Chapter 58: Advanced Dwarves & Druidry

on January 9, 2012 in Volume 2 Book 3: Figments & Fragments, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Access Is Denied

It seemed like there were a few more empty desks in Acantha’s class on Monday. I might have thought I was imagining it, but there was at least one guy who I knew was missing… Gareth Roberts, the one who’d been an ass about her grading scheme and general existence.

Some of the missing people might have just partied too hard over the weekend to show up for their early classes on Monday, but I had a feeling that at least some of them were more pointedly absent.

Of course, it was possible that there was some overlap there… someone who didn’t take the substitute teacher seriously or wanted to assert themselves against her authority might be more likely to blow off a day’s class. I really kind of hoped that her main critic at least would decide to drop it entirely, because I wasn’t looking forward to the continued disruption to the class if Acantha had to continue to deal with his bullshit.

Acantha acknowledged the absences only very briefly, saying, “I will look into what policies my colleague Professor Leclerc held regarding absences and decide how it would be best for me to deal with them. I will have a handout prepared by Friday that will address this topic, and will be available to discuss it either immediately after class or during my listed office hours. You will be happy to know that under no circumstance will any of your valuable classroom time be devoted to the topic.”

The rest of the class went smoothly and was entirely on-topic, which was awesome. It was amazing but not really surprising how much difference it made to only have people who were ready to listen and learn in the classroom. I hoped it lasted forever.

The class itself didn’t, though, and when it ended Acantha sent a whisper to my ear.

“If you have a moment, Ms. Mackenzie, please nod once and stay at your desk.”

This took me by surprise, but was less shocking than it might have been if I hadn’t been used to dealing with elven whispers. So I nodded and took my time packing up my notebooks and materials. She glided over and closed the door behind the last lingering student who wasn’t me. I’d never really paid attention to the sound of the classroom door closing before, but I thought I heard a second click.

That sent a shiver of apprehension through me. People wanting to be alone with me in a locked room was rarely a good thing.

“Is something the matter?” I said, trying to sound calm. I stayed standing at my table. If she had some kind of problem with me, I didn’t want to do anything to escalate it.

“Possibly,” she said. “Are you acquainted with an Ariadne, called Einhorn?”

So she probably wasn’t going to pull out a wand and blast me, but I still didn’t like where this was going. Ariadne Einhorn was unusually bigoted against demonbloods for an elf, apparently because she’d lost her husband to a demon. From the way Acantha referred to her it didn’t sound like they were friends or even knew each other, but she might have heard that Professor Ariadne had had a problem with me or vice-versa. If she’d heard the story through the elven grapevine she might have got a very skewed version of it.

“Yes,” I said. “I was briefly in one of her classes, but we had a personality conflict.”

“I received a letter from her via intracampus post,” Acantha said. “The subject of this letter was you and the danger she believes you pose. There was no threat or suggested course of action; it was couched as crucial information. I do not know if I received it because I am one of your instructors, or because she expected some greater sympathy from me because we are both elves, or if she has simply taken to writing letters to the entire faculty in the hopes of stirring up some support. I was uncertain of what the most appropriate course of action was, so I sent copies of the letter to the head of the history department and the college of enchantment, and the office of the chancellor. The original is in my dimensional vault… I am afraid I do not know if this is a purely administrative matter, or one for civil or criminal law, so I felt it best to preserve it somewhere safe.”

“Could I get a copy of it, too?” I asked. “I don’t think there’s anything criminal here, but I’d like to show it to my attorney anyway.”

“Of course,” she said. “My vault is accessible only at certain arbitrary intervals, but I will have it for you by the end of the week.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I hope you don’t get any trouble for rocking the boat like this.”

“It helps to not see oneself as a passenger on the boat,” she said. “In my ordinary professional life, I am forced to make certain sacrifices and compromises to get along, never mind getting ahead… here, I have little to gain from playing the game but a small measure of temporary comfort, so it is with some measure of personal pleasure that I take the opportunity to do what seems to me to be the right thing.”

“Well, I really appreciate it,” I said. “Thank you.”

