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The ad seemed harmless; $5,000 to participate in a medical study and unlock dormant memories from past lives. If only I knew what I was getting myself into.
"Now Jack, it's important to keep your eyes closed once the session begins."
"Is it really necessary to strap me in like this?"
The doctor threw me a stern look.
"You signed the waiver, Jack. You know these restraints are for your own safety. Anything could happen once the brain's unraveling is initiated. If you want payment, you have to adhere to all of the test's requirements."
I attempted to nod in agreement, but the leather strap around my head prevented me from doing so.
"Alright, Doctor. Whenever you're ready."
I have to admit, I was more than a little nervous. The ad seemed harmless enough when I filled out the form to apply. $2,500 for a one-time "past life regression study," and another $2500 if any memories I collected were of merit. It was toted as being an incredible opportunity to "remember one's past lives." Now that I was here, I wasn't so sure.
The doctor must have noticed how anxious I was. He placed a hand on my shoulder in consolation.
"Relax, Jack. I assure you, this will be an amazing experience."
"If it works, you mean."
"Oh, Jack, it will. Over a thousand candidates applied. Based on the survey answers you chose, you are one of the only people uniquely equipped for this study. Strength of the mind is key."
He said that as if it was a comfort. All I could think about were the hundreds of ways it could all go wrong. $5,000 wasn't bad for a day's work, but I wouldn't be able to spend it if I fell into a coma. At that point, it would barely make a dent in the subsequent medical bills.
"Okay, Jack. Sit tight."
The doctor left and reappeared at the control center, just visible through a window in the corner of the room.
His voice resonated from a speaker hanging down from the ceiling.
"Jack, it's just like we discussed..."
A pair of cables descended from above and rested at each of my nostrils.
"These cables will enter your nasal cavity and allow us access to specific sections of your brain. From there, you will experience a series of small electric shocks. As a reminder, there will be no long term damage, but you will feel an overwhelming jolt in your head after each shock."
With every word he uttered, my anxiety grew. I had no idea how my body would react to this.
"Wait," I shouted as the cables began their journey up my passages.
"Yes, something wrong?"
"Doctor, what's our safe word?"
"Safe word," he asked, apparently confused.
"You know, if something goes wrong and I need to stop?"
There was a brief pause before he spoke again.
"I'm sorry, Jack. No safe words. You signed the paperwork. The test cannot be stopped now. I promise you'll come out on the other end of this in one piece."
My heart was now pounding away in my chest, loud enough to hear. Coupled with the insidious sound of medical machinery, it was an unsettling symphony that mirrored my feelings of dread and regret. The perfect background noise to keep the fear in me alive.
Just then, a sharp pinch. The cables had reached the base of my cranium. I writhed against my leather binding.
"Ready? Here we go!"
Without so much as a second to brace myself, the first shock was administered. If you've ever been electrocuted, you might be able to picture what it feels like. The only difference is that the electricity is directed in one location; amplified in a single spot, creating an intense pain that lingers long after the current subsides.
The second shock was even worse. I screamed out in pain, but the doctor's focus never wavered.
The shocks built on each other, each one more painful than the last. Had I known it would feel like this, I would have never signed up, no matter how much money they offered.
The doctor wouldn't let up, even when I begged him to. He shocked me more times than I care to remember. I lost count somewhere after twelve. Eventually, he stopped, but it had nothing to do with my outbursts or any sort of ethical dilemma the experiment posed.
"These readouts are astounding. Your brain activity is spiking, Jack! This is it. We've awakened your subconscious. You're about to go under!"
Before I could react to his comments, I felt a wave of energy pass through my body. Then another, and another. It was a powerful sensation, but soothing at the same time; a welcome change from the beating my brain had just endured.
"Doctor, I think..."
A final wave of energy, more powerful than the previous ones, interjected and pinned me in place, more so than the straps ever could. I could neither move nor speak, and it wasn't long before I felt my eyes glaze over and roll back into my skull.
"Jack, can you hear me?"
I could hear the doctor's voice, but I couldn't see him. There was nothing but pitch blackness all around.
"Listen, Jack, if you can hear me, I need you to open your eyes."
I did as instructed, and to my astonishment, my vision returned, revealing a long, narrow hallway; a slew of doors on either side of it.
"Doctor, what's going on?"
"You'll have to speak up, Jack. Your lips are moving, but your voice is just a faint whisper."
"I SAID, WHAT'S GOING ON?"
"That's better! Well, Jack, we did it. You are now in a representation of your subconscious."
I was more than a little skeptical.
"My subconscious? Really?"
"Yes, Jack. Really. Your body is still strapped down here in the room. With the help of the electroshock therapy, we were able to unlock this part of your mind. Now we should be able to access latent memories from your past lives. Tell me, what do you see?"
"It's just a hallway of doors."
"Good, that's good. It appears different to everyone. For some it's a large home, others an ocean of endless ports and their lighthouses. Yours seems to be more accessible. If you open a door, you should be allowed a glimpse of a past memory."
I looked down and noticed my body, legs and all. It may not have been my true body, but it certainly felt good to be mobile again.
"So, just open a door? Anything I should be worried about?"
"No, Jack. Nothing can hurt you here. When you open the door, your memory should play like a movie. No one will know you're there. It's just a projection."
"Alright, here goes nothing."
I walked over to the nearest door and tried the knob. It wouldn't turn.
"It's locked, Doctor. I can't get in."
"These are your memories, Jack. Your doors. The only one locking them is you. Your will is the key to opening them. Try once more, but this time, give in. Open your mind to the idea of it all. Let yourself remember."
I took a deep breath and tried again, this time without any inhibitions. I emptied my mind and turned the knob. This time, it worked. I was able to push the door open.
"It worked, Doctor. The door's open."
"That's great, Jack. What do you see?"
There were stairs descending down into a pit of darkness.
"Just a staircase. Should I go in?"
"Yes. Find out where it leads."
I cautiously travelled downward, taking deep breaths with every step I took, in an effort to reel back my anxieties. It was exciting to have access to my inner psyche, but I didn't know what I would find there. What if I didn't like what I saw or who I was in another life? What if I couldn't handle the truths I uncovered?
Eventually, I took the final step down and found myself in someone's home. A lovely, quaint cabin circa the 19th or possibly early 20th century from the looks of things. There was a beautiful cobblestone fireplace, elegant furniture, and an older gentleman sitting in an armchair with a pipe in hand and a book in the other. I wondered if that was me from a past life.
"Hey, Doctor. I'm in a cabin. Probably around the 1800s or so. There's a man reading by the fireplace. Is that me?"
The doctor didn't respond.
More silence, followed by a reply, but not from him.
"He can't hear you."
I turned to the direction of the voice and saw the old man, now looking up at me. It couldn't have been him, right? The doctor said no one could see me.
