Magical Scribe Eleanor Slam versus Magical Killjoy “Madge” II: I Want to Become Stronger

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I feel tired. So goddamn I-can’t-be-assed-to-get-out-of-bed tired that I can’t be assed to get out of bed. But I have to. Because there’s a ringing noise that’s been going on for the last minute, and it won’t shut up. It’s my phone, I remember now. That’s my phone. It’s my phone that’s ringing.

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Why is my phone ringing? Who even calls me in the morning like this?

I force my eyes open and rub the sleep out of them one-handed. Then I pull myself out of bed. I stumble and look at my alarm. The hands are pointing to what my squinting eyes and sleeping brain eventually say is about four thirty. It’s dark out, so it means somebody is calling me at four thirty in the morning for some reason.

…Are you fucking kidding me? Who the hell is calling at Fuck-You in the morning? Captain Fuckface? I bet it’s Captain Fuckface. I’m so mad my face hurts.

I grab the phone off the hook and growl “What?!” into the receiver, not even trying to hide how annoyed I am. I forgot to slot in my arm, I’m just so pissed off right now and I want this person to go away so I can go to sleep. Checkers doesn’t call this early, so it’s Fuckface’s fault. Only one I can think of.

“Miss Slam,” a voice coolly chides from the other end, “I know this is sudden, but I need you to be ready within the next fifteen minutes for your appointment.” Appointment? What’s she talking about? Whoever it is, their smug, you’re-going-to-do-whatever-I-say sort of confident voice kinda pisses me off.

“Appointment? Who’s this?” I snap back. My head’s still fuzzy and tired. I don’t remember an appointment with anyone. Last I remember was going to bed in my costume because I had to… heal those burns. Right. Who’s this asshole calling me at Fuck-All in the morning?

A pause. Enough time for me to decide I was going to slam the phone down. And then go back to bed. Then she says, “It’s Madge.” Madge? Madge. I remember a Madge. The uppity lady who was abusive to her spouse or something. Wait, no, it was her girlfriend, right? “I need you to be in my office in ten minutes.”

Ten minutes. Ten minutes? Ten minutes isn’t enough time to get ready and head there without cheating and skipping important things. Like a shower. And another two hours of sleep. Whatever it is… evaluation… yeah, it’s an evaluation. The evaluation can wait until reasonable hours, right? “Can I get an hour?” I whine, swaying slightly in place.

“Nine minutes and forty five seconds…”

“Fucking… I’ll be there,” I grumble back. And then she hangs up without saying goodbye. Rude. Not that I was much better. Not that I even noticed. My head’s too fuzzy and buzzy to be nice this early.

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Gotta get ready. My hair’s a mess, my body smells like charcoal, and my stomach hurts from hunger. First things first, I need food now. I open the cabinet and take out a banana and the last slice of bread. I stick the slice in the toaster, eat the banana, and cancel my transformation. Then I redo it. It fixes the stench and the hair problem, my hair returning to its normal curliness.

I fish a handful of hard candies out of my stash and put them in my pocket for later. While I’m waiting for the toaster to toast, I fixate on my own blank expression reflected in the shiny aluminum. The slack jaw and unfocused eyes.

It’s going to be one of those days.

God I hope I’m wrong. I’ve had way too many of those already.

In front of her office door. Knock knock knock. “It’s me,” I call out quietly. The trip here was blurry and uneventful. Hopefully this evaluation will be the same.

Immediately the same voice from before says, “come in.”

I lean against the door while opening it, and let myself stumble into Madge’s office, yawning. The run I made to get here didn’t even help me wake up; I feel dead on my feet. At least I get to sit. Sit in the chair. With the armrests and the buttons. But it’s not standing, so it’s good. Very good. Madge is there sitting at her desk, lit by a table lamp. The office looks different today for some reason. It’s because the sheets are gone. Last time there were sheets everywhere. There’s a shelf, and a desk, and… something up above…

Madge is glaring at me. “Is there something on my face?” I ask her. I wipe at my face, trying to get whatever she’s staring at.

