202: Inviting Trouble

on April 24, 2008 in Book 8

In Which Life Is Good

Shiel and Oru excused themselves not long after the Veil conversation, to take midday naps. Two had to go get ready for work before too long. She said goodbye to everybody in turn, though there was a moment’s hesitation before she got to Ian. I supposed she was making an effort, anyway.

I was working on my fifth piece of pizza, which would have made me feel a little guilty but nobody else was that interested in the cheese pizza. I did manage to feel a bit guilty I hadn’t actually paid for anything and I was getting a whole pizza to myself, minus the slice Two had taken, but whatever. It had been a long week and I was still feeling a little entitled.

Hazel had copies of some of the stat pages from Shiel’s rulebook and was showing them to Andreas. He seemed more intrigued by the idea now that the kobold had departed, though his attention was not as constant and unwavering as Hazel would have liked.

“Pay attention, now,” she said. She was circling some of the figures. “I want to start with a half dozen of these eagle-lion thingies, and a score of the just plain eagles. That’s why I lost last time, you know. No air support.”

“That’s funny,” Honey said. “I don’t think Miss Shiel needed ‘air support’ to beat you.”

“That’s why it’ll work,” Hazel said. “I’d imagine, growing up in a cave, that she wouldn’t have any real idea of what a group of talented flyers could do. Air superiority, that’s the ticket.”

“What about more catapults?” Andreas said. “And some heavy armored divisions?”

“Nah,” Hazel said. “I want a fast, mobile army so I can take the fight to her.”

“Didn’t you do better fighting defensively?” Honey asked.

“Well, what do you know about warfare?” Hazel asked. “During the Midwars, my ancestors were laying down their lives on the front line while yours were sitting comfortably back at headquarters, twiddling their thumbs.”

“I stand corrected,” Honey said.

“Anyway, you need to start carving my army as soon as possible,” Hazel said to Andy. “I’m sure you’ve got some of those soapy stones in that rock room, right?”

“Er, uh, yes,” Andreas said. “I suppose we probably must, somewhere.”

“Good,” Hazel said. “You rough them out and I’ll do the fine details. I’ve seen what you pass off as art. I’ll not have a shoddy-looking army, thank you very much.”

The dwarf tried to catch Ian’s eye for a little bit of sympathy, but Ian was actually looking down at the papers Hazel had spread out on the table.

“So what is this game?” Ian asked.

“Stone soldiers,” Hazel said. “Apparently it’s all the rage with Shiel’s folk.”

“How do you play?”

“You put together an army and then you set up the battlefield and then you take turns moving until somebody surrenders or gets wiped out,” Hazel said. “That’s the broad strokes, anyway. The rules are terribly complicated, covering everything from terrain to weather conditions. We didn’t play with the weather rules last time, but come to think of it, that was probably to Shiel’s advantage. Remember what she said about caves and rain? She’d probably have no idea how to cope.”

“I thought she offered to use the simplified rules because of your inexperience,” Honey said.

“Well, that was her ruse, obviously,” Hazel said. “Next time we play, I’ll insist on using the weather tables, and you’ll see how things turn out.”

Ian crouched down by the short table and turned one of the sheets around to read it.

“Oh, not you, too,” I said.

“What?”

“What’s so fascinating about imaginary warfare?” I asked.

“It sounds fun,” Ian said.

I made a face. Amaranth pulled me onto her lap.

“I think it would be more fun if the game revolved around diplomacy,” Amaranth said. “Any fool can make war, but it takes a real leader to make peace.”

“That’d be a short game, though, wouldn’t it?” Hazel said. “If you win by making peace. It would be like, turn one: offer treaty, turn two: sign treaty.”

“I’m sure there would be some way to make it interesting,” Amaranth said.

“There’s some ball games where you oversee your own lands or whatever,” I said. “You have to balance your resources and stuff, and you can form treaties and alliances with other groups, but I quit playing them because no matter how intricate the games get, it still usually ends up coming down to who has the biggest army in the end.”

“Bit of realism, that,” Andreas said.

“I don’t think it always comes down to strongest or most powerful, in real life,” Amaranth said. “Sometimes people do decide to just get along. That’s where civilization comes in, and the rule of law.”

“Well, it’s like Shiel said, isn’t it?” Hazel said. “If the folks with all the power decide they want to play nice for a while, that doesn’t mean they don’t have the power any more. All the laws and treaties in the world won’t really stop somebody who wants to from just rolling right over anybody weaker.”

