In Which The Importance Of Proper Wand-Handling Is Touched On In An Explosive Fashion

I played around with my senses in different ways off an on through the rest of the day Sunday. I knew that more than any magical enhancement, what I really needed was to learn how to pay attention to them… but in the absence of any real concrete idea as to how to go about doing that, it actually was helpful to shake myself up a bit. The phrase “look at it with fresh eyes” definitely applied.

It was easier for me to sustain an enhancement to my physical senses than it was to go around with an awareness of the various magical and elemental energies that surrounded me open all the time, but I played with both. It really was play, at this point. I had a serious aim in mind, but nothing like a clear plan for getting there. It was like when we’d gone shopping for clothes… I was trying things out, trying them out.

Seeing what fit me.

The funny thing was that each time I magically boosted my senses and let them fall back to normal, I had a better sense of what “normal” was. My actual senses felt a little crisper, a little sharper… I was more aware of the things I wasn’t seeing and hearing because they were suddenly missing, but everything that did fall within my limitations stood out a lot more.

I say “each time”, but it was a small, subtle, cumulative effect that I didn’t notice until late in the day and I wasn’t sure of until even later.

It was also harder to pretend that the extra demon-edges weren’t there all the time. Enhancing them made them more obvious, but they were always there. I’d just never needed or wanted to pay attention to them before, never listened to the things that they told me.

Like scents… it seemed like I could smell everything. I’d never noticed before, though, because I’d very rarely tried to smell any one thing in particular. The scent of humans and near-humans cut through the muddled mass of every other little thing upwind of me when I boosted my senses, but that helped make me aware that I was smelling individual things and not just one big general scent of being outside on campus.

It would take some more time and practice before I could hope to sort them out, but even realizing there was something to sort was progress.

It was as far as my progress went that weekend, though. I had class the next day. I wasn’t about to put my little personal project on hold for five days… that would be the next best thing to throwing my hands up in the air and giving up on it. Instead I focused my energies elsewhere, literally.

My new, very utilitarian belt came with pouches that I’d already outfitted with some of my enchantment tools, but it qualified as one on its own. It was an enchanter’s belt, backed with magic-ready silver mesh. A belt, much like a circlet or bracelet or ring, really made for an ideal basic magic item. The shape was perfect. It didn’t need to be activated or have a target indicated since it wrapped itself all the way around its subject. If circularity or beltiness didn’t strongly convey a lot of concepts, it also didn’t position itself against anything… a belt of strength was as easy to make as a belt of speed. A belt of fire resistance was no harder to create than a belt of frost resistance. The underlying concept of “magic belt” accepted all concepts with equal grace.

The silver would be easier to permanently enchant when I got to the level of true permanence, but I liked the flexibility of leaving it blank. By the time I could handle permanence, I’d be able to make my enchantments last for weeks with little maintenance anyway. For now I was confident of being able to get through a few days. I’d taken to carrying my quarterstaff around in a shrunken form, and even though the looping technique I was using to keep the spell active wasn’t perfect it still only needed to be renewed every couple days.

I didn’t want to walk into an enchantment class wearing the belt and no enchantment, but I couldn’t think of any enhancement to lay on the belt that would matter for the class.

Trying to directly enhance my magic skills through it seemed like asking for trouble.

It was possible, even common for wizards to make magic items that would make them better wizards… technically one of my suitemates had started her existence as a magical item to enhance a wizard’s effectiveness. But with any magic, you had to be mindful of certain lines and how you approached them. The universe has a tendency to respond poorly when it thinks it’s being gamed.

A Magic Belt of Being Slightly Better At Making Things Like Magic Belts could very easily become the thin end of a wedge there, if done carelessly. Even though making such a thing in direct terms was beyond my abilities, I didn’t have a firm sense of where the line was and wizards who went looking for hard limits tended to find them.

Finally I decided to do something really incredibly basic, just to get a feel for the belt and lay the groundwork for any future enchantments I wanted to lay on it: I just fed a bit of my energy into it.

