Chapter 4: Opening Day Jitters

on April 13, 2011 in Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
Timeline: , , , , , , ,

In Which Twyla Lights Up The Room

Sunday was the first day that all of us were back on the MU campus, and it was the first day that felt like things weren’t just getting back to normal but they had arrived at normalcy.

It was a weird kind of normalcy, granted, given that instead of waking up underneath Amaranth in a tiny little bed, I woke up underneath her in the middle of a great big one. The new furnishings really did have the effect of making it seem like I was waking up in an entirely new place, not the room I’d spent the last week in.

I didn’t mind that little mental reset one bit. The summer housing dorm I’d stayed in for the preceding three months had never felt anything like a home. The room in Gilcrease had felt like that: just somewhere I was staying. Somewhere with a place for me to sleep and room for me to store my stuff. Amaranth’s arrival might have been enough to turn it from “some place” into “home”, but turning it into a cozy and comfortable home with little resemblance to the crowded and strictly utilitarian place it had been was even better.

It also gave me the sense that it was more her room than mine, which I also didn’t mind… it had been years since anywhere had really felt like it was mine. While I’d made a lot of strides in dealing with it, feeling out of place was still one of my bigger sources of anxiety. How could I feel out of place in Amaranth’s room? It was where she kept her belongings. She even had a place for me.

When we unpacked her books, it occurred to me that she had a practical reason for delegating the shelving to me… it wasn’t just a matter of giving me a task for the sake of doing so. She seemed almost inherently incapable of picking up a book and just putting it on the shelf. Each one that she took out of the trunk, she ended up at least flipping through, if not sitting down to read. I like books, and I can’t pretend that none of them caught my eye, but a lot of them were things like old natural history or philosophy textbooks from the 160s or 170s… fifty, sixty years out of date and looking like they’d felt every day of it. Amaranth cooed over each and every one of them like they were children, which meant I got a dozen or two books up on the shelves for every one she took out.

“You have your class with Coach Callahan this semester, don’t you, baby?” she asked me, while paging idly through a large book about wildflowers. “The additional one you promised you’d take when she gave you a pass/fail grade last year?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. My replies were more likely to come out “yes, ma’am” than anything more conversational when I was actively working on not sounding snappish. She knew this already. We’d gone over my whole schedule before. “It’s my last class of the day, every day.”

“A five credit-hour class,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I’m taking 17 hours this semester, but don’t worry… I’m still ahead of where I need to be, credit wise, and I’m not going to slack off just because I got extra classes in over the summer.”

“Oh, I’m not worried about you slacking off in that regard,” Amaranth said. “I’m just thinking about what a bad grade in a five hour class would do to you. What grade do you think you would have earned in your last melee class, if you hadn’t been given a pass?”

“Probably a C,” I said. “That’s what Callahan thought I would end up with when she made the offer.”

Coach Callahan,” Amaranth said. “I want you to start practicing proper respect for her.”

“I don’t think that’s going to affect my grade,” I said, then added, “ma’am.”

“No, but it will affect your attitude, which might affect your performance, which would affect your grade,” Amaranth said. “Say it.”

“Coach Callahan,” I said. “Coach Callahan told me she thought I could end up with a C.”

“If you get a C this time, it will be a third of your grade,” Amaranth said.

“Not quite a third,” I said. “Ma’am.”

“More than a quarter of it,” she said, and I couldn’t argue with that. “So we’ll have to make sure that doesn’t happen. Therefore, one of your tasks will be to get an A from her.”

“Yes, ma’… wait, you mean to get my collar, I have to get an A from Ca… Coach Callahan?”

Whose collar?”

I lowered my eyes.

Your collar,” I said.

“Do you not think you can get an A?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Honestly, her grading system is kind of… well… arbitrary.”

“Do you think it’s unfair?”

“I couldn’t say,” I said. “She says she assigns the grade she thinks students deserve. Anyway, even if I do get an A, that means it’ll be winter break at the earliest that I get to wear your collar.”

“I didn’t say they would be short tasks,” she said. “You’ve been mine for almost a year. If you don’t think you can wait one semester to make it ‘official’…”

“I can wait!” I said. “But… what if I don’t get the A?”

“Let’s just focus on getting the A, shall we?” she said with a broad smile, and that was all the discussion she would allow on the subject.

I sort of understood why she wouldn’t discuss alternatives. If she told me that failure would mean she’d give me some other task, that would be the same thing as saying that if I didn’t mind waiting longer I didn’t have to try to ace Coach Callahan’s class. But it felt very much like she was telling me I had to do something impossible and I wouldn’t get to wear her collar after the inevitable failure.

Still, even when she was proposing that I should scramble up the dome of the sky and peel the moon off of it for her to use as an umbrella, I loved being in her presence again. Amaranth was warmth incarnate, and I basked in her. It was like the sun had put on flesh and was now sitting on a battered sofa that looked like it was missing at least three inches of height in the form of legs.

Other than getting Amaranth’s things in order, it was an utterly routine day. We ate all of our meals in the cafeteria, we went and hung out in the library in the afternoon. It was what had become a typical Sunday in my life.

Steff and Ian went to the library with us, but they didn’t stay very long. None of us had any homework or studying to do, obviously, and the others wanted to go check out the newer additions to the campus facilities. Amaranth seemed content to just enjoy being with me in a familiar place for the moment, and of course none of the additions were new to me anymore.

I took an odd kind of comfort in the knowledge that by staying over the summer I had spent more time living on campus than about half of the undergraduate student body, assuming an even distribution of students over the four years. In our little group, Steff had been at MU longer than I had but she’d missed out on the changes over the summer.

“It’s kind of a shame we won’t be here when the library gets remodeled,” Amaranth said, in between flitting between books. “It’s part of the five year plan, but there are no funds allocated for it yet, which means it probably won’t be done in the next two years.”

