Interlude: Professor Theodosia Amatar of the Night Court

~~~

Lyssana chapters will be delayed for a while as her writer takes a hiatus. If you have any secondary characters or aspects of the world you would like to see in the interludes filling that posting slot than let us know. 

~~~

“Professor?” A quiet voice said. Theodosia Amatar, professor of the Night Court, looked up from her desk. A wispy girl stood before her. “I was told to come find you. It’s happened again.”

She sighed, setting down her quill and standing up. “Show me.”

Theodosia, was, perhaps, the sanest member of the Night Court faculty. She supposed that also made her the most useless, at least where her court was concerned. But her relative lucidity served an important purpose—someone had to fetch the students when they started walking on the walls.

Metaphorically and, sometimes, physically.

She exited her office, following the girl. She led her outside, leaving the warm, yellow rune-lights of the staff hall and stepping into the courtyard. As the name implied, the Night Court existed in a state of permanent night. Some people found it disorienting, especially when through the entrance to the court, the sun was still high in the sky. Theodosia, for one, found it calming. The fall air was crisp, just beginning to lose the sticky warmth of summer evenings. Pale blue lights marked the stone paths, casting long shadows across the dark grass of the courtyard.

She followed the girl into another building, this one a lecture hall. Through the doors and up a flight of stairs they went, before turning a corner and stopping in their tracks.

The architecture before them was, for lack of a better word, moving. The dark, stone blocks flowed past each other like leaves in water, swirling in eddies of brick and mortar. First-years stumbled through the twisting hallway, unsure of how to navigate the morphing terrain. More than one upper-class student simply walked through, seemingly unphased by the ever-changing paths. Even as errant bricks flew past their faces, they kept a steady pace, and without fail, one classroom door or another would appear in their path, and they’d disappear through it.

“I… this was a hallway earlier,” the girl said, her voice doubtful.

“Yes, it was, wasn’t it?” Theodosia replied with a sigh. She turned to look at the girl. “What’s your name?”

“Nara, Professor.”

“Please stand back, Nara.”

Theodosia turned back to the shifting hallway and closed her eyes. She was the weakest of the faculty, but she was still faculty. And here, that required a will of iron. In her mind, she pictured the hallway not as it was, but as she knew it to be. And when she opened her eyes once more, it was as her mind saw it. Floor, walls, and ceiling, all where she expected to find them. More than one first-year quickly made their way across the stabilized path, unsure of what they had just witnessed.

“Better,” Theodosia said, nodding curtly. “Now, where is the student?”

Nara pointed up. Theodosia followed her gesture and saw a boy sitting cross-legged in the middle of the ceiling. She recognized him as Cole, a first-year. He was in her introductory seminar course, the class students affectionately called ‘The Breaker’. All of the new arrivals to her court took it in order to expand their mind, to learn how to challenge the assumptions they had been taught about reality.

“Thank you, Nara, I’ll handle it.” Theodosia walked over to one side of the hall and, focusing her will, planted one foot on the wall, then the other. For a brief, nauseating moment, the world went sideways. Then, her mind adjusted. When in the Night Court, you learned quickly that it was best to think of whatever surface you stood on as ‘the ground’.

She walked upwards to the ceiling, and the world shifted again as she made the ninety degree transition. Theodosia frowned as her hair turned upward to the ground. The nausea returned, the sensation of wrongness, of realities clashing together. She was on the ground, so why would her hair be falling upwards? She knew for a fact that her hair was wrong.

The thought alone was enough to assert her will, and she smiled as her hair settled into place back on her shoulders. That was better. With reality back in order, she crossed over to where Cole was sitting and joined him, ignoring the crowd gathering on the ceiling below her.

“Hello, Cole,” she said. “How are you today?”

“It’s all wrong,” he muttered. “How can it all be so wrong?”

Theodosia smiled softly, feeling a sense of relief. This was a simple enough issue, and quite common to first-years.

Some people joined the Night Court because all they wanted to do was learn how to think differently, but some entered the court because thinking differently was all they knew. Cole fell into the latter category. Across the semester, Theodosia had seen him open up. He’d found friends and excelled in class.

But excelling in the Night Court didn’t come without its cost. The magic of this place required a strong will, a will strong enough to overrule the suggestions of ‘reality’. Sometimes, a student could reject reality, but fail to substitute their own. The end result was mind-lock; getting caught in a state where no reality was true.

“Cole, do you know where we are right now?”

“Nowhere.”

“What a lovely place to be,” Theodosia said. “Do you know why?” Cole turned to look at her, eyes dull. “Because when you’re nowhere, you ‘know where’ you are!” She chuckled at her own  joke. Then she furrowed her brow. “So what happened, Cole?”

“I… was trying to get to a class—Introduction to Probability with Professor Akham. But I couldn’t remember where it was.” He paused, frowning. “Or… I did know? The building isn’t right, it isn’t like it was before.”

Theodosia nodded. “As I warned you all earlier in the semester, that can happen here. Too many minds all projecting different versions of reality have a tendency to… muddy the waters, as it were. So what happened next?”

