The Divinity Student: Part Eight

The following is an excerpt from Michael Cisco’s novel The Divinity Student, currently available in e‑book form from Cheeky Frawg Books, in addition to several other of his novels. WFR is proud to serialize The Divinity Student in support of the author and his books, and we will be reprinting the entire novel over the course of the next few weeks. Wherever possible, formatting has been made to match that available in the e‑book. This part of the serialization covers Chapters Fifteen and Sixteen. If you haven’t read the previous installment yet, please do so here– The Editors

divinity student sliderfifteen: the house

High weeds around the house bristle like a frightened cat and surge against the fence. As with the rest of the place, its paint flaked away, long ago exposing old, gray, seamed, desiccated wood fresh only for new splinters. The porch is fifteen feet off the ground, with broken wicker screens between the supporting beams, and behind, the foundation settles into the slope of a low mound, brackened with wiry impenetrable desert brush and short oaks. The Divinity Student carries a bag that sloshes and chimes occasionally with a rich tone of ringing glass. He’s following the banister up to the porch, which is also banistered. The entire front of the house is railed with banisters like rows of bones stripped bare and fossilized. Teo passes him and holds the door open, biting his lips, and inside, the core of the house — a vast central shaft with tiny rooms radiating out on all three floors, and separate stairways along the walls with direct access to each floor — more banisters, and ribcage shadows along every wall.

The Divinity Student is a little relieved to get out of the sun; he’s been feeling it more lately. A sick, disinterested uneasiness in direct sunlight, making him screw his eyes up and walk stiffly along the street, like an old man. With care he selects his staircase and carries Albert and Chan up to the third-floor room where they’ll be working together. Teo goes back out to the cart and brings in another knife rack for the kitchen, then sets about installing the last refrigerator unit.

The two spend the evening pacing the porch and kicking dust and dead leaves down into the weeds. Across the street is a somnolent congregation of desultory houses and yawning warehouses. The wind blows warm brown air baked all day in desert earth and grazed by the monitors. Desden absently flicks one of his knives at a spider — he follows the blade with his eyes, then cocks his head, and the Divinity Student looks.

The point had bitten deep into the wood-rusk, the polished steel handle still humming, but the spider is not there. Nor was it ever there. Teo shrugs and retrieves his knife.

Later, Miss Woodwind comes to visit. Teo opens the door for her. In the vacant expanse of the house’s heart, she is pushed by invisible currents from one staircase to another, finally caught and pulled upward by a conveyor-belt of banisters. She holds her arms against herself, but her eyes shine like venom, and she is not afraid.

The Divinity Student’s room is directly under the roof. He’s there, at work in his shirtsleeves building a divining machine out of an umbrella. She walks in and pauses a moment; there’s a great suspender “y” sprawling across his back, darker against his fading black shirt with its bleached silver sheen, frayed cuffs, and worn through at the right elbow, which is cool white and hard, like a water-smoothed stone.

She says hello. He’s predictable; he’s forgetting about the agency, and Miss Woodwind has taken it upon herself to remind him. He looks sheepish and surprised to see her in the house, digs out one of his notebooks. As she sits on his cot to read the new entries (none of them from the Catalog) he goes back to his invention, impatient. The shaft of the umbrella, sawed off close to the support beams, is attached to a variable set of gears and a single lever with a numerical dial. The spokes are cut to diminish in length according to random intervals within a preset range, between three quarters and one half the length of the previous spoke, and each is tipped with a small tin reservoir atop a fountain pen nib and a spigot. The Divinity Student is currently stringing clear plastic fishing line from each spigot down the length of its spoke, and tying them to the central gear.

She finishes reading and leans back. The cot sags almost to the floor in the middle. One blanket, no pillow. Yellow chemical stains on the sheets. She sits up again, watching him work. Presently she comes over with his notes.

More sleepwalking?”

He nods. Her fragrance envelopes him.

This will be acceptable for now, but . . . I have a bad feeling.” She wrinkles her brow a little. “You’re . . . ”

She slaps him across the forehead, and startled he jerks back. “You’re getting a bit remote,” calm voice, “wherever you go, you must always come back to me.” After giving him a significant look, she turns her attention to the desk. “What does this do?”

Nothing. It’s a divining machine, but it’s not finished.”

How does it work?”

