183: Mobbed Up

on March 21, 2008 in 07: Pitched Battles

In Which Amaranth Works The Crowd

The administrative building was on the east side of campus, on the other side of the student union from the cluster of buildings that Harlowe was in. It wasn’t that far from the area where the coaches to town picked up and dropped off.

I hadn’t really noticed it the time we’d gone to town, though. While even the public parts of the interior were done up in a style similar to the chancellor’s office, the outside wasn’t that impressive. It looked like it sat very low to the ground and seemed to blend in with its surroundings. I got the impression that the only thing that prevented it from apologizing for taking up any space at all was that it didn’t want to draw attention to itself.

At the moment, it didn’t have much choice in the matter.

The day was getting on towards noon, and word of the protest was probably spreading through classes. If there had been a hundred students in front of the building the last time somebody gave the chancellor a headcount, the crowd must have grown since then… and it was even larger if you counted the gawkers and onlookers who weren’t obviously participating but hovered around the edges. Those were all humans.

The group actually in the midst of things was a lot more mixed. In addition to Harlowites, there were also humans and about a dozen or so dwarves, including—I was pretty sure—my former classmate, Karl, son of Krieg. Feejee and Iona, the mermaids, stood among them. It was kind of an odd juxtaposition.

Everybody I expected was there, of course. To my surprise, the centerpiece of spectacle seemed to be Dee.

In spite of the sunlight and very public setting, she had thrown off her hooded cloak and her robes. She sat completely nude right in the middle of it all, cross-legged beneath a large parasol with her eyes closed. She’d set up placards around herself, with a single word written in multiple languages, one on each line. I recognized the two elvish scripts and high draconic, but the only one I could actually read was the Pax: “SHAME.”

I supposed it must have made some sense to her.

The crowd gave her a wide berth, out of what I hoped was respect. Some people seemed to be either gawking or very clearly averting their eyes, but both seemed to be in the minority.

Amaranth was the center of a rather large knot of mostly human, mostly male students that she addressed enthusiastically while they looked on attentively. Steff stood on a table with refreshments and banners for the Prism Pride Coalition and GSH, surrounded by what I assumed were those groups’ members. It took me a moment to spot Celia. Rather than leading a group in chanting slogans as I might have expected, she was being led by Shiel the kobold, who stood on a retaining wall holding a sign that said “WHO WILL BE NEXT?”

There was kind of a party atmosphere. Some people batted around balls, and there were a couple pairs of people sparring here and there. Some of the humans had brought music boxes or sound crystals, and several different songs competed with the jumble of talking and chanting, but they all lost out to the band that had set up on the edge of the crowd. It took me only a moment of wondering where they’d come from before I recognized the shirtless lute player, his head bowed low as he concentrated on his playing.

Sooni and her nekos were present, as well, though none of the cats looked very happy. They all held signs. Kai’s was bilingual, and said “End Oppression Now!” in precise block letters and (presumably) the same message in Yokano symbols. Maliko’s just had the big red circle-and-slash “NO” symbol on it, with nothing in the middle… probably a cultural mistranslation. Suzi’s read “SAV MAKCEN Z” in big loopy handwriting.

To my great surprise, Sara and Tara Leighton were also there… though while the hand on Sara’s side of their body held a sign that said “BAN TELAPORTS NOW”, Tara’s sign read “I’m Not Here.” They were both glaring at each other and it looked like they’d been fighting with markers. Finbar was a short distance away, clearly trying to pretend he wasn’t with either of them.

I took all this in within the first few moments of stepping out into the bright sunlight. The chancellor and I had come out without any announcement or warning, and the crowd didn’t notice us all at once. The chants stopped, the conversations died, and the general buzz and murmur faded away. Finally, the only sound left was from Ian, pouring all that he had into the lute. Once again, I was impressed by how good he really was.

Then, he noticed the lack of noise around him and stopped, looking up sheepishly.

So cute.

“Hi, Mack!” Two called from somewhere in the crowd.

“If I may have your attention, please,” the chancellor said.

Dee’s eyes opened in tiny slits.

“You’re supposed to say ‘hi’ back!” Two complained, and this time I spotted her. She was among the group around Amaranth.

“Hi, Two,” I said, waving.

“As you can all see, our missing student has been recovered safe and sound, thanks in large part to the efforts of Professor Scott Smith of the delving and discovery department.”

The applause at this statement was mingled with boos and hisses, especially from the group with Shiel and Celia. Chancellor Davies ignored this.

“As many of you will already have heard, Mis… Ms. Mackenzie has spent most of the morning in the university’s famous labyrinth,” the chancellor said, putting her hand on my shoulder. I resisted the urge to pull away. “Though she suffered no lasting injuries, she’s no doubt greatly fatigued and was only recently discharged from the healing center for magical exhaustion. Therefore, I ask that you do not burden her with a lot of questions about her ordeal. The faculty of Magisterius University joins you all in celebrating the safe return of one of our own. A celebratory luncheon will be served shortly in the area of the pent and the student union plaza, provided by Sloan Food Services.” She paused, and then added, “Students with particular dietary requirements may let the catering staff know, and every attempt will be made to meet them.”

