191: Rules of Engagement

on April 4, 2008 in 07: Pitched Battles

In Which Hazel Honors An Ancestor

After Steff had spent herself, we got cleaned up and ready for dinner. We then went to collect Two from her fr… I mean, from Hazel’s room. The door was closed, so I knocked.

“Hi, Mack! Hi, Steff!” Two said from behind us.

“Hi, Two,” we replied, as we turned to see her waving at us from the open door of the goblinoids’ room. Beyond her, I could see Dee sitting cross-legged on an undersized bed. She’d taken off her hooded cloak, revealing a set of robes with an elaborate shades-of-black pattern.

“What are you guys doing?” I asked, approaching the doorway.

“We’re… gaming?” Two said.

The room was the same sized as all the others, but the furnishings were all about half of standard size, except the desks which were shorter but had the same surface area. This gave a lot more usable floor space, which was currently taken up by a bunch of carved stone miniature figures and tiny trees and rocky hills. Hazel and Shiel sat on opposite ends of a battlefield while Dee, Honey, Two, and Oru looked on.

Oru sat on the other bed, probably her own. She had some kind of flutey thing laying across her lap. The others stood around the edges of the room.

“It’s war, Mack,” Hazel said. “Me versus Sheel. To the last man.”

“Shiel,” the kobold corrected.

“Sorry,” Hazel said. “Shi-el. Two’s my lieutenant.”

“I keep track of the rules for her,” Two said proudly. “She doesn’t always remember them.”

“Well, this is my first war,” Hazel said.

“Ooh, mechanized infantry,” Steff said, spotting a group of kobolds on metal horses with wagon wheels.

“Actually, those are iron automata,” Shiel said. “I have some fantasy figures, but I don’t use them in every game.”

“Are all these yours?” I asked Shiel, gesturing over the battlefield.

She nodded.

“I got my first set of figures when I was seven, as a wedding gift,” she said.

“You were married at seven?” I asked.

Shiel laughed.

“No, it was my guest-gift,” she said. “We were invited to a big wedding in the lower levels, because my father was distantly related… and the groom’s family didn’t know I was a girl, because of my name, so they gave me soldiers for my gift. My parents didn’t want to say anything.” She shrugged. “I started carving them myself after that. I always had a hard time finding people to play me, though.”

“Because you’re a girl?” I asked.

“Because I’m good,” Shiel said.

“Yeah,” Steff said, crouching down and surveying the field. “If all the human-looking guys are yours, Hazel, I think you’re in trouble.”

I could see what she meant. Shiel’s forces badly outnumbered Hazel’s, and seemed to have them pinned down in several places.

“It’s my first time, isn’t it?” Hazel said. “I had a bit of a bumpy beginning but I still have time to come back. You want to stick around and watch my rally?”

“Um, we were actually going to get some dinner,” I said. “If anybody wants to join us, they’re more than welcome.”

“I wouldn’t mind some dinner,” Oru said.

“You don’t mind a cessation of hostilities?” Hazel asked Shiel. “Pick it up after… or maybe after the meeting.”

“Best finish your movement phase,” Shiel said.

“You mind waiting?” Hazel asked, and I shook my head. “Right. Miss Delia Daella, if you would be very kind and advance my contingent of archers…”

“You have already moved the archers,” Dee said.

“Oh, right,” Hazel said. “Well, then… let’s see. Pikemen are holding the valley… infantry’s massing on the hill. If you could turn the catapults a bit?”

“How many degrees?” Dee asked.

“Er, so they’re pointing at her wizards,” Hazel said.

“One moment, please,” Dee said. She closed her eyes and it took me a moment to catch on… I almost missed the little stone figures representing Hazel’s catapults turning a little shakily in place. Dee opened her eyes and took a breath. “You may have to resort to manual adjustments for the remainder of your game. Telekinesis does not come easily to me, and while I welcome the practice, I do not believe I can keep up this level of activity.”

“You move all the pieces by hand, normally?” I asked Shiel. Until that moment, I’d kind of assumed that it would take magic to manage that many separate miniatures.

She nodded.

“There are wands for moving them,” she said. “But they’re expensive, and I’d rather trade for more stones and carved figures.”

“Do you have a rulebook?” Steff asked.

“Right here,” Hazel said, thumping her hand on a big book by her side, bound roughly in untanned hide. Steff hopped over the field of battle and picked it up, opening it. I edged around the side of things to peer around her shoulder.

