152: Pre-Meditated Assault

on February 7, 2008 in 06: A Period of Conflict

In Which Mackenzie Topples An Icon

I woke up at about five in the morning on Monday, to the sound of Two bustling around in the dark.

“Good morning, Mack,” she said when she became aware I was stirring.

She’d been getting ready in the dark, her eyes glowing faintly from her dark vision enchantment.

“Good morning, Two,” I said, not bothering to stifle my yawn.

“I’m going to go meditate with my friend Dee,” Two said. “Would you like to join us?”

“I don’t even have to be in class until three today,” I said.

“Oh,” Two said. “Would you like to join us?”

I sighed. I was awake, and I’d have plenty of time to come back to the room and go to sleep, afterwards.

“Okay,” I said. “If you don’t think Dee will mind.”

“I don’t think she will,” Two said.

I’d started the school year with four classes scheduled for Monday, but I’d switched two of them. My new history class wasn’t until 4:30, after my logic class, and my weapon proficiency class met on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Ordinarily I still would have had to go to my thaumatology lecture in the morning, but Professor Goldman had effectively excused most of the class by giving us bonus credit and then scheduling a hairy test. This was supposed to be a lesson in tolerance… the students who hadn’t earned the bonus credit had been snubbing me. I had a suspicion they’d be more inclined to take the professor’s actions as justification for their attitude rather than seeing it as a chance to reflect upon it.

I was kind of curious about the test, but not curious enough to show up in a room that would contain only people who hated my guts and had one more thing to blame me for than the rest of the campus.

Two took her skimpy negligee off before going to her dresser and picking out her clothing for the day. She was utterly without self-consciousness about being nude in front of me. I couldn’t imagine she’d act that way in front of anybody else, but once I’d labeled her my sister, it had changed all the rules in her head.

I wasn’t looking… I swear, I wasn’t… but I wasn’t not looking, either, and I couldn’t help noticing that she was, um, smooth. All over. Had she been created that way, or had she been instructed to groom herself like that?

The implications were disquieting either way. The question “why would somebody make a magical assistant that looks like a waifish teenage girl?” pretty much had only one answer. Add full elven waxing to the equation and the conclusion was almost inescapable.

Dee was already waiting in the hall when we finished dressing, and she simply nodded when Two asked her if I could join them.

“The meditation chambers are beneath the spiritual arts center,” Dee said to me, on the way. “The building itself is not sanctified, but you may experience some discomfort from residual energy.”

“Well, I can give it a try,” I said.

“If you are willing,” Dee said, nodding. “Meditation can be carried out anywhere, but I find it soothing to do it underground.”

I felt a prickling on my skin when we entered the building, which had seen divine magic channeled from every god worshipped by divine casters at MU. The sensation wasn’t terribly uncomfortable, but it was a bit distracting.

“I would not recommend exploring on your own,” Dee said to me. “You may inadvertently stray into a protected area.”

The spiritual arts building wasn’t a temple, but it had been built with a different aesthetic sense than most of the classroom facilities. The ceilings were higher and vaulted, and the doors which led off from the hallway had high arched tops. There were pictures on the wall of higher concepts in abstract, and paintings of gods and goddesses in their various aspects, and statues of the Great Star Drake who had made the world.

Khersis, naturally, was represented rather prominently. The images of Khersis Dei didn’t bother me, but all the paintings of Lord Khersis seemed to be following me with their eyes. It was like they were saying, “I know what you are. You cannot fool me.”

The fact that so many of them depicted him in the act of slaying a demon didn’t help things, either.

I shivered. Even before I’d learned my true heritage, I’d always found images of Lord Khersis intimidating. He was supposed to be handsome to the point of being beautiful, but his beauty was sorely out of place on his broad, tall, muscular frame. He looked like an elf and an ogre had mated, and somehow produced a sort of man.

That thought was, of course, wickedly blasphemous, and I turned my gaze to the floor so I wouldn’t have to see any more of the paintings.

