In Which Mackenzie Seeks Glory

When I got back from my not-a-date with Jamie, I found Amaranth waiting for me in the room. I felt a twinge of guilt at the pleased and expectant look on her face. Even though she wouldn’t have pushed me to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with, I knew her hopes sprang eternal that I would find myself more comfortable than I’d expected… now I’d have to tell her that not only had the evening gone nowhere, but that there wouldn’t be any future chances.

“Hey, you didn’t have to wait up,” I said.

“It’s not even ten yet,” she said.

“Wait around, then,” I said. “I know you’ve been giving me a lot of your nights lately… and I appreciate that… but I also know you have other obligations.”

“Oh, baby, you aren’t an obligation,” she said, wrapping her arms around me and pulling me in tight against her chest. “Not like that. The thing is, we’re officially living together, so seeing more of you is to be expected…”

“But not an obligation,” I teased.

“You know what I mean!”

“I do,” I said, and we shared a kiss.

“Anyway, I’ve become more efficient about feeding,” she said once we broke apart. “Even if that means I’m slacking on my duties a bit lately. But then, there are times when I’m out spreading the love around more, too. I think it’s more about the average in the long run than any given moment of time… but I’m getting off the trail here. I wanted to ask you what happened with Jamie!”

“Nothing,” I said. “Really, truly nothing.”

“Oh… well… you made it pretty clear that you didn’t think anything would happen,” she said. “But just because ‘nothing happened’ doesn’t mean that nothing happened, and I’d still like to know the details.”

“They aren’t very interesting,” I said. “And I’m not saying that to be evasive or anything, or because I’m ashamed of something or repressing something.”

“Oh, I can tell that, baby,” she said. “You’ve never been exactly subtle when there’s something going on you don’t want to face up to… but the thing is, I’ve spent the evening wondering what was going on and wishing I could be with you, or even just be a fly on the wall, so now that you’re back I really am interested, which means whatever you have to say will be interesting to me.”

“You really want to put that to the test?” I asked.

“I insist.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

So I talked, and she listened, the look on her face not changing much as she listened. I couldn’t figure out what she was so happy about, and then it started to occur to me that maybe it was more proud than pleased. She was proud that I’d gone through with it, and that made me happier about the whole thing by the time it was finished.

“It sounds like you had a nice enough time, anyway,” she said.

“Yeah… I think I might have had a nicer time if I’d gone with Ian, or you or Steff,” I said. “I didn’t think much of the whole casual dating thing, but after this I can definitely see the appeal more of casual dates. Like, even when I try to have a low-key night out that’s not a big production, making it low-key turns into a big production somehow. I guess I have to give him credit for that. And also, I wouldn’t have even thought to check out eateries nearby the campus if he hadn’t dragged me there.”

“You sound less grudging about that than I would have expected,” Amaranth said.

“Yeah, it’s weird,” I said, “but even though tonight’s pretty much convinced me that we shouldn’t ever get together like this again, I’m pretty much over most of my knee-jerk reaction to him. I mean, I don’t know that I’d say I like him, but I definitely think better of him.”

“See what happens when you take a chance on people?” Amaranth said.

“It’s not like I’ve never given anybody a chance before,” I said. “I’m just… getting more discerning about which people get which chances.”

“That’s a good lesson to learn,” she said. “One I need to learn, too… in fact, I think this is one area where I learn more slowly than you do.”

“It’s your nature to think the best of people,” I said. “That’s not a bad thing… at least, not inherently.”

“…then it’s maybe not inherently a good thing, either,” she said, almost wincing as she said it. “I’m supposed to be perfect by definition, but I’ve been starting to wonder whose definition, and what exactly it is.”

“I thought you were shaped by the ideals of the men who, um… fertilized you,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “But I don’t know if they were having an off-season or if there was something different in the air those days or what, because I just… I don’t know. Introspection doesn’t really come naturally to me, I’m sorry to say.”

“It seems to me like you’ve been doing a lot of it lately,” I said.

“Because I’m making an effort to,” she said. “Sometimes I look at you and I just see how much you’ve grown since we met, and I feel this… this colossal burst of pride in my heart about it, but then when that fades I feel a little sad because you’ve changed so much and I’m still pretty much the same. Which I guess is part of why I keep looking for things to distract me. And on that subject… now that I know what happened with you and Jamie, I wish I had some way of finding out what happened on Nicki’s date.”

