In Which Mackenzie’s True Nature Is Revealed
Even as my head was filling up with fog… an unusually dense, hard sort of fog, or maybe a particularly fluffy kind of concrete… I fought hard to come up with a plan of action. It seemed like something in the bubble bath was affecting people somehow, loosening inhibitions or increasing urges or something.
Feejee had abandoned all caution and her own personal morals. Sara looked like she was trying to literally tear her sister and her apart. Trina was giving a blow-by-blow of the fight, as if us poor two-eyed folks couldn’t see, and she kept punctuating it with remarks about what freaks the Leightons were and how everybody should stare at them.
Me? I was a messy mass of conflicting desires… I wanted to climb back in the tub with Feejee. I wanted to jump on the Leightons and tear them apart. I wanted to eat and be eaten, I wanted to cower and I wanted to roar, I wanted to obey and obliterate, consume and consummate, hide in the basement and set the world on fire.
“Everybody… get… out!” I yelled, trying to put some kind of authority into my voice. It came out kind of fierce, gravelly and growly… kind of poorly modulated, but that didn’t make it sound any less scary in my head.
The crowd by the door scooted back a tiny bit, if only reflexively. Trina stood her ground, less concerned by the second with what was happening than she was with pushing the “freak” label onto anybody but her
“Look at them, they’ve got four eyes on one body!” Trina said. “And Twyla has horns!” she added, even though I didn’t think Twyla was even there. “What is she, part minotaur? Everybody in this dorm is a freak except me!”
The twins ignored her, me, and everything else except for each other. They sounded like they were speaking in tongues, some weird kind of sing-song baby talk that reminded me vaguely of Yokano… though that may have just been because I couldn’t understand either of them. I gave them a shove… I didn’t really care if they tore themselves apart, but the spectacle would keep everybody else hanging around.
“Everybody get out!” I yelled again. Yeah, okay, it hadn’t worked so great the first time, but my brain was still dripping with misty molasses. I felt very detached from everything that was going on even as I considered the situation urgent. “Something in the bath is making people crazy!”
I was being vague on purpose… I had just enough presence of mind to know that suggesting it was my peppermint bubble bath that was doing it would be a bad idea… that would sound even weirder and the confusion it was likely to engender would just make people stand around asking clarifying questions when they needed to be getting back.
Also, there was already enough likelihood I’d be handed the blame for this without me putting the idea in Trina’s head that it was my fault… assuming she even noticed over the sound of her own ranting, which wasn’t even restricted to people from our floor anymore.
“Michelle wet the bed all the way until seventh grade!” Trina gleefully yelled. “Becky Davis picks her nose and leaves it under her desk! Becky Jones started the fire in the girls’ room to get the smokers in trouble! Estelle wears pads because she thinks tampons are sinful! Myra’s grandfather was a half-dwarf!”
I supposed she must have been talking about girls she went to high school with or something… it was too much to hope that getting all this off her chest would be healthy for her. Feejee had jumped from the tub and was running from the room, shoving her way through the door while shouting that she wasn’t gay, she just wanted to eat me. Luckily for her, it didn’t seem like anybody heard or paid attention.
Behind the first ranks, Two was getting ever more shrill in her objections, and Sooni was joining, her voice even shriller. The whole noisy spectacle was happening right outside Kiersta’s door, but I didn’t entertain any hope that she’d come riding to the rescue… if she did intervene, it would probably be just to blame me. Chances were she’d get one whiff of the peppermint and either barricade herself in her room or take up Trina’s slack in shouting about what freaks everybody in Harlowe was.
I saw Rocky pushing forward past Trina… I could guess what she had in mind, if the fumes were reaching her… and probably even if they hadn’t. Bad shit was going down and I was there. Clearly it had to be my fault.
I couldn’t move, paralyzed with conflicting desires… I wanted the beat-down she surely longed to give me, I deserved it, every inch of it, and certainly she had every right to give it to me… but I also remembered the crunch of stone skin and brittle bone in my mouth, the candy-sweet taste of her virgin flesh and blood.
It’s the morning bathroom rush. Nobody’s fully awake. Nobody’s armed. I could kill them all.
But I didn’t want to… no, I did want to, but I also wanted not to.
Feejee hadn’t been the least bit conflicted. Trina and the twins didn’t seem to be, either. Was I the only one whose innermost thoughts and desires were so completely twisted around?