She smiled, and it was the first genuine smile I’d seen on her. Elves have such control over their faces that they can look disconcertingly similar to statues. When she stands in front of the class and puts on her placid smile, it’s easy to see that it’s a put-on.

“Well, I have work to do, and I’m certain this isn’t your last class of the day,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said, gathering up my things. Because I felt the need to say goodbye or something but couldn’t figure out a way to say it that wouldn’t sound awkward or force, I added, “See you Wednesday.”

“Yes.”

Before going to lunch I sent an a-mail to Teddi asking for an appointment to see her, which I preferred to reflecting. I always felt so awkward talking to people in mirrors, even more so than talking to them in person. It had taken me several sessions with Teddi to figure out why this was true even though it was in theory a step more removed from an actual face-to-face conversation. The reason was that when I was talking to someone who was there, I could avoid looking at their face. In a mirror conversation, that was really obvious and just looked weird.

I hadn’t realized this because of anything Teddi had said to me or anything that I’d said to her. Rather, it had hit me because her office was laid out in such a way that we could have a conversation without having to be facing each other but not pointedly looking away. It was amazing how much of a difference that made in my ability to just open up and let words fall out of my mouth.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t have been looking forward to my first afternoon class, as I was taking the local hazards course out of necessity rather than preference, but I really liked the teaching assistant and we were in the process of getting a virtual tour of the campus environs courtesy of an interactive geomantic survey map of her invention.

The actual map was large and immobile, but she had a sort of virtual crystal ball set up in the form of an illusion cast over a table that could display a cylindrical section of the map.

She and a white human woman in a modern-style robe were fussing over it when I came into the room. The area over the table was occupied with a solid gray column wrapped in red dwarven runes. A dwarf was under the table lying with his back on a roller, tapping the table with a segmented metal rod.

This didn’t look good, but since there was obviously applied enchantment going on I drew closer.

“No, it still says access is denied,” the wizard was saying into a hand mirror. “Are you sure you’ve carved the new permissions?”

“This is some bullshit,” Eloise said to the dwarf, and at least partially to the world at large. “I hope you know that. I have a contract.”

“Your contract’s not with me,” the dwarf said.

“You’re still being paid.”

“Yelling at me isn’t going to make it go faster,” the dwarf said.

“I’m not yelling,” Eloise said, and amazingly she wasn’t.

The human wizard hugged her mirror in close and said to Eloise, “They want to know, is there anything in your matrix that would possibly be interpreted as hostile?”

“Nothing in my matrix’s been changed,” she said. “This is something on their end, I’m telling you.”

“Well, yes, obviously,” the wizard agreed. “Clearly they’ve changed something in their protections, but we can’t expect them to be forthcoming about their security procedures…”

“Why not? I’m paying them extra for space I can scry into,” Eloise said. “If I can’t scry into it, I’m not getting what I paid for. Don’t dwarves take that thing seriously?”

“She says nothing hostile,” the wizard said into the mirror.

“It could be a compatibility issue,” someone said, and when both women and the dwarf turned to look in my direction I realized it was me.

“Oh, hell, she’s right,” the dwarf said. “This thing is lousy with druid magic.”

“Excuse me?” Eloise said. “My magic has never been a problem before.”

“And it wouldn’t be, if your guys downstairs are only using modern magic,” the dwarf said. “That’s why I didn’t think of it sooner. The older dwarf stuff doesn’t use ‘magic’ as you know it at all for enchantments, and is completely incompatible with druidry. It doesn’t get used a lot any more because the new stuff is more flexible and better designed, but if something spooked them and they wanted to beef their security up in a hurry they might have just thrown up everything they had available, and a lot of it would be badly in need of updating.”

“Oh, yeah, that would do it,” the wizard, nodding.

“And they didn’t think that might cause some problems for their paying customer?” Eloise asked.

“Lady, you’re talking about students,” the dwarf said. “A lot of them are enchantment students, but they’re only a little bit older than you and they haven’t necessarily had a lot of experience in all the messy real-world interactions like this. Hell, I’ve been at this for almost forty-nine years and I almost didn’t think of it.”

“That’s great, but what am I supposed to do?” Eloise asked him.

