Part 26: Of Feline FulfilmentChapter 21: Of Feline Fulfilment
Friday had come, and with it, an exam- as well as a somewhat unpleasant surprise.
Its one thing to have to deal with magical constructs and traps- at least those, the testers can plan for. Throw another student into the mix, and who knows what theyll do? Unless of course, the other guys in on the joke, but-
A slight whooshing sound by my ears alerts me to the fact that whoever my opponent was, hes just passed me. Mind you, the loud taps of his feet and the cape flowing in front of me are dead giveaways too.
Hey, wait! I call out, but despite the crystal clarity of the other sounds Im hearing, the sound of my voice is muffled to the point where I can barely hear it. My first thought upon realizing this is Oh come on, Grabiner! Giving us a challenge with a real human guy, and removing our ability to speak!
Then my first thought is run over by the train of my second thought- Wait a minute, thoughts!
This is the only way you can talk to the guy in this exam, but dont think this means that non-White Magic users are left out! On a related note, does prejudice against White Magic users constitute reverse arcanism? MAKES U THINK
Well I thought it was funny
Uhm, excuse me? I ask mentally, my voice echoign in my head as I mouth the words. Sure, not really the best or most forceful of openings, but considering this is my first, actual, intentional mental communication, it doesnt hurt to be polite.
Be quiet! he says, and I feel a wave of magic rippling through my head. Stop trying to distract me!
Do or do not, there is no try, I quip.
He scowls at me, but at least hes stopped. I hate Star Wars; the prequels ruined everything.
See? I shrug. We have something in common already. Another thing I hope we have in common is an unwillingness to fight.
You? he asks, and I feel prickly all over as his disdain carries over, sending random bits of thread to unravel from my clothes here and there. You think you can fight me?
Yes, I say simply, and a thin, momentary layer of frost forms over him, and he shudders for a moment. But again, we dont have to.
If I lose, I continue, I surrender and lose the exam, and vice versa.
I cant see his eyes under the cloak, but I can practically feel his eyes narrowing. All right then- a game of Dots and Boxes, then.
I raise my eyebrow, and that Im sure he can see that. Seriously, Tic-Tac-Toe?
Dots and Boxes! he insists.
Whats the difference? I ask.
Its more magical, he scowls. Were wizards! We cant play pleb games.
Pleb games? Seriously?" I ask. Okay, one- you visit 4chans video games board waaay too much for some kind of wizard supremacist. And two, whats so pleb about Os and Xs?
Oh, OH, you want to do the counting thing? Lets do the counting thing! he scowls. First, /v/ can be a genuinely thought-provoking, insightful place-
They have waifu threads! I interrupt.
-and second, itd be- well, weird to play mortal games in a wizard school! he argues, waving his hands in the air. Youre like, ruining my immersion!
Your immersion? This is real life, not a video game- you dont need immersion! I shout at him in exasperation. I mean, there isnt any big difference between Dots-And-Boxes and Tic-Tac-Toe, is there?
Yes, there is! he counters. You play Dots-And-Boxes with dots and boxes! Its right there in the description! I dont see any TicTacs or toes in Tic-Tac-Toe, do I?
Thats what youre hung up on? I ask, incredulous.
Its deceptive advertising! he snarls back. And its not just that either- theres a lot more strategic depth to Dots-And-Boxes that Tic-Tac-Toe doesnt have! Oh sure, you might say theyre the same because theyre both played on 3x3 grids with the objective of getting three different symbols in a row, but theres a deep and complex strategy game involved!
And thats not counting the mental confusion that a player is forced to undergo because the boxes look so similar to the boxes hes supposed to fill in, while the dots add a degree of subliminal messaging- if done wrong, they tell their player that he is insignificant and doesnt deserve to win, but if done right, sends that selfsame message to his opponent!
And yet, its the dot player who has the advantage, for he goes first, allowing him to take advantage of a key strategy- filling in the centre of the grid, allowing him not one, not two, but eight possible avenues of attack, while also placing any canny opponent on the defensive! Even so however, the fact remains that the Dots player can easily counter any move the Box player makes by virtue of controlling the centre, which means that any of his counters also opens up a whole new world of attack!
So when you consider the pitfalls and strategems inherent in playing the game, Im sure you can can ?
I climb up the stairs and into the sunlight, taking a deep breath. That was easier-
-than I thought itd be! And here comes Professor Potsdam with a big smile on her face. Congratulations, Mary! she laughs. For succeeding in your test, you receive five merits, and an additional five for negotiating your way to victory!
Now, if youll excuse me, I have other students to attend to, she smiles, looking at the dungeons exit (from where an increasingly louder steam of invective seems to be growing in volume) indulgently. Run along now, Mary, and enjoy the rest of your day.