“So, Nicki definitely did go out with Grace, then?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “I didn’t want you to be worrying about it while you were with Jamie, but Grace actually came over to our table during dinner and led her away somewhere. It was very cute. Grace’s mask kept slipping… not her actual facial cloth, I mean that elven thing they do with their faces… and she looked so nervous, and Nicki kept biting her lip. I guess you’ll find out what happened tomorrow when you see her in class, but I wish we could find out sooner.”

“Well… maybe we can?” I said, pulling out the compact with my pocket mirror in it.

“…does Nicki have a mirror?”

“No, but Glory does,” I said. I’d been thinking about contacting Glory to suggest she encourages her sister to hang out with us socially, but actually doing it would be a bit more forward than I was used to being. Amaranth’s eagerness gave me another excuse to do it… especially since, all things considered, I didn’t want to wait for tomorrow, either.

“Ooh,” Amaranth said.

I flipped the compact open and asked for Glory in Treehome, Prax Province. The mirror rippled and shimmered as it usually did… or maybe for a bit longer than it usually did. Then, the ripples froze and a face like an unpainted porcelain mask appeared and told me that no such person could be found.

“Is she not answering?” Amaranth asked.

“They can’t find her,” I said.

“Oh… Glory’s not her real name, is it?”

“That’s right,” I said. “Do you know any elven words that mean ‘glory’?”

“Well… if we’re talking about girls’ names, I’d try ‘Cleo’,” she said.

“That sounds good,” I said. “When Grace said her real name, I’m pretty sure it was a C-name, too, and since they’re practically twins by elven standards maybe the alliteration was intentional? I’ll try it.”

The second time, it still took a while, but I definitely caught the shift in the swirling motion that meant the mirror had located the right person and was waiting for them to respond. She took her sweet time in answering, but I didn’t close the mirror… I figured that there would probably be a social cost for answering too quickly.

The ripples did eventually resolve themselves into Glory’s face.

“Hello, my… helper-person in an unspecified position,” she said. “I’m glad to see you have respected my wishes by contacting me tonight.”

“Hello, your highness,” I said. Elves couldn’t see through walls or around corners, so I felt like I wouldn’t be giving anything away to any eavesdropping minions by rolling my eyes.

“Do you have anything to report?”

“No, I was actually hoping to find out what happened from you… I’ve been out most of the evening,” I said.

“Right, your night out with Bowman,” she said, nodding. I almost asked her how she knew, but then I realized we’d talked about it within earshot of her.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Thank you, that will be all,” she said to someone out of frame, and her face remained turned in that direction, presumably watching them go. “Okay, my attendant is out of the room, and this chamber is sound-warded, so we can be a little bit more free now. Anyway, do you plan to make a habit of that?”

“Of going out with Jamie?” I asked. “I really can’t see that happening, no… I’m pretty sure this was a one-time thing.”

“Good,” Glory said.

“Why… do you know something about him?” I asked. I’d thought to grill Jamie about Glory, but it hadn’t occurred to me that she might be able to tell me anything about him. Not that it had seemed too pressing to do so… my general belief going into it had been that I knew as much about him as I cared to.

“I know a little about him,” she said. “Mostly, it’s just the fact that it would complicate things for me if you became linked both to my court to and him, because of the prior claim.”

“Jamie told me it was over between him and Iason.”

“Yes, I thought it was, but… how do I put this in human terms?” she said. “Oh, I know! At what point does your ex stop being your ex?”

“If you don’t get back together, then never, I guess,” I said.

“Yes,” she said. “So here, Jamie will always be Iason Manblood’s ex-mount. If it seemed like I was claiming him as my own… especially without some serious conciliatory gestures in his direction first… well, that would be awkward.”

“Awkward?” I repeated.

“If we were both male, it would be something like a declaration of warfare, possibly mixed with me hitting on him, in a very dominant and challenging way,” she said. “But since we’re not… it’s hard to explain. Like a compound faux pas? People who aren’t gender-compatible aren’t supposed to snub each other that way, because the snub is supposed to mean things that it couldn’t possibly mean under those circumstances. So it would be like… there’s this thing here lying on the table, and what are we even supposed to do about it? It’s hard to explain, because we don’t even have words for this in our own language, really. It would just be a mess.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about a relationship between Jamie and me,” I said. “Though… I’m a little worried about how that would connect him to you even if we did get together. I don’t remember agreeing to any relationship with you. I’m your helper-person in an unspecified position, remember?”

