400: That’s Gratitude For You

on July 27, 2009 in Book 14

In Which Appreciation Is Conveyed

The actual residence floors of Paradox Tower were kind of confusing… the hallways went all the way around the building, but they did so at odd angles. We passed a lot of dorm room doors, but they seemed to be in clusters rather than rows.

It had to be one of the biggest and most crowded residence halls on campus, but it also seemed like it would be one of the most private. You could actually open your door up without worrying about the person across the hall looking in.

There was a good sized lounge in the middle of the floor, bisected diagonally by a hallway. The two halves were not quite completely separated, as the walls between them had big cutout windows and counters. The lounges were definitely in use… they had dimmer lights, which were low on one side where people were sitting and talking in quietly, and completely off in the other, where people weren’t talking as much but it was noisier.

No one was naked in the dark half, but the people who were in there weren’t letting that stop them from much… some of them were just making out, but a guy sitting on a weird solid block coffee table thing had a girl on his lap, riding up and down on his dick. Another girl was going down on a guy in a corner. I saw two guys getting handjobs. Some of the couples who were really involved with each other might have been doing more.

Even spread out in a big lounge, it seemed weird to me that everyone was so uninhibited… it was dark, but not so dark that anyone couldn’t see what they
were all doing. Were they all exhibitionists? Or just really, really drunk? Or was it something about it being Veil?

“Where’s the resident advisor?” I asked rhetorically.

“Nobody likes a tattletale, Mackenzie,” Ian said.

“I wasn’t going to tell, I was just wondering why nobody’s doing anything about all this,” I said.

“It’s Friday night, there’s a party downstairs,” Ian said. “There are probably like two of them on duty, and they’re probably making a point of not caring what happens with all the visitors in their dorm.” He put an arm around me and started to draw me into the lighter dorm. “Come on, let’s go sit down.”

There were people talking in private tones, and some people were making out in the light half of the lounge, though not with the same abandon as the pairs in the darkness. There were beer cans scattered around, and I saw no less than three cubes, one of which was empty.

“Looks like somebody got a confidence boost,” Ian said quietly, nudging me in the elbow. Semele, her skin kind of stained an ugly yellow, was in the corner, having a big sloppy face-eating contest with a kind of stout looking girl with chestnut hair. “Once you’ve conquered a nymph and a drunken skank in the same night, where do you go from there? What’s the trifecta?”

“Okay, now who’s being judgmental?” I asked him.

“Hey, I was getting on you for judging people by association,” he said. “I’m just saying what I see.”

“You’re not calling that girl a skank just because she’s making out with Semele?”

“No, I’m pretty sure it could be anyone,” he said. “That’s kind of the point.”

“I don’t think I like the idea of assuming that a girl kissing another girl is a ‘skank’,” I said.

“No, you’re right,” he said. “A girl who’s snowdrifted in with empty beer cans clumsily sucking face with a total stranger is definitely a lady of class.”

“You don’t know that they’re strangers,” I said.

“Right, they’re probably in a deeply committed relationship.”

“I’m just saying, you’re jumping to conclusions,” I said, and maybe I was a little too happy about it, but it was true. He was. “It’s not just me who does that. I’d think you’d know better, considering what happened when we first met.”

“Yeah, I was way off the mark there,” he said. “I mean, by at least a week.”

Before I could come up with what would probably have been a clever and biting retort, the human girl pushed Semele away hard enough that she fell off the edge of the sofa, leaving her with a look on her face like a kitten that just got shut out in the cold.

“Oh, my kosh, you’re kind of adorable but you’re also gross,” she said. “Your mouth tastes like lawn clippings and paint!” She laughed, then turned and looked at a really tan girl with really fake looking burgundy hair. “Oh my kosh, did you see that? I just totally made out with the elf-spazz.”

“I know, I saw!” her friend said. “That was hilarious!”

