85: Mixed Melee

on October 21, 2007 in 04: The Body Politick

In Which Mackenzie Goes Down Yet Again

Mixed melee met in the open air, which was the first sign that it was more of a serious fighting class than basic knife, which met in a classroom. The group looked like it was more male than female, though there were more girls than I had been expecting. Though, I shouldn’t have been that surprised. Everybody had to take WP classes, after all. If you could get out of them just for being a girl, I sure as hell wouldn’t have been there.

Mixed melee had no prerequisite courses, but Steff had mentioned in passing that a lot of people took it after getting a WP credit for their chosen weapon. She herself had done this, taking the small blades course her first year. A few of the others looked nervous or uncertain, but some of them radiated confidence. There was a table with several mockboxes on it, which produced functional illusions of the weapons put into them. A lot of the students weren’t waiting for the instructor to draw their weapons, get them mocked, and start practicing various routines. Some were even sparring with each other.

The class was taught by a Professor J. Callahan, who arrived without announcement or ceremony at some point while I was watching a girl with a mace fighting one with an axe. I wasn’t expecting the teacher to be a woman… not even a short, wiry one in a leather vest and segmented skirt, sporting a mohawk. Okay, yeah, I have certain preconceived notions about the warrior class. Maybe it was the fact that my school had only had a men’s skirmish team. Maybe I just expected more from my own gender.

“Anybody seen Johnson?” Callahan asked.

A couple of the students tittered at this… like, “Tee hee. She said ‘Johnson‘.” I figured for most people, the last name “Johnson” stopped being snicker-worthy about five minutes after you learned it had any slang meaning.

“Fuckin’ Johnson,” she said, shaking her head, and made a mark on her sheet. I wondered about Steff missing class… was she still in a funk?

Almost as importantly, if she skipped out on the WP class, did that mean I could, too?

Callahan turned her gaze over the group one more time, as if to make sure Steff really wasn’t there. Her eyes went over me two times, without any sign of recognition of the fact that she didn’t recognize me. The third time, her gaze caught and she stared at me for several seconds.

“New girl,” she said finally. She looked down at her sheet. “Mackenzie?”

The lack of the title grated on me, but not as much as being addressed by my first name. Surnames were a human custom… many races only had a single name, or used a descriptive titles that looked like a surname but had special meanings and uses… so non-human students had an asterisk by their names to alert the instructors to use the first name given. I knew Steff had the telltale asterisk by her name, and yet the instructor called her by her human surname. That had to be her personal preference. There was no reason I couldn’t ask for the same.

“I’d prefer ‘Ms. Blaise’,” I said, taking a few steps forward. “I was raised human.”

“Fine, then,” she said. “You ready to wow us today, Blaise?”

I decided to press the point… I mean, there were rules about how professors could address students, and vice versa.

Ms. Blaise,” I said. “If you please.”

“Look, I’ll call you Daisy the Magic Rocking Horse if that’s what you want… but I’ll expect you to earn it,” Callahan said. “I’ve already extended you a line of credit. Don’t push your luck.”

“It’s a rule,” I reminded her. Brave for me, maybe, but what can I say? I don’t like fighters, and I was still holding fast to my belief that college was for scholarly pursuits, not martial ones.

“Rule number one in life is that the people who have the weapons are the ones who get to pick which rules get enforced,” Callahan said.

“I’ve got a weapon,” I said, a little lamely.

Her eyes flicked to the knife at my hip.

“Great,” she said sardonically. “Come at me with it.”

“What?” I asked.

“Draw your knife and come after me,” she said. “Attack me.”

“But… it’s not a mockery,” I said. “It’s a real knife.”

“Should I care?” she asked in wide-eyed, mock bewilderment. “Am I supposed to care if you are holding a live blade? Is there some reason I should find that fact to be significant?”

“Are you insane?” I asked.

“No, I’m serious,” she said. “Is there a reason I should care that you’ve got a knife?”

“Well, for one thing, it’s a fucking knife!” I said. “I could kill you with it! For another thing… it’s a fucking knife, and I could kill you with it!”

“Really?” she asked, blinking her eyes rapidly. “Are you sure about that?”

“Am I sure that it’s a knife?” I asked, confused.

