Chapter 188: The Life of Enchantment

on November 15, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 6: Career Counseling, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Opening Maneuvers Are Concluded

Monday morning, I didn’t make a point of getting to Acantha’s class any later than normal. I kept my mind on our work, which was about creating an array of spells that are all separately linked to the same pool of energy for charges.

I’d already done something very similar when making my own wand, but doing something once in the middle of the night under extreme pressure wasn’t the same thing at all as learning how to do it, so I did my best to follow along from the ground up instead of slipping into “I know that already” mode.

The name of the class was Spellbinding For Enchantment, and technically “spellbinding” had two meanings.

One was better maybe better called spellcrafting, and that was the art of formulating a set of magical actions into a repeatable spell. Technically, coming up with the actions was crafting… finalizing it and tying it to a set of symbols or words was the binding. Spellcraft could be done on the fly, spellbinding was what you did so you could use the spell you’d crafted later.

The other meaning of spellbinding… the one that the non-enchanting public thought of when they considered what spellbidning meant at all… was taking a spell and weaving it into an item.

For this exercise, the crafting-and-binding of spells was the same as it would have been for the techniques I’d used making my wand, which was a personal item and so was designed to use my own personal energy. For a commercial product or something intended for another unspecified person’s use, charges were more appropriate. They were less flexible, but more predictable. I could use my personal wand until I’d exhausted all the energy I had access to, but it would be hard to say that I had exactly thirty-seven minutes of sustained use left or anything like that. Packaging energy into an item as discrete charges let you do things like that… and made them accessible to people who didn’t have thirty-seven minutes’ worth of energy in them.

The linkage… what most people thought of as binding… was quite a bit different for a charged wand. The technique I’d had to learn to basically contain the spells was similar, but the container was different. The triggers that activated the spells worked on a similar principle, but they were actually more complicated. An actual formal pool of charges meant there were more moving parts. It was kind of surprising that we were learning how to do this first, but then, it was the more useful technique in the long run… and I had to admit, it might have been easier to pick up if I hadn’t done it the easier way first.

Probably in the bad old days when the only way to learn high-level magic was to be apprenticed to a powerful wizard and most useful magic items belonged to such wizards, learning to make a staff or wand to amplify and channel your own power was taught as a basic technique, but with most enchantment being a commercial… and, increasingly, industrial… affair, that approach didn’t make a lot of sense any more.

In fact, the charge approach was already getting dated, since the big money was in self-sustaining convenience items that either relied on truly permanent spells to work or had an always-available reservoir of energy.

But charges were still used in some applications. There was always a market for disposable items… that was the nature of disposability. People who were priced out of the market for higher-end goods could end up spending much more over the years buying new disposable ones or paying to have them recharged.

There were still some applications where using charges was desirable.

Banks used proprietary bindings to keep track of virtual money, with cards that could only be re-charged by them. The same kind of system was used to keep track of how many points we had in our meal plans.

Also, it was illegal to sell wands loaded with offensive spells that weren’t charged, and there was a limit on how many charges they could hold.

I was so focused on what I was doing that I was actually surprised when Acantha asked me to stick around after the bell, even though this was becoming pretty routine. I wondered what the rest of the class thought… that I was a teacher’s pet, or did it seem like I was getting in trouble?

Elven features and tones could be very hard to read when they were trying not to convey anything, which was Acantha’s default mode while class was in session.

But then, it was college and most people seemed to be wrapped up in their own stuff and in a hurry to get to wherever they were getting next, so it was possible that what most of them thought was just “glad it’s not me”, if they noticed it all.

“What’s up?” I asked Acantha.

“I have been informed through proxy from Coach Callahan that she is no longer requesting your help in the prototype testing process,” she said. It took her a bit to switch from her teacher mode, where everything was precise and practiced. She could get downright conversational when it was just two people, but I would have bet money she’d worked that out in her head before asking me to stay. “I have a feeling the version of her missive that reached my desk had been edited down considerably, but I also have a suspicion that she no longer completely trusts you to be on her side.”