“I’m kind of glad,” I said. “I like the library the way it is.”

The multistory school library was one of the biggest and the nicest library I’d ever been in. The municipal library in downtown Enwich was bigger and more impressive looking on the outside, but its inside was kind of dingy and institutional-looking. The MU library was very modern in its design. Its floor plan was very open and well-lit, with skylights on the top floor and a lot of glass in the front that illuminated all three stories. I couldn’t imagine a building on campus in less need of renovation.

“Well, I look at it this way,” Amaranth said. “If they expand it, it’ll have room for more books. Anyway, it’s hard to say what will happen in the next four years… Bethany Davies is laying out all these big changes, but she’s not staying to see them through.”

“You seem really up on this stuff,” I said.

“I got the Gazetteer, the alumni newsletter, and the Enwich Times in Paradise Valley so I could keep up on it,” Amaranth said. “Last year none of us really came here with our eyes all the way open… I didn’t want to make that mistake again. Anyway, it’s obvious Chancellor Davies is concerned about the legacy she’s leaving now that she’s retiring. I just hope she’s thinking about more than buildings and landscaping projects.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Well, it’s not like we’re not giving her plenty of opportunity to get her name attached to something positive.”

My case against the school for the little matter of one of their employees warding me inside a room with a divine seal and another one accidentally dumping me into the ancient magical labyrinth used for delving exercises was still pending, though a settlement offer was on the table that would let them off the hook without much financial hardship or metaphorical egg on their collective and equally metaphorical faces.

They’d have to admit wrongdoing, of course, but since what we were really looking for was improvements in the handling of racial matters there was plenty of room for a moderately skilled P.R. department to spin the whole thing into something good for the school.

“I keep wanting to ask if Lee knows you’re back,” Amaranth said. Lee Jenkins, of course, was my lawyer, who was handling my arbitration case against the school and who had helped me out in some of the bigger trouble spots of my freshman year. “But of course you didn’t leave.”

“Yeah, we’ve been in touch,” I said. “He’s inviting us to the wedding reception, by the way. It’s in the first weekend in Polyantha, so if you want to go you’ll probably want to make arrangements to stay past the end of the year next semester.”

“I would have thought it would have happened already,” Amaranth said. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised they’re opting for a longer engagement, with his career and all.”

“It’s not that,” I said. “His wedding’s been pushed back by his in-laws-to-be again… something about an insufficient bridal gift. They want time to put together a better offering.”

“I can’t imagine he cares about that,” Amaranth said.

“I’ve got the idea that it would be insulting for him to tell them that,” I said.

Lee didn’t talk about himself very much, but when he did he was really talking about his fiancee, K’thindi. She had a half-orc mother who’d raised her orcish, and they were a close-knit family. The stereotypical view of orcs wouldn’t lead one to imagine they could approve of someone with a white collar job, but most cultures tend to view someone who makes a good living in high regard. If anything, orcs had a higher regard for lawyers… trial lawyers, especially… than humans typically did.

Orcs didn’t practice trial by combat. They viewed trials as combat. Two people standing up in front of an audience of their peers and a respected authority, making contrary claims and trying to show the other up as a liar or trip them up on a point of traditional protocol? That was the kind of thing orcs could understand. It was more or less how they’d settled disputes of honor for ages, during times when a lot of humans were still dueling.

“Anyway… in my mind, it felt like during the summer you went somewhere else,” Amaranth said. “I know I was writing to you here, but it was like you left MU and went to some other school and then came back. I’m sure that doesn’t make any sense…”

“It kind of does,” I said. “The campus feels different during the summer. It’s the same buildings, a lot of the same people, and the same place… but somehow it adds up to something different. I can’t explain it.”

“I think you just did,” she said. “As much as I can, anyway… it seems like we both understand what we’re talking about, and that’s what matters.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, smiling so wide that my cheeks blushed out of apparent belief that I couldn’t possibly be so happy without having something to feel self-conscious about.

It was nice in some ways to be put in my place, to fall into the familiar rhythm of yes, ma’am/no, ma’am with my Owner in her room… but it was also nice in other ways to just have a quiet conversation with my girlfriend in one of our favorite places to go together.

The next day we went back to the union for breakfast… myself, Amaranth, Ian, Steff, and Two. Despite how familiar the buffet-style cafeteria was, this felt a good deal less routine, because it was the first day of class. I’d been through this three times before but each time it was different. I was less than an hour away from starting a new class with a new instructor.

“Lot of new faces,” Amaranth said as we sat down at a pair of tables in the middle of the room.

“Yeah,” Ian agreed.

“Thirty-three that I can see from here,” Two said. “No, thirty-two. I’ve seen the girl with the green earrings before.”

I took their word for it… Two’s, particularly. I wasn’t really good at faces, and I’d never been much of a people-watcher. I tended to keep my head down. When I did look around the room… which I did reflexively since the others were talking about it… my eyes gravitated towards the faces I recognized. They were mostly non-human.

There was Belinda, the half-ogre, who was sitting with some of her human teammates from the Skirmish team. She saw me looking and waved. I returned it, a little awkwardly. We weren’t exactly friends, but she’d been friendly enough towards me after the beginning of the previous year.

Celia was sitting with a couple of lizardfolk… one who I thought was Hissy, our floormate from last year… and the gorgon who’d been in the room beneath me in Harlowe.

Twyla, a quiet girl who looked completely human except for a pair of pointy little horns jutting out of her forehead, was sitting by herself at a two-person table, her head down low over a notebook. I didn’t know much about Twyla. She’d hung out with the Leighton twins, who seemed to have managed to make it from junior high to higher education without maturing at all… but that was probably more due to bad luck in the roommate lottery than any personal preference.

“I wonder how many people are coming over for meals as opposed to the Archimedes?” Ian said.

“We call it the Arch,” I told him.

