Chapter 326: Forceful Directions

on July 26, 2016 in Volume 2 Book 10: Lucky Thing, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Yearns For A Release

It took me longer than I would have expected to settle back down into bed after Rowan left.

Part of it was agitation over… well, everything. The disappointingly inconclusive information he’d brought back. The fact that I’d been naked in front of him. The whole tragic comedy of errors that had culminated in that conversation.

Part of it was the knowledge that once I settled in, I’d be settled for the day. I didn’t have it in me to repeat my elemental bindings more than once more without a good night’s sleep. And while I couldn’t think of any compelling reason to get out of bed… I was just supernatural enough to ignore the call of nature… I could easily enough imagine the general scenario where I would figure out some reason to get up and move as soon as I fully committed myself to staying put.

The closest thing to a specific want or need was the desire to go back for some of my books, but I did have my mirror, and it wasn’t like I wouldn’t even be alone for a whole day with no other entertainment or distraction.

I did have some notions that a hot bath might soothe my pain, but even if it did, it wouldn’t be worth the cost in getting there and back, to say nothing of maneuvering in and out of the tub. Also, the more I thought about it, the less sure I was that it would actually help. A private bathroom shared between four people was a relative luxury in a college dorm, but the key word was “relative”. The tub was comfortable enough for my compact frame on a good day, but this was not a good day.

After I racked my brain and couldn’t come up with anything else I might do, I invoked the element of earth to immobilize and de-sensitize my leg again.

Once I was locked in, I thought about trying to sleep, or at least lightly drowse as I had through part of the night, but that seemed like a fool’s errand given my state of mind.

What I needed was distraction.

I did have my mirror at hand, which meant I had ethernet access. It wasn’t quite the same thing as having my school books or access to the library, but in terms of basic magical theory, there was a lot of information to be had for free.

Classical conjuring… that is, summoning objects using planar displacement or other forms of teleportation… was not something I was prepared to mess around with without having the proper grounding. If altering the physical dimensions of the room or the space inside it was kind of risky, messing around with extra dimensions was right out the window.

But it wouldn’t hurt anything to have a more efficient means of calling an object to my hand than buffeting it with directed winds.
Force manipulation seemed like something I could maybe manage. It was, after all, just another form of invocation, not much different than the elemental form I’d studied.

I did some light gazing on the subject, and quickly decided that it was a good thing I didn’t have the spare energy to practice with. The general consensus was that force was fairly easy to invoke, once you figured out the trick of it, but hard to direct or control. The recommendation was to either do it completely within a warded circle, or at a target range, and above all to not start out by trying to aim the force at anything you weren’t prepared to lose.

I wasn’t keen on learning a new form of attack magic, given my natural abilities, the combat potential of elementalism, and the fact I’d already taken more semesters of combat training than I’d ever wanted, but there was a lot of useful utility magic waiting on the other side: more powerful wards, protective shields, levitation of objects and people… flight… and even simple constructs and magical automata.

The tricky part… and everyone agreed, it was tricky… was figuring out how to interact with force as a thing, as a concept.

One of the reasons it was easier to learn how to unleash it as an attack was that the one method that seemed most fruitful was to make a forceful gesture, like a thrust or punch, and use that to find the edge of force itself, grab hold, and start peeling.

There was a nice animated illusion of an arcane gladiator demonstrating a force punch ability that could shatter a brick wall from a distance of thirty feet. Not my style… or at least, not what I liked to think of as my style. Certainly not what I wanted other people to see as my style. I didn’t actually need magic to punch through a wall, at least one within arm’s length, but it wasn’t what I wanted to be known for.

No, I was more interested in the image of an elven mage pointing their finger and producing a graceful bolt of force with a flick of their wrist. That seemed more doable.

It didn’t take much in the way of energy to extend my mystic senses and feel a property out, so I gave it a few tries… not with any intention of tripping the trigger, but just trying to see if I could find where it was.

