Oct 28, 2021 11:15 AM
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When she was ten years old Annisa told her parents that it was, after all, their fault she was going to die; if they'd admitted to themselves that her brother was dead one year earlier, instead of deluding themselves while she turned four and almost five with distinctly halfhearted language education, then at ten she'd speak English without an accent, and maybe also have been able to use the time she'd been spending on fighting the stupid accent to pick up Malayo-Polynesian, and they knew perfectly well she'd survive if she were any good at languages. She was good at everything else. But you couldn't afford two disadvantages, and being from Surabaya was already one of them.

Her father slapped her against the wall with a net of snakes; it's the wall on which she'd been practicing algebra, and clouds of choking chalkdust hid his face, which was probably for the better. "If you're the kind of person who blames other people for your inadequacies and stupidity, you'll die no matter what I do," he said. "And if I hear another excuse out of your mouth I'll kill you myself, save your mother all the worrying and wondering. Go through the exercises again."

And she went through them, coughing, choking, pinned against the wall, for eight hours, and past midnight he said it was good enough, though it really wasn't. The next week he enrolled her in a mundane school in Canberra, relocated the four of them for it even though ten was already old enough it was questionably safe for her to be outside her family home, and that did help; the accent was gone by the time she was twelve. Precious time spent, though, hours and hours of it every day, in mundane history class and mundane health class and mundane math class, surrounded by what might as well have been a different species, children who expect to grow up. 

 

There is a girl in junior honors artificing who speaks English with an accent, and Annisa pities her. If English or Mandarin isn't your first language, it's your second, and it is not hard to become fluent in a second language, and if you can't do it then you probably just aren't that bright, or aren't that studious, and everyone knows it as soon as you open your mouth. Annisa is fluent in English. It isn't that hard. 

 

Junior honors artificing is honestly a shit class. Lowest level, in a big spacious classroom with a lot of beams in the ceiling and desks full of nooks, containing the girl who speaks English with an accent, her buddy an affable Australian who's probably malificing and who never gets more than three feet from her, and then six of the Manchester enclave and their entourage. She's not going for Manchester. She needs someone rich as fuck, which Manchester isn't, and then she's going to spend two years building them weapons and armor and she needs them to be the kind of people who won't drop her right out of the gate, because she's going to have no special advantage at using her weapons and armor to get out, once she's handed them over to her allies. (She could build in a back door, easily enough, but that just means they die with her, doesn't save her.) If you were ranking all the English-speaking enclaves by 'will stab you in the back' Manchester wouldn't be at the top of the list, but they wouldn't be in the bottom half either. If she can't land New York she's thinking Boston or Canberra, and Manchester gets her nowhere on that.


Oh, and then there's El. El is also probably malificing, she has that vague aura of doom, and Annisa is honestly torn on whether it'd be safer to pair with her or waste time clinging unpleasantly to Manchester, but on the first day she goes into the supply cupboards after Manchester and nearly loses her hand to a mimic they definitely knew about, and that decides her. 

 

She sits down next to El.

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El assesses her, nods, finishes checking over the peculiar rivets in the desk she's at.

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Her desk has shadowed areas under the legs, something sticky on the underside, and three drawers, which is just stupid, you can't exactly use drawers on a shared desk so they're purely space where something can hide. She starts poking them all with a long thin stick she's enchanted for this purpose; first plan for this year is to make thirty and sell them, now that she has the design down.

 

"There's a mimic in the supply cabinet," she says while she works. "I didn't grab cedar stalks."  Which is to say, you can, to thank me for the warning about the mimic, if you want similar warnings in the future. She isn't going to need the cedar stalks for at least half an hour and plausibly not at all this lesson but it's good to know if your deskmate is going to play ball. And whether she tries laying anything on them. Which is easy, with cedar, but Annisa'll notice. 

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"Ugh," says El. She finishes her check, peers at the stick, goes to the cabinet and holds off the mimic with a shield while she grabs a bunch of stuff. She winds up with too many cedar stalks and too few pots of mercury and trades with a Manchester boy who has the opposite problem on the way back to their desk. Passes Annisa her share. "I think I've heard somebody calling you Annie."

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The cedar stalks are untampered wtih, so if El is going to try to get her she at least has an ounce of subtlety. Good enough to beat out Manchester. "Annie's fine. You're El? The school stuck you in honors when you're not even artificer track?"

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"School works in mysterious ways." She looks at her assignment options, groans, heads for the glassware.

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Sophomore year the school tried to put Annisa in an honors Mandarin class; she found a native speaker freshman who had that period free and had him do all her coursework for sexual favors and life advice, which is to say basically for free. Honors classes are just bad news unless you're going for valedictorian, which Annie isn't because she's no good at languages and valedictorians can't be no good at anything.

