358: Pitch Dark

on March 2, 2009 in Book 13

In Which Mackenzie Is Superstitious

Two came wandering downstairs, freshly showered and clean, before Dee had finished with whatever she had to say to Kiersta and the cleaning of the bathroom. I’d sat down inside a darkened spell lab, and was sitting there with my eyes closed enjoying the quiet and the solitude after the rage-inducing encounter with the twins and the shocking fun-sized display of violence that had followed when I heard Two’s horribly unmistakable humming out in the hallway.

I got up slowly… my legs had kind of fallen asleep… and hobbled over to the door.

“Hey, Two… over here,” I said, sticking my head out into the hall.

“Hi, Mack,” she said.

“Hi,” I said, just in case my “hey” didn’t count for her.

I held the door open for her and she stepped inside, her eyes glowing as soon as they were out of the light. I left the lights out, since she could see. There was enough light for me from the little square window, and Dee would be comfortable even in perfect darkness. Since she was our hostess and guide, it made sense to keep her comfort in mind.

“Did you know the fourth floor bathroom has curtains in between the showers?” Two asked.

“No,” I said.

“I think I like that better,” Two said.

“Yeah, it sounds like a good idea,” I said. I didn’t know if that small modicum of extra privacy would have made the people on our floor any more willing to share the showers than they were, but I didn’t see how it could hurt.

“Everything looks newer in there,” she said. “Like it’s been redecorated.”

“Maybe they’re redoing the floors one at a time?” I said.

“If they are, I don’t think they’re doing it very quickly,” Two said. “Because they aren’t very new. Just newer.”

Maybe they’d been redoing the floors and ran out of money, I thought. Or decided to spend it on something else. I didn’t think this out loud, though. I didn’t really want to embroil Two in a conversation about campus politics.

Unfortunately, she took my silence as a cue to start humming again.

“How are you doing, Two?”

“Good,” she said.

“You know… it seems like we haven’t really just talked for a while,” I said.

“No,” Two agreed. “We haven’t just talked. We’ve done lots of things.”

“Uh, right,” I said. “I mean, we haven’t really had a conversation.”

“Oh,” Two said. “Would you like to have a conversation?”

“Sure.”

“Okay. What should we have a conversation about?”

“Um…”

This would possibly be the reason I hadn’t had a conversation with Two for a while, I realized.

“How are your classes going?” I asked.

“Very well, thank you. I have a perfect score in everything except my bludgeons class,” Two said. “I don’t think I am going to get a very good grade in it.”

“Yeah, I’m not doing so great in my weapons class,” I said. “But who needs weapon proficiency, anyway?”

“Everybody,” Two said. “Except for people who have a racial, moral, or physical exemption. Otherwise it’s part of the core curriculum.”

“I know,” I said. “But it sucks, because it means that those of us who are working hard to get good grades in our other classes can be utterly fucked because we don’t have any aptitude for something that’s got nothing to do with our major.”

“Do you work hard to get good grades?” Two asked.

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “Kind of.”

“Oh, okay. I hadn’t noticed,” she said cheerily.

“Well, I don’t have as homework-intensive a schedule as you do,” I said. “Half my schedule is weapon proficiency and labs, so I’m working harder in the classroom.”

“Oh, okay,” Two said, and with nothing specific to respond to, she lapsed into silence. I debated broaching another subject that I thought might prove to be a little delicate.

I made up my mind when she started to hum.

“How’s Hazel doing?” I asked. There had been a full day since Amaranth gave her the news, and it seemed like she still hadn’t accepted it, even if Dee and Honey were both willing to take Amaranth’s analysis at face value.

“She tells me she’s fine,” Two said, which of course wasn’t the same thing as saying that Hazel was fine. “She says she’s going to start carrying a stepladder so she can punch people in the mouth.”

“That’s funny, she didn’t need one to reach Tara’s,” I said.

“That’s funny?” Two asked.

“Well… not really,” I said. “Never mind.”

“Okay.”

“Do you know anything about Hazel’s mother?” I asked Two. Hazel’s reaction to people slighting her mother didn’t seem to be cultural, to judge by Honey’s response to it. Insulting somebody’s mother wasn’t nice anywhere, but humans had mostly got over it, and gnomish culture seemed to be pretty similar to human, if a bit old-fashioned.

“She’s dead,” Two said.

“Oh,” I said. I guessed that could quite possibly do it, but I still had to wonder if there wasn’t something more to it, something specific. The topic really seemed to drive Hazel nuts.

“Just like your mother and Sooni’s mother,” she added.

“Sooni’s mother’s not dead,” I said.

“Suzi told me she is,” Two said.

“Yeah, well, Suzi probably doesn’t know what she was saying,” I said. “Sooni’s Pax is a lot better than Suzi’s, and she talks about her mother all the time.”

“My friend Hazel talks about her mother, too. She talks about her when we’re baking. Suzi told us about Sooni’s mother when we were making cookies. You can still talk about people who are dead, you know,” Two said. “Though you shouldn’t speak ill of them, because that’s disrespectful. And my friend Hazel says you shouldn’t talk about them near an open window, or a pumpkin patch, or by water that runs by a cemetery.”

“Um, okay,” I said.

“That’s called superstition,” Two said, nodding knowledgably. “Which is when something is stupid but you do it anyway.”

I giggled.

“That’s a pretty good definition of superstition,” I said. “Did your friend Hazel tell you that?”

“No, I figured it out for myself and my friend Hazel told me I was right,” Two said.

“That’s pretty clever,” I said.

“I think you and Amaranth must have a lot of superstitions,” Two said. “And Steff, too.”

Mercifully, Dee arrived before the conversation went on any longer or Two started humming again. I didn’t hear her coming, but of course, she didn’t need my guidance to find the room.

