453: Big Trouble

on July 26, 2010 in Book 16

In Which Bodies Are Watched

The campus had grown so eerily quiet over the past few darys that the sudden noisiness as we headed to lunch was startling. Not in the way that a tiny little sound in a quiet room is startling, but the way a bunch of big sounds are. There were a lot more people out and about than there had been since before Veil weekend, in the pent and the plaza in front of the student union… but it wasn’t quite like things were back to normal.

People were agitated, excited. They weren’t coming and going and they weren’t exactly hanging out… it was more like they were just waiting. Some of them glanced over at us… at me, it seemed like… expectantly, and then went back to talking to their friends with their heads down and their voices low.

I felt a bit like I was about to walk into an ambush. I felt even more like I’d felt back during my first days at MU… so shy that even thinking I was the center of attention was enough to make me nauseous. I had probably been a little paranoid then. I suspected I was a little less so now.

There was a buzz of conversation, too many people talking to each other at once to make out exactly about what. There was even more commotion in the distance, towards the administration building.

“I wonder what’s happened,” Amaranth said quietly. We’d all stopped moving, Two a few seconds after the rest of us. She looked confused. Amaranth and Steff looked worried.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Has something happened, or is something about to happen?”

“How would everybody know if it hasn’t happened yet?” Amaranth asked.

“How do they know and we don’t?” I said. “Nobody tells us anything.”

“It hasn’t happened yet,” Steff said. Her elven ears could probably pick out a lot more from the babble than we could hope to. “The rumor is there’s going to be some kind of official announcement.”

“About Leda’s death?” I said.

“No, Mack, about the dean’s list,” Steff said. “People are guessing everything from they’ve caught the murderer to the Imperium is declaring war on Shifters.”

“That doesn’t even make sense,” I said. “Leda’s people did nothing wrong… they’re the injured party, if anyone living is.”

“Right, well, we should start a counter-rumor that this rumor doesn’t make sense, to try to nip it in the bud,” Steff said. “My guess is it’s just going to be some kind of statement to try to smooth thing over with the visiting royals.”

“Do you think we should go listen?” Amaranth said to me.

“Go where?” Steff said. “Students are gathering in front of the admin building, but there hasn’t actually been an announcement that there’s going to be announcement.”

“How can you tell that?” I asked.

“Because nobody knows for sure where the idea came from,” Steff said, her voice dropping lower and lower while still sounding perfectly audible in our ears. “It’s pure mob mentality. You hear this all the time if you listen to a crowd… these things just spread like wildfire. If there isn’t any kind of announcement on the docket, then I give it maybe thirty minutes, tops, before the mob decides they’re being ignored and gets all kinds of antsy. The last thing we want is to be in the middle of something like that, because what’s really got everybody riled up isn’t concern for Leda or justice… it’s wanting this to be over, wanting someone to be punished.”

“Do you think we should go back to Harlowe, then?” Amaranth asked her, frowning more than a little.

Amaranth liked to believe the best of everyone, but apparently she was willing to bow to Steff’s judgment about the mood of the crowd. I wondered if her viewpoint on such things was broadening, or if maybe believing the best about each person didn’t entail believing the best about people.

And to be fair to her, Amaranth had always been able to accept the fact that prejudice existed, and that it could be dangerous to me. She had been among the most vociferous of those urging me to learn to defend myself. So maybe it wasn’t too surprising that she took this threat seriously.

“No,” Steff said. “I don’t want to give up my lunch because a bunch of assholes might turn into raging assholes… and besides, do you think anybody’s going to think to storm the cafeteria if things get ugly? They’ll try to storm the admin building or they’ll try to storm Harlowe… I’d kind of like to see the aftermath of either, but I don’t need to be anywhere near the during-math. If the ugliness spreads, the Public Safety office is right in back of the union.”

“That makes sense,” Amaranth said, and she relaxed a bit.

We gave the clusters of people in front of the union as wide a berth as we could while still getting in through the doors. There were even more people sitting in the atrium… more than I could remember ever seeing there. They seemed to be a bit calmer and quieter than the ones outside, like they were more content to wait and see what happened. I figured the groups that were outside had to be undecided for the moment… they would either join the crowd in front of the admin building, give up and go back to their routine for the day, or come inside to wait it out.

