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Legend of Hero

Legend Of Hero updates Monday/Thursday evenings until the story concludes.

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Change of Mind (3 of 3)

( Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 )


"You know," Randall said, "he was right."

"Jesus fucking Christ, Randall," Alethea shouted into the phone, "that is not what I need to hear right now."

"Maybe it is!" he shot back. "That's what Thoth's Mirror is about. Stripping away the mental blocks and laying bare what you need to confront to grow."

"Not for me! I'm the caster, Randall! It was a goddamned mistake!"

"Was it now."

"A stupid side effect! Like the shifting! And I'm getting so sick of that, having to call you every time --"

"Alright," Randall interrupted. "Then stop calling me."

"... What?!"

"It's harmless! You never schedule any clients the day after a Mirror, so it's not keeping you from work. I've told you, over and over, the polysynchronization is inherently fragile -- it destabilizes after 24 hours and some sleep. And yet, every damn time, I get a panicked call interrupting me from my job. Just once, can't you live with the effect until I'm done for the day?"

"I don't recall asking for a fucking lecture."

"Well," he said, "I don't recall asking to fix all your problems for you."

Alethea stared into the phone, speechless.

"Yet here we are, so I might as well try. What are you afraid of, Alethea?"

She hung up on him, then burst into tears.
 

* * * * *
 

A week later, Tamara walked into her office.

"Oh my god, Tammie," Alethea said, standing.

"Hi, Leeth."

"What are you doing here?"

Tamara closed the door behind her, not advancing. "Good to see you too."

"I mean --" Alethea started. "I'm glad you're here, but where have you been? It's been ... God, my shift to anthrocat was a month and a half ago!"

"Around," Tamara said. "Friends' couches. Campus. A hotel, for a week."

"It was like you just disappeared! Do you know what it's been like waiting to hear from you?"

"You could have found me. You've done enough freaky things with the phone. The whole time I kept wondering when you were going to call."

"Christ, Tammie, I wasn't going to magic up a call to you after the argument we had. All I could do was wait for you to come back -- or get your stuff out of the house." Alethea paused. "Is that what you're here for?"

"No, I'm back."

"Good --"

"On one condition."

Alethea instantly slumped. "I'm not stopping, Tammie."

Tamara walked forward and dropped $800 in crisp, single-folded hundreds onto the table. "Here's the deal. I'm overreacting to your magic."

"Oh," Alethea said.

"When Randall first told me, I didn't listen, but now even my friends are saying so and they're not even mages. Clearly this is my problem. And you can solve it, Leeth. Today." She leaned in. "Cast your Thoth spell on me, so I don't have to hate your work any more."

"Jesus." Alethea stared at the bills. "Jesus. Tammie, that's not a good idea."

Tamara exhaled through clenched teeth. "Alethea. You win. I'm telling you to mage me. I'm telling you I'll put up with your spells and your claws. I'm giving you what you've always wanted and I'm even paying for it with my own fucking money. What more do you want me to do? Grovel?"

"It's not that simple. For one thing, there's the psych screening, the four weeks of prep work --"

"There wasn't with Randall."

"That was before I worked out all the safety issues."

"He turned out okay."

"We were lucky. I'm not going to rely on luck --"

"Luck! When I was leaving you couldn't tell me enough about all of the extra safeguards you've put in."

Alethea felt her face redden. "Tammie --"

Tamara slammed her hand on the table, sending one of the bills skidding off the side. "Dammit, Leeth! Don't try to blow me off like this. Do you think my choice was easy?"

"Do you think Thoth's Mirror is easy? Tammie, I've done this to over 100 people. I know when the spell is a bad idea."

Tamara's tone grew icy. "Alethea. Are you going to keep giving me excuses, or do you want me back?"

Alethea opened and closed her mouth. "Fine, Tammie. Fine. ... Go sit in the circle."

