Chapter 204: Silence and Strength

on March 5, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 6: Career Counseling, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Amaranth Has A Lot To Swallow


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Hazel wasn’t the only one who had a problem with the basic concept of the non-disclosure agreement.

It seemed like everybody who found out I was working on some kind of business-related endeavor with Acantha immediately wanted to know what it was about… which was a perfectly natural response. I mean, that’s how conversation works. If one person mentions something that sounds interesting enough, the other person says, “Oh?” and then the first person is supposed to elaborate.

When all you can say in response is, “We’re not supposed to talk about it,” the whole system kind of breaks down.

The first thing people want to know is why, and telling them because you signed an agreement doesn’t begin to settle that question. They’ll assume that anything top secret is top secret, and probably illegal, unethical, and immora in all sorts of interesting waysl… and when you tell them that no, it totally isn’t and in fact it’s not even very interesting yet, they either assume that you’re lying, or that this means that you can tell them about it, agreement notwithstanding.

“I expect the people who write those agreements understand that the people who sign them have families… spouses, lovers,” Amaranth said, in the kind of careful tone someone adopts when they’re trying really hard to sound casual and spontaneous. “People in that sort of position. You know what I mean?”

“Probably,” I agreed.

“I mean, I think there’s a difference between talking about your day with your partner and giving an interview to a trade magazine, or talking to a competing business.”

“Yeah, I’m sure that nobody expects a complete one hundred percent lockdown,” I said. “But for it to work at all, there does have to be a basic level of respect for the concept as a whole.”

“I understand that!” Amaranth said. “But… well, you can see why I might be concerned, when you went from being so uncertain about whether or not you could trust Acantha to swearing absolute secrecy to her. ”

“Well, it’s not like I’m suddenly one hundred percent over my doubts,” I said.

“Don’t you see, baby? That’s what worries me,” she said. “I’d feel better if I knew you could talk about anything that comes up that bothers you.”

“Feel better, then,” I said. “I do have someone to talk about my doubts with… Andreas and I are kind of forming a mutual support society.”

“Oh,” she said. “Well… I’m sure that’s fine. I really meant I’d feel better if I knew you could come to… someone outside the project, maybe?”

“Well… if anything goes really badly wrong, I won’t feel compelled to follow the letter of the agreement,” I said. “I mean, it’s not like a private agreement can supersede the actual law… so if we get into actually illegal territory, that kind of changes everything.”

I knew that she had meant herself, but I wasn’t going to be the first one to ay it. I wasn’t deliberately teasing her… I just didn’t really want to open that can of ifrit. As long as she wasn’t asking me point-blank specifically to violate the confidentiality agreement by telling her, I didn’t have to directly say no.

“But what about things that are technically legal but unethical?” she asked. “Or things that might be borderline illegal, but you’re not qualified to tell?”

“Well, I’m pretty sure that talking to the guy who would be equipped to make that call would be okay, because of attorney-client privilege,” I said.

I didn’t actually point out that Amaranth didn’t have any more legal qualifications than I did, because it wasn’t necessary to say so to make the point… and also, to be fair, even though she wasn’t any more of a lawyer than I was, she probably did have a better grasp on many points of law than I did. If she didn’t, she could shore up her understanding fairly quickly.

“You think I’m being self-centered about this, don’t you?” she asked, while I was bracing myself for the next angle she would try.

“I… I think you feel powerless when you’re not able to be there directly for someone you care about,” I said.

“And I’m being self-centered,” she said.

“Well… yeah,” I said. “You care a lot about other people and really do try to put them first… to put me first, in particular… but your ways of doing that tend to revolve around you. It’s okay, though, really.”

“It’s not, though!” she said, stamping her foot. “I should be better than that.”

“You should be,” I agreed. “But it’s still okay.”

“How can you say that?” she asked.

“BecauseI listen to you,” I said. “You’ve told me often enough that you love me with my flaws… you don’t even say that, actually. You just say that you love me, while still acknowledging my flaws.You accept me the way I am… and you’ve never stopped trying to make me better.”

“Teddi told me once that ‘better’ means progress, and progress means you’re never quite there,” Amaranth said. “Well… I say ‘once’, but she’s told me that a few times. Being told… knowing… from the moment of your creation that you’re a perfect being comes with a lot of pressure, you know?”

