Chapter 109: Of Company, Wished For And Otherwise

on August 29, 2012 in Volume 2 Book 4: The Reinvention of Mackenzie Blaise, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Is Rescued By A Shaggy Dog

Author’s Note: There’s a minor continuity adjustment (mostly timing) I’m in the process of making… it’s possible that you wouldn’t even notice the change going forward, but see first comment if you’re confused.

The owl-turtle thing once again kept its word and didn’t make an appearance that night. I wasn’t exactly disappointed, because that would imply that I’d expected it to turn up… but I did find myself thinking that I wouldn’t exactly have held it against the thing if it had decided this was the night to pop in and touch base… just to make sure everything was okay, that sort of thing.

I mean, things mostly were okay, at least on the mental-intruder front… but I kept wishing I had someone I could talk to about the day’s events, both what had happened with Emily and the conversation that had followed at dinner.

I did have people I could talk to, but when what I wanted to talk about was a conversation with those people… well, I just felt like I could use an outside opinion.

Not even an outside opinion, even just an outside set of ears to listen while I sorted out what I really thought. If the owl-turtle was good for anything, it was good for that. I could try to talk to Nicki about it, but that would involve bringing her up to speed on a whole situation that I hadn’t even been aware of. Likeable or not, the owl-turtle thing was already in the loop and still brought a fresh perspective, if not always a welcome one.

On the subject of things that I hadn’t been aware of… I wondered if it was pointless for me to be practicing greater awareness if I’d not only let something like Emily’s existence slip right past by me but also had failed to realize my own descent into damsel-in-distresshood among my friends.

I understood where that thought was coming from, but it seemed defeatist. It would be like thinking that there was no point in learning how to charge a wand because I didn’t know how to charge a wand. Sure, I’d missed some pretty significant things before I started paying attention, but now I’d only been at it for a couple of day and both of them had come into focus for me.

On the same day, even.

Of course in the case of Emily, that was because she’d chosen to act up in ways that not even I could ignore. Whether her reaction had anything to do with my new way of looking at the world or not, I could probably only take so much credit for noticing something had gone very wrong, especially when I’d needed someone else to explain what it had meant.

But the whole “solve Mackenzie’s latest crisis” thing… I had twigged to that on my own, for what it was worth. Not that it felt like it was worth a whole lot.

Nobody had ever said that self-awareness was going to be pretty… or easy, or fun. I’d known change wasn’t going to come all at once. I’d just hoped that all the little steps along the way would have been positive. Like figuring out better ways of doing things, or discovering one of the buildings on campus was sentient and thought I was awesome, or something like that.

Even without the owl-turtle thing’s dubius counsel, the night passed with nothing more momentous than my usual introspection. Wednesday morning pretty well fly by, too. I mostly focused on getting to my afternoon break. At first I was distracted by the lack of a response from Professor Stone. I told myself that I’d always been luckier than I had any right to expect when it came to speedy responses to overnight a-mails… technically, his working day had only started in the morning and he did have other things to do than respond to messages in real time.

When his response did come, I wasn’t sure if it was a good sign or not. It just said, “I look forward to hearing your explanation.” He didn’t seem to be overly disposed to sarcasm beyond the gentle variety… the polite kind that existed to inform you that it knows exactly what you’re up to and could be saying something but chooses not to… but there was room for interpretation there. I needed to be prepared to really account for myself.

Even if he wasn’t too demanding… well, the more understanding he was willing to be, the more he obviously deserved my full attention and a decent explanation.

Sadly, stumbling across Ariadne’s lair had set me back a bit on that score… I’d spent more time talking about how to deal with the fact of her existence than I had thinking about exactly what I would say to Professor Stone. I figured I could do a better job of explaining the situation than I had with Nicki… knowing what was going on with Emily in the general sense would help me explain what had happened to me specifically.

As lunch approached, I found myself hoping that Nicki would decide to join us again, so I could bring her along with me, too. Not only would that give me another shot of pack protection for hurrying past Ariadne, but she could verify the part of the story where I actually had been present in the building in a time period that overlapped with the end of class, and visibly distressed.

But hoping that Nicki would show up without the very explicit-iest of explicit invitations to be present at a specific time and place was like thinking the owl-turtle thing might show up when it had said it wouldn’t: it just wasn’t in her nature.

