Chapter 20: At The End Of The Day

on July 13, 2011 in Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which You’re Another Day Older

You couldn’t leave a class like Coach Callahan’s without feeling beat up.

Actual injuries are pretty rare in a mock weapons class… that’s the point of fighting with mocked blades. Even padding can’t completely negate the fact that real bodies were hitting a real floor, though, and the particular focus of this class meant that happened rather more frequently than in one that focused more on things like the natural give and take between evenly-matched opponents.

As a magically invulnerable half-demon, of course, I was as immune to petty bruises and scrapes as I was to cuts and broken bones from mundane sources… but I still felt the equivalent pain, and it lingered longer than the purely phantasmal effects of the mock weapons.

Also, I couldn’t say that the ephemeral wounds didn’t have any lasting effects. The experience of suffering crippling or even killing wounds over and over again throughout the course of an hour… well, something about that stayed with you. This was a known phenomenon, among those who engaged in mock combat on a regular basis. It had been studied to make sure there was no actual residual magical effect in play, and apparently there wasn’t. It was purely mental, or emotional.

I wondered if the long-term effect would be to erode the fear of death. If so, I had to imagine that suited Coach Callahan’s purposes. She was serious about teaching her students self-defense, but she’d also made it clear that she’d just as soon be teaching the art of other-offense.

Still, psychic bruises and all, I was feeling pretty good about things as I headed to meet the others for an early dinner at the Archimedes Center. My celebratory mood of earlier returned, this time unburdened by the knowledge that I still had one last all-important but not exactly favorite class to suffer through.

Amaranth noticed right away.

“You have a good day today, baby?” she asked me after everyone had grabbed their food and sat down. Aside from her, , Ian, Steff, and myself, Dee and Two’s friend Hazel were also with us again. Two appreciated the benefits of having a job, financial and otherwise, so she was working. “I can’t really think of when I’ve seen you this happy… that is, I’ve seen you happy about things before, but I mean in general.”

“Yes, you more often radiate a sense of being pleased with yourself, or with some small thing,” Dee said. “Or, on occasion, contentment. You seem strangely… ebullient.”

“What’s ebullient called when it’s moored?” Hazel asked.

“Happy,” Amaranth said.

“Oh,” Hazel said. “Well, you might have just said so,” she said to Dee.

“I apologize if my choice of words obscured my meaning, as that was the opposite of my intention,” Dee said. “I was searching for the proper word to convey a particular form and expression of happiness. The languages of the surface world lack the nuance and subtle shades of meaning that I am accustomed to using, so I have been seeking to expand the depth and breadth of my vocabulary.”

“Oh, you got a word-a-day calendar, then?” Hazel said. “I never did see the point of those. Or the ones with the cartoons. I used to get a page-a-day calendar every year from my godmother on the Feast of Saint Owain. I mean, they were entertaining enough, but I never did keep use one as a calendar. It seems to me that anything worth reading every day is worth reading more than one page at a time, you know?”

“Indeed,” Dee said, proving that sometimes the right word for the moment isn’t one that conveys any nuance or shades of meaning.

“Anyway, I guess I am having a good day,” I said. “Though I wouldn’t have thought to call it that. I mean, nothing bad has happened. I made it through the day without any kind of crisis. The closest thing I had to a confrontation was with Sooni, and that… well, it was as much of a non-event as dealing with Sooni ever is.”

“So you’re celebrating the little victory of a day where Sooni’s just a minor irritation,” Steff said.

“She’s always a minor irritation,” I said.

“Except when she trashes the dormitory and puts you in the healing center,” Steff said.

“Perhaps she is a minor irritation with a poor sense of proportion,” Dee suggested.

“Anyway…” I said, “the point is that I made it through the day. Today and yesterday.”

“Um, hate to be the one to bring you down,” Ian said, “but two days into the school year without a crisis is hardly a record, hon,” Ian said.