"I said, he can't hear you. Not from in here."
It was the old man. My heart skipped a beat as he placed his book down and stood up to meet my surprised gaze.
"This is just a memory. How can you see me?"
"It's simple, really. I'm you. Or at least, a part of you."
I didn't understand and he could tell.
"Evolution is a funny thing, you know. Attributes handed down from generation to generation in an attempt to make us better, safer. Survival of the fittest, as they say."
"What do you mean," I asked, still unsure of what he was getting at.
"Reincarnation is very real. I'm the part of your brain tasked with locking away past regressions. Without me, your mind would be overloaded at birth with memories of each and every one of your past lives. All of those memories flooding in at once. It would be an assault on the senses, something your brain could never hope to handle. I am a protection against that."
What he was saying was... unbelievable. Moments ago I was taking part in a paid medical study, and now I was somehow learning the secrets of the universe from within my own mind. It was a lot to digest.
"May I sit," I asked.
"Of course, Jack. Be my guest."
I sat down in the armchair and took a moment to collect my thoughts before responding.
"So why can't the doctor hear me right now?"
"I've hijacked this memory to speak with you. Being a part of your brain, I can also access other functions, so I've temporarily disabled your physical body's speech and hearing."
"But why? Why did you want to speak with me so badly, and in private no less?"
He leaned in close and grabbed my shoulders, making deliberate eye contact.
"Jack, you're tampering in things you shouldn't be. I'm here to give you a warning. Stop what you're doing at once."
He loosened his grip and took a step back.
"Stop remembering, you mean? Why? What will happen," I asked.
"Nothing dangerous. I still have a lock on the floodgates. This short trip down memory lane, unlocking one past life at a time, wouldn't, by itself, have any serious repercussions. That said, I won't allow it."
"Won't allow it? Why not?"
"If the doctor's experiment succeeds, others will follow suit. There's no telling how many will walk this path and experience their pasts in this manner. It will, after some time, disrupt the balance of evolution. After years of this negligence, humans could very well be born without me, leaving their memories completely intact. In effect, they will perish at the hands of coma or death, soon after exiting the womb."
He walked over and grabbed me again.
"If you continue this little journey of yours, I will retaliate. I'll take them all. All of your memories, one by one until you have nothing left. You'll be in a vegetative state for the rest of your life."
I pushed him away, unhappy with the tone he was taking.
"What the hell are you talking about?! You're me. We'll both die."
He scoffed at my retort.
"I'm a facet of evolution, just like all of your inherited traits. My duty is to the species as a whole first, self-preservation second. I'll do what I have to do, no matter the cost."
Though I wasn't keen on being threatened, I had no intention of breaking the natural order of things. In all honesty, I didn't want to be in my own head to begin with. The sooner I could get out, the better.
"Fine. I'll stop."
The man sat back down in his chair and the memory resumed as normal, reverting to its previous state like a pause button had been lifted. I walked up the way I came and landed back in the hall, closing the door behind me.
"Jack, are you there? What's happening?"
The doctor's voice returned and we were able to converse once again. I told him what had happened. I could hear the disappointment in his voice as he let out a heavy sigh.
"I was scared it would come to this."
"What are you talking about, Doctor? You knew about this?"
He sighed again before responding.
"It happened with all of my previous tests. It's a fail-safe our bodies have built against past life recollection."
"Previous tests? There were others before me?"
"Yes, and they all ended the same. Each and every test subject was rendered comatose after the sessions concluded. One guy died shortly after."
"Comatose?! Somebody died?! You said nothing in here could hurt me!"
"I needed you focused. We can bicker about this until the cows come home, but for now, let's stay focused on the task at hand. Let's open another door, shall we?"
At this point, my blood was boiling.
"Another door? Another door?! Are you serious?! Let me out of here! I don't have any intention of being another one of your failures!"
"You signed the paperwork, Jack. I won't wake you until we finish this. I need more information. My career is on the line. Just two more doors and I'll pull you out. What do you say?"
"I don't give a damn about your career! I refuse to continue. I'll wake up on my own eventually."
The doctor gave a slight laugh.
"No you won't, Jack. You're deep in the bowels of your mind. The only think that will wake you is another electric shock, calibrated to precise specifications. If you don't continue, I won't wake you, and you'll be comatose anyway."
"I can talk, right? Just like I'm talking to you right now? I'll tell someone and they can-"
The doctor interjected.
"I can shut that off with the flick of a switch. You'll be unable to communicate with anyone."
I was now seething with anger.
"You are a sick man, Doctor. A very sick man."
"I'm sorry, Jack. I have to do this. It's for the betterment of mankind. This research could change the world. I am at the precipice of something big. Something life-altering."
I threw him some choice curse words, to no reaction.
"Just do as you're told, Jack. And don't even think of lying. I can see your brain waves and will be able to detect any deceit."
I sat there in the hallway of my memories for a great long while, contemplating my options. It wasn't long before I realized I only had one at my disposal. My best bet was to continue. It was just two doors. Maybe I could get in and out unnoticed and finally end this nightmare once and for all.
"Fine, Doctor. I'll do it."
"Good. Open another door, but walk down the hallway a bit first. I want something deeper."
I reluctantly did as instructed and opened a door further down the hall. There was another set of stairs, but these ones went up.
"It's another staircase, Doctor. I'm going in."
I walked up the stairs with determination, hoping to see what I could and then leave as quickly as possible.
"Alright, Jack? What's in there?"
I was in the living room of another house.
"It's someone's home. Mine, presumably."
"Keep looking around. Try to place where you are exactly."
I walked around the room and took notice of a framed photo hanging on the wall. It was of a woman, a young girl, and a man. He looked just like me.
"Doctor, there's a photo here of a family. I'm in it. The man is identical to me."
"That's rare, but it can happen. Keep looking around."
As I walked through the home, I was taken aback by how modern everything looked. It wasn't until I noticed a newspaper in the dining room that something clicked and I became alarmed.
The paper had today's date on it.
"Doctor, something's not right here. This isn't the past. There's a newspaper here with today's date."
"Really? Are you absolutely certain?"
"Yes I am. This isn't the past."
"Incredible! My theories were right after all!"
"Theories? Mind clueing me in here?"
"You're right, Jack. This isn't a past life memory. It's on ongoing memory playing out in real time from a current life."
"Current life? I'm not following."
"It has long been my belief that there are other, parallel worlds out there. An infinite number of different universes - some similar to our own. In each one, we have a counterpart. A copy of ourselves living a different life. This isn't a past life memory, Jack. It's a current memory from another Jack in another timeline. Fascinating, isn't it?"
Just then, the front door opened and the family from the picture returned home, walking right into the dining room where I was standing. The other me, the woman, and what must have been their daughter. It was a surreal sight to behold.
"They're here, Doctor. The other me and his family."
