In Which Mackenzie Has Bigger Things To Worry About

The problem with explaining what had happened was that the further I got from the building, the less clear I was on what had actually been going on… maybe I had been wandering for that long? I hadn’t exactly been counting the minutes, and it seemed like it must have taken a while for me to get as worked up as I did.

I had definitely been afraid of something, but in retrospect I wasn’t sure what.

Or maybe I hadn’t been afraid of anything in particular. Maybe I’d just been freaking out… whether that was the whole truth or not it seemed like the best explanation I could muster.

“Sorry,” I told Nicki. “Something in there just freaked me out, I guess, in a big way. I should probably should talk to Professor Stone before class on Wednesday. Do you happen to know where his office is?”

“Yeah, I’ve been there a couple of times,” Nicki said.

“…it’s in the Emily Center, isn’t it?” I said.

“No, it’s back in the admin building,” she said… the one building I wanted to go into less than the design center. “Kind of out of the way, but he said it was closer to his quarters? Oh, wait… that was his old office.”

“And his new one’s in the design building?”

“No, but I don’t remember where, off hand,” she said. “I just remember that at the end of last year he was happy that he wouldn’t have to be back in the admin building any more… sorry.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I can look him up. It’s not like he’s going to be there right now, anyway. I mean, he’s probably still in the classroom.”

“And you can’t go in and talk to him now,” Nicki said. “I understand. Well, I don’t… but I understand that you can’t? Hey, if you don’t want to go in and find him, we could always wait out here and catch him when he leaves?”

“I… don’t think I want to do that,” I said. “Because then I’d have to explain why I’m not going in, and… yeah. I think I just need some time to get my head clear before I go get my ass kicked in my next class. I’d rather try to explain why I couldn’t find a classroom I’ve been to half a dozen times than explain to Coach Callahan why I don’t have my head screwed on straight enough to fight.”

“Callahan?” Nicki said, her eyes practically bugging out of her skull.

“You’ve had her classes?”

“What? No, I don’t have a death wish!” Nicki said quickly, then just as quickly added, “though I’ve heard you’re one of her special favorites.”

“Yeah, think about what else you’ve heard about her and try to imagine how much easier that makes things,” I said. “Though she hardly ever actually kills students… on purpose… anymore. Anyway, I’ll see you in class on Wednesday, I hope.”

“Yeah..”

“Or sooner,” I added, when I remembered that Nicki had both a very literal and somewhat pessimistic way of determining if she was welcome. “If you want to eat with us or hang out or something. I know everyone had a good time in town on Saturday.”

“Yeah… it seemed like it, didn’t it?” she said.

“Yeah.”

After we drifted apart, I decided that the best thing to do was to find out where Professor Stone’s office was now. It was a little thing and not something that was immediately useful, but it would be a step toward doing something about the problem.

After all, I wasn’t going to figure out what the hell had happened to keep me out of class on my own… I didn’t have enough information, and no new information was going to pop into my head if I kept going back over the same ground. If it had something to do with security precautions or some enchantment on the building or something, the professor would have to know about it, and would probably be able to make sure I didn’t get caught in it next time.

It turned out that Professor Stone’s office was listed in the Archimedes Center, lower level. I didn’t think that was closer to the design building than the admin building was… but then, Nicki had said he liked his office to be close to home. It didn’t make a lot of sense in horizontal terms, but he was at least half dwarven, and there was dwarven real estate under the campus.

I noted that his office hours for Tuesday would make it easy for me to pop down to see him after lunch, which we tended to eat in the Arch anyway. I sent him a quick a-mail apologizing for my absence and saying that I’d like to speak to him about it, then worked on pushing the whole thing aside so I could give Coach Callahan’s class the attention that she demanded.

I wouldn’t have to worry about the stupid building again until Wednesday, I couldn’t do anything more about my absence until tomorrow, and I only had one class left to worry about today. I didn’t exactly feel great but I had my mental feet planted firmly on the conceptual ground and that was something, at least metaphorically.

A weekend had apparently been enough for Coach Callahan to clear up the paperwork problem regarding her mockboxes. She didn’t say one word about the bureaucratic difficulties that had briefly delayed our last class, and so neither did anyone else.

A lot of people were looking at the new addition to our class and looking a little worried. The prospect of fighting anyone more than nine feet tall will do that. I could have told them that they had nothing to worry about… I was the lucky one who would be fighting her.I probably should have expected Pala Asgeirsdottir would factor into her plans plans for my training when she told me I’d be facing some of her gladiators… after all, she’d used the undersized storm giantess as a designated hitter before.