By far her best assignment option is an immobilizing bracelet - it won't come off the person you put it on, and you can stick their wrist to the wall and it won't come off there either - and it's in her affinity, but also there are absolutely no non-sketchy uses for that. The other options are a planter, which is very stupid but she could cannibalize it afterwards for parts for the divining rods, and a standing fan, which would be pretty cool if it worked but is going to be three times as much work as anything else and she's not really sure who she could sell it to, either. 

Planter it is (though she takes notes on the bracelet, to maybe do on her own time.) Is the glassware biting today.

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The glassware seems uninhabited at least on this end of the sideboard except for an agglo which is adding a test tube to itself. El ignores the agglo and gets a funnel drip and starts assembling what looks like it's going to be some kind of compass with the pointer floating in mercury.

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In principle you can do a planter in ceramic and fire it, but Annie has never in her school career tried to use the kiln and doesn't know anyone else who has either, you'd have to be insane to rely on a process that happens behind closed doors and involves lots of energy and that you know might produce unexpected unfortunate results. Molten glass is much safer, but mana-intensive. Woodcarving actually gets you mana out, at least at Annie's level of competence at it, but it'll take her forever, and if she's doing it in wood she can't use mercury and will have less she can scavenge for her divining rods. She goes for molten glass: a hot burner, to reduce how much she needs to raise the temperature with mana, some chipped glassware that no one'll miss. 

She doesn't give the rest of her classmates much thought - it's enough work melting glass while keeping an eye on those ceiling beams - until the glass is cooling and she's switched to needlepoint so she doesn't end the class completely drained. Then she goes back to trying to figure out El. It's an important question, right, whether one is safer in a hallway alone or with her, because in twenty minutes it'll be time to walk to lunch.

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El is scowling at her compass, which looks ridiculously fiddly even for honors considering that she's language track. She seems to be doing acid etching on the back.

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She has heard it claimed that the school goes easier on maleficers, but she's not sure if she believes it. Australian kid's project does look easy, though.

Has El glanced at him. Does she look distasteful or approving. (Some people are very good at lying with their expressions, of course - Annisa is - but most aren't. There's only time to learn so many things and it's harder to hire your kids the best tutors in lying. Plus, if El were good at covering her tracks she wouldn't radiate a palpable aura of evil.)

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El looks faintly resentful of everyone and everything at all times. Maybe that's why she's evil.

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Best junior honors seminar classmates ever. "I'm going to lunch," she says to El at the end of class after much consideration. It's bloody obvious that she's going to lunch, since the alternative is skipping lunch and why would you do that on purpose, but that way El will have to do something other than make resentful faces to communicate that she wants to walk with Annie, if she does.

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"Bloody amazing coincidence, that. I too sometimes eat at mealtimes." But she falls into step.

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"How does being rude to everybody work out for you, I wouldn't have expected it to be a genius strategy but if it is then everyone else is wasting a lot of time."

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"Well, I need all the spare time I can get, you see. Every please and thank you shaves precious seconds off mana-building time."

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"Like half the freshmen are idiots who'll give you food if you compliment them." This is an exaggeration for anyone but Annie, who is unusually good at compliments, but it feels like there's a point there El ought to be able to grasp even if she's below-average at compliments. "I guess I wouldn't know if the other half are idiots who'll give you food if you're rude to them."

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"If I tell a freshman they have a knack for squashing burrower mites they'll scream and run away. I suppose they might drop food."

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"There is that. Is it worth it?"

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"Making them drop food?"

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"Having a palpable aura of evil."

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"Well, you know, it seemed like a great deal when I picked it up for twenty percent off at Tesco's, and now I'm past the return period."

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"Great. Really looking forward to being lab partners."

 

Nothing jumps them on the way to the cafeteria - you wouldn't expect it, on the first day of school. She pokes the trays of food with her divining rod, conspicuously - it's free advertising for the rods - and catches some sludge moving on the top of the eggs and some wiggling grubs in the dumplings, and goes to sit with her friends. Which, not possessing a palpable aura of evil or an accent speaking English, she has.

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El sits with Liu, which is sort of the same thing.

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Annisa shows off her divining rod by checking everyone at her table's food and then sits quietly and listens to their class complaints; she only complains herself at the right frequency to make people feel they're not talking to a wall. Honestly, her schedule is going to be fine, unless El eats her. 

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El continues to be palpably evil and not eat anyone all through lunch. It turns out she is also in Annisa's maths class this afternoon.

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