206: Heated Exchanges

on April 30, 2008 in Book 8

In Which Mackenzie Has The Chicken

The stairs leading down to the pool area were broad and shallow, and meandered in a lazy, uneven spiral. They were also wet, but the stone surface had been left rough, so they weren’t too terribly slick.

I passed a couple of the Badger boys who were headed up. They’d stripped down to shorts but were still wearing their ceremonial tabards over their otherwise bare chests. They stopped talking as soon as the winding staircase brought us in sight of one another, but one of them was staring at me as if he could see right through me… or my clothes. I blushed and ducked my head, hurrying past.

At the bottom, the hallway—or tunnel, as the passages had a very unfinished look—branched off in three directions, with runic markers which probably would have told me where each one led if I had been able to read them. I headed right, figuring the dwarven residence hall was probably more amenable to reason than the labyrinth was.

It took me to a sort of locker area. There was a damp and kind of smelly mess that I hoped was intended for returning dirty towels and not meant to be a distribution point, and a bunch of metal boxes. Most of them were open, but a few here and there were closed. There were no visible keys or keyholes, but something that looked like a pretty heavy-duty latch on the inside of the doors.

My guess was that they either had assigned owners that they would open for, or they were for general use and would attune to whoever closed them. Since most were standing open, the latter seemed most likely, but it wouldn’t hurt to check before I even thought about putting something inside them.

After setting my food and drink down on a bench, I went over to one and peered inside. There were no instructions, in any language. I put my hands on either side of the open door and “felt”, extending my senses to try to probe out the nature of the enchantment.

I just barely managed to get my hand out of the way before it snapped shut with a bang. Apparently, it could hurt to check.

I grabbed my stuff and hurried out of the locker room before somebody came to check on the noise, or possibly to answer a silent alarm. I didn’t want my hosts thinking I’d been trying to steal their techniques.

The middle passage ended up taking me right up to the edge of the underground lake/pool, which was more extensive than I’d guessed. It was a long crescent, like you’d get if you had a big oval with an oval shaped bite taken out of it. The water came right up almost on a level with the surrounding area, which I guess was probably to the dwarves’ benefit.

What I took to be the hot springs and steam rooms were actually nestled in the same massive chamber, in a raised area off to the left-hand side. There were several mixed groups sitting in round stone enclosures from which rose clouds of steam, and there were also square wood-frame cubes.

I headed off towards that area, giving the frigid waters a wide berth. A sound like a whip crack… or what I thought a whip crack might sound like… made me turn just in time to get soaked down the front with a wave of water Feejee had evidently sent at me with a slap of her tail. She was leaning back in the water, a big grin on her face.

“What the fuck was that for?” I said.

“You could stop and say hi,” she said.

“Hi, Feejee,” I said, a little icily. “I was actually looking for the steamrooms.”

“They’re over there,” she said, flicking her tail in the direction I’d been headed. “You mind if I keep you company?”

“If you want to,” I said.

“Great,” she said. “I’ll just run upstairs and get some food, then.”


There were stacks of clean, if a little rough-looking, towels on the platform, and I grabbed one as I walked past. It didn’t have a very pleasant texture, but it was big enough.

Five of the eight cabin-like structures were occupied, or at least had their doors closed. I could tell that some of them were “in use”, because of the moaning and giggling that was coming out of them. The whole area was permeated with a rich and tantalizingly meaty aroma that made my mouth water. It seemed to be seeping out from around the doors. I wouldn’t have guessed from what I’d seen that the dwarves would have a rule against taking food into the steam rooms, but it was nice to know I wasn’t the only one doing it.

I took a chamber on the far side of the cavern from the entrances. I looked back to see Feejee, her tail transformed back into smooth-scaled green legs, toweling herself by the other end of the pool. She waved and I waved back, and then I headed inside.

It was body-pleasingly warm inside the structure, which had a stone floor and wooden benches along three sides. There was a big long trough filled with red stones in the center of the room, and the heat seemed to be emanating from that. There wasn’t any steam, but I figured if I couldn’t work that out, Feejee might know.

I put my plate and drink down on the bench and closed the door. As soon as it was latched, there was a hiss from behind me. I turned and saw that beads of moisture had appeared on the red stones and were quickly boiling away. I stripped quickly, then wrapped the towel around myself and set my clothes outside. I figured that apart from keeping them dry, that might make it easier for Ian to find me if he came looking.