“You should make out with someone next,” the brunette said. She turned and looked around the lounge, her eyes stopping and focusing in my general direction. “Oh, it’s the demon spazz! You should go make out with her!”

“No way!”

“Tell her… tell her you think she’s pretty!” the brunette said, and they both laughed.

“You know, we can hear you,” I said.

“Oh my kosh, she can hear me!” the brunette said.

“Let’s go find somewhere… quieter,” Ian said.

“Hey, man, they’re playing some kind of games upstairs,” one of the spectators said. “If you’re looking for something a little tamer. Can’t take drinks up there, though, or we’ll all get busted.”

“Thanks,” Ian said.

“What was that?” I asked him as we left.


“That guy just telling you that,” I said. “Did you know him?”

“Don’t think so,” Ian said. “Did you know that girl?”

“Never seen her before in my life,” I said. “Either one of them.”

“Well, I’d assume the guy was just trying to be helpful,” Ian said. “In a minimal, not-being-a-complete-dick kind of way. It happens.”

We found the stairs going up… none of the stairs in the tower seemed to run for more than a single floor… and found that the next floor up was similar to the first, in terms of being generally confusing. They didn’t seem to conform to the same specific plan, though.

The lounge seemed to be in the same general space, but instead of a rectangle cut into two long triangles, it was an oval with doors at either end.

Moeli had beaten us upstairs… he was sitting in a corner, surrounded by a small group of human girls who were listening to him drone on about fantasy stuff.

“…call it a ‘chained saw’, but that’s actually a misnomer,” he said. “It’s not saws that are chained together. It’s a chain that functions as a saw. The basic idea would work, but it would be hard to do with magic since a chain and a saw are fundamentally different items with different functions.”

He sounded like an obnoxious know-it-all… they were make believe. What did it matter if someone thought “chained saw” sounded cooler? I thought it did.

The furniture in this lounge was kind of mismatched. There were sectional couches along the curving walls, but even though they all fit the curvature, they looked like they’d come from different sets. The middle of one side of the room had a big kitchenette with counters and cupboards that also curved. There were more tables on that side, include a tall octagonal one with stools around it. Four people were sitting at it, playing a miniature-based war game like the one Shiel did… actually, it could have been the same game. Two guys were sitting at two sides that were at corners to each other. There was an empty space across from one of them where someone else was obviously playing, as it had cards and dice in front of it.

Opposite the other guy was a big… as in, really kind of hefty looking… girl wearing a hat that had cat ears, with whiskers drawn on her face in markers. That seemed to be the extent of her costume.

Sitting perched on a stool at the edge of her side was another girl dressed as an honest-to-goodness fairy princess, complete with a gossamer wings on her back and a kind of understated point to her ears. Her dress was very short and ruffled, kind of like what a pixie cocktail waitress might wear, if such things existed.

Her hair was kind of short, but wisped up in a cute way and with a silver tiara that set off her face kind of nicely. It went well with a strand of silver chain that she wore around her neck, decorated with some kind of jangly hoops. It was an interesting necklace… unconventional-looking, but kind of neat.

She was sitting a little uncomfortably on the stool, smoothing her skirt down to cover as much of her thighs as possible. I had to admit she had nice legs, for someone so skinny.

“How much longer do I have to wear this, Mar?” she asked her companion, and I remembered where I’d seen the bigger girl: she’d been using the game room when it was time for Two’s party. “If we’re not even going to go down to the party…”

“Oh, do you want to go to the party?” the other girl asked, not taking her eyes off the map.

“No!” the fairy girl said. “I’m just saying, there’s no point in wearing the costume…”

“You lost the bet,” the cat girl said. “Your ass is mine.”

Ian was staring at the skinny girl in a way I didn’t like at all… I didn’t want to be jealous, but he seemed way too happy to see her. Okay, “slutty fairy” was probably one of the old standby male fantasy fulfillment costumes… for some reason… but he had at his side a slutty barbarian, showing a lot more flesh.

