Worth the Candle, Ch 111: Peer Pressure

The oppressive feeling of being trapped in a corner faded away once Fenn was through the portal. Dealing with gravity was a bit tricky, as she’d gone down through a hole and come out the side of a tree, but she landed on her feet easily enough and took stock of where she was. It was clearly an office of some sort, with hundreds of drawers along one wall and a large desk built for someone who must have stood ten feet tall by the looks of the chair behind it. There were books too, so many that half of them must have just been for show. The tree was a bit of a spectacle, thirty feet tall and drinking in sunlight from a large glass roof, the centerpiece of the room. Rich people always had things like that, big ostentatious crap that proved they were someone of means. The way the glass panels were divided by metal struts called to mind the prison, which was a misadventure she hoped she might eventually forget.

The others came through soon enough, first Grak, then Solace, and finally Mary. No Juniper.

“Come on, Juniper,” said Mary, facing the portal.

“The connection won’t last,” said Solace.

“He might not come,” said Mary, still staring at the portal.

“The fuck do you mean he might not come?” asked Fenn.

“Val,” said Mary, by way of answer. She turned to Solace. “Can you hold it open?”

“No,” said Solace. “Two hundred yards is about as far a connection as I’ve ever made. What does it mean if Juniper doesn’t come back?”

“He’d fucking better come,” said Fenn. “We voted. Val can handle herself, she’s invincible.”

“She’s not,” said Mary. “I didn’t mean that we’d leave her forever.” She waited a beat. The portal was just about too small for Juniper to plausibly fit through. “Come on Joon, it’s a tactical retreat, until we know what we’re dealing with, until we –” The portal winked shut, leaving the trunk of the tree unblemished, and evaporating any last hope that Juniper was going to come through. Mary let out a groan. “This is not how a rational person reacts to someone taking a hostage.”

“We have to go back for him,” said Fenn. “We’re, what, two hundred yards away? I can cover that in a handful of seconds. Less, if I burn blood.”

“We’re in an exclusion zone,” said Mary. “I don’t even know if we’re safe from illusion magic here. There’s some level of implied surveillance too, given that Masters wasn’t in the room with us. We have no way of seeing through the illusions. Even if there weren’t some other complication on the way –”

“Still feels like there is,” said Fenn. Her luck sense wasn’t screaming so much anymore, but it was whimpering, especially at the thought of going back to where they’d been. She was willing to defy that sense of wrongness, if it meant helping Juniper.

“A confrontation with Masters would mean having to doubt every single thing that we see, and everything that we say to each other. Speaking of which, we should do a keyring.” Mary looked at the other three. “I’ll start. Granite.”

“The keyring is broken,” said Grak.

“I know,” said Mary. “There’s a good chance for false positives, or even just the enemy letting the authentication take place and then swooping in after.”

“Then what’s the point?” asked Grak.

“There might still be a negative response,” said Mary. “It’s worth doing on that count.”

“A false sense of security is worse than no sense at all,” said Grak.

“It’s not a false sense of security,” said Mary with a huff. “We just need to treat the checks as meaningless unless someone fails them.” She turned to Solace. “I don’t suppose you have a solution to this problem?”

“Not that I can think of,” said Solace. “I would say that any display of my abilities is proof enough I am who I say, but I’m not sure that’s right.”

“It seems easy to fake, given what we’ve seen of illusion,” said Mary. Fenn could practically hear her frowning under her helmet.

“Wait,” said Fenn. “I actually have something for this.” She held out her glove and thought of the entad, which appeared in her hand. It was a small gray ball, recently liberated from the conference room they’d all sat in. “Before you say anything, I didn’t steal it, I just grabbed it in case Masters hadn’t meant to leave it behind. And I didn’t steal the mirror either, since as I see it, that mirror is technically Uther’s, and you’re his heir.” The ball flashed as Fenn spoke, punctuating each part of the sentence, all green except when she’d said ‘Uther’, which was blue.