“I apologize for keeping you waiting,” she said.

“That’s okay, I forgive you,” Two said. “We were having a conversation.”

“Yeah, no problem,” I said.

“I suppose a closed room off a deserted hallway is a better place for that than the fifth floor,” Dee said, taking a seat on the floor and arranging her robes. “And on that subject, Mackenzie, you may be interested to know that I have made some small progress in tracking the movements of the pitchfork.”

“You know where it is?” I asked. I glanced at Two, but I was too excited by the prospect to care whether or not she heard. She didn’t know the whole story about the pitchfork and I preferred her not to get involved in the whole thing, but she didn’t seem overly curious about or alarmed by the subject.

“I’m afraid I do not,” Dee said, bowing her head. “As I said, some small progress. Divination has never been my strongest suit, and trying to track energy across the skin of the world is quite a bit different from pinpointing it within even a large cavern. Nevertheless, being rather intimately familiar with the signature of the pitchfork, and quite acquainted with Amaranth’s aura, I have been able to reconstruct her path during the time the two signatures were conjoined.”

“Let me guess… she didn’t take it to the diabolism department?” I said.

“Indeed,” Dee said. “Though, of course, I inquired there first, as I’m sure you did.”

“Uh…”

“Well, I’m certain you would have, eventually,” she said. “Instead, she carried it into the tree-filled area on the perimeter of the campus. Things become fuzzier after that, as the trees are cloaked in their own field of energy as dense as a canopy of leaves, but there was a flare-up of infernal energy not too far from where Amaranth entered the cluster and eventually exited it.”

“The pitchfork?”

“It could have been the pitchfork entity manifesting some massive show of power that it dared not use on campus,” Dee said. “I was not able to get a direct ‘look’ at it, though… it was too fleeting and far too bright. The presence of the trees and the passage of time muddled it quite a bit, as well. My goddess has eyes even in among the trees, though, and I intend on venturing forth to interview them directly.”

“You mean spiders?” I guessed.

“Indeed,” Dee said. “They do not view the world in the way of the four-limbed kind, but if enough were in the area they may be able to collectively weave a picture of what happened.”

“It’s been kind of cold and rainy,” I said. “What’s that do to spiders?”

“I confess to not knowing,” Dee said. “Precipitation and cycles of temperature do not affect subterranean spiders. I must surmise that cold is not fatal to spiders, unless they are migratory.”

“I don’t remember ever hearing about a spider migration,” I said. “So I’d guess not.”

“In any event, it is no certain thing,” Dee said. “But it seems the next logical step would be to go to where the trail currently ends and try to pick it up.”

“You’ll want to be careful,” I said. “There are elves… surface elves, I mean… somewhere in the forest.”

“I hadn’t considered… do you suppose they may be in league with diabolical forces?”

“Not really,” I said. “I was more thinking of how they’d react to your presence on their turf.”

“I do not believe the whole of the tree-covered expanse constitutes their ‘turf’,” Dee said. “Amaranth certainly did not have time to go very far, and the flare-up did not occur a great distance away from the open ground. If powerful demonic activity did happen within their territory, they’ll have more cause to explain for themselves than will I.”

“Yeah, but they’ll have more bows,” I said.

“Your concern is touching, but I believe it is misplaced,” Dee said. “By all accounts I have heard, the elves dwell to the west of campus while Amaranth was moving more or less directly north when she took the pitchfork away from the campus.”

“I just don’t want to see you getting hurt chasing my pitchfork,” I said. “Maybe I should come along so there are no misunderstandings.”

“Perhaps you should repeat that sentence aloud a few times,” Dee said, her lip twitching towards a smile. “In any event, I don’t believe the presence of a half-demon… or even an apparent human… would improve the reception my distant cousins would likely give me. In the unlikely event of an encounter, I would no doubt be forced to split my talents between defending myself and defending you. I am confident of my ability to speedily extract myself from danger unharmed. Having a divine-opposed ally alongside me would complicate things to a considerable degree.”

“Yeah, I guess you’ve got a point,” I admitted. “Just… if you find something, don’t go chasing off after it by yourself, okay? A piece of that thing almost got you once already. You should at least tell me if you think you’re going to catch up to it, so I can be there to back you up.”

“I assure you, I intend nothing more than to locate the entity so that I may make a credible report to the proper authorities,” Dee said. “But I am interested to hear you taking more of a personal responsibility for the matter. This, coupled with your attendance this morning, I take to be a positive sign. Are you ready to begin for the day?”

“Yeah,” I said, trying to ignore the way her compliment felt more like an indictment of every aspect of my life except for that one moment.

“Good,” she said. “We’ll start with some simple breathing exercises, then… breath is the nearest physical thing to intersection of spirit and body, the least tangible nourishment you take in from the tangible world. When you have control over your breathing, you have control over yourself, body and soul. It is a useful technique for controlling anger, for centering your energy, and for resisting outside compulsions.

“Begin by taking a slow, deep breath through the nose…”


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5 Responses to “358: Pitch Dark”

  1. pedestrian says:

    The first problem in COIN warfare is how the hell you tell the difference between your friends and your enemies. Yesterday the friendlies were fighting the enemilies. Today the friendlies are attacking you while also fighting the enemilies. And, just to make tomorrow that much more interesting. The friendlies and the enemilies will both attack you.

    Current score: 1
  2. Sher says:

    Sooni’s mother is dead, but Mack just goes ahead and assumes she’s right. Just like she did with Steff, when Two told her otherwise.

    Current score: 2
    • Leishycat says:

      Well, to be fair, she WAS right about Steff, and Two was wrong. But Mack does have that nasty tendency to assume she’s right about errything.

      Current score: 1