271: Mother Knows Best

on August 20, 2008 in Book 10

In Which Amaranth Is Ordered To Open Her Orifices

Amaranth pushed past Dee and almost bowled Honey over in her dash out the door. Steff and I followed, and Dee disappeared… I guess back to her room. The goblinoids’ door was open, and Shiel and Oru were staring at the TV with disbelief.

My first thought was that there had to have been some mistake, because the woman on the screen was obviously not a goddess… then I realized she was just introducing a segment.

“…asked for commentary from parents and family of MU students, we didn’t expect to hear from anybody quite as, ah, highly placed as the universal mother herself. Nevertheless, she has made herself manifest here in the Imperial Botanical Park, site of a day-long music festival in her honor, in order to answer our call.”

The view shifted back to a figure seated on a wicker bench. The image wasn’t quite focusing right around her face, but it was very obviously the figure of a woman. The skirt of her dress looked like it was made of branches and vines, and it appeared to actually be growing into the ground… actually, it probably was. Leaves and branches twined through her hair as well, and she had a crown or hat that incorporated a bird’s nest.

“Oh, my goddess! Hello, Mother Khaele… hello!” Amaranth gushed, waving frantically at the TV. She reddened. “Oh, she can’t hear me.”

Just at that moment, the image in the box lifted one hand and made a small wave. It could have just been an acknowledgment of the camera or the host or something… but on the other hand… who really knew?

“Can you actually look at that?” Steff asked me. “Safely?”

“It’s TV,” I said. “Illusion of sanctity isn’t sanctity… it’s like looking at a picture of a basilisk.”

“Shh!” Amaranth said, with a fervor that was frighteningly Sooni-like. “Don’t talk while she’s on!”

There was some effect from seeing Mother Khaele in Oru’s undersized old TV, even if it came from the intellectual knowledge that I was looking upon a real, living goddess… the living goddess, the mother of everyone… and of my Amaranth in particular.

It was humbling.

The knowledge that her presence would have obliterated me, in person, was humbling, too.

The camera pulled back and there was a reporter standing some distance away. It was hard to tell because he was more in the foreground, but it seemed as though even seated the goddess was towering over him.

The reporter looked at the camera, and then half-turned to the seated goddess. He looked nervous… I guess that was understandable. She gave a sort of half nod. Her expression was still unreadable, literally, but he seemed to take encouragement.

“This is Roger Stanby with the Imperial News Network, here at the location of the twenty-sixth annual Celesta Music Festival, where the goddess Khaele herself has been known to put in personal appearances. Today, she has chosen not only to manifest to her followers but to us at INN,” the reporter said. “Mother Khaele, I understand you actually have… what, creations… children… attending Magisterius University right now? In the same dorm as the exhibitionist dark elf and the demonblood?”

I think you’ll find I played my part in the creation of almost all of the current students, actually,” she answered. “but, yes, two of my sons and two of my daughters are currently residing there.

“Isn’t that a little unusual?”

“Fauns and satyrs are by their nature inquisitive. Nymphs tend to be a little more… reclusive. But, nature contains a wondrous variety, and this is not the first time that any have been coaxed into the sphere of men,” she said.

“I don’t imagine so,” the reporter said. “But all the same, is it safe to say that they are unusual, uh, specimens?”

“They are unique, the same as anything else. I’m naturally very fond of them, as I am of all of my children… all of creation, really,” the goddess said. “Even when they occasionally try my patience.” She put her hands on her knees. If it wasn’t for the fact that her skirt seemed to consist of plants that were growing out of her, I’d say she was straightening it. “Frequently.”

“I… uh…” the reporter stammered. He seemed to be at a total loss.

“All of my children are very dear to me, Larry…”

“Roger, actually.”

“Don’t interrupt your Universal Mother when she’s talking, Larry,” Mother Khaele said. “All of my children are very dear to me, but some of them require more of my nigh-boundless attention than others. Do you know what ‘nigh’ means? Not quite. Not quite boundless. My children are supposed to be my eyes and hands in the world… and of course, I am always present if they need my help in return, but when one of them takes up so much of my time with her problems… well, one of my more challenging daughters has been having even more problems than usual since she crossed paths with the Mackenzie Blaise child.”

“Ooh, I hope Barley isn’t watching this,” Amaranth said. “I would almost question Mother Khaele’s wisdom in airing her dirty… stuff… in public.”

I didn’t think the goddess was talking about Barley, but I didn’t know how to say it. I must have done as good a job as I usually do at disguising the look on my face, but Amaranth still managed to misread it.

“Oh, she doesn’t mean it’s your fault, baby,” she said. “Barley’s just… having a hard time adjusting to college life.”

