In Which Hazel Takes A Two-Fisted Approach To Problem Solving

I was very grateful to Nicki for her not needing to be asked to sit on the other bench inside the coach with Hazel and Two, so that Steff and I could have one to ourselves. I had been pretty sure she would understand and not take it personally, but I didn’t really want to linger on the topic of giving Steff space. I wanted her to have the space she needed, but not have to think about it.

The nice thing about the school coaches was that since you needed a matching student ID to board one, the security spells that ran through the walls of Enwich took a more hands off approach with their passengers. The walls were there to keep out monsters. Monstrous people could get in, but the divinations that were performed on us before we were admitted were pretty intrusive.

With the protective aegis of the university covering us I could still discern a slight tingle as we passed through, and if I paid attention with my enchanter’s eyes I could tell that most of what was happening focused on me, but it was nothing compared to the sledgehammer of scrutiny that had come down on my head the few times I’d taken another way into town.

“So where to first?” I asked once we’d disembarked.

The coach turnaround was near the edge of town, close to the open air Endwich street market… but that wasn’t the only place to shop. There where shopping districts in midtown and downtown, and the discount markets that I preferred, though the others disdained them.

“Well, now, that’s the eternal conundrum, isn’t it?” Hazel said. “First breakfast has barely had a chance to settle in, but if we’re already going to be running into the beginnings of the lunch crowd and it’s only going to get worse if we wait. Plus then we’ll be even more off schedule for lunch…”

“We’ll stay in the street market to begin with,” Two said. “There are enough food vendors for anyone who is hungry before lunch, or after lunch, to get something whenever they feel like it.”

“Well, I have been trying to cut down on snacking between meals, but I suppose this once it won’t hurt,” Hazel.

“I have a hard time with not snacking when stuff’s available,” Nicki said. “You must have a lot of willpower.”

“You’re telling me,” Hazel said. “I’ve already had to discover two new meals to fill the gap.”

“Would anyone mind if we stop at a bookstore afterwards?” Nicki asked. “I know there’s one on campus, but sometimes I’d like to read something that’s not a textbook or something off the critical hit tables.”

“That’s not exactly fair,” Hazel said. “They have a whole rack of Troubadour Romances.”

“I think she was being fair by not mentioning them,” I said.

“There’s not a thing wrong with those who enjoy a good hem-twitcher,” Hazel said, with a touch of the same wounded pride she’d displayed earlier in the morning. Her tone softened a bit when she chuckled and added, “Or a terrible one, for that matter.”

“Hem-twitcher?” Nicki asked.

“Bodice-ripper,” I said, guessing at a translation.

“I hope not!” Hazel said. “A lot of work goes into a good bodice, and they’re a demon to tear. Er, no offense.”

“None taken,” I said. “I really wouldn’t mind finishing up at the bookstore, but just for reference, Nicki… the library’s a lot better choice for fiction than the campus bookstore.”

“Better for reference, too,” Hazel said. “They have a whole desk of that. The man there was very helpful in the area of esoteric, foreign, and forgotten mealtimes.”

“Is it?” Nicki said to me. “I guess I thought a college library would be mostly like the bookstore, just with older stuff. Like, tomes and classics instead of textbooks and bestsellers.”

“I’m not saying the selection is comprehensive, especially with modern stuff,” I said. “But libraries do get new books in all the time. The point… part of the point, anyway… is to stock the things that people want to read.”

“Oh,” Nicki said. “I guess I’ve never really been a library person, so I haven’t really checked it out, except for the stuff I needed for classes, and that was mainly in the basement.”

I might have despaired at this, but since she liked bookstores and had deplored the selection at the on-campus one, I thought it was pretty likely that she’d always been a library person and never known it. If I’d grown up in towns that had bookstores, I might not have known I was one. I’d just have to work harder on getting Nicki into the library with me.

“We can go to the bookstore before we go back to campus,” Two said. She was squinting in the bright mid-day sun. A dark screen appeared over her eyes, filming them over so she could open them comfortably. She then covered this up with a pair of sunglasses, possibly just to stop people from being freaked out by her shade spell. “If Mack is good.”

“What?” I said. “Two… you’re not in charge of me.”

“Not normally, but someone has to be, and Amaranth and Ian aren’t here,” she said.

“Wait… why does somebody need to be in charge of you?” Nicki asked me.

“They don’t,” I said. “I am a free and independent person… mostly.”

“Because if she isn’t submitting to someone then she will be too nervous, uncomfortable, and uncooperative about everything to do any real shopping,” Two said.

