Chapter 61: Mackenzie & Company

on January 21, 2012 in Volume 2 Book 3: Figments & Fragments, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Exchanges Favors

I spent another day in Coach Callahan’s class just focusing on getting the job done. It was reassuring in some ways to feel like I was falling into a routine there, but I felt like it might become a problem. I needed to excel in order to get an A, and I needed an A.

For an hour, I kept my head down, I stepped up when it was my turn, and I swung my illusionary staff through the heads and knees and arms of my classmates. I ignored the brief spatter of gore that disappeared as soon as the red box enchantment registered that I had taken the fight out of my opponent and vice-versa.

I was also thinking less about what I was doing. I wasn’t going full-on automaton, but I was thinking about situations rather than people. He’s got a longer reach. She’s faster. He’s guarding his legs. Once I started seeing each fight as a problem to be solved, the solution to each seemed more obvious and less distasteful. The previous day, I’d won more fights than I’d lost. On this day, I only lost one.

I wasn’t crazy about the thought of becoming so inured against violence, even mock violence… but being unaffected by it was better than reveling it, I supposed. The great fear I’d had about learning how to fight was that my barely restrained demonic side would take the opportunity to assert itself.

So far there didn’t seem to be much danger of that happening. Ignoring my feeding cycle was dangerous. Exposing myself to violent situations just reminded me how much I disliked violence. Even putting myself in a situation where I had to fight five days a week just strengthened my resolve to get through it.

“You’ve been showing some focus these past couple of days, Frybaby,” the coach said to me at the end of class A. “Maybe you aren’t bringing everything you’ve got, but you aren’t dropping what you brought. If you keep building on this you’ll be in decent shape, but if you try to just coast along like this you’ll be lucky to end up with a low B?”

“I did better today than I did yesterday,” I said.

“Yeah, but I’m talking about your trajectory,” she said. “What you’re doing’s only going to carry you so far. You won’t be better Friday than you are now, the way you’re going.”

“I only lost one fight,” I said. “Do I need to be perfect?”

“I don’t grade on win/loss ratio,” she said. “You’re getting better, but don’t get comfortable. Listen, you can go nuts the next two days… I won’t be watching for how many hits you take or counting how many times you go down, I’m going to be watching to see if you’re trying new things. Then on Friday, if you’re doing better than you are now, I’ll tell you how you can get some of the extra credit you need.”

“I thought the point was to take our opponents out the quickest and easiest way,” I said.

“Quickest and most effective way,” she said. “That’s not always the easiest, and it’s not always the most obvious. Easy and obvious has its advantages when it works, but it doesn’t always… and then you get the little corner cases where the most obvious thing is going to blow up in your face.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Ask anyone who fought the hundred and fifty pound girl who rammed a staff through their head today,” she said.

“I do not weigh a hundred and fifty pounds,” I said.

“Whatever,” she said. “The point is that you’re a great learning tool for everyone else because of your strength, but this just makes it easier for you to get complacent and also harder for you to impress me, which is what you need to do. Lucky for you I’m not going to let you fall into a rut. Next week I’ll have something to shake things up for you. This week you’re going to have to do some shaking of your own if you want to keep on course. You got it?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. I winced as I said it and I knew she saw me do it.

I couldn’t help it, though. “Ma’am” was Amaranth. I couldn’t say it without connotations of submissiveness and even sexuality creeping in. But putting myself into Coach Callahan’s hands and ignoring my ingrained instincts sort of shifted me into that headspace… and anyway, a one-word answer felt surly, and for me to call her “Coach” seemed phony.

My worries about bringing Nicki up to speed about my life’s strange goings-on proved to be a little premature. There was nothing new to say on the ridiculous owl-turtle thing front, so no reason to bring it up immediately.

She had changed for dinner, her hair and clothes both. She’d put on a pair of dark hip-hugger jeans with a wide belt studded with metal squares, and a black midriff-baring fitted tee with a spiraling starburst of sequins rotating around on the front of it.

Her hair was now a kind of pinkish-purple color in a messy style that looked something between a pixie and a pageboy cut, though one of its major features was that it was pretty much immobile. I wondered if her tendency to lock her hair in place reflected some limitation in her abilities, or if she was going for it on purpose.

It seemed safer not to ask, though. If it was on purpose I might be implying that it looks like an accident, and if it was accidental I might be rubbing it in.

“I like your top,” Two said.