The book was written in what I assumed was a goblin language, made up of abstract runes. Most of the pages seemed to show different troop types, with statistics. Shiel or somebody else had penned in Pax translations for the unit names and stats.

“Ooh, specs for undead hordes,” Steff said. “Do you have any of those?”

Shiel blinked once slowly but said nothing. After a bit, she shook her head.

“I used to,” she said. “I inherited them from a cousin who quit playing but I traded them for a bunch of blank stones. I prefer carving my own.”

“What do you use?” Steff asked. She was flipping to the beginning of the book, where the actual rules were. What seemed to be simplified translations were written in the margins. “For carving?”

“It’s called soap stone, I think,” Shiel said. “We just call them soldier stones. It’s too soft and wearing for religious icons or anything else.”

Hazel had been giving more instructions to Dee during this, and she seemed to have finished moving her troops.

“Right,” she said. “Now, nobody forget I still have my attack phase, when we get back.”

“I’m not the one who forgets about my opponent’s attack phases,” Shiel said.

“It’s my first time!” Hazel said again. “Anyway, you’re going to give me rematch after this one, right?”

“You know we’re not likely to finish before midnight as it is unless you surrender,” Shiel said.

“So? I can go all night,” Hazel said. “I’m not doing anything tomorrow.”

“You said we’d bake cookies tomorrow,” Two said.

“We can do that in the afternoon,” Hazel said.

“I have to work in the afternoon,” Two said.

“And we were going to go to the employment office,” Honey said.

“And you have a date with Andy,” Two said.

“Fine!” Hazel said. “Rematch at a later date to be announced, but there is no way that I’m surrendering this one.”

“Honestly, there’s no reason to get so worked up over a game,” Honey said. She sounded incredibly bored with the whole thing.

“It’s war!” Hazel said. “I’m not about to yield while I still have soldiers left. Didn’t my own Uncle Ed fight and die in the Battle of Briar Ridge?”

“Your Uncle Ed tripped charging down the hill,” Honey said.

“And died,” Hazel said. “Defending Logfallen and all your useless relations from invasion from Eastover.”

“The Eastover militia left because they didn’t want to be blamed for his death,” Honey said.

“It was a heroic sacrifice,” Hazel said. “Leading to decisive victory for the forces of Logfallen.”

“And three years later we ceded the Briar Ridge pasturage to Eastover, anyway,” Honey said.

“From a position of strength,” Hazel said. “I play this ‘game’ as you call it in his memory, to honor him, by emulating his courageous example.”

“If you could really win battles by charging down a hill and dying, this game would have ended hours ago,” Dee said.

“Like you’d know,” Hazel said. “You weren’t here hours ago, were you?”

“I confess I was not,” Dee said.

“Can I borrow this?” Steff asked Shiel, holding up the book.

Shiel got a pained look on her face.

“It’s my only copy,” she said. “But you can probably find the rules on the ethernet.”

“Okay,” Steff said, setting the book down.

“Amaranth is knocking on your door,” Dee said to me.

“Oh!” I said. “Um, excuse me, everyone.”

“I think we’re all set to go,” Shiel said. “Is everybody coming?”

“I guess so,” Hazel said. “It’ll be a little pre-election benefit of sorts, Mack, seeing as we’re all your supporters. Er, that is to say, all of us are your supporters. Not that we’re the only ones who support you.”

“Uh, right,” I said.

Amaranth was just turning away from my door as we spilled out into the hall. I felt warm and wobbly, the way her accustomed smile grew even bigger and brighter when she saw me. I was so loved, and by so many people. It was hard to believe, but there it was: I was loved.

“Hi, baby!” Amaranth called, running toward me.

“Hi,” I said. “We were…”

“I told Mack to go to the healing center for her knee and she didn’t!” Two blurted out before I could say anything else. “And she and Steff were doing sex things and Steff’s not supposed to!”

“Two!” I said.

“Would you please excuse us?” Amaranth asked the others, pushing Two and me towards our room, which I unlocked for her. “Two, first of all, you are not in charge of Steff,” she said, once we were alone inside.

“Or me,” I added. Amaranth didn’t say anything.

“Second, you shouldn’t be shouting about people’s sex lives in public,” she said. “Some people may not appreciate it.”

“Like me,” I said.

“Okay,” Two said, “but you said…”

“I know what I said,” Amaranth said. “But if Mack’s been disobeying me, you can tell me in private.”