“Two, look… this isn’t how it works,” I said. “You’re not even in a relationship with me. I submit to Amaranth or Ian, or Steff, yeah, but there are reasons for that, and they don’t apply here.”

“Steff, may I please be in charge of Mack?” Two asked.

“Today?” Steff said, with a big grin on her face. “Absolutely.”

“Thank you,” Two said.

“You are so welcome,” Steff said.

“Steff!” I said.

“Don’t like it, you can complain to the boss lady,” Steff said.

“Her complaining to the boss lady would undercut the purpose of me being the boss lady,” Two said.

“Okay, you heard the boss lady,” Steff said. “No complaining to the boss lady.”

“Can everybody please stop saying ‘boss lady’?” I said.

“Is it wrong that I find this kind of hot?” Nicki asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Very.”

“Hush,” Two said. “I think Amaranth would not like to hear you say that.”

She held her hand out in front of her and opened her fingers. A shimmering illusory orb appeared in her hand. Her face scrunched up in concentration and the image within it resolved to street map of Enwich, which then focused down the area of the open market. As soon as it had locked onto the immediate area around us, it fuzzed out.

“Hazel, would you mind stepping back a few feet?” Two said.

“What?” Hazel said. “Though now that you mention it, I was actually thinking about getting a bagel sandwich from the stand over there, if we’re not shuffling off immediately.”

“Okay,” Two said. “Thank you, Hazel. That is better.”

The image grew in sharpness in direct proportion to how much Hazel moved. Two located us, and then began to scroll around the map. Her nose wriggled and wrinkled as she worked.

“Did you know Two could do that?” Nicki asked.

“Not specifically, no,” I said. “I know she has a lot of built-in enchantments from her, uh, first job, but she doesn’t use them often unless someone asks her to.”

“What was her first job?”

“Enchanter’s assistant,” I said.

“Office equipment,” Two said, without a trace of self-consciousness or deprecation. “I did not use most of them because they weren’t put there for me, but now that I belong to myself, they belong to me, too.”

I felt weirdly envious of the look on Nicki’s face as she watched Two working. It was similar to but not identical to the way she’d looked at me. I wondered what the difference meant.

I also wondered when Two had become so… well… cool.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d liked her from the start… and I’d been aware of the growing popularity her color-by-numbers approach to friendliness and common courtesy won her.

But it wasn’t just likability that I was talking about.

It was more a matter of style.

…sort of.

She was the same old Two, with a u-band holding her hair back and a baby doll top that I would have called purple but that she probably would have called something like “periwinkle”… I was pretty sure that wasn’t a shade of purple, but I was sure that whatever this color was called it would be something like that. She was showing a bit more skin than usual, but I was sure she had a cardigan that would go with it for milder days.

The change was in how she carried herself, how she took care of things. It was in fact that she unhesitatingly claimed ownership of herself… not as the eventual justification that she reached after several long seconds of intense cogitation, but just as a matter of course. She lacked the fluid grace of an elf, but she had the stillness down pat.

On anyone else it would have been icy, artificial. On Two, it was effortless enough to appear natural.

There was some irony there, of course.

I wondered if this was what it had been like to watch her at work, in her old life. As a free golem, she hadn’t always been like this. Her body was human-modeled, and whenever she was uncertain or unsure it showed in ways that registered to human observers… that is, to observers who were human and to people who made a habit of observing humans. Sometimes it was a little broadly painted or exaggerated or otherwise off, but it had been easy to tell that she’d been scared stiff to be dropped off in the dorm with no one to tell her what to do at the start of our first year.

She’d never been fearless, but she had always been brave… brave enough to reach out and grab hold of one of the few opportunities to get her out of a place she hated, even though it meant the terrifying prospect of independence and the destruction of any kind of a routine.

When I’d been worried about hurting her after a few bad turns, she’d been brave enough to summon a minor demon just to make sure that her own magical protections had been enough to restrain it, so she’d know how to handle me if it came down to it. The answer to that question had proven to be a bit of yes and a bit of no… she had been able to repel and confine the demon, but she’d neglected to account for its fire.

What I was seeing in her now… I supposed it was like the same boldness and certainty of purpose that had always guided her actions looked like when she hit a clear, straight stretch of road in good weather. It was what happened when Two really found her footing, when she was completely in her element.

And it was cool.

“She has come a long way,” Steff whispered in my ear. My jealousy softened a little when I realized we were all pretty much looking at Two the way Nicki was.

