118: Upon Further Reflection

on December 16, 2007 in 05: The Weekend Shift

In Which A Nymph Is Not A Virgin

Being so early on a Saturday, there was nobody in the nexus, the single-story building which connected the Harlowe, Pelinor, and Burlew residence halls together. The little corner store didn’t even open until ten in the morning on weekends. I felt terribly exposed, both standing there in the outfit that Two had put together, and preparing to contact a professional slaver for the dubious reason of feeding myself.

I chanted the name “Hrothvar” and the address on his card, hoping the “Master” he tagged on in front of his name wouldn’t actually be necessary. How many Hrothvars could there be in Enwich?

I wasn’t left staring at the swirling, glowing mist which formed in response to my call for very long. Very shortly it resolved itself into the unfortunately familiar form of the plump man and his ridiculous hat.

“Good morning,” he said, smiling ingratiatingly. I don’t think he recognized me, which means all he saw was a teenaged girl with a pale, drained expression. I would have smiled ingratiatingly if I’d been a slaver in his position, too. “How may I be of service?”

“Hi,” I said. “We met last week, in the…”

“The market of Enwich,” he said, his smile drooping as he placed my face. “Ah. You. What do you want?”

“I’m, uh, looking for virgin blood,” I said.

“Well, isn’t this a charming reversal of fortune,” Hrothvar said, chortling to himself. “Got a class project, do we?”

“I just need it,” I said, and instantly regretted it when I saw the change pass over his face. He became more composed, more closed off… and yet I had no doubt that he was even more pleased.

“Ah, you need it,” he said. “Well, well… that does change a few things, doesn’t it?”

“Look, Hrothvar,” I said.

Master Hrothvar, I should think,” he sniffed.

“Master Hrothvar, then,” I said, hating myself for it. “If you can help me, I’ll try to be courteous.”

“Virgin blood is not a cheap thing to come by, in this region,” he said. “It could be a nice little cottage industry if more people were willing to sell theirs, but of course, most folks are a little squeamish about such things… and of course, if they weren’t, it wouldn’t be so valuable. The university soaks up most of the immediate supply itself for its necromancy and diabolism departments, though they refuse to do business with me. How fortunate that you appear to lack their scruples.”

I said nothing, not rising to the bait.

“Now, from time to time a virgin does fall into my lap,” he said, giving a wry chuckle, “but the nature of the business is such that they rarely remain ‘on the shelf’ for any great period of time, or else they don’t remain virgins. If nobody is willing to meet the price for a virginal slave, you see, it may be that somebody will pay for just her–or his–virginity, after which I can move the more tangible product at a more reasonable price.”

“I don’t need to know this,” I said.

“No, you don’t,” he agreed. “And in the normal course of things, I prefer to keep my customers from dwelling overlong upon such sordid minutiae. However, we’ve already established that you need my services, and I derive no small amount of satisfaction from making certain you’re aware just what it is you’re a party to.”

“Do you have any virgin blood or not?” I asked.

“It is, of course, illegal to traffic in the flesh and organs of children, a prohibition which for some damn reason includes blood,” Hrothvar said. “That’s unfortunate, because the vast majority of the virgins in my stables are also underage. Still, virgin’s blood is such a precious commodity… I always make sure to have at least one adult virgin on my books so that I’m able to sell it.”

…which wasn’t quite the same thing as saying he kept one adult virgin and sold their blood. The bastard wouldn’t admit to anything illegal, but as he’d said, he wanted to make damn sure I knew what I was getting into.

“Then there’s the matter of price…” he said.

“I don’t need to hear any more,” I said. My grandmother had harvested blood from her own grandchildren to feed me. The one positive thing in my mind about finding a commercial source was the knowledge that my next meal wouldn’t be coming from a scared child. “I’d rather starve.”

Once again, I’d said too much.

“Starve?” Hrothvar repeated, and he couldn’t conceal an avaricious smile. “My dear child, I do believe the time has come to quit beating around the bush… as you say, you need this blood quite badly, and so I do believe that gives me a moral obligation to facilitate a meeting between you and a donor who meets your requirements… all your requirements. In return for this gesture of goodwill, I’ll only require one thing in trade.”

“Fuck no,” I said, my mind jumping to Two, who he’d been so interested in before. If he thought my heritage meant I’d be willing to sell out my friend, he’d managed to underestimate me.

“I did not mean your lovely golem,” he said.

“She isn’t mine,” I said.

“And yet you’re so very possessive of her,” Hrothvar said. “I wonder at that. No, no… this would be more in the way of an equal exchange. Sayeth not the scriptures, ‘Flesh for flesh, and blood for…'”

“No!” I said, emphatically. “Oh, fuck, no!”

“Understand, I’m not asking you for anything that isn’t yours to give,” he said. “Your blood would be just as valuable, in its own way, as that of a virgin.”

“I know what you meant,” I said. “I’m not selling cursed blood for my own gain.”

“Such a pious little hellspawn,” he said. “But a minute ago, you were ready to buy the blood of an innocent from a man like me.”

Furious, I lashed out at the image of the mirror. My fist broke the plane of the reflection without any resistance, and the picture rippled violently and then faded away. Shaking, trembling with my weakness and my rage, I turned away from the darkening mirror. My eyes took in the golden hair before anything else and my face lit up with gratitude and relief which faded in an instant when I realized it was not Amaranth who was standing behind me.

It was Barley, incongruously wearing a too-small man’s undershirt over her fairly ample breasts. The shirt was dirty, as were the little white socks on her feet that were the only other clothes she had on. Somehow it all heightened the “wrongness” of a nymph wearing clothes. If she’d been fully dressed, it would still have been out of character, but at least it would have fit with some sort of expectation.