She felt Tamara's eyes drilling into her during the entire ten minutes of buildup. As she started each chant, there was a palpable, silent awkwardness she had to focus and push through. When she reached the point of no return, she hesitated: a small part of her, unnerved by the pressure, screamed that there was no way she had cast the spell cleanly.

This is just going to invite trouble, the inner voice echoed.

The rest of her leaned forward and touched Tamara on the forehead.
 

* * * * *
 

Tamara let out a deep breath, head exploding with thoughts, reciting her script on autopilot. "Keep your eyes closed. Now start wiggling your fingers and toes one by one. Count backward from twenty, one for each wiggle."

As her head wrapped around the numbers, fumbling for the syllables of twenty, she felt the hazy brush of awareness of physical sensation. Her mind snapped to attention and anxiously seized on it.

Was anything wrong? There had to be -- there was. The room wasn't usually so quiet upon returning; there was usually a quiet rustling of fabric from across the circle as the motions of the target's silent countdown took place.

Tamara preempted her numeric march. "Leeth?" she asked.

Oh shit, she cast the spell wrong! Something happened to Leeth! her inner voice screamed, and terror engulfed her. She flailed around in the darkness for help and a safeword drifted past her thoughts. "Shatter!" she shouted, tugging at the energies woven into the word, and suddenly something came loose inside and her eyes -- Alethea's eyes -- snapped open to see Tamara looking at her in confusion.

Alethea glanced down, disoriented, seeing the dark slacks on her crossed legs, knee to knee with Tamara's faded blue jeans. She tried to make sense of the room, and her head started swimming amid the harsh backlash of the safeword's instant grounding.

She lunged for the bathroom, slammed open the door with her shoulder, and stared at the face in the mirror until a fit of nausea caught up with her and half-processed Caesar salad sprayed all over the sink.

Shaking uncontrollably, she hugged the square of porcelain, legs buckling underneath her, breathing hard and gagging, the stink of acid in her nose. Somewhere in the vertigo, the first glimmers of understanding sparkled. The fear was real and raw and overbearing, but it wasn't hers. It wasn't hers.

Tamara's afraid of magic, she repeated like a mantra.

A gentle hand touched her shoulder. "Not any more."

Did I say that aloud? Alethea thought, and heard herself speak.

With that, Alethea succumbed to a round of dry-heaves, and then to catharsis. Bawling, she crumpled up on the linoleum.

Tamara shuffled over to lean against the bathroom wall and slowly sank down to the floor, resting a hand on Alethea's shoulder. The touch was comforting -- real somehow -- and finally, a long, silent minute later, Alethea tamed the shakes and the sobs, sitting up to accept a paper towel and a glass of water.

"Jesus, Tammie," Alethea said. "You went through that for me?"

Tamara looked away.

"I'm sorry." Alethea started to cry again. "You were so afraid of losing me, but you loved me, you actually loved me -- everything you did. Everything. Even --"

"Leeth," Tamara quietly cut in. "I should thank you for putting up with me as long as you did. But mostly ... thank you for today. Thank you. More than I can repay, except for this."

"Oh, Jesus, no." Alethea's blood froze. "No. Tammie. Don't."

Tamara shifted her hand and gently touched Alethea on the nose. "I forgive you. Goodbye."

"No!" Alethea screamed. "Tammie! That's just the mirror screwing things up! Listen to yourself!"

Tamara stood. "No, Leeth. It's me. You showed me myself, and you showed me you, and what's best for us is clearer than it's ever been."

"Tammie, where the hell are you going, I can't handle this right now --"

"I'm leaving. But for the right reason this time." Tamara walked out, but paused at the office door, tilting her head. And her words were a twist of the knife: "Because your spell worked. That's all you ever wanted, wasn't it?"
 

* * * * *
 

Randall picked up the phone, concern in his tone. "What's wrong?"

"You should be proud of me," Alethea said weakly. "I waited until after work this time."

It took Randall a moment to place the context. Then: "Shit."

"Yeah."

