Chapter 297: A Gentle Awakening

on May 2, 2015 in Volume 2 Book 9: Who Is Mackenzie Blaise?, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Amaranth Expresses Classist Sentiments

I woke up from my midday nap to the touch of Amaranth’s hand on my bare shoulder.

I’d taken off my clothes before getting into bed, even though it was just a nap. Almost every time I was actually asleep for more than a few minutes, I inevitably managed to twist and kick my way out of most of clothes.

Removing them beforehand saved time in fishing them out from between the sheets or retrieving them from between the bed and the wall later, to say nothing of cutting down on wear and tear… I was strong enough that kicking a pair of underwear off in my sleep could be done in a couple different ways.

Amaranth was also naked.

Well, legally speaking, she was nude. The two words could be… and were… used interchangeably in day to day conversation, but the fine distinction in their technical meanings was that only people who wore clothes could be naked. A dog was merely nude even if its owner habitually dressed it in a tuxedo because it wasn’t a person. A nymph was merely nude because she didn’t wear clothes, as a divine mandate.

What counted as nudity for different races of people was fuzzy in some cases. The standards were different for non-mammals and people without external genitalia, two categories that had quite a bit of overlap.

The law preferred straight edges, though, which was why in the general case the public decency laws of the Imperial Republic only applied to humanity. It saved a lot of time and judgment calls… and incidentally allowed Magisterian humans to cling to the idea that they’re the only truly decent folk on the face of the world.

But, I digress… I was in bed, looking up through the haze of rapidly retreating sleep at Amaranth, who was looking down at me. There was something really comforting about that. At just a bit north of six feet tall, she did tend to look down at me even before we got into situations like me sitting on the floor at her feet.

She had a way of looking at me over the rim of her glasses that could root me right to the spot, though she wasn’t doing that now. Her expression was neutral, which with her meant it was warm and pleasant.

The glasses were a strange artifact she’d been given by a dimensional traveler that somehow approximated an actual corrective effect without any detectable magic. These days few people bothered with real glasses, since you could put a vision enhancement in less conspicuous jewelry, but I think Amaranth liked wearing them.

Her opportunities for self-expression were limited by the divine edict I mentioned. Based on my admittedly limited experience with other nymphs, it seemed like she took it more strictly seriously than most did, but she also had a pretty deep-seated desire to break it.

Her glasses were both a technical necessity and more of an accessory than a garment. They didn’t conceal any part of her body in a meaningful way. At this point, I had to imagine she basically thought of them as a part of herself. I certainly did.

It occurred to me as I looked up at her that maybe we weren’t the only ones… nymphs were, theoretically, physically perfect beings. The tricky part was, according to who? It wasn’t like there was a single objective standard for attractiveness.

And while every nymph I’d seen was what I would call attractive, Amaranth seemed to have been grown to a different specification even compared to a sister nymph created by the same people less than a year before her.

It was hard not to notice that she looked like she’d stepped of a comic book-style pin-up: long, wavy blonde hair, statuesque physique generously endowed with curves, and so on. More than her physical presence She valued intelligence and tolerance, and hated the idea of ostracizing or leaving people out almost to a fault…

It was almost like she was the living, breathing embodiment of some geek’s fantasy. Glasses would fit that. A person couldn’t be born with glasses, so a nymph couldn’t be created with one… and though one could have bad eyesight, that wasn’t enough to guarantee she’d end up wearing glasses.

Still, if her personality could have been influenced by a particular model of perfection, so could her taste for corrective gear.

I couldn’t say I’d fantasized about anyone like Amaranth before meeting her. But then, I couldn’t say I’d imagined anyone like Amaranth before meeting her… hell, I hadn’t even been able to imagine fantasizing about anyone.

“Lost in thought, sleepyhead?” Amaranth said.

“Just gathering them,” I said. “Did I sleep through lunch?”

“Yeah… try not to make a habit of it, okay?”

“I won’t,” I said. “I’ll probably be used to getting up at a reasonable hour in a couple days or so. Anyway, I didn’t carve a big space in my schedule so I could sleep through it.”

