Chapter 315: Staying In Line

on June 14, 2016 in Volume 2 Book 10: Lucky Thing, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which The Unrecognizable Is Recognized

Our encounter upstairs at the party that night really did open up some new vistas for Glory and myself, though we wound up exploring them in a predictably halting fashion. It was perhaps easier to throw yourself wholeheartedly into the throes of passion when you had a couple really hot other people there distracting you from what you were doing.

Hazel had left by the time we collected ourselves enough to return to the party, or else I might have asked for a closer look at her new lucky charm. I had promised that I would ask someone with proper grown-up qualifications about it, and while I agreed one hundred percent with Steff that none of us were the ones to handle it, I thought it would be useful if I could give said responsible authority figure as much information as possible.

I mean, I did have basically two years’ worth of academic and practical experience working with enchantments, and a decent repertoire of divinatory tricks and techniques for teasing out the nature of an item… okay, so maybe that sounds like it’s edging into the territory of thinking that I could handle it myself, but I did know my limits. I hadn’t been planning on trying to unravel its bindings myself.

Anyway, it was a moot point, as Hazel wasn’t there, and besides, the main reason I’d wanted a better look at it was just to get a better look at it. When Glory had said she was sure Hazel hadn’t picked it up in her house, it had started a chain of thought in the back of my head about other places she might have picked it up.

It was too big for a gnome, and so my head had immediately defaulted to “human”, which was probably a mistake. Humans were far from the only folk larger than gnomes, much less the only ones with thicker fingers. Dwarves sort of defined the cusp between the wee folk and the big folk, but they weren’t built like tall gnomes or short humans, they were dwarves, and they were built like dwarves, which was to say they were built. Or hewn. Solid and big, relative to humans, across every dimension except for one.

It was hard to say, only having seen it hanging from Hazel’s neck, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought the ring would likely be too large for my hand, or even Amaranth’s or Ian’s. It might fit just fine on a dwarf’s finger, though. The chunky design was certainly in keeping with what I knew of the typical dwarven aesthetic.

Hazel having a dwarven ring wasn’t surprising. She was involved with a dwarf, and had been for most of her academic career at this point. I didn’t think Andreas had given the ring to her, as I couldn’t imagine why she wouldn’t just say so if there wasn’t either a mental compulsion or some guilty secret associated with it.

But Underhall, the cavern complex in which the dwarven students resided, was older than Magisterius University, and much older than the campus in its current incarnation.

As far as I knew, Hazel still spent more time in Underhall than she did at Glory’s house. She’d made no secret of preferring the food at their parties to the fare at Glory’s.

I had some mixed memories of my one and only time at a dwarven party, and even if those memories hadn’t involved toothy and secretly murderous mermaids biting down hard on sensitive parts of my anatomy, the secrecy requirements the dwarves required of their guests were enough to keep me from accepting the few subsequent invitations I’d received.

Hazel, though, was intimately involved with a standing resident of the Underhall. While I doubted that involved a free pass to come and go as she pleased, it was not hard to imagine that she might have found some time to poke around in the forgotten corners and abandoned passageways. Dwarves weren’t overly fond of people going through their things, but Hazel was easy to overlook… and she had a fair number of them cowed besides.

I didn’t flatter myself to believe that I was any kind of expert in jewelry or dwarven design, but I thought if I could have a look at the ring up close it might be obvious enough that I could move it definitively into a column marked either dwarven or not, which could affect my choice of who I went to with the problem.

I didn’t actually know any experts on curses, per se, but there were a handful of professors I thought I had a good enough relationship with to come to with a problem that had nothing to do with my education, and who I could trust to handle something like this with discretion and sensitivity. One of them, Professor Stone, was a dwarf.

He wouldn’t be my first choice, as I didn’t have as strong a personal “in” with him as some others and he was more of an artisan and aesthete than a mage. But if the ring was dwarven? He might know something about its nature just based on the design.

With Hazel out of the building, though, my most natural chance to get in close and sneak a peek was gone. We did live on the same floor of the same residence hall, but she lived on the other side of the sprawling, occasionally subtly shifting tower layout. I could easily go a week without really seeing her, especially since her shared suite was usually full of war gamers.

So I knew where to find her, but not how to approach her in a natural fashion, and I was dead certain that anything that aroused her suspicion or put her on the defensive would make it harder for anyone to help her.

