428: Transitioning

on January 7, 2010 in Book 15

In Which Life Goes On

If the day of Leda’s murder had a hero, it was Hazel. A couple of pies and a big pot of soup became a community project, with most of the eight kitchenettes in Harlowe Hall eventually drawn in to the scheme as more people caught the spirit she was fomenting. People made cookies and brownies… whatever they had the mixes on hand for, mostly… as well as soups and casseroles and pasta and other dishes that could be made from the contents of a student’s food stash.

It wasn’t as though the whole of Harlowe came together, exactly… some people were dealing with things by themselves, some people seemed to be being “handled” in a way that kept them apart. Some were just absent. But it really felt like everyone who wanted to be involved and included was, by the end… and not just from Harlowe.

Despite the official exhortations for everyone to remain in their halls, it was almost axiomatic that most people would end up wherever their closest friends were. In a lot of cases, that resulted in people doing exactly what officialdom wanted, since most students would be most familiar with the people they shared living space with, but Ian was not the only human who found his way over to our hall, and word got around from them about what was going on. Everybody who came over was welcomed. There wasn’t enough of anything for everyone, but there were plenty of other things.

It would be really hard for anyone to make a decent estimate of how many students either passed through or hung out in Harlowe that night, but it seemed to me that at the peak of it all the population of the hall was at least double the normal level.

By the time it became apparent to the investigators that the residential hall that had become the focal point of the investigation was also becoming a gathering place for students, it was too late to do anything about it short of clearing the whole building floor by floor… the imperials made a few half-hearted attempts to get people dispersed back to their own dorms, and then gave up. It was probably the right decision. By that point, the ones and twos who’d been coming over with their non-human friends had given way to whole groups from other halls who had heard about the free food and fellowship being offered in Harlowe. As Hazel had observed, it was natural for anyone to seek out the latter in times of tragedy… and it was just as natural for students to seek out the former at any time.

For all any of us knew, they might have already planned to abandon their little command center on our first floor, but there was a real sense of victory that rippled through the building when word went around that they’d vacated the place.

Leda’s violent death and the revival of community at Harlowe Hall… these were two unbelievable, irreconcilable, and yet absolutely undeniable facts. They were joined by a third one, just as impossible and just as unavoidable: life would go on. Magisterius University was still, as its name suggested, a university and there would still be classes to go to and tests to take and papers to do. It wasn’t inconceivable that classes could be canceled for a day or that some leeway would be given in light of the circumstances, but the sky wouldn’t stop wheeling for the loss of one life, no matter how significant.

If Hazel’s efforts had accomplished nothing else, they had shown a whole corner of campus the way forward. The sensations of a stomach full of hot food and being surrounded by strong walls and friendly companions made the immediate future that much less daunting.

The crowd started to thin out a few hours after the sun set, though there were still plenty of people hanging out in the lounges and hallways, and the floors were still much more integrated than I’d ever seen them before, with freshmen on the upperclassmen’s floors, boys on the girls’ side, and humans and dwarves and even a few elves all picking at the same remains of various cakes and hot dishes. The talk all sounded surprisingly normal… colored by recent events, with snatches of speculation about the crime and the activities of the authorities, but mostly concerned with school work, extracurricular activities, and stuff like that.

It’s possible I was reading too much into it… maybe the groupings I heard and saw were mostly established friends and it wasn’t all that unusual.

But it made me feel good to see it, either way.

If it seems like I felt a little detached from all of it, that’s only because I did. The bigger Hazel’s little community-togetherness project got, the less comfortable I was with being in the thick of it. I didn’t want to be alone, either, but what I wanted in the face of so much fear and uncertainty were familiar presences. Luckily for me, I had those in Ian and Amaranth, even if Steff was unavailable and Two was keeping busy with Hazel. That’s not to say that we stayed cooped up in the room the whole time… we did wander out to see how Two and Hazel were doing a few times, as well as over to the boys’ side to check on Steff.

