Politics Is… Full of Rules in Need of Breaking [2.10]

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Where is the line between being friendly and sexual harassment? Can mitigating factors such as ‘she thought I was her ex-lover', for some of it at least, be brought into consideration at all?

Hmm? No real reason why I'm asking… No reason at all, just idle curiosity, honest…
Uh—I mean, I'm asking for a friend.
There! That works better!

Events unfold including but not limited to:

Hannah finds something wrong in her bra,
John finds something wrong in his magic,
And a party rolls on around them regardless of any new information that may come to light because of either issue!


Last time in Magic Is...:

“Well, hold on to your corsets people! Let’s hope we don’t regret this in the morning, huh?”

Sadly, no one else seemed to be up for joining me in my gallows humor as we stepped out onto the balcony-like fool’s gold-covered staircase. Attracting the attention of pretty much everyone in the room so far, thanks in no small part to the resounding gong that the walrus-tache guy rang before he took in a great big breath and unrolled his parchment officiously.

…This is gonna suck, I can just tell


 

“Presenting, Her Grace, the Duchess Arista Hannah Cooper-Garnier-Suttonsborough. Standing as heir to Maxarimus the Second, the student currently representing Esti-Dif Ta the Sixth, and acting in loco parentis for Eir-Is Ta the Tenth…”

Um—I’m what, now?

“Accompanied by her entourage; personal negotiator Fena,…”
…So that’s what they call assassins around here, huh?…
“The stylist Rosemary Devine, support officer Gertrude Castille, athletics professional Sarah Cooper, Hub-assigned security professional Paul Dulton, her apprentice Eir-Is Ta and personal assistant Lady Artemis of Olympus.”

My head whipped around and my jaw dropped as I stared fixedly at a suddenly shocked-looking John.
…Artemis? Lady Artemis? Ha!

“Let’s just get down from here before we make a scene.”
Even with his teeth grit down in growing outrage and a dark blush forming on his cheeks, there was no hiding the fact that John had been completely caught off-guard by the walrus-tash guy’s declaration of his apparently being Lady bloody Artemis!
“Come on. I need to check something.”

Without another word he, rather rudely, in my opinion, grabbed my hand and practically tugged me down the stairs about as quickly as I think is honestly possible for me to manage in this stupid dress. It barely took him fifteen seconds to get us both down to floor level and only a little more to drag me over towards the buffet table lining the western wall.

Inevitably, pretty much all eyes in the admittedly still rather small crowd of guests followed after us in either mixed confusion and amusement or outright shock. Something tells me John’s attempt at going even slightly unnoticed is failing already.

The moment we got to the tables, John snatched up a silk napkin from the pile sitting next to some fine china plates and thrust it into my hands with a glare on his face that demanded I not ask questions yet.

“I need you to take a strand of my magic and feed it into this napkin, Han. I can shape the spell, but if I feed it in, then my desires may change the output.”
…O-kaaay?…
“If you do it right, the napkin should change color and my mage name should appear in the center of it, just like the paperwork we had to sign back in the Hub.”
Oh? That makes more sense, I guess.

He brought his hand up to chest level and spread his fingers out over the napkin I’d been half-heartedly holding in my palm since he thrust it upon me a moment ago. I’m sure if I had mage sight active at the moment I would have seen a trail of magic coming from his fingers, but I didn’t, so I had to rely on my own magic and aura to sense what he was doing instead. The moment his magic brushed mine, I regained an awareness of his magic in general, an event which made the next step a lot easier as I wrapped his trailing line of magic in my own and ‘tugged’ it down towards the napkin as he’d requested.

When his magic made contact, nothing really changed at first. Eventually the napkin started to feel a little heavier in my palm and suddenly, it began cycling through colors, just like those magical signature boxes back at the Hub did when we were trying to claim my house as ‘clan lands’ a few months ago. The magic kept cycling and eventually settled on a dark shade of yellow that made John gasp in shock, almost as much as the name that seemed to practically tattoo itself into the silk in a dark shade of blue moments later.

