Categories > Original > Fantasy > Second Sight

7

by Moira 1 Reviews

The professor's machine

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Romance - Characters:  - Published: 2006/04/06 - Updated: 2006/04/06 - 5704 words

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/Author's Notes/:

Again, so sorry for the late update. And thank you for (still) reading. And I hope you enjoy the story.

(S'hard, livin' without coffee...)

banig - [bah-NEEG] a mat made of dried, woven reeds


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Mira stared up at the rickety wooden steps leading up to a pair of doors that had long since lost their coat of paint, and several strips of wood besides. The entire building was old and decrepit. Bits of masonry were crumbling away, the windows were boarded up, and there was no sign of life anywhere. Even the dust on the topmost step was undisturbed. Confused, Mira checked the note again, then looked around. No, she couldn't have been mistaken; she'd even swallowed her pride and asked Felicia to check if she'd read the note right. Number 20 Camarre Street, in the old Flordelis district. Why the professor would move his laboratory to this abandoned wreck of a building in a half-forgotten part of town, she couldn't imagine.

"Well, here goes," she whispered to the softly moaning shape inside her tubao. She climbed the stairs and knocked on the doors, coughing when her action caused dust to rain down upon her. She knocked again and waited, tapping her foot impatiently.

"Whatever you're selling, girl, we're not buying."

"Eeek!" she shrieked, nearly jumping out of her skin at the sound of a woman's voice coming out of the ground. She looked down and found a pair of eyes glowering at her through the gaps in the steps. "I-I'm not selling anything. I'm looking for Professor Guillen. He told me to come here."

The eyes narrowed. "Ain't you that little fan-seller that's always hanging around the plaza?"

"Uh, yes. Look, I'm not here to sell anyone anything, all right? I'm here about a job."

The eyes looked doubtful, and Mira drew in a breath, prepared to argue her way in. "Come in," the voice finally said.

She peered over the railing and into the narrow gap between the sidewalk and the building, where the other person was evidently standing. "How do I get down there?"

A hand stuck out and pointed. Sure enough, several meters away was another set of steps leading down into the ditch.

The woman was nowhere to be found when Mira got there, but a smaller door was left open, leading into a dark anteroom littered with stacks of paper and small piles of indistinguishable metal parts. The woman emerged from another doorway, through which Mira could hear the low rumbling of a machine and the professor's voice calling out instructions every now and then. The woman was thin and middle-aged, with a sour expression permanently etched into her face. She sized Mira up, sniffed, then gestured at a nearby bench before disappearing back into the inner room.

"Charming, isn't she?" Mira remarked cheerfully as she sat down. "I wonder how much the professor's paying her to be his receptionist. I hope he knows he's not getting his money's worth."

"Ugh, how can you be in such a good mood?" Bee complained from his nest in her hair. "I know you didn't get much sleep last night, not to mention that tuba you drank."

Bee had a point, she had to admit. Despite her tiredness and the after-effects of the tuba, she'd stayed up to put the finishing touches on a few more fans, then stayed up even later waiting for her father to come home. Not out of any real worry; she had to make sure the drunken idiot wouldn't trip over the sleeping children on his way to his banig and wake them up. "Well, I don't seem to have a hangover," she said brightly, ignoring Bee's muttered 'yeah, 'cause I got yours'. "And there's still that fifteen silvers the professor owes us," she added, thinking nothing about laying claim to money she had technically done nothing to earn yet.

"Oh yeah, how could I forget?"

"I can feel him, Bee. Right now. Like a cool, dark cloud inside my head."

"Ah." His tone was more knowing than sarcastic this time.

Mira leaned back against the wall, her gaze turning inward. "I feel him all the time, now. Isn't it strange? I couldn't before. I could only talk to him in my dreams, and I only got to see what he sees when I do magic. But now...sometimes, if I listen hard enough, I can almost hear him speaking. I can tell when he's awake or asleep, or if he's feeling happy or not, and I don't have to be fast asleep and dreaming to do it."

"Sounds like your power's getting stronger, whatever it is," Bee suggested.

