The Magic of Reading
It does not shame me in the slightest to admit that, over my many years traveling the cosmere, I have often found myself in courtrooms. While ignoring the laws of nature can be a trivial matter with the right type of Investiture, it seem to me that laws of humankind (and every other -kind you can find muddling about on various planets) have decided to take up the slack left by their lackadaisical cousins. Indeed, I’ve run afoul of anti-trespassing ordinances, interplanetary merchandising enforcement, archeological preservation statutes, defamatory speech principles, and I’ve even been arrested for having too many arms! Of course, these do not reflect any lack of personal or professional character on my part; no, I would argue that those are indictments of the laws themselves. As a dear friend of mine used to say, the persons you should trust the least are the ones who have never been accused of a crime. Such an incredible feat is only possible through an extensive campaign of deception, so don’t believe a word that such people say to you.
I, on the other hand, have been repeatedly and incessantly found both guilty and innocent of various legal transgressions, and I take pride in every verdict I have earned. But the tale I’m about to recount for you, I do so with great trepidation and unease. For though I was no stranger to standing in front of a judge or a jury, on this disgraceful day, I was not the one on trial.
No. I am going to tell you about the day I was a lawyer.
Please, please, refrain from your hisses and jeers. There will be time aplenty for those at the end; you can be efficient in your expressions of disapproval and save it all for that one perfect moment of scorn. But, yes, though I am loathe to admit it, I have indeed stood in a courtroom as a lawyer. I was young, naïve, and careless; go ahead, tell me that none of you have any regrets for your past indiscretions. We’re all deeply ashamed of something we’ve done. (And some of you, honestly, could stand to be little more so.)
What drove me to this madness, you ask? It’s a fair question; and, like most questions, it involved a new friend of mine. A young man who had found himself on an adventure; my adventure, to be specific, and through no fault of his own he had been quite caught up in my quest. I won’t lie, he was a great aid to me, and I wouldn’t have accomplished my goal without him. Which is why I felt sympathetic when the leaders of his village decided to put him on trial, when the only crime he had done was helping me.
That wasn’t the charge against him, though. Formally, he had been accused of reading.
Yes, you heard me right. Reading. No, not Fortune telling; not breaking into some unholy vault and unearthing forbidden secrets. You see, on this planet, they considered the very acts of reading and writing to be abominations, and anyone who dared to train themselves in these arcane skills would be stricken from civilization, forced out into the wilderness to become a hermit.
That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? You may expect that the literate outcasts would gather together and form a much nicer village, one that would quickly become a more attractive place to live than the intentionally ignorant hovels. But, as it happens, the sort of individuals who teach themselves to read and write tend to be… well, how shall I put it? They aren’t inclined towards farming, or lumberjacking, or really any of those pesky varieties of physical labor that are so useful to staying alive on an underdeveloped Class Two minor shardworld. Indeed, the most common question asked by philosophers is “why am I hungry?” Thus, any who dared out seek this knowledge kept it secret from their neighbors and families, leaving the vast majority of the population content in their illiteracy.
This made for quite the peculiar experience when I visited this planet, Connected to it, and promptly forgot how to read.
And this is where my new friend Geffrey came in. (Don’t ask me how to spell his name; understandably, he wasn’t too clear on the specifics of it, himself.) He was one of those rare intellectuals, self-taught by slinking away at night to the various ruins that dotted his countryside. Without my own ability to read, I was forced to borrow his. But as we were about my business, a nosy child spies on us, and when the elders of his village found out, he was dragged before the assembly of the entire town.
I felt partially responsible for his predicament. (Probably because it was entirely my fault.) In a rare moment of magnanimity, I offered to argue on his behalf. And that’s how I, a storyteller converted into a lawyer, found myself in a tavern that had been converted to a courthouse, standing aside a scholar who had been converted into a criminal.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” I began my defense, facing a crowded room that I suspected contained both, “we are not here today to seek out the truth. We all know that Geoffrey here has taught himself to read and write; I will not insult your intelligence by denying it.” I had a myriad of other ways to do that. “No, the burden of proof I lay upon you is this: why is it forbidden at all? Any penal sentence is only as just as the legal code it derives from, so today, I ask you to justify the prohibition on literacy.”
