360: Elemental Primer

on March 6, 2009 in Book 13

In Which Mackenzie Wants To Do As She’s Told

Amaranth let me skip breakfast, so I spent the next little bit lying down on my stomach in bed, catching a little bit more rest after the early morning awakening.

I couldn’t quite sleep with my piercings digging into my chest and my butt feeling the heat of the punishment… but my mind felt weirdly empty from a combination of the punishment and the meditation session, so it was pretty restful, anyway. I just couldn’t stay there forever, so I ended up getting to my elemental evocation class fairly early.

Ian was there, too, standing in the hall. He spotted me and beckoned me over, away from the other students who were waiting for the door to open.

I smile when I see him. I can’t not. It isn’t just my face that responds to the sight of him, either… that sounded dirty, and yeah, it should, but I didn’t just mean that, either. In a strange way, Ian made me smile all over… body and mind, and maybe even soul.

I was also really intensely aware of the smell of him, his skin, a whiff of shampoo and soap and a little bit of sweat… the first and the last being the main notes I was interested in.

That was sexy, and also a little bit worrying. I would have to tell Amaranth. I hadn’t noticed being sensitive to smell until after I was starving, in my last feeding cycle. If that’s what this was, I wasn’t going to let it creep up on me.

“Hey,” I said. “I… uh… I heard a crazy, stupid rumor about you.”

“You know… uh… I’m not sure how to put this,” Ian said. I noticed now that he was kind of halfway frowning, and realized he had been since I saw him. The smile fell off my face.

“How to put what?” I asked, sure he was about to tell me that it wasn’t a stupid rumor, that he was dumping me and that he was doing it for Jillybean. It wasn’t bad enough that she had to make class time a living hell for me… she had to go after my lovers, too?

“If I had an answer for that, I’d know how to put it,” he said. He sighed. “Look… there are things about you that some guys would find kind of… well… embarrassing.”

“There are things about me that some guys would find kind of hot,” I said defensively. “A lot of guys, maybe.”

“Yeah, and a lot of those things are the same things that are embarrassing… and probably for the same guys,” Ian said. “The point is, I accept a lot of things about you without question. Well, much question.”

“A lot,” I said, folding my arms and scowling. “But clearly not everything, I guess… unless you just felt a burning need to tell me how embarrassing I am and how little you mind.”

“Mackenzie, I’m just… I want to ask you a favor,” he said.
“It’s nothing big, and really, it could almost be for you as much as me. I mean, you’d benefit from it.”

“What?” I asked.

“Could you maybe try to quit blowing off Callahan’s class?” Ian asked.

“Did Amaranth put you up to this?” I asked, remembering that she had gone to his residence hall the night before. “If she…”

“She didn’t!” Ian said. “But, kheez… I’d think you’d be happy to obey if it was from her. I have to feel like I’m making an imposition, or something.”

“I… I don’t think Amaranth would object to sharing authority,” I said, my breath catching in my throat, my body doing the responding-all-over thing again.

Ian could dominate me in a much more hands-on, physical, visceral fashion than Amaranth did. Could and had, though not frequently. Why not make that permanent and official, if he wanted?

“I don’t want that!” Ian said, and that was the end of that idea for the time being. “I want you to give me… give me a little consideration, that’s all. I want you to do this because you want to.”

“What if I want to do what you tell me?” I asked.

“That’s not the same.”

“The result would be,” I pointed out.

“But the path to get there would be a lot less pleasant,” Ian said.

“I don’t know,” I said, trying to look sexy and sound sultry, though I probably didn’t do any better than sleepy. “I’d enjoy it. I think you would, too.”

“Less comfortable, then, or maybe safe,” he said. “And damn it, Mackenzie, I’m trying to get you to take this class seriously… and all you want to do is turn it into a game.”

“It’s not a game to me,” I said. “And why do you care how I take Callahan’s class?”

“Because it’s embarrassing,” Ian said. “I didn’t think you were the kind of person to clown around in class, but the way she talks about you, you’re joke.”

“I’m a joke?” I repeated.

“A bad one,” Ian said. “And it makes me feel like a bit of… well, a gigantic loser in her eyes for being with you.”

“You feel like a loser for dating me?” I said.

“I don’t mean it like that!” Ian said. “Wait… yes, yes I do. To her. I feel like I’m a loser to her because it seems like you go out of your way to come across as useless in her class.”

“You’re just going to take her at her word for that?”

“It’s not just her word… it’s her voice, her body language, her posture, her face,” Ian said. “When she gets on a rant about you, her face kind of contorts and… well, sometimes she doesn’t even look human. You piss her off like nobody else.”

“It’s mutual,” I said. “Why aren’t you on my side?”

“I am!” Ian said. “I just… I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask you to take a class seriously or drop out of it. That’ll solve your problems with her.”

“Why do you care how you look to her?”

“Mackenzie, she’s head coach for the gladiator program,” Ian said. “I spend a lot of time with her. Her opinion matters… she might be the best warrior…”

“What do you care about warriors? You should be a bard,” I said.

“Are you sure you want me to be in charge of you?” Ian asked.

“Sorry,” I said. “I just don’t want to see you squandering…”

“You can’t even manage your own life worth a damn… don’t go telling me how to live mine. I’ve got a father for that.”

“Sorry!” I said. “Anyway… Amaranth already told me I have to obey Callahan, so this is all moot. You get what you want, okay?”

