297: Facing The Beast

on October 13, 2008 in Book 11

In Which Mackenzie Is Not Disciplined

“You have got to be kidding,” I said.

“I can assure you most sincerely that I am not.”

I stared at Dee. This wasn’t something I spent a lot of time doing. Dee hid her body inside her sweeping cloak and voluminous robes, and her face had a… well, you wouldn’t want to get into a staring contest with her. Elven beauty is fragile and delicate, but there was nothing fragile about the fierce pride that normally dwelled behind Dee’s eyes.

Right now, she didn’t look fierce. She didn’t even look proud. She looked humble and sort of scared.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “No way.”

“That is not an acceptable response in this situation,” Dee said.

“Okay,” I said. “Hell no. No fucking way.”

“Then I am most anxious to hear what you intend to do instead.”

“I… I have to think about it,” I said.

“I hope you will forgive my bluntness, but I believe that was the very thing you said you were unwilling to do,” Dee said. “And at the risk of sounding arrogant, I would be surprised if you could come up with a better solution. Your closest maternal relation, who has recently expressed concern about you in a very public way, is an expert on counteracting possession. Considering the difficulties you would be likely to encounter dealing with Khersian clergy, I do not think you could afford to ignore this opportunity, and I do not understand why you… a person I have believed to be morally inclined… would choose to do so.”

“Dee, I don’t want anything to do with my grandmother,” I said. “When I left home… her home… that was it. I’m not going back.”

“I do not believe it would be necessary to…”

“You don’t understand,” I said.

“I do not,” Dee agreed, her voice quavering. She was giving me a variation of Amaranth’s look, her head tilted low and her eyes peering out through a curtain of silvery white hair. “I do not understand why, now that you are aware of a deadly danger to others, you would ignore the most efficacious avenue to removing that danger. It falls to you to make me understand.”

“I… Dee, I spent half my life living under her thumb,” I said. “It took everything I had to get out from under her in the first place. If I give up now and go crawling back to her, I… I don’t think I’d have the strength to do it again. I’m sure your relationship with your grandmothers must be different…”

“My grandmother greeted the goddess before I was born,” Dee said. “But I do agree that in some ways, I may lack perspective on your family relationships. However, in other ways, you do.”

“Are you saying you know more about my grandmother than I do?” I asked skeptically.

“I am saying that I can see things about the situation from my vantage point which you cannot see from yours,” Dee said. “In your mind, you have cast this woman as an adversary… an obstacle to be overcome… and, because you believe you have surmounted this obstacle once, you are unwilling to return and face her again. Of course, that victory is only an illusion.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “I left her behind me. She’s out of my life, for real.”

“And yet you are apparently afraid to pick up a mirror and say her name,” Dee said.

“I’m not afraid,” I said. “I’ve made my choice. I choose not to contact her… that’s me, being in control.”

“I want you to imagine that you are in a tunnel, without any forks or branches,” Dee said. “An unvaryingly straight line, extending on and on. Behind you, in the distance, you can hear the sound of a great monstrous beast that you are sure will kill you if it catches you. What do you do?”

“I guess I run,” I said.

“For how long?”

“Until I get away,” I said. “Until I know I’m safe.”

“And this situation is your idea of being in control?” Dee asked. I didn’t answer. “How long do you think you will have to run from your grandmother before you feel that you are safe from her?”

“Dee… that’s a cute metaphor, but it doesn’t prove anything,” I said. “It doesn’t change anything. I can’t go back and face her.”

“And so you run.”

“My life, my choice,” I said.

“How many other’s lives may be affected by that choice?” Dee said. “At least one person is dead already. Dead, Mackenzie.”

“I know that!” I said. “Why do you think this is so hard for me to deal with?”

“Difficult or not, it is something that must be dealt with. I am merely pointing out a way to do so.”

“Whatever perspective you might think you have on me, Dee, you don’t know anything about my grandmother,” I said. “She won’t offer me a ‘consultation’… she’ll just take this as a confirmation of what she’s said all along, that I shouldn’t leave home and go off into the world, ever. To her, the solution to the problem will be for me to come back and live with her, in her house, under her supervision for the rest of her life… and who knows what’s supposed to happen when she dies?”