This is not a tactic I would recommend you employ the next time you’re accused of a crime. If you’re lucky, they’ll laugh at you, accept your admission of guilt, and move on to the next case. If you’re unlucky, they’ll still find you guilty, but then they’ll insist on throwing you into a sequence of appeals, which is really just an excuse for lawyers to keep you around longer so they can take more of your money. But on this planet, since they didn’t write down their laws in any sort of book, I recognized that we could take the opportunity to relitigate any statute. It would take every shred of my imagination and charisma, but I knew I could convince this group of low-life hillbillies that reading and writing were valuable, not dishonorable.
The first representative of the prosecution was an old man, the oldest in the village. I believe that made him in charge, and though I considered revealing my age to impress him, I decided against it. They wouldn’t have believed me anyways. Unlike mine, this man’s voice was slow and crackly, as if it had a hard limit on the number of words it could say and was wearing down as it reached the end of its lifecycle.
“I can’t read or write,” he began. “I’m proud of it! We all are!” The townsfolk gathered around him murmured their approval, emboldening him in his ignorance. “And you know who else couldn’t read? My father! And his father before him!”
The old man pointed at my young friend, quite rudely. “What Geffry here does, it ain’t natural! Words are meant to be said and heard, not scratched and seen! ‘Nobody needs to teach a baby to speak; it’ll learn that all on its own, because that’s how Adonalsium intended it.’” He punctuated each of those last words with a wag of his finger; so tired and cliché. He was obviously reciting an oral tradition, since I could see some members of the crowd mouthing along. That was a good sign; if they were set in their established rhetoric, I should be able to throw them off balance with something unexpected.
“Not natural, you say?” I considered stripping and revealing my natural form to them, but decided to save it for later, in case I could get a bigger impact from it. Once you get naked, it really ruins the effect if you have to hurriedly dress just to expose yourself a second time. “We’re standing in a building constructed with dead trees, a place where men drink spoiled beverages out of burnt clay vessels in order to shut off their own brains for a time. We thrive on the unnatural!”
My audience was frowning, trying to determine if I had insulted them or not with that statement. I was forced to pivot my tactics over to something much more familiar.
“Let me tell you a story. This is a tale about a little green frog.” Yes, I figured that would catch your attention. The townsfolk there liked it, too. “She lived a good life, for a frog. She spent her days hopping between lily pads, eating flies, searching for a nice boy frog that her parents would approve of, and all the other typical frog activities.
“But even a frog’s life can be fraught with peril. So many predators considered her to be a tasty treat; she was constantly hounded by snakes and fish and birds and even the occasional human. Now, I’m sure the lovely women of this town will admit that they enjoy a little masculine attention now and again, the thrill of the pursuit, but what can you do when that affection becomes hostile? Our poor little frog found herself with no choice but to hide in a hollowed-out log all day, wasting away, because the world around her was too dangerous.
“But that world itself soon began to change. A foolish traveler, visiting her pond, accidentally let some frogs of his own escape their cage. The Scarlet Empress variety, they’re called; named for the color of their skin, they are a tremendously invasive species. They secrete a poison from their skin, very toxic, often fatal. The place the frogs come from, there are some species that have adapted to it, becoming immune to their poison. But not in the place this story happened.
“As the Scarlet Empress frogs propagated, swarming around the pond, all the predators began to eat them, instead. Well, they tried to, at least; after snakes began to curl up and die, and fish began to float to the surface, and humans began to vomit blood, they all quickly realized that the red frogs did not make good food. Only the green frogs were acceptable to their stomachs.
“And that’s when our little amphibian heroine saw her opportunity. By the side of the pond, there were red berries; in the dead of night, she sneaked out, squashed them under her tiny frog feet, and spread them across her back. When daylight returned and the predators began to prowl, they saw her red skin and left her alone. Like a child who burned his hand on a hot stove, they had learned what was dangerous.
“But though this one green frog had saved herself, the rest of her family and friends and neighbors were still in peril. Not only were they still being hunted, but now the red frogs were stealing their food and their homes! So our intrepid little scientist shared the secret with all the other frogs she knew. Some ignored her, and over the passing weeks, they were all scooped up and eaten as they searched for food. But many listened to her. (Including one very shy boy frog who wouldn’t have ever talked to her if their lives hadn’t been in peril, because every story can use a happy ending.) And now, at the pond where the green frogs live, you cannot find a green frog at all. Because now, they all paint themselves to look like the red frogs.
