396: Masked Terror

on July 6, 2009 in Book 14

In Which Pala Picks Up Mackenzie’s Trail

Shrieks of genuine if brief-lived terror coming from the entryway had been part of the background noise of the party since we arrived… we’d been part of it, even. There had been a few startled yelps as individual people caught sight of the gorier costumes for the first time.

My scream of unadulterated horror at the appearance of the scarecrow backlit by a lightning flash cut through the ambient noise and the general atmosphere of fear.

I recovered a bit when the figure jumped away from me in obvious surprise, if not fear, letting out a distinctively womanish shriek. Recovered mentally, anyway… my heart was still pounding in my ears and my limbs were shaking like jelly in an earthquake. I’d landed on my ass, my cape tangled up beneath me and pulling on my neck.

The afterimage from the lightning burst cleared away from my eyes, and I found myself looking up at Barley, in her most immodestly modest outfit yet: coveralls over a long-sleeved shirt, with straw sticking out around the openings and a floppy straw hat.

Seen clearly, she looked more goofy than anything… it had only been the timing of the thunderburst and the resulting silhouette that had kicked off my fear reflex.

Not that I was positively ecstatic to see Barley… I’d take her over the shadow scarecrow from the cursed farm any day of the week, but I wouldn’t have sought out either of their company. The relief I felt was relative. My reaction to her was pretty visceral in its own right.

“Oh my goddess, I didn’t mean to startle you!” she said. “I hope that was just you being startled, I mean… because I also kind of hoped that we could get past, well, you know, everything…”

“Everything” was a funny of saying “attempted rape”, I thought, but my tongue was pretty much still pressed against the roof of my mouth by my heart and my stomach.

“What… what are you doing here, Barley?” Amaranth asked, her voice croaking a little.

“It’s a school party,” Barley said. “That means it’s for everybody, not just you and your special friends.”

“There’s room for everybody, but I thought you were supposed to stay away from us,” Amaranth said. “Mother Khaele told me…”

“Mother Khaele told you that I’m not your concern,” Barley said. She reached out a hand to me. “Here, Mackenzie let me help you up.”

Don’t touch her!” Amaranth shrieked, getting between us… but not fast enough for me to miss the look of pain on Barley’s face.

“I think she can speak for herself,” Barley said. “Unless you’ve beaten that out of her.”

I found my voice then… anger will do that. Calm, rational thought isn’t so great for pushing back even the silliest and most baseless mortal terror. Anger, though, cuts through it like an enchanted knife through warm butter.

“I can,” I said. “And I don’t want you touching me.”

I reached a hand up to Amaranth and she helped me up.

“Well, you shouldn’t need her to say it,” Barley said.

“I agree,” I said. “It should go without saying. Barley, you tried to rape me.”

“But Puddy…”

“I don’t want Puddy touching me, either,” I said. “I might be… adventurous… a little, sometimes… but I’m not public property, and I don’t like people who treat me like I am.”

Barley’s eyes rolled over to Amaranth in a way that made me glad that nymphs weren’t related to basilisks.

“No?” she said. “But you love her.”

“Amaranth has her values,” I said. “They’re not always the same as mine. We… we compromise sometimes. But she’s never tried to rape me.”

“Listen, can we not use that word? I’m willing to talk about what I did, but…”

“Great… good for you. But I’m not willing to talk about it,” I said. “Not with you.”

“Could you just hear me out for one minute?”

“Were you possessed?” I asked. “Had you been messing around with strange pitchforks? Were you under the influence of strange alchemical vapors?”

“Oh, yeah. See, that’s the thing. I actually drank some of Puddy’s wine to get my courage up…”

“Up for what?” I asked. “Look me in the eye and tell me that you hadn’t already made up your mind about what you were going to do before you took the first swig.”

She steeled herself up, swallowed, and then she did look me in the eyes.

I didn’t know if it was something that was against their nature, or if going for a dozen and a half years of mature existence with nothing worth lying about just didn’t cultivate the habit of deception. I knew the truth as soon as her eyes met mine, all big and bright and brittle as Two’s… but not nearly as innocent.

There was a calculation in there. Not a particularly complicated one… one that was straightforward and direct as two plus two equals four. I’d just told her what she had to say for me to give her a chance, and she was about to say it.

“Honestly, Mackenzie, I don’t remem…”

“Stop,” I said. Her eyelids ratcheted down and her blue eyes flashed with anger. I closed my eyes, not wanting to see her face any more. “Stop, Barley… you’re lying to me.”

“That’s because you won’t listen,” she said. Her straw-stuffed pants crinkled as she stomped her foot.

“Barley… if you really are trying to change, I’m glad,” I said. “For so many reasons. But it’s not my job to forgive you. I don’t owe you that. Your mother was right… the best thing we can do is stay away from each other.”

