329: Fruitful Inquiries

on December 12, 2008 in Book 12

In Which Professor Bohd Checks Mackenzie Out

Kiersta was staring at me, all expectant-like. Unfortunately, talking to Puddy had been the beginning and end of my plan. It wasn’t like I could really just go up to Leda and ask her about a donation.

I had a better chance of success with Feejee, of course. She didn’t think anything about giving away priceless pieces of jewelry, but she was also giving serious thought to whether she should kill and eat me or become best buds. Yeah… probably best not to go asking her for favors.

“Um… how about I write up a form letter thing and you can get it into everybody’s mailboxes?” I said. “I mean, if I go around as a student asking for money it might look… off.”

“Oh, yeah, huh?” she said. “I didn’t even think of that.”

“You can figure out who they need to talk to make the actual donation and make sure it ends up here,” I said. “I mean, there’s probably official channels for that.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Okay.”

It sounded like we were starting to get into the neighborhood of more work than she’d expected to do, but I did not want somebody trying to nail me for running a scam or something.

“Um… I have stuff I need to get back to,” I said. I’d made up my mind to go back to my room… Two’s cleaning and humming and pencil scratching might be annoying, but I figured I’d had my share of random encounters for the evening.

“Okay,” she said. “But don’t forget about this!”

“I won’t,” I said. Yeah… I was already answering questions for my lawyer and doing my history teacher’s work for him. What was a little canvassing for donations on top of that?

Back in our room, Two was already getting ready for bed.

“My friend Hazel says that I have a big day tomorrow,” she said. “And my friend Dee wanted me to remind you that you need to wake up early to meditate for us.”

“Oh, right,” I said. I was supposed to be doing that. I was also supposed to be contacting my grandmother in some fashion. Hopefully if I showed good progress at whatever Dee wanted me to learn, she wouldn’t press me on that.

Two showed absolutely no curiosity about the promised “big day”, nor any sign that she doubted what her friend Hazel had told her.

In the darkness of my bed, I did a little random gazing about the early history of the plains of Prax. It seemed that the area had been uninhabited… meaning, empty of humans, elves, and dwarves… until about five hundred years ago. Before that, there had been lizardfolk and goblin tribes in the Enias River Valley and the wetter parts of the swampy south, along with some “sub-goblin” races that been hunted almost to extinction even before humans arrived, but the open plains had held no permanent settlements until a Merovian paladin, Sir Karoleon, had arrived with a party of explorers. They’d built a fort to use as a base for sending goods downriver to the Merovia-controlled port at Aurelianum.

Fort Karoleon and the Merovian presence was well before the timeframe of my presentation, but knowing the background would be helpful.

I went to bed before too long. My subconscious evidently thought I’d got off too easy during my solo trip to Enwich, because I was treated to a protracted dream about being lost in an underground transit center that was more sprawling and labyrinthine than the real one. Awareness of this difference came and went throughout the dream, along with the ability to acknowledge that some parts of it were from the dwarves’ Underhall and my own basement. An undercurrent of menace followed me throughout the dream, but there was no obvious danger apart from being lost and I woke up without any sort of resolution.

It seemed like this was going to be my new flavor of nightmare…weird and unending. It seemed unfair that I was growing out of the phase of highly sexually charged dreams just as I was getting to the point where I might have been able to appreciate them for what they were.

Two’s voice was the first thing I heard outside the dream.

“Good morning, Mack!”

“Good morning,” I said, through a mouth that wasn’t ready to form words. I yawned and lurched into a sitting position. “How’d you know I was awake?”

“You stopped talking,” she said.

“I was talking in my sleep?” I asked.

“Yes.”

That was weird. I hadn’t remembered much talking in the dream.

“What was I saying?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t think it was words.”

We got dressed. Dee reached the hall at the same time as we did… presumably, she’d heard us getting ready and had come out to meet us.

“Good morning, Dee!” Two said.

“Good morning to you both,” she said with her customary bow. “Are you ready?” she asked me.

“As long as I don’t have to get inside a protection circle this time,” I said.

“No, we will be doing some rather simple concentration exercises today,” Dee said. “In addition to teaching you more self-control, I will be working on my own. I fear that recent events have stripped away entire layers of restraint I spent years developing. Even before the… most significant event… my emotional control has faltered slightly.”

I thought about imploding glassware and bent forks… and Steff doubling over like her crotch was in an invisible vise.

We headed downstairs and went into one of the labs. The meditation lesson wasn’t that different than the first one she had given me, only there wasn’t nearly as much focus on relaxation after the initial descent into the meditative state. Instead, she had me focus on forming and holding images.