“What I want?” Ian echoed. “Mackenzie… would it be too much for you to tell me that you hear what I’m saying, you think it’s reasonable, and you agree with it?”

“Sure I’ll do that, if that’s what you want,” I said, feeling an impish surge of perversity. I turned and started walking away, and fortuitously the classroom door opened a few seconds later.

“Mackenzie…” Ian said, but I just kept walking.

That’s what you get for making googly eyes at Jillybean, I thought wickedly. He shouldn’t care about her opinion… certainly not enough to take her side over mine.

I went up straight to the desk at the front of the room that Bohd had moved me to… glad that I wasn’t at the same table as Ian, glad that he could see me but I’d have to turn around to see him.

Let him chew on that a while, I thought, and then I tried to push him from my mind completely. It seemed like that might have been hard, with Ian being such an important part of my life, but luckily the class that day was extra interesting.

“We are going to be diverging from the syllabus… by this point, everyone has a sufficient grasp on the basics of simple evocation for us to be moving forward,” Professor Bohd said. “That isn’t to say that all of you have mastered every element… and you will need to be able to produce each one on demand for the midterm. I expect each and every one of you to continue working on your own time to refine your skills. Even for those of you who have shown the most progress, a failure to practice will impact your test performance. For now, though, we are going to be moving on to the next step: directed evocation.”

She raised a hand… the sleeve of her cardigan rolled up to the elbow… and pointed a finger out to her side. A bolt of flame shot from it, stopping just short of the wall.

“Nobody attempt that,” she said. “Directed evocation is about calling forth an element and putting it into motion. The act of bringing an element brings with it potential impetus, which will normally dissipate without being expressed. By concentrating and guiding that impetus, you can produce all manner of effects.”

She waved her hand over a glass of water on the edge of her desk, and a puff of steam came up, formed into a smiley face, which winked and then vanished as she shot a jet of air through it.

“The display with the water is, of course, a good deal more complicated than anything I will expect from you in this unit, as it involves shaping forces, a more complex form of directed evocation,” Bohd said. “We will begin with the most basic form, which I’ve demonstrated with fire and air: a jet or projected stream. You’ll begin on a very small scale, working inside the protective circles at your working stations.” She patted a pile of folded cardstock things on her desk. “These are targets. You will them set them up at the far edge of your stone circle, and choose an element: fire, water, or air. Your source for the initial exercise will be an ordinary sample of such: a shallow dish of water, a candle flame, or the air in the room. You should all be more than capable of pulling an element from a representation of itself, so you will be free to concentrate on directing it. As long as the sample is contained within the circle, you won’t have to worry about misfires. On that note, if you choose to work with fire, make sure you keep your hands, hair, and clothing free of the circle, unless you happen to be fireproof.”

She had us come up to get our targets and choose our sources one at a time, starting from the back of the room… which meant I was the last one to get mine, after everybody else had returned to their desks. Professor Bohd pulled me aside as I was picking up my candle.

“Ms. Mackenzie,” she said. “I’d like a word.”

“Yes, Professor?” I said.

“Between your energy reserves and your fire saturation, you could reproduce my first stunt of the morning rather more easily than most people could,” she said. “Producing a blast of fire from thin air is the sort of thing that most people have to work at in a way that requires discipline and patience.”

“You want me to pick another element?” I asked.

“No, Ms. Mackenzie… you’ll have to do fire in the course of things, and you’re hardly deficient in the other elements,” she said. “But I want you to be careful. I can throw fire as a reflex, but it took me years to get to that point and by then the practice of safety when dealing with fire magic was also a reflex. When you learn how to do this, you won’t be able to unlearn it. The ability to direct fire at will… I don’t mean to editorialize, but, well… everyone has moments of ill-temper.”

“You think I’m going to go out and fry someone,” I said.

“I don’t think you would do anything of that nature intentionally,” she said. “I’m speaking of what I fear may happen, not what I fear you will do.”

“So am I supposed to not learn this?” I asked.

“You are supposed to be careful,” she said. “This could prove to be a very valuable skill for you to master, even outside the academic setting… so long as you remember that it’s not a toy but a tool… and, in moments of great need, a weapon.”

Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!

Characters: , ,

9 Responses to “360: Elemental Primer”

  1. pedestrian says:

    The meta-ethical difference between a tool and a weapon is the resulting consequences of conscience effort, trained and experienced.

    Current score: 6
    • Kanta says:

      But try explaining that to security guards.

      Current score: 5
  2. Arkeus says:

    Mack is such a arrogant snob when it comes to things that tickle her jealousy or other insecurities.

    Current score: 7
    • Zarkloyd says:

      I think a big part of it in this given instance is that she is approaching the point where she will need to feed, and its affecting her personality.

      Current score: 1
  3. Anthony says:

    Interesting to see Bohd say that. She seems to be “on Mackenzie’s side” a lot more than any of her other professors…

    Current score: 4
  4. Zerk says:

    *imagines Mack conjuring fire out of Callahan’s tongue*

    Current score: 1
    • Duke says:

      Evoking, not conjuring, that’s a different class all together, but apt.

      Current score: 1
  5. Sher says:

    I just wish Mack was a talented or even an intelligent character! She has all this potential, but she decides to whine all day. This is so frustrating.

    Current score: 3
    • Leishycat says:

      She’s both, but she’s lazy, and severely emotionally damaged. She’ll get over those both, with time and effort and possibly being at a place where the only way she can go is up.

      Current score: 0