“Where are your glasses?” she asks.

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Blank look.

“The glasses I gave you yesterday,” she says.

Blank look.

“The glasses that are supposed to suppress your Vanus trance,” she explains.

Blank- actually, no, I kinda remember those. I rummage through my inventory, looking for them… what were they? Glasses, right. Sleepy tired brain feels syrupy, can barely remember what I’m looking for. It’s glasses. Glasses. What are glasses? I’m too tired to remember words right now. But the mental image of what I’m looking for becomes clear enough that I am able to pull out the glasses and show them to Madge.

So… why doesn’t she seem satisfied? Oh, right, yeah. Glasses are supposed to be worn. I look at them for a second to remember how I’m supposed to put them on… push my hair aside and put the handles on my ears, right? Right. First I wipe the sleepies from my eyes again, and then I put them on.

And then I scream.

A giant bug-eyed bird head screeches at me just inches from my face, hot wet saliva fogging up my glasses immediately. I scramble out of the chair, trip, and bang my chin when I hit the floor. Get up, get up, getupgetupgetup I have to get up and get out of…

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And just like that, the feeling of danger is gone. Like it was never there at all. My glasses unfog, letting me see again; the screaming bird-bug is just a head mounted on the wall. The indistinct thing from before that I couldn’t make out. And it’s not inches from my face, it’s behind Madge. Blinking, I look around the room, feeling disoriented not just from the sudden shock, or from falling out of the chair. But because everything looks so much clearer than ever before. I can see individual books on the bookshelf instead of a blur of colors and symbols. I can’t make out any of the words, but I can actually see that there are (probably) words on the spines from where I’m sitting. Er, lying. I should get back in my seat.


“Are you with us now, Miss Slam?” Madge asks, smugness bleeding into her voice. I turn and scowl at her, which gets no change from her equally smug face. Once I pick myself back up and dust myself off, I sit back down in the chair, aware again of the annoying buttons poking me. I didn’t really notice those because my brain wouldn’t work earlier. Like, I knew they were there, and I knew something was poking at me (sort of), but I didn’t make the association. Now I’m fully aware of them. Thanks, brain.

Realizing she asked a question, I process what she said and nod. It sucks, but I probably needed that to wake up. Madge smirks a little wider and starts talking again. “Those glasses should attune to your costume, so they won’t be difficult to replace if you lose or break them.” Huh. Handy. “Remember to clean them regularly, and don’t let them get hot, unless you want them to burn your face.”

“Did you make them?” I ask her. She shakes her head. “No, Miss Ashford did, upon request,” she explains. Somehow I thought Her Majesty here made them, but I guess not. “As I said, as long as you’re wearing them, they will keep your trance from activating on its own.”

“By making it so I can’t recognize any words or numbers?” I ask her, fidgeting with them a little.

A nod this time. “She has another pair waiting for when you master your trance,” Madge says. Like it’s a certainty that I’ll do it. I guess I have to if I want to be able to read again. Though really, being able to see without worrying about my trance triggering on its own makes me smile a little. Maybe I can live with this instead of doing anything more difficult.

She taps a small device on her desk. “Do you mind if I record this session?” she asks me. “I want to send a transcript to the rest of the leadership, and to Cooldown herself so we can coordinate on how your overall productivity and mental health can be improved.” I shake my head. It sounds like something that’ll be good for me at least.

Her Majesty takes this as a signal for readiness. “Then, without further ado,” she starts, “let’s get right into your evaluation.” She brings out a folder on her desk, and types something into her computer. Sounds like office work, which is usually a signal to me to tune out everything. “Since you haven’t had one of these before, we’re going to look at how you’ve been doing since you came here before we get to what your strengths are, what you can improve on, and where to go moving forward.” Nod. I start to zone out due to habit – the adults are talking, my brain says, don’t even try to make sense of it – but a shiver runs down my spine and my attention snaps back.