“I really don’t… but I can imagine,” I said.

” I should be better, but there isn’t supposed to be any room for improvement… being told that improvement is incremental and there’s always another increment is a lot to swallow.”

“If I need your help with anything… relating to Acantha’s project or otherwise… I’ll tell you,” I said. “I promise. If I’m in trouble, you’ll know. If you can help me, you’ll know. For now, it’s not that you can’t do anything… there’s just not anything that needs doing.”

“I can tell you mean that,” she said. “And that makes me feel a lot better about the whole thing.”

She kissed me, and that was the end of it with her.

Amaranth was far from the worst. She’d been persistent, yeah, but her persistence had come from concern, and she very clearly felt bad about being pushy.

Steff and Ian, on the other hand, both employed arguments that boiled down to “dude, come on”, and “no, seriously”, and “seriously, come on”. The only way I could get Steff to back down was to finally whip out my safeword, something I’d only ever had to do a few times before. From that point, she was more concerned with how pushy she’d been than with whatever she imagined I was keeping from her.

Ian was less pushy, and yet more persistent. I’d think we’d covered it and it was buried, and then he’d bring it up again.

“You’d tell me if you were doing something illegal, though, right?” he asked when we were alone in my room over the weekend. Up until that moment, we’d been quietly enjoying a bit of afterglow, him sitting on the bed and me kneeling on the floor.

“Technically what we just did is illegal in this province,” I said. “But the statute is no longer enforceable.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I’d tell someone if we were doing something illegal,” I said, getting to my feet. This was not a conversation I wanted to have to begin with, but it was definitely not one to have from sub-space. “Possibly everyone.”

“But you wouldn’t automatically tell me if you were doing something illegal?”

“Well, the point of telling anyone would be to put a stop to the illegal… whatever… before we got caught doing it and I took the rap for it… not because illegal actions act as a magic shield against confidentiality agreements,” I said. “Why do you care so much about this?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “If you’re doing something cool, I want to know about it. Is that so weird?”

“Getting roped into a criminal enterprise by a substitute teacher is not my idea of something cool,” I said.

“It’s not necessarily mine,” he said. “But I mean, it depends on the activity, doesn’t it?”

“Just as a point of order: we’re talking things like corporate espionage or maybe money laundering or… I don’t know, some kind of bootleg operation… not complicated complicated magic gem heists. This isn’t Gaeron’s Fourteen.”

“Bootlegging can be cool,” Ian said.

“I meant products, not booze,” I said.

“Booze is a product. But let me back up and try to explain this better,” he said. “It’s not that I think it would be cool if you get wrapped up in something criminal… it’s that I think you’re doing something cool, in general, and it sucks that I can’t find out what it is until it’s over.”

“Criminal or not, it’s still probably less cool than you’re thinking,” I said. “I mean, so far, it’s just been like brainstorming sessions.”

“Would you be able to tell me if it was anything more?”

“According to the same logic that says I can’t tell you it’s brainstorming sessions, no, I wouldn’t be able to,” I said.

“But you could be lying and saying it’s brainstorming sessions,” he said.

“I promise you, I’m not lying,” I said. “I wouldn’t sign a document that requires me to lie to people, and I hope you believe I wouldn’t be doing that for the hell of it.”

“Okay, okay,” he said. “I’m sorry… it just kills me, knowing that I’m not allowed to know.”

“Well, it’s not a picnic for me, not being able to tell,” I said. “And having everyone tell me how much they want to know… it wears me down.”

“Who’s ‘everyone’?”

“So far? You, Amaranth, Steff, and more incidentally, Hazel and Nicki,” I said.

“So, basically between three and five people,” Ian said.

“Basically, everyone I talk to on a semi-regular basis,” I said. “Not counting Dee and Two, who understand the concepts of privacy and binding agreements at a greater level than I think would be possible for either one of us, but neither of whom are really that great at conversation. Well, that’s not fair. Not great at having the same types of conversation as I am.”

“There’s a type of conversation you’re great at?” Ian asked. “Can other people hear these conversations, or just you?”

“Apparently, this is the kind of conversation I’m great at,” I said. “And that’s probably why we get along so well.”

“…sorry,” he said.

“It’s okay. We both take our cheap shots. Like I said, that’s why we get along so well… anyway, this leaves me with basically no one I can talk to about anything else going on in my life right now without having to go around about this.”