“Well, yeah, it’s not so much all the horrible things that didn’t happen,” I said. “It’s more the fact that I’ve… okay, this might sound stupid.” In fact, now that I was voicing it out loud I was sure that it did sound stupid, and not at all certain that it wasn’t more or less just what Ian had said. “I’ve made it through all of my classes once today. I know now that I can handle this.”

“Was there ever any real doubt about that?” Steff asked. “I mean, yeah, Applied Enchantment isn’t for slouches, but it’s not like one of those courses where one student in ten makes it to graduation in a box, and the box usually is a lot closer in size and shape to a person than they are.”

“I wasn’t doubting it consciously, I suppose,” I said. “I mean, I’ve never stayed up nights wondering if college was something I could handle or not… it’s just, you know, the thing you do after high school. The done thing. But now it’s like I’ve let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. I wasn’t worried, but now I’m relieved. Does that make sense?”

“It makes sense to me,” Amaranth said.

“I guess so,” Steff agreed.

“I wasn’t ever really worried, though,” I said. “I mean, except for Coach Callahan’s class, which is way outside my comfort zone, and this design class I’m taking, which is a bit out there… but it seems like it’s going to be fun. Even if it’s not a subject I like, school’s something that I’ve always been able to enjoy.”

“Sure, if it wasn’t for those pesky classmates and teachers, I bet high school would have been a blast,” Steff said.

“Okay, actually going to school has never been a laugh riot for me but I was good at the graded stuff,” I said. “I like learning.”

“The problem I had was that my sophomore year didn’t feel any different from my freshman year,” Steff said. “I mean, you can let a lot more slide during your first year, or you feel like you can and you have no reason to know better yet. By the second year you’ve maybe encountered some consequences, or at the very least you can’t use the ‘it’s still the first year, I have plenty of time to make up for stuff later’ excuse. But… it doesn’t feel any different, so you don’t act any differently.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It feels different to me. I mean, not because I showed up and something just clicked into place and I felt different. I think it’s just that I’ve come far enough that I can look back and say, ‘Wow… look how far I’ve come.’ Less a rite of passage and more just… passage.”

“Ah, the wise sophomore looking back on her naive freshman self and wondering if she was ever really that young and innocent,” Steff said. “That’s a rite of passage for you.”

“I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out,” I said. “Just that I’m in a better place now than I was a year ago.”

“Well, I’m glad that you are, and that you realize it,” Amaranth said. “And that your new year’s off to such a good start. What do you think of your new teachers?”

“They all seem pretty decent,” I said. “One guy seems like kind of a blowhard, but he’s team-teaching with Professor Hart, so it’s not too bad.”

“Wait, you think this guy’s a blowhard compared to Hart?” Steff said.

“Okay, maybe blowhard was the wrong word… windbag?” I said. “I mean he’s pompous and goes on and on.”

“Yeah, I think that’s more of a windbag than a blowhard,” Ian said.

“Blowhards are more… blustery,” Hazel said, nodding.

“I guess,” I said. “I’ve never really seen these terms defined precisely.”

“Clearly, there’s a calendar waiting to happen there,” Ian said.

“Another one of my teachers seemed kind of grumpy, but I guess she could also have been having a bad day,” I said. “I think it would be a mistake to judge someone by the first day of anything.”

“That’s a very good thing to learn,” Amaranth said.

“She seemed like the sort of person who might ordinarily be more cheerful,” I said. “She did this bit about her name being Bryony and not Byron-y that came off kind of snappish with how she delivered it, but I can imagine her meaning it as a sort of icebreaker.”

“Bryony?” Hazel said. “You got Professor Swain?”

“Uh… what’s wrong with Professor Swain?” I asked, suddenly worried. I’d been trying to give her the benefit of the doubt in order to compensate for the fact that I resented having to take her class, but it was possible that I was overcompensating.

“She’s a great big bloody hypocrite, for starters,” Hazel said. “She’s always had something against river folk, but come to find out she’s a quarter Tolkish on her mother’s side, and it doesn’t half show.”

“You know, everything you say sounds adorable,” Steff said. “I think it’s a combination of the accent and the fact that most of the things that come out of your mouth aren’t words.”

