In Which Mackenzie Eases In

I somehow swallowed the impulse to tell Nicki that she was wrong about what had just happened until I’d figured out what exactly had happened instead… but then the moments stretched on and I couldn’t figure out a way to explain it.

I hadn’t been pretending not to like Jamie, obviously, and I hadn’t realized that I was basically agreeing to a date, but there was no way to put that into words that didn’t make me sound terminally clueless, so I just let it go.

It seemed my new habits of self-awareness weren’t deeply ingrained enough to survive contact with extreme aggravation.

Walking along in total silence was quickly becoming more awkward than responding, though, so I decided I needed to say something.

“I wasn’t exactly pretending,” I said.


“My… history… with Jamie Bowman is complicated,” I said, narrowly dodging the word “relationship”.

“It sounded interesting,” Nicki said.

“I guess it kind of is?” I said. “It was more just frustrating at the time, but I could see it making a good story… I’ll have to tell you about it sometime.”

“I’ll look forward to that,” Nicki said. “That part about the curse, especially.”

“Jamie’s bracelet… or Iason’s, I guess. It was meant to be a beneficial enchantment, not a curse,” I said. “Which was part of the problem with removing it… I shouldn’t have been trying to mess around with it, but I was kind of… goaded. I didn’t exactly expect to be able to remove it, I was just trying to get a closer look in order to tell Jamie something he didn’t know… I’m probably telling this all wrong.”

“Maybe you should just start at the beginning?”

“I’ll have to try to put it all together in my head first… it’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about since it ended,” I said. “In fact, I’ve pretty much consciously tried to push it out of my head.”

“You don’t have to talk about it at all, if you don’t want to,” Nicki said.

“No, it’s fine… now that I actually am thinking about it, I feel kind of silly because it’s far from the worst thing that ever happened to me,” I said. “But… it’s also one of the first times I really felt legitimately angry about something instead of just taking it. I mean, I used to blow my top all the time about pointless arguments and other little things, but I didn’t get nearly as mad about… well… people. And how they treated me. That was really a survival thing, because it was safe to get upset about something stupid like how wrong someone was, but if I dared lash out at someone who was bullying me… I’d be seen as the aggressor.”

“And Jamie was bullying you?” Nicki asked. “Or, wait… that Iaso guy. They were dating? ”

“Yeah… that is, yeah, they were dating. Iason didn’t really have it in for me in particular, but he is… or was… a bully,” I said. “I don’t know, I might have got used to Jamie eventually, but even if he’d been worth a second chance, Iason wasn’t.”

Even in the total absence of any other reason, I could have kissed Amaranth for the way her face lit up with a huge smile when she saw I had Nicki in tow. It was such a genuinely welcoming expression that had to be more convincing than any words could be.

“Hello, Nicki!” she said. “It’s so good to see you again.”

“Thanks,” Nicki said, accepting a warm and squishy hug, made slightly awkward by the fact that she was trying to curve parts of her body away and visibly didn’t know where to put her face. I made a mental note to tell her that no one would mind if it made contact with Amaranth’s bare breasts, least of all Amaranth.

“Hey, where’s Two?” I asked. Ian and Hazel and Steff were there… Dee wasn’t, but I was used to her coming and going on her own. I wasn’t used to seeing Hazel without Two.

“Up at the skirmish field, handing out meatballs,” Hazel said. “Dining Services are catering a big to-do for the moneyed supporters.”

“Didn’t Two work at one of the fast food stands?” Nicki asked. “Or is that all Dining Services?”

“She did, but she got to be too popular,” Hazel said. “People always wanted to stop and chat with her when she was working, which put her in an awkward bind between her duty and her manners. Her friends new better than to do it, and most folks took the hint fairly quickly… but there were always enough people who knew her on sight that she could just about count on some daft fool coming up and nattering away until she was in tears.”

“Is that true?” Nicki asked.

“Yep,” I said. “All true.”

I could understand her reflexive skepticism… Hazel did like to exaggerate, and apart from not being the least bit funny, the whole thing did sound a bit like a joke.

“I thought Two was going to join the housekeeping staff?” Amaranth said.

“She did, but they needed a few extra warm bodies for this,” Hazel said. “Or extra bodies, I should say. Mustn’t leave anyone out.”

“Okay… well, I guess this news would be less interesting to Two, anyway,” I said. “But when we were leaving Nicki’s dorm…”

“You were at Nicki’s dorm?” Amaranth said. “I hope you didn’t skip out on your last class, baby.”

