Chapter 265: Gifted Guidance

on November 14, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 8: Elven Holiday, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Everyone Gets Off Except Mackenzie And Glory

The last bits of our southward journey past quickly but pleasantly. The first real clue that things were drawing to a close came when Glory shifted on the seat next to me, gently disentangling herself and then rising. Without being asked… or possibly in response to a whisper not meant for my ears… Wisdom came gliding over with her dress and veil.

“We’ve reached warmer climes, but it’s still early,” Glory announced. “I’d suggest not packing your coats, ladies, even if you don’t want to wear them.”

Everybody else stirred themselves… some of them from actual sleep, or nearly so… and began to get dressed.

If I’d had any worries that putting on a public performance like that with Nicki would have relegated me back to some kind of outsider or servant in the eyes of the court, the fact that random elves handed me bits of my discarded clothing would have put them to rest. It seemed that publicly partaking in the fun had made me more of an equal in their eyes, which made sense… at least with the assumption that no one Glory would choose to surround herself with would be too big an asshole.

“Blossom’s passed out in the hut tub,” someone reported.

I looked over, and saw a pale, naked form, half-floating face down.

“Holy fuck!” Nicki said, turning almost as pale as everyone else.

“Sweetie, she’s probably just tired,” Grace said. “I’m sure someone would have noticed if she hit her head or something.”

“But she’s not breathing!” Nicki said, shaking.

Glory slid up behind Nicki and put a hand on her shoulder, saying in soothing tones, “It’s a bad habit to pick up when you’re young, but I don’t think it’s something she does all the time.”

“Elves… don’t actually have to breathe, Nicki,” I said, recognizing the disconnect that was happening in this conversation. “They’re not that mortal, not like humans and dwarves. There are whole nations of elves that live under the water all the time.”

“I knew that, but those are… sea elves,” Nicki said.

“Haven’t you heard?” Glory said. “We’re all just elves… not breathing all the time makes you a little ethereal and weird, but if I wanted to go live in the ocean, I could.”

“You really don’t have to breathe?” Nicki said, looking at Grace, who nodded. “…that kind of explains a lot.”

“We are going to have a conversation about that when we’re not on vacation,” Glory said. “Oh, and somebody should wake Blossom up so she has a chance to dry off? Everyone who hasn’t put themselves back together should be doing so now.”

“Should we be doing something with the food?” Nicki asked.

“Eat whatever more you want, or grab something to take with you,” Glory said. “It’s ours, and I’m sure it’ll end up in the trash otherwise.”

“Oh, I meant like, do we need to clean up after ourselves?” Nicki said.

“Don’t worry about it,” Glory said.

I assumed that she meant that clean-up was included in the contract so we shouldn’t bother, but after we landed, she touched me on the arm and asked me to help stay behind and clear things up. It seemed like another interesting choice, the queen doing the work. Wisdom tried to offer to help, but Glory waved her off, which was enough to tell me… and probably everyone else… that the real point was to talk to me alone.

Knowing how clever Wisdom was and that she was either in or cultivating a way into Glory’s good graces, I wondered if that hadn’t been a deliberate choice, to make the maneuver a little more transparent so Glory wouldn’t be seen to be lowering herself too far in the name of egalitarianism.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked when we were alone.

“Just help me round up stray cups and plates,” she said. “I think leaving the trays and things on the table is going to be the easiest for the housekeeping crew, as I assume they’re going to sweep it all into a big bag or something.”

“Okay,” I said.

“How do you like your vacation so far?” she asked me as we worked.

“Honestly?” I said.

“If I’d wanted you to lie, I would have specified,” she said.

“It’s been like a dream come true,” I said. “Except not a dream I actually had, that I can remember.”

“Not one you’d admit to having,” she said.

“Maybe, that , too,” I said. “What I mean is that if the whole trip had just been this, I would have been ecstatic with it.”

“If the whole trip had been this, you’d have a long walk home,” she said.

“I mean just tooling south in the party boat and then, I don’t know, a day trip and then we go back,” I said.

“I will remember that,” she said.

“I wasn’t… I mean, you’ve been really generous already,” I said. “I just don’t see how the cruise ship could top this.”

“Well, for one thing, it’s bigger,” she said. “But I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself. I’m sure you’ll love the cruise, but the next part is likely to be a little disappointing after this.”

“What do you mean?”

“We’re about to disembark into the dreary real world. The skyliner sadly does not take off from the commercial air harbor. It has its own skyport. I’ve tried to make the process of getting all of us and our luggage from here to there as seamless as possible, but it’s not likely to be as dignified as I would like.”

For some reason, this put the image in my head of all of us hoisting our luggage on our backs and hiking across town. I didn’t need to ask to know that wouldn’t be the case, so instead I asked, “What exactly did you have in mind?”

