310: Descent

on November 6, 2008 in Book 11

In Which Who Is Fucking With Whom Becomes An Issue

“What’s he going to do now?” I asked Steff as Ian headed out of the pit. “Do they come out and watch when they’re done fighting, or what?”

“Well, he’ll probably hit the showers first,” Steff said.

“He should,” Two said. “He was very dirty.”

“And then after that… I don’t know,” Steff said. “He doesn’t seem like he’s going to be sulking in the locker room, though.”

“We should go down and wait for him to come out,” Amaranth said.

I’d seen more than my fill of fights for the night, so I had no objection.

“I’d love to see the final bouts… but we do have to get to Viktor sooner or later,” Steff said.

“There’s always next time,” Amaranth said.

“Until the last time,” Two reasoned. “Then there’s never next time again.”

“Listen to our little pessimist,” Steff said.

“I’m not a pessimist,” Two said. “I’m a pragmatist. My friend Hazel told me so.”

“Why’d she say that?” I asked, though I supposed it was true. The more Two’s thought processes became her own, the more practical she became.

“She was telling me about optimism and pessimism and glasses of water,” Two said. “I said the glass was both half empty and half full. She said that meant I was a pragmatist.”

“Either that or a smart ass,” Steff said.

“I think it’s better to be a smart ass than a dumb ass,” Two said.

“Did your friend Hazel tell you that, too?” I asked.

“No,” Two said. “I figured it out on my own.”

“That’s very clever, sweetie,” Amaranth said. “But you shouldn’t call people dumb asses.”

“I didn’t,” Two said. “I said I would rather be a smart ass than a dumb one.”

“She’s expressing herself, Amy,” Steff said. “Don’t kill this.”

We followed Steff out of the arena and into the hall, which was even more crowded with people hanging out than it had been before. Several guys were drawn towards Amaranth… I watched her get ready to apologetically rebuff them, but then their faces clouded over and they halted their approach. Some of them were looking at Steff, but most of them were looking at me.

“Maybe next time,” Amaranth mumbled in their direction, a little puzzled.

“Come on,” Steff said, tugging on her arm to get her moving faster. “Bunch of townie hicks,” she whispered.

“Oh, be nice,” Amaranth said.

“What’s a townie hick?” Two asked, displaying her usual tact and volume control. “Is that different than a regular hick?”

I cringed. Steff laughed. The ugly looks grew uglier, though a lot of people just snickered or even looked embarrassed for her.

“Hi, there, officers!” Amaranth called loudly, waving to a pair of campus guards on the other side of the hallway. She grabbed Two and Steff by the arms and started walking faster. “Come on, baby,” she said to me, then added loudly to the guards, “Nice night, isn’t it?”

“Hey, when somebody asks a question, you’re supposed to answer it,” Two said. “What’s a townie hick?”

“It’s an insult,” I told her. “It’s not a nice thing to say.”

“Oh,” she said. “Okay.”

Amazingly, we made it through the crowd unchallenged and unscathed, and then Steff led us through a maze of descending hallways that wound back and forth. Once we started going down, there was a definite shift in the feel of the architecture… less notice boards and trophy displays, more widely spaced lighting, and walls made out of large blocks that had been painted over with institutional beige paint. It was like a partially refinished dungeon.

“Why don’t they just have stairs?” I asked. I was beginning to feel unaccountably nervous… no, not unaccountably, considering what I’d gone through. “I feel like I’m stuck in the labyrinth again here.”

“Oh, baby, if you get lost, just follow the passages that slope upwards,” Amaranth said.

“There are stairs,” Steff said. “But the doors at the bottom level are locked. If there isn’t anybody hanging out on the other side to let you through, you just have to go back up and go around anyway.”

“Why are they locked?”

“Because they go right into the prep rooms,” Steff said. “Lots of expensive magical equipment just sitting out. Anyway, we’re almost there… I think.”

“You think?” I said, feeling a moment of panic. I was now reminded of being led blindfolded through the caves to the dwarf hall… another unpleasant experience involving mazes.

“Oh, I’m just fucking with you,” she said.

“Good,” I said, relieved. I knew what Amaranth said about retracing our path by following the slope, but my mind was still on the labyrinth, with its shifting passages that perversely foiled any attempt at rational analysis.

“Yeah, in all seriousness, I don’t have a clue where we are,” Steff said.

What?”

“Still fucking with you, babe,” she said, grinning from pointy ear to pointy ear.

“Oh, leave her alone,” Amaranth said.

“I know we’re almost at the bottom because there’s the dwarven tunnel exit,” Steff said, pointing at the wall. “I know it’s totally obvious, but if you ever see a couple of dwarves hanging out in front of it and trying to act nonchalant, it’s best to pretend you don’t notice it.”

