Chapter 254: Rogue Druid

on October 6, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Gets Some Perspective

My next bright idea for a winter guard dropped me like a ton of bricks in my combat class, and you can parse that sentence pretty much any which way and still get the right idea.

The inspiration came when my opponent… Nae, the mouse-like kobold… avoided a staff-thrust by grabbing onto the butt of it, swinging around, and climbing up the shaft to headbutt me right in the middle of my face.

Her metal-laced skull slamming against my invulnerable nose hard enough to flatten it against my invulnerable skull and make my invulnerable brains rattle around behind my invulnerable eyes. I didn’t exactly pass out, but I did lose track of the world long enough for the match to be ended one way or another. I have no idea what the death blow actually was, or if I was just far enough out of it for it to register as a loss, but either way: ton of bricks.

Nae was not someone I would have thought of immediately. In fact, if I hadn’t taken a few moments to codify exactly what I was looking for, tiny Nae might have been the last person that I thought of.

That was exactly what she had going for her: she was easy to overlook. And the image of her swinging her way up my own weapon and closing the distance before I could react was hard to get out of my head.

I didn’t know what, if anything, elves thought about kobolds as a group, but she was not physically imposing in the slightest. She was a small member of a small race. I knew from direct experience, though, that she was tough as all get out, and that she could be a fast and vicious fighter.

Unlike Pala or Dee or Steff, her presence wouldn’t prevent an attack… though if an actual storm giant or a psychic subterranean elven priestess didn’t dissuade invaders, I doubted anyone or anything I could come up with would. My next choices would have to be about what happened if the invaders wouldn’t be dissuaded completely. Nae’s size, speed, and fierceness would make her perfect.

The only problem was, it wasn’t actually Nae who’d slammed me, but a mockery of her. We were fighting in opposite sections of the divided salle, so I had to run and catch her when our class was dismissed. This didn’t give me a lot of time to think about my approach.

“Hey, are you going back to the tower?” I asked her.

“I had been planning on it, yes,” she said.

“Do you mind if I walk with you?”

“I suppose I don’t.”

It wasn’t exactly the most promising start.

“Do you mind if I wrap us in a sound-deadening sphere?” I asked once we were outside and not too close to anyone else. I didn’t know if she would have noticed, but I figured she was on guard enough to notice.

“If you wish to discuss my private life, forget about it,” she said.

“What private life?” I said. “I just wanted to talk to you about class without Asphodelos overhearing.”

She gave me a look that suggested she didn’t buy that for a second, but that was okay. The lie wasn’t for her benefit. I didn’t imagine anyone else would believe it, either, if they happened to be watching or listening, but at least it would leave them in the position of needing to put two and two together instead of just being told four.

“If it will make you happy then,” she said.

I had been refining my silence spell since the times I’d used it before. I could now do it on the move, and the air shell it depended on was more reactive, making it a lot less rigid and obvious… this was important because the old version had pretty much been airtight as well as soundproof. That was okay for short periods of time, but could have been inconvenient if I’d ever needed to employ it for longer periods of time.

“Secure enough?” Nae asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“So, what did you really want to talk about? And if it is my personal life…”

“It’s more to do with mine,” I said. “But not much of that, even. How do you feel about elves?”

“No particular way,” she said. “Why do you ask?”

“I’ve got… well, I guess it’s sort of a job offer,” I said. “The thing is, it’s kind of confidential.”

“You aren’t going to ask me if I can keep a secret,” she said.

“You’re right,” I said. A dwarf wouldn’t enter into a serious relationship with someone who didn’t understand the importance of secrecy, but in particular, she wouldn’t date a kobold if she wasn’t deadly certain that the whole thing could be kept under wraps. “I am going to ask you if you’re willing to, though… I know you don’t exactly owe me anything, and that I kind of owe you.”

Her intervention, acting as her girlfriend’s conscience, had taken most of the teeth out of a trap I’d stumbled into the year before.

“But here you are, asking me for a favor,” she said.

“Well, it’s an offer, like I said,” I said. “If you don’t think it’s worth your time, then all you have to do is say so. I’m honestly not looking for a favor here… just your word that you won’t say anything even if you say no.”

“Alright,” she said. “I’ll hear you out.”

“Okay,” I said. “I realize as I think about how to word this that you probably already have plans for break, and I probably don’t have anything I could offer that would convince you to break them.”

“If I do have plans, I won’t break them for anything,” she said. “You should know that.”

I waited for her to give me some indication whether I should proceed or not, but then realized none would be forthcoming. She knew that I knew about her and Caron, obviously, but she wasn’t about to volunteer anything about what they might or might not be up to. She would hear me out either way, even if she knew the answer was no.