That exercise ended in frustration. The Ceilos delegation had apparently decided that if they couldn’t pull Dee away from her self-imposed duty, they would put the room she was in under guard and control who had access to it. It struck me as very petty… if it wasn’t exactly punitive, then it sure seemed like they were asserting a meaningless bit of control to prove that they really did have authority over Dee even as she refused to submit to it.

I also didn’t see Sooni or any of her retinue anywhere. Some people were saying that they’d withdrawn to an embassy in Enwich… the rumor attached to that was that they were being pulled out of the university altogether and returning home. Amaranth opined that it was more likely that her handlers had decided it was getting too crowded and decided to remove her until things calmed down.

I really hoped that she was right. Sooni’s presence didn’t make my life any easier… her friendship hadn’t been entirely painful but I wasn’t sure that the good outweighed the bad… but eighteen years of whatever awaited her back home had shaped her into who she was. Four years abroad couldn’t be anything but good for her… and that was without even getting into the opportunities for the other girls in her group.

Lee checked in a couple of times, mostly just to check in… making sure that everything was okay where we were and that we were keeping out of trouble.

Even with the upheaval going on all around her, Two was still resolved to go to bed at a reasonable hour on the night before another week of classes began, which gave the rest of us a natural bedtime. There was no talk of Ian returning to his own dorm. Three in a dorm bed was always a tight fit, but we were all very comfortable with each other.

The fact that I was completely uncrushable helped.

The next morning, the four of us decided to brave the dining hall… there was probably still food to be had in Harlowe, but it seemed to be time to head out and face the world again. We didn’t bother going over to check on Dee and Steff, though I hoped that Steff at least would join us. If I understood the timeline Dee had given for the potion, her transformation should either be over or winding down, and it seemed likely that she would be hungry.

I tried not to look disappointed when Dee walked into the cafeteria accompanied by a cloaked escort instead of Steff. Being both perceptive and a telepath, it seemed unlikely that she would miss the fact that I was disappointed, but I figured she would appreciate the effort and understand that it was not her presence that caused it so much as Steff’s absence.

“Greetings,” Dee said as she set her tray down at our table. She tipped her head in the direction of her silent shadow, who had declined to get any food. “Novice Aehal has been tasked with keeping me confined to the residence hall outside of my classes.”

“Good job,” Ian said to her. “Seriously, well done.”

“She will not respond to a male… actually, I do not think any of you should expect a reply to any uninvited comment. It would probably be best to pretend that she isn’t present. I know that she is doing just that herself,” Dee said. “In any event, it is hardly her fault that I remain at liberty. She has no power to detain me and has not been given any authority to do so. Indeed, if she laid so much as a finger on me, she would be recalled in disgrace.”

“If you have so much sympathy for my position,” the novice said, “then I think you might refrain from adding to my burden.”

“I have placed no burden upon you,” Dee said. “I am in perfect sympathy with you because I, too, am bound by a duty that I can neither ignore nor fulfill.”

“What ‘duty’ requires you to take your meal in a communal eating chamber when anything you desire could be brought to you?” Novice Aehal asked her.

“The duty of friendship,” Dee said. “Though this is not the duty I spoke of. Absolutely nothing prevents me from fulfilling the minimum formality of spending time with my friends at meals, as is done among most surface-dwellers.”

“Dee… not that we don’t enjoy your company, but don’t you think you’re maybe making things unnecessarily difficult for the novice?” Amaranth asked.

“I say again, I am not the one who has created this difficulty,” Dee said. “I did not give her a commission without the pick needed to carve it out.”

“Yes, but you could certainly make things easier for her,” Amaranth said.

“This conversation is wearingly similar to the one that just ended,” Dee said. “I have absolutely no interest in continuing it.”

“Okay,” Amaranth said. “This just seems… well, childish.”

“If refusing to be treated as an errant child is childish, then it seems to me as though I must be doomed to childishness no matter what I do,” Dee said. “So… I may as well have breakfast, as Two’s friend Hazel might say.”

“She would,” Two said, nodding.

“How’s Steff?” I asked Dee before she could get bogged down in another argument.

“Well,” Dee said, and the stiff mask dropped from her face for a moment, leaving a look of profound exhaustion mingled with relief. “Steff is well. Healthy and whole and… almost beautiful.”

