Chapter 248: Through A Glass Darkly

on September 12, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Opens Up

Of course, the easy thing to do would have been to try to follow Pala after class, when she would no doubt be leaving campus.

The problem was that it wouldn’t be easy to keep up with her without being really obvious about it, given that her stride was about three times as long as I would be if I were sprawled face down on the ground… which I probably would be after two or three steps of trying to keep up with her.

And if she noticed me, she’d want to know why I was following her.

Having the conversation around the athletic center might be bad, but having it out in the open around the trees would be worse. I didn’t think that middling elves lurked behind every leafy branch, but I’d had a chance to learn firsthand how quickly news could spread through the woodland grapevine in my local hazards class.

I haven’t told you about that yet, but it was an experience that pretty much guaranteed I wouldn’t look at the deep woods the same way again.

That is to say, I wouldn’t look at them again voluntarily.

That last bit was also why as much as there was a time table, I didn’t want to hunt down Pala’s haunts that night anyway. “Go past the trees on the far north end of campus and look for a black door” were not very good directions, by which I mean both that they weren’t exactly precise, but also that they were potentially hazardous directions to follow.

While the campus itself was generally safe during the daytime, how far into the woods this safety extended was a bit fuzzy… and on the subject of indeterminate boundaries, it wasn’t exactly clear when daytime ended and night began, especially late in the first semester. There were times that were clearly day and times that were clearly night, but trying to figure out exactly where the boundary might be was a fool’s errand.

Given the excellent chance that I’d already accepted a fool’s errand by listening to Coach Callahan’s advice, there wasn’t much point in starting another one.

Plus, even if I could figure out when it officially switched from twilight to night time, the whole “monsters come out after dark” thing was really more descriptive shorthand than an ironclad rule. It would just be my luck to run into a monster that was crepuscular instead of nocturnal.

And then there was the fact that the skirmish grounds were where skirmish players hung out. I wasn’t really interested in running into a bunch of warrior jocks in a remote part of campus while the light was fading. Many of them were of the opinion that some of the monsters lived on campus and carried student IDs.

Me? I knew they were right, which is why I didn’t want to run into them.

So I waited for the next afternoon, reasoning that even if I didn’t know for sure that Pala was home, I could see if there was a way to leave her a message, or failing that, I’d know where to watch for her.

I didn’t know how far it would be or how long it would take to find it, so as soon as my afternoon break started I headed off across the footbridge to west campus and beyond.

The only thing I had to go on was Coach Callahan’s instructions, which were to look west of the old well by the barn. West of west campus was the way to Treehome, which was a part of why I hadn’t wanted to stumble around in the dark the night before. I hadn’t been interested in the prospect of running into any middlings in the darkness.

The more immediate reason, as I mentioned before, is that I didn’t look forward to hanging around the animal husbandry-y parts of campus even during the day. A lot of animals had a pretty negative reaction to me and vice-versa.

I knew the well, though. Well, I’d seen it on my way into the wilderness. So I started by spotting it, giving the barn as wide a berth as I could without throwing off my relative sense of direction. Directions were a bit harder on west campus. Most of the buildings had been co-opted by the university rather than constructed, and the forest encroached more. Still, I knew which way was back to main campus, and that was east.

So, west of the well was…

An undifferentiated mass of trees.

Well, I decided to start looking, anyway, knowing that if I got hopelessly lost, I could always set the entire place on fire. It would be the perfect defense against murderous tree-beasts and a beacon to the druid rescue squad at the same time.

Eloise would probably be pissed, I knew, too… but the way I saw it was that if a forest didn’t want to be burned to the ground, it should be very far away from me, preferably in a book or TV show.

Anyway, I was almost more than fifty percent sure that Coach Callahan wouldn’t have sent me off with advice if she didn’t think it would be useful.

“A little bit beyond the edge of the trees, west of the well by the west campus barn,” she’d said.

The “little bit beyond” was promising, but the problem was that this was another fuzzy boundary issue. I didn’t know what she considered to be the edge of the trees, or what constituted a little bit, or how wide an area north and south she considered to be encompassed by the “west of” descriptor.

I couldn’t do anything but start at the very outermost outskirts of the woods directly west of the well, and work my way inward and around from there. I was looking for a black door, I knew, but I wasn’t sure what, if anything it would be set into. Would it be lodged in the trunk of an unusually thick tree? Set into an out-of-place outcropping? Laid into the ground like a storm cellar door? Hanging improbably in the air?

Built into a stone retaining wall shoring up the side of a hill.

That last one wasn’t a question, because that’s where it was. I was actually pleased and surprised at how easy it was to find… I just had to looked for it, and there it was.

