320: Atlas Hugged

on November 22, 2008 in Book 12

In Which Things Get Steamy And Amaranth Takes It Off

The rest of Sunday passed in a fairly pleasant fashion, such that the events of the early morning felt like they belonged to another day entirely. Amaranth had woken up at some point during my conversation with Lee, and Two made the meal as planned. It ended up being scrambled egg and bacon sandwiches, because it was in between breakfast and lunch.

“Like brunch?” I asked her.

I watched her think about that for a few seconds.

“No,” she concluded, shaking her head. “This is different. It’s lunfast.”

The sandwiches were on rolls made from potato and rice flour, which was different… though not bad… and allowed Dee to partake as well. Amaranth had hers smeared with jam.

It was just the four of us… Two, Dee, Amaranth, and I. We didn’t want to disturb Steff after having got back to the dorms so late, and she’d had hardly any time with Viktor. Nobody was stirring in the shirelings’ room, and Dee was of the opinion that it was empty, though she admitted it was hard to tell.

It was a fairly quiet meal. Possibly the events of the morning were weighing on everybody’s minds… everybody except for Two, who remained ignorant of them. She wasn’t the sort of person who felt the need to fill silences. Not with conversation, anyway… luckily, she didn’t seem to think that humming and singing were appropriate behaviors at the lunch table.

Dee didn’t push me about talking to my grandmother in front of Two, and when lunfast was over, Amaranth declared that we were going to the library. Confrontation averted, I thought.

Two didn’t tag along with us, as she had homework to do before she got ready for work. I leaned into Amaranth on the cold walk over to the library. The sidewalks were mostly dry except in the low places, but the ground was drenched. A crew of dwarves was picking up downed tree limbs and elves were scattered around, restoring the trees that had been damaged. It was the most I’d seen of either race out on the open campus.

“I wonder… are they getting paid for that, or is it part of a housing agreement or something?” I asked. It seemed to me like elves might volunteer to help fix trees, but I couldn’t imagine dwarves laboring above ground for nothing.

“I don’t know,” Amaranth said. “It sure looks like the place was torn up pretty badly, though… I just hope nobody was hurt.”

Not that either of us could have done anything about any storm-related injuries, or even do more than guess as to whether they had happened at that point, but I felt a twinge of guilt that I hadn’t even considered the possibility in surveying the damage. I looked around for another topic, and found one that even touched on altruism.

“So… um… you remember when we talked about having a party for Two?” I asked.

“Of course, baby.”

“Are we still doing that?”

“Oh, of course we are,” she said. “You didn’t think we’d forgotten, did you?”

“I wasn’t sure,” I said. “A lot of things have happened since we said…”

“A lot of things keep happening, if you haven’t noticed,” Amaranth said. “I think that’s what life’s going to be like, out here… but we shouldn’t let that get in the way of having a good time every once in a while, should we?”

“I guess not,” I said. “But do you know if the others feel the same way?”

She laughed.

“Baby, I know you have been busy running all over town and staying in fancy inns and stuff, but the rest of us don’t stop existing just because you’re not around,” she said. “We’ve all been talking about it… everybody’s still excited about it. Dee and I even had a quick little conversation about that at lunch.”

“You did?”

“Telepathically,” she said. “Sorry for excluding you, baby… if I’d known you were worried about it slipping our minds, I would have tried to let you know, but Dee didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of brushing up against your mind repeatedly.”

“What, she can’t elven whisper?” I asked.

“She said she’s never gained the habit of it and she didn’t want to slip up and give everything away,” Amaranth said. “She asked me to apologize to you for leaving you out.”

“Oh,” I said. It was the wrong time to focus on my hurt feelings, I supposed. “So, we are still on for sure then?”

“Yes,” Amaranth said. “I’ve got the party room in the union reserved for seven so we can get it ready for the party at seven-thirty. Hazel’s taking care of the food. That’s actually why she told Two to go to the market early today, so they wouldn’t run into each other. She’s going to do most of the prep work while Two’s at work.”

“I suppose it would be too much to ask for Hazel to get up and go early herself,” I said.

“Oh, don’t grumble at her,” Amaranth said. “Hazel’s doing more work for this than anybody else, and you know Two’s an early riser anyway.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” I said. “Just… reflex, I guess.”