“Thanks,” Nicki said. “If I say the word ‘rose’ it… oh, there it goes.”

The spinning sequins formed a flower, held the pattern briefly, and then separated and went back to their usual dance.

“It knows other words, but I don’t remember what they are,” she said.

“What is the purpose of this enchantment?” Dee asked.

“I don’t know, entertainment?” Nicki said. “It looks cool, I guess.”

“I grant that entertainment is a legitimate need of the mind, but I would imagine there is a limit to how much meaningful distraction there is to be in a set of silver dots forming an image.”

“It’s kind of hypnotic,” Amaranth said.

“I can see two sides of it,” Hazel said. “On the one hand, I have to agree with Dee about there not being much point to it beyond the shiny. On the other hand… shiny. And it is kind of compelling.”

“I just thought it was neat,” Nicki said.

“I think it’s neat, too,” Amaranth said.

“I like it,” I said. “You didn’t change just for dinner, did you?”

She ducked her head and blushed. I started to wonder if her interest in me was about more than making new friends and maybe meeting girls… or rather, if she’d already met a new girl. Then I ducked my head and blushed.

“…I decided to change my hair after class, and then it didn’t really go with what I was wearing anymore,” she said.

“I would never have been able to tell,” I said.

“It’s true,” Two said, nodding solemnly.

“Thanks, Two,” I said.

“You’re welcome.”

“We can’t all be fashion-conscious,” Amaranth said. “But Nicki clearly uses her clothing to express herself, and she likes to look her best… so dressing up a little when class is over and she wants to hang out with her friends is not so much making an extraordinary effort as it is making a gesture.”

“In my experience, the main reason for changing your pants is to get into another pair of them,” Steff said.

I felt really bad for Nicki. Amaranth was trying to be nice, but even she’d managed to talk about her in the third person like she wasn’t there. I tried to think of something to say to her instead of about her, but the most obvious things that popped into my head were compliments on her appearance… which she might have liked in general, but at the moment it seemed like a good way to prolong her torture.

“Nicki plays stone soldiers,” I said to Hazel, immediately before I realized that this was also talking about her in the third person. Though I was trying to start a conversation that woudl involve her.

“Oh?” Hazel said. “You should come up to Gilcrease sometime, we’ve a nice set-up… a whole room just for gaming. It’s a bit cozy with too many tall folks, but big enough to accommodate players if not a lot of spectators.”

“Really? I’ve been hearing rumors about a room somewhere that they took the furniture out of and turned into a battlefield,” Nicki said. “But I figured they were just… well… rumors.”

“No, it’s true enough,” Hazel said. “It’s my room, to be perfectly technical, but I share a suite with my friend Shiel and her friend, er, Mouse, and there’s room enough for the three of us in one half of it. It gets a little awkward when my man comes around, but we’re working things out.”

“Is ‘Mouse’ a… um…”

“She’s not an actual mouse,” Hazel said. “And that’s just her nickname. It’s the translation of her name, Nae. She’s a kobold, like Shiel… who is incidentally also a kobold, if that wasn’t clear. She’s tiny, and quiet. Very serious. Big fan of standing in the corner.”

“I like Mouse,” Two said.

“You would,” Hazel said. “Two gets on well with her. The pair of them can just sit there quietly forever and never say a word.”

“It’s true,” Two said.

“I find Mouse’s company restful and her demeanor agreeable,” Dee said. “I was surprised to learn she is not a divinity major, as she has a very spiritual bearing.”

“That’s submission,” Amaranth said.

“You mean she’s religious about it?” Ian asked.

“No, Dee had it right,” Amaranth said. “She’s spiritual about it. Full submission can be a sublime, almost ecstatic state… my Mack has brushed up against that level only a few times, but I think Mouse has been living there.”

“Is Shiel her dom?” Nicki asked.

“No, I think they just met a bit ago,” Amaranth said. “Mouse’s primary relationship is temporarily on hold for her education.”

“Oh, so I guess it’s a long-distance thing for now.”

“You might say that,” Amaranth said. She focused on her salad. She respected people’s privacy, but wasn’t terribly comfortable lying.

We both knew that Nae’s girlfriend was Caron, a human-raised dwarf who lived no further away than the town of Enwich. I wasn’t a fan of Caron, due to the small matter of her trying to trick me into a lifetime of servitude at the hands of a deranged slaver. I had a slightly higher opinion of her “Little Mouse”, whose disapproval had somewhat blunted Caron’s determination to snare me, and whose existence had ended Caron’s hold over me when Amaranth deduced her identity.

