339: Back And Forth

on January 12, 2009 in Book 12

In Which Matters Of Principle Are Addressed

At the party’s end, Hazel stayed behind to clean things up and Two insisted on helping, taking the dishes that Hazel had just rinsed off in the sink behind the counter and wiping them with a towel.

“Hold on, you’ve done enough work,” Hazel said, snatching the plate away so fast she almost tipped over the stool she was standing on.

“Oh, come on, Hazel,” Steff said sleepily from the pile of coats, where she’d collapsed about an hour before. “It’s her party and she’ll dry if she wants to.”

“I think you may as well let her help, Haze,” Amaranth said. “She’s sleeping with you tonight, so there’s no point in her going back to Harlowe before you.”

“Sleeping over with me,” Hazel said, handing the plate back to Two.

“Oh, well, yes,” Amaranth said, blushing. “I didn’t mean to imply… I mean, if it happened we’d all be tremendously supportive…”

“Er, are you crossing your fingers for luck?” Hazel asked, looking at Amaranth’s hands.

“Um… no?” Amaranth said, holding up her hands with fingers still intertwined. “I mean, I was,” she said, quickly unfolding them. “Obviously. Duh.” She laughed. “But… for something else, not for the possibility that you and Two hook up.”

“Right,” Hazel said. “Well…”

She didn’t seem to have anything else to say, because she just turned around and went back to washing.

After Dee and Honey had slunk away and Feejee and Iona left, Hazel didn’t let anybody else get out of the party room without a container full of leftovers.

“It’s against my conscience to let somebody out of a party empty-handed,” she said with grim solemnity as she loaded us down. “It’s a matter of principle, it is. Never again!”

After receiving my half-hearted confirmation that I was friends with Feejee, she also gave me the dishes for her and Iona. Since we were also taking Dee’s grainless offering and managing Steff… who was not particularly refreshed after her nap… Amaranth took all the various containers and disappeared them. I was glad she took charge of them, because it lessened the chance that I’d be sent down to Iona’s room to deliver hers.

Of course, that just meant that Amaranth would have to do it. I loved Amaranth and she was certainly worldly in some… well, maybe exactly one… sense of the word, but I didn’t think she was quite canny enough to be dealing with Iona, especially when the mermaid’s predatory blood was raised.

“We can probably just leave Iona’s with Feejee,” I suggested as the three of us headed back to Harlowe. “So we can get to bed sooner.”

“I think it’ll be more personable if we deliver it to her door,” Amaranth said. “After we get Steff home, of course. I’m sure Viktor will want to thank you for showing her so much concern, baby.”

“Yeah, I’m sure he’ll have something to say to me,” I said.

“You had very good reasons for not wanting to touch that dagger,” Amaranth said. “Which meant your choices were either get Steff in trouble by calling in the authorities or trust her to put it back, which she did eventually do.”

“I don’t know why you guys are making such a big deal over it,” Steff said. “Just a knife. Just…”

“Steff, from what Celia says you burned through half your life force playing vampire games with it,” I said.

“What’s she know?” Steff said. “Probably took a bad elixir… or ate some bad squirrel. Something. I’m just… sleepy. I’m fine.”

“Can I get that in writing before we get to Viktor’s?” I asked.

“Oh, hush, baby,” Amaranth said. “It’s going to be fine.”

Steff had been leaning against Amaranth for most of the walk, and by the time we got inside we were both supporting her. She was practically dead… unconscious, I should say… on her feet.

Amaranth paused when we got up to Viktor’s door on the boys’ side of the fourth floor. She raised her knuckles and her face scrunched up like she was trying to remember something, but then the door opened before she could decide how to knock.

Viktor was all business. He was also all naked.

“What has happened to her?” he asked, pulling Steff away from us and leaning her against his body.

“Low energy,” Amaranth said. “She just needs rest… physical rest, but especially rest from magic. A good night’s sleep should put her mostly right, I think… but you sh… I would send her to the healing center if she doesn’t seem any better.”

“Where was she?” Viktor asked, stroking the top of Steff’s head with his entire hand.

“She just came…” Amaranth started to say.

“Mack found me,” Steff said quickly.

“Tell me if this is true,” Viktor said, looking straight down at me.

“Um… no,” I said. “It’s not,” I clarified, in case he thought I was refusing rather than answering in the negative, then added, “I was at the…”

The back of Viktor’s hand slapped across my face, wrenching my head backwards and knocking me off my feet.