There was no upper limit… or possibly it would be lower limit… on self-doubt. No amount of assuring someone they were welcome and no amount of evidence that they were liked would e enough to reassure someone in a permanent and absolute sense. Maybe we were just being nice. Maybe we were being mean behind her back. Maybe we meant every single word, but the only reason we thought we liked her was that we weren’t around her often enough to become annoyed with her. I knew how the song went.

It might seem like two naturally passive people would make for great friends, but the problem with that scenario is that we would both keep waiting for the other one to make the first move, over and over again. Either party putting themselves forward once wouldn’t permanently end the impasse because it wouldn’t change the nature of the person, or the dynamic between them. Drifting into passivity was easy; that was the point of being passive. You didn’t have to do anything. Breaking out of it required constant struggle, because that’s, as a philosopher or golem would put it, what being active was. Activity. Motion.

Breaking the pattern would take a bit more decisive action… like finding out where Nicki was right before lunch and actually going to collect her. That would be a problem for another day, though. Today had its own problem.

Nicki would have been situationally relevant, but Hazel… Hazel wouldn’t have been my first choice of companions for confronting anything really fearsome but she really wasn’t a bad choice for bearding the slightly fussily domestic professor in his den.

She was clever, in her own quiet way, and she was loyal, and she could be polite. She was sensible, and while her particular Metropolitan-ish dialect wouldn’t necessarily stand out as cultured or classy to people who actually understood how such accents worked, maybe Professor Stone would find her rustically charming, or something.

Hope sprang eternal.

We didn’t talk about the plan (such as it was) at all during lunch. Hazel just gave me a significant-looking look, and I nodded.

If Ariadne was sitting in her office, then a bit of distance, a flight of stairs, and a hallway wouldn’t do much to stop her from noticing a mention of her name, particularly by me. I enjoyed a brief moment of imagining her anger at having an office below where I ate half my meals… if she couldn’t stand my presence, maybe she’d taken to spending her early afternoons in the faculty dining room, or sequestered somewhere in Smith Hall.

“Are you ready to go?” I asked Hazel when it seemed like she’d finished her final dessert.

“Unless you want a little something more to calm your nerves,” she said.

“No, I’m good,” I said.

“Good luck, baby,” Amaranth said.

“I don’t wish to prejudice your reaction, but I have a feeling that a certain matter will either be resolved much more easily than anticipated, or will present far greater difficulty,” Dee said.

“Couldn’t have said it any plainer myself,” Hazel said. “Unless I knew what you were talking about, of course, then I think I could just about manage.”

“Oh?” Steff said. She cocked her head, and an ear twitched. She scowled very slightly. “Oh… well, could go either way, I guess… don’t ask, just go.”

“Come along,” Hazel said. “We’ll be there and back again before you can say… well, there and back again.”

I was a little annoyed at being given a hint or warning that was so vague as to be useless, but then I supposed knowing that something unexpected was happening downstairs was useful because whatever it was, I was that much less likely to be thrown off my stride. I remembered that I had my own ears as we headed for the stairs, and that even if they weren’t pointy they weren’t entirely pointless. I pushed a little magic into them… in addition to the actual enhancement value I could manage, just doing so focused my attention more sharply on them.

I could definitely hear something coming from up the stairs, though at first it was more the distant awareness of a sound than anything else… the knowledge that there was something to hear. As I got closer and focused on it more, it turned into the gilded edge of an elven voice… or voices. I couldn’t make out words, but I did recognize a sound: laughter.

Ariadne’s door was definitely open, as the light that spilled out from it was of a slightly different quality than the sun globes in the hallway, and that’s where the voices were coming from. It sounded like someone was telling a story about someone else’s hunt. It might have been a long rambling joke, from the sound of it.

The speaker was probably female, but definitely not Ariadne, and I couldn’t detect a hint of her icy, silvery speech in the occasional interjections or explosions of giggles from the audience.

Despite my pledge to not give her a second look, I couldn’t resist sneaking a first one at the open door . There was a group of elves… students, I thought, though of course it can be tricky to judge the age of an elf by sight once they’ve passed out of their early teens… standing around Professor Ariadne’s desk in a loose semi-circle. The storyteller seemed to be illustrating a story with elaborate hand gestures.

The group seemed to be mostly girls at first glance, and all girls at second glance… though they were more careless about things like existing in the same place, the elven culture of extended adolescence allowed for nearly as much gender mixing as the dwarven one did. The more heterosexually-inclined young women coped with this by adopting more masculine dress and mannerisms, and there were a couple so attired.

It seemed like an amazing stroke of luck that Professor Ariadne would be distracted at the exact moment I needed to get past her, but then a whisper reached my ear, saying, “Hey, don’t gawk, just go.”

