Chapter 52: Nothing Is Perfect And Failure Is An Option

on December 12, 2011 in Volume 2 Book 2: The Trouble With Twyla, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Steff Name-Drops

The rest of the dance was… well, a dance. People came and went, stood around and talked or watched other people, and some of them at any given time were out in the middle of the pent, dancing. I surprised myself by actually spending some time out on the dance floor proper dancing with Nicki and Amaranth, and then Ian after he arrived.

Ian was kind of quiet and stood back a bit through a lot of the night. I worried that he felt left out by the amount of time I spent talking to Nicki, but every time I looked at him he looked like he was enjoying himself, and he seemed perfectly fine when he was talking to me, especially when we were out under the lights together.

Still, I worried about it enough to ask him if he had a problem with her when I was sure we were well away from Nicki.

“I like her okay, so far,” he said. “And it’s good to see you making friends you can talk to like that.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Like you talk to her,” he said.

“So why don’t you talk to her?” I said.

“If you want me to make forced and awkward conversation with her because it’ll make you feel better, I will,” he said. “But if you want me to do it because you think it’ll be fun for me or her, you’re probably wrong.”

“Why would it be forced and awkward?”

“Because I’ve never been great at talking to girls,” he said.

“That’s stupid,” I said. “All the people you hang out with are girls.”

“First, not all the people,” he said. “Most of my friends are guys. Close friends? I don’t know. But I don’t wink out of existence when I’m not with you. And I don’t spend that much time talking to a lot of the group. And the reason I can talk to you…”

“Don’t say I don’t count as a girl,” I said.

“You don’t count as ‘girls’,” he said. “You’re a specific girl. I’ve spent time getting to know you and figuring out how to talk to you. Mostly by trial and error.”

“So get to know Nicki,” I said.

“I will,” he said. “But even if I don’t end up best friends forever with her, that doesn’t mean you can’t hang out with her.”

“You’re right,” I said. “I don’t mean to pressure you.”

“You were just looking out for me,” he said. “I’m a quiet guy sometimes. It doesn’t mean I’m not a good time. You of all people should know that.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“Say that a few more times and I’ll be having a great time.”

Steff did show up, as I’d been pretty sure that she would… her transparent attempts at being coy and blase about it had been, of course, transparent. She’d taken the time to get dressed up-ish, wearing a lacy spider web-patterned shawl over a loose peasant top and black jeans that hugged the hips she’d sprouted early in the previous year.

She didn’t dislike breasts on others and I think she enjoyed having them, but her internalized elven mores meant that she was often less comfortable with clothes that showed off the bulges on her chest than she was with clothes that made it hard to hide the one between her legs.

Neither touch made her look any less feminine to me… or any less hot, for that matter.

“So this is the new sidekick,” she said, giving Nicki an up and down look.

“This is my friend, Nicki,” I said, correcting rather than arguing with her… just on the off-chance that Nicki actually aspired to sidekickdom and would have found it slightly soul-crushing to hear me blurt out a quick rejection of the idea.

“Hi,” Nicki said. “We’ve actually met, a little.”

“She looks a little sturdier than the last one,” Steff said, “but I still don’t think she’d last three rounds with the Dark Lord.”

“Wait… what Dark Lord?” Nicki asked.

“This is Steff’s sad little attempt at a running joke,” I said.

“Yeah, I’m just kidding,” Steff said. “Like he’d kill someone important to Mack that quickly after what she did to him last year.”

“Seriously, there isn’t a Dark Lord,” I said. “There isn’t even so much as a beige duke. My life is not the simplest place to stand, but it has yet to be complicated by any evil overlords.”

“And isn’t that a mercy?” Steff said.

“Mostly uncomplicated by evil overlords,” I said before she decided to spill any more in front of Nicki. I was sort of equally concerned of her being scared off and of her continuing to get the wrong idea about my life of adventure and excitement… i.e., that it existed. “Though I can’t really say the same thing about overlords-in-training.”

“There are classes for evil overlords?” Nicki asked.

“Not as such, no,” Steff said. “I mean, I thought about minoring in poli arts, but that’s only because it sounded like something else. Um, Mack, I think you might want to rescue your girlfriend from the fight she’s about to start?”

“What?” I said, looking around. Amaranth was a bit more prone to wide open socialization than any of the rest of us, and so I hadn’t thought much of it when she’d split off to go talk to someone else. I could easily see a fight breaking out over her attention, but I didn’t see anyone squaring off over her… instead, I saw her engaged in a conversation with a somewhat bemused Eloise Desjardins while looking increasingly flustered. “I, uh… I should probably go see what that’s about.” I looked at Nicki. “I’ll be back, seriously, don’t…”

“Go!” she said, with an easy laugh.

