Chapter 43: Burning Questions

on November 4, 2011 in Volume 2 Book 2: The Trouble With Twyla, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Is Bothered And Also Hot

I woke up shaking… shaking and hot. Beside me, Ian stirred sleepily. He reached out to put his arm around me, and then drew it back with a jerk and a yelp. I jumped away in surprise.

“What?” I said.

“Mackenzie, you’re burning up!” he said. He seemed very awake.

His words weren’t quite the literal truth, but they were closer to being so than might have been the case if he’d been talking about someone else. In order to keep it from becoming any more true, I took a few moments to focus on cooling down, if not actually calming down… and as soon as I had the full use of my legs back from my dream-self, I got up and away from the bed, just in case.

It wasn’t easy to maintain control. Every time I tried to find my center, every time I quieted my brain, it just created a void for the words to come rushing back in: your mother was like that, towards the end.

“It wasn’t him again, was it?” Ian asked, and he sounded confused and concerned.

I could understand that. He and Amaranth had both learned to recognize the way I tended to snap myself awake in case of nightmares of nocturnal incursions. I had often been a little shaky, but this was different, and I suppose it must have been a little scary.

My sleeping body normally gave off enough heat to be snuggly, not enough to be dangerous. My control of my inner fire was pretty ironclad, at least in terms of suppressing it. My grandmother’s conditioning made a flare-up while I was sleeping pretty much impossible.

Anger was one of the things that could override that control. I didn’t tend to get really angry very often. I get ticked off or frustrated, but the kind of blinding, white-hot rage that was dangerous… well, I’d been conditioned to avoid that, as well.

“Mackenzie… what is wrong?” Ian said, and I realized I hadn’t yet found my voice.

“It actually was him,” I said.

“Seriously?” he said, and now he sounded angry, too. “Fucking hell… no pun intended. I really thought he’d learned his lesson. Or at least given up.”

“I think he was biding his time,” I said.

“I guess he took you by surprise?” Ian guessed.

“Sort of,” I said, while I figured out what to tell him. I mean, it was a definite thing that I was going to tell Ian what had happened and what I suspected. But I’d just woken up, and I was trying to figure out how to explain the dream and what the man had said in it. “He was trying to get in my head about this whole Twyla thing… he said he thinks we should be friends.”

“I wonder why he said that,” Ian said. “Forget I said that. It’s probably not worth figuring out. I hate to say it, but Steff was right about him. Trying to figure out what he means and where the truth is in it is a sucker’s bet. You didn’t let him talk long, did you?”

“I didn’t mean to let him talk at all,” I said.

“Hey, it’s okay,” he said. “He left you alone long enough for you to let your guard down a little, but it’s not like he was able to do any damage.”

“That’s not all he said, though,” I said. I could feel the heat draining away from my skin, so I sat down on the side of the bed. Ian got his legs out from under the sheet and came around to sit next to me.

“Take your time,” he said.

In my dream, I had tried not to think about it because I figured that would be more easily “overheard”… now that I was awake, I couldn’t stop thinking about. At the end. Maybe the most obvious meaning for that was at the end of their association with one another… any relationship they might have had seemed to have ended before I was born or shortly thereafter. Maybe she’d stopped trusting him, if she ever had.

Or maybe he’d been talking about the end of her life… which would mean in turn that he had been present in her life near the end. If that was the case, I hadn’t had any inkling of it, but then I’d been young and my mother had obviously already kept a few big secrets from me by that point.

If he’d been there at the end of her life… well, it didn’t necessarily mean anything. But then again, if he’d been absent for eight or nine years and then suddenly he came back, and just as suddenly she was gone…

Just thinking about it, I could feel the fire flaring up within me. Only within me, for now.

“Mackenzie, what is it?” Ian said.

“I think… it’s possible he may have killed my mother,” I said.

Ian hand on my shoulder froze in place.

“Ian?” I said.

“I’m okay,” he said. “It’s just… is this really the first time that’s ever occurred to you?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He shrugged kind of uncomfortably and got up from the bed, pacing as he spoke.

“I don’t want to use the words ‘I assumed’ when talking about something demony,” he said, “but… well, I kind of did just assume that was what happened. You never really talk about it except to say…”

“It’s not my fault,” I said.

“Yeah, that,” Ian said. “That just leaves the other… I mean, the more obvious culprit. Right?”

“I honestly never thought about it,” I said. “I mean, I didn’t know the man back then… I was aware that I must have had a father, and after I turned it did sink in that he had been a demon. But I had more immediate things to deal with, and I’d gone half my life without thinking about him… well, my entire life at that point. You know what I mean. The point is that he didn’t exist to me enough for me to suspect him of anything.”

“That makes sense, I guess,” Ian said. “What exactly did he say? Was he, like, taunting you about it?”

“Not exactly,” I said, my gaze drifting downwards.

“Mention it?”

“Not in so many words.”

“What’d he say, then?”

It seemed so nebulous, so tenuous. It was nothing like evidence I could have brought in front of a tribunal, but of course as a demon he didn’t actually have to be convicted of anything. And in a certain sense, I didn’t need to know if he was guilty of this particular outrage or not… I couldn’t exactly bring him to justice myself.

