214: Drifting Discussions

on May 12, 2008 in Book 8

In Which Amaranth Loves Everybody

Dee’s eyes were bright and shiny, though she’d managed to keep the tears contained. Her self-control was not absolute, though… her body was wracked with sobs that looked painful.

“I’ll take care of this,” Amaranth said to me. “You go get some sleep, but leave the door unlocked… I’ll join you in a bit.”

“Are you sure?” I asked. I kind of hoped that she was. I needed more sleep, and I had no idea what I could do that would possibly make the situation any better.

“Yes, baby,” Amaranth said. She kissed me on the cheek. “We’ll be fine. We’ll have some… some girl talk, Dee and me.”

“I do not need to talk, I need to pack,” Dee said. “You may help me with that if you choose.”

“Okay, Dee,” Amaranth said. She gave me a gentle push towards the door. “Whatever you want. You can tell me about what’s bothering you while we get you ready for your trip.”

Two had evidently already started her day, as she wasn’t in our room. I had meant to stay awake for Amaranth, but ended up passing out as soon as I got under the covers. I had a bizarre (even by my standards) dream where I was back at the dwarven party, except the deck area around the pool looked a lot like Harlowe’s basement. I was naked, with a collar around my neck, and the leash kept getting handed off between different people, including Sooni, Iona, Gloria, Ian, his “friend” Gabe, and several women who seemed to have been sent over from central casting.

It wasn’t even completely a proper dream, because I couldn’t seem to stay properly asleep. I kept drifting in and out of it. The details of the setting changed, never really changing all the way but sometimes being more like the Underhall and sometimes more like Harlowe, or my grandmother’s basement, or the streets of Enwich.

I woke up all the way when Amaranth slipped into bed next to me. I slid over to make room, then snuggled up against her.

“I’m sorry, I would have been back sooner but I went looking for Trina,” Amaranth said. “I’m afraid Dee startled her pretty badly, waking up like that.”

“How is Dee?” I asked. I couldn’t find it within myself to be bothered if Trina got a little fright from her close encounter with a “drow”, not when Dee was so obviously hurting.

“Okay, I think,” Amaranth said. “I convinced her not to do anything rash, anyway. It sounds like she had a day and a half of pretty bad dreams, without any escape, and she woke up missing her girlfriend, or her nanny. I couldn’t tell. She was rambling a bit and kept slipping out of Pax.”

Dee with a nanny? I couldn’t picture that. I couldn’t picture her as a baby, or even a child. She was so mature… mature and timeless.

“So, she’s staying?” I asked.

“She says she will, for now,” Amaranth said. “I think once she’s had a chance to really think things through and look at them in the light of… well, maybe that’s the wrong expression… but you get the idea.”

“She always seems so… together.”

“I think she is, baby,” Amaranth said. “But that doesn’t mean she’s not allowed to wake up scared or lonely. We’ve all been here for weeks, but she had to leave her home months ago to make it here on time. It goes without saying that that kind of travel time limits her options for summer break. She can’t even use mirrors or crystal balls to stay in touch, because the ethereal plane doesn’t interpenetrate that deeply. I told her she should try writing down what she’s feeling in a letter. Even if it takes months to get there… or never does… she’ll still feel better for having put it down on paper, right?”

“I suppose,” I said.

Dee wasn’t one of my closest friends, but she’d stood up for me on a couple different occasions and had apparently given herself a nasty case of sunburn doing so. It was hard to say if I’d actually miss her if she suddenly wasn’t there, but I didn’t like to think of her hurting.

At the same time, it didn’t seem like there was much we could to help, and I was feeling lousy enough without dwelling.

“Can we talk about something else?” I asked.

“Okay. Well, um… I talked to Viktor last night,” Amaranth said. Once again, I was hit over the head with the need to be more specific.

“And?” I asked in a tiny, constricted voice. It sounded more like a croak than a word. “How did he react?”

“I… couldn’t really say, baby,” Amaranth said. She squirmed beside me. I couldn’t see her face, but I could imagine her chewing on or tugging at her lip. “I mean, he isn’t happy, but beyond that…”

“Did he say anything about, you know, Steff and me… still going out?”

“He said he’d have things to say about that, to you,” Amaranth said. “I asked him if he would defer your punishment, since you have so much going on, but he says it needs to be resolved before you can be allowed to take things any further.”

“So, in other words, if I submit to punishment, we can still go out?” I asked.

“He didn’t exactly say that, baby,” Amaranth said. “But I’d guess so… well, I shouldn’t guess. You’ll just have to talk to Viktor.”

