Cataleb stormed off, leaving Jefshan and Desmond to share an amused glance.
“Well, I suppose that takes care of that problem for the moment.” Jefshan shrugged eloquently. “Let’s see if we can get an answer out of Kayay, shall we?”
Desmond held back so that Jefshan could go ahead of him. “That’s going to have to be your job; Kayay doesn’t like me.”
“Oh, Kay’s just jealous because you took the longest on the stairs. It’s a nice distinction, but not one that they need to get all bent out of shape about.”
“I just – well. I just kept climbing.” Desmond didn’t know if he should be proud or abashed or some combination thereof about the whole thing. He wanted to be proud – but he was still a little frustrated that he hadn’t made it further. “We kept climbing. Until it wasn’t safe anymore, and then we didn’t have any further to go.”
Jefshan shot him an odd look. “We. You’re really pretty well bonded with your collar, aren’t you?”
“I think we get along pretty well? We can communicate just fine, which helps. I’m learning to process my thoughts so it can hear me without me having to talk to myself.”
“What, just to make that awful teacher happy?”
“Well, collar – Collar really needs a name,” Desmond frowned. “Anyway, my collar had a good point, which is that here, in the middle of everything, we’re pretty used to people talking to themselves – collared people, at least. We just ignore them. But if I had a job guarding a caravan or working with outlanders, that woudl be different. And the last thing I want in the middle of a fight is to distract the people with swords or guns or crossbows.”
“Your collar makes several very good points. Do you think you could get it to talk to mine? Oh, hush, you, I’m teasing, you have plenty of good points when you feel like talking. When you’re not sulking. My collar,” Jefshan explained, “Feels about classes about the way Cataleb seems to, which can be more than a little disturbing in the middle of things.”
“Urgh, yeah. Maybe you can bring it around to your point of view? Classes seem like – well, some of them seem like they’re going to be useful. Learning how to make better force shields…”
“Learning how to make portals,” Jefshan countered, with a small grin. “Yeah, seems useful. I mean, if it turns out that I have magic for – well, for whatever reason, I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like it runs in families or anything.”
“It doesn’t seem like exactly twenty-eight people every year would develop magic either,” Desmond added. “I mean, unless there’s a magic spell that wakes up or something twenty-eight people every year?”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Talia walked up to them. “What about the idea what some people can or can’t work with their collars? You work with yours better than some of us, for instance, but what if they collars only show up on people that can use their magic when they’re collared or – well, I didn’t think this through very much, but something along those lines?” She smiled crookedly. Come on, Kayay is waiting for Jefshan to explain.”
They were practically at the table already, but Desmond let himself be chivvied along until they were all sitting down at the table, staring expectantly at Kayay.
She didn’t seem to like the attention, squirming a bit and scooting back in her chair, before finally sighting. “All right, all right. So I went… well, exploring, because I was angry, and my collar kept trying to calm me down, and all that did was make me angrier, you know how it is…? Anyway, I ended up in a wing I’d never been in before. Not that that’s hard, we’ve barely been anywhere so far.” She shook her head. “I found the Red dorms, that was interesting, but I managed to get away – I guess the older students don’t have all the same class times as we do? There were some Reds around, at least – and I ducked down a hall through the world’s skinniest door.” She patted her slender hips in explanation. “And the hallway was nearly as skinny, geeze. Like people were skinnier in the olden times and not just shorter. Anyway, I found myself in this little maze of tiny hallways, and my collar actually came in handy, offering directions.”
::Uh-oh:: muttered Desmond’s collar in his head.
Uh-oh? he thought back at the collar, as clearly as he could.
::They’re not supposed to do that. Well, I suppose there’s nothing against it, but it depends on where they ended up.:: The collar sounded worried. Desmond wondered if he was making that up.
What happens if a collar does something wrong?
He got no answer. He wondered if he hadn’t thought the question clearly enough. Kayay was still talking, though, so he tried to focus on her words.
“-so finally I wasn’t being squished, I swear my collar was picking the narrowest halls it could, and there we were, looking at an old stairway, a really old one.”
“This place has stairs,” Wesley pointed out. “All over the place. It’s not like all of them are going to be magical stairs.”
“I know that, but my collar, it said uh-oh as clear as day, and then I started climbing the stairs and they started shifting. I mean, if that’s not another stairway like the one we found, what is it?”
“Well, it could be a practice stairway?” Desmond offered. “Or, uh, just one that takes practice, so it’s harder to get somewhere secret-” He fell quiet as Kayay glared at him.
“Do you think you could find it again?” Jefshan leaned in, almost putting her whole body between Kayay and Des. “I mean, if you took a couple of us-”
“I could…” Kayay offered slowly. “But, I mean, if it’s nothing,” her voice was heavily sarcastic, “or something that The Perfect One here thinks is nothing exciting-”
“Hey,” Talia put in, with an apologetic glance at Desmond. “While you were off finding stairways, you missed ‘The Perfect One’ and portals, and the lack thereof.”
“Really? Tell me more.”
Desmond’s cheeks were burning, even if he knew – thought he knew – what Talia was trying to do. He sat back and let them talk about portal class – and then about force-fields class – shooting questions at his collar that his collar appeared to be content to ignore.
Next: Seeing Things