“A little Simil for a big Simil?” I posited to the Mad Hatter.
“Benefit the system, and the system benefits you.” He plucked at a grape. It slipped past his fork to roll to the other side of his plate. Baffled disappointment creased his features.
“What can I do for the Chair, and what can the Chair do for me, if this is the system that I must play in?” I pressed.
He continued trying to spear the insubordinate fruit. “They must find the missing paper. If it stays lost, it stays lost, but if it is used while lost, we may all be lost.”
“The great gods?” I set my plate aside. I straightened, watching the man carefully. This was Sylwyn, and yet not. The body of a man I had spent more than one semester discussing classical literature with and more than one afternoon guzzling crappy student union coffee with. The mind was completely different when the Hatter took power. I knew he was dangerous, chaotic, and scattered. I didn’t get the impression of being in immediate bodily harm from him, though.
“Hmm,” hummed Simil as he leaned down to study the elusive grape. “Floods, rock slides, the world would divide. The divine would walk, and man would believe again.” He blinked as I picked up the grape he had been studying. I rolled it between my index finger and thumb gently, holding it out to the man. I watched him as he watched me. Gears turned in his head as he tried to understand what was going on. He swallowed nervously. The Hatter reached up tentatively to take it, but I withdrew my hand. What had possessed me to do this? He flinched back and blinked at me once more, pink and black eyes like an owl, trying to still understand. I held it toward him again. He leaned toward my hand and kept his eyes locked with mine. He bent forward farther and gingerly bit into the grape, taking it from my fingers, his tongue just barely rasping against my skin.
“Sounds like we have our work cut out for us then, Hatter.” I stood from the table, picked up my plate, and only then realized that a good portion of the people in the room had been watching us. It took what I could to keep my embarrassment shuttered under a cool aloof gaze of dismissal. The muted green three-piece and top hat helped this charade. Simil rose with me, the solid, terrifying Mad Hatter that I had seen back in the courtroom. He bowed low, motioning me towards the exit. I took my cue, and with head held high and arrogant, I put on the best act I could and walked toward the door. I set my plate in the bussing station, knowing that all eyes were on us. I opened the door and led us out of the cafeteria.
The door closed behind me with a harsh click. I blew my breath out, only then realizing I had been holding it. I held my hands to my chest, trying to still the trembling running through me. My heart was pounding hard, and the corset vest was not helping.
“Flustered are we?” Simil asked, observing me curiously. I checked myself, looking up to meet his confused gaze.
“I am still learning the etiquette of this place. Do not concern yourself with me.” I frowned.
“I feel though that I must, blueberry boy. You seem to draw me to you in such a manner that I cannot still my emotions.” He tilted his head, seeming to really understand what he meant only after he said it. His eyes flicked away from me, a shyness stealing across his features in that moment.
I settled my hands on top of my silver cane if only to place them somewhere other than my pockets. “Are those emotions of any benefit to either of us?” I cocked my head up to look at him from lowered lids in appraisal.
He swallowed, a flush running across his ears. “Finding out may be the only way.” He turned to the hall. “The Chair calls us; shall we grace them with our presence?” He waited for me to join his stride.
“That sounds invigorating, let’s,” I walked down the hall, the tip of my cane clicking on the linoleum. I caught his glance a couple of times while walking. He was trying to understand just why I intrigued him. I was trying to understand just how much of Sylwyn’s memories were floating around for the Mad Hatter’s access while he was in control.
“What is it that you see in these halls, Hatter?” I asked the cotton candy clown of death. He put a finger to his chin, analysing the walls.
“Grey…lots of grey really. Is there something interesting here?” He looked about himself with flamboyant curiosity before returning to his shy shell.
“I was told that some of these halls can look like strange places. I was just curious if you saw the strange places, too,” I answered. “Sylwyn said he could see the strange places. Interesting that you cannot.”
“How invigorating. I have been told that before. Do you see these places?” he countered.