“What else is going on in your life, though?” Ian asked.

“Fuck you, too,” I said.

“No, I didn’t mean… that wasn’t supposed to be another cheap shot. I… just… what else is there to talk about?” he asked. “That’s part of the problem. What are we going to talk about if we’re not talking about this?”

“Well… Glory told me to expect news soon,” I said.

“Elven drama crap,” he said. “That’s something I don’t want to talk about.”

“And that’s fair,” I said. “I mean, it’s fair that you don’t want to talk about it… I think it’s more accurately characterized as anti-drama crap, since she’s trying to opt out of all that. But what’s going on in your life?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “School stuff. Nothing really interesting, not compared to…”

“Not compared to how you’re imagining my life is going,” I said. “And I think that’s the real problem. You’re comparing your actual reality… in all its mundane glory… to what you imagine my life is like right now, and reality can’t compete with imagination.”

“You say that like I’m mistaken, and yet you call my life mundane,” Ian said.

“Yeah, well, we’re both going to school to be wizards,” I said.

“You are,” he said. “You’re learning enchantment, you have a buttload of arcane power, and you’re sporting a new wand. Me? I’m… maybe not officially undeclared, but I don’t think elementalism is going to take me anywhere.”

“Really? I thought you’d gotten the knack for it,” I said.

“I figured out how to do it,” he said. “But it’s not a knack. I have to work for it, every single time… and it’s not the kind of work that leaves me with a deep sense of satisfaction or anything. It’s the kind of work that leaves me wondering why I’m putting this much effort into something my dad wants me to be. I haven’t really found a knack for anything yet. I can do some magic, I can fight some… I can play the lute…”

“Sounds like a classic bard,” I said.

“Yeah, but you say that because bards are a joke to you, not because you think that’s something I should do with my life,” he said. “We’ve talked about this before, and that’s part of why I’ve never officially switched majors yet.”

“Ian… bards aren’t a joke to me,” I said. “I can promise you that.”

“You’re emphasizing ‘to me’ in your head and hoping I won’t pick up on that, aren’t you?” he asked.

“…yes,” I admitted.

“This is something that kills me, you know?” he said. “Knowing that if I commit to bardic arts… or martial prowess… that you’d think less of me for it than if I stuck it out with spellcasting.”

“Oh, Ian,” I said. The words, where did you get that idea from? died in my throat, because I knew where he had: from me, basically saying so. “I… don’t think that way as much as I did when I first got here. It’s not even a thought, really… just a knee-jerk prejudice about things I’d never thought about. It’s a feeling, a feeling that my actual thoughts on the subjec thave been trying to chase away since the first time I was challenged on it.”

“I know,” he said. “And honestly, I know where you’re coming from on the jock-versus-nerd thing… though picking on the band kids just seems like giving in to the dark side. It just… well, you have your feeilngs and I have mine, and my feelings make it harder for me to explore certain things when I know your feelings.”

“That’s fair,” I said. “But see? We’re talking about this now, about us… something we wouldn’t be doing if we were still talking in circles around my group project. Isn’t that better? I mean, maybe this isn’t the most fun conversation we’ll ever have, but isn’t it good that we’re having it?”

“Okay, you have a point,” he said.

“Also, it’s that I ever saw fighters and bards as inferior, so much as I thought wizards were superior,” I said.

“You’re kind of ruining the moment there,” he said.

“It’s what I do,” I said.

“Nothing wrong with sticking to your strong points.”


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47 Responses to “Chapter 204: Silence and Strength”

  1. Dani says:

    I think Ian just needs to admit that he’s in pre-law.

    Each of the last five chapters has, individually, been interesting and well-written. As an arc, I would have preferred it to be three chapters shorter.

    > Also, it’s that I ever saw fighters and bards as inferior
    it’s >not< that I ever…

    Current score: 2
    • Order of Chaos says:

      Nice to see more Ian. I agree that book 2 lacks something book 1 had, characters like Ian and even Amaranth are getting less time than they did and the way the story has combat then elves then this lacks the natural flow book 1 had.
      That lore/history class seems to have dropped from the story too.

      Current score: 2
      • Zergonapal says:

        Well I guess that is a valid point, the Enchanters Inc. story arc has taken up a lot of screen time and deservedly so, but at the same time its not as if the rest of Mack’s life is on hold. Yet it seems like the story has skipped a week or so of classes while dealing with this arc and as far as I am concerned I think the slice of life nature of the story is what I read it for.

