In Which Mackenzie’s Weakness Is Exploited
I gave myself extra time to get to class in the afternoon, in case there were any… complications… along the way. There were still a bunch of news wagons parked in front of the dorm complex, but the reporters had mostly pulled back. I saw a couple camera crews, taking footage of the campus and students. I had to imagine that some of the big boxy devices were being pointed at me… I had the crawling feeling of eyes on me.
I walked past them, wanting to run but keeping my stride moderate… running would just attract attention from either the reporters or from gravity… or worst of all, from both of them. Having my daily faceplant broadcast in front of a worldwide audience, replayed over and over again… I didn’t know if it was possible to literally die of embarrassment, but if anything would do it, that would probably be it.
They started getting bolder once I was well away from the nexus complex.
“Hello, Miss Kenzie! Can we have a moment of your time?”
I walked past without turning my head. I didn’t even feel that rude… my name wasn’t Kenzie. They were probably gambling on making some kind of personal connection by using the nickname my grandmother had given for me. Their mistake. I wondered what kind of performance she’d put on for the cameras that had led them to believe I had a bunch of big fluffy feels for her.
“And here’s the young woman at the center of this all, Miss Mack,” I heard another reporter said. “Let’s see if we can get a word.” He stuck a crystal in my face. “Miss Mack, how would you…”
“How old am I?” I asked him.
“How old do you think I am?” I said again, looking him square in the face. “I’m eighteen… I’m an adult. You don’t call an adult woman ‘Miss’.”
He stared, flabbergasted.
“I’m sorry,” he said after a second. “It’s simply the standard…”
“Yeah, well, maybe it’s time to raise your standards,” I said, and stomped around him. I started walking faster, as fast as I could dare without tempting fate or the sidewalk. I managed to avoid entangling my feet with each other, but I almost ran into a third reporter, who stepped onto the path right in front of me.
“Hi, Miss Mackenzie… Loretta Parker with Channel 7. I wonder if you wouldn’t mind talking to me a moment?”
I turned to move past her, but my eyes caught on the opening of the camera that was pointed over her shoulder right at me. Pointed right at me. I froze. I felt like I was slipping backwards, to a time before the events of the past few weeks, to a place in my life where I couldn’t imagine anything worse than being the center of attention.
At least she was with a local channel… though whatever she got would probably be sold to INN.
I forced my neck to turn, which put my eyes back on her. She was a tall woman, with big hips and wavy blonde hair. Her outfit seemed a little casual for the news, but maybe she was trying to blend in with campus life or something. If her neckline had been scooped out any farther, she could have been showing solidarity with Dee. I wondered what her producers were thinking. It wasn’t like anybody really wanted to stare at her middle-aged, doubtlessly magically-enhanced, golden tan breasts.
“You aren’t in a hurry, are you, Miss Mackenzie?” she asked.
“No, I have a little time,” I said.
“Great,” she purred. She leaned forward and put her hands lightly on my shoulders. Great. It was great. She had these incredibly warm sort of light brown eyes that were almost amber, like they had just a touch of honey to them. “If I could get you to stand over here,” she said, moving me, “so we can face each other with this big, collegial-looking building in the frame. Good. Now, I want you to pretend the camera isn’t even there, okay? Just look up… actually, look wherever you want. Joe, just try to cut back and forth between us, okay?”
“Okay,” the camera guy said. “We’re going live in five… four… three…”
Two seconds later, Loretta started in on a spiel, half-turned towards the camera. I was starting to regret having stopped, wondering what it was I was getting into… but it seemed like it would be really rude to just walk off when she’d just gone live. I’d hate being embarrassed like that. I couldn’t do it to somebody else.
“…here live with one of the young women at the center of it all, Miss Mackenzie Jo Blaise,” she said. Jo? That jarred me a little. Where had they dug up my middle name? I’d only been aware of it in the abstract… I couldn’t remember ever having used it in my life. “She’s been very kind in agreeing to speak with us, a fact which I deeply appreciate.” Loretta had a very throaty, almost sultry voice. It wasn’t what I expected from TV news… but maybe I needed to watch the news more often. “First off, Miss Mackenzie, let me just ask how are things going for you?”
“Good,” I said. “Good. They’re going well.”
“That’s great to hear. I was afraid you’d be a little spellshocked, with us nosey reporters swarming all over campus,” she said. “Do you feel that your privacy has been… violated?”
“No,” I said. I swallowed. “Not… not… in a bad way.”
Loretta laughed, a sort of low chuckle. It was… wow. I hoped I could say something really witty. I wanted to hear that laugh again.
“Miss Mackenzie, at this point you’ve been at Magisterius University for one month,” she said. “In that time, you’ve managed to make waves for your disruptive civil rights campaign, your personal life, and maybe even just by being here. What do you say to the people who say that an institute of higher education is not the place for a half-demon?”
“I, uh… where am I supposed to go, then?” I said.
“Well, your grandmother has made a well-publicized plea for your return home,” she said.
“Has she?” I said. “I haven’t been watching the news.”
“So, you didn’t see the interview with Mother Khaele on INN?”
“Oh, uh, I did see that,” I said.
“How did it feel to have a powerful and active goddess denouncing your relationship on live television?”
“I… I don’t think she was denouncing, exactly,” I said.
“Well, she was certainly expressing concern,” Loretta said. “That has to worry you. Did you feel blindsided by that?”
“She actually told Amaranth about her concerns in private before she raised them in public,” I said. “So… it wasn’t a total surprise, you know? I mean, I’m worried, but… um… it’s not like I can sit down and talk it out with her, or anything.”
“I suppose it isn’t as though you don’t have other lovers to fall back on,” she said. “From what we’ve heard, you’ve got quite the little harem going. Let’s talk about some of your other lovers. How do you handle dating humans and human-bloods, given your… nature?”