Why not? I had plenty of it… so much so that I’d learned to be very careful when investing it into an object, lest I push too hard and blow it up. Having a big chunk of my energy in the belt might actually help alleviate it, and if I needed the energy I knew where it was.

Granted the belt would be a less efficient storage mechanism than a powerstone, but I had a theory that most of the energy that leaked out of it would just leak back into me, since I was right there and it would still have a lot of my flavor to it.

Even with half an hour of what I chose to call very decisive dithering over the belt, I was still done with it in time for breakfast. Getting up early on Mondays was not at all a problem for me.

Here’s a tip for anyone who’s in or starting college: if the course catalogue allows, pick a class you would absolutely hate to miss as your first class in the morning, especially on Monday.

If you get up and get dressed and make it to your first class, it’s that much easier to hit the rest of them. If you skip the first one, you’re that much closer to blowing off the whole day.

Of course you can’t always predict these things. I’d taken Spellbinding For Enchantment because it was relevant to my degree and because it would help me reach a new level there, but I could have easily been stuck with a teacher who made the class an ordeal I’d just as soon skip. I’d lucked out with Acantha, who was knowledgeable and experienced and… well, okay, engaging wasn’t really the best word for it.

She was charming in her own way, but it was a way that suggested she might have done better if she could have addressed the class from inside a broom closet instead of having to stand up at the front of the room and talk to us.

But I liked her all the better for that.

Acantha wasn’t exactly everything that I wanted to be. She was a reminder that I could be more than I was while still being exactly who I am… or a reminder that I would always be myself even if I became something more.

I’d watched her stand at the front of the classroom, shy and trembling… or holding absolutely still, which was elvish for trembling… and I’d watched her overcome the mockery of those who didn’t think an elf woman was qualified to teach them anything, and she was still shy. She’d found her footing and gained confidence and taken control of the classroom, but I could still see the shyness, the hesitation, and… every once in a while… the fear.

It didn’t make me happy to know that she was afraid. It made me hopeful to see that she could be afraid and strong, that she could be afraid and courageous.

I hadn’t dwelled on it consciously, outside of class, but I had to wonder how much my changing outlook had to do with her example. I’d certainly been impressed enough by her. A lot of elves are breathtakingly beautiful, but she was disarmingly cute in her pinstripe suit tailored for her frame. It gave her a cut-out fashion doll look, like she might turn around and there would be little tabs folded over.

That never happened… but when she turned around, I still looked anyway.

Somewhere she’d learned to swing the hips that she didn’t actually have. It wasn’t perfect… the elven tendency to glide kept tripping her up, making her steps not match her stride. It gave the impression of someone who’d figured out how to ice skate slowly and seductively.

She’d learned to perform humanness in order to fit in… or maybe to be seen as less threatening. Or more modern. Either or both were possible in the applied enchantment biz.

Elves were only mortal for certain values of mortal. The point at which they’d stop regarding humanity as a kind of interesting bug that you could have sex with was long enough ago to be regarded as history by humanity, but there were still elves who could refer to that time period as “When I was growing up…”, and barring accidents, there always would be. Acantha needed to position herself as young and modern and with it, while also seeming respectable and capable and serious.

She had to look like she’d take no shit from anyone, but that she wouldn’t be any problem, either.

I supposed in a sense we were in similar boats. I’d been raised human, at least during my formative years, so I’d never needed to learn how to fake it… at least no more than any human does. I could even pass as human in a lot of contexts… but I had spent almost half my life to date trying to cultivate an appearance of non-threatening humanity.

I didn’t want to throw the non-threatening part out… security benefits aside, I didn’t want to be a threat… but in some ways I’d already begun constructing an identity as a non-human. My surname—mostly a human conceit—was still on my official ID, but I’d been answering to “Ms. Mackenzie” since the beginning of my freshman year. I’d pretty much been briefly synonymous with non-human racial politics at MU, though I hadn’t sought that out.

I wasn’t about to start marching for demon rights specifically, but I was getting a lot less shy about identifying myself as non-human.

My attention to Acantha’s back… ground only lasted until we really started our work for the day. I liked her class, the subject matter was important, and she’d complimented me before for my attentiveness and focus. A few more kind words from her would not entirely suck.

