Chapter 180: Two-For-OneAlexandraErin on September 12, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 5: Nasty Disturbing Uncomfortable Things, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Mackenzie Reconnects
As it happened, it didn’t matter that Amaranth had put her foot down or I’d given in… Two showed up at the connecting door a few minutes later to tell us that Dee had told her that I would like her help with something.
“Thank you, Dee!” Amaranth said. I didn’t hear the answer.
“You don’t have to,” I said. “Only if you’d like to. I know you need your sleep.”
“I have become a very efficient sleeper,” she said. “And I would always like to help. Do you have something that needs fixing?”
“Sort of,” I said. I held out my hand-written sheets of rune symbols. “This isn’t your usual thing, these days, but I think you still might know a little something about it.”
“This isn’t homework, is it?” she asked, taking the pages.
“No, it’s a personal project,” I said. “It’s not an assignment, but I’m still working ahead of the book a little bit. I’m trying to make an enchanter’s wand and I was hoping you could give me some… guidance.”
“Oh, you want me to fix the missing correspondences?” she said.
“Fix the missing correspondences?” I repeated.
“Okay,” she said. Her face went through a series of tics as she did whatever mental perambulations took her to the information she needed, and then she passed a hand over the page, altering some of the symbols.
“Don’t just… I mean, could you please tell me what I did wrong instead of just fixing it?” I asked. “I’ll have a harder time doing this if it’s not my own work.”
“Okay,” she said, then she paused. Her face went blank, and then went through a couple of wriggling contortions while she worked something around in her head. Then it went blank again. “…oh.”
“I didn’t usually have to explain,” she said, and she didn’t need to explain why: anything like this she’d done in the past had been for the person who made her. Her skills and knowledge came from him. “I need to figure out how to put it into words.”
“Start with the part where I’m missing correspondences,” I said.
“I don’t actually know what a correspondence is,” she said.
“That’s okay, I do,” I said. “Some of the symbols in the spell formula stand for actions, things that the spell caster will be doing, and some of them stand for things that the spell will be acting upon, but some of them stand for… external forces, let’s call them. Influences. They’re necessary to the working of magic, but they’re also… well… bad. Because they’re beyond your control. Assigning a symbol that corresponds to them helps to sort of pin them down, corral them. It’s sort of like nominalism, but with the advantage being that it actually works. This is why spells tend to increase in complexity exponentially, the more powerful they are… there are more external forces that need to be contained. Understand?”
“Okay, well, let’s start with what you do understand.”
“Oh,” Two said. “Well, the structure of the spell right even though some of your symbols are out of date.”
“They don’t actually go bad,” I said, a little defensively. “Newer ones just catch on because they tend to be better.”
“Yes, which is why yours out of date,” she said.
“And I’m missing correspondences,” I said. “Where?”
“Here, here, and here. And here.”
She pointed at the formula on the page, in the structures that encircled and contained the spells and where her finger touched the paper, flecks of graphite whirled around and arranged themselves into rune symbols… disconcertingly, they were in my hand writing.
“Creepy,” Two said.
“I wouldn’t have said creepy,” I said.
“I know. But I’ve been told that it is.”
“Okay, so, let me look at this… I had the elemental factors covered,” I said. “And the astrological…”
“No,” Two said.
“Yes, I did,” I said. I pointed. “There’s the sun, there’s the moon… this is basic stuff.”
“Yes,” she said. “You did have the basic stuff. And here’s the rest. This is the War-Bringer. This is the Messenger.”
“Why do I need to invoke war when I’m not making a weapon?” I asked.
“I do not know why,” she said. “I only know that when you work in metal, you need this correspondence.”
“Is that really a thing, or just something your creator did as a habit?”
“It is really a thing that my creator did as a habit,” she said.
I looked at Amaranth.
“Was there anything about that in the book?” I asked.
“The book didn’t really seem to get into that,” Amaranth said. “There were references here and there to material correspondences, but it seemed to be written with the assumption that the reader would already know what they were… I didn’t see any cross-references, or anything that suggested they were in another chapter.”