This test doesnt actually end up this way, of course, but it is true that the only way to communicate with him is via telepathic means. Once you do so, you can challenge him to a contest of smarts if your Smarts is 30 or higher- but you need 36 to win. Of course, if you have $100 or certain items like the sextant or star wand, you can bribe him to drop out. You can also offer a kiss, but apart from getting you 5 cute, it does nothing.
There are other methods to defeat him though- Red Magic users can whack him in a straight up fight, Blue Magicians can teleport him somewhere safe, while Green and Black Magic users have other options:
Black Magic users could Stoneshape the stone basin, while Green Magic users can use the undergrowth to their advantage. That being said, the peaceful path gets you an extra 5 merits, for a total of ten (5 for finishing the test, 5 for the peaceful resolution).
Not that I have much opportunity to do so. Both Virginia and Ellen are exhausted by their own test- there was a clerical error that set them up against each other, and between Ellens intelligence and creativity facing off against Virginias sheer power, they basically called it a draw.
Or at least thats what Virginia tells me the following Saturday, after we both wake up to a missing Ellen. I dont know where she gets the energy for all her treasurer work from, Virginia goes on. She was as tired as I was, I know it!
What if she wasnt? I tease, but Virginia doesnt see it as a joke.
Then Im getting soft, Virginia smiles. Cant let that happen now, can I? Donaldll never quit bugging me about it. And on that note, I think Im gonna go for a jog or something. You wanna come with?
I shake my head. Nah, I think Ill hit the books today, sorry.
Your loss, Virginia shrugs. See you when I get back, then!
Things dont go exactly to plan, though. Minnies nowhere to be seen in the library, and so I decide to just do a little light revision. The really interesting reading comes when I return to my dorm, having forgotten some material I wanted to cross-reference. Someone slipped a tiny envelope under the door.
Meet me in the gym after dinner, and keep it a secret. Its important.
I raise my eyebrow in confusion. Dinners usually around 7 or 8- what would he want to do, sneaking out so late? Maybe he wants to go see a movie with me or something; I have to admit, Im a little giddy at the prospect, and I have to slap myself (read: pat my cheeks firmly) to stop myself from blushing. Its not like I have to wait for long, anyway.
Still, it feels really spooky- with any luck, I wouldnt be here long.
I turn around at the sound of his voice. Damien! I exclaim. My smile falls, however, when I see the look of gloom on his face. Damien?
Thats my name, he says, pausing for breath between words. Dont wear it out damn, that was a terrible comeback.
Yes, well, I say, unsure, you dont have to go that far to tell me somethings wrong, I say to him, all the while feeling guilty for expecting something nice. I know its stupid and irrational, but considering how wan, how pale Damien looks upon closer inspection, I think Ive got a right to be. Are you ill? Did someone curse you or something?
He snorts derisively. Curse me? Yes I think you can say that, he adds quietly, not looking at me.
Well, who was it? I ask urgently. Can we go to the professors, get them to help? I mean, I dont mind taking them on by myself- I say, an inadvertent surge of magic flowing through me.
No, no, none of that, Damien says, grinning despite his obvious weakness. Its just that Mary, Ive done some research and Ive found answers, but- but theyre not so good.
What answers? I ask. What research?
He looks at me with the saddest eyes Ive ever seen. You know Ive always been suspicious about why people wouldnt tell me about my heritage, or even who my parents were, he says. Well, as it turns out- they might have been doing me a favour, he adds ruefully.
Damien ? I ask quietly. Whats wrong? I repeat. Tell me.
And then he replies with a statement that chills me to the bone. My time is running out, Mary.
I want to believe its a joke, that Damiens finally crossed the bounds of good taste. I want him to burst out laughing about the look on my face, and then I want to thrash him silly, before hugging him to show that I didnt really mean it, that he shouldnt hurt me knowing how I felt about him. But there, in the silent dark, alone in that gym?
I knew he was serious.
H-hey, look on the bright side, he says, his voice breaking. I dont have to worry about what will happen to me after graduation, at least, he adds.
The sound of my slap echoes through the darkened halls. Dont joke about this, Damien, I command him, though to be honest I think hes more surprised than hurt. To be even more honest, I surprised myself too. Dont you even dare.
I Im sorry, Mary, he says, looking away. I shouldnt have done that, I know. But how else do you cope with the knowledge that youre going to die?
By refusing to accept it! I snarl at him. I know I wont! There has to be some way to save you! I know you, Damien- youre handsome, and sensitive, and kind underneath that slick, skeevy shell youre always showing to the world. Well, guess what- that shells something we should both be counting on!
He looks away again, and I can hear him breathe slightly faster. Damien? I ask, walking closer to him. Damien, you know something, and youre not telling me. Why?
