408: Random Encounter Table

on August 26, 2009 in Book 14

In Which Amaranth Gets Fingered By An Imperial Investigator

Amaranth had brought me clothes from my room. She wasn’t willing to let me go back to Harlowe for a shower… or a bath, which was what I really wanted.

“You get into more trouble in that bathroom,” she said. “You can shower here.”

“Uh… there are no girls’ showers here,” Ian said.

“Yes, but it’ll be fine if I’m with her,” Amaranth said. “It’s single stalls, anyway… anyway, if you’re the only girl who slept over here last night, I’ll be very much surprised.”

“If we’re trying to avoid trouble, then I’m not taking a shower in the snooty rich boys’ dorms,” I said. “No offense,” I added to Ian.

“Yeah, no, that seems like a really bad idea,” Ian said. “I’ve seen other guys’ girlfriends in there before, but you’re not just any other girl.”

“Well, you don’t have to shower,” Amaranth said.

“I don’t want to shower, particularly… I really want to take a bubble bath,” I said. “I want to be completely relaxed.”

“And just how relaxing do your baths usually end up?” Amaranth asked. “How relaxing would it be if you ended up running into Feejee, or getting into a fight with Sooni or the twins or one of the skirmisher girls…”

“Okay, okay,” I said.

“Hey, weren’t we going to get the inn room taken care of before you have to go to the club?” Ian asked. “Private bathroom, private bath… and if it actually does relax you, you won’t have the whole day to get worked up again.”

“Hey, yeah,” I said.

“Thank you, Ian, that’s a wonderfully level-headed suggestion,” Amaranth said.

“The only downside is that you’ll have to go around for a few hours smelling like sweat, sex, and demon funk,” Ian said.

“What?” I said.

“That’s… somewhat less helpful,” Amaranth said.

“I’m just kidding!” Ian said. “You don’t… I mean, I’m sure I smell worse. In fact, I should probably run and take a shower before I get dressed. I’ll, uh, be right back.”

It seemed like it only took Ian like five minutes to shower. I was still getting dressed when he got back. I had no idea how that was even possible. It took me about five minutes for the air to reach a comfortable temperature, and another five before I was really relaxed. Even skipping all that, I couldn’t possibly get clean in five minutes.

“Let’s just get going,” Amaranth said, handing me my coat.

I was very glad to have it back when we got outside… it was a very gray morning, made colder by a spitting mist. Despite that, the morning air felt strangely invigorating. I felt wide awake within seconds of getting outside, wonderfully alive and ready to face the day, despite a growing awareness of the emptiness in my stomach.

Sodden streamers of toilet paper hung from the branches of the tree outside Weyland Hall. Campus guards were out in force, and each group of them had a man or woman in a uniform I didn’t recognize, with a vest of mail over a long sleeved and collared maroon shirt.

“Who are those guys?” I asked Amaranth.

“Provincial Marshals,” she said, right as I spotted the “PPM” emblem on the back of one of the vests.

“They don’t get called out for vandalism, do they?” I asked. On top of the TP, there were smashed pumpkins and broken glass in evidence.

“I don’t think they’re here for that. While I was checking on Steff, there was a reflection for her asking if she could come in and help out in reception,” she said.

“Reception?” I repeated, picturing Steff sitting behind a desk in the administrative building.

“You know, at the vaults,” Amaranth said. “Receiving… arrivals.”

“Oh,” I said.

“People do stupid shit on Veil,” Ian said. “They stay out partying. They get drunk and stumble around campus. They try magic they wouldn’t normally mess with, to give somebody a scare or try to get back at someone who scared them. The Marshals are probably just here to help clean up the aftermath.”

“I think that’s probably why they never hold the Veil Ball on Veil itself,” Amaranth said. “Warding magic weakens and the walls between things get thinner on Veil Night. If they can’t stop people from being foolish, they can redirect some of that foolishness to a less dangerous time.” She fixed me with a sideways glance. “Luckily, your foolishness doesn’t involve any magic, so the date shouldn’t matter.”

