Chapter 321: Knee-Deep

on July 5, 2016 in Volume 2 Book 10: Lucky Thing, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Goes Down

Late as it was, I headed straight back to Gilcrease Tower after my meeting with the professor.

The tower dormitories were divided up into units of two slightly smaller than normal dorm rooms joined by a shared private bathroom, a luxury that more than made up for the slightly pinched sleeping quarters.

Amaranth and I had reclaimed some space by removing furniture courtesy of her natural gifts for extradimensional storage, though we’d lost a lot of that to the four-poster bed she’d smuggled in the same way. Our suitemates, Two and Dee, just didn’t demand much in the way of personal space.

All the human students just coped, I supposed. Everybody said that humans were the most adaptable race. Well, humans did.

Hazel and her kobold friends, though, had all the space they needed in one room. I wasn’t sure what the sleeping arrangements were… it was none of my business… but the three of them who shared the suite could have slept crosswise across a single bunk of the bed if they’d wanted to. The three of them split the cost of both rooms, and used the “extra” one for their war games.

Normally it would have been out of my way to swing by Hazel’s suite on the way to my room, but the tower structure’s tendency to trap and channel minute bits of background magical energy coupled with the already irregular shape of the hallways meant that the layout could change in subtle ways.

I honestly don’t know if it was down to that or the fact that I was lost in thoughts concerning her that led me down her hallway just as Shiel was storming out of the game room. I was about to ask her if she was okay when, without a bit of warning, she raised her fist and swung it into my knee as she passed.

I know I’ve mentioned the mostly invulnerable thing a few times lately. I’m sure I’ve also mentioned that I still feel the pain of any injury I would have received. And in case you need a reminder: a kobold’s skeleton is basically iron.

I went down.

“What the fuck?” I yelled, more from the pain than as an actual question. It was easy to guess what had happened: the war was turning against her. Hazel’s lucky streak had continued unabated, it seemed.

“Excuse me!” she yelled back. Down the way she was heading, past where the hallway curved out of my sight, I heard doors open and then very quickly close.

Shiel was not normally prone to random acts of violent rage, but I could sort of understand her frustration. I’d never known her to be sore loser, but Hazel was frequently an insufferable one, and Shiel had always put up with it. If she’d actually lost to Hazel…

Cursing, I crawled over to the wall and used it to help myself up, then began hobbling towards the game room. It was harder than I expected, and I had to lean on the wall the whole time.

Anybody’s own self report of their luck was likely to be riddled with bias. Knowing how genuinely terrible Hazel was at anything having to do with tactics, I couldn’t credit any turn of fortune in the war game to anything hokey like confidence or learning to believe in herself. She’d never not believed she was a brilliant strategist and born military leader.

If she was beating Shiel… who actually did seem like a bit of genius in that area and definitely was an expert in the game in particular… then something was seriously up.

I glanced in through the open door. Hazel was sitting there on the far side of the miniature battlefield that took up most of the empty room. It looked like she’d made it through with most of her units intact. From the look on her face, she wasn’t sure what had happened, or what to do next.

Leaning heavily on the doorframe, I knocked on it.

Hazel looked up, startled.

“What? Oh,” she said. “Hello there.”

“What’s up with your roommate?” I asked.

“Dunno,” she said. “Not having a very good night, I guess. Did I hear shouting?”

“Yeah, we kind of bumped into each other,” I said. “Hey, since I’m here… you know that ring you gave me?”

“Yeah?” she said, suddenly looking concerned.

It was shot in the dark time.

“You don’t happen to have another one like it, do you?” I asked.

From the way the concern gave way to alarm, I thought I must have scored a direct hit. She hopped up, doing a little dance to get around the game pieces on her way to the doorway. She ushered me none-to-gently inside and then closed the door behind me.

“You haven’t lost it, have you?” she asked.

“What? No,” I said. “No, I have it. It’s just, you know, an interesting piece.”

“Yeah, interesting,” she muttered, looking down at the floor.

I didn’t think she was being evasive about the question… she didn’t have another ring, and the one she’d given me was important to her. That fit in with what Professor Stone had told me, but not anything I’d observed or deduced.

