Chapter 141: The Moss Is Always Greener

on April 9, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 5: Nasty Disturbing Uncomfortable Things, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Makes An Honest(?) Effort

I slept very well between Ian and Amaranth that night, feeling very loved and very safe.

I didn’t have much conscious memory of my dreams from Sunday night. There was a meeting with the ridiculous owl-turtle thing where I did agree to do its legwork in the library, but it was hardly a big climactic thing. Once I’d recognized that it wasn’t unreasonable for it to ask for something and that it wasn’t asking for anything unreasonable, my agreement just seemed like a matter of course.

After that, we began to get down to business. The sleep learning technique didn’t require me to be conscious the entire time… well, I was obviously never conscious when dealing with the owl-turtle thing, but you know what I meant. I woke up feeling like I’d been put through my paces the whole night. I wasn’t tired, exactly. I just felt like I’d been grappling with a thorny problem.

Amaranth didn’t mention her expanded adventure idea at breakfast, but I supposed that mealtimes weren’t exactly the best time to get into it since Hazel found the whole subject so disturbing.

My first class of the day on Monday… and thus, my first class of the week… was my absolute favorite: Spellbinding For Enchantment, with Acantha.

A professional enchanter who preferred suits sharply tailored to her elven frame, Acantha wasn’t a professor and she didn’t like titles. She also didn’t like having to stand in front of a class and speak, but as far as I could tell, she enjoyed teaching when things were going her way. She knew her subject and she was good at what she did.

While I tended to like my teachers, this was the only class I was taking at the time that I really and truly loved. It wasn’t just that there was an outstanding teacher, and it wasn’t just that it was the class that was most closely tied to my actual major. It was fun. The subject matter was challenging, but not overwhelming… at least, not yet… and it was stuff I could use.

Sadly, it was just one class and it only lasted one hour at a time three times a week. It was usually over too quickly. I would have liked to hang around and try to talk to Acantha one-on-one afterwards… it seemed like she’d be more comfortable with that than she was addressing the class. I couldn’t think of an excuse, though. I figured that if I pretended not to understand the subject matter, she’d see through that pretty quickly.

My second class of the day was an example of one with teachers that I liked but that I still wasn’t a fan of: my current archenemy and the impetus behind my recent trek through the wet woods, the Local Hazards class.

Because I’d managed to space my schedule out, I had plenty of time before it, which was good because I still had to write up my encounter with the moss. I was supposed to be detailing the steps that I’d taken to determine if my sample was hazardous or not. It occurred to me that once I saw that it was clearly fire-aspected, I had been a bit cavalier with the stuff… I mean, I’d done some divinations and read its elemental energy, but overall I’d been more cautious with the innocuous patch of green stuff I’d been eyeing before Amaranth had hinted there was something more interesting in the area.

I was going to try to keep a big piece of it for myself anyway, and since that meant taking it out of the jar and handling it I did a couple of practical tests then and there. The moss definitely gave off real heat, and it seemed like it would be possible to kindle a fire from it, though not necessarily easy… if the glowing moss was hot enough to ignite wood, it would turn its own habitat into a fire.

There didn’t seem to be any danger of it flaring up from improper handling. Actual embers could be stirred up to increase their heat, but this stuff lost its inner glow as soon as it lost contact with its fuel.

All in all, it seemed downright stable for something so fiery.

The glow it gave off definitely seemed to be stronger than it had been, so maybe Amaranth hadn’t been imagining things. It made a kind of sense that it would flourish better in a dry environment than it had been doing in the wet, rainy forest.

Even with these additional steps, it occurred to me that I’d be able to go into a lot more detail about how I’d approached my original intended sample than I could with this one. The embery moss was so obviously weird that it hadn’t seemed as necessary to look for subtle visual signs as it had been with the plain green stuff.

I decided to fudge things a bit and wrote that I had looked at “multiple samples”… this was technically true… and had approached them using “criteria such as” the things I had looked for on the first one, then selected the one that seemed the most potentially hazardous. Then I detailed the steps I’d taken that were specific to the ember moss, and the few extra steps I’d just performed at my desk.

It wasn’t lying, exactly… it was homework.

Whatever the highest truth of the matter was, I did have the sample of glowing moss, and I’d procured it without being possessed by parasitic moss or zapped into another dimension by extraplanar moss or anything like that.