“The first thing you need is some new tops,” Two said, frowning only slightly as she increased her concentration. “Because there will be fewer choices to make in the area of jeans, it will be easier to coordinate your lower body with your upper body than the other way around.”

“Good thinking,” Steff said. “Lower body coordination has always been a problem for Mack.”

“That is funny,” Two said. She shot a look sideways at Steff, who nodded in confirmation, then she turned her attention back to her virtual ball. “I have located the shops we will need to visit first.” She lowered her hand and the ball blipped away. “Hazel?”

“Right here, love,” Hazel said. She held up her hands. Each one had a cheese bagel sandwiching layers of bacon and eggs. “I was only after the one, but it happens they were having a special: two for the price of two.”

“Hazel, you are going to spoil your lunch,” Two said.

“Yeah, but why go borrowing trouble?” Hazel said. “Anyway, where are we shoving off to now, Cap’n?”

“The first shop is this way,” Two said, pointing. “Mack, hold Steff’s hand while we’re traveling.”

This might have been slightly less humiliating if she hadn’t obviously been pointing to a storefront just diagonally across the nearest intersection of market aisles from us. I didn’t complain, though, because I didn’t mind holding hands, and it gave Steff a reason to cling closely to me that wasn’t obviously about her.

Actually, on second thought, Two might have done it for Steff’s benefit in the first place… she wouldn’t tell Steff to hold my hand, so she had to go through me. She still couldn’t pick up on every nuance, but she seemed to understand the gist of what Steff was going through in the present, even if she didn’t fully understand the whys and wherefores.

Not that I could say I fully understood them, either. And just like not knowing all the finer details didn’t stop me from being there for Steff, neither would it stop Two. She was more than an old hand when it came to doing things without knowing or caring about the reason. She could have taught classes on it.

For that matter, she wouldn’t necessarily have needed to pick up on anything on her own. With her assorted superior and additional senses, Dee probably knew what Steff was going through as well as I did or better. She would be absolutely discreet about other people’s problems, but I didn’t think she would have been above discreetly putting a word or two in Two’s ear if she thought it would make things easier for Two and Steff both.

Also, while I’d been a bit annoyed by the unexpected exercise of authority, it was more the unexpectedness. I’d been taking charge myself more than I was comfortable doing. It was kind of nice to fade back into the background a bit.

Whatever Two’s reasoning may have been, I found that I really didn’t want to argue with the results.

The sign over the store she’d selected was a mosaic of inlaid tile pieces that caught the eye but was very hard to read. When we got a bit closer, the blue and yellow chips resolved themselves into the words “Selene de Lune” and an image of a crescent moon.

A giggling fairy bell chimed when Two opened the door, letting out a blast of freezing cold air that hit me like a physical wall.

“Come along, Mack,” she said, without even looking back. “It isn’t that cold, it only feels colder because it is so hot outside.”

“Don’t you believe it,” Hazel said. “Cold like this is enough to drive a decent woman to… er… leg warmers.”

She had stolen a doubtful glance at Nicki before finishing the sentence, as though she were considering her word choice more carefully in the presence of a relative outsider. Hazel knew that we could be a fairly coarse and didn’t mind. She just had a very different idea of what exactly constituted coarseness.

The shop interior was brightly lit. There were no racks of clothes of the sort I would have expected in a clothing store. There were clothes hanging from the walls, but rather than rows of the same shirt or skirt they all seemed to be one of a kind, with similar pieces grouped together. The floor was occupied with island displays that had mannequins, mostly wearing what I would call fancy clothes for casual occasions. They were animated, holding a pose for a few seconds and then flowing into a different one.

Unsettlingly, every time they settled into a position a different set of illusory full-color facial features appeared on their blank white oval heads.

Bonjour!” the woman behind the counter said. “Comment allez-vous?

Bien, bien,” Two said, with what sounded to my ears to be a flawless accent. “Et vous, aussi?

“Oh! Parlez-vous Kharoline?

Non, je suis très désolé, mais je ne parle pas Kharoline,” Two said, just as smoothly.

“Ah, well, then I shall switch to the so-called Pax,” the woman said. “Do not stand in my door, though… come in, come in and let us get to know each other!”

She had one of those unevenly preserved faces that might have looked smooth and youthful all over if she could have got away with wearing a domino mask everywhere. She had black feathered bangs and her hair was up in some kind of a bun with a pick in it. The look on her face was warm and genuine when she looked at Two and Steff, though her eyes went wide when she looked at Nicki’s riot of red hair and her smile turned into the static smile of customer service when she looked at me.