I could have taken offense on Steff’s defense for the qualifier, but from the way the cloaked elf managed to go even more rigid when Dee said it, I took it that she had breached a pretty big taboo to begin with. Jumping on her wouldn’t accomplish anything except to make her feel like she was under siege from both sides.

“Is she awake?” I asked.

“Yes,” Dee said. “I suggested she come along and eat for her strength, but she and Viktor have decided to spend this time enjoying each other’s company in private. If she does not come out for lunch, then I suggest we go as a group and entreat her collectively, for her own good.”

“If we’re going to go entreating on Viktor’s territory, let’s invite our new friend the other half-ogre,” Ian said.

Dee’s face registered a tiny amount of surprise… or rather, it registered surprise to a tiny degree, which was significant for her.

“I know that I have missed much,” Dee said. “But even distracted as I was, I could not miss the change in feelings that came over Harlowe last night. It was… moving.”

“It really was something to see,” Amaranth said. “Not terribly surprising… I mean, as much as I love my home I don’t think it’s really that special, and I’m used to seeing that sort of thing… but even when it’s completely expected, it’s still… gratifying? Uplifting, I guess… to see it happen.”

“Are you really saying that you completely expected something like that to happen?” Ian asked.

Something like it, maybe,” Amaranth said. “And I didn’t so much expect it to happen as I believed it was possible. I mean, it didn’t actually just happen. People made it happen. Hazel gets a lot of credit, but until it reached the point where it was sort of a self-sustaining phenomenon there were a lot of chances for it to be made or broken… with Rocky and Belinda first and most obviously, but there were people making the individual decisions to help each other out and be decent to each other all night.”

“Yeah, and that’s cool and all,” Ian said, “but just to play Herald’s Advocate for a minute here… how much of that is because of the situation?”

“I don’t see why it matters if any of it is,” Amaranth said. “It’s because of the situation that we needed it… but really, I don’t think the larger circumstances ‘made’ anybody be decent. People are better to each other than we give them credit for, usually. Even when things are at their worst… for everybody who decides to make an issue out of Mack’s heritage, for instance, there are loads more people who are at worst minding their business and possibly wishing her well.”

“Yeah, but that kind of quiet well-wishing’s not quite the same thing as coming out and supporting her against the asshats,” Ian said. “And believe me, there isn’t a lot of that going on.”

“Well, there was the big demonstration when she was lost in the labyrinth,” Amaranth said.

“Yeah, and that’s my point,” Ian said. “Everybody came out to rage against the device, but as soon as that was resolved… to the extent that it has been resolved… no one’s giving her the time of day. Tragedy brings people together because that’s what tragedy does, but it doesn’t have a lasting impact.”

“Well, Mack isn’t exactly a public person,” Amaranth said. “If she had wanted to, I think she could have made some real lasting friendships out of the goodwill that was flowing, before everybody got immersed back into their own things. Anyway, I think it’s a little bit premature to declare that things are back to normal… I mean, take a look around.”

It was obvious what she was talking about. The dining room had been all but empty when we first arrived, and I had expected it to remain that way. The student union was in clear view of the scene of the crime, after all. Monday breakfast was hardly the busiest meal of the day to begin with, much less on a day when people would still be recovering from shock and disruption… but not only was the the room starting to fill up, but the folks who were venturing out for food seemed to be mostly the same crowd who had been at Harlowe the day before, in the same groupings.

“I do not enter into individual minds casually,” Dee said, to Amaranth. “But the mood of the room, to use a small simplification, seems to bear out your optimism for the time being. When I first came to the university, I was uncertain at the wisdom of so many different races and classes interacting so freely, even as I took advantage of the opportunity it afforded me. On the balance, it really is… refreshing… to see so many disparate beings coming together like this. It is something I would not have dreamed possible, had I not left my homeland.”

“It would not be possible in your homeland,” Novice Aehal said. “I do not see your thoughts, but I advise you to put them out of your mind immediately.”

