Chapter 301: Mackenzie Unstacked

on July 18, 2015 in Volume 2 Book 9: Who Is Mackenzie Blaise?, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Our Story Picks Up

If Glory was surprised that I came around knocking on her door in the middle of the night, she returned the favor when she answered it herself.

“Funny, I figured you would have had enough of me for a while,” she said, her porcelain mask of a face melting into a smile.

“It was more like not enough of everyone else,” I said. “But right now, I kind of feel the need for some space and distance.”

“Is anything wrong?”

“Not wrong, per se,” I said. “Just… weird. A weird thing happened, and everyone’s being weird about it, and I don’t know what to think, and more than that I don’t want to think. I just want some time and space to be alone.”

“Ah,” she said, going very still. “So, you’ve come for one of my abundant rooms, then, rather than my abundant charms.”

“Sorry,” I said, giving what I hoped was an apologetic smile but what felt more like a grimace/cringe.

“You know, one of the reasons I like you is that I never understand what you’re doing with your face,” she said. “It’s kind of refreshing compared to the average human.”

“I don’t either,” I admitted. “It’s one of my many faults, okay? Along with my lack of tact and the total underabundance of any discernible charms. If it makes you feel any better, I had nowhere else to go and I thought of you.”

“Well, it is nice to feel needed,” she said, stepping aside and holding open the door. “I’ll even temper my desire to demand more details, since I’m getting the sense that a whole ‘don’t want to talk about it’ vibe is what brought you here in the first place.”

“Thanks, that means a lot.”

“Are you sleeping here tonight?”

“Staying, maybe,” I said. “Not sure about sleeping.”

“When I replay this conversation in my room later, alone, there are going to be entirely different inflections in those sentences,” she said. “Well, maybe not alone. I might grab someone.”

“I’m really sorry, Glory, I’m just not…”

“You know, if you’re going to apologize for something, it should be your utter inability to be properly jealous,” she said.

“What?”

“Nothing. Goodnight, Mackenzie. You know your way around here as well as anyone, I’m sure you can find a quiet corner somewhere. Stay as long as you like.”

She glided away a little more quickly than usual, which after a few stunned moments I put together was what a foot-stomping retreat looked like on elven perfection.

So I’d managed to tick her off. So be it. I’d rather have her be a little pissed that I’d put m foot in my mouth again somehow than be looking at me all… expectant/horrified, like everyone else had been.

I didn’t know what any of them expected me to say, or do, about the wild idea that someone had tampered with my memory and also somehow conditioned me to think the idea was ridiculous… which in fairness to the plausibility of the theory, wouldn’t take much of a psychic nudge since the idea was ridiculous.

It was… unthinkable.

But I couldn’t think about anything else. I felt like I had been too quick to pass on Glory’s company… whether we’d talked or did something else, it would have at least given me something to occupy myself.

Instead, I stalked her halls for a short time and then headed for the other place I knew I could go on campus at any time and be welcome: the library.

The existence of the school library had been one of the greatest revelations of my early life at university. Bigger than any library I’d seen before… bigger than most buildings I’d been in, at that point… and open twenty-four hours a day when school was in session. Best of all, the staff was a mix of professionals and students about my age, not a bunch of blue-haired old ladies who were either friends with or afraid of my grandmother.

Nothing in the university library was off-limits or out of bounds, officially or unofficially.

During my first year, it had been a regular weekend haunt for me. As time went on, my casual visits to it had grown more irregular, though I still got what I assumed was a smile on my face every time I found an excuse to go there.

The number of times it had served as a late night refuge for me I could probably have counted on one hand if I’d bothered to keep count of them in the first place. I didn’t like being out and about after dark. It wasn’t actually against the rules, just disclaimered to hell and back. Certain facilities like the library and the fitness center remained open all night regardless, but more to accommodate students pulling all-nighters than nocturnal visitors.

This early in the semester, there wouldn’t be much reason for anyone to be haunting the library beyond a skeleton staff… a figure of speech, though I suspected Steff had at least floated a proposal. No one was behind the desk when I got in, but I could hear the sound of a drawer sliding in or out in the office beyond.

Beside that, the silence in the library was almost complete… almost. I heard a shuffling of paper from somewhere up on one of the higher floors, and beyond that the almost indefinable background noise that signified people to my somewhat better than human senses.

