In Which Mackenzie Reaches The Next Level

The atmosphere in the room changed as Pala and I squared off for our first real fight.

The little bits of conversation from the other students in the section died down, too, but I mean the actual atmosphere. I don’t think Pala was doing anything on purpose, but the air started to get very dry and… crackly… as she set a determined look on her face.

This was going to be hard. I didn’t feel like any of my experience, fighting human-ish-sized opponents or bringing her down when she wasn’t coming after me really applied all that directly.

Most of the people I’d fought in Mixed Melee and so far in Fighting To Disable (or as Coach Callahan called it, “Fighting To Win”) didn’t have my reach and none of them had my strength. Pala had me beat in both categories, plus the benefit of greater experience and training.

I’d never fought someone who was stronger than me, not really. I’d struggled with Puddy a couple of times, but we’d never picked up weapons and had it out.

Pala hadn’t said anything, and she also hadn’t made a move yet.

“Are we fighting?” I asked.

“Whenever you’re ready,” she said. “I’m still to be practicing fighting defensively, even though I can fight back.”

“Whatever happened to the best defense?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Is it not the best anymore?”

I reminded myself that idioms were cultural, and didn’t always translate well.

If she was going to let me make the first move, then my best chance… possibly my only chance… was to take her down right away. During our first exchange, the conditions wouldn’t be much different than they had been during the last set of bouts. I knew I could beat her that way.

Or I knew that I had.

Once.

After multiple failures.

If I was going to beat her again, I needed to give myself another edge, something new… something she wouldn’t be counting on.

I could make myself stronger or faster to try to bridge the physical gap between us, but learning how to move with that kind of newfound power while I was fighting her would probably be less than ideal.

Pumping up my fighting skill was a possibility, but that was a more elusive quality… or combination of qualities… than a raw attribute like strength. It would be harder to maintain and easier to get something wrong. Plus, if I won the fight with temporary skill, I wouldn’t necessarily learn anything that I could repeat without the same boost. It would be self-defeating in the long run.

If I did nothing, though, I wouldn’t have to worry about defeating myself.

The other possibility was enhancing my senses. I’d been practicing doing that enough. In theory, acute senses could make someone a better fighter… let me spot what Pala was going to do before she did it, see weak spots in her defenses or patterns to her attacks.

The problem with that idea was the same one I’d had when I’d tried listening to my senses in the design center: I didn’t know what I was hearing. Or looking at, in this case.

A full semester of fighting against various opponents had taught me a little bit about recognizing the signs that someone was about to strike, but there were limits to that. By focusing my senses… in both the mundane and the magical way… I could more clearly discern things like the rippling of Pala’s muscles under her skin when she reached down to pick her spear up off the floor, but I didn’t see that and immediately conclude, “Ah, yes. She slightly favors her left leg. I can exploit this with a thrust attack into the anterior ligament cluster of her clustered… anterior… ligaments.”

I think almost everybody with more brains than brawn or actual fighting ability has at one point told themselves that they could win a fight against a clearly superior opponent by using their intellect and knowledge, but actually trying to do so is a different story.

For one thing, it actually requires knowledge… which it turns out is not a single quantity that you either have more of or less of, but a whole bunch of different things.

There are people who win fights by applying their knowledge of physical reactions and anatomy and tactical thinking, but they aren’t the geeks who sit in the library reading pap fiction… they’re the muscle-bound warrior jocks that we imagine ourselves casually disarming or incapacitating with our big brains.

Pala might have been hard-pressed to explain the thought process in Pax, but I had no doubt that she could see attacks from less experienced fighters like me coming a mile off because she’d spent time learning how to read opponents. For my part, I was pretty confident in my ability to tell when she was about to move… but given how quick she was and how long her stride was and how immense her reach was, I’d need more than a little forewarning for it to be useful.

But then… I had more senses than sight and hearing, and it seemed slightly more likely I could discover I secretly possessed more useful instincts for interpreting some of them than others.