You set it in a circle of paper, fill the spigots with different pigments, and turn the crank without looking at it. The configuration of the gear engagement is random, some unpredetermined gears act to wind this spring,” and he points to a copper coil in the midst of the cogs, “others rotate the entire apparatus to a starting position, while others open the spigots. Then you flip the starting lever, and the machine begins to rotate as the spring uncoils, clockwise or counterclockwise, starting and stopping, fast or slow, all randomly.”

And meanwhile the pigment is dripping down onto the paper from these arms.” She points.

He spreads his hands. “When it’s all finished, you take the paper out and examine the pattern.”

She smirks, pouting her lips a little. “How do you read the pattern?”

You look at it.”

What a hobby!” she laughs.

Why take this from her? There’s no choice. He opens his mouth, and something flickers across his features, just a flaring on the rims of his spectacles and the briefest instant of momentary sadness, or sympathy. His eyebrows draw together slanting upward, sending curled ripples across his forehead, his eyes widen and seize at the corners, his mouth pulls open downwards, his throat strains against his collar, all for a moment, then his features melt in confusion — Miss Woodwind has him by the shoulders.

What’s the matter? What are you doing?”

He shakes his head, slumping to the floor half-conscious trying to point.

She turns her head, her eyes probe the attic’s darkness and then turn forcefully back to him.

You’re being ridiculous. What did you see?”

A light had gone by very fast. He shakes his hand in front of his face. Everything had looked different in here, for a moment. The Divinity Student had seen someone staring at him from the dark.

I don’t see anything. Would you stand up!” She shakes him hard.

 . . . I don’t know.”


He saw only part of the face, only eyes and an open inky mouth, no one he knew.

She throws up her hands. “You’re making all of this up, it’s clear you’re not up to getting anything done today.” She heads for the door.

The Divinity Student follows her and pulls her back, muttering, “Making things up I’ll show you who’s making things up,” and, clasping her belt, he drags her out the door and along the top-floor landing. She leans away but does not protest, mumbling distracted to herself, always curious.

The only door on the other side of the landing bears a heavy latch and an eyepiece, set slanting down — someone on the other side of the door could presumably use it to stare down the staircase. Still holding Miss Woodwind about the waist, the Divinity Student throws the latch and pushes the door open, then thrusts her inside.

He tells her to “look!”

The chamber is vast, reaching its two wings to claim almost all of the upper floor. It is infested with crawlways. Just enough floorspace remains to allow the door to swing open into the room, the rest is heaped with overlapping tunnels, coiling about the room on the floor and hanging from the ceiling, sometimes angular, sometimes curved like a hose, punctuated by small doors and landings, portholes, chutes, and in one case a miniature spiral staircase. At their feet is a terminus, with a wooden door and a small white porcelain knob, just large enough for an adult to creep through on all fours.

No one knows what this is for. It was built into the walls. Now listen!”

They stand listening for a moment.

From deep within the room comes the muffled sound of someone crawling.

Miss Woodwind is silent.


That night, she goes with them to find Niffruch and Dreyfic. The city morgue is a squat octagonal building situated near the Orpheum, with a green copper dome and thick marble walls. It’s windy tonight, sending showers of dead leaves eddying by streetcorners and rattling empty branches, the vault of the sky is swept clean, so clear that the moon, though new, is still dimly visible as a ball of shade floating above the horizon. The street is quiet save for the hissing of the breeze. Silent, they, three now, fan out and submerge in the shadows flanking the morgue, searching for an entrance.

Miss Woodwind signals, she had walked directly to an open door set deep into the eastern wall.

The Divinity Student gives her a nod.“I knew you’d find the door.”

Inside, a narrow passage plumbs into the building like a mineshaft, the ceiling merely inches over their heads. Its walls are yellow, the floor padded with dark green carpet sponging up their footsteps. At regular intervals, pallid, anemic lamps link wall and ceiling, but cast almost no light. They walk for a long time, and the corridor slopes gently downward and begins to curve in on itself, until abruptly they turn a corner and stumble out into the main holding area.

Under girders and swinging lightbulbs are rows and rows of vast cabinets, fifty feet high and white as bone, milky gloss of porcelain doors hinged in tile facing and chrome handles. Once in a while something creaks or whines off in the distance, as if the whole place were adrift on the ocean. The Divinity Student rushes forward, and begins looking for the Ns, while Teo and Miss Woodwind search out the Ds. Labels penned in the same meticulous handwriting spell a legion of names, up and down the ladders and through the aisles, stirring long-stagnant air redolent of rubbing alcohol and boiled metal. Then the Divinity Student calls them. His voice is quiet, but his whispers are carried by the vastness of the unstirred space.