Still, it said something about how empty the place was that I could pick that up. In a building full of people or even the library on an average Sunday afternoon, there was too much going on to really notice anything beyond the obvious.

It wasn’t like I needed the whole building to myself, anyway. Whatever had brought the other late-night stragglers out, it was a damn good bet that none of them were looking for company or feeling talkative. Probably they couldn’t sleep, either.

As much of a sanctuary as the library had been, the one thing I had done surprisingly little of was actually checking out and reading books. Part of it was the still slightly novel lure of unrestricted crystal ball access, part of it was simply not knowing where to start with such a vast collection, and part of it was having so much required reading to do.

Well, it was a new semester. I had no huge projects, nothing else vying for my time, and there was no time like the present. I decided to just hit the fiction section and drift through it until something caught my eye.

Or my hands. I’d always been kind of a tactile person when it came to books, so I ran my fingers along the protruding spines of the books as I passed them. It was kind of pleasing, the way that no matter how neatly and orderly they were shelved they all still stuck out varying degrees. They were all different sizes. Some of the spines were straight and new, some bulged out and some bowed in.

I was walking at a fairly leisurely pace, but I found myself reliving the memory of a time when my legs had been much shorter but had carried me much faster around a much smaller library. I’d always enjoyed running my hands across the books, taking in through feeling the wealth of words they represented. I must have spent hours running around the shelves of our small-town library, chasing after myself until my mother or the librarian got me to stop.

I smiled at the memory. I’d had a good childhood, up until a point… maybe the others couldn’t understand how I’d been happy by myself because they’d never known that kind of peaceful solitude. Their loss.

Loneliness had come later, when it wasn’t so much that I was alone as I was surrounded by kids who either despised me or had clearly been warned not to associate with me, and often a confusing combination of both.

As a small child left to my own devices I’d been perfectly happy, needing no one but my mother. As an older child boxed in by fear and spite, I’d been miserable. That was the difference.

That, and the lack of a mother. I had still needed her, but she was gone.

I realized I’d stopped in my tracks, my fingers on the back of a paperback romance novel whose title was illegible, between the floridness of the font and the state of the spine. I started moving again at a slightly more measured pace, looking up from the floor just in time to notice I was running into my own personal mystery man, Rowan fucking Hartley himself.

“So, you still like the library,” he said. “I guess you haven’t changed that much, no matter what the trendy haricut says.”

“Rowan Hartley,” I said.

“You remembered my name.”

“It’s a hard name to forget,” I said. “And you did just tell me it, so…”

He was staring at me. I stared back.

“What’s your deal, dude?” I said. “You said you knew me from the TV. What do you think that makes me to you?”

“I said I saw you there,” he said. “But I know you, Mackenzie… I’d know you anywhere. We used to run around the stacks, playing our own version of hide and seek with no turns and no rules. We used to climb trees together, while your mom would tell us about dryads and stuff. You used to come over to my house when she was working after school.”

“Nice story, but I was a latchkey kid,” I said. “I don’t think my mom could afford a babysitter.”

“She couldn’t, but she was friends with my mom,” he said. “And she returned the favor sometimes. We spent so many nights at each other’s houses, Mackenzie.”

“Yeah, sorry, but I’m not really the sleepover type,” I said. “The bit about the dryads was nice, though… shockingly close. I guess you looked at the company I’m known to keep and made an educated guess?”

“You used to say you wanted to be a nymph when you grew up,” he said. “Around when you were in kindergarten, your mom had to chase you around the apple tree in your backyard to get you to put your…”

“…okay, that’s enough,” I said. I hadn’t thought about that in years, but I remembered enough of it to know it had happened, though I doubt I could have pinned down when. I didn’t remember it so much as I remembered my mom endlessly reminding me of it. “Where’d you get this from?”

“I was there,” he said. “I was a ranger.”

“You were a ranger. What were you, four?”

“I was a ranger in the sense that you were a dryad,” he said. “I.e., it was a game the two of us played together.”

“That’s a great line, Rowan. ‘We used to play ranger and nymph together.’ Seriously, though, how the fuck do you know about the apple tree? Did… did he send you?”

“He who?”

