Chapter 128: Certain Uncertainties

on December 10, 2012 in Volume 2 Book 4: The Reinvention of Mackenzie Blaise, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Amaranth Doesn’t Know Anything

I considered going to the healing center to check on Nae, but I decided against that… if she was still unconscious and being treated there would be nothing I could do and probably nothing that anyone could tell me about her. If there was nothing wrong with her that routine healing magic couldn’t fix, then she would probably be gone by the time I got there. I would have plenty of chances to check in with her over the weekend, especially since she lived in wargaming central… which meant I knew where her room was and half the suite usually had an open door.

So instead of following Pala, I decided to take the coach’s advice to the letter… she’d called my post-combat reaction almost down to the second, so it seemed to follow that she’d know what she was talking about when it came to managing it. I needed to head back to my dorm in order to get another pair of underwear anyway, so it made sense to hop into the shower while I was there.

I could hear the sink running when I opened the door to my room, along with the sound of spectacularly tuneless humming. Two had picked up some musical habits from her friend Hazel, but not even a rudimentary amount of skill to go along with it.

Well, no one could help the way they were made… golems least of all. Two’s creator hadn’t thought she’d need an ear for tonality, or possibly he hadn’t had the skills to impart to her in the first place.

“Hi, Mack!” she called through the open door.

“Hi, Two,” I said. “How did you know it was me?”

She turned off the water and came to the doorway connecting our shared bathroom to my dorm room.

“Because Amaranth would never wear your boots outside of the dorm,” she said.

“Amaranth wears my boots?” I asked. I’d only had them for a week, and I’d been “home” a lot more often than she had. I wondered when she’d found the time.

“Not that I’m aware of,” she said. “But she wouldn’t wear them outside the dorm.”

It was pretty faultless logic, actually… I’d suspected that Amaranth occasionally tried on some of my things when no one was around, although very little of what I wore would fit her. She was bigger in just about every respect than I was. She had relatively small feet, though, and I had relatively large ones. I couldn’t imagine that my shoes would be a comfortable fit… but like Two said, she wouldn’t be walking around in them.

“Good point,” I said.

“Are you skipping your class?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “It ended early today, due to equipment trouble… I was going to take a shower before dinner. Are you going to need the bathroom for much longer?”

“No, I’m done in here,” she said. “Please leave it as clean as you found it.”

“I’ll try,” I said.
I started out with a hot shower, standing under the hot water and steam until my muscles felt halfway normal again. I turned around and let the water cascade down on my aching backside… there was no actual injury there to be soothed, but the heat did something to at least mask the pain. The pain would fade soon enough, I just needed other sensations to occupy myself until it did.

I would have liked to transition from shower to bath and really soak up the heat for a while, but I knew I’d be running into dinner time before long so I wrapped things up.

Two’s admonition had made me a bit more mindful about what I was doing that might create a mess, but I didn’t really think it was possible to use the shower and leave it as clean as it was before I used it, unless I stopped to actually clean it when I was finished… but since I’d said I would try, I did that.

It seemed kind of pointless to clean the bathroom every time it was used… but it also seemed less daunting than waiting until it was actually noticeably disgusting and then cleaning the thing top to bottom.

I didn’t have to be in too much of a hurry since I knew Nicki didn’t need to be dragged along to dinner this time. She’d joined us for lunch on her own initiative. She’d also been at the Arch for breakfast, apparently, and wondered where we had been… we’d been at the student union, of course. The old dining hall’s big-and-hearty style breakfast was its sole redeeming feature… but then, it’s hard to hide the meat when you’re dishing up a plate of bacon.

I didn’t dawdle on my way back to the towers, but I didn’t rush… getting places quickly was for people with more agility than me. My clothes lasted longer when I respected my limitations, and I felt very naked under my pants. Well, I was naked under them, and conscious of that fact with every step. I couldn’t imagine the accident or mishap that could befall me on a not-more-than-gently sloping sidewalk that would expose my lack of underwear, but I had to credit the architects of fate with more imagination than I had.

I felt quite a bit more relaxed once I had addressed my downstairs situation, and while I was waiting for the lift to take me back down to the lobby I noticed a sign next to it. It had been done in the traditional media of all really important intracampus communications, posterboard and colored markers.

