296: Seeking In Darkness

on October 11, 2008 in Book 11

In Which A Three-Way Is Proposed

I held Steff’s hand as she went to the end of the hall where the small folks’ rooms were. Hazel was still in Shiel’s room, sorting her men out with a partitioned box. Oru was with Honey in the shirelings’ room, setting up a meal, but I still stopped outside the door instead of stepping inside.

“Hey,” Steff said, knocking on the doorframe. She pulled her hand out of mine and waved as Shiel and Hazel looked up.

“Er, hey,” Hazel said. “I have your troops bagged up for you. I don’t know if you noticed, but there was some, er, minor trampling of a few of them… I’ll replace them, of course.”

“It’s fine,” Steff said. “It’s not like they turned out that great. Um… I just wanted to say, I didn’t mean anything against your mother. It was just the first thing that came out of my mouth.”

“If you ask me, I find the whole thing very patriarchal,” Shiel said. “The idea that the ‘honor’ of a man’s female relatives is his business to defend.”

Excuse me?” Hazel said.

“Well, you’re not a man, obviously, but that’s where that sort of insult comes from,” Shiel said. “‘Your sister is a slut.’ ‘I fucked your mother.’ ‘You fucked your mother.’ It’s all about reducing a woman to her sexuality, and putting that in the hands of a man. It’s all very dubious to me.”

“Dubious and patriarchal,” Steff said. “Noted.”

“Anyway, I’m sorry I had to mess you up,” Hazel said. “I’ll stand for a lot of things, but the one thing I won’t stand for is somebody having a go at my mum.”

“I’ll try to pick my words more carefully in the future,” Steff said.

“So, I guess we chalk this one up as a draw?” Hazel said.

Shiel snorted.

“Um, I’m just going to take these and go,” Steff said, darting forward and scooping up the bag with her soldiers in it. “Try again next week?”

“Next week, I should have enough for my own army,” Hazel said.

“A three-sided conflict,” Shiel said. “That’s always interesting. It opens up new possibilities, like diplom… well, maybe not with this group.”

“Hey, my grandfather was a brilliant diplomat,” Hazel said. “He negotiated our surrender to Briarly. There’s a monument to him.”

“In Logfallen, or Briarly?” Shiel asked.

We made a retreat down the hall as Shiel and Hazel continued to bicker. Dee opened her door as we approached.

“I apologize for putting my principles over our friendship,” Dee said before Steff could say anything. From the way she blurted it out, I got the feeling she’d been waiting to say it. It was like Steff had said: apologizing was in her nature.

“Um… sorry for… my part,” Steff said. “But, just so I’m clear… you’d do it again, right?”

“Yes,” Dee said. “With regret.”

“Well… I’ll try not to put you in that position,” Steff said. She gave me a little thump on the back, which I barely felt through the coat. “I’m going to go try to hunt up Amy, okay? I’ve got a feeling she’s going to be somewhere in my neck of the woods.”

“Okay,” I said. “Meet back here in a bit for dinner?”

She kissed me on the cheeks, the way she did Two, and then started to turn away. She stopped, put a hand behind my head, and pulled me in close for a real full-on Steff kiss. For a moment, I forgot everything except for Steff’s hands and lips and her body pressing against mine. Then she broke and dashed for the stairs, and I remembered we’d had an audience.

“Sorry, I hope that didn’t make you uncomfortable,” I said, blushing.

“Kissing has special significance,” Dee said. “It is a fairly unique act of intimacy, in that it can be done with perfect reciprocity by partners of any sex. There are, of course, actions involving another shared orifice, but they are less symmetrical and there are more social constraints. Would you like to come in?”

What a segue.

“Uh, sure,” I said, stepping into her dark room.

Dee had been busy. At first it seemed as though most of the furniture had been removed from her room, but then I saw a neat stack of wooden pieces in the corner. She’d disassembled the desks and part of one of the beds, converting the other into something between a bunk bed and a four poster, with black drapes enclosing it. There was a small blanket or towel spread out against the other wall, laid out like an altar. The center piece of it was a gleaming black statue of a beautiful elven woman with eight arms. Her face was turned towards the wall. She either had very big hair or was wearing some kind of a helmet.

“Arakhis?” I asked.

“Her icon,” Dee responded. She closed the door.

“Oh, yeah… that’s what I meant,” I said.

“I was very pleased to learn that you wished to speak to me,” Dee said. “Would you like to sit down?”

“Okay,” I said. Her floor was bare and cold, so I took my coat off and spread it out beneath me. She sat down across from me.

“What did you wish to speak about?”

“Um… nothing in particular, really,” I said.

“Oh,” she said. She sounded disappointed. I wondered what she’d been hoping for. Part of me wondered… well, that part had probably spent too much time with Sooni. Dee had no interest in dating outside her race, and absolutely no reason to be attracted to me. No, Dee probably had lots of reasons to be disappointed by me, and none of them had anything to do with romance.

