389: Angles and Visitations

on June 16, 2009 in Book 14

In Which Someone Is Implicitly Human

The whole idea of me working on my table manners didn’t really work out so well in practice, because I was starting to feel a combination of nervousness and excitement about the coming evening.

Nine years of forced abstention from my favorite feast day on the calendar had apparently not robbed me of a child’s fondness for masks and costumes, but only buried it. As the minutes slipped away and the time of the dance grew nearer… admittedly not a whole lot nearer, as it was still fairly early… I started to wish that I had made an earlier start on my outfit and come up with something that would be a proper costume in every sense of the word. A disguise. Something that not just present the semblance of another identity, but conceal my own beneath it.

It would be fun to go with Ian as a swordswoman, but in the eyes of everyone there I would be Mack the demon girl dressed up as a barbarian… but if I had come up with something with a full head covering, or a face mask and a wig or hair glamour, then I could show up as… well…

Someone else.

Someone not me.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t fond of myself… I wasn’t actively ashamed of myself or anything, at that moment… but it could have been a nice chance to go out among a bunch of people, many of them regular humans, and just be part of the crowd. The chance to do that was what I’d really been looking forward to about college, before Puddy outed me.

It wasn’t entirely her fault, though… or perhaps more accurately, she couldn’t claim all the credit. I’d give her all the blame for what she actually had done, but even if she hadn’t, the realities of campus politics regarding Harlowe Hall and the specifics of my condition would have made it difficult for me to keep it a secret. In retrospect, I’d been as naive as Sooni in some ways, such as in not taking the time to make arrangements for my feeding schedule or even properly figuring out what it was before coming to university.

If my nature hadn’t already been common knowledge, how much worse might that have turned out?

No, it would have been impossible for me to keep my heritage invisible while enjoying campus life… but I could imagine stepping back into the hellcloset for one night. Ian had maybe had the right idea in thinking that I needed to get out and let people get to know me as a person, but even that would be a matter of, “Hey, I guess this half-demon isn’t as bad as I assumed a half-demon would be”, not “Hey, I like this person. She’s interesting and fun.”

“Person” implicitly meant “human”, to most humans… an elf or a dwarf or a gnome could be a person to them, but they would be an elven person or a dwarven person or a gnomish person, and if they felt the need to drop some part of the descriptor it was the race they would keep, the modifier to a perceived default. When you moved away from those races to ones that looked less like the internal definition of “person”… ogres, orcs, goblins, and so on… the modifier became more important, and personhood became more distant.

Someone who got to know Semele might think of her as “a creepy girl”, while the same person would probably think of Oru as “a nice goblin” even if they liked her.

I was doing it myself, I realized: my generic “someone” was implicitly human by default.

It was an interesting to think about… especially when viewed in light of the way humanity had traditionally depicted demons. The exact features, not being based at all on reality, varied widely, but they included things such as wings like a gargoyle, horns like a minotaur, facial features like an orc, huge like an ogre, twisted like a troll, or cloven feet like a fawn. Reptilian scales and other such bestial features were also not uncommon.

It was apparently too much for humanity’s collective psyche that their most monstrous adversaries looked exactly like them. That had to be a disguise, a trick, a twisted mockery… and as well it may have been, originally, but it was also the only appearance demons had. All modern diabolists and theologians were in agreement on that score. What you saw was what you got, unless the demon was employing illusionary magic or shapeshifting to play on the popular image that had persisted for centuries.

Bringing that line of thinking back around to costumes, I realized that the fact that I couldn’t come up with anything more than “something with a mask” was a pretty solid indication of how foolish I was being. I had a costume. Ian… and, apparently, Sooni… had done a great job putting it together even at the last minute. Sure, everybody would know who I was, but even if I wasn’t “the demon girl from Harlowe” there was no guarantee I’d be universally beloved.

If I wasn’t “the demon girl” but was still scrawny and clumsy and geeky and kind of absent-minded and shy… well, I’d probably have ended up more or less with the same friends who loved me anyway.

“You’re awfully smiley, all of a sudden,” Ian said. He was sitting opposite me, all alone on his side of the table because Two insisted on being next to me if she couldn’t be across from me, and I really preferred to sit next to Amaranth.

“I was just thinking,” I said. “I guess… about how lucky I am.”

“You were so quiet, I thought for sure you were worried about Steff,” he said, and I felt a burst of guilt.

“Oh, no,” I said. “I mean, yeah, I am… of course… but… I had actually forgotten about her, if you can believe that. I hate to say it…”

“Your thoughts and feelings for yourself don’t disappear just because a dear friend is in trouble,” Amaranth said. “And I really think Steff is going to be fine. Dee has promised to summon emergency services if Steff’s life force weakens, if she has a heart attack or respiratory distress… even though Dee should be able to heal those without a problem…”

“Dee can heal a heart attack?” Ian asked.

“A heart attack isn’t actually a lot of damage,” Amaranth said. “But it doesn’t have to be, considering where it is. Anyway, Dee insists that it’s perfectly safe, but… the potion’s only ever been taken by elves, as far as she knows. I suspect a human heart would have given out under the strain.”

