Chapter 322: Wishing and Hoping

on July 8, 2016 in Volume 2 Book 10: Lucky Thing, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Amaranth Beds Mackenzie

Amaranth was waiting for me when I got back to the room. The almost hungry look of curiosity very quickly became one of concern when she saw my limp.

“Baby, you’re hurt!”

“Only my pride, and also my leg,” I said as she led me over to the chair and eases me into it. “But, you know, no harm done… I mean that in the sense of no injury, so nothing to heal.”

“I never like the idea of you going out after dark,” she said. “Please tell me you just tripped and banged your knee on something!”

“I didn’t even do that,” I said. “It happened in our own hall… I just ran into an irate kobold’s fist.”

“You got into a fight with Shiel?”

“Not a fight, she punched me in passing.”

“Oh, no… I know she can be touchy, but what in the world did you say to her?”

“Give me some credit! I didn’t set her off personally, I think I was just a convenient target for her frustration.”

“Wait, she punched you for no reason?” Amaranth said. “Are we sure she isn’t under some malign influence?”

I hadn’t thought of that… but in my defense, pain was distracting.

“Could be,” I said. “But I think maybe she just genuinely doesn’t know how to deal with a world where Hazel can beat her at Soldier Stones.”

“Oh, now… Hazel has been playing as long as anyone else who didn’t grow up with it,” Amaranth said. “I think she was probably due for a win.”

“Really?” I said. “Against Shiel?”

“…no, but I would like to think she could have won on her own.”

“But you don’t think that.”

“…no,” she said. She sighed. “No, I really don’t. Poor dear… both of them. What did the professor have to say?”

“A lot about dwarven customs and exciting new alloys,” I said. “Not much about curses. I mean, he did confirm my analysis that the ring was just a ring. He has some super serious detection spells protecting his workspace, which it didn’t trip, and he looked at it pretty up close and personal. He said it is dwarven, and that the ring was probably a romantic gift.”

“That certainly makes sense,” Amaranth said. “I mean, for why Hazel had it, not for anything else. ”

“I gave it back to her,” I said. “I’m more sure than ever that something is both manipulating her actions and creating fortunate outcomes for her. I think it gave her the idea to give me the ring so we’d stop digging.”

“But… that doesn’t make any sense, when you think about it,” Amaranth said. “I mean, her giving you the ring was just more strangeness, which sort of demanded we look into it? And then that just raises more questions than answers, and now she’s got to explain why she gave it to you… what did she say?”

“Basically? She didn’t like the attention,” I said. “Which I think might have been the curse’s reason… and you’re right, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, from our point of view as reasoning beings. But if we’re talking about something that has interests and objectives and maybe emotions but is not really fully sentient, or doesn’t have the same complexity of thought… the ring was attracting dangerous attention, so it jettisons the ring in the direction of whatever’s hunting you. It’s a logical step, if you don’t know anything about the broader situation, or how people behave.”

“I suppose,” Amaranth said. “So, you’re thinking it’s less an entity and more just, what, a set of linked spells?”

“It could be a fraction of an entity, like the demonic fragment that was in my pitchfork,” I said. “Or an immature one? I don’t know. Maybe it’s wrong to rely on my intuition when we’re talking about a subject I don’t know anything about, but the idea that it could be be afraid of attention sounds to me more like an actual mind. I just think it has limited information or limited ability to reason, or both.”

“The other question I have is why the ring attracted attention,” Amaranth said. She crinkled her nose and tugged at her lip. “If it wasn’t magical or cursed. Could the magical trace you detected have done that?”

“I guess it’s possible that it could have done almost anything, given that I couldn’t get a good enough look at it to figure out what it did,” I said. “But on the other hand, I’d think that trace would have been a lot less subtle if it had been making the ring more noticeable.”

“I wonder… oh!” Amaranth said. “So, it was definitely a gift from Andreas? Something signifying a cementing of their relationship, like an engagement ring?”

“Not quite at that level,” I said. “Professor Stone said it was basically a promise ring, but maybe a step more serious than that without being an actual engagement ring?”

“And how long do you think Hazel was carrying it around before anyone said anything?” Amaranth said.

“Well, she said she had it for midterms,” I said. “So, a few days at least.”

“But do you remember seeing her wearing it?”

“…no, but that’s not conclusive,” I said. “I can go days without seeing Hazel, even when she eats lunch with us. And I think everybody without elven blood is even worse at noticing her than I am.”

“So put yourself in Hazel’s… foot position,” Amaranth said. “You got a ring from your boyfriend, and you’ve been flaunting it, but no one’s said anything about it, and what’s the point of having a visual indicator of your relationship status if no one’s talking about it?”

“You’re saying that from her point of view, it would be lucky for us to notice it?” I said.

