"So how was Ontoscope class today?"
It was after quiet hours in the dorms, and I sat with Jo in our room.
Jo was at her desk, reading a thick textbook in the soft light of a
lamp. I sat in a chair near her, with a big pile of wool on my left. As
yet, there was little yarn on my right. The drop spindle went CLUNK
periodically as the yarn broke.
"It was fine. Instructor Shanarra told us about the basics of the
fourth level. Beyond the quantum entanglements, a realm of chaotic...would you
mind setting that spindle aside? The noise is getting on my nerves." She
pushed a lock of hair out of her face. "I am trying to concentrate
while you...get out of doing homework."
"Nonsense," I said, setting the spindle down. "Mistress Sani wants me
to have a respectable amount of yarn made by Friday, and it's Wednesday
evening already. I've got little time, judging by my skill."
"Huh. Yarn spinning. Fun." She turned back to her book.
For a while, there was only the sound of her muttering as she flipped
pages. Then, she glanced at me. I hadn't moved from my chair, nor
turned my eyes from her. "You look like you want to say something," said
"I would like to tell you how the day went."
Jo closed the book. "Tell me, then. What is it like, having a special tutor and getting out of Ontoscope class?"
"You sound like you are jealous."
She grimaced. "I...maybe. But tell me what happened. What did you learn?"
I recounted the events of the morning, and what I remembered of Ms.
Sani's story. Including the bit about the cloak she'd
enchanted with a flying spell.
When I had finished, Jo glanced at the cloak which was currently spread around the posts of her bed.
Then back to me.
Then back at the cloak.
Then back at me.
"Do you remember that day," I said, "the first morning lecture, where
you gave me those bottle-cap glasses? And how Instructor Hurley gushed about the
quality of the enchantment on them?"
Jo blushed and looked away. "I remember him saying that they were made out of bottle caps. I stopped listening after that."
"Right. I don't blame you. But...I never thought to ask -- hell, I don't really know how to ask now -- "
"You were wondering where I got those glasses. Whether I enchanted them myself."
I picked up the drop spindle and twiddled it around, saying nothing.
"I collected the bottlecaps, all four thousand of them, and picked
two and turned them into glasses. Mister Mazigh was going to enchant
them, but he looked at them and said they already had the necessary
enchantments. He was...displeased. he thought I had stolen them or
bought them or something. He never did believe that I'd made them. So
when Instructor Hurley made fun of them, I remembered to a time when the
fruits of my efforts had been discounted. And now you tell me that
they're top-notch? I never really looked at the enchantment upon them.
Just thought it worked, and that was that."
"What about the Cloak? Where's that from?"
"My Uncle left it in his will, along with a huge fortune."
"No. I got it off a dead beggar on Amber Street."
"Don't...pff. How did Mister Mazigh react to the cloak?"
"He said something like...'this cloak, we'll have to get a you a new
one soon. This one is full. Too many spells on it. It can't grow with
you.' Something like that. But how could I give up a cloak that could
let me fly? So I never got rid of it. And you're implying that it's a
cloak from --"
"What's important is that your cloak now has the ability to contain,
judging by my last visit, an entire exercise room and pool. As you may
recall, your cloak also had the ability, at one point, to become a
jet-powered wing. Now, presumably that was the influence of what
happened during our final days in New York City, but the rest...how long
have you been storing large objects in the cavernous recess of the
"I figured that one out last week. Why?"
"Because...look, remember when we went to the Heart of New York and I tried to get you to shine that light?"
"And I woke up at the end of a long trail of broken machinery. What's your point?"
"Just an idea...let me see your Wizard glasses for a second." I
grabbed the glasses off her desk before she could protest, and donned
Two things shone bright in my vision: Jo, and the cloak. Jo's eyes
were glowing bright, a green-yellow light that obscured her pupils. She
said something, but I wasn't exactly listening, especially not when I
noticed that the interior of her mouth was throwing off the same amount
But that wasn't the only part of her that glowed. Wherever her skin
was bare, light shone through small cracks. Many cracks.
I looked at the cloak. It glowed with the same red that I'd seen
through the windows of the towers of Chicago -- but here and there the
red gleam was interspersed with green-yellow, a pattern of cracks in the
same style as Jo's skin.
I took off the glasses and said, "Jo, are you...feeling alright?"
