474: Decisions, Decisions…

on December 27, 2010 in Book 17

In Which Some Futures Are Optional

Two was working a shift in the food court, so it was just Amaranth, Steff, Ian, and I in the cafeteria for dinner. Amaranth listened with interest as Steff and I told her about my encounter with Puddy… Steff had heard the whole thing, of course, and she couldn’t keep from breaking in on my telling. I didn’t mind that at all, since I was still feeling a little shaky.

Being close to Amaranth helped… I was as close to being in her lap as I could be without breaking the cafeteria’s rules.

“I have to say, baby, I’m proud of you for how you handled yourself,” she said, and that helped, too… I could practically feel her approval radiating from her smiling face, beating down on me like the warmth of the sun. “And I think it is best for both of you to just move on.”

“Fuck ‘both of them’,” Steff said. “Well, not literally Puddy, unless it’s with something sharp and rusty. But metaphorically fuck the idea of the both of them. There is no both and there is no them. There’s Puddy, and there’s Mack. She did what was best for herself, and that’s what you should be proud of.”

“When you’re right, you’re right,” Ian said. “And the parts of that speech that weren’t horribly wrong were right.”

“Well, yes, but it couldn’t be best for both of them if it wasn’t best for each of them,” Amaranth said. “And I’m not sure we should be framing this in terms of… well… selfishness. ”

“Maybe think of it in terms of doing what’s right?” Ian said.

“Personally,” I said, “I feel like I just did what I had to.”

“Whatever fellates your boat… I’m just not digging on the idea that we should care about what’s best for Puddy, is all,” Steff said. “If you’re not playing that game anymore, why bother keeping score?”

“It doesn’t do anybody harm to wish her well,” Amaranth said.

“From a distance,” Ian added.

“I really have to say that I think Steff has the right idea here,” I said. “I mean, Puddy’s whole problem… one in a series of Puddy’s problems… is that she kept framing things in terms of me and her even after she moved out and we got on with our separate lives, such as they are. What good is it going to do me to keep dwelling on her? I said I was done. I want to be done. Let’s move on.”

“Okay, baby,” Amaranth said, ruffling my hair. “Though… I do think there is something in what she said.”

“Yes, it’s called ‘self-important bullshit’,” Steff said.

“I meant the idea about going to another dorm,” Amaranth said.

“You can’t be serious,” I said.

“Well… not so much the idea of moving out of Harlowe, but the idea of living somewhere else,” Amaranth said.

“Oh, well that clears things up nicely,” Ian said.

“Yeah, you’re going to have to run that by me again,” I said.

“Well, I don’t mean picking up and moving in the middle of the semester, or even this academic year… but think about it, baby,” Amaranth said. “Do you actually like living in Harlowe? Are you happy and secure with our current living situation?”

“I like the way we have our room set up now… as for the dorm, it has its ups and downs,” I said. “But the ups kind of outweigh the downs, don’t you think?”

“I’m asking you what you think, baby,” Amaranth said. “Tell me about the ‘ups’.”

“Are you kidding?” I replied. “I’m talking about you. You, and Two, and Steff… and Dee and Hazel, and even Celia for that matter. Almost all of the people I like or trust are in Harlowe.”

“Because you met us first, and have had the most time to spend with us,” Amaranth said. “But I’ll bet if you started listing the ‘downsides’, they would be people, too… the people you’ve had the most trouble from are also your neighbors. And the thing is, anybody who doesn’t make a choice to do otherwise is going to end up in Harlowe again, and if they’re on the same floor as us this year they’ll be there next year, too… but people aren’t inextricably tied to a dorm. We could make a choice to go elsewhere.”

“There are safety considerations with other dorms,” I reminded her.

“There are safety considerations with Harlowe,” she said. “You’ll have to watch out for yourself no matter where we go… and of course, we’ll be watching out for you, too.”

“I don’t have to watch out for holy symbols in Harlowe,” I said.

“Well, that might not have come up yet in Harlowe, but humans aren’t the only race with religion,” she said. “It’s just that Khersians are a bit more… demonstrative… than a lot of faiths are. But I’ve been looking into it with help from Two and I don’t think there’s any reason you shouldn’t be able to walk past a sacred icon on a door with more than a little discomfort, with a little practice.”