Amaranth wasn’t quite at the foot-stomping mad stage, but she looked closed… her cheeks were red and her eyes could have been flushed with tears. Her losing her cool was unlikely to lead to violence, but it could easily lead to her saying or doing something she’d regret… and I’d regret if she alienated or pissed off Eloise. Not only was she pretty cool, but her presence was the only part of my local hazards class that I actually liked.

I knew that the two of them’d had at least one debate before, though I hadn’t been present for it… Amaranth generally tried to err on the side of respecting other people’s beliefs, but it’s possible she had a blind spot regarding secularists… especially ones who were specifically not following the ways of her goddess. She might have been the first one to agree that Mother Khaele didn’t particularly want or need worship, per se, but she identified the goddess as her literal mother to the extent that a perceived lack of respect offended her.

Once I got close enough to hear what Eloise was saying, though, it seemed that religious conviction in and of itself wasn’t the source of the dispute.

“No, I’m not saying it’s an absolute certainty that there are no druids anywhere who have ever had sex with a humanoid while ‘shaped, I’m just saying it’s not likely,” Eloise said.

“I don’t know how you can say that, though,” Amaranth said. “I mean, it’s not like you’ve spoken with every druid who exists.”

“It seemed like you were willing to take me as spokeswoman for druidry when you asked me if I agreed with you,” she said. “Anyway, I’m not talking about what other druids think, I’m talking about how we think. You have to understand that even when we keep our minds, we are the shape we wear. Fundamentally. That’s not just a basic tenet of druidry, it’s a big part of how it works. If I’m being a hawk, I’m thinking I’m a hawk or else I’m falling.”


“And hawks aren’t interested in people,” she said. “Romantically. Sexually. On any level you can think of.”

“Maybe that’s typical, but is that the same thing as fundamental? I just don’t see the fundamental incompatibility between an animal’s nature and the physical act of love with another being,” Amaranth said. “We may be different orders of creation, but we were created after the same models.”

“I ever meet a hawk that wants to engage in the physical act of love with people and I’ll lead the hunting party myself,” Eloise said. “That would be a serious menace… a seriously fucked-up menace.”

“Look, can you let go of the hawk example? I wasn’t thinking about a hawk specifically,” Amaranth said.

“Okay, you look,” Eloise said. “If you’re not actually trying to talk me into putting the ‘wild’ into ‘wild shape’ with you, then I really don’t care what your beliefs or preferences or predilections are. But… and this is the key part… I really don’t care. That doesn’t just mean I’m not going to say anything about them. It means I don’t need to hear anything about them.”

“Has anybody ever tell you that you have a very closed mind?” Amaranth asked.

“Nothing’s fallen out of it yet.”

“Um… is everything okay?” I said.

“Just a minor disagreement on a philosophical point,” Eloise said. “But you know, since I’m not affiliated with a circle and I’m not religious I really don’t think you should be bringing any more questions like this to me.”

“Alright,” Amaranth said. “I just thought that since you’re not affiliated, you might have a different opinion…”

“And it turns out I do. How about that?” Eloise said.

Amaranth didn’t seem to have an answer for that. She opened her mouth and closed it a couple of times. I felt bad for seeing her so completely frustrated, but… she was very in the wrong here.

“Is that Steff?” she said finally. “I’m going to go say hi to Steff.”

“Sorry about that,” I said to Eloise.

“What for?” she said. “You’re not her keeper… anyway, I wanted to tell you that Swain’s finalizing the schedule for her field excursions. It’s actually supposed to be done already but she’s had to juggle things around a bit to make things work… it seems neither one of us has a lot of luck getting attention and respect from the bureaucracy.”

“I’ll be looking for it… I know you’re leading your own excursions, but are you going to accompany hers?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m definitely going to be on for the overnight trip,” Eloise said. “And the plan is for me to be there on the shorter trips, too… but that’s going to come down to some external factors.”

“Well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed,” I said. “I’m not exactly comfortable in the woods, so I’m hoping to go out with as big a group as possible…”

“Yeah, it seems like a safe bet that she’ll have the largest group,” Eloise said. “Maybe not as big as you think, though… some people will go for the other accredited guides just because they aren’t teachers, is my guess. And if you’re worried about safety, you stick close to the professor. Don’t let her hear you repeating this, but she had a pretty good run as a wilderness adventurer before she took up teaching. The wee folk respect her, and so does the forest.”

