Chapter 45: The Bronze Age

on November 13, 2011 in Volume 2 Book 2: The Trouble With Twyla, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Amaranth Gets Down To Brass Tacks

When Amaranth returned to our dorm room with the massive Tales cradled against her chest, I could tell she’d been awake all night waiting for a suitable hour when she could come back and not be interrupting Ian and me, or waking us up too early. It was so painful to watch the eager smile fall off her face when she saw the look on mine that when she asked “What’s happened?” I almost wanted to tell her it was nothing that couldn’t wait.

“He came back,” Ian said, while I was still searching for my own response.

It was all he had to say.

“Oh, baby,” Amaranth said. She pushed the book away and threw her arms around me. “I hope you showed him the door.”

“Eventually,” I said. “He had some things to say before that.”

I repeated the story again. Amaranth listened patiently as I gave her the background leading up to the important bit.

“Baby,” Amaranth began carefully after I’d said it, “have you…”

“Never thought of this before? No, I really honestly hadn’t,” I said. “And I’m sorry for interrupting, but I’ve had three different people ask me that so far today, counting you.”

“Who else have you told?” Amaranth asked.

“Just Dee,” I said. “I figured she was likely to overhear eventually, and she generally gives good advice. She had some… interesting… ideas, but the big conclusion was that we need to understand his motives.”

I was skipping over some things, but I also I hadn’t told Ian all of what Dee had said. Her idea about the man’s designs for me were not something I really wanted to discuss any further at the moment… talking about them with Dee had been one thing, if only because her differing views on family stopped her from seeing the full extent of the awfulness. Talking about it with someone from my own culture… that just made it too real to face, especially when it was nothing more than Dee’s theory.

“Did she have any ideas about how to do that?” Amaranth asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Her suggestion was to contact people who would have known my mother, way back when… the most likely person I could think of is my Aunt Jo. She was the closest sibling in age to my mother, and the only one she really kept in touch with.”

“Were you ever close to her?”

“Not especially,” I said. “The times that we met, there were always other adult relatives around and since I never saw them very often they all just sort of blurred together. I’ll have to think if I can even remember her last name. Her full first name is Joanne, and I’m pretty sure it’s one word. I don’t know what kind of reception I can expect from her… Dee has the idea that she might be happy to hear from me, but I don’t know.”

“I really imagine she would be ecstatic!” Amaranth said. “I mean, wouldn’t you be happy to re-connect with someone who was so close to your mother?”

“When you put it that way, I feel like I should be,” I said. “But honestly, I can’t help thinking of her as someone connected to my grandmother.”

“Even though I’m sure she loves her mother, I can’t imagine that Joanne isn’t aware that she has her faults,” Amaranth said. “You shouldn’t think of her as being on Martha’s side or against you.”

“I don’t,” I said. “I’m not even talking about allegiances or anything like that… it’s just the way my memories of her are grouped in my mind. I’m not saying I’m going to be treating everything she says with suspicion or being all defensive with her or anything, just… it’s not easy for me to think of her as my family. She’s my mom’s family, which means she’s my grandmother’s family.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” Amaranth said. “Or at least, I can understand how it makes sense to you.”

“Makes perfect sense to me,” Ian said. “My dad’s family are all kind of lumped together in my head in one giant, vaguely dick-ish pile. Dealing with the ones who are mostly pretty okay usually means dealing with the ones who aren’t, so they all kind of sound warnings in my head when I think about them.”

“Anyway,” Amaranth said, “after all this, I guess you’re probably not very interested in anything else right now.”

“I’d love to know what you found out last night,” I said. “The fact that it’s hard for me to think of anything except the possibility that my father killed my mother doesn’t mean that I don’t want to think about other things.”

“Okay,” she said. She went over to the desk and produced the book, which she flipped open to an index card. “Is this your shirtless warrior?”

When I looked at the picture, I was sure it was. None of the details had particularly stood out to me at the time when I’d had no idea it would even be slightly important, but looking at it now I recognized the image of the sun in the upper right corner and the upraised arm of the warrior holding a brownish-colored sword.

“Yeah,” I said. “This is what Professor Bohd was reading when I walked into her office.”

“The story is called ‘Hasan, The Sun, and The Warrior All In Bronze’ in this translation,” Amaranth said. “The picture doesn’t show him wearing it, but the text describes the warrior as wearing a bronze breastplate and helmet that protects him from ifrit magic, and having a magical bronze sword… which probably marks it as one the earlier human stories in this book.”