“That’s still a little more discomfort than I’d get from an unwarded door,” I said. “And while I’m getting the ‘little practice’, I assume I’d be enduring worse… and that’s not even getting into the fact that holy symbols on doors means I’d be living near the sort of people who put holy symbols on their doors.”

“Okay, yes,” Amaranth said. “But… think about random holy symbols and the sort of general animosity that some humans have for demons compared to people who specifically have it in for you, or who just sort of get on your nerves. It’s a trade-off either way. Don’t you think it might be nice to have a chance to start fresh next year?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “There are a lot of things I’d do differently about this year if I could go back and start again… things I’d be better prepared for. But on the other hand, the thing about starting fresh is that I’d be out of my element again. Who’s to say I wouldn’t just be all awkward and lost and floundery again?”

“You felt that way in part because you were alone, but that wouldn’t be the case this time,” Amaranth said. “Because I’d be moving with you, at the very least, and you’d already have other friends even if they’d be back in Harlowe or somewhere else. You’d already know your way around campus and you’d still have a handle on how things work… and depending on where we ended up, there might even be freshmen living around you who’d be looking at you to figure out what’s what.”

“And the other thing about freshmen is they wouldn’t automatically recognize you as ‘the demon girl’,” Ian said. “Before they get a chance to know you or at least get used to seeing you around the hall. You know, I’m liking this idea. If we both moved to a co-ed building, we could be a lot closer next year. I’d have to convince my dad, of course…”

“What, you think you’re still going to be dating her a year from now?” Steff asked. “That seems kind of…”

“You’re sure enough you’re going to stay with Viktor that you make plans for a lot further into the future than that,” I said.

“Yeah, but… we’ve been through a year already,” Steff said. “I think that’s kind of a dividing line for when you can start calling something a long-term relationship without being laughed at… when you start counting anniversaries. I’m not saying I think you guys aren’t going to make it that far, but… it just seems kind of optimistic to be making plans on housing. What happens if you have a break-up?”

“Then we’ll be living in the same building with our respective exes,” Ian said. “Possibly. It’s not like it would be hard to change our plans. We’re not talking about packing up all our belongings and moving to another province together or anything. We’re not even talking about sharing a room. Anyway, Mackenzie, what do you think?”

If I was sure this was a good idea to begin with, I’d think that addition would be a great one,” I said to him. “But I’m still not sold on moving out of Harlowe.”

“Well, there’s time to think about it,” Amaranth said. “And remember, baby… if it’s not working out you can always change dorms after the term starts.”

“That seems like it would be a hassle,” I said.

“Maybe,” Amaranth said. “But… well, I don’t like to brag, but it wouldn’t take me long to pack up your things and move them, even assuming that you’ll have more stuff to move by then. And anyway, trying to order your life around the avoidance of ‘hassles’ is part of how you end up giving in to people like Puddy in the first place. You can’t count on the path of least resistance to always take you to somewhere that you want to be.”

“Just so I’m clear… are you talking about you and I being roommates?” I asked. “Because while that would be wonderful, I’m not sure how I’d feel about abandoning Two.”

“Well, we’d want to talk to her about it, obviously,” Amaranth said. “But I think by that point, Two might have her own ideas about who she wants to room with…. at the very least, I think she’s emotionally mature enough to handle the difference between ‘I would like to room with my girlfriend, though I still love you and wish to be your friend” and ‘I am abandoning you completely’.”

“I don’t know her as well as you guys do, but I think as long as you explain it to her, she’d be better equipped to handle that than a lot of reg… hu… well, you know… non-golems,” Ian said. “A lot of people would keep wondering what they did wrong or what you have against them. It seems to me like Two would just take the new information and go on with her day.”

“Anyway,” Amaranth said, “we could look into one of the dorms that offer triple rooms, if she wanted to stay with you.”

“Or the suites,” Ian said. “That way you could stay close to each other but she could have her own choice of roommate.

“And her own bedroom that’s not the same one that you’re going to have all of the sex in,” Steff said. “That’s one of those situations where everybody wins.”

