383: Family Ties

on May 26, 2009 in Book 14

In Which Mackenzie Encounters A Veiled Threat

Strangely, being badgered and teased about it didn’t make me feel much better about intruding in the bardic arts building. I tensed up, expecting the challenge that of course did not come.

Unlike the buildings I had classes in, the Lazar Center had an actual lobby, not just a little foyer between two sets of doors. The whole interior was a lot nicer, too… fancier. Less institutional, more artistic. It was clearly meant to be a performance building in which classes were held, not a class building in which performances were held.

In the middle of the lobby was a bronze statue of the late Professor Lazar, a sylph wearing a ballet outfit that was way less revealing than anything the sylph I knew had ever worn, and a faun playing a set of pipes.

It was kind of interesting to note that while the central figure was of human height, the faun was about the height of a sylph and the sylph was about as tall as a gnome. Actually, I hadn’t noticed at first, but there were a pair of gnome statues, too, that were slightly shorter than she was.

In fact, I also hadn’t noticed that there were a pair of actual gnomes sitting on a bench that ringed the base of the sculpture… Honey and a boy dressed in green, with a little triangular cap of folded leather. He was pulling triple-decker hamburgers out of a brown fast food bag. I wondered how they were going to eat them, but I had enough presence of mind not to stare. She didn’t say anything to me, so I didn’t say anything to her. I just followed Ian around the statue.

“The music program here is pretty multicultural,” he said, with a backward glance at the statue. “There are a lot of Harlowe students who come through here.”

“Like the gnomes,” I said.

“I’ve never noticed any,” he said. “But probably. Less in the theater department… they seem to get more elves than most undergraduate classes, but not a lot of other races.”

“Listen to you being the expert,” I said. “Figuring on switching your major?”

“I’m not figuring on doing anything yet,” he said. “Freshmen year. My major doesn’t even really matter yet.”

“Easy for you to say,” I said. “If I want to walk away with an applied enchantment degree in four years, I’ve got to be focused on the fundamentals from the beginning.”

“Easy for you to say,” Ian countered. “You know you want a highly technical degree with really specific requirements. About all I know is I don’t want that.”

“But you are thinking about dropping the elementalism major.”

“I’m not dropping anything,” he said. “If I change majors, that’s it… I’m changing. Not dropping.”

“Okay, well, obviously you’re taking up a new major to take its place, but you’re still dropping…”

“You don’t have to emphasize that part,” Ian said. “I’m not quitting.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m not trying to… I guess I was thinking about the accuracy more than the implications.”

“Well, if you really want to be accurate, ‘change’ is still better,” Ian said. “Because it conveys one thing ending and another beginning. ‘Drop’ is just ending.”

He was right. I’d been clinging to my word choice mostly because it was mine.

“Okay, maybe not accuracy so much as me being right,” I admitted. “Sorry, I… just sorry.”

“Nobody likes being wrong, but it’s my life we’re talking about,” Ian said. “I’ll frame it how I want.”

“I’m trying to get better about the whole reflexively arguing thing,” I said.

“It’s okay… if I was wrong about stuff as often as you are, I’d cling to the possibility of being right like a life raft, too,” Ian said, his lips tweaking into a gently mocking smile.

“Except you wouldn’t cling to a life raft. You might cling to a life preserver, but you’d get up on a raft,” I said. “And who has life rafts? Wouldn’t a life boat with an actual keel be better?”

“What was that part about reflexively arguing, again?”

“Hey, your life choices are all yours… your analogies are still fair game,” I said, then stuck out my tongue.

“You know, most people would accept an analogy as long as it got the basic point across.”

“Well, I guess I have higher standards,” I said, and he laughed. “Um, so where are we going, exactly?”

“I thought we’d barge into a classroom that’s in session and act like we own the place,” Ian said. “Come on, Mackenzie… relax. I thought you’d be more at ease here than you were in the athletic center. I figured drama and music would be more your thing.”

“I was never a drama geek,” I said. “Just the regular type. Drama is for extroverts. I’m mostly verted in the other direction.”

We passed in front of a closed box office and an open concession stand… the girl behind the counter waved and Ian waved back… and to a pair of heavy-looking bronze doors that were propped open. Above them was a marquee awning.

“So, we can just…” I started to say, then stopped myself.

“Yes, we can just walk into the theater,” Ian said. “People sit and study in here when nothing’s going on. They take their lunch in here. They goof around and they rehearse stuff or work on blocking.”

