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As news of Urti's suicide and confessions to murder and to blackmailing Ressa got around the office, at least half a dozen people, separately, offered to take Ressa to lunch. Ressa thanked the first, Clerk Kaffa, kindly, but as he was a huge gossip, she gave a vague excuse for declining. She just wasn't up to talking about the whole business with Urti yet, and wasn't sure she would ever want to talk to Kaffa about it. The man was - well, he was kind enough, and his work was professional, but he wasn't someone Ressa would ever want to confide in.

So when other co-workers offered, it would have been inappropriate to say yes. Her relief at this realization was great enough that she gently put them all off. "I'm to see a counselor, and I have to get the appointments set up," she further explained to a couple of the women, trying to sound very practical and commonsense about it. "Whether I need it or not." But she didn't feel practical about it at all, which made her suspect that she did need it.

And indeed, now that she was no longer terrified that Urti would frame her for murder, her training in the carnal guild returned to her memory. The nerves, the shaking hands, the occasional discomfort when speaking to a man alone - all of those were normal symptoms of the kind of - her thoughts shied away from blunt, practical words - the kind of experience she had been subjected to. She took the stack of mail from the woman offering it to her even as she thanked her for the offer of lunch. Mail would give her something to grip firmly, so no one would see her hands tremble, and work to do so her mind was occupied with something productive.

Ressa returned to her desk, sitting firmly in the chair and starting to open the stack of mail. For once, no one interrupted her as she worked, and she reflected that the clerks she supervised were indeed up to figuring things out for themselves, given a bit of a motive. It was no surprise to her, but she suspected it might be a surprise to some of them. She tucked that thought away for the future, when she felt more up to focusing on her supervisory tasks.

Again, she was reminded that she did need to make that appointment to see a counselor, though the prospect filled her with a totally irrational sense of dread.

For the moment, she moved through the routine of going through correspondence, responding to routine queries herself and flagging more esoteric questions, items requiring research or inspections, and items requiring a specific expertise for the clerk most suited to the task. It was - not relaxing, exactly, but settling. It was normal. It helped her to feel like herself, her proper self, the confident and competent Clerk.

The bottom envelope on the stack was different. It was addressed directly to her, and the envelope bore the insignia of Affamarg University. The paper was stiffer than the licensing office used for applications, and a slightly different color. It was a mystery, and she felt her heart start to race. How had she gotten to a state where any unusual thing made her want to look over her shoulder in fear?

She picked it up in trembling hands, willing them to stop shaking. It didn't work, so she ignored that and carefully opened the envelope. She reminded herself that whatever problem lay inside, she was up to facing it and dealing with it. She slid the papers out and unfolded them.

The first paper was an official document certifying that the applicant's work had been reviewed by a panel of three professors, and in combination with her work record, accepted as proof of advancement in academic studies granting her the equivalent of the course work the applicant required to complete the necessary studies for advancement from Clerk to Assistant. There was formal paperwork to complete, copies of which were enclosed.

Ressa's jaw dropped as she read, remembering her first significant encounter with Bai, when she had given him a piece of her mind and folders full of recommendations for the improvement of the licensing office. He had said something about the papers being the equivalent of class work, but she hadn't ever filed them with the University.

Numbly, she put the first page aside. The second page was a copy of a request from one of the professors who signed the first paper for a review of Ressa's work file. It showed the signatures of Bai as authorizing the review and Lalya as the clerk who oversaw the details of the process. The third paper showed a detailed analysis of her file and the submitted work documents, detailing the classes she had been granted an equivalency for. They were classes required to move on, but Ressa had known she would be bored to tears taking them, and somehow hadn't gotten around to registering for them. After that was a request by that professor for the University to appoint a committee to review his findings, to ensure that there would be no question in the future that the review was biased or unduly influenced. Then a document from the University in Affayasilith confirming the findings of the University in Affamarg.

Numbly, she turned to the next page, and finally found the necessary forms to fill out. First, one certifying that the submitted work was solely her own, and then -

A wet splotch appeared on the paper and Ressa realized she was crying. She counted back the months, tallying the time for professorial and bureaucratic reviews. Bai must have submitted the paperwork the same day that she gave the papers to him, or at least within a tenday, long before they got to know each other as friends.

Ressa turned away, to keep her tears from spoiling the paperwork. She turned back to the document from Affayasilith. Three complete strangers, including people who didn't even live in her city, thought she had earned this. But the people here - how could they believe that this was anything but an attempt to make things up to a victim of foul blackmail? Why did this have to happen now, when the eyes of every grayrag writer were looking her way?

She roughly shoved the papers into a folder and put it in one of her desk drawers. Past her door, she could hear the bustle of people heading out to lunch, but she found herself nauseated at even the thought of food. She wouldn't be able to bring herself to eat lunch, but she couldn't bring herself to stay in her office with those papers either. She waited until her tears stopped and the office cleared, and then headed out to walk in the park across the street. Hopefully, a little fresh air and the sounds of happy children playing would settle her a bit, before she headed to the guildhouse to make a first appointment with a counselor.

Lalya waved at her from the children's play area, where he and Dini were watching Dini's nephew in the sand lot, but he didn't approach. No one else paid Ressa any attention, which was a huge relief. She walked past the children's play area to a quieter spot, where a few trees provided shade. Several older people sat on benches, dozing in the shade, and a woman about Ressa's age was sitting on the grass under the oak tree, a huge leather sack beside her and a very long staff, topped with bells, leaning against the tree.

Now, that was unusual. Not illegal, so long as a person had a park license or had paid for a temporary one, but most adults used the benches. Ressa walked forward, and soon recognized the odd mountain priestess that Oranaan had brought to the city, the one whom he believed might have encountered an anomaly and lived.

Ressa was aware of her due to office chatter about the review of her licenses when a citizen concerned about her carrying around a huge staff and a sack of metal disks had filed the accusation that she was a purist unlawfully wandering the streets. Her licenses were odd, but all perfectly legitimate. One of them, Ressa remembered, gave the priestess the right to a spot under an oak in any park, so people could consult her wisdom. Naming the species of tree seemed an odd specification to Ressa, but all of the odd parts were linked to her religion in the documents, so there must be some cultural significance Ressa wasn't aware of.

Ressa was curious, and she reflected that right now she could use some wisdom - or at least a distraction. She doubted that randomly pulling metal disks with enameled pictures from a bag would provide any wisdom. But the woman sitting under the tree was a stranger in town, and didn't look like the type to indulge in grayrags; she wouldn't know who Ressa was, and she looked kind. Talking to a kind stranger and doing something frivolous suddenly sounded wonderful to Ressa.

Author's Notes

Ellen asked for Kunabei to give a reading for Ressa, which gave me an excuse to write a scene I'd been looking forward to ever since I started reading Ressa's story--her getting word from the University. Happily, Ellen said I got it right and can share it with you all.

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Characters Featured:
Kaffa, Urti, Lalya, Ressa, Bai,

Referenced Articles:

Story collections:
End of the Rails Part 2
Ressa's Reading Part 2
The Shaman and the Scientist
Ressa's Reading Part 2

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(These stories may be unrelated)
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End of the Rails Part 2
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Ressa's Reading Part 2

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