Desmond was exhausted. He dragged himself from dinner to the dormitory with hardly a thought other than finding his bed and becoming as horizontal as possible in it.
::We have homework,:: the collar reminded him. ::And it will not be dark for another hour.::
“I could sleep for an hour, then, do my homework, and sleep some more?” Desmond offered. “They have lamps here. Everywhere.”
::Homework first, then a bath, and then sleep. We are going to commune, are we not?::
“You and I commune just fine.” He wasn’t the only one muttering to himself as they trudged up the back stairs; next to him, Talia was mumbling incoherently, and behind them, so was [cc]
::You and I also make force-shields just fine, do we not? Help out your fellow students. You’re going to need it on the portals.::
“Gee, thanks. All right, all right. Jefshan,” he raised his voice, “want to do that communing thing with the group tonight?’
“Tonight? Oh, man, I wanted to – urrgh. Is your collar telling you that you can’t go to sleep, too?”
“Mine is being super helpful.” His voice was dripping with sarcasm. “In that sort of ‘helpful’ way that won’t let me sleep and reminds me that I’m supposed to commune with it.”
“I suppose there’s ways that could be considered helpful,” Wesley pointed out. “What if going to sleep after doing too much magic makes you sick, or it’s like sleeping with a head injury and you never wake up?”
“Then you’d think they’d tell us that,” Jefshan complained. “But fine. We’re going to commune with our collars and ask them questions. We’ll – hrrm, we’ll sit on the bottom bunks, that’ll work best, and each of us will ask a question and we’ll share the answers. I mean, if the bottom bunk people don’t mind?”
“I don’t mind,” put in Doria. Wesley and Lufet agreed. They settled down – everyone but Cataleb, who was sitting on the middle bunk on the far side, sulking – and looked around at each other.
“All right.” Jefshan seemed to have lowered her voice to a whisper. “I’ll go first, if nobody minded?”
Desmond certainly didn’t mind, and nobody else seemed to either.
“Okay. We’ll start with … does your collar have a favorite color?”
Someone giggled. Desmond was pretty sure it wasn’t him. Doria was certainly smirking.
“I’ll go first,” Doria put in. “So my collar tells me that color is completely different for collars, since they see the world only through our eyes and through clairvoyance and other magical sense, but it likes, um, the feeling of magical portals and the hue of the inside of said portals.”
“Oh, hey,” Wesley says in surprise. “Mine likes the portal color best too.”
“Mine likes the sensation inside a clairvoyance. Or…” Talia giggled. “Or, okay, looking at blue through my eyes. Aww, that’s nice.”
What about you? Desmond thought carefully.
::Green.:: There was something prim about the collar’s answer. ::Green and the hue of a sunrise just touching the water. We can TOO see real colors, we just see them with our Bearers, with our people. That’s what we are, and they’re being rather silly if they want to pretend otherwise.::
“Green and sunrise-on-water,” Desmond reported carefully.
They went around the circle with that one; most of the collars has magical colors, but Kayay’s preferred blue, purple, and sunlight-through-glass.
“Do you think they missed sensation?” Jefshan mused.
“Do you think they ever knew sensation?” Talia countered.
::Don’t ask,:: Desmond’s collar warned. ::Not yet.::
From the looks on the faces around him, everyone was getting the same warning. Desmond cleared his throat.
“All right. So, how about: does your collar have hopes for a placement for the two of you after school?”
“Oooh.” Jefshan leaned forward. “That’s a good question!”
Desmond found himself flushing and smiled crookedly. “Thanks. Thanks, I – we’ve been talking about it a lot? But like, uh. The stairs. We could go until we didn’t agree with our collar anymore? So it seems like agreeing with our collar is a good idea, for things like position.”
“Blasted smoke and the dead hells no!” Poiy stood up and pushed away from the bunk as if trying to get away from the collar around their neck. “No!”
“Poiy?” Lufet hopped off the bunk hurriedly to hurry over to Poiy. “Why, what did-”
“The sea! Who but a madder wants to go to the sea, tell me that? They’ve given me a broken collar, I tell you! Broken! The sea,” Poiy scoffed. “No. No, I don’t care if we end up shoveling horse shit for the rest of our lives – hells and drowning, we could make portals and drop the stuff into the deep sea, there you go. Sea enough for you, you mad thing?”
Desmond shared a glance with Jefshan and Doria. Doria had turned pale, so pale it looked like even the blue cravat was losing color. Jefshan looked, Desmond thought, possibly a little amused, but trying to cover it well.
The sea? He asked his collar quietly.
::Have no fear on my behalf. I am not particularly interested in the water, or in ending up spending a collar’s lifespan deep beneath it or in the tidepools.::
Good. Lufet had managed to calm Poiy down, although the latter was still tugging at the collar and muttering.
Jefshan cleared her throat. “Mine wants to work on the caravans. Says there’s a lot of interesting things to learn that way, new people, lots of chances to grow with magic. I – well, I guess we’ll see. It’s not my first choice.”
They went through a couple others – some reasonable things, no other water-based occupations – before Desmond asked his so?
::Caravans sound very nice, but ideally we would be bodyguarding the Potentate.::
Desmond coughed. “My collar has a lot of ambition. Which, ah. I already knew. He wants us bodyguarding the Potentate.”
“Wow, think highly of yourself?” Kayay snarked.
“Hey! It’s not me, it’s the collar! Come on, we’re supposed to be getting to know our collars, right? So I know my collar has a lot of ambition.”
“’Which you already knew’,” Kayay snapped back at him. “Why, by the way, might you have already known that?”
“Because it wanted to push up higher than I did in the stairs. Come on, I’m not trying to prove anything here.”
“I suppose if you were, you’d find the spare stairs AND find out what they’re for without being caught, wouldn’t you?”
“If I was trying to prove something-” I’d manage to get a portal open, he meant to say, but everyone was saying ooo and “come on” and before he knew it, Desmond had allowed himself to be goaded.
::This is going to end poorly,:: his collar informed him.
I know, Desmond agreed. But he was committed now.