Chapter 183: The Fear of all SummariesAlexandraErin on October 16, 2013 in Professor Stone, Volume 2 Book 6: Career Counseling, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Two Offers Are Tendered
This chapter has been posted from my brand new home office in
sunny Maryland. If home is where the heart is… hi, honey, I’m home!
I’d like to thank everyone for your support and your patience during this move and the tumultuous times leading up to it. I’d especially like to recognize everyone who contributed to the fundraiser that got me here, including:
Aiten, Alderin , Amekhania, Amy Amethyst, Arancaytar, Ben Coyle, Boras, Burnsidhe , Caroline , Cecilia Tan, Dave, Elizabeth R. McClellan aka popelizbet, ephant, Fisheye, Grayson , gwillen, Ixtlilton, Jennifer W., Jenny, Julian Morrison, Just Some Guy, Kimmy, lizkayl , Lord zeel, Melki, Nikolas, pedestrian, r4m0n, Rayama, Rayama, Richard McKeon, Silverai, Surprise Pizza, voiceofarat, and everyone else who made my move possible!
( I did my best to find out everyone’s wishes before the chapter went up, but if you donated to the IndieGoGo fundraiser and weren’t credited but wanted to be, it’s because I either never received a confirmation of what name to use, or it got lost in the shuffle. Please let me know via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add your name to the roll.)
I had just one more piece of business to conduct that would wrap up what was probably the most surreal… wait, make that the third or fourth most… one of the more surreal chapters of my life, and that was telling Professor Stone that I’d definitely be able to keep attending his class.
The short version was that the sapient spirit of an awakened school building had reacted negatively to psychic emanations from the infernal elements in my half-demon brain, but with the help of a self-sustained dream figure created by the unusually coherent mind of my golem friend I’d had mental techniques borrowed from a telepathic friend instilled in my mind in order to keep those damaging mental energies from leaking out. Then the same golem friend had helped me create a magic wand I could use to communicate with the building, in order to get her perspective on what I was doing so she would trust me enough to let me test out my new shielding abilities…
Okay, maybe there wasn’t a short version.
Either my life was often too big to fit in a nutshell, or I just sucked at summarizing.
The key point here is that I would be able to keep attending Professor Stone’s class on the aesthetics of design, which was important because it fulfilled a requirement for my major. There were other classes I could have taken, but a lot of them would also have been in the Emily Dactyl Center, and the chances of finding a second design class that I liked as much as this one seemed pretty dismal.
Professor Stone was pleased to hear that I’d managed to resolve my problems with Emily, though he didn’t seem that surprised.
“I knew you were hedging your bets a little, after all,” was his response… and he was right. I had been. Still, that didn’t mean it had been anything like a done deal in my head until it actually was done. So much of what was happening was either completely unprecedented or completely outside of my experience that it would have been hard to be certain of anything.
While the professor took my success as given… and while he’d never shown much interest in exactly how I’d managed to paper over the cracks in my psyche so quickly… he was very interested in the device I’d used to establish a better rapport with Emily, my newly created wand of enchantment.
I might have been shy about showing it off since I’d cobbled it together almost literally at the last minute from the rudimentary supplies I had lying around, but I knew that Professor Stone had a ring of similar origins that he still used. In the very narrow context of interactions between the two of us, my improvised wand felt like a badge of membership in an exclusive club.
“Well, it’s quite pretty, isn’t it?” he said, turning it over in his hands after having asked for and received permission to handle it directly. “I’m pleased you gave some thought to the presentation of the thing… rather a bit more than I did when I found myself in a similar pickle, I’m almost ashamed to say.”
He gave a wave of his hand, waggling the finger that bore his kludged-together enchanter’s ring.
“To be honest… I had other things besides aesthetics on my mind when I made it,” I said. “I was mostly just thinking about what would look cool.”
“Ms. Mackenzie, forgive an old man for stating the obvious, but ‘cool’ is an aesthetic,” he said. “In the worst sense of the word, it’s a watered-down one substantially directed by what middle-aged marketers misunderstand about the youth of the day, but in the best sense, it’s simply a highly personal albeit unexamined sense of what is most aesthetically pleasing. If you were to spend a few moments delving into what exactly is ‘cool’ about something… or how and why the things that suit you suit you… then you would be well on your way to carving out an understanding of aesthetics that is both genuine and deep.”
“I’ll… take that under consideration,” I said, and I meant it. If I’d seen a class advertised as being the art of making the stuff you make look cool, I would have signed up for it in a second.
“From a more technical standpoint, I’d say it’s an impressive first effort,” he said. “You might have some slight energy usage issues, and there are more functions you may wish to research before you harden the enchantments, but what’s there is surprisingly robust and very tidily done… it’s a modest beginning, to be sure, and a little on the rough side, but modesty and promise aren’t opposites, and are as often friends as strangers.”
“I did have help,” I admitted.
“I wasn’t going to say anything, but yes, that is apparent,” he said. “And very capable help… I know the grad students can be a bit power-hungry, but I hope you didn’t mortgage your energy output for the next three years to bring this little trinket about.”
“It was a Domestic Arts undergrad, believe it or not,” I said.
“That’s… even more remarkable, almost incredible… in the classic sense of the word,” he said. “But I can’t imagine why you would invent a detail like that unless it were meant to be funny, and I can’t see a joke in it.”
“No joke, and I’m not lying… my suitemate has years of experience as an enchanter’s… I’m going to say ‘assistant’,” I said.
“Oh! Did you mean Ms. Two?” he guessed. “I’ve often wondered about the path that brought her to where she is today, but as my acquaintance with her is passing and not even on the level of instructor and pupil, it didn’t seem appropriate to simply ask.”