“Fourteen points,” said Mary. Fenn rolled her eyes at that. They were accumulating secrets, and Mary’s parentage was, technically, one of them.

“But we can use this for proof that we are who we say we are, right?” asked Fenn. “Citizen Kane.” The ball flashed green. “Boom, proof.”

“Hrm,” said Mary. “That does work, but we have a limited pool to draw on.”

“Whatever you say,” replied Fenn. She tossed the entad to Amaryllis. “But if you said, ‘oh, good job Fenn’, I wouldn’t be too broken up about it. Not a lot of appreciation for my contributions, of late.”

“Good job, Fenn,” said Mary. She held the entad in her hand and turned it a few times before speaking again. “Raging Bull, Lost Pills, Chinatown — wait.” The ball had gone green, gray, green. “Chinatown, Chinatown,” said Mary. The ball went blue, then green.

“Okay, I’m sure that’s very fun for you,” said Fenn. “Let’s stop fucking around and let’s get our Juniper back.”

“We need protocols,” said Mary. “Given the demonstrated scope of the magic, it would be trivial for an illusion mage to turn us against each other. And, come to think of it, the problem with the ball as a form of authentication is that it can give false negatives if Masters can just arbitrarily change the perceived color. Actually, if we were going to be using information that both of us knew, then we could just skip the entad entirely. The bitrate would be terrible. Grak, checksums?”

“Too onerous,” said Grak.

“No,” said Mary. “First letter of each word, switched to number, mod 13? That would just be a calculation per word? Less, if we exclude words less than four letters. Checksum would mean that you couldn’t change the words without also changing the sum, and we can add a salt to the checksum that would make it near-impossible to dupe in realtime.”

“Too onerous,” said Grak.

“Juniper is in trouble,” said Fenn, crossing her arms. “You’re acting like we’ve got the time to sit around and talk.”

“She’s acting with prudence,” said Grak.

Fenn threw up her hands. “It’s all illusion, nothing matters, Masters could just make you tell me the wrong protocols. Let’s go already.”

“I hate this,” said Mary, shaking her head. “Ugh, this is Fallatehr all over again, but worse, because at least that was just paranoia about people.”

“With some time, I might be able to ward against it,” said Grak. “I was studying the magic from inside my cage. Warding against a novel magic is … difficult.”

Fenn knew what was coming before Mary even opened her mouth. It was an objection that any ward was suspect, because blah blah blah illusion, and then Grak would counter with something about how he could see, and they were all wasting time.

Fenn strode out of the room without another word. The others would follow, or they wouldn’t, but she would at least be doing something.

“This is how people die,” said Amaryllis, rushing to catch up with Fenn. “Juniper split up the team, and you’re trying to split it up further. We need time to think, dammit, if we all go our separate ways, then all those different roads will lead to death.”

They were walking down a wide hallway with doors lining it. Amaryllis caught a few glimpses of classrooms, tiered seats that allowed an instructor to lecture as many people as possible at once. It reminded her of her time at Quills and Blood. Certain things were a universal part of the athenaeum experience.

“If we die, then we die,” said Fenn. “You’re the one who keeps saying that Juniper is the lever that moves the world, fucking act like it.”

“Are you pissed off at me?” asked Amaryllis. They were walking quickly, and approaching the door. “He was the one who stayed behind, we took a fucking vote and he decided to go off on his own.”

“Yeah, well I’m pissed off at him too,” said Fenn. “If he had put his foot down, I would have stayed too, obviously. The only hope I have is that he was tricked by the illusion magic somehow, but if it’s not that, then –”

She pushed her way out the doors of the building and came up short when she saw smoke in the distance.

Amaryllis really thought that ought to be the time for conversation, but Fenn took off at a dead sprint, and after a quick look back to make sure the others were coming, Amaryllis followed in Fenn’s footsteps.

