103: Veiled Hostility

on November 23, 2007 in 04: The Body Politick

In Which Mackenzie Is A Victim Of Religious Bigotry

The healing center was the last place I wanted to be, right after they’d treated a case of demon fire… but it only took a few steps to convince me to drag myself over there, before I made my foot any worse.

Of course, the act of dragging myself over there made my foot worse, too.

I got little prickles all over my skin as soon as I hobbled inside the clean, unassuming-looking building. The grounds weren’t sanctified… I mean, obviously, or I wouldn’t have been able to come in at all, and I don’t think they did any healing in the lobby, but so much divine energy had been expended within the confines of the building that there was bound to be some lingering effects.

There was a sign on the wall advising students who needed limbs regenerated or the services of a “reconstructor” to schedule an appointment in advance. I wasn’t sure what a reconstructor was, but I thought it had something to do with the subtle arts version of healing. I guess the talent must have been pretty rare, but I suppose if you were naturally resistant to both arcane and divine magic, you wouldn’t have much choice but to seek it out.

I kind of expected to be given the third degree when I explained to the man on duty at the desk that I needed arcane healing, but he just put aside the form he’d started and pulled out a new one. He looked bored. He was a tall, lean man in a white healer’s smock, with a bit of a widow’s peak in his dark brown hair and eyes that were almost as dark as mine.

Hey, did you see what I did there? I just took the time to describe a man the very first time I saw him. Yeah. That’s some serious heterosexuality for you right there: me, noticing men.

Not that he was actually a tiny bit attractive to me.

But I did notice him.

The form had a place for “Nature of Injury”, and though there were four and a half lines set aside for this, he simply wrote “FOOT”, then moved his pen towards the row of boxes labeled “Severity.” The choices were minor, light, moderate, serious, or critical… he ticked off “moderate.”

“I… I think it’s probably a bit worse than that,” I said shakily, but he rolled his eyes.

“Everybody’s a healer,” he said. “You got here under your own power, didn’t you? Come on around back and I’ll take care of you.” He gestured to the curtained doorway.

“Can’t you come around here?” I asked.

“No healing in the lobby,” he said. “I’m sure you appreciate the reasons.”

“It’s arcane!” I protested. “Who’s sensitive to arcane energy?”

“It’s the rules,” he said.

By this point my ankle was throbbing so bad as to drown out the pain in my toes, so rather than limping I hopped, using an arm on the wall to steady myself on my single good leg. The healer didn’t offer to help me when I came into the back, but merely gestured towards a couch.

“You people… making me actually do work,” he said, seating himself on a low table in front of the couch. “I’m not racist, I swear, but if it wasn’t for Harlowe I think they could cut our budget in half.”

“Who told you I’m from Harlowe?” I asked. He just rolled his eyes again and kept going with his rant.

“Of course, that would probably put me out of a job, so who’s complaining? But seriously… broken legs, broken arms, burns, gashes… and that one young woman who came in last night with both her fists absolutely mangled. It looked like she’d picked a fight with a wall of force.”

“What young woman?” I asked, remembering Puddy fleeing the lounge in humiliation the night before. I’d worried about her venting her rage on Mariel… and if not for the choice of words in “both her fists”, I probably would have assumed the healer was referring to the four-armed sylph.

There was no evidence at all that it had anything to do with Puddy, of course, but if it had looked to an experienced healer like somebody had punched a wall… well, for some reason, that brought Puddy to mind.

“Young lady, you should know better than to ask about confidential matters,” the healer sniffed, as if he hadn’t just been going on and on about them. “Now, sit tight for a moment.”

“Aren’t you going to do…?” I started to ask he ducked into a back room. He reappeared in a moment with a small glass vial of rose-colored liquid.

“A potion?” I asked, staring at the vial. “You made me come back here for a lousy potion?”

“Hey, it’s not like I enjoy having to give these things out… they’re not as easy to replace as a little energy, you know? But I’m not a wizard,” he said. “And everybody else is at lunch. I could lay on hands if you’d like, but I don’t think you’d enjoy it.”

“No thanks,” I said, reaching for the potion, but he held it back and picked up the clipboard with the form, handing that to me instead.

“You have to sign for it,” he said. “So they know we’re not stealing and reselling them.”