“We’ve been… we’re pretty close,” I said. “I don’t like asking her to go into detail about her past, because it’s hard to predict what’s going to be traumatic for her to recount. She can be really matter-of-fact about some things, but she does have feelings.”
“Well, the two of you obviously work well together,” he said. “Tell me, do you think she’d be interested in taking on an assistant’s position again? Paid, of course. I’ve been looking for someone with not just the right set of skills but a certain sensibility, and having seen her cupcake displays, I have a suspicion that she might fit the bill.”
“I’ll pass the offer along, but to be honest, I’m not sure she’ll go for it,” I said. “Enchantment may be literally what she was made for, but it’s not where her interests lie… which is why she’s focusing on cooking. But on the other hand, she does like to work… and she does have a pretty strong appreciation for the things she thinks of as pretty.”
“I see you repressing a shudder,” he said, chuckling softly. “I won’t say that her tastes are mine, but I have something of an intuition that she might have… well, let’s say an adaptable eye.”
“Well… now that you mention it, the last time we went shopping together, she ended up leading me to this jacket,” I said. “Which is both completely me and something I would never have picked out for myself. Like, I was looking to upgrade my wardrobe, but I couldn’t really think of what that would mean beyond getting more of the same things I’ve always worn. She spotted this stall from across the marketplace, though, and just sort of zeroed in on it.”
“You see? That’s just the sort of thing I meant,” he said. “Do pass my message on to her.”
“Will she know who you are?”
“Oh, I doubt it,” he said. “Not by name, though she may have noticed me if she has a memory for faces or rather for profiles, I do think I cut a unique figure on this campus… there are many people taller than I am, and there are some shorter even if they aren’t often noticed, but I’m not used to seeing eye-to-eye with anyone, as it were.”
So I’d just ask her if she’d noticed a large, stocky gnome or a short, fussy dwarf checking out her display at any of the numerous bake sales she volunteered for.
“And whatever help you received from her,” Professor Stone went on, “this item is unmistakably yours. Nobody made it for you… and I’m sure I don’t have to stress the importance of that.”
I nodded. Although Professor Stone was an avuncular figure… verging on grandfatherly… it felt good to be talking to him like this, almost like talking shop with another enchanter. Which made a question pop into my head, though I stopped it before it could pop out of my mouth.
“Professor… on the subject of things that don’t seem entirely appropriate… can I ask you a question that feels oddly personal?” I asked.
“That’s an interesting phrasing,” he said.
“Well, it’s more about your professional life than anything else, but it still… feels… personal,” I said.
“I would suggest you respect your intuitions in that area, but I trust you to be respectful enough to proceed,” he said.
“Why don’t you teach enchantment?” I asked him. “You obviously know this stuff.”
“Well… that question is a bit personal, yes. There are three reasons… well, three principal reasons,” he said. “One is that my mother’s people from whom I received the benefit of much received wisdom in the arcane arts regard that knowledge as a loan to be repaid, not a gift to be disposed of as I please. Not all that I know is mine to teach. ”
“I’d think it would be easy to keep ancient dwarven secrets off the curriculum, though,” I said.
“Yes, but I did say there are two other reasons,” he said. “The need to preserve secrecy… and to maintain goodwill with that portion of my family… would be more of an inconvenience than an insurmountable obstacle, at least by itself. The second is that my style of enchantment is not much in demand these days. A degree in applied enchantment as it is taught in this day and age prepares you for a possible career in product development, or more likely… forgive me for potentially bursting a bubble… on a line somewhere, producing television boxes by the dozens. My sort of skills would be more useful for boutique enchanters, and they still favor direct apprenticeship.”
“And the third reason?”
“Teaching enchantment is not, as you say, where my interests lie,” he said. “Creating magical objects is a side effect of my desire to create beautiful ones, paired with my belief that beauty is only enhanced by functionality. Which isn’t to say that I do not have a respectable trove of knowledge that can be shared, or that I am not interested in sharing it in a more personal setting than a classroom.”
“I understand,” I said, and I hoped that I did, given that it sounded like he was telling me he was open to mentoring or offering advice. I doubted I had what he was looking for when it came to aesthetic sensibilities or an adaptable eye, but I wasn’t looking for the kind of position that he was holding out to Two.
Well… not yet. His remark about line enchanters hadn’t exactly burst my bubble because I’d already been aware of the most likely career trajectories for someone with the degree I was pursuing, but it had resonated. I wasn’t sure I wanted to end up in what he called boutique enchantment, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want to spend my whole life putting together consumer enchantments.
The product development line was more appealing in a lot of ways than working for myself or working on a line, but I was feeling a little iffy about the most obvious possible mentor figure in that area, as she seemed to be involved in the seedier side of the industry and possibly resorted to espionage and sabotage to “develop” new products.
“Well, this has been pleasant, but I’m quite certain we both have classes to attend to,” Professor Stone said, handing my wand back to me.
“Yeah, I know I do,” I said. “Thanks again for giving me a chance.”
“I don’t gamble often, but I seldom go home poorer when I do,” he said. “I know a smart bet when I see one.”
I did have a class to get to, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. My first class of the day was the one that would have been my favorite, and by all rights I should have been entirely jazzed about it considering that my new wand represented multiple personal breakthroughs in the area it covered, which was binding spells for enchantment.
The problem was that the teacher, Acantha, was the aforementioned product developer who I suspected of corporate espionage. Today would be the first time I would see her after having developed this suspicions. I had something of a plan for how to deal with that, but even so, the fact that I needed a plan for that was… well, it was the reason I could only describe my problems with the Emily Center as being one of the more surreal problems in my life.
Well… it was one of the reasons.
Still, I’d managed to lay one of those problems to rest completely, and if that was a modest start to a simpler and more focused life, it was also a promising one.