247: Before The Dance

on June 29, 2008 in Book 9

In Which Oru Reaches Lofty New Heights Of Fashion

That evening, I gulped down my dinner without even tasting it, despite Amaranth chiding me to slow down and take my time with it.

“The dance doesn’t start until eight,” she said. “If you rush through dinner, you’re just going to have to wait even longer.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m just nervous.”

“It’s okay. Just take your time.”

A few seconds later, though, I was shoveling rice back into my mouth.

I’d been going easy on meat ever since the incident with the ribs. Amaranth always said something if I didn’t eat any, but luckily the cafeteria was big on dishes like “chicken and rice” where the chicken came in pieces that were slightly smaller than the rice.

It was just the three of us… Amaranth, Steff, and me. Two was “having tea” with her friend Hazel, in some kind of pre-Bingo Night get-together thing. We’d looked around for Dee, but she didn’t seem to have come back to the dorm.

“You know, baby, as much as I’ve enjoyed our closeness these past few nights, I’m really glad you’ve got plans for the next few nights,” Amaranth said. “I’ve been sneaking in as much between-classes activity as I can, but I feel like I’m way behind in my work load, you know?”

“‘Load’,” Steff said, giggling.

“You feel like helping me out a bit?” Amaranth asked her.

“Sure, why not?” Steff said. “Viktor’s going to Gwynedd’s recital, so I’m on my own this evening.”

“You’re not going with him?” Amaranth asked.

“Yeah, um, no,” Steff said. “We figured out pretty much from the start that our relationship can’t survive him dragging me to the concert hall. It’s so boring, and you have to be careful not to fidget or cough…”

“Do you ever actually cough?” I asked.

“I did once,” Steff said. “Thirty minutes of madrigals is enough to make me want to start again. Anyway, I was planning on either going down to the vaults for some ‘me’ time, or taking another shot at making some stone soldiers… nothing too terribly thrilling.”

“How many soldiers have you made so far?” Amaranth asked.

“None,” Steff said. “I mean, I’ve started one a bunch of times, but they never seem to turn out right. It’s like, I can picture in my head what I want to do, but my fingers can’t seem to manage actually doing it.”

“Oh, I’m sure they’re fine,” Amaranth said.

“Trust me, they’re shit,” Steff said.

“Maybe you should show them to Shiel before you toss them out?” I asked. “I mean, she is the expert. If she says they’re, um… adequate, they should be fine.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Steff said. “I’d just feel stupid, showing up for battle with a crappy army.”

“Well, how they look doesn’t have any effect on the game, does it?” Amaranth asked.

“No, I guess not,” Steff said. She sighed. “I’d really rather not talk about it, though.”

I had a feeling that Shiel would see Steff’s figurines as way more than adequate, but there was no way I could convince Steff of that. She had a tendency to view her own artistic endeavors through elven eyes, which pretty much meant that anything not done by an elf was worthless.

I didn’t know if there were even any real discernable differences between Steff’s work and that of her full-elven relatives, or if it was just an ingrained expectation in her teachers. A blind test might have been revealing… but at this point, I doubted it would matter if it turned out the difference was all in their heads. It was in Steff’s head now, too.

It made me so angry to think that, for half of her childhood, she’d had the idea of her comparative worthlessness drilled into her so deeply that she believed it without question. It seemed strange to think it was even possible… that somebody with as much strength and as much thirst for life as Steff occasionally showed could let herself be driven so completely into the ground… but the evidence was right there in front of me.

I only wished it was as obvious to her as it was to me. Some of Steff’s more… questionable… life choices probably came from the fact that she couldn’t see any other, more promising future for herself. What wouldn’t somebody do, if they were convinced they were worthless and didn’t have any other options?

“You know, I hope Dee’s doing okay,” Amaranth said. “I liked the idea of her opening up more, and I’d hate to see her retreating back into herself.”

“Personally, I don’t know why she’s bothering,” Steff said. “I mean, I know why it’s a big deal to her, but the paper’s going to do what they’re going to do. She can’t make them apologize.”

“Well, think about it this way: if a newspaper gets somebody’s name wrong, they’d usually include an apology with the correction without even being asked to,” Amaranth said. “How does the addition of her culture into it make her any less deserving of an apology than anybody else?”

Steff shrugged. Apparently, she didn’t have an answer for that.