“Maybe you should borrow Dee’s calendar. What I mean to say is that she’s an… a lady of wandering interests,” Hazel said. At our blank looks, she added, “You know, prone to seek out, ah, random encounters.”

“So she’s a swinger,” Steff said. “She wouldn’t be the first faculty member.”

“Swinger?” Hazel said. “Er, no. I meant… well… she’s a member of the adventuring classes.”

“She’s an adventurer?” I said, and Hazel blushed.

“Oh, I wouldn’t put it so bluntly as all that,” Hazel said.

“Clearly,” Ian said.

“Really, now, Hazel… I wouldn’t expect you to be so judgmental about that sort of thing,” Amaranth said.

“Well, now, just because I might have what some people might call certain adventure-ous tendencies doesn’t mean I’m going to go arm-wrestle with trolls or whatever it is adventurers do,” Hazel said.

“Really, it’s a lot of search and rescue stuff these days, and carrying out relief efforts in disaster areas,” Amaranth said. “There is still quite a bit of the tomb raiding and the somewhat indiscriminate violence, but there are reputable adventuring organizations.”

“Anyway, like I said, she’s a hypocrite,” Hazel said. “I wouldn’t mind what she did in her misspent youth if she weren’t so high and mighty about how she imagines a girl like me must be spending mine. It’s like she’s all quirky and non-conventional until there’s someone in the room who isn’t the right sort and then it’s like she isn’t wearing trousers and doesn’t know the right way to hold a sword.”

“Did she use a sword, or did she pick up a dagger and use it as a sword?” Steff asked.

“That’s a myth,” Amaranth said. “A dagger isn’t actually a small sword, so a dagger in the hands of a gnome is just a too-big dagger.”

“Wait, is that a real thing?” Ian asked. “I mean, an actual myth? I’ve seen references to shirelings holding a dagger like it’s a sword, but I assumed it was just a joke about how small they are.”

“Oh, yes, always good for a laugh, that,” Hazel said.

“It’s the sort of thing that usually just gets played for laughs when it’s mentioned these days, but it was a persistent myth in elven society for centuries,” Amaranth said. “It sort of plays up the idea that elven-made weapons are just that light and graceful, and of course there’s pointing out the perceived inferiority of a smaller race.”

“You’re using the past tense, Amy-doll, but when you’re talking about elven culture of centuries past, you have to remember that not everyone from those days have passed,” Steff said. “But yeah, it’s pretty much an older elven thing… I think it only crossed over into human culture because of a few human writers who really buy into the whole mystique and grandeur of the elves routine. I don’t know why I blurted that out, Hazel… I really can’t stand the whole elven chauvinism thing.”

“To be fair…” I started to say, then hesitated. Not because I didn’t think Steff could take criticism gracefully, but because I didn’t have a lot of experience with giving it gracefully.

“Go on, baby,” Amaranth said.

“Well, you kind of have a tendency to do that,” I said to Steff. “I mean, at a conscious level you don’t want much to do with elven culture, but it seems like you’ve internalized a lot of it all the same.”

“Okay, I guess that’s a fair point,” Steff said. “But can you really blame me? I’ve spent roughly half my life so far immersed in it.”

“Well, you’ve got a lot longer than those few years to spend as you see fit,” Amaranth said. “Hopefully you can use them to grow out of that.”

“Eh, the whole personal growth thing seems to be more you and Mack’s kick,” Steff said. “I’ll be honest, the only reason I’m interested in learning anything at college is because there are some things I want to do that I don’t know how.”

“That’s… pretty much the definition of learning,” Ian said.

“Yeah, but I mean, if I wasn’t interested in subjects that are very hard to learn outside a formal setting, I wouldn’t be in one,” Steff said. “It’s possible to study necromancy on your own, but it’s sort of a tradition for that sort of thing to not end well in a ‘they called me mad, MAD!’ sort of way.”

“And because of this, instituting a formal course of study into the subject seemed like a good idea to everyone?” Dee said.

