Chapter 224: Silence Rings OutAlexandra Erin on July 8, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Balls Are Polished
My date with Amaranth at the library ended up being less like a date but even more like old times when she told Two about it and Two decided to make time in her busy schedule to join us.
I’d thought of my attendance in those same terms, but the truth was I didn’t have to do a lot of shuffling around at all to get out of doing my laundry one Sunday morning. Two had to ask someone to cover her shift, and that was apparently no big deal because she was well-known among the student housekeepers for being flexible in picking up other people’s slack. The problem was that this meant she had to take the other person’s shift some night during the weak, which set off an intricate chain reaction of favors and schedule adjustments.
All of which she handled with no problem. It was amazing, given that a year ago an unexpected question could make her go silent for upwards of half a minute, or longer if she got herself stuck in a loop.
Two had always preferred being busy, but after having been thrust out into the real world with no concept of or capability to keep herself busy, she’d had to rely on others. That was far from the case these days. She took as many classes as she was allowed to, she worked in housekeeping, and she kept a full and very well-structured social calendar by volunteering to help as many campus groups as she could.
If Two had gone to high school… after her blossoming, I mean… she would have been one of those people who wound up with a full ride to all of her top five school picks, and she would have made it there without trying to do so.
I was doing a pretty good job of juggling school and my outside commitments, but I was feeling pretty stretched thin. She, on the other hand, didn’t seem stretched at all… it was more like she had grown until she reached a point of equilibrium and then stopped.
“I wouldn’t have asked you if I’d known it would cause trouble,” Amaranth said to her for about the third time on our way over. As much as Amaranth liked to see the best in people, recognizing the improvements could be hard for her.
“It was no trouble,” Two said. “I have a system worked out for when someone needs to trade shifts with me, and my friend Hazel told me I could do the same thing when I need to trade shifts with someone else. That’s how trades work. They’re the same frontwards and backwards. At least fair trades are.”
“Well, I’m glad it worked out that you could come,” Amaranth said. “This used to be us almost every Sunday, remember?”
“Yes,” Two said. “I do remember.”
It might be hard for anyone who’s never had this kind of a thing to understand the appeal of having other people along for it. Two was very intense about the whole being quiet in the library, just as she was with all rules, and her and Amaranth were both unpredictable in their interests while I usually stayed tethered to a crystal ball, so it wasn’t like we were even going to be hanging out together in a way that would necessarily be recognizable to anyone else.
But still… we were doing it together, and that was nice. Exciting, even. It had all the same thrill of going out and doing things with friends, with none of the going outside my comfort zone. And the truth was that no matter how much that zone expanded in area, it still felt nice to crawl back inside it.
“Please excuse me, I’m going to go find a cookbook,” Two stage-whispered when we were inside the library. Her not-at-all-lowered voice sliced through the stillness of the empty library like a broadsword, which doesn’t actually slice so much as cleave and shatter.
“Okay, Two,” Amaranth actually whispered back.
Time and accumulated experience had slightly improved Two’s ability to understand nuance on things like “no talking in the library”, although it had done absolutely nothing to teach her the difference between actually speaking quietly and speaking in a whispering voice at normal volume. Everybody rolled with it, including the librarians.
“Hey, just so you know, our balls are out for polishing,” one of them called across the floor, knowing where I’d be heading.
Two was still right there, so I mouthed “Thank you.” towards the circulation desk rather than calling back… some nuance was okay, but shouting across the lobby would get me a stern look and an inappropriately sotto voce lecture, I was sure.
“Sorry, baby,” Amaranth said quietly. “Do you want to go do something else?”
“No, we’re here,” I said. “It’s not like I can’t gaze the net at any ballroom on campus… hell, my mirror does that. The point of coming here isn’t the crystal balls, that’s just something to do while I’m here. Maybe that’s part of why I fell out of the habit? I mean, I started because I was reveling in the great big library that I can come to any time… but if I just end up doing the same thing every week and it’s something I could do anywhere… I don’t know. I’m probably overthinking. The point is, there’s plenty of other things to do. Who could be bored in a library?”
“That’s my girl,” Amaranth said.
I soon realized that one of the reasons I’d ended up at the crystal balls so often was that there was so much to do. Showing up at the library without any particular inclination or agenda meant being overwhelmed by analysis paralysis. The fiction section was as big as any other library I’d been in before college, and it was just one tiny corner of the whole.
For a while I considered reading some advanced enchantment texts to see what I could glean from them, but then I decided that if I wasn’t there for class, I shouldn’t act like I was. I considered seeing what I could find about Treehome’s history in case there was something useful about the local middling culture for dealing with Glory and company, but I discarded that idea for similar reasons. I was here on my own time, damn it, and I was going to stick to my own interests.