Fenn’s scars had shifted enough to lose their power, and without a boost to Essentialism, Juniper wasn’t able to fix them. She was still ridiculously fast, partly from a career spent wandering the Risen Lands with her long-legged stride, partly elven heritage giving more strength and grace, and partly just because the game had decided that was one of the things that Fenn was good at. All their skills and abilities had increased, some of them noticeably, but the increases were unevenly distributed, and though Amaryllis was far better at Climbing, Fenn had gotten a boost to Athletics. It was hard to tell what any of that actually meant, given all the other factors, but Fenn hadn’t been lying when she’d said that she could cover two hundred yards in a handful of seconds.

The scene outside the dream-skewered clinic didn’t bode well. A shiny hunk of metal shaped a bit like a bean was sitting in front of the clinic. It was as large as a sailing ship but shaped nothing like it, and it had no obvious entrance that Amaryllis could see. Around it were curls of molten rock where it had landed, making fractal patterns on the ground, not corresponding to any known means of propulsion. That was where the smoke was coming from. There were people standing some distance back, having come to see what the commotion was all about, and Amaryllis wanted to scream at them to get back.

Fenn had her bow at full draw and was moving more slowly, watching for enemies as she made her way across the smoking ground.

“Get back!” shouted Amaryllis to the people who had gathered to watch. It made her conspicuous, but there was nothing for that, especially since she was already in full plate. The helmet restricted her visibility, and she wished that it was off, but she wasn’t especially keen on the idea of getting shot in the head. “Imperial business, get back, your lives are in danger!”

There was a part of her thinking about the ramifications of all this. If it were known that dream-skewered weren’t real — well, that would make it harder to explain Juniper to people, if they had to. If it came out that Speculation and Scrutiny were built at least partly overlapping an exclusion zone, well, that was going to be international news, likely on the front page of the broadsheets, especially if the connection to Uther was discovered. Amaryllis felt a profound regret at having used their real names, since this wasn’t what the fledgling Republic of Miunun needed. The entads would give them away easily enough to anyone watching closely, and there was little helping that, but they hadn’t needed to make it easy for anyone.

This was, simply put, an unmitigated disaster of a first public encounter.

The crowds weren’t moving much, as Amaryllis had thought they might not, because people didn’t listen to simple directives. In fact, the crowds were getting bigger, as the existing crowd attracted more crowds, and classes in the area were letting out. A ship, weapon, or entity had landed next to the clinic, melting rocks, and people were just standing around, trying to satisfy their curiosity.

(In some sense, it was heartening. The reactions of the students and faculty were those of people unaccustomed to crisis and violence. In Barren Jewel, people began pulling their children from the street at the first sign of trouble, even before someone started wielding magic or pulling out a gun. Here, in a core part of the Empire of Common Cause, where citizens from all over the world were gathered, it was like people had forgotten why all the major cities had thick walls and heavy wards around them. It was good that people weren’t adapted to crisis, since it meant that they hadn’t suffered the hard knocks of first-hand experience, even if it was also annoying, and some of them might die for it.)

Amaryllis pulled out her pistol and fired three shots, just above the heads of the crowd. Where her words had little effect, the gunfire did. People started yelling and scrambling, moving away from the clinic. She kept her pistol out, waiting to see if there would be a response. Fenn was moving too fast, close to the metal bean, not heedless of the danger (not given how strong her luck sense had gotten) but certainly not moving with caution. Amaryllis rushed over, just as Solace and Grak appeared in a burst of leaves beside her. Solace had a new staff, which was really more of a tree branch. It had been chopped from the office tree they’d portaled through, by the looks of it.

When Amaryllis rounded the metal bean, she saw Fenn aiming the bow at a fox Animalia. The fox had a dagger in each hand, and was staring at Fenn.

“We’ll be gone soon,” said the fox. “Nothing to lose your life over.”

“Drop the daggers,” said Fenn. “Then get down on the ground and put your hands behind your back.”