We use a finger to the lips, Viktor,” Amaranth said, with surprising sternness that only sounded ridiculous, considering who she was and whom she was addressing… or more particularly, what she was and what she was addressing.

“I believe that was involved in my solution,” he said.

“You aren’t allowed to hit her,” Amaranth said, tilting her head forward to give him a shot of the over-the-glasses look. It didn’t exactly leave him quaking in his lack of boots… but it didn’t make him throw her across the hall, either.

“I do not allow her to speak to me beyond what she is directed to,” Viktor said.

“That’s fine,” Amaranth said. “A finger to the lips is all it takes. Stand up, baby.”

More or less on instinct, I’d been staying exactly where I’d fallen, doing my best imitation of a rug. Since I didn’t know if the confrontation was over or not, I kind of would have liked to stay where I was, out of the fray, but Amaranth was standing up for me and I wasn’t going to undermine her position as my owner by disobeying her, so I got to my feet, accepting a hand from her to help me up.

“Say goodnight to Steff,” Amaranth said.

“Goodnight,” I said.

“Night,” Steff said.

“Goodnight, both of you,” Amaranth said.

“Goodnight, Amaranth,” Viktor said, and he turned and stepped back inside the room with Steff and closed the door.

“Thanks,” I said to Amaranth. “Thank you.” That sounded inadequate considering the fact that she’d just stared down a half-ogre, so I added, “Ma’am,” and she glowed with pride.

“You’re welcome, baby.”

“I thought you were submissive to him,” I said.

“I have obligations to you that go beyond that,” Amaranth said. “For as long as I’m allowed to keep them, anyway… and I just thought that was excessive.”

“Oh, you think?” I said.

“You weren’t being disrespectful, you were being… expansive,” she said.

“So you don’t have a problem with him backhanding me across a room when I am being disrespectful.”

“Do you have a problem with it?” Amaranth asked, and I realized I didn’t have an immediate answer.

I resented the hell out of the way Viktor treated me. That resentment crawled across my skin in a way only the most powerful and most unpleasant feelings could. But that wasn’t the only thing I’d felt in his room. Was the resentment so bad that I’d forego the peace that came from total objectification, or from the utter seclusion inside his box?

Honestly, I had to think about it… but once I did, the answer was obvious. I hadn’t sought Viktor out. I’d done my best to avoid him. I would have loved the chance to crawl into the box and spend a couple hours by myself working out the rest of my Mecknights story or putting together my thoughts on everything that had been happening to me or just get away from it all, but that chance wasn’t worth putting up with somebody who would sooner wipe his boots on me than look at me.

“Yeah, I kinda do,” I said.

“Baby, you have to remember Viktor comes from a place where he always could lash out at anybody for pretty much any reason,” Amaranth said. “And he doesn’t necessarily like that fact or agree with the system behind it, but it’s how he was raised. It’s a privilege he grew up with, and when he lost self-control and lashed out it was seen as a sign of strength and praised. Now he spends most of the year in a place where doing that could have real consequences, and not just for him.”

“But he can hit me as hard as he wants without breaking me, so I’m the designated whipping girl,” I said. I heaved a disgusted sigh. “Yeah, that’s fair.”

“It’s not,” Amaranth said. “And I’m not saying he sat down and thought about you and decided this… but when he gets angry like that, there’s a lot of frustration and anger that he doesn’t know how else to vent and it’s all coming out through the only channel it can.”

“And I’ve just got to take it,” I said.

“No, you don’t!” Amaranth said with alarming vehemence. She stomped her foot. “Sweet Mother, Mack! Are you even listening? Did you hear me ask you if you had a problem with it? Did you hear me tell him he’s not allowed to do that anymore?”

“I… I… you never cared before,” I said. “If you knew all this…”

“I never saw it before,” she said. “Intellectually, I thought it might be good for him to have an invulnerable receptacle for his anger and I thought you might enjoy it, but then I saw his face when he lashed out… and I saw yours… and… well, you should show Viktor proper respect because it’s respectful to Steff, if for no other reason, but you don’t have to put up with that.”

A feeling of profound gratitude and relief washed over me as I realized that she meant it. She gave me a hug, which I held onto for about a minute, and then we continued on back down the stairs and then over and up.

“So, Dee says you’re going to write to your grandmother?” Amaranth said.

“Uh… we did talk about that,” I said.

“So you’re really going to do it?” she asked. “That’s wonderful, baby.”

“I guess,” I said. “Dee thinks it’s a good idea. I’m not sure about it.”