“No, I’m pretty sure they called old Dean Coombes mad, too,” Steff said. “Though probably not to his face. When he still had one.”

“Anyway… I’ve actually heard good things about Professor Swain,” Amaranth said.

“Who from… Honey?” Hazel asked. “That’d figure.”

With that, Hazel’s vitriol became a bit more understandable. I gathered that there was a bit of a class divide between her and her cousin. Gnomes who rode the river were regarded as shiftless and untrustworthy by those who could afford (or had inherited) proper burrows. Hazel belonged to the former category; Honey the latter.

“Just from other students,” Amaranth said. “I haven’t needed any of her classes because I tested out of herbalism, but a lot of my classmates have had her. They say she’s a good teacher.”

“Oh,” Hazel said. “Well, I wouldn’t know about that… I haven’t actually had her, and I’m not sure Honey ever did show up for her class.”

“It is possible for someone to have one or two blind spots but be a perfectly decent person otherwise,” Amaranth said.

“That’s all very well and good, unless you happen to be the person who was trod on for innocently occupying that blind spot,” Hazel said. “And when the person doing the treading isn’t the first… or the eleventy-first… to do so.”

“I’m trying to keep an open mind,” I said. “Anyway, I met her teaching assistant today and she seemed pretty cool, so even if Professor Swain isn’t the best teacher I won’t always have to deal with her.”

“Oh, right, the hot one,” Steff said.

“I thought you were more interested in cold ones,” Ian said.

“I’m thermoflexible… but no colder than room temperature, please,” Steff said. “Anyway, she seemed pretty adventurous. Oh, Amy, you met her… she’s the one you asked to give us the message about lunch.”

“Oh, Eloise?” Amaranth said. “She’s lovely. She’s a secular druid… raised Khaelean, but a pretty staunch secularist now.”

“Are you allowed to consort with heretics?” Ian asked.

“To be really technical about it, she’s an apostate,” Amaranth said. “A heretic is a co-religionist who differs on key dogma. The funny thing is that she’s a lot more dogmatic about some things than I am. I mean, when she was talking about why she stopped going to circle… well, I thought there was more wiggle room on a few issues than she did. I think maybe it had more to do with the attitudes of some of the leaders of her particular circle than anything else.”

“What exactly was the issue?” Ian asked.

“Something personal,” Amaranth said. “And no, I don’t mean any of the things that you’re probably thinking… if I meant sexual, I would say that. It’s personal because it’s hers.”

“Fair enough,” Ian said. “Though honestly, of all the religions I might expect someone to leave over sexual restrictions, the worship of Mother Khaele wouldn’t quite be at the top of my list.”

“Well, maybe some folks decide they want to settle down and find a little more… I don’t know… structure, as time goes by,” Hazel said. “There are folks in the shires who run through the woods in the altogether when they’re young and say they’re worshipping Owain the Wild, but most of them grow out of that by the time they’re ready to start a family. Or the time they find themselves with eleven months to be ready to start a family.”

“Which one’s Owain the Wild?” Ian asked.

“God of nature,” Hazel said. She shot a quick glance at Amaranth. “He, er, lets Mother Khaele help sometimes with the smaller day-to-day stuff he doesn’t have time for, is the way we learn it.”

“I imagine she appreciates that,” Amaranth said, the corner of her lip twitching upwards.

“What does this Owain the Wild look like?”

“Well, like a gnome, of course,” Hazel said. She added, “He has a fig leaf on.”

“Why would he need a fig leaf if his followers run naked?” Ian asked.

“Well, so they can spot him if he shows up at their pagan orgies, I suppose,” Hazel said. “Though honestly, most of the pictures I’ve seen of him, the artist put a proper suit on him for modesty’s sake, and then put the fig leaf over that so you can tell it’s him.”

“Is this suit at all like the suit worn by Owain of the Four Waters, or Owain the Bloody?” Ian asked.