I couldn’t really claim the title of “wizard” yet, but I was a lot closer to being one than being a wizard. A couple of semesters of classes didn’t make me a master elementalist, but my connection to elemental energy was stronger than my connection to my surroundings and the evidence of my physical senses often was

So I reached out, feeling the motion of the air around us, the solidity of the mats beneath us… not surprisingly, there was a lot of energy swirling around Pala.

She wasn’t just a giant, she was a storm giant… and a full-blooded one. I definitely did not want to get into a more-elemental-than-thou contest with her. Trying to actually do anything with the air currents would probably go very, very badly with me. The rule would have to be look, but don’t touch.

Still, even just having my senses open to the elements made me feel a little more confident… I wasn’t having any stunning insights but I felt like I had a stronger impression of where I stood and where she stood, literally. If I had thought to do this in the first match I might have ran back and forth around her a few times to get a sense of how things felt in motion. I doubted I’d get more than one pass now.

“Okay, I’m ready,” I said. It wasn’t necessary and it might not have been Coach Callahan-approved, but she didn’t have to let me make the first move… if I could catch her off-guard during the fight, that would fall under the category of “all’s fair…”, but not before we’d actually begun.

Pala nodded. In spite of her earlier performance, she’d switched to a two-handed grip with her sword and was holding it out in front of her like she was setting it against a charge. It would have worked better with a spear… I guess that once things got serious, she fell back on her more familiar fighting style.

Courtesy could only go so far… if I won, I’d point it out to her for next time.

I wasn’t counting on it being an easy thing, even with that mistake.

There was no point in holding off any longer. I activated the next charge of the shrinking spell on my staff so I wouldn’t have to worry about tripping over it, and I took off.

Being aware of the rush of the air around me made me feel like I was flying, and then I realized that I was moving much faster than normal. My lead foot touched down a couple of yards from where I’d started. I felt the mat compress beneath it and then I took a slightly more measured step while I tried to figure out what was wrong.

I realized less than half a second later what it was:

Nothing.

I’d just used my strength with confidence. My “more measured step”, on the other hand, ended in my foot landing weird and a kind of stumbling, unintentional roll to the side. I skittered back in case Pala chose that moment to strike… and in fact, she did swing at me, but it was an awkward swing because she was still trying to hold her sword like a spear. It might have hit me if I hadn’t been crab-walking, but it would have been a slow hit.

The good effect of all this was that it gave me a good “look” at what bodies in motion looked like, in terms of air displacement… hers, mine, her weapon passing near me.

I got back to my feet and focused on the elemental energy again, more sharply this time. I screened out fire and water. All I wanted was earth and air. The floor and our location on it. The air and our movement through it.

Motion. Position.

These weren’t elemental properties. They weren’t something I could directly extract from the matter around us… but they were conceptually close enough to air and earth, to gas and solidity, that it was easier to focus on them in tandem.

I held up an empty hand and made a slow pass through the air in front of me to help firm up my grip, and then I went into action again. When my feet were on the ground I knew exactly where they were, and they felt more firmly planted than they’d ever been before. When they weren’t, I could feel their motion through the air and I could feel the floor rising up to meet them.

It was like suddenly discovering the sense of feel after years of trying to tie a shoelace by sight.

In my first real pass, I didn’t do much more than soar past her. I felt good about how quickly I managed to get turned back around to face her, and by the fact that she was still turning to face me. She could probably easily match my stride, but if she was slow to turn I could use that against her.

Still, I thought she’d probably adjust faster if she realized I was going to rely on that, so I decided to actually attack her in the process of getting behind her again. With her awkward grip, she had basically no way of protecting her legs, and a good solid wham with plenty of speed behind it seemed like a good way to keep her on her toes.

Or off of them.

I had to resist the temptation to try to do an acrobatic forward roll on purpose… knowing exactly where I was and where I was going was one thing, but I still didn’t actually know how to do a forward roll.

Still, I could feel my low, bounding charge… I could feel the big solid presence of Pala and the nimbus of energy swirling around her, the way the currents seemed to almost bounce off her, and I could feel that it was all going just right, all going according to plan.

