Chapter 172: Stone’s StoneAlexandraErin on August 7, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 5: Nasty Disturbing Uncomfortable Things
In Which Mackenzie Works Out
Professor Stone met me at the classroom door. He had a look of almost paternal concern on his face.
“Ms. Mackenzie,” he said. “Would I be correct in thinking there’s been some setback in your plan?”
“Possibly very minor ones,” I said. “I might actually be done, it’s just… Emily’s wasn’t willing to put it to the test. Yet, I mean. We’re trying to ease her into the idea… I guess I could have started doing that sooner.”
“You may recall I suggested you involve her in the process,” he said.
“Yeah, you did,” I said. “And I didn’t… not before I was ready to test things out. In fairness, though, I really didn’t expect her to have any reason to balk.”
“Well, it’s an unusual experience for a building to object to anything, but you have more experience with that than most people,” he said. “Still, that’s better news than I expected, based on the reaction.”
He stroked a finger on his right hand as he said that.
“I guess that’s your ‘weather vane’, huh?” I said, looking at it.
Professor Stone had inherited his dwarven mother’s hard-headedness, which had a tendency to keep out psychic influences, even benign ones. That lack of sensitivity didn’t often matter since most people communicated with their mouths, but it had apparently been quite a drawback in establishing a working relationship with Magisterius University’s resident building-spirit.
When I’d first told him about my own problems in dealing with Emily, he’d mentioned that he’d had to construct a device to work around the problem. I hadn’t expected it to be a ring.
“Construct” seemed like an odd word to use for jewelry, though on a second glance, this thing was clearly a construction. There was a large stone that looked like cloudy glass. It was technically faceted, but more in the manner of costume jewelry than a diamond or precious stone. It was like a slightly rounded rectangle, with the edges and corners planed off. Copper wires held it to the band, which was itself made of intertwined wires of different width and composition.
“Oh, yes indeed,” he said. “It isn’t the prettiest thing I’ve ever devised, but… as much as it pains me to admit it, sometimes function triumphs over form, and believe me, every element of this is functional. I could have made it a little more tidily, but, well… when the need suddenly arose, I couldn’t exactly wait for the muse to move me, could I? I tried to at least make it interesting.”
“I think it looks cool,” I said.
“Cool,” he repeated. “Not exactly the aesthetic I would have gone for… maybe someday I’ll remake it, but since it does the job it needs to, I have a hard time justifying the time it would take to do it right. I suppose it could be a lesson in not putting things off, but I’ve never been one to believe that life is anything so convenient as a collection of moral instructions.”
“And it’s not like you could have known that you would need a way to communicate with a building,” I said.
“No, nor would I have predicted that a ring of enchantment would prove the key to doing so, but I still had about eight hundred twenty-three thousand, five hundred and forty-three reasons to make one before my first encounter with Emily.”
“Oh, that probably sounded a bit… idiosyncratic… to human ears, didn’t it?” he said. “It’s a bit of hyperbole I inherited from my mother.”
“That’s just a ring of enchantment?” I said.
“Well, I would hardly say ‘just’,” he said, patting the green stone protectively. “While there are numerous well-established standards for enchanter’s tools, surely you must have heard it said that there are as many different types as there are enchanters who make and use them. This one has a few features that I probably would not have thought to add if not for my professional difficulties, though they’ve proven useful in my avocation as well.”
“I feel like I’m missing something incredibly obvious,” I said. “Though, the way my life goes, the fact that I realize that is probably progress. You use an enchanter’s ring to communicate with Emily?”
“Yes, it’s quite simple,” he said. “I lack the expertise that would be necessary to create an item that involves empathic communication, and there’s little guarantee that I could make use of such a device if I did… so obviously, I had to come at it from a slightly different angle. Fortunately, I’ve always loved to tinker. In any event, the hour draws near… we should probably continue this after class.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, grateful for an intermission in the conversation.
Simple… obviously… it was apparent that Professor Stone thought that he was talking about something that was fairly self-explanatory. If I couldn’t figure out the connection myself, I would ask him to elaborate, but instead of just blurting out another question, I now had time to give it some thought on my own.
I followed him into the classroom and took my place. Other students began arriving almost immediately, including Nicki.
“Hey, girl!” she said. “Sorry I wasn’t at lunch.”
“That’s okay, I had stuff to do, anyway,” I said.
