398: Family Trees

on July 20, 2009 in Book 14

In Which Questions Of Makeup Are Addressed

“Oh, that is not fair,” Ian said when Amaranth used a single paper towel to clean herself up, leaving not a smear of paint behind.

She shrugged.

“I honestly wasn’t expecting it to stick to me in the first place,” she said. She giggled. “I suppose Two could have warned me, if I’d asked.”

“What, is she some kind of an expert on body paint?” Ian asked. I was just as perplexed as he was by this idea.

“No, but she’s an expert on things doing what they’re supposed to,” Amaranth said. “And body paint is supposed to go on bodies. I might have remembered, if I’d thought about it, that we sometimes get decorated with woad and henna for festivals. It wipes right off, though, because whatever residue would be left behind is mess, and I simply don’t do mess.”

“Isn’t it already a mess when it gets smeared on your skin by accident?” I asked.

“Probably, but I think she was decorating me… that girl is really into the idea of marking people,” Amaranth said.

“Yeah, that sounds like Semele,” Ian said.

“Oh, do you know her?” Amaranth asked. “You should introduce us sometime. She seems like she might be fun if she learned how to relax a little… Semele.” She sounded it out a few times like she was trying it on for fit. “Semele, Semele. That‘s kind of a pretty name. I’d love to get to know her.”

“What, did she just run off when you finished?” I asked.

“Well, she did kind of mess up her costume,” Ian said.

“Oh my kosh, is she okay?” Winnie asked.

“Yes, I think so,” Amaranth said to Winnie. “It was a very emotional experience for her… I think, in spite of my best efforts, it still wasn’t quite what she was expecting… but maybe she’ll have a better time the next time around, now that she’s got some idea what it feels like.”

“I’m just happy she got laid,” Winnie said.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve met,” Amaranth said. She held out a spotless hand. “I’m Amaranth.”

“Winnie Champlain,” she said.

“Oh, I have class with William Champlain!” Amaranth said.

“I’m related to at least three Williams, and two of them are here now,” Winnie said.

“Oh, this is the one with an incest fixation,” Amaranth said.

“Boy, I wish I could tell you I needed more to go on,” Winnie said. “But I know exactly who you mean.”

“He has brown hair,” Amaranth said.


“No, more like a dark chestnut.”

“That’s not… oh. Oh!” Winnie said. “Ew.”

“As transgressive fantasies go, it’s one of the more harmless ones,” Amaranth said. “There isn’t even an implicit power differential, in cousin or sibling incest… and the extension of the taboo to include cousins is kind of a recent innovation in the first place. Before the most recent advances in communication and transportation, most people never met enough people to be sure of a match they weren’t related to.”

“Really?” Winnie asked. “That’s interesting.”

“Oh, yes,” Amaranth said. “And in fact, while it’s kind of become an entrenched view in the Imperium, it’s far from universal among humans. And that’s to say nothing of other races. Some elves consider it enough to avoid a partner who shares both their parents, and dwarves don’t even track kinship with the opposite sex.”

“So, a dwarf could end up dating his sister?”

“For a certain value of ‘date’, I suppose,” Amaranth said.

“It’s amazing how much she knows about how other races fuck,” Ian said to me.

“Wasn’t Winnie grossed out a moment ago?” I asked him. He shrugged.

“So, what about other races?” Winnie asked Amaranth. “Like, gnomes.”

“Well, gnomish attitudes pretty much mirrored human ones at the time they both colonized the Westering Lands,” Amaranth said. “But their insularity and isolation means that they haven’t changed as much. So on the one hand things like cousin marriages never really became taboo, but on the other hand, things that are seen as perfectly normal in human society would be scandalous in theirs. Things are slightly different in the riverfolk subculture… they travel more, so they’re exposed to wider influences and as a consequence, they end up being a little more adventurous about some things.”

“Hey!” Hazel yelled from a short distance away, where she was dancing with… or rather, around… Two. “Watch it with the ‘a-word’!”

“I can’t think of a better word for a woman in shoes,” Honey said. “No, wait, I can. I’m just not going to say it.”

“Sorry, Hazel!” Amaranth said. She giggled a little, which was cute, and Winnie giggled, too… which was not. “What’s really interesting is when you look at cultures that have entirely different kinship systems, like the lizardfolk in Blackwater, or the Kaha Moai people.”

“Everybody’s making new friends,” Ian said. I followed his gaze to where Pala and Sooni were hanging out on the dance floor. Pala was clutching the dolled-up Kai to her chest, the giant costume head very badly askew. I hoped for her sake that they’d left Kai’s sword in the baby buggy, if not back at the dorm. “Want to dance?” he asked me.

I looked at Amaranth, who it seemed had somehow got onto the topic of the reproduction habits of freshwater hydras… and Winnie, who seemed to find the topic humorous. Ugh… that laugh of hers. It went right through me like a red-hot skewer.