“Um… do you think that maybe we should get emergency services on the case, anyway?” I asked.

“I did,” Amaranth said. “This is the compromise we came up with. Dee’s staying with her the whole time, keeping an eye… and mind… on her condition.”

“I don’t know about you, but I’d feel better if Steff were being watched by professionals,” I said. “Even if they don’t have any more experience with this potion than Dee does, they’ve probably got more experience with, you know, people dying… and stopping it from happening.”

“Dee is a trained priestess, and that includes healing,” Amaranth said. “They don’t have a separate healing profession like we do. For all intents and purposes, she is a trained professional.”

“Yeah, okay,” Ian said. “Except… if elves don’t have heart attacks then what exactly is Dee looking for and what’s she going to do if she spots it?”

“Well…” Amaranth said, growing flustered, and I could tell that she hadn’t thought of this, “I suppose she’ll respond to any physical distress with healing, and that should take care of it. I mean, it’s not like you have to know how the heart fits together or how it works to undo damage to it. You just… pour energy on it.”

“I’d still feel better…” I said.

“Baby, I would, too,” she said. “Honestly, I would… but this could blow up into a huge scandal if it went from a private scare to a public crisis. I mean, Dee would probably be facing consequences from both the surface authorities and from her own people, and Steff’s privacy… well, it would cease to exist. Also, imagine the news report about a sinister potion from the underworld that messes with the gender binary and endangers your children’s lives. Lurid imagery about ‘dark elf’ priestesses emasculating or feminizing humans and surface elves is a sadly well-established theme in propaganda.”

“And in porn,” Ian said. “I mean, I could see there being porn like that.”

“Anyway, the point is that Dee’s not just shielding herself from trouble… actually, since she probably hasn’t broken any laws, the worst consequences might not even fall on her,” Amaranth said. “But moral panics are rarely rational or predictable, and even more rarely moral… I think it’s better if the whole thing stays a private matter between friends.”

“You don’t think people are going to notice there’s something suddenly different about Steff?” Ian asked.

“Well, she drops out of sight for the weekend and comes back changed,” Amaranth said. “Nobody has to know how… if anything, she’ll fit people’s expectations of what it means to be a transgender woman better after the potion’s run its course. She’ll have to explain to her mother, I suppose, but I’ve gathered she’s fairly supportive. I really doubt that any of the teachers will question her about it, though.”

“Um…” Ian said, to my surprise, as it was pretty much what I was thinking.

“What?” Amaranth asked.

“I think Coach Callahan might have a thing or two to say about the new Steff,” he said.

“Yeah,” I agreed, glad to not be the only one who thought so.

“Oh, come on… Coach Callahan likes Steff,” Amaranth said. “They’re practically involved with each other.”

“Yeah, and you don’t think that gives her some interest in sudden bodily rearrangements?” Ian asked. “Callahan likes guys. She likes guys who like guys, because guy plus guy equals more guys. Trust me on this one. I’ve listened to her going through it enough times to have memorized the arithmetic.”

“Steff is a girl,” Two interjected.

“Yeah, okay, I’m not going to argue that,” Ian said. “But Coach would… at least, she would if she cared what Steff or anyone else had to say on the subject. Whatever’s Steff… I don’t, identity… you take away the clothes and it’s a male body. Or at least it was. I’m not sure she’s going to see this change as an improvement.”

I nodded. I didn’t quite agree with how Ian put it, but the essential point he was getting at… that Callahan did not have a very sensitive view of Steff and that she would not likely take Steff’s altered body as an improvement… was true and too important to risk diluting by arguing with his wording.

“Well, that’s not really her call to make,” Amaranth said. “I mean, it would be nice for her if they could continue their arrangement, but if it was based on a fundamental incompatibility of viewpoint, then maybe it’s for the best that Steff provide her with a visual cue for her femininity, before their relationship goes any further.”

“You know… I’m not sure I’m comfortable calling it a relationship,” I said.

“Oh, hush, baby, that’s really not your call,” Amaranth said. “Anyway, Ian, I’m sure, Steff will be devastated if Coach Callahan rejects her, and you’re very sweet to worry…”

“The thing is, I’m not sure emotional consequences are all she’s got to worry about,” Ian said. “I mean, for as much as she’s into gay guys, Coach really, really doesn’t like elves. If she can’t think of Steff as a guy any more…”

“Well, this is all hypothetical,” Amaranth said, though she was worrying away at her lower lip. “We can’t really know how she’ll react.”

“Look, I don’t even know Steff that well… I’m only thinking about this stuff because I know you guys care about her,” he said.

“Well, like I said, you’re very sweet to worry,” Amaranth said. “But you know what?” She sat up very straight and tall beside me, and put on her biggest smile. “I’m going to maintain some perspective. If how people react to the new and improved Steff is the biggest consequence of this, that means she’s fine and everything worked okay. That’s a good thing, right?”

“Yeah, I guess it beats the alternative,” Ian said. “You know what the real question we should be asking is?”

“What?” Amaranth asked.

