8 – 5

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“I can’t believe she scratched me,” Gabe said, for far from the first time. He was rubbing at his throat with one hand, despite the fact that he had healed the tiny pinpricks as soon as they had been inflicted in a rather excessive display of divine light. “How is everyone always scratching or stabbing or breaking me? Why do I even bother being an invulnerable half-demon if everybody gets a free shot?!”

“I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that you continually seek out and provoke the only people wherever you are who can actually do these things to you,” Toby said mildly.

“You make it sound like I have a death wish,” Gabriel grumbled. “I’m unlucky and dense, not suicidal.”

“I honestly can’t decide which would put you in more danger,” said Trissiny.

“And for the record! I did nothing to antagonize Ruda, she’s just a bi—a jerk,” he finished, glancing guiltily at Trissiny.

“I give you credit for the effort,” she said dryly.

Gabriel cleared his throat. “Sorry. Habits. But seriously, how Ekoi managed to scratch me is a pertinent question.”

“She’s a kitsune,” Fross explained, fluttering over to hover between them. “A potentially very powerful kind of fairy from Sifan. It’s actually really rare to see one outside their home country; they don’t like to travel. But then I guess it’s no surprise that Professor Tellwyrn has friends everywhere.”

“Maybe that means Professor Yornhaldt will come back soon,” Trissiny murmured.

“Be that as it may,” November chimed in, bodily inserting herself into the conversation, “whatever Gabriel did doesn’t justify a professor assaulting a student!”

“I actually think Professor Tellwyrn will agree with you on that,” said Shaeine from the sidelines. “Regardless of the very slight nature of the injury, she has strict rules about such things. If this has not been brought to her attention, I suggest we do so. If Professor Ekoi is as potent a force as Fross implies, it is doubtless best if she is prevented from making a habit of corporal punishment.”

“That’ll be an interesting conversation,” Toby said fatalistically. “Tellwyrn doesn’t have a high opinion of tattletales, even when they’re in the right.”

“Tellwyrn’s opinions are irrational and arbitrary,” Trissiny snorted. “The rules are the rules; she made them. November and Shaeine are right: Ekoi cannot get away with this.”

The handful of other students present simply stood at the periphery of the room, watching November and the sophomores in silence, several with frowns or raised eyebrows in response to tales of the new magical sciences teacher sinking her claws into Gabriel.

They were meeting in Martial Spell Lab 3, an octagonal room attached to the gymnasium, with a padded floor and enormous plate glass windows for three of its wall sections, which looked out over the prairie to the east. That glass, however, was no less fragile than the stone which comprised the rest of the room, and all of it would stand up to mag artillery fire. This was one of the chambers in which spell combat was taught and practiced; the defensive charms covering every inch of the room were the best that could be had. Allegedly they’d only needed to be replaced three times since the University’s founding, which was impressive considering the nature of the student body.

Further discussion was interrupted by the arrival of Professor Harklund through the door opening onto the main gymnasium. He was a man in his middle years, with the receding hairline and expanding waistline to prove it, but his jowly face carried a smile, as it habitually did. Despite his Stalweiss surname, he had the dark complexion of a Westerner. He dressed in traditional wizard robes of plain blue, a custom so outdated as to be an affectation, but despite that Harklund was one of the least-mocked professors at the University. A bronze pin displaying the moon and stars sigil of Salyrene was affixed as always to the breast of his robe.

“Hello, eager learners!” he said cheerfully, sweeping his gaze across the assembled students, pausing at each of them as he did a quick mental count. Class sizes at the University were small enough that most teachers didn’t bother reading names off a list; they knew who to expect and could tell at a glance if someone was absent. Professor Harklund, this time, had the opposite problem. “Ah, Ms. Fross, you are not enrolled in this class. I’m afraid you don’t meet the prerequisites, my dear.”

“Yes, I know!” Fross said brightly. “I happen to have a free period now this semester and I like to study my own projects, so I wondered if you wouldn’t mind if I audit this class? I’m very interested in different methods of using magic.”

“It’s not that I mind,” the Professor replied. “I never object to students wishing to learn. This is a strictly practical class, however; we will be wielding divine energies in significant concentration every day. That is potentially injurious to fairies.”

“Oh, but—”

“And,” he interrupted gently but firmly, “any methods you might use to mitigate that risk could disrupt the actual workings of the class. If you clear it with Professor Tellwyrn and Miss Sunrunner, and get their assurance that your being here is both safe and not disruptive, I certainly don’t mind if you watch. For this session, though, I’ll have to ask you to clear the premises.”

