218: Old Fashioned

on May 16, 2008 in Book 8

In Which Amaranth Is Interested In Things Both Old And New

We had to split up after leaving the bookstore. While Two headed off to do her grocery shopping, Amaranth and I headed for a public coach stop.

She pulled out a little notebook which had the route information written in it, and quickly figured out where we had to go. I was glad she’d had this sort of foresight, and that I could just follow her lead, letting her pull me around by the hand.

Being within the city walls didn’t intimidate me, exactly, but public transportation did a bit.

It might sound stupid, but I’d almost missed coming to MU because I’d had to make all the travel arrangements myself. I’d waited until almost the last moment to figure out how to book my trip, and then dithered far longer than was prudent about actually getting to the coach station and presenting myself at the ticket counter.

Nobody ever taught you how to act in such a situation, and there were no sites on the ethernet about it, either. I mean, when I actually did it, it had been pretty simple. I’d stood in line for a bit and then gave the counter person my name and she gave me the tickets and itinerary. Up until the moment I actually settled down into my seat, though, I had been flat out convinced that I was going to do something horribly wrong and be thrown out of the terminal in abject humiliation.

The exact details of how this would come about never quite crystalized in my mind, but that didn’t make me feel any more secure. It’s called an “irrational fear” for a reason.

It was only the realization of how stupid it really would be… to be all set to leave home and go away to college and blow it all because of a deep-seated fear of making a fool of myself in front of a counter clerk I would never ever see again… that had kept me moving forward.

The city coaches had more in common with the cross-country ones than with the black carriages that carried us to and from the school. They were long and wide, with the benches split down the middle by an aisle, leaving barely enough room for two people on each side.

Walking down the aisle was all kinds of fun. I could feel the prickly pressure of holy symbols of varying power and levels of display from either side, which forced me to sort of sway to one side or the other as we made our way towards an open seat.

A mother with a toddler and an infant in a carry-thing strapped to her chest tried to cover both children’s eyes as we passed her. It was the first close encounter with children I’d had, walking around with Amaranth.

“I guess she must be a bottle feeder,” Amaranth said, slightly bemusedly. She slid into the open seat. When I sat down beside her, she pulled me onto her lap, which necessitated me turning sideways since there wasn’t really legroom otherwise. “Well, this is nice,” she said as we bounced along the street. “Out and about, seeing the sights… a lot of smaller stores and restaurants are clustered around the gates, but if we ever want to go to some place really nice, we’re going to have to get to know the coach routes.”

I had a momentary vision of us getting kicked out of a really ritzy restaurant, or followed around an upscale boutique by nervous guards.

“We’ve got to get off at the downtown transit exchange,” Amaranth said as we headed towards the center of town, where the big brick and glass buildings towered over the streets like a strangely boxy race of giants. “And then, from what I could tell, we could take another coach the rest of the way, but it kind of weaves around a lot. It looked on the map like it would almost be quicker to walk.”

“Through downtown Enwich?” I asked.

“I don’t think it’s a bad part of town, exactly,” Amaranth said. “Anyway, it’s Sunday afternoon. We should be fine.”

The actual ride took no more than ten minutes. We passed beneath an arch which at first I had taken for a bridge, but the street sloped swiftly downwards. We rode on in darkness for a bit, then pulled into a cavernous open hall through which three wide lanes passed, with platforms for passengers getting on or off the coaches.

The transit center was underground, and clearly done in an older style of architecture, with stone walls and vaulted ceilings. The continual light fixtures installed in old torch sconces and converted braziers didn’t do much to update the look of the place. Neither did the gorgon-face stone fountains or the suits of armor which seemed to have been converted into information booths… especially when I noticed that on a second inspection, it seemed like some of them were actually iron maidens.

Steff would love this place, I thought.

It had all the gloom and doom of the dwarves’ party room, and none of the raucous charm. Sure, it was bustling with people, but they were mostly looking down at the floor… unless they were gape-mouthed tourists like us.

Amaranth clearly was enamored of the place, babbling something she’d read about it having been the lair of a famous warlock who’d ruled the original town, three hundred years before. That part caught my attention.

“I didn’t know there was a town here three hundred years ago,” I said.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “There’s some fascinating books in the school library about it. Enwich… or at least a settlement on this spot… predates the IRM by a few centuries.”

That wasn’t terribly surprising, given the ancient structures that the university had incorporated, such as the labyrinth and very possibly the dwarven Underhall, but I hadn’t known it. When I thought about early human settlement of the Westering Lands, I thought first of the original colonies back east.

“So, um, where’s the coach we would be taking?” I asked. I would have liked to know more about the history of Enwich, but I wanted to make one attempt at arguing for the ride.