“Do you know the elf queen, Glory?”

“The new girl that you have been playing with, yes?” Nae said.

“I… wouldn’t put it that way,” I said.

“Being kept by?”

“I guess what I meant was, I’d rather not have someone else defining Glory’s relationship to me,” I said. “But anyway, it is about her house. It’s going to be basically empty over a large part of the break, and the factions in Treehome that think themselves as her enemies know it. It’s my job to organize the defenses.”

“Are you part of those defenses?”

“No,” I said. I didn’t elaborate, as I doubted Nae was any more interested in knowing my plans than she was in having me know hers.

“Who is?” she asked.

I hesitated, but only for a second. She’d already agreed to secrecy, and I wasn’t going to insult her by asking her to reiterate it. She had to know that however much she could screw over Glory and me… if for any reason she wanted to… what I knew about her and Caron could end their life together, if it didn’t end their lives.

“So far, it’s Pala, Steff, and Dee,” I said. I figured I wouldn’t need to explain who Steff and Dee were, since she stayed on the same floor as Dee and I did, and we had quite a bit of overlap in our social circles… at least the on-campus ones… since Nae was suitemates with Hazel and Shiel.

“How long do I have to think about it?” she asked.

“Well… the sooner I know the answer, the better,” I said. “But just before the end of the semester, really.”

“I’ll think about it.”

I tried my hardest not to read too much into the fact that she hadn’t immediately said no. That didn’t mean that she didn’t have conflicting plans… it could have simply meant that she didn’t want me to know that she did. I understood her reasons for secrecy, but I was definitely getting tired of the cloak and dagger stuff.

Even with Nae firmly in the maybe column, I was pretty satisfied. A couple more people who could come skittering out of the darkness like a rat out of hell would have been perfect. I still really would have liked to have a primary spellcaster, but I couldn’t see that happening. After all, it wasn’t like I made a habit of hanging out with clerics other than Dee, and I wasn’t anywhere tight enough with any of the grad student wizards.

I’d gone over this ground before and it seemed like I would keep going over it, as the allure of adding another mystically-capable member to the party didn’t vanish just because I didn’t have any way of filling the role.

What broke the cycle was a stroke of inspiration that hit me like a bolt from the blue… and this time there isn’t a literal double meaning, although there certainly could have been. I’d been perhaps understandably focused on wizards because of their power and versatility, with clerics on my mind because of Dee… but there was one fully qualified spellcaster and grad student who I was on first name terms with, and with whom I’d even shared an adventure, sort of.

Eloise Desjardins wasn’t a wizard or a cleric. She was a teacher’s assistant, and a druid.

“How closely do you follow the politics in Treehome?” I asked her.

“Not very, but you don’t have to be close when you’ve got eagle eyes,” she said. “I see the big picture, though it’s not worth getting involved… at least, not beyond rescuing stray humans before they wander too close to elven territory. As far as I’m concerned, the whole bunch is just another hazard of the forest.”

“The whole bunch?”

“Right, you’re involved with some of them now,” she said. “But they’re not part of Treehome anymore, are they? Unsupervised middlings aren’t even safe for other middlings. The whole damned institution is stupid as hell, if you ask me… though if anyone else asks me, I didn’t say that.”

“Yeah, well, we’re trying to change the institution, in the long run,” I said. “In the short run, we’re concerned about what’s going to happen over winter break.”

“Between you, me, and your wall of wind?” Eloise said. “You’re right to be concerned.”

“That’s why I was hoping you could…”

“Look, I told you, I’m not about to get involved in middling shit,” she said.

“Even if it’s on campus?”

“I’m not part of public safety,” she said. “And anyway, you know what happens during break? Solstice.”

“…aren’t you a secular druid?”

“Yeah, but… stuff happens on the solstice,” she said. “It’s still important, with or without religious observance.”

“That’s one night.”

“And I’m on rescue duty for a lot of the other nights,” she said. “Also? It’s my break, too… only I’m still going to be grading papers through half of it, on top of my miscellaneous druidry.”

“But you’re also going to be on rescue duty,” I said.

“Yes, on top of those other things,” she said.

“So what happens if you see an armed band moving to attack someone?” I asked. “Or if someone calls for help?”

“…that’s not really the sort of thing I usually rescue people from,” she said.

“So you wouldn’t help?”

“Let’s just say that if there’s a wildfire or children missing in a snowstorm, those things would have to be my priority,” she said. “But yes, okay, fine… I wouldn’t ignore someone in trouble just because they’re on campus, or because it’s a bunch of middling-on-middling bullshit.”

