Chapter 306: Two’s Summons

on September 5, 2015 in Volume 2 Book 9: Who Is Mackenzie Blaise?, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Two Did Not Consort

“Two?” I said to Dee.

“Wait, the golem?” Rowan said.

“She has a name,” I said.

“I know, I know!” he said, throwing up his hands. “You just said it… I was only clarifying that was who you were talking about.”

“How many Twos do you think I know?”

“I’m not sure how to answer that without sounding like a smartass,” he said.

“I am not certain I should ask for her aid if I cannot be assured she will receive the gratitude it warrants,” Dee said.

“I’m not sure why you’d ask for her aid in the first place,” I said. “I mean, her maker was a powerful wizard, but his background was enchantment, not diabolism… and her personal interests are a lot more domestic.”

“Substantially, yes,” Dee said. “But she has an interest even more personal in your kind… or have you forgotten?”

“What?” I said, then it came to me: a library book on demons Two had been a bit too interested in, and then a strange injury. What was it she had said about it? I had been too freaked out to really remember the details. “Okay, maybe there was one time…”

“More than the one time,” Dee said. “She undertook a study with the same single-minded rigor with which she undertakes anything. I would hesitate to term her an expert given the specialized nature of the subject and the lack of information available in public resources, but I believe she knows as much as any layperson we might come across.”

“I didn’t have any idea,” I said. “How do you know this?”

“We have been roommates for some time,” Dee said. “When she perceived that her studies upset you, she made the decision not to trouble you with the information.”

“I tried to… I told her to drop it,” I said. “I didn’t want her poking around after demons, I was worried she’d get hurt.”

“She had already been hurt,” Dee said. “If you would have listened, the purpose of her study was to prevent a recurrence.”

“She… she said something like that,” I said. “I didn’t understand… I still don’t.”

“Two, would you come in here?” Dee asked, in a carrying voice. “She says she will be in here shortly. I believe it would be prudent and courteous to allow her to explain herself, if she feels the need to.”

“How exactly did you wind up friends with a golem?” Rowan asked.

I gave him a hard look, but there was nothing in his face that suggested he meant anything more by the question than the question.

“I didn’t like the way people treated her,” I said.

“You felt sorry for her?” he asked.

“We felt sorry for each other,” Two said, from the bathroom door. “Though I did not know it yet. Hi, Mack. Hi, Dee.”

“Hi, Two,” we said.

“I did not like the way people treated you, either,” Two said to me. “Including you.”

“That’s… pretty fair, actually,” I said.

“So, you’re the most moral person they know?” Rowan said.

Two’s eyes flickered up and rolled a bit to the side very briefly, before she said, “Yes.”

“Are you able to lie?” he asked.

She visibly considered that, but so briefly that someone not familiar with her cognitive facial tics might have considered it.

“Yes,” she said. “But I wouldn’t. That’s what makes it moral.”

“I like that answer,” he said. “It’s somehow more reassuring than no, since a person can lie about being able to lie. Or does that cause you problems?”

“People lying?”

“Paradoxes,” Rowan said. “I mean, if I tell you that I always lie, and then say that this statement is a lie…”

“Then I will conclude that you were lying when you told me that you always lie,” Two said. “Or that your second statement consists of words that are literally true but with deceptive intent.”

“Two’s friend Hazel is not the most moral person we know,” Dee said, in response to Rowan’s confused look.

“She has taught me a lot of things about truth and falsehood,” Two said. “Some of them may even be true.”

Rowan started to laugh, though he choked it off with a sputter when he realized that Two wasn’t laughing.

“Amaranth would also say that a person may say a thing that is not true but be unaware of it,” Two said. “And so if a person says one thing and then does or says a thing that seems contradictory, it does not mean that they are dishonest, only that they are complicated.”

“Funny, I wouldn’t have pegged Amaranth for the philosophical type,” Rowan said.

“Yeah, and how well do you know her?” I asked. “About as well as you knew Two?”

“Sorry,” he said. “I know she’s… I know she’s important to you. I mean, I’ve heard… but then, I’ve also heard you’ve been spending a lot of time with the elves, and to be honest, I’ve heard a lot of things besides that, and while I’m sure it’s ninety percent bullshit, I don’t know which ninety percent it is. In case you haven’t noticed, most of our catching up has been you questioning me about our childhoods.”

