270: Mum’s The Word

on August 18, 2008 in Book 10

In Which Things Are Viewed In Black And White

Amaranth, Steff, and I crowded past Honey into the goblinoids’ room. Oru said something, but I wasn’t hearing anything at that point… my brain was giving full attention to the unbelievable testimony of my eyes.

I might have guessed that I would somehow see my grandmother again, but I would never have predicted it would be on TV… still, there she was, in living color and larger than life.

Except, tiny and black and white.

Sound came back to me.

“…always called her Kenzie. I told her mother the child would have problems if she gave it a man’s name, I said to her that Lord Khersis would not be mocked so, and this was long before we knew…”

“Can we change this to color?” I asked, my gaze falling on Oru. One look at her murderous glare was enough to remind me that I wasn’t her favorite person in the world at the moment… the shock of hearing that my grandmother was on television had completely overridden that knowledge.

“I told you not to talk to me,” she said. “And who said you could come into my room?”

“Oh… sorry,” I said, starting to back towards the door, but Steff put her hands on my shoulders and stopped me.

“Hold on,” she said. “This isn’t just your room… Shiel lives here, too.”

“Yes, I do,” Shiel said from behind us. “And I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to just waltz into somebody else’s quarters like you own the place and start using their possessions without their permission.”

“Yeah, sorry, we’ll go,” I said.

“Was it really necessary to challenge Oru like that?” Amaranth asked Steff once we were out of the room and had moved a short distance away towards the lounge. “It’s more her room than it is yours.”

“Yeah, but… I thought Shiel was cool,” Steff said. “I didn’t expect her to take Oru’s side over ours… I never got the feeling that they got along with each other.”

“I do not believe she sided with anything except for the sovereign right of an individual to be secure in their domicile,” Dee said. I realized that she alone had stayed in the hall when the rest of us rushed in.

“Oh, come on,” Steff said. “It’s a dorm, the door’s open… it’s not like we broke in and started carting off loot.”

“Neither did you have an invitation,” Dee said.

“Oh, let’s not argue about this,” Amaranth said. “Let’s just go downstairs before we miss the rest of it.”

“It’s over,” Honey reported from the door. She stepped all the way out into the hall and closed it behind her. “There wasn’t much. I expect they’ll probably show it over and over again, though.”

“Oh,” I said. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” she said. “I wouldn’t have guessed your gram was a paladin.”

“Uh, she isn’t,” I said.

“Oh, sorry,” Honey said. “I meant that she had been one.”

“She hadn’t,” I said. “I mean, she wasn’t… she was a Sunday school teacher and an exorcist.”

“Oh, well, I guess they got that bit wrong,” Honey said.

“What did she say?” I asked.

“Well… I’m afraid I wasn’t completely paying attention to it until the name caught my ear,” Honey said. “But… she wants you to come home.”

“Yeah, that’s hardly a surprise,” I said. “She didn’t want me to come here in the first place… I thought she’d given up on me, though.”

“No, she said she writes you a letter every day,” Honey said.

“That’s strange,” Amaranth said while I shifted uncomfortably. “I wonder why you haven’t been getting those, baby?”

In the process of looking everywhere but at her face, I noticed Steff and Dee exchanging glances. I guessed my expression must have been something of a giveaway. Amaranth looked from them to me, and then her cheeks reddened. She grabbed my hand and pulled me to her side.

“Please excuse us, Honey… I have to have a little ‘talk’ with my Mack,” she said.

“Er, before you go… do any of you know if we’re still allowed to move dorms?” Honey asked.

“What, you don’t actually want to room with Oru, do you?” Steff asked.

“Steff, be nice,” Amaranth said.

“Not exactly,” she said. “I meant out of Harlowe… I don’t know if I can live in a dorm where people are getting arrested.”

None of us knew what to say to that… she said it almost apologetically. We just sort of stared while she fidgeted. Finally she said, “Excuse me, I have to use the magic mirror thing,” and headed around to the side of the lounge.

“What a fucking little priss!” Steff said.

“Steff, hon, she’s right around the corner,” Amaranth said.

“I don’t care,” Steff said. “Just because Dee spent a couple of nights in lock-up is no reason for anybody to look down their nose at her.”