“You are uncomfortable,” Dee said.

“I’ll live,” I said.

“The lower level is much more functionally appointed,” Dee said. “Come.”

“Mackenzie!” a voice called from behind us. “Mackenzie Blaise.”

It was Gloria, my sparring partner. She was a child of Khersian ministries, from somewhere in the Archipelago. With her almost lyrical accent, she pronounced each syllable of my name with distinct emphasis, and softened the “a” sound to an “ah.” It gave me a shiver to hear it, even as I registered a certain iciness.

“Um, excuse me, guys,” I said to Two and Dee.

“Okay,” Two said. Dee nodded.

What did Gloria want, I wondered? And why hadn’t I showered, and done something with my hair? What could I do with my hair?

I walked back towards Gloria as nonchalantly as I could, my heart pounding in my chest. So far, I’d never talked to her outside of mixed melee, where of course we did more mock fighting than talking.

“Uh, hi, Gloria,” I said. “What… um… what are you doing here?”

Stupid question. This was the spiritual arts center. She was a divine magic major. She had far more business being there than I did.

“Is it true?” she asked.

“Is what true?” I asked, feeling guilty when I considered the sheer amount of different things she could be referring to. She could be talking about the skirmish match, or any number of other recent events.

“That you tried to kill a human skirmish player who lives in your dorm,” she said.

“No, it isn’t,” I said. “I didn’t try to kill anybody.”

“She showed up for the match on Saturday with injuries,” Gloria said. “I helped to heal them.”

“She attacked me, Gloria,” I said.

“What did you do?” she asked.

“Well, I… I bit her,” I said. “But, you were able to heal her, right?”

Her eyes narrowed and she stared at me.

“Then… it was self-defense,” she said.

I nodded. I wasn’t sure I would call it that… I’d been mad with hunger when Rocky had attacked me… but I was grateful for her understanding, anyway.

“Yeah, sort of,” I said. “I shouldn’t have bit her… I could have hurt her a lot worse than I did… but…”

“Monster,” she said, and raised her hands in the oh-so-familiar warding gesture. There was an explosion of white light and I flew backwards. My back hit something hard, and something both hard and pointy hit my head and then landed in my lap.

When sight and sound returned to me, Two’s butt was shaking in my face for some reason. I had one of the Drake statues between my legs. Dee was arguing with Gloria.

Elves have magic in their voices, when they want to. Dee normally spoke softly but confidently, letting the weight of her words alone do the job. Now, she had raised her voice and put all the power she had into it… for all the good it did.

“You misunderstood,” she said.

“She fed on a human… unprovoked,” Gloria said. “She does not even deny it.”

“She was attacked,” Dee said.

“In self-defense,” Gloria said. “She admitted as much.”

“You misunderstood,” Dee repeated. “She was attacked, and she responded in self-defense.”

My head was still swimming, but I was starting to understand it all. Well, everything except for why Two was crouched down in front of me. Gloria had assumed I instigated the fight with Rocky by biting her. When she flashed the Arms, the sheer force of it had knocked me back into the column-like pedestal beneath a Great Star Drake statue, which had then come crashing down on me.

“You did not see Raquel when she came into the healing tent,” Gloria said. “Her arm had a bite taken out of it. She was missing a finger.”

“I imagine the injuries the human fighter sustained reflected the extent of her poor judgment,” Dee said.

“Of course you would defend her,” Gloria said.

“Of course I would, and shall continue to do so,” Dee said. “She has named me friend, and while she has not always been the most sensitive of souls, she has her finer points. From what I have observed, loyalty is chief among them.”

“What does her kind know about loyalty?” Gloria asked. “What does yours?”

I pushed the statue aside.

“Two, could you please move?” I asked.

“No,” Two said, without turning around. “I’m defending you.”