“You know,” Ian said, “there’s a way you could sort of try this on for size… or, if you want to look at it another way, sort of ease into it when there aren’t as many people around so you don’t have to worry as much about, I don’t know, people seeing you living in a dorm wrong, or whatever.”

“Thank you for that oh-so-nuanced understanding of my anxiety issues,” I said.

“Hey, I’m trying to be helpful here,” Ian said.

“What’s your idea, Ian?” Amaranth asked him. I was sort of grateful for her prompting him, since it stopped us from getting sidetracked in another round of pointless back-and-forth. He had a point, even if he hadn’t phrased it the way I would have.

“Well… if you stayed for the summer session, you’d be able to spend a few months in one dorm while the campus is much less crowded,” Ian said. “And whoever else is around… well, they wouldn’t necessarily be your neighbors when the fall semester begins.”

“I’m not sure it would be a good thing for her to be on her own over the summer,” Amaranth said, frowning sort of thoughtfully. “That’s a long time for her to be without her friends and support group.”

“I am eighteen,” I said a little defensively, even though I was worried about this, too. “I’ll be turning nineteen then. I think I could manage.” It suddenly occurred to me that with the whole thing with Mariel, it had slipped my mind to tell Amaranth about Bohd’s offer. “Oh…”

“Oh, what?” she said.

“Just something that came up in my elemental invocation class,” I said. “Professor Bohd offered me a job over the summer, if I wanted to stick around. So I guess I wouldn’t be totally without support. I mean, she’s not exactly a friend, but she’s somebody I guess I could talk to if I was in trouble or needed help.”

“You don’t sound terribly certain about this,” Amaranth said.

“That’s because I’m so not,” I said. “I told her I’d think about it but I really wasn’t that into the idea of being a lab assistant or of taking classes all summer long… the only thing is, I don’t have much else in mind.”

“You know, I have considered the possibility of taking you home with me for the summer,” Amaranth said, “but then we’d have to find a place for you to stay, and I’m not sure what you’d be able to do for money in Paradise Valley. I mean, I don’t think you’d have much trouble getting food and stuff, but you’d need some way to earn money for the coming school year.”

“That could be a problem,” I said. “I mean, I’d love to spend the summer with you…”

“That’s the other thing,” Amaranth said. “You… um… probably wouldn’t see much of me. Summer is kind of the busy season for us. Anyway, I suppose it’s worth pointing out that you don’t have to look at the whole thing as a single package deal. I mean, you could choose to stay here for the summer without working for Professor Bohd.”

“Though I really don’t see why you’d want to pass that up, if you did stay,” Ian said. “I really don’t see the downside to staying on her good side, getting some money… and think about the time you’d save versus commuting into town for a job there somewhere.”

“Where were you thinking about applying?” Amaranth asked. “Because I bet you could get a gig at the Tomb of Horrors pretty easily… though, now that I think about it, I’m not sure I’d want you going there without me. Especially not with Mercy being a member. I doubt she’d jeopardize her legal status by doing anything outside the law, but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t find a legal way to ensnare you… hmm, I’m sorry, baby, but I’m going to have to forbid you from working at the Tomb over the summer.”

“Well, I’ll cross that one off the list,” I said. “Honestly, though, I was really just planning on selling my energy to an enchantment mill or something. Good money, easy work, and some experience with the business. It seems like a no-brainer.”

“Um… why couldn’t you do that on campus?” Steff asked.

“Because nobody’s running an enchantment mill on campus,” I said.

“No, but somebody is running the biggest or best or whatever enchantment program in the Imperium,” Steff said. “Grad students in the necro department are always posting notices that they’re looking for blood or flesh or bits of souls and stuff for their projects… I already know what your answer would be to selling any of those goodies, but I bet you can find people on campus who could use your level of personal mojo to help juice up their theses.”

“That’s a really good idea, Steff,” Amaranth said. “So, you have options… and time to think about them.”

“Options?” I said, laughing weakly. “You say that like it’s a good thing… every option that pops up is another thing I have to think about, another thing to be decided… for me to decide, I should say. Somebody remind me why I stopped taking the path of least resistance.”

“Because, baby… it was just too hard to keep going down it.”