“That’s how you can spot the cool kids here at the Mag Univ,” Steff said. “They’re up on the newest campus slang, or ‘camp slan’, as they call it.”

“I’ll bet a lot of the new freshmen in Harlowe are going there instead of here,” Amaranth said. “It’s so much closer to those dorms. I mean, I don’t think I see any obviously non-human students I don’t recognize here.”

“They must be going there,” Steff said. “The school quietly dropped their Food For Freaks program… no more catered meals to keep us from upsetting the normals.”

“Huh,” I said. “Kind of works out nicely for them that the new student center with the whole racial harmony message is so much more convenient to Harlowe.”

“Yeah,” Ian said. “A human who’s got a big problem sharing eating space with other races wouldn’t go to the dining hall that’s all in-your-face with the tolerance. So they come here by default, while most of the people they’d object to go to the new place.”

“Well, to be fair,” Amaranth said, “the new dining facility is designed to cater to more diverse dietary needs. Considering how many people had problems finding adequate nutrition in the cafeteria options before, putting it close to Harlowe seems like a goodwill gesture, really. It’s not a perfect solution, of course, but you have to remember the whole campus is getting overhauled. Presumably when the student union gets its own re-do, this place will offer similar options.”

“I’m not saying it’s all bad,” Ian said. “I mean, I don’t think there was some conspiracy by the school to trick Harlowe people into going one place and not the other. But… well…”

“It’s complicated,” I said. “There’s good and there’s bad in what they’re doing.”

“I agree,” Amaranth said. “I just don’t want the good to be overlooked.”

“I’ll tell you one good thing about dining at the ‘Argh’,” Steff said. “They do take-away boxes. You swipe your card like normal, but instead of all-you-can-eat, it’s all-you-can-cram. Not that I don’t enjoy a little mealtime social fun, but I’m looking forward to that for those nights I just want to be alone, or alone with Viktor… popping out and bringing back something resembling real food is going to be a lot better than trying to make a meal out of the stuff they carry at the little hallway store in the Nexus.”

“That’s interesting,” I said. “I wonder if this place is going to start doing that? The Arch would be a bit out of our way for food, but that would be nice.”

“Oh, Little Ms. Here All Summer didn’t know about the take-away boxes?” Steff said. “I guess the chosen one hasn’t penetrated all of Magisterius University’s secrets, after all.”

“Who’s the chosen what now?” Ian said.

“It’s really not worth asking,” I said. “And no, I didn’t realize they let you do takeout. If I had…”

I was cut off by a whooshing sound, a flash of light, and then the clattering of a chair and several screams. We all turned and looked. Twyla had jumped up from her table, several things on which seemed to be burning… it looked like the whole tabletop had burst into flames but most of it was already dying out.

Two very calmly pointed a finger at the table and the rest of the flames went out with a puff. A wave of her hand dispersed the acrid smoke. A couple of people who’d been in the verge of running towards the burning table stopped mid-stride. Other people who’d been running for the exits kind of stumbled to a stop as awareness that the emergency… such as it had been… was over caught up to them.

“Gesundheit!” Steff yelled to mixed chuckles as Twyla grabbed her bag and made a very hasty exit.

“A spell must have run away from her,” Amaranth said. “That’s why you’re not supposed to mess around with fire magic outside of labs. I wonder if someone should go after her and make sure she’s alright?”

“She wasn’t burned,” Steff said. “That look on her face was embarrassment. I don’t think there’s anything you could say or do that would make her less embarrassed, Amy. If you want to be kind to her, I’d say the best thing to do would be to never mention it. That girl’s got a serious case of Really-I’m-Normalitis.”

“I suppose not saying anything is safer than saying the wrong thing,” Amaranth said. “But it feels like there should be some right thing I could say, that would let her know it was okay.”

The cafeteria manager was surveying the damage and shaking his head by this point. He wheeled a trashcan over and began disposing of the damaged tray and silverware and table accessories, and the burnt paper goods.

“Anyway,” Amaranth said, “getting back to the previous subject… if you had known about the takeout boxes, baby, you would have turned into a hermit the day they opened their doors. That’s something I am not going to permit you to do now.”

“Okay, yes, I probably would have taken food back to my room a lot of time,” I said. “But when I was here by myself, it’s not like I was sitting and talking with people at meals anyway.”

“No, but you were getting out for them and sitting somewhere where there were other people around,” Amaranth said. “That’s something. If it’s not a step forward, at least it’s not a step back. Now that we know we can do takeout, we’ll use it sometimes, but only when we’re going to be being sociable back in one of the dorms or for a picnic or something, or when there is an ironclad academic reason you need to be eating alone somewhere.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“In fairness to Mackenzie,” Ian said, “we’re acting like the new dining hall is the first time there’s been an alternative to eating in the cafeteria. But she could have got food from one of the burger stands and taken it back to her dorm, and she didn’t do that. So it’s not like the Arch thing would have given her a new and exciting opportunity to withdraw from the world if only she had known about it.”

“Oh,” Amaranth said, her cheeks coloring slightly. “I completely forgot about that. I’m sorry, baby.”

“I actually forgot about it, too,” I said. “We went to the food court so rarely that it didn’t even cross my mind as an option. Otherwise, I probably would have been eating chicken sandwiches and burgers by myself in my room all summer, and that probably wouldn’t have been a good thing.”

“Thank you for saying so. In any event,” Amaranth said, “how about we go check out the Arch for dinner tonight? I’m kind of curious to see it.”

We all agreed, and after that the conversation turned to more academic subjects.

As apprehensive as I was about all the unknowns involved in starting my first class of the year, I was really looking forward to it. ENC 217: Spellbinding For Enchantment was going to be a major step along the way to my major. Thus far in my education as an enchanter, I’d learned how to manipulate the inherent properties of an object. I could make a sword sharper, a coat warmer, or a door stronger… for a little while. I’d learned how to prolong the effects of such enhancements, though I couldn’t yet make them permanent. I could even make a person faster or stronger or more perceptive, though that didn’t last nearly as long.