These ones were scented, too. though the only scent that had really lingered enough to still penetrate was the yellow bananas. It was weird to me, because I don’t think of bananas as having a particularly strong odor.

The sign reminded residents that there was a floor meeting this Friday in the main lounge, as there was every Friday in every floor of every dorm. I tended not to notice. I’d been briefly embroiled in floor politics during my freshman year, but that had been against my will. Our resident advisor had been a xenophobe and a drunk… the only girls she’d got along with were the ones who were acceptably human-looking and down to party.

The meeting was at nine… well after we’d be done with dinner. I thought it was weird to have them at a time that pretty much guaranteed only people without the stereotypical college student social life could attend them, but then I thought maybe that was part of the point: give people something to do on a Friday night… especially the people who had nothing else to do, and the people who had things they would rather not do but would if nothing else came along.

I didn’t have anything in particular planned for the evening, even if I wasn’t completely at a loose end. And hadn’t I just been thinking to myself that I hadn’t really met any new people around the dorm yet? It was something to think about. I didn’t even know my R.A. by sight… or by name, come to think of it. It had been some weird thing.

Maybe it was time to do something about that…

Or at least, maybe it would be, after dinner.

Nicki was there when I got to the Arch, along with everyone else as I was the last one. She had the veil rolled up and tied around her upper arm like a bandage. I didn’t have to ask her if she’d had any luck flagging down her secret admirer… the brittle eagerness that lit up her eyes told me she hadn’t. Amaranth was in the process of explaining the backstory on that to Dee.

“It all seems more… circumspect… than I was given to understand was normal for the faint elves,” Dee said.

“Yeah, well, we’re talking about elves who value women and femininity over men,” Steff said. “So maybe they take after your people a little. Anyway, how do you tell someone when you’re interested in them?”

“It varies according to relative rank and station,” Dee said.

“Of course it does,” Steff said.

“One of my lovers was already an intimate member of the household,” Dee said. “Which allowed me to be… more forthright than would otherwise have been decorous. Another presented his suit to me through the intermediary of my mother, the House Matriarch, and other key relatives. My other… former lover… I approached, through the Low Priestess of the chapel where we were both pledged to serve our initiations.”

“Such a lot of middlemen,” Hazel said. “So to speak. I can’t imagine consulting with a committee just to… court.”

“No?” Dee said. “Do not the young gnomes in your shire confer with no one before they make a match?”

“Oh, well, it’s normal and respectable for a bloke to ask the parents for their blessing,” Hazel said. “And it’s only sensible to run the idea past your friends, just to make sure you’re not being completely daft. But that… that’s just ordinary prudence.”

“Of course,” Dee said. “We’re just slightly more prudent than that.”

“Who’s even talking about marriage?” Steff asked. “Like, this isn’t even relationshippy stuff… it’s just how they tell each other they want to get with each other for some quick and dirty… or at least elf-dirty… fun. It can turn into an ongoing thing or lead to something deeper, but it’s not like a proposal.”

“Well, to be honest, I’m just really hoping to get some, you know… experience,” NIcki said. “I mean, it would be nice if it turns into a relationship… assuming that we get along, I mean… but I’m not really holding out for that.”

“So, kind of the opposite of Mack,” Steff said.

“What do you mean, the opposite of me?” I asked.

“You’re going on a date and seeing if it leads to sex,” she said. “Nickster’s going on a sex and seeing if it leads to date.”

“Hold on,” I said. “I haven’t said anything about that.”

“You said if he suggested something you wanted to do, you’d go for it,” Steff said.

“Yeah,” I said. “When I meet him to talk about going somewhere. If he wants to, I don’t know, go bowling and I am… for the sake of this conversation… into bowling, I’ll go bowling with him. That’s all I meant. At this point, the only thing I’ve agreed to do is meet him in the downstairs lobby and hear him out. Sex isn’t even on the table.”

“Or other convenient horizontal surface,” Steff said. “Okay, I guess I knew that you probably meant that, on some level… but hope sproings eternal.”

“…do you mean springs?” Nicki said.

“I made my choice and I stand by it,” Steff said.

“Anyway, I don’t know if I’m ‘going on a sex’,” Nicki said. “I mean, first of all, I still need someone to come forward and claim their prize, and then… like I said, I’d want to get to know them a bit first. Even if it’s going to just be sex, I need to sit down face-to-face first… and if that’s a dealbreaker for her, that’s a dealbreaker for me.”