“I was lost, and now I was running late. Then I thought, well, I know the class is in here somewhere, so why not right here?” He pointed at the ground for emphasis. “Then the hallway… I don’t know what happened to the hallway.”

“You looked before you leapt. You decided that the reality you currently inhabit was no longer accurate, but you failed to create a replacement.”

“And now nothing is real.” Cole hugged his own legs tight against his chest.

“You know, some researchers believe that there are actually an infinite number of realities, and that what we in the Night Court do is simply pull the one that we want into our world.” She stared up at the ground. “Of course,” she shrugged, “it’s impossible to say for certain if that is the case, but do you know what it would mean?”

“What?”

“That all of the realities are true. You just have to pick one.”

“But in class you told me to deny reality, and I did. But if reality can be so easily denied, than nothing is real. Nothing has meaning.”

“Denying reality doesn’t deprive it of importance, Cole!” Theodosia leaned back, propping herself up on her elbows. “Reality is a useful fiction—a white lie—and lies hold great value, especially the lies we believe.”

He turned to look at her. “But, if you know it’s a lie, how can you choose to believe it?”

Theodosia shrugged. “You just do. The same way you choose to believe in the gods, or true love, or a just and caring universe. There’s no way to prove their existence, but we believe it all the same. Because in our hearts, we want these things to be true.”

“I… I suppose that makes sense.”

“I’m glad to hear that. Now how about we give it a try, hmm? Let’s start with something easy. Can you choose to believe you are in the Umbral Court?”

Cole thought for a moment, then nodded.

Theodosia smiled. “And just like that, you are.” She looked up at the floor. “How about another? Can you choose to believe we are on the ground?”

“But, Professor…” Cole frowned, “we are on the ground!”

Theodosia looked around. Somehow, they were sitting on the floor of the hallway. If she craned her neck up, she could see the spot on the ceiling where they had been just moments ago. The crowd of students who had been watching her from above were now standing around them, and her eyebrows went up in surprise.

“So we are,” she said, standing. “Last one, okay? This is a big one. Can you choose to believe that you will be okay?”

“I… I am okay.” Cole said, his voice growing firm with conviction. “I know I am okay.”

“I know you are too.” She looked around at the gathered crowd. “Just as I know that you all have other places to be!” The students evaporated like fog in the rising sun. She turned back to him. “Go on and head to class, it should be at the other end of the hall. If Professor Akhan needs an explanation, tell him to find me.”

“Okay,” Cole said, running off. “Thanks, Professor!”

Theodosia smiled. That boy was going to go far here. To some, that could be considered a tragedy. After all, getting far in the Night Court often led one down a path others couldn’t follow, let alone understand. But for those like her, or like Cole, most already didn’t understand. It was like being a bird amongst fish, no matter how hard you tried, you would never be able to breathe underwater. Better for these strange birds to come here.

Where they could learn to fly.

Last Chapter                                                                                                          Next Chapter

Interlude: A Study on Human Culture

When applying reason and observation to the various properties, practices, and patterns of human societies, Len scholars have come to agree on the ‘Two Pillars Theory.’ Summarized, it supposes that the great majority of human cultures are based upon two underlying predilections: materialism and the fundamental need to remain stationary. 

As a result of these most strange species-wide obsessions, humans have developed equivalently strange practices. By means of example, humans will spend massive fortunes digging complex tunnel systems into the earth. Tunnels that they then relieve themselves into. Often these tunnels empty into rivers and have caused death and disease either for themselves or their neighbors. Neighbors who, are (somehow) unwilling to move to a more upstream location due to their species-wide phobia/fetishes.

Despite the abundant historical accounts detailing instances of plague, humans still build their cities directly atop these elaborate filth-labyrinths. In point of fact, living above their own collectively amassed excrement is considered a sign of societal advancement. This is because, humans devoid of excrement-tunnels, will empty their chamber pots into the street. No singularly nor secretly, but as a matter of general practice!

This is endured, by those who possess a robust enough health to endure it, so that they need only move the minimum amount from their permanent dwellings, and in spite of the certain knowledge that they will inevitably travel upon the streets where they have emptied their waste. 

Sedentary urges further engender Humans, excluding a very few nomadic tribes, towards developing the most strange of status symbols. They will construct massively large homes, beds more than 2.5 times their shoulder’s width (where a single individual of average size sleeps), high ceilings devoid of storage, and completely furnished rooms that are inhabited by visitors for less than three weeks per year. 

All serve as signs of wealth and social status. Of course, this is in addition to the wearing of physically impractical grab which serves to indicate that the human has enough wealth that they don’t need to leave their own dwelling. Indeed, it’s intense inconvenience implies that they can hire others to do simple chores, and, due to its fragility, the clothing also serves as evidence that they have not engaged in any activity more strenuous than moving between their many differently themed-rooms (please see chapter 6 to discusses examples such as ‘sitting rooms’). 

Though Len ourselves are not immune from the desire for finely crafted goods, humans will assign higher inherent value to items based on cost and material expense rather than history, craftsmanship, and usefulness. They will then amas as much as possible.