“More mocking, less staring!” Coach Callahan said, making a move-it-along gesture in the direction of the red mockbox. “But since everyone’s being so attentive anyway: Tiny here is my brand new teaching assistant. Unlike me, she has no sense of humor, so if you… particularly any of the aspiring men of the class… feel the need to say anything inappropriate about the size of her… size, you’d better be ready to run when she figures out what you were saying. Which she will do. Eventually.”

That was how I’d originally thought of Pala, though I’d eventually figured out myself that being slow to reach a conclusion didn’t mean it wouldn’t be an insightful one. She had a sharp enough mind to beat up the owl-turtle thing, which was more than I could do without its help.

Though she didn’t do herself any favors by nodding along with everything the coach said, only to whip her head around and glare at her a full five seconds after she said that.

“She’s going to be helping me solve a little problem involving students who, for one reason another, aren’t being properly challenged by fights with their classmates,” the coach continued. “So if I call you, then once you’ve got your weapon mocked go meet up with her over by the far door.”

It seemed like it wasn’t actually my lucky day… I wasn’t the only person being singled out for a more challenging curriculum.

She rattled off a string of seven or eight names, a few of which were actually her endearing little nicknames. In addition to my own slightly upgraded label of “Frybaby”, I also caught “Tiger”, “Twiggy”, and “Sapsucker”.

My surprise must have shown on my face, because the coach came over towards me.

“You didn’t forget our little talk already?” she asked. “It’s early in the week to be disappointing me, Frybaby.”

“I didn’t,” I said. “But you didn’t say anything about anyone else.”

“You don’t think I care about you that much, do you?” she said, giving me a slap on the shoulder. “This is an ongoing problem for me… outside a major university I’m not going to have a big enough pool of talent, but the whole structure of the curriculum doesn’t give me enough room to sort for potential. You put the greatest warriors of a generation with a bunch of schmoes who are learning to defend themselves and expect them to excel and stick with it until they qualify for advanced classes, and you end up with… good fighters. Not great. Just good.”

“I know you don’t think I’m great, though,” I said. She’d made it clear that she thought I could work my way up to the B level, if I tried hard enough. I doubted even most A students would qualify for “greatness” in her book. The grading system wasn’t really designed to measure epic levels of achievement.

“I know you’re not,” she said. “But like I said: not enough sorting. There’s a lot of room between greatness and schmoedom. Your talent deserves better… better than you give it, anyway, and better than you’re going to get, blowing through a bunch of middle-of-the-road mortals with more credit hours than notches on their hilts. Now get on over there!”

It seemed like most of her list was still in line for the mockbox… though one student, a very small kobold that I thought of as a girl more out of habit than for any other reason, seemed to be vaguely drifting towards the corner that Pala had moved herself to.

Could she actually be one of the special students? I should probably be the last person to judge by appearance. When she saw me, she adjusted her course to match mine, letting me lead the way somewhat.

“Hi…” she said. Her voice was quiet and kind of hoarse… like she was straining it by trying to speak up. There was something distantly familiar about it.

“Hey. Twiggy?” I guessed.

She actually looked kind of sturdy for that, but it could have been ironic. I was pretty sure she wasn’t Sapsucker, as that sounded like someone with elven blood… or somebody who had sex with elves.

Or possibly with dryads, but I was fairly sure there weren’t any dryads at MU.

Then I remembered all the mentions of ambulatory plants in the Local Hazards class, and I stopped trying to figure out the meaning of that nickname just in case I succeeded.

“…I’m sort of afraid I’m Tiger, actually,” she said apologetically, and she gave me a shy smile.

Kobolds don’t really have lips, and they have a mouth full of interlocking teeth that… like their bones… is laced with bits of metal that they eat as a sort of nutritional supplement. A shy smile from a kobold is among the scarier facial expressions imaginable.

“Hello,” Pala said as we came up to her. “I am called Pala.” She looked at me. “You I have met. Your friend I have not.”

“I’m Nae,” the kobold said… and of course she was. I’d never had a good look at Shiel’s roommate when she wasn’t covered head-to-toe with fetish gear, but there couldn’t be two adult-ish kobolds in the area who were that small.

I wondered if Pala realized that they had that in common.

“You are… cringe-crawler? Shrinking rat?” Pala said. She mouthed the name again, and then a flash of lightning went off over her head. Literally. “Oh, tiny mouse!” she said. “That is cute.”

