299: Coming To The Points

on October 17, 2008 in Book 11

In Which Clarification Is Needed

On the way to the student union, Steff chattered on about the arena and what she hoped to see. She knew more about the subject than the rest of us did, and had a lot more enthusiasm for it, though Amaranth seemed to be curious about it. Steff had her daggers out and was twirling them around, acting out thrusts and parries as we walked. It was kind of amazing that she didn’t hurt herself, or any of the people we passed.

Of course, we were being given a wider berth than usual, what with all the dagger-waving. I asked Steff to put them away before we went inside the union. One tragedy per week was plenty for me. Dee and Amaranth were with me, and she reluctantly complied, though she made up for it by describing a hypothetical battle in even greater detail.

I kind of missed the days when all she talked about was sex. That was easier to tune out.

“Oh, wait,” Amaranth said, holding up a hand to interrupt her when we got to the top of the stairs. She veered off for the food court, making a beeline for the White House counter where Two was working. She was standing absolutely motionless behind the register, smiling placidly and waiting for something to do.

“Amaranth, she doesn’t like when we talk to her at work, remember?” I said, hurrying after her, but she went right up to the counter.

“Hey… Kyle, right?” she said to the guy working back behind the counter. “Could you please tell me what time Two gets off tonight?”

“We’re closing at eight-thirty,” he said.

“Okay, well, could you please tell her that we’re going to the arena at eight, and if she would like to join us she’s welcome to,” Amaranth said.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll, uh, tell her on her break.”

“Thank you so much,” Amaranth said, and she blew him a kiss. “You’re welcome to come, too.”

“Uh, okay,” he said.

“Okay… what in the name of fuck was that about, Amy?” Steff asked when we rejoined her and Dee.

“Two doesn’t approve of on the job chit-chat,” I said.

“Oh,” Steff said, mollified. “Okay.”

“Um, that was a really good idea, Amaranth,” I said. “I mean, in terms of how to get the information to her without upsetting her.”

“Thank you!” Amaranth said, beaming at the compliment. I’d meant it… it was clever… but I was also trying to soften the blow for what I was about to say. Throwing a genuine compliment in before expressing my disagreement was either me being a total pussy again or me learning some communication skills.

“It’s just… what do we do if Ian ends up fighting like fifteen or twenty minutes in?” I said. “We could be gone before she gets there.”

“Oh, honey, you don’t really wanna leave right after we get there?” Steff said. “Well miss the good stuff!”

“Isn’t the whole point of going there to see Ian?” I asked.

“That’s the impetus,” Amaranth said. “The point is to have a good time and do something together.”

“Girls’ night out, remember?” Steff said. “Come on!”

“We can’t watch the fights for fifteen minutes and then go get pedis and facials or something?” I asked.

“Mack, baby… do you even know what a pedi is?” Amaranth asked.

“It’s… something to do with your toenails, isn’t it?” I said. “Like, a manicure for your feet?”

“I’ll give you a facial later, if you’re good,” Steff said. “Anyway, you can always just pretend you’re watching your dolls fighting.”

“Enaction figures!” I corrected her.

“Whatever,” Steff said, pinching me on the side. “Pout more… it’s adorable.”

“I’m not pouting,” I said.

“Perhaps I have been misinformed as to the meaning of that word,” Dee said wryly, and I blushed a hardcore old-school blush. Dee didn’t usually join in on the ribbing… the unexpectedness gave it extra impact.

With that, we went into the dining hall. After we got our food and grabbed a table, Amaranth talked about her day, Steff talked about fighting, and Dee didn’t say much at all. Maybe that undermined the purpose of asking her to be there, but I didn’t have much to contribute to the conversations, either… and there really were two of them. Amaranth and Steff were pretty good at carrying them on by themselves.

“I do hope you’ll try to enjoy the match, baby,” Amaranth said when the meal was almost over. “If you aren’t having a good time just being there with us, we can leave half an hour after Two arrives, if Ian’s already fought, okay? That way she won’t feel like she’s walked over for nothing, and Steff will get her fill.”

“Okay,” I said.

“But I mean it… try to enjoy it,” Amaranth said. “Don’t just count down the minutes.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

Dee… well, I’m not sure exactly what Dee did right then. It was something like clearing her throat, only a lot quieter. I’m pretty sure it was silent, in fact. Regardless of the fact that I couldn’t tell exactly what she did, or even if she had done anything, all of a sudden she had the attention of all three of us.

“I hope you will pardon me,” Dee said.

“What’s on your mind, Dee?” Amaranth asked.