“Somehow I’d take more comfort in your presence than hers,” I said.

“You’d have a hard time keeping up with me when I’m airborne, and when I’m not… well, I’m more about seeing the sights up close and getting my hands dirty,” she said. “I’m not careless, I just weight my priorities a little bit differently. I pick the reasonably safe place that gives me the best view. She picks the safest place she can see okay from.”

“Do you spend a lot of time as a bird?” I asked. I didn’t think druids were very limited when it came to the forms they could assume, but it seemed any time Eloise’s animal time came up she was flying.

“In total? No, but compared to other animals, yes. I’m a city girl originally, but I always wanted to fly,” she said. “It was either that or the air navy… I thought about both, but I decided I’d rather be able to spread my own wings and see the whole world spread out beneath me than be stuck on a boat looking over the railing, when I had time to look at all. That and the philosophy of druidism appealed to me more, though the hierarchical aspects put me off the religion. A hawk doesn’t answer to anyone, or have anyone under them… both are important to me.”

“So I guess you’re not looking to go into teaching full time,” I said.

“I don’t think teacher/student has to be a hierarchical relationship,” she said. “Students have to respect teachers for anything to get done, but it’s just as bad when teachers don’t respect students. I taught myself more than I ever learned from half the teachers I’ve had. I don’t know, you might have had something similar to deal with growing up.”

“I suppose,” I said. “I’ve had pretty good luck in college so far, though the exceptions have been… exceptional. So far even the classes I haven’t been crazy about have had good people leading them.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” she said.

“Sorry,” I said. “Is it that obvious that I really don’t want to be there?”

“There’s a lot of resentment over the new rules,” she said. “I guessed it from what you said about the excursions. I wouldn’t have picked your face out of the crowd as being someone who was ticked off… you look like someone who has a tendency to look more sullen than you actually are, if only because you don’t go around looking people in the eye and smiling at them.”

“It’s been more interesting than I expected, really,” I said. “I don’t think I’d drop it now if I had the choice of opting out of the requirement somehow… though I would skip the excursions if I could.”

“You can,” she said. “You’ll fail, the class of course, but that’s the nice thing about failure: it’s always an option.”

“Well, it’s an option I can’t afford,” I said.

“Oh, you’ll do alright,” she said. “Professor Swain is a pretty soft touch when it comes to grading, as long as you’re legitimately trying. Anyway, they couldn’t make these classes too hard when they’re making the whole university take them, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m not really worried about passing the class. I’m just…. not looking forward to the process of getting there.”

“Well, there’s that other option we talked about,” she said. “Relax, though. Maybe it’s been a rough beginning, but we did kind of throw the thing together. Things will smooth out further down the line.”

“Actually, it hasn’t been that bad a beginning,” I said. “I mean, last year I’d already changed one class by this point and I was on the verge of dropping another. All things considered, this year has been going pretty smoothly, classes I’m not crazy about included.”

“Glad to hear it,” she said. “Hey, I’m going to take off. Not that I don’t like fraternizing with undergrad, but this isn’t really my crowd. See you next week.”

“Yeah,” I said.

She walked off, and I headed back to my group, thinking that the year really had been off to a much better start than the one before. Sure, there had been some rough patches. I’d let myself get way too caught up in the whole thing revolving around Twyla… but we’d got that sorted out pretty quickly. I was doing at least okay in my classes so far, and my relationships were going pretty strong… we had our miscommunications and our miscues, but we cleared them up like grown-ups most of the time now.

Nothing was perfect, nothing was terrible, and so the year rolled on.

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37 Responses to “Chapter 52: Nothing Is Perfect And Failure Is An Option”

  1. Thank you to everyone who helped contribute to my winter coat fund. A picture will be on my blog tomorrow.

    Current score: 1
  2. Dani says:

    Would Amaranth care whether someone with whom she’s having sex was capable of giving informed consent? Because you’d think horses would be on the low end of that scale.

    Current score: 0
    • K-Li says:

      Amaranth has never been one to let things like facts, consent, damage to those she claims to love, or divine edicts get in the way of her fetishes or her suicidal brand of pacifism (she routinely prioritizes the wishes of people who actively want to harm Mack over Mack herself)

      She really had no business being responsible for another person, and the sooner someone makes Mack face this, the better. I suspect the only reason Khaele hasn’t ended it herself is that she knows teenagers and knows how Romeo and Juliet ends. Ditto Mack’s father

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      • fka_luddite says:

        The rationalization would be “prior consent”.