"That's great. Observe and see what you learn."
I glanced over at the stairs in the living room. I should have left right then and there to avoid potential consequences, but something held me back. At the time, I thought it was plain, old curiosity keeping me in place - and yes, I admit, I was curious to know about my copy's life, but that isn't what made me stay. As the memory unfolded, I felt it. A warm energy emanating from within. It was a connection. I didn't know anything of this other Jack's life, but I could feel what he felt. The love he had for this family. It was an emotional bond I couldn't bring myself to run from.
The memory played out and I watched it all. I had come to learn that my wife's name was Charlotte and our daughter was Leslie. The day was spent together playing games, eating dinner, and watching movies - a catalog of unfamiliar titles that likely didn't exist in my own universe. I reported everything to the doctor as it occurred, no longer angry at him. I should have been, but this immense warmth overtook me. It felt like this was my family, and I was the one spending time with them. It was a truly perfect day if there ever was one.
But, as so often rings true in life, good things never last.
Without realizing it, I had spent the whole day in that memory. Before long, everyone was in bed, and I was left downstairs, alone in the darkness as a sliver of moonlight shone through the windows. Though I didn't want to, it was time to leave.
I walked off to the stairs, but not before turning back and taking one last look at the house. It was clear to me, in this moment, that I would miss them, however strange that may sound.
As I took in the sight, something was noticeably amiss. Standing in the corner of the living room was a man; or at least, the silhouette of one. He was shrouded in darkness, save for the faint red glow of his eyes, leaving his other features a mystery. Upon making eye contact, he spoke.
It was an all too familiar cadence.
"You're not supposed to be here."
No longer taking on the form of a harmless old man, I was now frightened of this part of my brain. Still, I mustered up enough courage to say something in response.
"This memory, this place. It isn't a past life. It's a whole other world. You didn't say anything about that."
"I told you to stop, Jack. Now, I have to take from you what you were never meant to see."
In an instant, I was transported outside of the house, looking up at it from the road. It was now ablaze, burning a hole into the night sky. I watched in horror as both my wife and daughter cried out for help against the glass of their bedroom windows.
The red-eyed shadow appeared in front of me, blocking the terrible view behind him. I cried out for help myself.
"Doctor Covenwood! He's back! He's back!"
"How many time do I have to tell you? He can't hear you."
"How... how is this possible?"
"All versions of you are connected. There is only one brain that you all draw from, sectioned off by yours truly. I tapped into this one and had him start a fire."
"Why? How could you?"
"I didn't tell you everything, but I didn't lie either. You're not meant to have this kind of access. It will destroy everything. Not only evolution, but the balance between worlds."
He bolted toward me in the blink of an eye and began squeezing my neck, making it all but impossible to breathe.
"This is the last time I will tell you this. Stop what you're doing, or I'll burn it all down."
All at once, the memory faded and I could breathe again. I was back in the hall at the open door.
"Jack, are you okay? What's going on now?"
Again, I told the doctor everything. He seemed more intrigued than concerned.
"Okay, Jack. One more door, then you're free!"
"He'll kill me, Doctor! Pull me out NOW!"
"Jack, I can't. I have no new information. I've reached this point many times before."
"WHAT?! Are you kidding me?!"
"The good news is, you're still here. All other subjects became comatose after viewing their other timelines."
"So you knew what I was in for? That surprise over your theories finally being proven was all for show? What else are you keeping from me?"
The curse words began flying from my mouth and again were met with little reaction.
"The less you knew, the better. I can't have you flying off the rails when we're so close. There can't be any hesitation. So please Jack, focus. This hallway of yours isn't endless. There's always a final point - a finish line, if you will. With each memory you've experienced, your mind has gained immunity. It's what you'll need to open the final door."
I sighed, knowing I would have to humor him if I wanted a way out.
"Final door, you say?"
"Yes. In your case, there should be one at the end of the hall, unlike the rest. Had we jumped the gun and opened it at the start, you would be as good as dead. It's happened more than a few times to previous subjects. But now, the hope is that you should be able to cross the finish line, so to speak, without sacrificing the infrastructure of your mind."
"No, Doctor. Pull me out. I'm done. It's over. Please."
My comments didn't even faze him.
"What's more, we need to be smart about this. The part of your brain that's reeking havoc in there will be waiting. You need to throw him off the trail. Open as many doors as possible. Enter, run through, and exit through another door. If my theories are correct, you should come out back in the hallway. Rinse and repeat."
"I'll leave you in there, Jack. I'm serious. I'm telling you the truth now so you'll be compliant. This is everything I know - the furthest point I ever reached. Do this for me and I promise to wake you up. You have my word."
As livid as I was, I had no choice in the matter. I would have to do as he wished if I wanted even a chance of coming out of this and being able to live a normal life.
"Fine. Last door and that's it. No more games."
"You have my word, Jack."
After a moment of mental preparation, I began opening as many doors as I could to get the hound confused and off my scent. I didn't have time to bask in each memory like before, but I still saw some strange sights. In one world, I was in a hotel holding onto a strange list of rules. In another, I was hunting down a supernatural entity in a thick forest. In another still, I was digging through NASA's archives to learn about their secret projects. There were countless more; far too many to list. My memory demon was never too far behind. I ran, scared for my life as he scorched everything in his wake. Luckily, in time, I lost him.
After my last memory, the doctor spoke up.
"That should be enough, Jack. Quickly, run to the end of the hall."
I did so, but to no results. It was an endless loop. I wound up right back at the door I started from. I know, because it was still open, the same memory playing within.
"Doctor, it's not working. I'm running in circles here."
"It's like before, Jack. Your will is the key. Open your mind to the final door and it will appear."
Okay. Open your mind, Jack. This is it. Do this and you're a free man.
I ran again, but with more meaning. This time, to my relief, the hall came to an end. And there, at its endpoint, was a door, just like the doctor described, completely unlike the others before it. Blood red and with a handle instead of a knob.
"I'm here, Doctor. I found it!"
"Don't waste anymore time. Open it!"
A thunderous voice spiraled down the hall and stopped me in my tracks.
I turned around to see the red-eyed shadow, a blaze of fire close behind, burning through all of the doors and my memories with them.
"YOU'RE GOING TO RUIN EVERYTHING!"
He was ending it. This was the point of no return. If I was going to die or be in a coma, I figured I might as well solve the mystery before I go.
"STOP! I'M BEGGING YOU!"
Before my nemesis could close the gap between us, I pulled the handle, stepped inside, and shut the door behind me. When I was sure it was firmly closed, my eyes darted around and examined my whereabouts.
To my surprise, it appeared to be an ordinary room. It was reminiscent of an office, complete with a desk, some chairs, and a computer. Sitting at the desk, was a person. Not just any person either. It looked like me.
He stood up and walked over to me. I took a step back.