“…you’re right,” I said. “Sorry, Rowan. As hard as it is for me to come to grips with the idea that my memory’s been messed with, you’re in the same boat now… and however weird it is to know that I have a friend I don’t remember, I don’t think I’d trade places with you. So far, I think you’ve got the worse end of the deal. I don’t know what I’m missing.”

“Thanks,” he said. “That means a lot.”

“But that said, let me give you some advice I also heard as a freshman: if you don’t know what you’re talking about, maybe think twice before saying it?”

“Fair,” he said.

“Two,” Dee said. “We were discussing a subject with which I believe you have some familiarity: the abilities of demons.”

“Yes,” Two said, nodding.

“Why the hell were you messing around with demons in the first place?” I asked. “I remember, you tried summoning one, didn’t you? You got hurt.”

“Yes,” Two said. “But I got healed, and I learned what I needed to know.”

“What the hell was so important that you would risk that? Don’t you know you could have been seriously hurt?”

“Yes,” Two said. “I was. But I tried to tell you, I did it so I couldn’t be hurt.”

“…isn’t summoning demons super illegal?” Rowan asked.

“No,” Two said. “I checked. Consorting with demons is illegal, but I did not consort.”

“Two, how did summoning a demon help protect you from being hurt?” I asked.

“It didn’t,” she said. “The demon was only there for practice.”

“Practice… for what?”

“Warding,” she said. She held up an arm, and a set of faint blue runes faded briefly into view before fading away again, but not before I took an involuntary step backwards.

“You…you demon-proofed yourself?” I said.

“Yes. You could not hurt me, if you lost control again. I did not know if it would work on the fire,” she said. “That’s why it took me more than one try. But I didn’t only want to know how to ward myself. Dee can hold you, and Amaranth can repel you, but they can’t do it without hurting you.”

“Because they’re divine,” I said.

“I am a vessel for the divine,” Dee said. “As we all are, after a fashion.”

“Okay, because their magic is divine,” I said.

“Yes,” Two said. “It is not easy to block a demon using arcane magic, but it is possible.”

“It’s still risky as hell!” I said. Memories of my grandmother raging against fools who’d tried a summoning with a less-than-perfect circle rose up inside me. “People study it for years before they even try with lesser bound infernals! Every symbol has to be perfect, it takes total concentration, a completely unified purpose of…”

Two stood there placidly, utterly calm and utterly still. I think she was waiting for my mind to catch up with my mouth.

“Oh, right,” I said.

“I say this with the greatest possible respect,” Dee said, “but Two was designed to be a tool for replicating and aiding in the creation of some of the most complicated and powerful mystical bindings used by your kind. If a magical working is not too intricate for a human to perform, then I must believe Two could emulate it.”

“Where did you get the information to do it, though?” I asked Two. “I know we found that book of lore, but actual magic involving demons is pretty heavily restricting.”

“Abjuration of demons isn’t,” Two said.

“And the summoning?”

“That was easy,” she said. “They want to come through.”

“…yeah, I guess if I was chilling in hell and a call came up from a tiny little freshman girl, I’d probably jump on it with both feet,” Rowan said.

I felt a little bit vaguely annoyed that he was underestimating Two, but that wasn’t terribly fair since I’d been underestimating her… so of course I felt even more annoyed, a lot more vaguely. But at least he was clearly thinking of her as a person now, even if it was in the most dismissive way possible.

“Two, you learned as much about the capabilities of demons as you could, yes?” Dee said.

“I did, according to the priorities I set,” Two said. “If I had learned as much about the capabilities of demons as I could, I would have still been studying them when you called me.”

“We have some questions about the capabilities of demons, which we hoped you could help us to answer,” Dee said. “Can a demon who is currently manifested in corporeal form in the mortal world send its consciousness forth into another’s mind, absent the sort of telepathic gifts I possess?”

Maybe it was the fact that I had sat through so many speeches recently about the nature of memory storage and retrieval, but when I saw Two’s eyes pull up and twitch to the side, it hit me that she must not have thought about this recently.

