Chapter 24: Of Impressions Wrong, Right, and First

on August 5, 2011 in Volume 2 Book 2: The Trouble With Twyla

In Which Amaranth Probes Into Personal Areas

Amaranth was interested to learn of Twyla’s visit, when I told her about it over lunch.

“Do you think she’ll be back?” she asked me.

“I really don’t know,” I said. “Before she showed up, I really couldn’t have imagined her coming to knock on our door in the first place. Why?”

“I think it would be nice to get to know her better,” Amaranth said. “She’s a hard person to get a sense of.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, she’s quiet,” Amaranth said. “And she’s never been sexually active… I don’t mean that she’s never had sex, I mean there’s no activity there yet. Most people, when I meet them I can learn quite a bit about them at a glance, but with her there’s almost nothing to read.” She shrugged. “It always seems weird to me, but it’s not that unusual… some people just never get around to thinking about sex much, before they’ve had it.”

“I’m pretty sure I had sexual desires before I had sex,” Ian said. “In fact, I’d expect there would more to ‘read’ before… I’m guessing ten minutes of my random thoughts could have filled a book about sex when I was sixteen. It wouldn’t have been the most accurate book, but it would have been enthusiastic. And illustrated in full color.”

The Pop-Up Book of Teenage Fantasies,” Steff said.

“Well, what I’m talking about is a phase that not everyone goes through, or stays in long enough for it to be noticeable,” Amaranth said. “But there are people who just… don’t see the attraction, I guess. It’s not like being asexual, or celibate as a matter of discipline. She has ordinary sexual function and she feels attraction… just no interest in acting on it. It makes everything about her seem muted and dim to me.”

“Do we have to talk about someone else’s sexual thoughts?” I asked.

“Well, they’re not exactly thoughts,” Amaranth said. “It’s more like we’re discussing her sexual being than her sexual thinking… and that’s just how I see people. Anyway, I doubt she considers it a secret that she’d prefer to wait for the right person.”

“Maybe not, but I doubt she’d appreciate the angle we’re talking about this from, or the level of detail,” I said.

“I suppose that’s possible,” Amaranth said. “Do you suppose it’s possible that Professor Bohd might be able to help identify her heritage?”

“I don’t think that’s what she was looking for,” I said.

“No, but don’t you suppose it might come up?” Amaranth asked. “Professor Bohd’s knowledge of the elements must extend to elemental creatures, at least to some point.”

“I guess,” I said. “But in my experience she’s kind of… well, circumspect about that sort of thing. Unless Twyla asks her, I doubt she’d volunteer anything. It wouldn’t be like her to make any assumptions about what Twyla does or doesn’t know, or what Twyla wants to know.”

“Still, if Twyla herself is interested, she might ask, if she gets the notion that Professor Bohd might be able to help her,” Amaranth said.

“If you really want to know how it went, you’ll probably have to ask her yourself,” I said.

“But I wasn’t there when she talked to you,” Amaranth said. “If I go and talk to her, she might get the impression we were talking about her behind her back.”

“Yeah,” Steff said. “We’d hate for her to get the right impression like that.”

“Oh, you know what I mean… there’s a difference between talking in an innocent and well-meaning fashion about someone who doesn’t happen to be here, and talking about someone behind their back,” Amaranth said. “But to someone who’s not there to see it with their own eyes, it can be hard to tell the difference.”

“Seems like it would be pretty easy to avoid that kind of misunderstanding if you just didn’t talk about people who aren’t here,” Ian said.

“You could talk to her, baby,” Amaranth said to me. “To Professor Bohd, I mean. She likes you.”

“‘Likes me’ in the sense of thinking I have a lot of potential,” I said. “I think I could blow a lot of her goodwill by coming around digging after gossip.”

“But you wouldn’t be digging after gossip, you’d just be concerned for a friend and wondering if she’d been able to give her any help,” Amaranth said. “Since Twyla will probably have mentioned that you referred her to the professor in the first place, it should seem completely natural… because it would be completely natural, I mean.”

“Don’t you think Bohd would wonder why she’s not asking her good friend Twyla herself?” Ian asked.

“Also,” Steff said, “I think she’d suspect a trick if Mack came to talk to her about anything and it seemed ‘completely natural’… I know I would.”