“Hey, where’s your little boyfriend?” Ian asked her.

“Right here,” the girl called Mar said. “Good costume, isn’t it? I swear didn’t recognize myself. I caught sight of myself while I was getting ready and almost called out the campus guard for a burglar.”

“Don’t say a fucking word,” the fairy girl said to Ian. “Not one fucking word.”

“What is this, your ex?” I asked Ian.

“What, are you serious?” Ian said.

“Yeah, I’m serious,” I said. “What’s going on here? Obviously you know each other…”

“We’ve bumped into each other,” Ian said. “Amy, right?”

Jamie,” the girl said.

“Remember the penalty clause,” Mar said to her.

“If he says something, it doesn’t count,” Jamie said.

“Funny, I don’t remember putting any conditions on that,” Mar said.

“Don’t say a fucking word,” Jamie said to Ian. “I will kill you. I will kill you and I will make a fortune and donate it to a temple so they’ll resurrect you and I can kill you again.”

“Oh, this is hilarious,” Ian said. “Mackenzie, do you have your mirror? I want a picture.”

“Where exactly do you think I’d be hiding a mirror?” I said.

“Probably in the back,” Mar said. “Looks roomier.”

“Don’t start,” I said.

“I haven’t yet,” she said.

“You really haven’t,” one of the guys on the other end of the table said. “What are you waiting for? It’s been your turn for fifteen minutes.”

“I couldn’t possibly move until Shiel gets back,” Mar said. “I wouldn’t want her to miss this.”

“Just go!” another guy said.

“Her turn is after mine, so I’d be hurrying up just so you can wait,” Mar said. “If she’s not back in five minutes, Fifi the Fairy Princess will dance for your amusement.”

“I’m not dancing,” Jamie said.

Shiel came hurrying into the room a couple minutes after that.

“This place is a maze,” she said. “And I say that as someone who grew up in a mining warren. So, is it to me?”

“It’s about to be,” Mar said. She started picking up the cards that were laying down in front of her and putting them down face up. “Spatial bridge,” she read. “Planar conjunction. Planar disjunction. Incendiary weapons. Forceful attack.”

“What the fuck?” Shiel said.

“If you gentlemen would be so kind as to help move the rest of my army up onto the ridges overlooking Shiel’s little valley fortress…” Mar said. The two guys started moving a bunch of the miniatures up in a semicircle around some of the others. Jamie helped them. “I’m not fussed as to who goes where… just try to achieve an even distribution,” Mar said as they finished. “Now, that’s my casting phase. It turns out I don’t actually need a movement phase, so… I guess that means… I attack now?”

“How the fuck did you pull that off?” Shiel asked. “I’ve never seen anybody blow five greater spells at a time.”

“Now you know why I kept holding onto them. I don’t know as much as you do about military strategy or tactics or little tiny rock people,” Mar said, “but I do know something about putting together a winning hand. Ask Fifi here.” She tilted her head to the side. “Should I roll for damage now?”

“I concede,” Shiel said.

“What was that? I didn’t quite catch it.”

“I concede!” Shiel said. “I give up. No need to roll.”

“Dude,” one of the guys said. “Dude.”

“Nobody’s beaten Shiel before,” the other one said.

“Yeah, well, you all play the way she taught you,” Mar said. “And she doesn’t pay attention to every aspect of the game. I’m not going to beat you guys unless you’re stupid… I lost too many men in the war of attrition with her while I was marshalling my magic, and now I’ve spent that.”

“So you’re giving up, too?” one of the guys said.

“No,” Marlot said. “Just making an observation. Anyway, I haven’t ruled out you being stupid. Anyway, our bet wasn’t that I’d win, it was that I’d beat Shiel.”

“Yeah, but we only agreed because it’s pretty much the same thing,” the other guy said.

“Except we’ve just established that it isn’t,” Marlot said. “It’s okay, we don’t have to settle up now. You’ve got to the rest of the game to come to terms with it.”