“My father,” I said. I was trying to drop my voice, but though I managed a whispered tone I’m pretty sure the actual volume rose. The strangled shout that came out was enough to rock him back on his heels.

“Your father? I didn’t know your father, Mackenzie. I didn’t think… oh, shit. He’d be the… the…”

“Demon,” I said.

“I’m sorry, I’d heard that, obviously, but it’s still… I never knew, you know? None of us did. We all thought you had died.”

“Who all?”

“…everybody,” he said. “Nobody actually told us anything, I mean… just there was a fire, and you weren’t around anymore, and your mother, and all anybody would say is that you were gone, and we all knew what that meant, you know? But there wasn’t any funeral.”

“Because I wasn’t dead,” I said. “And I don’t know what ‘everybody’ you mean.”

“Us,” he said.

“You and me?”

“Me and the rest of your class,” he said. “Your friends, Mackenzie, your friends!”

“Fuck, were you listening outside my door?” I said, though I knew it was absurd as soon as I said it. No human could have eavesdropped on a room with Dee and Steff in it without one of them knowing it. Still, though, how else could he have picked up the exact same ridiculous idea that my nearest and dearest had collectively come up with?

…why would he be coming up with an idea at all?

It didn’t make any sense… but… but…

With a sensation that felt exactly like the crack of breaking wood sounds, something bright exploded far behind my eyes. The world fell away in front of me like someone had kicked over a set, and then Rowan was standing over me, and suddenly the unthinkable was… thinkable.

“Mackenzie? Mackenzie?”

“Rowan?” I said.

“Shit, do you know who I am?”

“I have no worldly clue, but I want you to tell me everything.”


Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!


Characters: , ,





55 Responses to “Chapter 301: Mackenzie Unstacked”

  1. Leishycat says:

    YASS!!!

    Found a typo:

    I’d rather have her be a little pissed that I’d put m foot in my mouth again somehow than be looking at me all… expectant/horrified, like everyone else had been.

    Should be ‘put my foot’.

    But but yay!

    Current score: 4
  2. Silverai says:

    OMG OMG OMG *excited high pitched squeal*

    Current score: 7
    • zeel says:

      Bah! You ninja’d my OMG squee…

      Current score: 1
      • Silverai says:

        By 11 minutes 😉 I did find it amusing that your thoughts coincided with mine, but I’m betting there’s lots of fans out there that will have the same reaction *hehe*

        Current score: 4
        • zeel says:

          I really should refresh the page when I finish reading a chapter, before I leave a comment.

          Current score: 2
  3. Nocker says:

    Mackenzie’s first instinct when finding out the inside of her own head has been compromised is to run away and try not to think about it.

    You know, I really don’t know what else I could have expected. Khersis knows she isn’t one to face her problems head on.

    Current score: 6
    • zeel says:

      This is one of those problems that can literally only be faced *head* on…

      Current score: 4
    • Kobold says:

      To be fair. She still didn’t believe her head HAD been messed with. (because of said head messing).

      Current score: 1
  4. zeel says:

    Oh my gosh…
    Oh my gosh…
    Oh my gosh…

    Finally! The moment we have all been waiting for since the first time Mackenzie said “It wasn’t my fault.”

    And welcome back!

    Current score: 13
  5. tomclark says:

    Yay! Eagerly awaiting the next chapter…

    Current score: 4
  6. Garble says:

    I don’t know if this is an internal retcon, or was planned from the start, but I’m excited to see what’s next!

    Current score: 5
    • zeel says:

      I doubt the full details were planned much, but Mackenzie’s “It wasn’t my fault, that’s all I know” mantra has been around for a long time – the hints that something big happened have been dropped along the way through the story, without any pay off until now.

      Current score: 5
      • Minty says:

        Yeah. I remember thinking, way back when, that Mackenzie saying “I don’t want to talk about it”/”I don’t want to think about it” re: her mother’s death and then *actually not thinking about it anymore* was pretty significant.
        Since on every other topic that bothers her, she *wishes* she could stop thinking about it… and then goes round and round in circles on it for hours.
        I initially thought it was naturally-occurring denial, though.

        Current score: 3
      • Garble says:

        I did a quick search of the archives, and the earliest was 2008. I’m not necessarily convinced that that was foreshadowing, but it seems likely.