I thought maybe I was doing it, but the problem was, there was no way to be sure if I was actually feeling what I felt or just fooling myself short of shoving the energy through the tenuous connection and out my finger.

It was a bad idea on every level, but it was surprisingly tempting. I remembered when I’d improvised a little snap-crackle-pop elemental effect on a spell I’d bound into a wand the semester before, how satisfying it had been to point and shoot, how tempting it had been to keep doing that. I found myself longing for that kind of relief.

Still… bad idea. On every level. I had no idea how strong it would be, what kind of damage it might do, or what it might take out of me. I had an idea of my energy level, but it wasn’t anything as concrete a numerical counter telling me how many spells of what intensity I had left.

And trying to create an effect could a lot like pushing on a physical object: you never knew exactly how much strength it would take to move it until suddenly, it moves. If it moves harder than you expected, you might waste a lot of strength for nothing. If it moves more easily, you might suddenly find yourself unexpectedly committing to moving along with it.

Bad idea.

But… tempting.

To stave off further thoughts in that area, I went back from practice to theory and started looking at the next steps. Harnessing the directed force and stabilizing it were pretty advanced topics, too advanced for me to figure out by reading about them on weave sites… but I wasn’t too intimidated by them. I was, or would be, a wizard. Figuring out how to magic stuff was what I did, or what I would do.

Amaranth came back around lunchtime, with a convenience store turkey sandwich and a carton of orange juice.

“No soda?” I asked. I liked orange juice enough, but it was a breakfast thing to me. In fact, it had the side effect of making everything I ate taste like breakfast. Every time I burped after drinking orange juice, I would swear I could taste bacon. I’m not sure if this is from lingering childhood associations, or newly formed ones in my more recent history of eating food after a long period without.

“Sorry, baby,” she said. “I know you’re not actually sick, per se, but I guess I was swept up in the idea of playing nursemaid. I might have time to get you something else, if I hurry?”

“It’s fine,” I said.

“Maybe I’ll bring you a soda and a snack when I come back to clean the room.”

“You don’t have to do that just because I’m here,” I said.

“I know you don’t need to eat, but you like to, and anyway, at least it’s stimulating,” she said.

“I meant clean,” I said. “I mean, it’s not like the room gets that dirty.”

She gave me a look that could only be described as a look… pointed, withering, over the top of her glasses. I might have received a look like that from her before, but I couldn’t immediately call to mind when, anymore than I could figure out why I’d merited it at that moment.

“What?” I said, maybe a little more forcefully than I should have. I was feeling defensive.

“It doesn’t get that dirty because I clean it once or twice a week,” she said. “Baby, you didn’t think it cleaned itself?”

“…no,” I said. “But, I mean… when do you clean it?”

“When I’m done with class,” she said. “You always put the big gap in the middle of the day, so your last class is a lot later than mine. I like to come home to a clean room, so if it isn’t clean when I come home, I clean it.”

“But the room’s never that messy,” I said, now more puzzled than hurt.

“…because I clean it, baby,” she said, definitely more puzzled than hurt.

“How dirty can it get in a week?”

She made a sound like a strangled scream, then said, very daintily, “Ooh!” and stomped her foot in the way that she did sometimes, what I thought she thought of as her acceptable performance of frustration. “…I know you’re in pain right now, and I just convinced you that you really do need entirely different clothes each day, so I’m going to ignore that,” she said. “But maybe when you’re feeling better, we will have a conversation about what you can do to help keep the room clean.”

“Fine, forget I said anything,” I said.

“I most certainly will not,” she said. “But… moving on. How has your day been?”

“Not terrible, considering,” I said.

“I see you got your mirror.”

“Yeah… it was kind of a hassle, but I managed it,” I said.

“Did Rowan stop by? He told me he might.”

“Yeah, fortunately while I was close to the door.”

“Oh… sorry, I locked it out of habit. I didn’t think about the problems you’d have answering it,” she said. “So, if you were out of bed… has he seen you naked? Because that’s great progress!”

