Note: I wrote this based on a prompt/story idea by Aeris Total, who I wrote this short story with. This story will make more sense after having read that one.
It began with a hiss. Just a low hiss, starting in the dead of the night.
At first, Jason thought it was a bout of tinnitus, but then it kept happening—just in the dark hours of the morning. A fugue of sleep was drenched over him when it started, peaked, and then waned without reason. It prevented him from fully resting but it was not so bad to cause a fuss.
Not until a week had passed, the variable hissing happening at roughly the same time each night. That was when Jason decided to take action laying in bed, body and mind frustrated and exhausted with the maddening situation. His focus on his studies was beginning to slip—just marginally, but he would not allow a trend to develop.
When it became daylight, he asked his landlord about the sound. She was an elderly lady with a lax attitude.
Pipes, she said. Probably pipes.
It was an old building. The rent was dirt cheap so close to the University, so the sound being due to the old building slowly succumbing to ill repair made perfect sense. Even when the landlord gave it as a hand wave of an excuse.
It gave him a sense of comfort in his decision to resolutely ignore the hissing by wearing a large sleep cap that covered his ears. He slept easy, despite its presence. His energy recovered and so too did his focus. A great test came and went and he passed with a reasonably high grade to distinguish himself.
The hissing became something of the past—a short lived annoyance of his cheap apartment. A drawback to the ease of commute it offered to him.
The interlude proved to be all too short lived.
Weeks after the landlord’s flimsy excuse of it being pipes, a growling gurgle emanated through the thin walls of his room and woke him up just as he fell asleep. He leapt up out of his bed and went to the edge of his room, right beside his door, and listened, yanking off his sleep cap.
The hissing was still there—higher pitched and pronounced. The gurgling was also there but lower pitched.
Could still be the pipes, he thought and forced himself back down. Jason had an exercise tomorrow he had to do well at or he would be ridiculed by his elder brother.
The night was dragged away into day, he performed adequately on his exercise, and the night came again. And so did the sounds.
Curiosity, a quality sought by the University, swelled within him and he resolved to investigate. He looked out of the peephole in his door and saw nothing but heard the sounds across the way. At this hour, anyway. He would stay in his room tomorrow—he had private studies to do anyway—and see if he could see who occupied the room across from him. Time for neighbors was never something he prioritized, until now, when one of them had to be the cause of his disturbance.
He slept well, a plan formed in his mind.
When he woke, he began his watch and kept his ears open for the sound of doors opening and shutting and footsteps. It finally came and Jason lunged to the door as quietly as possible. The peephole granted him discreet sight into the hallway and there he saw something intimately familiar to him—the uniform of his University.
This person across the hall was another student such as himself. Jason straightened himself and grabbed his bag and opened his door.
“Hail,” Jason called out to the fellow student.
When the student turned, Jason noticed by the embellishments on his uniform, that he was older—perhaps no longer a student but a Professor’s assistant. He bowed at the recognition of that. Respect ought to be given to those of a higher standing than him. He would not sully his family name out of his curiosity.
The man huffed. “Hail,” he said. “So you go to the University too?”
“Yes, sir,” Jason said. “I was surprised to find another member living here—and across the hall from me.”
“The rent is very cheap. It can hardly be that surprising,” he replied.
“That is very true, of course, sir.” Jason smiled and laughed. “I am sorry for interrupting you.” He stepped forward and reached out his hand in greeting. There was a mystery with the sounds he cared about but he also cared about his reputation with respected members of the faculties. “My name is Jason Acastus.”
He reached out and shook his hand. “What do you study, Jason?”
“Material resonance, sir,” Jason answered to the man who had not yet named himself.
He smiled wide, with a slight curve. He turned away. “I might need to speak with you soon, then. But I must be going now.”
Jason offered his farewells and was left deciding whether to follow or stay in his apartment. He decided to head to the library—there were things he needed to pick up, anyway.
After acquiring his materials, he attempted to discover the identity of the man across the hall. His attempts yielded nothing of the sort. He lacked enough detail to determine where to even look, and the records lacked pictures.
He returned to his apartment and waited until he could justify going to sleep. When he did, he made himself to go to bed, and sleep took him and then left him as the sounds came back. Gurgling and hissing, a symphony of curious things. He rose up, as quietly as possible, and looked out the peephole. Nothing. A fit of manic energy took him and he waited all night until dawn—looking out for that man to leave once more.
When he did, he was surprised when the man came to his door and knocked thrice.
Jason leapt up and hastily put on a proper robe to make himself look not quite so haggard.
“Hail, Jason,” the man greeted this time.
“Hail,” Jason returned, masking his frantic, sleep deprived tone.
The man pushed himself into the room and closed the door—a faux pas if there was one—and then said: “Jason, you seem like the type that desires to strive for great things—to not be content with expectations.”
“You are quite perceptive, sir,” Jason said to that. He was ambitious. One day, he hoped, he would be the most notable Acastus.
“I am,” he agreed. “I am very much the same. Material resonance—would you like to…participate in an extracurricular project?”
Jason gaped and nodded rapidly. “Of course. …Does it have to do with the strange sounds I’ve been hearing?” It was a risk admitting his awareness of whatever the man was doing, but…*he *was someone who strived for more and *curious *too.
The man chuckled. “It was that loud? Anyway, yes, it was… Are you curious about what I’ve been doing?”
“Yes,” Jason, again, admitted.
“Well, let me dispel your curiosities and replace it with knowledge,” the man said and ushered them back out into the hallway. He took out a key and unlocked his own apartment door. “Are you familiar with the Circumaudient Void?”
“Only…passingly. Is it not forbidden learnings to those without the required ascension level…?” Jason asked tentatively. Was this a test? The door was still closed and he was still in a robe…
“It is, but only through a certain means,” the man said. “We will be avoiding that tactic.” He started to open the door. He laughed. “I forgot—my name is Cato.”
Jason gasped as the door opened.