Chapter 289: Mandated Reporters

on March 6, 2015 in Volume 2 Book 8: Elven Holiday, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Amaranth’s Judgment Is Beyond Question

Once Glory had made it clear that the guard would be involved in the case of any further shenanigans, the sort of optimistic fatalism she’d espoused during our dinner under the stars was more in evidence during the waning remainder of our trip.

She’d made her decisions, and since she couldn’t go back in time to change them, she would live with them.

This isn’t to say that she ignored the situation back home, though she did delegate the task of keeping in contact to me. I didn’t mind.. I think I was past the point where anything on the ship could have distracted me from the unknown danger hanging over my friends.

Worse, each new report made things less clear rather than more.

First came the word back from the ranger station. It turned that Eloise hadn’t been flying during the snowstorm at all, and had been allocated for search and rescue in the countryside ever since it broke.

No one could tell us for sure that she hadn’t done a flyover of the campus, but given the severity of the weather, it seemed unlikely that she would have pulled herself away from her official duties to pass an eagle eye over the environs of Oberrad House in its aftermath.

It still could have been the case… if the campus had been along a route she had to travel, she might have decided to kill two birds with one… bird… by taking a quick look. This could explain why she hadn’t stopped longer than it would have taken to snag the finger and why she hadn’t stayed around to chat.

Again, not likely… but possible.

I kind of wished I could have convinced myself it wasn’t possible, though. It would have been less frustrating to know my theory was completely out of the running, because that would be at least one thing we knew for sure that it wasn’t. That would be less useful than knowing what it was, but it would still be more than we knew now.

Eventually Eloise would check in with the rangers, and if nothing was too pressing she would probably let someone in Oberrad House know for sure, but I didn’t fool myself what kind of priority that would be given. We could be back in Prax before she had another minute to spare for us.

The next major development came when Steff reported that there were a few elves hanging out on campus, “just kind of being dicks”. I asked her what she meant by that, and she said, “You know… just kind of being dicks? Generally.”

“That doesn’t actually contain any more information,” I said.

“Well, I’d say that they’re just standing there, but… they’re being dickish about it,” she said. “Like they don’t care if we know they’re there.”

“…how many are we talking about?” I asked, picturing an army of middlings lined up in neat little ranks like stone soldiers on a felt mat.

“Two right now,” she said. “Three a little bit ago, not the same ones. They’re not like carrying naked weapons or making menacing gestures or anything, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, as far as I can tell,” Steff said. “They’re just there… hon, you didn’t tell me to tell you if something was wrong, you told me to tell you if anything happened. This is what’s happening: there are elves hanging around campus alone, two or three at a time. They’re doing it in a way that seems dickish to me.”

“Are you calling them dicks because they exist?” I asked.

“…it’s not really just that,” Steff said. “But if all it looked like they were doing was existing on campus and later it turned out they were doing something else, you’d want to know why I didn’t tell you they were there.”

“…yeah, I guess,” I said. “I’m not questioning why you’re telling me this, I’m just wondering what I’m missing. If it’s not just an ‘elves are dicks’ thing, what about them is making you call them dickish?”

“It’s… okay, this might be an elven thing,” she said. “Before, they were hiding. Definitely. Moving furtively, breathing minimally, being super still when they weren’t doing anything else in particular.”

“And they’re not doing that now,” I said. “Which could just mean they’re not up to anything, or that they are but they’re trying to be casual rather than stealthy…”

“They’re not being casual, or if they are, they suck at it,” Steff said. “Okay. You know how elves are always kind of still?”

“Yes,” I said.

“They’re not,” Steff said. “They’re not just existing, they’re existing in a way that’s basically the equivalent of stomping into the kitchen and slamming all the drawers when you want to sarcastically let someone know that you’re getting them the sandwich they asked for but you’re not happy about it.”

“…they’re breathing like a human?”

“That’s kind of part of it,” Steff said. “It’s… ugh, there aren’t enough words for sense things in human languages. They’re being obvious in ways that aren’t natural for elves to be obvious.”

“What’s it mean?”

“I don’t know,” Steff said. “I’m not a middling, remember? I’ll tell you what’s weird about it: It’s a guy thing. I’ve never seen girls do it, or at least not the femmes… even the ones who are trying to lay guys don’t really do it much. Douchelord of the Glade that Jamie fucking Bowman was being dated by? He stood around like this all… the… time. It’s kind of like giving the world the middle finger.”