Even though I disliked the whole idea of the Local Hazards class, I still liked to get there early. I wasn’t one of those people who had a natural head for time, so showing up early was my way of making sure I was never late.

I also really liked the teaching assistant, Eloise Desjardins. She was a geomancer who had come up with a cool interactive map device that used a model of an area and a large dome-like scrying device powered by illusions. It was the kind of thing that appealed to me as an enchantment geek. The thought of seeing it in action more would have kept me coming back to class even if I didn’t have my grades to worry about.

Eloise seemed pretty kick-ass herself, too. She was a secular druid, which caused some friction with Amaranth. I didn’t really have a dog in that race. I just thought the things she could do were cool.

She was taking homework when I got in, attaching one half of a double tag to each student’s moss sample and then stapling the other half to their written sheet. Most of the moss was being brought in inside jars or boxes, though some was in sealed baggies and a few were just loose pieces of bark or wood.

It sure looked like most of the moss samples being turned in were pretty mundane, or at least normal-looking and inert until disturbed. There were actually about a third less samples on the table than there were students in the room, and some of the people who’d showed up had the look of someone who’d had all week to do something and was now trying to figure out whose fault it was that they hadn’t.

My ember moss seemed to be unique so far, but it wasn’t the only unique one. There was a plastic container that seemed to be completely black on the inside, like something was generating an opaque field of darkness that stopped only when it encountered a physical barrier. One jar was frosted over. At least one of the more normal-looking samples showed signs of movement that were obvious enough to catch my eye at a glance.

Most of them just looked like moss.

“Sizing up the competition, huh?” Eloise said.

“I thought we were all being graded on our own merits,” I said.

“You are,” she said. “And to be honest, this assignment’s pretty much pass/fail with the possibility of a little icing on the cake for exceptional effort. But I know that look, and I know your type.”

“You think I’m the competitive type?”

“A little, but mostly I think you’re the insecure type,” she said. “Seeing what other people did makes you feel better about how you did. Not that it looks like you have much to worry about.”

She took my jar from me and attached the label, then took the sheets where I’d written out my diagnostic steps. She raised an eyebrow.

“Two samples, huh?” she said. “Ambitious.” She laughed. “The only thing worse than forgetting that teachers used to be students is forgetting when we still are.”

“Am I losing points for that?” I asked.

“No, this isn’t a fine writing class,” she said. “Though I’m wondering what you think of me if you felt the need to point out that you didn’t stop at the first patch of moss you found when you showed up with something like that.”

“I was more trying to show that I hadn’t just taken it for granted that the plain old boring moss was plain and boring,” I said.

“Did you really go three hundred yards into the woods for this?” Professor Swain said, picking up the jar from the table. I hadn’t noticed she was standing there before. This was a thing gnomes did, without meaning to or even noticing themselves. Professor Swain was uncommonly good at it, at least assuming the few other gnomes I had met were typical.

“Yeah,” I said. “I was pretty careful about that. Why? I mean, why do you ask?”

“I thought maybe you just… stumbled over it,” she said.

“Is it that common?” I asked, surprised. I wasn’t the nature walk type, but I’d hate to think I was so oblivious that I’d missed patches of glowing moss all over the place.

“No, no… passion’s flame moss is pretty rare anywhere,” she said. “It needs a certain amount of shelter and dryness to survive, but it ‘catches’ best on wood that’s slightly damp, where it can put its roots down.”

“Rhizoids,” Eloise corrected. “Moss has rhizoids.”

“Po-tay-to, po-tah-to,” the professor said.

Those are both roots,” Eloise said.

“Anyway, it’s just usually if it’s this healthy, that means it took root near a trysting spot,” the professor said.

“I didn’t know what it was, to be honest,” I said. It seemed unnecessary to ask her to elaborate… the name was suggestive enough by itself, and together with the comment about “trysting spots”, the implication was pretty clear. This stuff fed on sex, or sexual energy. “I just knew that it looked cool, and potentially dangerous… but it didn’t seem to be, you know, aggressive or otherwise responsive.”

“Well, it can easily singe a finger or two if you’re not handling it carefully,” she said.

“Yeah, I suppose… that’s not really something I worry about,” I said. “Um, would prolonged exposure to… trysting… do anything dangerous?”

