Landing Page: Desmond’s Climb

Every year, twenty-eight people in Desmond’s city wake up wearing a collar.

What happens to them after that has been a mystery for ages.

Desmond is about to find out.

Desmond’s Story

Other Stories in the World


Building the World

Desmond’s Climb Thirty: People

First: Slaves, School
Previous:  Getting to Know…


It took Desmond, Jefshan, and, to his surprise, Wesley, all working together, to get the group back on track.  “Desmond can go exploring the spare stairs tomorrow on his own time.  Right now, we’re working on getting to know our collars, remember?”

It wasn’t a rousing endorsement, but a pointed reminder from Jefshan about exactly how bad their collar rapport class had been got Kayay coming up with a question, and they were back to doing round-robin questions. Continue reading

Desmond’s Climb Twenty-Nine: Getting To Know…

First: Slaves, School
Previous:  Seeing Things


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.



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Desmond’s Climb: Seeing Things

First: Slaves, School
Previous: Kayay’s Story


So, do you know about this stairway? It was the seventh or eighth phrasing Des had tried of the same question. They were already in their next class, and his collar was not talking to him.

This was tricky, because it was supposed to be a class on clairvoyance and other scrying.

Could you at least help me with this… “Could you give me a hand with this class?” he asked weakly. “I’ll stop asking about the other thing. I will. Just please help me with this class.”

“Desmond, is it?” Their teacher, a tall and impressive person with dark skin and short curly hair woven with wire the same silver as their collar, paused by Desmond’s desk.

“Des is fine. I – sorry. My collar is annoyed with me.” Continue reading

Desmond’s Climb: Kayay’s Story

First: Slaves, School
Previous: Collar Rapport! 

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?” Continue reading

Desmond’s Climb – Professor Smiff

This is written to thnidu‘s donation and request for Desmond from Professor Smiff’s eyes, and comes concurrent with Force and Shields

Telanien Smiff walked around her classroom slowly, looking at all of the newest Blue students. She liked Blue the best, something all of her fellow teachers assumed and nobody would ever ask her about.

This year, Blue had the Last Person Up The Stairs, an honor that they were very quiet about – except in the upperclassmen dorms, where she was certain the Blues were crowing about it. And the student in question was not, to Telanien’s eyes, all that impressive – just another teenage child from one of the poor streets, well-fit into a uniform, presumably by a collar that cared about impressions, that was good, but still out of place here. If this Desmond knew how many of his fellow students were High Street, he’d probably be even more uncomfortable around them. Or around the teachers. Continue reading

Collar Rapport?

First: Slaves, School
Previous: Portals

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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First: Slaves, School
Previous: Force and Shields

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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Worldbuilding Day Six Part 1: Gender and Sexuality

Desmond’s World
Okay, yay, gender in Desmond’s world!

Gender in this world – or at least in this nation – is marked by clothing, by behavior, and by voiced preference. The clothing is pseudo-Edwardian in style, so it is often the case that Male People wear Pants, Female People Wear Skirts, and so on.

However, people a) sometimes choose to wear robes that hide everything, thus obscuring the question of gender – often for political-functionary roles where gender has no place in the role.

Many roles are still very gendered: someone has to stay home and watch the children, someone has to do the heavy labor, someone has to make meals, and these are often but not always split along gender lines. However, one can choose to put on the role and pronouns of either gender – although in a marriage or other partnership, it is generally considered polite to discuss such things with your partner and work out the roles ahead of time or, if not ahead of time, in teamwork with your partner.

Marriages are often for a combination of procreation and protection of the young, especially among the lower classes, and for those things and for financial unions among the upper classes. Thus, it is generally considered useful to have two people with the appropriate sex organs to make a child together in a marriage, but there are several ways around this, and nobody would ever ask outside of that partnership or forming one. What sex organs you have and who you have sex with is generally considered private business as long as it does not lead to babies.

Babies are raised as genderless until they begin to express a preference, at which point they are generally dressed as that preference until they take over dressing themselves.

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Worldbuilding Day Five Part 1: Civilization and Architecture

Desmond’s World

Stone is is ample supply all around Desmond’s nation, and that is amply evident in their building, which is wood-supplemented stone for the most part. The oldest buildings are often dry stacked stone, some of them just literally stacked, others carved cleverly and carefully to join perfectly while losing as little stone as possible.

In the Capital City, further from the mountains than many of the, stone and wood are used more equally: buildings are often wattle-and-daub over timber frames (think “Tudor” houses) wit tall stone foundations, often mortared together.

You can often tell the mage-wars-time buildings, because their stones are improbably large, their joins improbably tight, and their polishing improbably bright even after hundreds of years.
The Potentate’s Palace and the City Hall Building are from that time.

(Another feature of buildings from that time is an Escher-esque opinion about dimensions and architecture, even in houses now owned by the lower-middle or lower class. You might still wander into a poor person’s home and find that it improbably fits an extended family of twenty comfortably in a narrow building in a tiny lot that does not tower over its neighbors. Sometimes these buildings have views of other places, as well, out windows that should not show anything but the neighbors’ underwear: the mountains, the sea, even another nation. These houses are tightly-guarded secrets which nobody speaks of, often owned by the same family for centuries, by some deed from a long-dead Potentate.)

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Force and Shields

First: Slaves, School
Previous: Force-Fields

They shared a look among them. Cataleb stepped forward to speak when nobody else did. “Kayay got angry and stormed off. I’m sure she’ll be back when nobody goes after her.”