“You speak kobol?” Nae said. “Naugul bo.”

Naugul bo,” Pala said. “We buy metal from kobolds when we are at war with dwarves. My uncle says I am the chief trade envoy because I… fit in better with them?”

“Fit in better how?” Nae asked, clearly baffled by the idea.

I couldn’t blame her. If you didn’t know that Pala was roughly a third the size of most of her relatives, a lot of what she said wouldn’t make sense. But it didn’t seem unusual to her, so she rarely bothered to explain it. I’d taken her for a slightly short half or part-giant rather than an extremely short full blooded one the first several times we’d met.

“Inside their halls,” Pala said. “I have to go on my hands and knees like a dog, but no one else would even fit through the door.”

“There’s nothing wrong with crawling,” Nae said. “I sometimes spend whole days on my hands and knees.”

“Whose caves do you visit?” Pala asked, her eyes almost jumping out of her head.

“No one’s,” Nae said. “I don’t really fit in inside anybody’s caves anymore.”

I understood this to be a reference to her relationship with a dwarf. The clash of values between dwarves and elves was better known to surface dwellers, but since they didn’t often compete for territory or resources it rarely turned violent. Kobolds and dwarves were both largely near-surface mining races. The kobolds generally started out lower and the dwarves started out higher, but the pursuit of ore and living space sent them digging in whatever direction they thought they’d find it.

“I appreciate an amusing juxtaposition of extreme contrasts in height as much as the next person who doesn’t give half a shit about them, but let’s break this up and get down to it,” Coach Callahan said, bringing the rest of the designated group with her. “Tiny, I think you know the drill?”

“I know several drills,” Pala said. She held her spear upright and thrust it out in front of her, then turned her head and looked around her. “But there is not really room in here to perform them.”

“…okay, then take them next door and get them set up instead,” Coach Callahan said.

“Okey dokey,” Pala said. “Please follow me!”

Every step that Pala took looked like she was just barely restraining herself from skipping, something that could have had serious consequences for the ceiling tiles in the hall. She led us to another room just down the hall where she knocked on the door, waited a few seconds, then opened it and looked around.

“Hello?” she said.

“Who were you expecting?” I asked her when nobody answered.

“No one,” Pala said. “But sometimes people run into unused classrooms when they want to be alone and cry.”

The room was another fighting salon, though it was a smaller one and it only had one mocking cabinet in the corner. Pala leaned her stone spear against a wall in the corner, then reached out a hand to steady it as it started to slide to the floor. She repeated this twice before she got it to stay, then her footfall as she turned away jarred it loose and it clattered to the floor. She jumped and looked stricken, but then she evidently decided to leave it where it was and pretend that nothing had happened.

“You have been selected to come into this room by Coach Callahan for fighting,” she said. “We are to be a special class she calls her hydra spawn. Because you all have… qualities? That make you difficult for others to face. So you will face each other instead, and gladiators that I bring in. And me, though I am also a gladiator, so… yes. Today it is just me. Mackenzie Blaise, you are to face me first.”

It seemed it was my lucky day after all…


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44 Responses to “Chapter 102: Great And Small”

  1. Dave says:

    FIRST! haha just thought I’d take the opportunity to make my first ever comment the first one :p

    Current score: 0
    • TheTurnipKing says:

      oddly appropriate for once, considering the end of the chapter.

      Current score: 1
  2. Month says:

    Will we see Mac get her ass handed to her by “tiny”? Does Nae know that she knows who she is? And how long does it take a pigeon to fly from Europe to Africa? The answers to that, same Mu channel, same Mu time (or most likely similar, since the time when the update is done is not set in stone).

    Current score: 1
  3. Zukira Phaera says:

    and thus… we discover Jillybean is preparing for war?

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    • Gordon says:

      I think she’s looking to make a team similar to the one we read about before. The one she was a part of.

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    • Oni says:

      I think she’s probably *always* preparing for war. It would also seem that she’s specifically preparing the better of her students as if they were going to war. Probably just another part of her mentality.

      It’s also possible that the military’s “political climate” has changed and non-human blak-ops squads are currently considered a “no-no”, something that Callahan finds “[censored] stupid [censored], [and some more censored]”

      Current score: 1
      • Greenwood Goat says:

        “In peace, prepare for war, in war, prepare for peace. The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence under no circumstances can it be neglected.” Sun Tzu

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      • Burnsidhe says:

        Or none of the above; she’s preparing her students to be able to fight and defend themselves. That means putting them up against opponents where they have to rely on more than just their strengths, whatever those are.