“I will,” she said. “I was going to, except for this one night when she’s not looking… I just thought I’d be big and apologize, but if you don’t even… if you won’t… if… I wonder if it’s the demon blood that makes you so petty, or if it’s her.”

“Barley… just go,” I said. I kept my eyes closed as I heard her crinkling away, then let out a very relieved breath.

“That was… that was really pretty good, baby,” Amaranth said.

“Thanks,” I said. I turned to Ian as we started to wander away from the scene of the… scene. “Were you planning on jumping in at any point?”

“Not even a little bit,” he said.

“I guess there’s a reason you didn’t go as a knight in shining armor.”

“Maybe because you didn’t need one?” he said. “I don’t know what I could have added except another loud voice, and I don’t think that’s the same thing as helping.”

“Is doing nothing really better?” I asked.

“Excuse me,” Pala said. She held up a furry bikini bottom that looked a lot like mine, except for the broken strap and the not even barely covering up my girly parts. “Is this yours?”

Ian’s gaze flicked down. I was suddenly intensely aware of the feel of my cape on my barer-than-before butt. While my face turned into another glowing pumpkin, Amaranth reached out and took the broken garment from the demi-giantess.

“Thank you so much, Pala,” she said. “Hold your cape closed, baby… I’ll just go grab Two. Unless you just wanted to slow dance real close against Ian for a while?”

“Uh, yeah, no,” I said, pulling the cape around myself. “Hurry back.”

“It was just a thought,” Amaranth said. “Making the best of what could be a fortuitous accident. I’ll go get this fixed, though,” she said, and she hurried off towards Two’s group, which had gone straight for the refreshments.

“I don’t get a vote on the slow dancing thing?” Ian asked. “You impressed Amaranth with how you handled that whole deal… it could be like a whole streak.”

“That’s pretty much what I’m worried about. Anyway, you can dance if you want to,” I said. “It’ll be like a compromise. She likes those, too.”

“Miss Mackenzie!” another voice said, the speaker coming up behind me. “Miss Mackenzie!”

This time, I knew exactly who it was, even though the voice was a little muffled and echoey… Sooni was one of the few people apart from teachers who ever used a title when she addressed me, and her yippy little voice was fairly distinctive even when she wasn’t quite screaming at the top of her lungs.

“What, Sooni?” I asked, turning to face her. “What is… ack!”

I had an excuse for being startled that time… even if her voice might have suggested a mask, the last time I’d seen her, her head had been uncovered, and in any event, the last thing I would have expected was to see her entire head covered with a “realistic” (as far as that went) foam representation of an animated character.

“You’re bunching up the cape! It doesn’t look right!” she said, slapping at my hands where I was clutching it. I yelped and let go. The big foam head rocked back a bit. “Actually, I think maybe it did look better the other way.”

“Yeah, thanks,” I said, closing it.

Science Princess!” Pala yelled, running over… well, stepping over. We weren’t that far away from her, comparatively. “You are the Pretty Neko Science Princess!”

“Yes!” Sooni said. She looked up at Pala and her badly abused elven gown. “I like your swimming costume!”

“Thank you!” Pala said. “It is in my room at the inn. Why do you not have Science Princess’s science boots?”

“Oh, these are my mother’s shoes,” Sooni said. “She gave them to me when I was very young. I liked them because they made me look tall.”

“Oh,” Pala said. “Maybe I should get some?”

“You look pretty tall already.”

“They must be working already,” Pala said. “I need to stand next to you some more.”

“You… you aren’t a lesbian, are you?” Sooni asked.

“That is a type of sex pervert?”

“Yes!” Sooni said, nodding her head so enthusiastically I thought it was going to fall off.

“No!” Pala said.

I mouthed “Let’s get out of here,” to a very bemused Ian, and we began to shuffle away from the new best friends, in the direction of Two and Amaranth.

“If that head doesn’t win for scariest costume, I’m demanding a recount,” Ian said.

“Don’t speak too soon,” I said. spotting something that would give Sooni’s head a run for its money: two people who could only have been Suzi and Maliko wearing similar outfits complete with heads, and… most frightening… pushing a stroller with Kai, who was wearing a giant Baby Kai-Kai head with giant oval eyes taking up almost all of the face that wasn’t covered by the giant pacifier. “Don’t stare at her,” I said. “She’s probably already plotting to kill me in my sleep.”

“She could probably sneak out of that and nobody would ever know,” Ian said.

The nekos were parked at one end of a long table covered with Veil treats. Amaranth and Two’s group were at the other end, fortunately, next to a big placard welcoming students to Anna Paradox Tower and Residence Hall for the Veil Ball.

“Hey, baby,” Amaranth said as we approached. She held up the repaired garment. “Two put it right for you.”

“Thanks, Two,” I said. “Sorry for making you work during the dance.”

“It’s okay, I forgive you,” Two said. “Anyway, it isn’t your fault that you were made clumsy.”