“Maybe she thinks it’s luck, but it’s less about luck and more about… having things her way,” Amaranth said.

> Untitled

She frowned, deep in thought again, and tugged on a strand of her hair, twirling it around her finger.

“What are you thinking?” I asked her.

“I’m wondering if the battle actually went well for Hazel, or if it just went very poorly for Shiel,” Amaranth said. “Because if the thing in question can’t figure out a more complex strategy than getting her to give away her relationship symbol to deflect suspicion, how would it nudge her into the winning moves?”

“Easier to make Shiel lose,” I said. “You don’t have to understand anything to make the wrong move.”

“And it would certainly go a long way towards explaining why she would be so upset, don’t you think?” Amaranth asked. “I mean, when do we ever get madder than when we’re mad at ourselves?”

“She could have punched herself,” I said.

“At least you know she didn’t do any permanent damage,” Amaranth said.

“She didn’t do any damage, but that’s not the point,” I said. “It’s a nice theory, but I’m not sure Shiel’s going to be in any mood to confirm it.”

“If I’m right, then Shiel’s setback is likely to be pretty small potatoes in the grand scheme of things,” Amaranth said. “Hazel was pretty confident about her exams… do you think whatever she’s dealing with was whispering the right answers to her?”

“Well, giving everybody else the wrong answers wouldn’t help her, unless all her teachers grade on a curve,” I said.

“No, but it could convince whoever’s grading the exams that her answers are right,” Amaranth said. “Which would make some number of actual correct answers seem wrong.”

“I think it would be easier to just make them ignore her mistakes,” I said.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Amaranth said. “That would certainly be the better way to go about it, but we’re not dealing with something that can predict and account for the unintended consequences. Anyway, if it’s keyed to Hazel’s will? She wouldn’t be thinking the graders should ignore her mistake, she would be thinking her answers were right.”

I considered it, and realized that what she was saying made a lot of sense. There was still one anomaly, though, that couldn’t be explained just by assuming we were dealing with a naive or simple entity.

“Okay, but the thing that still doesn’t make sense is how Hazel reacted when we noticed the ring,” I said. “If it’s all about what she wants, and she wanted us to notice, it would have been so she could brag about it, show it off. But instead, she immediately gets super shifty about it, and that more than anything is what made us all suspicious.”

“Well, again, if the ring… not the ring, the curse, entity, or whatever… if the thing can’t foresee consequences, it wouldn’t have known that,” Amaranth said.

“But there’s still the completely unnecessary step of making her lie.”

“I think… I think that must have been the first step in its panicking,” she said.

“So it would obey her desire to make us look at the ring, but then immediately regret that we did? Why even do it in the first place?”

“Well, if it can’t understand consequences, why wouldn’t it? It didn’t know it would regret it.”

“But what’s the regret? That it came on too strong?”

“I don’t know,” Amaranth said. “But I feel like this is an explanation that at least accounts for everything we know, and it just has that as an unanswered question and not a piece that doesn’t add up?”

“It would be hard to verify,” I said. “I mean, do you want to try asking her teachers about unexpected bad grades, or just surveying all the domestic arts students to find ones in her class who got marked down for things they’re sure got right.”

“We won’t have to ask all of them,” Amaranth said. “She doesn’t take any core classes that Two’s not also in, and you know darn well that Two will know whether she got an answer right or wrong, and that she won’t take it lying down if someone tells her otherwise.”

“…unless a simple yet dangerous if not malignant entity is influencing her to do otherwise,” I said. “It might not have a lot of foresight, but it can sure move to protect itself.”

“I’m not sure that would work out well for it, though?” Amaranth said. “I mean, as much as Two was literally built for obedience, her mind is still highly axiomatic, and it just doesn’t work along quite the same lines as most of ours. If something puts a suggestion in your head or my head, we’ll try to make sense of it and wind up incorporating it into our own thoughts, right?”

“I’m aware of how telepathic tampering works, thank you,” I said.

“Sorry, baby, of course you are,” she said. “But… Two’s mind… I really think she’d know a thought that originated with her from one that didn’t, and behave accordingly. Even if something was forcing her to act on a suggestion, I think we’d know. You remember back when she was more fixated on orders, she’d still follow ones she didn’t like, but she’d always find a way to let you know?”

“You have a point,” I said. “So, we just have to wait for her grades to come back and we’ll know more. What do we do in the meantime?”

“Take it easy, baby,” Amaranth said. “You’ve probably got the pain equivalent of a fractured kneecap. I honestly don’t see how you’re going to make it to classes tomorrow.”

“What? I haven’t missed any classes this semester yet,” I said. “It’ll hurt less in the morning.”

“Less, maybe, but if I’ve seen injuries like the one you’ve avoided and I’d bet you anything it will still hurt, and if you walk on it, it’ll hurt more,” she said. “You need to stay off of it until the pain disappears completely. I prescribe bed rest.”