“I understand that you have plans for the evening,” Dee said. “And while the activities you intend to view are not to my taste, I do not begrudge your enjoyment of them…”

“Can you wake me up when this caravan comes around the final bend?” Steff asked me.

“To bring this to a point,” Dee said, “hearing you discuss the evening’s entertainment with so much lightness of spirit leaves me wondering to what extent you have actually felt the impact of your deeds of this Thursday past.”

Nobody said anything at first. The three of us looked around at each other. The guilt was clearly written on our faces… on Amaranth and Steff’s, and I’m sure on mine. If my face looked like my stomach felt, it could have been used as grounds for conviction all on its own. It wouldn’t matter what the crime was. No tribunal would ignore it.

“Well…” Amaranth said, speaking slowly and gathering her words as she went. “I… I try to look at it positively.”

Dee said nothing, but leveled a look at her that was surprisingly neutral, prompting her to go on.

“I don’t mean to excuse or condone the sort of trade, but… slaves can’t have very nice lives, you know,” she said. “And so I try to think that maybe… just possibly… there was some greater good served.”

“You actually believe that to be true?” Dee said.

“No,” Amaranth said, dropping her face down. She took her glasses off and squeezed her eyes shut. “But I try to. I try.” She opened her eyes and squinted across the table at Dee. “I mean, we couldn’t stop it, could we? Once it had begun… so… if there wasn’t some point to it…”

“And if you convince yourself of this reasoning, would you apply it again?” Dee asked.

“Dee… we talked about this,” I said.

“It is not my place to pass judgment upon you…” Dee began.

“Yeah, it really isn’t,” Steff said. “Okay, it was horrible. We know that, Dee… even I know it. Don’t think I didn’t try to make myself enjoy it… I did, and I couldn’t. That’s just how bad it was. Maybe if we had been more careful we could have avoided it… but there’s no way of knowing for sure what could have happened, though, so we’re stuck dealing with what did happen, and that was an accident.”

“An accident which resulted in deaths,” Dee said.

“Still an accident,” Steff said. “Do you think we should suffer our whole lives because of one accident? Would that be fair? With Mack’s blood tainted, I’m sure people would be lining up to lynch her if they knew… meanwhile, freaking Honey is an adorable wee little gnome and her family’s rich, so she gets to kill a dude and her only punishment is getting bundled off to college.”

“Wait, what?” I asked.

“It’s what I heard,” Steff said, shrugging.

“Who from?”

“Some of the little guys,” she said.

“Honey Callaway did not ‘kill a dude’,” Dee said.

“It’s what I heard,” Steff repeated.

“You have heard incorrectly,” Dee said.

“Yes, Steff, I find that hard to believe,” Amaranth said. “Of anybody, but especially Honey.”

“Of course you wouldn’t believe it of anybody, Amy. You’re… Amy,” Steff said. “But there’s sick people in the world, and you can never tell by looking… what I heard was she poured lantern oil all over some homeless guy and…”

“You heard incorrectly,” Dee said, in a tone that could brook no argument.

Except, of course, from Steff.

“Oh? Then why’d she leave Loggingtonhamchestershire to come here?” Steff asked.

“There are, by my count, at least six other gnomes in attendance at the present,” Dee said. “Are we to believe that they all ‘killed a dude’ as well?”

“No, but… they’re poor,” Steff said. “‘Common’. People like Honey don’t up and get an education, because they’re never going to work for a living.”

“Maybe she wants to improve herself?” Amaranth said.

“Trust me, in her circles, education for a woman is not viewed as an improvement,” Steff said.

“Well, hon, some people are driven to exceed the bounds of their upbringing,” Amaranth said.

“Can you honestly tell me that you can look at Honey and see her driven to anything?” Steff asked.

“Not murder,” Amaranth said.

“You know,” I said, remembering something Hazel had said, after my return from the labyrinth. What had it been exactly? “Hazel did say something about Honey knowing how to conduct herself in front of a court, or something like that.”

“There are many reasons one may find oneself in court,” Dee said. “It does not mean that Steff’s story is true.”

“I’m not saying it’s true,” Steff said. “I’m just saying, that’s what I heard.”

“Well, I don’t think that sort of gossiping is very nice,” Amaranth said.

“Yeah, well… she’s kind of a little bitch, anyway,” Steff said. “Even if it isn’t true.”

“This is all beside the point,” Dee said.