I did my best to enjoy the party, though the opportunity I felt I’d missed gnawed at me, eating away in bits at the lingering pleasure of my time with Amaranth, Steff, and Glory. Steff liked to say that the mark of good sex was that you could still feel it after it was over, and I definitely felt what she’d done to me… just like every time I looked over at Glory, I could tell she still felt what we’d done to each other.

Well, not just like. I mean, my ass hurt. Glory just seemed to be feeling a series of twitchy aftershocks of pleasure.

Glory had not bothered to get dressed, which meant Amaranth was now following her around with her gauzy dress, pouting that she had the opportunity to wear it but wasn’t.

Like I said at the start of this, it was a pretty normal Saturday night.

The day that followed was pretty blessedly typical, too. Amaranth and I went to hang out at the library, something that had long been one of my favorite ways to pass a Sunday.

Most of my classes had assigned absolutely nothing to do yet for the second half of the semester, but the more technical and demanding ones had already laid out our final papers, and I was determined to get a jump on them.

Of course, I could enjoy a weekend library trip with or without any official reason to be there… actually, now that I thought about it, it was pretty much the only place on campus where I could feel comfortable without worrying about whether I was supposed to be there. The vast majority of the buildings were technically open to the public, to say nothing of students, but I never just wandered into the athletic center or the music center to see what was going on or to use their facilities. I only went when a class took me there, or when there was both a specific event to attend and someone had specifically asked me to go there.

“You know, you’re still walking funny,” Amaranth said.

“I didn’t think it was noticeable,” I said.

“Well, you’re not exactly bow-legged. To anyone else, anyone who doesn’t know?” she said. “It would just look like you’ve got a bit of swagger in your hips.”

“But you know,” I said.

“I know,” she said, and her lips pulled into a smile that sent a twitchy spasm through the core of my being.

As much as I wouldn’t want it every day, I had to admit that I did enjoy sex you could still feel the next day. I preferred it on Saturday, though, so I had a full day to recover before I had to walk to a bunch of classes. No matter how subtle the change in my posture and gait might have been, it was hard to believe that no one who saw me would notice and put it together… I mean, I know from long experience that people tended to see less of me and pay less attention to me than it felt like, but it felt how it felt.

Things were back to normal in that department by the time Monday morning rolled around, for which I was profoundly grateful. It was already awkward enough doing the walk of… well, not exactly shame, but it was definitely somewhat shame-esque… without me going to talk to professors one on one.

The first person I wanted to talk to had office hours on Monday at one, which worked out well for me. I liked to arrange my classes as much as I could with a big long gap between the morning and afternoon ones… I would so much rather keep going to classes into the early evening than have to hurry through lunch.

Professor Elizabeth Bohd was not only not an expert in curses, she was not an enchanter of any stripe. She was an elementalist, and an extremely talented and disciplined one. She had a very professional, no-nonsense approach to class, and possibly everything else.

I also knew her to be even-handed, fair, and extremely discreet. She had some distant demonic ancestry, among other things floating around in her family tree. I didn’t know that she’d know what to do about a likely cursed item being in the hands of a student in terms of a plan of action, but I trusted to listen to my concerns and give me some advice about who to talk to and what to expect.

I didn’t bother making an appointment, as I figured that her office would be as dead as the library had been. Mid-terms were over, finals were a quarter away, and it was still days early for anybody to be protesting their mid-term grades. What was there to talk about?

But she was shut up in her inner office with a student and there were three others sitting outside.

Well, I couldn’t complain too much because they were probably actually her students. However pressing my errand might be, grades mattered, too.

I sat down next to the third student in line, a white human-presenting boy with spiky, blond-tipped hair. There were just enough chairs for the four of us, the kind of none-too-comfortable, straight-backed wooden chairs that institutional settings had for occasions and situations where metal folding chairs would be inappropriate.

Honestly, the metal chairs would have been more comfortable. They at least had some kind of contouring, at least acknowledged that the average person was not made out of perpendicular boards.

I was in the process of wondering what I would do if another of Professor Bohd’s students showed up, if it would be the right thing to do to give up my seat and place in line, when the door opened and a girl walked out, seeming near tears. The professor called the next student in.