“Right,” I said, which probably wasn’t the best way to answer that… the coach had advised me to give Acantha that as the reason for dropping out of the project, but since it hadn’t come up in our last conversation, I hadn’t mentioned it.

I probably should have, but hearing it from Callahan rather than me would probably make it more believable.

“I gather you were already aware of this development?” Acantha said.

“…we talked about it, yeah,” I said, deciding it was best to stick to the technical truth. “I wasn’t sure how to say it.”

“Well, I’m sorry it’s turned out this way… I had been looking forward to seeing how your brain works,” she said. “The way you approach your classwork raises some intriguing possibilities about your potential, but the limitations imposed by the classroom approach prevents me from pursuing them.”

“Thank you,” I said, trying not to make it sound like a question.

“This weekend, I made some inquiries with the Guild of Student Enchanters and was very surprised to find that you aren’t a member… given your obvious aptitude and your willingness to go beyond the textbook and the classroom lessons,” she said. “Are you active in any less official groups or local clubs?”

“No,” I said.

“Are you busy with other activities?”

“Not really,” I said. I hadn’t given this much thought before. All of my friends were active in one or more organized activities or student groups or something like that, but other than a failed foray into student politics that I’d been pushed into, I’d never even investigated the options there.

“I can’t say that time spent on your own is by definition wasted, but there are limits to how far individual exploration of a subject can take you, and benefits to sharing the journey with others,” she said.

“I’m sure there are. I guess I’m not really much of a joiner,” I said.

It wasn’t that I had anything against groups, so much as I had the lingering fear that groups would have something against me.

It wasn’t even a fear, really. My brain just categorized this as a known fact. I didn’t try to join organizations for the same reason I didn’t try to walk through walls… it probably wouldn’t work, and if it did, it would be really painful and cause a lot of damage that I would be blamed for.

Joining any extracurricular activities in high school had been out of the question, and a lot of the time teachers didn’t even bother to assign me a group for classroom projects.

“Well, I can certainly understand an aversion to dealing with large groups,” she said. “Even in a class of a few dozen people, I feel my efforts as a teacher are applied with less efficiency than they would be if I could direct them towards a smaller group. To that end, I have been considering… well, let’s say an occasional semi-formal gathering of a hand-picked group of interested and interesting students. Is that something that would interest you?”

I felt like there was probably a barb on that hook, but I wasn’t seeing what it was.

“Possibly,” I said. “I mean, yes, it sounds about perfect… but after next week I’m going to have one outside commitment on my time already.”

“Oh? I thought you weren’t a joiner.”

“I’m not… this isn’t a group, it’s… well, it’s actually another one of my teachers, Professor Stone. He’s going to be paying me to help out in his workshop, to help his new assistant settle in.”

“Ah. Do you not aspire towards that position?”

“Not really,” I said. “The kind of work he does isn’t really my thing. Also, his assistant is my friend, and she has qualities and abilities that I don’t.”

“I would have stopped my explanation with the first point,” she said. “It’s sufficient on its own, and there’s never any reason to talk down your abilities when you don’t have to. Professor Stone… that’s not a dwarfish name, but it’s… dwarvenesque. He isn’t a dwarf, is he?”

“His mother is,” I said. “From the, uh, swordmaker clan… I can’t remember the name, but I don’t think there’s more than one female clan that makes swords.”

“Hmm,” she said, utterly impassively.

It occurred to me that I was answering all of her questions with more information than she’d asked for. It was nerves. Knowing there were things I was keeping from her gave me a feeling of pressure at the back of my throat, and every time I opened my mouth things just flowed forth. It wasn’t like I was spilling secrets… thirty seconds with a mirror or crystal ball would have given her Professor Stone’s vital information.

“I’d still be interested in your gatherings,” I said. “If they don’t happen to fall on nights that the professor needs me.”