It took me an embarrassingly amount of running around in circles in my head to figure out that those were my interests… that was why I was studying enchantment. That was why I was hanging out with Glory. At the moment, I was feeling dangerously close to burned out on enchantment but things involving Glory were still exciting and new, so I went to the local history section, where I found both a sub-section about the history of the university, and Amaranth, holding a moderately weighty tome open in front of her.
“Check this out, baby,” Amaranth said, then she laughed. “Well, don’t check it out… I plan on doing that. It’s an architectural history of Magisterius University. But anyway… Named for famed skirmish player, explorer, berserker, and philanthropist Elrac of Oberrad, this stately campus residence began its life as the unassuming northernmost wing of ultramodern Harlowe Hall.”
“Scary to think of Harlowe as being modern,” I said.
“Everything was modern once, baby,” Amaranth said. “You realize that Harlowe is newer than the towers, right?”
“I guess they just seem sort of timeless, where Harlowe feels dated.”
“Hmm… I can see that,” she said, as she turned the page. “Huh, if you ask me, I think that maybe that Glory is being a bit too picky about the whole historical restoration thing.”
I hadn’t asked her, but it seemed like an impolitic moment to mention that. Come to think of it, there probably wasn’t a politic moment to mention something like that.
“What do you mean, exactly?”
“Well, I am sure it’s no Treehome, but this looks pretty nice to me, all the same,” Amaranth said.
She turned the book around and held it up, showing a two page spread showing a building I only recognized as Oberrad House from the context of the conversation… the deck wrapping around an upper floor might have been removed to save maintenance costs, but I doubted the high arched windows behind it had ever been part of the building.
“This has got to be someone’s illusionary rendering of the proposed changes,” I said. “No way was anything like this ever approved, much less put in place.”
“The page before says it’s a picture of Oberrad House at its dedication and re-opening,” Amaranth said.
“That makes no sense… it must be labeled wrong.”
“That’s what it says,” Amaranth said. “Unless…”
She flipped back through the book until she came to the front of it.
“Oh, yes, see?” she said. “This book was published the same year Oberrad House was opened. They must have sent the book off to the scribes sometime before that, so they slapped a conceptual illusion together and put it in.”
“No mystery as to why this version didn’t make it off the drafting board,” I said. “Even with a backer, more money is still more expensive than less money.”
“I guess… it’s a shame, though,” Amaranth said. “It’s a nice design, and I do think it would have suited Glory’s needs more, judging from what you’ve said.”
“Yeah,” I said. “It is a shame… if it was close enough to the official version to make it into a book put out by the university binders, that just makes it seem like so much more of a missed opportunity.”
“You know, I wonder…” Amaranth said. “Is it just this book?”
“You mean that edition?” I asked. “I don’t know if that book ever had updates, but if it did, I doubt they would have focused nearly as much on the re-dedication of one end of a dorm after the fact, especially when the actual change ended up being so much of a bust. I bet it was only the coincidence of timing that got it a two-page picture spread the first time around. Hell, someone might have even slipped the concept art into the book in the hope of tipping the scales in favor of it.”
“I don’t disagree, baby, but what I meant was, was this design more widespread?” she said. “Could we find it anywhere else besides here?”
“Possibly,” I said. “I don’t know why a building that was never built would make it into the history books, but there are probably records of the proposal. Don’t you think there would have to be?”
“It’s just that, if a case could be made that this design is part of history… if you could argue that it’s the original intention… then maybe Glory could get approval to ‘restore’ the hall to the way it was supposed to look, before the cuts.”
“That… seems a bit thin,” I said. “Although, since the real argument being made would be, ‘Please, university, let us spend more of our own money to make one of your buildings look even nicer than it ever did under your watch.’, I could just see it being found persuasive anyway.”
“That’s what I’m thinking,” Amaranth said. “I mean, think about it: while Glory and her friends are living there, most of the benefit to the university is going to be in having the outside be well-maintained instead of neglected, since it’s right next to a high-traffic area. So why wouldn’t they want to go beyond well-maintained and into an actual showpiece?”
“That’s actually kind of brilliant,” I said.
“Thank you,” Amaranth said.
“If we weren’t in the library, I could kiss you,” I said.
“I’m pretty sure you could kiss me anyway,” she said, shifting most of her weight to one foot and twirling her long, golden hair around a finger.
“I’m pretty sure there are some fairly specific rules against public displays of affection in the library,” I said. “I think they call it the Steff Johnson clause.”
“Baby, you know as well as I did that Steff didn’t get in trouble for kissing,” Amaranth said. “And, anyway…”
Whatever she might have said after that is lost to the mists of time, because Two’s answer rang out, clear as an exaggeratedly hoarse and breathy bell from two or three aisles over.
“Those rules don’t apply to nymphs,” she said.
And then a moment later, as the two of us were dissolving into giggles, she added:
“Also, you’re supposed to be quiet in the library.”