366: Cold Opening

on March 28, 2009 in Book 13

In Which Steff Sticks It To Mackenzie

Steff got a staff, we both had our borrowed weapons mocked, and then we went at it hard… or at least, she did. I tried to keep up… though it was less one-sided than you might have expected.

For one thing, Amaranth had been right about Mike’s staff… it really was built for defense. When I moved to block Steff’s blows, it moved with me and through me, guiding us into the right position. It didn’t take over completely, though, and so I found myself strangely appreciating even the scant time I’d spent studying the images in the book. It aided in defense, it did not defend for me.

For another thing, the staff was not Steff’s weapon. She had all of her natural elven agility, but she didn’t want to keep both hands on it and she didn’t have the strength to control it one-handed. She could move her daggers almost as quickly as she could move her hands, which was pretty damned quick, but she kept letting go of one end of the staff and swinging it by the other and I could see the frustration on her face at how much it seemed to drag.

I probably shouldn’t have been watching her face, though. Her weapon or not, she was still a better fighter than I was, and she was out to hurt me… out for pain, if not for out for blood. Steff got around my staff’s defense enchantment by getting around me, literally… circling around and thrusting it like a spear, or a billiards stick. The end of her staff punched me in the shoulder, in the side of my stomach, even in the small of my back when she got all the way behind me before I could turn.

She followed that up by sweeping my legs out from underneath me when I whipped around to try to face her. I wound up on my ass, and then on my back when she thrust in the midst of my chest. The butt of her staff slammed into my face and then between my legs. I saw blackness and stars; I thought I actually tasted phantom blood until I realized I’d bit my tongue.

My breathing was shallow and ragged in the cold air. I felt the dullest edge of desire rising within me at the pain, but even coming from Steff, pain could only be so arousing when I was frustrated and freezing my ass off.

She could have pressed the assault then and won, but when my vision cleared I saw her looking down at me with an expression on her face that was both serene and creepy, if such a juxtaposition is possible. She was savoring my pain and the position of weakness she’d forced me into, but she was also practicing restraint.

Okay, that got things flowing a little bit down there… I welcomed it, distracting as it was, if only for the rush of heat I felt.

“Pick it up, Emo Kid,” Callahan yelled from where she’d gone to supervise another student’s exercise. “You’ve done this… you know you can’t keep defending forever.”

She was right. I realized that as handy as the staff’s enchantment was, I’d let it become a trap… it could guide my movements but I couldn’t let that guide my strategy. It only knew how to do one thing, and that wouldn’t win a fight.

I got to my feet again, and this time when Steff tried to skirt around me I whipped out my staff to intercept her. When she countered, I didn’t just block, I swung at her staff. I had no thought of slipping under her defenses or getting around her, but as Callahan had pointed out previously I could put a lot of force in a staff swing.

Her reflexes allowed her to react to my swings, but her weapon was sluggish to change directions and was a relatively big target for me to hit. I didn’t break it or knock it of her hands, but I was able to stop her from building momentum and force her back a bit… it was no longer Steff attacking and me defending, it was us fighting.

The further I forced her back, the more room I had to build up a swing, but the easier it was for her to just step back and not block at all. The staff had reach but I couldn’t just stand flat-footed and expect to win… if I didn’t stay on Steff, she could slip around me again, and she did. She got me on my back twice more, and face down one. Each time, she slammed her staff into me somewhere symbolic and ground it into me… my groin, my breast, my ass.

The last one might not have sounded so bad, by comparison, but it being one of Steff’s favorite parts, she lingered, slamming a foot down on my back when I started to rise and then smashing the staff down like it was a spear or a stake and she would impale me to the cold, cold ground.

I was still freezing, but I was also getting more and more turned on. I didn’t know if that was good or bad. The taste of my own blood was still pretty heavy in my mouth, devoid of nourishment but still kind of tangy in its own way.

“Get it together, Emo Kid,” Callahan called. “Are you a fighter or are you a fuck golem?”

The mention of “fuck golems” made me angry, though Callahan had given no indication she approved of the creation of golems as sex slaves… for that matter, I didn’t know that she was referring specifically to living and willed golems like Two. I hoped that, among the makers of golems that essentially served as dildos and sex dolls, the norm would be to produce mindless automata, not artificial people… but I knew that there were some such people because they’d ended up at Hearts of Clay with Two.

