394: Hallowed Halls

on June 30, 2009 in Book 14

In Which The Walls Don’t Have Ears

Levitating pumpkins blazing with witchlights had been set along the paths and around the edges of the public areas. I half expected to see Leda gliding around in the fountain, but it was empty.

The pent and the plaza were both full of people, though… it wasn’t only a much bigger crowd than I was used to seeing lingering around outdoors during the night, it was also a much more heterogeneous one. The elves and the dwarves were both out in force, moving easily among the humans. Lots of Harlowites were also milling around. Nobody seemed in a hurry to get indoors… they were too busy looking at each other.

Not all the humans were wearing costumes, but I didn’t see a single non-human who wasn’t.

“Wow, it’s a pretty diverse group,” I said.

“Yeah, I didn’t know there were that many Argenti students here,” Ian said, and I followed his gaze to a large group of darker-skinned humans hanging out by the fountain. I looked to see if Gloria was with them, but then I realized it might look like I was staring… and also that Gloria would probably be the last person on campus to celebrate Veil.

And that she probably wouldn’t be happy to see me, anyway.

“Oh… I actually meant the way the non-humans are kind of all mingling together with the humans,” I said, bringing my mind back to my point. “I guess Veil really has passed into the realm of secular observances.”

“I think the spiritual component is still important,” Amaranth said. “You can enjoy it as a fun celebration and still honor the origins of the feast.”

“You want to start laying odds on how many of these people are out to honor origins?” Ian asked.

“Well, they’re honoring them by participating,” Amaranth said.

“Can we hurry up and honor the origins inside?” I asked.

“You know the party’s not in the union, right?” Ian said.

“It’s not open air, is it?” I asked, pulling my coat around myself reflexively at the thought. “Because it’s a bit late in the season for that.”

“No, it’s in the east tower,” Ian said.

“The dance is in a dorm?”

“The basement thereof,” Ian said.

“The Veil Ball’s actually in a different dorm each year,” Amaranth said. “It’s tradition. They rotate them…”

“So that any wandering spirits who hear about it will show up in the wrong place next year,” I said, remembering the village Veil feasts of my early childhood. I smiled. “The kids were in charge of decorating the old site each year. Do they do that here?”

“According to the pictures in some of the school histories I’ve been reading, it looks like it used to be almost as big a thing as the ball itself,” Amaranth said. “But I think that tradition’s fallen out of favor.”

“Oh,” I said, trying not to sound like my spirits were utterly crushed. It wasn’t like it affected my participation in this Veil celebration either way.

“Maybe we can revive it for next year ourselves?” Amaranth suggested.

“Maybe,” I said.

There were glowing footprints… both shoe-shaped and big monstrous paw prints… leading the way on from the plaza. We followed the trails on up past the union towards the north edge of campus, and the two towers… the big, imposing residence buildings that were such a big part of MU’s physical profile that the student life crest was a drawing of the front of the union with the dragon fountain in front and them rising up behind it.

“My dad tried to get me to take a room in the towers, at first,” Ian said. “He thought it was more fitting for a wizard. But he ended up deciding he liked Weyland and the boys’ club atmosphere better.”

“That’s a shame… I love the towers’ rooms,” Amaranth said. “They’re a little bit snug compared to some of the other halls’ rooms, but the private bath shared with a connecting room… it seems like a nice combination of intimate and social, and you know I’m all in favor of social intimacy.” She shivered. “I’ve had some good times there. It’s not a hard limit, but four guys is the most I feel confident taking on at a time and still being able to give everybody enough attention, so the connected suites work out nicely.”

“I don’t think I’d be able to stand living in one,” I said. “As much as it sucks to share a public bathroom with a bunch of girls who mostly hate me, there’d be so much more sucking potential there. What if the other room on the other side of the suite had someone like the Leightons in it?”

“Well, a lot of people who go for the towers after their first year are groups of four who are arranging to get a suite together,” Amaranth said. “I think that could be fun… we could still live with Two but we wouldn’t have to figure out how to have sex without disturbing her.

“I can’t really think of another girl… legal girl, I mean… that I’d want to share living space with like that,” I said. “Maybe I’d be a better suitemate for Two than a roommate, but I don’t know who else I’d want to share a bathroom with. And actually, I’m not sure sharing a private bathroom with Two would be a great idea.”