"You're -- are you still at your office? I'll chalk a circle --"

"No, Randall. Don't you dare try teleporting on my account. There's nothing to fix."

"What happened?"

"I did the single stupidest thing I could have possibly done."

"... You Thothed a courtroom on live TV?"

"Worse. I Thothed Tammie."

"Oh," Randall said, "fuck."

"Yeah. So, you know how you asked me what I was afraid of? I found it."

"By the Lady, Leeth, what were you thinking --"

"Does it matter? Listen. Can I ask you the biggest favor I've ever asked?"

"Stop right there. First things first: You are done until you get your shit together. I can't keep cleaning up your messes. No more Thoth until you --"

"I spent the afternoon cancelling with everyone in my appointment book. I am done."

"... Oh."

"For good."

"Wait. What?"

"Which is why I'm calling. If I asked you, would you cast Thoth's Mirror? Just once. On me."

Randall paused only long enough for the request to sink in.

"Absolutely," he said. "When do we start?"

"Hang on!" Alethea protested. "I wasn't done."

"Truth be told," he continued, "I was wondering if you were ever going to ask."

"For one thing," Alethea pressed on, "I don't meet my own criteria. I'm turning to the spell out of desperation, not to augment an existing desire for change."

"I don't know how you can say that, given your complaints of the last month and a half."

"Because I haven't been serious about fixing it. You know that, Randall. I've been too afraid of the shit I'd have to face."

"Fear is fine. Your spell accounts for that. You've got safeguards and visualizations and the caster's guidance --"

"Randall," Alethea interrupted, "wait a moment. What I asked is not trivial. My mind is such a scary place even I don't go there. I've been spending the last year and a half fixing other people's problems just so I can avoid my own. And it's not just me that thinks so. That gryphon guy saw inside my brain and I lost all of my referrals from his psychologist. Tammie saw inside my brain and she left me."

"So now you need to identify and address your self-destructive behavior. Thoth's Mirror is excellent for that."

"I'm not finished! On top of that, I picked up Tammie's fear of magic. The thought of the spell is giving me panic reactions."

"That'll go away in a day or two, just like all the other polysynchronizations."

"You'll have to face my secondary memories of all my clients' traumas."

"Do they emotionally affect you? They'll only bleed through to me if you react to them."

Alethea exhaled in frustration. "Randall, stop justifying away all the reasons not to Thoth me!"

"Leeth, thirty seconds ago you asked me to cast it."

"No, I didn't. It was a hypothetical. If you had said no, I could have retired the spell with a clear conscience."

Randall chuckled. "You know better than that. You're asking for simple. Magic is about complications."

Alethea stared into the phone, an idea dawning.

"Hello?" Randall asked.

"So," she said slowly, "what if I were to ask you to Thoth me because I didn't want to be a mage any more? Would you still do it?"

Randall paused, longer this time.

"Cute, Leeth," he said. "But you and I both know you wouldn't give up magic."

"I know. It's my whole life. But with Thoth's Mirror I could fiddle with my characteristics until I ended up with someone with no desire to cast spells any more. Someone who was genuinely happier without it."

"Hypothetically you could also Thoth yourself into a fatal delusion that your arms were wings. But in reality it only works if you have an honest desire for the consequences of that change."

"So if wingy-army guy asked you --"

"No, Leeth, I wouldn't help him either," Randall said impatiently, "Look, do you want me to cast Thoth's Mirror on you, or not?"

Alethea smiled in weary triumph. "I do. No more hypotheticals. I am asking in all seriousness -- will you Thoth the magic out of me?"
 

* * * * *
 

"I can't believe I talked you into this," Alethea said as Randall chalked symbols onto her kitchen floor.

"It's simple," he said, double-checking the designs. "I'm calling your bluff. Once you go under the spell you'll change your mind and make a more productive alteration."

"You're making a mistake," Alethea said. "You're underestimating me, and how sick I am of everything that's happened."

"If it's a mistake," Randall said, waggling the chalk at her, "then why aren't you stopping me? I am still, I must point out, doing this at your request."

