Chapter 239: Between Kisses

on August 19, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Glory Is Restrained

Glory was a very restrained kisser.

She might have been uncertain and hesitant, nervous beneath the mask of calm, or she might have simply been very precise about it. It wasn’t any easier to read her face when it was directly adjacent to my own.

But she definitely enjoyed putting her lips up against mine, and I enjoyed having them there. It was as much like nuzzling… or being nuzzled, I’m sure she would prefer for me to say… as it was like being kissed.

Possibly she might have used a bit more force if she’d had a chance to work her way up to it, but we were a bit hurried as I still had to make it through the rest of the day.

I might have been more distracted than ever in Coach Callahan’s class, but even though I hadn’t done much in the way of mental preparation for battle, I still did a bit better than I had the day before just because I was feeling better. I still had the same basic problems, but I was no longer weighed down by them.

I was seriously starting to doubt that I would finish the semester with the A that Amaranth expected of me… or at least, that she had set as my goal. I wasn’t sure if she really thought it was attainable, or if that had been her way of making sure that I tried as hard as I possibly could. Either way, it didn’t seem likely to happen.

There was nothing specific that I thought had gone wrong. The fact that there were days like the recent ones where I had come in unavoidably distracted by things outside of class was a factor, but it was more a general sense that I was not, in fact, an A student when it came to fighting.

It was a basic difference of opinion on the grading system’s function and purpose, and not one I was prepared to hash out with her at any length. To my way of thinking, any student who does the work and learns what they’re to learn should be able to get an A. To her, the whole point of a grading system… insofar as she would acknowledge that it had a point… was that not everyone could be at the top of it.

Practicing, honing my reflexes, using my senses both physical and magical… these things made me better, but Coach Callahan would only give an A to the best fighters, and that wasn’t me.

If I thought her grading system would have endangered my GPA and my scholarships, I might have cared more about this, but as things stood I felt like she’d give me a decent grade, better than I would have got if I hadn’t been explicitly trying for an A. And while I would much rather have an A than not, I felt an odd sense of pride at the idea that whatever grade she might give me would be something I had earned, exceeding her original estimation of me.

An A in any class would have value for purposes of my undergrad career, but it almost felt like a lesser grade from Coach Callahan would hold more real value.

Glory met me on the plaza outside the student union after class, as promised… Nicki and Grace in tow. Grace looked absolutely petrified to be there, and so did Nicki.

I felt a little bad at having put them in a position that apparently made them so uncomfortable, but I thought they would probably appreciate it once things got going and they could see how not awful it was. Also, seeing Grace looking so nervous really underlined both how cute she and Nicki were together and how lucky they both were to have people in their lives who would give them a little push if necessary… it seemed likely that not only would they have not wound up together if left to their own devices, but that they would have both ended up alone forever.

Though, maybe that was unkind and even a bit condescending. Maybe it was possible that if there was absolutely nobody around them to project any sort of expectations onto them, they would have been just fine, finding each other in their own time and moving at their own pace.

Either way, they were pretty much a matched set when it came to nervous insecurity. Seeing Grace alongside Glory and Nicki just underscored this, because Glory not only had a nearly identical resting face, but she was a master of keeping her face at rest. Seeing Grace standing between the older sister she so closely resembled and her girlfriend was a bit like looking at three points along a continuum. On either side, you had Glory and Nicki. In the middle, Nicki’s expression on Glory’s face.

“Everything okay?” I asked, just in case it wasn’t just normal background nervousness pushed to the surface by new circumstances.

“Everything’s fine,” Glory said. “Is that how you greet your queen?”

“It is when I’m not sure that everything’s okay,” I said, with a little smirk that maybe came from realizing I was only the third most insecure person in a group of four.

“I’m as touched by your concern as I am put off by your cheek,” she said.

“You do look nice tonight,” I said. “I mean, you look nice every night, obviously… I don’t mean to imply that there are nights where you don’t look nice, or that it’s unusual for you to look good at night.”

