314: Probing Questions

on November 12, 2008 in Book 11

In Which Dee Draws The Line

Sleeping with Amaranth was everything that it always was, and despite only having four or so hours of sleep, I felt slightly less dead than normal as five a.m. approached.

I couldn’t see the time from inside our cocoon, so when I first awoke I just stayed pressed up against Amaranth’s sleeping body, enjoying the feeling of her sun-warmed skin on mine while waiting for the inevitable hammering on the door that would signal the beginning of my weekly quality time with Sooni. When it didn’t come, I wondered exactly how early it was… was my body playing a practical joke on me?

I climbed over Amaranth as carefully as I could and slid out of bed. The air outside hit me like a frosty fist. There may have been some minor yelping.

“Good morning, Mack,” Two murmured from her bunk.

It was three minutes to five. I grabbed my clothes off the floor and threw them on, expecting the knock to come any moment and wanting to cut off Sooni’s angry ranting by being ready. The staccato outburst never came, though.

I headed out into the hall. The crack beneath Sooni’s door blazed with light, so it seemed like she was up. I knocked on the door.

“Hey, Sooni?” I said, trying to keep my voice down since most of the floor would be sleeping.

Kai opened the door, dressed in her infantile swimming costume. She had dark splotches under her eyes.

“Shhh,” she hissed. “Sooni just fell asleep an hour ago.”

“What’s with all the light?” I asked. The way the room was flooded with bright light, it was no wonder Sooni hadn’t been able to sleep.

“We were stuck in the fitness center during the storm,” Kai said. “Sooni thought it was coming for her.”

“She thought what was coming for her?” I asked, feeling like I was missing an antecedent.

“The storm,” Kai repeated. “She wouldn’t leave even when they gave the all-clear because she thought it was a trick. We only got back around three.”

It made a kind of Sooni-sense, I supposed. She was the star of the show… what storm wouldn’t take a personal interest in her?

“Don’t,” Kai said.

“What?” I asked.

“Make that look, like you think she’s crazy,” Kai said.

“Why do you care?” I asked. “She is crazy, and anyway, you hate her.”

“I hate her,” she said. “I’m entitled to. I know her. You don’t. Anyway, it isn’t the craziest idea… that storm was here because of somebody, even if it wasn’t her.”

“Yeah, but when an entire campus with thousands of people is caught in an unnatural thunderstorm, I don’t immediately think, ‘maybe this has something to do with me’,” I said. “I may be oblivious and self-centered sometimes, but I think that’s pushing things a little too far.”

“Whatever,” Kai said. “I’m letting her sleep. You do what you want.”

She stepped back inside the room and closed the door quietly behind her.

I was awake and dressed, and Dee wouldn’t be expecting us for another hour. I decided I might as well go watch TV anyway. Not because I cared about Pretty Neko Science Princess, but I thought it might be a good idea to be able to tell Sooni what she’d missed, if the show’s paper-thin plot happened to be advanced in some tiny, shallow way.

I started to head for our own lounge before realizing the replacement TV still hadn’t arrived, and headed downstairs instead. It was even quieter in the basement than it had been upstairs… and colder, too. It felt like a cold wind was blowing off the huge glass windows at the front of the room. I found myself wishing I’d brought my coat. I tried pulling a little warmth out of the air, but it was hard to find and I knew if I tried too hard I’d end up with a fire. That wouldn’t end well. So, I just put up with it, suffering through the chill and the stupid adventures of Science Princess until Mecknights came on.

It wasn’t fair how Sooni’s show seemed to drag on forever and mine was over in the blink of an eye, but that was the way it went. Dee was in the first floor hallway when I headed back up.

“You are surprisingly prompt,” she said. “Is Amaranth with you?”

“She was sleeping, last I saw her,” I said. “I can go get her.”

“Please do,” Dee said. She put her hand on the doorknob of one of the empty labs. “I will be here when you are ready.”

Amaranth was out of bed and shaking out her long wavy hair when I got back to our room.

“Hi, baby,” she said, smiling. “Two’s going to make us all breakfast when this thing with Dee’s over.”

“Oh, cool,” I said. “Um… she’s ready for us downstairs.”

“Okay,” Amaranth said. She put her hands on my shoulders and kissed me on the forehead. “You know… you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,” she said. “If any part of this makes you uncomfortable, if you’re hurt or afraid…”

“This isn’t just play,” I said. “This is important. This is for real.”

“I know!” she said. “But it’s still your body and your mind that are going to be under examination here. I’m sure Dee has the right idea and that she’s very competent, but she is only an initiate.”

“If she can’t deal with this, somebody else will have to,” I said. “And I’d rather it be a friend than a Khersian priest or a sketchy diabolist.”

“Okay,” she said. “If you’re sure.”

I wasn’t… Dee had said “unimaginable pain”, and she didn’t seem the type to hyperbolize about that sort of thing. I said that I was, though, because this needed doing and the only way for that to happen was for me to bite the strap and do it.

We headed downstairs. I led Amaranth to the room where Dee was waiting.

“Can we get some light in here, or will that mess things up?” Amaranth asked.

“My apologies,” Dee said, and she turned on the light. “Darkness was more conducive to my preparations. I passed much of the night in study, prayer, and reflection, and I believe I know now what must be done. Mackenzie, if you will please lie on the floor here?”

She pointed to a space where she’d drawn seven sides of an octagon on the floor. The sides were all slightly concave, and the curved lines extended slightly past the corners. The impression was the outline of a stylized spiderweb.

