Arc 3, Balance 15

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I lifted my leg and grabbed my knee. Now it was a little too binding.  “Can you adjust this seam a little, Ali?  It needs to loosen up.”

“It is not in the contract that I should be your personal Valet, Zeke.” Ali sounded bored.

“I know, Ali. If you’re tired of helping me make the tux fit right, it’s good enough.”  I paused.  “It must be nice to be able to adjust your own clothing so easily.”

I felt the fabric of the pants leg adjust slightly, and it was no longer binding. “Thank you Ali.  That’s the end of it.  I didn’t realize I had lost weight.”

The tux had been wearable after the first adjustment, but I would have had difficulty dancing in it, even formal dancing. I had guessed wrong on how much needed to be taken in at first, and the tux had been too tight in several places.  After putting on the entire assembly, I started doing stretches and formal dance motions to find where the pants and jacket were binding.  Ali would then make minor adjustments and I’d start again, watching in the mirror to be sure the loosening didn’t create any strange appearance issues.  Ali was no expert on formalwear, but after I showed him how an adjustment to the inseam made the cuff of the pants uneven, he seemed interested.  That interest hadn’t lasted long.  If I hadn’t given Anne an extra hour above and beyond what I expected I would need, I would be the one in a rush at this point.  As it was, it had taken thirty minutes to get the fit right.

Ali’s mouth quirked in a half smile. “The soul well doesn’t draw on you and force your body to a higher metabolic state, but you have been a bit forgetful about eating recently, Zeke.”

“I normally have coworkers or family to remind me to eat. You don’t exactly require regular meals.” I wasn’t going to ask him to start reminding me to eat, but if he volunteered, I wouldn’t object.

Ali looked at me, and smiled. “It won’t become a problem, Zeke.  The weight you lost wasn’t harmful, or you would have regenerated it when you last shifted.”

“Wait, are you telling me that I don’t really need to eat at all, that the regeneration is powered from a source other than my body?”

“Exactly. The soul well’s passive energy levels are maintained by ley line proximity.  You’re tapped into that in a rather odd fashion.  Your biology still works the same though.  You will get hungry, you will lose weight.”

I just nodded. “And when I shift, I will regenerate to a healthy state if I’ve lost too much weight.”

“Exactly.”

Something else I’m not equipped to understand.

Time to see if I can tease out some information to support my idea.

I checked my bow tie in the mirror. “How many of you are there, Ali?  Jinn and Jiniri, I mean.”

Ali looked at me for a moment. It was clear that he knew I was fishing for information for a reason, not out of idle curiosity.  That whole intent-reading thing.  “Several hundred thousand.  Most of the elders are inactive, resting, at any given time.”

“That doesn’t seem like a whole lot. Your father is billions of years old, right?  And he’s got two children born in the last couple thousand years.  At that rate, one would think there would be a huge population of Jinn and Jiniri.”

“Father likes to keep busy. He is always interacting with mortals, gods, and other magical beings.  He says he’s never really been comfortable with just going inactive.  Most of the elder Jinn and Jiniri like to get away from the world for a while because when they return to activity, there are typically lots of changes to keep things interesting.  When they start to get bored again, they go inactive for a few decades or centuries.  It’s a lot like mortal sleep.”  He paused.  “Sometimes, Jinn and Jiniri just drift off and don’t wake.  The older they are, the more likely that is.”

I nodded. “I could easily imagine that with a lifespan as long as a Jinn or Jiniri, long periods of rest would be welcome, and depression or sheer boredom might set in.”

Ali looked at me again, thinking. “I think my father is a bit afraid of that.  He’s one of the oldest Jinn remaining.  My sister and I are two of around a dozen children he’s had in the last couple hundred thousand years, the rest are inactive, sleeping, right now.  Matty and I are pretty sure that father is having children so often because he wants strong connections to others in addition to all the interactions he works to create for himself.  He goes out of his way to keep himself busy and connected. He’s told us that he allows the Grey Lodge to command him so he can keep his mind occupied.  In fact the agreement he has with the Grey Lodge specifically requires that they provide him with tasks on a regular basis.”

