311: Port In A Storm

on November 7, 2008 in Book 11

In Which Coach Callahan’s Night Is Ruined

“Ian!” I said.

Everybody hurried down towards him and just like that, the argument was forgotten for the moment. Two even abruptly stopped crying, though she kept hiccupping.

“Oh, how are you feeling, honey?” Amaranth asked him. He’d cleaned off all the blood and sweat, but he looked depleted, almost dead on his feet.

“Are you kidding?” he asked, his voice a little ragged and hoarse. “I’m on top of the freaking world. Anybody need a light?”

He held out a fist and opened it. A tiny flame appeared for a moment above it, then disappeared. At the same time, Ian swayed visibly.

“Whoa… kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel there, aren’t you?” Steff said.

“Probably,” Ian said. “Probably shouldn’t be pulling fire from air, but it’s kind of hard to get wood in a locker room.”

“Must not have tried very hard,” Steff said. Ian ignored this.

“So you got my message, I guess,” Ian said.

“Actually… no,” I said. “I had some mirror problems. But I figured out you were fighting anyway, so we all came to, you know, watch. I thought you did pretty well, considering.”

“Yeah, I did okay,” he said. “Could have done better… will do better… but I don’t really care right now.”

“Oh, you did fine,” Amaranth said, putting an arm around him and kissing him on the cheek.

“No, I mean it,” Ian said. Without even thinking about it, he put his arm around her and leaned into her… he looked like he needed the support, too. “I really don’t care.”

I didn’t begrudge him leaning on Amaranth… she made for better support. I had enough problems keeping one person upright.

“The fire thing kind of eclipses everything else right now?” I asked.

“Kind of,” he said. “But only because I don’t care about it.”

“About the fight?” I asked, confused.

“About the fire,” he said. “That’s why it’s so awesome.”

“The fire is awesome… because you don’t care about it?” Steff said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Does that make any sense?”

“No,” Two declared between hiccups. “It doesn’t.”

“Are you sure the healers got to your head, hon?” Steff asked.

“I was in the steamroom, trying to unwind and clear my head after some practice, and I just started sort of… fooling around, I guess,” he said.

“Oh, wait, I think I know this story,” Steff said.

“Hey, no more comments from the penis gallery, please,” Ian said. “Anyway, I just started trying to draw fire out of the heat stones… I didn’t expect to have any more success than I’ve ever had, but I wasn’t even really trying to succeed… just trying things out… and all of a sudden, there was a tiny flame on top of the stone.”

“Good for you!” Amaranth said.

“It disappeared as soon as I noticed it, but I got it back and then started pulling fire out of the steam,” he said. “Once I figured out what I was doing, it was… I want to say it was easy. It was but it wasn’t. Like pushing a rock up a hill: hard work, but there’s no secret you have to figure out to do it. You just push.”

“Yeah, and just how much ‘pushing’ did you do?” I asked, remembering Ian’s lethargic entrance into the arena and how quickly he’d worn himself out throwing punches.

“Too much,” he admitted, grinning sheepishly. “But it was fun. Once I got started… it was kind of a rush. You know, ‘fire… cool!'”

“I’m no elementalist, but fire’s not supposed to be cool,” Steff said. “Of course, they keep telling me that undead aren’t supposed to be hot…”

“You know, I probably wouldn’t mind it if you never said anything again,” Ian said.

“Yeah, they had a club for people like that, but university rules said they had to let me join and so they only ever had the one meeting,” Steff said.

Anyway…” Ian said. “It was exhausting, especially since I’d been training so hard before, but the more I did it, the more I realized I didn’t give a shit whether I could do it or not, and the more exciting it became.”

“Yeah, uh, we’re still kind of waiting for an explanation on that one,” Steff said.

“Before, I felt like I had to get fire down because… this whole thing with my dad,” he said. “I should have been able to do it like it was nothing, and I couldn’t, and I’ve been falling behind in elemental invocation because of it. Bohd told me she wouldn’t assign me a grade if I wanted to drop it, even after the deadline, but I knew my dad would kill me if I did that. And then he’d cut me off. But now that I know I can do it… I don’t care so much about that.”

“You mean, your dad won’t care what you major in as long as you can do fire magic?” I asked.

“No, he’d still hit the roof,” Ian said. “In his mind, that’s the only point to sending me here. But that doesn’t bother me… I told you before, Mackenzie, I wasn’t doing it for him. I just didn’t want to feel like a failure.”

“So why bring him up?” I asked.

For a moment, I thought I’d stumped him without meaning to, because he didn’t answer. He got a very Two-ish “I’m thinking, I’m thinking” look on his face.

