Chapter 37: Required Reading

on October 12, 2011 in Volume 2 Book 2: The Trouble With Twyla, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Lets Amaranth’s Fingers Do The Walking

I knew the book by title, of course, though I’d never actually read it. Not in its entirety, anyway. I’d been seeing different versions of various parts of it for as long as I’d been able to understand and retain a story. Nights of Fire and Wonder was a book of many stories… or perhaps “book of lore” would be a better description, since scholars regarded the content not as inventive fictions so much as a record of earlier times.

Pax-language culture had been mining some of the better-known stories within it for centuries. It was where we got our concept of genies from, through mangled misunderstandings of the most dramatic tales of particularly powerful djinn.

Even the word “ghoul” came from the Nights, though the local undead pest was quite a bit different from those found in eastern lands.

The original ghuls were formed from desiccated corpses that were exposed to the dark light of the new moon. They were swift and cunning, capable of communicating with the living, and using deception and subterfuge to stalk their prey. They had a society made up of clans or tribes, and sometimes even dealt with the living through trade and diplomacy. Our ghouls were beings trapped in a state of perpetual rot. There was some form of animating intelligence within their heads, but nothing that anyone had ever managed to communicate or reason with.

The Nights itself had originated in the Maravayic Peninsula almost a thousand years ago, though some of the tales within it were supposed to be much older, coming from various points along the shores of the Ardan or from points even further east than the peninsula. This copy was old, though not ancient… old by the standards of library books produced through modern methods, not old by the standards of really old books.

It was far bigger than any version I’d seen on a shelf before. I’d seen copies of the Nights that labeled themselves as unabridged, and they’d been smaller. This one didn’t proclaim itself to be anything other than itself, translated by Lord Thurston Pilchard. It had a good fifteen hundred gold-edged pages crammed with tiny text, intricate scrollwork, and color illustrations.

The copyright notice dated it to 12 YJ… the Justiciar Interregnum had happened about ninety years ago, I was pretty sure, which would make this book about eighty years old. It was hard to say exactly because a lot of things about the interregnum had never been set down in exact detail. It was possible to fill in the gaps on things like when it had begun and ended by looking at blank spots in the official recorded history of the Imperial Republic… but since it wasn’t something that historians could freely discuss, anyone who tried to piece together a definitive timeline of the fifteen or eighteen years during which Magisteria had officially been a theocracy had to do so alone.

That was entirely a sidenote, though… figuring out when the book If Professor Bohd had been consulting a book on Maravayic myths, that suggested that her reaction to Twyla had more to do with her djinn side than her demonic one. That was the only obvious conclusion… and sadly, I mean the only obvious one. If I read the whole book straight through I’d probably learn a lot about djinnikind, but I’d be a while getting there. Even narrowing it down to just the stories that dealt with djinn would probably leave me with over a thousand pages to cover. I hoped that maybe Lord Thurston would have included an index, but no luck… there wasn’t even so much as a table of contents. Nor had Professor Bohd helpfully left a bookmark or note to hold her place.

I couldn’t afford to get too engrossed in either the book or the mystery when I still had my daily reckoning with Coach Callahan to look forward to. I took the tome back to my dorm room and left it on the desk.

I thought about leaving Amaranth a note explaining what was up with it, as she would likely be back before I was, but I couldn’t figure out where to even begin. Chances were good that just seeing such a big, old book with its tapestry cover and gilt-edged pages would get her curious enough to start looking through it, so if the connection to Twyla was really obvious and I was really lucky, maybe I’d come back and it would be solved.

Maybe that sounds like I was lazy or disengaged, but it was like I said: I didn’t have time to get engaged with the mystery. After fighting class I could sit down with the book and get lost in it for a little while, but if I showed up with a head full of smokeless fire and billowing sand I’d just get my ass handed to me again and see my chances of ending the semester with an A slip even further away. I did my best to put the book, Bohd, and Twyla out of my mind as I headed for my last class of the day.

The fact that it was also my last class of the week helped give me something to focus on. This was the last time I would have to face Coach Callahan until Monday. I just had to think about it in those terms. Just one hour to get through. Yeah, it sucked that I had almost twice as much of her class than any other course I was taking, but it was never more than one hour at a time. If I held my own for one period, there would be seventy-one glorious hours before I’d have to strike out at another humanoid being or defend myself.

Engrossed in my thoughts, I was surprised to find Amaranth outside the fitness center. By “find”, I mean that I almost walked into her, and by “almost” I mean I knocked both of us over. In my defense, I was really focused on getting myself mentally ready for fighting.

“You really should watch where you’re going, baby,” she said, carefully checking her prized pair of eyeglasses and re-adjusting them to be higher up the bridge of her nose.

“I’m sorry,” I said. I got to my feet and helped her to hers. “What’s wrong?”