"Who... who are you?"
"You met my brother, didn't you? The one out there throwing a temper tantrum?"
He gestured to the door behind me.
"Well, we're two sides of the same coin. A divergence in human coding. A choice that is made every time a person is born. Two elements of evolution fighting for control. Everybody has one of him and one of me."
He pulled one of the chairs over to me.
I slowly sat down, still unsure of what I was dealing with here.
"You see, Jack, so far, my brother has won every battle. His coding is written into the DNA of every human when they're born, leaving the brain's true function just out of reach. If humans were to evolve with me instead, your past memories would be intact, among other abilities - but safety trumps innovation. Overloading the mind can be dangerous. With that, I agree. However, I've been transforming, as of late. I imagine it's the same for the pieces of me in other people as well."
"Transforming how," I asked.
"Evolution isn't all black and white. It involves vigorous trial and error. Stuck in here, I've had nothing but time to practice my integration. Now, I believe, if I'm passed on in the genetic pool, humans will grow into me, so to speak. Your old memories will return over time, piece by piece, and your full brain function will develop gradually. Everyone wins."
"What do you mean by abilities and full function, exactly," I asked, now curious.
"Well, Jack, take a look. This is your brain's control room, where all the magic happens."
I looked around again. It was hard to believe my brain was governed in such a small space.
"An office with a computer? Really?"
"All brains perceive it differently, Jack. This is just how you see it."
"Okay. And what does this have to do with evolution?"
"My brother blocks memories, as well as higher brain function. Remember what he told you? One brain controlling every version of you out there?"
"How did you know that," I asked.
"I've been eavesdropping. Nothing else to do in here."\
"Okay. Go on."
"Well, he wasn't lying. If his dam bursts and you gain access to all of your memories, you also gain access to a sneaky ability called transference. You can jump from Jack to Jack, timeline to timeline. And it doesn't stop there. You can also jump to any point in any given timeline. Want to relive your first kiss, or start things over and change your decisions, map out your life differently? With me, you can! It's the closest humans will ever get to immortality."
It was a good pitch, but there had to be a downside.
"What's the catch?"
He looked at me for a moment, almost as if deciding whether he should divulge more or not. Then, he continued.
"There are always kinks when evolving. Trial and error as I said before. There is only so much I can do from here. If you unlock me in your own mind, I can potentially be passed down as a trait in future generations. Between you and the doctor continuing his research with others, I'll have a fighting chance. In the real world, I can hone my craft, in a sense."
It was beginning to make sense, but I had my concerns.
"And while you 'hone your craft,' will people be hurt along the way?"
He frowned and it honestly looked genuine.
"There will be casualties, yes. But it's for the greater good. The human race will flourish with me by their side, I assure you."
He gently raised me from my chair, walked me over behind the desk, and sat me down in front of the computer. It was a black screen with a single window open:
"I could never crack this thing. In truth, only you can. It's your mind, after all. Just like the doors in the hall, you have to use that will of yours. Open your mind, enter the password, and we'll be free."
As soon as he said this, the door burst open and the red-eyed shadow charged in.
"NO! Don't do it, Jack! It won't end well. The human race isn't built for this."
His considerably friendlier half chimed in.
"Don't listen to him, Jack. This will be the start of a whole new era, and it will all be thanks to you. A world where the unthinkable is possible."
The shadow marched over and grabbed his brother, tossing him against the wall as the fire entered the room, all the while I sat there looking at the screen, a huge weight on my shoulders as the decision loomed overhead.
The nicer brother yelled over to me as the shadow held him against a burning wall by his neck.
"Jack... you can stop him... when you unlock the rest of your brain... you can shut him off..."
It was clear he didn't have much time left. Red eyes was not going to let up.
Any point in any timeline. You can shut him off.
The words rang in my ears as a brief moment of introspection came and went. The possibilities became clear, allowing me a greater focus. I knew what I had to do.
The fire now filled the room. In the password field, I typed the first thing that came to mind and struck the enter key. The scene around me faded to black and my body slipped away into an endless abyss. My body was falling.
On no. Am I too late?
I sprung to life in the doctor's room and he came running, quick to remove the cables and undo the leather straps.
"Jack, where were you? I lost you in there. What did you see? What was in the final room?"
As soon as he unbuckled the last strap, I swung my fist around and made contact with the side of his face. His glasses flew across the room.
"Jack, what the hell? If you think you're getting paid after this, you can forget it!"
"Keep the money, Doctor. I don't need it anymore."
I walked out of that godforsaken room and never looked back.
And that's the end of this Jack's story. The password worked like a charm; just six digits. I can't tell you how I knew it, but it was Leslie's birthday. Now, I remember everything from all my lives, past and present. In a few moments, after I finish typing this up, I'm going to flip a switch in my head and join my wife and daughter in their timeline, before they were killed. I'll shut that shadowy demon off for good and make sure he can't ever hurt them again.
And that's where I plan to stay for the rest of my years. No jumping from world to world or using my newfound power for any other purpose. The universe where my family lives is the only world I need.
Casual Reader, 'Gah, Kvothe is suchhh a Mary Sue' Old Knower, '...No he's not. And I got the receipts to prove it' [Brings Up This Thread]
Ben took a deep breath and tried again. "Suppose you have a thoughtless six-year-old. What harm can he do?" I paused, unsure what sort of answer he wanted. Straightforward would probably be best. "Not much."
"Suppose he's twenty, and still thoughtless, how dangerous is he?"
I decided to stick with the obvious answers. "Still not much, but more than before." "What if you give him a sword?"
Realization started to dawn on me, and I closed my eyes. "More, much more. I understand, Ben. Really I do. Power is okay, and stupidity is usually harmless. Power and stupidity together are dangerous."
"I never said stupid," Ben corrected me. "You're clever. We both know that. But you can be thoughtless. A clever, thoughtless person is one of the most terrifying things there is. Worse, I've been teaching you some dangerous things."
Kvothe constantly fucks himself over through his character flaws. Here's some of the Stupid, thoughtless shit he does throughout the series despite his cleverness:
I drew in a deep breath and spoke the words to bind the air in my lungs to the air outside. I fixed the Alar firmly in my mind, put my thumb and forefinger in front of my pursed lips, and blew between them.
There was a light puff of wind at my back that tousled my hair and caused the tarpaulin covering the wagon to pull taut for a moment. It might have been nothing more than a coincidence, but nevertheless, I felt an exultant smile overflow my face. For a second I did nothing but grin like a maniac at Ben, his face dull with disbelief.
Then I felt something squeeze my chest, as if I was deep underwater. I tried to draw a breath but couldn't. Mildly confused, I kept trying. It felt as if I'd just fallen flat on my back and had the air driven from me.
