Worth the Candle, Ch 142: Sound and Silence

Sound and Silence, a Brief History, by Juniper Smith

The original discoverers of the Li’o’te Temple were never recorded, but the tradition of still magic dates back at least ten thousand years, making it one of the earliest ‘formal’ magics. While control of the temple has changed hands innumerable times, the temple itself is inviolable, and has survived everything from explosion to a complete burial that left it hidden for the better part of a decade until it was retaken. Through its history, the Li’o’te Temple has seen countless students engaged in meditation in order to reveal the first, base perception of still magic that allows it to finally be used.

The current history of the Athenaeum of Sound and Silence began in 143 BE, when a cabal of still mages seized control of the Li’o’te Temple from the Independent Province of Hong-shin. The area immediately around the temple, a moderately sized city that largely existed in support of temple activities, was declared a fully independent city-state following the ousting of the city’s mayor. The city was renamed as Li’o, a name it’s held since then. Strict control over the creation and training of still mages made the city-state into a fearsome local power, especially in an era where void weapons were virtually unknown. After some decades had passed, the cabal was restructured into a representative democracy of still mages, and shortly after, Li’o joined the Mage’s Agreement, the predecessor to what’s now the athenaeum system.

In 13 FE, Uther Penndraig arrived in Li’o during the height of an internal conflict between two factions of still mages, a conflict which was largely about the Mage’s Agreement and had been sparked by a blood mage ‘defector’ who had come to Li’o seeking asylum. This was only a spark; the role of still mages within the international community was a topic that had been provided a great deal of fuel and tinder over the years.

Uther sided with those in favor of cooperation, which effectively pitted him against the people keeping the blood mage under their protection. It had been Uther who had reformed Quills and Blood essentially from the ground up, making it into a juggernaut of power within a few short years, and so his role in the conflict was set from the beginning. When all was said and done, the inner circle of opposition had been either killed or subdued, and the rogue blood mage was turned back over to Quills and Blood, where he was summarily executed (those being somewhat uncivilized days by modern standards). Li’o went through a number of growing pains as a result of that debacle, and Uther Penndraig’s genius left its mark on the institution, which formally became a part of the First Empire, one of the first city-states to join.

A decade later, Uther returned, this time carrying the Rod of Whispers. It was one of the more powerful entads on record, capable of permanently granting access to vibration magic, though actually learning enough to use it took several weeks on top of that, and mastery was a years-long process. Uther had taken the Rod of Whispers from an infernal cult he’d rooted out, and was looking for a good home for it. Because the Li’o’te Temple was deep underground, because the academy already dealt with controlled distribution of magic, and because they already had security measures in place, Uther had decided that it was the perfect place for the Rod of Whispers to be placed. That still magic and vibrational magic were, in some ways, opposite from each other, yet with conceptual overlap, was all the more reason for the first generation of vibration mages to be trained in the P’emp’te Valley. Five years later, the Li’o Academy became the Athenaeum of Sound and Silence.

By the time the First Empire had begun its collapse, the Athenaeum of Sound and Silence, like its brethren, was a force to be reckoned with. The scope of the exclusionary principle and possible causes of outbreaks were widely known, resulting in research being moved to a remote sister site, a practice common for athenaeums, but Sound and Silence itself was firm and resolute in those trying times, backed, in part, by a renewed Mage’s Agreement between all the athenaeums, this one more conspiratorial than Uther had likely intended.

During the First Interimperium, the athenaeum continued about its business, training and educating students, inducting them, and then sending them out into the world under a variety of different schemes to ensure their cooperation with the athenaeum. Absolute loyalty was less of a concern for Sound and Silence, given that a rogue student couldn’t teach others, but the Mage’s Agreement had certain provisions in it which could make matters decidedly unpleasant for rogue mages, and like the other athenaeums, Sound and Silence made use of those provisions from time to time.

