Chapter Twenty Two

Chapter Twenty  Two

                Zena had to ask where to find Sheen’s house, of course, though she felt like an idiot doing it. She had to ask from various people, as the paths were well-kept and fairly orderly, but unmarked. In Traveler’s Rest they all had names, and the Ledges were organized by their namesake. Even on the Slope the houses—or shacks, rather—looked all different from each other, so you could use them as landmarks to find your way through the haphazard area, but the huts on the Dirty Hills all looked the same. In typical sneak-elf fashion they had wooden roofs but canvas walls.

                The people who told her where to go were very polite, but she couldn’t help hearing the multitudes of questions and sniggers behind the helpful words. Of course, if Sheen came to the Ledges and asked for Zena’s house, she would probably get a fair bit worse than puzzlement. Zena wasn’t the only one of her people gifted with sarcasm; she could easily picture the faces and hear the sharp remarks. “Don’t you Council people keep each other’s addresses?” would probably be the least of them. Sheen probably wouldn’t take it very well either, Zena could shrug them off to a certain point, but Sheen…

                When she finally found the right house, Zena reached up and tapped on the roof, unsure what to do. It was then that she saw the small words written above the door seam reading “Nitara, Sanjay, and Sheena.” I forgot that was her name, Zena thought, and I guess I forgot she has parents too. Well, used to. Easy to forget that we all have parents.

                “Come in,” Sheen called, thinking that Jacques or Nora would be the only people to knock. Any sneak-elf would call out. Actaully, most sneak-elves she wasn’t close to (which was nearly all of them—her mother was friendly and close to the friends she had, but had never sought out any more until she remarried, and Sheen had picked up the habit) would wait until they saw her to tell her anything that wasn’t urgent. Sneak-elves weren’t a very chatty group.

                Zena carefully parted the canvas and stepped inside, one step inside the door. She was very polite and quiet, not used to people just inviting her into their houses besides her brother and his wife, but Sheen, sitting cross-legged on the bed mat on the ground, eating nuts from a small bowl, heard her and looked up. “Zena?”

                “Yes…” Zena thought that was a rather obvious question, “that’s my name.”

                Sheen stared at her and then shook her head, “I mean, what are you doing here?”

                “Oh. How was I supposed to know that?”

                “It’s implied. There’s always something behind the question. Hang around the Hills and you’ll pick it up,” Sheen said offhandedly. Then she focused again. “So?”

                Zena took a deep breath, unsure how to open the conversation without sounding like she was paranoid or running for help. She decided to go on the offensive to buy some time. “On the Ledges, it’s polite to offer someone a seat.”

                Sheen waved at the small pile of mats in the corner. “Grab one.”

                Zena placed one delicately on the floor and kneeled on it. “I didn’t know you liked the floor so much. You’re closer to the Irkas than I realized.”

                “They’ve been gone three days and you’re already slandering them,” Sheen said slyly, raising one eyebrow. Zena blushed slightly, making Sheen smile a little. She liked tweaking Zena’s strings when things weren’t out of control. “We don’t like the floor,” she corrected her, “it’s the ground. And they live in tents to be simplistic. We would have everything wood in the forest. More furniture too.” Currently everything was on the ground but for a few small tables, “the only thing authentic is the firepot.” Zena twisted around to see a hallowed log lined with a cake of dried mud turned on its side, embers glowing in the bottom.

                “Your—house—looked bigger on the outside.”

                “It is. Mom and Jay sleep on the other side of this.” Sheen aimed her thumb at the canvas behind her.

                “Kind of thin.”

                Sheen decided she was done with the sneak-elf culture 101. “Quit stalling. What do you want?”

                Zena cleared her throat. “Earlier today a crowd came to my door. They wanted to know what the Council was planning to do to Atkin’s group.”

                “What did you tell them?”

                “That I didn’t think it would be likely to happen, due to, well—“

                “Me,” Sheen supplied frankly.

                “Yes. They weren’t very happy. I said they could bring it to the Council tomorrow if they want.”

                “And knowing godlings, that isn’t going to happen,” Sheen caught on easily.

                “But they might just rant it off,” Zena defended her people, “so I wasn’t sure what we should do.”

                “How big a crowd are we talking here?”

                “About thirty.”

                Sheen thought for a minute, chewing a nut or two before answering with a question. “Why did you come to me with this?”

                Always more behind questions. “I thought you were the best person to handle it. I wanted to tell someone before tomorrow in case they do show up at the meeting.”

