Chapter 29: Making Designs

on September 7, 2011 in Volume 2 Book 2: The Trouble With Twyla, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Is Too Quick On The Draw

After lunch, Ian hung back to talk with Amaranth, I assumed regarding the sleeping arrangements. To me, the whole point of moving to a co-ed dorm was that we wouldn’t need a bunch of planning and prior arrangement to see each other, so I still was kind of mixed on the idea that anything really needed sorting out… though on one level as long as one of thought it needed addressing, it sort of did.

My afternoon class was held in The Emily Dactyl Center For Design, a building whose layout was everything a label like “Center For Design” promised and threatened. It really epitomized the concept of form over function.

The Glamour and Design students all seemed unaccountably fond of the haphazardly labyrinthine building and its cheerfully, aggressively modern flourishes. Personally, I couldn’t stand it… I’d only been inside it once and I’d managed to get lost twice. I know the direct route to my classroom now, but I decided to show up extra early just in case… which turned out to be a good thing, as I couldn’t begin to find the right door.

An innate sense of direction is not one of my magical demon gifts, but the way everything in the building was labeled with hanging signs it didn’t seem like it should be that hard to find a single classroom. In the end, I went the long way around like I had the time before. I somehow ended up making it to the room a little bit after the class officially started.

Luckily, it didn’t seem like the professor had called the class to order yet. He was standing at the front of the room, near some of the various items he’d brought in as examples… some of them cheap, mass-produced enchanted items and others unique and bordering on artifact-level power. The temporary jewel of his collection was the unenchanted prototype of the platinum coronation sword made for Magisterion IX by the dwarves of Clan Schwertgriff… temporary because he only had it for seven days, and even that was an incredible coup.

I suspected family connections, as he’d mentioned a dwarven mother and Schwertgriff was a female clan. I doubted a historically important piece would have been lent out at all if there wasn’t some kind of blood tie in play. He wasn’t pure dwarf… he was shorter and thinner, something of a spritely figure, and I didn’t choose that word by accident… I suspected he had at least a smidgen of fae in his background, as neither gnomes nor dwarves were really predisposed towards the kinds of flashy prestidigitation he used as a teaching aid.

He and a student with auburn hair done up in pigtails were talking to each other. I thought she looked sort of familiar. That wasn’t too surprising… my circle of friends was not expansive, but unless she happened to be a freshman then we would have spent a year sharing the same campus. She might have been in one of my enchantment-related classes of semesters gone by.

For that matter, I might have just been remembering a glimpse of her during Tuesday’s class. It wasn’t like I paid a lot of attention to people around me. I was pretty sure I would have noticed the pigtails, but if she’d had her hair down the first time then maybe my brain was just telling me it had seen that face and I couldn’t place it because the hair was different.

“Professor Stone, what would happen if the sword were stolen?” the pigtailed student was asking him as I eased myself into my seat and tried to look like I hadn’t just arrived.

“You mean to the thieves?” the professor said. “I imagine they’d be awarded posthumous medals of achievement by one of the guilds. Dwarves tend to see to their own affairs, which means arranging their own security spells and meting out their own justice.”

“Whatever protective spells they put on it, it can’t be as safe here as it would be in their vaults,” she said.

“Possibly not,” he said. “But Emily is one of the most secure buildings on campus. Even litter cannot be removed from this building without permission… on the positive side, we have some of the most polite custodians you’ll ever meet.”

I wondered about that… being one of the more modern buildings, it was possible that the center had been built with more modern security concerns in mind, but I hadn’t noticed any obtrusive security fields. When passing through the fortified perimeter of the town of Enwich, many people with a degree of magical sensitivity could feel a tingle. I and my fellow “monsters” got something a bit more invasive than that. If there were security spells on “Emily”, they were a lot subtler… that could mean they were weak, but it could also mean they were more sophisticated.