I signed my name as best as I could while giving him the full-on Glare Of Death, and then he relinquished the potion. I downed it in one gulp, and immediately felt a tingly warmth spread out my body. This increased to a feeling of heat that was just the right side of comfort line… and then stuck its toe across the line. When the uniform heat subsided, though, my whole body still felt the same all over: no pain, no discomfort.

“Those suckers cost the school three gold, even with the bulk discount,” he said. “I hope whatever you kicked was worth it.”

“So much for Khersian charity,” I said sourly.

“Yeah, so much for it,” he said. “I’m actually an Arkhanite.”

“You’re kidding,” I said… because, obviously, he had to be… but what a thing to joke about, you know?

“I’d show you my mark, but I don’t think you’d appreciate that,” he said. “I mean, it’s tattooed in a kind of private place.”

“Come on, quit messing around,” I said, laughing nervously and looking around. Weren’t there other healers on duty? Were we actually alone in the building? Was I alone with an evil, possibly crazed cultist? Of course, I had nothing to worry about since he was obviously joking.

Wasn’t he?

I looked at his face.

I gave another small chuckle.

I looked some more.

Okay, he wasn’t.

“I’m meeting my friends for lunch,” I said, wishing I’d told somebody where I was going. The healing center was the last place they’d check for me. “They’ll miss me if I don’t show. They’ll come looking for me.”

The Arkanite stared at me, wide-eyed, as if he had no idea why I was telling him this. If he wasn’t faking, that was reassuring. He probably wasn’t planning me any specific harm.

Actually, I thought, he probably would have given me a sleeping potion or something, if that hadn’t been the case. Why had he healed me?

“I’m not supposed to ask,” he said finally. “And I don’t officially care… but… you are the demon girl, aren’t you?”

“I’m half human,” I said.

“But you are her, right?”

“Yeah, so?” I asked.

He gave me a very odd look, but didn’t say anything.

“What?” I pressed.

“Look, we’re done here,” he said.

“But what does…”

“We’re done,” he repeated, with finality, pointing stiffly towards the curtained archway. “Go in peace.”

I went in haste instead, nearly tripping over my feet. It didn’t help my coordination that I’d just got used to limping and now I suddenly wasn’t.

An Arkanite healer. It was too much to be believed. How would a false cleric even begin to pull his weight in the healing center? Well, obviously by relying on healing potions and whatever magic items they had stockpiled. He’d probably been relieved to find out I was sensitive to divine energy, because it saved him from having to resort to any trickery.

I guess I could sort of understand his reaction, too… he’d obviously expected that my heritage would make me more sympathetic to his cause. It probably wasn’t an entirely unfounded assumption. Since Arkanism undermined the true faiths, most demons and people with demon-blood probably were all in favor of them.

That was probably the only reason he’d revealed his “religion” to me… I mean, he probably didn’t want the whole world knowing his dirty little secret. Well, that I could sympathize with. It hadn’t been my choice to have my true parentage spread all over campus. I suppose it would be hypocritical of me to blow somebody else’s cover.

Still, I figured I owed it to my friends to make sure they knew, especially as they were more likely to need the healing center in the first place than I was.

I spotted Steff on the plaza outside the union, coming from Harlowe… or rather, she spotted me and waved. I hurried over to her, grateful for a chance to talk to her alone. I didn’t know if Two, as intelligent as she was, really had the knowledge to understand something which touched on religion, and Amaranth’s eternal optimism about people might make it harder for her to grasp what I had to say.

Steff, though weird, was fundamentally worldly… way more worldly than I was, anyway. I knew she’d be interested in what I had to say.

“Listen,” I said after she hugged me and gave me a kiss on each cheek, “I just got back from the healing center and…”

“What were you doing at the healing center?” she asked surprised. “You didn’t fumble your knife, did you? I mean, you should practice with it, but maybe not without supervision…”

“No, I… look, never mind what I was doing there,” I said. I pulled us away from the growing lunch traffic and dropped my voice into a whisper to keep from being overheard. “Did you realize that one of the healers is an Arkanite?”

“What, the blond guy?” Steff asked, utterly underwhelmed. “Or the girl?”

“No, um… he had dark hair,” I said.

“Long or short?” Steff asked.

“Short,” I said. “With kind of a widow’s peak in front,” I added, glad to have noticed this detail.

