Chapter 276: Guarded Optimism

on January 22, 2015 in Volume 2 Book 8: Elven Holiday, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Glory Leaves Her Cares Behind

I don’t think I’d ever seen Glory as relaxed as she was after our session in the shower. While I’m sure the feeling of mutual sexual satisfaction had a lot to do with it, I think the bigger factor was how completely she’d been able to let her guard down.

We were hundreds of miles from Treehome, the whole rigid court structure had been stood down, and the closest thing to a demand on her time that she had for the next several days were dinner reservations.

Even as I thought about this, though, I realized that her existence couldn’t be completely care-free. Just because court was canceled for the holidays didn’t mean that Oberrad House hadn’t stopped existing, and as far as we knew it was still under threat of… well, basically anything from pranking to besiegement to arson.

I didn’t want to be the one who burst the increasingly comfortable bubble we had both been drifting off inside of in the bed, but once that thought had entered my head, it seemed impossible to ignore it. I felt like I’d have to be a real asshole to remind Glory of the problems on the homefront, but I’d have to be a terrible girlfriend and agent to risk the chance that she really had forgotten.

“Hey…” I said.

“Mmm, yes?” she said. Her voice wasn’t exactly sleepy, more just.. really relaxed. “What is it, Mackenzie?”

“I was just thinking… it’s been a while since you checked in with Oberrad House, hasn’t it?” I said.

“We’re getting into the wee-est of the wee hours… while I expect someone will be awake, I don’t see any reason to disturb or distract them to reassure me,” she said, sliding an arm underneath me with impossible ease and rolling over to face me, though her eyes were still closed. “Also, I know time’s been a little weird, but it hasn’t even been a day… if I start checking in multiple times a day now, I’ll be doing it for the whole trip.”

“Do you really think it’s a good idea to be so hands-off about things?” I said.

“Do you not trust the hands we left things in?” she asked

“Of course I do!”

“I’m glad, because you picked them,” Glory said. “And I trust your reasoning, as you have explained it to me. Was there anything else?”

“…no. Goodnight.”

At this, she stirred, sitting up and opening her eyes.

“This is bothering you for some reason,” she said, gathering me up in her arms and pulling her… well, not really into her lap, as she didn’t have that much lap, but between her legs, like a small child hugging an oversized teddy bear.

“It’s just… things could change on the ground in a lot less than a day,” I said.

“This is true,” Glory said. “If something were to happen, then the situation certainly would change quickly. It could, for instance, happen a minute after I check in, or seconds, or mere moments. Should I then reflect back immediately, every time?”

“…no, obviously not,” I said. “But I think there’s a lot of room between once a day and literally all the time.”

“Right. So I’d have to make a decision about what’s a reasonable cut-off,” Glory said. “And whatever decision I come to, the argument that I could be checking more often would still be just as applicable as it is when I’m doing it once a day.”

“And you’re really totally cool about leaving things alone between daily check-ins?”

“Honestly? No,” she said. “But think about it: if something happened that was so big and so demanding that it distracted all the defenders from contacting me to let me know what’s up, do you really think anybody would be available to answer a reflection from me?”

“That’s a good point, rationally… but I think even if acknowledge that it’s an irrational impulse, you still might set your mind at ease by irrationally indulging the urge to keep on top of things a little more often.”

“Maybe. But it would contribute to the defense of Oberrad House, and maybe distract from it a little, and in the meantime, whether or not anything even happens, me spending my vacation in front of a mirror would represent a victory for those in Treehome who don’t want to let me go.”

“How do you figure?”

“It would mean I didn’t actually get out, that the physical move from Treehome wasn’t enough to make me not a part of their politics anymore,” she said. “If I turned Oberrad house into a bunker and hunkered down in it, then I’d be telling them that they won. Same thing if I spent this whole trip checking in, coordinating, worrying about what’s happening… I mean, I can’t help worrying, but to some extent I can choose what to do with that worry. I can choose not to dwell on it.”

“Okay, but if they manage to destroy what you’ve built, is it going to be worth having that moral victory?” I asked.

