304: Blowing In The Wind

on October 24, 2008 in Book 11

In Which Puddy Pulls A Fast One On Mackenzie

The silence which greeted Callahan’s announcement seemed to be deafening, but the noise which followed a few seconds after the silence would have been able to teach it a thing or two on the subject.

Most of it seemed to be positive… there were still threads of bitter anger just audible in bits and pieces, but now that the diviners had established that there had been no illegal enchantments or buffing, most of the crowd was accepting that they were allowed to be blown right the fuck away by what they had just seen.

“I don’t fucking believe it,” Steff said. She didn’t have to shout to be heard… an example of elven privilege. “She’s not that strong.”

“She’s stronger than me,” I yelled in response. “She always has been.”

“How is Mariel not paste?” Steff said.

I didn’t have an answer for that.

“It’s very loud in here,” Two said.

It took quite some time for the crowd to settle down, and in the end Callahan just gave a signal and got the matches underway again, then went off with the lead marshal, still arguing. I checked the program and saw BANKS LABELLE had been moved down to the next section, though she had an asterisk after her name. As I watched, it dissolved.

I would have expected Puddy’s act to be a tough one to follow, but once the realization that the matches were back on filtered throughout the stands, the audience seemed twice as rapt as before. I don’t know if they were thinking lightning was going to strike twice or what, but the fights did not exactly have my undivided attention from that point on.

I knew that Puddy really was that strong, and after seeing her display of brutality I had a slightly better idea of just how strong that strong was. The question was, how? She had some resemblance to a dwarf, but her supposed ancestry was so far back that it could hardly have made the difference here. Besides, while I imagined a properly braced dwarf could slice an unarmored man in two with a decent axe of dwarven make, I couldn’t quite picture one cleaving through enchanted mail and plate at the same time… and it wouldn’t be effortless.

She claimed to have giant blood, as well… but if appearance was an accurate indicator of heritage, then that had to be even more diluted than the dwarf portion. Of the other bloodlines she’d claimed, the only one I knew she had some documentation of was a nymphly great-great-grandmother, but that could hardly explain it. Her ancestors supposedly also included dragon and sidhe… I supposed the officials who checked for buffs would have been likely to notice if she happened to be a secret half-dragon or something, and I couldn’t see how being related to the sidhe would begin to help.

“I want to have a little talk with her,” Steff said, breaking into my thoughts.


“With Puddy,” Steff said. “I want to know how the hell she did that.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said, images of Steff’s body slowly starting to separate replaying over and over again in my mind.

“No, it’ll be fine,” Steff said. “You know her as well as anybody does… what do you think she’d do if somebody came up and went, ‘Hey, I saw you in the arena!’ She’s a total attention whore… she’ll eat that shit right up, and probably blab the secret before I even ask.”

“What are you going to do if she tells you?” I asked.

“Probably nothing,” Steff said. “I’m not the marshal of the lists and I didn’t have any money on the fight. I just want to know how the hell she did it. It’s going to bug me. Though… on the other hand,” she said, her eyes darting to the side and narrowing as she spoke, “it would give me another in with Jilly if I could bust her. Have you ever seen her so pissed?”

“Uh… not that I can remember,” I said, thinking of the time she’d apparently strangled me into unconsciousness.

Steff laughed.

“Oh, honey, she wasn’t all that mad when you challenged her,” Steff said. “Just a little ticked off.”

“If she’s actually just that strong… without any buffs… would that disqualify her?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Steff said. “I know there are size restrictions, but I don’t know if they benchmark strength, or how they would even do that… but anyway, how would she have got to be that strong without magic?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I can’t begin to figure it out. Even if her parents are rich enough and generous enough to shell out for a permanent strength enchantment… and it would have to be a huge one… I don’t think she’d have been able to hide it from the professional diviners.”