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23 Responses to “474: Decisions, Decisions…”

  1. Matthias says:


    Current score: 0
  2. Matthias says:

    sorry…had to get that refresh monkey impulse out… anyway… Greatly enjoyed the chapter and it really did succinctly pull all the recent plot points together and set up the next phase of the story which feels like it is coming sooner rather than later. I wouldn’t be surprised if after this encounter with The Man that they didn’t do a quick over view of the rest of the semester and jump to summer… seems like the perfect place. except maybe the mermaid plot should be wrapped first… maybe a quick one line about both mermaids mysteriously disappearing. I just feel like resolving puddy seems like a good mirror to the beginning to finish on.

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  3. Krista says:

    Whatever fellates your boat… lol

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  4. Zathras IX says:

    It’s easier to
    Make a fresh start when one starts
    Out by being fresh

    Current score: 0
  5. grammar nitpicker can't help himself says:

    “…it was just Amaranth, Steff, Ian, and I in the cafeteria for dinner.”

    The “I” should be “me”.

    You wouldn’t write “…it was just I in the cafeteria for dinner;” you’d write “… it was just me in the cafeteria for dinner.”

    Current score: 0
    • carson says:

      You might write “It was me.” But “It was I” is correct.

      Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      Typo Report:

      But I’ve been looking into it with help from Two and I don’t think there’s any reason you shouldn’t be able to walk past a sacred icon on a door with * more than a little discomfort, with a little practice.”

      This one drove my Editor Sense (TM) crazy. The “don’t … shouldn’t” double negative construction sets up a situation in which the proper grammatical sense of the sentence becomes somewhat murky to parse, but I really felt like there was something wrong with “able to walk past a sacred icon on a door with more than a little discomfort”. It just sounded wrong. Stripping out the portions of the sentence which necessitated the double negative leaves us with “you should be able to walk past a sacred icon on a door with more than a little discomfort”. Well, she already does that. Walking past a sacred icon on a door causes her more than a little discomfort. Quite a bit more. I believe to convey what Amaranth was actually driving at there needs to be a “no” in front of “more”.

      Addressing the content of the sentence rather than the construction, this reinforces my own opinion that a lot of Mack’s problem with holy symbols and the like is psychological rather than metaphysical. Sure, there’s an element of actual magical destructive interference when she’s exposed to symbols which channel divine energy like that, but it really seems like her reaction to such minor league passive expressions of faith is fairly exaggerated. I’m thinking that between Granny “Brimstone Blaise”‘s indoctrination and the torment she was regularly subjected to in school she became convinced that she had to focus intensely on any pain or discomfort she experienced from expressions of faith, thus amplifying the effect upon her, because it was right and just that she should suffer for the sin of being the daughter of a demon. It’s only what she deserves, therefore she should experience it to the utmost, get all the pain and suffering and agony she can out of even the least bit of exposure to divine energies. In other words, she’s become brainwashed to self-torture herself when in the presence of even minor-league spiritual energy. It wouldn’t be right for her to resist it, endure it, shrug it off without maximum suffering. It also wouldn’t be safe, because the more you try to stand up to the little stuff the more the bullies decide to trot out the big stuff to put you in your place. Being vulnerable to minimal amounts of divine influence protects her from being exposed to higher doses of the same.

      I had a similar thought just the other day about her clumsiness. It’s another form of protective camouflage. If you’re clumsy, then you’re less of a threat. If you’re less of a threat, you’re not worth putting down so much. Being clumsy gets her laughed at and taken less seriously, so she learned to be clumsy without even realizing what she was doing just because part of her mind recognized the inherent safeness of being seen as clumsy after a few examples. Just as being highly vulnerable to divine energy is safer because you get exposed to it less so too being clumsy is safer because people feel less threatened by you and less inclined to heap abuse upon you since you’re providing them with reason to laugh at you anyway. It’s all part of Mackenzie’s victim psychology. Being a willing victim is seen as safer than being an unwilling one.

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  6. Zathras IX says:

    Uh, excuse me for asking, but what does “[][][]” signify?

    Current score: 0
  7. novaseer says:

    firstly, @Matthias, nice to see the refresh monkeys are still with us
    secondly, @Lexy, nice chapter, good to see your new regime is paying off
    thirdly, as Zathras asked, what does “[][][]” signify?
    and finally, profit!

