Chapter 278: Earth and Fire

on January 28, 2015 in Volume 2 Book 8: Elven Holiday, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Things Get Heated

Glory and I spent a lot of the day alone, with even Nicki and Grace off doing their own thing. Glory had the group penciled in for a spa thing in the morning, but nobody showed up to take advantage of it except for us.

I was glad that breakfast had been so much the opposite of fine dining under starlight, because I was feeling very much inside my comfort zone. A spa visit was the kind of thing that normally would have sent me running in the other direction, or at least left me paralyzed with the dread that comes from being acutely aware of your own ignorance.

It’s not that I had no idea what a spa was about. I actually had several ideas: massages, steam, manicures, mud masks… and I wasn’t sure if those actually were exactly what they sounded like or something completely different… alchemical skin treatments, stuff like that. I just didn’t know how accurate any of my ideas were, or how they fit together, or what was expected.

I mean, I was a big fan of steam. I was less fond of being touched by people I didn’t know, and cosmetic attention… which is what I thought the point of a lot of it was… always left me feeling like I was being teased or made the butt of a joke.

But I was in full-on “go with the flow” mode. Why not? I’d had a nice, solid, grounded start to my day, and everything around me that was unfamiliar was also so unreal that I might as well have been in a waking dream.

I could tell myself that the chances of seeing any random person we passed in the corridors or on the deck of the ships again was almost zero. If I walked into the spa and made a total fool of myself, I wouldn’t see anyone in there again, either.

And anyway, a lot of people came on these cruises as a once-in-a-lifetime dream vacation. As isolated as my early teen years had been, I couldn’t be anything close to the bumpiest of bumpkins that wandered into the spa.

These were the things I told myself on the way, and to my surprise, I found them really easy to believe. Then we walked in and a half-elven woman all but swooped down on us and took us in hand, laying out what they had on offer. I could tell both that she was used to people not necessarily recognizing all the terms and that she didn’t like to make a habit of assuming how much people did or didn’t know.

But I was in full-on “go with the flow” mode. Why not? I’d had a nice, solid, grounded start to my day, and everything around me that was unfamiliar was also so unreal that I might as well have been in a waking dream.

I could tell myself that the chances of seeing any random person we passed in the corridors or on the deck of the ships again was almost zero. If I walked into the spa and made a total fool of myself, I wouldn’t see anyone in there again, either.

And anyway, a lot of people came on these cruises as a once-in-a-lifetime dream vacation. As isolated as my early teen years had been, I couldn’t be anything close to the bumpiest of bumpkins that wandered into the spa.

These were the things I told myself on the way, and to my surprise, I found them really easy to believe. Then we walked in and a half-elven woman all but swooped down on us, introduced herself as Terese, and took us in hand, laying out what they had on offer. I could tell both that she was used to people not necessarily recognizing all the terms and that she didn’t like to make a habit of assuming how much people did or didn’t know.

“Well, I’m an elf, and she’s semi-invulnerable,” Glory said. “So I don’t think we’ll be needing any skin peels.”

“You know, I thought you had really good skin,” Terese said to me. “I thought you must be from somewhere warm, but you’re so pale. The cold must not bother you at all.”

“Yeah, I think you have me confused with someone else,” I said. I didn’t really want to elaborate on my cold vulnerability… I considered it fortunate enough that she hadn’t asked why my skin would be resistant to harm.

“So, no skin treatments are necessary,” Terese said. “What are you ladies interested in, then?”

“I think we’ll both take the one hour hot stone massage package,” Glory said. “With the aromatherapy for relaxation, and the tea course.”

“Any allergies?”

“Well, I’m sleeping with a girl who’s allergic to sanctity,” Glory said. I hoped my surprised reaction to how she phrased this covered my brief deer-in-coachlights expression in response to the question. I supposed it might pass for suitable shock at such a revelation. “So if we can avoid any kind of blessings or things like that, it would be great.”