Right after her eyes flickered back ahead, she stopped moving.

“Let’s cut across here,” she said, pointing across the grassy way to another path.

“Why?” I asked, annoyed. We were almost to the coach stop, and I wanted to get to town, and maybe get something in my belly. Amaranth had said no meals, but a little breakfast wouldn’t hurt anyone that much. “That’s kind of out of our way.”

She grabbed my hand.

No arguments, baby,” she said, and she started pulling me off the path. “Don’t look back,” she said, as my head swiveled to see what it was that had distressed her. All I saw was some bushes next to a sidewalk junction, but I caught the most tantalizing tang in the air.

“What’s…?” Ian asked.

No,” Amaranth said firmly, yanking on my arm.

I dug in my heels and growled at her, ready to pull away… or bite, if she wouldn’t let go. Knuckles hit my nose, and I whimpered as pain knocked both the sense of sight and smell out of my head. By the time it cleared, I’d been dragged across the green.

“Is everything alright here, sir?” a Marshall was asking Ian, in the tone of voice that let us know that he knew nothing was.

“We’re all fine,” Amaranth said, pulling me close. I tried very hard to look like I wasn’t feeling the pain equivalent of a broken nose. “You’ll want to check those bushes back there. Our friend here just has a sort of hysterical response to… certain things. A slap might be old-fashioned, but it does work sometimes.”

“Slap, nothing,” the man said. He leaned in close, peering at my face. “If that was just a slap, I’ll… huh.”

“If there’s nothing else,” Amaranth said, tilting her face down and her eyes up, “we’d like to get to the coaches… we have plans to spend a quiet Veil Night away from campus.”

“Sure, uh… move along,” the Marshall said. He started heading back towards the intersection with the bushes, raising his wand towards his face. “Moving in to check out a possible…”

“Thank you, Ian,” Amaranth said.

“Yeah, thanks,” I said. I touched my nose to make sure it was straight and whole, a move that was as unwise as it was unnecessary. “Ow.”

“I think we’re going to have to make a tradition of avoiding campus around Veil,” Amaranth said. “I’ll see what other nights are known for the highest student casualty rates.”

“Mid-terms and finals,” Ian said.

“Well, we can’t exactly avoid campus then,” Amaranth said. “We’ll just have to be careful.”

That whole experience cast a bit of a pall over the carriage ride… once we got past the horror of what might have happened, we were left with the horror of what actually had happened. Amaranth, who must have seen something, was pale and shaky. Pale was not a good look on her.

Once in town, we took the mass coach to the transit center, which Ian had never seen before.

“Tell me this is just for Veil,” Ian said, goggling at the crypt-like interior, with the walls of dark cut stone, leering statue faces, and vaulted ceilings.

“No, just a sterling example of pre-Imperial architecture,” I said.

“After this, the Tomb of Horrors is going to look like nothing,” he said.

One shorter coach ride later, and it turned out he was right: it was just a plain brick building, two stories tall. There were no windows on the ground floor, and no sign. The only noteworthy feature was the entrance, a set of big double doors bound in iron and set back from the street in a little alcove. Amaranth went up and rapped on the door with one of the big iron rings, but there was no answer.

“At least we know where it is,” she said, shrugging.

“Are you sure it’s the right building, though?” Ian asked.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “The picture matches. I would have liked a chance to talk to someone in person, and maybe take a look around the lobby… I know Mack has an easier time coping with things if she knows what to expect from them.”

“Well, at least we know it’s her kind of place,” he said, putting an arm around me.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“It’s got huge knockers,” he said.

“Okay, we’ll find an inn next,” Amaranth said. “There are quite a few in the town center, and unfortunately they’re all either really old and run down, or really old and respectable, which means we’ll be able to find any price except for moderate. Since the idea is to minimize danger…”

“There are three of us,” Ian said. “We can afford a cheap room at a good place for one night.”

