379: Problems All Around

on May 13, 2009 in Book 14

In Which Peripheral Characters Have Speaking Parts

Although I kind of felt like crashing after the lecture ended, I instead headed to our lounge and took a few minutes to flip through my thaumatology textbook to figure out what I’d missed. It might have been the first time I’d actually cracked it… Professor Goldman didn’t actually teach from it that much, and he was far more interesting to listen to than most textbooks were to read.

Not that I’d never read textbooks for my own pleasure, but in the previous weeks’ lessons, we’d mainly been covering stuff that I’d read about for pleasure in high school.

It turned out there was a whole chapter on the Magic of Metaphor… a short chapter, but then it turned out to be a really simple subject.

One of the earliest schools of magic devised by humans, with no input from elves or extraplanar creatures, was that of metaphor. This approach to magic had the advantage of being based in a simple and intuitive approach to interacting with the world, and thus did not require practitioners to grasp a complex underlying philosophy before utilizing it. After the advent of humanosylvan relations and the establishment of the practices of wizardry, the metaphorical model was largely discarded, being viewed as a primitive holdover fraught with meaningless ritual and empty superstition.

At the core, though, these primitive practices did indeed rely on working techniques that are still practiced to this day. One of the first feats of sorcery an enchanter learns is how to identify and enhance the intrinsic properties of a subject creature or object. The use of a metaphorical link allows the same to be done with properties that are not actually intrinsic to the subject but are found within a related subject. This is the reason why many ancient light spheres were made from gold or silver, for example: these metals have no true internal light, but the materials could be likened to the sun or the moon, respectively and their ability to reflect light, if the sorcerer is insistent enough, can become a celestial disk’s ability to generate it. Even the typical round shape came about in a deliberate attempt to recall the circular nature of the sun and the moon.

This approach is so intuitive that modern practitioners tend to incorporate it into their workings without considering that they are engaging in an act of metaphoric linking, but in cultures that had no accord with elves and limited trade, metaphor still forms the basis of their magic.

Among certain nomadic tribes of northpersons, it is customary to give children names which invoke animals associated with desirable physical traits. This is partly superstition, in the hope that they will be blessed directly with those traits, but it also has practical magical use. A man who is named for the fierce tundra wolf, wearing a pelt taken from the same and affecting the manner of such a beast, would make a readier recipient for a spell which imbues the subject with the wolf’s hunting prowess and senses by means of metaphor enhancement. The same is true of a bear’s strength, a deer’s speed, or a falcon’s sight.

Though such enhancement is the most direct means of utilizing metaphor in magic, it is not the only one. Metaphor can be useful for establishing a link to a remote subject for long-distance workings. It can be used to ease the tremendous energy cost of metamorphosis, by establishing a shorter route. Again, we must consider the example of the northpersons and their well-known enthusiastic defensive fighters who are noted for their ability to enter into an ecstatic state of non-specific aggression. It was once theorized that persons living with ursanthropy were recruited for this purpose, as surviving witnesses recounted the sight of combatants actually becoming bears on the field of battle. Modern researchers observing the phenomenon from a distance have determined that all the northpersons in question were in fact invoking aspects of bears, some going so far as to spontaneously metamorphose.

That this feat—difficult enough for trained wizards with a well-formulated spell—can be done spontaneously by members of a magically underdeveloped culture is a powerful testament to the effectiveness of metaphor. The practitioner of this art becomes so much like a bear that it only takes a small mystic ‘push’ for he or she to become one.

I would have really liked to read more examples like that, more specific cases taken from around the world, but the rest of the chapter was all abstract examples and modern applications. I kicked myself extra hard, mentally, for zoning out on Wednesday instead of listening to whatever Goldman had been saying. He probably had more examples.

What was really frustrating in a tantalizing sense was that at the end of the chapter there was a very brief mention of metaphoric traditions in non-human cultures… no mention of any specific ones, or any historical context, or anything. The elves were mentioned only to the extent that they’d influenced humans. It was like they felt the need to include a completely perfunctory bare effort “Oh, and the other races did stuff, too.” thing… as much as the textbook writers had bent over backwards to avoid saying “barbarian”, the book still had its problems.

It kind of reminded me of the way some of the history books I’d had in high school had dealt with non-human development. A grudging tolerance was extended to other human cultures that brushed up against the great empires, but if you weren’t a human… or sometimes elf or dwarf… you didn’t rate.

