In Which Amaranth Has Just One Thing On Her Mind

There was still plenty of time left in class, but Coach Callahan told me I should just leave for the day. I had a feeling from the awkward silence that stretched on after her last admission that she was a little uncomfortable with it… she’d been uncharacteristically revealing on several points, and I wasn’t sure what to make of that. Maybe she wasn’t, either.

With nothing else to do before dinner, I headed back to the dorm. Amaranth would already be done with her classes, I knew, but I didn’t expect her to be there. She had very few reasons to head back to an empty dorm. She was a social creature almost by definition, and it wasn’t like she ever needed to pop back to shower or change.

Well, not to change, anyway… she showered more than was strictly necessary for a creature who was clean by definition. She’d probably showered more than I did even when I was one hundred percent sure I was dirty by definition.

Either way, the room was empty when I got there, which was… good, maybe. I’d kind of wanted a chance to be alone, to process what had happened.

It was just that I also at the exact same time wanted someone there for support as I processed what happened.

I couldn’t have both, obviously, but that didn’t stop me from wanting them.

If I looked at it objectively, then really the worst thing that had happened to me during the day was Coach Callahan slamming me against a wall. But somehow, that felt… incidental. I didn’t really blame her. I mean, it had been entirely her choice and no one else’s fault. But occasional violent outbursts from her were almost like a trace accent, and I felt more sympathy for her than anything else. We’d both been taken.

As I said, that was probably objectively the worst thing, but somehow it didn’t feel that way. I was starting to feel like I’d had a string of disappointments and they were all running together in my head in a way that didn’t make a lot of sense, but still felt like a pattern.

The owl-turtle thing had altered our deal. Emily hadn’t exactly betrayed me in any really concrete way, but she also hadn’t behaved the way I’d expected her to. That was my fault, both for having the expectation and for not making sure she was clued in, but still… it felt like a betrayal, the way it does when a completely inanimate object doesn’t live up to your basic expectations. I knew that was unfair, because she was very much animate even if she wasn’t particularly animated, but the whole situation was unfair.

And while I could accept that incomprehensible dream avatars and accidental place spirits might not always behave in exactly the way we’d want or expect them to…

Well, maybe I was just as wrong to have had any expectations of Acantha. I felt used, but she really hadn’t actually used me in any fashion. I’d been more of an impediment than a tool, and I hadn’t even been much of an obstacle to her.

But of course that was because ultimately I hadn’t felt like we were on different sides, which was why it felt so much like a betrayal.

That was it… that was what was bothering me.

When we’d faced the boxes together, I’d thought we were in it together… and then I’d asked her advice afterwards. It wasn’t anything more than a teacher/student thing, but it had been a friendly one, or I’d thought it had been, but apparently she’d been trying to get rid of me? And I hadn’t had any clue…

…but then, maybe I should have had my guard up. Coach Callahan had put me there to counter her. Acantha had admitted up front to having her own agenda. And it wasn’t like I’d even blithely accepted her word as to what it was… that information had come from the coach. Maybe she would have seen through the ruse if she’d been dealing with Acantha face-to-face, but I hadn’t had any reason to think her judgment was off.

I jumped at the sound of a key in the door. I guess I must have still looked startled when Amaranth opened it, because she immediately apologized.

“Sorry, I didn’t expect… oh, baby, what’s wrong?” she asked. “Don’t you have class?”

“Coach sent me home early today,” I said. “There was a little… setback in her mockbox project.”

“She isn’t angry with you, is she?”

“Possibly intermittently so,” I said. “Definitely at first, but less so by the time I left… more actually concerned than anything… I’m sure right now she’s mostly mad at Acantha, but she might swing back around to me if she gets frustrated enough.”

“Acantha? Is that the professor you like so much?”

“She’s not a professor,” I said. “But, yeah. Remember how she was supposed to be evaluating the boxes from a safety and liability type angle, for the university?”

“Yes, and there was some kind of hitch there… but I’m sure she wouldn’t give them a failing mark without a reason,” Amaranth said.

“Good guess, but no,” I said. “That was Coach Callahan’s first concern, but… she actually had other plans.”

“What did she do?”

I thought about that, and it occurred to me how little I actually knew beyond the fact that she’d done a bunch of potentially really deep scans. Well, that and tried to hide all evidence that she’d done them. That was the big thing… the big, damning thing.

But even still, the fact that she was clearly on the lookout for innovative product ideas didn’t mean that she would just up and steal one if the opportunity presented itself. If the phantasmal keg thing proved anything, it was that she could do pretty well just taking inspiration from others.

Also, I’d kept plenty of secrets for what had been fairly decent reasons… and hadn’t I just gone through a whole thing with another elf who had been seemingly unnecessarily furtive about plans that only needed to be secret because of a cultural context? It was possible that Acantha’s purpose in arranging to conduct her tests in private were as benign as Glory’s attempts to break free of Treehome.