        For Mack, she uses her strength to batter down her opponents defenses and score hits; that will not work on Pala.

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        • Eris Harmony says:

          I suspect something along the lines of professional pride–she teaches all her students to the best of her abilities. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always had the impression that Callahan doesn’t like Mack, but is doing her best to teach her to fight well because that’s what she does.

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          • Renshan says:

            I think she trains Mack well because she believes that eventually the half demon will snap and lay waste to a lot of real estate and Callahan will either have a challenging fight to stop her, or be able to say, “You know I trained that one.” preferably after she dispatches half an army.

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

              I honestly think she trains Mack- well, and really anyone, but perhaps Mack especially- because of guilt. Way back in the “These Dreams” OT, she tried to save the Hydra’s spellcaster, Theona, and couldn’t. I figure she tries to teach people to defend themselves now so they won’t go the same way Theona did. Mack might especially remind Callahan of Theona, maybe in terms of temperament (I don’t really remember a lot of Theona), or maybe just in spellcasting ability.

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  4. Zergonapal says:

    squeee…Pala is so entertaining to read 😀

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  5. Dave says:

    It’s nice that Mackenzie is becoming sufficiently aware of others’ feelings that she makes allowances for Nicky’s way of thinking.

    And yes, Pala is cute, if you can use that word for someone 9 feet high 🙂

    Looking forward to Mackenzie’s next fight – and to see how tiny “Tiger” Nae can fight Pala – and eventually to seeing Mackenzie find out about Emily.

    Current score: 1
    • Dave says:

      BTW the immediately-above comment is by the ‘original’ Dave, who has been commenting since the start, not the New Dave who posted First above. Welcome, name-twin!

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  6. Readaholic says:

    Om nom nom. Heh. Hydra spawn. Jilly’s scratching her itch about untrained youngsters, plus providing herself with potential future challenges, and just making sure that the training is done right.

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  7. Lunaroki says:

    Hmm… I just realized I don’t recall what the name of this class is. I know Mack was in Mixed Melee last year and she agreed to take this class this year in exchange for a passing grade in Mixed Melee last year, but has the name of this class ever been announced? If so what was it?

    Also: Typo Report

    I was the lucky one who would be fighting her.I probably should have expected Pala Asgeirsdottir would factor into her plans plans for my training when she told me I’d be facing some of her gladiators…

    No space after that period. Also the word “plans” is repeated in the second sentence.

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    • Krey says:

      I think it was something like Efficient Combat or Fighting to Defend or something else that sounded vaguely non-lethal, even though because it’s Callahan it obviously isn’t.

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      • Potatohead says:

        Wasn’t it Fighting To Disable?

        Current score: 1
        • Kitch says:

          From Chapter 8:

          “Welcome to Fighting To Disable,” she said with a big, sharp grin on her face. Some people have a disarming smile. Coach Callahan’s smile would take your arm off at the shoulder. “Formerly called Disabling Strikes. Renamed when I took it over because naming an entire class after the last step in a process is fucking stupid. I am Coach Callahan. You will call me Coach Callahan. I will call you whatever name I think you deserve. I will give you whatever grade I think you deserve.”

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  8. pedestrian says:

    I’ve been jonseing for Alexandra to use Nae and…..wow!

    Pala versus Nae, epic level confrontation.

    Pala versus Mackenzie will be educational, in the sense of being one of Callahan’s sado-masochist wet dreams.

    And I find it interesting that AE will provide us with a more indepth look at the Archimedes Center.

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  9. Zathras IX says:

    “Hydra spawn” may mean
    Direct descendents of the
    Hydra Company

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    • Kagedviper says:

      Your Haiku reply
      To the story was so great,
      I made my own too.

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  10. Brenda says:

    It’s not anything important, but I found myself wondering where Mack went to check on the professor’s office. One moment she’s talking to Nicki, then the next moment she’s sending a quick a-mail. I’m just trying to visualize where she was before going to Callahan’s class. Or did she use her mirror? Is she still carrying that?

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    • Anne says:

      I know that she still has her mirror. I assume that she carries it most (or all) of the time.

      Current score: 1
      • pedestrian says:

        except when she leaves it on her dresser, or forgets to carry her staff or her board of education or what the hell, her pants…..

        if Jobby Appleseed had visited the Muniverse, wouldn’t these personal communicators be called the eyemirror?

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        • Anne says:

          Aye mirrors :-P!