She smirked, very slightly. I recognized that she was smirking a little bit on purpose, not trying to hide her smirk and failing… it was a very precise degree of amusement she was conveying on purpose.

“I said something wrong there, didn’t I?” I guessed.

“Charmingly wrong,” Acantha said. “You see, meetings don’t ‘happen to fall’ at particular times and dates, they are set, by people. To get ahead in life, sometimes you have to be willing to make sacrifices and hard choices between two different things… but other times, it’s possible to alter the field in such a way that you don’t have to.”

“That sort of thing doesn’t really come naturally to me,” I said. “I think my ideal career’s more likely going to involve me messing around with enchantments and leaving the business stuff to other people.”

“Well, that’s fine, if you understand that ‘business stuff’ includes things like money, ownership of ideas, and the rights to your work… anyway, ‘that sort of thing’ is exactly what it takes to be a great enchanter. It’s the nature of enchantment. Sword’s not pointy enough? Carriage isn’t fast enough? Wand isn’t explosive enough? Then you grab hold and twist it until it is. If brute force won’t do it, then get clever. If cleverness won’t do it, get complicated. If complexity won’t do it, get subtle! Enchantment is manipulation, Mackenzie. It’s problem solving. Making do with what you have is for other people… we turn what we have into what we need.”

“That’s… certainly a perspective,” I said, though I had to admit I’d been caught up in her speech.

She had, too… I’d never seen her more excited or alive than she was by the end. She’d probably said or thought the words before, but it sounded less artificial than most of her long spiels did. It wasn’t something she had to rehearse in her head because it came from her heart.

“Maneuvering in the halls of corporate power does not come naturally to me, either,” Acantha said. “For one thing, the halls and the power are both completely different from what they were when I was growing up, and for another… they weren’t made by or for people like me. Also… honestly… I’m not naturally very assertive. With some specific personal exceptions, I’d rather not be noticed. That’s why I started approaching business… and life… like it was an enchantment problem, a puzzle to be solved. Problems have solutions, and I’m good at finding solutions. I think you are, too.”

“Thanks,” I said… and in all honesty, it seemed like the highest praise I’d ever received.

“I’ve already told you that I want you at my salons,” she said. “You’re in the class of people who are interesting as well as interested. I could use your interest to extract concessions from you, but… I’m already your teacher, and I’m more experienced in negotiation. I don’t need this further advantage, and there isn’t anything more that I want from you. You don’t have a lot of bargaining chips, but you have one advantage: the thing you want from me also enables me to get what I want.”

“We both want the same thing, but I’m the one who’d be asking for the concession,” I said.

“Don’t phrase it as a concession,” Acantha said. “We do both want the same thing, so your approach should focus on that. The worst people I’ve met would say something like, ‘Can I count on you to see that you schedule it appropriately?’ I don’t recommend that approach, but the basic idea behind it is solid: we’re in this together.”

“So, instead of that I’d like to go, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able, I should say that I’d like to go, but I’ll need you to make sure that I can,” I said.

“Yes, perfect,” Acantha said. “Just like that.”

“Doesn’t it weaken my position to say that I need something?”

“Only when dealing with the least efficient kind of megalomaniac,” she said. “Most people like to feel helpful, and love to feel needed. Most people would rather do a favor than ask a favor.”

“So, if I get you a copy of my work schedule, you’ll be sure to schedule around it?” I said.

“Wherever possible,” she said.

And just like that, I had my in with Acantha.

The question of whether I really wanted it or not was still on the table, but I decided to leave it for later… after all, the whole reason I’d been pursing this was so I could learn enough about her to figure that out.

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23 Responses to “Chapter 188: The Life of Enchantment”

  1. Melki says:

    Thanks for getting the chapter up! I’m glad to see Mackenzie now has an “in” with both teachers.

    Spelling and grammar check –

    “One was better maybe better called spellcrafting,” (4th paragraph) – I think that first better should not be there.