“Yeah,” Ian said. “No offense, Mackenzie, but you’re not exactly a social butterfly.”

“More like a moth of solitude,” Steff said. “Or one of those bugs that goes skittering away when the lights…”

“Okay, yes,” I said. “If you want me to talk to Professor Bohd, Amaranth, I will… but if we have to jump through this many hoops to make it not look like we’re digging around for information that’s none of our business, that pretty much means we are.”

Amaranth sighed.

“You’re right, baby,” she said. “I just… I wish I’d got to know her better last year. In her own way, I think she was as lonely as you were, and you weren’t lonely for long.”

“Well, for all we know about her life, neither was she,” I said. “There’s a boatload of Khersian student groups and activities on campus. Even if she didn’t have a lot of friends in Harlowe Hall, she’s got a built-in way to make them.”

“I suppose,” Amaranth said. “Well, if you see her again, please tell her that I said hello, and asked how she’s doing.”

“Okay,” I said.

“And at least go see Professor Bohd in a day or two and ask if Twyla found her,” Amaranth said. “If she happens to mention anything… or doesn’t… well, it’ll be fine either way. It’ll be good for you to have an excuse to touch base with her anyway, since you don’t have her for anything this semester.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

After lunch, I killed some time deciphering more spell formulae from the spellbinding manual and tinkering with the formulation of my puff-spark-flame spell in my workbook. I wouldn’t copy it to my grimoire until after I got the graded results back… I was pretty confident of getting an A, but I didn’t want to copy a B or C spell down into my personal spellbook.

As it neared two in the afternoon I headed for my next class.

Entering the lecture hall, I had to a double-take towards the front of the room to see that Professor Bryony Swain was already present, chatting with her T.A. She seemed to be in a better mood at the start of the second day of her class than she had been on Monday. Taking that in concert with Acantha’s slightly more poised presentation, I was getting a bit of a lesson about snap judgments. A lot of students probably felt they suffered unfairly from making poor first impressions on their teachers, but the reverse could also be true.

She’d replaced the human-sized lectern and somewhat wobbly-looking stool with something more appropriately sized for a gnome, and that had to help things a bit. The presence of her teaching assistant, who’d been called away for an emergency search, also had to help.

I’d met Eloise Desjardins briefly already, even though she’d missed the first class. Like the professor, her garb was practical outdoorsy, in shades of green and brown. Amaranth had identified her as a secular druid… someone who practiced the primal mystic arts of druidism, but left the religious side alone.

Secularists kind of weirded me out. A big part of that was my grandmother’s influence, I knew. She’d lumped them in with worshippers of evil gods and the misguided servants of demons, but at the end of the day she’d had more understanding for worshippers of evil than those who stubbornly refused to worship anything.

I couldn’t claim to have received a balanced religious education, but from what I understood there were some secularists who acknowledged the gods as gods but didn’t believe mortals needed anything from them or vice-versa, and then there were some who went a step further and declared that gods were nothing more than powerful beings like the most ancient dragons or elementals or even formerly mortal wizards.

The man who had fathered me had, during one of his dream-visits, espoused a theory like that: in brief, that gods are anyone powerful enough to get away with declaring themselves gods.

I didn’t know Eloise well enough to quiz her about her particular beliefs, but Amaranth had apparently had a lively discussion on the subject. Modern druidry involved multiple deities but reserved a place of honor for Mother Khaele. I could imagine Amaranth trying to remain polite and effusively open-minded while grappling with a perceived rejection of her divine mother.

“Good afternoon, all,” Professor Swain said at the start of the class.

She repeated it again more loudly when it failed to catch the attention of those engaged in small conversations around the room. When that didn’t work, Eloise crossed over behind her and clapped her hands together sharply just behind the professor’s head.

“Thank you, Eloise,” the professor said. “Good afternoon, class.”

It had to be hard to be a gnomish teacher among humans and other races. Gnomes had a reputation for being a quiet, unobtrusive people, though my experience with Two’s friend Hazel was that they could be as boisterous as anyone. Professor Swain certainly didn’t seem to be all that shy.