Then she did an almost literal double-take, glancing at something behind the counter in between looks at me, and her smile became a lot wider.

Bienvenu, which means welcome,” she said, stepping around the counter and spreading her hands out wide, palms out. “I am Madame Selene, and I would be very happy to show you my latest, exclusive creations.” She turned towards me and said. “I happen to have a gown that would suit you perfectly, and a selection of matching jewelry that would set off your eyes.”

I could only imagine how much fun Steff and Two would have dressing me up like a doll, but I had a feeling that the dress Madame Selene was talking about would be a very expensive one to do something like accidentally stepping on the hem of and tearing it to pieces.

“Uh, I’m actually just looking for…” I started to say.

“Mack, do not talk to shopkeepers or merchants for any reason,” Two said.

The look Madame Selene shot Two was venomous, but probably not a lot more sour than my own at the moment. Being bossy… at least towards me… wasn’t unusual for Two, but being so peremptory for no apparent reason was.

“Oh, are you responsible for her now?” Madame Selene asked Two, composing her features into something more placid as she spoke. “Because if that is the case, perhaps I should be speaking to you. Or rather… perhaps you should be speaking to me, because I can’t imagine you know the value of what you possess.”

Oh.

So that was it.

Because I wasn’t exactly a market rat, it had been easy for me to forget that a gray elf with delusions of goddesshood had put the word out that anybody who managed to provide her with custody of me would basically be rich enough to found their own kingdom.

The only good thing was that as long as Mercy was operating as a legitimate merchant of death, she was stuck using legal channels, which meant that I couldn’t just be snatched off the street. The fact that I’d let myself be baited into one lopsided deal with an Enwich merchant that had put my ass on the line in the most literal fashion imaginable meant that others would try to get me to do the same, but all I had to do was not play along.

Of course, Mercy probably wouldn’t play the good citizen forever, but until she actually achieved her dream of an army of half-demons under her control… or realized the myriad problems with this dream… she was committed to staying within the good auspices of the Imperium.

Or at least the reasonably okay auspices. I couldn’t imagine that the government actually liked her all that much, so much as they liked that she wasn’t their problem. She was no dragon, but even a human lifetime was enough for an individual with the right potential and enough determination to rise to a level of prowess and skill worthy of the ancient epics… well, obviously, or there wouldn’t have been any epics about humans.

Mercy was an elf, which meant that she more deadly and capable than a human to begin with, and she’d had the equivalent of multiple mortal lifetimes to hone her deadly skills.

There probably wouldn’t be a race to be the first officer of the law… or agent of Law… on the scene when the day came that Mercy renounced her good citizenship awards.

“I’m sorry, but you’re mistaken,” Two said. “Mack is a free person and she is not for sale.”

“There’s no need to be inflexible,” Madame Selene said, pronouncing the word like it was a dirty word. “I have seven bondservants in my household. I will let you have my pick of them, in addition to a fair market price. A body for a body… you can’t ask for a fairer deal than that.”

“She is not for sale,” Two repeated.

“Everything has a price,” Madame Selene said.

“She is a person, not a thing,” Two said.

“And you are so very sure of the difference, are you?”

Two looked at her hand, as if seeking some kind of confirmation there. She nodded.

“Yes, I am very sure, thank you,” Two said.

“What makes you such an expert?” Madame Selene asked.

“My maker,” Two said.

She didn’t actually point to the runes that had been molded into the flesh of her forehead when it had still been clay, before life had been breathed into her… but she might as well have.

“Here, now,” Hazel said. She had to repeat it again louder to get Madame Selene’s attention. “Here, now… this household you mentioned, it takes seven slaves just to run it?”

“Well, I suppose I could possibly get by with fewer, if that’s what you’re getting at,” Madame Selene said, turning to Hazel and forgetting Two now that it appeared she’d found someone willing to discuss her terms. “Shall we say three for one? Though I will naturally drive a harder bargain on the price, but I am certain you will find my terms generous, even if you share equally in the spoils.”

“What I’m thinking is, this household… it can’t just be you,” Hazel said. “There’s high maintenance and there’s high maintenance. Unless you just like a different one for every day of the week, it can’t just be you they’re taking care of… for instance, is there a Mr. de Lune?”

“I did have a husband,” she said “If it is any of your business.”

“Any children?”

“Three daughters,” she said. “But that’s hardly relevant.”

“Well, then, we’ll swap this one here,” Hazel said, jerking her thumb at me, “for any one of them. Body for a body, can’t say any fairer than that. Am I right?”

“Hazel, what the fuck?” I said.