“Two, I’m fine,” I said, crawling to the side to get around her and get to my feet. Two had her little mace out, and was clutching the handle in both hands like it was a broadsword. Did she have any real idea how to use it?

“Do you really mean to slay a student, in open defiance of the law?” Dee asked Gloria.

“There are higher laws,” Gloria said.

“Did not Lord Khersis say, ‘To do right, you must not only ask what is good but also what is lawful, for reason must be tempered by morality and morality by reason.’?” Dee asked.

Gloria glowered at Dee.

“You have acted in haste,” Dee said. “There is no shame in making a mistake, but there is in not recognizing it. Your friend was not the aggrieved party.”

Gloria tensed, balling her fists, but then relaxed. I realized she wasn’t even wearing her blessed sword. That was probably a good thing.

“She is not my friend,” she said. “I do not care for her attitude. But, she is a fellow human, and under the protection of Khersis and those who serve him.”

“I feel that you owe somebody an apology,” Dee said.

Gloria turned to me.

“I do not understand you, Mackenzie,” she said, “and this disturbs me.”

“That may have been the most honest expression of human sentiment I have ever heard,” Dee said. “But it was not an apology.”

Gloria turned and started to walk away. Her beaded braids swished and clacked against each other, her hips swayed with cat-like allure.

“Hey!” Two called after her. “You’re supposed to apologize.”

“It’s okay,” I said, putting my hand on Two’s shoulder to restrain her as she started to follow Gloria. “At least I got my daily ambush out of the way early.”

I gingerly felt the top of my head where the statue had come crashing down on it. There was no injury there, of course, but the area responded to my touch as if it was extremely tender. That raised the question of why I was touching it, but the habit or compulsion or whatever was that strongly ingrained.

If I hadn’t been invulnerable or the statue had been blessed, I probably would have been knocked unconscious or worse. As it was, I only had to put up with the pain of a potentially killing blow.

Yay.

“Do you wish to continue with our chosen course?” Dee asked.

“Might as well,” I said. “Two, you didn’t have to defend me, by the way.”

“I know,” Two said. “I wanted to.”

She gave a shaky smile. Most of Two’s wants–the ones she felt confident enough to express as wants, anyway–seemed to revolve around me in some way. It was both comforting, and discomfiting. She’d already injured herself trying to summon a demon for reasons I still didn’t understand. I didn’t want her doing anything like interposing herself between me and an angry mob.

“Two, that’s sweet, I can take care of myself,” I said.

She blinked.

“No,” she said. “I don’t think you can.”

“Well, I can do a better job of defending me than you would with your little mace,” I said.

She shook her head.

“I think you are mistaken,” she said.

I sighed.

“Don’t put yourself in physical danger on my account,” I said.

“Okay,” she said.

Dee led us to the end of the hall, down the stairs, and into a sparse meditation chamber, furnished only with mats on the floor. After checking that we were all comfortable in the dark, she showed me the appropriate position in which to sit. Two had already assumed it.

I didn’t really have much more than a pop culture idea of what meditation entailed. It turned out that it wasn’t completely off, but wasn’t entirely accurate, either. The ideas I’d got from TV were to actual meditation what kids waving toy swords around were to fighting: aping the outward flourishes without understanding what’s going on underneath.

Dee instructed me in breathing and then guided me through a series of muscle relaxing exercises, her voice no more than a whisper in my ear. Once I was completely relaxed, she told me to let my mind wander, and then gradually clear it by focusing briefly on whatever images appeared and then “pushing” them out.

Even without a throbbing pain in my head, I’d never been very good at emptying my mind, or focusing on any one thing without actually doing something, but I found that I liked it, sitting there in the dark basement chamber with my mind turning to nothing in particular. I was as physically at ease as I’d ever been, and in the company of nobody who wished me ill.

Somehow, with Dee’s guidance and in spite of myself, I drifted into a state of emptiness that was as peaceful as it was profound. I forgot about my pain. I forgot about everything.