When the Second Empire was formed, the athenaeums by and large capitulated, mostly because there was surprisingly little cost in doing so. The early Second Empire had recognized the strength and power of the athenaeum system as a problem, and had worked hard to ensure that there would be as few sources of conflict as possible. In fact, the Second Empire never fully took control of the athenaeums, as it didn’t need to; many of them were perfectly happy to have increased funding from the Department of Education or the Department of Advancement, and so what if there were some ethical concerns with what the Second Empire was doing, or moral arguments against some of the actions it was taking? Most of the athenaeums already had blood on their hands anyway, and Sound and Silence was no exception.

After the Second Empire fell and the Second Interimperium began, Sound and Silence once again assumed a defensive posture with regards to the outside world after it had weathered the purges of its leadership (those who had been aggressively persuaded by the Second Empire’s soul mages, or whose complicity in crimes was too great to ignore). When the counter-imperialists failed to seize power for themselves, as everyone thought they would, Sound and Silence continued on its way, a place of learning for two of the magical arts, much as it had when the First Empire fell. The teleportation key network and hexal railway system caused Li’o to become more multicultural than it had been before, and encouraged students to come from further afield, so that by the time the Empire of Common Cause had finally begun promoting open borders and cooperation between polities, Li’o was already in their camp.

When Bethel landed in the field ten miles outside of Sound and Silence, we were, technically, trespassing, and also, technically, in violation of the city-state of Li’o’s sovereign airspace, as well as the Draconic Confederacy’s rules regarding air travel. Thankfully, the Egress was so fast and smooth that virtually nothing could catch up to us, and with a reflective coating on her, Bethel was nothing more than a streak through the sky while in flight. On the inside, we felt absolutely nothing, just as we’d felt nothing the first time we’d rode on the Egress.

Bethel reorganized into her staff form, with all the rooms inside her remaining their full sizes. Our agreement was that she would be our house wherever we decided to go, but she wouldn’t be brought into combat to be wielded like a weapon, nor would she have to take a human form. With all of the entads inside of her from so many different sources, it was technically feasible to have her entire physical form be a reasonably-sized humanoid, but she’d flatly refused that. It was an imperfect compromise, but it meant that we would have a home base wherever we went, rather than a home base back on the Isle of Poran, which might potentially be thousands of miles away from where we were conducting operations.

It took us the better part of a day to first get near the athenaeum, then find a plot of land where we could stick Bethel. The P’emp’te Valley was famed for its large, domed buildings, but domed buildings were somewhat expensive to build and didn’t pack together well, so a lot of the more modern parts of the city had simple city streets with sardine-packed rectangular houses, just like most other places on Aerb. Samey houses like that just didn’t make it onto the postcards in the same way that huge domes did. It was on one of these side streets, away from the primary hub of activity, that we found an empty lot for sale, which we bought for half again the asking price, on the condition that we could pay cash and take residence that same day.

This was all in service to getting Bethel on the ground and as a full, functional house again, albeit one that was bigger on the inside. It was a condition for her coming with. The plus side was that the comms tattoos, Parson’s Voice, would work on the scale of miles, meaning that so long as Bethel always contained one person with a tattoo, she could be called in at a moment’s notice, descending from the sky like a murderous angel to get me out of whatever jam I was in. (Parson’s Voice was ridiculously expensive for what it did; Amaryllis had the foresight to grab what she could from Everett after his death, in the brief window where they would still retain some scrap of their magic. Pallida and Heshnel each had one too, and Pallida had given hers up to Amaryllis, meaning that we had three in the group.)

It probably went without saying that it was wildly, flagrantly illegal to simply erect a building on a plot of land in the middle of a city, even if you happened to own that land. You needed permits, inspections, more inspections, more permits, and the gentle caress of a dozen bureaucratic tentacles. We weren’t going to be in Li’o for long enough for that whole process to even get started, let alone be completed. We were mostly hoping that by the time the authorities caught on, we could be long gone, or failing that, we would just pay whatever fine was levied against us, but it was a somewhat fraught thing. Again, it was all in service of keeping Bethel placated and close at hand, ready to come down like the hammer of god the moment things got heated, which I highly suspected they would. As a compromise, I didn’t fully like it, but Bethel was obstinate about her role within the party; she was a house.