“That’s fair, but it’s not bullshit on both sides,” I said. “Glory isn’t looking for a fight, and honestly, that’s the main reason I’m looking for help: to prevent a fight, or minimize the harm if there is one.”

“Okay, well, if you put it that way… there might be a few things I can do in the manner of countermeasures,” she said. “A few simple defensive spells, maybe some alarm wards… are there going to be a ton of people in and out of the building over break?”

“No, which is part of the problem… Glory’s taking me and her court on a trip, and leaving a small guard behind”

“Well, it’s part of the solution, for me,” she said. “The fewer people there are going to be, the easier it will be to rig up defenses that will leave them alone. Send me an a-mail with your winter travel schedule… I’ll make a point to check in the day after you leave and to give a safety demonstration, or something.”

“That’ll work,” I said. “That’s… really awesome. Thank you. It’s more than I hoped for.”

“Yeah, well, as long as you know that I’m not your familiar,” she said.

“I really would hate for you to think I’m trying to take advantage,” I said. “I just… I figured you’d be around, and you’d probably have a better idea of what’s happening to the west than anyone else. It’ll be a long time before we have to leave Oberrad House this undefended again. If we can stop this from breaking us, I think Glory will be able to shore things up enough to avoid having to do it again.”

“I’d ask why she doesn’t just stay through the break, but I’m guessing this shit would go down sooner or later either way,” Eloise said.

“Yeah, we’re trying to strike a balance of sorts… get close enough to a confrontation that there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Oberrad House is a force not worth reckoning with, without having a running battle on campus or reducing the building to rubble,” I said. “If you’re able to run any kind of interference, even at a distance… I honestly think that would help a lot.”

“Yeah, well, other than calling in a bearstrike… which I’m not saying I’d do… I’m not even sure what I can whip up for you that your girlfriend can’t,” she said.

“I… don’t honestly know that much about Glory’s capabilities, but I don’t think they extend that far,” I said. “And also, she prefers saying that I’m her girlfriend, not the other way around.”

“Wasn’t talking about her,” Eloise said.

“Amaranth?” I said.

“Tell me you asked her for help before you came to me.”

“I… she’s kind of a pacifist,” I said.

“She’s also an immortal healer,” Eloise said. “She’d be wasted in a fight. Plus, when it comes to setting up natural defenses… well, she’s fluent in languages I need a phrasebook for. You seriously didn’t think to tap her for this?”

“…seriously, no,” I said. “It’s the solstice back home, too, and I don’t think her time is actually her own.”

“Yeah? I bet her ‘friends’ would let her stay if a druid asked,” Eloise said. “It seems like that kind of a place.”

“I never had the impression you liked her that much,” I said.

“It’s not about ‘like’,” Eloise said. “She’s got gifts, and she can be more directly useful than I can… if it does come down to shedding blood, she could be the difference between a bunch of dead students and none.”

“Okay, well, I’ll see if she’s up for it,” I said. “Though if I put it that way, I think she’ll probably agree.”

“Happy I could help,” she said. “You really should have thought of that yourself, though.”

“Yeah… I guess I’ve just been really… compartmentalized… lately,” I said. “Thanks for the perspective.”

“Bird’s eye view,” she said, gesturing to her eyes with two fingers and then pointing into the distance. “You’d be amazed what the long view can do for you.”


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38 Responses to “Chapter 254: Rogue Druid”

  1. Yumi says:

    Holy bolding, Batman!

    Current score: 5
    • zeel says:

      Ya, it’s only a little bit broken.

      Otherwise a great chapter though! I really want to hear about that adventure she had with Eloise now. . .

      Current score: 1
      • spess imvader says:

        Eloise is a fantastic Cajun druid. A little aggressive, but always helpful and reliable. Not to mention cool and badass…

        Current score: 0
      • zeel says:

        It’s still bold…

        Current score: 0
  2. cbob says:

    Well, it is easier for me to read.

    And that explains why she didn’t ask Amy, she didn’t think of it.

    Current score: 0
  3. D. D. Webb says:

    “Bearstrike.”

    I have to think of ways to work this addition to my vocabulary into conversations.

    Current score: 2
    • moridain says:

      What was your mental image from that?

      I have the idea of a squad of fifty druids flying over in eagle form then shifting to bears mid air to cannon ball the enemy. XD

      Current score: 0
      • SurahAhriman says:

        You can actually do that in World of Warcraft. It’s called a Rawrbomb.

        Current score: 0
        • Readaholic says:

          Aussies call that WoW attack dropbear, for obvious reasons.
          And yeah, calling in a bearstrike – that sounds really awesome.

