Chapter 47: Depths And Shallows

on November 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

In Which Mackenzie Reflects

On my way out of Harlowe Hall, I caught a glimpse of myself in the glass by the door and did… well, it wasn’t a double-take, but I wasn’t in the habit of looking at my reflection so even a single-take was kind of noteworthy. I actually felt pretty good about how I looked, which was really kind of a rare thing for me.

I felt pretty comfortable with my standard look, but I never contemplated my typical dark jeans and t-shirt combo and thought ”Damn, I look good today.” It wasn’t even really a look to me. It was just how I dressed… part of my image of myself, but not part of my self-image, if that makes any sense.

When I got all dressed up, I felt like someone had stuffed me into a costume… which really is a pretty good description of most occasions that have involved me being all dressed up, come to think about it. I’d hated being put into dresses for school pictures and holidays and things growing up. The grown-up equivalent of that which I sometimes engaged in with Amaranth or Steff was more fun, but that didn’t mean I didn’t feel ridiculous the whole time.

But this night, I wasn’t all dressed up… just a little. I still looked and felt like myself, just without some of what Steff had once described as my “grubby charm”. There apparently was a middle ground between fifty-copper t-shirts and clothing that had more moving parts than I did. I probably wouldn’t throw out the Walled Market clothes any time soon, if only because I would go through my nicer things way too quickly if I wore them all the time… but it was nice to have some things that I’d feel bad about ruining.

I had the thought that I could try to wear my better clothes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I had my design class… it was full of the sorts of girls that made me feel terminally inadequate, and maybe I’d have an easier time impressing Professor Stone if I looked my best. It was kind of weird to find myself thinking along these lines… the idea of trying to impress someone with my looks seemed really shallow to me, and more than a little ridiculous. But the goal wouldn’t actually be to impress him with my appearance so much as to impress him in general, and a teacher who was focused on the aesthetic appeal of things would probably take me more seriously if I paid more attention to my own.

My thoughts about clothing were interrupted by a sudden pinching sensation in my forearm, which probably stemmed from the fact that I’d just been pinched by Cetea, a gorgon who’d had the bad luck of being in the room beneath mine last year.

“Sorry,” I said automatically, as I realized I’d stopped there right in front of the door. “Excuse me.”

“Oh, you weren’t in my way,” she said. She sounded embarrassed, though her face was really hard for me to read. The snakes that wreathed her head seemed confused, or maybe they always all looked like they were trying to go off in different directions. “I was heading for the stairs when I saw you staring at your reflection, and it kind of freaked me out. I was just making sure you were… okay.”

“Um, thanks?” I said.

“Don’t mention it,” she said, and she scurried away towards the stairs.

I decided to wander over to the pent, even though it was still early for the dance and I didn’t expect a lot of people to be there. Actually, that was why I wanted to show up early. After spending the whole summer on campus and then moving into my dorm a week ahead of the crowd, I’d sort of generalized the principle that the key to feeling like I belonged somewhere was to be there first. There was something inherently attractive about the idea of slinking in late when it’s already dark and everybody’s already distracted doing their own things, but that just made me feel like everyone else was part of a crowd I was intruding upon.

Also, it seemed like a fair bet that Nicki would also show up early, since she said she knew one of the CJs.

I was a little worried about spotting her, because when I’d last seen her she’d had shimmering orange-colored hair. That was pretty much the extent of my mental impression of her, visually. I hadn’t noticed her in the previous class, and I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to pick her out of a crowd without it. As it happened, she’d kept it orange but I still almost looked right past her when I saw her hanging out by the crystal arrays because she was wearing it completely different. It looked like what she’d described to me, all flipped over one eye. It looked cool, albeit slightly impractical. I wondered if she could see out of the covered eye… with glamour, the hair could be a lot less of a solid opaque mass than it appeared.

She could see well enough to spot me right at the moment that I recognized her. She waved and came fast-walking toward me, in a way that made it look like she was trying hard not to run.

“You came!” she said.

“Yeah,” I said.


“Sort of,” I said. “We’re all like meeting here, but we sort of left it kind of loose.”

“Oh, I get you,” she said, in a way that suggested she thought that this was the height of coolness, though it goes without saying that it really wasn’t. “You got here pretty early.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I didn’t really have anything else to do. I like your hair… it looks like you pulled off the flip thing you were trying for.”

