255: Showdown

on July 17, 2008 in Book 10

In Which Mackenzie Is Of Two Minds

Steff didn’t join us for lunch, but Ian caught up with us as we were leaving the union, which was a nice surprise. I didn’t have a lot of energy for him, unfortunately… I was in a very snuggly mood, and was pretty much draping myself over Amaranth as we walked. On top of the beautiful warm feeling she generated, her presence was soothing for whatever it was that was making me feel so agitated and achy.

If I could have taken off my clothes and put every inch of my skin against every inch of hers in turn, I would have been in heaven.

Assuming we went some place warmer first.

“Are you okay, Mackenzie?” Ian asked me, after we exchanged greetings and I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before darting back to Amaranth.

“I’m just fine now,” I said, pressing up against Amaranth’s bare side.

“You seemed a bit… off… earlier,” he said.

“You know what I think it is?” Amaranth said. “I think it’s the weather. The first frost of the year… that, or your feeding schedule. Maybe both.”

“Can’t be my feeding schedule,” I said. “It’s too early.”

“You said that last time,” she said. “I know you don’t want to feed, and I appreciate the reasons why, but this isn’t something we can afford to ignore. You were incredibly lucky last time.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I said, a little lazily. “I just can’t imagine anything bad happening, right now.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Ian asked again.

“Yes, I’m sure,” I said.

“Don’t worry, Ian,” Amaranth said. “I’ll be keeping a close eye on her.”

My headache started to come back on my way to my basic enhancements lab, though it passed pretty quickly this time. The class was a complete and utter waste of time. I couldn’t concentrate on my work… and didn’t really want to. My mind kept going to Steff, and my plans.

It seemed hard to believe, but the thoughts of my dinner date had completely chased away my visions of Two. Yeah, it was weird that I was more excited by the prospect of dead and cooked meat than something raw and wriggling, something with the capacity to feel fear and pain… but there it was.

I think it was because I was looking forward to sharing it with Steff, the most incredible person I’d ever met.

She understood how the world worked… was fuck or be fucked, kill or be killed, and she was willing to do both, in spades. Sure, she had her weak spots, but we were young… There would be plenty of time for us both to learn and grow, together.

Call me sappy, but I could really see a future for myself with Steff. Kilrest sounded like the perfect place for me. Fresh clear mountain air… plenty of food… and a half-ogre overlord who would probably know just how to use me best.

I’d never been more eager to head over to the field. Part of it was the thrill of seeing Steff, my Steff… the girl who wanted to carve her name in my ass, the one who couldn’t get enough of the taste of my blood… and whose blood wasn’t exactly unpleasant tasting itself.

She didn’t show any sign of recognition as I approached, so I pushed back the hood of my coat. It was stiflingly hot, anyway.

“Mack!” she said. “Oh, shit, I didn’t… if I’ve seen you in that coat before, I must have repressed the memory.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty fucking hideous,” I said. “I don’t know why Two let me buy it. You weren’t at lunch.”

“Yeah, I’m… jitters,” she said. “About our date. Do you, um, know where we’re going yet?”

“Uh, hell yeah, I do,” I said.

The way she had said it, it sounded like she thought I might have flaked off on it entirely, or something. That would be something we’d have to work on in our relationship… I loved Steff, but she needed to understand that when I said I was going to do something, it got done.

“Ooh, what is it?” she asked, clapping her hands.

There was something very alluring about that level of pure, unadulterated girlish glee in somebody who debased corpses for fun and profit. It was like a snake wrapped in a silk stocking… a pretty poison dipped in chocolate.

“I’m trying to decide if I should tell you, or keep it a surprise,” I said. Part of me wanted to draw the pleasure out, like a knife slowly slipping from a wound… but part of me felt like we’d been patient long enough.

“Oh, tell me, please!” she said. “No, wait… don’t. Keep it a… oh, tell me!”

I grinned slyly, looked around to make sure nobody was too close, and then whispered, “Have you ever heard of a little restaurant in the lower quarter, called Tender Mercy’s?”

I couldn’t have asked for a better response than I got: Steff went still, and a little pale. She actually quivered a little.

“Viktor and I were going to eat there after finals,” she said quietly. “But we never really had time. All summer, every time we had… well, I always wondered if it would be better if it was professionally prepared, you know?”

“Now you’re going to find out,” I told her.