        Current score: 2
        • Brenda A. says:

          I agree. I wish we could have had a conversation or two like this in between, rather than just Mack’s internal monologue going straight into the next meeting.

          Current score: 1
        • zeel says:

          I’m with you, I don’t think the new pace is really working.

          Current score: 0
      • zeel says:

        I feel like there is something of a flow problem. In vol.1 it’s like a novel, there are action parts and introspsctive parts and everything else all woven beutifully. Vol.2 is like that in patches, but there are parts (especially lately) where the flow has been wonky.

        For instance how many chapters in a row have been focused on misgivings about the Acantha thing? In vol.1 we would have had a weeks worth of events between many of the recent chapters. While it makes some sense that nothing of much intrest may have happened it come across like Mackenzie is just obsessing about this constantly for weeks on end. What happend to her classes?

        There is also this dynamic of one chapter out doing something, the next spent thinking in circles about it/talking to Amaranth. It feels like Amy just sits in their room constantly waiting for Mackenzie to get home and talk about her day.

        I keep thinking I’m missing something. I understand that the pacing has been intentionally changed, but it feels less like a change of pase and more like a change of direction.

        It also seemed like vol.1 was written to be read as a whole – mostly assuming that the reader knows what is going on and what Mackenzie is talking about. Lately though it seems to have far more time spent on explaining the same thing over and over – makes sense for those reading along week to week, but if you try reading through it gets repetative.

        Current score: 4
        • Lunaroki says:

          To everyone complaining that this current storyline is focusing too much on one aspect of Mackenzie’s life and losing sight of everything else going on, I feel it too, but remember that this is what AE told us she was going to be doing with this volume. She’ll follow one single plot thread, or small cluster of plot threads, from start to finish, then jump back in time to grab a different one. It’s an experiment in picking up the pacing on each plot thread by pulling them out individually rather than constantly hopping back and forth between all of them. People have complained about the individual plot threads going too slow in the first volume because of all the bouncing around between different ones, so now we’re taking a new approach. I admit, it does feel a little unnatural to focus so exclusively on just a few elements of Mackenzie’s life all the time, but it’s still an interesting experiment in story-telling and I’m personally enjoying the experience. Shall we see this through and find out just how well this little experiment works out in the end?

          Current score: 5
          • P says:

            I liked the old, volume 1 format better. -_- But I still read and look forward to every update.

            Current score: 3
          • Cadnawes says:

            No need to be condescending. Obviously, seeing it through is what we will do because what choice have we got?

            When AE announced that she would be doing things this way, I figured it might be good and reserved judgment. You’ve gotta try new things or stagnate and get bored. But not all of them work, (and when you upload as things go, everyone else knows as soon as you do whether they will or won’t.) and now that I’ve seen this method in action, I can say I’m not a fan of it so far. She will obviously do what works for her, and I will keep reading regardless, but events in a life DON’T happen in a vacuum like this. It feels less natural.

            I figure somewhere there’s a compromise. Do I need a rundown of EVERY SINGLE CLASS? Probably not. And stuff that got mentioned in passing can be gone back over later in more detail, say in a fit of reverie of the kind that Mackenzie is certainly prone to. But other stuff isn’t even getting mentioned in passing.

            AE is a wonderful writer. I love her characters and their interactions. Which is maybe the problem I am having now. It’s like the world got stripped down. Wouldn’t it be better to see what, if any, effect this conflict is having on people other than Mackenzie? I would say this chapter is proof of it.

            Current score: 1
            • zeel says:

              Exactly, not everything is going to work well. Not everything that works once will work every time and not everything that failed once will fail all the time. Not that it’s failing, more like a B-. But when A+ is normal you have to wounder if things are quite as they should be.

              I just know that my favorite chapters are the ones with world building – be it class, Mackenzie having a chat with Eloise, or an internal monologue explaining the creation of a wand. It’s been since said wands’ construction that we have really got such a chapter.