          Current score: 0
  4. Mike says:

    Is everything coming out bold or are people being goofy?

    edit: nope, it’s everything. makes it easier to read tho.

    Current score: 0
    • D. D. Webb says:

      Yeah, an end bold tag got missed after the title. AE can fix it easily enough as time allows. Still perfectly readable.

      Current score: 0
    • Mo says:

      Harder to read. For me anyway.

      Current score: 0
  5. pedestrian says:

    “The Long View”….

    As a Philosopher of History, I often take the long view about present matters.

    And, I keep tripping over those damn tree roots whenever I do!

    Current score: 1
  6. Dani says:

    > like a rat out of hell

    🙂

    Current score: 2
  7. Glenn says:

    Hopefully this means we’ll find out more about what Amaranth can actually do. I’ve been curious about exactly what she’s learning in class ever since I read Chapter 6, Book 1, and found out Amaranth was majoring in Life Magic. Given that Amaranth was talking near the beginning of Book 2 about how bored she’d been back in her field during the summer, I suspect shell be quite enthusiastic about joining the Winter Guard.
    I was a little surprised that Mack didn’t mention to either Nae or Eloise that her job offer included an invitation to join Glory’s court, but perhaps she assumed neither would be even slightly interested.

    Current score: 2
    • Nocker says:

      I don’t think even Amaranth knows what Amaranth can do. She’s young and she’s never been terribly aggressive and she’s opted out of any and all combat training. She speaks the language of plants and can do a whole lot to throw attackers for a twist, but she’s not going to be as effective as say, Barley, who’s used her credit and can handle a weapon.

      Current score: 0
      • Glenn says:

        In a way, having Amaranth, Dee and Steff join the Winter Guard provides a substitute for the sort of character development I thought we might see when Amaranth started talking about organizing some sort of game which would allow the different members of Mack’s group to use their respective talents in competition against one another.
        But it’s symptomatic of AE’s reluctance to develop Ian’s character that she’s setting up a situation where Amaranth, Dee and Steff may face a real challenge from the Middling Elves, while Ian is just going to spend a few days having sex with Mack after all the excitement of Mack’s trip and Amaranth, Dee and Steff’s guard duty is over.

        Current score: 2
        • Nocker says:

          Honestly Ian needs a totally different sort of thing from what Mackenzie or the rest can give him. He’s shown a decent amount of potential at certain things, problem solving and fighting spring to mind, but he has no idea how he’s going to apply them in real life, or outside of circuits where he’d never achieve or receive anything tangible anyway.

          He really just needs something to DO, rather than just play defensive on campus or mess around in mock combat. Mackenzie is fine with just keeping her head down and not acting out, but he’s rather visibly been straining to act in some way in regards to basically any antagonist that shows up(see also: His talks on Mermaids, The Man, or basically any big deal in the story), while the others tell him to just drop and forget it.

          He strikes me as the kind of guy who just plain needs an enemy to draw out his best, and a real one, not one of Mackenzie’s that’s being lent out like Mercy or The Man. Because his moments of being good revolve around spotting concealed weapons and picking apart shady stuff, not working towards an arbitrary goal.

          Thinking about it, he might be better off spending the break or summer with Mike Gregory or LAW or some other group that handles that kind of thing. He’s got the head and instinct for it, and it’d be a great look into that side of the setting.

          Current score: 5
          • Glenn says:

            Ian doesn’t need to be the protagonist of his own adventure novel to be more interesting. AE could improve him a lot in a few paragraphs just by moving him into a major that actually interested him, and then occasionally using a paragraph here or there to follow his progress.
            If AE was actually going to invest the time needed to write about a student working with the Law, (which she almost certainly won’t) I personally think there would be quite a few characters who would be both more interesting and more plausible in that role than Ian. Any of the nonhuman students could conceivably be recruited to work with the Law inside their own race and culture. Some other human characters, like Teddi or Eloise, have professional skills that might be useful to the Law. The only reason (unrelated to Mack) why Ian might be interesting to the Law is if the Fire Mages his father is involved with were engaged in some sort of conspiracy, and in that case, they would probably want to use an agent who is better at Fire Elementalism than Ian.

            Current score: 0
            • Nocker says:

              …I think you’re confusing powers and skills with general mindsets. Having psychic powers or fire blasts doesn’t exactly make you good at field work or thinking on your feet.

              Teddi might be a psychic with cool powers, but she hasn’t really demonstrated a number of the personality traits you’d associate with any kind of agent. On the contrary, the fact that she lacks those traits is what makes her good at what she currently does. Eloise would be a closer fit, but that’s neither here nor there.