“For… real? We’re really going to eat at TM’s?”

“Not quite,” I said. “I’ve ordered us a meal, but it’s going to be delivered to our suite at the Havenwood.”

A smile broke out over her face, like a beautiful sculpture being smashed to bits by an even more beautiful one. She threw her arms around me. Her cock jerked and twitched up against me, reminding me that no matter how she presented herself, her body had certain functions that it would be almost criminal to ignore.

I wondered how she felt about children.

On second thought, I wondered how Viktor would feel about them. Unless I could find one of my own kind to mate with, my children would sadly be weak in comparison to me… but a quarter-demon, quarter-ogre mix would be stronger than a plain quarter-demon. That was to say nothing of political power… if that child grew to have dominion over a stronghold full of ogres…

Like I said, I could see a future with Steff.

“I guess we’ll just have to make sure we get up early so we can get to classes,” Steff said.

“Get up? I’m not planning on going to bed until the sun’s up,” I said. “I don’t have anything in the morning I can’t skip, and my first class in the afternoon isn’t until three-fifteen. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m acing it so far, so I could skip that one, too, if it came to it.”

She pulled away from me.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Are you… are you feeling okay?” she asked.

“Why do people keep asking me that?” I said. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this good.”

Before Steff could say anything else, there was a shrill whistle blast. Class was starting.

“Emo Kid!” Callahan barked.

What?” I yelled, wheeling around to see her stomping over towards us.

“I was going to ask you if you did your homework, but instead I’m going to ask: why am I not surprised that you decided to show up without a weapon?”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” I asked, raising my hand. “My weapon’s right here.”

“Yeah, nice try. I can see invisible, kid, so don’t bother pulling that gag on me,” she said. “Maybe I’ll be ‘nice’ and declare today an unarmed combat day instead of booting you out on your ass… we don’t normally do hard striking and kicking because you can’t mock fists and feet, but with you in the class that might not be a problem.”

“Anybody who strikes me is losing a limb,” I said.

“Bold words,” she said. “So, did you do the assigned reading?”

“Want to try me and find out for yourself?” I said.

There was actually shock on her face, and for a moment I thought that I’d just called her bluff… I felt triumph mingled with disappointment. It would be pleasant to have exposed her as a fraud, but I’d rather have the satisfaction of pounding her stupid mohawk flat.

Then she began to smile… the most wonderful, most beautiful smile I’d ever seen. All at once, I understood exactly what Steff saw in her.

It was almost a shame I was about to destroy her so completely. She was going to learn just what a weapon my body could be.

“Emo Kid… you just made my fucking day,” she said, shrugging out of the strap with her broadsword. “Take off that owlbear costume and we’ll get to it. Dobbs!”

Her TA came trotting over like the little lapdog he was. She held out the sword to him.

Don’t touch the pommel,” she said as he took it.

“You’re going to fight me unarmed?” I asked, surprised. Did she really not understand what a perfectly honed killing implement she was facing? “Hardly seems fair.”

“I’d have to give up more arms than that for this to be a fair fight,” she said. “Ditch the coat, and let’s do it.”

I gladly cast off the swelteringly hot garment and squared off. I didn’t wait for a whistle or a bow or any of that shit… I knew Callahan wouldn’t wait, either.

Instead, I launched myself at her with speed that no human… or whatever breed of mutt she was… could possibly match, bounding across the distance between us. I’d have my teeth around her neck before she even realized the fight had begun.

Unfortunately, for reasons I didn’t completely understand, my legs didn’t seem up to the task of moving at that speed. They got tangled up with each other and I went from being a deadly spear with my teeth aimed at her throat into a lawn dart aimed at her feet. An iron-tipped boot caught me in the face as I plowed into the ground in front of her.

I shoved off the ground hard in order to vault to my feet, but Callahan “helped” me with another kick. I was knocked back a bit, but I landed on my feet… a little wobbly, but not too bad. The pain was irritating. Even worse, I could feel something scrabbling around at the back of my brain that wanted it… something that would have loved nothing more than to see me on the ground, being ground under Callahan’s heel.

I pushed that away. It was a bad thought, a weak thought, and it didn’t belong in my head. I was a victor. I was a render. I was a destroyer. I would tear this stupid woman apart, and if there was even a single drop of human blood in her veins, I would drink it.