Then just as I was almost even with her and was extending my staff to catch her across her ankles, I felt it all go wrong. Her stance changed. The air around her changed. Her sword was moving hard and fast. I still clipped her with my staff as I threw myself to the side, but the side of her sword caught the side of my head with enough force to help me outside her immediate striking distance, for all the good that did.

I jumped to my feet and got my staff out in front of me, thrusting it out so it wouldn’t just catch the next blow but would wham it away, overwhelming Pala’s natural force with the magically augmented force of the staff. It was the instinct of a lot of defensive fighting melded with the increased awareness of motion, and it saved my ass from being cleft in virtual twain.

Pala skidded back several feet from the impact. She was holding the sword one-handed again, and the look on her face wasn’t exactly smug… I don’t think she had enough meanness in her soul to ever be smug.

But she was satisfied.

In that moment I knew that Pala had outsmarted me. I didn’t feel too bad about it since I’d done it first, but she had been more clever than I’d given her credit for. She had figured out what I’d been driving at after all when I’d suggested the two-handed grip, and she’d used it against me… lured me in me, and I’d fell for it.

“Slow does not mean stupid,” she said.

“No,” I said. “It does not.”

Slow did, however, mean slow.

I shrunk my staff again and braced myself for a great bounding leap… then dove forward when she raised her sword to strike me out of the air. This would probably be the only chance I’d get to try this, nasty as it was. I mapped out the path of my footfalls on the mats and pounded forward with as much strength and speed as I could muster, ducking under her uselessly high weapon and then expanding my staff as I slammed its butt end into her throat with all my strength.

“All my strength” is a lot of strength.

She went up, clean off her feet and into the ground. The air did… interesting… things around her, but I could perfectly follow the arc she made in my mind.

She went down… heavily. I felt the compression of the mats down to the hard floor underneath, felt the shockwaves rippling out not just through the air but through the earth, through the solidness. For one moment I felt like I had a perfect three-dimensional understanding of the room and all its contents and occupants, but it didn’t last long enough for me to test that understanding in any way.

For a moment, Pala went very still.

She did not go red.

A moment later, her hand groped for her sword… or I thought that was the case, but then the sword dissolved into nothingness and she pulled a copper spear out of her notional space.

Afterwards, it would occur to me that this would have been a great time to press my advantage and finish the fight in the way that we were supposed to be learning how to… i.e., quickly and brutally.

But at the time, I just couldn’t believe that the fight was still on, that she was still in it.

Then she got up, and it was no longer a matter of belief.


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40 Responses to “Chapter 104: One Giant Leap”

  1. Alyxe says:

    Ruh roh… Mack roused Tiny. Great episode.

    -r

    Current score: 0
  2. durragh says:

    arg! of all the places to end it! mid fight??? lol which just means, great chapter AE and i’m dyin for the next1

    Current score: 0
  3. Zathras IX says:

    Being cleft in twain
    Is arguably better
    Than twained in one’s cleft

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    • Lyssa says:

      No, I don’t think so. 😛

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    • Zergonapal says:

      Better I think than being cliffhanged, at least it would be over fast enough. Damn you AE 😀

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  4. Tamina says:

    HA! Not only has Mack finally gotten over the “me smart, jocks dumb” thing, she’s FINALLY using her speed/strength/senses in some kind of unified, useful way.

    I cannot imagine how frustrating it’s been for fighters like Steff, Dee and Ian to watch her flail around tripping over her own feet, knowing that only her ignorance and prejudice against ‘icky stupid fighting’ kept her that way.

    Also, to be fair, her grandmother’s abuse and fear that she’ll lose control and kill people. Not entirely her own blinkers. But still: AWESOME CHAPTER.

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    • Lyssa says:

      It is really satisfying to see her growing in this way, I agree. She’s thinking about fighting in a completely different way. I hope it serves her well. 🙂

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  5. TheTurnipKing says:

    An excellent twist to the ending I was not expecting.