They find him before the special cases, drawing a broad drawer open. Niffruch and Dreyfic lie there together, hand in hand, rigid faces upright at attention. Shreds of tenuous white mist flutter about them or plunge feathering to the floor. The Divinity Student draws a deep breath of stale ice-musk through flared nostrils, then he pounces, trying with all his might to tear their clasped hands apart. Frozen solid. They don’t move.

Desden says, “We can’t carry them both — we’ve only got one bag.”

The Divinity Student scowls. He turns and fixes his gaze on Miss Woodwind, stabbing a finger at the spiderweb of catwalks overhead.

You keep watch.”

She stands off, watching, smiling back at them from time to time, lips moving, voice droning silently.

The Divinity Student turns back to the bodies. For a moment his eyes flick from one seamed marble face to another. Then with speed prompted of pure bile he seizes Dreyfic’s head and wrenches it viciously to one side, snapping his neck. He exhales and throws Desden a look.

Now cut it off,” his voice is low.

Desden decapitates Dreyfic with three simple strokes, the cold flesh cuts with a sound like tearing cloth. A watery trickle of thin purple blood drips from the neck wound, but the butcher is careful, and spills nothing getting the head into the bag. The Divinity Student is already dragging Niffruch out of the frost, the ice whines and crackles on the dead man’s suit. Teo comes over to help, and when Niffruch stops short, his hand caught in his partner’s grasp, down comes the cleaver to hack off the hand, and Niffruch slides into the bag.

In the passage again, Desden stumbles, the bag clonks against a wall leaving a broad smear of carmine blood reeking like rotting fish. The Divinity Student is against leaving evidence — the pieces in the drawer would go unnoticed for weeks, months probably, but blood on the walls will bring inquiry the next day. With care he nicks his left eye with a sharp fingernail, and squeezes out a small pearl of clear fluid. As Miss Woodwind and the butcher stare, he seals the wound with one hand while flicking the liquid at the stain. Where it hits, the blood goes clear and begins to run, and this spreads until all is innocent water coursing in small droplets toward the floor. In the cool dry air it will sublimate away, no stain, no trace. With a look of warning to Teo, he squeezes by them and heads back to the street.


Divination machines are not the Divinity Student’s only project. He’s devised a new method, more effective than drinking the preservative fluid. By adding a special reagent to the formaldehyde, he can cause the fermented memory-infusion to rise to the surface without requiring agitation. Strain the liquid off the top, that’s the next step, and collect it on a small metal plate, under a glass dome, with hoses attached through a tube at the dome’s apex. Electric current runs through the metal plate, vaporizes the fluid, which condenses on the interior surface of the dome and is channeled up through the tube, which ends in a breathing mask.

Now he’s shut in the room. Miss Woodwind is still in the house, on the next landing down, wondering out loud to herself at the light under his door. It’s late; he’s rigging up two assemblies — he plans to read Niffruch and Dreyfic together. She’s anxious, could have left hours ago, but there’s something irresistible happening. Eavesdropping earlier, she had heard the Divinity Student reporting to someone on the telephone, someone who didn’t want him to take Niffruch and Dreyfic at the same time. The Divinity Student had agreed not to, then went ahead with his plans anyway. What happens next?

It’s quiet. Teo is downstairs with his mirrors, dissecting Niffruch’s body just a little at a time, occasionally bursting into a frenzy, carving deep, straight incisions, but he’s quiet now. There’s no way Miss Woodwind can guess what’s happening.

It’s still quiet. Coming back, bringing the body into the house, the Divinity Student had frozen, staring at a window for a moment. Another flash had flickered across his face.

It’s even quieter still. She feels smoke in her chest, something frightening like a slow kick in the stomach. Whatever it is, she sneers at it and pads up the stairs and right up to his door.