But even the most outgoing gnomes have a tendency to fade into the background in the most literal fashion. They weren’t invisible or translucent or camouflaged or anything, just… hard to notice. Easy to forget.

“I want to start off today by introducing my assistant for the semester, Ms. Eloise Desjardins,” Professor Swain said. “Ms. Desjardins is pursuing her master’s in aberrant natural philosophy, and we’re very lucky to have her. Now, this school has protocols on how teachers address students and vice-versa. Ms. Desjardins is a student and also a colleague, so I shall address her so… you lot are her fellow students, and she’s made it known to me that she has no quarrel with being called by her given name.”

Eloise nodded.

“So, why don’t you tell the class a bit about yourself?” the professor said.

Eloise stepped forward. She ducked her head a little as she opened her mouth to speak… a touch of shyness like that always endeared a person to me… and then she looked up at the class and her voice came strong and clear.

“Well… my family is from New Port Chartres, but my earliest memories are of Blackwater and Prax,” she said. “I grew up in the area… all over the area. My father was in the ranger corps. My mother was a cleric of Khaele. I felt called to something different, though, and at the age of eleven I began druid training. Six years later I was invested.”

“And since then?”

“Well, I spent the next decade traveling the old world and the Mother Isles before I separated from the Khaelean faith and returned here to get my undergraduate degree, which I completed last spring.”

That timeline would make her around thirty at least… knowing that, I could see a certain amount of maturity cast into her features, but that aside she didn’t really look much older than the typical student. I wondered if that had played into her selection… most grad students would still be underage by gnomish standards. Early thirties would at least be on the cusp of adulthood.

“And what did you do when you were overseas?” Professor Swain asked.

“A mixture of missionary work and additional training,” she said. “The druidic rites of the Mother Isles are older and more established than Magisterian ones… they include training in bardic arts… history, story-telling, ethics, and law.”

“So, you’re a trained lawyer, then?” the professor asked.

“…not exactly, no,” Eloise said. “But I am a trained mediator, and my decrees are considered binding in some circumstances, though they can be set aside by a lawful tribune… really, it only comes into play when there’s no tribune available and something needs to be settled.”

“Is that just in the Mother Isles?”

“Here, too,” Eloise said. “It’s part of the common law we inherited, along with hospitality for druids and bards.” She shrugged. “Oh, I’m also a notary. That’s not a druid thing, though. It just… seemed… useful.”

“Oh, well, that’s fascinating,” the professor said. She appeared to notice that Eloise was getting uncomfortable with the attention. “You know, I’ve often remarked how much more quickly the wheels of justice might turn if we had judges who could turn into bears… but all this is probably a subject best left for another time. Right, so… we’ve the syllabus to go over today. Everyone have one? Anyone who didn’t bring it, raise your hand and Ms. Desjardins will pass one in your direction.”

There was a brief delay as everyone got theirs out or received a new one.

“Now, the largest single portion of your grade is what I call the excursion essays,” the professor said. “A quarter of your grade will come from essays you write based on actual excursions into the wilds. It’s not enough to take a stroll through the woods… this is a Local Hazards course, so to qualify for a grade, your excursion must include an encounter with something reasonably hazardous and local. If you’ll look at the back of the syllabus, you’ll find a list of accredited guides… including our own Ms. Desjardins… who can both help you find qualifying hazards and make sure your encounter doesn’t become a close encounter.

“You’ll need to turn in a minimum of three excursion essays, but if you’re not satisfied with the grades you get on them you can do any number of additional ones and I’ll take the best three. The rub is that you need a fresh trip to write a new essay. You must have a guide with you to verify the encounter, and while they are being generous with their time you can’t expect them to drop everything to show you the local carnoflora so I suggest you try to get on their schedules as early as you can and expect to travel with a group.”

The field work requirement was sounding better than I’d expected… I would have preferred that a class that advertised itself as a ‘lecture’ was graded only on things that could be done inside of a lecture hall, but going into the woods with a capable guide and a group of students didn’t sound terrible.