Madame Selene, on the other hand, didn’t say anything. She didn’t even blink.

“Here, we’ll even let you pick,” Hazel said. “We’ll take her sight unseen. No need to inspect the merchandise. You seem reputable enough.”

“How dare you,” Selene said.

“Well, you were going to do us three-for-one,” Hazel said. “Mind, we’d have to do a bit of conferring amongst ourselves before we settled on one. The one with the ears is a bone-wrangler, and I’m sure she could do with the parts.”

“You will not talk about my daughters in that fashion, you… you… horrible halfling!”

“Every thing has a price,” Hazel said, coolly ignoring the slur. She did nothing more than drop a space to emphasize the second word, but in the quiet, cold showroom, it had the same effect as spelling a message out in flames.

“Get out of my shop,” Madame Selene said, her voice trembling and rising in both volume and pitch. “Get out!”

She didn’t have to tell us a third time, but only because there wasn’t anything she could have said at that point that would have convinced us to stay.

“I’m sorry, that was rude,” Hazel said once we were outside and away from the door. “But I can’t half stand a bully… especially the kind who lives in a great big house in a… on a hill, and lords it over others. Where next, Two-fer?”

“One moment, please,” Two said, gazing down into her palm orb again. “I am registering a review.”

“What… seriously?” Steff said.

“Yes,” Two said.

“What are you putting, something like, ’Clean premises, well-lit, proprietor helpful but tried to press my friend into slavery?’” Steff asked.

“Yes,” Two said. “Like that. And she called my friend Hazel the h-word. Two stars.”

“Two stars?” I said.

“It was very clean,” Two said.

“So… question?” Nicki asked.

“What?” I said.

“What the hell was all that about?”


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67 Responses to “Chapter 85: Palm Piloting”

  1. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    ‘“What are you putting, something like, ’Clean premises, well-lit, proprietor helpful but tried to press my friend into slavery?’” Steff asked.

    “Yes,” Two said. “Like that. And she called my friend Hazel the h-word. Two stars.”

    “Two stars?” I said.

    “It was very clean,” Two said.’

    Can’t stop laughing. I love Two so much. And poor confused Nicki…

    Current score: 1
  2. Brenda says:

    Oh, this should be fun!

    I love that Two’s street-map spell can’t work near Hazel’s field of unnoticeability…

    Current score: 1
    • Dani says:

      Is that what it was? I thought Two just needed someone at enough of a distance to calibrate her map and/or its scale.

      Current score: 0
      • Brenda says:

        No, I think Hazel doesn’t show up on a GPS. We’ve seen plenty of little examples where people don’t see Hazel or other burrow gnomes, they’re always startling people who didn’t realize anyone was there… it was theorized, when people first started noticing those bits, that it’s a defense mechanism. Of course it’s funny that the gnomes don’t seem to realize why they’re always getting overlooked…

        Current score: 0
        • Zukira Phaera says:

          Exactly or the “haunted” island in the river which is where Hazel said some riverfolk often camped. Also, we get a little reminder of the gnomish nature of being overlooked right here in the chapter too “Here, now,” Hazel said. She had to repeat it again louder to get Madame Selene’s attention. “Here, now…

          Current score: 1
          • Moridain says:

            Ian and Nicky had similar issues earlier as well. I think it is almost universal.

            I expect that Mack, with her immunity to Invisibility, and Dee, with her telepathy, can see her constantly. I bet they are some of the few who can though.

            Current score: 0
  3. Computer Mad Scientist says:

    …Hazel’s response should form the basis for the default response to slavers. With precautions to stop someone from accidentally getting sold to prove a point. Maybe just offering to buy the slaver’s loved one for cash.

    Also, I really hope that Two’s legion of friends recognize her writing voice in her review and this destroys Selene’s business.

    Current score: 1
    • Lyssa says:

      She probably has a handle that they’d recognize.

      Current score: 1
      • pedestrian says:

        How about for TWO’s handle we fans vote some suggestions
        Then petition Alexandra
        perhaps vote with a supplemental fund raiser for AE?

        “PseudoWench” would be canon.

        “Hark Twain” or “Analogue” or “Dual Sprite”
        “Two Wheeling” or “Echo” or “Iteration”

        “TwiceToldTale”is probably too, too long.

        Any one else care “to” chime in?