Once that was all squared away, we left Bethel as a group of six, leaving Valencia and Heshnel behind, the former because of the unacceptable risk that someone or something would out her, the latter because someone besides Bethel herself needed to be able to deal with any problems that might arise back at base, a job that he had volunteered for.

“Testing,” I said, placing my fingers to the tattoo on my throat and talking as we walked. The tattoo had two basic functions, the first being push-to-talk, and second being always-on. All you had to do to switch between the two was place your fingers in a different spot. The always-on mode was, unfortunately, extremely annoying to everyone on the other end, and the tattoo was indiscriminate in sending things out to everyone on your local network.

[I hear you,] replied Heshnel. It was like he was speaking directly against my skull, bone conductivity rather than thoughtspeech. It was remarkably clear.

“Works so far,” I replied with a nod to the others. “We’ll see you in a bit.” I let my fingers drop down. Most of the time, we’d be keeping it off. “I’m really hoping that we don’t have to call in the cavalry.”

“Hrm,” replied Amaryllis. She was without her armor, though she still had her flickerblade, and against Bethel’s wishes, had taken the extradimensional glove with her as well.

“You’re thinking of narrative,” I said.

“She’s always thinking of narrative,” said Pallida with a laugh. “I think you were right to put an end to it, but that’s only made her more vocal when she’s not with you.”

“The theory holds weight,” said Raven. “Uther talked about it extensively, he wrote about it right up until he went missing, and every analysis we have points to narrative theory being essentially correct.”

“Probably a conversation better held under wards,” said Grak with a grunt. He was walking beside Solace. They were both slower than the rest of us, owing to their stature, which meant that we had to accommodate them.

“Probably,” I replied. “I actually don’t know who the potential enemy listening in would be, or what they would gain from hearing any of this, but yes, probably best not to talk about it out loud on a public street.” I looked over at Raven. “Do you have any grand insights on Li’o or Sound and Silence that you’ve been keeping quiet about?”

“No,” replied Raven. “I’ve been here only three times since the First Empire disbanded, always on business with the Library.”

“That seems like a lot,” I said. “Three times in a little more than one hundred thirty years? What were you visiting about?”

“Classified,” said Raven. She looked around a bit. “It’s very nice to be able to say things like that and not have to worry that I’m going to have my fingers cut off.”

“She’s harmless,” said Pallida, waving her hand.

“She cut my fingers off,” replied Raven with a scowl.

“I would agree she’s not harmless,” I said. “However, I’m hopeful that’s all in the past.”

“She was talking about what a bad neighborhood we were in,” said Amaryllis. “She mentioned that perhaps someone would try to break in. She seemed pretty excited at the prospect.”

“Yes, well,” I said. “Someone should probably familiarize themselves with the legal code of Li’o. Or maybe we should get a lawyer on retainer.”

“We already have one,” said Amaryllis. “We have a lawyer on retainer in the top ten cities on Aerb by population, as well as all the cities with an Athenaeum in them. I set it all up by mail shortly after Solace was born.”

“What does retainer mean, exactly?” I asked. “We have lawyers in twenty-three cities?” I stopped to think about geography for a moment. “Er, lower. Eighteen?”

“We’ve prepaid for legal services,” replied Amaryllis. “And yes, eighteen cities.”

“That’s not horrifically expensive?” I asked.