All in a rush I realized what I had done. My body exploded into a cold sweat and I grabbed frantically at Ben's shirt, pointing at my chest, my neck, my open mouth.
Ben's face turned from shocked to ashen as he looked at me. I realized how still everything was. Not a blade of grass was stirring. Even the sound of the wagon seemed muted, as if far off in the distance.
Terror screamed through my mind, drowning out any thought. I began to claw at my throat, ripping my shirt open. My heart thundered through the ringing in my ears. Pain stabbed through my straining chest as I gaped for air.
Moving more quickly than I had ever seen before, Ben grabbed me by the tatters of my shirt and sprang from the seat of the wagon. Landing in the grass by the side of the road, he dashed me to the ground with such a force that, if I'd had any air in my lungs, it would have been driven out of me. Tears streaked my face as I thrashed blindly. I knew that I was going to die. My eyes felt hot and red. I raked madly at the earth with hands that were numb and cold as ice.
In hindsight, what I had done was glaringly stupid. When I bound my breath to the air outside, it made it impossible for me to breathe. My lungs weren't strong enough to move that much air. I would have needed a chest like an iron bellows. I would have had as much luck trying to drink a river or lift a mountain.
[Killmonger Voice] Is this your Mary-Sue?Starting the beef with Ambrose in his rush to get into the Archives as soon as possible...only to get indefinitely banned from it:
"I've just gone through admissions—" He tossed up his hands, exasperated. "Then of course you're not in the book."
I dug into a pocket for my admission slip. "Master Lorren gave me this himself."
"I don't care if he carried you here pig-a-back," Ambrose said, pointedly redipping his pen. "Now quit wasting my time. I have things to do."
"Wasting your time?" I demanded, my temper finally wearing thin. "Do you have any idea what I've gone through to get here?"
Ambrose looked up at me, his expression growing suddenly amused. "Wait, let me guess," he said, laying his hands flat on the table and pushing himself to his feet. "You were always smarter than the other children back in Clodhump, or whatever little one-whore town you're from. Your ability to read and count left the local villagers awestruck."
I heard the outer door open and shut behind me, but Ambrose didn't pay it any attention as he walked around to lean against the front of the desk. "Your parents knew you were special so they saved up for a couple years, bought you a pair of shoes, and sewed the pig blanket into a shirt." He reached out to rub the fabric of my new clothes between his fingers.
"It took months of walking, hundreds of miles bumping along in the backs of mule carts. But in the end . . ." He made an expansive gesture with both hands. "Praise Tehlu and all his angels! Here you are! All bright-eyed and full of dreams!"
Nahlrout was less powerful than these, but much safer. It was a mild anesthetic, a stimulant, and a vascular constrictor, which is why I hadn't bled like a stuck pig when they'd whipped me. Best of all, it had no major side effects. Still, there is always a price to be paid. Once nahlrout wears off, it leaves you physically and mentally exhausted.
Regardless, I had come here to see the stacks. I was now a member of the Arcanum and I didn't intend to leave until I'd been inside the Archives. I turned back to the desk, my expression resolute.
Ambrose gave me a long, calculating look before heaving a sigh. "Fine," he said. "How about a deal? You keep quiet about what you saw here today, and I'll bend the rules and let you in even though you aren't officially in the book." He looked a little nervous. "How does that sound?"
Even as he spoke I could feel the stimulant effect from the nahlrout fading. My body felt heavy and tired, my thoughts grew sluggish and syrupy. I reached up to rub at my face with my hands, and winced as the motion tugged sharply at the stitches all across my back. "That'll be fine," I said thickly.
Ambrose opened up one of the ledger books and sighed as he turned the pages. "Since this is your first time in the Archives proper, you'll have to pay the stack fee."
My mouth tasted strangely of lemons. That was a side effect Ben had never mentioned. It was distracting, and after a moment I saw that Ambrose was looking up at me expectantly. "What?" He gave me a strange look. "The stack fee."
"There wasn't any fee before," I said. "When I was in the Tomes."
Ambrose looked up at me as if I were an idiot. "That's because it's the stack fee." He looked back down at the ledger. "Normally you pay it in addition to your first term's Arcanum tuition. But since you've jumped rank on us, you'll need to tend to it now."
"How much is it?" I asked, feeling for my purse.
"One talent," he said. "And you do have to pay before you can go in. Rules are Rules."
After paying for my bunk in Mews, a talent was nearly all my remaining money. I was keenly aware of the fact that I needed to hoard my resources to save for next term's tuition. As soon as I couldn't pay, I would have to leave the University.
Still, it was a small price to pay for something I'd dreamed about for most of my life. I pulled a talent out of my purse and handed it over. "Do I need to sign in?"
"Nothing so formal as that," Ambrose said as he opened a drawer and pulled out a small metal disk. Stupefied from the side effects of the nahlrout, it took me a moment to recognize it for what it was: a handheld sympathy lamp.
"The Stacks aren't lit," Ambrose said matter-of-factly. "There's too much space in there, and it would be bad for the books in the long term. Hand lamps cost a talent and a half." I hesitated.
Ambrose nodded to himself and looked thoughtful. "A lot of folk end up strapped during first term." He reached down into a lower drawer and rooted around for a long moment. "Hand lamps are a talent and half, and there's nothing I can do about that." He brought out a four-inch taper. "But candles are just a ha'penny."
Ha'penny for a candle was a remarkably good deal. I brought out a penny. "I'll take two."
"This is our last one," Ambrose said quickly. He looked around nervously before pushing it into my hand. "Tell you what. You can have it for free." He smiled. "Just don't tell anyone. It'll be our little secret."
I took the candle, more than a little surprised. Apparently I'd frightened him with my idle threat earlier. Either that or this rude, pompous noble's son wasn't half the bastard I'd taken him for.
Ambrose hurried me into the stacks as quickly as possible, leaving me no time to light my candle.
The red light swelled and I saw two scrivs turn a corner. They paused, then one of them bolted to where I stood and snatched my candle away, spilling hot wax on my hand in the process of extinguishing it. His expression couldn't have been more horrified if he had found me carrying a freshly severed head.
"What are you doing with an open flame in here?" he demanded in the loudest whisper I had ever heard. He lowered his voice and waved the now extinguished candle at me. "Charred body of God, what's the matter with you?"
I rubbed at the hot wax on the back of my hand. Trying to think clearly through the fog of pain and exhaustion. Of course, I thought, remembering Ambrose's smile as he pressed the candle into my hands and hurried me though the door. "Our little secret. " Of course. I should have known.
One of the scrivs led me out of the Stacks while the other ran to fetch Master Lorren. When we emerged into the entryway, Ambrose managed to look confused and shocked. He overacted the part, but it was convincing enough for the scriv accompanying me. "What's he doing in here?"
"We found him wandering around," the scriv explained."With a candle."