“Listen closely, because you are all frogs. The world is changing all around you; what was unnatural yesterday becomes natural tomorrow. But right here, today, you find yourself at the transition point. Adapt, or perish. One day, I guarantee that everyone will read and write. So don’t punish poor Jefferey here for looking to the future, for embracing life!”
By this point in the tale, I was orating from atop a table, as I often do. I tell people it’s for dramatic flair or so that I can be heard better by everyone in the room, but the truth is that I have a pathological need to stand on furniture. I’ll take any opportunity, no matter how slight. But regardless of my motives, the vantage point gave me an excellent view of the assembled townsfolk, and I could tell that they were struggling with my story. There’s a fine distinction between a warning and a threat, and both of them will tend to put the listener on the defensive. Nobody likes to be admonished that their way of life is old and useless, and that it will ultimately lead to their demise if they persist in it.
A young man chose to meet my challenge. He had probably left his parents’ home less than a year before, I guessed, still flush with naivety and enthusiasm for life. He had been raised “right” (at least by the standards of his mother and father, eminently qualified individuals they must be), so he had been taught what to say and wasn’t afraid to confront someone like me with The Truth.
“Reading’s not gonna save anybody. We all know it’s a waste of time, anyways!” he shouted at me. “Let me tell you, I just started working on old man McGinith’s farm, and in the six months I’ve been there, I haven’t seen a single thing that being able to read could have helped me with.”
He looked around the room quickly, making sure he was getting approving nods. For all his bluster and false confidence, he needed affirmation of his script. A large woman I assumed was his mother raised her fist in a silent cheer, and he turned back to me, emboldened. “This week, I built a fence. I used my own two hands. Writing about how to build a fence wouldn’t keep the sheep in their pen. Last week, I inspected the crops, looking for any disease or infestation on the cornstalks. And guess what? I found something, eggs laid by pests, and we were able to clean it up and protect the field. Reading about beetles doesn’t keep the beetles away!”
It never ceases to amaze me how the small-minded can reduce the entire world to the scope of their own life. He didn’t see any reason to read or write, so of course nobody else could possibly live a different experience than he did. He limited his own knowledge to become the foremost expert in his field (quite literally in this case), swelling his head with unearned confidence that is normally only allotted to those who graduate from the most prestigious universities.
He needed a story to put him in his place. And so I stepped down from my perch on the furniture, wrapped my arm around his shoulders companionably, and began. “You’re clearly a hard-working, intelligent young man. That farmer is very lucky to have you working for him. And, you know what? You remind me of a boy in another story I know! He was diligent and enthusiastic, too, but he didn’t limit himself to just one employer. No, this young man, the son of the town’s mayor, liked to help every single person in his village!”
I had been holding on to my opponent long enough to make both of us uncomfortable, so I spun away into the crowd, seeking a new victim. Old man McGinith, or somebody who very well could be him: a sunburnt, middle-aged man with the mud-stained clothes that reveal a familiarity with the kind of manual labor I avoid. I rested my hand on his back, trying and failing to find a clean patch on his shirt. “In the morning, the boy would leave town and go out to a nearby farm, whichever one he heard was short on helping hands. He’d feed the chickens and the pigs, or perhaps he’d dig holes for fenceposts, or maybe even watch the farm’s young children and keep them from running underfoot.”
Who to accost next? Ah, yes, I could identify my next target by the smell. A tall, thin woman who reeked of the river. I ran up to her, and took her hand gingerly, so as to minimize the chance of her unpleasant perfume carrying over onto me. “At lunchtime, he would head down to help the fishermen prepare their catch and sell it at the market. He would carry the dripping baskets, loaded down with the day’s wares, into town. And his hands were swift and sure with his knife, cleaning and preparing the fish for the market.”
These sorts of illustrations are always best in groups of three, but the third figure I had identified was not the sort I liked to touch. A large, glowering soldier, sporting a worn and scratched leather jerkin. I would be better off keeping my hands to myself for this part of the tale. “In the afternoon, the boy joined the town’s guards, patrolling the outskirts. With his keen eyes, he helped spot bandits and raiders, which the guards could quickly drive away. Oh, yes, everybody in the town loved the mayor’s son.”
I completed my circuit of the tavern, bringing me back to Jeferey’s side. “And every evening, when the day’s work was completed, this boy would gather with his friends in the attic of his house. And they would tell stories. Fabulous, fantastic stories, feats of ingenuity. They would keep themselves up until the late hours of the night, entertaining one another with their fables, before returning home.”