“Look… it was horrible, it was stupid, it was not our fault,” Steff said. “Can we not talk about it in public?” Her voice dropped low. “It wasn’t against the law, but if people found out… Mack would be fucked all the same. People can’t do shit to Amy that would stick, I’d have to watch my back, but Mack would be helpless as a semi-invulnerable baby kitten surrounded by wild dogs with magic teeth. Is that what you want, Dee? To see Mack suffer some kind of retribution for what happened? Would that make everything okay?”

“It would not,” Dee said. “But this is my point: there exists no remedy that would make ‘everything okay’, in this circumstance.”

“Yeah,” Steff said. “I agree… which is why we can’t spend every minute dwelling on it. It doesn’t mean we’re ‘over it’. It doesn’t mean we don’t care. But we can’t fix it by dwelling on it.”

“You cannot come to terms with it by ignoring it, either,” Dee said.

“Look, this isn’t something we planned,” Steff said. “Mack’s man is fighting tonight. We can’t ask them to postpone the match until we sort out our angst and our guilt, but we can put that on hold while we go to the match. It’s that simple.”

“How long do you intend to make excuses for avoiding it, though?” Dee asked.

“You know, Dee, I love you like stabbing, but I’m getting sick of your holier-than-thou attitude,” Steff said. “I mean, except for the part where you actually are holier than I am. You act like this whole ‘slavery’ thing is so shocking and horrible to your delicate sensibilities, but your society is just as repressed, as oppressive, as hypocritical, as generally fucked the hell up as anybody else’s. You’re a firstborn noblewoman, and a priestess, and maybe that’s enough to put you on the top of the shitheap, but it’s still a shitheap.”

“You know nothing of my society except the lies your people told you,” Dee said, her eyes flashing dangerously.

“Newsflash, honey: I don’t have a people!” Steff said. “I’m not human, I’m not elf… I’m not anything. I am Steff, citizen of Steff.”

“I forgive your bitterness,” Dee said. “I know that you are a product of your upbringing, and a society which does not understand you.”

“I don’t need your pardon,” Steff said. “Or society’s understanding.”

“It is tragic that the surface world does not know what to do with you,” Dee said. “Had you been born among the true elves, there would have been a place for you.”

“Oh, praise be to Arakhis and Big Daddy Chthonios!” Steff said, throwing her hands up in the air. She turned to me. “Did you hear that, Mack? A place for me! You’ve got a place for everybody down there, don’t you, Dee?”

“You are twisting my words,” Dee said, very slowly and very quietly. “All I mean is that people such as yourself…”

“‘People such as yourself’,” Steff said. “Throw out the dead weight and you get ‘you people’.”

“Steff, hon, this isn’t helping anything,” Amaranth said.

“Back off,” Steff said. “We’re supposed to be getting to know you, right?” she asked Dee. “And you say I don’t know anything about your culture. So tell me. If I’d been born in your house, what would my place be? Would I get to be a priestess like you?”

“That… obligation… would not fall to you,” Dee said. “Even if you were born into the ruling family.”

“Lucky me,” Steff said. “How about a soldier? You don’t have to be some fancy highborn noble to come up through the ranks in the army, do you?”

“Indeed, you do not,” Dee said. “But in recognition of your unique blessing, you would be exempted from military service.”

“The blessings keep piling up,” Steff said. “So what would I do?”

“You would be valued, honored, and much-beloved member of the household,” Dee said.

“Aww, isn’t that nice?” Steff asked.

“Well, Steff, you have to admit… it is a bit of a step forward, from most cultures,” Amaranth said. “A small one, anyway. It’s better to be cherished than hated, right?”

“I just have one… teensy… weensy… little… question,” Steff said, her voice low and dripping with honeyed venom. I knew how she could use her voice, and even though it wasn’t aimed at me, I could feel the twisting of the knife with every word.

Don’t,” Dee said, her eyes going wide. “Do not.”

“People such as myself,” Steff said. “In your society…”

“I will not stand to be spoken to in this manner by one who claims to be my friend,” Dee said.

“I’m just getting to know you,” Steff said. “So help me out here, because… as a good friend of mine said… I need clarification. In your society… people like myself… are we freaks, or are we whores?”

Dee’s mostly empty glass collapsed inwards, spraying droplets of milk.

“That’s what I thought,” Steff said, with an air of self-satisfaction. She stabbed a last piece of chicken with her fork and lifted it towards her mouth. The fork was yanked out of her hand and floated in the center of the table.

“Listen to me, Steff Johnson,” Dee said. “I… love… Dehsah.”

