25: The Proof Of The Pudding

on July 6, 2007 in 02: Love In The Time Of Magic

In Which Dessert Is Clarified 

General thaumatology was a prerequisite for so many things that the great big auditorium-style lecture hall was already mostly full by the time I got there. Of course, the back rows had filled up first, so I was stuck in a seat only two rows from the instructor’s dais. I didn’t mind being that close to the professor, since I wasn’t planning on goofing off during the course… but I would have rather there were a few less pairs of eyes behind me.

I was self-aware enough to realize I would have thought people were staring at and whispering about me even if they weren’t, but I’m pretty sure they actually were. Considering how likely it was that at least a few of my classmates had been in the dining hall when Mariel had stood up and yelled out that I was a man-eating monster, I couldn’t really blame them for it. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t blame them.

Luckily, I didn’t have long to wait before our professor arrived and stole focus.

“Good morning,” he said. “There’s, um, there’s a sheet of paper on each of the desks along the left side of the… uh, I mean the right side. Your right, my left. Anyway, if each of you could put your name in the numbered blank that corresponds to your seat and then pass it on down the row. I’ll use that to put together a seating chart so that, in the future, I can pretend that I know all of your names. Oh, and on that subject, I am Professor Goldman. That is my name on the top of the syllabus.”

“It’s a new rule they instituted over the summer,” he explained as the papers made their way down the rows. “Before, it was only suggested that we learn all of our students’ names, but now they require it. I told the administration that, with a class this size, that just wouldn’t be practical,” the professor said. “But, they told me the professors over in the school of the subtle arts all managed it, so…”

He trailed off to scattered chuckling and a tiny bit of actual laughter. I forced myself to smile at the lame joke, since I was close enough for him to see my face.

“I do not grade on attendance, but I don’t tolerate sleeping in my class,” he continued. “So, when the time comes where you have to choose between getting up and coming to class or rolling over and going back to sleep, please pick one or the other and stick with it. To do anything less than fully commit to either cause speaks of a woeful lack of discipline.”

There was some scattered chuckling, and then a slight pause while the papers made their way around the room. During this time, Goldman came forward and chatted a bit with a few of the students in the front row.

“In most of the courses you will undertake at this august and venerable institution, you will think that you are studying magic,” the professor said to the class at large, once all the papers had been passed down. “Your other instructors may even tell you that this is what you are doing… but in fact, what you will be doing in these other courses is studying uses of magic, the practical applications and the ways and means of it. Only in the practice of thaumatology will you actually study magic itself.”

He paused.

“Statistically speaking, it is more likely that you will find a portal to the moon than an actual use for thaumatology,” he said. “It will not help you to cast spells better, or faster, or more powerfully, or with less drain. It will also not–I can personally attest–make you more wealthy, more handsome, or improve your chances at attracting the opposite sex. What the study of thaumatology will do is give you perspective, some understanding of the why behind the hows that you learn in your other courses. The value of that insight is, of course, entirely subjective… but do bear in mind that your parents are shelling out thirty-six silver per credit hour for you to get it, so if I were you, I’d take notes.”

There was a little more laughter at this.

“The successful performance of magic depends upon knowledge of the essential nature of the objects and materials that are being manipulated. But, the thaumatologist asks, what is the essential nature of magic itself?” Professor Goldman went on. “The real answer is, nobody knows. But, of course, if we accept that as true, then I’m out of a job and you’ve all got holes in your schedules. So, for the next eighteen weeks, we shall all pretend that it is possible to know the unknowable… to tange the intangible… and to eff the ineffable.”

From there, Professor Goldman’s lecture continued in much the same style, though as the hour wore on the jokes became more widely spaced and the rhetorical questions became a good deal less rhetorical. I could already tell that his comments about the usefulness of his subject matter were meant to be gently self-deprecating; though the subject was pretty widely derided by those who just wanted to get their degree and graduate, a good knowledge of thaumatological principles was what separated a true wizard from a rote spellcaster. All in all, Goldman had a smart strategy: by making the “obvious” criticisms himself, he both acknowledged and blunted them, and then was free to move on and simply teach.

The hour was over too soon, and then it was time for me to head back over to the student union for lunch. I was really dreading it, but I got a pleasant surprise: Puddy, Mariel, and Barley were nowhere to be seen, but Amaranth and Two were there at the usual table, with Celia.

