Chapter 253: Extra Efforts

on October 2, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Remembers She Still Goes To School

My idea for how to proceed wasn’t much more than an idea… definitely nothing on the order of a plan… and so it might have been a good thing that I wasn’t able to act on it right away. Time was growing short, but by the same token, the demands on my time were growing larger.

I’m sure that it would have been easier to continue with the next phase of my winter guard recruitment project if I actually could have been as completely focused on it as my telling of the time has been.

It was the end of the semester, though, and the varying demands of my classes demanded my attention far more than Glory’s needs. No matter how much more excited I was by everything having to do with it, I couldn’t neglect my final projects or tests.

This created a sort of odd disconnect for me in both my personal and academic life. When I stopped to think about what I was actually doing with Glory, I was really psyched about it… I mean, first, there was the fact that I was being entrusted with this huge responsibility, and then there was the fact that the circumstances of this trust were directly connected to the fact that I was going to be going on the kind of vacation I could never have afforded on my own… and then there was the fact that this was intimately connected to a stepping-up of our relationship.

If I could have stopped to think about it objectively… well, then I wouldn’t have been able to be objective about it. I would have been too excited, and probably overwhelmed in every sense of the word.

The fact that I didn’t have time to stop and think about what I was doing is probably the only thing that saved me.

I had already become pretty detached from a couple of my classes.

At some point I had basically checked out of Acantha’s class and just started going through the motions of the assignments instead of trying to be innovative and clever. It wasn’t that I wasn’t working ahead and trying new things any more, I just wasn’t performing for her approval anymore. As much as it had been my favorite class at the start of the semester, that distinction had had a lot to do with her, and she was no longer anywhere near my favorite teacher.

I had a feeling she was going to give me an A, anyway. She had no reason to antagonize me.

I’d similarly started the semester really involved in my combined lore and history class, but it seemed like the more crowded my present became, the less I was able to care about stories of the past. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, I just… didn’t think about it when I wasn’t there.

I’d never felt any kind of attachment to my local hazards class. I had no clue what kind of grade I was cruising towards there and couldn’t really bring myself to care. It hadn’t been my idea to take the class, but I’d shown up. I’d done the work. I’d even done the field assignments. I still had my sample of ember moss and a couple of other cool things that I’d never have known about or found without it, but mostly I was ready to be done with it.

Weirdly, the classes I still felt most invested in were ones that also hadn’t really been my idea.

I’d enjoyed every minute of Professor Stone’s design aesthetics class, which made me so glad that I’d stuck things out and resolved my problems with Emily. It definitely wasn’t a class I would have taken of my own free will, but I felt like it had made me a better enchanter to have some understanding of the principles of design and some appreciation for form alongside… if not exactly over… function.

I’d always thought of the idea of “form following function” as meaning something like “who cares what it looks like, as long as it works” rather than the idea that presentation might grow out of practical concerns. I’d learned better.

And while I hadn’t exactly enjoyed Coach Callahan’s fighting to disable class, it had challenged me in ways I wasn’t used to being challenged. I don’t think it was the lesson she’d meant to teach me, but I’d come to see a physical fight as being a problem to be solved rather than an opponent to be defeated. I had some idea what sort of grade I was heading to in her class, and while I didn’t think it would be the A that I sought after, I thought I’d acquitted myself well enough to be proud of whatever I got.

On top of tests, I had a final paper or project for every single class except for Coach Callahan’s. She hadn’t told us anything about how finals would proceed, but I knew from experience with both her and her classes that it was likely to be a practical exam… and probably a ruthlessly practical one at that. I wasn’t too worried about it, not because I imagined for one second that it would be a breeze but because I couldn’t see much point in worrying about it. The best way to get ready for it was to remain aware of the extent to which I could not be ready for an unknown challenge.

For the rest of my classes, though… well, I knew that there was similarly no upper limit on how much work I could put into my final assignments, which made it hard to know when I was actually done with any of them. After all, I could always do more.

I felt this way especially about my final design project, the decorative TV box I’d dreamed up at the start of the semester. I didn’t have nearly the know-how necessary to actually produce a working television… but that was okay since this was a design class, not an enchantment one. Still, we’d been encouraged to produce models as part of our proof-of-concepts, and I’d been putting as much work as I could into mine, to the point that I had a shell that could be put over a working TV box. Rather than a velvet curtain like the old home theater models had used, mine had doors that opened.

