In Which Mackenzie And Steff Converse Sensibly

The second time I woke up, of course, Steff was with me. I was aware of her as soon as I woke up, or possibly just before. I had a feeling that she was getting back into bed, and that might have been what woke me. It gave me an odd kind of feelings of bookends, since I’d drifted off to her coming into bed.

There was a scent of vanilla bath product. I wondered if she’d had trouble sleeping… or maybe she just liked the semi-private bathtub as much as I did, and had taken advantage of the opportunity to use it. I couldn’t blame her for that one bit.

Steff was the only one of our group who’d stayed in Harlowe Hall when the rest of us moved to the tower and its suites. I wondered if she was testing the waters, so to speak, before jumping ship… at least once the initial freeze on room changes was up.

As far as the law and the university housing offices were concerned, Steff was still male. I didn’t know if there were any completely empty suites slotted for guys still available, but if Viktor was amenable they could each pay the solo room fee and have two rooms plus a bathroom between them.

The “if” would be the big question, with an emphasis on big. Harlowe Hall’s blocky institutional architecture had to be way more favorable for a half-ogre than the cramped, irregular rooms of the towers. Clearing out some of the included furniture would help a little, but the bathrooms were basically passageways… it was mercifully hard to picture Viktor using them.

“Hey, sleepyhead,” Steff said when she perceived I was alert. She brushed a fingertip down my arm from my shoulder, tracing an intricate set of curves. “How did your dreamworld-based shenanigans go?”

“They went,” I said, not being quite awake enough to go into a lot of detail yet… but exactly awake enough to nitpick, apparently. “And they’re not exactly ‘dreamworld-based’… more ‘imaginary world conceived of in dreams-based’.”

“I’m so glad we have you around to make sure we get the important stuff like that right,” Steff said.

I tried to sit up a little bit, but not very hard. It was Sunday, Steff was there, and I was just fine with staying where I was and being snuggly with her. I was glad she’d decided to come back. Though, upon reflection, I wasn’t sure how she’d managed that.

The dorms were locked after dark, but that wasn’t a big deal. You just had to catch someone who belonged there coming in or out, which wouldn’t be hard at just about any hour of a Saturday night, especially in a huge dorm like Gilcrease.

But I knew my own door had been locked. It was a force of habit for all of us. Even Amaranth, who was inclined to trust in the basic goodness of sentient beings and who had a tamper-proof personal theft prevention system, always twisted the knob when she went out.

“So… did Amaranth lend you her key?” I asked.

“No, why would she?” Steff asked.

“So you could get into the room?” I asked. “I ask because… you got into the room.”

“Well, yeah, but you don’t really need a key for that, though, do you?” Steff asked, sounding legitimately confused.

“What do you think the keys are for, then?” I asked.

“I always figured they’re mainly for convenience.”

“Yeah, the convenience of being able to get into your room,” I said.

Steff let out a little snort.

“What?” I said.

“Well, it’s not like the locks are actually intended to keep people out, are they?” Steff asked. “I mean, they’re like privacy latches in a bathroom stall… they keep the door from swinging open on you when you want privacy and don’t want to be surprised by company, but they aren’t exactly a security measure, are they?”

“Okay, the school doesn’t exactly spring for serious hardware, but I don’t think they expect students to be casually picking them open,” I said.

“Well, no,” Steff said. “Just like they don’t expect people to go past a ‘keep out’ sign or something… you don’t do it because it would be rude or you’re not supposed to. It’s more of a social prohibition than an actual barrier.”

“Maybe to you,” I said. “I think the average human student would have an easier time breaking the knob off than getting the lock to open without a key, and that would be hard to do discreetly.”

“Huh,” Steff said. “Really?”

“Yes, really.”

“I always figured… never mind.”