More surprisingly, there were other Harlowe students in groups scattered around the hall… both girls from our own floor and students of both sexes whom I did not recognize, but who were unmistakably non-human. The room was far more crowded than it had been all weekend, but the more monstrous-looking groups were given a wide berth.

“Of course, this is the first time we’ve been here for lunch on a weekday,” Amaranth reminded me as I pointed this out. “There is always a chance that this is just how it usually goes.”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “That doesn’t mesh with the impression Halverson gave us… and besides, look how all the normal students are reacting.”

“All the humans, you mean,” Celia said.

“I do wish you’d stop conflating normality, humanity, and worth, Mack,” Amaranth said. “Your value as a person is neither in spite of nor because of your demon blood.”

“I wish you’d stop mentioning that,” I said. “It’s really not something that should be spread around.”

With that subject on my mind, my eyes sought out Twyla, the horned-but-otherwise-human-looking girl. She was sitting with three-eyed Trina and the double-headed Leighton twins. There were no fully human students within three tables of them. I had a sinking suspicion that was largely due to Twyla’s appearance.

“Aw, fuck,” I said, seeing Twyla pick up her fork.

“What?” Amaranth asked.

“Look at Twyla… she’s eating with her left hand,” I said.

“So?” Celia asked.

“Some… unsophisticated… folk used to believe that’s a sign of demonic influence,” Amaranth said.

“And some still do,” I said. “I know people are already talking… that’ll just give them one more reason to suspect her.”

‘You could just wear a ‘Hey, I’m a demon’ t-shirt so everybody would know it was you,” Celia said.

“In all honesty, Mack… all honesty would not be a bad thing,” Amaranth said. “I know you’re not comfortable with lying. So, how can you be comfortable hiding this?”

“Because it’s too awful to admit,” I said. “Anyway, you didn’t tell Barley about… that we…”

“What’d you do?” Celia asked. “Knock cloacae?”

“Not as such, no,” Amaranth said with a half-smile. “Seeing as we don’t actually have ‘cloacae’, and we didn’t ‘knock’ what we do have.”

“Oh, you know what I mean,” Celia said. “Assholes. Pussies. Whatever the fuck you guys use.”

“Anyway,” Amaranth said. “I meant to tell Barley, but… um…”

She blushed.

“You don’t have to explain,” I said. I probably wouldn’t have admitted to making out with me, either… or to anything else that might have happened. “Just… I’d rather you didn’t tell her, okay? Because for one thing, I don’t want people thinking I’m anything that I’m not, and for another… well, I don’t want anybody getting jealous.”

“Oh, Barley wouldn’t get jealous,” Amaranth said.

I bit my lower lip to keep myself from blurting out that it wasn’t Barley I was worried about. I trusted Puddy when she said she wouldn’t try to fuck me if I wasn’t into it, but how could I tell her I wasn’t if she thought I’d had some kind of sex with another woman?

“I just… well, it was kind of weird for me to be that aggressive,” Amaranth said. “I’m not sure how I’d explain it to her, is all.”

“Well, if we don’t do it again, then there’s nothing to explain,” I said.

“If you tell me you don’t want to, then I promise that we won’t,” Amaranth responded.

I said nothing. I couldn’t think of anything to say to this. I mean, there was a pretty obvious answer that I should have given, but my mouth didn’t want to form it. Amaranth just smiled a little more broadly at me, and the very concept of words melted and dribbled out my ears.

“Hey, are you okay, honey?” Amaranth asked Two, who had been sitting there very quietly. I realized, now that Amaranth had drawn my attention to her, that the living golem girl had finished eating and was staring down at her empty plate.

“Yes,” Two said to her, but she looked up at me. Her eyes still had a look of desperate yearning behind them. She looked almost human, except for the three runes of power that were not quite covered by her wispy bangs, but I’d never seen that much emotion in Two before. It was almost shocking.

“Do you have a problem?” I asked her. The question “Are you okay?” could be interpreted as a query about her physical condition. She could be fine overall, and still be stuck due to her intrinsically obedient nature.

“I need clarification on what I’m supposed to do,” she said quietly.

“Okay,” I said. She just kept looking at me. I realized she was waiting to be told what to do, and “okay” wasn’t actually an imperative. “Ask for clarification as you require it, Two.”

“Is dessert part of a meal?” she asked.

“Well, it’s kind of a matter of how you look at it,” Amaranth said. “It can be considered part of the meal… some people certainly do. In some cultures, though, there’s a distinct…”

“She needs simplicity,” I said, cutting Amaranth off. “Either yes or no. She’s not ready for gray areas,” I explained. Of course, Amaranth was right that either answer could be said to be correct, so the important thing was what Two would do with the information we gave her. “Why do you need this clarified, Two?”