“I just feel kind of bad… I’m having a lot of fun with Grace, but it seems like lately I only go out at all when I’m with her,” she said. “I don’t want you to think that I don’t like hanging out with you.”
“It’s okay,” I said. I knew that having an excuse made it easier. She wouldn’t put herself forward for her own sake… it wasn’t really that, but it felt like it… but if Grace wanted to hang out with us, she wouldn’t say no. I didn’t think that pointing out what she was doing would be helpful, though, so instead I just said, “You do have a life now, after all.”
“Hey, I do, don’t I?” she said. “How cool is that?”
“Very cool,” I said.
“Sometimes, I just stop in the middle of the sidewalk and think ‘I have a girlfriend!’ And then I stop and correct myself, because apparently, it’s an important difference that a girlfriend has me. But still!” she said. “And she’s pretty. And she’s hot. And she likes me!”
“Yeah, that’s definitely a plus,” I said, not even bothering to try to hide my grin. Nicki was a lot more… exuberant… about it than I’d ever been about anything, but I understood the stunned disbelief.
Of course, a lot of my disbelief over having a girlfriend had stemmed from the fact that I hadn’t ever expected to want one, but once that hurdle was finally cleared for the last time, the pervasive sense of holy shit, how did I manage this? had eventually settled in.
“Oops,” Nicki said. “I got a bit loud there, didn’t I?”
Her eyes flitted to Professor Stone, who was looking in our direction and twitching his nose. He hadn’t technically started class yet, but given the very real possibility that he’d just been waiting for us in particular to settle down, I wasn’t sure that was a defense.
So I just nodded at Nicki and kept my eyes forward as he began his lecture.
I’d been given a few borderline warnings Stone for being too chatty with Nicki during class, but today I had two reasons to mind my own business. One was that most of the obvious topics of conversation we might have would tend to drift in the direction of Glory’s secret plans. I wasn’t big on keeping secrets from my friends, but this one wasn’t mine. The other was that I wanted to figure out what Professor Stone had been talking about.
Part of it was that it just bugged me not to know, but there was also a chance that if I could figure it out, I could improve my own communication with Emily. Some form of communication that didn’t involve actual empathic contact? It was doubtful I could master it in time for it to make a difference to my immediate problem, but if we did get the current crisis resolved, then it would probably be handy to be able to approach Emily directly in the future. Stone had told me that even just making that gesture had done a lot to heal the rift between him and her, and I’d had a small taste of that myself.
He’d mentioned that enchanters’ tool sets tended to have a number of standard features, which was true. They were loaded up with things that helped with enchantment. Huge energy reservoirs were a given… that was probably the point of the big green rock. It was a powerstone. And obviously, an item meant for enchantment would need to facilitate the actual spells that were commonly used in the act of enchantment.
But unless Professor Stone was throwing together new items all the time to somehow communicate with Emily through them… which didn’t seem helpful or his style… then I was overlooking something.
Except… he hadn’t been talking about communicating with her at all. He’d described the device in terms of something that let him know which way the wind was blowing, and if I recalled our previous conversation correctly, it seemed like he was better at reading her signs than he was at talking to her.
So it was something less like communication, and more like… divination.
That was it.
The first magical skills most mages developed revolved around detection, and enchanters were no exception. You had to be able to feel magical energy to control it. And enchanters didn’t just need to feel the raw flow around us or the energy inside our bodies, we had to be able to read the energy and properties of inanimate objects.
So… why not animate objects? In a sense, Emily was an example of spontaneous enchantment. In the same sense, her body was one big magical item. There were sentient swords and suits of armor out there, I knew. They were incredibly rare, and like Emily, most of them had been created by accident, but they were still enchanted items.
I didn’t know what or how much deliberate enchantment had gone into the construction of the Emily Dactyl Center for Design, but even if her spirit had somehow awakened from a completely mundane building, a lot of the same techniques used for reading the properties of enchanted objects could be used for reading mundane ones. I did it every day. When you got right down to it, everything was magical, it was just that some things had more deliberate and orderly magic imbued in them.
This would have been a perfect moment to feel proud for having figured it out, but it was one of those things that felt so obvious in retrospect that I was just kicking myself for having missed it.
And worse, I really couldn’t see any way to put this information to use.
I shouldn’t have been disappointed, since I hadn’t expected it to be immediately helpful, but somehow it still felt like a letdown.