“How about our lunch? I was going to the cafeteria when you grabbed me…”

“Um… I think we should be done with the costume stuff before you get any food in your hands.”

Ian was actually greeted with scattered applause when we came into the theater, from five or six girls. I couldn’t help notice that most of the two dozen or so humans who were in the theater were girls. Most of the guys were down towards the front. Three of them were making minute adjustments to a fake castle wall at the back of the stage. Two others were throwing a bean bag back and forth in the space right in front of the front row of seats. There were maybe four others scattered throughout the room.

The elves in the room were more evenly split male and female… though they were also more split. The guys on stage had a pair of girls working with them, and the guys seated throughout the theater were seeded into groups of girls, but the elves seemed to have self-segregated: there was a group of four girls and a group of four guys, on opposite sides of the room.

Two of the girls were wearing flowing, airy gowns like what Professor Ariadne favored. Another had gone all tomboy, at least from the neck down… flannel over a t-shirt, and faded blue jeans with a masculine cut. The fourth was also wearing human-style clothes, but more feminine… off-the-hip type jeans that she was holding in place with one hand and a tube top. She and one of the be-gowned girls were both wearing gauzy veils over their lower faces. The other one had one, too, but she’d pulled it down like a scarf to eat a hamburger.

“Don’t stare at them,” Ian said. “They’ll kick your ass.”

“I’m not staring,” I said, turning my eyes to the carved lions’ heads over the stage. “Maybe humans are afraid of elves, but they’re more afraid of me.”

“You realize they can hear you,” Ian said.

“Yeah, well, they could also hear you say I was staring when I wasn’t, so just to set the record straight…”

The fact that they all started giggling in unison was probably a coincidence, but I let the subject drop, especially as one of the human girls was coming up the center aisle towards us and I didn’t really feel like bickering where even more people could hear. She was maybe an inch or two shorter than me, with curly red hair and a kind of round face, and she threw her arms around Ian, almost knocking him off his feet.

“Ian!” she said.

“Uh, hey, Winnie,” Ian said. He patted her on the back awkwardly, but when she didn’t release him he eventually returned the hug. As soon as they broke apart, he very quickly slid up against my side and put his arm around my waist. “This is Mackenzie, my girlfriend.”

The tiny part of me… the part that everybody probably has but that most people don’t acknowledge as often as, say, Steff does… that dreamed of ruling over the world from on high with an iron fist decided that when total power was mine, he could live but she might not be so lucky.

“Oh, hi!” she said. “The demon girl from Harlowe, I’ve heard so many stories about you. But then, I suppose everybody has!” She laughed at this, an annoying woodchuck laugh.

“So, how do you know Ian?” I asked.

“Oh, my roommate plays the flute… I tell her flautery will get her nowhere, but does she listen?” She laughed again. I would have paid her not to. “But, anyway, she likes to jam, so she carries her flute everywhere she goes, especially when she’s coming to the ‘Zar, and any time she hears people playing, she whips it out.”

“She’s really pretty good,” Ian said. “Passionate. I mean, you wouldn’t think a flute could really wail, but… it does.”

“Uh huh,” I said, suddenly seeing the downside to dating a musician. Jamming with passionate women.

“Of course, Ian doesn’t spend half as much time here as he used to,” Winnie said.

“I have to practice if I’m going to become a better fighter.”

“Hey, no complaints from me,” Winnie said. “Do you think you can talk the arena director into finding skimpier outfits for the unarmed fighters, though?”

“They already wear practically nothing,” I said, putting my arm around Ian’s back.

“Yeah, so why not just round down?” she said… and once again laughed at her own joke. So annyoing.

A delicate cough grabbed our attention… the elf girl in the jeans joined us so quickly and quietly that she might have teleported in. She was sitting on the back of an aisle seat in the back row, perfectly balanced with her butt on the top and her legs drawn up in front of her.

“Ceridwen… are you going to introduce me to your new friend?” she said, in heavily accented Pax.

“Ugh, I told you, call me Winnie. Anyway, I’ve just met her, but this is…”

“Is it true that demons never tire?” the elf asked, her lavender-blue eyes fixed on me.

“Um… I get tired pretty easily, actually,” I said. “I mean, not worn out, but I have to sleep. But I’m not a demon, I’m half-human.”

She didn’t say anything to that. She just sat there, perched like a gargoyle and leering like one. Ian shifted uncomfortably beside me. I started to draw us away, then I realized what the elf had said to Winnie.