“You’re still fucking with me,” I said.

“No, I’m not,” Steff said. “They get really upset if you let on that you can see their super-secret hidden door.”

“I can’t see it,” I said.

“Really?” Steff asked. She looked at Amaranth. “Amy, do you think maybe she needs to get her eyes checked?”

“Well, in her defense, it is fairly subtle,” Amaranth said, putting her head up close to the wall and scrutinizing it up and down, both through her glasses and over them.

“It’s also to the left of that,” Steff said. “Now you guys are fucking with me.”

“No, we’re not,” I said.

“Huh,” Steff said.

“I don’t see it, either,” Two said. “And I am not fucking with you, either, too.”

Steff looked at Two, and then at Amaranth and me. It was obvious she didn’t want to believe, but at the same time she couldn’t believe that Two was lying to her. She pointed at the wall at the end of the hall, where it turned a corner.

“So… that wall all the way down there,” Steff said. “Is it like, invisible, to you guys? Does it look really tiny?”

“It’s like thirty feet away,” I said.

“Does that mean you can’t see it at all?” Steff asked.

Amaranth laughed.

“We see it fine, silly,” she said.

“I’m just trying to work up some kind of benchmarks here,” Steff said. “I don’t want to be out some day with you guys and see something and go like, ‘Hey holy fuck, look at that it’s awesome!’ and then find out you can’t see it. I mean, my vision’s only two hundred/four hundred, so I try to be sensitive.”

“We see it fine,” I said, a little irritated, and I headed down towards the corner to put a stop to the conversation.

“Well, that’s new,” Steff said, when we rounded it. She pointed, completely unnecessarily.

The woman who’d fought Puddy, Asgeirsdottir, was laying down on the floor, up against the wall. Her head was pointed away from us. She was dressed in a cushy white cloth shift of some kind and snoring gently. In person, she looked even bigger than she had in the arena.

“In case you guys can’t tell, that giant woman who fought Puddy is laid out on the floor in her night shirt,” Steff said.

“I think now you are being a smart ass,” Two said.

“You’re damn skippy,” Steff said. She bent down and turned her head sideways, peering down the floor between the sleeping woman’s leg. “Whoa… talk about gazing into the abyss.”

“Steff!” I hissed.

“What?” she said, turning her neck to look up at me without straightening up. “You can’t tell me you see a beautiful woman dressed like that, laid out like that, and you don’t get curious.”

“Do not be such a pervert, √°lfr,” the apparently very awake Asgeirsdottir said, sitting up and closing her legs. She had an accent that made me think of somewhere windy and cold.

“You’re a pervertalfer,” Steff said. “I was just making sure you weren’t leaving yourself open to assault… there are a lot of sketchy people in the halls tonight, and you looked pretty out of it.”

“Oh!” the large woman said. She blushed. She got to her feet and began walking up the hallway towards us. “I am sorry. Thank you for your concern. I am called Pala, because of my… height? How are you called?”

Wow,” Steff said, looking up at the warrior woman’s full height.

“I’m Amaranth,” Amaranth said, hurrying forward with her hand out. “And this is my friend Two, and my lover Mackenzie.”

“Hello, Amaranth,” Pala said. “Hello, Two. Hello, Mackenzie. Hello, Wow.”

“Hello, Pala,” Two said. “She isn’t Wow. She’s Steff.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Pala said. “I am sometimes slow to understand Pax.”

“We need to get her and Dee together,” Steff whispered sideways to me. “They could apologize to each other for hours.”

“So, what are you doing after your last match, Pala?” she said aloud.

“Well, first, I have to say a prayer of thanksgiving,” Pala said.

“Seriously, I think they must have been separated at birth,” Steff whispered.

“And then I really must polish my spear,” Pala added.

“Uh huh,” Steff said. Her eyes seemed to be glazing over. I sensed that drooling was imminent.

It was disgusting, really… okay, yeah, Pala was gorgeous, and her chest was big enough to get lost in, but it was so obvious there was nothing going on above it. She was like a dumb blonde crossed with a dumb jock. How could Steff go for that?

“My spear is practically a part of me,” Pala added, oblivious to the effect she was having on Steff. “I love the feeling of the shaft in my hands. It was my father’s, but he died before I knew him. My uncle was the one who first gave it to me and taught me how to handle it. He said to me, ‘Little Pala, you must learn how to work the butt as well as the tip if you are to overwhelm all comers.'”

“Okay… now you are fucking with me,” Steff said.

“I am fucking?” Pala said, confused. “This is a come-on?”

