184: Couched Conversations

on March 26, 2008 in 07: Pitched Battles

In Which Mackenzie Has Amaranth Eating Out Of Her Hand

We took our food to the downstairs lounge in Harlowe. I sat wedged between Ian and Steff on a small sofa, and Two had a nearby chair. A lot of people had taken food from the cookout or from the catering in and were sitting out on the sunken patio, but the lack of direct sunlight made that a bit chilly for my tastes.

Ian and Steff both took me at my word when I said I didn’t plan to go into more detail about my ordeal until Amaranth was back with us. I really didn’t want to go over the whole story a hundred different times… living through it once had been enough.

The problem was, with the obvious topic of conversation taken off the table, there wasn’t a whole lot left to talk about. Two had told them what she knew… that I’d been in the labyrinth and a delving professor had brought me out… but curiosity about the rest of the tale was practically dripping off their faces.

It was Steff who finally broke.

“Look, you don’t have to go into the whole big thing… but I have to at least ask about the pitchfork,” Steff said. “Is it a cultural thing, or are you just going for the Imperial Gothic look?”

“I got it in the labyrinth,” I said. “It’s supposed to be cursed with boundless rage or something.”

“Ooh, can I see?” she asked, reaching for it.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said. “It might mess with your potion regimen. Also, boundless rage.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Steff said.

“So, um…” Ian said. “Why weren’t you all… raging?”

“Infernal energy doesn’t bother me,” I said. “It’s like a tiny little upside to my problems with divinity.”

“So, are you trading your knife in for it permanently?” Steff asked. “‘Demon girl with a pitchfork’ is pretty badass and all, but it seems a little… unwieldy.”

“I lost my knife,” I said. “It got teleported away to who knows where… but it’s okay. I’m claiming the fierce creature exemption.”

Steff gave me a look.

“What?” I asked.

“You’re not trying to weasel out of fighting class, are you?” she asked. “Because it’s too late to drop it, and you’re crazy if you think Amy’d let you get away with it.”

“No,” I said. “But I can use the pitchfork for that, or get another knife.”

“Okay, but if you’re going to switch weapons, what I said about private lessons is doubly important,” Steff said.

“I know,” I said, making a mental note to try to track down Gloria on the weekend if I could. Otherwise I wouldn’t see her until Tuesday.

I hadn’t seen her outside the admin building. I wondered if she’d heard about my plight. Had she been worried about me?

“I have a question that isn’t about the labyrinth,” Two said.

“Uh, what is it, Two?” I asked.

“Did you lose my butterfly clips?”

“Oh, no, I actually didn’t,” I said. I’d slipped them into my pocket with a little difficulty, and they’d been digging into my leg. “I’ve got them right here.”

I tried to dig them out, but the jeans were tight and I was sitting down. Steff took my plate from me and I stood up. As soon as I got my fingers into the pocket, I felt the jagged edge of broken plastic. They’d broken.

“Sorry,” I said sheepishly, pulling them out and handing them to her. “I hope you can fix them.”

“I’m not going to keep loaning you my things if you keep wrecking them,” Two said.

“Two, I don’t… I don’t really like wearing your things,” I said. “I didn’t break the clips on purpose, I swear, but… it’s probably best if you do stop loaning me clothes. Let me wear my own stuff.”

“What is wrong with my clothing?” Two asked, frowning. “I think my clothes are pretty.”

“Oh, they are,” Steff said. “But it’s a matter of style. Mack’s more into the ‘grungy girl who just rolled out of bed and picked up whatever’s on the floor’-style, and you’re more of the ‘thirteen-year-old with too much lip gloss’-style.”

“I am not thirteen years old,” Two said, crossing her arms. “I am twenty-four years old and I think they are pretty.”

“Nobody’s saying you can’t dress however you would like,” I said. “Just let me be me… and if you have to get clothes for me like this again, try to get my own.”

Two scowled, but her eyes moved as she processed what I’d said, and then her expression cleared and she simply said, “Okay. As long as I can dress how I would like.”

“I think you both look fine,” Ian said. “All three of you, I mean.”

“Oh, you are such the gentleman,” Steff said.

Ian still hadn’t put his shirt back on. It was tied around his waist, with the arms in front. The plaid pattern kind of made it look a little bit like he was wearing a tartan kilt.

It wasn’t a bad image.

“What?” he asked, and I realized I was staring.

“You look kind of nice with your shirt off,” I said.

“So do you,” he said without missing a beat, and took another bite of his hamburger.