“I would not ascribe malice or judgment to her comment without knowing more about her situation than would fall within my prerogative,” Dee said.

“I would,” Steff said.

“Yes, that is manifestly obvious,” Dee said.

Amaranth started pulling me in the direction of my room.

“Excuse us, guys, but we’re going to need a minute alone,” she said.

“Take your time,” Dee said.

Amaranth led me into my room and closed the door behind us. She walked over to the window and stood as though she was looking out of it, though the curtains were drawn. I wondered in an idle sort of way if the newsfolks had any idea what room was mine. Amaranth didn’t say anything. I let the backpack full of things she’d packed for me slip off of my shoulder and set it down on the floor.

“I guess your mail is your business… and your family is your business, too… but I would have liked to know that this was going on,” Amaranth said finally, with her back towards me. “If I thought you were close to your grandmother, I would like a chance to be a part of that, even if it had to be indirectly… and if you’re having problems with her, I need to be a part of that. So, I’m just going to ask you this once: is there anything in those letters that you’d like to talk about?”

“I… I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“I… haven’t been reading them,” I said. “I destroyed the first bunch on sight, and asked Two to get rid of any more that came in.”

“You asked Two?”

I ducked my head. I won’t call what I did then a blush… blushing had become, in itself, a sort of sexual experience to me. It was a form of foreplay… the prelude to an orgasm. It didn’t belong in this conversation.

“I told her,” I said.

“Don’t mumble, baby,” Amaranth said. She still hadn’t turned to face me. “Speak up and give me a straight answer.”

“I told her to,” I said.

“You ordered her to do it, you mean?”

I nodded, then realized she couldn’t see it. I choked out the word, “Yes.” Big fat tears spilled out of the corners of my eyes.

“How did Two feel about this order?”

I didn’t answer… I couldn’t. I tried not to break down completely, but then Amaranth finally turned around to face me and I let out a sob.

“Do I even have to tell you how disappointed I am?” she asked. “Or why?”

I shook my head, and was about a second away from collapsing when Amaranth caught me and squeezed me to her chest.

“You are going to apologize to Two, and you are never going to give her another order that’s for your benefit instead of hers,” Amaranth said. “I think I understand why you don’t want to read the letters… or at least, I understand the fact that you don’t… but there could be something important in them. However strange your grandmother’s ideas about some things might be, she must know something about demons. Do you think there could be anything in these letters that you wouldn’t want me to know about?”

I had to think about that. Given my preference, I would have liked to leave my past completely behind… but given that it didn’t seem like I had much say in the matter, I couldn’t think of anything my grandmother could or would say that would be a damaging revelation.

I didn’t want to read letter after letter of her alternating reminders that she was family and loved me accordingly and that I was a vile hellspawn who only lived because of my mother’s blood, but I knew Amaranth’s opinion of me wouldn’t be shaken by such a thing… if anything, she’d understand where I was coming from when I didn’t want to talk about my family life.

“No,” I said. “No, ma’am.”

“If any more letters come, I want you to give them to me,” Amaranth said. “If there is anything important in them… anything you need to know… I’ll tell you. If not, I’ll destroy them myself. Okay, baby?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I feel like I’ve been neglecting you a bit lately,” she said.

“No!” I said. We’d been sleeping together so often lately that it almost seemed like she’d been neglecting her duties for me.

“It’s just how I feel,” she said. “I think maybe it’s because you have so much going on… you go out with Ian, you go out with Steff… you’re going out with Sooni… I’m not jealous, of course, but it makes me realize how little social time we spend together.”

“What about meals?” I asked. “Or library time? That’s my favorite part of the week, every week since we’ve been here…”

“I guess that’s true,” she said. “But you have to admit, I’ve at least been slacking a bit in the discipline department.” She gave me a little pat on the rear. “I don’t want to leave our friends outside in the hallway, but we’re going to have a little ‘quality time’ before your date with Sooni.”

“Ugh… if it was anybody else, I’d really think about postponing that,” I said. “This week’s been complicated enough, and I wouldn’t want to go out with anybody with the circus in town…”

“Well, if you’re going to do that, make sure you tell her soon,” Amaranth said. “Now, let’s get Steff and Dee in here, and you two can tell me what happened on your date.”

