256: While You Were Out…

on July 18, 2008 in Book 10

In Which Mackenzie Has Reservations

The first thing I felt was the cold, followed by the hard mass at my back. I was on my back on a slab of ice, in a walk-in freezer. Above me hung a featureless blue ceiling. My lungs ached, my throat hurt, and I ached all over… but nothing I felt began to compare to the pain in my head. It felt like an egg that something had hatched out of.

A voice came to me, ringing out through the frigid air and echoing among the pieces of my shattered skull.

“Johnson, get rid of that fucking boner or I’ll get rid of it for you. Not like that! Go help your friend.”

Okay… so, I was in a walk-in freezer with Coach Callahan and Steff.

If not for the actual sensations which were assaulting every fiber of my being, I would have thought for sure that it was a dream. I still wasn’t entirely convinced that it wasn’t.

I wondered when Sooni was going to show up.

Steff came into hazy focus in front of me.

“Oh my fuck, are you okay?” she asked. She was doing some weird bit of elven magic… throwing her voice so that it sounded far away when she was right in front of me.

Also, there may have been two of her.

“Cold,” I said. She disappeared… I don’t mean she left, I mean she disappeared, like she teleported or something, and then something heavy and furry jumped on me. I yelped, then figured out that it was my coat… though it was cold as an icicle itself. I sat up a bit and got it turned around the right way, then bundled myself up in it. “Where am I?”

I looked around and saw there were a bunch of vaguely-familiar looking people, including Coach Jill Callahan. I figured out the answer to my own question right as Steff was answering.

“We’re on the field, hon,” she said. “It’s melee class.”

“What?” The last thing I clearly remembered was… lunch or breakfast, I wasn’t sure. The whole day was kind of running together, for some reason. My only strong memories were of Amaranth… her radiant smile, the touch of her hand, the feel of her skin.

“Hey, Jilly Bean, I think you broke her brain!” Steff yelled off to the side as she helped me gingerly to my feet. I leaned on her, not so much because I couldn’t stand on my own as I didn’t want to. I wanted Amaranth, but Steff was here and she was solid and she was all I had to hold onto.

“Tell her to walk it off!” Callahan yelled back. “Hey, wait… bring her around over here.”

We walked unsteadily over to the leather-clad fighting instructor, who looked me up and down.

“I guess you took home the wrong lesson from your little island dance party on Tuesday, Emo Kid,” she said. “I already know you’re willing to fight. You don’t have to keep proving that. Now it’s time to show me you’re willing… and able… to learn. You come back next week with your weapon and with a thorough understanding of the reading I gave you, or by the Dark Herald, we will do this again. Johnson, get her the fuck out of here.”

The words barely registered. I knew what she was saying… I just didn’t know why she was saying it. It was like my life was happening out of order. Had I made it to any of my other classes?

One thing penetrated: the mention of my weapon. I didn’t want to just leave without it, but Steff was leading me away from the mocking tables.

“We have to get my pitchfork,” I said as Steff led me away.

“You didn’t bring it, hon,” she said.

“Of course I did,” I said. “Where is it?”

It was mixed melee. Why wouldn’t I have brought it? On top of that, I had the strongest impression that I’d been carrying the damned thing around all day. I might not have remembered anything else, but I remembered that.

“Seriously, it isn’t here. Anyway, not that the bit at the end wasn’t made of sex, but what the hell got into you?” Steff asked. “I thought for a minute you were trying to give me a little show, since you know how much I like watching Jill give people the beat down… but then you started throwing fire around…”

“I did what?”

“Hon, do you really not remember?”

I shook my head once, then regretted it. The rapid movement was not doing anything good for me.

“Oh, shit,” she said. “I don’t think that’s good.”

“What the hell did that crazy bitch do to me?” I asked.

“Well, she strangled you to death, but I don’t think that’s the problem,” Steff said. “You were…”

“How is somebody strangling me not a problem?” I asked. “Steff, I want out of this class.”

“Hon, you need this class,” Steff said.

“I don’t care,” I said. “I’m sick of that cave troll finding excuses to use me as a practice dummy.”

“Hon, you challenged her,” Steff said. “After showing up without your pitchfork… she wasn’t entirely in the wrong here.”

“I know I had my pitchfork,” I said.

Steff sighed.

“We just fed you a couple weeks ago,” she said. “Is it too soon…”

“Yes, it’s too soon,” I said. “It’s way too soon. Anyway, when I got hungry, it didn’t affect my memory. I almost wish that it had, but I remember everything I did… everything I thought. This has got to be something that Callahan did.”

“I don’t think it was,” Steff said. “You were already acting weird before that. Anyway, I guess if you ordered some virgin blood for tonight, you should be okay.”

That stopped me in my tracks. I pulled away from Steff, looking at her while I tried to figure out what the hell she was talking about.

“What?” she asked.

“Why would I order virgin blood for tonight?” I asked. “It’s our date tonight, Steff!”