There was kind of a tense vibe at the table, which didn’t seem to concern Mar at all, but it made me very uncomfortable by proxy. I wandered away from the game, and Ian followed. He was snickering over something.

“What’s so funny?” I asked him.

“I’ll tell you later,” he said.

“Why not now?”

“Because it’s probably worse to keep… oh, anyway, it’s not like there’s nothing you’re waiting to tell me,” he said.

“Hey, guys,” Moeli said, waving a big hand at us. “What are you up to?”

“Just hanging out,” Ian said.

“Oh, cool,” Moeli said. “So you’re into motorcycles and stuff?” he asked me.

“Yeah, kind of,” I said. “I mean, I used to spend a lot of time on the ethernet at school, before I came here.”

“What sites?”

“Mostly fan fic and roleplaying tapestries,” I said. I felt awkward talking about my ethernet activities in real life, in front of a bunch of people I didn’t know, but I felt it would have been rude not to answer.

“Oh,” Moeli said. It was hard to tell if he was unimpressed or if it was just his normal somewhat muted reaction. “You ever go to the Garage?”

“Which one?” I asked. “The Garage” had to be the most common nickname for mechanic-themed sites. As soon as I asked, I kind of regretted it, because it just meant the conversation was going to keep going.

“T-Lou’s,” he said. “Part of the Fantasy Lovers weavesite.”

“No,” I said. “Never went there.”

“It’s kind of a big deal in fandom,” he said. “How about the Basement? Good people there.”

“Yeah, I think we must just have moved in different circles,” I said.

“Probably,” he said. “I never really cared for most fan fiction.”

“Yeah, that explains it,” I said. Could this conversation get any more fun?

“It’s been good talking to you, but I think we need to go sit down,” Ian said to Moeli, pulling me towards a couch.

“What was that about?” I asked him when we were sitting down halfway across the room.

“You didn’t want to stand there talking to him, so I got you away,” he said.

“Oh,” I said. “Yeah. Thanks.”

“It was either that or wait to die of old age for you to walk away on your own,” he said. “Actually, though, you probably would have said something to piss him off and end the conversation before then.”

“That’s not exactly fair,” I said. “It’s… not exactly untrue, either, but that doesn’t mean it’s fair.”

“Hey… you know I like you, Mackenzie,” he said. “But you’ve got…”

“Issues,” I said. “Yeah. That’s why we’re going out next week, right? So I can get some socializing in.”

“You were just socializing,” he said.

“With someone I have just enough in common with to not have any common ground,” I said. “What was I supposed to do?”

“It might have been a good time to learn to gracefully disengage,” Ian said. “I mean, you knew what you wanted to do… I could see it on your face. But you wouldn’t. You usually wait for something to happen… for a conversation to end, for someone to solve your problem, whatever. You don’t do much.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I asked him. “I have done an incredible amount of shit in the school year so far, and it’s just getting started.”

“No, you’ve had an incredible amount of shit happen to you,” Ian said. “And don’t get me wrong, I sympathize with you for that. But you’re not exactly… pro-active… about a lot of stuff. You don’t initiate things.”

“I initiated things with you,” I said. “Physically.”

“All on your own?”

“Okay, point,” I said. “But… I’m not like some apathetic blob that’s just hanging around waiting for things to happen. I ran for the student senate.”

“All on your own?” he repeated.

“I do stuff,” I said. “I do.”

“How many times have you gone into town on your own?” he asked.

“It’s more fun with friends,” I said. “Since I finally have friends, I’d rather go with them.”

“Maybe I’m way off base,” he said. “I realize we don’t spend all our time together, so maybe I’ve picked up the wrong idea somewhere. It’s just… do you know why I really don’t want to just follow in my dad’s footsteps? Why I tried the thing with the band…”

“You gave up the band?”