I knew there was a very limited number of reasons why Steff would hesitate to say something. It couldn’t be because she was being deferential to my sensibilities. She would have put a teasing tone on if that had been the case. It was unlikely that she was worried about sounding stupid or naive. She could be as sensitive about those things as anyone, but she’d always been able to expose that kind of vulnerability when she was alone with me. Sometimes she’d take the opportunity to double down on her public persona when we were alone, but she was also able to put it down when she needed to. So I figured that either it wasn’t that, or that she needed a reminder.

“What?” I prompted. “You can tell me.”

“Well, I’m not one to overestimate non-elven dexterity, but… um… well… oh, Two’s friend Hazel doesn’t seem to have any problem with locks,” she said, with an air of desperate invention. “And gnomes don’t exactly have elven grace, you know, so…”

“But they’re clever and have small hands,” I said. “And Hazel’s studied them… and anyway, you wouldn’t have hesitated to bring up Hazel like that, so I’d like to know what you were really thinking before you said ‘never mind’.”

“It really was nothing,” she said. I was getting the strong impression that she was trying to protect me, somehow, though I couldn’t imagine what from, and it was bothering me.

“If it was nothing, you would have said it,” I said.

“When do I ever say nothing?”

“Never, when you can avoid it,” I said. “So… say something.”

She sighed.

“Okay… the thing is that Puddy has fingers like the end of a slightly drunk and uncoordinated person’s hands, and she can get around the school’s locks pretty easily, so I figured they couldn’t be hard for a human to spring.”

I didn’t say anything for a few seconds. It wasn’t that the mention of Puddy had stunned me into silence… at least not the way Steff might have feared it would. Instead, I found myself casting about for something to say about the unexpected mention of my one-time roommate and came up with nothing.

“Puddy’s not just human,” I said, eventually.

“No, but dwarves aren’t known for having a deft touch,” she said.

“They aren’t exactly agile, but they do tend to have steady hands for delicate work,” I said. “That’s the solidity of stone… anyway, I don’t know that she has enough dwarf to matter one way or another. But I do know that women of the LaBelle family line have… gifts.”

“Faerie gifts,” Steff said, nodding. “There’s that one who has the laugh of an angel… Semele’s friend.” I must have had a weird look on my face that Steff misinterpreted, because she added,
“I know you know who I’m talking about, because Semele doesn’t have two friends.”

“No, I know,” I said. “I just… I’d never actually heard what her gift was, but I guess it makes sense in retrospect.”

“Oh?” Steff said. “Oh… I guess that’s why you were cringing around her. I always figured it was just because you hate the LaBelles.”

“I don’t hate them,” I said. “I didn’t hate her… I just didn’t like to be around her when she was laughing.” This was true, but unfortunately the girl in question had seemed to find everything hilarious. “And strictly speaking, she’s not a LaBelle, she’s just of their line. Anyway, the thing is that I never saw Puddy actually pick a lock… she just opened a lot of doors that should have been locked. So maybe she was gifted with a touch that opens doors, or that no door would ever be shut against her, or something like that. You know how faerie gifts work.”

“Literally,” Steff said. “Anyway, I guess you’d know better than me, when it comes to Puddy… sorry I brought it up.”

“It’s okay,” I said, and I gave her a hug because it seemed like a hugging moment.

“And just in case you were wondering… I don’t go around going into people’s rooms,” Steff said.

“I honestly didn’t figure you did,” I said. Steff had a fascination with the dark and the grim, but I couldn’t imagine her as a petty thief.

“So… you couldn’t open a locked dorm room door without a key at all, then?” she asked. “Or would it just be kind of hard?”

“I could probably break it down if I wanted to,” I said. “And I could maybe enchant the lock enough in a negative way and a tool in a positive way… if I had a set of thieves’ tools… that I could possibly have a chance of getting through it that way. But in terms of being able to just fiddle around with it until it opens… I’d be fiddling with it for a long time, and I think most people would, too.”