Jo shook her head. "I'm a trifle annoyed and I'd like to get back to
my studies. And I really want to study, because this Fourth Layer is
proving difficult to understand, and everyone in class sounded like they
were grasping it easily, and I bet even you can grasp it easily once
you actually start getting into advanced Ontoscopics, and you know maybe
class today wasn't fine at all. My control over my own abilities has
been slipping lately. Maybe I'm going to fall behind in my studies
again. Maybe I'll keep trying, and I'll keep breaking things, and I'll
never actually be able to win a duel. Maybe I'm not even -- I don't
know. What did you see?"
"Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror with those glasses on?"
"Not in a long time.
I rose, strode to the full-length mirror, and turned it away from the
wall, towards where Jo was sitting. She donned her glasses.
"Oh, Crap," she said. "I'm bursting at the seams. I probably
shouldn't have grabbed that -- I mean, I SHOULD have, but it's clear
that the Ailanthus had an effect on me. Of some kind."
"Is that what it is?" I said. "I think it's something else. I mean,
maybe the Ailanthus tree increased the effect, but...maybe you just
improve everything you come in contact with."
"Your presence increased the quality of your glasses, even before you
started leaking magic the way you're doing now. Maybe you were always
doing so. Maybe...maybe that's who you are. You know? Maybe character
has a lot to do with Magic. Like, Ms. Sani poured herself into her yarn
and her cloth, and that made the wool better. You put a lot of effort
into our friendship, and my life improved ...especially when you
taught me about Wizardry. You went out of your way to save me -- "
Jo smiled. "I wouldn't call that out of my way."
"Well, I think you wound up helping mister Mazigh out too, getting him out of his rut."
"His tyranny. That needed to be done. What are you saying? That I just magically making everything better by being there?"
"No, I'm saying your character winds up improving the circumstances of
people, because you don't want to see them in bad circumstances. Even
if it means risking your life. You grabbed my hand when I touched the
Ailanthus tree, in the hope that sharing that power would reduce the
weight upon me, in the hope that you yourself would not explode -- "
"I didn't even think about it. Am I exploding now?"
"I don't know. Maybe you're exploding with helpfulness?"
Jo sat down. "Oh, great. Like that can't go wrong. I'll just walk
around making everything better and everyrone will say, 'stop helping
me!' but I will not be able to stop. I'll be a one-girl version of
that try to help Africa and make everything worse. Flowers will spring
up in my wake, ruining the asphalt of the street. Birds will land on my
windowsill and leave poop everywhere. Everyone will turn to look at me
as I pass, refreshed by my presence, and aching for me when I leave, and
I shall break so many hearts as I go. All shall love me and despair!"
She threw up her hands. "I just want control, for God's sake! Midas
loved his gift until he tried to eat his food." She slumped in her
chair. "The gift of the Ailanthus was a curse. Look, even my cloak is
bursting with power. Will the bed grow legs and carry me through
"I think the first thing to do is close those cracks of yours."
"But what if I build in pressure until I explode?"
"Remember the hosepipe analogy? You just have to let it out every once in a while."
"Great. You know what, this is too much to think about. I'm turning in early. Coming?"
"I don't know. I've got a lot of yarn to spin...but I am pretty tired."
My hand slipped inside my pocket. Perhaps out of habit. Perhaps I was
fishing for a bit of string. Whatever the case, my fingers brushed the
ring, and I was instantly alert as if it was the early
morning. "You know what," I said, "I could stay up a little later to
spin yarn after all. I'll come to bed later."
Jo raised an eyebrow. "Got some methamphetamines in your pocket, eh?
Maybe I'll ask for a few myself later. Oh well. I'm going to hit the
shower." She grabbed her towel and stepped out the door.
In the darkness of the room, the only light shone in
from the street lamps outside. I sat in this sodium-orange light and
spun yarn. The pile was slowly depleting, as I completed one spool, then
I was not tired. I would not be tired at all this night.
The ring would see to that. I would finish making the yarn and
then...avoid falling into dreams.
So good to have the chance to speak with you again, said a familiar voice. Tell
me, Will you come to Green Chicago? Will you wake the city? Please
don't wake the City. There are...certain forces that would find it
easier to get into this world, if you were to do so.
I did not respond.
From the other wide of the door, I heard a scratching
and a snuffling. I rose. The ring fell off my finger, and in that
instant, the snuffling and scratching stopped.
By the same token, my eyelids began to droop. I grabbed the ring and put it back on. The snuffling began again.
I sat back down in my chair and returned to spinning.