“Wouldn’t she keep it clean?” Ian asked.

“Yeah, but I’d hear about it every time I left something out of place,” I said.

“We would all work together to make sure it was clean,” Amaranth said.

“Hey, I’m not cleaning any toilets,” I said. “That’s the one mess in the world I know I’m not responsible for.”

“Well, if Two’s the only one using it, don’t you think it would be pretty clean to begin with?” Amaranth asked.

“Except she wouldn’t be, since we’re still short a roommate for her,” I said. “I don’t think she could spring for a solo room.”

“Well, maybe her friend Hazel would appreciate a chance to live apart from her cousin,” Amaranth said. “Assuming she doesn’t drop out to have the baby.”

“So what’s Two going to do when her friend Hazel wants to have a guy over?” I asked. “Wasn’t the whole point to not have to do that?”

“I’ve got a great idea… let’s all argue over a hypothetical situation that’s almost a year away from even possibly coming to pass,” Ian said. “Can anybody think of a topic?”

“Ian’s right, baby,” Amaranth said. “There’s still plenty of time for us to figure out who the fourth person could be, before we have to sign up for next year’s housing.”

“Yes, because that’s exactly what I said,” Ian said.

We had reached the base of the east tower. The doors were propped open by pumpkins. Fake cobwebs were stretched out across the glass panel over the door. A big brown animated spider… or a very solid looking illusion… was crawling around over the web.

Amaranth wrinkled her nose and frowned.

“Ooh, I don’t think I like that,” she said.

“I’m sure it’s just a decoration,” I said.

“No, she’s real,” Amaranth said. “I don’t think I approve of that.”

“What, you want to go around until we find a vegan entrance?” Ian asked.

“There’s no reason to be snarky,” Amaranth said. “I just… with so many different students who could use their magical talents to simulate it, I don’t see any reason to charm a spider into being a Veil ornament.”

“Don’t you think a student’s talent did that?” Ian asked.

“I’m allowed to think it’s inappropriate,” Amaranth said.

“Sure, but don’t they have farm animals where you’re from?” he asked.

“Ian,” I said. “Let’s not stand around arguing some more.”

“I’m not arguing, I’m just trying to figure out how this breaks down,” he said.

“It’s an emotional response, it’s not going to be logical,” I said.

“Hey, hold on there, missy,” Amaranth said. “I’m not being illogical. I think there is a qualitative difference between animals being raised to support intelligent life and one being exploited for a gratuitous display of man’s mastery over the natural world. An animal is not a toy.”

“Um…” Ian said, his eyes flicking to me.

“If you say ‘dramatic irony’, I’m going to hit you with my stupid useless prop sword,” I said. “The spider hasn’t made any choice… whatever ability it has to make a choice is being suppressed, and that’s what she’s objecting to. She can dislike that without being a hypocrite.”

“Thank you, baby,” Amaranth said.

“I didn’t say anything,” Ian said.

The spider reared up and waved its forelimbs at us, clacking its mandibles as we passed underneath it. Amaranth clicked her tongue at this but said nothing more. Inside, the hall was dark. The emergency lights had been tinted sickly purple and green. I felt something like a touch of vertigo and stopped before I fell… as soon as I stopped moving the hallway started to twist and buck, the walls pulsating.

“Whoa,” Ian said, reaching out and grabbing me like he was going to steady me.

“I’m fine,” I said.

There were screams from somewhere up ahead. Another group of people bumped into us from behind, but caught up in the perceptual shift, they didn’t complain about us blocking the way. I stumbled forward a couple steps, and discovered that the effect was keyed to standing still. I took another step to make sure. Everything snapped into solidity while I was moving, then melted into craziness when I stopped.

“Be careful, baby!” Amaranth said. “You know you’re not… the most graceful.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “If you move, it disappears.”

As we headed forward, it became apparent that wasn’t quite the case… maybe somebody with an elven stride could move smoothly enough to keep the spell at bay, but things still got wobbly around the edges at certain parts of a normal gait, which was enough to make sure that most people realized something was wrong and stopped to see the perceptual effect.

The effect ended right before a small group of wide stairs heading down before a bend in the hallway.

“Okay, that was kind of impressive in terms of complexity, I guess,” Ian said as we approached the corner. “But it wasn’t actually very scary, once you got past the oh holy shit!”

