Chapter 325: Behind Opened Doors

on July 19, 2016 in Volume 2 Book 10: Lucky Thing, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which There Is Casual Nudity

I reflexively almost rose, then caught myself. I glanced at the door, but I couldn’t tell from where I sat if Amaranth had locked it or not.

She’d just pulled it closed behind her when she left, but it was easier to lock it by pushing the inside half of the knob in then it was to use the key.

“…it might be open?” I said, and hoped that it was.

I was very conscious of how very close I was to do the door. If I just shifted in the seat a little bit, I could reach out and kick it. That meant I was in a pretty good position if I had to get up to answer it, but it also made me feel kind of silly. I knew I wasn’t actually being lazy, but it was hard not to feel like I was.

The doorknob rattled.

“It’s not?” a voice said.

Male. Muffled as it was by the door and a general lack of confidence translated into a lack of volume, I couldn’t quite place it… but I took a stab in the dark.

“Rowan?” I said.

Rowan Hartley, the childhood friend who had been taken away from me, and vice-versa. We were pulled out of each other’s lives when my demonic side manifested itself and I lost everything I had ever known… and more than I’d realized, as some of the things I had known were ripped unceremoniously from my memories.

Rowan had always remembered me, but his mind had undergone some tampering, too, the extent of which we didn’t know. He’d come to MU a year behind me specifically to find me, but it had taken him a whole semester to catch up.

“Yeah?” he said.

“Hang on.”.

“Don’t get up!” he said. I guess he had heard?

“Do you want to have this conversation shouted through the door?” I asked.

“…not really,” he said. “I’ll come back later.”

Later the door would still be locked, and I’d have to undo my elemental binding again, slide off the bed, and stump all the way over to let him in.

“Just fucking hold on a second, I’m already right here,” I said. I pulled myself up on the edge of the desk, keeping most of my weight on my good leg, and lunged for the door knob… though that action cost me, as I wound up shifting my balance in the process. I was able to twist the knob open without twisting it off, then fell back into the chair.

Rowan Hartley, gangly, scraggly scarecrow of a human being, stood in the doorway. He was staring at me like he’d never seen me before. As the red lightning bolts of pain that had shot through me in the moments I stood on my bad leg faded, I realized I had never bothered to put on clothes that morning.

Fuck.

“You’re… I could come back?” Rowan said. He was still staring, his eyes locked onto or in the vicinity of my chest. I was too sore and tired to care much. Half the school had seen me in various states of undress.

“It’s fine,” I said.

“Do you want to put on… something?”

“Rowan, I honestly don’t have it in me,” I said. I should have been embarrassed, I knew that, and I probably would be later, but at the time I didn’t have that in me, either. I was tired enough that I mostly felt frustrated about the whole thing, verging on cranky. “But if it’s bothering you, you could not stare.”

“Sorry,” he said. “You’re just… a little different than I’d pi… would have imagined.” He shook himself, and seemed to come back a bit. “Oh, shit, Mackenzie, are you hurt?”

“Yeah, sort of,” I said. “If you didn’t know, why didn’t you want me to get up? And how did you know I was here?”

“Amaranth,” he said. “I was looking for you, and she’s pretty visible? She said you were resting up. Sounded like you were sick.”

“Nope,” I said. “If I was, I could maybe get something done about it. Divine magic is a no-no for me, but they do have arcane healing.”

“So why can’t you just get fixed up?”

“Nothing to fix,” I said. “Nigh-invulnerability has some weird side effects.”

“So you’re in pain, but not injured?”

“Nailed it,” I said.

A pair of girls walking by did a double take and stopped to peek in the door. I gave them a sad, tired, little wave.

“Why don’t you come in?” I said to Rowan. “And close the door.”

“Yeah,” he said. I shifted the chair a little bit as he did so.

“You were looking for me?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “I didn’t mean to stay away as much as I have, but… all my classes kind of got serious at once?”

“That happens,” I said. “I didn’t think anything about it. Got a bit of a breather now?”

“Yeah.”

“One hundred level classes tend to do that,” I said. “I wouldn’t get too used to it. You can’t always count on things easing off after midterms, after freshman year.”

“Spoken like a grizzled veteran and not a girl exactly one year ahead of me,” he said.

