Chapter 118: Heart To Heart To HeartAlexandraErin on October 17, 2012 in Volume 2 Book 4: The Reinvention of Mackenzie Blaise, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Mackenzie Goes Down
The mild upside to our plan was that I had a good view of Amaranth as she walked away from me, towards the Emily Dactyl Center For Design and into the yawning jaws of uncertainty. It wasn’t the best circumstances but it wasn’t the worst sight in the world… Amaranth’s wavy amber hair cascading down her perpetually sun-kissed back, the slow wiggle in her hips with each step and the slight jiggle in her backside.
For how much time I spent looking at Amaranth… mostly looking up at her… I didn’t pay much more attention when it came to actually watching her than I had anything else around me. I’d never really thought about the way she moved. As soon as she was off the sidewalk, her whole body relaxed in a very visible way. Her feet moved just before they touched down on the soft turf like they knew its shape… and probably they did. It was less like she was bringing her foot down and more like she was taking root.
I wondered about how she saw the world. She had another body back in Paradise Valley, a field of edible amaranth. Could she feel the sun and rain there? What was she hearing from the grass and trees around her now? Did she perceive the bright ley lines that Eloise Desjardins had spent so much time charting, and what did they look like to her?
What was the world like, seen through the eyes of a nymph? How much of it was actually through her eyes and not through nameless, indescribable other senses?
Seeing her in action and having nothing to do but watch was the upside of the plan. The downside was having nothing to do but watch, and no idea what was going on.
Amaranth had ended up barely more than twenty yards away at the most. Her head was bobbing up and down like she was having an animated conversation, but there was nothing to hear no matter how I perked up my hearing… Amaranth wasn’t speaking out loud. I could “hear” her empathic transmissions when they were directed at me, but I couldn’t understand them. I recognized the impression of sun and wind that was her real name, but even then I wasn’t sure I could pick it out from a flurry of similar sensory impressions.
Even though what she was doing could easily be labeled as a kind of magic, I couldn’t perceive it at all. To be completely accurate, everything was magic, but what I could detect was artificial alterations. The ordinary magic of iron and sharpness in a kitchen knife wouldn’t register at all, but a slight enhancement of any of its properties by an enchanter like myself would shine like a beacon.
Whatever was passing between Amaranth and Emily, it was as natural as they themselves were. They were part of a world that I couldn’t see much less enter, and neither my supernatural demon senses nor my enchanter’s skills would give me any purchase there.
The only slightly reassuring thing was that nothing seemed to be going horribly wrong. The absolute worst thing that could be happening was that Emily was being resistant and Amaranth was talking in circles trying to convince her to give me a chance. I wondered how long a conversation with a semi-sapient building should actually take… would the fact that they were communicating in basic concepts rather than words make it take longer to get to the point, or would it speed things up? Of course, there was also the question of how long it took to get a concept across… the speed of transmission wouldn’t necessarily be the same as speech.
Then Amaranth went very still for a while, and I thought that she was probably listening while Emily spoke… either that or Emily had been speaking before and Amaranth had been nodding along as part of whatever she was doing to signal her responsiveness. Whichever the case was, the conversation was moving along. That made me feel a little bit better… though also more worried. They might have been opposite feelings but they didn’t cancel each other out. I knew that things were moving, but I didn’t know in what direction.
I decided to close my eyes. If I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing, then waiting would be easier if I wasn’t seeing anything. There would be nothing to hear as long as things were going well, so I could tell myself that the nothing in particular that I was hearing was the sound of things being okay.
It sort of worked.
Suddenly there was a very slight sound of a foot on a stray shed leaf not far from me, and I opened my eyes to see Amaranth coming back towards me. I heard each of her soft footfalls after that, and knew that she had seen my eyes were closed and decided to give me a gentle alert, because her feet had been making absolutely no sound before that.
One of the first things I noticed was that her smile was a bit too bright. Things might not have gone horribly wrong, but that didn’t mean they’d gone right.