“Oh, not really, no,” she said. “It’ll glow brighter and spread faster, but it’s still basically just moss. It spreads a bit like fire, but more like moss. Mostly like moss, really.”

“So, if there’s a jar with some in it that’s kind of near a bed, there’s no danger of it… exploding? Or bursting into flame?”

“None whatsoever,” she said. “Still moss.”

“Okay, good,” I said. “I kept some for myself.”

“Oh, I would have given this back,” she said. “I’ll chuck the unclaimed ones, which I suspect will be most of them, but I understand the urge to keep a trophy.”

“I thought you might, but I wasn’t sure,” I said. “And since I didn’t have time to ask in advance, I didn’t want to risk losing it.”

“Since you had all week, I guess that means you went out in the rain for this,” she said. “I don’t know if I should commend you for your dedication or for your procrastination.”

“Well, I looked at other moss before this,” I said, which was technically still true, “but I decided it would be worth it to go a bit further in search of something more interesting.”

“Well, interesting it is,” she said. “Er… since you have your own bit, do you mind if I keep this for my collection?”

“You don’t have any?” I asked her, knowing that she’d personally catalogued many of the varieties of dangerous and interesting plant life that grew in the Enias River Valley and its environs.

“Oh, I’ve taken samples of it, but I haven’t kept much for myself,” she said. “I haven’t always had time to manage the care and feeding of such things, at all stages of my career, to say nothing of the space to keep it all in. The more unusual finds got packed off to various sages’ towers and such for them to poke and prod at, but mostly I’ve disposed of my samples when I’ve learned all that I can from them. It’s seeing this stuff in isolation, through the eyes of someone new, that makes me appreciate how ‘cool’ it is, as you put it. That, and my life’s a bit more properly sedentary these days. I have less time to collect, but more time to curate.”

“Well, sure, keep it,” I said. “I mean, if I want more I can just give it something to spread to, right?”

“Oh, to be sure, yes,” she said. “You should find your seat, though, there are others waiting to turn in.”

If I’d be uncertain about the value of my efforts before, I was feeling pretty good about it after that. There might have been teachers out there who would turn around and give a bad grade for a project they openly coveted, but I couldn’t imagine Professor Swain being one of them.

Really, the class wasn’t all that bad… my not wanting to be there really did color my attitude about it. It wasn’t the only class I’d been forced to take because of graduation requirements or other reasons. With that in mind, I decided to ease up and try to give it another chance… though I was still privately reserving the right to resent the hell out of the upcoming field trips.


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26 Responses to “Chapter 141: The Moss Is Always Greener”

  1. Burnsidhe says:

    That was unexpected. I guess Mack and Amaranth are going to get several new nightlights this way.

    Also, a nice implied pun there about cold showers dousing passion’s flame.

    Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      “No, no… passion’s flame moss is pretty rare anywhere,” she said. “It needs a certain amount of shelter and dryness to survive, but it ‘catches’ best on wood that’s slightly damp, where it can put its roots down.”

      Alexandra, I love your sense of humor. So very subtle at times, it take a while to catch on to some of the innuendo here.

      Current score: 1
  2. Sejemaset says:

    Given the nature of Amaranth and the nature of the moss I would not be surprised if she knew exactly what kind of moss it was and held that back so that Mack could experience the joy of finding out on her own.

    Current score: 1
  3. Old Sage says:

    “passion’s flame moss”, natures night-light for lovers.
    The brighter it gets is a testament to ones’ skills. LOL

    Current score: 1
  4. Zathras IX says:

    Of course Mac enjoys
    Spellbinding For Enchantment:
    After all, it’s Bondage

    Current score: 1
    • Krey says:

      Your haiku should really be in the published book, would make an excellent foot note to each chapter, and it’s just not the same without them there.

      Current score: 1
      • What we really need is a decent-quality POD book so we can scribble the haiku in the margin after every chapter.

        Current score: 1
  5. carson says:

    “Since you had all week, I guess that means you went out in the rain for this,” she said. “I don’t know if I should commend you for your dedication or for your procrastination.”

    Either I am more tired than usual or AE is being more clever than usual, but I think I am missing a point. Help?

    Current score: 1
    • Dani says:

      If there are three classes a week, and Mack didn’t have time to ask, then she must have delayed until the weekend.

