I feel like such a coward for having put this off for so long. At the same time I know it’s ridiculous to feel that way because after all it isn’t as though I can actually put this letter into your hands or that you’ve been waiting to hear from me, but it kills me a bit to admit that.
We say that when someone dies they are beyond all earthly concerns. I don’t know if that simply means that you don’t need to eat and drink and can’t be hurt anymore or if it means you no longer care about anything that happens to those who are left behind or maybe there isn’t any way in the ordinary course of things for you to even know what’s happening. I choose to believe that there is at least some awareness and that you still care, but when you come right down to it the truth is that I’m writing this letter for myself.
Because I need to organize my thoughts and I need to try to make sense of things that no one wants to talk about, and because I need to say goodbye to someone who isn’t here to say it to.
I wish I could talk to you for real. Even if it was only once. It would probably be heartrending to say goodbye, but given the choice between once and never I think once would be better. I think it would be easier. And I could find out what happened up on the tower. Not even Eugene really knows. He was hit from behind and it all happened so fast.
I suppose even if you don’t know anything else that’s transpired since you were taken from us, you must know that he’s been raised. There was a life insurance policy. I didn’t know that his family has that kind of money. Did you? I’m relieved that he’s alive but I can’t look at him without feeling ungrateful. I suppose it’s his good luck that he die when he did. Otherwise he would have been in the thick of things either trying to cover the story or to help out. So many bodies were mangled or destroyed, burned in fireballs or crushed in the falling buildings.
They’ve actually stopped excavating the rubble. They just had a bunch of clerics bless it to lay the rest of the dead to rest, leveled off the ground, and put up wards against ghouls. Magisterius University is no more. Our campus is a graveyard and you’re buried in it somewhere.
Eugene is pretty sure they’ll rebuild it. He says they’ll sack most of the administration and pick a new site and a new direction and try to get things rolling again. I’m not so sure. Things went so wrong at the end that I don’t see how they could be put right. Apparently there are endowments that are tied up in the university’s mission and the decree that established it would have to be rescinded by another imperial decree for the school to be dissolved but even that seems easier than rebuilding it again. There have been all sorts of hearings and experts advancing their theories on why things got as bad as they did. If they do rebuild the school it really won’t be the same in any way.
And of course none of us will be there. I’d like to finish my education but I’m having a hard time finding a school that will take me.
But I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself. I meant to talk about what happened, not just the aftermath.
You already know what happened on the ground. You know it better than I do. I suppose you probably know it better than most people given how muddled and confused some of the accounts are. People say you were the first one to use magic. It was hard to see what was happening from my vantage point. It looked like that awful woman was slinging spells in your direction before anyone else had even really reacted. She says she was simply trying to disrupt your spellcasting. Even if it’s true that you were using magic then I can’t believe you were doing anything other than trying to vanish or get away. It isn’t as though you were some kind of battle mage.
Whatever you might have been trying and whoever used magic first things escalated quickly from that point. Everyone surged forward. I like to think that a lot of the students seeing the guards attacking you were trying to come to your aid. It didn’t really matter what they wanted, though. The Imperial Guard detachment was already en route and they started teleporting their response teams in when they got the word that fighting had broken out. The IG only distinguished between students and people wearing a uniform. I’d already lost sight of you by that point. There were times after that when I thought I might have caught a glimpse of you, but I couldn’t be sure.
Things only got worse from there. An order was given to disperse only after the battle was joined and the students on the lawn were penned in anyway. I was in the top floor of the library and the view was truly awful. I could see the whole thing unfolding below me. It was like the guards were spearing fish in a barrel only they were getting angry that the fish weren’t doing a better job of getting out of their way.
The commotion drew more students who seeing their fellows under attack retaliated with magic and weapons both. For a while they were almost winning, which under the circumstances was the worst thing they could have done since the rest of the Imperial Guardsmen were still on the way. When they arrived is when it went from being a riot to being a war. I heard a commentator on the news say that the problem was that the students were overeducated and the guardsmen were undertrained. Once the gate was down the wards on the walls stopped working and the ghouls were drawn to the carnage. By that point the fighting continued because the fighting continued. People were coming from outside the campus with either the idea that they’d teach the students a lesson or they’d help protect them from violent repression but it didn’t really matter what their motivation was they were there to fight. The reinforcements sent for the Imperial Guard had its hands full trying to stop the battle from spilling out into the countryside.
I saw a recreation of the timeline and apparently the whole thing was over in just six hours. It seems like it was so much longer than that but it also seems like it happened so much faster. It was forever but it was a fast forever.