“Is what she’s saying really so different from what you’re attempting at Ceilos?” Amaranth asked.

“There is a difference between attempting something with all due restraint and propriety, and throwing caution down a maze,” Aehal said.

“But then we’re talking about a difference of degrees,” Amaranth said. “And if the results are the same…”

“The ‘results’ of this experiment so far seem to be the death of a person of importance and an imputation upon all who are visitors to this mad realm,” Aehal said.

“While each violent death should be averted where possible, I believe it would be a futile exercise to stack all the casualties of this state of affairs up against the lives that may have been claimed by a more repressive system,” Dee said. “And I believe it would be disingenuous to bring up the failings of this system as absolute, without examining the failings of our own.”

“You go too far,” the novice said. “I remind you, Delia Daella, that your actions may have consequences that exceed what I can inflict in the impotence that is imposed from below.” Fortunately she still didn’t deign to respond to Ian’s presence, or else his audible snerk at her word choice might have proven unwise. “Every unwise word that you say will be recounted back to your family. I would not presume to speak for your house, but this coupled with your conduct involving the pale elf may have a serious impact upon your future path.”

“If the goddess wills it,” Dee said. I had never heard her say anything with less sincerity that wasn’t pointed sarcasm… these were just empty words, form without substance.

“Your house politics are not my concern…” Aehal said.

“I agree,” Dee said. “So let us say no more of them.”

“I would be very surprised if your mother allows you to remain up here when she receives word of your conduct,” Aehal said.

“I will take whatever consequences follow from any of my actions or words of principle, but I have no intention of leaving the place to which the goddess has left me before I finish what I have begun here, or until she sees fit to remove me herself,” Dee said.

“The goddess has many limbs,” Aehal said.

“That she does,” Dee said. She rose to her feet and gave a slight bow to each of us. “My friends, I have to prepare for class and I have no desire to further embarrass you with a private dispute, so I shall excuse myself from your presence until lunch, when I am confident I will not be as encumbered as I am now.”

“We shall see about that,” the novice said, and she followed Dee as Dee turned and swept off.

“Wow,” Ian said. “Granted that I don’t know Dee as well as you guys do, but…”

“Yeah, no, we’re right there with you,” I said. “That’s new.”

“I need clarification,” Two said.

“About what, honey?” Amaranth asked.

“I’m not sure if Dee was being rude or if she was being good,” Two said.

“I think she was being rude and awesome,” Ian said, and I don’t think even Amaranth could argue with that.

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7 Responses to “428: Transitioning”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Rude and Awesome. You go girl!

    Current score: 2
  2. MadnessMaiden says:

    There were several chapters of baking pie, but not several chapters of everyone coming together? What the heck?
    (I kid, of course. :3)

    Current score: 1
    • MentalBlank says:

      The coming together was much like pie in and of itself; took a while to create, but was consumed quickly, leaving a sweet aftertaste and a plate of crumbs.

      Current score: 3
  3. Jechtael says:

    I wonder why this situation was different from all of the many deaths that go unremarked outside of a circle of friends. In decreasing order of what I consider likelihood:
    -Seventeen is a Statistic (The readers know Leda. Therefore, as disliked as she may have been, her death can be seen as a death and not words on a screen).
    -It was officially murder, not “suicide” or “natural causes” (like ordering a short beer in a Discworld dwarf bar, or being eaten by a dragon).
    -The cops and feds made a big deal out of it (it was not allowed to pass without comment)
    -Leda was found within the protected boundaries of the lit sidewalks.
    -Some other reason.
    -Because Leda was royalty.

    Some of these reasons intertwine with the others.

    Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      It’s a combination of it being a murder, it happening in the fountain, and the IBF being around.

      Nobody can miss the cordoned off area in the midst of the pent, or all the feds crawling around. It’s scary.

      Current score: 3
    • Lara says:

      It’s because Leda was killed within the protective wards – anyone killed outside them can be chalked up to monster encounters (like ghouls), but because she was killed within them it implies it was a person that murdered her. Ie, this was deliberate homicide, not the result of a wild creature attacking, like the other deaths were.

      Current score: 2