“Lady Artemis Agrotera?”

I stared down at the napkin in mild disbelief while John seemed to be stuck taking in a few deep, fortifying breaths instead. Slowly my head rose up to stare at him, I’m sorry to admit, with a look of utter amusement slowly spreading across my lips as the seconds ticked by.
…Ooh, the irony!…

“Well, nice to meet you, Arti.”
John’s eyes snapped up to glare at me hatefully and his hand flew out to snag the napkin from my limp grip so he could shove it into his pocket, possibly in the hope that I’ll forget what I just saw.
…Fat chance of that!…
“John-Boy, what the hell is going on? What did you do exactly? How is your magic not registering as ‘Maxarimus’? Whatever it is, it’s genius and—”

“Han, shut up!”

Hey! No need to be mean, Arti
…Such a bitch already…

“I don’t know what’s happening, or why my magic would show her, of all people, as my mage name, or—”

Before he could carry on building his confused rant, someone stepped up behind me and draped their long, delicate looking hands over my shoulders. I could feel a rather large pair of breasts pushing into my back, which is both reassuring in one way and totally not in another, although it didn’t really matter in the end because the person behind me dipped their head down until their lips were practically kissing my ear and let off a throaty little chuckle which I know isn’t something anyone I came here with would be capable of imitating.

“Now there's a pair of faces I didn't expect to see today, not that I'm complaining, of course. Max, last I heard, you were hunting lethifolds in Peru. Nice trick with the crier, too… I’m sure you confused some of these idiots bringing up ancient history like that.”

John tensed, but he had nothing on me when the woman squishing her breasts into my spine, turned her attention back to my ear, as her delicate hands moved up to brush a few loose strands of hair almost lovingly behind my other ear and she used the chance offered to give me another gentle squeeze as well.

“And you—now you, my sweet little crumpet—you are supposed to be dead.”
A chill ran down my spine at the amused confusion obvious in her seductive tone. That voice of hers was almost as good at worrying me as the words she was saying, honestly. In my experience, women who come onto you this strongly out of nowhere are always trouble!

Her hands moved slightly across my belly and I flinched hard as a grimace of disgust slowly spread across John’s lips.

“Lilith”
The almost deadpan tone John used to offer that name left me in no doubt that he really wasn’t happy to see this oddly sensual woman who apparently thinks that John is Maxarimus, understandably, and that I’m Arista, unfortunately.

“Now, Max—oh, sorry—‘Artemis’…”
John grimaced as the woman, Lilith, practically drawled out that new name with obvious enjoyment over the reaction she got for doing so.
“What on earth are you doing, dragging my sneaky little darling in like this, past all her cronies, under an assumed name and everything?”

Despite the uncomfortably phrased question she offered, only made worse by the way a few of her fingers kept stroking my face lovingly, she obviously wasn’t actually expecting an answer from John in the slightest, because she turned her attention to me seconds later as if she hadn’t said anything to start with.

“We still have twenty minutes before everyone begins to arrive in earnest. How about we go to my chambers for a quickie, for old time’s sake?”

I practically froze solid as her worryingly gentle fingers shifted and her free hand dipped down my collarbone to ghost around my right breast’s outline through my dress in a way that is pretty hard to take any way other than the one she was offering it in.

“Lilith, I really don’t thi—”

John took a step forward with his hand out, hopefully in an attempt to stop her, but he almost jumped back when her head snapped up to stare at him moments later. I couldn’t help but wince as her hair brushed my ear with that movement, even as her hands continued to stroke my belly and chest lovingly without her seeming to consciously realise it.

“The offer wasn’t for you, man-whore. She can speak for herself and don’t even think I’ve forgiven you for ditching me to ‘visit a friend’ in Sodom and Gomorrah yet.”

As if a switch had been flipped she turned her attentions back to me again, nuzzling her cheek against mine while her fingers ran circles around my covered belly-button through my dress.

“Come on pretty girl! It’s been so long since we’ve seen each other…, touched each other…, breathed each other.”