“I guess… I guess because he’s the one who gave me my models of success and failure,” he said after a while. “Yeah, I’m probably not making a lot of sense right now. I feel awesome, but I really need to get some sleep.” He kissed me on the cheek. “Hope you don’t mind… I just want a bed underneath me the next time I pass out.”

“No, it’s fine… we’ve kind of got a thing,” I said. “But I wanted to at least watch you fight and… tell you that I watched you.”

“I can at least walk out with you,” Ian said. “Or walk you back to your dorm.”

“Uh… all things considered, maybe we should be walking you back to your dorm,” Steff said.

“Also, you might want to put some warmer clothes on,” Two said.

He blushed, and so did I. I’d seen Ian in his underwear enough times that I hadn’t totally processed his state of dress… though to be honest, his boxers covered more of his body than the fighting briefs had. It was a matter of context, though. That had been him dressed for fighting. This was him undressed, in a hallway, talking to a bunch of girls.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, and darted around the corner.

With Ian’s departure, the smile had fallen off of Steff’s face… she’d half-turned and was drifting vaguely away from us.

“I’m sorry… sorry I yelled at you,” I said to her.

“It’s fine,” Steff said, a little bit of prickly hurt creeping into her voice. “Though, for the record… I was going to say ‘I’m in lust.'”

“Oh,” I said, feeling profoundly stupid for the assumption I’d made… that was a very Steff thing to say, after all.

“I have to know somebody a bit longer than that to fall in love with them,” she added. “Usually.”

“Sorry,” I said again.

“It’s fine,” she said, and then we lapsed into silence. Amaranth pulled on her hair and chewed her lip while Steff kicked the floor tiles with the toe of her boot and I felt bad without really understanding why. After a while, Two started humming loudly and tunelessly.

“Please don’t do that right now, sweetie,” Amaranth said.

“Okay,” Two said, and she started singing loudly and tunelessly instead. “I’ll tell my ma when I get home the boys won’t leave the girls alone…”

It wasn’t a very long song, and mercifully, Ian arrived before she could think of another one. He was now dressed in his street clothes and a jacket.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “We just have to go get our coats.”

I wondered if we’d have a problem getting back into the arena proper with Ian, since he didn’t have a ticket, but nobody was even checking them at the interior doors any more. It seemed people sneaking in to watch the end of the fights wasn’t a huge priority. There was another sound audible over the background noise of the crowd: rain drops pinging off the arena’s domed roof.

“Oh, wonderful,” I said. “We’re going to get wet.”

“It was raining a little before, too,” Steff said. “But not like this… your owlbear costume will be ruined.”

“I like my coat,” I said.

“My friend Hazel says we should be nice to Mack’s coat,” Two said.

“Thank you,” I said.

“She says if it gets angry, it might try to eat us,” she continued. “I don’t think it will, though. That’s just what she says.”

“Remember, it’s the thought that counts, baby,” Amaranth said, draping her arms over my shoulders from behind and kissing the back of my head.

“I’m not sure that was a nice thought,” I replied.

“I think it’s a tie,” Two said. “Like the glass. Half nice and half not-nice.”

“Well, halves round up, so let’s appreciate the nice part,” Amaranth said.

“Doesn’t the not-nice part round up, too?” I asked.

“No,” Amaranth said.

We got our coats, and before I even put mine on I went over it with a double-strength version of insulation spell, trying to layer on the imperviousness to water really thick.

“What are you doing?” Ian asked.

“Just a temporary enhancement,” I said. “I don’t want my coat getting wet.”

“If you don’t water it, how will it grow?” Steff asked.

“Oh, lay off!” I said, pulling the big furry coat on. “I want to make it through the winter without freezing to death, is that such a crime?”

“Oh, relax,” Ian said, pulling me in close to him. “She’s just having fun the only way she knows how.”

“Anybody else want a boost?” I asked.

Steff shook her head, though she had a look on her face like she would have liked to accept… possibly she thought she’d feel like a jerk for accepting my spell right after making fun of me.

“Mine’s already pretty waterproof,” Ian said.

“No, thank you, baby,” Amaranth said, for obvious reasons.

Two was chanting over her coat.

“No, thank you,” she said when she finished.

“Wait, did you just copy my spell?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Is… is that okay?”

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s just… surprising. It usually takes some time to break down a spell and adapt it into something you can use for yourself.”

“It did take me time,” Two said. “Three and a half seconds. Learning my owner’s spells is… was… one of the things I was for.”

I couldn’t help but notice the sound of pride in her voice that lasted up through the word “is”, and which was replaced by a note of sadness when she corrected herself. I heard Steff mutter something dark and ugly. I seconded the sentiment, whatever she might have said. There was a crash of thunder from outside.