“If I spent the rest of my middling existence playing their games, then have I really built anything?” Glory said. “I will fight to preserve what’s mine, Mackenzie Blaise, and I will fight to establish what I believe in… but I feel like the preparations we made already run dangerously close to indulging the cycle of destructive nonsense, pointless intrigue, and dangerous posturing that I wanted to escape.”

“It almost sounds like you regret taking as many precautions as we did.”

“Not really?” Glory said. “I’m more thinking towards the future here, but specifically I’m thinking about how to pivot from the defensive posture we’re in now to my preferred not-giving-a-single-fuck posture. You know my ideal outcome is that someone does plan to try something but they give up when they see we’re ready for them?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“The Treehome thing to do would be to go on the offensive after that,” Glory said. “Not backing down is just the first step in my response.”

“What’s the second step?”

“Not responding at all.”

“That makes it sound like not backing down isn’t just the first step,” I said.

“But not responding is an action,” Glory said. “It sends a message: we don’t care, we’re not playing your games.”

“That makes sense,” I said. “But I still wonder… I mean, the big shots at Treehome could take that personally, right? If they feel you’re ignoring them, telling them that they’re not worth your time… they could just wind up more desperate to provoke a reaction.”

“They could, and probably will,” Glory said. “I can’t really control that, though.”

“So it seems like your plan depends on something you can’t control.”

“Every plan depends on things we can’t control,” Glory said. “I’m not saying I’m going to stubbornly ride my insistence that Treehome has nothing to do with me until my house lies in ruins, if things go that way. The thing is, if I did engage with them, if I did dignify whatever they do or try to do, then I know they would keep escalating things. They’d have to.”

“I guess the one thing you’ve got going for you is that if you’re not engaging back, then it’s going to be hard for anyone in authority to write it all off as a bunch of middling drama if they overstep and it spills over into public view.”

“That’s what I’m counting on?” Glory said. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the expansion of the court… or maybe I should just say the house, now. The more outside students who become a part of it, the more the rule of actual law is going to hold sway.”

“So you’re thinking in terms of something more like a sorority?”

“Maybe,” Glory said. “Though heraldic life has its own baggage I don’t necessarily want to pick up… and sororities are maybe still too much of fiefdoms unto themselves to be an effective shield? I mean, it doesn’t sink to the level of middling mischief, but they raid each other and do all sorts of shit that the university turns a blind eye towards. If we’re seen as being ‘the elven sorority’, I think we’d get the worst of both worlds, Treehome and heraldry.”

“Something new, then.”

“New-ish,” she said. “I’m just not sure what the legal structure of it’s going to end up looking at, or how it’s going to fit into the framework of campus organizations. Middling courts don’t have any kind of recognition outside our own society, so right now I’m just a private benefactor whose private group that happens to be made up mostly of part-time students has leased a building on campus for private use. This gives us some privileges that we wouldn’t have if Oberrad House was just another dorm, obviously, but I think we could be something more.”

“So you’re thinking in terms of something more like a sorority?”

“Maybe,” Glory said. “Though heraldic life has its own baggage I don’t necessarily want to pick up… and sororities are maybe still too much of fiefdoms unto themselves to be an effective shield? I mean, it doesn’t sink to the level of middling mischief, but they raid each other and do all sorts of shit that the university turns a blind eye towards. If we’re seen as being ‘the elven sorority’, I think we’d get the worst of both worlds, Treehome and heraldry.”

“Something new, then.”

“New-ish,” she said. “I’m just not sure what the legal structure of it’s going to end up looking at, or how it’s going to fit into the framework of campus organizations. Middling courts don’t have any kind of recognition outside our own society, so right now I’m just a private benefactor of the university whose private group that happens to be made up mostly of part-time students has leased a building on campus for private use. This gives us some privileges that we wouldn’t have if Oberrad House was just another dorm, obviously, but I think we could be something more.”

“Well, if that’s the direction you’re leaning, you might find it useful to ride the same wave of unity and inclusiveness that got us the Archimedes Center,” I said.

“Not to revert to stereotype, but I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be with turning my court into a joint elf/dwarf thing,” Glory said. “Egalitarian aspirations aside, I’m just not ready to cede control of it, and there’s no way I’d get major dwarven support if I didn’t yield a lot of control.”