“No, I do not. It’s only grey. A couple of pictures here and there or a bench would be a blessing. Something to help designate areas.” I was making small talk, but it at least alleviated the droning blandness of the hallways.
“Never thought of a bench before,” contemplated Simil, thumb and forefinger rubbing at faint stubble on his chin.
“How long does it take to walk from the lunch room to the Chair?” I asked. We had to have been walking for at least ten minutes already.
“Long enough for me to recite Genesis in Latin,” Simil dropped his hand to his side and stared at the ceiling tiles until he found one that apparently told him something and started reciting at a spot where Cain and Abel’s names were mixed in with Latin.
“Is that how you count time between locations?” I whispered, afraid to break his concentration. It was best, it seemed, to approach Simil as nothing was surprising about him. It seemed best to handle the people who encountered Simil with the same gloves. If I acted like nothing phased me, it might just save me.
He pondered for a moment as more lines fell away from his lips. “Most places only take the first twenty stanzas of the Odyssey. Some take more,” he informed me and took back up his Latin.
“The Bible, The Odyssey, are there any other books that you deem worthy to utilize for marking time?” I asked.
“Numbers on lines help,” he mused as we turned down another hall.
“I can see that being very useful,” I conceded. He blinked, turning more toward me as we walked.
“You are strange,” he stated matter of factly.
“As are you,” I countered.
“You ask me questions,” he retorted.
“You are full of answers,” I bantered back.
“You do not cringe from me.” He halted in the hallway.
“Why should I cringe, Hatter?” I halted with him, turning to face him.
“The others do.” His shoulders drooped with that admission.
“Am I the others?” I asked bluntly, with no inflexion.
He studied me quietly, not sure how to reply. He shifted uncomfortably, but his gaze never left my face. “I do not think you are the others.”
“What do you think I am?” I tilted my head, curious what this strange being in front of me would come up with. He broke my gaze to pace the hallway a couple of steps. I waited as he paced back.
He stretched back into a pompous posture and looked at me again. I had the distinct impression that he approached his analyse of me as a piece of art to be considered thoroughly. I watched him and waited as calmly as possible.
“You can do things only Simils can do yet different; you are a Dewey, blueberry boy,” he stated as he came back up to me, walked around me, settled back to the spot in front of me. “But you do not reject me, as the others do. You speak with me in the rooms and in the halls,” he continued. “You took my sword…and kissed me?” he squeaked, remembering the quizzing room.
“A – you let me take the sword, B – you didn’t seem to not like the kiss,” I countered.
He narrowed his gaze at me and pursed his lips. Folding his arms he ducked to study the hall. “I do not know why.”
“I distinctly remember you levelling that blade at me not more than five minutes later,” I reminded him.
“You gave it back,” he pressed on.
“I was no longer scared if you had it or not,” I conceded.
“Though I came after you not but a short time after,” he paced away again. I waited for him to pace back. “Why the poor guard?” he asked.
“Why the jail cell?” I countered. He nodded, not meeting my gaze. “The guard was there to protect the guild. The jail cell was there to protect the guild. You were there to protect the guild. The guild was not protecting me,” I explained. “I was tired of the guild being protected, and I had no protection of my own,” I continued. “I have to be my own knight in shining armour, Hatter. I was going to do what I had to in order to make myself feel safe,” I finished.
“So, mutual enemies then?” Simil asked.
“Who?” I asked. His short sentences lacked context and made the hidden subtext confusing.
“You and me.” He paced around me once more. I held my perfect posture, not daring to allow my eye to follow his movement. I knew he would eventually come to stand in front of me once again.
“Why enemies?” I asked when he settled.
“You are not keen on the guild,” he explained.
“I have not yet heard their benefits,” I expounded.
“Or mine,” mused the man, looking down at the floor again.