I wondered if her memories were as fragile and tenuous as ours. From the way the owl-turtle thing described her mind compared to mine, I kind of doubted it. I wondered how far it went, though. Did her mind have a literal record of everything she’d seen, heard, felt, or thought in it? Did she have to wind her way back through it all until she got to the books she’d read on demons, and then pull together a conclusion from them?

“I don’t know,” she said. “No one who wrote about it knew for sure. Though some of them were pretty sure they did. They all had different opinions, and they were all very sure they were right.”

“Damn it,” I said. “Was there anything like a professional consensus?”

“There was a consensus a demon with a body wouldn’t want to enter someone’s mind,” Two said. “So it wouldn’t matter in most cases if they could or not.”

“Thank you, Two,” Dee said. “I am sorry, Mackenzie… I had hoped we could provide a definitive answer to at least one possibility this evening.”

“Yeah… I guess that means my theory’s still in the running, though?”

“I still do not find it to be likely,” Dee said.

“Likely enough that you wanted to check it out,” I said.

“To be quite honest, I had hoped we could eliminate it,” she said. “The slim chance that any diabolist on campus would have more recent or more definitive information on what is apparently a purely academic question does not seem worth the debasement to either of us in pursuing it further.”

“Hey, I don’t mind being debased,” Rowan said. “I mean… I’m not a cleric, or a demonblood. Is there any reason I’d have for not consorting with the diabolists? Or am I being naive? I mean, are they scary in a way normal people have to look out for?”

“My impression… from a distance… is that they’re mostly like super intense nerds,” I said. “They keep to themselves even more than the necro students do, but they sure came out of the woodwork when I was selling excess energy this past summer. They kind of came sniffing around one by one, asking leading questions if there was anything else I wanted to sell, or if I’d be interested in making some real money.”

“…what did they want?”

“Blood, probably, or my participation in their projects,” I said. “Getting the full-blown demons and other infernal critters they summon to cooperate in their tests is probably pretty hard.”

“What did you say to them?”

“That if they wanted a demon to play with, they could go to hell and find one,” I said. “…or, actually, I mumbled that I was getting by fine just selling raw power and left it at that. I didn’t think about that line until much later.”

“So is there any reason I shouldn’t go asking around?”

“None that I can think of… though I think it’ll go better if you don’t mention any connection to me,” I said. “Dee?”

“I can see no obstacle, though I would not ask anyone to associate with practitioners of such light magic,” she said.

Light magic?” Rowan said.

“My knowledge of the infernal reaches is far from complete, but I gather it is bounded by a dimension of fire,” Dee said.

“That’s a surprisingly good point,” he said.

“Very well then, Rowan Hartley,” she said. “We have the beginnings of a plan.”

“What are the rest of us going to do?” I asked.

“Laundry,” Two said. “Would you please excuse me?”

“Yes, thank you, Two,” I said.

“You’re welcome. Goodnight, Mack. Goodnight, Dee. Goodnight, Rowan.”

“Goodnight, Two,” we said, Rowan about a quarter of second behind.

“I will be pursuing a line of inquiry I would rather not disclose,” Dee said. “Mackenzie, can you be satisfied for now that progress is being made, even if you are not a party to it?”

“I guess,” I said. “Dee… not that I don’t appreciate this, but you’re really going above and beyond what I would have expected. Why are you so invested in this?”

“…I would rather not say at this time,” she said.

“Oh, right,” I said.

“Understand, it is not merely the danger I referenced before that forestalls my speech,” she said. “I have no desire to be premature when dealing with a matter of this suspected magnitude.”

“…not at all making me more satisfied about not being a party to things.”

“My apologies,” Dee said, sweeping low. “In any event, I believe there is little more to be said or done tonight. If you would excuse me, I will retire.”

“Goodnight, Dee,” I said.

“You have interesting friends,” Rowan said when she had rejoined Two on their side of the shared suite.

“Do bear in mind that one half of those interesting friends can still hear every word you’re saying,” I said. “Her cultural conditioning is that it’s polite to pretend she doesn’t, but that’s not the same thing as not hearing it.

“Yeah, I still think you might have told me that up front,” he said. “But I didn’t mean it in a bad way. You ever notice that they kind of talk the same?”

