Chapter 247: Long Shots

on September 10, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Is Half Done

I’d gone into Glory’s chamber with the required caretaker already lined up, just needing her approval. I’d come out with a task four or five times more complicated… and that was probably a conservative estimate, since I had no way of knowing how my two prospects would react, and no one in mind beyond them.

One of them was probably a long shot, who’d just popped into my mind because of her likely availability and unique qualities among MU students. The other… well, it just seemed simpler to start with Steff. I wanted to cross an item off my to-do list right away, so I started with the sure thing.

Well-begun is half done, as Two’s friend Hazel would say.

Sure thing” was how I thought of Steff’s participation, given that not only had she already agreed but now her job would be easier and she wouldn’t be solely responsible for anything so big and important as the security of an entire building.

It was not how she responded.

“So… it wouldn’t just be my gig,” Steff said.

“If you want to put it that way,” I said. “It’s supposed to be a plus, though.”

“I see that… I just… I don’t know how I feel about that.”

“I’d think you would be happy to have some backup,” I said.

“Yeah, I’d think that, too,” Steff said. “Which is why I don’t know how I feel about it, since I’m also kind of bummed at the idea that I won’t actually be entrusted with the fate of the house… which, you know, I would pretty much want if nothing goes down… or if something goes down and I’m actually in a position to stop it single-handedly. If I can’t stop it, then I can definitely see the appeal of other hands on deck to shoulder the blame when Glory points the finger.”

“I think you’re mixing metaphors,” I said.

“I’m mixing parts,” she said. “Occupational hazard.”

“I think the idea is that having more people is that it makes it less likely that there will be any blame to spread around,” I said. “You can’t expect to share responsibility but get all the credit for yourself.”

“I know, and I don’t expect it,” Steff said. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t want things to shake out that way. Don’t look at me like that, I didn’t say I was being reasonable… I said I don’t know how I feel, and this is why.”

“Well, if you’re not into it, I can probably change the deal, but I’m going to want you to come along with me while I pitch the new version to Glory,” I said. “Because this going back and forth involves too much trying to guess what people want… it would be a lot easier with everyone in the room.”

“No, I’m cool,” Steff said. “It’s maybe not what I expected, but it’s not… it’s not like a huge helping heaping of dislike. And if shit does go down, I will probably be very happy for whatever company I have.”

“Okay,” I said.”Now, the main thing is, secrecy… Glory assumes that her holiday plans are already well-known in the circles of people who are paying attention, but she wants her countermeasures to come as a surprise.”

“Um, I thought the point was to head off trouble. It’s not going to dissuade a lot of interlopers from loping in if they don’t realize someone’s home until they make their move,” Steff said. “Even allowing for the fact that they’ll realize that long before they get in human earshot of the place.”

“I don’t mean surprise as in ambush,” I said. “Ideally, we want them to find out too late to come up with plans to deal with it… I mean, they probably figured someone would be left behind, but they probably figure it’ll just be Grace or someone from the court left behind.”

“It’s hard to imagine elves being less willing to fuck with me than with another full elf,” she said.

“Yeah? They seem to fuck with each other constantly,” I said. “How often do they mess with you?”

“Point,” she said. “On that note, do you know who would be great to ask next?”

“In point of fact, I do,” I said. “I just have to catch her away from prying ears.”

And I found her at six in the morning the next day, in a meditation chamber.

Talking to Dee outside of the dorm was probably overkill on the whole cloak-and-dagger thing, but since I wasn’t being secretive on my own behalf, I decided to go the extra mile rather than slacking.

“Mackenzie,” she whispered when she noticed me lurking down the hallway from her… or more likely, when she finished the routine she’d been doing when the sound of my presence intruded upon her consciousness. “You may enter.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“I don’t imagine you’ve come to join my morning exercises,” she said, when I had closed the door behind me.

“No, actually, I was just wondering if you were going to be staying on campus again this winter break,” I said.

