Chapter 86: People, Problems, Particulars

on May 9, 2012 in Volume 2 Book 3: Figments & Fragments, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Hazel Shares Old-Fashioned Values

Apparently it was Steff’s turn to ride to my rescue… while I was standing there trying to figure out how to make sense of my situation with Mercy to Nicki, she stepped up and said that a crazy slaver with a thing for half-demons had a bounty out for me, which seemed to cover the important points in a way that worked for a brief, public conversation.

Even with the worst parts being temporarily elided, I still expected Nicki to react with horror to what she was hearing… and while her eyes did go wide at the idea, she seemed more horrified on my behalf than she was horrified to learn that she’d associated herself with someone who’d found herself becoming such a target.

“That’s really awful, Mack,” she said.

“It isn’t awesome,” I said. “I’m sorry I didn’t think to tell you…”

“Why would you?” she said. “I mean, it doesn’t really affect me , and you’ve got so many things like this going on in your life…”

“I don’t think any of the other things that have happened to me are exactly like this,” I said. “Though I guess I’ve had my share of things happening to me that are alike in the sense that they would be hard to categorize otherwise…”

“Yeah,” Nicki said. “I guess while I really can’t say I expected this… it’s the sort of thing I expected happened to you. Anyway, I’m amazed at how calm you are, considering what almost just happened.”

“I’m more amazed at how calm Two and Hazel were, since they’re the ones who handled it. I think I would have been shaking if I’d said anything… but only because I was upset and don’t like confrontations,” I said. “Mercy can’t really do anything other than let people know she’ll pay for me… which is more embarrassing and inconvenient than anything else. Selene might have been unclear about my legal status, but Mercy isn’t. Even if my friends weren’t awesome people who have my back, it’s not like any of you actually could sell me into slavery. Not in a way that would hold up.”

“I don’t know… rich people can get away with a lot sometimes,” Nicki said.

“Yeah, but I think Mercy’s already using up her allotment of a lot on other things,” I said. “She likes to brush right up against the line in as many ways as possible… which I suppose makes her more dangerous in general than someone who was careful to stay out of gray areas, but I don’t know. I think it would really only take one sensational enough irregularity in her slave acquisition channels to bring the whole thing down, because there are enough people waiting and watching for an excuse to do that anyway.”

“Still, it would suck if that irregularity were you,” Nicki said. “I mean, what if she were able to get you out of the country with her before it all came crashing down?”

‘I… hadn’t actually thought of that,” I said.

I knew that Mercy wouldn’t give up her freedom to get me, because there would be no point in that… but if the value she placed on me ever exceeded the value of her operations in Magisteria, nothing in the world would likely prevent her from absconding with me. It was a sobering thought.

I suddenly wondered about the status of the surviving female half-demon I knew she’d acquired.

Was she still surviving?

It might be good to find out.

From a distance.


“There are some benches around the corner,” Hazel said. “I think some of us could maybe use a few moments to collect ourselves.”

I nodded in gratitude, since the part of my brain that was in charge of my mouth was still working its way around the new perspective Nicki had given me.

“That’s a good idea,” Two said, and we headed for them.

“Thanks,” I said to Hazel as I got my tongue back. “Thank you. And you, too, Two… for, you know…”

“Oh, you would have done the same,” Hazel said. “I’m sure of it.”

“You’d be right,” Two said. “And you are welcome, Mack… but you should be more careful. Your friend Nicki is right, and also, there are legal ways you could become someone’s slave. Otherwise, Mercy would not bother to tell people about it.

“Yeah, but all the legal ways pretty much all involve me agreeing to it,” I said.

“That’s why you should be careful,” Two said, and she had a point.

“Anyway, it was a distinctly satisfying pleasure, for me,” Hazel said, and she appeared to mean it. I could easily imagine any number of bigger and tougher-looking people withering under the weight of Madame Selene’s hate, but Hazel looked like she was absolutely fireproof and standing firm on her own two feet, even if she would have blushed to hear me say it. The woman’s words had somehow washed over her without touching her.

