Chapter 127: Internal InjuriesAlexandra Erin on December 6, 2012 in Volume 2 Book 4: The Reinvention of Mackenzie Blaise, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Looks Aren’t Everything
“Yeah… this fight’s over,” Coach Callahan said.
“I’m… not… out…” Nae said. She swung her arms like she was looking for something to grab onto, then lurched over and fell onto her side, revealing the other side of the shard of wood that was jammed through her torso.
I probably should have been relieved that she was still talking and moving, but it was kind of horrible to watch… my brain insisted she should have been dead, or at least dying, which made everything that my eyes were telling it register as wrong, wrong, wrong.
“The fight’s over,” Coach Callahan said. “The mockbox is broken, the spells are broken… there’s nothing to be out of anymore.”
“I’m not accepting a loss!” Nae yelled, phlegmy ichor sputtering out of her mouth on the s-sound.
“Take an emotion potion, kid… nobody said you lost,,” the coach said.
“Did… did I lose then?” I asked. It seemed like a heartless thing to ask, but if Nae was more concerned about her standing in the class than her massive injury, I could be, too. The concept of a draw didn’t really fit into Coach Callahan’s ethos, or the framing of the class.
“You distinguished yourself,” the coach said.
“In a good way?” I asked.
“Were you breathing and vertical at the end of the fight?” she asked.
“…I was breathing,” I said, since I had taken a tumble. “And semi-upright.”
“I wasn’t actually looking at you,” Coach Callahan said. She turned back to Nae. “Tiger, report. Do you need a healer? Or… a blacksmith?”
“I think I might have seventeen my brain a little, but nothing I can’t make fleas from,” Nae said. The words came out so clearly and matter-of-factly that my first impression wasn’t that she’d said anything wrong, but that I’d understood wrong. She touched her chest… not the part that the wood was protruding from, but a slightly dimpled spot off to the side that I imagined was where I’d connected with her. “I might have bent a few ribs, though.”
“Yeeeah… you’re going to the healer,” the coach said. “Tiny, see that she gets there.”
“I told you, I’m trees!” Nae said. “I could still take her, you know… this… isn’t flaking anything important.”
“Yes, and that’s why I’m not awarding her a win,” Coach Callahan said. “As bad as you’re hurt, she’d still be blind if her injuries had been real. Neither of you took the other one out, despite your best efforts… which were both exceptional. But we can’t continue the fight! We can’t even continue class. And you need to get yourself checked out, because your brain isn’t braining right, and that’s probably the least of what’s wrong with you.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Nae said. She gestured down at the wooden shard protruding from the blank canvas that was her chest. “This? This is nargle.”
The wound, which had been steadily oozing, seemed to be closing up around the wood… or at least the bleeding was slowing to a trickle.
“And that’s not even a word,” Coach Callahan said. “Also… you just stopped bleeding.”
“Six? I’m better already,” Nae said.
“No, it just means your heart stopped… squishing,” Coach Callahan said.
Nae’s lipless mouth formed a disconcertingly large O, and then she fell backwards, snapping the end of the wood splinter off.
“Tiny… healer,” Callahan said, with firmness but no sense of urgency. “She’ll probably wake up in a few hours anyway, but… just for the look of things, okay?”
“But she may have internal injuries?” Pala said.
“You know what? I do believe you’re right,” Callahan said. “Get her to the healer!”
“Okie dokie,” Pala said. She stooped down by the fallen kobold and reached out, then hesitated. “How do I…?”
“If you can find a way to carry her that does more damage than she’s already sustained, you should patent it as a fighting style and write a book about it,” Callahan said. “I’ll write the foreword. We’ll tour together. Now, in the name of the Dark Fucking Herald, you… get… her… to the healer!”
Pala turned pale and obeyed very quickly.
Coach Callahan turned on me… to me, I mean.
“Put some fucking pants on,” she said, and I realized that I was in my bra and… well, actually, just my bra. Nae had picked one of the few spots to bite where there was anything real to be damaged, and without even the illusion of pants to hold them in place the shredded remains of my underwear had stayed behind when I picked myself up off the ground. “Anybody else whose togs went poof, get your ass dressed and get out of here! Everyone else, just get out. We’ll pick this up again on Monday, when I’ll hopefully have re-purposed another mockbox.”