“Hey, I haven’t actually claimed you or anything, and I won’t unless I have to, but… well, my interest in you is sort of a claim by itself,” she said.

“I don’t like the sound of that,” I said.

“It probably sounds more ominous to you than it really is,” she said. “But it’s like… chairs.”


“Shared furniture, in a public place,” she said. “They might not belong to you, but as long as you’re sitting in one, people are going to recognize it as yours, right?”

“I guess that makes sense,” I said. “It still rubs me a little bit the wrong way to think that working together towards the same goal translates to you making use of me.”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, it doesn’t, exactly, in my eyes,” she said. “But I can’t stop and clarify to all of Treehome that no, this is totally not like that… not without making both of us a target.”

“How would that make me a target?”

“Because someone might want to put my explicit lack of a claim over you to the test,” she said. “It wouldn’t be the best excuse, but people who are always on the lookout for one don’t tend to be picky about them. I should know, since I’m looking for them, too.”

“What are you looking for excuses to do?” I asked, since she didn’t seem to be interested in starting wars or other drama.

“Never you mind,” she said. “It’s just a dream of mine… one I’ve been harboring almost since I got here, but will probably never happen. If it does, you’ll probably find out, but it wouldn’t even begin to affect you.”

“Okay,” I said. “I trust you… I mean, obviously you’d have stuff going on that’s got nothing to do with this or with me.”

“Good, because I was afraid you were starting to have second thoughts about our arrangement.”

“I always have second thoughts,” I said. “And third, and fourth… but I’m not backing out. I actually reflected you for two things… so I could find out what happened tonight, and so I could share an idea that came to me tonight.”

“You were working on this while you were out with Bowman?” she said. “I appreciate your loyalty… to the cause, I mean!”

“It kind of just came to me,” I said. “I think it would be helpful if you encouraged Grace to join us as a group.”

Glory’s face stilled.

“You aren’t interested in my sister, are you?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “Even if I was… I’d rather Nicki was happy. I wouldn’t do that to a friend.”

“Okay,” she said. “Because… it wouldn’t be a deal-breaker if you were, but dishonesty would be. Believe it or not, I’m not doing this for the intrigue.”

“That’s not hard to believe at all… I don’t do anything for intrigue,” I said.


“No,” I said. “My life is more complicated than I like it even without any particular effort on my part. If anything, I try to make it simpler.”

“Well, I can see how getting Grace to hang out with you when she’s with Nicki would make things simpler. That way you won’t have to do as much checking up on them,” Glory said. “It also advances your goals, because you want Nicki to hang out with you more often, and if Grace is suggesting it then she’s more likely to do so.”

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

“Hadn’t you?”


“It might also help Grace,” Glory said. “I mean, she doesn’t have it bad here, I don’t think, but having a life outside of Treehome would be better. And also, I have a feeling her relationship with Nicki will burn out less quickly if it’s not just running off to have sex immediately.”

“So… that’s what happened tonight?”

“Pretty much… I got some more specifics out of Grace, but I have a feeling you don’t actually want them?”

“The broad strokes about whether they had a good time,” I said. “Grace is definitely back with you, then?”

“Yeah, she had a strict curfew. It was my one necessary concession to my power and her position. At first I actually considered stopping her at the entrance to the center and telling her I’d changed my mind and she wasn’t allowed to dine with us, but in the end I just told her that she was free to have fun with her girlfriend,” she said. “This queen stuff is kind of a fine line sometimes… too much stuff that looks like I’m bending over backwards to please my courtiers can make me look weak. Also, what’s the point of being a queen if I can’t even do what I please every once in a while?”

“You won’t have any argument from me there,” I said.

“Why would I?”

“…that’s just a way of saying that I agree with you,” I said.

“Is that significant?”

“I see your point, is what I mean,” I said. “I understand what you’re saying.”

“Oh, yes!” Glory said. “That is important. It is good to know that I’m making myself understood. Anyway, the, uh, broad strokes are that Grace took Nicki back to her room and they spent two hours together, doing various things. I’m afraid the arbitrary time constraint meant there was less progress on the whole getting to actually know each other than there was the first time around, but they might be getting more comfortable around each other? I’ve been teetering on the verge of ordering Grace to abstain from sex for a period or finding an excuse to order her to do something socially with her new lover, but it was hard to figure out how to play that.”

“Yeah, I can’t see how that would work,” I said. “With this, you could say it’s for your amusement, since you’re already being entertained by us.”