I’d tried to take what I knew about Professor Stone’s personal aesthetic tastes into account without just copying one of the old televisions I knew he admired… I’d been going for something that wouldn’t have been out of place in many homes.

Being suddenly elevated to the position I occupied in a court of elves had been really helpful in getting my model produced. I hadn’t done all of the woodwork myself, though I’d made sure to document my designs enough that I could take credit for having directed it, and I’d also made a point of watching and learning.

With a little help from Wisdom, I’d even attached three example illusory programs: an aquarium, a fireplace, and a view of a night sky. The enchantments weren’t very tight and didn’t show much in the way of variation before they started to repeat, but as a proof of concept, I thought it was pretty solid.

…but I still knew it could be more solid, and that kept bringing me back to the thing. I completely broke the enchantment a couple of times, though luckily I’d paid enough attention when Wisdom had laid it down that I could fix it without bothering her. I don’t think she would have minded, but I’d been trying to not take advantage or give anyone too much reason to resent me.

The other assignments were less demanding and less ambitious, but similarly open-ended enough that I ultimately understood that rather than tying any of them off neatly with a bow I’d probably keep going back to them until their individual deadlines were reached and I had to abandon them.

In between picking at them, I poked at the problem of the winter guard.

The three guards I had lined up had been chosen in large part because of what they could do. If I was going to fill the roster out, what I needed to consider was what they couldn’t do… what was missing.

Steff had some magic, but she’d never exactly been rigorous about her studies… despite studying one of the hardest of the hard magics, I couldn’t count her as much of a wizard. If she did deploy any magic, it would probably be to more psychological effect than anything else… not that this wouldn’t form a handy complement with her general freakiness, in the eyes of full elves. Between psychological warfare and regular type, she would pretty much be fulfilling the role of party rogue.

Dee was sort of a wild card. I had a feeling her stealth abilities and sensory acuteness would outshine… outdim?… those of any surface elf of even two or three times her age. Her divine magic was something I doubted anyone in Treehome would be able to match. The surface elves didn’t produce a lot of clerics to begin with, and it seemed more like a calling for older elves than children. I didn’t expect the attackers to have much in the way of healing magic at all, in fact. It didn’t fit with the ruthless middling outlook, where no one really believed that they would personally be hurt or that any of their allies would be worth healing. Although her fighting skills hadn’t come up much in my presence, my understanding was that her people had a martial tradition where everyone was basically a soldier on some level, and she was double-majoring in martial combat. Even without adding her psychic abilities… which I didn’t know enough about the extent of to quantify for… she would be formidable.

Almost no one on campus was stronger than Pala, at least not consistently. While it was possible that anyone attacking Oberrad House would have the resources to buff themselves up to outclass her in physical strength, it didn’t seem worth adding more brute force to the line-up to counter that possibility.

In much the same way that I could always add something more to my projects, I felt like I could probably always add more frontline warriors to the mix… but I didn’t want to. If there was a fight, I wanted Oberrad to be defended, but I didn’t want it to be just a physical fight. Out-and-out warfare on campus would be a problem for everyone involved, and while it might be possible for the attackers to slip away without being identified, the defenders wouldn’t have the luxury.

Also, it seemed like it would be a losing battle for our side, as anyone moving on Oberrad would be able to call for reinforcements, and there were more people in Treehome who might be interested in getting in on that than I could possibly staff the house with.

So what I really wanted was to rely on Pala as the frontline with support from faster and stealthier fighters like Dee and Steff, who would also be able to mess with the senses of any intruders and repel them through less directly violent means.

A proper wizard or other dedicated spellcaster would seem like a good choice, but the problem was that I didn’t know anyone with that sort of skillset. They were mostly graduate students, and while I’d made some contacts selling my excess power capacity, I didn’t exactly know anyone well enough to hit them up for this kind of help, much less to vouch for them in front of Glory.

That meant I’d have to settle for fast, sneaky, and ideally with some sort of esoteric abilities that the elves of Treehome would not know how to counter.

That was a pretty good starting point.

I just didn’t have much idea of where to move on from it.