“Well, I’m careful,” I said. I was actually kind of grateful for the question, since it gave me an opportunity to address this in front of everybody who was following the drama. “And I don’t actually need to eat any human flesh… just a little bit of blood every month.”
“So, human flesh is more of a luxury than a need,” Loretta said. “A treat?”
“I… uh… I wouldn’t say that,” I said.
“According to the leading diabolists we interviewed, though, you would crave it,” she said. “Could you describe for our viewers, what it’s like to have an unholy appetite like that?”
“I don’t care what your ‘leading diabolists’ say,” I said. “I don’t crave human flesh. I’ve never even managed to eat it without puking it all back up.”
“And how many times has that been?” Loretta said.
“Not… not often,” I said. I felt like I could start puking then and there. This interview had definitely been a mistake. Why the hell had I stopped? “And never on purpose!”
“But you’re careful,” Loretta said. “Does this tendency to lose control around human flesh ever cause friction, with you dating a convicted necrophiliac? Or is that just an added bonus to the relationship?”
“Wait, what?” I said. “Steff’s a necromancer. She doesn’t… I mean, she maybe sometimes has…”
“So, Steffain Johnson didn’t disclose… her… criminal past when you got involved?”
“I really don’t see how that’s anybody’s business,” I said. “You know, I’ve got class…”
“Alright, we’ll wrap this up,” Loretta said. “A rogue nymph, a nec…romancer, an ogre prince, a self-avowed ‘wild child’ party girl, a rebellious dark elf priestess, a defective golem… it seems like outside of Ms. Hoshinotama, everybody you’re involved with is…”
“Two is not defective!” I said. Loretta stumbled backwards.
“W-well, let’s… let’s not quibble over words,” she said. “I was just wondering if you thought your presence attracts…”
“I’m not saying one more word to you, Miss Loretta,” I said. “Though, if you honestly think Sooni is the normal one, you’re in the wrong career.”
“Did you give her that pet name yourself?” Loretta asked.
I ignored her and shut out everyone else as I went to my logic class. I got there just as it was beginning for once, with no time to look over my homework or get a little visit from “Ms. Hoshinotama”. What the hell was up with giving her not just the more mature title but using her family name, too? She must have really poured on the polish for the news folks. I guess it made a kind of sense that she’d be on her best behavior in front of a camera… after all, she tried to model herself after how people behaved on TV.
She turned around and started to rise from her chair as I was sitting down, but the professor entered at the same time and she sat down. She looked disappointed.
To my surprise, I was a little bit, too. She looked kind of nice. She had her braids curled around in two pairs of bun-like disks, one large and one small one on each side of her head. It was one of her less ridiculous styles. Actually, it looked kind of good. Her outfit was less atrociously colorful than normal. It was white with red trim and red flowers, with a neckline cut even more dangerously low than that reporter’s had been. I only got a glimpse before she turned back around, but what a glimpse it was.
Okay, she looked really nice. I did my best to focus on the class, but my eyes kept flicking to the back of Sooni’s head, and my mind kept picturing her face. Maliko was absent for some reason… that was good. If Sooni wanted to talk or something after class, I wouldn’t have to put up with Maliko’s baseless and irrational jealousy.
It hit me that Maliko had a major mean streak, and claimed to be Sooni’s oldest friend. I’d always sort of assumed that associating with Sooni had twisted Maliko, but maybe that was the other way around? Maybe if I could get Sooni to stop hanging out with Maliko so much, Sooni wouldn’t be quite so bad.
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Maliko was always hanging on Sooni, cozying up to her and lapping up her every word… it was gross to think about, really. It made me slightly angry to think about her eyes going over Sooni’s body when her back was turned.
Well, Maliko wasn’t there, and she wouldn’t be there during our date, either. It was probably killing her that Sooni was going out with me, that she was going to sleep with me…
She was going to sleep with me. The thought floated up from the depths of my mind on its own. I didn’t dredge it up on purpose… but I didn’t force it back down, either. She’d made it clear enough, by tacking an inn reservation on to the agreed-upon dinner. For all her talk about “dirty lesbians”, there really was something there… well, I’d thought lesbianism was dirty, too, hadn’t I? I wouldn’t have said it in that way, but I’d started the school year deeply ashamed of the possibility that I could be a lesbian. I’d thought of sex as something irredeemably filthy… more so for the involvement of women in it.
Was it really such a stretch to imagine that Sooni might be finding herself in the same place that I had been… trapped in a labyrinth of sexual confusion, but without an Amaranth to lead her through the maze? If that was the case, I didn’t see any way that I could fail to step up and offer her my help. To do anything else would be to dishonor the gift that Amaranth had given me. I mean, I didn’t necessarily want to have sex with Sooni… her ridiculous peek-a-boo skirts, obsessively smooth bronze skin, and unbelievably perfect breasts just didn’t do anything for me.
And that was ignoring the fact that she was just an awful, abusive person. I’d seen her almost kill Kai with a blow to the head… I’d heard the evidence of torture… and she did it all without any awareness of how wrong it was.
Of course, that was a big part of it. She really didn’t know. If I had a chance to reach her in some way… even sexually, if absolutely necessary… then maybe I could bring her to a better understanding of how things really were. It seemed like it was a chance worth taking. She could rain as many blows on my invulnerable body as she needed to vent her feelings. She could stomp all over my face and chest with her wooden sandals as much as she wanted. If she wanted to treat me like a rug or piece of furniture, that was a price I was willing to pay for the chance to get through to her. Whatever it took to get through to her, I would do. If she needed to go so far as rubbing my face right up in her pussy, I could almost certainly withstand even that.
It wouldn’t be a fun night for me by any stretch of the imagination… but somehow, I knew I’d make it through to the other side.
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