Spellbinding was nothing more than the art of taking a magical technique… a way of drawing and manipulating energy… and formalizing it, reducing it to a series of easily-symbolized steps. The resulting spell was more than just a handy mnemonic device… binding it actually changed the nature of the exercise, made it easier and more reliable and reproducible. There was a trade-off in terms of flexibility, but it made large-scale magic use possible.

Back in the bad old days wizards had tried to teach their spells to apprentices directly, leading to the widespread impression that magic was an incredibly rare gift since one person’s spells wouldn’t work right for any random person off the street. There was a bit of a parallel to what Teddi had told me about the teaching of subtle arts and the importance of inducing the right state of mind. We couldn’t alter someone’s aura or soul or whatever to make another person’s spells respond correctly to them, so the study of magic was largely the study of how to learn magic for oneself.

And every wizard, regardless of their specialty, would learn how to bind their own spells. Most disciplines had their own specialized classes like this one, though there were also generic introductory ones. We were specifically learning how to phrase our spells in a form that made it easy to hook them into an item, at the same time as learning the techniques for hooking them. Acantha was sneaking in other useful techniques that went beyond the basics, like chaining spells together.

We’d started off with stacking copies of a single spell into a wand as charges, and then putting different spells in the same item as a sequential series… something I’d experimented with on my own to make my staff compact and return to normal for easy carrying. The ultimate goal for our first unit was to be able to create a series of spells in parallel that would all draw from the same pool of charges. Creating a stable multi-spell system would be way more complicated than anything I’d ever done, but there were a lot of little steps along the way and I trusted Acantha to lead me through them.

Today we were working on wands that used a single stored copy of a spell and a pool of energy charges, and even that was more complicated than it sounded… the trick was to build the charges like they were their own spells, and tie them to the master spell in a way that was very similar but not identical to the way we’d chained multiple spells together in our first assignment.

The “not identical to” part was important… getting it wrong meant that discharging the spell once would blow the entire wad at once, as multiple students found out over the course of the hour. Sometimes this manifested as a bunch of tiny pops going off one after another, sometimes it made one big boom.

“Wands should always be pointed in your circle of containment when they’re discharged,” Acantha said after somebody sent the person in front of them headfirst over their work table. “Always, always, always.”

She helped the stricken student up. The back of his shirt was singed but he didn’t seem to be badly injured and he declined the offer of an escort to the healing center. She offered the student who’d blasted him the chance to write a thousand word essay on proper wand handling as an alternative to an automatic F for the assignment.

Given how much time she’d spent on the first day emphasizing the importance of the safety procedures, I thought she was being generous. The student in question thought it was, quote, “bullshit”.

“You have your choice of bullshit or a failing grade,” she replied, barely missing a beat. “A heroic dilemma worthy of a classical poem. You don’t have to make up your mind this moment, but if you need to think out loud you have my permission to step out into the hall for as long as you need to.”

“Is there any point to finishing the assignment if I’ve already failed?”

“Only if you plan on completing future assignments that depend on it,” she said. She went very still and for a moment I was sure she was going to cave and tell him that she’d only mark him down a bit for the misfire, but then she said, “You can make it five hundred words. I’ll factor in the educational value of demonstrating why we always point our wands down.”

She swept away before he could say anything else. Someone else might have chosen to continue the conversation anyway, but the really disruptive students had already left the class.

It was still a cave, but it was less of a one… the main issue was that he didn’t want to write a paper at all. I doubt he would have accepted a lower grade with any more outward grace, but it wouldn’t have meant any extra work.

“Are you having issues with regulating your energy flow, Ms. Mackenzie?” she asked me, once everybody had settled back to their work.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Your belt,” she said. “It’s a workable solution, if so, but there are other ways around the problem than a mass mana dump…”

“Oh, yeah, no,” I said. “I’m not having a problem, I just wanted to practice moving power around and get to know the shape of the belt a little.”