I somehow doubt your father would appreciate you telling me so much about his motivations and fears.

Time to get off this topic.

“I see. Well, sort of.  As well as a mortal without magic can, I guess.”  I smiled.

Ali looked up at me, seriously. “Don’t think I don’t know this has something to do with your secret, Zeke.  Two days.”

“No peeking, Ali.” I smiled at Ali, and he just stared at me for a moment, clearly thinking hard.

I hope he’s as much like his father as I think he is.

If I keep this interesting to him, he won’t get in the way.

I broke eye contact with Ali and ducked my head to check my boutonniere and its latch. The latch was there.  I wasn’t sure if it had been the Svartalves or Anne that had that fixed it, but I didn’t have to ask Ali to do it, which was probably a good thing.

I checked the jacket pocket, to make sure the white silk handkerchief was there. Then I checked for the second silk handkerchief carefully inserted in the long inner sleeve pocket above the left cuff of my jacket.  It wasn’t visible in the sleeve, except a quarter inch extending out of the pocket, two inches above the cuff.

I could still remember the weird look the tailor gave me when I requested the hidden pocket for the second handkerchief in the sleeve, until I explained that it was so I could show off to my son and get his attention if he started to get cranky at a formal event. That little trick had come in handy a couple times when he was a preteen.  I had never shown Danny where I hid the handkerchief.

“Time to hit the flower shop, Ali.” I gave myself another quick look in the full-length mirror, picked up my hat, and carefully set it in place, tapping it to get it to just the right angle.  Then I picked up the ebony black cane a few inches below its featureless silver topknob, and tucked it under my left armpit.  I almost grabbed my white silk gloves, but Anne had never really liked them.  She said she preferred to hold my hand when she held my hand.  I left them on the dresser.

Ali created a door which took us near to a flower shop in Atlanta.  I made a couple purchases without incident, other than some welcome comments on my outfit.  The florist was happy with my selections.  It wasn’t a wedding or funeral order, but it was a bit out of the ordinary, and her parting comment, ‘I guess romance isn’t quite dead yet.’ made me smile.

A few minutes later, Ali was opening another door, this time outside the Enclave apartment. He entered the hallway before me to make sure I wouldn’t be startled, and immediately gave me the all-clear, so I stepped through.

I tapped the head of my cane against the door very lightly, but loudly enough to get attention, and I heard Anne’s voice. “One moment please.”

A few seconds later, the little peephole in the door went dark, briefly, and Anne’s voice came through. “You, sir, are thirty minutes early.” Her statement was punctuated with the sound of a deadbolt being released and then the door opened.  I handed her the bouquet of two dozen long-stemmed red roses.  She accepted them carefully, checking for thorns before holding them up to her face and breathing in deeply as she backed away from the door to let me in.

I entered the doorway while removing my hat and placing it over the end of my cane, still tucked under my left arm, Anne grinned at me over the top of the roses, still held in front of her. “Looking sharp, Zeke.  No fair though, you’re seeing me before I’m ready.”

“Beautiful lady, I would suggest you go and continue getting ready then, or I’m afraid I’ll lose control, and we’ll miss dinner.”

Anne’s eyes opened a little wider and she chuckled. “Tempting, but no.  We haven’t eaten out in far too long, and you have me desperately curious about the arrangements you’ve made.”  She turned around and walked quickly to the kitchen, and placed the bouquet on the table.  “I’m almost done, just finishing my hair and a bit of makeup.”

As Anne walked back to the bedroom, my eyes followed her. She was wearing a black and white ankle length formal dress.  The black half was to her right, and it was the half with the strap.  The white half was strapless.  The dress was split slightly above the knee, black to one side, white to the other.  She was wearing a pair of ruby solitaire earrings that I recognized as a Christmas present I had given her a few years back.