“Okay, I don’t mean literally remarking your court in the image of the Arch,” I said. “Among other things, that would mean making it co-ed, which… I don’t know, maybe you want to do that? But at the very least, it’s something I’m sure you’d want to consider separately. But you could always say you’re establishing a model that the dwarves could follow, if anyone wanted to make a male version.”

“I’m always surprised at how good you are at this sort of thing, when you don’t think about it,” Glory said.

“When I don’t think about it?”

“Well, how would you describe it?” Glory said. “I don’t think you’ve been sitting around pondering this stuff, especially since we haven’t been talking about my long-term strategies.”

“Maybe not, but I did give a lot of thought to the general idea of opening the court up to a wider membership,” I said. “It’s not like any of these ideas are entirely new… but yeah, I guess I know what you mean. Most of the time I need to turn things over in my head for a while before I’m sure how I feel about anything. But I think that’s got more to do with a lack of confidence than anything else. Maybe it’s because this isn’t my business, not directly, that I can be a little more off-the-cuff about it?”

“Or maybe you just have an amazing set of instincts you don’t normally listen to,” Glory said.

“I think I prefer my answer better.”

“Why? There’s nothing wrong with having a talent.”

“I’d rather think my talents lie in other areas.”

“What, enchantment?” Glory said. “As I understand it, applied enchantment is mostly just problem solving… you look at a situation, identify a need, and figure out how to answer it, right? ”

“Yeah, but if you get broad enough with it, almost any discipline or skill can be described as problem solving,” I said. “Coach Callahan would probably tell you that she’s a problem solver, too.”

“And you’ve become pretty decent at solving problems in her medium, haven’t you?” Glory said. “Enchantment’s all about essential properties and stuff, right?”

“The bare basics are,” I said. “Higher level stuff is more spellcraft and spellbinding, though you never really get away from the property manipulation, if only because it’s the easiest way to make your work more durable.”

“Well, we need to manipulate the properties of my court,” Glory said. “To make it more durable, to make it less of a target, more of a self-sustaining entity… whatever. My point is that we have problems that need solving, and you’re already showing that you have the skills needed to figure them out.”

“And just like that, I’m back in the running for my own job.”

“You were never out of it,” Glory said. “It’s not like I was going to choose between you and Wisdom as soon as we set down in Prax again… anyway, I think she’s probably got enough of the same capabilities that the two of you could work together, or that you could share your ideas with her and she could figure out how to put them into practice.”

“That actually sounds the best to me,” I said. “I’ve been getting better at making reflections and corresponding with people in official and business capacities, but it’s not something I enjoy doing… I wouldn’t want to be the one who has to figure out the actual logistics of taking an imaginary royal court and turning it into a legitimate student organization.”

“Maybe Two’s friend Hazel would like to assist,” Glory said. “She proved surprisingly resourceful and insightful. In any event, you’ve given me a few different things to think about… and I hope that I’ve managed to alleviate some of the worries that might have kept you up for the slim remnants of the night. In the interest of making the most of the day that’s to come, though, I would suggest that we go to sleep.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Goodnight, Glory.”

She ruffled my hair before sliding out from behind me.

“I do think we should visit a hair salon at some point tomorrow,” Glory said. “Whether you ultimately decide to do something with your mop now or not, you could at least investigate the options… what do you think?”

“Sure, if that’s your idea of a good time,” I said.

“You can pretend you weren’t complaining about your hair before dinner if you want to pretend you’re too cool to care about your appearance…”

“It’s not so much ‘too cool’ as ‘not cool enough’,” I said.

“However you want to put it, you still take a certain measure of pride in it,” Glory said. “But the fact is, I’d like to see if we can find a walk-in salon either way… I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s time for a change.”

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22 Responses to “Chapter 276: Guarded Optimism”

  1. riotllama says:

    I love the direction this relationship of Glory’s with Mackenzie is going, even if most of their conversations turn into logic-fests. Unlike some other commentators, I do not think Glory harbors any negative ulterior motives and I’m so interested to see where this new pairing takes her, as she seems to grow away from definitely Ian and maybe Amaranth. Also, the possibility of the strictly hierarchical elven court transforming into a horizontal housing co-op tickles me. I don’t think Glory is in a place where she would give up control, but imagining the court in a consensus meeting is hilarious. What other “our ‘verse” parallels for student housing that aren’t sororities are there? They should talk to NASCO, heh heh.