“No,” Dee replied.

“…you’re going back to Ceilos?”

“I am not,” she said. “What I meant was no, you are not simply wondering this. You know that I am. You posed the question as a prelude to a request. I apologize for the brusqueness, but certain news has left me not in a mood to entertain circumlocution.”

“Uh, yeah, actually,” I said. “It’s as much an offer as it is a request, though.”

“Is it?”

“…well, maybe it’s slightly more a request than an offer,” I said. “You would definitely be doing me a favor by saying yes, but there would be compensation.”

“So this request is being made on behalf of your… employer,” Dee said. “Very well. What is it?”

“The thing is, I kind of need to ask you to keep this a secret whether you say yes or no,” I said. “That’s why the whole build-up was necessary… I didn’t want to bother mentioning it if it wouldn’t even be an option.”

“I assume that my word alone is sufficient vow,” Dee said.

“Yeah, I just have to take a quick precaution,” I said. “These rooms are pretty well sound-damped for filtering out background noises, but if you could hear me approaching and whisper through it, it’s not quite quiet enough.”

“You’ve mastered your own silence spell? That will be convenient, I’m sure,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said. Silence and other sensory obfuscation were a natural part of Dee’s clerical repertoire given the crowded nature of her homeland, but I had a pesky allergy to divine energy that made it dangerous for me to be around when someone was using it. “One second.”

I shaped some of the air around us to form into an invisible, barely-tangible bubble and then imbued it with the properties of stillness and sound absorption. I couldn’t hear anything beyond it, and even the ambient noises of my body and Dee’s… well, the ambient noises of my body… were slightly muted.

Still, it was better safe than sorry.

“I can’t hear anything outside the dome,” I said. “Can you?”

“I cannot,” she said, shaking her head.

“I’ll be surprised if any surface elf under a hundred years old has sharper ears than you, so that’s good enough for me,” I said. “The thing is, Glory has booked a vacation trip thing, and so Oberrad House is going to be standing empty. Glory’s thought is that if we have someone to watch the place, it might curtail any urge the elves of Treehome might have to go in and mess with stuff.”

“And if such urges are not curtailed by my mere presence, I would be responsible for holding off any number of overgrown children… many chronologically older than myself… armed with whatever magical toys their mothers’ hoarded wealth accords them.”

“…not all by yourself,” I said. “It will be a small group, but you won’t be alone. The idea is to pick people who are most likely to stave off an invasion by their mere presence.”

“I see,” Dee said. “So, with whom exactly would I be sharing this duty?”

“So far, Steff,” I said.

“Just Steff?”

“I have some more people in mind, but you were the first person I thought of, so I’m asking you first,” I said.

“The first person after Steff,” she said.

“The first person after it became a multi-person thing,” I said.

“Who else?”

“Do you remember Pala Asgeirsdottir?” I asked.

“The storm giant,” Dee said. “Very formidable. I do know little of her personally, though I understand that she is friends with Two.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s true of most people,” I said. “Statistically.”

“Do you really know her well enough to approach her with such an offer?”

“She’s been helping Coach Callahan teach my fighting class all semester, so I hope so,” I said.

“I gather she may not be overly fond of Steff,” she said.

“That’s… also true of many people,” I said. “But she doesn’t seem like the type to hold a grudge. Also, it’s a pretty big place… and that’s part of why I think it might appeal to her. I mean, I don’t think she lives off-campus completely by choice, and the ceilings in Harlowe-style dorms are pretty high. The doors would still give her trouble, but I’m pretty sure she could stand in the hallways and rooms more easily than a lot of the more modern buildings outside the athletic center.”

“If it’s true that her state of semi-exile is not her choice, then she might enjoy the chance to stay on campus… but I imagine she would enjoy it even more if it fell during a time when the rest of campus was occupied,” Dee said. “I must imagine that the appeal would come from being around people, rather than being tied to the location itself.”

