Chapter 292: Warm Receptions

on March 17, 2015 in Volume 2 Book 8: Elven Holiday, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Breaks The Ice

We had made surprisingly good time on the trip back up from the south… much better time than we had on the way down, and better than Glory had expected or budgeted for. The weather had held clear. It was dark when we landed, though not full dark.

The carriage ride from the airfield, on the other hand, took a lot longer. As clear as the skies had been, the roads were not. The farther we got from Enwich, the worse they got.

Every moment that the carriage train bounced and rolled along towards campus, I was convinced we were about to be attacked. Every time that it didn’t happen, I was sure that something disastrous must have been happening at Oberrad House.

I felt a new misgiving welling up as we approached the boundary from the open road to the campus, and as we crossed over I was able to put my finger on what it was.

Yeah, I’d been so sure that I would have launched a bloody inferno at anyone who attacked us out on the road, but we weren’t on the road anymore. We were surrounded by buildings and, even in the depths of winter break, potential bystanders… or witnesses.

“If there’s fighting on campus…” I sid.

“I know you’re not a big fan of the physical violence,” Glory said.

“I’m not at all,” I said. “But… I would. The thing is, I’m not sure if I should. The last time a half-demon got involved in a physical battle on in the middle of the school grounds…”

“I know what happened,” Glory said. “Treehome’s association with the university system was different back then, of course, but we all heard what happened. At least, as much as anyone really knew.”

“I’m just saying that if I’m involved, things could… escalate.”

“Well, we’re not going to be fighting a mob of humans,” Glory said.

“No, but it could change how things are viewed in the aftermath,” I said. “I’m not saying I won’t fight… just that you should think about the consequences if I do.”

“Well, I leave it entirely up to you.”

That didn’t help me make up my mind what to do, though it made me feel slightly better… Glory knew the stakes, and was not disturbed by them.

But then, she probably already saw it as an all-or-nothing battle. It wouldn’t do much good to dodge the arrow of being seen as harboring a violent half-demon if there was no house left to have harbored me.

The attack didn’t come as we entered the campus proper, near the student union and the admin building. It didn’t come as we wound our way through the curving street that led to the carriage turn-around in front of the nexus halls, the closest point a wheeled vehicle could come to the front of Oberrad House.

It didn’t come as we were disembarking from our carriage, or the inhabitants of the other two followed our leads. It didn’t come while we were milling around trying to figure out what to do about the luggage, or as the old established pecking order reasserted itself and the lower-ranked members of the court began taking it down from the racks.

It didn’t come when Glory reached up and grabbed one of her own bags. It was a light one, one I think that had only scarves and veils in it, but the symbolism of the gesture was not lost on anybody.

“Everybody pitch in and let’s get a move on,” she said. “No sense standing around in the cold, is there?”

I think we all understood that what she meant was there was no sense standing around in the open.

“Um… have you heard anything from inside?” I asked Glory. Dee and possibly Steff would probably know that we were back, but there was no sign of a welcome party.

“I’m in touch with Dee. We’ve agreed there’s no reason for anyone to expose themselves to the cold unless we’re having trouble with our bags,” she said.

I wondered a bit at the decision to talk around the situation, but I had no means of broaching the topic without undoing it.

“On the subject of exposure, we really should see if there’s room in our renovation brief to put in an entrance that connects to the Nexus,” Glory said as we trundled up from the front entrance of the sloping covered hallway to the back, where we would exit and walk around to the front of Oberrad House. “It’s ridiculous that of the four halls in the complex, we’re the only ones who don’t have a covered entrance.”

“Well, I think in order to avoid significant modification, what you’d have to do is restore the connection to Harlowe and go through there,” I said. “There might be some security implications…”

“No more so than adding another entrance in the first place,” Glory said. “In fact, I think it would be less so than another entrance, because people would have to go through another dorm to get in that way. If we can establish better ties with Harlowe, we’d have friends watching our back.”

That sounded pretty good, at that moment.

I was sure the attack would come in the last stretch, as we followed the sidewalk… the sidewalk that was theoretically there under a frozen crust of snow… around to the back of the little appendage off Harlowe that was the front of the converted and restored Oberrad House.

You could tell the sidewalk had been cleared at least once since the snow fell, but not since it had drifted into the valley left by the original shoveling. The elves didn’t have a lot of problems walking on top of it. My boots punched through the frozen top layer with a sound that would have been satisfying if it was the only sensory component of the experience, but when I stepped in the deeper pockets, the wet powdery snow underneath filled the space between sock and leather.

“Assuming I don’t freeze to death between here and the front door, I am coming out and melting the everloving fuck out of all this snow,” I said.

