322: Ruffling Feathers

on November 24, 2008 in Book 12

In Which Mackenzie’s Descent Begins

I impressed myself by not forgetting that I had to book for the carriages after my thaumatology lecture got out, only to freak out momentarily when my mirror went nuts because I’d forgotten about the alert I set. The fact that the last mirror had been compromised by infernal interference made me a little paranoid when it started jumping around inside my pocket.

Infernal interference… what were the odds that this was a coincidence, when my pitchfork was on the loose? I decided it was probably pretty good… nothing Dee had said about the entity suggested that the thing was any kind of a long-term planner.

I’d asked Steff to come along because I wanted to give her some support, but I really would have appreciated some support from her when it was time to board the carriage into town. I knew that it was as simple as just climbing in… I’d never been challenged or repelled or ambushed by some authoritative person telling me I was doing everything wrong, but this would be my first time making the trip alone.

And joy of joys, it turned out I wasn’t making it alone. There were five people waiting for the eleven-thirty trip, and I was sort of on a schedule so I couldn’t wait for the next one. Not that the traffic was likely to decrease any as we approached noon.

I tried not to stand too close to the gaggle of girls who were waiting right on the painted line where the coach would pull up, but the conversations still died down as eyes flitted in my direction. I thought I recognized two of them from the lecture I’d just come from.

“You know, I’m going to talk to you later,” a girl said, her face towards her friend but her eyes on me. “I don’t feel like a ride into town right now.”

“Yeah, me, too,” another one said, and they and a third girl all peeled off from the group and dashed back towards the campus proper.

The girl they’d been talking to gave me a murderous look, like it was my fault, and I realized in shock that her hair was actually black and gray feathers, the arms hidden under the poncho-like coat she was wearing were actually wings, and she had taloned feet sticking out from the bottom of her ill-fitting black jeans. Apparently I was so socially toxic I could drive off a harpy’s friends. Nice. She wasn’t anybody I’d seen around Harlowe, though… maybe she was more integrated into human society.

“Well, anyway,” the other person standing with her said to her. At a glance, I’d taken him to be a slightly dyke-ish girl rather than a skinny guy with eyeliner and a lot of jewelry. “Like I was saying before, I didn’t get a good look… Steff was doing her work experience when they brought him in, and she said he was all fucked up.”

I bit back an urge to blurt out “Oh, you know Steff?” There was no doubt it was my Steff he was talking about… the guy looked like a necromancer, and he had to be talking about the unfortunate student who’d been killed on campus. It wasn’t the time to try to make friends, though… not when his girlfriend was still watching me like a vulture, not even reacting to his gruesome gossip.

Actually, that was probably racist.

The carriage arrived. I climbed into the opposite seat from the happy couple, slid all the way into the far corner and pulled out my mirror, looking forward to a long and awkward silence.

I was disappointed.

“So you’re the girl who lost us the first skirmish match,” the harpy said once we were underway.

“Oh, don’t start,” the guy said.

“I think the team had something to do with that, actually,” I said.

“Hey, fuck you!” she said, giving me a gesture that can only be described as “flipping the bird”. “We worked our pinfeathers off, but it hardly mattered since you gutted our squad.”

“Wait… you’re telling me you are on the skirmish team?” I asked. “You?”

“Death from above, bitch,” she said. “Only, without Belinda to draw their attention, the archers turned me into a shish kebab. And, just so you know… they can’t mock falling.”

What could I say to that? It sucked for her, but I wasn’t ready to apologize for the fact that she’d chosen to put herself in a position where people would be trying to blast her out of the real sky with illusionary weapons. Belinda or no Belinda, the risk was still there… I couldn’t imagine there were rules against putting a slow fall spell on flying fighters. In fact, since they couldn’t mock falling, it was surprising that they didn’t require it.

Maybe that was just more anthropocentrism, though. Humans couldn’t fly without magic. No wizard mastered flying spells without learning how to float and levitate themselves first, and they would tend to keep spells like those in place as a basic safety precaution as they set about learning to fly.

Hell, for all I knew, it was a requirement, but when the coaches or captains went around with a checklist of who was casting what, it just slipped their mind to take care of the natural flyer.

“Hey, did you hear me, dummy?” the harpy said. “Don’t go staring off into space when I’m talking to you. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“Ignore her, babe,” her boyfriend said. “She’s not worth your time. Everybody knows she’s an idiot.”

I decide to take his advice, even though it hadn’t been aimed at me. We only had to put up with each other’s presence for a little while and then we’d be going our separate ways. Hopefully we’d end up heading back to campus at different times, and then I’d never have to see either of them again.

He didn’t know me, and neither did the “everybody” who’d told him I was an idiot. As for his fine feathered friend, she was just some flying jock who had to find somebody to scapegoat for her starring turn as the Amazing Falling Pincushion.

This time, I was ready for the intrusive spells when we crossed the threshold, if only because I’d ended up staring fixedly out the carriage window. The anticipation was horrible, but it didn’t seem so bad when I was expecting it.

Also, my carriagemate jumped off the seat and squawked, which I had to admit was kind of funny. I might have been inclined to feel sympathy for her, since we were both subjected to the same unfair scrutiny, but she was such a bitch that I had to bury my mouth against my sleeve to keep from laughing.