I growled at her as she walked away, the dividing line between the two halves of her dress made certain assets more noticeable. She looked back at me with a grin, and started exaggerating her walk for the last few feet before she left my sight, crossing her feet a little more in front of her, to make her hips swing.

After Anne left my sight, there was an “Ahem.” from behind me.

Whoops, forgot that Ali can’t just walk in and close the door behind himself.

I thought about how I would word the invitation. Ali had had ample opportunity to prove himself to be a problem, and seemed to be decent.  “For as long as you intend no theft, unfriendly mischief or any sort of harm to me or mine, Ali, you may enter this home until my wife, my son, or I declare otherwise.”

Ali’s face became very serious as he heard the invitation. “Thank you for the invitation, Zeke.” He replied as he stepped through the threshold of the door, carrying a long box from the florist with him.  He closed the door behind himself, locking the deadbolt with his left hand, rather than just waving his fingers like he would typically do for a simple physical task.

“Why don’t I have to give you permission to enter my apartment or the house at the homestead, Ali?” I asked, suddenly curious.

“Typically, man-caves don’t have thresholds worth talking about, Zeke, unless it’s surrounded by the boundaries of a household.  Your apartment in the barn is pretty much a man-cave. Your house there isn’t lived in anymore, and a lot of things that are important to your wife and son have been brought here, weakening that threshold a lot, and making this one more potent.”

I nodded.

That makes sense. I think.

I reached out towards Ali with a grin, and he handed me the florist’s box, which I took to the kitchen and carefully, quietly, placed on the table. I then walked into the living room, and found the antique coat rack, placing the cane in one of the holes at its base, and the hat carefully on top.

Ali had followed me into the living room, but as I turned around from putting my cane and hat on the coat rack, I noticed that he was staring at something. I followed his gaze, and found myself staring at a foot-tall cascade of black and white hair with two eyes and a nose.

“Anne, you’re allergic to dogs, I thought?”

“Oh, has Fifi found you? She’s a cutie, isn’t she?”

‘Fifi’ looked towards Anne’s voice when her name was spoken. After that, the little fuzzball stared at Ali, and then me, before sniffing dismissively and trotting to the doorway into the master bedroom, where she turned around three times before settling in, laying on her belly in the middle of the doorway, staring at Ali and I.

“Zeke?” Anne sounded puzzled.

“Yes, Anne, if Fifi is the black and white Shih Tzu, then she found us.” I paused a second, trying to figure out a polite way to ask the next question.  “How are you even able to breathe?  The last time you were around a dog this hairy just for a couple hours, you could barely breathe for two days.”

“Oh, Matty said she’s hypoallergenic. I haven’t had any problems.”

Matty again.

Stay out of it.

I looked at Fifi again. She was maybe a foot tall.  Her hair was longer than she was tall.  When she had trotted over to the doorway to put herself between us and Anne, I hadn’t even seen her legs moving for all the hair.

There’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog with that much hair.

“I see. Does Fifi get along with Danny?”

“Sure, she loves Danny. If I’m not here, she will sit at his feet all day.  She loves running with him in the mornings.  We were surprised she could keep up with him.”

I whispered to Ali. “Ali, did Matty give my wife some sort of hair elemental?”

Ali looked at me and coughed a bit as he clearly tried to prevent himself from laughing.

Fifi yipped, and growled very briefly.

“Fifi stop that.” Anne called from the bathroom.

Fifi whined, very briefly, looking back over her shoulder towards Anne’s voice.

When I looked at the little fur ball, she was staring directly at me. I couldn’t lock eyes with her like I normally would if I was going to try to make a dog back down.  I didn’t feel threatened, but I couldn’t lock eyes with her.

Definitely some magical something going on here.

Ali whispered back to me. “Hair elemental?  Heh. I can’t wait to tell Matty that.  No, Fifi is a temple dog.  A very young one, but still a temple dog.”

Carefully keeping my voice down, I asked a new question. “Does Anne know she’s a magic dog, Ali?”

“How would I know, Zeke? I haven’t seen Anne since the last time we both came here, and Matty hasn’t told me anything.”

