Chapter 281: A Handful of Stars

on February 5, 2015 in Volume 2 Book 8: Elven Holiday, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Reaches Out

Because my needs were simpler and I had a surprisingly clear idea of exactly what I wanted when I sat down in the chair, my appointment actually wrapped up at almost the exact same time as Glory’s. Because of this, I got to see the final effect of her change at around the same time I got a good look at mine.

When I saw my hair in the mirror, I felt a bit like I had when I’d seen myself in the suit for the first time: it was neat, but also kind of felt like I was playing dress-up. I could see that it was myself, and I liked what I saw, but it felt more… aspirational… than real.

Glory, on the other hand, had been transformed. It was still recognizably her, but where she had once had a cascade of pale gold down her back, her head was now wreathed in fire.

In keeping with her request for something that could be maintained without magic, it hadn’t been sculpted in an exaggerated flame shape or anything like that… in fact, if not for the color, it probably would have just looked like big feathery hair. The combination of the color and style, though, was very striking.

Her hair looked like it was about shoulder length, though it wasn’t all the same length and it had been teased upward and outward. I thought if it was wet again it would probably be hanging down a bit farther. It was a big enough change to be arresting, even though I had seen the early stage of the transformation.

“I wonder if anyone is even going to recognize you when we get back to campus,” I said, once we left.

“Speak for yourself,” Glory said, reaching out and touching one of the side-hanging parts of my hair… I didn’t really have the vocabulary to describe what the modified pageboy style had done to my hair, any more than I would have known to call it that by myself. “You’re going to be coming back with new clothes, a new attitude, and a new hairstyle.”

“New attitude?”

“Well, a more developed version of the one you’ve been working on,” she said.

“I’ve just figured things are different because… things are different,” I said.

“And you figure that when we go back, things will just go back to normal?” Glory asked. “It’s going to be a new semester… new classes, there’s going to be new interests and activities for everyone else in your life.”

“I guess maybe it’s a mistake to look for ‘normal’ in a life that’s currently divided up into semesters to begin with,” I said.

“If it wasn’t semesters, it would be seasons or years,” Glory said. “Unless you happen to be living in a very insular community of ageless immortals, the default state of life is change… you can spend your life trying to get used to the way things are only to have the rug yanked out from underneath your feet just when you thought you had it all figured out…”

“What’s there to figure out about a rug?”

“…or you can embrace the change.”

“That sounds weirdly like something Acantha would say… I don’t mean like the exact same words as she would use, and she’d be talking about trying to steer the change, or something. It’s just… is there something about being an elf in the human world that makes you giddy about the future?”

“Well, I don’t know if it’s an elven thing, but I think it’s because the choices are to be excited about it or be terrified,” she said. “And it’s more productive to be excited about it.”

“I guess,” I said. “I really haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about the new semester… I guess because I’ve been through it before. The orderly progression of one semester to another is the closest thing to a stable routine I’m going to get for the next few years. But the fact that I haven’t been thinking about it… I guess in the back of my mind, the fact that we left right after the semester ended, I kind of feel like I’m missing the winter break?”

“What, you’d rather be sitting alone in a dorm room?”

“No, I just mean, like it’s not happening,” I said. “Which also means that the semester never ended, which means that on some level I’ve felt like I will just be going back to the same old stuff I left: same classes, same classmates, same life.”

“If you ask me, it sounds like you’re trying to rationalize about the fact that you don’t think enough about the passage of time.”

“I don’t think about the passage of time at all,” I said. “It just sort of happens, with or without me… but… it just hit me that I’m done having class with Nicki.”

“How do you feel about that?”

“…not any kind of way,” I said. “I mean, I just now realized it. It’s something I’ve thought about before, off and on, in a sort of abstractly thinking about the future thing… that’s part of why I kept trying so hard to encourage her to hang out with me outside of class… but now it’s not abstract anymore.”