It caught me so off-guard that it had what was probably the exact opposite effect. I didn’t react much, I was sure of that, but the little exclamation of surprise… barely a forceful exhalation… was enough to draw Professor Ariadne’s attention out the open door. After having grown accustomed to reading Dee and Acantha’s carefully sculpted expressions for the smallest signs of recognizable emotion, I was unprepared for the raw, unmasked hate I saw in her face… hate and, I had to admit, fear.

But she composed herself just as quickly as she’d decomposed and resumed the vague look of polite interest in the student’s tale.

“Come along, now,” Hazel said, tugging at the hem of my jacket. “It’s no time to drift.”

There was no point in trying to sneak past when Ariadne already knew I was there, so I knocked lightly on Professor Stone’s open door to announce my presence.

“Hello, Professor?” I said.

“Ah, Ms. Mackenzie!” he called from a door at the back of a front office about the size of a utility closet, with a half-sized desk. “Please come through… oh, and close the door. It seems a few members of the elven poetry club is having some kind of get-together….”

“You know, there’s usually a load of elves hanging around when we eat,” Hazel said quietly. “I mean, not around us specifically… this is their hangout. But that means there’s always some around. They keep to themselves so much I don’t think about them, but… there you are.”

I nodded. I couldn’t pretend to understand the exact motives… a dislike of Ariadne, a general inclination to be helpful, or a similar inclination towards mischief or intrigue would have explained it… but even without knowing why they would help, it wasn’t hard to understand how they would know I needed it.

The back room explained why the front room was so tiny: Professor Stone had given over most of his allotted space to a workshop, and even at semi-dwarven scale there was a lot packed in. A lot of it seemed to be devoted to carpentry and wood carving, though there was also an anvil and what looked like a heatless forge to me. Professor Stone was wearing an apron and a leather face mask that hung down like a bandana over his curved beard, though he took that off and set it down as we entered.

“Ah, hello… why, I do believe I’ve seen you in the hall, Miss,” he said, with a slight inflection on hall. “You would be Andreas’s one, yes?”

“Begging your pardon, sir, but he’s mine,” Hazel said.

“Oh?” He raised an eyebrow. “Well done, then.”

Dwarven relationships tended to be highly competitive, but so was Hazel.

“I was just showing her to your office… I told her it wouldn’t exactly be hidden away, but our Mack doesn’t really have a head for the underground,” Hazel said. “I’ll just wait outside and enjoy the storytelling, shall I?”

“Thanks,” I said.

We waited while she padded silently through the small office and out the door, which she closed again behind her.

“Now, then,” Professor Stone said. “Let’s talk about your little… tiff.”

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41 Responses to “Chapter 109: Of Company, Wished For And Otherwise”

  1. Note: The previous several chapters have some continuity errors regarding the timeline/order of events. Normally I just write and post things in the order they happen, which keeps things really simple… but I’ve been working ahead a lot more than usual (i.e., at all) and I got some things mixed up. Two whole days’ worth of events happened in basically a single afternoon. I’ve been working out how to untangle things and tomorrow I’ll be replacing the chapters with slightly edited versions.

    To summarize the changes: Mackenzie didn’t have weapons class on Monday (closed due to Callahan choosing a more diplomatic solution to her bureaucratic problems than murder), and then the design center sequence happened on Tuesday (the day when Mackenzie actually has that class), so this chapter is Tuesday night into Wednesday afternoon. This is a little different than how things would have gone if I hadn’t mixed up the order (Mackenzie’s big day in Callahan’s class was supposed to have happened on Monday) but it saves me from having to actually rearrange anything substantially.

    So basically everything still happened in basically the same order, there’s just a few bits being added to bridge an extra day transition and the day references are being changed.

    Current score: 0
  2. Maahes0 says:

    Looks like this is getting way more interesting.
    At least Mack will have a chance to get the tension out in Callahan’s class.

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  3. HiEv says:

    An interesting lead-up to the discussion about Emily. Can’t wait to see how that goes.

    Two little typos I noticed:

    1) “Wednesday morning pretty well fly by, too.” Should be “flew”.

    2) “…would e enough…” Should be “be”.

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    • LetsSee says:

      You sure that is the lead-up to a discussion about Emily, or about Ariadne?

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  4. WsntHere says:

    “There and Back Again” I read a parody called “Bored of the Rings” back in the 1970’s. Our heroes were Dildo and Frito Booger. It was released by The National Lampoon. I remember a walking song, sorta… “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go. Hi ho, hi ho, hi ho…. Boy I love that song, especially the hi ho part.” I was in my early twenties and it was hilarious.