        Current score: 0
        • GrimFD says:

          Knowing TWO the way we do, I hypothesize the only handle she would consider is simply that; “TWO” since that is her name and all…

          Current score: 1
  4. Jennifer says:

    Wow. Wow. Wow. Just like that, things are in high-powered mode again. Honestly, a day out shopping didn’t seem like it would particularly exciting chapters, but I was hoping for some nice world building. This aspect of the shopping trip hadn’t even occurred to me. Completely awesome and unexpected.

    I’m looking forward to the attempt at explanation for Nicki’s final question!

    Current score: 1
    • Ducky says:

      Heh.

      “Well, there’s this grey elf out there named Mercy-”
      “Gray elf?”
      “Yeah, she says she’s thousands of years old. And she wants to buy me and breed a half-demon army.”
      “…Yeah, so I’m gonna head back to campus now.”

      Current score: 0
  5. ephant says:

    I don’t often comment but oh my gosh, I laughed so hard at the last six lines. Love it!

    Current score: 0
  6. bangle says:

    I love the way Two views the world. Sometimes I wish I was more like her. <3

    Current score: 0
  7. Kallio says:

    And that is why sensible people stay out of the lives of kinky half-demons, Nicki.

    Current score: 0
    • Stonefoot says:

      And that is why artistic and creative people who enjoy “not being bored” keep seeming to show up around Mackenzie. Mackenzie has a pretty good defense squadron at this point and I wouldn’t worry too much about Nicki. I think she’ll fit in fine once she’s brought into the loop. (Probably freaked out at first, but not enough to back out.)

      Current score: 0
  8. Luke Licens says:

    “She didn’t have to tell us a third time, but only because there wasn’t anything she could have said at that point that would have convinced us to say.”

    I think that last word should be ‘stay’.

    Current score: 0
  9. Morten G says:

    Awesomeness!

    Current score: 0
  10. SilentSooYun says:

    “Two stars?”
    “It was very clean.”

    Brilliant wordplay in this chapter. I’m absolutely loving the cool new Two, and I’ve always loved the ever-snarky Hazel.

    Also, “critical hit tables” 🙂

    Current score: 1
  11. Oniwasabi says:

    I wonder if anyone has ever told Two the whole cliche about “cleanliness is next to godliness!”

    2 and 1/2 stars! ^_^

    Current score: 0
  12. fred says:

    Oh my god, Yelp (/the equivalent) reviews in Enwich must be _hilarious_.

    Current score: 0
  13. Hauke says:

    It did take some moments to compel “The one with the ears is a bone-wrangler” (The half-elf is a necromancer)

    But maybe they should have asked Madame Selene to sell herself into slavery. ‘Hey a body for a body and everyTHING has it’s price’ 😉

    Current score: 1
    • Caddan says:

      It wouldn’t have the same effect. People will do just about anything to themselves, for a profit. Get their kids involved, and that’s when they clamp down.

      Current score: 0
  14. Brenda says:

    I realized later that there is a very obvious parallel/returning arc here from their first trip to town, when Mackenzie ordered Two not to talk to the slaver or to sell herself, and Two now being the one to order Mack not to talk to someone for her own safety.

    Current score: 1
    • Erm says:

      Mind blown.

      I hadn’t noticed that parallel at all yet.

      Current score: 1
  15. pedestrian says:

    Alexandra, congratulations, you have surprised me again!

    I’ve always said TWO would be a great ‘Boss Lady’. Wonderful how TWO and Hazel took control of a potentially dangerous situation. I was expecting Steff to go all apeshit on Selene’s sorry ass or Mackenzie to freak out and flame up.

    Mage TWO and General Hazel Wilikins, what a wickedly lethal tag team. Rival Angels look out!

    Each chapter builds up the rich tapestry of the TOMU canon. And I like how this chapter backfills several hanging questions. Such as why had TWO summon a demon. And fleshes out the personalities of several heretofore satellite characters.

    Current score: 0
  16. Dani says:

    > The man there was very helpful in the area of
    > esoteric, foreign, and forgotten mealtimes.

    The more meals you know of, the lower the chance that what you’re eating is a between-meal snack.

    It’s reassuring to see that MU students learn to use research to solve real-life problems as well as academic ones.

    Current score: 0
    • Mad Nige says:

      When I read

      “I’ve already had to discover two new meals to fill the gap.”

      I fell over laughing. Superb, as usual.

      Current score: 0
  17. Krey says:

    It’s funny, I was just telling my roomie about the series and how there’s all these open-ended half forgotten plot points, and this old one comes back to the fore front.

    Current score: 1
  18. Zathras IX says:

    Fortunately ŦΨØ’s
    Approach to problem-solving’s
    Not Hazel-fisted

    Current score: 2
  19. Readaholic says:

    Contented Sigh.

