162: Nebulous Properties

on February 21, 2008 in 06: A Period of Conflict

In Which Mackenzie Reflects In Class

I did feel a bit better after drinking Two’s hot chocolate, which was unbelievably good.

It was no wonder Two had strained herself making it. It wasn’t just chocolate milk that she’d heated up, either. I could have done that myself, though I might have had a problem getting it just hot enough. It seemed like she’d fundamentally altered the contents of the glass. The milk and the syrup had been base components, reference points: this is chocolate, this is drink, or something similar. The end result of the transformation tasted indistinguishable from anything my mother had made on the stove.

Or maybe I just didn’t have a recent enough basis for comparison. Or maybe I just felt so shitty that anything even a little positive seemed awesome by comparison, but whatever.

It was good.

Of course, once I felt a little bit better, I became acutely aware of how awkward and horrible the last few minutes had been. The rest of lunch wasn’t much different. Amaranth kept trying to engage Steff in conversation, without much success. Celia talked about her illusions. That was about it for talking.

I should have tried to talk to Ian. I knew it, but I couldn’t. He took me aside as we were all leaving. I tried not to wince in anticipation. It was hard to avoid, when I was already wincing from the cramps.

“Look, Mackenzie…”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “That was… it was a stupid idea.”

“It was a good idea on a bad day,” Ian said. “Look, why don’t you go to the healing center? I’m not saying it’s… anything in particular. But if you feel that bad, you should get it checked out.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said, thinking that the answer would be no.

The last time I’d been at the healing center, I’d made an ass of myself due to the limited perspective on non-Khersian religions my grandmother had instilled in me. I wasn’t about to go back there unless I was actually bleeding.

And since it wasn’t time for my period, that wasn’t going to happen.

“Anyway, the thing is,” Ian said, “no matter how much time I spend ‘thinking about it’, the stuff you’ve got in your life is still going to be weird to me. I don’t think that’s going to change.”

I closed my eyes and nodded my understanding.

“I need you to understand that I’m going to be weirded out by some stuff,” he said. “It’s okay for Steff to be… well, I mean, it’s all okay. Whatever you guys do. But when I’m thinking things are one way and I find out… I mean… I’ll try not to let it overwhelm me, but I think it’s okay for me to find it weird.”

It took my mind a moment to catch up with what he was saying.

“Also, let’s just take things a little slower for a while,” he said. “We don’t have to, you know, back up or anything… I don’t know if we could, really… but let’s figure out where we are before we go any farther.”

“So, where are we?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s why we have to figure it out. Are you planning on getting any more lovers?”

“I wasn’t planning on anything,” I said. “Well, I mean, I knew I wanted a boyfriend, but the rest just kind of happened. It was like I fell into it.”

He laughed.

“What?” I asked, giving him a dark look.

“Sorry,” he said. “Just a stupid thought.”

“What was it?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Really.”

“Tell me,” I said.

“I just thought of you going, ‘Oops, I slipped and fell into…'”

“I hate you so much,” I said, cutting him off.

“I have to get ready for my afternoon classes,” he said. “Feel better, okay?”

“No,” I said impishly, folding my arms. “I refuse.”

“I’ll talk to you later, Mackenzie.”

“Bye,” I said.

“Bye.”

“So, I know it’s probably still too soon…” Amaranth said, coming over as Ian left, a look of trepidation on her face.

“We’re okay,” I said. “For now. He wants to go slow.”

“That’s great, honey,” Amaranth said. “Now, of course you want Steff to be the first person in your butt, but after that you’ll want to make sure Ian knows that’s avail…”

“Amaranth,” I said gently, interrupting her. “Please, don’t micromanage my sex life with Ian.”

“Oh,” she said, blushing a little. “Baby, I thought you liked it.”

“I, um, sort of do,” I said. It was awkward and demeaning and horribly embarrassing, so of course in the end it drove me crazy in a good way. “But… not with Ian. I don’t want to mess things up with him.”

“I can’t see how it would,” Amaranth said. “Didn’t you say the first time he hit on you, he asked for anal?”