“Hey, I have a summer semester under my imminently practical belt, too,” I said. “Anyway, did you really just stop by to catch up? ”

“No, but I didn’t want to talk, you know… business… without acknowledging that it’s been a while,” he said. “I felt weird enough coming back to you with this, after we just kind of fell out of touch for a bit. Like I wasn’t one hundred percent sure you still cared.”

“About you?”

“Well… yeah, but I meant about the whole thing,” he said. “The… memory-wiping thing.”

“Oh,” I said. “Yeah… I kind of had to get over that, at least on some level, in order to function. Spending all my time thinking about how I couldn’t trust my own memories and wondering if I even really knew who I was… didn’t lead me anywhere good. But yeah. Yes. Of course I still care. Why? Did you find something out?”

“Not much,” he said. “You remember how we were talking about me going and discreetly asking my former professor for information about demons and, like, psychic stuff and mind control?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Well, I was kind of waiting for the right moment, or something that felt like it,” he said. “And then I got caught up in the whole ‘actual schoolwork’ stuff for a bit, and then… well, it kind of hit me that right after midterms would be the natural time for someone to be exploring their options for future semesters and junk. So… I screwed up my courage and did it.”

“How badly did you screw it up?” I asked. It was an impish impulse I probably picked up from Steff, but I knew as soon as I said it… as soon as I saw Rowan’s face fall… that it was a mistake. “Your courage!” I said quickly. “Because you said you screwed… up your courage. I didn’t think you screwed up the thing in general. It was a joke. Sorry.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Heh. I’m sure that’s funny. It’s just, I was a little worried that you’d be underwhelmed…”

“I’m not going to be disappointed,” I said. “This was kind of a longshot, for-lack-of-anything-better-to-do thing. What did you learn?”

“Well, I asked about the effects of demonic possession,” he said. “Like, if it could affect someone permanently… and the answer had a lot to do with trauma and guilt, not so much the excising and altering memories.”

“But a powerful demon can do more than just possess,” I said. “Intruding in dreams, for instance.”

“Yeah. But that, like possession, is apparently more spiritual than mental, if that makes sense,” Rowan said. “The spirit is kind of… mind-adjacent… for these purposes? That was what I took away. Anyway, Professor Eakins told me that it was theoretically possible that a very sophisticated demon could manipulate a mind through the spiritual link, but it takes a high level of sophistication to even just communicate that way.”

“My father, the sophisticate,” I said. “So it’s not a no, but it’s not likely. That’s…”

“About the least useful answer I could have come back with?”

“…kind of,” I said. “He’s obviously suspect number one, the only person who it even makes sense to suspect. If the answer had been ‘yeah, totally, demons tampering with memories is a thing’, I’d be happy to call it case closed… but failing that, if you’d said it was impossible, it would at least be progress to check him off the list. Even if there’s no one else on the list with him.”

“Uh, yeah,” Rowan said, his eyes shifting around. He actually tugged at the collar of his flannel shirt.

“Relax,” I said. “I told you I’m not going to be disappointed… I mean, in the outcome, sure, yeah, but not with you, and I’m definitely going to get angry. I’m just a little frustrated right now, but I think a lot of that’s the pain.”

“That’s not… okay, there is a little bit more,” Rowan said. “I couldn’t figure out how to ask this going in, but after I got that answer, I asked the professor if it would make a difference if the demon was, like, psychic, the way a telepath is, if they were a subtle artist? Because just asking if demons could be subtle artists seemed like it would be a weird thing to ask out of the blue, but I thought this way it was kind of organic…”

“What did he say, Rowan?”

“Different demons have different gifts, but the potential for subtle artistry is a mortal thing,” he said. “It’s connected to the way our material bodies intersect with our astral ones, apparently. Creatures of other planes don’t have the right relationship.”

“…but demons were of this plane, originally,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “But when they were cast out, they were cast all the way out. That’s why they’re not mortal anymore. He apparently did a thesis on it? So I guess he’s kind of an expert.”

“But if demons are using spiritual-foo and not mental-foo, why would I be able to keep one out with a mental barrier?” I asked.

“I… didn’t think to ask that,” Rowan said. “But maybe he still had access to your spirit, even when closed out of your mind?”

“That’s… kind of scary,” I said.

“Sorry,” he said. “At least you know whatever he’s got in mind for you, he can’t do it with access to your soul?”

“Assuming all this is even right,” I said. “I’m not completely sold on the idea that his gifts aren’t more mental than your guy thinks. Remember what Two said? Everyone who writes about demons has their theories, everybody’s sure they’re right.”

