269: Twenty Four Hour News

on August 16, 2008 in Book 10

In Which No News Is Good News

Few students had vehicles so there was only thirty minute street parking in front of the nexus complex, for people dropping stuff off or picking it up. Nevertheless, the hired coach couldn’t even get close to the curb, there were so many carts and wagons. Most of them had the logos of news outlets on them, but there were quite a few law enforcement vehicles, as well.

“Oh, shit,” Steff said. There was a muffled shout, and then a surge of people in our direction, reporters followed by beleaguered campus guards trying to do crowd control. “It’s a circus out there, and guess who’s in the center ring?”

“I guess your arrest is more interesting than my disappearance,” I said to Dee.

I was starting to feel a little queasy and weak in the knees… I’d only recently started to get over my aversion to being the center of attention, and the thought of being scrutinized by so many strangers at once… strangers who would be broadcasting my face and stunned-bunny reactions all over the province or further… was triggering my old reflexes.

“No, last Friday’s drama just caught them napping,” Steff said. “But arrests are public record, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they put spotters on campus after that went down in case there was a follow-up.”

“Where one pebble falls, the ceiling may follow,” Dee said.

“Is that anything like ‘It never rains but it pours?'” Steff asked.

“Perhaps,” Dee said. “In an event, as little as I desire to be caught in this deluge, I see very little choice.”

“What’s the point of having friends in low places if they can’t hide you away from prying eyes?” Steff asked.

“Oh, it would be well within the power of the forsaken goddess to wrap us in a cloak of invisibility, but that would hardly be conducive to Mackenzie’s continued well-being,” Dee said.

“So, you can still do yourself,” I said.

“And their attention will then fall upon you,” Dee said. “I cannot see a positive outcome from that, for either of us.”

“I say do it,” Steff said. “But just you… I’ll stay with Mack and keep her from saying or doing anything stupider than normal.”

“Hey!” I protested.

“You aren’t exactly graceful under pressure,” Steff said. “Anyway, Dee, you guys are already linked in their minds… if they see you arriving together, who knows what they’ll make of it?”

“They already saw us departing in each other’s company,” Dee said.

“So if they see Mack and me getting out of the coach, it might confuse them,” Steff said. “Stop them from trying to scale the walls and storm the battlements, since they won’t know for sure you’re in there.”

“Anyway, invisible or not, you’d still have to open the doors,” I said. “If both Steff and I are visible, they’ll just see us holding them for each other.”

“Very well,” Dee said. “You may wish to avert your eyes and move away.”

I slid as far into the corner of the bench as I could and closed my eyes. There was an uncomfortable feeling of pins and needles on my skin, coming from the direction of Dee. When it subsided, I opened my eyes.

“I don’t think it completely worked,” I said. I could still see Dee, though I could see the upholstery behind her. “I can see you a little.”

“Are you kidding?” Steff asked. “Girl is gone, and I know my eyesight’s better than yours.”

“Interesting,” Dee said. “Well, I have faith that my disguise will be sufficient for the mass of humanity outside. Let us please make haste, so I do not have to continue to impose on my goddess’s generosity for selfish purposes.”

“You first,” I said to Steff. “They’ll swarm me.”

“I don’t think these piranhas are that picky,” Steff said, “but okay.”

The cops and guards had managed to get the reporters to stand back a bit, giving us enough room to get the door open without being immediately grabbed. Steff unlocked the door, opened it halfway, and popped the lock closed again in one fluid motion. She slid out, leaving a space which Dee was able to squeeze through, and then I followed. We closed the door behind us.

Recording crystals and shouted questions were shoved at us from all directions.

“Miss Delia Daella will be making a statement as soon as she’s finished composing herself,” Steff said. She grabbed my hand and we started forward. “Please… everything we have to say is in the manifesto we gave the Gazetteer. You’ll have to get a copy from them.”

“Steff,” I hissed. “What are you doing?”

“Fucking with them,” she whispered back. Out loud, she shouted, “Please, for the last time, she was dead when we got there and we don’t know who the father is!”

Then she yanked my hand and broke into a dead run, dragging me along. There were a few last attempts to shove phonetic crystals into our faces, and then the mass of reporters turned to swarm around the coach again, just as its wheels started to turn. It rolled about half a foot and then stopped as it was completely surrounded. They were tapping on the windows and actually pulling on the door handle that Steff had prudently locked.

