Chapter 41: In Plain Tongue

on October 28, 2011 in Volume 2 Book 2: The Trouble With Twyla, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Ian Gropes Towards Something

Even with the central question before us seemingly answered, the titular wonders of the Nights had shifted Amaranth’s priorities for the evening from serving the urges of the student population to scratching her own peculiar itches. In order to still give Ian and me our privacy, she decided to take the tome over to the library to read.

“I don’t have much to fear from being out after dark,” she said, which was true enough… she didn’t have much means or inclination for defending herself, but the destruction of her flesh-and-blood body was little more than a temporary inconvenience. A potentially very large one, given the travel time from her home field to the school, but smaller than it would have been for the truly mortal. “And anyway, the library is open all night. Plus, if I do find anything that seems important I’ll be able to cross-reference it. Do you want me to keep the book for you when I’m finished?”

I thought about it. The book didn’t inflame my passions the way it did Amaranth’s, though I thought it would be interesting to read those familiar stories in something closer to their original state… and to see what had been left out of them.

In the end, though, I felt nervous about the idea of having such a big, obviously valuable book in my possession. There were just too many things that could go wrong there… and since the book was in Professor Bohd’s name and had been entrusted to me by her, I’d only endanger my relationship with her further if I damaged the book. It was better to leave it in Amaranth’s much more tender hands, so long as it was outside the library.

“I might flip through it a bit if you want to keep it out a few more days,” I said. “Or you find something you think I’ll find interesting. I mean, we know they have it. I could take a look at it without having to take it outside.”

“Okay, baby,” she said. “Maybe I’ll keep it a few more days, anyway… I’ll flag any adventure stories or anything else I think you might like.”

She kissed me goodbye and left me and Ian alone.

I thought it was pretty likely that she didn’t particularly expect to find anything else important in the book during her perusal, in terms of things that had any bearing on the lives of anyone we knew… she wanted to read through the book and pick it apart for its own sake. I couldn’t blame her. In only an hour or so, she’d managed to crack the riddle… it was not at all surprising to me that now that the main task was over, she wanted a chance to examine the book at her leisure.

What did surprise me was that Ian and I were only alone in the dorm room for a few minutes when he asked me if I wanted to go join her. Passing time with Amaranth in the library had been one of the more consistent pleasures of my freshman year… we had made a regular practice of hanging out in the library on the slower Sundays, and while Ian had tagged dutifully along with us a few times, it had always been clear that he was there for the company, not the atmosphere.

“We don’t have to,” I said, just in case he thought I felt the same pull Amaranth did. “I mean, I don’t actually feel all that invested in the whole Twyla thing to begin with. It’s just kind of interesting…”

“Well, yeah, it is,” he said. “I mean, genies, cities of wishes… this is something that’s interesting to all of us. I don’t see a problem with just going with it, if you want to.”

“Except I know you had plans…”

“It’s not like I had reservations somewhere nice or choreographed an elaborate musical number or anything,” he said. “Anyway, it wouldn’t mean I’m not sleeping over tonight. Just pop over to the library for a bit, head back here before it gets too late…”

“You aren’t getting interested in Twyla because she’s some fraction of an ifrit, are you?” I asked him, half-trying to hide my half-smile. I wasn’t actually worried about that, but I wasn’t sure exactly what his interest was, or how strong it was.

Did he really want to go but wanted to make sure I was okay with our night in together becoming a night out? Or maybe he wanted to stay in the dorm room, but he was making sure I did, too. It wasn’t exactly the making of a huge comedy of errors… more like the conversational equivalent of two people standing in front of a door trying to be polite about who goes through it first.

Under ordinary circumstances, I might not have even noticed it was happening, but something about it was just making me feel frustrated… but then Ian laughed, and my frustration ebbed a little.

“Oh, come on, Mackenzie,” he said. “For five minutes when I was a freshman I thought it would be cool to date a half-demon because she was a half-demon. It was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done.”

“Do you regret it?” I asked him.

“Not one bit,” he said. “Though I don’t think that even back then it would have ever occurred to me to be turned on by a genie, especially a stereotypically dickish one with horns.”

“In all seriousness, though… do you want to go over?” I asked. Whatever he’d been angling for, there had been enough fishing on both sides.

“Well, since you ask… not especially,” he said. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m cool with it if you needed to, but like, not just ‘it’s okay’… it’s actually okay.”

“You could have just said that,” I said. I meant it to sound reassuring, but it was the kind of thing that had a way of sounding combative. Fortunately for our relationship, Ian had also decided that the fishing expedition was over and so he didn’t take the bait.

“Honestly, I would have,” he said. “But I started thinking that would sound like I was trying to convince you it was okay, not that it actually was… and okay, yes, I realize now that I’ve said that out loud that I was overthinking it. Or underthinking.”