“I’m in the process of trying it, I guess I should say,” he said. “Like I’m in the process of trying the gladiator thing. It’s because I want to do something, something that feels like it matters.”

“I do stuff for racial awareness,” I said.

“What do you do?” he asked. “When an issue falls on you and you get mad enough, you take a couple swings at it, and then you forget about it.”

“Well maybe that’s just me,” I said, feeling defensive. “Maybe I’m just naturally boring. Is that what you’re saying?”

“You’re not boring,” Ian said. “You’re anything but boring. Mackenzie, you’re… you’re amazing, honestly.”

I laughed.

“You don’t sound like you’re talking to somebody amazing,” I said.

“Okay, well, I’m talking to somebody who could be amazing,” he said. “If you tried… and I don’t mean just one time and then giving up, I mean a… a… concerted try, a repeated and sustained try…”

“How can I repeat it if I’m sustaining it? That doesn’t even make any…”

“Okay, that’s one thing you do do,” he said. “You’re very pro-active about knocking serious discussions off the path by throwing up meaningless semantic objections.”

“I wanted to go to the dance,” I said. “I was excited about that.”

“So excited you waited until I picked something out for you to wear,” Ian said.

“That’s not true,” I said. “I just didn’t think of anything better. Couldn’t, I mean. It’s not that I didn’t give the matter any thought…”

“But at what point did it become a priority for you to actually do something about it?” Ian asked. “Look, Mackenzie… this whole thing of us going out and doing an ‘activity’ or whatever… it’s not going to help. Not on its own. I can lead you to water, and all that. You’ve got to honestly want to change, you’ve got to try. I’m trying things… I’ve tried so many new things since I’ve come here…”

“Yeah, I’ve done one or two myself,” I said. “Don’t overstate the case.”

“Okay, you’ve got a point,” he said. “But I believe that you know what I mean. You do, don’t you?”

I sighed. The thing of it was, he was right… I did know what he meant. It did seem like I’d been going around in circles, beating my head against the same walls, making resolutions and then stopping when I found the same barriers in my path. I’d made progress… I honestly believed that I had, and I wanted him to acknowledge that… but how far had I really come?

“Before I answer… you don’t think I’m hopeless, do you?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “My hand to Kh… my heart, I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you if I thought you were hopeless. And, to be fair, you do make some progress.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“I just want to know… I don’t need like a promise or anything… but I just want you to tell me that you’re going to try a little bit harder, that things are going to be a little different from here on out. I’ll do what I can to help you, but I can’t do more than help. It’s got to be you, Mackenzie. You’re going to have to do this.”

I nodded.

“Okay,” I said. “You’re right. And tomorrow, I’m going to be laying some stuff out on the table, and if you think I’m the most stupid, selfish, thoughtless person in the world when you hear it, I won’t be mad if you walk away.” I was talking without thinking, but the words sounded right. It was time to start coming clean, before I acquired an even bigger logjam of secrets that would result in an even more devastating flood if the dam ever broke.

“What if I already think that?” he asked.

“I’m serious,” I said. Tears were filling my eyes, but despite the fact that I was talking about him leaving me, it wasn’t because I was sad. It was more just rising emotion that was squeezing them out of me. Fear, insecurity, and a small amount of triumph… and maybe it was the triumph that was making the difference. A little triumph could be a big thing. “No blame, no anger. If you stay… things are going to be different. They’re going to have to be. I’ll never make it through the rest of the semester if I keep going like this.”

“Hey,” Ian said, touching my cheek with the back of his hand. “You’ll make it. You’re strong.”

“I have strong friends,” I said. “I have people who are willing to support me, to put up with shit and prop me up when I’m falling. I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t have gotten this far without you, without them.”

“I’m happy to,” Ian said. “Most of the time… the times I’m not? Well, the rest of the time makes up for it. I wouldn’t be here if it didn’t.”

“Thanks,” I said. I sniffled a little. “Thank you, Ian… for putting up with me so far, if nothing else. Even if you can’t help me any more, it means a lot to me.”