She can hear something. The door is locked, but she can hear a noise through the door, a windy, scratching sound. For a while she fumbles for what it could be, what’s making that noise? Then he stops to take a breath, and she understands she’s hearing two sounds. A pen scratching paper, and him. Reedy, and whistling, and hollow, and only a veil over a silent nothing so that even she stops her ears with her hands and runs downstairs, she hears him screaming without a voice, whisper-screaming, without stopping.


sixteen: the final interview

Miss Woodwind talks in her sleep. She wakes in mid-sentence — she’s in the house, the Divinity Student is curled asleep at her feet. He’s rolled himself up into a ball in his heavy coat at the other end of the bed. She didn’t hear him enter the room, didn’t remember when she’d fallen asleep. His spectacles are getting bent, pressed up against his face. Light from outside is bursting on the windowsill and glaring at her from burning patches on the floor. She blinks, dazzled, and windows and carpet corners flicker in green and purple under her eyelids. Getting up, she nearly steps on a cloth-wrapped charm that the Divinity Student had made for her, by request — she will hang it in her house, and it will compel everyone who visits to close their eyes and keep them shut until they leave. She picks it up and picks a little at the rough string binding it shut — he’s told her that if she unwraps it to see what’s inside, it won’t work. Impatient, Miss Woodwind plunges through the door and into the central shaft of the house. Here in the gloom the light-doubles turn to blurred black blind spots hovering immediately before her eyes, and she follows the banister railing downstairs, sloughing off curled scales of paint with the edge of her hand. There’s the front door. She stands looking at it for a moment, then thinks again of the Divinity Student sleeping upstairs. What is he doing? She decides to stay longer.

She goes to the kitchen, drawing back too late, remembering what lay there cold on Desden’s cutting table — but Niffruch’s body is gone, the butcher had already disposed of him. The marble top is antiseptically clean, the knives are racked and shining, cuts of meat, expertly prepared, glow red in the display cabinet under shining glass, unmarred by so much as a single fingerprint. Miss Woodwind purses her lips and walks out. There’s the front door.

She wanders past and into the living room. The windowpanes are gray with dust, admitting only the shrillest light glancing hysterically across peeling walls. The furnishings look like bundles of twigs, elongated spiny chairs and listing endtables on precarious spindly legs. She sits for a moment, perfectly still, and stares into space. After a few moments she hears, for the first time, a faint low sound — a yawning rumble from an indeterminate source, either far above or far beneath the house. Its tone is so low as to be more a sensation than a sound. Not constant, but intermittent, she can only just feel it as a current passing through the floorboards. The house emits no other sound, nothing coherent or discrete, no creakings or settlings, only that sourceless roaring. She mutters a little to herself, stands, and weaves back into the rooms, passing through each and not lingering. In this house, it seems to her, the spaces are always the wrong size, either too large or too close, and everywhere the same disrepair and neglect. She feels it closing around her like a shell, and she longs to burst it apart and expand into the opening. Apart from the furniture, spare and fragile and seeming to be parts of the house themselves, there are no artifacts, nothing left behind, except the things they brought with them.

There is the front door again, but she won’t leave yet.


With the passing days she stays with them, goes with them at night to cemeteries and churchyards, holds lanterns over straining backs and flashing shovels, keeps watch while they curse and drag bodies heavy with rot to the cart, tries to read undistracted while lights flicker under the door upstairs — she always goes to the landing; she always stares at the door; she never goes in.

The Divinity Student is changing. He speaks less and less. Miss Woodwind can see him being drawn not so much into himself as outwards into something else, as if he were hanging half in and half out of himself. He’s getting pale and moist-eyed, he complains of strange pains, he can barely stand in the heat of the day. He has ceased perspiring altogether — to keep cool, he must spray himself with atomizer filled with formaldehyde. Eliot was the next target after Niffruch and Dreyfic, and after Eliot came Penfield, then Mira, then Gomes, then Carrasene. He sleeps in the same room with them all, dimly shining glass vats wired to the distilling chamber. He takes all of them on at once; he can do that now, easily. She watches him go out every day, tilting down the street with his rolling gait, now much slower than when she met him, easily distracted, more particular than before, bringing in fresh barrels of formaldehyde every day, and she knows he’s stopped going to see Fasvergil (whom she now knows by name, from the telephone), that he’s been out beyond the city walls, walking alone in the desert with the monitors. He knows which body to collect next without having to consult with Fasvergil or his agents — the divining machines tell him everything. Sometimes, he’ll jerk abruptly back, as if he’d been called by name, or turn, with a flickering expression, to the windows of the house, staring at something invisible over her shoulder.

