Chapter 108: Getting By With A Little Help

on August 22, 2012 in Volume 2 Book 4: The Reinvention of Mackenzie Blaise, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which A Plan Comes Together

“Do that,” Ian said. “Just do exactly that.”

“What?” I said.

“Get past Ariadne,” he said. “Just blow right past her. Don’t look at her, don’t say anything to her… if she says anything to you or reacts to your presence in any way, just ignore her. Then she can’t do a thing, and the worst she can say is that you were rude… which might be a problem if she was your professor, but she’s not. There isn’t actually some chain of command that connects you.” He looked at Two. “Am I right? There’s not like some obscure rule that students have to obey instructions from faculty members or something, is there?”

“No, there isn’t,” Two said. “Proper respect is part of the advisory portion of the student code of conduct, not a university rule with an enforcement clause.”

“Okay, but we all know that she will do something and she will say worse than Mack was rude,” Steff said. “Right? I mean, we’re not counting on rational behavior here, are we?”

“No, but we can make sure she looks as irrational as she is,” Ian said. “Right?”

“That’s… actually pretty much what I’m planning on doing,” I said. “Just going about my business like it’s my business and I don’t have any kind of hostile relationship with a random teacher who happens to keep her office in the same place seems like the best idea. I mean, I already sent Professor Stone an a-mail from the hall so there’s a record of what I was doing there, and why I’m going back… that’s not exactly going out of my way since I hate to drop in on somebody without setting it up beforehand anyway. I don’t know what else I’m prepared to do, and I don’t think doing too much more would be a good idea, on any level.”

“A witness wouldn’t be amiss, though, I’m thinking,” Hazel said. “Otherwise it’s apt to be your word against hers, and her word has all those extra letters trailing after it. Seems to me like they might carry a bit of weight in a place like this.”

“That’s an excellent point, Hazel,” Amaranth said. “You wouldn’t mind doing it, would you?”

“Me? Er, of course I don’t mind at all,” Hazel said. “I can’t stand bullies, me… but I’d think there’d be plenty of people here who’d queue up before me for this one. After all, I’m not… oh, right. I follow.”

“Yeah, you’re not actually in a relationship with Mack,” Amaranth said. “You’re close enough to be tagging along with her, but not so close that people will be inclined to immediately dismiss what you say as biased.”

“Sure, everyone who knows anything about me knows that I’m Two’s friend Hazel,” she said. “Friend with your suitemate and former roommate. Not exactly inseparable.”

“And… also… your distance might make you less likely to react in anger if she does say or do something. Of course, you alsohave an advantage when it comes to maturity,” Amaranth said. She swallowed, and I understood that she was making a somewhat costly admission by saying this. “I mean, I’ve been an adult for my whole existence, but you’ve had twice that time to grow up. I think Dee might make a good witness for all of these reasons, too… but…”

“But the enmity our tribes of elves have traditionally held for each other would make for a ready excuse, in the same way that your relationship with Mackenzie does,” Dee said. “Hazel is a wise choice.”

“Thank you,” Hazel and Amaranth both said at the same time.

“Anyway, the other thing is, you’re… fairly unobtrusive?” Amaranth said. “I mean, maybe it’s better that nothing happens, but if Ariadne is inclined to do something, it might be best if someone can see how she reacts when she thinks no one is looking. I mean, I don’t think the basement hallway is so isolated that she’ll have a ‘perfect crime’ moment… especially in a building where elven students congregate, she’ll know she’s not that alone. But she might be less guarded about how she acts.”

“I don’t know,” Steff said. “I’m actually liking this idea less and less. If she gets stabby or blasty, it’s not going to be because she sees Mack, stops to twirl her moustache, and delivers a monologue about how at last she has a chance to rid the world of her hated foe and none will be the wiser. It’s going to be because she sees her coming down the hall and thinks, ‘OH SHIT THE DEMON IS COMING FOR ME LIKE I KNEW IT WOULD ALL ALONG’, with the actual stabbing or blasting happening somewhere about midway through the ‘OH’.”