“It’s been nearly four-and-a-half months since you transferred here, and for those first three months, your condition and temperament were less than ideal.” Nod. “You worked out of a utility closet, which we can only assume you chose because you didn’t want to deal with people in a shared office setting.” Nod. “You went out of your way to avoid talking to anyone here, in fact.” Nod. “Were you afraid?” Nod nod nod. “Did Cooldown not say anything about us?”

Put back on the spot, I had no response ready. I wracked my brain, trying to think of something, but I couldn’t. Checkers really didn’t tell me much about these guys. Not a lot of nice things, anyway. She was always on my side, at least.

The silence was painful, because it was my fault there was silence.

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“Well, she told me a story where the moral was ‘wolves are assholes’,” I said. Madge raises an eyebrow at me, so I explain, “I never asked her for it, I just called her one night when I couldn’t sleep and she started talking. About wolves. About assassins. About pigs who cut a deal with the UAA…” Her gaze is too intense for me to look her in the face, so the rest of the story is mumbled through my hands covering my face, “It didn’t make much sense, but I fell asleep soon after the call ended.”

“Typical Cooldown,” she says back, though whether she meant the story or how she didn’t tell me anything, I didn’t know. I put my hands down, and saw her face didn’t make it obvious one way or another. But this does not seem to be the answer Madge wanted, so I add, “and recently she said not to owe the Warmaster anything.”

Her Majesty chuckles. “Sage advice,” she mutters, narrowing her eyes. I don’t think she actually found that funny. “Ssssso,” she hisses, then clears her throat and talks normally again, “she said nothing about how we were trying to accommodate you? At the request of her own Officio?”

“A… accommodate?” I meekly ask her, feeling out the pronunciation of that word. Accommodate. Uh com oh date. That’s something I hadn’t heard before.

Madge realizes that probably means ‘no,’ and explains, “the Warmaster prefers to have people work out their problems without her intervention, but we were… requested, to make an arrangement that worked for you.” She gestures toward me, and I flinch, digging myself into the uncomfortable chair. “If you’d said from the start ‘I want to run a sweet shop’ then we would have put you to work towards that goal in a way that benefited both you and the Officio. One that would be similar to the current arrangement, possibly more lenient.”

…Fuck me, I could have been done with the whole Eversor training thing by now? “I don’t remember her saying anything about that. Just that she and her friends were working on something,” I tell her. "Maybe Checkers did tell me and I just forgot. Or maybe she didn’t. I might have to ask her later.“

Madge sighs loudly. “I see,” she says, starting to sound annoyed. “Regardless of whether or not she communicated it, we tried to reach out to you. Several times, in fact. The Warmaster herself asked you if anything was wrong, if something was bothering you, and you requested to be left alone. It took us nearly three months just to get you to admit you would rather have an office than a shitty broom closet for a workspace. Our dear Eversor Rank Leader was just the latest of several failed attempts.” She starts writing something down on the paper in front of her, arguing, “say what you will regarding the way she went about it, but she and Suzi were the first ones to get more than a half-mumbled response from you. Even if her methods were unorthodox and irritated you.”

She has a point. I think Fuckface got more words out of me in just one day than I’d let out the entire three months I’d been there.

Still… “Even when she tried to feed me crushed glass?” I ask quietly. She nods, still smiling a little. Like that wasn’t even a weird question.

Am… am I the one that’s weird in this Officio, instead of the Officio itself being weird? “So wait,” I start, troubling thoughts prickling at the back of my mind. Madge looks up and I cringe again and forget to speak for a bit.

“Well?” she asks impatiently. I remember my original question, asking, “all of the stuff that happened here, you guys were trying to help me the whole time?”