Dwarves and kobolds weren’t exactly like oil and water when it came to mixing. They were more like oil and fire. Elves and dwarves were the more stereotypical rivals, but they didn’t tend to live literally on top of each other and they didn’t compete for the same resources or business. The two races of miners and smiths had been going at it hammer and tongs for long that they were probably responsible for the phrase.

“I guess there probably aren’t any kobold whatsits around here,” Nicki said. “No mountains.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I think Shiel’s from one of the eastern ranges. I’m not sure where Mouse is from.”

The conversation from that point on was pretty easy, though a little bit heavy on tiny imaginary warfare for my tastes. I tried my best to hide my lack of interest in stone soldiers, since Nicki still seemed to be taking the things I said to heart. Maybe it was arrogant of me to think that she’d changed her hair just because I’d said something about it, but… I really thought that probably was true. I knew she’d kept it orange because I’d mentioned it in class, and then she went and changed it after I asked her why she hadn’t.

There were probably only so many times I could tell her that she didn’t need to impress me or to just be herself before she’d start feeling bad about wanting to impress me. I wasn’t going to start censoring everything that popped into my head, but it wouldn’t kill me to avoid casually disparaging the things that she liked. Even Steff was being fairly restrained, after all. If all my friends were making the effort to be nice to my new friend, it didn’t seem like it was asking too much for me to do the same.

After dinner, I got Steff alone to ask her about fixing her picture. I didn’t have to do more than pull it out before she started snickering.

“So… you noticed?” she said.

“Nicki did,” I said.

She laughed.

“It figures… I could hide a fortune in platinum five inches from a decent pair of tits and you’d never find it,” she said. “Apparently doesn’t even matter if they’re yours… how do you ever make it past a mirror?”

“I don’t spend a lot of time looking in mirrors,” I said. “Steff, come on… will you change it up a little?”

“You said you were satisfied with it as-is,” she said. “You said I’d fulfilled my end of the bargain.

“Okay,” I said. “What do you want for it, Steff?”

She sighed and took the paper from me.

“Nothing more than you’re already giving me that would be worth it to you for a few quick edits,” she said. “Did your teacher give you an extension?”

“It’s been pushed back until Thursday,” I said.

“I just have two favors I’d like to ask in exchange,” she said.


“Viktor’s starting to get all… intense,” she said. “I’m going to need to sleep over for a few nights, maybe.”

“Okay,” I said.

“And when I say ‘sleep over’, it kind of goes without saying that my penis is going to be inside you at some point. Or several points.”

“It kind of just went with saying,” I said.

“Yeah, well, it goes both ways,” Steff said. “And the other thing: when Nicki makes her move, find out if she’s down for threesomes.”

“If that happens, I’ll ask,” I said.

“And put in a good word for me,” she said. “Or a sort of ambiugously evil but still vaguely good natured one.”

“She made it sound like you weren’t too interested in her,” I said.

“I’m not,” she said. “She doesn’t really do anything for me… but you and her together, that’s more interesting.”

“Okay,” I said. “And just so we’re clear, what I want from you is to make the mermaid look less like me… and not like anyone else in particular. Just a generic female figure.”

“I’ll have it back to you tomorrow.”

“Cool, thanks,” I said. “Um… can I just ask…”

“Why I did it?” she said. Her eyes kind of flicked down, and a touch of color crept into her pale cheeks. “I could say something about liking to see you squirm, and that would be true, but… I was a little annoyed, and that was just me being… well… a little bratty.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I wouldn’t have asked you if I didn’t think your skills were up to the task, but I guess this time I pushed you out of your comfort zone.”

“I don’t know, maybe it’s good for me, too,” Steff said. “Hey, if you get a good grade on it, let me know.”

“I will,” I said.

“Come here,” she said, and pulled me into a kiss. Her hands were on my ass for a moment, before she realized we were still semi-public, and then she pulled away.

“Um… I’m pretty sure Ian’s sleeping with me tonight,” I said.

“It’s cool,” she said. “I’m thinking more of the weekend, anyway… Viktor’s started grumbling about how classes get in the way of his ‘real work’, so I think he’s going to be want to be alone and I’m going to want some company.”