“Number three… that one,” Amaranth said, pointing to one, which was disappearing through the tunnel back to the surface. She took my hand. “Come on. Let’s find the stairs.”

We crossed a couple of the canals of murky water which cross-cut the chamber for no apparent reason, and headed for a doorway with a picture of a man climbing a staircase.

Amaranth was approached three times before we made it across the station. Each time, she apologized and explained that she had an appointment she was in danger of being late for, or else she would be happy to help them with whatever they wanted.

“That guy was gross looking,” I said after the last one. “Would you really have gone with him, if you hadn’t been busy?”

“Of course I would have,” Amaranth said.

“He looked homeless,” I said.

“Homeless people need love, too,” she said. “Not another word.”

I expected to emerge in a narrow alleyway between crumbling stone buildings covered in graffiti and maybe shoddily animated gargoyles, but Amaranth seemed to have had the right idea about the downtown area after all. It was clean and dazzlingly bright. Looking up at the towering skyscrapers which seemed to have sprung up around us was kind of vertigo-inducing… my brain had no frame of reference for what it was seeing, and tried to convince me I was looking down a chasm.

“Okay,” Amaranth said, looking around. “We need to go that way… briskly, I think. We aren’t late, but it’s going to be close.”

I took her hand and let her lead. It was overwhelming. It was obvious why the big coaches descended into tunnels before they reached the city center: there was a lot more vehicular traffic. Some of it was newer-style carriages that bore little resemblance to their horse-drawn predecessors, with no driver’s seat up front and two forward-facing benches, the body so low to the ground that the wheels had to be set in special wells.

They wouldn’t have the ground clearance to go anywhere except for city streets or very well-maintained roads, but those were the only places they were intended to go.

As an enchanter—or somebody who would, in a few years, be one—this sort of thing bothered me. A good and proper carriage looked like a carriage, because that’s what it was. Form equals function. That was basic stuff. The new carriages had to be enchanted piece by piece, step by step, because there wasn’t enough about them that was inherently “carriagesque.” It wasn’t just inefficient. It was inelegant.

Amaranth had her own opinion on the subject. We had to stop at a street corner to wait for a chance to cross. A particularly flashy example, painted black and red, turned the corner.

“It’s like somebody figured out to how to make sex manifested in physical form, and put wheels on it,” she gushed. “I would love to fuck somebody on the front of one of those… or inside it, when it’s moving.” She sighed and turned towards me. “Do you think it’s possible to have sex with one?”

“I really don’t,” I said.

“I’ll bet somebody’s figured out a way,” she said. “I’ll check the ethernet when we get back.” She tugged my hand as the traffic slowed to a crawl. “Come on, baby, we’re gonna be late.”

We darted across the street and continued on without any further delays.

“Here we are,” Amaranth said, when we reached a big eight-story building. A plaque on a chunk of marble set off a short ways away proclaimed it to be the Bloodstone Building

“This is a law office?” I asked.

“I don’t know if they’re the whole building,” Amaranth said. “We want to get up to seven.”

The lobby was extremely fancy: all gold and ceramic tiles and mirrors. There was a man in an equally fancy uniform at the end of it. Fancy or not, he was unmistakably a guard, and while it didn’t exactly block it, the heavy marble wall of a desk he sat behind was clearly intended to control access to the pair of lifts.

There were a few people chatting quietly in corners of the lobby, and one lady sitting on a bench reading a newspaper, but the guard gave us a look as soon as we entered… the sort of look which says “You don’t belong here.”

I did feel kind of underdressed for the place, in my (only slightly stained) t-shirt and jeans… and of course, Amaranth was “underdressed” anywhere she went.

“Can I help you folks find something?” he asked as we crossed the lobby. Something far, far away from here, he seemed to imply.

“Hi, I hope so,” Amaranth said, giving him the special smile she seemed to reserve for official-type people who were trying to get rid of us. It wasn’t any less friendly than her normal smile. If anything, it was more friendly. “Pendragon and Associates?”

“Are you expected?”

“We have an appointment with Mr. Jenkins,” Amaranth said.

He looked at her skeptically. She stayed still as a statue, beaming the smile at him. Finally, he fiddled with something behind the desk, and the grill in front of one of the lifts slid open.

“Go on up,” he said.

“Thank you,” Amaranth said, and meant it, a fact which left him shaking his head. We stepped into the lift. Or rather, Amaranth stepped into the lift. I stepped into an invisible barrier. My hand was ripped out of hers, and I flew backwards, landing on my ass.

“Uh, watch your step,” the guard said.

“Baby!” Amaranth cried, running towards me and helping me up. “What happened?”

“It’s warded,” I said.

She got in just fine,” the guard said.

“Yes, but few people would ward against a nymph,” Amaranth said. “Do you have any anti-infernal spells at work, by chance?”