    Be very interesting to see how this pans out. Pala seems to have a pretty clear advantage upon reclaiming her spear. but Mack has actually been holding her own pretty well. As long as she doesn’t flub it stupidly, there’s no reason for this fight to be over quickly.

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    • blink says:

      Eh…I’ll actually be sorely disappointed if Mack wins by anything other than a one-in-a-million stars align good luck sort of way.

      I realize Pala is assisting Coach Callahan so she’s not going all out on the attack, and that’s why it makes sense for Mack to have gotten that far, but Pala is a trained gladiator from a culture of fighting, and Mack is basically a teenager who picked up a stick last year and only recently started trying. And even that trying is pretty much in scheduled class hours, whereas I’m sure Pala spends hours a week training at the gym.

      I like seeing Mack get some hits in but I think it would be way too Mary Sue for her to win…I mean Mack’s already pretty Mary Sue but that would be too much. Pala’s a fucking boss. She’s trained, skilled, dedicated, strong, and adaptable. Compared to Mack, who pretty much derps her way through life with her eyes half closed and just now started thinking about using enhanced senses to fight AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS CLASS PERIOD there’s no contest.

      Current score: 1
      • TheTurnipKing says:

        Oh, I’m not saying Mack is likely to win, but as long as she doesn’t stand there mouth agape and let Pala pummel her, it does seem like she should be able to keep moving and keep the fight going.

        This doesn’t seem like it should be a case of Pala just going “hulk smash” and ending the fight right here.

        Current score: 0
        • V says:

          Are you sure about that?

          Enough! You are, all of you are beneath me! I am a god, you dull creature, and I shall not be bullied…

          …Puny god.

          Current score: 0
      • Anvildude says:

        Also, Pala might be from a Warrior culture and Mack from the boonies, but Mack also has the benefit of Alpha Predator instincts on her side. It’s not exactly a win-condition, but Mack, between her heritage and, well, heritage (how she was raised) is the sort of person who, when they’ve decided to go for something, barely even slows down to _consider_ that they might lose. That sort of surety of purpose, along with her aforementioned Predatory instincts, should go a long way in evening the score.

        Pala’s still gonna win on skill, though.

        Current score: 0
  6. MistyCat says:

    “I couldn’t really claim the title of “wizard” yet, but I was a lot closer to being one than being a wizard.”

    One what? 🙂

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    • Bolongo says:

      The second “wizard” should probably be “gladiator” or “fighter”.

      Current score: 0
      • Anvildude says:

        I think it was supposed to be “…closer to being an Elementalist…” or something.

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  7. Readaholic says:

    Yay, more MU!!
    Dang, a cliffhanger!

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  8. pedestrian says:

    “But at the time, I just couldn’t believe that the fight was still on, that she was still in it.

    Then she got up, and it was no longer a matter of belief.”

    Never, ever assume your opponent shares your egotistical belief in your own awesomeness.

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  9. Erm says:

    the anterior ligament cluster of her clustered… anterior… ligaments.”

    Mackenzie, the Vampire Slayer?

    I couldn’t really claim the title of “wizard” yet, but I was a lot closer to being one than being a wizard.

    um…?

    Current score: 0
  10. Dave says:

    Mackenzie uses the Force 🙂

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  11. Iason says:

    So very impressed with this chapter. Great flow. Great language. I love it when a story conjures up images… when I can “see” what is happening.
    Thank you for your work AE.

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  12. Burnsidhe says:

    And that is the kind of thing that Callahan is looking for. Pushing yourself, learning to move beyond the limits you think you have, and using all your skills. Granted, it’s still necessary to win the fight in the end, but this is the kind of effort Callahan’s always wanting from her students.

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  13. readstospouse says:

    Actually, I think it makes most sense given the next few sentances as:

    I couldn’t claim the title “elementalist” yet…

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  14. Spec Grim says:

    “I didn’t want to get into a ‘More-elemental-than-thou’ contest with Pala.”

    Awesome line!

    Current score: 0
  15. Ancalador says:

    Wait, does Mack have Radar? Or would that be echolocation?

