Chapter 317: A Short Trip

on June 21, 2016 in Volume 2 Book 10: Lucky Thing, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Receives A Ringing Endorsement

I saw her just before I bumped into her. It was the glint below her neck that caught my eye, which pulled my gaze downwards and stopped me from saying or doing anything except what I was already doing, which is to say moving forward at a brisk walking pace through the space that I could now see was occupied by thirty-some inches of gnome.

To my marginal credit, I did manage to pull back enough to wind up falling over her instead of punting her down the hall. Even with both of us going down, I knew she would get the worst of it even if I hadn’t been so naturally resistant to mundane harm… I outweighed her by at least three to one, and since I was taller she was bound to wind up on the bottom of the heap.

Hazel!

My mind raced, or it reeled, or maybe it did both at the same time… which was an odd thing to consider. I mean, when you say someone is reeling, you kind of picture them being rocked back on their heels, struggling to keep their balance. Could you really do that and race ahead at the same time? It seemed to me like you would just fall over.

Mentally, I was sure trying to do both… and mentally, I guess I probably did fall over.

I kind of had to piece my thought process back together after the fact, but what went through my head in the jumble of moments that included seeing her, trying to arrest my forward motion, and then pick myself back up was something like:

Oh, shit, what’s she doing here? Is she following me? That’s ridiculous. This is a school building. She’s a student. She’s a domestic arts student without an ounce of high magic in her body and this is a wizardry building. But this is a liberal arts school and even the most there are general education requirements, so maybe she’s taking a lecture on theory?

But for her to be coming in at exactly the moment I’m here is kind of a big coincidence, isn’t it? It’s the middle of a schedule block.. .wait, how do I know that? Because the halls are mostly clear. If she was coming in for a class, she wouldn’t be alone. Well, maybe she’s really early. Hazel? Early? Well, maybe she’s late… and anyway, you don’t know that she wouldn’t be early. Sure, she takes a relaxed attitude towards most things, but maybe that means she’d rather hurry up and wait then have to stress…

“Merciful Owain, I’ve dashed the poor wits out!” Hazel said. I lifted my head from the carpeted floor to see that I was eye-to-eye with her bare, smoothly-shaven feet. Propping myself up and looking higher, I saw that she was offering me a hand.

“I’m fine,” I said, shaking my head at the offer and pushing myself up into a position from which I could stand. “Thanks.”

“Oh thank goodness,” she said. “I hate to think what would have happened if you’d accepted.”

“Yeah, I guess one good spill a day is probably enough for anyone,” I said.

“I’d have to agree, but I didn’t exactly tumble for you the first time,” she said. “I might not move quickly, but a lot of folks out there have made the mistake of underestimating a shireling’s nimbleness. ‘Not getting trampled by tallfolk’ is going to be the first thing under ‘Secondary Skills’ on my resume, when I get around to making one.”

“Oh, well, I’m glad,” I said.

“So what exactly was it that brought you out this way today, then?” Hazel said.

“What? Oh, just checking in with a former professor of mine,” I said. An inner voice that sounded a lot like Professor Bohd’s… and a bit like Acantha, the slippery enchanter who’d substitute taught one of my classes last semester… reminded me that I’d just tacitly admitted I wouldn’t normally be in this building at this time. “You?”

“Oh, you know me, always underfoot,” she said, gesturing vaguely. “Truth be told, it’s such a nice day I just felt like taking a walk.”

“It’s nicer outside.”

“Is it? I hadn’t noticed,” she said. “I like to cut through buildings sometimes. When you’ve short legs and a tendency to get swallowed up by crowds, it always pays to know a good shortcut, you know?”

“That’s a good point,” I said. “What would this be a shortcut to?”

“Well, I’m not rightly sure just yet that it is one, or when I’d need it,” she said. “You know, the thing about your schedule is that it changes every semester, so I make it a point to try to get to know the whole campus. Truth be told, a lot of the time I’m just following my feet wherever they lead me, so to speak, and if something comes of it, more the better, but if not, it’s still good exercise, isn’t it?”