    Current score: 1
    • Oni says:

      My fiance actually has that book. She’s pretty much refused to read the actual trilogy.

      Oh, and the only “Dildo” worth mentioning is “Dildo Saggins”, which is an altogether different (and altogether hilarious) parody.

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      • Zukira Phaera says:

        have to admit, I enjoyed the Bored book more than the trilogy.

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        • pedestrian says:

          I think I enjoyed ‘Bored’ so much because I had just finished re-reading ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘LOTR’.

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    • Kevin Brown says:

      About the only thing better than seeing LOTR references in Tales of MU is when I see them while reading Shadowrun fiction. Then again as LOTR existed in the Shadowrun universe as it was published before their timeline split from real-world history (what with the sudden appearance of elves and what-not) it is always hilarious to see Tolkien brought up in front of an Elf.

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    • Zukira Phaera says:

      I used to have a copy of that. I wish I hadn’t loaned it to someone – it never came back.

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    • Chris says:

      My favorite part is the riddle game with Goddam (Gollum), where Dildo has a .38 snubnose in his pocket.

      When Goddam attacks him after losing the game, the story says that Dildo would have killed him, but pity stayed his hand. “It’s a pity I’ve run out of bullets.”

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  5. Adam says:

    “dubius counsel” Shouldn’t that be “dubious counsel”?

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  6. Joshua says:

    Two typos that I don’t think the earlier commenters got: “couple of day” should be “days”. Also “members of the elven poetry club is having” should probably be “are having”, or delete the “members of” maybe?

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    • Lunaroki says:

      Typo Report

      Aside from the ones already reported we’ve got a few more.

      Not even an outside opinion, even just an outside set of ears to listen while I sorted out what I really thought.

      It sounds to me ear as though that second “even” shouldn’t be there unless that sentence ends before it was meant to.

      “We’ll be there and back again before you can say… well, there and back again.”

      No typo here. I just <3 the Hobbit/LOTR reference. ^_^

      I could definitely hear something coming from up the stairs,

      The phrase “from up the stairs” indicates that the sound is coming down from above. Since Mack and Hazel are going downstairs toward the sound this is not the case. “from down the stairs” might not be as nice a turn of phrase but it’s more accurate, or you could say “coming up the stairs” or “coming from downstairs” instead.

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  7. Zergonapal says:

    Raw hate and fear does not bode well for restraint.

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  8. Omega Wolf J says:

    *taps her lips*
    Hm, seems Prof. Stone knows at least a bit about what happened, given his “tiff” comment.

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  9. Erm says:

    “You know, there’s usually a load of elves hanging around when we eat,” Hazel said quietly. “I mean, not around us specifically… this is their hangout. But that means there’s always some around. They keep to themselves so much I don’t think about them, but… there you are.”

    I nodded. I couldn’t pretend to understand the exact motives… a dislike of Ariadne, a general inclination to be helpful, or a similar inclination towards mischief or intrigue would have explained it… but even without knowing why they would help, it wasn’t hard to understand how they would know I needed it.

    Not sure I get it… were the elves deliberately visiting Ariadne to distract her?

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    • Gruhl says:

      Highly likely, but not provable. If it had been provable, it would probably have insulted Ariadne a lot. Now, she just has to swallow any percieved insult as it can’t be proven, but I bet it rankles a bit.

      Also, regarding prof. Stone’s comment about the ‘tiff’ it is possible that Ariadne, or someone currying favour for her, have been ‘badmouthing’ Mack to Emily. Not likely, but possible, and if thats the case, Ariadne could fear censure for deliberately sabotaging a students studies.

      Well, future will tell, or not. Either way, nice chapter.

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    • Lunaroki says:

      That does seem to be the implication, yes.

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    • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

      Oh wow, I didn’t even catch that. Now that’s interesting. I wonder why they went to help.

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      • Cadnawes says:

        Without having met these particular ladies it’s hard to say but a few options suggest themselves (and there may be more than one reason in play). Here are my guesses on the matter.

        Remember how many people walked out of Ariadne’s class when Mack was asked to do so? It strikes me that she’s not the most loveable person on the planet as far as anyone is concerned.

        Also, no matter what you may think of any given student, a professor going out of her way to inconvenience or trouble a student is bullshit. That’s bullying across power differential. A witness to it may rightly object.

        A slightly different motivation: if Ariadne goes out of her way to bully a student SHE has a lot to lose if it does not go well. The students may be protecting her.

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  10. Zathras IX says:

    Ariadne seems
    Disposed to indisposition
    When she’s discomposed

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  11. Shine says:

    I wonder if Emily is friends with that building Mackenzie punched a hole in…

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  12. Erm says:

    I interpret “tiff” to mean that Stone somehow already knows about the fight Mack had with the building. He’s looking forward to hearing why it happened.

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  13. Shandroa says:

    I am still irritated by the whole idea that mack is at fault for not some how knowing that the building was sentient. If it wasn’t for other things that only the readers pick up, i would have brushed it off as “art students being weird”.

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    • Cadnawes says:

      I agree. Also, Mack disliked the building at first brush. If it works the way it seems to, then Emily disliked Mack even before that. The Professor’s words so far indicate a bias, though I certainly understand that. He’s known Emily a lot longer than he’s known Mack.

      Still. Irritating.

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    • Erm says:

      As we’re the ones who can see inside Mack’s skull, we know that there wasn’t anything to ignore. Her introversion shouldn’t have blocked out the empathic contact, and she would have felt something.

      But if it made itself known to everyone who enters except her, then it’s probably common knowledge on the campus, and everyone else, including Stone, justifiably assumes she was just being really oblivious. Her explanation will probably clear up some things.

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      • pedestrian says:

        My wife called me Mr. Oblivious, so I empathize with Our Mack’s confusion at everybody/building’s behavior towards her.

        Alberta always relished the opportunity, when we got home from a party or other affair, to twit me about my failure to notice when woman had been flirting with me. And, according to my wife, my failure to notice more blatant come-ons then some innocent flirting.

        If I was capable of paying attention to rampant promiscuity, evidently I could have had my ashes hauled on a regular basis. A couple of times I overheard my wife and her sister laughing themselves sick at how angry the other women would get that I was ignoring their behavior.

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        • Erm says:

          Better a missed opportunity to have ashes hauled than being raked over the coals…

          (Okay, so that was awful.)

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          • pedestrian says:

            Erm, your response was not so awful, as a matter of fact it has me stoked!

            And if you had known my wife’s viking temperament {Thylean?} I guess it was much safer for my continuing good health to never allow myself to be led down the primrose path.

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    • Brenda says:

      I consider it irresponsible of the University not to have some sort of warning note in the schedule when assigning students to a class in that building. Their first class there, anyway.

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  14. Havartna says:

    This phrase just simply makes me happy: “even if they weren’t pointy they weren’t entirely pointless.”

    Nice wordcraft there.

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  15. Miss Lynx says:

    “Couldn’t have said it any plainer myself,” Hazel said. “Unless I knew what you were talking about, of course, then I think I could just about manage.”

    Another example of why I love Hazel so much.

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  16. Yumi says:

    So, I recently started college myself, and the events of Mack’s first year have been frequently running through my mind. Today, I met someone someone named Mackenzie who said that she goes by Mack, and I just sat there having my own little head-reference party.
    Anyway, I’m excited for the next chapter of this story (which is more interesting than my own college experience has been thus far).

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    • Christy says:

      The next chapter which is very, very late! This is a very inconvenient time to get writer’s block!

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  17. anon y mouse says:

    “if I’d not only let something like Emily’s existence slip right past by me” – slip right past me, or right by me?

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  18. Sapphite says:

    I’m still missing something – what is the “Shaggy Dog” a reference to?

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    • Brenda says:

      “A Shaggy Dog Story is a plot with a high level of build-up and complicating action, only to be resolved with an anti-climax or ironic reversal, usually one that makes the entire story meaningless. The term comes from a type of joke that worked the same way — a basic premise, a long amount of buildup, and a deliberately underwhelming punchline.”

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  19. Indiana says:

    I’m pretty confused about the paragraph related to gender segregation of the young elves. It says the prolonged adolescence provides some separation, then says heterosexually-inclined females deal with this by dressing more like males.
    Forgive me, but…huh?

    As an FTM person coming from the butch-femme dynamic, I’m trying to “sort” the elves and I am deeply, deeply confused. My apologies if this is ridiculous.
    It could be a sort of late-night+neuroatypical thing happening on my end. Sort of a shoving round pegs in square holes and vice versa.

    Shutting up.

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    • Seajewel says:

      They’re trying to appeal to boy elves who are used to sexual encounters with other boy elves.

      Current score: 1