“Huh,” Steff said. “I guess that’s… reassuring. I wish I’d have known it sooner, though. I’ve spent the last two years thinking we were basically on the honor system as far as privacy and security, and that hasn’t exactly helped my occasional outbreaks of anxiety and insecurity…. I mean, there are plenty of people around who can think a door open or break it down or pick the lock or magic it open… but I guess it’s kind of reassuring to realize that the doors are more than a minor inconvenience, at least by default.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I can only imagine… I would never have been able to feel at all at ease in my own room if I hadn’t been able to lock the door.”

“It’s weird to think about it,” Steff said. “I mean, like I said, I’d usually be the last one to overestimate human capabilities. I mean, you might be all magic-sensitive, but you can’t even see a hidden door when it’s right out in the open.”

“If it were right out in the open, it wouldn’t be hidden,” I said, but the conversation had brought back the fast fading memory of my early-morning resolution. “Anyway, it’s funny you should bring that up…”

“Well, I’ve always thought it was,” Steff said. “I mean, that’s why I bring it up… still, it’s nice to hear you say it for once.”

“Ha ha,” I said.

“See what I mean? Recognition,” she said. “My artist’s soul cries out for it.”

“Do you have an artist’s soul?”

“In a jar somewhere,” she said.

“Seriously, though,” I said. “I’ve been thinking about…”

How to put it? Cultivating my senses sounded kind of overblown and pretentious. Paying more attention sounded kind of… underblown.

“The thing is,” I said, starting again, “I’m not just human, either.”

“No, you’re half-demon.”

“And I’m a wizard… sort of… ish,” I said. “I mean, I will be, but I feel like I’m not using my full potential.”

“You’re telling me,” Steff said. “I’ve seen you when you cut loose… running and leaping over the hills in moonlight. But you spend most of your time plodding along like a sad sack full smaller, sadder sacks.”

“Having the strength to propel myself along like that doesn’t mean I have the coordination to do it well,” I said. “As far as I know, demons aren’t known for their superhuman agility. I was thinking more in the area of… senses. Perception.”

“Oh, well, that makes sense… you can see in the dark,” Steff said.

“In dim light,” I corrected. “And some kinds of magical invisibility don’t work as well on me.”
“And I know you can smell blood.”

“I smell blood,” I said, which seemed like an important distinction to make though even as I said it I wasn’t sure I could adequately explain it. “It’s never been a conscious thing… if blood’s there, the scent hits me. I’ve never been able to sit down and sort out a bunch of different scents, or even zero in on blood somewhere on purpose. It’s all very… passive.”

“Maybe that’s just because you’re all very passive?” Steff said. “I mean, you’ve turned your nose up at this stuff for so long, so it’s not surprising that your nose has turned its back on you.”

“Do you think that’s something I can undo, at this point?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Steff said. “But I bet it wouldn’t be hard to test out… I mean, if we played a couple rounds of hide and go seek around campus, you wouldn’t stand a chance of finding me any other way, right? You’d have to be able to track me by scent.”

“You have a point, but I think trying to jump to tracking is getting a little bit ahead of myself,” I said. “Sometimes I think I can recognize you by scent, but it’s not like there’s a large pool of people who’d be coming into the room… and anyway, figuring out where people have gone is kind of more than what I’m looking for. I’m really more interested in figuring out what’s going on around me at a given moment than what’s happened in the past.”

“Oh,” Steff said. “You want to figure out how to pay more attention.”

“If you want to put it that way, I guess,” I said.

“What exactly brought this on?” she asked. “Did you leave one too many Mack-shaped dent in a wall?”

“I don’t go around denting walls,” I said.

“Would you notice if you did?”

“You are hilarious this morning.”

“I’m glad you noticed,” she said.

Rather than engaging any further, I explained my experience in the dream, and my confusion and disappointment upon waking.

“Did you have any more dreams when you fell back asleep?”

“Not that I remember,” I said. “I don’t think I was asleep that long. Why?”

