In Which Mackenzie Is Unjustly Rewarded
I flipped through some of Ian’s comics. Now that I knew the source of the other ones—the manga, as Sooni had called it—I found my earlier interest in the silly tale of school girl rivalry even more embarrassing.
Faced with hours of monotony and trying to fall asleep on my own after napping all afternoon, I took the potion a little bit after nine. My sleep was untroubled, with no real dreams to speak of, and I woke up right on schedule eight hours later.
The door to my room was open, and it sounded like there was some kind of conference going on in the hall. I was considering whether I should try to clear my throat very loudly or ring the bell or something when Lynette poked her head through the door.
“Oh, you’re awake,” she said. She sounded a little disappointed, or something. Had she been hoping that I’d never wake up, somehow?
“Yeah,” I said. “Ready to let me go?”
“Probably,” she said, coming into the room properly. “There’s just one little thing we need to take care of first.”
“Do I need to get read again?” I asked.
“Yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about,” Lynette said. “You see, there was… an incident… in the night, with Candace.”
An incident. What was I being blamed for now?
“Well, I didn’t have anything to do with it, whatever it was,” I said. “I was asleep.”
“Oh, believe me, I’m not blaming you for anything,” Lynette said. “But unfortunately, you can’t leave just yet.”
“What do you mean, I can’t leave?”
“Exactly what I said,” Lynette said. “It’s just not possible.”
“Am I under arrest?” I asked, wondering if there were guards right outside the door.
“Should you be?” Lynette asked. The question seemed to have taken her aback. “I mean, did you do something?”
“I was asleep!” I said. “I’m just trying to find out why you say I can’t leave.”
“Well… Candace warded the door.”
“What? Why would she do that?”
“‘Just in case’, she said,” Lynette explained.
“Just in case of what?” I asked. “I was asleep.”
“She didn’t really think it through, you see… we only found out because she mentioned it when I asked her how the night went. She said she was nervous at first until she thought to ward the door.”
“What kind of ward are we talking about?”
“Your basic holy protection against intrusion by evil elements,” Lynette said. “Your kind wouldn’t be able to touch the door itself, or cross the threshold.”
“So… I’m stuck here,” I said.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to say, but don’t worry,” Lynette said. “I’ve suspended her for a week.”
“You have no idea how comforting that is to me,” I said. “How do we un-ward it?”
“She really took her time and laid them down properly, so no mundane profanity will remove them… and like I told you, we’re not really great about de-sanctifying things around here, on a practical or philosophical level,” Lynette said. “Only the god himself could remove the wards before they fade… at least, in a way we’d actually condone.”
“What do you mean?”
“A diabolist could cancel the wards,” Lynette said.
“So get one,” I said.
“We’re working on it. We just have to wait for approval from the temple before we call one in.”
“I thought the healing center was supposed to be secular and independent.”
“It is!” Lynette insisted. “We are. Most of us here aren’t clerics or clerics-in-training… just lay people with an affinity for divine healing. Candace is actually the exception there. Even so, we can’t afford to ignore the source of our powers. If we invited black magicians in and let their energy mingle freely with our own, we might find our own abilities cut off at the source.”
“So what happens if the temple says no?”
“Well… we’ll work something out,” Lynette said. “I’ve made the argument that we’d actually be removing a demonic influence… I think that should prove acceptable.”
“Wait… she just warded the door, right?” I asked. “She didn’t put some kind of seal on the entire room, or anything?”
“Yes, but given that the door’s the only exit I’d say it comes down to the same thing.”
“Not really… you could just find somebody who can make a temporary door, or make part of the wall intangible,” I said. “Or just get somebody from the transportation program to gate me out of here.”
“That seems a little bit extreme.”
“You’re prepared to petition a god,” I said.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Lynette said. “We’re only consulting his mortal representatives. There’s not much chance it will actually go as high as Lord Khersis himself. The Father Episcopous should have enough authority for our purposes.”
“And how long will it take to get an answer from him?”
“I told the novice I spoke to it was very important.”
My classes were still a few hours away, but I wanted to get a good, long bath—the wonderfully comfortable pads they provided me with were waterproof—and a decent breakfast, and bureaucracy mixed with theocracy didn’t sound like a recipe for lightning-fast response times.
“Look, you don’t want to have diabolists throwing their stuff around in your healing center, so what’s wrong with having somebody come in and lay down a bit of plain arcane magic?” I asked. “Wouldn’t that solve everything?”
I watched while Lynette turned it over.
“It’s really not that radical,” I said. “We’re at a magic college. There’s people with energy and expertise to spare. Why not take advantage of it?”
“No offense, you seem like an okay kid… but I can’t help feeling like I should consult a priest before taking any of your suggestions,” Lynette said.
I leaned back into bed and gave a frustrated groan.
“I just want out of here!” I said. “What, do you think I’m going to use a gate spell to open a portal to hell and unleash my nightmarish kindred upon the world or something?”
“Well, I didn’t before!” Lynette said, backing away.
“If you’re that afraid of me, just stand behind the door,” I said.
She bristled a bit at the suggestion and stepped forward.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “I watched you cry over your period. I’m not afraid of you. I’m just… prudently cautious, given the forces involved.”
“Whatever,” I said. “Just get me out of here quickly, please. I’ve got stuff I want to do today. Bathing in the blood of innocent water elementals. Feasting on the flesh of pancakes.”