“His other friends began to share these stories with their families and neighbors, but the imagination of children is often foolishly outgrown by the older and wiser. Life in their village wasn’t frivolous and carefree, and all the boys and girls needed to learn to behave a little more seriously. Or so the admonitions went.
“The next day, when the mayor’s son went out to a farm, the man of the house didn’t ask him to perform any chores. Instead, he took the boy on a long walk through the woods, showing him the acres and acres of untamed woodland that surrounded his homestead. If the town was going to grow, the next generation would need to be hardy, practical men and women who could venture out into the wilderness and bring it to heel like a dog. The farmer wanted the boy to focus on what was in front of him, the task at hand, rather than invent fanciful challenges in his head.
“And when the boy went to help the fishermen, the head of the guild pulled him aside, as well. While the rest went to the town, she instructed him in the different types of fish, the seasons they would appear and disappear, the times of day the fish were the most active, the fishing techniques that would be most effective. A wealth of knowledge, poured out into his head. He was a bright child, though, and he was able to retain most of what he was taught. But why did the fisherwoman do it? She wanted his mental energy focused on something pragmatic, not wasted on fictions.
“And after lunch, when the boy went to join the guards on their patrol, they too altered their typical schedule. Instead of patrolling, they took the boy to a secluded clearing, gave him a practice sword, and that afternoon was filled with sparring exercises. The soldiers reasoned that, since he had enough energy to stay up all night blathering on with his friends, it was time to channel some of that useful exuberance into a tactile skill. One day, he wouldn’t just patrol with them, he would fight alongside them!
“At the end of this very long day, the boy stumbled back to his home. Physically exhausted, mentally drained, and worried with thoughts of the future, he dragged his feet as he made his way to the center of the village. Where, unfortunately, he found that his house had been burned to the ground. A group of raiders had struck that day, pillaging the town and carrying off much of their wealth.
“You see, the guards hadn’t scouted the area and caught the ruffians, because they were spending their day training the mayor’s son. And the militia was slow to assemble; many had missed their lunch because the fishermen hadn’t been able to prepare their daily catch, due to the head fisherwoman spending her time teaching the mayor’s son. And, in fact, many of those who were normally in town had needed to head out to the surrounding farms, because one farm in particular needed extra help with its chores because the farmer had spent his day touring the surrounding countryside with the mayor’s son.
“In their haste to dissuade one boy of his so-called ‘childish fantasies,’ the inhabitants of the town had abandoned the responsibilities of their own. They learned that the quickest way to waste their own time was to worry about how others spent theirs.”
And this, finally, brought the point of the story back to Geofrey. “If this man here wants to spend his free time learning to read and write, what business is it of any of yours? Is the time he ‘wastes’ in this pursuit more valuable than the length of this trial, which steals us all away from our usual tasks? If he spends an undue amount of effort on his endeavor, neglects his other duties, and becomes destitute, let that be its own punishment. You do not need to rush to an early condemnation of it. If he can balance his responsibilities and his passions, I say you should allow it!”
The man I was arguing with didn’t know how to respond to me; he could only parrot what he’d been taught, what he’d been prepared to argue against, and his oh-so-prescient parents had neglected to include my catalog of parables in their son’s lessons. But it wasn’t like the rest of the room fared any better; I could hear them mumble and mutter amongst themselves. But at least it wasn’t murmuring; no, they were unsure, perhaps willing to believe the points I was making.
A wad of saliva landed at my feet as an old crone pushed through the crowd and spat at me. Never a good sign, that. Her face was contorted in rage, glaring at me with barely contained, self-righteous fury. Ah, we had a zealot on our hands.
“Don’t pretend you care about Jeffry here!” she snarled at me. “You’re trying to lead him into sin! Into temptation! Wicked men write things down to lead astray as many as they can!”
Another shriveled woman followed right behind her. A sister? Or perhaps she’d been split in two, and each half regrew just as hateful as before. “That’s right! You can trust words that are spoken, because you know who’s saying them. But books? For all you know, they were written by demons! You’re telling our children to listen to demons!”
The appeal to the unseen fiends clued me in to why these women were so upset. I’m sure they’d each had children, little girls who they had hoped would grow up as little copies of themselves. But they’d done a bad job raising them (or perhaps a good job), and when their offspring came of age, they had distanced themselves from the old hags. Rather than examine their own mindsets, they had instead chosen to blame anyone and everyone else for leading their precious little darlings astray. Real people had a nasty tendency to defend themselves, but demons only rarely showed up to sit down and chat over tea.
