Chapter 266: Port Forwarding

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

In Which Not All Who Wonder Are Lost

I knew right away when the coach disgorged us in the parking lot of the cruise line harbor complex that Glory had made the right call in trying to guard against an anticlimactic reset to our awesome holiday adventure.

Maybe if we had come in from the air and seen the ships laid out beneath us in all their glorious spectacle, they would have been suitably breathtaking. As it was, our first glimpse of them was seeing the tops of three hulls looming over the impressively large harbor complex. While that gave us some idea that they were huge, we couldn’t get an accurate sense of scale with the bulk of them blocked off from sight, and the side of a boat viewed from beneath is probably not the most flattering perspective to have it.

And while they stuck out above the complex, the size and proximity of the building allowed it to dominate the view, and the only thing impressive about it was its size. It had all the grandeur of a parking garage.

“Are we sure this is the right place?” someone asked behind me. It was kind of a silly question since we could see the ships right there… three of them… but I knew what she meant.

“Of course the outside would be all function over form,” Glory said. “It’s not as though they have to go out and try to attract passengers… everyone here is already here to ride. Mackenzie?”

“Okay, we’re booked on the… Cloud Chariot,” I said, trying not to make it a question as I scanned the signs over the entrances. They each had the name of a different cruise line over them, written on a marquee that was a different color for each. “Looks like we’re green.”

“Lead on, then,” Glory said.

The impulse is always to compare handling a group of elves to herding cats, but the fact is, I don’t really have enough experience with cats to know if that’s accurate or not.

I always wanted a cat when I was young, just sort of on principle. Dogs scared me, but cats were cute and fuzzy, or at least they seemed that way in books.

I might have had one when I was older if my mother had lived, but my grandmother didn’t believe in pets generally, and she was pretty dead-set against cats in particular. As far as I knew, cats weren’t as reflexively anti-demon as dogs were, but dogs were the pet animal you were most likely to run into out and about in the world, and so I was shy around animals generally because of the way they reacted to me.

Whether the comparison would have held up or been fair in either direction generally, the experience of leading Glory’s court through the air harbor to the cruise ship check-in and loading area certainly did not live up to the image. I had a feeling that everyone was feeling cowed by the sheer size and complexity of the place. It was certainly more than I would have been prepared to deal with, though Glory tapping me for the guide role before we got there had done a bit to get me in the right mindset.

Even with that bit of forewarning, though, the fact that the cruise ship had its own harbor had made me hopeful that the whole thing would be more straightforward than it ended up being.

I had a sort of inner litany for dealing with situations like this. I reminded myself over and over again that people did what I was doing every day, that some of them were doing it for the first time, and that everyone and everything that was part of the system around me was there to get me through the process quickly and efficiently.

It wasn’t so much a matter of looking like I knew what I was doing and where I was going as not looking like I didn’t. It was inevitable that I’d have to stop and look for arrows, read signs, and so forth. The trick… insofar as there was one… was to remember as I was doing it that this was part of the process. I wasn’t lost, I was availing myself of the necessary and available information.

In this case, I didn’t have to do much reading beyond figuring out which entrance we had to go through, and then seeing a sign that began “For Baggage Assistance…” If I had been by myself, I would have taken it for granted that I’d be handling my own baggage, out of a combination of financial considerations, uncertainty, and the lingering doubt in the back of my head that I deserved help.

As Glory’s agent, though, I could take it as given that no one in her court… up to and including her… would be satisfied with wheeling their own bags any longer than was necessary. I veered towards the sign as soon as I saw it, reading it as I went. It was next to a podium with a woman in a red uniform whose eyes lit up as she saw our group approaching… though they didn’t linger, as she was dealing with a group of three passengers ahead of us.

I signaled for the rest of the group to wait before I got in line behind them.

“Excuse me,” the woman said to her customers, before speaking into an amulet around her neck. “Three more carts to bell stand, please.”

“Hi… I think we could use a little assistance,” I said when it was my turn, though it seemed she probably already had the gist of it.

“Traveling first class?” she asked. I guess it seemed like a safe assumption with a group of well-dressed elves.

“All the way,” I said. I wasn’t sure why I put it that way, but I thought it was marginally more clever than just saying yes.

“Baggage assistance is complimentary, then,” she said. “If I can see your boarding pass, please.”

“Do you need everyone’s?” I said as I was handing it over.

She waved it over the crystal ball on her podium.

“If you were all booked together then… oh, looks like we’re good!” she said. “Twenty guests altogether?”

“That’s right,” I said. “Sorry, we’re kind of got a large group.”

I could maybe master the skill of walking into a place like I owned it, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t be suitably apologetic about it.

“Not a problem!” she said. “Is everybody’s luggage tagged?”

We’d all been given pre-inscribed tags with our names, berth numbers, and some sort of confirmation number on them along with our tickets.