“Well, that’s the other thing,” I said. “The request includes an offer of provisionally being accepted for residence in Glory’s court.”

“Did you think this would be something that would appeal to me?”

“Not really, no,” I said. “I mean, it’s extended to you because we don’t want to exclude you, but if I thought it would be a draw I would have led with it. I came to you because you’re the best… everything… that I know. You’re psychic, you’re a skilled warrior, you’re a priestess…”

“And I’m a ‘dark elf’,” she said. “I am the monster in the darkness, the beast from beneath the skin of the world… the perfect foil for children playing nursery games.”

“…I wasn’t going to say it, but yeah, I figured that they’d be warier of you than your run-of-the-mill human,” I said.

“The same is also true of Steff… and, one imagines, Pala,” Dee said.

“That was my thought,” I said. “So… are you interested?”

“‘Interested’ would be how I would characterize my reaction,” Dee said. “But that is not the same as acquiescence.”

“Noted,” I said. “Does that mean you’ll think about it, or do you have questions?”

“Both,” she said. “The first is, was it Glory who decided that I should be approached?”

“No,” I said. “It was me. She asked me to find one person, but the whole line of thinking about having multiple defenders was me. Once I mentioned the possibility, she jumped on it, but I didn’t even tell her who I’ll be asking.”

“From you, I will accept it as an observation about the narrow-minded superstitions of the faint elves, rather than a personal judgment,” Dee said. “I have never had the impression that Glory sees me in those terms.”

“No, I really think she respects you,” I said. “I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but I’m pretty sure that’s true.”

“She certainly has shown me respect,” Dee said, in a tone that suggested these weren’t the same things. “For my part, I regard her more favorably than most examples of elfdom found on the surface. More than that, I regard what she is attempting to do favorably. I was led to the surface. I have often wondered to what end this might have occurred, and while I find it hard to believe that it was to help effect a shift in the stunted politics of a community of adult elves acting like children who are pretending to be adults… to be perfectly frank, I have a difficult time believing that anything within my grasp on the surface is worth the goddess’s time in guiding me here.”

“So is that a yes?”

“I must pray and reflect upon it further,” Dee said. “But… I appreciate that you have come to me with this. If nothing else, it may prove to be a welcome diversion in the coming weeks.”

“I’m glad,” I said. “To be honest… I was thinking more about what you could do than why you would want to do it.”

“My life is given over in service to others,” Dee said. “I would not appreciate being taken advantage of, but I do not resent rendering aid when it is needed.”

“Well, thanks,” I said. “Even if you ultimately say no, I appreciate you hearing me out.”

Glory had asked me to find about five people, including Steff. Pala was the last person on my “definitely ask” list, though she was also the least definite person on that list… the total long shot. Still, everything after her would be completely up in the air.

My fighting to subdue class was daily, so I didn’t have to wait long to see her. Unlike Dee, though, I didn’t have a good idea of a time or place where else I could find her in a place relatively shielded from the senses to begin with.

There were middlings in the class, which made it more complicated… if Asphodelos went back and started talking about how the demon girl who hung out with Glory had been asking the tiny storm giant about her holiday plans, it would have been really easy for those who thought of themselves as Glory’s enemies to put two and two together.

So I practiced putting up my silencing air shell spell as quickly and discreetly as I could, and showed up early for class so I could try to catch her before anyone else arrived. If that failed, my plan B was to hang around after, but that seemed a little riskier.

Luck was not with me, it seemed… when I arrived, Coach Callahan was there and Pala wasn’t. I’d been hoping for the other way around.

Still, I decided to go for broke.

I threw up the silence wall in case anyone with superhuman hearing was approaching. The coach stopped her inventory of the table full of fighting togs and turned to regard me with a curious expression… I was sure I hadn’t moved a muscle in executing the spell, but I had no doubt she’d noticed it anyway.