        Current score: 2
  7. Not her, the other girl says:

    Yay! Welcome back AE, I hope life is going more smoothly for you now and every thing is good.

    I’m glad she didn’t have too long to be in her own head about it. Interestingly, though, it looks like her mother removed all memories of her childhood friends too – maybe so she couldn’t look them up later in life? (Has a version of Facebook been mentioned in this universe? I can’t remember, but Facebook stalking seems to be appropriate in her near future…)

    Current score: 6
  8. Nym says:

    We’re back, and we’re back with a bang! I’m entirely too zonked at the moment to leave a coherent analysis of this chapter, but man, this is the moment I’ve been waiting for ever since that first “She died. It wasn’t my fault” and I am unbelievably excited to be here! It’s really good to have you back, AE – I’m sorry things have been so rough these past few weeks. I hope things go more smoothly soon.

    Current score: 8
  9. Zathras IX says:

    The unthinkable
    Takes considerable thought
    If you think to think

    Current score: 6
    • pedestrian says:

      I think,
      Thought is not
      something
      you can put a finger on.
      As you would never
      notice
      when it is not present.

      Current score: 3
  10. Lyssa says:

    Woo! \o/

    This chapter is everything I’ve been hoping for so far. 😀 Slowly, answers will crawl out of the crevices!

    Current score: 2
  11. Nocker says:

    Alright, I’m getting the feeling that Lorellion Brand is much, much less trustworthy than previously thought, and she was incredibly shady before.

    Think about it. Everything Mackenzie IS was basically erased in it’s entirety. All of her connections to dozens of people were severed. She couldn’t remember her own best friends name or face, and she couldn’t remember ANYONE she could reach out to even afterwards, even just to claim she was alive. Not to mention that any help from the outside even to this day is being blocked by her, going by Teddy’s letter. Thanks to her, the Mackenzie Blaise that Rowan knew more or less really DID die.

    In fact, this is probably even worse. If she’d simply killed Mackenzie, then her soul would have gone off to wherever whole and unchanged. Wherever it wound up, it would at least know what it was.

    Current score: 5
    • Nocker says:

      …and since I know some people would argue that this wasn’t “that bad” either because Mackenzie made it out alive or because Laurel for whatever reason seems invested in her life still, keep in mind exactly what erasing all of her friends DID to Mackenzie.

      She had her early childhood development stunted. Without even the IDEA of friendship being preserved for her she was essentially rendered totally isolated from the world. Martha may have locked her in a basement for about a decade but she’d probably have fared much better with the knowledge that somewhere out there she had a life with people who still care about her. I’d argue this probably stunted her more than her stint in the basement did, just because she had so much of her early development ripped out.

      To block any information regarding herself or one specific day is one thing, but to forcibly rip out so much is unforgivable.

      Current score: 4
      • zeel says:

        I certainly agree that the effects were extremely damaging. Though I doubt there was any malice in what Anne did. She thought it was the right thing to do, or didn’t realize the extent of her own meddleing, or simply didn’t think it through.

        I don’t think she is any less “trustworthy” though she was probably less competant than we previously may have believed.

        Current score: 2
        • Nocker says:

          What she believes has no bearing on what she did. The facts are she basically forced her child into a situation that’s so horrible I don’t think there’s any real life precedent for, simply because of all the shit that stacks up over her life.

          Current score: 1
          • zeel says:

            You called her “much less trustworthy” and “incredibly shady”, which is nowhere near the case. Nieve? Foolish? Afraid? Those are all most certainly correct labels. But for her to be “untrustworthy” or “shady” would require malice, or at the very least a complete disregard for Mackenzie’s well-being.

            But I don’t see that as likely. What she did, she did thinking it would protect Mackenzie from harm. In fact, it very well might have. We don’t know the details yet, it’s more than possible that had Anne failed to act, a much worse fate may have befallen our protagonist.

            “What she believes has no bearing on what she did.” – true, though the ultimate results of her actions have no bearings on whether they were, or seemed to be, the right thing to do at the time. Don’t forget, even erasing all that she did Mackenzie could have made new friends later, it’s Martha’s fault that she never got that opportunity.