“Anti-infernal?” he said. “With three law firms in the building?”

“I’m serious,” Amaranth said.

He sighed and fiddled with something on his desk again.

“Dick, do you know if we have any demon blocking spells?” he said.

“Don’t think so,” a warbly reply came from thin air. “Why? Is there some kind of threat?”

“There’s some demonblood here with an appointment up on seven. She can’t get into the lift.”

“Did she try the other one?”

“Hang on,” the guard said. He opened the grill on the other lift. “Go ahead and try that one.”

“Why would it be any different?” I asked.

He shrugged.

I sighed and edged up to the opening, sticking my hand out to reach through. It was repelled with a bang that nobody else seemed to hear.

“No good,” I said, shaking my head.

“No good,” the guard repeated to the unseen Dick.

“Well, there’s always the stairs,” he replied.

“There’s always the stairs,” the guard repeated to us. “They’re normally locked…”

“Isn’t that terribly unsafe?” Amaranth asked.

“They’re locked from the outside down here, and from the inside on all the other floors,” the guard said. “In emergencies, we can knock them all at once. I can let you in down here, and let them know you’re coming up on seven.”

“I hope you are reflecting on the fact that we’re going up to meet a lawyer right now,” Amaranth said. “Just because somebody has a tiny bit of demon blood doesn’t mean they don’t have any rights.”

“It’s an old building,” the guard said again. He didn’t seem terribly worried. “We didn’t know.” He pointed. “Stairs are right around the corner there. They’ll be unlocked.”

“Well, come on, baby,” Amaranth said. She took my hand and we headed for the stairwell. The lock clicked open as we came in line of sight of it, and Amaranth held it open for me. “Onwards and upwards.”

Even if we’d had any doubt of the floor number when we reached the landing for the seventh floor, we couldn’t have missed the sight of an earnest-looking man with half his face smashed against the little window. The door opened before we reached it.

“Hi, Chet Howell,” he said. “Naked. He didn’t say… um… I’d like to apologize about the mix-up downstairs,” he said. I wouldn’t exactly call it a “mix-up” myself, but I supposed that was a catch-all word for an irritating problem that wasn’t meant to be any one person’s fault. “It’s an old building, you know.”

“Yes, we’ve been told,” Amaranth said. “I’m Amaranth, of Paradise Valley.” She prodded me forwards. “This is Mackenzie Blaise. It’s her case, really. I’m just here for morale purposes. We’re here to see Mr. Jenkins?”

“Nice to meet you both. If you’ll come this way, he’ll be with you in a minute,” Chet said.

“I thought we had an appointment,” I said to Amaranth.

“Hush, baby,” she said.

We were led at a brisk pace through the office. The floor had been done up with oak-paneled walls that didn’t at all match the lobby level. I wondered if every floor belonged to a different company, and was done up to suit them individually.

“We’ll put you in Conference Room C,” the man said, stopping in front of a door that was so labeled. He opened it a crack and peeked in. “Oops, make that B.” He hustled us back to the last door we’d passed, checked inside, and then ushered us through. “Go ahead and make yourselves comfortable,” he said. “Can I get you something? Coffee, tea, water?”

“I woudn’t mind some water,” Amaranth said. She looked at me, and I nodded.

Chet hurried through a side door and reappeared quickly with a carafe of ice water and a couple of weighty, faceted glasses.

“Here you go,” he said, setting the glasses down and pouring a measure of water into each. “I’ll just go let Lee know you’re ready for him. Shouldn’t be but five minutes.”

I gave Amaranth a look as he darted from the room. One minute had become five. I had little doubt that would prove to be a conservative estimate.

She reached over and squeezed my hand.

“We’re here,” she said. “That’s what matters.”

“I suppose,” I said.

“We’re here and we’re doing something,” she said. “I’ll do as much of the talking as I can.”

After that, there was nothing more to be said… and nothing to do but wait.

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3 Responses to “218: Old Fashioned”

  1. Eris Harmony says:

    “Nobody ever taught you how to act in such a situation, and there were no sites on the ethernet about it, either.”

    Sounds like my first time on a city bus. It’s weird, sometimes, the things you’re expected to simply know.

    Current score: 5
  2. zeel says:

    I hate dealing with things like that. If there is a completely automated way of doing things, then cool. But if I have to actually interact with real people? The only way I can handle it is by constantly reminding myself that it is their job to deal with people like me, and I’m probably not the most clueless person they have had to deal with – a trick I learned from Mackenzie actually.

    “This is Mackenzie Blaise. It’s her case, really. I’m just here for morale purposes. We’re here to see Mr. Jenkins?”

    I prefer Steff’s “immoral support” line.

    Current score: 0