333: Taking The Cake

on December 19, 2008 in Book 12

In Which Celia Is Incensed

Since Amaranth and Hazel seemed to be getting stuff ready to go, I offered to help with whatever needed doing, but Hazel politely but firmly demurred. So, to kill some more time before seven, I went back into my room and paged through the Under Enwich book.

I flipped first to the section on the transit center… while it had plenty of pictures, I already knew what the place looked like and it was short on information, so I started flipping through at random.

There were some glimpses of what were described as the “semi-public” areas of dwarven houses, and a diagram of the city with the portions where dwarves were known to own the underground rights shaded and a speculative map of tunnels laid over that. If they really did link up like that, then it would be possible for a dwarf to go all over town without going above ground.

It also had pictures of the trolls and ratfolk that had previously taken up the residence in the drain tunnels and old catacombs beneath the city, with a note that while neither had been sighted in years, both populations had been reportedly hunted to extinction at many points in Enwich’s history and so there was a standing bounty on them even when there were no reported problems.

The idea of those bounties bothered me a bit. There was no doubt that the two races were intruders in the human settlement or that they posed a real danger, but unlike most races they had no option of peaceful coexistence with or assimilation into human society.

Trolls were intelligent enough, but also different enough from most races that few people thought of them as being properly alive, much less in the same order of beings as humanity. Of course, that same logic had once been applied to the reptile and goblinoid races, and still was, to some degree. The ratfolk were recognizably mammalian and inarguably intelligent, but their resemblance and inferred relationship to vermin kept them from gaining the same “people” status.

That’s not to say all would be sunlight and hugs, or even twilight and firm handshakes, if only Enwich would throw open the city gates and extend an olive branch to the oppressed trolls and rat people… I didn’t know that they had any inclination to get along with humanity, the rat culture being what it was and the troll culture being… well, they didn’t exactly have one. It was possible that an individual troll somewhere might have picked up on civilized ideas and decided they sounded good, but unless two such trolls happened across each other and then fused and split, there would be no way of spreading that idea.

Still, the possibility that even one troll could go against the grain was why the standing bounty bothered me. At the end of the day, though, I didn’t have a better solution. “Maybe one troll somewhere wants to be friends” wasn’t the sort of thing that a public safety policy could be based on.

Ian came over a bit before seven. I heard Amaranth calling out a greeting to him, so I was at the door even as he was knocking on it.

“Whoa,” he said when I opened it. He smiled. “Moonlighting as a jack in the box?”

“The money’s good, if you can stand to work in a cubicle,” I said. He gave me a kiss on the cheek.

“So, what’s the plan?” Ian asked. “You said there was stuff to carry?”

“Oh, yes, I’m so glad you’re here, Ian,” Amaranth said, hurrying over. “Steff isn’t around and we were counting on her help.”

“She isn’t back yet?” I asked, a sinking feeling in my stomach.

“No,” Amaranth said. She turned to me. “Is something wrong, baby? You said she just had to hand in an assignment or something, right?”

“Uh… maybe we should duck into the room for a minute,” I said.

“Baby,” Amaranth said sternly, “is there something you should have told me before?”

I blushed and mumbled down at the floor, “I didn’t want to say it in front of Hazel.”

“You could have said you had something to tell me in private,” Amaranth said. “Hazel of all people wouldn’t have been nosey.” She sighed. “Come on, though… let’s step inside so we can hear it.”

“Uh… am I stepping, too?” Ian asked.

Amaranth looked at me.

“Yeah,” I said. “I just don’t want this getting around the open hallways.”

We headed inside and closed the door.

“So… what’s going on?” Amaranth asked.

“Steff… well, she took a dagger from the necromancy department,” I said. “For me to use in Callahan’s class. But I didn’t like the look of it, so I told her to put it back. She accidentally cut herself with it…”

“Sure, accidentally,” Ian said.