I hedged all of my bets. I moved forward and reached up to gently pull his face closer to mine. His eyes flew up to meet mine. I pulled him closer. “I feel I already know many of yours, dear Hatter,” I whispered against his lips. My eyelashes fluttered down as I breathed in my first kiss. The man stilled under me, but relented to my kiss. I eased away from the kiss and the man. He straightened, watching me carefully. He blinked once, twice. He swallowed, unsure of himself. “Shall we go see what benefits the Chair may have in store?” I asked, waving down the hall.
“You are very strange indeed.” Hatter went to pull at a non-existent cravat. Tugging at his shirt collar instead, he cleared his throat, cheeks pinking under the fluorescent lights.
“Pot, kettle,” I pointed at him and myself.
“Black.” He nodded.
Five more minutes put us in front of another grand pair of double doors. At the very least, they were consistent in putting up big decorative doors for the prominent rooms. Either that, or they were the only doors I was getting an imprint on. I straightened my jacket and brushed at a wrinkle.
“They don’t bite, Ali- Thaddeus,” smiled the cotton candy clown of death.
“But do I?” I smiled back at him mischievously. His eyes went wide as he took a tiny step back. I chuckled lightly. He looked away from me and rapped on the door. A voice called out for entrance. He opened the door and allowed me in.
Inside was something similar to Sylwyn’s apartment, though larger and grander. A set of doors led off on either side. Some were open to reveal desks. A man sat at a desk closest to the entrance. The man glanced up as Hatter, and I walked in. “Simil, what is the pleasure?” he asked, not looking overwhelmingly pleased to see the man.
“The Chair, Blueberry Boy, benefit,” he tried to explain, a tremor running through his limbs. The man at the desk glanced at me appraisingly. Simil eased closer to me.
“Right, you must be Grace-Alice Oppenheimer. We had left notice with Simil to bring you as soon as possible. Thank you, Simil.” The man nodded dismissively.
“If you wouldn’t mind waiting over here, Ms Drover will be right with you.” The man motioned me toward a formal desk and a series of wingback chairs encircling it. Was I going to be able to sit in that? I had no idea. Hatter pulled a chair out for me. I eased onto the edge of the chair and swore up and down that I’d be getting some regular clothes as soon as I was done with the day.
Hatter sat down next to me. He rested against his chair back contentedly. If not for the fact that he was studying my face most blatantly and intently, it would look like he was content to rest in his seat forever. It took everything I could to keep from shifting under his steady gaze. It was uncomfortable, but it seemed to be his disposition, so I let him have it.
“Ms Oppenheimer, I presume?” a tall, lithe woman greeted me. Brown hair was pulled severely against her skull into a small bun, traction alopecia making her temples thin. A crisp business suit added to her severity. She did not provide the courtesy of shaking hands, and I did not provide the courtesy of standing to receive one. She seated herself gracefully in a chair on the other side of the table. She laid a manilla file out on the table and set a series of papers around it. I spotted a photo of myself on one. It seemed to be a file pertaining to me, but otherwise, I could not tell what it said.
“You must be Ms. Drover,” I nodded.
She pursed her lips as she continued to shuffle papers until they were in a perfect order only she would understand. “I must ask, Ms Oppenheimer, how have you found your stay?” she asked.
“Once out of confinement and treated as a human being with rights, much better, thank you. Please, call me Thaddeus,” I answered. I noted Hatter’s hand tighten in his lap.
Ms. Drover inhaled sharply and released a disappointed sigh but did not meet my gaze. “By way of your quizzing scores, and by the fact that Simil had to see to your confinement in one of the decompression rooms from an outburst, and your late Phasing, I must inform you that the Chair has great interest in your abilities,” she stated matter of factly.
“Yes, I assumed as much,” I responded. She glanced up at me, a muscle twitching across her cheek. She waited, quiet. I recognized this silence. It was used as a psychological tactic by employers when conducting an interview. Long silence typically encouraged people to continue talking. I waited.
Eventually, she glanced at her paperwork once more. She shifted in her seat as she moved a paper into better view for herself. “Though you have Phased late, and have not been formally trained within the guild schools, we have use for you,” she continued. This time, I was the one providing the long silence. She cleared her throat. “We would ask that, under the guidance of Simil, you take on a critical position in the guild.”