I made a mental note to do some research on the subject the next time I went to the library. It was almost the weekend, so that wouldn’t be long… of course, that was assuming that everything went okay on Saturday.

It was hard to keep my priorities straight when I had so damned many of them. I’d clearly neglected my schoolwork, and since school was the whole point of, you know, going to school… and since I couldn’t stay there and have what passed for my social life and be near the people I loved if I didn’t keep my grades up and keep my scholarship and assistance, it seemed like that should be a high priority. But grades were just a number and I was really there to learn, so it also seemed like making up the gaps in the official version of things by hitting the library on my own time was an admirable goal. But all of that would be rendered superfluous if I ended up screwing up my life completely, by sending the wrong signals to a mermaid one too many times or messing up my feeding schedule and going on a rampage or being possessed by a pitchfork or getting myself enslaved…

My situation was probably unusual in several ways, but other people had girlfriends and interests and hobbies and conflicts going on, too… and some of them had jobs and extracurricular crap. How the hell did they cope with it?

I remembered my datebook… I could write a tiny note to myself on the entry for Sunday. I’d have to remember to look at it when I went to the library, but maybe I could get in the habit of writing notes in it and looking at it on a regular basis. That would make it a little bit more useful, wouldn’t it?

The first thing would be to find it, of course. I was pretty sure it was somewhere in my room, but I hadn’t exactly been using it.

I felt a weird and nameless dread at going back there, even though I’d been in there to get dressed and get ready for class. It had been standing empty, though. Knowing that someone had likely been in there without my knowledge or awareness… especially considering the likely someone…

I still hadn’t really dealt with that. Not awake. I’d been so insistent, when reporting my dream to Amaranth, that it had been real… I still believed that. But had it actually been him? There was no way I could know, and I didn’t know what it would mean if it was.

A demon visiting me in my sleep. Maybe I had less reason to be afraid of that… at least, to be mortally afraid of it… than most people of human descent, but that didn’t mean it was a good thing.

There were things I would have liked to know about my mother, about my… origin, for lack of a better word… but I really wasn’t sure I wanted to know anything about my father. I certainly didn’t want anything to do with him.

But it was weird to think about… I really didn’t know how to feel about it.

Who did I talk to about that? The three people who probably gave me the best advice… and who I could confide in… were probably Amaranth, Dee, and Two. None of them had a father, with varying degrees of literality. Steff and Ian both had huge issues with their dads, which could make this a sensitive subject… but at the same time it was hard to imagine their issues would give them any particular insight into “how do I deal with it when my demonic father comes into my bedroom and messes with my dreams and my stuff?”

And… the assurances of a demon who’d appeared in a dream before sabotaging my bath stuff to make me go crazy notwithstanding… could I really afford to be distracted by this when my ass was going to be on the line in a day and a half?

It was no wonder I hadn’t had time to think of a costume for Veil… which I suddenly realized I could be working on, since I had nothing more to do at the moment and no more classes until the middle of the afternoon.

What did it say that I could go from angsting over matters of life and death to planning for a party? I didn’t know, but maybe that was the only way to live a life like mine and still, you know, live a life. I couldn’t do anything about Saturday night before Saturday night. I couldn’t do anything about my demon father. In the meantime, I would be seeing Ian there, and Steff afterwards. How could I give that up just because I had a bunch of assorted pointed weapons hanging over my head?

Two came into the lounge then, carrying some pots, and it jarred me out of my thoughts because she didn’t say hello to me… she just walked past the table and turned on the sink.

“Hi, Two,” I said.

“Oh, hi, Mack,” she said. “I would have said hi, but I thought you were meditating or thinking about sex, so I did not would like to interrupt you.”

“Heh,” I said. “I guess I was kind of lost in thought.”

“I get lost in my thoughts, too,” she said. “But not so much lately, since I have more ways to go.”

“I was actually thinking about my costume for tonight,” I said, and Two unexpectedly beamed.

“You’re going to be so pretty,” she said.

“Maybe… hopefully, I guess,” I said. “But I have to decide what to wear.”

“Why don’t you wear your costume for the other costume party?” she asked.

“What other costume party?”

“The one you are going to tomorrow.”