“Okay,” Fross said rather glumly. “I’ll see you later, guys.” She fluttered to the door, which opened to admit her, then drifted gently shut once she was gone.

“Well, then!” Professor Harklund went on more briskly. “Welcome to Introductory Lightworking! This is, as I’m sure you know, a new addition to the University’s offerings. I’m sure you know this because several of you were instrumental in getting it added to the curriculum! The only firm prerequisite for enrollment in this class is an established ability to wield divine magic. An awful lot of lightwielders do nothing but call on the energy and just…spray it out, unfocused. That includes a number of fairly high-ranking priests who really have no excuse not to know better.”

“Not all cults emphasize magic use,” Trissiny said pointedly. “Salyrene is the only goddess of healing and magic; other faiths have other priorities.”

“You are correct, Ms. Avelea,” Harklund said amiably. “To put it in more Avenist terms, then, would you send any soldier onto the battlefield as poorly-trained in the use of a sword as the average Avenist cleric is in the use of the light?” He gave her a moment to consider that, just long enough for her to develop a good scowl, before continuing. “As a counter-example, Themynra’s faith is about reasoning and judgment, which has nothing to do with magic…except when it has everything to do with magic. It certainly does not show good judgment to use tools without developing skill in their use. And indeed, I understand our Ms. Awarrion has a proven facility at magical shields, is it not so?”

“I believe I have attained a certain basic competency, if I may be forgiven for boasting,” Shaeine said diffidently.

“Shaeine is modesty personified,” Gabe said with a grin. “She’s crazy good with shields.”

Professor Harklund grinned. “We’ll take the time to explore the skills each of you already have, of course. I will be demonstrating new subjects as they arise, but as I told our pixie friend just now, this is a practical class. There should be time in each class period for everyone to receive individual instruction, and you will of course be expected to practice on your own. Now then, for the most part I plan to limit my talking to explanations of specific actions I expect you to take, but I will begin our semester with this one piece of theory.”

He paused, glancing around at them with a knowing half-smile, before continuing. “The light is caught up inevitably in religious concepts, coming to us as it does through the auspices of the gods. Interestingly, even among the dwarves, who can touch the light without any god’s help, an animistic faith devoted to it is common. All this leads us to a whole slew of misconceptions about just what divine magic is, and what it does. The truth is this: the guiding principle of the divine is order.”

“I thought divine light encouraged life,” said a boy unfamiliar to the sophomores, probably one of the new freshmen.

Harklund pointed at him. “That’s one of the more common misperceptions, Mr. Mosk. It arises from confusion between the two schools of magic used for healing. It is the fae which encourages life, and the distinction between it and the divine helps illuminate—pardon the pun—their respective strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the healing arts. For example, fae healing is excellent for major tissue damage, and even can reset broken bones if the proper spells are used. However, it has a tendency to accidentally encourage conditions that are caused by an overgrowth of life where one is not wanted. Infections, viruses, cancer. Divine healing, on the other hand, attempts to restore the body to its own base state, which also serves to purge it of alien incursions. However, a simple surge of divine energy hasn’t a physical component, and thus does not repair physical disruptions in the body of a certain size or severity. For instance, if you heal someone with a bone broken and left in the wrong position, you can cripple them for life. Heal someone with a blade embedded in their organs, and you likely condemn them to an excruciating death.”

November gulped audibly. Professor Harklund nodded, his expression solemn.

“In both schools of healing there are, of course, ways around these handicaps, which is what distinguishes a true healer from someone flinging around holy light or fairy dust. Healing is not the focus of this class, though we will of course cover it in some detail later in the semester. For now, however, we’ll begin with a relatively simple form of lightworking: the manifestation of solid objects.”

He held out a hand, a golden glow springing up around him, and suddenly a long, narrow cylinder appeared in his palm, apparently made of pure light. Harklund casually twirled the radiant golden quarterstaff as he continued speaking. “Some deities, notably Avei, grant shielding as an inherent gift to their clerics. If you do not come from a deific tradition which has this ability, however, you can make a shield simply by making something solid. You can, in fact, make just about anything—with certain limitations on size and complexity. There are differences and outliers, but the rule of thumb is you can’t create any object more massive than your own body. Only rigid things can be made, nothing flexible or malleable. A light-crafted object also cannot be changed once it exists; if you want something else, you must dismiss your creation and start over. There are further limitations and provisos, but they tend to situational and can be particular to the source of your magic, so we will address those in detail at a later date.”