I knew there was no way I could have been as cool under pressure as she had been, but even on the rare occasions when I’d been able to halfway fake such a thing, I’d been left shaking and drained as soon as the immediate need for coolness was over… like I’d drawn on an advance line of steadiness that had to be paid back with interest.

We sat down on a long bench, Steff on the end and me next to her, with Nicki on my other side.

“Can I ask another question?” Nicki asked, this time directed at Hazel.

“Nothing wrong with an inquisitive nature,” Hazel said. “Ask anyone.”

“Is, um… I mean… well, Two said that Selene said the h-word… well… I’d always thought that was just a kind of old-fashioned word for gnomes,” Nicki said. “Is it… bad? I mean, she said it like it was, but I’ve read it in books and heard it… that is… I’ve heard it…”

“From your grandparents, right?” Hazel said.

“My parents, actually,” Nicki said, chagrined. “But they didn’t say it like they meant anything rude by it, so I didn’t think… well, I didn’t know. So I’m asking.”

“Do you think I’m worth half of you?” Hazel asked.

“I think I’d like to be worth half of you!” Nicki said.

“That’s a compliment, and I’ll take it as one, but the truth is you aren’t half of anything,” Hazel said. “You’re an entire human. You’re all you. Even with an elf parent and a human parent, Steff here is entirely herself.”

“Some days more than others,” Steff said.

“The h-word is something that tallfolk… humans, mostly… call us because when they can be bothered to think of us at all, they do so in terms of themselves,” Hazel said. “So, I’m not average height, I’m short. The strongest gnome fighter is weak. We’re not just small, we’re diminished… in every way. Half as big. Half as smart. Half as good. We’ve half as much right to anything.”

“Not under the law, though,” Nicki said.

“The law isn’t what people consult before deciding if someone is entitled to take up a bit of space in their view,” Hazel said. “Anyway, that’s what ‘halfling’ means. Just half. Not whole.”

“Wow,” Nicki said. “I can’t believe she just said it to you, then. I mean, she’s nasty and a slaveholder, but she seemed… not nice, but… proper, I guess?”

Hazel shrugged.

“I’ve been called worse, by my own… my mother’s kinfolk, and they’re as ‘proper’ as you could ask for,” she said. “Before last year, even. If they thought I was half of anything worth being, it would mean I’d risen in their estimation… and that’s not anything I have any real ambition to do.”

“What happened last year?” Nicki asked.

“That’s private, Nicki,” Two said.

“No harm in her asking, love,” Hazel said. “Or in me answering. Nobody has a right to know, but I have a right to tell… what happened was I didn’t have a baby.”

“They wanted you to?”

“Not particularly, I can’t imagine,” Hazel said. “Especially not this one. But once a body of folks decide they know what’s best for you, there are few things that will drive them around the next bend faster than you making up your own mind about anything that actually matters.”

“Oh,” Nicki said, in a way that suggested she didn’t quite understand.

Oh,” she repeated again a moment later, in a way that suggested that she now did, right about the same time that I figured it out, too.

“Yep,” Hazel said, nodding. “There it goes.”


“The usual way, I expect, at least among humans,” Hazel said. “Though since it was just the once for me, I couldn’t say… it took me a while to wrap my head around what was happening, but once I had it sorted out, I… got it sorted out. I came into town one weekend. Andy, my man… he’d offered to come, but I thought it was best handled by myself. Shiel begged me to take him, thought I’d need a well-armed and muscular lad, for some reason…”

“Wait… Shiel thought you needed a man’s protection?” Steff asked. I wouldn’t have put it quite as bluntly, but I was thinking the same thing.