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” Steff said.

“Um… if the staircase door opens up from the inside, that means we’d miss Ian if he goes to leave while we’re standing here,” I reminded Steff.

“Uh huh,” Steff said. She was starting to get the dazed look on her face again.

“Your friend is okay?” Pala asked us.

“She gets this way sometimes,” Amaranth said. She pushed Steff towards Pala, took their hands and put them together. “Why don’t you two go have a little conversation about spear-polishing while we go on to the locker rooms… they aren’t far, are they?”

“Did you know that you are naked?” Pala asked Amaranth. She looked down at Steff’s hand in hers, then at Steff. “And you… you have a… a… I do not know the Pax.”

What Steff had was a raging hard-on.

“What, this old thing?” Steff asked, looking down at herself sheepishly. “I only throw it on when I’m not expecting to go anywhere.”

Pala let go of her hand, straightened out her big garment thing, and sniffed.

“You people are weird,” she said, and she headed past us up the hallway.

“Wow, look at that sway,” Steff said. “I think I’m in…”

“Oh, please,” I said. “Not another stupid infatuation.”

“What do you mean?” Steff asked.

“Baby, what did we learn about calling people stupid?” Amaranth said.

“I don’t mean she’s stupid,” I said. “But, seriously, Steff… the way you moon after ‘Jilly’, and now her… it’s crazy. You’re falling in love with people waaaay too easily.”

I didn’t say anything about it, but I was starting to wonder how long she’d known Viktor before deciding he was her future.

“Oh yeah?” Steff asked. “Well, what about you, then?”

“Maybe I have a lot of relationships, but other than Amaranth I don’t…”

“Not what I meant,” Steff said. She turned away.

“I think falling in love easily is a great skill to…” Amaranth started to say.

“Oh, stick a cock in it,” Steff said. She started down the hall. “Come on.”

Two hiccupped, and then started to cry. She had not learned to modulate or moderate her sobbing in the time since this had last happened.

“Oh, look what you did!” Steff said, turning around. She gestured towards the sobbing golem girl. “Are you happy now?”

“Me?” I asked. “I just didn’t want to miss Ian because you were trying to score!”

Two sputtered out something that sounded like the beginning of the word “stop” over and over again. Amaranth already had her arms around her.

“Both of you knock it off!” she said. “Mack, apologize to Steff!”

“What for?” I asked. “I just don’t want to see her getting all doe-eyed over another stupid warr…”

Mackenzie Jo Blaise!” Amaranth said, her eyes blazing over the rim of her glasses. She kissed Two and then gently disengaged from her.

“I…” I dropped my head, my cheeks burning. Why, oh why, had the news taught her my middle name? “I didn’t mean stupid-stupid, I meant…”

“I know what you meant,” Amaranth said. “And so do you. Really, baby… considering how fortunate you’ve been in finding lovers, jealousy is very unbecoming on you.”

“Jealousy?” I repeated, incredulously. “Do you think that’s what this is? I knew Steff had another lover… I know she fucks around. I don’t care.”

“Unless it’s with a ‘stupid warrior’,” Steff said. “Just like with Jilly.”

Stop calling her Jilly!” I said loudly. “That’s practically obscene! Why, why, why would you call that woman Jilly?”

“I think even barbarian women must like to feel feminine, sometimes,” Amaranth said. “Wait, can we still call those people barbarians? Oh, I didn’t mean ‘those people’…”

“Seriously, Amy…” Steff said.

“H-hi, Ian,” Two blubbered. I turned at the sound of her voice and saw her waving past us, then turned to see Ian standing at the bottom of the sloped hallway. He was dressed in nothing but his boxers, with his shirt slung over his shoulder.

“Uh, hey,” Ian said. “Um… is there some reason you’re all standing in the hall screaming?”


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4 Responses to “310: Descent”

  1. pedestrian says:

    don’tcha just hate it when you deplane into a mob of family screaming at each other in a crowded terminal?

    Current score: 1
  2. Duke says:

    It’s worse when it’s a mob of Canadian family rolling around on the terminal floor beating the ever-loving holy hell out of each other.

    Current score: 1
  3. Maesenko says:

    I am REALLY getting tired of Amaranth by this point. She really needs to understand the meaning of “colloquialism” and stop always “being right” if she’s only going to press a matter on Mack. It’s hypocritical and beyond irritating.

    I understand she will have her faults, but it seems that she doesn’t even bother to meaningfully take to heart anything she says or is told, even by her Mother.

    /rant

    In other news, great to see I’m not the only one who believes and says, “it’s better to be a smart ass than a dumb ass”.

    Current score: 4