“That’s not how this is going to happen,” said the fox. “You’ll shoot me, you’ll find out why that was a bad idea, then you’ll get carried off to the nearest bone mage for major healing.”

“Don’t,” said Amaryllis.

Fenn released the arrow. It zipped through the air at a terrifying speed, then stopped dead in the air a foot in front of the fox. It was hard to tell what expression was on the Animalia’s face, given how different in structure it was, but it seemed like it was grinning.

“Alright,” said Fenn. “Fair play.”

The arrow flipped around in the air with a single smooth motion. Fenn was about to say something, but she twisted to the side and stuck her hand out instead. The arrow went from a dead stop to full motion with no apparent period of acceleration, so fast that it would have been impossible to dodge. Fenn had been moving before it though, reacting before the stimulus, and she caught the arrow in her hand as though it hadn’t cost her any effort or required any special skill.

The grin had slipped from the fox’s face.

Fenn casually assumed her archer’s stance and brought the same arrow she’d shot before to full draw.

“Disarm,” she said. “Drop to the ground, hands behind your back.”

“Illusions,” said Amaryllis. “It might be bait.” And illusions can silence, swallowing up my words, or twisting them to say something else.

“Illusions?” asked the fox, speaking toward Amaryllis.

“Don’t waste resources or reveal abilities unless you have to,” said Amaryllis, hoping that her words were getting through. “Try not to do anything that might kill a civilian if you’ve gotten turned around.”

It was utter idiocy to have come back here. They weren’t able to trust their senses, weren’t able to communicate, and weren’t able to actually gather any information. What they should have done was simply left. Leaving Juniper on his own to face down whatever unknown threat might have been terrible, true, but there was such a thing as a sunk cost fallacy, even if she was the only one that seemed to realize it. They needed a way to neutralize the threat. That was the only way that an assault on the clinic could be successful. They didn’t even know the bounds of the problem.

“Grak is warding,” said Solace as she approached Amaryllis.

“You brought a child?” asked the fox, on seeing Solace.

Amaryllis glanced back to where Grak was standing with his wand out. He was using the same technique that he’d used to trap her, making a ward and then altering the boundaries of it, hopefully to shield her. But she couldn’t trust it, could she? They hadn’t had time to work out communication. She turned back to the fox.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“I’m just going to shoot him,” said Fenn.

“Her,” replied the fox. “And who we are is none of your concern, just go back to whatever office you came out of and write up a report on a situation you were in no way prepared to deal with.”

“Is this thing a ship?” asked Fenn, gesturing with her head toward the hunk of metal. “Because we’re not going to let you back in without some explanation.”

A humanoid shape came jogging up from inside the clinic, then slipped through the gates, which were cracked open just wide enough for it. The person-shape looked like it was made of water, with a slightly-pointed skull floating at the center of what would have been the chest. A bandolier was looped over one shoulder, providing storage, and a rifle was held in what you couldn’t quite call hands. It was a lenssi, a rare species that fell well outside the norm. They weren’t even humanoid except by convention.

Fenn didn’t shift her aim. “Stop where you are or I’ll shoot,” she said.

“You’ve already seen how ineffective that is,” said the fox.

“Entad,” said Fenn with a nod to her bow. “Next arrow is going to come out molten metal.”

“Seems like it would be hard for you to catch when it comes flying back to you, no?” asked the fox.

The lenssi whipped one of its arms around, with the end as thin as a blade, making gestures in the air. The fox watched it with half an eye. The lenssi had no voice, which meant they used a gestural language, one that Amaryllis didn’t have even the barest knowledge of. She wondered whether an illusion mage would need to be able to speak whatever language they had their illusions speak. There were very few entads that granted the ability to become a full polygot, most of them well-known, and translation tattoos for everything else. Perhaps obscure languages would solve some of the communication problems their team was facing. Their collective languages were, unfortunately, relatively common, just Groglir and Elven, and whatever languages Valencia could speak (all of them, with the right devil).