“Wait,” I said. “Your name is Ceridwen?”

“Please don’t laugh… I know it’s horribly old-fashioned and ugly, but it’s a family name,” she said, rolling her eyes and waving her hand. “I’ve got cousins all over Prax with the same stupid name.”

“How many of them go here?” I asked. I was beginning to form a new theory about why everybody at MU seemed to have their heads up their asses: they were all related to Puddy.

“All of them, pretty much,” she said. “I’ve probably got over a dozen cousins who are here right now, and three of them have the same name. Even more, if you count second cousins and further… we’re a big family, and MU’s kind of a tradition for us.”

“I can kind of understand that,” Ian said. “My mom’s family has history here.”

“I thought you said it was your dad’s side,” Winnie said.

“No, I said my grandpa studied under Professor Lazar,” Ian said. “But he was the black sheep. The rest of my dad’s family were all old-fashioned tower wizards.”

“Wait,” I said to “Winnie”. “Aren’t there other schools you could have gone to?”

“Not if I wanted my parents to pay for it,” she said. “Believe me, if I could have gotten away from my extended family, I would have, but like I said, it’s a family thing.”

“Just so I’m clear,” I said, since I’d got myself into trouble for jumping to conclusions before, “you’re another some-spelling-of-Ceridwen LaBelle?”

“I’m Winnie Champlain,” she said. “My mother was a Ceridwen LaBelle until she got married.”

“Turn around,” the elf said.


“I wish to see the seat of you.”

“I’m not showing you my ass,” I said. “Look, I have a girlfriend.”

“I have a dozen of them,” she said. “But don’t worry. Only one of them is jealous.”

“Well, she’s got nothing to be jealous about,” I said.

“She told me she would remove the skin from every part of you that touches any part of me,” the elf said with a creepy but riveting intensity. “And I told her I could live with that if she let me keep it.” She giggled. It was the coldest sound I ever heard. “Now I have an incentive to touch you all over.”

“Look, Semele… no one’s touching anyone and no one’s skinning anyone,” Ian said. “We’re just here to hang out and scrounge for costumes.”

“Oh, Mel can help there!” Winnie said, putting a hand on Semele’s shoulder. “She’s worked in the costume department for years.”

“Yeah, um… no,” Ian said, and mercifully, he pulled me away down the aisle. Even more mercifully, Winnie stayed behind to talk to Semele. “The thing about hanging out with the full elf kids is the more you do it, the more you come to realize Steff isn’t quite as creepy by comparison.”

“Uh, they can still hear, right?” I said.

“They know they can be creepy,” he said. “Some of them play it up. I mean, Semele’s not actually ‘with’ any of the other elfmaids who are here right now. Aoede and Irene are crazy in love with each other… they’re the ones you really don’t want to stare at, especially since it’s well known that you like girls… and Penny’s elf-gay.”


“Yeah, you know… straight,” Ian said. “Really, you don’t want to stare at her, either. The point is that Semele made up that thing about a jealous girlfriend on the spot.”


“To impress you? I don’t know. I guess sometimes it works, or else hope springs eternal, because I’ve heard her do it to other girls,” Ian said. “Some people are attracted to weird things. Some people are turned on by the thought of a dangerous lover.”

“But that’s just stu… uh, I mean, to each their own, I suppose,” I said, blushing. Of course I had little room to talk there, in several different directions. “Let’s just do what we came here to do, before she tries to impress me again.”

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7 Responses to “383: Family Ties”

  1. pedestrian says:

    To all his friends and challengers, I bet Ian brags that his
    demon-chick gives him head.

    “Any of you losers man enough to put your cock in a demon’s mouth? And I get to punch her up now and again?”

    All his friends should chip in to buy Ian a wheelbarrow to haul his testicles around in comfort.

    Current score: 3
    • Duke says:

      Wheelbarrow Pedestrian? Get the man a flat bed.

      Current score: 2
  2. Anthony says:

    Mackenzie’s “verted in the other direction”? Which one? Per? 😉

    Current score: 3
  3. Jechtael says:

    Is yet-another-[C/K]eridwen the Winnie I vaguely recall hating that Ian had found himself with an official girlfriend?

    Current score: 1
  4. Jimmy Joe III says:

    No. No, Mack. Some things are, in fact, stupid. You were right this time.

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      You know Amaranth would totally be turned on by being skinned alive…

      Current score: 0