“Well…” Amaranth said. “Family ties are important, when they can be salvaged… but I don’t think any of us are in a better position to know whether this one can be than you are. Though,” she added, a hopeful note in her voice, “if you have any uncertainty about it I think it’s best to err on the side of forgiveness. After all, where would you be if nobody was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt?”

“If it’s up to me…” I said.

“Of course it’s up to you,” Amaranth said.

“Okay, then I think I’ve given her more than enough benefit through the course of plenty of doubt,” I said. “Dee thinks her expertise would be valuable…”

“Oh, that is a good point!” Amaranth said. “But… still your choice.”

“It’s just, I really don’t know who I could trust to both see my side and not take advantage of me, among exorcists and diabolists and everybody else who might be available… but… I wouldn’t feel any safer with her,” I said, and once the words had left my mouth I felt strangely good about things.

I didn’t feel safe with her. I didn’t trust her. Awful things to think about my own grandmother, but true. Safe had been down in the basement with a sturdy door between us.

“I guess that’s that, then,” Amaranth said, and she sounded disappointed, but it didn’t feel like she was disappointed in me and that was what was important.

“The thing is, I already told Dee that I would,” I said.

“Oh, well, Dee’s not Sooni,” Amaranth said. “I think she’ll take a change of heart a little better than Sooni does.”

“I don’t know about this change of heart,” I said as we went out of the stairwell and into the hallway. “She seemed pretty set on the idea.”

“I’m sure she’s got some good reasoning, but… well, family ties really are a big deal, but Dee’s going to be attaching even more importance to them,” Amaranth said. “Because of her culture, and because she’s dealing with the fact that she was taught to idolize a mother when it doesn’t sound like her mother’s ever been a big part of her life.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“That’s the impression I get,” Amaranth said. “Think about how often she talks about her mother in specific terms.”

“She’s a private person,” I said. “I don’t think I’d be comfortable reading too much into the things she doesn’t mention.”

“But when she has an unguarded moment, she talks about her lovers,” Amaranth said. “When she talks about her childhood, it’s Dehsah she mentions… what are you doing?”

I’d just turned to go into my room, and then I realized I wasn’t looking at my room, but 317… the same room I’d tried to go into on accident before, home of a medusan girl and Trina’s blabby friend Gladys.

“We stopped on the wrong floor,” I said.

“No, we stopped on Iona’s floor,” Amaranth said, holding out a covered rubber container with Iona’s share of the leftover food in it. “You can knock on her door, since you know her better,” she said, giving me a nudge towards it.

Maybe this would have been the time to tell her in no uncertain terms that I wanted as little to do with Iona as I did with my grandmother, but I felt like Amaranth had been so accommodating already that I would have felt guilty digging in my heels now. Compromise. She wasn’t asking me to spend the night with Iona, or even go in her room with her. Just knock on the door and stand next to her while she handed off the dish.

“Go ahead,” Amaranth said. “It’s okay. I think reaching out to Iona and Feejee is going to do more good than anything in the long run.”

I sighed and knocked on the door.

Iona opened it, smiling a dazzlingly inviting smile

“Well, this is a nice surprise,” she said. She stepped back, opening the door wider. “Come on in.”

“Thank you,” Amaranth said, pushing me forward. “We can’t stay long, but we brought you some food since you left the party early.”

“I see that,” Iona said, looking me up and down as we stepped past her into the room. She closed the door. It was probably just reflex that she twisted and locked the knob as she did so, but I gulped as I heard it clicking.

“So, can I just set this on the desk?” Amaranth asked.

“Sure,” Iona said. “Your friend make it back okay?”

“Oh, yes,” Amaranth said. “I think she’s going to be fine with a little rest.”

“She looked good, I thought,” Iona said. “Take off your coat, Mackenzie.”

“I’m fine,” I said, pulling it around me like a magic cloak to shield me from her hungry gaze.

“Really?” Iona said. “You ought to be roasting.”

“You know, we really should be going,” Amaranth said, grabbing my hand and pulling me towards the door.

“Oh, can’t stay?” Iona asked, affecting a pout.

“Sorry, no,” Amaranth said, fumbling at the doorknob.

“How about Mack?”

“I need her,” Amaranth said. She got the door open. “Say goodnight, baby.”

“Uh… goodnight,” I said.

“Goodnight, Iona!” Amaranth said.

“Night,” Iona said, following us out into the hall. She stayed leaning against the doorframe watching us as we headed as quick as we could without being obviously rude for the stairwell.