      Current score: 2
      • carson says:

        THanks. I knew I was missing it. It’s been a rough week, and it’s only Tuesday.

        Current score: 0
  6. zeel says:

    And exactly how dose Professor Swain intend to “manage the care and feeding of such things” with such a thing as this moss?

    Also, who was doing it out in the woods where that stuff was growing?

    Current score: 0
    • Gruhl says:

      Elves? Bunnies? Fauns?

      Current score: 1
    • Krey says:

      Amy and Mack had a pretty heavy makeout session just before finding this if I recall.

      Current score: 0
    • Cadnawes says:

      I’m guessing the professor has a lover these days and didn’t always previously.

      I’m also guessing that Mackenzie and Amaranth aren’t the first people to spontaneously make out in that locale. It’s not THAT far away from the school, and many’s the person who might want a little more privacy than they’d get in the dorm. Perhaps the moss has encouraged a passer by from time to time. Might have this time, in fact.

      Current score: 2
  7. HiEv says:

    Minor typo:
    “If I’d be uncertain about the value of my efforts” … “be” should be “been”.

    As for the moss, I’d been anticipating it being a bit more than hot and glowy, but I didn’t expect that.

    If you can find a reason to delve a bit more into the details of an Spellbinding for Enchantment class, please do. I’ve found them quite interesting in the past because I love seeing how the little fiddly bits of the MU universe’s magic works and Acantha is lovely as well.

    Thanks.

    Current score: 0
  8. pedestrian says:

    I’m lichen the concept of a magical moss that responds brightly to a roll in the hay.

    And, I foresee that Alexandra will not forgo the opportunity to inflict further vegemite flavored sowing of wild oats in a hazard of frondescent wallows upon our luminescently ferine pierrette.

    Current score: 1
  9. readaholic says:

    @pedestrian’s post stole all my good words.

    Om nom nom.

    Current score: 1
  10. Not her the other girl says:

    “my current archenemy … the Local Hazards class.”

    Aw, remember when Callahan’s class would’ve been far and away the Worst Class Evar?

    I wonder if there is such a thing as a moss nymph? I don’t remember what all kinds of nymphs Amaranth mentioned when she was talking about her friends in Paradise Valley. Cause a passion moss nymph could be very interesting. As it is, I’m sure Mack’s pet moss is very happy to be hanging out near Amaranth.

    Current score: 0
    • Cadnawes says:

      !!!!

      I’m so gonna paint that. I work in egg tempera. I’ll show and tell when I’m done. Thanks for the inspiration!

      Current score: 0
      • jayloo says:

        Please do. Will you post on this chapter? I love egg tempera!

        Current score: 0
        • Cadnawes says:

          I can do that. I’ll link to my DA. Bear in mind this will take a while. I work a LOT. I’m always happy to find people who know what egg tempera is. 🙂

          So, maybe I better link in whatever chapter is up at the time when I finish also.

          Current score: 0
  11. Amelia says:

    Does anyone else wonder if SKOROTT is actually The Man being sneaky?
    He’s got her looking things up for him now.

    Current score: 0
    • Athena says:

      If the ROTT was The Man, why would he want Mack to look up /himself/? Just to see what information is casually available? I suppose it could be useful…after all, some books might have been updated since Samuel’s day.

      Current score: 0
      • pedestrian says:

        I can see the reasoning for being suspicious of the ROTT. As an AI, you always have to wonder about the motivations of those who had access to program it.

        But, consider the limitations still inherent in TWO’s original creating enchantments, as the foundation of the ROTT’s own programming. Then the refinements and additional programming gained while residing in Dee’s mind. I think any infernal influence would have to be extra ‘subtle’ to avoid triggering defensive wards. Is Demon Daddy that capable? That omnipotent?

        As for the Unholy Father being curious to seek out published information about his publicly recorded activities. I would doubt if he would care. He’s been there, done that, time to move on. Most published intel would be mashed in with a multitude of reports about differing monsters. The chroniclers would be as confused and confusing as everyone else.

        No, if Pater-Diabolic would make an effort at intelligence gathering, his efforts would be directed with espionage against LAW and other IR security units. To discover what info they have on his present activities. What efforts they are making to foil his future plans.

        “The devil is in the details.”

        Current score: 0