Chapter 119: Stone’s WagerAlexandraErin on October 19, 2012 in Volume 2 Book 4: The Reinvention of Mackenzie Blaise, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Mackenzie Gets Down On Her Knees
My positive feelings about the whole Emily affair and my prospects for keeping Professor Stone’s class managed to survive in the face of increasing jitters about actually returning to his class in the afternoon.
I’d decided there was no point in seeking him out outside of class under the circumstances… my news was mostly good and my request was going to be relatively small. It didn’t seem like anything that couldn’t be settled in the minutes before or after class, and if things proved otherwise it would still be enough time to set up an appointment.
But no matter how sure I was that things were going to go well, there was still enough uncertainty for it to gnaw at my stomach lining as I sat in my morning class. Normally I enjoyed the discussions led by Professors Hart and Hall, but I barely followed this one.
Around lunch, I strongly considered popping down to Professor Stone’s office to try to square things away just so I could end the worrying, but I didn’t think I could count on another impromptu poetry club meeting to keep Ariadne distracted.
I did make a point of getting to Emily even earlier than normal. I didn’t repeat the entire approach portion of the ritual, but I tried to fix a big smile on my face as I stepped inside her sensory radius. Actually, I didn’t have to try that hard… I actually did have quite a bit of goodwill towards her.
The thing Amaranth had said about her relief… that it was like finding out there wasn’t any monster… had stuck with me. Some people did see me as a monster. Some people didn’t. I’d never had the perfect made-for-TV moment of “Why, you’re not a monster after all!”, which left me feeling like the whole thing was a matter of opinion. Here was somebody I’d frightened, somebody I’d actually hurt, and she was happy to find that I wasn’t so scary after all.
It was a little thing, and maybe I was doing a bit of anthropomorphic projection, but I wasn’t a druid so that was okay.
Maybe I was also happy because Emily was happy… but if so, she was almost certainly a little happier because I was happy. Maybe that should have creeped me out, but it seemed more like a conversation than mind control. People affected each other’s moods on many levels. That’s just part of being around people.
The wash of warm feelings I experienced when I stepped over the physical threshold and into the actual physical building of the Emily Center did not dispel my jitters over talking to Professor Stone, but it did make me feel better… it was like having someone along to watch my back.
My eye was immediately drawn to the sign outside our classroom, a stone’s light toss away from where I came in. Maybe on another day I would have taken the scenic route for old time’s sake just to enjoy being alone with my thoughts, but on this day I said a quiet thank you to Emily for showing me the way and headed for it.
The door was open but nobody was in the room except for the professor, who was rubbing a speck of something off a gleaming antique helmet so I knocked on the door to announce myself.
“Ah, Ms. Mackenzie!” he said as he turned around and looked in my direction.
“You were expecting me, then,” I said cheerfully as I walke din. He’d basically given me permission to miss another day if I couldn’t work things out before the weekend, so it was nice to think he might not have expected me to need it.
“Well, I thought you would probably be here bright and early or else you’d be visiting me in my workspace again, but I’ve been fairly certain you’d turn up here since I got in,” he said. He gestured broadly around him. “Our girl has her little ups and downs, but this was quite a swing.”
“I think I managed to set her mind at ease a bit,” I said.
“Tell me, did your solution involve that splendid tiara you’re wearing?”
“It did,” I said. “I was talking to a friend about the problem and something she said helped me figure out what I’d been missing. Wearing this thing allows me to be near Emily without causing her distress, which let me patch things up with her.”
“I thought so,” he said. “I’d very much like to know how you’ve come by it. I would say it’s at least two or three centuries old, and slightly out of keeping with your usual ornamentation.”
“It’s actually not mine,” I said. “And unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to keep it. The actual problem is… well, it’s actually pretty close to what you said about there being a basic incompatibility between us. Nobody’s fault, but something that I can maybe fix.”
“Ms. Mackenzie, I am not an expert on the mental realms… but isn’t that the sort of skill that takes some time to acquire?”
“To master, maybe, but I’ve already been picking up related skills. I’ve been told it’s a pretty basic technique and I have a very fast, um, tutor,” I said. “But… well… I think
my chances of success are pretty good, realistically, but I still have to face the possibility that it might not work out.”
“Which means you have a choice to make,” he said.
“I was hoping I could convince you to help me make that choice easier,” I said. “If I have to make up my mind right now, the only safe thing to do would be to withdraw from your class. If I wait until I can see where things are going, it could be too late.”
“You understand that however much I sympathize with you, I could hardly let you string things out indefinitely?”
“Of course,” I said. “You were willing to give me until next week before we assessed the damage of missing class… what I’m proposing is that I attend classes the next two weeks while I work on developing the necessary shield on my own time, and if at the end of that time I can’t show up without the… tiara… then you’ll give me an incomplete, or help me withdraw without a grade, if that’s possible.”
“Well, that barely requires an exception at all,” he said.
“I know,” I said. “We’re so close on the timing, that’s why I would really hate to have to drop now. I don’t want to drop, period, but I have to protect my GPA. And to be honest, I don’t know what I’d take if I couldn’t take this class.”
