331: Sticking To It

on December 17, 2008 in Book 12

In Which Mackenzie Grabs A Shaft

Callahan was content to ignore me while she went off and tormented the so-called princess, which would have been an ideal situation had it not left me with Dobbs. As much as I hated Callahan and as much as I was sure it was mutual, that hatred was just not on the same level as the deep-down loathing I felt for Dobbs. It might have been the same degree or quantity of dislike, but the quality made all the difference.

“Just so you know, if you try and pull that same shit on me that you pulled on Callahan last week, I will smite you so hard and fast you won’t even know what hit you,” he said.

“Yeah?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t pussyfoot around.”

“And you think she does?”

“I didn’t say that!” he said, and he turned to randomly yell at a pair of sparring students, who were startled and one of them ended up dropping his sword, which earned him a lecture from the teaching assistant.

I didn’t have anything to do… no partner, no instructions. I glanced around for Gloria, not because I was expecting her to come forward and offer to train with me, but simply because hers was the one face of all my classmates I would definitely recognize. It took me a while to spot her, because she was wrapped up in a bulky padded suit that looked like it might have been pretty warm, but also did a lot to hide her familiar form. She was fighting with a swordsman and doing pretty well at it. I watched her fending off his attacks and returning them for a while, my eyes drawn to the clashing blades if for no other reason than there wasn’t a lot else to look at.

“So did you end up going to the fights, Emo Kid?” Callahan asked from right behind me. I yelped in surprise. “Relax, I didn’t stab you. Did you go to the fights?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said.

“Did you learn anything?”

“It was a Saturday,” I said. “I didn’t think learning was required.”

“Sitting and watching something for hours and not learning anything takes a lot of talent or dedication,” she said.

“I’m not stupid,” I said. “I just don’t care that much about fighting.”

“Yeah? How do you feel about eating?”

“Uh… conflicted,” I said, wondering why, of all the things in the world, she would ask about that.

“Okay, how about breathing?” she asked. “Survival? Living?”

“I’m pretty much in favor of those things,” I said.

“Then you of all the people in this school need to learn to care about fighting,” she said. “A week ago you proved that you’re willing to fight to survive.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I want to…”

“Funny thing… most people who are fighting for survival don’t want to be in whatever position they’re in,” Callahan said. “You in particular will live longer if you stay out of as many fights as you can. When you’re fighting orcs or humans, the quickest way to lose the war is winning the wrong battle.”

“What the hell does that mean?” I asked.

“Think about the terrorist fireballings a couple years back,” she said. “Think about the orcs sacking the Mother Isles after their camps got crushed. Think about the PTA meetings that would have followed if you’d ever fought back in high school.”

“What do you know about my high school career?” I asked, my eyes narrowing with suspicion.

“Nothing specific,” she said. “But I know you spent years learning not to fight, and that’s the obvious explanation.”

“Yeah, okay, you’re very perceptive,” I said. “So, at the end of the day, I probably shouldn’t be here.”

“No, you shouldn’t be getting into fights you can avoid,” she said. “But when you’re in one, you should defend yourself, the same as anybody else. Take off that coat.”

“I don’t really have a lot on underneath…”

“Do I care?” she asked. “It’s not that cold, and when you start doing more than standing there with your thumb in your ass you’ll warm up anyway.”

With more than a little reluctance, I complied… all the while wondering what the class would be like once snow was actually on the ground. Would Callahan move it indoors under any circumstances?

“Now go put Johnson’s daggers on the table before you hurt yourself with them, and get us two of the sticks laying on the ground next to it,” she said.

“Sticks?” I repeated.

“Sticks,” she said. “One for me, one for you.”

“You want to fight with sticks,” I said, making sure I was understanding her correctly. Callahan the barbarian with the fancy jeweled greatsword was asking me to get her a stick… there had to be a trick in there somewhere.

“Don’t ask me what I want to do to you, Emo Kid,” she said. “Not if you want to sleep at night. Now go get the fucking sticks, unless you want to fight me sword and dagger.”

“Okay… you’re the boss,” I said, and I started to back in the direction of the equipment table.

I only turned my back on her after almost ending up on my ass because of the uneven terrain. The part of me that believed that Callahan was going to stab me in the back was even more sure she’d be on me in a second if she saw me go down. I wasn’t a big fan of nature shows, but I’d seen enough of them to get a pretty good idea how a predatory mind worked.