Fifi was just staring at the two of us, looking back and forth as we spoke in whispers.

“She can understand us, can’t she?”

“Yes, Zeke, she can. Not all the words, but most of them, and the intent behind them.  Temple dogs are brilliant, for dogs.  About as smart as the average four year old human child.  They are also strongly empathic.” Ali answered.

Fifi stuck her nose in the air and sniffed, giving a very strong appearance of annoyance.

“Sorry to talk about you in front of you like that, Fifi. That was rude.  My ignorance of magic is the reason but it’s not an excuse.  Please forgive me.”

I never imagined I would be having a conversation with an anklebiter.

Fifi cocked her head and looked at Ali, who just nodded, saying nothing. She then nodded to me, and somehow it was clear that she forgave me for my rudeness.

I realized that we had another observer here that might have an answer to one of my earlier questions. “Fifi, does Anne know you are a magic dog?”

Fifi nodded her head, clearly indicating yes.

“Are you here to protect Anne and Danny?”

Another nod from Fifi.

“Thank you, Fifi.”

Fifi waved her tail, briefly.

“Fifi is keyed to this household, Zeke. She will protect anyone with strong ties to it.  You, Danny, or Anne.”

I nodded. If Anne was accepting both advice and gifts from Matty, they were certainly close enough that I could ask about their relationship.  Later.  The last thing I was going to do before going on a dinner date with my wife was ask her about a smoking hot young woman who had expressed sexual interest in me, in front of Anne.

Way too many possibilities to completely break the mood.

Anne called out “OK, close your eyes!”

I closed my eyes and I heard Anne walking closer. She kissed me briefly, on the lips, barely a peck, then pulled away.

“Tease.” I said, with mock irritation.

Anne laughed. “OK, open your eyes.”

I opened my eyes and Anne was there with the same dress and ruby earrings, but she was now wearing a ruby pendant necklace, which hung quite spectacularly between her breasts. Anne wasn’t large-chested, but she’d gone from a B to a C cup when she was pregnant with Danny.  She’d been thrilled with the change – she had been a B cup ever since she was eleven.

“That lucky, lucky pendant.” I muttered, while holding my hands out towards her chest and wriggling my fingers.

“Hands off, Buster!” Anne laughed as she swatted at my hands.

I pouted and took a long step back, so I could look at her better. She had her hair in French braids and was wearing just enough makeup to help contrast her eyes and lips with her skin.  She was wearing black shiny leather flats, with a stripe of white across their tops.  She had a tiny little black cap on her head, and a black lace shawl.  Everything she wore complemented the two tone sleeveless dress, and the dress complemented her “You look incredibly sexy tonight.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere.” Anne put her weight on one leg and belt the other knee and placed her hand closest to me on her hip.

“Keep that up, and we’ll be eating popcorn in bed.” I shook my finger at her.

Anne laughed and walked towards the kitchen. I put my hand around her waist and gently turned her away from the kitchen.  “Ah, not yet.  I need to get your help with something first.”

Anne looked at me with both patience and suspicion as I walked into the kitchen and retrieved the long box, returning and holding it in front of me in both hands.

Anne smiled a big smile, opened the box, and then exclaimed “They’re beautiful, Zeke!” while she carefully picked up one orchid after another from the selection, sniffing each in turn.

I smiled at her obvious enjoyment. Anne always loved orchids.  “I didn’t know what you would be wearing, so I brought a selection.”

“The red one will match the rubies, I think.” She picked up the red orchid, leaving the white, yellow, pink, and blue ones in their cradles in the box, walking over to the half-height mirror on the wall to the right of the coat rack.  She held the red orchid up to the ruby by her right ear and smiled before carefully sticking the long stem of the orchid into the hair above her left ear.  She made a couple minor adjustments, took a step back from the mirror, and then muttered.  “Perfect.”

“I agree. I’m definitely seeing perfection.”

