In Which Mackenzie Sees For Herself

I had a small internal debate when getting dressed that morning.

Would debuting the new me be… gratuitous? Forced? Would it make me feel like a phony to jump all the way into wearing my new things without transition? Would I look like one? Most of my wardrobe was still pretty much the original flavor, so it wasn’t like I could just switch things over completely… I wasn’t sure which side that was a point in favor of, though it felt like it should have some significance.

I ended up deciding to go all the way, because it was still the weekend and I’d have a chance to get used to it all before class, and because I had my appointment at the mental healing center. I had the feeling that a little visual aid might help me explain to Teddi what I’d been going through and what I was moving to.

That decision made me feel more self-conscious about it, but I realized I could deal with the self-consciousness. Teddi Lundegard of all people wouldn’t judge me for wanting to make a change.

It helped that I didn’t have a lot of time to agonize over things after Steff and I actually got up for the day. The mental healing center always had someone on duty, but the actual office hours for Sunday were pretty limited and so my appointment was for the early afternoon. So basically I had to make up my mind and get dressed in a hurry if I wanted to even have time to grab a quick bite to eat before my session.

I went with the boots, cargo pants, a knit tee, and… after some debate… the denim jacket. It was hot enough that nobody needed a jacket, but I felt more complete with it. I had my enchanter’s belt on, too. I tried to work out some alertness-enhancing enchantment I could lace into it, but an item that enhances a property on the wearer was too far outside my experience. If the belt had related to senses somehow I would have had something to work with, but as things were I couldn’t figure out how to tie it together. I’d have to rely on my own actual abilities.

That could be a good thing, I decided… it would be better if I could learn how to be responsive to what was going on around me on my own and then start magically enhancing things. I’d get more use out of any magical enhancements I came up with if I was actually paying attention to what they told me, for one thing… and I’d be less vulnerable to situations where magic wasn’t an option if I wasn’t dependent on it.

The one thing that all my new clothes had in common, in comparison to a lot of my older stuff was that it was heavier, more substantial. The weight wasn’t enough to slow me down, but it didn’t do anything to decrease my sense of being very aware of wearing it. It wasn’t uncomfortable, though. If anything, it was comforting… the constant presence, the constant pressure of it against my skin. It reaffirmed that there was a practical reason behind the choices, that it wasn’t just someone’s generic idea of what looked good.

Even a very quick lunch gave me enough time out in public to discover the problem of making two sweeping resolutions at the same time… being conscious of my environment and the people in it made it harder to not be conscious about my appearance. Normally I just sort of imagined that people were shooting me glances or staring at me. Now I was seeing eyes passing over me, heads turning in my direction… were they all actually looking at me? Probably not, but it was hard to ignore them.

Still, I wasn’t about to take back either decision, even temporarily. The new wardrobe and the new… literal… way of looking at the world were too closely tied together in my head. I couldn’t pull off the external change without the internal, or the other way around. Change wasn’t an all-or-nothing proposition because you couldn’t really hope to change everything or nothing, but in this case it might have been a both-or-neither deal.

Getting through lunch did accomplish one thing, though… it taught me that I could get through it. Even feeling like I was the center of attention had used to make me physically sick with anxiety. My only coping mechanism for that had been to keep my head down and my eyes closed, which had eventually become so second-nature that I rarely even felt a twinge of anxiety.

Now my head was up and my eyes were open, and I was finding that while I wasn’t feeling moved to take up public speaking or anything I could bear being seen by a world that could see me back. I actually finished my meal feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

I was still reassuring myself that Teddi was on my side and wouldn’t judge me when I went in for my appointment… but at least I was finding myself a credible, persuasive source.

The center was pretty quiet when I arrived. There was nobody at the reception desk, so I wasn’t too surprised when Audra, Teddi’s golem companion, came out to greet me.

“Hello, Miss Mackenzie,” she said. “Shall I tell Teddi you are here for your one PM appointment.”