“Are you getting mad?” Callahan said. “Come on… you need to learn how to fight when you’re not mad or you need to learn how to get mad on demand.”

I started to get up, but Steff stomped on the back of my head, forcing it down and grinding my face against the cold, brittle grass. My lip split open against my teeth and I sucked down the coppery taste that filled my mouth.

Oh, fuck. Feet stepping on me… oh, Sooni.

This was getting way too confusing. I was fighting… I had to focus on that.

That was easier said than done, though. On top of the distracting taste of my own blood and the associations Steff’s feet were raising, I wasn’t really warming up. The heat I felt deep within me didn’t do anything to thaw my leaden limbs or stop my chattering teeth.

“Shake it off!” Callahan yelled. “I know you’re not that hurt.”

“It’s cold!” I yelled back, rolling over.

“Kid, you better hope you never get attacked outside in the winter,” she said.

She was right, but that wasn’t the same thing as having a point… learning to fight wasn’t going to make me any less vulnerable to cold. What was I supposed to do, light myself on fire? Steff might appreciate me fighting naked but I had a feeling Callahan wouldn’t, and getting fire into the mix would make it harder for me to cut lose and attack without endangering Steff.

“Get the fuck off the ground or crawl back to your dorm,” Callahan said. “Johnson’s just fucking around with you and you’re still getting your ass kicked.”

I gripped the staff and forced myself to get upright.

Come on, I thought to myself, drawing strength from the feeling of the enchanted wooden shaft in my hands. Are you a wizard or aren’t you?

Well, that was an easy question… I wasn’t, really, yet. But I could do more with elements than I had been able to at the start of the semester. I could do a lot more than light myself up… and a lot less. There was fire within me, waiting to be tapped… waiting to be released. I could draw on it, pull forth its essence, without bringing it into being. It would be draining and distracting, but it would be better than slowly freezing into torpor, which is what it felt like was happening now.

“Give me a second,” I said and stepped back. I started to swallow a mouthful of blood and spit, but then I spit it out on the grass instead. Don’t need that. I probably could have stopped and asked for healing… we weren’t supposed to be bleeding from mocked weapon combat… but I wanted to show some progress before I asked for a real break.

Steff obligingly stood back and twirled her staff, one-handed… passing it between her hands and waving it over her head like it was a short baton and not a full-length quarterstaff. She was getting a feel for it. If I didn’t step up soon, she’d continue to dominate me.

Dominate me…

I pushed the thought away. Amaranth had meant well, I supposed, but Callahan actually did have a point about mixing sex and class. This wasn’t a real fight but it wasn’t a game, either.

I concentrated, turning my attention inward and then pulling outward, drawing out the smallest most essential bit of the fire that blazed within me. The world tinged a tiny bit orange and I felt enveloped in heat. My rubbery muscles relaxed a little. The soreness that lingered in places where Steff had focused her assault did not disappear, but it… shifted.

I felt better, more alive, and as a consequence the pain felt better, too… it was hot, flowing pain instead of cold, stiff pain.

It was apparent that banishing the cold was not going to make it easier to get my mind off sex.

I looked over and saw Callahan looking at me. I wondered if she could tell what I was doing, or if she’d just noticed a change in my demeanor… I knew she carried a lot of enchantments, so it was entirely possible she could detect heat or see the magic usage.

I waited for her to yell at me or tell me off for throwing magic around in her fighting class.

“If you can knock Johnson down once by the end of the period, we’ll meet indoors next week,” she said. “But I want you to keep studying and working on your own time to make up for all the days you spent jacking around.”

She turned to go work with the rest of the class. I looked at Steff, hoping for a moment that she’d decide to let me beat her so I could get a respite next week. She must have known what I was thinking, because she smiled… a sly, shy, beautiful smile with an edge of mermaid-style primal hunger hiding behind it… and then it was fucking on.

Steff exploded into motion. I was warmed up now, literally… but she was figuratively. I was back to using the staff’s enchantment to fend off her attacks. By mixing in some swings, I was able to keep her off me enough that I could turn to keep her from getting around behind me, but she was keeping me on my toes. On that subject, it was hard to keep my feet in the right stance when I was focusing on what my arms were doing. I kept getting my feet tangled up, and Steff was quick to press me each time, trying to get me back down on the ground.

