In Which Glory Has It Up To Here

Glory’s dramatic declaration was not easy to shake off. In a very real sense, we knew that she was the target of the whole thing. Any damage done to Oberrad House, its defenders, or other members of Glory’s court were just means of inflicting harm upon her.

While an oligarchy ruled pretty firmly at the top by the most vicious, Treehome was not without its factions and rivalries, both petty and extremely petty. Someone could easily have decided that the right of first strike belonged to them and them alone, or that the business of waiting until Oberrad’s ruler was out of town was not the way to go. The sneak attack on the sneak attack in the blizzard could simply be their way of registering strong disapproval.

I tried to see the comforting angle that this would mean that Glory’s enemies were far from unified against her and might continue to do more serious damage to each other than to anyone else.

It was hard, though.

Up until this point, it had seemed like there was a real chance we would miss the action, if there even was any… there might be a minor skirmish or an aborted strike while we were away, they would see that Oberrad House was not worth the effort and potential repercussions and withdraw.

If someone skilled and powerful enough to defeat upwards of a dozen other elves by themselves or with a small number of allies really wanted to wait until Glory was back in striking distance to attack, then we would never get off that lightly.

The cruise ship stopped feeling like a floating world all in itself and more like a gilded cage. Where before I’d had a hard time conceiving of its size in totality, now it felt way too small. And where time had been a huge undifferentiated mass stampeding along like a herd of cattle being digested by a giant slime, now it creeped by one second at a time, moving relentlessly one step at a time in the kind of herky-jerky way the little arms on the front of the weird cabinet thing that Hazel’s cousin had.

Every second that passed brought us another second closer to our return trip, and the possible… or even likely… ambush.

If I felt the weight of the impending danger, Glory was practically crushed by it. The fear she felt… if it was fear… did not translate into reluctance to return. I think she dreaded the inevitable unfurling of the hours as much as I did, but at the same time she couldn’t wait to be back. She’d gone from checking in once or sometimes twice a day to being in near-constant contact with Oberrad House, but it wasn’t enough for her.

“I wish I was home right now,” Glory said for maybe the fifth or sixth time, after ending a reflection with Amaranth, who had nothing new to report.

“What would you be doing if you were?” I asked, for maybe the third or fourth time.

“I have no idea,” Glory said. “But that’s just it: I have no idea what’s happening there, minute to minute. I have no idea what anything looks like on the ground.”

“Do you think if you were there, you’d spot something crucial that everybody else missed that would make sense of everything?” I asked.

“…no,” Glory said. “I don’t think the things that have happened so far would have played out any differently.”

“Unless you’re right and you were the actual target of the mysterious supposed protector,” I said. “In which case you would have been attacked by someone who could take out all your other enemies at once, and possibly by them, too.”

“Okay, first of all, we don’t know that all my other enemies were out there in the snow…”

“You’re not helping your case,” I said.

“Why do I need to make a case to you?” she said. “Since when are you my head of security?”

“I don’t know, maybe since you put me in charge of making sure your house is defended?” I said. “But I’m not talking as your agent here, I’m talking as your girlfriend and someone who cares about your well-being. But if your supposition is right, then you are in the safest place you could possibly be right now.”

“If you define ‘everywhere that’s not campus’ as a single place,” Glory said.

“We don’t know that the threat is limited to the area around campus,” I said. “If someone is personally motivated enough to attack potential allies to keep them from tipping their hand or infringing on their territory or whatever, they might have followed you off-campus if you’d made yourself easier to get to.”

“Mack, baby, you took that class on local hazards,” Amaranth said.

“Don’t remind me,” I said. “But no, I don’t remember any specific warnings about deadly local plants or animals that hunt elves in blizzards with small blades.”

“Don’t get cheeky, missy,” Amaranth said. “But Steff found some tracks in the snow, and I was going to ask you if you knew of any monsters with paws like a big cat.”

“Nothing I can think of,” I said. “You honestly probably know as much about the local monster population as I do… that class was mostly just a grade for me. Couldn’t it just be a big cat, though? I mean, I know it’s not the jungle, but I remember the fact that we get mountain lions sometimes did come up.”