“It was!” I said. “It was tucked into her belt without a sheath and it ended up slicing her leg.”

“I could see you getting cut up like that, but not a half-elf who carries twin daggers,” Ian said. “Haven’t you ever noticed the way she flips them around for fun sometimes?”

“Not really, no,” I said. “I don’t pay a lot of attention to weapons.”

“She could probably juggle them blindfolded,” Ian said. “You’re not going to convince me that she just like slipped and cut herself.”

I couldn’t exactly protest that Steff wouldn’t cut herself on purpose, since she’d gone on to do just that in front of me, but that just made me more positive that the first cut had been an accident. Steff wasn’t the sort of person who’d feel the need to stage a whole elaborate thing as an excuse to cut herself.

“It was an accident,” I said. “If you’d seen it, you would know.”

“Hey, I’m not saying she did it on purpose,” Ian said. “But… evil looking blade from the necromancy department, improbable accident… some weapons are just bloodthirsty, you know?” I stared at him. “What? I’m just saying…”

I shook my head to clear away the shock.

“No, I think you’re right,” I said. “See, it turned out it’s a vampiric knife, and so every time she cut herself the life energy it stole just healed the wound.”

“Every time?” Ian repeated. “It kept doing it?”

“She kept doing it,” I said. “The first time was an accident… or at least, not her fault, but she liked how it felt. She thought it was just a weird self-healing weapon until I got cut, too.”

Steff cut you?” Amaranth said.

“Just a little nick!” I said. “Which she expected to heal immediately. She wanted me to see what it felt like, the rush…”

“Did she ask your permission first?”

“Well… no,” I said.

“I can’t believe you didn’t say something about this sooner, baby,” Amaranth said. “You’re supposed to tell me when somebody hurts you, and even if it’s Steff, well… you know she’s fragile.”

“But it seemed like she’s really had it together, lately,” I said.

“Because she’s been doing therapy and getting alchemical and psionic adjustments,” Amaranth said.

“‘Psionic’?” Ian asked, raising an eyebrow over the odd choice of wording.

“Yeah, I know,” I said to him. “But let’s not start a whole side argument.”

“Considering what you’ve just been through, it’s unbelievable that you wouldn’t think about what that dagger could do to her,” Amaranth said. “Even if it’s just giving her a rush, she’s a little… addiction prone?”

“I did think about it!” I said. “That’s why I told her to put it back where she found it as soon as I saw it, and then more so when we realized what it did. But what was I supposed to do, call the guards on her?”

“You should have told me so I could tell Viktor,” Amaranth said. “Which I have got to go do, right now.”

“What about the party?” I asked. “Not that this isn’t…”

“It’s very important, but so is the party,” Amaranth said. “Imagine how Steff would feel if we canceled because of her. You two go see if Hazel has anything else that needs carrying over. I’ll be there by the time it starts, hopefully with Steff. You said she was going to the necromancy department?”

“She said she was,” I said. “I don’t know if she ended up there.”

“Okay, I’ll just… ooh, maybe we should wait, see if she actually doesn’t show up before we… no,” Amaranth said, shaking her head. “It’ll be better to be wrong and worry Viktor for no reason than to risk… I should just go and do it, before something happens. See you in a bit, baby.”

She gave me a quick kiss and then rushed off for the stairs. Ian and I headed for Hazel’s room. The door was open. On the low round table was a big white box, much longer and wider than it was tall.

“Hello, you two… where are Steff and Amaranth?” Hazel asked when Ian knocked on the doorframe.

“Amaranth is looking for Steff,” Ian said. “We can help with anything that’s left to do, though.

“Oh, well… it’s just the cake that’s left to take over, really,” Hazel said, gesturing to the box. “The rest of the stuff’s there already. Honey’s keeping an eye on it.”

“She’s going after all?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” Hazel said. “I expect Oru chewed her ear off a bit over it, but try to keep Honey Callaway away from… well, anyway, the cake is sort of a two person job… two big persons, that is.”