“See, this is the place to be,” Steff whispered, probably to all of us, as we headed upstairs. “In here we’re not in danger of anything but a sit-in breaking out. If that happens while we’re here, I say we join it.”

“I don’t see what good that will do,” I said. I knew the information that was needed to catch Leda’s killer or killers was working its way towards those who needed to know it. As much as I wanted things to be over and done with, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see what would happen when the rest of campus found out what I knew… so not only did I not think a protest would be necessary, I didn’t want to help it along, either.

“It’ll put you and me squarely on the side of the students who are deeply concerned with justice for the slain and not on the side belonging to murder suspects cleared with suspicious speed,” Steff said. “After Two’s friend Hazel’s little love-in on Sunday, the peaceful crowd would probably accept us, and then they’d be our protection from the non-peaceful crowd.”

“We were cleared because we’re innocent,” I said.

“I’d say tell that to a tribune, but you won’t be hauled in front of a tribune, because you were cleared,” Steff said. “Which is why you’d end up saying it to the mob instead. Funny thing about mobs: they have way more ears than tribunes, but even worse hearing.”

“Participating in a non-violent protest might be a good way of showing our support for the rights of the victim,” Amaranth said. “And it wouldn’t hurt if people noticed that support.”

“This is crazy,” I said. “A few weeks ago, people were protesting for me, now some people are looking at me like they expect to see me lynched.”

“They were protesting against the school’s mistreatment of a student,” Steff said. “Anything that happens to one of them happens to all of them, and all that… unless of course they do it themselves.”

“Would this be a political protest?” Two asked. “Because I’m not supposed to participate in political actions without express written consent from the counsel of…”

“I’m getting very tired about the rules that Hearts of Clay keeps you under,” Amaranth said. “I’m sorry for interrupting you…”

“That’s okay, I forgive you,” Two said. “I’m sorry for interrupting you.”

“…but you are a free being and you should be treated as one,” Amaranth said. She realized Two was staring at her expectantly. Free or not, Two was still a golem, and her mind moved in rather fixed patterns. “That’s okay, Two, I forgive you, too.”

“You didn’t have a problem with helping me deliver letters for the student elections,” I said.

“Yes, but that wasn’t real politics so it didn’t count,” Two said.

“Who told you that?” I asked.

“I figured it out on my own,” she said.

“That’s our pseudowench,” Steff said.

“Yes, I am,” Two said.

The cafeteria was even emptier than it had been the past couple days. Despite Steff’s logic, I felt awfully exposed sitting there with just her and Amaranth and Two. There was no sign of Dee, and as much as I couldn’t really blame her for lying low I would have liked to have someone with us who had her caliber of abilities, martial and otherwise.

Ian joined us a few unusually long minutes into the meal, which was a welcome relief… and as a surprise, he brougth with him the half-giant gladiator, Pala. I was more than a little surprised to see her… I didn’t think she’d enjoyed her last meeting with us.

Or rather, with Steff.

“Hey,” he said. “You guys know Pala, right?”

“Well, of course we do,” Amaranth said, with her biggest, most welcoming smile. “Hello, Pala. It’s nice to see you again.”

“Thank you,” Pala said. She looked at Steff. “You… you have a brother, or sister, perhaps?”

“Perhaps,” Steff said. “But I don’t.”

Pala frowned in confusion.

“I thought it would be a nice day to have a conventionally attractive, non-threatening, and yet extremely intimidating and physically powerful woman come to lunch with us,” Ian said. “And maybe walk around campus with some of us afterwards. Like those of us who are Mackenzie.”

“Ian, have I ever told you that I love you?” Steff said.

“No,” Ian said. “If you’re looking for ways to show your appreciation, though: don’t.”

“Noted,” Steff said. “Seriously, though, that’s brilliant.”

“You think I need a bodyguard?” I said. “And her? What can she do that I can’t?”

“You mean aside from fighting?” Ian said. “Seriously, all she’s got to do is stand there.”

“People aren’t going to be afraid to take on a half-demon, but they’re going to be afraid of her?” I asked.