“The thing is, I was alone in my room earlier and I thought… well, I thought a couple different things, but one thing I realized is that I don’t know you as well as I should,” I said. “I mean, as well as I’d like to. We haven’t really just talked to each other that much.”

“I have always felt free to speak my mind to you,” Dee said.

“Yeah, but I’d like to know what you sound like when you’re not indignant,” I said, cracking a smile. “We live next door to each other, we call each other friend… we back each other up. I think we should get to know each other better.”

“Very well,” Dee said. “What would you like to know about me?”

I froze. What did I want to know?

“Um… I don’t know,” I said.

“When Steff desired to get to know ‘the real me’, she asked me about my sex life,” Dee said. “To her, knowledge of such things is quite revealing. I could tell you quite a bit about my sexual relationships and my loves, but on the other hand, I know quite a bit about yours and I still do not feel I know you. If I sought knowledge of the ‘true Mackenzie’, I would ask about your mother.”

“Well, that’s… no offense to your beliefs, but I don’t think that would teach you much about me. I’m nothing like my mother,” I said. “She was… well… she might be the only reason I’m not more screwed up than I am, but there was only so much she could do for me, you know?”

“Do you resemble her?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “She was pretty. She was beautiful. We moved around a lot when I was a baby, but I don’t remember any of that. Actually, I think she lived in a shelter when she had me. My first memories are in a house, though. She… she died when I was nine.”

“May I ask what happened?”

“She died,” I repeated. “It wasn’t my fault.”

“My brother died before I was born,” Dee said. “I still felt guilty.”

“I don’t feel guilty,” I said. “I miss her. I hate that she’s gone. But… it’s not my fault.”

“Speaking solely of my own experience, I felt guilty for not being him,” Dee said. “Which is, of course irrational, but it is what I felt, all the same. My mother has borne three daughters in three decades… a haste that borders on the unseemly… and all because she misses him so terribly.”

“I miss my mother,” I said.

The words came automatically, but they felt empty as I said them. I didn’t wake up missing her. I no longer expected her to walk into the room and tell me to brush my hair. It had been ages since I’d found myself with something I wanted to tell her about, only to remember that she was gone.

All of a sudden, I did miss my mother. Acutely.

I felt guilty, too.

“I apologize, I did not mean to visit distress upon you,” Dee said.

I shook my head, blinking back tears, and waited until I was under control enough to answer without breaking down.

“No, it’s okay,” I said. “Just… stuff I haven’t thought about in a while. When she died, I thought I’d never get over it, that I’d miss her every day. I don’t know if I am over it, but… I don’t think of her that often. I spent as much time living with my grandmother as I did with her, and I was older for that time. I remember more of it.”

“But the younger years are the formative ones,” Dee said. “The walls of this building are what are most visible from the outside, but the foundation they rest upon is what holds it up. About your grandmother, though… the news said that she was a paladin. That is a knight of the faith?”

“It is, but she wasn’t… somebody got their cords crossed there,” I said. “She’s a lay cleric and an exorcist, but she’s no paladin.” I remembered when Gloria had asked me if I was related to a Brimstone Blaise. “I think they got her mixed up with somebody else.”

“But she was a woman of great spirituality, though?”

I nodded.

“I have to wonder what she would think about your… transactions… with slavers,” Dee said. “I have to wonder what your m… no, I won’t presume to ask that.”

“Transaction,” I said. “As in, one… it’s one too many, but never again.”

“I am glad that you realize that,” Dee said.

I could feel my stomach churning, feel a heavy weight pressing down on my back. Between my lack of memory and the bizarreness of the scene in the Empress Suite, there was a blessed surreality about the whole thing, but that didn’t change the fact that at least one person had died somewhere. It was like my own personal tsunami. Someone had died. Even if I wasn’t responsible, I was connected… I had been a link in the chain. I had tasted…

“I know what my grandmother would say about it,” I said, forcing my attention back to Dee. “I would probably kill myself before I let my mother know about it… but it happened. I couldn’t stop it, I can’t undo it, and all I can do now is make sure it never happens again.”

“But I wonder what you have to secure yourself against such an eventuality?”

“Dee, you have to realize… that isn’t something I’d do willingly,” I said.

“I do,” Dee said. “That is among the reasons this is such a worrying affair… you would not have done this willingly, and it happened anyway. That implies that it could happen again, regardless of your will. So, what have you done to prevent that?”

When she put it that way… it was pretty fucking scary. It could happen again, regardless of your will. That was a chilling thought.

I hadn’t thought much about the possession theory before. It had sounded ridiculous when Steff mentioned it. As the full scope of what had happened sunk in, I’d clung to it as an explanation… but I’d never actually thought about it.

“I… I haven’t really got around to figuring that out yet,” I admitted. “I’ve been trying to put it out of my mind, really.”