“Two, I’m not going to a costume party tomorrow,” I said.

“Yes, you are,” she said.

“Two, I’m not,” I said.

“You’re mistaken,” she said. “Amaranth said you needed a costume for a party that you and her are going to on Saturday that I am not invited to and I helped her make it.”

“Oh!” I said, realizing that Amaranth had been circumspect about the circumstances when enlisting Two’s help in getting me properly attired for the club’s dress code. “Two, that’s not exactly… well, I guess it is kind of a dress-up thing. Okay. Yeah. But I don’t want to wear that costume to a regular costume party.”

“Why not?”

“Because they’re different sorts of parties,” I said. “I don’t think what I’m going to be wearing would be very appropriate for a school function.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with it. And if Amaranth is there then it wouldn’t be indecent.”

“Well, it’s not… in any event, it’s really important that I have a nice costume for Saturday and so I don’t want to mess it up,” I said.

“Oh,” Two said, nodding knowingly. “That makes sense.”

“So I need to come up with something… something cheap and easy, obviously. I mean, I guess I could run into town and see if there’s anything still available, but I don’t really want to spend a lot of money,” I said.

“You could dress up as a nymph,” Two said. “That would be cheap and easy.”

“Yeah, uh, no,” I said. “That gets back into ‘inappropriate’ territory.”

“But if Amaranth is there…”

“I wouldn’t be comfortable with it,” I said.

“You could be a golem,” Two said. “That would only take some makeup or a glamour or even Amaranth’s marker.”

“Amaranth’s marker,” I repeated, thinking about the time she’d written “Nymph’s Toy” across my forehead. I shivered. “There’s an idea.” It had erotic undertones for me, but it also touched on comfort… a golem was not a slave, but a possession. It was also a connection to Two. “If I do that, do you think I should copy your runes? Or would that be weird?”

“I don’t think it would be weird,” Two said. “I think it would be nice.”

“Hey… maybe we could go as each other?” I said. “We could swap clothes… I could dress like you and you could dress like me.”

“Or you could dress like me and I could dress like you should dress,” Two said.

“If you don’t like the idea, you can just say so,” I said. “I can just be a golem who dresses like me. But the point of a costume party is to dress up like something you aren’t.”

“Don’t you think that dressing up like a golem is a tad problematic?” Shiel said, ambling into the lounge with no attempt to hide the fact that she’d been listening to our conversation from the hall.

“Not really,” I said. “It would be tough to do an iron or stone golem, but with a humany golem like Two, it’s just a matter of drawing some runes.”

“I mean, you’re miming the characteristics of an oppressed and exploited class of beings for your own entertainment,” Shiel said. “But then, you’re the one who let dwarves throw chains on her for a frat party, aren’t you? You know that’s not even a dwarven tradition.”

“Yeah, it’s a goblinoid one,” I said. “I know. I got schooled on that recently… by a dwarf, actually.”

“Would this dwarf have sold you that hardware I saw in your boobs earlier?”

“Yeah,” I said. “If it’s any of your business.”

“So clearly he’s not above a little cultural appropriation.”

“She, actually,” I said. I looked pointedly at Shiel’s bare, smooth chest. “And don’t tell me that you’ve got a tradition of nipple piercings.”

“Where do you think the lock motif came from, then?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “From locks, maybe? I didn’t think you were a big fan of the tradition in the first place.”

“I’m not,” she said. “But two wrongs don’t make a right, especially when they’re both being committed in the same direction. Do you know how creepy it is to know that dwarves look at my culture and say ‘they may be horrible monsters with no right to live, but at least they keep their women in line’?”

“I think you’re oversimplifying things a bit,” I said. “Anyway, this has got nothing to do with Veil, which is just harmless fun. I mean, if somebody dresses up in a racial caricature, yes, that’s a problem, but that doesn’t mean the whole idea should be thrown out the window. Why let the assholes ruin everybody else’s fun?”

“Because that’s what it comes down to, letting people… i.e., white, western-descended humans… have their fun,” Shiel said.

“Does the fact that it was Two’s idea make any difference to you?” I asked.

“That’s right, it was,” Two said. She’d turned back to the sink and was washing out her dishes, now that the conversation had more or less left her behind.

“I actually don’t know,” Shiel said.

“Then why are you complaining to me about it?”