“Hey, you’re not a charity case…it’s not like I don’t get anything out of it,” he said. “Sex aside… and I’m not going to lie, that is a factor… you’re nothing if not entertaining. Except when you’re painfully uncomfortable to be around, or devastatingly clever…”

“I’m devastatingly clever?” I said.

“Sometimes,” he said. “Probably not as often as you think.”

I blinked a couple times, and then laughed.

“Thank you,” I said. “Do you want to get out of here?”

“You mean go back to the dance?”

“If you want to,” I said. “But I think I got what I came here for.”

He looked at me, long and hard, and then he said, “Yeah, okay. Let’s go.”

We met Two and her friend Hazel coming into the oval lounge as we were going, and appropriate greetings were exchanged. Hazel was talking about someone.

“…be drunk as a skunk in no time flat,” she said.

Two laughed at that.

“It’s funny because skunks don’t drink beer,” she said.

“Yeah, it’s a laugh riot,” Hazel said dourly.

Ian and I picked up our pace to avoid eavesdropping, but we weren’t quite around the corner when Two said, very loudly and clearly, “That girl has a penis like Steff’s!”

“Fuck!” Jamie yelled, and Ian laughed.

“It’s a good night,” he said. “Happy Veil.”

“Happy Veil.”

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8 Responses to “400: That’s Gratitude For You”

  1. Maesenko says:

    I want to say one thing, something I feel I have not properly expressed in my previous comments:

    AlexandraErin, your story is a beautiful thing, even if it disagrees with my preferences at times. Apart from the odd missing word or grammar error, I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about it, if it were ever in my power to do so. The fact that it calls up such deep wells of emotion and passion within me is all the proof I need to know it is, for lack of a better word, perfect.

    I’m happy I found this, this work of art.
    Thank you, AE. Thank you for everything you have done here and for everything you will do.


    Current score: 16
  2. JerK says:

    Yay Ian finally contributed something other than snark or a beating. If he was like this more often I might actually like him.

    Current score: 3
  3. Moridain says:

    I like Ian, I think his relationship with Mack is good for both of them.


    Current score: 4
  4. Sher says:

    It feels like Mack solves a problem at the end of every chapter, but it reappears in the next one. And the next one. She never actually improves. She admits she has a problem then promptly forgets about it and returns to old habits. She has zero follow-through.

    Current score: 2
  5. Jechtael says:

    Maybe I’m just wearing my Sooni-goggles, or my Two pajamas (which are slightly more transparent than the goggles), but what Ian and Mackenzie SHOULD have done was said something to Semele that implied an offer to go with them. What they did was realistic, but [Sooni]it’s NOT how it’s SUPPOSED to GO![/Sooni]

    Jamie and that other one (Marlot, apparently). /Those/ two. I wonder what’s going on with Marlot, that he was in glamour(?)-drag on a random Tuesday. Or maybe he just copied someone’s image? Or he is FtM, but given his prior actions and comments and the “I barely recognized myself” bit, I somewhat doubt it. I think I’m missing something.

    Moeli is starting to give me the creeps. He’s starting to seem more skeezy than desperate all of a sudden. Maybe it’s intentional. Maybe it’s just this chapter. Maybe both.

    Happy 200, AE, as belated as it is!

    Current score: 0
    • Jechtael says:

      *400, sorry. A belated AND mis-typed well-wishing, but a well-wishing nonetheless.

      I do very much enjoy ToMU, and look forward to semester 2, year 2, and MToMU! ^_^

      Current score: 0
    • Jechtael says:

      OHHHHHhhhhhh. Marlot’s not Jamie’s boyfriend in a costume, she won Jamie for the evening in some kind of bet and she was being sarcastic!

      Current score: 0
  6. Mike says:

    I really wish the Jamie stories would continue, even if it was random, once a month, or whatever.

    Current score: 1