I sat up. The covers pulled slightly on the piercings through my nipples, the left one a ring in the form of a heart-shaped lock and the other a bar fashioned like a key. It wasn’t a tug so much as a slight drag, just enough to remind me pleasantly that they were there, that they existed.

That was the interesting thing about such piercings, in my experience: once you’d had them a while, it was easy to forget they were there. The reminders were what made it worthwhile.

“You say that like it was all part of your master plan,” Amaranth said.

“I know it was a happy accident,” I said. “I’m just… happy about it. I haven’t figured out exactly what I’m going to do with all my time, but I figure it’ll be something. I mean, if I don’t come up with anything, I’m sure life will. I think there’s a rule that trouble expands to fill up available space.”

“I hope not,” she said, frowning slightly and then biting her lower lip before continuing. “I think after last semester, you’re due for a break.”

“I think you mean that after my last break, I deserve a break,” I said. “It wasn’t exactly the most relaxing winter holiday…”

“Oh?” she said, and I realized I’d stepped in it a bit. “I didn’t realize how stressful it was for you to be on a cruise with your rich girlfriend while the rest of us guarded her house against her innumerable enemies and an unseen… cat assassin.”

“Maybe I should have said we all deserve a break,” I said. “And in fairness: the unseen cat assassin was on your side, and not actually an assassin.”

This had been a point of contention between us during the waning moments of the winter break. Kai, a cat-like nekoyokai who had come to the Imperial Republic as the companion of a spoiled and slightly out of touch with reality fox girl, had dramatically intervened in an attempted attack on Oberrad House, the residence hall where Glory… the elf whose girlfriend I was… had relocated her “court” after trying to separate it from the politics of the elven enclave in Treehome.

She’d kept her identity a secret until after it was all over, only revealing herself to make sure we knew who had saved the day when the danger had passed.

“Well, I don’t think she learned those skills in fashion class,” Amaranth said.

“We’ve already known that Sooni’s neko ‘friends’ are supposed to protect her. Is it really so surprising that one of them would actually be a competent bodyguard?” I said. “And is it that surprising that the competent one is Kai? I’d say choice in outfits notwithstanding, but it’s not her choice to be dressed up like a cartoon baby…”

“Baby, the kind of skills she would have needed to get the drop on a bunch of elves and leave them disabled aren’t exactly suitable to guarding,” Amaranth said. “It worries me that there’s someone on campus who can do that who has a grudge against you.”

“Yeah, well… I’m not afraid of Kai,” I said. “And it’s not because I think I could take her in a fight, because even though I’d bet there was some expensive storebought magic involved in her taking out the elves, I wouldn’t bet on her not having access to it if she attacked me. But Kai… Kai is probably the most sensible, reasonable, sane person on campus. Maybe she’s got good reasons to resent me, but she doesn’t have any good reason to attack me, and she knows that.”


“You don’t like her because you don’t like violence, and especially killing,” I said. “But she didn’t kill anyone. Yes, okay, I’m not stupid. I know that was some kind of crazy ninja shit she pulled, and that’s the kind of thing that lends itself to lethal violence… but she went out of her way to leave everyone alive, even though that was probably harder.”

“True, but…”

Then it fell into place. I’d said that Amaranth was usually tolerant to a fault, but everybody had their biases.

“Amaranth, you always get on my case for having a chip on my shoulder against fighters,” I said.

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly call her a fighter, per se. Would you? Fighters usually stand and fight.”

“It’s not like knowing how to stab people in the back means she’s going to go around doing it,” I said. “I spent an hour a day last semester learning how to fight, and fight pretty viciously… and you were all in favor of that. If Coach Callahan didn’t focus on sneak attacks, it’s probably only because they don’t help you when the situation is already out of your control. She definitely doesn’t have a moral objection to ambush tactics.”

“You have a point… I just… I think it takes a sneaky mindset to do that kind of thing,” Amaranth said. “I guess I don’t trust that.”