            The combination of both (what we assume to be) her mother’s meddling, and her later treatment by her grandmother brought her to the point she is at now. It is possible that, failing either of those, she could be a perfectly well adjusted individual. Or, perhaps not. But we don’t know that. We do know that if none of this had happened (to someone very much like Mackenzie) she would still have been a little socially awkward.

            Consider. If the goal was to protect Mackenzie from the knowledge of some horrible event (a fire it would seem, almost certainly started by Mackenzie) which could be considered, depending on one’s point of view, to be Mackenzie’s fault or no ones – then is stands to reason that any communication with anyone who would have knowledge of that event but did not know better than to mention it (anyone but Martha I would presume) would need to be avoided. Removing her memory of her friends would therefore be crucial. The side effect of Mackenzie also losing her knowledge and understanding of how to have friends? Probably not intended.

            Current score: 2
            • Blari345 says:

              Hi, First time poster here.
              I’m really glad that the story has started again.

              I would like to share my own theory about why Mackenzie’s memory of her friends was suppressed.

              I think that it was done as part of her mother suppressing and hiding her TP from herself and everyone else. The best way to do this would be to not only suppress her TP but remove all memory of her ever having it. This would include the memories of her using the ability to read other minds. That way she would never think about trying to get it back because she would never know that it was possible in the first place.

              We know from Rowan that she used TP read his mind and he mentioned other friends so that makes it likely that she did the same with them. It seems that she didn’t have much control so she was probably constantly doing it. in fact probably the only person the could keep her out of their mind was her mother, the only person from her childhood that she has any clear memories of.

              The reason why she would want people to think that Mackenzie didn’t have (or no longer had) TP after she turned was because a half Demon subtle mind would be an incredibly potent and hard to defend against weapon. If she felt she had to leave she would have had to come up with a way of making Mack seem like a normal half demon without being able to go near her again.

              Current score: 3
            • Nocker says:

              Blari’s theory seems credible. A telepathic half demon could do really freaky shit, even once you get past the initial instinct to use it as a weapon.

              Though it suddenly occurs to me what The Man’s “plan” in regards to that probably is. It’s a lot like Pokemon breeding in a sense: You need to get some top tier parents to ensure whatever you can ensure, but a lot of it winds up being essentially random since you’re dealing with inherent values and natures and you basically have to keep making more and more of them until you get the one with the right set of attributes out of it.

              Of course there’s also the fact that he’s slower to kill males than you might expect, given how long it took him to target Sam even semi-directly. If he just releases males with similar attributes out into the world, then there’s a chance he’ll encounter more females a generation or two later that are closer to the mold he wants than he otherwise would. Meaning getting a psychic demon would be easier since you have some closer females to work with.

              This probably has at least a few details missing, but it is amusing to imagine The Man as a kind of obsessive immortal pokemon breeder.

              Current score: 2
        • Not her, the other girl says:

          “She thought it was the right thing to do, or didn’t realize the extent of her own meddleing, or simply didn’t think it through. ”

          The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

          …That thought is especially alarming given Mack’s relationship with her father.

          Current score: 9
    • Minty says:

      On the one hand, I feel like saying that Mackenzie’s friendships are All That She Is is overstating things a bit. As someone who was fairly isolated and lacking in friendships as a child, I feel a little defensive about the idea that social isolation is a fate worse than death, too. At first I wanted to write an irritable comment about my own childhood and how much I would *not* rather be a dead normal child than the adult I am.
      But your interpretation really isn’t to blame for my discomfort with this situation. I can’t see any way to deny that this tampering with Mackenzie’s memory has clearly affected how she thinks of herself, and it explains some of why she feels so isolated and a lot of how she reacts to her isolation. The idea that Mackenzie is how she is because she was damaged, that this is not who she is (or would have been) naturally, is pretty much right there in the text.
      Well, I guess I can look forward to seeing how Mackenzie deals with these same uncomfortable feelings.

      Current score: 5
      • W says:

        In order to ensure an unbiased sample set, I wanted to reply that some of us who were isolated children actually *would* rather be dead normal children than the damaged living adults we became. I am in absolute agreement with the assertion that social isolation is a fate worse than death.

        Current score: 0
      • zeel says:

        What I want to know, is what happened to Kegan? She doesn’t appear to be psychic, and something did happen to her… it was just Martha who died. Did Kegan have her memories tampered with too? Or is her personality what we would have gotten from a Mackenzie that didn’t have half her childhood deleted.