“Okay… well, you are the expert,” I said to Two. “I just don’t like the idea of getting martial stuff all over my strictly utilitarian enchantment.”
“That makes sense,” Two said, nodding.
“I’m… glad you understand,” I said, though I was more surprised.
“What?” I said.
“Two, would you please tell Mack what it is that makes sense to you?” she said.
“Okay,” Two said. “It makes sense that you would be objecting based on your bias, because that’s the sort of thing that you would do.”
“Anyway, if I understand this right,” Amaranth said, “the idea is that you’re invoking the star of the War-Bringer because you don’t want its influences getting into your working on their own. So, really, you’re not getting martial stuff in your magic, you’re making sure it stays out.”
“That’s right,” I said. “I just wasn’t thinking that I was getting close enough for that to be a risk… so I guess it is a good thing that you were here to tell me. What else could I be doing better?”
“Some of this is different from how we would do it,” Two said, her eyes running back and forth. “But according to my understanding of the structure of enchantment spells, it should work. It could be more efficient.”
“I’d rather make any substantial changes myself… can you explain how to do so?” I said.
“I think so,” Two said.
She could explain the way she thought it should be, even if she couldn’t explain the theory behind any of it… that was enough for me to work out the thinking, mostly, which was good because I didn’t want to just copy what she suggested. That would be totally negate the benefit of writing my own spell.
It was easier to figure it out when I started from the standpoint that what she was saying was right and figured out why instead of arguing against each step… which wasn’t to say that I hadn’t had my reasons for questioning the astrological correspondences.
They weren’t necessarily very good ones, but that was neither here nor now.
“Okay, I think I’ve got it,” I said as I finished amending my spells. I held them up to Two, and she nodded. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she said.
“Is there something you can do to help with the actual casting process?” Amaranth asked her.
“I think I should probably do that myself,” I said. “And that’s not me being stubborn, that’s… for this thing to work for its intended purpose, it needs to be a personal item. I mean, it’d be better if it was, regardless, but I think especially so if it’s going to be my bridge.”
“I would not cast the spell for you,” Two said. “But if you cast it through me, I could guide and correct it. I’ve done it before.”
“You did say you were worried about your ability to hold it together,” Amaranth said. “And that was before you added the correspondences that you say will make it ‘exponentially more complicated’.”
“Yeah, but once I have them in place, they’ll make the whole thing easier,” I said.
“Once they’re in place,” Amaranth said.
“Okay, it’s just… and Two, I want you to know that I don’t think of you as a wand, but… this would be like using someone else’s wand to make my own,” I said. “It would never really be mine.”
“Two, did your creator ever make anything he kept for his personal use with you?” Amaranth asked her.
“Yes,” Two said. “I didn’t leave an impression, Mack. I was… blank.”
“Yes, but he made you,” I said. “His wand in his hands… and again, you’re not a wand…”
“But I’m like a wand,” Two said.
“In this case, for this purpose, yes,” I said. “His wand in his hands wouldn’t have any impression that wasn’t him. Two, I just don’t have that kind of connection to you.”
“No,” Two agreed. “You have a better one.”
I stared at her. Was she right?
I mean, I knew what she meant… but was she right? Two would accept that we had a connection because we’d decided that we did and hadn’t ever said otherwise. We’d called each other sister. We had been through things. We’d shared things. But… we’d grown apart. We’d become background players in each other’s lives, and if not for the fact that we were practically roommates we probably wouldn’t even be that much to each other. Hadn’t I just been lamenting how much we’d drifted apart?
But then, if I used that gulf as an excuse to push her further away instead of reaching for it… was it really lament?
I was pretty sure I could perform the spells right eventually, by myself.
More sure than I was that I could make the spell work with Two.
But I wanted to make it work with Two… but did I want it enough to risk all the effort I’d put into salvaging my class with Professor Stone?