“Company you can have,” I said. “Depending on how things are going in my life, I may or may not wake up in the middle of the night screaming…”

“Oh, I can help with that,” Steff said.

“How?” I asked. “And please don’t say something about making sure I don’t wake up.”

“I was going to say I can help keep you awake..

“Oh,” I said. “Thanks.”

“And screaming, of course.”

“Of course.”

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30 Responses to “Chapter 61: Mackenzie & Company”

  1. zeel says:

    I love how Steff/Mackenzie conversations are always filled with double meanings and cleverness. Always makes reading it extra fun.

    EDIT: first! 🙂
    EDIT2: Oh look emotes work! 😉

    Current score: 2
  2. MacGuyver says:

    Minor typo:
    …a conversation that woudl involve her.
    I’m pretty sure that should be “would”.

    Thanks for the new chapter!

    Current score: 0
  3. Tamina says:

    I like the whole group dynamic here – everyone’s integrating another person and doing the ‘slightly awkward conversation with one new person in a group’ conversation without any hysterics.

    One typo:

    …had been going at it hammer and tongs for long

    Think that needs a “so” in there.

    Current score: 0
  4. Zergonapal says:

    ……“It kind of just went with saying,” I said…… went withOUT saying… makes for a better response I believe.

    I think its great how Mack is honing her melee skills. I look forward to reading what she does to switch it up a few notches.

    Current score: 0
    • Nicole says:

      I think that was intentional. Mack was saying that Steff had just said it, even though she said “It goes without saying”

      Current score: 1
    • Nicola says:

      No, “went with saying” works. I had to re-read it, but Mack is pointing out Steff did actually just say it.

      Current score: 0
      • Zergonapal says:

        I suppose so, but it just sounds awkward, but then this is Mack we are discussing here.

        Current score: 0
        • Seajewel says:

          Awkward? It was an awesome response exactly the way it was written.

          Current score: 1
  5. Month says:

    Keep her screaming? That sounds like fun.

    Current score: 0
  6. arsenic says:

    I think “ambiugously” should be spelled “ambiguously”. Nice chapter! Nicki’s so different from the other characters, but it seems completely natural the way that Mack understands her.

    Current score: 0
  7. Potatohead says:

    Steff’s going to strip her down, tie her up, and…make her watch an entire marathon of Magical Science Princess episodes. Guarantee there will be screaming by the third hour.

    Current score: 0
  8. Zathras IX says:

    Once you see things as
    Problems to be solved then you
    Can find solutions

    Current score: 1
  9. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    but being unaffected by it was better than reveling * it, I supposed.

    Missing an “in” after “reveling”.

    the coach said to me at the end of class A.

    Last I checked Mackenzie only has class with Callahan once a day, so I don’t see why this would be “class A”.

    but I would imagine there is a limit to how much meaningful distraction there is to be * in a set of silver dots forming an image.”

    Missing the word “had” before “in a set of silver dots”.

    “I was going to say I can help keep you awake..

    Missing closing quote. Also the ellipsis at the end is short one period. That or you doubled the ending period.

    Current score: 0
    • HiEv says:

      Also: “You said I’d fulfilled my end of the bargain.

      Missing a closing quote.

      Current score: 0
  10. Justice says:

    Possible typo:

    “Maybe you aren’t bringing everything you’ve got, but you aren’t dropping what you brought. If you keep building on this you’ll be in decent shape, but if you try to just coast along like this you’ll be lucky to end up with a low B?”

    Ends in a ? but this appears to be a statement.

    Current score: 0
  11. DarkSage says:

    Steph,being Steph … Mack,still forever oblivious to those who want to jump her bones. Awaitting the “twist” to Nikki’s charector.Me thinks she’s hiding something from all of us.

    Current score: 0
  12. Morten says:

    “I do not weigh a hundred and fifty pounds,” I said.

    Haha, I guess someone got hit by the freshman fifteen (and then some).

    So Mackenzie has to get creative and (more) effective if she’s going to get her A… Well this certainly has set my imagination running (set/sent? is this even an expression?)

    Current score: 0
    • Dani says:

      Depends on your imagination, I suppose. If your imagination is of the run-and-find-out variety, I suppose it was sent running. If it’s of the wind-it-up-and-see-where-it-ends-up variety, I suppose it was set running. If it’s the sort that slips from state to state, perhaps the call for creativity has got your imagination running.