“But I don’t imagine they could teleport it directly from here back to their vaults,” the student said. “And I know they can’t send their own guards on campus, because this is a men’s campus, in dwarven terms… they wouldn’t trust dwarves from a male clan with it, would they?”

“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to discuss what Clan Schwertgriff can or can’t and will or won’t do regarding their property, Ms. Andersen,” he said with a smile. Maybe it was the neat little beard or his general avuncular look, but he managed to sound a lot more friendly pulling out a line like that than most people could have managed. In any case, her last name didn’t ring any bells with me. “I wonder, my dear, with all the interesting objects I’ve provided… and all the history and intricacy of design behind this one… why are you so very interested in the sword’s disposition?”

“Well… I guess it’s the politics of it all,” she said. “It’s not so much the sword itself I’m interested in, so much as the, um… dynamics between clans, especially across gender lines.”

“Ah, well, I’m afraid there’s only so much light I could spread on that topic,” the professor said. “I was not raised by my mother, exactly, though there were visits. I probably have more knowledge of the intricacies of inter-clan relations than your average topdweller, but it isn’t exactly for public consumption.”

“Oh, of course,” the Andersen girl said. “Naturally.”

“We should probably be getting started, anyway… please take your seat.”

She did, throwing one last sideways glance at the sword on her way.

It was possible that Ms. Andersen’s interest was in the political nitty-gritty of how an object like the sword passed among multiple sets of borders… apart from having their own sovereign kingdoms located within Magisterian borders, the dwarven kingdoms had the interesting parts of surface world divided up on their maps between male lands, female lands, and carefully regulated mixed grounds. Any commerce conducted by dwarves required two sets of permits, one from the IRM and one by the local governing dwarven authority. The extended dwarven kingdoms and the Imperial Republic tolerated the other’s temerity in establishing a sovereign body occupying the same space as their own because they were good customers and strong allies to each other.

Not that the dwarven kingdoms were anything like a single body. It was rumored they’d even gone to war with each other, circumspectly.

So there was a lot to be curious about, when it came to things like a female-owned sword of significant historical value being held in male-controlled lands. But I had a hard time believing that Ms. Andersen’s actual interest was in the politics of it all. She’d been focused on the narrower issue of the security arrangements for the sword.

I had an even harder time figuring out what to make of that, though. The obvious answer was too obvious, and ridiculous. Even if she thought she could steal the thing, what would she do with it? Without any magic, the platinum blade might as well have been a big shiny letter opener. She couldn’t possibly find someone to buy it. The metal and jewels would be worth something as materials, but not enough to be worth the risk.

Maybe she really was interested in the sword’s security because she was interested in security, but knew how it would sound to admit that. Maybe she wanted to design security devices, or maybe she was a delving major who needed some impressive scenarios for a paper or something.

Whatever the case was, it wasn’t like I was going to find out by sitting around picking apart everything she’d said… or any other way. This wasn’t a mystery that cried out for me to solve it, it was an overheard conversation that had just happened to be the most interesting thing happening in the early moments of class.

“Hello again, everyone,” Professor Stone said to the class at large. “I hope you all have your lists from last time, as they’ll give you a bit of a ‘leg up’, creatively speaking. Today we’re going to begin the first design project, which is to take a modern product and give it something of a more elegant spin. The intention here is to incorporate elements from a more classical design without sacrificing modern utility. Now, the obvious approach here… particularly for those of you without any design experience… is to take the examples you profiled on Tuesday and meld them together, but if you find you are simply bursting with ideas you need not take that tack, or restrict yourself to the examples I’ve provided at all…”

Designing a better-looking box for a television wasn’t the sort of thing that really interested me, especially knowing that “better-looking” would be judged by a person who thought that TVs should look like the little sunken treasure chests people put in their aquariums. But I wasn’t exactly bursting with ideas, and I didn’t have much design experience. The closest I’d come to designing a product was sketching out my original character ideas for a show that had a lot of merchandise.