“Okay,” I said. “Sure.”

“You don’t have to jump into my arms or anything,” Ian said.

“Sorry,” I said, shaking my head to try to clear out the lingering sound. “I want to… I’ll be a little better when we get some distance between us and that laughter.”


“Yeah,” I said.

“It is a little infectious,” he said.

“That’s not the word I’d use,” I said. I put my arms on his shoulders, then realized it was a fast song, then decided to leave my arms there anyway. Fast meant it would be over fast, and I didn’t want us to devolve to awkward conversation or something while waiting for a slow song and then miss it.

“It’s okay,” Ian said. “I’ve had to get used to the idea that you’ll be easily distracted by pretty girls.”

“Winnie Champlain is not pretty,” I said.

“Also not deaf,” Ian said, wincing. “Though I might be. Khersis, Mack. Okay, yeah, she’s kind of plain, but she’s got a nice laugh and I’m not going to be jealous if you notice it.”

“What? No. She laughs like the bizarre offspring of a barghest and a howler monkey,” I said. “Who was raised by woodpeckers. Woodpeckers with an annoying laugh.”

“Whatever,” Ian said. “I’m not going to stand here and argue with you about a girl’s laugh.” The song finally changed to something good, and he put his hands just above my hips. “Not when I’ve got you to myself and there’s music.”

“Yeah, sorry,” I said, and we started to sway. “There’s something weird about her, though… her whole family.”

“Oh, don’t start,” Ian said. “She’s related to Puddy. So what? All that means is that they could get married in gnomeland.”

“Be serious,” I said.

“You be serious,” he said. “Are you seriously going to start judging people based on their family relations?”

“I don’t think of that side of my family as family, per se,” I said.

“And you think everyone who shares a little blood with Puddy’s going to own her?” Ian asked. “Anyway, the only person on your other side that I’ve heard of besides your mother is your grandmother. Would you want to be judged by your relationship to her?”

“I don’t not like Winnie because she’s Puddy’s cousin,” I said. “I dislike her, I dislike her cousin in my history class, and I dislike Puddy, all independently of each other… and then I find out they’re all from the same family.”

“So’s half the human student body, it seems,” Ian said. “A group that includes a lot of jerks and losers, but also a lot of people who came out to rally for you when you went poof, and who walked out of your history class with you, who’ve been writing letters to the student paper…”

“What letters?”

“You could try reading it every once in a while and finding out,” he said. “My point is you’ve probably bumped into a lot more LaBelles than those three.”

“Yeah, and the three I’ve had enough contact with to find out their family background all turned out to be…”

“What?” Ian asked. “Slightly annoying?”

“Puddy’s not just slightly annoying.”

“She’s naked.”

“No, she’s… what?”

He turned us around so that I was facing the entryway. There was a crowd gathering, and I had to stand on my tippy-toes to try to see what was going on. I couldn’t see more than the top of Puddy’s strawberry blonde head, which had a circlet of laurel leaves. Then the crowd shifted a bit and there she was, in all her… glory. She was naked except for the wreath, and holding a gold-colored lyre and a big scroll wound around wooden roller thingies.

I let go of Ian and he turned around.

“What’s she supposed to be… a muse?” Ian asked.

“Looks like,” I said.

“She’s really not bad looking,” Ian said. “She could lose some weight, but she’s carrying it pretty well. She’s a lot smoother than I… would have thought.”

There was a commotion out on the dance floor.

“But why do I have to leave?” Pala said, her voice carrying clearly now that all conversations everywhere else had stopped. She sounded like she was near tears.

“Yes, why does she have to leave?” Sooni demanded.

“Just step into the ladies’ room for five minutes, Tiny,” Callahan said to her. “Just five minutes, okay? I’ll make it up to you, I promise. I’ll buy you stilts.”

“Fine! I am going!” Pala said, turning and storming towards the restrooms. “But don’t think I’m not going to…”

The rest was unintelligible blubbers.

“What the heck was that about?” Ian asked as Callahan headed over to deal with Puddy.

“No idea,” I said. “But I think Puddy’s about to get a bit of a talking to.”

“You mean a dressing-down?” Ian asked.

“Funny,” I said.

“I don’t think she can do anything, really,” Amaranth said, coming over to join us. I felt a stab of jealousy that she was holding hands with Winnie, and I took her other hand.

“What do you mean?” Ian asked. “I know it’s a costume party, but… I’m not sure that qualifies.”

“Yes, but… nymph,” Amaranth said.

“No offense, but I don’t think your presence in a room this size negates the need for her to wear clothes, especially when you aren’t even together,” Ian said.

“Not me,” Amaranth said. “Puddy. She’s got her bloodline registered with the Hamadryad Preservation Board. One-sixteenth… the smallest proportion they recognize, but legally, she’s a nymph.”