“…well, glad you mentioned it,” Terese said. “Some our incense and oils are blessed, but we do have secular alternatives for most of them. Of course, a lot of the rejuvenating treatments contain healing ointments, but since neither of you need those… I guess that’s not an issue? If you’ll just wait right here, I’ll go see that everything is ready.”

“Thanks,” I said, when Terese was gone.

“Don’t mention it,” Glory said, tapping her ear to remind me why mentioning it any more might nullify the purpose of her misdirection. Her next words were carried as a whisper directly into my own ears. “I don’t think it would have been an issue, but I could tell you were already uncomfortable… I’m sorry I didn’t think before mentioning your invulnerability.”

“What exactly is hot stone massage?” I asked.

“What it sounds like,” Glory said. “You’ll love it… it’s applied heat, and very little direct contact with another person.”

“What, someone just rubs a hot rock on your body?” I asked. I was picturing something like a pumice stone, which I knew had somehow found a use in personal grooming, and sort of wincing. If Glory hadn’t ordered it for herself, I would have wondered if it was only offered to invulnerable clients.

“That’s part of it, but actually, it’s mostly just leaving… I’d say ‘heated’ more than ‘hot’… stones on your body while you’re resting,” Glory said. “It’s surprisingly relaxing.”

Terese led us into a partitioned back room, the outer wall of which was actually an outer wall… it was floor to ceiling windows showing blue sky and wispy clouds. There were tables to lay on with their heads facing this expanse. There was a surprisingly fancy trough of steaming water that was full of what looked like ornamental stones… flat and round… that I suspected were actually the massage implements.

Terese lit some sticks of incense and put them on a low, vaguely altar-like table that was between the windows and the tables.

“This is our special stress-reduction blend… it starts with a mild vanilla and cinnamon scent, and progress as it burns through seven distinct phases. Now, I’ll leave you ladies alone to disrobe,” Terese said. “There are towels if you would like to cover yourselves, though our attendants will be as comfortable with your bodies as you are,” she said. “Just make yourselves comfortable on the tables and someone will be with you shortly.”

“…how naked do we have to be for this?” I asked, turning to Glory, who had already slipped out of everything while Terese was walking away.

“I imagine nobody would mind if you left your underwear on,” Glory said. “Though like the lady said, you can cover yourself with a towel.”

“I… guess I want to do it right?” I said.

“Well, I wouldn’t argue with you if you were feeling modest, but I’m also not going to complain if you’re not,” Glory said, settling herself down on one of the tables. She made it look like it was the most comfortable thing in the world… though when I tried it, I found that it wasn’t just her. I’d been on beds that were less comfortable.

Glory hadn’t bothered with a towel, so neither did I. Once we were lying there, I became aware of soft musical chimes coming from some unseen source. I’d never thought of scents as relaxing, but the warm cinnamon vanilla smell was at the very least inviting.

“This is making me hungry,” I said.

“Shush,” Glory said.

The whole procedure was surprisingly stress-free, which was extra good insofar as apparently the purpose of the whole exercise was to reduce stress. Two women… both also apparently half-elven… came in and used a couple of hot, flat stones to work out knots in our backs and shoulders, and then left a series of them in various places on our bare backs.

There was no conversation, no painfully awkward chit-chat… they just came in and did their things, then left us alone. Just two girls… women, I guess… lying naked on their stomachs, side by side, with hot rocks placed at strategic points on our back.

I felt… oddly decorative, like an interesting conversation piece.

This produced all kinds of interesting chains of thought in my head. I tried to avoid following any of them too far, because I figured that becoming visibly turned on in the middle of a massage session was probably a faux pas. I mean, the masseuses had to have seen everything before, and presumably they wouldn’t exactly blame me, if they even noticed I was a little flushed… but still, it was embarrassing to think about, which just made it worse. Or better.