“That is not a bad way to go about it,” she said. “When I saw you walk in with it, I thought for a moment you’d gone out and plunked down a pile of gold coins on an expensive toy that would help you leap ahead of your actual ability level. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that would be a mistake, at this point in your education.”

So you saw me walking in, then? was what I absolutely did not say.

“No, the plan is to learn how to do this, then use those skills to earn money to buy tools so I don’t have to,” I said, hoping for a laugh. I got a faint smile instead. Still, it was a smile, and I knew she didn’t have facial expressions that she didn’t mean.

“You know, I wasn’t sure what to make of you at first,” she said. “If you will excuse a slightly personal observation, you have a surprisingly changeable aura.”

“It comes with a changeable life.”

“I like that,” she said. “Do you know where I can get one of those?”

“I think they have to be individually made by hand,” I said. “Mine’s still under construction, really.”

That got a small laugh, though she did it with her mouth closed and I was sure it only reached my ears. A private laugh, which somehow made it better. I felt like she came over to talk to me after dealing with the careless student because she liked me, because she trusted me not to blow a hole through anything or play games with her like I was a fifth grader and she was the substitute teacher.

There was no mention from her of Professor Ariadne’s vendetta against me or the letter that Acantha had passed on to me, then or after class. That wasn’t too surprising. She hadn’t told me about it as a matter of gossip but because she thought it was something I was entitled to know. The fact that she didn’t mention it reminded me that I needed to make sure the letter got sent to my lawyer… Amaranth had been the last person to have it and she’d probably already have taken care of it, but it would be worth it to ask.

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42 Responses to “Chapter 99: Performing Humans”

  1. This is an announcement (for people who read down this far) that we have a new reader forum set up, moderated by moofable (AKA Jack, AKA the person who protects you all from my wrath moderates the comments here.)

    It’s meant to be a place where you can talk about the larger story and characters and pet theories and things in a way that won’t disappear as everyone goes on to the next chapter. I’ll also be running a couple of pet projects out of it. Note that it’s split into two areas… the lower area is for you folks. You have Jack’s my personal guarantee that I won’t jump in there to strike down any theories or argue with anyone. The idea is to encourage a community rather than a dictatorship, even if that means practicing sitting on my hands more.

    The forum’s been up for a weeks now, actually, but in order to not overwhelm the first-time forum moderator I’m progressively alerting people as to its existence. Newsletter readers first, then people who actually read my blog, now the people who read the comments. Sometime next week I’ll tell the people up above the fold about it.


    Current score: 0
    • Oni says:

      “Forum Business”
      Topics: 1100
      Posts: 1114


      But no, seriously, that’s a crazy amount of spam. Someone obviously be a’trolling.

      Current score: 0
      • moofable says:

        Thank you so much for pointing that out.

        Current score: 1
  2. anon y mouse says:

    “Trying to directly enhance my magic skills through it seemed like asking for trouble.” – this seems fragmented, especially as a separate paragraph.

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  3. Zathras IX says:

    Mackenzie’s getting
    A new sense of her senses:
    A senses census?

    Current score: 1
    • TheDisquietedPen says:

      I ABSOLUTELY love this haiku!

      Current score: 0
      • pedestrian says:

        For sensitive souls
        Zathras’ haikus
        would be very sensible.

        Current score: 0
  4. Helge says:

    “If you will excuse a slightly personal observation, you have a surprisingly changeable aura.”

    “It comes with a changeable life.”

    I like it. It seems a little flip (I’d never have dared say that to a professor!), but it reflects Mack’s growing self confidence and self knowledge.

    Current score: 0
  5. Erm says:

    A Magic Belt of Being Slightly Better At Making Things Like Magic Belts

    For my first wish, I would like an infinite number of wishes, please. 😛

    Current score: 1
  6. Erm says:

    Here’s a tip for anyone who’s in or starting college: if the course catalogue allows, pick a class you would absolutely hate to miss as your first class in the morning, especially on Monday.

    That one is useful advice even if you’re not learning magic.

    Current score: 1
  7. This chapter makes me happy. I heart Acantha and Mackenzie’s growing understanding of and friendship with her.