“Well, I’m thinking about this stuff!” Shiel said. “I don’t have all the answers, but at least I’m questioning.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve got other questions on my mind right now,” I said. “And I’m looking forward to a chance to hang out with my friends and relax and bond and yes, have fun. I get that these issues are all way important to you, and I can understand why, but try to imagine what it would be like if every time you sat down to play with your toy soldiers…”

“I don’t play with toy soldiers,” Shiel said.

“Okay, whatever you want to call it,” I said. “But imagine if every time you went to play your little game…”

“Whatever point you’re trying to make would probably come across more clearly if you didn’t feel the need to diminish my hobby,” Shiel said.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “You’re right. But imagine if every time you tried to play… what’s it called?”

“Stone soldiers,” she said.

“If every time you tried to play stone soldiers, somebody started arguing with you about the advisability of making a game out of death and war,” I said. “Or the implications of carving humans and dwarves and then acting out ordering them around or killing them.”

“I don’t think that’s quite the same thing,” Shiel said. “But… I don’t think soldier stones are problematic. I mean, yes, my race actually manages to rival humans for chauvinism, although we have less impact because we don’t have power, but the game… the portrayals of other races are just for variety. They’re all balanced against each other, so it’s not like there are rules saying the humans are weak and greedy and the dwarves are stupid and drunk.”

“Okay, but then the point is, not every time that a member of one race portrays another race in some fashion, that’s not always inherently ‘problematic’,” I said. “Right?”

“At the very least it’s fraught with potential problems,” Shiel said.

“Yeah, okay, I agree with that,” I said. “But race-based costumes aren’t even an inherent part of Veil. I mean, traditionally the idea was to do something otherworldly or undead… sometimes races that humans didn’t have a great relationship with got thrown in under the heading of ‘monster’, but that was never the original idea, and in modern times… well, I mean, people dress up as healers or librarians or paladins or pirates. It’s a game. It’s fun, in the same way that pretending to be a general or whatever you’re doing when you’re playing your game is fun.”

“Okay, I guess I can kind of see that,” Shiel said. “Though, really, there’s more intellectual elements in… well, it’s not important. But if some idiot shows up at the dance in orcface, do you really think he’s going to be the least bit cognizant of the historical context you described?”

“No,” I said. “And that would be why he’s the idiot in orcface. I think I can condemn him and still condone the dance, can’t I? I mean, I’ve never been to a Veil Ball, but I don’t think there’s a paper I have to sign at the door that says that by going there, I give my consent and approval to every costume that some drunken fratboy throws together to get high-fives from his buddies.”

“You’re making some interesting potential points,” Shiel said. “But I still don’t feel like I could attend this in good conscience. I mean, even if there isn’t a circular going around advertising the tasteless costumes, you still know they’re going to be there.”

“Yes, but I also know they’re not the point,” I said. “You don’t have to approve of it, and you definitely don’t have to go, but I am… and it’s not that I don’t think about racial issues, because I do. Not the same way you do, so maybe it’s a good thing that we had this conversation, but even after hearing your thoughts and reflecting on it, I still choose to go.”

“Okay,” Shiel said. She sighed. “I guess I can’t argue with that. I mean, I could, but even if I talked you out of going, that wouldn’t stop any of the things I’m objecting to.”

“Well, there’s always next year,” I said.

“That’s true,” Shiel said. “I’m definitely planning on getting more involved in campus politics. Like the student senate… you know, you really shouldn’t have let Suzune have that seat. Though I haven’t ruled out becoming a resident advisor. Do you know if they let frosh hold that position?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I assume it doesn’t come up often since all the positions are filled before we get here.”

“Well, I’m thinking if Kiersta vacates hers,” Shiel said.

“She hasn’t quit yet,” I said.

“Yeah, but I’m wondering if she’ll be left with a choice,” Shiel said. “You know what happened this morning, right?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “It kind of happened to me.”

“I mean during the search,” she said. “They found contraband in room 419.”

“Oh, yeah,” I said, unable to repress a giggle. “The twins got busted.”

“And Twyla,” Shiel said. “That’s the sort of thing an RA is supposed to be on top of, and…”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t Twyla’s, it was theirs,” I said.

“All three of them share the room,” Shiel said. “Anyway, that’s supposed to be Kiersta’s…”

“But it wasn’t hers!” I said. “Why should she get in trouble?”