“So instead you’re implying that I don’t look nice during the day,” Glory said.

“Maybe I’m actually suggesting that I’d like to see more of you at night than I do,” I said.

“If you’re not careful, Mackenzie Blaise, a date might break out after all,” Glory said. “And then where will you be?”

“In trouble,” I said. “I have other obligations tonight.”

“As it happens, so do I,” she said.

Neither Nicki nor Grace really relaxed much when we entered the union, or after we got upstairs and found a table. I hoped that actually getting our food and then sitting and eating for a while in each other’s presence would give everyone a chance to unwind a little, without any pressure.

Not that the food in the old dining hall was likely to provide much distraction. There was a reason we’d eaten in the Archimedes Center nearly every single night since it had opened.

The selections in the union were both less varied and lower in quality than those served in the Arch. There were generally a few nominal choices of entree, invariably including a container of vaguely colored, unseasoned rice with a few shreds of carrot and dried peas mixed in and a name that broadly suggested the existence of some meat.

The night before, it had been “pork fried rice”, and tonight it was “chicken curry”. When I was a freshman, I would have had a hard time telling the difference between two. Now that I had more than two semesters under my belt, I knew that it was in the label.

At least you knew what you were getting from night to night with the rotating rice dish. Some of the set menu items were far less consistent in quality or flavor.

As we ate, I tried to draw Nicki out a little by engaging her in conversation, but I had never been good at just chatting with people, and she seemed to be pretty firmly stuck in defensive mode.

Well, I shouldn’t say “defensive”… that kind of gives the wrong impression, since with most people it seems to refer to taking the idea that the best defense is a good offense and running with it.

Nicki wasn’t lashing out the way I might if I felt besieged by a situation. She was not just acting like she was under siege, but like she had no absolutely idea what to do about it. Grace was pretty much in the same boat. They both gave very short, often one-word answers to any question that could be answered in that way, and simply grew paler and more fearful looking in response to anything that couldn’t.

I realized pretty quickly what the problem was. By asking Glory to come, I had all but guaranteed that Nicki and Grace would be there, but what I hadn’t counted on was how impossible this would make it for either one of them to relax.

Glory was increasingly just a person to me… well, not just anything, but not a distant figure of awe and authority.

Grace practically worshipped her older sister, and Nicki… well, not only would her attitude towards Glory be affected by Grace’s, but she had to be hyperaware of the fact that Glory could separate the two of them

The lesson here was that if I thought Nicki would be unlikely to show up to something if I didn’t somehow force her hand, then chances were she would be legitimately uncomfortable if I did force the issue.

Or maybe the shorter version would be, don’t force people into situations they’re not comfortable with.

The sad thing about it was that there was probably a good chance that she would have come, alone or with Grace, even without Glory’s intervention. I just had considered the risk that she wouldn’t to be something I needed to fix.

I had a solution for next time… i.e., don’t… but of course that didn’t do anything to ease the situation that existed at that moment. I figured that saying something like, “It’s okay, you can go if you want.” would just make her feel worse than she already did, like she’d failed me or that she’d ruined things.

Really, the only thing I could do after having failed to take her feelings and wishes into account was to start doing so. She had told me that she preferred to fade into the background in a group, so I would have to give her a chance to do that, by carrying the conversation with Glory. It would kind of be the opposite of what I’d wanted, which was to catch up with Nicki and reassure her of her importance to me, but it would at least give her a chance to relax. Also, maybe it would be good for her sister to see someone interacting with Glory on closer to an equal basis than happened at court.

“So, have you ever eaten here before?” I asked Glory.

“Not any time recently, as you would count the years,” she said. “Earlier in my academic career, I indulged my curiosity a couple of times, but it rarely seemed worth the cost.”

“The cost?” I asked, surprised at the thought that Glory wouldn’t have been able to spring for a a couple of meals from time to time, or even pay for a whole meal plan even if she rarely used it.

