Chapter 259: Boarding Party

on October 23, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 8: Elven Holiday, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Entrance Is Made Through The Rear

Class is over, Coach Callahan had said.

No more lessons.

That really said it all, didn’t it? The semester was over. The old year was dying, the new one was not yet born. Soon I’d be setting off into the air, on my first flight ever… and that would just take me to my second one.

It was weird to be going on a trip without a destination. But then, a lot of my “vacations” since I’d become a college student had consisted of going to an inn somewhere in town, just to be in the inn. This wasn’t really very different, except for being thousands of feet up in the air.

Even ignoring the preparations for Oberrad House, getting ready for a trip was one of those things that fit into the category of tasks that were never quite complete, only abandoned. because you ran out of time to do anything more. Amaranth did everything to take over my packing except for packing itself, and even then she did a lot of that.

Still, I had the feeling in the back of my head that no matter what we did, I’d end up leaving something behind or forgetting about it. I also had the theoretically reassuring thought in the front of my head that no matter what it was, it couldn’t possibly be so essential to my life and existence that I couldn’t do without it for a week or so. After all, we weren’t going to an unfurnished shack in the middle of nowhere. The cruise ship went far beyond the basic necessities of life, and if there was anything I needed that for any reason wasn’t provided or available for sale, there were ports of call along the way to nowhere in particular.

Right up until the point where it happened, I’d had a hard time envisioning how in the world we’d ever get off campus with so much to be done in preparing Oberrad House… but the assemblage of the Winter Guard made it easier, because instead of just leaving things undone, there was someone to hand it off to.

The actual presence of the group in one place had upgraded the title to capital letters in my head. Insofar as there could be anything official about a “court” consisting of the equivalent of a teenage queen and her clique of friends, it was an official thing. There were no ranks… mostly because I’d been left in charge and hadn’t bothered to make up any… so we called them all officers of the guard. They were each left in charge of their own respective areas and expected to work together.

It seemed like the best way to approach things, especially since Glory was trying to work towards a less regimented and more egalitarian set-up. Just adding more vertical stratification to things would have complicated that journey unnecessarily.

It also might have left the “civilian” members of the court resentful and uncertain, not knowing how their own respective statuses and statures converted to guard ranks, the temporary nature of the guardianship notwithstanding… as things stood, they’d all been made aware that the guard officers were all fast-tracked for membership, but not necessarily any kind of automatic advancement.

That was how things stood when we left for Earl P. Osborn Air Harbor in the very early hours of what was technically morning. I was too excited to feel how tired I was, and possibly too tired to feel how nervous I was. Or maybe it was that I was nervous about too many things to really feel any of them acutely.

We’d all piled into three private carriages. Well, that’s not really accurate. Most of the group along with whatever luggage wouldn’t fit on top had piled into two carriages, while Glory myself, Grace, and Nicki had one to ourselves. This was the first that Grace and Nicki knew of their actual involvement in the trip, though they’d suspected something was up when we started openly planning the house defenses in a way that made it clear they wouldn’t be involved. Neither one of them seemed to have quite recovered from the shock of learning the truth.

“She’s really taking us?” Nicki had asked Grace at least three times already by the time the carriages began to roll. Grace had just nodded, seemingly more afraid of questioning her sister than anything else. I think that probably hurt Glory.

“I’m sorry to have misled you for so long about your duties,” Glory said. “It was the only way to maintain the surprise… I think if I could do it again, I might have chosen to surprise you earlier. I think the effect might have been better.”

Alone, just her and the three of us, she could admit that kind of uncertainty and regret, though I think she was still learning how to really be open like that.

I wondered what things were like in the other carriages. We were all a bundle of nerves in the head one, Glory included. I think it helped her relax a little to see me nervous, which made me feel less self-conscious about it.

She certainly seemed to enjoy fussing over me. I think the fact that this trip was her big treat for me… not solely or wholly, I mean, it was a treat for her and everyone else, too, but it was the most expensive thing she’d done for me… gave her more license to show concern for me.

Either that, or the fact that we were off-campus and heading even further off meant she no longer had to care about appearances.

Either that, or she was just tired of caring about appearances, period.

Whichever the case might have been, I didn’t mind her gentle attempts to soothe me by whispering in my ear and stroking my hair, even though I wasn’t actually soothed by them. It was nice to know that she cared.