“You catch on faster than I would have expected!” she said. “Yes, the idea you gave me is so much better… I’ll be taking credit for that, by the way. Just a heads-up, so you’re not surprised.”

“Somehow, I’m really not.”

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17 Responses to “Chapter 160: Moments of Reflection”

  1. Thank you for your patience!

    Current score: 2
    • Rafinius says:

      You spoil us. I really didn’t expect the break to be such a short one. Great chapter by the way.

      Current score: 1
  2. Ben L says:

    I am excited to read the continuation of our main story! Thanks AE!

    Current score: 0
  3. N. says:

    Meaty, yet laid-back; a filling, easy read. This chapter has me looking forward to more without dipping into the throes of desperation. And I definitely liked the chitchat; dialogue with Glory is so curiously uplifting. Or maybe I just really enjoy her combined frankness and turns of phrase.

    Current score: 0
  4. pedestrian says:

    These conversations between Mackenzie and Amaranth, then between Mackenzie and Glory seem rather nebulous.

    As if in both cases, the three women were debating the meaning of the terms they speak and negotiating mutual interpretation of the words of each sentence.

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      I think that’s pretty much a definition of any conversation with Mack.

      Current score: 0
      • Oni says:

        Conversations with Mack are somewhat like having a thesaurus tossed into a wood-chipper and immediately blasted into your face; half of the material is of questionable value at best, and every now and again you have some random bit get blasted into your gob. I knew people like that in college (and at least one good example now), but they were usually high as all hell (as is the current example).

        Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      Mack’s learned: When you’re dealing with elves, especially the middlings, you MUST know exactly how they’re using the words and what they mean by them. And because they’re part of a very manipulative culture and/or subculture, safety for an outsider like Mack depends on clarity, which means there’s a lot of making clear where you stand and why.

      Current score: 0
  5. Zukira Phaera says:

    Nommy chapter, much enjoyed. I rather like Glory.

    Also was tickled to have a few updates to read on wander.

    Current score: 0
  6. DevanGelic says:

    I’m trying to say the following without possible spoilers… but it is difficult.

    Is the part with Amaranth saying “averaging out” her “obligations” foreshadowing the scenes dealing with her actions “Under the Library, in the Catacombs?” and her sister’s confrontation about them when Amaranth “debases” her about her transgressions in the eyes of their Mother?

    Current score: 0
    • Abeo says:

      I assumed she was simply talking about her “obligations” to those she is available to sexually. She used to make a big deal of catering to individual fantasies, to make each experience really good. But that’s not as efficient in terms of time or “nutrition” for her, and now she’s spreading out the love. More individuals get served to a lesser, though still adequate and enjoyable, degree and she’s better fed for it.

      Current score: 0
      • Brenda says:

        Not only does it sustain Amaranth herself, but also her field back home. I assumed that was the obligation referred to – she still has to sustain the field while she’s away.

        Current score: 0
    • JS says:

      Whaaaaaat? What is this about? I do not remember this!!

      Current score: 0
  7. Zathras IX says:

    I need a Helper-
    Person in a specified
    Position (or two)

    Current score: 0
  8. Mist42nz says:

    Nice chapter. Brings the two worlds together in a realistic way, very hard to do without artificial common ground. Both trying so hard to be polite and understood for their own goals, obviously trying to listen – rather than just talk AT each other, but coming from such different worlds.

    Current score: 0
  9. Erm says:

    Once again, Mack finds out that you Can’t Argue With Elves.

    Current score: 0
  10. Dheviin says:

    Wow, now that was one heck of an archive-crawl! I was turned onto MU by a friend, started on book 1 chapter 1, and immediately became glued to my screen, coming up for air and food only occasionally for the better part of three weeks! You have an amazing talent, AE, and I want to express how delighted I am that you have chosen to share it with the world in this format. I love how you’ve managed to build such a rich world, while keeping definite overarching plot, thematic motifs, and all the little bits of humor and slice-of life flavor that bring it all to life. There are parts of the story that don’t work for me, and things I’d wish you’d do more of, but I understand that it’s not possible to make a work of this scope and have it be custom-fitted to everyone’s personal tastes, and overall it’s still one of my favorite works of fiction that I’ve read in a long, LONG time. In all, I’m a little sad that I’ve caught up with the posts, as now I don’t just have to click ‘Next’ to get more of this story!

    TLDR version: Thanks AE for brightening my last few weeks, and I can’t wait for more!

    Current score: 0