There was a small pile of wooden staves sitting in the grass next to the table. I picked up two of them and headed back towards Callahan. I held one out to her, glad that I didn’t have to get too close to do it.

“You didn’t box them,” she said after taking hers.

Fucking hell.

“You didn’t tell me to,” I said. “Are these even magic?”

“No,” she said. “But that doesn’t matter to us mere mortals. Go box yours.”

“What about yours?”

“I’ll use it as it is,” she said. “It’s not like it can injure you.”

It couldn’t, but I had a feeling I was going to be sore as hell by the end of class.

“Now come at me,” she said after I’d mocked my weapon and returned.

“I don’t know how to fight with a staff,” I said.

“You don’t know how to fight without one, either,” she said. “But you showed better instincts with that hayseed polearm of yours than you ever did with the hunting knife you had before. I think it suits you better, too. A longer weapon lets you put more force behind it, which is good because physical strength is the one thing you have loads of. It also gives you a greater margin of error… more room to make a mistake and not have it cost you the battle or more. Plus, when you trip and land on it, it won’t end up in your guts.”

“So am I supposed to swing this at you?” I asked.

“No, you point the end at me and go ‘pew pew pew’,” Callahan said. “Does it look like a giant wand to you? You’ve got about five seconds to start moving or I’m just going to stomp you into the field.”

I tried to remember what I’d done with the pitchfork. I’d fought Gloria with it once while not possessed, though when I thought back to how I’d felt at the time it was possible I had been under its influence. At one point I’d grabbed it near the end and swung it like a really long sword… that had been a powerful blow, but it seemed to me like it would be child’s play for Callahan to see it coming and avoid or deflect it.

On the other hand, if I kept my hands spread apart with the staff in front of me, as it seemed like such weapons were normally held in pictures of people using them… then I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do next. Try to bop her with one of the ends?

While I was figuring that out, she decided she’d had enough waiting and came at me, with an overhead swing. I jumped back and brought mine up to block. The impact of her staff on mine almost jarred it from my grip.

“See? Better instincts,” she said, attacking a few more times. She wasn’t quite doing the slow-mo thing that Gloria had done to show me how to defend, but I knew she wasn’t going all out… if only because I was still on my feet. “Now attack me back.”

“I don’t know how,” I said.

“It doesn’t take a magic word,” she said. “There aren’t any moving parts. Hit me back.”

Okay, obviously, it was a stick and the way you hit somebody with a stick was… well… you took the stick and you hit them with it. But Callahan made it look graceful and effortless. I couldn’t see how she got so much reach out of it with her hands spaced apart. I’d clobbered Gloria with my pitchfork by grabbing it near the end and swinging it like a really long club or a sword… but that would mean giving up my protective bar, and I didn’t think it would work so well against Callahan, anyway.

“You fought Dhambizao because she threatened your right to exist,” Callahan said while I tried to figure out what to do. “I hoped that would be enough to make a lasting impression, but if it’s going to take that every single time, you’re going to be in for an awfully long semester.”

“Um… could you just attack me again?” I asked.

“You aren’t going to play at defense for the entire class,” Callahan said.

“I want to see…”

“Okay, watch,” she said, and she went into a series of attacks without further prelude.

The first one almost took me unaware, but after I caught it and stepped back I was able to watch her hands on the next two. As she swung the right end towards me, her right hand slid down towards her left, giving her the longer reach and more force, then when she fell back into her ready stance it returned to its original position. The whole thing seemed like one fluid motion, and the staff pivoted against her hand like the throwing arm of a trebuchet.

I tried it. The wood dragged against my skin, making the swing clumsy and slow. Callahan didn’t even bother to block the blow. She just stepped backwards and let me whiff the air where she’d been standing.

“Fucking hell, Emo Kid, don’t grip it so tight,” Callahan said. “I’d hate to be your boyfriend. You know, for a variety of reasons.”

I glared at her.

“Try it again,” she said.

I did, relaxing my grip a bit. Out of frustration, I put more strength into it this time, too, and was surprised by how fast the tip of the staff moved through its arc. Callahan once again backed away instead of blocking, though I think that may have been a tactical call rather than a statement on the quality of my attack.