“And you are only realizing this now?!” Her Majesty snaps, forcing me to slump so far into the chair that only my head was resting against the back. “We’ve been on your side since the beginning! We were just waiting for you to speak up and admit that your quality of living was dirt! We believed that Cooldown and her American friends were having a hard time getting you to cooperate, rather than failing to say anything about us actually trying to help you!”

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I felt a bit defensive. It can’t all have been the fault of me and Checkers. “There were mean people here,” I throw back at her, “like somebody who kept picking on me and stealing my food early on.” For emphasis, I add, “and she had a gun.” Why was she allowed to have a gun?

Without missing a beat, Her Majesty responds, “that girl was caught, and has been punished appropriately for it. We are sorry that she threatened you like that, as such conduct is considered unsporting and doesn’t reflect the values of the Officio.”

“Well, people kept calling me ‘Crunchberry’,” I counter.

“It’s just a nickname. A lot of those get thrown around here.” Madge rubs her forehead, a growl entering her voice when she speaks. “If you think people did it to bully you, you’re probably mistaken. I know how intimidating we look, but most of the girls working here are quite friendly even if you don’t get to know them.” She gestures at me. “They were trying to be nice, some of it at the request of the Warmaster herself.”

Dammit, dammit, dammit. There has to be something… I’d argue about Milly but they already took care of her and she probably doesn’t ‘reflect the values’ or whatever…

“Well… I never got an apology,” I say back, sitting up and folding my arms over my chest. I’m not wrong about this. My life got screwed up even more by Fuckface doing her thing, and she never said anything like ‘sorry I fucked you over’.

And Madge seems to agree with me on that. “That, you’ll have to extract from Miss Crunch herself. I had no part in what she did.” That’s… true. It didn’t seem like anybody else was involved in her plan.

“Then… then I’ll do that.” There. I have a small feeling of satisfaction.

Wait, one more thing. “And Checkers is cool, okay?” Her Majesty doesn’t argue back, which is good. I just wanted to be right about something bad not being my fault. Then she tells me, “please bear in mind, even if she hurt you, Miss Crunch meant well, and she feels terribly guilty about what happened. If she hasn’t said sorry already, it’s because our dear Rank Leader finds it every bit as hard to talk to you now as you would find it talking to her.”

…It was so surreal, I dismissed it as just a dream, but I remember the desperate phone call Crunch made from just a while back. I had felt so angry at first. She hadn’t said sorry, and she didn’t sound sorry, and here I thought she was bossing me around like I was her lackey. I believed she was being arrogant, and that she thought she could do no wrong. I’d forgotten how miserable she looked after we were recovered from that witch barrier. And she sounded so unlike herself when the rest of the phone calls played. It didn’t feel real at first.

At that time, I forgot all about the barrier, about Milly, about everything, really. The only thing on my mind was trying to help. I didn’t think I could do much, but if she just needed somebody to talk to, then even if I’m not really someone that likes talking, I felt like I had to do something. And I did. I stayed with her for at least an hour, just making sure she wasn’t still miserable or alone, before I let Checkers answer her question she needed to have answered.

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…In hindsight, if she felt as guilty as Madge says, all of that might have actually made her more miserable. I should have told her I was doing okay. She probably would have said sorry, and we could have made up then and there.

“But now, here you are,” Madge says, bringing me out of my flashback, “arguably in a better place than you were before, traumatic events notwithstanding, and you’re actually engaging with the people here.” Nod. Fidget.

I felt my moral high ground crumbling beneath me in the face of all these realizations. "So,” I ask timidly, already sure of the answer I didn’t want to hear, “all of this could have been avoided if..."