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    • Luke Licens says:

      That may be part of the reason why it’s forbidden. You’d have to ask the Mother K for details, though.

      Current score: 0
    • ayla says:

      She’s mentioned before that when she looks into a horse’s eyes she sees some kind of spark, a soulful intelligence or somesuch, and so in her mind they can consent. Now, clearly she’s a bit deluded on this point, but she was created specifically with this predilection in mind– in addition to being nearsighted, bookish, and curvy, “likes fucking horses” was one of the qualities that teenager wanted to instill in Paradise Valley’s exotic new nymph. I think she does care about informed consent (though being a nymph, she sometimes has a hard time grasping the concept of not wanting sex) but just has a bit of a blind spot when it comes to horses.

      Current score: 1
  3. zeel says:

    I’m glad she is making new friends, the group is getting a bit stagnant.

    And conversations that aren’t 95% argument are a nice change.

    Keep up the good work!

    Current score: 0
  4. Alyxe Barron says:


    Real quick notes, mostly because they jarred me out of the story, coming too soon. -sheep-


    “That’s stupid,” I said. “All the people you hang out with our girls.”

    Possibly “are girls”?

    “You were just looking out for me,” he said. “I’m a quiet guy sometimes. It doesn’t mean I’m not a good time. You of all people should know that.”

    And likely “not having a good time.” is meant.

    “There’s a lot of resentment over the new rules,” she said. “I guessed it from what you said abotu the excursions.

    Just a typo, not a big deal but since I could still edit the comment… -g-

    Sorry to nitpick but I just started to sink into Mack’s world and then I had to think why I am feeling off-kilter. -sheep-

    Back to the story,

    Current score: 0
    • Brenda says:

      I noticed another one, a misplaced comma:

      “You’ll fail, the class of course,”

      Should be “You’ll fail the class, of course,”

      Current score: 0
      • DarkSage says:

        or it’s a modifying after – thought

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      • fka_luddite says:

        Actually this works as given *see DarkSage’s comment), with the modification suggested, or with the comma removed making the entire phrase an aside.

        Current score: 0
    • Zergonapal says:

      I think the whole sentence looks pretty wonky. I don’t think it would even pass the building code in a shanty town.

      Current score: 0
  5. Zathras IX says:

    Isn’t it a mercy
    That Mercy isn’t yet an
    Evil overlord?

    Current score: 1
    • Zergonapal says:

      She has a long term plan though, just needs to work out the kinks of her half-demon breeding program.

      Current score: 1
      • Luke Licens says:

        Half-Demon breeding
        Is the part of Mercy’s plan
        That scares Mack spitless

        Current score: 1
      • Amelia says:

        I’d say a half-demon breeding project would be 100% kink.

        Current score: 0
      • Bilbo says:

        Mercy should watch her back.

        I suspect Mack’s father has his own breeding program in mind and he won’t be likely to tolerate competition.

        Imagine what a 3/4 Demon could do.

        Can’t be banished because of the human blood, immune or resistant to anti-Demon wards…

        And quite possibly as powerful as a full Demon.

        Current score: 1
    • Krey says:

      I was going to say that I’d want to be Mercy’s mad-scientist, but then I realized ALL Scientists are considered mad in the MUniverse… quite the quandary. Mad alchemist maybe?

      Current score: 1
  6. Month says:

    Amaranth tries to find a loophole in the rules. Again. She is kind of obsessed, isn’t she?

    Current score: 0
    • Dragoness says:

      Why doesn’t she just screw centuars? What’s wrong with that?

      Current score: 1
  7. plinsterpally says:

    all the people you hang out with are girls/are our girls.

    not “all the people you hang out with our girls.

    Current score: 0
  8. Sean O'Braun says:

    Great story — i worry about Amaranth sometimes. I mean, if Mother ther holds back just a little in the amount of water that falls on Amaranth’s field, the villagers might just decide to sow some more wild oats on another field of amaranth. When your mother is The Mother, it’s a really good idea to toe the lines she draws.

    Speaking of Amaranth, though, I wonder how she’d feel about that one guy who was bonded to the reindeer bracelet. That wouldn’t really be bestiality, right?

    Also misspelling: I guessed it from what you said abotu the excursions. “abotu” should be “about”.

    Current score: 0
    • Krey says:

      Jamie was kind of gay as springtime though, plus when he was in Stag form he was pretty literally Iason’s slave.