I blushed and looked down at my plate. The chicken fell out of my sandwich.

“You are seriously adorable, Mack,” Steff said. “So adorable, you’re a-dork-able.”

“Hey, don’t call her a dork,” Ian said.

“What, is that ‘your word’… nobody’s allowed to say it but other dorks?” Steff said.

“Don’t call him a dork,” I said.

“Oh, fine, gang up on me,” Steff said, holding up her hands and grinning the shit-eatingest grin I’d ever seen. She turned to Two. “What do you think, pseudowench?”

“I think ‘dork’ is a rude name and I’m not supposed to call people rude names even if they fit,” Two said.

“Well, there you go,” Steff said. “You guys are dorks but I won’t say another word about it.”

“Good,” I said.

“Good,” Two said.

“Anyway, you seem to be in a… good mood,” I said to Steff. She’d been all smiles since we’d left the rally, and generally seemed a lot more cheerful than she’d been all week. “Mental healing going well?””

“It’s going okay,” Steff said. “But I’m really happy because a cute girl kissed me in front of a huge crowd, and of course… that’s just an unexpected bonus on top of you, you know, not dying.” She closed her eyes and her cheeks colored slightly. “I’m sorry.” She waved her hand like she was fanning herself. “I’m trying not to cry. I’ve been crying all week, over the stupidest things… and now… now…”

“It’s okay,” I said.

“Hug her,” Two said, and I did… a little more awkwardly than usual, since I had to pass my plate to Ian and Steff kind of held hers out to the side when she realized what I was doing.

“This is why we should eat at a table,” Two said. “If we were eating at a table, there would be a place to put our plates.”

Steff kind of giggled through our tears, and we ate a bit more in silence.

“So… um…” Ian said after a while. He trailed off without finishing the thought, though.

“What?” I asked.

“That was our first kiss,” he said. “Back there.”

I looked at him.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“You kissed me,” he said. “We kissed, I mean. On the lips.”

I gaped. He was right. I had kissed him, without thinking. All that angsting and worrying and build up… and I’d gone and kissed him, just like that.

“You’re not about to start freaking out because you think you wrecked things some how, are you?” Steff asked.

I glared at her.

“No!” I said. “But…”

“But what?” Ian asked.

“I wanted our first kiss to be special,” I said.

“What kiss were you watching?” Ian asked. “That was amazing.”

“It wasn’t anything, though,” I said. “I mean, nothing special. We just kissed. It wasn’t even very long.”

It probably wasn’t a great idea, but I was mentally comparing the kiss with Ian… what I’d paid attention to of it… with the more prolonged lip-lock I’d shared with Steff immediately before.

“Mack, hon, your first kiss with somebody is special because it’s first, not because every little thing about it was perfect,” Steff said. “So what if it wasn’t all makey-outy? It was nice. I’d like for one of my firsts to have been like that…”

“It was fine, really,” Ian said. “It was good. I don’t have any complaints.”

“I guess,” I said. “To be honest, I’ve been worried that we wouldn’t kiss… like there was something wr… like you wouldn’t want to.”

Ian said nothing, and for a moment I thought my worst fears were confirmed.

“Oh, c’mon, honey,” Steff said. “Don’t you recognize the pattern here? This is another d… word I’m not going to call you again thing. You were waiting for him to kiss you and he was probably waiting for you to say something about it, and you probably both could have gone on forever agonizing over this stupid little thing because neither one of you would bring it up or make the first move. Right, Ian?”

“Uh, yeah,” Ian said. “Well, that, and every time it seemed appropriate, you’d just finished going down on me or something.”

“You’re damned lucky vanilla’s a cute color on you,” Steff said. “Or I’d have to kick your ass a bit.”

Ian bristled a little at that, but I don’t think he quite knew how to respond.

“It’s okay,” I said. “Really. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a guy who doesn’t want to get dick on his mouth.”

“Thank you,” Ian said.

“So, what do you want to do for the rest of the afternoon?” Steff asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t have to be in class until…”

“You’re not seriously going to go to class, are you?” Steff asked.

“Don’t you think I’ve missed enough classes this week already?” I asked.

“Yeah, but who’s going to dare complain?” Steff replied. “You’re the victim here. Milk it a little.”

“It’s logic and history,” I said. “I like those classes.”

“But if you show up for history, I have to, too.”

“I guess we’re all victims here, then,” I said.

We’d pretty much finished eating by the time that Amaranth caught up. She had a plate full of lettuce salad and a couple rolls, which she set down on the arm of the couch. I was in her arms before she’d straightened back up.