    I <3 Two.

    And Hazel.

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  20. Month says:

    Well, let us go to our friends the memes from 9gag…

    SO MUCH WIN!

    LIKE A BOSS!

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  21. William Carr says:

    Does anyone else see TWO becoming an Emma Peel-like Sorceress Adventurer ?

    If she can come THIS far, why stop here ?

    She learns the Rules and then she rocks them !

    I can imagine TWO calmly firing off a dozen spells a minute.

    The good news is she’s obviously Good/Orderly.

    Not such good news for Stef if they end up locking horns though.

    Current score: 0
    • Markas says:

      Lawful Good*

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    • That one guy says:

      I don’t see Two and Stef ever locking horns. Two would let Stef get away with anything that Stef could legally get away with. If Stef was head necromancer for an ogre kingdom, then Stef would be legally entitled to get away with quite a lot.

      Current score: 0
  22. jc says:

    “First breakfast has barely had a chance to settle in, but if we’re already going to be running into the beginnings of the lunch crowd and it’s only going to get worse if we wait. Plus then we’ll be even more off schedule for lunch…”

    The syntax seems a bit odd. It reads better without the first “if”. With that “if”, the sentence seems incomplete, since it’s missing its “else”.

    A shimmering illusory orb appeared in her.

    Appeared in her what? In her hand(s), maybe? Was that the word play that the title refers to?

    Otherwise, excellent chapter. I would sorta wonder how a shopkeeper who verbally assaults customers in such a manner stays in business for long. But I suppose she figures that if she could make a deal for Mack, she could retire from business.

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      That takes care of two of the typos I spotted while reading through. This was without a doubt one of the most awesome chapters in quite a while, but it had a correspondingly higher number of typos as well.

      Typo Report

      “Well, I have been trying to cut down on snacking between meals, but I suppose this once it won’t hurt,” Hazel.

      There’s a verb missing at the end there, either before or after “Hazel”.

      Her face scrunched up in concentration and the image within it resolved to * street map of Enwich,

      There’s something missing before the words “street map”. The sentence doesn’t quite make sense as is. At the very least it cries out for an “a”, but a verb to go along with it might make it read smoother. Perhaps something like “reveal” or “display” would work.

      It was in * fact that she unhesitatingly claimed ownership of herself…

      As written this sentence could make sense in the proper context, but in the context of the surrounding paragraph it needs a “the” in front of “fact” to work right.

      I supposed it was like the same boldness and certainty of purpose that had always guided her actions looked like when she hit a clear, straight stretch of road in good weather.

      I kept having to reread this sentence because it didn’t make the same kind of sense at the start as at the end. It’s the two “like”s that don’t work right. Changing the first one to a “what” would make the sentence read much better.

      Hazel knew that we could be a fairly coarse and didn’t mind.

      The way this one reads I think it either needs the “a” in front of “fairly coarse” dropped or it needs a word like “bunch” or “group” added after “coarse”. Good job not using the word “course” by mistake though. 🙂

      Current score: 0
  23. TearsTheWingsOffAngels says:

    Nicky may end up having second thoughts hanging out with someone who’s targeted by Mercy.

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    • Lyssa says:

      Or she’ll think that “cool” and be even more compelled to be friends.

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    • pedestrian says:

      Or Nicki just might have her own surprises up her sleeve.
      Girl seems to be showing some gumption after all.

      She is voluntarily hanging out with the notorious Harlots,
      a flame throwing demon-girl with a martyr complex.
      a dual blade wielding maniac/necromancer in training.
      a golem with the expertise to wield either a chef’s blade or a mace with equal expertise and let’s not overlook her innate competency to qualify as a Battle Mage.
      and not least Guerrilla General Hazel with the innocent demeanor of a wolverine.

      What Nicki brings to the table is still undetermined, but I suspect that Alexandra has some very clever surprise in store for us.

      For instance, in a society that heavily relies on magic and detection of magic, simple metal poisons such as arsenic could slip through their system of forensic magic.

      Transmute a gold coin into one of it’s isotopes, very deadly in close proximity and in a short time it would revert back to it’s original inert element.

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      • Lyssa says:

        I dunno if she’s showing gumption or is just interested in the cool factor of hanging out with everyone, honestly. I do agree that she probably has some sort of awesome thing she’s bringing to the table, though I’m not really sure it’s anything particularly secret or mysterious about her.

        Current score: 0
      • Brenda says:

        I’m pretty sure a world in which combustion engines don’t work isn’t going to have isotopes.

