Chapter 290: Full Court Press

on March 11, 2015 in Volume 2 Book 8: Elven Holiday, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Elves Get Wood

Maybe it said something about how good my life had been in general lately that the end of the cruise and the trip back to Enwich seemed like the worst experience I had had for a while.

Disembarking was straightforward enough, just… stressful. Hectic and crowded. On the way in, we’d all started off together and then split off to go our separate ways once on board, like little bits of dye dropped into a rapidly moving current. On the way out, we were like those same bits of dye trying to find each other in the stream.

Okay, so it was a given that we were all going to end up in the same place, and… Nicki aside… everybody else in the group had a considerable advantage over me when it came to picking up familiar faces and voices in a crowd.

Nicki was with Grace, and they found their way to Glory pretty quickly. The others who didn’t just slip in silently beside us on our way off the boat melted out of the crowd once we were in the harbor building.

So I had been stressing over nothing, but realizing that didn’t alleviate the stress. It wasn’t even really past tense… even as the group materialized back around me, I didn’t feel any better. Maybe I was just stressing in general, and this was something at hand I could focus it on. Though in fairness to my overly worried brain, even if there was no real risk of anyone being forgotten and left behind, the faster we got everyone together and cleared the port, the sooner we could get underway and the earlier we’d be home.

…of course, for me “home” was Magisterius University, more specifically Gilcrease Tower. Though I’d been on campus longer than I’d roomed there, and would very possibly move halls at least once more before I left the campus. So maybe thinking of MU as home rather than any specific place there was more accurate.

The reason that thought was chasing itself around inside my head is that I kept catching myself thinking “we’ve got to get home” and meaning Oberrad House.

Was that weird? I’d slept there a handful of times. I didn’t exactly have a drawer in Glory’s dresser or anything, though I could see that changing once I started wearing more clothes she wouldn’t mind being mistaken for her property.

I had a kind of nagging feeling in the back of my head that it wouldn’t be a good idea to let myself just sort of drift into the idea of a place as home on the basis of a shared emotional investment in a crisis… But then, what made something a home, if not an emotional investment?
It was definitely not something i needed to worry about. There was no time for an esoteric crisis when there was an actual one in the making.

It was probably a good thing no one was relying on me to spot our people… not only did I have a hard time telling the individual elves who made up Glory’s court apart, but I had a hard time telling them from the adult elves that were milling around in the area now that most of them had taken Glory’s lead and started individuating their looks. In the long term that would probably make things easier for me, but for now I wasn’t looking for hair with curls, or short black spikes, or leopard-spotted glamour.

I noticed Glory slipped over and quietly briefed the members of her court who weren’t up on the latest developments and non-developments from the homefront one-on-one. I could tell she was letting me hear her… I wasn’t sure why, unless she was just sort of putting me into the loop, like you’d copy someone on an a-mail.

Our ride back wasn’t the same boat we’d taken up. It was another similar vehicle, a luxury airship that had been converted for rental jaunts.

It was smaller than the ship that had taken us down, but I wouldn’t say it was less impressive. If anything, more care… and money… had gone into the decor and furnishings. Where our ride down had looked to have begun its life as a houseboat and been redone in a style that said “fraternity buckboarding party for a distant away match”, this one was more like an executive yacht and it said “corporate retreat”.

The table and wooden parts of the chairs and the paneling were all done up in dark wood. Usually when I see dark wood with a dark finish, I say it’s walnut. Not because I have any worldly idea what dark stained walnut looks like, but that’s just one of those phrases you see.

This wood didn’t look like the wood that I call walnut, so calling it that would basically be admitting I’ve always been wrong in my head. I also didn’t think it was walnut, because I had the impression walnut is pretty common and I didn’t think I’d ever seen wood like this before.

The smaller size was maybe good, because no one was in much of a party mood. Most of the elves were silent, or at least not talking for the ears of the whole group. If we’d all sat in a tight circle in the plush chairs of the first boat, the empty space rattling all around us would have driven us crazy.

I’m not usually the one who tries to make conversation just to fill the empty air… I’m generally more at peace with the silence. I was getting seriously antsy, though. I didn’t want to raise the topic of what was happening back home, because that wouldn’t introduce any new information or options.

…now that I’d thought that, I was pretty sure that was why Glory had taken everyone who needed catching up aside instead of making a big announcement or holding a court meeting. She dealt with things she couldn’t control by sort of mentally tabling them. She didn’t want anyone to be in the dark… that would be irresponsible. But she didn’t want to put the whole thing back on the table.

The problem was, there was nothing else on the table, so we were all just sitting around in silence. It was one thing to not let the distant troubles that you can’t do anything about distract you from a world-class vacation, but now there was nothing to be distracted from… and nothing to distract us.