I’d also picked up as a necessary skill in all of my lab classes the basic art of spellbinding, of taking magical techniques that worked for me and shaping them into a formula that could be repeated at need. It was very much an art, and there were a lot of trade-offs involved in taking powerful and useful magic and reducing it to something that could be more or less relied upon.

But that was what my major, Applied Enchantment, really consisted of. Humanity and other races of the world had been using cooling magic for millennia. When you took that magic and stuck it inside a box in such a way that it was always there, you had a refrigerator, and something like a refrigerator could change the world.

ENC 217 would focus on how to craft spells with an eye towards attaching them to objects. I still wouldn’t close out the semester any closer to being able to make a permanent magical item, but my spells would be a lot tighter and I’d be able to store them as charges in an object. I was really looking forward to that, especially considering how often during the winter months I’d had to repeat the insulation spells I put on my coat.

In fact, that was why I’d decided to take it during the fall semester. By the time the sunny, summer-ish weather left us I’d be able to deal with the cold in proper wizardly fashion.

Ian was a bit less sanguine about his first day of class.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he said quietly to himself near the end of breakfast. “I am so not ready for this.”

“Relax, sweetie,” Amaranth said. “It’s the first day. I’m fairly certain you don’t have to be ready for it.”

“What’s there to be ready for?” Steff asked. “I’m sure your syllabus-receiving skills are still in top form even after a summer without so much as an agenda.”

“Okay, maybe you all don’t have to do anything for a grade today, but I have to play an audition in front of my professor and the music department head,” Ian said.

“Isn’t that the sort of thing they should have you do before they let you into the class?” I asked. “If they’re going to be picky about it, I mean.”

“They did,” he said. “This is… I got a notice over the summer that I’ve been ‘selected’ to give an additional audition.”

“Well, that’s good, isn’t it?” Amaranth said. “I mean, I can’t imagine how it would be bad.”

“It’s bad in that I already made it through the process once without blowing it and now I have to do it again,” Ian said.

“It sounds to me like you’re under consideration for some honor or advanced class,” Amaranth said. “So the worst thing that would happen is you’d be in the class you signed up for and nothing would be different, right?”

“Except my professor, who had thought I was worthy of consideration, would now know he was wrong,” Ian said. “Seems like that would be worse than never having caught his attention in the first place.”

“Well, if that’s how you feel, you could just tell him that you’re comfortable where you are and decline,” Amaranth said.

“And give up without trying?” Ian said. He sounded borderline offended by the suggestion. “You’re kidding.”

That seemed to make up his mind, like he’d decided to go in and give it his best shot out of sheer stubbornness. Amaranth had always been the sort of person who would encourage people to excel, but she’d become a little more nuanced in her approach.

“What do you have today, Two?” Amaranth asked.

“My friend Hazel and I are taking Small Business Management together,” Two said. “And then I have a pastry class, and then I have The Art of Presentation.”

“Does this small business thing have anything to do with your friend Hazel’s three or four plans for making money?” I asked. I was long past my initial suspicion of Hazel taking advantage of the easily-disadvantaged Two, but that didn’t mean I was thrilled at the thought of her rearranging her curriculum around Hazel’s pipe dreams.

“No,” Two said. “My friend Hazel says it’s planning for the future.”

“I think it’s a very good idea,” Amaranth said. “I mean, college only lasts a few years… if you don’t want to live at Hearts of Clay for the rest of your life, you do need to be planning ahead.”

“My friend Hazel says she is pretty sure she can get the money to open an inn,” Two said. There wasn’t a hint of doubt in her voice, but I knew from experience that this didn’t mean she believed Hazel’s claims. She had no problem blithely repeating the things the burrow gnome said, because she was confident at least that Hazel had said them.

I knew there were a lot of things that could change between sophomore year and graduation. Two and Hazel could have a falling out, as hard as that was to imagine. They could drift apart, especially given Hazel’s growing friendship with Shiel and the fact that they weren’t even in the same building anymore when they had used to be just a few doors away from each other. I knew, too, that they didn’t have anything like a firm plan for post-college life, but I envied that they had as much figured out as they did.

In theory it was easy to make money with an enchantment degree, but I didn’t have anything firmer than that theory. I knew I wanted to stay with Amaranth, but I had no idea how that would work. Making a living as an enchanter would probably require me to live in a city, and she was bound to a plot of land in a farming commune. Her divine nature wasn’t much of a hindrance to me at school, but back home she acted as something like a priestess. Then there was the fact that her home was the field of amaranth that was her “other body”… how could we live together there?

“What happened to your excited smile, baby?” Amaranth asked, breaking into my thoughts.

“Just thinking about the future,” I said.

“I thought that’s what you were excited about.”

“I mean the long-term future,” I said.

“Isn’t there a lot to be excited about there, too?”

“There’s a lot to be uncertain of.”

“That’s another way of saying there are a lot of possibilities,” Amaranth said. “I can’t think of anything more exciting than that.”

“Ah, you all are so cute,” Steff said. “It’s just a bunch of sophomore jitters, which are like first-year jitters but a year more advanced.”

“And I suppose you have junior jitters,” I said.

“No such thing,” Steff said. “Or at least there won’t be until next year, when I’m a senior and you’re all juniors, with your junior jitters. Oh, it will be freaking adorable. I can’t wait.”

Friday: Mackenzie’s first class.

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89 Responses to “Chapter 4: Opening Day Jitters”

  1. Brenda says:

    What a delight! This bit made me laugh – what a teaser for the newcomers!