This was more difficult than it sounded. She’d say, “Picture a square. Form a square in your mind.” I’d think the words, “Picture a square. A square. A square.” The words were stronger than the image was. She’d prod me to keep my mind empty except for the image and to “hold it”, and then I’d start thinking about what would happen in my weapons class that afternoon or about my Mecknights story or tunnels under Enwich.

I was kind of wishing I hadn’t stopped my research so early in the evening. How had the future site of Enwich gone from being essentially a military outpost under the control of a Kharoline knight to the sort of place that would have warlocks building giant underground vaults in the span of about two centuries?

Also, I wasn’t entirely sure I believed that the Underhall was less than five hundred years old. It was certainly older than the buildings on the grounds above it.

“Tomorrow, we will build on what you managed today,” Dee told me when she decided we were done. The way she said it, I thought it was pretty clear she knew exactly how little I’d “managed”.

Amaranth and Steff were both in more than high spirits at breakfast. They both seemed like they were about ready to explode. I was glad the party was only half a day away… I didn’t think any of us could stand to keep the one happy secret much longer, and when it was all over we’d have something we could talk about again.

Before the party, though, I had to get through my classes. Ordinarily I would only have dreaded facing Callahan, but without knowing what I might have said or done on Thursday, my stomach was churning at the thought of facing Bohd as well.

I could very well have pissed off Rankin, but that didn’t worry me so much. It wasn’t just that I valued Bohd’s good opinion… it was the fact that she, in her own way, was as formidable as Callahan. Rankin might have been a capable enchanter, but it was hard to be afraid of him.

Despite dragging my feet all the way to the classroom, Ian was nowhere to be seen when I got to elemental invocation. Bohd was already at her desk, though. She gave me a look over the top of her glasses, which gave me a very inappropriate and more than a little bit creepy twinge in a very inappropriate and more than a little bit creepy place.

“Good morning, Ms. Mackenzie,” she said, still staring at me over her rims. “You’re feeling better, it seems.”

“Um… what do you mean?” I asked.

“Last Thursday, you evinced a badly disrupted aura,” she said. “As well as an unusually poor attitude.”

“Yeah, about that… um…”

How to finish that sentence? Was “possession” a common bullshit excuse for students who slacked off or acted up? Would I need to get a note from somebody to prove it? Or could I avoid the whole thing entirely somehow? The less people were aware of the possession, the better, as far as I was concerned.

“What about it?” she prompted.

“I don’t have any memory of class on Thursday,” I said. There. That was both true and cut to the heart of the matter, while leaving the possession out of it.

“Ah. Were you perhaps possessed?” She asked. So much for that idea. “That’s one possible explanation that would be consistent both with the symptoms I observed and with memory loss.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s what happened,” I said. “I, uh… I got better.”

“Yes, I see,” she said. “You appear up to lab work, at any rate. Do you know about the written assignment?”

“I think I remember you mentioning that there would be one,” I said. “But not what it actually was. Um, it’s not due today, is it?”

“No,” she said. “I’ll write up all the details for you before the end of class.”

And that was the end of it, though she kept looking at me for several seconds before she called the class to order, and I kept catching her looking at me after that. It was freaking me out a little bit. Could she see something wrong or weird about me, or was she staring at me because she had expected to see something like that but hadn’t?

She didn’t say anything else, though. I told myself that Bohd of all people would say something if there was anything at all to say. She was just scrutinizing me to be careful, because I’d freaked her out on Thursday. That was all.

I kept telling myself that, and by the time the lab was over, I almost believed it.

Steff didn’t show up for lunch, but Dee was there. Two was working a lunch shift, and so Dee and I were temporarily alone at the table together when we got back with our food before Amaranth did. I wanted to ask her if she could see or sense or feel or whatever anything weird coming off of me, just in case. Before I could figure out how to ask, though, she took a small bite of a grapefruit and made a very un-Dee-like face.

“What exactly is this?” she asked.

“It’s half a grapefruit,” I said.

She looked down at it.

“What is the other half? Some manner of sour melon?” she asked.

“It’s a grapefruit that’s been cut in half,” I clarified.

“I see,” Dee said. “The grapefruits I am familiar with are smaller and sweeter. If this is what they mature into, then I must say I prefer them young.”

“Uh, I think you’re thinking of grapes,” I said.

“Yes. Are those not fruit?”

“They’re fruit, but they aren’t grapefruit,” I said. “I don’t know why they’re called that. I don’t think they’re related to grapes.”

“No, they’re actually a cross between an orange and a pomelo,” Amaranth said, rejoining us with her tray of food. It had taken her a while to find food that met her needs, and she’d ended up with a grapefruit half, a salad, and a piece of bread. “They look a bit like grapes when they’re growing.”