“Yeah, but he did his thesis on this,” Rowan said.

“So whatever he decided, he’s going to be super invested in it,” I said. “Damn it.” Rowan winced. “Sorry, I swear I’m not mad. I wasn’t expecting much, but I guess I didn’t realize how much I was kind of hoping we could at least scratch off a possibility.”

“Well, there is one possibility we can put to rest,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“That you’d get any help from diabolism,” he said. “Now that you know that, you can safely ignore them without wondering if you’re missing out on a crucial resource.”

“That… that actually makes me feel a lot better,” I said. “Thanks. Thank you, Rowan. I’m really glad you went and talked to your old teacher.”

“Oh! Then I’m glad I did it,” he said. “Sorry it took so long.”

“Not a big deal,” I said.

“I should, uh… I should probably let you… rest, or whatever you need to do,” he said.

I hesitated, weighing… not exactly pride, per se, but more like an aversion to awkwardness… before I spoke.

“One thing before you go?” I said.

“Yeah?”

“Do you think you could help me over to the bed?”

“Uh, sure,” he said.

He held out a hand. I looked at it, considering, then shook my head.

“I think it’ll be easier if I pull myself up on the desk, and then I can kind of lean on you?”

“Okay,” he said, and somehow, we made it work, made it to the bed. He started trying to help me up onto it, then got flustered when his hand touched my butt.

“I’m fine!” I said, scrambling up. I tried to get under the covers, but that was hard enough that I didn’t say anything when he helped.

“Should I… should I lock the door on my way out?” he asked.

“Better not,” I said. “Don’t know who else might stop by.”

“What happened, anyway?”

“I’d rather not get into it,” I said. He didn’t have a lot of experience outside of humanity, and I didn’t want him judging Shiel for an uncharacteristic act of rage, especially given the extenuating circumstances. “I’m sure I’ll be fine tomorrow.”

“Okay, well… see you.”

“Yeah,” I said. “See you.”


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

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


Characters: ,





24 Responses to “Chapter 325: Behind Opened Doors”

  1. Anthony says:

    Poor, flustered kid. I can just imagine…

    Current score: 7
  2. Nocker says:

    I must admit, the fact that Shiel can pull something like this with no apology is incredibly telling.

    Current score: 3
    • zeel says:

      I don’t know if she actually realizes what she did. She could easily just assume that since she can’t actually break Mackenzie’s bones, that there would be no harm. Not that that’s any excuse.

      I do however think that if she were told the outcome, she would be very apologetic about it.

      Current score: 10
      • Brenda A. says:

        Well, it didn’t seem like Shiel was actually looking where she was going, didn’t even register that it was Mack that she hit, and if had been anyone else would have shattered their knee, so it’s a little alarming that she’s that unaware of her own strength…

        Current score: 3
  3. Erm says:

    As the red lightning bolts of pain that had shot through me in the moments I stood on my bad leg faded, I realized I had never bothered to put on clothes that morning.

    Accidentally put on her girlfriend’s shirt again?

    You’re just… a little different than I’d pi… would have imagined.

    “Than I’d fantas err, imagined.”

    Current score: 7
  4. Erm says:

    and I’m definitely going to get angry.

    If you’re trying to reassure Rowan, you might want to promise that you’re definitely not going to get angry?

    Also does anyone else find it iffy that Shiel just randomly put Mack out of commission for a day for no reason, and never even bothered to apologize or check on her?

    Also that Mack is evasive about it. Shades of Book 1 and Puddy there.

    Current score: 4
    • Nocker says:

      A lot of the cast has the uncomfortable habit of excusing behavior they really shouldn’t.

      Which is basically the only reason Victor is a student, not just Puddy. Or Feejee. If Mackenzie can excuse murder and dismemberment then a punch to the knee isn’t much.

      Really Mackenzie’s biggest fault is probably that she, along with everybody else, has hang ups about drawing lines in the sand.

      Current score: 4
      • zeel says:

        Learning when to let things go, and when they need to be addressed, is something that Mackenzie, Amy, and others need to work on.

        Shiel would doubtlessly be very apologetic if she knew what she had done, and its long-term effects. But she didn’t seem to be acting in character at the time. The curse (or whatever) was probably influencing her at the time.