The staff vanished, and in the next moment he was holding a traditional leaf-bladed short sword. “I often marvel that this practice is not favored among the Sisterhood. A priestess who can do it would never be disarmed. Ah, but do please correct me if I start to wander into theology,” he said with a wink. “As I was saying earlier, it naturally comes up when we discuss the divine, but isn’t directly germane to this class. Now then, holding a physical object made of divine light requires some concentration, but much less than it takes to create it in the first place. Today we will be attempting to make a simple object—the staff, as I just demonstrated.” He did so again, first dismissing the sword. “Its very simple form is an easy first project, and it also happens to be a particularly useful thing to know. There are a thousand and one uses to which a good staff can be put. Next time we meet, we’ll start to work on holding divinely created objects in existence without focusing your whole concentration on it. The trick can be dicey to acquire initially, but I think you’ll find, once you get there, it’s quite easy. All right, then! Who would like to start?”

Gabriel and November stepped forward simultaneously, then had a short, polite scuffle as each tried to yield the floor to the other. Professor Harklund had to end it by nominating Gabriel to try, admonishing each of them to pay close attention but please not attempt to follow the instructions until he could work with them individually.

The directions given were all about focusing, concentrating and feeling, the kind of talk that was familiar to anyone experienced with using magic but quite difficult for particularly concrete thinkers to initially grasp. Gabriel went about it with a most peculiar expression, a frown of intense concentration that kept flickering into a look of pure, childlike delight.

Trissiny eased over next to Toby, who was watching with a smile. “He looks so…”

“Yeah,” Toby agreed, nodding, his smile broadening. “He does.”

Gabriel’s lesson was interrupted by a yelp from November, who had manifested a golden quarterstaff in her hand, positioned so that she clocked herself in the head with it and tumbled over backwards.

Professor Harklund was by her side in seconds, placing a hand on her forehead and illuminating her with a gentle golden light.

“By far the greater part of your time spent in this class will be in individual practice,” he said to the others as he gently helped a wincing November to sit up. “However, Ms. Stark has just demonstrated the reason I ask that you not attempt new lessons unsupervised. As we get into more complex studies, the potential hazards become more severe. All right, Mr. Arquin, where were we?”

Gabriel got it a few moments later, after Harklund suggested he give up the two-handed staff grip he was holding, as the second point of contact increased the complexity of the initial summon. He absently rested his left hand on the hilt of his sword, and almost immediately found himself holding a staff made of light. No sooner had he whooped in triumph than it flickered out, leaving him grimacing.

“Very good!” Professor Harklund said approvingly, clapping him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, Gabriel, holding it is another matter entirely, as I said. We’ll get to that in due course. Some of you may find that a magical aid to concentration can help with the initial summons, if you’re having trouble making that breakthrough. If any of you are still struggling by the end of this class and don’t possess any such devices yourself, I can provide one. This really is very much like learning to walk; getting the trick of it in the first place is the only hard part. All right, Ms. Stark, I believe you demonstrated a prodigious grasp of the basic technique without even meaning to. Ms. Avelea, would you care to go next?”

They went around the room in that fashion, each of the nine students attempting the feat individually. Trissiny did it all but instantly and without apparent effort, as did Shaeine; Professor Harklund left them to practice on their own, occasionally directing them to assist classmates who were getting irregular results from their repeated attempts. Once a student had managed to create a staff from midair, the Professor instructed them to keep at it and get a feel for the act. This caused steadily increasing tension among the remainders before they were called up to be walked through the process, but he had a very calming manner and was adept at handling classes of nervous pupils. By the time the session ended, more than half of them, working alone, had figured out the trick of holding a manifested staff in existence. Of those, only Trissiny, Shaeine and a junior girl named Clara had managed to keep one without actively concentrating on it. Everyone else lost theirs as soon as they attempted to speak or do anything with their staves—which probably averted several impromptu duels.

Everyone except Toby ended up having fun.

He simply could not get it to work. He never grew frustrated or nervous, simply staring at his open hand with a fixed, blank expression, creating futile spurts of light. Golden beams shot forth from either end of his fist at one point, but they were just light, with no solidity. At another, he conjured up a glittering outline, as if a layer of dust had settled over a staff, but not the staff itself. Eventually the Professor partnered him with Gabriel and Trissiny to practice and moved on to the next student, pausing only to give Toby a few encouraging words.

Still, despite all their best efforts, the class time came to an end without Toby having achieved more than a few interesting light effects. Harklund spoke with him quietly at one side of the room while the other students filed out, though Toby’s classmates waited to accompany him.

“It’s like he said,” Gabe said, slinging an arm over Toby’s shoulders. “It’s just…a trick. Once you get it, it’s the easiest thing. Hard to wrap your mind around in the first place, though.”