“Why? It’s not like you’ll be coming back this way before it gets cleared out,” Glory said.

“Revenge,” I said. I had actually been thinking about the extradimensional coffee shop whose black door I remembered was tucked unnoticeably away behind one of the pillars of the nexus, but I didn’t feel like getting into that at the moment.

“I’d be more worried about the rest of campus,” she said. She gestured across the snowy wasteland that was the landscape between us and Gilcrease Tower and the student union in one direction, and the Archimedes Center in another. “Are you going to melt all that?”

“Don’t tempt me,” I said.

“A few minutes ago you were worried about what it would do to your reputation if you were slinging fireballs all over the place.”

“I wouldn’t be slinging fireballs,” I said. “I mean, not exactly, anyway. Maybe I could do something with self-heating boots?

I jumped at the sudden intrusion of a sound from outside our little group, but it was just the front doors of Oberrad House opening. Pala ducked out of them as we were just coming around the sidewalk’s bend.

“Hello!” she said, waving effusively. “Welcome back!”

For one horribly elongated moment, time slowed to a crawl… this was it. The door was open, our biggest weapon was standing there unarmed with a characteristically vacant grin on her face, most of our arms were full, and we were all distracted.

Then the moment passed.

Several other moments followed in rapid succession… or maybe just at the usual rate.

The attack didn’t happen.

Despite all odds and indications, it didn’t even happen when I relaxed a bit.

I decided the best thing to do was to get inside before the non-stop thrill ride of absolutely nothing happening over and over again wore me down, so I hurried forward as quickly as I dared given the unevenness of the ground. As soon as I started moving at more than a snail’s pace, the others who’d been trailing behind Glory and myself took it as their cue and glided smoothly past, the hems of their long dresses not even brushing the snow.

Glory kept up a more decorous pace, though she didn’t fall behind me. In fact, she paused to let her sister and Nicki enter ahead of us, and then gestured for me to enter the house in front of her. She was the last one inside, not counting Pala, who was holding the door.

Nothing happened when we were inside and the doors were locked. I wasn’t even expecting an attack per se… it just seemed like we were due for something.

Maybe that was why I jumped and yelped at the sound of a raised voice and a sound of furious movement, a full second before my brain put together that the voice was Amaranth’s and it had been saying “Baby!“, and the movement was her coming towards me.

“Careful!” I said as she threw her arms around me.

“Oh, are you hurt?” she said. “Did something happen? Dee said everything was alright, but it’s not like she could see…”

“I’m fine,” I said. “Just… it’s a bad time to sneak up on me.”

“You call that sneaking?” Steff said. I had no idea where she’d come from. She put her hand on my head and ruffled my hair. “This is so different.”

“You’ve seen it before,” I said, pulling away and smoothing it back into place. It was weird to think of hair having a place, more specific than growing out of the top of my head.

“It wasn’t real before,” Steff said. “It’s going to take some getting used to…”

“You dont like it?”

“Au contraire, it’s way better than the dirty mop look you’ve been sporting,” she said. “But a lot of things would have been, and this isn’t what I would have guessed.”

“You don’t like it,” I said.

“Mack, hon, if I don’t like something, I’ll tell you,” she said. “Even if I said ‘it’s not what I would have picked for you… which is true, by the way… that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. It means it’s not what I would have picked for you.”

“It’s not like you went in there with the plan to get your hair done that way in particular,” Glory reminded me.

“True,” I said. “Sorry, Steff… I guess I’m preemptively defensive because it is so different… not even defensive, since I wasn’t arguing with you, just assuming the worse. I guess I’m a little worried about the reception.”

“Well, on the scale of things I give a flying fuck about, what people do with their bodies isn’t very high,” Steff said. “But since you want to know: I think it’s a good look on you.”

“I hope Ian agrees,” I said.

“Has he seen you?” Amaranth asked.

“We didn’t really keep in touch after we left campus,” I said. “He doesn’t like to reflect me from home very often, because he just winds complaining about his family… and I think that gets worse around Khersentide. I did have an a-mail from him this morning confirming that he’s getting back in tomorrow… probably around one, but who knows what the roads are going to be like? He doesn’t just have to go a few miles like we did. Shit, I’ve been so distracted with all the stuff going on I hadn’t even been thinking about that…”

“Well, you haven’t been here,” Amaranth said. “It’s like your hair for us. The snowstorm wasn’t real to you until you could see its effects for yourself.”

“And feel its effects… or at least its aftereffects. I can’t imagine actually having been in it, but my boots are full of icy water.”

“Oh, for mother’s sake, baby, take them off!” Amaranth said. “And your coat… I don’t know why we’re all standing around the entryway like this. You’ve had a long, hard day and should be relaxing while you can.”