        Current score: 3
    • Maculategiraffe says:

      I do find it iffy, but there are some differences from the Puddy circumstance. Mackenzie doesn’t have strong personal ties to Shiel or an emotional investment in the idea that they’re friends (they’re not, particularly)– her interest in shielding Shiel against Rowan’s judgment, even at the cost of witholding the truth, seems more like the (queer/) non-human solidarity against potential (straight/white/cis/male/) human prejudice thing that’s been in play ever since Rowan first popped up. I mean, it’s similar in that I don’t think it’s any action of Rowan’s that Mackenzie fears so much as what he might think if he knew the truth, but she’s defending a fellow non-human from The Establishment (as embodied by poor cutie-pup Rowan, who has such a big old hapless crush and is so out of his element here that he comes across as subservient to Mackenzie of all people) rather than defending an unhealthy emotional dynamic from anybody who might scrutinize it more closely.

      As for Shiel’s lack of apology, there’s not really any reason she’d know about Mackenzie’s not-injury– if all Amaranth is telling people is that she’s resting, that could mean anything. I can’t really see Amaranth confronting Shiel about pain she was convinced was inflicted unintentionally. She wouldn’t want Shiel to feel bad, right?

      Current score: 2
      • Nocker says:

        It’s not solidarity to protect someone who’s hurting people and being and asshole, that’s just protecting an asshole.

        Covering for Puddy could also be taken as solidarity. But that wouldn’t make it right. The same could be said for Viktor, the cannibal warlord son who tears innocent people’s arms off, but that wouldn’t make that right either. It sure as hell didn’t cover Mackenzie when she actually told Ian and he questioned what the fuck was going through her head to sit on it.

        If this was anyone else, their leg would have permanent damage without magical healing. If Shiel doesn’t care and thinks it’s an ok thing to just punch someone without explanation and leave, even if she didn’t know it was that bad, she isn’t worth defending.

        Current score: 0
        • Maculategiraffe says:

          Oh, I mean, I agree– I don’t think these are good reasons for Mackenzie to cover for Shiel, I just think they’re different reasons from the Puddy situation. (Interesting you mention Viktor– I’ve always wondered how much of Mackenzie’s acceptance of the way he behaves has to do with sensitivity to cultural differences, vs. rationalizing his behavior because cutting him out of her life would mean cutting Steff out and she’s not willing to do that because she loves Steff. I.e., I think both things are at play in the Viktor situation– non-human solidarity plus rationalizing bad behavior because of emotional investment.)

          I totally agree that Shiel did something awful, and either she’s an asshole or something else super weird is going on, and either way Mackenzie shouldn’t just gloss over it all “oh well I shouldn’t badmouth a kobold to a human because anti-goblinoid prejudice,” I’m just saying I think it’s a different irrational thing Mackenzie is doing here than the irrational thing she was doing with Puddy.

          Current score: 2
          • zeel says:

            I think it’s a lot simpler than all that.

            “I’d rather not get into it,” I said. He didn’t have a lot of experience outside of humanity, and I didn’t want him judging Shiel for an uncharacteristic act of rage, especially given the extenuating circumstances. “I’m sure I’ll be fine tomorrow.”

            Emphasis added

            I think she is referring to the curse. Shiel did something out of character, and Mackenzie knows that. Mackenzie also suspects a curse or similar is influencing people. To explain her injury in full, she would need to explain the entire situation with the ring, Hazel, and Shiels outburst – or else she would have to paint Shiel in a bad light, which she doesn’t feel is fair… since she believes a curse is involved.

            She doesn’t feel like getting into it.

            Current score: 8
            • Nocker says:

              Maybe it’s just me but… since when has being under a curse EVER let someone off the hook? Mackenzie is basically throwing out a low level curse any time she isn’t taking a potion, and even though we saw it change Amaranths behavior in some instances that didn’t let Barley off the hook despite what she did being even more out of character. It doesn’t change any of the other times just being around Mackenzie made someone act wildly out of character. It didn’t exactly drive a lot of forgiveness any other time someone had their behavior modified either. Hell, nobody forgave Mackenzie nearly so easily after the incident with Mercy despite her loss of control being far more visible and direct, and Dee held her to it for a while before generally just losing a lot of esteem for her. The only reason she didn’t fail Callahan’s class and get expelled in the same incident is Callahan didn’t take the attempt to kill seriously.

              Whatever the curse “did”, it didn’t reach out and make Shiel strike Mackenzie any more than it made anyone attack anyone else, and when she left it’s presence it didn’t stop her from affecting an apology. That’s entirely on Shiel.