“Well, there are two of us,” Ian said.

“Right,” Hazel said, her eyes on me. “Didn’t Amaranth say that Cecelia might be interested in coming?”

“Yeah, okay… I guess I’ll go ask her if she wants to help carry the cake,” I said, thinking she must have meant Celia.

“Wait, are we just taking it for granted that you would drop the cake?” Ian asked me.

“I’m not offended,” I said. “If the choice is Steff or me… well, it’s like you said about knives.”

“No offense to your one, Ian, but I’m not taking any chances with this,” Hazel said. “Amaranth said she could get the whole thing over all by herself with her nymphly ways, but I’m not for anything that means letting it out of my sight like that.”

“Yeah, I’m so not offended,” I said. “I really don’t want to be responsible for the safety of Two’s cake. I’ll go see if Celia’s in.”

I headed down to the end of the hall. The door to Celia and Feejee’s room was closed, but there was a kind of music consisting of rhythmic drumbeats and rattles coming from behind it, along with an odd sticky-sweet smell. I knocked on the door and curls of smoke spilled out as Celia opened it.

“Are you smoking?” I asked her, moments before I noticed that the fragrant purple-gray vapors were wafting off of her skin. The whole room behind her was enshrouded in fog.

“Yeah, I think so,” she said. “It’ll wear off in a bit. I think. It’s been going for about half an hour or so.”

“What the hell did you take this time?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t think it was meant for internal use, though.” She hiccuped, and a big cloud of the stuff popped out of her mouth. “Pardon.”

Spending a weekend as a statue hadn’t imparted any common sense to the snake-eyed girl, it seemed. Whatever… I was there to beg for a favor, not pass judgment.

“Um… anyway… you know that party for Two is tonight, right?” I asked.

“Oh, are you having a party?” Feejee asked from deeper inside the room. I saw her dark form coming through the fog, ominously resembling some deep sea creature breaking the surface of the water. I had a bad feeling about where this was going to end up.

“Uh… it’s this thing for Two, and her friends,” I said.

“I like Two okay,” Feejee said. “And you know, I’m serious about hanging out with you more often, Mack. I really am.”

“No accounting for taste,” Celia said. She shook her head, which made something in her throat rattle. I stared at her, wondering if she knew or suspected exactly what Feejee’s interest in me was.

“Um… I was going to ask if you would help us carry the cake since I’m not allowed to touch it, but I’m not sure Hazel would let you near it in your present state.”

“Oh, I can help!” Feejee said.

Yep. There it was… we couldn’t say, “Thank you for helping us carry the cake, now please leave so we can start the party.” I couldn’t say yes without implicitly inviting her.

“What’d Cecelia say?” Hazel called, coming down the hall towards us.

“She said you don’t call me ‘Cecelia’ and I won’t call you ‘snack food’,” Celia said, stepping out into full view. “I told you only my mom calls me that.”

Hazel didn’t respond; her eyes were bugging out at the sight of Celia’s vaporous aura.

“She’s indisposed, but I don’t mind pitching in for Two,” Feejee said cheerfully, joining us in the hall.

“Oh, well… many nipples make light work,” Hazel said. “It’s Feejee, right?”

“Yeah,” Feejee said. “Can I invite my friend Iona, too? She doesn’t know Two but I’m sure she’d like the chance to.”

“It’s a party, isn’t it?” Hazel said. “The more the merrier.”

Oh, yeah… this was just going to go swimmingly.

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3 Responses to “333: Taking The Cake”

  1. pedestrian says:

    someone should get Mackenzie a pair of waterwings. deep end ahead.

    Current score: 1
  2. Anthony says:

    Many *whats* make light work?

    Current score: 1
  3. Jechtael says:

    “This is going to go swimmingly” ranks up there among contextually-reversed phrases adjacent to “safe as houses”, RIGHT after a major rash of housefires.

    Current score: 2