    Probably pointed out before my comment gets on the page, but there are two paragraghs in the middle that repeat.

    Current score: 6
  2. Dani says:

    > I don’t think I’d ever seen Glory as relaxed
    So, of course, that had to be fixed immediately!

    > I didn’t want to be the one who burst
    > the increasingly comfortable bubble
    Could’ve fooled me.

    > But it would contribute to the defense of Oberrad House

    Current score: 2
  3. zeel says:

    “So you’re thinking in terms of something more like a sorority?”

    This, and the next two large paragraphs, are repeated twice.

    Ending at:

    . . .but I think we could be something more.”

    And then back to the above. At first I thought Mackenzie was trying to be funny, but I guess it’s a copy paste error.

    Current score: 2
    • Hollowgolem says:

      I was expecting some sort of Groundhog-day-esque time-loop.

      I was somewhat disappointed.

      Current score: 0
      • zeel says:

        Or another of AE’s stories, that for some reason isn’t on Amazon anymore it would appear. . .

        Current score: 0
  4. Tierhon says:

    Hehe it’s funny how learning about yourself can completely derail your plans for your life.

    Current score: 4
    • Nocker says:

      Mackenzie’s plan to be an enchanter was always something I expected to go to the wayside honestly. She picked it right out of highschool mostly to be contrary to a few bullies she thought of as “the jocks” and slotted herself into the role of “the nerd” and picked it because it was a nerdy thing that seemed successful. The fact that it turns out most enchanters are basically just glorified factory workers and she’s loading on a million non-magic electives indicate that she won’t really turn into an archmage despite having the raw power and a knack for it as well, just because she’s becoming so focused on other things.

      Not to mention that the closest thing to an overarching plot or plots MU has don’t really call for an elite enchanter to fix those issues. Or rather: The most serious issues in her life are the ones being an enchanter will do all of jack shit to stop. Big antagonists aside I think the first podcast pinned everything down on one or two details built in by the gods: Nonhumans have limits humans don’t, so they can’t dominate in the same way. Nonhuman monsters have a built in NEED to kill and eat that ultimately makes people like Iona unstable and dangerous and causes the deaths of people like Viktor’s father despite the ogres clearly not WANTING him dead from Viktors account, and ultimately also makes Mackenzie herself so dangerous it’s amazing she’s allowed to live and walk around free. Or Mercy, who profits off that same implanted instinct.

      So ultimately solving all of those actually important problems dangling over Mackenzie’s head like a sword of Damocles. You need someone who understands both the Gods, and the fundamental workings of life. So basically Amaranth. So for all her skill and knowledge, Mackenzie’s only real way to save her own hide is to go crying to Amaranth and hope for the best.

      Current score: 0
      • Glenn says:

        Right from the start, this story has been about nonhumans dealing with the fact that they live in the world in which most of the power is held by Humans. In part this is why we have members of the ‘monster’ races in D&D trying to participate in human culture by attending a human university. But the nonhumans are also trying, to the extent possible, to increase their own power in ways that might over time make the humans less dominant.
        It’s therefore relevant that AE has Mack on a career path that could plausibly result in her becoming very rich. At the very least, her enchantment degree, when coupled with the managerial and business skills Acantha and Glory are encouraging her to develop, will qualify her for a managerial position in a “high magic” corporation. If you add a good idea, and some start up capital from Glory, Mack might plausibly become the magic equivalent of a silicon valley billionaire someday.

        Current score: 5
        • Nocker says:

          Which is all well and good, but being a billionaire doesn’t keep the archfiend stalking you at bay. At best it’ll keep her reasonably safe right up until it doesn’t.

          Not to mention that hey, have you MET any Silicon Valley types? They have far more in common with Acantha than Mack, and even then probably more with Mercy than Acantha to be frank. Pretty much every single one of them is currently dealing with legal troubles related to being a corrupt megalomaniac.

          Not to mention that geographically and culturally, there is no Silicon Valley for Mackenzie to be a part of. If I remember correctly that part of the continent is just Ogre Badlands. The cultural conditions one needs to make that kind of thing happen don’t actually exist in this world, or at least not in the way you’re thinking.