"Maybe," she said, shrugging. "I wish I understood how it works. I hate not being able to control how my projections appear, and I know part of him wishes I wasn't always poking around in his head."

She felt rather than saw Bee's frown. "Why? Has he ever told you to go away?"

She shook her head, which set the other occupant of her tubao to groaning. "Sorry. No, he never has, not even when he was going through a bad time because of me. He's really sweet and kind and noble that way, even if he still acts as though I'm not real. Still, I can't share his eyes, his ears and his mind without picking up a few things about him." She sighed and closed her eyes, unaware of the soft smile that was lifting the corners of her lips. "I wonder if this is how Linc feels with me in his head. Well, I don't mind. Even though he gives me headaches from the weird imprints I get from him, I like having him around all the time." As the silence took on a distinct flavor, her eyes popped open and she hastily added, "Just to keep things interesting. You know, with all that bizarre stuff he keeps coming up with."

"Hmph," Bee grunted. "'Sweet and kind and noble,' huh? And here Aling Celia was wondering why you don't have any suitors."

Her smile vanished. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing. Just wondering how fair it is to expect a mere mortal boy to win your heart when you're already in love with somebody you--strictly speaking, mind you--only see in your dreams."

"Bah!" she snorted. "Who said anything about love? We're talking about my magic here, aren't we?"

"Oh? Is that how you really see him? As just part of your magic?"

"Yes!" she exclaimed, ignoring the telltale heat in her cheeks. "And please don't make me sound like a raving madwoman who can't catch a man's eye. Why, I'm probably the sanest person I know."

"Er," said a new voice.

She turned, belatedly noticing that she wasn't alone in the anteroom anymore. A boy a little older than she was stood half in and half out of the doorway, eyeing her nervously. He had light brown hair hanging straight down, looking as though somebody had cut his hair by putting a bowl over his head and trimming the edges. A pair of spectacles perched upon his nose, partially concealing his blue eyes. He was dressed in a white shirt tucked into black trousers, both so thoroughly starched she could almost hear them creak. A silver medallion with the sword-and-pentagram symbol of the Temple of Deos hung at his collar from a wide, purple ribbon. She recognized his outfit as the uniform worn by the students of the College of Sorcery. Founded by missionaries of the Temple of Deos, the College was an old and terribly grand institution, not to mention an obscenely expensive one, and only the richest and most gifted sorcerers got to walk its venerable halls. As the boy stepped fully into the anteroom, Mira's gaze fell upon the stack of books he carried underneath his arm. She shuddered, glad it was him and not her. If a simple poster or a note could give her so much trouble, then reading those heavy tomes would probably make her keel over and die.

"Excuse me," the boy said, glancing around the otherwise empty anteroom in puzzlement. "I thought I heard--are you with anyone, Miss?"

"No. I was just talking to myself," she said, hoping that he would drop the subject.

The boy pushed his glasses up his nose and smiled knowingly. "No, really. You can tell me. I know the masters tend to frown upon the practice, but I've had plenty of idle, philosophical discussions with the elementals I've summoned over the years myself. Their views about the evolution of our world and the role of sorcery as a progressive force are fascinating, don't you agree?"

Mira gave him a strange look, wondering what in the world he was babbling about. "I wouldn't know. I've never summoned an elemental in my life."

The boy blinked. "Oh. Er, I apologize. I do tend to get carried away, and when Professor Guillen said he had found the most promising young sorcerers for his research, I thought...er, sorry. I'm rambling again, aren't I?" He cleared his throat, then stepped up and stretched out his hand. "Hello. My name is Aloysius Castro. I'm a junior at the College and one of Professor Guillen's students. I'm also a fourth-level summoner, just a few credits shy of a promotion to fifth-level. It's something I'm still working on," he added modestly, tilting his head to indicate his stack of books. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss--"

"Mira Rosario," she answered, shaking his hand. He waited expectantly, and she felt an embarrassed flush begin at her neck. "I, uh--well, I'm a--"

"Gods, is this the place? Ugh!" A girl dressed in a white camisa/, a pink, silk /saya and an ivory comb to hold her severe bun in place stepped into the room and wrinkled her nose. Behind her came a tall, handsome young man dressed the same way Aloysius was. Both of them had College medallions hanging around their necks. "What was the professor thinking, making us come all the way here when there are perfectly good laboratories back at the College?" the girl added indignantly.