That wasn’t to say that spending time threshing out in my head exactly what it was that I was looking for didn’t get me anywhere. If I hadn’t figured what to look for, I wouldn’t have recognized it when I saw it… even when it was right in front of me, as ultimately happened in one of my least favorite classes, and one of my surprising favorites.

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18 Responses to “Chapter 253: Extra Efforts”

  1. Nocker says:

    “as ultimately happened in one of my least favorite classes, and one of my surprising favorites.”

    That’s a long way of saying “It’s Nae, because literally nobody else has esoteric sneaking abilities, let alone in that class.”

    If I remember right she’s spent the last few months playing around with gnomish stealth, which works on principles the Elves never even bother considering.

    Current score: 4
  2. sliversith says:

    Nae and Hazel would both be fantastic choices to round out the party. Nae more so than Hazel, but still.

    But my bigger concern… so did Mackenzie just… Skip the extra credit Callahan offered, aka fighting Gladiators outside of class? 🙁 that really could have helped her grade. You’d think she’d want that collar from Amaranth more.

    Current score: 4
    • Burnsidhe says:

      There’s always next semester. And tying the granting of the collar to grades, well, the impression I got was that Mack thought of it as a bonus, rather than a goal to shoot for.

      What I am a little surprised about is that Mack isn’t more concerned about her grades. Even if she does well, there was a lot of noise early on in this semester about having to keep her grades high for financial aid reasons.

      The reason that Mack hasn’t gone for the extra credit, is because she’s not thinking of ‘fighting to disable’ as a vital survival skills class, but as a credit requirement elective class.

      Current score: 1
      • Glenn says:

        One reason Mack may be a bit less concerned about her grades is because she’s made a significant amount of money working for both Acantha and Glory, which lessens her need for financial aid. Mack has also discovered through working for Glory that she’s got the talent to be a good personal assistant, which opens up job opportunities for her that have nothing to do with Enchantment. While she’s still interested in Enchantment, she’s probably wondering if the skill set she developing while working for Glory may prove more useful to her in whatever jobs she gets after she graduates, especially if she and Glory become permanent partners.

        Current score: 3
    • Nocker says:

      She went to it once and then the entire day to day fighting classes stopped being relevant to the arcs in question. It’s safe to presume she put a bit of extra time in but isn’t killing herself with it. Though like always, Mackenzie is basically just trying to coast along and not rock the boat. Her design project is basically the first thing she thought of(as opposed to something she’d use regularly) and she’s basically checked out of the History class for all intents and purposes. She might be doing a bit better at combat but she’s not making an effort to do any real prep work(like say, grabbing a holdout knife or picking out some decent spells for combat).

      I can’t help but compare her unfavorably to Sam or Keegan or Dan or literally any other active and free half demon we’ve seen. They all had their shit locked down and prepped to go days in advance from magic charms to armored underlayers and much more advanced on-the-fly spells. Hell, Lulu II may have been not-all-there but she still managed to focus and intimidate her combat trained counterpart with one gesture.

      What Mackenzie probably needs more than anything is a good “wham” moment, truth be told. She basically got lucky with Acantha and it’s also basically just luck on her part that Glory was on the up and up despite raising so many red flags early on. Even the stuff with Iona ended before she got any serious scars or was absolutely pressed to make a call. She’s gotten kind of complacent and needs life to basically kick her ass in gear.

      Current score: 4
      • Ilya says:

        I feel like I missed some entire book or something. Where all these half-demons come from? Can you put here link to chapters?

        Current score: 1
        • Nocker says:

          Keegan came from Tales of AU, Dan is from KDR, Sam is from Epistolary, all of whom are other tales. Then of course we have to take into account Lulu II, who has one appearance, and Brutus and Cassius, who have been mentioned but never physically appear. Or Mackenzie’s unnamed half sister who died in Epistolary, and if we’re counting dead sisters Lulu has three of them that made it to adulthood and Lulu I died an unknown number of years ago. Then there were apparently other half and quarter demons who predated Sam but weren’t considered significant and Lulu II’s siblings who died after turning for gender or convenience reasons.

          These are huge numbers but we’re talking about the entire multiverse and a fifty to three hundred year timeline, so it’s not nearly so cramped.