“In the scheme of things, no,” replied Amaryllis. “The retainers aren’t large, and the lawyers aren’t world class, but we need to be able to not shoot ourselves in the foot if we need to navigate the courts, especially given how different some of the legal traditions are from each other. In Li’o, our lawyers are Comb and Bācaṇige. Commit the name to memory, in case we get separated. They’re authorized to do work for the entire Council of Arches.” She glanced at Pallida. “You would likely need to find your own representation.”

“You wound me so, princess,” said Pallida with a laugh. “I wasn’t planning on getting into trouble. I’m probably not even going into the athenaeum. I tried to steal the Rod of Whispers once, and while I don’t think they’ll remember me, best not to risk it.”

“Sorry,” I said. “You tried to steal the Rod of Whispers? The source of vibration magic?”

“That’s the one,” said Pallida. “Good security around it though, I do have to say that. I probably could have gotten it, if I’d been willing to kill someone, but, eh.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “What would you have done with it?”

“Not sure,” replied Pallida. “Ransomed it off, maybe, but that’s always partnered with its own problems, because naturally, people don’t want to give you money, they want you dead and their stuff back.”

“Typical,” replied Raven with a snort.

“Oh?” asked Pallida, looking back at her. “Typical?”

“Yes,” replied Raven.

“Then tell me how it’s ‘typical’,” said Pallida.

“We’re not doing this now,” I said, before things could get heated. “It’s my first day at college, and I’m not going to have it ruined because you’re bringing up stupid bullshit from the past.”

“Don’t call the athenaeum a college,” said Amaryllis. “Otherwise, I agree.”

“I was making a joke,” I said.

“Make better jokes,” said Amaryllis.

Pallida shot one last, angry glance at Raven, but that was the end of it. Maybe it had been a mistake to take both of them with, but in terms of firepower, I wanted as much as I could get. That’s why we were bending for Bethel as much as we could to get her to meet us halfway. I was nervous about what going to college would bring.

I pooh-poohed Amaryllis’ narrative theory a lot, but it was an interesting question whether the challenges we faced would assume that we were at full strength, or whether they would be altered to match us (or, possibly, that we would be altered to match them). Even with narrative theory aside, I did assume that the Dungeon Master was setting things up for us, at least in part. It just didn’t have to be because he had any particular outcome in mind; maybe he wanted to see what I would do, how I would respond, or whether I would pass the test. I wasn’t going to twist myself into a knot trying to guess what he had in store for me, especially since I would have to go down however many meta-levels he was playing at, but the thought that I couldn’t just approach this quest on its merits had me a bit on edge.

Li’o sat within a wide valley with steep hills on either side. The Athenaeum of Sound and Silence was set in the side of one of those hills, with its campus sprawling out, a chunk of relatively homogeneous buildings in that one little patch of city. We made our way up steep roads, passing by a wide variety of businesses and the midday push of people. We were armed and armored, legal in Li’o but a bit conspicuous. In theory, being conspicuous wouldn’t matter, because we were only very technically criminals, and for crimes that it would be difficult to prove we committed (that of illegal entry into the city-state of Li’o, plus the probable airspace violation charge from the local air authority).

The city was one of the prettier ones, though the temperature was much higher than on the Isle of Poran, and it was somehow more humid too, even though we were pretty far from any body of water. Weather on Aerb was incredibly weird, the more I had looked into it, and Li’o had apparently been saddled with a tropical climate by the atmoplanar (yes, they called it that) projection layer, the wide-scale magic that created functional jet streams, and the shape of the land.

True to her word, Pallida left us behind when we got to the campus proper, insisting that she was going to ‘do her own thing’ and would meet up with us later, despite not having any way to keep in touch with where we were and what we were doing. She gave Amaryllis a hug before she left, which Amaryllis seemed a bit embarrassed by, then went on her merry way, carrying her magical trident like it was no big deal.

We found our way to the bursar’s office with only a modicum of trouble; it was located within one of those big domed buildings we’d seen, along one of the outer curved walls. Once we knew where we were going, I dialed my vambrace to give myself ‘normal’ clothes, consisting of my more understated bespoke suit, and left the others behind (though close by, and given our tattoo comms, easily summoned at a moment’s notice).