“I’m glad for you,” Steff said, grabbing her fork back. “I didn’t know she was ‘like myself’. I didn’t know shit about her except that you had to be crowbarred off her tit at the age of sixteen, but I’m glad. And if you loving her means she wins the dark elf lottery and gets to scramble up to the top of the shitheap with you, then I say tiny scraps of more power to her. But that doesn’t prove that your society is free and equal. It doesn’t mean the system works.”

“I do not have to defend my society to you,” Dee said. “Our customs and institutions served to shepherd us through times more trying than anything our faint cousins on the surface have ever collectively experienced.”

“Sure they did,” Steff said. “That’s what customs and institutions do. And now that you’re sitting pretty on top of your little sunken sea, the institutions which once protected the people get to focus on protecting themselves. They’re entrenched. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. As above… so below.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dee said… muttered, really.

“Guys,” Amaranth said gently, “I think this conversation has gone…”

“What, we’re just friends having a friendly chat,” Steff said.

“She does not know what she’s talking about,” Dee said to me.

“Uh… Steff’s got her opinions,” I said. “You don’t have to agree with them.”

“I will not, because they are incorrect,” Dee said.

“They teach you to close your mind at psychic school?” Steff asked.

Enough, Steff,” Amaranth said. “Please.”

“If it helps you in the short term to turn your guilt into rage at me, I’ll bear it as best as I can,” Dee said. “I am not trying to anger you, Steff.”

“What are you trying to do?” Steff asked.

“As your friend, I wish to help you,” Dee said. “I wish to help you handle your grief and remorse, and I wish to help you prevent a recurrence of the tragedy.”

“That’s not likely to happen anyway, now that Amy’s taken that damned pitchfork into the lab,” Steff said.

“Pitchfork?” Dee asked, her silvery eyebrows raising.

“Steff, we agreed my pitchfork didn’t have anything to do with it,” I said. “Since it was under the bed all day.”

“The closet,” Steff said. “It was in the closet.”

“Right,” I said.

“The pitchfork you retrieved from the labyrinth?” Dee asked.

“Yeah, it’s supposed to be cursed,” I said. “But I never really saw a concrete sign of that, and anyway, an infernal taint’s not going to affect me.”

“Interesting,” Dee said. “And Amaranth, you did what with it?”

“Um…” Amaranth said, curling her lower lip back over her teeth and tugging at her hair.

“She was going to take it to the diabolism department to get a full run-down,” Steff said. “Right, Amy?”

“That was the plan, yeah,” Amy said. She laughed and tugged at her hair.

“Amaranth?” I said. “What’s wrong?”

“You did take it to the D.D., didn’t you?” Steff asked her.

“Well, obviously I did!” Amaranth said. She put her glasses back on and pushed them up to the top of her nose. “I mean, I don’t have it any more. What else was I going to do with it?” She laughed nervously.

“Amaranth?” Dee said. “Do you remember taking it to the diabolists?”

“Yes,” Amaranth said, very quickly and very crisply. “Yes, I do.”

“The person you gave it to, what did she look like?” Dee asked.

“She was attractive,” Amaranth said. “Very pretty.”

“What about her was attractive to you?”

“Everything,” Amaranth said. “Just… everything.”

Dee looked at me. I nodded, thinking I could see where she was going.

“Um… Amy… is there anybody that doesn’t describe?” Steff asked. She was on the same page.

“I’ve been busy, guys,” Amaranth said, near tears. “I have been really… really… busy, so maybe I don’t remember every little detail of…”

“Frequently, when a mind is missing memories, it fails to recognize the gap or it attempts to bridge it,” Dee said.

“Yeah, I didn’t realize I was missing time from Thursday right away,” I said. “I mean, even when I try to think about it, it’s not like there are big gaping black holes, just… well… stuff I don’t remember.”

“Okay, wait… are you saying I was possessed?” Amaranth said. “I’d think if a demon tried to ride along on my soul, one of us would be destroyed.”

“Demons are not the only entities which can possess,” Dee said. “There are spirits of the dead, and denizens of other realms. Though if it is tied to the pitchfork, and the pitchfork is infernally tainted, then a demon would seem to be the most likely culprit.”

“Can you… check her out?” I asked Dee.

“I would not be able to probe her psyche safely or effectively,” Dee said. “It would be like trying to stare into the sun… and trying to catch hold of its light. I can, however, examine her aura for infernal energy… perhaps Steff could do the same for traces of undead spirits?”

“Um… I haven’t really done any spiritualism,” Steff said. She actually blushed. “My interests in the dead are a lot more, uh, corporeal.”

“Well, we can at least cover the more likely possibility,” Dee said. “Mackenzie, I apologize, but I am going to need to touch your aura in a way that will cause you unimaginable pain.”