Toby just nodded, as calm and as distant as before.


 

“The man is absolutely barmy,” Maureen said in an awed tone.

Most of the freshman class had split after escaping the crowded, humid greenhouse, which had somehow seemed to become twice as crowded while Professor Rafe’s excessive personality was present. Now, the girls were on the way back to…

“Wait, where are we going?” Maureen asked, looking around. “This isn’t the path to the Well.”

“I frankly do not know,” Ravana declared, “nor am I terribly interested. We’re unlikely to fall down a hole or encounter a minotaur provided we stay outdoors and on campus, and to be quite honest, I feel an urgent need for some fresh air.”

“Imperial society is, on the whole, far more expressive than Narisian,” Szith said slowly. “Am I correct, then, in concluding that Professor Rafe was exuberant well beyond local standards of behavior?”

“Exuberant,” Maureen said, “irrational… I think the term would be eccentric if he were rich or a noble. Me, I’m goin’ with shoes-on-ears batscratch crazy.”

“Traditionally, academics are allowed to be eccentric, as well,” Ravana commented.

“He didn’t even notice me,” Iris burst out.

All five of them came to a stop, staring at her. At the rear of the group, several paces behind, Addiwyn snorted disdainfully.

“Professor Rafe?” Maureen asked cautiously.

“Lord Gabriel,” Iris said, seeming on the verge of tears. “He didn’t even…augh, not that I blame him, I babbled like an idiot. I’m such an idiot.”

“He noticed you,” said Szith. “In fact, he spoke to you.”

“You’re right,” Addiwyn snapped. “You are an idiot.”

“Excuse you?” Iris shrieked, whirling on her.

“If you spent a little more time worrying about your studies and less obsessing about boys,” the elf sneered, “perhaps you would be a happier, calmer type of idiot. Are you even aware that you were just in a class?”

“I’ve me doubts whether that qualified as a class,” Maureen mused, while Szith subtly interposed herself between Addiwyn and Iris, who had gone from the brink of crying to the brink of attack, judging by her posture and suddenly balled fists.

“It is hardly unconventional or inappropriate for college students to dwell on their love lives, or lack thereof,” Ravana said mildly.

“Besides which,” Szith added, “apart from Professor Tellwyrn’s frankly lunatic homework assignment and Professor Rafe’s instructions to drink something distilled from grains, which I personally am going to regard as a joke, we hardly have any school work about which to be concerned.”

“Really, Addiwyn,” Ravana added, “I don’t presume to know the reason for this directionless hostility of yours, but I cannot imagine how you expect it to end well for you.”

Addiwyn stalked forward until she was within arm’s reach of Ravana and stood, glaring down at her. They made an odd tableau: both girls slender, blonde and attired in a similarly old-fashioned style. The elf towered over the human, though, and wore an expression of almost childish fury—while Ravana, who looked the more physically childlike of the two, was calm and seemed faintly amused.

“Are you threatening me, little girl?” Addiwyn asked coldly.

“I am exercising common sense,” Ravana replied. “That you took it as a threat is a case in point. It is never a good idea to indiscriminately alienate everyone you meet.”

Addiwyn curled her lip, sniffed disdainfully, and shoved rudely past her, flouncing off down the sidewalk.

“Just what the hell is that girl’s problem?” Iris growled at her back.

“She can still hear you,” Szith observed.

“Good!”

“As Addiwyn has fortuitously walled herself off from our shared room, I believe we can dismiss her airs and nonsense from concern,” said Ravana. “She will either come around or come to grief; on her head be it. Meanwhile! You mentioned Professor Tellwyrn’s homework, Szith. I think it’s time we got a head start on it.”

Maureen and Iris drew back from her hesitantly; Szith just raised an eyebrow.

“Y-you’re eager to get started drawing up plans to ambush and…what was the word? Oh, right, neutralize each o’ yer roommates?” Maureen asked hesitantly.

“Oh, goodness, no,” said Ravana, waving a hand as though brushing away cobwebs. “We will not be doing that, ladies.”

“So…you want to do the homework, but you don’t want to do the homework?” Iris blinked twice. “I’m confused.”

“It’s not homework,” Ravana said with a smile, “it is a test. Tellwyrn’s pushing us, seeing how we react to pressure. To manipulation.”

“Apparently I react by getting confused,” said Iris.

“Aye, add me t’that!”

Szith remained silent, watching Ravana closely.