We finished our dinner and headed back to the dorm. Steff was going to make me up again for the dance, but we both agreed it would be better to wait until the time got closer so I’d have less time to mess it up.

Presumably at the sound of our voices coming down the fifth floor hall, Oru the goblin popped out of Hazel and Honey’s room. She had done her coarse, spiky hair up in five tight, unevenly-sized braids that kind of reminded me of tree branches, from the way they stuck out. I supposed it was probably fashionable, for her culture… just like the dress/skirt thing that was cut just below her ribcage.

I didn’t know what to make of the six-inch heels she was wearing, though. I could sort of understand why she might want to look taller, but they didn’t look… safe.

“Oh, hey!” she said. “You ready for the dance, Mack?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, we’re going to do my hair and make-up in a bit, but I’m really looking forward to it.”

“Really?” Oru said, tottering towards us. “I think you look just fine.”

Two came out into the hallway behind her.

“Hi, Mack!” she called. “Hi, Amaranth! Hi, Steff!”

“Hi, Two!” we replied. Steff darted forward to give her a hug and two quick kisses.

“Nine lords,” Hazel said, coming into view. “She’s got you lot well-trained, hasn’t she?”

“Hello, Hazel,” Amaranth said. “Are you having a party?”

“Just a small one,” Hazel said. “We’ve talked Shiel into joining us for Bingo Night, and we’ve been playing some card games to pass the time until eight.”

“It’s fun,” Two said.

“It is,” Oru agreed. “I’d go to the bingo thing, too, if it wasn’t during the dance.”

“Are we still playing, or do you yield?” Shiel asked from inside Hazel’s room.

“Just hold your goats, Shiel,” Hazel said. To us, she said, “I’d stay and chat, but I don’t like leaving her alone with the cards on the table.”

“Again with your insinuations,” Shiel replied. “I wasn’t the one dealing from the bottom of the deck.”

“An honest mistake!” Hazel said, storming back into her room. “In Logfallen, we deal from either end.”

“Oh, that isn’t even true,” Honey’s voice said.

“Hey, where is the dance, if they’re doing Bingo Night in the main hall?” I asked Oru. I was hoping it wasn’t going to be an open-air affair, but I didn’t know any other space besides the pent/plaza that would be suitable.

“You know that fitness building?” Oru said. “They have a small arena.”

“Oh,” I said. Maybe Steff was a little bit right about me being a snob, but I wasn’t thrilled at the thought of going into the athletic center, voluntarily and on purpose. Then again, my sole experience with the building had involved people throwing rocks at me. Maybe I was entitled to be leery of it.

“You aren’t having second thoughts, are you?” Oru asked me. “You are still going? With that Ye-an?”

“Ian… and yeah, totally,” I said. “He’s been so busy lately, and it’s way past time we did something like this. They could hold it in the spiritual arts building and I’d still want to go.”

“You know, I think it’s great that you have that kind of dedication and aren’t afraid to show it,” Oru said. “Is… Ian… meeting you here?”

“Yeah.”

“I think we should all walk over together, you and him and Moeli and me,” she said. “A little Harlowe solidarity.”

“Sure, okay,” I said.

“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” Amaranth said. “It’s so nice that people on the floor are getting along, and including each other in little activities.”

Her eyes stayed down to the end of the hall, towards Puddy’s room. I would have liked to ask what she was thinking, but not in mixed company.

Also, it was a little creepy how fixated Oru was on Ian and me, but at least she wasn’t blaming me for Moeli’s apparent interest in me. Honestly, if me being affectionate with Ian was all it took to communicate to the hobgoblin that I wasn’t interested, that would be just fine in my books.

I’d never really been in the position of having to turn somebody down before. I didn’t know if I could go through with it, if I didn’t have an easy excuse like “I’m already seeing somebody.”

“Anyway, it’s nice to have an excuse to go out at night,” Oru said. “I’m mostly used to being up during the day now, but… well, it’s weird. Staying up past sunrise used to be a big thing. I used to love to watch the morning talk shows after my folks went to bed. Now, I just want to be able to walk around and see the stars.”

“You know, you actually are allowed to go out when you want to,” Amaranth said.

“If you have to,” Two corrected.

“Yes, but it’s up to us as individuals to make that decision,” Amaranth said. “If Oru decides she needs to see the stars…”

Oru laughed, a sound that was unfortunately more than a little pig-like.

