Chapter 282: Taking A Powder

on February 10, 2015 in Volume 2 Book 8: Elven Holiday, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Shines

I didn’t have many reasons to visit a public restroom, and Glory kind of really preferred that I gave her some distance when she engaged in such base mortal functions as required her to visit them, so going to check out Nicki’s handiwork was my first experience of the public facilities on the ship.

I supposed “public” was a bit of a stretch since only people who could afford passage on a flying cruise ship… or maybe lodging would be the better word… had access to them. Maybe it was just because so much of the space around the promenade deck was specifically given over to hospitality and entertainment, but it was hard to believe that space was at a premium aboard the ship when I saw the way the bathroom was laid out.

Inside the door, there was an outer area that looked something like a lounge, complete with a loveseat and sofa. Soft tinkling chimes filled the air. There were two counters that each had two sinks underneath wall-length mirrors. I supposed it was the sort of place you could call a “powder room” and not have it be a euphemism. Two swinging doors, labeled with “ENTER” and “EXIT”, led to what I guessed would be the euphemistic powder room.

“What do you think?” Nicki asked.

“It’s pretty nice, I guess?” I said. “I think if someone really had to go, they might appreciate not having to pass through an antechamber…”

“I meant about your hair,” she said, taking me by the elbow and turning me towards one of the mirrors.

“Oh,” I said, and then I saw. “Oh!”

I thought that Nicki’s magic had maybe subtly darkened my already dark hair, but it already looked so different in the new cut that I couldn’t swear to it. The silvery twinkles that peeked out as it shifted in response to my movement were… well, they weren’t quite what I had pictured, but Nicki wasn’t a mindreader.

They were also pretty astonishing.

I twisted my neck, moved back and forth, and tossed my hair around a little bit… not an everyday experience for me… enjoying both the sight of my newly cut and styled hair settling back into place and the points of light that twinkled into view when I did it.

Being glamour and not an actual physical property meant they were more or less in the eye of the beholder, so when I tilted my head and a glittering star just perfectly caught my eye, I knew it would also appear perfect to anyone else who happened to be looking.

“Is it… does it look okay?” Nicki asked.

My first thought was how can you even ask that? but I pretty quickly realized the answer was because I hadn’t said anything. I groped around for the right words, and I was pretty sure I came up short.

“It looks… amazing,” I said.

“Really? Because if you don’t like it, I can try again… or just undo it.”

I felt like the long delay followed by my inability to describe exactly how good it was probably made it come out sounding forced and insincere, but I wasn’t sure what to say to convince Nicki that I really did like what she had done.

A woman came out the out door before I could answer and said, “Wow, nice hair.” Even when the subject of our conversation was my hair, it took me a second to realize she was talking to me, so I was a little bit slow with my “thanks”.

“See?” I said. “I’m not just saying it. You are an artist, Nicki… you know you’re good at this. You color your hair everyday.”

“Well, I mean, I do it a lot, but I do that to please myself,” she said. “You don’t seem to notice it.”

“I’ll admit, I stopped paying attention to what color your hair is a while ago,” I said. “But that’s because no matter what you do with your hair, it’s just… you. I mean, if you came to me and said you had to pick one color to wear for the rest of your life and you wanted to know which one I thought was the most you, I don’t know what I’d say.”

“…I think I’d probably just shave my head,” she said, looking genuinely horrified at the idea.

“See?” I said. “But my point is, you know what you’re doing. You should trust that.”

“I do,” she said. “I guess what I don’t trust is…”


“I’m sorry, it’s going to sound horrible.”

“Say it,” I said.

“I was going to say that what I don’t trust is that you actually like me or anything I do,” she said.

“That does sound bad,” I said. “But it sounds bad for you, Nicki… it doesn’t hurt me. I know it’s about you, not me. But I do like it, and I like you, and I don’t like it because I like you… but it means more because you did it. Some stranger in a salon gave me this haircut for money. You did this for me because you’re my friend.”