“Not towards anything in particular,” I said. “Please don’t get your hopes up that I’ll get another boyfriend. I don’t think Ian would like that, things are weird and complicated enough with Rowan, and I don’t really have a lot of extra capacity in my life.”

“I meant that you were comfortable enough, with him and in general,” Amaranth said. “I’m proud of you.”

“Yeah, well, it was more pain, desperation, and distraction,” I said.

“If Steff were here, I’m sure she would tell you those are fine reasons to be naked with someone,” Amaranth said.

“I wasn’t naked with,” I said. “I was… naked and. I mean, he was here, and I was, coincidentally, separately, not wearing anything. Did Rowan tell you why he wanted to see me?”

“He did, but he didn’t offer the details of what he’d found, and I didn’t press,” Amaranth said. “As curious as I was… and believe me, I was and am curious… it didn’t seem right for me to find out before you.”

I told her what little he’d been able to tell me, as well as the half-formed conclusions we’d drawn from it, ending with, “It was kind of disappointing. I was really hoping for a more definitive answer.”

“I don’t know, baby, that sounds pretty conclusive to me,” Amaranth said.

“I don’t see how,” I said. “It definitely makes him a less likely suspect, but he’s still the most likely suspect, if only on account of being the only one.”

“Alright, um… well, instead of talking about potential suspects, let’s come at this from a different angle,” Amaranth said. “If your father could manipulate your mind on that level, then why would he ever bother trying to convince you to see things his way?”

“I don’t think it necessarily follows that someone who can manipulate memories can control someone’s actions,” I said.

“Maybe not… but why couldn’t he have planted memories that make him seem heroic, or given you the impression of a real parental relationship?” she said. “The basic weakness all of his plans involving you have is that you have no reason to trust him.”

“I don’t think it’s a stretch to guess that it’s easier to take out real memories or remove things from them than it would be to make whole new ones,” I said.

“Well, I don’t think we should focus on him as a suspect, but I can’t exactly tell you a better one,” she said quickly. “So maybe we should talk about something else? The healing center won’t give me a potion to give you, and I couldn’t wheedle one out of anyone who works there… I don’t know who I would even go to for illicit alchemicals now that Finbar’s graduated and while Steff might at least have an idea who to ask, I don’t feel comfortable asking her to dip her toes in that particular pool again, not when she’s had such a struggle to abstain.”

“Agreed,” I said.

“But I did ask Steff to talk to Coach Callahan,” she said. “And she’s pretty sure that the coach could get her hands on something helpful. She’s doing that right now. My hope is I can have something for you when I come back, so you can get a nice healing… or at least soothing… nap in the late afternoon, then maybe have a normal dinner and get a normal night’s sleep?”

“That would be my preference,” I said. “I’m still vetoing anything that conks me out for a whole night. I’d feel too exposed.”

“Steff told me there are potions of dreamless sleep,” Amaranth said. “You drink one and you fall asleep, and then when it wears off, it feels like you wake up a moment later. Nothing in between. Would you feel the same about that?”

“…it might be something I’d look into if I had another bout of nocturnal visitations that I couldn’t screen out,” I said. “But it still sounds so… vulnerable.”

“I told Steff that would probably be the case,” Amaranth said. “We’ll see what she comes up with.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Hopefully it’s something… I know that you’re right about it not being a big deal for me to miss a day of classes right now, but I really don’t want to spend another day laid up. No matter how much I tell myself that I’m not missing anything important, it still sucks.”

“I know, baby,” she said. “It’s rotten luck. I have to scoot. Is there anything I can get for you before I leave?”

“You could bring me my books.”

“Sure! Which ones?”

“All of them.”

She smiled.

“A girl after my own heart,” she said.

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12 Responses to “Chapter 326: Forceful Directions”

  1. Order of Chaos says:

    Glad to see Mackenzie keeping the one boyfriend thing, I like Ian and I expect Mack getting herself another boyfriend would be a black list item for him.