“Well… maybe, or maybe not,” Amaranth said. Facing away from her, I could still hear the frown in her voice. I understood why she didn’t want it to be true, but I was having a hard time seeing a counter-argument. “I suppose there’s more than one way of looking at it, probably.”

Nobody said anything to that. She started stroking my hair in an absent sort of way.

“Um, anybody want another soda?” Ian asked, shaking his own empty bottle as he got to his feet.

“Might as well break out the beer,” Hazel said, and Andreas pulled out a couple bottles, handing one to her and holding the other out for Ian.

“Thanks,” he said, accepting it and twisting off the top. He took a cautious sip, and then a larger swallow.

“How do you like it?” Andreas asked.

“It’s good,” Ian said.

“Not too strong?” He sounded a bit disappointed.

Ian shook his head.

“It’s really not bad,” he said.

“Would you ladies like one?” Andreas asked Amaranth and me.

“No, thank you,” Amaranth said. “We’re fine with soda.”

I thought about suggesting we close the door now that non-dwarves were drinking, but that went pretty strongly against my instincts. Andreas seemed decent enough and I was surrounded by friends, but I liked having an escape route if drinking was going on.

“Say, have you lot ever been to a dwarven party?” Andreas asked. “We’re having one tonight, if you’re interested, and I would be more than happy to show you the way in.” He looked at Amaranth. “You’d be particularly welcome, I think.”

“Hey, now,” Hazel said, elbowing him in the side.

“I didn’t mean for me,” he said.

“I didn’t figure you did,” she said. “But what are you doing, talking about going to parties when there’s carving to do?”

“How much carving do you plan on doing today?”

“As much as we can,” Hazel said. “I don’t know how long it takes to finish a figure but I want my own troops ready as soon as possible. It’s a matter of honor.”

“I never knew you to care so much about honor before you lost a silly parlor game,” Honey said.

“It isn’t a parlor game,” Hazel said. “It’s war.”

“In any case, as much as I hate to turn down an invitation for anything, but I’m kind of already committed for tonight,” Amaranth said to Andreas. “Maybe next time?”

“I’ll look forward to it,” the dwarf said. “And yourself?” he asked me.

“I don’t know,” I said. Andreas seemed nice enough, but I wasn’t sure I’d be comfortable by myself in a room full of drunken dwarves, especially if he and Hazel were going to be otherwise occupied. “Maybe if you’re there,” I said, looking at Ian.

Ian looked at Andreas. I think he wasn’t sure if the invitation included him. I wasn’t, either, for that matter.

“Friends of Hazel are always welcome in the Underhall,” Andreas said.

“Okay, then,” Ian said. He took another drink. “We’re trying to get a rehearsal together this evening, but I don’t think that’ll go too long.”

“Nothing’ll happen before ten, anyway,” Andreas said.

“Don’t forget that we’ve got plans tomorrow, baby,” Amaranth said.

“I won’t,” I said. In fact, I figured that would be a handy excuse for leaving if things started to get uncomfortable. “We’ll just go for a little while, to see what it’s like.”

“How do we get there?” Ian asked.

“I’ll send Karl to guide you at… say, about nine thirty.”

“I thought you said nothing happens before ten,” I said.

“It takes at least half an hour to get there,” Andreas said. “Especially with the blindfolds.”

“Blindfolds?” I repeated.

“The dwarves take their privacy very seriously,” Amaranth said.

“I’m not sure about this…” I said.

“I think it sounds kind of fun,” Ian said.

“It’s not a lot of human menfolk who get to see the hall at all,” Andreas said.

Ian shot me an appealing look. I sighed.

“Okay, we’ll be there,” I said.

“I guess we can take a little break from the carving, then,” Hazel said. “Just to be hospitable and all.”

“Are you going to be there?” I asked Honey, thinking it would be nice to know at least one other non-drinker would be present. She shook her head, though.

“The crowd’s a bit rougher than I like,” she said.

“Just how rough does it get?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s nothing, Mack,” Hazel said. “Dwarven boys are as decent as they come. Sure, there’s a bit of pawing and staring of them that are willing, but they know how to behave themselves if you’re not interested.”

“We don’t have to go if you don’t want to,” Ian said, though it was obvious from both his voice and face that he really wanted to.

“If you’re worried about that, you have my word that no dwarf will make advances on you,” Andreas said. “Not if you show up on a man’s arm.”

“Okay,” I said. “But again, just for a little while. I’ve got to get up early in the morning.”