“Oh, that’s Roger,” Steff said. “He’s kind of a dick. Andrew’s better, if you ever get him. If you ever have to go over there again, I mean.”

“Wait, are you saying there’s more than one?” I asked.

My sole experience with the Arkanite sect had been a single family of them when I’d been growing up, but I’d never really met any of them as they preferred to educate their kids at home. They finally moved away around the time I was fifteen or so, I think in response to a lot of low-level pressure from their neighbors. The fact that nobody had tried anything like that to get rid of me said more about the regard my grandmother was held in than it did about me.

“Yeah,” Steff said. “Four that I know about. There’s Roger, Andrew–the blond, Rochelle, and Derrick… he’s got long dark hair. Kind of cute, gives okay head. There might be others… nobody wears holy symbols on duty, you know? If somebody wants to be healed specifically by a Khersian or whatever, they have to go to a temple.”

“And… people… know about them?” I asked. If I hadn’t swallowed a healing potion, I’d wonder if I had a head injury I didn’t know about. Could I have triggered some kind of confusion spell in the summoning room, maybe? Maybe something that gave me the delusion that the rest of the world was nuts?

“Yeah, people know about them. Why would… wait. No,” she said, shaking her head. “Not you. I don’t believe it. I won’t believe it.”

“You won’t believe what?” Amaranth asked as she came up to join us. She looked back and forth at us. “What’s going on?”

Steff put her hands on my shoulders and turned me to face Amaranth, stepping behind me.

“Your charming little possession here has a problem with Arkhanites,” Steff said, and the amount of both hurt and scorn in her voice was alarming on several levels.

Amaranth looked at me, shocked.

“Baby,” she said, shaking her head. “I thought you were more tolerant than that.”

“I am!” I protested. “If we’re talking about an actual religion. But Arkanites…”

“Arkhanites,” Steff said, with an air of correction. “At least get that right.”

Arkanites,” I insisted, wheeling to face her. I knew I was saying it right. My grandmother was a lot of things, but she was an expert when it came to human religions.

“If you’re going to trash my faith, I’d expect you to at least call us by our proper name,” she said.

I stared. She was joking.

“You’re not an Arkanite,” I said, shaking my head. She was joking. It wasn’t a funny joke, but there it was, all the same.

“Right, I’m an Arkhanite,” she said. “C’mon, Mack… say it with me… Ar-khan-ite.”

“The letter ‘Kh’ is reserved for gods and other divine beings,” I said. “And you are not an Arkanite. You’re a Mechan.”

“Mecha and Seeking After Truth are not exclusive paths,” Steff said. “And Arkhanos is a divine being.”

“No…” I started, only to be interrupted by a slap on my cheek. I turned to face Amaranth, who had administered it, and she put her finger to my lips, silencing me.

“Our darling Steff is an Arkhanite,” Amaranth said. “She’s got the cutest little Veiled Eye, tattooed right below her navel. I realize you’re from a small town,” she said. “I know you’ve probably never knowingly met an Arkhanite, much less talked to and really got to know one… but… I’d still expect better from you. I am not angry… I’m not… but I want you to know that I’m disappointed in you, okay, baby? Now, Steff… show her the mark.”

Steff stepped where I could see her better and lifted the hem of her shirt with one hand while pulling the waist of her skirt down a bit. Impossibly, there it was… a stylized eye with a squiggly, curly sort of eye brow, inscribed within an upside-down triangle, and with the whole symbol reproduced in miniature for the pupil.

“Now,” Amaranth said. “I assume you have something to say to Steff.”

She released me and stepped back, biting her lip.

“If Arkanos is a real god then that should affect me!” I said.

Needless to say, this was not quite what Amaranth was looking for. Rather than re-shushing me, she turned away, throwing her head back. It looked like she was digging her nails into her thighs, as she sometimes did when she was frustrated or worked up.

“Ignoring the fact that there’s such a thing as a neutral god, the Eye is not a holy symbol,” Steff said. “It’s a mark so we can identify each other, from the pre-Republican days, when Arkhanism was illegal and sometimes punished by death. Today we wear them as a mark of solidarity with those who came before.”