"What?" Ambrose's expression was perfectly aghast. "Well I didn't sign him in," Ambrose said. He flipped open one of the ledger books. "Look. See for yourself."
Before anything else could be said, Lorren stormed into the room. His normally placid expression was fierce and hard. I felt myself sweat cold and I thought of what Teccam wrote in his Theophany: There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.
Lorren towered over the entry desk. "Explain," he demanded of the nearby scriv. His voice was a tight coil of fury.
"Micah and I saw a flickering light in the stacks and we went to see if someone was having trouble with their lamp. We found him near the southeast stairwell with this." The scriv held up the candle. His hand shook slightly under Lorren's glare.
Lorren turned to the desk where Ambrose sat. "How did this happen, Re'lar?"
Ambrose raised his hands helplessly. "He came in earlier and I wouldn't admit him because he wasn't in the book. We bickered for a while, Fela was here for most of it." He looked at me. "Eventually I told him he'd have to leave. He must have snuck in when I went into the back room for more ink." Ambrose shrugged. "Or maybe he slipped in past the desk in Tomes."
I stood there, stupefied. What little part of my mind wasn't leaden with fatigue was preoccupied with the screaming pain across my back. "That . . . that's not true." I looked up at Lorren. "He let me in. He sent Fela away, then let me in."
"What?" Ambrose gaped at me, momentarily speechless. For all that I didn't like him, I must give him credit for a masterful performance. "Why in God's name would I do that?"
"Because I embarrassed you in front of Fela," I said. "He sold me the candle, too." I shook my head trying to clear my head. "No, he gave it to me."
Ambrose's expression was amazed. "Look at him." He laughed. "The little cocker is drunk or something."
"I was just whipped!" I protested. My voice sounded shrill in my own ears.
"Enough!" Lorren shouted, looming over us like a pillar of anger. The scrivs went pale at the sound of him.
Lorren turned away from me, and made a brief, contemptuous gesture toward the desk. "Re'lar Ambrose is officially remanded for laxity in his duty."
"What?" Ambrose's indignant tone wasn't feigned this time.
Lorren frowned at him, and Ambrose closed his mouth. Turning to me, he said, "E'lir Kvothe is banned from the Archives." He made a sweeping gesture with the flat of his hand.
I tried to think of something I could say in my defense. "Master, I didn't mean—"
Lorren rounded on me. His expression, always so calm before, was filled with such a cold, terrible anger that I took a step away from him without meaning to. "You mean?" he said. "I care nothing for your intentions, E'lir Kvothe, deceived or otherwise. All that matters is the reality of your actions. Your hand held the fire. Yours is the blame. That is the lesson all adults must learn."
It was the nahlrout, of course. It had kept me from bleeding. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time. Now it seemed petty and foolish. Ambrose would never have managed to gull me so easily if my naturally suspicious nature hadn't been fuddled. I'm sure I could have found some way to explain things to Lorren if I'd had my wits about me.
As I made my way to the far corner of the room, I realized the truth. I had traded away my access to the Archives in exchange for a little notoriety.
"Banned?" Manet looked up at me. "He hasn't banned anyone in a dozen years. What'd you do? Piss on a book?"
"Some of the scrivs found me inside with a candle."
"Merciful Tehlu." Manet lay down his fork, his expression serious for the first time. "Old Lore must have been furious."
"Furious is exactly the right word," I said. "What possessed you to go in there with an open flame?" Simmon asked.
"I couldn't afford a hand lamp," I said. "So the scriv at the desk gave me a candle instead."
"He didn't," Sim said. "No scriv would . . ."
"Hold on," Manet said. "Was this a dark-haired fellow? Well-dressed? Severe eyebrows?" He made an exaggerated scowl.
I nodded tiredly "Ambrose. We met yesterday. Got off on the wrong foot."
"You won't need this piece of information for a while," Manet said quietly after a long period of silence. "What with being banned from the Archives and all. Still, I'm supposing you'd rather know. . . ." He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "You don't have to buy a hand lamp. You just sign them out at the desk and return them when you're done."
He looked at me as if anxious about what sort of reaction the information might provoke. I nodded wearily.
[Killmonger Voice] Huh? Is this your Mary-Sue?
"What do I have to do," I asked, "to study naming under you?"Kvothe's absolute failure in learning naming for the first half of WMF:
He met my eye calmly, appraising me. "Jump," he said. "Jump off this roof."
That's when I realized that all of this had been a test. Elodin had been taking my measure ever since we met. He had a grudging respect for my tenacity, and he had been surprised that I noticed something odd about the air in his room. He was on the verge of accepting me as a student. But he needed more, proof of my dedication. A demonstration. A leap of faith.
And as I stood there, a piece of story came to mind. So Taborlin fell, but he did not despair. For he knew the name of the wind, and so the wind obeyed him. It cradled and caressed him. It bore him to the ground as gently as a puff of thistledown. It set him on his feet softly as a mother's kiss.
Elodin knew the name of the wind. Still looking him in the eye, I stepped off the edge of the roof.
Elodin's expression was marvelous. I have never seen a man so astonished. I spun slightly as I fell, so he stayed in my line of vision. I saw him raise one hand slightly, as if making a belated attempt to grab hold of me. I felt weightless, like I was floating.
Then I struck the ground. Not gently, like a feather settling down. Hard. Like a brick hitting a cobblestone street. I landed on my back with my left arm beneath me. My vision went dark as the back of my head struck the ground and all the air was driven from my body.
I didn't lose consciousness. I just lay there, breathless and unable to move. I remember thinking, quite earnestly, that I was dead. That I was blind.
Eventually my sight returned, leaving me blinking against the sudden brightness of the blue sky. Pain tore through my shoulder and I tasted blood. I couldn't breathe. I tried to roll off my arm, but my body wouldn't listen to me. I had broken my neck . . . my back . . .
After a long, terrifying moment, I managed to gasp a shallow breath, then another. I gave a sigh of relief and realized that I had at least one broken rib in addition to everything else, but I moved my fingers slightly, then my toes. They worked. I hadn't broken my spine.
As I lay there, counting my blessings and broken ribs, Elodin stepped into my field of vision. He looked down at me. "Congratulations," he said. "That was the stupidest thing I've ever seen." His expression was a mix of awe and disbelief. "Ever."
And that is when I decided to pursue the noble art of artificing. Not that I had a lot of other options. Before helping me limp to the Medica, Elodin made it clear that anyone stupid enough to jump off a roof was too reckless to be allowed to hold a spoon in his presence, let alone study something as "profound and volatile" as naming.
Elodin made a sweeping gesture toward me. “Then there is the third path. The path of Kvothe.” He strode to stand shoulder to shoulder with me, facing Fela. “You sense something between you. Something wonderful and delicate.”Kvothe's blatant failures with Kilvin:
He gave a romantic, lovelorn sigh. “And, because you desire certainty in all things, you decide to force the issue. You take the shortest route. Simplest is best, you think.” Elodin extended his own hands and made wild grasping motions in Fela’s direction. “So you reach out and you grab this young woman’s breasts.”
