Chapter 75: Additional Distractions And Directions

on March 26, 2012 in Volume 2 Book 3: Figments & Fragments, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Finds A Path While Her Teachers Find New Footings

I skipped breakfast to give Ian a chance to explain the situation to the others and put his plan into action. I didn’t like to miss my favorite meal of the day again… the only meal that was always good in the old dining hall… but it was really a small inconvenience in the grand scale of things.

The idea of specifically not thinking about something might have been hard to carry out, but I had a slight advantage: I’d spent most of my teenage years as the sort of friendless loser who spends a lot of time thinking about how to cope with the sort of improbable situations that fantasy heroes in TV shows and comic books get into. I knew better than to try to clear my mind or even to actively try not to think of something… the key was to think about other things instead.

I was glad my favorite class of the day was also the first one, because it really helped me get my mind on the right path. Acantha’s spellcraft for enchantment lab was mentally engaging and it appealed directly to my interests. It didn’t hurt anything that as teachers went, she was harder to tune out… she had such an amazing combination of professional poise and amateur awkwardness. I felt a bit like Steff, squeeing over how adorably dorky she’d found me as a freshman.

She was noticeably less awkward each day, but I had a feeling that she’d always be a little wobbly when it came time to stand at the front of the room and address the class.

Elves seemed to project an aura of effortless grace in almost everything they did. There was something reassuring about one who was nervous about public speaking. She dealt with it and did a better job at it than I did, but even knowing that she was nervous made her seem a bit more… well, mortal.

It made me wonder what she was like outside the classroom. Did she have nerdy interests besides applied enchantment? Was she really all business, or was that just a mask she wore to get by in the corporate world?

…okay, so maybe she wasn’t impossible to tune out, but at least when I did tune her out I was still paying attention to her.

And I didn’t completely ignore what was going on that was classroom related. It took her a while to come to the point on almost anything that she said, so I just sort of… enjoyed the ride. When it was time to actually do work, my mind went to the work. It had to, because I had a lot of extra power to throw around… it would have been much easier for me to overcharge my powerstone, or shove enough power into a wand to make it explode in a shower of sparks… as one inattentive student did with hers.

Acantha was at her side in an instant, as the room was small enough that she could practically teleport. The bits of flaming bark were swallowed up by a sphere of force and then disintegrated.

“This is why we wear eye shields, people,” Acantha said. She turned to the still spell-shocked student. “Show me what you were doing… slowly.”

I was curious about what exactly had caused such a critical failure… both so I could avoid it and so I could learn how to do something like it on purpose… but the most likely cause behind the cause was her not paying attention to her work. I prefered to have Acantha’s attention for doing well, especially when she’d praised my attentiveness before, so I didn’t try to eavesdrop on what was happening.

The exercise for the day was about trigger words, both positive and negative. We were supposed to make a wand holding a spell that could be released by a trigger word, and wands that activated normally but could not be used without a trigger word. The explosive fumble wouldn’t have had anything to do with the actual assignment, but with its groundwork… the actual spell charge.

Some of the great wizards of old had been pretty famous for rigging their wands and staves to backfire painfully when other people tried to use them. Modern implements… particularly mass-produced ones… were likely to have more sophisticated and less dramatic countermeasures woven into them.

In a tight corner, though, the ability to violently discharge all the energy in a wand could be… okay, I actually wasn’t interested in the practical applications. I could work my mind around to the point where violence for self-defense was acceptable, but I would never relish the thought of using fire or explosions for destructive purposes.

Explosions for their own sake, though… that was part of why anyone became an enchanter. Wasn’t it? Every branch of magic that had a bit of a ‘boom factor’ to it was like that.

Still, there was a world of difference between a controlled explosion at a safe distance and blowing up your homework in your face.

Acantha directed us to get to a safe stopping place a bit before the end of class, as she had something she wanted to say.

“This is the first time I’ve ever taught in a classroom setting, and over the course of the last two weeks I’ve learned something… I am not very good at it,” she said when activity had wrapped up around the room. “My skills in teaching do not measure up to my skills in the areas in which I am supposed to be teaching. This is proving to be a learning experience for me… and not the least of what I’m learning is a tremendous amount of respect for educators. While I have been finding my footing and I would not have accepted this challenge if I did not believe I could meet it competently, starting next week…”

She paused and closed her eyes as if to gather her thoughts or her strength, and I found myself hoping that she was going to announce she was getting a teaching assistant or something… anything but giving up, giving the asshole who’d questioned her credentials on the first day the satisfaction of hearing she’d quit.