“That seems dangerous,” I responded.
She looked up at me and nodded. “That would be my thought on the matter.”
“I haven’t heard any good reasons for why I should help you with this,” I pointed out.
“You will have paid board, food, and pension. Medical, dental, and vision are all covered,” she stated, shoving a paper in my direction.
“This a paid position? What of my degree? I had a career lined out for myself, and your guild disrupted it. That won’t fix the student loan that I will still have to pay for the classes I already finished.” I took the paper.
“There is a stipend earned monthly for taking on projects,” she replied. I glanced up from the paper, wary of that statement. Then I thought back to Hatter. I glanced his way. He had been working in and with the guild since he was a child. Sylwyn had been in the real world, been to college. He would have some vague concept on if what I was going to be paid was a fair wage.
I leaned back and read the fine print. It was all there, coverage of room and board. A stipend with ability to gain raises and take on moonlighting and consulting. The stipend was almost a laughable number. I wouldn’t be able to even dream of touching that number with a job in library studies. Medical, dental and vision were all covered. Investment options. I pushed the paper back to the woman. “What do you need for me to do that you would offer this?”
“It is the standard package for members of the guild. The fact that you can Read without the text makes it possible for the guild to offer you something more.” She pushed another sheet toward me. I almost choked. Now that was a ridiculous number. What was the point of that number when everything else was practically paid for? Then the thought hit me. “You want me to take on a character and become another Simil. You think I can do that without going crazy,” I demanded calmly.
“A Dewey, Ms. Oppenheimer, yes. This is what one might consider Hazard Pay. That would be the guild’s proposition.” Ms Drover nodded once.
“Explain this to me, Steve. How exactly am I supposed to take on a character when I do not have any formal training?” I pressed.
“My name is Ms. Dover, thank you. That is the benefit of apprenticing with Simil. He will be your personal tutor. That will place you on an accelerated program toward controlling your abilities at your age,” the woman stated. “As it is, from reports I received earlier, you and Simil seem to be close already,” she glanced up at me. I knew what she was referring to, and I was not going to give her the satisfaction of seeing me blush.
“Will that be a problem?” I asked.
She glanced at her papers and sniffed. “As it is, you won’t really be returning back to your regularly scheduled lifestyle from here on. It may be difficult for you to contact your, well, I guess there are no more living relationships. We will send for your cat to be delivered once you have a residence established.” She threw a levelling, contemptuous gaze my way. I could just barely note out of my periphery the slight shiver of Simil’s shoulders. Her eyebrow twitched.
“You seem irritated by my very presence. Is it the Simil part or the trans parts because your entire office can’t seem to work with legal names,” I pointed out, fed up with her attitude.
“You have been difficult since arriving, and you seem to have a rather…less than savoury outlook on your moral life as it were,” she elaborated.
“Hey sweety, I don’t ask to look in your underwear drawer,” I snapped in a quiet growl, for once my voice pitch going low enough to command presence in the room.
Her eyes flew wide, and she let out an exasperated squeak. “Why do they make me do this?”
“Is there someone else I should be talking to?” I brushed white cat hair that had gathered on my velvet trousers, getting ready to stand up. “And brush your cat. No need to leave pet glitter on the guests.”
“This is my job; this is what I am supposed to be doing,” she motioned for me to stay sitting.
“Stellar work there, chief. You seem quite prejudiced against Simil. Am I right?” I hissed. Hatter tensed under the question.
Ms. Drover didn’t even afford him a glance. “Should I not be?”
“Why should you?” I returned. She huffed, waving the question away.
“You are not motivating me towards assisting your organization here. Are Simils so contemptuous within the organization that you pay them ridiculous sums of money to take the abuse? Is the hazard pay for mental health? Maybe ya’ll should tack in a therapist in that dental and vision package of yours.”
Her face flushed an ugly, blotchy red. “You clearly do not understand.”