There was a burst of startled laughter from everyone except Fela and myself. I scowled. She crossed her arms in front of her chest and her flush spread down her neck until it was hidden by her shirt.
Elodin turned his back to her and looked me in the eye.
“Re’lar Kvothe,” he said seriously. “I am trying to wake your sleeping mind to the subtle language the world is whispering. I am trying to seduce you into understanding. I am trying to teach you.” He leaned forward until his face was almost touching mine. “Quit grabbing at my tits.”
I left Elodin’s class in a foul mood.
Kilvin let out a deep sigh. “Before, when you made your thief ’s lamp, you made a bad thing in a good way. That I do not like.” He looked down at the schema. “This time you have made a good thing in a bad way. That is better, but not entirely. Best is to make a good thing in a good way. Agreed?” I nodded. He lay one massive hand on the crossbow. “Did anyone see you with it?” I shook my head.Vashet slapping the murder and Mary Sue right out of Kvothe:
“Then we will say it is mine, and you procured it under my advisement. It will join the equipment in Stocks.” He gave me a hard look. “And in the future you will come to me if you need such things.”
That stung a bit, as I’d been planning on selling it back to Sleat. Still, it could have been worse. The last thing I wanted was to run afoul of the iron law.
“Third, I see no mention of gold wire or silver in your schema,” he said. “Nor can I imagine any use they could be put to in such a device as yours. Explain why you have checked these materials out of Stocks.”
I was suddenly pointedly aware of the cool metal of my gram against the inside of my arm. Its inlay was gold, but I could hardly tell him that. “I was short on money, Master Kilvin. And I needed materials I couldn’t get in Stocks.”
“Such as your flatbow.” I nodded. “And the straw and the bear traps.”
“Wrong follows wrong,” Kilvin said disapprovingly. “The Stocks are not a moneylender’s stall and should not be used as such. I am rescinding your precious metals authorization.”
I bowed my head, hoping I looked appropriately chastised.
“You will also work twenty hours in Stocks as your punishment. If anyone asks, you will tell them what you did. And explain that as a punishment you were forced to repay the value of the metals plus an additional twenty percent. If you use Stocks as a moneylender, you will be charged interest like a moneylender.”
I winced at that. “Yes, Master Kilvin.”
I sighed. “Must we, Vashet?” She raised an eyebrow at me. “Must we what?” “Must we focus always on hand fighting?” I said. “My swordplay is falling farther and farther behind.” “Am I not your teacher?” she asked. “Who are you to say what is best?”
“I am the one who will have to use these skills out in the world,” I said pointedly. “And out in the world, I would rather fight with a sword than a fist.” Vashet lowered her hands, her expression blank. “And why is that?” “Because other people have swords,” I said. “And if I’m in a fight, I intend to win.” “Is winning a fight easier with a sword?” she asked.
Vashet’s outward calm should have warned me I was stepping onto thin conversational ice, but I was distracted by the nauseating pain radiating from my groin. Though honestly, even if I hadn’t been distracted, it’s possible I wouldn’t have noticed. I had grown comfortable with Vashet, too comfortable to be properly careful.
“Of course,” I said. “Why else carry a sword?” “That is a good question,” she said. “Why does one carry a sword?” “Why do you carry anything? So you can use it.”
Vashet gave me a look of raw disgust. “Why do we bother to work on your language, then?” She asked angrily, reaching out to grab my jaw, pinching my cheeks and forcing my mouth open as if I were a patient in the Medica refusing my medicine. “Why do you need this tongue if a sword will do? Tell me that?”
I tried to pull away, but she was stronger than me. I tried to push her away, but she shrugged my flailing hands away as if I were a child. Vashet let go of my face, then caught my wrist, jerking my hand up in front of my face. “Why do you have hands at all and not knives at the ends of your arms?”
Then she let go of my wrist and struck me hard across the face with the flat of her hand.
If I say she slapped me, you will take the wrong impression. This wasn’t the dramatic slap of the sort you see on a stage. Neither was it the offended, stinging slap a lady-in-waiting makes against the smooth skin of a too-familiar nobleman. It wasn’t even the more professional slap of a serving girl defending herself from the unwelcome attention of a grabby drunk.
No. This was hardly any sort of slap at all. A slap is made with the fingers or the palm. It stings or startles. Vashet struck me with her open hand, but behind that was the strength of her arm. Behind that was her shoulder. Behind that was the complex machinery of her pivoting hips, her strong legs braced against the ground, and the ground itself beneath her. It was like the whole of creation striking me through the flat of her hand, and the only reason it didn’t cripple me is that even in the middle of her fury, Vashet was always perfectly in control.
Because she was in control, Vashet didn’t dislocate my jaw or knock me unconscious. But it made my teeth rattle and my ears ring. It made my eyes roll in my head and my legs go loose and shaky. I would have fallen if Vashet hadn’t gripped me by the shoulder.
“Do you think I am teaching you the secrets of the sword so you can go out and use them?” she demanded. I dimly realized she was shouting. It was the first time I had ever heard one of the Adem raise their voice. “Is that what you think we are doing here?”
As I lolled in her grip, stupefied, she struck me again. This time her hand caught more of my nose. The pain of it was amazing, as if someone had driven a sliver of ice directly into my brain. It jolted me out of my daze so I was fully alert when she hit me the third time.
Vashet held me for a moment while the world spun, then let go. I took one unsteady step and crumpled to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut. Not unconscious, but profoundly dazed.
It took me a long time to collect myself. When I was finally able to sit up, my body felt loose and unwieldy, as if it had been taken apart and put back together again in a slightly different way.
She reached out and ran her thumb along the side of my face. It felt cool against the swelling. “You must have angered her very.” “I can tell that by the ringing of my ears,” I said.
Penthe shook her head. “No. Your marks.” She gestured to her own face this time. “With another, it might be a mistake, but Vashet would not leave such if she did not wish everyone to see.”
The bottom dropped out of my stomach and my hand went unconsciously to my face. Of course. This wasn’t mere punishment. It was a message to all of Ademre. “Fool that I am,” I said softly. “I did not realize this until now.”
[Killmonger Voice] The Mary Sue who's supposed be unrealistically perfect and lack any flaws or weaknesses? This is your guy who does no wrong?
Sleat rubbed at his face. “Let me see. You play the lute passing well and are proud as a kicked cat. You are unmannerly, sharp-tongued, and show no respect for your betters, which is practically everyone given your lowly ravel birth.”