Amaranth screamed. I might have yelped and jumped a little

Rounding the corner made everything melt inwards again, this time without so much bucking, but the walls were contracting inwards and writhing gray limbs protruded from it, some of them capped with eyes, others with beak-like nails, and the largest of them with fanged mouths.

Beyond them was blackness, a darkness so total that nothing could be seen past it.

“You were saying?” I said to Ian, a little weakly.

“Okay, that’s… that’s more like it,” he said.

“Baby, are those… those aren’t… can you tell if those are physical?” Amaranth asked as the group behind us arrived, and started shrieking. A pair of slightly older-looking male students who hadn’t even bothered with costumes breezed right past us, snickering.

“If doubt there are any students here who could conjure up something like this for real,” I said.

“But… I mean… they aren’t tactile, are they?” Amaranth asked, drawing back.

“What, you don’t like monstrous tentacles?” Ian asked.

“I… it’s… sometimes, but this isn’t sexy,” Amaranth said.

“I don’t see why they’d make them tactile,” I said. “It’s got to be hard enough to pull this off as it is.”

“But… can you tell?” Amaranth asked.

“I can probe the spells,” I said.

“Yeah, so can I,” Ian said. He stepped closer to the manifestations and stuck his hand at one of the tentacles.

“Oh, don’t!” Amaranth said. “You don’t have to do that!”

“It’s fine,” he said. The thing seemed to reach for him until his hand got really close, at which point it twitched aside, but he swiped his hand through it. “Nope. No sensation at all.”

“Okay, then,” Amaranth said, and we proceed past the tentacles. They reached inwards towards us. Even after having watched Ian call their bluff, Amaranth kept to the very center of the hall, turning sideways and twisting to try to keep herself out of their clutches.

Just when we got to the very end, a burst of fluttering, screeching black shapes burst out of the wall of blackness, flying straight through us. Ian yelped.

“See?” Amaranth said. “If they can do illusionary bats, they could have done an illusionary spider.”

Those don’t bother her,” Ian said.

“Bats,” Amaranth said. “The barns were full of them. They’re perfectly natural. Children of the goddess. That, behind us…” She shrugged, like she was trying to brush it off, but the whole tableau had obviously bothered her deeply.

“Come on,” I said. “There’s got to be a party somewhere behind this black thing, or else I’m going to be very disappointed.”

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9 Responses to “394: Hallowed Halls”

  1. MadnessMaiden says:

    Seeing Ian and Amy interact reminds me that they are core opposites. It’s interesting how Mack is still attracted to both of them–they feed different parts of her, I guess. :3

    Current score: 11
  2. Dangflabit says:

    Amy has seen enough hentia to know where that hallway is going ;]

    Current score: 6
    • zeel says:

      I just find it funny that of all things Amaranth doesn’tfetishise tenticles.

      Current score: 2
      • Kalamorda says:

        She said sometimes……just not ones capped in eyes and fanged mouths.

        Current score: 5
    • Sahsa says:

      Edit: Amy has LIVED enough hentai to know where that hallway is going.

      Current score: 8
  3. Vair says:

    It’s not the tentacles it’s the unnatural aspect.
    I’m sure if she ever talked with Feejee about cuttlefish she’d be looking into waterbreathing spells.

    Current score: 13
  4. Jechtael says:

    Speaking of legal females, I wonder what the legal aspects of transsexuality in the Imperium are.

    I wonder if they keyed the first illusion to being stationary to keep from being a danger to moving students.

    Current score: 0
    • Sahsa says:

      I thought that it was to discourage people from clogging up the entrance/halls.

      Current score: 1
    • Leishycat says:

      They did mention trans people being ‘morphed’. If the Imperium’s cultural similarity to the United States continues in that aspect, most of the Imperium would consider trans people to be their assigned gender pre-morph and their actual gender post-morph.

      A few more enlightened areas would legally recognize trans people as their actual gender pre-morph once they had started taking potions of femininity (or potions of masculinity; I don’t think those have been mentioned but given the potions of femininity they probably exist), and a few more backward areas in the south (as the Imperium’s south tends to be less progressive, similarly to the US’s south) would not recognize trans people’s actual gender at all.

      Current score: 0