Anne smiled hugely. “Thank you, Zeke.”  She got a worried look on her face.  “I didn’t forget to fix your boutonniere did I?”  She walked over to me and carefully folded over my left lapel to look for the little strap.

“It’s fine, dear. I was hoping you would help me choose the right rose from what I brought.”

“Oh, yes, definitely. I’ll be right back!”  Anne smiled and tapped me on the nose with her right index finger.

I chased her finger with my teeth, briefly, before she walked away.

We haven’t had this much fun in months.

Anne walked carefully to the kitchen. I heard a drawer open and then the sound of silverware jingling, followed by some rustling which had to have been her pulling a rose out of the bundle.  Shortly after that there was the sound of a couple steps and finally the sound of a knife on a cutting board.  Anne returned to the living room with a nice-looking red rose, the stem cut short.

Anne walked over to me and carefully placed the rose in my boutonniere, making sure to put the stem through the strap. She carefully checked the flower’s fit and position, and then folded the lapel back and patted it a couple times.  “I need to put the roses in water, Zeke.  I don’t have a vase unpacked, a water pitcher will do for now.  Be back in two minutes.”

“While you are doing that, think about what you want to eat. Literally anything you want that you’ve ever had in a restaurant.”

Anne stopped as she was walking away from me, and turned halfway around with a thoughtful look on her face. “You’re having food teleported in from somewhere, aren’t you?”

“Hmmm. Maybe.  Think about what you want to eat.” I tried to keep an exaggerated innocent look on my face as I whistled tunelessly for a couple seconds.

Anne chuckled as she turned around and walked into the kitchen. I followed her.  A few minutes later I had cut the roses’ stems back by a couple centimeters, at an angle of course, and Anne had placed them in the water pitcher she had pulled out of the fridge.

Anne was thinking as she carefully washed her hands and checked her nails. “The appetizers should be stuffed mushrooms and bacon wrapped shrimp.”  She paused briefly.  “Garlic bread too.”

“Sounds perfect.” I looked over at Ali, who nodded.  “What about the entrée and dessert?”

Anne looked at me as she dried her hands on a dish towel. “What are you getting?”

“I was thinking about a quarter pound cheeseburger and a milkshake.” I said, managing to keep my face serious.

Anne stopped drying her hands and just stared at me for a second. “I’m one step from the silverware drawer.  There are knives there.  What are you ordering for your entrée and dessert, Zeke?”

I grinned. Anne never liked to order first, conventional etiquette be damned.

We get so many strange looks in high end restaurants.

“I’m going to get a big dry-aged ribeye steak, blackened Cajun style, with asparagus and scalloped potatoes. I’ll have a Bourbon brownie with vanilla ice cream for dessert.”

Anne got a thoughtful expression on her face as she slowly finished drying her hands and checking her fingernails. “I think I’ll have a steampot dinner.  Snow crab legs, shrimp, clams, corn, potatoes, green beans and Italian sausage.  Blackberry cobbler for dessert.”

Oh, steampot seafood.

I almost changed my order, but it had been a long time since I had a good dry-aged cut of beef. “Ali, did you hear that?”

Immediately, Ali responded. “I did.  Should I ask the restaurant to provide wines to match the food?”

“No wine for me, Ali, I’ll have a dark beer or ale, let the owner decide what to send. Ice water as well.” I turned to Anne.  “What about you, Anne?”

“One glass of Chablis to start, let the restaurant decide which one, and ice water with lemon slices.” Anne smiled at Ali, who was dressed in a grey tuxedo with a light blue shirt. It had been a black tuxedo when we left the house.

Must be nice to shift colors and styles to whatever you want, on the fly.

“Anything else, for either of you?” Ali asked.

Anne and I looked at each other. Anne answered.  “That should be it.”

“Do you have everything, Anne? I need to get my hat and cane.”

“Just my touch-up kit. I’ll be right back.”