“I know,” she said. “We all feel that way about her. I made sure she isn’t working at the food court, and Kyle knows he’s invited… he said he might drop by for a little bit. It’s going to be Steff and us, Ian if he comes, Hazel, Honey, and Hazel’s boyfriend.” She stopped and swallowed. With my hood up I would have had to turn my head really far to see, but it sounded like she was blushing when she started talking again. “I, uh… I mentioned it to Oru since she’s friends with Honey, but I wouldn’t count on her coming, now. It seemed like it would be horribly rude to disinvite her, but if she does show up, it’s not because I pushed…”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I can’t imagine her showing up knowing I’m going to be there.”

Amaranth sighed.

“I feel bad for her,” she said. “Such a pretty little thing… oh, I don’t mean little. Or thing! But she is pretty, and she can’t find a man. So many of the other students in Harlowe have at least a little overlap with humans in terms of aesthetics, and a lot of us are exotic to them… but she has different anatomy and such a completely different standard of beauty, I don’t think it’s likely she’s going to find anybody here unless some more goblinoids enroll.”

“Is that so terrible, though?” I said. I squeezed Amaranth’s hand through my glove. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we found each other, but… I don’t think anybody died from four years without a date. She’s probably better off without all the craziness.”

“Maybe you’re right, but I’m not so sure she’s that interested in a degree,” Amaranth said.

“Well… maybe she’ll learn something about herself. I didn’t think I was that interested in nymphs when I came here,” I said.

“I’d like to think that you’re right,” Amaranth said. “But I think she’s pretty straight, as far as that goes. Not that she and Shiel wouldn’t make a cute couple. You know, it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump from radical feminist to…”

“I, uh, actually meant that she’d discover that she enjoys her school work or maybe find a talent or something like that,” I said. “There’s more than one way to expand your horizons.”

“Oh!” Amaranth said. “I guess you’re right. I mean, that is why I came here, too… I’m having sex with lots of new people, and of course, I’m learning so much just being with you, but really, I came here to expand my horizons, like you said. I’m thinking about taking a geography course next semester for my social studies credit… I’ve always loved maps and reading about far-off places, and it didn’t really occur to me that there’s a whole subject that’s basically that when I was signing up for classes.”

“Yeah, I kind of feel the same way about history,” I said. “It grew out of stories my mom told me, and then ones I read… these days I’m more likely to read fiction on my own, but I got started with historical epics. That’s how I remember things from history class, too… not the dates and not always the names, but just the story of what happened.”

“You should maybe think about taking a lore course next,” Amaranth said. “It sounds like that might be even closer to what you’re looking for.”

“Oh, I thought about it,” I said. “But it already felt a bit like an indulgence taking a history class… yeah, we’re supposed to be getting a well-rounded education, but taking a class I already know a lot about seemed a bit like preemptive slacking. Taking the useless fluff version of the same thing would probably put me into a full-fledged guilt coma.”

“I wouldn’t call lore completely useless,” Amaranth said.

I gave her hand another gentle squeeze.

“Of course you wouldn’t,” I said. “But that’s you.”

“Oh, and what’s that supposed to mean?” she asked playfully.

“Nothing!” I said.

Once we got inside the library, the conversation halted while we adjusted to the sudden temperature difference. I was very pleased to find out that the library had decent heating.

“Oh… well… I guess they’re going to keep doing this,” Amaranth said, taking her fogged-up glasses off and looking at them with an air of disappointment.

“Why don’t you get a decent pair with an anti-fog spell?” I asked.

“I like these,” she said, wiping them with a small cloth to very little effect.

“They look like an antique,” I said.

“They are,” she said. “The frame is, I mean. The lenses… the lenses were made just for me.”

“Well, you could have had the enchanter update the frame a bit,” I said. “So you don’t have to take them off every time you go to bed.”

“Yeah, maybe I will someday,” she said in an abrupt tone, slipping the glasses back on. I realized I was being rude without meaning to. Amaranth was probably lucky to have glasses… who thought to give eyewear to a nymph? She’d obviously had to make do with somebody’s hand-me-down with new lenses popped in.

Well, with a couple years of classes under my belt, I’d be able to do something about that… at least in terms of giving hers a few tweaks, if not making a new pair. Of course, most people these days with congenitally poor sight went with a ring or talisman of clear vision instead of a loop or lens over the eye, but it was just hard to picture the spectacle of Amaranth without her spectacles. They were part of what made her Amaranth, rather than just some nymph.