I couldn’t think of what they were, beyond a vague idea that she might not trust the university or Coach Callahan to not interfere in the tests. Would I trust Jillian Callahan to be unbiased?

…probably not. The most I could ever trust was for her biases to be predictable and in some cases, somewhat fair. From a certain perspective, she’d already interfered… she had hand-picked me specifically to try to counter Acantha’s perspective. Why was it so suspicious that Acantha would have tried to get rid of me, given that Callahan’s cover for dismissing me was that she thought I was too friendly with Acantha? The logic worked both ways.

“Baby?” Amaranth prompted, and I realized I’d spent too long trying to organize my thoughts and figure out where I stood.

“Maybe I shouldn’t talk about it,” I said.

“If you’re involved in something that you feel like you have to keep a secret from me… especially if it involves Coach Callahan… then I think that probably you should,” she said. “But you can do it in your own time.”

“It’s nothing like that,” I said. “Nothing bad or dangerous… or more bad or dangerous than anything involving Coach Callahan. It’s just… it might be nothing, but if it’s not nothing, it might be corporate espionage.”

“Eep!” she said. “That’s… are you sure?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m sure it might be.”

“If you know something… or think you know… I think you probably should say something,” she said. “Let somebody else make the decision, they’ll probably have more information. That’s more than any sophomore should have to worry about, especially when you have so much to deal with already”

“You are preaching to the converted… I’m going to start scheduling crises on a first-come, first-served basis. This one’s already out of my hands, though,” I said. “I should probably just tell you what actually happened, I guess, instead of making you base your responses on the blanks you can fill in.”

“Please do,” she said.

I did, though there wasn’t much to tell and it sounded like even less when I tried to explain it.

“…how sure can you be of any of this?” she asked.

“I almost entirely positive about her using a mockery to do whatever it was she was doing,” I said. “As sure as I can be without trying to do something similar myself and seeing what it looks like in the record… which I guess would be my next step if I was trying to figure this out. But I’m not one hundred percent certain it would come out the same way. Anything that gives you as big a headache trying to figure out how it would even work as phantasmal records left in a real device by phantasmal readings from a phantasmal person mixed in with real records triggered by the phantasmal person… well, I think it probably had a decent chance of just blowing up in her face. I wouldn’t want to be the one who had to pin down how it worked, because I’m not sure it was supposed to.”

“Sounds like she took a big risk… oh, except she didn’t,” Amaranth said. “Because it wasn’t her?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “In the classroom, she’s very by-the-book about sticking to safe and established procedure… but I guess it’s hard to be innovative when you’re doing that?”

“Well, think of it this way,” Amaranth said. “The people who work in the riskiest jobs usually have the most appreciation for basic safety protocols… like miners, or volatile substance alchemists, or trapeze artists… or airship crews. You wouldn’t believe the amount of care it takes to keep a ship in the air. The people who do it have to have an incredible amount of attention to detail, but they’re also the ones on the frontline if something goes wrong, so they have to attract this mindset where you’re not exactly risk-averse but you’re also not reckless. An experimental enchanter might be the same way.”

“Maybe… where exactly did all this airship stuff come from?” I asked.

“I don’t know, something I read,” she said. “’Heroes of the Empire’ type thing… the old one, I mean, not the Imperium. One of the stories was a famous airship crash, over the Mother Isles… well, I say crash, but since it happened over the isles, it was more of an explosion. Though I suppose most of it did eventually come down… I haven’t actually finished the chapter.”

“You were coming back here to get that book, weren’t you?” I guessed.

“I’m sorry, I don’t like stopping in the middle of something when I’m getting into it!” she said. “I was thinking about it the whole time I was in class. And now that I’m thinking about it again, it’s all I can think about.”

“Airship history was one of the few non-religious topics that my grandmother had books on,” I said. “I don’t remember an explosion over the isles… since most airship travel is over water, most airship disasters are technically lost at sea. A crash over land would have made a big impact. I mean, figuratively. Well, probably not just figuratively.”

“I can’t imagine your grandmother’s library being very up to date,” she said. “This was in the past few years.”

“Oh… I almost kind of vaguely think I remember hearing about that,” I said. “It was all over the news at the time, though I kind of had a lot of stuff going on, and not a lot of access to it. There was one survivor? No, that’s not right. It was like one survivor who was credited with a lot of other people surviving… I think.”

There was something else that was nagging at the back of my mind about the scenario, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I also wasn’t sure why it would be important, so it probably wasn’t.

“That’s the part I’m not done with yet!” she said. “I hope he survives… I mean, survived… but the book plays coy about that, I think to play up the danger. I’m sure it’s probably all less romantic than it sounds in a book that’s about people who risked… or lost… their lives saving others in the name of the Old Empire, I mean I don’t want to say it’s a puff piece because people died, but it’s not exactly journalism, either.”