I thought about that question for longer than I was comfortable with, and then I decided.
“Amaranth,” I said. “Do you have your marker?”
“Of course, baby,” she said, and it was already in her hand, the cap off the end. “What do you have in mind?”
“Would you mind lending it to Two?”
“Not at all… here you are.”
“Thank you,” Two said. “What am I to do with this?”
“Label me,” I said, brushing my hair out of my face. “Let’s make a match.”
“Okay,” Two said.
I shuddered at the cold strokes of the marker tip against my forehead. I’ve seen things, you know, around the ethernet about allegedly sexy games people play where they write words on each other’s backs with their fingers or whipped cream or whatever and I’ve never understood how that’s supposed to work. Can anyone make out a letter by the feel of something cold being dragged across their skin?
I tried to visualize what was happening, and I got as far as a skinny blonde girl with a bow in her hair touching my forehead with a marker. She could have been copying her own runic inscription, or writing my name… the short version, obviously… or reinstating my previous label of “TOY”. I didn’t much care what she did, as long as it meant something to her.
I didn’t have to specify that. Labels meant everything to Two.
“Let’s do this,” I said when she’d recapped the marker and handed it back to Amaranth.
“Okay,” she said. She held out a hand, and I took it. There was a… one of those things I’ve never experienced and don’t know how to describe. The closest thing to it honestly was when I’d been hit upside the head with the identifying characteristics of a building earlier. It wasn’t that big or vast or painful, but it had that kind of… immediacy.
When I had her mark me, I’d had this half-formed idea that I would try my very best to focus on what I loved about Two, on my best memories of her, of the things I saw in her that reminded me of myself and the things I saw in her that I wish did… but that was completely redundant.
There she was in my head… perfect Two. Quiet Two. Shy Two. Unflagging Two. Courageous Two. Rigid Two. Petulant Two. Amazing Two.
I thought… not for the first time, but for the first time in a long time… about the sort of man who would make a person like Two and then abandon her to the world. Had he felt anything like this when he’d connected to her? Maybe her sense of self hadn’t been developed by that point.
Then she picked up my mostly sort of finished wand. The wire attachment that (mostly, sort of) supported the crystal and the ring sagged badly under the weight of its load.
“Visualize the way you want it,” Two said.
Visualization was never my strong suit, so rather than picturing the whole thing in a finished state I tried to focus on the things that needed improving… and under the guidance of Two’s mending magic, they did.
“Now ready the spell,” Two said. “We’ll cast it together.”
And… we did.
In perfect unity.
And unified perfection.
I knew the wand would work before I even touched it… I’d felt the spells as we wove and bound them into it. I’d felt them take. I’d felt the whole thing with the kind of clarity I’d never felt anything, when dealing with magic.
I’d always thought of enchanter’s tools like the one we’d just made together as a sort of shortcut, or collection of shortcuts. I realized that they made things easier, obviously, since that was the point. But assuming that what I’d felt through Two was the sort of thing that a high-level enchantment device could bring… that wasn’t a shortcut, it was a whole road that led to entirely new vistas.
“Thank you, Two,” I said. I’d need to experiment with the wand some, but I didn’t want to keep her up any longer. If we had somehow failed, then it wouldn’t be as simple a matter as trying again. We’d bound spells into the wand. They would have to be unraveled or otherwise dealt with before anything else could be tried, and nothing about the wand or its materials would be as receptive to the second attempt.
“You’re welcome,” she said. She rolled her eyes… with obvious, deliberate effort, and then said under her breath, “You are such a dork.”
It wasn’t actually quite under her breath, but in a tone of voice that suggested she was speaking under her breath without actually lowering the volume. Apparently, like whispering, the actual feat was not part of Two’s skill set.
Even though I heard every word with perfect clarity, though, I still couldn’t quite believe that I’d heard it correctly. I looked at Amaranth, who would normally be the first one to correct any rudeness in her presence, but she looked as puzzled as I felt.
