“A Dewey for a Simil?” I asked the Mad Hatter.
“Benefit the system, and the system benefits you,” he replied, plucking at a grape. It slipped past his fork to roll to the other side of his plate.
“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,” Simil stated.
“The great gods?” I set my plate aside. I straitened, watching the man carefully. This was my husband, and yet not. 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. I could see the gears turning in his head as he tried to understand what was going on. He swallowed nervously. He reached up slowly to take it, but I withdrew my hand. What had possessed me to do this? He withdrew his hand and blinked at me once more, 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,” I told him as I stood up from the table. I 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 brilliant red corseted ballgown 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 waited for Simil to open the door, waiting for the Victorian instincts the Mad Hatter would have to kick in. He set away his plate and held open the door for me. I brushed past him with a gentle nod of gratitude.
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 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 smiled sweetly.
“I feel though that I must, miss. 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.
I was able to finally set my hands back down at my side. “Are those emotions of any benefit to either of us?” I asked, cocking my head up to look at him from lowered lids.
“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 settle my hand in the crook of his arm.
“That sounds invigorating, let’s,” I responded. We began walking down the hall. 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 my husband’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, Simil?” 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 asked, looking about himself curiously.
“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. Why was the Mad Hatter, who was sharing my husband’s brain, not able to see the locations like Carl?
“How interesting. 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 knew I was making small talk, but it at least alleviated the droning blandness of the hallways.
“Never thought of a bench before,” contemplated Simil.
“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 responded.
“Is that how you count time between locations?” I asked, trying to keep from looking surprised. 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. “Most places only take the first twenty stanzas of the Odyssey. Some take more,” he informed me.
“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, Simil?” I halted with him, turning to face him.
“The others do,” he shrugged.
“Am I the others?” I asked bluntly, with no inflection.
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,” he decided.
“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, taking back his arm to pace the hallway a couple of steps. I waited as he paced back.
He stood and looked at me again. I had the distinctive impression that he approached his analyse of me as a piece of art to be considered thoroughly. I watched him. I waited as calmly as possible.
“You can do things only Simils can do. You are a Dewey,” 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,” he stated, remembered the quizzing room.
“You let me,” I countered.
He narrowed his gaze at me and pursed his lips. “I do not know why,” he responded.
“I distinctly remember you leveling it 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. “If no one else was going to be my knight in shining armor, I was going to be the princess who took matters into her own hands. 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 again.
“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 already know many of yours,” I whispered against his lips. My eyelashes fluttered down as I breathed in my first kiss from my husband in nearly a quarter of a year. 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,” Simil offered the crook of his arm to me once more. I slipped my hand into it once more.
“Pot, kettle,” I pointed at him and myself.
“Black,” he agreed, nodding his head.
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 skirts and brushed at a wrinkle.
“They don’t bite, miss,” 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, not sure how he was supposed to react. He rapped on the door. A voice called out for entrance. He opened the door and allowed me in.
Inside was something similar to Carl’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 Simil and I walked in. “Simil, what is the pleasure?” he asked, not looking overwhelmingly pleased to see the man.
“The Chair, the girl, benefit,” he tried to explain. I could tell he was flustered. Thankfully he had such an odd speech pattern, not many people would probably notice. The man 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 his gratitude.
“If you wouldn’t mind waiting over here, Ms. Drover will be right with you,” the man motioned me toward a formal desk and series of wingback chairs encircling it. Was I going to be able to sit in that? I had no idea. Simil 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.
Simil 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. A crisp business suite 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 could see 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,” I answered. I noted Simil’s hand tighten in his lap.
Ms. Drover inhaled sharply and release 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,” she agreed.
“I haven’t heard any good reasons for why I should help you with this,” I pointed out.
“Your son is receiving the best education possible. You will have paid board, food, and pension. Medical, dental, and vision are all covered,” she stated, shoving a paper in my direction.
“Is this a paid position?” I asked, taking 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 my husband. I glanced his way. He had been working in and with the guild since he was a child. He made a mint on his work. I had seen his paychecks, they were real enough.
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?” I asked.
“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. That was the raise that Carl had been given before disappearing on me for the last four months. 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. Carl had received that raise when he became a Simil.
“You want me to take on a character and become your Dewey,” I demanded calmly.
“That would be the guild’s proposition,” Ms. Drover nodded in agreement.
“Explain this to me, Ms. Drover. How exactly am I supposed to take on a character when I do not have any formal training?” I pressed.
“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 husband,” she threw a leveling, contemptuous gaze my way. I could just barely note out of my periphery the slight twitch of Simil’s shoulders.
“That should not be an issue,” I replied, a look of indifference smeared across my face. Her eyebrow twitched. “You seem irritated by my very presence,” I pointed out, fed up with her attitude.
“You have been difficult since arriving, and you seem to have a rather…less than savory 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. Her eyes flew wide and she let out an exasperated squeak.
“Why do they make me do this?” she snipped.
“Is there someone else I should be talking to?” I brushed at my dress, getting ready to stand up.