The doors were only on one side of the carriage, so I let them get off first in order to avoid a log jam. The sky skirmisher threw a parting shot over her shoulder as she awkwardly descended.

“If that coat were lying in the road, I wouldn’t eat it,” she said.

I guess that was a harpy insult.

Once I stepped out of the carriage, I realized that I had badly overestimated the amount of free time my four hour block would give me. I had just over an hour to get to my appointment and only the vaguest memory of the route Amaranth had taken us down. There was no way I could shop for Two’s present and a Veil costume and still figure out how to get downtown, especially since I had no idea where to look for costumes. The bazaar would be a good bet, but it was out of my way and I wasn’t at all confident about my ability to get around the city in a timely fashion. I kind of wished Steff had come along, if only because she would know the transit system better than I did.

I did remember the way to the Borderlands, though. The costume could wait, but if I didn’t find something for Two in a hurry, I’d end up giving her something like a sweatshirt from the campus store or something stupid like that. I could spend forever and a half inside a bookstore, but the flipside of that was that I could also find something in a hurry there.

It took me a moment to spot the games and puzzles section. I passed on a book of brain teasers that seemed to hinge on the kind of intuitive leaps that she kept missing in her attempts at humor. The clues in a big book of crossword puzzles seemed to revolve around wordplay, too… it seemed like she’d either be really good or really terrible at them. I got a book of number puzzles instead, and a big omnibus activity book the size of a lore tome. It was obviously geared at children… the mazes and word searches wouldn’t challenge her at all… but I had a feeling she’d find it satisfying to complete the instructions.

I was heading to the front when a big hanging sign caught my eye: “Cooking”. How had I not thought of that? I couldn’t spend all day, but I thought that maybe something would jump out at me… maybe a book of banana recipes, or something with sweets. As it happened, the perfect solution was staring at me from a display at the end of the aisle: Barefoot In The Kitchen: A Treasury of Shire Cooking. It was more money than I’d planned on spending, but it was for Two.

After that I just needed a gift bag big enough for all three books… I had a feeling my surrogate sister’s sense of supposed-to-be-ness would just about break down completely in the face of my attempt at giftwrapping.

I was in and out of the store in about fifteen minutes. I felt a twinge that my first time visiting a bookstore on my own as a free adult had been so perfunctory, but then it hit me: I was a free adult. There were coaches back and forth and it was a short walk. There was no reason I had to keep treating the bookstore like it was some fabled promised land across the sea when I could come and visit it any time, as long as I didn’t let myself get hung up about the coaches.

On that subject, I needed to figure out what I was doing. The first step I knew… the coach stop was right near the bookstore. I knew I needed to be downtown, and that the place where we’d got off before was a great big transit center that a lot of coaches went through, so I hopped on a coach heading that way and hoped for the best. I recalled the ride to midtown not taking very long, so I’d know soon enough if I was on the right coach.

Once I was there, I could get directions from my mirror… it was just a matter of getting to a landmark within easy walking distance.

The city coach was a lot less crowded than it had been on the weekend. I tried to watch out the windows for familiar landmarks. A lot of the buildings in town looked similar, though, especially where they’d all been built squished together. When we started to get to the mid-town canyons, I had a pretty good feeling that we were going the right way. If not, I’d get off some place that seemed safe, find out where I was, and work things out from there. If I couldn’t work it out in my mirror, I was sure that Lee’s office could give me directions.

Okay, so maybe I should have just asked Amaranth for her detailed route notes or worked out the whole thing before leaving my dorm room in the morning, but I wasn’t completely lost. I was hoping for the best but I had a plan for the worst. That was one step better than what I usually did.

Then the coach slowed as the road began to angle down into the under streets and the dungeon-turned-municipal-coach-exchange. I’d made it… at least halfway, anyway. The hard part was over. I would be able to make my appointment in plenty of time.

Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!

Characters: , ,

5 Responses to “322: Ruffling Feathers”

  1. Sher says:

    So she gets treated like a doormat once again and does nothing about it.

    Current score: 0
    • Jimmy Joe III says:

      But what was there to do? Nothing that wouldn’t have caused a massive, unnecessary scene, surely.

      Current score: 8
    • Artemis says:

      Sometimes the secret to not being a doormat is realizing that, while one could go into defensive mode anytime someone is just being mean, their attacks only wound you if you choose to see them as attacks. Otherwise, it’s just loud air crossing their lips.

      And believe me, there is no better defense against someone trying to hurt or bait you than just not being hurt. It really pounds home just how insignificant their attack was, which tends to call into question own their self-worth, rather than yours.

      Current score: 2
  2. Jechtael says:

    Mackenzie could probably construct a comprehensive volume of every “famous last words” sentence ever uttered just by having a ghostwriter follow her around with a DictaMirror. It’s too bad she missed out on saying “hold my mead and watch this” to Feejee or Ionna in the dwarven sauna.

    Current score: 2
  3. Kalamorda says:

    Anyone else notice the cookbook is 2/3s of most abusive husbands’dreams? Just seeing ot made me chuckle.

    Current score: 1