“You’re absolutely right, oh wise matrons.” Stooping to their level, confrontational and accusatory, would not serve me well here. “Who our children listen to, who they take advice from, is one of the most important areas we can guide them in. A wise mentor can mold them into brilliant leaders and heroes, but a deceitful charlatan can leave their psyche twisted and scarred. This is true for your children. It was true for your parents. And it was even true in the distant past, in the land of dragons.”
My listeners reacted exactly as I’d expected, with a collective gasp and widening of eyes. They’d heard of dragons, before; nearly all planets have, even the most remote and uninteresting of them. It’s a point of pride for the entire species, to be revered across the cosmere. Even my most principled adversaries in this room would hang on every word of this last story.
“Yes, in a land called Yolen, the dragons flew high above the kingdoms of humanity. For the most part, the dragons kept their own affairs, leaving men and women to both cause and solve their own problems. But from the rare occasions that dragons had entreated with humans, their wisdom was much renowned.
“In this land of dragons, there lived a man. He was an excellent carpenter; not only were his constructions sturdy, they were also incredibly beautiful. Though he was young in years, he possessed greater skill than any of the master craftsmen in his city. Truly, he was a prodigy with his saw and chisel, and all who he graced with his creations considered themselves blessed beyond measure.
“When this man sought advice, he did not turn to any man or woman in his home city. No, he struck out into the wilderness, climbing a mountain where a dragon was known to live. The magnificent beast graced him with an audience, bowing it serpentine neck low to the ground. Even the dragon had heard of this man’s aptitude.
“‘Oh great dragon,’ the man entreated, ‘I beg you to offer your advice on my situation. My sister has just been married, and she and her husband are preparing their new home. She has asked me for many intricately carved pieces of furniture, and though I love her, to create them all would demand so much of my time. What should I do?’
“The dragon replied. ‘Your sister thinks herself the better of you, and she invites you to subservience. Even should you grant her these requests, her demands will never cease. Give her nothing.’ And when the man returned to the city and did as the dragon suggested, his sister was deeply grieved, and the entire family was split from him in a terrible schism.
“Several months later, the man returned to the mountaintop. ‘Oh wise dragon,’ he pleaded, ‘I beg you to offer your advice on my situation. The carpenter’s guild has invited me to join their ranks. I would carve less, myself, and I would instead teach others in my techniques and methods. I see that it would benefit the entire city, but I love to work the wood with my own hands. What should I do?’
“The dragon replied. ‘The other craftsmen are jealous of your skill. They seek to elevate themselves by your absence. The students they give you would be unteachable, and your perceived failure would weigh on your soul until you could not stand to work the wood anymore. The guild master is your enemy. Give him nothing.’ And when the man returned to the city and did as the dragon suggested, the guild was deeply offended, and they rescinded their offer of membership. They spread rumors about the man’s haughty presentation, and before long few in the city sought his craftsmanship.
“A third time, the man climbed to the dragon’s lair. ‘Oh loving dragon,’ he cried, ‘I beg you to offer your advice on my situation. My friends, the companions of my youth, are about to set out onto a journey. They will tour the entire kingdom, see every wondrous sight that our land has to offer. They tell me to empty my savings and join them. I would like to go with them, very much, but I do not know if it will be wise. What should I do?’
“The dragon replied. ‘Your so-called ‘friends’ do not care about you, they merely desire your wealth. They will finance this frivolity with the money you have earned through your hard work and your skill, and once they have bled you dry of gold, they will abandon you. Give them nothing.’ And when the man returned to the city and did as the dragon suggested, his friends were saddened, and they set out on the road the next day without him.
“A year after his first visit, the man crawled into the dragon’s lair and prostrated himself on the floor. ‘Oh, dragon!’ he wept. ‘I am ruined! My family has forsaken me; my friends have deserted me; and nobody in the city will pay me to work. What should I do?’
“The dragon reached down and placed his claw on the man’s shoulder, drawing him to his feet. ‘My good man,’ the dragon replied, ‘forget those shallow-minded individuals. As long as I draw breath, you will have a home here with me. I will fly across the land to find the rarest trees, bringing them back for you to carve wonders for me. Together, you and I will adorn this mountaintop with the finest works of art this land has ever seen!’