The question was, how to proceed? Coming right out and telling her my suspicions might get results, but it could also be dangerous. Hazel on her own couldn’t hope to hurt me, and I was reasonably confident I could whip up some elemental bindings to restrain her without hurting her.

But I didn’t know the extent of what the curse could do for her… and if it could help her find the right moves to defeat Shiel in their wargame, who was to say it couldn’t do the same in a real fight, even if it provided her with no extra physical capabilities?

The subtle approach might be safer, but it could lead to us talking around what I knew or suspected what was happening forever.

I decided to take a compromise between the direct, forthright, honest approach and the more subtle and circumspect one: get right to the point, but with a complete lie.

“Anyway, about that ring…” I said.

I didn’t bother trying to keep my voice casual. There might somewhere in the world have been someone who was capable of sounding casual on purpose, but it wasn’t me. The best I could hope for was that my general total lack of control over my overall aspect and tone would prevent me from coming off as particularly anything, including suspicious.

“Listen, I think the less is said about it, the better,” she said. “I mean, that’s the thing about lucky charms… they can be shy, you know? Start looking into them too closely and they’re liable to clam up and stop working.”

“Oh, okay,” I said. “Well, I wasn’t planning on probing its secrets or anything like that…”

“Good,” she said.

“…but I thought it looked a bit dwarven, and so I was wondering if Andreas might be able to…”

“He doesn’t know anything about it!” Hazel said. “First thing I thought of, you know, when I saw it. But he couldn’t tell me a thing about it, and in fact, I think he felt a bit defensive over that. I wouldn’t say a word to him about it. In fact, best not even let him see it. Keep it secret.”

“Hazel,” I said, and I found myself subconsciously imitating Amaranth’s knowing tone… though I had no idea how well I carried that off. “Did Andreas give it to you?”

Her eyes went wide and she looked around wildly, as if she was afraid that he might be standing right behind her.

“Alright, fine!” she said quietly. She stepped close and her tiny hand shot up, tugging on my shirt to pull my face down nearer to hers. “He did. And I shouldn’t have given it to you, but I… felt foolish. I don’t rightly know why I did it in the first place, and once it was done I wasn’t sure how to begin to take it back.”

The question began to rise in my throat, did you two have a fight?, but if there was a chance the idea to get rid of the ring had not arisen organically within her, I didn’t want to supply the alibi with a leading question.

“What was going through your head when you gave it to me?” I asked her.

“I told you, I don’t know what I was thinking!” she said.

“I’m not judging,” I said. “Just trying to understand. Hazel, were you looking for me that day?”

“Well, I wasn’t surprised to see you there, but why should I have been?” she said. “It’s a school building and you’re a student. You had every reason to be there.”

These were true statements, but it wasn’t a building I’d had any class in for multiple semesters now, and it wasn’t like she knew my schedule anyway.

“So you acted on impulse when you gave me the ring,” I said. “I guess that’s natural. But what was the impulse?” I decided to risk a mildly leading question. “Was something bothering you?”

“That’s right,” she said. “I was bothered… attention. Too much attention. You know, at the party? Everyone was standing around, gaping and gawking at me. I know what it’s like to turn heads, mind you. Everyone says I have my mother’s charms. But I’m not accustomed to that many eyes on me, you know?”

It was somewhat credible. As a gnome, Hazel really wouldn’t be used to people on campus paying attention to her, given that it was almost impossible for non-gnomes to even notice her without a reason.

But if she thought the ring was drawing attention, the natural thing to do would be to slip into a pocket or tuck the chain under her shirt, as she’d done now… not find one of the gawkers and give it to her.

Unless it had not been her own aversion to attention that she’d been feeling, but that of some malign entity. Actually, the more I thought about Hazel as an individual and not just a member of subtly unnoticeable race, the less likely it seemed that she would mind having the spotlight.

“Yeah, that all makes sense,” I said. It doesn’t, but I don’t know what else is listening, and I don’t want to give it any reason to suspect anything is wrong. “You know, Hazel, to be completely honest, I came to talk to you because I had an idea what the ring really meant to you, and I just wanted to make sure things were okay with Andreas.”