“I’ll go shoot them a message and let them know that whatever they’re doing, they need to put a hole in it,” he said. “They won’t necessarily be happy about it, but if you’ve got a contract like you say, they’ll honor it.”

“How long is that gonna take?”

“To send the message? Just as long as it takes me to get to a warded room,” the dwarf said. “For them to comply? No idea, sorry.”

“Thanks,” Eloise said. She blew a puff of air out of the side of her mouth to push a dangling lock out of her face. “I’m not angry at you, Fred… just frustrated.”

“Be frustrated at the dumbasses who triggered the alert,” Fred said.

“I’m already beyond frustrated with them, believe me,” Eloise said.

“No, I think we’re done here,” the wizard said into her mirror. “Thank you so much for your help. Bye-bye!” She shook the mirror and looked at Eloise. “Do you need anything else from me?”

“No, and thanks,” Eloise said. “Told you it was on their end.”

“It was worth checking out,” she said. “Tell your professor I said hi!”

“Hi yourself,” Professor Swain said, though the departing enchanter didn’t seem to notice that. I hadn’t noticed the professor’s presence, either. Gnomes had a way of retreating from the foreground like that. “So, are we going to have our presentation?”

“Maybe,” Eloise said. “I don’t know.”

“Well, I’ll be on my way and try to get the carts rolling for you,” Fred said.

“Thanks,” Eloise said to him. She turned to me. “And thanks for speaking up. Who knows how long it might’ve taken otherwise.”

“It was just a shot in the dark,” I said. “A lot of stuff about the history of enchantment talks about the peculiarities of dwarven enchantment before modern wizardry… I wasn’t even sure there was a specific issue with ancient dwarven magic and druidry, I just knew there was a lot of finicky bits about what different things could go together in the old days.”

“Yeah, come to think of it, I do remember all that being mentioned as a reason for why there aren’t many dwarven druids still these days,” Eloise said. “I just didn’t think it would bite me in the ass. Pardon my Elvish… I’ve probably been swearing up a storm in front of you. That’s probably a bad habit for a teaching assistant.”

“Oh, you’re fine,” Professor Swain said. “She’s a grown woman and she’s not a student for another twelve minutes yet.”

“You do have a habit of showing up bright and early,” Eloise said.

“I like to keep my classes spaced out so I never have to run anywhere,” I said. “Running and me doesn’t really mix. What was that about an alert?”

“Dwarven business,” she said. “Nothing that should concern you unless you’re dumb enough to put your hands on something that isn’t yours.”

If she hadn’t put it that way, I might have thought that someone had tried to breach one of the secret entrances to Underhall, the dwarven complex beneath the university… but the talk about people’s hands on things that didn’t belong to them made me think of something else.

There was an important and historical dwarf-made sword on temporary display in the design building. I’d suspected a group of delving students with more ambition than good sense might have been planning to try to snatch it for bragging rights or the sheer experience of it. As much as I had good reason not to like these people, I kind of hoped that I was wrong in my suspicion, or that the “alert” was because someone had overheard them planning rather than them being caught in the act.

Dwarves took their privacy and property rights very seriously.


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54 Responses to “Chapter 58: Advanced Dwarves & Druidry”

  1. Zathras IX says:

    Even when access
    Is denied, excess is still
    Often quite likely

    Current score: 3
    • nemka says:

      you really like haikus, don’t you?

      Current score: 0
      • Zukira Phaera says:

        It is something of a tradition. I for one always look for a Zathras IX penned haiku before a chapter feels complete to me. I would wager I am not the only one who looks forward to the haiku.

        Current score: 3
        • Ace says:

          Am I the only one who’s hoping he replies with a haiku?

          Current score: 1
          • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

            No, you are not.

            Current score: 0
            • rethic says:

              I want to heart every single reply in this chain but my hearts aren’t working so I’ll simply say I AGREE!

              Current score: 0
            • Brenda says:

              You might want to call a doctor…

              Current score: 0
            • Erm says:

              “my hearts”. He IS the Doctor.

              Current score: 1
            • ArteminKhaldrem says:

              I remember the days before his haikus. While the haikus certainly are clever and often entertaining, sometimes I miss the good conversations we all had back then more.
              -AK

              Current score: 0
            • Ducky says:

              Those were also the days of “ook” chains. Not missing those.