“Do you really think there’s a risk of the two you just sort of drifting apart now?”

“Probably not, since we’ll both have reason to be in Oberrad House.”

“I meant now that you’ve had sex with each other… oh, and there’s the blush.”

“You’re not even looking at me,” I said, which was true. We were walking side by side down the promenade.

“Was I wrong?” she asked, and I blushed deeper.

“No,” I said. “But… I don’t know. I’m not counting on that being a thing that keeps happening when we go back to real life. Whatever the combination of a return to normalcy and finding a completely new normal ends up being, I think it would be a mistake to count on any apparent change in status here to be permanent.”

“Really? Because that’s pretty much the opposite of the assumption I’ve been operating under.”

“Okay, well, you don’t expect your court to just reset back to the way it was when we get back to campus, but I’ll bet you’re not prepared for the idea that there won’t be some snapping back towards the previous status quo.”

“…true,” Glory said. “But by the same token, do you really expect everything to go back to the way it was between you and Nicki?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “If we still had class together, I wouldn’t think so. With her involved with your sister and me involved with you, I guess it’s still pretty unlikely. But it’s not like we couldn’t run from it pretty easily if one or both of us felt really weird about things when we got back.”

“Do you feel like running from it?”

“No.”

“So really,” Glory said, “what you’re telling me is that you’re worried she’ll feel weird about it and run away.”

“…I guess I’m worried she’ll run away,” I said, working through it as I said it. “If she feels weird about it and doesn’t want to do anything else, I would be fine with that, as long as it means I don’t lose her as a friend.”

“That sounds reasonable, though I’m not sure the worry is rational,” Glory said. “Bear in mind that she’s been into you for as long as you’ve known her. Longer.”

“There’s a surprising amount of that going around,” I said.

“Yes, well, there’s no accounting for taste.”

“Anyway… just because she was interested in the idea of me doesn’t mean she’ll necessarily enjoy the ongoing reality of it,” I said. “People can want things and then find out they’re not what they expected.”

“Well, I would suggest you talk to her about it before we go back, then,” Glory said. “I’d say ‘if only to put your own mind at ease’, but I can’t imagine she’s not going through similar doubts, so you’d be putting both of your minds at ease, and possibly making a practical plan of action for continuing things.”

“I guess,” I said. “But… that sounds like an alone kind of conversation. I’d hate to ditch you.”

“Please, Mackenzie… so far we’ve had more of each other’s undivided attention than I was really expecting to have in total on this trip,” Glory said. “I’m not exactly sick of your company, but I am looking forward to time with others.”

“You don’t think we’ll be left more and more alone the longer we’re here?” I asked.

“I think we are already at the saturation point for that,” she said. “I can only think of one way the two of us could be more alone, and it’s not something I’m that keen on.”

“I just mean if the others are already inclined to give you a wide berth, don’t you worry that will continue?”

“It might,” Glory said. “But I look at it as a test… not of loyalty or anything like that, but of the cohesion of the group in the absence of a direct threat to keep us unified, or a rigid social status system to keep everyone in line. Right now, I figure everyone is enjoying their new-found freedom for its own sake. Eventually, they’ll start to get bored and lonely, and miss each other, or me… or not. Whatever happens, at least I’ll be able to learn something from it.”

“You seem a lot more chill about the ‘or not’ than I had expected.”

“Believe me, I am jittery as hell under this icy cool marble exterior,” Glory said. “I guess this trip will be where I find out who my friends really are.

“I thought you said you didn’t see it as a loyalty test,” I said.

“I don’t… or I’m going to try very hard not to read too much into who shows up, when,” she said. “I already know who I can command respect and obedience from… I know a lot less about who would show up for me rather than out of fear of me, or the fear of things they think I can protect them from. I’ve been walking around today with the guess in my head that it’ll be around dinner time or just after when the group starts coalescing back together, but I haven’t wanted to say that outloud.”