We both walked into the living room, where I retrieved my cane and top hat, carefully placing the hat on my head and looking in the mirror to angle it just right. As I fitted my hat, Anne kept walking into the bedroom and retrieved a tiny little black packet with a spaghetti string shoulder strap that had room for a tiny mirror, a tube of lipstick, and a very simple makeup and mascara kit.

As Anne emerged from the bedroom, I was waiting, and bowed, taking my hat away with my right hand in a long sweep, and then straightening and reseating the hat by feel. The whole time, my left arm held my cane fast against my chest under my arm.  As I straightened, I released the cane from under my arm and quickly but smoothly touched it to the ground in front of me, taking it from my left hand into my right hand.

After freeing my left arm, I asked. “Would you care to take my arm for a short walk to the establishment where we shall dine, Mrs. Collins?”

“That would be more than welcome, Mr. Collins.” She replied with a smile.

I held my left arm out, elbow extended. Anne slapped my forearm lightly, so I dropped my elbow out of the way.  She then put her right hand on my left and gently twisted my hand around so she could interlock her fingers with mine.

As we walked back to the kitchen, I looked at my hat in the mirror.

Close enough.

Ali was waiting, and clearly was enjoying himself watching us. “In that case then, let me show you to your seats.  Walk this way, please.”  Ali gestured at the wall of the hallway next to the front door, and a duplicate of the apartment’s front door appeared.  Ali unlocked the deadbolt and swung the door open.

I had already seen the room and its surroundings but it was still breathtaking. The room we entered was enormous and circular, with a single large dark wooden table with two chairs in the center of the room.  The table and chairs themselves were incredible, a wood so dark it was nearly black, but so reflective it was hard to look at in the setting sun.  The walls and ceiling seemed to be entirely glass.  The columns supporting the ceiling were a combination of materials that looked like braided glass and mother of pearl.  The floor was an amazing white marble with a golden hue in the setting sunlight.

Outside the windows was a dense, dark green foliage, stretching for hundreds of yards in each direction. Beyond the greenery, there was a ring of yellow sand, and then crystal clear water with hints of submerged rocks and reefs in the water at the edge of vision.  We were elevated at least a couple hundred feet above the beach, standing in a room of decadent opulence and looking down at pure beauty.

After we walked through the door, Anne was speechless for the first two steps before she stopped walking. I stopped with her, moving as she turned, so she would not need to rotate around me to see beyond me.  “Zeke, where is this?” Anne asked in a hushed voice.  “It’s spectacular.”

As Ali was closing the door behind us, I saw a pile of black and white fur run through the door with a surprising turn of speed, almost a blur.

Fifi stopped right next to the door and turned around three times before she settled onto her haunches and became nearly motionless. Ali just stared at the mobile pile of fur for a moment, and then shrugged and finished closing the door.  “This is one of my father’s places, much like my room that I showed you, Anne.  He’s had this one a lot longer than I’ve had mine.  He has many more, but this is one of his favorites to show off.  Zeke requested permission to use the room for dining and dancing tonight.  My father agreed, and here we are.”

Anne did another slow turn, her eyes scanning up, down, left and right, taking in everything. “More than spectacular. Exquisite.  Ali, please thank your father for allowing us the opportunity to see this place.  I will never forget this.”

“I agree, Ali. Your father has impeccable taste, it seems.”

Ali was clearly happy with the praise. “I will tell him what you have said. I’m certain he will be pleased.”

Anne and I continued walking to the table which was set for two. There were candles in candle holders, but they were not lit.

“Should I take your hat and cane, sir?” Ali said with a grin after I pulled back Anne’s seat and she had been seated.

“That would be excellent. Thank you, young man.”  Ali wrinkled his nose at me and I laughed a little as I handed him my hat and cane.

“I will be back shortly with your appetizers, ice water, and lemon wedges.” Ali announced, and then disappeared with my hat and cane.

Anne put her hand across the small table, holding it out, clearly expecting me to put my hand in hers. I did so, wordlessly.  “Zeke, this is really above and beyond anything I expected.  Thank you so much.  I thought you were arranging to have food teleported into the house, and that would have been fine.”