Someone who hadn’t spent any real time around Hazel might have thought her tone was casual and conversational, but I recognized it as her storytelling voice. It was the way she spoke when talking about her famous war hero relatives that no one else had heard of, including her cousin Honey, or when she was explaining how the disastrous opening moves of a war game were actually part of a complex stratagem to achieve total victory later on.

She was lying. Again.

“Well,” I said.

“Well,” she said. “I expect you have some place to be?”

For one long moment, I weighed my options. Of course I didn’t actually have anywhere to be for a while… I was in my afternoon gap. But on the other hand, I didn’t have any pretext for sticking around… but then, Hazel wasn’t planning on sticking around, nor did she have any pretext for what she was doing.

She was just taking a casual stroll around the campus, as anyone might do. No pretext possessed nor required.

“As a matter of fact, I don’t,” I said. “If you wouldn’t mind some company, I think I’d like to join you on your walk.”

I didn’t need to imagine a cursed ring was influencing her actions to understand the genuine surprise that showed on her face. We weren’t actually very close friends, so much as people who got along with each other and had some close friends in common. I think I could count the number of times we’d hung out alone together on one… well, finger.

“Alright, then,” she said. “Suit yourself.”

In back of my head, I was already un-jumbling the jumble of thoughts that had gone through my head before. The thing I kept coming back to was the timing of it all.

A ring that could make sure she was in the right place at the right time in order to create strokes of luck for her could do the same for itself. If a curse had brought her here because I was getting advice about how to stop it, it had done so too late to stop that.

Had it not been counting on Hazel’s short legs? Or had it put the idea in her head, but she hadn’t acted on it quickly enough to suit its agenda? I mean, it could have been a coincidence that she showed up there at all, but I kind of doubted it. The timing was close enough that I wanted it to mean something, but not close enough that I could see how it would matter.

As I fell in alongside her on her trek through the mostly empty halls, I thought: what if it was something else in her nature that had thrown it off? The reason I’d doubted she’d had any legitimate business in the building was that burrow gnomes kind of had a reputation with regards to magic other than that quiet, everyday sort that kept them hard to notice.

It wasn’t anything quite as obvious as a dwarf’s stubborn magic resistance, because there was seldom anything obvious about a gnome. In fact, the sages who’d deigned to even consider the matter had never come to a clear consensus about whether the effect even existed at all, much less how strong it was or how it would normally manifest.

It was less anything like solid lore and more like received wisdom: magic, particularly mind-affecting magic, tended to slide off them like water off a duck’s back.

I considered that if there was anything to that… and if it had been responsible for the cursed ring’s failure to send her to intercept my course before I had a chance to confer with Bohd… then it would mean Hazel might be an ideal custodian for a cursed ring. I could imagine her having it for years, never succumbing to a worse temptation than to be a bit evasive about where she’d found it. Would that be so bad?

This thought was followed by the realization that she had in fact arrived just in time to make me have that thought, and maybe that was the point?

“You’re sure a quiet one,” Hazel said, “at least, when you don’t have anyone to quarrel with.”

“Just lost in thought,” I said.

“You’ve a tendency towards that kind of thing,” she said. “It’s why I didn’t take it personally when you plowed right over me like I wasn’t there… that, and you’ve a lower than average tendency to do that, so I figure there must be a good reason when you do.”

“I guess I didn’t want to intrude on you,” I said. “I mean, since you started off walking alone… maybe you wanted to be alone with your thoughts?”

“True!” she said. “But the advantage of company is there’s someone to talk to. Anyway, maybe it’s a bit fortuitous, us bumping into each other the way you did.”

“Oh?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m sure you don’t remember the thing I said the other day, about having found a good luck charm?”

I stumbled and almost fell on my face, then recovered not quite quickly enough to realize we’d come to the door out of the hall, which I walked into.

“I think I might recall something about that.”

“Yeah, well, your Glory seemed a bit keen on it,” Hazel said. She reached around behind her back and undid the silver cord on which the ring dangled. “And I’ve been thinking… it really was a lucky find for me, and maybe the thing about luck is that it’s meant to be shared, you know?”

She pulled the cord off her neck and then slid the ring off it.

“You want me to give the ring to Glory?” I said.