“Um, I know that,” Steff said. “I just figured if you were ordering a meal from a place like you-know-where, you’d go ahead and get some while you were at it. You… um… do know where, right? Where you ordered dinner from, I mean?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said. “Can we please go find Amaranth? I love you, Steff, but… I can’t handle this. My head hurts, I’m sore, I’m tired, and I want Amaranth.”

“Okay, okay, we’ll go find her,” Steff said. “If asphyxiation always makes you this whiny, I’m going to have to revise some of my fantasies.”

I leaned up against her, and she put her arm around me.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I feel like shit, though… like my whole body’s been chewed up and spit out. I don’t understand what happened to me back there, and I don’t really remember anything that happened today.”

“Did you drink or eat anything weird?”

“No,” I said. “I haven’t eaten anything that didn’t come from the dining hall.”

“You sure about that?”

“Breakfast and lunch are about the only things I remember clearly, so… yeah,” I said.

“Hmm,” Steff said. “Okay, but what if you ate something during the time you don’t remember? I mean, something happened to you, right?”

“I guess,” I said. My head hurt too much to get into a bunch of logic. “But it seems like I’ve had a headache all day.”

“Maybe we should find Dee,” Steff said.

“I want Amaranth.”

“We’re going to find her,” Steff said. “But, um… do you remember what you had planned for our date?”

The question hit me like a punch to the gut, which was about the only part of my body that wasn’t already hurting. Of all the things to space off… I’d already been close to crying, but when I realized that I’d done absolutely nothing to get ready for our date and we only had a few hours to go, the fat tears just started tumbling down my cheeks.

“Shit, I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t… I never sat down and figured that out. I meant to, Steff, I really did.”

“Okay, hon, don’t cry… but, right before you went off on Callahan, you told me that you had it all taken care of,” she said.

“I… I did?”

“Yeah,” Steff said.

“What did I say?”

“Here, dry your eyes first,” Steff said. “I… I don’t think we should talk about this if you’re already upset.”

That shocked me out of my tears.

“Why? Steff, what exactly did I say?”

“Well, um, for one thing, we have a reservation at the Havenwood,” Steff said.

“Is that a restaurant?”

“No, it’s one of the nicer inns,” Steff said. “Not the nicest, but… well, we took a room there once, and it was like fifteen silver. You told me we had a suite.”

A suite. Even with my nonexistent experience in dealing with the hospitality industry, I could grasp the essential fact that a suite would be larger and more expensive than a room.

“Shit,” I said. “What’s that going to be? Twenty? Thirty?”

“I don’t know,” Steff said. “But if you don’t want it, you’d better cancel it fast before they decide to charge you for it anyway.”

“No, no, whatever it is, one night’s not going to break me,” I said. I was trying to look on the bright side… I hadn’t spaced the date completely, even if I had spaced the not-spacing. “I just wonder what I was thinking. I mean, having a private room… I see the advantages, but I don’t want to rush right in, and we’re going to have to get up and check out early for classes…”

“Well… um… you said you could afford to miss the morning,” Steff said.

“I said what?”

I winced at the sound of my voice echoing inside my head. Steff winced even harder, though.

“Really, you said it,” she said. “I thought it was strange, but then Callahan interrupted us…”

“It’s quiz day tomorrow, though,” I said. “Though… I do have a free grade, and I’ve been doing really well otherwise. I wonder if that’s what I was thinking?”

“Hon… I’m not sure you were thinking,” Steff said.

“Oh, fuck you, too,” I said. “I feel lousy enough without you making fun of me.”

“No, Mack, I mean… I’m not sure it was you that was thinking.”

I stared at her, not even beginning to grasp what she was saying.

“You think I got this idea from somebody else?” I asked.

Actually, once I’d said it out loud, I realized that was possible. I mean, it was a very odd thing to speculate about things that I myself might have done and forgotten about… but hadn’t Sooni said she’d booked a room for our date? Maybe I’d gotten the idea from her.

“I… um… well, at first I thought you were hungry, like I said,” Steff said. “But if you don’t remember what you did… that doesn’t match up with what you said happened last time, but it does match up with some other demony phenomena.”

“Hold on,” I said. “If you’re talking about possession…”

Something weird happened to you,” Steff said.

That was becoming apparent, but possession was a huge leap. I’d never once considered that I could be possessed. There was already a demon inside me… me. Anyway, it wasn’t like I was exactly inexperienced in that area. There had been at least a dozen possession victims in and out of my grandmother’s house while I was staying there.

“First of all, I’m not exactly an at-risk type,” I said. “Second of all, I know what possession is like. I’ve seen it. My… I used to know an exorcist.”

“But have you felt it?” Steff said. “Do you think possessed people know they’re possessed? Besides, I haven’t told you what you said the rest of the date was going to be.”