          Current score: 0
          • Glenn says:

            Mack is still a long way from being able to deal with problems like her father and Mercy. To get to the point where she can, she and her friends would need to make great progress in a lot of different ways. More money would help, as would increased magical skill, more support from the Gods, more support from mortal authorities like governments, closer ties with powerful individuals like Embries, and so on. We don’t know where AE is planning to take her story, but so far, Mack is not only becoming more skillful herself, she is forming increasingly close alliances with other nonhumans who may be able to help her. Her ties with Glory and the members of the Winter Guard could be the beginnings of a new and powerful organization, which might in time become powerful enough to help her combat her father. Her interaction with professors like Callahan, Acantha, Stone or Boyd may also in some cases lead somewhere significant.
            I only used the phrase ‘silicon valley billionaire’ as an analogy. While the fantasy equivalent of California may be Ogre territory in Mack’s world, there are probably some areas where THETA (Thaumatology, enchantment, transmutation, and alchemy) workers concentrate. Mack might even end up basing her new company (if she ever founds one) in some new location like Amaranth’s Paradise Valley. While I agree with you that Mack’s personality isn’t like most real world billionaires, I think AE has begun, through Mack’s interactions with Acantha and Glory, a process that might eventually allow Mack to acquire the sorts of skills needed for her to swim in the same waters with that sort of shark.

            Current score: 1
            • Nocker says:

              Of course, this relies on the existence of places and things that haven’t been confirmed. Moreover, any help from Winter Guard better come quick, since they’re all going off their own ways once they graduate and so is Mackenzie. Any organization that could help her in the future has it’s very existence up to question and that’s before you even judge it’s effectiveness.

              Though honestly that’s mainly because we haven’t got any real idea what MU grads DO once they leave. WE have no idea what kind of companies are producing what and hiring who and it’s kind of ambiguous what purpose entire majors serve in the wider world(like Martial Combat. Four years getting really good at swords seems kind of redundant when the military hires people at 18 in universe, and security personnel aren’t exactly stunning examples of martial prowess either). Most of what we’ve seen is wild forests, badlands, ocean, or generally non-urban. AKA not the kind of places Mackenzie would actually GO.

              Current score: 0
          • zeel says:

            This is, once again, assuming this story will turn into an epic at some point. I don’t think so.

            The two principal antagonists are Mercy and The Man. All the others are attached to the school – and will become completely irrelevant to Mackenzie upon graduation. Though if at that point Mackenzie leaves Prax I doubt Mercy will pursue her much if at all.

            As to The Man, it’s hard to say. Seems he has been haunting the region for a long time, and he as well may lose interest if she moves away. If not, Law is still after him, so I don’t think Mackenzie or her friends will ever need to confront him directly in any kind of epic showdown.

            All the other drama in the story is interpersonal and academic – you know, college stuff. And, this is a fantasy themed slice of life story about college students – not an epic. I have little doubt that Mackenzie will graduate with at least a bachelor’s (if not masters) in Enchantment, and go on to a career in it. Who she has a relationship is up in the air, as well as any possible secondary degrees she might earn.

            Mackenzie lives in the world of Epic Fantasy, but her story isn’t one. The assumption that any of those bigger problems will actually ever need solved, much less by the protagonist, is an error IMO. Often in life there are bigger issues at work around us, and we are powerless to do anything but work around and endure them.

            Mackenzie can endure her teachers, classmates, and draconic VC. She can ignore Mercy. And she can let Law handle her father.

            Current score: 1
            • Nocker says:

              But that’s where I think YOU’RE wrong.

              These problems NEED to be solved, because they’re the king of things that are make-or-break, live-or-die issues that Mackenzie can’t just ignore forever. The Man leaving her alone because she moves off to wherever isn’t confirmed. All that’s confirmed is he kills males within his sphere. But he’s much more invested in females and the rules clearly change with them. Likewise, Mercy is an immortal playing a long game that ends with our protagonist in chains, and she’s repeatedly said she has no intention of stopping and it’s been shown she has no real respect for law unless it’s convenient to her(unless breaking into somebody else’s hotel room is somehow legal).