“You should be glad that my self-control is better honed than my reflexes these days, Frybaby,” she said.

“I just wanted to have a quiet word with you before anyone else gets here.”

“Quiet, huh? So that’s what that’s supposed to be… pretty noisy for a silence spell. Anyway, make it fast,” she said. “I have shit to do.”

“The short version is that I need to keep a bunch of middlings from Treehome from messing with my friend’s place while we’re all away on break,” I said.

“Well, I’d be happy to help, but I’d need more of an alibi than I think you can pull off,” she said. “I’m not ready to retire yet.”

“…I actually just wanted some advice on where I can find Pala outside of class, so I could ask her if she wants to hang out on campus over break, without being overheard,” I said. “I figured you might know where she stays.”

“Oh,” she said. “Is that all? Just look for a black door.”

“…look where?”

“Wherever,” she said. “But just beyond the edge of the trees north of the hex is where I remember it being. Now drop your screen spell and leave me the fuck alone, okay?”

“Okay, thanks,” I said.

A black door, somewhere north of the skirmish field? That didn’t sound like a lot to go on, but I supposed it was better than nothing.

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38 Responses to “Chapter 247: Long Shots”

  1. Nocker says:

    Mackenzie at the black door?

    Dis gon b gud.

    Current score: 13
  2. Order of Chaos says:

    Ok I was half right, others still to come.
    Frybaby when a friend with a sick mother says she has reseaved “certain news” that has “left her not in a mood to entertain circumlocution” tell her your there if she needs to talk.

    Current score: 16
    • Bob says:

      Considering how self-centered Mack is, I’m not surprised at all that it went right over her head. It’s become pretty predictable that if others’ have feelings or emotions that don’t interfere with what she wants, she doesn’t notice them.

      Current score: 3
      • P says:

        When they explicitly tell her, like Nicki has, then she does try to help them, but it takes a pretty blunt “I need help” to be able to count on her. I think most of her friends know this about her though- Dee would have appreciated the offer but if she really wanted to talk with Mackenzie about it then I think she would have just said so.

        Current score: 8
    • Lunaroki says:

      Dee’s mother is sick? It’s been so long that I can hardly remember anything about Dee’s mom.

      Current score: 2
      • Trent Baker aka Zergonapal says:

        I believe she is mentally unstable and its her Grandmother who rules I think, or maybe Aunt?

        Current score: 0
      • adsipowe says:

        i think there was some reason beyond culture she was so sensitive to the newspaper’s unlucky dropping of the name(i mean from before it became something about them being dicks for no reason and refusing to correct it)…but i read it long enough ago i don’t really remember

        Current score: 1
  3. zeel says:

    Hijinks is about to ensue. . .

    Current score: 3
  4. pedestrian says:

    OofC, I’m not sure but MacKenzie might believe
    that she knows Dee well enough to not ask questions
    that Dee might consider
    very personal.

    Whether or not that belief is correct or not?

    Then again, maybe Mack is just being oblivious?

    Current score: 2
    • Order of Chaos says:

      My guess is oblivious.

      Current score: 6
      • Hollowgolem says:

        Does Mackenzie know about Dee’s mother? Dee comes off as very closed about things, and I don’t remember her mentioning it.

        While I certainly don’t think what we see here is supposed to be the sum-total of everything going on in Mackenzie’s life, I assume it’s a safe bet to believe that what we see here is the -important- or at least -plot-revealing- stuff.

        Current score: 3
        • Order of Chaos says:

          I think it came up during Dees disagreement with the paper.

          Current score: 1
  5. Zathras IX says:

    Is rarely entertaining
    Regardless of mood

    Current score: 3
  6. Daemion says:

    It would be hilarious if Mack found the door leading to the Sands of Time (I think that was the name of the bar connecting all worlds) and met some of the characters from AE’s other works.

    Current score: 1
    • Ducky says:

      It’s the “Inn of the Black Door.” I just went back and read the Other Tales.

