In Which Mackenzie Reaches Out To The Long Arm

Even without any cliched catapulting into an upright position, it would have been hard to jerk myself awake without disturbing Ian given how close we slept.

“…who was it this time?” he said groggily.

“Him,” I said.

I slipped my legs out from under his and got a little shakily to my feet. The cold was bracing, or that’s what I told myself. I was moving with a purpose, if not a lot of balance. I’d told the man that I would make an alliance with anyone to keep him out, and apparently it was true.

The next time I saw the owl-turtle thing I would talk to it… not necessarily about any forays into hostile territory, as I thought that was likely to go nowhere, and it had probably been responsible for my restless nights. But if it could interfere with his visits into my head and help me shield things from his knowledge… well, that would be a start.

I wasn’t going to wait for it to pop up again, though, especially since that would require me to be asleep, and then it would be beyond my control whether it showed up, or if he did. If I could make a problem for the man in the physical world, it might just put enough of a stick in his spokesto keep him out of my head for a while.

“Who are you reflecting at this hour?” Ian asked, realizing that I was going for my mirror on top of the dresser.

Or I had been.

The transition from my dream… where I’d been fully awake… to the waking world… where I’d been asleep… had left me with a serious case of jelly-legs.

“You remember last year after Leda’s murder when I gave myself up to those guys from Law?” I asked, stretching out an arm to steady myself against the wall.

“No, actually that totally slipped my mind,” Ian said. “That was you?”

“Smart ass. The guy who delivered me to Embries. His name was Kent… Art,” I said. “Short for Arthur, I think. He has some stuff on my father I think might be useful.”

“Do you have his contact info?” Ian asked.

“No, but I know that as of last year he was a Law agent,” I said. “And he worked in the central provinces regional office, or however they’re organized. I think that would be enough to find him.”

“You’re not going to reach him in the middle of the… well, I guess it’s technically morning,” he said.

“I know,” I said. “But I want to see if I can at least find him in a directory or something… he could have been reassigned, or had his name and face changed, or who knows what. If I can’t find him, I guess I’ll start looking for a Plan B.”

“Why isn’t he Plan B?”

“Because that would leave me without a Plan A.”

My legs woke up enough for me to totter forward, grab my mirror, and then seat myself on the floor with a modicum of something that could almost be called grace. That last part had been more a matter of necessity than part of any plan, but once I was down I decided it was as good a place as any. I forced my breathing to slow again, remembering Dee’s meditation lessons.

The Department of Law could not by any stretch of imagination count as the good guys. They were the greater good guys. They were the order guys. In theory they existed to uphold the tenets of law and order, but in their view the preservation of the Imperial Republic itself was the best bet for preserving law and order, and they themselves were absolutely essential to its protection. Hence, they were somewhat ambivalent on the subject of actually following laws themselves.

But it was liked I’d said in my dream: I’d make an alliance with just about anyone.

And in this case, Arthur Kent would just be the messenger.

“Um… do you maybe want to put on a shirt or something first?” Ian asked.

“I’m not going to be talking to him,” I said. “Anyway, even the thought of dealing with these guys again would be enough to make my knees go weak, if I wasn’t already. I’d rather be as relaxed as I can be.”

I opened my mirror and focused on it. According to the timepiece display it was just a little past five, but I willed myself past that and to the ethernet. Modern communication devices didn’t require a lot of divination talent to operate, or else most people wouldn’t be able to use them. My unusually centered state of mind heightened my connection to it.

“Law offices,” I said aloud to help focus, and though I half expected to get offices where law was practiced, my focus was apparently sufficient to convey the concept of Law rather than the law. “Prax and Blackwater area. Agent Kent, Arthur.”

Mist filled the tiny mirror. I stared at it for half a second before I realized that it wasn’t conjuring up a list of results but connecting the reflection. Half a second later I was looking at the man himself, somewhat battered and weary looking.

“Yes?” he said.

“Agent Kent? It’s Mackenzie Blaise.”

“I know,” he said.

“Sorry… I wasn’t actually counting on getting you,” I said.

“I’ve had a funnel-glyph out in the ether for you for a while,” he said. “I happened to be at my desk when it went off, or you’d be talking to my echo-trap now.”

“It’s like five in the morning,” I said.

“I know, and if we make this fast enough I can still get home in time to get a full hour of sleep before I have to get up again,” he said. “Are you aware that you’re naked?”

“I borrowed my girlfriend’s shirt,” I said.

It was a little late to duck and cover, but I tilted the mirror up more towards my face. Since I couldn’t see my own reflection there was no way of knowing how much difference this made, but I focused on my breathing and ignored my nudity.