…which was pretty much how Coach Callahan had implied it would go. She’d told me to just look for it, and where. Still, something about how easy it was bothered me. Judging by the size of the door and the slope of the hill above it, I kind of doubted it led directly to a house for even the tiniest of giants, at least not by conventional ways.

There were a lot of nasty things in the woods, including whole regions that couldn’t be plotted on any map. For that matter, there were a lot of nasty things in and underneath the campus, including a slightly extradimensional labyrinth that was used for advanced delving classes. Who was to say this wasn’t something else like that?

Suddenly the fact that the balance of probability was on Coach Callahan fucking with me at least a little bit came crashing down on me. She had been kind of annoyed at the moment… and also maybe a little amused, but given her sense of humor, that maybe wasn’t a good thing.

Yeah… I wouldn’t go through a suspicious black door in the middle of nowhere on her advice alone, anymore than I’d go through it out of a sense of idle curiosity. In fact, she hadn’t even told me to go through it, just to look for it. Natural omission based on the obvious assumption, or plausible deniability for later?

I headed back towards campus and took a good look along the way, fixing the route in my mind as well as I could. There was a sort of path, once you knew what to look for. If we didn’t get a ton of snow, I would definitely be able to find it again.

And if we did get a ton of snow, there was no way I was going way the fuck out west again in search of Pala. I’d find some other way to contact her, or find someone else to ask. It wasn’t like I’d promised Glory to ask her specifically.

Amaranth would have been able to tell me pretty quickly if there was anything in the school’s library about a black door on the edge of campus, but I had a feeling that if she didn’t already know all about it she’d be against me having anything to do with it…a sentiment I couldn’t really argue with, but I still didn’t want to get her involved until I was more sure about it one way or another myself.

So the next day, I hit the ethernet and looked up what I could about the dungeons maintained for use by the delving program. Some of them had classified locations, but none of the descriptions suggested they were behind a black door on the western edge of campus, and I kind of doubted that the super secret dungeons would be so easy to stumble into, at least not without warning signs posted.

Even the labyrinth had those.

And besides, while they hadn’t exactly chosen the location for the labyrinth or presumably many of the other dungeons, it would be weird for the delving program to have two of their entrances so close together.

When I realized that, I felt a little silly. It was probably just the fact that I’d been right by the labyrinth… the site of what was simultaneously one of the most dangerous and embarrassing events of my first semester at MU… that had even made me think of it. While it was natural that using the labyrinth as a landmark to find the place would have left me a little unsettled, it should also have convinced me that the door was safe.

After all, the labyrinth was sign posted with warnings and a clear explanation of the nature of the space beyond the brick walls that surrounded it. If the black door on the side of a utility shed not fifty feet away opened up to anywhere half as dangerous, it would have signs, too.

Anywhere else the fact that it was unmarked might have been worrisome, but in the heart of campus and within spitting distance of the labyrinth, it kind of had to be a good omen. If the door opened at all… I realized I’d been assuming it was unlocked… then it stood to reason it would lead somewhere relatively safe.

I still had plenty of time before my last class, and the shed was only a short walk to the southeast of the library, so I decided to go over and check it out. Depending on what kind of sight greeted me when I opened it… assuming it did open… I might or might not actually go down it, especially given that as far as I knew, Pala would be in a class herself.

But I could at least verify that the door opened, that it didn’t open to a visibly nightmarish hellscape, and that it didn’t look like a place where people would shoot arrows at me.

The door was just as I remembered it: very non-descript, except for being completely black. It was a wood panel door, something that would look a little more at home on the front of a building than the side of a shed. It was hard to tell if it was painted, or stained, or if the wood was naturally that color, as it had a visible grain but it was very, very black, as was the hardware in the doorknob.

I noticed this time that there was no keyhole, which didn’t necessarily mean that it didn’t lock. I was reasonably certain that Pala didn’t live in a small utility outbuilding… if for no other reason than I knew that she didn’t stay on campus… which meant that something about the door or the area it led to would be magical.

Nothing about the door felt magical, as odd as it looked.

I took the knob in my hand and turned it. It was not as modern or well-maintained as most of the ones on campus, but it turned relatively easily. The door swung inwards with little pressure and less noise.

The space inside, I’m pretty sure, was not part of the utility shed.

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24 Responses to “Chapter 248: Through A Glass Darkly”

  1. Order of Chaos says:

    Chapters inside Mackenzies head are funny and I like them.

    Current score: 4
  2. Alex says:

    Nice cliffhanger.

    Current score: 2
  3. Dani says:

    Over-analyze much?

    Current score: 2
    • zeel says:

      Considering what is on the other side, I really doubt Mackenzie would have gone through the door knowingly. Though she was completely and hilariously wrong in every way about it. Her worries were quite opposite of reality, and her reasoning for opening it anyway was also quite incorrect.