“That was… different,” I said. “I don’t know if he actually wanted it for himself. He was repeating something he’d heard about Harlowe girls. Anyway… I don’t know when I’ll be ready for that. I want to give myself to Steff, but… I’m not ready to take it off the list.”

It was hard for me to say that, because I was horribly conflicted. I was terrified of anal sex, especially with Steff’s preference for being less-than-gentle. On the other hand, I wanted so much to please her, and my pleasure drive did seem to be rather, um… butt-centric.

“Well, it’s not like you have to make up your mind right away,” Amaranth said, scrunching up her lips. Then, she smiled. “I’m confident you’ll come around, though. Ian did.”

“Probably,” I agreed.

It was horrible to be even a little bit glad for Steff’s problems, but at least they put off this particular decision for a bit. While Steff was being restricted by Viktor–and in no real shape for recreational activities anyway–there wasn’t a lot of pressure.

“Make sure you go to the healing center if you’re not going to go to mixed melee,” Amaranth reminded me. “You’ll need a note so you don’t mess up your grades, and anyway, if you’re feeling poor enough not to fight, you need to talk to a healer.”

“I’m feeling better now,” I said. It wasn’t a lie. I did feel better than I had before, even if I still felt pretty terrible.

“Okay, baby,” she said. She gave me the over-the-glasses look. “I’m serious, though. No skipping without a note.”

I was pretty sure I could afford to miss a few classes and still scrape a passing grade, but I would obey. Anyway, I had some time to make up my mind. Before mixed melee, I had my basic enhancements lab. Even if I had felt bad enough to consider skipping that, we were turning in our knife sharpening spells and getting our next assignments.

I felt a little bit better when I thought about how I’d included another, broader-purpose spell for sharpening both knives and swords tacked onto the end of my paper. I’d originally considered including all the variations on the sharpening spell that I’d come up with, but decided that might look a bit haphazard.

A spell that would work on both knives and swords had greater utility than the knife spell and was closely related to the actual scope of the assignment. It seemed like a safe bet that it would get me a little extra credit, either literally or metaphorically.

“Alright, today we’re going to be moving onto our next project,” Professor Rankin said at the beginning of class. “I’ll remind you that the write-up of your knife sharpening spell needs to be on my desk by the end of the period. Normally, assignments will be collected at the beginning of the class, but as this was the first project of the year I’m making allowance for the fact that some of you are probably about to turn in remarkably similar formulae. Bear in mind that I can call on you to perform the spell you turn in before I assign a grade, and then decide if your paper’s ready to turn in or if you want to take some class time and give it more of an individual touch.”

After that little speech, we got our next assignment. We were sadly not moving on from practicing with the knives. The new project was to choose another property of the knife or its metal and develop an enhancement spell for it, using the same techniques we’d learned for sharpness.

I figured most of the other students would go for something predictable like accuracy–hard because it was so esoteric–or durability. It pissed me off considerably that they didn’t have a specialized class where the armoury majors could go play with their toys and let the enchantment students do something useful and fun, but I supposed it didn’t really matter what we worked with. I’d already managed to take what I’d learned from the knife and applied it recreationally.

So what to do next? I knew I didn’t want to do some lame weapon enhancement, but I didn’t have a clue what to do instead.

I leaned over the practice knife in the power circle and studied it, focusing on it to try to get a sense of its properties and see if anything would occur to me. There were no enchantments on it at the moment, so it wasn’t really a matter of detecting magic in the usual sense… I was more trying to get in tune with the everyday sort of magic that made it up.

This was a lot harder than detecting an ongoing enchantment… it’s the disruption in the normal flow of things that stands out. But, leaning close over the knife, I saw my own face as a sort of dim, wobbly reflection in the surface of the blade.

That gave me an idea.

I would try to increase the reflectiveness of the metal. I was picturing my own fairly ugly knife with a high mirror sheen on the blade, once I eventually mastered permanency.

That could be kind of cool, and not directly related to the fact that the knife was a weapon.

Also, it would kind of mimic the high chrome look that was popular in fantasy shows.

It would be tricky to pull off. The appearance of an object was a separate matter from the object itself, and altering that directly was glamour. I wanted to change the substance of the knife to be more reflective, not alter a property of its appearance so it would look more reflective.