“Well, first of all, I have never seen any of these gods in the flesh myself, and so we’re talking about artists’ representations here. And there are only so many ways an artist can render a respectably liturgical waistcoat,” Hazel said. “Anyway, it’s a big family and there are bound to be some hand-me-downs, and I’m not for having a theological debate with you if that’s what you’re rooting around for, Ian Mason.”

“I just can’t believe you don’t find it suspicious that…”

“Well, there you go,” Hazel said. “You can’t believe. We can. That’s why it’s called faith, isn’t it?”

“I guess,” Ian said.

“You should be an Arkhanite,” Steff said to Ian. “We love questions about our beliefs, but don’t ask me why.”

The conversation continued from there, in much the same way: jumping from topic to topic, friends needling friends… friends occasionally bristling at friends. It wasn’t exactly what you’d call climactic, any more than anything else had been so far.

I didn’t mind that one bit. While I’d been honest when I said that it wasn’t just the trouble I’d avoided so far that I was happy about, I was grateful for having been given some breathing room by fate or Owain the Merciful or whoever looks out for little half-demons, and I wanted to enjoy it for as long as I could.


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39 Responses to “Chapter 20: At The End Of The Day”

  1. TheTurnipKing says:

    and deeper in debt?

    Current score: 0
  2. Erm says:

    “Indeed,” Dee said

    Reminded me of Teal’c from Stargate.

    Tolkish

    Ah, of the clan of Tolkien. Adventurous family, that one. 🙂

    Current score: 3
    • Amelia says:

      d’oh

      I thought it was a non copyrighted version of Tookish
      Tolkien makes more sense though.

      Current score: 1
      • Lunaroki says:

        Might very well be both. Never underestimate the value of a versatile pun.

        Current score: 1
    • Dr. Tarr says:

      “Indeed,” Dee said

      Reminded me of Teal’c from Stargate.

      or George Takai

      Current score: 0
  3. SilasCova says:

    I just have to say that “Perhaps she is a minor irritation with a poor sense of proportion,” is one of the funniest things I’ve read in awhile 😀

    Also, the term Thermoflexible for a necromancers sexual orientation is awesome 🙂

    Love it as ever.

    Current score: 2
  4. Tyrius says:

    ““No, I’m pretty sure they called old Dean Coombes mad, too,” Steff said. “Though probably not to his face. When he still had one.””

    … Okay… the story behind -that- particular statement has just made it to the top of my Other Tales Wishlist…

    “And when the person doing the treading isn’t the first… or the eleventy-first… to do so.”

    Loving the Tolkien references today…

    Current score: 2
    • TheTurnipKing says:

      I would imagine that Dean Coombes is undead. Possibly a liche?

      “She must have been beautiful with skin.”

      Current score: 0
      • Zergonapal says:

        Is that the correct way to refer to a liche? In past-tense? It would seem logical to just address him as normal.

        Current score: 0
        • TheTurnipKing says:

          It’s a sort-of-related quote from the Lucasarts game “Grim Fandango”, not anything *actually* related to Dean Coombes.

          Current score: 0
  5. Siberian says:

    i believe that next line is “and thats all you can say for the life of the poor”, and now i have to go listen to the soundtrack to get the song out of my head.

    Current score: 0
  6. Justme says:

    Possible typo?

    I mean, they were entertaining enough, but I never did keep use one as a calendar.

    Keep and use together instead of one or the other?

    Current score: 0
    • Labman says:

      Maybe it could also be “… keep use *of* one…”?

      Current score: 0
  7. Hatamoto says:

    “The languages of the surface world lack the nuance and subtle shades of meaning…”

    About as concise a condemnation of English as I’ve encountered.

    Current score: 0
    • Zergonapal says:

      For the written language certainly, but verbal communication is more than just words and are shaded by tone, body posture and supplemented by gestures.

      Current score: 0
    • SarahTheEntwife says:

      English has a larger vocabulary than most other languages, due to its history and unusually enthusiastic accumulation of loanwords. Now, that doesn’t mean that most native English speakers know that full vocabulary, just like speakers of most other languages, and words not in your own language almost always sound more profound than ones you’re used to.