Her Majesty takes a deep breath before she starts speaking, another chill going down my spine when she says, "if Cooldown had told you? Maybe. If you'd had more backbone, better sssocial sssskillsss, and more ssssenssse?" Though I don’t see her move, I could have sworn I heard her spit into something. It seems to clear up the hissing, but she’s still upset. "Yes, in fact, you *could* have made our jobs a lot easier if you'd opened up to us from the start. And now you’re down an arm and our much-beloved Eversor Rank Leader is very bitterly depressed about it.” She shuts her eyes and shuffles her papers, making me flinch. “Could we have done more? Could we have sent people with less boisterous personalities to befriend you? Possibly. We may not have had any at the time, but we could have gotten a transfer.” Tap tap tap goes her finger on the papers. Her eyes snap back open, and she at least *looks* like she’s trying to be friendly again. "But wallowing in past regrets isn't going to help you or the Officio move forward. You have to learn from your mistakes like everyone else. We’re making progress, on that front."

And then the evaluation starts for real. Her Majesty asks me about my goals, and begins discussing my strengths and faults. I was tenacious, but I had a bad temper that would get me into trouble sometimes. I protected one of their own during Milly's rampage, but I was still barely keeping up with everyone else in basic training. Good things and bad things. We talk back and forth about it. It's important stuff, yet that couldn't distract me from the nagging thought I couldn't get rid of:

I could have stopped this. I could have made my life so much easier if I'd been stronger. That idea made me think back.

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If I'd quit taking pain medicine sooner, I wouldn't have screwed up last night's class. If I wasn't so weak, Tanis wouldn't have gotten hurt helping me. Hell, I wouldn't have been out of commission just because I had my face shot off, if I'd taken Marina's advice to heart. If I'd had more guts, I could have done better fighting Marina herself.

If... If I could have gotten over my doubts and called up my weapon, could I have fought my own witch? Could I have won? At the very least, I'd probably still have a normal arm. I flex my robotic fist a couple of times, which makes Madge look at me strangely. It's not important, though; what's important is I have to dig deeper.

If I'd just been nicer to Milly, maybe she wouldn't have gotten angry, and everything that happened with her, and to her, could have been avoided. If I'd trusted Suzi, maybe she could have helped me. If I'd at least tried to fight Crunch seriously, maybe I could have summoned a weapon, and gotten out of that hell sooner. If I'd just had the backbone to tell the Sixth what was going on, maybe I'd be further along in this program and closer to going home.

If I'd sought help back at the Eighth, maybe things would have been more bearable. Maybe Checkers could have done something.

...And if I'd been nicer- if I'd been a better daughter... maybe I wouldn't have become a magical girl in the first place. And all of this suffering would never have happened.

It’s my fault. It’s my fault things are fucked up for me. The realization shuts me up; I can’t grapple with the growing horror and talk at the same time. It’s too much. It’s too goddamn much for someone as weak as I am. At least Madge is content to talk at me for now.

With the evaluation winding down, Madge finally asks me, " You've been oddly quiet for over an hour now. Is something on your mind?"

"No," I say instinctively. Thing is, I don't want to so say it, or do it. It'd be so much easier not to say anything. So comfortable and familiar to not even try. The idea of slacking off and not putting in any effort is like an old friend by now. And now, people are looking after me, things are looking better, so relax, it says. I want to relax, take it easy, sleep a lot, play video games, and eat cake for the rest of my life.

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But I shouldn't. I can't, really. Not after all this. It took everyone this much work just so I could get this far. I have to say it, or else I won't have the strength to follow through on it. I shake my head, "I mean, yes, actually, there's something. Something I need to say." With Madge waiting expectantly, I start talking and have a false start. And another one. The idea of basically making a pledge is making me choke on my words before I can get them out of my mouth.

Deep breath. Deep breath. Stand up and take a deep breath, Eleanor. Swallow, untangle your tongue, and try again. "I want," I murmur, clearing my throat before trying again. I think I exhausted all my bravery yesterday, and my body is screaming at me to hide behind the chair and shut up. But this is important. This is something I have to say. Not just for her benefit, but for me.

"What I want... is..." I finish the rest of it inaudibly, and Madge's lip curls into a frown. Dammit, this is exactly what I'm trying to get past. I ball up my fists, ignoring the pounding of my terrified heart. I can't back down, I *need* to do this, dammit! I *have* to say this!