“Starting next week, I am going to be re-ordering the classroom in a way that I believe plays to my strengths,” she said. “A way that allows you to take full advantage of what I have to offer. It is your responsibility to master the techniques we’ve been working on today, but there will be no assignment to turn in. Just come Monday prepared to try new things, and to work.”

Well, that sounded more promising.

She dismissed the class, but not before sending a whisper to my ear to wait a moment.

“You remember the matter we spoke of on Monday?” she said once we were alone.

“Um, I do now,” I said. She’d received a threatening… perhaps not in the legal sense… letter from my one-time history teacher, Ariadne Einhorn, attempting to warn her about my demonic demon-ness, and had offered to share a copy of it with me. “Sorry, it actually did slip my mind. My life… has a lot of complications in it, to the point that a teacher trying to sabotage my scholastic career isn’t necessarily the most pressing thing on my mind.”

“I understand,” she said. “In a certain sense, I would say that Professor Ariadne is not worth your consideration… but in another sense, she could be dangerous to ignore. I wanted to let you know that the letter has been retrieved as promised, and copies are being couriered to me as we speak. I’d hoped to have it in my hands by now, but I’ll put one into the intracampus post for you. I imagine you will have it within a day.”

“Thanks,” I said. I’d be going into town on Saturday… if the letter got there early enough I could drop it off at Lee’s office myself, which would probably be faster than sending it through the imperial post. “Thank you. Hopefully I won’t need it…”

“But it’s better that you do have it and don’t need it than the other way around,” Acantha said. “It’s a basic precaution.”

“Like an eye shield,” I said.


I never thought I’d be grateful for Professor Ariadne’s vendetta, but at least it gave me something safe to talk about at lunch… not that there was much for me to say, nor did anyone else have much to say about it. I think the others had something else on their mind. Ariadne really was the lesser of two evils, in this case.

In my hazards class, I was happy to see that Eloise was in a better mood. She gave me a big smile when I came in. Professor Swain seemed to be in a good mood, too.

“I’ve been getting to know our teaching assistant a bit better, and I’ve learned that there are all kinds of advantages to having a druid in the classroom,” she said at the start of the class. “There are a lot of permissions that are going to need to be worked out, but to make a short tale of it… Ms. Desjardins just might be able to bring some of the hazards we’re supposed to be telling you about into the classroom to show you.”

Depending on what she was talking about, I could see it as a good thing or a bad thing… or rather, a cool thing or a potentially dangerous one. Druids could assume a wide range of beast shapes. Mundane plants and animals were the easiest, but anything that fit within a fairly stretchy definition of “natural” was potentially within reach. If the professor was talking about having Eloise assume the form of something… well, that could be cool.

If she was talking about using druid magic to bring actual monsters into the classroom… well, there were probably good reasons it would take a while to get it cleared. There were just so many ways for that to end badly.

Regardless, though, I liked the idea of getting up close and personal with the hazards of the Enias River Valley and surrounding environs in a controlled classroom setting a lot better than the idea of hiking out into the wilderness to meet them. I hoped that in light of the opportunities that Eloise’s talents could afford us, the requirement of practical excursions might be re-examined.

I was sadly not in luck, though… at the end of the class, the professor gave a little nod to Eloise, which was a sure sign that the latter was about to say something that the former wanted to make sure was not ignored.

“I have the sign-up sheet for the excursions right here,” Eloise said, holding up a clipboard. “You don’t have to sign-up now, but the longer you put it off the fewer choices you’ll have. Management is not responsible for butt-hurt, for people who wait until the ass-end of the semester…”

“Language,” the professor said.

“Pardon my elvish,” Eloise said. “I mean for people who wait until the arse-end of the semester, or for people who think they’re some kind of special magical pixie we’ll make an exception for.”