“Wait, what?”

“Amaranth’s aura has been entangled with yours for several weeks now,” Dee said. “A single brief possession is not going to drown out the effects of that. I will need to recognize your energy in order to exclude it from my examination.”

“I’m really not sure I can condone that,” Amaranth said. “When you say ‘unimaginable pain’…”

“It would be best to conduct the examination in one of the laboratories,” Dee said. “Or some other place with protective circles available.”

Amaranth bit her lip.

“If you were possessed, too, Amaranth, we have to know,” I said.

“Though, maybe it’s not the pitchfork,” Steff said. “You did say you didn’t feel even a curse on it, when you took it from Mack.”

“I did say that… didn’t I?” Amaranth said doubtfully.

“So… when do we do this?” I said as firmly as I could.

“Baby, no!” Amaranth said.

“It’s my decision,” I said. “Whatever it’s going to do to me, I’ll take it. We have to know what happened, or we’ll never know if it’s going to happen again. When do we do it, Dee? Now? Before the match?”

“If I thought I could do it immediately, I would insist upon it.. this should be your absolute lowest, deepest, blackest priority. But, I have never done anything quite like this,” Dee said. “I will need time to prepare myself, to study, and to pray for strength and guidance.”

“Tomorrow?” Amaranth asked.

“Tomorrow,” Dee said. “At six. We will meet for meditation as we had planned, Mackenzie, and then… when I am at my absolute peak of focus, we will conduct the examination. In the intervening time, I suggest you try to enjoy the evening you have planned and your animated entertainment of the morning. As Steff said, nothing productive will come from dwelling when there is nothing to be done.”

“Yeah,” I said weakly. “Should be fun.”

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13 Responses to “299: Coming To The Points”

  1. pedestrian says:

    reminds me of an early Poul Anderson story, where a band of adventurers trick a threatening troll into exposing itself to the sunlight which turned into rock.

    One of the jolly rogers tried to get the trolls purse of gold but was dragged away with empty handed. When the troll was transmuted into rock the gold it was carrying would have been transmuted into a violently radioactive isotope. And thus the legends warning against stealing Faerie gold.

    Current score: 3
    • Anthony says:

      Umm… how does this remind you of that???

      Current score: 5
      • capybroa says:

        It’s pedestrian. Don’t question it, just go with it.

        Current score: 10
  2. Mickey says:

    Typo, I think. ““You would be valued, honored, and much-beloved member of the household,” Dee said.”

    I believe that this should probably be ““You would be a valued, honored, and much-beloved member of the household,” Dee said.”

    Current score: 0
    • Leila says:

      Or “”You would be valued, honored, and a much-beloved member of the household,” Dee said.”

      Current score: 0
  3. P says:

    Woooo! Consequences! Yeeehaaw!

    Current score: 0
  4. Mugasofer says:

    Dee never said who it would cause unmaginable pain TO…

    Current score: 0
    • MentalBlank says:

      Yes she did. “I am going to need to touch your aura in a way that will cause *you* unimaginable pain”

      Current score: 2
  5. PJ says:

    “Hey, a denizen of hell mindraped you and your girlfriend, after which it managed to get loose on the campus…. but don’t _dwell_, or you won’t enjoy your cartoons!”

    Current score: 2
  6. Jechtael says:

    It’s not good to intentionallly tune out your girlfriend, Mackenzie.

    My guess for the pitchfork so far: Some kind of infernal artifact or an artifact corrupted with infernal power that acts as a prison for an entity of the deep darks. Something ancient and cthonic or (less likely) deep oceanic (as in, something that slumbered in R’lyeh).

    Current score: 0
    • Nocker says:

      It’s a tool of her fathers, and one he sported just after one of her sisters died.

      I’m suspecting that it’s not a fragment of a whole demon, but an entire half of one.

      Current score: 0
  7. Nocker says:

    -“Everything,” Amaranth said. “Just… everything.”-

    Well we know now that there’s a La Belle with literal indescribable beauty, and we also know that certain forces can block out possession enough to leave impression …such as say, a fey gift. Given that this particular La Belle was an enrolled student who dropped out anyway at this period, her walking off with a weapon like everyone else and not coming back wouldn’t give much suspicion.

    It also makes sense given The Man’s M.O., since he seems oriented towards the idea of “human plus” to describe hybrids, psychics, and others. What better “plus” is there than the gift from a greater power, and one that doesn’t affect him?

    Current score: 0
  8. undertheteacup says:

    God I love this chapter. At first the intensity of this convo made me cringe, but the more times I read it the more I love it.

    Current score: 0