“You don’t really buy that, do you?” I asked her.

“Oh, no, it’s true,” Winnie said. “Her great-grandmother Eugenie Banks was an oak tree who fell in love with a woodcutter.”

“That must have made for some awkward holiday visits,” Ian said.

“They say that’s why the Bankses are so, you know, wild… and why they have so many daughters,” Winnie said. “It’s in their blood.”

“So what about her dragon and her giant blood?” I asked her.

“I don’t know anything about that.”

From the way Callahan stomped off, it looked like Puddy had won the argument. Mariel, who had some kind of djinn/harem girl thing going on with her costume, just looked like she could die.

I felt a cool hand touch my neck.

“Hey, Mack,” Feejee said, leaning her body against my back. “I’ve been looking for you.”

“Were you looking for a dance, Feejee?” Amaranth asked, letting go of my hand so she could turn and look at us.

“What? Oh, no… I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m… you know,” Feejee said, draping her arms down my front and feeling my sides. I tried to see if I could smell anything on her breath, but there was just the slightly salty scent of Feejee herself. “I just thought… well, I kind of wanted to talk to her about something she said earlier.”

Amaranth gave her a pleasant but fixed smile.

“If it’s not something you’re comfortable talking about in front of everybody, I don’t think it’s a conversation you need to be having with my Mack,” she said.

Feejee looked back at her. I couldn’t see her face, but her body went tense and her hands kind of clutched at me. One of them was kind of right between my legs at that moment. Under other circumstances, it might have been kind of… actually, it was pretty arousing.

“I just wanted to give Mack a chance to talk about her true feelings, now that they’re out in the open,” Feejee said.

“True feelings?” Amaranth said.

“What she said… what she did… this morning,” Feejee said, and my stomach fell out of my abdomen. What had I done that morning? Pretty much try to jump into her mouth and climb down her throat. “It was very revealing.”

“I don’t think you should pay much attention to anything she said or did while under the influence of alchemical products,” Amaranth said.

“Even when those products are doing nothing but revealing people’s inner desires?”

“Feejee, I know this must be confusing for you, but there are desires and there are desires,” Amaranth said. She put her hands on Winnie’s shoulders. “For instance, Winnie’s cousin William masturbates while he imagines having sex with her, but that doesn’t mean he’d actually desire a relationship with her if the chance came up. It’s the idea that…”

“I know what I saw,” Feejee said, letting go of me and straightening up. “And we are going to talk about it, whether you want to or not… now that I know for sure we both want the same thing, I’m not going to let anything stop me.”

“Wow, is everyone gay for you?” Winnie asked while Feejee walked away, her naked butt peeking out from beneath the apron strings like a present beneath a little bow.

“I don’t understand it, either,” Ian said. “And I never figured you for the jealous type,” he said to Amaranth.

“I just don’t want to see anyone getting hurt,” Amaranth said.

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11 Responses to “398: Family Trees”

  1. pedestrian says:

    now you know how a can of tuna feels

    Current score: 2
    • BlackWizard says:

      I can’t speak for you, but my can of tuna doesn’t normally talk back to me… 🙂

      Current score: 2
      • Downside says:

        “Give me back that Fillet-‘o-Fish! Give me that fish!” – McDonald’s commercial

        Current score: 0
      • Moridain says:

        I talk to my tins of tuna all the time, ‘Open you stupid thing’ ‘Why are you so delicious? Huh?’ and ‘Where are you… stupid tiny can…’

        Its when the tuna starts answering though that you need to worry…

        Current score: 3
        • Mike says:

          Heh, what was the old commercial with the talking tuna can? S’alright.

          Current score: 1
  2. capybroa says:

    …Tuna? Wut?

    Anyways, I’ve definitely come around on Ian. More Ian, plz, especially given his habit of cutting to the chase and not giving Mack any more rope to tie herself into knots with.

    Current score: 8
  3. JerK says:

    I’d be interested to see Feejee’s reaction if Mack treated her like prey for a bit. You’re not going to persuade a predator by acting meek. You’d think Puddy would have already taught Mack that lesson.

    Current score: 7
    • Rook says:

      You think Mack’s going to learn a lesson from a single example? What story have you been reading?

      Current score: 8
  4. Drunkenmists says:

    Apparently Mackenzie is really Bridget.

    Aka. Everybody is gay for Bridget Meme.


    Current score: 0
  5. Jechtael says:

    I’m guessing sidhe magic affects Mackenzie in a way similar to Good divine magic, except that while Divine magic is burny, Sidhe magic is just grating. Or maybe it just doesn’t work on Mackenzie, and Puddy’s implied Strongest in the Room gift only worked when they were alone because someone else in Harlowe is as strong as Mackenzie’s strongest, and Winnie has some kind of “everyone will love your laugh” gift.

    Current score: 3