“I don’t know,” I said. The conversation seemed to have progressed pretty far pretty quickly without a lot of input from me. “I think her deal is actually a lot more… petty and vengeful, than mortal terror? Just based on the things she’s done and the things I suspect her of doing… sending notes to my teachers, or making trouble for them.”

“What makes you think it’s all one or the other?” Steff asked. “It takes a lot of hate to fear someone that much, and a lot of fear to hate them. She wants you gone, she wants you taken care of, she wants something to happen and her attempts to work halfway semi within the rules of officialdom aren’t getting her anywhere…”

“That’s got to be frustrating,” I said, “but…”

“Do you know what frustration is, when you’re dealing with something that scares you?” Steff asked. “It’s terror. Nothing works, nothing helps, nothing you do can stop it…”

“I think you’re exaggerating a little,” I said.

“Yeah? I’ve been beaten within an inch of my life by people who hated me, and when I looked up into their eyes… from the ground, where I was bloody and broken… I know what I saw,” Steff said. “They were terrified. It’s not that hatred leads to fear or fear leads to hatred, or anything like that. It’s that they feed each other. People who hate use fear to prop up their hatred, to justify it to themselves and others. People who fear come to hate what they fear… who they fear, for making them feel afraid. It all adds together.”

“That… sounds about right,” Hazel said.

“Yes, I agree,” Dee said.

“Okay, so I don’t disagree,” I said. “But I can’t make my life about her and trying to guess what she’s going to do or not do, or trying to avoid provoking a reaction by existing. I’m not going to wave a red flag in her face, but I’m not going to pretend that she’s justified in acting like my presence at a public university is a red flag all by itself. I mean, would you?”

“No!” Steff said. “You know I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be here… I wouldn’t be anywhere… if I cared that much what people think about me.”

“Then what should I do?”

“Be careful,” she said.

“Look, I’ll go right after lunch tomorrow,” I said. “The building will be full of people, you’ll all probably still be nearby anyway…”

“That’s right,” Amaranth said. “Steff and Dee will be near enough to know if anything goes wrong, and they’re both fast enough to get there in time.”

“If we are weighing the risks in full, it is worth considering that Professor Ariadne is an elf, as well,” Dee said. “And that while her area of expertise is academic, she is a sorceress with a considerable advantage when it comes to experience.”

“Okay… those are good points,” I said. “But there are seriously limits to how far I can take this. I mean, I have a life to live, and classes to get to, and a whole world with lots of people in it who may or may not see me as a lethal threat and may or may not feel justified doing something about that. I think the chance that any one of them is just going to haul off and blow me away out of the blue is one of those things you can’t really plan for. ”

“But the idea that she’d do something is a lot less hypothetical,” Amaranth said. “I mean, we already know for sure about one action she’s taken against you so far this year.”

“Yeah, and that’s why I don’t mind taking reasonable precautions,” I said.

“Like I said, just breeze right past her,” Ian said.

“I suppose since it is you we’re talking about, there’s a good chance it’ll all add up to nothing anyway,” Steff said. “I mean, you’re practically the queen of the anticlimax… how many times have you expected a big hairy confrontation and then it ended up being nothing?”

“How many times have I expected nothing and ended up in an extradimensional dungeon or something like that?” I asked.

“Twice,” Two said. “Or three times, allowing for a slightly expanded definition of ‘something like that’.”

“Thank you, sweetie,” Amaranth said.

“You’re welcome.”

“This is my point,” I said. “It’s pointless to try to figure out if Professor Ariadne is going to ignore me or scream and pull a wand on me or what, if she even happens to be there out in the hall when I’m going by. The line between burying my head in the sand and being paralyzed with awareness of danger all around me is not actually all that fine, it’s wide enough to accommodate a very wide range of responses and that’s where you’ll find me.”

For a while nobody said anything, and I wondered if I’d unknowingly said something rude or shocking. I tried to run back over what I’d just said in my head, but couldn’t find anything wrong with it.

“What?” I said.

“Well…” Amaranth said. “I think we’re just trying to figure out what you want us to do.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “I haven’t asked anyone to do anything, have I?”

“Not specifically,” Amaranth said. “But…”

“But you do kind of have a habit…” Ian started to say.

