313: Of Mouths And Ears

on November 11, 2008 in Book 11

In Which The Future Is Not Seen

“Poor guy,” Amaranth said quietly. “I think we should probably just let him sleep a little while… he’s pretty well drained.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, remembering the danger of drawing too deeply on magical reserves. His body would shut him down before he hurt himself, but he hadn’t done himself any favors by piling magical exhaustion on top of the physical.

“You aren’t supposed to sleep on the lounge furniture,” Two said in the stage-whisper she affected when she was trying to be very, very quiet.

“Oh, hush,” Amaranth said. “We’re guests in his dorm, remember. If we’re all still here in a few hours, we’ll wake him up and get him to bed.”

Steff got up and started fiddling with the TV.

“They seem to have a lot more channels over here than we do,” she said.

“Since when are you so interested in TV?” I asked.

“I’m not,” she said. “But it’s here and we’re here, and I’m curious. Why don’t we have nice things like this over in Harlowe?”

“Because no wealthy former students left the school any money for them,” I said. “Pretty much everything in this dorm was paid for by Lord Weyland. He gave a bundle to the school so they’d build a boys’ only dorm, and then gave a bunch of smaller bundles to the dorm.”

“It’s kind of odd that Harlowe doesn’t get any bequests like that,” Amaranth said. “With how much nobility and even minor royalty passes through Harlowe, you’d think some of them would feel inclined to donate, or even just remember Harlowe in their will.”

Steff pulled her head out of the TV and turned around mid-eyeroll.

“Don’t you think most people who go through Harlowe would just as soon forget it?” Steff said. “Everybody who rooms in this dump is a human man… Imperial, probably white. There’s camaraderie and shit going on there that you just don’t get in Harlowe. Harlowe’s a box of unsorted odds and ends. A man with a name like ‘Lord Weyland’ can splash his money around and feel pretty confident that most of it will hit the right sort of people, no matter how many anti-discrimination laws get passed and how much minority outreach gets done. Do you think some petty prince is going to drop a bag of platinum on the school so that future generations of goblins, harpies, and whatevers can have a TV that was enchanted this century?”

“I think there’s some spirit of companionship to be found in Harlowe,” Amaranth said.

“Yeah, and her name is ‘Amy’,” Steff said. “Seriously, though… people have friends, and they form their little cliques, but then they graduate. Even if they keep in touch, the connection is with each other, not with their old dorm.” She turned her attention back to the TV, once again sticking her head through the frame. “Hey, I’m going to turn on the translator spell… tell me if I start speaking Elvish.”

“Don’t you speak it anyway?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I want to see if this works,” she said. The audio from the TV changed. “Okay, is this… sounds like Pax to me. What does it sound like to you guys?”

“Pax,” I said.

“Pax,” Two agreed.

“I don’t think it works that way, hon,” Amaranth said.

“Damn it,” Steff said. “That would have been so cool.”

“You already speak Elvish,” I reminded her again.

“Yeah, but it might have other settings,” she said. “I could figure out how to put it on Koboldish and learn some choice phrases for Shiel.”

“Kobol,” I said. “And most people who want to learn how to swear in other languages just take a class.”

“Sure, take the nerd way out,” Steff said. She sighed and then left the TV alone.

“If nobody else minds, I would like to watch the cooking shows,” Two said.

“I don’t mind,” I said. “But I don’t think there’s going to be a cooking show at midnight on a Saturday.”

“Mack, this thing has a hundred channels,” Steff said. “There will be a cooking show.”

She demonstrated this by flipping through them until she found a woman making meatballs. The view zoomed in close on her hands as she rolled up the bits of meat and whatever.

“Thank you, Steff,” Two said.

“Oh… I don’t think I can watch this,” Amaranth said, her face scrunching up in distaste. She slid me off her lap. “Come on, baby… let’s go sit at the table so we talk without bothering Ian and Two.”