“Can I spank her if she’s bad?”

“No,” I said.

“I’ll think about it,” Amaranth said. She turned to me, tilting her head to peer over her glasses. “And what’s this about you not going to the healing center? I distinctly recall ordering you to obey Two there.”

“It was just a skinned knee,” I said.

“She was bleeding,” Two said.

“It had already stopped,” I said.

“How did you skin your knee, exactly?” Amaranth asked.

“I was in a hurry and I tripped,” I said. “On the sidewalk outside.”

“Oh, the defensive enchantments,” Amaranth said, nodding. “I guess that would do it. Did you at least clean and cover the wound?”

“Um… no,” I said. “But it did stop bleeding.”

“Baby, do you want to get an infection?” Amaranth said. She sighed. “Take off your pants and sit on the bed.”

“But… yes, ma’am,” I said, not waiting for her to finish bringing the glasses to bear.

I sat on the edge of the bed in my underwear while she stooped down, pulling out a bottle of something that smelled like alcohol and a clean white cloth.

“Ow!” I yelled at the burning pain when she touched it to the hurt skin. “What the fuck is that shit?”

Language, baby,” Amaranth said. “I’m killing the germs.”

“You’re killing my leg!” I said.

“Hold still,” she said, washing the wound with the noxious stuff. “I’m almost done.”

“That hurts,” I said.

“You’ll thank me when you don’t get an infection,” she said. “Curing disease with arcane magic is even harder than healing wounds. Almost done,” she said. The rag went out of sight and she produced a sticky bandage, which she put over it, pressing down along the edges. I winced and cried out again. She didn’t pay any attention. “Next time you get a cut or scrape that’s not quite an injury, I’ll let you choose if you want to go to the healing center or come to me… but you will get it taken care of.” She stood up and turned to Two. “You can spank her, if she doesn’t.”

I stared at Amaranth in disbelief.

“Baby, your health is nothing to fool around with,” she said. “You’re invulnerable, not immortal.”

“But…”

“If you really don’t want Two to spank you, all you have to do is take a little better care of yourself,” Amaranth said. “Now… what were you doing with Steff?”

“Messing around,” I said. “Making out… and other stuff.”

What stuff?” Amaranth asked.

“Steff was putting her penis in Mack’s mouth,” Two said. I glared at her.

“Mack,” Amaranth said, shaking her head.

“But she didn’t!” I said. “We didn’t. We stopped, when Two came in.”

“They were still doing stuff when I left,” Two said.

“What did you do?” Amaranth asked.

I looked at the floor.

“Mack, baby… you agreed that Viktor could punish you, if you got involved with Steff,” Amaranth said. “Do you remember? If she strays with you, you take the whole punishment.”

“I don’t think this should count,” I said.

“What shouldn’t?” she asked. “What exactly did you do?”

“We just kind of… rubbed against each other,” I said. “Until she came.”

Amaranth sighed. She took her glasses off and put her hand on her face.

“Baby, you are so… I know you’re really very smart, but you can act so stupid sometimes,” she said, shaking her head.

“Hey!” I said. I didn’t think that was quite called for.

“You both are,” she said. “I’m going to have to tell Viktor. This is about trust, Mack. He trusts you to be good to Steff, to keep her safe. How can he trust you to do that if you don’t follow the rules as he lays them down?”

“I really didn’t think it counted!” I said.

“You didn’t think it did, or you didn’t want it to?” Amaranth asked.

I didn’t answer.

“I’ll talk to Viktor,” Amaranth said. “Tell him what happened and find out what he intends to do. Will you accept the consequences of your actions, if I say that it’s reasonable?”

I nodded.

“Good,” Amaranth said. She shook her head. “I honestly can’t blame you. I know you guys love each other a lot, and I know how badly you both want this… but Viktor’s trying to teach Steff self-control, self-denial. And as big an issue as I have with him denying her access to sex as a means of practicing it, I have to agree with his aim.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

I felt a little sick, and for the first time since coming to MU I think I truly appreciated Amaranth’s worldview. It had felt so good, so right to give in and give myself up to Steff, to let her take whatever pleasure she could from my body. We loved each other, and had given in… and not even as fully as we could have… and now the idea that this action could have consequences was terrifying and strange.

But Amaranth was right. I had agreed to Viktor’s terms… and if I was being totally honest with myself, the idea that I could let somebody achieve orgasm using my body and not call it “sex” did seem to be a bit of a stretch.