“I think that has as much to do with your disdain for design classes in general as it does with any preference for this one,” he said. “Ms. Mackenzie, this is a small class and you have a very expressive face. That, and I’ve encountered my share of ‘practical’ enchanters before.”
“I don’t mean any disrespect!” I said. “You’re right, though, it’s not my favorite subject… but you’ve made a believer of me. There’s nothing wrong with a product that looks good.”
“If that’s all you’ve taken away, I think I have some ways to go in converting you,” he said. “But it is early in the semester, and I’d like the opportunity to convince you further. As I’ve said, I’ve met my share of ‘practical’ Applied Enchantment majors before… I can’t imagine many of them fighting to keep a spot in my class. It’s a refreshing change, I have to say that.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“I’ve been told you can be… disruptive,” he said. “But other than being a bit chatty with your neighbors, I can’t fault your classroom conduct. And I’ll be honest, that’s not unusual in a design class. Ours is a very social art, and we attract sociable artists. To be frank, I think I might be witnessing you coming out of your shell a bit, which isn’t a bad thing… though one you should try to keep to a reasonable level during class hours.”
“I will,” I said, very mindful of the fact that he hadn’t said anything definite. He was talking about things like I was going to be a continuing presence in his class, but it had the feeling of a negotiation.
“Now, I want to appeal to your practical side,” he said. “I want you to do the most honest and complete assessment of the situation you can and tell me: how likely do you think it is that in two weeks you will be able to attend class here unaided?”
I did have to think about that. I thought it was pretty likely, but pretty likely was pretty vague. I was almost certain it would work, but what did that mean? Ninety-eight percent? Probably it would be a mistake to set it that high… given everything that I knew it seemed like a sure thing, but I had to allow for the possibility of something I couldn’t see coming up.
Like, if the owl-turtle thing didn’t pop up again on the weekend, I’d be left scrambling. Maybe I could learn to shield the right way without its help, but it would be slower and less sure.
Still, I didn’t want to undersell this.
“Ninety percent,” I said. “And I think that’s being conservative, honestly.”
“And even then, you wouldn’t be willing to gamble?” he asked.
“Not with my grades.”
“The deadline for schedule changes is actually next week,” he pointed out. “You spend the next few days trying, see how things are going, and then make up your mind.”
“But if things are going well but I’m not quite there yet and I had to make up my mind… I think that would be harder,” I said. “I might flinch and back down from something I could really actually do in order to protect my grade, or I might stubbornly keep going and then end up with nothing. I know I have to make up my mind at some point, but since I have this thing for two weeks… I’d just like to make that the deadline, if I can.”
His eyes moved upwards when I mentioned the circlet, and they stayed there a while.
“Ms. Mackenzie, do you know how much that object is worth?”
“I know it’s worth a lot,” I said. “And it’s important.”
“Would you mind if I examine it?”
“I… don’t have permission to let anyone else handle it,” I said. “But if you want a better look… well, actually, I guess I can’t really take it off right now, but… here.”
I squatted down on the floor and tipped my head forward so that he could see. It was hard to feel self-conscious about this when I’d already got down in the dirt for a building.
“Interesting,” he said. “Ms. Mackenzie, if I were to ask you if I could keep this device for a few days while I consider your problem…”
“Should I even pretend that question’s not a test?” I asked.
“Well, of course… but it’s also in the manner of one who suggests in jest what he scarcely dares to ask in fact,” he said. “I would, however, appreciate it if you would convey a message to the owner when you return it in two weeks’ time. I’d be interested to learn its history, if nothing else.”
“So that is a yes, then?” I said.
“Ms. Mackenzie, you’ve made a splendid effort and your proposal is eminently reasonable,” he said. “The practicality I spoke of before is not all bad, in moderation. Yes, you may have your two weeks. Now, you’ve missed a day, but I doubt you’ll have a hard time picking things up.”
“Thank you,” I said. As well as things had been going, I still felt a jolt of relief to know that it was settled. “It really means a lot to me… and I will be working hard on solving my problem with Emily.”
“A word of advice on that score,” he said. “If you’re getting on with Emily now, you should involve her… carefully, of course, and with her knowledge and awareness. After all, it seems like it’s as much her problem as it is yours.”
“That’s a good point,” I said, and I felt something that was somewhere between a pat on my shoulder and a hug… or maybe like a nod, but a tactile nod? Translating emotional resonances into familiar terms was kind of an interpretive art. “I mean, I won’t really know how it’s working without testing it, and it would probably be better to ask her opinion on my progress than just walk up and see what happens.”
There was a sound behind me, and I quickly got to my feet as a few other students came in. We’d managed to use up my extra padding.
“We can continue this after class, if you have any additional questions or any concerns about what you’ve missed,” Professor Stone said. “For now, I do believe you should take your seat.”
“Thank you again,” I said.
“You may not care to gamble, Ms. Mackenzie, but I wager by the end of the semester you’ll pay my slight indulgence back several times over,” he said. “And if I’m wrong? Eh, the stakes are lower for me. In any event, you do make things more interesting than most of my underclassmen.”