“She’s more… imposing,” Ian said. “But again, less threatening. People won’t want to have to fight her even if they think they can. And Mackenzie, I’m sorry… you’re not scary enough to enough people to count on that to keep you safe. Too many people have seen you fall, or freak out, or flash your underwear, or whatever.”

“None of that makes me more vulnerable or less strong,” I said. “Or flamey.”

“Right, but it makes people care about all that less.”

“I don’t need her following me around, Ian. She’ll just be in the way.”

“Okay, you two, regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong… and by the way, Mack, Ian is right… you two shouldn’t be talking about Pala like that when she’s standing right here,” Amaranth said, reaching up to try to put her hands sort of near Pala’s shoulders. She gave up and ended up stroking the sleeve of her soft woolen sweater. It was… strangely affecting.

“I could go stand somewhere else,” Pala said.

“Oh, no, honey, don’t,” Amaranth said. “Please, have a seat.”

Pala looked at one of the chairs in confusion, and for a moment I thought she was going to pick it up. Then I realized she was trying to figure out how to sit on it. Amaranth realized that, too, and she blushed dark crimson.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Amaranth said. “I wasn’t thinking… um… we could pull a table over?”

“Tables aren’t for sitting on,” Two said.

“She could sit on my lap,” Steff said.

“I do not think that would be comfortable,” Pala said. “Though you seem unusually well-padded for… you are alfr?”

“No, just half-r,” Steff said. “Why don’t you guess which half? Then I’ll show you both and you can see if you were right.”

“I’m sorry, Pala,” Amaranth said, as though she were responsible for the seating situation or Pala’s presence somewhere she plainly didn’t fit. “I feel bad about you standing.”

“Where there is no chair for me, I usually sit on the floor,” Pala said, and Amaranth removed the chair for her. She folded her legs and sat on the floor, then immediately said, “Oh. I should have got food first. How does this work? Ian paid to get me in… do I have to buy food, too?”

“No, I’ll show you,” Amaranth said. “It’s buffet-style. Do you know what that means?”

“It means like…koldtbord?”

“Well, sort of… except the food isn’t as good, and sometimes it’s only cold by accident,” Amaranth said. “Come on, I’ll show you.”

Amaranth led her off to get her food. Ian stayed behind at the table, looking at me expectantly.

“Doesn’t she have her own classes to go to?” I said.

“Not this afternoon,” Ian said. “And she needs to get guard hours in every semester for the practical requirement on her defender focus. Mackenzie, please don’t be insulted…”

“I’m not insulted,” I said.

“Good,” Steff said. “Because it’s really not a bad idea. I think I’ll be sticking with you, too… I’ll feel safer standing in her shadow. Especially if she’s walking west.”

“I’m not going to say no to that because of safety in numbers,” Ian said. “Just try not to run her off.”

“I’m pretty sure I could catch her anyway,” Steff said.

“Do you have to perv on everyone, Steff?” I asked.

“You can’t possibly be jealous,” Steff said. “You’ve got Amy… she’s just like Pala, only half the size. Oh, well, I guess you can be jealous. That, and it would explain your reaction to everyone I want to fuck.”

“You want to fuck everyone,” I said.

“Yes, and I can hear from the tone in your voice how wrong I was to think you had a problem with that,” Steff said.

“I don’t have a problem with Viktor.”

“You have plenty of problems with Viktor.”

“Okay, yes,” I conceded, “but not specifically with the fact that you have sex with him.”

“Yes, but you knew that was a thing when we started messing around,” Steff said. “What you’re on guard against is any new lovers. Which is really not fair of you, since you have two other steady lovers and I only have one.”

“I didn’t think you were looking for steady lovers,” I said.

“I wasn’t looking for you,” Steff said. “I’m just… open to what happens.”

“And what even made you think to bring me a bodyguard?” I asked Ian, to keep the conversation focused on something more important, and less unnerving.

“Man, Mackenzie, have you not felt the vibe going around campus?” Ian sad. “Ever since the news this morning… it’s like everyone expects something to break open, and if it doesn’t, they’re going to break it open.”