“Mother Khaele, if I may ask… you are among the more active of the major powers, but to my knowledge you’ve never spoken with a major news network before now. Why have you decided to grace us with your presence?”

“How long have there been major news networks to address? Never mind that, Larry. I heard you were talking to the concerned parents of students, and I wanted somebody to talk to. It was too serendipitous to ignore.”

“So you’re concerned about the half-demon and the damage that she could do?”

“What damage could she do?”

“Well, for reference, a previous half-demon student is personally credited with fifty-some deaths and considerable property damage, in a riot that claimed hundreds.”

I cringed thinking about how many MU students and their parents might be watching.While it wasn’t exactly an imperial secret, that wasn’t something they put in the brochures.

The goddess in the TV was less than perturbed, though.

“Nobody died who wouldn’t have died in the course of things,” Mother Khaele said. “The buildings that fell would not have stood forever.”

“But they weren’t natural deaths,” the reporter said.

“Weren’t they?”

“I suppose you would be the expert there,” the reporter said. “But fifty people gone, all at once… that must give you some pause?”

“One, two, three… four five… six, seven, eight, nine… ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen,” Mother Khaele said. “Fifteen… sixteen-seventeen-eighteen-nineteen, ooh, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight… twenty-nine… thirty… and… wait for it… thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four…

“Er, forgive the interruption, Mother Khaele, but what are you doing?”

“Counting the people who die while we sit here,” she said. “Oh, right there. Fifty. There you are.”

“I… see. So, what is the source of your concern, then?”

“I am concerned for my daughter… not her life, whose eventual end is more likely to be at the hands of man than demon. I don’t believe she knows what she’s getting into, and I do not believe what she is doing will be good for her growth as a living being. In the normal course of events, I would allow my child to make her own mistakes… in my considerable experience, there are no problems that aren’t self-correcting in the long run,” she said. “But, the world is changing, and the role of nymphs is changing in the way that the role of many plants and animals have changed with the ascendancy of men. If their role changes, does that not change mine? She’s been sending me articles from parenting magazines… my errant daughter has, I mean. They suggest that I should have an active role in her affairs, but that I should also keep my distance… the concept of maintaining a balance is one I’m very well acquainted with, but I find myself at a loss.”

“Barley sends her those, too?” Amaranth said quietly. “She always turned up her nose at my sacrifices… she said Mother would rather have… rather… oh.”

“Amy…” Steff said as Amaranth sank down to the floor in shock.

“She… she isn’t talking about Barley, is she?” Amaranth said. I moved closer to her, tried to climb into her lap, but she wasn’t being particularly receptive and so I more or less just balanced on her knee. “It’s me… I’m the ‘errant’ one.”

“She said she loves you,” I said.

“She has to… she loves all of us!” Amaranth said. “But Barley attacked you, baby… she goes around wearing clothes in public. How is she not the one that Mother Khaele is complaining about on TV?”

“Have you tried talking about this with your daughter, Mother Khaele?”

“I talk, but she doesn’t listen.”

“Well, that’s something I think most parents could sympathize with,” the reporter said. “Do you have any comment on the naked dark elf?”

“Clothing is a clever bit of improvisation for the furless races, but it hardly seems necessary to make a fuss when somebody chooses to forego it,” Mother Khaele said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me… three hundred fifty-two… there’s about to be a pretty large… well, that would be telling. I really have to be going, though.”

“Before you go, is there anything you’d like to say to your daughter, assuming she’s watching?”

“Clean out your ears, dear.”

“Thank you very much for your time, Mother Khaele.”

“But my ears are clean!” Amaranth said to the TV. She pushed me aside and got to her feet as the image of the goddess faded away. “Mother, they are… categorically!”

“Amy, hon,” Steff said. “I think she means…”

“It’s a trick!” Amaranth said, getting to her feet. “That was an illusion.”

“I don’t think so,” Steff said.

“So, that’s what a human god looks like,” Shiel said. “Ours are a bit… lumpier.”

“And they have more eyes,” Oru added. “Lots more.”

“Or sometimes none,” Shiel said. “And we don’t pray to them so much as pray they don’t wake up.”

“That was not Mother Khaele,” Amaranth said. “And anyway, she’s hardly a ‘human’ goddess. She’s the Universal Mother, the font of all life.”

“She isn’t my mother,” Shiel said.

“Or my font,” Oru added. “What’s a font?”

“Oh, whatever,” Amaranth said. Her fingernails were digging into her thighs.

“Look, we only let you in because Honey said that was your mom in the box, and she’s gone now, whoever she was, so you need to get out,” Oru said.

“Come on, hon,” Steff said, taking Amaranth by the elbow and moving her towards the door. “Hazel and Two should have that tea ready by now, right?”