    “considered what spellbidning” (5th paragraph) – spellbinding

    “most of them thought was just “glad it’s not me”, if” (16th paragraph) – I’m not sure if this is a Mackenzie thing, but comma should go inside quotations.

    Also, is it just me, or did this chapter have more ellipses than usual?

    Current score: 0
    • oniwasabi says:

      Either first better should be omitted or the “maybe better” should be wrapped in commas (first time I read it as an opinion being qualified, second time it just looked like a word double, not sure which it is!)

      Current score: 0
    • HiEv says:

      Also: “that approach didn’t make a lot of sense any more.” — Should be “anymore” instead of “any more”.

      And I can’t wait until you start getting into the “adventuring” stuff they were beginning to plan.

      Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      Typo Report

      In addition to the above I also submit this:

      “So, instead of * that I’d like to go, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able, I should say that I’d like to go, but I’ll need you to make sure that I can,” I said.

      Seems to be missing the word “saying” after “instead of”.

      On a different note, I especially loved this:

      I didn’t try to join organizations for the same reason I didn’t try to walk through walls… it probably wouldn’t work, and if it did, it would be really painful and cause a lot of damage that I would be blamed for.

      *giggles* I love this analogy! So colorful and delightfully evocative! 😀

      Current score: 0
  2. Zathras IX says:

    Enchantment is a
    Form of manipulation
    For solving problems

    Current score: 0
  3. N. says:

    I really liked this, and I’m liking Acantha more. Which brings about a strange sense of guilt since Callahan was here first, firmly established in a reader’s…affections. Their being at odds doesn’t mean we can’t like them both, but somehow, somehow this doesn’t sit well. It’s like betrayal. But nevermind that; tension is great for ratcheting up anticipation.

    The dialogue is engaging as always. Also good to hear how the conflict (which exists in Mackenzie’s imagination, at least) resolves between Acantha’s personality and the intrigue she’s up to as a professional.

    Current score: 0
  4. pedestrian says:

    If I am understanding Mackenzie’s internal dialogue. She considers Callahan’s dismissal of her as a maneuver by the Coach for Blaise to stay close to Acantha? As a mole or an agent-in-place?

    In addition, Acantha is herself considering that there may be profitable possibilities with Our Mack assisting Prof. Stone?

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    • TheEyes says:

      From what I understand, Callahan is trying to prevent further attempts at industrial espionage by Acantha, while trying to prevent her from knowing of Mackenzie’s role in detecting the first intrusion.

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  5. Cadnawes says:

    I’m liking Acantha less and less, even though she’s not offering bad advice or saying anything that’s untrue.

    I think I finally figured out what it is though. Acantha took no particular note of Mackenzie beyond what you’d expect until it was clear that other professors had, too. I’m not saying that a clever and ambitious student isn’t a treasure, and I have been on both ends of academic parenthood, if you will. But the degree to which she’s courting Mackenzie creeps me out a little, especially since we know she’s not completely trustworthy.

    Current score: 0
    • Glenn says:

      Why would Callahan and Acantha be interested in Mack? First of all, Mack is potentially more long lived than most of the other students. Both Callahan and Acantha have already lived long enough that a mere human lifetime probably seems pretty short. If they are going to go to the trouble of establishing a personal relationship with a student, they may want to do it with a student with whom they can establish a long term relationship.
      But if they want a long term relationship, why not cultivate an immortal, like an elf? In Callahan’s case, it’s because she loves to kill elves. She is passionately committed to the murder of immortals, as she shows in her talk with Embries in OT: Interview With A… Dwelgrorc? The fact that Mack is a half demon probably appeals to Callahan. Granted, Callahan knows Mack is nowhere close to being ready or willing to participate in Callahan’s favorite activities, like mass murder and genocide. But given time, she may think Mack’s demonic destructive potential can be developed and utilized.
      Acantha suspects who Callahan really is, and therefore is naturally concerned about how Callahan might be planning to use an enchanter of Mack’s potential. She may be trying to make Mack an ally against Callahan, though she would probably be very reluctant to get into an overt conflict with someone as dangerous as Callahan.
      There is also the fact that Acantha is something of an outsider in Elven society. The fact that she has never gone through the middling stage means that most elves still dismiss her as a child. And she doesn’t really fit into human society, either. This sense of being outside her society would give her something in common with Mack.