“So… no chance I’m getting paid for it?”

She kept a straight face when she said it, but only just, and it didn’t last long. After we’d both laughed, I felt like one way or another we’d made it past her insecurity for the moment. A couple other people chose the tail end of our mutual laughing it to come in and check touch up their lipstick. I felt a little self-conscious, but they weren’t paying any attention to us, and they were in and out pretty quickly.

“Anyway, I’m sorry I don’t have a mirror with me,” Nicki said. “Usually I carry one, but… well, nothing’s been usual, you know? No routine, no schedule… when ‘normal’ stops applying, the stuff you do normally sort of… falls away”

I nodded.

“I know exactly what you mean,” I said. “It’s cool, though… I kind of like the excuse to get away from the crowd. I’m way more comfortable one-on-one than in large groups anyway… I’ve been getting better at that, hanging out with the court, but I think the whole rigid decorum thing helped more than anything. Most of the elves sort of fade into the background for me, and I’m pretty sure it’s mutual. Now that things have sort of… thawed all around… I could see it getting a little more overwhelming.”

“You didn’t seem overwhelmed.”

“Well, I wasn’t, really, yet,” I admitted. “Still, I am kind of glad to have some time with you away from the others… we haven’t really had a chance to talk since the trip down.”

“You’ve been thinking about that, too?”

“…not really, no,” I said. “I mean, I haven’t forgotten it happened, but what attention Glory doesn’t claim is kind of taken up just by being here.”

“I understand.”

“It’s not that you’re not important… you just… weren’t what was happening right in front of me. Okay, that is so the opposite of reassuring, I know… I really am trying to tell you that you’re important to me, and I’m sure I’m failing horribly.”

“No!” Nicki said. “I actually… I kind of got it? I feel like I’ve probably had a less busy day than you, but there have definitely been times when I’ve just been like, ‘Whoa, is this really fucking real?’ and times when I’ve been focused on Grace… I mean, she’s actually been a little bit frazzled by the feeling of not knowing what Glory expects her to do, you know?”

“Have fun and be herself, I think,” I said.

“I think it’s been a long time since she’s had a chance to do that,” Nicki said. “I’m not sure she knows how to.”

“Well, I don’t know her like you do,” I said, “but I kind of have the feeling that the times when she’s been the most herself… and having the most fun… are the times when she’s been alone with you.”

“That’s… um… sweet, but also kind of terrifying,” Nicki said.

“Why? What does she do when you’re alone?”

“Nothing I don’t like a lot!” Nicki said. “I just mean, the responsibility. So far we’ve mostly just been having a lot of fun.”

“That’s not a bad thing.”

“I know, but does she need more than that? Should I be helping her figure out what she wants to do with her life? Trying to help her, I don’t know, grow as a person?”

“Unless she decides to leave Treehome, she’s got a lot longer than you do to figure out what she wants to do,” I said. “And even if the answer ends up being ‘leave Treehome and fuck the whole middling scene’ she still has time to work that out. Also, I don’t think anyone enters into a relationship with the specific goal of trying to help someone grow as a person.”

“Amaranth,” Nicki said.

“…fair point,” I said. “But whatever she thought she was doing when she started her relationship with me, I think it’s more healthy for both of us when she recognizes that we’re serving mutual needs. I have learned a lot from her, but I think the lessons that come through experience, over time, stick a lot better than the lectures and attempts at making a point.”

“The thing is… I’m kind of terrified of the idea of being responsible for someone,” Nicki said. “I think that might be why, as much as I really wanted… and still want… a girlfriend, the idea of getting serious with someone kind of… well… I mean, I’m really not sure what I’m doing in my life. I don’t expect someone else to come along and sort that out for me, but even more than that, I don’t want to be doing it for someone else. You know?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t think you have to, though… you’re just… you’re someone that Grace can be with, without any expectations. There’s no hierarchy…”

“There’s a little hierarchy,” Nicki said.