“Hi, baby,” she said, when we’d finished kissing. I couldn’t imagine a better greeting. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get here sooner… I would have felt awful asking those boys to wait after they were so nice and patient during the protest. I’m just glad they didn’t mind doubling up a little or I’d probably still be there.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s your work.”

“It’s my purpose,” Amaranth said. She sighed. “I wouldn’t give it up, but sometimes I wish I could split myself in two… so half of me could fuck everybody in the world and the other half could just spend time with you. Oh, and with my friends… of course I didn’t mean to exclude the rest of you.”

“It’s okay,” Steff said. “I’d ditch you for Fuck-The-World Amy first chance I got, anyway.”

Amaranth looked at the sofa doubtfully.

“This might be a tighter squeeze than is comfortable,” she said.

“I’ll sit on your lap,” I said quickly. “And hold your plate.”

“Well, aren’t you a little doll today?” Amaranth said and I blushed. “What about the rest of your lunch?”

“It’s okay, I’m finished,” I said.

“Okay, if you’re sure,” Amaranth said.

I was. After being groped by cornstalks, battered by traps and trolls, and beset by hellhounds, I was ready to sink into the warm, comforting curves of my owner.

The lettuce was dry… or at least, undressed… and she ate it piece by piece.

“Vegetarian options,” Amaranth said, making a face. “They didn’t even have any non-dairy dressings. I might as well have gone into the cafeteria. But… I suppose they did what they could on short notice.”

“We could go to the corner store and get some fruit or something,” I said.

“No, this is fine, baby,” Amaranth said. “Don’t even think about moving your butt until I tell you to.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Since she was reaching blindly around me, I started putting bits of lettuce and red cabbage in her hands, and somehow I ended up turning sideways and feeding her directly.

“So, Mack…” Steff said. “Now that Amy’s here, you can spill.”

“Spill?” Amaranth repeated.

“Mackenzie said she’d rather wait until you were here before she told us what happened,” Ian explained.

“And you’re here,” Steff said.

“You don’t have to go through this if you’re not ready,” Amaranth said.

“No, it’s okay,” I said. “It sucked, but it’s not like it was hugely traumatic or anything. Did they tell you guys how I ended up in the maze?”

“They said you’d been teleported, when we showed up at the healing center,” Amaranth said. “They wouldn’t even tell us anything except that there’d been an accident, until I told Lynette that Two and Ian were your emergency contacts, and she went and found the card you’d filled out.”

“But she didn’t tell you why they were trying to teleport me?” I asked.

Amaranth shook her head.

“Lynette said it was an internal matter and she couldn’t comment on it.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Candace got scared in the middle of the night and warded me inside my room,” I said. “And Lynette didn’t want to risk consorting with diabolists to undo them.”

“Oh my mother… that’s incredibly irresponsible!” Amaranth said. “Didn’t she know you could have been seriously hurt if you’d gone wandering in the middle of the night?”

“Well, in Candace’s defense, she’s kind of a faith-blinded moron,” Steff said.

“Steff!” Amaranth said.

“Seriously,” Steff said. “They call her ‘Candy Ass’ because she thinks only having butt sex means she’s still a virgin in the eyes of Khersis.”

“But isn’t that worse than regular sex?” I asked.

“Baby!” Amaranth said. “Sex isn’t ‘bad’ or ‘good’ like that… and for some people, it is regular sex.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I just meant, in that kind of mindset… I mean, it’s hard to imagine somebody who’d think losing their virginity was sinful but would think anal sex was just fine.”

“Think about all the different permutations of ‘not quite sex’ you went through in the past few weeks,” Amaranth said.

“Point,” I said. “Anyways, I just wanted out but Lynette wouldn’t call in the diabolists without checking with the priests, so I started throwing out suggestions and she decided to get some Professor Proust from the transportation magic department to gate me out of the room.”

“Wait, ‘Phony’ Proust?” Steff said. “Isn’t he on indefinite leave because of a nervous breakdown or something?”

“She mentioned he was on leave,” I said. “But she didn’t say what for… I don’t think she knew about it when she contacted him.”

“Supposedly, he stuck his cat inside a wall or something,” Steff said. “I mean, that’s the rumor. Or one of them.”

“It’s probably not true,” Amaranth said. “When performed properly, gate spells are safer than carriages.”

“When performed properly,” Steff repeated.