      Current score: 0
  9. Dave says:

    “All things considered, this year has been going pretty smoothly”.

    Oh dear, bad things are going to start happening aren’t they?

    Which will be fun … for us.

    I like the current chapters with their more normal life, but it will be interesting to see how the slightly more mature and grounded second-year Mackenzie copes with whatever AE is about to throw at her.

    Current score: 0
  10. Greenwood Goat says:

    It’s been a while since we have touched on Amaranth’s zoophilia. Obviously she hasn’t given up trying. Thinking about it, that might have been why she singled out the example of the consular fellow who had been turned into a stag – perhaps if anyone had asked her about it, she might have expanded to say that it was the one she’d “been told not to go looking for”. >:=)>

    I wonder if she actually knows about the elves and their mounts? Or has she tried and been blocked? We can be pretty sure that the guys would give her short shrift, and the “let me into the stable and I’ll stop running up and rubbing myself against you” ploy would probably have failed in very short order. However, some of the girls might have mother issues, and Amaranth could perhaps get good mileage tapping into those. A little pointy-ear glamour here, a little lactation there, and possibly indulging the odd Electra fantasy. Whatever it takes to get her some personal time with a human with the form of an animal.

    Has she ever managed to bag a minotaur, I wonder? Would they scratch her itch, or does it have to be a quadroped? Come to that, is she allowed to have sex with flesh golems? Perhaps she should be looking into golem manufacture – or manufacturers.

    WANTED: Sexually adventurous woman to test a new concept in pleasure golems. Broad tastes an advantage, as is ability to self-heal. Note: a successful candidate will avoid suggesting the inventor is mad – it induces terrible monologues.

    Current score: 0
    • Zergonapal says:

      Actually I believe she already went there. Early in the series she mentioned she was going to get it on with a Centaur student.

      Current score: 0
  11. Kaila says:

    ‘There isn’t even so much as a beige duke.’

    I loved that bit.

    Current score: 1
  12. dagnamit says:

    I don’t know why, but i really like the quips flying backwards and forwards, and mack being a little less tongue-tied. its been long overdue, and she looks like she’s dealing with it well.

    Great winter overcoat, AE, MU is still superb!

    Current score: 0
  13. Erm says:

    “And isn’t that a mercy?” Steff said.


    Current score: 1
  14. DarkSage says:

    Eloise – Eloise – Eloise – Heloise – Eloise.

    Am I the only one who caught this one?

    Current score: 0
  15. Morten says:

    “And if you’re worried about safety, you stick close to the professor”

    If you are worried about safety be a ridiculously strong girl with immunity to mundane objects and the power of immolation. She is such a wuss.

    Current score: 0
    • Brenda says:

      The point is that the hazards will NOT all be mundane, and Mack has been caught off guard before.

      Current score: 0
  16. anon y mouse says:

    “It doesn’t mean I’m not a good time.” – not having a good time?

    “she was very in the wrong here” – clearly in the wrong?

    “Not that I don’t like fraternizing with undergrad” – with undergrads, or an undergrad?

    Current score: 0
  17. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    Only one typo left I spotted that hasn’t already been reported:

    “Has anybody ever tell you that you have a very closed mind?” Amaranth asked.

    Should be “told”.

    Current score: 0
  18. pedestrian says:

    It was before my wife and I met, but Alberta was a horsewoman since she was a girl. I remember her waxing nostalgic about caring for her stallion and it sounded pretty sensuous to me. then she would laugh about the insane things , the bucking, the biting, the kicking, the rolling over try and crush the rider for the sheer thrill. Testosterone makes all us males berserkers from time to time.

    Current score: 0
  19. pedestrian says:

    I was just thinking one of Mackenzie’s handicaps is over-thinking. It is not just herself she needs to be concerned about. I credit her with the intelligence to be concerned for the safety of her class/team mates. Clumsy and oblivious could get some else into danger, especially if they try to protect Our Mack.

    And I hope, that she doublechecks the efficacy of whatever birth control or other hormonal treatment she is receiving. Remember her natural “scent” seems to attract predators. This could easily spiral out of control into one hellova furball.

    Running battles by half-trained fighters will greatly increase the chances of unwanted collateral damage. Plus if Mackenzie panics, a bunch of students trapped in a forest fire are shish kebabed.

    But it would make another great story…hint, hint A.E.?

    Current score: 0
  20. helen rees says:

    typo alert

    Amaranth wasn’t quite at the foot-stomping mad stage, but she looked closed

    should be ‘close’ I think.

    Current score: 0