The bursar had a gnomish secretary who paled slightly on hearing the name ‘Figaro Finch’. I wasn’t quite so racist (specist?) that I thought all gnomes knew each other, but that gear did make half a rotation in my head before I caught myself. More likely, she was just dreading the upcoming meeting. Finch had said to press the bursar, if it came to that, but not to threaten or hurt him.

The bursar himself was a fat man, which was unusual for one of the he’lesh. The Book of Blood went into great detail about their apparently prodigious members (thanks, Syfriend), but in terms of outward appearance, he had orange skin, three thick, mutually opposable fingers on each hand, and a way of walking that kept his long legs tucked in and his feet close to his butt. Standing tall didn’t come naturally to the he’lesh, which was probably a good thing, since he’d have been nine feet tall if he unfolded himself. After doing me the brief courtesy of opening the door and ushering me in, he did a little waddling walk so that he could sit behind his desk, on a cushion rather than a proper chair. I took the chair in front of the desk, adjusting it to human proportions, then watched his dark orange eyes look over a hookah that was sat on his desk. He pressed a lever, then took a hit from the hookah and looked at me.

“Helps me think,” he said, frowning at me.

“I know,” I replied. I designed the he’lesh. “It’s my understanding that it’s not considered rude to ask which you just took?”

“Indignation,” replied the bursar, narrowing his eyes at me. “You want to skip not one line, but two.”

“Finch said that all of this was already handled,” I replied.

“You need to take classes,” said the bursar. “I told Finch that you’d be in under the Special Returning rule, not the donation rule. To be paid off would be one thing, but money wasn’t on offer. It was the best that I could do, I told him that, and he wanted more. To think I call the man friend!”

“He said that it was handled,” I replied. “Finch is stationed in a place pretty far from a touchstone, otherwise he would have come here himself. I would have brought him, if I thought that this was going to be a problem. If you’re going to go back on what you told him, then –”

“No,” said the bursar, shaking his head. He reached down and took another hit from the hookah. I peered in at the internals of the machine. It was set up so that different herbs could be burned on demand, each only enough for a single hit. It was no doubt expensive and ingenious, especially given how many options it had. “No,” he repeated, letting out a puff of smoke that smelled like incense. The whole room reeked of different herbs laid over top of each other. “No, no, I told him that I could arrange it, but I never said that it would be completely without caveats, and because there’s no money changing hands, my hands, are, eh, tied. You must take classes, at least for long enough that you can have four instructors sign off.”

“I was meant to be here a week,” I said. “After that, I was going to step into a time chamber and teach myself as much as is possible in as short an amount of time as possible. I’m legitimately not sure that I can take classes for a week, not under the time constraints I have.”

“There are procedures for skipping ahead,” grumbled the bursar. “Sufficient donation is enough, but even then we don’t do it on so little time.”

“You agreed to this,” I said. “That’s why I’m here. If it can’t be done, then I came here, at great expense, for no reason. I don’t want to have to tell Finch that I went through all this trouble and then walked away empty-handed.”

The bursar grumbled again, then took another hit of his hookah. “I’m telling you, a week of classes, then a number of magi to sign you off, that’s the way it must be done. It will look, from the outside, as close to proper as possible, and I said as much to Finch in my letter.”

And then he expected me to argue you down? “If I’m understanding this right, I just need a rubber stamp? I don’t actually have to attend classes?”

“Are you trying to make this difficult?” asked the bursar. “If you want to feel the touch of the rod, if you want to meditate in the temple with the others, then yes, yes, you need to attend classes. It’s a sham, obviously, but one that must appear proper.”

“And if I just pay the fees instead to skip all that?” I asked.

“At least a month,” said the bursar, shaking his head.