“No, I just went over to walk her to dinner,” I said. I wanted to get everyone’s perspective on what had happened, but it was important to me to find the right way to bring it up. I decided to ease my way into it. “But I, uh… ran into Jamie Bowman on my way out.”

“Really?” Ian said. “How fast were you going?”

“Ian!” Amaranth said.

“What?” Ian said. “The guy’s a douche apparatus.”

“Need I remind you that he and Steff are friends?”

“We’re more like enemies with benefits,” Steff said. “One of those benefits being that it’s easier to hate-fuck someone you hate.”

“Is he really that bad?” Nicki asked.

“He’s not bad at all,” Amaranth said. “Just young and a little full of himself, without being sure of himself, if you know what I mean… but who here hasn’t had their share of growing up to do since they came here?”

“I haven’t,” Hazel said. “I’ve long since been an adult and worldly-wise, the way tallfolk reckon it… alright, I’m only joking. There was a thing or two I needed to learn. Granted, I don’t know this Bowman character, but in all earnestness it is hard to imagine a maturity problem rattling this bunch’s cages.”

“I think that if we were all honest, it would be less Jamie himself and more the company he’s kept that bothers everyone,” Amaranth said.

“His friend Marlot seemed nice,” Nicki said. “Does anyone know if she’s…”

“As of last spring, she was pretty overwhelmingly straight,” Amaranth said. “Sorry.”

“As of last spring?” Nicki repeated. “Isn’t sexual orientation like… inborn?”

“It is, more or less,” Amaranth said. “But being inborn isn’t the same thing as being static or binary. First of all, you have to understand that the whole straight/gay thing is an enormous oversimplification.”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Nicki said. “I’m bi… and leaning lesbian.”

“Right, but even arranging those things as points on a spectrum is simplifying things,” Amaranth said. “Imagine… imagine there’s a paper screen that’s lit from behind. And in between the light and the screen, there are a bunch of objects in profile. Would you be able to see them?”

“Well, yeah, if the light was bright enough,” Nicki said. “I mean, they’d cast shadows on the screen, wouldn’t they? That’s why you said a screen and not like a brick wall.”

“But then you’d be seeing the shadow, not the thing itself,” Amaranth said.

“But that still gives you the shape of it,” Nicki said. “You can see that it’s there.”

“Right. You can see that it’s there, but you don’t really have a full picture of its nature. The shadow gives you a two-dimensional outline of a three-dimensional figure that could have any amount of surface details and texturing,” Amaranth said. “When you say you’re bi, leaning lesbian, you’re describing a shadow cast on the screen. You’re looking at something at a right angle that’s visible to me in three hundred and sixty degrees.”

“What does it look like to you?”

“You mean, what does sexuality look like in general, or you personally?” Amaranth asked.

“Me in particular, I guess,” Nicki said.

“You are genuinely quite pansexual when it comes to gender and anatomical layout, but you have a strong personal craving for pussy,” Amaranth said. “It doesn’t define sex for you, but it’s the first thing you think of when you think about sex… there’s a strong chance you discovered sexuality through self-exploration before you even knew what sex was.”

“Okay, um… that sounds kind of accurate,” Nicki said. I thought she would have been embarrassed, but she sounded fascinated. “What else?”

“Well, separately and distinct from that, you’re drawn strongly to the idea of symmetrical reciprocity,” Amaranth said. “Of doing something for someone who can do the same thing back at the same time.”

“It sounds like you’re saying I am a lesbian, though I know you’re not because of the whole through-a-screen-brightly thing,” Nicki said. “But that’s the kind of thing I read in… well, basically books about what it means to be a lesbian, back when I thought it was all or nothing.”

“But that shades into the idea that there’s one way to be a lesbian,” Amaranth said. “For some, direct reciprocity is the biggest of big deals, and others have sexuality that’s tied up in a particular role… in your case, it’s not even directly tied to lesbianism. Even though that’s the first place your mind goes, that’s still how you approach sex even with someone with a different body type.”

“It’s interesting how every time you say something about this, you’re completely right… but then you add more detail, and you’re even more right,” Nicki said.

“Oh, you just became Amaranth’s new best friend,” Hazel said.

“Any time you try to describe something with words, detail is going to be lost,” Amaranth said. “Think about the process of sketching someone’s face from a description… the picture is going to look like them, but it will also look like a lot of other people’s faces, and if you lined them all up next to each other it would be clear that they were very different people. You could call Mack ‘bi, leaning lesbian’ and it would be as accurate for her as it is for you, but the details in between those rough lines are very different.”.

“So what’s Mackenzie like, if she’s not like me?” Nicki asked. “Oh! Um, if that’s okay to ask.”