“In image,” she said. “Dining in the human hall has not been seen as acceptable in Treehome, even after it became both legal and socially permissible from the human side for elves to use these facilities. The Archimedes Center is different, as its specific mission is deemed sufficiently flattering, and the quality of the food and the ambience are both slightly better… though there was quite an intense debate about that. I argued on the pro side, as much as it was safe for me to do so… I made the point that it would be counter to Treehome’s efforts to as completely snub the university’s efforts to reach out to us as some of the more powerful middlings wanted.”

“That almost sounds… democratic,” I said.

“Surprised?”

“Democracy is kind of surprising anywhere, but especially in a middling enclave,” I said.

“Yes, well, ‘democracy’ is from Elvish words,” Glory said. “Do not confuse our love of station and intrigue with an affinity for absolute tyranny… it takes some element of democracy to make the game interesting. Anyway, there is some business that can’t be left up to chance. Individual courts and coteries are ruled according to the whims of the strongest within each, but the community as a whole is run by the consensus of the group… which in practice is mostly the consensus of the strong.”

“Do you still have a say, now that you’ve moved out?” I asked.

“I didn’t have much of one, when I was there,” she said. “I argued my case as well as I could when something was important enough to me for me to speak up, but I had to rely on convincing a few key figures with more power than me who I thought would be sympathetic. Technically I still own my share of the Treehome compact, but that’s no more than the theoretical basis for having a voice… Grace has the same stake as I do, under that theory. To be honest, I think I have the best chance of changing things for the better on the outside, by example. But even if I could do more on the inside, I think that doing right by myself and my girls meant getting out.”

“And has there been any sign that there’s any retribution coming?” I asked.

“That’s the thing that really frustrates me,” Glory said. “I don’t know. There are avenues through which I could pursue information about Treehome politics, but if I want there to be any chance that my withdrawal will be taken seriously, I have to be well and truly out. If I started asking around, it would give the impression that this was just my latest maneuver in the game, not my final move.”

“So if something is done, you can’t do anything to counter it?” I asked.

“I can, as the saying goes, ‘keep my nose clean’,” Glory said. “I have to focus on the fact that if anybody does anything to me now, it won’t be just middling nonsense in the middle of the woods… it will be an attack on MU students living on campus. The fact that I’ve invested so much of my own money into the house will help there, I think… I feel like that makes me an asset worth protecting.”

“I’d count on that being worth more than the whole ‘student on campus’ thing,” I said. “The university administration can turn a blind eye towards a lot of things, but they’re not likely to ignore anything that threatens a donor or investment.”

“Imagine the new age of philanthropy it will usher in if this strategy becomes fashionable in Treehome,” Glory said.

“Philanthropy’s another Elvish word, isn’t it?” I said.

“Yes, though the original meaning might not be as generally applicable,” Glory said. “Though it is relevant to me, and my situation.”

“what did it originally mean?” I asked.

“Love of humans,” Grace blurted out, then immediately clapped both hands over her mouth like the veil that currently hung off one ear would have done if it hadn’t been moved aside for eating.

“Yes, love of humans,” Glory said, nodding pleasantly. She didn’t acknowledge her sister’s slip even to assuage her fears, which I guessed was because she didn’t want it to be seen as a slip. “My sister and I are both great philanthropists… though she currently is far more active in the field, I look forward to expanding my philanthropic activities in the future.”

Grace visibly relaxed after that, becoming more at ease than she had been before she made the interjection. If I had been hoping it would lead to a sort of general thawing… well, it did, sort of. Both Grace and Nicki seemed far less worried as the dinner wore on, though neither of them really became conversational.

Maybe things would have gone differently if we hadn’t finished eating soon after that, but then, maybe things had gone on long enough. Glory wished a good night to Grace and Nicki, which they understood as their dismissal. I think I was more surprised than they were, as I’d expected all three of them to be leaving together.