After a while, though, I stopped thinking about that, along with pretty much everything else. I might have guessed that having heat pressed against my body like that would feel good, but I don’t think I would have imagined how soothing it was… the weight, the pressure, the positioning… they came in a few times to replace the stones, and put different ones in different positions, but mostly we were left alone.

“I swear, I can hear you unwinding over there,” Glory said after I might have unconsciously murmured in appreciation after the second application.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be… it’s what I’m paying for.”

“Money well spent,” I said.

“Glad to hear you think that… I figured at best you’d be happy to keep me company,” Glory said. “I feel like Amaranth would be offering you a treat for behaving or something.”

“Does this mean you won’t be?”

“Bitch, this whole thing is your treat,” she said.

“I hate to say it, but I’m kind of glad no one else was up for the spa thing this morning,” I said. “I think I might have fallen back to the sidelines… or at least been a little more towel-happy.”

“Not like the others haven’t seen you naked,” Glory said. “Though I am glad we’re alone, too… it’ll be a good day to hit the salon, too, I suppose, for similar reasons.”

“It’s not a nude salon, is it?”

“No, but I think we’ll both be less inhibited if we don’t have to make decisions in front of anyone we know,” Glory said.

“True,” I said.

The incense progressed its way through the different scents, which became harder and harder for me to discern… there were some flowers and some spices, but beyond that I really couldn’t say what they were supposed to be, until the final phase, which was definitely lavender. I recognized it from my collection of bubble baths.

When the massage and incense had run their course, we put on robes and sat on cushions around a low table while Terese served us what she assured us was a proprietary herbal tea blend, along with some tiny triangular sandwiches. None of it was stuff I would have picked for myself, but I had to admit it somehow made a nice complement to what we had just experienced.

At the end, we were given coupons for twenty percent off the stuff in their store, which sold the incense and tea and massage oils and other stuff, including some self-heating massage stones. Glory bought a set of them, and it was only when they were rung up that it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen her pay for the services.

“Did they forget to charge us?” I asked her.

Glory held up her braceleted wrist.

“It’s all on here, dear one,” she said. “I think places like this thrive on making it easy to spend money. See?”

As she was speaking, the clerk was putting the stones in a bag along with a receipt. There had been no exchange of currency.

“You got that right,” the clerk said. “We call it ‘creating a culture of convenience’.”

“How marvelously alliterative,” Glory said. “Thank you!”

“Thank you. Have a great day!”

“Well, we still have some time before lunch,” Glory said as we were leaving. “I had been thinking the afternoon for seeing to our hair and the doing thereof, but I’m feeling so completely relaxed right now, I think I have the best chance of actually seeing it through if we go now.”

“What exactly did you have in mind?” I asked. I was having a hard time imagining Glory needing to work up the nerve to do anything.

“Well, I’m not quite sure what I’ll do, exactly,” she said. “A change in color and style is the basic idea, but for the specifics… I don’t know. I’ve been thinking of something in a nice, rich chestnut, or maybe auburn.”


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22 Responses to “Chapter 278: Earth and Fire”

  1. Nocker says:

    Brown hair. I can see her pause.

    Current score: 2
  2. Klaus says:

    Oh she gon’ slap dem summer and winter elves in da FACE! And she gon’ do it hard.

    Current score: 7
  3. zeel says:

    “Bitch, this whole thing is your treat,” she said.

    Slightly out of character sounding? Sound more like something Steff might think to say if she wanted to be funny.

    Current score: 6
    • Hollowgolem says:

      Or it’s something she’d say when she’s feeling relaxed and unguarded.

      I just read it as another sign of how uninhibited Glory feels here, away from everything. This is a vacation for her, too.

      Current score: 10
    • dean says:

      Well, it could also have been meant as a treat for Mack, since Glory knows about her responses to being treated as an object.

      Current score: 7
  4. w says:

    I think the part about the half-elven woman swooping down was copied twice into the text. It had me confused for a while.