“You’re not a healer,” I said.

“In point of fact, I am,” she said, tilting her head to look at me over the tops of her glasses. “And if I can’t heal your non-existent injury, missy, I have still been picking you up after falls long enough to know how this works. You could be limping around for days if you don’t give it a chance to fade fully.”

“But even if I am, there’s still not going to be any permanent damage,” I said.

“But you can’t limp forever, and sooner or later you’re going to have to go easy long enough to recover,” she said. “Better to do it now than later in the semester, or when there’s some emergency. I know how important your grades are, but I also know you can afford to miss a day. Your grades and your teachers will both forgive you. Now, the next words out of your mouth should be ‘yes’ and ‘ma’am’, in that order… followed by ‘thank you, ma’am’. Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, lowering my head. “Thank you, ma’am.”

“Good girl,” she purred. “I’ll help you to bed.”

She did, and as I was getting settled, she said, “I know that your own well-being isn’t always the strongest motivator for you, but I just thought of another reason for you to rest up now and recover sooner rather than later.”

“What’s that?”

“Glory’s going to want you again before too terribly long.”

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11 Responses to “Chapter 322: Wishing and Hoping”

  1. Leishycat says:

    > Untitled?

    Current score: 2
  2. Zathras IX says:

    When do we ever
    Get madder than when we get
    Angry with ourselves?”

    Current score: 6
  3. fionag11 says:

    Wow, if Shiel incapacitated the invulnerable half-demon she could have permanantly crippled anyone else. Knee injuries are very nasty about coming back to haunt you for the rest of your life.

    “Excuse me” doesn’t really cut it.

    Current score: 8
    • Nocker says:

      Small knuckles with enough force hurt worse than big ones, due to surface area and whatnot. A solid iron punch, even without a full humans body mass, at that level and a bad angle, would still hurt.

      On one hand, Dwarves and Kobolds are also reinforced at that point, so Shiel simply wouldn’t know that much about human types being vulnerable there if she weren’t a fighter or anatomy type. On the other, she’s been on the surface a while and really should know better.

      ToMU has a lot of nonhumans take very serious injuries that’d permanently cripple a normal human, and give them besides, or kill them before emergency treatment. Healing magic does wonders but a lot of it really does come down to the fact that humans don’t play nearly so rough casually as a lot of other groups and it’s basically a matter of time before Ian or Rowan or Nikki or some other regular joe gets bitten by a goblinoid or takes them at a bad angle and gets taken out of commission in a far worse way.

      Current score: 2
      • Grant says:

        Your physics is off a little. When two masses collide the transferral of force occurs at the point of impact. When the surface area of impact is small the force per area is larger, which is the effect to which you are referring. The thing is, a larger mass with the same velocity would apply more force anyway.

        Current score: 0
        • Drake says:

          Guys, you’re applying scientific principles to a world that explicitly doesn’t work that way.

          This whole thing seems unlike how Mack experiences pain. An impact hurts, but when there’s no damage there, it doesn’t tend to linger. In this case it IS lingering, so I suspect there IS damage. Which, if it is true, can only mean exactly one thing: Shiel’s fist was magic when she punched Mack.

          So my guess is whatever magic or entity or curse they’re dealing with has jumped to Shiel for the moment. That, or she recently held the mystery magic source in her hand long enough that the lingering aura of it on her hand was strong enough to bypass half-demon invulnerability. Or she was hiding it in her fist as she swung, which would imply that it’s small enough fit comfortably in a kobold fist without showing.

          Current score: 1
          • Maculategiraffe says:

            I think you’re mistaken– first, Amaranth doesn’t seem to see any discrepancy between what’s happening here (the “pain equivalent” of an injury requiring rest and recovery) and the way she expects Mackenzie’s invulnerability to work, and second, we have seen pain from spankings and sex linger for Mackenzie, to the point where she has trouble sitting or walking normally the next day.

            It doesn’t make much sense, but as you say, the world of MU doesn’t work according to scientific (or, necessarily, predictable or logical) rules.

            Current score: 2
        • Nocker says:

          I am making a few assumptions about what shiels fist looks like but I assume that like a lot of knuckles there’s something of a point to it. Proportionately that point will be smaller and finer. There may be less mass but the power is in an area significantly smaller.

          Current score: 0
  4. Lane says:


    Current score: 0
  5. Mike Conner says:

    This just feels like they’re making something out of nothing to me.

    Current score: 1
  6. Mundane says:

    The magic is connected to the chain the ring was on.

    This is why a tiny bit of magic was left on the ring when it was examined. It was from the contract with the chain.

    This is why the attention on the ring was a problem at the party as it was also on the chain.

    This is why Hazel did not put the ring back on the chain.

    Current score: 0