The young demigod put a hand on her shoulder and leered at her. "What's the matter, Carmela? Didn't your powers tell you what interesting things we can do in this hideaway?"

Disgust swept across Carmela's face as she slapped his hand away. "Don't touch me. And my powers work just fine, which is why I'm telling you to stay away from me, Dom. Oh, Aloysius, it's you. I didn't recognize you without a book in your face. And who's /that/?" The girl called Carmela eyed Mira with the same expression one would use when finding something unpleasant stuck to the bottom of one's clogs.

Mira felt her hackles rise, but Aloysius spoke before she could open her mouth. "This is Miss Mira," he said brightly. "She's one of the professor's recruits."

Carmela arched a perfect eyebrow. "No, she's not. I recognize her. She's this pushy peddler who's always hanging around at the plaza. She tried to sell me a broken fan once, the nerve."

"That's because you broke it and tried to make it look like it was your friend who did it," Mira retorted heatedly, rising to her feet. "I remember you, too. You still owe me five coppers for that damaged fan."

Carmela narrowed her eyes. "What did you say? How dare you charge me--ouch! Dom, you clumsy oaf, you trod on my foot!"

Dom ignored Carmela's offended ranting in favor of stepping up close to the surprised Mira and grabbing both her hands. "Hey, I like you, Mira," he rumbled in what he must have thought was a suave manner. "You've got some fire in you."

"Er, Dom?" Aloysius interjected, pushing his glasses up his nose. "If Miss Mira turns out to be an ES, fire is exactly what you're going to get."

"Oooh, I like that. I've always liked playing with fire." Dom waggled his eyebrows meaningfully.

Mira rolled her eyes and pulled her hands out of his grasp. "What's an ES?" she asked Aloysius.

"Elemental sorcerer," he replied. "It's a very rare talent, even rarer than summoner abilities. In fact, I know only one in our class who's a confirmed ES. I think Professor Guillen chose us for our different abilities. I'm a summoner and Carmela here is a diviner, about to be promoted to fourth-level, if I'm not mistaken."

"What about you?" Mira asked Dom curiously.

He grinned toothily. "Isn't it obvious?" A second later, his entire body began to glow then appeared to break apart into a collection of shimmering pinpoints of greenish-white light, only to reform itself into the low, shaggy, thick-shouldered form of--

"A wolf." Mira sighed. "Why am I not surprised?"

"Hey, a wolf isn't the only form I can take," Dom said, his silvery, long-snouted, yellow-eyed face somehow contriving to look hurt. "I happen to be a fourth-level shape-shifter, you know."

"And what about you, Miss Uppity Fan-Seller?" Carmela asked snidely. "What's your talent, other than cheating your customers and dealing in second-rate goods?"

Mira gave her a killing look. "I do not cheat my customers, although I'd gladly fleece /you/, you shriveled-up piece of dried pig gut."

Dom burst into a series of hacking, snorting noises that must pass for laughter among wolves, while Aloysius grinned and pushed his glasses up, murmuring, "Well, I've never heard that before." Carmela turned an unbecoming shade of red and opened her mouth, but the sound of the inner door opening fortunately brought the escalating quarrel to a halt.

"Ah. Glad to see you're all here," Professor Guillen said as he emerged from the inner room. All eyes turned toward him, and Mira was glad to see him wearing normal clothes instead of his nightgown and shawl, although she couldn't help but wince at the sight of the large, black eye he was sporting. Judging from the gasps of surprise from Carmela and Aloysius, her hope that the new feature on the professor's droopy face would go unnoticed proved to be a vain one.

"Whew!" The newly-restored-to-human-form Dom whistled. "That's one impressive shiner you've got there, professor. How'd you get it?"

The professor smiled blandly. "I had an unfortunate run-in with a liquor cabinet last night."

Mira stared at her clogs to avoid meeting his gaze. "But professor, you don't drink," Aloysius pointed out.