“Okay, well don’t let down your guard or anything, but that sounds like a good sign to me,” I said. “When somebody goes from trying to sneak up and murder you in the snow to standing around in the open glaring after you threaten to get the guards involved, I think that’s a pretty clear sign that they don’t see any other options.”

“That’s what I said when Dee first noticed it,” Steff said. “They’re pissed off but they can’t do shit, so they’re trying to show contempt but it’s coming off as a tantrum… but Mack, I’d be lying if I said I’m not a little worried because they’re not acting like bitchy courtiers from the land of veils and rimjobs right now, which means all bets are off for what they will and won’t do. There’s not any way you guys can get an earlier flight back, is there?”

“I am super sure there’s not,” I said. “We have a chartered flight, and I’m pretty sure it takes off when we get on board. The good news is it might be a faster trip back up than it was down, if the weather holds.. but it could just as easily end up being against it.”

“Damn it,” Steff said. “Well, if it’s clear sailing, don’t dawdle… I don’t like this at all. Pissed off elves are dangerous.”

“They were pissed off to begin with, though, weren’t they?” I asked.

“Maybe the leaders were,” Steff said. “But they wouldn’t have been out there in the snow… the foot soldiers were just playing the game. If they were personally offended that someone was making their game look silly by trying to have a good time without it, they still had to follow the rules. This is why I’d be less worried if there were twenty or thirty elves ringing the house at all time being dicks. It would mean we’re still dealing with an asshole institution instead of a bunch of random assholes.”

“…you think the stompers have gone rogue?” I said.

“I don’t know if they’re breaking someone’s orders and I doubt they’ve quit anything, but… yeah, I think they’re doing this in their spare time,” Steff said. “Glory’s thing about talking to the guards would have given the queens enough reason to at least back off and figure out how to swing things so they can’t be blamed, even if their attack randomly failing in the scariest fucking way they could imagine didn’t do that. The last thing they would do is have their people stand out in the open mooning us.”

“I guess I can see that…” I said. “It’s like the one who came back to demand her finger. They went through something scary and ego-bruising…”

“And the cure for both of those things is to get pissed off at someone else,” Steff said. “It’s our fault they were out in the snow, it’s our fault they were attacked, it’s our fault that they were told to withdraw… and of course, Treehome politics demands that the failure be blamed on someone who can be punished, not some invisible blizzard beast. I tell you, Mack, the more I try to get inside the heads of these fuckers, the more I like Glory for getting the hell out of there.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Keep me posted, okay?”

“Nothing else I can do,” she said. “I’ve thought about going up and saying hi to one of our angry lurkers…”

“Definitely don’t,” I said. “If they have any kind of actual plan, it’s got to be to provoke something so that they can call the guards… or at least introduce some doubt if someone else does.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Steff said. “We are on triple super secret lockdown right now… nobody in or out until Glory takes possession of the house again. We are not taking any risks, we are not giving them any chances… it just kills me to sit on my hands in here while they’re free to come and go as they please.”

“I know,” I said. “But it’s the right call. Anyway, what are they doing with that freedom? Standing around alone in the cold, acting like children. Would you really want to trade places with them?”

“No,” Steff said. “What I would want is for them to not fucking be there so I don’t have to look at the same walls for another day.”

“Less than twenty-four hours now,” I said. “Hang in there.”

The fact that no one left the house during the remainder of our absence limited the ability of the defenders to look for more cat tracks, though Dee was able to scry and Amaranth even dug into her own rarely-used divinatory abilities. They found nothing conclusive… the snow was great for tracks, but few of them were as clear and sharp as the cat prints had apparently been.

“It’s not possible you were mistaken about the cat tracks?” I asked Dee after hearing this.

“It was not within my area of expertise to identify them as such,” Dee said. “But Steff seemed fairly certain they belonged to a cat, and after she provided a sketch, Amaranth confirmed this. I feel in this matter, her judgment is beyond question.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I just.. the tracks are already kind of an anomaly… taking the fact that they were only there in that one place, and adding it with the fact that they are the only tracks that perfect and clear…”

“Indeed… a creature or being that has some means of locomotion that allows it to pass without trace leaves an unmistakable trace in one and only one location,” Dee says.

“You’re thinking the tracks were planted.”

“I surmise that this is what you are thinking,” Dee said. “I agree that it is suggestive.”