It had stuck in my head because there aren’t any mountains anywhere Prax, particularly the eastern end of it… but apparently mountain lions and cougars are the same thing. I was sure this information would prove useful if I ever encountered one.

“They don’t usually come near human habitation,” Amaranth said. “In winter when food is most scarce and campus is most quiet is probably the time that they would be most likely to do so, but..”

“But a half-starved cougar wouldn’t have been able to do the kind of damage our mystery assailant did,” Glory said. “Even if it would have been out in the snow storm and even if it would have attacked a large group of elves. We actually get along pretty well with natural animals, generally speaking.”

“That’s why I’m asking about monsters,” Amaranth said. “If they are cougar tracks, then they probably have very little to do with the attack. I mean, obviously they were made after the storm ended or there would be nothing to see. But it would have been unusual enough to see them anytime, you know?”

“Wait,” I said. “How well do you guys get along with animals? Could somebody from Treehome have a cougar companion they left to keep an eye on the place?”

“…it is possible,” Glory said. “I didn’t know any girls who kept cougars, but some of the guys did. I’d hate to think that this is spilling across the gender gap, because that potentially doubles our number of enemies.”

“Or allies,” I said. “At least in the enemy-of-my-enemy sense. It might be that the guys… or at least some of them… are worried that an attack on a campus building would bring too much heat down on middling culture in general.”

“That makes as much sense as anything,” Amaranth said. “But… Steff doesn’t know what cougar tracks look like, and she said they were weird in other ways.”

“How does she know what’s weird if she doesn’t know tracks?” Glory said.

“She said they… start and stop,” Amaranth said. “Fresh, crisp prints in the snow just sort of start, and then they vanish not ten feet later. I reminded her that cats can jump, but she said she didn’t think there was anywhere it could have jumped to or from that she couldn’t see was trackless. There are animals that can teleport, like blink dogs… I’d never heard of a cat doing the same.”

“Appearing and disappearing doesn’t necessarily mean ‘teleport’,” I said. “It could be a summoned creature… though I’d have a hard time imagining why someone would have summoned a cat to walk a few steps and then sent it back. Maybe it was just jumping, and the wind just obscured prints in some places and not others?”

“If any of the prints are that clear, I’d think even half-elven eyes would be able to pick out where the other prints had been,” Glory said. “…maybe.”

“Hold on,” I said. “Big cat prints appearing out of nowhere and then disappearing? That doesn’t have to mean the cat left, just that it wasn’t a cat anymore.”

“Shapeshifting?” Amaranth said. “I’d think Steff would have mentioned if there were bootprints right before and after the pawprints, baby.”

“Unless the previous and subsequent form didn’t touch the ground, with boots or anything else,” I said. “Eloise, remember? She patrols around in bird form, but she can also do big cats. Maybe she spotted something from the air, came in for a closer look, and then took off again?”

“Are you thinking Eloise had anything to do with foiling the attack?” Glory asked. “Because that would be a real break, if we could establish it was her.”

“…it would kind of fit with the fact that the attacks were non-fatal,” I said. “But I’ve never known her to use anything but the natural weapons of her alternate forms. I also get the feeling that people who’ve been in a fight with her know that they’re in a fight with her… or at least know that they’re in a fight with a bear who casts magic, or whatever. Also, while I know she can’t devote all her time to watching out for middling mischief, I’d think if she had time to swoop in and scatter them, she’d have time to give you guys a heads-up about what had happened… sorry, I’d love to say it was her in the snowstorm, but I really can’t see it. Still, though, she fits all the available facts about the prints. So, we know she is around.”

“Well, that’s something,” Glory said. “Damn. I really wish I was there.”

“I know,” Amaranth said. “But if you tried to book passage back now, you’d have to… well, first of all, you’d have to disembark somehow. And then you’d have a heck of a time finding the flights that would get you back to Enwich, especially during the holidays and especially when half the country is buried under snow. It would be a toss-up if you could even get home by the same time your current arrangements will have you here, so from the point of view of your duty to your house and court, the responsible thing to do is stay where you are.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Glory said with a sardonic grin.

“Please don’t tease her about that,” I said when she’d waved the reflection away. “You’re kind of teasing me, too.”