“Oh my kosh, look at her… does anybody really believe the stoneskin story?” Trina said. “Her mother probably fucked an earth elemental!”
Rocky wheeled around as Sooni of all people shrieked “Don’t talk about her mother!” and Two started saying something about her friend Dee, who had just that moment joined the throng and added her voice to their objections.
“Everybody get out!” I yelled again. Third time was the charm, right? Just in case my voice hadn’t gained magical hypnotic properties in the last thirty seconds, I decided to try another tack: asking effective people for help. “Dee, Two… get everybody away from the door!”
I couldn’t say if that would have worked on its own, because the unmistakable sound of vomiting from the back of the crowd grabbed everybody’s attention. I fought the urge to vomit myself… even though I couldn’t see it, it was enough to send my stomach into a twisting fit.
“Please, everyone, let us stand back and give her some room,” Dee said, politely but firmly, and the crowd began to withdraw.
Getting people to stand back from a dangerous spectacle was no easy task, but getting them to clear away from throw up was a little easier. It’s possible she applied something more than regular persuasion, too… she moved forward through the flow of people and seemed to calm Sara and Tara with a touch, then drew them by the hand out of the bathroom. Once they were clear, she closed the door and locked it.
“What exactly is going on?”
“Don’t breath too deeply!” I said. “I think it’s something alchemical, in the bath water.”
“Perhaps we should let it out,” Dee said.
“Yeah, good idea,” I said. I held my breath, but before I could stick my head behind the curtain I heard the water start to gurgle and realized that Dee had taken care of it herself. I knew from experience that the water didn’t drain super fast… I’d enjoyed the sensation of it slowly drawing away, emptying the tub bit by bit instead of getting out and leaving me to linger in the warmth it left behind. Actually, that didn’t sound like a bad idea… most of my bath had already been ruined. Why not enjoy the rest of it?
“Mackenzie,” Dee said sharply as I started to pull the curtain back.
“Oh, right,” I said. letting it fall back in place. I could feel swirling eddies of steam tickle my face.
Are you an enchanter or aren’t you? I thought again. I’d turned the shower curtain into a barrier to keep steam in before… I threw the strongest formulation of my insulation spell I could muster onto the bath’s curtain. I could feel it taking hold, but it was hard to say how well it worked for its intended purpose since there was already so much of the stuff hanging around in the aisle.
Well, enchantment wasn’t my only lab… I’d only just started on directed evocation, but air out of air seemed like a no-brainer. I took a few steps towards the door and called forth air, pushing it back towards the showers. It would have been better to direct it towards a window, but there weren’t any in the bathroom. I supposed we’d have to open up the windows in the stairwell and prop open the door to help it dissipate fully, but getting the main cloud dispersed seemed like a good start.
“That was a good beginning, but perhaps we should leave the bathroom before we succumb to lingering influences,” Dee said, staring holes through my bare breasts.
Was she looking at my piercings? Impossible as it seemed, I was actually getting used to having pieces of metal rammed through my sensitive bits, but maybe in her culture that would be shocking or outrageous.
“Yeah,” I said. I blushed and grabbed for my bathrobe and my other stuff, slipping on the wet floor as my fingers wrapped around the squeeze bottle of peppermint bubble bath. My hand closed spasmodically and the top of it exploded, sending a gout of pinkish-white goo up right in front of my face and all over my hand.
The sharp mint smell seemed to ram itself up my nostrils like a pair of skewers, right into my brain. The world vanished in an icy white hot haze.
“Give me that,” Dee said, grabbing my robe.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said as she roughly wiped my hand clean then threw the robe aside. She grabbed my other hand and pulled me from the bathroom. The hall was still full of people, though they were mostly hanging out in clusters in front of open doors.
“Stay still,” Dee whispered in my ear, even as I looked around and thought yummy.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said. I couldn’t even make out specific people… it was just food and not food. Was that how Feejee and Iona saw the world? Feejee… I should try to find her while she was still in the mood.
“Nobody has told you to move,” Dee said icily, and I froze. “The bathroom is out of service until further notice,” she announced, and I heard a click behind us. “There has been an alchemical accident. I advise everyone not to linger too long by the stairs.”
There was a chorus of protests and questions, but Dee ignored all of them. She dragged me towards her room. The door opened in front of her and she shoved me inside, with more force than was in her arms.