“Well, they’re both super polite by most standards and they’re both struggling to express themselves in a language that isn’t nearly as precise as their thoughts,” I said. “But Dee’s more likely to go for nuance, while Two tries to state things simply.”

“Yeah, I guess,” he said. “Mackenzie?”

“What?”

“The thing I said about catching up… I know it’s got to be weird for you, but… I know I don’t have a really accurate picture of your life,” he said. “Would it be okay if we got together sometime not to talk about the mystery of the missing memories, but just… you tell me what your life has been like?”

“I’m not keen on reliving high school even with the people I know are my nearest and dearest.”

“It doesn’t have to be high school,” he said. “What about college? I saw you on the news, I’ve read the school papers that you were in, and I’ve damn well heard the rumors… I want to know the real deal. I want to know who you are, now.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Don’t we all?”


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29 Responses to “Chapter 306: Two’s Summons”

  1. Wysteria says:

    Two! I missed Two. *sends love and affection Two’s direction*

    Not sure what I think of Rowan yet, but I definitely parse where Dee is coming from. Mothers are serious business.

    Current score: 11
    • tomclark says:

      Same here! 2 < 3

      Current score: 8
    • Shiran says:

      So true– moms are especially serious to Dee, I hadn’t really connected that until now. I could see why she’d hesitate to bring it up and considering how incredibly upsetting it’d be to MacKenzie.

      Current score: 0
  2. Alex says:

    Love the story! Still curious about her mother.

    Current score: 3
  3. Cadnawes says:

    You know, I think Rowan’s okay. Frankly, he’s being less culturally insensitive than Mack started out.

    Current score: 13
    • readaholic says:

      Yeah. Give him time, he’ll figure it out.

      Current score: 4
    • Nocker says:

      He’s trying. My main problem with the interaction is that Mackenzie is being way, way harsher on him for it than anyone was on her when he pulled out winning lines like “animal person”. Which is probably far worse in context given how many actual animal people there are on the continent in comparison to dark elves or probably even golems.

      But honestly the whole thing is kind of wearing thin. It’s kind of ridiculous that every time Rowan asks a question literally any regular human walking into this situation would ask, he gets jumped on like some kind of ridiculous monster for not having knowledge that’s actually really, really niche and he could have no way of knowing ahead of time. Which would be less grating if Mackenzie’s excuse wasn’t that a mother she knows nothing about and hasn’t really had anything to do with any of these things warned her offscreen ahead of time and this is the first we’re hearing of it, despite Mackenzie making even more mistakes in the beginning.

      Current score: 7
      • That one guy says:

        I agree.
        “Someone animated furniture then gave it tasks, like those brooms that carry water in that animated Disney short.”
        “Yeah, I’m friends with one.”
        “Friends with furniture?”
        “How dare you call them furniture, you monstrous meanie.”

        And so forth, Rowan has no good background for these sorts of things. Personally, I think it’s one of those cases of, “We hate most in others what we hate in ourselves.” Mack was pretty naive about these things as a Freshman, and she’s taking out her own remembered insecurities on him.

        Current score: 11
        • Nocker says:

          Which would be fine if it were JUST Mackenzie, but Dee is doing it too. Dee was previously all about safety and decorum when accessing the minds of others but now she’s casually just forcing up bad memories. It’s a rather noticeable break in her character.

          Current score: 5
      • Wysteria says:

        Mackenzie seems to be falling back into her default uncomfortable setting in this chapter, which is roughly ‘be unpleasant.’ I can see why she’d be uncomfortable with him & the situation, mind.

        Current score: 5
      • Cadnawes says:

        Ever meet anyone who became vegan last week? Or changed religions recently? Or came from a bigoted family and then moved to a diverse area, and made friends? (That last one is pretty much what happened here, come to that.) She’s jumping down his throat because so recently, she WAS like him. Worse than him, in fact. New ideals are the most rabidly defended.that’s my interpretation, anyway.

        Current score: 11
        • Nocker says:

          Which isn’t exactly much of an excuse. Being on the fringe of something means you may attack for it more, but remember the furher didn’t exactly meet his own Aryan mold. I’m seriously hoping someone tells Mackenzie to cool her jets, and sooner rather than later.

          I don’t exactly think she’ll be as bad as the above example, but given the many ways in which her house is glass, she really shouldn’t throw stones of any sort.