"Because it's also a groundbreaking experiment that no other mage would be stupid enough to try. That appeals to my pride." Alethea looked around at the circle and her well-worn notes scattered over the counter as if she were seeing them for the first time. "Randall, this is insane! Why are you encouraging me?"

"Because now that you've got this idea in your head, you're not going to let me Thoth you any other way."

"True, but this can't end well. I'm frankly dumbfounded. You're not taking me seriously."

"Last time I made that mistake," Randall said, smiling, "it brought us Thoth's Mirror in the first place."

Alethea stared at Randall, then threw up her hands and exhaled sharply. "You know something? I was almost ready to call this quits, but now I'm going to go through with this just to spite you."

"Mwa ha ha. Give in to your anger, young Skywalker. With each passing moment you make yourself more my servant."

Alethea chuckled despite herself. "Nerd."

Their conversation stalled as Randall bent down to rechalk some of the symbols. Alethea watched his editing with growing impatience.

"You're being a lot more paranoid about your runes than usual," Alethea finally said.

Randall set down his chalk and scanned the lines once more. "It's my first time. I want to get it right."

"I think you're just trying to delay the inevitable. Having second thoughts?"

"Nope." Randall stepped into the circle and sat. "Are you ready?"

Alethea looked around, bit her lip, and joined him. "Yes."

She found it strange to sit silent through the chants -- listen to the words, feel them build up power -- rather than consciously shape them. With nothing to do but sit still, she began to wonder why Randall seemed so unconcerned. Did he think he could guide her change? Was he going to modify the spell in some way?

Randall had adapted the Mirror to his own style of magic, but she found she could still instantly identify each element of the spell by its structure and the way energy gathered. With each new chant, she sifted through it looking for evidence of changes -- but he was remaining faithful to her notes, right down to the order of the safeguards.

The final effect wound to a close, and the energy around them tensed -- poised and shimmering.

Alethea tensed, too, waiting to see if any further chants were forthcoming.

"Well, this is it," Randall said. "Ready to trigger it?"

Alethea nodded and took a long breath. The point of no return.

"Sheni kheperek dihauti mauher," Randall intoned, and Alethea felt the spell's energy surge and grip her.

"Well," Alethea said, relieved and disappointed, "it was nice working magic with you."

"... About that."

"What?" Alethea said, instantly on guard. The spell was already soaking in. Too late to cancel or change. He wouldn't dare --

"Tamara told me everything," he said.

"What?"

"Thursday. When she came over to drop off your house key."

"Randall," Alethea said, "this isn't funny. We're in the middle of a spell --"

He raised a hand. "I know. But I had to tell you that so you understand. I know why you're doing this, Leeth."

"Randall," she pleaded, growing frightened. "The spell."

"I know," he repeated, leaning toward her with his hand outstretched. "And now that I've thrown off your focus, there's just one thing left to say."

The room wavered and distorted. She listened, speechless, as the lines and colors started pooling and blurring.

"I forgive you, too," he whispered. "Now it's your turn."

She felt an almost electric tingle as his fingertip pressed against her forehead. Then the world spun away.





News: Wow. Well, that's it. I think that as much blood and sweat went into Change of Mind as I've put into the entire run of Legend of Hero so far. Glad to have that behind me.

Given the extensive revisions this story has gone through, I'd love to get your feedback in the comments section. Good, bad, unsatisfying? Clear or unclear? Did it keep up a fairly even pace? Was the ending unfair? Did any of the characters cross the line from justifiable dickery into unsympathetic assholery? Too much subtext or too much exposition? Any clever "i see whut u did thar" moments?

Anyway!

With my month of unintentional hiatus behind me, it's now time to get back to Legend of Hero. Updates will hopefully start next week, though you may have to bear with me as I attempt to build my post buffer back to acceptable levels.

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Legend of Hero
[001]. Premonitions
[013]. Incursions
[026]. Companions
[043]. Complications

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