“I just wonder if the heightened awareness thing is going to be permanent or not.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I think it’s supposed to become an ongoing thing, but I don’t know if it is yet. I don’t think it’ll happen every time, not until it’s been better reinforced… especially with the owl-turtle thing being away. I don’t think it needs to be there for it to happen, but it might have some role in getting things rolling if there is some kind of stumbling block.”

“So, have you given any thought to how you’re going to explain this to Teddi?”

“I haven’t,” I admitted. “I’m seeing her today. We were going to be talking more about the owl-turtle thing and how to handle it, anyway…”

“Do you think she might have something to say about taking such a huge step in between two sessions?”

“Well… it’s my mind. I mean, I don’t think she’ll object to me taking some steps to improve my control of it, do you?”

“I don’t know,” Steff said. “It sounds like you’re moving farther out of her depths… and yours. I’d maybe be the last one to tell you to be afraid of demon-ing it up a little bit, but… well…”

“You’d also understand why I wouldn’t want to,” I said.

“Well, no, that’s not really what I meant,” she said. “If I were you, I’d be all like, ‘Grrr, I’m a demon!’ and act like it’s just completely awesome all the time… but having been, the, uh… grr-ee… I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to, but I understand why I wouldn’t want you to. It’s a selfish impulse… I’d just rather keep you not more than theoretically scary.”

“To be honest, the demony stuff is featuring way more in this conversation than it did in my plans,” I said. “If ‘plans’ are the right word for a bunch of vague, half-formed notions that collide together just before you fall asleep. I think talking to Teddi is a good step before I firm anything up, and of course I’ll want to talk it over with Amaranth. And you and Dee, since you both have, you know, better-than-human senses of awareness.”

“Man, talk to Dee, not me,” Steff said. “They train that stuff in the underworld. I just open my ears.”

“That doesn’t mean you won’t have any insight to offer,” I said.

“I don’t do insight,” Steff said. “All my sight is specifically out. I refuse to gaze at any navel that’s not attached to a hot girl that isn’t me.”

“Okay,” I said, though I thought that Steff was protesting a bit too much. She had her issues, but she really wasn’t as shallow as all that… it took depth to have space for issues like hers. So instead of pushing the issue, I decided to change directions. “Maybe you could give me more… practical help, though?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Nothing yet,” I admitted. “Like I said, I’m more at the intention phase than the planning one… but, like you were saying about hide-and-seek? Maybe not that exactly, to begin with, but we can probably come up with something.”

“Like… I can try sneaking up on you at random intervals,” Steff said.

“You kind of tend to do that anyway.”

“Shorter ones?” she said.

“We’ll figure something out,” I said, and left it at that.

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25 Responses to “Chapter 95: Of Doors, Perception”

  1. Burnsidhe says:

    She’s learning to focus. I seem to recall Mack was easier to lead off on tangents before. 🙂

    Current score: 0
    • DarkSage says:

      Seems she has gained some determination along the way .
      Also,she’s setting some goals in her life now (sticking to them too).

      Current score: 0
  2. Julian Morrison says:

    ::squees:: I <3 Steff.

    Current score: 0
  3. Chimi says:

    And then Mack put three skill points into Perception.

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    • Eris Harmony says:

      I need to learn that trick. My modifier is possibly worse than Mack’s.

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      • Rin says:

        I tend to notice just about everything that goes on around me. And then completely forget about whatever was there 30 seconds later and run into it or something.

        Current score: 1
  4. Zathras IX says:

    It’s only human
    To fail to notice that one
    Isn’t just human

    Current score: 2
  5. Maahes0 says:

    I want to see Mack using this in her fighting class. Like putting on a blindfold and using smell sound and magic sense to detect people and their weapons charging her. Might please Coach.

    Current score: 2
    • Lyssa says:

      That’d be neat.