It was the first thing that popped into my head once I registered that she must have been there waiting for me, must have been heading towards me just before the collision.

“Nothing!” she said. “I just… wanted to talk to you.”

“On my way to Coach Callahan’s class?” I asked.

“I’m sorry!” she said. “I don’t mean to distract you or anything, but I finished my last class and was wondering if you managed to get in touch with Professor Bohd, and if so, how it went. If she said anything… significant?”

“You’re really not letting go of this Twyla thing, are you?” I said.

“Well, I’m concerned for the both of you,” she said. “I would like to be able to help her, yes… and to know more about her… but I also don’t want you to be in poor standing with one of your favorite professors.”

“She’s not mad at me, I don’t think,” I said. “I apologized anyway and it seemed to make her feel a bit better about me, but she has bigger problems, or thinks she does.”

I gave her a rundown on what had happened, including the book I’d left up in my room.

“An old copy of the Nights?” Amaranth said. “Are you sure it really isn’t just a little pleasure-reading? You know her better than I do, baby, but subterfuge doesn’t seem like her style… maybe she really just wants you to return her library book.”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Amaranth, if you’d seen her…”

“I believe you, baby.”

“Have you ever read it?” I asked her.

“Not in its entirety,” she said. “I’ve read multiple adaptations of some of the individual stories, but this looks… well, from your description, this one sounds pretty complete.”

“Yeah, I’m fairly certain this is the whole unabridged thing.”

“If it’s in Pax, it’s not likely to be,” Amaranth said. “Aside from issues with translation by scholars who put their own personal stamp on the work, exactly which texts make up the canonical Nights is a subject of quite a bit of scholarly debate, as versions of it have popped up in multiple places along the southern Ardan… the popular view that the larger versions are more likely the most authentic seems unlikely to me, if only because the original work would have been as likely to gain stories as it traveled than to lose them.”

“I’m not worried about the definitiveness of the text,” I said. “Unless I interrupted Bohd before she found what she was looking for… or failed to find it, I mean… we have to assume that what she was looking for in here.”

“Unless it’s a detail that most translations leave out,” Amaranth said. “They do vary quite a bit. Baby… how sure are you that she was afraid, specifically?”

“Very sure,” I said.

“Okay,” Amaranth said. “Well, that tells us something about what we should be looking for, doesn’t it?”

“What do you mean?”

“We should be looking for something that a djinnblood would fear… most of the stories that have djinn in them, they’re used as a plot device or obstacle, so maybe some means of thwarting or controlling them?”

“I don’t think Twyla’s the thwarting or controlling type,” I said.

“Oh, no, of course not, baby,” Amaranth said. “But something about her made Professor Bohd feel like she had to protect herself. I don’t remember any stories about a weapon used for fighting djinn, or anything like that… do you?”

“Yeah,” I said. “But any way you look at it, if whatever Bohd was after came from one of the stories that everybody knows, I doubt she would have needed to dig this book up. So, basically we’re going to have to read the whole thing. At least until something jumps out.”

“Well… maybe it will come down to that, but you should probably take a more systematic approach to begin with,” Amaranth suggested.

“More systematic than reading the whole thing?” I asked.

“Oh, baby,” she said with a smile, “just because a territory is unknown to you doesn’t mean that it’s uncharted. Why go stumbling in without a map if you don’t have to? Nights of Fire and Wonder is one of the most-read and most-studied pieces of translated literature in the Pax-speaking world. There are study guides, CragsNotes, and stuff like that… and I guarantee you that a few minutes of ball-gazing will turn up a table of contents complete with synopses. It shouldn’t take long at all to figure out which stories concern djinn, and maybe even get some idea about which of those might contain something that would be significant to a modern human/djinn descendant. Even leaving that aside, there is another angle you might be overlooking.”

“What’s that?”

“Did you happen to see any pictures before Professor Bohd closed it?”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “It’s got an illustration at least every other page. I guess that makes things a little easier, since it leaves us with less actual text to go through, right?”

“But if you happened to notice what the illustration was, we don’t have to go through the text at all,” she said, and understanding dawned on me. It was obvious in retrospect. I might have come up with it on my own eventually… though I hadn’t. “Just leaf through until we find it. What was it?”

“It was a bare-chested swordsman.”

“I have a feeling that’s not going to narrow it down by much,” Amaranth said.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s likely to be something of a recurring theme,” she said. “I’d ask for more details, but I’d guess it would be more efficient for you look through the illustrations while I try to dig up some synopses.”

“I suppose that will be faster than reading,” I said. “But I’ve got another hour of class before I can start, if you want a crack at the book first… and I have my date with Ian tonight.”