                Sheen set the bowl on the ground and brushed her hands free of any shell dust. “Jacques has been telling me to try and build some bridges with you.”

                Jacques has been telling me…interesting choice of words. “Well, are you?”

                “I don’t know if I want to.”

                I’m sick of being the polite outsider. “Fine, if you don’t want to be democratic,” Zena stood up to leave, “I’ve delivered my message. She stepped outside and Sheen slipped after her. “I don’t think I’m the problem here. I’ve been arguing for cooperation all along.”

                “So I’m the guilty one? Always a half-god the guilty one,” Zena said, turning on Sheen outside in the bright sun.

                “The rest of us came with an agenda, even if we didn’t know it,” Sheen said, thinking of Nora, “But you said you did and then all you wanted to do was argue with Atkin.”

                “Atkin’s gone, and you’re the one who wants to forget about him.”

                “I don’t want to go after them, not forget about them. I’m sure we’ll be talking about them forever, thanks to your crazy area.”

                “Listen, the Usomians and the Kenazians get blamed for everything around here. You think we’re the only ones with problems.” Zena got so mad she stuck her finger in Sheen’s face. “While you sit up here with your philosophy and your perfect society, and you think you’re so cool because you talk in riddles. And you look the other way when everyone wants to live on Traveler’s Rest.”

                “You’ve forgotten the Slope. Are they victims too?” Sheen asked acidly.

                “Yes. Just because Jacques has a voice—“

                “He uses it. About things he cares about. Whereas you gripe and tout your individualism and your broken, sexist home.” Sheen’s voice rose. “Have you ever considered that maybe we don’t care?”

                “There you go again.”

                “The rest of us know we can’t fix everything, but that the greater problems are in how we relate to each other. So that’s what we want to do. You know Jacques would love to abolish Laios, that Nora hates how buddy-buddy everyone is on Traveler’s Rest and hates her because her mom wasn’t part of their knitting circles?”

                “No, I didn’t, I don’t—“

                “Care, I know. You care about your own problems. Great, maybe someday we can fix them. Right now we’re busy. Can you deal with the insults long enough to help us, or do you need to leave the colony too?”

                Zena looked up into Sheen’s narrowed eyes, embarrassed that she even had to look up, if only by a few inches. She’d thought she was tall, but so were the sneak-elves.

                “I’m not a quitter,” she said, though some midnight words sounded in her head.

                “Good. I won’t ask for your alliance, but in a Council of four, we ought to be in an alliance anyway.”

                “You know Nora’s the only one of you I can stand.”

                “I wouldn’t expect anything less of you,” Sheen said sarcastically.

                Zena wasn’t finished. “I think you’re a brat and Jacques a pushover.”

                Sheen’s jaw tightened but she didn’t say anything besides, “You bug me too, Zena.”

                “And just because we reached a semi-agreement in the middle of the street,” Zena glanced around, “doesn’t mean that I’m your friend.”

                “I know,” Sheen said. Zena started to walk away, but heard Sheen mutter, “spoiled goddess,” as she went inside. Zena turned again with fury in her eyes.

***

                It was just then that Jacques reached the end of Sheen’s path. He saw them standing, noses an inch from each other, screaming, words moving so fast that the air was more insults than oxygen. He ran up, trying to wedge himself between them. Excellent. Just another way to keep the Council dysfunctional. “Alright, stop it!”

                “Stay out of, Jacques,” Sheen hissed down into his hair.

                At least they haven’t starting beating each other up yet, he thought as he managed to shove them away. They stood about two feet from either side of him, stopping accusations to breathe and glare.

                “I don’t want to know what caused it,” he said shortly, not entirely sure where the words were coming from, “but I’d been meaning to talk to you both anyway.  Today you had a discussion, and it was a good step. To keep moving, we have got to put the colony first. If that means compromising, do it.”

                “Yes, sir—“ Sheen began.

                “I don’t want to hear it,” he snapped. They continued to glare murderously. “I have two words for the both of you: grow up.”

                There was silence for about two seconds, and then Zena couldn’t resist any longer. “Like you know what you’re doing.”

                He caught her eyes and held them in his. “You’re right. I don’t. But at least I’m trying to tackle my responsibilities rather than bullshitting about my own problems.”

                He walked purposefully away, afraid of over doing it. Zena and Sheen avoided each other’s gaze for a brief bit longer and then Zena turned away and strode home, wishing fervently that she had a cape to swish.