The doors into the nexus hallway were blocked by barricades and a trio of guardsmen, so we headed for the steps leading down to the sunken patio and the front entrance of Harlowe. There was a rope across it and signs reading “Harlow Staff And Residence Only”… sic… and a single guard who lifted the rope to let us past.

“How can they expect people to receive an education in an ambience such as this?” Dee whispered in my ear. “The public’s supposed right to know apparently trumps our right to learn.”

“I’m surprised they aren’t out trying to stalk Harlowe students between classes or something,” I said as we reached the shaded courtyard. “It’s not like most of us don’t stick out.”

“Quiet, you’ll give them ideas,” Steff said as she opened the door of the basement common lounge. Dozens of heads whipped around to watch us coming in. The lounge was full of people from both sides of all the floors.

“Baby!” Amaranth cried, running towards me.

Steff whipped me around by the arm and flung me towards her.

“Let’s have the joyful reunion away from the windows,” she said as Amaranth and I collided with each other with a pair of grunts. Steff herded us further back into the lounge while Amaranth smothered my face with kisses. I tried to sink into her with my customary level of appreciation, but I was feeling restless and prickly.

“Hi, Mack! Hi, Steff! Hi, Dee!” Two called.

“Hi, Two!” Steff and I said.

“Hello, Two,” Dee said. As soon as she was out of the pool of light that spilled through the front wall, she canceled her invisibility. Instantly we were bombarded with questions from our classmates

“You’re in here?” Hazel called, from the top of one of the couches. “That lot’s still out there hammering on that goatless carriage of yours.”

“Honey, I thought I told you to get off the back of that couch,” Kiersta said.

“It’s Hazel, and you told me to get off the back of that couch,” Hazel said, pointing. “I’d sit on the cushions, but people kept sitting on me.”

“Just get down,” Kiersta said, and Hazel slid off to land lightly on her bare feet.

“Didn’t anybody go to classes today?” I asked.

“We all got hit as soon as we set foot out the door,” Amaranth said. “There were camera crews shooting stuff around the student union yesterday evening, and then it just exploded today. They called in campus security, and we’ve been down here watching the news ever since.”

“How much could they have had to report?” I asked.

“Not much, but they find ways to pad it out,” Hazel said. “Our illustrious student senate representative has been giving interviews, for instance… and once they got a glimpse of yourself in the square, they’ve had a bunch of jumped-up experts to remind us every three minutes that there is absolutely no evidence that dark elves worship demons.”

“How can these fools believe that there is any room in my heart for the worship of infernal beings when it has been consecrated since birth to the forsaken one?” Dee asked.

“Well… just off the top of my head?” Steff said. “It can’t help that you call your goddess ‘the forsaken one’.”

“It is the closest translation,” Dee said. “The inherently imprecise nature of human language is hardly my fault.”

“What about ‘neglected one’?” Amaranth suggested.

“It lacks moment,” Dee said.

“Forgotten?” Amaranth said.

“Arakhis hasn’t been forgotten by the faint elves… she simply isn’t worshipped by them,” Dee said.

“How about ‘the loneliest goddess’, then?” Amaranth said.

“My goddess is not lonely,” Dee said.

“Well, do you know for sure?” Amaranth said. “I mean, how often do you talk to her, just to say hello?”

“I am sorry, but I am really not shopping for new epithets for my goddess at the moment, thank you all the same,” Dee said.

“Just trying to help,” Amaranth said. She started fussing with my hair.

“Ow, you’re pulling it,” I said.

“You’ve got tangles,” she said. “Do you ever brush your hair, baby?”

“I do,” I said. “Sometimes.”

“We kind of left in a hurry when we saw Dee on TV,” Steff said.

“For that, I am grateful,” Dee said.

“I’m sorry you had to cut your date short,” Amaranth said. “I know you were looking forward to it… well, at least you had the night, right?”

“Oh, Khersis, do we have some things to tell you about, once we’re alone,” Steff said. “With all the other stuff going, I almost forgot about it. I guess it never rains unless the ceiling’s caving in.”

“Huh?” Amaranth said.

“I’m being culturally diverse,” Steff said. “Though, I kind of think that almost makes sense on its own.”