Amaranth went to let them in, and then we all sat down on the carpeted floor.

“First of all… did you guys have a good time?” Amaranth asked.

“Yeah,” I said, and Steff nodded. “I guess, overall, we did.”

“That’s the most important thing,” Amaranth said.

“Ordinarily, I’d agree with you,” Steff said. “But… there were some other things that I think might trump that.”

“Like what?”

“Well, first of all, I met Mercy,” I told Amaranth. “In the gray-colored flesh.”

“Is that a metaphor?” Amaranth asked, her brow furrowing in confusion.

“No, her skin is gray,” I said. “She’s a gray elf.”

“A gray elf?” Dee repeated.

“Yeah,” I said. “As in, an elf with gray skin.”

“That is a disturbing image,” Dee said. “I wonder how such a thing came to be?”

“Well, my thought… and she verified this… was that she was a cross between the two different colors of elves,” I said.

Dee’s face seemed to turn to stone. Her eyes went very wide. There was a high-pitched sound that I thought at first was coming from her, despite her mouth being closed… but then I realized that Steff was doubled over, her hands over her crotch. As her wordless cry grew in volume to become a shriek. Dee turned towards her in surprise, and she seemed to catch on a moment after I did that her own mental powers were the source of Steff’s pain and distress.

“I’m sorry,” she said, releasing Steff from her mental clutches. “That was an entirely subconscious reaction.”

“Heal! Heal!” Steff gasped. She’d fallen over on her side, curled up in the fetal position.

“Turn your head, baby,” Amaranth said to me, and I averted my eyes as she drew on her divine healing powers. “There you go… you probably shouldn’t have sex with Mack for a while, though, and try to avoid… um… don’t do anything that’s going to get me in trouble with Mother Khaele while your stuff’s still sanctified.”

“What could she possibly do that your holy mother would not approve of?” Dee asked. “Upon reflection, I would probably not thank you for answering that question.”

“It’s okay,” Steff said. “I don’t think I’m going to want to have sex with anything for a while… fucking hell, Dee, it’s not like I’ve personally been going around knocking up forsaken priestesses… if that was even possible… which it isn’t.”

“Of course it isn’t,” Dee said. “But… it’s simply too disgusting to contemplate.”

“Why isn’t it possible?” I asked.

“Because it isn’t,” Dee said. “In the first place, the necessary union would never happen. If it did, no pregnancy could result. If it could, it would never be allowed to progress to term.”

“Mack, hon, don’t push the psychokinetic’s boundaries,” Steff said.

“Who exactly is this Mercy?” Dee asked.

“She used to be an assassin, but some decades ago she made some kind of deal to go legit,” Steff said. “Now she’s a slaver, among other things.”

“I wouldn’t have expected her to handle the delivery personally,” Amaranth said.

“Delivery? You purchased a slave?” Dee asked.

“Not exactly,” I said. Steff and I exchanged guilty looks.

“At least,” Steff said, and as I fervently wished for her not to say what I knew she was going to say next, she continued, “not a whole one,” and then forced out half of a nervous laugh before looking down at the floor, her face ashen.

I felt sick.

“I think perhaps you should clarify things before I draw the wrong conclusion,” Dee said.

I kind of wished that she would… whatever she was thinking couldn’t be any worse than the truth.

“Well,” Amaranth said, pulling on her hair as her lip tried to curl around her lower teeth, “when we said that she’s a slaver, what we really mean is that Mercy runs a kind of fairly unique sort of business, for people who have… unique… dietary habits, or want to try something different.”

Nobody said anything for a while.

“Allow me to test my understanding,” Dee said. “You live in a region where food is so plentiful that there are places where, for a thin piece of silver you can fill up a plate as many times as you would like with meat and seeded plants… and yet you still find it necessary to slaughter your fellow beings for food?”

“Well, no, not necessary,” Amaranth said. “I think, for some people, that’s the point… it’s a luxury. I don’t approve of it, obviously, but…”

“And you placed an order from this establishment?” Dee asked.

“Mack did!” Steff said.

“I wasn’t exactly myself,” I said.

“Who precisely were you?” Dee asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “We think I might have been a little possessed.”

“A little possessed?” Dee repeated.

“We don’t know for sure,” I said.