Not that it was a thing of beauty, exactly… the force kind of swung me halfway around with it and knocked me off balance. I braced myself mentally for the vicious counterattack I knew would be coming before I had a chance to brace myself physically.

I got something else entirely instead.

“Don’t swing like that unless you’re absolutely sure your weapon’s going to run into something that will stop it,” Callahan said. “Don’t be afraid of your strength, but don’t be such an idiot with it, either.”

“Why are you being so nice?” I asked.

“Did you hear the ‘idiot’ part?”

“You could have laid me out with one hit there, but you stayed back and critiqued.”

“Yeah, and you know I could have,” she said.

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “I just said that.”

“So there’s nothing to prove there,” she said. “Do you think I beat on you because I get off on it? Maybe if you had even half a dick somewhere on your body… well, anyway, you know now that your little demon strength and your little hellfire and your little racial rep isn’t going to make the difference against me. You should by extension realize that this means they won’t make the difference against everybody else, either. If you’re ever going to be ready to learn, this is the time.”

She threw her staff away like it was a javelin and called out to another student.


“What?” he asked, coming over. I noticed he was coming from the advanced section. He was a wiry, dark-skinned guy with a staff made out of blue wood capped in metal.

“Double-mock your staff and give her a copy,” Callahan said. “Then put her through the paces. Don’t go easy, but remember: spar, not fight.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, without irony or excessive inflection.

“I’ve got other shit to do this period,” Callahan said to me. “People to teach, elves to break… but I’m going to be keeping an eye on you. If somebody wants to fight, I can teach them how. If they know how to fight, I can help them do it better. I honestly wonder if I can do anything for you.”

She sounded almost sad when she said this, and it wasn’t a mocking “oh you’re so pathetic” sadness… it was honest-to-goodness regret. It was the kind of thing that would have made me feel really disappointed in myself, if I’d looked up to Callahan in any way.

As it was, it only made me a little disappointed.

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12 Responses to “331: Sticking To It”

  1. pedestrian says:

    A trained, experience stick fighter is very dangerous even against armed opponents.

    Think English quarterstaff or Irish shillelagh.

    Current score: 8
    • Kat says:

      Little me once went up against two guys armed with swords, with about a year of practice for an hour every week. I used an iron pole about 5 feet long, hollow, that I’d found lying around in the woods. All I know about stick fighting was what I learned at a summer camp when I was 12 I think.
      And guess what, I actually won! Btw I’m a girl and not exactly the sommersault over your head warrior type. Just a college girl.
      None of us took it all that seriously, it was just a war game in the forest, but I still won.

      Current score: 5
  2. Daezed says:

    I like Callahan. I love the fact that, while she may not give two shits about the student in question personally, she still teaches them, and does a good job of doing it (when the student lets them, anyway). If I wanted to learn to fight, I’d hate it, but I don’t think I (or Mackenzie) could have a better instructor for it.

    Current score: 6
  3. Mugasofer says:

    Callahan: a surprisingly good teacher.

    Current score: 2
  4. Maesenko says:

    Having read through Jamie’s Tale in More Tales of MU, seeing that side of Callahan, hearing the Princess comment…it really made me see Callahan in a different light. Now I’m seeing that same manner of teacher that Callahan was with Jamie in the way she is trying to teach Mack.

    I love it.

    Current score: 0
  5. Sher says:

    Why is Mack so stubborn and utterly disappointing? Please make her a more likable character! Pleeeeeaseeee.

    Current score: 1
  6. Jechtael says:

    Ahh. I wasn’t able to reconcile “doesn’t like girls, sexually” with “likes Steff, sexually” until the comment about having at least half a penis. Sometimes I forget that intolerance can lead to good things (at least, in this case, to people who think of Callahan being attracted to them as a good thing).

    Current score: 4
    • Laural H says:

      It’s not exactly intolerant to have an exclusive attraction to cocks…

      Current score: 6
    • zeel says:

      Physical attraction is useually… physical. I don’t think it really matters to callahan whether Steff or anyone else is a boy or a girl, she just likes dick. That’s not intolerance at all, in fact, it’s kinda the opposite. She can’t help what turns her on.

      Current score: 1