    Current score: 0
  8. Matthew Tereau says:

    Yesss. The Man! Ook? Ook! Sorry…I haven’t done that in so long.

    Am I the only one who saw this? “What’s your idea, Ian?” Amaranth asked him. I was sort of grateful for her prompting him, [][][]

    I usually see those boxes on like, foreign language sites or something.

    But…yeah. I have a ton I could say about this chapter, but everyone else will say the things I would. XD

    Current score: 0
  9. drudge says:

    I wonder who exactly is selling “bits of souls”. I mean sentient souls don’t seem like the sort of thing one hands out to college students to mess around with. I mean if a student turns up dead wouldn’t their family sort of want that sort of thing seen to? It doesn’t sound like it’s being donated or just collected from animals so I’m wondering.

    Current score: 0
    • bramble says:

      The fact that Steff said “bits of souls” rather than just “souls” makes me think that it might, with the proper care, be possible to remove a portion of a living person’s soul without completely destroying it or killing them. Probably not healthy to do frequently, and possibly not healthy to do at all, but certainly a better alternative to taking whole souls to work with, if you really need soul-stuff that badly.

      Current score: 1
      • Jechtael says:

        Maybe it’s like Soulfire in The Dresden Files. Soul is powerful fuel, and if you run out you die (or worse), but as long as you have some left you can regenerate up to full by spending time with your loved ones, going out dancing, having a spirited (pun intended) game of D&D, etc.

        Current score: 1
  10. zeel says:

    It looks like it got fixed.

    was it [][][] or ⇬⇬⇬?

    the first being braces. the second being a placeholder character. for when the font used (or displayed by your PC if you do not have the fond being used) dose not contain the character that was intended. many fonts do NOT contain every character that they could contain. all the extras show up as ⇬.

    Current score: 0
    • A Random Pooka says:

      Those look like three little weenies …

      Great work, AE. Love it every time I see what you can do.

      Current score: 0
  11. Oniwasabi says:

    You should stop taking the path of least resistance because that path is always MINED!

    And Yay for authors that update between Christmas and New Years!

    Current score: 0
    • Rey d`Tutto says:

      The path of least resistance, when it is not Mined, leads into the kill zone of an ambush.

      And incoming fire has the right of way.

      Current score: 0
  12. Zergonapal says:

    heh, I was worried about Mack turning to the Tomb of Horrors as a job prospect. I’m glad Amaranth nixed that 🙂
    As for bits of soul, maybe its the spectral version of selling plasma. In that it replenishes after a hearty meal and some fluids?

    Current score: 0
  13. Kevin says:

    On the matter of selling your soul for magical research I have yet to see anything about needing your soul to live (or more specifically anything that says your soul must be 100% intact)

    Current score: 1
    • Kevin says:

      P.S. Also would someone who is selling bits of themselves to the necromancy department really be that concerned with what happens to them when they die.

      Current score: 1
      • drudge says:

        Yeah, but then there’s a whole lot of people squeamish about giving BLOOD. Giving a piece of your SOUL seems like a big freaking deal.

        I mean to use two in universe examples, it was stated in the golem side story that you need a soul to come back from the dead, and it’s needed for an afterlife. To purposfully damage your soul here means that before the age of 25 you’ve fucked up on a scale for massive that no amount of free healing, amends, or any sort of escape can make life better for you, but somehow you’re in good enough shape and free enough to get to the necromancy department.

        Of course slave traders could probably turn an extra profit, being eeevil like that and all.

        Current score: 0
  14. pseudopoiuytfgh says:

    I like Harlow. It’ll be boring with her in a dorm full or normal humans. Here she is near all sorts of fantasy creatures, hobbitgnomes, mermaids, half ogre, dark elf, kobolds, canids, a centaur, etc. In a human dorm they’ll be human. Maybe a paladin or a cleric will be across the hall, otherwise just some humans….

    Current score: 0
  15. Jechtael says:

    You lied, Alexandra! (Or A.E.? I’m still not sure which you prefer.) Fewer than forty words passed between your insistence that Puddy would never again be mentioned and the next use of her name!

    Fortunately, you’re the fun kind of liar, who spins elaborate webs of fiction and puts a title and a byline on them ^_^

    Current score: 0