“Well, I first thought about hiring another group of coaches, but I want to keep the group together,” she said. “So I got one big coach, like the public ones in Enwich.”

“That… doesn’t sound too bad for a short trip with a medium sized group,” I said.

“Not exactly the lap of luxury, though,” she said. “But it’s really important to me that we arrive together and stay together.”

“…do you think anyone from Treehome would try to attack you here?”

“No, not unless they’re way stupider than I thought,” she said. “Bringing middling nonsense out of the middling world and into the middle of human commerce? It’s just that we’re not going to be boarding a private craft this time, and we won’t even have a private lounge or boarding area… we’re first class passengers, but there are luxury tiers above us, as much as it pains me to admit. Some of them get the real VIP treatment, stuff I could only dream of affording at the same time as renovating and maintaining Oberrad House for the university. In the absence of being able to afford that kind of package, I want to shepherd us all through the check-in and boarding process together.”

“That’s kind of a relief,” I said. “I really hate going through any kind of procedure for the first time, when I have no clue what’s expected of me… and making it something fancy and expensive like this just makes it worse.”

“Well, there are some events and environments onboard that come with their recommended own dress code, but it’s not like someone’s going to be turning people away from the gangplank if you can’t identify a seafood fork or don’t know how to address a duchess,” Glory said. “I paid a great big stack of coins to get you on board that ship, Mackenzie Blaise, and that makes us customers. The crew is financially invested in making you feel welcome and comfortable, not awkward and intrusive. For fuck’s sake, they call their crew ‘hospitality ambassadors’, not… ‘exclusivity guardians’. If anybody makes you feel even slightly unwelcome, if anybody makes you feel like less than royalty yourself, I want to hear about it.”

“Yeah, that’s not going to happen,” I said. “But I appreciate the thought.”

“I’m serious,” she said. “If I was paying someone just to fly us around in a big circle, it would have been a lot cheaper! I put down a great big pile of coins to secure an experience, and I mean for you to have it!”

I couldn’t remember ever having seen Glory as angry at anyone as she was at the imaginary, hypothetical crew member who had made me feel slightly out of place.

“Okay,” I said. “I’m sure you’re right and everything will be great, but if there is a problem, you’ll be the first person I tell. It’s not that I really think anyone will be rude, or whatever… just that I’ll… I don’t know. I always feel like people are judging me even if they’re not saying anything, and I always feel out of place, and going somewhere new and doing something for the first time just makes it all worse.”

“I’m going to let you in on a little secret,” she said. “Nobody likes that. The more polished and poised someone looks? The more they’re going to hate looking foolish or clueless. The next several hours are likely to be the most stressful and confusing part of what is meant to be the highlight of the year for my girls, present company included very much. While I’d say we’ve gotten things started with a bang… with several bangs… the fact that we’re now putting the festivities on pause and relocating to a different location means that no one’s going to remember this as the awesome start if things go badly.”

“So you’re going to do whatever you can to make sure it doesn’t,” I said. “That makes perfect sense.”

“So you agree?”

“…that you should do whatever you can to make sure it doesn’t?”

“That we should,” she said. “I know I’ve been saying this is your vacation, too, Mackenzie, but since the fun and festivities are kind of on pause, I need to ask you if we can consider the vacation on pause, too. I need my agent.”

“I’m not sure what I can do,” I said.

“Just… keep an eye on things,” she said. “Take the lead.”

“You want me to take the lead?”

“As in, point,” she said. “Not as in leadership. But yeah, I need you to show a bit of initiative. See, I figure you get off the bus first, and I’ll get off it last. That way, I’ll be behind the group, sort of herding everyone forward and keeping them together. You’ll be the one moving things forward, looking like you’re not at all worried.”

“But I won’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing, any more than anyone else does,” I said.

“As much as you worry about it, you’re actually good at figuring out what’s expected of you and where you’re supposed to go.”

“Well, yeah… if there are signs or something,” I said.

“There will be,” she said. “There usually are. Most people don’t read them… elves included. It’s part of the reaction to facing a strange situation. The more sure you are that you have no idea what you’re doing, the less you feel up to figuring out what’s what. Like some people when they hear a word in a foreign language, they immediately shut down the part of their brain that figures things out from context… because all they care is that it’s foreign.”

“So… you just want me to put on a brave face and read the signs?” I said. “What if I end up hesitating? What if I screw something up?”

“That’s the other reason I want it to be you,” she said. “You’re only human. If everybody else is following you and you start heading in the wrong direction or wind up staring at a sign for an interminable twenty seconds trying to figure out what it means, it’s going to be kind of charming and awkward, and everyone in the group is going to be privately happy that they’re not in your shoes. Anybody who’s really worried about looking foolish is going to be hanging back enough to avoid any mistakes you make.”