I was being stonewalled. The person to blame was probably Finch, not the bursar himself, or on a meta level, I could obviously blame the Dungeon Master. And really, I was only getting upset about it because Finch had said it would only be the week needed to meditate; if he’d said from the outset that I would need to take a week of classes, I would still probably have taken that deal.

“Fine,” I said. “One week of classes, some paperwork on your end, then I’ll get access to the magic.”

The bursar startled slightly, then looked over at his hookah, pressed a different button on it, and took a hit. “Excellent,” he said as a scent like pine needles filled the air. “Yes, excellent, I’ll fill in the papers and you’ll be on your way. I assume you have no need of accommodations?”

“I have a house in Li’o,” I said. As of this morning.

“It’s extremely important that you don’t mention this arrangement with anyone else,” said the bursar. “It’s irregular, and might create some problems if the exact nature of this shortcut were revealed. The magi might ask, and if they do, tell them the truth.”

I nodded. I had figured as much.

I was relatively surprised by how little paperwork there was, given how much paperwork I got at the start of every school year in high school, but I supposed that made sense, given that Aerb didn’t have computers and laser printers, meaning that paper documents had to either be made with spirit duplicators or mimeographs or some even more exotic technology. Instead, my schedule was written on a piece of paper for me, with quick directions to the various classrooms written there too.

I read the paperwork the secretary handed me very carefully before I signed anything. The bureaucratic procedure that the bursar was taking me through was, apparently, a loophole that had been set up for extraordinary circumstances where an existing student of Sound and Silence had matriculated and then once again needed access to either the Temple or the Rod.

“Renacim are one of the reasons this rule exists,” said the secretary, looking displeased at my question. “Forcing them to go through material that they already know would be absurd, and forcing them to pay would be, well, profitable in the short term but not in the long term. There are other species who face similar problems, and must be re-evaluated to see whether it would be appropriate for them to be re-anointed, either so they could make use of their existing education, or so that they could take continued education.”

“And what am I?” I asked. “For the purposes of, uh, this paperwork?”

“It’s unspecified,” replied the secretary, frowning at me. “There’s technically no need to specify, since it’s at his discretion. I would be cautious of who you speak to of this arrangement. It’s all perfectly by the books, but it would be better to not have it come to light that the bursar was using his discretion in such a manner.”

“I won’t say anything,” I replied. I hesitated for a moment. I really did want to ask her whether she knew Figaro Finch, but every social instinct I had was warning me not to. If Finch and the bursar were friends, then it stood to reason that he might have met this woman, or that she might have been a connection. I held my tongue.

“How did it go?” asked Amaryllis. Solace and Grak were gone, leaving just her and Raven.

“Fine,” I said. “There’s a minor hiccup. They want me to attend classes, just for a week.”

Amaryllis sighed. “That’s going to make Bethel’s position more problematic.”

“Still worth it though, do you think?” I asked. “I thought it would be.”

“It’s a spanner in the works,” said Amaryllis. She tapped her throat. “Wasn’t safe to talk?”

“I didn’t want to break it out if I didn’t have to,” I said. “How much does this interfere with things?”

“I’ll work it out,” she replied. “Classes, starting tomorrow?”

“Semester starts in three days,” I said. “So, it’s really more like two and a half weeks.”

“I’ll have to speak with Bethel,” said Amaryllis. “I don’t think it will be a problem, as such. I’m still waiting for the catch.”

“Is there always one?” asked Raven. It was just the three of us, for some reason.

“No,” I said. “But when things seem like they might be easy? Then yeah, more often than not, I would say. Though it might be that the times it actually was easy don’t stick out as well.”

“Regardless, we have three days free?” asked Amaryllis. “Do you have any advice on how to speak with Bethel?”

“About what?” I asked. “Also, where are Grak and Solace?”

“There’s a dwarfhold close by,” said Raven. “Grak wanted to go visit, and Solace said she would accompany them.” I had been asking Amaryllis, not her, but she seemed to want to be a part of the conversation, rather than a third wheel.