              They won’t stop, ever, and they don’t care how many people die or get in their way to get their hands on her. If this were still a story about Mackenzie having difficult roommates or scholarship issues she could just graduate and it’d be over, but she’s contracted a pair of epic level enemies and they won’t just get bored and leave her.

              Not to mention that, if you want to get technical, Mackenzie is ALREADY epic, since she managed to challenge an epic creature and walk away, same as her grandmother. She did it by abusing an aura potion but she DID it, is the thing. She’s more or less officially in the epic tiers, if only because “Half Demon” looks like it carries one hell of a level adjustment score.

              Current score: 0
  5. pedestrian says:

    I think it is interesting that Glory just happened to choose a girlfriend, who just happens to supply her own commando.

    But, do we believe in coincidences?

    Current score: 0
    • Nocker says:

      Honestly I’m amazed anyone can trust Glory. She saw Mackenzie for everything she was: A bratty, clumsy woman who was caught up in the affairs of monsters hidden from the eyes of normal men and probably on like five government watchlists, and decided “I want me some of that”.

      I mean that’s beyond her just being an elf. I mean not to put too fine a point on it but we’re dealing with a race with very little concept of sexual intimacy and control of their body and expression long before her age. Even beyond all the petty power plays the audience has seen they’re just plain unnerving.

      Current score: 1
      • Lyssa says:

        Your reasons for discounting Glory are based in the idea that the protagonist is unappealing and that Glory’s race is stereotypically untrustworthy?

        I think that’s a little harsh. Mack may seem bratty to you (and I’ll agree with you some of the time) but to Glory, she may just seem like a young woman in the crawling stages of adulthood. With the bonuses of being culturally human, a trait Glory romanticizes a bit.

        As for sexual intimacy, I think Glory’s concept of that is a bit more eloquent than Mackenzie’s, to be frank.

        Current score: 3
        • Nocker says:

          Glory’s race isn’t stereotypically untrustworthy, it’s demonstrably so with literally every major example we’ve seen. Einwitch went crazy and her writings suggest she wasn’t exactly wholesome before. Acantha is double or triple dealing with death monsters and dragons, and possibly demons. Iason is crazy in his own special way. Semele spends most of her time pantomiming crazy for various reasons. Then there’s literally EVERY OTHER ELF in the middling court, who’s come combination of sociopathic, homicidal, or rapist. Which Glory acknowledges and sets as a baseline expectation for dealing with elves outside her circle: They’re crazy as fuck and not to be trusted. I mean lets face it even Steff is kind of an asshole who’s spent a huge chunk of her time either insulting people or pushing buttons. Shit, even historically Elf-Human relations were hostile because of ELVES. Remember that they were the ones riding around raping and torturing humans before ogres did, and it’s so bad that when people heard about The Man molesting children out in the woods it’s been garbled to the point where they assume he was really an elven lord doing as elves do. Or whole elven nations under the sea, fully aware that their neighbors butcher innocent sentient life and doing nothing.

          You can’t really claim it’s racist to not trust elves when literally no elves before this point have ever been even slightly trustworthy. With literally every other race we see enough to know there’s at least as many good examples as bad, or at least ones that question the bad bits. With elves it’s kind of been one nonstop show of crazy bullshit before now. So excuse me if after years of that show I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

          Current score: 1
      • Cadnawes says:

        Glory saw Mack for everything she is… a human who might live for hundreds of years. If you’re an immortal being who likes humans, that’s appealing as hell.

        On Glory; “trust” is too strong a word for how I feel about her, but I think their relationship as stated is reasonable, and Mack did take crazy levels of precaution when dealing with her for a while.

        Current score: 0
        • zeel says:

          I agree, I don’t so much trust glory like Dee, or even like Steff. But I don’t think there is anything to worry about at the moment.

          Current score: 0
  6. Zathras IX says:

    Every plan must
    Depend on things that no one can
    Possibly control

    Current score: 1
  7. Order of Chaos says:

    So that’s two elves who have commented on Mackenzies instincts.

    Current score: 3
  8. Moridain says:

    You doubled up on a couple of paragraphs in this chapter.

    Just a note in case you do a big editting run at some point. 🙂

    Current score: 0