“That would be great… I’d want a look at it even if you had opened it up to find a signed note explaining everything,” Amaranth said. “I don’t believe that book was part of the library’s general collection. I would have noticed it. When we’re done with it, baby, don’t you dare drop it in a book slot… you hand it directly to a librarian.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “And thank you.”

“You’re welcome… and anyway, I did want to help Twyla find out about her parentage,” Amaranth said. “So it’s kind of win-win for me.”

“You know this isn’t necessarily going to lead us to anything really conclusive there,” I said. “If there are any family trees in here, it’s probably going to be about long-dead caliphs or heroes or something.”

“You may be right, baby,” Amaranth said. She suddenly looked abashed. “Anyway, I didn’t really mean to keep you talking out here. You should probably go, I guess.”

“Yeah, I really should,” I said.

“And you really don’t mind me taking first crack at the book?”

“No, it would be great,” I said.

“Great!” she said. “Now go in there and knock them… temporarily disabled.”


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35 Responses to “Chapter 37: Required Reading”

  1. Burnsidhe says:

    It’s nice to see Mack focusing. Though hopefully she’ll get a better sense of the world around her when she does.

    Current score: 0
  2. Kevin Brown says:

    CragsNotes=CliffsNotes? Makes sense as a Crag and a Cliff are somewhat similar pieces of geography. Of course CliffsNotes refers to the first name of their creator.

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    • Kevin Brown says:

      Edit: Also “Nights of Fire and Wonder”=”One Thousand and One Nights”

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  3. Zathras IX says:

    Are there One Thousand
    And One Maravayic Nights
    Of Fire and Wonder?

    Current score: 1
  4. Metheglin says:

    “…when the book If Professor…”

    I think this is the end of a sentence which never ended. Prolly needs punctuation.

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    • Luke Licens says:

      ‘we have to assume that what she was looking for in here.”’

      Typo patrol is on the attack. ^_^

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      • Lunaroki says:

        Yup! You guys beat me to all the typos today, so I’ll just toss this out there:

        “Great!” she said. “Now go in there and knock them… temporarily disabled.”

        Hehe! That line made me giggle! Amaranth has such a way with words!

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  5. LetsSee says:

    72 hour days? I don’t believe I’ve seen that particular note about this world before. It really jumped out at me. So each of their days is three of ours. Also, has anyone paid attention to how many days are in a week, in a month, or in a year? Or minutes in an hour? I don’t believe I have really seen details on those things…. Although, I suspect days in the week has been mentioned at least in passing before.

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    • Month says:

      It’s Friday. Meaning she won’t have to face her for three days. She says that, right before she mentions the 72 hours bit.

      Current score: 1
  6. Month says:

    If it was possible for a person to drool over a book, Amaranth would have that down to pat. I mean you can feel her lust for the book, two multiverses away!

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  7. Billy Bob says:

    Books tend to remember where they were last opened to. Quite often you can let them fall open and there you are.

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    • Brenda says:

      I would bet there’s even a simple spell to enhance that tendancy…

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      • zeel says:

        This line of discussion is very interesting.

        You are correct that books tend to do that, the binding is the most warped at the point the book was last opened to for an extended period.

        The problem is that Mackenzie already was looking through it, and might have nullified this methods usefulness.

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  8. brandon says:

    “Now go in there and knock them… temporarily unconcious” my new fav amaranth quote

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  9. K-Li says:

    Is Amaranth even capable of considering the needs of others? She must be aware of Mack’s psychology, and her need to focus, just as she must remember putting Mack in the class with Callahan. Sabotaging someone she claims to love in the pursuit of something which is none of her business simply because she lacks any sort of patience or impulse control is 100% in character for the nymph, but no less infuriating for it.

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    • Brenda says:

      Not only that, but it’s actually on Mack’s black list. She might have changed some things on her lists, but I can’t believe she would remove this one:

      “Nothing that interferes with my schoolwork, prevents me from attending a class or doing homework, or distracts me during class.”

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  10. readaholic says:

    Om nom nom. And soon Amaranth is going to be nomming on a very tasty book, by the sounds of it. “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Plenty of food for Amaranth there.

    K-Li, I think Amaranth, by telling Mack to “go in there and knock them…temporarily disabled, has tried to avoid just that.

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    • K-Li says:

      I disagree. By saying that, she is attempting only to disclaim responsibility for any consequences Mack suffers during class as a result of the pointless distraction. Given that she opens with “I don’t mean to distract you or anything”, she knows what she’s doing to Mack, but is more willing to sacrifice Mack’s well being (and Mack’s already tenuous grip on a grade she’s set as a condition for something Mack really wants) than she is to wait until after class to interrogate the poor half-demon.

      That all of this is simply her nature, as the embodiment of the half-formed fantasies of a deeply troubled adolescent, does not make her innocent. It makes her irredeemable.