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I slam my fists on the desk and shout, "I want to become stronger!" Madge doesn't do anything to stop me from screaming, and I don't trust myself to pause. "Strong enough that other people don't get hurt fighting my battles for me, and so I can protect them instead!" I have to take another deep breath just so I can keep yelling. "I want to be strong enough to not be afraid of everyone and everything, to try and make the best of what's here!" The need to cower is almost unbearable at this point, my face burning from embarrassment, and anger at being embarrassed about this. "And most of all," I start shrieking at this point, using volume to force myself to keep going, to cover up my insecurity. "I want to be strong enough-" Oh god it sounds so stupid, but it's too important to leave out "-to be KIND and COMPASSIONATE, even when I'm ANGRY and MISERABLE!” Louder! LOUDER! “I WANT TO BE STRONG ENOUGH TO BE KIND NO MATTER WHAT!”

The moment my shouting finishes, the shame kicks in. My legs give out so I can quickly hit the floor and my reddening face. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid! What the hell was I thinking? And why did I tell anyone, much less Her Majesty, about it? I’m just a stupid kid! Why am I getting caught up in all this stuff when all I’m good for is laying around and getting fat?

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From out in the hall, there’s a chorus of hooting and hollering, sending my embarrassment to near-fatal levels. Oh god, people heard me. PEOPLE HEARD ME, OH MY GOD! This is hell. Why would I say something so retarded in the first place? I start groaning in frustration, but one of them just yells “YEAH, GET STUCK IN THERE CUNT!” which pushes me past the point of no return. This is it. This is how it ends. Being mocked for stupid beliefs that I couldn’t just keep to myself. I can feel the grief pulsing in my-

“Miss Slam, please stand up,” Her Majesty orders. I slowly rise to my feet, staring at them the entire time. I don’t want to look at her smirking face right now.

“Look at me,” she commands. I can’t even have that? That’s not fucking fair. I tilt my head up and look to the side of her, but I remember she can make things much worse if I don’t do exactly what she says. I force my eyes to look directly at her face…

…and she’s smiling. Actually smiling, like she’s happy about something. “What you just put forth is a fair bit more grand and noble than the average meathead will admit,” she praises, her tone softer than it was for the entire evaluation. “You want to be strong not just for yourself, but for others’ sake. To have strength of character and mental fortitude, not just power. And to be able to treat people with compassion, even if you’re upset. Is that correct?” Nod nod nod. “Then don’t be ashamed of that. I think that’s a refreshingly realistic yet still lofty goal to strive towards.”

Oh. Oh! She’s encouraging me because she likes what I said! I smile back at her. It feels good to get praise that isn’t about murdering stuff.

“As long as you’re willing to do your part to help yourself, the Sixth Officio will support you.” Her Majesty leans forward and rests her chin on her hands. “You do still have to work for us in some capacity, though, but I believe that you might enjoy what I have in mind.” I’m cautiously optimistic about what she might suggest.

“How do you feel about bake sales? Like the one happening this Sunday, for instance?”

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I gasp in amazement for the first time in longer than I can remember. I don’t know how they work besides people giving money for goods you baked, but it involves baking and selling sweet things! This is something I can actually get excited about! “You… you’re going to let me do something like that? I mean, I don’t have an oven, and I can’t write down figures… but I can do it? Is this really okay?” I ask, trying not to sound too excited.

I think Madge noticed, but she doesn’t point it out. “We’ll figure something out,” she says. "You’re a friend of Miss St. Maur’s, aren’t you?”

Nod nod. “We’re doing spear training together on Saturday,” I tell her.

“Good for you. Then I’m sure that if you ask nicely, she’ll be more than happy to let you use her oven.” Pause. “Although you could still make a cake with the portable barbecue pit if you put your mind to it.”

Huh. I never even thought about it. I should ask someone how to use that thing. I mean, being able to make cake *anywhere* at *any time* is a really big deal!