“Because then if it didn’t happen, you’d feel like you were abandoned,” I said.

“You put it so bluntly, Mackenzie Blaise,” she said. “But yes.”

“Well, I think your friends would have to be real assholes to ditch you completely after you made this happen for them… not just the trip, but everything you’ve done.”

“We’ll see,” she said.

Time rewarded her optimism. Grace showed up with Nicki to join us for dinner, which seemed to relieve Glory profoundly. I hadn’t noticed how few breaths she’d taken over the course of the day until that point.

I think that was the point where she relaxed because it would have been a worrying sign if her sister had blown off a joint meal reservation, and because it meant the first person in the court to see Glory’s radical makeover was the friendliest of friendly faces.

“I hope you’re not thinking about copying me,” Glory said to Grace, which I understood was her way of answering the question Grace was avoiding asking: do I have to do this, too? “I don’t care what you do with your hair, as long as you don’t steal my style.”

“Maybe… maybe I could try a few different things,” Grace said, sharing a sidelong look with Nicki.

Before dinner was over, Nicki had glamoured Grace’s hair into a rainbow, turned its color into actual metallic gold, and tried a few different gradients, ending with a diagonal purple fade pattern that went from nearly black at the tips to a bright tropical color up on her head. It was a close match for the purple flowers on the table of the restaurant, which I was pretty sure was orchids. Grace took one and stuck it in her hair to complete the look.

Blossom actually found us before we were done eating, and within minutes of the time we had finished the meal, we’d been joined by seven of Glory’s courtiers… friends… and three of them were clamoring for some glamour, while two of the others were making plans to go to the salon the next day. It was pretty clear that the emerging consensus on Glory’s new hairstyle was less “good” or “bad” and more “Ooh, so what can I do with mine?”

Nobody seemed to be paying much attention to my new haircut, at least until a couple of elves with glamour expertise rejoined the group and the press of people demanding Nicki’s attention fell away.

“I like what you did with your hair,” she said quietly.

“Thanks,” I said. “I hope you don’t mind that I went to a salon.. I kind of needed an actual cut, and I wasn’t expecting to do anything drastic.”

“Cutting and styling hair is part of what they teach us,” she said. “Because there are limits to glamour.”

“I guess I knew that,” I said. “I didn’t mean to like, snub you, though, is what I was trying to say.”

“It doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I have thought about doing stuff with your hair before, but you never really seemed to care about it.”

“You could do something with it now,” I said. “I mean, I like the way I had it cut… obviously… but it’s just my hair. You could add some… effects… if you wanted?”

“What did you have in mind?”

“I don’t know,” I said, but then the starweave popped into my head. “Wait… can you put in some sparkles, like stars?”

She giggled, though she covered her mouth with her hand and stifled it.

“What?” I said.

“You never struck me as the glitter type,” she said.

“I didn’t glitter, I said stars,” I said.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have laughed.”

“No, you shouldn’t have hidden it. You have a nice laugh.”

She blushed madly.

“I… well… I mean, I can totally do it, what you asked,” she said. “How starry do you want it to be?”

“Let’s keep it subtle?” I said. “Just like some twinkling points of light, maybe peeking out between strands and showing when I, I don’t know… toss my head, or whatever.”

She laughed.

“I know, I’m not the head-tossing type,” I said. “But you know what I mean.”

“I do,” she said.

She reached out a hand towards my head. I opened my senses to feel her extending hers around me, felt her teasing out the attributes of my hair’s appearance. She deepened the darkness of my hair’s tint slightly, then… scattered something. I’m not anything like enough of a glamourist to describe it better. It sparkled, though, what she did. I couldn’t be sure if I was feeling the sparkliness of the effect, or if all glamour has that kind of feel, or if it’s something particular to how she did her magic.

“You were… watching,” she said when she was finished.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Trying to figure out how I do it?”

“You know I don’t have any kind of talent for visual magic,” I said.

