Chapter 114: Sight UnseenAlexandraErin on September 25, 2012 in Volume 2 Book 4: The Reinvention of Mackenzie Blaise, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Mackenzie Comes Full Circle
I was in luck. Teddi was in her office, and though she was occupied when I got there she was due to finish her current session in twenty minutes or so… even if it ran over, I’d still be able to make my fighting class with plenty of time. The joys of a well-spaced schedule. When I started getting down to the nitty-gritty of finishing up my degree I might well end up having to take two classes back to back, but I was happy to put that day off for as long as I could.
“She has another appointment ten minutes after,” the guy on reception duty said. “You might want to leave her a message with the echo service?”
“That’s okay, I won’t need ten minutes,” I said. “It’s kind of important.”
“If it’s urgent, we can get you in with an emergency healer right now,” he said.
“It’s not urgent,” I said. “It’s just important.”
“Then why don’t we just see if we can move up your next appointment?”
I knew that most of the time the person at the front desk of the mental healing center was one of the healers. I figured that mental healers probably had problems with patients feeling a little too entitled to their time, or imagining a personal connection that went deeper than it did. Probably they were used to tanking for each other, to try to head that off.
“I don’t actually need to talk to her,” I said. “I need to borrow something from her.”
I tried to remember if she’d ever said the proper name of the thing, but came up with a blank. I tried for a simple descriptive term.
“Her filter circlet,” I said, putting my fingers up to my forehead to help demonstrate.
“Did she offer to lend it to you?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Really?” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “I thought I’d do better without it, but my circumstances have changed.”
He didn’t say anything in response to that. There was a blank look on his face, then a flicker of something… a scowl, maybe… and then he rolled his eyes.
“Okay, you can wait here,” he said.
“You didn’t have to interrupt her session,” I said.
“I’m sure she’ll appreciate how considerate of her time you are,” he said. “Have a seat.”
The time passed like time passing, fast in places and slow in others. I had the idea that a building full of confidential conversations about personal problems would not be the ideal place to practice expanding my perceptions, so instead I focused on my upcomin bouts with Nae, the “little mouse” with a load-bearing spine and a jaw like a bear trap.
Her natural resilience wasn’t much of a factor with the way that our fights worked, but her size and speed were serious problems. She was probably one of the worst opponents for me to try to fight with my staff… my aim had improved quite a bit, but a lot of what I did was still just swinging or thrusting really hard in the direction of the space my target occupied. The kobold’s tiny profile gave me plenty of room to miss, and she was nimble enough to jump or duck around my swings.
I had an image in my head of her jumping over my staff, and me suddenly bringing it up to catch her in the air. I could hit her a good, hard smack… maybe even send her flying. She wasn’t invulnerable, but she was likely to walk away from a collision with the wall or ceiling. She could literally cough up a lung and keep rolling.
And if I could force her to leap over my staff, her ability to change direction would be very limited until she landed… of course, if I fully committed to a swing, my ability to change its direction would also be limited, and if I tried it and failed it wasn’t like she’d oblige me to keep replaying the same scenario until I got it right. No, she’d catch on right away. Whether it worked or not, this might be like punching Pala in the throat… something I might get off once, if I was lucky.
In a real fight to the actual death, of course, these tricks would only have to work once, but there were limits to how realistic the school’s underwriters would allow Coach Callahan to make things, thankfully.
Even if it only worked once, though… or never completely worked… I thought it would be a worthwhile strategy to pursue. Swing hard, go lower. Leave her no room to go under the staff would possibly be a way to keep her back on her heels, which could be a way to keep her from slashing at mine.
It was something to try, anyway.
Eventually the door to Teddi’s office opened, and a somewhat familiar walked out: Cetea the gorgon, her skin bare except for its natural covering of coppery-green scales and her head wreathed with coiled snakes. She was wearing a pair of dark wrap-around glasses. I had never noticed her outside of Harlowe Hall, where she’d lived in the room directly beneath me the year before… and in fact, I hadn’t seen her that often then, either, so I had no idea if those were new. Gorgons were subterranean, so sunlight might have been unpleasant.
She looked over at me looking at her, and having been caught staring at someone whose name I knew, I decided the thing to do was be sociable.
“Hey, Cetea,” I said.
“Hey, uh, Mack,” she said.
“How’s your year so far?”
“Quieter than last year,” she said.
I didn’t ask why.
“Seen, uh, Gladys lately?” I asked, fishing the name of her old roommate out of the corner of my memory.
“That gets funnier every time I hear it,” she said, and stalked off.
“Hello, Mackenzie,” Teddi said, coming out behind her. She had the circlet in a clear case. “So… you don’t know that Gladys Jones is invisible?”
“…apparently, nobody tells me anything,” I said.