The blonde turned and resumed walking along the path, forcing the others to fall into step or be left behind, and carried on speaking. “Rather than let her turn us against one another, girls, we are going to do an equivalent group project, which will require some research. Let us make for the library while we have some free time.”

“Research on each other?” Maureen asked. “In the library?”

“No, no, Maureen. We’ll all get to know one another organically, over time, as such things are meant to happen. No, the subject of research will be the true enemy here. Arachne Tellwyrn is rather famous for being inexorable and unstoppable, but there are cracks in that awesome resume of hers. She has been beaten. She’s been outwitted, she has made mistakes, she has several times allowed herself to be manipulated by becoming overly emotional. We are going to perform a brief review of everything known about her adventuring career, find all the weaknesses, all the areas in which she can be and has been beaten…” She grinned, eyes fixed on the distance far ahead. “…and rub them in her face.”

A weighty silence hung over the group for several long seconds.

“Ravana,” Maureen said at last. “I like ye an’ all, please don’t think I don’t. But that… I really believe that is the worst idea I have ever heard.”

“It certainly sounds that way, doesn’t it?” Ravana said, half-turning as she walked to give the gnome a pleased smile over her shoulder. “And that is why it will work.”

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38 thoughts on “8 – 5

  1. Today I must make some acknowledgments. First, as mentioned above but now mentioned again because they deserve it: my extremely generous Patreon supporters and one-time donors, thank you so much. It makes a huge difference in my life that I’m actually making money from my writing.

    Also to everyone who has participated in the discussions I’ve started in the last two comment sections–many of those reader observations were extremely helpful to me. And I always love reading everyone’s thoughts, theories and debates on the story itself.

    With that in mind, I would like to mention again TGaB’s TVTropes page. Apart from my general encouragement that everyone is welcome to add to that, I want to point out that TVTropes has a thing called Wild Mass Guessing, which is its own category of discussion and can have a page specific to a work, linked from the main page. The function of this is just what I mentioned above: theories, guesses, and discussions. TGaB being a story which is (currently) heavy on dangling plot threads and unsolved mysteries, it’s just crying out for one of those. It would also be a handy place to have these things collected together, rather than in comment sections which vanish into the mists of time whenever a new update is posted. I make a point to be hands off with the TVTropes page, as that is meant to be reader-supported content rather than an advertising medium for creators, but I think a WMG page for TGaB would get a great deal of use if somebody wants to set one up.

    Let me just mention that if you’re enjoying the story but aren’t in a position to donate (and I certainly understand that, I’m there myself!) you can help me out a lot by following the TopWebFiction link above and registering a vote. TWF is my single biggest source of new readers, and I can’t help noticing that we’ve been plummeting in the ranks there over the last week. It may be that folks have gotten used to the vote link being in the chapter body and started ignoring it. Or maybe the story’s just sucked lately and everybody was too kind to tell me.

    Anyhow, thanks again to everyone for being awesome readers, and I’ll see you Monday!

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    1. I’m sorry if you dislike other serials being either critized or advertized in your comments, and if so, do edit me but …

      I’m a french speaker and well I read or have read most of TopWebFiction’s novels to practice my comprehension in english. And some webserials have peculiar ways of making people vote. For example, Citadel always requires a vote to read the latest chapter and Wildbow has a huge fan base thanks to Worm and it follows him even though his new novels are not up to the first one (and he makes being first on TWB a “thing” for his fan base to strive for). Such things add up sadly. You are among the rare ones that don’t require any form of voting from his reader base. It’s an honorable way of doing this and, as often with good things, it isn’t the most effective one.

      In my humble and web-novel addict opinion, yours is by far the best out there so doing things your way has at least some perks : you got a die-hard fan out there😉 !

      And because I don’t want to be “that guy” that only critizes others to make you look good (you don’t need it that’s for sure) and if you don’t mind other excellent novels that share the lack of love that they merit may I also recommend Syphax’s Stone Burners and Tieshaunn’s The World is Fast and Full of Wonders.

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      1. I don’t really see the problem of how Citadel does it as you are going to get the chapters at the same rate anyway.

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      2. I appreciate your comments! My thinking on the subject of vote incentives has been much the same; I bet I could really climb through the ranks at TWF if I were willing to put it behind a vote barrier, but the idea just feels sleazy to me.

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  2. I’m intrigued by Toby’s lack of ability to manifest a physical object of the Light, and also extremely curious about whether it’s because of something innate to him. Like, is there something that he needs to admit to undo a mental block, or is there something that would be altogether more troublesome going on there?