“That’s true,” I said. “Though at a certain point, it’s hard to relax when ‘while I can’ is automatically appended to the concept… I’m not exactly wishing for an attack. I just hope that if it has to happen, it happens soon.”

“I really think the worst of that nonsense is over,” Amaranth said. “I just meant you could get some rest before we start celebrating.”

“I don’t want to argue with you, but that really seems premature,” I said.

“Well, I know that, baby, but usually the party starts a bit before the actual countdown,” she said.

“Oh, holy shit,” Glory said. “It totally slipped my mind… it’s New Year’s Eve!”

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17 Responses to “Chapter 292: Warm Receptions”

  1. Lyssa says:

    Aw. Happy New Year, MU. <3

    Current score: 2
  2. Zathras IX says:

    Mackenzie’s nervous
    Enough that she’ll wait for the
    Other ball to drop

    Current score: 8
  3. Nocker says:

    I can’t help but think “Of COURSE it wouldn’t attack here.” and expecting something else.

    This out in the open, with this many people, with clear weather and unfavorable conditions for it, means it’s probably not going to risk and attack if it has one target and wants it.

    If I were some kind of hypothetical attacker, I’d wait until the walk out to Gilcrease if it were Mackenzie I’d be after for whatever reason. Either alone or with less people it’s an easier target.

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      I dunno. Mack, by herself maybe an easy target, though I doubt that.

      But Mack by herself would certainly not be a safe target.

      A wolverine ain’t the biggest predator around or the smartest but they have earned their reputation as the meanest!

      Mack alone, by herself, would have a lot less compunction to avoid damaging her surroundings.

      Current score: 1
      • Nocker says:

        Easier doesn’t mean easy. Nothing this thing’s pulled off has been easy. But away from that many undeterred elven senses and away from that much backup is easier.

        Current score: 0
        • Trent Baker says:

          Its not about attacking Mack, its not about attacking Glory or any of her court. It is about attacking the idea that you can just walk out on Treehome with no repercussions.
          “Let’s not go to Treehome, ’tis a silly place.”

          Current score: 3
          • zeel says:

            Which means anyone could be a target, including the queens girlfriend – Mackenzie.

            Current score: 0
            • Nocker says:

              I’d wager on Mackenzie as being a high priority target.

              Random middlings are just lackeys to Glory. Nicki is an accessory to her sister, but her sister is intentionally kept low and thus that kind of target wouldn’t have any desired effect. Mackenzie though is Glory’s girlfriend, who’s closer to equal than any other middling would be comfortable with, as well as a favorite of their grim reaper and the director of an effort that brought an incredible amount of bullshit into guarding Treehome. You want Glory to back down, you hit her where it’s gonna hurt, and what looks like an elite agent presiding over elite agents is the best possible target.

              This is of course presuming that middlings are the most dangerous thing out there. I’m still betting long odds on their attacker being someone connected to the larger overarching stuff. But anyone connected to any major figures in that sense puts Mackenzie as their priority target implicitly as The Man’s progeny, Callahan’s prodigy, and Mercy’s would be Property. You pull off a job like this for one of them, and you can basically write your own check given what they’ve all got in reserve.

              Current score: 0
            • zeel says:

              Well The Man doesn’t want to hurt Mackenzie physically, Callahan is clearly on her side, Mercy wouldn’t risk anything illegal, Embriese doesn’t need subterfuge, Acantha isn’t the violent type, and Ariadne. . . would benefit from another riot.

              If it’s not just Treehome politics, and not something new, I think my money is on her. She is the only one who would want to hurt mackenzie directly, and not care about the consequences.

              But for the record, I still think it’s just some faction of the elves.

              Current score: 0
            • Nocker says:

              The man just wants her not dead. But he also wants her scared and isolated enough to control. The same can be said for Mercy. Callahan along with the other two don’t want her getting too complacent.

              Though those were never my primary guesses. Just saying they shouldn’t be ruled out.

              Current score: 0
          • One does not simply walk into Treehome! 😉

            Current score: 1
      • zeel says:

        Not to mention her suroundings are all frozen! She actually has a pretty good reason to destroy them intentionally! 😉

        Current score: 1
  4. Riocaz says:

    “I sid” – Presumably this should be “I said” 😉

    Current score: 0
  5. Order of Chaos says:

    Solved it guys, the rest of treehome thinks if Glory gets grounds to set the imperial law on treehome she WINS BIG and put a stop to the attack.

    Current score: 1
  6. Z-Dawg says:

    I demand more action sequences!

    Current score: 0
  7. Arancaytar says:

    The attack didn’t come as …. It didn’t come as …

    It didn’t come as …

    Argh that’s enough suspense 😛

    Current score: 0