“Look, I don’t know who was actually buying and drinking the dwarf poison,” Shiel said. “From what I heard… and not that I was eavesdropping but the walls are kind of thin and voices were raised… the human girls said that their roommate drank it, too. Anyway, since it was all so out in the open, I think it’s going to be hard for Kiersta to…”

“How can you be so calm about this?” I asked. “Twyla doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with them.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t actually know Twyla… I didn’t realize she was a friend of yours.”

“She isn’t,” I said. “But fuck, she’s got to suffer enough just being their roommate.”

“Well, maybe she should have done something,” Shiel said.

“I did,” Twyla said from the doorway, giving me a second reminder that sound carried out through the open door. Her eyes were rimmed red. “I told Kiersta about the alcohol, but how much do you think that matters when the RA is their drinking buddy?”

“Did you document it, when you told her?” Shiel asked.

“Yeah, I’m not stupid,” Twyla said. “But with my luck, I’m probably going to get bounced out anyway.”

“Don’t be so sure,” Shiel said. She pointed at me. Interestingly, she used her ring finger… or what would be a ring finger on humans. “They haven’t kicked her out yet, have they?”


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7 Responses to “379: Problems All Around”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Good point Shiel.

    But if the bitch twins want to drag down Twyla into their cesspit, their being human {ex-human?} still give them an edge over a horned fractional-human when the authority figures are already compromised by their own prejudices.

    Could Twyla get herself tested for alcohol consumption? If they have such a test it would prove that the twins are liars and all their testimony against anybody, on any issue, would be automatically discounted.

    Current score: 2
  2. MackSffrs says:

    Scientifically speaking, you can probably, with a large enough sample, test blood for repeated usage of alcohol against someone who isn’t drinking regularly, or especially hasn’t drank at all. The damage shows, even if only a little, and their are certain waste byproducts created by introducing alcohol into the bloodstream, especially the hard stuff.
    Magically speaking, they can probably have a very experienced subtle artist check for… ongoing hard liquor consumption, in terms of damage and the effects.

    Current score: 2
  3. Duke says:

    They could also test the bottles for DNA, scientifically speaking. There has to be some sort of psychometric spell that would tell you who touched to bottles.

    Current score: 1
  4. Maesenko says:

    I have to give Mack credit in this one — and Amaranth as well, considering it was these principles she has been trying to instill in Mack.

    Mackenzie did a fine job of remembering her planner, actually reading/studying and learning her material, and having a not-shouting-match, intellectual debate with Shiel. All in all, her head is very well together in this chapter.

    Current score: 12
  5. JerK says:

    Ha… when Mack gives herself a mental note I just imagining her tossing it into a mental trash barrel right after she writes it.

    Current score: 7
  6. JerK says:

    So yeah maybe less mental notes and more actual notes like on that fancy new phone that could make a really loud noise as a reminder.

    Current score: 3
  7. Jechtael says:

    I LOVE these chapters! The subject of linguistics and etymology is my forte. I liked the berserker (bear-shirt) example in the metaphoric linking text; I hope we get to see more about examples from nonhuman cultures, and other human cultures. (For that matter, divine magic could be entirely based on metaphoric linking. I don’t yet know enough about divine casting in the MUniverse to know how likely it is, since it’s not the case in D&D but a lot of things in D&D are replaced or deconstructed here.)

    Shiel needs to pick her causes more carefully. She’s not a champion of rights, she’s a champion of HER rights. She just seems to us the excuse of, “but I’m doing it for EVERYONE!” At least Mackenzie was able to have a reasonable discussion with her without drowning out the “you’re being a hypocrite” point with her usual “BUT YOU’RE BEING SO STUPID!”

    I wonder if Mackenzie will get around to calling Ian and discussing costumes with him. Oh, I will be so amused if they have costumes that are innocuous apart but utterly horrifying together. Like a Catholic exorcist and a little boy, or a woman in scrubs and Michael Myers. (…now I’m imagining Machenzie dressed as a priest from one of the our-world sects that dress their clergy in black frocks with white collar bands, and a fake Khersian bible. Probably offensive to Khersians, but hilarious to anyone who likes seeing Mackenzie squirm.)

    I hope things go well for Twyla.

    Current score: 1