“Isn’t it harder to hide big enchantments than little ones?” Steff asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “And this one ought to be… well, I can barely imagine the scope of the resources it would take to cast it in the first place. To hide it, they’d basically have to do it twice. If she was going to cheat with enchantments, it would be much simpler to have a bunch of enhancements on her gear: a bunch of weightlessness, speed, strength, sharpness and stuff. But even if they were individually small enough to hide, the odds that they’d all go unnoticed… well, it’s not much better.”

“The helmet!” Steff said. “She pitched off her helmet, remember?”

“But wouldn’t that have been checked before?” I asked.

“Yeah, but obviously she pulled a fast one somehow… and smuggling in a replacement helmet would be a lot simpler than a lot of the things she could have done,” Steff said.

“Except she had to take the helmet off to pitch it,” I said.

“Oh, yeah,” Steff said. “But couldn’t it have been enchanted to work its magic when it’s in contact with her?”

“That would be levels of magnitude more difficult,” I said. “The nature of a helmet is that it’s worn on the head. Magic that goes against something’s nature is harder to work and harder to hide. For that matter, a helmet wouldn’t be the best medium for strengthening spells. Eyesight, hearing, willpower, mental acumen, protection… yeah. Juggling battleaxes and prancing around in plate? Not so much. Besides, as much as I love geeking out like this, Puddy’s strong enough to overpower me in her street clothes. Trust me on that.”

“If you say so,” Steff said. Stymied, she turned her attention reluctantly back down to the pit, swinging her legs in the narrow gap in front of the next seatback down, her face crinkling in irritation. “Damn it, though… I just wish I knew.”

“I know what you mean,” I said. I felt like I had more of the puzzle pieces in front of me but could see even less of the picture.

We watched the fights, though it was clear the highlight of the second round had came and went. Few people pulled out any more flashy enchantments, and those who did so were usually in the process of being defeated when they did so. The winners were the people who were saving their magic uses for later rounds, when they’d be fighting each other.

An announcement came near the end of the second round, jarring what remained of my attention: “Mack Blaise to the box office… Mack Blaise to the box office.”

Maybe it was just because I hadn’t been paying attention to the crowd noise before, but it seemed to me like there was some murmuring at the sound of my name. I know I didn’t imagine the people I saw in the area down in front of us who turned and looked over their shoulder, some of them pointing less-than-discreetly.

“You could ignore it,” Steff said. “It’s probably a reporter or something.”

“How would they know I’m here?” I asked. “Maybe it’s Ian, or a message from him.”

“How would he know you’re here?”

“I was operating under the theory that he might have invited me,” I said.

“I’ll come with you,” Steff said.

I shook my head… if it was Ian, maybe he wanted a kiss for luck or something boyfriendy like that. I didn’t want to show up to meet him with Steff on my arm.

“You stay and watch the matches with Two,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried.

It wasn’t Ian who was waiting at the counter for me, but Mariel the sylph, among the more exotic residents of our exotic dorm… a five-foot tall, lithe air sprite with four arms and long silvery-blue hair, dressed as always in a dress that fulfilled only the barest minimum requirements for actual existence. Her hair had once flowed down well below her ass, but she’d cut it since the last time I saw her into a much shorter pageboy flip kind of thing. I wondered how much weight she’d lost… most of it, probably.

“Hi,” she said curtly. The single syllable word was barely a blip of her lips. It took me a couple of seconds to sort out that she’d actually said it instead of just opening and closing her mouth.

“Uh, hi,” I said.

“Puddy says your presence is distracting her,” Mariel said. “She wants you to leave.”

“I’m distracting her?” I said.

“That’s what she says.”

Right, I thought. Puddy says. I almost hadn’t recognized Puddy down in the pit, where she’d been standing by herself. There was no way she could have spotted my face in the crowd. It was kind of incredible to think that Mariel had just happened to notice me… but more credible than her claim that Puddy had seen, or that Puddy wanted me to leave. I didn’t even know if Mariel and Puddy were actually together any more.