“It’s okay… I do that, too,” I said. “But, Ian… you wanted a night with me. We’re alone. We’re together. We’re here. I don’t see any reason to change any of those things.”

“I guess the book will still be there in the morning.”

“If you’re really interested in it, I’m almost positive Amaranth won’t manage to give it up before Monday,” I said.

“It’s not that,” Ian said. “I just… don’t you kind of need to see it still?”

“Not really,” I said.

“But… didn’t Amaranth say that you had to find the illustration that Bohd was looking at or something?”

That was a reminder of something I hadn’t so much forgotten about as let fade from my mind as unimportant, after Amaranth’s revelation.

“Well… that was how we were going to find the page that Bohd was reading,” I said. “But since Amaranth found out it was about ifrits…”

“But that picture of the ifrit she found wasn’t the one you saw, was it?”

“No,” I said. “The guy in the picture I saw was more of a warrior type, and no one in the picture had horns.”

“So, even if we’re pretty sure what the horns mean, you still don’t necessarily know what Bohd was looking at or for, and what she wanted you to know,” Ian said.

“I don’t think that matters,” I said. “Whatever she was looking up, it was when she thought she might need to protect herself from Twyla or her relatives… she gave me the book knowing I’d figure out about the ifrits, which she could have counted on happening because I would have done the first time I saw a picture of one. Compare that to the odds that I’d stumble across one particular fact in one random story somewhere in a huge book…”

“If she saw you looking, maybe she thought you’d got a better look than you did,” Ian said. “Or maybe there’s something about the story that would really stand out, once you knew it was all about ifrits.”

The whole thing was starting to feel sort of layered, like nesting dolls with me at the center, and I understood why I’d felt frustration at the little dancing around Ian had done.

“You know, I really hate this cryptic shit,” I said with bitterness that surprised even me. “I’ve never appreciated Professor Bohd’s normal straightforwardness more than I do now. I can kind of understand her not wanting to face Twyla again… I’d feel embarrassed, in her place…”

“’Embarrassed’ is another color I have a hard time picturing on Bohd,” Ian said.

“…but I don’t know why she couldn’t just tell me that Twyla’s an ifrit, along with anything else she may or may not want me to know.”

“Maybe it’s a family thing,” Ian said. “We know that Bohd’s djinn family is distant in blood terms, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t close. They might not like fraternizing, or whatever. Or maybe she has an honest-to-goodness prejudice against ifrits. Or it might be some kind of like primal, elemental reaction.”

“Not likely,” I said. “I mean, Amaranth said their make-up isn’t that different. A slightly altered balance of fire and air isn’t going to cause any kind of visceral response.”

“Okay, so it wouldn’t be elemental,” Ian said. “But it could still be instinctual. There’s just a lot we don’t know about this.”

“Do we really need to, though?” I said. “I mean, I’m not… incurious… about this stuff. It seems interesting. I just… I wonder why it has to be the hot topic for all of us right now. I was kind of iffy on the prospect of getting involved in Twyla’s problems to begin with. I don’t feel any more certain about it now.”

“That makes sense. You just seem… weirdly disconnected, I guess… from all of this,” he said. “I mean, Amaranth was practically making love to that book with her eyes, which might be a first for her, at least figuratively. You didn’t seem nearly as blown away by the genie/ifrit thing as anyone else.”

“Well, I already knew at least one person with djinnblood,” I said. “And Professor Bohd is impressive for lots of reasons that don’t have to do with what kinds of folky tales get told about her great-great-grandparent, or whatever they would be. Also, being a half-demon kind of takes away a lot of the ‘wow’ factor about these kinds of things, you know?”

“Even before that, though,” Ian said. “Maybe you’ve just been through a lot in your educational career so far, but you seemed kind of blah about the whole thing to begin with. Like, your biggest concern when you got the note from Bohd was the logistics of it.”

“That was my biggest concern,” I said. “Two professors who both expected me to be somewhere at the same time is my problem. It’s something that affects me, something I can’t expect anyone else to solve. Twyla’s problem and Bohd’s problem with her are… well, they’re their problems. It’s not just that I have enough problems of my own… I’ve also had enough of other people’s problems, and enough of people who have problems with me. It’s not that I’m completely apathetic or self-centered… I guess I’m just more careful about what I’m investing myself in.”

“I guess I can see the wisdom of that.”

“It’s not really wisdom. I mean, I’ve thought some deep thoughts about it, but it’s mostly just happening,” I said. I shrugged. “On some level, I’ve always been more comfortable being inquisitive about things than people…”

I stopped mid-sentence to think about that. It wasn’t exactly true. I’d been curious about everything as a child, and my mother had encouraged it. My grandmother had encouraged me to mind my own business, but even more than that, life as a teenaged half-demon in a small town had encouraged that in me. When I’d come to school, been shoved outside my safety zone and exposed to people who judged me for, I’d started to pay attention again, somewhat.