A tiny giggle came from her lips and seemed to vibrate right into my ear, sending a shudder down my spine again that was caused by more than just fear.
…I’m in no way used to this kind of treatment!…

I’m not comfortable! I don’t like this. I don’t like it! Even if she sounds so enticing and her body feels so warm, a—”
…Snap out of it!…

“J-John?”

His name almost came out as a whimper from me, my mind more focused on trying not to focus on all the mixed signals my body is throwing at me, with practically every stroke of her delicate fingers, while her hands slowly moved downwards once more, closer towards my hips and thi—

Suddenly her hands stopped their progression across my body and she pulled away from me, turning herself as she went so we eventually came to a stop with her staring at me through ever widening eyes. Now that we were facing each other, it was much easier for me to see just what, or whom, as the case may be, I was dealing with. I’m sorry to say, though, that being able to see her was sadly in no way helpful or reassuring in the slightest.

I’ve met objectively sexy people before. There are loads of different types of ‘sexy’ out there around the world, in my experience, as well.

I’ve seen the undeniably breath-taking form Narcissus can take on when he’s trying, I’ve seen ’Dite in all her innocent blonde bimbo perfection, and I’ve seen—well, I’ve seen a lot of different sexy people in my life. Let’s leave it at that; yet nothing prepared me for the pure, unadulterated sex appeal of the woman before me.

Her name is Lilith, if John is to be believed, and she certainly lives up to her mythical namesake!

Her hair was long, full and in an almost unnatural shade of moonlight dappled silver. Her face looked like it had been crafted by an expert artisan in some way, and her body put mine to shame in several ways that would probably make me entirely too self-conscious about myself right now if I wasn’t too busy staring at her in shock, instead.

Slowly her wide, doll-like eyes squinted down slightly and an oddly amused grin split her lips as she leaned into my personal space once more. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not but the movement also cut John out of view by thrusting her cleavage-exposing, glamorous, red-dress-covered body forward to draw my attention from all angles at the same time with practiced ease.

“Oh my, oh my! How absolutely delicious—you’re not her, are you?”

Her eyes seemed to practically glow with interest and I found myself falling into those bright silver pools with a single gasping breath of surprise.

“She lost? She lost the battle of the centuries, the gamble of her recent lifetimes, to a child of her own creation? Oh! How utterly delicious! I like you already, sweetie. Come give Momma Lilith a hug, darling!”

Without another word she swooped in and practically picked me up off my feet in her sudden enthusiasm at meeting me, enthusiasm that sadly didn’t stop her hands from drifting down to squeeze my ass in the process of her ‘getting a better grip on me’, though.
…I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

“John, help!”
At my desperate call for literally any kind of aid at this point, my savior, my knight in shining armor—my stupid idiot best-friend—decided to finally step in and defend my honor at long bloody last!

He moved himself forward until he could basically wedge his arm and leg between my body and Lilith’s, wincing as he did so because it meant his hand brushed both of our chests and his knee wedged awkwardly into my crotch as he went on.

Lilith shot him a look which was far from amused, but eventually, even she had to allow that he’d effectively managed to make our hug more than awkward to maintain for much longer and at least a little painful at the same time. Despite that fact, she still took her sweet time letting me go. Eventually, and with more than a little annoyed huffing on her part, she dropped me enough that I could take my chance to practically dive behind John as the nearest available meat-shield between me and the far too ‘handsy’ woman that just manhandled me to such an unfair degree!

“This game again? One of these days, you’re going to have to stop being so possessive and learn to share your treats, Max.”

I couldn’t help but peak around John’s elbow at her in indignation at being referred to as John’s ‘treat’, but quickly changed my mind on that idea when she noticed me looking and offered me a wink with a blatantly aimed lick of her lips in response, making me jump back behind John again with a quiet little ‘eep’ of well-earned fear.

“She’s just adorable. No wonder you’re claiming her, Max! As if power alone wasn’t enough, you’ve always had a thing for the shy ones.”
…Hey! We’re not shy, damn it! You’re just bloody scary!…

“I take it you’re here to make up the Numbers, Lilith?”