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    • Month says:

      And a really sadistic GM would strike this friendship with a mighty bolt of lightning. Or something silly. I vote for silly.

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    • Krey says:

      I’m starting to hope for MackAcantha loving’s. If Steff and “Jilly” can work it out, why can’t our heroine? (heroin? both are spelled right, I just don’t know which is a drug and which is a leading lady)

      Current score: 0
      • Julian Morrison says:

        In a feat of irony by the English language, the one with an E is the one that isn’t a drug.

        Current score: 2
  8. Luke Licens says:

    “I was trying things out, trying them out.”

    I assume one of those ‘outs’ should be an ‘on’.

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      You know, that sentence did strike me as oddly repetitive, but for some reason I didn’t think of it as a potential typo.

      Current score: 0
    • Elxir says:

      In this case “things” would be the new ways she’s using her senses, and “them” would refer to senses specifically as far as I can tell. I could be wrong though, or just have that worded badly…

      Current score: 0
  9. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    I do so love the Acantha chapters. She is really growing to be one of my favorites.

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  10. Peter says:

    What a sweet chapter. I love it. I love the warm and fuzzy feeling.

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  11. mike b says:

    Well , you must remember that Acantha is teaching as a favor , and she doesn’t like it very much . Think is ,its a favor for someone that is powerful or important for her and i am betting its either our estemed dragon or our wacky gray elf . The second option is delicious don’t you think .

    Current score: 0
  12. Silver says:

    This chapter reminds me of silly hijinks like playing Skyrim and brewing +Enchanting skill potions and drinking them to enchant +Alchemy skill armor to brew stronger +Enchanting skill potions.

    Also, as a semi-new DM, it is delightfully fun to mess with any player that tries to pull those sorts of stunts.

    Current score: 1
    • fka_luddite says:

      Check out why starting a computer is called “booting”.

      Current score: 0
  13. Readaholic says:

    I like Acantha too. Of course, she likes our heroine and is a little like her, which makes liking Acantha easier.

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  14. Greenwood Goat says:

    Suddenly thought: would Mackenzie be able to make her staff bigger? Much bigger? Because all she would need then would be a magic floating pink cloud to travel around on, and she could set off on a Journey to the West, guiding the holy priestess Delia Daella and accompanied by the impulsive, lustful and gluttonous Puddy, the dubiously reformed aquatic anthropophage Feejee, and Delia’s faithful cervine mount, who can also transform into an elfblood when necessary. Cue the first episode of Mackenzie Magic.


    (Apologies to anyone who isn’t familiar with Monkey, his companions Tripitaka, Pigsy and Sandy, and their shapeshifting horse.)

    Anyway, back to the regular comment. I did consider all sorts of outré reasons why Acantha was paying particular note to Mackenzie as she walked in, up to and including an overarching plan to turn Mack into the biggest and baddest magical demonblood mount-cum-lover that any elf ever possessed… however, it seems more likely that Acantha, with her elven senses and awareness, just notices everything. Including reading Mack’s non-vocalised reaction to her statement. Although she’s probably used to such reactions by now. >:=>

    Current score: 1
    • Lunaroki says:

      *giggles* I’m not familiar with Monkey myself. When I read that first paragraph what sprang to my mind was DragonBall. (Not Z or GT but the original DragonBall, with the Flying Nimbus and the Power Pole, Bulma and Oolong, Yamcha and Poir.) Wasn’t an exact match, but there were enough similarities to make me grin. 🙂

      Current score: 0
      • Burnsidhe says:

        That’s because DB was based on that folktale.

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    • Markas says:

      Isn’t it “monkey king” or Son-Goku which is the japanese name for the chinese folktale. chinese is Sun Wukong, i think.
      Thread still had me laughing. Especially since I’ve read Love Hina, wherein the main characters act out the story. is really funny

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    • Readaholic says:

      ROFLMAO! Only instead of Tripitaka saying “Monkey! No violence!”, we’d have Jill saying “Crybaby! More freaking violence!”
      Aww, I still remember the cloud-summoning gesture 🙂

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  15. pedestrian says:

    I gotta say that I am still suspicious of how convenient it has been for Our Mack to keep winding up with extra-competent instructors. One way or another…..I’m just saying.