As much as I itched for something more interesting, it seemed safer to stay within the suggested parameters.

Despite his stated preference for doing over talking, Professor Stone turned out to not be one of the teachers who would just turn us loose and make us try to feel out what he actually wanted us to do. He laid out what he actually expected: a drawing of the product in three views, with “expansion or magnification as necessary to show important details”, accompanied with a write-up hitting the high points. He showed examples, too, projected in the air. He had a flair for illusion.

“Free-hand drawings are acceptable if they’re clean and clear. As for the writing, this is not an essay contest,” he said. “A series of dotted points will be sufficient… if you are going to make me read paragraphs, make it interesting! Give it to me as a pitch, either selling the design or a finished product. The assignment is due physically in my office or at my ethernet node by Monday. You should be able to get a decent start on this during the remainder of the period, and then more than enough time between now and then to finish it.

“Now, I will not be accepting anything today… if you think you’re finished, take it home with you and sleep on it. We’ll be using what you come up with as a springboard for a discussion of the sorts of aesthetic considerations a designer must make. With that in mind, feel free to get up and move around, look at the sample items, talk to your peers and share ideas… originality counts, but there’s nothing new under the world, as the dwarves say. It’s how you express your ideas that matters. I’ll be available to hear your ideas or help you smooth out the rough spots, of course, but there’s only one of me. Later on you’ll be working as teams, so it’s best if you get to know each other a bit now.”

There was still no mention of grading. Our assignment from Tuesday hadn’t been graded, it was a springboard for this one, which would be a springboard for the next one. At least we were being expected to turn that one in. It was kind of reassuring to be given a few practice runs when learning something new, but it was kind of disconcerting to imagine the semester as a long series of “springboards” that counted for nothing, until we were suddenly dropped into the deep end with no grades from easier, earlier assignments to buoy us up.

Still, he hadn’t said it wouldn’t be graded, so I proceeded with the assumption that it would be. I started sketching out a television box, then stopped when I realized I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do with it. I could draw a box easily enough, but if I just drew a typical modern television and then figured out stuff to add to it, it would seem like an afterthought. Brainstorming first seemed like a better idea.

Twyla approached me while I was trying to decide if adding a classical curtain to a modern TV was just way too obvious. There was no reason to assume she was interested in my cutting-edge television designs, so I figured she was using the excuse of Stone’s invitation to talk about her troubles.

“Hi,” I said, trying to force my mouth into what I hoped was a warm and earnest smile. I even looked her more or less right in the face. There was something in her eyes that I couldn’t quite place. “Did you talk to Professor Bohd?”

At those words, the thing in her eyes spilled out over the rest of her face and became a lot more recognizable.

She was pissed.

“Yes,” she said, talking past a rigid jaw. “Yes, I certainly did.”

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34 Responses to “Chapter 29: Making Designs”

  1. Tigger says:

    Typo report: “one of thought it” – one of us? One of us! One of us!

    “I know the direct route” – I knew?

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  2. Ducky says:

    I want to think “fire,” but I also think I’m wrong. I’m excited to see what’s actually all over Twyla’s face.

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    • Burnsidhe says:

      Fury, probably.

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      • Billy Bob says:

        “…became a lot more recognizable.
        She was pissed.”

        Clearly anger.

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  3. Yobgod Ababua says:

    Also: “platinum coordination sword” => “platinum coronation sword”

    Lately I find that my spellcheckers do more harm than good…

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  4. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    though on one level as long as one of thought it needed addressing, it sort of did.

    The “of” in front of “thought” needs to go. That or as Tigger suggests above it needs an “us” between the two.

    the unenchanted prototype of the platinum coordination sword

    I believe you mean “coronation” sword.

    the dwarven kingdoms had the interesting parts of surface world divided up on their maps

    Maybe this is correct as it stands, but I have a feeling there’s a “the” missing in front of “surface”.