It was pretty obvious that the purpose of the lunch was to move the crowd away from the administrative building as quickly as possible now that the crisis was over. Few things appealed to a college student more than free food.

The chancellor made a big show of shaking my hand and giving me a quick hug, then disappeared back inside. The guards who had been standing all along the front of the building closed ranks, blocking the door.

Amaranth tried to run to me as soon as the chancellor finished speaking, but her crowd of admirers was reluctant to part for her. Dee rose seemingly by just straightening her legs. She was quite a vision to behold, nude, with her white hair framing her head and torso like a halo of light. Ethereal beauty and grace were not exclusively the province of surface elves, though their darker cousins generally kept themselves hidden away one way or another.

She pulled on her robe, which she’d folded up and placed on top of her spread-out cloak. She donned the cloak, and drew the cowl over her head and face. Watching her dress herself was a bit like watching some kind of transformation. I’d never before noticed how bulky her garments made her look compared to her actual size. Now, I was reminded of fighters donning heavy armor.

While I watched Dee’s transfiguration, Steff reached me ahead of anybody else. She crashed into me, wrapping her arms around me in a crushing embrace and kissed me, open-mouthed, to pronounced whooping and hollering from the pride contingent. For a moment, I was too stunned to reciprocate, and she drew back, hurt and confused. I pulled her to me and kissed her back. There were wolf whistles and applause… and a few calls of derision.

We broke the clench as more people approached, Two and Ian among them. I hugged Two, then passed her into Steff’s arms and kissed Ian. Dee seemed to have vanished completely… parasol, placards, and all. I looked around for Amaranth, but she was still looking for a way through the crowd, too gentle to shoulder her way through it. Now that the crisis was over, too, she was starting to attract more interest from the guys around her, who crowded in closer and groped at her.

She stood on her toes and shot me an imploring look over the heads of the people in front of her. I wanted to run for her, but suddenly a boy was in my way. I tried to get around him, but he moved to block me.

“Hi, there… I’m Kent Angstrom, with the Gazetteer,” he said. “Is the pitchfork supposed to be some kind of statement?”

“Um, hi,” I said. “If you don’t mind, I’m trying to…”

“I just have a few questions. Did I hear the chancellor call you Ms. Mackenzie?”

“She gets abused by the healing center and dumped into a dungeon and that’s all you want to know about?” Steff asked. “Her choice of title?”

“Well, you have to admit, it’s an unconventional form,” Kent said. “I just wondered what it’s supposed to signify.”

“Conventions are for nerds and salesmen,” Steff said. She stepped between us. “Everybody has the right to be addressed as they see fit.”

“If you don’t mind, I’d like ‘Ms. Mackenzie’ to speak for herself,” Kent said.

“Hey, man,” Ian said. “She just wants to see her friends.”

“Considering the cross-section of the campus that turned out in support of her, that seems a little selfish,” Kent said. He turned to me. “People have questions. They’re going to want answers.”

“Look, I understand that, but I’m not sure I should be talking to anybody right now,” I said. Would doing so help or hurt my case? I really probably did need a lawyer.

“So, you’re planning to sue the school, then?”

“I didn’t say that,” I said. “Look, I just want to get to Amaranth.” Looking past the student reporter, I could see that she was being positively mobbed now.

Kent glanced over his shoulder. She’d just been lifted off her feet, a pair of men holding her legs and another moving between them. Clothing was being flung carelessly away.

“I think you’re going to have to get in line,” he said with a smirk.

My hand was in a fist and came up.

“Honey, no!” Steff cried. She and Ian both grabbed me. I let them pull me back.

“Look, man… back off,” Ian said.

“I’m just doing my job,” Kent said.

“Go do it somewhere else,” Ian said.

“I can take a hint,” Kent said, holding up his hands. “Stories are going to be written either way. I just thought you might like to have some input in what they say.”

Celia, Shiel, and some of their group had drifted over by this point.

“Hey, is this guy bothering you?” Moeli the hobgoblin asked. “You heard the chancellor, man.”

I couldn’t even see Amaranth any more, there were so many people around her now. I wanted to cry.

“Why don’t you mind your own business?” Kent said.

“Why don’t you, mammal?” Celia said, getting her snake-eyed visage right up in his face. Shiel, along with Oru and a couple of male goblins I didn’t know, partially surrounded him. He paled and stepped back.

“Fine,” Kent said. He looked at me. “I’ll talk to you later, though.”

“Fine,” I said. “I look forward to it.”

“Good,” he said, straightening his shirt and then walking away through the crowd.