“Certainly once she understands that this is not an option, her concern will be to prevent further tragedies by arming you with…”

“Dee, she isn’t going to understand that,” I said. “And the last thing she’s going to want to do is ‘arm’ me with anything.”

“Then we must make her understand,” Dee said. “And if that proves impossible, then we will have lost nothing for the attempt.”

“No,” I said. “You don’t… Dee, I can’t face her. She’ll make me come back.”

“You have surpassed the human age of majority,” Dee said. “As I understand it, she does not have this power.”

“That’s where you don’t know anything about my grandmother,” I said. “Or about me, apparently… in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not… well, I’m not so great at standing up when people are being authoritative, and my grandmother knows me. She knows just how to talk, how to look…”

“Mackenzie, I have seen you display great strength of character upon occasion,” Dee said. “The problem is that you lack the discipline to do so at need.”

“Right,” I said, nodding. “And that’s why I can’t…”

“Identifying a problem should be the first step, not the last one,” Dee said. “If you lack discipline, you must acquire it. This will not only enable you to deal with your grandmother on more stable ground terms… as one adult respectfully addressing another… but it will help you to avoid further situations where a lack of control could put others at risk.”

“What am I supposed to do, go to the discipline store?” I asked. “Ask Finbar to whip me up some instant willpower?”

“I have to believe that in the long run, an alchemical solution would only exacerbate the problem,” Dee said. “What I am talking about is a permanent improvement. In my culture, self-control is seen as a basic life skill. I myself learned it at a very early age. I believe I could instruct you in it.”

“How do you teach self-control?” I asked. “Are you going to sit here and tell me ‘don’t do stupid shit you really shouldn’t do?’ Because I can do that myself.”

“Yes, and then do it anyway,” Dee said. “The thing we are talking about is a skill that must be practiced before it can become a quality you possess. You sound disdainful, but I think you will find the benefits extend far beyond an ability to withstand emotional pressure and contain your appetites.”

“Like what?”

“Well, as things stand, your every movement displays a total lack of awareness of your own body…”

“Oh, believe me, I’m very aware of my body,” I said. “Sometimes, I’m so completely aware of it that I can’t think of anything else.”

“Balance,” Dee said. “Poise. These are the things of which I am speaking.”

“Yeah… I don’t have any of those things,” I said.

“As I said, some things must be practiced as skills before they become habits, and then ingrained traits,” Dee said. “You must learn to be conscious of yourself, of your body, of every action you take… but if you do this often enough, you will begin to do so subconsciously.”

“Subconsciously conscious,” I said. “Got it.”

“You strike me as unusually flippant for somebody seeking ways to prevent another fatal accident,” Dee said. “I thought you regretted what has happened.”

“Dee, I do… I take what happened very seriously,” I said. “But you’re you, and I’m me. You’re an elf, you’re a priestess and a subtle artist… and you’re more than a decade older than I am… and so you have got grace and willpower and things that I can’t even dream of having. Me… I’m just clumsy.”

“That is as good an excuse as any for stumbling and staggering your way through life, but I say again… you do not have that luxury,” Dee said. “You are careless with where you put your feet because you are careless with your body because you are careless with how you live your life. If you were any other living person, this would be a personal tragedy. Because you are a half-demon, it could be the prelude to a catastrophe of massive proportions. Do you understand that?”

“Dee, what happened was…”

Do you understand it?” Dee repeated, her voice rising and cracking. “Did you know this very school was once destroyed in a riot? Its physical premises, I mean. The riot was sparked by the actions of a half-demon.”

“I read something about that, yeah,” I said. In fact, it had been among the arguments my grandmother had used against me going to college, but I’d never been able to stomach dwelling on the misdeeds of other half-demons.

“That may even have been a horrific accident itself, but the cost in lives was more extensive than the one half-demon,” Dee said. “Imagine that, with yourself in the center, and everybody you care about numbered among the dead.””

“Well, what would you have me do, exactly?” I asked, letting anger push away the images of bodies with faces I didn’t want to see . “Do you think I should go back to my grandmother? Let her lock me away from everybody?”

“No, I do not think that… but at one point, you expressed interest in joining me in my morning meditations on a more regular basis,” Dee said. “Was that interest genuine, or feigned?”