              Current score: 0
            • Davo says:

              As a long time reader I think the problem here is deeper than you guys suggest. You’re all focusing on the symptoms. This is still wonderful writing, and I still look forward to it every week and that is the problem. Once a week updates. It creates a sense of dragging things out and reminding of points, but that ‘sense of’ becomes reality because that’s how it is being written. I understand that life is not perfect and AE can only do so much, however if you look at the whole picture, the best writing that we’ve ever seen was when AE had a backlog of material and updated multiple times per week. I understand that to get to that point takes a lot of work, and it’s a long way from here, however I feel it should be the goal AE aspires to as it ensures the best level of work, and thus the most readers.

              I’m sure I haven’t said anything that AE doesn’t know, and we all know that life makes achieving your goals difficult. I would love to throw more money at the problem, it always helps somewhat, however I’m unemployed, so I just refer people for now. When I can afford it I’d be happy to pay you a full time salary AE just to keep this going 😀

              Current score: 2
          • Order of Chaos says:

            That’s a good point about jumping back in time. I think part of my problem comes from lacking a timeline I can follow.
            As it is it feels like Mack had that thing where Twyla was not a dragon for a week, then spent months on combat, then a week trying to make peace with a building, then spent one episode learning to use her cool new virgin hunting powers (forgetting said powers exist next episode like a golden age comic book), then Two gets a new job and then this. All without touching virgin blood and leaving me feeling like we’re 3 months in or more.
            I may have got that order wrong but you get the point right?

            Current score: 1
            • RJ says:

              o.o actually a little date thing at the beginning would be kindof cool. like such and such day, of such and such month of w/e year, and then maybe a non specific time bracket like before such and such class or after dinner or w/e. book one felt like a journal where mack writes about w/e interesting happened that day. book two feels more like storyline focused on mack and acantha’s interactions.

              Current score: 1
  2. Alex says:

    Typos:
    first one to ay it. say
    on the subjec thave been trying subject have

    I continue enjoying the story. Thanks for writing it.

    Current score: 0
    • HiEv says:

      More typos:
      “in all sorts of interesting waysl…” The “l” shouldn’t be there at the end.

      “BecauseI listen to you” Missing space after “Because”.

      “my flaws.You accept me” Missing space after the period.

      Also, “I wouldn’t be doing that for the hell of it” seems like a phrase Mack might be a bit wary about using. 😉

      Current score: 1
      • Lunaroki says:

        Typo Report

        ” I should be better,

        Extraneous space after the opening quote mark.

        not complicated complicated magic gem heists.

        Not sure if Mack intentionally repeated the word “complicated” in order to emphasize it or if that’s a typo.

        Current score: 0
  3. Alex says:

    missed word:
    “Also, it’s that I ever saw fighters
    should be:
    “Also, it’s not that I ever saw fighters

    Current score: 0
  4. Cadnawes says:

    Heh. I guess any society will always have perceived scholastic pecking orders. I get a lot of crap about my art degree but I have learned how to shut that down. “Oh? Can YOU paint?”

    Current score: 1
    • William Carr says:

      Yeah, I can paint walls. Stuff that doesn’t move.

      I suppose I could paint a cat, if it would sit still.

      Current score: 4
  5. x says:

    “immora in all sorts of interesting waysl” { the extra ‘l’ at end was mentioned above, missing ‘l’ at start not }

    Current score: 0
  6. massivereader says:

    I was directed here from a comment posted on Beyond the Far Horizon. After reading the story from the beginning over the past several weeks, I’ve just caught up with the current post and thought I’d leave a comment. Nice writing! I wasn’t sure about the “real time” narrative at first, but now find it an interesting and mostly effective choice.

    As to the current stone soldiers thread, I’m guessing someone will come up with the idea of mocking actual skirmish players in miniature to take the game to the next level of popularity. This will explain Acantha’s commercial interest as it will use the new mocking enchantment variation, tap into the existing skirmish market and expand the existing game to a new level, taking it from a pure strategy game to something like a MMORPG.

    Current score: 0
  7. Potegoe says:

    wizards are quadratic, fighters linear, bards jokes

    Current score: 0
  8. Zathras IX says:

    Our new theme song is
    “Ta-Ra-Ra Boom N-D-A”
    (It’s the only way)

    Current score: 2
  9. Elf says:

    AE, More Tales of MU isn’t working anymore. Will you be fixing it? =/

    Current score: 1
    • Robert says:

      It works, at least for me. Check this out
      http://more.talesofmu.com/jamiestale/1/

      Current score: 0
    • Melki says:

      In a similar but different vein, I miss the Other Tales, especially the AU ones we had most recently. Are these gone forever? I would say the incentive hadn’t been met, but the last time I saw it, it was like $60 over or something. I just want to know if I should stop looking for them or not.