“Well, let me know how it turns out,” I said. “I’ve… I think I want to be alone for a bit.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have company?”

“No,” I said. “But I’ve got to pick one or the other. You want to get back to your book, and I’ll enjoy your rambling about it better when I’m in a better mood.”

“I know you never actually listen when I ramble about books at you,” she said.

“No, but I like hearing it,” I said, and I kissed her. Something popped into my head. “Anyway… I’ve got something I need to do, and I’ll feel silly doing it in front of anyone else.”

“Even me?”

“Especially you,” I said.

“You’ve got to get up close and personal with the building, don’t you?” she said.

“Yep,” I said. “If I want to have any chance of interfacing with Emily tomorrow, I need to know what I’m doing first.”

“Good luck,” she said. “And… don’t take any unnecessary risks.”

“I won’t,” I said. “This is really basically pretty well-worn territory. I mean, it’s the simplest, basic enchantment techniques. Just… applied to something a million times bigger and more complicated than I’ve ever dealt with. I’ll be extremely careful.”

“See that you do, baby.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

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27 Responses to “Chapter 176: Betrayed Expectations”

  1. Just to let everyone who doesn’t follow my blog know what’s up: after a fairly mild July and a very nice start to August, we’re in the middle of a late summer heatwave in Omaha. I’ve taken refuge with my parents until it’s cool enough again that I can sleep in the attic, if not work in there during the day.

    Being away from my desktop computer impacts my ability to do just about anything else *except* write and post stories, so this shouldn’t impact the publication schedule. It does mean I’m not getting much else done in terms of e-book stuff, fundraising fulfillment, or getting ready for the move. As of tomorrow I might have access to a full-sized laptop, which might be a little more useful than the netbook.

    I don’t expect any disruption to the MU schedule, as I said… I had Monday and Tuesday to get set up and settled in. But there are a lot of variables in the coming days. I’ll keep you posted as best as I’m able.

    Current score: 0
  2. Oni says:

    Huh. At first I though Amaranth was being coy and knew the whole story. I wonder what will come of this.

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  3. Ducky says:

    Woohoo, time placement for Dan and Mack! 3 years? I can’t remember from the Laurel Ann stories… *goes to check*

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  4. Zathras IX says:

    Enchanters are neither risk
    Averse nor reckless

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  5. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    ‘“Oh… I almost kind of vaguely think I remember hearing about that,” I said. “It was all over the news at the time, though I kind of had a lot of stuff going on, and not a lot of access to it. There was one survivor? No, that’s not right. It was like one survivor who was credited with a lot of other people surviving… I think.”

    There was something else that was nagging at the back of my mind about the scenario, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I also wasn’t sure why it would be important, so it probably wasn’t.

    “That’s the part I’m not done with yet!” she said. “I hope he survives… I mean, survived… but the book plays coy about that, I think to play up the danger. I’m sure it’s probably all less romantic than it sounds in a book that’s about people who risked… or lost… their lives saving others in the name of the Old Empire, I mean I don’t want to say it’s a puff piece because people died, but it’s not exactly journalism, either.”’

    You’re *mean*.

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  6. pedestrian says:

    Huh…I think I begin see what Alexandra is doing. With these last half-dozen plus chapters of MU and OT, AE is weaving together several of the orphaned plotlines that have been left dangling the last couple of years.

    I surmise? I assume? I presume?

    With great delight and relish, I will consume this consomme of an imaginative festoon of reductive plot developments.

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  7. Erm says:

    I almost entirely positive


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  8. Erm says:

    I don’t know, something I read,” she said. “’Heroes of the Empire’ type thing… the old one, I mean, not the Imperium. One of the stories was a famous airship crash, over the Mother Isles…

    squee, crossovers

    This was in the past few years.

    wham line.

    I was somehow thinking the crash was over a decade ago at least…

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    • Mo says:

      Laurel Anne had Mackenzie when she was eighteen. The Man got her pregnant with Aidan when she was… twelve? fourteen?

      So at most 6 years difference. And Mackenzie is 19 now, right? Aidan will be 25 years old if that. He’s very settled for a guy that’s 25 or less.

      Anyway – was that another block in Mackenzie’s mind? Wonder how long before the big reveal about ’em.

      And is Mackenzie really the only wizard in Callahan’s class?

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      • jc says:

        Hmmm … I’d think that Mack is more a wizard-in-training at this point in the story. She won’t really qualify as an actual wizard for some (story-time) years yet.

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        • Lunaroki says:

          I think the point was is she the only one. I’m inclined to say probably not, based on some of the techniques some of the other students have employed, but then again it would be fairly unusual for enchanters-in-training to be taking more combat training that they strictly need, so it’s possible. Those other students may simply be martial arts or delving majors utilizing specialized magical techniques.