        Current score: 0
  12. Grant says:

    Welcome back, we’ve missed you.

    Perfect chapter after your hiatus AE. It hit the spot and then some…

    Current score: 1
  13. rip says:

    There wasn’t *any* funeral…

    Current score: 3
    • zeel says:

      Very true, and as far as we know – nobody actually died (in the traditional sense).

      Current score: 0
  14. Silvertongue says:

    Good to have you back, AE.

    Current score: 2
  15. Miz*G says:

    This was so worth the wait! And I don’t just mean the wait between publication: I saw this was posted on my last break yesterday and then had to answer the phone so I wound up having to wait an extra 12 hours!

    I’m actually thrilled with this chapter and with the images of Mackenzie’s childhood. I’m also absurdly happy that my favorite story is still going.

    Love you, AE and so glad you’re back.

    Current score: 4
  16. cbob says:

    WOW

    (and many hugs)

    Current score: 1
  17. Arancaytar says:

    Nice! Worth the wait.

    trendy haricut

    I was puzzling for a few seconds on what a haricut was. 😛

    Current score: 0
  18. Another Greg says:

    “Nobody actually told us anything, I mean… just there was a fire, and you weren’t around anymore, and your mother, and all anybody would say is that you were gone, and we all knew what that meant, you know? But there wasn’t any funeral.”

    An interesting way to phrase this, don’t you think? Not actually saying her mother was gone too…

    Current score: 4
  19. FeralK says:

    Hooray!!!

    Current score: 1
  20. Sylvan says:

    *hugs* Well worth the wait. Super happy to be reading ^^

    I too have been waiting for this arc for about 7 years ^^, ever since I found MU and started binge reading the archives.

    Current score: 3
  21. Lucy says:

    whats the chances that the “unthinkable” compulsion coming down now, is part of a pre-programmed contingency for Mack encountering anyone who knows who she was?

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      With a sensation that felt exactly like the crack of breaking wood sounds, something bright exploded far behind my eyes.

      This description doesn’t strike me as the the intended response. More like something inside her mind literally broke. I would expect something more like a sense of opening for an intentional revocation.

      The compulsion must have been fairly fragile, and once she was faced with a situation that forced her to think about it, it simply fell apart.

      Current score: 3
      • Lucy says:

        Although, whoever built the compulsion probably wasn’t prepared for the ROTT to to give her some pretty nice mental shields

        Current score: 3
        • zeel says:

          I’m not sure how that would be in play here.

          Current score: 0
          • Lucy says:

            I’m thinking: what if the “breaking wood” was the result of a programmed restoration of her memories, getting caught up in her shields

            Current score: 0
            • zeel says:

              Since the memory manipulation is inside her head, and the shields are around it, I doubt there would be such an effect. It’s not a sustained external influence, like what Embries did, so it should not interact.

              Current score: 0
  22. Alex says:

    Welcome back!

    Current score: 0
  23. Angnor says:

    Thank you.

    Current score: 0
  24. Brenda A. says:

    I wonder if anyone else she knew is attending MU.

    Current score: 3
  25. moxicity says:

    Oh, by the way, your RSS feed doesn’t seem to be working? I’m using Feedly and I get your blog updates, so I was wondering, hey what the hell, she’s up and about and talking about writing, but there hasn’t been an update in a while? The last post on Feedly was like 70 days ago. I don’t know if that’s just on my end or what.

    I was elated to find several chapters waiting for me though, so that’s good 🙂

    Current score: 0
    • moxicity says:

      Went to check just in case – did you change websites or put up a new RSS feed or something? I found the new feed with just ch.301 in it. Problem solved, I guess.

      Current score: 1
      • zeel says:

        I too am using Freely, and Chapter 301 shows up just fine for me. Interesting.

        Current score: 0
  26. PrometheanSky says:

    I was hoping for a longer chapter after the hiatus, but I’m certainly not disappointed. This is shaping up to be the most interesting story arc an quite a while, and that’s saying something.

    Current score: 0
  27. Order of Chaos says:

    So Rowan used to play ranger and nymph with our favorite sub? Dude you got so srewed by what happened I feel sorry for you and you’re not even real.

    Current score: 1