“And thus, the man found himself a new life. As for the dragon… he had found himself a slave that would never seek to escape.”
I paused to let that last sentence sink in to the crowd’s mind. They weren’t accustomed to dragons being villains, so it took them several seconds to be appropriately shocked. “You see,” I continued, “the dragon had been jealous of the city and of its new sensational woodworker. When that very same man approached his lair, the dragon hatched a plan. By tricking the woodworker into isolating himself, the dragon could present his salvation as the solution to the manufactured problem.”
I gave my head an exaggerated, mournful shake. This was the part where I really started to play their heart strings and dredge some empathy out of them. “I spent many long years serving that dragon before I realized his deception,” I said with every ounce of melancholy I could muster.
Oh, don’t look at me like that. Of I wasn’t the man in that story. But I had now painted myself as a victim, and as someone who suffered through and triumphed over the very concerns they were expressing. A little unscrupulous of me, sure, but I did tell you that I was playing the part of a lawyer.
“That dragon tricked me,” I continued, “but he did it in my own native tongue, in Yolish. He could have spoken to me in draconic to give his words more weight to a humble tradesman. But he chose not to use that ancient and powerful language; by using the dialect of the city, he made his words all the more agreeable to my ears.
“And that is the true conflict that we must guard the youth against. It’s not how a thing is communicated; spoken or written, Yolish or draconic. There is perversity spoken by those we think we trust, and there is true wisdom found in the pages of books”
A village elder, the one who was ostensibly in charge of the proceeding, was the first to respond. “You tell a lot of stories, stranger. How can we know they are true?” This wasn’t a challenge or an accusation; it was a genuine plea from hopeful truth-seeker.
“It doesn’t matter whether or not they are true.” Since I opened with a tale about a frog scientist, I thought that point should have been obvious. “The real question is: do they contain truth?”
I had done it. Oh, they all still looked quite puzzled, trying to wrap their tiny little brains around the new worldview I had presented them. But I recognized the worming doubt that I had implanted in their minds. This trial was as good as won; they had no response for my arguments, and the longer they deliberated, the more they would come to believe what I had told them.
I turned to give Geffery a smile and a bow, to let him know that soon he would be a free man. And at that unfortunate moment, my cloak decided to turn loose the contents of its pockets onto the ground. I hastily scrambled to pick them up, but I wasn’t quick enough, and the assembled townsfolk caught sight of an object I had been trying very hard to keep hidden from them.
It was a book. One that had, of course, been written by demons.
This was the very reason I had gone to that planet in the first place, to navigate the ruins and find an ancient tome from that long-lost civilization. It’s why I had needed to recruit the nascent scholar to bail me out of my anti-literate predicament. And I had, against my better judgement, decided to intertwine myself with local affairs instead of absconding with my prize.
And because of that one small mistake, I was treated to another familiar sight. The moment when a crowd turns into a mob.
I scooped up my book, grabbed poor Jefree by the arm, and led him out the window as we fled. The ensuing chase scene was anti-climactic and poorly choreographed, so I’ll spare you the boring details. I know some of you love to hear me retell those sequences, the unwieldy blow-by-blow of every step I take and every punch thrown my direction, but this one wouldn’t be worth your time. Suffice it to say that my friend and I found ourselves locked in a pantry while our pursuers on the other side of the door argued about whether to burn the house down around us.
“You know,” I told Geoffry with a long-suffering grin, “I’m going to count that one as a win. The key evidence really should have been disallowed. Up until that point, they were convinced!”
He shook his head in exasperated disagreement. “I don’t think you understand just how much people here hate reading and writing.”
“Oh, really? Well, if that’s how they feel about the strange and unfamiliar, then they’re going to absolutely abhor this.” I reached into my aluminum-lined pocket and pulled out a small, white stone. But no ordinary rock; this one had a Selish rune glowing on it.
“A symbol?” my companion asked. “What does it mean?”
“I have no idea.” I couldn’t stop tapping Connection yet to restore my ability to read, but it didn’t matter. The rune itself wasn’t a source of power; it was merely a signal to my compatriot waiting in the cognitive realm.
A hole tore itself open in the air of the pantry, and I swear that Jef nearly broke the door down in his haste to escape. As for me, I merely placed one foot through the portal, striking a dashing and heroic pose, before I turned back to my new ally.
“Come on. There’s an enormous universe out there, far beyond this tiny place you call home. And you wouldn’t believe how much there is to read.”