“But why?” I said. “To send a message? If so, what? What’s the point of sending a message we don’t understand? To keep us distracted? Okay, I guess it’s kind of worked on that score, but not necessarily in a way that accomplishes anything for anyone.”

“There would be much point in such obfuscation, if we are not the intended recipients,” Dee said. “Perhaps those at whom it was directed have received the message and discerned its meaning?”

“…which brings us back to the idea that there’s another player out there who wants everyone else to keep their hands off Oberrad House,” I said.

“If the affair of the paw prints has anything to do with Glory’s court,” Dee said. “We do not know this for certain.”

“I know, we don’t really know anything for certain, and that’s what worries me,” I said. “Everything’s happening up there, we’re down here… or up here, if you mean in actual vertical terms… and no one can tell me what’s actually happening because no one knows. But still, it would be one hell of a coincidence if something else big and strange was going down on campus right now.”

“The idea that in a space this size, there would be only one house involved in its own intrigue at a given time is a novel one to me.”

“Well, most of the ‘houses’ around you aren’t exactly inhabited right now, which kind of skews the odds,” I said.

“I take your point,” Dee said.

“We’re actually getting close to disembarking here, so I should go, but…”

“I will keep you posted.”


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34 Responses to “Chapter 289: Mandated Reporters”

  1. zeel says:

    You know, Oberad is physically connected to weirdness central. That none of the Harlow students (many of whom would not be going home for break) could be responsible for the tracks seems like an oversight.

    Also, just because Eloise is the only shape shifter you know, does not mean there aren’t other. Shape shifting real fits the bill, but that doesn’t mean it was someone we have already met.

    And for the wild guessers: Embrise is a shape shifter too.

    Current score: 5
    • Potatohead says:

      Do we know of him taking any shape other than human and dragon, though? It would fit his personality to intervene directly for attacks on ‘his’ campus, but the fact that anyone survived means it wasn’t his dragonform on the attack.

      Current score: 1
      • Glenn says:

        I personally doubt that Embries was involved in this, but I don’t think the fact that none of the elves died proves that it wasn’t Embries. The elves are all students, after all, who are paying the University to attend classes. I think Embries would be very reluctant to do anything that would even slightly reduce the University’s financial income.

        Current score: 0
      • Nocker says:

        Dragons can take any form, basically. Another dragon of lesser caliber picked a different form from what others do but it was clearly a choice, and the two greens mentioned they could get fine control of not just race, but gender.

        During the dragonfall it was mentioned that they were FORCED into a form, but that wasn’t standard or the norm elsewhere. But lesser dragons became animals so animal form is on the table for at least some.

        Emberies isn’t a dragon with a human alt form, he’s a dragon, who can change his form but prefers a consistent human shape for day to day stuff. He could just as easily be a beastman, or an orc, or a dwarf. Even half dragons are basically just dragons of a different power scale when you get to it, since they just spawn the full draconic form and power suite at a decreased scale. Hence why government types are so nervous that Aiden will just spontaneously abandon the mortal shell he was born in for something scarier, and why without restraints he needs to work to maintain himself.

        Current score: 0
        • zeel says:

          Furthermore, I get the impression it’s more a function of being extremely powerful than a standard racial ability. Most dragons can change forms because they’re that awesome rather than because “that’s what dragons do”.

          Current score: 0
          • Nocker says:

            I dunno. Giants are on the same tier and Pala can’t exactly shapechange downwards. She may not be the largest of giants but in terms of raw power and inherent natures she’s in the epic tier starting out.

            Though I’ve just recalled that common and lower dragons can’t shapechange at will, barring one exception, so there’s probably a power threshold to be observed.

            Current score: 0
            • zeel says:

              Well considering one of the histories has giants leaving the world and pouring all the dragons out of sack. . . The true giants are probably a tier or so above dragons. Even if the tale is mostly hyperbole.

              On the other hand, it’s implied/speculated that those giants in and near the MU world have been diminished. So Pala and her kin are probably not anywhere near that powerful.

              As for shapeshifting, it’s probably more a matter of “don’t” than “can’t” – there are mortal shapeshifters (druids, etc) too, and that troll in the labyrinth as well. Though I wonder if, given their inherent property of “giantness”, they would be unable to take a smaller form. (Owain for instance, is not actually small – just distant).