“You’ll be there when I do, right?” I asked.

When she didn’t answer immediately, I knew the answer that was coming.

“I’m sorry, baby,” she said finally. “Steff will be there, though, and he gave me his word it wouldn’t involve anything I’d object to.”

What exactly would Amaranth object to, though? That seemed to be a fairly short list. Again, this subject wasn’t exactly what I’d consider relaxing pillow talk.

“Do we have to talk about this now?” I asked.

“I suppose we don’t really have to, just now,” Amaranth said. She rolled over to blanket me with her body, wrapping an arm around me. She was so warm. With Amaranth in my bed, I could have summer sun on my skin, even in the middle of autumn. “So… what happened last night, exactly?”

Amaranth was fond of saying that I didn’t learn quickly. She had a point. I considered asking if we could just go to sleep, but I was feeling a bit too restless to think I could drift off so easily, even ensconced in Amaranth’s warmth.

Also, if I did have to have this conversation, there were worse ways it could happen than alone in my room with Amaranth’s soft weight pressing comfortably down against me.

“Well… what do you know about mermaids?” I asked.

“Like what, their culture?” Amaranth asked. “They don’t really have written literature or a lot of craftsmanship, but they’ve got a strong oral tradition and an appreciation for music, with forms for both above and below the water.”

“What about their history?” I asked. “Their… relationship to humanity?”

“Well, they’re thought to be part human, because of the similarities in their upper bodies.”

“Okay,” I said. “But… you know they can change their legs between scales and skin, right?”

“Well, yes,” Amaranth said. She giggled. “I don’t think they’d be quite so interesting to humans if they couldn’t.”

“So, you know that they can look human down below, but that’s not their natural form,” I said. “It’s like an alternate form, or a disguise.”

“Where are you going with this, baby?” Amaranth asked.

“I’m just… you wouldn’t call their human-looking lower body a sign of human ancestry, would you?”

“Well, no, if that’s all there was to go on,” Amaranth said. “But their natural form, from the waist up…”

“But who said that was their natural form?”

“Baby, did you see something?” Amaranth asked. “I hope you didn’t make a snap judgment based on appearance.”

“I didn’t,” I said. I sighed. “I’m just trying to sort of… ease into this. The thing is, I found out some things about mermaids last night.”

“Oh?” Amaranth asked. “And this led to sex?”

“Not quite,” I said. “And seriously, I know what Ian said, but this is seriously not me going ‘oh, this isn’t real sex.’ It wasn’t sex.”

“What was it, then?” I didn’t say anything. “Baby?”

I decided to just spit it out.

“Mermaids—merfolk—eat people,” I said. “Humans, I mean. They eat humans.”

Amaranth suddenly went very still. Maybe it was my imagination, but she seemed to get colder, too… physically colder. My sun had disappeared behind the clouds.

“Baby,” she said, very carefully. “You do know that those kinds of rumors have been spread about virtually every race, at different times? I mean, dwarves and humans are friends now, but human parents used to tell their children to be good or the dwarves would tunnel into their rooms and take them at night. There was all kind of nasty wartime propaganda, too… about elves, dwarves, whoever humanity was fighting at the time. And it’s not like humanity’s alone there, either.”

“Okay, but… sometimes the stories are true,” I said. “I mean, look at me.”

“Stories don’t have anything to do with you,” Amaranth said. “But, yes, full demons are rather… constrained by their natures.”

“And ogres,” I added. “I mean, maybe they’re more civilized now, but… they really do like to torture and kill.”

“Baby, I told you, Viktor promised me…”

“I’m not talking about Viktor,” I said. “I’m talking about mermaids. This isn’t some rumor or bit of propaganda, Amaranth… Feejee and Iona told me. They showed me.”

“You saw them, eating somebody?”

“No. Well, me,” I said. “Sort of. In play.”

I felt Amaranth relax above me. It was like she melted a little.

“Oh,” she said, relief filling her voice. “I know you had quite a bit to drink last night, but you should know there’s a difference between real life and play.”

“I know!” I said. “I do know. But, it started because they wanted to talk to me… um, man-eater-to-man-eater.” I swallowed. “Feejee and I have never really talked much outside of the bathroom, which was kind of public, so she followed me into the steamrooms and… we started talking.”

Amaranth didn’t say anything.

“I… um… I don’t think I’m supposed to be telling anybody this,” I said. “But I felt like I had to tell you. The thing is, if I understood them right, it’s not something they just go out and do every night. It’s like a deep-sea thing, or something. Humans that come into their territory.”

“You mean, like if a ship wrecks?”