“Oh, yeah, I was actually trying that for the dance,” she said. “I wasn’t sure I’d get it right on the first try, though, and I knew there was a chance I’d run out of juice even if I was doing everything right, so I made it a multi-day thing. That’s the thing about glamour. It can take as much energy as anything else when you’re setting it up, but once you get it in place, it’s pretty easy to maintain. I mean, when I cast it on myself. I’d have to stay really close to someone else to keep their hair glammed up for three days. But it’s pretty much second nature, and it doesn’t drain me hardly at all.”

“You maintain it in your sleep?” I asked, seriously impressed. It was possible to keep a spell repeating in a way that it became second nature, and some people could supposedly literally do it in their sleep, but it was easier and more common to put spells into a magic item if they needed to be running twenty-four hours a day.

“Not all by myself,” she said. “They make these sleeping caps that soak up ambient mana… you just have to do a little ‘hook’ thing between the glamour and the cap and it takes care of it.”

“How much power do they actually hold?” I asked, a little surprised. A porous powerstone that was basically empty would have a little power trickling into it from the background magic, but it was hard to imagine keeping an enchantment running on that. Whatever the caps Nicki was talking about were made of, it would have to be really efficient at attracting and using energy.

“Not much,” she said. “But again, glamour is low maintenance magic. If I used the same cap a bunch of nights in a row I’d deplete it, but I have a couple extras… they were a required course material for one of my classes last year, and at the end of the semester I bought some off my classmates. Not to be all ‘all non-humans know each other’ or anything, but do you know Mariel? I got the idea from her. The company that sells them won’t buy them back, so we didn’t have to offer a ton and between the two of us we got half the class.”

“Yeah, I know Mariel,” I said. “It’s good to know she has some decent business sense. She was pretty into the idea of being a hair stylist, the last that I knew.”

“Yeah, she can be a little flighty, but she’s actually pretty canny when she’s not… um…”

“Hanging around with Puddy?” I said.

They’d attached themselves to each other at the start of the previous school year, and though my former roommate was not the sort of person to make a commitment to anyone else, they’d been together more often than not, to Mariel’s obvious detriment. When Puddy wasn’t violent, she was controlling, and when she wasn’t controlling… well, she was still kind of an asshole.

I’d seen a few small signs throughout the last school year that Puddy had matured a little and taken steps to get her drinking under control, but after a certain point I’d stopped paying attention to signs because I’d stopped paying attention to her. Well, at several points. Ignoring Puddy had been an ongoing project for some time.

“Yeah, that,” Nicki said. “I know Puddy’s your ex…”

“She’s my ex-roommate,” I said. “Becasue that’s all she ever was, really.”

“Okay,” Nicki said. “I didn’t want to start badmouthing her in front of you, but yeah, she’s… not… good.”

I smiled and kind of half-giggled a little. The fact that Nicki considered that badmouthing… it was really kind of cute. The way she’d sort of glommed onto me by reputation suggested that she listened to gossip, but I was having a hard time picturing her spreading it.

“On the subject of hair styles and flight,” Nicki said, with an air of changing the subject, “did you know that the hair is the heaviest part of a sylph’s body? The rest of them weighs like nothing.”

“Yeah, I’d noticed that,” I said. “When she got her hair cut short, she seemed to get airborne without really thinking about it.”

“I actually asked her about it, after she cut her hair,” Nicki said. “I mean, about why she’d had it long in the first place if she could fly with it short and not when it was long. And it was long when she got here, so I know it’s something she did for Puddy, though I also know that Puddy liked it long… but she seemed kind of surprised at the idea that it would be even, you know, a consideration. Like, ‘Oh, yeah, I can fly now,’ like it’s not a big deal?”

“I guess it’s probably not, for her,” I said.

“You’d know better than me.”

“Probably not,” I said. “It sounds like you got to know her a lot better in your shared classes than I did living in the same dorm…the floors in Harlowe are actually pretty small, especially with the way they’re split down the middle, so it’s actually a pretty good bet that anyone who’s housed as the same gender and from the same year will recognize each other and know of each other, but we don’t all hang out together.”

“’Housed as the same gender’,” she said. “That’s an interesting way to put it. I like it.”

“Well, the school says everyone’s male or female,” I said. “And their ideas about which one a given person is don’t necessarily reflect their identity. I know of at least two trans students on campus, and some of the people who get housed as boys in Harlowe don’t actually have a sex… I don’t know what everybody’s situation is, but I know Steff only stays on the boys’ side for convenience, both in the sense that it lets her be with her boyfriend and in the sense that it would be a hassle to fight it.”

“See, this is one of the things that’s cool about you,” she said. “You’re all up on stuff like that.”

“I’m actually not,” I said. “I mean, when I came here I thought I was all progressive, and I was compared to the woman who ‘d been raising me for the past nine years and the town she lived in, but… well, that wasn’t exactly a hard standard to beat, and I swallowed a lot of pretty regressive ideas during those nine years. I’ve had to un-learn a lot of things.”