    Ravanna… Tellwyrnn will appreciate that you got the point of the exercise and told her stuff it (though a bit less so that you didn’t clue in the rest of your classmates), but rubbing her failures in her face… That’s liable to backfire, hard.

    Does Mr. Mosk’s presence in the tags mean that he’s a recurring freshman of import, or just a supporting schmuck, like Paxton, who will appear a few times and then vanish into the ether?

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    1. keep in mind the object toby was trying to manifest was a cylindrical rod shaped object that had to be sturdy with no flexibility.
      hue hue hue hue
      gay jokes are beneath you webb but i did laugh

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      1. the tag ling at the bottom should have read
        “if you support erectile dysfunction in the face of performance pressure, vote for the gods are bastards”

        literally the funniest chapter i ever read and if it wasn’t intentional at all it makes it all the more funny to me.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Maybe it would have been easier if Toby held Gabriel’s shining rod. That way, he would know how it feels.

        Or maybe his long black sword. Actually, he needs to get his own “artifact” from the teacher.

        (I am so sorry)

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      1. This is true. But this feels like a plotline that may comeback on them in the form of helping Stew or Mrs. Oak.

        HUGE tangent – Mrs. Oak makes me wonder if pokemon are a secret thing here that Naiya or someone is working on…. and how long it is before Professor Oak and Gary show up.

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    2. One lesson I’ve learned in the course of writing this is to just go ahead and tag everybody. Numerous times, supporting characters who I never intended even to have a speaking role have gone on to play a significant part in the story.

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  3. Lord Gabriel
    well fawning and adoration is not what i expected for a half demon become paladin of a faith originally opposed to and discriminatory towards half demons. and do any of the other paladins have the title lord. unless he got that over the summer some how in an untold story
    poor gabe, only to be desired by the opposite sex after you get a title of note or because they think they can use your demon power.

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  4. I really liked this chapter, and not just because some questions I had got answered textually. I’m kind of a sucker for metaphysics exploration, so it’ll be very interesting to see where Intro Lightworking goes. The trick they learned already could be a serious game-changer, if they focus on it and get good: there are, as Professor Harklund said, a thousand and one uses for the ability to manifest solid objects at will and, apparently, hold them in place.

    I’m pretty interested in Toby’s mental block; on the one hand, it makes a certain degree of sense. So far Intro Lightworking has been pretty martial in tone, and while he’s not as blatant a pacifist as Teal, I could see him being subconsciously uncomfortable with creating a weapon from the power of the god of peace. His light has been a weapon before, but not, generally, in a focused form, and always in a defensive posture.

    On the other hand, I would be pretty surprised if there wasn’t more to it than that. We’ve gotten a fair few hints that his tendency to externalize and focus on others at the expense of himself is going to come back and bite him, so it seems like now is that time. He’s kind of got his choice of lingering stressors, but my money is on uncertainty — he’s gone on the offensive (against demons, admittedly, but still), his best friend who he’s used to looking out for has suddenly gotten the power to not really need looking after*, and that doesn’t even go into whatever happened over the summer, if anything. Knowing Toby, we’ll see him continue to sit on it until something cracks or someone shakes him out of it.

    Good on Ravana for immediately spotting the sting in the tail of the exercise. I’m already (metaphorically) popping popcorn to wait for the result. Tangentially, I always thought it would be an interesting solution to do the exercise straight, but completely collaboratively, with notes on how classmates could cover each other’s weaknesses. I dunno if an evening is enough to figure that out, though.

    * Granted, it’s Gabe, and no amount of power will let him not need looking after. To someone who focuses so hard on helping other people, though — especially someone who’s a confirmed worried — it might seem that way at first.

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  5. Thoughts:

    – manifesting a solid object from divine energies by focusing your willpower sounds remarkably close to the green lantern rings🙂

    – Gabriel is obviously cheating because Ariel is helping him with the exercise, he also has not told anyone else about her

    – complaining about Professor Ekoi seems like a waste of energy, she didn’t do any harm and kind of did the same as Ruda: only attack the people who can take it and heal themselves

    – Toby struggling with it could mean anything but combined with his spirit bomb ability (which should burn him out but somehow doesn’t) it could mean he’s even more special than people thought

    – the freshman are doing a lot better with Arachne’s test than the previous year but they aren’t as close as them

    – Ravana is setting herself up for trouble

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    1. Trissiny’s getting quite protective of Gabe, isn’t she? Time to start shipping those two?

      I was thinking that maybe Toby’s too familiar with a quarterstaff and is thinking of it in too much detail. He might have better luck trying to make something else.