Chapter Twenty  Two

                Zena had to ask where to find Sheen’s house, of course, though she felt like an idiot doing it. She had to ask from various people, as the paths were well-kept and fairly orderly, but unmarked. In Traveler’s Rest they all had names, and the Ledges were organized by their namesake. Even on the Slope the houses—or shacks, rather—looked all different from each other, so you could use them as landmarks to find your way through the haphazard area, but the huts on the Dirty Hills all looked the same. In typical sneak-elf fashion they had wooden roofs but canvas walls.

                The people who told her where to go were very polite, but she couldn’t help hearing the multitudes of questions and sniggers behind the helpful words. Of course, if Sheen came to the Ledges and asked for Zena’s house, she would probably get a fair bit worse than puzzlement. Zena wasn’t the only one of her people gifted with sarcasm; she could easily picture the faces and hear the sharp remarks. “Don’t you Council people keep each other’s addresses?” would probably be the least of them. Sheen probably wouldn’t take it very well either, Zena could shrug them off to a certain point, but Sheen…

                When she finally found the right house, Zena reached up and tapped on the roof, unsure what to do. It was then that she saw the small words written above the door seam reading “Nitara, Sanjay, and Sheena.” I forgot that was her name, Zena thought, and I guess I forgot she has parents too. Well, used to. Easy to forget that we all have parents.

                “Come in,” Sheen called, thinking that Jacques or Nora would be the only people to knock. Any sneak-elf would call out. Actaully, most sneak-elves she wasn’t close to (which was nearly all of them—her mother was friendly and close to the friends she had, but had never sought out any more until she remarried, and Sheen had picked up the habit) would wait until they saw her to tell her anything that wasn’t urgent. Sneak-elves weren’t a very chatty group.

                Zena carefully parted the canvas and stepped inside, one step inside the door. She was very polite and quiet, not used to people just inviting her into their houses besides her brother and his wife, but Sheen, sitting cross-legged on the bed mat on the ground, eating nuts from a small bowl, heard her and looked up. “Zena?”

                “Yes…” Zena thought that was a rather obvious question, “that’s my name.”

                Sheen stared at her and then shook her head, “I mean, what are you doing here?”

                “Oh. How was I supposed to know that?”

                “It’s implied. There’s always something behind the question. Hang around the Hills and you’ll pick it up,” Sheen said offhandedly. Then she focused again. “So?”

                Zena took a deep breath, unsure how to open the conversation without sounding like she was paranoid or running for help. She decided to go on the offensive to buy some time. “On the Ledges, it’s polite to offer someone a seat.”

                Sheen waved at the small pile of mats in the corner. “Grab one.”

                Zena placed one delicately on the floor and kneeled on it. “I didn’t know you liked the floor so much. You’re closer to the Irkas than I realized.”

                “They’ve been gone three days and you’re already slandering them,” Sheen said slyly, raising one eyebrow. Zena blushed slightly, making Sheen smile a little. She liked tweaking Zena’s strings when things weren’t out of control. “We don’t like the floor,” she corrected her, “it’s the ground. And they live in tents to be simplistic. We would have everything wood in the forest. More furniture too.” Currently everything was on the ground but for a few small tables, “the only thing authentic is the firepot.” Zena twisted around to see a hallowed log lined with a cake of dried mud turned on its side, embers glowing in the bottom.

                “Your—house—looked bigger on the outside.”

                “It is. Mom and Jay sleep on the other side of this.” Sheen aimed her thumb at the canvas behind her.

                “Kind of thin.”

                Sheen decided she was done with the sneak-elf culture 101. “Quit stalling. What do you want?”

                Zena cleared her throat. “Earlier today a crowd came to my door. They wanted to know what the Council was planning to do to Atkin’s group.”

                “What did you tell them?”

                “That I didn’t think it would be likely to happen, due to, well—“

                “Me,” Sheen supplied frankly.

                “Yes. They weren’t very happy. I said they could bring it to the Council tomorrow if they want.”

                “And knowing godlings, that isn’t going to happen,” Sheen caught on easily.

                “But they might just rant it off,” Zena defended her people, “so I wasn’t sure what we should do.”

                “How big a crowd are we talking here?”

                “About thirty.”

                Sheen thought for a minute, chewing a nut or two before answering with a question. “Why did you come to me with this?”

                Always more behind questions. “I thought you were the best person to handle it. I wanted to tell someone before tomorrow in case they do show up at the meeting.”