“The chancellor says he’s claiming ‘infernal interference’,” I said. “Anyway…”

I went through the whole story of the multiple flubbed teleports and my time in the labyrinth. The others listened intently. Amaranth frowned when I got to the part about the pitchfork and said that we’d have to have it checked out before she decided if I could keep it.

“Why didn’t you order the scarecrow to take you out of the maze right there?” Ian asked.

“It was a cursed scarecrow, not a djinni,” I said. “That would have been outside the scope of its abilities.”

“Okay, but, it would have had to do whatever it could to help you get out,” Ian said.

“Honestly, that’s probably limited to getting the pitchfork,” I said. “It seemed to have a very narrowly defined role. I doubt it was capable of leaving the farm.”

“When you run into something like that, you’ve kind of got to work within the rules of the scenario,” Steff said. “Otherwise, you’re likely to end up arfed.”

We all looked at her.

“Arfed,” she repeated. “It’s delver slang.”

“What’s it mean?” I asked.

She shrugged.

“I think it started as an ethernet acronym: R-F-E-D,” she said. “I have no idea what it actually stands for, though. It basically means you completely screw yourself and your entire party by overreaching.”

“Oh,” I said. “Anyway, the farm seemed to sort of cheer up and turn normal-looking after I took the pitchfork out. I think it was the focal point of the curse on the entire place… I hope that means the guy who was the scarecrow got set free.”

“That would be nice,” Amaranth said. “Go on, though, baby.”

I couldn’t help but notice that Steff perked up… so to speak… at the part where I was being grabbed and dragged down by skeletons. It kind of made me miss the time when I’d been oblivious to the physical signs of her arousal.

My account of the troll bridge got her attention in a different way.

“Oh, see, that’s pretty much a textbook arfing, except for the part where you escaped,” Steff said. “You got away with pulling a clever stunt at the farm and then you tried almost the exact same thing at the troll bridge.”

“It sounds like you could have avoided the whole thing if you’d just changed weapons with him in the first place,” Ian said.

“Why would he have done that willingly?” I asked. “He wasn’t under any obligation to help me get past him. He didn’t want the pitchfork and he had no reason to give up his club.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Ian said. “Maybe that’s just too obvious.”

“It’s not ‘too obvious’, it just doesn’t make sense,” I said.

“Baby, calm down,” Amaranth said. “Finish your story.”

When I got to the part where the delving students arrived on the scene, Amaranth couldn’t even bring herself to find an excuse for them. She started to say something a couple times, but trailed off, looking perturbed.

She found her voice when I got to the part about Lacey’s chosen deity.

“Wait, she was a cleric of who?” Amaranth asked.

“Ananka,” I said, a little surprised that Amaranth hadn’t heard of her, even if she was a bit obscure. “She’s a demigoddess of peace… oh, but of course she went into a whole big thing about how Ananka’s a full goddess. I tried to set her straight, but it wasn’t worth… what?”

Amaranth was glaring a pair of holes through me, over the top of her glasses.

“What?” I repeated, shrinking down. “What did I say?”

“Baby, stand up,” she said, sliding me off her lap.

“What?” I asked.

“Ian, honey,” she said, though she hadn’t taken her eyes off me, “may I borrow your belt for a moment?”


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6 Responses to “184: Couched Conversations”

  1. pedestrian says:

    ?? R-F-E-D ??

    I have not played D&D or WOW or any of the variations.

    Is that similar to SNAFU or FUBAR?

    Guess I’m showing my age, eh what?

    Current score: 0
    • Incarnate says:

      “Rocks Fall Everybody Dies”

      I think it’s from the old D&D days. It seems to often be used as a shoutout to pen&paper RPG’s in fantastic fiction like this.

      Basically it’s what a Game Master in a pen&paper RPG yells when he is fed up with the players’ behaviour.

      tvtropes.org has a more comprehensive text on the phrase.

      Current score: 5
      • MackSffrs says:

        Yes, exactly I suppose it’s the point when a player is too much of a smart ass, trying to take advantage of the situation or game mechanics, and the Game Master is tired of dealing with the “overreaching” so Rocks Fall, Everybody Dies.

        Current score: 1
  2. pedestrian says:

    Thanks Incarnate for filling that in.

    Current score: 0
  3. Athena says:

    … I’ve read that trope, and now I feel silly for not making the connection 😛 Ah well

    Current score: 1
    • Athena says:

      Aaand two years later I get to feel exponentially more silly for forgetting and then utterly failing to make the connection *again* XD

      Current score: 0