I looked around for a topic to put on the table, and couldn’t see anything except the damned table and its strange wood.

“What kind of wood d…” I started to say to no one in particular, but I was immediately interrupted by everyone in particular.

“Ebony,” said the chorus of elves.

Right.

Well, they would know.

I reached out and touched the glossy surface of the table, reaching out with my magic to feel its properties.

“It’s very… heavy,” I said. “This is earthier than most woods. I’m guessing it’s here as part of an ostentatious display thing… a boat made of this stuff wouldn’t float in water. Wrapping up an airship with it is like saying efficiency is for suckers.”

“You’d have to be an enchanter or a very practical elementalist to think of that, though,” Wisdom said. “I’d suspect it was chosen for aesthetic effect. Any message is more likely to have to do with the perceived trendiness of the wood.”

“You’re probably right,” I said.

And that really just about exhausted that topic. It had actually gone further than I expected, especially after the quick reply. Wisdom had made a valiant effort, but there was only so long we could keep talking about the virtues of ebony.

“I really can’t wait to get home,” Grace said after another stretch of silence. “You know?”

“I really can,” the one with the leopard hair said. “I… this has been great, but are we really going back to that whole mess?”

“Define ‘whole mess’,” Glory said.

“We have been living in the real world for the better part of a week,” she said. “And now we’re going right back into the middle of all that.”

“Again, define ‘all that’,” Glory said. “I took us out of Treehome, Prudence. We’re in the world now.”

“And it sounds like Treehome is coming to take us back,” she said.

“We all knew they would make an attempt,” Wisdom said. “And from the way it sounds, there was… and it failed.”

“No thanks to anything any of us or ours did,” Prudence said.

“I don’t see how that diminishes it,” Wisdom said. “Think about how much worse they would have fared if our defenders had also stepped in.”

“Or how bad our defenders would have fared,” Prudence said.

Enough,” Glory said. “We will be landing at the airfield, just as we took off. It’s closer to town than it is to the campus. We are still on holiday break, so there’s no reason anyone has to hurry back. If you don’t want to travel back to school tonight is welcome to hire a carriage to Enwich instead… I suggest those who wish to do so stick together. Among other things, inn rooms are going to be at a premium.”

“…would we… would this…” another elf, who had gone with a fairly conservative straight shoulder-length cut as her sole deference to individuality asked. She wasn’t exactly stammering. I suspected she was more sort of trailing off for effect, to indicate she didn’t want to actually pose the question.

“You are all free in my court,” Glory said. “I have no duties for you at the moment, and like I said, the school is closed. I arranged a group trip, but it’s almost over, and however you want to spend the rest of your holiday break is up to you.”

Again, the balancing act… I was sure that the last thing she wanted was to re-enter Oberrad House in anything but full force. The more strength she had gathered around her, the less likely it would be that she would need it. But if some of her people were thinking of heading for the hills to begin with, giving them an option to gracefully retreat might be the only thing that would stop them from stampeding away as fast as they could.

And who knew, maybe her magnanimity would impress some of those with misgivings enough to motivate them to stay and fight for her, if a fight proved necessary.

…okay, maybe that was a stretch.

Elven faces can be hard to read, but it was easy enough to read the looks that passed around the table. Paying too much for too small an inn room was starting to sound like a good idea to a lot of them. Those who were on the fence would see which way the wind was blowing.

But Glory had put her neck on the line to let these people get out of Treehome and into “the real world”, she’d arranged for them all to be in a decadently luxurious elsewhere during a big portion of the most likely time for an attack, and now the very freedom she had granted to her followers… or pointed out that they had… was going to be used to isolate

“No one who bails is going to be welcome in Oberrad House when the fighting’s over,” I said. “Even less so if there isn’t a fight.”

“Mackenzie Blaise!” Glory said, shifting to her feet. “You forget yourself.

“What? I’m not making a pronouncement, I’m making a prediction,” I said. “Tell me I’m wrong if you think I’m wrong. I say that those of us who go back are going to remember who didn’t. The people we left the house in care of are going to remember who showed up to relieve them. If you all walk through the doorway with the rest of us, they’re going to be the newbies, the ones who have to wait their turn, the ones who have to climb past everyone else on the ladder… but if you wait until everything is resolved to come gliding back in, they’re going to be all settled and comfortable, a lot more comfortable than you’ll be.”

“It’s not like we’d be leaving the court, though,” someone said. “Queen Glory said…”

“She said you’re free to do what you want with your time, and not a one of you bothered to say thank you,” I said. “You’re already taking it for granted that Oberrad isn’t run like the other courts. You’re starting to grasp just how different things can be, and you want more of it. Well, it’s time to think about the price… and I don’t just mean the price of having to fight for your freedom. Being free to make your own decisions means you’re free to take the consequences. No one has to come back to Oberrad House with us… but no one has to forget who doesn’t.”