              Current score: 0
            • Nocker says:

              Pala doesn’t live near this world though, she commutes via black door from a totally separate plane of existence. Her family has beat gods(if not in contest, though the point stands), and she isn’t exactly the kind of crude hill giant mentioned. She’s a true giant, fully blooded and with all the powers implied.

              Current score: 0
            • zeel says:

              By “near” I mean in a planar topology sense. I’m not recalling all the sources, but it has been mentioned that some giants stayed in planes near to MUs, and other moved farther away. Those who stayed close have easier access if they wish, but their power is diminished. Now we don’t know everything about the Inn, but I would guess that the world Pala is from is one of the near planes rather than the far.

              But. . . the Inn could be a shortcut, her world may be further away than would be expected.

              Current score: 0
    • Cadnawes says:

      Huh. You’re right. At the very least, there’s a sphynx. And we don’t know what she does besides have cat feet.

      Current score: 3
    • Nocker says:

      Well there ARE a trio of catfolk who may or may not be in Harlowe. They’ve been trained and drilled hard enough that with the right equipment this is feasible. I can almost see that being something Sooni would do, under crazy Sooni logic.

      In all honesty yeah, it might just be somebody else’s crazy plot intersecting with our own. For all we know it could be the guardian of the mummy princess or whatever.

      Current score: 1
      • zeel says:

        I would think they have more human-like feet. Also, I believe they wear shoes. Though you aren’t wrong about Sooni logic – if this were back in the first semester, but now? I don’t think Sooni is interested anymore.

        Current score: 0
        • pink says:

          While I’m also not sure how interested Sooni would be, it’s at least canon that Kai and the others have paws instead of hands, I’m almost entirely sure, so it would make sense for paw-feet as well.

          Current score: 3
      • Cadnawes says:

        I think it’s a safe bet this creature was (at least right then) a quadruped. If the tracks belonged to a bipedal cat- well, a seven year old girl scout would have caught that. It would have narrowed the suspect pool significantly.

        Current score: 1
        • Trent Baker says:

          Traditionally those japanese spirits could shift between human and animal form and a blend of the two so maybe it is the trio. It might not necessarily be about Mack though, remember Sooni kinda lives in her own anime story so maybe she saw the elves foray as an attack against her.

          Current score: 2
      • Anthony says:

        Oh, I like that idea! I do hope so; Volume 2 has suffered severely from a lack of Sooni. Her craziness has been sorely missed.

        Current score: 2
  2. Cadnawes says:

    Also, LOL I love Steff so much. Douchelord of the Glade is now going to enter my vernacular whenever there’s an elf like that in my tabletop games.

    Current score: 6
  3. Mo says:

    The story is conveying the sense of bewilderment and impatience really well here. Too well… 😉

    Current score: 1
  4. Zathras IX says:

    Douchelords of the Glade
    Leave a strong impression on
    Those they’ve downtrodden

    Current score: 5
  5. March Madness says:

    I simply love the Animal House reference. “Super secret triple lockdown.” At least I interpreted it as that. When the dean implies he plans on putting the house on super secret probation.

    Current score: 0
  6. Rakshasa says:

    Displacer beast, Rakshasa, The Man? hmm, the plot thickens

    Current score: 0
    • erianaiel says:

      Problem is that none of these have either been mentioned before, or have never shown any evidence of this ability.
      or in the case of the man, has any reason to involve himself in a random midling prank (of the violent elven variety), thus potentially exposing himself to authorities who would not hesitate a second to call in a couple of paladins to smite the greater demon back to the infernal planes, hopefully for the next hundred thousand years.

      Bringing in a new character in such a mysterious way only works in story if it turns out to be a major character, otherwise Checkhov’s gun should apply. The only established, friendly, character with shapeshifting abilities we know of is Eloise, and this chapter pretty much wrote her off as candidate for the mysterious assailant.
      The neko’s don’t seem the kind to bother with being stealthy (and why would they even suddenly show up again when Sooni can’t renew her twisted idea of an anime friendship with her frenemy Mackenzie?), I know of no other Harlowite who has a cat related background (and few of those girls would be that friendly towards Mackenzie that they would go out in a blizzard to attack a bunch of elves who are sneaking into a building that is tangentially related to Mackenzie)
      There’s the invisible girl of course, but she did not strike me as particularly friendly towards Mackenzie either (though not quite as hostile as the girls she hung out with), and what little we know of her hinted more towards human but invisible and less towards cat but invisible.