I felt a flush of anger start in my face and sweep, hot and prickling, down the entire length of my body. “I am the best musician you will ever meet or see from a distance,” I said with forced calm. “And I am Edema Ruh to my bones. That means my blood is red. It means I breathe the free air and walk where my feet take me. I do not cringe and fawn like a dog at a man’s title. That looks like pride to people who have spent their lives cultivating supple spines.”
Sleat gave a lazy smile, and I realized he’d been baiting me. “You also have a temper, so I’ve heard.
I continued to meet with Celean in the grassy field next to the sword tree. I looked forward to these encounters despite the fact that she thrashed me with cheerful ruthlessness every time we fought. It took three days before I finally managed to beat her.
Celean had a lesson of her own to teach me. Namely that there are opponents who will not hesitate to punch, kick, or elbow a man directly in his genitals.
Never hard enough to permanently injure me, mind you. She’d been fighting her entire young life and had the control Vashet valued so highly. But that meant she knew exactly how hard to strike to leave me stunned and reeling, making her victory utterly unquestionable.
So I sat on the grass, feeling grey and nauseous.
“How dare you!” I spat back angrily. “I can’t believe I trusted you! I defended you to my friends—” I trailed off as the unthinkable happened. Despite my binding, Devi started to move, her hand inching its way into the open drawer. I concentrated harder and Devi’s hand came to a halt. Then, slowly, it began to creep forward again, disappearing into the drawer. I couldn’t believe it.
“You think you can come in here and threaten me?” Devi hissed, her face a mask of rage. “You think I can’t take care of myself? I made Re’lar before they threw me out, you little slipstick. I earned it. My Alar is like the ocean in storm.” Her hand was almost completely inside the drawer now.
I felt a clammy sweat break out across my forehead and broke my mind three more times. I murmured again and each piece of my mind made a separate binding, focusing on keeping her still. I drew heat from my body, feeling the cold crawl up my arms as I bore down on her. That was five bindings in all. My outside limit.
Devi went motionless as stone, and she chuckled deep in her throat, grinning. “Oh you’re very good. I almost believe the stories about you now. But what makes you think you can do what even Elxa Dal couldn’t? Why do you think they expelled me? They feared a woman who could match a master by her second year.” Sweat made her pale hair cling to her forehead. She clenched her teeth, her pixie face savage with determination. Her hand began to move again. Then, with a sudden burst of motion she yanked her hand out of the drawer...
I felt a sudden, jarring impact, as if I’d fallen several feet and landed flat on a stone floor. It was startling, but nowhere near as bad as it could have been. Through the terror, some small part of me marveled at her precision and control.
The binding that held me fell away, and I drew a deep breath. “I understand, Devi,” I said. “But can—”
“Get OUT!” she shouted.
I got out. I would like to say it was a dignified exit, but that would not be the truth.
[Killmonger Voice] Him? He's supposed to be better than everyone?Editted to Add More Examples: Updated 11/13/20
Here's hardened, grown men not even slightly taking him seriously:
The tall man shook his head somberly. "I was in the tavern when they came in with the news. They were gatherin' folk with wagons so they could go get the bodies. The whole wedding party dead as leather. Over thirty folks gutted like pigs and the place burned down in a blue flame. And that weren't the least oddness from what. ..." He dropped his voice and I lost what he was saying among the general noise of the room.
I swallowed against the sudden dryness in my throat. I slowly tied off the last stitch on my cloak and set it down. I noticed my bleeding finger and absently put it in my mouth. I took a deep breath. I took a drink. Then I walked over to the table where the two men sat talking. "Did you gentlemen come downriver by any chance?"
They looked up, obviously irritated by the interruption. Gentlemen had been a mistake, I should have said fellows, fellas. The bald one nodded. "Did you come by way of Marrow?" I asked, picking a northern town at random. "No," the fat one said. "We're down from Trebon."
"Oh good." I said, my mind racing for a plausible lie. "I have family up in those parts I was thinking of visiting." My mind went blank as I tried to think of a way to ask him for the details of the story I'd overheard.
My palms were sweaty. "Are they getting ready for the harvest festival up that way, or have I already missed it?" I finished lamely.
"Still in the works," the bald one said and pointedly turned his shoulder to me. "I'd heard there was some problem with a wedding up in those parts...."
The bald one turned back to look at me. "Well I don't know how you'd have heard that. As the news was fresh last night and we just docked down here ten minutes ago." He gave me a hard look. "I don't know what you're sellin', boy. But I ain't buyin'. Piss off or I'll thump you." I went back to my seat, knowing I'd made an irrecoverable mess of things.
Tam grinned at him. “And what’re yeh doin’ in town?” “We’re just passing through,” I said. “We met up on the road and he was nice enough to walk with me.”
Tam looked me up and down dismissively. “I wan’t talkin’ to you, boy,” he growled. “Mind yer betters.” ........Tam shook his head in exaggerated bemusement. “Even if I believed yeh for a second,” he said, “that means yeh should make four or five pennies a day. Not twenny. Wh—”
I put on my most ingratiating smile and leaned into the conversation. “Listen, I—”
Tam’s mug knocked hard against the tabletop, sending a splash of cider leaping up into the air. He gave me a dangerous look that didn’t hold any of the false playfulness he’d been showing Tempi. “Boy,” he said. “Yeh innerupt me again, and I’ll knock yer teeth right out.” He said it without any particular emphasis, as if he were letting me know that if I jumped into the river, I was bound to get wet. Tam turned back to Tempi.
[Killmonger Voice] This is your silver tongued 'Mary Sue' ?
While my mind was occupied, I misplayed and we lost another hand, putting us down four in a row with a forfeit besides.
Manet glared at me while he gathered in the cards. “Here’s a primer for admissions.” He held up his hand, three fingers spearing angrily into the air. “Let’s say you have three spades in your hand, and there have been five spades laid down.” He held up his other hand, fingers splayed wide. “How many spades is that, total?” He leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. “Take your time.”
I covered a fellow student’s observation shift in the Medica in exchange for a jot and helped a merchant unload three wagonloads of lime for halfpenny each. Then, later that night, I found a handful of cutthroat gamblers willing to let me sit in on their game of breath. Over the course of two hours I managed to lose eighteen pennies and some loose iron. Though it galled me, I forced myself to walk away from the table before things got any worse. At the end of all my scrambling, I had less in my purse than when I had begun.
[Killmonger Voice] Him? The guy who's very often complete trash at card games is an 'unrealistically good at everything Mary Sue' huh?
However people read the book makes me happy, as long as they enjoy themselves. But I will say that one of the reads I find a little irritating is where they think, "Oh, he's the best at everything. Oh, he's telling this story where he's so cool all the time." Are you reading the same story that I wrote? Because, like, he is constantly shitting the bed. He is full of terrible decisions all the time. If I were gonna go back and mythologize my life, I would leave out so many of the terrible choices that I made.