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        • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

          That took me far longer to get than it rightfully should have.

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  11. Spec Grim says:

    Really looking forward to Macks’ fight with Pala. Also Mack finding out about Emily. LOVE this story.

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  12. Krey says:

    LOVE THIS LINE:
    Though she hardly ever actually kills students… on purpose… anymore.

    Current score: 1
  13. Maahes0 says:

    I’m wondering exactly how much Mack can let loose in this advanced portion. I know it won’t be right away, but will she start incorporating her fire in? There’s a reason she’s called Frybaby now.
    I’d also like to see her get back into on the fly enchantment. So far, she has not needed to get there. Maybe she can learn some elemental bonding in her enchanting class ^^

    Current score: 0
  14. Burnsidhe says:

    I think it more likely that she’ll avoid using the fire, and instead experiment with enhancing her senses. Mack’s pretty intelligent; picking up cues from your opponent is a better method of fighting than just lashing out.

    Current score: 1
    • TheTurnipKing says:

      I’m not sure that enhancing your senses during combat is a great idea.

      Infact I’d go so far as to say “really” feeling one of Pala’s hit’s seems like an exceptionally painful idea.

      Current score: 0
      • Burnsidhe says:

        You’re assuming that Mack is going to enhance all her senses indiscriminately. She’s not at that level of skill. Sight, hearing, and scent are the ones she’s actually used, and they’ve been focused on separately.

        Current score: 1
  15. Micah says:

    They would need to come up with some fairly specific enchantments for Mack to use her fire abilities, since I doubt there is much of a market for “real protection but mock damage from demon fire” gear out there. That being said, some of the other fire-affinity races may have come up with it already and I’m guessing Callahan would be into a gladiator roasting.

    Current score: 1
  16. Anthony says:

    OK, everyone keeps laughing at how amusing it is that Mackenzie doesn’t get that the Em is somehow a sentient building. But where was this actually established? I don’t remember reading it anywhere…

    Current score: 0
    • Brenda says:

      It wasn’t. It’s been implied – heavily in some cases – and readers here tend to nitpick over every detail, so under scrutiny figured it out very quickly, whereas the student in a new building has only just realized that it’s not that the halls look alike, it’s that they’re moving around…

      Current score: 0
      • Burnsidhe says:

        The Emily Center is not a sentient building, exactly. It wasn’t designed as one and doesn’t actually seem to have sapience.

        What it does have is decades of magical residue combined with the creativity of the students and teachers in the classes there.

        The result is similar to what D&D might term a “Guards and Wards” spell. It can tell who ‘belongs’ and who ‘appreciates it’; People who fit are encouraged and aided, people who don’t fit are discouraged and urged out of the building.

        Current score: 1
        • pedestrian says:

          I gotta disagree Burnsidhe. The Emily certainly is sentient, in the meaning of emotional reactions. That is why I am of the opinion that it is a young building, in the sense of acting childishly, immature.

          If I was wandering around the Emily I would probably be in the same predicament as Mackenzie. My wife always accused me of being Mr. Oblivious.

          The Emily may be sapient, in the meaning of intelligent reasoning. However, if this is a ‘young’ structure, cer may still be prone to narcissist egotism.

          Current score: 1
        • Brenda says:

          Burnsidhe, do you have a secret link to AE’s secret worldbuilding files that you can state so definitively what is obviously being withheld from the story for the time being?

          Current score: 0
          • Burnsidhe says:

            No, I don’t. AE might very well surprise me. But there’s no reason to pussyfoot around ‘possible’ and ‘maybe’ and ‘it’s just my opinion, but’.

            That is what I have deduced from the evidence presented. If there’s another argument to be made, feel free to make it.

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    • TheTurnipKing says:

      I’ve got a feeling that it may have been in More Tales? My memory is bad even at the best of times, though.

      Current score: 0
  17. Erm says:

    Good to see the site back online.

    hydra spawn

    Woah. Wham Line.

    Current score: 0
  18. N'ville says:

    Great story as it is the ending of one, her rather worrying tour of Emily and being denied access to where she wanted to be, and then moving on to the start of the next, her coming encounter with the giantess in battle. Looking forward to that and whether Mack actually does use heightened senses to her advantage or not.

    My only problem being, I didn’t get the e mail notification and had to come looking for this chapter.
    Maybe forgiveable as AE is in a tremendous level of heat and concentration goes when that hot.

    Current score: 0
  19. fedback says:

    Hábil hydra

    Current score: 0