“Okay, there’s a little hierarchy,” I said. “But it’s the only one in her life where she’s on top, which isn’t the same as being free of expectations, but it makes the expectations a bit more open-ended?”

“So you think I should just not worry about it?” Nicki asked.

I wanted to say yes, but then I thought about it… how often had I tried to stop worrying about something? How often had I succeeded?

“I think you should recognize that there’s not actually anything you need to do differently than you are doing,” I said.

“That makes sense,” she said. “I think I can do that. Thanks. You know, it’s funny, though…”

“What is?” I asked.

“You said you were glad to have a chance to tak to me, and here we are, talking about Grace and me.”

“Well, I said I wanted to talk to you,” I said. “I didn’t say about what… and I’m not trying to be cute. I mean, I haven’t really felt a burning desire to unburden my… whatever… about what happened between us. I have thought a little bit about what’s going to happen when we get back to school, but mostly in terms of the fact that we’re not going to have a class together anymore.”

“Does that mean you don’t want to… do it again?”

“I don’t think it does,” I said. “I think it means… I’m not agaonizing over it? Which is kind of weird, but I’m not going to complain. I guess maybe it’s the circumstances of the thing… it was both completely unreal and also really kind of great, so… I’d be happy if it… if it could happen again, but I’d also feel like it was this great thing even if it doesn’t. If that makes sense.”

“I don’t know, man,” Nicki said. “Does anything about sex and love and relationships make sense?”

“I think this kind of stuff just has to make its own kind of sense,” I said. “Which is going to vary from person to person, and even time to time.”

“That… makes sense,” Nicki said. “So… if you had your preference… would we just kind of leave things up in the air and keep them on the back burner until we get back and see how things are?”

“Honestly?” I said. “I’m kind of afraid if we do that, we’ll just sort of default to ‘see you around’… and I know I don’t want that. I said it would still be a great thing if it was a one-time thing, but I don’t think that’s what I want.”

“Does that mean you don’t want to… do it again?”

“I don’t think it does,” I said. “I think it means… I’m not agonizing over it? Which is kind of weird, but I’m not going to complain. I guess maybe it’s the circumstances of the thing… it was both completely unreal and also really kind of great, so… I’d be happy if it… if it could happen again, but I’d also feel like it was this great thing even if it doesn’t. If that makes sense.”

“I don’t know, man,” Nicki said. “Does anything about sex and love and relationships make sense?”

“I think this kind of stuff just has to make its own kind of sense,” I said. “Which is going to vary from person to person, and even time to time.”

“That… makes sense,” Nicki said. “So… if you had your preference… would we just kind of leave things up in the air and keep them on the back burner until we get back and see how things are?”

“Honestly?” I said. “I’m kind of afraid if we do that, we’ll just sort of default to ‘see you around’… and I know I don’t want that. I said it would still be a great thing if it was a one-time thing, but I don’t think that’s what I want.”

“So… should we talk about it now?”

The door opened again, and another person breezed past us towards the inner chamber.

“I think we should see if we can find somewhere actually private,” I said.

“And talk there?”

“You said you’re not looking for anything really serious,” I said. “So I’m sure what we’d be talking about.”

“…so you don’t want to go somewhere, then?”

“No,” I said, giving what I hoped was a come-hither… or maybe go-thither… look. “I totally do.”

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29 Responses to “Chapter 282: Taking A Powder”

  1. D. D. Webb says:


    Current score: 3
  2. zeel says:

    Oh I do like where this is going. . .

    Current score: 4
  3. NekoLeila says:

    Really love these two together. <3

    "'Does that mean you don’t want to… do it again?'" And a couple paragraphs afterwards are repeated twice.

    Current score: 4
    • Order of Chaos says:

      Yeh thats an odd thing that’s been popping up this year.