“They’re fine and dandy, as long as he never finds out I gave up his ring,” she said.

“Well, you can have it back,” I said, and I fished it out and handed it back to her. I was a little surprised when she slid it into her pocket instead of putting it back on the chain, but I supposed it might have an awkward clasp or something.

So what did I know, or suspect? Hazel was under the influence of something, that something had been in contact with or affecting the ring somehow, and it was capable of influencing Hazel to give her what she took to be lucky breaks… or to protect its own interests, like throwing her friends off its trail.

So far it did not seem to have done anything overtly dangerous or evil… that I knew of… but if it could nudge Hazel hard enough to get her to give up her boyfriend’s promise ring without a qualm until after the fact, it could probably lead her to do all sorts of things she might regret.

Basically, I’d come the long way around to right where I started: concerned that my friend was under the influence of a curse, but not qualified to do anything about it. In fact, I’d wound up a step behind where I’d thought I’d started, back when I thought it was a cursed ring.

Short of invoking ~*the authorities*~ to come swooping down on her and do whatever it was they would do, I was completely out of options.

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14 Responses to “Chapter 321: Knee-Deep”

  1. Mike Conner says:


    Current score: 3
  2. Erm says:

    she didn’t have another ring, and the one she’d given me was important to her […]
    But I didn’t know the extent of what the curse could do for her…


    1) Hazel is in fact unusually lucky, even after she gave away the ring that she attributed it to.
    2) The ring is distinctly non-magical, and Mack certainly isn’t particularly lucky now that she has it. Bumping your knee into a kobold fist isn’t luck.
    3) It’s not a duplicate of anything, but it is a dwarven engagement ring, and Hazel clearly had some averse reaction to Mack losing it despite her telling Mack to “pass it on”.

    Because of 1), I think Hazel’s luck comes from another source, and she knows it. Because of 2) and 3), I suspect she had another, non-luck-related reason to get rid of the ring.

    Maybe she saw a way to get rid of it and divert suspicion from whatever is really making her lucky at the same time?

    Current score: 2
    • fionag11 says:

      Maybe some combination of the ring and Hazel – it only has the “attention getting gleam” when it’s on her. There does seem to be something weird about the ring, but maybe it was just a trigger and has already done its job, whatever it did.

      Still, giving it back to her was probably not a good move.

      Current score: 1
    • Nocker says:

      Well my theory now is this:

      Some thing was dealing with Hazel, somehow. It was in the ring at some point, but probably wasn’t there originally, since it’s not an enchanted ring, unless it destroyed existing enchantments by some means.

      It probably transferred during the party, when the ring got some attention it moved out of the ring into something else, possibly the string. It’s still affecting Hazel in the same way. For all we know it could have simply moved again if so.

      Gold and bronze have properties for enchantment if I remember right, so I’d hazard a guess that wherever whatever this thing is, curse, parasite, or something else, it’s probably inside of another accessory. Or on the button of her favorite shirt. Or inside her magic weapon.

      Current score: 1
  3. fionag11 says:

    A little there something very weird about this conversation or was this an error?

    Mackenzie asks Hazel if she has another ring like the one she gave her, Hazel asks if she’s lost it (without answering the original question, note), Mackenzie says no…then after a pause for thought, asks Hazel “You know that ring you gave me?” as if they hadn’t just been talking about it, and Hazel responds in kind “Ring? Oh, right, I’d forgotten about that.”


    Current score: 2
    • Licens says:

      I’m guessing it’s an editing mistake.

      Current score: 1
    • Erm says:

      It’s probably a mistake now that you mention it, but I first read it as Mack repeating herself to break the silence, and Hazel responding with heavy sarcasm.

      Current score: 1
      • fionag11 says:

        Ahh, looks like it’s been fixed now.

        Current score: 0
  4. lizkayl says:

    Maybe it’s the chain.

    Current score: 5
    • Valliant says:

      That’s what I was thinking, as soon as she didn’t put it back on the chain. Also, the section of the previous chapter talking about the magic on the ring:

      “Well… something. Something faint, and not within the ring at all. There was a smidgen of a magical aura, like a trace of lipstick left on a glass. It was weak and very diffuse, though strongest on one side of the ring, one small notional sectional on the underside, opposite the setting.”