      Current score: 2
  4. Elle says:

    I forget with OT it was, but I bet this is the other-worldly tavern.

    Current score: 2
  5. Brenda A. says:

    What, she can’t just *knock* on the door?

    Current score: 1
  6. Sapphite says:

    So very confused… I thought the door was in a retaining wall west of a well, now it’s SE of the Library on a shed? Everything gets weird at the first mention of the Labyrinth, as if it’s blended with an earlier draft.

    Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      Depending on the relative locations of the well and the library, West of one can be South East of the other, but whether it’s on a retaining wall or a shed is indeterminate. And on one hand that could be a mistake, or it could be the weird nature of the door effecting Mackenzie. Or the retaining wall is part of the shed? Or it’s a shed built into the side of a hill?

      Current score: 1
      • Melki says:

        I thought the door was wherever you looked for it, so I’m using that to explain away any discrepancies 🙂

        “There is only one black door, though its outer face can be found in many places. There are some magic doors that do not exist anywhere in particular. The black door is not one of them… that is to say, it does exist anywhere in particular. To be more specific, it exists anywhere that it needs to exist.

        One would not say that it exists everywhere, because that would imply a profusion of universes made up entirely of black doors. It exists as needed, neither appearing nor disappearing but simply being where it needs to be, when it needs to be there.

        There are some places in some worlds where the black door is always needed, and so it can always be found by those who know to look. There are other places where it exists only infrequently.”

        Current score: 2
        • zeel says:

          Yes, since you remember it being wherever it has “always been” instead of other places that it had always been, it stands to reason that it had always been on a retaining wall, until later when it had always been on a shed. Mackenzie remembers it based on where it actually is rather than where she has actually seen it. At least that explains the descrpancy.

          Current score: 3
  7. Zeuscarilli says:

    Oh Mack. When will you learn that not telling Amaranth things is a STUPID IDEA!!!!!!!

    Also, YOU JUST SAID you thought callaghan was going for plausible deniability! It’s like you’re trying to get yourself kidnapped and tortured… ooooh, right, Masochist… Ignore me.

    Current score: 1
  8. smashing0 says:

    it’s bigger on the inside

    Current score: 0
  9. Grek says:

    You know, I never thought I’d say this in the comments of this story, but… I never thought I’d see a Dick reference in the title of a chapter. Especially one that ties back into itself so nicely. Bravo.

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      . . . I’m not seeing it. I must not be familier with some phrase, I’m seeing the mild sex pun in the subtitle, but where’s the dick reference?

      Current score: 1
      • Grek says:

        This chapter is entitled “Through A Glass Darkly” and is about Mack’s self doubt and paranoia about Callahan’s instructions. There is also a book called “Through A Scanner Darkly” by Phillip K. Dick, which is also about self doubt and paranoia, though in a rather different way. If that was intentional, it’s a clever homage and the fact that it’s a reference to Dick (the author, not the genital organ) just adds another layer of subtle meta-humor: lots of the chapter titles in Tales of Mu have references to actual dicks in them, but only this one has reference to Dick, the author.

        Current score: 0
  10. Zathras IX says:

    “Behind the Black Door”
    Sounds like the title of a
    Seventies porn film

    Current score: 2
  11. Dalgorian says:

    I am a new reader and have been reading this almost nons top from the beginning for the past week. It was almost physically jarring to have reached “real time.” I was momentarily confused as to where the link to the next chapter was.

    But now that I have caught up, I want to say that I love the author. The characters are people I both love and hate but are so well written I can’t stop. I find myself sometimes reacting out loud to my embarrassment especially when in public places with my ipad. This is an author that has me spellbound and coming back for more even while at times infuriating me. I look forward to being able to donate in the near future do I can read up on your other works as well.

    Thank you

    Current score: 6
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      welcome to the MU disfunctional Family 🙂

      Current score: 2
  12. TheTurnipKing says:

    Oh, for Gods Sake Mack, it’s just an extra dimensional portal of some kind.

    Current score: 0
  13. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    Tales of MU 2-248: Through A Door, Darkly

    Chapter 248: Through A Glass Darkly

    The title on the Livejournal entry and on the actual chapter don’t match. I’m guessing the Livejournal entry has the title that was actually intended.

    I just had to looked for it, and there it was.

    Wrong tense of “look”.

    Current score: 0
  14. Shine says:

    What are the thoughts on Pala’s height? Depending on the chapter I keep going back and forth between picturing her as 15-18 feet tall (as suggested by Mack’s comments on her stride length) and 8-10 feet tall (she’s described as crouching but not crawling in human sized buildings, Mack was able to reach her neck with a staff poke). Has any chapter given a number?

    Current score: 0