“This is my job, this is what I am supposed to be doing,” she motioned for me to stay sitting.
“You are just used to telling men what to do in becoming Simil, not a woman becoming a Dewey. You seem quite prejudiced against the Simil. Am I right?” I saw Simil tense under the question. Ms. Drover didn’t even afford him a glance. “Should I not be?” she raised her chin.
“Why should you?” I returned. She huffed, waiving 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 treatment?”
Her face flushed an ugly, blotchy red. “You clearly do not understand,” she sneered.
I was getting annoyed. With a waive of my hand a large feather calligraphy pen found it’s place between my grasping fingers. The woman’s eyes went wide as she tried not to choke. That was satisfying. I flourished my 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 Simil who was sitting watching all of this in startled awe. “If you had checked your records, you’d realize that Simil is my husband Carl,” I leaned over and 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. 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.
“She brings me back to myself,” Carl responded, holding my hand.
“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 was clearly freaked out. I raised an eyebrow but kept my mouth shut.
“Do you think I am the 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 practically shouted.
“Clearly,” he rose. She was horrified. He extended the crook of his elbow for me to take. “See that her 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, Gracey?” Carl asked.
“What was what, Carl?” 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 asked, watching him closely. He was visibly irritated.
“I usually don’t remember much when the 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 and asked me.
“I ended up just talking to him…you. We get along well enough,” I told him.
“I take it he was under the impression you had to see the Chair today,” he said, more to himself then to me.
“Why do you say he?” I asked.
“Because I wasn’t like this till I swallowed him,” he said.
“I kissed you,” I told him. He looked at me, shocked.
“You have no value for your personal safety, Gracey,” he grumbled.
“I keep getting that vague feeling from everyone around you,” I retorted.
“Wait, you kissed Simil?” he registered.
“You are my husband,” I reiterated.
“Whether the Hatter or I am present?” he shrank back from me.
“Yes,” 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.
“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, 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,” I grouched.
“It’s an unwritten rule. It’s just something everyone does,” he placated.
“Unwritten rule my ass!” I waived a stool into existence and sat down in a huff.
“You can’t just do that!”
“Says the person with a 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 delt him a punch to the gut.
“I’m trying to keep you safe here, Gracey. Please,” he begged.
“The Hatter may talk funny, but the times I have seen him, outside of my first day here when you 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. Carl slumped to the floor, his hands finally no longer shaking.
“He’s not harmless, Gracey,” he explained.
“And neither am I,” I flashed him a warning look. This was going far enough.
“It’ll only get worse when you become a Dewey. You’ll be -” he went to say.
“I already am, Carl. No one here likes me much. I just went and leveled 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 got up and 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 explain 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 the Hatter sees the hallways the same way I do!”
“What do you mean by that, Gracey?” Carl caught to me.
“Talking to the Hatter, I asked what you 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 Carl to stop short.
“He tells himself the Odyssey and Genesis 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 the Hatter, do you?” I asked.
“There’s never been a reason to know these things,” 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 Dewey?” 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 a 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 the 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 sense!” I hissed, returning to my fast paced walk.
“Gracey, please, don’t be like this,” Carl 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 expressed. 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 boogey man that Readers scare their little children 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. If not for the fluffy dress, the ascent of the staircase would have been two treds at a time. Carl followed me up at a dash.
“What do I have to do to work this thing?” I asked, staring at the consol.
“What are you trying to do?” Carl eased up next to the consol with me. He typed in a few short commands. A prompt showed up. “Here, put in your name, 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 name. 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. Carl pulled back. Ash and fire began raining 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. Carl’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, Carl. 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 asked, closing 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 Dewey 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 three times before collapsing. Even at that, I had to state passages…out loud,” he finished. What? My eyes flew up to meet his. I could feel the blood drain 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 six 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 to 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 Dewey, I haven’t, how you say, swallowed a character. What will happen when I do?” I asked him, pressed him. What did this all mean?
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 Dewey. 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 Dewey 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 about Dante? Both of his parents, he has a Simil and a Dewey for parents. Does that increase his risk of this whole thing happening?” I stilled my fidgeting hands. I had been picking at a crease in my dress. I folded my hands together, willing them to be still. If Carl could have paled more, he would have. “Shit…” escaped him before he could censor. “He hasn’t Phased yet, right?” he asked me.
“I’ve never seen him do anything like this, if that’s what you’re asking. Your guild put him in some kind of school, so they probably will know if and when he does,” I said. Carl sank down to the floor, his hair pooling around him. “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 Hatter just does the tasks that the Chair sets him up to do.” Carl 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. We haven’t had one is 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. Think we can just head back to your apartment?” I asked him. I wanted out of the damn corset. The thing was restrictive and inconvenient. “Maybe pick up some clothes before hand. I would rather stop summoning my clothes into existence,” I told him.
“You’ve been maintaining that summons all day?” he asked with a squeak.
“Yeah, why? 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 anymore 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,” Carl explained as we started walking again. 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.
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