It was just one more reason to hate him.

“What then?”

“He just made some comment about how my mother was ‘at the end’,” I said. “I’d say it’s not so much what he said as how he said it… but he didn’t really say it any way in particular. Maybe I’m overreacting.”

“If your reaction to him is to get mad and cut him off, you’re not overreacting,” Ian said. “That’s a perfectly valid reaction to a demon who comes into your head while you’re sleeping. Hell, forget the demon part. Anyone who does that when you’ve made it clear he’s not welcome is a creep. That’s the number one sign that he’s full of shit when he talks about wanting to help you or wanting the best for you, right there.”

“I guess,” I said. “But still, I might be making too much of his word choice. I mean, I keep coming back to it. It doesn’t have to mean the end of her life, and even if it does, it doesn’t have to mean that he had anything to do with ending it…”

“I’m not sure he’d think nothing of tossing off a reference to it like that, if he had,” Ian said.

“That’s assuming he has a conscience.”

“Or assuming he wouldn’t want you to think he killed your mother.”

“True,” I said. “The question is, what do I do?”

“I’d do one of two things,” Ian said. “I mean, the one that pops into my head first is to just ask him pointblank, the next time he shows up… because you know there’s going to be a next time. But what’s he going to do except just look your right in the eye and tell you no? That’s why the other thing is the smart choice: don’t let it change anything. Cut him off and keep him cut off.”

“You’re right,” I said. “But I don’t know if this is something I can leave alone.”

“Well, maybe that’s all he wants,” Ian said. “To give you a reason to keep letting him come around. But there’s no reason we can’t look into this on our own… find if there’s any chance you’re right or not. How did your mother die?”

“…it wasn’t my fault,” I said.

“Mackenzie, I understand that this is hard to talk about, but you can’t really do this without you,” Ian said. “If it’s too painful, you might have to make a decision about what’s harder: bringing it up or letting it go. Of course, you don’t have to decide that right now.”

“I definitely want to do this,” I said. “The thing is…

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36 Responses to “Chapter 43: Burning Questions”

  1. Alex Koponen says:

    I jumped away from.
    from what?

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  2. Burnsidhe says:

    It occured to me that the point of getting Mack angry and thinking about her mother might have been to get her to try to find out what happened, and then to try to contact.

    Since they seem to have an ‘agreement’ regarding Mack, and said agreement seems to be predicated on Laurel Anne not contacting Mack, he might be pushing her to cause a break in said agreement, then use that to justify further actions. Disregarding, of course, the fact that he broke said agreement in the first place.

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    • zeel says:

      Did I miss something? At what point do we learn that Laurel Anne is making agreements with Mackenzies father? Last we heard of them was the OT in which a person with surprisingly similar name to Laurel Anne and an elf are talking, about demons. And then it jumps back in time to Laurel Anne and Mackdady talking about Aidain.

      It says nothing about Laurel Anne not dieing (though it implies she is not dead, but this is a world where death != being dead) which could mean that she didn’t die, or that she didn’t stay dead.

      Also it ends with Mackdady leaving and implying he will return, no agreement.

      Did I miss something (checked archive, looks like I have read it all) or are we making up theories?

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      • Burnsidhe says:

        You missed something. Namely, you missed reading between the lines of the OT stories.

        I used the word agreement between quotes for a reason. The ‘non-custody agreement’ between Laurel Anne and The Man is very likely not one that was written down and witnessed.

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    • nemka says:

      There isn’t anywhere that it says Mack’s parents have an agreement with each other. While I do assume that the demon expert is some version of Mack’s mom, given that it was called something like ‘the life/death and strange afterlife of Laurel Ann Blaise’ all that story says is that there’s a ‘non-custody agreement,’ Personally I doubt she made any custody agreements with the Man, all things considered, and that the Man would be the one to have the ability to give her a second life. Let’s face it, Martha Blaise didn’t accept her daughter was dead without having proof, so someone gave Laurel a second life under this theory.

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      • Zergonapal says:

        But you have to remember that Laurel Ann is psyonic and may have placed the idea in Mack’s head that she is dead.
        Its to hot to think about this, the implications are big, the reasoning is vague and I want to solve this problem but, the solution is so nebulous you could birth stars in it.
        Its the big mystery that AE should reveal when we donate 10K in her next drive 😛

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        • Snuffa says:

          huh, am I the only person who takes for granted that Mack was “hardwired” to automatically reply “she’s dead, it’s not my fault” to any inquiry about her mother’s death and not give the matter any further thought? My bet is in the next chapter she (or Ian) will realize it’s impossible for her to say or think about anything in any more depth than that, and/or that she actually doesn’t have a clue about when and how she died, and never bothered to check for aforementioned reasons.

          I mean, we knew about that strange trait of hers even before it was explicitly pointed out that Laurel Anne: 1) is a powerful psychi.. er, however you call this, 2) is alive, 3) has an agreement with Mackdaddy not to interfere with Mack’s life in exchange for him not interfering with Aidan’s (these things were laid out quite clearly guys, I don’t get where all this speculation comes from). Then it all just fell in place nicely.