    “My case against the school for the little matter of one of their employees warding me inside a room with a divine seal and another one accidentally dumping me into the ancient magical labyrinth used for delving exercises was still pending…”

    I did spot one typo:

    I knew from experience that this didn’t mean she believed Hazel’s claimed.

    I was disappointed that Twyla’s appearance was limited to having an accident and running out of the room, embarrassed. I hope we see some interaction with her at a later time.

    Current score: 0
    • Jennifer says:

      Presumably we’ll have more insight into Twyla soon, since the first incentive mark passed. I’m guessing this means that she is of some race with an affinity for fire. The only ones I recall at the moment are Demon and Djinn, but Demons don’t have horns (and I don’t know about Djinns).

      Current score: 0
      • Sarah says:

        I had actually first assumed that someone was pranking/harassing her because they thought she was a demon. I think it’s still ambiguous exactly what happened.

        Current score: 1
        • zeel says:

          I had assumed it was her doing, though it seems like magic in public would not be her style.

          plus isn’t she a divination major? why would she be messing with fire?

          So ya I see what your saying, and sort of agree.

          I really hope we find out more. . .

          Current score: 1
  2. kimmy says:

    gratz AE for being up before noon. 😉
    ook at teh story.

    Current score: 0
  3. Tracie says:

    I love it. A nice “normal” chapter, with some great setup for what is to come. It was a pleasant read. Thanks AE.

    Current score: 0
  4. Dave says:

    Possible typo: “one of the biggest and the nicest library I’d ever been in.” May be what you meant to write, but it reads slightly awkwardly; how about “one of the biggest and nicest libraries I’d ever been in.”

    Also, “Okay, yes, I probably would have taken food back to my room a lot of time,” – should that be either “…a lot of the time,” or “… a lot of times,”?

    And we have an Edit option now. Like!

    Current score: 0
  5. Calia says:

    Can’t wait for the first class… already read a bit of the construction post and I’m psyched for it. Friday can’t come soon enough 🙂

    Current score: 0
  6. Dave says:

    Another typo: “this didn’t mean she believed Hazel’s claimed.”. Should be “claim” or “claims” I think.

    I too am looking forward to ENC 217. And I really appreciate the regular updates. I admit I was a bit worried when Year 1 suddenly finished in one episode covering several months, but with the start of Year 2 you’re building a nice momentum, and it’s looking good.

    Current score: 0
  7. Dreamer says:

    “ENC 217 would focus on how to craft spells with an eye towards attaching them to objects. I stil wouldn’t close out the semester any closer to being able to make a permanent magical item,”

    stil sould be still.

    Congrats on a good start on Volume 2. You continue to impress. I’m particularly interested in how you develop the enchantment teaching.

    Current score: 0
  8. tigr says:

    🙂 delightful mid-week surprise!

    More typo reports: “snappish.She” missing a space; “… in the cafeteria, we went and hung out” feels like there’s an “and” or similar missing after the comma; “self-concious” missing an ‘s’; “most of the people they’d object to goes to the new place”, ‘people’ is plural, so “go to the new place”? And “I am /not/ not ready for this.” sounds a bit odd, though maybe that’s meant as is…

    Current score: 0
  9. Potatohead says:

    Mmm, worldbuilding. I love the bit about orcish culture, it says so much in so little about how the MU-world’s orcs aren’t just another bunch of brutal savages.

    Oh, and the protagonists did stuff. That’s cool too. 🙂

    Current score: 1
    • Cadnawes says:

      Ever play the tabletop RPG Orcworld? It’s a lot of fun largely because you have to figure out the dynamics within the culture and not just smash things.

      Most barbarian cultures with which I am familiar are really underrated. So are orcs, come to that.

      Current score: 1
  10. Glenn says:

    “Humanity of the other races of the world had been using cooling magic…” should be “Humanity and the other races…”

    If I could make one suggestion, I’d like to know the names of all of the classes that Amaranth, Steff, Ian and Two are taking, along with their majors.

    Current score: 0
  11. Cindy says:

    One little typo… “I stil wouldn’t close out the semester any closer to being able to make a permanent magical ”

    “stil” should be “still”

    Also, really enjoying Volume 2 so far. =)

    Current score: 0
  12. Nichole says:

    “The next day we went back to the union for breakfast on the first day of class…”

    next day/first day in the same sentence is rather redundant. Maybe just drop “the next day” part altogether?

    Great chapter, AE. I was sad when you first announced the end of Volume One, but Volume Two is off to a great start!

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      It isn’t really redundant. This shows that “the next day” was also “the first day of class”. Both are needed to fix the relationship of the Sunday just past to the start of classes.

      Current score: 0
  13. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    “I wonder how many people are coming over for meals as opposed to the Archimedes?” Ian said.

    Reads awkwardly. Perhaps “how many people are coming over here for meals” would work better?

    Humanity of the other races of the world had been using cooling magic for millennia.

    I’m having trouble making sense of this sentence. Perhaps the “of” after “Humanity” should be an “and” instead?

    Current score: 0
  14. Vee says:

    Twyla!!! =D

    Current score: 0
  15. Burnsidhe says:

    Ahh. That’s going to be an interesting setup for Callahan’s class. Much more intensive than Mixed Melee was, and given the pressure Amaranth just put on Mack…
    Well, hopefully Mack won’t try to take shortcuts. Those never work with a teacher like Callahan.

    Current score: 0
  16. Iason says:

    Lovely chapter. Thank you.

    Current score: 0
  17. Zathras IX says:

    Do those who perform
    Sexual acts with teachers
    Get a “f*cking A”?

    Current score: 1
    • erianaiel says:

      With Callahan?
      They get hurt.

      (besides, Callahan and lesbians really do not mix. Just read back the part about the adventures in the Arena…)

      Current score: 1
  18. Chris says:

    …let them off the hook with minimal financial hardship or much metaphorical egg on their collective and equally metaphorical faces.

