Sylwyn led me out of the massive reference library and down a different corridor than the one I had used to access the reference library. “I think as long as you’re with me, most people will leave you alone. We still need to conduct a couple more tests to really see just how much you can do. I think, though, for this evening, I can probably take you up to the hall, and you can have a bite to eat. Does that sound okay?” he asked, stopping suddenly. He turned to me, a bit apprehensive.
“Other people will be there?” I asked. I was nervous about dealing with more people. So far, I had not exactly had a pleasant experience with almost any of them. It might have worked out better if I had been provided a clear explanation of what was going on. Sylwyn nodded, watching me. He was waiting for me to make a decision.
“People will know what has happened with me already?” I asked, knowing that rumours didn’t take long to get passed around in a tight-knit community.
“Probably,” Sylwyn nodded once. Adrenaline kicked into my system, and my fingers tingled. Without really paying attention, I had considered a cloak of invisibility from several different books. Suddenly Sylwyn couldn’t see me any more.
“Deus? Thaddeus, where’d you go?” Sylwyn popped the edge of his blade from the scabbard. I reached past the cloth to wave at him.
He backed away from the floating hand. “Where’d that come from?”
I pushed the hood back from my face, my ears going warm. “Manga, novel, something? I don’t even know.” My chest was too tight. Burning behind my eyes wasn’t something I was going to be able to fight. I didn’t want this happening to me in the dining hall. I didn’t want to have everyone looking at me.
“Hey, hey,” Sylwyn set a hand on my shoulder, “it’s okay if you don’t know. It’s okay.”
“I don’t think I can do this.” Just the prospect of having to actually go in front of these people terrified me. I couldn’t control myself. I didn’t want to make things worse.
“Where’s the brave, fierce man I saw yesterday? You could have taken down a lion yesterday,” Sylwyn baited.
I pulled the hood back around my face and buried my hands in the cloak. I stood there, not really sure how to respond.
When I had felt like there was nothing left to lose, it had not been difficult to feel all-powerful. At that point, I figured that I’d never see my old apartment or my cat again. My life had vanished into a five-foot hole. At the bottom, next to the lizard and the shovel, I had found another hole with a white rabbit and a tea party I wasn’t sure I was invited to so much as bound to the chair and made to question the sanity of the world. Now, I knew that I’d have to conform to these people, or else be persecuted.
“How about we go back to my room, instead? I don’t have a lot to eat there, but I can probably rustle something up,” Sylwyn offered. I nodded. He took me back down the grey, non-descript corridor we were in and led me down another.
Ten minutes of walking and winding through the underground tunnels, he finally stopped at a door. “Fosgailte,” he said at the door. A latch clicked, and the door swung open. He held the door open for me and let me pass. I walked in to a modestly sized kitchen and sitting room. A large series of three ceiling-to-floor length windows overlooked a courtyard. Trees.
I found myself drawn to those windows. I looked out onto that courtyard like a person who had been lost in a desert finding an oasis. The tree centred with the apartment windows was massive. We were on the fourth floor of an eight-floor block of windows. A garden, maybe the size of a football field, filled with trees and a central fountain spread out below. The ceiling was lit with a strange sun.
Sylwyn shut the door, the lock clicking into place. A creeping sense ran down my spine at the sound. “What is this place?” I asked, hoping to keep too many years of being raised to fear men and locked doors at bay.
“One of our Readers put the sky in the ceiling, and we found that with some work, we could grow plants as they grow above ground. This is Cero block, where many of the top people of the Guild keep personal apartments,” he told me.
That surge of panic broke through.
“As an apprentice, I see no reason for the Chair to deny you residence near me. Here could work if you want. I’ll need to speak with them, but for a while, it might not be a bad place for you to stay if you’d like to take some time to adjust to everything,” he told me. “Breathe, Deus. You look like you’re about to pass out. When are you going to let go of the cloak? That’s got to be giving you a headache to maintain.”
“Do you want to sit? I’ll go make you some coffee,” he offered me the couch.
“Tea might be nice,” I said. It felt too late to drink caffeine. Something passed over his face that I couldn’t quite place.
“I don’t really keep tea around,” he said off-handedly.
“That’s okay; coffee will be alright.” I sank into the leather of the couch. The wood of the side table had cup rings and an unused deck of thick paper coasters that read “Don’t Fuck Up The Table”.
If I wanted tea badly enough, I’d just read some out later. I leaned my head on the arm of the couch. Maybe I’ll close my eyes for a minute, I told myself.
I woke up to Sylwyn pulling an afghan over my shoulders. My throat strangled at his closeness. Between ingrained fear for personal safety and a developed fear of repulsing people, and a current squeamishness at not having had a proper change of clothes or a bath in days, I couldn’t convince myself to breathe.
“Shh, shsh, you’re okay. Get some sleep. Bathroom’s in my bedroom. Don’t worry about waking me. If ‘cotton candy clown’ greets you, just ask him about toves and raths until I snap back to, ‘k?” He flicked the side table lamp off and closed down the living room curtain until there was only a foot of light coming through the far end of the glass. He disappeared into the room behind the sofa. A hygiene routine lulled me close to my slumber. Water hitting an enamel sink. Teeth brushing. A creak in the floor. Something small and plastic hitting laminate. A soft curse and a thin cabinet door closing. The shower rumbled to life. I drifted on the water gurgling through the pipes.
Before I could find the depths of sleep again, shifting on the pillows on the couch jarred me awake. Glancing at the door, I quickly shucked myself out of my suit coat, tie, button-up, and undershirt. I struggled with the sweaty binder, getting myself stuck halfway through and hoping against hope that the shower didn’t stop. The material scratched at my skin as I finally got free of it and shucked it to the floor before pulling on my undershirt. I tossed my button-up and suit jacket on top of the clump of fabric along with my leather belt. My skin thanked me for the break, and I was out before my head found a pillow.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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