It was almost as if their schedule had alternated interesting and boring classes. Their next class, with Professor Resaginotel, a tall woman with brilliant white hair shot through with streaks of black and a collar that matched, was on paperwork and regulations regarding magic and collared people. Desmond struggled to pay attention until they reached the overview of the accounting.
The nation owned the collared people, or at least it owned their time and service.
But people paid for those services and that time – for things like guarding a boat when it went on the water, or protecting a caravan, or moving a lot of rock. So there were hours to be accounted for, and a rate dependent on a large list of factors. For about twenty minutes, Desmond was in heaven, figuring out his current hourly rate for different tasks and helping Doria do the same.
Kayay still hadn’t returned when they moved on to their fourth class, which turned out to be Portals and Doorways.
Their professor, Professor Kelofaide, counted heads, shook their head, and moved on. “Today we are going to learn the most basic portal, which is a way to keep your books on your shelf until you need them. That is, it is a fixed portal on both ends, one end being your shelf in your dormitory and the other being your hand, and it is small, no bigger than the largest of your books. You’ll find this one quite handy, I believe, when you’re on the trail. So. Picture a portal, ask your collar for help, and then picture, very clearly, your dormitory bed and the shelf therein.”
Excited, Desmond did as instructed. That would make their growing load of books easier to handle, and the other things he could do with that…
His portal fizzled at a coin-sized hole and disappeared.
“Hello?” he muttered quietly. “Can we do a portal? To my shelf”
::You should’ve asked the first time, but I was with you. All right, picture your shelf. You left your spare cravat on it – there, yes. Just like that. Your visualization is quite good. And…::
This time, it got nearly big enough for Desmond’s hand before it fizzled.
Next to him, Doria was happily putting all her books from Paperwork and Regulations on her shelf. “I could take yours, too,” she offered. “It’s not like we’re not right next to each other.” Her portal had a pink edge around it and seemed to glow, and it was big enough that they could have tossed Cataleb through it.
“This basic portal is not designed for living things.” Professor Kelofaide’s voice seemed to cut right into Desmond’s thoughts. And perhaps that was exactly what happened. Maybe thought-reading was a later class.
::Much later, and only for certain students. But I’ll bet you’ll be in it.::
“We have,” Professor Kelofaide continued, “attempted such with mice and rats, and the results are… well, to put it kindly, they are unreliable. We do not use these portals for moving anything living, although a piece of fruit or such will most often come through unscathed.”
Most often was not, Desmond considered, all that reassuring. He might not be all that fond of Cataleb, but not enough to risk unreliable results.
::Portal first, Cataleb later:: suggested his collar.
The collar had a point. Desmond focused on the portal, thinking about his shelf and his books, his bedroom and his window and -” Once again, the portal fizzled away.
“Shit,” Desmond muttered quietly. He could do forcefields, why couldn’t he manage this?
::Because this is the opposite. You need to stop thinking of blocking, of pushing, and start thinking of opening. It may not be easy. All right. Eyes closed. Shelf, nothing but the shelf.::
Desmond had almost gotten it in his mind when Professor Kelofaide stopped in front of his desk. “How is it going… Desmond, is it?”
“It’s, uh. not going very well.” Desmond demonstrated his fizzling portal.
“Hrrumph. Well, keep trying.” The professor moved on, clearly disappointed in Desmond.
“Here.” Doria shifted over next to him. “Try like…” She reached her arms under his and put one hand on the outside of each of Desmond’s hands. “Now, I think about reaching my hand through like I’m just picking up my books.”
Desmond muttered “please?” at his collar and focused on reaching through to get his books. He pushed power through.
The portal opened to the size of a deck of cards and splattered greenly over everything. Desmond felt the goo that splattered slide over his hand and vanish, leaving the faintest green residue.
Professor Kelofaide clucked at him. “You cannot use power to substitute for finesse. Doria, what are are you doing?”
“I’m helping him. Or, at least, I’m trying to.”
“And what does that gain you?” Professor Kelofaide looked down a long, beaklike nose at Doria.
She lifted her chin and smiled just as sharply as that nose back up at their professor. “Well, by teaching someone else, I better understand the theory behind what I’m doing. One. And also, by having my House be better at portals, I increase the reputation of said house. Two. And also, by feeling what Desmond is doing as he does it, I learn how to do interesting things on purpose. Like so.” She moved her hands away from Desmond’s and made a small portal that exploded with greenish-grey light. “Three. But I also get to put my hands on Desmond’s, which was entertaining. May I continue, professor?”
The Professor was very still for a moment. “I believe you and your collar may have chosen the wrong color. But do carry on, please, rather than interrupt my class further.”
Desmond didn’t point out that the Professor had done the interrupting first, and neither did Doria. Instead they went back to practicing portals.
By the end of the class, hands covered in a thin green film, Desmond had managed just enough of a portal to pull through a cravat, although not large enough to put his books through yet. Taking pity on him, Doria put his books on her shelf.
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