Chapter 169: Secret RendezvousAlexandraErin on July 24, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 5: Nasty Disturbing Uncomfortable Things, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Ian Wants Steff
Bonus story this weekend after three full updates?
I hated to admit it, but I did feel a bit better when I woke up the next morning. I mean, I felt more like myself… I didn’t actually feel that great because my mind was occupied with two things: my upcoming encounter with Glory and my one with the Emily Center.
If I only had one thing going on that day, I would have figured I could borrow Amaranth around lunchtime to help me go test the waters, since she could act as an interpreter for Emily’s reactions and help relay my intentions to the building’s sentient spirit… I really wanted someone who could “talk” to her directly, since it seemed like the worst case scenario would be that my new improved mental screening would keep me from picking up any reaction while still letting my semi-extraplanar mind overlap dangerously with Emily’s.
Was that likely? Was it possible? I didn’t know.
But I’d already agreed to the meeting with Glory, and I didn’t know how long it would take.
Rationally, I was pretty sure that nothing we’d need to discuss could take much longer than a normal lunchtime to explain, and it was doubtful it would take that long. Rationally, I also knew that it wouldn’t take long to check if I was Emily-safe yet… if there was an obvious problem, it wasn’t like I would have any reason to linger. If the problem was less obvious… something that would creep out over time… then it would probably come up while I was in class.
But I couldn’t quite convince myself that it wasn’t also rational to suppose that either or both of those things could end up taking quite a bit longer due to unforeseen (and unforeseeable) complications. Until they were both dealt with, the only thing I could think about was… both of them. At once.
It made me feel a little bit better about my stubbornness in dealing with the owl-turtle thing. Clearly my problem wasn’t even primarily the sleep thing, it was mostly a matter of having too much going on. And by insisting that we break the sleep protocol now to check on things instead of waiting for the weekend, it had actually made that problem worse… which probably undid whatever gains my mental well-being, well, gained from sleeping normally.
We explained the deal to the others at breakfast. Grace and Nicki weren’t with us again… I wondered a bit if Glory was deliberately keeping Grace away in the mornings so we’d have an elf-free environment during the only meal we didn’t habitually eat in her hangout spot. It seemed like the kind of thing she’d do… her version of being considerate.
Or maybe I was reading too much into it. Whether it was deliberate or not, the fact that she did give us room to talk was helpful.
“She really agreed that you could bring whoever you wanted?” Hazel asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “She asked me if I would leave Nicki out of it for now, but she made it clear that wasn’t a demand.”
“That’s… quite a concession,” she said.
“I believe it demonstrates her belief that Mackenzie will be reasonable in her choices,” Dee said. “After all, there is no binding obligation for her to reveal her secret. If Mackenzie were to show up with another elven ‘queen’ or a student reporter in tow, she would be fully justified in walking away.”
“Anyway, she already knows who you talk to about this stuff,” Ian said. “So the real message is that she wouldn’t object to anyone in your circle, any of us.”
“My opinion?” Hazel said. “Mind, I wasn’t there, but it sounds like she wants you bad. For reasons that may or may not have anything to do with the super secrety secret she’s going to divulge to you today… my advice would be to find out why before you agree to anything. Otherwise, she doesn’t really have all her cards on the table.”
“Well, I can say with one hundred percent certainty that she finds Mack genuinely adorable,” Amaranth said. “I don’t know if it’s her reason or not, but she wouldn’t mind more opportunities to watch her walking away.”
“…when were you planning on mentioning that?” I asked Amaranth.
“When it became relevant,” Amaranth said. “I don’t go around telling people every time someone else finds them attractive… anymore.”
“Everything about this conversation is sounding more and more like reasons to walk away,” Ian said. “But…”
“But?” I prompted.
“But… I like Grace, and kind of by extension Glory, enough that I don’t want to just like dismiss them out of hand,” he said. “So I say let’s go. You, me, Amaranth, and Dee. And Steff.”