“Well, I’m here with friends, Mariel, and we’re planning on staying until Ian fights,” I said.


“My boyfriend,” I said.

“When does he fight?”

“Not until late,” I said. “He’s an unarmed fighter.”

“So you could leave and come back,” she said.

“I’m not going to leave,” I said. “I’m here with friends.”

“Just for her match,” Mariel said.

“Why should I?”

Because-she-doesn’t-want-you-here!” Mariel said, the words exploding out of her in a torrent as she jumped up and down, waving her arms angrily around. It was easy to see why the older drawings of sylphs gave them hummingbird wings… it looked like she actually got a little lift from flapping her arms. She kept talking, too, but the words all blurred together indistinguishably.

“Okay, okay!” I said. “I’ll go hang out with Amaranth when she fights.”

“You have to leave the arena,” Mariel said.

“It’s out of sight,” I said. “There’s no way she could even know if I was there or not.”

“She told me to make sure you promise to be all the way out of the arena,” Mariel said.

“How would she even know if I kept my promise?” I said. “For all she knows, I could tell you I’m leaving, and then go back and sit in my seat. She’d never know.”

Mariel didn’t say anything, she just stood there staring at me, folding and re-folding her arms. She knew… or Puddy knew, or suspected… that I wouldn’t make a promise and then deliberately break it.

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll go out in the hallway, or something. Is that far enough?”

“She just said out of the arena,” Mariel said. “You promise?”

“Yeah, I promise,” I said. “But tell Puddy to chill, okay? Whatever’s passed between us, there shouldn’t be any reason we can’t be in the same…”

I blinked mid-sentence and realized that Mariel had taken my answer and vanished, leaving me talking to her wake. Lovely. Well, it wasn’t like I cherished her company or anything.

There was a possible angle for Steff’s “snuck in a ringer” theory, though… so many aspects of university life were arranged around human expectations. That meant somebody could have really pulled a fast one… would they have any precautions against a gladiator whose girlfriend could literally run like the wind? Mariel could have switched out some of Puddy’s gear after it was checked… or maybe smuggled in something small, like a ring. Rings were more versatile than helmets, enchantment-wise, and small enough that she could have hid it in the helmet before she…

No. That was even worse than the magic helmet theory. She wouldn’t even have been touching the ring when she lobbed the helmet. That, and it didn’t account for the fact that Puddy had shown the same awful strength before.

Of course, if it was something small, it could have been on her the whole time… then taken off before the match, snuck in by Mariel, and hidden in the helmet and flung out of range of the diviners. She stomps off the field, retrieves her charm or whatever from the helmet before they think to check…

But she’d been superhumanly strong when she threw the helmet.

There was just no way to make it add up. It was ridiculously unlikely that she was that strong to begin with, that she could have a sizable enough enchantment to make her that strong, that she could have hidden it… I couldn’t make sense of it, no matter how I tried.

As much as I would have loved to keep myself and everybody I cared about as far away from Puddy as I could, it seemed like Steff was right about one thing: the only way to find out would be to ask. I’d do it myself, though, just in case it got ugly… Steff was a far better fighter, but I was a lot closer to matching Puddy in strength, and I knew she was afraid of my fire.

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4 Responses to “304: Blowing In The Wind”

  1. Arkeus says:

    Aaaaaand Mack’s back to promising stuff left and right.

    Current score: 2
  2. Arakano says:

    “and I couldn’t see how being related to the sidhe would begin to help.” – REALLY, Mack, you couldn’t? Weird magic phenomenons not explainable by anyone, and you have NO IDEA how frigging FAERIES might enter into that?

    Someone needs to brush up on her folklore…

    Current score: 4
  3. Anthony says:

    Was anyone else picturing Mariel with fox ears in that scene? 😛

    Current score: 2
  4. Sher says:

    Seriously? What’s wrong with Mack? If you’re trying to make us hate her, you’re pretty much doing a great job. 😛

    Current score: 0