It was identifiable as a question only by its wording… Audra had not been designed with conversation in mind and didn’t have any inflections other than mildly deferential. She was a house golem, from a time when golems were more tools than servants, and certainly weren’t people. Her clay had been transfigured into living flesh purely for aesthetic reasons, a touch that had been avant-garde for the time period.

“Yes, thank you,” I said.

During my first meeting with Teddi, I’d been a little protective of Audra because of my friendship with Two… I still felt that way, but I understood there wasn’t anything to protect her from. She wasn’t like Two. She not only didn’t have will of her own, she didn’t have a complete mind. She might have been able to develop one if she could have been freed, but she’d been created as property in trust. Teddi tried to treat her well and keep her fulfilled.

Maybe there was more that could be done, but she couldn’t do it without losing her de facto custody of Audra to her family’s estate.

“Good afternoon,” Teddi said when Audra had shown me into the room. “You certainly look different.”

“I hope so,” I said. “I feel different.”

“On that note… excuse me for one moment,” she said. She turned around and opened a drawer in the desk behind her, then pulled out a hand mirror, with a frame that looked to be real silver. She held it out to me. “Take a look at yourself.”

I felt a slight tingle of magic when my fingertips touched the handle… something more than the familiar communication spells and utility illusions that were laced into talking mirrors… and so I really expected to find something more than my own reflection looking back at me. When I didn’t, I was momentarily startled, then confused.

It was me, just me… and since I was only looking at my head, there wasn’t even any sense of startling newness about my clothing.

“Do I have something on my face?” I asked, turning the mirror and angling my head to try to spot whatever it might have been.

“Apparently not,” she said. She sounded more relieved than disappointed, though she kept most of it out of her voice. It was more a very light impression than anything concrete.

Puzzled, I pinged the mirror’s enchantments a bit to get a sense of what they were… I didn’t delve in too deeply, in case the enchantment was fragile or had countermeasures against tampering. Doing a reading of the energy in the mirror wasn’t tampering, but was a necessary first step… if you didn’t want someone to rearrange your furniture, it made sense to stop them from getting in the door before bolting things down.

“It’s a mirror of true seeing?” I guessed, from the general impression I got.

“Yes,” she said. “And a bit more than the standard model… it doesn’t just strip away illusions, it reflects the inner reality.”

“I just look like myself,” I said.

“Because you are yourself,” she said. “If a possessed person looks in the mirror, the underlying entity will see its own face or form… and if you had any lingering influences, like a psyche fragment of any real size or a geas or even an implanted suggestion, it would show them, too.”

“What would that look like?” I asked.

“Some of it is pretty… abstract,” she said. “It might only make sense to someone who deals with other people’s thoughts on a regular basis. But any foreign presence would be obvious, even if it wasn’t clear what was obvious.”

“If you thought I was possessed, wouldn’t it have made more sense for you to look in the mirror at me?”

“I did,” she said. “When I pulled it out of the drawer, before I turned back around… that’s the advantage of using a mirror. But I thought it would be both fair and instructive for you to have a chance to examine yourself, and to know what I was doing.”

“Is that sort of thing standard issue for a mental healer?”

“It’s the reality of the world we live in,” she said. “Sometimes ‘tortured psyche’ isn’t just a figure of speech. We have to be prepared for invaders… you came to me with a hole in your head and a story about nocturnal visitors, then showed up a few days later with a new look and a new attitude.”

“So you thought…”

“I didn’t, actually,” she said, sitting down in her chair. “But I had to check, under the circumstances.”

“Fair enough,” I said, and I sat down, as well.

“So, shall we wrap up the old business, or are you raring to talk about your new look?” Teddi asked.

“Do you think there’s something there we need to talk about?”

“I’m imagining you might have something to say about it,” Teddi said. “But I don’t see anything troubling about it, if that’s what you mean… it’s different, but it’s not radically different. It isn’t what I’d expect based on my past experience with you, but it makes sense. But even if you’d done a total one-eighty, or something really radical… well, you’re at a point in your life where you have more agency to try things on for size than you’ve had before, and with fewer consequences than you will in the future.”

“This is your way of saying that you’re used to people coming in with their hair glammed up and their faces altered,” I said.

