50: Whispered Words

on August 11, 2007 in 02: Love In The Time Of Magic

In Which Mackenzie Is A Suspected Skirmish Fan 

 I’d expected to break down crying at some point, if not during the unnecessarily long walk back to the dorm, then certainly during the dark and lonely part of the night. I’d definitely expected some kind of fucked-up nightmares involving the faces of the ghouls, or the sight of their bodies ripping apart in my hands, or of the look of most profound anguish Amaranth had given me, or some combination of that.

Instead, once I’d showered off the ghoul gunk, I went to bed and just sort of… laid there. Normally I can’t get my mind to shut up, but it didn’t seem to know what to say, even after sleep eventually claimed me.

It was a good thing that general thaumatology was my first class the next day, or else I probably wouldn’t have even got out of bed. The course syllabus had mentioned that Friday was quiz day, and the quizzes formed the bulk of our grades. I reminded myself that the entire purpose of going to college was going to college. My other problems… social, emotional, or whatever… were just sidelines, and I couldn’t let them distract me from my education. I told myself that, over and over again.

It didn’t really work, except to the extent that it got me dressed and out the door.

Professor Goldman informed us that he used to start every quiz by posing the question, “If a quiz leaves you feeling quizzical, then what do you feel after a test?” until the department head asked him to stop, and thus, we would never hear him say such a thing.

The quiz probably wouldn’t have taken me more than ten or fifteen minutes, under normal circumstances. It covered what we’d gone over in lecture on Monday and Wednesday, and the assigned reading… which I’d known just by looking at the chapter titles wasn’t anything I actually needed to read.

What are the three main components of intentionalism within thaumatology? That was easy: caster’s intent, creator’s intent, and formal intent. The more common names for theurgy and thaumaturgy? Also easy: divine and arcane magic. It was all incredibly basic stuff. This was probably why Goldman’s lecture seemed to be so popular… one quiz a week meant that any one you totally blew would be balanced out by the dead easy ones at the start of the term.

It was dead easy. It really was. I just couldn’t focus on it. Lying alone in my room, I’d been numb… static. I’d broken that stasis by getting up. Amaranth hated me. Being an evil, dangerous monster on the inside apparently didn’t make me a good enough fighter to even competently protect my friends. Amaranth hated me. Of course, I didn’t really have any friends. Amaranth hated me. Not any more. Amaranth hated me. If I’d ever really had any.

Amaranth hated me.

It took me most of the period to get through the simple little quiz, not because I couldn’t find the answers but because I’d find myself staring into space for five minutes at a time while these thoughts chased themselves and me around the inside of my head. I wasn’t the last person to turn in my paper and leave the lecture hall. Ordinarily, this might have made me shake my head and wonder what the hell the others had been doing when this exact same stuff was covered in high school…

Now, I figured that probably they’d been busy talking to their friends… or stealing glances from their lovers.

I’d skipped breakfast and there was no question of going to lunch. Even if I’d wanted or needed to, I couldn’t afford it, and didn’t have anybody who’d shell out the fifty copper for me because Amaranth hated me… and anyway, nothing would underscore just how completely I’d fucked up quite like sitting alone in a crowded room. Amaranth would certainly be there, sitting with Steff and Two… and probably others, who’d come join the group now that I wasn’t there.

It suddenly struck me how pretty those three were… how well they went together. I tried to imagine how the four of us together would have looked, to somebody else’s eyes: Amaranth, with her golden, honey-like hair and generous nymphly curves… Steff, with her shining platinum hair and her exotic elven looks… and Two, with her wispy blonde hair and sad, waifish beauty.

And then, me.

Two, sitting there and quietly eating her pudding, fit in better with the little group than I ever had, or ever could.

So, yeah… lunch was out of the question.

I also skipped my WP class, again. I’d finally had a chance to actually use my knife and had completely blown it. I figured if I messed around with it any more, I’d probably find a way to stab myself without even taking the knife out of its sheath.

I might have skipped elven history, too, but I was already on Professor Ariadne’s shit list (if a haughtily beautiful true elf could have something so crude) and there was no chance she wouldn’t notice my absence. I tried not to look at Steff when I entered the room, and instead made a beeline for the empty seat farthest from her.

“I was beginning to formulate the impression that you did not care for me,” Delia Daella said as I sat down beside her. I visibly started at the sound, as I’d been so focused on who I wasn’t sitting by. “I see by your reaction that this impression was not in error.”

“I’m… I’m sorry,” I said. “I like you okay… I’ve just got a lot of stuff on my mind.”

“Yes, I know,” she said. “It is rather loud. I hope you do not intend to keep thinking throughout the entire class.”

“You can hear my thoughts?” I asked, surprised. I knew she was taking a minor in the subtle arts, but… well… there were few disciplines where a single week of classes would yield that kind of results.

“Not as thoughts, but as a distracting jumble of noise. Women of my line are naturally gifted in that area,” she said. “I am taking classes to learn better control. Why are you not sitting by your racist friend? There’s an empty seat by her, which I assumed she was saving for you.”

“Steff isn’t racist,” I said defensively, though in fairness, Steff had been a little dismissive towards the dark elf viewpoint. “She just… well, she’s…”

I trailed off, trying to figure out what I was trying to say. I realized I didn’t know anything about Steff’s background or her upbringing. Had she been raised in any part by elves?