"Professor, for shame! Don't you know that liquor causes the ruination of the soul?"

Mira's mouth fell open at Carmela's prissy declaration, while Dom actually burst out laughing. The other girl flushed again and glared at them. "Yes, this is what the clerics of Deos have taught us to believe," the professor said, his voice sounding uncharacteristically hard. "However, I trust the gods won't mind a stain or two upon my soul. Follow me, please."

The door opened to a ledge with a railing, with more steps leading down to the cavernous inner room. The place was as cluttered as the anteroom, with piles of chopped up wood and all sorts of metal tubes and wires forming a misshapen ring around the center of the room, where the professor's machine held court. Several buckets and barrels were set in strategic spots around the machine, some of them surrounded by dark puddles. The room was dimly lit by the sunlight filtering in through the grimy rows of windows on the either side of the room, and by the fiery glow radiating from the machine, which, as far as Mira could tell, was nothing but a big, hulking furnace. She trailed behind Aloysius, half-listening to Dom's attempts to persuade the hostile Carmela to let him help her down the steps, and as they drew closer the heat became more and more intense until she felt as if she could stick her hand out and push against it. A dark-skinned giant of a man, whose head seemed to consist mostly of scars and bristling black hairs, tended the furnace, tossing in a piece of firewood every now and then upon the curt instructions of the professor's less-than-gracious receptionist, who was monitoring a series of gauges on a panel. Both the man and the woman stopped and stared at the newcomers with sullen, incurious expressions, and Mira wondered how the professor could stand being in the same room as these two blocks of ice for more than a few minutes. However, when Carmela sniffed disdainfully and commented about the professor's shoddy choice of laboratory assistants, Mira forced herself to smile at the man and woman, just to spite the other girl.

Her tubao shifted as Bee squirmed in his hiding place. "What's going on? Why is it so hot all of a sudden?"

"Shh!" Mira hissed underneath her breath. Fortunately, her companions were too busy examining the rest of the machine to notice her little ventriloquist act.

"This, my friends, is the resonator," Professor Guillen was saying as he led them around the machine. "Please excuse its crude appearance. This is just one of the early models, you see."

The other side of the furnace turned out to be far more elaborate. A large metal pipe stuck out from back of the furnace and split into several elastic tubes at the end of which were rings of different sizes, each wrapped in thick, black cloth. The rings rested in the center of a shallow, square basin, like a platform turned upside down, with more buckets of water waiting nearby. Mira eyed the unpleasant-looking rings warily. Perhaps she should have asked if pain and torture were in any way involved in this experiment before she agreed to it. /Fifteen silvers, fifteen silvers/, she chanted inwardly to give herself courage.

"You mean this is just the prototype?" She gratefully tore her gaze away from the ominous rings and focused on Aloysius' puzzled question. "But...I thought the reason you went on that trip to Saridia was to develop the resonator. What happened during your trip, professor?"

Again, that flash of hardness in the professor's thin, droopy and bruised face. "Unfortunately, my colleagues and I were forced to part ways in the course of our work," Professor Guillen explained, adding with a dry laugh: "I'm sure you know how politics among academics can be, Mister Castro."

"What's with the professor?" Bee whispered again. "He sounds strange."

"Shutup!" Mira gave her tubao a warning pinch, making it look as if she was patting her hair in place. She smiled disarmingly when Dom sent her a curious glance, then had to sidestep him when he took her smile as an invitation and attempted to drape an arm over her shoulders.

The professor was oblivious to their exchange. "You are all aware of the significance of the newly opened Boral mines in the northern province of Leán, are you not?" he began, his voice taking on a lecturing tone.

"Yes, sir," Aloysius answered eagerly. "A new metal called salamancrium was discovered there, with properties that allowed it to resonate with a person's magical energy field. We discussed it in Professor Juan's class on magical geo-engineering."