I was getting annoyed. With a wave of my hand, a large feather calligraphy pen found its place between my grasping fingers. The woman’s eyes went wide as she tried not to choke. That was satisfying. I scribbled out my deadname from the document and carefully lettered out and flourished my legal signature across the page. “I think I understand well enough. This is what you want, and if I don’t sign the damn paper, you’ll just throw me in a jail cell again. So here.” I tossed the paper at her. “Make sure you get my name right on those checks.” I stood up. “Oh, and one other thing, you presumptive prude,” I leaned over Hatter who was sitting watching all of this in startled awe. “If you had checked your records, you’d realize that Hatter and I have known each other for quite some time.” I kissed him in front of her. A strange shift settled over the man. His hand came up to tunnel in my hair, holding me to him. He deepened the kiss. Coffee and orange. Eventually, we came up for breath. A strangled gasp made us both look at the woman who was holding a hand to her mouth, her eyes the size of saucers.
“What have you done to him?” she hissed. I think she would have screamed if it would not have disturbed the office.
“Deus?” Sylwyn cleared his throat, startled to be present.
“That is not supposed to be possible!” she continued in that weird snake whisper. “Returning to your regular self isn’t supposed to be something someone can just trigger in a Simil like that.” She pushed away from the desk to put distance between us. I raised an eyebrow but kept my mouth shut.
“Do you think I am the Mad Hatter all the time? I do emerge every so often. I am still a contributing researcher for the guild,” he seethed.
“You are Simil, and that is all you are supposed to be!” she screamed. I held a finger to my ear to cut the ringing.
“Clearly,” he rose. She was horrified. He extended a hand to motion me out. I grabbed up my silver cane and set my top hat back on my head. “See that his papers are processed properly. That is all you are supposed to do after all.” He ushered me from the room. The door closed with a click.
I leaned against the wall, letting out a breath. I was not getting used to this any time soon.
“What was that, Deus?” Sylwyn spat, teeth gleaming.
“What was what, Wyn?” I asked, not entirely sure what he was talking about.
“One minute we were eating lunch, the next we’re in the Chair’s office talking to Veronica. Do I want to know what happened?” He rubbed his head.
“You don’t remember lunch?” I watched him closely.
His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides. “I usually don’t remember much when the Mad Hatter comes out. I don’t switch in the middle of a conversation, though.”
“When do you usually switch?”
He glanced down the hall and paced a couple of steps. He fidgeted, running his thumb along the line of his pocket. “Usually, I get switched out in the hallway exiting my rooms or when I get into the research library. I typically don’t remember much of a day. It seems that he appears when I have to work. What happened?” He turned back to me, his pitch demanding.
“I ended up just talking to him…you. We get along well enough.” I rolled a shoulder.
“Well enough? I come to at Veronica’s desk kissing you.”
“Hatter liked it. He’s the one who got all tonguey. Talk to him about it.”
His eyes grew large, and his mouth thinned in anger.
“I didn’t know you’d come up.”
His face and his body language didn’t show him letting up on being pissed off.
“Fine. Fuck it. Sorry. You’re gay and not interested in someone without a ‘real’ dick. Point me to a pharmacist and let me get my meds. I’m done with today. I’ll go see if I can find someone else who can show me where an empty room.”
“I take it he was under the impression you had to see the Chair today,” he muttered more to himself than to me.
“You have no value for your personal safety, Deus,” he grumbled.
“Fuck you very much. If you’re gonna be disgusted with me, drop the civility. All you’re doing is virtue signalling to a crowd that doesn’t care, and you can go shove it with Veronica and the whole fucking guild’s trans hate.”
“Thaddeus!” he protested.
“That’s my name, but if you don’t see me on the other side of it, then there’s no point-“
“You kissed the Simil?” he registered.
“Yeah. Twice, three times now, actually,” I reiterated.
“He’s dangerous, Deus. You can’t just go kissing the Mad Hatter.” He shrank back from me.