“Yeah, she seemed to be in fear for me from the moment she learned what was up. I didn’t think much of it until I got to the women’s clinic and found it surrounded by a picket of folks with warhammers and signboards and things,” Hazel said. “Made me a bit nervous, but whatever they were there for, they didn’t pay me any mind. There were some papers to fill out and I had to do some talking to convince anyone I was of age to make up my own mind about my own body, and then I took an herbal preparation and that was it. I had to come back for a follow-up in a week since Andy’s a dwarf and apparently that makes the whole thing a bit less predictable, but… that was it. You want to ask another question, I think.”

It was written all over Nicki’s face, right under the line that spelled out how embarrassed she was to be thinking whatever it is she was desperate to ask.

“Go on,” Hazel said, giving her a small smile. “I told you, there’s no harm in asking. I know you’re good folk and if I don’t want to answer, I’ll say so, politely, and expect that to be enough.”

“Okay,” Nicki said. “Do gnomes… know about those things?”

“What, you think we’re too old-fashioned?” Hazel asked. “Okay, I did pick up some, er, bad information regarding the facts of life along the way, but it takes a ‘modern’ kind of woman… someone like Shiel, or Mack here… to not know what you do when you find yourself in a certain condition. We call them the facts of life because it used to be that if you didn’t know them you could catch your death of ignorance.”

“Oh,” Nicki said.

“Listen, let me tell you something about old-fashioned, because gnomes remember what humans forget,” Hazel said. “Not a couple centuries ago, if a human woman found herself inconveniently late, she could pop down to any apothecary for an herbal restorative to put things right and no one would say ‘boo’ about it.”


“To restore her cycle,” Hazel said. “Her monthly… you know. Her monthlies. It wasn’t ending anything, it was just… correcting an irregularity.”

“They didn’t know…?”

“They knew,” Hazel said. “They just had a different perspective. Some gnomes still do, though there is no principle held so firmly nor fondly it can’t be set aside to more conveniently judge others. It isn’t so much what I did about the condition as how I attained it… the fact that I attained it… that they found objectionable, and the fact that I did anything about it just gives evidence of that. You can bet it would be a different matter if any one of them needed to do the same. Probably, for some of them, it already has been a different matter.”

“I’d think they’d be more understanding, if they’d gone through it themselves,” Nicki said.

Hazel shrugged.

“Way of the world,” she said. “Gnomes aren’t tiny humans and humans aren’t giant gnomes, but we’re all people, nonetheless, and people are happy to judge each other according to what they think of as standards, while thinking their own particular case is, well… particular. It’s different for you because you have reasons, everybody else just has excuses. You know? Anyway, it’s not really anything I did that made me persona non grata up in the hill, but what I did is something they can talk about without embarrassing any of their own.”

For a while nobody said anything else, because Hazel had said her piece on the subject and there didn’t seem to be anything for anyone else to say. It was a little sobering to consider that anyone around me could be dealing with their own problems that were also matters of life-and-death. Hazel was one of the most normal people I knew, for several values of “normal”… but even without being a half-demon or having had her life enmeshed with anything more than a usually amorous and virile young man didn’t make her course through life a straight, smooth, unbroken line from one point to another.

“Well, that’s enough rambling about my freshman follies,” Hazel said. “Two, why don’t we see what we can find in the open stalls? Might be safer that way. If we can’t find what we need there, then we can try the larger stores where there will more likely be a crowd of people.”

“That’s a good plan,” Two said, snapping out her hand orb. “Would you like to go get something to eat while I figure out our new route?”

“That’s a better plan,” Hazel said.

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35 Responses to “Chapter 86: People, Problems, Particulars”

  1. Zathras IX says:

    As Nicki observed
    Rich people can get away
    With a lot sometimes

    Current score: 1
  2. Joshua says:

    Typo reports:

    “me , and” has an extra space before the comma.

    “it used to be that if you could catch your death of ignorance.” … I think the “if” should be deleted?

    Current score: 0
    • Elxir says:

      Actually, it would make more sense if like so…
      “it used to be that, if you could catch your death of ignorance.”
      Though to be honest, with comma or without “if”, it works either way.