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      • Ducky says:

        Her talent with illusions seems pretty cool to me. After the way they used to have Mariel to help out with glamours and such, having Nicki around will be nice.

        Current score: 0
        • pedestrian says:

          Ducky, you gave me an idea….

          If Nicki can cast glamour/illusions, could she disguise Our Mack, to throw off anyone going by the brochure picture/description Mercy is circulating?

          Current score: 0
  24. Author_Unknown says:

    Yay, for some much missed Two and HFH awesomeness.

    Current score: 0
  25. Felix says:

    My (wild) guess is that what it was all about was Hazel’s making a very offensive insinuation about fairies and their tricksy bargaining tendencies.

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

      I think you may be overthinking this. The woman was suggesting they sell their friend into slavery, insisting that everything had a price. Hazel responded in such a way as to insinuate that the woman may as well have asked them to sell their child.

      Current score: 0
      • Ducky says:

        It was more that Hazel insinuated that her children were nothing more than meat for Steff’s consumption. In the mind of someone from a society that accepts and uses slaves, the slave does not even have the slightest bit of personhood – the equivalent of the automated golems we’ve seen in the MUniverse. Putting a person on the same level of a slave is the same as putting a person on the same level as a dog (lower, in some cultures), hence the insult.

        Current score: 0
        • pedestrian says:

          Someone should of thrown a shoe at Selene.

          A big, heavy one.

          A sabot……that’d be Meroviginian!

          Current score: 0
  26. Felix says:

    … fairies being associated with Merovia, as we know from Puddy’s storyline, among other places.

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  27. Ermarian says:

    When I’d been worried about hurting her after a few bad turns, she’d been brave enough to summon a minor demon just to make sure that her own magical protections had been enough to restrain it, so she’d know how to handle me if it came down to it.

    I’d been wondering for ages why she did that.

    “Two stars?” I said.

    “It was very clean,” Two said.

    There are no words for how awesome Two is.

    Current score: 0
  28. Prospero says:

    “Mercy was an elf, which meant that she [was] more deadly and capable than a human to begin with, and she’d had the equivalent of multiple mortal lifetimes to hone her deadly skills.”

    Current score: 0
  29. pedestrian says:

    “Hem-twitcher”

    Just gotta love Alexandra’s inventiveness with language.

    Current score: 0
  30. pedestrian says:

    Found a quote apropos:

    Steff to TWO “You are a goddess among golems”

    Current score: 0
  31. Don says:

    Wow, you are simply on fire, AE. Snappy & fun while not lacking in pathos.

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  32. J says:

    Soo good! I’m always a fan of your work, AE, but this chapter and KDR 5 absolutely blew me away.

    Current score: 0
  33. Whataslacker says:

    Yay back to the stuff i really like and some time out of Mack’s head. Thank you.

    Current score: 0
  34. helen rees says:

    typo alert

    The coach turnaround was near the edge of town, close to the open air Endwich street market…

    Elsewhere as Enwich.

    Current score: 0
  35. Kaila says:

    TFH is made of solid brass. Possibly Iron. Not sure which.

    Current score: 0
    • Ducky says:

      If she were male, I’d call it brass.

      Current score: 0
      • Kaila says:

        She’s brassy(bold) enough.

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  36. anon y mouse says:

    “A shimmering illusory orb appeared in her.” – in her hand(s)?

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  37. Daemonchyld says:

    I know that it’s just Two, but.. Sometimes I think that she is just too much if a.. I don’t know. The C word seems harsh, but.. yeah. She should have a respect rune carved in. lol!

    Otherwise, it was amazing. Hazel is wicked good here. I love the story, have been following for a long time. Love love love the story and how well it is written and how characters can bring out emotions of any sort is great.

    Current score: 0
    • Laural says:

      I’m betting Two asked for charge of Mack partly because of the Mercy thing and partly b/c “Mack needs a keeper”.

      Current score: 0
  38. Arkeus says:

    Dammit Mack, stop being such a damn idiot for a minute.

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  39. BlackWizard says:

    ŦΨØ is off the chain in this one! “Like a boss” lady indeed! This whole chapter had me on the floor but the coup de grace was when Hazel asked the shop keeper for her kids in trade! After all, every thing has it’s price. >:)

    Current score: 0
  40. Kanta says:

    I have to wonder what Hazel would have done if Selene had accepted that offer. Plenty of people in the real world do sell their children into slavery, and for a lot less than it takes to buy a kingdom. Hell, some of them do it for less than it takes to buy a used car.

    Current score: 0