"Correct, Mister Castro." Professor Guillen beamed, while Carmela rolled her eyes. The professor reached into his pocket and pulled out a several strips of dull, blue-gray metal. "The resonator is a machine meant to enhance and replicate a sorcerer's magical field, thus increasing his power two or even tenfold. Its key element is salamancrium, which, in the case of this rudimentary machine, is found in these rings at the end of the heating pipes. During the initial experiments, it was found that when salamancrium's temperature is heated to a specific degree, the normal bond between the elemental particles loosen, which allows the particles to take on the vibrational frequency of a sorcerer's energy signature, thus 'charging' the metal to that sorcerer's magical field. The temperature required to charge salamancrium has been found to vary depending on the amount and quality of the metal involved--"

At that point, Mira, who had been blanking out since the start of incomprehensible lecture, knew she had to do something quick. Once he was in his groove, it would take no less than a clout to the head to get the professor to abandon a subject he loved. She cleared her throat loudly. "This is all very fascinating, professor, but can we please get to the part where you tell us what to do with this machine and we do it?"

Aloysius stared at her, but whether he was shocked at her audacity or at the fact that somebody would find the subject of magical metals less than enthralling was unclear. Dom was actually giving her a grateful look, while Carmela sneered and muttered "ignorant heathen" loudly enough for everyone to hear. Professor Guillen, however, merely smiled. "Ah yes, I can always trust Miss Rosario to go straight to the point. Well then. What we will do is attach these rings to certain focal points on your body and charge the salamancrium to your energy signature. This means you will have to work magic while wearing these--"

"Wait a minute, wait a minute," Mira interrupted again as a tiny but significant detail finally sunk in. "'Charge,' as in heat it up? You're going to stick hot metal rings on parts of our /body/?"

"Not directly, no," the professor clarified. "These rings have been modified, you see, with a layer of cork and wool added. You will feel no pain, I assure you."

"If that's the case, then what's with all these buckets of water?" Mira tapped a nearby bucket with her foot, making the water slosh over the side. "Don't tell me it's to douse us with when we catch fire."

"Water absorbs magical energy," Aloysius answered her. "In fact, before the discovery of salamancrium, water was the best known magical conductor, and it certainly is still the most readily available. That's why so many spells prescribe the use of water as a way of containing and draining away excess energy."

"Which means--?"

"Which means when the resonator boosts our powers up, we have a way of getting rid of the excess magical energy that could otherwise hurt us." He pushed his glasses up his nose and gave her a reassuring smile. "Don't worry, Miss Mira. I've worked with Professor Guillen before. Nothing bad will happen, trust me."

"Who says I'm worried?" she muttered, flushing.

"Enough talking already," Dom whined impatiently. "I wanna have a go on this thing first."

He stepped into the basin and cheerfully allowed the professor and his silent assistants to clamp the cloth-covered salamancrium rings over his brow and around his neck, wrists and ankles. Mira watched the entire process with apprehension, thinking that the rings looked too much like manacles and chains for comfort. She felt her tubao shift as Bee, his curiosity not the least bit lessened by the heat, his hangover and the presence of others, pushed her hair aside to take a look. Thankfully, everybody was too preoccupied with Dom's display of iron mettle to notice the second pair of eyes peeking out from behind Mira's right ear.

"Temperature has reached optimum level," the professor announced from his post behind the panel of gauges. "How are you feeling, Mister Ruiz?"

Dom winked at Mira. "Great! What's next?"

"Excellent. Now we charge the salamancrium. Feel free to demonstrate your powers, Mister Ruiz."

For the next few minutes, they were treated to a shape-shifting performance the likes of which Mira knew she would never see on the street corners of Musang. With flash after flash of green-white light, Dom shifted first into a wolf, followed by a mouse-deer, a carabao. The rings had to be readjusted after he'd tried turning into a hawk, and fell off altogether when he got carried away and transformed into a mouse.

While the professor's hulking, male assistant poured water into the basin, Mira knelt down and fished the slightly damp mouse out. After the water was cleared away, the professor announced the next stage--Dom working magic with the salamancrium's added boost. The rings were fastened around the now-human Dom again. "No heat, this time," the professor said. "The salamancrium has already been charged."