“It was genuine,” I said. “But, things have just been so crazy, you know?”

“That seems unlikely to change,” Dee said. “If you wish to join in the exercises, I believe you will have to make time for them regardless, even if it means cutting into your time with your lovers. Meditation is good for improving concentration, and for gaining a greater awareness of the mind and body. It will provide a foundation for your course self-improvement.”

“Foundation… as in, there’s going to be a lot more stuff on top of it?”

“Indeed,” Dee said. “The things you will be learning are more easily instilled in the blank slate of a child than in a fully-formed adult. It will not be easy, and I suspect the temptation to quit will be immense.”

“Hey, too bad I don’t have any self-discipline,” I said, forcing a smile. “It would make it easier to get some self-discipline.”

“If it would make things easier for you, I could have this conversation with Amaranth and she can convey her wishes to you,” Dee said. “Your acceptance of her stewardship of your life can be an adequate substitute for actual discipline, in some cases.”

“In other words, if I’m too much of a wuss to stick it out, she could order me to,” I said.

Dee nodded. She had a point. Amaranth’s stern looks and loving prods could get me to do things that I knew were right but couldn’t bring myself to do on my own. Her orders had been enough to get me into mixed melee class… certainly Dee would be a more pleasant taskmaster than Jill Callahan.

It would make things easier… but on the other hand…

“No,” I said. “We don’t need to get Amaranth involved, because I know what she’d say. She’d want me to do this… she wants me to improve myself. I’ll do this, knowing that it’s what she wants.”

“We will begin with meditation tomorrow morning, then,” Dee said. “And we will work on exercises… breathing, movement, coordination, repetitive labor, endurance.”

“Labor?” I repeated. “Endurance?”

“Yes,” Dee said. “You are immensely strong, but in terrible shape. These exercises will be of great benefit on their own, but they will also be a necessary prologue to the next step.”

“What’s that?”

“A course of training in the martial arts.”

“I thought we were talking about self-control,” I said.

“We are.”

“Isn’t the idea to make me less dangerous?”

“Excepting very specific circumstances, a skilled soldier is less a danger to the people around her than a belligerent drunk.”

“I’m already in a fighting class,” I said.

“Yes, and I suspect what you learn there will help you if you need to win fights, but it will be of uncertain value in avoiding them,” Dee said.

“Can’t we just do the breathing and the movement and the meditation?”

“Once again, you run down the tunnel rather than facing the beast,” Dee said. “Your body is a weapon, Mackenzie, and you cannot change that fact by ignoring it. What you can do is reforge it into a weapon you are comfortable with, one that is entirely under your control. You said you would do this on your own, without Amaranth’s orders. Have you changed your mind?”

“I didn’t know what we were talking about,” I said.

“We’re talking about your safety and the safety of everybody around you,” Dee said. “Mackenzie, your experiences, your life… they are not mine. I cannot claim to understand you any more than you understand me. But I understand how important… somebody with the gifts my mind contains could be as dangerous in her own way as you are in yours. You saw what happened when I lost control and… lashed out at Steff’s organs. Imagine what that same power could do to a heart, or an eye, or a child’s neck, if I were careless… and my telepathy is far stronger a gift. Imagine the damage that I could, in all innocence, do to an unshielded mind if I did not know what I was doing.”

She was sounding more and more frantic as she spoke, and her eyes were growing wider and whiter. Dee was normally tight-lipped in the strictest sense, her mouth barely moving as she spoke, but her teeth were flashing in the darkness as the very discipline she was touting seemed to fly away from her.

In the end, that was what convinced me: Dee was afraid. Afraid for me… or afraid of me. Probably both.

“Okay,” I said. “But what about my grandmother? I’m guessing you’re not talking about the sort of thing we can knock out in a single day and be done with. I won’t be ready to face her…”

“I do not believe it will be necessary for you to do so immediately,” Dee said.

“That’s a relief.”

“After all, you have shown yourself in the recent past to be far more comfortable with the written medium than with conversing face to face. I think a letter will help you set the correct tone, for the initial contact.”

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13 Responses to “297: Facing The Beast”

  1. Kit says:

    Speaking of martial arts, Mack could majorly benefit from learning Kai’s pressure points trick, to disable people (attackers) temporarily without harming them.