The steam shut off when the door was opened, but resumed as soon as it was closed again. I sat down on the bench and picked at my chicken. It was good, but did little to satisfy my hunger. I could still smell whatever they were eating in the other steam rooms… the pork, probably. Either the scent had clung to me or it just permeated the area.

The room was nice and warm but not really hot, and the steam was dissipating into invisibility almost as fast as it appeared. I looked around and noticed there was an arrow on the back of the door, pointing to a single “I” mark, with marks for “II”, “III”, and so on, leading to a seventh mark which looked like a “V”. Dwarven numerals?

I got up and turned the arrow to the second mark. There was an immediate sizzle from the heat stones, and the rate of steaming visibly increased. I turned it up a couple more times, then turned it to seven.

In almost no time the room was filled with billowing clouds of steam, and I was in heaven… warm all over, warm through and through. The chicken was good. I mean, it was chicken, which I like, and it was a pretty big piece. Eating around the bones was kind of a new experience for me, though, and a little bit annoying.

The lager had tasted pretty good when it was still ice-cold, but now that it was merely cool the bitterness was a little closer to the forefront. It wasn’t bad. It would just have to take some getting used to. I took a bigger sip and let it move around in my mouth a bit before swallowing.

There was a knock on the door before too long.

“Come in,” I said automatically.

I immediately thought that I should have asked who it was, but then Feejee said, “You’ll have to let us in… they lock when somebody’s inside them.”

“Oh,” I said. I got to my feet, secured the towel, and hurried over. I had the door open before I registered the “us”, and was surprised to see Iona there with her. They both stood back from the blast of heat and steam. I stepped back away from the freezing draft which swept inside in answer.

“Whoo, hot enough?” Iona said as the steam cleared away. She turned the dial back to three on her way inside.

“Mack, this is Iona,” Feejee said, stepping in after her and closing the door.

“We’ve kind of met,” I said. I watched as the scales on both mermaids’ legs shimmered and melted away into their skin, leaving them with the appearance of beautiful, long-legged human women with exotic coloration.

Feejee’s hair, of course, was tinted sea green, as were her lips and nipples and to a very small extent her skin. Iona’s hair was blazing red, with similar touches elsewhere. I hadn’t really had a lot of opportunities to see them, but her nipples were striking up close.

“She’s staring at my tits,” Iona said out of the corner of her mouth.

“She does that,” Feejee said.

“I don’t!” I said, jerking my gaze away. “I mean, I’m not!”

They both laughed.

“Stare,” Iona said. “I’m not sure what else they’re good for.”

“Rick’s found a couple of interesting uses for mine,” Feejee said, settling herself down on the bench opposite me. “I hope you don’t mind, by the way,” she said, waving a hand over her legs, “but scales tend to dry out pretty quickly in the heat. Otherwise, we don’t really sweat, so we can stay in here forever.”

“It’s actually kind of nice, breathing with this much water in the air,” Iona said, taking a deep breath.

“I don’t mind,” I said.

The sight of Feejee’s legs folded in front of her was very affecting. It was an exotic touch, like seeing Amaranth with a mermaid’s tail might have been. I reasoned that she wasn’t really any more nude in this state than she usually was when I saw her, but… she didn’t normally have anything remotely resembling a vulva when I saw her.

It was a little odd to get to the end of those long, lithe legs and see the large, vaguely flipperish feet, but they hardly detracted from her beauty.

“I was starting to think you were avoiding me,” Feejee said.

“Oh,” I said. “Um… it’s just kind of cold for me, down by the pool.”

“I didn’t just mean the pool,” Feejee said. “I never see you except in the bathroom.”

“Well, you’re always hanging out with Sara and Tara,” I said. I couldn’t keep the scorn out of my voice, which made it sound like an accusation. Then I decided I didn’t care. They were idiots, and jerks besides. What was she doing, hanging out with them?

“Do you know why I hang out with them?” Feejee asked.


“They ask me to,” she said. “They invite me along. They talk to me.”

“Oh,” I said.

Well, she’d kind of told me, I guess.

Feejee had brought a larger, unlabeled bottle of what looked like wine that was about two-thirds full, and a big plate full of pig meat. The word “pork” made me think of greasy-looking slabs, but this looked moist and… not exactly “flaky”, though “stringy” probably carries the wrong connotation. But it looked about half ripped apart, and that didn’t look half bad. Iona had two beers and another plate, similarly laden.