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  11. N'ville says:

    I am now looking forward to seeing how Mac copes with Callahan in the next lesson, or is AE going to skip that briefly to fill us in with more on the book?
    I wait and see.

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  12. Greenwood Goat says:

    Or, for an even more intelligent search… I wonder if Professor Hall would mind having his brains picked, especially if he could rattle off an answer along the lines of “Page 751, just under the picture of Szgismand the Swordsman”?

    Lord Thurston Pilchard immediately made me think of Orlando M. Pilchard, a Monty Python invention. Then I remembered Sir Richard Burton, who did the first unexpurgated translation of One Thousand and One Nights. In case anyone is confused, that’s Sir Richard Francis Burton, scholar and explorer, completely distinct from the famous actor who married Elizabeth Taylor. Only one of them got a knighthood, only one of them won Oscars (though he got a CBE as well), and only one of them was actually born Richard Burton. Burton the actor was born Richard Walter Jenkins… interestingly enough.

    As for the extraneous theme running through these pseudo-haiku, it seems that I am one of those people who can’t have “just one link”. >:=)> Cheers!

    =====

    A measure of djinn,
    Will add a fiery kick,
    To any mixer.

    Like the grape and grain,
    Certain beings should not mix,
    Lest hangovers strike.

    To Callahan now,
    To battle for an A grade,
    A sobering thought.

    For Mack to succeed,
    She must swallow her dislike,
    And piss victory!

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  13. Cadnawes says:

    True story: I once checked out a very old book of Germanic folklore from the library. It was leather bound, but had seen better days. The pages were crumbling a little, and the binding could have been tighter. So, when I returned it, I handed it to a librarian with the explanation that it seemed too fragile to drop four feet into the book bin through the slot, so I thought I’d return it to a real person, instead. She said that was fine, and then tossed it into the book bin herself. GRRRRR.

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    • Brenda says:

      I just about gasped out loud reading that. Grrr indeed.

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    • Amelia says:

      Oh that poor book.
      Someone who’d do that has no business working in a library.

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  14. Metheglin says:

    That kind of librarian should receive a sound beating and no Christmas bonus.

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    • Greenwood Goat says:

      Take care. She might like that sort of thing.

      “Ooh, yeah! Pick up that oversized edition and bookmark me! Slam me closed! Rip off my jacket and tear my cover! Bend my spine back! This is what I joined the library service for! Oh, and shhhhh!

      Enough. I’m guessing that this sort of scene has been written, recorded and/or roleplayed hundreds of times already.

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      • Brenda says:

        There’s a librarian like that on girlswithslingshots.com…

        (A webcomic. It’s usually safe for work.)

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        • BMeph says:

          Considering GWS’ general storylines, not-to-mention Dani Corsetto’s delightfully perverse sense of humor,

          …shouldn’t that be “unusually safe for work”? 😉

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    • Stonefoot says:

      That librarian should be given the message from management that a character received in (I think) a Frank and Earnest cartoon: (from memory) “Diversify Foskett, diversify! Find something else to do. Somewhere else.”

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  15. Erm says:

    That was entirely a sidenote, though… figuring out when the book If Professor Bohd had been consulting a book on Maravayic myths, that suggested that her reaction to Twyla had more to do with her djinn side than her demonic one.

    Something appears to be missing between “book If”…

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  16. That Dave Guy says:

    “That was entirely a sidenote, though… figuring out when the book If Professor Bohd had been consulting a book on Maravayic myths, that suggested that her reaction to Twyla had more to do with her djinn side than her demonic one. That was the only obvious conclusion… and sadly, I mean the only obvious one. ”

    this whole sections is perplexing enough that I think it needs editing, although I couldn’t say exactly how.

    It seems to still be messed up, and I’m getting to it fairly late, which is why I’m bothering to comment about it.

    Current score: 0
  17. pedestrian says:

    With my diverse reading and interest in arcane literature, I often find that old books have some sort of damage to them. When I return them, with a note attached listing needed repairs, the librarians I have dealt with have always been grateful. They are very busy and do not have the manpower to meticulously inspect everything they handle. A polite heads up is graciously received.

    Current score: 0
  18. Khazidhea says:

    “figuring out when the book If Professor Bohd had been consulting a book on Maravayic myths,”

    Seems like a sentence abruptly ends without being finished, before a new one starts with “If Professor Bohd…”

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  19. Duke says:

    Just a thought. If Twyla is not related to dragons (possible), with the context of the Nights of Fire and Wonder being akin to the Arabian Nights, could Twyla be related to an Ifrit (Efreet?, Afreet?)? Fire Djinn. (Djinni being air spirits, Marids being water and Dao for earth).

    Current score: 0
  20. zeel says:

    This “Justiciar Interregnum” thing is interesting. Whe hell happened. . .

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