“You could pick smarter topics to be a smart ass about, considering,” Lynette said. “I’ll go send for a diviner so we can get you cleared to leave as soon as we’ve got the door fixed.”
“So you think I’m recovered?” I asked.
“So far as I can tell, yes… but bear in mind, that’s my professional opinion, not a guarantee,” she said. “If the diviner says your aura’s faint or sickly, I’m not signing off on anything.”
“Fine,” I said. “Whatever you have to do.”
She went off then, and came back about half an hour later with a diviner. He stared at me for half a minute and then pronounced me healthy, then told me I was in for an interesting day.
“Sounds pretty typical,” I said with a shrug.
“Do you often have a hard time holding onto your clothes in public?”
“Why, what do you see?” I asked, horrified. “Is anybody else there? Am I… doing anything?”
“I warned you she has a dirty mind,” Lynette said.
“I don’t!” I said. “I just want to know why I’m going to be naked in public!”
“You would probably know better than I,” the diviner said. “You live your whole life inside your skin… I only got a flash.”
“So to speak,” I said sourly.
“If you honestly don’t want this to come to pass, you should be able to prevent it fairly easily,” he said. “Forewarned is forearmed, as we say in my department.”
“But what exactly is going to come to pass?” I asked.
“You’ll know when it happens.”
“That’s not exactly what I call forewarned!”
He just mumbled what sounded like the standard line about divination being imprecise, and then excused himself.
“If half the rumors about you are true, a little public nudity shouldn’t bother you,” Lynette said.
“Is listening to rumors about students part of your vows?”
She colored a bit, but didn’t back down.
“Didn’t I walk in on you with three other people in bed with you, crawling all over you?” she asked.
“One of those people was just sitting there,” I pointed out.
“Right, it was just the nymph and the… Steff.”
“Oh, fuck,” I said. Something had just occurred to me. “He wasn’t just getting a prediction… he actually saw me naked, didn’t he?”
“Probably,” Lynette said. “But it’s not like he was spying. If there wasn’t a decent chance that you’ll be baring yourself in the near future, there’s no way he could have seen that.”
“I was planning on taking a bath when I got out of here,” I said. “What if he was just peeking at that?”
“I told you, he wasn’t actually peeking,” Lynette said. “It would have to be something significant and way out of the ordinary for it to come through when he was just reading your aura.”
“A good hot bath feels pretty significant to me after the week I’ve been having,” I said. “But I suppose on the bright side, as long as I’m stuck in here I’m not likely to publicly expose myself.”
“Well, we’re working on getting you out. I’ve left a message for the professor of planar apertures, Phones Proust,” Lynette said. “If he gets in before the temple gets back to me and he doesn’t have any objections to gating you out, we’ll go ahead and do that.”
“Can’t you just wake him up?” I asked. “This is kind of an emergency.”
“One student being stuck in bed is hardly an emergency,” Lynette said. “Anyway, he doesn’t use the staff housing… he telecommutes. I’m not sure what time he usually gets in, but he’s got a class at nine, so… some time before then.”
“On the subject of clothes, can I at least have my own stuff back?” I said. “If I’ve got a clean bill of health.”
“Sure,” Lynette said. “I’ll go get them.”
A few minutes later, I was out of Two’s ridiculous sexy pajamas and in my own comfortable clothes… though my jeans felt oddly confining after the healing robes and skimpy nightwear.
I’d decided that even if I was stuck in the room, I’d been pronounced fit and there was no reason to stay in bed… but after realizing how uncomfortable the chairs were, I decided to sit on top of the covers instead. I finished up the logic homework that had been so hard to focus on two nights before, and then read some more of Ian’s comics.
Lynette knocked on the door frame about an hour later.
“Professor Proust sent a message back,” she said.
“What’d he say?” I asked.
“‘Brace yourself’,” she said.
“What the hell does that mean?” I asked, and the bed disappeared from beneath me… mattress, blankets, and all. My ass hit the floor and my head hit the wall behind me. “Ow!” I wailed.
Why did it seem like my skull was a lodestone for walls?
Lynette smiled over gritted teeth.
“Oops,” she said. “I guess his aim was a bit off?”
“Maybe this is something he should be here to do in person?” I asked. I felt an odd sensation that it took a moment to identify; my bra had vanished.
“You’d be waiting a while for that,” Lynette said. “It turns out he’s on a personal leave right now. Luckily, his office forwarded my message.”
“Leave? What for?” I asked.
“Stress related to…”
I didn’t hear the rest. I was in the same position, but my butt was suddenly resting rather directly on slightly uneven dirt and Lynette was no longer in front of me. My first thought was that the distant Proust had somehow grabbed the entire room and its contents except for me… including my clothes. I was naked, except for the sanitary pad which had stayed snugly secure through the teleportation.
“Fuck!” I yelled, covering my bare chest with my arms and looking wildly around. I wasn’t just outdoors… I was surrounded by brick walls going off in different angles, just a little bit too tall for me to reach the top of. I got to my feet and took a quick look around, if only to confirm the horrible suspicion that had formed in my head.
It didn’t take long for me to do a quick survey of my surroundings: I was in a maze of twisty passages, all alike.
The dimensional gate had dropped me into the middle of the school’s labyrinth, naked and alone.
Well, the diviner had said I was going to have an interesting day…