“I will myself be leading a total of three excursions for the class,” the professor continued. “So if you’re the retiring sort who doesn’t like to put themselves forward, you can just join up with me on the dates noted there in the upper right of page two. Note that the they’re all Saturdays, and that the middle one is an overnight camping trip. If you choose to participate in that one, you’ll get two grades… one for your essay, one based on my personal observations. That second grade is in the way of being ‘extra credit’. If you only turn in two essays it won’t count for a third, but if you have at least three it can take the place of the lowest. Is that clear enough to everyone? Right. Moving on…”

The remainder of the syllabus concerned matters less worrisome than “excursions”, and thus was less interesting. We went over the format and required contents of the essays, the frequency and importance of quizzes… Professor Swain was a believer in regular quizzes, which I liked because they made for an easy way to keep one’s grade up without adding to homework.
“I’ll be honest,” she said near the end of the class period. “This is a larger group than I’m used to leading, and it’s got a bit of a different focus than I’m used to, all because of the new requirements they’ve sprung on us all. But be patient with me and I’ll be patient with you, and we’ll all see if we can’t muddle through together, right?”

After Local Hazards, I only had one class left to go. Like Professor Bryony’s class, Coach Callahan’s Fighting To Disable class was one I wouldn’t have chosen to take for myself. Now I was not only committed to taking it, but to getting an A in it as well… that was the first of three tasks that Amaranth had set for me in order to earn the right to wear her collar.

There was a good practical reason behind that, as a low grade in a five credit hour class would have a heavier impact on my GPA. I wasn’t sure it was a goal that was within my reach, though… fighting was not something I was suited for, by aptitude or inclination. When I’d talked to Coach Callahan about my chances, she’d basically told me that she didn’t see me as an A student even at my best, but she might throw me some chances to bump my grade up if she thought I was giving it my all.

So that’s what I did… spent an hour swinging a phantasmal copy of my quarterstaff, doing my best to take my opponents out as fast and as hard as I could. That was the focus of the class. She called it “fighting to win”… it wasn’t exactly lethal combat, but it wasn’t specifically non-lethal. Her stance was that you got the most possibility of winning when you didn’t care if your opponent lived or died, so long as they were out of the fight.

It was gut-wrenching stuff… and head-, arm-, and leg-wrenching, too. I got through it the only way I could: by putting one foot in front of the other… and then swinging as hard as I could. The illusionary weapons we used were set up for maximum realism in their effects, including illusionary wounds… but luckily they’d also been set for a quick “reset” after one combatant was rendered unable to continue, so going for the most devastating blow possible actually made things less grisly.

Harder to shake off than the brief images of carnage was the feeling of impact when my mock-staff hit someone’s knee or head. I was starting to regret the scheduling that had me in Callahan’s fighting class every day right before dinner.

Amaranth still had the same thing on her mind as she had at lunch: Twyla.

“How sure are you that she doesn’t have demon blood, baby?” Amaranth asked.

“Very,” I said. “She’s religious, remember?”

“There has to be some proportion of demon to human at which it’s possible to invoke the divine,” Amaranth said. “Otherwise you’d get people who were human to every indication but who would suddenly be stricken with pain when they tried to pray.”

“Right, but at that point… well, if they’re human to every indication, they wouldn’t be spontaneously making fire, would they?” I said.

“Sneezing, you mean,” Steff said.

“What?” I asked.

“She sneezed. In the cafeteria that day,” Steff said. “She didn’t ‘make’ fire… she sneezed it.”

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39 Responses to “Chapter 24: Of Impressions Wrong, Right, and First”

  1. Havartna says:

    Nice surprise finding a new chapter just as it goes live! Keep up the good work!

    Current score: 0
  2. Nezumi says:

    Ook! *ahem* No comments that i can see at the moment! Wow.. sneezing fire… I wonder what she is!

    Current score: 0
    • Zergonapal says:

      Seems to be more circumstantial evidence that Twyla may indeed have dragon blood.

      Current score: 2
  3. Havartna says:

    And, by the way, I’m loving Mac’s schedule. It’s a nice mixture of magic and good, old fashioned thrashing. It should make for some interesting encounters!

    Current score: 0
  4. Dani says:

    > “She didn’t ‘make’ fire… she sneezed it.”
    I agree with the person who said ‘dragonkin’. It’s Chekov’s Law at work: If the first class is about dragonkin, then by the third class there’ll be someone breathing fire (or lightning, or mercaptans).