“And what is the possible cause of this possible possession?”

“We don’t know,” Steff said.

“So, you might have done this of your own free will?” Dee asked me.

“No, I definitely didn’t do that!” I said. “I don’t even remember placing the order.”

“So, it was a surprise when it arrived?” Dee asked.

“Well, no,” Steff said. “She told me before she, you know… came out of it, or whatever.”

“And you went through with it, anyway,” Dee said.

“It’s an ‘all sales are final’ kind of thing,” I said.

“Yeah, the damage was already done,” Steff said. “Even if Mercy allowed cancellations, it wasn’t like we could actually undo it.”

“Did it not occur to you that if you could have offered payment but made it clear that you did not actually desire the ‘finished product’?”

“The thing is, we couldn’t even offer payment,” I said.

Dee sighed.

“I suppose I should be reassured that life is, apparently, not all that cheap,” she said. “I take it that this visitation from ‘Mercy’ had to do with the subject of payment, then?”

“Not exactly, no,” I said.

“See, we took care of that… I managed to find other buyers for most of the order,” Amaranth said. “And Steff’s lover, Viktor, was going to pay for their portion.”

“You actually consumed the flesh of another?” Dee asked, aghast.

“I didn’t,” Steff said quietly.

“I did,” I said.

“Well, at least you sound properly horrified,” Dee said. “I can’t imagine what possessed you… well, I suppose that is either an extremely poor choice of words or an extremely apt one. Are all three of you insane?”

“Hey, I was trying to make the best of a bad situation!” Amaranth said indignantly, her eyes flashing. “The order was already placed, canceling it outright wasn’t an option, and I thought this was something that Mack and Steff could share…”

“Yes,” Steff said. She shivered. “We were insane.”

“Anyway… the reason Mercy was there was because of me,” I said. “She wanted to buy me.”

“Buy you?” Amaranth repeated.

“For a pet,” I said.

“Forgive me for saying so, but you seem to attract that sentiment quite often,” Dee said.

“That’s what I said,” Steff said.

“Her back-up plan was to get me to have a daughter for her,” I said. “She has a pair of male half-demon slaves, apparently, and she wants to create a breeding line.”

“That sounds like a toweringly bad idea,” Dee said.

“Yeah, well, there’s absolutely no danger of that happening,” I said. “I would never have a child… much less one with another demonblood… much less on behalf of a slaver who wants to create a hundred more.”

“I was told that this sort of thing was quite common in the skydomed lands, but I dismissed it as wild rumor and propaganda… and yet, as the time of my visit drew nearer, I prepared myself for the shock of encountering it,” Dee said. “And then I felt relief when I arrived and found that while meat was plentiful, it came from dumb beasts… and now… well, the human tongue lacks the words to describe the feeling of mingled shock and disappointment I feel to learn that what I have dismissed as baseless falsehood is in fact the truth.”

“And yours doesn’t?” I asked.

“It has three,” Dee said.

“See, that’s just excessive,” Steff said. “Why would you need more than one?”

“Shades of nuance… and yet, even with all three words at my disposal, I find myself unequal to the task of articulating what I feel,” Dee said. She got to her feet and started backing towards the door. “I have had a change of mind… I think I would rather remain in my own company at this juncture.”

“Oh, don’t go!” Amaranth said.

“Dee… we made terrible mistakes,” Steff said. “But…”

“For that, I do not judge you… but my view of the order of things has been shifted, and I fear if I remain in your company before I have had time to acclimate to the changes, I may say something that one of us regrets,” Dee said. She bowed. “I will pray for all of you.”

She opened the door, still going backwards, and gave an uncharacteristic startled yelp as she almost tripped over Honey.

“I beg your pardon,” Dee said. “I hadn’t heard you approaching the door.”

“That’s… that’s quite alright,” Honey said. She was pale and shaking a little, which might have just been a side-effect of almost being bowled over by a flowing black cloak. “Er, you lot probably need to come to the telly now.”

“What about Oru?” I asked.

“She says it’s fine,” Honey said. “This is important. It’s your mum… she’s giving an interview.”

“My mother’s dead,” I said.

“Er, not yours,” she said. She pointed to Amaranth. “Yours.”

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One Response to “270: Mum’s The Word”

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