I’d never tried glamour, and didn’t think I’d have much luck with that branch of magic–I just wasn’t that focused on how things looked–but it would be important to check myself and make sure I wasn’t straying into it.

I gave it a try. It was sort of tough going… the knife wasn’t a very good mirror to begin with, and “reflectiveness” was a lot less central to the identity of metal than “sharpness” was to that of a knife. For a while, concentrating on the task let me ignore my physical discomfort, but then it would flare up and distract me. Several times I thought I had a grasp on the reflectiveness and then lost it, and while I could feel my energy pouring at the knife, there wasn’t any visible result that I could be sure wasn’t simply my imagination.

Frustrated, I kept stubbornly pouring more and more of my energy at the knife, metaphorically pushing and kicking until I saw it growing shinier. The strain was too much, though. I couldn’t keep it up, and I’d managed to aggravate the cramping in my lower parts.

While I rested up a bit, I realized that once I’d tweaked the knife even a little bit, it should respond to magical detection and I could then zero in on it.

It was kind of odd trying to focus on detecting magic, finding the reflectiveness within the knife’s metal, and pouring energy into enhancing it… it kind of felt like trying to do three jobs with two hands… but this let me “see” what I was doing in a way I hadn’t been able to before.

Once I had that worked out, I was able to focus my energy much more effectively. Before, it had been like I was sending a broad stream at a very narrow target. I couldn’t send as much energy while I was half-focused on detection, but a lot less of it was going to waste.

Under my efforts, I saw the metal seem to brighten as it reflected more of the overhead lights. Then, I felt like I could give no more and I let go. The effect didn’t begin to fade right away… I leaned over and saw my own face looking back at me, clear as could be.

“Interesting technique,” Professor Rankin said, and I realized he’d been watching me, waiting until he could speak without interrupting my attempt. “Where did you learn to do that?”

“High school,” I said.

“They don’t generally teach things like magical detection in high school,” he said. “Were you in a prep class?”

“They didn’t have any at my school,” I said. “I just watched the teachers a lot.”

“It isn’t the most efficient use of your attention while you’re doing complex work, though,” he said. “The bookstore sells enchanters’ loupes that will let you do the same thing with less effort.”

“I probably couldn’t afford one, sir,” I said.

“If you haven’t got one by the time you hit the next level classes, come and see me,” he said. “I usually have an older model lying around gathering dust.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, trying not to grin like an idiot. The professor hadn’t even asked if I planned on pursuing the more advanced classes. He’d taken it for granted. Had he already looked at my paper, or was that just from observing me at work?

Unfortunately, there was still a good twenty minutes left in class and I felt tapped out. There was no way I could fiddle around pretending to be working when I knew the professor was paying attention to me in particular, so I pulled out my notebook and began sketching out a preliminary idea of what the mirror finish spell would look like. It was probably rubbish… I couldn’t do more than guess for most of it… but at least it would look like I was doing something.

I prayed for the end of class to come quickly, but at the same time I dreaded it. Mixed melee was coming up. It would be the first time I saw Gloria since our little misunderstanding in the spiritual arts building.

If she was still upset, I’d be out a sparring partner. Worse, I’d have to give up the idea that we could be… well, even friends. Steff was probably right in thinking that anything else wasn’t in the cards with her, but I still liked her.

I could always get a note and skip, but that would only be postponing the inevitable. Though… Ian had needed time to come to terms with my relationship with Steff. Maybe Gloria just needed time, too.

I was also feeling even more pain and discomfort, after my mystic exertions. In the end, though, it came down to which I wanted to face the least: the healing center or potential rejection or hostility by Gloria.

It was no contest. There was always the chance that Roger, the healer I’d offended, wouldn’t be on duty, but Gloria would definitely be in class.


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One Response to “162: Nebulous Properties”

  1. Daniel says:

    Honestly, I would have gone and apologized (read: been a coward and sent somebody else to apologize) by this point. I would mention that I had heard the horrible rumors about “Arkanities” and now knew that Arkhanites were not like that.

    Current score: 0