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Chapter 1, cut for length &hellip
TALES OF MU 1: Welcome to MU
"In Which We Meet Mackenzie"
by Alexandra Erin
Despite the presence of cardboard signs trimmed with crepe paper and balloons, I completely missed the front door of Harlowe Hall and instead ended up in a big spartan lobby/hallway that linked three different residential buildings. I thought that’s where the sign had been pointing... later, I’d find out that Harlowe’s entrance was actually below the ground level, off a sort of sunken patio that was screened from view by the shrubbery I’d walked past. Nobody ever wandered into it by accident. The lobby was full of people, bustling among the front and rear entrances and the three large hallways branching off from it in every combination of to-and-from. Most of them were carrying at least a suitcase. Some of them were trundling luggage trolleys, often with a mini fridge and/or TV.
I stared around blankly, hoping for a sign of where I was supposed to be. Luckily, somebody spotted me and took pity on me.
"Hey, frosh!" a sharp, but not hostile, voice said. I spun around and saw a preppy-looking guy without any baggage. "What you looking for?"
"Harlowe," I said.
I caught a look that was a mixture of surprise, disgust, and fear, but he hid it pretty fast. He pointed to a set of double-doors leading to one of the hallways.
"Thanks," I said, keeping my voice as neutral as I could. He had helped me, after all.
I lugged my suitcase, backpack, and duffel bag down the hall. The staircase was easy to find, and it took me down to a big glass-fronted common room that was positively packed with people. Surprisingly little sunlight reached in through the windows. Most of the people there were sitting around in the second-hand sofas and chairs, or just milling around. It looked like most of them had already checked in. There were three lines of people leading up to the long reception desk, but the longest one only had four students in it and they were all moving quickly.
Fragments of conversation reached me over the general murmur and buzz as I got in line.
"I’m actually taking nineteen hours of classes this semester. That seems like a lot. Does that seem like a lot to you?"
"You know, this was my safety school."
"Can you believe they don’t even let us have candles in our dorm? How are we supposed to..."
"Did you see the weapon policy? They’re pretty strict."
"Name?" the woman asked me when I got up to the counter. She had a nametag which read "Gwendolyn Rodrigues - Resident Advisor."
"Mackenzie Blaise," I said.
"Is Mackenzie your first name or your last?" she asked me, turning away from me to a table against the back wall, covered with large envelopes.
"First," I said, adding unnecessarily, "Blaise is my last name." What can I say? It was my first day at college, and I’d already made what felt like one giant blunder, even if nobody knew about it. I was the tiniest bit nervous.
She found the packet labeled "Blaise, Mackenzie" and handed it to me.
"This is a copy of your class schedule, a calendar of events, coupons for the student union, and emergency listings," she said. "Now, you’ll need to read and sign this statement about compliance with the university’s weapons policy." Even though she was obviously a student and only a few years older than me, she already had the voice and facial expression of an officious bureaucrat. I could tell that being an R.A. was only one step in what would doubtless be a very fulfilling career for her in the field of interfering with others’ lives.
"Of course," I said, barely glancing at the slip of paper before signing it.
"And, of course, I have to see the weapon you’ll be using."
I reached into my coat and pulled out the knife, the twisted bronze hilt protruding from a lambskin sheath, and laid it down on the counter.
"That’s your main weapon?" she asked me, eyebrows raised.
"It’s the only one I’ve got," I said, with a silly grin.
"Only it’s not very big, is it?"
"I’ve never been much impressed with size," I told her.
"It’s barely enchanted," she observed. I wondered if she could tell that at a glance, or if there was something under the counter telling her that.
"The policy I read just said a magical weapon, it didn’t specify how magical it had to be," I pointed out. I’d been expecting this reaction, but it didn’t make it any less irksome.
"It’s just... life on campus can get dangerous..."
"I’ve never needed anything bigger," I said testily.
For a few moments, she looked at me like she wanted to say something... like she was going to invoke some little-known rule to throw me out until I came back with one of those absurdly huge broadswords or big spiky maces, but finally she just said, "All right. But there’s a nice little weapon store in town, if you change your mind."
"I’ll remember that," I said.
She held out a small manila envelope slightly larger than a business card.
"Here’s your room key and a pass card to get in and out of the building after dark," she said. "Though it’s best not to wander around campus too much at night. Stick to the lighted paths, and travel with a friend as much as possible. It’s all in your campus security pamphlet."
"Yes, thank you, I’ve read it," I said, reaching for the packet. She still looked doubtful, but she finally handed it to me.
"You’ll be needing this back, too," she said, handing me my knife, hilt-first.
"I’m actually hoping I won’t."
"Oh, yes, of course," she said. "Welcome to Magisterius University, Ms. Blaise."
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