“I’m sorry, baby,” Amaranth said, once we were through the door and out of sight.

“It’s okay,” I said, thinking she was apologizing for putting me in the room with a hungry, amoral predator who had a taste for me.

“I didn’t mean to pull you out of there like that,” she said. “I was just getting so worked up watching Iona, listening to her talk like that…” She shivered all over. “Let’s get Feejee and Dee their stuff and then get to bed.”

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12 Responses to “339: Back And Forth”

  1. pedestrian says:

    So if I understand this correctly, Amaranth has a predatory side of her own?

    Current score: 0
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      She’s turned on by the idea of being eaten and Ive gotten the impression that a feeding frenzy for the mermaids is almost sexual in its pleasure levels so a hungry mermaid would set off Amy’s nymph senses.

      Current score: 7
    • Anthony says:

      Wouldn’t surprise me. Mackenzie is irresistable to predators. (This is shown to be canonical later on; all demonblood girls are.) And Amaranth and Barley were both drawn to her very strongly, despite having a severely underdeveloped concept of sexuality. She really shouldn’t have drawn their attention any more than Sooni, and for much the same reason.

      So, the question is, why does Mackenzie’s inherent predator magnetism attract nymphs?

      Dun dun dun…

      Current score: 1
      • WsntHere says:

        Someone needs to pull all your posts off here. What are you, twelve, with all the spoilers? I’ve been through it more than once, but it’s still annoying as hell.

        Current score: 9
        • ANameIsRequired says:

          This chapter is *six* years old. Anyone that reads the comments before getting caught up deserves what they get, stop crying.

          Current score: 0
          • zeel says:

            This isn’t a forum though, it’s the comments on the actual chapters. New readers will be here, you can’t use the “it’s old” defense in this situation.

            I do think it should be okay to leave spoilers in the comments, but not unless or until there is some kind of warning at the top about it. We can not expect new readers to avoid comments without warning. New readers mean new income for the author, therefore we have to avoid alienating them with unmarked spoilers.

            Current score: 9
  2. pedestrian says:

    On my second reading, I realize that my first impression was wrong. Amy is just being her usual dense-as-basalt naive teenage divine manifestation self.

    Current score: 6
  3. MadnessMaiden says:

    I’m with Zukira on that. This was a good chapter. I was proud of Amy for standing up to Victor, and being understanding. She handled herself well and reminded me why she used to be my favorite character. :3

    Current score: 7
  4. Tuukka says:

    So they are just going to dismiss Dee’s conserns out of hand?
    Really going to do _nothing_ about the risks of being demon-blooded?

    There has already been a death and several very close calls because of that and how likely are those to have ended if nothing has been done to change the state of things?

    It is not Macks fault she is demon blooded but is her (and by axtension Amy’s) responsibility to manage the condition.

    I think the fact Mack did not kill anyone during her childhood and is still alive is a strong argument that granny knows how to manage her condition.
    Is it really more important to spare Mack’s feelings than it is to reduce risk of further death?

    Given that the main cast should by now be aware of the risks and that they have a clear way of substantially reducing them I do think if further death results it _will_ be their fault.

    I really hope Amy will learn some responsibility cause it seems unlikely Mack will.

    Been a while since I was this indenced at fictional characters so props for the writer 🙂

    Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      There are other ways than going back to her abusive grandmother. For instance, Dee want’s to teach her better self control, martial arts, etc – those things will all help much more than consulting Martha. She could also use some more specific training – such as resisting divine energy, and the smell of human flesh. Amaranth should be doing better to get Mackenzie to work with Dee, but she should not pressure her to talk to her grandmother.

      Not to spoil, but later we will learn that demons can learn self control to a pretty significant degree – this is what Mackenzie needs.

      Current score: 3
    • Athena says:

      Going back to any kind of abusive relationship is not a good thing. Convincing the abused person that they “need” their abuser or can’t get by without them only enables the abuser and the abuse, and is not a good thing.

      This is not a matter of “sparing Mack’s feelings”. This is about her well-being and her safety.

      Current score: 7
  5. Mike says:

    You know, every time someone defends Victor’s brutality as just being how he was raised, it just sickens me. I understand how hard it is to go against how you were raised, but he knows it’s wrong, doesn’t like it, knows it can get him into a world of shit since he isn’t in Kilrest, but does it anyways? Dude has issues, and if Mackenzie ever decides to stand up for herself, we’ll have one half dead half ogre on our hands, and I’ll be cheering her on every step of the way.

    Current score: 4