    The grammar here makes it sound like an alternative – either they get off cheap, OR they get off without egg on their face, which doesn’t make sense given Mack’s goals in the case. How about:

    …let them off the hook with minimal financial hardship and without much metaphorical egg on their…


    …let them off the hook without much financial hardship or metaphorical egg on their…

    Current score: 0
  19. Elqalic says:

    Possible typo: “Humanity of the other races of the world had been using cooling magic for millennia.” It doesn’t read right. That first “of” seems like it should be “and.” Love the tale so far.

    Current score: 0
  20. Minty says:

    Maybe Twyla wasn’t actually alone at the table. There is an invisible student around, after all.

    Current score: 1
    • carson says:

      I thought of that, but usually she’s got a tag if she’s unseen in a chapter.

      Current score: 0
  21. Can’t wait for more classes! I hope some of my favorite profs make some return appearances along with the new ones… at least I know for sure Jillybean will be around ^_^

    Current score: 0
  22. anne says:

    I love this story AE!

    I noted the following…

    The multistory school library was one of the biggest and the nicest library I’d ever been in.

    …nicest libraries…

    Current score: 0
    • Rin says:

      No, I believe it’s correct as it stands.

      Mack is saying that the school library is one of the biggest libraries she’s been in (plural, since she has been in multiple libraries, with the central library in Enwich being still a bit bigger), but the very nicest library (singular, since there can be a lot of nice libraries, but only one that is the nicest and she deemed the one in Enwich dingy and institutional-looking) she has ever been in.

      Current score: 0
      • You’re right, though I am considering how to rewrite that part a bit since it’s caused so much confusion.

        Note to everyone: this is the exact opposite of a solicitation for suggestions. You know how a positron is the exact opposite of an electron? You know what happens if they come into contact? That is what will happen if this comment comes into contact with a suggestion.

        Current score: 0
        • anne says:

          I will suggest that you remove the words one of from the original sentance and see if that makes it work correctly.

          Word it thus: The multistory school library was the biggest and nicest I’d ever been in.

          This seems to look correct to me but then I’m dyslectic and can make some awful mistakes in writing!

          Current score: 0
  23. The Dark Master says:

    “one of your tasks will be to get an A from her.”
    Looks like Amaranth still does not understand Callahan in the least. Last time she tried to make Mackenzie put effort into Callahan’s class, Callahan spit into Mackenzie’s mouth and then told her to work for the mark on her own without being told to do it. If Callahan finds this out, it will be impossible for Mackenzie to get an A…

    Current score: 1
    • Angnor says:

      I’d disagree with that. Callahan’s issue was with Amaranth essentially ‘making’ Mack take the class seriously (and it seems likely she would be upset a student of hers used a go-between instead of acting on her own behalf).
      The collar is a performance incentive for Mack, and Callahan has used her own incentives in the past.

      Current score: 0
  24. The Dark Master says:

    Also, its nice to see the setting built on and the main characters fleshed out. Its also nice to see more frequent chapters, but I am a bit concerned on the front of the antgonists for volume 2… Volume 1 introduced Puddy on chapter 2, and those where much shorter chapters then these are.

    Current score: 0
    • but I am a bit concerned on the front of the antgonists for volume 2

      I’ll be sure to get right on that.

      Current score: 0
    • Calia says:

      … Life doesn’t have antagonists. This is a story about life.

      You’re still thinking that Mack is the “hero” of this story, aren’t you?

      Current score: 1
      • Rin says:

        Indeed, this is not a ‘classical’ story with antagonists and protagonists. Sure, there have been plenty of people in volume 1 who’ve been antagonistic towards Mack, but (short of Mercy perhaps) none of them have really fitted the role of the classical antagonist.

        As Calia said, this story is about life and life doesn’t throw an antagonist on your path on a prearranged schedule. Don’t worry though, I think we can be fairly certain that Mack will meet some more antagonistic people in volume 2 as well.

        Current score: 0
      • The Dark Master says:

        Ever heard of a villain protagonist? No its not about a war between heroes and villains, the issue is that without conflict there is no plot; and if there is no plot, its not a story, its a series of goings on.
        There has to be some sort of goal or challenge with obstacles that need to be overcome. There doesn’t have to be an antagonist, but I am hoping for more then just “Three trials to get my prize”. Plus I often find the antagonists more compelling then the protagonists. Note that none of these are permanent labels, just temporary statuses to understand what that character is doing at the time.

        Current score: 0
        • Angnor says:

          ’nuff said.

          Current score: 0
          • Now I feel really, really prescient for having written that this morning.

            Current score: 0
          • The Dark Master says:

            My main interest in the story has been the psychology of the characters and their growth; its why Two was my favorite character for a large part of the first volume. I love to do character analysis. The reason I said that is because I think that AE writes the drama well and I’d be sad to see it go.

            Current score: 1
            • “Character analysis” and “seeing how to shoehorn this into a pre-existing dramatic structure” are two different things.

              My main interest in the story has been the psychology of the characters and their growth; its why Two was my favorite character for a large part of the first volume.

              Bam! You just made my point for me. The thing that interests you has nothing to do with an external obstacle, a protagonist/antagonist relationship, or a dramatic structure. That would clearly be enough to satisfy you, if you weren’t encumbered by this education that has taught you that there has to be an antagonist and an identifiable conflict.

              I mean, please do identify for me how a protagonist/antagonist dichotomy factors into Two’s growth and development. Oh, yes, we could label people who antagonize her. We could cast Miss Ruth or her creator as a bad guy if we wanted to. But what does this add to our understanding of her character?

              Current score: 1
            • The Dark Master says:

              Just because it is my main interest does not mean it is my only interest. Other then the setting, I also liked to see how Mackenzie was trying to survive as an innately hostile creature in socially hostile environment. Could we skip the snappiness right now? I just wrote a Philosophy final, and I really feel up to friendly debates.
              Two’s story was interesting in that she was trying to overcome the conflict in herself in order to grow. You could say that she is both the antagonist and the protagonist of her story, as she tries to overcome her own limitations that she was programed with in order to survive in her new life.