She stopped while she was still a couple of yards back from me. I wondered if she was trying to maintain communication with Emily… maybe the building spirit had agreed to hear me out, but only at a distance? That wouldn’t be a total victory, but it wouldn’t necessarily signal a disaster, either.
“Well, baby… the good news is that you were right on the money about what happened,” Amaranth said. “She felt pain from your mental presence and tried to push you out, then panicked.”
“Okay,” I said. “So… I can probably guess the bad news, then.”
“It’s not that she doesn’t want to let you back in, necessarily, it’s just that she really doesn’t want to be hurt again,” Amaranth said. “If I understood her correctly, then pain was kind of a new experience for her… I kind of almost got bogged down in a tangent about how pain can be useful and even pleasurable, but I think that’s going to have to be a different conversation for a different day. Do you know, I don’t think she even has a concept of sensuality?”
“Yeah, it’s hard to imagine a building without a sex life,” I said.
“Oh… okay, that’s a fair point, I guess,” Amaranth said. “Still, as long as there’s a living presence there, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that presence having a life beyond her function as a physical object. I mean, she has an emotional relationship with her students and professors, but I’m not sure she has any aspirations or a real sense of self.”
“Well, not everybody can spring into existence fully-formed,” I said. “Maybe she’ll grow into it. Anyway, where do we stand? Is she not going to let me approach?”
“The short version is that she has to think about it,” Amaranth said.
“…somehow that possibility hadn’t occurred to me,” I said. “Did she give any indication of how long she’ll need to think about it? I mean, what’s her concept of time even like? Does she even have one?”
“Oh, I think she must,” Amaranth said. “I mean, if nothing else, her days are divided up the same way that ours are: class schedules. But she won’t need long. She just wanted me to stand back and give her room to think. She has some new concepts she needs to slot into her way of thinking, and she’s… fretful. I had some work to do in terms of separating out the concept of you as an individual presence and the pain she experienced the last time she noticed you… basically, she thought I was asking if it would be okay to hurt her.”
“That doesn’t sound promising.”
“It’s worrying, but I did succeed in establishing that the pain was something that happened in conjunction with you and not… you,” she said. “And that we don’t expect there to be pain this time, and that we’ll leave if there is… there was some difficulty with the conditional clause there, she seemed to be dealing in strict either/or terms… there will be pain or there won’t, not if and might. I… I wasn’t comfortable telling her there definitely wouldn’t be any pain, even though there probably won’t be, because if we were wrong and the tia… crown thing doesn’t prevent the reaction… well, that might cause trust issues that would affect more people than you. I hope you understand.”
“No, you’re right,” I said. “We shouldn’t gamble on an almost-truth just because she’s not grasping the nuance.”
“I think I finally got it across by telling her that you’ll be trying not to hurt her,” Amaranth said. “She’s absorbed the concept of succeeding and failing… well, I should say passing and failing. She’s still kind of dubious about the whole thing… but again, pain was scary and new.”
“Could you tell if I did any actual harm?” I asked. “I mean, damage?”
“Oh, baby… this isn’t something you did,” Amaranth said. “It’s… an unfortunate intersection between an aspect of your nature and hers. It’s no more your fault for having an infernally-aspected mind than it is her fault for being an empathic psychic entity.”
“Well, since there’s nothing I can do if she says no, I guess I should operate on the assumption that she’s going to decide to let me approach,” I said. “I should probably be getting ready.”
“Okay, baby,” Amaranth said. “What do you need to do?”
“It’s mostly mental,” I said. “I just need to… adjust my mindset, really.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’m going to step off to the side a bit, then, to give both of you space. Unless you want me closer?”
“No, that’s good,” I said. “I’ve really got to get this right.”
Eloise had said that respect was the key. She’d intimated that I didn’t have a perfect understanding of the concept of respect, but she’d given me some tips for working my mind around in the right direction.