“I’ve been neglecting you, Anne, and this is one way to try to apologize for that. Danny is starting to make his own way, he has Jane.  You have lots of friends on the internet, I know, but I’ve spent the last four years relearning how to be a good husband, and forgot all of it after my powers developed.”

Anne smiled “You’re so sweet, Zeke.” She raised my hand to her lips and kissed it.  “I have it easier than many other spouses of powered people.  Most supers bleed and can die.  You don’t seem to have that problem as your powered self.”  She looked away a moment.  “A lot of the Enclave spouses got together to comfort and support each other during the invasion.  There were some people with relatives in Columbia, where the breakout happened.  A lot of their spouses were hurt.  One Enclave super died; she was killed by one of the flying assault robots, like the ones that buried themselves in you, and it happened right in front of a camera feed.  Her husband had to be restrained and removed from the room.”

“I can’t even imagine how much that must have hurt the man, Anne. I couldn’t imagine losing you.  Life would have no meaning.  I love Danny too, but we’ve spent the last couple decades teaching him how to grow up, and grow apart, eventually.  In that same time, we’ve grown together.”  I rubbed my thumb across her hand.

Anne said nothing for a few seconds, just looking me in the eyes. “Everyone says you can’t die.  I might have to worry about you getting lost in your work, and I might feel lonely now and then, but you are doing things that need doing.  What’s my loneliness against the lives of the kids at that burning orphanage, or the safety of everyone in Atlanta?  Even whatever happened with that Australian cape, Trainwreck.  I don’t really understand what happened there, but I know that the Canberra team thanked you for it, and the man’s brother has thanked you publicly as well.”  Anne paused.  “What am I to that?”

I looked at her, and squeezed her hand slightly for emphasis. “Anne, you are my rock.  You are everything.”

Anne gripped my hand tighter, raising her other hand to mine, and I brought my second hand to meet her two hands. We just held hands, silently for almost a minute, looking into each other’s eyes.  I was leaking around the eyeballs a bit, and so was she.

All of a sudden, Anne reached into my left sleeve with her right hand, and whipped out the handkerchief there with a flourish. “You, sir, have caused me to need to touch up my makeup.  There will be a price to pay for that later.” She forced herself to laugh.

After Anne dabbed her cheeks dry, she stretched across the table and did the same for me. After both of our eyes were dry, she then folded the handkerchief and put it in front of her, to her left on the table before pulling out her little makeup kit and starting to repair damage done..

I reached out and lifted her chin up as she was looking down into the small kit mirror. “Anne, I’ll pay any price for you.”

Anne froze. “If I asked you to keep doing good things, and try to spend a little time with me now and then?”

“Your wish is my command, beautiful one. However, I think some of our…” I made air quotes.  “‘nights out’ will be at the house, I wouldn’t impose on Ali’s father to borrow this place often.”

There was a knock from one of the nearby pillars. Ali was standing there with the appetizers, water, and a small bowl of lemon slices balanced on a large server’s medallion he was holding over his head. “I know I am interrupting, but I’m afraid the shrimp and mushrooms lose a great deal of flavor if allowed to cool, even if reheated.”

Anne waved him over. “Please, Ali, bring the food.  I’m starving, and I would hate to let the food become mediocre in such an incredibly scenic place.”

Anne and I spent the next six hours eating and drinking, and then dancing, and drinking. After that, we returned, not to the apartment, but to the house, because Anne refused to let me sleep alone.

I woke up the next morning to someone whispering my name so softly I could barely hear it. “Zeke. Zeke. Zeke.”

When I opened my eyes, I was looking into my wife’s open eyes, and she touched her finger to my lips.

There was a brief flash of black and white fur at the foot of the bed on Anne’s side. Fifi had apparently been sleeping or just lying there until we both woke up.  Anne laughed as I jumped a little bit, reacting to the fur comet hurtling off the bed.  “She’s fast, isn’t she?”

I nodded, and then reached out and tickled Anne under her right side floating rib, and growled. “Round two.”