Absolutely nobody looked at me as I hurried to change into my street clothes… somehow, that felt more awkward than if everybody had been staring, until I remembered that everyone else had either scrambled for the door or were in their underwear, too. No one was avoiding looking around out of embarrassment for me.
I wasn’t a huge fan of wearing jeans directly over my skin… the extra stimulation was something that could be interesting for a few minutes in the privacy of one’s own room, but it wore on me. Also, you don’t have to be packing equipment like Steff’s for zippers to prove hazardous. I dressed quickly, but carefully.
“Don’t you run off, Frybaby,” Coach Callahan said when I was almost to the door. “We’ve got to talk.”
I stopped and turned around. She wasn’t looking at me… she’d headed over to the pile of kindling that had been her specially modified mockbox.
“I wonder why your staff went bang but this just went bust,” she said, nudging the wood with a sandaled foot. “There was a shower of sparks, but you had a baby fireball in your face. I doubt you have more magic in your little stick than this baby had. Any idea why that would be?”
“When a stable enchantment breaks, it mostly just… dissipates,” I said. “Charged spells are a bit more volatile. And staves… well, staves are just more so. The characteristics that make them better for magic in general… well, there are arguments about the how and the why…”
Coach Callahan nodded and turned around to face me.
“I knew a lich with a serious old school wizard staff once,” she said. “When it broke… well, you can probably guess. Karden, was the name of the town. Was.”
“How’d he break it?” I asked.
“He was holding it wrong,” she said.
“How do you break a staff by holding it wrong?” I asked, though as soon as the words were out I realized the description could more or less apply to what had happened to me.
“Out in front of him, like a shield,” she said. She… I guess you’d have to call what she did was a sigh. It sounded angry and tired at the same time. It was like resignation, but without the sadness.
“Am I in trouble?” I asked.
“You mean for kebabing Tiger, or for breaking the box?”
“For either… or both,” I said. “for anything.”.
“Well… we have waivers about you hurting each other,” she said. “And everyone heard her begging to continue the fight. Even without that, it’d be damned hard for anyone to build a case around an injured kobold. For the box? You weren’t aiming for it, were you?”
“How could I possibly have known where it was?” I asked.
“How did you know where she was?” Coach Callahan said. It didn’t sound like a counterargument. “I’m not accusing you of anything, I’m honestly curious. It would make a kind of sense, in the heat of the moment… it did end the fight.”
“I didn’t have a clue. I knew here people were, but I had no idea about the layout of the room or where I was in it. Anyway, I would expect that to be counted as a loss,” I said. “Or worse, a cheat. You hate the idea of people gaming the system.”
“As a rule, yes, but there’s something to be said for seizing on the circumstances of a fight,” she said. “You really weren’t aiming, then?”
“You’ve got some kind of luck, kid.”
“Yeah,” I said. “The bad kind.”
“The interesting kind,” she said.
“So… what’s going to happen on Monday?” I asked. “Are Nae and I going to have a rematch?”
“I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what the fuck is going to happen,” she said. “I’ve been pushing the limits of what a mockbox can do as it is, and… you’ve kind of outgrown them.”
“We can go back to fighting just with weapons,” I said.
“But that isn’t how either of you are going to fight in the real world, when your backs are to the wall,” she said. “You need to know how to kick someone through a wall more than you need to know how to fence. She needs to know how to bite without hesitation or compunction more than she needs to know how to stick anyone with a weapon small enough for her to hold.”
“I don’t want to kick people through walls,” I said. “If I can take people down by out-fighting them instead of… out-demoning them… then I’ll have that many less people coming after me.”
“That’s your theory, and it’ll work up to a point,” she said. “But when you get past that point… well, well, those things are going to happen. A fight with weapons doesn’t even have to be that serious before things get physical… a couple of the human fighters get caught together with their weapons in a clinch, the faster or smarter one will punch the other in the nose or knee them in the groin. And that’s okay even when it happens in class, because even if the injury’s real, the chance of it being fatal before it can be fixed is low. All of that aside, fighting each other with weapons is only an option if we have a mockbox.”
“You have other mockboxes,” I said.