When she sees him next, his great coat is so black and terrible it’s almost leaking darkness, it smudges the air around him like a pall of coal smoke. Even Desden, the devoted friend, will stare at him in disbelief sometimes, when his eyes disfocus, and he’ll be slapping himself, struggling to finish a sentence. When he does talk, he stifles every other word, and she knows jealously that he’s trying not to use their words — the dead minds upstairs.

Miss Woodwind wants to see his notebooks, but he refuses to show them to her. She wants to go to her father, but she doesn’t. It’s what she doesn’t understand, it’s really nothing that keeps her in the house. She spends her days reading in her room, and feels the current of the house tumbling through the floorboards.


The Divinity Student drifts in twilight under the trees. He can see the oros clearly now, poised and silent, some asleep, others staring at the road and wailing to each other in low whistling voices. Pedestrians mill about aimlessly; they’ve gotten harder to see clearly — occluded, indistinct figures. Much sharper are the others he had never seen before. Carried along by the sight of them, he can do nothing else but look. Not just familiars and animal souls, the street is a reef, inhabited by insubstantial things skulking under the pavement or flitting effortlessly above the people’s heads, coiling between their legs, lashing out at each other from windows. There are shades like torn umbrellas convulsing up through the air, past the rooftops, like jellyfish, long white smears and clouds of tiny multicolored phosphorescent shapes with jagged edges. A flat manylegged object exhaling odorless blue smoke scuttles over his left foot; he’s not disgusted, he doesn’t flinch. Behind everything he can hear the Eclogue whisper in little puffs that set everything in motion.

The house floats into view like a shipwreck, rocking gently in the air. An inhabited wreck, there are lights on inside, just dimly visible yellow lambence strained and diluted by silvery windows. The Divinity Student pushes through the long grass beyond the fence, barely touching the ground, then flows to a stop at the bottom of the steps. A thin veil of blue light flutters across a windowpane. The room beyond is empty. The shutters frame a blue face crying out the window, black mouth drawn wide and cheeks pulled back, eyes two shining crescents, wet brow — it slips away. He watches those features fill with shadow and retreat — they submerge. Something’s happening, he’s seeing them all the time, every day he sees them. Ghosts. Desperation seethes in him, what’s happening? Run, but no, he won’t run, this feeling’s not worthy of me, I’ve got things to do. He goes up into the house.

When the sun sets, he tests his newest divining machine, an afterimage light-scribbler, inspired by a note he’d taken earlier: “arrange lights at random in a dark room, enter dancing, read the afterimages in your eyelids. Takes practice and long study.” He turns out the overhead light, and sits in the dark in front of a wooden box with a single gear on the right side. Turn the gear to the first cue position with the gentle pressure of fingertips, a muffled report, and a series of tiny shutters in the box’s face fall back into dark openings of all shapes and sizes, some interconnecting to form irregular grooves and channels, at random. The Divinity Student presses the lever to the second cue position, and tiny multicolored lights wink on inside, either staring out from single holes or poised at the top of a groove or channel; from a slot just below the “lid” of the box, a broad black damping bar clunks into position, hinged to pass at regular intervals down over the face of the box. The Divinity Student pulls the gear a few more notches.

The damping bar rolls down, disappears through a slot at the bottom of the box’s face, the lights shunt back and forth, some moving at random, others trace the pattern of the shutters, the damping bar reappears through a slot at the top of the box’s face and sweeps down again. Watching, he then shuts his eyes and reads the residual streaks beneath his eyelids, the afterimages, scribbling notes on a pad by his hand. He pulls the lever a few more notches.

Another dull wooden clack, the shutter configuration changes, the lights get a little brighter, they accelerate under the passing of the damping bar, and the Divinity Student shuts his eyes and takes the next reading, one after each pass of the bar. After a few moments, he pulls the lever down again. Faster, brighter, and some lights change color, shutters reconfigure, behind him, and unseen, his shadow flares against an angle of the ceiling. He takes more notes and pulls the lever down.

Grains of light billow behind him in the dark like wind-stirred snow, but the Divinity Student keeps going, staring at the box until his eyes hurt then grinding them shut. He’s trying to write what he sees, writing so fast his pencil tears the page. He jerks the gear and the box flares like a match drawing streaks along his face and on the walls, drawing flecks of light into patterns swimming through the room. Adjust the gear, and the box spins faster making a rattling sound, and turn the gear and the room goes brighter, long figures resolving in the room, behind his blazing face, arms hanging useless at their sides, drawn faces like cracked shells of blue light with gaping eyes and mouths listlessly watching him at work.