“Two… what did you say?” I asked.
“I said ‘you are such a dork’,” she said, dropping into the exact same intonation she’d used originally. “I’m certain I said it correctly.”
“I… I guess I don’t understand why you would say that,” I said.
“My friend Steff told me that I should say that when this happens.”
Okay… it did sound like something Steff would say, both the calling me a dork part and the telling Two to do so. But I couldn’t imagine how she would have foreseen this situation.
“Maybe you should start at the beginning, Two,” Amaranth suggested.
“Okay,” Two said. “Of what?”
“What exactly did Steff tell you?” I asked.
“When I was worried that I did not have enough time to spend with you anymore, she told me that this is what happens when older sisters get older,” she said. “She said it was normal that I wouldn’t always have time for my little sister, but there would still be times when you needed my help and I would still be there as often as I could, and that’s okay.”
“I… you haven’t had time for me?” I said.
“I like housekeeping, but the hours are longer and I have to go all over campus,” she said. “And I have more homework this semester than I did last semester. And I’m the secretary and rulemaster of the stone soldiers club.”
“It’s okay, Two,” I said. “I’ve got a lot going on, too.”
“But you’re the little sister,” Two said. “You don’t need to make time for me. That’s not what you’re for.”
“It’s really okay, Two,” I said. I’d learned to not bother trying to argue the point about who was the big sister and who was the little sister in our relationship. Two was older than me, chronologically, and that was all that mattered in her mind. “We aren’t literal sisters anyway.”
“But figuratively, we’re like sisters,” Two said. “So I asked Steff what I should do, and she said I should be there when I can, and that when it’s over I should roll my eyes and say that you are such a dork under my breath when I do, because that’s the sort of thing that big sisters do when they’re old enough to not have as much time for their little sisters as they used to.”
“Steff told you that, huh?” I said. Yep… that was Steff.
“Yes. I know that Steff likes to tease, so I subjected her claims to independent verification.”
“And the TV told you the same thing,” I guessed.
“Yes!” Two said.
“You still shouldn’t call people dorks, though,” Amaranth said.
“I’m sorry that it sounds mean, but Steff assured me that it’s okay because it’s true, and because I love Mack,” Two said. “We can call the people we love dorks. It’s allowed.”
“I love you, too, Two,” I said.
“I have to sleep,” she said. “Goodnight, Mack. Goodnight, Amaranth.”
“Goodnight,” Amaranth said.
“Goodnight,” I said. “And… if you ever get tired of housekeeping, I think I know another line of work for you.”
“No, thank you,” Two said. “I wouldn’t enjoy that. I would rather take care of things than make them. And… and… I think I prefer the function I’ve chosen for myself over the one that I was made for.”
“I should try to see how this works for person-to-building interfacing,” I said when Two had returned to her room.
“Would it work any differently in the morning?” Amaranth asked.
“No buts, indeed!” Amaranth said, giving me a swat on the rear hard enough to make me jump. “We had a deadline, and you are seventeen minutes past it.”
“Okay, okay!” I said. “I need to wait for Two to finish in the bathroom, though… unless you want me to get marker all over the pillows.”
“It’s magic marker, silly,” she said, producing it and twirling it between her fingers. “It doesn’t smudge, and you need the other end of the pen to erase it, not water.”
“Okay, but I still want to get it off before bed,” I said, reaching out a hand for it. “Knowing me, I’d forget it’s there and rush off to deal with the building drama, then go through my face with some ridiculous thing written on my face and not understand why anyone’s looking at me funny.”
“Ridiculous?” Amaranth said. “Baby, I think you should go take a look in the vanity before you wipe it out.”
“Why,” I said, even as I turned and stepped closer to the mirror hung over the dresser. “What’s it…”
In the simple, clear lines of Two’s own block hand, my forehead read “SIS”.
Amaranth appeared over my shoulder, leaning into my back as she hugged me from behind.
“And to think, you didn’t want to ask for her help.”