              You can mostly train or equip people to do the things you need to, barring specific specialists, but giving them the right mindset is WAY harder. Teddi would never have thought to check the feds at the hotel for concealed weapons, and she doesn’t question phrases in the same way Ian does(remember, when it comes to actually picking apart the things The Man says, he’s probably got the best batting average). What he lacks in power he makes up for in a very effective form of paranoia.

              Current score: 1
  8. Cadnawes says:

    I’ve been grumbling about the readability of this site off and on for years. I’m digging the bold.

    Also, YAY I like her choices.

    Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      The font isn’t ideal that’s for sure, a sans-serif font that’s a bit heavier would be easier on the eyes. And the background looks kinda pretty but the cloudy effect behind the letters is distracting.

      The best solution is a plug-in/extension like Stylish that lets you modify the styles of a site at will.

      Current score: 2
  9. DeNarr says:

    Looks like after the title you need a /strong tag. You’re missing the “/”

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      Typo Report

      Her metal-laced skull slamming against my invulnerable nose hard enough to flatten it against my invulnerable skull and make my invulnerable brains rattle around behind my invulnerable eyes.

      I kept waiting for this sentence to get to the predicate right up until it hit the period. The word “slamming” should probably be “slammed”.

      It’s going to be basically empty over a large part of the break, and the factions in Treehome that think themselves as her enemies know it.

      This might actually be alright as is, but it reads a little funny. I’d either insert an “of” in front of “themselves” or remove the “as” after it.

      “No, which is part of the problem… Glory’s taking me and her court on a trip, and leaving a small guard behind”

      Sentence ends without a period.

      Current score: 0
  10. Zathras IX says:

    The mouse-like Kobold
    Can make quite an impact up
    Close and personal

    Current score: 5
  11. AB says:

    well, now I have a picture of flaming grizzly bears dropping out of the sky on hapless elves stuck in my head.

    Current score: 0
  12. N'vill says:

    For folks who are having problems with the text and or font, most browsers have a means of zooming in, I run Firefox at 120% most of the time to suit my eyes. Give it a try folks.

    Current score: 0
    • Cadnawes says:

      I have this site zoomed in four times on a 23 inch monitor. I’m legally blind. The background is not my friend. Could be worse- I went to a site the other day that had the text all tiny in the middle of the screen- light gray on dark gray.

      While I am an extreme case, I do think site owners might want to consider legibility more often than they seem to.

      Current score: 0
  13. Barnowl says:

    I actually find this the most legible of any webserials I read. Too many are in love with the “moody” white on black 🙁

    Current score: 1
  14. Brenda A. says:

    There was no transition between the two conversations to show that they were separate conversations. Mentioning Eloise is enough of a clue to get the idea, but it really needs to be a little more clear.

    Current score: 0
  15. Seth says:

    Does Eloise seem more antagonistic than prior appearances?

    Current score: 0
    • Cadnawes says:

      I didn’t think so, but Nae did.

      *rereads*

      I think Eloise sounds more casual. I would guess that this is her “I’m not a TA right now” voice. It just stands out because frankly, the rest of this school is, human or otherwise, REALLY white (At least the parts Mackenzie notices.) I would rather suggest that how she sounds here is an indication of being less defensive, not more. She’s let her guard down, if you will.

      She’s been annoyed by Amaranth in the past but is still suggesting a scenario that will likely encourage their future association. She wouldn’t do that if she were not very well meaning right now.

      Current score: 0
    • JS says:

      Yes, I thought so.

      Current score: 0
  16. Cadnawes says:

    Call me slow but it just occurred to me that this is a sorority.

    And suddenly some frustrated dean somewhere is in my head shaking their fist at “Oberrad HOUSE!”

    Current score: 0
  17. Whoever says:

    Called it — Nae — last comment (currently) on the previous post. 🙂

    Edit: And the druidic teaching assistant! Yes! 😀

    Current score: 0
  18. Arancaytar says:

    “Between you, me, and your wall of wind?” Eloise said. “You’re right to be concerned.”

    This is actually getting scary.

    See, when Glory originally made her offer, she would basically let Mack stay there to keep people from messing around or stealing stuff. Then she decided to engage several of her more formidable friends just in case.

    Now Mack has heard from two independent well-informed sources (Pala via the dwarves, and Eloise), in so many words, that shit is going to go down.

    At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if they have to cancel or cut their trip short after all.

    Current score: 0
  19. Arancaytar says:

    calling in a bearstrike

    … I love druids.

    Current score: 0