      Current score: 1
      • zeel says:

        It seems like every other chapter gets it – this has to be some kind of software/process issue.

        Current score: 1
        • Father Latour says:

          Maybe it’s foreshadowing for an upcoming time-loop plot arc!

          Current score: 14
        • Dani says:

          > this has to be some kind of software/process issue

          No, it’s an editing issue. Note that ‘agonizing’ appears once with a spelling mistake and once without.

          Current score: 2
          • zeel says:

            Yes the duplicates are edited, however that doesn’t explain why we got both versions.

            Current score: 0
            • Lyssa says:

              My guess is it’s something along the lines of her copying the content from a document that’s in “review” mode or something, where it lists the revisions alongside.

              I want to believe the time travel explanation though. 😀

              Current score: 1
  4. Xanni says:

    “So I’m sure what we’d be talking about.” – looks like it’s missing a “not”.

    Current score: 0
  5. Tierhon says:

    Time warp…

    “Does that mean you don’t want to… do it again?”

    This and the text between it’s iterations exist twice.

    Current score: 0
  6. Jonathan says:

    Proofreading: Another case where the 6 paragraph section starting with ‘“Does that mean you don’t want to…’ and ending in ‘I don’t think that’s what I want.”’ is repeated, with only minor changes.

    Current score: 0
  7. readaholic says:

    Ah, the adorkability of Mack and Nicki (and Grace)

    Current score: 2
  8. Nocker says:

    Wait, so the angle and power of Glamour is beholden to it’s observer.

    So hypothetically if an illusionist got into a fight, they could hit every single enemy to make them think they were each the target of a phantom spell and make them feel illusory pain and mock wounds similar to a mockbox.

    I get the feeling that while it’s not a “hard magic”, Illusion is REALLY dangerous, either by itself or coupled with something else. The idea of a spell that automatically targets anyone who sees it and gives them the full bore at every angle is terrifying in ways other things plain can’t be.

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      Glamour is a perception filter – it makes you think that her hair looks sparkly. And since you are technically just imagining it, it always looks optimal to anyone who is affected by it (some people are immune). It tricks the mind to interpret what it is seeing differently, because you alter the “appearance”.

      Illusion on the other hand tricks the eyes/ears/etc. An illusion can have more complexity (like three dimensions, lots of animation) and has more concrete details, but it’s limited by the artistic talent of the illusionist.

      What Nicki did was cast a spell that makes anyone who looks at Mackenzie think they see stars in her hair. However we know this is actually a pretty weak effect, and only works when you can uphold the viewers willing suspension of disbelief – or else you end up with a battle of wills. Anyone who sees it could simply disbelieve it, and the glamour would be useless (the spell might actually be destroyed, but I’m not certain).

      To use this in combat the glamourist would need incredibly high willpower, more so to maintain the effect against multiple targets. A greater dragon could easily do this, but I doubt most mortals (or immortals for that matter) could do that.

      Illusions are more robust, but also significantly more difficult to do convincingly, and more energy intensive. Could it be utilized in combat (or more likely, no-leather police actions), probably. But I would think a more direct method is probably far more effective.

      Current score: 1
      • Seth says:

        To use illusion in combat, the illusion would only have to be plausible enough to cause indecision and chaos.

        Imagine a castle you were attacking had 3 catapults flinging boulders and flaming pitch at attackers. As one of the attackers, you know for sure that 2 of those are illusions.

        A huge rock is coming through the sky at you. You are surrounded by fire. Do you:
        1) Evade the rock, believing that the flames are an illusion.
        2) Hold your ground, believing that the rock is an illusion. -or-
        3) Get stabbed by the perfectly camouflaged foot soldier to your left, while you were flailing around like an idiot watching two phantasmal attacks.

        Current score: 5
        • Lucy says:

          or, is the first few barrages illusion, and then real ones once the defenders think its just a trick

          Current score: 0
      • Nocker says:

        That still leaves a whole lot of options though. A glamour light turned up really high and really fast can potentially blind, or mock-blind, everyone who sees it.