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          • Kaila says:

            There’ll be multi-classers on a prestige class route. Mack will be trying not to look down her nose at them.

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            • Just Some Guy says:

              She won’t be trying very hard. Or at least, she won’t succeed very well.

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      • Lokean says:

        I suspect she’s the only enchanter in training that isn’t an armoury major. The differences between enchantment and the other magical disciplines seem pretty pronounced, presumably in the same vein as the differences between an automotive engineer and an offroad rally driver.
        The ‘rally drivers’ just know it’s a magic box, with the illusion specialists having a good idea of the effect it produces in theory. The armoury majors are probably further along with things like Mack’s enhancing a staff for ‘whamminess’ (or was it ‘thuddiness’, or ‘thwappiness’?) but less experienced with non-enhancement enchantments in theory and practice.
        Remember that Mack is only on this course as a plea bargain with the coach. The set of people that would choose to take a sophomore course with Callahan five days a week probably doesn’t include many students with graduation tracks that are, in principle, non combative.

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      • Erm says:

        … wait, on re-reading I got a bit confused by the airship pilot’s adopted son being called Aidan, while the airship pilot is called “Dan” (don’t remember if that also stood for Aidan).

        I know that Dan Harris was the airship pilot and presumably a half-demon (since he had the invulnerability), but now I can’t tell if he’s the elder son of Laurel-Anne and the Man, or if the younger Aidan is.

        But the time frame doesn’t work for the latter. If young Aidan were older than Mack, then the accident would be much longer ago than a few years.

        Also, I have this weird recollection of young Aidan being part dragon instead of demon… that might have been a WMG entry on tvtropes though.

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        • Christy says:

          Older Aidan (Dan for short) is Mack’s half-demon full brother who she doesn’t know about. He and his wife adopted a part-dragon boy and named him Aidan as well.

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  9. King of GAR Johan says:

    You can try Remote Desktopping from your netbook to your desktop, using your netbook as a thin client. If you don’t have a version of Windows that supports Remote Desktop serving, or you don’t have Windows period, you can try VNC instead. This lets you essentially use your desktop without having to actually sit in front of it.

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    • Oni says:

      There’s basically a billion good ways that you can do this kind of stuff.

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      • pedestrian says:

        From a basement under another house? How far away?

        “Alexandra! Get off the damn phone, I gotta call for pizza!”

        “But Mo’Om! I’m in the middle of downloading something!”

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  10. Dani says:

    Yes! She tracks down her brother, there’s a joyous meeting – and then one of them eats the other.

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    • 'Nym-o-maniac says:


      Mack seems to have discovered that the trick to killing that effect is taking anti-fertility potions, and it’s only the female half demons who are irresistible to predators.

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  11. Just Some Guy says:

    Well, *that* was a fun three and a half weeks. Now I’m through the archives and up to real time and I have to wait for updates like everybody else. This sucks.

    Just kidding… Thank you so much, AE, for such an addictive story and compelling characters. Even the (very few) characters I don’t like are fun to read. If that’s not good writing, I don’t know what is.

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    • zeel says:

      If the waiting gets to ya, you can always read through again. I have read most chapters four times now! (most, because more get added that I have now only read once).

      Three and a half weeks you say? Not bad time, I think I took a whole month last time I did it (just this winter). But then I had classes to contend with. . .

      Anyhow, welcome!

      And a suggestion: Remember vol.2-176, I can’t remember where I caught up originally – I wish I could.

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      • Just Some Guy says:

        Heh. I’m tempted to immediately start over (I’ve done that before – Errant Story comes to mind), but honestly? I’m not looking forward to reading another two years worth of bratty Mack before she gets her character development. I like her much much more now.

        I’m starting in on More Tales now. I was a little put off by some of the comments about it, and I think I’m going to hate Iason, but I’m enjoying the alternate perspective.

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  12. Burnsidhe says:

    That subtitle is clever, too. Before you read the chapter, you think Amaranth is going to be playful with Mack.. and then the reader’s expectations are betrayed with what’s actually in it. 😀

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  13. Seth says:

    Thinking about this more – one of the guiding principles of real life is that there is a very thin line between incompetence and malicious intent.

    An alternate explanation for Acantha would be that she just thought the boxes were unbelievably dangerous, both literally and politically. From her point of view, Calahan was asking a second year undergrad to poke and prod at a nuclear bomb. She removed Mack from the situation so that Mack wouldn’t harm either of them doing something completely reckless. Also by being removed, Mack is absolved from any administrative backlash that could occur from a high profile research project being shut down.

    And the crystal? She just screwed up. Mockantha performing illusionary spell damage on the box that created her resulted in a catastrophic failure of the system log.

    Current score: 0
  14. Fifty names says:

    Mack has a lawyer doesn’t she? Maybe she’ll run the Callahan situation by him in the next few chapters.

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