Underneath all the changes and in spite of all the progress, I was in my heart still the same person who’d been so nervous about using the school’s automated coaches or riding on the public transportation in Enwich. If I didn’t know exactly what was expected of me or how things worked, I still tended to hesitate, if not freeze up. My increased confidence came in large part from the fact that I’d become a little better at doing my homework beforehand. But actual homework… along with other concerns… had kept me too occupied to really look into this whole air travel thing.

I had a basic idea about the general boarding process from TV and books, but my mental image was possibly out of date, and anyway, things were probably different for a chartered flight. It made sense that things like security screening would probably be simpler and less obtrusive, if they were different and all, but I just didn’t know.

I’d been to the harbor before, but only to meet people. I was a little surprised when our carriage didn’t go to towards the terminal building but turned into what looked like a little service road.

“Um, does it know…” I said.

“I’m sure it does,” Glory said. “We’ll be boarding directly. Private service, remember?”

“I remember,” I said. “I just… I don’t know how any of this works.”

“I don’t, either,” she said. “I just assume that it does.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“Then I’ll rely on the fact that I spent a lot of money to motivate someone into making it work,” she said. “Trust me, Mackenzie, my darling. I know you have been stressing over my affairs for months, but as of this moment… as of forty-five minutes ago, in fact… you are on vacation. Do you know what that word means?”

“So you’re not going to have me run odd jobs for you up and down the halls of the ship?” I asked.

“No, I’ll save the odd ones for the stateroom,” she said. “Relax.”

“Is that an order, my queen?”

“If it needs to be one, it will be,” she said.

The road we were on ran along a chain link fence topped with glowing razor wire, but then there was a break and an obvious gate, and someone in an air guard uniform opened it for us and waved at us as the carriages rolled past.

“See?” Glory said. “These were sent by the charter service. It’s all part of the package.”

We were definitely on the field of the air harbor now, although we were coming in through the back, well away from the commercial flights and the cargo shipments. This end of the field was pretty dark, though one part was pretty lit up. I suspected it was our destination.

There was a small building built up on a deck, with a long ramp that switched back and forth leading up to it. Tethered to several mooring posts on the deck was a floating ship. It looked… the word that comes to mind would really be “barge”, though that seems like kind of an ugly word for what was a pretty nice-looking craft, as those things went. It reminded me of the houseboats that Hazel had described, when she talked about her early childhood on the river.

“Is that really what you call a conventional commuter ship?” I asked Glory.

“It’s mostly a party boat, if you want to put a fine point on it,” she said. “It’s the kind of thing that a bunch of skirmish fans rent to go to brawl games, or that rich parents get their kids for graduation parties. I thought it would be a good idea to get things started on the right foot… this has got enough space that we won’t be sitting on top of each other… except in cases where we want to be… and people who want to get some sleep will be able to, while those of us who don’t will be able to feed and entertain ourselves.”

“Would it have been cheaper or more expensive to just get something like that for the week?” I asked.

“It would have been intolerable, after a week,” she said. “Believe me, I considered it when I saw what kinds of accommodations they have. But while it’s got plenty of space… and bathrooms… for an overnight jaunt, I wouldn’t want to spend much more than that with the whole court piled on board.”

“That’s a point,” I said.

“And of course, there’s not going to be anywhere you can go and be alone on it.”

“You don’t have to convince me,” I said. “How long are we going to be in the air?”

“Winter winds make it hard to say,” Glory said. “That’s part of why we’re leaving in the middle of the night, the night before. There’s a really good chance we’re going to be way early for boarding our cruise, but that really beats the alternative.”

There was a gentle rap on the carriage door, and it opened. An older gentlemen dressed in black furs and holding a black walking stick with what looked like an elaborately gilded egg on top of it took his hat off and bowed his head in through the opening.

“Glory party?” he said, making it a question but said very knowingly.

“Indeed,” she said.

“Your vessel awaits,” he said. “I believe you requested boarding assistance?”

“Thank you,” she said. She pushed me forward off the bench, and gestured towards Nick with one hand while slipping a coin into mine with the other. “You may please assist my human guests on board first.”

“Of course!” he said, and he held out an arm, which I took, a little confused.

Glory’s voice came in my ear.

“No offense, darling, but I can’t have you falling off an icy ramp before we even get underway.”

“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” I said, ostensibly to my escort, who was now helping Nicki down.

“Oh, it’s no problem,” he said, tucking his stick under his arm and offering each of us an elbow.

“It’s nothing personal!” Glory insisted.

“I’m not as clumsy as people think,” I said.

“You won’t hear me say otherwise,” the man said, and that was the point where I gave up the fight, because it would be impossible to continue arguing without insulting him. The fact that I had no doubt that he would bear it with good grace just made it worse.