“Okay,” I said. Steff followed us. She was looking a little pale. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she said. She whispered, “I don’t think I’ll be able to look at raw meat…” She shuddered.

“I can give you some vegetarian resources, if you’d like,” Amaranth said.

“Uh, I don’t think the situation’s that dire,” Steff said. “I’m just… I…” She shuddered again. “I’ll get over it, though. Here’s a question for you, though, Mack.”

“What?” I asked.

“What happens if Dee pokes around Amy and does her thing and then says no, she wasn’t possessed after all?”

“I really don’t think I was… I’m pretty sure I took the pitchfork to the diabolism department.” Amaranth said, though she didn’t sound sure at all. “Really.”

“Here’s the thing… if Amy was possessed, then that makes a pretty clear case that you were, too,” Steff said. “But if she wasn’t…”

“That doesn’t prove that I wasn’t!” I said quickly. I felt like the floor was disappearing beneath me, leaving me on a chair precariously balanced over a yawning void. “You were the one who said I was in the first place.”

“I know, I know,” Steff said. “But we won’t know… and…” She took a deep breath. “I guess the real question I’m getting at is, what do we do if it turns out you weren’t?”

“I had to be,” I said.

“But what if…”

“Let’s not talk about what ifs,” Amaranth said quietly. “One way or another, we’ll know more tomorrow than we do today… right now we don’t even know enough to be talking about this, and we shouldn’t really be talking about this here and now.” She nodded towards Two, who was copying instructions into a pocket notebook. “Little pitchers have big ears. Not that Two is little, but…”

“My friend Hazel says that little pitchers don’t need big ears because big pitchers have such big mouths,” Two reported, and we all jumped guiltily.

“Okay, even if she heard some of that, that doesn’t mean she understands it,” Steff whispered. “But let’s not tempt fate.”

Amaranth and I both nodded. Two would keep our secrets if we told… or asked… her to, but I really didn’t want to see her burdened with this particular knowledge. We had inadvertently allowed this bed to be made. We didn’t especially want to lie in it, but we weren’t going to drag anybody else along with us.

Ian snorted and then shifted around in his sleep. Nobody said anything for a bit. Two started humming again during a commercial break.

“Hey, listen,” Steff said.

“What?” I asked.

“I think the rain’s stopping,” she said.

I hadn’t been able to hear the rain, but it seemed like it had been a while since I’d heard any thunder.

“Two, honey, do you mind going back to the weather for a minute?” Amaranth asked.

“I don’t mind,” Two said, and she turned it back. The TV was showing a cloudy night sky with some starry patches.

“…has dissipated. The IWS has lifted the warning, and people are now exiting the fitness building. Barring any further influence…”

“Looks like we’re going to be sleeping in our bed after all, baby,” Amaranth said, touching my face. Our bed. The words made me feel warm and safe. “Should we just let Ian sleep, do you think?”

“I guarantee you if we do that, drunk people will fuck with him,” Steff said. “Mack, if you can get his keys out of his pocket, we can probably carry him.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake… he’s asleep, not passed out drunk,” I said. I went over and touched him on the shoulder, then shook him gently.

“Argh, trolls!” he blurted, his eyes snapping open.

“Trolls?” I said. “I’m not that ugly.”

He looked around, confused and then sheepish when he took in what he was saying.

“I… uh… I fall asleep?” he asked.

“You fell asleep,” Steff said.

“The storm blew itself out,” Amaranth said. “So, we’re going to head back… Two, would you like to finish watching your show first?”

“No, thank you,” Two said. “I should be in bed.”

“Okay,” Ian said, getting heavily to his feet. “Let me just go to the bathroom and then I’ll take you over.”

“Oh, no, mister,” Amaranth said, giving him a taste of the over-the-glasses look and shaking her finger. “You’re going to bed. We’ll be fine.”


“I’m not going to let anything happen to her,” Steff said. “To any of them. But on the subject of bathrooms… no, actually, I think I’ll hold it till Harlowe.”

“There’s a single occupancy down by the front door,” Ian said.