“Whatever this ‘pomelo’ is, I do not find that an orange is much improved by the mixing,” Dee said.

“If you don’t want to finish that, I’ll be happy to,” Amaranth said. “I like a nice grapefruit every once in a while.”

“I guess it must be what is known as an ‘acquired taste’,” Dee said, passing the small plate to Amaranth. “On the subject of oranges, Two’s friend Hazel tells me that gnomes get oranges from Saint Owain. Do human children receive oranges on the solstice holiday, as well?”

“The winter one, sometimes,” Amaranth said.

“There is more than one solstice?”

“Yes, one in the winter for the longest night, and one in the summer for the longest day,” Amaranth said.

“Oh, I had not considered that might be deemed worthy of celebrating, too,” Dee said.

“I think the oranges thing was mainly from a time when fresh fruit from tropical places was more of a luxury, so an orange was a huge deal,” I said. “And sugar in non-fruit form was even more expensive. I never really got the… well, once, I guess. I must have been like four or so. My grandmother had oranges for all of us. I tried to chew through the rind… that’s the only reason I really remember about it, is my mother told me about it every… well, the next five Khersentides.”

“That’s interesting,” Dee said. “The decline of the custom, I mean. The situation you describe matches that of my homeland, at least in superficial particulars. Fruit is scarce and sugar is unheard of.”

“You said you use it for birthdays,” Amaranth said.

“And for courting gifts,” Dee said. “My Darek, my… beloved man? Male suitor? Beau? My beau, Darek, won the attentions of my Dehsah with fresh fruit in order to court me.”

“He used her to get to you?” I said, looking for clarification. She’d said it like she was proud of him.

“Yes,” Dee said. “It was very clever of him. I had rejected other men out of hand, so happy was I with my pretty Dehsah… but once they two were involved with one another, I had to give him more of a hearing.”

“The things you can learn about yourself when you open your mind a little,” Amaranth said.

“Indeed,” Dee said.

Amaranth might have been happy to hear about Dee’s relationships, but the “my” thing was starting to grate on me a little. I didn’t want to begrudge Dee her happiness, but it reminded me a bit too much of Sooni and “her” nekos.

“It is not anything particular to our relationship,” Dee said to me, and I realized I must have been leaking that thought. “Our language contains various ways of inflecting words… using the possessive form is a way of showing a sense of pride in an individual, that you are willing to claim them, as it were. It’s considered polite when referring to family members or loved ones.”

“Oh,” I said.

“You shouldn’t be so judgmental, baby,” Amaranth chided. “I can’t read minds, but it was written all over your face.”

“I wasn’t judging,” I said. “I was just… wondering. Thinking.”

“I apologize,” Dee said. “It was a private thought. I should not have given it air… I only sought to reassure you. I know that both you and Steff have expressed some concern over the nature of my relationships.”

“It isn’t any of their business, Dee,” Amaranth said. She looked at me. “And somebody’s going to get her little butt smacked if she can’t remember that. Anyway, Dee, why this interest in surface holidays? Thinking about sending your beloveds Khersentide gifts?”

“I’m unsure of the appropriateness of that,” Dee said. “But Hazel had mentioned the oranges, and I found the commonality in our cultures, however slight, to be interesting.”

“I’ve always said that different cultures had more in common with each other than they had differences,” Amaranth said.

“I’m not sure I would go quite that far,” Dee said.

“But that’s one huge similarity right there,” Amaranth said. “And it can’t be the only one, right?”

“I suppose it is unlikely to be so.”

“So… there you go,” Amaranth said.

I didn’t think Amaranth had proven her point as neatly as she seemed to think she had, but I held my tongue.

I figured I’d given her enough punishment fodder for a single meal.


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3 Responses to “329: Fruitful Inquiries”

  1. Jechtael says:

    I could go for more of Dee convincing people of things and less of Amaranth winning arguments (especially by default).

    Current score: 4
  2. Mike says:

    You know, I’ve always had issues with people, I don’t know, punishing you? for having thoughts. If Makcenzie had said what she was thinking, ok, but Amaranth saying she was going to get punished just for thinking something is going a little far. Even if Mackenzie can’t control her face, she was attempting to keep it to herself.

    Current score: 8
    • Athena says:

      With you on that one. Certainly it should be mentioned, with an aim toward self-improvement, but Mack should at least have been given slack for not blurting it out. Even with subtle artists around, you can’t much help your thoughts, not the way you can help saying something.

      Changing the underlying thought patterns is the ultimate goal of any real, sustainable change, but Mack shouldn’t be punished for not managing it overnight. Not even with her particular quirks and need for ‘reminder’ punishments. There are much better ways to frame it than that.

      Current score: 0