“Who was teasing, Mackenzie Blaise?” Glory asked. “She really made me feel better.”

“Why doesn’t that work when I do it?”

“She had the more persuasive argument,” Glory said. “You just asked me to try to imagine what I would do if I was home, which fails because my inability to answer it stems directly from not being there. She pointed out that the ways in which trying to get home now would make the situation I’m in now worse. So, I went from knowing nothing and feeling like I can’t do anything about it to feeling like I do have the power to do things, and the best thing to do is stay here.”

“But that’s what you were doing anyway,” I pointed out.

“Yes, but I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of doing something because I hadn’t thought about any alternative,” Glory said. “I was thinking of heading early as something that was completely impossible, not just practically impossible. So now instead of ‘I can’t get home because I’m here’, it’s ‘I am here because it’s the fastest way home.'”

“But your situation hasn’t changed!” I said.

“No,” Glory said. “But my perspective has.”

“I don’t know how you can spend so much time thinking about creating and manipulating a certain image and then…”

“What? Fall for it?” Glory said. “That implies that there’s any deceit. If everything is perception, then it’s not deceptive to rely on perception.”

“But who says everything is perception?” I asked. “Some things aren’t. Some things… a lot of things… are firm, concrete.”

“You’re the one always saying that the universe is subjective.”

“It is. As far as we know,” I said. “But we also know it’s not…”

“…subject to us,” she said. “I’ve taken intro to thaumatology five times, Mackenzie. But if the universe is not subject to my perceptions, then why would my initial perception have any more authority or validity than my new one? Maybe my new perception is more in line with the truth of the situation, if such truth exists. Whether it is or not, it’s more helpful to me in the moment.”

“I’m not sure how cool I can be with the idea of truth being relative to utility,” I said.

“For fuck’s sake, I’m talking about thinking about things that let me get through the day while my house and your friends are in danger, not thinking about things that let me justify waging a campaign of terror against little fuzzy puppies.”

I blanched, mortified to realize I had been basically chastising her for finding a way to cope with an untenable situation.

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m really sorry. My upbringing… my later upbringing… rearing its ugly head again. My grandmother had a high regard for the truth… or maybe I should say she had a low regard of lying, and she considered any form of relativism to be basically that. I’m not sure she had a high regard for anything except for her idea of Khersis… she basically acted like it was borderline blasphemy to appreciate anything about mortal existence.”

“I hope I didn’t act like that when I was her age,” Glory said.


“Sorry, elven joke,” she said. “Oh, hang on…” The mirror had just started swirling again. She didn’t wait to see who it was or who was being called to it to invoke it, and she was already speaking when the image began to resolve back into Amaranth. “What’s happened?”

“There’s an elf here, looking for her finger,” Amaranth said.

“Say that again.”

“There’s an elf here… at the door, I mean… looking for her finger,” Amaranth said.

“Why would it be there?” Glory asked. “You didn’t admit anyone into the house for treatment, did you?”

“No!” Amaranth said. “I mean, there was a certain amount of discussion, but everyone agreed upon reflection that it wasn’t worth the risk. As far as I know, no one here picked up a finger and took it home, though now that I’ve said that out loud I’m having Dee ask… okay, Steff says no. She did not pick up a finger.”

“Why does she even care about her stupid finger?” I asked. “I’m sure regeneration works normally on elves.”

“Oh, yes, she already had it grown back,” Amaranth said. “But she said that’s not the point. Actually, she’s still arguing with Pala about it… she says there’s no one else around so it must have been us.”

“Well, that’s ridiculous,” Glory said. “Obviously there’s someone else around because she lost the finger in battle to someone else. Why wouldn’t she assume that the same party that took the finger… took it? Maybe it’s just a pretext to get a look around inside.”

“Pretty weak pretext,” I said.

“Yeah, but it doesn’t have to be an intricate plan… maybe the intricate plan fell apart, and now in hothead wants to get a little something for her pains. If she had any pains. Are you sure she even lost a finger? ”

“Oh, yes,” Amaranth said. “I remember I stopped the bleeding for her. She was kind of ticked off I couldn’t do more for her… like she wanted me to re-grow it on the spot? I think maybe this is the healer version of the customer service thing where they come back the next day and ask to speak to your manager.”