“Whose authority are you under?” asked the fox, presumably in response to whatever the lenssi had gestured.

“Speculator Masters,” said Fenn, before Amaryllis could respond. As bluffs went, it was an interesting one, and there was some technical truth to it, considering that they’d been invited in by him. It was, at any rate, better than saying the truth, which was that they were the Council of Arches, from the Republic of Miunun on the Isle of Poran.

The fox relaxed slightly. “You’re not police?” she asked. “Not imps?” That was short for imperials, though the slang dated back to the Second Empire and was rarely used. That was an oddity to be tucked away for later examination.

“Hells no,” said Fenn. She still had her bow at full draw. She was strong, but the strain was starting to show. There was a reason that guns made for better standoffs.

“Did Masters send you in to stop us?” asked the fox.

“Sure, let’s go with that,” said Fenn.

“There’s a truce,” said the fox. “Are you planning to act against it, or do you just not know it? Are you part of his side, or hired guns?”

“Hired would imply that we’re paid,” said Fenn. Her arm was starting to waver. “But I don’t know anything about a truce. Do you often come armed to deal with people you have truces with?”

The fox turned toward the clinic, mouth slightly agape, as though listening to something that Amaryllis couldn’t hear. “Shit,” said the fox. She turned back toward Fenn. “Fine, a temporary truce between us?”

Fenn relaxed the tension of the draw, probably more from the strain of keeping it up than because of any particular feeling of goodwill. “Truce,” she said. “Temporarily.”

Amaryllis stepped up close to Fenn. “Not really your call,” she said with a low voice.

Fenn rolled her eyes, and not in a particularly carefree way, more of a ‘fuck off’ kind of way.

“If you’re with Masters, then we’re almost friends, of a sort,” said the fox. A flash of emotion crossed her face. She slipped her daggers into their sheaths on her hips, then turned and looked to the lenssi. “Sade says it’s an exclusion zone, illusion magic.” Unseen communication. One that wouldn’t extend to the lenssi? Parson’s Voice?

The lenssi gestured something quick in response with fast cutting motions at different angles.

“No, no idea,” said the fox with a frown. “And yes, I agree, it’s exactly his style.”

“Do you mind cluing us in?” asked Amaryllis. “Assuming that you don’t want to deal with an altercation.”

(Real or not? That was the question, and it was going to keep being the question. The solution was to treat them as though they were both real and not real at the same time, saying only those things that could be said to real and not real versions of themselves. The arrow was a point in favor of the Animalia not being an illusion, because Fenn had personally handled the arrow, and then held it at tension with the bow. Juniper had described illusion magic as being the fooling of senses, and it seemed just barely possible to return the arrow, but it would require fooling three senses in rapid succession, not just sight and touch, but Fenn’s luck sense as well. The exact upper bounds of illusion magic weren’t known, but exclusion zones tended to be degenerate. Still, it seemed as though the back-and-forth of the arrow was pointless extravagance and opportunity to be revealed, if the fox was an illusion.)

“I said,” replied the fox with a nod in Amaryllis’ direction. “Exclusion zone, illusion magic, whatever that might entail, if you’re really there at all. We’re getting details now.”

“No,” said Amaryllis. “We knew about that. You were saying that something was his style.”

“Go back inside,” said the fox to the lenssi. “I’ll deal with these interlopers.”

“Ward is done,” said Grak.

“Good,” said Amaryllis. “Confirm with a moving picture, green or blue for yes, grey for no.” Fenn’s idea had been a good one, even if using the entad for it was pointless. Solace didn’t have the depth of Earth knowledge that the others had, but for movies in particular, they had a deep well to draw from, dozens if restricted to movies that they’d seen, and probably hundreds if they were just movies that were known to the two parties.

“Deepthroat,” replied Grak. (Fenn let out a chuckle.)