But then things started to get a little crazy, and then they started to get busy…

“Okay,” I said. “Maybe I could afford to open my eyes a little bit more, if I do it intelligently. But, Ian… you wanted us to have a night together. We have that. The book, Twyla, the whole ifrit race… it can all keep a day or two.”

“No argument here,” Ian said. “But…”


“Don’t you have the feeling that you’re overlooking something?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” Ian said. “Just a feeling. Something Amaranth said, or maybe something I saw or heard…”

He shrugged, evidently a little uncomfortable with the admission. I started to see something behind his earlier approach. Ian was not given to hunches… at least not the kind that just seemingly manifested out of the ether at random. He could make a well-founded inference.

“If I am missing something, I’m sure it can wait,” I said. “And if not, I suppose it will wake us up.”

“Assuming we’re asleep,” Ian said.

“Do you have plans to the contrary?”

“Well… like I said, I haven’t exactly choreographed a huge dance number,” he said, “but I may have worked out a few moves.”

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15 Responses to “Chapter 41: In Plain Tongue”

  1. Zukira Phaera says:

    Typo – I stopped mid-sentence to thing about that. think, instead of thing.

    Current score: 0
  2. Zukira Phaera says:

    Much enjoyed the chapter. Really was just what I needed this evening.

    Interesting to see that the aversion into looking into Twyla’s background isn’t really kicking in so much on the ifrit idea. Just how it seems to me at least.

    Current score: 0
  3. Ben says:

    Typo–you misspelled “feeling” as “feelilng.”

    Current score: 0
  4. Krey says:

    typo: exposed to people who judged me for, I’d started to pay

    judged me for what?

    Current score: 0
  5. Alluvial says:

    Cute chapter. I’m always interested in seeing Mack and Ian hashing something out in conversation, and now I’m wracking my brain to see if I’VE missed something important. The style really conveys the emotions of Mackenzie perfectly. Well done!

    Current score: 0
  6. Adele says:

    Presumably Ian’s vague sense of missing something is related to the geas or wish or whatever veiling Twyla’s background from diviners. Due to the issue of Mack being an unreliable narrator, we can’t assume that we have access to the thought that’s on the tip of Ian’s tongue.

    If Twyla is part-ifrit (still an if), and the veil is related to that (also *if*), possibly Bohd is either immune or particularly susceptible to it and that’s the root of her kneejerk reaction to Twyla.

    Current score: 1
    • Barnowl says:

      I think you got it Adele. And knowing Twyla’s heritage may be dangerous in some way.

      Current score: 0
    • tjhairball says:

      After this chapter, my money’s back on part-dragon. Ian’s onto something, and Mack ISN’T feeling nosy.

      Current score: 0
  7. Tigger says:

    Typo? “she gave me the book knowing I’d figure out about the ifrits, which she could have counted on happening because I would have done the first time I saw a picture of one.” Something is just…off. Perhaps “because it would have been”?

    Current score: 0
  8. Zathras IX says:

    Prejudice against Ifrits:
    Fighting fire with fire?

    Current score: 0
  9. anon y mouse says:

    “’Embarrassed’ is another color I have a hard time picturing on Bohd,” Ian said. – the single-quote at the beginning of embarrassed is an end single-quote; and, while I think color is used intentionally, I might as well mention it as well, just in case.

    “When I’d come to school, been shoved outside my safety zone and exposed to people who judged me for, I’d started to pay attention again, somewhat.” – ‘for it’, or, possibly no ‘for’.

    Current score: 0
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      “color me embarrassed” is a common phrase, so it works in context.

      Current score: 0
  10. Ancalador says:

    As far as I can tell, other then her horns, her affinity to fire and the fact that Proffesor Bohd is slightly freaked out by her showing up, there is no guarantee that Twyla is in fact descended from Ifreeti (I think that’s the plural form).
    I think that Mack is a bit desperate to jump on anything not dragon related, at that might have led to an error of judgement; that and Amaranth has a habit of jumping on the the first thing that is brought to her attention, which hasn’t worked out well in the past.
    Anyway there is no evidence that Twyla is not dragon-blooded and it does make more sense to hide a dragon ancestry then that of an ifrit. I am looking forward to seeing which it is.

    Current score: 0
  11. Barnowl says:

    Perhaps Bohd is deliberately misleading Mackenzie.

    Current score: 0
  12. Arachia says:

    I don’t think you can descibe a place in time as a group of persons, so typo alert: “Why would you buy something with a wish?” Ian asked. “It seems to me you could just wish for whatever you wanted and (((them )))some.”

    just another funny poke with unsharpened words.

    Current score: 0