“Of course it’s okay,” Amaranth said. “She’d be too embarrassed to talk about this herself, but… just embarrassed enough to have me discuss it in front of her, as long as Two’s not around.”

“Which is a bit odd, since Two’s not bothered by it,” Hazel said.

Amaranth glanced at me for confirmation, and I nodded. I wasn’t in love with having all of that pointed out, but Nicki had asked.

“Well,” Amaranth began, “even though ‘bi, leaning lesbian’ could describe her, if we view bisexual as a purely descriptive label for anyone who has attraction to both men and women, I’d say it’s more accurate to say that she’s a lesbian with bisexual features. Mack is strongly oriented towards other women, but her sexuality is not incompatible with men and she’s developed a sexuality that includes them. That’s not to say that everyone who is a lesbian could or should do that… a person’s sexuality includes a certain amount of… flexibility and elasticity. Some people’s sexuality are very fluid, some people’s are more set in stone.”

“And Marlot’s is set in stone?” Nicki guessed.

“Hers is set in very hard rubber,” Amaranth said. “There’s a certain amount of give there, but essentially, she likes what she likes, and it’s not likely to change. Optimistically, there is a tiny chance, but realistically she fits the straight profile pretty squarely.”

“Now there’s a change,” Steff said. “It’s hard to imagine Last Year’s Amy saying that.”

“Yeah, well, last year, Last Year’s Amy had spent her entire life in a community that taught the virtues of open and fluid sexuality as a religion,” Amaranth said. “And, in retrospect, almost all of my interactions with women there were with women who were open to sex with women, so…”

“You never interacted with anyone socially before coming here?” Nicki said.

“Oh, it was all very social,” Amaranth said. “It was just also sexual. I mean, I did get people who would come up to my patch just to talk, but they were people who got to know me through sex first. I didn’t go down into town and hang out with people who didn’t come to me, though.”

“This doesn’t bother you?” Nicki asked me.

“The way they treated her?” I said. “She was… and is, I think… pretty content with it. Why should it bother me?”

“I mean, all the people she has sex with,” she said. She didn’t sound like she thought it should, just like she was surprised it didn’t.

“Nope,” I said. “On an intellectual level, I know who Amaranth is and what she does. It’s her nature.”

“What about emotionally?”

“Emotionally… I don’t want to own her, I want to be owned,” I said. “I need to be claimed, but I’m not interested in laying claim to anyone. I miss her when we don’t have time together, but I’d feel the same way whether she was having sex with others or not, and it wouldn’t make me feel any better if she came back to me because I’d asserted a claim over her.”

“But you have other lovers, too,” Nicki said.

“People she’s chosen to share me with,” I said. “Again, intellectually, I know Amaranth would want me to have sex with anyone where there’s a mutual desire for it… but with Steff and Ian, there’s a direct bond running through her. Without that connection, I don’t think anyone could do as much for me as they do.”

“So… how does your date with Jamie fit in?”

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43 Responses to “Chapter 123: Four”

  1. JN says:

    Next line

    Steff: “You’re **what?!”

    but there was no way to put that into words that didn’t make me sound terminally clueless, so I just let it go.

    had to laugh. at terminally clueless.

    also, typo: “Or, wait… that Iaso guy. They were dating? ” … Iason

    and, first!

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    • Krey says:

      *cough* “YOUR what?!” *cough*

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    • pyrephoenix says:

      I saw the ‘Iaso’ one, but I can’t tell whether it’s a typo or just caused by Nicki not knowing the fella in question and hence getting his name wrong.

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      • Lunaroki says:

        I had the same reaction there, but there IS a certified typo in that line. There’s an extraneous space between the question mark and the closing quotes.

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  2. Alex says:

    “Her friends new better than to do it,”
    should be
    Her friends knew better than to do it,

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  3. Time Kitten says:

    I kinda feel betrayed. I’ve followed the story, I’ve read the additional materials. And then… why?

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    • Month says:

      Why what? Why there was a time leap? Why do we not know things that happened?

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      • Time Kitten says:

        The narrative break. This is within the time frame we have been observers, but has not been observed. At the end of more tales we had reached a solution, if not a conclusion to the bracelet. A major driving force for Mackenzie are her grades, this would be a devastating week. It feels much like a very cheap “fill in the reader on sudden retcon” plot device.

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        • sfgsfgser says:

          the answer to why is that it probably IS a fill in the reader on sudden retcon plot device to bring in/back the character

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    • Anonymous (no affiliation with 4chan) says:

      I think it’s because we were all getting headaches from headdesking from Mackenzie’s cluelessness.