I’d kind of expected Sooni, in her capacity as my self-declared “best friend”, to have led the charge towards me, but she seemed too busy with her own admirers to think of that. There were a few boys, but it was mostly girls, obviously fixated on her ridiculous hair or lavishing attention on the nekos. They were petting and scratching them, like they were actual animals.

Maliko and Kai looked murderous… but Suzi seemed to be into it.

“Hey, sweetie, you want me to try to dig Amy out?” Steff asked.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “She’s working.”

“Are you sure?”

I wasn’t, but I was sure enough. I wanted to sink into Amaranth’s warm curves and forget the arrows and hellhounds and everything else, but I didn’t want to disrupt her work. Giving her body to whoever wanted it was her sacred responsibility.

“Let’s just go to the lunch thing,” I said. “We can get some food and make an appearance and then go back to Harlowe. Amaranth can catch up.”

“Okay, you’re the boss,” Steff said. She gave me another kiss. “I’ll just run and go tell her the plan.”

She was off before I could say anything, using an odd combination of agility and boldness to get through the wall of onlookers and participants around Amaranth. She came back with a big grin on her face.

“That girl really knows how to take it in stride,” she said. “Or in anywhere else.”

Two ran up to grab my hand when we started walking.

“Where’s your friend, Hazel?” I asked her.

“She wanted to come, but her cousin Honey made her promise not to,” Two said. “She said, ‘What if the police get involved?’ But we weren’t breaking any laws. I checked.”

“I think Honey’s just a little sheltered,” I said.

“She’s a little goody no-shoes, you mean,” Steff said.

“I’m sure she means well,” I said.

“You really are Amy’s toy,” Steff said, shaking her head.

“And proud of it,” I said. To Ian, I said, “I, um, heard you playing, a little bit.”

“We were just sort of messing around,” he said.

“It was good,” I said.

He shook his head.

“Not yet,” he said. “But maybe we will be.”

They’d set up a bunch of portable grills and picnic tables in front of the union, with hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken breasts. We hung around for a bit, and people kept coming up in ones and twos to introduce themselves or tell me they were glad I was okay. A lot of people seemed to just be there for the food, though, and I overheard quite a few people asking what it was there for.

I got my share of incredulous and even dirty looks from those who apparently couldn’t believe it was somehow in my honor.

When I judged that I’d done my duty, we went through the line. I made a pair of chicken sandwiches with hamburger buns and some mustard, and got a few carrot sticks and two little strawberry swirl ice cream cups. I saw Two take another ice cream cup after I got mine, and smiled.

“Your butt’s going to keep getting bigger if you keep eating like that,” Steff said.

“What do you mean, ‘keep getting bigger’?” I said, scowling. I tried to twist around to look behind me. “It’s the same size it’s always been.”

“No,” Two said, shaking her head. “It’s bigger.”

I looked at Ian. “What are they talking about?”

He threw up his hands and shook his head. “I’m not saying anything.”

“My butt is not big,” I said.

“I didn’t say big, I said bigger,” Steff said.

I started to put one of the ice creams back, but she grabbed me by the wrist.

“I didn’t say it’s a bad thing,” she said. “You’re starting to fill out, is all.”

“Why can’t it go up top instead?” I said, though I still didn’t quite believe her. I didn’t feel any different.

“Wait and see,” Steff said. “Maybe it’s working its way up.”

“I like your little breasts,” Ian said. I glared at him. “I mean, I like the size they are.”

“Thanks,” I said, deciding to take it in the spirit it had been intended. I’d almost died at least twice in the past week… possibly more times, if I counted the attacks of the previous weekend. I didn’t want another stupid, pointless fight with Ian.

We had to use both hands to carry our floppy paper plates, except for Steff who somehow managed with one. Two walked as close to me as she could on the way back to the hall. I would have liked for Amaranth to be there, too, but the company of two of my lovers and my adopted sister was enough to make me feel safer and more comfortable than it seemed like I’d felt in a long time.

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6 Responses to “183: Mobbed Up”

  1. fragzilla says:

    in retrospect you can kinda see the influence of the pitchfork. I really can’t see Mack balling up her fist to hit someone otherwise.

    Current score: 0
    • dracayr says:

      Seeing as some of us do not like to be spoiled, any comment starting with “in retrospect” is usually a bad idea.

      Current score: 5
      • Leila says:

        Just replace “in retrospect” with “spoiler alert” and you should be good.

        Current score: 1
      • ZebraVinClaw says:

        In fairness I was going to make a guess the pitchfork is making her nutzo, before reading the spoiler. due to her being basically told it was effecting her last chapter, and now shes bring super snippy towards everyone and throwing punches

        Current score: 0
  2. Anon says:

    I have a sudden desire to see Ian and Victor playing together.

    Musically, I mean.

    Current score: 8
  3. zeel says:

    Wow, the list of character tags on this chapter… What’s the record there? Chapter six should probably win, with 26 during the introductions – but there aren’t tags on chapters that old.

    Current score: 1