You’re probably wondering what I was even doing up there.
I ask myself the same question. I wasn’t a member of Jennifer’s group and I didn’t see how anything good could come of her actions. At first I tagged along with her because I was trying to talk her out of it with each step of the way and then we reached the library door there was a moment where I could have washed my hands of the whole thing but I didn’t feel like I could. I’d lost Eugene and I wasn’t sure what would happen to you and I felt like I couldn’t just abandon Jennifer to her folly. I was narrating the scene below to her to try to convince her she’d gone too far when I saw you suddenly appear at the bottom of the steps. I am almost certain you saw me, too. It seemed like you were staring up at me.
The whole thing seemed so out of character for her. Not completely so. I mean she’s always been the kind to kick a burning log to see the embers fly. But the magnitude of it was just so much more than anything I would have expected from her. I suspected she was under the influence of more than love or wounded righteousness.
And maybe she was. She was found not guilty by reason of mental tampering but to this day I don’t know if that’s based on any actual finding of fact or if it was part of the face-saving and covering that happened after the fact. There’s been no further word about the nature or source of that tampering. Eugene and I of course have our suspicions but some men from the Department of Law took our research and gave us a warning to keep quiet about what we know or suspect about the Man in the Woods. At least no one has officially suggested that you were responsible although there are certainly those who advance that theory.
In a different world those of us who were in the library might have been used as scapegoats but the fact that the “riot” kicked off when the guards attacked you was inconvenient for that narrative. The fact that we stayed inside the library when the fighting broke out also helped. We were still there when they started evacuating. The laws we broke in the process of Jennifer’s protest were so minor compared to what followed and so without a more clear connection between our actions and the devastation it was just not convenient to subject us to a prolonged prosecution. We were misguided. That’s all.
We didn’t get away completely unscathed. No member of Jennifer’s “Collective” is supposed to have contact with any other for seven years. I found myself included in that judgment. Julia wasn’t, because she was safely locked away at the time. Another stroke of luck. She and Jennifer have disappeared into the wilderness. Julia left word for me that they’re heading north away from the Man in the Woods’ territory but sticking to the less settled midlands. They want to have adventures. I will worry about them but I’d worry even more if they had stayed. The world is changing, but it’s never going to change fast enough to suit the two of them.
My hope is that they’ll treat our seven year probation as a term of exile and when it’s up they’ll come back and get in touch with me. I suspect it will be easier for them to look me up than it would be for me to go find them. I doubt very much it will be just like old times then. So much has happened now and so much is bound to happen in seven years. In truth this is little more than a dream. But it’s a dream I need right now.
Of our little group the only one I am still in contact with is Eugene and I don’t know how long that can last. You probably knew that he’d asked me out a few times. He’s pressed his suit again and I don’t think I could stand to tell him yes. It has nothing to do with any bad quality that he possesses. I would simply feel guilty for going with him and because I have no good reason to refuse a good man I feel guilty for telling him no. For his part I’m sure he believes that I’m saying no out of love for you. That isn’t quite true, at least not in the way that he means it.
I do love you and I will always love you, my Samuel, but I’m not such an old romantic as to believe that this means I can never love another man again. But it would be another man who never met you and is not inextricably linked in my mind to you. I look at Eugene and I see the space beside him where you aren’t standing. When I’m with Eugene I’m sure that at any moment you will come sliding into the room and so I’m forever disappointed that you’re not.
The plain truth is that there was a time—there were months, even—when I didn’t believe you were dead. Not really. I thought you’d used magic to hide yourself away and you’d fled and were now lying low waiting for the attention surrounding the events that ended our college careers to die away. You’d told me before of your plan for if things went badly and you’d asked me if I would come along with you and share your life on the road. I thought you would come back for me and we would be like Jennifer and Julia. As virtual outlaws and exiles ourselves we could even go find them and it would be much like old times, if not exactly like them.
And then when you didn’t come I confess that my first thought wasn’t that you had died in earnest but that you had chosen to leave me behind. You must not think I thought too poorly of you, though! I believed in my grief that you were trying to protect me by sparing me a life you did not think I was cut out for. That isn’t to say that there was no anger or frustration in me. Honestly, my emotions swung back and forth fairly wildly and without much rationale. One moment I was angry at you for abandoning me and the next I was convinced that you blamed me for having put you in that position and so had left me behind so I could not screw up your life again.
Even that was better than believing that you were dead.
Can I tell you a secret?
I still don’t want to believe it.