“Oh, sure, it’s probably alright for you to go out for an evening stroll,” she said, “but I’d be just begging for a crossbow bolt through my head if I stepped outside after dark by myself.”

“Oh,” Amaranth said. “Well… I’m sure nobody would… I mean, if they knew you were a student… um…”

“C’mon, Amy,” Steff said. “Ugly reality is ugly, but it is what it is. It’s like Dee and the paper. We can’t ignore it, we can’t make it go away.”

“Anyway, it’s not all bad,” Oru said. “I’ve finally found out what’s on TV in the afternoon.”

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she said. “Absolutely nothing worth watching. It’s even worse than after midnight… but when I was growing up, there were all kinds of stories about the stuff you could see if you managed to stay up all day.”

“Hey, were you two going to come back and finish the hand?” Hazel called from her room.”

“Yes, we were!” Two replied brightly. “Bye, Mack. Bye, Steff. Bye, Amaranth.”

“Bye, Two.”

“Yeah, I guess we should go,” Oru said. “I’ll go grab Moeli a little bit before eight,” she said to me as she headed back to the shirelings’ room. “Don’t you leave without me!”

“I won’t,” I said.

“Hey, I think I’m gonna go see what they’re up to and say hi to Shiel,” Steff said, and she headed after the other two.

“Okay, have fun,” Amaranth said. She turned to me. “You should probably read some more of your warrior book while you’ve got time, missy.”

“Oh, I finished that,” I said, smiling in anticipation of her approval. “All five chapters.”

“Would you be able to pass a quiz on them?” she asked, giving me a stern look.

“Um…”

“Maybe you should give it another look, then,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “Is it okay if I do it tomorrow, though? I don’t feel like I’d be able to concentrate on it right now.”

She sighed.

“Well… okay, baby,” she said. “But I want you to take it seriously. Fighting isn’t my favorite subject in the world, either, but you can’t afford not to take it seriously, on several levels. There are classes I’m only in because I need them, but I consider it a point of pride to do my best in them, and you should do the same.”

“I suppose,” I said.

“No ‘I suppose’ about it,” she said. “I’ve seen how passionate you can be about the things you really care about, baby. You have everything inside you that you need to succeed, if you’d only use it a little more wisely.”

So saying, she kissed me. I felt a strange mixture of pride and shame… she saw so much potential in me, but she was disappointed that I wasn’t using it.

“I should probably go over to the boys’ side and get to work,” Amaranth said. “I want to see if Jay or Rorick are available, while Steff’s busy. Can you tell her I’ll be heading up to her and Viktor’s floor around eight? We can play in their room for a while, since Viktor will be out.”

“Okay,” I said. “Have fun.”

We kissed again, and then I was watching her walk down the hall towards the stairwell. Her perfect nude body with golden hair spilling down her back was a sight to see. I’d never get tired of watching her walk away, or seeing her smile… or even the stern look she gave me over the top of her glasses. I’d never get tired of her, period. I was hers, and I loved it.

I’d already become used to the feeling of waking up with her warm mass on top of me in the morning, even though we’d only slept together a handful of times.

Did everybody who saw Amaranth feel the same ache that I did? Did she have this effect on everyone? If so, I felt sorry for the rest of the world.

She gave her love to everybody and shared her body with anybody that asked… but I was the only one who was hers.

Before I knew it, though, she was through the door and out of sight, leaving me alone in the hallway. I considered joining the others in Hazel’s room, but I decided what I really wanted was some alone time. I headed into my room and closed the door behind me.

Lifting up the overhanging cover, I reached under the bed and pulled out my suitcase, moving the pitchfork out of the way. I hadn’t done any more actual writing on my Mecknights fic, but I figured that a little play might help inspire me, on top of providing some distraction to help the time pass. I set the figures up and put them into tournament mode, letting them pair off to joust on their bikes.

It hit me that I hadn’t talked to Ian about what we were going to wear. I was saving my one-and-only skirt for the date with Steff, but I had some nicer, sexier jeans now. I just needed to figure out what to wear with them.

While the enaction figures were going through the preliminaries, I opened the closet, moved the pitchfork aside, and started going through the tops that hung there.

I had a new charcoal colored sweater-weight cami that I thought might look nice with my darker jeans, but my arms would probably be freezing on the way over. I supposed they might have a coat check, as it was getting later in the year. If I wanted to go for something with long sleeves, I was pretty much stuck between a bulky sweater or the spiderweb shirt that I was saving for Steff.