“I would say yes, I can, because he seems to enjoy it, but seeing as you’re technically the owner of this body,” I motioned him up and down, “I probably should have asked you first. Not like I knew you were in there the first time I did that.” I approached him. He backed up until his back was against a wall. I stopped in the middle of the hall. Goosebumps ran across my side.
“Why did you do that?” He pressed into the wall, fighting against a tremble running up his hands that eventually turned into a full-body shake.
“Am I that disgusting to you? Why should I not have?” I was getting angry. Today was just too much for my emotions.
“Because the Simil is the guard dog of the guild. He…I…take care of…problems for the guild. No one touches the Simil. The Simil doesn’t take to being touched. He…” He rubbed at the back of his head to hide his trembling fingers. His ponytail rumpled under the assault.
“No one told me I wasn’t supposed to touch you,” I retorted.
“It’s like the most explicit rule in the guild!” he yelped.
“Where are these rules? Looks like I should probably read them before becoming this Dewey ya’ll want me to be,” I grouched.
“It’s an unwritten rule. It’s just something everyone does,” he placated.
“Unwritten rule, my ass!” I waved a stool into existence and sat down in a huff.
“You can’t just do that!”
“Says the person with a purposefully consumed split personality. At this moment, I’d rather take the other,” I quibbled. It was a low blow, and I knew it. His face fell. It was like I had dealt him a punch to the gut.
“I’m trying to keep you safe here, Deus. Please,” he begged.
“Hatter may talk funny, but the times I have seen him, outside of my first day here when he pointed a sword at me, he has been perfectly polite to me. A bit cryptic, but he hasn’t turned into a complete ax murderer on me yet,” I quipped.
Sylwyn slumped to the floor, his hands finally no longer shaking. “He’s not harmless, Deus.”
“And neither am I.” I flashed him a warning look. This was going far enough.
“It’ll only get worse when you become a Simil. You’ll be -” he went to say.
“I already am, Sylwyn. No one here likes me much. I just went and levelled over so many people in this damn place that if people aren’t scared of my position, they are jealous of it. You know what? Where is that quizzing room? I’m feeling destructive.” I started walking. A snap of my finger made the stool disappear.
“You realize that Simils and Deweys are supposed to take years of training to just materialize things like that, don’t you?” He got up to chase after me.
“No, I don’t, because no one seems interested in actually explaining things to me. I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to be able to do this impossible thing! I can read stories and make them come to life. No one explained to me that was possible when I was five. I get to figure this shit out on my own at my age. Everyone seems pissed at me, even you. I’m not an idiot here!” I hissed. “At least Hatter sees the hallways the same way I do!”
“What do you mean by that, Deus?” Sylwyn caught up to me.
“Talking to Hatter, I asked what he saw of the hallways. I was informed that it is just the grey barrenness like what I see. So, it’s not just me,” I snipped.
“You talked about hallways with him?” he asked, perplexed. I halted, forcing Sylwyn to stop short.
“He tells himself the Odyssey and Genesis in Latin to count the time it takes to get between locations in the guild,” I told him. “Do you do that?”
“No, I know the map of the guild by what the walls show me.” He shook his head.
“You know nothing of Hatter, do you?” I asked.
“There’s never been a reason to know anything about the Mad Hatter,” he stated. What was I supposed to do with this situation?
“Will you hate me as much as you hate yourself when I become a Simil?” I confronted him.
“I don’t…hate…myself.” He paused, trying to wrap his mind around it.
“You do, or else you wouldn’t be so angry over all of this,” I pointed out.
“Do you know how hard it is to be the Simil in the guild?” he tried to throw it back at me.
“Do you know how hard it is to come into this place with no background and be told that you have to become something that obviously no one likes but everyone needs and not get a straight response from anyone?” I retorted back. He stopped short, not wanting to meet the anger in my eyes. “I want to talk to Hatter,” I said flatly.
“I don’t know how to summon him at will. Why do you want to talk to him?” He backed away from me.