“…doesn’t sound very free to me,” someone muttered. Perfectly audibly, but my ears weren’t able to trace who said it.

“Well, if you want freedom from responsibility, you need to free yourself from your entanglements,” I said. “There’s no reason you have to come back home at all. Cut yourself loose.”

“But then we’d be standing alone against Treehome,” leopard-spotted Prudence said.

“Yeah, and wouldn’t that suck?” I said. “Look, you’re all adults, under the imperium. If all you want is to stay in the ‘real world’ and never worry about Treehome again, all you have to do is take a coach anywhere from the airfield and never look back. If you want to finish your education, you can do it somewhere else. If you want to bum around on your middling money for another few decades, you can go do it anywhere in the world!”

“Mackenzie, dear Mackenzie… this is the opposite of what we want,” Glory whispered at my ear.

I didn’t reply, because I didn’t have any way of letting her know that I knew this… and I also knew it was the opposite of what Prudence wanted. She was scared, but like everyone else, she was scared most of the unknown.

There was one unknown threat lurking back around campus. Outside of campus was a whole world made of unknown threats.

“So, if you think you’re ready for that kind of freedom… it’s that simple,” I continued. “Glory managed to book a whole cruise, I’m sure you can figure out how to buy a coach ticket. You have time to figure out how to manage your finances on your own. You’d have to figure out how to get buy in the world sooner or later, why not do it a little sooner? I mean, you weren’t born middlings. Things probably haven’t changed that much from what you glimpsed of the human world when you were living with your parents, right? You’d probably be a bit less comfortable, but that’s the price you pay for standing on your own two feet… if that’s what you want to do.”

I was pretty sure that the silence that ringed the table now was genuine. All eyes were on me. I felt an icy lump in the pit of my stomach, but anger… cold, controlled anger… was pushing me past my discomfort with the attention.

How far we’ve come.

“If you want to stand beside your friends… friends, not… co-courtiers, or whatever the term is… then there might be another price to say,” I continued. “We don’t know exactly what the price is going to be, but you know what the payoff is. You get your life. You get your comfort. You get all the good stuff you’re used to, and a lot less of the bad. And it’s not just that you’ll get to lord things over the new blood for a while… you’ll get to look them in the eye. You’ll get to look each other in the eye. For however long you’re in Oberrad House, you’ll know that you earned it. Whenever someone else comes to the house, you’ll know that you helped make it happen. Don’t you get it? Glory’s not just giving you something, she’s building something… we’re all building something. You can throw that away if you want, but make no mistake: if you do, there’s no taking it back.”

“…I think you have them as convinced as they’re ever going to be,” Glory whispered. “That’s probably as good a stopping point as you’re going to find.”


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24 Responses to “Chapter 290: Full Court Press”

  1. Nocker says:

    Gotta say, I’m liking Mackenzie’s little speech here. It’s the exact kind of slap to the face a lot of them need.

    Current score: 15
  2. Order of Chaos says:

    Very nice read.

    Current score: 1
  3. V says:

    “And elves in Enwich then a-bed
    Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not there,
    And hold their lives cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us at Oberrad that day.”

    Current score: 6
    • Arancaytar says:

      That’s exactly what I had in mind while reading it.

      Then will she strip her sleeves and show her scars.
      And say ‘These wounds I had at Oberrad.’

      Current score: 2
  4. Not her, the other girl says:

    Daaaaaayum Mackenzie! You go girl! The Mack from a year and a half ago (in MU-time) would’ve shriveled up at the thought of saying even a tenth of that, or even having them all look at her at the same time.

    But at the same time, I wish I had a Glory who could whisper in my ear “That was great but shut up now while you’re ahead.”

    I’m sure I’m missing other typos, but this is probably supposed to be “stay”:
    then there might be another price to **say**,” I continued.

    Current score: 8
  5. pedestrian says:

    I always suspected that Glory was grooming Mack as her Themistocles, her Sea Dogs, her Cheng I Sao.

    Mackenzie Blaise as an Orator and Generalissimo.

    Current score: 2
    • Nocker says:

      Then she still has a long, LONG way to go. Her natural inclinations are against those generally associated with that kind of position. If pushed or against the wall like this she can pull something reasonably impressive but that’s the exception rather than rule with her.

      Current score: 1
      • Trent Baker says:

        It takes time to temper the finest steel.

        Current score: 7
  6. Cadnawes says:

    I think maybe that’s Wisdom out of a potential job.

    Current score: 1
    • Lunaroki says:

      I don’t know. I think Mackenzie’s old job may just be getting a vacancy as Mack gets promoted.