Besides, Nicki seemed to genuinely enjoy the star treatment, walking on the arm of the uniformed man.

“Look at that, it’s not even icy,” I couldn’t help observing out loud as we climbed the ramp.

“I should think not,” he said. “All possible precautions have been taken and all necessary preparations have been made!”

I thought he went a little overboard… pun absolutely not intended… in helping each of us in turn make the very small step up from the dock to the deck of the ship. If he felt like he had to earn his tip, he needn’t have worried. The gold coin Glory had pressed into my hand wasn’t mine to withhold, and it wasn’t like I was in a position to make change if I felt like docking him.

The useable part of the ship’s deck was very small and very bare-bones, but I suspected that this was because it was an all-weather charter thing. A covered cabin dominated the surface area, and stepping into it was kind of like stepping into a comfortable lounge in one of the more modern dorms. That is, there was something unmistakably utilitarian and institutional about the set-up… everything looked durable and easy to clean… but it was still kind of homey, and nothing looked cheap.

There was a big round fireplace that dominated the seating area. The chairs and couches encircled it, and it had kind of an open column construction, so you could look across the room without it blocking your view. Towards the back of the room… which I supposed was actually the front, since we’d boarded near the rear… there was a kitchenette set into a cubby, and a sort of combination dining room table/conference table set near it. Another cubby held what looked like it might be a large hot tub or a small pool.

The luggage started to arrive on board before any of the elves did, leaving Nicki and myself alone amid a flurry of activity by porters or stewards in a less elaborate version of the furred uniform our escort had worn.

“This is really happening,” she said.

“Looks like,” I said.

“Do you think we should sit down? Where would we sit, do you think? I don’t want to take someone’s seat…”

“Nicki,” I said. “This is our vacation, too… we’re girlfriends, not pets.”

“I know!” she said quickly. “I just don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.”

“Well, we’re up here first,” I said, and I was starting to get the idea that maybe this wasn’t an accident, or a side-effect of Glory being unnecessarily overprotective of people without elven agility and reflexes. “That means if anyone’s toes are being stepped on, it’s going to be ours… and if you want to avoid that, you should figure out where you want to be and be there.”

“Where do you want to be?” she asked.

I had been prepared to plop down in a choice spot near the fire, confident that it was where Glory would want to sit anyway, but then I had another thought. Glory had talked about this trip as being a thing that would help set the tone for our relationship going forward, and she had also talked about how she hoped it might help change the dynamics of her court. I thought about this, and about setting a tone.

As much as I understood exactly where Nicki was coming from with her worries about where she should stand and what she was supposed to do, that wasn’t how I wanted to spend the trip. As much as I liked having clear expectations and as much as I enjoyed obeying orders, I didn’t want to spend the whole time asking permission or waiting for instructions.

“I’m going to see what’s in the fridge,” I said.

“…can we do that?” Nicki asked.

“Of course,” I said, with more confidence than I felt. “It’s there for our benefit… if not us personally, then not any less than anyone else.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Of course,” I said again. “It’s our vacation, too.”

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25 Responses to “Chapter 259: Boarding Party”

  1. Dani says:

    > There was a big round fireplace

    Not the sort of central heating I’d expect – or want – here!

    Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      It’s probably illusionary, with heat generated by magic rather than an open flame. Much like the fireplace in the suit Mackenzie shared with Steff way back in the first semester. The entire room is probably evenly heated in its own right as well.

      If it is a real flame, I’m sure the fireplace is ringed with the best fire suppression wards money can buy.

      Current score: 3
      • Anvildude says:

        And that would probably be some fantastic suppression. Fire, as one of the most basic bits of ‘civilization’ is probably one of the better understood elements, and the one that people of all cultures have had the most practice learning how to contain and control.

        Current score: 2
        • Taulsn says:

          And yet things still keep catching on fire. It might be closely associated with civilization, but it is also closely associated with destruction. However it’s just an overnight trip on this flying deathtrap, so I’m sure everything will be fine.

          Current score: 2
          • Kaila says:

            Three words – internal combustion engine.

            We still drive cars.

            Current score: 0
  2. Order of Chaos says:

    “Whichever the case might have been, I didn’t mind her gentle attempts to soothe me by whispering in my ear and stroking my hair, even though I wasn’t actually soothed by them. It was nice to know that she cared.”
    If Glory really wants something she can sooth and mother she could ask Sooni if she’d sell one of her spares but I don’t think Mack would be happy to help in that.