“That reminds me… Ian, would you like to come shopping with us?” Amaranth asked. “We’re planning on spending the day in town.”

“Uh, I don’t think so,” he said. “We’re trying to get as much practice time in together now, before we get closer to midterms and stuff.”

“Okay,” Amaranth said pleasantly. “I just thought I’d offer.”

After that, the conversation stayed on Ian’s band for a while. As modest as he was about his own talent, he could barely contain his pride for his still almost brand new lute. I didn’t understand most of what he had to say about it, or the band’s emerging style.

I didn’t recognize most of the bands he mentioned, either, and I don’t think it was just because I didn’t listen to a lot of commercial music.

To my surprise, though, Amaranth seemed quite knowledgeable both about music and the obscure bands he liked. I listened, half amused and half bemused, as they went back and forth. It sounded like Amaranth’s familiarity was mostly secondhand and academic, but Ian didn’t call her on it. He sounded glad to have somebody to talk to about it.

I was just glad that they were talking, naturally and easily, and about something unrelated to sex. Hazel and Andreas went back to drawing up plans for Hazel’s military triumph.

I sat on Amaranth’s lap and finished off the cheese pizza, soaking it all in. I was feeling an odd sort of afterglow. For all the various tensions among the group, we’d all sat down and shared pizza.

Lame, I know. It wasn’t so much that this was the pinnacle of social interaction or something… it was more the fact that it was so utterly middle of the road, so completely typical. College students hanging out and having pizza. It was so normal.

And that night, I’d be going to a party. As nervous as I was, I couldn’t deny that on some level, drinking and boys meant it was undeniably a proper party. Even if I didn’t stay, it would be worth going just to say I had gone.

That was to say nothing of the Veil Ball.

I figured I might have to scramble a bit to catch up in my classes in the next week or so, but my social life was definitely shaping up. No matter how things turned out with the arbitration, I had that.

The only real dark cloud on the horizon was the coming encounter with Viktor. I couldn’t quite forget about that no matter how much else was on my mind, but I also couldn’t do anything about it at the moment. If that worked out, I had my date with Steff to look forward to. If it didn’t… well… I couldn’t do anything about that, and in the mean time, there was pizza and parties.

Life wasn’t bad.

In fact, it was actually kind of good.


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8 Responses to “202: Inviting Trouble”

  1. LogicSwitch says:

    Wait, Mack packed away a whole pizza? Two weeks ago, she could barely nibble on ice cream. Something ‘s hinky…

    Current score: 0
  2. P says:

    Recall that she has been noticing tighter pants, and a general….. Broadening of certain regions.

    Current score: 2
  3. Ryzndmon says:

    Mack’s inability to handle food was a habit ingrained by her Grandmother. Who believed that since Mack only actually needed some virgin’s blood once a month, regular food would be a waste for Mack. Due to this, Mack believed she could not handle real food because of her Infernal nature, when in actuality, it was the fact that her stomach was so shrunken from lack of use.
    Amaranth already noted that Mack’s body had to have been operating at near starvation levels for the majority of her life, holding back on her body’s development. Mack isn’t getting fat, she is actually starting to develop strong secondary feminine features. Like a rounded bottom and breasts.

    Current score: 7
    • Anon says:

      Plus even without the psychological aspects, dense foods are hard to keep down after a period of starvation. She could hardly eat at all when she got here, but she’s been forcing herself into larger and larger portions until now she’s up to pretty much human normal. Plus the supernatural hunger was giving her assistance during the adaptation period.

      Current score: 5
      • zeel says:

        And ultimately, a demon has no limit on how much they can eat. She could eat an entire pizzeria of pizza and not get full, though it wouldn’t satisfy her even if she were hungry either.

        Current score: 5
  4. MentalBlank says:

    “Ball games” Liked this play of concepts 🙂

    Current score: 0
  5. cadnawes says:

    I’ve gone through lean periods in my life, and if food is made available to you after a period of starvation, I gotta say, it doesn’t always go so well for you. Once you’ve got your system acclimated again though, it’s a short stroll to “RAR! Food goes in face!” Plus, after the week she’s hd, anybody would be hungry.

    Current score: 5
  6. Jechtael says:

    I wonder if Hazel would be better at a more PvE than PvP version of that game. Maybe where each person only gets one figure, and cut that figure down to representing one character, to simplify things and allow her to focus on detail instead of the big picture. Kinda like a delving party instead of a battlefield.

    Current score: 4