“Your grandmother… okay, I gather that you don’t get along, but that’s got to be kind of awesome,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“Having a grandmother who was a hero,” she said. “I mean, an adventure-having, world-saving, dragon-slaying hero.”

“She fought a dragon,” I said. “I don’t know if she ever slayed one, but the one she’s famous for dueling is still alive and scorching. And if she ever saved the world, I didn’t hear about it.”

“Well, I didn’t either, specifically, but I just figured… an epic-level paladin fighting in the Chaos Wars…”

“I don’t think ‘epic’ is the word,” I said. “I mean, she kept her career hidden from me, but I think I would have noticed if there were epics being written about her.”

“Okay, but technically, fighting a greater red dragon qualifies her,” Nicki said. “I mean, right? She did that.”

“Qualifies her according to who?”

“That’s one of the criteria the international delvers association uses,” Nicki said. “If you defeat an epic-level threat, you’re an epic-level adventurer. It makes sense to me.”

“Okay, but it was a duel,” I said. “There would have been rules and restrictions, which probably benefited her. It’s not the same as defeating a dragon in actual combat.”

“If she made a red dragon abide by the rules, then she’s got to be kind of epic. I mean, a paladin’s challenge is supposed to have some kind of real force behind it, but you can imagine the kind of willpower she’d need to go head-to-head with a dragon like that?”

I couldn’t, but I didn’t have to imagine what it felt like going head-to-head against a greater dragon without the willpower to do so.

“Can we talk about something else?” I said, trying not to sound testy. I didn’t want to drive Nicki away or make the rest of the conversation awkward when it had actually been going kind of well.

“Okay,” she said. “Sorry. Like I said, I knew you didn’t get along… I didn’t know it would be such a sore subject.”

“Well, it’s not so much that she’ a sore subject… though I don’t care for her that much. To you she’s an ‘epic’ paladin,” I said. “To me, she’s… she was just my grandmother, an old lady I saw a couple of times a year at most. Sometimes she was a little stern, which at the time seemed kind of scary or even mean, but… she was my grandmother. I knew what that was supposed to mean from books and TV shows, and the cookies and presents and things always seemed, you know, grandmotherly. Then my mom’s dead and suddenly my life is all her, all the time. She’s the one who told me I was a half-demon, and what that meant… and you can imagine what sort of things it meant according to ‘Brimstone’ Blaise.”

Nicki had tilted her head slightly, and she was looking at me out of her uncovered eye in a really quizzical way.

“Or maybe you can’t imagine it,” I said.

“It’s not… it’s just, I guess I had a picture of you in my head, from hearing about you and seeing you around campus,” she said.

“Sorry to disappoint you,” I said, and I meant it, though I was pretty sure it didn’t come out that way.

“It’s not exactly disappointing,” she said. “More like… enlightening. I’m not saying I don’t like what I see. Just that I’m seeing more than I expected. If that makes sense.”

“Well, you have seen me naked,” I said. “How much more could there be to see?”

“A lot, really,” she said. “You have some depths in you.”

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40 Responses to “Chapter 47: Depths And Shallows”

  1. Three days left in the auction for December! As of right now, someone’s going to walk away with it for $50.

    Current score: 0
    • Amy Amethyst (aka unisagi) says:

      I hope that my jumping the bid to $50 didn’t scare other bidders off. I was trying to raise interest in the bid and hopefully get it going.

      Current score: 0
  2. Jennifer says:

    I LOVE that the gorgon girl was worried about Mack and the mirrors, nice bit of continuity there.

    Interesting chapter. Mack opening up in conversation (without getting overly angry or awkward) is pretty interesting to watch. Also, the crush the girl has on mack is pretty adorable. Good Chapter! Would love to hear more about Grandma, but once again, Mackenzie brushes the topic to the side….

    Current score: 2
    • JN says:

      Actually I got the impression that anyone apparently frozen looking at her reflection would freak out a gorgon, given the myths of how Perseus defeated Medusa. (It was Perseus, right? … Been a while.)

      When I give that scene a LOL, I mean I actually did. Good one.


      Current score: 1
    • fka_luddite says:

      In this case though, she wasn’t avoiding talking about “Brimstone” so much as she was responding to the “don’t talk about me” geas Vice-Chancellor Embries placed her under.

      Current score: 0
      • JimmyJoe III says:

        Not really a geas, though, remember. A geas is a fey/fairy thing that can be broken magically, whereas a dragon’s sheer force of will can only be overcome if your own will is even greater.