Ooh, good idea John-Boy! Change the topic and ignore the awkward comments.
…That’s the same thing we usually try to do with you, after all!…

“Naturally, they got pretty lucky having little ‘Hannah’ here around, considering me and Thor are the only other Numbers who would bother even trying to officially turn up for this mess…”
Lilith trailed off and stared thoughtfully at John for a few moments before continuing on with an oddly curious look on her full, pouting lips.
“I thought you were still in denial about our little ‘all-girl’ time in Greece, by the way?… Of all the incarnations you could have used as a disguise, I really didn’t think you’d even try to bring little Arti back into things, ever, especially after how badly you freaked out when I tried to—”

Before she could inform us just exactly what she ‘tried’ to do, John coughed forcefully and fixed her with a glare that would leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that he did not want her to finish that sentence.

“It’s not like it was by choice or anything, I’m really not sure what’s going on. The only thing I can think of is that I pretty much died recently, without needing a requiem, and maybe something got messed up with my cycle so I register oddly on a basic scan.”
…Not a bad theory…

“Wait! So you really were Artemis? Goddess of the hunt, Artemis?… you were a girl?”

Apparently, judging by the looks they both gave me in response to that question, I’m late to the party on realising this point. To be fair, I’ve not exactly had a chance to catch up with things since this whole weird little detour started, but that doesn’t mean both John and Lilith didn’t give me identical looks of entirely too ‘put upon’ annoyance for being so slow and stating the obvious out loud, anyway.

“She’s definitely your type, Max. Not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed though, she’s got to be amazing in bed for you to be this possessive of her—and yes, Hannah sweetie, the ‘Great’ Maxarimus spent a single incarnation amongst our lowly ranks of womanhood before swearing off ever going through it again, not that we were all that upset to see the back of the little prudish, tomboy bitch he eventually became, of course.”
John flushed and glared uselessly at Lilith, as if trying to mentally command her to shut up through pure rage alone.
“Even Minerva and Vesta were getting annoyed with her towards the end—”

“They were not!”

Even with John’s sudden outburst, one which he seemed to regret a moment later, judging by the way his hands flew up to cover his mouth in shame, I couldn’t help but feel at least mildly curious, now. Especially when this is something which can make John blush that badly, just from having her mentioning it at all!

“Prudish, tomboy bitch?”

Lilith grinned in a shark-like way that reminded me far too much of Max’s old smirk to be in any way comfortable. But she was also more than ready to spill the beans apparently, no matter what facial expressions John may be throwing at her in order to encourage her to keep silent in one way or another.

“Oh yes, our little Arti did not appreciate those fine curves fate gave her! She swore off men, swore off alcohol, drugs, and anything fun, really. Such a pure little flower she was, until that time came upon her at least, then she earned her title as ‘Goddess of the Hunt’ in so many fun ways. What was it you said at the time, Arti dear? ‘If I have to bleed then so should everything else’, wasn’t it?”

I’ve never seen John glare at someone as harshly as he is right now. It almost feels like I’m stuck here with an enthusiastic mother that’s hell-bent on embarrassing her teenaged child in front of his friends for some reason.

“Artemis was a fluke, a blemish on my otherwise perfect record of manliness, as you know, Lilith. As awkward as this situation is, I don’t appreciate you bringing her up at this exact moment.”

Sadly for John, all these words seemed to do was encourage Lilith even more. Just from the look on her face, I could tell she was enjoying having something to needle Max with so openly without him having a way to fight back in any way that matters.

“Did you know that she named her bow? She was ever so protective of the thing, used to hide it down the back of her ceremonial dress every time we visited Olympus in the hope that no one would notice, not that I or Arista let her get away with it, naturally.”