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      • Cadnawes says:

        I concur with Anonymous. We could all get so frustrated at Mack’s inexperience when realistically, like a month passed. How fast are people supposed to grow, exactly?

        I agreed with the jump forward. And we’ve had indications before that important stuff did happen during that time. So now we know what one of them was. Clearly, it will be attended to. Also, doesn’t this sound like the kind of tale better told by someone who understands exactly what happened, there? it sounds like Mack didn’t quite get why she did what she did at the time.

        Yes, it’s a deviation from previously chosen storytelling conventions within this tale, but the main characters all knowing something you don’t is a common storytelling convention elsewhere. It’s also damn hard to avoid all the time. To those who, like Time Kitten, are feeling a little uneasy with this, I suggest giving it more of a chance. This tale has been going on for years. Change and growth on the part of the writer is inevitable, and deserves a fair hearing.

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        • Ducky says:

          And we only barely saw past Veil in Jamie’s story, ignoring the jump that both Mack and AE explained in Mack’s story. Who knows what happened to him? What about her second semester classes? Lemme tell you, a lot can happen in a semester…

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          • Cadnawes says:

            And Jamie still had yet to get back from the faerie realm or something. That might change a person.

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  4. Month says:

    Well, now she won’t have to worry about breaking the news to the others.

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  5. zeel says:

    Okay, so yes Mackenzie certainly likes women. But how is she more lesbian than bi? 2 out of 3 lovers have penises, regardless of there gender identity, it seems like most of the sex she has involves someones dick. So 2 of 3 are girls, but 2 of 3 have dicks. Seems like she is pretty close to right in the middle.

    Here we are ignoring the possibilities of Nicki and Jamie.

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    • Emma says:

      Because having a penis or not has absolutely nothing to do with being a woman. 2 out of 3 of her regular lovers are women, end of story.

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      • zeel says:

        I don’t think I said that. . .

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        • Juan H says:

          Exactly, he says 2 of 3 have penis, regardles of gender indentity, and after that he says 2 of 3 are girls.
          I was going to react that way when i read the first part, but in the next part i relaxed. 🙂

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          • swertwert says:

            well I think he is talking about the mechanics of sex in which the possession of a penis and lack of most woman bits plays a fairly large role

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    • Time Kitten says:

      There’s a reason the story she narrates spends pages and pages gawking at girls, I’d assume, and not boys. As well she doesn’t look straight at crotches to identify male/female. To the point of having to be told about at least one of those dicks by a third party, and at least on one other occasion. At which point she’s past the point of caring and has already developed an interest.

      Mackenzie is much more gender oriented than Nicki here, while Nicki is oriented on particular sexual apparatus. There is quite the difference, though I have had very personal experience with some people who couldn’t get the whole gender identity vs sex vs orientation through their head.

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      • Ducky says:

        Two occasions I can think of, Steff and Mercy. Mack definitely likes boobs.

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    • Julian Morrison says:

      Nope. Having a penis doesn’t make you a boy any more than having a skirt makes you a girl. That’s basically a cissexist mistake based on a belief system that denies trans women are really women. But trans women ARE really women. The culture is wrong.

      Also FWIW, when Mack was falling for Steff, she thought Steff was cis. Didn’t faze her when she found out otherwise though, because “Steff is a girl” HADN’T CHANGED.

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      • em7 says:

        just to add to that: woman often means female, but women does not automatically mean female. same with men- most but not all men are male. my xy-chromosome having female cousin is a MAN!

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        • Lunaroki says:

          Wait, what? You lost me on that last sentence.

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      • zeel says:

        I didn’t say anything about whether the penis made them men or not. My point is that she seems to not really care about either physical features or sexual identity, so much as there are certain people she will/will not have sex with. It just seems like her “type” has nothing to do with such things. Thus it seemed odd that she would be classified as “lesbian with bisexual features”.

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        • Rafinius says:

          She is “lesbian with bisexual features” because she is mostly attracted to women. The thing with Ian came out of a situation but similar things could easily happen again.
          That means that while she has no real aversion to the idea of having a (sexual) relationship with men she would not have a crush on a manly man in a manly body independantly of their personality while she already had plenty of those concerning women, female or otherwise.

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    • Cadnawes says:

      It seems like Mackenzie got a boyfriend at least partially out of feeling obligated to, and sheer luck. At the time she really craved normality. Ian’s a decent guy, but it seems like without Amaranth’s meddling and continued presence, that relationship would have gone nowhere.

      Also, think of the physical character descriptions. The women’s are quite detailed, the men’s almost never.

      Simplifying down to a gradient, I’d call her a Kinsey five.