“I can’t believe this bullshit,” the guy next to me said in the whispering tone of someone who aggressively does not care who actually hears. “Can you?”

“What bullshit?” I said.

He did a double take.

“You’re not in Elem 314?”

“No,” I said.

“Don’t take it,” he said. “Change majors. It’s a bunch of bullshit. She said the test was open notes, and then she pulls this shit? Bunch of bullshit.”

“I’m sure,” I said. I didn’t tell him that I wasn’t majoring in elementalism and had no reason to ever take a three hundred level course in it. At that point, I’d already exchanged more words with him than I cared to.

The basics of elemental magic provided for some good solid hard wizardry courses for enchanters, but elemental enchantment was such a specialized field that you basically couldn’t break into it without a doctorate, and I just wasn’t that interested.

Before too long, the door opened and the second student came up. Professor Bohd started to call the next one in line, but then her eyes flicked to me. I saw her look at me in puzzlement, and then recognition.

“Ms. Mackenzie?” she said.

It was very definitely a question. Well, I did look a bit different from the mop-topped pile of grungy laundry who had taken her evocation class during my freshman year, or even the slightly more polished person who had come to her on a sensitive matter the semester before.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Is everything alright?”

“I think so?” I said. “I mean, I wanted to talk to you about something, but…”

“Please come in.”

“I don’t want to cut in front of your students,” I said.

“They can wait,” she said, in a tone that made me think she was glad to have an excuse to make them. The Professor Bohd I knew could be harsh, but was never pointlessly cruel.

For a moment I was deeply worried about what was going on with her, but then it came to me: cheating. That’s what the guy had meant with his comments about open notes. Someone had gotten a hold of a copy of a test or something, and spread it around… and the poor assholes waiting in front of me had used it, and possibly worse, tried to justify its use to her.

Yeah, that would just about account for her attitude.

“I’m really sorry to be bothering you…” I said as we headed inside her office.

“I know you wouldn’t if it wasn’t important,” she said. “Shut the door behind you, and take all the time you need. Believe me when I say there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing at a moment right now than helping a good student who works hard and takes her studies seriously.”

I believed her.

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16 Responses to “Chapter 315: Staying In Line”

  1. Leishycat says:

    Some students gonna get dunked on.

    Also, I might just be used to Mackenzie being oblivious after reading this story for what, nine years, and expect her to be doing so again, but… Couldn’t the ring be something that Hazel doesn’t want to talk about openly but ISN’T sinister? Like, an engagement ring or something?

    Current score: 1
    • Anthony says:

      Ooo! A cursed dwarven engagement ring! (Because why shouldn’t it be both?) 😀

      Current score: 2
    • Adele says:

      I don’t think there is reasonable chance of it just being private. For one thing, Hazel is quite comfortable saying “yeah, it’s new, and it’s none of yer business thanks.”

      But more suggestively, the ring had the same influence on Hazel as Glory. They both desired it more than they wanted to admit, and Glory was also tempted to lie about her feelings about the ring to the group.

      It might just be chance that it touched Hazel and Glory, but just in case, let’s look at the two of them in parallel…
      Both tops within their relationships (and naturally dominant)
      Both cis female
      Both have made a conscious choice to remove themselves from the petty rivalries/bigotries of their racial communities.

      Current score: 3
      • Nocker says:

        I don’t think we’ve really seen much of Hazel’s relationship. Unless I’m missing something Hazel and Andreas’s relationship is VASTLY different from Glory and Mack’s. They mostly seem to keep seperate lives and don’t really stress over power struggles. So if one of them is considered the dominant one it’s probably not by enough of a degree to catch a magical effect super strongly.

        Both are also rebelling in highly different ways. Glory is more active but she cleaves a bit closer to being an elf in general, just hating one specific part and engaging it on her own terms. Hazel meanwhile just quietly washed her hands of the whole affair and has an alltogether seperate life now.

        Then you have the fact that a magic ring that ONLY targets cis people or females in a way like this is kind of far fetched. I can’t really think of an obvious goal in restricting it in such a way and the far more likley scenario is that basically everyone there was female and the majority of them were cis. There was never really a point where we see any kind of man interact with it and while Steff coveted it, neither did any of the dozens of other cis females in the room in any real way.