“So, basically, what I said was wrong in every particular,” Steff said. “Let’s talk about something else.”

“How did your fighting go today, baby?” Amaranth asked.

“Uh… smashingly?” I said. “We kind of encountered technical difficulties. I didn’t win but I didn’t lose.”

“That doesn’t sound like the Jillybean I know,” Steff said.

“I hope she never sounds like the Jillybean you know when I’m around,” I said. “But the fight was called early on account of a broken mockbox, so there wasn’t really anything to be done. I won’t know until Monday what the score is. It’s… kind of a mess, but I think I impressed her, so I’m mostly hopeful, overall.”

“Waiting and hoping,” Nicki said, looking at the flimsy cloth wrapped around her arm. “I know the feeling.”

“Oh, sweetie,” Amaranth said. “You know what they say about a watched pot… it’ll probably happen when you’re not expecting it.”

“I already did that part, though,” Nicki said. “That was yesterday, when someone shoved this thing in my hand… can’t we just move on from this?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what to tell you,” Amaranth said. “But imagine someone in the position of your admirer… if she had to work up the courage to even slip you her things in the first place, it might well take her a few days to come forward. She might even be avoiding this place right now, so she doesn’t have to face the possibility of rejection. Anyway, didn’t you just say you wanted to go slow?”

“Sure, once I have someone to go slow with,” Nicki said. “Until then it’s more like going nowhere fast. Mackenzie will probably have her first date with what’s his name before I even know whose veil I’m wearing.”

“On the positive side, if she doesn’t leave it off quite that long you could always double-date,” Hazel said.

“Oh, no,” I said. “I think a night out with Jamie Bowman’s going to be enough of a cartwreck without an audience. And I really hope Nicki’s new friend doesn’t leave her hanging until halfway through next week… that just seems cruel.”

“I’m sure she won’t,” Amaranth said. “If anything, she was probably just waiting for the weekend to make her move.”

“But it’s the weekend now,” Nicki said.

“And it will be tomorrow and Sunday, too,” Amaranth said. “Relax… this is probably just as hard for her as it is for you.”

“Wait… do you know something?” Nicki asked.

“Oh, there’s a loaded question,” Hazel said.

“I mean, has she… has anyone… approached you?”

“Oh, no,” Amaranth said. “I’m just making my best guess, really… you know, trying to be charitable and understanding about how a person might well feel, in this situation.”

“She’s telling the truth,” Steff said. “Amy’s not really much of a plotter… I mean, she could keep a secret, but she’d let you know she was keeping a secret.”

“I swear I don’t know anything more about the situation than you do,” Amaranth said. “If anybody had come to me, I would have encouraged them to approach you openly, since I don’t see any downside for anybody in that scenario.”

“Okay,” Nicki said, slightly mollified. “Sorry to jump to conclusions… but not knowing is driving me batty, you know? I mean, she knows who I am… I only know that she’s out there.”

“Or to look at it another way,” Amaranth said, “she’s sure she likes you, but she has no clue how you’ll react when you see her. So you both have that much uncertainty to deal with.”

“I guess you’re right,” Nicki said. “I probably shouldn’t judge… if I knew who she was and it was up to me to come forward and talk to her, I’d probably be taking my sweet time, too. I guess I can give her until Sunday and then… I don’t know. I feel like I’ll have to do something if the weekend comes and goes with nothing happening, I just don’t have any clue what it’ll be.”

“If you can wait that long, I’ll help you,” Amaranth said.

“How?” Nicki asked.

“I… really don’t know, either,” Amaranth said. “But we have a couple of days to figure it out.”


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37 Responses to “Chapter 128: Certain Uncertainties”

  1. Next chapter Thursday! Will probably switch to Tuesday/Friday starting next week – the new schedule’s working in general, but the flow of the weekend around the house here just makes Monday a little less convenient.

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    • Don says:

      Did the paragraph starting with “I didn’t dawdle on my way back to the towers,” get out of order during editing? It seems like it would be before the showering, after which Mack would have straightened out her undies sitch, given that she uses the present tense about being bare under her trowsers.

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      • Cadnawes says:

        Yep I caught it too. I suspect you are correct.