“That you could kill me with it,” she said, sounding bored. She held her clipboard off to the side and released it, and it hung there in the air. “Because I’m not sure you could even with that knife. I don’t think you could with any weapon. In fact, I don’t think you could even with my personal blade, a long sword so loaded with enchantments my grandkids will still be paying it off.” She drew the weapon, a shining blade with a golden basket hilt and a dazzling bejeweled pommel. “Here, take this and swing it at me.”


“Don’t speak Pax?” she asked. “Take this sword and attack me with it.”

“You’re not serious,” I said.

“Deadly,” she said.

I came forward with more than a little trepidation. When I got to her, I reached out then stopped without taking the proffered weapon.

“You really are serious?” I asked.

“I am,” she said. “You’re not.”

Suddenly, the world was red and then black and then bright white, and I was moving down and backwards. My vision cleared and I was on my ass, looking up at an unsmiling Professor Callahan. It took my scrambled brain several seconds to put together what happened. The pain that seemed to be blossoming within my nose helped there.

“You… you punched me!” I said.

“Yeah, yeah,” she said, sheathing her sword and reaching for her clipboard. “Go cry, emo kid.”

I will point out that I had just been punched in the nose, so if there were tears in my eyes or even running down my face at this point, there is every chance it was a reaction to the physical pain and nothing else.

Therefore, when I said “I’m not crying!”, it might technically have been true, in a sense.

“Whatever. Go to the healing center if you n… Johnson! You’re late,” Callahan said.

“Sorry, Coach,” I heard Steff say, and looked up to see her giving the instructor a big phony hangdog expression. “Just tryin’ to move slow enough for your poor human eyes to follow.” She spotted me, getting to my feet, and hurried over. “Shit, Mack, what happened to you?”

“I punched her in the face,” Callahan said.

“Better not do that too much,” Steff cautioned her. “She’ll get to like it. You okay, honey?” She changed tone so quickly, from when she spoke to Callahan to when she turned to me, that it was almost like two separate people: Jocular Jock Steff, who was a total stranger, and Concerned Friend Steff, whom I loved very dearly.

I didn’t really know how to react… especially with my face wanting to burn from Steff’s comments about me. I knew there was no way that the professor and the rest of the class could know about my… quirks… or how it affected me to be embarrassed, sometimes… but part of me was distracted by imagining that they did.

“If she likes getting the shit knocked out of her, I think she’s in the right place,” Callahan said. “Though it’s kind of hard to imagine a place where she wouldn’t. Do something with her, will you? I can’t have crying kids in my class. They unbalance my fucking chi.”

“Look, Jillian… the thing is, she really needs this class,” Steff told the professor in a confidential tone, drawing me in close to her. “I mean, she really needs it.”

“You’re telling me?” Callahan retorted. “I didn’t say get rid of her… but at least make her stop crying.”

“Is it okay if we take a little walk?” Steff asked her.

“Fuck do I care?” Callahan asked. “I marked your freaky narrow ass absent already and I’m too lazy to change it now.”

“You’re a pit among peaches,” Steff said.

I was shaking with rage and pain and the effort of not crying… well, okay not crying any more than I was… as Steff led me away from the practice area.

“How the hell can you stand her?” I demanded when I was sure I could keep my voice steady, without any quavering. I was reasonably correct. “How can you let her talk to you… talk about me… like that?”

“That’s the way she talks to everybody,” Steff said. “But she’s not a hypocrite about it. She’d let you talk back the same if you did something to earn it.”

“She’s a college professor!” I said. “She’s not supposed to act like that… and did you call her by her first name?”

“Yeah,” Steff said, grinning. “And she let me… I really didn’t expect to get away with that. Next week, I’ll try ‘Jill’ Or maybe ‘Jilly’… either way, five silver says I can get her in the sack at the end of the semester.”

“You can’t have sex with a teacher!” I said, aghast. “There’s got to be some kind of rule…”

“You can’t fuck your own teacher,” Steff said. “When the semester’s over, she won’t be my teacher any more.”

“You know that she hit me?” I said. “She punched me in the face!”

“Yeah, I heard,” Steff said. “You must have been doing something really stupid. She’s only done that to somebody three times since the semester started.”