“There’s more?” I said. “I want to say that’s good, because I really don’t want this to just be a, you know, booty thing… but the way you’re looking at me, I’ve got a feeling you’re going to tell me it’s not so good.”

“Well, I thought it sounded great,” she said. “Kind of. But… oh, hon, I want so much for you to want this, but I have a feeling you won’t, now that you’re back to yourself.”

“Just tell me,” I said. “I mean, an inn room isn’t that crazy, and we still don’t have any proof that I wasn’t myself.”

She looked around. We were getting more into the heart of campus now. It was the middle of a class period, but most people were already done for the day and some of them were out and about.

“Let’s go some place where there aren’t so many people,” Steff said.

“I don’t want to go anywhere unless it’s to Amaranth,” I said. I knew I sounded like a baby, but I felt horrible and I just knew that she’d make me feel better. “Tell me here, or tell me in front of her.”

“I’m not sure Amy’s going to understand this,” Steff said. “But, there’s nothing wrong with it… it’s just food, the same as any other kind.”

“What is?” I asked, with a sinking feeling in my stomach.

“And it’s completely natural… for you, anyway,” she said.

All of a sudden that sinking feeling was more of a rising feeling. I hadn’t… I couldn’t have…

Steff put her hands on my shoulders and looked into my eyes.

“Mack, no matter what was running through your head… or was in your head… or whatever… I think you could enjoy this, if you let yourself,” she said.

“Enjoy what?” I asked. “Just tell me.”

“People,” she said. “Humans. Eating them.”

I clamped my mouth shut as acidic sick flooded my throat, the memory of Rocky’s finger going crunch, crunch, of pig bones being chomped and swallowed flooded my head.

“Mack, don’t overreact. I use dead bodies all the time,” Steff said. “Every day. It isn’t…”

“Did I… I didn’t kill someone, did I?” I whispered.

She shook her head.

“You ordered out.”

“From where?”

“A place called Tender Mercy’s,” Steff said. “It’s a restaurant, of sorts, in the low quarter… they buy slaves, sometimes bodies or parts, but they also do stuff, um, to order.”

“To order?” I repeated.

“Yeah,” she said. “You tell them what you want, and…”

“Oh, fuck,” I said. My knees turned to water. Steff caught me, supporting me with her arms under my armpits. “I did kill someone.”

“No, hon, you didn’t,” Steff said, pulling me in close. “You didn’t tell me what we’re having, and even if you did, it’s all perfectly legal.”

“Steff, I don’t care if it’s legal,” I said. “If somebody got cut up because I ordered it, that means that I…”

I felt the pain in my windpipe and saw Steff’s hand moving back. She was around behind me with her hand clamped over my mouth before I realized she’d punched me in the throat.

“Hon, if you want to go to Amy, I’ll take you to Amy,” she whispered. “I really think we should probably keep this to ourselves, but it’s your decision. What I won’t let you do is let you get yourself killed over this… and if you start running around campus screaming about killing people, someone’s going to do something about it. Do you understand?”

I nodded meekly. She shifted her hand so that instead of covering my mouth, she was only holding up a single finger, hushing me. I relaxed a little bit at the reminder of Amaranth’s ownership and Steff’s authority over me.

“Now, there are two things you need to understand,” she said quietly. “The first is that Mercy, before she got into the restaurant business, was an old-school assassin. You do not want to cross her. The second is that she doesn’t do refunds and all orders are final. The order with your name on it is probably already being processed… if I’m right, it’s not your fault it got placed, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Anyway, it’s not like they went out and grabbed somebody off the street… whoever was up on the chopping block, it was just their time. If you hadn’t put in an order, the next person would still have come along.”

I couldn’t agree with that… yeah, somebody else would have ordered even if I hadn’t, but that didn’t change the fact that I had ordered. Unless, of course, Steff was right about the possession. I couldn’t fit that idea into my head… I really felt like I should know if I’d been possessed.. but I was starting to hope it was true.

Steff released me.

“Can we please go to Amaranth now?” I asked. I was trying not to cry… or throw up… or break down. “I… really… want to see her now.”

“Okay,” she said. “But I’m going to tell her the same thing I’m telling you: you need a cleric and a psion to check you out… and I don’t know anybody we can trust for that besides Dee.”

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3 Responses to “256: While You Were Out…”

  1. pedestrian says:

    These wacky college kids! The zany scamps are always stumbling into one rollicking, madcap adventure after another!

    Current score: 5
  2. Anon says:

    Logically, a regeneration spell is going to be a lot cheaper than a slave. Unless somebody special orders a heart or a brain, or pays enough to get a slave slaughtered in front of them, you probably aren’t killing anybody when you order from Tender Mercy’s.

    Unless she cares more about authenticity of experience than about efficiency or economics.

    Which she might.

    Current score: 3
    • Kanta says:

      I recall a story about two PCs lost in the desert with a ring of regeneration and no food. When they finally got out and confronted the villain who had dropped them there, they were pissed.

      Current score: 4