“What kind of diplomatic repercussions would there be if an ogre prince killed a dark elf princess?” he asked. “Or the other way around. While they were both at a human school.”

Once again, I completely suppressed the urge to correct his terminology. I couldn’t argue with either his premises or the seeming conclusion: it would be very, very bad.

“Well… um… you know, I really don’t think it would come to that, but I’m pretty sure Dee knows how to restrain people in a number of ways without harming them,” Amaranth said.

“Even if she’s distraught herself?” Ian asked. “Or if she thinks that maybe she deserves it?”

“I don’t think this is a very productive line of inquiry!” Amaranth said.

“Sorry,” Ian said. “I’m just trying to, you know, look at this from all the angles.”

“Well, not all angles are helpful angles,” Amaranth said. “Let’s talk about something else.”

And she tried… she made a valiant effort to start a conversation about classes, and about the upcoming festivities, but considering that she got more response on each subject from Two than from either Ian or myself, it was kind of a doomed attempt.

I couldn’t stop thinking about what Ian had said. Viktor against Dee… it would be a horrible fight, predicated by horrible circumstances, with horrible consequences. Slim chance or not, if we weren’t doing everything we could to stop it, we weren’t doing enough.

“I think we should to talk to Dee,” I said into the awkward silence. “We need to convince her to either get in the mirror with a representative from Ceilos who knows how the potion works, or if we need to take Steff into the healing center where they can monitor her, or both.”

“Baby, I tried…” Amaranth said.

“We’ll all go together,” I said.

“I’m worried, too, but I don’t think ganging up on Dee’s the answer,” Amaranth said.

“We won’t be,” I said. “We’ll be helping her fix her mistake… I mean, we’ve all made stupid decisions, but when we do, we help each other out. Dee’s done her share of that.” I looked at Ian, appealing to him for help.

“You know, fuck it,” he said. “I don’t really know Dee, and if I’m honest I don’t even like Steff… but if you want to help your friends, I want to help you. Besides, this is a rockfall waiting to happen and we’re just watching it.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, giving him a half downward-tilted face and a smile. “You don’t have to come, I guess… it’s not your friends.”

“No, but it’s yours,” Ian said. “And if we’re just making sure, you know, experienced professionals get involved, it shouldn’t take all night or anything… you’ll probably have a better time at the Veil dance if you know Steff’s okay.”

“I suppose we all will,” Amaranth said. “Okay. It’s settled, then. We’ll all go over together and talk to Viktor and Dee.”

“Viktor?” I repeated. I hadn’t counted on that.

“Of course,” Amaranth said. “You don’t think he’d be anywhere except by Steff’s side during this?”

Oh, this was going to be fun.


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12 Responses to “389: Angles and Visitations”

  1. pedestrian says:

    okay, we have a nice, cozy fire going.

    Hmm, what could we do to make it better?

    I know! Lets stand right over the flame
    and pour this can of gasoline directly into it.

    Yeah, what could possibly go wrong…..this time?

    Current score: 3
  2. Anthony says:

    I just realized. Dee’s people can’t eat wheat… and their surface colony is called Celios?

    Current score: 2
    • WsntHere says:

      Her people have an embassy at Celios. Human name, not elf.
      This is as close as I got on a celios search: “Celosia, genus of about 45 species of herbaceous plants, of the amaranth family (Amaranthaceae), native to tropical America and Africa.” It makes big flowers with nothing said about eating any part of it, even though it’s related to amaranth.

      Current score: 3
      • Athena says:

        Human name doesn’t preclude AE putting in a joke. Also, what Anthony is probably getting at is the similarity to “coeliac/celiac”, as in coeliac disease, a form of gluten intolerance/allergy. Gluten being found in, among other things, wheat.

        Also most other grains, such as barley, rye and oats, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in amaranth too and thus a double reference.

        Current score: 1
    • PrometheanSky says:

      While it’s possible that her people can’t eat wheat, it doesn’t seem likely, all we know for certain is that Dee can’t eat it.

      With five embassies on the surface, it would stretch the bounds of credibility that a wheat sensitivity is an unknown racial defect. While this would be irrelevant to the vast bulk of the population, it seems the sort of thing that visitors to the surface would be made aware of.

      Current score: 0
  3. MadnessMaiden says:

    I always love when Viktor shows up. 😀 I’m excited. :3

    Current score: 0
  4. JerK says:

    I’m kind of hoping Mack beats the crap out of Viktor at some point or at least lights him on fire or something. Nothing less appealing than the arrogant belief you’re better than everyone else. Even Jill treats people better than Viktor…

    Current score: 4
  5. keyonte0 says:

    First Ian suggests going to the Veil ball in drag TWICE, now he implies having watched feminization porn. Hmm…

    Current score: 4
  6. Jechtael says:

    C’mon, Amaranth, Ian’s being more productive than you. He’s being productive /period/. You’re being COUNTERproductive!

    Current score: 0
  7. zeel says:

    this is a rockfall waiting to happen

    Nice. Rocks fall, everyone dies.

    Current score: 0