“This is only the third day of this class!” I said. “You mean she hits somebody like that every day?”

“Uh, actually, no,” Steff said. “I meant, three times, not counting with you. She hit two people on the first day.”

“How does she get away with hitting her students?” I asked.

“It’s a fighting class,” Steff said.

“Yeah, well, I’m sick of warrior types thinking they can get away with shit like that just because they’re warriors,” I said.

“Not what I meant,” Steff said.

“And this is the class you wanted me to join?” I demanded.

“Amy wanted you in here, hon,” Steff said. “Because she wants you to learn how to defend yourself… and just as importantly, learn to defend yourself. Callahan will teach you that, if nothing else. She can be a really good instructor… she subbed in for my small blades instructor a few times last year.”

“But, her weapon’s a long sword,” I pointed out.

“It’s not the only thing she fights with,” Steff said. “Mixed melee, remember? The main point of the class is to learn how to fight against people who are using all sorts of weapons… but we’ll also practice with weapons other than our own. The goal is to be competent and confident with just about anything that’s handy, when you need to.”

“Who says I need to?” I demanded. “I’m fricking invulnerable. I’m stronger than anybody…”

Steff raised her hands up in front of my face, palms out, and made an x with her index fingers… the all-too-familiar warding sign known as the Arms of Khersis. I gave a cry and jumped backwards, tripping over my feet and falling on my ass.

I stared up at her in mute disbelief. Steff had signed me. Steff. That was even worse, even more world-shattering, than a professor assaulting me, or allowing a student to call her by her first name.


Steff had never been “safe”, the way Amaranth was… there had always been an edge of risk, a whiff of danger about her that made her exciting… but I just couldn’t conceive her using my nature against me. Not like this.

I stared up, waiting… not so much for an explanation, because there could be no explanation. Really, I was waiting for something to change… for the universe to revolve or unfold or transform itself in some fashion until this turn of events made sense.

It seemed like I waited a long time. The universe, as usual, disappointed me.

“I don’t even give a shit about Khersis,” Steff said coldly. “Imagine if I was a true believer.”

“Why…” I started, but she cut me off.

“Imagine if I was somebody who honestly wished you harm,” she continued. “Imagine if I was somebody who knew what you were and hated you for it, who wanted to destroy you. Don’t you think they’d have precautions against your abilities? Not that they’d need many, since you don’t seem to know much about using them.”

“Okay, but…”

“When I started here, I felt exactly the same way you did, about weapon classes and fighters,” Steff said. “I felt nothing but contempt for them. Any idiot can swing a sword, and most of them do… all that shit. I wasn’t going to be one of them. But Viktor set me straight… and once I started actually trying, I found I was pretty good. I mean, half-elven… and elves are just better, you know? Faster, more perceptive, better coordination… marginally weaker, but not enough that it matters. None of that counted for shit until I learned how to fight… none, except the part about being weaker. You’ve got to learn to use your gifts. Your weaknesses you get free with purchase.”

“Yeah, but…”

“And, once I learned how to fight, I realized what an idiot I’d been to scorn it. I mean, you saw me fighting the ghouls,” Steff said. “That was after a semester of small blades, a semester of unarmed combat, and a whole year of practice. Do you think that if I could have fought like that in high school, I would have ever let anybody gang up on me?”

“Well, no, but…”

“Honestly, if I thought it would help make my point, I’d kick the shit out of you right now,” Steff said. “No weapons. No magic. No holy signs. Just me and my hands and feet. You wouldn’t have a mark to show for it, but you’d be in too much pain to fight back. I could do it… and so could a lot of others.”


“I mean, do you even care what happens to you?” Steff asked, her voice rising in volume and in speed. “Do you care what it would do to Amy if something happened to you? What it would do to me?”


“Do you only like following Amy’s orders when it’s convenient and fun?” she went on. “Do you…”

Steff!” I shouted.

She jumped, taken aback.

“What?” she asked, a little timidly, even.

“I agree with you,” I said. “I was ready to agree with you like, seventeen and a half rants ago.”

“Oh!” she said, a little sheepishly. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “Though, for the record, I’m not convinced you could kick the shit out of me. I mean, a lot of what you said is true… but… I mean, if my back was to the wall, I think I could take care of myself.”