      Current score: 1
      • Daemion says:

        It’s Sands of Time in Star Harbor Nights. I didn’t know there was a different name for it.

        Current score: 0
  7. Mo says:

    5 people. That’s basically an adventuring party.

    A half-elf necromancer, a black elf warrior-priestess, a giantess warrior, a golem with an insane number of enchantment spells memorised and… a bard? A rogue? Who / what are they missing?

    (I included Two because I thought it would be unfair to her otherwise)

    Current score: 1
    • Glenn says:

      Perhaps Amaranth, for healing and control of the plants around the House?

      Current score: 0
    • Brenda A. says:

      Doesn’t Two stay with HF Hazel for the holidays?

      Current score: 1
      • Ducky says:

        It would make sense if both of them stuck around in Oberrad house.

        Current score: 0
    • Anthony says:

      Ian is the resident bard (it’s interesting how well the characters match up with D&D archetypes, really) and I doubt he’ll be invited. We don’t really have a rogue in the cast that I’ve noticed. It would be fun to get one, though…

      Current score: 1
      • Zukira Phaera says:

        might be able to ‘wiggle’ Steff as a multi-class for rogue

        Current score: 0
      • riotllama says:

        Rogue? HAZEL! Really now. She was right there in front of you the whole time, how did you not see her?

        Current score: 4
  8. Shine says:

    Will we get another pandering Star Harbor crossover? Perfect!

    Current score: 0
  9. Barnowl says:

    Steff: “Thanks, Mackenzie, for trusting me with this sensitive job on your behalf and going to all this trouble to ensure things have the best chance of working out well. I understand, it’s not all about what I’d prefer, but what needs to happen to best accomplish our employer’s needs.”

    Yup, that line was definitely missing.

    Current score: 1
    • Seth says:

      >> I couldn’t hear anything beyond it, and even the ambient noises of my
      >> body and Dee’s… well, the ambient noises of my body… were slightly
      >> muted.

      Um…Mack can pick out individual heartbeats in the room, by sound alone?

      Current score: 0
      • Ducky says:

        You can tell when another person enters the room, yes? Because they’re breathing, fidgeting, moving, living…that’s what she means by “ambient noises.”

        Current score: 0
        • Order of Chaos says:

          And the whole demon senses can hear heartbeats and pick out food thing.

          Current score: 0
          • Nocker says:

            Her father subsists on hearts. It would make sense for her to sense the beats.

            Though for someone who can sense the beat Mackenzie sure has no sense of rythm.

            Current score: 3
  10. sliversith says:

    Man, everyone is so testy today!

    Current score: 1
  11. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    “I think the idea is that having more people is that it makes it less likely that there will be any blame to spread around,”

    Either the first “is that” needs changed to something like “of” or “behind”, or else the “is that it” needs dropped.

    “Okay,” I said.”Now, the main thing is, secrecy…

    Space missing between “said.” and the opening quotes.

    Current score: 0
  12. Arancaytar says:

    “I gather she may not be overly fond of Steff,” she said.

    “That’s… also true of many people,”

    Present company not excepted, as far as I remember.

    Current score: 1
  13. Arancaytar says:

    fighting to subdue

    Wasn’t it called “disabling strikes” earlier? Or am I mixing up classes?

    “You should be glad that my self-control is better honed than my reflexes these days, Frybaby,” she said.

    Yeah, “let’s sneak up on the Godslayer and start casting spells” doesn’t sound like a healthy proposition.

    Current score: 2
  14. Arancaytar says:

    “Well, I’d be happy to help, but I’d need more of an alibi than I think you can pull off,” she said. “I’m not ready to retire yet.”

    Refreshingly direct 😀

    (For a moment I actually thought she was going to extend her offer to Callahan. That’d pretty much end any threat to Oberrad House, and make her other candidates kind of irrelevant…)

    Just look for a black door.


    Current score: 1