“I got the feeling they’re a bit more active in their hunting than that,” I said. I shifted a bit beneath Amaranth. I was starting to realize that the reason I’d taken such a roundabout approach to the subject was that I’d kind of expected… hoped, almost… for some bit of recognition from her. She was more widely read than I was on a lot of subjects. If she’d known anything about it, she could have taken over the conversation. “Have you… have you ever read or heard anything about this?”

“There are stories,” Amaranth said. “Old stories, where the ‘merfolk’ are described as being more like sharks or other predators than human. Most modern commentators assume that either the storytellers were calling an unrelated race of monsters ‘merfolk’, or that the story had simply become garbled over time, to the point that they were completely unreliable.”

“Nothing more recent?”

“Isolated incidents,” Amaranth said. “Rumors. But, there’s rumors about every race, and isolated incidents of even humans eating humans. Sea travel’s dangerous, and magic’s extra-unreliable over open water. A ship goes down, a person goes overboard…” She shivered. “I’m sorry. I think I’d have a hard time being objective about this. I was made by humans, created in humanity’s image. But, it’s a dangerous world, and if this is all true, they’re hardly the only things lurking beneath the surface, you know?”

“Most of those things aren’t coming to a human school in a human empire,” I said.

“This is a human school now?” Amaranth said. “I know what you mean, but still… like you said, they’re not on the prowl here. They’ve left their own customs behind. Short of going back and undoing their whole culture, I don’t know what more we could ask from them.”

“So you think it’s okay, what they do?”

“I like humans,” she said. “I love humans. But I love everybody, and that means I also love Feejee and, what was her name? Iona? And I love you. There but for the grace of… well, that’s probably not the right expression, but you could very easily have been born needing something more substantial than blood.”

“I crave flesh,” I said, forcing the words out. “I like the way it tastes. I… thought about it, about biting and, um, eating people, when I was drunk. Part of it was the smell of so many people in the steamrooms and hot springs, part of it was the beer, part of it was the conversation… but whatever set it off, it was me thinking it.”

“You can’t help what you are, baby,” Amaranth said.

“But that won’t change anything, if I… hurt somebody.”

“You won’t,” Amaranth said. “You said you were thinking about it.”

There was a moment when I almost said nothing, where I almost kept it to myself. I couldn’t, though. It was too awful to say aloud, but it was too awful to keep in.

“I tried to bite Two,” I whispered. “When we got back to the room. She gave me a hug and she smelled… she smelled so good.”

“But, you stopped yourself, right?” Amaranth asked. “I mean, of course you did. Two’s okay.”

“Ian stopped me,” I said. “If he hadn’t been there…”

“Well, Two can take care of herself,” Amaranth said. “She has that stun mace.”

“She was in her pajamas, she didn’t have it on her,” I said. “She didn’t see what I was doing. She doesn’t even know now, I don’t think.”

“That’s probably for the best,” Amaranth said. “I don’t know how she’d take it… but, sweetie, you were drunk, right? You’d never do anything like that otherwise. I know you wouldn’t. You’re too good. You love Two.”

It was so tempting to let her keep thinking that, but this was a case for total, brutal honesty.

“I was actually thinking back to things I’d thought the last time I got… hungry,” I said. “I know she wouldn’t satisfy my needs. She’s not human, and even though it’s kind of gross to think about, she’s not a virgin… but she’s sweet and innocent and she loves me and something inside me just looks at her and goes, that would be so sweet.”

“But you’d never… not sober, not if you weren’t past your feeding schedule,” Amaranth said. She was starting to sound desperate. “We’ll get you some blood this coming weekend. That’s, what? Two weeks since you fed? We’ll do it every two weeks, just to be safe. That should work, I think.”

“I think Two should move out,” I said. “Move back with Dee, or in with you, or something.”

“Baby, that would just kill her,” Amaranth said.

“So would me killing her!”

“Don’t be a smartass,” Amaranth said. She kissed the back of my head.

“I’m not,” I said.

“So, what did you actually do with Feejee and Iona?” Amaranth asked.

“Well, they kind of pretended to… eat me,” I said. “They said I smelled like food, I tasted… they could bite me without doing harm, though it did hurt.”

“Did you enjoy it?”

“Mostly. I was scared shitless,” I said. “It was like part of my brain knew that I was prey and didn’t know that I was invulnerable, didn’t know anything else… I probably would’ve wet myself, if, you know, I did that sort of thing.”

“But you enjoyed it.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, I was drunk, but… yeah.”