“Wait… me?” Steff said. “Don’t get me wrong, I think that could be hilarious, but assuming the goal is for this to go well, I’m not sure that’s a great idea.”
“You’re one of Mackenzie’s… lovers,” Ian said. “So you’ve got as much reason to be there as we do. Also, you’ve got almost-elven senses, and more of a perspective on elven society than we do.”
“Okay, yeah, but if there’s anyone that Glory’s likely to bitch about being included, it’s me,” Steff said.
“Yeah, well… that’s the other reason,” Ian said. “if Glory’s going to pitch a fit over you being there, then she didn’t really mean what she told Mackenzie last night, did she?”
“That’s not a bad thought,” Hazel said. “See if she’ll put her gold where her gob is… although…”
“Although what?” Ian said.
“Although if we really want to see if she meant what she said, we should all show up,” Hazel said. She looked at me. “I mean, you said that’s why you insisted in the first place… so you wouldn’t have to bring us up to speed on it after the fact, right? I mean, imagine it’s something a little complicated and it’s not bad or dangerous, exactly, but you’re not quite sure how you feel about it so you need to talk it over. Well, you could talk it over with them who went in with you, but the rest of us would be completely adrift. And it’s alright for Ian to talk about how Steff has a stake in you, but… we’re all friends, aren’t we? You wouldn’t say that Two doesn’t have any interest in your life, would you?”
“Of course not,” I said, looking at Two a little guiltily… during our first semester, we’d bonded like sisters, and Two took the simile very literally.
“Then I’ll take it as settled,” Hazel said. “We’ll all hear what her elven majesty is up to and what it has to do with you, or she can go soak her head.”
“The idea was I could bring people of my choosing,” I said, a little irritated at how quickly this had spiraled out of my control… I hadn’t minded Ian making assertions about who would come along, because… well, I didn’t.
“She makes a good point, though, baby,” Amaranth said.
“In hindsight, I’m almost certain this is what Glory believed you meant,” Dee said. “Hence why she made the plea to exempt Nicki. Why would she expect that to be an issue, if she didn’t believe you intended to bring your whole circle with you to the table?”
“I’m not saying no,” I said, and as I backed down a little, I realized that I really did want all my friends in on this… that just thinking about so many people having my back made me feel a lot better about this thing that had been occupying half my mind since the moment I woke up. “In fact… yeah. It’s a good idea. It just took me by surprise.”
“That settles that,” Amaranth said.
“Did she say when the meet-up would be?” Hazel asked.
“I was kind of assuming lunch,” I said. The thought hadn’t actually crossed my mind that it might not be, and the prospect of maybe having to wait longer coupled with the sudden introduction of even more uncertainty was enough to make my insides twist in a way they hadn’t in a long time. “But… she did ask me if I’d wait a day, and a full day would be closer to dinner? I don’t know…”
“I would think midday would give her more than sufficient time to make the minimal arrangements necessary, if securing a warded room was the only reason for the delay,” Dee said. “But we shall see.”
Sitting through my morning lecture/discussion class didn’t do anything to take the edge off my anxiety, but it turned out I didn’t have to wait much longer at all. Glory was actually waiting… alone… outside the Archimedes Center when I got there.
“I sent my entourage into town today,” she said. “I told them I had a great desire to eat alone. When yours gets here, you can meet me in the same room we used before. I didn’t have time to arrange catering, but… there’s pizza and soda? I even got vegan for Amaranth!”
“That’s great, but Dee doesn’t eat pizza,” I said.
“…does she eat breadsticks?”
“I don’t know… do you think they have bread in them?”
Maybe it was the wrong tack to take, but I was having a hard time feeling tactful.
“Crap,” she said, and she looked so mortified that I immediately felt terrible for her. “I knew that! I really did, I swear…”
“The dining area does takeout boxes by weight,” I said. “She likes fresh fruit, and salad, heavy on mushrooms… I’ll get everyone to wait out here until we’re all here so you can take the time to make it look nice.”