        Current score: 0
  3. EOI says:

    This Nicki girl gives me the creeps. How does she know so much about Mack and her background and all that? Did she just randomly hear about all this stuff or did she have to go searching for it? Also is she after Mack because she’s a fan girl of “Granny” Blaise(Brimstone just aint dont sit well with me.)

    Current score: 0
    • Matarael says:

      As far as I know, most of the stuff she knows about Mack was in news and campus gossip, and she may have had a prior interest in epic heroes, or looked up granny brimstone on the ether. And from the looks of things, she was interested in Mack originally because of her campus fame, what with the public nudity, press coverage, heritage, etc, but now it seems she’s genuinely interested in Mack as a person. This could turn out to be a very interesting relationship. I hope it goes well.

      Current score: 2
    • Zergonapal says:

      Maybe she looked up Brimstone on TVTropes, gods know its hard to stop reading that when you start.

      Current score: 3
      • Tomo says:

        what would the MUniverse equivalent of TVtropes be?
        would it still be TVtropes?

        how about wikipedia? google? would the ethernet even still NEED google?

        Current score: 2
    • Eris Harmony says:

      With all the stuff that happened to and around Mack during her first year, I doubt she had to go looking all that hard. I’m sure they said a lot about her grandmother on the news when she was in town.

      Current score: 3
      • riocaz says:

        Remember that Granny was on TV when she was in town and explictly made mention of their being estranged.

        Current score: 2
  4. peter says:

    I like this chapter. There’s a lot about what the general populace of the university think of Mack, not her friends, lovers, or haters, but the people who are really the norm.

    Current score: 0
    • Tomo says:

      it’s starting to seem that Nicki is not really the “norm”, though

      Sure, Mack has a rep at MU, but I would more likely see people like Puddy’s cousins, or the skirmisher team, as the more average students.

      Current score: 0
      • Dan says:

        Sports team members are not average students. The experience is incredibly different, no matter how you approach it.
        -walk on varsity for 1 year.

        Current score: 0
  5. D says:

    Typo: re: ‘slayed’ past tense of ‘slay’ ought to be ‘slew’ or ‘slain’: “She slew the dragon”; “The dragon was slain”

    Current score: 0
    • V says:

      Kids these days are getting a rep for atrocious grammar.

      Current score: 0
    • Brenda says:

      An extra space here:

      compared to the woman who ‘d been raising me

      Current score: 0
    • Helen Rees says:

      variant is not another word for wrong… ‘slayed’ tends to be used in a metaphorical sense, ime. ‘Man! You slayed!’, like ‘Man! You rocked!’ Wiki loves it. If wiki loves it, it can’t be all bad.

      Of course, yu may prfr the vrnt ‘slade’. My mama, weer all crazee now…

      “Becasue that’s all she ever was, really.”

      Aw – doesn’t Mack typo when she’s assertive… so cute!

      Current score: 0
  6. readaholic says:

    @Zergonapal – curse you for mentioning TV Tropes! Now I must fight the urge to look up Tales of MU. Ok, before I succumb, nom nom nom, another nommy Tales of MU. Yeah, it seems Nicki is a bit of a fangirl. How much, we will find out, no doubt. TV Tropes… no, must resist!… TV Tropes… Get behind me, infernal!… TV Tropes… resistance fading… TV Tropes…

    Current score: 1
  7. Nndaia says:

    Time for tvtropes… I guess…

    You are bad people.

    Current score: 0
  8. Is it just me, or did one of Cetea’s snakes actually bite Mackenzie — and that’s why the gorgon is embarrassed? Makes me wonder why the snakes were confused, though. Does demon-blood throw them off mentally, or did the snake-head stun itself in trying to bite someone who doesn’t take non-magical physical damage? But wait: a gorgon would be magic, right? So shouldn’t the snake have successfully bitten Mac? Hm… which would mean Mac would be poisoned…? Okay, confusing myself here now. 🙂

    Current score: 1
    • Greenwood Goat says:

      Right, mundane physiology (or hemidemonic emulation of same) first: The poison in Cetea’s snakes is pretty potent. Not necessarily fatal to a healthy adult, but Mack would be reeling from the effects by the end of the chapter had she been bitten, so I think we can assume that she wasn’t.

      Next, magical physiology. We haven’t had a grand exposition on this yet, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that “fantastic being” = “magical being”, or “magical being” = “all physical attacks magically infused”. Cetea’s snakes might well find Mack’s skin impervious, though Cetea’s petrifying gaze probably would work.