              Current score: 0
            • Isobel says:

              As you requested…
              Two’s character struggles can be summed up with the classic interpretation of conflict called “person vs self”. In this situation, she would be both protagonist and antagonist of her own story arc.

              Current score: 0
            • Sure, and if you shave enough off of anything you can fit it into a nutshell. That doesn’t prove the whole world is nuts.

              What does this kind of analysis tell you about Two’s character and her struggles? It pretty much just tells you that her story, like all other stories, conforms to the model that you’ve already decided all stories fit into. It’s like the Discordian Rule of Fives (which is basically that if you count everything by fives, you can prove that all things happen in or relate to five), or the game that D&D players play where we try to fit all fictional characters into boxes like “lawful evil” and “chaotic good”.

              It’s intellectual wankery. It can aid insight, but it can just as easily leave you blinkered.

              Current score: 0
            • Isobel says:

              Even if I were a complete stranger to the story, it would tell me that Two is in some sort of internal struggle. It also doesn’t suggest anything at all about what I believe stories should be- that’s your own projection. Simply put, you asked a question; I answered. Bam.

              Current score: 0
            • “In some sort of internal struggle” is the sort of thing that you can slip into a newspaper horoscope; it’s so broad a description that it can be applied to nearly anyone at any time.

              Edit: Okay, the previous version of this response was sharper than it should have been. But here’s the thrust of it: you chose to answer a question that was not directed towards you. That question had a context behind it. I don’t believe I was “projecting” to assume you were answering in terms of that context.

              Current score: 0
        • Or possibly they’re labels that interfere with your ability to understand what a person is doing at the time.

          Current score: 0
        • Calia says:

          Who says you have to have conflict to have plot?

          “Plot, noun
          Also called storyline. the plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story.”

          Or, if you prefer, from Wikipedia:
          “Plot (narrative)
          Plot is a literary term for the events a story comprises, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, a sequence, through cause and effect, or by coincidence.”

          Take a look at that, real quick. Plot is “the events a story comprises”.

          This is a story about Mack going to school and dealing with life. The plot is Mack going to school and dealing with life. The challenge is Mack going to school and dealing with life.
          There does not have to be an “enemy” or “antagonist” or “villain” for there to be conflict… hell, Mack could struggle in class and that’s a conflict.

          You are trying to shove this round story into a square hole, and then blaming the story when it doesn’t fit.

          Current score: 0
          • The Dark Master says:

            When did I say that there needed to be an antagonist?

            Current score: 0
            • You’re done here.

              Current score: 0
            • The Dark Master says:


              Current score: 0
            • No, but this conversation is over. It’s not happening here. I don’t find that you’re adding anything worthwhile to the discussion of the story by actively antagonizing other readers. If you don’t want to be banned, don’t try to continue or resume it.

              and I really feel up to friendly debates.

              This wouldn’t be the first time you’ve overestimated your abilities in an area on my comment space.

              Current score: 0
            • The Dark Master says:

              I am sorry if I have offended or hurt anyone with the words I have posted in the comments. I have never meant to attack or antagonize anyone, and will try my best to avoid doing so in the future.

              Current score: 0
            • beappleby says:

              In your first post, in which you expressed concern that there were no visible antagonists yet in the new ToMU.

              Current score: 0
        • nobody says:

          “not a plot, a series of goings on” could also describe a soap opera.

          hey, don’t rag on soap operas. they make some writers a perfectly decent living, and a secure one at that.

          Current score: 0
      • Cadnawes says:

        I dunno, MY life has antagonists. 🙂

        Current score: 0
    • fka_luddite says:

      Volume 1 didn’t need a start-up review.

      Current score: 0
    • Kim says:

      or does your knowledge refer only to Western ideas?

      Current score: 0
  25. Dashel says:

    There difference between the first book of mu and this one so far has been the difference between a first draft and a fifth one. The world has been established, the characters solidified,and the author seems sure of where she wants to take us as readers.

    Ms. Aerin, thank you very much.

    Current score: 0
  26. darius says:

    im glad to be able to read your work again after no internet for quite some time i can get back to the story. great chapter cant wait till the next one

    Current score: 0
  27. readaholic says:

    Om nom nom nom. Thank you for another tasty slice of MU.

    Current score: 0
  28. Okay, next new feature to the comment section: you can “heart” a comment that you approve of. This is like a Facebook “Like”, but anonymous.

    Current score: 1
    • Null Set says:

      I love it! I spend so much time on that I feel like I’m missing a limb when I can’t upvote things I like.

      You may want to change it so you can’t heart your own comments, if it would be easy to do. Also, it seems the edit countdown timer only shows up on one of your posts when there are multiple editable posts on the page.

      Current score: 0
      • These are all plug-ins. I have the capability to edit them but not necessarily the know-how.

        I’m really not too bothered by the thought of people hearting their own comments. It’s not like someone’s going to end up president based on them.

        Current score: 0
  29. The Dark Master says:

    Um, am I reading the Tales of Mu subtitle right? How long has it said that? I feel like I just dug my own grave 🙂 (mirthful laughter). AE, you win whatever was going on between us. I’m donating the money that was left on my VIsa card ($10.25).

    Current score: 0
    • beappleby says:

      Huh! I didn’t see it either until you mentioned it!

      Goings-on, indeed…

      Current score: 0
    • The Dark Master says:

      Shoot, exchange rates; though I really shouldn’t be saying those numbers in these public comments, its pretty rude. I really wish the edit timer had been just a minute longer…

      Current score: 0
    • If this is what winning feels like, it’s no great wonder that Charlie Sheen needs so many drugs to get through the day.