              Current score: 0
          • SongCoyote says:

            Haiku restrictions
            Only limit responses
            From unpracticed minds

            Current score: 1
    • Arancaytar says:

      Also, when trying to gain unauthorized access to something that belongs to a dwarf, one may instead get axes.

      Current score: 3
  2. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    Well, sounds like Seth may not have gotten off lightly after all.

    Current score: 0
  3. carson says:

    “. . .in such a way that we could have a conversation without having to be facing each other but not pointedly looking away. It was amazing how much of a difference that made in my ability to just open up and let words fall out of my mouth.” This is why it is so much easier to talk to my daughter while we’re in the car, about, you know, that stuff that 11 year olds don’t want to talk about with anyone, because MOM, GOD PLEASE YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME.

    No need for that pesky eye contact. (She’s an aspie which makes that eye contact thing even peskier.)

    Current score: 0
    • Eris Harmony says:

      I don’t understand the NT desire for eye-contact anyways. I always feel like I’m being scrutinized when another adult makes eye-contact with me. Weirds me out.

      Current score: 0
      • Claire says:

        I’m NT and I find some people much easier to make and sustain eye contact with than others; I can’t figure out what the difference is. I don’t really desire it, personally; I just do it because it’s apparently “what you’re supposed to do”. (But I’m also pretty shy.) But sometimes I feel like I’m staring at them too hard and should look away; sometimes it’s quite comfortable.

        Current score: 0
        • Brenda says:

          What is NT?

          Current score: 0
          • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

            Neurotypical. In this case, not autistic, though I believe I’ve seen it used to refer to non-autistic people who also don’t have any type of mental illness.

            Current score: 0
            • fatefox says:

              If you don’t like to look people in the eyes, focus on the bridge of their nose. It appears to be engaged eye-contact, and you can still see reaction, but it’s less personally intimidating than looking in someone’s eyes. I hope this helps someone. 🙂

              Another brilliant chapter, as always! <3

              Current score: 0
            • Zukira Phaera says:

              People are uncomfortable when I look them in the eye. I think one of my brother’s friends summed it up best with saying that having me look him in the eye was akin to having his soul laid bare. He swears that he felt like I could read every last detail of his life and his thoughts when I made eye contact. So I don’t, because he isn’t the only one who has expressed how uncomfortable my gaze makes them.

              Current score: 0
            • Pamela says:

              Thank you for the explanation. I saw the abbreviation yesterday, and I understood the meaning, even if I didn’t understand the abbreviation itself.

              Current score: 0
      • Christy says:

        I’m an aspie, too. I don’t understand eye contact needs, but I do understand the need to at least look at someone’s face (I tend to look at their mouth or chin; it apparently gives the illusion of eye contact). Looking at someone’s face tell that person that you’re paying attention to them and that you’re talking to them and not someone else (especially the case when talking with a group of people; you’re always supposed to look towards the person that’s talking or that you are talking to, to show that you are paying attention to what they are saying or to show that you are talking to that person, respectively.

        Current score: 1
        • Anvildude says:

          I’ve always had the issue that, if I look at someone’s face, I’ll start analyzing their features and possibly zone out on the conversation. Granted, that can happen with looking at other things too.

          Current score: 1
  4. Chris says:

    This didn’t look good, but since there was obviously applied enchantment going on drew me closer. – ‘drew’ doesn’t have a subject

    “And it wouldn’t be, if your guys downstairs are only using modern magic,”

    This is a counterfactual sentence (because compatibility currently is a problem), so it should go ‘if your guys downstairs were only using’.

    Acantha is more and more awesome every time we see her. And I love Mack geeking out about the IT enchantment issues.

    Current score: 0
    • This is a counterfactual sentence (because compatibility currently is a problem), so it should go ‘if your guys downstairs were only using’.

      Next time I see Fred the fictional dwarven enchantment technician, I will be sure to pass this along.