“All because Leda’s parents are coming?” I said. “This is crazy… maybe the whole thing is about to be solved, but the fact that they’re showing up doesn’t have to mean anything one way or another.”

“But people want it to,” Ian said. “And so if nothing happens they’re going to be disappointed… or pissed. I know you don’t spend a lot of time in locker rooms…”

“Thankfully,” I said.

“…but they can be like the whole campus in a tiny model. All the rumors, all the prejudices, all the hate…”

“Oh, the things I miss out on by not participating in organized sports,” I said.

“It’s not all negative,” Ian said. “It’s everything distilled down. So when there are good feelings, like everybody’s pumped up and excited, it’s a really pure rush… and when people are getting riled up over something, it’s… less pure. It’s not that everybody has attached some importance to the visit. But everybody wants something to happen, and enough people are expecting something that they could be the spark that sets the whole thing burning if it all fizzles out.”

“So how long am I going to have Pala following me around, then?”

“I don’t know,” Ian said. “She’s not going to be available all the time. But I think the school… or the authorities… are going to have to handle this soon or it’ll all blow up, so either way, it shouldn’t be for long.”

“Oh, well, that’s reassuring.”

I was really fine with Steff accompanying us during the afternoon, because she kept Pala’s attention away from me. I decided to spend my lengthy afternoon break at the library, so I could go over my logic problems and do a little extra research for history. En route, Steff convinced Pala that they should be standing guard outside it, which Pala accepted with only a little prodding. I went inside, happy to be alone, though I knew why Steff really made the suggestion: she was on thin ice with the librarians, and if there was anyone in the world she could have hit on discreetly, Pala wasn’t it.

She might as well have been as subtle as a telepath’s mystic signature as far as Pala was concerned. The girl was so completely oblivious… that was probably a big part of why I couldn’t stand her. She seemed okay as a person, but she was just such the perfect elemental embodiment of what I couldn’t stand about warrior jocks.

Well, except that what I really didn’t like were bullies, and she was… nice. I honestly couldn’t picture her picking on anyone. If anything, she seemed like the type who’d be picked on herself, if anybody would dare to.

Except that Steff really was kind of picking on her… and I was, too, even if she didn’t know it. It seemed unfair that someone so big and so strong, someone who could lay an utter smitedown on a buffed-up Puddy in the arena, could at the same time be so… so… inherently sympathetic.

Ian had been right. Nobody would want to fight her. She had an aura of utter innocence, just like Two… and unlike Two, she didn’t have to rely on a stun mace to protect herself.

Was I horrible for leaving her alone with Steff? Well, again, she didn’t really need any help protecting herself… she’d recognized Steff’s intentions for what they were in the past, which meant that she could again even if she didn’t recognize Steff now. She was a big girl. And it wasn’t like Steff’s attention was that bad.

I certainly wouldn’t have minded it if Steff still hung onto me with her eyes the way she was doing with Pala.

Not that she was right about jealousy being the root of my problem… but then that only left the possibility that I was being a stuck-up prejudiced bitch, or just disliking her for no reason. Okay, that was two reasons.

Being alone with my thoughts was turning out to be less and less good. I chose to blame that on my thoughts, and decided to distract myself by putting away the history book I was barely absorbing and going to gaze the weave a bit.

As I focused my attention on the crystal ball, I noticed the little a-mail icon floating down on the bottom left side. I usually ignored it… I hadn’t used my university a-mail for anything, really. Most of my friends lived in the same dorm as I did, and while it probably would be a handy way to coordinate things with Ian it had just never occurred to me since I wasn’t already in the habit of using it.

This time, though, I noticed it because the little rolled-up parchment was being entwined by three long, green dragon necks. That looked sort of… official. I focused my attention on it and the scroll unfurled and filled the orb. The first message it listed… above a lot of what looked like mass a-mails and automatic announcements… had a tri-dragon mark in front of the subject line, which read:

Important, Campus-Wide Announcement: Press Conference Scheduled For 5 P.M.

Considering they hadn’t sent out anything like that before, I figured this meant that someone in the admin office realized how important it was to get this word out to all the students.

I just hoped that someone else had a better idea for how to do it than a mass a-mail.


Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!