“You’re witty for five in the morning,” he said. “I don’t do witty before six.”

“Won’t you be asleep then?”

“That’s the best time to deal with witty teenagers,” he said.

“Fine. Do you know if my grandmother was aware of my father’s involvement in my birth?”

I was pretty sure the man hadn’t meant to feed me on purpose, but it would be good to confirm that it was true.

“Well, she grew up on a farm and she had children herself, so however old-fashioned she may seem I think she’s probably familiar with the part a man plays in…”

“I mean him, specifically,” I said. “Does she know who my father is?”

“I really couldn’t say,” he said. “And yes, I mean I don’t know. Judging by what I know of her, my best guess is that she doesn’t. If she knew at the time, she probably would have intervened. Do you have any happy childhood memories of her?”

“I guess,” I said. “Holidays and stuff.”

“Then I think it’s safe for you to assume she didn’t know back then,” he said. “My best guess based on what I know about her… and I want to emphasize that this is not based on any direct, first-hand knowledge of her… is that if she found out about it later she would have done something with that information, or tried to do so in a way that we would have noticed.”

It sounded like he was going on the same kind of reasoning I’d used. I’d hoped for something more concrete.

“Mackenzie? I do have something I need to finish here.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I thought you’d know something more than that.”

“I do have a file on your grandmother that I read last year, but it was out of date and incomplete,” he said. “It was a pre-recruitment evaluation that my office inherited.”

“It was never updated?”

“We never recruited her.”

“She was an imperial agent,” I said.

“She was a paladin in the service of the empire,” he said. “There’s a bit of a difference there. The White Dragons are an imperial order, and they coordinate their international missions with Law, but they’re not actually under our aegis. Separation of powers, and all that.”

“Like that actually means anything to you guys.”

“No matter how many spheres our interests might touch on, we actually do have certain prescribed limits to our power,” he said. “To say nothing of practical limits. Even if I somehow had a file on every single person in the world, I couldn’t have every one of them in arm’s reach at all times. If you looked me up to just ask me what your grandmother knows… that’s not the reason I had you flagged.”

“That was actually just the preamble,” I said. “What I really want from you won’t make much difference if she already knows and isn’t doing anything. I want you to send your file… the one on him… to her, and identify him as my father.”

“Is that all? You could tell her that he’s your father.”

He could be right… I probably could give her enough information to at least lead her to the right demon. But with no name and so little to distinguish him, it was far from a sure thing… and the lack of an easy identification meant it would be impossible for me to just drop her a postcard. It would have to be a lengthy conversation, at the very least.

And even if she would do it herself for her own reasons, I couldn’t believe my grandmother wouldn’t make me pay for it. She would not pass up the chance to bring me back under her control.

In fact, if she saw an opportunity to do that, she might consider it a higher priority than killing a demon or avenging her daughter’s death. She’d spent almost a decade trying to keep me safe and safely in check.

“This can’t come from me,” I said.

“I like the sound of that,” he said. “But what explanation am I supposed to give her for dropping this information into her lap out of the blue?”

“What sort of explanations do you usually give?” I asked.

“She’ll be looking for a motive.”

“Yeah, but you’ve got an obvious one,” I said. “A demon’s been operating in your beat. He evades your usual methods. She’ll probably figure that you want to get rid of him. And as far as I know, that’s true.”

“A successful demon removed from the plane is a win for everybody,” he said. “But the kind of brawl that it’s likely to take to dislodge him, especially when it’s a fight between a paladin of Brimstone Blaise’s caliber and when she has nothing to lose and he has everything to lose? I know people your age throw around the words ‘epic level’ a lot, but that phrase exists for a reason and an epic level battle is not the kind of thing we want to see. Not in the middle of inhabited provinces. It’s not orderly. It’s not good.”

“But would it come to that?” I said. “He doesn’t fight his battles head-on. You said he likes to keep his head down. If he knows she’s hunting him, he might even go to ground completely… and that will probably take him away from settled areas, if he’s in one now.”

“So this isn’t about killing him?” he said. He sounded disappointed. “I was halfway interested when I thought you were trying to use me to put a hit out on your own father using your own grandmother.”

“Well, it will at least give him something to think about,” I said. “If it does nothing but keep the two of them busy for a while, I’ll call it a double win.”

“And what will you call it if she dies?”

“Her choice,” I said. “I don’t think anybody made her be a paladin.”

“I take it back,” he said. “I’m more than halfway interested. You are one cold daughter of a bastard. But what do I get for doing this?”

