Twenty-seven
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“So noted,” the Speaker said. “Lord Jordan? You look extremely thoughtful. May we ask the direction of those thoughts?”

“I am thinking,” Lord Jordan said, “of the balance of power within, for example, human lands, where the King and the Lords hold one another in check to some degree. The same occurs in alasir lands, and within each Southern city the ruling families provide the same mutual function. I am thinking that power unchecked leads to unpleasant, if not devastating, consequences, as we've seen every time the balance between King and Lords has failed. And I am wondering what check there is on the power of the Assembly.”

“In theory,” Etanynne said, “the various parts of the Joint Assembly provide balance. In practice, you are correct, in many ways the separate Assemblies are autonomous unless an issue comes before the Joint Assembly. And the Joint Assembly is entirely autonomous.”

“Which means that when accused of wrongdoing, there is no one to point to and say, 'They would know if we did, and would intervene.'”

“That is true.”

Lord Jordan nodded. “I'm unsure whether everyone present is aware of the attack on my elder daughter approximately two ninedays ago, in which she was, ostensibly, held hostage to make demands on me. It turned out to be a trap set for Matt, set up by two supposedly respectable and Oath-bound sorceresses, one supposedly respectable and Oath-bound telepath, and a controller and criminal who was listed as a renegade but was somehow released by the Assembly and by Perifaithe when Matt brought him to their attention. The controller died during the rescue, in which, I cannot emphasize enough, Kisea played a vital role, but the other three remain in my custody. As of my departure, all three had refused to speak, but not long before the relays were closed, my wife sent me a message that I consider highly relevant. One of the three confessed, and confirmed under truthspell, that she had been assured there would be no risk of being condemned as an Oath-breaker. That there was someone on the Assembly who saw Matt as a threat because of the direction of his research and who wanted him dead before it could continue, and they would be not only gaining personal vengeance but performing an act for the greater good and would be protected accordingly.”

Kisea shivered. If that was the case, they had not only generalized resistance against them, but a specific and unnamed and powerful enemy.

Etanynne actually blanched, which was something for someone with fairly light skin to begin with. “Oh my. That's... disturbing.”

“Very much so,” Honora said, frowning.

“That's hardly evidence,” Chimo said dismissively. “Someone was told what would manipulate her into doing what she wanted to do anyway, and believed it.”

“Granted,” Lord Jordan said, his tone still mild. “However, I would like to ask that the questions proposed include knowledge of or involvement in the attack on my family.”

Whoever that is, if they don't piss themselves when they find out he knows that, they're stronger than I am. There's no hole deep enough and no place far enough away to hide.

“I can't see that being a problem,” Honora said. “One extra question, which should be of no fear to anyone honest.”

“We cannot accede to these requests on behalf of the entire Assembly,” Chimo said. “We can, however, present it to them and consider it.”

“The other alternatives being what?” the Speaker asked drily. “Armed force against our own students? Which leaves what against the relays? And how long do you believe it will take for our collective reputation in Caalden to wilt beyond reviving? Or we all answer a few questions under truthspell, clear our collective name, the tension is dispelled, and we can get to work looking at changes for the future.”

“I can think of no grounds to decline other than having something to hide,” Honora said.

“No?” Chimo said. “I can. I believe it's possible our collective reputation is already irreparably tarnished by gossip and rumour, and that after the questioning vindicates us, there will be accusations still of the results being fraudulent. Thanks to this material, much of which can be interpreted in several ways, being released to the public indiscriminately, the Telepath Assembly in particular has already been tried in the popular mind and found guilty beyond appeal. Given that, what is the point of subjecting ourselves to further humiliation? The only way we can preserve any dignity in this comedy may be to step down and retire somewhere out of sight.”

Kisea saw Nitarai and Garrick each take a breath to speak, but Lord Jordan beat them to it.

“I doubt that would be acceptable to anyone. It leaves all activity thus far in doubt, does not establish whether the trust of the students and their families has been violated, and would mean that any individual on the Assembly who is guilty could use the same reasoning to escape being held to account for criminal acts. Rank should not confer immunity, and sometimes personal dignity takes second place to responsibility to the greater good.”

Well, if the students or the relay telepaths were going to accept that argument, they certainly won't now.

Although what it comes down to is that it would allow someone to escape being held to account for attacking his daughter and nephews.

“I believe the Joint Assembly needs to have a long discussion about priorities and goals,” Honora said, and there was a grim undertone that would have worried Kisea had it been directed at her. “Other than the Assembly response, is there anything else to be said?” She turned her gaze to Matt and Kisea. “You are allowed to speak up. I don't think I've ever heard you stay quiet this long with others talking, Matt.”

“There is really nothing I can add,” Matt said. “I didn't intend for it to become public knowledge until there was some further information available, but I did always plan to make sure that the existence of controllers and the degree of misinformation about them was spread as far as possible.” He was, Kisea noticed in relief, tactful enough to not add, and why there appear to be so few. “I think being concerned about it is extremely valid, because it affects everyone, not just controllers. Everyone needs reassurance, but I'll be the first to support anyone who can verify under truthspell that they weren't involved.”

Of course you will.

“But I don't know that any of that is particularly important right now.”

“Kisea?” Lord Jordan said. “This is all more relevant to you than to anyone else.”

“Which might be why I'm finding it a bit hard to process,” she admitted. “After this long trying to be invisible, drawing attention to myself makes me extremely uncomfortable, and Caalden-wide disruptions that all point right back to Matt and I...” She trailed off, shrugged. “I am extremely grateful to the lifewitches for the support, and probably more surprised than I should be. I'm sorry so many people are having their lives upset over this, though. My first inclination is generally to make pain less, not add to it.”