Recognize that Emily exists. That was the bare baseline. That, and recognizing that she had the right to control access to herself. Well… I’d arranged to spend my morning negotiating with her for the right to come near and then inside her. That seemed like a good place to start… ot so much pointing it out her or anyone else in order to prove that I respected her, but pointing it out to myself.
Reminding myself why I was here.
I guessed that what I was doing was not really so different from what she was doing: re-ordering my world to include concepts that I hadn’t considered might exist before. I thought that might help me see eye-to-eye with her.
Emily existed. She was real. She had to think her way around new concepts. She couldn’t speak in words, but she communicated on the same plane that nymphs like Amaranth did. That was a good thought to hold onto… Emily wasn’t necessarily a close cousin to Amaranth, but they were related, in a way.
And Emily was bigger and more powerful than Amaranth. Respecting her power… acknowledging what she could do… was a form of respect. She was vast and strong, and even though she was personally young her existence evoked something very ancient. She’d turned me around and almost driven me out of my own head with her fear.
Of course that was somewhat mutual, but the fact that a person could get under a behemoth’s skin didn’t change the fact that they could also end up under the behemoth’s foot.
“…baby?” Amaranth said softly. “She’s ready for you.”
“Okay,” I said. “Please let her know that I’ll be approaching, and then… I guess let her know that you’ll be listening on my behalf. You can follow a bit behind me and let me know if she says anything.”
“Okay, but you might be able to hear her yourself,” Amaranth said.
“Even with the circlet on?” I asked.
By answer, Amaranth sent me a wave of sunny feeling.
“Okay,” I said. “But I still might need a translation.”
“Of course,” she said.
Approach, bow, supplication… the three stages of Eloise’s ritual.
Following her advice, I spread my arms out wide and tried to smile as warmly as Amaranth could… she’d said it would help me radiate friendly feelings. She’d also said that feeling silly in the face of a powerful entity was a good thing because it reinforced how helpless and vulnerable I was, and I was doing pretty well on that score as I took a few steps forward. I tried to think big and forward and friendly thoughts.
I wasn’t catching any kind of sensation yet… I wasn’t even up to where Amaranth had been when she’d stopped on her way back, so I took a few more small steps, and then a few more. I was standing pretty much where Amaranth had been when I definitely felt a tingle of something.
I tried not to ascribe any emotions to what I felt… it wasn’t exactly a welcoming sensation, but I didn’t want to dwell on anything negative. I fixed my smile as best as I could, widened my stance, and tried to think positive thoughts as I waited to get a more definite sign of interest.
I wasn’t waiting long. What I felt next definitely wasn’t the rolling out of the red carpet, but it was a kind of timid curiosity. Amaranth made a small throat-clearing sound behind me, and I took that as a sign that she felt it, too, and was prompting me to move forward.
As I did so, I let Professor Stone, Amaranth, and Eloise pass through my mind… it was hard not to think of them, since they were all strongly associated with what I was doing, but I thought they were all people who had a better relationship with Emily than I did. Nicki, too… and it was easier to think fondly of the building when I thought about my favorite thing about attending classes in her.
I could feel an undercurrent of trepidation as I came closer, but it was only a small note in a broad canvas of feelings that included curiosity, confusion, and something that felt vaguely like politeness… like an extension of courtesy.
I was prepared to stop when I got about halfway to the building, but then I felt something that impelled me forward… the interest was getting stronger. I had the definite impression that Emily wanted to get a closer look at me. I decided there was nothing lost in letting her call the shots. Eloise had said her practice was based on figuring out what worked… her advice had carried me this far, but I didn’t think she’d fault me for adjusting to the situation.
There was something positive in the mix of emotions I was feeling from Emily, or I thought there was… it was hard for me to tell, since I was feeling hopeful myself. It was hard to sort out what I was feeling in my own right from what she was putting out.
As I got closer, I felt like I was approaching a threshold of sorts… I realized that I might have been within her recognition range, but that was more like shouting distance than anything else. I no longer felt so strongly impelled forward. Figuring that the bow wouldn’t hurt anything, I decided to stop and do it now.