      Current score: 0
      • Lunaroki says:

        Typo Report

        ‘I… hadn’t actually thought of that,” I said.

        Quoted portion of the sentence starts with a single quote rather than a double quote.

        but even without being a half-demon or having had her life enmeshed with anything more than a usually amorous and virile young man * didn’t make her course through life a straight, smooth, unbroken line from one point to another.

        The “but even without … didn’t make” portion of the sentence reads rather awkwardly. Placing a “that” in front of “didn’t” would clarify things and make the sentence flow more smoothly.

        Current score: 0
  3. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    ‘“To restore her cycle,” Hazel said. “Her monthly… you know. Her < em..="" it="" wasn't="" ending="" anything,="" was="" just…="" correcting="" an="" irregularity."

    “They didn’t know…?” ‘

    Everything after “You know. Her” seems to have been eaten by HTML or something. I can’t even see any of Hazel’s words after that; the borked HTML just appeared when I c/ped it.

    Current score: 0
  4. Computer Mad Scientist says:

    Wait, why is Nikki believing something Steff of all people is saying about Mackenzie?

    Current score: 0
    • Ace says:

      Possibly because this isn’t a situation where joking would be appropriate, and she expected that Steff would realize that.

      Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      Because Mackenzie didn’t deny it this time.

      Current score: 0
  5. Asimov says:

    Maybe this has been addressed, but there is both a missing quote here


    “To restore her cycle,” Hazel said. “Her monthly… you know. Her{(perhaps an ellipsis too?)”}

    “They didn’t know…?”]

    and here:

    “Well, that’s enough rambling about my freshman follies,” Hazel said. “Two, why don’t we see what we can find in the open stalls? “[****What happened here? Did we change speakers, or did I just miss something?*****] Might be safer that way. If we can’t find what we need there, then we can try the larger stores where there will more likely be a crowd of people.”

    Thank you for the story!

    Current score: 0
  6. Kaila says:

    I want to hug Hazel. She is awesome.

    Current score: 1
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      Yes, and I think deep down she could use a hug.

      Current score: 0
  7. Dani says:

    > but whatever they were there for, they didn’t pay me any mind

    Funny how that works. 🙂

    Current score: 0
  8. Electra says:

    Thanks for writing this here, AlexandraErin. I’m glad these two issues are addressed so forthrightly, even if through fiction.
    I’ve been through similar things as Hazel. Though… my dwarf was much taller, and didn’t carry an ax. And “gaijin” means perpetual-outsider-never-insider, not half-worth, though it might as well mean that.

    Current score: 1
  9. Readaholic says:

    Wow. A reminder of just how crazy things can get in our world, through People protesting with warhammers? Though the gnomish defence worked beautifully.

    Current score: 0
  10. Zergonapal says:

    If Mercy did kidnap Mack, I wonder if Callahan would use that as excuse to have it out with her?

    Current score: 0
    • Erianaiel says:

      I doubt it.
      I have the impression that the two are in some kind of twisted contest to see who of them attains godhood first.
      Callahan trying to teach Mackenzie to defend herself however might be a way to thwart her rival while at the same time setting up somebody who might in the future become an adversary interesting enough.

      Current score: 0
      • Krey says:

        Callahan, having killed gods, I doubt aspires to godhood (godliness, divinity?). At the same time, I doubt she would step in to defend Mack, though I’m sure she is 100% aware of Mercy’s designs on our heroine and this is some part of her motivation to help Mack learn to defend herself.

        Current score: 0
  11. pedestrian says:

    Alexandra, congratulations on writing such a strong expression of three important issues.

    The first explaining the Mercy issue to Nicki, really moves the storyline along.

    The second and third issues, continue to fill in background on hanging plot points.

    While providing succinct and coherent abstract of two important Our World issues. How do We define Others and what liberty does the individual have over their life choices.

    Current score: 0
  12. Tigger says:

    This line. I love this line: We call them the facts of life because it used to be that if you could catch your death of ignorance.