Characters: , , , , ,





38 Responses to “453: Big Trouble”

  1. Spinster says:

    ” Et koldt bord” is what you referred to when you wrote koldtbord it´s a danish concept…
    first time i ever replied, couldn’t help it since I’m danish

    Current score: 1
    • anna says:

      I believe ‘koldtbord’ is the Norwegian name for the same thing. See http://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koldtbord This makes sense, given that Pala uses Norse words elsewhere (alfr being the other, immediate example in this chapter)

      🙂

      Current score: 2
      • Teitur says:

        I always took Pala as more heavily influenced by the older Nordic culture, especially with her use of the Old Norse alfr. In which case, the best (linguistically speaking; it’s got cultural overtones and is anyway technically an invented tradition) cross-cultural example would be þorramatur.

        Then again, as an Icelander, I’m nice and biased.

        Current score: 0
  2. Sapphite says:

    Nice update – good to see Pala again.

    The “Nauseous” link (not sure why that’s surprising) covers a couple pages.

    Also: “Right, but it makes people care about all that less,” I said. “I don’t need her following me around, Ian. She’ll just be in the way.”
    – I think Ian is saying the first part.

    And: I honestly couldn’t picture her being picked on. If anything, she seemed like the type who’d be picked on herself, if anybody would dare to.
    – I think the first one should be “picture her picking on anyone.”

    Current score: 0
    • Typo Report:

      Well, that covered most of the typos I noticed. The “Nauseous” link never closes and runs clear down until it runs into the “Hearts of Clay” link. I fully agree on the other two typos reported as well. The only other typo I noticed was this one:

      My guess is it’s just going to be some kind of statement to try to soothe thing over with the visiting royals.”

      I believe the phrase you were looking for was “smooth things over”. I may be mistaken. i suppose it’s possible you did actually mean “soothe”, which’d be a turn of phrase I’ve never heard before and don’t readily understand, but in any event I’m really quite sure “thing” should be plural.

      Current score: 0
      • Speight says:

        “smooth thing over”: I agree “thing” really should be plural

        and one more:
        “that there’s going to be announcement” is missing an “an” between “be” and “announcement”

        Current score: 0
  3. Roadbug says:

    That was a good read. Thanks.

    Current score: 0
  4. Inquisitous says:

    it seems strange for Ian to call Mack “honey”

    that is more amaranth’s style for addressing her…

    Current score: 0
    • Malarky says:

      Yeah, that threw me for a minute there too. Has he ever addressed her that way before?

      Current score: 0
    • It was meant to add a conciliatory tone to his words, but after re-reading it, I agree.

      Current score: 0
  5. anna says:

    “and as a surprise, he brougth with him the half-giant gladiator, Pala.”

    Letters transposed in ‘brought’ 🙂

    Current score: 0
  6. Miss Lynx says:

    I really love the dialogue with this one – several parts made me laugh out loud.

    Current score: 0
  7. Zergonapal says:

    Mack needs to get over herself. Prejudice can be a two way street and I think I’d enjoy seeing Pala have a more active presence in the story. Perhaps one of the reasons why Mack is disliking her is because her naivety is like a mirror to Mack reminding her how naive she was not that long ago.

    Current score: 2
  8. Scarlett says:

    This was a good chapter. I’m glad Pala is back. And I’m happy to see Ian around a little more. I also think it’s nice to see Mack getting her act together a little more.
    Quick question. Do you want everyone pointing out typos and grammatical errors??

    Current score: 1
  9. Jack Wood says:

    I felt the need to comment just to say how much I enjoyed this update. Thanks for writing.

    I normally do not feel like a bad influence type of person, but I’ve never wanted to personally corrupt someone more than Pala.

    Current score: 1
  10. Brenda says:

    This looks like either an extra line, or a missing line:

    “None of that makes me more vulnerable or less strong,” I said. “Or flamey.”

    “Right, but it makes people care about all that less,” I said. “I don’t need her following me around, Ian. She’ll just be in the way.”