“Sometimes, things do go through an acutely uncomfortable phase before they can heal,” Olisai said gently. “You've done nothing but make a reasonable request to the Assembly, to be judged by your acts and not your gift, and ask that others with the same gift be granted the same. Several lifewitches died tragically in fighting for the same right, and others spent their entire lives on the struggle. We don't know how many controllers have already died or how, but it's more than enough.” She sighed. “And I cannot begin to tell you how many lives lifewitches have fought for and lost that might have been saved with the help of a mindhealer with your skills, which only increases the count of lives lost unnecessarily. As frightening as it is, it is past time this came out in the open to be resolved.”

“One of my classmates,” Nitarai said quietly, “and I'm not saying who, fits that description of the early manifestations of your gift. That classmate is a good person always ready to help friends, and 'friends' sometimes means someone just met, and right now that classmate is terrified, realizing what could have happened in the next year or so and what choices might have come up. But now it will not, and that classmate knows we know and will still be friends. One life already has been saved because of your choices. The older sorcerer students think the description fits a telepath student who was declared to have fallen down the stairs and broken her neck, and it has been pointed out that a telekinetic or a sorcerer could arrange that easily. Whether it's ignorance or malice driving controller students into a corner, it will stop, now. Please don't feel guilty.”

“We're all responsible for our own actions, not you,” Garrick said. “I'm grateful, and I'm not alone in that, to the pair of you for putting the pieces together and having the courage to do the right thing with it.”

But I didn't do any of it, Matt did everything.

All right, so he did it for my sake, and I chose to come with him, but I wasn't the one who gathered all that information and saw the pattern, I wasn't the one who decided to challenge the Assembly with it... I just wanted to survive and maybe stop running. I'm just inspiration and his primary example and his source of real information about controllers.

“Thank you,” she said. “I just hope this gets sorted out quickly for everyone. And well for your classmate.”

“I think that's what everyone wants,” the Speaker said. “I certainly hope it is. So we'll arrange for it to happen, together. Does anyone else have anything to say?”

“We need, among the broader issues,” Lord Jordan said, “to not lose sight of the more personal one. Kisea has been waiting several days for others to decide her fate, which would be nerve-wracking for anyone.”

“Agreed,” the Speaker said. “And I'm sorry. All information gathered so far, to the best of my knowledge, supports granting at the very least the original request of her husband's Oath extending in spirit to her, but I'm afraid I can't give you a formal ruling on that yet. We'll need a full session very soon in which to address all the relevant issues, personal and broader both. I suggest we declare an end to this meeting, and all return to discuss it with those we represent, so we can hasten that hearing as much as possible. We'll see to it that everyone is notified as soon as we have it arranged.”

Chairs were pushed back, and people began to rise.

“You can't have gotten here that fast with any kind of company to speak of,” Matt said to his uncle. “Maybe it would be better if Kian or Shon stayed with you?”

Lord Jordan chuckled. “I think your parents and other uncle are enough protection for Kalli and I, and your cousins are better off with you.”

“What are my parents doing here?”

“I told them, of course. I'd have thought that was obvious.” He offered Kisea a hand to her feet.

With his hand holding hers, she heard him even past the telepathic disruptors, faster than any spoken word: *Whoever released that information has placed the Assembly in a position with as few choices as you've had. Perifaithe is at a near standstill, the relays are completely at a halt, and the students and telepaths appear to be passing on what they know to everyone possible. No one would dare rule against you with all of Caalden watching, and they have to rule quickly before grumbling becomes something more. The worst of this will be over soon, and we can all go home and celebrate.* He released her, all one smooth courteous gesture.

“Lori is probably at the Manor by now and planning a proper wedding celebration with Kara,” he added to Matt, perfectly casually, as though he hadn't just circumvented what was supposed to be heavy security with no trace of effort. “I hope I can afford it.” He sounded more amused than worried. “Off you go and I'll see you soon.”

Kisea stayed silent until they were back in their own suite.

“Your mother is a stronger telepath than your uncle?” she asked Matt, once the door was shut.

Puzzled, he nodded. “Why?”

“Even with physical contact, even to another strong telepath, being able to make contact in close proximity to disruptors shouldn't be possible.”

Matt shrugged. “That's more from their mother's side than their father's, there've been some very strong telepaths in that line, and only relatively weak ones in the Jordan line. Some recent unofficial siren blood in there, probably. What did he say?”

She repeated it.

“Whoever released that information,” Shon said, “is brilliant.”

“I was hoping for less chaos and more order,” Matt said, “but I can't argue. It looks like at least some of the Assembly are going to try to weasel out of questioning under truthspell, and pressure on all sides might make the difference. If nothing else, with all of Caalden watching, they certainly can't hide any of this. Every possibly-controller student from now on who disappears will be noticed by thousands of people who will want explanations. This is wonderful.”

Kisea sank down on the nearest sofa. “Wonderful? The whole world is in complete upheaval right now, because of us!”

“No,” Kian said. “Because of the actions of others, which needed to be recognized and evaluated.” He sat down beside her, an arm around her, and she leaned against him. “And now are, finally.”

“Rob's right,” Matt said, taking her other side. “This will be over soon. They can't delay. Try to rest, because I don't think it will take all that long for them to arrange that full hearing.”

“Rest?” Kisea said in disbelief. “Now?”

“Even if we need to help you work off some of that adrenaline first.”

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