“Uh, yeah,” I said.

“Hey, listen,” Hazel said. “I don’t know the whole thing that’s been going on between you and that stuffed shirt, but if she gets up in your business again, I’ll be happy to show her how we do things on the river.”

“Oh, Hazel, don’t,” Honey said, looking as mortified as she ought to have looked in her mock-goblin costume. “Not in your…”

“Not another word from you on that, or I’ll give you a refresher course,” Hazel said. “I’m as fit as the day I was I popped Andy one for putting his hands where oughtn’t’ve, and a woman who can whoop a dwarf could take on just about anyone in this room, up to and including the very tall elf.”

“You didn’t ‘whoop’ him, Hazel, you took him by surprise,” Honey said. “Which he had every right to be, considering that you apparently weren’t so modest as to…”

“Not another word, Honey,” Hazel said.

“Where… um… so, where is Andy tonight?” I asked Hazel.

“He’s… we’re taking a little bit of a breather, actually,” Hazel said.

“I can’t believe that even a dwarf would cut and run when…”

Owain! Will you please shut it? I will belt you one, Heather Callaway!”

“Let’s go find the ladies’ room, baby,” Amaranth said, grabbing my cape-wrapped elbow and pulling me away.

“Yeah, I think I’ll just join you,” Ian said.


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15 Responses to “396: Masked Terror”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Of course Ian, the ladies room with Amy and Mack is the perfect place to find some peace and quiet.

    Current score: 1
  2. Arkeus says:

    “I think she can speak for herself,” Barley said. “Unless you’ve beaten that out of her.”
    Yes, yes she has.

    Current score: 1
    • Pamela says:

      Yes. Because the recent times she has stood up for herself or had a mature discussion about opposing views without freaking out definitely are an indication that she can’t speak for herself. Also, that you’re quoting a *rapist* to defend your extreme views against Amaranth, shows that you may be a touch misguided in your hatred. Don’t get me wrong, Amaranth is probably my least favorite character, but she does have redeeming qualities.

      Current score: 7
      • Maesenko says:

        If you haven’t read More Tales of MU yet, I highly suggest it. You might have a different perspective on Barley after you get through the first in-story month.

        Also, those “recent times Mack hasn’t freaked out” were when Amaranth was nowhere to be seen. So I would say that Amaranth is a negative influence on Mack’s ability to discuss/debate when Amy is present.

        Current score: 1
        • Tom says:

          Ok, I haven’t read More Tales yet, but unless one of them reveals that Mack was lying and Barley never actually tried to rape her, there’s nothing that could change my perspective on her.

          Current score: 5
    • MadnessMaiden says:

      I remember a time when people actually liked Amy.

      Current score: 0
      • capybroa says:

        Arkeus is a troll. Ecrasez l’enfant.

        Current score: 6
  3. Anonymous says:

    “Anyway, you can dance if you want to”

    You might even say he could to leave his girlfriend behind, because his girlfriend wouldn’t dance and if she wouldn’t dance then she ain’t no girlfriend of his.

    Current score: 5
  4. Nessie says:

    anonymous for the win.

    Current score: 2
  5. Jechtael says:

    Dang, Anonymous beat me to it.

    I haven’t read MToMU yet, so I don’t know what redeeming factors it may or may not give Barley. I’m glad she’s not disgusting the way she was a couple of months ago (it REALLY feels more like at least four months have gone by since the beginning of the semester), but that doesn’t make me like her more. Even if she did later find out that Puddy was spiking her champagne with Potions of Heroism or something, and she was trying to get up the courage to tell Mackenzie she loved her, it doesn’t excuse the behaviour (it ameliorates it SLIGHTLY) and doesn’t excuse what came afterward (or didn’t come afterward, in the case of an explanation).

    Yay! I was hoping Sooni’s lack of headwear meant she was going to show up in Kigurumi!

    I’m now all the way upwards of 98% sure that Pala isn’t half anything, she’s just a very short storm giant. And I’m assuming she was the “very tall elf” mentioned.

    Current score: 1
  6. nattykat says:

    Where does one find more tales of mu?, I’ve looked and can’t find it

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      As far as I can tell, there is no site for it anymore. At one point it was more.talesofmu.com – but that subdomain is no longer active.

      It’s possible to read it on the internet archive though:
      More MU: ~1~ Arrival

      This is unfortunately not an optimal reading experience, as you may find chapters that appear to be missing (try messing with the date if that happens).

      Current score: 1
      • nattykat says:

        Thank you kind sir and/or madam! I shall spread the knowledge by adding this to tvtropes

        Current score: 0
        • zeel says:

          Sir for the record. And I can’t believe I never thought to put a link to it there. I’ve been working on the character page lately, I should have thought of this. Reminds me I might need to go through the tag pages on that site to track down all the characters that never show up on this side of the story.

          Current score: 0