“Well, you can tell her that your manager has a finger for her,” Glory said.

“…I think I’ll actually let Pala keep fielding it,” Amaranth said. “I told her that if it wasn’t completely buried in the snowfall, then it was probably carried off… I mean, a piece of flesh lying around in the open would be sure to attract… predators… huh. I wonder if Eloise could have spotted a lone finger lying in the snow?”

“Well, how big is a mouse, relative to a finger?” I said. “You might try to leave her a message at the ranger station. If she saw it and collected it, that would be at least a couple of the minor elements of the mystery solved.”

“It would add up pretty neatly,” Glory said. “…but I wonder if we’re not making a mistake there.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, like you said, Eloise being the cat who wasn’t there fits all the available facts,” Glory said. “But like you also said about your earlier guesses, just because something fits all the information we have doesn’t make it true.”

“Right. Because we don’t know what information we don’t have.”

“But we also don’t know how the information we do have fits together, or if it even does,” Glory said. “I mean, we have several events: the elves sneaking up on us, the attack on them, the weird prints, and the disappearing finger. At least the first two events are related, but we don’t know if they share a cause. The finger thing has at least two very obvious and very ordinary explanations. And the cat thing is only connected by timing, and even that isn’t very solid. We can spin a story that draws a line between all these things and then look at the shape we drew, but that doesn’t mean that picture reflects reality.”

“So now we’re backing away from relativism,” I said.

“Relativism is your word, I just prefer useful perspectives to useless ones,” Glory said. “Taking every last scrap of scarce information you can find, ignoring the existence of unknown amounts of blanks of unknown size, and weaving it all into a narrative about your enemies… this kind of thing is useful when your goal is to whip up a fight or justify your own actions, but I don’t think it’s terribly useful for figuring out what’s going on outside your senses.”

“I guess that’s a fair point,” I said. “I’ve had my share of time ruminating on the pointlessness of trying to speculate about other people… not that I ever actually stopped… but I’ve never quite thought of it that way.”

“It’s part of what I hate about Treehome politics, actually,” she said. “Ignoring the stuff that doesn’t suit your biases is what everyone thinks of when they think about bias, but that’s basic, amateur stuff. The way it usually plays out is that if someone is on the outs, then you don’t ignore anything, you scrutinize everything.”

“I’m so glad you were able to get out of there,” Amaranth said. “I’m sure there are lots of decent middlings, or ones who would be if they had the chance… I wonder how many of them only play the awful games because they think they’re the only ones who don’t enjoy it?”

“As much as I hope to be a trailblazer, I have my doubts about how many will actually follow in my footsteps,” Glory said. “But thanks for reminding me that I am out. It’s time to start acting like it. Please have Dee relay to Pala the suggestion that if Ms. Uneven Handshake can’t find her finger, she should consider filing a report with the campus guard.”

“Do you really think she’ll do that?”

“Absolutely not,” Glory said. “But it will serve a reminder that the ground’s she on is under actual law, not middling misrule.. and let anyone who’s listening know that we consider that an option.”

“No offense, but I don’t think Pala will necessarily know how to convey all that without saying it,” Amaranth said.

“She’s completely guileless,” Glory said. “That’s why it’s perfect. I don’t want guile. I don’t want subtext. I want a gigantic amount of unflappable, unflinching sincerity beaming down at her stupid head, telling her that there are people to take care of her stupid problems, both the ones she has and any ones she might cause.”

“…do we have to say ‘stupid’?” Amaranth said.

“I don’t have to do anything,” Glory said. “I’m still on vacation!”

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25 Responses to “288: Pointing Fingers”

  1. tomclark says:

    “Why do I need to make a case to you?” she said. “Since when are you my head of security?”

    “I don’t know, maybe since you put me in charge of making sure your house is defended?”

    It’s good to see Mackenzie standing up to her like that. 🙂

    Current score: 10
  2. N. says:

    Glory is, as usual, on point.

    Current score: 7
  3. Trent Baker says:

    Some great lines from Glory this chapter 😀

    Current score: 6
  4. Glenn says:

    “I wish I was home right now,” Glory said for maybe the fifth or sixth time, after ending a reflection with Amaranth, who had nothing new to report.