      Ravana aims herself headfirst at trouble constantly. This surface is padded but sooner or later she’ll find one that’s not.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Gabriel isn’t cheating, the professor knows and allows it. I think the class sizes are so small and the teachers so good they can come up with individual lesson plans, so it’s fine if Gabriel uses Ariel, the professor just takes into account when grading.

      “Some of you may find that a magical aid to concentration can help with the initial summons, if you’re having trouble making that breakthrough.”

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      1. I see no indication whatsoever that Gabriel told anyone about the intelligence living in the sword. I assume Vidius knows but that’s pretty much it.

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      2. Just because he hasn’t informed anyone of her (as I shall henceforth refer to Ariel) intelligence yet, doesn’t mean that Tellwyrn and other professors don’t know that it /could/ at least function to help focus his abilities in some capacity.

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  6. Typos:

    This caused steadily increasing tension among the remainders

    Should be “remainder”, I think.

    Thoughts:
    Nice to have more information on the specific capabilities of the different schools of magic – I’d been wondering myself about how fae healing differed from divine healing. The ability to manifest arbitrary solid objects could be crazy powerful, depending on how good the protagonists get with it.

    Salyrene has been mentioned only once before (2-19) and then in a very minor way, so I assume they’re a pretty minor god. It’s nice to see them again, and I’d like to learn more about them – I’ve always liked how the story plays with various doctrines and domains (e.g., the Shaathists being more accepting of trans people than the Avenists).

    On a more critical note, I feel the number of characters may be starting to strain the story. This could definitely just be me, but I get the impression you’re trying to get at least two or three different groups of characters into each chapter, so no individual character gets any more than a couple of lines. Taking into account the large number of new characters that were just introduced at once, I keep wanting to flip back to their introductions to remember who’s who.

    Also, a couple of people have contributed to the TVTropes page! Squee! They’re not cross-wicking, though. Remember to cross-wick, people! Webb requires the souls of Tropers to be funneled here!

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    1. yeah it’s about time to game of thrones this world… maybe after some character build up so its all the more devastating when they die.

      also @ vikarmic, the quarter staff, or the staff in general is the chosen weapon of the defensive martial art all of them have to learn in their temple, if anything that is the only weapon he would excel at making.

      other thoughts
      -the question of if toby is a top or bottom has been solved.
      -the god of fertility is 2 for 2 gay and impotent, is this some kind of message he is trying to send.

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      1. Yeah, I know it’s the Sun Style signature weapon. I dunno if that would help, though; previously we’ve never seen the divine light manifest as a weapon at all, other than Darling manifesting a demon-binding chain, and I could see that being a contributor to Toby’s mental block, even if the weapon he was manifesting was a very familiar, defensive one.

        That said, I definitely agree there’s something else going on here.

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    2. I agree with too many characters. Having a half dozen characters thrown at you over the course of two chapters is too much. I don’t think having tons of characters is a problem, but they should be introduced slowly, so the reader knows which character is which. When six are introduced all at once, you can’t keep the names straight.

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  7. Not going to lie, there are a lot of people here. What I will say is that, in my experience, that’s just how it is with fantasy. Takes a lot of characters to build a plot with the level of complexity that’s being aimed for here.
    The quickly shifting viewpoints certainly doesn’t make it easier, though. Focusing on a group for a while might help become acclimated with characters, though it’d likely slow the plot progression.
    I’ll take a bit of growing pains and character confusion over a slowdown of the story, though.

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  8. man, lots of deep thoughts going on in the comment section here, but my initial reaction was just “it’s fortunate she’s a kitsune and not a kumiho”

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      1. don’t know
        look at ruda
        she got higher than a kite on demon blood
        and she has intoxication immunity
        while it probably tastes rank at first, I’m sure like with most drugs to druggies it tastes great. look at pot for example, tastes and smells pretty foul, yet if you talk to stoners they go on and on about the taste and smell being great, like wine connoisseurs which in my frank opinion is just a polite way of saying rich wino’s.

        hmmmm. i wonder how our fair kitsune is taking her acid trip to hell.
        What if she is already an addict for demon blood and agreed to come teach there because of the demons that are roaming the country side nearby and just wanted her hit. she saw gabe and jumped on the chance to turn anything he said into an offense just so she can get her sweet hit of demon blood.
        really she could have slapped him, gave him extra homework for being an insensitive clod, but no, she bit the known demonblood.

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  9. Agreeing with the others about the sudden influx of more characters, and also about not mindin, but being worried about losing track of them all.
    Obviously the solution is to start a wiki or something of them somewhere…

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  10. I don’t know if you take request, but I would dearly love to read about when Gabe’s father found out he became a paladin. If it was me, I would go around to all the people who had shunned Gabe a rub their noises in it. Plus there’s the reporters, since they can’t get to Gabe at the university.