“I can’t talk about other patients,” Teddi said. “But in general… yes, I do see a lot of people trying out new looks.”

“Other than a sort of generalized worry about what you’d think about it, I don’t really have a lot to say about it,” I said. “It’s really more of an effect of my last few days than the cause of anything. It just makes sense to me, too. I mean, I’ve never carried a purse and can’t see myself starting… a book bag can make a decent substitute, but pockets and pouches might be a better solution in the long term.”

Teddi nodded.

“So, I’m going to be curious about what it’s an effect of, but we’re here for your benefit so before I ask you about that I’ll remind you that last time I told you I’d try to have something for you today,” she said. “Though I’m finding myself wondering if it’ll be needed… I feel like things have progressed in my absence.”

“Uh, yeah… sorry,” I said.

“Nothing to be sorry about,” she said. “Progress is our goal, as long as it’s in a healthy direction.” She closed her eyes. “I’m not feeling as much leakage from you as before, but I believe the hole’s still there.”

“It is,” I said. “The owl-turtle thing has been helping me to learn mental defense techniques, but I still don’t know how to do them except when I’m asleep… granted, that’s the time that I need it the most, but I’m not crazy about having an unguarded entrance to my mind when I’m awake.”

“I don’t think it’s completely unguarded,” Teddi said. “I’m getting the sense of something like a low-level shield… very tenuous, not very strong or stable. And you’re radiating a greater sense of sharpness and mental alertness than normal.”

“Does that actually make a difference?”

“It does,” Teddi said. “Any mind instinctively resists intruders, but an alert mind does so better.”

“That’s really good to know,” I said. “So, I take it you did come up with something for me?”

“I had to confer with my learned colleagues on the other side of the wall,” she said. “I wanted to find out if it’s possible to use magic to heal purely mental damage.”


“Broadly speaking, it is possible,” she said. “Magic can’t recover lost memories… at least, not the way I think of it… or undo damage to sophisticated parts of the mind, but when there’s something like a rift or tear, it can be ‘healed’.”

“And that’s my situation,” I said.

“That’s your situation,” she said. “The problem is that run-of-the-mill healing magic won’t work, because it focuses on the body. There isn’t actually anyone in the university healing system who’s qualified to do this, but potions do exist.”

“So we have to wait for the potion to come in,” I said.

“Or be made,” she said. “I put the order in and was told I’d have an estimate on how long it’ll take to be filled sometime next week.”

“So it will be a while.”

“It could be a while,” she said. “The fact that nobody knows how long it’ll take doesn’t mean it will be a long time… just that they won’t commit to it not being a long time.”

“That makes sense,” I said. “So, what would this potion do to my mind, exactly? Are there any risks it’ll mess anything else up?”

“None, apparently… it’s just like a physical healing potion, but for the mind,” she said. “The reason we don’t use them in our field is because most of what we might think of as mental injuries are really more like… mental complications. If you have a traumatic experience that affects you strongly, there’s nothing there to ‘heal’… you’ve just learned some things that aren’t necessarily helpful to learn, in the long term. Trying to ‘heal’ that would mean erasing the experience wholesale along with all its effects, something that… wouldn’t be advisable.”

“You sound pretty sure of this,” I said.

“I am,” she said. “The one thing I’m not sure of is that it will do anything… the back door in your head sounds to me like a textbook case of the sort of ‘wound’ that can be healed, but we won’t be sure until we try. If it isn’t, then nothing will be lost.”

“Except the cost of the potion,” I said.

“Well, that’s billed to my program, and I’ll consider it a diagnostic step if it does nothing,” she said. “Shall we go forward with it?”

“Yeah,” I said. “And on the subject of going forward… let me tell you about my weekend.”

Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!

20 Responses to “Chapter 96: The Face In The Mirror”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Hey, looks like some of my guesstimates may be almost correct.

    Yay me!

    Thanks Alexandra.

    Current score: 0
  2. Dani says:

    > I could bear being seen by a world that could see me back

    Did you want “I could bear seeing a world…”?