    Current score: 1
  5. Cadnawes says:

    I’m a professional massage therapist and an instructor at a school for same. This was an interesting thing to read after getting home from work. 🙂

    In Mackenzie’s defense, massage literally does make you hungry, by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. It also makes you sleepy. It’s why so many spas have fruit and chocolates just sitting around.

    Visibly showing arousal is understood to be involuntary and we will generally pretend not to notice. How can it be a faux pas when you didn’t mean to do it? Now the guy who whips the towel off his tent pole while grinning at you… that guy will be shown the door. And possibly my foot in his ass.

    Current score: 7
    • Yumi says:

      I’ve been watching way too much Friends, so I definitely read parts of this in Phoebe’s voice, especially the last sentence.

      Current score: 4
  6. Arancaytar says:

    Vanilla scent making Mack hungry brings up some bad memories.

    Current score: 1
  7. Robert says:

    Has no one noticed the repeated four paragraphs starting with…
    But I was in full-on “go with the flow” mode.

    Story 276 had four paragraphs duplicated this same way starting with…
    “So you’re thinking in terms of something more like a sorority?”

    Current score: 1
  8. pedestrian says:

    “…This is making me hungry,” I said…”

    Now Mack, taking bites out of the spa attendants, will really drive up the expected tip!

    Current score: 3
  9. Jonathan says:

    The four paragraphs starting with “But I was in full-on ‘go with the flow’ mode.…” and ending with “…how much people did or didn’t know.” show up twice in a row, although with some slight edits.

    Current score: 1
    • erianaiel says:

      The slight edits made me think at first it was intentional. Kind of a stylistic choice to show how Mackenzie convinced herself that everything was nice, quiet and nothing was out of the ordinary. But that would have required a paragraph in between the repetition about something that threathened to jolt her out of her complacent mood.

      Current score: 1
      • zeel says:

        Same thing happened a few chapters back too. Just few paragraphs repeated.

        Current score: 1
  10. Trel says:

    I hope Mack has taken care of her actual food needs…….

    Current score: 0
  11. Zathras IX says:

    Those who are truly
    Allergic to sanctity
    Haven’t a prayer

    Current score: 9
  12. Readaholic says:

    @Zathras IX – GROOAAANs at puns

    And it is nice to see Mack just relaxing. Well-chosen spa options by Glory for Mackenzie.
    And Glory is really set on stirring things up in the elf world. (cheers her on)

    Current score: 3
    • Nocker says:

      I’m wondering if this is what takes things too far though. I mean being really into humans is one thing: It runs in the family if her aunt is anything to go by. Dying your hair dark is also a trend with two examples. But there’s a marked difference between black and brown:

      Black is a color associated with serious bad mojo. Vampire hair turns black and soul draining does the same to the necromancer involved.

      Brown hair though is a different kind of impurity. It’s associated with hated groups of elves that were killed almost to a man for not meeting the elven ideals of purity. To work with a dye job like THAT is to proclaim that the entire elven standard doesn’t apply and everything every other elf strives for is bullshit.

      If it was black, or a non-natural color, it could be excused as her being an eccentric. But browns and reds are essentially an insult to every other elf. It’s associated with the same properties that keep Semele a pariah, and pushing the aesthetic even harder.

      Treehome elves have killed and maimed for much less.

      Current score: 2
      • zeel says:

        Isn’t that the point?

        Current score: 1
        • Nocker says:

          Unless “the point” is to force a violent confrontation first week of the new term, I doubt it.

          Wanting to fuck humans isn’t terribly new to elves, and picking up nicknames isn’t a huge deal. Up until this point Glory wasn’t on many people’s radar except for leaving, and even that hasn’t triggered a violent confrontation.

          But this isn’t just some reasonably conventional quirk, this is the cultural equivalent of a slap to the face. Remember this is deliberately associating yourself with the style that makes even her girls pause with regards to Semele, and they have her loyalty.

          This is crossing a whole new kind of line.

          Current score: 1