    Also, we have never seen how the Guild reacted to finding out Jeremiah has a demon on a leash. With both him and Prin being in the capital, that seems like something that might come up.

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  11. personally, i like having the new characters around – i know, i know, every time i’ve shown up, it’s been to be a contrarian, it’s a curse, i just try to use it to my advantage.

    for me, it’s something that becomes more of a strain against my credulity now that i don’t have chapters available to plow through immediately and thus have days on which to stew over this or that aspect of the narrative, and one of the very first things my brain seized on was – well, yes, it’s “high fantasy”, and yes, self, we loves ourselves some david eddings (i have roleplayed ocs based off the redemption of althalus, an affection for eddings doesn’t come much more hilariously dedicated than that), but – gosh, with three paladins, a dryad, a strange arcanist pixie, and an archdemon, this class is a very, VERY special grouping here, isn’t it?

    or is it? it occurred to me, frequently, because i kept worming my way back to it, that i really couldn’t say if it actually was a case of “more special” or not. i didn’t know anything about the makeup of chase, tanq, november, or natchua’s year beyond that they were in it, i knew really nothing about what they had been through or would be through, and all i knew about the ways in which our plucky froshies differed were in their professors dropping brief asides about it, asides which i couldn’t entirely rely on as many of said professors had their own agendas to push onto their students, chief among said agendas possibly being “let’s not let these obviously exceptional students get swelled heads by actually acknowledging how remarkable they might actually be”.

    but maybe they aren’t, aside from the obvious paladin + archdemon situation, all that remarkable. in fact, i’d be willing to bet there’s lots of places in which they’re behind the eight ball or just plain naturally incompetent that we don’t see, because their particular inclinations haven’t trended towards the thought processes that would show up their ineptitude that obviously!

    the other thing i’ve been thinking about is: vidius isn’t the only god who skips the paladin gig who might pick somebody. and frankly, after gabe, there aren’t that many options suited to the gods we know of among the cast so far. if we’re going to meet other paladins, they’re probably going to start showing up soon, and if they’re not already paladins, then they’re going to have to b people who don’t know they’re going to be, in which case they’re going to have to be interesting to the reader for some other reason – perhaps by being a student at the unseen university, or perhaps by being something else connected to significant plot goings-on elsewhere. and for that matter, characters who’ve previously occupied roles in the story that make it obvious they’re going to matter a great deal and need following by the narrative are going to also interact with characters that feel just as fleshed-out to interact with wherever they’re going, too, because this story never does characters cheaply.

    you know what’s a perfect opportunity to show some of that off, instead of letting the professors remark on it, especially when our narrator, mr./ms. webb, has indicated they’re uncomfortable with how many lectures dot the early chapters? giving our heroes the chance to interact with their fellow students some more, and actually demonstrate those differences in a narratively engaging way! both by way of new froshies and by having them now interacting with their upperclassmen. but that requires introduction to those new characters.

    maybe i’m okay with it just because i want more of it, all the time.

    about the only reason i might be a little impatient in this case is that it’s been a year in the story, now, and the only time “a year” has come up outside of discussing the school semester has been flora and fauna mentioning the timeframe for when the voices start screaming for blood again. so that clock is ticking closer to midnight with every passing day noted in-story. which is the sort of thing that should be making everyone nervous, right about now, i think.

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  12. I am a bit late commenting…

    I am not sure what to make of Toby’s problem. It could be something as simple as a mental block, not indicative of anything in particular. If I had to guess, I am guessing that, since the staff is Omnu’s preferred weapon and Toby doesn’t have a given deific weapon like Trissiny and Gabe do, that he is mentally or magically prevented from making a substitute, i.e. creating a “fake” deific artifact. Whether that is his mental block, something imposed, or a combination remains to be seen. As a minimum first step, he needs to try something other than a staff.

    Ravana is being portrayed as dangerously intelligent and willing to take unorthodox action. The question is whether she puts it to good use or not. Has the question of whether she was one of Teal’s tormentors been answered definitively or not? I am thinking the answer is “yes”.

    I agree with Vikarmic – there are so damn many uses for a single solid tool. If nothing else, half of basic crafting supplies for a variety of areas are covered by that – basic carpentering, plumbing, mechanical, etc. tools are often a single solid shape.

    @Cyrid
    Hey, that’s my format! Kidding – I probably picked it up elsewhere, but for now I can’t remember where.

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