“Okay,” Amaranth said. “I was leading up to that. Of course, it’s early, so they might not have a room ready for us to check into right away, but at the very least we can make sure we can get one.”

“Too bad the Crystal Palace is outside the town center,” I said. “It was pretty nice when I stayed there with Sooni. I really wouldn’t mind staying there again.”

“Where is it?” Amaranth asked.

“On the edge of this park,” I said. “Um, it’s kind of uptown.”

“Well…” Amaranth said. She was chewing her lip. “There’s nowhere in Enwich that really takes more than an hour to get to,” she said eventually, “if you have coach fare, and we were already taking spending that into account. Do you really want to stay there?”

“I wouldn’t mind it,” I said. It had been an idle thought, but as I thought about it more, I realized I really would like to have someplace even kind of familiar waiting for me to go back to after the club. In a night of new experiences, I needed something to cling to. “But if it doesn’t work out…”

“Let’s make a quick reflection and find out if they’ll be able to accommodate us, and when,” Amaranth said. “That way we’re not spending extra time and extra fare going back and forth. Do you have your mirror?”

“Did you bring my mirror?” I asked.

“I thought it would be in your coat pocket,” she said, frowning. “Well, there’s a pay mirror across the street.”

It turned out that the Palace did have rooms available, with the rack rate for the cheapest ones being eighteen silver a night. We could check in at eleven, which was still two hours away. Amaranth made a reservation in my name, and got the address and the coach number to take from the transit center.

“That’s insane,” I said when Amaranth ended the reflection.

“It’s six silver each,” Amaranth said. “For comfort and safety and peace of mind. Anyway, if we don’t make at least one gold in tips, I’ll pay the whole thing myself.”

“You don’t have to,” I said.

“Wait, do you mean if the tips don’t add up to one gold, or if you don’t get at least one actual standard weight gold coin among the other tips?” Ian asked.

“I meant the former, but you know what? I’ll make it the latter,” Amaranth said confidently. “I’m that confident in our ability to put on a pleasing performance. You should be, too, baby. Remember your first spanking?”

I blushed and couldn’t bring myself to say anything, agreeing or disagreeing.

“So here’s my thought: I doubt the library’s going to be open this early on a weekend, either, so we take the public coaches over to the Palace,” Amaranth said. “That will kill some time, and then we can hang out in their cafe or whatever until check-in. It’s possible the room will be available early, too… we can always check. You can get your shower, or bath as you like. We can find out the library hours and then make the decision when to come back over here to minimize the back-and-forth. Does that sound acceptable to everyone?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“Sounds good,” Ian said.

The public coach let us off outside the park. I started looking around, trying to remember where exactly the Crystal Palace was. I was about to say that if we headed over to the restaurant, then I’d be able to find it, but Amaranth grabbed my hand and started walking.

“It’d be this way,” she said.

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“I got the address, remember?” she said, and sure enough, she led us right to it.

“Wow,” Ian said when he saw the colonial manor-style exterior. “I think we’re lucky to get a room in here for under half a gold.”

“It’s not as old as it looks,” I said.

“It’s not much younger, though,” Amaranth said.

Inside, Amaranth politely informed the man behind the desk that our party would be in the restaurant if our room became available.

As we sat in the restaurant, I hoped we didn’t have to wait long, because I felt awkward sticking to orange juice and water while Amaranth and Ian both chowed down. I wasn’t that envious of them… I agreed with Amaranth that an empty stomach would help curtail the chance of disaster… but I wondered if I wasn’t stretching the boundaries of restaurant propriety by not actually ordering food.

“Relax, sweetie,” Amaranth said. “You’re a customer of the inn, and it’s not like you’re taking up a table all by yourself.”

“What’s this jackass staring at?” Ian asked.

