391: Armed For Conflict

on June 22, 2009 in Book 14

In Which Ian Spits And Amaranth Swallows

“So… did I totally misread something, or did he break her fucking arm?” Ian asked when we got to the stairwell.

“Um… I think he just dislocated it, actually,” Amaranth said. She swallowed a little spasmodically. She looked about the same shade of sickly green as the brick walls inside the stairwell were painted. I could hardly blame her. Seeing Dee, who had not backed down in the face of the pitchfork entity, so utterly cowed was way more than a little unnerving. “The way it was… hanging there, it looked…”

“The word ‘just’ has no place in that sentence,” Ian said. His outrage was growing now that we were away… for myself, I just felt relieved to be out of Viktor’s sight without having drawn his ire myself.

“Well… she did seem really reluctant to contact Ceilos, before,” Amaranth said. She pushed her glasses up her nose.

“And that justifies pulling her arm out of the socket?”

“Well, no,” Amaranth said. She took her glasses off and squinted at the lenses, then put them back on and pushed them down her nose, crossing her eyes and scowling at the them like there was something wrong with them. “But… sometimes, in the heat of the moment…”

“He could have hurt her in anger in the first place, but that was no ‘heat of the moment’ we saw back there,” Ian said. “That was stone freaking cold.”

“You have to understand that in his culture, violence is a way of asserting yourself… if Dee wasn’t doing what he thought was best and she wouldn’t listen to him, well, that’s his way of overruling her,” Amaranth said. Her color was coming back, but she was clutching at her skin with her fingernails again.

“Khersis, what the fuck kind of pacifist are you?” Ian asked, practically spitting with anger.

“Hey!” I said, wincing at the sharpness in my own voice. I was still in “jumpy” mode, but I thought he was going too far. “Can’t you see she’s upset as you are?”

“She’s upset but she’s defending him,” Ian said, actually spitting with anger. “How the fuck do you do that?”

“I’m explaining,” Amaranth said. “You can try to understand something without condoning it.”

“There’s a difference between not specifically condoning something and condemning it,” Ian said.

“Excuse me for trying to make sense of what’s happening before I go and condemn it,” Amaranth said.

“You can’t make sense of the senseless,” Ian said. “He couldn’t have reflected the embassy place himself? If it’s a bunch of underground races living near the surface and talking about peace and diplomacy and stuff like that, I can’t believe they’d have refused to talk to him long enough for him to find out who he needs to talk to and explain the situation himself.”

“Well, Dee was against it, but she would also have known exactly who they needed to talk to and exactly what to ask them about. If he wanted to keep her cooperation…”

“Yanking her arm until something gives is not the best way to do that,” Ian said.

“It’s not that I don’t agree with you, Ian, but in the heat of the moment it’s what he did,” Amaranth said. “I think Dee could probably have fought him off, but that wouldn’t have helped Steff… and really, it’s probably not something that needs to be dealt with when there’s another crisis already in progress.”

“That implies this will be dealt with after this,” Ian said.

“Dee could deal with it,” I said. “I could see her doing that. I mean, once Steff is out of the woods… she could heal herself, apologize to Viktor and Steff, and then make it really clear that he went over the line.”

“If there’s a line involved, I don’t think he was ever on the right side to begin with,” Ian said. “And for what? It didn’t sound like anyone had anything all that different from what you said before. They were as in the dark as you.”

“We knew that might be the case and we made the decision to press Dee into contacting them, too,” Amaranth said. “Now that we know what we would have learned, does that mean we made the wrong decision?”

“You can’t honestly make out an equivalency between what Viktor did and what we would have done,” Ian said.

“No, I’m just saying that the end result shouldn’t have any bearing on how we judge his actions,” Amaranth said.

“So even a hypothetical end that doesn’t come to pass justifies the means?” Ian asked.

“I’m not saying that,” Amaranth said. “If anything, I’m saying the end doesn’t affect justification one way or the other… but if we’re talking about the end, we both had thought that just healing a burst heart would be enough and apparently it isn’t. If everything else goes right, that information won’t make a difference, but I’d still say it’s something important to know. And knowing that there isn’t any other danger lurking in the process will let us all relax a little, and Dee will be able to focus on keeping Steff’s heart strong and under control.”

“Something she’d be able to do better if she didn’t have to deal with a painful and incapacitating injury,” Ian said. He looked at me. “Have you ever considered just, like, hitting him as hard as you can?”

“Are you kidding? He’d pound me,” I said.

“He can’t be stronger than you,” Ian said.