          Current score: 1
          • Cadnawes says:

            I’m not saying the behavior in question isn’t aggravating. I’m saying it’s understandable.

            Current score: 4
          • Hollowgolem says:

            Remember, Mackenzie isn’t an ideal individual.

            She’s heavily flawed.

            One of the things I, personally, like about this story is HOW flawed she’s allowed to be, especially for a protagonist.

            Current score: 6
  4. Burnsidhe says:

    There IS someone they could ask who could answer that question about demons possessing people, embodied or not. Whether she would at this point is a different story, since she was a bit ticked off at Mack being duped by Acantha.

    Current score: 4
    • Shiran says:

      It took a bit of time for me to realize this, but are you referring to Coach Callahan? If yes, I’d temper my “go ask Jilly Bean, like, yesterday!”, with the knowledge that if the coach perceives there to be an opportun– I mean NEED to eliminate someone existance for the possible (not much possibility needed) safety of other kids or the resident dragon’s treasure, she’ll merrily cut their headoff.
      So my second question is this: Do destroyed memories count as signs of being dangerous? If yes, JillyBean is right out. If no, then maybe she can be consulted. Also, she is probably REALLY pissed off at TheMan for being an asshat at her earlier/ around his deal with her.

      Current score: 0
  5. Ellen says:

    Shouldn’t Mack and Rowan go to see Teddi because Teddi has the ability to look into Mack’s mind?

    Current score: 1
    • Angnor says:

      Teddi had a device that protected her while using her surface empathic abilities. I don’t think we know that she can go in any deeper than that safely.

      Current score: 1
  6. John Neisser says:

    ok my theory is Mack got upset at Rowen as a child. Ripped his memory. Mom thinking Mack had turned wiped Mack’s memory and started the fire leaving Mack with her mom. Thinking that the Paladin would kill the half demon. May or may not at this point be aware that Mack is still alive.

    Current score: 0
  7. Rip says:

    Laurel Ann knows both her children are alive, and has been following news of them as best she can without revealing herself. Laurel Ann probably destroyed Rowan’s memories when she faked her death so that he wouldn’t be able to tell anyone what exactly happened that day.

    Current score: 9
  8. cbob says:

    the “simple” answer may be that there is a *very* dangerous mind on campus. the circumstances that led Rowan’s blanking are (well were) perfectly normal until the one day everything changed.

    PS many thanks AE

    Current score: 0
  9. euthanatos says:

    Hi everyone,

    Just wanted to announce that I have created a Tales of MU subreddit at https://www.reddit.com/r/talesofmu.

    Please come say ‘hi’ and feel free to discuss or post any MU-related content!

    Current score: 0
  10. Zathras IX says:

    Those who consort with
    Demons are going to Hell
    Sooner than later

    Current score: 7
  11. Fizban says:

    In case you needed a reminder that Two is the best person, here’s a another one. She went and learned how to ward demons not just to protect herself, but because Amaranth and Dee can’t stop Mack without hurting her in the process. D’aww.

    Current score: 6
  12. tessa says:

    from ae’s most recent status post:

    “There haven’t been a lot of “ideal weeks” lately and there aren’t likely to be in the near future. Rather than trying to set a schedule arbitrarily, I’m going to be trying a couple of different things out and seeing what works. My first experiment is going to be with Wednesday updates.”

    for anyone else who’d been refreshing here off and on all weekend

    Current score: 4
    • tessa says:

      further update:

      “After a super productive Monday and Tuesday, I got very little done yesterday (except for the walk, which was nice). Today I’ve had a bit more luck, but it’s not coming together into a finished chapter for me. So, I think I’m going to need to shift things around progressively. This week, I’ll post on Friday. Next week, I’ll aim for Thursday. Week after that, Wednesday.”

      Current score: 0
  13. Dzen says:

    I’d love to be able to just sign up for an email blast when a new chapter gets released.

    Current score: 1
    • Lyssa says:

      Pretty sure you can! Check out where it says “Email Updates” at the top of the page! 🙂

      Current score: 0
  14. Brenda A. says:

    AE has posted a new short story at her blog!

    http://www.alexandraerin.com/2015/09/short-story-walk-briskly/

    Current score: 0