395: Mist Perceptions

on July 1, 2009 in Book 14

In Which Mackenzie Fails To Recognize Someone

Despite her nonchalance about the bat illusions, Amaranth seemed hesitant about stepping through the black wall. It turned out that it melted away when you got closer to it, barely casting a pall over the doorway behind it, much like real darkness.

Beyond, the party was very clearly getting started. It wasn’t all that crowded yet… as we’d just seen, people were enjoying the chance to be out at night and taking in the sights. The tower had a great big basement lounge, and it seemed like students of multiple disciplines had helped prepare it.

The walls and ceiling had been covered with a dungeon chic illusion. There was thick fog swirling around everyone’s ankles. Hovering pumpkins were everywhere. Harpsichord thrash that reminded me of Viktor was playing ambiently, with no sound crystals to distract from the illusion. It was punctuated periodically by flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder.

A disappointingly large number of the students who were already present had skipped costumes, or done lame things like wearing a “This Is My Costume” t-shirt. One guy had on that stupid t-shirt with a picture of a chain mail vest on it. It seemed like a lot of the early crowd was made up of those who just wanted an excuse for a party.

There were some people who’d made the effort, though… some of them quite ghoulish. There was one guy with a bunch of what were probably modified spectral arrows sticking out of his body at different angles, the wounds appearing to bleed. Another kid had a meat cleaver stuck in his head, and there was a girl walking around with bleeding stumps just below her elbow. The drink hovering about a foot past the end of one of them did little to make the illusion less disturbing.

I was kind of relieved to see that most of those who’d gone the “monster” route had thought of undead versions. I had a moment of weird deja vu and nostalgia when I spotted the exact same model of cheap rubber ghoul mask that had been my hidden treasure so many years before.

“Steff’s going to kick herself for missing this,” Amaranth said.

“Yeah,” I said. I had a suspicion she’d appreciate the stump girl. “Seems like this would be her kind of scene.”

“Yeah, but also, there’s that gladiator that she likes,” Amaranth said, pointing.

She hardly needed to… it was Pala the semi-giantess that she was talking about. She’d left her spear behind for the night. It took me a moment to figure out what her costume was… she was wearing a skintight one-piece that seemed to terminate in the briefest miniskirt imaginable and barely contained her massive chest. It had a pattern of green diamonds, varying from very pale to almost white. There was something vaguely familiar about the style of it, but I didn’t put it together until she turned her head a little and I saw she was wearing pointed ears.

She was dressed as an elf, complete with an elven-style dress in what was probably the largest size she could find. It was a really lucky thing that elven gowns had the whole flowing, trailing thing going on, or else she would have been completely indecent.

“The real shame is that if Steff had just waited to take the potion, she could have come here and then used it,” I said. “I guess I can understand her excitement, but I can’t believe she’d miss a chance to dress up… it seems right up her alley.”

“Do you think she might have taken the potion in the morning because the dance was tonight?” Ian said. “Like, she wanted to jump on the chance to go… filled out?”

“I really doubt that,” I said. “Dee told her it would take the whole weekend and she’d be incapacitated for it.”

“Yeah, I guess she’d have to be almost suicidally foolish with a simultaneous delusion of invulnerability or something to try it,” Ian said. “Seriously, did I misunderstand what was happening or was she not up and trying to walk around like everything was normal earlier?”

“Point taken,” I said.

Pala was talking to someone who would have looked like a kind of big hulking guy, if he’d been standing by anyone else. He was wearing what looked like motorcycle gear: leather for more flexible protection than metal armor gave, and a helmet adapted from the typical jousting helmet with a modern transparent visor.

He didn’t look like he was doing a Mecknight, specifically. Their cycle suits had even more of an armor look. There was something odd about the proportions of it… then he turned and started walking and I realized it wasn’t the outfit but the body beneath it.

“Is that Moeli?” I said.

“Yes, baby,” Amaranth said. She sounded a little irritated and I wondered at what, but then she said, “I never thought about how being a nymph takes some of the fun out of a masquerade.”