      Current score: 0
      • The Dark Master says:

        I’m guessing that you don’t want animosity between us either. So, can we agree to not be enemies? Though I can’t think of a word that would accuratly discribe what I would like it to be.

        Current score: 0
        • I’m confused. Are you offering to stop commenting?

          Current score: 0
          • The Dark Master says:

            I want to establish that we mean no harm to each other and bear no grudges. That’s it.

            Current score: 0
            • I could banish all animosity from my soul… I could erase all impression of you from my brain… and the next time you come in here regurgitating nonsense you memorized about antagonists and dramatic structure or telling me that what happens in chapter four hundred exty three would have been better in chapter umpteen dickety two, that comment would still inspire in me the same response it would have pre-banishing and pre-mindwipe.

              If you want to stop pissing me off, use your awesome powers of textual analysis to figure out the common threads in the things that you say that piss me off.

              And then stop saying them.

              Current score: 0
            • The Dark Master says:

              So long as you do not judge me based on what impressions you’ve made of me from before, I will be happy.
              Your story is yours and no one can tell you to change or say how it should be written, I will respect that. I will not define characters as something simple or normal, they are nothing more or less then themselves (Two is Two and Steff is Steff).
              I may not say so most of the time, but I am very happy to read the chapters you post and enjoy them a great deal. They helped me get over a case of burnout that was really screwing up my life, so thank you for the series of goings-on AE, and I hope to enjoy it for more months or years to come.

              Current score: 0
            • I may not say so most of the time, but I am very happy to read the chapters you post and enjoy them a great deal

              Hey, do you maybe think the fact that you “may not say [positive things] most of the time” but you’re constantly posting facile critiques might have something to do with the “animosity” your continued presence seems to provoke from me?

              There is a grand and well-established tradition of artistic criticism, but there is nothing in that tradition that says the critic is entitled full use of the stage and the audience the artist’s talents have procured.

              It’s not just what passes for your character analysis. I don’t want to hear any of your Composition I/Introduction To Creative Writing/TvTropes bullshit, okay? That rebuttal post on my blog that Angnor linked you to was written four hours before the comment of yours that it forms a perfect rebuttal to. Four hours. That’s how shallow, facile, and predictable your schtick is.

              You’re not sharing your thoughts with the audience here, you’re sharing your learnings with me. And that’s insulting. It wears me down. You can’t pretend you don’t know I find it insulting because I told you this before. I’ve told you before I’m not following your playbook and you still bring it. You still bring the same shit.

              I basically wasted my whole day today on you. Note the active voice; there is no blame in that sentence on anyone but me. But here’s the bottom line: I’ve done my best to
              just ignore your bullshit. It hasn’t worked. There are two solutions to this problem.

              One is you stop bringing your bullshit here. The other is I stop you from commenting here. You can keep enjoying the story, and just like before, you can keep on not telling me how much you love it.

              Drop all thought of the “agree to disagree” or “bygones be bygones” or whatever it is you think we’re doing here. I’m not talking about grudges. I’m not talking about impressions.

              The next time you post any of that bullshit, you are gone.

              Are we clear? Answer in one word and then leave no more comments on this chapter if you want to comment on the next one.

              Current score: 0
            • The Dark Master says:


              Current score: 0
            • Thank you.

              A much wiser person (who I should remember is the actual moderator here, and that’s at my request) has reminded me that people who stick around to critique things usually do it because they think it’s worth sticking around for.

              I’m not saying your critiques will be any more welcome in the future, but I’m sorry for not crediting the positive intent.

              If you really want a fresh start, you should not respond to this. Don’t refer back to these exchanges, even to apologize or acknowledge my apology.

              In the interest of preventing future animosity, I am giving you privileged information from the operator’s manual here: there is no way for you to bring this stuff up again without making my brain remember what it felt today towards you.

              If you want to move forward, the trick is to move forward.

              Current score: 0
            • Null Set says:

              Maybe a name change would help a fresh start?

              Current score: 0
    • Null Set says:

      … Is the amount donated ($10.25) a subtle reference to Homestuck, and the intersection of the worlds of Trolls(6:12) and Humans(4:13)? Even if it is not, that is still damn poetic.

      Current score: 0
  30. JS says:

    Vague recall of The Tick, here.

    How could I feel out of place in Amaranth’s room? It was where she kept her belongings.

    Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      Hopefully, we won’t have any characters that are thinly disguised parodies of Galactus showing up to nom on parts of the MU campus any time soon!

      Though there’s always April of next year…

      Current score: 0
  31. Sev says:

    “And I suppose you have junior jitters,” I said.

    “No such thing,” Steff said. “Or at least there won’t be until next year, when I’m a senior and you’re all juniors, with your junior jitters. Oh, it will be freaking adorable. I can’t wait.”


    Comments like this make me love Steff more than average. When she is normal smartassy I really dig that. Your writing is always wonderful to read but little moments like these really remind me how true to life you get.

    Current score: 0
    • Thank you! This was a great comment to come back to.

      Current score: 0
    • Brenda says:

      “What’s that hiiiding
      In the treeeetops?
      It’s that raaascal
      The jitterbug…”

      Current score: 0
    • Durragh says:

      i agree, when i read that i was thinking people like that piss me off, been there a whole year more and act like they are so much older and more experianced because of that, which then made me realize how it was details like that, that flesh out a story and show how good the writing here is 🙂
      (but if Steff doesn’t watch it, she might still be in her junior year when Mack starts hers!)

      Current score: 0
  32. Sher says:

    Beautiful. Four whole chapters without the feeling that Mack isn’t standing up for herself. I like the new and reformed version!

    Current score: 0
  33. zeel says:

    She had no problem blithely repeating the things the burrow gnome said, because she was confident at least that Hazel had said them.

    I love the way Two thinks.

    Current score: 0