      Current score: 1
      • Cadnawes says:

        Perhaps. I am still not sure Mack’s old job description is Wisdom’s best fit.

        Or, not yet, maybe? Say one thing for her, she seems to really want to be useful.

        Current score: 0
  7. Seth says:

    Where did the “How far we’ve come.” come from? It’s italicized, which separates it from Macks’ internal monologue, but it isn’t from an elf either.

    Current score: 4
    • Lurk says:

      Tantalizingly, it could be suggestive or not. AE is great at giving us little hints that foreshadow Big Deals, without providing context or explanation and just letting us guess. (Example: “It wasn’t my fault!”)

      In this case, the fact that it’s both italicized and separated COULD suggest another speaker. Traditionally, people often use italics like quotation marks for telepathy, so it COULD be anything from The Man in her head to the ROTT in her head to some kind of leftover Dee fragment from when she was in her head fighting the pitchfork to some kind of splinter-personality of Mack created by ROTT’s tutelage to… who the hell knows. And one not-uncommon trope of psychic communication is that often an untrained recipient didn’t really realize that this wasn’t her own thought, especially when it so closely matches her own line of thought.

      On the other hand, italics are also commonly used to indicate direct character thoughts. So it could also just be Mack thinking these words to herself, and we could just be pointlessly picking apart an innocent turn of grammar. Once again, there’s just no way to know without, say it with me, more information!

      Keeps ME reading, that’s for sure. 🙂

      Current score: 4
    • Nocker says:

      Early on in ToMU there used to be a little voice in Mackenzie’s head that’d occasionally push her to do the “right” thing, that spoke in italics. Like not push Sooni away when she came with a peace offering for example. It could be that, or it could be the demon half somehow contributing, because they’re occasionally referenced as two separate entities or being similar. Or some other force nobody has been able to sense, since Emberies is able to apparently block out the Reader despite no psychics being able to sense being in the story.

      Then you have stuff that does exist in her head, but we have no idea about. ROTT aside, there’s still Mostly Ian crawling around in there along with who the fuck knows what else.

      Really the inside of Mackenzie’s head is a goddamn mess. It could be any number of things without an elf jumping into the equation.

      Current score: 3
    • Carrie says:

      I was thinking the same thing. The ridiculous owl-turtle?

      Current score: 1
      • Lunaroki says:

        Not while Mack’s awake. ROTT is a dream figment. It would represent a quantum leap in ROTT’s existence to be able to talk to Mack when she’s not asleep.

        Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      Well it could just be emphasised, it’s more important than the other thoughts, and it’s separated from her main train of thought. But I think it’s still just Mackenzie as normal.

      Current score: 2
  8. Arancaytar says:

    “What kind of wood d…” I started to say to no one in particular, but I was immediately interrupted by everyone in particular.

    “Ebony,” said the chorus of elves.

    Right.

    Well, they would know.

    I really like these scenes.

    This is earthier than most woods.

    … Oh. In the sense of elemental Earth, not “earthy” as a smell or flavor.

    Current score: 4
  9. Arancaytar says:

    Mack isn’t exactly a world-class orator yet, but I reckon she got the gist across as well as Henry V ever did.

    Current score: 2
  10. That other guy says:

    Great story. 🙂

    You’d have to figure out how to get buy in the world sooner or later
    buy should be by

    I bet it’s guys middling guys like Iamie who have transformed humans fighting their fights for them — this is how the transformations happened. They guys wanted an in to Glory’s court, because they want out of the middling politics too, but they didn’t want to “ask” permission because they thought that would be seen as week, so they “protected” the house with their transfigured pets or something, so that hopefully they can ask to come in, and phrase it as their just reward. Or someone did it for those reasons, and middling guys is the only plausible group that I can think of at this time… or maybe it was dwarves somehow. Maybe what’s-her-name looking to protect her little kobold “friend”, brought in some dwarven fighters somehow and the cover is that the dwarves want to ask to get in as their reward?

    Current score: 0
    • Nocker says:

      The transforming equipment is incredibly rare and a lost art to produce. The only two we’ve even seen were belonging to him and a fighter of Callahan’s level.

      Likewise it can’t be dwarves, because they practice violent gender segregation. Caron is a female and Underhall is a male space. If either of them came into contact with each other they’d never be able to negotiate for the same reason Mercy can’t build her demon army. Even presuming that they’d be interested this isn’t the style of a dwarven fighter. They’re four feet of metal laced bone covered in heavy steel plates. They don’t do stealth, especially not of this caliber.

      Current score: 3
    • Arancaytar says:

      > Iamie

      IIRC, you’re thinking of Iason; Iamie is what he called Jamie, who’s human.

      Current score: 1
  11. Zathras IX says:

    An emotional
    Investment in it is what
    Makes a house a home

    Current score: 3