“Right… tea,” Amaranth said. “I might as well have mine with a big old splash of milk, since apparently it doesn’t even matter who follows the rules or not. If that was even Mother Khaele… which it wasn’t.”

“Sorry,” Honey said, passing us in the door as we headed out. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything… maybe we should just forget… er… just forget everything that happened today.”

“I’d love to,” I said.

“Great!” Honey said, then she closed the door as hard and fast as she could.

“She’s kind of a weird little person,” Steff said. “I don’t think I like her.”

“Except… if that was a fake…” Amaranth said.

“I don’t think it was, hon,” Steff said.

“She loves you, Amaranth,” I said. “And it sounds like she wants to be a parent to you… that’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

“But she acted like I take up too much of her time and attention!” Amaranth said. “Every time I call Mother Khaele up, she stays and listens to whatever I have to say, no matter what time…”

“Amy, will you listen to yourself?” Steff said.

“What? Wait… is that… I mean, do you think that might be what she was talking about?”

“Most people don’t expect a personal response every time they pray,” I said. “Anyway, it sounds like she actually reads the stuff you send her… that’s something, right? I mean, you know she cares.”

“I… I suppose,” Amaranth said. “This is just… it’s kind of a surprise. I don’t know how I could have not picked up on any of this before, though.”

“I don’t know,” Steff said. I could see her struggling not to roll her eyes.

I felt weirdly disconnected from it all… I couldn’t have anything to do with a goddess, and Amaranth had everything to do with one. I knew this… I’d known this all along… but being confronted with the evidence was unsettling.

As long as I was standing at the outside of anything spiritual, Amaranth going off to make her weekly offering of parental magazines or horse porn or whatever wasn’t any different than Dee going off to pray… okay, well, it was a little different.

But now I’d seen an image of Mother Khaele, sitting and talking with a human reporter just like any politician or celebrity. She wasn’t some abstract figure that Amaranth spoke of… she was real. I’d known that, of course, but I hadn’t known it.

And worse… she wasn’t sure about Amaranth’s relationship with me. Again, I’d known that… but now the knowledge was surer, more concrete.

It had been on national TV. It didn’t get any realer than that.

“Amy, hon, this isn’t a big deal,” Steff said.

We both turned and stared at her. How the hell could she say that? This was huge.

“How can you say that?” Amaranth asked. She’d actually started to cry… at the sight of that, I did, too.

“Because I’ve been going through this kind of shit with my mom for as long as I can remember,” she said. “And that’s to say nothing about the passive-aggressive bullshit my dad pulls… I’m just talking about the well-meaning half of the equation.”

“Is your mother a goddess? Did she go on TV to talk about you?” Amaranth asked. She was close to blubbering, but her voice was still accusatory, somehow.

“No, my mom didn’t, but Mack’s grandma did… and hon, everybody’s mother is a goddess to them,” Steff said. “If you haven’t noticed, most mortal folks are more afraid of upsetting or disappointing their mortal parents than they are the gods.”

Amaranth looked about half-convinced… she looked like she wanted to be convinced. I couldn’t blame her. It had to be a terrible thing for her to think that nobody could possibly relate to her problems.

“Really?” she said.

“Really,” Steff said. “I mean, we only saw a tiny bit of Mack’s grandma, but I bet after a few years living with her, Mack’s way more afraid of her wrath than Khersis’s.”

“Hey!” I said.

“I guess… I guess that’s probably true,” Amaranth said. She rubbed her eyes and then pushed her glasses a bit further up, then sighed. “I guess she did tell me I need to learn to listen… I just wasn’t… well… you know. Listening.”

“It’s okay,” Steff said. “We’ve all been doing some pretty stupid shit, but… teenagers. College. Stupid happens. National news aside, the amount of craziness we’ve been getting into doesn’t even begin to equal the fucked-upedness of the first month of my first year.”

“I don’t think I want to hear about that,” I said.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure you don’t,” Steff said.

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6 Responses to “271: Mother Knows Best”

  1. pedestrian says:

    ooh Mom…you’re embarrassing me!

    Current score: 3
  2. Arkeus says:

    Really hoping she does end up listening before she destroys too many people.

    Current score: 3
  3. Daezed says:

    I want a shirt that says, ‘Stupid Happens.’

    Current score: 3
  4. MentalBlank says:

    “everybody‚Äôs mother is a goddess to them” I LOVE this line. I actually put it on a mug and gave it to my Mum for Mothers’ Day. (Credit was included, by the way.)

    Current score: 7
  5. Jechtael says:

    /I/ want to hear about it!

    So. Stanby. As in “stan’ by for more information”?

    Current score: 1
  6. zeel says:

    Hah, the reporter is tagged as “Larry” instead of Roger.

    Current score: 3