“Your language doesn’t have enough pronouns,” Delia Daella said, and then Professor Ariadne swept into the room, beginning her recitation the moment she’d entered the door. I didn’t dare ask Delia Daella what she had meant by that. The sentence didn’t make sense no matter how I tried to parse it… but then, there were other times when she’d phrased things a bit oddly. Probably, her command of Pax Magisteria wasn’t as good as she thought it was. I couldn’t fault her. I mean, I didn’t speak any Elvish.

It was only about a quarter of the way through the class when Steff started whispering to me.

“Y’know,” her voice said, “a whole hell of a lot of people here would have happily taken the fact that you stomped past me without a glance as a sign that you’re a mean, hateful bitch and they were better off without your company.”

I didn’t know why she was telling me this, because of course, there was absolutely no way I could respond. I had to do my best to look like I wasn’t even hearing her.

“I mean, given that you yelled at my friends and insulted my beliefs… and then threw a knife at my head,” she went on, a bit later, “you can probably see why I might be inclined to seize any excuse to get madder at you.”

I gave a little shake of my head. I needed to focus on Ariadne’s recitation of long-ago wars. In the event that she ever gave a test… or real homework… I wanted to be able to reverse the instructor’s negative opinion of me.

“Amy spent the whole night crying,” Steff said. Was she trying to make me feel shitty? Probably. Like she said, she had plenty of reason to hate me. “She thinks you hate her… she doesn’t see how you could hate science so much and not hate her for believing in it.”

Oh, did I ever want to respond to that! Hate Amaranth? How could I? How could anyone? For that matter, I didn’t hate science… I loved it. I just, you know, made sure I had my head on straight about it. That was trivial, though… the main thing was how could Amaranth think I hated her?

Of course, I thought, it could just be that, as she believed in loving everyone, she had a hard time dealing with her hatred for me without imagining I hated her back.

“Maybe there really is nothing you can do to fix this, but I really don’t want to have to spend the whole year dividing my time between the two of you,” Steff said. I knew it went without saying that she’d pick Amaranth’s company over mine… she didn’t have to say it. I got the message. “But you’re going to have to be the one who tries, because Amy doesn’t have a clue how to deal with this. She doesn’t have a lot of experience with negative emotions, if you haven’t noticed.”

“Ms. Blaise,” Professor Ariadne said rather sharply. Her voice sounded so much like it was coming from right in front of me that I involuntarily looked up… and jumped, banging my knee on the underside of the desk, when I saw that she was. “Perhaps you would like to share your interpretation of the last stanza?”

“I… uh…” I said, feeling the heat and color rise in my cheeks. “I… didn’t really hear it,” I admitted.

“Of course you didn’t… you were quite clearly listening to something else. Market report? Afternoon soap opera? Skirmish match? If this were one of your high schools, I would demand you turn over whatever device it is you were using,” she said. “However, this is not high school. You are here by choice, and in fact, have paid for the privilege of being here. Moreover, elven history in particular is not a required subject for any major or focus of study, which means that not one person is here entirely against their will. In short, if my subject doesn’t interest you… there’s no reason for you to be here.”

I wanted to say either “But I am interested!” or “I actually love elven history!” or “I do want to be here!”… but as usual, when my brain came up with two or more things to say at the same time, nothing intelligible came out.

“Excuse me, Professor,” Delia Daella said. “I believe another student was whispering and distracting her.”

“Oh?” Ariadne said, arching an eyebrow. “Is this true, Ms. Blaise?”

I wanted to yell “No!”…but, unsurprisingly… “I… I really was just listening to something.” was as close to a lie as I could muster, to shield Steff from the professor’s ire. “I’ll pay better attention from now on,” I said, trying to end the uncomfortable attention.

“Yes, well… please see that you do,” she said. “And remember that you can still drop classes without penalty.”

With that admonition, she went back into her story. Steff left me alone for the rest of the class, but I still wasn’t able to focus on the whirling narrative. Amaranth’s crying face kept appearing in front of me.

The worst part of a crying nymph is that they never stop being a nymph. If you ever watch a pretty woman really break down and cry, it isn’t pretty. It had been like this when Two had cried… it’s the difference between TV tears and real tears. A nymph doesn’t stop being devastatingly beautiful no matter what she does, though… which makes the rather uncommon sight of one bawling her eyes out simply more devastating.

Steff made a beeline for me after class was dismissed–once more with the command to think given in lieu of homework–but I headed away through the knot of people, and she didn’t bother to catch up. I couldn’t face her. I hadn’t been able to see her face as she’d whispered to me from across the room, but in my mind I knew it held a look of purest accusation. I’d made Amaranth cry, as she’d never cried before.

Of course Steff wanted me to try to make it up to her, but she’d as good as said herself that she didn’t think it could be done.

I was inclined to agree.

I did have to try, though.


Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!







2 Responses to “50: Whispered Words”

  1. BMeph says:

    Professor Goldman reminds me of my HS PolySci teacher. His favorite line was:
    “I am the testER, and YOU all are…” well, you get the idea.

    Current score: 0
  2. pedestrian says:

    The new slogan for the Prostate Awareness campaign is:

    “Statistically, it is time to get your testy testicles tested”

    Alliteration Rocks!

    Current score: 1