After an hour or so, Dee helped me come gradually out of it, and the three of us headed back upstairs and outside without saying a word.

“Thank you for joining me today,” Dee said, bowing to me. I returned the gesture, a little awkwardly. I hoped Dee appreciated it… my back twinged in pain from where I’d hit the pedestal. “Perhaps we shall do it again sometime, in a different venue.”

“I’d like that,” I said, though I’d enjoyed the atmosphere of the subterranean chamber.

Two and I headed back to Harlowe while Dee headed off across campus. Two had classes to get ready for, but I simply crawled back into bed. Dull throbbing in my head and ache in my back aside, I felt totally refreshed, and yet was still relaxed enough to fall asleep as soon as my cheek touched the pillow.


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7 Responses to “152: Pre-Meditated Assault”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Yay, Gloria has put herself back on the menu?

    Current score: 0
  2. Mickey says:

    Possible typo: I think that “She was a child of Khersian ministries, from…” should perhaps be “She was a child of Khersian missionaries, from…”

    But I’m not sure. It could be a world difference.

    Current score: 0
  3. Moridain says:

    Since Signing or praying opens a direct channel to the divine, and it is harmful to Mack, wouldn’t doing so in her presence while knowing of this weakness count as Assault?

    Or is that a sticky area..?

    Current score: 0
    • Anon says:

      I suspect that simply forming the symbol of your god while within a mostly-religious building is totally legal. I also suspect that Signing can cause discomfort, and perhaps even debilitation, it is incapable of killing a half-demon on its own.

      Touching Mackenzie with a holy symbol or any other blessed object, or throwing holy water on her, would definitely be illegal (though unlikely to be persecuted by most authorities). But wearing or drawing a Symbol near her or making a Sign or praying on your own is almost certainly protected by law, if a dick move.

      If it wasn’t, Grandma would have reacted to all the kids Signing at Kenzie to make her drop her books back in high school.

      Current score: 0
  4. Jechtael says:

    “Don’t put yourself in danger on my account.” “Okay.”

    “I didn’t put myself in danger, I was already in danger. I just didn’t leave the danger, so I could protect you.”
    “I put myself in danger saving you on Amaranth’s account, because you are her most important person.”
    “I put myself in danger to protect the person attacking you from Amaranth and Steff-who-is-a-girl seeking revenge for making you fight.”
    “I put myself in danger for you, but there is no account. We are sisters. There can be no account between us like that.”

    Current score: 5
  5. Nocker says:

    I think I’m understanding Gloria a bit more this read through.

    She’s *different*, she’s dark, she’s devout, she’s a fighting woman one generation removed from the taboo, and she comes from a place farther away than blackwater, unlike Mack. Humanity and Khersis are the only things she has in common with the majority. What’s more, Rocky is another different fighting woman who happens to be human, so she’ll take her side as a matter of course.

    But then you factor in Mackenzie, and that’s where things get ugly. She’s different, being half demon, but that’s all that’s different. Mackenzie is still a mainlander white girl, and one who fell into the arms of sexy divine power overnight and never had to work for it. Compare that to Gloria, the girl who has to learn the hard way under the most brutal teacher, and labors under the beautiful image of Khersis, silent and stern…

    Being half demon is a convenience. Gloria projects all of her own inadequacies onto Mackenzie and punishes her for THAT more than any doctrine.

    Current score: 2
  6. zeel says:

    So Mackenzie mentions not having class ’till 3. That is because she is skipping Thaumo. When I read that I considered something.

    He gave two free 100% for quizes or tests. That’s… insane. Quizes sure, lots of profs will do the “drop lowest quize” thing – but a test?

    Also, given the appearent rules, skipping two tests completely would actually be better than trying all the tests/quizes, or skipping quizes. Getting two gaurenteed 100%s on tests is far more efficient as far as points go. In fact, it might be virtually impossible to fail that class if you got both of those freebees.

    Current score: 1