“If you want to,” she said. “Or maybe keep it for yourself for a bit and then pass it on, like? I mean, it’s probably a bit silly, but it could be fun, you know? We could make a thing of it. I mean, I don’t know that it really helped with my mid-terms, but it sure got me through them. So maybe you hold onto it until you have your break, and then you can pass it on. Or, you know, make a gift of it. Or keep it! My mother always said that once a gift is passed on, you’ve no say in its disposition.”

“Yeah,” I said.

I held my hand out down towards her, and she put the ring into it. It looked so… ordinary… in her fingers, and there was no tingle of contact, no frisson of energy or feeling of excitement when it touched my skin.

“Something to think about,” she said. She wound up the cord and deposited it in a pocket. “You know, I really should be shoving off if I want to make my next class. Best of luck to you!”

“Yeah,” I said. “Thanks…”


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14 Responses to “Chapter 317: A Short Trip”

  1. cbob says:

    Mystery, thy name is gnome

    Current score: 3
  2. peter says:

    Dum, dum dum dum dum DAhhhhhhhhh

    (cue dramatic music)

    Well, I love the plot thickening here

    Current score: 3
  3. zeel says:

    Once again she remains oblivious to the most obvious possibility – it wasn’t trying to mess with her plans, it didn’t want to stop her, it wanted her.

    Current score: 8
    • Erm says:

      Maybe it’s Pitchy.

      As I recall, her dad got his hands on that and did something with it that the ROTT remarked on but never got around to telling her. Could he have transferred its essence into a ring somehow?

      … possibility two (since we’re now talking about objects targeted specifically at Mack, and people with the motivation to make them), it’s one of Mur-Si’s plots.

      Edit: But I have the impression that if the ring really were Pitchy 2.0, then Hazel should have been demonically possessed instead of just guided, and there’d have been other signs of that. She was near Amaranth without any obvious effect, for example.

      Unless it’s somehow targeted to only go “off” once she has it…

      Current score: 0
      • zeel says:

        On one hand, it’s possible that just as Mackenzie was speculating, gnomes are just not very susceptible to such thing.

        On the other hand, I really doubt it’s another demonic fragment.

        Current score: 0
  4. Anthony says:

    Wow. I wasn’t expecting that!

    Now obviously the most logical thing to do now is to go straight back to Bohd and show her the ring. So obviously, this is what Mackenzie will not do.

    Current score: 12
    • zeel says:

      If the curse takes immediate effect, she will probably do something pretty stupid instead.

      Current score: 6
      • Erm says:

        Not to diss on Mack too hard, but it doesn’t take a curse for that. 😛

        Current score: 0
  5. Mo says:

    “And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”

    Current score: 11
  6. Aged Sage says:

    *scratching chin* Wonder if Mercy, or one of her agents, may be responsible for this ring. She’s not a good loser or one to give up on what she desires.

    Current score: 1
    • Nocker says:

      Not her style. She’ll throw money around if a chance comes up but she has time and circumstances as her allies.

      Of the two major antagonists The Man is probably the guy needing to act faster, even though he’s had longer. Mercy can just sit around and wait on any old half demon in the world. Mack Daddy however relies on a very specific subsection he has to make himself using specific criteria. To get control of Mackenzie he’s already proven willing to use tricks, drugs, and general aggressive villainy.

      Current score: 2
  7. Nocker says:

    Ahem.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2wEDBY7jOU

    Current score: 0
  8. Zathras IX says:

    If luck’s being in
    The right place at the right time
    Then what could go wrong?

    Current score: 4
  9. Erm says:

    then it would mean Hazel might be an ideal custodian for a cursed ring. I could imagine her having it for years, never succumbing to a worse temptation than to be a bit evasive about where she’d found it.

    Yes, precious.

    This thought was followed by the realization that she had in fact arrived just in time to make me have that thought, and maybe that was the point?

    Or maybe that is what it wanted you to think! You don’t want to go down that rabbit hole, that way lies madness and land wars in Asia.

    She pulled the cord off her neck and then slid the ring off it.

    In place of a Dark Lord, you would have a Queen!

    Current score: 0