    Current score: 2
    • Nocker says:

      Honestly the Ian and Mack thing needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Ian clearly isn’t terribly satisfied with the relationship and he barely shows up anymore. Their interests are growing farther apart as they develop and their personalities don’t really mesh.

      As a character I like Ian. He brings a necessary element to group discussions. But he’s not exactly Mackenzie’s ideal mate and really needs a different role in the story.

      Current score: 10
      • Erianaiel says:

        True that Ian and Mackenzie are growing apart rather than together. For now they do seem to find something in each other that they both need. Ian an outlet for his innate (or trained by his lovely father) violent tendencies, and Mackenzie the need to be punished in a more direct and forceful manner than Amaranth can manage easily.

        It seems likely that in time they will continue to drift apart.

        What I am fairly certain about though, is that Rowan is not going to fit into Mackenzie’s life much, if at all. He is a link to her past, and the catalyst to discovering just what happened that night her infernal powers were discovered. But he is not anything like what will fit in with Mackenzie’s core friends and lovers. He’s too … human, for lack of a better word. And too timid.

        Current score: 1
  2. Zathras IX says:

    Amaranth will show
    Mackenzie just how dirty
    A girl she has been

    Current score: 11
  3. Arancaytar says:

    The tricky part… and everyone agreed, it was tricky… was figuring out how to interact with force as a thing, as a concept.

    Use the Force, Mack?

    I had an idea of my energy level, but it wasn’t anything as concrete a numerical counter telling me how many spells of what intensity I had left.

    In excess of nine thousand?

    Current score: 1
  4. 5thearth says:

    I’m surprised she’s taking so long to recover. IIRC there wasn’t anything like this after Viktor “broke” her arm and bashed her over the head with the pliers.

    Current score: 2
    • Nocker says:

      I have to admit that this doesn’t really make much sense to me. If it’s “just” pain you’d presume she could get her hands on pain killers or something from the healing center, be zoinked out for a few hours, then just do her thing when she wakes up.

      It feels a lot like AE wanted to have this kind of story then kind of wrote the circumstances around it.

      Current score: 0
    • tigertoe says:

      I figured the phantom arm break was more like a hairline fracture, this is more of a shattered-to-pieces.

      Current score: 0
      • Anvildude says:

        Not to mention that those were in places that don’t move much. It’s relatively easy to keep your upper body from jostling- I had a spinal injury that I didn’t know about for a while because I unconsciously tensed up that part of my back- didn’t find out about it until I started cramping- and of course the skull doesn’t really… move.

        But the knee is the largest and most used joint in the body, and supports almost the most weight. It’s also super complex- there’s a reason that real-life knee injuries never really heal.

        Current score: 0
  5. AnotherWord says:

    I’m a bit confused by the lingering pain as well, but it has been made clear that there are painkilling options available, just not ones that:
    1) are available to Mack specifically because they’re divine and 2) Mack is comfortable using (because she’s uncomfortable with the idea of being zoinked out when she’s been assaulted by The Man in her sleep before).

    I’m intrigued by Mack’s research on force magic. (I’m also mildly horrified by her irresponsible-scientist instincts to try things just for fun and to see if she can, but that’s 100% in character) It’s been a while since we’ve seen her learn new magical skills–I think the last significant one was the mid-level enchantment techniques she studied in Acantha’s class–but it would be fun to see her study force magic either independently or as a class in future semesters. She originally took her introductory elementalism class in order to flesh out her versatility as an enchanter, so it would make sense to me if she continued picking up the basics of different kinds of magic.

    Current score: 0
    • Nocker says:

      It seems a bit strange that every painkiller on the market would be divine. You’d presume that given that Nature magic seems to be a major field of study at MU and arcane products are on the rise there’d be some kind of alternative.

      Current score: 0
  6. Anvildude says:

    I’m loving the little ‘take that’ at Vancian magic in there.

    Current score: 0