        Current score: 0
        • zeel says:

          Probably, assuming the enemy isn’t warded from such effects.

          And to Seth, that is assuming you have no magical way of detecting the illusion (or are a dwarf).

          I am sure both kinds of magic can and have been used to great effect in combat at one time or another. However because both are inherently ephemeral – so it isn’t actually that difficult to detect, dispel, or ward against them.

          It’s probably the kind of thing that only works once – and that once might be critical and change the tide of a war. But in the future people will know better.

          Current score: 0
          • Nocker says:

            It only needs to work once per enemy per type, presuming that you leave witnesses alive and a workaround is easy.

            Ogres aren’t terribly sophisticated magically and chaos spawn like orcs and goblins aren’t much better. You could feasibly hit them a few times before they catch on, in the sense of a battlefield projection. If they start to catch on you just need to vary it up faster than they can adapt.

            Likewise it depends on the gear and training your soldiers have. The Imperium has martial combat students who study for years, possibly tens of thousands of them nationwide, but their actual military looks like it’s made of conscripts or people pulled the moment they hit age of majority, or from volunteers if they can afford it. They’re also given unremarkable leather armor and steel swords, so I doubt that grunts have the experience or equipment to see through an illusion if it’s cracked open in a skirmish.

            Against elites like Hydra it may not work but most things don’t seem to. But against grunts it could turn the tide of a fair few battles.

            Current score: 1
  9. pedestrian says:

    “…maybe go-thither…”
    i just loooovvvees the word=play!

    I suspect the recent (minor)bollixes in AE’s postings are formatting errors.

    None of the mish-mash cludge of technology we use, is truly compatible without a shitload of Rube Goldberg fix-its and runs-around-screaming-like-a-drunken hyena.

    Current score: 0
    • D. D. Webb says:

      Indeed, blogging platforms are dicey creatures. If I’m not mistaken, ToMU runs on WordPress, which is a finicky beast at the best of times.

      And yes, the wordplay is delightful.

      Current score: 0
      • Lyssa says:

        I seriously doubt WordPress is to blame. The content editor is pretty simple to use. It’s more likely that whatever she uses for the actual writing is to blame, and the repeated content is in the middle, so not obvious when you skim WP’s editor.

        Current score: 0
        • zeel says:

          I’m guessing it happens when she copies and pasts from wherever she wrote it into WordPress. I am guessing the editor is doing something weird handling the clipboard.

          Current score: 0
  10. Zathras IX says:

    Being starry-eyed
    In love is less wondrous than
    Being starry-haired

    Current score: 5
  11. A boy can dream says:

    So a theory occurred to me, that’s fairly unrelated to this chapter, but I thought I’d share it. With all the changes that Mack’s been going through, it seems more and more possible that in time she might become a he.

    Think about it: Mackenzie never put much stock into how she presented herself, and she’s expressed discomfort with frills and femininity. Many trans men find themselves simply trying to ignore their appearance. If you don’t acknowledge it, it’s not a problem.

    When Mackenzie went to college, she acquired a more masculine version of her name. Now as Mack, she’s been slowly building a wardrobe. She’s moved from t-shirts to slightly tough feminine clothes (leather jacket) to feminine version of masculine outfits (suits). She’s even cut her hair, going from a long feminine cut to a girl’s “pageboy”. These kinds of things are a slippery slope: she’s only one step away from actual men’s clothes and haircuts.

    There’s also her distinct discomfort with vulvas. She’s gotten to the point of being able to have all sorts of sex, but she can’t do vaginal anything. If Mack really is a guy, that would explain why she’s so much more comfortable with anal or anything else over vaginal intercourse.

    If it does end up playing out this way, it’d be a wonderful mirror for my own experience transitioning. Mack’s life is already a parallel for my own, so here’s to hoping! :3

    Current score: 0