“I know this hasn’t been a date, but I feel I owe it to your owner to see you safely home,” Glory said to me.

“I… appreciate that,” I said. “But… I’ve kind of got to square some things away with Ian, and then I have plans for the night with Amaranth, so you probably shouldn’t come up.”

“I wish I had been able to witness the beginnings of the other relationships you’re in,” Glory said. “If I’d had any idea how absolutely presumptuous you can be, I might not have bothered.”

“Sorry,” I said, blushing. “I wasn’t really assuming… well, anything in particular would happen.”
“Just that something in general would,” she said.

“More like something in general might,” I said.

“Well, lay your fears to rest,” Glory said. “Nothing in any specificity will happen not only tonight, but at least until your manners have slightly improved, particularly regarding the assumptions you lay at my feet. If I want something of you, Mackenzie Blaise, I will tell you.”

“Like you told me that you wanted to date me?”

“…if I want something that I feel you have made clear is available, I will tell you,” she said. “I will be honest about my intentions, but not to the point where I risk seeming foolish.”

“I suppose that’s fair enough,” I said.

“It had better be,” she said. “It’s all you’re getting.”

“Is it really all?”

“What more would you have of me, Mackenzie Blaise?”

“I wouldn’t say no to another kiss,” I said.

“I should say no, just because of your unmitigated impudence,” she said.

“But really, that’s why you’re going to say yes,” I said, with an unaccustomed smirk.

“I will say yes merely to silence your lips before you unwisely provoke me any further,” Glory said. “And if you have anything to say to me afterwards, you had best choose your words carefully, or I promise you, there will be consequences.”

I kept my tongue, and then I kept hers for a while. It was a substantially more substantial kiss than the one I’d been given earlier.

If this was what she did when she felt provoked, I thought on the way back to the tower, then maybe a little impudence here and there would be a good thing.


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34 Responses to “Chapter 239: Between Kisses”

  1. Order of Chaos says:

    And now Mack needs to work out how to say “sorry I made dinner awkward” to Nicki and adapt to Glorys way of saying what she means. Another good read AE.

    Current score: 7
    • Lyssa says:

      I hadn’t realized until she said so at the beginning of the chapter that she had invited Glory as a way to strongarm Nicki into coming. That’s a pretty strange ploy to use against a shy friend, and I hope Mackenzie makes it up to her.

      Current score: 6
  2. Dani says:

    Elvish is this world’s Greek.

    Current score: 2
    • zeel says:

      As far as I can tell Draconic is Latin, High Draconic is Greek, and Elvish is whatever seems humorous. I think most Pax etymology is based on rule of funny, instead of some parallel between fictional languages and real ones.

      Current score: 4
      • erianaiel says:

        I would say that Elvish is Russian. Not in the sense of the language itself but in the attitude of ‘no matter what it is, we invented it first’

        Current score: 5
        • zeel says:

          I’ll give you that one.

          Current score: 0
        • Zukira Phaera says:

          good point

          Current score: 0
        • hyrax says:

          as someone from a Greek-American family with living relatives in Greece, i can assure you that this is a VERY Greek attitude as well. Greeks invented everything is totally a saying.

          Current score: 2
        • Ilya says:

          As Russian speaker I can tell you for sure that huge portion of Russian is originated from Latin and Greek as most other Europe languages.

          Current score: 0
      • hyrax says:

        i’m pretty sure that AE has explicitly stated that Elvish = Greek in MUniverse etymologies. my google-fu is currently failing me on this, but as far as i know it’s been her convention from the beginning. (i remember, early on, AE discussing her use of the word “chardonnay” which refers to a very specific region in France. she went so far as to make up a completely new name for this style of wine, but in the end decided to just give our languages MUverse equivalents.) others: Dwarvish = German, Fae languages = Celtic languages, and… that region where Ceridwyn “Puddy” LaBelle‘s family is from… = French. (I can’t remember the name right now. Merovia? Something like that?)