It looked like Lilith was gearing up to really hammer home her advantage against John for some reason; retribution for past actions would be my guess. Unfortunately, before she could continue on in any more detail, a gong sound rang out from behind us and our attentions, along with pretty much everyone else’s in the room, were diverted back towards the grand main staircase we’d entered through earlier, where the doors slowly opened up and a regal looking pair of older women made their way inside behind the walrus-tash guy who was apparently acting as a crier to introduce everyone tonight.

“Oh, the twins are here already? I’m sorry Arti, it’s been fun, but I really must see how they are doing before their husbands realise I’m here. Nice meeting you, Hannah sweetie! I’m sure we’ll get a chance to catch up soon, preferably without the ‘Ghost of Tomboys Past’ hovering over us, perhaps in my chambers later.”

Once again I found myself frozen and blushing as she offered me a lascivious wink that’s pretty hard to misread as anything but the pure come-on that it was. I didn’t get a chance to recover before she stepped forward slightly, swinging her hand down to slap my ass as she passed, and moving on to pat John mockingly on the cheek before she made her way to the apparent twins who’d just come in.

======

We both stood there in silence for almost a full thirty seconds as Lilith moved over to greet the two elder women in her apparently usual way, namely with intimate hugs and semi-indecent groping.

For my part, I wasn’t quite sure if anything that had just happened was real in any way. The news that John once had a female incarnation was bad enough, but Lilith came in like a wrecking-ball of pure lust, and she just did not stop! Even when she was teasing John about his past incarnation as the ‘Goddess of the Hunt and Virginity’, her hands had been busy stroking my shoulders and pretty much any bare-looking patch of skin she could find on my body, for Powers’ sake!

I’ve got to admit that I’m feeling a bit numb from it all already. Five minutes ago, I thought that the weirdest thing I’d face tonight would be walking around trying to pretend I had any idea what I was doing while wearing this stupid dress and it’s stupid corset, but now—Oh, now there is so much more going on than I could have ever anticipated! John was once bloody female, despite being a complete ass about the exact same thing happening to me, because in my case, he bloody caused it! Someone actually recognised us both almost instantly as Maxarimus and Arista, even if it was one of the so-called Numbers, one who’s apparently acted as both Mother and Lover to some of our past incarnations at that!
…And to top it all off, something feels weird with our bra, all of a sudden!…

With a frustrated huff, I turned away from the slowly growing crowd of partygoers in front of us to face the buffet and surreptitiously slid my hand down the front of my corset-boosted breasts. It barely took a moment for me to find what I was looking for and with a groan of disbelief I pulled a small metallic key out of my bra, staring at it for a few seconds because I couldn’t quite believe it was real, either. There seems to be something written on it? If I can just turn it into the light a bit better—
…Lilith!…

It’s got her floor number and name stamped on it and everything!
…That woman is unbelievable…
Powers damn it! I’m far too sober for this shit.
…Stupid mage politics!…

=====

“So who was that woman you were both talking to?”

I couldn’t help but shoot Sarah a half-hearted glare for even asking about her in general. The key she’d given me weighed heavily in the only place I had to store it in the end, namely back in my cleavage, sadly. Before I could offer up some kind of answer, John picked up the conversation instead, his face twisting into an almost childish look of annoyance as his eyes scanned out around us.
…In search of Lilith, I’d assume…

“The bitch-queen of hell herself, Lil-eth Ta, the First”

Wait! She’s the First of the Numbers? I always assumed that would be Arista.

“Really?”
Huh? Oh? No, not really, Sare.

Hell isn’t a real place, after all, despite how close some demon realms can get to it at times. John’s obviously just being an ass, because he doesn’t like her for one of several possible reasons I can already imagine off the top of my head, after meeting her however briefly.

“She’s technically my big sister, okay?”
…And suddenly their previous interactions make so much more sense…
Big sisters can be mean. Just look at Sarah, sometimes!

“The Numbers aren’t some kind of rating system; it’s an order of birth for us all. Technically, everyone has a Number. After the first ten or so, we kinda stopped counting or caring about it, because Arista appeared and stepped up her game on the ‘production’ front from there. Our population exploded rather quickly to the point that people stopped believing in the ‘Mother of Magic’ and her powers in general after that, even if the first Numbers were still considered wise and powerful, ‘mythical’ origin or not.”