“Mother Above, I’m starving,” Feejee said, picking up a handful of meat from her plate and shoving it into her mouth, then washing it down with a swallow of the golden liquid. “The smell down here… I love it, but I hate it, you know?”

“It just drives me frenzied,” Iona said, nodding in agreement. “It’s like they’re teasing us.”

“Why does it smell so strongly down here?” I asked. It hadn’t occurred to me before, but the aroma of roasting meat hadn’t been nearly as noticeable up on the top level, where the meat had actually been roasting.

“Because they pack themselves in and turn on the heat, practically cooking themselves,” Iona said. “The sweat and odor mixes with the steam, which carries it everywhere.”

I stared blankly. Pork sweated? That was kind of gross.

No, actually, it was really gross.

Iona and Feejee looked at each other.

“You do know what we’re smelling, right?” Feejee asked.

“Meat?” I said.

Iona laughed and nodded.

“That’s right… meat,” she said. “Have you tried the pork yet, Mack?”

I shook my head.

“I kind of prefer chicken,” I said.

“Okay, but what do you like better than chicken?” Feejee asked.

“Anything sweet,” I said. “Or tart.”

“What’s your favorite, though?”

“Lemon, I guess,” I said.

She shook her head.

“I like lots of stuff,” I said. I wasn’t sure where this was going, but the looks on the mermaids’ faces, the knowing grins, unsettled me.

“It’s okay, Mack,” Feejee said. “You don’t have to pretend. There’s nobody here but us ‘monsters’.”

Iona laughed.

I didn’t say anything, but my mind was racing back to my ordeal in the labyrinth, when I’d been compelled to answer three questions truthfully. One of them had been on the subject of my favorite thing to eat.

“Try some of the pork, Mack,” Iona said, still grinning as she held out a piece. She looked ghastly, her face looming in the steam clouds. It was just the color and the moisture, but her lips looked almost bloody. “It’s not quite like the real thing, of course, and when we’re sitting here practically breathing them in, it’s a pretty sorry substitute… but it’s really the best thing we can get, safely.”

“Legally,” Feejee said. “Morally.”

“Morally?” Iona asked.

“Okay, ethically,” Feejee said. “We’re guests here. It just seems… wrong.”

“I think I’ll stick with my chicken,” I said. My throat felt very dry, despite the humidity. I took a big drink, not remembering what it was a big drink of, and nearly choked.

“Little judgmental for a demon,” Iona said, sounding half-amused and half-hurt. “Or maybe you think we’re trying to trick you into admitting something?”

“Oh, just leave it alone, Io,” Feejee said. “She’s probably used to being judged for this. They‘ve got a reputation that we don‘t.”

“I suppose,” Iona said.

There was an awkward silence after that for a bit, and then Feejee blurted out, “But you have to have thought about it a bit, right, Mack?” she asked. “I mean, I would never… but every once in a while, I just look at Twyla and go, ‘Who would miss her?’, you know?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I don’t.”

“Right,” Feejee said. She sighed. “Me, neither, really. Oh, hey! Were you wearing shackles upstairs?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I figured they’d be a bit inconvenient in here, though.”

“I knew it,” Feejee said. She turned to Iona and held out her hand. “Pay up.”

“Bitch, you know I only got one pocket in this outfit and there ain’t anything in it,” Iona said, then burst out laughing at her affectation. “Anyway, she’s not wearing them now.”

“The bet was on whether she’d wear them or not,” Feejee said.

“And she’s not.”

“But she did.”

“Wait, you guys bet on whether or not I’d wear the cuffs?” I asked. I felt a vague sense of indignation at this, which was a welcome change from the unease the previous conversation had filled me with.

“I figured you were too independent and strong-minded,” Iona said. “After the way you acted in history class.”

“And I told you that you didn’t know her very well,” Feejee said. “You can pay me later, anyway.”

“Like you need five silver,” Iona said.

“You shouldn’t place bets if you don’t want to pay them,” Feejee said. She turned to me. “I tried to get Hazel to bet against me, but she said it was no contest. What do you think she’d taste like?”

“Hazel?” I asked, horrified by this rather jarring segue.

“Twyla,” Feejee said. “Sorry. It’s just been on my mind. I don’t know how human she is or what. Not that I’ve ever eaten a half-human, though, so…”

“Can we please not talk about that?” I asked. The conversation was bothering me… particularly in that I was very aware of that I was basically undisturbed. It should have been more disturbing.