At his signal, Dom launched into his repertoire again, but with a marked change. The wolf became a cat, which became a tiger, which became an antelope, which became a cow, which became a python--and so on until Mira lost track of all the animals Dom had turned into. "Whooo!" he howled, back in his favorite wolf form, his tongue lolling out with glee. "I feel like I've reached sixth-level already. No, seventh! Hey look at that, Carmela looks great as a goat!"

Mira turned to look and nearly fainted. Carmela was, indeed, a dangerously scowling spotted goat. Aloysius, on the other hand, had turned into a large, white goose, while the professor, standing beside the two black pigs who were his assistants, had become a brown horse. Mira looked down, but only saw her normal, human shape still in her threadbare camisa and the gray Failahim pants. She looked up again, bewildered.

The goose's head swiveled toward her. "You're a peahen," he said with Aloysius' voice. "Too bad Dom can't turn you into a peacock. That would have been a sight to see."

"But I still look human," she protested.

"Not with the glamour I cast, my sweet Mira!" the wolf cried, drunk with power. "This isss a high-level shape-shifter skill, and it'sss mine! Hey, Aloysius, whaddya say we smuggle thisss contraption into boarding house, eh? Eh? It'd be great for the finalsss, eh?"

"Sure, Dom," the goose said indulgently. "We can hide it in your room, and nobody would even notice."

"Eeee-xshactly! I'm gonna shteal thish thing tonight, and...and...I feel shick..."

"Quickly, pour the water! And take those rings off him!" the horse instructed. Dom, still in wolf form, was pulled out of the basin, his silvery flanks dripping water and his tongue lolling out, this time with exhaustion. By the time they had dragged him off to one side, he was already fast asleep.

Professor Guillen gazed down at the slumbering wolf, muttering to himself. "Obviously, this needs some sort of breaker...I'm sure the final design took the energy overload into consideration..."

"Shall I go next, professor?" Aloysius asked eagerly.

The professor started to reply, but Carmela headed him off. "No, I want the fan-seller to go next." She caught Mira's expression and her sly smile widened. "Please, professor?" she pleaded. "I'm ever so curious what her power is, and she doesn't want to tell us."

The professor glanced at Mira in surprise. Mira felt herself start to sweat and Bee shrink deeper into her hair. That wench, that blasted cat! she cursed, trying to glare at Carmela and maintain a sweet, innocent expression for the professor's sake at the same time. "Hmm, can't say I'm surprised," Professor Guillen murmured. "Miss Rosario's power is...quite unusual. Perhaps the most unusual I've ever seen."

"I knew it!" Aloysius exclaimed. "I knew you were an ES. You don't have to hide it, Miss Mira."

"No, she's not an ES," the professor said firmly. "If one is to classify her according to convention, I would say Miss Rosario is a conjurer."

Carmela burst out laughing. "A conjurer! How painfully common! You can pick any number of your kind right off the street," she said to Mira, who flushed crimson with humiliation.

Professor Guillen coughed. "Be that as it may, until I have added an energy breaker to this model, I'm afraid that Miss Rosario will have to wait to demonstrate her power. You too, Mister Castro. Summoner abilities are dangerous even without the added power boost, and adequate protection must be ensured. So, it appears it is your turn to try the machine, Miss Dizon," he said brightly.

"What? Oh, all right." Appearing only mildly disgruntled that her plan to make Mira go first backfired, Carmela stepped out of her shoes and into the basin. While the professor's assistants clamped the rings around her, Aloysius sidled over to Mira and whispered, "Don't mind her. Diviners have a reputation for being terrible prima donnas. It's in the unpredictable nature of their power, see. You never know when a vision is going to come upon you, and no matter how hard you've trained, there is always the chance that your power won't come when you need it."

"Really?" Mira said interestedly. Wow, she sounds worse off than I am/, she thought. /At least I can trust my magic to always be there for me.

"I can hear you, Aloysius," Carmela snapped. "Let me remind you that I am a fourth-level diviner, not one of those charlatans fooling around with crystal balls and playing cards." As the professor gave the signal, she closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. And took several more. A few minutes later, Carmela was on the verge of hyperventilating, and still nothing happened.

Aloysius pushed his glasses up his nose to hide a snicker. "Do you need a crystal ball or a pack of cards to help you focus?" he called out.