“Of course. Well, welcome to Force and Force-fields, a class you will be taking every year of your education here, or until you can hold off a tsunami with nothing but your mind and your collar. And you may very well need to, so I’d suggest you pay attention. Now. I am Professor Smiff. I prefer neutral or feminine pronouns when socializing, and neutral pronouns when working. The collar has no gender; the magic has no gender; we have no gender, just as that tsunami has no gender. Now. We’re going to start with very basic exercises and move on. Please join with a partner and face each other, just far enough apart that your arms stretched in front of you do not touch.”

Desmond looked around and quickly moved towards Jefshan, but Wesley had beaten him to it, which left him facing Talia.

It could have been far worse, he considered, and from the expression on her face, she probably thought similarly. He bowed to her, a careful bow his sisters would have been proud of, and she bowed back tidily.

“Very good. Now, here.” Professor Smiff moved around, arranging pairs until they were positioned satisfactorily. “The first exercise is a push. You are all going to concentrate on making a circular force-shield, like the bottom of a market basket, and pushing it towards your partner, trying to push your partner backwards while they, in turn, will be doing the same thing to you. Understood? All right, then. Everyone talk to your collar and concentrate on making a shield.”

With Kayay out, they had equal pairs. “Ready?” Desmond murmured to his collar.

::This is going to be fun,:: the collar whispered in turn. “Ready? Focus.”

Desmond focused on his shield the way he had on the stairs, but instead of pushing himself up the stairs, he was trying to nudge Talia backwards. Her shield came up as he was getting his moving, a purple shape like the side of a bubble, almost soapy in its appearance.

She pushed back at him, and he pushed at her. After a moment, her shield burst and she took a surprised step backwards.

Des pulled his shield back towards him. “Okay, try again?” he offered. “I won’t push this time.” He held up his shield again.

This time she manages to get to push at him a little before her shield burst. She took a step back, sighing loudly.

He looked around the room. Doria was paired with Poiy, and both of their bubbles kept exploding. Cataleb was sitting down, refusing to participate, so Lufet was just pushing them around the room with a shield. Over in another corner, Jefshan and Wesley were doing all right, but they didn’t seem to be able to move each other; their bubbles kept warping around each other’s.

In the middle of all this, Professor Smiff was wandering around, making comments, pulling up little shields and pushing them at people, encouraging and criticizing.

“Desmond.” The professor stopped near him and Talia. “Why aren’t you pushing?”

“Because I pushed already. Now it’s her turn to figure out how to push.” It seemed reasonable and fair to him.

“Turns? Who said anything about turns?”

Something about the quirk of the Professor’s eyebrow made this slightly less of an intimidating question than it might have been otherwise.

“Nobody, Professor, but I can already handle a basic shield and Talia can’t. As sh- as Talia is my partner right now, it behooves us both to be able to do the task at hand.”

Now where had that come from? The word behooves was a whisper in his mind from his collar, but the rest –

Something his father had said, about a co-worker who just wanted to step on everyone else’s head to get to the top. Hunh. Desmond hadn’t realized he’d been listening.

::You weren’t, exactly, but when you started helping Talia, it was percolating around in your mind, so I, ah, helped.::

That was a little creepy. Desmond bowed to Professor Smiff again. “Was that wrong, Professor?”

“No.” Professor Smiff raised eyebrows at Desmond and appeared to be considering something. “That was outside the bounds of the assignment, but not wrong. Tell me, can either of you figure out what you, Desmond are doing that you, Talia, are not?”

“He’s – Desmond’s making a shield that works and I’m not,” Talia answered despondently.

“Well, yes, that is the result. Desmond, what are you doing?”

“I’m asking my collar to help me make a shield, like we did on the stairs. The collar asks me to focus, and I think about a shape I want.”

“That’s a good start, yes. Talia?”

“My collar doesn’t like to talk to me,” she admitted, hanging her head. “So I’m supposed to ask it for help?”

“Well, your collar is there to focus the magic, to control it, and to help you steer it. So, close your eyes and ask your collar for a shield. Desmond, shield up.”

Ready? he thought loudly.

::No need to shout. Here we go.::

This time, the shield was the same color as Desmond’s cravat. Had he done that or had the collar?

::Little of A, little of B… watch out!::

Desmond’s shield expanded to cover both him and Professor Smiff as Talia’s shield exploded in something like lavender goo. The goo smeared down the outside of Desmond’s shield and landed with a plop on the floor.

“Interesting.” Professor Smiff nodded at Desmond. “Good instincts there, Desmond, and, Talia, can you tell us what happened?”

“My collar yelled at me, and then … splat?” Talia offered helpfully. “More or less.”

“Interesting. I’d suggest you pay extra-close attention during Collar Rapport classes. Continue to work on this for the rest of class, and do tell me if you two get it settled.”

“Well… that was interesting.” Desmond brought up a smaller shield as Professor Smiff walked away.

“That’s one word for it. At least the goo is going away.” She nudged at it with her toe. “So. Let me try again, asking my collar nicely maybe?”

“What did you ask it?”

“I told it I wanted a forceshield, but stronger.”

“Okay, so let’s see.” How did you teach someone how to do something you’d just figured out how to do yourself?

::Visualization:: his collar whispered.

“Okay,” he repeated. “So here… can I have a shield that’s mostly just visible?”

::Here we go.:: The collar produced a glowing shield-shape in Desmond’s hands.

“Thanks. So you need to have a clear picture of what you want to do. See this and think about making one like it, I think.”

She squinted at the shield, walked around it a bit, and then closed her eyes and made a shield.

“Good, good. Now push?”

This time, they pushed against each other, like a shoving match, only with a cushion of air and magic between them. They ended up collapsing on the floor laughing, almost tripping JEfshan as she worked on her own shield.

“Good, good. Practice these in your dormitory this evening. And now, on to your next class, children. Go on now.”


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