“Is she saying anything?” I asked Amaranth.
“Not as such, no,” Amaranth said. “She’s being very expressive, but it’s all at a very basic emotional level. She’s just so relieved… like, finding out that there are no monsters under the bed, or that the strnage old woman at the end of the street is actually just lonely and nice kind of relief. She recognizes you but she’s astonished that there’s no pain… I don’t think she quite believed me before, which was difficult for her to reconcile.”
“She has no concept of lying?” I asked.
“Baby, she’s a school building,” she said. “It would be hard for her to miss the amount of… truth-shading… that goes on in her rooms on a probably daily basis. She’s not used to hearing things that aren’t true from plants, though… if a tree says it’s going to rain or the grass is complaining about frost, that’s tautologically true. Lying or even just saying things that turn out to be wrong is something people do to each other.”
“Okay, well I’m going to be addressing her now,” I said. “Can you amplify or translate or whatever, if she doesn’t seem to be getting it?”
“Of course, baby,” Amaranth said.
I took a deep breath and then went into my version of Eloise’s deep bow. I lacked her grace, so it was more like a partial bow followed by clumsy kneeling and then flattening myself on the ground, but I felt very humble doing it and that was the main thing. I was strangely unworried about whether anyone could see me… I knew that Amaranth could, and her proximity made public acts of humility more bearable.
I felt something I couldn’t begin to explain… more sensation than emotion, but not anything that I could directly relate to anything physical. I took it to mean Emily was paying attention.
“Emily… dear Emily,” I said, the extra word jumping into my head not so much as a term of endearment but a way of helping me address myself towards someone I couldn’t directly see or hear. “Dear Emily, I am sorry for the pain my presence caused you.”
Passive constructions don’t normally make for good apologies, but I was trying to phrase it in a way that would make sense to her… I was worried that “I’m sorry I hurt you” would sound like a declaration of intent to hurt her.
“Go on, baby, she’s listening,” Amaranth said.
“I am sorry I did not notice you and that I did not react well when I noticed you,” I said. “I enjoy attending class… in you… and I would like to keep doing so if I can do it without causing you pain. I will try as hard as I can to keep you safe, and… if you trust me enough to let me back in, I promise I will leave as soon as I can if I fail to protect you from what happened before.”
That seemed to cover it pretty well. Amaranth had put her hand on my back… I wasn’t sure if that was symbolic or for my benefit or what, but I had the definite impression that she was doing something.
I remembered the fond way that Professor Stone had spoken of Emily, and the way the design students had behaved almost affectionately towards the building.
“I hope that we can be friends,” I added.
That seemed to do it. A few seconds after I said that, there was a feeling in the front of my head that was very much… open. Opening. If there was a feeling that was exactly analogous a pair of double doors being unlocked and flung open, this was that.
I didn’t really need Amaranth to translate what was being said. Open doors were a pretty universal sign.
“Thank you,” I said, and lifted up my head.
“I think you did it, baby,” Amaranth said as she helped me up to my feet.
“You did the heavy lifting,” I said. “Thank you, too.”
It seemed like it would have been rude to just turn and walk away after receiving such an emphatic invitation, so after Amaranth helped me brush some of the more obvious bits of dirt and grass off my clothes, we took each other by the hand and went to meet Emily properly. It wasn’t anything major, we just took a stroll through her lobby and main halls. I had to admit that the kitschy design bugged me a lot less when I thought of her as a person and not a building… I wondered if her personality had influenced the finishing touches or vice-versa, or if it was just a coincidence that the building with the most personality on campus was the building with the most personality. I had a feeling that there was some sort of relationship at work there, but it would probably be very hard to tease out any actual threads of cause and effect.
It might have been a combination of Emily’s relief and my own but I left her with a very positive feeling about the whole experience. I wasn’t quite done yet… I still needed to learn how to screen on my own, and I needed to talk to Professor Stone about what would happen if I ultimately couldn’t manage, but it was hard not to be optimistic.