Finally I all but jumped back away from her in order to get some space, and lashed out. I knocked her staff wide, but almost lost my balance. It gave me a chance to get my feet planted better, though, to catch my breath and draw up a little more heat, as my initial effort was fast dissipating.

You better hope you never get attacked outside in the winter… that was about right. I’d never thought about how cold affected me beyond not liking it, but it definitely weakened me. I needed to get something that protected from ordinary cold, ideally.

I also needed to knock Steff down. Discomfort aside, it was hard to focus on fighting an opponent while I was fighting the effects of elemental weakness.

Needing something doesn’t make it happen, though… I just wasn’t that good, and she wasn’t hampered by the cold. The longer the class went on, the more energy I expended keeping my heat flowing up through my skin and the more painful hits I took, damaging my already divided concentration further.

By the time class ended, not only had I not knocked Steff off her feet, but I’d been downed myself several more times and I could barely feel my arms.

“Kind of a mixed day,” Callahan said. “You showed some progress, a little innovation… not much success, though. I’ll give you an F for effort, though. That is how you spell ‘effort’, right?”

I closed my eyes and focused on what I wanted to say… no, what I needed to say. What I wanted to say wouldn’t be productive, and would violate the spirit of Amaranth’s desire for me to obey Callahan. Even if the letter of that order had been eviscerated, I wanted to be able to face her and tell her I’d tried.

“I can’t do this,” I said finally.

“Can’t do what?” she asked.

“Learn to fight in the cold,” I said. “If you’re not going to move classes indoors until the end of the month, there’s no point in me showing up for the next two weeks.”

“If you don’t show up the next two weeks, there’s no point in coming back,” she said.

“I can’t figure out how to deal with the cold at the same time I’m learning how to fight,” I said. “And I don’t think it’s fair that I should have to. I have a weakness… yeah, I know, if somebody’s trying to kill me they’re not going to be nice about that… but I’ve got to figure out how to fight in normal circumstances before I can deal with that kind of complication.”

“Do you know how very, very disappointed I’m going to be if I make another accommodation for you and you go right back to dicking around on me?” Callahan asked.

“Kick me out if I do that,” I said. “Or kick me out now, because I can’t do this.”

“Fine,” Callahan said. “But just so you know, you’re going to fight in the snow before the semester’s over, either way. That’s part of the class. You sure you want to stay?”

“I need this,” I said.

“Don’t tell me that, Emo Kid,” she said. “Everybody’s known that all along… everybody but you.” She walked a little bit away and cupped her hands around her mouth. “Listen up, everybody… starting Tuesday, we’re going to be meeting in Kessherrakh Salle, in the fitness center. That’s Kessherrakh, spelled exactly like it sounds.”

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9 Responses to “366: Cold Opening”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Dante described the lowest levels of hell as dark and frozen wastelands.

    Current score: 3
    • Arakano says:

      Dante was Italian, AND lived in the late middle ages, when winter spelt doom and often death to thousands. No wonder he figured it was worse than fire. 😉

      Current score: 7
  2. Rendia says:

    Finally! I got so tired of Mackenzie whining about fighting class! Is she finally growing up a little bit?

    Current score: 1
  3. Holodrum says:

    No, not just yet. She’s just having a momentary lapse of immaturity.

    Current score: 2
  4. P says:

    It should pass soon.

    Current score: 2
  5. Sher says:

    No surprise. Mack finds yet another reason not to fight. Now that Callahan has compromised, she’ll find another reason. And then another. I wish she would die and Steff would become the main character. That would be fun.

    Current score: 0
  6. Artemis says:

    You know, I’m seeing a lot of complaints about Mack not just “getting over” her problems. Yes, she’s immature, and self-righteous, and lots of other things. Has been for this whole story. Which in her world, has only been happening for about a *month*. Takes time to change guys, a heck of a lot more than it takes to read.

    Current score: 12
    • Sahsa says:

      I totally agree. One of the main reasons I like this story is because the characters are flawed, often irritating, and take time to grow as people.
      As annoying as it can be, reading about a month of time in story over the course of 366 chapters, it makes it feel REAL. Maybe that’s not for everyone, but I don’t mind it too much.

      Current score: 12