“Strength isn’t everything, Ian,” Amaranth said. “Violence just isn’t in Mack’s nature.”

“You’re kidding yourself if you really believe that,” Ian said.

“No, I’m serious,” she said. “She’s had to spend most of her life trying to control her strength, learning not to lash out and hit people… he’s spent his entire life watching out for attacks from people who are bigger and stronger than he is. Even if I thought that violence was an acceptable solution here, and even if I thought it was acceptable to encourage Mack towards it, I don’t think it would be a good idea for her to take Viktor on.”

“Hold on… granting that everything else you said is true, how can you say it’s not an acceptable solution here?” Ian asked. “You want to understand Viktor roughing up Dee from the standpoint of his culture, but you’re saying it’s not acceptable to deal with him on the same level? If he wants to play Ogre Politics, why doesn’t anybody else get to play back?”

“I didn’t say nobody else can… but I don’t think it’s acceptable,” Amaranth said. “If I were in charge of Viktor, I’d have something more to say about it, but I’m not. I am in charge of Mack…”

“Look, I’m not even going to argue about whether or not your relationship dynamic should come into play when people are pulling shoulders… okay, I guess I am arguing about that,” Ian said. “But…”

“Look, it really isn’t about whether I think it’s a good idea or Mack thinks it’s a good idea,” Amaranth said. “It’s about the most reasonable response to the situation. I’m willing to discuss…”

“A pacifist response isn’t the same thing as a reasonable one,” Ian said.

“No, but a stance can be both,” Amaranth said. “Especially when it doesn’t result in a brawl involving some combination of a half-ogre, a half-demon, and a subterranean elf on the campus of a human-dominated university, when two of the three are dealing with legal proceedings, two are on student visas…”

“Okay, okay,” Ian said, throwing up his hands. “Hitting Viktor might not be the best idea. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable response, though, if you know someone could beat him, or at least withstand him.”

“Look, I don’t want to fight Viktor,” I said. “So you can forget about that.”

“Okay, but…”

“No okay, no but,” I said. “There’s stuff I can’t avoid… like demon stuff, or the things I ran into in the labyrinth… I don’t really want to add wrestling with half-ogres to that. I stared down one already and she was just… no Viktor. If he wants to believe that I’m weak because I maybe could kick his ass if I knew what I was doing and really tried but I won’t, okay. Maybe I don’t want to be strong in his mind.”

“You’re only saying that because right now you’re afraid of him,” Ian said. “Which makes sense, because of what Amaranth. But if you could learn how to use your strength…”

“I am afraid of him, yes, but I’m also making a decision,” I said, and I was. Not on purpose or anything, not with any kind of great deliberation… but I could feel things crystallize in my head as I spoke. Ian seemed to be good at making that happen when we talked, even if we were arguing… or maybe especially then. “Right now and for myself. I don’t think it’s right that he hurts people to get what he wants and I don’t think it’s right that he asserts himself over people against their will, and more importantly, I don’t want to be like him. I don’t want to be top dog on a ladder that includes him. That’s… that’s Puddy thinking. That’s not me.”

“Are you sure you’re not just saying this because of her?” Ian asked, looking at Amaranth.

“Ian… I love Amaranth,” I said. “And she loves me. And I’m not going to pretend like that fact’s completely independent of everything I say or do, because it’s not. It’s really not. Amaranth makes me want to be a better person…”

“And she also provides you with a definition of what that means,” Ian said.

“Yeah. She does, a bit,” I said. I smiled the dopey smile of true love, even though I knew what he meant and that it wasn’t complimentary. But again, by challenging me he was forcing me to put something into focus, and I actually liked what I saw as a result. “But the reason she’s my model isn’t just because I love her… it’s a big part of the reason that I love her. She’s…” I stopped and looked at her. She was looking at me, her expression neutral. “I want to be the sort of person who makes you proud.”

“You’re just talking in circles,” Ian said. “You want to impress her… okay. That’s normal. I tried impressing you that first day in class.”

“Is that what you call it?” I asked.

“I didn’t say I was good at it,” Ian said. “Like Amaranth said, the end result shouldn’t have any bearing. The point is…”

“The point is, I’m more interested in the approval of someone like Amaranth than I am in the approval of someone like Viktor,” I said. “Not fighting him costs me the latter and wins me the former. Don’t get me wrong… I’m impressed that you feel so strongly about this. I really am. I love it. I love you for it, Ian. And if I thought that by not standing up to him I was abandoning Dee or something, I’d have to do something to keep my own approval, but Dee’s… she’s way more capable than me. I’ve seen her standing up to scarier things than Viktor and winning. If she’s letting Viktor push her around, it’s got to be for a reason.”