The cami would have to do, I decided. I dug the jeans I was looking for out of my dresser and changed, then settled down to watch the unfolding tourney. Annie was on the sidelines, of course, since her figure didn’t get a bike… I wondered if I could work a tournament into my story? They hadn’t done as many tournament storylines in the later seasons, but the ones they had done hadn’t included her. She could enter one in disguise, or start her own tournament circuit… they were things to think about, anyway.

The figures didn’t have any intelligence and just went through a series of predefined actions, but in a random order and with random results. The number of exact sequences were pretty close to infinite, but I’d watched them so many times that it was still all fairly predictable.

I could recognize what was happening as soon as I saw Flash Bolt bring his cannon around, for example. I knew exactly what was going to happen when Buzz Saber started to brandish his blade in a certain way.

I hated to think that I might be growing out of my favorite toys. I felt like they had kept me sane through most of my teenage years, and I’d made a point of hanging onto them even as I had sold off most of my other cherished keepsakes and slightly less prized possessions. Was I really getting too old for them?

Or maybe I just needed to add something new to the mix. I could get some of the newer characters, or more troopers for them to fight, or some of the enaction play sets…

In the end, I paid more attention to the visions in my head of my knights brawling it out with Overmaster’s forces inside the hangar than I did to the tournament being played out on a strip of empty floor next to the rug. I was surprised to realize it was already over when a knock on the door jolted me out of my fantasy.

“Just a minute!” I called.

“It’s me, hon,” Steff said. “Here to do your make-up, remember?”

“Yeah, give me a minute,” I said, scooping up the figures and putting them back in their case.

I shoved it back under the bed with the pitchfork, then went to let Steff in. It was really almost time now. I had to look my best for my boyfriend, Ian.

“My boyfriend, Ian”… that was something else I’d never get tired of.


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11 Responses to “247: Before The Dance”

  1. pseudopoiuytfgh says:

    pitchfork location? under her bed and in the closet.
    is that part of the curse/enchantment somehow? like it follows the wielder or wants to present opportunities to be picked up whenever storage is accessed?

    Current score: 3
    • capybroa says:

      I’m really starting to get nervous about this pitchfork. It just gets more and more ominous.

      Current score: 4
    • Jimmy Joe III says:

      It’s definitely following her around.

      Current score: 1
      • Anon says:

        Such a helpful, useful, friendly magic weapon! No matter what storage space you open, it’s right there convenient, so you can grab it at an instant’s notice, without even wasting the time to think!

        Current score: 0
        • zeel says:

          The concept of which is rather difficult to imagine. How can the pitchfork show up in multiple physical locations?
          Magic! Bah!

          Current score: 0
  2. pedestrian says:

    “we deal from either end”

    Should we change Hazel’s nickname to “Doc”?

    Perhaps she is a manifestation of Hazel Stone?

    Current score: 1
  3. WsntHere says:

    Nine rings for mortal men. Missed that the first time through…

    Current score: 0
  4. Ryzndmon says:

    “It made me so angry to think that, for half of her childhood, she’d had the idea of her comparative worthlessness drilled into her so deeply that she believed it without question. It seemed strange to think it was even possible… that somebody with as much strength and as much thirst for life as Steff occasionally showed could let herself be driven so completely into the ground… but the evidence was right there in front of me.

    I only wished it was as obvious to her as it was to me. Some of Steff’s more… questionable… life choices probably came from the fact that she couldn’t see any other, more promising future for herself. What wouldn’t somebody do, if they were convinced they were worthless and didn’t have any other options?”

    Oh, Mack. Pot and kettle?

    Current score: 6
  5. Cadnawes says:

    Moving from under the bed to the closet is nothing… Mackenzie didn’t even retrieve it from melee class. (In another story I might assume that this detail had been left out for space, but since nothing else is, I am going with that the pitchfork followed her home.)

    Current score: 6
  6. Jechtael says:

    I was really looking forward to discussing or at least mentioning Mackenzie Pot calling the Steff-kettle black and the pitchfork (trident? The narration calls it a pitchfork, but I don’t remember enough description to tell which it is), but they’ve already been mentioned and I just realized there’s not actually much to discuss about either :/

    Current score: 0