    Current score: 1
    • Jennifer says:

      While I agree about the dragonkin (or at least dragonblood) aspect, I don’t think Chekov’s law necessarily applies here, either. The story has a tendency to have a great amount of interesting world building info, which is overall mostly irrelevant to the major plot (but is awesome anyways).

      Current score: 1
    • Lythar says:

      I sure HOPE nobody’s gonna be breathing Mercaptains…

      Current score: 0
  5. Morgan Walter Champion says:

    Actually,mercaptans are the chemicals that make a skunk’s spray so noxious, so they do not make a good breath weapon.
    How do I know this… One of the fanfiction websites I’ve bookmarked has an eccentric supervillain called Captain Mercaptan who uses a spray gun that fires mercaptan compounds.

    Current score: 0
    • erianaiel says:

      On the other hand, if you are incapable of smelling these mercaptans then they would make excellent self defense weapons …
      Very VERY bad for relations though

      Current score: 0
  6. Bubble says:

    OOOooo.. lots of tid bits in this chapter.
    It seems that the druid teaching assistant grew up in the same province as Mack, I bet that comes up later.
    I’m also eager to see how the ‘excursions’ go in the local hazard lecture. I seem to remember Mack saying that animals tend to either run away from her or try to attack her, could make observing them interesting.
    The biggest factoid we got was that Twyla sneezed fire. It appears the case for her being a dragon-blood is only getting stronger. Although it would be very ‘AE-ish’ for all this to be conveniently misleading information.

    Current score: 1
  7. Riotllama says:

    Makes me wonder if Twyla is related to little Aidan. We know Aderick’s given one kid away already.

    Current score: 0
    • Bramble says:

      I kind of doubt there’s a close relation – the strategy in providing for both kids is similar, but the tactics are very different. Both were left with secular families (the Harrises are obligate secularists due to Dan’s heritage, and Twyla’s parents explicitly do not share her faith), which makes sense considering that there’s some bad blood between dragons and the gods.

      Otherwise, though, there’s not a lot in common between Aidan and Twyla’s situations; Aderick appears to have intentionally sought out a foster parent for Aidan who would understand the realities of growing up demi-human in a human society and be able to defend the child, if necessary. Whoever was responsible for placing Twyla with her adoptive family seems to have taken the opposite tack, in suppressing all knowledge of what she is, protecting her not with a champion but with anonymity. I think this would indicate a dragon or part-dragon with a very different mindset, skill set, or both from Aderick’s.

      Current score: 1
  8. Zathras IX says:

    Twyla sneezing fire
    Is probably something that
    Shouldn’t be sneezed at

    Current score: 1
  9. Frelance says:

    “Entering the lecture hall, I had to a double-take towards the front of the room” =/

    Current score: 0
  10. Grant says:

    Great work! Loving the new pace of the story, and got some serious warm fuzzies about getting two chapters this week. Hope this means you and yours are doing better.

    Current score: 0
  11. Zukira Phaera says:

    I’m really glad to see Mack rethinking rather than sticking to a reaction with her Local Hazards class.

    I’d be highly amused and (not especially if it were a different teacher) surprised to find ‘shopping in Enwich’ as a local hazard. I could still see Mack seeing it as such at the very least even if no one else might consider it to be a hazard.

    Current score: 0
  12. readaholic says:

    Yep, Twyla definitely seems to be dragonkin. The horns were already a nice but cleverly misleading hint towards her heritage. I’ve got to wonder – is she a descendant of Embries? The extremely powerful blocking of her heritage suggests that possibility.

    Current score: 0
    • Potatohead says:

      Possible, or maybe the blocking is specifically because she’s not Embries’ descendant. Dragons are described to be very territorial, and that might extend to anyone sharing the bloodline of a potential rival.

      Current score: 0
  13. Iason says:

    Ms. Desjardins is reminding me of another character with a similar name who was a doctor/astronaut/linguist/olympic contestant.
    No one in Arthur C. Clarkes books turned into bears though…

    Thanks for another good chapter. While I enjoy the in depth features that covers a single class it is also nice skipping lightly through Mac’s day with some conversation on the side like this. It is a good mix that keeps the story interesting and moving forward.