      Current score: 0
      • jc says:

        Even in our era’s English, it’s somewhat a matter of dialect. It’s wrong in my native dialect (US West Coast), but can be fixed without a subjunctive (which is obsolescent in that dialect). Simple past and past perfect both work:

        “And it wouldn’t be, if your guys downstairs only used modern magic,”
        “And it wouldn’t be, if your guys downstairs had only used modern magic,”

        The dwarven technician’s dialect apparently allows simple present for counterfactuals. That sounds odd to me, but it’s not far from how some current English dialects work. Maybe in another few decades, it’ll be normal in “standard” English, or at least Standard American. MU is set in the far future, right?

        (That’s what I get for studying linguistics in college. 😉

        Current score: 0
        • You’re simultaneously overthinking and underthinking this. You’re missing the obvious and then overanalyzing the rest of it to make sense of it.

          Don’t evaluate sentences in dialogue based on what you know from our external and essentially fourth dimensional point of view… fourth dimensional in that we can get to the end of the sentence (or paragraph, or sequence) and then look back at the beginning. If a character proclaims “The killer is James!” based on the information they have at the time, the fact that we know that the killer is Mary doesn’t mean that there’s an error in writing.

          Disagreements in tense/case are particularly prone to this kind of mis-analysis. If a character says, “There’s (i.e.,”there is“) a couple of things wrong with that.” the grammarians will howl, but guess what? When you open your mouth to speak you don’t always have the whole sentence laid out in your mind. Maybe you didn’t know how many things bothered you until you got rolling. This happens all the time in spoken language, but rarely happens in writing because it’s the sort of thing that people jump on as being wrong.

          What fact is “if they are using modern magic” counter to? None that Fred possesses. He’s just troubleshooting. Other dialogue makes it clear that he has no knowledge of what is or isn’t being done by the dwarves in Underhall. A student he’s never met raised a possibility in his mind and he’s working his way through it (while explaining things to his impatient client). By the end of the paragraph he’s pretty confident that they’ve found the problem, since it fits and nothing else has, but we can’t take that knowledge and use it to parse the beginning of the paragraph.

          Is the discontinuity of tenses in “would not be” and “are” grammatically awkward? Possibly, in the same way that “There’s a couple of things” is… but the part that would be off isn’t the “are”, it’s the “wouldn’t be”… her druidry isn’t the problem if they’re using modern magic.

          Are they?

          He doesn’t know.

          By the end of that paragraph he’s convinced that yes, this is the case, but parsing his opening sentence based on that “fact” is like calling Lestrade’s fingering of the wrong suspect bad writing because Holmes proves otherwise by the end.

          Also, kind of hoping this is a joke:

          MU is set in the far future, right?

          Not sure where on earth you’d get that idea. MU is very pointedly a “modern-day fantasy”. The calendar year is the number of years between the American Revolution and the year I started college, so if anything, it’s set in the near past. 😛

          Current score: 1
  5. Alico says:

    This reminds me of trying to get Macs to talk to PCs. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a giant train wreck. Good chapter, I like the magic tech talk =D

    Current score: 0
    • Bilbo says:

      Macs and PCs ?

      A long time ago, yes. Once the Internet became so pervasive it was rarely necessary to commune with the Dark Side.

      But if you have to open that can of worms, Dave Thursby has Dave 9.0, that lets a Mac pretend to be possessed by a Demon so it can communicate.

      Current score: 0
  6. Month says:

    I wonder if they would put Seth in a display box with a legend saying “Moron who tried to steal from the Dwarves”

    Current score: 0
    • Dani says:

      Might be more effective (and easier to defend in court) if they put what’s left of Lacey in a display box

      Current score: 0
  7. Zukira Phaera says:

    Great chapter. When I get up I am going to have to do some hunting around as it is tickling the back of my mind that perhaps the aggravating mr Roberts is or was(?) one of the delvers or associated with them after a fashion. Then again, I did only just wake up for no reason in the middle of the night and am going right back to bed now so I could be chasing sparks.

    Current score: 0
    • No connection! He was introduced in the earlier class sessions with Acantha.

      Current score: 0
      • fka_luddite says:

        Prior to this denial, an undisclosed connection was possible.

        Current score: 0
        • It’s still ~*possible*~ that a connection could be written in the future, but Zukira was talking about hunting around in previous chapters. I thought I’d save some time.

