Chapter 332: Chain of ThoughtAlexandra Erin on September 23, 2016 in Volume 2 Book 10: Lucky Thing, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Mackenzie and Amaranth Take Hazel Fishing For Dinner
Amaranth headed for the door. I was right behind her until my bare foot nudged into my shoe, where it sat on the floor with my clothes.
“Amaranth, hold up!” I said, grabbing for my stuff and trying to shove my arms and legs through the requisite holes as quickly as I could without risking tearing right through the garments. “Some of us aren’t nymphs!”
“Sorry, baby,” she said. “I just got so excited.”
“What were you going to do, go dramatically sweeping down the hallway and bang on her door?” I asked.
“Well, I mean, her door’s almost always open,” Amaranth said. “But I guess something like that. I just… I think I’ve figured it out, and I’m pleased by that, but on top of that, I guess I thought the faster I moved, the less time there would be for anything to be lined up to stop me?”
“Seeing as that’s spoiled, or at least set back a minute, why don’t you tell me what it is you’ve figured out?”
“It’s not the ring,” Amaranth said. “It never was the ring. Remember? She had it on a chain around her neck, a silver braided strand.”
“Because it’s too big for her fingers,” I said. “But if the ring’s not magical, there’s no reason to think the cord would be.”
“Think about the ‘smudge’ you detected,” Amaranth said. “A little trace of magic, rubbed off on the ring… now, I didn’t see it and you did, so maybe I’m wrong. But just imagine if you had a ring dangling on a cord and they reacted to each other alchemically, or maybe some paint wore off… would the results look something like what you saw?”
I tried to visualize it in my head, and found that I could. Unfortunately, it had been such a faint, fleeting image in the first place that I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t just imagining it looking like that because Amaranth had suggested it and I didn’t have a firmer picture than the one she was painting.
“It could be,” I said. “The position would be about right. But a lot of things could have made that mark.”
“Could they?” Amaranth said. “Somebody or something wearing the ring on their finger would have smeared their aura all over the inside of the band. Someone holding it would have produced a bigger impression, I’m sure. If it was magic that was affecting the ring, like something that had levitated it into Hazel’s pocket or teleported it to her, or a spell that was cast on it, I’d think the whole thing would be equally marked. But you’re the expert, baby. Like you said, you’re the wizard in training. Am I wrong?”
“…you’re not,” I said. “I mean, the thing is that I assumed it was more marked all over, and that what I saw was just the last little bit to leech away back into the ether. And it still could be that.”
“But how much simpler would it be if that was the only impression, or the strongest part?” Amaranth said. “The only magic that we know was ever on the magic directly was when it caught our eyes, and from everything you’ve ever said about glamour, making it more eye-catching like that wouldn’t have left much of an impression at all after it was over.”
“You’ve got that right,” I said.
“If the ring was worth checking out, the cord is, too.”
“That I can agree with.” A memory jarred. “She didn’t put it back on…”
“When I gave her the ring back, I thought she’d put it back on the chain,” I said. “She didn’t. She just slipped it in her pocket. Maybe it’s making something out of nothing. She didn’t know I was going to give her back the ring right then, so maybe the really, truly, not in any way suspicious thing is that she wasn’t carrying a chain around with her. But she said that what was going through her head when she gave it to me was that there were too many eyes on her at the party. If we were all staring at the ring, we were also staring at the chain…”
“I’m trying to think if I’ve seen her around since then, if she was wearing the chain,” Amaranth said. “But Hazel… it’s hard to pin down the details.”
“Well, let’s go find her, anyway.”
“Wait, if we do this, what exactly is your move?” I asked. “Are you going to roll up like a detective in a book making a summation? Even in the admittedly likely event that you’re right that it’s the cord, we don’t know exactly what it is that the cord is.”
“That’s a good point,” Amaranth said. “Maybe ideally we should set up a situation where we’re sitting down with Hazel, casually, and then we can broach the subject of the chain.”
“How exactly are you going to do that? Have one of us challenge the new Gilcrease Tower champion of soldier stones?”
“Well, actually, I thought we’d see if she’d go to dinner with us,” Amaranth said. “Seeing as we haven’t had dinner yet.”
“I’m sure she’s already eaten.”