“Okay,” Feejee said. “Sorry. I just thought… you might like having somebody you could speak freely about this stuff with, without worrying about them freaking out and trying to kill you for mentioning it. I mean, you do like the way they taste, right? We figured you must.”

“That isn’t the point,” I said. “On top of all the other ways in which it’s wrong, I’m dating one. Last time I checked, so were you.”

“Well, yeah, but it’s not like I’m going to shove Rick in an oven,” Feejee said. “Or anybody else. But it doesn’t hurt to talk, or imagine.”

“I like them raw and wriggling, anyway,” Iona said. “Much more satisfying. Though, they are pretty good, spitted over…”

“Enough!” I said. The phrase “raw and wriggling” was echoing in my mind… and throughout my body. Worse, there was an image forming in my head of Twyla, the bicorn girl from our floor, turning over coals like the pigs upstairs. This was not a good conversation for me to have. “I don’t want to talk about this stuff!”

“Okay,” Iona said.

“Sorry,” Feejee said. She sounded disappointed. “I just thought…”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t like this part of myself. I’m not sorry about that, I mean. I’m sorry if I’m not what you expected.”

I took another big bite of chicken. It was surprisingly and satisfyingly crunchy, with new currents of flavor that I’d never noticed before. I finished the rest of it pretty quickly, and then licked my fingers without any trace of self-consciousness.

“What?” I asked. Feejee and Iona were staring.

“Do you always eat the bones and all, like that?” Iona asked.

I blushed when I realized that’s what I’d just done, then waited for my stomach to turn as I recalled the last time I’d bitten through bone.

It didn’t.

Also, I was still hungry.

“Maybe I will try some of that pork,” I said. If it was as near a substitute as Iona said, maybe having some would be a good thing. “If you don’t mind sharing.”

“Come over and help yourself,” Feejee said, patting the bench on the other side of the plate from her. “I brought plenty, and there’s more where that came from.”

“Thanks,” I said, moving over to their side. I drank some more of the lager and then picked up a small, single piece of the shredded pig. I opened my mouth and placed it on my tongue. It was so juicy it seemed to melt a little bit, and I immediately noticed the similarity… though I could also tell the difference.

The appeal of human flesh to me was supernatural in nature. It wasn’t because humans tasted like humans. It was because they were humans. Artificial human flavor wouldn’t cut it.

The pork was good, though… better than I’d expected, and the meat on my tongue with the scent of lightly cooked humanity permeating the area was something.

“What do you think?” Feejee asked, after I’d washed the morsel down with another swallow.

“Good,” I said, and at her encouraging nod, I took another handful.

“Of course,” Feejee said, “the twins wouldn’t be any real loss to the world, and they are full humans… but they’ve got too many friends and their mom checks in on them all the time. I mean, hypothetically. I wouldn’t actually do it.”

“Yeah,” I said, popping another bite of meat into my mouth. “Of course.”

“Anyway,” Iona said, “it’s probably healthier to have some outlet, you know? Even if it‘s just in your head.”

“Yeah, and that’s all it is,“ Feejee said. “It’s just a harmless fantasy. Like… talking about a really sleek guy you know that nothing would ever happen with, you know?”

“Yeah,” I agreed. I took another drink from my bottle and found that it was almost empty. “Um… I think I need another of these.”

“Here,” Feejee said, passing me her clear glass bottle. “Have some of this.”

I looked at the golden liquid a little skeptically. I’d had bad experiences with wine, by proxy, but this was richer and thicker than Puddy’s favorite white.

I raised it to my lips.

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4 Responses to “206: Heated Exchanges”

  1. Riva says:

    I really want to know more about the Dwarven numeral system…

    It seems like if V was a “seven” and the XV from Feejee’s first jaunt into the tunnels on the door was fifty-six, then they’re working with powers of 7, since seven less would be forty-nine.

    Is that about right?

    Current score: 1
  2. pedestrian says:

    I think you are correct. I noticed the jarring effect it had chapters ago. When my memory confused the dwarven and roman numerical systems.

    Current score: 0
  3. pedestrian says:

    In many cultures the term for human flesh is long pig.
    In China the stores advertised long dog.

    There is an old anthropologist’s joke: For people who insist that they are a pure blooded this or that. The anthropologist response is, that if correct, all that information tells you is which specific tribe of cannibals you could claim descent from.

    Current score: 2
  4. Psi-Ko says:

    For how easily she’s falling for the “Just a sip” I’m surprised Mack denied the “Just the tip”

    Current score: 4