I wasn’t alone in heading to the front of the room, but the bulk of the class headed for the door. I hung back a little bit to let a proper line form… I’ve always hated those nebulous situations where a bunch of people get there at about the same time and have to figure out who goes first and who goes next after them. I was one of the last ones to reach Eloise, because of that.

“You want the overnight trip,” she told me.

“I was still hoping to sign up for yours,” I said.

“And I told you that’s not the way to keep your butt safe and your hands clean,” she said. “Listen, I have a green star by the ones I think are going to be safe and easy, and there are enough of them that you could sign up for three of them if you think that’s what you want, but you aren’t going to impress anyone that way, and you aren’t going to learn much.”

“What do you think I want?” I asked her.

“What you should want to do is take one of the ones with a green star next to them for your first one, take the professor’s overnight trip for your second one, and then take mine as your last one. That way if you can’t handle the green star trip, you have time to back out of the more interesting ones… but if you’re bored stupid by it, the good ones won’t be full.”

“You do come along on the overnight trip?” I asked.

“Yeah, but it’s the professor’s show,” she said.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll try it your way, then.”

She handed me the clipboard and a pen, and I paged through the attached sheets. They were arranged first by guide, and then chronologically by the date of the trip. The top sheet was Professor Swain’s three trips. I put my name down in her middle outing, the camping trip… it was almost half full already, much closer than any of the other trips. Eloise’s were also filling up fast. There was only that was after the camping trip, so I put my name down for that, then had to decide who to go with for my green trip. It wasn’t easy, because there wasn’t a lot to go on.

“If you go to the weavesite, I’ve set up little profiles of the guides, including the ground they plan on covering,” Eloise said. “I couldn’t manage to set up a way to sign up through the ether, but you can send me a message with your choice and I’ll add you to the list.”

“Thanks,” I said.

I meant for the offer, but I think she took it to mean for the advice overall… which I did appreciate, the fact that she was willing to offer it. I just wasn’t at all sure that I would actually use it in the long run, but until I had a chance to read the profiles I didn’t have a better idea.

“You’re not going to regret it,” she said.

I hoped that she was right.

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14 Responses to “Chapter 75: Additional Distractions And Directions”

  1. Burnsidhe says:

    It’s a nice build up towards Callahan’s fighting class, and hopefully, indeed, Mack won’t regret what she’s signed up for.

    Current score: 0
  2. Time Kitten says:

    6th paragraph from the bottem, “There was only that was after the-” Think that was supposed to be “only one that” in the middle there.

    Current score: 0
  3. readaholic says:

    Nom nom nom. Nice bit of “slice of life at a magical university”.

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  4. Month says:

    “You’re not going to regret it,” she said.

    Famous Last Words.

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    • bangle says:

      That is always a bit ominous, isn’t it?

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    • JN says:

      Closely related to telling someone, “You can’t miss it,” when giving him directions.


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  5. pedestrian says:

    I love this writing method of Alexandra’s. It’s like watching really good dancers playing off of each other. The simmering tension and buildup, the wordplay and the plot crafting.

    As for Mackenzie in the woods, well she should be at least as dangerous as most of the “Fierce Creatures” encountered so far in Tales of MU. Forest dwellers would at least respect the ability to toss fireballs.

    Shame she couldn’t have the hell-hounds with her, those’d be damn useful in a magical wilderness.

    Current score: 0
  6. Zathras IX says:

    Acantha’s Spellcraft
    For Enchantment Lab appeals
    To Mack’s interests

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  7. Maahes0 says:

    At least starting a fire won’t be a problem.

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  8. Dan says:

    Every time I read about excursion classes I miss the Other Tales of MU.

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  9. Ducky says:

    When I graduate college this semester, I won’t miss college at all. I will live vicariously through Mack’s awesome college experience.

    Thank you so much for continuing to write. I started reading ToMU before I graduated high school, and it has been a continual source of entertainment through my own college years. I hope you’ll continue long after I’m finished with college.

    Current score: 0
    • Lyssa says:

      I feel much the same way. I graduated in December and live through Mackenzie. 🙂

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  10. Zergonapal says:

    “Like an eye shield,” I said.

    Exactly. Something missing there I think.

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    • Lyssa says:

      Oh, hey, I hadn’t even noticed. I’d assumed that was dialogue without even seeing there weren’t any quotes.

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