    A few lines later, Amaranth just starts talking as if she’s been listening to Glory and Mack, so I think the above quote should have been something like “after opening (or beginning) a reflection with Amaranth…”

    Current score: 6
    • Lantern says:

      I was about to say the same thing, so I’m glad I refreshed to make sure nobody beat me to it 🙂

      It was a little surprising to see Amaranth in the conversation when the scene was described as being between Mack and Glory near the mirror, post-reflection.

      Current score: 2
      • Hollowgolem says:

        I assumed another reflection started, unmentioned, to sort of underscore how frequently and rapidly Glory kept calling back.

        That’s my charitable interpretation, anyway.

        Current score: 1
  5. Zathras IX says:

    The Universe is
    Both subjective to us and
    Not subject to us

    Current score: 6
  6. pedestrian says:

    if ‘Ms. Uneven Handshake’ continues to whine, someone should tell her to consider that it could have been her head she is looking for.

    Current score: 4
  7. zeel says:

    We can spin a story that draws a line between all these things and then look at the shape we drew, but that doesn’t mean that picture reflects reality

    Taking every last scrap of scarce information you can find, ignoring the existence of unknown amounts of blanks of unknown size, and weaving it all into a narrative. . .

    Can we all let this sink in for a moment. . .

    Current score: 5
    • Nocker says:

      Keep in mind this is Mackenzie Blaise speaking here. She can’t put together information even with every single key point literally staring her in the face to save her life and considers tropes ridiculous literally within sentences of executing them herself.

      Also keep in mind that there is a vast difference between what Mackenzie and company know and can guess at, and what we as an audience can do, just because we can observe multiple viewpoints across a longer timespan than anybody has been alive.

      On that note, how confident are we in cats? It was once mentioned that ratfolk are indigenous to the area, but a history of hostile relations and still active bounties mean that any of them still living are going to be keeping to themselves and presumably good at hiding, and a ratfolk sized weapon will likely be small enough to leave that kind of mark. It’s also mentioned that within the forest dimensions get screwy and that there are people there that don’t recognize imperial authority.

      I have no idea what the motive for this would be, and it’s REALLY out there, but it’d solve the parts of the equation regarding weapon size, and how they’re moving around unseen. The footprints might not quite match up, but you screw with anatomy to add humanoid bits and that could more than explain the difference.

      Current score: 1
      • zeel says:

        I can’t imagine rodent footprints being mistaken for cat footprints.

        Current score: 2
      • Cadnawes says:

        So, it was the Skaven. 😀

        (For non Warhammer folks, whenever something happened that makes no sense and was very mysterious, it probably actually WAS the Skaven.)

        In all seriousness, though, Amaranth is a country girl. There is no way in hell she’d mistake cat for rodent.

        Current score: 1
  8. Hollowgolem says:

    Mercy’s an epic-level rogue, right?

    Can’t quite remember.

    Current score: 2
    • Anon says:

      I think she’s an Assassin.

      Current score: 0
      • Trent Baker says:

        I think she is what Assassins dream of becoming when they grow up.

        Current score: 6
        • zeel says:

          She is what Assassins have nightmares about meeting. . .

          Current score: 3
  9. Scubadude says:

    Blink dog… now there’s a pet I don’t want.

    Current score: 0
  10. Ysar says:

    What about a displacer beast? They are cattish (cat-ish? whatev.) if I remember correctly.

    Current score: 1
  11. Anvildude says:

    Maybe it’s a Displacer Beast? Aren’t those rather Catlike?

    Current score: 1
  12. Nocker says:

    On the subject of Martha, I can’t help but feel her distaste for relativism is something of a projection.

    “I may be willing to murder a child, but if I redefine the win and lose conditions, this is acceptable.”

    “I may think omitting the truth is wrong, but I’m never going to tell you about your brother.”

    “I think hierarchy and authority is important. So long as I live out in the woods far from any kind of it and get to set definitions outside of canon to enforce.”