      Finally, there’s anthropo-ophiometrics. From Mack’s description in chapter 289, when she accidentally visits the room below hers, Cetea is at least as tall as her, and probably taller. Also, from all the other descriptions of Cetea, her snakes don’t have much of a reach (fortunately enough). So it would appear that Mack would have to be posing with her forearm well above shoulder height in order for one of Cetea’s snakes to be able to snag it. And even then, Cetea would have had to have manoeuvred herself carefully into range, in full knowledge of what her snakes would do. Which is not to say that she wouldn’t.

      However, Durkon’s Hammer seems to suggest that, as she stated, Cetea had her spectrophobia set off by seeing Mack staring at her reflection, and was compelled to go and snap her out of it. Obviously, in such a case, she would be tussling with her fears, and wanting to avoid looking at the gazer or her reflection, and her snakes would be picking up on this.

      From Cetea’s interview, it would appear that the particulars of the gorgon’s relationship with mirrors are not common knowledge in the Empire, and from Mack’s lack of internal comment, it appears she’s entirely unaware. We’ll have to see whether she gets the chance to return Cetea’s favour at some point.

      Current score: 1
    • Brenda says:

      I think she just pinched her in case she was trapped in the mirror and needed to be snapped out of it.

      Current score: 0
  9. Zathras IX says:

    Forgotten tagline:
    “Can’t spell D-E-M-O-N
    without E-M-O!”

    Current score: 2
    • erianaiel says:

      There is also DOM in demon. And worse … NOM

      But of course Mackenzie is only half of a demon, and clearly the bottom half …

      Current score: 0
  10. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    “She’s my ex-roommate,” I said. “Becasue that’s all she ever was, really.”

    Transposing letters like this is the kind of typo that constantly plagues me. Really annoys me every time I catch myself having done it.

    and I was compared to the woman who ‘d been raising me for the past nine years and the town she lived in,

    Extraneous space in “who’d” causing the apostrophe to angle the wrong way.

    “Well, it’s not so much that she’ a sore subject…

    Missing an “s” on “she’s”.

    Current score: 0
  11. Dashel says:

    Hey, Macks got a Creevy!

    Current score: 0
  12. Ducky says:

    The exchange at the very end reminds me of a musical called “Naked Boys Singing!” in which one of the main themes is “Nakedness is just another window to the soul.”

    And yes, the entire musical is performed starkers. Netflix has it on DVD.

    Just a thought.

    Current score: 0
  13. Erm says:

    “I was heading for the stairs when I saw you staring at your reflection, and it kind of freaked me out. I was just making sure you were… okay.”

    It’s a common accident among gorgons. =D

    Current score: 0
  14. Iason says:

    One wonders when Mack is going to realise she just had a chapters worth of “normal” conversation. No yelling or people storming off. No one has caught on fire. Awkward level only approaching the mid levels. Nicki seems like a nice person… and for once Mack is centered enough to just… talk to her.
    Amy will be so proud (provided catastrophe does not strike before she arrives).
    Thank you for a good chapter.

    Current score: 1
  15. Havartna says:

    This made me chuckle: “but I was having a hard time picturing her spreading it.”

    Somehow, I think that statement is a bit false when taken purely out of context. 🙂

    Current score: 0
  16. Walda says:

    What ever happened to Barley?

    Current score: 0
    • Tomo says:

      last I saw, she went out and started hanging out with Jamie, started spreading around that mack attacked her for no reason, then she started living as a normal human-wearing clothes again, only occasionally having sex…

      Current score: 0
  17. Kurt says:

    Just wanted to add my thumbs up for the gorgon-reflection reference. Really liked that understated attention to detail. Good writing!

    Current score: 0
  18. LetsSee says:

    It really felt like Nicki was acting as a reporter doing an interview, not just getting to know Mack. Makes me wonder what Nicki’s alterior motive is, if any.

    Current score: 0
  19. atk says:

    “I mean, a paladin’s challenge is supposed to have some kind of real force behind it”

    I see what you did there. And very much enjoyed it.

    Current score: 0
  20. pedestrian says:

    The sudden introduction of new or previously unspecified characters to a plotline this intricate does set one speculating.

    This is NOT like playing chess or checkers with two opponents operating openly. Instead it is as if Mackenzie was playing Poker and she’s the mark. And if you have to ask who the mark is, it’s always you.

    Where she is surrounded by several major players and an unknown number of shills and feeders working for them. In addition to possibly other unknown players still to be introduced.

    Everybody manipulating and dealing seconds and bottoms against one another or in reaction to the other players moves. Everyone of them with their own agendas. And lots of wildcards.

    Current score: 0