“Well, since it’ll cost you nothing I think a fair trade would be… nothing.”

“It’ll cost me time.”

“Minutes.”

“Minutes are how I measure my sleep, kid,” he said. “Which means you already owe me just for listening.”

“You led me into a dragon’s den,” I said.

“And you came out the other side unharmed.”

“I came out the front door, actually.”

“I was speaking metaphorically.”

“Yeah, well, that’s where we’re having a bit of a disconnect, because I was speaking literally,” I said. “It wasn’t a tunnel I passed through or a rite of passage, it was the actual lair of an actual dragon and what happened there was the single worst, most harrowing experience of my life.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“I can’t,” I said. “And I wouldn’t talk about it with you. Look… you had a flag out because you were hoping to hear from me. You probably didn’t expect me to turn up out of the blue looking for a job.”

“No, I thought you’d turn up wanting something from me,” he said. “Which gives me the opportunity to ask what you’ll do for me. You see how this works?”

“What I’m asking is not that big a favor,” I said. “It lines up with your interests and it probably won’t require anything you couldn’t do on your lunch break.”

“You’re assuming my lunch break isn’t booked solid as it is,” he said. “And no, you’re not asking for anything big from my point of view. But you said this can’t come from you, and I can’t imagine any situation where you’d be calling on me if you could see another way of accomplishing the same goal some other way. You need me to do this, and that makes it a big favor.”

“Fine,” I said. “You do this and we’re even.”

“That doesn’t get me anything.”

“Yes it does,” I said. “It gets you even. You want me to owe you a favor, right?”

“And you’re saying I won’t.”

“You’ll be one step closer,” I said. “Look, you could watch me secretly and swoop in and save my life the next time I’m in real trouble and I still wouldn’t feel like I owe you a damned thing. You’d just be making up for what you did before. And that should be what it takes to make up for that… something seriously life-or-death. And now that I’ve said that out loud I could never trust any situation where that happened.”

“Believe it or not, you aren’t important enough for me to engineer a rescue for,” he said. “You are one of several potentially interesting candidates I have an eye on.”

“You put a trace on me,” I said.

“That only took a minute,” he said.

“Whatever lengths you would or wouldn’t go through to get me to forgive you is beside the point,” I said. “The point is that you can either do this one relatively simple thing and the next time I need a favor from you I’ll agree that it is a favor, or else it doesn’t matter what you do, I’ll never want to deal with you.”

“How do I know there’s going to be a next time?” he asked. “You could just shake me off and never give me a second thought.”

“That’s my plan,” I said. “But you already know how good my plans are, because I told you last time I wouldn’t be contacting you.”

“Hold on,” he said, and before I could respond the mirror went back to swirling mist. I barely had time to be irritated before he came back. “Okay, I’ll do it. But I want you to know, I’m doing this more because I’m amused by your attempts to negotiate than because you’re any good at it.”

“Whatever you have to tell yourself to get the file in the mail,” I said.

“If you want to have a look at it yourself, I’d be happy to arrange a meeting.”

“Maybe next time,” I said. I flipped the mirror shut. It was beyond brusque, but he was the one counting his minutes.

I stretched out my legs before trying to get up. I looked over at the bed, where Ian was sitting up watching me at rapt attention.

“What?” I asked.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” he said. “But I’m trying to figure out if something else could have crawled into your head while you were sleeping and grabbed the reins.”

I laughed, not so much because it was funny but because all the tension I’d been holding onto for the past several minutes just sort of broke at once and left me first laughing and then shaking. I felt like I used to feel every time I’d had half as much attention focused on me… that is, like I was going to throw up.

“It’s me,” I said. “I promise.”

“I know,” Ian said. “I watched you almost bash your head into the corner of the dresser. No entity could be as graceless in that body as you are without a lot of practice.”

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52 Responses to “Chapter 64: Callback”

  1. Burnsidhe says:

    Impressive.

    Current score: 0
    • Luke Licens says:

      Most impressive.

      Current score: 0
      • Chris says:

        Somebody has taught her well.

        Current score: 0
        • Trystia Indraea Olyphis Farrower says:

          She has controlled her fear.

          Current score: 0
          • Duke says:

            I must not fear.
            Fear is the mind-killer.
            Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
            I will face my fear.
            I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
            And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
            Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
            Only I will remain.

            Current score: 1
  2. Alico says:

    Oh man, the character development. I like the taste of this. This also makes me want to make an advertisement for Amaranth style shirts…

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      Her ability to just shake off the nudity like it was nothing is baffling. Almost out of character, no blush, no “oh shit oh shit!” internal dialogue, just a witty remark.