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          • Zergonapal says:

            Well sure its certainly implied to be that way, but I don’t think it has been explicitly spellt out like that.
            I find the idea that Mack’s mother placed a geas on her inherently abhorrent and would dearly like to know why she thought this was the best way sever her ties with Mack.
            Now though it seems that the geas could be wearing out, much like poking a rotten tooth will make it fall out.

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      • zeel says:

        I don’t think Mackenzie actually said that Martha actually told her her mom died. She says that Martha is the one who told her ‘it’ happened, and that she did not say how. But did she ever actually say “your mom is dead” or just imply it like The Man does? “Your mother is gone, and is never coming back” would to the young mind = death, but it doesn’t have to mean that. It is possible Mackenzie is simply making assumptions, which we know she is quite capable of doing.

        Or I could be forgetting some important detail.

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  3. Iason says:

    Phew. Intense.
    I burnt my hand on the teapot while reading. I’m thinking about naming it Mack.
    Thanks for another good chapter!

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  4. Readaholic says:

    Om nom nom! Interesting, that Mack’s fire flares up if she loses control of her temper. I’m wondering if it means that the previous half-demon at Magisterious University self-combusted in the end.

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    • nemka says:

      I think it said somewhere that the previous part demon student(s) ended up being ‘destroyed.’ and this is not the first time temper was what made Mack flare up, ref. when a aitress acted like Two was a possession.

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    • Erm says:

      It’s practically impossible to self-combust if you’re fire-proof. A more likely explanation is that the previous students flared up and were killed due to paranoia…

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    • Burnsidhe says:

      The previous half-demon student was killed when he tried to incite a riot at the University, from what I remember.

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      • Tiamat says:

        His part in the riot was greatly exaggerated, according to Chancellor Davies – see the bonus story Old Pain

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        • Burnsidhe says:

          And the response from Professor Ariadne was “You weren’t there. That creature was in the middle of the destruction.”

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          • OhPun says:

            And Professor Ariadne is so [insert sarcasm] tremendously [end sarcasm] reliable when it comes to anything related to demons, who killed her husband. Did I mention that demons killed her husband?

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            • Lyssa says:

              I think the point was that it’s probably a middle ground. The Chancellor isn’t going to be exactly reliable about it either, is she?

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            • Burnsidhe says:

              So, someone who could not possibly have been witness to the events is a better, more reliable narrator than someone who was there?

              That’s an interesting point of view.

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            • fka_luddite says:

              Certainly more reliable than someone who has exhibited intense and irrational bias, whether they were there or not.

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  5. Luke Licens says:

    “Mackenzie, I understand that this is hard to talk about, but you can’t really do this without you,”

    I dunno if it’s a typo, or if it’s just me, but it parses funny.

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    • Jane says:

      Deliberate, and clever, would be my guess.

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    • Krey says:

      I’d have put “WE can’t really do this without you,” but it works as is in a sorta snarky way.

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    • Dave says:

      Well, AE /may/ have meant to write “we”, but “but you can’t really do this without you,” works too, and much better because it subverts the usual cliché.

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      • zeel says:

        Hah, that is truly funny. Question is: What was it intended as? One simply makes sense, the other is clever, and sounds like something Ian would say.

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        • Burnsidhe says:

          They both make sense. “You can’t really do this without you.” means “If you’re not willing to actually do this, you’ll never get it done.”

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    • Lunaroki says:

      Typo Report

      But what’s he going to do except just look your right in the eye and tell you no?

      That “your” should be “you”.

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  6. Morten says:

    Hehe I’m guessing that ““I definitely want to do this,” I said. “The thing is…” ends with “that it wasn’t my fault”.

    Sucks to have a subtle artist for a mom.

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  7. Abeo says:

    I see I’m not the only one who thinks “it wasn’t my fault” is a plant in Mackenzie’s mind from her mother.

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  8. sapphite says:

    Excellent chapter… on the edge of my seat!

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  9. Zathras IX says:

    Don’t make Mack angry
    You wouldn’t like to be near
    Her when she’s angry

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  10. Tharos says:

    That may well be true.
    I find fire causes pain.
    Have a blister cure?

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  11. Dashel Illioni says:

    “Aloe, Aloe” said the man,
    “Good Evening,” I said,
    “then I wondered what had been planted.”

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  12. Spec Grim says:



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  13. pedestrian says:

    My reading of what has been published so far, about the differing versions of the rioting that caused the destruction of the previous campus, was that the half-demon was accused of leading either/or participating in the riots.

    Considering this was an earlier, more institutionally bigoted society, I have to wonder how accurate any of these claims are. Maybe the half demon student was accused of a violent crime, lynched on the basis of hysteric rumors and then the mob exploded into mass destruction. Plus the collateral damage and casualties that would of been caused by authorities trying to quell the rioting.

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  14. fedback says:

    Bits a geas isnt it¿_

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