Kayay appeared as they were leaving Portals and heading for their next class. There was a tall, broad, red-uniformed student on either side of Kayay, making Kayay look very small and very pitiful indeed.
Desmond knew anything he said would be taken wrong, but Jefshan and Wesley handled it, stepping forward and making fussing noises over Kayay, completely ignoring the goons of Physical Team that were clearly there to escort Kayay.
Once they were gone, possibly believing that the rest of Kayay’s dorm-mates would stop any future escape attempts, Kayay’s voice dropped to a whisper. “I found something.”
Desmond looked at Kayay and from there to the rest of their group. It was Jefshan that asked, carefully, “So… ‘something’? Like, an exit, a dragon, and room full of collars?”
“I found another stairway,” Kayay hissed. “LIke the first one. It was…”
“Ahem.” The teacher standing in the doorway was short, red-faced, and a little too round. The collar around their neck – gold with embellishments – seemed to pinch tightly, as if it hadn’t allowed for their weight gain. “There is a class, I believe? And it would do better with all of its students?”
That went without saying, but Desmond bowed apologetically anyway. “Of course, Professor…?” When the professor did not fill in a name, Desmond continued a little more quickly than he’d meant to. “We’re coming now.”
“Next time, don’t be coming, be to class when it is begun. In, in, all of you.”
They piled in and sat down, finding this one a class with all three colors filling the room.
“Now, this is Collar Rapport. Your collar is an important part of your magic and of your life, as you are going to quickly discover, if you have not already. Thus, you must work up a rapport with your collar, so that you and it can better understand each other. To begin with, we are going to sit quietly for twenty minutes, listening to what our collars have to say – yes?” The professor’s face pinched unpleasantly. Desmond turned to see that Cataleb had a hand up.
“What if I don’t want to talk to my collar? It doesn’t have anything intersesting to say.”
“Well, then, you will never get anywhere with your magic, now will you?”
“Fine with me. I didn’t want magic anyway.”
“Well then, child, sit quietly for twenty minutes and don’t listen to anything! The rest of us are going to sit and listen to our collars!”
It didn’t seem like the best way to “commune” with anything,” Desmond thought, but he was not in charge of the class, the professor was. He sat quietly, getting into as comfortable a position as he could, and closed his eyes. Hello? he thought.
::Hello. I am still here, the same as I was yesterday and the same as I will be tomorrow. How do you think we can get an A in this class? And how do you think we can get better at portals?::
Is this how I commune with you? He formed the words very carefully in his head. Unbidden came a picture of him holding the collar, a wispy figure mostly unclear within the collar, and staring at it intently.
::Normally, you would just speak out loud. As far as I have ever been able to tell, most people here do not look askance at someone talking to their collar out loud. Or, rather, as it looks to them, talking to themselves out loud.::
“So, like this?” he murmured
“Excuse me?” The professor was in front of him before he had even opened his eyes. “I said we would sit quietly, yes, and listen to our collars, yes?”
“Yes?” Desmond offered.
“So you are sitting and talking, why?”
“…because my collar told me to?”
“There is a difference, young man, between listening to your collar and doing what your collar suggests! Quietly now, backs straight, looking straight ahead. We will not be the sort the murmur furtively in corners!”
::Well then, someone has an issue.:: Desmond’s collar sounded, he thought, almost as taken-aback as he felt. ::Well then, back straight, there you go. Look ahead, I have no idea why. Mmm, get a little smile on your face, like you’re thinking of a particularly nice memory, or maybe of someone sweet you knew before you came here – there. That’s nice. Now you’re obeying all of the ridiculous orders and here we are, communing. So. What do you think of your classmates?::
Communing is gossiping? Desmond found the best way to do this was to think the words very very clearly and just not move his lips – imagine he was speaking as he would imagine a shield.
::”Communing” is supposed to be working with your collar to do magic, because we are half of your power. But this twit wouldn’t know proper communing were it to wrap around that throat and squeeze. So we’re going to gossip. That Cataleb is no good, I tell you. Surprised that they made it all the way up the stairs.::
Who didn’t, then? Someone didn’t, right?
::I don’t keep a class roster in here, you know. Someone didn’t, presumably. They pick 28 people who have potential. I don’t know why 28, don’t ask. but they do. So someone didn’t. I wonder if they soften the stairs for the next most likely to fail, or if they just, well, run without enough some years.::
That’s gruesome. Desmond’s face twisted up.
::Expression. Remember. We’re communing.::
This is ridiculous. He focused on his expression anyway, until it was politely bland.
::Think about it this way.:: The collar’s tone, such as it was, seemed to shift to something calming, or maybe coaxing. ::There might come a time when you have to talk to me without anyone knowing. Forming your thoughts the way you’re doing is a very good first step, and doing it while keeping your face clear is a bonus.::
I thought you said nobody would mind if I talked out loud to you? He had to work to keep his face from showing anything, but the professor was coming his way, which made it a little bit easier. He didn’t want to be lectured again on proper collar etiquette, at least not by someone who didn’t appear to know what they were talking about.
::Here. Consider, however, if you happened to be assigned to guard the caravans that ventured out of the country.::
Desmond considered. That would be fun, wouldn’t it? He sat up and imagined himself helping a trader with his work while keeping up force-shields to fend off monsters.
He really had no idea what sort of threats were in the passes and beyond, he had to admits, but he’d heard stories of monsters left over from the magic wars. With everything he’d seen, it seemed a safe bet.
I wonder why the stairs don’t have monsters.
::They want most of you to survive, don’t they?::
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