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      • Brenda says:

        Something is definitely out of sequence there.

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      • Ducky says:

        It felt like a bit of reminiscing to me. Like, “So I took a shower. And when I was coming home, I had no undies, but after my shower I had undies and it was rad.”

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        • Stonefoot says:

          That makes sense except that then there’s a tense error: “I didn’t have to be in too much of a hurry…” and “I didn’t dawdle on my way back to the towers…” should be “I hadn’t had to be [or ‘hadn’t been’] in too much of a hurry…” and “I hadn’t dawdled on my way back to the towers…”.

          This looks to me like the kind of ‘copy-and-paste’ error I get when I don’t notice that the text cursor isn’t where the mouse cursor is.

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      • hyrax says:

        I misread it at first, too… I think it would make more sense if it read “I hadn’t dawdled on my way back.” The perils of using past-tense narration.

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  2. Yumi says:

    It’s really just been recently, quite possibly the past couple chapters, that I’ve re-fallen in love with Tales of MU, to the extent that I was when I first found it and binge read through the chapters. I’ve started to really look forward to each new chapter coming out. Perhaps it is my time in college now that gives me a new appreciation for it, or perhaps it just hit the right note to draw me into it more. Anyway, I’m posting this before actually reading this latest chapter, but I just wanted to express my enjoyment and appreciation of this series.

    Edit: I’ve now read the chapter and
    “Oh, there’s a loaded question,” Hazel said.
    I love Hazel.

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  3. Cadnawes says:

    Editing the comment in which I pointed out a typo someone else had just caught.

    That being the case, I’d rather say that the longer the mystery elf woman waits, the more I feel I’ll like her. She could be just playing games I guess, but it’s kind of adorable to think she’s as shy as Nicki and that’s why this is hard, and therefore time consuming.

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  4. shane says:

    why doesn’t amy just give nicki the experience she’s looking for? that could be what she means by “help”

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    • Cadnawes says:

      But it seems like part of what Nicki wants is someone to belong with. I think it would be a balm to her soul to know there was someone on the planet to whose company she was always welcome.

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  5. Alico says:

    Mack seems to be dancing around what actually happened in the fighting class. It seems to me that she still does not ‘get it’ in some ways. I would think that thinking you almost killed someone by kicking them across the room, bears talking about, at least to get the feelings out. Coach Callahan wanted her to relax for a reason.

    On a side note, very nice to see Two again. Any chance of a Two’s Journal Entry story from the current year?

    Finally, I saw people talking about a retcon in the comments. Did I miss something?

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    • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

      Yeah, I’ve been really missing Two, myself. Hopefully she’ll start eating with the group more again.

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    • Ducky says:

      People are calling “retcon” on things that were never established as canon in the first place. Y’know, the semester we never saw.

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      • Alico says:

        Ah, I see. Not retcon, then, just revealing the scandalous little tidbits. Would be nice to see that bit as an OT, though. Maybe from Jamie’s point of view?

        Oh, not that I don’t like seeing from Mack’s point of view. It’s just…sometimes her view is a little…skewed.

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        • Anne says:

          Actually I’d like to see it from both perspectives, after all neither Mack nor Jamie seems at all apt to tell unflattering truths…

          But by seeing both you might get an idea of what actually happened.

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        • Stonefoot says:

          “It’s just…sometimes her view is a little…skewed.”

          Everyone’s view is a little skewed. For some value of ‘little’….

          One of the things I like best about ToMU is how there are characters from many different backgrounds with many different viewpoints, and we know enough about them to see how, based on their own experience, their viewpoints are all quite reasonable. And then how they interact when they have to deal with each other and learn about other viewpoints.

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          • Alico says:

            I did not say it was a bad thing. The skew in views is actually one of my favorite things about this story, as it keeps it realistic and true to the character. It’s just that changing that view once in a while so we get a clearer picture of what is going on is also nice.

            Also, while I agree that it may not be the best thing to chat about during dinner, a simple whisper to Amy or Steff about talking about it later would show that Mack is being attentive about it. Having the class brought up and not mentioning, or even giving much of a hint that something so drastic happened, is what I have a problem with.

            Really, this is the same issue that Mack had with her Demon Hunger. She avoided talking about it, so in some cases, forgot about it and let it get really bad. She is turning over a new leaf, but some old habits die hard.