“I am instructed not to eat the same things in a meal twice in a row, when possible,” she said. “I had banana pudding for dessert last night. I have not had any meals between then and now. If dessert is to be considered part of the meal, I cannot have banana pudding again until the next meal. If it is not part of the meal, I can have banana pudding now.”

“Do you want banana pudding?” I asked her.

Her gaze fell.

“I… I want to do what I’m told,” she said, her voice quavering.

“For purposes of your instructions, dessert is not part of the meal,” I said.

She was out of her seat in the same moment I finished speaking.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you,” I told Amaranth. I had only just fully realized that I had done so. My cheeks felt hot. “I just… you were right, but it would have only confused Two more.”

“It’s fine,” Amaranth said. She smiled and looked at me over the tops of her glasses. “Of course, I can punish you later, if you really feel bad about it.”

I mumbled something that might have been in an obscure form of elvish, for all the sense that it made.

“I think I’ll take that as a yes,” Amaranth purred. I felt my muscles go tight and my bones go limp.

It confused the hell out of me. If I was a lesbian, I should probably enjoy Puddy’s attention more than I did. If I wasn’t, I shouldn’t enjoy Amaranth’s so much. And was I enjoying it? Having Amaranth talk about punishing me felt an awful lot like having a dream about standing up in front of class and realizing I was in my underwear. How could I possibly feel so much shame and so much excitement at the same time? I’d had enough to be ashamed of in my life that it should have been boring to me by then.

Amaranth was still gazing at me over the rims of her glasses when Two came back with a salad plate full of banana pudding. It was way more than a recommended serving, but not enough to make her sick. She didn’t smile when she ate it, but something about her manner had definitely changed.

“See, and that’s why I love you,” Amaranth said, in her normal voice and with her normal look, when she saw me watching Two.

“You love everybody,” I reminded her… and myself.

“I love you,” she repeated. “And everybody.”

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10 Responses to “25: The Proof Of The Pudding”

  1. Brenda says:

    And Two loves dessert…

    Current score: 0
  2. BMeph says:

    …as long as it’s banana pudding. 😉

    Current score: 0
  3. pedestrian says:

    Being the recipient of that focused intensity of love, feels very, very good.

    Current score: 0
  4. Psi-Ko says:

    I like Amaranth’s distinction
    “I love YOU, and everbody”
    As in, I love you first, and everybody else second. That may not be what she meant, but I think it was certainly implied. Every other time she’s said it, she said everybody first.

    Oh god, I’m getting way to into this. I shouldn’t be psycho-analyzing ANYTHING at 3:22 in the morning…

    Current score: 2
  5. zeel says:

    “But, they told me the professors over in the school of the subtle arts all managed it, so…”

    So, is this joke funny to new readers? I don’t think book one gave enough info on “subtle arts” for anyone to know. I really can’t remember if I found it funny the first time or not. It is however a quite funny joke.

    Current score: 0
    • Daniel says:

      This is my first read through and it seems to me that the joke is that the admin saying it was not being subtle and therefore in need of “subtle arts”training. Apparently there’s more to it once the story of flushed out though

      Current score: 0
      • zeel says:

        “Subtle Arts” is what they call telepathy in this world – so the professors of subtle arts don’t need to memorise names, since they can simply grab them from the heads of their students if they needed to. Or just avoid calling on them verbally altogether.

        It’s kinda like a color-blind person being expected to always know the color of common objects. They can memorize the color that they know, intellectually, the object is supposed to be – but color seeing people don’t need to bother, since they can just see the color.

        Current score: 4
  6. cadnawes says:

    Going back and rereading on a whim. I didn’t get the subtle arts joke either the first time but it’s funny now.

    I also didn’t pick up on the fact that Mack had internalized a bit of bullshit a lot of people have… that gay people don’t have preferences beyond the one.

    Current score: 1
  7. cadnawes says:

    Going back and rereading on a whim. I didn’t get the subtle arts joke either the first time but it’s funny now.

    I also didn’t pick up on the fact that Mack had internalized a bit of bullshit a lot of people have… that gay people don’t have preferences beyond the one. I’ve had people accuse me of not being a real lesbian for not being into a specific woman. (Often themselves.) Nobody but a nymph would be into absolutely everybody, and nobody with a well developed sense of self preservation would be into puddy.

    Current score: 3