So that would make Lilith, Ari’s first-born?
…First acknowledged mage child, at least…

She’s on near equal footing with John and me in core age, timeline wise, even if she may not have had as many awakened incarnations as us, thanks to John and Arista’s war/relationship thing.
…I didn’t think anyone but John would be around who could even come close to understanding what it’s like to be so terribly old and yet young at the same time?…

Hell! No one even told me there was someone else born before the huge age gap that formed after Max’s birth and his next sibling came into existence. No wonder she’s so weird! Me and John aren’t exactly the most stable of people and we’ve gotten off lucky compared to most so far, apparently.

…We need a drink or a distraction! This is all getting far too messy in my book already…

“John-Boy, not that I don’t love a history lesson on confusing mage family trees, but please tell me this party has an open bar…”

John seemed to relax under my almost desperate sounding request. Probably because it also gave him an out from having to explain to everyone who didn’t understand, namely anyone who’s not me, just how big of an age gap is involved between Ari’s first, second, and third children when compared to all the others that followed, as well.

…Either way, as long as it gets us a drink, I don’t care at this point…

======

“Another one, Han? You still haven’t drunk the last seven drinks you’ve come back to the table with so far?”

That would be because they are all tainted, poor, un-initiated sister of mine. Why do you think John’s been making sure no one else samples my drinks while I’m gone?

Thanks to stupid politics I’m not even allowed to throw the bloody things away! There are rules of etiquette to be observed at political events like this when in the magical world. These rules, I reluctantly learnt to follow when I was stuck dealing with the crazy Canadian magical monarchy in my Al days, out of self-preservation more than anything else, really.

Annoyingly there are specific rules of etiquette which I always found stupid but can now not ignore anymore without causing major offence and issues in this rats nest, considering my current status as both a reluctantly female ‘person of interest’ to this load of idiots and my potential position as a stand-in for their precious Numbers in the morning. By publically rejecting a drink gifted to me by a member of the so-called ‘political elite’ around us, I could cause a rather major incident.

It’s stupid, it’s sexist, and, more importantly, it’s highly aggravating because it’s getting in the way of the well-earned light buzz I need to reach before putting up with much more of this stupid party, and this stupid corset, and this stupid dress, and this stupid—Stupid!

...Deep breaths…

Basically, as things stand, every time I’ve tried to go up and get myself a drink some assuredly well-meaning man from the crowd currently propping up the bar intervenes so he can ‘help me out’ with his customized drink of choice that he is convinced I will love beyond any other.

…Assholes…

I don’t even need to run any spells over any of them to know that they are all laced with potions; they are all being so painfully blatant about it, for Powers’ sake! It’s now gotten to the point where the bartender is offering me an apologetic look every time someone coughs to get our joint attention because he, unlike the bar flies, has worked out that I’m not falling for their crap at all!

“What’s in this one?”

My eyes cut over to John’s face in exasperation as I delicately slid the drink in next to its undrunk brethren with a pout of distaste on my lips that I really doubt is going anywhere anytime soon.

“Love potion, an out of date one at that, smells like it’s based on ground coriander seeds, but if it is then it’s got to be a special brew because I’m not picking up any of the plant’s base magical signature in the blend at all.”
Slowly, John’s eyes dipped down to the table again before raising back up to meet mine as his hands rose with fingers up on both, three on one, four on the other.
“Yep, the third idiot who figured they could get me with a love potion instead of a more general lust potion you would expect.”

Just because potions is a dying art form doesn’t mean the more simple and illicit mixtures out there aren’t still actively accessible, sadly, especially for people who hold this much clout and coin between themselves within this august body. The Love potion idiots are probably more desperate fools than actual threats honestly, but a lust potion is a nasty piece of work to pull on someone and it takes a twisted sort of bastard to do it in general; the case in point being that even John, of all people, is showing open disgust over their usage right now.
…Although that could be just because their attempts at seduction are aimed at us, instead…
There is always that possibility, yes.