“The university has mockboxes,” she said. “As I was so recently reminded, they don’t belong to me. I couldn’t hide the fact that this one was broken even if I hadn’t sent someone to have part of it removed from her sucking chest wound. There aren’t a lot of things they care about breaking around here, because mostly it just takes a few words and a little concentration to fix them. Apparently making a new mockbox is more complicated than fixing a desk or a door or a wall or a staircase.”
“Doesn’t the school have insurance for that?” I asked. “This can’t be the first time a fight’s spilled out of bounds and hit one.”
“It’s not… that’s why I know how much it costs to replace one,” she said. “And yes, it is covered, but questions are going to be raised about the circumstances that led up to it, and… well, it won’t surprise you to know that I have enemies in the administration.”
“Only living ones,” I said. I couldn’t help it, it was like there was a giddy undercurrent to everything I was thinking and it carried the words right out of my mouth before my brain realized what was happening.
Coach Callahan just snorted.
“You andd me both,” she said. “Anyway, the vice-chancellor will back me on most things, and that counts for a lot… I see that look on your face, but no, we’re not on the same side. We’re not even allies. He just doesn’t want me as an enemy.”
It was interesting that she made a distinction between being allied with someone and being on the same side. I imagined any real conflict that she was a part of could get complicated quickly.
It as more interesting… and surprising… to think of Mr. Embries being afraid of crossing someone. But maybe that wasn’t what she’d meant? Maybe he thought she would be useful.
“Speak,” Callahan said.
“Sorry, I just can’t imagine Embries courting your favor,” I said. “Or anyone’s.”
“He isn’t,” she said. “He just doesn’t want to be on the side that’s against me if push comes to kill. He’s been placed where he is to stop anything awful from happening to the school, and he’d almost give up half his hoard to make sure that awful thing isn’t me. It’s not that he thinks I’d win. He’s just not completely certain I wouldn’t.”
“…are you supposed to talk about this?” I asked.
“If I’m not supposed to talk about the fact that the university’s hired an ancient silver dragon as catastrophe insurance, nobody ever told me,” she said. “I don’t talk about it, but I saw the look on your face when I mentioned him. The average student just looks blank when they hear his name, or maybe they get a dreamy, distant look on their face if they’ve ever met him… but it’s hard to hide dragon fear. You’ve seen him, up close and personal.”
“I can’t talk about it,” I said.
“I don’t imagine you can,” she said. “Anyway, the point is, he’ll back me up to a certain extent, but only… administratively.”
“I thought maybe it was because of me that you were being targeted,” I said.
“What? Oh… probably is,” she said. “For all I know, I mean. Like I said, you’ve got some kind of luck. But it’s because of me that whoever’s been whispering about me’s getting any traction. You should find somewhere to sit down, by the way, before it all runs out of you.”
“Before what runs out of me?”
“The fight,” she said. “It’s over, and the things you’ve pushed away are bound to catch up with you at any moment.”
I didn’t have to ask what she meant, because any moment turned out to be that moment. The image of Nae’s body impaled on the wreckage of the cabinet, as still as it had been at first, swam up in front of my eyes, though it was competing with the memory of being blind as she clung to me and bit me.
“Whoa…” I said, as every part of me that wasn’t in pain seemed to go numb and the world jerked sideways.
“Warned you,” Coach Callahan said.
“But… I’ve been fighting every day since the semester started,” I said, after I’d staggered to a wall to lean against. “I should be… I mean, it shouldn’t…”
“It takes you differently, when it’s real,” she said. “Not that that was a real fight, but it came closer in more than one way.Seriously, go sit down somewhere, then go take a shower. Come to class like normal on Monday, but… be ready for anything.”
“Like trouble?” I asked.
“Probably not… if there’s trouble, it’ll fall on me,” she said. “If it doesn’t want to, I’ll make sure it does. Not saying there won’t be any splatter. But you should also be ready for the possibility that you’ll be sitting on the sidelines, or you’ll come in and I’ll tell you to turn around and leave, or that there isn’t any class at all. Like I said: I don’t know what’s going to happen, so be ready.”
“Is that why you wanted me to stay?” I asked.
“I could have told you that on the way out the door,” she said. “No, I wanted to make sure you were alright… didn’t you go falling to your knees and sobbing in the middle of the campus, or something. If you’re going to break down, better to do it here.”
“For the look of things, right?”
“Yeah,” she said. “For the look of things.”
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