        Current score: 1
      • Mo says:

        I think High Draconic and Elvish are related languages?

        Current score: 0
  3. Glenn says:

    Has Mack forgotten why Amaranth gave her the goal of earning an A in Callahan’s class? It was the first of three difficult tasks Mack had to perform in order to earn the right to wear the collar Amaranth had purchased. In this chapter, Mack doesn’t seem as worried that she won’t earn that collar as one might expect.
    However, after reading this chapter, I suspect AE may be planning to have Mack earn the A by forcing her to fight to protect Glory from the other middling elves.

    Current score: 2
    • Lyssa says:

      I think Mack’s gotten a bit cavalier of late. She sees getting the A as beyond herself and out of her hands, so she’s not worried – instead she just hopes trying her best will be good enough.

      I wasn’t sure if she really thought it was attainable, or if that had been her way of making sure that I tried as hard as I possibly could. Either way, it didn’t seem likely to happen.

      Practicing, honing my reflexes, using my senses both physical and magical… these things made me better, but Coach Callahan would only give an A to the best fighters, and that wasn’t me.

      That’s her view. She can’t do it, so hope for the best and do what she can. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I do hope she talks to Amaranth about it soon. It’s not the kind of thing you should spring on someone, and I’d think she’d want to know pretty badly.

      Current score: 5
      • Nocker says:

        When we actually saw her fight she mostly held her own pretty well.

        It occurs to me that we never saw her do any actual out of class training though. She’s obviously got the raw power needed but nothing ever really seemed to come out of her working outside of class, even if it’s just sensory or reflex based. I’m wondering how she ever expected to get an A without doing homework.

        Current score: 1
        • spess imvader says:

          I am quite surprised at such thought. After the fight with Pala, Calahan made it clear that Mack was by far the best among the group of the best. What happened since then?

          Current score: 0
      • Ilya says:

        I’m really missing her practicing with Callahan, that were most entertaining classes.
        She says she’s getting better, it would be really fun to “see” it, as last written class was quite promising.

        Current score: 3
    • Daemion says:

      Well, collars are often compared to wedding rings. Having your partner complete difficult tasks for the right to marry you sounds kind of wrong for you, especially if the tasks aren’t even related to the relationship. Mack is showing her commitment by trying her best for Amaranth and that should be enough. Yes, Mack could go and train outside of class but there are only so many hours in a day and she’s quite busy already.

      I think it was Caron who pointed out that Amaranth and Mack treat D/s like a game and that it is too soon for a collar. I have to agree. Like marriage, such a relationship is usually quite longterm, if not for life. They are 19 now, I think… it’s too early to make such big decisions that are going to impact their (immortal) lives. They don’t even know if they’ll still be together once they graduate. Amy is going back to her valley and that’s no place for Mack to be unless she wants to enchant farm equipment.

      I don’t mean to be overly critical of this relationship, it’s just something that annoys me each time I see it because it could be so much better, it has potential to be more and they are kind of wasting their time now. But that’s probably part of being young, growing up and making mistakes to learn from.

      They are getting better though even if they still have a long way to go.

      Current score: 2
      • Zukira Phaera says:

        you know as for their being together after graduation… what says Amy really -has- to go back. she’s feeding her field from school after all. What says she can’t set up a sex therapy shop in some city somewhere or something of that nature so long as she’s getting enough imput to feed her field, she could go anywhere…. divinity permitting, I should think.

        Current score: 2
  4. Brenda A. says:

    This section was confusing – it goes from talking about Amaranth, to talking about Callahan, without any indication or saying anything other than “she”.

    .

    “I was seriously starting to doubt that I would finish the semester with the A that Amaranth expected of me… or at least, that she had set as my goal…

    …To my way of thinking, any student who does the work and learns what they’re to learn should be able to get an A. To her, the whole point of a grading system… insofar as she would acknowledge that it had a point… was that not everyone could be at the top of it.”

    .