“Wait! Hold on a minute! Are you telling me that all these drinks are drugged?”
Well, I wasn’t particularly ‘telling’ you Sare; so much as just commenting on the state of play with John, really, but—
“Who was it? I’m gonna kill ’em!”

Sarah whipped around to glare at the bar and I pre-emptively threw out a hand to grab the straps of her dress in order to yank her backwards before she could take another step in her growing rage.

“Calm down, Sare! You’re making a scene.”

She spun around again and glared at me, her face openly showing just how angry she was feeling right now, not just at the bar flies but at me too for allowing things to go on like this as well, no doubt.

“We’re in a different world now, Sare. You have to read the room and know your limits. This is supposed to be neutral ground tonight and they all know that. It’s a test, they’re prodding the new dog making so much noise in their turf to see how she’ll react, and if you go storming over there yelling bloody-murder over it, then they win...”

Sarah’s face still looked downright mutinous as she stared back at me in mild disbelief, but I can tell she’s already working through it all in her head so it’s only a matter of time before she starts to second-guess where my thoughts already went after the first drink was dropped in front of me.

“Just—just tell me that you’ll kick these bastards where it hurts, somehow?”

The question came out in a pained mutter of clenched teeth and fists, one that I’m far too used to seeing from Sarah over the years, to find it as worrying as it probably should be at this point in time. It’s a good sign that she’s thinking at all, honestly, considering how she’s usually more of an act-and-then-think sort of person.

“I’ve been taking names, marking faces, and actively planning. They still need me way more than I need them. My only real reason for turning up to this stupid tower in the first place is a sense of civic duty and good old American patriotism, after all.”
…And trying to get any leads on helping Eris, too, of course…
“I’ll have their jobs, or their balls, by tomorrow afternoon. I’m not picky which when it comes to potions abusing wannabe rapists, luckily.”

Sarah seemed to relax at those words at least; meanwhile John actually let a devious little smirk of enjoyment appear on his face as he imagined what I might have up my sleeve come morning.

Slowly, I turned away from the two of them and scanned the room. Letting my eyes settle for a moment or two on the odd little grouping of women surrounding Rosemary and Trudy, apparently talking shop together in some way judging by all the giggling going on, before continuing to drift around the room in general.

At almost the opposite end of the room stood a much more sullen group of people, namely Pauly, his troops, and Fena, of all people, who were all pretty much exactly where I saw them the last time I checked. The image that they were trying to project, probably wasn’t helped by the fact that between Fena and Pauly, with her favorite rookie trooper behind her, trying to look equally sullen and moody, but failing miserably due to her bright, curious eyes was the tiny-looking form of Eris, fancy dress and all. To me, it was pretty obvious that she’s the real reason they are all standing around so awkwardly right now.

They seemed to notice my attention while I was watching them, leading to a slight tightening of the eyes from Pauly, an awkward wave from Fena thanks to her helmet limiting facial expressions and a wide grin from Eris which she quickly tried her best to hide away while attempting almost mockingly to copy the grownups around her in being serious and ‘cool’ at the same time.

With my unfounded worries assuaged over everyone’s safety, Eris’ particularly, my eyes drifted on to the final, previously uninspected corner of the massive ballroom around us before instantly snapping to a rather worryingly intense gaze that was staring quizzically back at me from across the room.

“Oh, shit!”

Sarah and John tensed. I couldn’t see them, but I could feel them both do it just from those two words alone—and rightly so—because I save that particular phrase for times when said excrement is about to hit a rather metaphorical fan in a very real way!

“John, please tell me that I’m imagining things and that Thor isn’t currently approaching us with a worryingly blank look on his face?”

The only response I got was silence, and Thor didn’t have the decency to pause in his steps towards me so I’d have more time to work out what the hell I’m going to say or do to stop any number of possible problems that could be about to drop on my head by coming face to face with the mountain of a man once more!

“Oh, this just isn’t fair!”



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