      Also, it’d be cool for her to practise fighting in her dreams, with copies of Callahan or something (the way the turtle copied Ian). Dunno if it’d work at all, though, and I doubt she’d even think of it or be motivated to do it. Still, I’m excited that she’s starting to become more aware of things around her. It’ll be neat to see her wizarding it up.

      Current score: 1
    • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

      Callahan would probably be legitimately impressed by that. Plus, it’d just be damn cool. I’d love to see her try something like that.

      Current score: 1
    • Ducky says:

      It would certainly impress Callahan, if she thought Mack was up to that level yet. She’s only been fighting for what, a month now? I feel like Callahan wouldn’t want Mack to learn how to fight blind before she really learned how to fight seeing.

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      • Burnsidhe says:

        Yup. Callahan wouldn’t discourage her from experimenting with it, but she would suggest that Mack not deliberately fight blind just yet.

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  6. Kappa says:

    “a sad sack full of smaller, sadder sacks”. Love it.

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    • helen rees says:

      typo alert – needs an ‘of’ i think.

      sad sack full smaller, sadder sacks.”

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  7. pedestrian says:

    It is not enough to mentally learn a skill. We each have to do the boring, repetitious practices to train/re-program our neuro-muscular system to physically respond to the mental effort.

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  8. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    “In dim light,” I corrected. “And some kinds of magical invisibility don’t work as well on me.”
    “And I know you can smell blood.”

    Extraneous period between paragraphs.

    “Did you leave one too many Mack-shaped dent in a wall?”

    Should be one too many “dents”.

    Current score: 0
    • helen rees says:

      unless you postulate that one is one too many, the desired number being zero.

      Current score: 0
  9. Chris says:

    I’m not sure what exactly Winnie’s gift is. I clicked the link, but didn’t see any particular talent outside of annoying our friendly neighborhood half-demon every time she opened her mouth (or maybe possessing the attention-span of a goldfish).

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      If Winnie’s laugh is among an assortment of Faerie gifts to her kinfolk, Mackenzie/infernal side would have a bhaaddd reaction to divine laughter.

      Also, I am guessing that a session with Teddi is in the cards for next chapter or two? That’d be interesting after the events and non-events of this week for Our Mack.

      Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      “She has an angel’s laugh.”

      Angels, being divine messengers, tend to have auras and energies that are directly inimical to demons and obviously half-demons.

      Fey gifts, as we’ve been reminded in this chapter, are literal.

      Current score: 0
  10. Zergonapal says:

    Spatial awareness is pretty cool when you think about it. But the trick is to not think about it or you pop the bubble.

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  11. pedestrian says:

    This just popped up off the top of my head.

    Could Mackenzie’s developing spatial sensitivity be some variation on echolocation?

    Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      It says in the chapter before, exactly what it is. It’s Mackenzie sensing the air, and everything that’s in the air, using her elemental attunements. Where air stops and matter begins, what makes up the different scents in the air, how the air moves, how air molecules are connected, everything.

      It’s not something she can concentrate on all the time, since it takes effort. But it’s not echolocation.

      The rest is just her paying attention to what she’s hearing.

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      • pedestrian says:

        Burnsidhe, I think I understand your point.

        However, after thinking about my previous posting, the idea I am trying to conceptualize is that what happens in a dream/trance/etheral plane possibly does not have mundane plane applications. Where as echolocation would be a very useful physical talent.

        I am of the opinion, that what the ROTT, as Sensei or Spirit Guide, is influencing Mackenzie towards is a subtle arts/psychological self-awareness. Providing the mental tools to discipline her own personality. Which would assist her to better cope with the ‘real world’ situations she encounters.

        Current score: 0
  12. Jane says:

    “It’s more of a social prohibition than an actual barrier.”
    I am reminded of the time in my mid-teens when my parents saw me coming home and opening the front door with my bus pass rather than a key. They were a little surprised to learn that no, I hadn’t forgotten my key, I used the bus pass because it was faster.
    The following week, they changed the lock on the front door.

    Current score: 0