Because he trails off. He takes a deep breath, gulping down the air, before continuing, because I dont want to hurt you. And trust me, this will hurt you.
And telling me youre dying didnt? I ask him.
You dont get what Im saying, Mary! he retorts. Im not being dramatic! Please, Mary, he says desperately. You have to listen to me! He takes another deep breath, and then locks my gaze with his own. I-in order to save me, he stutters, y-you h-have to give up part of your soul.
He takes another deep breath. Doesnt sound so good now, does it, Mary? he asks me.
My immediate response surprises us both. Part of my soul? I ask him. Not the whole thing?
Even in the dark, the look of sheer shock on his face is obvious. I really dodged a bullet not sleeping with you, he mumbles. Never stick it in the crazy, thats-
Shut up, Damien, Im being serious, I tell him. Just just part of my soul, right? Not all of it? Youre not going to suck it out like some kind of vampire?
Then what do I have to do? I ask him, my voice as firm, though my gut is trying to empty itself.
If if youre sure, Damien replies, looking as unsure as I really feel. I nod in reply, though thats mostly because every fibre of my being is screaming that this is a bad idea, and Im afraid that if I open my mouth itll all come out.
And then of course, the blood. Damien has a small Swiss Army Knife- man, talk about handy- but the way he explained it, I (he actually said the sacrifice, but no way am I referring to myself that way) have to make the cut willingly. As I take the knife from him, I hesitate momentarily.
What am I doing?
Im a sixteen year old girl, I shouldnt be involved in stuff like this, even if I am a magician! This- this is crazy! Even Damien thinks so, the way hes looking at me! Surely I could just put the knife down, go find Grabby or Potsdam, and explain everything, leave it all to the experts. Even if Damien only has until graduation, that leaves us all with months to try solve things! Damiens just one teenager despite his otherworldly traits, after all- he cant have researched the whole story already! Besides, if it doesnt work, Ill undertake the ceremony anyway, the professors opinions (and they WILL have opinions) be damned.
But even as those thoughts pass through my mind, I brush them all aside. I want to lie to myself, tell myself that things might not turn out that way, that the authorities would separate us. I want to believe that maybe there isnt any other answer, that Damiens done all any mortal can to find out the truth behind his condition.
I want to tell myself that Im being stupid and hormonal and irrational and that I love Damien too much to be sensible- but even thats only a half-truth.
The fact of the matter is that, though my love for Damien is a factor Im curious. I want to know what this ritual would entail. I want to feel what its like, having a part of my soul taken away, if whether or not it could be restored by magic later. I want to know what avenues of knowledge this ritual would open up to me.
Selfish? Stupid? Completely foolhardy? Of course- curiosity killed the cat after all.
But satisfaction brought it back, I whisper to myself as I place the knife against my thumb.
Are you sure about this, Mary? Damien asks quietly, his voice breaking audibly nonetheless. Its not too late to turn back- until you say the words and draw blood, you can turn back.
Damien, I reply, smiling ruefully at him, even though I dont think he can see it. It was too late the moment I said yes to the Choice. I grasp the knife tighter, then draw it across my thumb. I offer you the essence of my spirit, freely, unconditionally, I recite. With this blood, let my power give you strength, let my hearts blood beat in yours.
I try to speak, to ask for an explanation, but nothing would come out. My tongue has swollen up in my mouth, and I can barely breath. My blood is rushing through my entire body, roaring like a lion a well fed lion a satisfied cat through my ears, and I can barely hear what Damien has to lie say.
God, I lovehate admire despise appreciate this sprite and text combination.
Everyone tried to warn you, he went on. And they played right into my hands, as I knew it would. I was so easy to twist that to my advantage! Poor, innocent Damien, everyones so mean to him! Ha! I could tell you fire was ice and youd still believe me.
He looked at me with scorn, sayinglying, Everything Ive said to you was a lie. Every twist and turn, every little insecurity- Every. Single. Word. All of it was meant to make you give up by choice the one thing I could not take by myself- your soul.
He takes a deep breathmy breath of victorythe last he will ever experience. And for your sacrifice, for all that youre going to die slowly, knowing that this was all your fault, I will be a prince.
But even as they come rushing out of my mouth, I realized that I lied to myself before. Or at least, didnt know one half-truth from another, because because d to the depths of my soul, the very one Damien is about to take from me?
It wasnt curiosity that made me draw the knife. I only told myself that because I was still afraid- embarrassed even- to face the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but.
I drew the knife because I was stupid- stupid enough to trust Damien to believe him above my friends, above all I heard about him.
I drew the knife because I was selfish- too selfish to see him taken away, whether it be by death, or by whatever unknown means it would have taken to have saved him.
Curiosity killed the cat. Satisfaction brought it back. Stupidity and selfishness though?
Those made it fall in love.