      Tho the most interesting thing about Mack’s observational skills to me are her absolute obliviousness with regard to human ethnicity. Unless they’re foreign, she doesn’t notice it at all. Nothing to do with her sexuality, but a definite point of entry into her mindset.

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    • Kataklysm says:

      Sexual history, or even sexual present, is not the sole determiner of a person’s sexuality. I think Amy’s saying that, current partners notwithstanding, Mack is more likely to want/fantasize about a sexual relationship with any given woman than with any given man. And it’s difficult to remove Mack’s gendered interests from her kink interests. As stated in the narrative, Mack is much more interested in sex with Ian specifically (and perhaps men in general) when it is regulated by Amaranth.

      Also, Mack has a MAJOR boob fetish. It’s notable that Mack didn’t even realize that Steff *had* a penis until it was, um, pointed out to her. She seems to care far more about what’s in (or out of) a person’s shirt than what’s in (or out of) a person’s pants.

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    • OhPun says:

      One’s internal sexual landscape has nothing to do with the number or gender or sexual plumbing of lovers/partners/owners/subs/etc. that you have.

      This is one of the problems with the word bi-sexual. I mean how can you possibly be bi-sexual unless you have two partners of opposite genders? Isn’t a bi-sexual with only one partner kidding herself? How can you be, as a friend of mine is, a monogamous bi-sexual? Unless you accept that internal preferences and balance do not always match up with external realities or that there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

      Personally, I don’t like the word bi-sexual. It implies a linear spectrum where there isn’t one. Frustrated, I came up with the acronym MEGA. MutliplE Gender Attractions.

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  6. Readaholic says:

    Om nom nom :). Good chapter. Makes me appreciate the gnome female “flirt” emote from wow
    “I don’t feel the 1 to 10 scale is fine enough to capture subtle details of compatibility. I’d prefer a 12 dimensional compatibility scale with additional parameters for mechanical aptitude and torque.”

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  7. Xicree says:

    Ahhh…. hahahah! Have i mentioned that i rather like Nikki?

    Girl’s got a certain innocence to her that at doesn’t feel like inexperience, even though there is inexperience there as well.

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  8. Mike says:

    edit: thought I had a typo that someone else got. So I’ll just take this time say I love the story. been reading for years, and I’d love it if more of it got over to Lulu or something so I could get hardcopy versions. Can’t get away with with reading on a laptop at work, but I can smuggle in a book. 🙂

    Current score: 0
  9. Bluejay says:

    “Granted, I don’t know this Bowman character, but in all earnestness it is hard to imagine a maturity problem rattling this bunch’s cages.”

    I think I’ve missed something, or misunderstood this line. Wasn’t Hazel playing stone soldiers against Jamie back in chapter 82?

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    • Rip says:

      Yeah, looks like a continuity error. Even if Hazel didn’t know that his name was Jamie, she knew his team was the Battling Bowmen. Unless Steff has another wannabe-elf friend named Bowman. Or unless Hazel didn’t understand that the team name was a pun.

      Oh, well. As long as she points at him and shouts “You!” when she next sees him, I’ll be satisfied.

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    • Ducky says:

      It’s possible Hazel was left out of whatever happened between Jamie and Mack, and she’s forgotten him.

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    • That did escape me, but I’m going to leave it in as written. Who honestly remembers every person they meet in the course of a school year?

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  10. Julian Morrison says:

    I envy Amaranth her sexual-orientation-vision. (I wonder what she sees when she looks at herself? Is her orientation just “yes please”?)

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    • Anonymous (no affiliation with 4chan) says:

      It’s a bit more complex than that, I think. She has that thing for bending Mama Kh’s rules, for instance.

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  11. pedestrian says:

    From what Alexandra has been writing in her LiveJournal, the meandering clues and vague hints, I think she has been reevaluating the TOMU plotline.

    Within the last couple of months AE seems to have realized that she has been leaving a whole lot of dangling particulars and characters strewn throughout this Tale of Tail. Writing the Commentaries has provided her the opportunity to revive her original vision.

    Now she seems to be making an effort to break through the deadends and unresolved plot twists. Thus expanding the volume of TOMU and providing a renewed sense of purpose. A depth of character and emotional development that had threatened to run dry.

    It will be interesting for us to observe her progress as an author for TOMU balanced against her need for maintaining her health in addition to her familial and social commitments.

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  12. Zathras IX says:

    The story of my life:
    Beneficial enchantment
    That acts like a curse

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    • pedestrian says:

      Wishful thinking actually involves a lot of imagination but very little wisdom.

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  13. Jennifer says:

    Why “Four”? Am I missing something?

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