“You don’t normally stare that hard at my face, baby,” Amaranth said, blushing a little and adjusting her glasses.

“Sorry,” I said.

“You’re allowed to, though,” she said. “It’s kind of a nice change… every once in a while, I mean. I don’t want you getting tired of me.” She gave her breasts a jiggle with her hands and giggled.

“Uh… I don’t think there’s any danger of that,” I said. In my head, it was all suave, like, “Oh, I don’t think there’s any danger of that, my dear. Ahahaha.” In my mouth, I think it was more like, “Uh… uh… uh… uh…”

There may have been some minimal amount of drooling, too.

Amaranth laughed.

“When’s the last time we just talked about our classes like that, anyway?” she asked. “Or about anything, really?”

“I don’t remember,” I said.

“I don’t remember the last time I had a conversation like that with anybody except… well, except with Barley,” Amaranth said. She frowned. “I hope she’s… I hope she’s okay, wherever she is.”

I didn’t know what to say about that. I didn’t hope that she wasn’t okay, but I couldn’t bring myself to wish Barley well.

A freezing cold blast of air as another student opened the outer door saved me from having to answer with anything besides a high-pitched yelp. We hurried out of the entryway and into the library proper, where Amaranth found an atlas with scrollable and zooming pages. We killed a good two hours playing around with it. Amaranth showed me the valley where she’d been created, even showing me where her field would be if the atlas had been updated in the current century.
“It’s like scrying back in time,” she said. She moved her fingernail a bit. “And that’s where the barley field would be. That’s oats here… she’s nice, and the wheat fields are all nice, and…”

To make a long story short, it turned out that all the nymphs in the valley were nice. I was trying not to make fun, though. I was enthralled, not so much by Amaranth’s non-descript description of her sisters but by the scattered farmhouses and the clusters of tiny buildings on the other side of the river. Even at a far remove, I could make out the main street and the cracker box construction of the stores along it. I knew that kind of small town.

Though, there was one big difference between the towns I’d known and Paradise Valley: no great big temple at the end of the road.

After Amaranth had gone over every field in the valley, I moved the view way to the south and east and tried to find the village where I’d been born, but I didn’t know an address and I couldn’t get any closer than general region.

We followed the eastern coast of the Imperium, and explored as much of the western reaches as wasn’t completely fogged out. Kilrest was marked on the map, but it was just a name and a red skull and crossbones. The mountains around it were simple stylized drawings, not detailed topography.

“You’d think the government would have surveyed it, at some point,” Amaranth said, scrunching up her nose in frustration at knowledge denied. “I mean, it’s not like the ogres have anti-scrying spells.”

“I’m sure the government has more detailed maps than this,” I said. “Or maybe I should say the military. They’re just not going to release them and let the ogres know exactly how much we know about them.”

“But they’re our… okay, they’re not our allies, but we aren’t at war,” Amaranth said. “So they aren’t our enemies, either!”

“Let’s go back east and take a look at the other side of the ocean,” I said, thinking we needed another subject. “I want to see the Mother City.”

“Okay… and then Yokan,” she said.

“Why not?” I said.

In the end, it probably wasn’t the most productive two hours of study ever spent in the library, but I think we profited from it, all the same. Amaranth checked the atlas out… and when we left, instead of doing whatever it was she did with things when she wasn’t using them, she hugged the massive tome to her massive chest and physically carried it all the way back.

It meant we couldn’t hold hands, but I didn’t mind… as much as Amaranth was an amazing sight in any position, there was just something about seeing her carrying that book that took my appreciation of her to a whole new level.

Also, it meant I could keep my hands in my pockets. She was warm, but they were warmer.

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2 Responses to “320: Atlas Hugged”

  1. MentalBlank says:

    I LOVE the chapter title. Atlas Shrugged is a great book, for anyone who hasn’t read it, by the way.

    Current score: 0
  2. Leila says:

    I kind of doubt that, I could never find anything warmer than my girlfriend.

    Also, I really hope Amaranth takes Mack to paradise valley sometime, not only because I want her to see where Amaranth was born, but so we can meet some of her sisters (besides Barley) and see how different she is from the rest of them.

    Current score: 3