“I can understand the attraction, but I do not believe you have the luxury of that indulgence,” Dee said. “I’m sorry… I am truly sorry. When I said I wished to speak with you, I had not intended to be so blunt. I had intended to find out how you felt about this, if you were fully aware of the scope and the scale of your actions, and then offer a sympathetic ear if appropriate… but in this case I think action must come first.”

Fully aware of the scope and the scale. Was I? Could I be? I wasn’t sure I could stand to look at it straight-on. I’d take action… nice, distracting action… any day.

“What do you think we should do?” I asked. “For one thing, we don’t even know what happened…”

“That very fact suggests our first course of action,” Dee said. “We must find out. If you were a different person, it would be a simple matter for me to determine if you have in fact been possessed, but your demonic heritage makes it unconscionably dangerous for me to explore your mind, and for you if I appeal to my goddess for a revelation.”

“Part of the problem is, I’m not sure I can be possessed,” I said.

“Why would you assume you cannot?”

“Half-demon,” I said.

“Possession is an infection of the soul. The product of a soulless creature and an ensouled one is itself ensouled,” Dee said. “I believe the Khersians have a somewhat anthropocentric saying about that.”

“Uh, yeah,” I said.

“You have no memory of your actions?”

“None,” I said. “Absolutely none.”

“Are you certain this is not you ‘trying not to think about it’?”

“I’m positive,” I said. “There was apparently a whole big fight with my WP instructor, but I don’t even remember seeing her.”

“What else do you not remember from that day?”

“I don’t know what I don’t remember!” I said.

“Do you have a clear recollection of waking up, of your morning preparations, of going to class?” she asked. “Of lunch?”

“Yeah, I guess,” I said. That was all routine stuff. I did it every day. How could I not remember it? That had been Thursday. I already knew about the combat class, but my lab classes were… what had I done in them? “Um… actually…”

“Let us try taking another corridor,” Dee said. “What do you remember?”

“Amaranth,” I said. Of course. Her warmth, her beauty, her smile, her kind and loving patience… how could I forget Amaranth? When I thought about that morning, I remembered her at breakfast, pressing up against me and making me feel better. Then, we were together at lunch.

“That’s all you remember? Amaranth?”

“What, you don’t think she has something to do with it?” I asked, horrified.

“Quite to the contrary,” Dee said. “If your memories of the day revolve exclusively around Amaranth… and again, this is assuming you aren’t simply unwilling to recall the more dire events and taking refuge in a comforting…”

“I’m not!”

“Well, granting that… it suggests that whatever influence had hold of you was forced into abeyance by her presence,” Dee said

“That’s a good theory,” I said. “Except for one thing. She wasn’t around when whatever it was went away for good. My memories definitely pick up out on the field. I remember the walk back with Steff, and meeting Amaranth back here.”

“The field, where you… or the entity directing your actions… picked a fight with your instructor?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Do you know how the events of that fight unfolded?”

“I don’t have any memories of it,” I said.

“Do you believe your life was physically imperiled at any point?”

“Steff said I was ‘strangled to death’, or something like that,” I said. “I mean, obviously not to death… Steff thinks I can’t actually die from suffocation.”

“Yes, I know,” Dee said. “I have to say that, though the evidence available to me is scant, it does seem to support the theory of possession.”

“Do you know a lot about demonic possession?”

“Demonic possession? No,” Dee said. “Demons are a human concern, and are not often found in the chthonic realms. There are other entities which may attempt to bond with a soul and usurp control of its body. Unfortunately… as an initiated priestess, my knowledge of such beings is still very general and more theoretical than practical.”

“So, what do you think I should do?” I asked. “Turn myself over to the diabolism department?”

Dee shuddered.

“I would not trust their motives to be benign,” she said. “No, I think you should seek out an expert in such matters whose interest lies less in harnessing infernal forces and more in combating them.”

“That would be a good idea for anybody else,” I said. “But it isn’t really an option for me.”

“You need not venture onto sanctified ground, or expose yourself to divine power,” Dee said. “I had something more like a consultation in mind. A suitable expert should be able to determine if you were possessed, identify the source, and find a means of preventing it in the future, even via mirrors.”

“But why would anybody offer such a consultation?” I asked. “I mean, somebody like that would be more likely to see a half-demon as their personal enemy.”

“What about somebody who sees you as family?”

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6 Responses to “296: Seeking In Darkness”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Now I remember to ask, whatever happened to Mackenzie’s older brother after he was adopted out?

    Current score: 1
  2. Arkeus says:

    Dee is as awesome as ever.

    Current score: 0
  3. BlackWizard says:

    My question is; what ever happened to Mackenzie’s pitchfork? She hasn’t seen it & she’s assuming that Amaranth has it…

    Current score: 0
    • Leila says:

      Pretty sure Amaranth put it “away” for safe keeping, but I don’t remember.

      Current score: 2
  4. Mugasofer says:

    Oh, I so hope this happens. Granny Blaze was at her awesomest in that excorcism short.

    Current score: 0