I looked back and forth between Steff, who looked so serious, and Amaranth, who’d turned back around and just looked pissed. What was wrong with them? Steff was into some pretty iffy things, like necromancy… she might have got herself an Eye tattoo just because she thought it was different and cool and I don’t know, subversive or something… but the way she talked about Arkanism, she couldn’t have any actual idea…

“Look, you guys clearly don’t understand…” I started, but Amaranth shushed me.

“No, you don’t understand,” she said. She turned to Steff. “Give my apologies to Twoey and whoever else is there, but Mack and I are going to the library… where you are going to do some serious reading, missy,” she said, releasing my mouth and grabbing my wrist. “You are going to learn some history, and you’re going to tell me where these ideas came from in the first place.”

“But…” I started to argue, and then fell silent. So we’d do some “serious reading”…Amaranth believed in the goodness of everybody, but she also believed in books. Obviously, there were books out there that were skewed towards the Arkanite point of view, and obviously she’d read one of them… but a major university would probably have more credible sources on its shelves.

We’d go to the library, and then we’d see who was right.

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11 Responses to “103: Veiled Hostility”

  1. Psi-Ko says:

    The one thing I don’t like about Mackenzie. She can’t keep an open mind about ANYTHING.

    Although, I also fault her friends for not understanding that she had an extreme grandmoth- no, actually, I blame her for that too…

    Current score: 5
    • Anon says:

      I hate bigotry and closed-mindedness as much as any- okay, as much as most people. But it is a natural consequence of spending every day from age nine to eighteen being indoctrinated by the kind of preacher who honestly believes that being female is a sin. She needs to be thoroughly reeducated, not just hated.

      Current score: 8
  2. Arkeus says:

    Ah, Mack, you are such a hypocrite.

    Current score: 0
  3. Nuuu~ says:

    Wow, she seems to discriminate against just about everything doesnt she?

    Current score: 0
  4. Hoopla says:

    Waaaait a second. The header says Mackenzie is the victim of religious bigotry, but she is the bigotiest character in this entire story so far without even officially claiming a religion. Or is this in reference to her grandmother’s bigotry that has warped her mind into being just as bad and maybe worse in her own self-depreciating ways.

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      I take it as the later. Most, if not all, of Mackenzies social issues are the result of her grandmothers indoctrination. If anyone is the victim of bigotry, it’s Mackenzie. Remember, she hates her own race as much as she does Arkhanites.

      Notice how, on the other hand, she doesn’t have any issue with Steff’s nature? That’s because grandma Blaise never talked about that kind of thing, never thought to tell Mackenzie about how “evil” it is (’cause you know she wouldn’t approve).

      Mackenzie was essentially brainwashed for nine years.

      Current score: 3
  5. Tink says:

    Wait… Why is everyone so upset with the way Mack is behaving? Isn’t this how all freshmen basically behave? Especially when they aren’t from a semi liberal to liberal household?

    At least she made friends who aren’t opposed to her learning more about arkhanites.

    Also, she’s still getting used to the fact she’s a big ole lezzy… Leaning bisexual. Homoflexible… We don’t have the right descriptive title/adjective yet..

    Current score: 1
  6. Mugasofer says:

    Am I the only one who thinks this is a laudible attitude to religion in such a setting? I am? Even the author is going to show how Mackenze was Being Intolerant?

    Well, I haven’t read the next chapter yet, but that’s my preiction.

    Current score: 0
  7. IvoryBill says:

    Mack has great faith. Faith that her grandmother was correct in all things. In matters of religion Grandma was correct. In matters of what Mack should eat Grandma was correct. In matters of religion Grandma was correct. In matters of Mack’s essential evil nature Grandma was correct. In matters of the evil, dirty, and ugly nature of Mack’s girl parts and girl parts everywhere Grandma was correct. As we read we are discovering, along with Mack, that not only was Grandma not correct Grandma was completely wrong. For Mack some day she will realize how wrong Grandma was. This is the story of that awakening.

    Current score: 7
    • Firebat says:

      This. I don’t understand people who keep ragging on Mack about being intolerant or stupid or submissive. Mack is an extremely damaged and brainwashed person and she’s working through these things.

      Current score: 6
  8. guys stahp says:

    guys her grandma brainwashed and mentally tortured mack into hating women, sex and herself… did you think her fucked up granny would have a tolerant viewpoint on a religion?

    Current score: 1