you ask, I don’t say that to everyone I meet. I’m sure most of you have questions, like ‘Why do we even have to do this when we’re only students?’ Well, I’ll be explaining everything to you today.”
Chanda summoned her spirit weapon into her hand. It was a lapis lazuli scepter that Nymue had seen the Avatar hold in her televised appearances and photographs. “If you remember much from your history classes, you remember that all the previous Avatars have been able to command magic and manifest spirit weapons as well.”
She frowned and planted her scepter on the ground between her feet. “But my previous incarnations were disconnected from the people who dealt with demons and ghosts. They stayed here, in the palace, and sheltered themselves from the world and everything in it. I made a promise to humanity that I would not make their mistakes. So every year, I call the new classes here and greet them.”
Chanda brightened up. “That aside, does anyone have any questions for me?” she asked.
Everyone stood there silently while Chanda looked around expectantly. “So,” said Nymue, “how involved with our squads are you?”
“Not as involved as I was before, let me tell you that. I’m a bit too old now. I ache too easily,” said Chanda. Her expression softened. “I used to accompany people on their expeditions to reunite ghosts and kill demons.”
Hakirin’s eyes widened. “You did?” ze exclaimed. “How did that ever get approved?”
“Well, I approved it, because I’m the Avatar,” said Chanda. “The other governing officials weren’t too happy about it, but they couldn’t exactly do anything about it.”
Most of the squad looked baffled. “You accompanied both types of expeditions?” said Ren. “But you only have one type of magic.”
“That’s right. That’s why I said I accompanied them, not that I participated in anything,” said Chanda. “My magic is light-aligned. I didn’t kill any demons, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
Nymue put her hand to her chin and frowned. “So you were there as moral support.”
“Not entirely. I was there to learn how those expeditions were conducted,” said Chanda. “It would be unconscionable for me to allow such things to happen if they were actively causing harm to people. That’s why I was there – to see if it was happening.”
“People?” said Nymue. “Not just humanity?”
Chanda snapped her fingers and smiled. “Yes, people! I am the one who works for the liberation of all sentient beings. That includes demons and ghosts, not just humans.”
Nymue frowned again. “But we are harming demons. We kill them. And it sends us to hell.”
“That’s true. Killing demons sends them to hell, too. Then they’re eventually reborn and start working their way to liberation like the rest of us. It’s the only method we know that works. But when I say harm, I don’t mean killing a demon with a spirit weapon,” said Chanda. Her expression darkened. “I heard reports of humans torturing demons. Ghosts, too. That was the particular sort of behavior that had to be ended.
Chanda looked around. “I think it’s time to move on to a less upsetting subject. Does anyone have any other questions? Questions that don’t relate to death?” she asked.
Everyone was silent again, and Chanda didn’t look impressed. “Really? Nothing at all?” she said. She clapped her hands together. “If that’s the case, then it’s time for me to get to know all of you.”
Evidently the expressions everyone gave her weren’t up to Chanda’s liking, since she sighed. “Don’t look at me like that. I don’t want your life history. I just want to know how you feel and what you plan on doing with your life. And when we’re done with that, I’m going to give all of you the opportunity to walk around the palace and the grounds. They’re rarely open to the public, so this would be a good opportunity to look around.”
Tjara frowned. “Is that allowed?” she asked.
“It’s allowed if I say it’s allowed,” said Chanda breezily.
“Spaceguard?” said Chanda. “That’s not a common goal I hear.”
“I know! I don’t even know why! Who doesn’t want to go and walk around on the moons?” said Kallinu.
Chanda sat on one of the couches in the meeting room with Kallinu. Nymue was only half-paying attention to their conversation. She was lost in her own thoughts again, wondering what she could get away with asking the Avatar.
Veitlen poked her in the back of the neck. “Hey,” he said.
Nymue gave him a puzzled look. “What’s your deal today?” she asked, even though she probably knew the answer. He looked like he’d stayed awake half the night.
“Bit hungover,” said Veitlen.
“That explains why you were late,” said Nymue.
“So do you think this is a way to weed out dissidents or something?” Veitlen said suddenly.
Nymue gave him the most disgusted look she could muster. “I don’t even know why you would say that,” she said.
“It sounds like something you would come up with. You conspiracy theorist,” said Veitlen.
He was definitely more antagonistic than usual, and Nymue supposed it was the hangover talking. “Veitlen, go bother Temurlin or something,” she said.
“Mmkay,” said Veitlen. He turned around, looking for Temurlin. “Temur! Come talk to me.”
“Could you talk a little quieter, please?” said Temurlin flatly. He looked tired as well, but not to such an extent as Veitlen.
Nymue shook her head and turned around, then jumped as she saw Chanda standing a few feet away. “Nymue Rozenbarr, isn’t it?” said Chanda. “I’d like to speak to you next.”
“Is there anything in particular you would like to know?” Nymue asked.
Chanda extended her hand toward the chairs and couches. “Let’s sit down first. This may take a little while.”
Nymue chose one of the chairs. Chanda took the other, crossing her legs – one knee over the other – and clasped her hands in her lap. “So, Nymue. I’ve heard that you have an unusual spirit weapon,” said Chanda.
Nymue blinked and wonder if how startled she was showed on her face. “Where did you hear that from?” she asked.
Chanda pointed her thumb at Tjara. “It’s her fault. She let me know ahead of time that you were looking for someone with something similar.”
Nymue did her best to look reasonably baffled. She wondered if someone had figured out what she had been looking into. “She did? I only told her about that once,” said Nymue.