“Because, out of everyone I’ve dealt with today, him and Laury were the only ones that made any damn sense!” I hissed, returning to my fast-paced walk.
“Thaddeus, please, don’t be like this,” Sylwyn begged.
“Then talk to me like someone who actually needs straight answers. I am not a petulant teenager. I’m just new to this place, and no one has explained anything.” I turned down another hallway. For some reason, something told my faulty navigation system that at the end of that hallway was the quizzing room. I walked faster.
“The Simil is someone who silences those that go up against the guild. I’m an assassin, a death god. I’m the boogeyman that Readers scare their little kids with. Most of their stories aren’t too far off either.” He rubbed at his arm.
I reached the door, the one that I could just feel was the right one. I opened it and found to my relief the quizzing room. Sylwyn followed me up the stairs at a dash.
“What do I have to do to work this thing?” I stared at the console.
“What are you trying to do?” Sylwyn eased up next to the console with me. He typed in a few short commands. A prompt showed up. “Here, put in your name, and it’ll pull up your data and open up the database for you to bring forth anything you want,” he told me.
“Thanks,” I mumbled as I hurriedly typed in my legal name. It dinged me back to the beginning. I cussed under my breath and put in my deadname. “Fuck them to hell and back.” A program window popped up and then faded behind the main menu. A whir of fans told me the machine was running something heavy.
“That’ll activate the cameras and sensors around the room,” he explained. “You don’t have anyone to compete against right now. What are you going to do?” he asked.
“This,” I said. My blood was boiling; my energy was washing my skin with a rolling knot. Tension was pulling at my neck. I couldn’t remember being this angry. I could probably think things into existence without it, but I was already getting used to flipping my hands around when summoning things. I clapped my hands, the power tingling along my arms. A dragon rose out of the floor, hissing fire. Sylwyn pulled back. Ash and fire rained down from the ceiling. A rolling sea of lava bubbled up between the tiles. With a snap, it all disappeared. A barren wasteland of ice dropped the temperature of the room. Mammoths raced across the surface as a blizzard swiped at them. The environment dissolved to men spread across a bloody battlefield. I couldn’t quite find what would release my energy. I wanted more. I wanted to relieve this tension so badly.
Unicorns, centaurs, dwarves, and wizards did nothing to assuage my passion. Climatic disasters, complicated mazes…nothing eased my tension. I pushed at the barrier. I felt like crawling out of my skin. Something just wasn’t quite right. Then a shot of electricity coursed through my system. My head felt like it was going to explode. Just as suddenly as it happened, my head cleared. I felt…calm. Oddly so. Sylwyn’s hand rested on my arm. I looked up at him. He looked concerned.
“Have you seen your score?” he asked me as I came back to myself.
“I don’t even know what the scores mean, Wyn. I just knew this was a safe space to let out my anger.” I collapsed into a console chair.
“Scores are how guild members are ranked. Colours designate a score range. Quite a bit of the guild members can only execute a couple of commands, and only if there are written words in front of them. There are some that can do a large amount of commands, but again, still need the text to read. Not many can Read out something without a text to read from. Even at that, they can only execute a couple of commands before collapsing. Ways that people unRead can also influence the ranks and colours. The average color is red, or a rank three. It goes down to green, who are rank ones. Reading out for a green is practically a fluke. They might get lucky to bring something out once a year. Reds can average about one to two readings a day,” he explained.
“I was told something about a Platinum rank, if I remember the guard correctly,” I muttered, feeling wiped out. It felt nice to feel like lead. The restless, angry energy had finally evaporated, leaving me empty.
“The average rank for people who can Read out any number of times in any given day is gold. Most people who gain candidacy for Simil come from the Platinum level – the ones who can fluke a Read without a text, though some Simil candidates are registered as gold – a rank under,” he added.
“Are you a platinum?” I closed my eyes.
“Yes,” he answered quietly.
“Highest level?” I surmised.
“Why do you say that?” he pressed.
“ I can only guess that the highest levels are finally taken from the candidacy list and asked to be Simils,” I responded.