“They should be,” I said. I spared a glance over my shoulder and noticed some of the girls scrambling to put theirs on. “I guess we can double check.”

“Please do,” she said. “We deliver your bags right to the ship, and the crew delivers them to your berths.”

“Thanks, that’ll be a big help.”

“All part of the service,” she said. “Honestly, they’d take your bags at check-in if you carried them there yourselves. It’s just so much easier to let the crew load and deliver it than have everybody carry their own bags up the gangplank.”

“That makes sense,” I said. “Um, when you say ‘gangplank’…”

“Oh, strictly a nautical term!” she said. “It’s wide as a hallway, with railing on both sides… but even the first class decks would get bottlenecked with everyone wrestling with their own luggage. Just make sure everyone has anything they’ll need access to during the boarding process on their person, in a smaller bag or pocket. This is your first cruise?”

“First time for all of us,” I said, then added, “though hopefully not the last.”

“…well… finding your way around can be daunting for newcomers,” she said, as though she had just made up her mind about something. “But if anyone in your party needs assistance with any personal items that requires more personal handling, I can have a cloudcap carry it to the first class check-in with you.”

I took a second to think about why she would be offering that at that particular moment, drawing the line between the two seemingly disconnected statements, and realized the unspoken offer behind it: the baggage guy would know where he was going. All we’d have to do is go with him.

“That would be great, thanks,” I said, and she spoke into her amulet again. “I’m surprised that check-in isn’t right here, but I guess that would create some flow problems?”

“Absolutely,” she said, nodding. “There are different check-in points for each point of embarkation. By having you check in as close to the ship as possible, we make it easier to make sure you’re in the right place, and also make it easier to keep everyone moving through the complex. Oh, here come your carts.”

Glory’s whisper came into my ear. “Give her a gold coin.”

There was already a store of coins in my pocket for gratuities. I was a little surprised at Glory’s generosity… and it was her generosity, since it was her coins… but couldn’t argue with it.

“Thanks, you’ve been a big help,” I said, holding out the coin.

She kept her eyes on my face as she took it, but as I turned away, she said, “Oh, do you know that you’ve given me a gold?”

“Enjoy it!” I said.

Glory slid up beside me as I rejoined the group.

“That was very well-handled,” she said. “Good job scoring us a guide.”

“…I just accepted the offer,” I said. “I’m pretty sure she wanted to make it.”

“Because you were nice, not at all entitled-acting, and you subtly hinted that it would be good for business for her to make it,” Glory said.

“…is that what I did?”

You know what you did, Mackenzie Blaise,” she said.

“I really don’t,” I said. “I was really just trying to solve a problem,” I said.

“And you did it beautifully,” she said, putting a hand on my head and ruffling my hair. I didn’t know what to say to that, so I didn’t say anything.

Efficient people in red uniforms stacked our luggage on the three carts that had been ordered, and an older gentleman took charge of Glory’s handbag as a ceremonial excuse for leading us through the labyrinth of branching pathways at a sedate yet steady clip.

Even though we had a guide, I still took note of our route… not in the sense of trying to memorize it, which would have been impossible given my lack of directional sense, but just verifying for myself that it was something I would have been able to work out. It was pretty much a matter of looking for green arrows and the words “first class”. I didn’t know that we would take a cruise again, or that it would be on this same line from this same port of call, but even just having proof that I could have handled it without the cloudcap would theoretically make me more confident in the next similar situation.

It was a bigger hike than I’d expected for first class, but it seemed like “high class” wasn’t just an expression: we boarded the ship from a higher level than everyone else, which necessitated a set of ramps switching back and forth, interspersed with little shopping courts and lounges along the way.

The inside of the complex continued the sort of institutional, utilitarian appearance of the outside, but as we left the lower classes behind us, things got a little more plush. The seating areas featured more leather and velvet… old but not shabby… and there were more italics and serifs in the incidental signage.

“Since your luggage is already taken care of, I’d suggest the self-serve kiosk,” our guide said when we arrived at the first class check-in area. Glory pressed some coins into his hand as he handed her purse back.

I saw the man’s point immediately. The snake line in front of the staffed counters was pretty full, but while people were flocking to the little cubbies for the self check-in, they weren’t taking nearly as long to get through. I also saw what looked like a mother tapping the inset crystal ball on one with what looked like five or six people’s tickets at once. It flashed and scribed out a receipt.

“Okay, everybody give me your tickets and I’ll get us signed in,” I said.

Glory gave me an approving smile along with her ticket, and Nicki said, “I’m so glad you’re here. I’d be lost.”

“I don’t really know anything you don’t,” I told her.

“Except how to cope with that,” she said. “I always feel so lost whenever I’m… lost.”