“Now, I believe we are almost finished here.” Her Majesty scribbles something before she sets her papers down, reading off of them, “to summarize what we talked about,” she says, “you have the spirit and tenacity to keep up with work and training if you apply yourself. I know it’s unfair that you have to work harder to keep up with the Eversors and Vindicares, but if you want to become stronger, you will have to put in the effort. You’re going to do that, you’re going to keep up with the daily warm-ups, and you’re going to stop abusing painkillers, correct?”

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“Yes, ma’am,” I reply with a nod. I may have messed up and taken some again yesterday, but I’m going to stop doing that. Unless I need one for something other than sore muscles.

She returns my nod. “Your mood has improved significantly from when you first came here. You said you’re going to keep your temper in check, and be ‘kinder’, which is good. As for your overall health and nutrition, you’ll find out more about that sometime later today. Also, consider getting training as a Vanus. Being able to use your power, instead of being used by it, would make your life so much easier.“

“I understand,” I say back. And it’s true. Before now, I never even considered being able to use my Vanus trance willingly, for things I might actually need it for. But the possibility is there now, and it’s something I should really think about, probably.

“And finally, don’t be afraid to come to us for help. We do want you to succeed.” Nod nod. “On that note, we’ve been working on an Officio cell phone for you, preloaded with several contacts, like the numbers of all the Rank Leaders. It should be finished tomorrow.”

A cell phone? A way to call Checkers at any time or place? “That’d, I’d like that, thank you,” I tell her gratefully. Oh gosh, things are really looking up for me today.

“And with that, I believe we’re done here,” Madge says, touching the recording device on her desk, then, returning to her papers, “You’re free to go.”

Blink. Blink. “Where do I go right now?” I ask. “It’s still… early, right?” It’s still dark outside, from the looks of it. Can’t be past time to get up.

Her Majesty looks up at me. “Now? Well, you could start your day early.” Big uneasy frown. Her Majesty sighs, telling me, “or you can sleep until you have to get up for work,” in a you-can-do-this-but-I-hope-you-don’t tone of voice.

Too bad, because I’m wiped out. “I’m going with the latter,” I admit.

She doesn’t look surprised. “That’s your choice, then.” Darn right it’s my choice. It took a lot out of me to admit all that stuff earlier, so good mood or not, I’m tired again.

“One more thing before you go,” Her Majesty says suddenly, as I’m about to open the door.

I glance back at her, giving as much attention as my bed-craving mind can muster.

“If you want to be kind, no matter what,” she wonders, “what will you do when you *can’t* be kind? When that’s not an option… how will you react?”

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I blink in confusion, and turn the question over in my brain. If I want to be kind, what will I do when I can’t be kind? If I can’t be kind… no, if being kind isn’t working… then what? Is the answer fighting? It can’t just be fighting…

Grandma Headley told me about this once, when I was really little. She said, “Eleanor, you cannot always be kind, but you can always do your best to…” something. I don’t think fighting was the answer she gave, so what was it?

And was it the right answer?

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I’m starting to get dizzy, and my chest hurts. I let out the breath I’d been holding in, gasp for air, and tell Her Majesty, “I’m not sure…” It doesn’t look like she was expecting any kind of definitive answer anyway.

“You’ll need to figure it out when the time comes,” she informs me, dead serious. I get a chill down my spine, and I don’t think she needed her magic for that effect. Like it’s a certainty that I’ll need to make a decision like that someday. Her usual smile returns shortly. “For now, though, good-bye, Miss Slam, and good luck.”

“Y-you too,” I murmur in return, still thinking that question over. Once I’m out in the hallway, I take out a couple of hard candies, stuffing them in my mouth. Green apple and root beer, meh. But the comfortable familiarity of sugar makes me feel less upset about it. I’m probably not going to get any sleep right now anyway.

Well… I should probably make the most of it. Time to go for a run.

Eleanor serious.png