          Current score: 2
    • Ilya says:

      I’m not sure she skipped. We were never told about these Gladiators fight and whether she attended there, we stopped getting updates about it as soon as AE switched to the “arc” mode, which is a pity because Callahan class was the most entertaining one, and without it, without a bit of action any arc is becoming boring. Even though this arc is much more interesting than Acanta arc.

      Current score: 5
  3. Dani says:

    The first half of this chapter is jarringly different from the rest of the arc in tone. It is a dry recounting, with very little involvement or affect. I put this down to a weakness of the narrow-story-arc model: Potentially-interesting events get a short drive-by narration.

    Current score: 2
    • spess imvader says:

      The reading, though, is much more interesting than long chapters discussing the pros and cons of “dating” Jamie, to end in nothing. I am very pleased with the change in style and am sure there will be time for telling what interesting things happened in between arcs.

      Current score: 0
  4. D. D. Webb says:

    Wow, Mack is drifting far afield from her original goals here. I get the impression she’s been gradually losing perspective on everything in general, as well as most parts of everything in particular.

    That’s gonna be trouble.

    Current score: 2
    • Nocker says:

      You kinda need perspective to lose it. Her only reason to come to MU to begin with was “I want to get out and not get bothered”, and enchantment was basically just a means to an end. Which is incredibly vague and she’s made no efforts to research what kind of goods she’d like to enchant or company she’d shoot for employment wise.

      The main difference was that first semester MU Mackenzie kept trying to stay impartial but got roped into larger plot stuff basically left and right. She wanted to stay apolitical but one bad donut later she’s running for office against a crazy person. She wanted her one martial credit out of the way with Basic Knife, but wound up holding an infernal artifact and taking lessons from a skirt clad grim reaper. She wanted to enjoy a meal out with Steff, which spins out of control until a crazed slaver wants to put her in with things that’ll kill her.

      Now all her classes are basically going as designed, her dormmates are saner, and for the most part Mercy’s bounty has produced no effects to speak of outside of one faux pas. Her one thing with the Owl Turtle just retread an old antagonist and she’s caught any real treachery long before it’s actually stung her.

      Current score: 4
      • Guitardrumr says:

        All of which tells me that SOMETHING is more likely to happen soon. Either along the lines of Calahan’s final, or actually on the trip with Glory (which will be the first time we’ve seen Mackenzie outside of the schools general protection).

        Current score: 0
        • Nocker says:

          Speaking of, I can’t help but recall something The Man said the first time he appeared.

          -“Oh, I know you’ve got a future,” he said. “It’s going to be a piece of glory.”-

          On one hand, AE would have had to keep that plate spinning for FIVE YEARS. On the other hand, that kind of stupidly cruel wordplay seems like exactly what he’d do when he’s feeling overconfident.

          Current score: 3
      • not her, the other girl says:

        I’ve also been thinking about how after turning but before college the only good thing in Mack’s life was academics (and Mech Knights but even that had the guilty association of being “babyish”). Now she’s grown, she has friends, romantic relationships, jobs, skills, a speaking volume between mumbling and yelling, etc. There’s just so much more to her life than academics. I agree that she had to have perspective to lose it – before it’s not that she had perspective it’s just that she didn’t have anything else to distract her.

        Current score: 0
  5. Zathras IX says:

    One appreciates
    “Form following function” more
    When “warm for their form”

    Current score: 2
  6. Whoever says:

    So, let’s take bets.

    How many think she’s going to go ask that tiny sneaky tricksy little kobold that she was having trouble with earlier? You need some sort of hit hard, hit fast, then go hit somewhere else that they aren’t expecting, that seems like exactly who she’d go for.

    Then there’s the druid, the teacher’s assistant — with her ability to become a different animal, she’d be an amazing tricky surprise attack.

    Current score: 0
  7. Arancaytar says:

    That meant I’d have to settle for fast, sneaky, and ideally with some sort of esoteric abilities that the elves of Treehome would not know how to counter.

    … Kai?

    Yeah, I’m kind of grasping at straws here. Anyway, Kai already has a full-time job, and she also hates Mackenzie.

    Oh wait, I’m an idiot. Nae.

    On another note, does this roster start to look like Hydra Company 2.0 to anyone else?

    Current score: 0