    Current score: 1
  13. JS says:

    Gah! Totally confirmed it for me! Hazel and Honey assumed each others’ identities once they got to MU!

    Current score: 0
  14. Erm says:

    whatever they were there for, they didn’t pay me any mind

    That not-being-noticed thing can be very useful…

    Current score: 0
  15. Arakano says:

    What the what now, JS? oO I… WHAT?

    Also, I am pissed off whenever one of Mack’s partners tread her wish not to submit to Two like something funny, and decide to walk all over said wish. Yes, Mack COULD use her safeword if it ever went too far, but so far, we have never actually seen her use it at all, have we? Just because a sub has a safeword does not mean the sub is ready to use it when needed – their partners should make sure that the sub IS ready for its use without being ashamed or worried or even “reluctant out of wanting to be a good sub” about it, or else the whole consent-question can become problematic…

    Current score: 0
    • 'Nym-o-maniac says:


      Current score: 0
    • Holodrum says:

      In point of fact, Mack has used her safeword once that we know of. I believe it was when she and Steff were sharing the giant hotel suite, before the giant meal of virgin human meat and Mur-si showed up.

      Otherwise, your point is very accurate.

      Current score: 1
    • ASeriesOfWords says:

      Not that I disagree, but Mack actually has used her safeword at least once before, albeit in written form.

      Current score: 0
      • Arakano says:

        Thanks for the reminder, guys. Good point. Still… in written form, right? And in a one-on-one intimate situation, not out in front of a group.
        Anyway, I just feel uncomfortable whenever this disregard for Mack’s protests on this issue comes up.

        Current score: 0
        • anon says:

          I feel that mack will use her safe word when there is a need and two has in no way overstepped the bounds of a big sister. I have no doubt that mack would safe word if two tried to perform a public spanking. I think mack has not safe worded because two is using her powers for good.

          Current score: 1
  16. hueloovoo says:

    I discovered a new word today: “elide.” I thought perhaps it was a misspelling of “elude” but in fact I find it means to omit (a sound or syllable) while speaking, and it seems Steff omitted several sounds in that short retelling of Mercy’s interaction with Mack.

    I like increasing my vocabulary.

    Current score: 0
  17. shine says:

    I wonder if Shiel was worried about the folks with hammers and signs, or if she was thinking about
    the more “kill it with fire” approach involved in terminating a goblinoid brood.

    Current score: 0
    • Kevin Brown says:

      If there is one thing I didn’t particularly need to take away from a fantasy series the gestational facts about goblins is probably it. That said it adds great spice to a Pathfinder game.

      Current score: 0
  18. anon y mouse says:

    “I guess while I really can’t say I expected this… it’s the sort of thing I expected happened to you.” – to happen to you, maybe?

    Current score: 0
  19. Zukira Phaera says:

    Beautiful chapter AE

    Current score: 0
  20. Um the Muse says:

    My favorite line from this chapter: “there is no principle held so firmly nor fondly it can’t be set aside to more conveniently judge others.”

    I’m going to use this line as my signature in the forums that I frequent (with citation, of course); I hope that you don’t mind. If you do, feel free to shoot me an e-mail to let me know.

    Current score: 0
  21. Ermarian says:

    The “halfling” discussion was interesting because the word has been used in literature for ages without consideration of how it must sound to the gnomes/hobbits themselves.

    I can’t quote Tolkien off the top of my head, but in hindsight it seems that they always referred to themselves as “hobbits”, while the “tallfolk” called them halflings all the time.

    That brings a whole new in-universe dimension to the “racism in fantasy” debate (previously focused on the way “swarthy” was practically synonymous with “evil” in Middle-Earth, which really was out-of-character racism).

    Current score: 1
  22. Rook says:

    Wait… why did Hazel need to go to some woman’s clinic? The campus healing center provides free healing, and we know that they can deal with pregnancies because Mack went there after the shared dreaming incident in volume 1.

    Current score: 0