Chanda smiled and nodded. “I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that there have been people with your type of spirit weapon. Unfortunately, all of them are dead,” she said.
“So I’ve heard,” said Nymue.
“Can I actually see your gold?” Chanda asked.
The suddenness of the question surprised her. “Okay,” said Nymue. She summoned some of the gold into her hand.
Chanda leaned forward. “I’ve never seen gold before,” she said.
That was puzzling. “What fluid spirit weapons have you seen?” she asked.
“Mercury, caesium, lead. Only elements can be fluids, it seems,” said Chanda. Nymue noted that she hadn’t said anything about silver.
Chanda suddenly put her hands up in front of her, palms facing toward Nymue. “Oh, that sounds misleading. I’ve only met the person who had mercury. The other two were before my time,” she said.
“I’ve seen them in the census data,” said Nymue.
“I understand that you’d want to find people like you,” said Chanda. “It’s unfortunate that there isn’t anyone who could actually speak to you.”
There was definitely no way Nymue would be able to get away with asking Chanda about the disappeared person. She rubbed her hands together and said, “Did you only want to talk about my spirit weapon?”
“No, I also wanted to ask you about your aspirations,” said Chanda.
“History,” Nymue blurted out immediately.
Chanda looked a little confused. “Just ‘history’?”
“Yes,” said Nymue bluntly.
“If that’s all you’re going to say, I’ll simply take your word for it,” said Chanda. “Is there anything else you want to ask me? Any pressing questions that you just need to have answered?”
“No, I’m fine,” said Nymue.
Chanda stood up and smoothed out her robe. “I hope to see you working in the libraries someday, Nymue,” she said. She gave Nymue a small wave, then started walking back to the group.
“Thank you,” said Nymue. She didn’t know why she’d done it. Chanda was probably too far away to hear her now.
Someone tapped Veitlen on the shoulder. He paused in the middle of his conversation with Kallinu and turned around, not managing to keep himself from looking startled. Avatar Chanda stood there with her hand still extended toward him. “Excuse me!” she said. “You’re the only one I haven’t spoken to today.”
“I’m the last one?” said Veitlen in surprise. He looked around the group. He’d definitely noticed when Chanda had spoken to Kallinu and Nymue, but not anyone else.
“Yes,” said Chanda. She gestured toward the chairs and couches. “Would you like to sit down?”
“No, I can just stand,” said Veitlen.
Chanda looked around the room, then led him to a spot across the room from everyone else. Veitlen crossed his arms and raised his shoulders slightly. Chanda stood there in front of him, her clothes neat and makeup not smudged like his. He felt extremely shabby.
“How are you doing today?” Chanda asked.
“I’m fine,” said Veitlen. “A little tired, I guess.”
Chanda tilted her head to the side slightly. “Can I see your spirit weapon?” she asked.
Veitlen manifested his sabre into his left hand and held it out in front of him. Chanda looked intrigued. “Wow, it almost looks like it’s made of glass! Have you had it analyzed yet?” she asked.
“Stishovite,” said Veitlen. “It’s a kind of silica. So, almost glass.”
Chanda looked back at him, her face bright and eyes shining. “You know, you’re the first person in recorded history to have a stishovite spirit weapon,” she said.
“Yeah, I was told that a few days after the analysis,” said Veitlen. He de-manifested the sabre and shook out his hand. “Are you asking everyone this question?”
“Yes. I like to see what sort of distribution there is every year,” said Chanda.
Veitlen frowned. “Why? Are there patterns?”
For some reason, Chanda looked surprised that he’d asked that. “Spirit weapons are usually comprised of the most commonly occurring gems and metals. Each individual squad may be fairly diverse, but the patterns are the same, year after year. I just like to look for especially unusual things, like gold or silver or ruby,” she said.
Chanda clasped her hands. “Now, is there anything in particular troubling you at the moment? Do you need any words of encouragement?”
Veitlen raised an eyebrow. “Really? Words of encouragement?” he said. “Well, I am having a bit of trouble with my magic. I guess it wouldn’t hurt for you to say a prayer or two for me.”
Chanda looked surprised again, and Veitlen also thought she seemed intrigued as well. “Trouble with your magic? Can you explain?” she said.
“I’m having a bit of a hard time controlling it, that’s all,” said Veitlen. “It’s dark magic, if that makes any difference.”
“That’s all?” said Chanda.
“Um, yeah,” said Veitlen.
“I actually don’t do prayers,” said Chanda. “And I have a feeling that generalized words of advice won’t do much for you.”
“You’re probably right,” said Veitlen.
Chanda crossed her arms. “Since you haven’t gone into detail on what your problems actually are, I can’t actually give you any sort of advice,” she said. “So I’m going to have you make a promise instead.”
“Okay,” said Veitlen automatically. Her words set in almost immediately afterward. “Wait, what? A promise? What kind?”
“That you won’t ever harm a human with your magic,” said Chanda. “It’s a very easy promise to keep. You shouldn’t have any trouble with it.”
Veitlen frowned. “I promise,” he said.
He only got to think about her words for a few moments. An Aide suddenly walked up to Chanda and started talking, ignoring Veitlen entirely. “Excuse me, Avatar. You need to make your speech in twenty minutes,” he said.
“Ah, it’s that time already?” said Chanda. She looked back at Veitlen. “Remember your promise, Veitlen Tyvokala.”
“Yeah,” said Veitlen as she and the Aide walked away.