“Well, I doubt you’ll have to,” I said. “I have the impression she still doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. Otherwise she would have stepped forward and just asked to join Glory’s court now. The way she was talking, I think she’s looking ahead to when Sooni graduates and heads home.”

“But she would have to go with her, wouldn’t she?” Amaranth said. “She’s here on a student visa, and I have to imagine Sooni’s father had something to do with that.”

“Yeah, but why couldn’t she stay on as a graduate student?” I said. “Even if his connections guaranteed a visa, I doubt you actually need a rich and powerful businessman to get one… and anyway, Glory might be a much smaller fish in a bigger pond, but it’s the local pond. Even if he was for some reason trying to block things on his end, I’ll bet she could counter that. I mean, there’s likely to be a fight either way, but why would she go starting it now? When Sooni’s education is finished and she doesn’t need protectors so much, her father might not even care enough to fight to keep Kai under their thumbs… that, and there’s no way Sooni would let her live alone in peace if she was still on campus.”

“It still seems like a long shot,” Amaranth said.

“Maybe it is,” I said. “But it’s her long shot. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter for the point of this discussion if her plan is feasible or not. Hell, we don’t even know how much she’s counting on it… it might not even be her only contingency. The point is that she’s got no reason to jump ship before Sooni returns to Yokan, and plenty of reason to stay where she is.”

“I suppose you’re right,” she said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t really mean to start this argument up again… I actually wanted to talk to you about something before I have to run to my next class.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“I’m not sure we have time to get into it now… I have to haul my technically perfect behind out to west campus, and you know I’m not the fastest walker,” she said. “But it’s nothing bad, and it’s about us.”

“Thank you sincerely for leading with ‘nothing bad’,” I said.

“Steff may enjoy seeing a look of pure terror on your face, but it’s not my favorite thing in the world,” Amaranth said. “Let’s talk after dinner, when neither one of us has anywhere else we need to be, okay?”

“Can you give me a hint?”

“It’s about moving things to the next level,” she said.


“Oh, I really have to go, baby, and I’m afraid if we start to get into it now I’ll get drawn in and be late,” she said. “And I can’t do that on my first day of class especially. You know how much I like to make a good impression on my instructors… bye, baby!”

She kissed me, and then was gone.

It was frustrating, but I couldn’t blame her. We were towards the northeastern extreme of campus, and west campus was… west. It was also true that she wasn’t the fastest walker. Her natural gait was, naturally enough, a kind of saunter. While I imagined that roughly half of the student body would regard it as a public service if she ran the class, I had a feeling that kind of display would be one of the few things she might do that would strike her as undignified. Her body was athletic enough, but she didn’t exactly have the skill when it came to running.

Still, I couldn’t help wishing she wouldn’t have mentioned there was anything to talk about, if she wasn’t going to talk about it right then. It turned out that saying there was nothing bad wasn’t enough to actually cut off the chain of thought in my head that led around in downward-sloping circles. Amaranth liked to a put a positive spin on things, after all, so maybe “nothing bad” meant nothing she couldn’t put a happy spin on… and she could find the good in just about anything.

She’d certainly found enough of it in me.

I couldn’t imagine what level she might be referring to. We lived together… or at least, roomed together. I doubted she was thinking about getting a place off-campus.

Marriage was out of the question for multiple reasons, and if any of my partners were going to press me for exclusivity, it certainly wouldn’t be her. She tried… with varying levels of success… not to evangelize, but I was pretty sure she regarded monogamy as an awkward phase most people could be coached through.

She had talked about actually collaring me… not in a legally binding sense, obviously, but a privately formal and deeply personal one. She abhorred slavery, and so did I… and no matter how much I loved and trusted someone I wasn’t in a hurry to give anyone that kind of power over me.

That was tied up in an ongoing process she’d devised, though, and we weren’t anywhere close to finishing it.

If it wasn’t that, though, what could it be?

Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!