      Current score: 3
  10. pedestrian says:

    “You’re kind of ruining the moment there,” he said.

    “It’s what I do,” I said.

    “Nothing wrong with sticking to your strong points.”

    Okay, I think I just woke up my neighbor’s dog, I was laughing so hard!

    Current score: 1
  11. Miz*G says:

    This was a fun read. It’s great to see Amaranth getting better at realizing she isn’t perfect.

    Also, “immora in all sorts of interesting waysl…” your l seems to have relocated itself from the end of “immoral” to the end of the sentence.

    Current score: 0
  12. tomclark says:

    I dunno. The whole NDA thing just sort of rang false to me. I’ve had to tell friends, family, and intimate partners “I can’t discuss that because I’m under NDA” various times before, and the most common reaction is “oh, OK” and letting it drop. It’s really not such a difficult concept in today’s society.

    Current score: 3
    • zeel says:

      I am with you, seems like they are making a huge deal over nothing. It’s a standard non disclosure agreement, there was less angst over possibly literally selling her ass over jewelry.

      And what’s the worst Acantha can do? Waste your time with free food?

      Current score: 3
      • Holodrum says:

        I think the disconnect here is a failure of the protagonists who happen to be sophmore college students to recognize the proper scale of an event. When life can be as crazy as selling your freedom for jewelry, then even normal business contracts can start to take a sinister hue if you’re not being careful. Most of us have enough respect for individuals and the rules of business that an NDA isn’t a big deal but we’re looking at a symbol of perfection, an abused half-elf, and a Bard-in-denial. Why would they have reasonable reactions to business formalities?

        Current score: 5
      • Seth says:

        >> And what’s the worst Acantha can do? Waste your time with free food?

        Worst possible scenario? That would involve water balloons, a mock box, and one pint of virgin blood.

        Current score: 1
    • William Carr says:

      Okay, you didn’t realize that telling someone you’re under an NDA is a violation of the NDA?

      Seriously. Nobody talks about Fight Club.

      Current score: 3
      • Ilya says:

        Depends on the NDA, obviously, but even in government stuff you can say that you’re under NDA without saying that you’re working in top-secret lab or something.

        Current score: 0
    • Ilya says:

      It’s not difficult to you now, but imagine yourself 20 years old student whose girlfriend enlisted in student group project, lead by campus professor. Would you think for a second that this NDA is any kind of serious?

      Current score: 0
  13. Aran says:

    I can do some magic, I can fight some… I can play the lute…

    Is Ian related to Elan? In which case, does Nale have a cousin named Nai who looks like Ian but has a goatee? 😛

    Current score: 0
  14. pedestrian says:

    tomclark and zeel, I think that you are correct from your business experience.

    This story is being written from the POV of college students, many of whom such as Mackenzie, Amaranth and Ian lack real world experience. They are teenagers? They are curious and still learning self-discipline.

    Whereas the older students such as Andreas, this is business as usual.

    Current score: 4
    • Lunaroki says:

      I would also like to add that this takes place in the equivalent of the 1980’s in our world. I’m not sure there was as much widespread awareness of NDAs back then, so they would probably have seemed more unknown and sinister.

      Current score: 1
      • tomclark says:

        1980s equivalent? How do you figure? I know they didn’t have smartphones and flatscreen TVs in the 80s…

        Current score: 1
        • Potegoe says:

          i think he got that impression from mac’s accidentally rabblerousing(celia helped) take on race politics in the beginning that almost made her student president.

          the thing he overlooked is black students didn’t occasionally eat the white ones so obviously racism against monsters would stick around a bit longer(besides the occupation of the library and following bloodbath in the flashback read much much more 80s to me than mac’s stuff)

          Current score: 0
        • Anvildude says:

          They didn’t have teleportation or self-driving cars, either.

          Magic, as it has different rules and ‘logic’ behind it (Laws of Similarity, Contagion, Precedent (especially Precedent), and to a lesser extent Symbol and Intent, mean that many things that took a rather long time to develop in our science driven universe were easy and simple next-steps in this one- but also that many systems and processes that, in this world, are second-nature, are seen in that one as un-obtainable.