      Current score: 0
  6. gryffo says:

    “Most people like to feel helpful, and love to feel needed. Most people would rather do a favor than ask a favor”.

    Coincidently, I just read last week the YANSS post about the Benjamin Franklin effect 🙂

    Current score: 0
  7. Erm says:

    I have been informed through proxy from Coach Callahan

    Yeah, the proxy part is self-evident.

    With all of her limbs still attached and everything.

    Current score: 0
  8. Mike says:

    Also, it was illegal to sell wands loaded with offensive spells that weren’t charged, and there was a limit on how many charges they could hold.

    A little commentary on gun control perhaps? Also, Acantha is really starting to show her elven side, all subtle manipulation and stuff. The explaining it to Mackenzy part is kind of weird, but either she is just that interested in her for whatever reason or it’s just for our convienence.

    Current score: 0
  9. Oni says:

    As much as I love the chapter, I’ve been having a problem with how Acantha’s dialog aems to be skewing into the stereotypical, or at least into the realm that exists in movies (Paranoid, Swordfish, etc) as opposed to real life. In real life rarely do you have people doing such stringent point-counterpoint or meaning-within-meaning. I’m in IT, and people like this don’t tend to exist in our workplaces for long because no-one can farking stand them. As much as I get where these scenes are coming from, it somehow feels like at any moment Acantha is going to draw a pencil moustache on her face so she can pretend to twirl it and go “muahahahaaa”.

    Current score: 0
    • Gruhl says:

      Unless she made fitting into the group one of her problems to solve, she would really be unstandable, yes. Have you seen the tv-series about a modern Sherlock Holmes. There are similarities.

      Current score: 0
  10. rip says:

    Mac is a Ravenclaw, Acantha’s a Slytherin, Professor Stone is a Hufflepuff and Coach Callahan’s a Gryffindor. That’s a well-rounded education.

    Current score: 0
    • Marian says:

      Actually, in this analogy (methaphor? allegory?) Acantha’s last name would have to be Slughorn.

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      • Anthony says:

        Gah! I was right about to compare her to Slughorn. Ninja’d! 🙁

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    • Anthony says:

      Callahan a Gryffindor? How do you figure? The canonical driving attribute of Griffindor House is bravery. Sure, Jilly is a powerful warrior, but her motivation seems to be “for fun” more than valor. If anything, I’d say her behavior puts her squarely in Slytherin House.

      Current score: 0
    • Anthony says:

      Ugh, stupid double-posting. Please delete…

      Current score: 0
  11. HiEv says:

    Hey, I just stumbled across this, and I see you aren’t listed yet:

    You ought to submit “Tales of MU” there:

    Just a thought.

    Thanks for writing. 🙂

    Current score: 0
  12. Crissa says:

    I not an outgoing person, but Acantha faces people problems like I do. Only, more deft. I’m loving the characterization.

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  13. Helge says:

    Nice chapter.

    To everyone else’s comments on Acantha, for me it’s far too early to judge her character. Adult elves in the MU universe are depicted as inscrutable characters who manipulate others on reflex. If I were a person like that, and I wanted to deflect the distrust that the reputation would earn me, I’d explain my manipulations as I performed them. That gains me two things.

    First, I still get to manipulate. Second, I gain trust, like a stage magician who pretends to show how his trick is done before the reveal.

    Whether or not Mac should trust Acantha I have no idea. We have seen part of her backstory, but not enough to know what her game is, or who is pulling her strings. Because someone is assuredly directing her, and her interest in Mac is almost certainly because of her employer.

    Current score: 0