“Me,” Amaranth said pleasantly. She gave a little wave. I turned and looked to see who they were talking about. There was a man with a little bit of salt mixed with his pepper and weathered, angular features sitting at a table with a woman with auburn hair that looked dyed and more than a few laugh lines around her eyes. She waved back, and then gave the man a little push. He got up and walked over self-consciously.

“Hello there,” Amaranth said, smiling beatifically.

“Hi… uh, hi,” he said. “Listen, my wife and I are celebrating our anniversary…”

“Oh, aren’t you a sweet thing to ask for her?” Amaranth said. “But I’m sorry, I’m afraid I’m sort of engaged for the night.”

“Oh, alright,” he said. He sounded a little relieved.

“If you want to give me your contact information, I could maybe get back to you during the week,” Amaranth said.

“Oh, we won’t be here, but thanks,” he said, and he went back to his table.

“Oh, she looks disappointed,” Amaranth said. “Maybe if we get back early… no, I can do my duty to my goddess while doing my duty to you. Unless maybe you’d like an hour or two alone together in the wee hours?” She turned and looked at Ian, who was staring dumbfounded at the couple. “Yes, Ian, married people have sex, too,” she said.

“I… I know,” he said. “But… how old do you think they are?”

“No older than you’ll be one day, if you’re lucky,” Amaranth said. “And if you’re very lucky, you’ll still have a woman in your life who enjoys doing something different every once in a while.”

“Uh, yeah, I suppose,” Ian said.

We got into our room a bit after ten thirty. It was smaller than the room I’d shared with Sooni, with a detached bathroom instead of the big open plan one… but it did have a bed that would fit the three of us a lot more comfortably than the dorm bunks. Amaranth told me to take my time in the bathtub, and I did. I didn’t have any bubble stuff, but there was actually a little sachet of salts on the edge of the tub. They smelled vaguely floral… not my first choice, but not bad. The smell grew on me after an hour.

Amaranth was gone when I got out.

“Where’s Amaranth?” I asked Ian, who was watching TV.

“I’m pretending she’s getting ice.”

“But where is she?” I asked.

“Getting ice,” he said.

She got back about half an hour later, with a big smile on her face.

“If we have time and I remember it, I want to look at cards tomorrow,” she said. “I know it’s silly, but it feels rude giving someone a present without a card.”

“I never thought I’d say this, but can we please just get to the library?” Ian asked.

“Yeah, I’m feeling a lot better and now I want to do something fun,” I said.

“Sure, baby,” Amaranth said, and we headed out through the lobby.

The sun had come out a little bit. It wasn’t a lot warmer, but it was drier, and that helped.

“Now, as I understand it, the central branch of the library is only two streets down and three blocks over from the Tomb,” Amaranth said as we stepped outside.

“Or we could just go to that one,” Ian said, pointing across the street.

We looked, and saw a building in a kind of low-key temple or courthouse style that could have been any of a number of public edifices, but big letters engraved across the top of the portico read “ENWICH PUBLIC LIBRARY – C. H. LA BELLE BRANCH“.

“Well, the central branch would put us closer to where we need to be…” Amaranth said.

“We need to go to this one,” I said.

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4 Responses to “408: Random Encounter Table”

  1. Moridain says:

    Man, I wish I was immortal, ageless, immune to STD’s and had no standards…

    Lucky Nymphs. 🙂

    Current score: 9
  2. Kalamorda says:

    Amy has standards, mabey not as restrictive as most, but I don’t think she would sleep with Mack’s Dad or Mercy.

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      Only because it’s personal though. A generic slaver/butcher? Probably. She might not sleep with a full blooded demon on principal though.

      Current score: 0
      • Lara says:

        I wonder if a full blooded demon would even be able to sleep with Amaranth? The entity possessing Mackenzie from the pitchfork certainly couldn’t survive in close proximity to her. A full blooded demon might not be able to withstand contact with her inherent holiness.

        Current score: 1