    I literally thought it was Amaranth that had a difference of opinion regarding grading, until I got to the next section.

    Current score: 6
    • Lunaroki says:

      I was gonna bring that section up myself. The transition from talking about Amaranth to talking about Callahan with no indication that the subject had changed led to a weird sense best summarized as “Bwuh?”.

      Typo Report

      what did it originally mean?” I asked.

      The leading “What” needs to be capitalized.

      “Sorry,” I said, blushing. “I wasn’t really assuming… well, anything in particular would happen.”
      “Just that something in general would,” she said.

      Needs another line break between paragraphs.

      Current score: 0
  5. undertheteacup says:

    Whatever happened to Mackenzie possibly earning extra credit for fighting class by doing gladiator matches or whatever?

    I remember the conversation with Ian and Amaranth but it didn’t seem like the decision was ‘no’. Is it just another one of those things that completely slips her mind?

    Current score: 0
  6. Mike says:

    Great writing as always, but I have to say I’m realy not into the elves of this world. I would be happy if the only things we had from their culture to read about were Steff and Dee.

    Current score: 0
    • Order of Chaos says:

      Glory is part of the elves school playground culture. we know next to nothing about adult elves because we don’t see any other than how a single elf interacts with one or more humans.

      Current score: 2
  7. Mack says:

    I enjoyed the last little bit of banter, learning about Glory.

    I thought this chapter felt very rushed. While I did enjoy something to read over dinner, I don’t like things getting so rushed. This girls education has lasted at least a decade already, right, so why rush? I feel like loose ends are being left to slide away. Which is how life works, sure, but still. I want to go back to coach Callahan and watch Mack fight more. I thought she was getting good. That little note in this chapter felt not only out of place, but dismissive.

    I like glory, but the fighting is more interesting to me.

    Current score: 2
    • Brenda A. says:

      I agree. I wish we could see some of the classes again, instead of just an afterthought mention that she went to class.

      Current score: 4
      • Order of Chaos says:

        If we’re voting on the next topic I would like to catch up on Nae and her shadow magic.

        Current score: 1
  8. PrometheanSky says:

    I like sassy Mack. It’s a side of her we almost never get to see.

    Current score: 3
  9. tijay says:

    When well Mack be fighting in The (Gladiator) Pit?

    I thought she had to do that for extra credit?

    Current score: 0
    • Daemion says:

      It was something that was offered to her. Even she forgot about it or she hasn’t made a decision yet. The gladiators are probably a lot better fighters than her, so she might not be able to earn those extra credits. Just showing up won’t do. And then she has other demands on her time already, so something would have to give.

      Although, now that I think about it… Mack and Ian breaking up and then facing each other in the pit would be hilarious. I’m sure Ian would enjoy beating Mack up and since he’s in the unarmed division, the fight would quickly turn into something else. 😉

      Current score: 1
      • Ilya says:

        Callahan doesn’t care about winning. She wants to see fight until your last drop of strength and skill. If Mack would deliver it in fight vs gladiator, as she did with that storm giant, she would definitely get those credits.
        “Mack and Ian breaking up and then facing each other in the pit would be hilarious”
        You’re kidding right, normal human beating indestructible super-strong half demon, with magical teeth and nails? She can only be fought by other super-strong entity or with magical weapons, no student character in MU until now matched her strength, not even storm giant.

        Current score: 1
  10. Zathras IX says:

    Democracy is
    Surprising among those with
    De-voted followers

    Current score: 5
  11. Arancaytar says:

    “You do look nice tonight,” I said. “I mean, you look nice every night, obviously… I don’t mean to imply that there are nights where you don’t look nice, or that it’s unusual for you to look good at night.”

    Only third most insecure, maybe, but she still holds the championship in Awkward.

    Current score: 0
  12. Arancaytar says:

    “My sister and I are both great philanthropists… though she currently is far more active in the field, I look forward to expanding my philanthropic activities in the future.”

    “… if you know what I mean.”

    Current score: 1