    The more you learn about her the more contemptible she be comes. Not even hateable so much as kind of pathetic. There’s probably a whole lot about her we’re missing since we’ve never seen her in action, but it seems more and more like a lot of her people see or respect is basically just some kind of mass delusion.

    Current score: 4
    • Trent Baker says:

      Thing is the times when we see Martha in action is without a great deal of context. The most obvious missing context is just how bad are demons that Martha is the preferred alternative? What is evident that half-demons with non-lethal dietary requirements can integrate into society. Yet this may be the exception rather than the rule as it required a god to manifest itself on the mortal plane in order to intervene between the demons and humans.
      Heh, if AE ever decides to fill in the backstory I’d certainly buy that saga.

      Current score: 0
      • Nocker says:

        Hey, I won’t say it’s not a better or worse decision as to what she did. The raw facts are she faced dangerous, man eating monsters regularly and for all we know that means sacrifices to make gains. The church of Khersis has certainly made more than a few moral compromises over the years and given the position they’re in, it’s reasonable to presume sacrifices are often necessary.

        It’s the double standard I take issue with. If you need to make a hard call that results in the death of someone that trusts you implicitly, own up to it. If you want to say “This is wrong, except when I do it”, that’s a very different story. Morals are either absolute or they aren’t. You don’t get to just make exceptions for yourself whenever you feel like and declare yourself righteous.

        There literally isn’t a single thing Martha’s done that hasn’t been cloaked in double standard and hypocrisy.

        Current score: 0
        • That other guy says:

          No, there’s a lot of law (both legal and church) relating to the idea of morales/law being able to be adjusted in specific situations without being hypocritical.

          For instance, there’s the advocate principle — as long as someone else is willing to pay the price, you don’t have to. The most famous example of that is Jesus. The Mosaic law said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” right? Well, as was said in the New Testament, Jesus didn’t come to replace the law, but to fulfill the law “and not one jot nor tittle would pass away…” He paid the eye for an eye, etc., cost, and in return for paying that price asks for a new price, that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. For a lesser known example of this, there’s Damon and Pythias.

          Then there’s the idea that the giver of the law can suspend/change the law. For instance, Congress can pass a law saying that all TV’s brought into the country have to pay a $5 import tax. They can also suspend that law or cancel that law, or create an exemption for some brand of TV’s or a specific country. Likewise a king, or someone else who is in the position of lawgiver, may have the authority to create, change, or nullify a law. Some cultures don’t allow their king/lawgiver to cancel a law, only to replace it with a benign version. For instance, they may not be able to cancel a $5 import tax after placing it, but they can change it to a $0 fee and essentially get rid of it even though it’s still technically on the books.

          Then there’s the idea of repentance, restitution, etc. For instance, if you steal a silver plate costing $10, then you should have to give the plate back or if that’s impossible then pay $10 or whatever is necessary to fix what you did. Some cultures allow you to pay the restitution cost in advance. For instance, you could pay $50 and then be allowed to take one silver plate whenever you want. This practice was one of the things that Martin Luther so disliked when he broke from the Roman Catholic church, but that church isn’t the only culture that allows people, under certain times and places, to pay restitution up front before committing the sin.

          Then there’s the “I repent too darn fast” idea. Carry a rosary with you and chant some prayer over and over throughout the day, and you’ll exculpate yourself before the next meal.

          The point is, most of these things are open to anyone who fits the criteria. The criteria may be very limited, as in king, lawgiver, very rich, very pious, etc., but technically they’re open to whoever can make it match. So technically there’s no hypocrisy, it’s not a double standard.

          It’s the same standard applied equally to all in an equal manner with some curious quirks that allow it to seem as though it’s being applied in an unequal manner. Legal shenanigans if you will, but legal nonetheless.

          Current score: 0
  13. Arancaytar says:

    “But Steff found some tracks in the snow, and I was going to ask you if you knew of any monsters with paws like a big cat.”

    Huh… tiger-form druid, manticore…

    Fresh, crisp prints in the snow just sort of start, and then they vanish not ten feet later.

    Cat-Bird Feat.

    Current score: 0
  14. Arancaytar says:

    “Well, you can tell her that your manager has a finger for her,” Glory said.

    Oh that way glorious, no pun intended.

    Current score: 1