“Oh, baby, come here,” Amaranth said, putting her glasses back on and putting her arms around me. “I don’t like being the bad guy… if it were up to me, you and Steff could fuck whenever you wanted. I’ll talk to Viktor. I’m sure at the very least he’ll let you keep seeing her.”

I felt my stomach lurch. The possibility that this might affect our permission to date hadn’t even occurred to me. What had I been thinking? Pretty much nothing more than “Steff. Hot. Want.”, apparently.

“Come on,” Amaranth said. “Let’s go get dinner.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Don’t forget it’s my still my turn,” Hazel was saying as we opened the door.

“Your attack phase,” Shiel amended.

“You don’t think I’d try to take two movement phases in a row, do you?”

“After you were caught at it twice?”

Steff was trembling, as pale as snow. I knew she’d heard the whole conversation. I went to her, but didn’t know what to say. I reached for her hand.

“Everybody ready?” Amaranth asked.

“I’m sorry,” Steff whispered as we started down the hall with the group. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” I said quietly. “We weren’t thinking. I’d completely forgotten the thing about taking your punishment, honestly.”

“I hadn’t,” Steff said.

“What?” I asked, but she turned her head a bit away and said nothing.


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10 Responses to “191: Rules of Engagement”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Steff can be such a selfish bitch…all the time!

    Current score: 8
    • Arkeus says:

      And Mackie is a complete enabler, not least because Amy almost always convince her to.

      It’s quite rare for her to be as logical as this chapter.

      I don’t know what happened to Steff, honestly, in the first 50 or so chapter she was the one who was telling Amy she was going too far.

      Current score: 1
  2. Arakano says:

    Whenever I read this chapter, I grow angry with Amaranth for this whole “Two, you can spank her if she disobeys” line. That’s ignoring Mack’s limits severely. She does want to keep her sex life away from Two, and if she occasionally fails at that, that does not give Amaranth any right to breach that line intentionally. She knows at least as well as Mack that spanking is deeply sexual to her, and that Two is like a sister to Mack. Two may not realise the implications, but… ugh. Just ugh.

    Current score: 6
    • Pamela says:

      Yeah. Isn’t that supposed to be on the black list? I’d have to go back and re-read to be certain.

      I think it will soon be time for me to take a break yet again. Sometimes the characters are just too believable. They make me so angry.

      Current score: 6
    • Anthony says:

      I dunno. I’d actually enjoy seeing that, not out of perversion or anything, (OK, maybe a little,) but mostly because it would probably be incredibly cute to see Two’s idea of how spanking Mackenzie is *supposed* to be done.

      Current score: 0
    • Athena says:

      Enjoy seeing it, maybe. But that really doesn’t change the fact that it’s a blatant disregard for Mack’s limits. I would say violation, but that would be more if it ever actually happened… in either case, unacceptable.

      Current score: 4
    • Anon says:

      I think that the logic is something along the lines of ‘Mack’s prohibition on talking about or doing sex things near Two is entirely out of concern for Two’s comfort; therefore Two’s opinion matters more than Mack’s does in this instance. Two is certainly clever and observant enough to know what spanking is to Mack and how it affects her, and still believes that she ought to be allowed to administer punishments. Meanwhile, Mack has been instructed before to submit to Two’s authority in such matters, but continues to disregard her orders; thus Two’s orders must be given more weight in order to protect Mack from her own stupidity.’

      Besides, you know perfectly well that a punishment administered by Two would be *punishment* rather than sex. That’s what it’s for and how it’s supposed to be.

      Current score: 1
  3. fragzilla says:

    right now Steff is a bit of a broken bird. She’s suffering. That’s not an excuse, but it at least adds some context. The poor girl was raped, and is in denial. That reminds me. Thank you AE for your addition of the concept of female instigated rape to this story. Too(proper usage?) many people define rape as an act committed by men exclusively.

    Current score: 6
  4. Cadnawes says:

    The thing about Steff here is… well, people don’t usually suffer without fallout. When you’ve gone through something of that magnitude, you really find out who your friends are. They’re the ones who are still around when you’re done being an ass.

    Current score: 2
  5. Sahsa says:

    I can’t tell if they were playing their world’s version of 40k, or their world’s version of Fantasy. The whole “Magic is real; science is fantasy” makes me a little confused on this… It’s still awesome that they were playing Warhammer though 😀

    Current score: 5