    Current score: 0
  14. Hiinst says:

    If you haven’t already I’d recommend reading “The Dalemark Quartet” a series of (four) books focused at least partly on a group of secular Gods. That is, Gods that don’t believe they are Gods and actively discourage others from worshiping them because having pictures or statues made of them actively weakens and/or binds them. It’s an interesting perspective.

    Current score: 0
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      I’m always looking for a good read and that sounds interesting. Thanks for mentioning it, I know I for one will be looking for the books.

      Current score: 0
  15. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    “In fact, I’d expect there would more to ‘read’ before…

    Missing a “be” between “would” and “more”.

    Entering the lecture hall, I had to a double-take towards the front of the room

    Seems to be missing a “do” before “a double-take”.

    which I liked because they made for an easy way to keep one’s grade up without adding to homework.
    “I’ll be honest,” she said near the end of the class period.

    Paragraphs are crammed together. Needs another line break.

    Current score: 0
  16. Erm says:

    Okay, horns… sneezes fire…

    It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes them. 😀

    Current score: 0
  17. Abeo says:

    Nice to see some recognition of us… pseudosexuals? There’s probably an actual name for it somewhere but lazy.

    Current score: 0
    • Tierhon says:

      Perhaps, she is ambivalent towards sex, however it may also be a result of the hiding effect and or a result of her lifespan. If she is from one of the longer lived races, she may not have reached that part of her life cycle.

      Current score: 0
      • Zukira Phaera says:

        that was my thinking, on the not having reached that point in development.

        Current score: 0
        • Trystia Indraea Olyphis Farrower says:

          And certainly, if she’s descended from a dragon, there’s no reason at all that her mental development would be any slower than a human’s, so she would still end up advancing through school at the same rate, but end up socially and sexually ‘stunted’ compared to her peers, insomuch as that she wouldn’t yet have a sex drive, and would likely have draconic tendencies regarding socialization. Which makes me wonder something: do half-dragons have the same tendency to regard the ‘lesser’ species as food?

          Current score: 0
          • TheTurnipKing says:

            As always, I’d imagine that would depend on the individual and their upbringing.

            Current score: 0
  18. p says:

    More like a moth of solitude,” Steff said. “Or one of those bugs that goes skittering away when the lights…

    I laughed out loud, that was good.

    Current score: 0
    • BMeph says:

      A cockroach of confidentiality?

      Hm, sounds like a good companion for a magical-minded law firm…

      Current score: 0
  19. brandon says:

    If i was mack i would go on the overnight excersion then go with a different guide she would get the extra credit and the experience of another not just her teacher

    Current score: 0
  20. Bramble says:

    …I have the sneaking suspicion that Mack will plan on going with the Bryony-led excursions and then end up missing one due to circumstances outside her control, and have trouble arranging for another excursion to make up for it. I really hope she’ll be more on the ball than that and prove me wrong, but… *shrug*

    Current score: 0
    • Brenda says:

      Suddenly I’m picturing them encountering Jamie and friends on their wagon, having been stuck in a sidhe time warp or something…

      Current score: 0
      • Siberian says:

        or arranging for a guide, and then getting there and the guide be Iason.

        Current score: 0
        • Bramble says:

          Would Iason even condescend to serve as a guide for a girl, though? I’d think he’d make up bullshit excuses about his schedule being full unless the person asking was a hot guy.

          Current score: 0
  21. Sindyr says:

    Excellent work, AE.

    We hope that you and yours are faring well; you are in our thoughts.

    Current score: 0
  22. Krey says:

    These chapter subtitles have gotten even more frustrating in their misdirection as they continue to elude to an element of the story that seems to have removed itself.


    Current score: 0
  23. Helen Rees says:

    ……………….BLESS you.

    Current score: 0
  24. Drakkonan says:

    Umm, not positive about this, but there could be a continuity error here:
    “The man who had fathered me had, during one of his dream-visits, espoused a theory like that: in brief, that gods are anyone powerful enough to get away with declaring themselves gods.”

    Pretty sure the man had this conversation with Mack’s mother, in one of the OT’s.

    Started reading these on HPMOR writer Lesswrong’s recommendation, glad I did. Keep up the good work 🙂

    Current score: 0