“Come on, let’s head upstairs,” Amaranth said. “I’m sure Dee would like to be back in her own room.”

“Yes, thank you,” Dee said. “Though, under differing circumstances, the cell I was held in might have been somewhat soothing, being isolated and underground.”

“You poor thing, can I make you a cup of tea?” Hazel said.

“I would not like to put you out,” Dee said.

“Oh, I was going to get some myself, and it’s as easy to heat two cups of water as one,” Hazel said. “And Honey has this fancy blend she gets from one of her teachers… anybody else want some?”

“Yes, please,” Two said. “And… make it snappy!”

“Still not funny, love,” Hazel said.

Steff and I boggled at Two… though, once I recovered from my shock, I was more surprised that Amaranth hadn’t said anything about this strange lapse in manners. I looked at her curiously.

“Hazel tried to teach Two a joke,” she said. “But I don’t think she quite understood it.”

“I think my version is funny,” Two said.

“No, but you see, the original is funny because it’s turtle soup, and there’s such a thing as a snapping turtle,” Hazel said. “But tea doesn’t snap.”

“I know,” Two said. “That should make it funnier, right?”

“Well, it doesn’t,” Hazel said.

“I don’t see why,” Two said.

“Two, hon, nobody understands why things are funny or not,” Steff said. “We just know that they are.”

“Why can’t I?”

“Your perceptions are different from ours,” Dee said. “We are able to see the humor in things…”

“Sometimes,” Steff interjected.

“…just as you were able to see me when I was wrapped in an aura of invisibility.”

“Oh, okay,” Two said. With her mollified, the six of us headed upstairs.

“C’mon, Two, you can help me get the tea together,” Hazel said when we arrived on the fifth floor.

“Okay,” Two said.

“It won’t take but a minute,” Hazel said. “Would you like to take it in your room?”

Dee looked at Amaranth and Steff and me, and then said, “I would prefer to not be left alone with my thoughts at this juncture, if my presence would not be unappreciated.”

“You can come with us… it’s not like we could keep a discussion in Mack’s room private from you, anyway,” Steff said. She looked at me. “Right, Mack?”

“And you might have some insight into something,” I said, thinking of Mercy and her claimed heritage.

“Eave-lay it-way alone-way, Ack-may,” Steff whispered in pig draconian.

“Why don’t you get things ready in your room and we’ll join you in a bit?” Amaranth suggested to Hazel, who was still standing there waiting for an answer.

“Right, we’ll have a proper little welcome back party,” Hazel said. She headed towards her room. “Come along, Two.”

“Okay,” Two said.

Honey popped out of Oru and Shiel’s room.

“Oh, Hazel, the woman on the telly is saying… oh!” Her eyes widened when she saw Dee. “They said you’d fled.”

“That would be our conveyance returning to its point of origin, I believe,” Dee said. “It was a necessary deception.”

“We were just about to make some tea,” Hazel said. “You lot want to join us? Oru could bring her set in so we can keep up with the show.”

“I don’t know if that would be a good idea,” Honey said, her eyes unmistakably flicking towards me. Considering that the last time I’d seen Oru, she’d used my leg as a chew toy, I had to agree.

“If nobody else objects, I’d rather avoid the ongoing coverage,” Dee said.

“Oh, well, it’s not like they have anything to say, anyway,” Hazel said. “All morning long, they just kept repeating the same little loops of the courthouse and the outside of Harlowe, with statements from anybody on campus who would talk to them.”

“Which were mostly humans and ‘Miss Suzune’,” Honey said, her nose wrinkling in distaste.

“And that harpy of an elven professor,” Hazel said.

“Excuse me,” Shiel said, pushing past Honey. “But I don’t think it’s necessary to impugn an entire race of sentient beings by using their name as a derogatory term… especially given the inherently sexist connotations implied by using an overwhelmingly female race.”

“Er, right,” Hazel said. “Shan’t do that again, sorry.”

“Anyway, now they’re mostly showing the clips of you two arriving,” Honey said. “They have quite an interesting little ‘fact file’ that’s been put together over the past few hours, Miss Mackenzie.”

“What are they saying?” I asked.

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Hazel said. “It’s mostly just a bunch of outrageous rubbish that they made up… and some slightly more outrageous rubbish that they didn’t. If anybody believes a word of it, it won’t be the bits that are true.”