    Current score: 2
    • Anthony says:

      What happened to Sooni and the Nekos anyway? They’ve been conspicuously absent all semester.

      Current score: 0
      • zeel says:

        Actually, Sooni is in the same design class as Mackenzie. She only actually gets mentioned once or twice (she does get some lines), but we know she is still a student. As to the Neko’s I can’t recall any direct mention, I assume there all still students.

        Current score: 1
        • Nocker says:

          The obvious question is what the Nekos majored in. Last I checked they were undeclared.

          Current score: 1
  3. x says:

    Glory myself (Glory, myself)
    An older gentlemen (gentleman)

    Current score: 1
    • Lunaroki says:

      Good eye, X. I totally missed those!

      Typo Report

      The only other possible typo I spotted was this:

      and gestured towards Nick with one hand while slipping a coin into mine with the other.

      Has Mack started mentally referring to Nicki as “Nick” now?

      Current score: 0
  4. Nocker says:

    You know, I wonder if any of the other elves resent Mackenzie for her position. They pile into tiny cabins and cramped conditions, while she gets to stay in the private cabins and sit in the big chair just by walking in, even without being a formal court member herself. They have to fuck the boss out of raw authority, but suddenly these humans show up and love enters the picture, just not for them. They’re there every day but suddenly Mackenzie shows up and their plans change just like that. Including Wisdom, suddenly there’s half a dozen new people who never had to deal with the struggles of an outsider court, but get to reap the benefits of their independence. Hell, once finals showed up a bunch of them had to take on her design workload for brown nosing points and follow her orders on it. Mackenzie hasn’t even bothered to get to know them as people, they’re just a mass of underlings to her.

    Foreign spouses tend to not be popular with locals, after all. When Glory leaves, I can imagine things turning ugly for Mackenzie or Nicki.

    Current score: 3
    • zeel says:

      Mackenzie and Niki will both graduate long before Glory will.

      Current score: 1
      • Nocker says:

        Do we have specifics on that? Because I know Glory is an “old” middling who’s leaving relatively soon. The impression I got was she’d be leaving at roughly the same time, give or take a year.

        Current score: 0
        • Glenn says:

          In Chapter 153, Glory says to Mack,

          “I just don’t see what the alternative is,” Glory said. “I can’t protect her forever.”

          “But don’t you only need to protect her while she’s in Treehome?” I asked.

          “Yes, but I’m less than two decades away from adulthood, and less than that before I’ll be out of excuses to stick around,” she said. “And adults don’t meddle in middling affairs… it would make both of us look ridiculous.”

          I got the impression from that that Glory is about 82 or 83, and that she could delay the time of her graduating for perhaps another 12 or 13 years. Now that she’s moved Grace out of Treehome, Glory might decide to graduate herself sooner, especially if she wants to stay close to Mack after she graduates.

          Current score: 1
        • Arancaytar says:

          Well, elf-soon.

          She’s taking like one class per term or something as I recall.

          Current score: 1
  5. Zathras IX says:

    All of Life is like
    Going on a trip without
    A destination

    Current score: 5
  6. Dani says:

    > if they were different and all
    ‘at all’?

    Current score: 0
  7. shanri says:

    Not to be a bother, but something important that she may forget from the madness of before the trip, virgin blood :3 can she do without it for this week without causing a panic? :p

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      She should be able to go without for nearly a month I think. Based on Elois’ advice I think that she has started doing it far more frequently, weekly I thought. Which would put her at most just a over two weeks in when she gets back.

      But that is assuming she has been keeping up, and with Amaranth around I doubt she would have had the chance to slip up – but it is possible.

      Current score: 0
    • Arancaytar says:

      It’s a monthly cycle and she plays it safe, so she could go at least several weeks regardless of the phase.

      Also, she probably has emergency rations.

      Current score: 0
    • Order of Chaos says:

      Niki fits unless she’s had a boyfriend I don’t know about.

      Current score: 0
      • Yumi says:

        Wow, I really don’t think that’s how it works. Unless you’re remembering something specific from the rules if this universe related to Mack’s feeding, I have to wonder about what assumptions you’re making here in regards to.what “counts.”

        Current score: 0
        • Order of Chaos says:

          Ian didn’t count untill he had “proper” sex and after the missed feeding Steff got blood from someone who had tryed ainal.

          Current score: 1
  8. Silverai says:

    I think the thing she’s forgotten is her anti-fertility stuff, thereby making it very interesting when she starts being attractively tasty again.

    Current score: 0