“Thank you!” she said. “See, this is why I want you.”
“She also prefers milk to soda,” I said.
When the others started to arrive, I explained that we were waiting outside so we could all go in at once, and giving Glory a few minutes to set things up since she’d had to throw it together at the last minute and it was important to her that she treated us well. I wasn’t lying or even really leaving anything out, but I wasn’t mentioning her embarrassing lapse… even though I was the one who’d caught it, it had been caught before it actually hurt any feelings or embarrassed anyone, so there was no point in bringing it up.
Dee was actually the last one to arrive, though not by any noticeable margin, and when we entered the conference room, I saw that Glory had scrounged up a pitcher of milk from somewhere, along with some actual plates and silverware catering services, and a bowl for fruit.
“Thank you all for joining me,” she said when the door was closed behind us. “I have already explained the importance of secrecy to some of you, but to everyone, I really must stress… this is essential. If you were to reveal anything I am about to reveal to you to the campus at large… or even to anyone who isn’t sworn to secrecy… before it’s been announced, it would ruin my plans and possibly endanger my life, and the lives of those who follow me. So, anyone who isn’t willing to swear an oath of secrecy will have to leave now… though you may take a slice of pizza for your time, freely offered and given.”
“So, this secret, it is something you’ll be announcing in due time?” Hazel asked.
“Yes, I hope so,” she said. “If things go well. I won’t announce it if it doesn’t happen.”
“Good enough for me,” Hazel said. She looked at the rest of us. “That means it’s probably something on the up-and-up… you don’t generally announce a crime, unless it’s a doozy.”
“I’m inclined to agree,” Dee said. “Though I repeat the caveats I relayed through Amaranth last night. If what you reveal to us today does not involve anything illegal, against the university’s code of ethics, or any situation in which our silence could be used to incriminate us later, I will swear to keep it secret until any point you designate.”
“That… yes, okay, that will cover it,” Glory said. “Does everyone agree to that?”
I looked at Two, and saw that Ian and Hazel did, too. Probably even the people who wrote it didn’t know as much about the university’s code of ethics as Two did, and she tended to think about rules and laws as if they were physical things. If she could agree to that, so would we.
“Yes,” Two said. “I swear to that.”
Since she did, so did the rest of us… except for Steff, who seemed to be taking a long time to mull it over.
“I don’t swear lightly,” she said. “Especially to elves. And just so you know in advance: my word means nothing. If you screw us over on a technicality or you do something to piss me off… which would mostly be in how you treat Mack, though I also feel kind of affectionate towards Nicki… I’ll tell whoever I want.”
“That’s not necessary, Steff,” I said.
“Hey, Ian said I have a stake in this, and he was right,” Steff said. “I care about you, and this is me caring about you. Anyway, though… yeah, I swear not to do that thing I just said I’ll do.”
“…but you just told me that you would,” Glory said. She seemed more confused than offended, which was better than I’d hoped listening to Steff ramble.
“Yes,” Steff said. “And then I swore that I wouldn’t. And see, here’s the kicker: would I be more trustworthy if I hadn’t told you upfront that I have no intention of keeping my word for its own sake? But assuming the deal you offer Mack is a good one, I won’t want to mess it up by screwing you over. See, the real question is, can you trust that I’ll do the right thing by my friend?”
“I’m… honestly not sure,” Glory said. “But, what the heck… I’ve come this far. To be honest, I’ve wanted to tell someone… that’s why it’s kept almost bursting out of me. And the truth is, I don’t really know any of you, though I feel like I do… but I like you. As a group, I trust you to do the right thing… that’s why I agreed when Mackenzie asked permission to bring you.”
“So… what’s the secret, then?” I asked, my patience stretching thin.
“I’m taking my court out of Treehome,” she said. “We’re going to be living on campus full-time!”