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      • V says:

        Ian warned her, which made her think about it. A little preparation goes a long way.

        Current score: 0
        • Cadnawes says:

          Arguably, if she wasn’t awkward about it last chapter, she certainly shouldn’t be this chapter. Kent matters far less as an adversary in her current state of mind.

          Current score: 0
      • Zukira Phaera says:

        It is also a reflection of how far into the ‘submissive’ place she is.

        Right at that moment, while she was naked in physical, she was clothed in submission, and the security of that submission apparently also came with some bonus stats in charisma and self assurance.

        Current score: 1
        • zeel says:

          An interesting way of putting it. And I must agree (having read ch.65) that seems to be exactly what is going on.

          Her submissive bubble is going to get popped, then things will get crazy.

          Current score: 0
  3. Peter says:

    Love the updates, love the rhythm of the story

    Current score: 0
  4. Dave says:

    Are Amaranth shirts the new Emperor’s Clothes? 🙂

    Current score: 1
    • Oni says:

      That’s actually the joke I thought she was going for at first. It took me a moment.

      Current score: 0
  5. Anne says:

    Excellent Chapter!
    I noted the following typos.
    a stick in his spokesto keep him out of my head for a while.

    a space is needed between spokes and to…

    But it was liked I’d said in my dream:

    like…

    Current score: 0
  6. Anthony says:

    Waitasec… she was able to talk about Embries being a dragon, out loud and quite explicitly, with Ian in earshot? Wasn’t that supposed to be impossible?

    Current score: 1
    • Jennifer says:

      Well, technically, she just said that he literally led her to the dragon’s den. She can’t say anything that HAPPENED there, but apparently, vague references to dragons is fine. She didn’t identify the dragon or anything.

      Great chapter, by the way, I felt like raced through it because of the momentum of it. Gotta go back and reread it now to catch the nuances.

      Current score: 1
      • Zergonapal says:

        I cannot recall if Embries actually gave her a injunction not to mention he is a dragon only that she couldn’t talk about what went down (literally) behind closed doors.

        Current score: 0
      • Krey says:

        I think big key here is that she said Dragon’s Den but didn’t say Embries’ name at all and, thought Ian may have been listening she was talking about it to someone who already knew. Not sure on the scope of dragon magic, but I imagine Mack’s… (there’s a word I want just outside my ability to recall it(damn annoying)) tunnel-vision(that was best I could do) could effect her geass(sp?) if she didn’t realize she was breaking it.

        Current score: 0
        • fka_luddite says:

          Except — she has indirectly identified Embries as a dragon. Explaining to Ian why she is reaching for her mirror, Mack says “The guy who delivered me to Embries. His name was Kent… Art.” Later she tells Kent that he (Kent) literally delivered her into the den of a dragon. While this does violate the intent of the geas, it slips through the word in a manner worthy of her father.

          Current score: 0
          • zeel says:

            I do not think Embries nature was part of the geas, the knowledge is not common, but also not a secret. It’s like public records, few people know what they say, but the information is there for them to get.

            Also she had some idea that he was a dragon before the encounter, and I believe that only the encounter its self is locked away.

            Current score: 0
            • Ylistra says:

              If I recall correctly, Agent Kent already knew about Embries anyway.

              Current score: 0
          • pedestrian says:

            very clever read. I missed that entirely.

            Current score: 0
    • Tiamat says:

      Go back and look at Chapter 488, and then look at the ‘next story’ button. A chapter is ‘skipped,’ so to speak, because the information contained therein is what she’s not allowed to share with anyone, ‘even someone sharing space in [her] soul’. Everything that we’ve seen in-story is not a part of Embries’ order.

      It was a fairly clever way of handling what happened there, actually.

      Current score: 1
  7. Metheglin says:

    Holy shit. Mackenzie Jo Blaise has turned into a little bit of a badass.

    Current score: 0
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      She’s definitely taken a level.

      Current score: 0
      • Zergonapal says:

        Maybe cross class in Bard, because she is certainly becoming more confident talking to people.

        Current score: 1
    • pseudoname says:

      who is setting up her elderly grandmother to(probably fairly recklessly) fight a high level demon in its prime…so that takes away a bit lol

      Current score: 0
      • Lyssa says:

        Not really, no.

        Current score: 0
        • Oni says:

          Well, she’s pretty much setting her grandmother up to be killed by her father, so it moves it from “badass” closer to just “ass” or “cold reckless bitch”.

          20 years ago Granny might have been able to toe off against The Man, but she’s a heck of a lot older now. I think the only thing guaranteed is that there would be massive collateral damage, and I’d say the odds are more in favor of her getting Xs in her eyes by the end of it.