“Right,” he nodded.
“What does taking on the role of Simil do then? You can already summon things without texts,” I stated.
“That’s the thing. Almost no one can summon more than two or three times without a text before collapsing. The Simils can do it at will, as much as needed,” he said.
“So?” I asked. I think I was missing something.
“You aren’t a Simil yet,” he replied.
“No…” I wasn’t sure where this was going.
“And you can do that at will,” he finished – pointing out to the arena.
“I’m not following,” I said.
“I took on the responsibility of Simil to be able to Read at will. The best I could manage before that was about four, maybe six times before collapsing. Even at that, I had to state passages…out loud,” he finished.
What? My eyes flew up to meet his. Blood drained from my face.
“Sometimes, when someone has gone unBound, they can do what you do, summon things at will without speaking…but maybe like tops five times.” He rubbed at his shoulder.
“What happens?” I asked.
“They collapse. They can’t do it again. Most never try it again. I’ve been told they get absolutely horrendous headaches if they try to summon anything. They get too scared to Read,” he told me.
“Why do people try so hard to level up so high if it means they run a chance of becoming a Simil, something everyone seems to hate? What does that make me?” I asked him. He swallowed and walked back to the console. “I’m not a Simil; I haven’t, how you say, swallowed a character. What will happen when I do?” I pressed him.
He turned and leaned up against the console. “You broke my record, many times over. I’m not even sure that there is a point to initiating you as a Simil. You already can do what they are supposed to handle. The only reason for you to do it is if you don’t want to remember what happens when you are working for the guild. People aim to get high up on the ranks because it means an increase in pay and better room and board. As long as they don’t have to be a Simil, they will work for the pay,” he elaborated.
“What would becoming a Simil do for me if I can already do what you do?” I asked.
“I’m not really sure I want to find out…” He glanced at me nervously.
“What do we do now?” I asked him after a couple of minutes of silence.
“It’s not like I was trained in having an apprentice. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be showing you. For the most part, the Mad Hatter just does the tasks that the Chair sets him up to do.” Sylwyn finally pulled himself off the floor. He walked over to me and offered me a hand. I rose to meet him. “I had training in how to consume the character. That took months, though. And that…I don’t know if it’s different for Deweys, sorry. We haven’t had one in so long; I don’t think anyone here is old enough to remember one,” he mused to himself as we descended the staircase. “There is probably documentation around here for it, though.” He opened the door for me.
“How do you tell what time it is?” I asked. He didn’t wear a watch that I could see. I hadn’t seen him pull out a phone, so the place probably didn’t get great cell signal.
“I don’t really ever know what time it is unless I’m in a courtyard room, like the apartment or the mess hall. The hallways can give you a false impression of timelessness. The courtyard rooms, well, the courtyards themselves, have those suns cast on the ceilings. Those do rise and set accurately to this hemisphere.
“I’m exhausted. Still need to drop by the pharmacy if there is one and hope they don’t fight me on getting my script from my doctor filled. Think we can just head back to your apartment after?” I asked him. I wanted out of the damn corset. The thing was restrictive and inconvenient. “Maybe pick up some clothes beforehand. I would rather stop summoning my clothes into existence,” I told him. “Not sure with what money. Will my visa work down here?”
“That’s a summons? You’ve been maintaining that summons all day?” he asked with a squeak. “After doing what you just did out there?”
“Yeah, why? Thought you knew that when I asked for a book to have a different outfit option. You do it with your sword all the time. Oh, don’t tell me summons disappear after a while. Wait, how do those suns stay in the ceiling if they disappear soon after? I don’t want to hear any more about what a special snowflake I am,” I groused.
“The suns are old Reads; no one in this generation has been able to reproduce them,” Sylwyn explained as we headed down the grey hallways. My legs were killing me. I hadn’t walked that much in years. Desk jobs and housework were nothing compared to constantly walking the halls.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
If you would like to tip the author, check out the following buttons: