Excerpt: A Study of Fiber and Demons

For the din and the chaos that overtook the room, Alim might as well have been in a gladiatorial arena. He never ceased to marvel how the higher minds of academia so quickly fell to petty battling at the quietest suggestion of dissidence or the slightest bruise to the ego. It was better sport than any athlete could provide, and there was something validating in watching Instructor Kurin lose control of her classroom so quickly. It suggested that Alim might not be the most inept instructor on campus.

He hung at the back of the small auditorium, watching what had started as a debate on transmutation theory descend into a shouting match between two overly-boastful students. Even once it came to raised voices, they kept onto the topics of chemistry and mantic physics for a few more turns of the debate before personal insults regarding each other’s fathers and haircuts came into play. Once other students joined in on the verbal melee, it was only a matter of time before someone tossed a book at someone else’s head. Now, Alim watched as one of the debaters attempted to climb over his podium to pounce upon the other, with other students pulling him back and Instructor Kurin waving her arms and threatening expulsion for everyone.

“Ah, a scholarly learning environment.”

Alim turned in his seat, recognizing Farrah’s sarcasm even before laying eyes on her, ever the stereotypical snarky little sister that she was.

“It’s quite the show. Care to watch?”

“Maybe I would, if I had brought any snacks.” Farrah glanced once at the battling students before returning her attention to Alim, dropping the playful familial banter. “We had a meeting, remember? Once you were done grading papers.”

Alim shrugged. “Well, that I’m dropping in on other classes to observe their chaos would suggest that I finished in my task, don’t you think?”

Farrah smirked. “For anyone else, perhaps. Don’t forget that I’ve known you for thirty-six years.”

“That old, are you? Nearly time to put you in a home, Farrah.”

“You’re the elder sibling, Alim.”

“The chronomagicists theorize that time is relatively fluid concept.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder to point at the ongoing “debate” up front. “You should ask one of them about it sometime.”

Farrah pouted. Normally she was happy to indulge him in the great sport of people-watching, but his dear sister was a full-fledged professor and could no longer always spare time for gossiping and giggling with her brother. “Are we going to have our meeting or not?” Alim groaned and stood. He stepped out of the auditorium, heading toward his office as she followed behind.

Pinnacle University was a palace of interconnected towers tucked into the frigid but snowless Forezet Mountains. The university’s most prized academic minds had offices high up in silver-domed towers, with windows overlooking the dramatic, craggy environment or neighboring towers of equal beauty. Alim’s office, however, was on the second-story of one of the smaller administrative towers, and his windows faced the sanitation bins tucked behind the western block of laboratories. Farrah was kind enough never to comment on the condition of his placement, although her own office was in an eastern tower on the fifth floor, with a perfectly adequate view of the sunrise each morning. She was a thoughtful sister in that regard.

The contents of Alim’s office were nearly as embarrassing as the location of the room. Stacks of unfiled paperwork lay strewn about, some falling into others and scattering loose sheets on the floor. A discarded jacket, which was probably his own, was draped over the one chair facing his desk. The desk was piled more with his own interests than his immediate work—books on demonweave, electromagnetism, mental links between twin siblings (less than credible), and a few paperbacks of a more erotic nature that he had neglected to tuck away. The papers he was supposed to be grading sat in a folder on a shelf behind his desk, a cup of lukewarm tea sitting upon it.

“Kind of you to make time for this project, Farrah,” Alim said as he took the chair behind the desk. His comment might have sounded sarcastic, but he was sincerely thankful for Farrah’s interest in his work, and he hoped she knew him well enough to understand that. There was little at Pinnacle he valued so much as her, even if he did love to play the disaffected older brother. “I know the university pays you to do actual work, so I’ll try not to keep you too long from it.”

When he was settled and looked to Farrah, she remained standing, her expression now void of mischievous smile or pouty frown. Despite his earlier teasing, Farrah looked as youthful as the freshest student. Her head covering, a pretty lavender floral print, framed her face in such a way to give it soft roundness, which was further emphasized by her full lips and wide, bronze eyes that were framed by only the faintest beginnings of wrinkles.

Alim, who was four years older, had not aged as well. His eyes were smaller and accented by notable crow’s feet, he was a bit gaunt after losing much of the weight of robust youth in recent years, and his wavy charcoal hair was streaked with dark silver near the temples. He blamed the stress of his miserable, failing career, but at least now he looked the part of a jaded academic.

“I know you think I’m taking pity on you, Alim, but I am interested in your project. If it can produce successful results, the implications could be staggering.” The connotation to her phrasing didn’t pass his notice. She still did not entirely trust him.

“The implications will be theoretical,” he corrected her, shoving aside the more scholarly books on his desk and moving the smut to one of the drawers. “It’s unlikely that in my lifetime enough progress can be made to sell the results off to the most moneyed corporation, I assure you.” Farrah didn’t respond. He was sure she had grown tired of that particular rant from a number of tense family gatherings in the past five years. “This is a passion project, I assure you.”

“You mean a gambit to rebuild your credibility.”

“Yes, which I am passionate about.”

Farrah’s shoulders relaxed. “I actually wouldn’t mind seeing this telepathic link come to fruition. It would be useful while I’m doing field work. I could simply tell some assistant back home to record my findings as I uncover them, and I would be spared the effort of packing around bundles of journals.”

“I’m sure many others in the university would value its utility.” There was some relief in knowing that he didn’t have to pretend to care about appearances or manners around Farrah—not that he ever did anymore, regardless. But she was still not quite at ease with him, hovering there and forcing Alim to look up to meet her eyes. Clearly, they had both been dealing in university politics for too long. “I do wish you would sit. You’re making me feel like an undergrad caught in some mischief.”

Her little smirk returned. Suffering university politics together as they had at least came with the benefit of providing a wealth of shared jokes between them. “I’m sorry, Alim, but after hours of leaning over thesis papers, my neck is just bent like this now. If I sat, I’d be staring into my lap.”

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