“‘lo… Mack,” she said, drawing out the monosyllabic greeting and then pronouncing my name with a bit of a pop of her lips, like it was a big sloppy kiss of a word.

“Hi, uh, Barley,” I said, fighting a sudden wave of dizziness. Barley had made me feel weak when she’d tried to rape me the first week of school. I’d been unwilling to fight her off. Now I really was weak, and possibly would be unable to. I couldn’t really tell if she was drunk or if she’d just acquired a new permanent state of mind, but the look on her face was a mixture of scorn, disinterest, and lust.

“Virgin blood,” she said, shaking her head and stepping towards me. “I suppose you’ve been too busy being a victim to tell Amaranth that? Either that or she’s not such a ‘genius’ of a genius loci as she thought.”

Barley tossed her head and gave a short bitter laugh.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“She could be feeding you,” Barley said. “Either of us could. If she wasn’t so wrapped up in herself, maybe she would have figured this out.”

“I need virgin blood,” I said. “Human virgin blood.”

“Yeah,” Barley said. “But nymphs are created in the image of the race which brings them forth. Our spirits are divine, but they come wrapped up in squishy idealized human packages. For ritual purposes, we are human.”

“You’re still hardly a virgin,” I said.

“I’m a nymph,” Barley said. “Haven’t you paid any attention? We’re pure. Inherently.”

“That’s insane,” I said. “You have sex every day.”

“Look,” she said, holding up her hands. With some effort, she slashed open one of her palms with the nails of her other hand, then grabbed me by the hair on the back of my head. “Drink.”

Whether from my weakened state or my lingering reaction to her, I didn’t seem able to resist. I didn’t exactly drink but I didn’t fight as she slapped her bleeding hand up against my parted lips.

“What’s that taste like?” she asked, but the blood wasn’t even properly in my mouth when I knew that something was wrong.

It tasted foul, overwhelmingly bitter and poisonous. I wrenched myself out of her grasp and spat out as much of the liquid as I could, but I couldn’t get the taste out. I could feel my gorge rising. I might not have eaten anything that morning, but everything I hadn’t eaten was struggling to come up at once. I retched, my stomach heaving several times before I got it under control.

Barley was staring at me with a look of raw horror on her face. Her eyes went from me to the ragged tear on her hand and back.

“What the fuck?” I asked, still trying to wipe the taste away and getting blood on my hand doing so. “Barley, I don’t know where you got your ideas about nymphs and virginity, but that tasted like shit!”

She wasn’t listening, though.

“No, Mother… no,” she whispered, staring at her hand. “No… no…”

“Barley?” I asked, genuinely worried, in spite of everything.

She just repeated, “No… no… please, Mother… no.”

“Are you okay?” I asked, reaching out to touch her hand, thinking to break her eye contact with it. Instead, no sooner had I touched her then she turned on me, screaming wordlessly, punching and scratching at me like a wild cat. Caught completely by surprise, I was knocked to the ground.

I didn’t fight back. I could say it was because there was no need to… as painful as her nails were, they weren’t doing anything to me… but I was honestly too freaked out, too scared to fight. I’d never seen anybody snap like that. Finally, after jamming one of her finger nails against my eye with no effect other than a bright flashy explosion of pain, she gave a feral howl and bolted towards the doorway towards Pelinor Hall, clutching something in her hand.

I wasn’t sure if that was her new dorm, or just the closest non-Harlowe one. I wasn’t about to follow her and find out.

I pulled myself together, rubbing my pained eye, and took a look in the mirror. I regretted it instantly. The sweater vest thing had lost one of its buttons completely, and the other was hanging by a thread. Both it and the shirt both had streaks of Barley’s blood on them, as did my face. My mouth, especially, was smeared with blood that had dribbled down from my lower lip.

I ran for the nearest bathroom, glad I wasn’t inside the dorm proper. Some people would be starting to wake up and do their morning routines, and the last thing I wanted was to walk into the bathroom with my clothes messed up and blood on my freaking mouth. I couldn’t do anything about the state of my clothes… Two’s clothes, actually… but I was able to clean up my face, and I could hide out in the laundry room until my own clothes were done.

It was while I was staring at myself in the bathroom mirror that I realized that Barley, in her crazed rage, had taken a trophy: Two’s headband. Shit. I’d have to try to get it back.

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4 Responses to “118: Upon Further Reflection”

  1. pedestrian says:

    How we reconcile our human needs with our primate desires is how other people determine our level of maturity.

    Current score: 0
  2. zeel says:

    “No, Mother… no,” she whispered, staring at her hand. “No… no…”

    I always assumed she was freaking out because of Mackenzies reaction. But reading this now, it doesn’t seems as if she is paying attention. Is she attmepting to heal her hand? But she is cut off from divine energy?

    Current score: 1
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      I always took it to mean that she’d been rendered not a nymph, due to her behaviors that were not in keeping with the definition of being a nymph.

      The evidence is all there, the blood no longer being ‘virginal’ her illicit clothing becoming dirty, her becoming dirty as well.

      She may well be also trying to heal herself, and the severity of the situation she’s now in finally has been driven home. She may have logic’ed the rest of the evidence away, but the last two bits, the foul blood and not being able to heal, those drove it home like nothing else could.

      Current score: 3
      • zeel says:

        Well yes, but I had always assumed she realized this because Mackenzie thought her blood wasn’t good – but reading it again, it sounds like she is failing to heal.

        Current score: 1