“Well, it’s not exactly a secret,” Teddi said. “At least, I didn’t assume it was… maybe I shouldn’t have divulged it?”
“She doesn’t look invisible,” I said, laughing nervously. “I’ve seen invisible people before and they don’t look a thing like her.”
She laughed, too.
“Have you been having further problems?” she asked me.
“Well… I suppose. New problems, anyway,” I said. “You know the Emily Center?”
“Not socially,” she said. “But it’s hard to ignore her.”
“Yeah… I sort of managed to do that,” I said. “And then one day I didn’t… it hasn’t been pleasant.”
“Ohhh,” she said, with the tone of dawning comprehension. “Yeesh. I don’t have a lot of time, but if you need…”
“I’m okay,” I said. “It was scary at the time, but I think that was mostly her fear. I don’t think I would have been more than frustrated, by myself. The thing is that I’d like to keep my class, and I think I have a way to patch things up with her, but I need to find a way to not prick at her with my mind. I wasn’t doing it before, but I don’t think I can go back to not noticing her, so I’m going to have to go forward into… reining things in, I guess… but in the meantime I still have to get to class.”
“I understand,” Teddi said. “But, you know, I can’t let you have this indefinitely… and if you can’t work things out on your own, you might end up putting things off until it’s too late to change classes.”
“My professor knows about the problem and he’s pretty cool about it,” I said. “I’ll talk to him and see if he’ll be able to sign off on me dropping after the deadline or at least do something like give me an imcomplete… I think he’d rather see me make the effort than just give up. But if I can’t make it to class in the meantime, it’s all kind of moot.”
“You’re an intelligent woman,” she said. “And you’re capable of making your own choices. But make sure you actually do talk to him.”
“I’ll talk to him after class tomorrow,” I said. “If I don’t know for sure that staying there won’t wreck my GPA, I’ll drop it.”
She held the box up, but didn’t yet offer it to me. She took a slow breath.
“Okay… now… without getting into the specifics of what I’ve heard or how I’ve heard it…”
When she’d offered me the circlet to help with my nocturnal visitor problem, it had been a very in-the-moment thing… apparently she’d had time to think things through more since then. Teddi had become the unofficial head tapper for all of Harlowe Hall, which meant that at one point or another she’d heard the personal problems and frustrations of most of my friends.
“Yes, I have been less than careful about other people’s things in the past,” I said. “But Teddi, I will be really extremely careful with this. I will keep it in my room, in its case. I will put it on only before my design class and I will go back to the dorm and take it off right after. I won’t carry it around in my hands or stick it in a bag or anything. I’ll take the lift, not the stairs.”
“Okay, because this is a serious magic item,” she said. “I couldn’t break it if I tried, not without pulling out my warhammer. But you have supernatural strength. If you just twisted it in your hands a little…”
“I’ll keep it in the case,” I said. “Only touch it with fingertips, I promise.”
I didn’t remind her that she’d offered before. That had been for an entirely different reason, and there would have been no need for the circlet to leave my room in that case. That, and it was still hers… even if she had actually gone so far as to promise that I could borrow it whenever I felt like, it wouldn’t change the fact that it was hers.
“Whose idea was it to ask me for this?” she asked.
“Mine,” I said.
“Okay, then,” she said, and she handed me the box. “But only because I like seeing you finding a middle ground between finding the path of least resistance and pushing a boulder uphill with your forehead. I assume you’re talking to the design center before your professor?”
“Yes,” I said. “If the first ‘conversation’ doesn’t go well, there won’t be any point to the second.”
“Okay, well, if things go well then come back and we’ll work out a plan for how to proceed,” she said. “I’m going to provisionally say you can have the headband for the next two calendar weeks, starting Sunday, but if we can wean you off it any faster than that, all the better.”
“Do you really think that’s all it will take?” I asked.
“If I followed you right, then we know you have the mental capability of coexisting with the Em,” she said. “And very possibly, your… night courses… will help us out here. I’d say we should be able to get things squared away in short order. And if we can’t… well, then you probably shouldn’t be taking classes there right now.”
I nodded. I couldn’t argue with that. It’s not that it wasn’t annoying, but I didn’t have an actual argument against it.
Everybody seemed to have a very pragmatic view about that sort of thing. It might have been a little galling, but it was still understandable. Students came and went all the time, but a building was going to be there for decades. Years of planning and piles of gold must have gone into her construction. There had to be a point at which dealing with an unruly genius loci would become too much of a headache, but that point would have to be far enough out to overcome the cost they’d already sunk into her. A student here or there who couldn’t take certain classes wouldn’t begin to qualify.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Don’t mention it,” she said. “I have another session in a few, so I’m going to have to ask you to excuse me.”
“Of course,” I said. “Thanks again.”