    Current score: 0
  11. Starcloud says:

    I think Mack isn’t actually prejudiced here. I think it’s a more visceral reaction to Pala’s sheer size. Consider that when Mack first came to her Grandma, Mack was considerably shorter and lighter. And since Grandma subsequently started emotionally and physically abusing her, she has made a stronger association between size and threat.

    Basically, Mack is uncomfortable around Pala because at some level she’s afraid of her. So we see here one of Mack’s good points; the struggle to understand herself and her reactions. Mack, incidentally, is frighteningly intelligent and an incredibly fast learner. Though in real time, her journey of self discovery has proceeded over years, all this development has, in universe, taken just under three months.

    Current score: 0
    • Glenn says:

      Actually, it’s only been a month and a half since classes started. This is Wednesday of week six.

      Current score: 2
  12. Zathras IX says:

    “Mob mentality”:
    An oxymoron with the
    Accent on moron

    Current score: 1
  13. Brenda says:

    Another minor typo, in the first sentence: “The campus had grown so eerily quiet over the past few darys”

    Current score: 0
  14. Brenda says:

    The link to the livejournal entry takes it back to the top of the chapter here.

    Current score: 0
  15. firedragongt says:

    “The campus had grown so eerily quiet over the past few darys”

    Not too often that you start the story off with a typo.

    Current score: 0
  16. Cernael says:

    I’m thinking the “nauseous” ought to link to the Fantasy in Miniature you wrote on the subject of nauseous/nauseated.
    Just for the lulz.

    Current score: 0
  17. Pete G. says:

    I think that “alfr“/”half-r” is wicked

    -ly witty.

    Current score: 2
  18. Lulu says:

    I’m sorry to post this here when it isn’t about the chapter, but how does one get to More Tales from here? Is there a link on the site somewhere?

    Current score: 0
    • moofable says:

      I couldn’t find it on the main page, but this is the link: http://more.talesofmu.com/

      Current score: 0
    • Brenda says:

      That is a problem – I had a hard time finding it, because there is no “Other Works” link on the ToMU page itself. There is on the other pages.

      Current score: 0
  19. Kaila says:

    I’ve been crook(ill) for the last few days, and Two made me smile.

    Thanks.

    Current score: 0
  20. Rin says:

    Seeing Pala again sure is nice indeed; she is as Mack said herself an inherently sympathetic character. There is one other character I would kind of like to see even more though.

    I’ve been reading the story from chapter 1 again and it occurred to me that, while she was a fairly significant presence early on in the story, we haven’t seen or heard from Celia in, what, 60 chapters? Something like that anyway. I’m really rather curious what she’s been up to.

    Current score: 2
  21. Oitur says:

    Love that Pala–she gets to my Scandinavian-American pride. I keep picturing this chapter as it might be filmed–with Pala’s head & shoulder’s outside the top of the frame.

    Current score: 0
    • Oitur says:

      AAauuuugggghhhhh!!!! Head & shoulders–no apostrophe!! I hate seeing that!

      Current score: 1
  22. Wysteria says:

    I’m going to put in a vote for splitting the chapter. Bite sized pieces are nice.

    Current score: 0
  23. 2nt9 says:

    Im sorry but sometimes I cant help but laugh =D

    Oh, well, I guess you can be jealous. That, and it would explain your reaction to everyone I want to fuck.”
    (Hypocrisy el oh el)

    “You want to fuck everyone,”
    (If its got an orifice Im pretty sure a “Futa” would stick something in there xD…….epseically steph *shudder* )

    Current score: 0
    • BMeph says:

      Yeah, I could so see Steff wearing a tight T-shirt saying,
      “Stop NOT staring at my tits”
      and a matching skirt with
      “Stop NOT staring at my ass”
      on it.

      Maybe someone should offer such apparel for sale… 😉

      Current score: 1
  24. Mackenzie says:

    you never did the cross referencing. Just thought I’d remind you.

    Current score: 0
  25. Sher says:

    Aaaaaand, Mack is right back to being a bitch. So much for her admirable behavior these past few chapters.

    Current score: 0
  26. Lara says:

    I’m glad that Mackenzie is starting to recognise her own prejudices in regards to Pala. I hope that someone sets Steff straight soon when it comes to hitting on Pala, it makes me uncomfortable :\

    Current score: 0