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      I was gonna say. The way this sentence is currently written lacks Mackenzie seeing anything, much less giving the world some reason to see her “back”. It sounds good as written, but when you dissect it in your head the logical sense of the sentence is borked.

      BTW, nice job on this being the only “typo” I could find this time. And a pleasing chapter overall. Loving the progress Mackenzie is making here lately. She’s really starting to open up and discover herself in ways she really hadn’t even last year. Looking forward to future developments with her.

      Current score: 0
  3. Computer Mad Scientist says:

    Hm… there has to be a reason that what Embries did wasn’t shown by the mirror. I’m guessing either it’s been so long that it’s worn off, it’s integrated itself into Mackenzie so much that it’s basically a part of her now (either due to time or because Embries is really good at what he does), or it’s somehow hiding itself from the mirror.

    Current score: 0
    • Amrynel says:

      If I recall correctly, what the great dragons can do – and presumably what Embries did – is give reality itself new marching orders. So a mirror that shows you the reality behind illusions? Won’t help. I think you’d need something capable of auditing reality itself. A faerie pool that compares “what was” with “what is” or similarly impressive.

      Current score: 0
    • Julian Morrison says:

      I figure it detects things that have been attached to her and set running as an independent process. It doesn’t detect someone outside using something like an ongoing “wish” to lean on destiny directly.

      Current score: 0
    • riocaz says:

      Or slightly more simply… Had Mack tried talking about it and activated the geas it might have shown her being gagged. But as she wasn’t it didn’t. It could only show what was there at the time.

      Current score: 0
    • Leila says:

      I think that’s less of a possession and more of a sort of command that you can’t disobey.

      Current score: 0
  4. Julian Morrison says:

    I wonder how new clothes and new awareness got tangled up in her head? They weren’t when she was waking up naked, earlier.

    Current score: 0
    • Apollo says:

      Not tangled up, but – connected, moreso. New awareness + new sense of self = new clothes! 😀

      Current score: 0
  5. Um the Muse says:

    Was this part a joke on the part of the author? “If the belt had related to senses somehow I would have had something to work with, but as things were I couldn’t figure out how to tie it together.”
    You know, since a belt is made to hold things together. Wasn’t that one of the advantages of a magic belt in the first place?

    Current score: 0
  6. Zathras IX says:

    Mackenzie’s wardrobe
    Apparently no longer
    Includes her belt/strap

    Current score: 0
    • Anne says:

      And that is an interesting evolution… I wonder did AE leave it out of this scene or is Mac putting it on so much and so often that she no longer mentions it?

      Current score: 0
  7. Trystia Indaea Olyphis Farrower says:

    Since a belt holds one’s pants up, shouldn’t it be easy to enchant one to prevent embarrassment?

    Current score: 0
    • Leila says:

      The pants are what are preventing embarrassment, the belt just keeps them in place. So I guess you could that the belt is helping to prevent embarrassment, but indirectly, so I don’t know if that’d really be in it’s nature to prevent embarrassment.

      Current score: 0
  8. Erm says:

    (I think someone is rearing to talk about something, rather than raring.)

    Current score: 0
    • Mickey says:

      “raring to go” (or “rarin’ to go”) seems to be a lot more common than “rearing to go”.

      I’d have to say that “raring to talk about” is probably at least as correct as “rearing to talk about”.

      Current score: 0
      • Sailorleo says:

        ‘Raring’ is incorrect, even if it is now the common usage. It derives from a local pronunciation in dialects of American English that have a strong drawl, like Texas, that just happened to mimic another standard English word.

        The idiom references ‘rearing up’, in the sense of a particular behavior common to equines and a few other animals. Unusually anthropomorphized example here: at 17:50.

        Current score: 0
  9. Zergonapal says:

    I wonder if the hole was a by product of Mack’s mother implanting the the idea of her death and if healing that hole might do a lot more than what is advertised on the bottle.

    Current score: 0
    • JN says:

      The origin of the whole, as expressed by The Man, is that it was left by the pitchfork entity when it possessed her. He has been using/maintaining it since. Whether you believe him or not…

      Current score: 0