Then I realized he was in the same leather jacket I’d seen him with down at his post behind the desk. Without the headgear, I hadn’t been able to tell what he was going for.

“Give me your coat and then let’s go say hi to them,” Amaranth said.

“Why?” I asked, handing her my coat.

“Because we’re at a party and we just spotted people we know,” she said, helping me get my cape on. “It’s a dance. Let’s be sociable. If we wanted to stand around talking to each other, we could have stayed in your room.”

“I’d say ‘people we recognize’,” I said. “Do we really know Pala?”

“She’s nice,” Amaranth said. “Ian, you know her, right?”

“Um, kind of,” he said. “I mean, we use different locker rooms. I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with her.”

“Well, let’s go rectify that,” she said.

Alone, I would have felt weird about walking up to two people who were already talking and jumping into their conversation. With Amaranth leading the way… I still felt weird.

But I would obey.

“Yeah, I’m actually building a motorcycle as an auto shop project,” Moeli was saying as we approached. “Well, a model of one. But it’s full-sized.”

“My friend has a motorcycle,” Pala said. “She drinks at the inn I stay at.”

“Not a real one, though,” I said, disbelief crushing my awkwardness aside.

“No, it is very real,” Pala said. “Just not so easy to find. The Inn of the Black Doors. You have heard of it?”

“I mean, it’s not a real motorcycle,” I said. “It can’t be.”

“No, I suppose it’s really a wolf.”

It made as much sense as anything else, so I let it go.

“You know,” Moeli said, turning to me, “just because something’s not real doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with enjoying it. Some of us have a little thing called imagination.”

“Hey, I like them, too!” I said quickly. “I just… I like to keep what’s possible separate from what’s not. What’s your automata teacher think about your choice of project?”

“He hasn’t said anything,” Moeli said. “I’m going to keep it for when I get my enchantment degree.”

“You’re an enchantment student?” I asked.

“Armoury,” Moeli said. “I’m going to get enchantment after that.”

“A lot of the classes are the same,” I said. “Why not just double major?”

“I like to focus on one thing at a time,” he said.

“But won’t you be in school forever that way?”

“The second degree won’t take as long.”

“Don’t you want to get out there and start earning money, though?” I asked.

“I’ll take what I can get, but I’m not a gold farmer,” Moeli said. “I just want to be able to make really cool shit.”

“Oh,” I said, and I couldn’t figure out what to follow it up with.

I could understand what he meant… I wanted to make neat stuff, too, like figures that could enact more complicated scenes… but the idea that he’d go to school for a bunch of extra years and not be looking for a pot of gold at the end of that particular rainbow was a little foreign to me.

“My friend has a motorcycle,” Pala said again.

“What’s her name, honey?” Amaranth asked.

“Oh, it is a he,” Pala said. “His name is Skald. She lets me pet him sometimes.”

“She?”

“My friend,” Pala said.

“Skald… is… her motorcycle,” Ian said. “Who is really a wolf.”

“Yes,” Pala said, nodding enthusiastically.

“It’s an interesting world you live in, isn’t it?” Ian asked.

“Oh, I don’t live there,” Pala said. “I board there. Not many connections remain between the world I live in and this one, but the inn has doors everywhere.”

“Black doors,” Ian said.

“Yes,” Pala said.

Ian gave Amaranth and me a look that said, very eloquently, this is why I don’t have many conversations with her.

“You should go say hello to Coach Callahan,” Pala said.

“Wait, is she here?” I asked.

“No, it is just Moeli and I,” she said, looking around in confusion. “Coach Callahan is over there.”

I didn’t want to look, but felt compelled to. There she was standing in a corner of the room, along with an adult man I didn’t know who wasn’t in costume… Coach Jillian Callahan.

Dressed as a slutty Universal School Girl.

She was looking around the room while the guy next to her nattered on. She spotted us looking at her and I would swear that her eyes lit up, but she looked around a little and then scowled.

“Ooh… Steff is going to absolutely kick herself,” Amaranth said.