“I totally know that,” she said. “But you know, I think that’s the first time you’ve put it that way.”

“How do I normally put it?”

She gave an exaggerated snort and eye roll.

“No, really,” I said. “How would I normally say that?”

“Like this,” she said, again snorting and rolling her eyes.

“Oh,” I said. “Sorry… anyway, it’s all done?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I think it looks pretty good. You want to… find a mirror somewhere?”

I glanced at Glory, who was now well and truly thronged by her friends, who were as attentive as ever… possibly more, actually, since now it seemed like there was a kind of multi-directional conversation going that I’d never seen happening around the court. She was the center of attention as always, but there was more to be the center of.

Yep… she wouldn’t miss me if I disappeared for a few minutes.

“Sure,” I said.


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23 Responses to “Chapter 281: A Handful of Stars”

  1. Trent Baker says:

    I lovely conclusion to their saloon adventure 🙂

    Current score: 3
    • Krey says:

      I laughed a bit as I imagined Mack stumbling into an old west saloon.

      Current score: 1
  2. pedestrian says:

    “… Glory said. “Bear in mind that she’s been into you for as long as you’ve known her. Longer.”

    “There’s a surprising amount of that going around,” I said.

    “Yes, well, there’s no accounting for taste.”

    It always cracks me up when Glory, with deadpan drolly, jokes about herself.

    Current score: 9
    • Lucy says:

      That bit makes me suspect that they (and everyone else) are into Mack from a less potent aspect of the demonblood curse

      Current score: 2
  3. zeel says:

    You want to… find a mirror somewhere?

    I hope this is going where I’m hoping this is going. . .

    Current score: 5
    • Hollowgolem says:

      Where you think it’s going, you mean?

      Otherwise, you just uttered a meaningless tautology.

      Current score: 1
    • Dani says:

      Yes, Grace is going to have to find a new mirror, since Glory no longer qualifies.

      Current score: 1
  4. Minion says:

    the next chapter should be named “Goon tomarrow”

    *dances off singing little bunny foo-foo*

    Current score: 3
    • Readaholic says:

      Dang it, now I have that as an earworm!

      And nice to see Mack trying something a bit different.

      Current score: 0
  5. Nocker says:

    You know, I wonder if Mackenzie can get a Star effect going on her own. Not as a glamor but having actual motes of artificial starlight generating. She has an air aura and a sparks enchantment. Combining the two should be doable.

    Current score: 0
    • Seth says:

      We’ve gone down this path before:

      Hair + Illusionist Sparks = Good.
      Hair + Actual Elemental Lightning = Bad.

      Current score: 6
      • Anvildude says:

        To be fair, she [i]is[/i] fireproof. She could take a hint from some Mekkan theory and put tiny motes of white fire in her hair.

        Or, since starlight is actually generated from crystalline motes of elemental light stuck in the celestial dome, little points of actual light with the ‘dazzle’ turned down could work as well. Light doesn’t have any inherent temperature.

        Current score: 1
        • Lyssa says:

          She’s fireproof, but that doesn’t mean the things around her – or, more importantly, around her hair – are always going to be. I could see her putting on a hat absentmindedly and fwoosh!

          Your other idea is intriguing to me. 🙂

          Current score: 0
          • pedestrian says:

            My thoughts exactly.

            I gotta think Magisterion insurance companies would volubly insist on their version of fire & smoke detectors and very loud alarms!

            Current score: 0
  6. Zathras IX says:

    People can want things
    And then find out that things aren’t
    What they expected

    Current score: 4
  7. zeel says:

    There needs to be a little box up right next to the end of each chapter with that chapters haiku on display. Have you missed any (recent) ones?

    Current score: 1
  8. Zdawg says:

    Sneaking off to diddle each other. What cheeky little monkeys those two are.

    Current score: 0
  9. Moridain says:

    Really happy for Glory here. Loyalty reciprocated is the very best kind.

    Current score: 0