No time for notes, he’s gradually speeding the box by increments until it buzzes and rattles and shakes on the table. Wide green eyes, fixed and colorless, trying to swallow the patterns whole, while all around him figures mill and weave, taking any shape and color, while cracked blue faces slacken and nod like faces at asylum windows, fixing empty vision on the back of his head, the careening rasping patterns spinning around his face. Breathing hard he grips the gear as tight as he can, turning it bit by bit under white knuckles, peering frantically down, trying to see his way through, the damping bar fans his face so fast it’s little more than a gray blur between him and the lights. Then suddenly the Divinity Student shuts the machine off and screws his eyes shut, falling backwards, even as he hears the engine’s wheezing halt, into a black ocean of stars and streaking bolts of lightning. On the street below, Fasvergil turns his face, saturnine in moribund light, toward the house. He folds his hands. Overhead, stars retreat and the constellations yawn apart, the wind rattles the grass at his feet, and, behind him, empty buildings gape and dribble streams of dead leaves from their gutters. Drawing closer, the house tips precariously, balancing to fall on him, but Fasvergil’s concern outweighs his doubts. All in black with his frayed belt and soft cat-burglar slippers, he pads up the stairs on thin crepe soles and raps his long dry knuckles on the door.

A woman answers; surprising. Miss Woodwind scrutinizes him carefully, bringing her face right up to his and staring directly at him, as if memorizing his features. He can tell that she wants him to go away. Her expression is disdainful.

I am Father Fasvergil. I’m here to speak with the Divinity Student. We have some words for each other.” His face creases softly and mildly, with real priestly reserve.

Miss Woodwind becomes more annoyed. It’s dark inside; he can barely see her, but it seems her mouth is moving silently. Talking to herself. After pausing to think, she turns and walks stiffly into the house, leaving him to shut the door behind him. In a patch of light falling dead from the neighboring room she turns and indicates one of the stairways with an offhand gesture. He sees her better in the light. She looks tired and pale, and she is talking silently to herself.

He’s on the top floor.” A quiet, rich voice, though sighing with fatigue, perhaps she’s ill. He thanks her sepulchrally and slips past, mounting the stairs.

Miss Woodwind watches him vanish into banister shadows, squinting a little. Behind him he leaves a smell of mothballs and library dust familiar to her.

Fasvergil knocks and waits, and knocks again. He has a long wait. Finally, the door falls silently open before him, and he steps in quietly to confront the Divinity Student.

You haven’t been reporting to me. You’ve been missed.”

He scans the many silver-shining jars watching from shelves, tables, and mantles. “Nevertheless you clearly continue with the project.”

The Divinity Student stands mute, disheveled, his face has gone soft and pale as wax, his flesh is turning translucent, he stands in the middle of the room as if he were hung there, twisting slightly on his feet.

I can only conclude that you have decided to pursue this entirely on your own, and that you are keeping your discoveries to yourself.”

The Divinity Student crosses to the desk with a single step, surprisingly strong and decisive for all his weak looks. He seizes a handful of paper and hurls it in Fasvergil’s face.

Now leave,” he says.

This house belongs to the Seminary. If you withhold information from us we will be compelled to evict you.”

Leave,” the Divinity Student says.

Fasvergil opens his mouth to speak again, but the Divinity Student is already by his side, seizing him, his breath clouding in Fasvergil’s dry face.

A single dry gasp of formaldehyde unfurls from between the Divinity Student’s lips, and in it boil a hundred gaping blue faces, and infinitely silent watching things, and many other ones stirring along the ragged edges of the Divinity Student’s breath, and more — a deep empty nothing, spreading behind the walls and surging through the floorboards and shimmering inside him. Fasvergil is stunned. The Divinity Student has a stronger claim on the house than he does.

That dead hand falls from the back of his neck, the Divinity Student retreats into the shadows. Faltering, Fasvergil is consumed with a new feeling. He struggles to address the Divinity Student, but his words crowd and trample each other, muddling in his mind until all intending is consumed.

Then the Divinity Student’s face turns back upon him, fixing him with a gaze as steady and impersonal as a star — he sees the Divinity Student’s face silhouetted against itself — and staggers back as if struck, not recognizing anything human in that face. Fasvergil finally backs out onto the landing, looking at the Divinity Student in a convulsion. The Divinity Student stares at him from the far end of the room. The door slams shut between them.