“Down on the floor, beast,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, but something inside me said why? Why was I letting myself be cowed by this slip of an inexperienced priestess? I was a demon… I was tooth and fire, I was power and pain, hunger and hatred… I was made of malice and magic and she… she was not.
“Close your eyes and sit on your hands,” she said. “Remain perfectly still.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said and obeyed.
I heard soft scratching sounds, and then Dee said, “It is done. You may open your eyes.”
When I saw that she had inscribed an octagon around me, I felt a surge of hatred and anger rising up within me, but I stayed still. She hadn’t told me I could get off my hands.
“That was not the only variety of bath product you use, was it?” she asked me.
“No, ma’am,” I said.
“I am going to have Kiersta notify the university that our bathroom is contaminated, and then I am going to enter your room and inspect the rest of your hygiene products,” Dee said. “Remain here. Do not struggle against the bonds.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, and then I was alone.
The fog was starting to lift from my head, but I still felt most comfortable remaining in that framework. I was naked and trapped in a protective circle. My hand still smelled like that peppermint stuff and the longer I sat there in the circle, the more aware I was of that and how good it smelled… I wanted to shove it in my face and drink it down.
Dee told me to sit on my hands.
After a few minutes, I heard a voice outside the door… Two. I felt the same mix of emotions and urges as I had in the bathroom.
“Dee, my friend Hazel needs…”
“I’m fine!” Hazel protested. “I keep telling you, I’m fine!”
“You can help her clean up in the kitchen,” Dee said. “Our bathroom is off limits.”
“But that isn’t fair. Also, I have to pee… and I have to get ready for class,” Two said. “But I really have to pee.”
“It isn’t safe… please, Two, use the fourth floor.”
Then the door opened, and Dee entered. She looked down at me cautiously, then stepped around the warding circle, inspecting each line. Finally, she spoke.
“If there was any doubt that you received a genuine visitation last night from an infernal presence, it is now effectively erased,” Dee said. “It was not just a mental sending, either… a demon has been in your room.”
“In my room?” I repeated, the impact of the idea shocking me out of my sub space. While I was sleeping… with Amaranth right there on top of me… “Are you sure?”
“The traces had been deliberately obscured, but once I looked for them, they were unmistakable,” Dee said. “Particularly around your dresser. I am sorry to say that every bottle I checked seems to have been contaminated with the same potion. I attempted a brief purifying ritual on one, but it reduced the contents to slightly discolored water. Slightly discolored holy water, at that. Amaranth is disposing of it, along with the rest.”
“She’s disposing of all my bubble bath?”
“And your shampoo and body spray,” Dee said. “It was all contaminated.”
“Do you know how much I spent on that stuff?” I asked.
“It had already been rendered unusable, Mackenzie,” Dee said. “It is not any more wasted for having been safely removed. I can only surmise that your visitor sought to unleash what he saw as your ‘true self’… fortunately, your true self is rather more deeply conflicted than he imagined. In the absence of overwhelming hunger, your demonic side can be overwhelmed by your other desires.”
I couldn’t help but notice that as she said this, her eyes were again fixated on my breasts.
“I apologize,” she said, noticing that I’d noticed. “In the absence of sophisticated alchemical knowledge, my method of investigation was rather direct… I inhaled quite a bit of the altered scents from your bath products.”
“It’s okay,” I said.
“My interest in your body is not personal, I assure you,” she said. “While my mental training allows me to minimize the influence of the alchemical fumes, my natural interest in the female body is considerable and the elven sexual drive is… considerable.”
“You don’t have to explain to me,” I said. I’d been known to have similar reactions to other women, in my unguarded moments.
“Your breasts might be impressive to one of the stunted women of the surface elves, but they are rather underdeveloped by my tastes,” she said.
“Seriously, it’s okay,” I said.
“You would really not be my first choice for a partner, even if I were to consider taking a non-elven lover,” Dee said. “I can assure you of that.”
“That’s… nice,” I said.
“In fact, I would sooner dip a holy chalice in a toilet than defile the altar of my body through sexual contact with you,” she said. Her face darkened. “It is within the realm of possibility that my mental training is not as effective as I had thought,” she said, backing towards the door.
“Dee… wait,” I said. “The circle?”
“I’ll return to release you when my own head is clear,” she said. “That should be a fairly accurate indication of when it’s safe to do so.”
“I have class this morning!” I said. “Ten fifteen.”
“I will be back before then.”