      I don’t think any harlowite was named Chesire?

      Current score: 0
      • Cadnawes says:

        Eh, AE’s expressed opinions of the trope before that would suggest you can’t rely on Checkov’s gun around here.

        Current score: 0
        • zeel says:

          To be Checkov’s gun it would necessarily be a character who we have at some point seen – but that has not yet had any importance in the story. Otherwise it depends on how the introduction gets played.

          Current score: 0
        • Nocker says:

          Except for the fact that you totally can except in places where there’s deliberate fun being poked. Haflings seeing the future got played into Leda getting murdered which was the springboard for both the draconic stuff that eventually got rolled into the KDR stuff as well as rolling in with Mike Gregory who was established much earlier.

          Leda herself only got established due to the idea of her drinking and messing around in the fountain being dropped mostly inconsequentially in and her own mental issues showing up alongside the backstories of a bunch of other characters.

          A few things may fall by the wayside, but random minor characters or little details become significant all the time.

          Current score: 0
          • Cadnawes says:

            Of course they do or the story wouldn’t have strong continuity. But just because there’s a gun on the mantel in chapter one doesn’t mean it is OBLIGATED to go off in chapter three.

            The commenter above seemed to be treating tropes as immutable laws of thermodynamics or something. Literature does not work that way.

            Current score: 0
            • zeel says:

              Well if it’s never used it’s a red herring, or intended for some other purpose (like showing that the character is the kind of person who keeps a gun on their mantel). Anyway, Checkov’s gun isn’t a rules – that’s the law of conservation of detail – it’s what happens when a seemingly insignificant detail is added early on and ends up being more important later in the story, to avoid an ass-pull when the importance is revealed.

              For instance, Oberad house is a Checkov’s gun – the first (nameless) mention was near the start of vol.1, and it gets mentioned again in vol.2 before finally becoming important.

              On the other hand, Professor Checkov and his daughter are both red herrings (the former by chance, the later intentional).

              Now in this situation we could be dealing with Chockov’s gun – we may already have met the mystery cat, or had its presence alluded to. In that case we would be reasonable to guess anyone who can shapeshift, fly, or telleport. However I think there is a more plausible explanation: either the tracks are a red herring, or someone we do not know did it – possibly intentionally.

              We don’t know all about the inner working of tree home, and we can assume there are multiple factions. Eloise is probably not the only druid in the world, nor are druids the only shapeshifters. Any number of people aligned with a faction of treehome could have done it. And that’s assuming someone really made those prints with their feet – they could have been done magically!

              Or it could be an unrelated event, caused by someone (like a Harlow resident) or something else entirely.

              Current score: 3
  7. Silverai says:

    Dear fellow MUnkeys,

    I have a single-use prepaid credit card with a very small amount left on it, which I though I’d pay to our favourite author. I remember reading in a blog or Facebook or something about one payment website giving her a bigger cut on those very small amounts, but I can’t find or remember it. Does anyone else remember, or can find it more easily than me?


    Current score: 0
  8. Cadnawes says:

    Hey, Zeel? You realize you’re agreeing with me, right? Could you dial back the “well actually” tone?

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      *sigh*, the threading system here is obnoxious. Yeah, I wasn’t really addressing you directly – it just looks like I am. . .

      Current score: 0
      • Cadnawes says:

        Ah. Thank you for clarifying. I was kind of surprised. I’m glad it was something like that. I’m sorry to jump on your case.

        Current score: 2
  9. Arancaytar says:

    It turned that Eloise hadn’t been flying during the snowstorm at all, and had been allocated for search and rescue in the countryside ever since it broke.

    Too easy to be true, I guess. But someone else might have similar skills. (Samuel, maybe?)

    Current score: 0
  10. Arancaytar says:

    but Mack, I’d be lying if I said I’m not a little worried because they’re not acting like bitchy courtiers from the land of veils and rimjobs right now, which means all bets are off for what they will and won’t do

    Just as was implied in Mack’s conversations in the Black Door, and with Callahan, this means there’s something way more serious going on than a little political intrigue or Treehome mindgames.

    Glory thought getting out of Treehome would be an unintended slight at most, not an existential threat that would unite Treehome in war against her. So… what the hell is happening here?

    Current score: 0
  11. Peter Granzeau says:

    Vy haff yew qvit announcing the presence of a new chapter in Live Journal?

    Current score: 0