“Great,” I said. “Is this just on the local news?”

“I don’t know,” Honey said.

“Some of those wagons had the INN logo on them,” Steff said.

Shit,” I said.

I could just picture my grandmother’s reaction to seeing my face on the news, linked to a naked dark elf scandal. Actually, I couldn’t picture it… anything I came up with would probably fall short of the reality by a wide margin. The only minor bit of consolation was that she would probably not be able to identify Steff as anything other than an ordinary female half-elf.

Somehow, I suspected, she’d find that objectionable enough.

“Oh, baby, don’t pout,” Amaranth said. “I know it’s a little embarrassing to be held up in front of the whole Imperium like that, but who cares what a bunch of people you’ve never even met think about you?”

“It’s not those people I’m worried about,” I said. “I’m just trying to imagine what my grandmother would say about all this.”

“Is your grandmother by any chance named Martha, Miss Mackenzie?” Honey asked, her head turned halfway inside the door.

“Uh… yeah,” I said. “Why?”

“I don’t think you have to imagine,” Honey said. “She’s on the telly now.”


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9 Responses to “269: Twenty Four Hour News”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Now thats an interesting tidbit, that TWO also could see Dee through her invisibility cloaking, well enough to identify her. I would guess as part of her Wizard programming?

    Mackenzie’s ability to see the cloak outline is probably an infernal ability.

    Current score: 2
    • Anthony says:

      Well, we already know shed’s got low-light vision. See Invisible wouldn’t be too out of place for her….

      Current score: 1
    • Daezed says:

      Both Two and Mackenzi have, to some extent, the ability to ‘see (in) darkness’ so to speak, or a certain version of ‘night vision,’ whereas Steff for example has great vision but needs some light for it to function.

      Dee is a dark-elf and her goddess could be assumed to be a ‘dark’ (in terms of varying degrees of light and dark, not good or evil) goddess.

      For all intents and purposes, assuming my premise is correct, Dee was ‘wrapped in darkness…..’

      Perhaps it is presumptuous, but I can’t help thinking that these two have a connection, and that perhaps that is why those two could ‘see’ her, while others couldn’t…?

      Current score: 1
      • Nicholas says:

        Depending on how closely the abilities match with traditional D&D, the Drow race have the ability to cast Darkness as a spell-like ability, and Tieflings have Darkvision, which would match up. Mind you, a moving cloud of anti-light would be just as noticeable as carrying around a torch, so it would appear that she either has an equivalent of Hide in Plain Sight, or can simply cast Invisibility as a spell-like ability and Mackenzie and Two both have See Invisible.

        Current score: 0
        • Moridain says:

          Tieflings don’t have infinite/magic DR though, so I suspect she has something else in mind.

          Current score: 0
    • Anon says:

      I’d guess that True Seeing or immunity to illusions of concealment is part of the demon package, to solidify their position as the ultimate hunters of humanity. Meanwhile, a good enchanter’s assistant might as well have True Seeing built in if it doesn’t cost too much more; it’s helpful around the office and saves an item slot.

      Alternate explanation: magical sister powers.

      Current score: 1
  2. Duke says:

    Mackenzie could also just be reacting to the fact that Dee’s invisibility spell is divine in origin. Think about it: If an infernal couldn’t see divine magic, they would kill themselves more frequently on warded buildings thresholds.

    Current score: 2
    • C says:

      None of the story so far supports this hypothesis.

      Current score: 2
  3. Jechtael says:

    Oh dear. That’s all I have to say about the last sentence of the chapter. Oh dear.

    I meant to say this earlier, but forgot, and Mackenzie’s comment to Dee reminded me: I wonder if part surface elves and part underground elves can have children together, as long as they’re not full-blooded. Because if Mercy is, say, half half-elf and half half-elf, and half-elf/half-demons look as much like elves as half-human/half-demons look like humans… well, it bears thinking about.
    She could of course have been telling the truth about the Grey Elf race (a Sarcastic Confession), or she could be a snow elf or mountain elf or something like that, or even something wholly non-elfen that’s taken plenty of potions of shapechange in her life to more easily kill people and hide from anyone who might inconvenience her by taking a while to kill.

    Current score: 0