She took a swing at me while I was fighting back the intrusive presence in my mind, but I raised a hand to catch her blow. She opened her fist mid-swing and wrapped her hand around my fingers, squeezing and wrenching them with mortal-bone-breaking force.

“Ow!” somebody cried, with a voice that should be mine.

I could have yanked hard enough to wrench her arm out of the socket while she stupidly clung on to me, but my knees were going weak and my eyes were filming over with moisture.

“Say you didn’t read the homework and I’ll let you off with a fail grade for today,” Callahan said, swinging me around and letting me go. I hit the ground.

“Get… out… of… my… head!” I screamed.

“E.K., if you let me get to you that badly, the fight’s going to be over before it starts, every time,” Callahan said, stalking slowly over towards me.

It was time for me to get smart. It made no sense, but my body was feebly unprotected against pain and completely uncoordinated. Worse, there was something trapped in my head and trying to get out that seemed to like things that way. After I got out of this fight, I’d have to do something about that, permanently, but for now I just needed it to shut the hell up long enough for me to kill Callahan.

If I couldn’t bring her down through direct assault, I’d have to try something else… it wasn’t like I didn’t have other options, abilities that no mere “Emo Kid” could muster.

I rolled over onto my back, making a good show of being weakened from pain… something that didn’t take a lot of effort, I’m sad to say. I waited until she was practically standing on top of me. Predictably, she lifted up her boot to smash it down on my face.

I raised my arms as if to attempt to shield myself.

Please! Yes! that awful, tiny little voice in my head said.

No! I answered, and twin streams of glorious fire shot out of my arms, enveloping her form.

She laughed. The boot came down. My vision swam, and the fire stream went out at once, leaving no sign it had been there.

“Nice try, Emo Kid,” Callahan said, dropping a knee down onto my stomach. “But do you think all my gear’s for show? I’ve fought dragons. A little cut-rate hellfire’s not getting through my defenses.”

I whipped my head and torso up, snapping my teeth at her. Her hand intercepted me, catching my neck. She leaned forward, putting pressure on my stomach and forcing me back to the ground.

“But you didn’t know that, of course,” she said. “That means you just pulled lethal force on me, with means outside the bounds of our combat… and that means this is self-defense.”

She started to squeeze. I tried to pry her fingers off my throat, but apparently fire resistance wasn’t the only thing she was packing in her gear… her grip was like iron.

No, it was worse than iron. Iron could be bent. Iron could be broken.

“Do you have to breathe, Emo Kid?” she asked me as my lungs began to scream. “I mean, I assume you do because of the pretty color your face is turning. But will you die without air, or just pass out? Let’s find out, together.”

I didn’t know, and couldn’t answer. Bright spots were starting to appear in my vision, and the world was going dark around the edges… so dark, too dark for my eyes to penetrate.

“I never get an excuse to kill the students I’d actually want to. I’ve always wondered what I would do, if it happened… I guess we’ll let fate decide. If there’s anybody you feel like saying a silent prayer to, now might be the time,” she said. “If not, it might be time for some last minute shopping.”

I was dying. I had to escape… had to hide, had to flee, before it was too late, before I was trapped forever in an unconscionably weak shell of rotting meat.

I ran, back to the only hiding place that I knew.

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6 Responses to “255: Showdown”

  1. zeel says:

    Hah, Callahan actually reminds me of GLaDOS here.

    “I mean, I assume you do because of the pretty color your face is turning. But will you die without air, or just pass out? Let’s find out, together.”

    I can just here it in that computerized voice, devoid of any emotion.

    Current score: 7
    • capybroa says:

      Try it in a Stephen Hawking voice.

      Current score: 2
    • Leila says:

      Gah, now I can’t get that voice out of my head…

      Current score: 0
  2. Jechtael says:

    Hm. I was assuming it was Mackenzie’s dark side, but maybe ScaryMack is something that was inhabiting the pitchfork?

    Current score: 2
    • Anon says:

      Which would be why the fork was gone in the morning. Sleeping curled up around it all night was enough for it to move in and thus it didn’t need the shell.

      Current score: 0
      • Anon says:

        And it then follows that Callahan was dealing with the demon in the fork the same way that old Brimstone Blaise dealt with the one in that baby in the bonus chapter. By making it absolutely sure that she would kill the host, and destroy it too, if it didn’t get out fast.

        Current score: 1