“Oh, awesome,” Steff said. “Thanks.”

“Yeah,” Ian said. He turned to me. “Do you want me to walk you down to the door, at least?”

“I would if I could trust you’d make it back to your bed,” I said. I gave him a kiss on the cheek. “We’ll be fine, really.”

Amaranth took Steff and Two by the arms.

“We’re going to go down so that Steff and Two can use the facilities,” she said. “You catch up.”

“Okay,” I said as they grabbed up their coats and stuff. “I’ll be down in a bit.”

“Well, she’s subtle,” Ian said. As they receded further down the hall, he kissed me. “You don’t have to go, you know.”

“I’ve got early morning plans,” I said. “If it was just Sooni… well, she’s going to have to learn to live with disappointment sooner or later anyway, but I’ve got this thing with Dee and it’s… well, it’s important.”

“What’s up?” he asked.

What a question. Would our relationship survive me answering it? If it wouldn’t, did I have any right to keep seeing him? I tried to see it from his point of view… which was the point of view of a decent human guy. Yeah. That conversation would go real well.

There were practical reasons why he needed to know what was going on. If there was any kind of lingering danger, he’d need to know what to look out for. Above and beyond that, though, he had a right to know and make up his own mind.

It seemed like I had to tell him… but what exactly was there to tell? As Amaranth had said, we didn’t know enough to even be talking about it. At the moment all I had was a bunch of vague, half-formed hypotheses and one grossly inhuman act that had been commissioned as a result of them.

But being that he was so very decent and so very human, would it make a difference to him even if I could lay out the whole sequence of events from start to finish? I had a feeling it wouldn’t. Demon-fear was a pretty primal fear, maybe the most primal fear… fear of getting eaten.

Feejee and Iona had given me a taste of what that felt like, and I could just barely stand it knowing that their teeth couldn’t pierce me. Feejee had also given me a glimpse of what it was like to try to maintain normal relations with somebody who might be sizing you up for a serving dish.

“Mackenzie?” Ian prompted.

“Sorry,” I said. “Just…”

“Lost in thought again,” he said. “I don’t like that look on your face. The last time I saw it… well, I was trying to break up with you. What’s going on?”

I tried to force a smile, and I think I ended up somewhere in the neighborhood of wistful.

“I just have to… find something out, for sure,” I said. “And then I’ll tell you, I promise.”

“You aren’t… pregnant, are you?”

“Oh, hell, no!” I said. “I don’t like keeping you in the dark, Ian, but… I don’t know what’s going on myself. When I know, I’ll tell you.”

“Okay,” he said. “I trust you.”

I trust you

“So… what are you planning on doing about Bohd’s class?” I asked, changing the subject on myself as much as on him. “Do you think you’re going to drop it after all?”

“Well, I haven’t given it a lot of thought… but I think I’m going to stick with it,” he said. “I don’t know what I’ll major in if not elementalism, and now that I’m pretty sure I can pass it, I don’t see any reason to skip out on the credit hours.”

“Have you thought about music?”

“I haven’t thought about anything, really,” he said. “But I don’t want to make the mistake of bouncing straight from the major I thought I had to take into one that I love that isn’t going to amount to anything.”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” I said. “I think you could have a real future.”

“Says the applied enchanter,” Ian said, giving me a little smirk. I tried to give him a smile back, but couldn’t.

“Right now… right now I feel a lot more certain of your future in music than I am of my future in anything,” I said. The whole arena thing had been a nice distraction, but Dee had been right: we couldn’t keep making excuses for not facing up to this thing. I grabbed my coat. “Goodbye, Ian.”

“Goodnight,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess?”

“By Tuesday, definitely,” I said. I let him kiss me on the cheek, and then I fled the lounge as fast as I could without actually running.

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One Response to “313: Of Mouths And Ears”

  1. zeel says:

    Steff could just look up Kobol on the ethernet, that seems like the easiest way to go.

    Current score: 1