    “For one moment I felt like I had a perfect three-dimensional understanding of the room and all its contents and occupants, but it didn’t last long enough for me to test that understanding in any way.”

    It will be interesting to see if that is a side effect of her no longer holding back, or if she is subconsciously enhancing her senses.

    Anyways I loved the chapter and can’t wait for the next.

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    • pedestrian says:

      I am still of the opinion, echolocation. Probably not as an audio/sonar capability, but as a similar elemental manipulation/recognition Muniverse ability.

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    • Brenda says:

      I thought that was from enhancing her awareness of the Air and Earth in the room.

      Current score: 0
    • Anvildude says:

      Mackenzie has learned Earthbending from the original teachers; Badgermoles.

      Current score: 0
      • Ducky says:

        She’ll have to find someone else to teach her firebending, though – I doubt she wants to face those masters anytime soon.

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  16. wg says:

    Copper conducts electricity well.

    I suspect Mack is about to have a shocking experience. 🙂

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  17. Month says:

    She pulled out her spear? I think she finally considers Mac a fighter, which is an honor. Well, Mac must fell very honored too, when she is being chopped to pieces.

    Current score: 0
  18. blink says:

    Le proofreading!

    === By focusing my senses… in both the mundane and the magical way… I could more clearly discern things like the rippling of Pala’s muscles ===

    Should probably use commas instead of ellipses or else it seems like Mack is trying to intimate some sort of double entendre with extra-long pauses.

    === I couldn’t really claim the title of “wizard” yet, but I was a lot closer to being one than being a wizard. ===

    Maybe should be “than being a fighter”?

    === A couple of semesters of classes didn’t make me a master elementalist, but my connection to elemental energy was stronger than my connection to my surroundings and the evidence of my physical senses often was ===

    Often was…what? Not sure if the sentence is incomplete or just missed a period at the end. I can see how it could work as a complete sentence but very awkward construction.

    === she’d used it against me… lured me in me, and I’d fell for it. ===

    Should be “I fell for it” or “I’d fallen for it.”

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      I noticed two of the four typos blink mentions here, but I also spotted what I believe is one more.

      Typo Report

      She went up, clean off her feet and into the ground.

      Since she didn’t get buried in the ground by that hit I’m going to assume you meant “into the air”?

      Current score: 0
      • OhPun says:

        Actually, I think Alexandra meant exactly what she wrote. If it makes you feel better, mentally add “then down” between “and” and “into.”

        After getting “punched” in the throat, Pala’s body momentarily left the ground (up), then came down (into the ground). That’s a major accomplishment for someone as relatively short as Mackenzie, lifting Pala’s body up that high.

        I’m really looking forward to the rest of this fight.

        Current score: 0
  19. Not her, the other girl says:

    “more-elemental-than-thou”

    Love it. 😀

    Current score: 0
  20. Lakanna says:

    wow. I don’t know what impressed me most about this fight: Mack cutting loose and using ALL her strength on that blow, or Pala standing back up after a hit that was strong enough to throw her airborne.

    I love that Mack is rising to the challenge here. Callahan was right as always, giving these special fighters more challenge so they have more opportunity to learn and grow. I honestly hope they ALL stick with Callahan’s classes, it would be amazing to see what they could accomplish with a few years of this.

    Current score: 0
    • Anvildude says:

      More like terrifying. Remember, they’re the students considered to have ‘special talent’ by a _Godslayer_.

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  21. Leviticus says:

    Finally caught up again! And what a spot to be! Stopped reading over a year ago, NEVER again will I fall behind!

    Current score: 0
  22. genericIntent says:

    This cliffhanger is killing me! Good job as always, AE.

    Current score: 0
  23. JN says:

    OK, this is a little late, but it just occurred to me. If a full strength blow to the throat didn’t down Pala in this fight, just what in the world did Mack do to win the previous ones? Was Pala doing something to make her more durable, simply because she was taking this fight more seriously?

    Current score: 0
  24. Arancaytar says:

    anterior ligament cluster of her clustered… anterior… ligaments.”

    And again with the Buffy-speak. 😀

    Current score: 0