    Kinda reminds me of Hannibal Lector improving the quality of symphonic musicians as needed.

    Current score: 1
    • Don says:

      I dunno, is it really? There’s a lot of folks in higher education who are really passionate and talented. And in fairness, Mack’s good teachers are not without their feet of clay. Historians with flexibility issues, shy enchantment instructors, etc. One of the things that’s really accurate in Mack’s experience is that a lot of what’s good in her education is what she’s learning to get out of it, not what’s necessarily handed to her or part of the official structure. Callahan is a great example; the benefits there far outstrip the simple grade.

      Current score: 0
    • OhPun says:

      In my college/university experience, most of my instructors were “extra-competent” except for the few who were shining examples of how sustained incompetence can sometimes be rewarded. In other words, I see most of Mackenzie’s instructors as being normal instructors. In Mackenzie’s case, the quality of the student may have something to do with how the instructor is perceived. I have a feeling that the student to has been asked to write an essay would not perceive Acantha as such a wonderful “extra-competent” teacher.

      I must say that in Jr. High, I had a math teacher who could have been the model, both emotionally and physically for Acantha. She was very strict and horribly stiff during class time, but one-on-one she was relaxed, kind, and humorous. Most students fled in terror when her class was done and never saw her other side.

      Current score: 0
  16. Dan says:

    I have my theories, none of them good. Remember that one of the first rules of story-telling is that there must be conflict to have resolution. I won’t say too much, because I know many authors dislike having their surprises ruined, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Acantha is not what she appears to be.

    Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      And this isn’t a story-type story, that can be neatly divided into three acts with fifteen scenes.
      It’s a biography. A milieu story. It’s Mackenzie Blaize’s life at college.

      She keeps winding up with good instructors because this is a high-quality university. This is something touched on a few times in the background, now and then. Further, there’s a Great Dragon who considers the campus his ‘lair’ and territory. He’s less likely to approve incompetents for long term teaching positions.

      Current score: 1
      • Zukira Phaera says:

        and they probably don’t taste that good either.

        Current score: 0
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      I think it just boils down to the fact that normally Acantha would just teach one on one as a preference. She’s teaching a class as a favor. In Mack she’s found a little something of a student worth teaching out of the mess of them that was thrown in her lap at the last moment. Of course she’s going to cling to that glimmer of hope when she’s feeling put upon and encourage her at the same time like a good teacher would.

      If there is something more sinister to things than that I’d imagine she’s not going to be a willing party to it.

      Current score: 1
  17. Jack V says:

    Your characterisation of Acantha is really great. At first I didn’t like her that much, but now I really love her, and she reminds me very much of actual teachers I’ve known who were good at their subject, but doing classroom management only under protest.

    Current score: 0
  18. Lunaroki says:

    Acantha and Eloise are both great characters. I’m loving these new additions to the MU teaching staff this year. 🙂

    Current score: 0
  19. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    Er, did something happen to the character tags on this chapter? They don’t seem to be showing up anywhere.

    Current score: 0
  20. tjhairball says:

    “The universe has a tendency to respond poorly when it thinks it’s being gamed.”

    There be a god[ess] above all other gods and goddesses; whose name is DM; and who doth not like it when thou tryest to cheat.


    Current score: 1
  21. William Carr says:

    “would Mackenzie be able to make her staff bigger? Much bigger? ”

    I was thinking… what if you started with a staff that was 12 feet long, and shrunk it to 6.

    Make the transition spell very quick, so you can point the staff at your enemy who’s charging at you, and suddenly unshrink the staff.

    Thwack, right in the stomach.

    Current score: 1
  22. Tegid says:

    Didn’t Acantha say in the last class that she would change the arrangement of the classroom? No mention of that makes it look like AE forgot about it…

    Current score: 0
  23. Arancaytar says:

    Looking back at this, it’s kind of sad that Mack’s and Acantha’s relationship ended on such a sour note.

    Current score: 0