    Current score: 0
    • Jackie says:

      I think you may need claws to pull it off though. It kinda seems less vulcan nerve pinch and more Acupuncture sleep channel.

      Current score: 4
      • MackSffrs says:

        Pretty much. Hitting major nerve clusters, while not for thirty minutes to a full hour, can seriously disable a person’s movement in certain points in the limbs by viciously manhandling the cluster, which to us would appear to be a “pressure point trick.”
        Essentially, by crushing nerve clusters, it triggers the all of them in that node, and also destroys a bit of the balance system that allows them to ‘rearm’ for the next signal. This is a bit like hitting your funny bone but much worse, also similar to your leg or arm falling asleep, as some of those times, while it may be numb, is will be unable to move, despite having enough blood to do so.

        Current score: 2
  2. pedestrian says:

    for women i advise them to take whatever aikido or jujitsu training is locally available. Evade and Escape is the smart move against a larger and stronger opponent pumped up on testosterone and alcohol or other drugs.

    Current score: 1
  3. Lunchbox says:

    continuity error… Doesn’t Mackenzie say that she hadn’t heard about the half-demon riot to (I think…) Bohd? I remember “it wasn’t exactly in the brochure.”

    Current score: 1
    • Pamela says:

      I would think that was because she thought it was a falsehood put forth by her desperate grandmother, but she takes everything her grandmother says as gospel.

      Current score: 1
  4. MadnessMaiden says:

    At the end of the last chapter, I thought Dee was talking about Two, because that’s the only person who I think of as Mack’s family. Her grandmother never even occurred to me.

    Current score: 0
    • Jechtael says:

      Mackenzie thinks of Two as family, but the Blaise matriarch apparently thinks of herself as Mackenzie’s family.

      Current score: 1
  5. Anthony says:

    Reading this conversation, I realized something.

    We’ve got a *lot* of people in Harlowe for whom Pax is a second language. All college-age kids, still pretty young. But *all* of them, except for Suzi, are perfectly articulate and even eloquent and have been since they showed up.

    Anyone who’s learned a second language IRL can tell you just how unrealistic that is. There’s no way Mack should be able to chat this easily with Sooni, Kai, Dee, Shiel, etc…

    Current score: 0
    • Daezed says:

      Celia and Leda have both made ‘errors’ in speech patterns. Hazel and Honey both use minor colloquialisms that elude to a somewhat differing view of the same language (kind of like the Queen’s English and American English), and Oru has sometimes mentioned being unsure of the way she was using a word; it’s not really confined to Suzi at all, it’s just more subtle from the other characters.

      As I recall, most of the residents on the floor have had a substantial part of their upbringing among humans, so the idea that they would have picked up a decent amount, enough to not be remarked upon, isn’t so hard to imagine, especially when the majority of Mackenzie’s interactions are with her floor, or other full or mostly humans.

      It’s also a first-person narrative, so you could conceivably (inconceivable!) argue that the personal slant naturally edits out slips she might not otherwise notice.

      Current score: 3
    • zeel says:

      Leda has had few lines, but those she has had were noticably wonky. Also she claimed that her parents sent her to MU to improve her pax.

      The other Nekos and Sooni have had problems with vocabulary. However we know that Sooni finds knowledge of pax to be important, thus she and the neko’s have surly had the best tutors her fathers money could buy.

      Celia and Hissy seem to have lived near humans for a significant time.

      Dee has had some issues with pax, though not many. However as an elf language may come easy to her, or she may have taken longer to learn it than we know.

      The gnomes speak pax, not ‘normal’ magisterian pax, but still pax.

      The goblinoids have mebtioned their own difficulties learning pax, though they do seem a bit too fluent.

      Remember, for the charecters here pax isn’t just “another language” it’s the official language of many places. It is reasonable to belive that most of them probably started to learn it very early in their educatio.

      Current score: 4
  6. Sher says:

    I hope this instigates a revamping of Mack’s personality.

    Current score: 0
  7. Mike says:

    I just have to say, I love that Dee calls her Mackenzie. I know what it’s like to be saddled with a nickname you hate and be unable to get anyone to call you anything else. Growing up with those damn commercials, “Mikey likes it! He’ll eat anything!” And being overweight didn’t help either.

    Current score: 7