“And I’m within the ward?” asked Amaryllis.

“The Thomas Crowne Affair,” replied Grak.

Amaryllis looked at the fox, the retreating figure of the lenssi, Fenn, Grak, Solace, and finally, the building itself. Nothing had changed. Grak’s confirmation wasn’t sufficient, of course, and became less sufficient as time passed. It was better than nothing though, especially before the presumed enemy had time to adapt to it. There would be pauses or delays to watch out for, pieces of conversation that didn’t line up quite right.

“We appear to be in the clear, for now,” said Grak, by way of confirmation.

“What does that mean?” asked Fenn.

“It means that we need to be cautious,” said Solace.

“I’m sorry,” said the fox. “But what are you all talking about?”

“Wards against the excluded magic,” said Grak.

“But you’re on Masters’ side?” asked the fox with a frown.

“We’ve had some disagreements, of late,” said Fenn. “Safe to say if you pull him out of there, we’re going to have some things to talk about.”

“But then who are you?” asked the fox. “If you didn’t come here on his behalf, then why did you come?”

“It’s complicated,” said Amaryllis, before Fenn could do any more damage. Being inconsistent about who they were and why they were here was going to be damaging to conversation. Unfortunately, the truth was a tricky thing, given the unknown motivations of this group. “You were saying that it was someone’s style.”

“Uther Penndraig,” replied the fox. She seemed blithely unconcerned that Amaryllis wasn’t answering questions; she was stalling, then, buying time while something went on inside, ‘dealing with the interlopers’, as she’d put it.

“Masters knew him,” said Amaryllis. “That lenssi might have been old enough too. He would have been before your time though, wouldn’t he?” She shifted position slightly, moving closer to the clinic.

“Enough chatting,” said Fenn. “I’m going in.”

“Ah,” said the fox with an exaggerated frown. “I’m afraid I can’t allow that.”

Fenn raised her bow again, popping an arrow from her glove. “Looks like our truce is over then.”

Amaryllis reached over and pushed Fenn’s arm down. “Who was Uther to you?” asked Amaryllis, trying to get the conversation back on track. Juniper and Valencia were in the clinic, but it wasn’t clear that they needed rescuing just yet, and stumbling into armed conflict with people who weren’t even necessarily opponents was to be avoided at all costs. Amaryllis did trust Fenn’s luck sense, to within reason, but the lucky path wasn’t always lucky in all senses, at least so far as she’d seen and read.

“Fine,” said the fox. “You’re right, I never knew Uther. But I’d say that I have some connection to his legacy, which you might be able to guess if Masters has kept you informed. You still haven’t explained what you’re doing here. It can’t be coincidence that you came so soon after we landed.”

“Mary, I love you, but we’re wasting time while who-knows-what is going on in there,” said Fenn.

“We didn’t come here for violence,” said the fox. “Though we did come prepared for it. We’re not even planning on touching Masters. All we want are his recent visitors.”

“Why?” asked Amaryllis.

“It’s complicated,” said the fox.

“And if we refuse to come?” asked Amaryllis.

“We?” asked the fox. “You can’t mean — ah.” She reached up and touched a spot of fur by her throat. “I think I found the other ones, they’re standing around outside with me.” Definitely Parson’s Voice. “Yes, I’m serious.”

Others. They have Juniper, maybe Valencia too. “We can meet elsewhere,” said Amaryllis. “We have a safehouse, far away from civilization, neutral ground.”

“One moment,” the fox said to Amaryllis. “Dwarven warder, half-elf archer, a crantek child — yes, six or seven years old — and the last seems like their leader, but she’s in full plate.” The fox paused for a moment, then looked to Amaryllis. “What’s your species?” she asked.

“Human,” replied Amaryllis.

“Human,” repeated the fox. Her hand dropped down from her fur. “Where is this elsewhere?” the fox asked.