14 Responses to “Chapter 297: A Gentle Awakening”

  1. Glenn says:

    I wonder how many weeks AE will spend on chapters reintroducing the main characters? Steph, Ian, Glory, Dee, Nicki and probably Hazel seem very likely, so that’s three weeks at least. But will other characters like the Owl Turtle, Goldman and Callahan also get a chapter?

    Current score: 3
    • Hollowgolem says:

      At least there’s some exposition and forward motion of the plot interspersed with the reintroductions.

      Current score: 3
      • zeel says:

        Plus a lot of the minor details are being reiterated more directly. Amaranths glasses do get explained before… if one were paying attention. This chapter lays it out more clearly, which I think is one of the points of the reintroductions – there are so many little mysteries that got thrown in and were never concluded… they just weren’t important enough.

        Remember Kai’s hands? We never did find out why they were bandaged up. All the clues were there, but AFAWK Mackenzie still never figured it out. But… it wasn’t really important, which is why the chapter commentaries actually tell us: the hair was removed alchemically in an accident. Fur can’t be “healed” but it can be “regrown” for a price.

        I expect that, should we meet Sooni, this might be explained. And other stuff like that may as well. Perhaps Puddys strength and lock negating too…

        Current score: 1
        • Mike Conner says:

          Wasn’t Sooni trying to declaw Kai so she’d be a better Baby Kai-Kai? I’m pretty sure it was in an Other Tale with the other 2 nekos talking about it.

          Current score: 2
          • zeel says:

            Nope, that was a common reader guess though.

            The chapter 15 commentary available in the Ebook version (Amazon) explains it. Sooni, who Mackenzie repeatedly points out as having incredibly smooth skin, uses depilation ointment to remove her fur. Kai was applying it for her, and accidentally gets it on her hands. Sooni uses the bandages to cover up the lack of fur.

            Presumably Sooni likes that her Neko’s are furry, but wants to appear more human herself, so she removes her own fur (and uses glamour) to appear less fox like. But if Kai walks around with hairless hands, people might figure that out somehow – so she makes her cover them until the fur grows back. She couldn’t get them “healed” since there was no injury. And the free healthcare wouldn’t have covered getting the fur regrown magically.

            Current score: 2
        • Lucy says:

          it’s not just that, Mack is identifying and recognizing stuff that we only know from the other tales

          Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      Well, not all of them need to be filled in in one block. The ROTT, and Callahan especially might not really get intro chapters anytime soon. She is done with combat class, and who knows if she is still dealing with The ROTT.

      My predicted order: Ian, Steff, Glory, Niki, Dee/Hazel, ROTT, Callahan.

      Unless she runs into any of them before dinner, she will probably intro those first four there. Dee and Hazel will probably be either at dinner as well, or run into in the dorm later. ROTT will probably be this night if it’s going to be important anytime soon. Callahan… Well I don’t know how she will continue in the story at this point.

      Current score: 0
    • Melki says:

      It’s kind of like when your favorite 21 minute-long anime spends the first 7 minutes on recap. :/ you can’t complain too much because there’s new stuff, but you have to wonder why that choice was made.

      Current score: 1
  2. Davis88 says:

    “While I imagined that roughly half of the student body would regard it as a public service if she ran the class”

    Given the context I’m thinking that should be “ran TO class” rather than “ran THE class”. Though both would probably be considered public services by substantial parts of the student body.

    Current score: 2
  3. Zathras IX says:

    Both gentlemen and
    Some ladies make passes at
    Nymphs who wear glasses

    Current score: 2
  4. Nocker says:

    You know, I think this kind of shows how Amaranth has developed over the last couple of years.

    Back when Iona was a serious threat she wouldn’t take the idea seriously even with Mackenzie’s life being directly threatened. Now with Kai being even an indirect threat she’s begun to see exactly what kind of a risk everything has, especially for those who can’t just heal instantly like she can.

    Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      It’s a strange reversal that’s for certain.

      Current score: 0
      • Nocker says:

        Really I’ll take this Amaranth out of that one. Anything that stops Mackenzie from being a passive victim in her own story and gets her towards actually making active choices instead of being wholly reactionary.

        Current score: 1