“A habit of what?” I prompted, only after he’d trailed off completely and failed to pick it up again.

“Well, you have this tendency to let Amaranth or someone figure out how to solve your problems, and then everyone else… I mean, we don’t mind,” he said. “I think we all would have said something by now if we didn’t want to help.”

“Yeah, and it’s not like you never help with our problems, too,” Steff said.

“On occasion,” Hazel said.

“There is nothing wrong with relying on the strength of one’s friends,” Dee said. “I take it as a token of respect akin to a compliment that I have been able to extricate you from so many difficulties over the course of our acquaintance.”

“I don’t honestly need rescuing all that often, do I?” I asked.

“Please treat that question as rhetorical, Two,” Amaranth said.

“Okay,” Two said. “It works well as a rhetorical question because its existence helps to establish the position that Mack needs rescuing with a greater frequency than the average person would.”

“When people say ‘rhetorical question’, they mostly just mean a question you’re not meant to answer, love,” Hazel said.

“Okay, okay,” I said. “In the past, maybe we’ve had a lot of conversations that started out like this and they… went off in that sort of direction. But right now, I just… the fact that I have this problem, this potential problem, it doesn’t actually require any action from anyone. I’m not in trouble and I don’t need to be… extricated.”

“So you don’t want me to come along, then?”

“No, that was a good idea,” I said. “I really don’t have a problem with that. I wasn’t looking for it, but I can’t see it hurting.”

“And you don’t want me and Dee standing by to swoop in if things go bad?” Steff asked.

“Well… okay, I will feel better if I know you’re around,” I said. “But look, that’s as far as this needs to go, okay? And from now on if I really need help I’ll ask for it. I mean, sometimes I’m just kind of thinking out loud by stating a problem. I don’t actually need a whole elaborate plan for getting past Ariadne.”

“Right, like I said, you can just walk right past her,” Ian said.

“Yeah, but I was going to do that anyway,” I said.

“I’m sure you can handle this on your own, baby,” Amaranth said. “I mean, you were on your own for months over the summer.”

“That’s right, I was,” I said.

“And this time you know that we’ll all be there to catch you when you fall,” she said.

If,” Hazel said, managing to disguise it as a cough in a way that would have been one hundred percent successful if coughing was something that sounded at all like the word “if”.

“Well, of course I don’t think you’re going to fall this time,” Amaranth said. “Necessarily. It’s just that it’s inevitable that at some point you will… what I mean is, everyone will… you know, what Dee said about relying on friends, it’s very true for everyone.”

“Thank you,” I said, because it seemed like the only way to end the conversation. “Thank you for being there for me, now and every time before, and all the times you will again… but this is something I really want to do on my own, okay?”

“So, you don’t want me to tag along, then?” Hazel asked.

“No, that’s still a good idea.”

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30 Responses to “Chapter 108: Getting By With A Little Help”

  1. Alyxe says:

    -giggle- Hazel really does not seem to want to go, does she? Good chapter.

    Current score: 0
    • blink says:

      I don’t think it’s that, more the fact that she volunteered to go out of her way to help Mack and then Mack keeps reiterating that she’s doing it “on her own” which sounds totally ungrateful to Hazel.

      Yet another chapter that reinforces how much I despise Mack. It’s funny how much I love this story but I absolutely can’t stand the main character in any way…but this chapter was amazingly written and also reinforced just how much I love Hazel, Two, Ian, and Dee.

      Also, I’m not a Steff fan, but that one paragraph just made my heart hurt. I’d never be friends with Steff in a million years but reading that just made me want to reach out and give her the biggest hug.

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  2. JN says:

    I have no idea where you’re going with this one. I could be anything from, “She wasn’t even there,” to “Ariadne froze me in the hallway to keep me from getting to the meeting,” to “Oh, SHIT!!” (pyroblast). (The rhythm of things makes it feel like the blast would be on shit, not oh. Sorry Steff.)

    How shall I ever find out?

    Current score: 0
    • Oniwasabi says:

      Pyroblast would be a very poor choice unless Ariadne is secretly terrified of Hazel instead of Mack ^_^

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      • Potatohead says:

        Do we know if Mac’s immunity to fire extends to magically conjured fire? I seem to vaguely remember the green fire Sooni threw at her hurting.