“I don’t think that’s anything special about the bronze,” I said. “‘Bronze’ used to be almost synonymous with ‘magical’ when it came to arms and armor, because it was stronger than cold iron to begin with… and a lot better at holding magic. So bronze swords were often assumed to be enchanted by people who didn’t have them, and a lot of the time they were.”

“I know all that, baby, but I think there’s more to it than that,” Amaranth said. “Throughout these stories, ifrits are trapped in brass bottles and copper rings, walled in with bronze blocks, and here they’re being defeated by a warrior armed with bronze equipment. It really seems like there’s a recurring theme of copper and copper-based metals as a weakness.”

“Or it could just be a recurring theme because bronze and brass were really impressive at the time the stories were written,” I said. “Maravaya was centuries ahead of everybody else in terms of alchemy… that’s where we get the word ‘alchemy’ from.”

“Well, the root is elven,” Amaranth said. “But you’re right about where it entered Pax.”

“My point is that they were outfitting their soldiers with durable bronze blades and dressing their cities up with shiny brass ornaments when humans elsewhere and almost everyone else who lived above ground was making do with the iron and gold they managed to stumble across,” I said. “It was automatically impressive, and they knew it.”

“I’m pretty sure ifrits live in palaces made out of brass,” Ian said. “Or at least, the guys in my dad’s order think they do… there’s like one line in the Crimson Oath about ifrits in their brass palaces.”

“What’s it say?” I asked.

“‘…and by the ifrits in their brass palaces’,” Ian said. “It’s just one thing in a whole big laundry list of things they’re swearing by, along with the salamanders, phoenixes, fire giants, and the great red dragons. That’s why I didn’t mention it before.”

“Why would anybody swear by giants and dragons in the same oath?” I asked. “They’re enemies.”

“Well, it’s not like a pledge of allegiance or earnest statement of principle,” Ian said. “Really, it’s more just a really long way of saying ‘hey, we like fire’ than anything else.”

“Ian, do you suppose your father would know more about ifrits?” Amaranth said. “I’ve thought about asking around the elementalism department here, but it might be a sensitive subject because of Professor Bohd’s position within it.”

“It’s possible,” Ian said. “But that wouldn’t be a conversation I’d look forward to having.”

“I’m sure your father would be happy that you were taking an interest in pyromancy,” Amaranth said.

“Overjoyed,” Ian said. “That’s why I wouldn’t look forward to it. The other problem is that if he doesn’t know, he would never admit it to me, so I might come back with nothing but tall tales.”

“I’ve actually heard the thing about the palaces, too,” Amaranth said. “But that still makes sense… if you were an extremely powerful creature of elemental flame, would you want to live in a palace that could be melted or burned by a careless flare-up? Anyway, it makes sense to me… Professor Bohd would have been looking for protections and countermeasures.”

“I suppose,” I said. “I don’t think it’s all that relevant to us, though… we know we don’t need countermeasures against Twyla.”

“Not everything has to be relevant to be interesting,” Amaranth said. “And anyway, don’t you think it might be relevant to Twyla?”

“If she had a serious allergy to copper, I think she would have noticed by now,” Ian said.

“Yeah,” I said. “That would be even harder to avoid than the elven thing with iron, or the human sensitivity to lead. It would make handling money uncomfortable.”

“The story’s not written like copper is something that harms ifrits,” Amaranth said. “Just something that can repel and contain their power. If she’s having problems with her fire nature, that could give her a place to start.”

“If it’s true,” I said. “I’d hate to tell her that some copper bracelets or whatever will keep her safe and then have this all be a huge misinterpretation.”

“Well, obviously you’d have to tell her that certain stories suggest this might be the case, and then it would be fairly easy for her to test,” Amaranth said. “I mean, copper’s not hard to come by.”

“No, but you can’t exactly melt it over a candle flame,” Ian said. “Even a bonfire doesn’t get hot enough to melt copper coins… a certain amount of semi-supervised playing with fire was part of my childhood.”

“Well, we don’t have to come up with a test right this second for it to be a valid idea,” Amaranth said. “I was thinking more about seeing how copper protects things from the heat of her fire… anyway, as curious as I am about all this, Twyla has such a shy demeanor that I have to imagine she’d be more comfortable trying this stuff out on her own than in front of an audience.”

“Am I the best person to be explaining this to her?” I asked. “It’s your theory… I’m not saying I think you’re wrong, but I’m really not sure that you’re right.”

“Well, I’m not sure, either,” Amaranth said. “Maybe you could see how Twyla responds to your approach? If she’s receptive enough to hear you out, you could tell her that I helped you find out more about ifrits and suggest she talks to me? You wouldn’t have to go into a lot of detail about how much we’ve been talking about her.”