“I don’t think she’s going to have to,” Ian said.

“Steff is the alfr whose penis Coach Callahan likes to tread on, yes?” Pala said.

“Um…” I said.

“Yes, yes, she is,” Amaranth said.

Pala’s face looked a lot like Two’s did when she required clarification. I thought I heard a tiny rumble of thunder that wasn’t coming from the atmospheric effects. She shook it off, though.

“Coach Callahan takes sex perverts very seriously,” she said. “She keeps images of them in her desk so she can recognize them if she sees them.”

“Yes, I know, I’ve seen them,” Ian said. “So many times.”

“So, did you get a tan?” Moeli asked Amaranth.

“Oh, no, my skin doesn’t tan,” she said. “It’s bark color.” She grabbed a length of her green hair and held it out. “I’m a dryad, see?”

“Oh, I thought maybe you were a mermaid,” Moeli said. “One of them has the green hair. I saw the other one outside, walking around glammed as a harpy or bird woman or something.”

Iona’s truer state was as feathery as it was scaly… I wondered if she’d decided to dispense with a costume entirely and come as herself?

“She didn’t seem to be heading this way, though,” he said. “I guess maybe she’s going to a private party.”

It was possible… but the other possibilities chilled me. Hell, that possibility chilled me. Iona, slinking off in her natural form to go to a private party. Catered, maybe?

“I’m sure this isn’t the only Veil party on campus tonight,” Amaranth said. “One of the reason the school holds these events is to give a supervised alternative to the student ones.”

“There’s your roomie,” Ian said. I looked back towards the entrance, where a party of four had just entered: Two, her friend Hazel, Hazel’s cousin Honey, and Oru. Hazel and Honey were keeping as much distance between each other as they could while still being with the group.

Oru looked… the only word for it was ghastly. She’d had her skin tinted a white, but it looked pallid and corpse-like, particularly in the eerie lighting conditions. Her thick, spiky hair had been curled somehow, but it looked more like springs than burrow gnome hair. She was wearing one of Honey’s actual dresses. That part she carried off well enough… Honey’s dresses weren’t flattering enough to depend on the chest of the wearer.

Really, she looked like nothing so much as an evil little porcelain doll.

Then she smiled.

Goblins have very wide mouths, in proportion to the rest of their heads. They have no lips to speak of, but they do have lots of teeth, which are sharp and set at no particular angle.

“Sweet Khersis, I’m going to have nightmares for a month,” Ian said.

“Well,” Amaranth said, “I, for one, think she looks… um… very in keeping with the spirit of the occasion?”

“You’ve got that right,” I said. “If they give a prize for the scariest costume, I don’t see how anyone’s going to top that.”

“Mackenzie?” a voice said from behind me. A hand fell on my shoulder and I turned around as thunder pealed, then jumped six feet out of my skin at the sight of a scarecrow, covered in shadow.


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8 Responses to “395: Mist Perceptions”

  1. pedestrian says:

    hot damn! Inn of the Black Doors. it boggles my mind considering the variety of stories AE will gift us out that clue.

    Current score: 1
    • Anthony says:

      Sounds like Honest John’s to me. The MU world exists somewhere within the Riftwar multiverse. (Hey, it could happen…)

      Current score: 1
      • Mike says:

        Yeah, does anyone have links to those stories any more? I lost mine and can’t find them again.

        Current score: 0
    • Jechtael says:

      PLEASE tell me this is Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon!

      Current score: 0
  2. Erm says:

    “She didn’t seem to be heading this way, though,” he said. “I guess maybe she’s going to a private party.”

    It was possible… but the other possibilities chilled me. Hell, that possibility chilled me. Iona, slinking off in her natural form to go to a private party. Catered, maybe?

    Harsher in hindsight…

    Current score: 1
  3. Erm says:

    So… the guy who fixed the wall Mack punched through is at the party, but I can’t figure out where. Is it the man Callahan is talking to?

    Current score: 1
    • Nim says:

      I think he’s the guy talking to Callahan, yeah.

      Current score: 1