      Current score: 0
    • Seajewel says:

      Mack is still described as mostly skinny and she’s pretty short. She likely meant she doesn’t weigh that much, although it’s hard to know either way. Not to make judgments on weight, but Mack was supposedly half-starved in appearance and added 10-15 lbs last year.. Likely not exceeding 150 yet.

      Current score: 0
  13. Krey says:

    Looking forward to reading the weekend.
    This chapter was Wednesday so that should be… sometime late February?

    Current score: 0
  14. Erm says:

    “Quickest and most effective way,” she said. “That’s not always the easiest, and it’s not always the most obvious. Easy and obvious has its advantages when it works, but it doesn’t always… and then you get the little corner cases where the most obvious thing is going to blow up in your face.”

    “Like what?” I asked.

    “Ask anyone who fought the hundred and fifty pound girl who rammed a staff through their head today,” she said.

    Again, I find myself liking Callahan more than I should.

    Current score: 0
  15. Stonefoot says:

    When Hazel is commenting on Nicki’s shirt and says “On the other hand… shiny.”, I’m hearing that (as of the 2nd time I read it) in Willow’s voice (from Buffy). So it comes out as “On the other hand…” very matter-of-fact-ly, then with a big smile “SHINY!”

    (Could you guess that Willow is my favorite character from Buffy?)

    Current score: 1
    • Ducky says:

      I got Kaylee from Firefly in my head. I guess Joss likes shiny things.

      Current score: 0
  16. Greywalker1 says:

    I find myself at odds reading this one for a personal reason. I am unsure if I should feel glad or scared that the author can create a character I can see so much of myself in, both good and bad. This is so much so that I can answer in my head things this character would say or do, then read them word for word just a few lines later. For me, this is Steff, which is why I am slightly scared. Keep it up, I’m loving it.

    Current score: 0
  17. pedestrian says:

    i agree the group dynamic is exciting
    and it is so funny how oblivious Our Mack is that everyone wants to help her and Nicki get together. though i would have expected Amaranth to be a bit more obvious. Maybe she prodded Steff to suggest the 3-way?

    Current score: 0
  18. Cadnawes says:

    The way I read Mack’s appearance is that when she arrived, if she wasn’t starving to death it was only because she can’t die that way. She describes her hair as lustreless, which is a definite sign of malnutrition.

    I figure that’s fixed by now, and she has filled out on both top and bottom, as evidenced by the need to keep shopping. I suspect her breasts are better than she thinks they are based on this chapter, but I figure she’s a bit bottom heavy based on the rest of them.

    Whereas I’m sure this is a vast improvement, at least in our world, dramatic weight increase is troubling for most women. So she’s touchy about her perfectly valid curves. I don’t know whether Callahan guessed right or not, but its worth bearing in mind that weight means nothing, really. The actual number doesn’t tell you what it looks or feels like, or how healthy someone is.

    Current score: 0
  19. Mickey Phoenix says:

    So many things I loved about this chapter.

    I love how Mack and Nicki are slowly growing into what may become a romantic relationship. With Steff, Amaranth, and Ian, things moved so very fast. I’m really enjoying the slower and more tentative pace of Mack and Nicki’s relationship.

    I love, love, love Steff’s comment about the reason for changing pants!

    And–I really like Steff’s somewhat abashed admission that she had been being bratty about the mermaid.

    I really like Steff in this whole chapter, actually. She’s being really open and honest with Mack, and it’s hella endearing.

    Current score: 1
  20. Mickey Phoenix says:

    I also just realized something else about Callahan’s class, and Mack’s quest to get an A in it. Mack is very intelligent, and in my experience (as someone who is also very intelligent), all one has to do to get an A in an academic subject, if one is very intelligent, is to show up and even vaguely participate. I would imagine (although I don’t know from personal experience) that there may be a corresponding “just show up and participate” route to an A in PE classes for the athletically gifted. But the point is that I don’t know, because I have never in my life gotten an A in a PE class. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to go about getting one, if I had that aspiration.

    So I find myself imagining that Mack, who has never had any trouble getting A’s in her high school classes, is suddenly faced with a totally novel situation, and no clue how to handle it. She needs to get an A, but her normal get-an-a strategy (show up and participate) is a get-a-low-B strategy at best in Callahan’s class.

    I imagine that this will be an incredible valuable experience for her, and it’s one that I envy her more than a little.

    Current score: 1