The fact that she’d left it unfinished strongly suggested that it was analogous to a circle of protection, that once completed it would be a barrier that I wouldn’t be able to cross. I’d said I was ready, though, and I trusted Dee. I stepped over the line, careful not to scuff the design, sat down, and then stretched out, careful to make sure I was within the lines.

“Thank you,” Dee said.

She took up her chalk and drew the eighth line. I felt/heard something like a snap or a crack and knew intuitively that the barrier was in place. I was trapped… until somebody else physically damaged the circle, nothing I did could affect it or the world beyond it.

“In this case, the web’s restraint is for the protection of all,” Dee said. “If the pain of the process causes you to lash out… or if something within you interprets my actions as a threat and responds… the circle will contain that reaction, obviating the need for me to subdue you. Once we are finished, I will remove it and you will be free.”

I experienced a moment of doubt which quickly blossomed into dread. Was this whole set-up a ruse? Had Dee decided that I was too dangerous to be allowed to live?

She was a priestess, and even if demons didn’t fall under her normal purview, being on the surface and among humans put her into an unusual position. For as much as she had a superiority complex about her own race, would she pass up the chance to save human lives?

I would have given almost anything to undo what had been done… possibly including my own life, but the fact was giving my life wouldn’t undo it. I felt awful, but it wasn’t ultimately my fault, and I wasn’t prepared to die for it.

I was being crazy, though… if I knew anything about Dee, it was that she didn’t take friendship lightly. If she thought something that drastic needed to be done, she’d say so… wouldn’t she?

Unless she thought the kindest route was to make it quick and avoid any unpleasantness.

Dee had never struck me as being a liar… but she’d spent the night in reflection, she said. What if her plan had changed since she first outlined it? What if she’d only come to a decision about what to do after the last time we’d talked? She’d told me to get in the circle and I had done so without asking why.

“Dee… tell me again what we’re doing here?” I asked.

“We have gone over this before. We have to be absolutely sure,” she said. Yeah, that was reassuring… sure of what? That I didn’t harm anybody ever? “Now please be silent while I say a necessary prayer. The web should shield you.”

She knelt by the circle and bowed until her forehead was on the floor just outside it. She prayed out loud in her own melodic dialect of Elvish, slowly raising her body back up to a vertical position as the prayer reached what sounded like its conclusion. She opened her eyes, and they had gone completely black.

“Brace your…” she said, and she stretched out her hands.

“Unimaginable pain”, she had said. That about summed it up.

Thanks to the magic of spectral weapons, I had a pretty good idea of what having a sword shoved through a vital organ felt like. This was like that, only more… and all over. It was a bit like the time Dee had frozen me in my tracks with a field of divine power that burned when I struggled against it, only aggressive rather than passive… like being enclosed in an iron maiden of holy power. I was being slowly impaled on a thousand glittering points of agony.

It went on and on, and I thought I was going to die… and then it ended, and I knew that I had. The pain ceased so abruptly.

I could feel nothing.

I could see nothing.

I could hear…

“…self,” Dee said.

The world came back into a blurry sort of focus.

“What did you do?” Amaranth shrieked.

“I believe she is unharmed,” Dee said. “And I have learned what I needed to from her. Now all that remains is for me to view your aura, and compare the energies I find there with hers.”

“You aren’t doing anything else to her!” Amaranth said.

“Amaranth, I’m fine,” I said, sitting up. The words sounded dull and echoey in my ears. My body was stiff and numb, and my mouth was full of cotton. It was like all my senses had been completely overwhelmed and shut themselves down.

“You misunderstand,” Dee said. She reached out a gloved finger and smudged one of the lines. I felt something falling away. “I do not need to do anything further to Mackenzie. Her part is finished, and your part should not be nearly so unpleasant.”

I got up and stumbled over to Amaranth, who was white as a sheet and ready to cry. It was probably a good thing that the ordeal had apparently only lasted a moment from an external point of view… if she’d had any inkling what I’d really gone through, it probably would have destroyed her.

It was over, though, and I was fine… I felt a little guilty for mistrusting Dee, but I was unscathed. She’d done no more or less than she’d said she would.

Amaranth fell against me, sobbing.

“I thought… I thought…” she sputtered.

“Take a moment,” Dee said. “Gather yourself.”

She turned away, and I held Amaranth until she stopped shaking. It was at that point that I realized I was shaking, too.

“If you are ready,” Dee said, “then Mackenzie will either need to exit the room or be confined to the circle again… under the circumstances, I feel that a direct viewing of the aura will be the most efficacious.”

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2 Responses to “314: Probing Questions”

  1. pedestrian says:

    They really need to help Mackenzie build up some sort of tolerance to divine energy. Of course we cannot expect miracles……

    Similar to carefully, over a period of time to acquiring a tan.

    And something else I wondered about. Big time university, there has to be a lot of different research programs, grants, corporate sponsors, fellowships, etc; going on all the time. I’d thought some of the researchers, especially covert financing from government security and military would be trying to lure Our Mack into their projects.

    Grad students, trying for doctorates and masters should be banging her door down. If Demon Daddy or Mercy wanted to keep tabs on Our Mack, a little grease here, a modest donation there, would buy them a whole lot of access.

    Current score: 5
  2. Doc says:

    It’s still only her first month(ish)
    Considering the legal precedings, as well as the other incidents, I’m sure that even the most desperate of those wishing to “use” mack would be treading carefully, especially as she’s not the first half demon the school has had.

    Current score: 3