“Baby, this is Hazel we’re talking about,” Amaranth said. “It’s going to take a pretty serious mental compulsion to make her say no to a second dinner. If we offer to spot her, it’s almost a lock.”
Maybe it was my own suspicions being raised, but I thought there was something suspicious in Hazel’s eyes when we appeared at her door, but Amaranth was all big eyes… well, not all eyes… and soft voice and the very soul of friendliness.
“You know, Mack was out of commission during our normal dinner time, and we don’t really like sitting alone in that big open room, especially since it’ll be a completely different crowd than we’re used to… we would really appreciate your company, Hazel. It would mean a lot.”
I didn’t think the odds were worth mentioning that Hazel was into Amaranth, since she would know if that were the case and she had never mentioned it. But somehow, I didn’t think you had to be attracted to women to have a hard time saying no to her. Or maybe Amaranth was right and Hazel just had a hard time saying no to food.
It wasn’t quite a lock, though.
“Alright, one condition, though,” Hazel said. “Let’s go back to the old dining hall in the union.”
“why, what’s wrong with the Student Life Center?” I asked. It was almost universally believed to have better food than the more typical cafeteria fare in the old dining hall. Hazel was well on her way to being an accomplished chef, and she already was an accomplished eater.
“Oh, it’s fine enough for me not to make a fuss now that everyone’s crowned it king,” Hazel said. “But the truth is, they try too hard. You’re not gonna get fine dining in an institutional establishment, if you know what I’m saying. Nothing wrong with dining hall fare, but when they start putting tarragon in the eggs and sprouts on the sandwiches it sort of reminds you of what you’re missing, you know? And because they spend more making it, they give you less of it.”
“It’s still all you can eat,” I said.
“All you can balance on a tray at a time,” Hazel said. “And while it’s well and good that they made this fancy new building to celebrate the harmony of the races, everything’s still sized for people twice as tall as I am. The old dining hall at least loads the plates down with enough to make it worth the trip.”
I couldn’t really argue with that, seeing as it was her experience. And I could sort of see her point about the food quality. There was a reason we’d stuck with the student union for breakfast, after all. You knew what you were getting with hearty fare like a great big metal serving vat of cheesy scrambled eggs, compared to the egg white omelets and stuff that showed up at the new place, and you got a lot more of it at once.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had dinner there,” Amaranth said. “I guess it’ll be nice, like a trip down memory lane. Or maybe a discovery, if they’ve changed the menu.”
“Nah, that place never changes,” Hazel said. “I try to get back there once or twice a month if I can. Should be pizza night tonight.”
I will say this for dining hall pizza: not having it every other week like it’s an imperial edict certainly improved the experience of eating it. I found I was even looking forward to it from the moment I first smelled the hot grease under the hot lights.
The rest of it? Well, it was sort of a nostalgia tour, but not much of one since I’d been there the morning before. It was more surreal than anything else, since my brain had filed it away as “the breakfast place”. Like an automaton, I almost stepped up and accepted a scoop of the pasty rice with slivers of alleged meat somewhat smaller than the grains of rice, since it occupied the same slot on the line as my beloved scrambled eggs.
Today’s interchangeable rice dish was labeled “beef curry”. I knew from experience it would be indistinguishable from the “chicken fried rice” I had the last time I’d had it.
“If you’re really still hungry after this, we can get something else,” Amaranth said at my elbow.
“I’m not, you know… hungry,” I said.
“You know what I mean,” she said. “Dissatisfied with what you’ve eaten.”
“I feel weird enough paying for one meal I don’t need every night,” I said.
“You want it,” she said. “That’s enough. Your life is better when you indulge the things that make you mortal, make you like other human folk, than when you don’t. There are needs, and there are needs.”
“I guess,” I said.
I felt bad for my obviously obvious internal grousing when I saw Amaranth went straight for the salad bar. At least I had choices… the vegetarian pickings were definitely better at the other place. I didn’t feel bad for long, though, if only because I was watching Amaranth walking away from me.
“Hey, now, pick up your jaw and pick up the pace,” Hazel said. She had two plates with giant pizza slices on them, stacked on top of each other, and had managed to collect a number of sides already. “I thought you didn’t want to eat alone? You stand there much longer and you’ll be just sitting down when I go back for seconds.”
“What do you call that?” I asked, pointing at the double-decker plates.
“Just making a respectable effort to see that you get your money’s worth.”