                Sheen set the bowl on the ground and brushed her hands free of any shell dust. “Jacques has been telling me to try and build some bridges with you.”

                Jacques has been telling me…interesting choice of words. “Well, are you?”

                “I don’t know if I want to.”

                I’m sick of being the polite outsider. “Fine, if you don’t want to be democratic,” Zena stood up to leave, “I’ve delivered my message. She stepped outside and Sheen slipped after her. “I don’t think I’m the problem here. I’ve been arguing for cooperation all along.”

                “So I’m the guilty one? Always a half-god the guilty one,” Zena said, turning on Sheen outside in the bright sun.

                “The rest of us came with an agenda, even if we didn’t know it,” Sheen said, thinking of Nora, “But you said you did and then all you wanted to do was argue with Atkin.”

                “Atkin’s gone, and you’re the one who wants to forget about him.”

                “I don’t want to go after them, not forget about them. I’m sure we’ll be talking about them forever, thanks to your crazy area.”

                “Listen, the Usomians and the Kenazians get blamed for everything around here. You think we’re the only ones with problems.” Zena got so mad she stuck her finger in Sheen’s face. “While you sit up here with your philosophy and your perfect society, and you think you’re so cool because you talk in riddles. And you look the other way when everyone wants to live on Traveler’s Rest.”

                “You’ve forgotten the Slope. Are they victims too?” Sheen asked acidly.

                “Yes. Just because Jacques has a voice—“

                “He uses it. About things he cares about. Whereas you gripe and tout your individualism and your broken, sexist home.” Sheen’s voice rose. “Have you ever considered that maybe we don’t care?”

                “There you go again.”

                “The rest of us know we can’t fix everything, but that the greater problems are in how we relate to each other. So that’s what we want to do. You know Jacques would love to abolish Laios, that Nora hates how buddy-buddy everyone is on Traveler’s Rest and hates her because her mom wasn’t part of their knitting circles?”

                “No, I didn’t, I don’t—“

                “Care, I know. You care about your own problems. Great, maybe someday we can fix them. Right now we’re busy. Can you deal with the insults long enough to help us, or do you need to leave the colony too?”

                Zena looked up into Sheen’s narrowed eyes, embarrassed that she even had to look up, if only by a few inches. She’d thought she was tall, but so were the sneak-elves.

                “I’m not a quitter,” she said, though some midnight words sounded in her head.

                “Good. I won’t ask for your alliance, but in a Council of four, we ought to be in an alliance anyway.”

                “You know Nora’s the only one of you I can stand.”

                “I wouldn’t expect anything less of you,” Sheen said sarcastically.

                Zena wasn’t finished. “I think you’re a brat and Jacques a pushover.”

                Sheen’s jaw tightened but she didn’t say anything besides, “You bug me too, Zena.”

                “And just because we reached a semi-agreement in the middle of the street,” Zena glanced around, “doesn’t mean that I’m your friend.”

                “I know,” Sheen said. Zena started to walk away, but heard Sheen mutter, “spoiled goddess,” as she went inside. Zena turned again with fury in her eyes.

***

                It was just then that Jacques reached the end of Sheen’s path. He saw them standing, noses an inch from each other, screaming, words moving so fast that the air was more insults than oxygen. He ran up, trying to wedge himself between them. Excellent. Just another way to keep the Council dysfunctional. “Alright, stop it!”

                “Stay out of, Jacques,” Sheen hissed down into his hair.

                At least they haven’t starting beating each other up yet, he thought as he managed to shove them away. They stood about two feet from either side of him, stopping accusations to breathe and glare.

                “I don’t want to know what caused it,” he said shortly, not entirely sure where the words were coming from, “but I’d been meaning to talk to you both anyway.  Today you had a discussion, and it was a good step. To keep moving, we have got to put the colony first. If that means compromising, do it.”

                “Yes, sir—“ Sheen began.

                “I don’t want to hear it,” he snapped. They continued to glare murderously. “I have two words for the both of you: grow up.”

                There was silence for about two seconds, and then Zena couldn’t resist any longer. “Like you know what you’re doing.”

                He caught her eyes and held them in his. “You’re right. I don’t. But at least I’m trying to tackle my responsibilities rather than bullshitting about my own problems.”

                He walked purposefully away, afraid of over doing it. Zena and Sheen avoided each other’s gaze for a brief bit longer and then Zena turned away and strode home, wishing fervently that she had a cape to swish.

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