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8 comments

  1. farmerbob1

    NaNoWriMo word count: roughly 26,400

    This was a long chapter, almost 6k words, and I know I got stuck in the whole “getting ready for dinner” thing.
    I had fun with it though, and got myself to a good stopping point.

  2. Michael

    This is surprisingly good, for the subject matter – it feels extravagant, real, surreal, and at the same time you have to stop and wonder what Zeke’s missing because he disabled his teleportation belt. I wouldn’t want every chapter to be like this, but this places the reader in Zeke’s mind completely, and the emotion is fantastic. Excellent job.

  3. ereshkigala

    AHA!

    1) A leyline uplink that feeds a physical regeneration package can restore lost body mass, among other things.
    2) The svartalves are pretty much the creators of the soul-wells and thus know how to make such links.
    3) Lots of physical supers have just the kind of energy requirements that use up lost body mass, or at least biofuel.
    4) Zeke is planning to have the restrictions on the svartalves altered so they aren’t slaves and can take up jobs, presumably.

    I wonder how long it’ll take Zeke to make that connection. It took me about a second after reading that line and I am not even a master contract-maker or live in the world Zeke does. And that’s not nearly the most interesting thing. More interesting would be Zeke realizing that the very magically adept svartalves were altered to be that way and that gene therapy/replacement and the magical equivalents thereof are a thing.

  4. ereshkigala

    BTW, natural magical beings mostly subsist on the planet’s natural flow of magical energy (leylines) but don’t consume it. Gods can absorb magical energy to grow more powerful, but only that offered to them through directed mortal belief or sacrifice. Mortals can channel existing magical energy either consciously (practitioners) or via belief (everyone else) but don’t directly live off it and have to physically take in energy via food, unless they make the transition to gods.

    I wonder if there’s a way for someone to make alterations on the above paradigm. Like, get a mortal, fuse it with a magical creature with access to leylines to be able to draw power from them, alter them so the magical energy they draw can be absorbed as if it were belief-directed, add a mass converter so they can turn eaten matter into energy directly, then go to town. Stick to them a name like GHATANOTHOA or something, meaning “they who devour your planet and thoroughly enjoy it” in some obscure language. Teach them about how alternate dimensions exist and they contain a potentially infinite amount of food.

  5. thomas

    Kinda cool dog but that name really sucks. I guess you were going for something pretentious to personify her personality. Good job on that.
    “Round two. Begin.” Ok, that is an interesting segue. Sure implies a lot. Thanks for a great chapter.

    Continuity: “Time to hit the flower shop, Ali.” … I handed her the bouquet of two dozen long-stemmed red roses.
    Hey, Z never went to the flower shop but he gives flowers to Anne. What gives?

    I have it easier that many other spouses of powered people.
    I think that is not correct.

    • farmerbob1

      I didn’t want to extend the chapter even more. As my notes and little scribbles about what I wanted in the chapter continued to build up, I realized I was going to have to cut out a little, so I didn’t go into detail about the florist trip. I still haven’t gone into detail, but I did add a blurb to help maintain continuity.

      As for the “Round two. Begin.” comment, that wasn’t supposed to have a greater meaning, it was merely supposed to be Zeke and Anne trying to recapture a little bit of their marriage while they had the opportunity. I took out the “Begin.” because that seemed to add meaning beyond a little morning sex.

      Fixed the ‘that’

      • thomas

        Sometimes writers get themselves into binds and tell readers, ‘I gave her the flowers I bought this morning.’ Yet the story does not support it. This type of lazy writing really irritates me.

        Your story, especially with Ali’s powers, supports such side trips beautifully. The blurb you included fixed all of the continuity problems and shows reliance on Ali as well as his support. Nicely done and thank you.

  6. Bart

    So it’s my understanding that there are places where leylines intersect and magic “whatevers” are stronger. There must also be places where leylines are basically absent — it seems that in places like that Zeke would be at a rather substantial disadvantage, and might not be able to regenerate.

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