          Current score: 0
      • Arakano says:

        Quite to the contrary.

        Current score: 0
  8. TLOU says:

    Hehe A bit of the ‘ld fire in the girl now

    Current score: 0
  9. Zathras IX says:

    A Demon removed
    From the plane is a win for
    All but the Demon

    Current score: 1
  10. Jane says:

    So many good bits…. I love the last line, I love Amaranth’s shirt, and Mack’s reasoning about her grandmother – perfect.

    Current score: 1
  11. Month says:

    Not a very well thought off plan… That gives Martha an excuse to be around.

    Poor, poor countryside. You will be blasted so hard.

    Current score: 0
  12. Ermarian says:

    “I was halfway interested when I thought you were trying to use me to put a hit out on your own father using your own grandmother.”

    This part is awesome.

    Current score: 1
    • Ikeren says:

      Scrolled through comments just to post this, you beat me to it.

      Current score: 0
  13. Ermarian says:

    You are one cold daughter of a bastard.

    Nice inversion, there, though I guess “bastard” doesn’t really do the Man justice.

    Also, the new Mack is kind of magnificent. Her shit-giving ability is at Honey-Badger level.

    Current score: 1
    • Burnsidhe says:

      She still feels sick when she has to stand up for herself like this, but she’s able to set it aside until after. Callahan’s done her a lot of good in that respect.

      Current score: 1
  14. Kaila says:

    I was going to comment, then I read the comments, and just liked all the ones who already said what I was thinking.

    Awesomeness.

    Current score: 0
  15. OhPun says:

    I wonder if Embries’ spell of “not talking about it” is wearing thin. Does he count on it working for a certain amount of time so that it becomes a habit, then the bespelled person never tests it after it wears out?

    Mackenzie said to Ian:
    The guy who delivered me to Embries. His name was Kent… Art,

    Then Mackenzie said to Kent, while Ian was listening:

    “You led me into a dragon’s den,” I said.

    and

    “It wasn’t a tunnel I passed through or a rite of passage, it was the actual lair of an actual dragon and what happened there was the single worst, most harrowing experience of my life.”

    Depending upon how closely Ian was listening, he could figure out that Embries is a dragon and did something horrible while Mackenzie was there. Of course, many people at the university know that Embries is a dragon, so Embries probably doesn’t care.

    At least Mackenzie can talk about what she can’t talk about without losing focus or getting ill.

    As always, I am impressed by the quality of the writing.

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      I think only details of the encounter are sealed, where as Embries nature, the location, and the fact that it was horrible are not restricted.

      Current score: 0
      • Oni says:

        Not restricted by anything other than common sense and self preservation, that is.

        Current score: 1
        • zeel says:

          Yes, and in the context of the chapter there was no reason to hide that information.

          Current score: 0
  16. Burnsidhe says:

    She’s not able to discuss exactly what happened in there. The rest, not directly identifying Embries as a dragon, etc, is her naturally shying away from the most traumatic set of memories she’s acquired to date.

    Current score: 0
  17. The one guy says:

    OhPun summed it up — if Ian was listening, he knows she walked into a literal dragon’s den. He knows she had the worst experience of her life there. He may have heard her mention Embries earlier. That could lead to some interesting conversations, especially if they talk about it in the cafeteria where other people can overhear… I don’t think Embries would be happy with being outed to the general student body.

    Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      That’s assuming Ian has all the self-preservation instincts of a mayfly. I’m pretty sure that Ian’s not stupid enough to speculate about Embries in the Commons.

      That said, it’s something of an open secret among the faculty, it seems.

      Current score: 0
  18. Arakano says:

    Btw, I know Mack could not tell anyone about her experiences with Embries, BUT!… did she tell anyone yet that what she saw there was “the single worst, most harrowing experience of my life”? Because I do not recall that she did, and it seems like revealing this in Ian’s hearing should make make him feel somewhat shocked and concerned, no?
    Poor Mack… to have such an experience and not be able to be soothed in any way for it by anyone.

    Current score: 0
  19. pedestrian says:

    Did anyone else wonder if Mackenzie communicating with the LAW
    is perhaps making a deal with one set of demons to catch another demon?

    Current score: 0
  20. Arkeus says:

    And this is pretty much why i think The Man has been engineering Mack taking charge of her life for the whole time using himself as an adversary to motivate her- every single time there is an encounter with him something profound and effective change in how she approach things.

    Every time, it is in accord to The Man’s stated goal. Looks to me like he knows what he is doing.

    Current score: 0