“I know what you mean,” I said. “That’s honestly exactly how I felt the first time I came to MU. But the thing is I still found where I was going eventually, and it’s not like there was any lasting consequence to the few moments I stood around feeling clueless. At the time, it felt like a really critical failure on my part. Long view? It was nothing. Once we’re on board the ship, will it really matter how you felt getting there?”

“I guess I can see that,” she said.

“Really, the trick is not assuming you’re lost just because you don’t know where you’re going. I feel like there’s some element of giving up in that, you know?”

“When you put it like that, it makes sense,” Nicki said. “But… it can be hard not feeling that way. Especially in a place… well, in lots of places.”

“Somehow, it’s easier for me to do this stuff when I’m doing it on someone else’s behalf,” I said. “Alone, I can end up wallowing in self-pity, or self-consciousness, or something. But somehow knowing that someone else is counting on me makes it… I don’t know. Now that I’m saying it, it sounds like there should be more pressure.” I shrugged. “Maybe I’ve been doing enough new things lately that it’s not… new… doing any single one of them?”

“Maybe,” Nicki said. “You should probably check us in, though.”

“Here,” I said, handing her half the tickets.

“What?”

“In case there’s a limit on how many they can swipe at a time,” I said.

I didn’t think there was, or that it would make a huge difference if there was… I could just swipe half of them and then do the other half… but I wanted to get Nicki involved rather than hanging back and feeling helpless.

“Okay,” she said, a little doubtfully.

“Just follow the instructions.”

We headed over to the self-serve line, which was barely a line, and both quickly got processed. The orb flashed the message “retain boarding pass for boarding”, which seemed pretty self-evident. Nicki was only a couple of seconds behind me in finishing, and maybe I was reading too much into it, but she did seem more at ease with the whole process afterwards.

“Everybody take your ticket back and keep it handy,” I said as we both fanned them out for the group to take claim theirs. “We’ll have to show it again when we board.”

“Do we just get in line?” one of the girls asked, gesturing towards the far end of the room, where people were filtering through a checkpoint that appeared to lead out into the open air.

“Our passes have a time window on them,” Wisdom said. “I’m assuming they stagger the arrivals to help manage the boarding process.”

“Thanks to our slow ride down, our boarding window starts in only about half an hour,” Glory said. “So everybody get comfortable, without getting too comfortable.”


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13 Responses to “Chapter 266: Port Forwarding”

  1. tomclark says:

    I reminded myself over and over again that people died what I was doing every day

    This should almost certainly be “people *did* what I was doing…”

    Current score: 9
    • Nocker says:

      Well if what she’s doing is “boarding an airship” then it certainly does lead to a number of deaths.

      Not for people like her obviously though. We’ve seen time and again that Half Demons tend to bounce when they hit the ground. Or at least leave interesting craters when they land on things.

      Current score: 5
      • tardis42 says:

        At least as long as they don’t land on anything magical, otherwise all bets are off. Just hope you don’t hit an enchanted forest 😛

        Current score: 1
    • Teian says:

      No no, that’s the demon half talking. Reminding herself of people’s mortality gets rid of her nervousness everytime.

      Current score: 6
  2. Readaholic says:

    As was done unto her, Mack does unto Nicki.
    Rather sweet, how Glory helps Mack, and Mack uses the same trick to help Nicki.

    Current score: 6
  3. Seth says:

    Welcome back AE, and thanks for the great chapter. 🙂

    Current score: 3
  4. Zathras IX says:

    Everyone here
    Is already here to ride
    Or to be ridden

    Current score: 7
    • Order of Chaos says:

      What do you mean “Or”? it’s And to be ridden.

      Current score: 0
  5. Arancaytar says:

    as reflexively anti-demon as dogs were

    “Man’s best friend” vs “man’s ancient enemy”; this makes sense, I guess.

    Current score: 3
    • Nocker says:

      Indeed. I get the feeling that man was allready triumphing over demonkind when they were banished if this were the case. A few dogs will sniff out any kind of infiltrator of infernal nature.

      The obvious question is if this also works with Sea Devils, Dopplegangers, and other such infiltrators. If so a hound of some kind would basically be garunteed on the equipment list of any would-be monster hunter.

      Current score: 2
      • Lucy says:

        arn’t they already? a loyal set of extra eyes + much better scenting and hearing

        Current score: 3
        • Nocker says:

          I suppose so.

          In this context you’re less a delver and more a counter-assassin. Going in heavily armed and armored draws too much attention and the last thing you want is to go one on one against a full blooded demon.

          A man with a dog and concealed weapon draws way less eyes than an armored adventuring party.

          Current score: 2
  6. Arancaytar says:

    I reminded myself over and over again that people died what I was doing every day

    I hope you mean “did”, because that otherwise doesn’t seem like a very good way to stay calm.

    (I actually read “died doing what I was doing” the first time.)

    Current score: 1