      Given the heavy setting, the chain would have been rubbing directly against the ring at the bit opposite the setting.

      Current score: 4
    • Minty says:

      That’s what I was thinking. The effect that made them think the ring was magical in the first place– the attention-attracting thing– happened while it was on the chain. This would also be consistent with the idea that the ring had been in contact with something magical, enough to have a faint “residue”. The residue was focused on a small area of the ring, on the “bottom” opposite the setting, which is the part you’d expect to be in contact with the chain most of the time– the thicker, decorated part would be heavier, and so hang downwards.

      Current score: 3
  5. Lurk says:

    It’s clearly the ROTT, you guys.

    No, listen!

    ROTT is a psychIc entity, literally dreams made real. It is capable of affecting people subtly through their dreams, has been hopping all over campus doing that and learning to do it better, and has been looking to find a way to affect the world more directly, even recruiting our heroine (an enchantment specialist with a focus on magic items) as a research assistant for that purpose. It has a vested interest in staying hidden and secret even as it seeks to gather power and influence.

    It is clear to me that ROTT has learned to pass its consciousness into the waking world by affecting objects. Specifically, objects of great sentimental value, that is, with great hopes and DREAMS attached to them — and yet, nonmagical, because items that are already magic are harder to make more magic. By inhabiting an item, the ROTT can affect the wearer with carefully-places ideas and maybe even influence those around it a bit. It’s doing so subtly, in ways that can be attributed to luck (and psychically reinforcing that idea on its wearer) to avoid drawing attention to itself.

    BUT, and this is key, the ROTT has inherent properties from its creation by TWO, properties it can’t get rid of no matter how hard it tries. One of these is the property of being interesting; Hazel told TWO that she should dream of interesting things like some kind of ridiculous owl turtle thing, so it is always interesting; when it’s in an item, the item becomes interesting. Secondly, and equally importantly, the ROTT has the property of unlikability, because TWO irrationally hated the thing as she created it. So any item it inhabits is both interesting and unlikable. Oh! And it’s inherently ridiculous, i.e. worthy of ridicule, which makes it impossible to trust and believe in even when it’s dealing in good faith.

    Andreas gives Hazel the ring, and the ROTT seizes the opportunity to take possession of a non-magical item of great sentimental value, generations of dreams of love and marriage attached to it. Everybody becomes instantly interested in it, but Hazel — usually delighted to be the center of attention and hating the whole gnomish invisibility thing — hates the attention and hates the item, even though it’s her lucky charm and a deeply important gift from her boyfriend. And everybody else distrusts it even as they’re fascinated by it, and assume it’s cursed. Hazel, hating it, can’t wait to get rid of it — until it’s gone, whereupon its hateful influence upon her is gone, and she wonders what the hell she just did.

    Now Mackenzie studies the ring layer, but turns up nothing because she’s looking for magical curses, not psychic entities. Confused, she shrugs and goes to watch her friends play Stone Soldiers and go to bed. The next morning, she probes it more deeply, but by that time, the night has come and gone, allowing the ROTT to hop into a new item: a Stone Soldiers, nonmagical items imbued with all Hazel’s hopes and dreams of eventual victory. And suddenly Shiel hates the game she’s usually amused with, and Hazel has a bunch of bright ideas how to win. Shiel assumes Hazel is cheating, but can’t figure out how, or that maybe Hazel has been hustling her this whole time, and she gets so mad she storms off.

    It all hangs together, you guys.

    Current score: 6
    • Erm says:

      That idea does have good points, but can the ROTT possess an item? We’ve seen a demonic entity in a pitchfork, but the ROTT has so far only inhabited actual minds and transferred only via dreams. If it can go from a mind to an item (without a dream transfer, since items don’t dream), that has disturbing implications.

      Plus, Hazel must already know about the ROTT from Two; if she’d been in contact with it, I don’t think she’d try to hide it from her friends.

      Current score: 1
    • Sylvan says:

      Sounds credible to me. Well done ^^

      Current score: 0