          For example- Automation. In some respects, they have better and easier automation than a Sci world would- self driving carriages, phones that call who you want them to call with just a single name or word, actual artificially constructed intelligence with creativity and free will. But in other respects, their Automation is far behind- they cannot have fully automated assembly lines (references to ‘Line Enchanter’ suggests that each and every step has to be done by a separate craftsperson), there’s almost no mass-transportation (carriages and airships seem to be the limit, and neither is both cheap and large-scale- no trains or highways or heavier-than-aircraft, nothing really fast) and there’s no way to automatically imbue something with magic or spells- no “Mana batteries” you can just slot into a staff to recharge it, or automatic ‘bug finders/fixers’ to give spells once-overs.

          This makes a world both similar to our current one, and capable of being rather behind in actual ‘era’. I think in a situation where there’s such a disparity between the types of technological progress, you must instead look at social progress and norms as the benchmarks- and even then it’s tricky, because of the presence of fully matriarchal societies and effective immortals gumming things up- plus, not just the presence, but the _long term_ presence of instant-communication- the Communication Age most likely happened _before_ the Industrial Age in this society, simply due to the presence of the Law of Contagion and Similarity to contact each other nigh instantly as long as they had a ‘token’ or something. So instead we look at a few markers that seem to be unaffected by these vast differences- one of which is how Women are viewed in Pax Imperia. The Flashbacks to the previous Demon Riots suggest that time period was one where women were only just being allowed in to institutions of Higher Learning- so there’s a parallel to start setting times by. And even now, it seems that for many people, the ‘wife at home’ mindset is still acceptable, if not enforced (again, muddled by Matriarchal societies and systems where females can literally wield Power over men)- while things like sexuality and self-expression are finding more and more acceptance in public.

          Current score: 2
          • Ilya says:

            Nah, I think they’re about our era.
            Yes, they had communication technology in past, but only recent industrial revolution and modern applied enchantment field (that very much feels hi-tech to me) that made mass production personal magic mirror that can call anyone possible.
            We also had long range radio communication in previous century, but talking in our terms, they have internet and cellphones/tablets which is modern hi-tech.

            Current score: 0
  15. William Carr says:

    I imagine myself sitting down with Mackenzie and the Scooby Gang and telling them a bowdlerized version of the movie “Real Genius”.

    See, kids, this young fellow who was a … promising enchanter, was invited to join an exclusive University.

    He met other older students that were just as smart as he was but in different ways.

    And they were assigned to a… research team making a… magic wand that projected a bright beam of light.

    They worked for a year, until they figured out how to make wand with enough powerstones to send a beam of Light that blasted through stone, through wood, through metal.

    And then the magic wand was stolen and used to make a terrible weapon by another dishonest student who wasn’t all that bright.

    When they realized that this weapon could kill everyone on a battlefield from miles away, the college students had to figure out how to undo the harm they’d done and get revenge on the thief.

    So be careful who you trust, and what spells you create.

    You could be responsible for creating a…. spell… that would kill thousands in the wrong hands.

    Current score: 3
    • Potegoe says:

      those spells already exist, the presence of battlemages made a massive difference in this world’s analogues of a few historic battles that went the other way our universe. like their little bighorn where custer had the ability to teleport in the rest of the solders he was supposed to have meet him there instead of waiting on their march and getting killed. they still took just as long and just as many runners with messages to take him seriously but they got there in time

      Current score: 0
  16. Mist42nz says:

    “Actual thoughts on the subjec”.
    Typo missing the “t” in subject.

    this story is very different shape to book 1. Effectively more immanent. Real ideas, actual real world events in alternative universe but exposition-ing on processes in our world. Growing from a First-person perspective in a way that someone having to play themselves in real life might rebuild their reality.

    Book 1 was more fire and craziness. Wicked new world, new people, fascinating but terrible events in a fantasy second person manner.

    I’m into book 2 and want to see we’re going and what’s around the corner, but I do miss some of the Wham Bam thank you Amaranth…

    Current score: 1
  17. anon says:

    I miss a Sooni and co.

    Current score: 0
  18. anon says:

    is there even any sex in the second book? i haven’t read it all the way through, but the random pages i click are all not-including-any-sex. the first book, you couldn’t avoid it.

    Current score: 0