“Well, then I can’t be too angry at them or at you,” Amaranth said. “I think you need to avoid alcohol… none on your own, listen to Ian when you’re with him… though, I don’t see any reason you can’t hang out with them, sober.”

“Even knowing what they do?” I asked.

“What sorts of things do you suppose Steff and Viktor got up to over break?” Amaranth asked. “Anyway, maybe being here… having a friend to talk to and share things with, and getting to know humans as people… maybe that will open their minds? I don’t think there’s anything to be gained from rejecting them, and a lot from embracing them.”

“So you think I should be friends with them.”

I think you should be friends with everybody,” Amaranth said. “But that’s me. If you want my advice, I don’t think you should reject their friendship because they chose to open up to you. I mean, you like them, right?”

I had to stop and think. I did like Feejee, but Iona had been kind of… disturbing. Then again, we’d been drunk, and the whole topic had been “eating people”… how had she really been more disturbing than Feejee was, or even myself?

“I guess so,” I said.

“That’s that, then,” Amaranth said. “I’m not crazy about anything that involves killing sentient races… but… well, I don’t even eat cows or chickens. If I was going to start throwing stones, I wouldn’t know where to begin. And if you guys are careful with this, it could be a good thing… like a support group.” She giggled. “Also, it could be fun… I understand they expect you to treat this stuff as confidential, but if you think you could broach the subject to them, maybe I could get in on the play? I mean, I’m not invulnerable, but I can heal myself.”

“I don’t know if that’s a great idea,” I said. “Once they got going, it kind of turned into a frenzy. I don’t think they could have just stopped, if they were actually tasting blood.”

“Oh,” she said. She sounded a little disappointed. “Well, I suppose we might have to start slowly, then. Think about it. Talk it over with them.”

“If you want me to.”

“I do,” Amaranth said. She yawned and adjusted her position a bit, covering my back more squarely. “Enough talk. I was looking forward to a few hours of sleep today. Is this comfy for you?”

“Very,” I said. “What about you? I’m kind of a lumpy mattress.”

“I’m used to lying on the bare ground, or among stalky plants,” she said. “Lying on top of the person I love most in all the world is a treat.”

She’d said she loved me plenty of times in the past few weeks, but for some reason, hearing it this time sent waves of euphoria through me that I didn’t understand. It was only as I was drifting off to sleep along with her that the full meaning of her words hit me.

The person she loves most…

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8 Responses to “214: Drifting Discussions”

  1. Zukira Phaera says:

    missing word?

    At the same time, it didn’t seem like there was much we could (do?) to help, and I was feeling lousy enough without dwelling.

    Current score: 0
  2. Arkeus says:

    And once again, Amy’s blind spots make sure she tries to destroy Mack.

    Current score: 5
  3. Anthony says:

    Kheris Dei! Amaranth, she was there. You were not. Can you please stop mindlessly assuming the best of everyone despite all evidence to the contrary and just LISTEN for once?!?

    Current score: 7
  4. Daniel says:

    This time Amaranth listened and even believed; she just didn’t see it as as big of a problem as it is. She’s making progress, but her “love everybody” is too strong. It’s a good principle, but she needs to realize that sometimes some beings she loves need to be harmed in order to prevent greater harm to other beings she loves.

    Current score: 6
  5. Cadnawes says:

    I believe that acknowledging the truth of someone, even if it is bad, is no barrier to loving them. In fact I would argue that if you lie to yourself about who or what someone is, you don’t really love them at all.

    Current score: 1
  6. nobody says:

    Amaranth also needs to learn that loving someone doesn’t mean you should trust them, ideally you should be able to trust someone you love but that trust should be earned.
    To trust someone because you love them is easily an act of very poor judgment.
    I always respond to being asked why someone should trust me the same way, “don’t.”

    Current score: 1
  7. Jechtael says:

    Big big big big BIG point: Mackenzie only talked about them telling her they ate people in the abstract. She DIDN’T let two know that they were talking about sneaking human students while they were stuck at university… and especially that they suggested Mackenzie get in on it, since she could eat bones and therefore hide the evidence (though she did tell Amaranth that they suggested she get in on it in the abstract).

    Amaranth is going to be in SUCH deep herbicidal manure with Khaele. Loving anyone most of all is probably almost as bad as not loving someone at all.

    Current score: 1
    • Nocker says:

      A rosy thought, but there are sea nymphs, and even nymphs made in merfolk image. Khale knows. She just doesn’t CARE. She doesn’t care about humanity in general, Mackenzie in particular, or about what goes on in the wider world unless it’s at least an inconvenience to HER.

      Current score: 2