“So, really… you just want me to be myself,” I said.

“If you want to put it like that, yes,” she said. “But don’t think I’m just paying you to make a fool of yourself so that no one else has to… I promise, even to elven eyes and ears, your ignorance is not as noticeable or remarkable as you think.”

“Thanks, I think,” I said, coming to a decision, one that was motivated in large part by the swell of affection I felt towards her in that moment and the pride I felt at the trust she was placing in me. “But… I have to say no.”

Her face fell, the ivory mask dropping into the saddest animation I had ever seen. There was real pain in her eyes, and I winced. I was trying for theatricality, but I might have gone too far.

“You won’t do this for me?”

“I will,” I said, holding out my hands for her to take. “I totally will, Glory… I’m doing it for you, but you’re not going to pay me. This trip is your present to me. I can’t match that kind of generosity, and you know it… I’m sure if I even tried, you’d refuse.”

“You’re right,” she said, clutching my hands by the fingers. “I don’t need any presents from you, Mackenzie Blaise.”

“Well, you’re welcome to refuse this one,” I said. “But if you do, I’m not going to do it for money. Blessed season.””

“Ooh… you know, I can’t even be mad,” she said. “Don’t think I won’t tell Amaranth about this, though.”

“…why would Amaranth mind this?”

“She won’t,” Glory said. “She will be thrilled. You will be hearing about it for weeks, for months… and I’ll be her new favorite forever, for having brought it out in you.”

“What? You tried to stop me,” I said.

“And you did it anyway! See?”

“You’re crazy,” I said.

“Crazy about you,” she said. “Blessed season, yourself.”


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13 Responses to “Chapter 265: Gifted Guidance”

  1. Anthony says:

    …what just happened?

    Current score: 2
    • Teian says:

      “I’ll pay you to step out of your comfort zone.”
      “No,” Pause for effect “I’ll do it for free, for you.”

      Very sweet stuff.

      Current score: 13
  2. Carrie says:

    Nice, liked this chapter.

    Current score: 2
  3. Morgan says:

    <3

    Current score: 2
  4. Riotllama says:

    I never typo check, but it’s in the first sentence! Past ought to be spelled passed.

    Current score: 0
  5. readaholic says:

    Awwww. So cute!
    All those worries about Glory’s motives can be laid to rest, it seems.

    Current score: 1
    • Not her, the other girl says:

      That’s not going to stop people from worrying about Glory, but I agree it’s really sweet. Glory worked with how Mackenzie’s brain operates to get the whole thing resolved in one chapters instead of several.

      Current score: 4
  6. Kouros says:

    This chapter proves to me that Glory is honestly a good person. Wanting to make things easier on the service staff is not something she needed to do to further any of her goals. She could have pulled Mackenzie aside for a private word in any number of other ways. Consideration for others, even those she probably will never even see. That’s the sign of true goodness.

    Current score: 3
    • Nocker says:

      Of course in a practical sense that doesn’t actually mean much. Good people hurt others all the time. You think Einhorn spends every waking moment scheming to blow up the world? Or that Gloria wanted to murder puppies in her spare time? Hell, even the emperor seems like a pretty nice dude, but that doesn’t stop the people under him from doing some pretty heinous stuff.

      Current score: 0
  7. Zathras IX says:

    The more polished and
    Poised someone looks, the more they
    Hate looking foolish

    Current score: 3
  8. Arancaytar says:

    There are whole nations of elves that live under the water all the time.

    Woah, new world-building. I wonder if these elves ever encounter certain other sea-dwelling creatures that may have previously featured prominently in this story.

    “You really don’t have to breathe?” Nicki said, looking at Grace, who nodded. “…that kind of explains a lot.”

    Aaaaaaaaand TMI.

    Current score: 1
    • Nocker says:

      The obvious question is what these elves produce and do as a group. After all you can’t make forges or Kilns underwater and trees don’t grow there.

      But yeah, we’ve known for a while that the underwater situation is crazy complex and something we’ve had precious little insight into. Mermaids and Elves aside one of the OT mentioned there were a large number of nymphs looking like merfolk instead of human under the sea, and that even “animals” like dolphins and cephalopods communicate and transfer complex information they can’t manage in real life.

      Under the ocean, much like the infernal plane, is one of those distant and constantly changing locales we haven’t seen overmuch of. Some stuff mentioned in passing here and there indicate that the devils under one and the demons within the other are both multiplying and advancing more than they used to, but that’s mostly conjecture.

      Current score: 0
  9. Order of Chaos says:

    I’m trying to get my head around the elven world view. This is a simple task that would not take long but doing it for free meant alot to Glory.
    My guess is that with the level of ability and freedom to achieve your goals that comes from living forever elves just don’t need to work together like humans do.

    Current score: 0