“Figuring out the best way to lie to her to get her to trust you seems like a weird way to try to patch up a friendship,” Ian said.

“Well, it’s not that I want to be less than honest with her,” Amaranth said. “I just… want the truth to be presented in a way that won’t be hurtful.”

“I think you just need to lay it on the line,” Ian said. “Don’t act all furtive about it and she probably won’t think anything about the fact that you were talking to your friends about it.”

“Or she might be seriously hurt by it,” I said.

“Sure,” Ian said. “But that’s her right. I mean, we have been talking about her business for a couple days now. She’s entitled to opinions about that.”

“When you say it like that… I’m starting to wonder if it really is best to wait until Tuesday to tell her,” I said. “Because it is her business, isn’t it? I mean, the alternative is that we could spend another three days speculating among ourselves while she doesn’t have a clue.”

“You do have a point,” Amaranth said. “But how would you approach her, if not in class?”

“I say get her a-mail from the student directory,” Ian said. “Send her a message saying that you’re sorry about Bohd, you didn’t know she’d have that reaction but now you think you understand it and can explain it if she wants to hear. That leaves it kind of up to her and to fate.”

“A lot of students don’t bother with their university a-mail if they don’t have a teacher who uses it to communicate with them,” Amaranth said.

“Well, yeah, that’s the fate part,” Ian said. “This is basically what I do when I’m dreading talking to someone, or when I want to talk to them but I can’t figure out a non-awkward way to do it.”

“That isn’t a bad idea,” Amaranth said. “And if you don’t get a response, you have an opening on Tuesday… you can ask her if she saw it.”

“But if she has and she’s just ignoring it, that’s going to be more awkward,” I said. “I guess that’s the risk I have to take… it’s kind of nice that it’s the biggest risk. I mean, I can’t picture Twyla taking a swing at me, or throwing a shoe at my head, much less actually trying to harm me. I’ll figure out what to write tonight, after the dance.”

“So, you do still want to go to that?” Amaranth asked.

“Absolutely,” I said. “If I hide in my room every time he rears his head inside mine… well, that wouldn’t make a lot of sense as a response, in the first place. I already let him wreck most of a night’s sleep, I’m not giving him the rest of my weekend.”

“Oh, poor baby,” Amaranth said. “You mean you didn’t sleep last night?”

“Not well,” I said. “Or well, but not enough.”

“So, you want to go back to bed, then?”

“Well,” I said. “Since you asked… yes.”

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22 Responses to “Chapter 45: The Bronze Age”

  1. Jennifer says:

    Ian says “so I might come back with” ….

    and nothing follows that sentence. Otherwise, good chapter!

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    • Zergonapal says:


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      • cnic says:

        I don’t think so. It seemed to imply his father might come back with BS just to avoid saying he didn’t know.

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  2. nemka says:

    “That’s why I wouldn’t look forward to it. The other problem is that if he doesn’t know, he would never admit it to me, so I might come back with

    “I’ve heard that, too,” Amaranth said. “But that makes sense, too… if you were an extremely

    Hu-what now?

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  3. Chris says:

    Even though I’m sure she loves your mother, I can’t imagine that Joanne isn’t aware that she has her faults,”

    The second half of the sentence makes it seem like Amaranth is talking about Joanne’s attitude to Martha, in which case it should be ‘her mother’ or ‘your grandmother’ in the first half. (I’m also thinking that as far as Amaranth knows, Mackenzie’s mother is dead, which makes the present tense with ‘your mother’ illogical.)

    Ian is making so much sense this chapter. <333

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  4. Crissa says:

    so I might come back with

    “I’ve heard that, too,”

    Seems Ian’s statement got truncated.

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    • N'ville says:

      There seems to be quite a bit of story missing there. Not only whatever Ian finished saying, but what exactly did Amaranth hear before?

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  5. Jinzo says:

    So humans have a weakness to lead ? Intresting (and somewhat fair considering other races got issues with cold iron, silver and so on).

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    • JS says:

      Well, we are particularly damaged by ingesting it, after all.

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      • FMan0801 says:

        High velocity lead has been known to poison people as well.

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  6. Erm says:

    the elven thing with iron, or the human sensitivity to lead

    Did this appear in the story earlier? I haven’t noticed Steff or Dee being affected – unless it only affects full-blooded surface elves.

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    • Eris Harmony says:

      I can’t remember if it was in ToMU, but it was in MToMU. There was a comment about restaurants automatically giving out silver utensils to elven customers, so it’s something well-known enough for workarounds to be common.

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      • fka_luddite says:

        MToMU. Jason and Jamie dinner date (I’m not sure I got the names right, it’s been awhile).