          Current score: 0
      • Zukira Phaera says:

        Thanks for saving me the hunting. I had this feeling like he would have been one of the people hanging out with the delvers outside the Em the one day. Maybe it was the attitude he conveyed in Acantha’s class that has me trying to lump him into their circle.

        Current score: 0
  8. Greenwood Goat says:

    Typo:

    “…but couldn’t figure out a way to say it that wouldn’t sound awkward or force, ”

    awkward or forced, ?

    Now, was this before or after Eloise had to go and pick up Seth? She might not be at liberty to talk about that. Anyway, here’s hoping they manage to fix that GPOD (Granite Pillar of Disruption) before class starts.

    Current score: 0
    • thelurkerdreams says:

      I’m loving the magic-tech-support. In my head, I was thinking of it as a Basalt Stone Of Disruption.

      Current score: 0
  9. readaholic says:

    Om nom nom! Yup, Seth, having got his girlfriend permanently killed, may find out she got off lightly. Mind you, girlfriend needed more of a spine, and less of an urge to protect Seth from the consequences of his actions.

    Current score: 0
  10. anon y mouse says:

    “Oh, yeah, that would do it,” the wizard, nodding. – said the wizard, or the wizard said?

    Current score: 0
    • Erm says:

      At least he didn’t accidentally. That can be quite dangerous with wizards; he could have accidentally the whole building. 😉

      Current score: 0
      • Zukira Phaera says:

        anytime a wizard accidentally anythings I expect a whole building, or at least a horse to be fireball-ed and then the subsequent attempt at fire suppression to involve a lesser orb of acid. (Ah the tales of playing D&D with someone who is aligned ‘chaotic stupid’ – oh the messed up stories one could tell.)

        Current score: 0
  11. Lyssa says:

    You know, I kind of missed the regular updates over the holidays, but you’ve actually been really quick about it these past few.

    Thanks for that!

    Current score: 1
  12. Ducky says:

    I have recently begun trying to replay old games, from Windows 95ish. Compatability issues abound. This chapter made me laugh in sympathy.

    Current score: 0
    • Heh. A few months back I tried to download the Ultima Underworld games and play them. I managed to get them to run on my Windows 7 computer, but found them unplayable… my memories of them from the time when they were cutting edge games worked against my enjoyment.

      Current score: 0
      • Lyssa says:

        I have the same problem with the older Final Fantasy games.

        Current score: 0
      • Ducky says:

        Yeah, I bought this game my brother and I used to play when we were kids – 6 and 4 – because we never could finish it, and we want to figure out if the game was broken or if we were just stupid as kids. Except it doesn’t work on my XP emulator -.-

        Current score: 0
  13. Bilbo says:

    I just had a flashback to Piers Anthony and “reverse wood”. (No snide jokes, okay?)

    What if Stef took a potion that temporarily reversed h/er personality?

    Instead of dark, savage urges that make her wish for her best friend to die so she can be reanimated as a plaything….

    Stef 2.0 would be blond, sunny, kind, thoughtful and confident about h/er art.

    TWO would be very confused. Dee would be weirdly attracted and kind of freaked out. Amaranth would embrace Stef 2.0 as a sister.

    Are there any beaches near Mu ?

    ‘Cause Stef 2.0 would love the beach.

    What about Magic Holodecks? Will Mac think of that next?

    A Magic TV you can walk into !

    Current score: 0
  14. Renshan says:

    I still wish Mackenzie would remember the staff of whamminess.
    It was so cool.

    Current score: 0
  15. pedestrian says:

    what makes a difference about being stared at is the starers motivation, staring is a predatory behavior. Some people are perhaps not conscious of the effect their staring has on other people. Men who do openly stare at others deliberately intend to make the recipients uncomfortable.

    predator/prey relationships. An offshoot of this in my own case would be small dogs & cats & horses/cattle find me disconcerting. though small children, especially if i get down on the floor at their eye level take advantage to climb all over me like i was an old silverback.

    Large dogs are very tolerant of me, we share similar tastes, comrades in arms and all that. Though staring is still discourteous, they understand that i am establishing dominance status, once that is settled, i do not need to continue staring.

    Current score: 0