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  5. Addie says:

    Prof Stone doesn’t get a character link?

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  6. Brenda says:

    Whoa, Twyla’s pissed. What the heck happened? W

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    • LetsSee says:

      More like who happened: Amy talked with Bohd before Twyla did, Bohd mentioned it to Twyla, and Twyla is now upset.

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  7. Alico says:

    lol, I think Twyla is pissed because Prof Bohd is PART DEMON. Twala is tired of people thinking that she is a demon and thinks Mack sent her there because of Prof Bohd’s racial background. At least that is my guess. We know Mack sent her there because she thought Bohd could give her some good advice, but I am thinking it came out the wrong way, as stuff usually does with Mack.

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    • Amelia says:

      But Professor Bohd did give the big “I am less demon than I am efreet” (or was it djinn?) speech, so it can’t just be that, even if it were just about her racial heritage she would have had another option to offer.

      I wonder if Professor Bohd disliked being approached in that way?
      Maybe she saw it as an intrusion into her personal life.

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    • hoppy says:

      There’s an alternate reason, mack talked about her problem in public (think elves) to two people who have weird ideas of social boundaries, Amy has the as long as she’s trying to help every things ok because she’s going fix things and stef slavery, cannibalism and her punk need defy social norms and piss people off coplex.

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      • Brenda says:

        I can’t see Steff interfering like that. Unfortunately, I don’t find it implausible that Amaranth did. I want to think better of her, but now that someone’s mentioned the possibility I won’t be surprised if that’s what happened.

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  8. Chips says:

    Dun dun dunnnnnn

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    • siberian says:

      thats EXACTLY what popped into my head when i finished reading! lol

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  9. Daemion says:

    Maybe finding out that she’s part dragon wasn’t what she expected to be her heritage. That is -if- she found out anything, yet.

    Her anger could be directed at Bohd, at her missing, mysterious parent, at the world in general or at Mack.
    Although I think Twyla wouldn’t confront Mack during class, but maybe she couldn’t talk to her before since Mack was late and she’s not in the mood to wait until the end of the class.

    It could just be that she was sent from one demonic being to the next, being treated as “one of them”, something she finds deeply insulting because of her religious upbringing.

    So far I don’t see the riddle of Twyla as important to the main story but as with Puddy’s mysterious background, we just don’t know what will come of it.

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  10. sliversith says:

    I wonder if Twyla wasn’t trying to flat out STOP her problem with fire, and Bohd suggested, as she kinda did with Mackenzie, that learning how to use it was a good way to learn to control it.

    -Might be paraphrasing some story elements here- there’s a lot to think of/on

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    • Zukira Phaera says:

      Quite possible.

      I was more inclined to think she’s sick and tired of having -that- topic brought up or is frustrated and wants to mull privately and just happened to decide to approach Mack for the class, since they now have established a little interaction.

      Or alternatively, she took Mack asking if she’d seen Bohd yet as nagging.

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  11. Tierhon says:

    Hmm, going back it doesn’t appear that Mack had the time to talk to Bohd.

    Also I don’t believe Bohd would say something that infuriating. Even if Bohd made the wrong assumption she has more tact than most of the characters in the story. At this point we don’t even know if Twyla spoke to Bohd, or if she is pissed at Mack, Bohd, or something else.

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  12. Tierhon says:

    P.S. Still not getting the subtitle on this chapter.

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    • Alice says:

      I could be wrong, but I think it’s because Mack started to draw before she had a plan for the tv she’s designing, and then decided to contemplate it before continuing, etc.

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      • HiEv says:

        Perhaps also because Ms. Andersen appears to be “making designs” on the sword (i.e. planning to steal it)?

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    • Burnsidhe says:

      It’s a pun.

      Also, being “too quick on the draw” means to start something too soon. As in, her opening line to Twyla starting the conversation instead of waiting for Twyla to start it.

