Chapter 171: Freely EnteringAlexandraErin on July 31, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 5: Nasty Disturbing Uncomfortable Things, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Dee Holds Back
The meeting part of the meeting was obviously over, but we hadn’t really eaten yet so we all had some of the pizza or other appropriate food while Hazel talked to Glory in rather quiet tones about her plans and needs. Hazel stayed behind when the rest of us left, either because there was more to be settled or because there was still pizza left.
Surprisingly, Dee excused herself and went back to join them… I kind of doubted she had any misgivings about leaving Hazel alone with the elven queen now, but maybe she just felt like keeping up the protocol
Even though my future with Glory was now more up in the air than ever, I left the Archimedes Center feeling like it was the most solid resolution I’d had in a long time. What happened next was up to her, and until she made her next move, the whole deal was one less thing that I had to worry about.
“Do you have time to help me do a quick test run with Emily?” I asked Amaranth when we were outside. I’d already told her the parameters of my new understanding with the owl-turtle thing, so it wasn’t completely out of the blue.
“Oh, I would think so,” she said. “It didn’t exactly take long, last time… I can’t imagine you have anything in mind that would take longer.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, ideally I’d be able to remove my external screen a little bit at a time, but even if I take the circlet off slowly it’s not going to work at that… when it’s past the point where I’m technically wearing it on my head, the effect will end all at once. Basically, I just need you to explain to her what’s going on, and let me know if she expresses any discomfort or distress.”
“Why wouldn’t you just leave it off outside and then approach slowly?” Amaranth asked.
“…that honestly didn’t occur to me,” I said. “I mean, the point is to see if she can stand my presence inside her. But yeah, I guess that would be the closest thing I could do to gradually lowering the screen. Hmm…”
“What are you thinking now?”
“Just that I don’t like carrying the circlet in my hands,” I said. “And I like the idea even less if there’s a chance that Emily might lash out in some way… but I’ll need to be able to get it on in a hurry if something does go wrong and I’m already well inside her territory.”
“So I’m going to be your spotter, too, then,” she guessed.
“Exactly,” I said.
“Okay, well, how about you go and get your tiara and then meet me there?” she said. “That way I’ll have more time to try to prepare her for it.”
“This sounds suspiciously like a plan,” I said.
It might have seemed like poor planning to not have brought the circlet with me, but I really didn’t like having it outside its case in my room more than necessary. It might have made things a little tighter if Glory’s business had taken longer, but there was no reason I absolutely needed to do the test before my class. If going back for it would leave me with just enough time to make it to the building in time for class, I’d just have to do it afterwards.
To be perfectly technical about it, I only had to do the test sometime before the owl-turtle thing’s next appearance. Though if it seemed hopeless, I’d want to know sooner rather than later so I could drop the class in a timely fashion… that by itself was reason enough not to put this off.
That, and the sooner I knew where I stood, the sooner I could return the circlet to Teddi and I would no longer be responsible for the safety of an expensive magical heirloom. If Emily didn’t react badly immediately, I wouldn’t go running to return it… and not just because I’d promised not to run with it. I’d keep it next to me during class, just in case there was a delayed reaction. But if I could spend the whole hour and a half class period bareheaded with no adverse effects… yeah, I’d be done with it, and that would be a weight off my shoulders.
Knowing how close I was to being done with the damn thing made it almost perversely more difficult to maintain the slow, steady, careful pace I’d adopted when wearing it. I wasn’t exactly tempted to break into a run, just… pick up the pace a little. It was almost over, I was almost done. In a rational world, this should have made the time it took me to get from the towers to the Emily Center seem like less of a big deal, but instead they were intolerable.
The urge to quicken my pace grew stronger when I spotted Amaranth waiting and watching for me at the junction of the paths leading to the design building. She looked a little anxious… that could have been in anticipation of possible future problems, but I assumed the worst.
“Is everything okay?” I asked her.
“Emily’s… a little scared,” she said.
“You told her it’s going to be okay, though, right?”
“Well… I explained the situation as best as I can,” she said. “But the bottom line is that I can’t promise her it’s not going to hurt, while also telling her that it might hurt a little.”
“But we’re trying to fix the problem that causes the pain!” I said.
“Yes, but from her perspective, it’s already fixed,” Amaranth said. “She understands that it’s the circlet that’s making the difference, but she doesn’t really understand why you have to stop using it.”
“Can you explain that it won’t be available forever, and that we’re testing out something that might do the same thing?”
“That’s pretty close to how I’ve conveyed it to her, but tenses are a bit… tricky,” she said. “The whole concept of time, really…”
“She’s got to have a concept of time,” I said. “Day, night… week days, weekends. Semester. Class periods.”
“Yes, but it’s not really the same concept of time that I have,” Amaranth said. “It’s like a language barrier… a cabbage and an oak tree both see time differently but I could still explain it to them on their own terms, but I’m just not sure how to make a building understand.”
“Okay, well… do you think her fear is going to affect the test?” I asked. “I mean, is she likely to flinch worse, or whatever?”
“Baby… I don’t think we can do the test if she doesn’t want us to.”
“You mean she’s so scared that she’ll keep me from approaching?”
“I mean, ethically… I don’t think it would be right,” she said. “To enter a sentient building without her consent, or to expose a spirit to potentially harmful energy without permission.”
“It’s not that harmful, though… the way it was explained to me, I’m basically like a mosquito bite, or at most a bee sting.”
“If mosquitos were sapient, how would you feel about them biting you without permission?”
“Well, I’d expect a sapient mosquito to understand my skin’s not actually vulnerable to bug bites… but since we’re assuming he does it anyway, I guess I’d think he was a jerk,” I said.
“She,” Amaranth said. “Only female mosquitos bite.”
“Anyway, I take your point,” I said. “But…”
“…well, I was going to say that I have rights, too,” I said. “But I guess not really any that override the basic concern here. My right to an education or even to go to a particular class doesn’t change the fact that it would be wrong to do this, does it?”
My anger at the owl-turtle thing for altering our deal had mostly subsided by the time I woke up, but I found it was creeping back… before, it had seemed like the changes might not entirely screw me. Now it seemed like they inevitably had.
“I’m afraid it really doesn’t,” Amaranth said. “Maybe legally some kind of case could be made, but the resolution would probably be that the university can’t keep you from going into the building, but the consequences would be on you. But we’re not talking about the finer points of law, we’re talking about an entity that’s afraid of pain.”
“Okay… please tell her that I’ll be wearing the circlet today. Keeping it on.” I knew that Tuesday-Thursday were light days on Amaranth’s schedule, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have imposed on her as far as I was about to. “Do you have anywhere you need to be?”
“No, this is an open block for me,” she said.
“Then would you mind staying and trying to reach her while I’m in class?” I asked. “If you can work your way around to an understanding, maybe we can try afterwards?”
It sounded like such a feeble prospect when I said it out loud, but I couldn’t give up… the only thing I could possibly do after this was try to draw the owl-turtle thing out and make it live up to the original agreement, which seemed even less likely to work. And even if it did, even if I ended up with what seemed like a one hundred percent cast-iron mental screen in place, I’d still have to test it somehow.
“Of course!” Amaranth said. “Don’t worry, baby… this is new ground for Emily, but she’s smart, in her own way. I’m sure she’ll come around.”
“I really, really hope you’re right.”
I could have added another “really” or three to that, but even then, it still would have been an understatement.