      Current score: 1
  8. tigr says:

    Yay, another chapter =)

    One typo: “Aside from her, , Ian, Steff, and myself,” is missing a word or has a space and a comma too many.

    Current score: 0
    • Erianaiel says:

      That, or the invisible girl was in the group but nobody noticed because .. invisible.

      Current score: 0
      • Frelance says:

        The first rule of Invisible Friend Club is don’t talk about Twy… nevermind

        Current score: 1
  9. Readaholic says:

    Om nom nom. More nommy Mu goodness. And everybody else commenting said the things I wanted to say. Thermoflexible, a minor irritation with a poor sense of proportion, indeed… the dialogue today was great. And the tolkien jokes/references.

    Current score: 0
  10. Riotllama says:

    “have you noticed that all your gods are they same god with minor costume changes?” “have you noticed that you are an ass?”

    Current score: 1
    • Labman says:

      No, the ass would be my brother Xu. *swaps hats* What’s my brother Dock been saying about me behind my back?

      Current score: 1
  11. Zathras IX says:

    Windbag or Blowhard?
    Blowhards are more blustery
    Windbags stay longer

    Current score: 1
  12. Bob says:

    >>halflings
    >>eleventy-first

    I see what you did there.

    Current score: 0
  13. Sindyr says:

    Wife and I just got caught up again; looking forward to the next chapters. Keep up the good work.

    Current score: 0
  14. MistyCat says:

    “Um, hate to be the one to bring you down,” Ian said, “but two days into the school year without a crisis is hardly a record, hon,” Ian said.

    Current score: 0
  15. Miss Lynx says:

    This exchange:

    “It’s possible to study necromancy on your own, but it’s sort of a tradition for that sort of thing to not end well in a ‘they called me mad, MAD!’ sort of way.”

    “And because of this, instituting a formal course of study into the subject seemed like a good idea to everyone?” Dee said.

    “No, I’m pretty sure they called old Dean Coombes mad, too,” Steff said. “Though probably not to his face. When he still had one.”

    is pretty much my favourite thing in… well, possibly ever. 🙂

    Current score: 0
  16. brandon says:

    I love that “we love questions about our faith but dont ask me why” amazing quote

    Current score: 0
  17. BMeph says:

    >>necromancy
    >>Dean Coombes (Koontz?)

    As Dee might say, “I an an eyewitness to what you performed in that location.” ;þ

    Current score: 0
  18. Morten says:

    “I was grateful for having been given some breathing room by fate or Owain the Merciful or whoever looks out for little half-demons, and I wanted to enjoy it for as long as I could.”

    Duh-duh-duuuuurh!

    Current score: 0
  19. Heh. Dee’s little bit on language reminds me of me. Sometimes it’s harder to use a shorter word that doesn’t quite mean what you need to say, just for the convenience of the dullards in the vicinity =P

    Current score: 0
    • BMeph says:

      “Why use a long word, when a diminutive one will suffice?” ;þ

      Current score: 0
      • Mickey Phoenix says:

        Eschew sesquipedalian verbiage when diminutive alternatives suffice.

        Current score: 1
  20. 3023ogilvyd says:

    HOWLED at this chapter. A fitting end to the first week of a reboot that seems to be coming along very nicely, all things considered.

    Current score: 0
  21. pedestrian says:

    “Clearly, there’s a calendar waiting to happen there,” Ian said.

    It always amuses me when Ian gets off one of his patented understated quips.

    Current score: 0
  22. Khazidhea says:

    “but I never did keep use one as a calendar”
    use -> using

    Current score: 0
  23. Sher says:

    Is it weird that I’m looking forward to the classes more than I am to the interaction between the characters? I suppose it’s the fault of awesome world-building.

    Current score: 0
  24. Leishycat says:

    “Um, hate to be the one to bring you down,” Ian said, “but two days into the school year without a crisis is hardly a record, hon,” Ian said.

    Who was it that said this?

    Current score: 0