Carmela cracked an eye open and glared at him. They watched her suck air for a few more minutes, before the professor cleared his throat. "That will be fine, Miss Dizon. You can relax."

Mira watched as water was poured over Carmela's bare feet. "But nothing happened," she felt compelled to point out.

"It's all right, Miss Rosario," the professor said. "The nature of divination is different from the other, flashier powers, such as shape-shifting or conjuration. In divination, one's energy is focused completely in the mind in order to part the veils of time and space, and because time and space are both fluid, the results tend to vary. How are you feeling, Miss Dizon?"

Carmela was looking a bit pale. "I'm all right. I just want to get this over with."

Mira held her breath as the rings were refastened and the other girl closed her eyes again. She had to admit, she was eager to see how a high-level diviner operated. It ought to be different from those fortune-telling madams in Musang who offered the "tall, dark, handsome stranger" standard at a fixed rate. However, when minutes had passed and Carmela was still standing there, Mira began to grow restless. Really, if divination was actually this boring, then no wonder those fortune-tellers were so addicted to ridiculous theatrics such as wearing glitzy clothing and chanting mystical-sounding nonsense. Without them, the customers would probably be dead asleep in minutes.

Carmela's eyes suddenly flew wide open, startling Mira badly. Her entire body went stiff, and her already pale face had gone stark white. She took a shuddering breath, her hands coming up to cover her face as she fought for control. "Easy, Miss Dizon," the professor called out. "Ride with it."

"I-it's too strong-I can't--"

"Don't try to resist it," the professor instructed. "Relax and tell us what you see."

Carmela's hands fell away, and the expression on her face sent chills down Mira's spine. She gazed at each person in the room with terrible knowledge and gut-clenching horror, finally fixing her eyes on Mira, who took a step back. "You!" she gasped out. "You're not normal, you're a /freak/--"

She swayed as Mira went pale herself. Aloysius reached out to her, but she batted his hands away. "Don't you touch me!" she shrilled, staggering back against the furnace, too far in the grip of her vision to even notice the heat.

"Water!" the professor barked, but as his assistants approached her, outright terror overcame her and she shrieked and stumbled away, flailing at them whenever they tried to get near her. Professor Guillen was forced to restrain her and pry the rings off himself, and Carmela fell upon his chest, panting like a beached fish. "Professor, I saw you--you mustn't--there was blood everywhere--"

He patted her soothingly, and Mira would realize much, much later how strangely unsurprised the professor had acted all throughout, as though he had known all along what Carmela's terrible vision had been about. "I know," he said. "I know. Relax. Let it drain away."

Slowly, Carmela regained some of her composure, but the ashen color of her cheeks still remained. She pushed herself away and stepped out of the basin, the hem of her saya soaking wet, strands of her hair falling around her face. Mira thought she looked as old as Felicia at the moment, but whatever sympathy she might have felt for the other girl was drowned by the turmoil her words had caused. Not normal. Freak. She knew there was something strange about her magic, but...a freak? Bee quivered inside her tubao, and she wondered if this was how he felt after constantly being told how weird he was. Moving stiffly, Carmela walked past her and Aloysius without a single glance, and Mira wished she could brush off Carmela's words as easily as Carmela could brush her off.

"Are you certain you're all right, Miss Dizon?" the professor called worriedly.

"Yes," Carmela replied, not looking back. "I just want to go home now."

She climbed the stairs, her movements less graceful and elegant than when she'd come in, even as the professor and his assistants set themselves toward constructing an energy breaker or whatever it was the professor thought the resonator needed--with Aloysius' eager help, of course. Mira watched Carmela, then turned to stare at the resonator with something close to dread. Somehow, the idea of getting herself chained to a machine that would either cause her to fall unconscious or lose her mind was swiftly losing what little attraction it initially had. "I should have held out for more, Bee," she muttered to her companion, who had been peeking out from underneath her tubao again. "This has to be worth twenty-five silvers, at least."

"Hmph," Bee grunted. He was the only one who saw the other pair of eyes tracking Carmela as she disappeared through the door, glinting with a cold, calculating light.
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