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    • Greenwood Goat says:

      In MToMU, Jamie (one-eighth elf) notes the absence of an allergic tingle when Alli rests the edge of her knife against his scrotum, and deduces that the blade she is intending to emasculate him with is non-ferrous, and probably silver.

      “Sensitivity” isn’t quite the word I’d use with regard to humans and lead (though Mack obviously isn’t a toxicologist!). Lead is toxic and can cause permanent damage to human nervous systems in particular, but in nearly all cases the major harm is down to the fact that they have no mechanism to eliminate it from their bodies, and can end up accumulating a harmful dose inflicting chronic damage over a lifetime. Chelating agents are available which can bind to lead and allow the body to eliminate it, but first you have to administer them. This is in distinct contrast to, say, copper, which, though toxic in relatively small doses, is actually required by the body in even smaller amounts. So the body has a mechanism to regulate copper levels, which allows it to excrete any sublethal doses. One-off, fatal lead poisonings are quite rare (as are one-off, fatal copper poisonings).

      As for lead water pipes, they usually aren’t a problem unless the water is very soft. In most locations, the interior of the pipe will oxidise slightly and acquire a coating of limescale, and very little leaching can take place. But in very soft water areas, where the water is actually acidic and no limescale ever forms, lead can and will leach from the pipe, and come out of the taps in soluble, dangerous form. Now, what really tripped the Romans up was the lead drinking vessels – lots of beverages are acidic, and other lead food containers – which will be subject to mechanical ablation during use. Using sweet lead salts as a flavouring or preservative agent was also a major mistake on their part.

      Needless to say, if humans were “sensitive” to lead in the way that elves are sensitive to iron, they’d have been a lot more careful around it from a lot earlier on in their history, and much misfortune would have been averted as a result.

      Anyway,’twill be interesting to see whether that will be expanded on, or whether a pureblood elf could quaff off a lead nitrate cocktail without ill effects…

      …and if you thought that was a bit long-winded, just be glad mercury toxicity hasn’t come up yet. Don’t get me started on mercury. >:=)>

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    • ripvw says:

      If the elven sensitivity to iron is equivalent to human lead poisoning, it’s really not the kind of thing that will come up often. Elves would have to worry about drinking from iron cups, but they’re not actually going to be burned by touching it.

      Greenwood Goat, in his very interesting post, makes a lot of assumptions based on the idea that alchemy in the MUverse is similar to chemistry in our world – but it isn’t (a possibility he brings up later in his post, to be fair). In the MUverse, all substances are made of different proportions of four elements rather than 118 elements of a Periodic Table, and thus they might not behave or metabolize in anything like the same way (and “lead nitrate” as such is therefore not actually a thing in MUland). So elven vulnerability to iron might be exactly equivalent to human vulnerability to lead.

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      • Krey says:

        I’ve always gotten the sense that outside the mechanics of magic, science actually functions the same in the MUniverse as it does IRL. The big difference is since they favor magic, the scientific areas have been largely ignored. So, the 118+ elements as we know them would still exist as the simplest forms of atoms, but are largely irrelevant and ignored, while the 4 element system applies to the study of magic. I recall an older chapter where someone suggests to Dee that there is no “dome” or ceiling in the sky and that it simply goes on for infinity. I believe the idea terrified her.
        While writing this I also came up with an interesting theory that, if the God’s are simply super powerful people, they would discredit certain ideas to preserve their illusion, quashing ideas that would discredit their apparent omnipotence. Religions have been doing it for like… forever.

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  7. Zathras IX says:

    Bronze was considered to be
    Stronger than iron

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    • cnic says:

      Bronze is actually superior to iron in some ways. The reason people switched from bronze to iron was availability. Copper is 50ppm in our crust and tin is 2ppm. Iron is about 55,000ppm. In our world there was a collapse of the bronze age in many places as people and need for materials expanded faster that the ability to mine copper and tin. Many places resorted to arsenic bronze because tin was too scarce but even then copper is over a thousand times harder to find than iron. Even during the iron age some bronze tools were used.

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  8. Kaila says:

    ‘a certain amount of semi-supervised playing with fire was part of my childhood.’

    I loved that line. 🙂

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  9. Lunaroki says:

    My dad’s family are all kind of lumped together in my head in one giant, vaguely dick-ish pile.

    This just sounds so wrong! >,< I'm glad Ian didn't say that in front of Steff! XD

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  10. Helen Rees says:

    typo alert

    but I also I hadn’t told Ian

    one ‘I’ needs to go.

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  11. readaholic says:

    So Amaranth’s plan is to make Twyla bold as brass??

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