“Let’s get going, before it gets any worse out,” Amaranth said quietly, and we all nodded.

It was really coming down outside.

“Whoo!” Steff yelled, throwing back her head and letting the rain slam into her face. The sky lit up all over as spectacular chains of lightning chased each other across the dome of the world. “Your mom must be pissed, Amy!” Steff said as the thunder rolled in.

“No, she mostly lets the rain do what it wants,” Amaranth said.

Ian laughed and shook his head. I huddled inside my fuzzy fortress and tilted my head to try to keep the rain out of the opening in the hood, with limited success as I couldn’t really go around looking at the ground.

“Alright, I’ll see you guys later,” Ian said. “Thanks for coming out.”

“Hey, weren’t we going with you?” I asked.

“Yeah, but… rain,” Ian said. “It’s way out of your way.”

“If you go out after dark, you’re supposed to have a buddy,” Two said.

“You heard her,” Steff said. “The pseudowench has spoken.”

“Alright,” Ian said.

I would have expected the torrential downpour to drive everybody indoors… the handful of people who left the arena at around the same time we did all dashed madly up the path or around the building, many with jackets over their heads… but it seemed that the campus guards were the ones driven out of the rain; the unmistakable sound of drunken hollering carried through the rain. We passed the fountain at a distance, and saw about half a dozen guys shouting and jumping around.

One of them threw something, and there was a sound of breaking glass followed by more whooping.

“Hey, give me some breadcrumbs!” one of them yelled. I wondered what the hell that was slang for.

“Dude, I don’t have any breadcrumbs! Why would I have breadcrumbs?”

“Why do you want breadcrumbs?” another asked.

“I wanna feed the fucking bird!” the first one shouted, just as a big silver-white swan glided into view from the other side of the dragon statue.

“Oh, is that Leda?” Amaranth asked. “We should go over and say hi.”

“I don’t think so,” Ian said. “Those guys look pretty messed up.”

“Oh… alright,” Amaranth said, and we continued on to Weyland Hall.

The sloping paths had become fast-moving rivers and the greens in between them were marshes. I hadn’t thought to insulate my shoes, and my feet felt like icebergs adrift in the ocean. When we got there, the doors were locked for the night, so we had to stop and wait in the rain while Ian got it open. If it hadn’t been for the storm, we probably would have just said goodnight and been on our way, but we didn’t hesitate when he stepped aside and ushered us in ahead of him.

“Oh, wow,” Steff said. She laughed giddily. “I haven’t seen a storm like that since… ever.”

I took off my coat, and Steff laughed harder. My face, the top of my shirt and the bottom of my jeans were totally soaked. I didn’t know what she thought was so funny, since she was dripping wet.

“At least my coat is dry,” I said.

“I have a couple of towels, if anybody wants one,” Amaranth said, already toweling off her long golden hair. Though she’d walked through the same storm as the rest of us, her beautiful body was just dabbed with a few glistening drops here and there. Her glasses, though, were completely fogged over.

“Yes, please,” I said, and she handed me her hair towel, which was barely damp, and pulled out another one.

“I’ll take one,” Steff said, reaching for it.

The wind picked up outside, lashing the windows along the front of the building with rain. There was an echoing boom from somewhere nearby.

“You guys wanna hang out here and ride this thing out?” Ian asked.

“Uh, we’ve really got to go do this thing with Viktor,” I said. I looked at the others. “Right?”

Amaranth was sucking on her lip. Slowly, she shook her head.

“No,” she said. “It’s dark, it’s stormy, there are no guards in sight and I can’t see three feet out there. We’re not walking back to Harlowe like this. I’m going to tell him we’ll do it some other time.”


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8 Responses to “311: Port In A Storm”

  1. MadnessMaiden says:

    Dang it, Amy!

    Current score: 1
  2. Erm says:

    More dark and stormy foreshadowing at the end there…

    Current score: 0
  3. MentalBlank says:

    “Hey, no more comments from the penis gallery, please,” Loved the reference. 😀

    Current score: 6
    • Zarkloyd says:

      Oh man, I lost it at that one.

      Current score: 0
  4. Not her, the other girl says:

    “Okay,” Two said, and she started singing loudly and tunelessly instead. “I’ll tell my ma when I get home the boys won’t leave the girls alone…”

    She is handsome, she is pretty, she’s the belle of Enwich city! 😀

    Current score: 2
  5. Mike says:

    I love when they talk trash about Mackenzie’s coat.

    Current score: 2
  6. fedback says:

    Possesed amy es extra irresponsable Amy

    Current score: 0
  7. undertheteacup says:

    *wistfully fantasizes about what Callahan’s plans for the night might have been*

    Current score: 0