              Current score: 0
            • zeel says:

              The effect of female semi-demons on predators is not a curse on the predators, it’s a curse on the demon-bloods. None of the predators that got a little too interested in Mackenzie were under the effect of a curse. None of them did anything that was not their own choice. And Barley wasn’t even under that effect, what she did was wholly and entirely of her own poor judgment and character.

              An actual curse modifying behavior is another story. And, whether or not Shiel had enough “Shiel” left to know what she did was wrong, it is not unreasonable for Mackenzie to avoid spreading the story around until she knows for sure what is going on.

              Note also, that when Mackenzie was possessed, the consensus was that her actions were not her fault. And the point Dee was making was that they should have dealt with the outcome in a more appropriate way.

              Current score: 1
            • Nocker says:

              That seems to bend Occams razor a little though.

              Given the varying circumstances of passing tests, I doubt it’s mind control unless it can affect people that aren’t there without being noticed in a long enough term, while slipping through whatever anti-cheating measures exist.

              It’s more likely it(whatever it is) just boosted Luck as an attribute, as we know is already possible, and Shiel lost to a bunch of Lucky guesses. Shiel is a generally confrontational individual, and lost at what was “her thing” to someone she only ever entertains basically as a joke. It’s far more believable that it was Hazel getting lucky as she has before and Shiel throwing a fit than Shiel being heavily mind controlled.

              It’s a simpler explanation that fits more with how we know the setting and characters to work, so it’s what I’m going with. Shiel isn’t exactly Hitler but what she did was solidly not cool, and I don’t really buy that she was under control.

              If she was reacting to something centered on Hazel, as is probably the case, that doesn’t make her any better than Belinda or Barley, both of whom at least had the decency to try to apologize.

              Current score: 0
            • Lyssa says:

              Whether you buy that she was under the influence of a curse or not, the fact is we don’t know. Mackenzie does not know. Throwing someone under the bus when you don’t know whether they were under the influence of a curse but you do know something sure is fishy is pretty rotten, frankly. Until Mack at least has a chance to talk to Shiel, that would be out of her character, and frankly, I agree with her.

              Current score: 3
            • zeel says:

              Exactly, why would Mackenzie feel the need to tell Rowan of all people what happened, when she herself isn’t even certain? There is nothing odd about it.

              Current score: 5
      • HollowGolem says:

        I have a friend who’s rather racist in that way that modern American culture thinks is okay and totally not racist. I make it a point when I tell him about something that happened at work or in a news story or whatever that if a black person did something less-than-good, I avoid mentioning his race, but when a black friend of mine says something clever or a black coworker helps me a lot, I praise them to this racist friend.

        In that way, I can kind of see what Mackenzie’s doing, regarding not mentioning Shiel’s part in this.

        Current score: 2
        • Nocker says:

          The thing is, that presumes she’s talking to a racist, which isn’t exactly substantiated.

          Current score: 0
          • Zukira Phaera says:

            Except for his unintended racist comment about Dee way back is telling too. It isn’t that he’s intentionally so, but that he’s had a sheltered human life and as such, he’s naive in a way about how he might be a touch racist just because of his upbringing. She’s too tired from the pain to feel like dealing with also opening the can of worms that might come with explaining it.

            Current score: 6
  5. Zathras IX says:

    Different Demons
    Have different gifts but they’re
    Still not of this Earth

    Current score: 3
  6. Lurk says:

    Am I the only one who feels line Mackenzie is acting a touch, I dunno, out of character? I mean, pain notwithstanding, I can’t imagine a world where she snaps impatiently at her friends through the door and then, more tellingly, isn’t even embarrassed by a casual acquaintance AND two random strangers seeing her naked. She’s humiliated enough for it to be a huge turn-on when her lovers see her naked, she feels super weird even being naked alone, and more she’s just carrying on a casual conversation? She’s just kind of… annoyed? Because ow?

    Sure, pain makes us act weird, but this is ridiculous.

    Current score: 2
    • Nocker says:

      Yeah, this whole thing is kind of out of character for her. My point with the thing about Shiel wasn’t just ‘Shiel did a bad thing’, it was “Mackenzie was WAY more charitable than she’s ever been”.

      Between that and the nudity it’s almost like we’re looking at a totally different character here.

      Current score: 1
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      My experience as a spoonie, she rings true enough for a severe pain day.

      Current score: 2