“Well, okay, but how are we going to find each other?” I asked.

“We’ll meet back at Bethel,” said Amaryllis. “You’re carrying too much over from your old home.”

“I am?” I asked.

“He is?” asked Raven, perking up with curiosity.

“Smart phones,” said Amaryllis, turning slightly to face Raven. “Small, handheld technological devices that transmit information back and forth via radio. Where Juniper is from, everyone has one, and everyone knows where everyone else is at all times.”

“That’s … not quite true,” I said. “But in a general sense, yes, you can just send someone a text and ask them where they are, or whether they want to meet up.”

“A text is a short message,” Amaryllis supplied. I didn’t particularly think that was necessary, or I would have translated on my own.

“Ah,” said Raven. “And he’s still so unfamiliar with norms, after roughly five months on Aerb?”

“Half that time was spent in a quite small time chamber,” replied Amaryllis. “The other half has seen him on the run from various forces or factions, wandering through exclusion zones, or ensconced within our group. I could count the number of people outside the group that he’s had meaningful interactions with on one hand.”

I looked at her, seeing the look on her face as she explained things. “Mary, are you … offering exposition about me?”

Amaryllis caught herself. “Ah,” she said. She glanced at Raven. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” said Raven. She looked between the two of us. “That was always my role, in our group.” She looked a little bit sad. “We would come to some new place, and I would set out to read all the books as quickly as I could so that I could offer him as much information as he needed.”

“I’m sorry if that wasn’t what you wanted,” I said.

“Oh,” said Raven, looking at me. “No, it was. I loved to read. I loved having someone to talk to about what I had read. The way he would look at me with this intent expression, listening closely to every word I said …” She looked to me and her demeanor changed. “It’s not clear on what my role in this group is, as yet.”

“I don’t know either,” I said. “I would consider you a heavy hitter though.”

“That speaks poorly of your power, no offense,” said Raven.

“It’s why we’re here,” I replied with a shrug. “I’m not expected to match Uther at the height of his power so quickly, right?” I was trying not to be, but I felt mildly defensive.

“We don’t know,” said Amaryllis. That was more or less true. Power scaling, if it existed at all, was a mystery. I was pretty sure that attempting to go into Fel Seed’s exclusion zone would get me killed though, at least as I currently was, which was the primary reason I wasn’t doing it.

I looked out on the campus, with its many paths wending between the buildings, and more greenery than you might naively expect in a city. There were no trees, but the bigger buildings had vines cascading down the sides of buildings here and there, which somehow gave the impression of not being manicured, though they undoubtedly were. There was a care and thought that had gone into this place which I found myself appreciating. It was something that I would probably talk about with the locus; she seemed like she would appreciate that.

My gaze shifted to the people walking the campus. All of the athenaeums ran all year round, without the three-month gap we had for Earth universities, a consequence of how far away the average student came from and the burden it would have been for most of them to sit around for the summer season or go back home. The start of semester was a few days away, but there were still plenty of people around, the various races of Aerb that I’d grown more and more familiar with, though the majority were human. I looked at a small group of humans on one of the sidewalks, talking to each other, and I could almost imagine that they were part of a transplanted slice of Earth.

One of them looked over at me and did a double-take. My eyes widened as I recognized him. He said something inaudible to the people he was with, then came over to us at a half-jog. I was watching him, unable to look away.

Logically, it wasn’t Reimer. I’d met two doppelgangers so far, Bethel-as-Tiff and Raven-as-Maddie, and this person was probably Reimer in looks only, on the taller side, with a blonde crew cut and glasses, a smarmy grin even as he was coming over. Not Reimer, just meant to look like him, for the Dungeon Master’s ineffable reasons.

“Juniper?” he asked. “Holy fucking shit, Juniper ?”

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Worth the Candle, Ch 142: Sound and Silence

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