“Dream on… anyway, I actually kind of want to do that some time,” she said.

“Do what?” I asked, thinking it had something to do with my “back to the wall” remark.

“Kick the shit out of you,” she said. “If it’s okay with you, I mean.”

I looked at her incredulously.

“What?” she asked, absolutely unabashed. “When I first met you, I thought about doing it the other way around… you on me… but I can tell that’s not going to happen. That might be better, anyway… I mean, since you can’t be harmed.”

“You’re talking about beating me up,” I said, seeking clarification. “Not spanking or… whipping, or whatever. Just… you hitting and kicking me?”

“As hard as I can,” Steff said, nodding. “And stomping on you and slamming you into things, too… but only if you’re into it. Maybe it’s just Viktor’s influence, but I think it could be kind of hot, don’t you?”

“Is there anything you don’t find hot?” I asked, trying not to feel disgusted.

“Square dancing,” she said. She paused and thought for a moment or two. “And plastic colanders.”

“Just plastic ones?” I asked.

“Just plastic,” she said. “The metal ones are dead sexy. Are you ready to go back?”

“And face Callahan?” I asked. “I could still transfer to another class…”

“Chances are, any fighting teacher you get along with isn’t going to be any good,” Steff said. “Anyway, since this class has students with such varying levels of experience, she foists the newbies off on her teaching assistant, Dobbs. He’s a little more easy going… though I’ve noticed he does give shit to anybody he sees her give shit to. He just doesn’t quite have her flair. Also, he’s afraid to punch people.”

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9 Responses to “85: Mixed Melee”

  1. anonymous says:

    How do they even have plastic? Don’t you need Science to make plastic? I mean, “plastic” is polymers of linked hydrocarbons, usually coming from oil. To them, oil is just “Really earthy water, with a surprising amount of fire mixed in, the releasing of which somehow transmutes the earthy water to choking, earthy air.” How do you look at that stuff and think, “Hmm, I think I could cast a spell and make this into something cheap and lightweight and strong that I could use to make MechaKnights enaction figures?”

    Seriously, how?

    Current score: 3
    • drudge says:

      “I bet if I added bit of earth and took out some water, this could be a convenient building material!”

      It’s best to just go with it really.

      Current score: 2
    • Kevin says:

      Who looks at oil in the real world and thinks “I bet I could make a cheap polymer of linked hydrocarbons from this”

      If you think about it the invention of plastic makes no sense in any reality.

      Current score: 7
    • Some of the best inventions, the most used and such were born of the words:

      “OOPS!” “Oh shit!” “That wasn’t supposed to happen!” and “Uh-oh!”

      Current score: 6
      • Some examples: Silly putty and the adhesive that makes post-it notes “posty”.

        Penicillin was the result of either a lazy moment or an ‘oops’.

        Potato chips were the result of a sarcastic witty retort of sorts. Rather than the cook spitting in the food when a customer got on his nerves he got even (or did he?) by a more witty means that led to the chip.

        Saccharin was the result of a lab ‘accidental consumption’ incident where someone went to lunch without washing their hands. The gods must have been looking out for the inventor that day because imagine all the ways that incident could have gone wrong.

        Current score: 3
  2. pedestrian says:

    Now they are creating polymers out of corn and other vegetation sources.

    Chitin is fascinating as a natural polymer. The fungi use their versions of chitin for structure. And of course the entire arthropod phylum exoskeleton is a chitinous polymer.

    No reason magic could not duplicate such an obvious example. Even better chitin based armour and shields could be made toxic to the touch of an attacker. How many people do you know are sensitive to shellfish or mushrooms? It’s the chitin.

    The evolutionary point of selective adaptation for poisonous body armour is to make predation a risky proposition.

    Current score: 0
  3. WsntHere says:

    Polyetheline, polystyrene, several other polys and synthetic rubber used to make tires are made from natural gas. Handy stuff.

    Current score: 0
  4. Erm says:

    It’s almost incredible how whiny she used to be in the beginning…

    Current score: 0
  5. Anon says:

    My first time through, I seemed to remember that Callahan grew on me over time.
    I was mistaken. On rereading, she is fucking gorgeous from first mention.

    Current score: 2