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      • cnic says:

        Thank you for your definition. I was trying to think of a way to explain this Americanism for others and I kept coming up with things like “going off half cocked” and “jumping the gun”. We sure do love our gun metaphors.

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  13. Dave says:

    So … is the platinum coronation sword Checkov’s gun?
    If it DOES get stolen we may meet a certain detective again, which would be interesting.

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  14. Lana Lemon says:

    Holy cow what a c-cliffhanger! ;O;

    I always want to see what happens next, but it’s not too often that I feel like I -just can’t wait- for the next installment. This is one of those times!

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  15. Zathras IX says:

    Emily Dactyl
    Center is now endowed by
    Her sister Polly

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    • Anthony says:

      What about her brother, Terry?

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  16. N'vill says:

    I just wonder if Twyla’s missing parent turns out to be Mr Embries?
    Oh most certainly the sword is going to go missing, I don’t think so, Alexandra Erin isn’t likely to be that transparent, but something is afoot.
    If I was making the plot, I would try to find a way to tie both the sword and Twyla into something, now that would be both fun and interesting.
    In a nutshell, I would use Twyla to borrow the sword and then have her use it to kill Embries. How is that for a good twist eh?

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    • Burnsidhe says:

      Um. Maybe, but it’s far more likely that the conversation is exactly what it appears to be; Mostly idle curiousity and a one-off throwaway mention.

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  17. Greenwood Goat says:

    Emily Dactyl,
    A deft finger on the pulse,
    Of theft prevention.

    It’s labyrinthine,
    The ways and lengths she’ll stretch to,
    Thieves will be amazed!

    Of custodians,
    Nothing’s more polite, or firm,
    Than a solid wall.

    Major theft absent:
    Those who don’t regard her well,
    Will regard her long.

    As Mack is finding. She’s only losing her way at the moment, but might conceivably end up losing her footing too if her unspoken opinions become too negative – Emily ought to be more than capable of swapping a top or bottom step in or out if sufficiently provoked. Professor Stone really should have introduced everyone to the Design Centre’s genius loci – while a lady may be entitled to a sense of mystery, paying students are entitled to professional facilities.

    Still, especially given the nature of more avant garde art, it is as well to have extra supervision there to make sure that certain pieces don’t get confused with rubbish, at least by the cleaners. It leads me to wonder whether certain pieces would have difficulty staying on the walls due to Emily’s disapproval, and, contrariwise, whether certain pieces would be impossible to remove, even when the student graduates. Perhaps certain, gifted students have been told, “Emily would like to keep that one,” and urged to donate the piece in question. And perhaps, while the faculty arranges all the temporary exhibitions, they might leave the permanent displays to the one who really has to live with them.

    As for Twyla, it sounds like she had a bad experience with Bohd. Perhaps Bohd told her something that she didn’t want to hear or couldn’t accept. Perhaps Bohd has a thing about dragons, and not in a good way. Perhaps the thing in question was a draconic interdict, like the one on Mack, that is set to stymie Twyla’s investigation into her parentage. Perhaps Bohd, recognising what Twyla was, felt the interdict bite down, and was forced to blow Twyla off as quickly as she could. So far, nobody has put two and two together in Twyla’s presence. Perhaps Mack will get as far as “We think-“ and then be choked off. In which case… most of the staff will find themselves unable to help. Professor Einhorn ought to have encountered the odd half-dragon or two, and might be interested and powerful enough to help, provided Mack’s name is kept out of things. And Callahan, of course, has the breadth of specialist experience and badness of ass to take a stab at fingering someone’s draconic ancestor, whether that ancestor wills it or not.

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  18. Vammer says:

    Ethernet -> should be -> Aethernet ??

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  19. Zukira Phaera says:

    Hmm, a seven day loan item in lands that would cause ‘problems’ political or otherwise with travel and a traveling mirror.

    Seems like the simplest answer would be that the connection on the other end of that mirror is a whole lot closer to kith and kin for the return of the sword.

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