        Current score: 0
    • Erm says:

      It’s possible, but Hazel’s a pretty honest and private person, and knows her friends know it. If she’d simply said “not your business”, her friends would have likely just let it rest and not immediately suspected her of wrong-doing or being under a curse.

      So why did she get defensive and come up with an unlikely story that only raised their suspicions? I’d conclude “sinister” just because of that.

      Current score: 0
  2. Nezeltha says:

    Elem 314 in chapter 314? Did anyone else notice that?

    Current score: 5
  3. Tierhon says:

    Hehe, with the Dwarven attitude regarding theft it is possibly both, but whether given or found an anti-theft curse wouldn’t activate because she didn’t steal it.

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      We don’t know that “found” doesn’t count as stolen. However, I get the impression that dwarfs use for more direct theft prevention. This kind of things seems more sinister, the ring wants to be taken, to be held, to be worn.

      Current score: 1
    • Nocker says:

      She said she found it at Harlowe’s old frat house and I’d almost expect she did. It’d be a really dangerous lie to make up for no reason. After all, telling someone who owns property that you were skulking around there and took something without asking is risky, even if it’s yours on a technicality. Especially if they could ask for it back, as Hazel actually expected her to.

      Remember it’s an old frat house adjacent to HARLOWE, and Dwarves, like frat boys, like to throw parties. It could very well have belonged to a Dwarf, Dwarf-blood, or anyone else with thick fingers who was just around.

      Current score: 0
      • Chris says:

        If I had to pose a theory, I’d guess it to be a thief catching ring.

        You stash it with your valuables, and the curse causes it to be highly desirable… the thief takes it, and wants to wear it and keep it… and if you know it to be a thief catching ring, it makes it much easier to catch a thief.

        She may have been somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be, and found the ring… and couldn’t resist taking it (ie. the curse).

        Sure… the dwarves are really harsh in their handling of thieves and protections from them… but that doesn’t mean they can’t throw some subtlety in there to catch those that slip through.

        Current score: 3
  4. Rms2000 says:

    Can you even have a Pi Elemental? What would it do?

    Also, supposing that the ring was cursed, shouldn’t have size-matching as well, since a curse is a form of enchantment and almost all enchanted rings are sizeless (or size non-specific)? If THAT’s the case, perhaps Hazel’s choosing to wear the ring on her neck for some other reason.

    Perhaps the ring was made specifically for dwarves (or some other large-fingered race. In that case, it may match size only with dwarven fingers. It’s even vaguely possible that it’s a cursed dwarven ring made to be untransferrable to other dwarves (possibly with the exception of inheritance), and it was given to Hazel to circumvent it’s power.

    Of course, if Hazel truly did pick it up in some forgotten corner of Underhall, it could be The One Ring. But probably not. Probably.

    Current score: 0
    • Nocker says:

      A curse isn’t an enchantment, since the kind of people who can do curses can’t generally do enchantment, unless maybe it was a diabolist but we don’t know much about what they do. Pureblood demons can’t enchant(maybe, it’s not explicit but I think it was implied. Demons have some kind of infernally tainted arcane power but they’re never referenced as being wizards) and neither can full divinities, since neither can use mana or arcane magic.

      Infernal power is an entirely seperate thing from arcane power since by definition if the thing is demonic it gets it’s energy and structure from an entirely seperate universe from “our” universe, in the same sense that the gods get theirs from an entirely seperate spot even farther out.

      Current score: 1
  5. Zathras IX says:

    How long will it be
    Before everyone is after
    Hazel’s lucky charm?

    Current score: 5
  6. Zukira Phaera says:

    I wonder if Bohd isn’t stressed atm and that might not be making her hungry…. doesn’t she feed on blonde human hair?

    Current score: 0
    • Nocker says:

      Generally speaking blonde hair is easy enough to come by and she’s experienced enough with it to recognize full human from other after previous incidents. Even if she wasn’t Mackenzie was presumably on a potion that stops incidents like this even if Bohd was on the verge of an episode since she won’t register to Bohd as she otherwise would.

      Current score: 0
      • Zukira Phaera says:

        Wasn’t concerned about Mac triggering her hunger. I just was picking at the string where one of the students waiting was marked as blonde. Probably nothing, but…. perhaps this interruption also let Bohd get a handle on herself without spelling it right out.

        Current score: 1