Another door. Desmond stepped through it cautiously, half-expecting to find darkness, or a pit, or someone flinging fire-balls at him.
He found a stairway. He sighed quietly and started climbing.
::Urgh. I hate that feeling. Hate it. It’s like being put in a box. Hate it.::
“Welcome back to you, too.” The stairway seemed interminable. It seemed like exactly the sort of thing he should expect today, so he just kept climbing.
::Hate it. Hate it, hate it, hate it…. All right. I’m done complaining. What did you decide?.::
“You really weren’t listening?”
::No. They – well. It turns off my external senses. I can’t feel anything, can’t see or hear anything. It seemed to take forever, though..::
“I thought it through quite thoroughly,” Des admitted. “I didn’t know you were unhappy, or I would’ve gone faster, though.”
::Don’t fret; it’s silly. I’m fine. It was unpleasant, but it’s over now. And you, you’ve chosen, and you still haven’t told me what we’re going to be doing with all of our training.::
“Instinct and intuition. We’re going with our gut.” Des smiled, because it felt a little silly, but also because it felt a little right.
::With our… well.:: There was a long pause. Des wondered if it meant the collar was thinking things over, or controlling some sort of reaction. ::That will suit you, I think. Let’s go, then.::
Just like that, the stairway came to an end on a landing. Des, who had been certain the stairway went on forever, stopped in surprise.
The landing had three hallways. Des was just about ready to start tearing his hair out in frustration.
::This one is mine. Take the center path. And then I imagine there will be dinner for you and a nice charge up for me.::
“A what?” Des took the center path. He had long since stopped trying to make sense of his route, but some part of his brain offered that he might be out over the alleyway again.
::A way of… replenishing energy. The way that food replenishes energy for you. Obviously, I can’t eat. I have no body. And yet things I do require energy, such as channelling your power.::
“Oh! Oh, that’s interesting.” Desmond touched the collar thoughtfully. “Does thinking, talking, require energy?”
::About as much as it does for you. Which is to say, an amount only notable when one is very low on that energy.::
“Ah.” The hallway, this time, stopped quickly. There was yet another door, which Des found himself sighing as he opened.
::Almost there::, the collar reassured him. ::See?::
There was another desk, with another collared person sitting behind it. This one looked older — Desmond’s parents’ age — and was wearing a very ornate gold collar and another one of those loose, wide-necked robes.
“Ah, a new student. Very good. You’re the last for the day, so come on in. We’ll get you a room and a uniform, and then you can move on to dinner quickly.”
Desmond smiled cautiously. “Dinner would be nice,” he allowed. “Ah — I’m the last for the day? Is that a bad thing?”
“No, no, not at all. Some people take the stairs at different speeds. Some people make the decision of the three routes more quickly than others. And some, well, their collars take a horribly long time at that last intersection. So.” The collared person stood. “I’m Grenor. I teach several seminars here but, more importantly to you at the moment, I’m here to show you to your room, your uniform, and your food. This way – and no, no more decisions for a little while.”
“Does this place even exist in the world?” Desmond hadn’t quite meant to say that, but some of the implications of Grenor’s little speech were sinking in. “I mean… everyone ends up here?”
“The stairs here are something else, you’re right.” Grenor walked unhurriedly but not slowly down another hallway. Everything here was what Desmond thought of as aspiring: the walls were plastered white, the ceilings were low but clean, the floors were stone but very smooth stone. The doors were small, too, wooden doors dyed with a colored stain and with a bare minimum of carving. Grenor opened the fourth small door to reveal a closet.
“Everyone wears very similar uniforms here. No, they are not that which you’ve seen collared adults wearing; that is for very specific roles – normally teachers here, judges, and those in the court system. You will wear something not all that different from your everyday wear, except that everyone within a school wears the same thing. Here.” Grenor looked Des up and down, drew a line in the air and measured Des with the glowing line of light, considered the closet, and pulled out a stack of clothing.
“Pants, kilt, vest, jacket, shirt, cravat, collar. You’ll take your turn in the laundry, same as everyone else, and in the kitchen, and in several other places around the school. Don’t be out of your room without your pants or kilt, vest, and shirt on at any time. Cravat and collar are required for classes as well, and jacket is recommended.”
The pants, kilts, and vest were in a light color between beige and white; the shirts were bright whites, as were the collars, and the cravats swirled in three shades of blue and turquoise. The jacket, Des noted, was a darker beige, cut long in the style of the higher streets.
Grenor gave Des one more assessing look and added two pairs of shoes, twelve pairs of socks, and twelve pairs of undershorts. “That should do. If you ruin something, it can be replaced — but try not to ruin too many things, all right?”
Des, now completely loaded down with clothing, managed a nod.
“And here’s where you’ll be living.” Grenor walked only a short distance before swinging open a door. Three three-high bunk beds, each with three chests at their foot, filled most of the room, each bunk separated from the next by a wide window with a deep seat. The curtains on the windows, the blankets on the beds, and the hangings behind the beds all had the same swirling blue-on-blue-on-turquoise pattern as on Des’ new cravats.
“This will be your bunk. I’m afraid you get last choice, but that comes with its own benefits.”
“Benefits?” Des looked at the bunh Grenor was pointing to — top bunk in the left-hand corner. He set his uniforms down on one of the trunks and looked at the bed.
“Well, the fact that you’re last in counts for something. First-in and last-in, and you’re the last one, and you’re in Impulse, so nobody’s going to think that you spend all that time thinking really hard or arguing with your collar — and if you did, keep it to yourself.” Grenor grinned widely. “Just act mysterious and tell them you climbed up until you reached the roof. They’ll believe just about anything, if you’re that late. Now get yourself changed, and I’ll show you to the meal room.”
Desmond hurried to change into one of his uniforms. Everything fit almost-well-enough, like hand-me-downs or clothing from the second-hand shop. He tugged his vest into place, more than familiar with those sensations, only to hear a faint murmur from his collar.
::Just… hold still… okay. Hold your hands out, palms up, to either side of you, and think about perfectly fitted clothing.::
Desmond thought about a vest that buttoned without gaps or bulges all the day down his front, pants that were long enough but not too long, the way it felt when he sat down and his pants moved with him. He thought about collars that buttoned properly. Shirts that were just long enough. Jackets that moved like the rich men on Ridge Street. He stretched out his arms.
His clothing moved around him. His hands were glowing turquoise. His shirt was glowing blue. Everything was shifting and moving.
::There.:: The collar sounded proud. ::Now you’re set to be seen.::
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