“A hundred miles from Cranberry Bay,” said Amaryllis. “Nestled in a forested valley, shielded by trees and hills. We’ll give you the exact location later, via an ad in a local newspaper.”

The fox put a finger back to the same spot on her fur. “The offer is semi-anonymous contact followed by a face-to-face meeting.” A brief pause. “Yes, I know you did, but I think we should take it, especially since campus security just showed up.”

Amaryllis looked over to see a pair of vans approaching, moving at speed. She allowed herself to frown, since she was hidden by her helm. In theory they were going to need to explain themselves. That was a choice they’d made ahead of time, cemented when they’d given their real names at the front desk of the clinic. To undo that … well, it might have been possible. The receptionist was almost certainly real, as was the book they’d signed their names in, but to put everything back into the bottle seemed like it was going to be terribly difficult, if it was possible at all.

“Sorry,” said the fox. “We need you to come with. It’s important. We can pay you in a dozen different ways, but we need you physically present.”

“Stop!” shouted a voice from the vans. A man wearing a breastplate and holding a flaming sword had gotten out, with others close behind him. “Drop your weapons and entads!”

“Vote,” said Amaryllis, loud enough for her three companions to hear.

“I thought we were ignoring votes?” asked Fenn.

“Go,” said Solace. She was frowning as she said it though.

“Go,” said Grak. He seemed more firm on the idea, perhaps because of the idea that they would pay, or maybe just out of a desire to be gone from the exclusion zone, one way or another.

“Fine, but only if it’s all of us,” said Fenn.

“We go,” said Amaryllis with a nod.

It was a relief that they could reach unanimity. They would go into the ship, at least, and have some cover from whatever was happening with campus security. Going inside the ship would provide them some cover, in case things went sour, though they were disobeying a direct order from the man with the sword. It was, in a sense, another tactical retreat, which didn’t feel great.

The fox gave a low whistle, and one side of the metal bean opened up, spreading its skin like it was a dress being unzipped. The opening wasn’t particularly doorlike, and it revealed the hull to be no more substantial or thick than fabric. Amaryllis glanced back at Grak, their resident expert on entads given that Bethel had stayed at home. He gave her a nod.

When he realized that wasn’t going to be enough, he said, “Cannonball Run.” She knew that wasn’t a movie he’d seen, but per the entad color scheme, it would have been blue, not green. The symbolism of that was clear enough to her: yes, but watch out. Importantly, it was hard subtlety to fake.

Amaryllis headed inside. The ship, if you could call it that, was the size of a small house, and where the exterior was bean-like, the interior wasn’t too dissimilar from a drawing room. Given the impact it had apparently made upon landing, she’d thought that the insides would be like that of a tank, with bulky seats and harnesses to keep people from being crushed, but the chairs were armchairs, and it didn’t even seem like anything was pinned down.

“Check for traps,” said Amaryllis when Grak stepped up inside.

“This seems like a monumentally bad idea,” said Fenn as she stepped up in.

Outside, Amaryllis could hear shouting from campus security.

The term campus security didn’t inspire fear on Earth. On Aerb? The athenaeums were all enormous, and while each was its own institution with its own culture, internal politics, and relationships with the local nations, security was something they all took seriously, and rarely off-loaded that responsibility to their parent polity, if they had one. Most of the athenaeums taught at least one subject with practical applications in combat, and they were all extraordinarily wealthy, in part because of the strangleholds they held on education and cronyism on the hexal stage.

Amaryllis had done her reading on Speculation and Scrutiny. Campus security had been slow to respond, but for something suspected of being a major incident, they would come with every ounce of power they had available. The fox — name still unknown — had assumed that’s what Amaryllis and Fenn were, which said something, given how visibly armed they were. The response they were actually getting, delayed though it was, seemed to be about a dozen people, glimpsed only briefly as Amaryllis had ducked into the ship.

Please, Juniper, let’s leave before things get any more complicated.

If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Worth the Candle, Ch 111: Peer Pressure

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: