In Which A Curtain Draws On The Scene


Author’s Note:
Re-posting for the folks who don’t read the bonus stories: I’m doing a fundraiser to be able to afford to move into new digs in Maryland, complete with a permanent office space. If you liked the quality and consistency of the updates I was able to do from March through May, this new set-up will help me achieve that kind of momentum more often. Basically: more space, more privacy, and less travel equals better writing more often. That’s not the reason I’m moving halfway across the country, obviously, but it’s one of the nice benefits that everyone can enjoy.

This video explains the situation:

You can find out more details here.

Although I didn’t bring it up until we were pretty much done eating, I hadn’t exactly forgotten that I’d wanted to pick Jamie’s brain on the subject of dating elves in general and what he knew about Glory or Grace in particular. I just didn’t see a natural segue into that, and it seemed vaguely rude to just sort of come out with it. If we hung out and talked about stuff all the time, it might have been easier, but I didn’t feel that kind of rapport or alchemy with him.

Actually, I didn’t feel much rapport with him at all. I felt like we’d inched our way up somewhat painfully to an awkward understanding, and I doubted that anyone would find it to be the cute kind of awkward. Even Marlot would have a hard time classifying anything that had happened as romantic or comical.

But the more it seemed like we weren’t going to end up with the kind of relationship where I could just casually hit Jamie up for information about whatever was on my mind, the more important it became to ask him about the elven stuff now. So, when there was a slightly longer than usual break in the conversation, I bit the belt and just came out with it directly.

“So, I wanted to ask you a couple of things about… well, the Treehome dating scene, I guess,” I said.

“What, you’re not thinking about trying to bag an elf for your next lover, are you?” he said. “And before you say anything, no, I don’t think you’re actually on the market. I just can’t think of an actual reason you’d want to know about that.”

“It’s for a friend,” I said. “Really.”

“I believe you,” he said. “But if you’re a real friend to them, the best advice you could give them is don’t. Iason was… well, he’s one of the better ones. At least, I think he is. Sometimes, I have my doubts. Even when I had firsthand exposure to other male elves, a lot of what I got was filtered through what he told me. But I have enough direct experience to know that the whole place is a bag of crazy.”

“Yeah, well, sometimes decent people end up living in bad places,” I said. “Do you know much about the female elves?”

“Enough to think twice about dating them, either,” he said.

“The ones I’m concerned about wouldn’t date you,” I said. “Do you know anything about an elf named Glory?”

“That’s not… wait, is she part of a group of elves who all use Pax words for their names?”

“Yeah, I think so,” I said. “I mean, I wasn’t exactly introduced to the group, but I know her and her sister do, and I think one of the others was called something like Melody or Harmony or something like that.”

“They’re kind of a… fringe group, I guess,” he said. “I can’t tell you much about them, except that the other elves think they’re weird.”

“Have you heard anything bad about them, though?” I asked.

“Everything I’ve heard about them are bad, but you have to consider the source,” he said. “And the definition of bad. Like, being ‘fringe’ could be seen as a plus, if the center is awful. I mean, the main thing I’ve heard about them is that they like humans too much, or want to be human… which doesn’t make them popular or respected in middling society, but isn’t the worst thing in the world.”

“I don’t think it goes quite that far,” I said. “Glory seems to be kind of… taken, I guess… with some of her ideas of what human culture is like, but I don’t think she’s in any hurry to give up being an elf. I think she enjoys playing queen too much, for one thing.”

“…your friend is hot for a queen? That’s not going to happen.”

“No, actually, she’s hot for the queen’s little sister, Grace, and it’s already happening,” I said. “With the blessing of the older sister.”

“Are you sure you’ve got the family dynamics right?” he asked. “Nobody in Treehome’s really old enough to have a younger sibling yet, the way elven family planning works.”

“It’s not impossible, though,” I said. “And yes, I’m sure they’re sisters… if they told me they were twins, I’d believe them. The thing is, I like these guys… the elves, I mean… and I’m happy for my friend, but I also want to know what she’s dealing with.”

“Well, I can’t help you much,” he said. “The whole playing court thing is more a girl’s game than a boy’s, and it’s not one that Iason played at all. He’s too proud to be someone’s vassal and has too much human blood for anyone to be his.”

“I kind of had the impression that the pretend monarchy thing just grew organically out of the rest of middling culture, though,” I said. “I mean, even without royalty and servants, they still tend to form cliques with hierarchies, right?”

“Yeah, I guess you could make a case for that,” he said. “Iason definitely had his share of jockeying for position. That’s basically half the reason he wanted me… if he had been able to keep me as his stag, it would have given him a huge boost over everyone else. It wouldn’t have made him top dog automatically, but it was an advantage no one else could match.”

“And that’s only half the reason?”

“Hey, even if he had his eye out for a suitable human to try to tame, he still picked me,” Jamie said. “There was something personal there, believe me, even if it doesn’t fit your personal definition of love.”

“Does it fit yours?”

“Honestly? I’m not completely sure it would,” he said. “But I’ve mostly stopped thinking about it, because even if he does… did… love me, I don’t want what he’s offering. Love isn’t the main thing I’m looking for in life now anyway, and even if it was, it wouldn’t be worth giving up my life.”

“Okay, so, forgetting anything about Glory and Grace in particular… do you have any advice to pass along about dating a middling elf in general?” I said. “I mean, something other than ‘don’t’, because this is happening anyway.”

“Just… tell her to be careful,” he said. “And to keep it on her own turf, if she can. Treehome’s a dangerous place for outsiders, and maybe it’s just because the girls have better luck attracting human lovers, but the girls’ side of things seems worse. Like, slavery and mutilation bad.”

“Dee actually kind of alluded to some kind of ‘attrition’ happening over there,” I said. “I kind of figured she knew what she was talking about, since she’d hear things if anyone did, but I didn’t know what it was about.”

“I do,” he said. “But I don’t think you want to hear it… it’s pretty messed up.”

“I have a lot of experience with pretty messed up.”

“There’s a game that some of the elves play,” Jamie said. “They basically seduce a human, proclaim undying love, and get their victim to do the same. They ultimate goal is to get the human to give themselves in slavery, as a kind of grand gesture or proof of their love or whatever… and as soon as they do, the honeymoon’s over. When the elves get bored of their new toy, or they start to show some age, or whatever, they just dump them onto the slave market.”

“…that is pretty messed up,” I said.

“That might not be the worst of it,” he said. “Though I don’t know, the next part might be myth. But supposedly, there’s a broker in the area who buys slaves… especially young, attractive female ones… for slaughter. To sell to ogres, harpies, or… other people who eat people, I guess.”

“That’s… not actually a myth,” I said.

“Oh,” he said.

“I’m positive Glory doesn’t have anything to do with that,” I said.

“Most don’t,” he said. “It’s… constant, but not widespread. Like, the queen bitches who do it have always got some fish on the hook, or are angling for a new one, but it isn’t the official Treehome pastime or anything. But still, that’s the kind of thing that can happen to someone who gets drawn in without knowing what’s going on. You don’t have to be lured into slavery to get in over your head.”

“So maybe I should have a conversation with Nicki to make sure that she knows exactly what some elves are capable of,” I said.

“Nicki? That sounds familiar,” he said.

“You met her,” I said. “Briefly.”

“Oh, your new friend,” he said. “She seemed nice?”

“She is,” I said. “Her girlfriend Grace actually reminds me of her, which is a big part of why I’m not just trying to warn her off.”

“To be honest, she didn’t make a strong impression on me,” he said. “When I said she seemed nice, that was more like… she gave me no reason not to like her?”

“That’s fair,” I said. “It was a brief meeting.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I guess if I ever take you up on the hanging out with your friends thing, I might get to know her better.”

“That depends on whether she’s hanging out with us or not,” I said. “She’s… shy, and also right now she kind of has the new relationship thing going on. I’m pretty sure she has her own ‘date’ tonight.”

“Her girlfriend could end up hanging out with you, too,” he said. “I mean, that’s even one step better than keeping things on Nicki’s turf.”

“You’re not wrong about that,” I said. “Maybe I can arrange for that to happen.”

“Really? Don’t take this the wrong way, but you don’t strike me as the… arranging… type,” he said.

“Yeah, well, usually I’m not, but I already have kind of an arrangement with Glory,” I said. “If I tell her that I think it would be helpful for her sister’s relationship if she hangs out with Nicki’s friends… which is probably even true… then she can make it happen.”

“Wait… you’re giving advice to a middling queen? And she’s listening to you?”

“You said it yourself, she’s on the fringe,” I said. “And I don’t think our relationship would survive her hearing it described that way, but… basically, yeah.”

“She’s even weirder than I figured if she’ll take your advice,” he said. “And also? I’m officially impressed.”

“It’s probably less impressive than you think,” I said. “In her head, I guess I’m her minion. The bottom line is that we’re both trying to help Grace’s relationship with Nicki succeed.”

“I guess that makes sense.”

“We should probably be getting back soon,” I said.

“Yeah.”

And that, other than a very quiet walk back to campus, was it for my night out.

So for all that I’d angsted over it and built it up in my head, my “date” with Jamie Bowman really shaped up to be… kind of a non-event, and not even in the manner of the anticlimaxes that typically seemed to make up my life. The worst-case scenario had not materialized, but nothing else particularly interesting had really happened in its place, either. Maybe the lesson there was not to focus so much on what could go wrong … or maybe it was that sometimes you take a chance on something and it doesn’t pan out. Or maybe there wasn’t any lesson, and it was just life.

Either way, it didn’t seem worth dwelling on… I’d made it through it, it was over and done with, and I could get on with other things. Maybe Jamie would take me up on the idea of hanging out with the group sometime and maybe that would go better, or maybe we just had personalities that wouldn’t click together even when we were mostly getting along. I wasn’t planning on losing a lot of sleep over it regardless.

As much as the evening had been surprisingly cringe-free, I found myself feeling oddly glad that we’d gone off-campus to dine… if Glory and her friends really did turn to my social life for their entertainment, they likely would have been bored and disappointed by the whole thing, at least up until the point that we started talking about them.

I’m not saying it was a total loss. I did have an idea about helping Nicki with Grace, the food was pretty good, and Jamie was easier to get along with than I’d expected. I couldn’t say I had a bad time, exactly… and all in all, it was nice to be regretting a choice that I’d made because nothing happened rather than because something did.

But still, I couldn’t help thinking that things might have been more interesting if I’d been able to follow Nicki on her date instead of going on mine.


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26 Responses to “Chapter 159: Fringe Benefits”

  1. tigr says:

    That was a nice just-before-going-to-sleep surprise 🙂

    Typo: “They ultimate goal” should be “Their ultimate goal”.

    Current score: 0
  2. Dani says:

    I would have preferred this chapter on its own, without the preceding chapters of buildup and intro and angst. Unless this chapter represents a significant turning point (which doesn’t seem likely), it doesn’t have enough weight (sorry about the mixed metaphor) to support the earlier chapters. I prefer seeing Mackenzie act more confidently and maturely to hearing her going on about doing so.

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      I think the whole point was to hit the anticlimax. Mackenzie isn’t good at envisioning good outcomes, so she worries like crazy about things that aren’t really that big a deal. This chapter serves to illustrate (especially to Mackenzie) that sometimes things don’t have to blow up in your face, that people are not always as bad as your first impression, and that trying new things can be fun.

      Perhaps it isn’t a common trait, but for some people getting worked up bout how some social interaction is going to go down can be a big deal. Just 30 minutes ago I was going around in circles in my head about getting a new parking pass for the summer. It was a complete non event, but you wouldn’t have known that had you been listening to my thoughts.

      I agree that reading about Mackenzie thinking things to death, with no pay off, is a bit off-putting, but that’s kinda how it feels in reality too. So I think the chapters have served their purpose.

      Current score: 0
  3. Matt says:

    I agree it was anticlimactic, but I enjoyed it. I like Jamie a lot (gay male here, it’s hard to believe I’ve been reading this story for most of my 20’s) and miss MoreMU.

    Hopefully Jaime won’t be like Nicki and actually join the group at a meal of his own accord.

    Current score: 0
  4. Computer Mad Scientist says:

    Mack mmmay want to assure Jamie that she was possessed by Pitchy when she made that order from Mercy. Her certainty that Glory has had no contact with Mercy may also seem suspicious without knowledge that it’s based on Glory not attacking.

    Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      Mack didn’t tell Jamie HOW she came by that knowledge.

      Why would she need or want to make excuses for something that Jamie wouldn’t know about unless she indirectly told him by making that excuse?

      Current score: 0
      • Computer Mad Scientist says:

        I guess I was just assuming that Jamie would assume the worst about her.

        Current score: 0
    • Erm says:

      Mack mmmay want to assure Jamie that she was possessed by Pitchy when she made that order from Mercy.

      She should never ever tell anyone about that at all, particularly not a human on the far outside of her social circle.

      If that story ever turned into a more wide-spread rumor, she’d have to run for her life…

      Current score: 0
  5. pedestrian says:

    The impression I am getting out of this specific plotline, is that AE is trying to describe the individual inner chatter everybody engages in.

    That each of us talks to our own selves in a similar manner as everyone else. But that we each disbelieve that everyone else has similar personal sub-vocal conversations.

    In a crowd of emotional communicants, each of us and all of us can feel isolated and alone.

    Current score: 0
  6. Arkeus says:

    Wow, really nice with the fridge horror there. Those Elves.

    Current score: 0
  7. Cass says:

    Very nice AE 🙂

    Current score: 0
  8. Cadnawes says:

    It sounds like a lot of readers have kind of had their fill of the navel gaze. Thing is, Mack’s kind of new to it. I doubt the level we’ve seen lately will last, but to me, it’s nice to see her thinking about these things.

    I kind of think of MU as reading someone’s diary. I’ve kept one since I was nine and what most diarists I’ve known focus on is what was momentous to them, and I’d think realizing that it is OK to be how she is, to have preferences, to so much as LIKE HER CLOTHING- IS pretty momentous for someone who was never allowed so much as a nice dinner out.

    I was actually dreading this “date” as well. Jamie did not impress me before, and I also couldn’t see these two getting along. So this was a non event, really not in the same league as the build up, and that’s kind of the point, and kind of a relief.

    Personally, I think the discussed trends in Treehome are enough excitement for one chapter. Brrrr.

    Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      It’s a specific reader who is tired of it and is being vocal lately.

      Current score: 0
      • Cadnawes says:

        Ah. So the number of comments I’m seeing are from one person. Thanks for the clarification, since I failed to notice that.

        I’m not trying to find no fault ever, but there’s a difference between a flaw and a preference, and I try to give the benefit of the doubt that things are often due to the latter.

        Current score: 0
  9. Zathras IX says:

    Glory may be “fringe”
    In Elvendom but she’s a
    Fair to Middling Queen

    Current score: 0
    • Anvildude says:

      Dangit Xathras. I had a better one picked out for you to do.

      Something about how, when a Half-Demon tells you the Human Meat Market isn’t a Myth, you believe them. But, you know, in Haiku form. From you. ‘Cause I couldn’t figure it out.

      Current score: 0
      • Zukira Phaera says:

        Get it hot and fresh
        Mercy’s – It’s what’s for dinner
        Bled your way, daily.

        Current score: 0
    • Ray says:

      Ugh, so many meanings of fair that can be applied.

      I am wondering how long before some of the elves notice that Mack is one of the Undying, not Mortal. No tales of demons dying of old age, they all seem to die violently.

      I mean she doesn’t need to eat, and I cant recall if she needs to breathe or is just in the habit of doing it.

      Or is that one of the later plot points, where she begins to come to terms with the possibility of living forever?

      Current score: 0
  10. Zergonapal says:

    Hey this isn’t hardcore erotica, not every chapter needs to end with an earth shattering orgasm 😀

    Current score: 0
    • Krey says:

      No, but there should be a tag for that so I can find the old ones that did more easily.

      Current score: 1
  11. Cernael says:

    Anvildude: something along the lines of…

    When a half-demon
    Says the human meat market
    Is no myth – believe!

    Current score: 0
  12. Krey says:

    I really hope that last line is alluding to the next chapter being about Nicki’s date!

    Current score: 0
  13. tomclark says:

    But still, I couldn’t help thinking that things might have been more interesting if I’d been able to follow Nicki on her date instead of going on mine.

    So is this the subject of our next OT then? 😀

    Current score: 0
  14. AlexV says:

    To be honest Nicki on her date really would have been more interesting to me so I’m hoping it’s the next OT. I’m kind of hoping that Jamie’s involvement ends here. He brought up an interesting plot point about how elves relate to humans, something to be on the look out for in future but I don’t see what he would add to Mack’s mix of lovers and friends.

    To be honest I’m really hoping that we see a love interest for Two develop next and Jamie does not remotely fit the bill for that imo.

    Current score: 0