        Speaking of which, what happened to Sooni?

        Current score: 1
        • fka_luddite says:

          Non-magical attacks hurt but don’t injure.

          Current score: 1
        • zeel says:

          That wasn’t fire, it was generic “force”.

          Current score: 1
      • JN says:

        Cone of Cold?

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        • Dashel says:

          If you want to go with one version of D&D’s cosmology, Cone of Life and Cold or more insidious, Portal to Heaven.

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        • blink says:

          Presuming you’re talking about the WoW versions of these spells, I think a deep freeze/shatter combo would work quite well 🙂

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      • JN says:

        Ha, better idea!

        It’s not “Oh, shit,” pyroblast; it’s “I have you now!” pyroblast. By the time anyone gets there to see what’s going on, Mack is wreathed in flames and pissed off, and they are just in time to see Ariadne kill her in “self-defense.” But Hazel bashes a mace into her knee before she can deliver the finishing blow.


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  3. AK says:

    Of course, you alsohave an advantage when it comes to maturity,”
    Might want to put a space between also and have.

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    • Lunaroki says:

      Typo Report

      The line between burying my head in the sand and being paralyzed with awareness of danger all around me is not actually all that fine, it’s wide enough to accommodate a very wide range of responses and that’s where you’ll find me.”

      Run-on sentence runs on. While I can imagine Mack talking like this I would personally break it up into two separate sentences between “fine” and “it’s”.

      Current score: 0
      • Rin says:

        I probably would have put a semicolon there, both in writing and in speech. Not quite a full break, but not a rambling run-on either.

        Current score: 0
  4. Iain says:

    “Please treat that question as rhetorical, Two,” Amaranth said.

    I think of this statement as coming quickly and almost automatically. It had me laughing! 😀

    Current score: 1
  5. Sapphite says:

    This is one of the few lunch scenes I can remember where almost everyone had dialogue, and it’s artfully interwoven (like the above comment re: question as rhetorical).


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  6. Maahes0 says:

    I liked the contrast from last year. Everyone is still in Mission Impossible mode, except poor Mack who was trying to make conversation.

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  7. genericIntent says:

    Hazel cracks me up!

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  8. Brenda says:

    I figured it was going to be anticlimactic – but now they’ve TALKED about it probably being anticlimactic – so now who knows what could happen!

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  9. DPO says:

    I am surprised that they did not land on the idea of having Two go along, since golems are regarded as perfect witnesses.

    Current score: 0
    • JN says:

      Situationally or conditionally perfect. If the questioners are honorable and get to them first, fine. If someone else has a chance to give them instructions before the officials, or the officials themselves have an agenda…

      Besides, she thinks of Mack “like a sister”, and enough people know of this and Two’s ever-growing independence to make them wonder if, while she probably wouldn’t quite lie, she might want to withhold things or shade them in Mack’s favor.


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  10. Zathras IX says:

    People who fear come
    To hate who they fear for all
    The fear that they feel

    Current score: 0
  11. Mime says:

    So I have to ask, what is the second of the two for sure dungeons Mack has been into when not meaning to?

    The Labyrinth is the first.
    The Emily Center is the loose definition.

    Current score: 0
    • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

      I was wondering that, too. Thanks for pointing out the Emily Center for the loose definition, I’d been wondering. What could the second one be, though? Did wacky hijinks ensue in the timeskip?

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    • fka_luddite says:

      Embries’ lair.

      Although the others have only inferential knowledge of that event.

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      • P says:

        Didn’t Mack go to a bdsm dungeon? -_-

        Current score: 1
        • Da9iel says:

          Do her adventures with the pitchfork entity count? Though that was surely more like a dungeon to Dee, wasn’t it?

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          • Karen says:

            I would guess 1. Is the time she was locked in the medical center. 2. The labyrnth. 3. The Emily center

            Current score: 1
  12. Arkeus says:

    Very annoyed by someone like Amaranth or Two saying this, as they actually needed more rescuing than Mack did.

    Current score: 0