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They didn’t get to meet the ninth member of their dorm until the next morning.

That first night, they spent a little time talking, getting to know Doria, Poiy, and Lufet and sharing more stories of the stairs, but they were all exhausted and they had an unknown but presumably early bell to answer to coming probably far too soon.

Des’ last thoughts as he drifted off for the night were that the bed was surprisingly comfortable, the pajamas ridiculous, and the ceiling far too close.

The bell came early, but not as awfully early as he’d expected – there was already a splash of light through the window. In the winter, that would make the bell unpleasantly early, but right not Des could see enough to climb out of bed without kicking either Talia or Doria.

He dressed quietly, listening to the grumbles and rumbles of his dorm-mates without really hearing anything. The buttons on his shirt seemed to give him trouble, but he managed on the third try without anyone else seeming to notice his issues.

He left his tie messy, as many other members seemed to, and slicked back his hair in the bathroom. He looked – he spent a minute he should’ve been spending on getting to breakfast looking at himself – he looked like someone different, in the clean and fitted clothes, the white and beige and blue. He looked rich – except the collar.

::I beg your pardon. I look rich, too.::

Desmond touched the collar with two fingers. “Rich people don’t wear collars,” he muttered. “People who wear collars aren’t rich.”

::That is an interesting belief; however, it has little to nothing to do with reality. Now. Breakfast.::

“I’m going, I’m going. Why are you in such a hurry?”

::Because there will be magic today, and if you have not eaten, you can not perform magic properly. Go. Go.::

“Going, going.” He managed to catch up with the tail end of his dorm-mates halfway to the dining hall – Doria, Talia, Jefshan, and the younger “new” student.

“This is Cataleb,” Jefshan introduced the short, childlike ninth Blue. “Cataleb did the stairs yesterday and then, as soon as a bed was provided, fell down on it.”

Cataleb nodded solemnly. “It was a lot of stairs.” The voice, too, was childlike. “And I wasn’t hungry for nothin’ after all of the stairs, so I just… slept.”

“I can’t say I blame you.” Desmond wanted to ask how old this newest member of their group was, but it would be rude to imply Cataleb wasn’t capable of being there. “My collar’s been yelling at me to get to breakfast. I’m surprised yours didn’t yell at you to get to dinner.”

Cataleb held up one of the collar-suppressors with a wicked grin before dropping it back in a pocket of their kilt. “Lifted this one. Comes in mighty handy when the thing is too talky.”

“That’s…” Des trailed off. He remembered what his collar had said about how it felt, and he didn’t know what he should say.

“…Amazing,” Jefshan filled in. “How did you get it?”

“I’m pretty good with my fingers. And now my collar’s all quiet and not bothering me at all. Nifty, isn’t it?”

“Your collar didn’t complain?” Des offered cautiously.

“Well, yeah, a bit, but I’ve still got the thing. ‘Sides, it’s not like it’s a person. Just a talkative piece of metal. So, what’d I miss in dinner?”

“Food.” Talia looked almost as unhappy as Des felt. “And some talk about where we were and what we were doing.”

“Gonna dig ditches magically and all that, right? Glare at people and make them tell the truth in court, that sort of thing? Go off on boats and pray they don’t get lost like they always do?” Cataleb’s head-shake made golden curls go every which way. “Forget that. I’m out of here as soon as I find a door, collar or no.”

“Do you really think that’s a possibility?” Des was curious, more than interested for himself. “And – really, why? Good food, good sleeping arrangements, education – what do you have to go back to that’s better than that?”

“Not having a thing talking in my head all the time, for one. You tell me that’s what you like? Someone always talking?”

“I’m the middle child of three,” Des answered without thinking. “Someone’s always talking either way. And I like – well, everything here so far, almost.”

“Including that death trap? Those stairs? Seriously, a body could’ve died on those stairs and who would’ve known except their screamin’ collar? No thank you. This place wants to kill me and I want to keep my skin on my body, thank you – shut up! Shut up or I’ll shut you up!” Cataleb fell quiet, glaring off into the air.

Des shared a look with Jefshan, who seemed to have become the unofficial dorm parent for their group. Jefshan’s shoulders twitched in a shrug that Cataleb could either miss or pretend to miss: Don’t ask me.

Des sighed. “What do you think breakfast will be like?” he asked Doria, just to be talking about something else.

“No idea!” Doria looked far too cheerful about the lack of knowledge. “But I bet it’s going to be food. Probably edible food, maybe even tasty.” A tug at the waistband of the uniform kilt showed that Doria’s, too, had been fitted. “I hope our collars are good at letting skirts out the way mine made it all go in, ‘cause I’m going to need a new kilt in a week otherwise.”

“Unless,” Talia pointed out, “they keep us running up and down stairs – really?” Talia’s nose wrinkled. “Magic uses energy. Some of it’s from the collar, but some is from us. Maybe as much as running up and down stairs all day. No getting fat from us.”

“Where do the collars get energy? Mine said something about that the other – that was yesterday.” Yesterday seemed a long time ago.

“They can starve?” Cataleb perked up.

Desmond shot a disgusted look at the newest member of their dorm and moved into the lunch room.

::I don’t like that one:: his collar murmured in his ear. Desmond was pretty sure it went without saying that he felt the same.


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