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            • Stonefoot says:

              I agree entirely.

              And, yes, old habits do die hard. I’m currently doing battle with some that (I thought) I had killed several times in the past. (They are weakened, but not yet vanquished.)

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    • Anthony says:

      Request seconded for another Two’s Journal entry.

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  6. pedestrian says:

    “Or other convenient horizontal surface,” Steff said. “Okay, I guess I knew that you probably meant that, on some level… but hope sproings eternal.”

    In our pet demongirl’s case shouldn’t this be
    “hope sproings infernal”?

    And I am surprised at the intimation{intimate-tation?} that
    Amy hasn’t been giving Nicki that divinely personal tutoring
    the poor girl has been craving.

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    • Erianaiel says:

      I had the impression that what Nicki was looking for most of all was a girlfriend.
      Amaranth can teach her many fun things, but she is not good girlfriend material. By divine edict even.

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    • Cadnawes says:

      I doubt Nicki has asked her. It sounds like she’d like to get to know someone before sex and she doesn’t know Amaranth that well yet. And although it’s not weird to Amaranth or Mack, it might feel weird to a friend of Mack’s to sleep with her girlfriend.

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  7. Anthony says:

    It seems a bit strange that no one’s mentioned this yet, but isn’t there a pretty strong chance, especially withn what we know about elves and their personality traits, that Nicki’s secret admirer doesn’t actually have anything constructive in mind?

    Considering that the only elf we know who’s not *completely* screwed up is Dee, who comes from a totally different culture, I’d guess that whoever it is thinks it would be really funny to [humiliate/break the heart of/harm/enslave, Iason-style] this poor, lonely human girl.

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    • Stonefoot says:

      That’s certainly possible, but I think the ‘actually interested’ scenario is more likely, if only because it would lead to more interesting plot developments.

      But if it is what you suggest, “I pity da foo’.” If someone was messing with Nicki, I think Mack, Amaranth, Dee, and Steff (each for their own reasons) would have her back. And you don’t want to go up against any one of them, let alone all four.

      I can see something like:
      Amaranth: (sad and pleading) This is all just a misunderstanding. You could share so much love if you’d only try.
      Dee: (calm and deliberate) What you are doing is not right. I would prefer that you see reason and walk away, but if you come after Nicki you will have to go through me.
      Steff: (gleefully) Ooh! This is going to be fun!
      Mack: (nervous but determined) Don’t hurt Nicki! Please, please, PLEASE don’t make me hurt you!

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      • Anthony says:

        Readers: (gleefully) Ooo! This is going to be fun to watch!

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  8. Stonefoot says:

    Alico said: “I would think that thinking you almost killed someone by kicking them across the room, bears talking about….” Yes, but probably not during dinner.

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    • Seth says:

      Then you ask to be excused from dinner while you make a reflection to the healing center. Priorities…

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      • pedestrian says:

        Health professional’s are strictly limited about what and if and to whom they are permitted to provide information about patients and treatments.

        Remember the Muniverse is infested with lawyers and related vermin. These parasites must be contagious throughout the macro-universe.

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        • Erianaiel says:

          Perhaps, but the MUniverse has at least one awesome lawyer as well (Jenkins, we miss you …)

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  9. That one guy says:

    I know just what Mackenzie and Nicki are feeling, I too am waiting with bated breath for each new update. I wish I had a time machine so I could just fast forward to next year then read all the updates. Although, that would then leave me without any updates for the next year, since I would have already read them. This whole time travel thing isn’t seeming like a really plausible resolution.

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    • Author_Unknown says:

      Ah see that is where you are making a mistake. You don’t just go one year. You go many years, get *all* the updates and a cryogenic pod. After you read it all, just you go into the pod until AE is reincarnated as something with internet access and opposable thumbs.

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      • JS says:

        If you have a time machine, you don’t need a cryogenic pod. You just use the time machine to go however far forward you need to.

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  10. Anvildude says:

    “it’s hard to hide the meat when you’re dishing up a plate of bacon.”

    I’m not quite sure what this is supposed to mean, but I love the phrase anyway.

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  11. helen rees says:

    typo alert

    “No?” Dee said. “Do not the young gnomes in your shire confer with no one before they make a match?”

    ‘do not’ and ‘no one’ in the same sentence messes up the intended meaning

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