To support this shocking perversity, there is an entire industry built around making large permanent buildings whose only purpose is to hold items that are unnecessary. The industry is based around the certainty that humans will, as a matter of compulsion, buy more items than they can fit in their oversized personal residences. 

Rather than sell the trinkets and baubles, the species will sacrifice funds to have the useless possession kept away from them for prolonged periods of time in a ‘warehouse’. Which, as the name suggests, is a massive structure maintained solely for housing wares that are not needed. As a point of clarification, these are not season-specific tools or stores of food that are not currently needed. They are entirely unused. Either permanently or for multiple years. But they would, somehow, cause severe psychological distress if no longer owned by the human. This is in spite of the objects being hidden in a location that is, essentially, never visited or thought of.  

What is the purpose of this knowledge an intrepid reader of a less scholarly disposition may ask? By observing what fundamental differences in nature have led humans so far from the Virtuous Life, as described by the great philosopher Concratus, we can understand how to interact with their peculiarities and, mayhaps, aid their development. Like a young man assisting a simple relative or an aged grandmother who, despite being functionally challenged, possess enough goodwill and sentiment to be treated with sympathy. So too should we make efforts to understand the humans and aid them as possible.

In the spirit of goodwill and charity, this scholar puts forward that the underlying cause of aberrant human values lies in sensory deprivation, not an inherent lack of moral capability within the species. Phrased more directly, they are capable of Virtue, but are born with great obstacles and little to no guidance from those who have moved past them in such a manner as to provide tutelage. 

Indeed, for evidence of the severe moral damage inflicted by a lack of senses, look to the human form. Their body plans change to such a small extent that they have no means of knowing what their fellows value. Any child knows that an adult who has gone through the ritual to obtain a Reptile form is interested in longevity, mental pursuits, and lives a life comfortable enough that they need not gird themselves against undue environmental trials. Those of us who place our affections upon the pursuits made available by a hearty body, rapid healing, the ability to put aside sleep, and the desire to produce great feats of strength follow the mammalian path. 

Furthermore, an obvious supposition that must none the less be voiced, all Len know, for a fact, that we are one people due to Presence. Humans are deprived of such basic senses. 

The logical conclusions are thus; without access to bodies that can be adapted to their environments, humans fixate on the first safe location they can find and travel forth only with great trepidation. Often, they will suffer mass deaths from plague, reoccurring natural disaster, fire, and famine rather than brave the open road. And, please note, they will do so even when utterly believing in the forewarning of an impending disaster. 

Now herded together and deeply a feared of moving, we see the sad sensory affliction of the human condition made socially manifest. Without perceiving Presence human’s never know when they will be in the ‘out-group’ of another human and be categorized as a ‘Them’ or ‘Enemy’. To be categorized thusly is to be robbed of personhood in such a manner as to absolve the other party from any sort of punishment for enacting harm upon you; no matter how severe. 

As such, any singular human must desperately signal that they are simultaneously useful and possess group membership; both to convince the capriciously violent ‘society’ around them, and also to convince themselves they are safe. Otherwise, the unending emotional distress may be too acute to endure. 

In other words: by hoarding many items and wearing garish clothes they attempt to make a primitive, material-based Presence. One impossible to ignore or overlook.

They must spend so many resources, both material and mental, to achieve such basic communication that, from the onset, their pursuit of a Virtuous Life has been irreparably stunted. They are incapable of noticing elegance and subtly because their senses are distracted by the constant threat of otherhood should they miss a signal. The poor wretches, through no fault of their own, only possess enough left over-attention to engage with the more easily perceptible properties of quantity and garishness. Hence Len superiority in the realm of craftsmanship.

Furthermore, their weak social senses paired with their divisive nature dooms humans to employ pervasive deceit. It is like children who have decided that an act is good only because they will not be caught by someone who knows it is bad. From a young age, the ease of deceit makes it far too tempting to a young human and it is thus normalized by frequent use and success.

The tenants of a virtuous life: candor, brotherhood, dedication, generosity, respect for elders, and the pursuit of the great Enduring Intangible Gifts like knowledge, skill, love, elegance, expertise, and other such noble ends cannot exist in human society. At least not commonly or without intervention. The species put plainly, is born without vital qualities. 

To a Len, blessed as we are with senses and capabilities that remove us so far from base savageries, the world is wide and nuanced. Our senses and philosophies are as a team of well-maintained horses steered with a deft hand. Human’s work with vital senses removed and thus must blindly crack the reins and feverishly employ the whip against the only beast of burden able to move them; materialism and a stationary existence.

Though some claim that humans are doomed to create ever more elaborate and barbarous traditions as they grope in the dark for Virtue, this scholar believes it is our duty to reach out and help those who are willing. 

We should, as a people, meet discrimination with compassion. Knowing what sort of lives they live, do not begrudge Humans their need to degrade others so they can convince themselves that they are fortunate. Understand why those wretches, our siblings in personhood if not in Virtue, would not want to live constantly assailed by the knowledge that they are hostage to their own deficits. 

Instead, cast your mind to the wisdom of Concratus and think of how one can use a Virtuous Life to benefit the less enlightened around them.

Last Chapter                                                                                                          Next Chapter