“If she feels guilty or thinks she deserves it, that’s no reason to let her twist in the wind,” Ian said.

“I agree,” Amaranth said. “But if that’s the case, a more productive approach would be to give her support and let her know that no one deserves that kind of treatment, and that we don’t condemn her for her mistakes… trying to intervene physically when someone’s in that mindset is not going to be a long-term solution. All that aside, I don’t think it’s the case… I could be wrong. I can see a lot of things other people can’t, but I’m no subtle artist. But I have a hard time believing that Dee would accept that kind of ‘chastisement’ from… someone like Viktor. I don’t think it ever falls on males to punish females in her society.”

“I agree,” I said. “Like I said, I think she’s just… prioritizing. She can straighten Viktor out after she’s straightened out her own mistakes.”

“And you don’t think there’s an element of guilt to it?”

This time, instead of letting my answer form as I spoke, I thought first. Was I sure? No. I could honestly say that Dee was one of the smartest and strongest people that I knew, but I also knew that guilt and things like duty fell heavily on her.

“I think it’s complicated,” I said. “I think Dee is complicated. She worships a goddess of intricacy. I think it’s possible for her to stoically accept that the position she’s in… having to negotiate with an enraged half-ogre with a habit of breaking people while trying to keep Steff comfortable and healthy… is the result of her own actions, while not conceding to Viktor any right to treat her like that.”

“You really think Dee sees it that way?” Ian asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But when this is all done, then as her friend, I’m going to make sure she at least considers the possibility.”

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13 Responses to “391: Armed For Conflict”

  1. pedestrian says:

    i think Our Mack is inventing her own version of meta-ethics

    Current score: 3
  2. Arkeus says:

    Amaranth is such a amoral monster.

    Current score: 0
    • Konso says:

      Get a dictionary bud, amoral : being neither moral nor immoral. Amaranth has a very strong moral grounding. She believes that the only moral way to live is to live exactly as you want to. Admittedly, this breaks down when one person’s lifestyle infringes on another’s, and this vexes her horribly. In order to correct the cognitive dissonance she experiences she tries to justify the infringement, which is the wrong way to go. None of that makes her amoral, or a monster. It makes her a person, fallible and secure in her beliefs. In an ideal world her way of thinking makes perfect sense…

      Current score: 10
      • bleph says:

        Her morality, such as it is, appears to be grounded in the idea that it is her responsibility to cede her life in support of amorality.

        Current score: 0
    • keyonte0 says:

      I don’t understand why people keep calling Amaranth rediculous shit like this. Her behavior is a result of stubborn naivety. There’s no need to be so harsh on our lovably promiscuous jackass.

      Current score: 8
      • zeel says:

        Stubborn nothing, it’s an intrinsic inability to be judgemental.

        Current score: 4
  3. MadnessMaiden says:

    I was totally with Ian on the whole Viktor thing, but then it dawned on me: Ian has no room to talk. He’s hit Mackenzie around. Granted, she consents to it, which makes it way better than Viktor, but still, if I were looking at it just through Ian’s perspective, he’s being a hypocrite.

    Current score: 3
    • sanityoptional says:

      the thing is, he is against even himself doing things like this. He feels he did wrong, and hates that part of himself. A very large portion of his actions are motivated by a desire to keep himself from acting on his violent desires.

      Current score: 8
    • Tom says:

      There’s no hypocrisy in Ian getting angry that Viktor hits Makc without her consent in a way that is disrespectful and that she doesn’t like. Hitting someone in a sexual manner in a consenting relationship is COMPLETELY FINE, your own prejudices aside.

      Current score: 6
  4. Seanaiche says:

    i’ll accept someone saying ‘i hit people because i have an anger problem’ long before i accept ‘i hit people because in my culture it’s okay’ as an acceptable reason. okay that’s great- so go beat on :ogres: out in :ogre: land. you’re at a :human: university in a : human: empire, surrounded by humans and nonhumans of all stripes. learn a little respecting of other cultures. when in rome and all that.

    Current score: 6
  5. JerK says:

    I think all it would take to set Mack against Viktor would be for her to see him beat on Amy.

    Current score: 8
    • Sahsa says:

      Or Two… then she’d be out for blood.

      Current score: 8
      • zeel says:

        It would have to be Two. But if it happened… you better hope the building isn’t flamable.

        Current score: 4